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!”
Emma Swan has only a single memory of her parents.
But it is one of those memories where you’re not sure if it’s a real memory or just one that your mind makes up one lonely night in a group home, when kids have been teasing you that nobody ever wanted you and you come up with something to make you feel like maybe they were wrong.
In the memory, her father is spinning her in circles and her pink dress billows up like a ballerina’s. When the world stops turning, he tosses her in the air and her mother yells from across the huge, empty room, “Charming, be careful!” But she is safe, never been so safe.
She falls asleep a lot thinking about the sparkle in her dad’s eyes and the beauty of her mom’s voice and the feeling of being cared for.
(Then again, it could all be bullshit.)
Whenever Emma expresses healthy skepticism, her caseworkers always frown, their brows knit together, and they scribble something down on their notepads. She figures they're probably writing that she's a pain in the ass. They tell her to be sweet and lighten up and let other people in, but she's had enough heartbreak, thankyouverymuch. She'd rather keep on her armor and try to make it till eighteen.
She ends up at Ingrid's when she's fifteen and at first it feels like all the other group homes. Kids have their cliques, the mattresses and blankets are thin, and Emma doesn't have enough room to breathe, enough room to grow. She's a sunflower trapped inside, never getting enough light.
But Ingrid is different. When Emma pushes her away, Ingrid pushes back. Emma gets caught stealing some girl's wallet and, instead of getting out a belt, Ingrid sits her down on the couch and guilts her (which may be actually worse). Then that Saturday the two of them go to the mall and they find a really pretty wallet on sale that Emma uses her allowance on. They spend most of the day at the mall, Ingrid teaching her how to shop for a bargain and the excitement of finally finding the perfect deal. They buy slushies that turn their teeth and tongues blue and spend several dollars of quarters on candy machines, palms sticky from Runts and gumballs and Sprees.
It is the best day of her life and a gap finally opens in her armor.
Ingrid officially adopts her when she is seventeen, and it really shouldn't matter, since she's almost out of the system anyway, but Ingrid tucks Emma under her arm on the couch, combing through her hair as a movie plays on the screen, and says, "I don't just want to be your mother while you're a kid, I want to be your mother forever."
Emma falls asleep with a smile on her face and dreams of her biological mother, for the first time remembering her hair is as long as Ingrid's but as black as the night, and she is wearing a long, red, old-fashioned dress. Her father is dressed in a cloak with a sword strapped to his side, and he calls her princess and asks if she wants to ride on the horse with him or with her mother. She claps and chooses her mom and when she is hoisted in the air, her own red dress blends with her mother's so she isn't sure where one begins and the other ends. She leans against the soft breast and closes her eyes, content to just be.
She shares the dream with Ingrid two weeks later, as they sit in a nice restaurant for Emma's eighteenth birthday. Ingrid looks a little surprised, but not concerned, and after taking another bite of chicken parmesan, clears her throat.
"Emma, do you believe in destiny?"
She slurps her fettuccini and sips her water before answering. "I don't know, why?"
"Because I do. A long, long time ago, I did something bad, and I hurt someone I cared very much for. It was an accident, but accidents still have consequences. And so I was punished for what I did."
Emma feels a prickle of fear crawl up her spine. "Did you do time in jail?
Ingrid smiles, amused, and pats the corners of her mouth with the cloth napkin. "No, not quite. But I did spend a lot of time alone, left with only my thoughts and my regrets. When I rejoined the world, I sought out someone who could tell me what to do next, someone to help me figure out how to atone for my mistakes." She pauses a moment to think. "Like a fortune teller."
"And what did they say?"
"He told me that I had broken a family. But that it was my destiny to put a family back together and, so doing, save my own."
The alfredo sauce feels like ash on her tongue. Emma is more confused than she has ever been before. "What- what does that even mean?"
Ingrid smiles softly. "I wasn't sure, but he sent me here, to Boston, and told me that there was a girl that I had to find, an orphan whose own family had been broken by a plot for revenge. That her parents were searching for her desperately and she was alone in a strange place. He told me to find the girl, and it was her destiny to return home, to her rightful family, on her eighteenth birthday." Ingrid watches her face carefully and Emma has stopped breathing, the world growing fuzzy around the corners. "Emma," Ingrid whispers, leaning forward, "do you believe in magic?"
Emma sits back, spine ramrod straight to keep herself from shaking. "No."
(No, she doesn't believe in magic or destiny because ever since the day she was found on the side of the road as a toddler, no identification and her thin nightgown not enough to keep out the autumn chill, the world has reminded her over and over again that it is tough and kicks your ass and keeps you down.
If you believe it can all just get better you're a fucking moron.)
"What if I can prove it to you?" Ingrid asks. "I have something magical here, in my purse, and if we go outside I can show it to you."
It takes a very long time for Emma to respond. Ingrid is saying things that don't make sense, her words mysterious and frightening. But over the last few years she has come to trust this woman with everything and to believe that she really loves Emma. So slowly, she nods. "Okay."
Ingrid pays for their food, not bothering with takeout boxes, but instead of walking back to the car, she leads Emma around the corner, to the back alley beside the restaurant. From her purse she pulls out an ordinary-looking piece of chalk and draws a tall rectangle on the brick surface. Emma shivers a bit at the cold air and tugs her fleece jacket closer against her. It was a bit late in the year to wear a sundress, but she wanted to feel pretty on her birthday. (And she wasn't expecting to be vandalizing a building after dinner.)
When the rectangle is drawn, Ingrid makes a mark in the middle, at eye level, that almost resembles a tree. She finishes and the mark glows faintly, turning into a deep, emerald green. Then the symbol recedes into the wall.
"Do you trust me?" Ingrid asks, and Emma has never been more terrified, but she still nods, entranced by what she is seeing. "Place your hand over the tree."
At her touch, the wall becomes a door and Emma presses it open. But instead of the savory food and dirty sinks of the back of the restaurant, there is a green, green field and she can see a vivid orange sun sinking below the horizon.
Ingrid's hands rest lightly on each of Emma's shoulders and she turns her head up to look at the only mother she has ever know. "Emma," Ingrid whispers, her words tickling Emma's ear. "This is your home, our home. You were brought to this world many years ago by someone who wanted to do you harm. And your parents miss you dearly. If you go through this door, you will be in a world that is very different. It is where you were born and it is where you will find love waiting for you, if you can trust your heart to lead you. Emma, darling, do you want to go home?"
Emma twists to look at the dumpster beside them, it's smell rancid. And she thinks of the years of pain and loneliness she endured at the hands of cruel kids and uncaring foster parents. Then she turns to face the lovely field. She can smell faint traces of the sea floating over the grass and flowers and in the distance is a castle. Ingrid's hands squeeze softly and Emma takes a deep breath.
"Would we have to come back here?"
"Only if you want to," is the reply.
She takes a step forward, then two, and Ingrid is right behind her. When she looks back, the door is still open and she can see the dingy grey of a twilight Boston. Her fingers grasp the rough brick and she slams it shut with a sigh, expelling the smog from her lungs and the pain from her heart.
"No," she scowls, looking at the place that used to be another land. "Fuck that world. Let's see what's here."
As they make their way to the castle, Emma's fleece tucked under her arm so she can feel the warm breeze on her skin, she listens to Ingrid explain everything. Apparently, she and Ingrid were both born princesses who would someday be queens. And Ingrid grew up able to do magic. She picks up a flower and with a sigh she freezes it with her fingers, chuckling that it feels great to use her powers again after so many years.
"Who lives in this palace?" Emma asks, staring at the white stone walls.
"Snow White and Prince David, the Queen and Prince Consort, your parents." Ingrid stops and turns Emma to look her in the eyes. "Young lady, the walls around your heart are taller that those castle walls, but you need to remember that they love you very, very much, and that they looked for you for years. Please give them a chance to love you. Let them be your parents."
Emma takes a deep breath and nods. It is all too much to understand right now, but she knows that something about this place feels right where her childhood at all been so wrong.
When he gets one look at her, the guard at the gates starts trembling and drops to a knee. "Princess Emma," he whispers reverently. "You have come home."
The man, who introduces himself as Grumpy, leads her to a large room where three thrones sit on a stage. Ingrid's hand is tight in her grip and the woman smiles and gestures that she should step forward. Slowly, Emma makes her way to the chairs and sinks into the middle one with a sigh.
The cushion under her ass is the softest, most wonderful thing she has ever felt.
The doors to the room fly open and Emma blinks at the two people there, breathless with wide, hopeful eyes. She stands and meets them halfway across the room and their arms wrap around her, holding her so tight she can hardly breath, but it doesn't matter because they're here and they do love her and they look just as she saw in her dreams.
A loud clatter and the doors are opened again. All three turn to look at a young man, black shirt half unbuttoned, tight leather pants, and a scowl. Emma feels a swoop in her stomach that has nothing to do with the insanity of the day and everything to do with the way the dusting of dark scruff looks on his jaw.
Her mother flings out an arm and beams at the strange man. “Killian! Emma has returned to us!”
The frown melts off of his face and is replaced with shock and he blinks rapidly for a moment. "Emma? Princess Emma?" He strides across the room and bows before her. "Your Highness, welcome home."
One of her feet tucks behind her ankle and she dips into an awkward curtesy. "Uh, thanks," she stammers. She swallows hard because his eyes are really blue and she's starting to get worried that this total hottie is like her brother or something (please God let him not be related).
"Emma," her father says, sensing the strange feeling in the air, "This is Killian, our cousin."
Killian's eyes haven't left hers and they twinkle as if he can read her mind. "David is generous," he smiles. "We are about as far away in the family tree as you can be and still call yourselves cousins."
"Now now, don't say that," her dad says, patting him on the shoulder in a way that feels very familiar. "You are close enough that soon you will be-" And then he stops, confusion across his handsome features, and looks at Emma, then his wife.
"Soon enough I will be returning to my quarters and allowing the three of you time to be reunited in peace." He bows again, stopping to nod at Ingrid (her parents haven't even noticed she's there) and exiting with one final remark thrown over his shoulder.
"Happy birthday, Princess."
“You must be exhausted. And starving.” Her mom’s arm wraps around her shoulders and squeezes and though Emma can still taste the alfredo sauce on the edge of her mouth, she nods and lets herself and Ingrid be dragged upstairs to a large room with cute little couches and chairs. Servants (frickin’ servants!) bring them trays of food and Emma picks at it as Ingrid explains everything. By the time she is done, Emma feels like her eyelids weigh a hundred pounds and she curls up, head on the couch arm, only half-listening to her parents pepper Ingrid with questions.
“Poor thing passed out.” Her mother’s hand brushes some hair off of her cheek and Emma relaxes her face and her breathing, too tired to do anything more than act asleep. “Where do we put her?”
“The nursery is hers, but it is still-”
“No, no, those rooms are set up for a child, not a young woman.”
“And Killian lives in the other royal quarters, but it wouldn’t be proper for her to take Liam’s old room.”
“Poor Killian.” Her voice has a note of sorrow to it and Emma quiets her breathing even further so she can catch every word. “What are we going to do about him? Plans have been put in place for him to take the throne in two months’ time. But with Emma-”
“Emma grew up in a very different world, Your Majesty,” Ingrid pipes up. “She may not want to rule a kingdom.”
Her mother sighs again and strokes Emma’s cheek. “But it is her birthright. And with her return she is once again first in line for the crown. The people have been praying for her to come back all these years; I would hate to see her kept from living the life she was destined to have, to let Regina rob her of her future as well as her past.”
The fingers leave her skin and Emma opens her eyes a tiny bit to see that her parents’ hands are now clasped. “We have plenty of time to figure it out, sweetheart. Right now we must care for our daughter.”
“And for Killian,” her mother adds. “We are all he has right now. Let’s not forget he is family too.” She takes a deep breath and Emma sees her sit up straighter before closing her own eyes to keep from being caught. “Dowager Queen Ingrid-”
“Please, just Ingrid. I doubt Arendelle will even acknowledge my birth after what I did to my sister.”
“Ingrid. You may stay with us as long as you would like and whenever you leave, we will provide you an escort home.”
Emma can picture the look on Ingrid’s face, the one she makes when Emma comes home with good grades and when Emma has done all of her chores. She can feel tears gather at the corners of her eyes because she knows that she will not see those looks many more times. “I will stay for a short time, Majesty-”
“Just a short time, Snow. Long enough to get Emma settled a bit. But I have reunions of my own to make, and a pair of nieces who have been without a mother. I’d like to help them, if I can, and amend for my mistakes.”
“Let us find you two rooms for the night,” her father says. “I’ll tell a servant to prepare the guest quarters so you two can be close.”
Emma slips into sleep after that, in the long silence that follows. She doesn’t know what her parents or Ingrid are thinking about, but she’s surprised she can sleep at all, with all the revelations buzzing through her head.
She wakes up the next morning in a huge, four poster bed. Ingrid is waiting for her in the small living room that connects their two bedrooms, and helps her get into the giant ass dress that hangs in the wardrobe. Emma’s never worn stuff like this, the kind of outfits you see in old movies and dorky Renaissance festivals, but it's sort of comfortable. She feels prettier than she did the night before in her hand me down sundress and she keeps picking up the skirt of the dress their entire way down to breakfast, wondering what it would look like skimming the surface of a ballroom floor.
Her parents are waiting for her at the table with the kinds of smiles you rarely see before a morning coffee, and she eases into her chair. Snow White and Prince Charming (seriously?) chatter on and on about the facts of the kingdom and exchange some more questions and answers with Ingrid. Killian, who is also present, sits in silence, not really looking up from his plate. Emma wonders if he’s jealous of her, or if he wishes she had never come back so he could be king.
(She isn’t really sure she’d even want to be queen. She didn’t take any classes on politics at school. Fuck, she hasn’t even graduated yet.)
“Is there somewhere I can go and just think for a little while?” Emma interjects, making three sets of wide eyes stare at her. “Alone?”
Her dad clears his throat and points to her right. “Through those doors, take a right and keep going and you will reach the courtyard. There is a nice garden with lots of benches and flowers.”
Emma stands up and her chair makes an ugly scraping sound. “Uh, thanks. I’m just gonna go-”
Mom nods but Emma can see her smile is forced. “Take all the time you need, sweetie. I’ll send someone to get you for lunch.”
She tries not to run out the door.
(But she does walk hella fast.)
It seems like hours pass while she lays in a patch of grass, twirling a blade and staring up at the sky. Is it possible the sky is bluer here, or was the sky just less blue where she grew up? The whole thing makes her dizzy so she closes her eyes and tries to take deep breaths.
She’s covered in shadow and when she opens her eyes again, he’s looking down at her. Killian. His shirt is actually buttoned today and he wears a little vest with it and fancy looking pants. It takes her a moment to register that he’s asking to sit down and she shrugs and closes her eyes. “Be my guest.”
Emma can feel him settle beside her, sprawled in the tiny patch of lawn, and now all she can smell is him, not the sweetness of the flowers but the spiciness of whatever dudes here use as cologne. She shifts a bit, making a face at how annoying it is that he came after she made it clear she wanted to be alone (but how nice it is that he isn’t immediately badgering her with questions) and cracks open her eyes to look at him.
His face is a foot away from her own and he’s looking at her seriously.
“So you’re my cousin, huh?”
He smiles and it's the first time she’s ever really seen it. Its a pretty great smile, something that should be on the cover of a magazine, all dimples and flashing white teeth. “I suppose we are, lass,” he chuckles. “We share the same great great great great grandfather.”
(Her returning grin may come from the fact that this sounds too distant of a cousin to make it a bad thing she thinks he’s sexy.)
“Oh no.” His face is serious again, but his eyes are still dancing so she knows he’s being playful. “Your lot comes from King Reginald’s first wife, Queen Angelica, who gave birth to four strong children. They had a peaceable marriage. When she died giving birth to a fifth, the gods taking her and the babe away, King Reginald found a new queen so quickly that some said he was in love with her the whole time. Marilla was her name, and though she only bore him a single child, he loved her as if she had given him a hundred. When she died, he passed the next day of a broken heart.”
“He didn’t get to decide who would take over for him? Even though he loved her kid best?”
