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Changing Tides

Chapter Text

The Prophecy

The tides have changed today, it's true, and peace will once again renew.

And with it you'll forget your fears, as it will reign for many years.

But tides are fickle as the sea; they'll change again, it's destiny.

So heed my words, you must prepare, for evil is still in the air.

She will return, make no mistake, and happiness she will forsake.

And when this darkness does arise, you must decipher truth from lies.

Many will fall and one betray, and one will sleep both night and day.

But even in the blackest night do not abandon hope and light.

For there is one who'll wield the power to save us in this darkest hour:

A princess borne of love that's true – so long as she can find it, too.

Together they will light the dark, she'll be the flame, he'll be the spark.

For it's written in the stars above, that magic comes to her through love.

So seek the man who holds her heart and make sure that they never part.

And when the lass turns twenty-eight, the Evil Queen will meet her fate.

.


.

PROLOGUE

"I still think this is a bad idea, Your Highness," Lancelot whispers across the table.

"So you've said… numerous times," David replies with an edge to his voice, gripping the handle of the mug in front of him.

David glances across the room, searching every nook and cranny with sharp eyes, praying they aren't too late, praying they haven't missed their chance.

Where is he?

"We can't trust him. He's a pirate, Majesty. And not only a pirate but one with a reputation that doesn't lend to mercy," Lancelot adds quietly.

"I know who he is, Lance. I know exactly who he is. You're going to have to trust me on this."

David adds a determined glare at the end of the statement to let his friend know that his mind is made up. The look he receives in return has him drawing a deep breath as he realizes the irony of this moment. Here he is asking for trust when the truth of the matter is David doesn't trust anyone anymore, save for a select few. And apparently, one he shouldn't have.

One will betray.

That damn prophecy was right. And yet, even now, faced with the truth, David still struggles to believe it.

"But, sire –"

"Stop with the titles, Lance. We're not in the safety of the castle. Call me David."

Lancelot lets out a huff of breath next to him, annoyance rolling off him in waves that David can almost feel in his bones.

Maybe it's about time he took the knight into his confidence. Lancelot has been a faithful ally since he showed up in Camelot, nothing but the clothes on his back, defeated but determined to take back what was his. Lance had been next to him when the news of Snow had arrived just a few days later and it had been Lance who held him back – and probably saved his life – when David had been bound and determined to take on all of the Evil Queen's knights alone to get to his love. He'd promised to help David regain everything he'd lost, and ever since then, that's exactly what he'd done. For years now, he'd been sending his knights in search of news and bringing back the snippets of information they'd gathered. And because of that information, and Lance's insistence on patience, there might finally be a chance.

David sighs and has to fight the urge to tell his friend the truth in that moment, regretting that he didn't tell him while they were still in the safety of the castle. Because now is not the time. There are too many people around who could overhear and it's just too risky to say the words aloud in this crowded tavern. So he keeps silent, watching the door in desperate hope.

At long last, the tavern doors swing open and the pirate in question enters along with two members of his crew. David hastily turns his head away to hide his face as the pirate surveys the crowd. An awed silence descends on the room as the patrons realize who just walked in.

Captain Hook.

Dreaded pirate, indeed.

David knew the man had a reputation but witnessing it first hand is a completely different thing and he feels the overwhelming urge to look back and observe how one man who is not of noble birth can bring an entire room to a halt. With great effort, he resists. If the Captain recognizes him in this crowd and gives away either of their identities, this would all be for nothing.

A moment later Lance nudges his arm and David chances a glance over his shoulder, watching as the pirate takes a seat at a table along the wall. David feels a surprising swell of pride at the sight. The man isn't a fool, he's positioned himself so that he can see the entire room and has an excellent line to the door in case he needs to leave in a hurry.

"Now we wait," he hears Lance say.

"Yes," David agrees, hearing the relief in his own voice. "Now we wait."

It's nearly three hours later and David is still sipping on the same ale he ordered when they came in. The liquid is warm and bitter on his tongue and he grimaces slightly at the taste.

"He's moving," Lancelot whispers and David immediately sits up straighter in his chair.

He sees Lance nod to his men positioned across the room and David risks another glance to the pirate. His gaze lands on the back of the man's dark head as he makes his way to the back of the establishment, more than likely headed to the privy.

Lance's men follow a few feet behind and David stands to make his way to the back as well. If everything goes according to plan, he and Lancelot will walk out the back and drive the awaiting carriage to the castle, an unconscious pirate being their sole passenger.

But as they approach the back door, David realizes something is amiss. The handle is hanging slightly wrong and he can hear a scuffling on the other side. He and Lance both draw their swords as Lance shoulders through the door and rushes into the night air.

There's a blur of movement on the other side and David sees a sword raised, ready to deliver a killing blow. Terror overtakes him as he steps through. He's not even sure whose sword it is. He and Lance had been explicit in their instruction that the pirate was not to be harmed, only captured, but it doesn't matter whose life is in jeopardy. No one is going to die here tonight.

"Halt!" he commands, his voice ringing out into the fray.

The man holding the sword freezes, his back straightening as he draws a sharp breath.

"These men attacked me with no provocation," the pirate says, "I've every right to defend myself."

David stands stock still as he takes in the sight before him. Captain Hook's sword is arrested above the throat of one of Lancelot's best knights, the other out cold on the ground just to the left of the door. The pirate is facing away from him and David offers up a silent prayer of thanks for that. It wouldn't do to have this conversation here. He's not sure why the pirate stopped on his order, if it was recognition of his voice or something else, and it's too risky to find out right now, there's a clock ticking in the back of his head telling him they need to move quickly, return to the privacy of the castle. This is not a reunion anyone should witness.

With a nod to Lancelot, the esteemed knight lowers the hilt of his sword to the back of the Captain's head and the man crumples to the ground.


David sits next to the bed as Lancelot lowers the pirate to the mattress.

"Well, Your Highness, now that you have him, how are you going to get him to cooperate?"

"That won't be a problem," David tells him.

"Won't be a problem? Did you see what he did to my knights?" he asks, indignation lacing his voice.

David smiles to himself, pride flooding his body once again. "Yes, I did. It would seem he's quite resourceful… which only reaffirms my belief that he is the man for the job."

"He's dangerous," Lancelot argues, "You've heard the tales about him. He's made himself a menace on the high seas, even going so far as to attack military vessels."

"Regina's military vessels," David responds.

"We don't know that it's only hers. Just because we've never heard of him attacking anyone else's doesn't mean he hasn't."

"He hasn't," David says with complete conviction.

"How do you know that?"

David finally tears his eyes away from the unconscious figure on the cot to meet Lancelot's gaze.

"Because I know him."

"You know him?" Lancelot asks incredulously. "How? On what occasion would a King such as yourself meet a pirate?"

"He wasn't always a pirate, Lance," David responds, standing and walking to the door.

Glancing both ways down the hall, he ensures they're alone before he closes and bolts the door then turns back to Lancelot who is looking to him with confusion.

"Listen to me, my friend," David says quietly, resting his hands on the man's broad shoulders. "What I am about to tell you could endanger the lives of everyone I love. I've been weighing this in my head since I laid eyes on him two days ago. Secrecy is vital. It's possibly the only thing that has kept him alive for the past few years. I thought he was dead. Everyone thought he was dead. And no one can know that he isn't."

"I don't understand, sire. You're talking in riddles. Captain Hook is very much alive and everyone knows it."

"Captain Hook is only his moniker. Do you know his true name?"

"No, my lord. No one knows his true name."

"I do," David tells him, drawing a deep breath. This is it. This is the moment he finally gives over the trust of his entire life to the knight. He holds Lancelot's gaze steadily as he speaks the words, "His true name is Killian Jones."

"Killian Jones?" Lancelot says in disbelief. "It's not possible, Your Grace. Killian Jones is dead. There were witnesses. Your friend even…"

"The reports were false. Believe me. This is Killian Jones."

K&EK&EK&E

Killian hears a rumble of low voices around him, a haze of sound that his mind can't quite process.

Maybe it has something to do with the terrible pounding in the back of his head, he muses.

He strains to make out the words but it's no use, they're talking too quietly for him to catch more than a single word every few seconds so, instead, he tries to remember how the bloody hell he ended up here.

The tavern, men following him out the back, the glint of a sword, someone gripping his arm and telling him not to struggle.

The ensuing skirmish flashes before his eyes, his elbow knocking out the man behind him while reaching for his blade to take on the second, the glimpse of King Arthur's insignia on the man's chest.

What the bloody hell had happened? Why had Arthur's knights assaulted him?

He'd been very careful to keep himself from becoming a wanted man in this kingdom – and he wanted it to stay that way.

Then, just as he'd been about to use the hilt of his sword to render the second man unconscious, he'd heard a shout ring through the air.

Halt!

His body had acted instinctively at the sound, an involuntary and deep-seeded response that had him freezing at the command. He knew that voice and, for the first time in years, hope had sprung into his soul.

He'd wanted to turn and face the man but something in him hadn't let him. If there was one thing he'd learned in recent years it was that hope was a dangerous thing. It could crush you like the hull of a ship crushes through the waves, leaving you broken and adrift in a swirling sea of black.

The voices around him are becoming infinitesimally more clear but they're still talking in hushed tones and Killian struggles to hear exactly what they were saying. It's not until he hears his name, his real name, that he realizes the danger he is in. He risks opening one eye and the sight that greets him is one he'd never thought to see again.

Unless his befuddled mind is playing tricks on him, it is King David and he's standing not ten feet away, talking to one of Arthur's knights… The words 'Evil Queen' and 'prophecy' filter through the air as he tries to rise but as soon as his head leaves the pillow, he's overcome with a wave of dizziness and he drops back down with a groan as his eyes slide shut and oblivion takes him under again.

The next sensation he feels is the cold splash of water on his face and he jolts awake with a curse. He shakes the water from his eyes and hair with several jerks of his neck as someone wrestles him upright and into a chair.

Indignation fills him at the rough treatment but he doesn't struggle as hand and hook are bound behind his back. He lets out a grunt when the ropes are tightened on his wrists and closes his eyes for a moment to gather his thoughts. He's not sure what's going on here and until he figures it out, he's got to keep his wits about him.

King David is alive - and he's abducted him for some reason. He needs to figure out why, but more importantly, he needs to figure out if he's in any real danger. His instinct tells him he's not - this is King David - but he can't be sure. He's a wanted man, after all, and even though he's never committed a crime against any kingdom but Regina's, he knows there are false stories of his deeds running rampant everywhere. Until now, he never worried about correcting the misstatements, figuring the worse his reputation, the better, but now, as he realizes the danger he could be in, he can't help but wonder if he should have been more mindful of the tales told about him.

"Easy Lance," he hears David say, "You walloped him pretty good. Even if he is so inclined, I don't think he's in any condition to struggle."

"He's a pirate and I'm sworn to protect you, Majesty," is the reply he hears from behind him.

The contempt in the man's voice makes Killian stiffen, a nagging knot forming in his stomach as he listens for David's reply. David doesn't make one, however, and Killian keeps his eyes down, trepidation filling him because the knight is right, he's a pirate now and if David looks at him with the same contempt he hears in the knight's voice…

The possibility brings on a wave of shame but he pushes it down immediately. He's done things he's not particularly proud of, true, but he did them in retaliation for the future that was stolen from him. He did them to avenge the lives of the people he loved – including the man before him.

With determination, he slowly opens his eyes, surprised to find King David crouched down to where their eyes are level, studying him. When their gazes meet and hold, it sends a jolt through his system that he struggles to keep in check.

Those eyes haven't changed, they are just as sharp and intelligent as they always were and Killian has to resist the urge to squirm in his chair under the intense scrutiny he's receiving.

The silence lengthens as the King takes in the sight before him and even though etiquette demands that the King speak first, Killian is tempted to break it – good form be damned – and say something like: Hello, Dave. It's been a while, with his best pirate swagger. In the end, though, he simply clenches his jaw, realizing that no matter what has happened, he could never show David such disrespect, no matter how much the pirate in him wants to.

Still, his good form can't stop him from sitting up straighter and returning the penetrating gaze with one of his own, taking in the lines on his face that weren't there the last time they spoke, the tinge of gray littering his hair. The whole situation is surreal – like a dream or a drunken hallucination – and a part of him can't help but rejoice that his liege is alive even as the other part feels the sting of betrayal.

The longer they watch each other, the harder it is for Killian to hold his gaze as memories of a happier time float to the front of his brain and he remembers the man he was before. But he determinedly pushes them back as the betrayal he feels rears its head. The man before him is supposed to be dead and Killian bristles at the fact that not only has he been alive all this time but he's apparently been hiding rather than fighting for his kingdom.

David's eyes narrow, the trace of a smirk crossing his face and, for a moment, Killian thinks he's read his mind. But the look disappears so quickly that Killian decides he only imagined it.

At long last, the King straightens and speaks, "Hello Lieutenant Jones."

"It's Captain now," Killian replies shortly.

David raises an eyebrow at the curt response. It's not a reply that propriety would dictate. He should, at the very least, bow his head but Killian is feeling a little too raw to trifle with propriety right now (good form can only do so much).

"So I hear. But it's not Captain Jones, is it? It's Captain Hook, the notorious and dangerous pirate."

Killian doesn't reply, he simply lifts his chin.

David's eyes narrow the slightest bit at his show of bravado while, at the same time, a sound of exasperation comes from the knight behind him. David seems to take no notice of the knight's reaction as he considers his next words.

"Tell me, Captain. How is it that a Naval Lieutenant becomes a pirate?"

The question isn't exactly a surprise, but the manner in which it is asked is. There's no accusatory edge to the King's voice, it's more conversational, as though he's asking how a man would become a baker or a blacksmith.

Still, Killian feels shame wash over him again. Sitting here before the man who he once looked on as a father, it hits him for the first time that his choice to resort to piracy was a shameful way to honor those they lost. The feeling is short-lived, however, partly due to Killian's own pride and partly because he sees no judgment in the King's eyes. There's not even any anger, only curiosity as he waits patiently for him to reply. So it doesn't really come as a shock when he decides to go with the truth.

"When you've nothing to live for save revenge, piracy is a tenable option."

David lifts his chin a little higher at his answer and something flashes in his eyes. Was that pride? Then the King nods and, somehow, Killian gets the feeling that his words were not only what the King had expected, but what he'd hoped for.

"And what if you had something to live for? Other than revenge?"

Killian's brow draws together in confusion. "I don't understand, Your Majesty. You and I both know revenge is the only thing I have left."

David falls silent again, his sharp eyes thoughtful as he draws a deep breath like he's considering what to say next. He looks to the knight who has now moved into Killian's line of vision with a question in his eyes and the knight nearly imperceptibly shakes his head.

Killian isn't sure why, but he feels a sharp stab of envy from that look. Something is going on here that the King is keeping from him, something that this knight already knows. It wasn't that long ago that Killian had been privy to all of the kingdom's secrets and it doesn't sit well that this man – a knight who is in the service of another king – is in David's confidence.

David turns back to Killian. "And you've been taking that revenge by attacking Regina's ships?"

"Yes."

"And stealing from merchant ships bound for her kingdom?"

Killian doesn't miss the way the King has to force out the words 'her kingdom.'

"Yes."

"And are those the only vessels you target?"

Killian can't help but clench his jaw as he responds again, "Yes."

David considers this for a moment and Killian is glad to see that he doesn't look back to the knight this time.

"You know that Snow is still alive, correct? She's under a sleeping curse and being held in the highest tower of the castle. We've made numerous attempts over the years to save her but since Regina has that damn seer in her employ, our efforts are always thwarted before they even begin."

The surprise Killian feels must show on his face because for the first time since he's seen him again, the King smiles at him.

"You didn't think I'd left the love of my life to the Evil Queen without even trying to rescue her, did you?"

Killian's cheeks grow hot at the question. That's exactly what he'd thought, but rather than admit it he responds, "I haven't heard of any attempts to rescue the Queen."

"No, I wouldn't have expected you to. As I said, they've all been thwarted before we were able to implement them."

An unbidden image of Queen Snow pulling out the poison apple and taking a bite flashes into his mind, the way she'd collapsed on the dais as a chorus of gasps filled the room. Killian squeezes his eyes shut at the memory, his voice breaking as he asks, "And you want my help to rescue her?"

"In a fashion, yes."

Killian takes a deep breath. He'd thought about it years before, attempting to rescue Snow White, but the risk had been too great and, since he'd thought David to be dead, it would have come to nothing more than to have her away from the Evil Queen as the curse could never have been broken. So he'd abandoned the plan and settled for causing as many problems as he could for her usurper. But now, he could finally do something for the woman who had saved his life by giving up her own and it didn't matter in the least to him that he might die in the effort.

"I owe the Queen everything, Your Grace," he says quietly, putting as much sincerity as he can in the words, "Tell me what you need me to do."

David's eyes soften and Killian even notices that Arthur's knight seems to relax the slightest bit.

Then David is crouching in front of him again as he says earnestly, "Time is running out, Killian. There's only one person who can defeat Regina. We've kept her hidden since the fall of the kingdom. Regina claimed she was dead, just as she did with me, and we let everyone believe it to keep her safe but she's not. She's not safe. I thought she was but she's not… She's in grave danger. I think Regina knows where she is. I'm not sure… It doesn't make any sense because I don't think she knows you're alive… but since you are, there's hope -"

David stops speaking abruptly as the knight clears his throat.

Killian's heart is now pounding into his ribs, it had sped up while the King was talking and now it feels like it's going to beat right out of his chest. Someone who everyone thought was dead… A woman David was protecting… The Evil Queen's announcement that she'd been shot by a random arrow while attempting to escape…

It couldn't be her. He'd seen the body of her protector himself. And Killian knew for a fact that August had been the one to spirit her away from the fighting. It was impossible.

"Killian?"

It takes him a moment to focus on the King as the thoughts reel in his head. He feels his arms being released as David offers his hand and he allows the King to help him to his feet.

Then he almost falls back into the chair at the King's next words.

"Killian, I need you to find my daughter. I need you to find Emma."

Chapter Text

Emma lifts the tankard of ale and makes her way across the crowded tavern.  She glances around as she walks, nodding to a few of the regulars and eyeing their glasses to see if any of them are in need of a fresh drink.  Finding no one in immediate need, she sets the ale down in front of the officers and heads to the table in the back. 

Perching herself on it, she looks at her old friend and asks, “So, are you going to tell me what you’re doing here?”

“What?  I can’t just drop in to say hello?”

“I’m not stupid, Graham,” she says with a roll of her eyes.  “Do you think I haven’t noticed how on edge everyone is lately?  How everyone seems to be in here so often?  Now, you show up after months of being away and I’m not supposed to be suspicious?”

“Lower your voice, Emma.  Even if there was something going on, and I’m not saying there is, you know we can’t talk about it here.”

Graham’s eyes dart over to the bar where Emma is sure Leroy is watching and she huffs out a breath of frustration.  She knows there’s something going on.  Leroy has been uneasy for weeks, jumping at every sound, his pickaxe always within reach. 

“You know that lying to me is pointless.  I will find out what’s going on.”

“I wish you’d never acquired that skill.  Look, we’ll talk about this later, I promise,” he says, eyeing Leroy as he speaks, “But we can’t right now.”

“Really? You’ll really tell me what’s going on?” she asks in surprise.

He glances to Leroy again.  “I will, I promise.  Later.  But right now, I’ve brought you a gift.” He nudges the package on the table toward her. 

She gives him a suspicious look.  “You think a gift will distract me from my questions but it won’t.”

“It’s not a distraction. But if you don’t want it…”

“I didn’t say that,” she says quickly, grabbing at the package and ripping it open without ceremony.

She gives the huntsman a curious look as she pulls out the dark green hooded cloak. 

“To replace the one I ripped,” he says in way of explanation.

She chuckles lightly, removing the cloak to inspect it.  “It wasn’t that bad, I mended it.  And it wasn’t really your fault.  It was my own clumsiness that caused it.  But since it was you who insisted I practice my swordplay while wearing it, I’m happy to let you take the blame.”

Wrapping the new cloak around her shoulders, she does a quick spin, modeling it for him.  The color is not what she would have chosen, but this is Graham, dark green is his signature, the man who has always been more at home in the forest than anywhere else. 

“The color looks good on you.”

She smiles. “You would think the color looks good on a turnip.”

He chuckles tightly and lowers his head, stiffening.

Confused by his reaction, her brow wrinkles.  “What is it?”

“Nothing,” he says quickly, “just…  I hope you like it.”

“I do.  Thank you, Graham.”

He nods and starts to stand up.  “I should go.”

“Go? Now? But I thought you were going to tell me –”

“I’ll be back later,” he cuts her off.  “Right now I have some… things that need to be taken care of.”

The unease is back immediately as she glances over to Leroy and back.  “You’ll be back?  You promise?”

“I promise.  And when I do return, all will be revealed.”

She senses there’s something else, something that he’s reluctant to say but he’s gone before she can form the question. 

She heads back to the bar, giving Leroy a stern look as she approaches him.  The dwarf doesn’t say anything to her and that, in and of itself, is enough to make Emma even more suspicious.  The man loves to hear himself talk and the fact that he’s keeping his mouth shut lately is what got her wondering in the first place. 

But she knows Graham is right, they can’t talk about it here, anyway.  So she gets back to work and does her best to push the uneasy feeling in her gut down as she delivers drinks and clears tables.

The Gold Mine (Sneezy came up with the name) is busy tonight, so it’s easy to forget her worries and enjoy interacting with the customers as the hours fly by in the flurry of activity and laughter. 

She loves working here, the fast pace and rolling laughter from the patrons.  In fact, this is the one thing she has now that gives her refuge.  She knows Leroy and Graham still don’t understand why she had insisted they buy the place and run it but in the end she had convinced them by pointing out that no one would think to look for a princess in the little tavern of this tiny portside village.  It was the perfect cover. 

But that wasn’t why Emma had wanted to buy it. 

Male laughter rings out across the room and she looks over her shoulder to the naval uniforms at a nearby table.  That’s why, she thinks to herself, smiling softly.  There’s something soothing in their presence.  It’s not the same.  It will never be the same, but sometimes when she listens to their stories, she can almost hear the voice of another sailor, an echo of that lilting accent when they tell a story similar to one she heard from him. 

Ruby likes to tease her about it, the way she always insists on serving the naval officers.  She’s always asking her if there is one that stands out above the rest.  What about that one with the curly hair?  He’s handsome and sweet and he’s been watching you all night.

Emma doesn’t have the heart to tell her it’s useless, she knows her friend is just trying to help.  They all are, the dwarves and Granny and even Graham.  They want her to be happy, to find someone she could come to care for, maybe find a happy ending.  But Emma also knows there is no one in the realm that will ever catch her eye again.  She knows that no one could ever compare to –

She’s pulled from her thoughts when the doors swing open with a loud bang that has her and most of the other people in the pub turning to see who is coming in.  She sees Sleepy subtly finger the dagger he keeps hidden at his waist while Leroy takes a step closer to his axe behind the bar. 

The room is silent and tense for a moment as Emma surveys the new arrivals.  Her back stiffens and she stands up a little straighter as the men make their way to a table, plopping down with a flair. 

Pirates.

They’re not a regular sight in The Gold Mine, but it is a port town so, occasionally, a group will come in.  They are, in Emma’s opinion, the only drawback to working here, them with their leering looks and toothless grins.  They’re loud and unruly and most of the time they smell like the bottom of a bottle.  They are the lowest form of human life, they have no loyalty, no honor, and their hands tended to wander. 

Usually Emma is spared from waiting on them.  There are several other women who work at the pub who don’t mind their forward ways and gaudy attitudes.  They see them as a way of earning some extra gold – no matter what they have to do to earn it. 

She still remembers the first time Gwen had led one out the door, their intent obvious, and the way Leroy had eyed her from across the room with pink cheeks to see her reaction. 

She’d found it amusing, even endearing, that Leroy had been so worried.  They all regard her as some sort of innocent child at times, like a princess would never know about such things.  But, honestly, she hadn’t been offended by the idea at all.  She knew Gwen had two boys at home, their father dead, and if she wanted to make some extra money, who was Emma to judge?  And the other girls as well, as long as all the parties agreed.  She wasn’t naive.  She knew this kind of thing was common in taverns, she’d known it before she’d insisted they run this one. 

Emma watches as Gwen makes her way toward the newest patrons, two flagons of ale and a bottle of rum in her hands that the pirates had demanded in a shout as soon as they’d set down. 

Turning away from the sight, Emma finds Graham standing behind her.  In fact, he’s so close that she nearly spills the drink she’s carrying all over him. 

“You startled me,” she says.

Graham doesn’t respond at first, his eyes on the pirates.

“We need to leave,” he says in a hushed tone.

“Why?” Emma asks.  “Because of the pirates?  It’s not a big deal, Graham.  Gwen will take care of them.”

Graham’s eye dart over to Leroy.

“Do you want to hear the truth or not?” he asks.

The urgency in his voice surprises her, the note of demand that he adds to the question, and she follows his gaze to Leroy who is currently distracted behind the bar.

“Yes,” she responds in a low voice.

Then he’s taking her hand and quickly leading her toward the back exit.  They get as far as the door that leads to the kitchen before Leroy’s voice rings out.

“And just where do you think you’re going?”

Graham turns on him, “Don’t try to stop me, Leroy.  We both know I can take you.”

“Emma – ” Ruby appears behind Leroy even as the kitchen door swings open to reveal Granny brandishing a frying pan. 

“And what about me, Huntsman?  Are you planning to take me on as well?” the older woman asks.

Graham looks to all of them in turn, exasperation clear on his face.  Without a word, he pushes past Granny and leads everyone into the kitchen, silently beckoning all of them to follow.

As soon as the door falls closed behind Ruby, Emma turns on all of her friends.

What is going on?” she demands. 

Everyone is silent, all eyes focused not on her but on Leroy and Graham who are having a staring contest, the animosity clear in their stances.  Neither move for quite some time and it becomes obvious by the way they’re looking at each other that they are not in agreement about telling her whatever it is that Graham wants to tell her.

She waits several more beats before she asks again.  “What is going on?”

Ruby appears at her elbow.  “We’re just trying to keep you safe,” she says.

“I know that,” Emma replies, doing her best to keep her voice low even though she wants to yell, “but something is going on, something that has all of you on edge.  You’ve been keeping it from me for years, I know you have, but something has happened recently that –”

“Nothing has happened.”  This from Granny.

“Then why?  Why is everyone acting like this?”

They all fall back into silence, none of them willing to meet her eyes, and it hits her, what they’re doing.  They’re trying to think of something to say that isn’t a lie.  They’ve all done it before when she started to ask too many questions.  They know they can’t lie to her, so they figure out a way to give her a vague answer without actually lying. 

“Your twenty-eighth birthday is coming up.”  Leroy finally speaks as his stance relaxes the slightest bit.

“What does my age have to do with anything? And my birthday is months from now.”

She waits again through the silence as the four of them look to each other and she notices that even Dopey who had been washing dishes has stopped to watch the scene. 

Graham is still staring hard at Leroy, but he’s not looking as murderous as he had been a moment ago.  Without looking away from Leroy, he speaks.  “I’ll tell you what you want to know but, like I said earlier, we can’t do it here.  Come with me back to the cottage right now and we’ll talk.”

Leroy looks like he wants to protest and Granny stiffens beside her but it’s Dopey’s reaction that surprises her the most.  He actually takes a step toward Graham wielding a dirty spoon like a club, giving Graham a look that can only be described as angry.  She’s never seen Dopey angry before.

“We can’t keep it from her forever,” Graham reasons as his eyes shoot to Dopey.  Then he glances at each of the others as he continues, “and we can’t expect her to follow our lead blindly.  She needs to know.  I understood not telling her before now, but time is running out.  This plan didn’t work.”

“What plan?”  Emma asks.

No one answers her.  Not that she really expects them to.  But the hostility in the room deflates instantly at Graham’s words, an almost audible sigh of defeat releasing into the air.  Apparently, Graham has made his point and they agree with him – even if their agreement is reluctant. 

Graham’s eyes come back to hers after he receives a nod from each of them in turn. 

“If you agree to leave with me right now, I’ll explain everything.”

“Why don’t we wait until we’re all back at home?” Ruby asks. “So we can all tell her together –”

“No,” Graham cuts her off.  “I’ll tell her.”

“And I don’t want to wait,” Emma adds as she sees the protest in Granny’s eyes as well.  Now that they’ve finally admitted that something is going on, she doesn’t want to give any of them time to reconsider.

“Fine,” Leroy says, but she can tell he’s not fond of the idea.

Emma doesn’t hesitate, reaching for the cloak Graham had given her earlier, “Let’s go.”

Graham sets a quick pace through the town and she’s practically scurrying to keep up.  He doesn’t say anything as they make their way into the forest – not that it surprises her – Graham isn’t the most talkative man on a good day, he’s always preferred animals to people, and usually that’s a balm for Emma.  Tonight, though, she’s too impatient to find comfort in the silence. 

As soon as they are out of sight of the village, he makes sharp turn, heading south toward the sea.

“We’re not going to the cabin?” she asks.

“No, I’ve got a better place.”

He doesn’t offer any other explanation, he just presses on, and Emma doesn’t ask.  There’s something about his gait that tells her he has a plan and she doesn’t want to waste time plying him with questions… yet.

They continue at fast pace for another several minutes, heading deeper and deeper into the woods.  Finally, Graham breaks the silence. “Tell me, Emma, when did you realize that you could separate truth from lies?”

The question surprises her and her back stiffens. 

“You’re the one who is supposed to be answering questions right now, not me,” she evades.

“Indulge me,” he requests.

Emma keeps moving, her eyes focused on the ground but the path in front of her blurs as the memory assaults her. 

~

When she enters the room, the first thing she sees is Aurora whispering something in his ear.  They break apart immediately when they see her and Aurora hastily retreats into the crowd.

Trying to ignore the overwhelming wave of jealousy, she walks over to his side. “What were the two of you whispering about?” she asks.

“She was just confiding in me that she’s hoping for a dance request from Prince Phillip this evening.”

Something shimmers in her spine at the words, making her feel uneasy.  And his voice…  It doesn’t sound right, like he’s talking through a curtain, not really muffled so much as reverberating in her ears.

LIE.

She doesn’t know how she knows it but she does.  He’s lying to her. 

She doesn’t confront him about it, she can’t without him hearing the jealousy that is sure to be in her voice.  So she keeps her mouth shut and lets him lead her to the dance floor. 

She watches him as the night goes on but he never approaches Aurora again.  It isn’t until the ball is nearly over and she’s dancing with Liam that she sees him sneak away toward the garden. 

Her eyes immediately scan the rest of the crowd, searching for Aurora.  She finds her only moments later standing next to Phillip with a glowing smile on her face.  Confusion wars with jealousy as the dance continues but Aurora never leaves Phillip’s side. 

He reappears as the ball draws to a close and offers her his arm to walk her to her room.  She draws a breath of relief and finally shakes off the unease she’s felt all night, chalking her earlier reaction up to an over-active imagination. 

As they approach her room she notices the bouquet of flowers sitting at the foot of her door. 

Buttercups.  Her favorite. 

She picks up the flowers and turns to him with a smile.  “How did you know?”

“I asked Aurora.”

“Is that what you two were really whispering about?”

He blushes and scratches behind his ear.  “Aye,” he admits.

He fidgets in front of her, his eyes darting to hers and away again and she is suddenly hit by three things at once. 

One, she’d been right, he’d lied to her. But this realization pales in comparison to her other revelations so she simply files that away for later consideration.

Two, she is utterly and completely in love with him. 

And three, it’s high time she acted on her feelings.   

Not stopping to consider propriety or good form, she surges forward and presses her lips to his.  She can tell she’s taken him by surprise when she hears him gasp, but then his lips are pressing back and his hands cup her face. It only lasts a few seconds before he steps away, a flush high on his cheeks as he clears his throat.

“My apologies, your highness.  I didn’t –”

“Why are you apologizing when I’m the one who kissed you?”

He’s flustered, she can tell, looking anywhere but her eyes and she reaches out a hand and settles it on his arm, running it down until their hands are linked. 

“Thank you for the flowers, Lieutenant.”

His eyes dart to hers as the flush creeps further across his features, all the way down his neck. 

“You’re very welcome, Princess.”

There gazes hold for several heartbeats, both grinning shyly at the other before he bows to her and takes his leave.

She watches him go, her heart pounding her ears.

As first kisses go, she wouldn’t have traded it for the world.

~

Tears sting her eyes at the memory that she hastily blinks away.  Graham obviously notices her distress and takes her arm to stop her on the path and face her. 

“Emma?” he asks with concern.

She sucks in a shaky breath and wills the tears not to fall, her throat closing painfully. 

She can’t.  She can’t say it.  She hasn’t spoken of him in years.  She hasn’t said his name since the day Graham had confirmed he was dead.  Even now, as her mouth moves to form the word, she almost chokes on it. 

She clenches her eyes shut as she breathes out his name.  “Killian...”

Graham inhales sharply, a sound that almost doesn’t make it to her ears as she does the same.  She lifts the back of her hand to her mouth to cover the sob that escapes.

“He lied to me once,” she whispers brokenly as the tears spill over, the effort to hold them back suddenly too much for her. 

The next thing she knows, she’s in Graham’s arms, her head cradled into his chest as she lets go and the sobs wrack her body.  “It was the only time he ever lied to me,” she adds through the sobs, the words barely audible even to her.

Graham’s arms constrict around her, his grip so tight it’s almost painful, the tension in his muscles registering even through her misery as the emotional dam finally breaks. 

She’d been holding it in for years. Years of swallowing the despair she felt, hiding it from her friends as best she could, trying to keep them safe and happy.  There was nothing to be gained by wallowing in it anyway.  So she’d pushed it aside and done her best to move on, trying not to burden the rest of them with it. 

She’d seen the way they’d all looked at her the night Graham had shown up at the run-down inn they were hiding in at the time.  She’d heard Granny and Ruby gasp when Graham told her. 

She’d allowed herself to mourn that night – only the one night – because they were still being hunted.  They were only a day or two ahead of those who would capture her and bring her before the Queen.  And even that one night had cost August his life.  If she’d had her wits about her, they wouldn’t have taken the night of rest, they would have pressed on and maybe August would still be alive.

“I’m so sorry, Emma,” Graham says, drawing her out of her thoughts, something tortured in his tone as he rocks her back and forth that makes her lift her head and look at him.

“It’s not your fault, Graham.  There was nothing you could have done.”

He shakes his head as if in denial, his hands going to her shoulders to hold her in place in front of him.  Her brow wrinkles in confusion when she sees how deeply he’s breathing, like he’s struggling for each intake of air. 

Before she can ask what’s wrong he releases her and walks further down the path with determined strides.  She scurries after him, worried, as he stops at a hollow tree and turns to her. 

“Emma…  You have to go.  You have to run.  Now.”

“What are you talking about?” 

She watches as his hands clench at his sides, his breathing getting worse with each moment. “You have to… leave me here and go.  There’s a boat...  I’ve already paid your passage… Find somewhere safe.  Find…” He cuts off, clutching at his chest.

She reaches out and grabs his arm as his body sways.  “Graham, what’s the matter? You’re talking madness.  I’m not leaving you.  You’ve always kept me safe.”

“I haven’t.  You’ve never been safe.  She’s always known…” An almost inhuman sound bursts past his lips and he falls to his knees on the path. “You have to find him…  I’ve tried… I’ve looked everywhere I can think of…”

“What are you talking about?  Find who?”

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.  I had to lie.  I thought you’d be able to tell.  I thought you’d know I was lying but you didn’t.  I guess it’s because she has my…” he groans and rocks back with his hand still on his chest.

She sinks down in front of him, foreboding filling her blood. “What does she have?”

He falls forward onto his hands. He’s so far gone now that she’s not sure he even hears her anymore.  “So I looked for him myself.  I couldn’t risk telling you the truth.  I couldn’t risk telling anyone.  She might have heard, she might be listening now, and if she found him before me…”

Emma reaches out and lifts his head, realization making her lungs squeeze.  His eyes are dark, pain lancing through them with each word.  “She has your heart?”

He takes a deep breath with an almost imperceptible nod.  “They’re coming for you, Emma.  They’ll be here…  any… minute…”

Emma shakes her head in disbelief.  They couldn’t be.  They didn’t know where she was.  But, of course they do.  If Regina has Graham’s heart, she’s always known.  Her body stiffens in fright as her eyes dart in every direction, expecting black knights to materialize from the trees.

There’s a rustle of leaves from close by and Emma jumps to her feet. 

“Take this,” Graham grounds out, reaching into the hollow tree and producing a pack.

She takes it from him without thinking, her eyes still searching the trees as her heart pounds heavily in her ears.  She starts to back away but Graham stops her. 

“Emma, listen to me…”  There’s an earnestness in his voice that makes her pause even as he pulls his own sword and presses it into her hand.  “Killian… is alive.  You have to find him.”

Emma can actually feel her eyes widen at the statement, the shock of it coursing through her as she searches Graham’s tortured features.  She doesn’t have time to dwell on it, though, because the thunder of hoof beats draws her attention.

“GO!” Graham tells her.

She shakes her head, gripping at the handle of his sword, torn about leaving him behind, especially unarmed.  Even if he’d been lying all this time, he’s still one of her oldest friends and if the Queen has his heart – 

“GO!  NOW!”

The hoof beats are getting closer, and now she can even hear the shouts from the men.  She doesn’t waste any more time before she is tearing through the trees back toward the village. 

Chapter Text

His crew is definitely not happy with him. The looks he got from them when he told them he was leaving without them this time weigh on his conscious. But he couldn't take them with him. This mission is too dangerous and while they are all loyal men, Killian can't risk it.

Arendelle.

She's somewhere in Arendelle. That's all the King knew. A safety measure, he'd said.

David hadn't said much else, either. Not how Regina had found her or why the King wasn't going himself. He'd only said that he would explain when they returned, that he'd tell them both together. And because time was of the essence, Killian hadn't argued.

As soon as he has cleared port, he opens every sail and the Jolly Roger cuts through the waves with lightning speed. He doesn't lower a single sail the entire way, no matter the weather.

As they pass through a particularly bad storm, the ship groans and he tightens his hand on the wheel. "Emma is in danger, old girl. We have to find her. You've never let me down before. I need you to hold together and get me there. You're the fastest ship in the realm and I need you to prove it now."

The ship bobs on the waves and presses on, the wind in his face increasing to the point where his eyes sting. He grins and pats the helm, certain that the Jolly is travelling at a speed she's never accomplished before.

But even at her fastest, it still takes almost three weeks to reach their destination.

When he finally sees land in his telescope, he sighs with relief, and whispers, "Thank you," to his ship.

The ship's bell rings in response.

The next two weeks are spent searching every port. There's no trace of her at the first… or the second… or the third… and despair takes root. It's a large kingdom and not much of it borders the sea. His first instinct had been that she'd stay near the water but as he exhausts the possibilities, he realizes she could be living somewhere inland and if that's the case, he could very well be too late.

There are only two more ports left according to the map he'd purchased in the last town and he directs the Jolly to the next one, a port that hadn't even been on Liam's map.

When he pulls the Jolly up to the dock, he can already tell something's amiss. He can't quite put his finger on it but the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end as he walks down the gangplank.

His suspicions are confirmed when he makes it to the center of town and sees flames licking the sky. A moment later people are running past him, a mass of bodies that nearly knock him down in their attempt to escape. He rushes forward, his heart in his throat as he pushes his way against the crowd.

The blaze is coming from the tavern, the street in front of it now empty with the exception of three black knights. The sign above the door reads 'The Gold Mine' and his blood runs cold despite the heat.

Emma. She was with the dwarves.

When he hears screams from inside the establishment, he doesn't hesitate, rushing forward and taking the knights by surprise. The first two fall quickly but the third is more skilled. Their swords clash wildly while panic eats at him at the delay, desperation giving him an adrenaline-filled rush of strength that he uses to kick the man through the side window.

Turning to the door, he swings out madly with his hook, breaking the lock with one fell swoop. He rushes in and surveys the scene. Just ahead of him is another door that has been barred by a long piece of wood. The screams are louder now, more desperate and he quickly removes the obstacle, flinging the door open. Smoke comes billowing out as soon as the door gives way and Bashful and Sneezy burst through it along with several other people. His eyes sting and smoke fills his lungs as he searches every face for Emma but she's not there.

Once he realizes it, he follows the rest out and chases after the two dwarves who he glimpses running toward the square. He catches Bashful with his hook in the man's collar just before as he darts around a corner. Backing them up, he uses his boot to kick in the first door he comes to and pulls the dwarf inside with him.

"Where is she?" he demands as soon as the door closes.

The dwarf looks completely terrified as he turns to face him but then his features change from fear to amazement as recognition sets in.

"Killi – "

"Don't," Killian cuts him off. "Don't say it, lad. Just tell me: Where is she?"

"I don't know," Bashful says, "She left earlier in the night. The black knights showed up later. Most people got away before they set the fire but – "

"Do you know where she was going?"

"I don't. I think she was with Graham, though. I'm sure he'll keep her safe."

Killian's eyes widen at that but he doesn't say anything else, he just turns on his heel and rushes back to the street.

K&EK&EK&E

She's running. Jumping over rocks and stumps as she maneuvers the forest. She doesn't dare use the paths, making her way instead through the dense foliage.

Her lungs burn with exertion and she stops just long enough to catch her breath and listen for any enemies nearby. The whinny of a horse sounds to her left and she ducks down slowly, pulling the hood of her cloak over her head. Between the darkness of night and the green of the cloak, she blends in with the bushes and she knows there's very little chance the knight will see her. She realizes with a jolt that that is why Graham gave it to her tonight and the thought makes her want to cry. Even without his heart, he was able to come up with a way to help her.

Waiting silently, she watches the knight shift on his horse for a moment longer before he apparently hears something and spurs the horse in the other direction.

She sighs with relief and starts moving again.

The village is almost in sight when she hears the screams. She stops abruptly and pulls back, ducking down behind a bush and wrapping the cloak around her. There's a glow coming from the area where The Gold Mine is located and the realization hits her hard in the chest.

It's burning.

She pulls the cloak closer and feels her eyes sting with tears, praying to every deity she can think of that Granny and Ruby and the dwarves made it out unharmed.

Taking careful steps, she skirts around the edge of the tree line, doing her best to keep to the shadows. Graham had said he'd booked passage for her. She needs to get to the docks, try to figure out which ship it might be.

But she can't go. Not yet. She has to find her friends, make sure they are safe. Turning away from the docks, she makes to step out onto the street but just as she does, a horse comes around the corner and stops not ten feet from her, the rider sweeping down and using his boot to break into a nearby shop. She watches from her hiding spot as he searches every inch of the place, carrying a torch to examine every corner.

She holds her breath when he exits and mounts his horse. He throws the torch into the open door and then he's gone in a roaring of hoof beats, dirt kicked up in his wake as he makes his way down the street.

Glancing both ways, she ensures that the street is clear and jumps from the bushes into the glow of the lamplight. Careful to keep her hood up, she hurries through the village toward The Gold Mine. She cuts through several alleys along her way, trying to keep her face covered as best she can. As she alights from one, however, she practically barrels into one of the black knights.

"Watch where you're going, you clumsy –"

Whatever else he was going to say dies on his lips as he sees her face. Dammit! Obviously, he recognizes her. Without hesitation, she pulls Graham's sword and runs him through before he can say another word.

As soon as he hits the ground, she sees another black knight coming for her. Turning, she flees back down the alley, her mind racing as she tries to think of another course to the tavern. She can hear the knight's footsteps as he pursues her. The alley is dark but she maneuvers it quickly from memory. The knight is having trouble, however, and she smiles when she hears a crash and his subsequent curse.

She runs outright to the next street, her heart pounding in her chest, and makes a turn at the blacksmith shop. She stops dead as her eyes land on The Gold Mine. It's completely awash in flames, the sign swinging back and forth from one of its holdings. She watches as it falls, the reverberation of the crash making the ground shake beneath her feet.

Frantic, she looks in every direction, desperately trying to find her friends. It doesn't take long to realize they aren't there and she offers up another prayer that they weren't inside when the blaze began because it's obvious that no one could have survived. Her eyes start to sting and she's not sure if it's from the despair she feels or the thick smoke filling the air around her. Another crash reverberates in the night as the roof collapses, the force jolting her entire body.

The heat coming off the building is burning her skin even from across the street and she forces herself to turn away from the sight. She raises her arm to her mouth, trying to filter the air she is breathing as she runs in the direction of the harbor, her mind racing.

She has to think. She has to push down the despair in her chest and keep her wits about her if she's going to get out of this.

The black knights are on horseback, which means they must have come overland, she reasons. Perhaps they haven't made it to the harbor yet and if she can keep to the alleys she might have a chance.

She sees the masts of the ships in the distance as she runs. She just has to make it past the square and then she'll be able to sink back into the alleys.

But when she makes it to the center of town, it's pandemonium, people running in every direction, black knights doing their best to gather them up in front of the fountain in the middle. Her eyes scan the mayhem and fall on Sleepy and Doc as they drop their daggers and back up into the crowd. Her heart lifts at the sight of them. If they were able to make it out, then perhaps all of her friends still live. She glances around quickly to see if there is anyone else but she knows she can't linger. She also knows if she takes one step into that square someone will recognize her, so she turns back the way she came and ducks into another alley.

K&EK&EK&E

Killian's eyes search frantically in every direction, into every window and down every alley.

Graham. Graham had been the one to tell the Evil Queen where she was. Killian knows it's not really his fault, what with Regina having his heart and all, but still…

He wonders for a moment if this means Regina knows he's still alive as well but dismisses the idea quickly. If she'd known, there would have been an all-out manhunt. He would have been pursued mercilessly and then with a clear picture of what he looks like. No, Regina must not know. Somehow, Graham had been able to keep that secret all this time.

The black knights are everywhere now, overturning wagons and decimating shops in their search. Torches are carried by a few of them and he sees flames in more than one of the shops he passes.

Turning a corner, he comes up behind two of the knights. They're laughing at the sight of a dress shop burning in front of them while a young woman is pulled reluctantly from the establishment by a man he assumes is her husband. It hits him that it must be her shop and rage courses through him that the knights seem to find it funny that they've probably just taken everything the couple owns. His sword moves without conscious thought from his brain, taking out the first knight with a single slash and turning on the second before he even as time to raise his weapon. As the second falls, he pulls the purse from his belt and tosses it to the couple and, without waiting for a response, begins running again.

He comes across two more knights on the next street and doesn't hesitate to take them down as well. It's a satisfying sound when their lifeless bodies crash to the street and he's able to snatch the torch one was carrying and drop it into a nearby trough of water.

When he makes it back to the center of town, where it seems the knights are trying to corral the remaining residents, he sees Sleepy and Doc emerge from an alley across the square. He starts toward them but they are already dropping their daggers as black knights push them into the crowd.

A movement in the corner of his eye draws his gaze and he sees a woman sinking into the shadows wearing a green cloak. There's a flash of blonde hair peeking out of the hood and as she turns, he catches just a glimpse of her face.

Emma.

K&EK&EK&E

She stops halfway down the alley to catch her breath, trying to come up with the fastest and safest route to the docks. After a moment she hears shouts coming from the street ahead of her so she starts to turn back the way she came. But she can't go back, she realizes as panic claws at her throat. Someone else is in the alley with her. She can just make out the form of a man as he enters but his figure vanishes into the darkness after only a few steps. She surges forward toward the street, glancing behind her when she makes it to the end of the alley. She doesn't see her pursuer so she carefully peeks around the corner – and her heart nearly stops.

There's Dopey, surrounded by three black knights.

"Where is she?" one of them demands.

Dopey only shakes his head.

"You will tell us," the man says, drawing his sword.

Dopey raises his shoulders in the universal signal of 'I don't know,' backing away as he does it.

"There's nowhere for you to go, dwarf. Tell me where she is and I just might spare your life."

LIE.

Sinking back into the alley, Emma raises Graham's sword in front of her and closes her eyes. Three black knights. If she can take one out before the other two see her, she has a chance. There's no way she can leave Dopey to those men.

"Speak!" she hears the knight yell.

He can't speak, you imbecile, she thinks as fury courses through her. She glances around the corner again to check the positions of the three men. The one on the right is small, he'll be easy to fight. The one on the left has his sword raised and ready. She'll kill him first, then turn on the one towering over Dopey before he has a chance to pull his sword, saving the small one for last.

Her plan firmly in place, she takes a steadying breath and pushes off the wall. She doesn't even make it one step before a hand closes over her mouth and she is pulled back into the shadows.

Struggling against the strong arms, she thrashes about with her hands and feet before she hears a voice whispering urgently into her ear.

"What the bloody hell do you think you're doing?"

He's still pulling her back further into the shadows and it registers that he's not trying to hurt her so she stops struggling. But then she glances down to the arm around her waist. It's covered in black leather but that's not what she focuses on. There's a hook where his hand should be, lethal and terrifying and she renews the struggle against his hold.

"Hold still, lass. I'm not going to hurt you."

She tries, but she doesn't detect a lie in his voice, so she goes still again and he eases his grip fractionally.

"Were you planning to take them all on alone?"

Since his hand is still pressed to her mouth, she can only nod her head. His hand drops away at that but the arm around her waist doesn't loosen.

"He can't talk," she whispers, "He'll never be able to answer their questions. And even if he does, they're going to kill him anyway. He's my friend. I have to save him."

She feels his breath huff out against her ear.

"Fine," he says in a low voice, "You take the one on the right, I'll take the one of the left. Do it quietly and we might be able to take the third by surprise."

Now that he's not whispering, his voice is familiar and she turns in his grasp to meet his eyes. Her heart nearly stops at the sight. Killian?

"Killian?"

"Aye, Princess. It's me."

"What? How?"

"It's a long story and one I'll be happy to tell you all about as soon as we're out of here."

Emma wants to throw her arms around his neck but there's no time. Suddenly, more black nights are filling the street in front of them and Killian curses harshly.

"We have to go," he says backing further into the alley.

"No, we can't leave him."

"We don't have a choice."

"You don't, but I do. It's me they want."

"No, I won't let you," he nearly growls.

"We have to do something," she replies desperately.

He sets his mouth in a stubborn line, staring her down. There are still shouts coming from the street and then she hears Granny's voice ring out above the mayhem.

"Let him go! He's mute, he can't answer you!"

She surges forward again to see what's going on, and the sight that greets her makes her blood run cold. Granny, Ruby and Leroy are all being led into the middle of the black knights where they gather around Dopey.

"Are you going to tell me what I want to know, old woman?" the one who lied to Dopey asks.

"I can't tell you what I don't know," Granny shoots back.

"Well then, you are of no further use to me."

With no warning, the black knight raises his sword in a high arch that is aimed directly at Granny's throat.

Panic, fear and rage course through Emma's veins. She wants to scream. She wants to rush forward and stop the progression of the sword but she knows she'll never make it. Then she feels Killian's hand on her shoulder, squeezing almost painfully as he pulls her into his chest, trying to shield her from the scene.

As his arms envelop her, her hand lands over his heart and the scream ripping from Ruby's throat suddenly distorts. Looking back, Emma's brow wrinkles in confusion as her eyes take in the impossible sight before her.

The world is slowing down.

Granny's arms rise to block the blow but they're barely moving. Ruby rushes forward in slow motion only to be caught in the hold of one of the knights as she tries to throw herself in front of her grandmother. Leroy is shouting something, too, but Emma has no idea what because it comes out in a haze of confused sound as the sword continues on its descent… slowly, oh so slowly.

It's the strangest thing, but even through the confusion and terror, she can suddenly feel Killian's heart thumping under her palm, she can hear it pounding in her ears.

She turns to look at him and sees the same confusion she feels in his expression as the world comes to a complete halt. She glances back to the street to see everyone frozen in place, everyone except her and Killian, whose heart is still beating rapidly beneath her hand.

Then she feels it, a spark of energy that starts in her fingers and spreads up her arm. The same spark ignites from the spot on her shoulder where his hand sits. It's warm as it flows through her, down her other arm and all the way to her toes, then back up to her chest as the heat increases and her heartbeats quicken.

She looks back to Killian who is seemingly unaffected, his eyes focused on the sword that has stopped mere inches from Granny's neck. The warmth has now turned to a fire beneath her skin and for a moment she's terrified that she'll burst into flames, but no sooner than the thought enters her mind, the heat begins to release and a bright white light emanates from her palms. On instinct, she pushes her hands out in front of her and focuses on the sword. The light nearly blinds her as it releases, flashing in her eyes.

The next instant, she's falling forward onto her knees, her head swimming and her stomach lurching as every ounce of strength she has leaves her.

Her name is shouted over and over again through the swirling haze, desperate and pleading, and she tries to focus on it, tries to focus on anything. Was Granny okay? Did time start back up? She feels herself being lifted and carried and she manages to open her eyes only long enough to see a dozen black knights littering the street behind her before she faints dead away.

K&EK&EK&E

Killian scoops her up and runs, cradling her in his arms, uncaring if any of the others follow.

They are following, though. They're right on his heels talking in shocked voices about him and magic and Emma but the words barely register because he can't think of anything except getting her to safety. As he approaches the Jolly, the gangplank lowers for him and he sends up a silent prayer of thanks that the black knights haven't made it to the docks yet. He calls out to set sail as he carries her across the deck, not stopping until he gently lowers her lax form onto his bed.

Ruby pushes past him to get a look at her, telling Dopey to fetch water and towels, and he steps back to give her room.

"How is she?" he asks urgently as Ruby checks her pulse and feels her forehead.

It seems like an eternity to wait while Ruby inspects her but she finally replies, "She's just passed out. Her pulse is strong. Using magic like that… it can be a drain of energy. She may sleep for a while."

Her words give him only the slightest bit of relief as he takes Ruby's place next to Emma, brushing the hair from her face and examining her himself. His heart is still pounding as he runs his hand along her cheek. Her face is pale but her breathing is steady and natural and relief floods him as he realizes Ruby is right, she's just sleeping. Expelling a long breath, he leans over her and presses his forehead to hers.

The room stays quiet while he sits there, eyes clenched shut as he struggles to even out his heartbeat. He can feel the warmth of her breaths against his lips and he counts each one in his head. He's barely aware of the others in the room, all standing quietly as he continues to rub her cheek with his thumb.

"She'll be fine, Killian. I promise," Ruby says, laying a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

Killian nods because he knows she's right but he's still having trouble looking away from Emma, his eyes studying her features as he tucks a blanket around her.

At long last, he moves his lips to her ear. "Rest, love," he says softly. "You're safe now."

He clears his throat before he looks up to Ruby and nods his thanks. She gives him a watery smile in return.

"Her magic is incredible," Grumpy says from behind him with awe in his voice, "I always knew it would be, but witnessing it…"

No one responds to Leroy's comment but Granny steps forward places a soft kiss on Emma's forehead. "Thank you, Princess," she whispers quietly as she smooths her hair. When she straightens, she looks to Killian and, bringing a hand to his cheek, smiles at him and says, "I can't tell you how happy I am to see your handsome face, Lieutenant."

A lump in his throat prevents him from answering so he just nods and turns back to Emma, carefully arranging her hands on her stomach before he stands and faces the room.

The next thing he knows, Dopey, who he hadn't heard return, drops the towels he'd been sent to fetch and walks straight forward, wrapping his arms around Killian's waist with such force that an 'umph' escapes him. The little dwarf presses his cheek into Killian's chest and rocks back and forth for a moment before he looks up at him with a huge smile.

The action relieves some of the tension Killian feels and he can't help but chuckle at the man's excitement. "It's good to see you, too, Dopey. It's been too long."

The dwarf just nods and hugs him again.

"Yes it has," Ruby agrees, wrapping him in a hug as well.

Granny joins them next but Leroy stays where he is, opting to simply nod to Killian from across the room.

"How did you find us?" Ruby says when the group hug ends.

Killian smiles sardonically, rubbing at the back of his head ruefully as he remembers the blow he took from Lancelot's hilt. "The King… ran into me in Camelot. He told me where to start looking."

Leroy grunts in acknowledgement. "And you are to take her back there, I gather?"

"Yes."

"Well, before you do that, drop me off at the next port. I'll try to find the other dwarves and we'll meet you there as soon as we're able. Assuming they're alive, that is."

"I saw Doc and Sleepy in the square," he tells them. "The black knights were gathering people there. I also saw Bashful and Sneezy. They were trapped in the tavern but I managed to free them. The last I saw of Sneezy he was running toward the forest. I left Bashful in a shop after he told me Emma had left before the black knights showed up."

"So that only leaves Happy," Granny says.

"And Graham," Ruby interjects.

"Happy wasn't in town tonight. He stayed at the cottage. Graham, on the other hand, he would never have separated from Emma by choice…" Leroy replies.

"He was how the Evil Queen found her," Killian says, watching shock and disbelief cross the faces of the other four.

"What? That's impossible, Graham would never –" Ruby starts.

"It was him," Killian breaks in, "There's no question."

"How can you be sure?" Granny asks. "Graham has always – "

"One will betray," Leroy says quietly from across the room and all eyes turn to him.

Killian is just about to ask what the dwarf is talking about but Ruby speaks before he has time.

"But Graham?" Ruby asks.

"He didn't do it willingly," Killian explains, "He had no choice."

"Everyone has a choice," Leroy nearly growls.

"He didn't…" Killian responds.

"How can you, of all people defend – " the dwarf cuts in with heat.

"… because Regina has his heart!" Killian finishes, raising his voice to be heard.

The statement has makes the entire room go still, everyone looking to him with wide eyes.

"You're sure?" Granny asks in astonishment.

"Aye," he replies, "I was there when she took it."

After several heartbeats, Ruby asks, "How long? How long has she had it?"

"Since the fall of the kingdom."

The room stills again and Killian can see more questions forming in their eyes but he's not quite ready to tell them the whole story. This night has already been a whirlwind of emotion and telling them about what happened right now while he's still reeling from the terror of Emma collapsing at his feet… he's just not sure he could handle it. So he turns away, saying, "I need to head up on deck and set our course."

Before he leaves, however, he goes to Emma and places a soft kiss on her forehead. "I'll be back soon, darling," he whispers before beating a hasty exit from the room.

Minutes later, Killian is standing at the helm, calmer now that the sea is around him. The Jolly's bell dings lightly and a small smile spreads along his features.

"Yes, old girl, we did it, didn't we?" he says softly to the ship, "We got her back. Now, we need to keep her safe."

Chapter Text

Two days.

It’s been two days and she still hasn’t awoken. 

Two days of sitting at her bedside, talking in a low voice he only prays she can hear.  Two days of holding her hand, running his thumb along the pulse in her wrist to assure himself her heart is still beating.  Two days of watching the woman he loves lie completely still, while he sits, feeling more helpless than he’s ever felt in his life. 

He’s only left her side when absolutely necessary.  Like yesterday, when he’d had to pilot the ship into port to drop off Leroy.  He’d been itching to get back to her every second and then, just as the gangplank had lowered, Granny had alighted on deck and insisted on staying as well.  He’d nearly lost his mind waiting while the two of them argued over it.  In the end, Granny had won by pointing out that they’d all starve if she wasn’t around to feed them.

And now, here he is again at the helm, his eyes completely unfocused as he waits for Ruby to appear and tell him he can come back down.  She’d practically shoved him out of the room a little while ago, telling him to get some fresh air while she changed Emma’s sodden clothes for fresh ones.  He’d wanted to offer to help but he didn’t think Ruby would have liked that idea so he’d agreed, albeit reluctantly, to wait above deck while she attended to the task. 

A cool wind whips around him, the sky above him gray as a storm brews in the distance.  Instinct alone makes him turn the wheel west to avoid it, his thoughts not on the sea but on the woman below.

She has magic.  Powerful magic.

Magic so powerful that she’d knocked out a dozen black knights with one thrust of her hands. 

His lungs squeeze in his chest as he remembers the moment the light had shot out from her palms.  It had looked like lighting radiating from her fingers but… not.  It had been as bright as lightning, aye, but it hadn’t been jagged, more curved, almost like waves in the air.  He’d felt it just before it released, a split second of heat in his chest when her hands started to glow.  Her body had tensed beside him as if she were just as surprised as he, which he supposes she was.  According to Ruby, it was the first time she’d ever done something like this. 

Thank the heavens above for Ruby.  He doesn’t know how he would have survived these last days without her.  Her presence has proved to be a soothing balm, somehow managing to keep him from losing his sanity over the distress of Emma’s continued unconscious state.  And she’s an amazing cook, as well – much better than any other he’s had for the last several years.

And Dopey… Well, Dopey has taken to sailing with surprising ease and there is definitely something to be said about a sailor who follows orders without question, always with a smile on his face.  The little dwarf is the best first mate he’s ever had.

Speaking of his new first mate, suddenly Dopey is at his side, tugging frantically at his sleeve.  He turns to find the dwarf giving him a huge smile, excitedly pointing toward the hatch to his quarters then lifting both of his fists next to his head and opening his hands to spread his fingers while popping his eyes wide. 

His message couldn’t be clearer:  Emma is awake.

Killian runs to the hatch and nearly tears the door off its hinges in his haste.  When he lands on the floor of his cabin, it takes his eyes a moment to adjust to the dim light but after one step Emma’s form comes into focus and his breath catches in his lungs. 

She’s sitting up on the side of the bed but bent over with her eyes on the floor and leaning heavily on Ruby who is struggling to keep her upright while also pushing her hair out of her face. 

“Where are we?” she’s asking in a weak voice, “Is Granny alright?”

“Yes, she’s fine.  Don’t worry, we made it out.  We’re on a ship.”

Then Emma’s head lifts and her hand grips at Ruby’s shoulder as she asks with urgency, “Killian.  I saw Killian.  Where is he?”

“I’m here, Princess,” he says.

Her eyes shoot to him and a dreamy expression crosses her features.

“Killian,” she sighs on a breath as she tries to stand and immediately stumbles. 

He rushes forward and catches her, lifting her into his chest and crushing her to him.  “I’ve got you, love.  I’ve got you.  You’re going to be fine.”

Her hands are caught between them, her palm pressed against his heart and he feels a crackle of energy race through his veins.  When she lifts her head, he moves his hand up to support the back of her neck, his fingers tangling in her silky hair.

“You’re real,” she whispers in disbelief, her eyes wide and soft.

He smiles, a tender emotion flooding through him as he leans forward and presses his forehead to hers. 

“Aye, darling.  I’m real.”

She closes her eyes and hums, her fingers digging into his chest and he swears his entire body warms from her touch.

“It wasn’t a dream,” she says.

“It wasn’t a dream,” he echoes.

He eases her back to the edge of the bed, still supporting her neck, closing his eyes as well and rubbing his nose against hers. Breathing a deep and satisfied sigh, he stills, almost afraid to move for fear that he’ll wake and find it is all a dream. 

When her hands shift against his chest, his breath catches and sparks shoot through his veins.  The next thing he knows, light is filtering through his closed eyelids and he opens them to see her palms glowing against his chest. 

Emma gasps in surprise, pulling her hands away, and the glow fades.  His body cools as soon as the light is gone and Emma slumps again.

He doesn’t know what makes him do it but he catches her right hand in his and presses it back over his heart.  The glow immediately returns and Emma sighs as if in relief.  This time she keeps it pressed to him, her eyes focused on it as she grips at his fingers to keep their hands together. 

The warmth is back, coursing through his veins and prickling at his skin.  It’s an odd feeling but it doesn’t hurt.  It feels more like that moment when you come in from the cold and shiver when the warmth hits you, only without the shivering. 

The light brightens enough to illuminate the whole room and Emma’s breathing gets stronger.  She lifts her other hand, places it on top of the two that are linked and closes her eyes while taking a deep breath in through her nose.  The glow seeps into her skin and travels up her arm, moving through her until her entire body shimmers.  When it reaches her neck, she tilts her head back in a gesture that reminds him of someone basking in the sun.  Her grip tightens on his for several heartbeats before the light starts to fade and she opens her eyes.  He would swear her eyes are actually blazing for that instant, but then she blinks and the light is gone.

Neither of them speak as their eyes hold, both of them shocked by the experience.  It’s not until Ruby speaks up from across the room that they break apart.

“Emma?  Are you okay?” she asks tentatively.

She looks over to Ruby and then back to him without responding as she pushes on his chest to give her some space.  Moving her right hand up to his shoulder, she attempts to stand again. 

He reaches out to steady her but this time there’s no need.  Her feet hit the ground and she pushes up without so much as a single wobble, standing straight and steady in front of him.  He stays by her side as she takes a few careful steps and then she smiles and looks to him with amazement.

“I’m fine,” she says.  Then turning to Ruby, adds, “No weakness at all.  I feel like I could climb a mountain.”

Ruby rushes forward and embraces her with a relieved chuckle.  “It’s your magic, Emma!  You’re finally unlocking your magic!”

Dopey, who Killian hadn’t even noticed was there, barrels across the room and wraps his arms around both women. 

Emma lets out a grunt at the force of Dopey’s hug and looks at Ruby.

“’Finally?’  What do you mean ‘finally’?” she asks in confusion.

Alarm crosses Ruby’s face and she takes several steps back, stammering, “I…uh…” 

Dopey immediately takes advantage of having Emma to himself and wraps his arms around her entirely while hopping up and down in merriment. 

Emma hugs the dwarf back with a little difficulty because of the way he’s hopping but keeps her eyes on Ruby, confusion still evident on her face as she waits for Ruby to continue. 

When she doesn’t, Emma prods her, “Ruby, what do you mean ‘finally’?”

“It’s just that… It’s uncommon for magic to manifest itself in someone your age…” the brunette evades, “Mine started when I came of age... on the first full moon after my eighteenth birthday. But you’re almost twenty-eight now…  It’s just… unusual.”

“Unusual...” Emma repeats suspiciously, her eyes narrowing on her friend and causing Ruby to avert her gaze. 

Dopey still has his arms around Emma’s waist but he’s stopped moving, his eyes darting between the two women with an uneasy expression.

“I should go get dinner started,” Ruby says after a beat. “You must be starving.  We haven’t been able to get much food into you for the past few days.”

“Ruby,” Emma says with a warning in her voice, releasing the dwarf and straightening to her full height.

Ruby looks back to her with a guilt-ridden expression but doesn’t speak.

“What’s going on?” Emma asks.

“I…  I can’t, Emma.  We’re on our way to see your father.  He’ll explain everything but I…  I can’t say anything else.”

Before Emma can comment further, Ruby escapes through the door. 

Emma’s eyes go straight to Dopey who fidgets nervously. 

“Dopey,” Emma says in the same warning tone. 

Dopey just shrugs his shoulders and backs away. 

“Dopey, I know you know what she meant,” she adds, planting her hands on her hips and staring him down.

Dopey gives her a sheepish look, darting a glance to Killian while shifting on his feet, and god help him, he doesn’t know why he suddenly finds this situation so amusing but he does.  It’s obvious they’re keeping something from Emma and she’s determined to find out what (and he has to admit, he’s curious, too) but as she towers over the dwarf like a schoolmarm trying to find out who stole the last cookie, he has to suppress the urge to chuckle.

The stare-down doesn’t last long before Dopey decides his best course of action is to run.  The little dwarf practically trips over his own feet as he rushes from the room and Killian is pushed one step closer to laughter.

As the door falls shut, Emma lets out a frustrated sound then turns to him.  

“Do you know what she’s talking about?” she demands, then noticing the smile he can’t seem to stop, adds, “You think this is funny?”

The sharp edge to her voice sobers him but his voice still shows a trace of amusement when he replies, “Darling, I think your friends have done everything they can to keep you safe.  If part of that includes keeping secrets, then that’s what they’ll do until they’re sure it’s the right time to tell you.”

Emma rolls her eyes and huffs out a breath.  “You’re right,” she admits, “You’d think I’d be used to it by now.  Every friend I have seems to be keeping secrets from me.”

His amusement fades entirely as she clenches her fists and shakes her head.  He wants to tell her not to worry, that they’ll work it out but he suddenly can’t speak.   

His princess is whole and in front of him at last.  She’s awake.  She’s healthy.  She’s standing there in one of his old white navy shirts and a pair of trousers that sag at her waist, her hair hanging in a wild tangle down her back.

She’s never looked more beautiful. 

Killian’s chest tightens as he looks at her.  It’s been nearly six weeks since the King had found him, six weeks of joy at knowing she was alive mixed with terror that he wouldn’t reach her in time. 

But now she’s here and she’s safe…  After six weeks of searching and finding and worrying, she’s here with him. 

When she raises her head and looks at him, it only takes three strides to have her in his arms, the force of emotion and relief wrenching a groan from his chest as he pulls her in.

Wordlessly, she takes his face in her hands and meets his lips with hers for a long overdue kiss, one that he’s dreamed of for years.  And it doesn’t disappoint.  Her mouth is pliant and welcoming, her body strong but soft.  After all the years of dreaming of her, all the mourning he’d gone through, she’s finally in his arms again. 

She tastes exactly the same, the flavor of her taking him back to beautiful meadows and castle corridors where they’d stolen kisses and talked of the future.  A future that he thought he’d lost.  When her hand delves into the hair on the back of his head and guides it to the right, he gladly complies, kissing her long and deep. 

The moan she makes spurs him on and he moves his hand to the middle of her back to squeeze her closer.  The thin shirt she’s wearing does nothing to keep him from feeling the heat of her skin under his palm as he moves it up her spine until his hand is tangled in the hair at the base of her neck. 

Only the need for oxygen breaks the kiss and he realizes with satisfaction that she’s just as out of breath as he is.  She’s clinging to him, one hand still in his hair and the other gripping tight to his collar as she pants against his lips. 

“Killian,” she whispers, her voice full of awe and disbelief as her nails scratch along his scalp.  “I still can’t believe you’re here.”

“I’m here, love.  I promise, it’s me.”  He opens his eyes, moving his hand up to cup her cheek as he studies her face, his thumb tracing the contours of it as she smiles up at him.  “I’ve missed you so much.”

“I’ve missed you, too,” she replies and nuzzles her nose against his.  “I thought you were dead.  They told me you were dead,” she adds in a rough voice, squeezing her eyes shut and grinding their foreheads together.

“I thought the same of you,” he croaks out, his voice clogged with emotion, remembering with utter clarity the moment he’d been told of her death.  “It nearly killed me.”

From the way her hand tightens on his neck, he realizes she must be remembering the same thing about him, her grip turning desperate.  Her fingers dig into his neck and he recognizes her action for what it is, an offer of comfort for both of them, to ease the pain they'd both endured for so many years.  At the same time, her touch also speaks of reassurance, that she's here, that they're together, and that that pain is now over. 

There’s no need for words.  Words wouldn't be enough, anyway, as the emotion he feels has no name and any attempt to explain it would surely fall short.  So he just returns her near desperate touch by tightening his arm on her back and holding completely still, their breaths mingling together as they heal each other in silence.  He has no idea how much time passes before her body shudders and he opens his eyes just enough to see a tear tracking down her cheek.  He kisses it away and she sniffles, leaning back to look at him with emotion swimming in her eyes.  When she eases her grip on his head, he eases his as well and she smiles at him through her tears. 

"You cut your hair," she whispers, running her fingers through it as if to relish the change. 

"Aye, I did," he replies, "And yours is exactly the same.  You haven't changed a bit.  You're still the most beautiful woman I've ever laid eyes on." 

Her smile widens as she takes a step back.  "Well, I'm not exactly dressed for a ball but you..."

Her eyes rake down him and her brow wrinkles, her smile faltering as she takes in his attire.  He's wearing his full-length black leather coat that screams ‘pirate’ and her eyes never leave it as she steps completely out of his arms. 

Casually, he moves his left arm to behind his back.

He stands stock still as she makes her appraisal, watching her eyes study him from the tips of his hair to the toes of his boots.  Looking confused, she continues to back away slowly until she runs into his desk. 

“You’re…” she starts and stops, shaking her head in a way that has dread tightening in his stomach.

Then her eyes leave him and she’s looking around the room, her gaze darting from the shelves to the windows to the door and back. 

When her eyes land on him again, they’re wide in disbelief and incredulity and he does his best to prepare himself for whatever she's about to say.  

But nothing could have prepared him for the way her eyes harden, the way her body tenses as realization crosses her features.  Nothing could have prepared him for the venom in her voice as she nearly spits the words at him.

"You're a… a pirate!"

Chapter Text

He's a pirate. Her beloved and honorable Killian is a pirate.

The realization hits her like a hammer to the chest and she swallows hard against the revulsion the thought causes.

"You're a… a pirate!" she states baldly, unable to keep the disdain from her voice.

A look of pain flickers across his features but he covers it quickly, straightening his back and anchoring his hand in his belt.

She waits a beat to see if he'll deny it but he says nothing in his own defense. Not that he can. It's obvious what he's become and nothing he says could change it.

Glancing around the room again, she takes in the trinkets lining the shelves, treasures that he's pilfered from unsuspecting vessels. There's a chest in the corner that sits open full of coins and golden chains. Fine embroidered pillows that have no place on a naval vessel are strewn across the bed. Ornate candlesticks with jewels encrusted in them stand on the desk. And the weapons… they're everywhere, from common steel swords to ostentatious pistols with gold inlaid in the handles.

Stolen. It's all stolen.

Turning, she marches over to the closest set of shelves and picks up a jewelry box encrusted with rubies and her anger intensifies.

"Who did you steal this one from?" she demands, looking over to him and holding it up in front of her.

He hasn't moved. He's still standing in the middle of the room, his thumb tucked into his belt in an attempt to look nonchalant but she can see the tension in his shoulders as he simply lifts his chin in response.

The fact that he refuses to answer sends a wave of fury through her. So she repeats the question, adding to it her most commanding royal tone, "Who did you steal this from?!"

He shifts on his feet and levels a stare at her that she's never seen from him before and, honestly, one which she'd never have thought him capable. His eyes harden and he fists his hand, dipping his chin in a menacing way that actually makes a shiver of fear try to creep up her spine. She holds it at bay, though, refusing to let him know that he, even for a moment, intimidates her with that look.

She places the jewelry box back where it was with a sharp click and moves around the room, examining the other treasures he's collected. She doesn't speak, and he doesn't either, as she studies each piece, picking one up occasionally while the anger she feels continues to harden in her stomach.

He doesn't stop her from her perusal of his ill-gotten gains but she can feel his eyes boring into the back of her head, never leaving her. She doesn't look back to him, though. She keeps her eyes trained on the many shelves because the sight of him now that she's realized what he's become is too painful.

A pirate. A fucking pirate. And obviously a successful one if the number of treasures he's collected is anything to go by. A man with no morals, no loyalty, no honor. A man who takes what he wants by force and leaves his victims bereft, or possibly dead.

A man who treats women with… She doesn't want to think about it. This is Killian. Her Killian. But memories assault her. Memories of Gwen disappearing through the door of the tavern with a man's hand fondling her backside. The leering stares and unwanted groping she'd endured at the hands of men like him. Bile rises up in her throat at the thought that he… he…

Betrayal and anger shoot through her system as she grips at the edge of a one of the shelves. Then she spots a chest sitting on the ledge next to the bed and yanks at the lid, intent on throwing the contents across the room in her fury.

When the chest doesn't open, it infuriates her even more. Why would he bother locking a chest in his own quarters? He's a pirate for heaven's sakes, and considering the veritable fortune in gold and silver strewn across the room, she's not sure what could be so valuable that he'd keep it locked up.

"What's in here?!" she demands, finally turning back to him.

His eyes are glittering with anger as he meets her gaze. "Nothing that concerns you," he says in a low voice that drips with warning.

She starts to retort but there's something else in his tone that tells her she's hit a nerve so she relents. It's Killian standing before her and, even though he's looking at her with barely restrained fury, she can see a tiny crack in his façade, the smallest hint of the sweet lieutenant she remembers. So she turns away and carefully places the chest back where she found it, fingering at the lock as she draws a deep breath. Biting at her lower lip, she wills the threatening tears not to fall, misery crawling up her throat and cutting off her air supply until she thinks she might choke.

She wants to ask him what he's done, give him a chance to explain how he ended up here but just as the question forms on her tongue, her eyes land on the naval insignia on the wall over the window and another realization hits her: She's on the Jewel of the Realm. The pride of her parent's navy. Liam's ship. His brother's ship. And he's turned it into a pirate ship.

"This is the Jewel of the Realm," she says in a strangled tone, moving toward the window to get a better look at the insignia.

This is the ship where they met, where she'd watched in awe as the dashing young lieutenant had given orders to the other sailors. Orders that were heeded without question, not because of his rank, but because they respected him - even though he was younger than most of them. This is the ship where he'd given her his first shy smile, which had surprised her considering how confident he was with his men.

That memory is all she needs for fury to race through her blood again as she pivots on the spot. "You turned my parent's flagship, the pride of the navy, into a pirate ship?!"

The words echo through the room just before the ship tilts violently, enough so that she stumbles and has to grab the nearby desk to keep from falling.

Killian, however, seems totally unaffected, swaying with the ship easily, a dark smirk on his lips as he replies, "Be careful how you speak of my ship, love. She doesn't like it when she, or her Captain, is insulted."

Emma scoffs at that and the ship lurches again unexpectedly. Once she regains her footing, she turns to the window, surprised to see nothing but calm waters around them.

Killian's voice breaks through the confusion she feels, "Don't forget, darling, she's made of enchanted wood. A bloody marvel, she is, so you'll watch your tone when you speak of her."

Looking back to him, she sees his look of smug confidence, standing tall in the middle of the room with one eyebrow raised. The lamp hanging behind him is swinging back and forth on its chain, making him look even more menacing and her breath catches in her throat because, in that moment, she can't see Killian, she can only see the foreboding and ruthless pirate captain he's become.

Then another memory flashes to mind, an arm clad in leather wrapped around her waist and a hook…

A hook

She's moving before she even realizes it, walking straight to him to pull his left arm out from where he's keeping it behind his back. When her eyes land on the hook, she knows a moment of agony because she remembers… Oh, god, she remembers… and when she lifts her arm and traces it with her fingers, she has to hold back a sob.

But then she hardens again when the full implication hits her and she draws a sharp breath.

"You're Captain Hook."

She hears the contempt in her voice just before a loud gasp sounds from the doorway. Emma turns to see Ruby standing there, holding a tray with a look of utter horror on her face. Emma feels a moment of satisfaction that Ruby apparently feels the same way about her revelation of Killian's identity as she does. But an instant later she realizes Ruby isn't looking at Killian. No, the disappointment and disbelief on her friend's face is directed at her. A wave of guilt washes through Emma at that realization but she tamps it down because Ruby doesn't get it.

Her Killian was different. He was better than other men. He was honorable and loyal and he didn't love her because of her crown. He loved her in spite of it. He wasn't like the many opportunistic suitors who tried to win her so that they could line themselves up with the throne. Money and power didn't matter to the sweet lieutenant who'd won her heart.

And now he's a pirate - and not only a pirate but Captain Hook. The stories about him are legend. He's fearless. He knows no shame. He doesn't hesitate to pillage anything he wants. He even takes on military vessels. And she doesn't even want to think about the reputation he's said to have with the ladies because that is obviously not what she's upset about.

Equal waves of betrayal and guilt hit her as Ruby's eyes shift to Killian and she gives him an apologetic look.

But Emma can't back down, she can't just act like it's okay. He's a pirate. He stole her parent's flagship and he's stolen only god knows what else (and he's probably done god knows what with random women in pubs at every port he's visited - but that's not the point!).

When she looks back up at him, his eyes are downcast, staring at the hook with pain etched in every line of his face. Her heart constricts as anguish washes through her, the memory rising up and clogging her throat. She wants to tell him how sorry she is, how she'd lain awake for days after, thinking of him and praying he was alive.

But he doesn't give her a chance to say anything else, stepping away and wrenching the hook, which she is apparently still clutching, out of her hands. Without looking at her, he quickly strides to the ladder and ascends to the deck.

She's frozen in place as she watches the black leather of his coat disappear through the hatch, but as soon as the door slams shut behind him, the sob she has been holding back spills out.

Ruby is beside her in the next instant, holding her as she the sobs continue, wracking her body with their force. Because it's suddenly too much, too many memories, too many conflicting emotions raging through her – anger, regret, sorrow, grief – their combined weight forcing her to her knees.

Ruby sinks to the ground with her, rocking her back and forth, tucking her head into her chest and murmuring reassuring words. But it doesn't help. It seems nothing can stop the flood of misery that assaults her… That look of pain on his face, it's seared into her vision... the hook and the memories it causes… the feel of his arms and his lips still fresh…


It's a perfect night.

She's in his arms, music swirling around them as they glide along the dance floor. He's wearing that smile that always sends her heart aflutter, his hand securely resting on her hip, hers resting on the symbol of naval rank on his shoulder. They spin and laugh, sway and dip, their eyes never leaving each other's.

She'd made sure it was a perfect night. For the first time in her life she'd actually taken an interest in planning the ball, much to her mother's delight. She'd worked endlessly with Granny to design the dress she's wearing, she'd chosen the flowers and worked with the cooks to arrange the menu.

And it had been so worth it. Because here he is, twirling her around the dance floor, the blue of his eyes accented by the cobalt jacket he's wearing, twinkling at her with mischief and love, winking at her after a particularly zealous dip while his hand holds firmly to the small of her back.

They'll make the announcement soon. Soon all of their friends will know he's the man who holds her heart. Soon her parents are going to announce the impending wedding of their daughter, Emma, the Swan Princess, to the Naval Lieutenant, Killian Jones.

Emma wants to make it known to the entire kingdom but her mother had insisted that if the announcement is made public, they'll be bombarded with visitors and well-wishers from all over and she knows Emma is not fond of dealing with that sort of thing. A small wedding would be more intimate. They could be themselves and enjoy the night without the pomp and grandeur of an all-out royal affair. And, of course, her mother is right, Emma would be much more comfortable with only their closest friends in attendance.

Before the announcement, she can't help but sneak away with him one last time. They find an uninhabited alcove where he kisses her, long and slow. They break apart with a smile while his thumb brushes her jawline. He tells her he loves her. She says it back, safe and happy in his embrace.

Yes, it's the perfect night.

Until it isn't.

There's only one scream of warning before the hall floods with black knights, immediately surrounding the couples on the dance floor. Killian draws his sword and pushes her behind him, doing his best to hide her from the room.

The guests scatter in every direction, those with swords drawing them. More screams fill the air but they are followed quickly by the ring of steel meeting steel as swords begin to clash together.

Killian is looking around frantically. She can tell by his stance that he wants to rush into the crowd and fight but he doesn't. He stays with her, pressing her further back into the alcove.

" Stay here," he tells her and makes to step away.

" No!" she instantly responds, indignation filling her at the thought of him leaving her here like a helpless child. "I can fight!"

" I know that, darling. But you need a sword," he points out. "I'll be right back."

As it turns out, he doesn't have to go anywhere as a black knight rushes him. Killian takes him down with a few quick slashes, then leans over, picks up the fallen knight's sword and presses it into her hand. Then they both rush forward, protecting each other's backs as they join the fray.

She only fells one opponent before she hears someone shouting her name. August. He's fighting his way through the throng of people to get to her side. She barely hears him as she takes on the next knight, Killian still behind her taking on one of his own. Both knights crumple just as August reaches them.

" The passage," he yells over the chaos, already directing her toward the exit. "We need to get you to the passage!"

Emma immediately protests, "No! We can't run. We have to fight. This is my kingdom and I'm not going to let it go without fighting for it!"

" Emma, this isn't the time. You're not ready yet. Come on!"

She wants to protest again but August is pulling her toward the staircase before she can say another word. They fight their way through, August in front of her and Killian behind as they make their way across the hall. Liam is there, at the bottom of the steps, clearing a path for them. Once they're on the steps, the route in front of them is open and they run for all they're worth.

When they reach the balcony, Emma glances down to the ballroom below. She can see her father, right in the middle of the fighting, his sword swinging with surety as he brings down his opponent. She screams his name when another comes at him from behind but the knight doesn't make it to his target due to an arrow from across the room. Her eyes follow the path the arrow had taken and she sees her mother on the dais, pulling out the quiver she has kept hidden behind her throne for as long as Emma can remember and securing it to her back over her ball gown.

" Get them out of here!" she hears her father yell. "Get them to safety!"

When she looks back to him, their eyes meet for a brief moment before August is pulling on her arm again. She struggles against him, wriggling from his grip. She wants to fight, she wants to protect her people, her parents. She runs back toward the staircase, determined to stay and help, Killian on her heels. Liam is there, on the top step, dispatching a stray knight who had pursued them up the stairs and he grabs her by the upper arm as she tries to pass him.

" What do you think you're doing?" he asks as he whirls her around. "You have to go, Emma. There's nothing you can do. You have to stay safe!"

She shakes her head at him, completely uncomprehending. Why won't they let her fight? They know she's good with a sword.

" She wants to fight!" Killian says as he appears over Liam's shoulder.

" She can't!" Liam says, pulling her away from the stairs. "And neither can you, brother. You both need to get out of here!"

" No!" Emma shouts.

" Yes!" August interjects as Liam pulls her forward.

" EMMA! GO!" her mother's voice rings out over the din.

Emma turns to look at her, their eyes meeting, and she can see the resolve in her mother's stance even from a distance.

" NOW!" her father adds, not even looking away from the knight he is engaged with.

She looks from one to the other for another moment and something moves inside her chest, some distant understanding that makes her relent. Turning, she nods to August and Liam and then they're all running toward the corridor that leads to the passage again.

They make it half way across the balcony before their path is blocked, ten black knights materializing from the shadows.

All four of them rush the guards but, at the last second, August pushes her back behind him and she sees Liam do the same to Killian. It doesn't stop either of them, though. They charge into the knights, side by side, swinging their swords with deathly precision.

The battle below is still raging as well and she can hear the shouting echo through the rafters. She chances a glance over the railing and sees her mother's arms being held by two black knights as they attempt to drag her out of the room.

" NO!" she screams.

Then she sees her father rushing toward her mother, his sword raised as yet another knight comes from behind.

" Your Majesty!" she hears Killian yell as his hand grazes hers on the railing for an instant.

There's no time to think as her heart leaps to her chest, the sight before her searing into her eyes. Then, without warning, the ground shakes, stones raining down from the ceiling as the chandelier hanging above the ballroom starts swinging precariously from its chain.

She stumbles forward, gripping at the rail as the world tilts underneath her. There's a loud rumbling in her ears as she desperately scrambles to get a good grip. The ground beneath her is cracking, the stone groaning and crumbling under her feet. She jumps to the side, colliding with August as his arm grips her around the waist and starts pulling her away from the widening chasm.

Her eyes lift and there's Killian on the other side of the gulf along with Liam and the remaining black knights. They're both engaged with one and she watches, horrified, as the third lifts his sword and lowers it over Killian's left arm. His scream of pain drowns out her own and draws Liam's attention who immediately dispatches the remaining knight by kicking him into the now gaping hole in the balcony.

She falls to her knees even as Killian does the same, screaming his name, reaching for him over the crumbling floor. He looks to be in shock, his eyes fixed on the place his left hand should be, his face a mask of agony and disbelief.

It's unbelievable. This isn't happening. This can't be happening.

His eyes meet hers and they hold, pain registering in the deep blue as he blinks quickly a few times. August and Liam are saying something but the words barely register. She's only vaguely aware of anything going on around her as blood pounds in ears, the world blurring in front of her, everything morphing into a hazy and disjointed mess.

Everything except his eyes. His eyes stay focused on hers the entire time.

' Get her out. I'll take care of him.'

They're so blue, so incredibly beautiful, so soft…

' August, take her! We'll meet you at the rendezvous.'

Like the sky on a clear spring day, warm and peaceful…

' We can't leave you. He's just as important.'

Like the ocean at the height of a storm, wild and untamed…

Killian's eyes close on a hiss of breath, but open again an instant later.

' Hold on, brother. I've got you.'

Suddenly, she's moving and so is he, both being lifted as their eyes continue to hold.

A flash of clarity breaks through the haze and it registers on her that she is being pulled away from him. She struggles wildly against August, desperate to stay, but the sound of Killian's voice stops her.

" I love you, Emma. Go with August. We'll see you soon."

" I love you, too," she tells him just before he disappears down the corridor Liam is pulling him toward.

Her body sags and August all but lifts her off her feet to get her moving, her steps stumbling clumsily due to the shock she feels.

It was supposed to be the perfect night.

Chapter Text

Killian clenches his jaw as he yanks open the door to the hold and makes his way down.

He’s never appreciated how hard it is to avoid someone on a ship but he’s been managing it for several days.  And he has to admit, the hold of his ship has never been more organized.

He can’t face her, he can’t see the look of disapproval and disgust on her lovely features again.  It lances his heart to remember the way she looked at him once she’d figured out what he’d become.  He should have expected her reaction but he hadn’t.  After David’s and Ruby’s and Dopey’s quick acceptances, it hadn’t occurred to him that she would react quite so… adversely.  It hadn’t occurred to him that once he had her back, he wouldn’t have her back.

She’d looked at him like he was vile and he’d just stood there, unable to make a single retort. 

But what was he supposed to say? 

Yes, I turned to piracy because after the despair of losing you, I didn’t have anything but revenge to keep me going?  I took insane risks because even though I wanted to die, I couldn’t dishonor the memories of my loved ones by ending my own life?  And I couldn’t bear the thought of the vessel my brother captained, the vessel where we met, being in the hands of Regina so I stole it?  Then I took on a new identity and hid in plain sight while indulging in anything and everything I wanted… a good deal of which included attacking the woman who caused your death and the deaths of all those close to me?

With the way she’d been looking at him, she probably wouldn’t even have believed it.

Then when she’d made her way around the room, examining all of the spoils he’d gained during his exploits, throwing questions at him like accusations, his pride had kicked in.

How dare she judge him?!  From what Ruby said, she’s been working as a tavern wench, serving drinks to drunken sailors and letting them do god knows what – but he hadn’t judged her…  No matter how much he hated the idea, he would never have held it over her head.  She’d done what she had to do to survive.  And he wasn’t going to apologize for doing the same.

Still, he can’t take seeing her look at him like that again, so he has avoided her, timing his sleep around hers and vanishing below deck each day until he’s sure she has retired to his cabin.  Besides, it’s not as though he needs to be on deck.  The Jolly can navigate herself in fair weather, which they have been lucky enough to have, and Dopey doesn’t seem to mind taking a list of orders with him to keep him occupied while Killian busies himself below. 

Sighing, he looks around at the many crates filling up the room.  He’d made a good haul from his last endeavor.  The hold is nearly overflowing with arms and munitions.  Regina’s ship hadn’t stood a chance, he thinks with pride.  He’ll deliver half to Jefferson and keep the rest to offer to David when they return to Camelot.