Killian shakes his head slightly, keeping his eyes on her. “No. And my great great great grandmother Vivian would have been a spectacular queen. No, it went to Leopold I. Then his son Leopold II. His heir was named Reginald II, since I think one of my great great aunts was making a bid for the throne and your family was trying to keep her out of the running.” He tilts his face to the sun, squinting at the light. “No, not a member of my side of the family has gotten anywhere close to the crown since Marilla herself.”
His neck snaps back to look at her and there’s a set to his mouth that bodes caution. “How did you know that?”
She shrugs and turns her own face to the sun. “When you’re an orphan you learn how to fake sleep pretty easily. You can pick up on a lot that way.”
“You’re not an orphan, love.” His tone has turned serious, gentle even, and Emma closes her eyes to sigh.
“You are Princess Emma of Misthaven, daughter of Queen Snow White and Prince Consort David, Heir Apparent to the throne.”
“What if I don’t want the throne?” The words are barely audible, but she can tell he hears them from the sudden catch in his breathing.
“I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
She must actually fall asleep out there in the garden, because the next thing she knows, Killian’s hand is on her shoulder, softly shaking it. She opens her eyes to see his gentle grin hovering over her, blocking out the sun again.
“Princess,” he says, “a servant was just by calling your name. You’d better wake up so she can find you and escort you to lunch.”
“And you?” She has to stop herself from reaching out to keep him there, as though she has some claim over him.
“I shouldn’t be caught sleeping with the princess.” His blue gaze twinkles again. “Snow and David would kill me.”
The moment he disappears from her sight, a young woman rounds the corner and finds her, helping her stand and walking her to the dining room where she had breakfast.
Killian is there, calmly scooping potatoes onto his plate, and sending her a wink when no one else is looking.
In all honesty, Killian had never spent an excessive amount of time thinking about the lost princess. Of course, there was the yearly remembrance of her birthday, filled with prayers for her safe return. And there were days when Snow or David would appear at council meetings with red eyes and he would know that they had been missing their daughter. There is a portrait of the three of them, Emma only a babe, that hangs in Snow’s private library. When he had occasion to be called there he might look at it and wonder what had become of the child.
But that was as far as his thoughts ever went. He had never known her and his life had been altered by her absence, not her presence.
So to see her standing in the throne room, wearing a scandalously short dress, accompanied by a woman in an equally short gown, all he can do is bow and offer his welcome. He retires to his room, back to his evening nap and the light supper he had called for an hour prior.
The savory cheese that has been his favorite for years has no taste and he tosses and turns all night, not knowing what his future will hold.
She is only a girl, he realizes, when she appears at the breakfast table with a pink dress that is much too large for her. And the way she scurries away reminds him of his own ill humors when he was younger. He is not the only one who is lost and aimless in all of this. She, more than any of them, seems highly confused. She grew up in a world so unlike their own, Dowager Queen Ingrid explains. No magic and no castles. A bit of his old adventurer’s itch hits him and he almost wishes he could explore that world, to see what it was like to live somewhere so strange.
He tells himself that is why he wanders into the garden.
And she’s only a girl, one who is desperately confused, but she sleeps like a woman. Her lips are set in a firm line as though she remains on guard and Killian wonders what kind of life she lived as an orphan, what battles she had to face. There are little wrinkles on her forehead he suspects have nothing to do with laughter.
He wishes that fate had been kinder to her.
A week later she appears at the breakfast table in a dress that was actually made for her - post-haste by the royal tailor - and he suddenly realizes she is very much a woman. The gown emphasizes the natural curves of her body and he spends half of the meal trying not to stare at her breasts. Never before has he been thrown so off-balance by a woman and, frankly, it concerns him.
“I will see you in two months, Emma,” the woman whispers, her voice just loud enough for Killian to catch. “We will spend all night dancing and eating. You should see how they party here in this world - It puts Chuck E. Cheese to shame!”
Emma pulls her tighter and Killian turns away from the tears pouring down her cheeks. “Do you have to go, Ingrid? We have plenty of space for you and I’m sure Mom and Dad won’t mind-”
“I have to go.” Ingrid releases Emma and holds her by the shoulders. “Remember what I said about destiny? I’ve done the first part, I’ve brought you back home. Now its time to fix my own family. I’ve got two nieces who don’t have a mother to look after them. You have Snow. My job is done here.” The princess nods and Killian breaks his silence to lighten the mood.
“Not to mention a great-niece who may be the most brilliant toddler in all the kingdoms.”
Ingrid turns, a smile on her tear-stained face. “Yes, Killian, I will be sure to shower her with the love of her far-away uncle. Any special messages for the young princess?”
“Tell her Uncle Killy loves her and then tickle her under the arms, that is where she is most ticklish.”
They share grins and, with a final kiss to Emma’s forehead, Ingrid climbs into her carriage and leaves.
He tries not to interpret the look Emma gives him before retreating into the castle, but, then again, he also tries not to interpret the fact she calls him Killy for the next ten days.
Who will be taking the fourth throne?
Killian does not see the princess much in the weeks leading up to her grand ball. She’s been whisked away to take tours of the kingdom and to lessons that will teach her how to eat and dance and make polite conversation. They are likely much like the classes he himself took at the age of fifteen: an introduction to nobility.
At mealtimes, she slowly becomes more and more comfortable conversing with her parents. Her brows soften and her lips curl into genuine smiles. He knows that Snow and David have both been taking time to get to know her and answer any questions she may have. Eventually, she begins reaching out to them, offering goodnight hugs and hesitant kisses on the cheek. He can see how each new sign of affection is a gift, making the royal couple more joyous than he has ever witnessed.
And so he smiles more when he sits in council meetings and talks with ambassadors. It feels good to take on more duties so that his surrogate parents may bond with their long-lost child. He almost feels as if he is flourishing under the challenges better than he would have if Snow had been less distracted.
He starts to think that maybe the three of them will slip away from the public eye and leave him to rule the kingdom.
Killian’s mind is buzzing after a less-than-satisfactory meeting when he catches the sounds of levity from the ballroom one afternoon. He peeks in the door and sees David and Emma stumbling around the floor while Snow and the Dance Mistress watch with appalled looks stretched across their faces.
“Charming, you are awful!” Snow shrieks. She turns to Mistress Helena and barely lowers her voice. “Is he this awful when he dances with me?”
“No, Your Majesty, your grace makes up for the Prince Consort’s, hem, defects.” Helena looks as though she is trying very hard not to laugh and offend her sovereign.
“Leading is not as easy as it looks, wife of mine,” David grunts, stumbling and nearly taking his daughter down with him.
Emma scrambles to get her legs under her. “Maybe it would go better if you stayed on both feet, Dad.”
At the sound of the familial endearment, David breaks into a ridiculous grin, eyes turning to focus on his daughter’s rolling eyes, and he finally tumbles to the ground. Emma lands on top of him with a soft oomph and Killian lets the chuckle that has been struggling to come from his lungs finally escape.
“So you think you can do better?” David asks when he spots Killian lurking by the door. “Go for it.” He pulls himself and the princess from the floor and steps away so that Emma is alone in the middle of the room.
This isn’t quite what Killian had planned when he heard the sound of laughter. He has been avoiding the lovely blonde woman for weeks not because of jealousy, but because she makes him feel off-balance and her green eyes see more than he would like.
Yet he still steps forward and sweeps into a low bow. “Princess Emma,” he asks when their eyes meet again, trying not to focus on the way it makes his stomach twist, “may I have this dance?”
She nods and Mistress Helena starts playing the piano. He places one hand on her back and uses the other one to capture her palm. When she first came to the palace, she smelled of the other world, the flowers of her soap almost too strong. But now her scent is lovely. Her dress has been laundered with the rest of the castle’s linens, and her perfume must be her mother’s. But there is something else, the essence of her, that he wants to breathe in for ages.
Her steps are cautious, unsure, and he realizes straight away that this has been her problem. She does not know what she is doing, and so her solution is to be careful.
“There are only two rules to dancing, Highness,” he murmurs in her ear, too quiet for her parents to catch. “The first is that you must be bold. Make every step as if you mean it.”
A smile plays on the corners of her mouth. “Where I come, we say fake it til you make it.”
Their dancing becomes more smooth and he leads her in a careful turn, away and then back to him, noticing how her breath catches as their bodies align again. “You’re not just talking about dancing, are you?” she asks.
Killian shakes his head and chuckles. “You catch on fast, princess.” He leads her in a promenade to the other side of the ballroom and speaks quickly. “If you are to be queen some day, then you may need to fake it til you make it.” The phrase feels strange on his tongue, but he smiles to see her amusement at the sound. “To succeed in this world, there is a certain amount of confidence that will cover all manner of mistakes.”
He takes her back toward her parents and her feet glide across the polished surface of the floor, the hem of her dress twirling by her feet. “What’s the second rule of dancing?”
“You said there were two rules.” Her eyes meet his again and his heart doubles in time. “What’s the second?”
“Choose a partner who knows what he is doing.”
The music ends, he releases her and bows, and feels a relief at the break in the tension.
She is dangerous, the princess, no matter how innocent she may appear.
He is barred from the weekly council meeting, but it is hardly a concern. There are many meetings that he, David, or both are kept from attending. Emma herself has only been invited to a handful since her return, and so he knows it is not indicative of him, just whatever situation is at hand. But lunch is a tense affair and he can feel both Snow and David watching him carefully, their eyes flitting back-and-forth from him to their daughter.
In hindsight, he should have been able to puzzle it out right then.
But his mind is on other matters and he spends his afternoon greeting dignitaries from across the Enchanted Forest. Liam arrives, with Elsa, little Olette, Anna, Kristoff, and Ingrid. He only has a moment to notice how the former queen’s shoulders are free of the weight she once carried before Emma carries her off to talk in private. And Killian becomes quite distracted by his brilliant niece and the stories of his Arendelle family.
Dinner that evening is a rousing affair. Anna and David are discussing weaponry, Ingrid and Liam spend the whole time talking about the family history of ice magic, Snow ends up with more of Olette’s food on her dress than in the girl’s mouth, Emma explains her world to Elsa, and Kristoff engages Killian in a battle of wits. It is loud, insane, and he spends the whole time grinning.
This is what family is supposed to be like, he thinks.
The hour is late when they all stand to retire for the evening. Olette has chosen Emma to fall asleep on and the princess holds her as if she is afraid to break the babe. Elsa extracts her daughter with a mother’s delicate touch, and she and Liam are the first to exit. Anna and Kristoff are next, followed by Ingrid who gives Emma a last kiss on her forehead.
“Killian. Emma. Wait.”
Snow is using her Queen voice and he stops immediately, back straightening as if she has caught him slouching.
“Your Majesty?” he asks with a raised brow, turning on his heel. “How may I serve my sovereign?”
“Stop being an ass, Killian,” David admonishes. “This is serious.”
Killian sinks back into his chair and Emma sits beside him, her own face as curious as he knows his is. David sits across from them but Snow remains standing, her arms crossed and face pinched.
“The council met this morning. Their purpose was to find a solution to this situation we are in.”
“Situation?” Emma leans back and cants her head.
David shifts uncomfortably. “Who will take the throne.”
“Ah.” He can feel her eyes flit to him for a moment but it takes all his strength to ignore the sharp warmth of her gaze. “That situation.”
Snow continues. “They are of two minds. On one hand, this is Emma’s birthright, and as the daughter of the queen she is the obvious choice as heir. Killian’s claim is so far removed that special concessions have already been made for him.” Her lips purse into a straight line. “On the other hand, Emma has not had the years of training that Killian has received, and he has proven himself time and time again as capable of the job.”
The Queen considers the both of them for a moment that feels like an eternity. “The council’s solution is for the two of you to be wed.”
Killian can hear the blood rush through his veins, so complete is the silence for several long seconds. And then Princess Emma is on her feet, fists at her waist and the set of her jaw exactly like her mother’s when she is enraged.
“No?” Snow is not used to having her will blocked and Killian can already see the storm rising in her eyes. “Are you refusing the council’s decision?”
“This is ridiculous!” Emma leans forward and her fists tighten. “How can they just tell me I’m getting married to someone I don’t even know? What if we hate each other? What if we can’t run the kingdom? What if-” she pauses to catch her breath, chest heaving “-what if I don’t even want to be the fucking queen of this damn country?”
All four of them are frozen, processing Emma’s words. The silence breaks when David stands and comes around the table to take his daughter’s hands in his own.
“Emma, sweetheart, I know this seems like a lot to take in, but your mother and I agree with the council.” Emma’s shoulders tense again as she takes in another breath but David cuts her off. “You and Killian would make an excellent match. Had things been different, perhaps the two of you would have been betrothed for years.”
“What happens if I say no?”
The words carry with them a blunt honesty that Killian finds refreshing after eight years of courtly double speak.
Snow speaks up. “If you say no then the council will reconvene and decide, unequivocally, who will be the heir to the kingdom.”
Emma pulls back and turns to face Snow, then Killian. Her green eyes are heavy with confusion and a part of him wishes he could just do the honorable thing, step away, and let her have what she was promised since birth. At least then he would feel as though the ground is solid beneath his feet. He can have those adventures he always dreamed of, travel the realm and find out if he is really brave, or just an overgrown boy.
But he cannot do that. This is all he has, all that is left of his mother’s wishes and his brother’s tutelage. He has trained for years for this very job, and, more than that, he likes doing it. And the people like him, Snow has said it herself many times.
His knees are getting too old to hit the floor, so instead he rests his hand over his heart and looks at Snow White with all the sincerity in his soul.
“Your Majesty, you once again honor me with your faith and trust in me. I have promised over and over again to serve my Queen and sovereign. Tonight I renew my pledge and agree to marry according to your wishes. I trust your wisdom and have faith that you have matched me with a partner that will aid me in serving Misthaven.”
Snow looks at her husband and daughter, a smile once again on her face. Killian follows her gaze and sees Princess Emma staring at him, dumbstruck. There is a crease between her brows and a block in her eyes that makes her difficult to read.
Finally, she throws her arms in the air and with all the reverence her upbringing afforded her, declares, “Fuck, let’s do this thing.”
Why are Disney Princess movies always about finding the prince?
Cuz in Emma's experience, that's been the easiest thing about her new life.
Ever since she woke up in a castle she's been trying to learn how to, like, run a country and present herself like she's not an idiot. That's meant history lessons, geography and economic books, hours learning to curtsey and dance and eat with the right fork, and just sitting with her parents and asking what Misthaven is like.
There hasn't been a moment that she's thought it wasn't hard, but to see the proud smiles on Mom and Dad's faces has been everything to her. (Of course, they smile like that when she passes them the rolls at the table. It just feels better when she's actually earned it by doing something more than being their daughter.)
"So, when's the big date?" Emma asks, tossing herself back into her chair. "June wedding? Next year?"
"Ah, well-" Mom looks at Dad and bites her lip and Emma can already feel her fingertips go numb with fear. "The council was considering the first of the year?"
"The first of next year? A year from now?" Killian's soft voice sounds as full of panic as her own heart and she envies how Dad is already back at Mom’s side, holding her hand as always. She doesn't even know this guys' favorite color, much less feel like she can touch him casually. So Emma settles for curling her fingers into the dress on her lap.
"More like four days from now," Snow finally spits out, not looking at either her daughter or surrogate son. "If it was to happen eventually and we already have the dignitaries from across the Enchanted Forest-"
"And it would keep Regina from gaining a foothold with the people," Killian interjects, his mouth in a grim line. "Your parents welcome you back with open arms in three days time and the future King, the Heir Apparent for years and descendant of Queen Marilla, marries you the next day. It provides a stunning picture of unity with the princess who grew up in a different world. It also gives a message of refusal to let the awful events of the past define our future." He smirks. "Brilliant move from the council. I am almost jealous I did not think of it myself."
Emma’s fingers clench the soft gray fabric. “What is wrong with you people? Shit. Arranged marriages and marriages that make people look good but don’t have anything to do with actually liking each other?” She catches Killian’s jaw clench out of the corner of her eye, but she focuses her gaze on her parents. “Is this normal here or are you guys all just cold as ice?”
Dad tucks his chin and Emma feels a surge of triumph that she was able to make him feel bad. “My marriage was arranged.”
Snow White and Prince Charming? Wait, did Disney leave that part out? Her jaw drops open and she stutters, “You- you two were-?”
Mom smiles and shakes her head. “No, he was engaged to someone else before we met.”
They exchange looks and Emma wonders if there are dentists here in this world because she almost gets a toothache. “And once I met your mother I knew I couldn’t be with anyone else.”
“So what about me?” Their eyes snap back to her and she can feel Killian’s blue gaze as well, even though she’s too scared to meet it, much less evaluate it. “What if we get married on New Years and then I meet someone else, my Prince Charming, and we fall in love? Is there such a thing as divorce in this world? Do people break up?”
The discomfort on their faces is growing and her fingers tangle in her skirt again. She twists and tugs and is stopped suddenly by a warm, heavy hand over hers.
“The life of royalty is often full of difficult choices. There are times you must decide if you will be loyal to your people or loyal to your heart. I have heard the story of your parents falling in love many, many times. And if they were to tell it now, you would see that they chose one another at a time when neither of them were loyal to their kingdoms - your father becoming the prince to a truly awful King, and your mother being thrown from her home by an evil Queen. When you have nothing, it makes love all the more valuable, all the more important.” His hand squeezes and she can feel her heart do the same.
“When I had nothing, I had Liam. And then I had your parents. So loyalty to my kingdom and loyalty to my heart are one and the same.” He gently turns her hand over and laces their fingers together, her own eyes captivated by the soft black hairs on the back of his wrist. “You may not love me, and you may not love this kingdom, but your people love you and they wish for you to be Queen. If you choose to do that with me as your King, I can promise unfailing loyalty to both you and to the people of Misthaven.”
His exhale tickles her neck and it is only then, when she shivers and finally meets his eyes, which are so clear and honest that they almost match the dawn grey of her dress, that she realizes just how near he is. The Heir Apparent hasn’t been this close to her since their dance a few weeks ago, when he left her breathless and flushed and wishing he would show her just how good of a partner he could be.
(At first she was worried she couldn’t get divorced, now she’s scared she’s going to embarrass herself in front of the Grade A Beefcake who’s pretty much ignored her since she showed up at his doorstep to ruin his life.)
She squeezes her fingers in his, wrapping her other hand around the back of his so that she cradles it firmly. Its time to shit or get off the pot, and this will determine the rest of her life.
“Yes. Let’s get married in four days.”
Although the wedding is going to happen on Saturday, with cakes and delicacies all being cooked up in the kitchen under the sharp eye of Granny (now there’s a girl who knows how to get shit done), the ceremony itself will be a secret until it is announced Friday night at the ball. So Emma’s finding it awkward to live as if her life isn’t going to be turned upside down (for the second time in three months) in a few short day’s time.
She spends most of Wednesday with Ingrid, asking Granny to pack them a picnic lunch so they can leave the palace to explore the fields and forests surrounding it. Emma treks through the tall grass in soft leather boots and pants, together with a loose tunic making the best approximation of jeans and t-shirt she can get in this world. Ingrid daintily holds onto the long skirt of her dress as they wade through sweet grass and tall flowers, smiling at Emma’s surprise and confiding that one of the things she had missed most about this realm was the clothing.
“You do love, it, don’t you?” Ingrid asks as they step under the cool cover of the forest. “The dresses, the corsets, the jewels?”
Emma nods reluctantly and shifts the picnic basket to her other hand. “Its the kind of stuff I used to dream about- I thought it was stupid but now I realize that it’s because that’s what I had for three years.”
“This is where you were always meant to be, Emma,” Ingrid says, taking the basket from Emma’s elbow and perching on a rock beside a stream. She sits down beside her adopted mother and pulls a jar of dried fruit and nuts out of the basket and starts munching contemplatively. “You were born to be a princess… and a Queen.”
Emma hums, her full mouth sending bits of spittal and food into the air. Ingrid gives her a look. “Yeah, about that..” she says after she’s swallowed.
Ingrid leans forward to fill her skein with water from the stream. “What’s that?”
“The council made a decision about who gets to rule Misthaven, which I honestly hadn’t really been thinking about, what with me only being here for like two months and knowing literally nothing about ruling a kingdom and-”
“Emma.” Ingrid’s gaze is amused over her shoulder. “What did they say?”
“They want me and Killian to get married on Saturday and rule together.”
(She’s always been a ripping-the-bandaid-off kind of girl.)
Ingrid’s eyebrows, still perfect in this world, even without a beautician’s aid, rise slowly up her forehead. “Well,” she says after a moment, blinking twice and rising again, “I can’t say I am surprised, although I did not expect this to happen quite so soon.”
“You- you expected this?” A handful of fruit lies forgotten in Emma’s hand as she gapes at the older woman.
“Well of course. You forget that I came from a royal family as well, Emma. Arranged marriages are common.”
“Were you ever set up with someone like this?”
Ingrid shakes her head and sips at her water. “No, I was too mysterious and hidden to be betrothed. I was afraid of my own powers, scared I would hurt someone. No one ever asked and my parents never pushed.”
Emma pops a strawberry into her mouth and sighs. “I wish my parents wouldn’t push.”
“Oh Emma,” Ingrid reaches into the basket and retrieves a roll, pulling the soft bread apart and taking a bite of the fresh treat. “You are so much stronger than I ever was. And you know yourself much better. At eighteen I would have run scared from the very thought of marriage.” She pauses, narrowing her eyes comically. “We aren’t out here to run away, are we?”
“No, no.” Emma shakes her head. “I just needed to get away from the castle so I could think. And I- I wanted to talk to someone else about all of this.”
“So what do you think?”
“Well, I said yes.”
“You know you can still say no,” Ingrid replies, taking another bite of her roll and inspiring Emma to reach for one of her own.
“I’m not going to though.”
Emma takes a huge chomp of her roll and uses the time it takes to chew and swallow to consider her answer. “Because I want to make my parents proud.”
“Emma.” Ingrid reaches for her hand and her lips twist into a sad frown that mirrors her sad blue eyes. “Your parents are proud of you no matter what.”
She sighs and nods and takes another bite of the roll. “I know. But I want to earn it this time. I want to be Queen and take care of Misthaven like they have. And I want to do it to make them proud and to prove to myself that I can do it- that the reason all of this-” she gestures to the forest, to her clothes, “-feels so right is because I’m meant to be here doing this.”
Ingrid’s eyes have gone a little watery, and the other woman takes the jar of fruit and nuts from her with a misty smile. They don’t speak for several minutes, content to let the animal calls and bubbling brooke be the soundtrack to their meal.
“You know,” Ingrid finally says, eyes trained on where she is picking out all of the blueberries, “you do not need to marry Killian in order to rule.”
“Well, that’s kind of what the council said.”
“Hmmm,” Ingrid replies, finally looking up with another perfect eyebrow raised. “You’re a clever girl. I am sure you could convince them otherwise.”
Emma can feel her face grow red and her fingers clench, remembering the feeling of his palm pressed against her own and how good that had felt, how she hadn’t wanted to let go of him. She has a crush on the guy, there’s no way around that, and there’s a not-so-little part of her that hopes maybe some day he could end up liking her too.
(God, its like she’s living in a cheesy chick flick.)
She nibbles her lip, searching for a response, but Ingrid only stands, placing the jar back in the basket and dusting off her skirt. “Well,” she says in businesslike voice, as though it is not important at all (yeah right), “if he is anything like his brother, I am confident that Killian Jones will be a caring, attentive husband. About that I have no reservations.”
Emma spends the rest of their hike trying to figure out what Ingrid meant by all that and what exactly constitutes a caring, attentive husband.
Liam approaches Emma on Thursday after breakfast and asks to speak with her in private. The two of them head toward the docks in the little village adjacent to the palace, something about the cool ocean breeze feeling right when talking to one of the Jones brothers.
Liam Jones has the same dark hair and bright blue eyes as his younger brother, although his features are softer and rounder. That, combined with the fact that she doesn’t have to marry him in two days, makes her feel more comfortable with him than she does with Killian at the moment, and any residual nerves from being cornered by her future in-law are tempered by the soft, permanent smile on his face.
“We are about to become family,” he says, tucking his hands into his pockets and squinting at the afternoon sunlight reflecting off of the sea. “Killian and I did not grow up with a big family, nor a particularly loud or loving one. And from what I hear,” he clears his throat, “you were also the victim of some deficits in that area.”
Emma shrugs awkwardly, not sure how to respond. “Ingrid say that?” she asks.
“She speaks highly of you.” Liam’s eyes scan her face and he nods. “She tells me that my brother is a very lucky man.”
His hand rests on her shoulder and Emma’s face turns red immediately, not used to any sort of praise. His smile widens and he continues. “You should know that both Elsa and I, as well as Anna and Kristoff, are happy to welcome you to our family, and that we will all consider you a sister.”
Emma’s throat closes up at the last word. Sister. She’s only just getting used to what it means to be a daughter, but to have someone call her sister, someone she’s known for all of 48 hours, it is a little too much for the orphan girl who grew up all alone. She looks down as tears cloud her eyes and feels so incredibly embarrassed at how emotional this is all making her.
Liam’s hand squeezes her shoulder and she can hear a note of understanding in his voice. “He would kill me if I said anything, but the first time I called Kristoff brother he burst into tears and wouldn’t look at me for a week.”
She snorts and finally looks up. “Well that’s a little dramatic,” she says sarcastically, wiping away a tear or two and smiling.
“I did not realize how much it would affect him, being called brother, as I had always had my own beside me. Sometimes you take that for granted.”
Emma chews the inside of her cheek. “Dunno if I ever could.”
His hand claps her shoulder and he sighs, his voice turning light again and obviously changing the subject. “Well, my first sister, Anna, has been a wonderful one, but I sometimes find myself in need of someone to be truly pessimistic with me.”
Emma chuckles and swallows the last of the emotions. “Then you’re in luck, Jones, because I am really great at being grumpy.”
Liam’s eyebrows rise in mock-surprise and, at his gesture, they start walking forward again, the cool breeze of the docks ruffling her skirt. “Really? Snow and David are annoyingly positive and I thought perhaps that was something hereditary-?”
She laughs again and shakes her head. “Nope, nurture won out over nature on that one.”
He has her in stitches the entire rest of their walk, and when Emma sits down between Elsa and Liam for dinner that night and the three of them don’t stop talking, she starts to think maybe her parents have picked the perfect family for her to marry into.
Friday is the day of the celebration ball and everyone is going nuts. Servants run around like rats on a sinking ship, people with weird clothes and strange accents come pouring into the castle so that she ends up retreating into her quarters (which have been fixed up for her permanent rooms) after lunch. The sun is glowing through her windows when four women burst in the double doors and start preparing her for the main event. She gets scrubbed from head to toe, hair twisted and curled and piled up on top of her head, face painted with makeup that feels way less chemical-y than the stuff at the drugstore, and slipped into a dress that was made special for her.
It is a light, light blue (the color of Killian’s eyes the other night, she thinks) and the bottom half of her is just a mountain of tulle. Its the sort of dress she had on in her one memory of her parents: fluffy and princessy. Sparkles are at her hips and feathers at her shoulders, in honor of her last name, even if the Swans had been the first of many to toss her aside.
But she’s home now, and no one is getting rid of her, least of all her real parents, who look at her like the sun shines out her freakin’ ass.
“Oh honey,” Mom breathes when they meet in the hallway before making their grand entrance down the stairs. “You look stunning.” The green eyes - that look a lot like the ones Emma sees every day in the mirror - start to fill with tears and Dad just hands her a handkerchief with a smile. (And then he tries to hide the fabric he uses to dab the corners of his own eyes a minute later.)
“You do make quite the sight, love,” Killian murmurs from his place against the wall. She can feel him looking her up and down and she flushes at the attention, not really sure what she’s going to do when she’s gotta, you know, get married to the guy.
(She’s blocking out the wedding night already.)
She has this urge to run her hand down his chest, where the blue-and-white Naval uniform is hugging him and showing off the body she got a glimpse at her first day, but instead she twists her fingers together and gives Snow a big smile.
“Can we get this show on the road?”
Mom hesitates like she always does when Emma uses a phrase from the other world, but she nods, understanding well enough. “Let us start. Your father and I will enter first, then Killian, and then the music will change and you’ll make your grand entrance.” She claps her hands and leads the way towards the grand doors.
Her parents disappear, then Killian, and then, when her cue sounds, Emma walks into the bright lights of the party and gasps in surprise.
The castle is pretty, there is no doubt about it, but tonight there are tiny, sparkling lights over every surface and the gowns and jewels glitter so it is like she is looking down at a vast, brightly-colored night sky. She keeps her head up and gazes at the people, counting to ten like Dad told her, and slowly makes her way down the staircase. When her feet hit solid ground (and she’s no longer in danger of embarrassing herself and breaking her neck at the same time), her parents stand on either side of her.
Snow gives her a kiss on the cheek and David offers his arm to escort her to the dance floor and share the opening dance of the ball. Those hours of lessons must have really paid off, because even though she knows they kind of suck, they don’t fall over or trip and she ends the thing with a curtsey (which is actually really good) and everyone politely claps.
The crowd surges onto the floor and Emma takes a deep breath, glad to no longer be the center of attention.
“May I?” Mom’s eyes are shining (more tears, probably) as she asks for Emma’s permission to dance with Dad, and it is gladly given. “You were fantastic, dear,” is the parting comment before the lovebirds twirl away and Emma is left alone in the crowd.
“The first dance at a ball is the hardest. Trust me.” Her heart skips a beat at the familiar voice and Emma turns to give him a relieved, if sarcastic, smile.
“You say that, but tomorrow night I have to do it all over again.”
Even though he hasn’t asked and she hasn’t accepted, Killian takes her hand in his and draws her close to his body. “Ah, but the difference there, lass, is that I am a far superior dance partner to your father. There were a few moments when I feared for your ankles. I promise that no harm shall befall you when we share our wedding dance.”
There is a seriousness about his blue gaze and Emma thinks he might be talking about more than just the upcoming dance.
“I have to admit that I’m not so great at this whole dancing thing.” She expects him to laugh a little and take her literally, but instead he tilts his chin and gestures for her to continue, understanding the double talk. “There were a few guys that wanted to be on my, uh, dance card, but I had a hard time trusting them.” Emma hears the distinctive sound of her dad’s laugh across the ballroom and, for the first time, it hurts a little.
Killian doesn’t say a single word the rest of their dance, but Emma can tell by the clench in his jaw that he’s thinking hard about something. So she lets him work it out and she tries to catch her breath among the twirls and the spins and the soft firmness of his touch.
“Thank you for trusting me,” he says when he kisses her hand at the end of the song.
When she falls asleep that night, all she can think about is the look in his eyes as he took her hand in his when Snow White made the announcement about their wedding the next afternoon.
It looked a lot like hope.
Somehow, the wedding day is even more insane than the day before, but Emma is forced to stay in her quarters the whole morning, so she’s glad to be spared. She closes her eyes and lets the servants (six this time, which means they’re pretty damn serious) work their magic.
And yes, there is actual magic involved.
She stands in front of the mirror when they’re done and doesn’t recognize herself. She almost looked like a kid the night before, sweet and innocent in a ton of tulle, but today’s gown is a vivid red, made of sleek silk, and it hugs her curves in a way that makes her smile. Nope, she is so not a kid.
“You look radiant,” Mom says, wrapping her arms around Emma’s waist and resting her chin on Emma’s shoulder to gaze at her in the mirror. The servants file out with bows while mother and daughter contemplate themselves.
“But red? I thought brides wear white.”