It will be just a little over a week and then he’ll deliver the Princess to her father and be free to go.  Surely whatever David has planned next will involve him being on the Jolly, so he’ll leave her with the King and sail away.  And once Regina is defeated for good, he’ll depart these waters and explore the rest of the world, maybe find someplace where no one knows who he is and live out the rest of his days in peace.  Then he’ll never have to endure her distaste of him again.  

He’s already making plans of the places he’d like to visit when the door opens and Ruby appears.

“Oh, I didn’t know you were down here.  I was just looking to see if there was any more flour.  I’m nearly out.”

“I’m afraid not,” he tells her, “but no worries, we should be close to King Midas’ kingdom so we’ll make port and re-stock.  We should also try to find out if the Princess’s escape is common knowledge or – ”

“Emma’s,” she interrupts.

“Sorry?”

“If Emma’s escape is common knowledge.  Stop referring to her as ‘the Princess’ like you don’t know her,” Ruby says with exasperation.

Killian ignores the comment, “We need to see if her escape is common knowledge or if she is still believed to be dead.  If we’re lucky, we might be able to get word on what happened in Arendelle after we left or even the location of some of Regina’s vessels.  I’ll need my maps,” he adds, shrugging on his coat, “Would you be a dear and fetch them for me?  They’re on my desk in my cabin.”

“Fetch them yourself,” she tells him with a hard look.

“Ruby…” he says, hating the pleading tone in his voice.

“You can’t avoid her forever, Killian.  The two of you need to work this out.” 

“She doesn’t want – ”

“How do you know that if you won’t talk to her?”

Killian ignores that, too.  “Is she on deck?” he asks.

“No, I just delivered her dinner.”

With that, Killian climbs the ladder to go in search of Dopey.  The little dwarf will be easier to persuade. 

Ruby is on his heels as he alights on deck and finds Dopey at the helm.  The dwarf is smiling, as always, as he watches the wheel turn itself, seemingly content to just stand there with the wind in his face.  When he sees Killian, his smile widens, obviously thrilled to see him above deck during daylight hours.

“Dopey, my good man, would you be of assistance and run down to my cabin and fetch my maps?”

Dopey immediately nods but then stops at the sound of Ruby’s voice.

“No, he won’t.”

Killian turns on the brunette in exasperation.  “I need my maps so that I can check our position with the stars tonight.  If you want more flour to make those tasty biscuits your princess so enjoys, we need to make port.  And we can’t do that if I don’t know where we are.”

“Get. Them. Yourself,” the she-wolf says, planting her hands on her hips.

He rolls his eyes and looks back to Dopey, “Dopey, please.”

The dwarf nods again but then stops again when Ruby says, “Dopey, no.”

He rounds on Ruby.  “Need I remind you whose ship you’re on?” he asks, his voice rising in frustration.

“No, you need to remind her.  The Jolly Roger or The Jewel of the Realm… It doesn’t matter.  She’s on Killian Jones’ ship.  And Captain Hook’s ship.  And you need to  – ”

“Exactly,” he cuts her off, his voice rising to a shout, “this is my ship.  And on my ship, I give the orders.  And if you want to stay on my ship, you will follow them!”

A gasp sounds from behind him and he turns to see Emma, her mouth agape, standing stock still with her hands fisted at her sides.

“It’s my ship,” she says evenly.  “It belongs to my kingdom and you stole it.”

The accusing look on her face pushes the frustration in his gut straight to anger as he bursts out, “I didn’t steal her from your kingdom!  I stole her from Regina!” Her eyes widen in surprise as though that thought hadn’t crossed her mind, but it does nothing to alleviate his annoyance as he adds sarcastically, “But perhaps you would you be happier if she were under the Evil Queen’s control rather than a pirate’s.

With that, he strides past her and goes in search of the maps himself, trying to ignore the look of shock on her face.

He doesn’t return to the deck once he’s gathered the maps.  The stars won’t be out for another couple of hours, anyway, so instead, he heads directly to the galley to get some dinner.  There’s a fabulous smelling stew prepared and he helps himself to a large bowl.  Begrudgingly, he admits to himself that he’ll miss Ruby once he has delivered her and the Princess to Camelot.

Returning to the crew’s quarters, which he’s been sharing with Dopey, he spreads out the maps while he eats, trying to make an educated guess on where they are.  Considering the favorable weather, they are probably within a day of King Midas’ kingdom but he won’t know for sure until he checks the stars. 

The damn stew tastes as good as it smells and he leans back on one of the cots with a groan.  He’s going to have to apologize to Ruby, he thinks to himself – something he hasn’t done in years.  He shouldn’t have yelled at her.  She might have been pushing him, but he knows she means well and she’s been a dependable friend ever since they met.  She’s outspoken, yes, a feisty lass if ever there was one and, if he’s being honest with himself, he’s always admired her for it.  In fact, before the fall of the kingdom, she’d been one of the few who’d called him out over his feelings for Emma, telling him none-to-gently to get over the whole princess-with-a-commoner thing and show her how he felt.  And, actually, he owes her more than she knows, because it was that conversation that got him to take a chance and give Emma some flowers.  Flowers that had led to their first kiss…

Things were so simple then.  Young, full of hope and dreams, falling head over heels for a beautiful woman who also happened to be a princess.  They’d been so in sync, nearly able to read each other’s minds, and now… 

Well, now things are different. 

And that’s what Ruby doesn’t understand.  He’s not the same person he was then.  Maybe if they’d never been separated… maybe if the King had found him years ago…. Maybe if he hadn’t lived without hope for so long… 

His gut churns and he gulps down a difficult breath, leaning back and closing his eyes.  When the door creaks open, he looks up to see Dopey giving him a hesitant smile.

He’s drawn out of his melancholy thoughts by the dwarf’s appearance, sighing softly at the timid way Dopey is half-in, half-out the door.  “It’s alright, Dopey,” he says, “You can come in.  I’m not upset with you.”

The little dwarf’s smile widens as he steps into the room, then he points toward the Captain’s cabin, leans his head to the side and presses his hands flat together, laying his cheek on them.

It’s his way of telling him that Emma has gone to bed for the night and Killian nods to him in thanks. 

Killian places the now empty bowl on the table and stands to start gathering up the maps.  Dopey steps forward to help, then the two of them make their way up to the deck. 

Without a word from Killian, Dopey immediately goes to fetch the sextant from the helm and Killian crosses to Ruby who is standing next to the rail.  She seems to be lost in thought and she jolts when she hears him approach.  His brow wrinkles in confusion when she turns and he sees a haunted look in her eyes, but it’s gone in the next instant as she lifts her hand to stop him from speaking. 

“Don’t apologize.  You don’t need to,” she says, “You know me, always sticking my nose in.  I shouldn’t have interfered.”

“How did you know I was – ”

Giving him a knowing smile, she replies, “It’s written all over your face.  But, really, it’s fine.  I was pushing and I shouldn’t have.”

“It’s certainly not the first time you’ve done so,” he replies which makes her chuckle, obviously remembering their last encounter about Emma.

“It worked that time,” she says sardonically. 

“Yes, well, I was a different person then,” he replies with sigh.

“We all were,” she says so quietly he almost doesn’t hear it, crossing her arms over her chest and looking back over to the waves with obvious sorrow as she adds in a clearer voice, “We’ve all done things since Regina took over, things we never would have done otherwise.”  She turns back to him then, uncrossing her arms to lay one hand on his sleeve.  “Give her time, Killian.  She’s been through a lot but there are still things she doesn’t know about.  Things we… protected her from.  Things we had to do to keep her safe…” She trails off and shakes her head, dropping her arm from his sleeve to wrap it back around herself.

Killian’s heart goes out to her because the haunted look is back and it’s suddenly evident to him why.  That hollow expression she’s wearing is one he sees in the mirror every day.  But rather then respond with words of comfort that he knows won’t do any good, he simply nods. 

She seems to appreciate his quiet acceptance as she nods back, a moment of kindred understanding passing between them. 

Then her eyes dart over his shoulder and she lowers her arms, swinging them out as in an attempt to shake off the mood as Dopey appears with the sextant.  She tries to smile at the dwarf but it’s forced when she pats him on the shoulder, saying, “Why don’t I leave you guys to it?  I’m tired.  I think I’ll turn in.”  

Dopey seems to take no notice of Ruby’s distress, holding out the sextant for Killian to take as Ruby walks away. Shaking off the moment, Killian thanks Dopey and checks their position while the dwarf stands quietly next to him.  As soon as he lowers the sextant, Dopey points to the map and lifts his arms in question.

“We’re here,” Killian tells him, pointing, “very close to King Midas’ kingdom.  We’ll be able to make port tomorrow afternoon and get the supplies we need.”

Dopey nods and takes the sextant, looking at it puzzlingly and then up to the stars.

“Would you like me to show you how to use it?”  he asks.

When Dopey nods excitedly, Killian smiles and points to the eyepiece on the sextant, saying, “Look through here.”

It’s just the distraction he needs and he takes the next hour explaining to Dopey how to use the device.  Afterward, the two lay on their backs on the deck as Killian identifies each constellation for him.  It’s a clear night and when Dopey sits up and exuberantly points to a shooting star, Killian laughs. 

The dwarf looks back to him, points to his mouth and gives a thumbs up. 

“Thank you, my friend,” Killian tells him, “It does feel good to smile.”

The ships rocks back and forth a few times as if in agreement.

Dopey settles back down next to him, lacing his fingers behind his head and they pass the rest of the night in silence.

He doesn’t remember drifting off to sleep, but he must have because suddenly it’s daytime and he awakes with a start.  There’s a blanket covering him that he recognizes as the one he’s been using in the crews’ quarters and he shakes his head at the thought of Dopey tucking him in like a young lad. 

Sitting up, he looks to where Dopey had been the night before but the dwarf is nowhere to be found.  Emma is there, though, sitting to his right next to the rail, reading a book.  Without acknowledging her presence, he stands and stretches, then he gathers the maps and goes to the helm. 

“Ready to make a visit to Jefferson, old girl?” he asks quietly and smiles when the bell dings in response.

Emma looks up at the sound and glances toward him but he ignores her.  He makes an adjustment to the wheel and then pats it.  The Jolly creaks in acknowledgement, then he turns and makes his way to his cabin to put back the maps.

He doesn’t hear her come in.  He’s occupied arranging the maps in their respective holders and he doesn’t even know she’s there until she speaks.

“I hear we’re making port.”

His back stiffens instinctively at the sound of her voice and he raises his head but doesn’t turn to face her.

“Aye.  It’s been a while since I re-stocked and the stores are running low.”

When she doesn’t respond, he pretends to tidy up his desk, hoping that she’ll return to deck and leave him alone.  He’d go himself, but she’s in between him and the ladder and he doesn’t want to ask her to move so that he can get past her. 

(Or, if he’s being honest, he doesn’t trust himself to be within arm’s reach of her.)

But she doesn’t leave.  She continues to stand there as if she’s waiting for him to say something else. 

The silence is deafening and after a few minutes he can’t take it anymore.  So he turns to her with an exasperated sigh. “Was there something else, Your Highness?” he inquires.

She looks startled by his voice like she’d been lost in thought, and when her eyes lift to his, he sees a sadness in them that he didn’t expect.  Her mouth opens like she wants to say something but she hesitates and, god help him, all he wants to do is go to her and wipe that sadness away.

At long last, she finally takes a deep breath and looks him straight in the eye, saying, “I’m glad you stole the Jewel from Regina.  I was wrong yesterday.  This isn’t my ship or my kingdom’s.  It’s yours and I’m glad you have it.”

The statement stuns him for a moment, reluctant hope flaring in his chest because her eyes aren’t glittering with anger or distaste.  In fact, she’s looking at him with what could almost be affection.  His heart jumps inside his chest at that look and he clears his throat as he reaches up to run his hand along one of the rafters, replying, “Yes, well, she’s a good ship.  She and I have weathered many a storm together.” 

The ship sways gently as Emma smiles at him and he has to turn away again because it’s even harder not to cross to her when she smiles than it had been when she’d looked sad. 

“If you’d like to go ashore when we make port, you might want to change.  I’ll go into town first to ensure that Regina’s knights haven’t made it this far and order the supplies.  Then tonight, I thought I’d check the local taverns to see if there’s any news on your friends in Arendelle.”

He steps over to the chest in the corner and fills a bag with gold coins while he speaks. 

“Here,” he says, holding out the purse, “Take this in case you see anything you’d like to purchase.”

She stares at the purse and swallows.  “No, thank you, Graham made sure I had plenty of money in the bag he packed for me.”

Killian drops his arm. “Of course.  But if you need more, feel free to take – ”

“I won’t need any more,” she interrupts.

Understanding dawns on him and he turns to face her, putting on what he likes to think of as his pirate stance, his thumb hooked into his belt and his hook resting on his sword. 

“Ah,” he says, “my ill-gotten gains not good enough for you?” 

When she just stands there, refusing to reply, he adds, “Would it make you feel better if I were to tell you that this was intended to be payroll for Regina’s black knights?”

“Was it?”

He shakes his head ruefully at her disbelief.  She really thinks he’s lying? 

“Yes, it was,” he says with a quiet sigh, glancing to the chest and back.  “Not that I expect you to believe that.  Pirates aren’t exactly known for their honesty.”

She visibly relaxes at his answer and he realizes that she does believe him. 

“Anyway, as I said, you probably want to change before we make port.  We should arrive within an hour or two.”

He secures the purse to his own belt as he makes his way out of the room, avoiding looking at her again.

-----

Emma doesn’t move after he leaves, looking around at the treasures lining the shelves again.  Were they all stolen from Regina?  She knows now that the gold was, there was no lie in his voice when he answered the question. 

She could have asked about the rest but it felt a little bit like a betrayal to interrogate him.  He doesn’t know about her talent for spotting lies and she realizes with a jolt it’s because he’s only ever lied to her that one time.

The thought makes her want to cry. 

But she’s done enough of that over the last few days.  She’s cried herself to sleep every night since she woke up, longing to be able to go back and change the reaction she’d had when she’d figured out who he was.  She’d tried to approach him the next day but he’d disappeared below deck as soon as he’d seen her and he’s been avoiding her ever since.

She’d obviously hurt him, and hurt him badly, so she’d given him his space, hoping that time would soften his attitude.

Then yesterday, she’d heard his voice and realized he was finally on deck while she was awake so she’d gone up in the hope that he would, at the very least, look at her.  But when she’d made it to deck and found him talking to Ruby that way, her temper had gotten the better of her.  He’d looked like a pirate in the moment, towering over Ruby while yelling at her about following his orders on his ship. 

She’d spoken without thinking, a habit she was apparently doing a lot of these days, and when he’d directed his temper at her, she’d been glued to the spot.  He’d never yelled at her before (but, of course, she’d never given him a reason to before, either) and she’d been too shocked to respond, especially when she realized he was right:  The Jewel would be under Regina’s control right now if it weren’t for him. 

She’d followed him down here with the intention of apologizing but he couldn’t even seem to look at her anymore and it had hurt so much that she’d almost run from the room. 

Then she’d insulted him again about the gold.  She hadn’t really meant to but the words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. 

Sighing in frustration, she makes a vow to herself not to lose her temper again as she pulls out some new clothes to change into.

When she goes back up on deck, Killian is at the helm and he stiffens when he hears her.  She sighs to herself but doesn’t try to speak to him again, instead heading back to the crate where she left her book. 

She sits down, facing away from him and tries to read for a little while but she can’t concentrate so she lays the book back down and walks over to the rail as they approach the harbor.  From here, she can see him out of the corner of her eye and she thinks he might be watching her, but when she turns, his eyes are resolutely in front of him as he steers them into port.

He docks the vessel with a practiced ease, the sails coming down one by one as he talks lowly to the ship.  It’s really something to witness as the ship follows his instructions without the need for a crew and she tears her gaze away from him, suddenly realizing that Dopey isn’t on deck. 

Just as the thought crosses her mind, she hears Killian chuckle and she turns back to see Dopey alighting from one of the hatches followed closely by Ruby. 

She immediately sees why Killian is amused and she wants to laugh herself. 

Dopey is dressed as a pirate, wearing a mixture of clothes that he or Ruby or both had obviously found in the crew’s quarters.  He’s grinning with pride at his transformation as he walks to stand in front of Killian, raising his arms as if to ask, “How do I look?”

“I take this to mean that you want to accompany me into town?”  Killian asks with a smile and Dopey nods emphatically.

Killian raises an eyebrow and steps back to get a better look at the dwarf.  Gone is his signature purple hat, replaced by a colorful scarf wrapped around his head.  The shirt he’s wearing has horizontal black and white stripes and he has a red vest over it.  The dark green pants are covered up to the knee with black boots that are obviously too big for him. 

He looks nothing like Dopey, but he doesn’t really look like a pirate, either, and Killian says as much.  “You’ve got to stop smiling, my friend.  Pirates are not a happy lot of men.  We tend to scowl more often than not.”

Emma can’t see Dopey’s face but he nods eagerly, standing up straighter and putting his hands on his hips.

“That’s better,” Killian tells him.  “Now, try to give me a scowl.”

Killian bursts out laughing in the next second and the sound floats over to her and lifts her heart.

“On second thought, just try not to smile,” Killian says with amusement.  “And go get a sword from my cabin.  There should be one down there that you will suit you.”

After Dopey disappears, Ruby steps forward to Killian and says something that Emma can’t hear.  Killian chuckles again and shakes his head.

“Yes, well, I’m sure it will be fine.  I promise to take good care of him.”

Emma’s chest tightens at the way he smiles so easily at Ruby, jealousy creeping up her spine as Ruby hands him a list of things she needs and they discuss if for a moment.  She knows there’s nothing romantic in the interaction but just the thought that he can be so easy around Ruby and Dopey when he is so tense and reserved around her pierces her heart and she feels the sting of tears. 

But even the despair she feels can’t stop the chuckle that escapes when Dopey returns with an assortment of daggers and swords, eagerly holding them up to Killian in question.

After some consideration, Killian picks a short sword and a dagger and helps Dopey secure them to his waist.

“Do you even know how to use these?” he asks and Dopey gives him a sheepish look.

Killian sighs. “Remind me when we leave port and I’ll give you some lessons. It might come in handy someday.  For now, just remember:  The pointy end goes in the other guy.”

With that, he claps Dopey on the shoulder and turns back to Ruby. 

“We should return in an hour or so.  Raise the gangplank as soon as we’re down and keep her out of sight.  We have no idea what we’re walking into here.”

He and Dopey start making their way toward the gangplank and Emma rushes forward to stand directly in his path.  Stopping abruptly, he steps back and gives her a wary look, fisting his hand on a quick intake of breath. 

She wants to tell him she loves him, she wants to wrap her arms around him and kiss him because she’s suddenly terrified she’ll never see him again.  But he’s so stiff standing before her, his shoulders so tense as he takes a step back and anchors his hand in his belt, that all she can do is say, “Please be careful, Killian.”

Surprise flashes across his face before it hardens again.  “I always am, Princess.”

Then he walks around her to meet Dopey on the dock.  He doesn’t turn back as he walks away, his hooked arm resting on his sword as he and Dopey make their way into town.

Chapter Text

Dopey might not be a seasoned fighter or an expert swordsman but his observation skills are without reproach. 

He nudges Killian’s arm as they walk and Killian immediately sees what he means.  There are two men standing alongside one of the many merchant booths, apparently trying to blend in, but Killian can tell from the way their eyes dart around that they aren’t there to buy anything. 

Standing straighter, Killian immediately moves his hand imperceptibly closer to his sword.  The men make no move to approach them as they pass and Killian almost sighs in relief.

As they continue on, he darts a glance at Dopey whose eyes are scanning every face and it occurs to him that perhaps Dopey, with his keen skills of observation, knows more than people give him credit for.  It also occurs to him that, without Ruby there to stifle him, now would be an opportune time to discern what the little dwarf knows.

There are so many questions.  Things that he’d heard over the years, snippets of conversations that didn’t make sense at the time but now all seem to be connected. 

A prophecy.  Emma’s magic ‘finally’ developing.  Snow eating that apple. 

And Liam…  He gulps painfully… 

Liam… doing what he did.

Looking to the ground, he stops walking, clenching his jaw against the sudden rise of pain. 

It only takes Dopey two steps before he turns and looks at him questioningly, the look quickly changing to concern when he takes in Killian’s expression.

Without a word, Killian strides to a nearby alley and motions for Dopey to follow.  Once they’re out of earshot of the street, Killian stops and turns to the dwarf.

“I need some answers, my friend.  And I think it’s time I had them.”

Dopey’s concerned look turns puzzled until Killian asks his first question. 

“You know what Ruby meant about Emma finally getting her magic, don’t you?” he asks.

The dwarf’s eyes widen only the slightest bit, just enough to indicate that he does know, but Killian doesn’t give him a chance to confirm or deny anything before asking his next question.

“It has to do with the prophecy, doesn’t it?”

Dopey’s look changes to one of stunned surprise but he still doesn’t confirm or deny anything, instead pointing a finger at Killian and then pointing to his own temple while lifting his shoulders in question.

“Yes, I know a little about it.  Not much really.  But I’m guessing you know the lot of it.”

Dopey hesitantly nods his head.

“And Emma knows nothing?”

Another nod. 

Killian takes that in before asking his next question, “It involves both of us, doesn’t it?”

A very reluctant nod.

“And defeating the Evil Queen?”

This time, he doesn’t exactly nod in response, he more tilts his head like the answer to that is obvious.

His suspicions confirmed, Killian leans back against the building behind him and looks up to the sky.  Several deep breaths later, he looks back to Dopey.  “Liam knew all of it, too, didn’t he?” he asks in a choked voice.

Dopey’s brow furrows in confusion and it occurs to Killian that the little dwarf hadn’t known for sure that Liam was dead until now.  Then the corners of his mouth turn down in sympathy as he confirms the question with another nod.

Killian’s eyes sting and he closes them for a moment to keep the tears from forming.  Taking a deep breath, he opens them again, trying to think of a question that Dopey can answer with a simple nod or shake of his head. 

“Jefferson smuggled me out of the Evil Queen’s dungeon after…  well, after the Evil Queen took over.  He said he didn’t know everything, only that I needed to live.  Does he know everything?”

Dopey shakes his head.

“But there is more to it, I assume?”

Dopey nods one last time. 

“And obviously Regina knows.  That’s why she made my death such a public announcement,” Killian says to himself.  At Dopey’s quizzical look, he adds, “Oh, she believes I’m dead.  Or at least I think she does.  She did, at the very least.”

Dopey still looks confused but Killian doesn’t answer the unspoken question, instead he just shakes his head.  “I’ll explain some other time, mate.  Right now, we should get back to the business at hand.”

As Killian starts back toward the street, Dopey’s hand reaches out to stop him.  One look at the dwarf is enough to tell him what he’s worried about.

“Don’t worry.  I won’t tell anyone what we’ve talked about.  I have a feeling everything will reveal itself in due course.  I just wanted to see if my suspicions were correct.”

Dopey’s shoulders sag with relief and he gives him a smile.

“So, let’s go see to Ruby’s list, shall we?”

It takes a while to find everything Ruby wants, but Killian manages to track down every item, his mouth already watering at the memory of the venison stew Granny used to make.  After making their purchases, they employ a young boy to help load them into a cart to take them back to the dock.  He sends Dopey along with the goods, telling him that he wants to take some more time to look around, just in case.  Dopey doesn’t want to go but Killian assures him he’ll see him soon.

As soon as Dopey rounds the corner back to the docks, Killian ducks into the milliner shop and quickly looks around.  When he finds it empty, he nods to Penny behind the counter who lifts her chin toward the back.  Picking up on her cue, he heads to the door she indicated and opens it without knocking.

Jefferson stands immediately at his entrance, reaching for his dagger before he relaxes. 

“Captain!  I wasn’t expecting to see you again so soon.  How are things on the high seas?  I trust the tides have been in your favor.”

“They have indeed,” Killian responds and closes the door behind him.

As soon as the door is closed, he steps forward and embraces his friend even as Jefferson says lowly, “What are you doing here, Killian?  Our next scheduled drop isn’t for two more weeks.”

“I know, but something’s come up and I was hoping we could take care of it tonight.  I don’t have a lot of time, mate.  Things could start happening very quickly and I wanted to make sure you’re fully armed in case I can’t make it back for a while.”

“Can’t make it back for a while? Has something happened?”

“Yes, but I can’t talk about it right now.  I have to go.  The Jolly Roger will be empty tonight.  Tell your men to take half of what’s in the hold.  Only half.  I’ll need the rest this time.”

“Of course.  I’ll make the arrangements.”

“Is there any news here?”  Killian asks.

“None, unless you count Grace’s two new front teeth.” 

Killian claps him on the shoulder with a grin.  “I trust she’s as beautiful as ever?”

Jefferson smiles wide, “She’s precocious and drives her mother to distraction.”

“Ah, that sounds like my girl.  Tell her I said ‘hello.’  I won’t be able to see her this visit.” 

“I will.”

“Also, I saw two men on my way into town.  They didn’t look like merchants or buyers.  Any idea who they could be?”

“This is a port town, my friend.  There are always strangers lurking about.  But I wouldn’t worry.  No one will cross the infamous Captain Hook.  By the way,” he adds with an amused look, “I heard another story about you…  Apparently there are three young ladies in Galloway who swear you’re the size of a horse.”

Killian rolls his eyes. “I’ve never even been there, Jeff.  Although, they’re not far wrong,” he adds with a wink.

Jefferson chuckles and shakes his head. 

“I should go.  I took a risk coming here but I couldn’t wait for our usual rendezvous.  Give your beautiful wife a kiss from me… and don’t forget to do it justice to my scandalous reputation.”

“Absolutely,” Jefferson replies, then adds, “And Killian… Be careful.”

Killian nods and leaves. 

As he makes his way back to the Jolly Roger, he keeps an eye out for the two men he’d seen earlier.  He finds them lurking about in the square and silently creeps up behind them to hear what they’re saying.

“Slim pickings around here,” the first says as Killian watches him nonchalantly steal an orange from a cart and put it in his pocket.  “I’ll say,” the other responds out of the corner of his mouth.

Killian lets out a relieved sigh.  They’re just common thieves and it occurs to Killian that he should have known that, and probably would have, if the situation wasn’t so dire.   Upon closer inspection, they’re not even carrying swords, only a small dagger at one of their waists. 

As he walks away, he shakes his head at himself for overreacting.  But who could blame him?  He’s carrying the most precious cargo in the land and he knows the stakes of what they’re doing.  That’s why he hadn’t mentioned it to Jefferson.  He trusts the man with his life, but Emma’s?  That’s another matter entirely. 

He’ll do anything to keep her safe, so if he finds himself overreacting about some foolish thieves or keeping secrets from his friend, he’s not going to berate himself for it.  Her safety is the most important thing.

When he makes it back to the Jolly, the wagon is almost completely unpacked.  He grabs the last bag of flour and heads up the gangplank to carry it to the galley.  When he enters the room, Ruby and Emma are busy unpacking and putting things into their respective cabinets.  He stops on the threshold and stares at Emma, struck with how easily this work comes to her.  She looks completely natural as she pushes a box of potatoes under the table and wipes her hands on her dress, like she’s been doing it for years, and it suddenly hits him that she has.  When he steps into the room, her eyes shoot to him and for a moment he thinks she looks relieved.  He lays the flour on the table, being careful not to puncture it with his hook and she steps forward to pick it up without a word then turns away to stow it in the cabinet. 

It’s so surreal, seeing her here working alongside Ruby like the two of them are equals instead of princess and servant.  (Not that she ever really treated anyone like a servant, but she also never helped out in the kitchen, either.)  And, now, seeing her do manual labor with such ease is a stark reminder that she’s had to hide as well, leave everything behind and pretend to be someone else. 

Making a decision, he turns to go, stopping only long enough to pay the boy who’d helped them with the cart before heading to his quarters.  He goes directly to his locked chest and opens it with the key engraved into the base of his hook, fishing through the items until he finds what he’s looking for.

He closes the chest, locks it and replaces his hook, then he stands and walks over to the bed.  Carefully, he places the necklace and bracelet across the pillow and turns to leave, but before he can make it out the door, Emma walks in.

She looks startled to see him, but recovers quickly with a mumbled, “Excuse me,” as she makes her way around him and grabs her shoes from the corner. 

He takes a moment to marvel at the fact that she’s apparently been walking around barefoot all day, and it’s that hesitation that prevents his escape.  Because just as he grabs the door handle, he hears a shocked gasp come from her and he can’t seem to force himself to open the door, the temptation to look back to her nearly overwhelming.  He doesn’t look back, though, not until he hears the sound of her voice, soft and confused.

“Killian?”

He doesn’t reply, but turns his head just far enough to see her out of the corner of his eyes, swallowing hard and increasing his grip on the door.

“How did you…  Where did you find these?” she asks with quiet amazement, her voice floating across the room and settling around his heart.

Realizing he won’t be able to avoid this conversation, he turns back to her, keeping his voice measured as he replies, “I came across them on a vessel shortly after… well, several years ago… and I thought you might like to have them back.”

Her smile is nearly blinding as she picks up the swan pendant and stares at it. 

They’d always been her favorite.  They’re simple and delicate, worth only a fraction of what some of her other jewelry had been, but she’d worn them nearly every day.  When he’d found them on a merchant ship that had just visited Regina’s kingdom, he’d nearly gone mad with rage.  The Evil Queen was selling off Emma’s personal possessions like they were nothing.  It had taken everything in him not to order the entire crew dead but since they had surrendered without a fight, he’d settled for taking everything they had.  He’d searched through every single piece himself to see if he could find anything else of hers but there was nothing…  Not on that ship, anyway but there had been a ring that Snow used to wear.  He makes a silent vow to return it once she’s awake.

Emma turns to face him but keeps her eyes on the pendant. “My mother gave these to me for my sixteenth birthday,” she says with reverence.  “Swans were always my favorite animal.  When I was young I used to go out to the lake every day to feed them, even when it was pouring rain.” 

She swallows hard and looks up to him as she secures the necklace in place before slipping on the bracelet.  Then she closes her eyes and grips at the pendant, taking a deep breath.  When she opens them again, she’s looking at him like she used to, the same way she looked at the lieutenant he once was, and his heart swells in his chest.

“Thank you,” she whispers.

“It’s my pleasure, Princess,” he responds with a small bow.

He’s just about to leave because suddenly his eyes are stinging and he doesn’t want her to see how much he’s moved by her happiness.  But as he turns to go, Emma catches his hand, the action stopping him dead in his tracks.

He doesn’t turn to look at her again, not trusting himself enough to keep from pulling her into his arms.

“These were in the chest you keep locked up, weren’t they?” she asks.

He nods and clears his throat as he responds, “Yes.”

“Perhaps one day you’ll show me what else is in there?” 

Her voice is gentle as she asks the question and he turns back to face her as hope flares through his body. 

“Perhaps,” he replies in a breathless voice and she smiles at him.

K&EK&EK&E

Emma sighs with happiness as she runs the brush through her hair, watching the glint of the swan pendant in the mirror as it twinkles in the candlelight. 

It’s getting dark outside and Ruby had come in a few minutes ago to tell her they’d be leaving soon.

The brunette’s eyes had misted when she saw the jewelry and, when Emma had told her Killian had returned it to her, she’d smiled knowingly at Emma before turning to go. 

He’d saved it for her.  He’d kept it all these years, not because he’d thought he’d be able to give it back, but to have something of hers close to him. 

Her Killian is still in there.  He’s brave and kind and he loves her, no matter how hard he’s fighting against it.  She could see him wavering when she’d smiled at him.  She’d seen the panic in his eyes as he’d escaped through the hatch.  And now, as she looks around the room, she doesn’t see pilfered treasures anymore, she only sees a man’s life work to avenge those he loved.

Looking back to the mirror, she takes in her reflection, wishing she had some better clothes with her, something more refined to wear to remind him of the woman he fell in love with.  The swan necklace sparkles at her neck and she smiles as she closes her fingers around it. 

It’s been years since she’s worn any type of jewelry.  There was no point in it in Arendelle and while the tavern did well enough, it didn’t lend to superfluous purchasing.  Not that she cared, anyway.  She’d never been one to flaunt diamonds and sapphires.  There’s really only a few pieces that she’d had that she’d been disappointed to lose, and now she has two of the three back.  The only other piece had been the ring… 

She’d wept uncontrollably when she’d realized she didn’t have it.  She’d taken it off before the ball because the announcement hadn’t yet been made, instead wearing a jade ring and necklace set that matched her gown.  She’d sold those several years ago to repair the roof on The Gold Mine, not caring one whit about parting with them.  But the ring…  She’d give anything to have it back.

She can remember perfectly the moment he gave it to her, his smile warm and happy as he slipped it on her finger…

~

It’s a clear night, the stars above twinkling brightly as they wander through the garden, hand in hand.  He picks a buttercup for her that she twists between the fingers of her free hand as they walk, telling him what she’s been doing while he was away.  He leads her to a bench and lays his jacket over her shoulders to ward off the cool night air as she leans back into his chest.  He tells her about his most recent voyage, a three-month assignment to patrol the waters to the northeast where the most interesting thing that happened was Liam spilling his dinner all over his uniform. 

When she asks why he spilled it, Killian wriggles behind her and replies, “It was my fault.  I told him something that… took him by surprise.  He turned around too quickly to look at me and knocked the plate.”

Emma laughs lightly. “What did you tell him that got the ever-composed Captain Jones so flustered?” she asks.

“Well, uh… It was, um…” he stutters, pulling his hand away from hers.

She knows what he’s doing before she even turns to look at him.  Sure enough, he’s scratching behind his ear the way he does when he’s nervous and her brow wrinkles in confusion even as she has to hide a smile at his tell-tale sign. 

“Killian,” she says as she reaches up to stop him from scratching himself raw.  “It’s okay.  You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to – ”

“It’s not that I don’t want to, I just… Well, it’s kind of…” 

He trails off and huffs out a breath before meeting her eyes, twisting in the seat so they’re facing each other.  Reaching forward with his hand, he twines his fingers with hers, giving her a look so serious that her amusement dies in its wake.

“I told him he needs to find a new navigator,” he tells her, solemnly.

“What?! Why?” she asks in pure astonishment, “You love being your brother’s lieutenant.  Surely my father hasn’t assigned you to another ship, has he?”

“No, I haven’t been assigned to another ship.  I… I’m not going to be assigned to a ship at all.  I…”

“You’ve resigned your commission?  But you love the navy!  I know it’s hard sometimes and I know I complain about you being gone, but I’d never ask you to give up the sea.  It’s your life – ”

“You’re my life, Emma.  I want us to be together.  I’ll still be an officer, just not in the navy.  Your father and I…  we talked about it and he’s… very happy…”

“He’s happy that you’re leaving the navy?  But you’re in line for Captain!  He told me so.  He’s commissioned a new ship built and he was going to ask you to Captain it.  I can’t believe he’s happy that you – ”

“He’s happy about the reason I want to leave the navy,” he cuts her off.

She shakes her head in confusion, completely uncomprehending.  What on earth could be important enough to him that he would want to leave the navy?

“Bloody hell, I’ve made a complete mess of this.  I…  Give me a moment, love,” he says just before shooting to his feet and taking a step away from the bench, raising his eyes to the heavens as if asking for divine help.

Nerves eat at her throat as she watches him, wondering what he’s keeping from her.  She wrings her hands together in her lap while she waits, her eyes trained on him as he looks to the ground and shakes his head.  Pulling something from his pocket, he studies it for a moment before he turns back to her.  When he does, his eyes meet hers with melting tenderness and a shy smile that she hasn’t seen from him for a long time and her heart nearly stops.

“I know I’m not of noble blood, but I love you with everything I have,” he says softly, “and I’ll never comprehend why the universe blessed me enough to have you love me back.  I don’t have much but what I do have will always be yours, my heart, my body and my soul.”

Emma’s breath catches as his form blurs in front of her.  Now she knows why he’s leaving the navy and she smiles encouragingly at him as he sinks to one knee in front of her.

“I will always do my best by you, darling.  I will strive every day to be worthy of your love.”

“You will always be worthy of my love,” she tells him, cupping his cheek in her hand and eagerly lifting the other in anticipation of what he’s going to say next.

His smile brightens at her words, the shyness dissipating as he takes her outstretched hand and shows her the ring.  “It’s not much…”

“It’s perfect,” she replies.

“It was my mother’s,” he tells her as he studies the ring for another moment.  When he lifts his eyes to hers, they are full of adoration and disbelief, like he can’t believe she’s real or that she’s his.

When the silence stretches and he just continues to stare at her in awe, she gives him a gentle smile.  “Killian, ask me.”

Straightening his shoulders, he draws a deep breath and smiles back.  “Emma, Princess of Misthaven, would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”

“Yes,” she replies, leaning forward to kiss him with all the joy surging through her.

When they break apart, he slips the ring on her finger, his chest expanding as he takes a deep breath and runs his thumb over the modest diamond.  Then his eyes lift to hers and he brings his hands up to frame her face as a relieved chuckle escapes, his breath expelling in a relieved puff of air just before he kisses her again.

“You didn’t think I was going to turn you down, did you?” she asks with a chuckle of her own, her forehead resting against his.

“No, I just… I’m still so amazed sometimes that you love me.”

She brushes her lips against his and tightens her arms around his neck.

“I know what you mean,” she replies.

~

Emma is still smiling from the memory as she makes her way to deck, breathing a sigh of happiness as she approaches the others. 

“You go with the Princess, browse the merchants,” Killian is saying to Ruby, “Dopey and I will head to the tavern and see if we can learn anything there.”

“You trust us to go alone?  What if someone recognizes her?”

Killian chuckles lightly.  “I didn’t see any black knights this afternoon and we’ve managed to time this little visit at the full moon.  Between her skill with a sword and your remarkable talents, I’d be more inclined to ask the two of you for protection, not the other way around.”

Ruby smiles at that and so does Emma.  Killian always did respect her sword fighting skills. 

“Well, then, why don’t we all go to the tavern together?” Ruby asks.  “It’s surely the best place for news – ”

“No,” he cuts her off, “Dopey and I will go to the tavern.”

Ruby nearly sputters with indignation at the interruption and Emma feels the same.

“Why?” Ruby asks.

Killian rolls his eyes as if the answer to that is obvious, “Because, Captain Hook doesn’t enter a tavern with female company.”

Ruby doesn’t respond but her eyes light up as comprehension crosses her features.  It takes another second for Emma to get it, but as the full meaning of his words sink in, she gasps loudly and everyone turns to face her.

“He only leaves with female company,” she says without thinking, her voice hard even to her own ears.

Her eyes meet Killian’s across the deck and she sees regret flicker in them.  He obviously didn’t know she was standing there and she thinks for a second that he looks ashamed but it does nothing to soften her anger.  Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knows she’s being unfair but she can’t stop the feeling of betrayal that rockets through her.  So she stares him down until his features harden and he turns back to Ruby.

“Exactly,” he confirms.  “And Captain Hook can learn more from…”  he trails off, stumbling over the words.

“Willing females?” Emma supplies.

“Yes,” he grounds out as he clenches his jaw, still looking at Ruby, “He can learn more from ‘willing females’ if they think they might…  get something in return.”

For some reason, Ruby suddenly seems amused, biting at her lip to keep from smiling. 

“Fine,” she says, reaching up to straighten Killian’s collar. “Go get ‘em, Captain.”

Killian rolls his eyes even as Emma’s widen in indignation.  Whose side is she on, anyway?

Killian turns to go but stops abruptly at Ruby’s next words.

“We’ll see you there.”

He whirls on her.  “Excuse me?”

“We’ll see you there,” she repeats matter-of-factly.

When he looks at her like she’s lost her mind, she crosses her arms over her chest and gives him an amused smirk.  “Just where do you think those ‘willing females’ get their information?” she asks.  “They get it from… ‘eager men.’”

Killian looks like he might actually explode. 

“Emma and I will bend the ears of the sailors while you talk to the ladies.  If there is anything to learn, one of us will find it out.”

Killian clenches his fist and towers over Ruby for a moment but Ruby doesn’t back down.

“Fine,” he replies in clipped voice, “We’ll see you there.” 

Casting a quick glance Emma’s way, he pivots on the spot and starts toward the dock, Dopey close behind. 

As soon as he’s out of earshot, Emma turns on Ruby, her voice sharp as she asks, “What do you think you’re doing?”

“We’re going to the tavern,” she replies as though the answer is obvious.

“I don’t want to go to the tavern.  I don’t want to see…”

She trails off as images of women sidling up to Killian flash in her head, women freely offering information in those sickly voices while offering him countless other things by letting their hands wander down his chest… pushing their breasts into his arm…

Ruby’s voice cuts through her thoughts, “I know you don’t but he won’t want to see you with other men, either.”

“Ruby…” Emma says in a warning tone.

Ruby gives her an exasperated look.  “He’s not going to do anything with them.”

“How do you know?  He’s Captain Hook!  You’ve heard the stories.  You told me a few of them!”

“He might be Captain Hook, but he’s also Killian Jones.  The man who loves you…”

“Not anymore,” Emma interrupts.

“… the man you love,” Ruby goes on ignoring her interruption, “And if you think for one second that man is going to ‘have his way’ with another woman now that he knows you’re alive…”

Ruby trails off and Emma drops her eyes to the deck. 

“How many do you think there have been?”  Emma asks in a small voice, finally admitting her biggest fear to her friend.

Ruby gives her a look of sympathy, “I don’t know, sweetie.  But it doesn’t matter.  Killian Jones has ever only had eyes for one woman.  And that woman is you.”

Emma shakes her head.  “That might have been true once, but not now.  He’s barely looked at me since I woke up.”

“Because he was hurt, Emma.  He sat by your bedside for almost forty-eight hours straight watching over you.  He was nearly inconsolable… and the first thing you do when you wake up is call him out for being a pirate?”

The confirmation of hearing her own thoughts being said back to her nearly breaks her and her voice cracks as she replies, “I know. I keep messing up, Ruby.  I want him back but I keep saying all the wrong things.  Everything is so different now.  He’s so different and every time I think things are going to get better, I say something stupid.”

“He is different now,” Ruby replies, “We all are.  And if you truly want him back, you’re going to have to accept him for who he is, not who he was.”

“Captain Hook.”

“Yes, Captain Hook.  But also the man who carried you out of Arendelle.  The man who kept your swan necklace all these years.  The man your father sent to find you.”  

Emma considers that for a moment before asking, “And you think this will help?  Going to this tavern and pretending to…”

“I don’t know, but it certainly can’t hurt, can it?  I mean the two of you are barely speaking.  This might at least force the issue.”

Emma isn’t sure that forcing the issue is the best idea but Ruby’s right, what can it hurt?

“What am I supposed to do?” she asks, weakly.

Ruby rolls her eyes.  “Come on, Emma.  You’ve been working in a tavern long enough to know what to do.  You’ve seen me and Gwen…”

“Yes, but…”

“Trust me, you’ll be fine.  Just flirt a little, bat your eyes.  It’s really not that different than being at court.  Men are pretty much the same no matter their station, so you flatter them and act like you care about what they’re saying.”

“But…”

“Don’t tell me you never had to sit next to some boring diplomat and not pretend to be completely enraptured by whatever it was he was talking about.”

“Well, yes, but I didn’t have to pretend to…”

“So you just lay it on a little thicker,” Ruby says as though it’s the easiest thing in the world, “You might even find it liberating.”

Emma doesn’t think so but she still relents, trusting that Ruby knows what’s she’s talking about.

“Okay, fine.  Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

The prisoner keeps his head down to hide his smile as the Evil Queen barges into his cell, nearly sending the door off its hinges in her fury. 

Right on time, he thinks with satisfaction, wiping the smirk off his face and raising his head to look up at her from his position on the floor.  The chains on his wrists are too short to allow him to stand, which he’s grateful for, since he doesn’t want to honor her presence by standing and bowing, anyway. 

She stomps across the room to stop right in front of him, the heart in her hand glowing red and a maniacal gleam in her eyes that does nothing to impress him.

“She escaped!” she yells at him.

“I’m aware,” he responds calmly.

“You knew she would?  Why didn’t you tell me?!”

“Perhaps if you’d told me of your plan, I could have warned you against it,” he replies in a flippant tone. 

His momentary impertinence has her raising her arm and squeezing the heart while she yells, “You think you can out-smart me, wizard!? Remember, I can end your life any time I want!”

Gasping for breath, he scrunches his face and squints his eyes to watch the heart, even going so far as to let out a grunt of pain.  After a moment, she eases her grip and he slumps against the wall, his body going lax against the cold, damp stone.

“You know you can’t kill me,” he grits out, “You need me too much.  I’ve told you – ”

“I know what you’ve told me!” she interrupts.  “‘Have patience, Your Majesty.’  ‘Wait until the time is right, my Queen.’   Well I did!  I did wait! And now her twenty-eighth birthday is nearly upon us and I had to do something!”

“As you say, Your Highness,” he responds.

She snorts in irritation and starts pacing.  "Oh, I know your opinion.  We've had this conversation before,” she says, “but I want her here, under lock and key, by the time she turns twenty-eight."

"And I've told you before that without Killian Jones, she is of no threat to you," he responds matter-of-factly.

"So I should just leave her be? Let her live out the rest of her days as a free woman knowing that her father is constantly planning – ”

“But his plans have never worked, have they?” he interrupts.  “I’ve told you how to stop them every one of them.” 

“You’ve told me how to stop him from saving Snow White, yes, but I still haven’t managed to capture him!”

How he keeps from rolling his eyes is a mystery even to him, weary of having this same conversation again. “The King is – ”

“I’ve told you repeatedly not to call him that!”

“Fine.  The farmer is smart, Your Majesty.  He’s cautious.  And he has the help of one of the realm’s most esteemed knights,” he replies in an attempt to placate her. 

He knows he has succeeded when she whispers, “Perhaps," in a thoughtful tone, but it doesn't last long before she raises her voice again, "But I still can’t figure out how he manages to evade capture at every turn!”

He doesn’t respond, biding his time while she works through her conundrum, pacing back and forth across the stone floor.  Her thoughts churn around her head, each one passing across her features as he waits patiently for her next comment. 

Because if there’s one thing he is, it’s patient. 

So he relaxes back against the wall and watches as she nearly wears a trench in the stone floor, the clacking of her heels echoing in the sparsely filled room.  

It’s like watching a tennis match, he thinks with amusement, back and forth, back and forth

(It’s too bad they don’t have tennis in this realm.)

(Perhaps he should invent it.)

At long last she speaks again, still pacing, “I know what they were trying to do in Arendelle.  They were hoping the girl would be able to find a new True Love in that hovel of a town.  That's why they bought that pathetic little tavern... Since it seems she has a penchant for sailors, they were hoping she’d find another." 

"And they can hope all they want,” he mollifies her, “but as I’ve told you before:  She’ll not find one.  There’s no other with the power to unlock her magic."

"You're sure?" she asks, finally stopping the incessant pacing to look him in the eye.

"I am absolutely positive," he replies with conviction and, damned if it doesn’t take everything in him not to smile.

Holding that smile in gets even more difficult when she immediately goes back to pacing, looking and acting like a petulant child as she mumbles, "I still want her in the dungeon before her twenty-eighth birthday.  But to do that I need to find her.” She stops again and raises the heart.  “Tell me where she is,” she demands.

"You know it doesn't work like that,” he tells her.  “I can't just conjure up an image at will.  Besides, I see the future, not the present."

"Then tell me where she's going to be," she persists.

He sighs.  "There are several possibilities at this point, none especially helpful – ”

“Ah, yes.  The future is always changing,” she interrupts with disdain.

He ignores the interruption as he continues.  " – In a tavern, walking down a crowded street at night, in the forest – "

"Which tavern?"

"I don't know.  I'm not familiar with every tavern in the realm," he replies sardonically.

“Well, keep trying!” she shouts, turning to the door, "and send for me as soon as you know where she is!"

Not a chance in hell, my Queen, he thinks as she traipses off, the door swinging closed behind her.

Once her footsteps can no longer be heard, he hops to his feet and rubs at his wrists, waving an arm to conjure a comfortable chair out of thin air.  As he settles into it, he snaps his fingers and a table materializes next to him, sporting a decanter of scotch and a cut crystal glass.  He pours himself a drink, relaxing back into the chair and closing his eyes as he finally lets the triumphant smile spread across his face.


As always, the tavern quiets when Captain Hook walks in. 

When he set out on this life, this wasn’t exactly what he’d aimed for, but being a notorious pirate has its consequences.  Not long ago, he would have taken pride in the reaction, in knowing that his reputation warrants it.  Tonight, though, it’s just an irritation that adds to the annoyance already churning in his stomach. 

Trying to shake off the feeling, he directs Dopey to a nearby table and motions for drinks from the closest barmaid.  The lass is quick to fulfill his request and Killian downs his first drink in nearly one swallow.  Dopey gives him a nervous look like he’s not exactly sure this is a good idea and Killian pats his shoulder, whether to reassure the dwarf or himself, he’s not certain.

It doesn’t take long for the redhead to approach them, her finger wrapping around her ringlet curls and licking at her lips. 

Killian very nearly rolls his eyes but manages not to.  This is what he’s here for, so he smiles back at her and invites her to join them.  He’s only just poured the lass a drink when he sees Emma and Ruby enter.  They both scan the crowd before Ruby leans into Emma’s ear and whispers something. 

Emma’s eyes flick to his for an instant and she looks away quickly.  As she does, the redhead next to him uses her finger to run along his cheek and turn his head to face her, obviously resentful over his momentary distraction.  He doesn’t look away from the woman but he keeps track of Emma out of the corner of his eye as she and Ruby cross the room and begin talking to a group of men at the back corner table. 

He considers it a feat of self-control that he doesn’t flinch when he sees a man pat the seat beside him to invite Emma to sit down.  Casually, he turns away from the redhead long enough to take a drink so that he can size up the bastard and when he does he catches Dopey’s look of complete disbelief as Emma sits down.

Determinedly looking back to his companion, Killian tries to keep his mind on why they’re here.  The faster he can get the information he wants, the faster he can get out of here so that he doesn’t have to watch Emma sidling up to some –

Bloody hell.  That man did not just put his arm around her and she did not just whisper something in his ear.

Fury lances through him, every muscle in his body tensing, making his ears ring and his eyes narrow.

Fuck.  This is going to kill him.

Forcing himself to look away, he catches Dopey’s eye.  He can tell the dwarf knows what he’s thinking and he shoots Killian a look of sympathy.   Killian takes another drink of his rum and closes his eyes on a long breath. 

The redhead is jabbering away in his ear and it takes every ounce of discipline he has to turn back to her, to smile and listen to what she’s saying.  The sound of her voice makes his skin crawl but he manages to push it down long enough to ply her with seemingly innocent questions to find out if she knows anything worth learning.  He can immediately tell that she does.  Not that she’s going to tell him just yet.  He clenches his jaw as he plays along, his eyes constantly stealing glances at Emma while the woman next to him drags out the conversation in an obvious attempt to keep his attention. 

Emma and Ruby seem to be enjoying themselves immensely, laughing and chatting with the group of men.  It eats at his gut, each shout of laughter pushing him closer to exploding, and when she leans into the sailor’s side and cheers him on as he and his friends play dice, he tightens his fist around his drink so hard he’s surprised he doesn’t crush the glass.

The woman next to him isn’t helping calm any of his rage with the way she’s playing coy and it’s starting to wear his patience thin.  He keeps the act going, though, because they need information.  And, in his experience, information is the most valuable commodity in the world no matter how much some people value gold and silver. 

The night goes on and every minute frustrates Killian more.  Watching Emma flirt with another man so effortlessly ties his stomach in knots and when he sees the man’s hand settle on her waist, he’s tempted to barge over there and run the man through. 

The feel of a hand on his thigh brings his attention back to the redhead and it takes everything in him not to yank it away.  Then he sees Emma move her hand to the sailor’s thigh and he swears his body temperature spikes to boiling at the white hot rage that shoots through him.

Suddenly out of patience, he turns to the redhead and gives her his best Captain Hook leer, leaning into her and keeping his eyes on her mouth as he starts asking direct questions to find out what she’s hiding.  It’s a relief that she seems besotted enough to start answering as she grabs his collar and lifts her lips to his ear, whispering to him in a sultry voice.

It’s not as much as he’d hoped for but apparently the Queen of Arendelle has closed her borders to Regina by erecting an ice wall around her kingdom.  When he asks why, she says that Regina’s knights attacked one of her villages.  She doesn’t know the reason behind the attack but the knights are now all imprisoned in Queen Elsa’s dungeon.

That’s enough for him.  He doesn’t care if there’s anything else.  Apparently Emma’s escape is not common knowledge.  He feels an instant of relief and stands abruptly, completely through with this charade.  He motions to Dopey and the little dwarf is up and moving in the next second. 

“Head back to the ship and get her ready to sail,” he tells him.

Dopey nods and hurries out.

Turning back to the redhead, who is looking at him in confusion, he slips her some silver coins. “Thank you, darling,” he tells her.  “Go buy yourself something pretty.” 

She looks like she wants to argue.  She wasn’t after silver coins and they both know it.  She studies him for another moment and, after a quick glance over her shoulder at the table where Emma is sitting, she surprises him by stepping forward and kissing him full on the mouth.  He doesn’t resist but he doesn’t participate either and when she breaks the kiss, he’s shocked to see her wearing a knowing, if somewhat regretful, smile. 

“It was worth a try, anyway,” she says softly.  Then she takes a step back, sighing in resignation as she studies him from head to toe.  When her eyes meet his again, she adds, “You know, I may not be as pretty as her but I would have let you do whatever you wanted.”

He starts to pretend he doesn’t know what she’s talking about but changes his mind.  There’s something proud in the woman’s stance that he suddenly admires.  So, he adds a few more coins to her hand and gives her a slight bow.  She nods in return, then straightens her shoulders, jangles the silver coins and walks out of the establishment.

Looking back to Emma and Ruby, he studies the group for another moment.  Emma is smiling happily as the man next to her apparently rolls a good hand and his fist tightens at the site. 

He knows he should leave.  He should let her and Ruby continue their ‘interrogation’ of the sailors and head back to his ship.  Making a scene would not be the smartest move.  He knows Regina has taken an interest in him and much of what he does gets reported back to her in one way or another.  But then he sees the man’s hand wandering closer to Emma’s breast and her quick reflex to stop him and the decision is made without conscious thought. 

Finishing off the last of his drink, he slams the tankard onto the table with enough force to get the attention of the room shifted back to him.  Then, without a word, he starts toward the table, his hook resting on the hilt of his sword as he takes deliberate steps.  The room goes quiet, and he should probably care, but he can’t think of anything except getting her away from that man. 

Still, he knows he can’t call the man out, no matter how much he wants to.  He’s got to play this smart.  He doesn’t care about the attention to him but drawing attention to Emma even in the smallest way could raise questions.  People tend to remember beautiful blondes and notorious pirate captains. 

He keeps his face impassive as he walks, conscious of the way everyone is watching.  He knows his reputation and he knows the fascination people have with him.  He’s used it to his advantage more than once and he’s going to use it right now.  He needs to make this look like he’s just interested in a night of passion, not like he’s ready to gut the bastard for taking liberties with the woman he loves. 

When he approaches the table, the sailors visibly recoil which makes his want to smile.  He shifts his gaze between Ruby and Emma and the men next to them both make the very wise decision to release their grips and scoot away. 

He doesn’t say anything.  He just stands at the head of the table and continues to glance between the two women.  Then, very slowly, he extends his hand… to Ruby.

A flash of surprise crosses the brunette’s face but she takes his hand and stands without a word.  He guides her around to his left side where she links her arm in his before he turns back to the table. 

“You can join us, too, if you’d like,” he says to Emma.

For a moment he thinks she’s going to refuse, her eyes glittering with fury.  But she glances to Ruby and whatever she sees in her friend’s expression makes her relent.

Rising, she takes his outstretched hand and allows him to lead her and Ruby from the room.  The whispers start up before they even make it to the door and Emma’s shoulders stiffen – and they stay stiff the entire walk back to the docks.

As soon as they set foot on deck of the Jolly Roger, Emma releases his hand and turns on him.

“Was that really necessary?” she hisses.

He knew it was coming but he’d hoped she’d at least have the sense to wait until they had disappeared into his cabin.  There are too many people milling around the docks who might hear. “Perhaps we should take this conversation below,” he says, grabbing her hand back and motioning to the dock with his eyes, praying she gets the hint. 

Apparently, she does because she starts walking again without another word.

As soon as he pulls the hatch shut over his head, she’s on him immediately, and this time she doesn’t bother to keep her voice down, her eyes flashing with temper and her hands balled in fists at her sides as she shouts at him.  “Did you have to make it look like we were going with you to – ”

“Would you have preferred I left you there to spend the remainder of evening trying to fend off that man’s advances?!”  he cuts her off, raising his voice as well, partly to be heard and partly to let out some of the frustration he feels, the image of her hand on the bastard’s thigh seared into vision almost to the point where he can’t see what’s actually in front of him.

“Maybe I wasn’t planning on fending him off!” she fires back and Killian swears he might actually throttle her, fisting his hand and taking a step in her direction.

Her shoulders square off in defiance as he approaches.  He’s not even sure what he’s planning to do when he reaches her but he doesn’t get the chance to find out.  He only makes it half-way across the space between them before Ruby blocks his path.

“Stop!” she shouts, glancing to each of them in turn, “That’s enough.  Let’s just calm down.  We went there for a reason so why don’t we talk about what we found out.”

The words do nothing to diffuse the tension in the room, he and Emma continuing to stare each other down, the air so thick it’s difficult to breathe, causing both of them to inhale and exhale sharply. 

When neither of them speak, Ruby turns to him.  “I assume you found out something or you wouldn’t have gotten us all out of there.”

He tears his gaze away from Emma at the words, locking eyes with Ruby instead.  “Queen Elsa has closed her borders and the black knights involved in the attack have been taken to her dungeon.  No one knows the reason behind the attack.  So it seems the princess is still believed to be dead.”

Ruby nods to him.  “We learned the same,” she says on a release of breath, “which I suppose is good news.”

Killian can only nod tightly in agreement, his eyes moving back to Emma when she spins on her heel to look out the window, crossing her arms over her chest.

“So, should we set sail tonight or wait ‘til morning?” Ruby asks.

“We’ll wait,” he responds in a clipped voice, his eyes still on Emma’s back.  “Too many people saw the two of you board with me.  If we leave right now, they’ll know you accompanied me.”

He’s sees Ruby nod in the corner of his eye before she glances between the two of them a few times. 

“Well, then,” Ruby says in a calm voice that he can tell she’s using in an attempt to lower the temperature of the room.  “I’ll just let Dopey know that we’ll be leaving in the morning.”

She glances to each of them one more time, concern on her features before she turns and walks out the door, closing it behind her with a quiet click. 

Emma still doesn’t move, keeping her eyes trained on the window, the silence charged with antagonism. Her shoulders are set, standing stiff and proud with her head high while she takes several long, measured breaths.  The air feels like it’s crackling around them as he continues to stare at the back of her head, taking deep breaths himself in an effort to slow his rapid pulse.  Her hair is loose around her shoulders, waves of it flowing down to nearly her waist and he gulps hard as he remembers the way that sailor had run his hand down those beautiful tresses. 

He wants to cross to her, to pull her into his arms and erase the memory of that man, to erase the memory of every man that isn’t him, from her brain.  He wants to delve his hand into her hair until it’s only him she can remember, only him she can think of.  But he can’t.  She’s not his anymore.  A fact that was made evident tonight by how well she played her roll at the tavern.

The thought makes his stomach twist and he tries to push it down because it’s not her fault.  He can’t blame her for anything she did since they’ve been separated. 

But it eats at him.  It’s been eating at him since he found her, even though he wasn’t ready to admit it, but now that he’s seen her with another man, it just makes it worse. 

Her lips at his ear… her hand on his thigh… her body tight against his side…

Lowering his head, he clenches his eyes shut against the images, doing his best to expel them from his mind.  It shouldn’t matter what she’s done, God knows he didn’t earn his reputation with women by being celibate.  But the thought of other men touching her, the thought that she may have, and very likely did, give something away that would have been his…

He’s pulled from his thoughts when she abruptly turns on her heel and makes toward the ladder with determined strides. 

“Where do you think you’re going?” he asks sharply, stepping in front of her to block her path.

“I need some air,” she replies without looking at him, her eyes directed at the ladder over his shoulder.

“You can’t go up on deck yet.  People will see you.  You need to stay below, at least for the time being.”

She gives him a confused look for an instant before her eyes harden again. “Of course not,” she replies sarcastically, “we wouldn’t want to tarnish the great Captain Hook’s reputation by letting anyone think we’re already finished…  Perhaps Ruby and I should stumble off the gangplank in the morning with our hair mussed and our corsets half unlaced!”

The disdain in her voice pushes his anger to a boiling point again. “What did you expect me to do, princess?  Leave you there with that…?”

“Ruby and I would have been fine.  We could have handled it.  You didn’t have to make it look like you were… like we were…”  She trails off, seemingly flustered as her cheeks redden. 

“Ah, so I should have asked you for tea?” he asks with derision.  “Do you think they would have believed that?”

Her eyes darken at his tone, lifting her chin in defiance. “You didn’t have to ask us to do any – ”

“So instead, you would have me come back to my ship alone and wait for you to return, all the while picturing that man’s hands on you?!” he cuts her off, his voice rising again as the image flashes in his eyes.

“Considering how busy you were with that redhead, I’m surprised you even noticed!” she shouts at him.

The reply on his tongue freezes as the implication hits him:  She’s jealous.  Maybe as jealous as him.  The thought softens his heart but it’s short-lived as she continues with venom, “And when you finally do notice, you make it look like Ruby is the one you want, not me.  I was just an… an afterthought!”

“I had to!” he bursts out, “I couldn’t risk it!  Most everything I do gets back to the Evil Queen in one way or another.  It’s a good bet she already knows I was in Arendelle when you escaped.  If she then hears about me making a display with a blonde, she might put it together…”

The anger on her face disappears as he speaks, changing to concern. “Regina knows you’re alive?” she asks, stepping forward.

The worry in her voice is such a surprise that the fight is completely knocked out of him and he shakes his head, replying in a gentler tone, “Not Killian Jones.  Or at least I don’t think so.  But she knows Captain Hook is alive and he’s caused her enough problems over the years to warrant her interest.”

Emma considers that for a moment as she darts a glance over to the chest in the corner.  When she speaks again, her voice is level but with a trace of reprimand, “All the more reason why you should have left us there.  We could have gotten away from them on our own…”

When he rolls his eyes, her voice gets sharper.

“… They were just starting to talk.  There might have been more to learn!”

“Perhaps,” he concedes, through his teeth, “but I couldn’t walk away and leave you with – ”

“What difference does it make to you!?” she interrupts, her voice back at shouting level.  “You obviously don’t want me.  You wanted that… red-haired wench enough to kiss her – ”

“She kissed me!”

She scoffs at that.  “Oh, and the great Captain Hook would never turn down a willing female.”

“I turned one down tonight!” he shouts back.  “If you think that kiss was all she wanted…”

“I know exactly what she wanted – ”

“Yes, the same thing you made that man think you wanted.  Tell me, princess, if I hadn’t taken you out of there, how far would you have gone with the charade?”

The crack of her hand on his cheek echoes through the room, snapping his head to the side. 

He’d expected it and even welcomes it as the physical pain surpasses the emotional agony roiling in his gut for a moment. 

Running his thumb over the stinging flesh, he clenches his jaw and breathes out through his nose.  He considers walking out but when he looks back to her and sees the expression on her face, he changes his mind. 

Her eyes are wide, both her hands raised and pressed over her mouth, like she’s surprised at her own action.  She’s still breathing heavy, her cheeks flushed and, before he knows what she’s about, she steps forward and grips his collar, yanking him to her.

The force of the kiss has him grunting in pain when his lips get smashed between their teeth.  It quickly turns into a moan of pleasure, however, when her tongue darts out and pries at the seam of his lips.

Without conscious thought, he kisses her back, winding his hand in her hair and fisting it there to keep her close.  Not that she’s going anywhere.  No, instead, she’s pushing her body into his with such ferocity that he loses his balance and stumbles back until his legs hit the desk behind him.  The momentum has her leaning forward to keep their lips fused together, her hips crashing into his on the edge of the wood, sending a burst of lust through his system. 

Trying to regain his balance, he reaches out blindly with his hook, digging it into the wood.  He hears parchment rip as well and realizes he’s just torn a hole in one of his maps.  The fact that that knowledge even occurs to him shocking considering the way Emma is plundering his mouth, her tongue wet and purposeful as she explores every inch of it. 

She releases him as quickly as she’d grabbed him, taking two hasty steps back and leaving him feeling bereft.  Her eyes drop to the floor in what looks like embarrassment or shame and something inside him splinters at the thought. He’s not sure which it is, but it doesn’t matter.  He can’t stand her feeling either way, so he closes the distance between them again, cupping her cheek to raise her head while ducking his own head low enough to angle his lips onto hers once more.

He swallows her gasp of surprise, taking advantage of the way her mouth opens on the sound to push his tongue past her lips.  She doesn’t respond at first, apparently stunned, but it doesn’t take long for her to kiss him back, her mouth following his as he leads her head to the right by tugging on her hair.  The pleasure-filled groan she makes has got to be the most erotic things he’s ever heard, adding fuel to the already raging fire burning through him.  When he moves his hand into the soft hair at the nape of her neck, she reciprocates by snaking one hand under his coat to clutch at his back, her fingers digging in to bring him closer, molding every inch of her body to his while her other hand moves to the back of his head, holding him to her in a vice grip that matches his own desperation. 

She feels divine, her curves lined up to him with not so much as a whisper of space between them even as she pushes forward to get impossibly closer.  Spinning her, he backs her into the table, his hand traveling down to her waist and squeezing with fierce determination.  He groans again when her fingernails rake along his scalp to urge him on, her lips prying at his, nipping and sucking in a way he doesn’t remember her ever doing before…

And that realization is all it takes to bring the question back to the forefront of his mind:  What has she done in these past years and who has she done it with?  Has she sought comfort or passion in the arms of another man?  He wants to ask her, to find out for sure, but he can’t.  It’s not his right to know anymore, the thought making excruciating pain rise up in his chest. 

So he kisses her harder, pulls her closer, trying to blur the question in his head by losing himself in the want he feels radiating off her.  His whole body is on fire, the reckless need to be better than any other man she might have been with burning through his veins. 

Leaving her mouth, he runs his lips over to her throat, sucking hard enough to brand her.  She gasps as his lips unlatch from her neck and then she’s turning her head, her thumb lifting his chin so that her lips can leave an identical mark on his skin.  He growls at the feeling, urging her up onto the edge of the desk and pushing her legs open so he can step between them.  Wrapping his arm around her waist, he lines up their hips and tugs her forward, his arm holding her secure to make sure she feels the way she’s affecting him.  

The way she whimpers and lets her head fall back has him rocking against her, her eyes dilating just before they close on a long moan filled with pleasure.  The sound makes triumph race through blood.  She’s not thinking of anyone else now, he thinks with satisfaction, not with the way her mouth falls open in an invitation he can’t pass up as he attacks it again.  She kisses him back just as aggressively, all thought leaving his brain at the way her fingers wade through the hair on his chest, her nails clawing at him as she breaks from his mouth to hiss through her teeth.  

He’s completely lost in her, reveling in the soft noises she makes, the way her body arches into his when he runs his hand up her torso, grazing his thumb along the bottom of her breast.  The way her nails dig into his spine to line their bodies up more perfectly, the way her hips rock into his, seeking more friction…

It’s not until he hears her breathe out his name that reality comes crashing down, the sound of it in the throes of passion something he’s never heard before, and with it comes a sense of clarity that reminds him that this is Emma, not some random wench that he picked up for the night. 

And suddenly everything feels wrong, because this isn’t how it was supposed to be.  Their first time wasn’t supposed to be laced with anger.  It was supposed to be on their wedding night, spurred on by love and tenderness. And this, what they’re doing now, it isn’t about love, and he can’t take her like this.  No matter what they’ve been through, she’s still the woman he loves, and if they ever do this, that’s what it will be about, not this overwhelming need to prove something or ease the frustration he feels.  With a final nip at her bottom lip, he breaks the kiss, groaning with regret. 

She looks dazed when he takes her in, her eyes still closed as she sways toward him, seeking his lips again.  It takes no small effort to resist as he pries her hand from his hair and wraps their fingers together.  When her eyes open, they’re filled with wonder and lust and a surprisingly tender emotion that nearly cracks his resolve. 

He gives into it for one more moment, rubbing a much more gentle kiss across her lips before he steps completely out of her arms.  When he does, he sees the question in her eyes but before it can form on her tongue, he turns to go, walking straight to the door without looking back.

Chapter Text

Emma brings her fingers to her swollen lips and stares at the closed door, her body still warm from their kisses, his spicy scent still lingering in the air.

She's not exactly an expert in these matters, but she can definitely see why he's earned the reputation he has. Her whole body feels wound tight, like a spring ready to vault her up to the stars.  Smiling to herself, she closes her eyes and runs her hands down her sides, remembering the way his hand had gripped at her hip, buried itself in her hair, the overwhelming urgency she'd felt to get closer, to feel that hand everywhere.

It had never been like that between them before. There had been times when their kisses had grown heated but nothing like the fire that had ignited in her veins tonight. It had never been so desperate and needy.  Where he'd made her head spin before, now he's made her body burn.

She considers for a moment going after him, laying her heart at his feet and begging him to show her more of these incredible sensations but changes her mind, something about that look in his eye as he'd released her telling her she should wait. And besides, there's no rush.  She'll find him tomorrow. She won't let him retreat again – not after this. If he tries to avoid her, she'll follow him.  She'll wear him down.  He can't hide from her on this ship.  And now that she knows he wants her, she won't let him hide.

Smiling at the thought, she wanders over to the bed, laying down on her stomach and hugging the pillow to her chest.

Ruby had been right – about so many things… But most importantly, she was right about going to the tavern.  This whole night had been one revelation after another, starting with the liberation she'd felt when she let her inhibitions go at the tavern and ending with the blood rushing passion she'd experienced in Killian's arms.

Basking in her new-found knowledge, her smile widens and she lowers her head to rest her teeth on her thumb, her body tingling all over again at the memory of his lips.  It felt like she'd just unlocked a secret, an untapped part of herself that she'd never even known existed before.

Perhaps she should be shocked at the boldness she'd displayed, the instinct that had made her grip at his back, suck on his neck, rock her hips into his… but she found she didn't care.  She'd made Captain Hook groan with desire, she'd made him gasp and growl, and she couldn't find anything but pride in that.

Rolling over onto her back, she chuckles softly, the feminine power she'd experienced making her giddy.  Even at the tavern with that sailor she'd felt more free than she ever had in her life. Ruby was right about that, too.  There was definitely something to be said for having a man look at you with besotted eyes, to have him hang on your every word, to flirt and tease him with no restrictions.

She'd never understood it before, why Gwen and Ruby and the other girls enjoyed it so much, but now she understands the female satisfaction of having a man at your mercy, of having him mesmerized just by the sound of your voice or the batting of your lashes –

Yes, she'd enjoyed their little foray more than she thought she would... in between plotting the very gruesome death of a certain redhead.  Because she swears if that wench had run her finger down Killian's chest one more time, she fairly certain she would have cut it off and fed it to her.  The woman was lucky she'd made it out the establishment still sporting those ridiculous ringlet curls.

Still, Ruby had been right about one other thing:  Killian did NOT like seeing her with another man.  He'd been insanely jealous of that sailor, absolutely livid, in fact.  She'd seen it in his eyes as he'd walked to their table – even though he'd been trying to hide it – and she had to admit: The sight of the dark and dangerous Captain Hook strolling toward her had made her blood race.  His presence was magnetic, his eyes mesmerizing, and even while she'd still been furious from witnessing that fucking wench kiss him, she couldn't deny the thrill that had gone through her when she'd realized he was walking straight for her.

And then, when they'd returned to the ship… When they'd both been so furious... When they'd yelled and argued… Even that had been liberating in its own way.

Growing up a princess meant that most people had placated her when she was angry - not that she'd shown her anger often.  She'd been raised to be diplomatic, to not let her emotions impair her judgment, so she'd always held a tight rein on them.  But not tonight.  Tonight, she'd let her anger loose and, rather than placate her, Killian had matched it, challenged it… and wasn't that a type of passion as well? If he didn't care, he wouldn't have been so furious, right?  An indifferent man would have left her there, wouldn't he?

But Killian hadn't.  He wasn't indifferent.

He's still hers, and he's still so many of the things she remembers… strong, intelligent, loyal… but now, mixed with that he is dark and dangerous, possessive and passionate.

Very passionate, she thinks, luxuriating in the way her body warms again… her mind replaying each kiss, each brush of his hand, the feel of his hips cradled inside hers...

She's so lost in her euphoria that she almost doesn't hear the ding of the ship's bell.  Her brow furrows for a moment but she dismisses it, assuming that Dopey knocked it while attending to the deck.  It's only when she hears the shuffling of feet above her that she sits up and looks to the hatch.

She knows Killian and Ruby wouldn't be up there and that's all she has time to think about before the hatch opens and a black knight bounds down the steps followed immediately by two more.

Panic has her springing to her feet, rushing toward the closest sword but just before she reaches it, a hand closes over her wrist.

"Uh uh uh, pretty. You won't be needing that," the black knight says, spinning her around to face him, his fingers digging into her upper arms to keep her still. "Well, aren't you a sight for sore eyes? Captain Hook sure does know how to pick 'em," he says, licking his lips in a revolting way, his eyes wandering down her body. Then looking around the room, he adds, "Wasn't expecting to find you alone… or dressed for that matter."

The men behind him laugh at that and Emma stiffens.

"Tell me," he murmurs, "where is the good Captain? And why on earth would he leave a piece like you here to fend for yourself?"

They don't know who she is, she realizes. They're not here for her. They're here for Killian. She hears more shuffling around up on deck as a voice calls down from the hatch.

"Well, Perkins? Do you have him?"

"No, sir. Just some woman," he shouts back, then lowers his voice again, lining his mouth up to her ear, "Where is he? If you tell us, we'll let you go. There's no crime in a woman seeking pleasure. In fact, since it seems the good Captain has abandoned you, I'd be happy to help you out in that respect."

Emma's skin crawls at the implication as the man pulls her closer, his body making contact with the length of hers.

"I don't know where he is," she grits out with more bravado than she feels.

The knight's eyes flash with anger. "Is that right? Well, we'll see about that," he says, dragging her toward the hatch. "Grab the gold," he calls to the others as they cross the room, "Looks like we're finally getting paid."

Just as they reach the bottom step, shouts ring out on the deck along with the sound of swords clashing and the panic in Emma's chest grows exponentially.

"Sounds like they found him," the man says with glee, yanking on her arm as they ascend the ladder.

She scampers up the steps behind him, in a bigger rush than the knight to make it to the deck, desperation to see Killian making her push past him as soon as her feet touch the planks. Her eyes land on him immediately and panic claws at the back of her throat.

The knights are everywhere, gathered all around the deck, Killian right in the middle of them, fighting madly. The sight of him fills her vision, pivoting on his heel and swinging his sword with deadly accuracy as he takes out one after another. But each time one falls another is there to take his place, a seemingly endless stream of them at the ready to rush into the action.

It's enthralling in one way, the skill with which he wields his sword, the speed of the blade zinging through the air, the way his coat flares out behind him when he spins to take on the next… and the next… and the next. But in the other it's terrifying, because Emma knows there's no way he'll be able to bring them all down alone.

Frantically she looks around, trying to find Dopey and Ruby. Dopey is directly across from her, a dagger pressed to his throat as he stands completely still. Ruby is to her right, her arms held by two knights while she twists and turns in their grip, trying to break free.

An array of sound assaults her ears, the knights shouting to cheer on their brethren, grunts of pain from others, the ring of steel against steel echoing in the night, a desperate scream that she realizes came from her own lips the moment Killian's blade meets and holds against one of them and two others are able to jump him from behind and wrestle him to the ground. He struggles against them, his hook burying itself in the chest of one of the men and pulling him down when the man falls to the deck.

It's only then that Emma realizes she struggling, too, her fingernails digging into the arm around her waist and another scream tearing from her lungs that gets drowned out by the triumphant shouts of the men around her. In the next instant, pain explodes through her when more men rush forward to hold him, one of whom knocks into her so hard that her temple makes contact with the rail, leaving her head spinning.

Another scream, this one from Ruby, pierces the air and she wills her eyes to focus past the pain only to see Killian on the deck, held down by four men, one on each arm and leg.

Instinct alone as her aiming a kick to her captor's shin, putting every ounce of strength she has into it. His grip loosens on a growled curse and she's able to break free, pushing her way through the other knights who have now blocked her view of Killian. She sees his sword before she sees him and starts to reach for it but just as her fingers brush the hilt, her path is blocked and she gets yanked back by her hair.

"NO!" she hears Killian shout, the word full of agony, just as her chest crashes into the cold, hard steel of a man's armor.

When his face comes into focus, she sees recognition in his eyes, a stunned and delighted expression that has terror shooting through her, making her furiously pounding heart drop to her stomach.

"Well, well, well," he croons, "Isn't this our lucky day? Not only have we bested Captain Hook, but we've managed to catch ourselves a princess."

Emma goes completely still at the words, her heartbeat ringing so loud in her ears that she only barley registers the shocked gasps from the other black knights and the desperate grunts from both Killian and Ruby.

"Consorting with pirates, Your Majesty? How very surprising, even if the pirate in question has waged an all-out war against your successor."

Emma wriggles in the man's hold but it's no use, the grip he's got on her hair is so tight it's painful and the arm around her waist is unyielding.

"Let them go and you can take me to Regina," she grits out.

But the man only laughs, "Oh my dear princess, I'm going to take you to my Queen either way. But while I'm at it, I'm going to bring her something else she wants: Captain Hook's head."

Without warning, he pushes her into two other men who hold her in place while he turns back to Killian. She struggles and kicks and she sees Killian doing the same but, when the knight stops before him, he stills, meeting the apparent leader's gaze with defiance.

"You've made quite the menace of yourself, Captain. My Queen will happy – "

"How did you get on my ship!?" Killian snarls at him. "The Jolly Roger doesn't lower her gangplank for anyone she doesn't know."

The knight laughs at that. "Ah yes, that's an obstacle it took us a while to figure out. It seems your ship is impenetrable to intruders… but we finally came up with a solution," he replies motioning to Emma's left, "Bring out the informant."

Several of the men to her left part and her breath catches as recognition slams through her.

Jefferson?

How did he even know where Killian was? And does this mean they know who Captain Hook really is?

"YOU!" she hears Ruby growl.

"I'm sorry, Cap – ," Jefferson starts to say but is cut off as one of the knights holding him swings out and hits him so hard across the jaw that his head snaps to the side.

When Emma's eyes dart back to Killian, she sees the betrayal on his face, pure rage emanating from him as he renews his struggle against the men holding him.

"Our friend here was kind enough to escort us," the knight is saying with delight. "I'll admit, it took us a while to find someone with access to your ship. You've been very careful about moving the items you steal from my Queen, and your partner, here, has very loyal men working for him. But you'd be surprised what you can learn from someone when you threaten the lives of people they love."

"I'm sure I would," Killian spits in response.

Shifting her eyes around the deck, Emma tries to calm down long enough to assess the situation. The black knights are everywhere, at least forty of them lining the rail. It seems hopeless… There are only four of them, if she includes Jefferson, and they are all restrained. Four against forty. How on earth are they going to get out of this?

Ruby catches her eyes while she's looking around, her gaze flicking up toward the moon and then to the red cloak she's still wearing. Killian had said earlier that it's a full moon. If she can get the cloak off…

Killian's grunt of pain draws her attention back to him, the leader crushing his hand into the deck with his boot and saying, "You know, I've got to give you credit, Captain. For a one-handed man, you've managed to cause a great deal of trouble."

Killian doesn't respond, he just grits his teeth, giving the man a look of utter loathing. Then his eyes shift to hers and something sparks inside her, everything else blurring and contorting in her ears. The man continues his dialogue but the actual words don't register as a familiar warmth fills her, her heart quickening.

Magic.

She has magic.

She can stop this if she can just call on her magic. So she closes her eyes and concentrates with every fiber of her being, trying to bring forth the power she'd felt in Arendelle, the power that had run through her when she awoke.

She can feel it, the smallest ember of a flame in the pit of her stomach but when she tries to draw it out, it fades.

Frustrated, she opens her eyes and, when the world comes back into focus, she screams hysterically as it hits her what the knight is saying.

"… perhaps my Queen would like your remaining hand as well."

The sword is already lowering but it stops midway down and, for one instant, Emma thinks she's succeeded in freezing time again. But the knight isn't frozen. Instead he swings around and looks at her with complete shock.

"Killian?" he asks. "Killian Jones?"

Emma can feel her eyes widen as she realizes her mistake. She'd screamed his name, his real name, in her panicked state.

When she doesn't answer, he spins back around and looks at Killian.

"You're Killian Jones?" he asks incredulously.

"Aye," Killian answers in a clear voice, his eyes hard as he looks up at the knight from his position on the deck.

The knight doesn't respond at first, looking back and forth between she and Killian several times in astonishment, but Emma ignores him as Killian's eyes lock with hers again. She swears the blue of his eyes have turned to gold in that instant, like there's a flame burning behind them. When they flicker, she feels the magic start to gather again and somewhere in the back of her mind she hears the words, hold on, whispering to her.

Nodding, she casually widens her stance, taking a step closer to the rail in the process. The knight is still talking but not a word of it makes it to her ears as Killian lowers his head and whispers something to the ship.

It's instantaneous, the reaction of the Jolly Roger. The ship immediately lurches sharply to the side while, at the same time, all of the ropes anchoring them to the dock release at once, snapping through the air and making contact with several of the knights, including one of her captors.

When the knight releases her, she grabs for the rail, using it to keep herself from toppling over while everyone else aboard stumbles, some of them falling completely to the deck. In the chaos, Killian manages to slide forward enough to grab his sword. From his position on the ground, he swings out and connects with the leader's leg. The man screams in pain and falls to his knees while everyone else continues to scramble to find their footing.

It's complete pandemonium after that, ropes and pulleys falling from the rigging and swinging into the heads of the other knights.

Glancing to the side, Emma sees Ruby break free from her captors, immediately unhooking her cloak and throwing it down. The men directly in front of her have no chance at all when she springs forward, transforming in mid-air and attacking them with a vengeance only a wolf can claim.

Taking advantage of the shock at Ruby's transformation, Emma turns on her remaining captor, using her elbow to hit him in the face while reaching for his sword at the same time. She wrestles it from his hand while he's preoccupied trying to staunch the blood flowing from his nose and quickly runs him through.

As soon as the man hits the ground, she's spinning again, fighting her way to the last place she'd seen Killian because it suddenly hits her why her magic didn't work. Both of the other times she'd used it, he'd been touching her and if she can just get to him, she can put an end to this.

But when she looks to where he'd been, she doesn't see him, she can only see a wall of black armor. She thrusts out with the sword and takes one down, then the next suddenly disappears from her view to be replaced by the brown coat of Ruby's back as she pins him to the deck and rips out his throat.

Scanning the rest of the deck, she sees Dopey standing over one of the downed knights with a short dagger and takes a moment to marvel at the efficiency with which he dispatches the man. Jefferson is engaged with another and just as it appears the knight is going to stab him in the chest, the ship shifts and a crate slides forward, knocking the knight to the ground.

She stumbles forward on the shaky planks, slashing the sword through another knight, and, in the next second, nearly falls completely when the sails above her all open at once, the wind catching them and lurching the vessel forward toward the open ocean. Emma reaches out to grab the mast for balance just as a net falls from above, narrowly missing her and trapping a man on the ground to her left. When she looks back up, Killian is making his way toward her and she surges forward to meet him halfway. As soon as she takes the first step, though, her foot gets caught in the net and she nearly falls again, gripping the mast to stay upright.

Killian is still coming for her but, just as he gets within reach, a black knight jumps between them and raises his sword to take him on. Emma can only watch as she continues to struggle against the net while the two face off. It's the leader he's up against this time and, clearly, the man is more skilled with a blade than his brethren.

Their swords clash together with lightning speed as they thrust and parry, blocking one killing blow after another. They're both bloody, Killian's left arm bleeding so badly that it drips from the end of his hook and a gash on his forehead. The knight isn't much better, his right leg covered in red from the slash Killian had landed earlier and more blood trickling down his neck. She can tell by the way Killian is trying to maneuver the knight that he's trying to put himself between her and the man and she lifts her arm to reach him.

His arm is only a few inches away when a howl of pain echoes through the air and Emma wrenches her head in the direction of the sound. When she does, she sees Ruby staggering toward her, favoring her back right leg before collapsing in the middle of the deck. In that same moment, Emma's attention is jolted again at the scream of pain from Jefferson who is on the upper deck next to the helm. He falls to the ground even as the knight he was fighting falls as well, Dopey rushing forward to finish him off.

Glancing around, Emma realizes with some relief that the leader is the only knight left. But that relief is vanquished in the next second when the knight manages to disarm Killian. She screams and struggles frantically against the net, her fingers only a hairsbreadth away from Killian's hand. With one last lurch, her shoe slips off and she vaults forward, her hand making contact with his just as the knight aims a fatal strike to Killian's heart.

The instant blast that fires from the space between their palms throws his attacker halfway across the deck where he lands against a crate with enough force that she can hear bones crack. The effort leaves her breathless but she manages to keep her footing, Killian immediately supporting her by looping his uninjured arm around her waist.

"I'm alright," she tells him, letting her now dizzy head fall to his shoulder.

He pulls her in with a relieved sigh but in the next second pushes her away and grabs for the sword again, swinging it up in a wide arch to block the blade of the knight who had been trapped under the net.

A few quick slashes later, the last man is disarmed but just as he's about to deliver the killing blow there's a shout from the upper deck, a shout laced with so much agony that Killian stays his sword.

"Wait! Don't kill him!" Jefferson screams.

Killian stops, takes a step back but keeps his sword raised to the man's neck. "And why should I listen to you?" he asks sarcastically. "You betrayed us. You led them here!"

"They've got Grace!" Jefferson yells. "They kidnapped her. Please, Killian! I'm sorry. I would never have… They promised to give her back once they had you."

Killian's eyes widen at Jefferson a moment before they turn cold, his back straightening and every muscle in his body tensing as he slowly turns back to the knight.

"Where is she?" he demands in a low voice, deep and menacing.

The knight visibly flinches, backing away. "I…" he starts, his eyes darting toward the rail.

"Don't even think about it. You'll never make it. Now, WHERE IS SHE?!" Killian shouts, matching the knight step for step.

The man stops moving, holding his hands in front of him in surrender as he stammers. "I can… I can take you to her."

"I didn't ask for an escort! I asked you where she is," Killian rages as Jefferson limps across the deck to stand next to him.

"Tell me where my daughter is!" Jefferson adds, raising his sword as well.

When the man hesitates, Killian flicks his sword, drawing blood from the man's cheek. The man staggers back, looking completely terrified now, his eyes darting back and forth between Jefferson and Killian.

When he still doesn't answer, Killian lowers his chin, looking the man up and down and tightening his grip on the sword.

"We can do this the hard way if you'd like but you will tell me," he says with deathly promise.

"You'll kill me when I do," the man whimpers. "Captain Hook doesn't take prisoners."

"No, I don't," Killian replies, "but the amount of pain you endure before that moment depends entirely on you. Tell me where she is now and I'll make it quick. The longer you delay, the more pain you will suffer."

He's got to be lying but Emma doesn't detect it in his voice. Killian would never kill an unarmed man, would he?

The knight is now cowering in a corner next to one of the crates and Emma stumbles forward, still a little woozy from her magical release.

"WHERE?" Killian demands again.

"A cave... To the east of town," the man stutters out.

Without looking away from the knight, Killian addresses Jefferson, "Do you know where this cave is that he's talking about?"

"Yes. We use it sometimes to store arms," he responds, relief clear in his voice.

"How many men?" Killian asks next.

"A dozen."

Killian steps forward, angling the sword enough to draw a drop of blood from the knight's neck. "If you're lying to me, I'll make your death so painful…"

"He's not lying," Emma cuts in.

Killian's eyes shoot to hers. "How can you – "

Ruby, who Emma hadn't even noticed transform back to her human self, limps forward. "If Emma says he's not lying, then he's not. It's part of her magic. She's been able to do it for years."

Killian looks back to Emma and she nods in confirmation. There's only a moment of hesitation before he nods back and Emma can't help but be relieved that he has apparently taken her at her word.

Turning back to the knight, he raises the sword, saying, "As it seems you're telling the truth, I'll make this a painless as possible."

Emma rushes forward before Killian has time to strike, standing directly between him and the knight. "Stop!" she shouts. "We're not going to kill an unarmed man!"

Killian's sword freezes in its progression but he doesn't lower it, meeting her eyes with cold resolve. "We can't let him live. He knows too much. It's not worth the risk. The Evil Queen wants you dead! She wants both of us dead!"

"So we take him prisoner. We lock him in the brig. Something. We can't just murder him in cold blood!"

"And if he escapes? If he manages to report back to anyone where you are or who Captain Hook really is?"

It hits her then, her eyes widening as the full implication of the knight's words become clear.

Captain Hook doesn't take prisoners.

This isn't the first time he's done this. This is how he'd kept his identity secret all this time. By killing anyone who found out. She doesn't have time to consider how she feels about that before Ruby speaks up.

"Killian's right, Emma," her friend says gently. "We can't let him live. If by some miracle, he escaped…"

Emma whirls on Ruby with a retort on her tongue, shock rolling through her that Ruby would so easily agree to this. But when their eyes meet, Emma words stick in her throat at the resigned and pleading look on her friend's face, her lungs squeezing in her chest because there's also something else in her friend's expression…

Guilt.

Sudden and overwhelming clarity assaults her, a revelation that nearly makes her legs go out. Ruby has done it, too... Her and Granny and the dwarves. They've killed to keep her safe.

Emma shakes her head in denial at the realization and takes a step back.

Ruby, who has obviously read her thoughts, limps forward, "Emma. You don't underst – "

"Who?!" she demands.

Ruby inhales sharply, tears forming in her eyes, "Last year, three black knights found you. The year before, two others. They were waiting for you in the woods outside the cabin and – "

"And you didn't tell me?!" she rages.

"We were protecting you, Emma."

Emma shakes her head and clenches her eyes shut, drawing a deep breath. "But they were armed. This man isn't. There's a difference – "

"They were armed," Ruby confirms, "at first, anyway…"

When Ruby trails off, tears of fury burn in Emma's eyes and she blinks them back. She's not sure what she's more angry about, the fact that they didn't tell her or that they killed them rather than… rather than…

Rather than, what? she thinks desperately. Turning them in to Queen Elsa?