“Do they? I did, but only because it was my favorite color. I know red is your favorite so I had the dressmakers start work on it a few weeks ago so you would have a special dress for the next ball.” Snow lets go of her and Emma turns. “If you would rather wear something else there might be a fairy around here gifted with fabrics-”
“No, no, its fine.” Emma takes Mom’s hands and clasps them gently. “Brides wear white in our world to show that they’ve stayed pure until their wedding.” But as soon as the words slip from her mouth Emma realizes what she’s said and feels a blush creep up her neck. “Not that I’ve-”
Snow releases her hands and waves at her to stop. “Don’t worry, Emma, your past is your business in that regard. And speaking of which-” she leads them to the loveseat and sits primly, “-I wanted to let you know that you are under no obligations to consummate your marriage immediately. Neither of you knows each other very well, and you’re young, and I just want to make sure you know that you only have to do what you feel comfortable doing.”
The blush has worked its way onto her face and Emma wants to cover it with her hands, this conversation is so embarrassing. What makes it worse is that Emma really wouldn’t mind doing the nasty with Killian. The idea of stripping off all of her clothes and jumping in the sack has gone through her mind more than once since he burst through the doorway, all black leather and chest hair. But oh man how awkward to have the hots for someone who’s only marrying you out of duty.
To your mother.
So Emma just nods and, a few minutes later, lets her mom escort her to the chapel.
Snow White on one side, Prince Charming on the other, Emma takes a deep breath, watches the doors open dramatically, and thinks to herself
Let’s do this bitch.
Killian’s last night as a bachelor involves several bottles of rum and three married men with far too much advice.
“Oh, what do you lot know?” he finally grunts when Kristoff has offered his third cliche in a row. Killian drags his Naval jacket from the chair back and tucks it around his front like a blanket. “You all got married for love.”
“And you don’t love her?” Liam, who had stopped speaking almost a half hour ago and appeared to be dozing in the corner, groggily pipes up. “Not at all?” It was the one question his brother had not asked him as they sat around their old quarters together and talked all day Thursday. Liam had avoided bringing up love, focusing instead on duty and family and honor and making a few choice comments about the wedding night.
At the question this evening, Killian gives David a long, measured look, to which his future father-in-law shrugs and pantomimes sealing his lips.
“I hardly know the woman.”
Liam chuckles in that annoying, condescending way he has been doing since Killian was a lad, and he feels his lips turn down in a frown on habit. “That is not answering the question.”
“Princess Emma is-” Lovely. Witty. Clever. Kind. Modest. Talented. Dedicated. Resilient. Brilliant. Adaptable. A slice of perfection that were Killian to let his heart get away from him, could tear his soul in two with nary a glance. “-unlike anyone I have ever met before.”
Kristoff snorts into his rum. “Sounds like love to me.”
Killian grasps his drink and takes a swig, feeling suddenly very defensive. “Sounds like we are serving our kingdom.”
His brother offers a final platitude before finally falling asleep, his snores eventually filling up the room. “Emma does not strike me as the type of woman who does anything she does not wish to do.”
And the words, though simple, run through his head as he drifts off to sleep. They’re on his mind as he shrugs on a new brown jacket for the ceremony and when he stands at the end of the aisle, watching Princess Emma of Misthaven walk toward him as his bride.
No, his brother is right, Emma is a tough lass, who refuses to be cowed. And though she comes with the same caution in her form that he can feel weigh down his own body, there is a fire in her eyes that refuses to be dulled. It would be ridiculous to say that she loves him, but there is an affection there, a kindness that they share. He might be so bold as to say that they have a spark, but to admit it out loud may banish the flame that he would like to spend the rest of his life tending.
He can tell that she is a woman who, to earn her heart, is to win a great prize indeed.
The ceremony is much like the one he attended years ago in Arendelle, the words familiar. Their hands are binded together and it is strangely intimate to feel her soft flesh against his own. When he meets her eyes, she bites her lip and quickly looks back at the priestess.
“The winds above will guide your journey together, the waters will sustain your love, the fires will burn your passion for one another, and the earth shall give your life a firm foundation. May your spirits be one, from now until you join the stars.”
“From now until you join the stars,” the crowd repeats.
His eyes dart to her mouth. “Now is where we kiss, love,” he whispers, surprised by how rough his voice is. Her eyes are on his lips as well and then she meets his gaze with a slight nod. He takes it as a sign of her consent and leans forward.
Killian had thought her hands soft, but they are nothing compared to her cheek, velvet beneath his hesitant fingers. And her lips, they are a rose blooming in winter, trembling and tender against his own. With a slight gasp, her lips open like petals against his and, for a moment, he can almost feel the fragrant breeze of spring against his skin.
The crowd cheers and they break apart, her face turning the same lovely crimson as her gown. He wants to kiss her again, now that he knows how she kisses, but settles for offering a sly smile as the priestess releases their hands and, her palm still held tight against his, leads her down the aisle and toward the ballroom.
"Are you going to stop calling me 'Princess Emma' finally?" she asks when they are out of earshot.
"Gods above, what else would you have me call you?"
"How about Emma without the Princess part? I don't think I've ever heard you say it."
He finally lets go of her hand and, in an uncharacteristically bold move, places his arm around her slim waist. "I believe that could be arranged, Emma. I was going to request you address me as High Supreme King of Misthaven and Most Stunning Man in all the Realm, but perhaps Killian will do to start."
Her hip nudges his, and she groans, eyes dancing with a sparkle he wishes to gaze at for the rest of his life. "If I had known you were a pain in the ass I might have thought twice about marrying you."
Oh yes, she was born for this life.
As the crowds finally dissipate and the light of dawn makes the ballroom glow, Killian sinks into a chair with a heavy sigh.
“The carriage is ready, Killian.” David’s eyes are weary as he claps Killian’s shoulder. “If you two leave now you will make it to your chateau by nightfall.”
The idea of traveling down a bumpy road all day sounds like a nightmare, but Killian is so tired he knows he will fall asleep immediately. And when they arrive, they will share a fortnight of silence far from the court and from any balls or ambassadors or councils. He stands and stretches, letting out a mighty yawn.
Snow White and David and the Arendelle lot are there to see them off, Ingrid with a whisper in Emma’s ear that makes her blush, Anna to hug the both of them and exclaim that she cannot wait until they come to visit, and David to pull him into an embrace and call him “son.” Killian ducks his head at that one, not sure if he can look the man in the eye without becoming more emotional. The sun finally crests the horizon when Killian and his new wife climb into their plush carriage, both wearing soft leather traveling clothes, and depart for their honeymoon.
Killian’s eyes drift shut before they pass the village and by the sounds of Emma’s steady breathing, she is a minute ahead of him. He doesn’t wake up until the sun is beginning its downward descent and a loud crunch startles him back to consciousness.
“Sorry,” Emma mumbles around a mouth full of cracker. “I got hungry. Didn’t mean to wake you up.”
“Not at all, love.” He wipes the sleep from his eyes and gives her a lazy smile. “Did Granny pack anything else in the hamper? Perhaps some of that cheese she makes?” Said treat is produced and soon the newlyweds are sharing a merry feast of fruits, rolls, cheese, and gulps of wine. Emma looks more comfortable than he has ever seen before and he wonders what it is - distance from the pressures of the palace? - joy at the mountain of foods to eat? - or, he considers with not a small amount of optimism, is it his own presence and the stories he tells her of the villages and people they pass?
The rest of the journey is filled with food, tales, and long moments of silence as they stare out the windows at the passing landscape and, at least in Killian’s case, wonder what will happen come evening.
The familiar shape of his ancestral chateau finally appears on the horizon and he feels his spine straighten at the sight. He has lived in the great castle for eight years now, but there is still something about this place that feels like home. There are memories in these walls and history in every room - both his own and his family’s. Since his father’s death, Killian has spent a small fortune to restore what age and apathy has taken away from the chateau. The result was a clean, comfortable home. Perhaps, Killian thinks as the carriage enters the gate, this will be where he and Emma vacation during the summers, teaching their children to swim in the ocean as he learned so long ago.
Her eyes are drinking in the home and he wishes to read her face, so he might know what is on her mind.
A small staff was gathered from the castle and the nearby village. The cook has prepared a hearty meal in front of a warm fire and, despite sleeping most of the day, Killian can feel his muscles beg to be stretched across a bed and given more rest. He and Emma sip their stew in near-silence until her eyes start to droop and he chuckles into his water goblet.
“Come then, wife,” he smiles. “Let us retire to bed.”
“To bed?” she asks, looking up at him with an unreadable expression. “Or to bed?”
Killian is entirely sure that there is no correct answer to this question. He settles for standing and offering her his arm, which she takes, her palm warm on his forearm. “Let me show you the master suite.”
All of the quarters in Snow White’s castle are made up of two bedrooms connected by a sitting room. While Liam lived there, the two shared quarters and had their own separate sleeping spaces. Since his departure, Killian has had the quarters to himself, save the occasional good friend spending time at the castle. His family chateau comes no where near the opulence of the Queen’s castle, and as he opens the door to the master suite, revealing the single space with a large bed, wardrobe, vanity, and loveseat, he is afraid to see her reaction to the smaller room.
“I know it is not what you are used to,” he says, eyes lingering on the scuff on his great grandmother’s vanity he was quite sure he told the staff to thoroughly restore. “We do not have to stay here long if you would rather return to the castle-”
But she has already entered the suite ahead of him, running her fingers lightly over the striped fabric of the bench at the end of the bed and smiling at the sight of their trunks. “Its beautiful, Killian. I love the colors.”
“This entire wing was decorated to resemble the ocean. If you step out onto the balcony,” he gestures to where the deep blue curtains are softly fluttering, “you can make out the sea on a bright night.”
She walks to the widow and parts the curtains, peering beyond before looking back over her shoulder at him. “No moon tonight.”
“So I suppose we should go to sleep.”
There is a suggestion in her eye, something that speaks of bodies damp with sweat, trembling fingers and sweet release. This is, in effect, their wedding night, and Killian is well aware of the expectations placed upon him. It is their children who will ensure the future of Misthaven, and Killian can cite several historical incidents when a lack of consummation led to war.
But now, the only war is the one within his own mind. Should he give in to his body’s desires or be a gentleman and give her time to know him before he allows them to make love?
David’s words to him right before the ceremony are ringing through his ears. “Killian, we are all aware that this is not a love match. So do not feel pressured to consummate the marriage right away - give love some time to bloom.” David had clapped him on the shoulder and left him to his own thoughts, to his selfish visions of what it would be like to bed the fiery princess from another realm. And now, staring at Emma and seeing the same desire in her eyes, it would be far too easy to give in.
He breaks her gaze and turns to slip off his coat and hang it in the wardrobe. “It has been a long three days and we both need our sleep." His fingers make the familiar route down his torso, unbuttoning his shirt and his shoulders hunch a bit to shield his bare skin from her eyes, despite his back being turned. "If you would rather I sleep in another room so that you are more comfortable-"
"No." A look over his shoulder and he sees something like disappointment flash in her eyes before being replaced by a wall. "This is your room too. I won't kick you out."
Killian steps behind the screen and changes into a soft pair of trousers, his usual sleep attire. But he feels far too exposed when he returns, her eyes on his uncovered chest warming his skin and a blush starting at the tips of his ears and spreading across his face.
Emma looks away and takes her own turn behind the partition and by the time he can hear her bare toes padding on the stone, his eyes are firmly shut, blanket wrapped around his body, and head propped on the stiff arm of the loveseat.
Her incredulous tone floats above him and Killian tries to relax his eyelids and feign sleep.
"I know you're faking."
Slowly, he opens one eye, then the other, and finds himself face-to-face with a satin-covered stomach. The nightdress she is wearing is short and thin, and he can feel the blush return at the freckles on her thighs and and swell of her bosom. Her eyes are emerald daggers and the frustration is radiating off of her in waves.
"Get in the fucking bed."
"Love, perhaps for tonight I will just-"
"Get in. The fucking. Bed."
Her tone brokers no argument and he meekly follows her to the four-poster bed and slips under the sheets, carefully balancing on the edge. Behind his lids he can see the light dim and he knows she has blown out the candles, only the dying fire to see by. The bed shifts when she crawls in. It is torture to lie here next to her, to fight the temptation to claim her and be claimed in turn. He tries to relax his tensed muscles and there are several long, long moments of silence before he hears a whisper that breaks his heart, her voice full of betrayal.
"I know this whole situation is awkward, but I grew up with fake families. I don't want a fake husband. We sleep in the same bed."
Killian turns and he can make out the lump that is his wife, curled in a ball under the blankets with her head facing away from him. He can remember nights sleeping the same way, imagining the arms wrapped around his legs were his mother's, wishing for the courage to ask his brother to protect him in the midnight darkness. He cannot do this to her. He cannot make her believe that she is so alone. Although his sense of propriety is screaming at him to stay on his side of the bed, he makes his way closer to her and curls his body around hers. Her stiff back is pressed to his bare chest and his arm hesitantly rests over her own.
"I am here, lass. No part of me or this marriage is fake."
Her hand nudges against his and their fingers lace, this new feeling making him unconsciously sigh in contentment.
It is enough for tonight. To hold her. To show his commitment by shielding her from the dark.
It is enough.
The sea is far away from his room in the palace, barely visible out his windows, a long walk on foot to the bustling port that holds Misthaven's Navy. He had missed the ocean's lullaby when he relocated at nineteen and so when he hears it now, he knows he cannot be awake. Life is too perfect with the sound of the ocean so close.
He also knows that he is dreaming because Emma is in his arms. Her hair is tickling his face and he can feel the velvet of her shoulder against his lips, making him press closer to her. This isn't a new dream, having Emma in his bed with him. She has been haunting him since the week she arrived in the palace, her timid courage and inspiring resilience making him wonder what it would be like to be loved by such a woman. So he enjoys the peace of this dream, the realism of her scent all around him and the way that, as always, she sighs in his arms and burrows deeper into his embrace.
Three sharp raps on the door and his eyes fly open and he realizes that he is not dreaming.
Emma must be, however, because she rolls over and smiles in her sleep, a gentle snore vibrating in her throat. His face is now pressed against her neck and if he leans up just a bit he could kiss the proud line of her jaw, a mighty temptation as his morning stiffness hardens.
Three more knocks force him out of bed, blanket wrapped around his lower half, and a furious glare for the poor serving girl who was just following the instructions to bring breakfast to the newlyweds and tend to their fire. Killian takes a deep breath and allows her to set to her task, only waking Emma when the young woman has slipped from the room with wide, penitent eyes.
"Good morning," he whispers, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear and grinning when she squints at him, her face pinched and confused.
"Morning," she grunts. "What's going on?"
She sits up at that, the sheet falling off her midsection and giving him another glance at her barely-concealed bosom. "I do like breakfast," she says.
He discovers, in their conversation over their meal, that she does not know how to swim. This deficit in her education must be rectified, and they set to task as soon as a bathing outfit can be found by one of the maids. The dress covers little more than her nightgown and Killian is very, very glad that he shall be under the water for the duration of the lesson.
But he still finds her body pressed against his far too often as he teaches her to float and tread water and swim. The soaked fabric clings to her body and he itches to memorize every inch of her not with his eyes, but with his hands and his lips.
After her swimming is decent enough to satisfy him, they have lunch and pass their afternoon in companionable conversation, the tension of the last evening evaporating as he shows her around the chateau and she answers questions about her world and her upbringing. He almost feels bad, he wants to tell her, as they sip their wine at dinner, that he had opportunity to be raised by her parents. It isn't fair that he was given two mothers and two fathers while she had none at all.
He would let her have it all if he could. He would change his life, change his fate to give her a better past and a brighter future. She deserves everything that destiny never gave her.
The final course has been taken away when the dining room doors burst open, startling Emma and making her spill her goblet. He stands and turns, prepared to verbally berate whoever has chosen to disturb their meal, and he catches sight of the culprit.
It is a huge wolf, eyes glowing yellow and fierce. As Killian's arms slowly lower, the wolf shifts and shrinks and becomes Red, Snow White's dearest friend. Her cloak is torn and a large gash marrs her lovely face. But her eyes are still glowing wild and dread claws at the pit of his stomach before she even opens her mouth.
"Its Regina. She's returned and the castle has fallen. She is coming this way. Run!"
Even though it was magic that created a door where there was a wall and a light where there was only darkness, bringing her to a new world that was her home all along, Emma is still adjusting to a life where magic is possible.
(Not that cheap magician shit she used to scoff at on the tv. Real magic.)
That’s probably why, when the woman introduced as her godmother a month ago appears where a wolf had been a moment before, she takes a few seconds longer than Killian to haul ass. His strong palm is pressed against her own, pulling her through a plain door and into the kitchen, still heavy with the scent of dinner. Her feet tangle underneath her and her mind is sluggish when he whispers hurriedly with the chef.
“Regina is coming this way,” he says as he pulls two cloaks off of the wall, throwing one into her clumsy fingers and wrapping the other around his body with a flick of his wrist. “We must run.”
The tiny, wrinkled woman kisses his cheek and looks at the pair with fearful eyes. “Go to my boy’s home by the blacksmith, you shall be safe there-”
“No.” Killian’s eyes flash and Emma thinkings, dazedly, that he will be a truly commanding King. “If you know where we are then Regina can torture it out of you. I will send word when we have saved the kingdom.” His hand cups her aged face and there’s the same softness in his gaze as when he looks at Emma’s own parents. “Take care, Matilda.”
“No imposter queen scares me!” the woman shouts as Killian leads them out the door. “She isn’t a witch, she’s a bitch!”
The corners of Killian’s mouth twitch, but then his hand is like a vice around her own and he’s pulling her through the dark woods on the side of his family’s home. She’s got two left feet as she stumbles her way to safety, but Killian’s pace doesn’t change and she can feel his pulse pressed against her wrist, rapid and terrified, and she tries to run faster.
Regina’s her step grandmother or something and Emma’s really not up for a family reunion.
They make it to the edge of the tiny seaside village a few minutes later, and when they look back up at the big house, Emma can make out the dark shapes of a carriage and at least a dozen men in armor. “We must be quick, love,” Killian says. He finally releases her hand and pulls a ring off of his thumb. “We sell this for some coin and find someone to return us to your mother’s castle.”
“And then what?” She spots a building marked as a merchant’s and follows him to its door.
Killian turns the knob and gestures for her to step inside. “We figure it out from there, I suppose.”
If the man behind the dusty counter recognizes Killian, his face and words don’t betray it. The exchange happens quickly, a golden ring with a heavy gemstone for a bag of coins that clinks against Killian’s leg as they walk briskly towards the docks, cloaks pulled up over their faces. The scent of the ocean doesn’t bring Emma the usual relief, her heart too full of panic, and she resists the urge to look around for signs of bad guys.
There’s a heavy crease in Killian’s brow and it looks like he’s searching for something specific, hell if Emma knows what it is. He must find it though, because his jaw clenches and his hand finds hers again. “There, that one,” he says, setting their path towards a huge boat with black and purple lines painted on it. “Those aren’t the colors of this kingdom. That ship is from Treschland. An ally to Misthaven, though not a close one. They won’t recognize us and Regina will not pursue us.”
“So we’re not a prince and a princess?”
Killian stops and brushes a soft thumb across her cheek. “No, lass, we are not.”
Emma shrugs. “This whole princess thing is sorta new anyway. Not a big deal to fake it.” And then she smiles, the first one in almost an hour, and it feels forced, but not too much. “Now you, on the other hand, have been a prince your whole life. You think you can pretend to be a commoner?”
He smiles a little too and she feels the pressure around her heart decrease, like everything is going to be okay. “I shall follow the lady’s lead.”
“Excuse me!” Emma turns and yells at the dudes on deck in her most annoying voice (based off a certain foster mother who loved her mani/pedis and her margaritas). “Excuse me, sailor guys. I’m looking for the captain?”
There are a few glares thrown her way, but a guy with broad shoulders and a frown makes his way down the gangplank and looks at the two of them, probably wondering how much trouble is about to be thrown his way.
“If your home or business has been damaged by a member of my crew, miss-”
“Its Mrs.” Emma bites back, arching her eyebrow and glaring at the captain. “Mrs. Kent as of this afternoon, when me and Clark got married.” She steps closer to Killian and looks at him, really looks at him in the way she hasn’t let herself before. The rest of the world falls away and she drowns a little bit in those bright blue eyes. But where normally she would look away and blush or never even look in the first place, she memorizes the flecks of silver in his irises and the rim of darker blue on the outside. She counts the freckles on his nose and takes time to examine that little scar on his cheek that has been perplexing her since she first noticed it.
For the first time, she lets herself really look at Killian, no holding back.
He is beautiful.
And a voice in the back of her head whispers in this gleeful little voice, And he is mine!
“Congratulations,” the captain mutters, voice thick with annoyance and Emma blinks, finally startled out of her stare. There’s amusement in Killian’s face, and a little bit of the wonder she knows was written across her own, and she blushes, hoping that this will sell the story. “What does this all have to do with me, Mrs. Kent?”
“My, uh, my dad doesn’t know,” Emma continues, turning back to the captain. “And he’d kill me if he found out. We’re trying to start a new life somewhere else. And we’re looking for passage on a ship.”
There is a long moment when the man looks the two of them over, probably taking note of how nice their clothes look and how they’re both covered in twigs and grass stains. Finally, he purses his lips and sighs. “Where are you heading?”
“Snow White’s castle,” Killian replies. “My aunt lives in the village and she’s fond of me.”
“Hmm. We planned to pass through there as we travel along the coast. It will cost you a fair coin.”
Killian pulls back his cloak a little and jiggles his bag of gold. “We are willing to pay for your service.”
The captain breaks into a smile, one that reveals several missing teeth, but also makes his face look less severe. “Welcome aboard.”
Coins move from Killian’s hand to the captain’s and after a few words too quiet for Emma to pick up, they are escorted down a ladder, through a hallway, and to a door. “‘We’ll be shoving off in a minute, Mr. Kent. Breakfast’ll be shortly after sunrise. I’ll send a boy to come help you find your way there.” He smirks a little bit and gives the pair a long, amused look, before tipping his head and leaving them all alone.
“Ugh.” Emma shivers a little bit. “He looked at us like that ‘cause he thinks this is our wedding night, huh?”
“Yes.” Killian opens the door to reveal a room that’s barely bigger than a closet (in fact, that foster mother she impersonated earlier had a walk-in closet twice as large) with a twin bed built into the wall. “And he was aware of the size of the mattress.”
“Oh man, there’s barely room for fucking, much less sleeping.”
The words slip out before she can keep them in and Emma feels her entire face grow hot when she makes eye contact with her husband (yeah, that’s still weird) and wonders what the hell he is thinking. She practically had to drag him into the huge bed last night and now they’ll have to share the world’s smallest mattress.
(It wouldn’t be so embarrassing if it weren’t so depressingly clear that he wants nothing to do with her and sex. He hardly touches her, never checks her out, always waits for her to initiate any contact. It's like he has a sign plastered on his forehead saying Not Interested! Sure, they have fun together and they laugh and they get along, but Emma’s starting to wonder what’s so wrong with her that he isn’t making any moves.
They are married. It's not like it would be scandalous or anything.
Hell, with all this talk about heirs, it might even be necessary.)
Killian clears his throat and gestures for her to step into the cramped room, closing the door behind them. “No worries, love, I do not plan on doing either of those things in that bed.” His toe traces a knot in the wood. “I shall be fine on the floor.”
“On the floor?”
“Yes.” His gaze is still on his foot.
“No fuckin’ way are you sleeping on the hard floor of a moving ship, Killian Jones.”
“No fuckin’ way.” Emma takes a step forward (she only needs one, in this miniscule cabin) until they are toe-to-toe and waits for his eyes to return to hers. When they do, his pupils widen. “We are running from a queen that wants to hurt me and my family, and she has magical powers, and we don’t know what happened and we don’t know what to do next. So you are going to suck it up, lay down in the bed, and get some sleep tonight, because I can’t have you walking around like a zombie when I have no one else right now.”
Somewhere in the middle of her speech her anger has turned to hysteria and Emma is pissed that her vision is growing hazy as her eyes fill with tears. Her face is doing that ugly, pinched thing it does when she cries and she wants to turn away, to not let Killian see, but it is obviously too late, because before she can hide her face she feels his arms wrap around her back and then her nose is pressed into this nice-smelling place where his neck meets his shoulder. He sighs a little bit and she wonders if that’s a sad smile she can feel against her forehead.
“Emma, oh Emma, darling.” He is strong and solid against her, and just to be in his arms makes her heart beat a little slower and her breathing come a little easier. “Emma, my love, we are going to be okay.” Killian pulls her back and ever so gently brushes the tears off of her cheek with his knuckles. “We are in this together, no matter what. I promised to love and protect you and I shan’t break that vow, not ever. I am not sure what will happen tomorrow, but I do know this-” he smiles a little and she can feel the corners of her own mouth turn up at the sight “-in this world, the heroes generally win out over the villians. And so Regina will be defeated, and we shall be the ones to defeat her.” He bites his lip and his eyes begin to sparkle. “Although you are correct, we shall never defeat her without a proper night’s rest.” Killian’s hands rest on her shoulders for a moment and then fall to his sides. “Why don’t you climb into bed and get comfortable. Let me know when you are ready for me to join you.”
And then he turns around and stares at the door.
Tonight feels different from the night before. Half-dried tears are still clinging to her cheeks, making them sticky and uncomfortable. Emma quickly shimmies out of her gown and shoes, slipping under the thick but worn blankets in only her shift. There had been a nervous anticipation about sharing a bed with Killian back in the house, but now she’s too exhausted and scared to be thinking about things like that.
“Okay, I’m in bed.”
Killian bows his head at her voice and it appears he’s working the lines of buttons holding his vest and shirt together. He slips off his jacket and the soft white fabric billows at his shoulders. He’s gotta be assuming she’s turned away or her eyes are closed. But Emma’s too distracted by the way his shoulder muscles are pulled, taut and lean, and, just like in the afternoon when they were dripping with saltwater, she wants to draw him close and lick a thick line of him with her tongue, just to find out what he would taste like. His shirt flutters to the ground and lands on top of his coat, followed by the soft ooph of the vest. And then he’s working the belt of his pants and Emma finally has to roll over and look at the wall before she does something she’d regret.
Like jump his bones.
(Maybe there are some things you're never too tired for, come to think of it.)
The light goes out and in the darkness she feels the dip of the bed when he climbs in. But it feels like he's facing away from her, the tuft of hair she makes out when she cranks her head to look confirming her suspicions.
Be bold, Emma.
"Would you - would you hold me like you did last night? That was nice."
There is a pause before he answers and Emma wonders if she's being a total idiot. But then the bed shifts and an arm wraps around her waist as if he's been doing it for years. "As you wish," he mutters into her hair. "As you wish."
And despite all the fear coursing through Emma's veins and uncertainties of tomorrow, she falls asleep in moments, held in the arms of her husband and rocked in the embrace of the sea.
When they found Emma on the side of the road, screeching and shivering, insisting that today was her third birthday and she just wanted to go home to her parents, Snow White and Prince Charming, she was only in possession of a thin nightgown and a white knitted blanket with her first name embroidered on it. That blanket stayed with her as she traveled from home to home and she spent more nights than she could count with its soft weave against her cheek, the bundled blanket tucked in her arms.
She wakes to the familiar feeling of something warm in her embrace, but when she smiles and draws it closer to her, she realizes slowly that it is not her blanket, but bare skin pressed against her cheek. The skin is warm and comforting and possesses the unmistakable scent of Killian Jones. Her arm is slung across his waist and her head rests on his chest and she can feel his own arm against her back. Her first impression was wrong - she isn’t holding him, they’re holding each other.
Emma almost drifts back off to sleep with a dreamy smile on her face, but her eyes fly open when she realizes how important it is that they’re wrapped in one another on a tiny, tiny bed.
Regina is back.
And they’re on the run.
She lifts her head from his chest and braces herself, one hand on each side of his body. His face is soft in sleep, undisturbed, and there is a strand of dark hair plastered to his forehead she wants to peel away so she can kiss the skin beneath. “Killian,” she whispers, reluctantly, “Killian.”
“Hmmmm?” The sound comes from deep in his throat and when those big blue eyes flutter open, he gives her a dazed smile. He lazily reaches up and tugs on a messy curl. “Morning, wife,” he slurs. And then Killian sits up, cups her jaw with his warm hand, and draws her to him for a kiss.
Her eyes are still open when their lips meet, but he lets out a groan and she feels something stir in her belly, that hot anticipation she’d get when she’d thought what it would be like, to be with him. Like this. Her eyes slam shut and she returns the kiss eagerly. This time it is nothing like it had been at the church, all hesitance and shyness. His lips are fierce but hers are too, one of his hands on her lower back, drawing her closer, and her own fingers digging into his thick black hair. She sighs his name, heart clenching, barely believing what’s going on, and he freezes against her.
“Emma?” His eyes are still closed, but he’s drawn back and he is wincing, like she’s stepped on his foot or something.
It would be funny if it didn’t hurt so much.
She pulls away, her back up against the wall, and even though he can’t see her, she wants to cover her face so he can’t see her embarrassment. “Who else would it be?” she whispers, the words a forceful hiss as they leave her lips. “I’m the only wife you have. ..That I know of.”
Killian’s eyes finally open, but one look at her closed expression and he claps a hand across his face. “Gods above, Emma, I thought I was dreaming. I didn’t mean- I never meant-”
“Don’t worry about it, pal.” She sits up and carefully crawls over him to get back to the floor, avoiding his eye contact. “I thought the guys would make fun of us for getting it on last night, so now at least we’ve got the awkwardness down.” She slips her tunic over her head and spares him a glance, only enough for him to see how totally fine she is. “But maybe we should be a little more cuddly in the cafeteria so they’ll think you showed me a good time.”
Emma turns her back and continues getting dressed, trying not to cry and betray to Killian how much it stings that he’d rather be with some wife in a dream than her.
Killian spends the rest of the day giving her strange looks out of the corner of his eye, like she’s a puzzle he’s trying to solve but she’s missing a few pieces. Breakfast is exactly the embarrassing ordeal she had expected, with a room full of smelly sailors giving her creepy looks. Killian had glared back at them and escorted her out onto the deck, where the air was fresher, although the company only barely more tolerable.
He spends most of the day teaching her about ships and sailing. She tries to act disinterested, but there really aren’t many options for entertainment, so she listens despite herself. As the sun starts to set and she answers all of the questions from his pop quiz, Emma gives him a strange look of her own and bites her lip.
“You really love this sailing stuff, don’t you?”
Killian leans against the railing and nods, eyes on the vivid orange streaks across the sky. “Father taught Liam and I to sail as lads. The sea runs in our blood, he said, as all his family were sailors and merchants,” he turns his head and offers a playful wink that makes her stomach swoop, “even a pirate or two.”
His eyes focus on the sunset again and his brows draw together. “When Liam and I were told that he could one day take the throne, he promised to make me Admiral of the Navy and that I could sail the seas and serve my kingdom.”
“So what happened?”
Killian blinks and frowns a little. “Liam fell in love with Elsa, a Queen in her own right, from the Kingdom across the bay, and the crown fell into my hands.” His lips twist into a bitter smile. “Heirs do not go running off to sail the seas, not when there are responsibilities.” Killian hesitates, eyes flickering to her for a moment. “And, one day, new heirs to be made and cared for. Adventures like that just aren’t safe.”
Impulsively, Emma places her hand over his on the railing and rests her head on his shoulder. “I guess we’re having an adventure of our own now. Its not exactly what you dreamed of-”
His other hand covers hers and squeezes. “-No, lass, it is exactly as I dreamed. A hero’s journey to save a King and Queen and the kingdom.” He tilts his head to look at her, eyes crinkling and shining with something she can’t quite place. The kiss he places on the top of her head is a little more fatherly than what she would have liked, but she accepts it with a smile.
When they left their cabin in the morning, she had figured that she would make him sleep on the floor that night, just to see how he handled rejection, but she can’t bring herself to do it when they stand in the tiny room, face-to-face.
She climbs in the bed first, waiting for him, and when the miniscule bed shifts, she turns and faces him.
“Tell me more about the adventures you wanted to have as a little boy,” she whispers, barely making out his eyes in the dark. There’s a flash of white teeth as he grins and one of his hands finds hers under the covers.