The Queen of Arendelle may have arrested them but Ruby is right, they could have escaped or told someone else or any number of different things. And if that had happened, word would have spread like wildfire. It would have become common knowledge within days that the Swan Princess was still alive. And that would have endangered them all.

But they still should have told her. They should have trusted her enough to see reason. She might be a princess but she's not completely naïve. She's killed before, when the Evil Queen attacked, when the black knights had caught up to them on the road the night August died. And it's not like the men were civilians, they were Regina's soldiers, under her command, and they wouldn't have hesitated to kill her friends, armed or not.

Dropping her head, she closes her eyes, every conviction, every belief she's ever had in her life suddenly coming into question.

She'd thought all this time that she was protecting them by hiding in that little village… but that's not what was happening at all. They'd been protecting her. They'd done anything and everything they had to to keep her safe. And they'd kept it from her to preserve her innocence.

When she looks back to Killian, the empathy in his expression takes her by surprise. It's not just that he seems to be reading her mind, it's also the understanding simmering there, the heartbreaking tenderness that tells her how sorry he is that she found out this way.

Her chest tightens, like an enormous weight has just been dropped onto it, the urge to fall to the deck in misery almost too strong to ignore because she finally understands. She finally sees what he's been through. She'd had her friends to protect her innocence, but him... He'd had no one. No one to shield him from the stark realities of life... He'd been through this years ago, this struggle she's experiencing right now. He'd had to make the decision whether to protect himself or take the chance that news of his identity would spread. And he'd chosen to live.

Without breaking eye contact, Killian lowers his sword, the action pushing her one step closer to tears because the message behind it is clear. Even now, after all these years, he'll still follow whatever command his princess gives. If she wants to let the knight live, he'll not argue any further. He may be a pirate, but he's still the most loyal man she's ever met.

Her thoughts are interrupted by the sound of the knight's voice behind her, who has apparently taken the fact that Killian has lowered his sword as a sign that he can talk his way out of this.

"I won't tell anyone what I know," the man swears desperately, "I promise. I won't even go back to my garrison. I'll run away. Far away. Please, Princess… please, just let me go and I'll never return."

Emma's back straightens, slowly pivoting on the spot to study the man, taking in the wide, hopeful eyes, his expression begging her to believe him.

Without a word and without looking away from the knight, she reaches out and meets Killian's hand, curling her fingers around the hilt of the sword he's still holding. There's a moment of hesitation from him as he grips the handle tighter, but in the next he relinquishes it to her.

The knight lets out a relieved breath now that Captain Hook is no longer armed.

But his eyes widen in the next moment when Emma steps forward and drives the blade right through his heart.

Stunned silence follows, the only sound coming from the knight as he gargles blood and fights for breath. She watches each gasp for air, leaving the blade in place, and it's only when his eyes dull and his chest stops moving that she pulls the sword back, covered in blood, and holds it out for Killian to take.

Without taking her eyes off the dead knight, she answers everyone's unspoken question.

"He was lying."

Chapter Text

Killian holds back a groan, pain shooting up his left arm as he and Dopey work together to throw another lifeless black knight overboard.  Leaning over the rail, he watches the splash of the body hit the water and the ensuing shark attack that follows with grim satisfaction. 

The sharks are eating well today.

When he straightens, his eyes are drawn yet again to the flowing blonde hair of the woman standing at the bow.  She hasn’t moved in over an hour.  She’d walked away without looking at any of them after she’d killed the last knight and gone straight to where she is now. 

His heart aches to go to her, to fold her into his arms and offer her any comfort she might be willing to take, but he keeps his distance.  Her proud stance isn’t inviting company and he gets it, the need to be alone with one’s thoughts.  He understands all too well the emotional conflict of coldly taking a life, the way it twists in your stomach no matter how many times you tell yourself it was necessary. 

The sun is just starting to peek over the horizon and he can only hope that she finds the beauty of the sunrise on the waves as calming as he does.

Reluctantly, he turns away, surveying the deck of his ship.  It’s not the first time it’s been in this condition but seeing the remaining blood staining the planks right now makes his stomach churn.  It had been a close call.  Too close.  When that black knight had recognized her…  When he’d been held to the ground, unable to protect her while that grimy bastard has his hands on her… he’d been more terrified than he’d ever been in his life. 

Drawing a long breath to slow the way his heart pounds at the memory, he makes his way to the helm and fingers at the wheel. “Thank you, old girl.  We wouldn’t have gotten out of that one without you,” he whispers, caressing one of the handles with the pad of his thumb. 

His ship responds with a low creak, like it’s conscious of the dark mood of all its passengers and doesn’t want to disturb the quiet.

When he lifts his eyes to the water and sees Emma’s proud stance backdropped by the reds, oranges, and yellows of the rising sun, his heart calms. 

A light tug on his sleeve has him turning to Dopey who is holding out a map to him.  When he opens it, he shakes his head in wonder.  It’s like the little dwarf reads his mind sometimes. 

“Thank you, Dopey.  Could you go find Ruby?  I imagine this rescue mission is going to take all of us.”

Dopey nods in agreement and soon, he, Ruby and Jefferson are all gathered around the helm, discussing the best course of action to get Grace back. 

Once they have a plan, Ruby and Dopey disappear below deck to gather the items they’ll need and Jefferson turns to him.

“Thank you, Killian.  I’m sorry for…”

“Don’t, mate,” Killian stops him, “I understand.  She’s your daughter.  You had no choice.”

Jefferson nods his thanks, biting at his lower lip and staring back to the map with apprehension.

Killian steps forward and lays a reassuring hand on his shoulder.  “Don’t worry, Jeff.  It’s a good plan.  We’ll get her back.”

“You can't know that, Killian,” Jefferson says.  “You know what Regina’s knights are like.  They won't hesitate – “

“We’ll do whatever it takes, Jeff.”

When his friend just shakes his head, Killian turns his hand, grabbing him by the neck and forcing him to look him in the eye. 

“Whatever. It. Takes,” he says solemnly, “Regina will not destroy another family I care for.  Do you understand?”

Their eyes hold for a moment, Killian doing his best to tell his friend what he means without actually speaking the words.  When Jeff nods, he realizes he’s succeeded and he nods back, an oath and an understanding passing between the two of them. 

“I think I’ll go help the others,” his friend says after a moment, “I’ve got to be doing something or I’ll go mad.” 

Killian nods as Jeff turns to go, wishing there was something more he could do.  He can’t imagine how terrified he must be.  Little Grace is a sweet child, vibrant and full of love, and considering how badly Killian wants to get her back, he finds it remarkable that the man isn’t coming out of his own skin.

Sighing, he makes a quick adjustment to the wheel before his eyes are drawn back to Emma.  The sun has now risen over the water and the way it shines through her blonde locks makes her hair look like it’s glowing.  He’s mesmerized for a moment by the magnificent picture she paints, completely overcome with how incredible she is. 

She’d saved his life.  That blade had been mere inches from killing him when her magic had stopped it.  She’d fought like a hellion to get away from the knight who’d been holding her when they brought him down.  And she hadn’t even hesitated to go for his sword.  He’s certain she would have taken on every single one of those men by herself to protect him.  And the way she’d screamed his name when the leader had been about to take his remaining hand…  The agony and desperation in her voice… 

His jaw clenches and he squeezes his eyes shut to stave off the pain that rises in him at the memory.  What a night his fierce and courageous princess had endured, and at the end of it, she’d had to make a decision that would forever change her. 

Her innocence had been destroyed in that brief space of time, and it had been an excruciating sight to witness, to see her soul harden the same way his had so many years ago.  He would have done anything to help her through that moment.   He’d known immediately what she was about when she’d taken his sword from him.  And he’d been tempted to deny her, to finish the man off himself to spare what little innocence he could for her but, in the end, he’d given in, knowing she’d needed to take that final step herself.  

But looking at her now, with the wind blowing through her hair and the sun making it glow, she looks every bit as innocent as the day they met.  She’d been standing in nearly the same exact spot the first time he’d seen her…

 ~

They’re early. 

He’s still below in his cabin, adding an extra shine to the buttons of his coat when he hears Liam’s voice above deck.  They were supposed to return at mid-day but, apparently, the Royal Family was in a hurry to get to their destination. 

He sprints to the ladder, skipping every other rung in the hopes that he can get to the deck before he’s missed. 

“Ah, and here he is now, my Lieutenant and little brother, Killian Jones,” Liam says when he sees him.

Killian wants to roll his eyes at the ‘little brother’ dig, but he manages not to, instead straightening to his full height and clicking his heels together when he stands before the King and Queen.

“Your Majesties,” he says with a bow.  “Welcome aboard The Jewel of the Realm.  Please excuse my tardiness.”

The Queen gives him a kind smile. “It’s our fault, Lieutenant.  I’m afraid our daughter is very anxious to get to the christening so we’re running a little early,” the Queen says.

“Completely understandable,” Killian replies.

The Queen’s arm is linked through her husband’s and she gives it a light squeeze.  The King reciprocates by laying his free hand over hers, the action obviously one they’ve shared many times. 

Surprisingly, something about standing in front of them puts him at ease.  Whether it's their easy smiles or their relaxed stances, he's not sure, but he finds himself smiling back at them, his nerves at meeting them suddenly gone. 

“Captain Jones tells us you’re the best navigator in the navy,” the King comments.

“He is,” Liam interjects with pride.

Killian can feel himself blushing. “Thank you, Your Highness.  I’ll do my best to keep us on course.”

“I’m sure you will,” the Queen replies.  “Now, where has Emma gotten off to?  You’ll have to excuse our daughter, Lieutenant, she’s not much for ceremony and she’s been very excited to see the new flagship.”

The King and Queen break apart but Killian notices the way their hands find each other as they turn to survey the deck.  It’s easy to see why their love is a thing of legend, the way their fingers link together so naturally.  That one action is enough to make it obvious that they are of one heart.

“There she is,” the King says.

Pulling himself out of this fanciful thoughts, he looks in the direction the King has indicated and, the moment he does, sparks ignite all through his body, racing through his veins and exploding outward, making his skin feel like it comes to life, each and every pore tingling with sensation. 

She’s standing at the bow, bent over the rail to inspect the side of the ship.  As he watches, she straightens and turns, looking up to the sails with a glowing smile.  When he sees her face, his heart vaults in his chest, smacking into his ribs and taking his breath away. 

Making her way along the port side, she runs her hand over the rail, examining the ship with clear excitement.  It’s utterly bewitching, the way she seems to float around the deck, moving to the center so she can grab the mast with one hand and swing around it with a chuckle. 

When he feels Liam's hand at his chin, pushing it up in a not-so-subtle gesture to let him know he’s gawking at her, he shuffles in embarrassment, closing his mouth and shooting his brother a quick glance, only to see Liam holding back a smile.

The embarrassment is immediately replaced with terror in the next second, though, when her father gains her attention and she starts toward them, his lungs so tight that he has to remind himself to breathe.  He doesn’t want to make a complete fool of himself and he’s suddenly sure that’s exactly what’s going to happen.  But he’s never seen anything like her.  She’s beautiful and graceful, and he would swear the sun shines brighter as she approaches. 

“Father, she’s incredible!” the Princess exclaims, linking her arm through the King’s free one.  “I can’t wait to see how she sails.”

Her father gives her an indulgent smile and kisses her on the forehead. 

“She’s the fastest ship on the ocean, Your Majesty,” Liam tells her, “We’ll have you to the christening in no time.”

The princess smiles broadly at Liam as she replies, “I’m sure you will, Captain, but let’s not go too fast, if you don’t mind.  I love being on the water, so if it takes a little longer to get home than it does to get there, you won’t be getting complaints from me.”

Liam bows. “As the Princess wishes.”

Killian isn’t sure how everyone is acting so normal when his world has just been flipped on its ear.  He's not sure how it is that they can't hear how hard his heart is pounding, but it seems as if they don't since none of them are staring at him like he's a madman.

In fact, Queen Snow is smiling fondly at him as she introduces him to her daughter. “Emma, this is Lieutenant Killian Jones, the Captain’s brother and navigator.”

Killian’s heart stops entirely as the Princess’s eyes fall on him but, by some miracle, he manages to get his voice to sound normal when he bows.  “It’s a pleasure, Your Highness.”

She doesn’t respond right away and he’s suddenly afraid he’s made some critical social faux pas. But when he straightens, she meets his gaze with a wavering smile. 

“The pleasure is all mine, Lieutenant,” she says in breathy voice.

The moment freezes as their eyes meet, time ceasing to exist, and he feels an unexplainable certainty that his life has just changed forever.  He’s not sure how long he stares at her, it could have been a heartbeat or an hour before Liam’s voice breaks through the haze.

“Shall we set sail?” he asks.

“Absolutely,” the King replies. “We’ll just get out of your way, go below and see to our rooms.  Emma?”

“I’ll be right down,” she replies, turning to kiss her father on the cheek.

The Royal Couple walks away but Killian is barely aware.  He can't seem to take his eyes off the Princess, and it crosses his mind as the King and Queen descend into the hatch that he should probably have bowed or inclined his head or something, but he can't make himself care at the moment because the Princess is watching him, her eyes locked to his. 

Once her parents have disappeared from view, she takes a step toward him.  “As navigator, perhaps you’re the one I should be entreating to prolong this trip, Lieutenant,” she says in a conspiratorial tone, “Do you think I could persuade you to get us a little lost on the way home?”

“I’m fairly certain your parents would consider that bad form, Your Majesty,” he replies, his voice cracking so badly that he has to cough to clear it.

“Ah, well, that’s alright,” she says, and he swears even her voice is mesmerizing, settling over him like a warm blanket.  “I wouldn’t want you to put your position in jeopardy on my account, anyway.  I suppose I’ll just hope for unfavorable tides to prolong my time aboard.”

Killian nods in response, thinking desperately of something to say, and comes up with nothing.  The Princess doesn’t seem to notice, thank the heavens, continuing on as though he’s not standing before her in an utter stupor. 

“I should probably go find my parents,” she says with a tinge of regret.  But before she turns away she pauses, flashing him a small smile and adding, “I look forward to speaking with you again, Lieutenant.”

His lungs expand inside his chest at that smile, making it even more difficult to breathe.  Searching for his illusive voice, he manages to stutter out the reply, “I am at your service, Your Highness,” which makes her smile widen.  He tries to smile back but he’s honestly not sure whether he manages it before she walks away.  She glances back to him one more time as she descends into the ship, her long blonde hair floating on the breeze in a way that makes his hands itch to know if it feels as soft as it looks. 

As soon as she has disappeared, someone claps him hard on the back, knocking him back into reality with a jolt.

It’s Liam and he’s leaning close to his ear. “Breathe, little brother,” he says with amusement lacing his voice.

Okay, so apparently someone did notice his reaction…

Attempting to save face, Killian turns to Liam and rolls his eyes. “Younger brother," he mumbles. 

Liam only laughs.

He opens his eyes as the memory fades, looking to the spot where Liam had been standing that day.  The way he’d turned to go up to the helm, the way he’d grinned mischievously at him every chance he got for the rest of the afternoon.  He might have been a right git from time to time but he was the most supportive brother anyone could have ever asked for. 

A sound to his left draws his attention as Dopey approaches with a basket of fruit.  Nodding thanks, he reaches in and chooses a pear but before he can raise it to his lips, Dopey stops him.  Puzzled, Killian looks over to see Dopey holding up a second pear.  Before Killian has time to ask what’s going on, Dopey points to his chest and then to Emma, holding the pear higher.

Killian shakes his head.  “You should take it to her, mate.  I’m not sure she wants to talk to me right now.” 

Dopey raises an eyebrow and presses his lips together, telling him that he thinks he’s being ridiculous, but lowers the fruit and looks over to Emma as though considering going himself.  Then he shakes his head, answering his own question, and raises the pear to Killian again as if to say, “No, you do it.”

“It’s not a good idea, mate,” he tries to tell him but Dopey’s mind is made up, determinedly pushing the pear into his chest, forcing Killian to take it just to keep the dwarf from bruising him.  Then, without hesitation, the dwarf gives him a hefty push toward the bow to get him moving. 

Reluctantly, Killian goes, but half-way across the deck he hesitates.  When he turns, Dopey is standing on the steps leading to the helm with his arms crossed over his chest.  The little dwarf rolls his eyes heavenward, points at him and then to Emma, his stubborn stance making it clear that Killian is not going to get a respite from this. 

Resigned, Killian starts toward Emma again, stepping carefully so as not to startle her.  He’s still a few feet behind her when she speaks, her voice floating on the wind to his ears.

“I’ve always loved the ocean, you know,” she says thoughtfully, “Even before I met you I was fascinated by it, the way it can be so calm in one moment and so turbulent in the next.  It’s a lot like life that way, I think.”

“Yes, it is,” Killian replies quietly, going to stand beside her and offering her the fruit.  She takes one without comment and lifts it to her mouth for a bite. 

They stand there, side by side, staring out at the waves as they eat.  It’s a comfortable silence, the only sound the occasional crunch that accompanies each bite.  They’re standing less than a foot apart and, as the ship bobs gently on the waves, he feels an unexpected calm settle over him.  A glance to Emma tells him she might be feeling it, too, her eyes closed on a long inhale of the salty breeze while she chews.

He hadn’t expected her to look so serene and he wonders what she’s been contemplating for the past couple of hours.  He doesn’t ask, though, because, whatever conclusion she’s come to about killing that knight, he doesn’t want to make her relive it. 

He still remembers with complete clarity the first time he had been forced to make that decision.  The way it had stayed with him for days, the way he’d questioned himself over and over again, going back and forth from relief to regret, regret to relief.  It had gotten easier over the years but that was only after he’d seen first-hand what Regina’s knights are capable of.  That was after he’d witnessed their callousness and complete lack of respect for human life a thousand times over. 

But Emma hasn’t seen what he’s seen.  Like Ruby said, she doesn’t know the lengths the black knights will go to for their queen.  So if this is a fleeting moment of serenity between bouts of regret, he’s in no rush to bring the regret back. 

Besides, this is a welcome respite from their own constant battling.  In fact, he realizes with a jolt, this may be the longest they’ve been in each other’s presence without arguing since he found her and he’s reluctant to break this delicate peace. 

So he waits for her to talk, content to just stand next to her, watching the waves together.  There’s a school of dolphins off the port bow and the chuckle she makes at their antics brings a smile to his lips.

At long last, she takes a step forward and lobs the pear core into the water.  When she steps back, she folds her arms over her chest and, without looking at him, says, “You have a plan to rescue Grace, I assume.”

She says it not in question but in confidence, like she already knows he does.  “Aye,” he replies tossing his own core into the sea, “It shouldn’t take long before we get there.”

She nods and turns to him. “Do I have a part to play in it?” she asks.  “I can help, you know.  I want to help Jefferson get his daughter back. My magic – ”

“No,” he cuts her off gently, “you won’t be needing to use your magic.  I think we’ve come up with a solid plan that won’t require it.” 

He sees the argument her eyes and his heart sinks, the fragile peace already broken as she starts to protest, “But – ”

“I don’t want you collapsing at my feet again, Princess,” he tells her, keeping his voice as calm as possible.

“That only happened once,” she says with indignation, “Last night, I only got a little light headed!”

Killian sighs at the way she drops her arms to her sides and balls her hands into fists.  How they always manage to be at cross-purposes now is so frustrating.  He doesn’t want to argue with her, he’d come up here wanting to offer comfort and now he realizes he’s done the exact opposite. 

“Aye,” he concedes, keeping his voice even, “but there was only one last night.  There will be a dozen today.”

“All the more reason – ”

“Only as a last resort, Princess.”

She gives him a stubborn look and turns her back on him, looking over the starboard bow toward the coastline with a huff.

He wants to shake her.  Doesn’t she understand the terror he’d felt when she’d collapsed before?  He’s not willing to risk it.  He can’t stand to see her hurt, he can’t stand the thought of her lying so still in his bed again, pale and barely breathing.

Fisting his hand, he lets out a long breath, his eyes trained on the stubborn set of her shoulders.  Damnation, this is just wrong.  They’re not supposed to be battling each other all the time.  They used to be a team, they used to be of one mind, one heart, and now they can’t carry on a simple conversation without arguing.

He’s just about to retreat and leave her to her thoughts but he glances toward the lower deck and something occurs to him, thinking back to the moment when he’d been pinned to the ground and their eyes had met.

She’d understood from that single look what he’d been thinking… She’d nodded braced herself just before he’d told the Jolly to attack.  They might be a broken one, but they’re still a team, he realizes.  Because, in that moment, when it was their lives on the line, they had been of one mind and one heart.

And later, during the fighting, he’d known she was trying to get to him, he’d felt the spark of magic and knew instinctively that if they were touching, she’d be able to use it.

And she had.  She’d used it to save his life…  and he hasn’t even thanked her yet.  He berates himself for that because, dammit, it should have been the first thing he’d said when he’d approached her. 

Hoping it’s not too late, he takes the two steps that separate them, lining himself up to her back.  The sound of his footsteps are drowned out by the crashing waves, but he can tell she knows he’s there by the way her shoulders stiffen.  She doesn’t step away though, instead inhaling a sharp breath just before she lets her shoulders relax, leaning back into him in a tentative way that makes him think maybe she’s just as desperate to recapture the peace they’d had a moment ago as he is.

Taking that bit of encouragement, he lays his hand on her arm and shuffles forward, shifting so that his mouth is right next to her ear.  “Thank you,” he says softly, “for saving my life.”

She doesn’t answer right away, instead tilting her head slightly to lay her temple on his cheek with a sigh.  Then she reaches back to grasp his hooked arm and wraps it around her middle.

Letting his head fall to rest on her shoulder, he breathes her in and hears her take a deep breath in return, one that is filled with relief, just before she replies in a low voice, “Well, I couldn’t let that bastard skewer you, now could I?”

Her attempt at humor makes him smile, relishing the way her hair feels against his chin. Tightening his grip around her waist, he runs his hand down her arm and links their fingers together. 

“Given recent events, can you blame me for being uncertain?” he replies in a teasing tone.

She chuckles lightly at that and squeezes his hand, bringing his arm up around her waist to rest on top of the other. 

They hold that position for several moments, a delicate embrace under the morning sunshine, and when she squeezes his fingers in a desperate grip, he realizes with awed relief that she’s letting him comfort her, she’s letting him share the burden of last night’s events and offering him comfort in return.  It makes his heart fill with warmth and he raises his head to rub his nose over her ear.  She sways back and forth when he does, melting into his arms and letting her head fall back onto his shoulder while he strokes his thumb over the back of her hand.

“So, tell me about this plan of yours,” she requests after a moment.

She doesn't release his hand but, half-way through the explanation, she steps out of his arms and turns to face him, listening intently.

“So, I’ll be with you,” she comments when he’s finished.  “That’s good, just in case it comes to a ‘last resort’ situation and I need to use magic.”

“Yes, well, that wasn’t exactly the reasoning we had but I suppose it’s a side benefit.”

“What was the reasoning?” she asks with a tilt of her head.

He shrugs.  “Since the moon is no longer up, Ruby won’t be able to transform.  And since I’m the most skilled with a sword, we decided…”

She smiles at that.  “You think you’re better with a sword than me?” she asks, teasingly.

Inhaling a long breath, he meets her eyes steadily. “I think I’m terrified to let you out of my sight,” he admits.

Her eyes soften and a shaky smile spreads at his confession but he turns away because he doesn’t want to see that smile fall when he adds, “You know we can’t leave any alive, yes? Not only for my sake or yours, but for Jefferson’s family.”

He waits for her answer with his heart in his throat, staring at the waves. 

Her reaction is the last thing he expects, her fingers curling around his from where she is still holding his hand and her cheek coming to rest on the back of his shoulder as she breathes out the words, “I know,” in a soft voice.

He closes his eyes in relief that she’s not going to fight him on this, feeling the tension in his shoulders drain away. Then she’s turning him, gently nudging at his arm.  He keeps his eyes closed as he lets her guide him around, terrified of what he might see in her expression.

She doesn’t say anything, she just leans into him and tucks her head under his chin. 

Tentatively, he returns her embrace, clenching his eyes tighter and draping his arms around her middle.  A cocoon of peace forms around them and he breathes deeply, not daring to move for fear of breaking it. 

When she lifts her head and brings her fingers to his face, his heartrate skyrockets and, finally, he risks opening his eyes.

Her eyes are sad, the jade green clouded as she studies him, her thumb stroking across his cheek.  Slowly, she rises to her toes and brushes a kiss across his lips.  It’s a soft kiss, gentle in its uncertainty and his already pounding heart feels like it’s going to crack a rib with the way it speeds up.

He doesn’t make a move to kiss her back, he doesn’t move a single muscle, out of fear of ruining this beautiful moment.  Then she sinks back down on her heals, her eyes flitting back and forth between his.

“I don’t care what you had to do to survive.  I’m just glad you’re here,” she tells him quietly.

The shock he feels must show on his face because she moves her hand from his cheek to run her thumb over his wrinkled brow, smoothing it out.  Her eyes follow the movement of her thumb, the soft caress causing his eyes to fall shut in bliss. Soothingly, she glides her fingers back into the hair at his temple, pulling a low moan from his throat. 

At her urging, he tilts his head until his forehead rests against hers, something almost reverent in the way their breaths mingle together, a clemency in the way her other hand comes to rest against his heart.  He takes comfort in it, years of self-loathing melting away under the tenderness and compassion he feels radiating from her fingers. 

When he opens his eyes, she looks at him with a tentative question, her eyes moving to his lips.  The answer to that question is by far the easiest he’s ever been asked and he leans forward to answer it gently against her mouth, lips smooth and familiar as they slowly rub across each other.  He sighs out a breath, his heart settling back into his chest at the way she runs her hand into the hair on the back of his head, her fingers gentle.

They’d shared hundreds of kisses like this one in the past, sweet, reverent kisses surrounded by beautiful meadows and on balconies under the stars.  But, somehow, this one is deeper, more meaningful, and a fragile hope springs to his soul that they can get back to what they were.

So he kisses her again, keeping it soft, lips meeting and retreating only to meet again and again… and again.  Carefully, he moves his hand to rest on the side of her neck and rubs his thumb over her jaw, a warm sense of tranquility settling in his bones, wiping away anything that isn't her… isn't them.

Time spins out, a dream come to life if ever he’s felt one, her hair silky between his fingers, her skin velvet on his thumb.  It engulfs him, the taste of her lips and the smell of her hair, and it’s only when he hears someone else moving around on the deck that he reluctantly pulls back.

When he does, the look on her face is one he’s seen before, her eyes closed and her breathing shaky.  She’s so bloody beautiful, and it’s so impossibly perfect, the way she hums right before she opens her eyes. 

There’s hope in her eyes, too, when they meet his, unguarded and vulnerable hope that is only amplified by the tears gathering at the edges of them. 

“Time to go,” she whispers, “Time for Captain Hook to thwart The Evil Queen again.”

“Aye,” he responds, his voice so thready he almost doesn’t hear it himself.

Chapter Text

Killian looks over his shoulder more than once as they make their way through the dense trees, seemingly nervous that she’s still behind him. 

“I’m still here,” she whispers reassuringly, reaching out to grip his hook this time so that he doesn’t have to keep wrenching his neck around to check on her. 

He glances down to her hand and quickly looks away.  “You must walk on air, Princess,” he whispers back, “I haven’t heard a single footfall from you.  A lesson you learned from your mother, no doubt.”

She smiles but doesn’t have time to respond when Killian suddenly jerks his arm to pull her down behind a bush. 

Following his gaze, she immediately spots the reason for his abrupt halt.  Maybe twenty yards ahead are two black knights, one sitting on a boulder, sharpening his sword with a rock and the other bending over a bucket on the ground, using the ladle to get a drink. 

They wait silently, both looking back to the path they have been moving parallel to for the past half-hour, watching for Ruby to approach.  Emma squints her eyes as she looks for any sign of the red cloak, knowing that Ruby will appear any moment and begin the ruse all over again. 

They’ve already taken out six of the twelve knights guarding Grace. It seems Killian’s plan is going very well. 

‘Regina’s legions are nothing if not predictable, love.’

She hears Ruby humming before she sees her, swinging the basket back and forth in her left hand as she meanders down the path, looking for all the world like a woman who is minding her own business while enjoying her stroll through the woods. 

The men hear her, too, and, just like their predecessors, they jump to their feet, raising their weapons as they wait for her to round the bend into their vision.  Emma smirks at the way Ruby jumps in fright when she sees them, once again doing an excellent job of looking surprised.

The one closest to Ruby, a tall lanky man, lowers his sword.  “Well, what have we here?” he asks.

Ruby doesn’t respond, bringing the basket up and clutching it to her chest in apparent fear, taking a hasty step back. 

The man chuckles at her, “No need to fear us, milady,” he says in a low voice.  “We’re just here to keep the roads safe for lovely travelers such as yourself.  Please, feel free to pass.”

Ruby starts walking again, still gripping at the basket with a mumbled, “Thank you, sir.”

As she passes the first, she nods to him with a small smile but the second, who never lowered his sword, moves it in front of her to stop her while the other moves in behind her to block her retreat.

“A few questions before we let you pass,” the shorter one says, keeping his sword raised.  “What, may I ask, is a beautiful woman like you doing walking through the woods alone?”

“I’m… on my way to see my grandmother.  She lives in a small cottage a few miles from here,” Ruby replies in a shaky voice.

“Your grandmother lives in the woods?” the tall one asks suspiciously.

Ruby wrenches her head around to look up to the man.  “Yes, well, she can be a stubborn old lady and she doesn’t want to move to town, so I bring her a basket of food once a week because she doesn’t get around as well as she used to.”

As she speaks, she lifts the red cloth off the top of the basket and shows the knights the pot of venison stew and a warm loaf of bread.

“Hmm,” the tall one replies, eyeing the stew. “That smells mighty tasty.”

“It’s her favorite,” Ruby replies.

The small knight takes a step closer.  “Well, I’m sorry to tell you that your grandmother is going to have to do without today, little lady,” he says, raising his arm to take the basket. 

“What?! It took me all day to make this.  You can’t just take it!”

“Yes, we can,” the tall one replies, raising his sword.

Ruby looks from one to the other for a moment before she reluctantly holds out the basket. “Fine!  Take it.”

The tall knight grins as he grabs the basket, opening it and taking a long whiff. 

“Now, may I pass?” Ruby asks with irritation.

“Oh, don’t be that way,” the short one says, “Why don’t you join us?  My partner and I would love a dining companion.  Venison has never agreed with me, so there will be plenty for you to share.”

Ruby’s eyes go wide with actual fright this time and Killian curses under his breath.

“Thank you, but no,” Ruby stammers, “I should still make my visit, even if it’s empty handed.  My grandmother is expecting me.”

Killian is already moving, silently inching closer as the short one protests, “Nonsense.  We will only delay you for a few moments.  Please, have a seat.”

Ruby has no choice but to comply while the tall one rips the red cloth off the basket and settles next to her.  “Here,” he says, tossing the bread to his comrade, “you can have the bread.”

Emma’s heart is pounding as she and Killian continue to move closer, making their way as quickly as they can through the bushes, never taking her eyes off the knight holding the stew.

Eat it.  Just take one bite, she thinks, holding her breath.

But he doesn’t, instead he turns to Ruby and offers her a spoon and Emma’s already frantically beating heart picks even more.

“Ladies first,” he says.

No!

Emma can see Ruby’s calm nearly crack at the offer, shaking her head, “That’s okay.  I had some while I was cooking it.  You go ahead.”

Emma is thankful that the tall one doesn’t seem to catch the waver in Ruby’s voice, shrugging his shoulders and diving the spoon in for a bite.  But just before the spoon reaches his lips, the second knocks it away. 

“Hey!” the tall one says in irritation even as the other raises his sword to Ruby’s throat.

“Ladies first,” he says with a growl. 

His tone has the tall one catching on and he stands quickly to face Ruby, raising his sword as well. 

Ruby’s eyes are now wide in what Emma knows is fear but she tries to play it like indignation, saying haughtily, “While I appreciate the gentlemanly offer, it’s difficult to be flattered when the gentleman in question is holding a sword to your throat!”

The short one takes a menacing step forward, bending his elbow to lean in closer to her while keeping the sword at her neck.  “Eat it!” he demands.

Ruby stalls as best she can, taking the spoon with a huff of exasperation and slowly dipping it into the stew.  As she deliberately raises the spoon to her mouth, several things happen all at once.

Jefferson dives out from the other side of the path, his sword knocking away the one being held to Ruby’s throat.  Dopey emerges as well, running at full speed to tackle the taller knight by ramming his shoulder into the man’s stomach, pushing him back even as Killian rushes forward to catch him on his blade.  Emma jumps on the path to assist Jefferson with the smaller one, slashing out and catching his arm, causing him to drop his sword so that Jefferson can finish him off. 

The whole confrontation lasted less than thirty seconds but Emma feels like her lungs are going to explode from the adrenaline rocketing through her system.  Turning quickly on her heel, she crosses to Ruby and throws her arms around her, relief flooding her. 

The brunette hugs her back, “I’m fine,” she says in a shaky voice but Emma just grips her tighter, rocking back and forth. 

“How anyone can resist the smell of that stew is beyond me,” Jefferson says from behind her.

“I know,” Killian replies, “a bloody waste, if ever I saw one.  I was really looking forward to a bowl.” 

The statement makes Ruby huff out a laugh, and she releases Emma. “Don’t worry, Captain.  I didn’t poison it all.  You can have some when we get back to the ship.”

Emma turns just in time to see Killian wink at Ruby.  “Thank you, lass, I still remember the first time I tasted your grandmother’s.  It was always my favorite of her dishes.”

“Which is why I added the ingredients to the list,” Ruby replies with a grin.

Killian grins broadly back at her and Emma swears he looks just like the lieutenant she fell in love with for a second, regardless of his pirate attire and the kohl lining his eyes.  An arm around her waist has her turning to see Dopey giving her a beaming smile and she can’t help but chuckle, the light banter a welcome relief after such a tense moment.

Looking around to everyone else, she can see the same relief on their faces, all of them wearing identical smiles until the adrenaline fades. 

Once it’s gone, Jefferson speaks up, getting them back to the matter at hand, “Four to go,” he says grimly.

Killian nods, looking ruefully to the overturned basket, the stew covering the ground, “Yes, and without the benefit of deception, we’ll have to face them head-on.  We should split up again.  You three approach from the east, the Princess and I will approach from the west.  The rest of them will, more than likely, either be in the cave or stationed just around it.  Try to take them out quietly but, if it comes down to it, use the pistols this time.  It might draw out anyone who is in the cave.”

Once everyone has nodded their agreement, they quickly move the dead knights off the path and hide the bodies under the brush.  Then they all disappear into the trees again, making their way toward the cave. 

Emma doesn’t hesitate to take Killian’s hook this time, walking silently behind him.  Several minutes later, the cave comes into view and they move as one, sinking behind a large rock, both surveying the scene.

The cave entrance is on the far side of a small clearing, the path to their right the only clear way in or out. There are two black knights stationed outside, their backs to the stone wall of the entrance, the other two nowhere in sight.  The knights look bored.  One leaning against the wall with his eyes closed and the other resting his shoulder on it and carving something with his dagger.

“Give me your hand,” she whispers to Killian.

“It’s not a last resort, yet, love,” he replies, studying the position of the knights, “just give me a moment think.”

“There’s no way to sneak up on them,” she points out. “They’re backs are too close to the cave wall.”

“I see that, darling.  We need to figure out a way to draw them out.”

“But – ” she starts and is immediately cut off when he turns on her.

“It’s only a last resort when Grace is in sight.  Save your magic until we’re sure we won’t need it again.”

The way he’s pinning her with his eyes makes it clear just how badly he wants to save the little girl.  And he’s right, if she uses her magic now, she may not have the strength when it comes down to the end. 

A sudden swell of pride courses through her as she realizes what an incredible strategist he’s become.  It’s no wonder he’s managed to defeat Regina’s knights again and again.  He’s patient and smart and she knows in that moment that he’ll make sure they get Grace back with as little risk as necessary.  That’s why Captain Hook is a legend… That’s why his crew has been reputed to be the most loyal of all pirates…  because, even though he took risks, he always put the lives of those around him over the revenge he was seeking. 

“Okay,” she agrees, “I’ll only use it once we see Grace.”

He looks surprised that she has agreed so easily, his eyes widening in disbelief. 

“I trust you,” she says simply, smiling to reassure him.

His eyes widen further at that, raising a brow, right before his features soften into a smile.

He’s still smiling at her when a commotion attracts their attention, a grunt and a scuffle sounding near the mouth of the cave. 

When Emma looks back, it’s to see Jefferson being lead forward with a sword to his spine, his arms up in surrender. 

“Look who I found skulking around the woods,” the one with the sword to his back says. 

“Ah, the Hatter himself.  Excellent job, Wilson,” the one who’d been carving replies, stepping away from the cave wall.

“Give me my daughter!” Jefferson growls, “I did what you asked.  I helped your troops board the Jolly Roger.”

The carver, who is also, apparently, the spokesperson, looks around to the empty path behind Jefferson.  “And just where are those troops now?”

“They’re dead,” Jefferson replies, coldly.

“Dead?” the man says in disbelief, “We sent fifty men with you! How can they all be dead?  We had it on good authority that the pirate didn’t have his crew with him.  How did they end up dead?”

“Captain Hook doesn’t need a crew to protect him.  All he needs is his ship.  Now, I’ve done what you asked.  Give me my daughter!”

The knight completely ignores Jefferson’s demand, instead asking, “And where is the good captain now?”

“He sailed away.”

The knight scoffs.  “Oh, he left you here and sailed away, did he?”

“Captain Hook doesn’t suffer turncoats.  He only let me live because of our long and profitable relationship.  I am, however, banned from his ship now, so I’m of no further use to you.  Just give me my daughter.  I’m no threat any more.  He’ll never do business with me again after this.”

“You don’t think so?” the knight asks, his eyes narrowing suspiciously.

“Of course he won’t.  Why would he after I betrayed him?”

The man starts to circle Jefferson, tapping one finger to his lips as though considering something. “Because I don’t think the two of you are just business partners,” he says thoughtfully, “According to your sweet little girl, Hook – isn’t it precious that she calls him ‘Hook’ – is her friend.  She has sworn to me over and over again that ‘Hook’ and her papa are going to make us all pay for taking her.” 

Jefferson’s eyes widen, but he doesn’t reply.

“According to her, the pirate brings her trinkets and tells her stories.  He comes to her house for visits and has supper with her family.”

Killian curses under his breath.

“Sounds to me like the two of you are a little more than business associates.  It sounds to me like he’s a friend of yours.  And, as his friend, you must know more about him than you’re letting on…  His name, for example?”

Jefferson doesn’t speak. 

“Oh, come now.  If the Captain has truly cut ties with you, why would you continue to protect him?”  The knight starts circling again. “But he hasn’t cut ties with you, has he?  He’s here, lurking in the trees somewhere, isn’t he?”  he asks, waving his hand toward the surrounding forest.

The knight stops circling right in front of Jefferson and lifts the pistol from his belt, aiming it directly at Jefferson’s head.

“Now, tell me. Where is he?” the knight asks.

“I don’t know,” Jefferson says through his teeth, “He took his ship and sailed away.”

The knight shakes his head as though amused that Jefferson is trying to keep up the act.  “I don’t think so, Hatter.  I think he’s close by,” he says, then raises his voice, “Why don’t you come out, Captain!  I know you’re here.  Little Grace will be thrilled to see you!”

Killian curses again, drawing a deep breath in through his nose, his eyes darting to all of the visible knights and scanning the trees on the other side of the clearing.  She can feel the tension in his stance, can see all of the possible outcomes churning through his head.  Then he looks back to her, their eyes locking, and she realizes he considering it.  He’s thinking about walking out there. 

Her stomach rails at the thought, her heart jumping into her throat.  No! she wants to scream, there has to be a better way!

“Come now, Hook.  Show yourself! You know I can give the order any time for that sweet child to die.”

That makes the decision for him and he starts to rise.

“No,” she whispers, yanking him back down, “You can’t go out there.  They’ll kill you!”

“I have to,” he whispers back.  “They have Grace.  I’ll not risk her life for mine.”

“Then I’ll go with you, stay by your side so that I can use my magic.”

He's shaking his head as she speaks, making dread tighten in her stomach.

Gripping at his collar, she brings his face right in front of hers, their noses almost touching, desperation clogging her voice, “I can't lose you again.  I can't!  Please, let me go out there with you.”

“No,” he responds, “Listen to me.  This is our best chance to get Grace out into the open. Take this.”  He presses his pistol into her hand.  “Wait for my signal.  If they bring Grace out, shoot the one holding her.  If they don’t, shoot the man at the mouth of the cave.”

Her eyes fill with tears, “But – ”

“Promise me, Princess.  Promise me you’ll stay here. Promise that you'll protect Grace.  Make sure she gets back to her mother if Jeff and I…”  He trails off, his eyes pleading with her. 

She wants to object.  She wants to wrap her arms around him and never let go.  But his mind is made up.  She can see the determination in his posture.

His image blurs in front of her, but she nods her head.

“I’m waiting, pirate!”

Emma glances over to the knight but Killian cups her cheek and pulls her gaze back to his, his eyes blazing blue just before he covers her mouth with quick but desperate kiss that she returns with fervor.  She clings to his collar when they break apart, keeping their foreheads together, trying to hold on to this moment for a little longer. 

He flashes a tremulous smile when he pulls back, running his fingers through her hair. Then his face slides back into a mask of determination and he raises his hook between them.

“Remember,” he whispers, “Captain Hook is never completely unarmed.” 

She nods to him in understanding, then watches as he picks up his sword and makes his way out of the trees.

“I’m here!” he shouts, stepping onto the path. 

The knight’s eyes light up with glee, immediately taking a step to the left so that he can level the pistol in his hand on Killian rather than Jefferson.

“So nice of you to join us, Captain.  Your friend and I have been waiting for you.”

Killian shifts on his feet and raises his chin.  “Why don’t you bring the girl out and let her go with her father?  Once they’re gone, I’ll surrender myself to you.”

“I could do that…” the knight says conversationally.  Then his eyes darken and his voice hardens. “Or I could just shoot you right now.”

“Shoot me now and you won’t be able to deliver the most important news of all to your Queen.”

“And that is?” the man asks with derision.

“Who I really am.  My real name.  I know it’s something she’s wanted to know for a long time.  If you let the girl go, I’ll tell you.  And once I’m dead, the Queen will shower you with riches.”

The man mulls that over for a moment. 

“She has wanted to know for a long time,” the one called Wilson says out of the corner of his mouth, still keeping his sword pointed at Jefferson.

Killian smiles wickedly at that.  “You see?  Why just bring her my head when you can finally solve the mystery of my identity for her?  If you kill me now, the secret dies with me.”

There’s a tense moment as the knight stares Killian down, obviously weighing the pros and cons of the deal. 

“Drop your sword.  Then I’ll bring the girl out.”

Killian shakes his head in feigned amusement.  “And how do I know you’re not lying? That you won’t kill us all as soon as I drop it?” 

He’s not lying Emma knows it.

“I suppose you’ll just have to wait and see,” the knight replies. 

Killian pretends to think it over, shuffling on his feet in a casual way and flicking his eyes to hers – just as she knew he would.  She immediately nods, telling him what he needs to know. 

Turning back, he gives the knight one more glare before tossing his sword out in front of him.

“Waters, get his sword,” the knight directs. 

The knight positioned by the cave entrance immediately runs forward, grabbing the sword and raising his own, moving to Killian’s right to guard him.

As soon as Waters is in position, the spokesman calls over his shoulder, “Rupert!  Bring the girl out.”

Emma’s eyes swing to the cave entrance, watching intently for the few strained moments it takes for Grace to appear, held securely by the last knight.

“PAPA!” she screams as soon as she sees Jefferson, trying to run to him, but the knight holds her back, increasing his grip even as the little girl struggles furiously.

“Everything is going to be alright, Grace.  I’m here now,” Jeff tells her in a soothing voice. 

Emma raises the pistol and trains it on the one they call Rupert’s head, every muscle tense, waiting for Killian’s signal.  Just as she does, she sees a shift in the trees on the opposite side of the clearing and Dopey pops up for an instant, getting himself into position to run for Grace.

The spokesman smiles at Killian while Grace continues to wriggle around in the knight’s grip but he doesn’t give the order to release her.

“Let her go,” Killian says in a strangled voice. 

“Not just yet,” the knight hisses.  “First, you’re going to tell me who you are.”

“That wasn’t the deal!  I’ll tell you after you’ve released her!”

“I think you're going to tell me right now,” the knight says wickedly, slowly turning to move the pistol from where it had still been aimed at Killian… shifting it to Grace instead.

“NO!” Jefferson screams.  “PLEASE!  Don’t!”

“MY NAME IS KILLIAN JONES!”  Killian yells in the same moment.

That's it. That’s the signal. 

Emma pulls the trigger without hesitation, Rupert immediately slumping to the ground even as Grace screams in fright.

It’s a blur of movement after that.  Killian pivoting and knocking away his guard’s sword with his right arm and swinging around with his left to bury his hook in the man’s neck.  Jefferson turning on his guard just as Ruby jumps from the trees and slashes him with her sword.  Dopey running across the clearing, heading directly for Grace.

But Emma doesn’t see any of that.  All she sees is the leader swinging the pistol away from Grace, the maniacal elation in his eyes as he trains it on Killian’s back.

“NO!!” she screams, jumping up from behind the rock and rushing forward. 

She knows she won’t make it but she throws herself into the path anyway, her only thought to get to Killian.  In her rush, she trips over a downed branch, falling face first into the dirt right between Killian the knight at the same moment the pistol fires, the sound echoing through the trees with ominous finality.

A scream bubbles to her throat and she wrenches her neck around to where Killian had been, certain that he’ll be lying dead on the ground.  But when her eyes land on him, he’s hunched over the knight he’d been fighting, yanking his hook out of the man’s neck.  As soon as the hook is free, he whips around to meet her eyes. 

Emma knows a moment of relief because he seems to be unharmed but then his gaze focuses on something behind her, his eyes widening, a fury laced, “NO!” exploding from his lips that makes her heart stop.

She doesn’t want to look.  She knows whatever he sees is terrible.  But she can’t stop herself.  So she turns her head, her heart pounding into her ribs in fear... only to be met with a sight that she knows she'll never forget.  The shocked pain and disbelief on his face is an image that will haunt her forever.  The air freezes in her chest to the point where she can’t breathe just as Ruby’s scream pierces the air.

“DOPEY!” 

The little dwarf looks straight at her as he falls, his eyes wide and blood oozing out of the hole in his chest, staining the black and white striped shirt he’s wearing.  His eyes flutter shut a moment before he hits the ground, the dull thud an understated sound given the enormity of the moment.

Dopey.

Rage rockets through Emma, the image of the last black knight coming into focus, standing just behind where Dopey had been, his pistol still raised and smoke still billowing from the barrel. 

The man’s gaze darts around to the rest of them, apparently realizing that he’s the only one left.  His eyes widen and he takes a step back, dropping the now empty pistol and drawing his sword.  He stumbles over a rock as he retreats and, when he does, he glances behind him. 

His eyes land on Grace who is still in the exact same place she had been, completely unprotected and, as soon as the knight realizes it, he heads toward her.

He only makes it one step before Emma feels the magical release, the heat rising so fast that she doesn’t even register it until it’s already gone.  The knight flies through the air and lands in a heap about ten feet behind Grace.  He’s not dead though, grunting in pain and trying to rise. 

“Grace, RUN!” Jefferson yells, rushing toward her. 

The little girl doesn’t waste any time, sprinting forward and vaulting into her father’s awaiting arms. 

The next moment, Emma feels a hand on her cheek, turning her to see Killian’s concerned features.

“I’m alright,” she tells him, “A little dizzy, but I’m okay.”

He hugs her tight to his chest and plants a quick kiss to her forehead.  Then he releases her and heads directly toward the last knight who is still struggling to stand. 

Emma’s heart pounds in her ears as she watches him away, bracing her hands on her knees to catch her breath.

He gives the knight no ceremony, no chance for last words or pithy comments.  He simply plunges his sword in the man’s chest, twists it and pulls it back.  A grim satisfaction flows through her when she hears the bastard’s final grunt of pain.

The next thing she hears is Ruby’s wracking sobs and, even though she doesn’t want to, her gaze is drawn back to Dopey, lying at the mouth of the dirt path.  He must have diverted from Grace when the knight swung the pistol toward Killian. 

Ruby is kneeling next to him, rolling him onto his back and pressing her hands into his chest, doing her best to stop the flow of blood.  Leaning over, she puts her ear to his mouth, listening for any signs of life. 

Emma watches with her heart in her throat, holding her breath while Ruby examines him. 

An instant later Ruby’s head snaps back up and she meets Emma’s eyes.

“He’s breathing!” she exclaims.

Emma’s legs move before she realizes it, rushing forward and falling to the ground beside her friend. 

“Hang on, Dopey,” Ruby is murmuring, still pressing her hands over the wound, “You’re going to be fine. We’ve just got to get this bleeding stopped.”

His eyes pop open with a stunted gasp when Emma adds pressure on top of Ruby’s hands and Emma nearly cries with relief.  She presses down harder, Ruby removing her hands to tear a piece of cloth from the bottom of her skirt and balling it up to hold over the wound.  But even with the bleeding contained, Dopey’s breathing gets worse, filling Emma with terror at the way he struggles with every inhale, an ominous wheezing sound passing through his lips.

“We’re losing him,” Ruby says frantically in between sobs, “Dopey!  Hang on.  You’ve got to keep breathing.  I know it hurts but you’ve got to try!”

Emma’s stomach vaults and she smacks Ruby’s hands away from the wound, holding her own hands over it and concentrating with all her might. 

She can do this.  She healed herself once and she can damn well heal one of her oldest friends, a friend who had just saved Killian’s life.  Closing her eyes, she calls to every fiber of her being, pulling out every ounce of strength she has and pushing it into her palms. The spark is there, it’s prickling in her stomach but it’s not enough.  She can feel the heat try to rise but it doesn’t go anywhere.  

So she tries again. 

And still nothing.

Dammit!  This has to work!  It’s so close.  It’s right there, whirling in the pit of her stomach, but she can’t get it to move up her chest and into her hands.  Her heart pounds in her ears, the sound drowning out everything else, beating so hard that her head aches from the rushing of blood.  Spots start to form in her vision that she has to struggle to see past.  She just needs a little more strength, a little more… something…

Killian.  She needs Killian.

Groping behind her, where she somehow knows he is, she grabs his hand and pulls him down next to her, wrapping his arm around her waist.  The added spark of his touch ignites the warmth and it immediately fills her chest, his heartbeat joining hers in her ears, the combination of the their equally furious beats turning into a hum rather than distinguishable sounds.  Then the magic is flowing again, moving down her arms and into her palms. 

She pants for breath, watching her palms for the tell-tale glow but nothing happens.  It’s not until she hears Killian’s voice in her ear - You can do this, darling - that the light starts to release, the wound closing.

She wants to sigh with relief but she can’t breathe, the effort she’s putting forth stealing her breath.  She doesn’t stop, though, redoubling her efforts until the blood dissipates and even the hole in his shirt mends. 

Dopey suddenly bolts upright on a sharp inhale and she falls back into Killian’s chest where his arms are waiting to catch her.

She did it!  He’s alive!  He’s sitting up and looking around at everyone in complete amazement, his signature smile making her heart light.  Laughter rings out in the clearing, Dopey hopping to his feet and spinning with joy.  She feels Killian’s deep chuckle more than hears it as he pulls her completely onto his lap, snuggling her into his chest. 

Closing her eyes, she burrows her face into his neck, her breathing evening out and her heart slowing down.  She feels drained and weak, but Killian’s arms around her are strong and comforting, and she melts into them with a quiet sigh.

After squeezing her tight for several moments, Killian’s hand tangles in her hair and he tilts her head to examine her. When he does, she notices there’s gold flickering in his eyes, and it’s only after he’s studied every inch of her face that they return to their deep blue.

“You’re incredible, love,” he whispers, happiness and concern mixed together on his features, his fingers rubbing in soothing circles against the back of her neck.

She gives him a tired smile to reassure him, lifting her hand to brush the hair out of his eyes.  “We’re incredible,” she replies, “I couldn’t have done it without you.”

He plants a long kiss on her forehead that makes her hum in contentment, then they both turn at the sound of Grace’s laughter only to see a very healthy Dopey pick the little girl up and spin her around. 

Chapter Text

Killian holds the reins as Jefferson unties the last rope holding the now dead black knights’ provisions, pushing them off the opposite side of the horse and letting them all slip to the ground with a heavy thud.  After tossing the rope over the horse’s back, he casts a sidelong glance at Killian.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he inquires quietly.

Killian doesn’t need to ask what his friend is talking about, and a wave of guilt hits him, his eyes unconsciously seeking out the princess sitting on a boulder on the other side of the clearing.

Turning back to his friend, he shakes his head.  “I’m sorry, mate.  I just…  I thought it would be safer for everyone…  I thought the fewer people who knew, the better.”

To Killian’s relief, Jefferson hums in acknowledgement, seemingly satisfied with that answer, before turning to pick up the saddle from the ground and placing it on the horse’s back.

“And she’s been in Arendelle all this time?” he asks.

“Apparently, yes.”

Jefferson nods as he starts working on the fastenings.  “It was smart of them to take her there.  It’s far enough away that her face would not be easily recognizable.”

“Yes, well, the King was always a clever one.”

“The King?” Jefferson asks, so surprised that he drops the buckle he was working on, “Is he alive, too?”

Killian smiles ruefully, tugging on the reins when the horse shifts nervously.  “Yes.  He found me – abducted me, actually – in Camelot.  He’s been there since the fall of the kingdom.”

“Camelot?” Jefferson says slowly, crossing his arms over his chest, drawing out the word in a way that makes Killian’s brow wrinkle.  “Is that a joke?”

“No, it’s not,” Killian replies.

Jefferson stares at him for a moment before a smile lights his features and he shakes his head with more than a little amusement. 

“What is it?” Killian asks.

Jefferson continues to shake his head, a bemused grin on his face as he replies, “Arthur’s knights are one of our biggest sources of information.  We trade arms to them on a regular basis.  I thought King Arthur was planning an offensive but…”

“It’s King David,” Killian finishes for him.

“Looks that way,” he replies, going back to securing the saddle.

“He’s been planning this all along,” Killian says thoughtfully, absentmindedly stroking the horse’s neck.  “He’s been biding his time all these years, waiting for the right moment to strike.”

“Perhaps,” Jefferson replies, his eyes on the buckle he’s fastening.  Then, looking up, he adds, “But, why wait?  With the amount of arms he’s obtained from us, he has more than enough to take out every single black knight ten times over.”

Killian stays silent while he considers that.  Yes, why wait, indeed? Why not attack?  With David’s tactical skill and Arthur’s army behind him, Regina’s black knights would have been easy to defeat.  So, why would he wait?

Sucking in a sharp breath, Killian’s eyes fly to Emma who is smiling brightly as she watches Dopey and Grace carefully approach a mother bunny and her babies.  The sun is high above, its rays cutting through the trees in a way that illuminates her face while leaving everything else in the shadows.  The contrast makes it looks like she’s glowing, nearly shimmering, like a goddess or a witch, and more pieces of the puzzle suddenly fall into place.

Maybe David could have defeated Regina’s knights – but the Evil Queen herself…  That’s a different kind of battle.  One that won’t be won with swords.  One that will need something special…  Something magical. 

Emma. 

With her magic.

It’s always been Emma.  The King has been waiting until Emma was ready, until Emma’s magic developed. 

And now it has. 

“He’s been waiting for Emma,” Killian says in a low voice, keeping his eyes on the woman in question.

“Waiting for her?” Jeff asks, “What do you mean?”

“Waiting for her to get her magic.”

Jefferson looks confused for a moment but then his eyes light up and he smiles wide.

“What?” Killian asks, not sure as to why Jefferson seems so pleased with that information.

“Nothing.  I didn’t know her magic was a recent development but…” Jefferson trails off, moving to the discarded provisions to search for a water flask, adding with a shrug, “it makes sense.”

“Makes sense how?”

“You know, you… and her…  together.”

Killian shakes his head.  “But we’re not… together.  I mean, we are, in that we’re both here – but we’re not… or maybe we are… Oh, bloody hell, I don’t know but… Things are different now, mate.  She and I, we…”

Jefferson chuckles. “You look pretty together from what I’ve seen.”

“Well, we are, kind of, I just…  I’m not sure…  Things have changed so much and – ”

“There’s no way things have changed that much,” Jefferson cuts him off with a roll of his eyes.  “The love between the two of you…  It was electric.  It was magic, Killian.  Literally.  Everyone around you could feel it.  That kind of love… it doesn’t fade.  It doesn’t disappear.  It’s always there.”

Killian looks away, suddenly unwilling to meet his friend’s eyes. 

“Ah…  It was the pirate thing, wasn’t it?” Jeff asks.

With reluctance, Killian nods.  Jeff always was an insightful bastard.

“And you let her believe it,” Jeff adds shrewdly, turning toward him and resting his elbow on the horse’s back.

“It's true, isn't it?” he asks, hearing the contempt in his own voice.

“It’s not the whole truth and you know it,” Jeff replies with a trace of reprimand.

 “It's close enough.”

“No, it’s not,” Jeff says with a hard look.  “You might still be dressing like Captain Hook but Captain Hook isn’t the villain people think, not anymore.  And he hasn’t been for a long time.  You need to stop seeing yourself that way.  You’re a hero now, Killian.”

Killian starts to protest, but Jefferson doesn’t give him the chance, rushing on, “Don’t argue.  And don’t let something she obviously regrets saying get in the way of what you two have.  Look at me, Killian.”

When he does, Jeff sighs. “We did some terrible things.  I’m not going to try to gloss that over.  But that was a long time ago.  Since then, we’ve helped a lot of people.  You have no idea how many lives we’ve saved.  I don’t either, for that matter.  But when you stop a family from starving or give someone a weapon to defend themselves and their loved ones, you’re saving lives.  And that makes you a hero.  And just because no one knows it’s you, doesn’t make it any less true. You should tell her.”

Killian is thankful when the horse shifts again, giving him an excuse to concentrate on keeping the animal under control rather than reply.  When he glances back to Jeff, his friend has his arms crossed over his chest, giving him a thoughtful look.

“Do you remember what you told me when I met Patricia?  When I tried to push her away because of guilt over the things we did?” Jefferson asks. 

Killian sighs.  He remembers the conversation with perfect clarity, so he knows what’s coming next.  “I do,” he admits softly.

“’All sins can be forgiven when some loves you,’” Jefferson quotes, driving his point home with quiet confidence, “And she loves you.”

“She loves Lieutenant Killian Jones.”

“And you don’t think that’s who you are anymore?”

At Killian’s shrug, Jefferson voice turns harder, “Well, maybe you’re not – not entirely – but the way she looks at you…  She doesn’t just love the Naval Lieutenant.  She loves you.  Killian Jones.  And all that includes.” 

With that, Jefferson turns away and finishes the saddle, leaving Killian to consider what he’s said.

Killian shoots another look to Emma, now apparently deep in conversation with Ruby.  She meets his gaze across the field and smiles at him, making his heart lift. 

I don’t care what you had to do to survive. 

Could Jefferson be right?  Does she love the pirate as much as she loved the Naval Lieutenant?  Because he’ll never be the man he was before, no matter how much he’d like to be.  He’s seen and done too many things, things that make it impossible to go back, terrible acts he committed during those early years when he was so consumed with revenge.  Things that, if she knew, may make her look at him the same way she had the day she woke up. 

But Jeff is right about something:  The past few years have been focused on more than revenge.  It’s also been about helping others, easing the burdens the Evil Queen’s reign has inflicted on the lands.  Still, if he takes Jeff’s advice and tells her what he’s been doing in recent years, he’ll also have to tell her what he did before, the atrocities he committed in the name of vengeance in the years directly after the fall of the kingdom. 

The thought of that makes his skin crawl, makes his cheeks redden.  Captain Hook had earned the title of villain in those years.  And, even though he’s been doing his best to make up for them now, he’s not entirely sure she’ll think it’s enough.

When he looks back to Jefferson, it’s to see he has now finished the saddle and is leaning up against the horse, waiting for Killian to say something.

“I – ” Killian starts, but is cut off when Grace runs head-first into his leg.

The interruption is a welcome one because he’s not even sure what he was going to say.  He needs time to think.  He needs to try to figure out if Jeff is right.  He needs to decide whether he’s willing to take the chance that he is. 

“Papa!  Hook!  Dopey let me pet the baby bunnies!  They’re so soft!  And he’s so good at catching them!  And the mama didn’t even get mad!”

Jefferson chuckles at his daughter, scooping her up and kissing her forehead.  “Dopey has always had a way with animals, angel,” he says, “I think it has something to do with the way he approaches them.  He’s moves slowly.  He doesn’t bound up on them like a bull in a stampede.”

Jefferson adds a poke to the little girl’s ribs that has her giggling with delight and squirming in his arms. 

Killian can’t help but smile at the sight, suddenly overcome with longing to have what Jeff has.  He and Patricia have no secrets.  They’re a team.  Two pieces of the same puzzle, building a life out of the shattered pieces of their pasts and holding them together with the love they share.

And Killian wants that.  Whether he deserves it or not, he craves it.  And, if he’s being honest with himself, he knows he’ll never be able to find it with anyone but Emma. 

Killian glances to the little girl, her angelic face giving him a glowing smile and his heart thumps against his ribs.  She doesn’t see him as a villainous pirate – or a naval officer.  To her, he’s just ‘Hook,’ the man who works with her father and brings her presents.  To her, he is honorable and good.  To her, he is a hero who will protect her and save her from any foe.

“She’s the Swan Princess, isn’t she?” Grace asks suddenly, completely unaware of the underlying tension in the air.

The question amuses him; the candor she always displays making him smile.  So he pushes the dark thoughts aside for later consideration and gives the little girl his full attention, asking, “What makes you think that, little one?”

“You’re Killian Jones,” she replies with a lift of her shoulder, “I heard you say so.” 

Killian raises his eyebrow at her simply stated comment even as Jefferson smiles in wonder at his daughter.

“And what do you know of Killian Jones and the Swan Princess?” Jefferson asks.

Grace rolls her eyes.  “Everyone knows that Killian Jones is the Swan Princess’s True Love.  That’s why the Evil Queen bragged about killing him.”

Jefferson gives him an ‘I-told-you-so’ look that Killian ignores.

“Is that so?” Killian asks.

“Uh huh.  So if you’re Killian Jones, then she must be the Swan Princess, right?”

“You think you’re so smart, don’t you?” he comments.

“It just makes sense,” Grace says with a shrug.  Like father, like daughter.  “The stories you told me…  about the sailor and the princess.  You were the sailor and she was the princess.”

Killian considers that for a moment, casting a glance over his shoulder to Emma.  Yes, that’s who they were, and if they were still those people, there would be no question.

When he turns back, both Grace and Jefferson are looking at him expectantly. 

Shaking his head in resignation, he tries to smile.  “Yes, little love, she’s the Swan Princess,” he confirms.

“I thought so,” Grace replies with satisfaction, then quickly adds, “but don’t worry.  I won’t tell anyone.  And I’ll keep calling you ‘Hook’ so no one figures out it’s you.”

Killian chuckles at that. “Thank you, darling.  We can’t let anyone know where she is or who I really am.”

Grace nods sagely in agreement, turning back to her father with an abrupt change in subject that only children seem to have the skill for. “Is it time for you to go?”

“Yes, angel.  I need to go fetch your mother,” Jefferson replies.

Grace surges forward to wrap her arms around his neck, her grip tight.  “I want to go with you,” she pleads.

“I’m sorry, darling,” he replies, returning the embrace, “but you need to stay with Hook.  There might be more of Regina’s knights about.”

“Then you shouldn’t go alone,” Grace says, leaning back to look into her father’s eyes.  “You should take Hook with you.”

“I’d rather he keep you safe,” Jeff replies.

“What about Emma? She has magic.  She can keep me safe.” 

“Emma is new to her magic, little one,” Killian explains.  “It tires her out a bit and she’s already used it twice today.”

“She doesn’t look tired to me,” Grace argues stubbornly, prompting Killian to glance over to Emma again.

She doesn’t look tired, he observes.  What she looks is breathtaking, gathering up some flowers from around the boulder she’d been sitting on and forming a bouquet out of them.  His brow wrinkles.  Two bouts of magic and she doesn’t look the least bit fatigued.  She had, right after, but her strength seems to have returned much more quickly than in the past.  Yet another thing he needs to think about later, he notes.

“Either way, her magic is tied to Hook.  It may not work at all if he’s not around.”

Jefferson’s statement has Killian swinging back to the pair so quickly that his neck cracks.  He already knew it to be true, but hearing it stated so plainly strikes something in his chest. 

Then, at Grace’s next question, his chest constricts so much it’s difficult to breathe. “Because they love each other?”

Jefferson smiles the slightest bit, but doesn’t answer, his eyes leaving Grace to lock on Killian.

It takes him a second because he’s concentrating on breathing normally, but when Grace turns to him as well, looking expectant, he stutters out the reply, “I don’t know, darling. Magic is a funny thing.  No one knows how it works.”

Killian is thankful when Grace doesn’t push further, accepting his explanation with nod of her head.

“I have to go, angel,” Jefferson says, “I’ll see you back at the Jolly Roger.”

Killian can tell Grace is trying to think of some other protest, but she can’t come up with one and she finally nods reluctantly in acquiescence.

Her father wraps her in a long, tight hug before handing her over to Killian and mounting the horse.

“If all goes well, we should make it to the Jolly around the same time you do,” Jefferson says to Killian.  “But remember:  If I’m not there by nightfall…” 

Jefferson trails off and Killian nods, not wanting to say they’ll leave without him in front of Grace.  But it seems the child is more perceptive than either of them give her credit for because she reaches out and puts her hand on her father’s leg.

“You’ll be fine, Papa,” she says with confidence, “You’re smarter than the Evil Queen’s knights.”

Jefferson smiles and chucks her under the chin. “Yes, I am.  I’ll see you soon, sweetheart.”  Then, he brushes her hair off her forehead.  “I love you, Grace.”

“I love you, too, Papa.”

“Think about what I said, Killian.”  Jefferson adds with a final look to him.  Then he straightens in the saddle and, blowing one last kiss to Grace, he spurs the horse and it takes off at a gallop.

Killian keeps watching as Jefferson makes his way down the path, Grace’s head leaning down to rest on his shoulder.

“Be careful, Papa,” he hears her whisper with a break in her voice when Jefferson disappears from view. 

When the next thing he hears is her sniffle, he grips her tighter and sways her back a forth. “Don’t worry, little love,” he soothes, “Your father is very resourceful.  And you said it yourself:  He’s smarter than Regina’s knights.”

Grace nods but turns in his arms to bury her face in his neck, the moisture from her tears warm against his skin.  He holds her close for a few minutes, waiting until the tears subside.  Then the brave little lass lifts her head and determinedly wipes the tears away, trying to give him a smile. 

He smiles back and, in an attempt to distract her, asks, “Why don’t you show me the baby rabbits before we leave?”

That makes her smile turn a little more genuine and she nods even as she pushes at his shoulders, prompting him to set her on her feet. 

Taking his hand, she leads him across the clearing and, as she does, Emma’s eyes meet his.  She’s smiling softly at him, her eyes shining with an emotion he can’t place – but something about it makes his stomach flip, makes his heart jump in his chest. 

Maybe…  just maybe Jefferson is right.

He’s so mesmerized by her, he doesn’t notice the figure in the trees, grinning with satisfaction just before disappearing in a puff of smoke.


 

“There’s news, Your Grace,” Lancelot announces as he enters the room. 

“From Arendelle?” David asks anxiously.

“Yes, a letter, and it’s addressed to you personally,” the knight replies, holding out the note.

David’s brown wrinkles in confusion as he takes the parchment from Lance.  “Addressed to me?” 

With a quick glance to the seal, a snowflake, he rips it open and immediately looks to the signature.  He’s amazed to see the royal crest and the graceful curves of Princess Anna’s writing. 

“It’s from Anna,” David says in shock before he begins to read.

Dearest David,

You didn’t think you’d be able to keep your survival a secret from us forever, did you?  Honestly, we’ve known for quite some time. 

We’ve also known that you sent Emma here to keep her safe.  We understand why you didn’t tell us – you didn’t want to endanger our kingdom by asking for our help – but we’ve tried to look after her all the same. 

And now, I’m sorry to say, we may have failed.  Two days ago, a garrison of black knights showed up and ransacked the village she was hiding in.  The reports are very confusing but from what we’ve gathered, she was surrounded at one point and no one knows what happened after that.  What we do know is that the black knights didn’t catch her.  But the captain of the ship she was supposed to have passage on said she never showed up.  So, I’m very sorry to say, we don’t know for sure where she is. 

I’m equally sorry to say that we’ve only been able to come up with one possibility – and I’m afraid you’re not going to like it.  But, before you get too upset, I want you to know that after the incident some people came forward and told us some very interesting stories which I’ll get to in a minute. 

The possibility we came up with…  Now prepare yourself… Is Captain Hook.  I know what you’re thinking.  He has a terrible reputation and the thought of Emma being abducted by a pirate is terrifying but please consider this before you get too upset:  According to some people who’d been in the tavern when the knights set it on fire (don’t worry - everyone made it out unharmed!) it was Captain Hook who released them.  They say he braved the flames to unblock the door and set them free.  And there was also a couple who said he killed two knights after they set fire to their shop.  He even gave the couple a bag of gold as he ran away and didn’t even wait for a ‘thank you.’ 

Elsa and Kristoff say it’s wishful thinking and that I’m naïve, but what if he’s not so bad?  What if he’s, I don’t know, a good pirate?  Is there such a thing as a good pirate?  I mean, he gave them money for no reason.  He killed the knights and left these people with enough to build another shop – a better one, considering how much he gave them.  And I don’t know about Arthur’s kingdom, but he’s never attacked any of our ships.  In fact, he’d never even set foot on our shores before this as far we know.  Is it possible that he’s not as bad as people say? 

Again, Elsa and Kristoff don’t think so, but you know me, I can’t help but try to see the bright side.  And since his is the only ship that escaped the harbor before the knights burned the docks, we don’t see how else she could have gotten away unless it was with him.

Anyway, we caught all the surviving black knights and arrested them.  Don’t worry.  Elsa is making sure they never get out.  And we’re keeping them separate from the other prisoners so that they can’t tell anyone why they were here.  No one will find out Emma is alive if we can help it.

Please know that we’re thinking of you and that you can call upon us for help when you need it.  We’ve known each other for a long time and if there’s anything we can do, please don’t hesitate to ask.  The good news is that this has finally given us an excuse to stop trade with Regina.  She won’t be getting any supplies from us anymore.  She and Elsa had a big row about it.  And you should see the ice wall Elsa built.  It’s magnificent! 

Oh!  That reminds me.  I nearly forgot the most important part!  When our soldiers entered the village, there was one street where every single black knight was unconscious.  And none of them remember how they got that way.  Do you know what that means?  Magic!  And I think it was Emma!  Maybe her magic is finally starting to develop!  I don’t know for sure, but it makes sense, doesn’t it? 

Don’t lose hope, David.  Those sword fighting lessons I gave you will pay off again soon.  You’ll get your kingdom back and you’ll save Snow.  I know it.

Elsa, Kristoff and Sven all say ‘hello.’

Keeping you in our thoughts,

Anna

P.S.  Olaf sends a warm hug.

David drops the letter to the round table and expels a long breath of relief, a chuckle escaping with the last bit of air. 

Not only did Killian find her and help her escape, but she’s gotten her magic. 

Fisting a hand on the table, he closes his eyes and takes a moment to thank every deity he can name that she’s safe.  Then, laughing, he turns to Lancelot and claps the man in a tight hug. 

“We’re nearly there, my friend.  Killian did it.  He found her.  He saved her.  And she even got her magic.  I knew it.  Killian was the spark.  He’s her True Love, just as we always suspected.  And now that we’ve made it past the betrayal business of the prophecy, nothing will stop us.”

Picking up the letter, he hands it to Lance so that he can read the good news himself and walks over to the decanter to pour them a celebratory drink. 

His daughter is coming.  In as little as a week, he could be holding her in his arms again.  He sighs as a picture of her flashes in his head, the one he always calls to mind when he thinks of her.  It’s his favorite memory.  The day she’d brought that injured swan to the castle and insisted that Doc help mend the animal’s wing, her dress caked with mud around the hem from where she’d waded into the lake to catch the bird. 

But, for the first time in years, that memory isn’t accompanied with sadness.  It isn’t bittersweet.  It’s just his beautiful little girl, standing in front of him with pleading eyes so much like her mother’s that he couldn’t deny her anything.  They’d sought out Doc together, her cradling the animal like a baby in her arms, tracking that mud through the castle corridors. 

Perhaps that was his favorite part, his little princess looking more like a farmer than royalty, her concern over the animal reminding him of the times he’d slept in the barn as a child when one of their sheep needed tending.  She’d hand fed the bird every day, the cantankerous creature snapping at the fingers of anyone else who’d tried. 

He’d thought she’d be sad when the bird healed and flew away, but her smile was absolutely radiant as she watched it go.  She’s going home to her family, papa.  Why on earth would I be sad about that?

That was his daughter, so unselfish, so kind and giving…  So much like her mother…

“If you consider how long a pigeon takes to fly here, this happened over a week ago,” Lancelot’s voice breaks into his thoughts. “She could be halfway here by now.”

“Yes, she could,” David responds, clearing his throat and passing one of the drinks to Lance. 

They clink the glasses together in toast, both taking a long swallow. 

“Never thought I’d be in league with a pirate,” Lance comments with amusement.

“A pirate?” a voice calls from behind him. “What pirate?”

David spins around to the door. “Arthur,” he exclaims, crossing the room to embrace his friend, “You’re back!  It’s good to see you, Your Majesty.  How goes your quest? Did you find the dagger?”

“Unfortunately, no.  But I did find a new lead to follow up,” the king responds, squeezing his shoulder, “Now, what’s this about a pirate?”

“Emma is finally on her way here,” David replies and, damn, he can’t stop grinning.

“Aboard a pirate ship?”  Arthur asks in disbelief.

“That’s right,” David says.

“Well, which one?  I’ll tell the navy to grant them safe passage.”

“Thank you, but that’s not necessary.  I’m sure they’ll make it without aide.  And I don’t want to draw attention to them but alerting the navy.  Regina has ears everywhere.”

“Of course,” Arthur replies.  “You’re right.  The less people who know, the better.”

David nods in agreement. 

“When should we expect her?”

“As early as a week,” David replies.  A week, just saying it makes his heart lift.  After all these years, it’s down to days

“Well, then we should plan a ball to welcome her.  I take it she hasn’t been to one in quite some time,” Arthur comments. “I’ll talk to Guinevere and she’ll make all the arrangements.  Have either of you seen her?  She wasn’t in our chambers when I arrived.”

David wants to tell his friend not to go to the trouble, that a ball isn’t necessary.  But Arthur loves having them and uses any excuse he can think of to put one on, so David keeps silent.  And besides, David might actually enjoy this one.  Because suddenly the idea of dancing with his daughter makes it seem like less of a burden. 

“I saw her at the stable this morning,” Lancelot replies to the king’s question.  “She may not be back from her ride yet.”

“Ah,” the king says, “Well, if you see her, please tell her I’m looking for her.”

“Of course,” Lancelot replies. 

Arthur nods to the knight then turns to David. “Well, I’d better prepare for my next quest if we are to have everything we need when your daughter arrives.”

And with that, he turns to go.


 

He’s brooding and he knows it.  He’s standing at the helm, their course already set, but he can’t make himself retreat to the crews’ quarters.  He needs more time with the sea around him, he needs more of the ocean air in his lungs.  He needs time to consider everything that has happened and figure out his next steps. 

The first step will be to get Jefferson and his family to safety, find a port not being threatened by Regina’s knights and drop them off.  There are still a few left where her knights don’t have a stronghold, but most of those will take them well away from Camelot, hence delaying his priority mission.  Jeff will resist, of course, but Killian knows he’ll put his family first, especially after the emotional reunion of mother and daughter when they’d made it to the ship. 

It had been late when they’d made it back, everyone dragging with fatigue, reminding Killian that they’d all been up for more than twenty-four hours.  Thankfully, Jefferson and Patricia had already been waiting for them, Patricia racing for Grace the moment they were in view.  She’d been so happy that she’d broken down into tears when she’d lifted the little girl into her arms, holding her tight for so long that Grace had broken the hug complaining of suffocation.

The reunion and Patricia’s obvious joy had lifted everyone’s spirits after the long walk, but the burst of energy had been short-lived in the wake of the exhaustion they were all feeling.  Emma seemed to be suffering the worst from it, her head landing on his shoulder the moment they were all in the dinghy and her body turning heavy in his arms when she stopped fighting it and drifted off to sleep.

His princess was certainly a stubborn one.  She’d stayed by his side all day even though he knew she could sense his contemplative mood.  He’d tried to hide the troubling thoughts that were plaguing him during their trudge but she’d noticed immediately, her look of confused hurt prompting him to lean over and kiss her cheek in reassurance.  The last thing he wanted was for her to feel uneasy or sad.  This peace between them was a gift, and one that might not last if he tells her the truth, so he wants to relish it as long as possible.  It hadn’t fooled her, though, and she’d given him more than one questioning look throughout the day. 

Grace’s presence had served as a welcome distraction, her eagerness to see the ‘magic ship’ infectious. The little lass had kept them all entertained, chattering away nearly the entire time by making plans about what she wanted to do once aboard.  She’d managed to obtain a promise from Dopey to take her up to the crow’s nest tomorrow, a promise from Ruby to show her the galley and make honey cakes for breakfast, and a promise from himself that she’d be allowed to steer the ship. 

He’d found it comical that she’d initially been nervous around Emma.  He’d never known the energetic little girl to be shy around anyone, but Emma had won her over in the end by telling her about some of her father’s more mischievous antics at court.  Grace hadn’t been aware of her father’s social status in Misthaven, and the child had flushed nearly scarlet when Emma addressed her as Lady Grace.

Emma had sent him a triumphant smile at that, only to have the corners of her mouth turn down when she’d caught him lost in thought again.  He’d squeezed her hand tighter in apology, but he could tell it wasn’t enough to placate her, the look on her face making it clear that she’d want an explanation at one point.

She’d wanted to talk about it tonight.  She’d tried to stay by his side when he’d sent everyone to bed.  But tonight was not the night for any meaningful conversation.  It was too late and they were too tired, so he’d told her they’d speak tomorrow, adding a lingering kiss to seal the promise.

So now, here he is, alone at the helm, the quiet lapping of water against the hull and the heavy weight of his muscles inviting his brain to wander at its leisure.  He knows he should retire, let the Jolly alert them if danger approaches, but he can’t turn his mind off. 

He’s always loved this type of night, the moon’s soft light giving the deck a bluish glow, the waves sparkling around him like stars blinking in and out.  It’s soothing and peaceful… which is just what he needs at the moment. 

He’s not sure how much time passes as thoughts fade in and out, one running into another…  the moment he met Emma, the moment he was separated from her, the string of tragedies that followed, the news of her death, their escape from that dungeon, taking the Jewel.  That merchant ship…  that moment he lost all hope and the vengeance it triggered, the despair that drug him into the depths of fury and hate.  The moment he realized what he’d become and fighting his way out of it, the light that followed, the many times he resisted the temptation to slide back into that ruthlessness.  And, finally, finding a place where he’d felt at least some peace, Jefferson’s wedding, Grace’s birth, the way it felt the first time he handed over spoils to Jeff, knowing that it would keep people fed, keep people alive, ease the burden for people all over the land including the people of Misthaven…  Queen Snow and King David’s people…  Emma’s people. 

And lastly, finding her again, the kaleidoscope of emotions since seeing her in that square.  Love, betrayal, anger, jealousy, hope, fear, guilt… 

His eyes are just starting to drift closed, making him realize it’s time to retire, when his body suddenly warms, his chest expanding with it, the comforting spark of Emma’s magic spreading through his fatigued limbs. 

He knows she’s there before he turns around, but the sight that greets him nearly makes him gasp.  She’s already dressed for bed, her hair damp from apparent washing, the flow of it nearly reaching her waist.  The scent of lilacs that accompanies her assaults his senses and the temptation to cross to her so that he can bury his nose in that fragrant hair is nearly impossible to resist.

“You should be resting, love,” he says quietly when she takes a step toward him.

“So should you,” she replies, stopping in her tracks.

They stare at each other for a moment, the stubborn set of her shoulders telling him she’s not going to back down.  Sighing in defeat, he turns away to look out over the wheel again. 

She must realize she’s won this particular battle of wills because she steps forward to stand at his side and crosses her arms over her chest.

“What are you thinking about up here?” she asks.

Keeping his eyes on the horizon, he replies, “I was just considering which port would be the safest to drop off Jefferson and his family.”

It’s not really a lie.  He’d been thinking about that, too.  But he still worries for a moment that her magic will distinguish the half-truth. 

He can’t tell for sure whether it does, her reaction a small nod accompanied by a non-committal grumble.   But she doesn’t press.  She just turns back to the water, letting silence reign once again. 

After a time, it seems she’s not going to retire, and for some reason, he can’t force himself to, either.  So he accepts her presence and breathes deep of her scent, something about it calming even in the tense silence.

“Aren’t you cold, love?” he finally asks, noticing the way her arms are wrapped tightly around her body.

Emma glances down to her nightdress and bare feet.  “A bit,” she replies with a shrug. 

“It would be warmer below,” he comments. 

“You’re up here,” she retorts, turning to face him.

“I’ve got a full length coat, darling,” he says.

He’d only meant it as a statement of fact, but she bristles at the words, her eyes darting to the coat itself for a moment.  Then, as though she’s made an important decision, she steps into his space, lifting a hand to his cheek and forcing him to look at her.  Their eyes meet and hold, hers searching his like she’s trying to read his mind.

Gods above, she looks beautiful, the white nightdress she’s wearing shining in the moonlight.  Her form backdropped by a sea of glittering stars, both on the water and in the sky.  He wants to draw her into his arms and make the tension in her shoulders melt away, but he doesn’t, instead meeting her eyes steadily while she studies him. 

“What’s wrong?” she asks softly.

He wants to tell her.  He wants to confess everything right now.  But it’s late and they’re both exhausted, and this is a conversation he doesn’t want to rush.  He wants to have it when they are both rested and alert so that he can take the time to explain everything thoroughly and coherently.  And right now, he’s afraid his confessions will just make the fatigue worse, so instead of answering, he leans forward and presses a kiss to her lips. 

“Perhaps we should talk about this another time,” he says, “It’s been a very long day and we should both turn in.  Besides, you’re shivering, you should go warm up.”

“Then let’s go below,” she replies stubbornly, already tugging on his arm to direct him toward his cabin. 

“Princess – ”

Emma.  My name is Emma,” she snaps in sudden irritation.  “You used to call me by my name.  Why won’t you do it now?” 

Her outburst surprises him.  He didn’t think she’d noticed.  But the hurt on her face tells him it’s been weighing on her and he tries to think of something to say to make her understand.  Something about calling her by name is too intimate.  It’s too familiar.  And until he can be sure she won’t push him away again, it’s the one thing he has to guard himself. 

Growing impatient at his silence, she huffs out a breath. “Fine,” she says, “Call me whatever you like.  But just… come below with me.  Please?  I just want to be with you.  You don’t even have to tell me what’s bothering you.  I just…  I need you with me.”

She’s nearly begging by the end of her request, her eyes entreating him to give in.  He swallows hard against the sudden lump in his throat, wanting more than anything to give her what she’s asking for. 

“Please,” she entreats again.

As the softly spoken word settles in his chest, the reason she’s fighting so hard becomes clear:  She’s telling him she doesn’t want to go back, she doesn’t want whatever’s bothering him to come between them.  He doesn’t want it to either, but he’s not sure how she’ll feel after she’s learned the truth, so he hesitates.

When her face falls, it wrenches his heart and it occurs to him that his hesitation might be hurting her as much as the truth could, so he lifts his hand and runs it through her hair, his forehead falling to rest on hers in the hope that she understands he’s not retreating, he’s not avoiding her, he’s just terrified.

And, apparently she does understand, because her fingers lift to his cheek in a reassuring gesture, tracing the curve of his jaw with her thumb.  Her other hand settles at the back of his neck, wading through the short hair and he very nearly shivers in response.  It’s so perfect, being in her arms.  It always was.  It’s peace and joy and love and it fills his entire body with a rightness that nearly brings a tear to his eye.

Why is he even bothering resisting?   It’s what they both want.  It’s what they both need.   And it’s not like he could ever deny her anything, anyway.  It doesn’t matter what she asks of him, he’ll do whatever it takes to make her happy.  The power she has over him is too potent, too much to resist.

She must see it, the softening of his willpower, so she pushes her advantage, going up on her toes to rub her nose against his.  The last of his defenses crumble, snaking his arm around her waist to steady her when she sways, and bringing his hand to her cheek as he nods his assent. 

She doesn’t look triumphant at her victory, she looks relieved, a tremulous smile gracing her lips as she lowers to her heels and takes his hand. 

“Come on, Captain,” she says softly. “Your cabin awaits.”

Chapter Text

She wishes he didn’t look so nervous, his eyes darting around the cabin, looking anywhere but directly at her. 

She wants to pull him straight to the bed and crawl into the warmth of his body, let the fatigue of the day overcome them both while lying in each other’s arms, but he’s shifting around, scratching behind his ear in a movement so reminiscent that it makes her smile.

In an attempt to sooth him, she stops midway across the room and faces him, grabbing his arm and going up on her toes to place a small kiss on his cheek.  The action has him flinching and for a moment her temper flairs, then she realizes it’s not the kiss that has him distressed, it’s the position of her hand on his arm, reminding her of the cut he’d received the night before. 

“You’re hurt.”

“It’s nothing, love.”

“It’s not nothing,” she replies, gripping the lapels of his coat.  “Take this off and let me have a look.”

“You don’t have to do that.  It’ll be fine healing on its own.”

“I know I don’t have to.  I want to.  Now, take off the coat.”

He seems suddenly amused with her, the corner of his mouth turning up, “Trying to get me out of my clothes, princess?”

Her cheeks stain scarlet at his flirty banter, but she’s so happy at his change in mood that she grins back at him, “Are you going to pretend I’m the first woman who has tried?”

His eyes widen so comically at her retort that she laughs outright, adding, “Don’t worry, Captain.  Your virtue is safe with me.  At least for tonight.  I think we’re both a little too tired for such strenuous activities, wouldn’t you agree?  Now, give it over.”

Pride surges through her because she has apparently rendered him speechless and she takes matters into her own hands, moving around him so she can help him pull the garment off.  She’s happy when he cooperates, letting the heavy leather slip from his arms and into hers.

“This thing weighs a ton,” she says in surprise.

Apparently, he finally finds his voice, turning to give her an amused look.  “If you think it’s heavy now, you should feel it when it’s wet.”

She chuckles at that and examines the jacket, poking her finger through the hole on the left arm where the blade had cut him.  “It’s hard to mend leather,” she comments. “What will you do?” 

“I don’t know,” he responds, “It’s never been ripped before.  I suppose I could try to track down the lass who made it for me.  Perhaps she can fix it.  Or make me another.”

“Hmmmm,” Emma replies thoughtfully, “Who is this lass?”

She can feel her eyes narrow, the jealousy coming from nowhere.  And it only gets worse when she sees the flush staining his cheeks.

“She’s a uhmmm…” he clears his throat, “a young woman in Cobbler’s Landing.”

“And just what would this young woman expect as payment?”

He turns absolutely scarlet at the question.

“Don’t answer that,” she says quickly.  “I’m not sure I want to know.” 

When she turns away to take the coat over and hang it up on one of the hooks mounted on the wall, his voice calls out behind her. “Maybe the tear adds a bit of character.  Perhaps I won’t get it fixed.”

And just like that the jealousy is gone. “Perhaps it does,” she replies with an internal smile, hanging the coat carefully and smoothing it out with a few brushes of her hand. 

When she turns back around, he looks relieved, like he’d just maneuvered through a very dangerous storm.

She moves back to him and reaches for his hand, lacing their finger together.  “Hold still,” she says, but doesn’t get a chance to lift her other hand before he catches it with his hook. 

“You don’t need to tire yourself out on my account, love.”

“I want to do this, Killian.  There’s no need for you to be in pain.  Besides, if I pass out, you’re right here to catch me.” 

She means the last part as a jest but his eyes darken and he steps forward, releasing her wrist to wrap his arm around her waist as though preparing to do just that.

She smiles to herself.  “Hold still,” she tells him again, lifting her hand just above the injury and embracing the spark of magic.  The cut heals in less than two heartbeats, not even leaving a scar to mar his skin.  Before he has time to move, she shifts her hand to the gash on his forehead, healing it as well.

“Thank you, darling,” he says as soon as the magic fades, immediately searching her features, looking for any sign of fatigue.

But she doesn’t feel weak in the least, in fact, she feels emboldened.  To prove it, she wraps her hand around the back of his neck and goes up on tiptoe until their faces are level.  His eyes darken on a sharp inhale when she stops just in front of his mouth.  Tilting her head, she lets her lips hover in front of his, her eyes focused on the way his part in anticipation.  Without kissing him, she changes the angle, rubbing their noses together, all the while watching the short breaths he takes.  Then she lifts her eyes and squeezes his neck, prompting him to look at her. 

“You can pay me later,” she says in a low voice, dropping her heels to the ground.

It takes him a moment to react to her words, his head dipping with hers to keep their lips close.  Another swell of pride surges through her that he seems too mesmerized to even process the quip but then he blinks and a slow smile spreads across his features. 

“I am in your debt, milady,” he replies with a flirty wink, his eyes twinkling.

“And I will be calling in that debt, Captain.”

He chuckles but still doesn’t release her, his eyes inspecting her again.  “No weakness?” he asks.

“No weakness,” she confirms. 

She almost wishes she had lied when his arm immediately loosens on her waist but he doesn’t step back like she expects him to, he simply stands straighter.  “Have you wondered why that is?  It seems your magic isn’t wearing you out like before.”

Yes, she has wondered.  And she’s got an opinion on the matter.  But, honestly, she’s not sure if he’s ready to hear it yet, so she just shrugs.  Then, in an attempt to distract him from that line of questioning, asks, “Shall we turn in?”

“Turn in?”