“When I was a lad, I used to sneak out of the chateau, through the kitchens, and make my way out to the docks…”
The next afternoon, when the sun is high in the sky, the ship docks at the town next to Snow White’s castle. But there is a strange feeling in the air, one that Emma notices immediately, and after giving a coin to the boy who rows them to shore, he speeds back to the ship.
The streets are empty.
Emma tugs her hood up higher, blocking her face, and when she looks at the castle she can spot those same men in dark armor guarding the drawbridge and standing on the walls.
“They’re everywhere, Killian,” she whispers, gesturing to the palace. “What do we do?”
“Do you know how I told you I used to sneak out at night to go to the docks?” The hood shades his eyes but she can still make out his smirk. She nods. “Well, I would do that here as well, and so I know a secret way back into the palace.”
He leads her to a small building and ushers her inside, not seeming to care that the home looks abandoned. He opens a closet and beckons her to follow him into the darkness. Emma expects to run into him as soon as she steps through the door, but to her surprise she can hear her feetsteps echo against stone walls that seem to go on for a long time. A hiss, the smell of sulphur, and a lit lantern appears in front of her.
“A secret exit that only the royal family know of. This leads to Snow and David’s quarters, my quarters, and the nursery. If the royal family is any larger, I suppose they figure that there are plenty of heirs to be spared.”
Killian leads the way while Emma wonders out loud why she was never informed about these tunnels (“I’m sure they were meaning to tell you, love. There is rather a lot for a princess to learn.”) and tries not to trip over her feet.
When they reach a fork in the road, Killian goes toward the right. “This will take us into my quarters. I don’t imagine they have a guard over it.” A firm hand on her wrist stops her a moment later and she stumbles a little, palms pushing against his chest and breath catching in her throat. “Alright there, princess?”
“Just fine,” she wheezes.
The stone wall opens and reveals a tidy room, decorated in the same shades of blue and green she had admired in the master suite of his family home.
“You really love these colors, don’t you?” she whispers, unable to hide a smile.
Killian takes her hand and helps her into the sunlit room, closing the secret door behind them and offering a grin of his own. “Sea in my blood, remember?”
“Now let us see..” He makes his way towards one of the bedroom doors. “I believe that Liam left a few of his swords here-”
Emma follows and her chest slams into his back when he suddenly stops. Her hands fly to his shoulders and she steadies herself, confused. Killian turns back and the tips of his ears are red.
“Ah. Well. They have relocated your things into Liam’s old room.”
Killian seems to be having a hard time trying to meet her eyes. “It is natural, I suppose-”
His eyes finally lock with hers and his forehead is creased in confusion. “Whatever do you have to be sorry for, lass?”
“I’m sorta rockin’ your whole world.” Emma’s teeth worry her bottom lip and she’s not sure why she suddenly feels like crying.
“Emma.” His blue gaze is serious and his hands come to cup her face as they had the morning before, in bed, but she has never been as awake and alert as she is in this moment. “I am glad you are in my world. And I am glad that your possessions are here in the royal quarters, where they belong.” He smiles a little. “Not least of all because you are close to the secret exit. Although,” he sighs and his eyes twinkle, “I am a bit unhappy because Liam had several excellent swords that would have been very useful. But I believe that we should find two adequate ones in my own bedroom.”
His thumb brushes over the apple of her cheek, inspiring a crooked smile, and he grasps her hand to guide her into the other bedroom, this one as tidy as the sitting room. Killian rummages around in the wardrobe and Emma allows herself a moment to run her palm across the made-up bed, wondering what it would be like to wake up here every morning, wrapped up in Killian’s arms.
(Or go to bed here, the sheets all messed up, bodies sliding over one another like the slow-mo scenes from romantic comedies.)
“I believe David taught you how to fight?”
Emma turns back to see a sword being handed to her, and she takes it with more confidence than she feels. “We had a few lessons. I’m not nearly as good as he is.”
“Nonsense. I saw you practice. You are a natural, your father’s daughter.”
She doesn’t have time to wonder when Killian was spying on her awkward sword fighting lessons, she’s too busy following him silently out of his room, out of his (shit, their) quarters, and down the eerily-quiet halls.
Her parents’ room is empty, the beds still made, no guards at the doors.
It isn’t until they slip into the kitchen and she almost trips on a spread-eagle body, covering her gasp with her hand, that she starts to realize what’s happened.
“Regina killed them all,” she chokes out, horrified.
“No.” Killian kneels beside Granny, fingers on her throat. “She is sleeping. They all are.” She follows his gaze around the kitchen, littered with bodies. “Regina cast a sleeping spell or a sleeping curse. I could never remember the difference.”
“So my parents-?”
“-can be woken up by True Love’s Kiss.” He takes her hand again and they carefully step over bodies as they exit the kitchen. “Not a problem.”
Emma isn’t sure why Killian is so calm, cool, and collected about this whole thing. If her parents are both cursed or whatever, then who is supposed to give them this True Love’s Kiss? She can feel her palm start to get clammy in his.
The door to the Throne Room opens with an ominous creak and they step inside, Emma’s heart racing so hard she wonders when the sound is going to echo around the room. There, slumped on two of the thrones at the end of the long room, are Snow White and Prince Charming, sound asleep.
(Ugh, they don’t even snore, they’re that perfect.)
“Wait a second.” Emma plants her feet and Killian’s hand slips out of her grasp as he keeps walking. “Who are you expecting to do this True Love kissing?”
Killian turns back, a deep valley between his eyes. “Why you, of course.”
The sword feels really heavy in her hands and Emma wonders what she’s doing with the weapon, as if she could ever really protect herself (or protect anyone) with the thing. “I- I don’t think I can.”
“Well of course you can’t.”
The strange voice sends chills up and down Emma’s spine and she involuntarily takes a step forward, closer to Killian. She is on high alert now, all of her muscles tense and her mouth going dry.
“How could someone who has never known love perform True Love’s Kiss?”
A shadow flickers on the wall and then, finally, she appears from behind the sleeping couple, wearing an elaborate crown and a long, black dress with jewels and sparkles and enough cleavage to make a Hooters waitress blush.
It is a single word falling from Killian’s lips, but at the sound Emma’s heart stops beating altogether.
“Aren't you like my step-grandmother or something?” she asks, putting on her annoying foster kid persona like a second skin. Emma gives Regina a long look, letting her lip curl in her best Billy Idol impersonation while gripping her sword tighter. “I don’t think grandmas are supposed to dress like that.”
The responsive laugh is cool and unfeeling. Regina sweeps forward, head held high, and in the back of her mind Emma thinks that this is the woman Snow learned how to be a queen from. She commands every inch of the empty room, and even if it were filled with a huge crowd, Emma suspects that Regina, like her step daughter after her, would be able to silence it with the straightening of her shoulders.
(If she lives through this, Emma’s going to need to ask for that lesson.)
“They said you grew up a no-class street urchin. Apparently the rumors are true.” Regina arches her perfect eyebrow and Emma can feel every grass stain on her outfit. “Whyever they would allow trash like you to rule this kingdom I will never know.” She has finally come close enough that Emma can look right in her eyes, stare into the black abyss of her irises and feel another chill down her spine at what a fucking psychopath this bitch is.
“I’m guessing you think you could do a better job?”
Regina laughs again and her dark red lips curl into a sneer (a much better Billy Idol than Emma, she has to admit). “When I heard that you and the little prince were getting married so quickly, I wonder if it was to cover up an indiscretion.” Her dark eyes shift to Killian for a moment before returning to Emma. “But seeing you now, it is abysmally clear that no baby is on the way or shall be any day soon.” Regina takes another step forward, the wide skirt of her dress brushing up against Emma’s ruined one. “Just as I suspected. No True Love. No love to speak of. You could never break the spell on your parents.”
The bitch turns her back and starts walking towards Snow and David, slowly, still stately as hell. “I did you a favor, Emma. Now you have an excuse to get out of this sham of a marriage, to leave and never come back. You were never fit to rule, not after living as a little street rat in a world without magic.” Before Emma can blink, Regina pivots again, opens her palm, and a glowing orange fire appears in her hand. “They never would have let you rule without this little twit by your side.” Regina’s eyes narrow and focus on Killian. “You just aren’t good enough, sweetie. Why don’t I eliminate your so-called husband and prove it to you?”
A flick of the wrist and the fire is now hurtling towards Killian, who has just a flimsy sword to protect him.
Later, Emma will only be able to claim that it was instinct which told her to throw out her hands at the fireball, a choked, “No!” bursting from her lungs. She didn’t consciously think that she could really stop anything, not magic, and not something so fast.
But it gets stopped.
By a jet of white sparkly lightning bolts that burst from her fingers, leaving tingles all across her body and her brain confused and lightheaded.
The fireball dissolves in the air and Emma knows that something has just changed, a piece of who she is has shifted and the rest of her life, whatever that looks like, will not be the same as she had imagined it minutes before.
“What the hell?”
Regina hasn’t looked flustered for a single second since she strode into sight, but now her mouth falls open and her eyes widen and that queenly posture breaks for only a moment.
“Killian.” They both take several steps towards one another and clasp hands. Emma’s definitely running on instinct now, because she just knows that the sparkles under her skin are about to save them again. “Let’s get out of here.”
She squeezes his hand and lets out her breath and when she opens her eyes, they are no longer in the throne room, but out in a field, surrounded by wildflowers and a very familiar looking tree.
“Emma.” Killian looks as dazed as Emma feels and she finally lets herself breath again, her heart beating rapidly against her hand on her chest. “You can do magic.”
“Well of course she can.”
This voice, as unexpected as Regina’s, is wonderfully familiar, and the sound makes Emma sag in relief as it brings with it memories of sugar cookies and late night trashy reality television. The pair turns and sees the whole Arendelle crowd, Ingrid in the front with that proud smile of hers.
Emma releases Killian’s hand and flings herself into Ingrid’s arms, tears of relief and fear pouring down her face. “Oh Ingrid,” she sighs, “Regina has my parents.”
“I know, sweetheart.” Gentle hands comb through Emma’s tangled hair and Emma sniffles into her shoulder. “That’s why we’re here. To help.”
Despite being a grown, capable, married man, there is still a certain relief Killian feels at the sight of his brother. Strong, sturdy Liam. As Emma embraces Ingrid, Killian feels the tightness in his chest lighten when his brother wraps his arms around him.
“Good to see you, little brother,” Liam sighs, clapping Killian’s shoulder.
“And you as well, brother,” Killian smiles.
“What do you mean you’re here to help?” Emma’s voice is on the verge of hysteria and Killian feels that tightness return, a mix of empathy and the wish that he could do more.
“Why don’t we take a seat?” Ingrid puts her arm around Emma’s waist and, when the gathered crowd parts, they reveal an elegant tent. “We were just about to have lunch.”
Liam, Elsa, Olette, Anna, and Kristoff welcome them to the camp, seating the newlyweds and filling them with cheese, wine, pastries, and cold cuts as Ingrid explains what has happened.
“We set out two days ago, intending to tour the countryside for the morning before leaving to take the land route back to Arendelle.”
“Don’t you have any guards?” Emma asks when she’s swallowed a mouth full of food. “Killian and I can’t go anywhere without guards.”
Elsa smiles a little and shares a look with Ingrid. “Yes, we sometimes have guards,” the Queen says. “But we had dismissed them at the time, sent them ahead of us so we could enjoy the day. Aunt Ingrid and I felt that our magic would be strong enough to ward off any who came our way.”
“Like Regina?” Emma asks, bluntly.
Elsa falters and her smile droops. “I am not sure. I have never faced a sorceress with her infamy.”
Ingrid bows her head and presses her temple against Emma’s, the ice blonde hair blending with Emma’s so they look as if they may be related. “I am confident that together, the three of us could defeat Regina.”
“Three of us?” Emma’s eyes widen and Killian wonders if she realized that she had magic before Regina’s threats to their lives brought it out of her, a power that made the very air vibrate and his fingertips tingle.
“Yes, the three of us.” Ingrid moves her head away and takes a dainty sip of wine, a picture of courtly grace. “I suspected for years that you had magic, Emma, despite how we lived in a land without any. My own magic could sense it around you, just below the surface. I wondered if it would take grave peril to draw it out of you.”
Emma’s eyes meet Killian’s, still raw with panic, and he wishes he were next to her, not across from her, so he could soothe away that furrow in her brow and assure her that he is fine, thanks to her. “It did,” she says in a hushed tone. “We ran into Regina. She’s got my parents and the whole castle under her sleeping spell. She was going to kill us before I got us out of there.”
“And you thought of being far away?”
Ingrid’s question makes Emma blink, eyes focusing again, though her brow is still wrinkled. “Yeah, how did you know?”
“This is where we appeared in this world on your birthday. I wondered if you would come back here sooner or later, on instinct.”
“I- I don’t want to leave.” Emma’s shoulders straighten and she looks around the assembled party, cheeks turning pink. “I wasn’t trying to run away from-”
“Emma.” Anna leans across a plate of pastries to take Emma’s hands in her own. “No one thinks that. You were just keeping yourself and your husband safe.” Anna looks at Kristoff briefly. “That’s okay.”
Emma bows her head and extracts her hands. “How did you guys know what happened?”
Liam pipes up. “Ingrid and Elsa could sense the magic all across this area and when we made our way back towards your mother’s castle, Aunt Ingrid could tell at once what it was. We watched Regina leave again in her carriage, presumably to our family’s chateau, so I went to find Red in her cottage nearby and send her ahead of Regina.”
“She arrived just in time, brother,” Killian says. “We could not have made it here safely without you.”
Liam nods and pulls his daughter to his side. “I am glad to hear it. We have been worried ever since Red set out. Aunt Ingrid insisted that this was the best place to wait for the two of you to appear, and it would seem she was correct.”
“So what do we do now?” Emma’s mouth is set in a determined line and Killian cannot help but admire her desire to do what must be done. Those proud shoulders are just like her mother’s and she shall be a legendary queen for the events that are to happen in the coming days.
“Do you remember when I told you about doing something horrible?” Ingrid reaches out to comb through Emma’s hair and the princess nods. “When I was little, I could not control my ice powers, and they would sometimes erupt when I was particularly emotional. One day, I was out of control, and I accidently froze my most beloved sister.”
Emma gasps, but Elsa and Anna only bow their heads, leading Killian to believe that they have heard this story many times.
“I felt horrible for what I had done, but when my other sister found the two of us, she was scared of me, and she used a magical urn to trap me so that I could not hurt anyone else.” A single tear falls down Ingrid’s face and, as Killian watches, it freezes on her cheek with a soft glint. “I was released from that urn after many years of regret. And before I was sent to the world you were raised in, I hid it so that if I were ever uncontrollable, it could be used to imprison me again.”
“Where’d you hide it?” Emma’s eyes are wide and eager, the brow once again smooth at the scent of fresh hope.
“It is in the mountains on the border between Misthaven and Arendelle.”
“How goes it, little brother?”
“Younger,” Killian grunts in response, enjoying their usual banter and exchanging a smile with his brother.
“The question still stands. Before all this rubbish with Regina, how was the honeymoon?” Liam’s eyebrows rise and Killian’s cheeks grow hot, as though he and his brother have never before discussed lovemaking.
“We are not all so fortunate to marry for love,” he replies.
Liam hums and that infuriatingly superior look creeps across his face.
“What?” Killian huffs.
“Just because yours was not a love match does not mean that there is no affection between you two. I have seen it with my own eyes.”
Killian laughs mirthlessly. “Ah, yes, affection for the only man she has spent time with in this realm, the man hand-picked for her by a council of rulers who only wish to preserve peace in Misthaven. Of course she would have affection for me, Liam! She is a good, kind woman and I am loyal to her. To not have affection for me she would have to be most unfeeling. But I am not speaking of affection, I am speaking of love - of the tenderness her parents share, of the romance that you and Elsa have with one another. What I am saying, brother,” Killian continues, voice lowering to keep any from the carriage from listening in, “is that she does not love me, and to claim that she does would be a most grievous error.”
He can feel his heart pounding with this admission and he is glad that his feelings have been released in the company of the person he trusts the most.