“Yes, go to bed,” she clarifies, nodding toward his bed.

When his eyes widen in understanding, she cuts him off before he can say anything.  “I don’t want to let you out of my sight either.”

He looks like he’s having trouble breathing and she can certainly relate, her own chest tight while she waits for his reply.  His Adam’s apple bobs when he glances over to the bed, looking for all the world like a man who’d just been ordered to walk the plank.  He stares at it for a good while, and she tries to be patient but trepidation fills her that he’ll refuse, so she takes drastic action.  The muscle in his neck is right in front of her eyes, and she licks her lips as she lifts to the balls of her feet, intent on discovering how it will feel under her tongue.  But it’s in that exact moment when he turns back to her and her lips end up hitting his chin instead. 

She freezes on the spot, her eyes widening in amusement and a nervous chuckle escaping her.  His eyes soften at her mirth, a quick flash of teeth when he grins.  She starts to pull away but his hand comes up and catches the back of her neck. 

“Shall we try that again, love?” he asks playfully.

Before she has time to answer, his hand is threaded in her hair, guiding her head so that when his lips descend, they collide with hers with perfect accuracy.  She hears her own surprised gasp, her hands grappling for something to hold onto so she can help keep their lips together.  They land on his shoulders and she grips fiercely for a moment before running her hands down his arms. 

His brow furrows at the sound of a click as they break apart, but they clear with understanding a moment later as she waves the hook in front of him. 

“You don’t sleep in this, do you?”  she asks.

Her teasing tone has him grinning.  “No, I don’t.  Why don’t you put it on the ledge and wait for me while I change into something more suitable for sleep?” 

“Okay,” she agrees.

After one more quick kiss, she watches him walk away until he disappears behind the wardrobe door.  Suddenly breathless, she listens as he ruffles around in the cabinet.  When he pops his head out from behind the door to catch her staring, she snaps her gaze away.

“I should probably wash a bit, too,” he comments, the words making her eyes fly back to him. 

He steps to the water basin and her heart pounds in her ears.  Is he going to undress in front of her?  She’s dreamed of seeing that chest bare of clothing for nearly as long as she known him and the possibility that she’s finally about to see it makes it difficult to breathe. 

But he doesn’t.  He turns to face her once he’s standing at the basin, hesitance in his posture.  She turns away again at his unspoken request, crossing to the bed on suddenly shaky knees. 

Trying to distract herself, she examines the hook still in her hand, her eyes landing on the key engraved in the base.  She nearly chuckles at his cleverness.  What a perfect place to hide a key, she marvels to herself, wondering what lock it fits.  It doesn’t take her long to figure it out, her eyes flying to the chest sitting next to the bed, the one she’s puzzled over nearly every night since she’s been on board. 

Her hand reflexively lifts to her necklace, her finger tracing the curves of her swan pendant.  He said he’d kept it in that chest, and she desperately wants to know what else might be in there.

She briefly wonders if he’d open it if she asked but immediately dismisses the idea.  If he refused, this wonderful night would be marred and she doesn’t want that.  She doesn’t want to give him any excuse to leave or retreat back into whatever thoughts had been plaguing him all day. 

Resolutely laying the hook next to the chest, she begins straightening the blankets and fluffing the pillows, all the while listening to the splash of water, the creak of the wardrobe door, the clunk of his sword being propped against the wall.  She’s tempted to sneak a peek but she resists, leaving her back to him until she hears his footsteps approaching. 

When she turns, he’s walking slowly toward her, taking careful steps like he thinks she might order him from the room at any moment.  He’s changed into soft black pants and a white shirt that accentuates the dark hair on his chest, the open collar affording her a breathtaking view of it.  His brace is still peeking out from the open end of his sleeve and she wonders briefly why he’s left it on.  She doesn’t take time to dwell on it, though, because the rest of him is so stunning that she can barely breathe.  His hair is damp and pushed back off his forehead in a perfect sweep, his eyes locked on hers and so blue it reminds her of a spring afternoon sky.  It’s not until he’s standing in front of her that she notices how shaky his breathing is, everything about his posture tense and hesitant.

Somehow that makes her calmer and she steps into him, wrapping her arms around his waist and tucking her head under his chin.  His arms encircle her and she feels the smallest kiss being placed to the top of her head.  It makes her sigh and sway in his arms, his hand settling in the middle of her back and squeezing her closer and rests his chin on top of her head. 

The soothing feeling of being in his arms causes the fatigue of the day return with full force, making her body heavy and weak.  Taking his hand, she turns to the bed and climbs in, pulling him down with her. 

He’s careful when he lays down, intentionally settling himself in while leaving as much a gap as possible between their bodies.  But Emma is through with distance, so she lifts his left arm and slides into his side, planting her head on his chest.

His heart is pounding under her ear, beating fast and hard, and she patiently waits for it to slow down.  After a few minutes, it appears it’s not going to so she reaches across his stomach and takes his tightly fisted hand in hers.  The fingers loosen at her prompting and she twines hers with them, settling their joined hands on his chest and leaning forward to press a light kiss to his thumb.

He lets out a long sigh and relaxes the slightest bit.  “Sleep, darling,” he murmurs, “It’s been a long couple of days.”

The rumbling of his voice under her ear is a balm to her weary body and she closes her eyes, happy to hear his heartrate finally start to slow to a rhythmic beat.  The spicy scent of him lingers in the air around her and her limbs sink into him and the mattress, his breath blowing lightly through the hair on top of her head.  She’s hard pressed to think of a time when she felt more comfortable, and she drifts into that lovely place between sleep and wake.  She has nearly drifted off completely when his body shifts and she jolts to attention, gripping at him in fear that he’s going to leave her. 

“It’s alright, love.  I’m not going anywhere,” he slurs in a sleep-drugged voice, his body now facing hers and his arm draped across her waist.

Sighing with relief, she immediately relaxes again, exhaustion already dragging her back under when he adds on a breath, “At least not until you order me to.”

Her eyes pop open to see his face mere inches from hers, completely relaxed in sleep.  She’s tempted to shake him awake, to make him explain that statement, to tell him how wrong he is but, at the same time, her throat clogs, her heart breaking at the thought that he’s still expecting her to. 

She struggles with it for a moment, the anger and the sadness caused by his sleep-induced confession churning in her stomach.  In the end, she simply snuggles closer, gripping him tight and pressing a kiss to his chin.  “Then you’ll always be with me,” she forces out past the lump in her throat.

-------

Killian awakens to the smell of lilacs and the feel of hair tickling his nose.  He’d swear this is a dream but the weight on his shoulder is too heavy to be anything but real. 

He tries to shift but she’s got him pinned to the mattress, lying on her stomach with her head planted in the crease of his shoulder, her arm draped over his chest and her leg tossed across both of his.  Her fingers are laced into the hair behind his ear and when she mumbles at the jostling, her thumb caresses along his cheek. 

Only his right arm is free and he reaches up to rub his hand over his face, wiping the sleep from his eyes.  His left arm is tingling from loss of blood flow but when he tries to extricate himself, her hand grips in his hair almost to the point of pain.  Giving in to defeat, he nudges her head down further on his chest, at least enough to get the feeling back in his arm and grits he teeth at the pins and needles until the limb is functional again.

His lips quirk into a smile, the snarl of blond curls just beneath his chin possibly the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.  She certainly is a stubborn one.  Even in sleep she won’t let him go, her tenacity a trait he loves and hates about her.  He’d woken during the night a couple of times to find her in a similar position as she’s in now.  She’d even whispered his name once, her sleepy murmur like a caress to his soul.  Add to that the way she’d groped for him in slumber, her fingers gripping his side to keep him from going far, tells him just how determined she is. 

He’s fighting a losing battle and he knows it and, honestly, with the how perfect she feels pressed up against him, he’s happy to give into defeat.  How one night of decent sleep can change a person’s perspective, he doesn’t know, but this is one time he’s not going to question it. 

Dipping his chin, he kisses the back of her head, inexplicably amused when she retaliates from the small movement by once again digging her nails into his scalp.  He’s suddenly very anxious for her to wake so that they can end this sleep-generated battle.

Softly, he starts smoothing out her hair, blindly running his fingers over her forehead and down her temple, pulling the massive length back and splaying it over his left arm.  It’s like the finest silk in his fingers, the tendrils easily unraveling and releasing the most incredible aroma into the air.  It’s springtime and beauty, the sweet fragrance a heady combination that makes him close his eyes and breathe deep. 

Once the tangles have been completely worked out and she still hasn’t awoken, he switches to running his fingers along the column of her neck.  She wriggles when he places a light caress behind her ear and he makes a mental note that there’s a particularly sensitive expanse of skin there that he’ll examine more thoroughly at a later time. 

The idea makes him long to see her face, to continue to gauge her reaction to his touch while in the unguarded moments of sleep.  So he gently nudges at her chin, now being careful not to wake her.  Disappointment rolls through him for an instant when it doesn’t work, her eyes blinking open the moment he can see them. 

“Good morning, love,” he murmurs.

She’s obviously not fully awake yet, her eyes sliding shut again on a low grumble.  Her body stretches out, languidly rubbing into his side and her knee bending until it runs over his mid-section, making him hold back a moan.  Her nose finds its way into the crook of his neck, running almost all the way up to tease his earlobe and his eyes flutter shut at how wonderful it feels, her sleepy movements both adorable and arousing.  The placement of her knee over his groin is driving him to distraction, especially when she shifts closer and locks her heel around his outside leg, but he resolutely clenches both his jaw and his hand, doing his best to keep control over his body, telling himself over and over again that she’s half-asleep and surely isn’t intending to arouse him like this. 

It doesn’t help much. 

He realizes she’s fully awake when she pulls her nose out of his neck and lays a kiss on his cheek, the words ‘Good morning,’ more a rumble in her chest than actual words.  It’s like a dream, hearing her sleep-roughened voice so close to his ear, feeling the soft mounds of her breasts pushed into his side.  He wants to hold onto it, so he tightens his arms and twists his head enough to kiss her hair.  She hums louder at that, gliding her hand from his neck and down to his chest under the loose shirt.  And, damnation, there’s no way he’ll be able to control his body if she continues like this. 

But she doesn’t continue.  Once her hand makes it to just over his heart, she uses the leverage to lean up far enough to look at him, her eyes searching his for a long moment.  He studies her as well, marveling at how perfectly a tendril of hair slips off her shoulder to land on his collarbone.

Then, without a word, she leans in and places a timid kiss to his lips.  She doesn’t close her eyes when she does it, like she’s trying to gauge his reaction, and he smiles in response. 

Her face immediately breaks into a happy grin, leaning in slowly for another light kiss, then another.  They’re sweet, innocent kisses but his body doesn’t seem to understand the difference and it reacts all on its own.  His hand moves to her chin the next time she leans in and pulls it down to open her mouth so that when it lands on his he can tease her bottom lip with his tongue.  His arm at her back gently nudges her until her body moves to completely over him, her legs straddling his thighs.  His chest arches up to feel those lovely breasts pressing into it even as his hand moves to the middle of her back to increase the contact.

Her quick gasp gets his attention and he stills, opening his eyes to find her face hovering over his with an awed expression, her eyes closed and her lip caught between her teeth.  It sends a tide of warmth through his blood and he holds the position until her eyes open.  The tender and delighted smile he receives has him relaxing his grip on her back, joy filling him as he settles into the mattress so he can simply grin back.

She goes back to her soft kisses, smiling between each one, her fingers now tracing along his neck and chin.  Her obvious happiness has him following her lead, a beautiful sense of rightness filling his heart as she leisurely explores his lips with hers and the lines of his face with her fingers.  Her eyes drift closed every time their lips meet but open in between every brush, each time landing on some new spot that her fingers are exploring.  Her thumb traces one of his eyebrows; her index finger glides down his cheek.  Every touch feels like a brand, a claiming, and he knows he’ll never allow any other woman this liberty again regardless of what his future holds.

Her fingers find their way into his hair, delving her hand all the way under his head until it’s caught between it and the pillow.  Her nails dig at his scalp to angle his head and he complies instantly, her kisses turning hungrier.  The first one that has her tongue sliding past his lips, makes him moan. The second, she goes even deeper, her free hand moving to grip at his hip and his hand fists in her nightdress.  It’s the third, though, that his body can’t ignore, the way she locks their lips together, the way her tongue rubs languidly against his and the way she nips his bottom lip before diving back in.

He knows she feels his reaction, it’s too obvious for her not to, but what he doesn’t expect is her surprised gasp.  Her eyes pop open wide, her mouth forming a startled ‘O’ that makes him think she wasn’t aware that what she was doing would affect him this way.  It confuses him for an instant because why on earth would she not know? 

Unless… 

Bloody hell… 

Unless she hasn’t…?

A sharp rapping at the hatch has both of them swinging their heads in that direction. 

“Hook!  Are you down there?  Hook, there’s a whale off the port bow!  Can we chase it?”

Grace’s voice is so filled with excitement that Emma huffs out a laugh before turning back to him.  “Sounds like you have somewhere else to be, Captain,” she teases.

He can only nod in response, his throat too tight to speak while the question continues to pound in his brain.  In fact, he’s so distracted by it that he doesn’t even respond when she presses one last chaste kiss to his lips before rolling off of him and hopping to her feet.  

He can’t take his eyes off her as she shakes out her hair and walks over to the chest where she has apparently been keeping her clothes.  He watches as she leans over it, her nightdress riding up to where it hits high on the back of her thighs, and he swallows hard.

Could it be possible?  That even after all these years, she’s still innocent?

When the next rap hits the hatch, it jolts him to a sitting position, shaking his head to clear it.

“Hook?  Are you awake?” Grace calls.

Emma quirks an eyebrow as she turns to face him, now holding some clothes in her arms.  When she sees his certainly wrecked expression, hers eyes darken and she tilts her head, a pride-filled smile spreading across her face.  The way she looking at him tells him she doesn’t know what he’s thinking and relief floods him.  She’s got that look in her eye women get when they know they’ve got a man under their spell, that confident knowing look that challenges a man’s resolve. 

Without looking away from him, she calls out to Grace, “He’ll be up in a moment, Grace.  Don’t worry, that whale won’t get away.”

Somehow, her words get his muscles to start obeying his commands again and he climbs out of the bed.  Clearing his throat, he looks over to the hatch, adding, “You just keep an eye on her, darling.  We’ll give her a run for her money.”

-------

Emma takes her time getting dressed, listening to Killian and Grace on deck.  The mixture of his deep laughter and her light giggles are like a sweet song and she closes her eyes for a moment, imagining this as their life…  Or at least what their life should have been.  Him, captaining a ship, perhaps with her and their children aboard as they sail off to visit some foreign dignitary.  It’s a beautiful daydream, a beautiful fantasy, to picture him with a raven-haired little girl on his hip while he stands behind the wheel, teaching her the ways of the sea. 

She gets lost in her dream for a while, nothing but laughter and love surrounding them, sitting on the steps and reading to their children, showing them the constellations at night then sending them to bed and curling up together, holding each other until dawn. 

If it hadn’t been for Regina, that’s what they’d be right now, blissfully happy together with no doubt or reservations.  He wouldn’t worry about her leaving him, not ever.  He wouldn’t hold back his thoughts or his affection.  He’d be her prince, her husband, her lover. 

So much had been stolen from them.  So much pain had been endured.  But now, on this ship, they have a chance to seize those moments.  It may not be the way she’d always pictured it, but she’s determined to have it nonetheless. 

The sound of more footsteps on deck tells her that the rest of the ship has awoken, so she decides to head to the galley to help Ruby with breakfast.  When she enters the room, she finds Patricia there, too, also helping out.  As promised to Grace, honey cakes are on the menu this morning and Emma offers to knead and roll the dough while Patricia mixes and Ruby shapes the pastries.

They are working on the second of three batches when she feels Ruby nudge at her hip.

“So, the Captain is finally sleeping in his cabin again,” she says with a meaningful smile.

Emma’s cheeks flame when she turns to her friend.  “You’re not going to give me a lecture, are you?”

Ruby laughs heartily, “Are you joking?  Do I look like Leroy or Granny?  Or even Sleepy?  Honestly, I think it’s about damn time.”

Emma smiles in relief, turning back to counter to continue her kneading.

“So?” Ruby asks after a moment.

“So what?”

Ruby rolls her eyes, “So… did you?”

“Ruby!”

“She didn’t,” Patricia puts in, drawing both of their attention to her where she’s standing at the table behind them, mixing the last batch of dough.

“How do you know?” Ruby asks.

“I just saw Hook on deck.  The man looks positively strained, definitely not the look of a man who has recently… you know.”

Emma doesn’t even have time to respond to that before Ruby whirls on her.  “Well, why not?” she demands.

Ruby looks so indignant that it makes Emma laugh.  “Really?  After a day like that?  We were both pretty tired and, honestly, it took quite a bit of convincing just to get him to agree to stay.”

“So nothing happened?” Ruby asks in disbelief.

And the blush is back. “Well, not nothing.  This morning we – I mean, I – I kissed him when I woke up.  And, he… well, he kissed me back and…” she trails off, too embarrassed to continue. 

“And?” Ruby coaxes.

She considers telling her for a moment, the way his cock had hardened against her thigh, how good it felt pressing up against it.  But Patricia is listening and, while she seems nice enough, Emma doesn’t know her very well and sharing the story of the most intimate thing she’s ever done is a little too personal for a first meeting.  So she just inhales a deep breath and replies, “And then we got interrupted.  Grace wanted to chase a whale.” 

“Sorry about that,” Patricia puts in, “My little girl has always been an early riser.  She snuck out while Jeff and I were still sleeping.”

“Oh, it’s okay,” Emma says quickly.  “I wasn’t complaining.  Grace is a sweet child.  And she was just excited to be on the ship.  I understand.  I remember my first voyage.  I wanted to stay on deck the whole time.  I even tried to talk my parents into letting me sleep there.”

Patricia smiles at that.  “Still, I’ll have a talk with her about not waking the two of you again.  I’d say you’re entitled to some privacy after everything you’ve been through…” she hesitates for a moment, then continues, “Look, I know it’s none of my business, but I’ve known Hook – Killian – for a long time now and I’ve never seen him look so… alive.  There was always this part of him that was…  defeated.  But now…  Well, I’ll just say I’m happy you found each other again.”

“I’m glad we did, too,” Emma replies, which earns her a nod from the woman.

“Here,” Patricia says, handing over the last batch, “this one is ready.  I should go check on Grace, make sure she’s not getting into trouble.”

After Patricia walks out, Ruby and Emma get back to work, silently rolling the dough and shaping it for baking.  It’s a mindless task, and one they’ve performed together many times, so they fall into a well-rehearsed rhythm.  Ruby keeps sending her sidelong glances and Emma knows she’s itching to know more about what happened this morning.  But Emma keeps working, not sure how to start the subject again, even though she's dying to talk about it. 

Once the last batch is in the oven, Ruby turns to her while they both wipe the lingering flour off their fingers. 

“Emma,” she says quietly, concentrating on cleaning her hands, “You know you can talk to me, right?  I mean, I want you to know that if you have questions…  You can ask me.  Or if you just want to – ”

“Does it really hurt the first time?” Emma blurts out before she can stop herself.

Ruby looks up from her hands and Emma blushes to the tips of her hair.  She doesn’t look away, though, keeping her gaze steady on her friend.

“It does,” Ruby replies, “Or at least it did for me.  But I think a lot of it has to do with the man.  Peter and I were so young.  Neither of us knew what we were doing.” Ruby swallows hard and Emma feels instant remorse for asking.  Peter had been Ruby’s first and only love and she’d unintentionally killed him before she gained control over her wolf form.

“I’m sorry, Ruby.  I shouldn’t have…”

“No.  It’s okay,” she interrupts, “It was a long time ago.” She stops for a deep breath.  “My point is that Killian…  Well, he knows what he’s doing…  so I think yours will go much easier than mine did.”

Emma reaches out and takes Ruby’s hand, still feeling guilty over bringing the subject up.

Ruby pats the back of her hand in reassurance.  “It’s really okay, Emma,” she says, “It was years ago.  I’m just glad it was him.  I’m glad it was with someone I loved.  Like you and Killian.  Whether or not either of you is ready to admit it, you love each other.  And the two of you have waited a long time for this.  I have no doubt it will be perfect for you.  He’ll make sure it is.  You may not like the idea that he’s… more experienced now, but trust me when I say, you’re going to appreciate it when it finally happens.”

“Maybe you’re right.  I just… I wish I knew more about it.  He’s this legendary pirate and I’m hopelessly naïve.  I don’t want to disappoint him.”

“Emma, there’s no way he’ll be disappointed,” Ruby says sardonically.

Emma isn’t so sure but she lets that go.  “So, how do I… How do I let him know I want to?  He’s been so… distant.  Even last night, after everything that happened, I still had to practically drag him to his quarters.  And then he looked like he was ready to bolt out of the room at any moment.  And he said something in his sleep…  But then this morning, when we were kissing, he…  Well, he got…”

“Excited?” Ruby supplies.

“Yeah.  And it sort of caught me off guard.  I mean, we’d barely started kissing.  I didn’t think just kissing would make him… you know.”

“Hard as a rock?” Ruby asks with a sly smile that brings the blush back to Emma’s cheeks. “Look, it doesn’t take a lot for men.  And it’s nothing to be afraid of – ”

“I’m not afraid of it,” Emma cuts her off, “I want to.  Like you said, we’ve waited long enough.  I just don’t know how to let him know.”

“Oh, I don’t think you need to worry about that,” Ruby tells her with a laugh.  “I’ve never known you to not get something when you wanted it badly enough.  Just be the stubborn princess we all know and love and don’t let him out of that room until you’re finished with him.”

Ruby adds a wink at the end that makes Emma feel much better. 

----

It’s a beautiful day.  Perhaps the most beautiful of his life.  And it’s not only because of the bright sun overhead or the lovely breeze on deck.  It’s not only because of the gentle waves or the full sails or the way the Jolly cuts through the water with ease.  It’s also about the musical sound of a child’s laughter ringing across the deck and the jovial mood of everyone on board.  It’s the freedom of being on the water, the tranquility that accompanies being among friends. 

And it’s Emma. 

It’s Emma and the way she’s never far from his side.  The way she sits next to him during breakfast, stands with him at the helm, rests her head on his shoulder when Grace begs to climb up to the crow’s nest and the amused smile she gives him when he agrees. 

It’s the closest he’s felt to being Lieutenant Killian Jones in a very long time. 

Ruby, with help from Emma and Patricia, prepares a delicious feast for them for dinner.  Killian and Jefferson set up a table on deck and they all gather around it at twilight to celebrate their victory from the day before, Grace’s safety, Dopey’s survival, their escape from the clutches of Regina’s soldiers. 

Emma sits next to him, of course, as they all take turns telling Grace stories about life before the Evil Queen’s reign.  Emma is nearing the end of a story about the time they’d gotten caught in the rain and had to wait out the storm in an abandoned cottage when Grace chimes in. 

“And you thought you’d be in trouble when you returned to the castle, but no one said a word about it.  The king and queen were just happy you were safe and thanked Hook for taking such good care of you.  Then he walked you to your room, and you gave him his coat back, and he kissed you goodnight.”

At Emma’s shocked expression, Grace adds, “I’ve heard that one before.  Hook told me.  I just didn’t know it was about you and him.”

Emma turns to him with then with a stunning smile.  “You told her stories about us?”

“I did,” he admits without shame, his heart filled with happiness when she leans over right then and kisses him softly on the mouth. 

Yes, it’s a beautiful day.  A perfect day.  Too perfect to worry about tomorrow.  Too perfect to ruin with sad tales and guilty confessions. 

He knows they still need to talk, he needs to tell her about his life since the fall of the kingdom, but somehow that doesn’t seem as urgent at the moment.  He keeps telling himself it should.  He should tell her everything before anything else happens between them.  But, at the same time, the pirate side of him tells him to use this peace they’ve found to solidify her affection while he still has the chance.  Maybe if he can show her how life could be for them, she’ll be less likely to push him away after. 

And then there’s the question of her innocence, as well.  It’s been beating around in his head all day and, if what he suspects is true, he can’t deny he yearns to be her first.  It’s consuming his thoughts, the chance that after everything that was taken from them, there is a possibility that this one thing can still be as it should have been.  Only now, he won’t be fumbling around like an overeager young lad.  Now he’ll be able to show her everything there is to know about the wonders of the dark.  He can guide her through the secrets of ecstasy, teach her how to move, where to touch.  He can bear witness to the first time she feels a woman’s pleasure and be the man who gives it to her. 

There’s a small part of him that rails at the idea.  They’re not married.  He still has so many things to tell her.  But that damn pirate side keeps whispering in his ear, needling him, coaxing him to throw propriety aside and take what he wants while he can. 

It’s not the most noble idea, but his body isn’t listening to his noble side at the moment.  He’s been walking around half-hard all day, tempted at every turn to take her in his arms and carry her to his cabin, to bury himself inside her and ravage every inch of her skin, to use every bit of sexual prowess he has to guide her through the wonders of passion… show her every blood rushing, sensual secret he knows… make her senses overload, make her body quiver, make her forget everything but him and the pleasure he can give her.

Make her his – in every sense of the word.

It’s a struggle, to be sure.  Trying to talk his body out of what it wants so desperately.  Especially with the way she’s been looking at him all day, the quirk in her brow that tells him she knows what he’s thinking and wants him just as much. 

It’s still fairly early when they finish dinner, but the sun has disappeared and he’s just about to seize that flimsy excuse to offer her his arm and suggest they turn in for the night.  But then Dopey appears with a flute he must have found in the crews’ quarters and, to everyone else’s delight, starts playing a tune.  Disappointment rolls through him but he tamps it down, resolving to stay on deck through at least one song.  They’ve got all night after all, and patience is one thing he’s always prided himself on. 

Midway through the song, Jefferson takes Patricia’s hand and leads her to the middle of the deck, he gives her a flourishing courtly bow that has her laughing and pulls her into his arms for a dance.  It takes Patricia a moment to catch on, the elegant waltz not the type of dancing she’s used to, but soon she’s gliding along the deck with her husband, both of them smiling softly at the other.

Killian watches Emma out of the corner of his eye, her foot tapping along with the music.  He’s just about to ask her to dance when Grace appears at his left, begging a dance for herself. 

Picking the little girl up, he spins her around on deck to the beat of Dopey’s song, Emma’s eyes following their every move.  She’s got a faraway look in her eyes, a gentle smile touching her lips that makes his heart swell. 

When the song ends, Grace hugs him tight and thanks him.  And before he knows it, the second song begins.  Without hesitation, he crosses to Emma and sweeps his princess into his arms, their gazes locking and the years melting away... 

She’s smiling at him, she’s in his arms, and suddenly, they’re back in the ballroom on the night of their engagement party, twirling around the floor without a care in the world.  The music surrounds them and they get lost in each other’s eyes.  He spins her out and pulls her back, her mischievous grin prompting him to go one step further and splay his hand on her spine, lowering her into a deep dip.  He stops while she’s leaned back and she giggles, the sound more beautiful than anything Dopey could ever play. 

But when he slowly straightens her, her gaze falls to his chest and the mood shifts, the smile leaving her face and her eyes clouding. 

He knows her well enough to know what she’s thinking about because he’s thinking about it, too.  She’s remembering the attack that followed, the ring of steal, the screams, her last glimpse of her parents, the balcony collapsing and their final goodbye.

He’s not sure how much time passes, both of them frozen in the middle of the deck, still holding their waltz frame, chests heaving with deep breaths not caused by their current dance but by the agonizing memory of that fateful night. 

When she lifts her head, tears are streaming down her cheeks, and it’s only then he notices the music has stopped.  He’s just about to pull her into his arms – because this time he can – this time there’s not an insurmountable gulf between them, but as he makes a move toward her, her eyes widen and her shoulders stiffen.  

He stops in mid-movement, his brow wrinkling in confusion when she swallows hard.  Her eyes darken with a sudden understanding that has his stomach plummeting and she jerks her hand from his shoulder, taking a step back. 

“It was my fault we got separated,” she whispers, her words laced with horror.

He’s got no bloody idea what she’s talking about, but whatever it is makes her face crumple, her hands going up to cover her mouth.

“Darling – ” he starts, taking a step toward her.

“It was my magic.  My magic caused the ground to shake.  The balcony collapsed because of me.”

Her voice is trembling, her lower lip quivering and she catches it between her teeth, looking up to him with eyes that beg forgiveness.

His heart splinters right in two at that look, the realization hitting him hard in the chest that she’s now blaming herself for their fate. “You can’t know that, love – ”

“Yes, I can,” she insists, “It was my magic, I’m sure of it.  My mother was being drug from the room, my father was being attacked from behind and I was so angry.  I didn’t realize it then – I didn’t realize it until just now – but that was the first time I used magic… And it separated us.”

Her voice cracks and he tries to reach for her but she’s too quick, taking a step back and pulling his hook up between them. “Your hand…”

Her words are thick with self-loathing and his heart breaks for her.  “Don’t, darling.  It wasn’t your fault.”

“It was,” she cries, the words garbled when she brings a wrist up to cover the sob that escapes. 

She drops his hook and takes another step away, her shoulders hunched.  He follows but she continues to retreat, shaking her head furiously and holding her hand up as if to ward him off.

“Listen to me, darling,” he entreats, matching her step for step, lifting his own hand toward her in a calming gesture. 

But she doesn’t hear him, she’s mumbling under her breath, something he can’t quite make out, her eyes set on the planks at her feet while she continues to retreat. Her breath is stilted and strained against the tears and he swears he can feel her agony in his own chest, the sinking feeling in his gut making him desperate to hold her, but she’s still got her hand up in a request for distance, so he just continues to match her steps, unwilling to let her get too far.

He sees the rail behind her and prepares for the moment it will hinder her retreat.  When it does, he takes immediate advantage, hauling her into his arms.  She struggles against him for a moment, landing one good pound on his arm, but then the sobs overcome her, a nearly inhuman sound of anguish escaping her lips.

He pulls her into his chest as her body collapses in on itself, her temple landing on his shoulder.  It’s then that he catches what she’s mumbling – my fault, my fault – and his heart cracks, curling himself around her and keeping her from falling when her knees buckle. 

“It wasn’t,” he vows, enunciating each word, “It wasn’t your fault.  It was Regina’s.  It was the Evil Queen and her thirst for power and vengeance.” 

Her weeping cries are still drowning out his voice, so he sinks to the deck and settles her in his lap, his hand tangling in her hair to push it out of her face, trying to wait until the sobs subside so that she’ll hear him.  But he can’t take it, he can’t stand to see her like this and he fists his hand in her hair, trying to lift her head.

When she refuses to budge, he switches tactics, cupping her chin in his hand. “Emma, love.  Look at me,” he implores, his voice close to a croak as emotion strangles him.  But she still doesn’t move.

Emma,” he repeats, a little louder this time, “Look at me, please, darling.” 

Perhaps it’s his pleading tone or perhaps it’s that she realizes he’d called her by her name, but she finally lifts her head.

“If what you’re saying is true, then you saved your father’s life that day.  I saw the man coming for him.  He would have been dead a moment later if it hadn’t been for you,” he tells her, wiping at her tears with his thumb. 

She shakes her head.  “But that was the moment I lost everything.  When that balcony collapsed.  I’ve wondered about it thousands of times and I never understood what happened.  But it was me.  It was my magic, not Regina’s.”

Her eyes glaze over again and his breath freezes in his lungs.  “I was cut off from you.  There was nothing I could do when I saw that sword aiming for your wrist.  I couldn’t get to you.  I couldn’t even comfort you.” 

Her hand raises to his cheek and she swipes her thumb across it as though she’s offering him the comfort now that she couldn’t give him then.  “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t.  Don’t say you’re sorry.  It wasn’t your fault.  Regina took everything from us…  No, don’t look away, darling.  Listen to what I’m saying.  She took everything.  But she didn’t take our lives.  Against all odds, we survived.  We found each other again.  We’re here now.  We’re together.  And soon, you’ll see your parents again.  We’ll help your father save your mother and we’ll defeat Regina for good.”

He searches her eyes while he speaks, praying that she’ll believe him, praying that she’ll stop blaming herself for something that was out of her control.  She draws several long breaths, her eyes never leaving his and finally she nods, making his body slump with relief.

His head falls forward until it rests against hers and he wipes the tears from her cheeks, a lump forming in the back of his throat as they cling to each other, offering each other the comfort they were denied so long ago.

It goes on for a while, both of them wiping at each other’s tears, their breaths returning to normal.  He sees the guilt leave her jade eyes and he sighs in relief, her body relaxing as she brings her hand up to run the backs of her fingers along his cheek.

“Promise you’ll never leave me,” she requests quietly.

He meets her gaze head-on, making sure she can see the truth in his words. “I’ll never leave you, Emma.  I promise.  I’ll stay by your side as long as you wish it.”

She nods and sniffles, and then they’re both moving, sealing the vow with a long kiss.  He can taste the salt from her tears and he pulls her closer, angling his head to deepen the it.  She moves easily with him, in no more of a rush than him to let this moment end.  He savors it, the feel of their mouths working together in perfect synchronization, like they’re reading each other’s minds.

When they finally separate, the world comes back into focus around them and he’s suddenly aware of the fact that everyone is watching, but he can’t bring himself to care.  He’s with his princess.  They beat the odds and here they are.  She’s looking at him with love swimming in her eyes and his breath catches, her soft smile making his heart soar.

“Killian?”

“Yes, darling?”

“Say it again?”

He smiles. 

“Emma.”

Chapter Text

"Killian."

Emma stands in front of her mirror and tests the name on her tongue.

"Killian," she says again.

She's going to see him today. Finally. He and his brother are coming to the castle to report on the status of northern sea and she's determined to get a moment alone with him while he's here. The last time she saw him he'd given her flowers and she'd kissed him at the door to her room, and she's really hoping for a repeat performance.

"How was your voyage, Killian?"

No. By the time she gets him alone, he'll have already made his report, so why would she ask that?

"I was thinking about walking down to the lake. Would you care to join me, Killian?"

Much better. That will accomplish both of her intentions at the same time: getting him alone and calling him by name.

Her plan firmly in place, she smooths out her dress and runs a brush through her hair. After one last glance at the mirror, she heads to the great hall, her footsteps flying over the floor. When she turns the last corner, she collides hard into Leroy.

"Whoa, what's the hurry, princess?"

"Sorry, Leroy, I just don't want to miss today's reports."

That makes his brow furrow, a look of clear disbelief on his face. "And since when do you care about the reports?" he asks, pressing his lips together and crossing his arms.

"Since… Well, since I… Oh, I just do, alright?!" she huffs, making her way around him.

His laughter rings out behind her, echoing against the stone walls. "I'm sure the Lieutenant's report will be riveting!"

She ignores the jibe, but slows her pace, demurely walking to stand to her father's left on the dais.

She sees him as soon as he enters. She's listening to – or trying to listen to – the report being made by the newly appointed Duke of Weselton but her focus is on the door, her heart racing with anticipation.

She knows she's shifting around, hardly able to stay in her place in front of her throne, impatient for Killian to appear. When her mother catches her eye, she sees the admonishment there, so she straightens her shoulders and does her best to give the Duke her full attention, plastering a polite smile on her face which makes the Duke's brighten.

He's a young man for a Duke, his father having died many years ago and his grandfather (who apparently had some history with Queen Elsa) passing just last month. He's polite and well-mannered and, if Emma is being fair, handsome as well, and Emma is not oblivious to the way people are watching for her reaction to him.

She wants to roll her eyes. People at court are always watching her now. It seems that when a princess reaches a certain age, the only question on everyone's minds is which man will catch her eye.

Still, she keeps the polite smile in place, nodding along with her father when she notices him out of the corner of her eye to make it look like she's actually listening.

She knows Killian enters the room before she even sees him. Her skin comes to life, a tingle running down her spine, just like it does every time he's near. It takes no small effort to stop herself from searching the room to find him but she manages to keep her attention on the Duke until he finishes his speech.

As soon as the Duke is dismissed, her eyes seek out the blue of Killian's, and she's not surprised at all when they land on him immediately. Butterflies fill her chest and she longs to cross to him, to throw her arms around him and remind herself just how soft his lips are. Unfortunately, for now, she has to settle for flashing him a quick smile. When he returns it, the butterflies move into her stomach and she'd almost swear her feet leave the ground for a moment.

K&EK&EK&E

She's absolutely breathtaking, standing to her father's left, the crown of her station perched atop her golden curls. It's a concerted effort to look away from her when it's time for him to address the King and Queen. Thankfully, he'd memorized every word of his report several times over, so he's able to give it without stuttering.

Theirs is the last of the morning and as soon as they've finished, the crowd begins to mingle. Killian immediately starts through the crowd toward the princess, but a conversation he overhears stops him dead in his tracks.

"It can't hurt to request an introduction," a portly gentleman is saying to the man next to him.

"For what purpose?" the younger man asks.

"She's the Princess of Misthaven."

The younger man is rolling his eyes. "I know who she is, but what's the point in meeting her?"

"Nicholas, stop acting like you don't know what I'm talking about. She's the most sought after woman in all the kingdoms. She's beautiful, and loved, and heir to the throne. The man who marries her will be king someday."

"And you think the grandson of a disgraced Duke is an appropriate match for a princess?"

"She's not yet promised to anyone. What could it hurt to present your suit?"

"She may not be promised yet, but if the castle gossip is to be believed, her heart has already been claimed."

The older man scoffs. "Her heart is not where the power lies. It's her hand in marriage that is of value. You still have a chance at that. If you act quickly, that is."

Killian realizes his hand is balled into a fist a moment before someone pulls on his arm, dragging him away from the two men.

"It's not worth it, brother," Liam whispers into his ear.

"But they're speaking of her as if she's a trophy to be won," he sputters in indignation.

"And they aren't the only ones who think that way. To many, that's exactly what she is," Liam replies, maneuvering him to an isolated alcove.

"Not to me."

"I know. But you can't go around knocking out everyone who thinks that way. You'll wear out your fist on the first day. Besides, you heard the man: Her heart has already been claimed."

Killian's throat clogs, his stomach plummeting. "Who do you think the lucky man is?" he asks in a small voice.

Liam's only response is to smirk and shake his head.

K&EK&EK&E

She's lost track of him. He'd been standing next to the new Duke of Weselton but when she'd made it to that spot, he'd disappeared. Scanning the crowd, she tries to find his dark head but there's no sign of him anywhere.

The next thing she knows, Ruby appears at her side, leaning into her ear to say something while motioning toward the corner with her arm but she's interrupted before she can even speak.

"Lady Lucas, would you do us the honor of an introduction?"

"Of course," Ruby automatically replies, straightening and flashing Emma a look of apology.

Emma does her best not to look annoyed at the delay. She knows there's no way out of being introduced to the Duke, so she schools her features and turns to face the men.

"Princess, allow me to introduce Reginald McIntyre, Lord of Alpine Hall and Nicholas Pryce, Duke of Weselton. Gentlemen, may I present Emma, The Swan Princess of Misthaven."

Both men make their bows.

"It's a pleasure, princess," the older man says.

"The pleasure is all mine, Lord McIntyre."

"Princess," the Duke nods.

"My Lord Duke," she replies with a nod of her own, "I do hope you're enjoying your stay with us."

"He is," Lord McIntyre responds before the Duke can speak. "He was just telling me how much he adores your gardens. We don't have such lovely sights in the North of Arendelle. I'm afraid not much grows through the ice."

"I'm terribly sorry to hear that. Please feel free to roam the gardens at your leisure while you're here," Emma replies, turning to the Duke and noting his obvious discomfort. Emma feels immediate sympathy for the young man, his embarrassment clear at Lord McIntyre's matchmaking attempts.

"Thank you, Your High – "

"I hear you know the gardens very well," the older man interrupts, "Perhaps you could educate the Duke on which of the plants are the most resilient – "

"I'm sure the Princess has more important things to do with her time than teach me the pros and cons of foliage," the Duke cuts him off with a stern tone and hard look.

Ruby fidgets next to her but Emma manages not to, even when the two men stare each other down.

In an attempt to distract them all, she turns to Ruby. "Ruby, would you be so kind as to ensure that the Duke has a cutting of snowbells before he leaves?" she asks.

"Of course," Ruby replies.

Turning back to the Duke, she adds, "Have you ever seen them before, your grace?"

"I don't believe so, Your Highness," he replies with a polite smile, finally breaking his stare from the older man.

"They are my mother's favorite and can grow nearly anywhere."

"You honor me, princess."

An uncomfortable silence descends after that, during which Emma glances back and forth between the two men. She can see the lord's irritation with the Duke for not pushing his suit further and the way the Duke determinedly ignores him.

A quick scan of the room still doesn't reveal Killian so, since it seems her plans to get him alone have been thwarted before they'd begun, she takes pity on the Duke.

"If you have nothing else planned for the afternoon, I could take you on a tour of the gardens. Perhaps find some other flowers that would do well in your northern environment."

"That's really not necessary, Your Highness."

Lord McIntyre actually huffs in exasperation.

"I insist, your grace," Emma adds quickly.

The Duke gives her a grateful, if somewhat sardonic, smile. "It would be my pleasure, princess," he says, offering his arm.

K&EK&EK&E

When Killian emerges from the alcove, it's to see the princess being led from the room on the arm of the Duke and his heart sinks to his feet. His first instinct is to follow them, to challenge the man or, at the very least, reveal his nefarious intentions to the princess in no less than succinct, terse sentences. He doesn't, though, mostly because his legs go rigid with agony when he sees Emma smile at the man. It's like his heart has stopped beating in his chest – only he knows it hasn't because all he can hear is the blood pumping in his head when she disappears through the archway.

Ruby catches his eye from across the room and starts toward him but Killian turns on his heel before she can reach him, fleeing the crowd of people in a desperate need for fresh ocean air.

The men look surprised when he boards the Jewel but no one comments on it (he's fairly certain they can tell he's itching for a fight) and he barks out a few orders before retreating to his cabin. He flops down on his cot as soon as he enters, squeezing his eyes shut, wishing for all the world that he'd never set eyes on the enchanting Princess of Misthaven.

It's nearly dark when a hard, impatient rap sounds on his door. He springs to his feet, intent on giving whoever it is a severe scolding for interrupting him when he's not even supposed to be on duty, but when he wrenches the door open, the words die on his tongue.

The Princess is standing on his threshold, looking equal measures of furious and hurt, her hands clasped tightly in front of her.

"I've been looking for you all day," she blurts, completely dispensing with all propriety of a formal greeting.

The shock of her appearance sends his heart racing and leaves his body paralyzed so he doesn't even have the wherewithal to move, causing her to physically push past him to enter the room.

"It wasn't what you thought," she says, turning on her heel when she reaches the center, "I was trying to help the Duke get away from that nasty Lord McIntyre who was intent on embarrassing him as best he could, and the only way I could do that was making it look like the old man's plan was working. I spent ten minutes in the garden with him before he, very apologetically, told me I didn't need to waste my day entertaining him when there was so obviously somewhere else I wanted to be."

"I…" he takes a step toward her, his chest tight but soaring because she's here, even though her eyes are flashing with temper.

"Ruby told me you saw us leave. She tried to catch you to tell you what was happening but you disappeared. What did you think? That I didn't know what was they were after? That I'm oblivious to the way some people see me as nothing but a means to an end? A way to get to the throne?"

"I…" he tries again.

"I haven't seen you in months. I've been looking forward to this all week. I wanted to walk through the gardens with you. I wanted it to be just the two of us and now I've spent the entire day scouring the castle trying to find you!"

"I…" If she'd let him speak, he'd apologize but she's on quite the tear and doesn't even pause.

"And what have you been doing?" she asks, sounding close to hysteria. "You've been hiding on your ship! You saw me with another man and you assumed… What? That I'm that fickle? That I go around kissing every man I meet?!"

"Princess…"

"Well, you're wrong. I've only kissed one man in my entire life – "

He stops her words with his mouth, which, it seems, is the only way to get her to stop yelling at him.

Her body stiffens at first, her fisted hands landing on his chest and pushing hard enough that he breaks from her mouth. But he doesn't release her, keeping his hand steady on her back.

"I'm sorry," he breathes against her lips before she can yell at him again, thankful when she eases the pressure on his chest, "I'm an idiot. I saw you with him and I…" Bloody hell, what can he say to make this right? "I'm sorry," he repeats, pressing his lips back to hers.

Her hands flatten on his chest, breaking with his mouth to respond with a petulant, "You should be," that makes him smile.

"I am. Please forgive me. I suppose I'm not entirely rational when it comes to you, princess."

"You're forgiven," she replies, fisting her hands again, this time into his coat to pull him back to her.

Her lips are warm and soft, softer than he remembers from their last brief kiss, and he tilts his head, pressing further into them. She makes a small sound in the back of her throat that sends his senses reeling, one of her hands easing up from his chest to graze her fingers over his chin.

"I've missed you," she mumbles into his lips.

"I've missed you, too."

K&EK&EK&E

She'd been frantic to find him. She had started out concerned but after hours of searching, the concern had hardened into annoyance.

Now that she's in his arms, she admits to herself that part of her anger hadn't really been with him but more about her plans for the day getting spoiled. He has precious little time ashore and the loss of even these few hours means that much time wasted. But at least she'd managed to get him alone like she'd hoped this morning. In fact, she'd barely dared to hope for another kiss and the way things have worked out might just be better than what she'd had planned.

Smiling to herself, she pulls back from his mouth and catches her lip between her teeth. There's one more thing she wanted to do today and right now seems like the perfect moment.