Liam claps him on the shoulder and, digging into the bag between them, extracts a flask that Killian takes a sip from without asking. The rum slides down his throat and the liquor is much better than the wine for relieving his tension.
“So no coupling?”
“No. No coupling.”
“Sleeping in the same bed?”
“Yes. She-” Killian licks at his lips to get the last drops of rum. “-she asks me to hold her.”
“That is a good beginning, brother.”
“But the other morning, I was dreaming that I was making love to her, and when I woke up I discovered that we were kissing. I pulled away and apologized and she was cross with me all day! Why do you think-”
Liam clips the back of his head and sighs, shaking his head. “Sometimes, little brother, I do not know what to do with you.”
Their departure is early the next morning, this time Ingrid taking the reigns with Emma beside her. The inside of the carriage is not as cramped as Killian had imagined, and he even manages to doze for a bit, Olette's head lolling against his side, her tiny head tucked under his arm. They ride past noon and Killian's stomach is beginning to rumble when the carriage stops unexpectedly.
Kristoff peers out the window and lets out a triumphant cry. "We have caught up with our guards! They waited for us!"
Greetings are exchanged and inventory taken count of. The burly guards look rather relieved to find the royal family again, and Olette jumps right in the arms of one of them, a kind-faced bearded man. Elsa speaks to another guard in a hushed voice before turning to her sister.
"Anna, I leave things in your hands."
"Wait, what? These hands? I don't know about that, Els-"
The Queen takes Anna’s shaky hands in her steady ones and gives her a loving smile. “Emma is our sister and her parents raised Liam. Aunt Ingrid and I have to go with her and help her out. You are in charge while I am gone. Take care of Liam and Olette and Arendelle. I will be back before you know it.” The sisters embrace and Killian turns away, touched by his sister-in-law’s kindness.
Liam’s hand lands on Killian’s shoulder, drawing him in for a hug. “Take care, younger brother.”
“I will,” Killian replies.
Liam’s eyes are more serious than normal and his palm lingers on Killian’s arm. “I am not kidding, Killian. Take care of yourself, but also take care of my wife. She is casting magic for two these days.”
Killian sputters for a moment, his eyes shooting back to Elsa, who is kissing her daughter goodbye with wet eyes. “Elsa is-?”
“Yes, Elsa and I are expecting another child. No one else knows yet, not even Anna, but I thought someone should know in case she pushes herself too far…”
Killian nods and pulls his brother forward for another hug. “Not to worry, I shall watch over her. And congratulations, you scoundrel.” He smirks and Liam smiles in return.
Minutes later, Killian, Emma, Elsa, and Ingrid stand in a line, waving at the departing carriage bumping along the road.
“The urn is not hidden far from here,” Ingrid says when their loved ones have gone around a rocky corner. “We should be able to make it back near the castle by nightfall.”
Ingrid sets out on her own on foot, advising the other three to rest so they can travel through the day. She returns within the hour, a large bundle in her arms, setting the package carefully in the back of the carriage. “We will only be sure that it still works when we open it in front of Regina. I really have no desire to be trapped again.”
“It still works,” Elsa mutters, staring at the lump. “Can’t you sense the magic coming off of it?”
“It makes me feel super uncomfortable,” Emma adds, backing away a bit.
“That is all the confirmation I require,” Killian says. “Shall we depart, ladies?”
Elsa takes the reigns this time, leading the horses until she has to hand it off to Killian because of sheer exhaustion. He takes over, despite his own drooping eyes, and when they set up camp within sight of Snow White’s castle, he climbs under his blanket and passes out immediately.
He is missing the feeling of Emma in his arms, nights without her leaving him with an ache in his heart. Oh, this woman has bewitched him, and he has never been so willing to fall under a spell.
What a life it would be, by her side.
They put out their fire and tear down camp, the anticipation of the coming events making the air feel as tight as an archer's bow. Killian wishes he could take Emma's hand again, encourage her, check in with her. But he has felt her pull away from the moment they encountered the Arendelle lot. Last night he heard Elsa call Emma "sister," and he thought his wife was about to burst into tears at the single word.
He should feel glad that she is bonding with Elsa and the lot. He should feel glad that she is opening herself up, that she feels comfortable with others and has a larger support system than just himself and her parents.
Instead, jealousy cuts into him like an unseen dagger, and he selfishly hates Regina not for trying to steal the kingdom, but for robbing Killian of the weeks he was promised alone with Emma, time to show her what kind of man he is, perhaps even make her feel more for him than simple affection.
He is a bloody idiot, but at least he is well aware of it.
So when they make their way toward the castle, Ingrid at their front, Elsa behind, and the newlyweds in the middle, he does not reach for the comfort of her hand. His fingers curl around the hilt of his sword instead, and he runs through every fighting lesson he ever received from his father, Liam, or David. It is now time to prove himself.
There are at least a dozen guards at the gates, and at the sight of Killian arriving with a past, present, and future Queen, they shout for more soldiers who arrive with more weapons. But the three sorceresses make quick work of the men, swords freezing and fumbling fingers turning blue when Elsa sends a chilly blast their way. Emma’s admittedly limited swordfighting skills seem enhanced by the heat of battle and the warmth of her powers, as she dispatches of her fair share of men in black. It is Killian, with only his favorite sword in his hand, who does the least good at clearing the way for the four to enter Snow White’s palace.
“Let’s head for the Throne Room,” Emma orders, breathing heavily. “I think Regina’s going to meet us there again so she can keep laughing at my comatose parents.”
But the Throne Room has been cleared when they arrive, Snow White and Prince Charming no longer reclining cozily in their thrones. Instead, Regina sits on the center throne, palms flat on the armrests, legs crossed, and head held high.
“Haven’t you ever heard the story of the zebra who tried to run with the cheetahs?”
Emma steps forward, her own chin up and shoulders parallel with the floor. “Thanks to your bitchy ass, I grew on different stories. Wanna tell it to me, grandma?”
Regina’s lips thin and Killian tries to hold back a laugh at the number of insults Emma has managed to level in a single breath. “The story, child, was of a zebra who wanted to be like the lovely cheetahs, strong and powerful.” She gestures to the two blonde royals from Arendelle. “Not unlike you, surrounding yourself with powerful sorceress queens, wishing that your stripes would change into spots. But the moral of the story, my dear, is that a zebra can never become a cheetah.”
A flick of the wrist and another fireball hovers in Regina’s hand. “At the end of the story, the cheetahs tore the stupid zebra apart for its foolishness.”
“Damn, the bedtime stories here are really fucked up.” The fireball flies at Emma, who deflects it with her own flick of the wrist, although Killian notices that it is not as easy as it is for Regina, with her decades of practice. “No wonder you ended up such a psycho, with stories like that.”
Regina tosses three more fireballs in quick succession, blocked by Elsa, Ingrid and Emma. Then Ingrid and Elsa step forward and focus their powers together, ice crystallizing on Regina’s arms. She shakes her jeweled sleeves and summons another fireball that is snuffed out by a blast of Emma’s magic.
When all three blonde sorceresses join hands, Emma in the middle, Elsa and Ingrid with outstretched arms, their combined magic works too fast for Regina. It takes a moment for most of her body to be covered with ice, leaving only her head with the ability to move. As he was instructed, Killian steps forward with the urn that had been stowed in his satchel. Regina’s eyes, which had grown wide with fear as she was frozen in place, stretch larger at the sight of the urn.
“What- what is that?”
“I think you know what it is, grandmama,” Emma taunts, dropping her arms and locking eyes with Regina. “You can feel its dangerous magic, can’t you? I can too. I know that it does something bad to people with magic, that it can trap us.”
“I was inside this magical urn for many years, Regina,” Ingrid says. “My solitude gave me an opportunity to reflect. I hope it does the same for you, I really do.”
Regina only spits on the ground and scowls.
“You can never change your stripes, street rat.”
Emma takes the urn from Killian’s outstretched hands and, pointing it away from her, pulls off the lid and allows it to work its magic, drawing Regina inside with ominous purple smoke.
“Oh, shut the fuck up,” she mutters.
Ingrid and Elsa exit the cell, giving Emma her privacy, and Killian means to do the same before her soft grip on his elbow stops him.
“I wanted to give you and your parents a moment-”
“No, I mean-” There are tears in the corners of Emma’s eyes that Killian wishes to brush away, as he wants to brush away all the pain she has experienced because of Regina. There is a set to her jaw as well and he wonders if she is about to erupt, to let out her anger before rousing her parents. “I mean that I think you should do it.”
“I- I should what?” Killian cannot help it, he is simply stunned. His mouth falls open a bit and he stares at her with blank shock.
“I think you should break the spell on my parents.”
“Emma, whyever would you think that?”
She is having trouble meeting his eyes and her voice lowers, as if she is afraid Elsa and Ingrid, or worse, her parents, can hear her. “Because I wonder if Regina was right. Maybe I can’t really love anyone. I mean- I don’t even know these people who are supposed to be my family. But you do. You grew up with them. They raised you, they love you like a son. If you kissed my mom’s cheek or my dad’s forehead you’d wake them up in an instant. You- you love each other. I know it.”
Killian doesn’t answer her right away because, unlike Liam, who always knows what to say and how to say it, he needs a moment. He needs a moment to think before he responds.
He looks down at the bodies of Snow and David, the distant cousins who welcomed him into their home years ago, who took a silly boy and helped him become a man, who supported and encouraged him no matter what.
She is right.
He loves Snow and David as much as any man can love his family, can love his parents or the people who raise him. And he knows, without a doubt, that they love him in return. Their affection has always been unconditional, and their bond has always been close, including with Liam. Eight years ago, they were four broken souls looking to create family from the ashes of lost hope and death.
If he kissed Snow’s cheek or David’s forehead, they would wake up and the world would be right again.
But he will not do it.
Not because he cannot, but because right now, it is more important that she does.
“Emma, my love.” He takes both of her hands in his and waits for her to look in his eyes, though he can tell it pains her greatly. “Your parents love you so much that they searched for you for years. Despite all evidence, they never gave up hope. Not completely. And in the eight years that I spent being raised by them, not once did I ever feel that they had forgotten about you. And these last two months, seeing them get a chance to hold you and touch you and get to know you, it is wonderfully obvious how much light and joy you bring to their lives.”
He pauses for a moment, unclenching one of his hands to he can thumb a tear off of her cheek. “Never doubt for a single moment that the love your parents have for you is the Truest there shall ever be.
“But Regina is a dark woman, filled with wretched plans and bitterness. Her words to you in the throne room, today and the other day, were meant to wound you, to make you doubt yourself. Because she knows what a threat you are to her getting the power and the crown that she desires. She said that you are incapable of love because, if her deepest wish were true, you would never be able to wake your parents.
“She is a liar. Just as your parents’ hearts shine bright with love for you, yours shines bright with love for them.” The tears are falling hard and fast now, and Killian knows a few of his own are running down his face, but to let go of her hands would be to break the connection and attention that he has achieved. “Emma, darling, you have a great capability to love. And despite not being raised by your parents, you have inherited their shining, pure hearts.”
Killian squeezes her fingers and, grasping her shoulders, gently rotates her to face Snow and David. “Prove that you are not who that woman wants you to be. That you are Princess Emma, Heir to the throne, a woman with a heart full of brilliant shining love.”
She kneels, shaking, but when her lips meet flesh, and a pulse of power erupts, he smiles.
When he does, although the hour is late, he knocks on the door with a confidence he does not feel, his body trembling slightly under the weight of his choices.
He enters, head bowed, and quickly sits down.
“My Queen,” Killian’s palm finds his heart, this gesture now as familiar as breathing, “I have a request to make of you.”
“Anything, Killian, you know I will grant it.” Snow takes David’s hand, expression mild but curious, and he is not sure he can look her in the eye as he speaks, the words difficult to articulate.
“I wish for you to absolve my marriage to your daughter.”
Snow gasps a little and when Killian musters the courage to look up, David’s expression is a mixture of shock and confusion. “Why on earth-?” he begins, but Killian stops him with a hand.
“Your Majesty, I can explain. I am well aware of the conditions of our marriage. It was done for peace and stability and the need to create new heirs. However, in the past week conditions have changed dramatically, and our marriage is no longer required for the stability of Misthaven.”
Snow’s eyes narrow a bit but she nods once. “Continue.”
“With Regina safely captured, there are no threats to the throne, and so the need to provide immediate, strong leadership is no longer required. The two of you have years to prepare Princess Emma to take her rightful place on the throne, without a hastily-picked partner. It is, after all, her birthright.”
David leans forward a bit and takes a long gulp from the glass in front of him. “That does not seem like argument enough to end the marriage.”
“I have other reasons, Your Highness. The other purpose of our marriage was the security of the future of this kingdom. To produce more heirs. Yesterday Liam informed me that Queen Elsa is expecting a second child. As our treaty with Arendelle states, a second-born child of King Liam and Queen Elsa will be eligible to take the throne in the event that I am unable to produce an heir. The child of Liam and Elsa would be wonderful upon the throne of Misthaven, and I would be happy to assist with tutelage to the child specific to this kingdom.”
Killian has to concentrate to keep his face from turning red at his next words, although his voice jumps higher in pitch. “Thus far, Princess Emma and I have yet to consummate our marriage, keeping us from producing an appropriate heir, or from making our marriage official.”
He wishes he had a drink of his own in front of him.
There is a long, tense moment of silence, as his mother and father-in-law scrutinize him, their faces as closed as he has ever seen.
“We have taught you very well, Killian,” Snow says at last, crossing her legs and rolling back her shoulders. “I almost believed all that reasonable, diplomatic bullshit.” She leans forward just a bit and her green eyes flash, so much like her daughter’s that Killian wants to let out a sob. “What is the real reason you are asking for all of this?”
Killian gives in and grasps the decanter sitting on the table, uncorks it, and pours himself two fingers of alcohol. Unclenching his throat, he lets it slide down and sighs a bit at how it makes his muscles relax and his heart rate decrease. They call this liquid courage and Killian has never needed it more.
“Emma did not marry me for love. She married me for duty, for obligation, because I am the only man she has ever spent any time with in this world, and a room full of stuffy politicians decided to yoke us together for life. It just-” Killian’s throat clenches again and he pours himself another drink and lets the second one work its own special magic. “-it just is not fair that she have her choices taken away again, that she be denied the love that she wants so badly. She saved the day, she saved the two of you and the whole bloody kingdom. And I think she should be able to save herself as well - save herself from a lifetime of misery.”
His hands are shaking so badly that he is afraid if he picked up the decanter it would slip from his grasp, pouring the expensive liquor all over the floor just as he has poured his heart before his surrogate parents. There is no way he can look at them, even if he knows, in his heart of hearts, that he is doing the right thing.
“So you are saying that you do not love her.”
David’s voice is flat and cold and Killian feels his face pinch in pain. “No,” he says without hesitation. “I am saying that she does not love me. But she should have an opportunity to find love for herself.”
Oh, will Snow never answer? With every tick of the clock in their sitting room, Killian feels as though he has lived a lifetime of pain.
“I will grant your request.” Killian finally chances a look up, but finds Snow’s eyes as hard to read as her daughter’s have been on occasion. “Under two conditions.”
“Anything, Your Majesty.”
“First, you must tell her so yourself. She must know why you are making this decision. But second, you must wait until tomorrow evening, after dinner.”
The Queen’s eyes flash. “I have my reasons, Killian. Do you agree to these terms?”
“Yes, My Queen.”
“Then you are dismissed.”
When Killian returns to his quarters to find that Emma is still visiting with Elsa and Ingrid, he feels relieved that he does not have to face her or hear her requests to hold him in his bed.
Because he is not so sure that he could deny her wishes and he has denied his own wishes enough for one night.
this chapter earns its M rating
There is a thing that Ingrid used to do, when they sat on the couch way too late at night, watching stupid movies on tv. She’d play with Emma’s hair, finger digging into her messy curls and slowly, patiently, comb through them until Emma’s hair was soft to the touch and she felt loved and appreciated and beautiful.
Emma lets Ingrid do it tonight, her head on Ingrid’s lap as they all relax in Emma’s (old) quarters in the castle. After waking her parents from a curse and telling them everything that’s happened since they left almost a week ago, (Fuck, has it really only been a week since Emma was married, her life turned upside-down? It feels like she’s lived a whole lifetime or two in these eight days.) (And, okay, she didn’t tell her parents everything, like how she and Killian haven’t had sex yet but they’ve spent three of the last five nights falling asleep in each other’s arms. She and her husband (??!??!) aren’t even talking about that) Emma is just plain exhausted.
So she’s laying down on a couch, letting Ingrid play with her hair.
“Do you guys really have to go back tomorrow?” Emma whines a little, giving Elsa her best puppy-dog eyes.
“Yes, some of us are current queens and can’t shirk our duties.” Elsa gives her a severe look that completely loses its power when she sticks out her tongue and crosses her eyes.
“Uh, please don’t use the Q word around me, I don’t know if I’m ready for that responsibility yet.”
“Nonsense.” Ingrid’s fingers patiently work their way through a snag. “You were spectacular this week. You’ve been amazing ever since we came into this world, but especially since you agreed to be married.”
Emma closes her eyes and hopes the subject doesn’t go where she thinks it's going to go.
“Are you ever going to tell my brother how much you care for him?”
Through her squint, Emma can make out Elsa’s queenly gaze and Emma sighs, opening her eyes all the way and rolling them in the back of her head. “I’ve told you enough in the last few days, Elsa, that I really don’t feel like embarrassing myself in front of him.”
“He is your husband,” Ingrid interjects, using her foster mom voice. “I fail to see how having feelings for him is embarrassing.”
Emma sits up and brushes Ingrid’s hands away from her hair, suddenly annoyed with the world. She grabs a pillow and holds it to her chest, eyes trained on the floor and away from curious looks as she tries to formulate the right words.
“Its embarrassing,” she finally mutters, still looking at a fancy rug, “because he doesn’t like me back. I keep waiting for him to make a move.”
“Make a-?” Elsa’s question hangs in the air and Ingrid answers it quietly.
“Initiate physical contact, dear.”
Emma nods and lets her head fall back on the cushion with a sigh. “If he liked me - really liked me - as more than just a friend or a person to rule Misthaven with, then wouldn’t he say something or kiss me or grab my ass or something?”
Ingrid places a hand on Emma’s knee. “Men don’t behave like that in this world, Emma. Not men raised at court.”
She looks at her adoptive mother finally, wiping away an annoying tear. “So what do men raised at court do when they have the hots for someone?”
Elsa giggles and her face goes a little pink. “If he is anything like his brother - which he is - then he dances with you for hours at a ball and writes you long, romantic letters.”
“I got zero for two on that one,” Emma chuckles back, bitterly.
Ingrid leans toward her and draws Emma’s head to her shoulder, fingers combing through her hair again and the movement is so soothing that Emma can feel herself relax instantly. “Oh honey,” Ingrid whispers, “sometimes love grows so gently and softly that we do not recognize it until it has bloomed. Not everyone is meant for love at first sight like your parents.”
Thankfully, the two women change the topic, and eventually Emma falls asleep with gentle fingers making all of her knots into smooth lines.
It's different than with Ingrid, but it's no better or worse.
“Do you feel any different, being married?” Mom’s tone is nonchalant but Emma knows her well enough by now to figure that she has an agenda that she’ll be working towards. Emma errs on the side of mystery.
“How so?” Mom’s fingers encounter a particularly gruesome knot and Emma winces at the resulting tug.
“Like, I don’t know. Killian’s a nice guy. I don’t really know him very well, but I think Killian’s the kind of guy I’d like to get to know better.”
“The kind of guy you could love?”
Snow shows her hand really early and Emma grimaces internally, not sure what to say or even how she’s feeling. She closes her eyes and bites her lip.
Mom’s voice goes back into the nonchalant territory, which makes Emma’s ears perk up because she knows that, whatever this is, it is about to be super, super important.
“When I first met your father, I thought he was a stuck-up royal. That he was everything I hated in all the stupid noblemen that were paraded in front of me from my childhood. Obsessed with money and power and looking good. But as we fought - one another and some enemies - I learned that I was wrong. He was a good man, and he was searching for a happy ending that would give him a chance to do some good in the world and hopefully find love along the way.
“Before we parted ways, I had an opportunity to tell him that I had fallen in love with him, even though we barely knew each other. But I didn’t take it. I let him go his way, towards a future he didn’t even want, and I went my way, running from my troubles instead of facing them. Eventually fate brought us together again, but it took hardship and bravery for us to admit that we loved one another.”
“Are you-” Emma pulls her head from Snow’s lap and sits up, eyeing her mother warily. “-are you saying that Killian is about to run away?”
Snow’s face flickers for only a moment and Emma can feel her world crash down around her, girlish fantasies falling on the ground like that ridiculous Barbie birthday cake that Trisha Lewis asked for on her eighth birthday party but got knocked off the table by the wrestling match that ensued when Trisha called Emma a “dirty orphan.”
He is running away.
Mom’s hands curl around Emma’s and her eyes snap back to Snow’s, scared of the pity she expects to see there. Instead, the green depths are filled with eagerness and a familiar spark. “I am saying that Killian wants you to be happy, and if he doesn’t think that he makes you happy, he will go to great lengths to make sure that you can be. So, brave daughter of mine,” Snow’s palm caresses Emma’s cheek and the touch draws out a tear that she gently wipes away, “I am saying that if you love Killian, tell him.”
“Would you care to take a walk through the gardens? There are some beautiful flowers that only bloom at night.”
She places her hand on his forearm and smiles, softly, wishing that she could read his stiff expression. “I would love that, Killian.”
He is silent as they exit the castle, and it seems like his feet are leading more than his brain. There’s a really cute little crease in his forehead that Emma wants to run her thumb over and erase. But when he stops abruptly and turns, taking her hands in his and chewing his bottom lip like he’s got a vendetta against it, Emma figures that he’ll only stop making this face when he says whatever’s on his mind.
“Princess, can I be frank?”
“I’d prefer if you be Killian,” she teases, resisting the urge to poke his chest and settling for a smirk. He gives her a slightly confused look and presses on.
“Nonetheless, I have something that I wish to discuss with you-”
“I have something I wanted to talk about too.”
“I- I- I well-” Killian stumbles over his words like a confused kid and now Emma’s the one biting her lip (to keep from laughing at his sincere bewilderment.) “Why don’t you begin then?”
“Killian.” Her hands anchor at his lapels and she digs her feet into the ground, wanting to feel like a strong, rooted tree. “I wanted to thank you for everything you’ve done in the last week. I wouldn’t be here if not for you.”
The moon isn’t providing much light, but Emma’s pretty sure he’s gone a shade of pink, the corners of his mouth edging up despite his best efforts to be serious. “Oh, I don’t believe that-”
“I do. I’d be dead six ways to Sunday if you hadn’t been here the whole time supporting me.” Her thumbs run along the smooth fabric of his lapels and her knees are going a little weak, making her feel like a bending sapling before the storm of his blue eyes.
“I only did what I promised to do.”
She ducks her head for a moment and looks up, meeting his gaze and trying very hard to remember breathing. “What exactly did you promise to do?”
“I promised to be loyal to you and to-” he chokes a little but she needs to hear this part “-to love you.”
“I promised that too. To love you.” She releases his lapel and her fingers comb through the short, soft hairs on his neck. “And I am a girl who keeps my promises.”
They are both fully awake, fully aware, and fully alone. And when Emma reaches up on tiptoe to press their lips together, she wonders if she had ever felt alive before this moment, when he took all the oxygen out of the garden and replaced it with something that made her dizzy and her heart pound and her knees get even weaker. She clings to him, her only foundation as the world grows fuzzy and her lips glide against his in a dance she’s only beginning to pick up but she’d be happy to learn about for the rest of her life.
It only takes a moment for her world to shift and then his hands are on her shoulders, pushing her away.
“Emma!” That lack of oxygen must be affecting him too, because his chest is heaving. “I cannot let you do this out of some warped need to express your gratitude. I did not stand by your side expecting a reward.”
“No you didn’t.” Her hand runs through his ruffled hair and she smiles because it all suddenly clicks into place. “You did it because you love me.”
She’s really thrown him off with that one, because his mouth (oh, what a mouth!) is opening and closing rapidly and his eyes are blinking really fast. “I- well, I-”
“Oh, slow your roll, dude. It's okay, I love you too.”
Emma kisses him again, lips firmer and hands tighter in his hair and wrapped around his arm. But she’s no match for him, because he still manages to pry her away. “Emma, it is acceptable if you do not love me. I am not upset, honestly. You do not know me, you barely know anyone in this realm-”
“Okay, you’re going to need to cool it. Because, Romeo, I’m trying to kiss you and maybe get you into bed, and all you’re doing is going on and on and on about how I don’t have to love you.” She raises her eyebrows and gives him her most annoyed, impatient look. “Will you just shut up and believe me when I say that I love you, that I’ve had the hots for you since the day I first saw you and that I’ve had a crush on you since the first time I saw you smile? Will you just shut up and kiss me?”
His mouth closes. He blinks. And then, utterly shocked, Killian Jones allows his wife to kiss him.
But that doesn’t mean she’s not nervous as they stumble into his bedroom, his hands strong on her hips and his mouth warm against hers, eager and excited and showing her that Ingrid’s awkward sex talk was right.
It feels really, really good when it's with the right person.
“Are you-” Killian moans when her mouth works a bruise under his ear, “-are you sure that you want to do this tonight?”
Emma pulls away from that spot, taking note of it for later, and places her palms on either side of his gorgeous face, making sure he is looking her in the eye so he knows how serious she is.
That is all it takes for the careful restraint to vanish, for his fingers to work at the laces of her dress as though he has been practicing all of his life, to make a tremor go through her. Her dress falls to the ground and the tunic underneath joins it in a moment.
Her nipples are straining against the thin satin of her shift and when he cups her breasts with gentle adoration, she lets out a whimper at the sensation. “Oh Emma,” he whispers, his thumbs circling the stiff peaks and making her whimper again. “You are so beautiful.”
She snakes her hands between him, not ready for him to stop touching her, and unbuttons his vest and shirt so he can slip them off, along with his jacket, leaving all that glorious skin bare. Emma steps forward again, pressing herself against his warm chest and finding his lips, their tongues sliding against one another and his teeth nibbling her lip, making her toes curl.
Emma’s thumbs dig into his waistband and Killian, reading her wishes, grasps her wrists and helps her to pull his trousers down, the buttery smooth leather joining the growing pile of clothes on the floor.
“If you would rather keep it on-” Killian tugs on the end of shift and she can taste the kindness on his lips, his desire to make her as comfortable as possible.
“No.” Emma gives him a quick kiss and steps back, shaking her head. “I want you to see me. All of me.”
She can’t explain why it's so important that he look at her, that he be able to see her under the soft candlelight and judge her for himself. It's not that she needs his approval, it's just that she needs him to see her, vulnerable and bare, and understand that this is who she is.
Emma pulls the shift over her head and when it is gone, her husband is looking at her as though she is the sun itself.
“Oh Emma.” He does not move, only stands there in awe, admiring her, his blue gaze burning in its intensity. “You are the loveliest thing that I have ever beheld.”
And it's not bullshit. It's the truth.
She climbs on the bed and reaches out an arm, inviting him to join her. His lips worship her as they lay, side-by-side, on top of the covers. Their arms and legs are tangled together and their chests are pressed so tightly to one another that she thinks they will never separate, that they’ll be fused here forever. But he proves her wrong, his lips working a delicious line down her body, passing her sensitive center and running a firm tongue down her thigh, around the circle of her knee, and across her calf.
“Emma.” He breathes right next to where she wants him to touch, but his palm is pressed against her thigh. “May I?”
“Yes, yes, yes please,” she squeals, already squirming beneath him. But Killian has all the patience in the world as he runs a single finger across her folds, making her shiver. Another finger joins the first and he gently circles her clit before drawing across her entrance to collect more moisture to run over her bundle of nerves.
(Fuck, this is nothing like when she does it herself.)
She thinks she might just come, his touch about to drive her over the edge, but he plants a gentle kiss on her thigh and scooches back up on the bed.
“Have you done this before?” He is on his side, one hand propping up his head and the other stroking one of her breasts, making her wish he wouldn’t take his sweet-ass time.
“Uh, I haven’t made it to home base before. You?”
Killian dips his head to take one of her nipples into her mouth, drawing out a pathetic little whine. “I have taken a few women to bed, but never fully coupled with them.”
“Ah.” Emma’s a little distracted by the way his tongue is flickering back and forth. “Well, I think I know what’s supposed to happen next.”
“As do I.” He releases her breast and turns his lips back to hers, leaving her breathless in another way. “I have been advised that it may be best for me to recline, allow you control of the coupling?”
“Fuck, whatever you want,” Emma mutters. Killian rolls onto his back and grips her hips, drawing her on top of him, and she grasps his erection with sure fingers, stroking a few times to feel the velvety stiffness and make his head go back and his eyes close. She plays with him for as long as she can wait and then runs the head through her folds, getting it wet and ready for her.
(The advice she heard from her friends was about using lube, but she’s not so sure they have that here.)
He’s right at her entrance and she can feel her heart pounding, waiting for that apparently epic moment when she officially has sex for the first time.
“Emma.” His hands anchor on either side of her face. “Have I told you yet that I love you?”
“No.” She leans forward and kisses him, sweetly. “I don’t think you have.”
“Wife of mine, I love you with all that I have and with all that I am.” His palms run down her sides, brushing along her shoulders, sides, waist, ass, thighs. “From now until we join the stars.”
One hand on his chest steadies herself and the other lines him up to enter her, sliding him in slowly and smoothly. It is a strange sensation and when he enters her fully, she waits for a moment to adjust to his size and the angle. When she has relaxed her muscles, helped by his gentle thumbs on her hipbones, she makes eye contact again and whispers, “From now until we join the stars.”
It's awkward and weird and she’s not really sure she’s doing it right, but they move slowly at first, then a little faster, and when she licks her finger and works at her clit, her body tenses and relaxes at the same time and she and Killian both let out moans. Feeling bold, Emma places one of his hands on her breast and the other on her ass, sighing when he caresses and teases without further instruction. It's all feeling so good and it's nothing like a porno but it's Killian’s blue eyes gazing up at her like she hung the stars and his strong, steady hands cupping her and squeezing her and his lips parting when she changes the angle of her thrusts and moves a little faster.
“Oh- oh Emma,” he gasps, eyes fluttering shut.
“Killian,” she moans back, her voice low and the word coming out of her slowly.
Everything starts moving faster and the world grows fuzzy around the corners, like it's not real anymore - except this is the most real it's ever been. She changes the angle again, this one heavenly, and her finger flicks just the right spot and she explodes around him, crying out his name and shouting, throwing her head back and unable to do anything but let him thrust into her ever harder, ever faster.
Five strong strokes later and he freezes. She opens her eyes in time to catch the way his back arches and his eyes squeeze closed and his mouth droops in surprise and ecstasy.
“Oh,” he sighs, hands wrapping around her waist and bringing her even closer (she didn’t think that was possible, but alright.) “That was perfect.”
She noses at that little spot where his shoulder meets his neck. “Yeah, you are.”
But when they did, it was like she really was a princess.
And so now, sitting in the nursery, rocking a fussy baby who won’t fucking stop crying, she understands that this is her happily ever after, but it doesn’t mean that the work is over. In fact, as she hands the new little heir off to her husband and runs a weary hand across her brow, she knows that the work is just beginning.
“The crying will have to end eventually, love,” Killian sighs, gently bouncing the bundle, adjusting it, and resting a hand on Emma’s knee. “No baby can cry like this forever.”
Emma laces her fingers with Killian’s and gives him an amused look. “You never know, I wouldn’t be surprised if our kid is stubborn enough to do it.”
He chuckles and stands, pulling his wife up and tucking her against his other side. “If so, then we would be getting exactly what we deserve.”
Her eyes must be sparkling because his surely are. “And what is that?”
“Oh, that’s easy, love. Our happily ever after.”