"Killian?" He goes completely still when she calls him by name. "Will you come back to the castle with me? I'm sure August is losing his mind by now trying to find me. I didn't tell him where I was going."

He's smiling by the time she has finished talking, a radiant smile that makes her heart skip a beat. Then he dips his head, rubbing his nose against hers in a way she finds surprisingly affectionate. "I'd like nothing more, princess."

"Emma," she whispers, "you can call me Emma."

"Emma," he breathes in low voice, his grin widening.

It's much later as they are standing on the balcony overlooking the garden, his chest lined up to her back with his arms caging her against the rail when he whispers into her ear, "Emma?"

"Yes?"

"Would you mind saying it again?"

She turns to face him, wrapping her arms around his neck.

"Killian," she whispers just before she covers his lips.


"Emma."

The sound of her name in his lilting baritone sends a thrill down her spine, all the way to her toes.

"Again."

"Emma."

She can barely hear the word, pressed into the skin of her shoulder as it is, his lips and tongue working their way methodically across all the exposed skin he can find.

She's currently pressed into the wall of his cabin, both of them having deserted the others without so much as bidding them goodnight after the emotional display on deck. Killian had simply gotten to his feet and offered her his hand, tucking her into his side as they had moved as one toward the closest hatch.

And now, here they are, finally where she'd wanted to get him all day, the feel of his lips on her skin igniting a rush of sensations stirring through her blood.

Her fingers dig into his back, raking across the cool fabric of his vest. He'd never donned his coat today and, while he looks stunning in it, she has to admit that she appreciates it right now since it makes it easier for her to feel the muscles of his back working under her fingers.

His lips travel to her neck, his hand gathering her hair to push it out of the way so that he can draw a hot line all the way up to her ear with his tongue. When he nips at the lobe, she arches, throwing her head back and rapping it against the wall.

She hears a thud and opens her eyes to see his hook buried in the wood just above her. At the same time, he languidly straightens, rubbing their bodies together in a slow slide that makes her toes curl. She swears she can feel every pore in her body zing to life, goosebumps breaking out everywhere at once, her hands falling limply to her sides as the riot of sensations course through her.

He says her name again, unbidden this time, the sound breaking through the pounding of blood in her ears and she opens her eyes, trying to catch her breath. Her knees feel like water and she becomes vaguely aware that his lips have left her skin. She also realizes that the only thing keeping her upright is his hand at her waist and the press of his body pinning her to the wall.

"Emma," he repeats, calling her out of the dark pleasure to focus her attention on him.

His eyes are a deeper blue than she's ever seen them, staring directly at her with a furrowed brow and her heart sinks.

"We should talk, love," he says, regret and fear lacing the words.

Talk? He wants to talk? Now?

"Talk?"

"Yes, there are things I should tell you, things – "

"Now?"

He cuts off at the disbelief in her voice, his eyes clouding, and she stands stock still, her breath catching in her chest at the guilt in his eyes, a self-loathing and pleading expression that makes her heart ache.

"Yes, I think, perhaps, now would be best… before we – "

"No," she tells him, moving her hand further back into his hair so that she can keep him from looking away. "I know what you think," and she does, she can see it written all over his face. This is what he'd been worrying over yesterday. It's about his past and the things he's done that he regrets. "You think I'll change my mind once you tell me. But I won't."

Whatever it is must be something dreadful, something he considers nearly unforgivable because he can't meet her eyes. But it doesn't matter, not to her. Whatever he's done, it's brought him to this place and she knows he's not that person anymore. No man who puts the lives of everyone around him before his own is anything less than a hero.

He shakes his head, trying to take a step away, "Emma, you don't understand."

"I do," she insists, stopping his retreat by tightening her grip. "I've already told you, I don't care what you had to do to survive – "

"It wasn't always about survival, love," he says with a wince, his lids falling to cover the storm of remorse raging in his eyes.

The pain in his voice makes her suck in a breath, her own voice softening to a whisper. "I still don't care."

"You might, if you knew…"

"I won't."

He looks back to her then, pressing his lips together as if trying to figure out if he believes her. His eyes darken and she knows without a doubt he doesn't believe her, so she keeps going, not giving him a chance to protest.

"Whatever it is, it can wait. It won't change the way I feel," she vows.

"Emma…" She can see the internal struggle he's going through, the fear and the doubt riddling his features. But underneath that, she can see his resolve start to waver. He wants her, she knows it, he's just afraid she won't forever.

Carefully, like she's approaching a scared animal, she moves closer, gently nudging at his neck to bring their heads together. "Today has been so perfect," she whispers, closing her eyes and leaning in, "It's been so beautiful. Let make tonight beautiful as well. We deserve this. We've waited so long."

"Emma…" he grounds out, barely a protest when she closes the last bit of distance and lifts her mouth to his.

He groans as if in pain but doesn't push her away and she steps into him, pulling at his lower lip with her teeth the way she'd done this morning. The answering whimper from him tells her she's picked the right tactic and she cups his face, diving back in for a deep kiss. He cooperates by opening his mouth to invite her tongue inside and she accepts the invitation with relish, sliding their tongues together with a low moan.

He doesn't try to break the kiss but he keeps his arms resolutely at his sides as she turns them, leading him toward the bed as she backs into the room. She misjudges the distance and hits the back of her thighs against the table, his hand moving to her hip to steady her. But as soon as she's gained her balance, he releases her again, breaking from her mouth in one last effort to resist.

She stops his objection before he can utter it. "Please, Killian," she begs, her voice near a whimper in her desperation, "Let's have the wedding night that was stolen from us."

His answer is another groan, one that sounds like it's ripping him in two, but he finally relents, drawing back enough to look at her. His eyes search her face one last time before he nods, cupping her cheek tenderly. "Our wedding night," he agrees, wrapping his arm around her waist and tucking her gently into the long line of his body.

All doubt leaves his eyes after that, the years melting away. They were never separated, she's never been a tavern maid and he's never been a pirate. They're young and full of dreams, a shining future in front of them, one where he doesn't doubt her feelings, one where they can show each other how much they love each other without reservation.

When he slowly bends to kiss her, it's soft and sweet, the absolute perfection of it making her eyes sting. Because this is what it would have been like - love and desire pouring out of him, a gentleness in his movements that she remembers vividly from all those years ago.

She loves him. She loves him more than she ever has before. And she wants to tell him. But she won't say it. Not tonight, at least. He won't believe her yet, so she holds her tongue and lets the dream descend, lets this fantasy come to life where he's Lieutenant Killian Jones and she's the Swan Princess.

The kiss spins out, lips moving leisurely together, slowly, adoringly, fingers brushing faces and necks, light caresses that say the many things she knows won't be said aloud. She luxuriates in it all the same, the gentle seduction one that fills her being with love even without the words.

He eases her away from the table, his expert navigational skills moving them through the room toward the bed without breaking the kiss. It's beyond incredible, the way his lips mold to hers, the way the rough leather of his brace glides across the small of her back to guide her where he wants her to go.

A haze overtakes her mind, barely aware that they've made it to the bed, his lips on hers coaxing and prodding with slow, deliberate strokes as if he's in as much of a trance as her. When he draws back just enough to look at her, the bright blue of his eyes is so full of awe that it makes her smile.

He smiles back and she leans in, craving his taste, pressing her lips to his chin, her thumb urging him to tilt his head to the side so she can return the attention he's been giving her. When she drags her tongue over his throat, he sighs, cupping the back of her head lightly in encouragement. He tastes salty but sweet, the short whiskers of his beard tickling at her nose. She feels his next groan against her lips, the sound sending pulses through her own body, little shocks that warm her skin.

His fingers tighten on her neck, directing her mouth back to his to plunder it without restraint and the warmth turns to fire, burning through her veins. Then his hand is moving, a slow journey down her spine, that leaves her locked to him from shoulders to hips. When he reaches her back side, he gives it a squeeze, leveraging her up so that their middles meet in a perfect connection that makes the fire gather where she feels his hard length pressing to her.

He rocks once, grinding their hips together and her eyes pop open in surprise at the way that fire ignites an explosion of pleasure, tingles and shivers so incredible that they steal her breath and she has to break from his mouth to breathe.

He stills and eases his grip on her waist, his eyes studying her shocked expression. His thumb starts drawing light circles into the base of her spine while he waits for her to catch her breath, a look of awed hope lighting his eyes.

"Darling? Have you… Have you never…?" he asks roughly, his voice soft and reverent.

He holds his breath while he waits for her answer, an earnestness in his eyes, and joy shoots through her.

It never even occurred to her that it would be a question for him. She'd thought that he'd be able to tell, notoriously skilled pirate that he is, that her experience was lacking. But apparently he doesn't know, not for sure, anyway, and her chest fills with pride that even with her lack of knowledge, she's apparently not so… obviously naïve as she'd thought.

Smiling softly, she lifts one hand to his cheek, overjoyed that she still has this gift to give him, knowing without a doubt that it's something he will appreciate, something he will cherish.

"I haven't," she whispers.

The breath he'd been holding releases in a quick puff of air and then his forehead lands on hers. He doesn't move for a moment, except to lift his hand to her cheek and squeeze his eyes shut, the emotion rolling through him causing an actual shiver that she feels under the palm she has pressed to his back.

Her heart surges with love when she sees his lips flash a quick smile, then she closes her eyes, too. It's like she can feel the intensity of her confession seeping through him mirrored in her own being, the overwhelming and total adoration he's been hiding from her finally and completely unguarded.

They breathe the same air for what feels like eternity, his thumb sweeping back and forth on her cheek over and over again, the peaceful glow of love causing something to stir in her stomach. She marvels in it, the certainty of his devotion and the feel of his calloused thumb on her face combining into a moment she knows she will hold dear her entire life.

"I'll show you everything, darling," he vows in rough voice. "I'll give you so much pleasure that you'll forget your own name. I'll make it incredible for you, I promise."

Somewhere in the back of her mind, it registers that he's suddenly trembling, his voice shaking, but that pales to the thrill of his promise, the overwhelming desire to feel the things he's planning to do to her making her heart thump in her chest.

Tangling her fingers in his hair, she urges his head up to look at her, her body already tingling as she meets his gaze head-on, whispering softly, "Show me."

The grin that spreads across his face is so full of joy that she finds herself smiling back, then he's kissing her again, the arm at her back lifting her to her toes while the other seeks her hand, twining their fingers together. He brings their linked hands up between them, moving his lips to kiss the backs of each of her fingers, the action so surprisingly affectionate that she shivers.

With a shy smile that makes her heart leap in her chest, he moves her hand to the buckles of his vest, her breath catching as she realizes what he's giving her permission to do. She makes quick work of it, the garment falling to the floor at their feet. She hesitates when she reaches for his shirt, looking to him to make sure he's okay with her removing it. He nods with a shaky smile and her chest tightens, a deep understanding of the trust he's handing to her making it difficult to breathe.

She wonders vaguely how long it's been since he's shown anyone his wrist as she lifts the material over his head but she doesn't ask because the sight of his chest is so breathtaking that she can't utter a word. She doesn't even look at the brace, her eyes too mesmerized by the dark hair covering the hard planes of his chest and abdomen. Tentatively, she reaches out and runs her hands down him, exploring the feel of him under her palms. The muscles are as hard as they look, but the skin covering them is soft, the hair that gathers into a thin line at his stomach drawing her gaze to where it disappears into his pants.

The next thing she knows, he swoops in and kisses her, hard and hungry, her hands getting caught between them when he pulls her close again. She feels the rapid beat of his heart beneath her hand, the desperation of his kiss showing her a glimpse of the raw passion he has in store for her. Without breaking the kiss, he next guides her hand to the laces of his pants and she moans into his mouth. She's calmer than she expected to be when she pulls at the knot, surprising her a little when she deftly unlaces the ties with steady hands.

His hand isn't so steady when he covers hers, stopping her from pulling the pants down. She looks up to find him smiling shyly and then he's pulling the laces of her corset, hand and hook working together to open it so that he can ease it off her shoulders. As it lands on top of his discarded shirt and vest, he's already untying her skirt, letting it pool at her feet.

In a move that leaves her laughing, he picks her up and kicks the material to the side, his answering chuckle sending a burst of joy through her. Once she's on her feet, she kicks off her shoes and removes her undergarment while he removes his boots, then they come back to each other, him in only pants and her in only her light chemise.

He kisses her, a quick peck to her lips and then he's smiling down at her again. "Shall I go first, love?" he asks with a twinkle in his eye.

She can only nod, breathless with anticipation. After one more quick peck, he shucks his only remaining garment off, kicking the pants away and straightening in front of her.

Her eyes take him in, moving from his toes all the way up his body. She does her best not to let them widen when they pass over his bobbing erection but she can't stop the blush from staining her cheeks. Without meeting his eyes, she finally looks to the brace, the straps and buckles that hold it in place by wrapping around his forearm and up to his elbow. Gently, she reaches for it, releasing the bindings so she can ease it off his arm.

She makes a point not to dwell on the scars at the end of his wrist. This moment is too beautiful to mar it with sad memories, so instead she delves her hands into the hair on his chest and steps forward to plant a kiss over his heart.

He groans in pleasure at the contact, his hand moving to her chin and bringing her eyes back to his, the wide blue darkening just before he swoops in for another kiss, his tongue moving strongly through her mouth, another glimpse of the passion that's to come.

His voice is rough when their lips part, his arm holding her securely against his hot skin. "You're bloody amazing, darling. I can't tell you how many times I've dreamed of this."

"Me, too," she whispers in reply, which makes him grin shyly again.

With a shaky hand he reaches for chemise, his hand bunching at the hem. At a torturously slow pace, he lifts her last piece of clothing, his breath speeding up. She finds herself completely focused on the way his Adam's apple bobs when he swallows, the sight the last thing she sees before the shirt is lifted completely away and discarded behind him. Closing her eyes, she stands completely still in front of him, her body warming at the way his hand comes to her face and traces gently down her neck, his fingers so light that it sends a shiver through her.

"You're stunning," he whispers in awe, "Absolutely stunning."

It's only then that she realizes she's been holding her breath and she does her best to release it slowly, unclenching her tightly closed fists as well.

His lips on her forehead has her nerves dissipating, sighing out and finally opening her eyes.

"Lie down, darling," he whispers tenderly and she gladly complies, his hand guiding her hips to the bed and climbing in next to her. She starts to reach for the blanket but he stops her.

"We're not going to need that," he says softly, "I promise to keep you warm."

The way her skin flushes at just the timber of his voice has her agreeing instantly and she drops the blanket, moving her hand instead to bury it in his dark hair and pull his mouth to hers.

He groans into the kiss, the low rumble one of surprise that she's taken the initiative when she opens her mouth wide and invites his tongue inside. Relishing the knowledge that he's not as in control as he seems, she brazenly moves her hand down his chest, digging her fingers into the muscle and dragging them down until she brushes against his abdomen. His entire body jolts in response, his hand grabbing at her wrist to stop the progression and bringing it up next to her head.

"Not yet, love. I want to show you something first."

The disappointment at being denied what she wanted is immediately replaced with thrilling anticipation, mesmerized by the way his voice somehow manages to be both rough and soft at the same time.

Drawing a shaky breath, she nods her consent, a silent agreement to let him lead her where he wants her to go.

A slow smile spreads across his face, his lips turning up in a way that has her blood starting to pound, the raise of his eyebrow as his hand runs down her forearm a promise that what he has in store for her will be worth the sacrifice. His lips are back on hers the next moment, his hand traveling down until she gasps against his mouth when it reaches her breast.

"Don't be embarrassed, darling. I plan on touching every inch of you by the time I'm finished."

"I'm not embarrassed," she responds and takes pride in the strength of her voice. Because she's not embarrassed, not at all. She's eager, she wants to feel everything. She wants him to show her, to teach her everything there is to learn.

Her declaration has him grinning back, a delighted smile just before he gives a rough and passionate nip to her bottom lip even as his hand squeezes at her breast, his fingers brushing the tip.

She gasps loudly, but he swallows the sound with his mouth, then his mouth is on her nipple, sucking and teasing to the point where she sees stars through her closed eyelids, her hand moving of its own accord to bury in his hair.

He continues to mouth at her breast while his hand drifts lower until he's only inches from where heat is pooling in her stomach. She swears she can feel her pulse pounding in her center and she lifts her hips, instinctively looking for something.

He growls into her skin. "That's right, darling. Let your body take over. It knows what you want. Let it show me. I'll give it everything it asks for, I promise."

She doesn't have time to reply before he keeps his promise, moving his fingers to the throbbing pulse and all she can do is gasp and push up into him to increase the pressure.

A desperate grunt comes from him and he circles the bud, his mouth releasing her breast to line up next to her ear.

"Do you feel that, love? The way the pleasure swirls through you, the way it races through your veins?"

She nods her head frantically, her body so awash in new sensations that she doesn't trust her own voice.

"It's going to feel so good, darling," he continues, "I'm going to take you somewhere you've never been before. It's going to steal your breath and make you want to scream at the same time."

His hand continues to play with her, his mouth moving around her neck and shoulders, dipping to her breast occasionally for a quick suck that makes her body jerk every time.

"You're so responsive, Emma, so beautiful, flushed and wanting."

She can feel herself blush further at the gruff words, her hips beginning to learn the movement of his hand and rocking with him.

"That's it, love," he encourages her, "Reach for it. Feel it warm your blood, feel it move through your body, feel the hum of promise lighting your skin."

How he manages to put into words everything she's feeling is unbelievable, how his lilting accent mixed with rough passion and spoken in whispers over her skin heightens every sensation, doubling the decadent pleasure of his movements. How every whimper and grunt she makes spurs an echoing sound from him, how her mind jumps from one sensation to another, the feel of his fingers, the sight of his head buried in her chest, the sound of his voice, the taste of his lips, the spicy, salty smell of his hair.

His fingers find her entrance and dip inside, causing her body to quiver and shake, the incandescent pleasure so much that she almost misses his rough whisper.

"So tight, so wet, love."

Every nerve ending is firing, the pleasure more than she ever imagined, the enormity of it almost frightening, especially when he shifts his hand and adds a second finger, gliding in and out while his thumb continues to tease her center. It's so intense it makes her want to shy away and press closer at the same time, her body warring with conflicting needs until she hears his silky voice at her ear again.

"I'm right here, darling. There's nothing to fear. I know it's overwhelming, but don't fight it. Chase it, love. Hold onto it until it takes you so high that you can think of nothing else."

While he's speaking he presses down hard on something inside her and she gasps in surprise, clenching her eyes shut and gripping at his shoulders. A moment later, the pleasure fists into a tight ball that has her throwing her head back, sucking in air as she holds it for as long as she can, his fingers slowing to draw it out, his grunt into her neck and the feel of his hardened cock pressing into her hip fading away as everything focuses on the burst of pleasure that rockets through her.

She can't breathe, she can't think, she can't hear her own voice when she gasps his name on a stilted cry, her body not under her own control when she crashes back down into the mattress, his hand lightly stroking her through one aftershock after another while her body quivers and shakes of its own volition.

Slowly, her quaking limbs calm and the world comes back into focus. Her nails are digging into the back of his head and it takes a concerted effort to unclench her fingers from his hair. She doesn't even remember gripping it. She doesn't remember how her face got buried in his neck, either, or how her leg got wrapped around his. She only remembers her voice whispering his name over and over again, a litany she looks forward to hearing from him when he finds his own release.

Moving her hand to his neck, she urges him to look at her. The look on his face is wrecked, but when he sees her smile, it softens, grinning back at her with awe.

"That was… incredible," she whispers.

His smile widens into a mischievous grin that makes her blood speed back up. "That's just the beginning, love."

Chapter Text

She’s the most exquisite creature he's ever seen.

He's been mesmerized by her before, many times, but this…

This is… Indescribable.  The sight of her skin flushed with pleasure, the way her breasts tighten into hard peaks and sway with her movements - it's absolutely breathtaking.  And the way she whimpers his name – bloody hell, the way she whimpers his name – it's the most beautiful sound he's ever heard. 

He watches, entranced, as she comes down from her high, fascinated by how the candlelight casts glittering streaks of gold through her hair.  When her eyes open on a final sigh, there’s gold there, too, little flecks of it flickering in her irises – the most valuable treasure he’s ever known.

“That was… incredible,” she whispers in amazement.

It makes him smile because, oh, she has no idea.

“That’s just the beginning, love,” he replies, raising a brow.

She gives him a delighted smile in return and then she's kissing him again, opening her legs and urging him to move between them.  As he positions himself above her, her hands glide from the back of his head all the way down his spine in a possessive move that leaves him gasping out her name.  She's far from timid, lifting her hips to meet his even as she presses down with her hands, both of them groaning at the first contact of hard and soft. 

Before he even has time to catch his breath, her hips start moving rhythmically against his, coating him with her recent release.  He doesn’t know why he thought she’d be more reserved, even if it is her first time, but she’s proving to be quite enthusiastic and while he’s looking forward to many nights of unreined passion in the near future, tonight isn’t the night for it.  Tonight, he’s going to worship her slowly, give her the wedding night they never had, just like she asked. 

It's a test of discipline, to be sure, when he presses his thumb into the crease of her thigh in an attempt to gentle her eager movements.  Bloody hell, he wants to bury himself hard and fast but he opts instead for diving his tongue into her mouth for a long, deep kiss.  Eventually her hips still, but he’s so worked up that it takes him another minute because even without the friction, she’s so bloody wet and warm that the throbbing in his cock only slows fractionally.

Surprisingly, it's her thumb smoothing gentle circles into his hip that brings his sanity back, and he opens his eyes to find her smiling mischievously at him, a hint of smugness in the way she bites her lip.  It makes him want to laugh and groan at the same time… she's a natural seductress, all knowing confidence and twinkling eyes, and he starts to wonder which of them is truly in control here.

That question is answered soon after when she leans up to graze her lips across his.  He's putty in her hands, and doesn't even have the strength to care.  Still, she seems to understand his unspoken request and keeps her hips still, instead wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him down into a tender hug.  He buries his nose in her neck and she breathes his name into his ear, a reverent sigh that fills him with wonder when he realizes he likes that sound even more than the stilted way she’d cried it earlier as she’d come around his fingers.

Lieutenant Killian Jones had loved this woman with his whole heart.  He’d been enamored with her from the very first moment.  She’d been his dream, his future, and she had loved him back just as much.  Until this moment, he’d forgotten just how much, but hearing his name whispered out so adoringly against his ear reminds him, makes him feel the love she’d had for him them, takes him back to those great halls and grand gardens where they’d been so blissfully happy. 

When he meets her gaze, he sees that love, pure and open, and it makes his heart skip a beat, not in fear or doubt, but because he loves her so bloody much that his heart can’t seem to beat normally anymore. 

“Emma, I…” he starts but chokes it down.  If he says it, he knows she’ll say it back… and if she says it now, without knowing everything, she’ll be saying it to the man he used to be, not the man he is and, honestly, that might just break him. So he trails off and opts to simply show her in every way he can.

Bracing his forehead to hers, he gently draws his fingers through her hair, traces the lines of her face with the pad of his thumb, a gentle worship that he hopes will make her understand what he wants to say without the actual words.  And, as is so often the case with them, she does understand, a muted, I know, floating into the air between their mouths.

He doesn’t even try to mask his groan as he closes the distance and fuses their lips together in a slow, all-consuming kiss.   Her mouth opens without prompting, inviting his tongue to slide against hers and tilting her head so he can delve deep.  Every inch of her body is pressed against his, her creamy skin melded into his own like they could dissolve into each other any moment.  It takes his breath away.  Because it's more than just her body and his body.  It's her heart and his heart and how they're so wrapped up in each other that he can feel each of her beats being echoed in his, taking route somewhere deep inside him, all the way to his very soul.

Time and space blurs and merges together – the past, the future, the present all seeming to converge in on them until there’s nothing left but this kiss.  They’re not on his ship, not in a castle or a cottage or anywhere else.  He wonders idly if this is what heaven is like, floating in a realm where nothing else exists, where they’re just two people who have loved and lost and found and are so enveloped in each other that nothing else needs to exist.

He doesn’t know how long they float through that peaceful place, mouths and tongues tangling and sweeping against each other.  When he works his way across her cheek to her jaw, she sighs and rakes her fingers through his hair, turning her head to give him better access to the elegant line of her neck.  Accepting the invitation, he swirls his tongue into her pulse, eliciting a contented groan from her.  As he continues working across to her shoulder, her lips find skin of their own to explore, dipping her chin to run her mouth across his cheek, his forehead, his temple. 

Their bodies start moving again but it’s not an urgent movement.  This dreamy realm is not the place for that.  No, now it’s lingering and rhythmic, skin gliding against skin in an unhurried dance that allows mouths and tongues to continue their explorations. 

There’s not so much as a trace of fear that clouds her face when he lines himself up, her hand lifting to cup his cheek.  His tip finds her entrance and he trembles, the monumental moment making him stop to savor it. 

She’s going to be his. 

Only his.

After everything that has happened, they’re finally here together.  She’s alive and warm beneath him.  It isn’t a dream.  It isn’t a hallucination.  His princess is opening her body to him and he finds he can’t even breathe, the moment so long in coming that his eyes sting.

His body shudders uncontrollably, the feel of her heat awaiting him almost too much.  He's never wanted a woman like this before, there's never been this total desire to give everything he has.  He's always tried to be a generous lover – and he's never left a women wanting – but this is something different.  This is more than physical.  He wants to give her every part of himself, his body, his heart, his soul.  He wants to ensconce himself in her very being, take up residence there and never leave.

Only his.  She’s going to be only his.

“Killian?” her voice breaks through his thoughts. “Is…  Are you alright?”

Her voice is full of concern and he realizes he’s trembling, his eyes fixed on her flat stomach and his hand arrested on her hip. 

“I’m…” Gods above, how does he tell her how much this means to him?  There are no words good enough.  How can he explain that no matter how much experience he has, he’s never done this before?  He’s never made love before.  In this respect, he’s as innocent as she is.  And suddenly he feels completely unprepared, his body trembling so badly that he’s afraid to move.

“I know,” she whispers, drawing his attention – and from the look in her eyes she does without him having to say a word. “It’s you and me. It’s us...  Finally.”

Her eyes are glistening with emotion and he nods shakily, feeling completely off-kilter.  But her hand gentles him, running across his cheek in a reassuring way. 

“It’s happening exactly as it was meant to,” she continues, her voice tender and wistful, “I was always meant to be yours.  And you were always meant to be mine.  I never doubted it.  Not from the first moment I saw you.  I was trembling.  Did you know that?  Just like you are now.  I was trembling so badly that I almost couldn’t speak.  I don’t even remember what I said.  You bowed to me and all I could do was try to remember to breathe.”

Easing his weight onto his left arm, he tangles his shaky fingers with hers where they’re still cupping his cheek, turning his head to kiss her palm.

“I felt the same way,” he confesses, hearing the waver in his voice. “The first time you smiled at me, I knew.  This,” he moves their joined hands to his heart, “has always been yours.  I would never have given it to anyone else.”

Her eyes move to their hands, flexing her fingers into his chest. “Mine,” she whispers, “Only mine.”

He would swear in that instant that his heart actually glows, a gentle lightness filling his entire body at the possessive tone of her voice. 

Only hers

As if there ever could have been another way. 

Her eyes move to his as she tangles her free hand in his hair, coaxing him to dip down for a sweet kiss. “Now, make me yours,” she says in a low voice, not pleading or demanding… just offering… endlessly offering.

His body immediately stops trembling and he carefully pushes forward, her velvety heat surrounding him and making his eyes roll back in his head.  But just as his tip passes her entrance, her body stiffens in pain and she hisses through her teeth.

“I'm sorry, darling,” he whispers achingly, biting down on the inside of his cheek and forcing himself to be still. 

But Emma, it seems feels no such remorse, digging her nails into his arse, “It's okay, don't stop,” she gasps, trying to pull him deeper even as a choked sob passes her lips.

Beads of sweat break out on his skin when he tries to ease back against the strength of her hands, but she doesn’t relent, pushing up with her hips until tears spill over.

“It’s alright, love,” he sooths, “There’s no rush.  Just relax and let me take care of you.”

She expels her breath in a light puff of air but eases her grip and relaxes into the mattress in an obvious attempt to do as she’s been bidden.  Leveraging up, he moves his thumb to her clit and starts circling it, hoping the pleasure will distract her from the pain.  She’s already soaking wet, but the added stimulus causes a rush of heat to surround him and his groan mixes with hers.  He inches forward again, pausing when she tenses, pulling back and rocking forward gently.  He continues like that for a time, sliding in and out with careful thrusts, her body opening gradually to admit him.  When it seems the stimulation on her clit isn’t enough anymore, he dips his head to her breast and sucks her nipple into his mouth, keeping the steady rocking of his hips going.  She jolts and angles her hips just right and he slides the rest of the way in with a long growl, releasing her breast to suck in air.  Fuck, she feels bloody marvelous, warm and tight and so bloody soft that he worries for an instant that he might pass out from the pleasure of it. 

Her labored breathing breaks through the pounding in his ears and when he opens his eyes, her face is turned into the pillow and pinched in pain.  He clenches his eyes tight in remorse, his heart railing from the injustice of it.  Why is a man forced to hurt the woman he loves while he feels nothing but pleasure?  Who made it this way?  It’s so bloody unfair that she has to endure this.  And it’s unfair that he has to inflict it on her.  He’d give anything to take the pain on himself rather than feel her body stiffen this way. 

He’s not sure how long he stays like that, paralyzed with frustration over the unfairness of the laws of nature that say a woman must suffer pain the first time, but eventually, he feels her fingers turning his chin and he opens his eyes to find her watching him, tears swimming in the deep emerald.

“It wasn’t as bad as all that,” she says softly, running her fingers into the hair at his temple. 

The fact that she’s trying to comfort him makes his heart melt in his chest and a choked sound escapes.  She’s the most generous woman he’s ever met and he’ll never be worthy of her.  Why she graced him with this gift, he will never understand, it’s humbling and exalting and he vows in that moment to give her anything she ever asks of him.  If she wants him to stay by her side, he will.  If she turns him away, he’ll go without a fight, without bitterness or anger.  Because, no matter what the future holds for them, he’ll have this… The memory of the woman who owns his heart giving him the most precious gift she’s ever given anyone.

Gingerly, he catches a single tear from where it escapes her eye, the emotion clogging his throat making him swallow hard.  “I’ll never hurt you again, love.  I promise,” he vows in a thick voice.  He realizes as he says the words that he means them in more than just the physical, and from the look on her face, he knows she understands that.

“And I’ll never hurt you again,” she vows in return, her expression solemn and her words earnest as her thumb brushes a tear from his cheek that he hadn’t even known he’d shed. 

His breath catches in his throat, the utter certainty she puts into her declaration making him pause.  Because she means it.  She believes it.  And the total conviction in her soft eyes makes him believe it for that instant, sparking something deep in his gut that shoots through his entire body.  He doesn’t have time to analyze the quick flash because the next thing he knows, she’s kissing him, kissing him and rocking her hips experimentally and sighing out in relief because the pain is over. 

The tightness in his chest releases its hold and he groans into her mouth, even that tiny bit of friction making his blood race.  Taking control again, he pulls back, almost all the way out, before sinking deep again, watching her for any sign that she’s feeling any lingering discomfort.  Her long sigh tells him there is none and he thrusts again. 

She breathes his name and lifts her hips to meet his, moving one hand to fist it in the sheets while the other gropes at his lower back to urge him on.  That’s all it takes to break his restraint and he leverages himself up to get better traction, luxuriating in the moan he draws from her when he finds that spot that makes her writhe and hiccup out a whine.  The sounds get more desperate as he pushes for it again and again, her head thrown back on this pillow and her body arching up off the bed. 

This is definitely what heaven is like, her golden-tinted hair splayed out around her, her cheeks flushed in rapturous pleasure, her body clenching tight around him.  Nothing will ever match it.  Nothing will ever come close.  And when her walls start to quiver, when his name falls from her lips in ecstasy, all he can do is answer with her name, whispering it over and over again as he follows her over the edge.

He drops onto his elbows and kisses her through the aftershocks, drinking up each and every tremor of her body like a man dying of thirst.  The force of his kisses seems to surprise her but she kisses him back just as eagerly, nipping at his lips and threading her fingers in his hair.  He keeps rocking until he is totally spent, giving her every last drop of himself that he can and then groans into her mouth because he wants to give her more.  But he’s softening inside her and he reluctantly eases out, turning them both to keep her in his embrace when he settles next to her. 

She tucks her forehead against his cheek and he gathers her close, her fingers wandering his chest until they land over his heart. 

“Only mine,” he hears her whisper into his neck.

His heart stutters and he holds her tighter.

“Only yours, love.”

She makes a contented sound when he tucks the blanket around them and he drifts off to sleep with her hand still on his heart.

K&EK&EK&E

Regina towers over the form of her oldest adversary, the pristine beauty with lips as red as a rose and skin pale and perfect, even while cursed.  It’s been years and still the sight of her deceptively peaceful face makes anger and hatred fill her chest.  Not for the first time, she wonders if there’s any awareness while under a sleeping curse.  Can she feel the passage of time?  Can she hear or sense anything going on around her? 

Just in case, she can’t help but taunt her old nemesis.  “Hello, darling step-daughter.  And how are we doing today?  Oh wait, don’t tell me.  You’re feeling a bit tired, yes?”

She chuckles at her own joke, sliding a finger into the hair of the sleeping woman’s temple.  “You’re getting gray, Snow.  It seems this curse hasn’t stopped you from aging, while I, on the other hand haven’t aged a day.”  (It’s a lie, of course.  She has aged, she’s just really good a glamour spells – not that anyone needs to know that.)  “I suppose that means you’re not the fairest anymore,” she adds. 

A knock at the door has her straightening and stepping away from the dais.

“What is it?” she says impatiently.

“There’s a report, my Queen,” Claude says when walks in, holding out a scroll, “It’s just been delivered.”

Regina takes it, breaking the seal quickly and starts reading.  She only makes it one sentence before her blood boils. 

He escaped again. 

That damn pirate!

Fifty men.  He’d taken down fifty of her men.  Him and that damn ship of his.  A ship that he stole from her!  Oh, when she gets her hands on him…

A figurine of a horse explodes next to her, making Claude jump in surprise but she pays him no mind.

They’d missed their opportunity in Arendelle, and now again.  Of course, he hadn’t been the priority mission in Arendelle, just a lucky coincidence, and he’d run like the coward she knows he truly is, hiding aboard his – her – impenetrable ship.  But this time they’d had a way to get aboard.  This time, he was supposed to have been easy prey and, still, he’d escaped.

Unballing the rest of the note, she reads on.  There’s good news:  The Hatter, the organizer of the underground supply chain, has fled with the pirate. 

That’s the good news?!?  One of the only people who might be able to identify Captain Hook is now with Captain Hook.  Good news?!!?  And why is this good news?  Because this will break down the Hatter’s network of spies and rebels?  It’s like putting a pebble in front of a boulder to stop it.  The peasants are already armed – with weapons from her arsenal!  They don’t cower at the sight of her black knights anymore.  They resist and refuse to relinquish their crops to feed her soldiers. They are flourishing!  They have gold and supplies and, whether or not they know it, they owe all of that to Captain Hook.

Dammit!  It had taken her too long to put it together.  She’d thought of him as simply a nuisance at first, a fly that you bat away but don’t bother to crush.  Stealing her incoming supplies from merchants, sinking a naval vessel or two.  But, with the help of the Hatter, they’d managed to arm nearly her entire kingdom right under her nose! 

Oh, more good news…  They found out his name… the Hatter’s that is.  It’s Jefferson.  A simple hat maker from King Midas’s kingdom.  Wonderful.

Well, it seems it’s time for her to call upon a fellow royal.

“Prepare my carriage,” she barks at Claude, smirking when he rushes out the door.

Looking down, she sees the remnants of her favorite figurine littering the floor.  Well, that’s just one more crime the pirate will have to answer for.

Turning on her heel, she makes her way to the dungeon.  That wizard owes her an explanation.

K&EK&EK&E

The wizard materializes in the middle of the cell, his arm waving across the room to return it to the dank and dreary place Regina will expect.  He mourns the loss of his comfortable chair.  He could really use a few moments of relaxation before his guest arrives but there will be time for that later.  It’s been an exhausting few days – but satisfying even if he does say so himself – flitting around to check the position of all the relevant players in this intricate chess game.  It’s all finally starting to come together the way it should. 

He’s been waiting for this for a thousand years, his life’s mission at last being recognized.  It isn’t happening the way he’d originally foreseen it and he’d had to do some quick reconfiguring but now, it seems, everyone is on the right course. 

There’s still danger, to be sure.  He can’t underestimate his opponent.  While she tends to be a little over dramatic at times, she’s not to be taken lightly.  The darkness in her is powerful – hate can be a very powerful motivator – but love…  Well, there’s a reason why True Love is said to be the most powerful of magic.

He can sense her footsteps approaching and releases a sigh.  Time to play the humbled, powerless prisoner one last time…

He’s back in position an instant before the door opens, his shackled arms colored with bruises and his head bowed. 

“Captain Hook escaped again,” she barks without preamble.  “You said I’d only need to find a way to get aboard his ship and then I’d have him!”

Okay, completely dispensing with pleasantries, now, he guesses.

“That’s not exactly what I said,” he replies.  “I said you’d need to find a way to get aboard his ship if you were to capture him.  I didn’t guarantee it would work.  It’s not my fault your knights failed.”

He sees her hand squeeze into a fist but, apparently, she’d been in such a rush that she’d forgotten to bring along the heart. 

“And what of Emma?” she demands, “Have you made any progress on locating her?”

“As a matter of fact, I have,” he replies, holding back a laugh when her eyes light up.

“And?!”

“I can say with complete certainty, now, that she’s on a ship.”

“What ship?”

“That’s not as clear but she’s travelling with commoners and I had a vision of her preparing food.”

The queen hoots a laugh at that.  “Earning her way in the kitchens, is she?  Well, the little princess has no other skills to speak of, and she’d not lower herself to trade passage for anything more… enjoyable.  Can you see where she’s headed?”

“Afraid not.  There’s nothing but ocean in every direction.”

The Queen considers that for a moment.  “She’s not so stupid as to join her father in Camelot.  She must be running off to some far corner of the world.”

“A likely possibility.” 

“Good,” she says, “keep on her until she makes port and let me know where she’s going to land.”

“Of course, Your Majesty,” he replies with a bow of his head.

Regina looks pleased with his response, a satisfied smile on her face when she speaks.  “There now, you see?  These little conversations of ours don’t have to be unpleasant.  You keep telling me what I want to know and I won’t need to threaten your life.”

“Quite right, my Queen.”

“I’ll be away for a few days,” she says, getting back to business.  “I’d like to see where this Hatter lived and try to flush out any remaining members of his network.  I’ll come see you when I return and, hopefully, that meeting will go as well as this one did.”

“I certainly hope so, Your Majesty.”

She makes her way to the door but turns at the last second.

“Oh, and if you have time, take a look in on Captain Hook as well.  I’d be willing to give you roast lamb if you can give me his location.”

He bows again without a reply and she disappears through the door, waving her hand to shut it behind her.

Little does she know she’s just asked him to look at the same ship.

He hops to his feet.  Time to set the next stage in motion… but first a few minutes in his comfortable chair.

K&EK&EK&E

Emma awakes slowly, stretching her aching muscles.  It takes her less than a second to remember why she feels so sore and immediately smiles into the crook of her pirate’s neck.  He’d made love to her last night.  He’d been gentle and patient and he’d looked at her with love in his eyes.  He hadn’t said it, but he’d made her feel it, every tender brush of his hand an unspoken declaration that made her heart soar. 

Raising her head, she examines his face in sleep, a peaceful expression gracing his features.  He’s so incredibly handsome, those thick eyelashes nearly as striking as the blue they’re hiding, the strong line of his jaw littered with impeccably kept scruff.  She takes a minute to watch him, a warm glow igniting in her stomach that she recognizes instantly as magic. 

He’s the source of it.  She knows he is.  The more open he becomes with her, the more effortlessly it flows through her and the easier it becomes to control.  It had taken her a while to see the pattern, but she’d reasoned through it over the past few days. 

She’d started to suspect it when they were standing at the bow (Was it only two days ago?  It feels like a lifetime since then) when he thanked her for saving his life.  Something had stirred in her stomach when he’d taken her hand and, while they'd stood there wrapped in each other’s arms, it had buzzed through her system with such strength, it had become obvious. 

After that, she’d thought back to the other moments he’d wavered in his resolve to treat her with indifference, like when he’d given her the swan pendant, and when they’d returned from the tavern.  Both of those times, she’d felt sparks in the pit of her stomach, but they were so vague she hadn’t recognized them for what they were at the time.  Now she knows, though.  

They were magic.

Of course, her theory hadn’t explained why she’d fainted after the powerful expulsion she’d used to save Granny, but that was also the first and strongest release she’s experienced so far, so that’s most likely what caused her to pass out.  If the same thing were to happen now, she’s almost certain she’d be able to accomplish an identical result with only a little dizziness.

But it does explain the way healed herself when she first awoke on his ship.  She’d felt no fatigue at all from that and she knows now it was because there hadn’t been any uncertainty between them in that moment.  They’d both been so overwhelmingly happy to see each other…  She’d felt so safe in his arms…

But then he’d taken to avoiding her.  She’d hurt him and he’d retreated emotionally, and with that retreat, her magic had stilted to a halt.  She’d tried to call on it a few times during those awful days – partly to distract her from the lead weight she’d been carrying around in her stomach – but none of them had worked.  It wasn’t until after he’d started softening toward her that she’d been able to use it again – and then with less fatigue. 

Then at the cave she’d even been able to use it without a physical connection to him.  She’d made that black knight fly through the air when he’d turned on Grace even though Killian had been across the clearing from her.

Ruby once told her that magic stems from emotion and only emotion can control it.  But hers doesn’t stem from her own emotions.  It stems from Killian’s.  Well, maybe not just Killian’s, but hers and Killian’s.  Every time she’s used it, she could feel him wanting the same thing, hear his heartbeat alongside her own.   

She hadn’t truly made the connection until last night.  It hadn’t been until he’d twined their fingers together and held them over his heart that the answer had become clear.  He’s hers and she’s his and as long as they’re together, their magic will continue to strengthen.

He loves her.  She knows he does.  He all but said it last night.  And now, lying beside him with nothing at all separating them, she can feel the spark of it with no effort at all.  It’s simply part of her just as he’s part of her. 

She wonders what he’d think if she were to tell him.  He obviously knows that he’s connected to it, but she doesn’t know how he’d react if he knew it stemmed from their shared emotions.  He’s still scared that she’ll leave him.  He’s still unsure of her feelings.  He’s still holding back his own.  If she tells him now, will he think she only wants him to stay with her so her magic will continue to evolve?  So that she’ll be ready when they face Regina?  Because she knows that’s coming.  She knows she will be face to face with the Evil Queen before this is over.  And she knows that magic is the best weapon to have for that confrontation – and, of course, he knows it, too. 

By the time she’s thought through all the possible outcomes of telling him, her head is pounding, worry making her temples throb with tension.  No, she won’t tell him yet.  She’ll wait until after he tells her whatever it is he’s keeping from her.  She knows that’s what’s making him hesitant, so after she’s proven she loves him no matter what, she’ll explain their connection to her magic.

Her decision made, she relaxes back into his side, lifting her leg to lay it across his. The movement reminds her of the soreness in her limbs and she decides to try a little experiment.  Shifting down, she presses a kiss over his heart and allows the magic to flow.  There’s a contented hum that she realizes comes from him, and then his heartbeat sounds in her head.  She hums in response and then the pain is dissipating, a muted glow emitting from the palm she has resting on his chest. 

His shocked gasp has her looking up to him, his eyes wide and trained on the light emanating from her hand. 

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” she says apologetically, closing her hand into a fist to make the light dissolve.

He recovers quickly, understanding crossing his face just before he gives her a lazy smile, relaxing back into the mattress and quirking a mischievous eyebrow at her.  “Can I assume this means you’re not feeling any lingering discomfort from our activities last night?” he asks in a teasing voice, even as his hand kneads lightly at the base of her neck.

She can see his eyes darken with desire and she smiles back, biting at her lip when she nods. 

“Then feel free to awaken me in that manner any time you want, darling,” he says, even as his hand tightens in her hair and draws her lips to his for a long, drawn-out kiss.

Gods above, the man can kiss. He can make her knees go weak with one brush of his lips, make her blood zing through her veins with one swipe of his tongue.

“My body is at your disposal whenever you need it, love, regardless of why you require it,” he mumbles into her mouth without breaking the connection of their lips.

The rough timbre of his voice shoots a bolt of lightning straight to her center and she has to bite back a moan when his hand glides down and grips at her backside, urging her up so that he can align her body next to his.  She's pressed into the mattress in the next instant, his frame hard and heavy on hers while his lips continue their insistent exploration of her mouth.  She opens her legs to him and her breath gets caught in her throat when she realizes he’s already hot and hard.

Apparently Ruby was right:  It doesn’t take a lot for men.

When he begins rocking against her and she feels her own arousal build in less than two heartbeats, she realizes it doesn’t take a lot for her, either.

This passionate outpouring reminds her of the evening they'd gone to the tavern, the wild and untamed hunger he’d given her a glimpse of that night.  His fingers are strong and sure as they run down her side to mold around the curve of her hip, dipping under her to grab her backside and grind their centers together.  She has to break from his mouth to breathe, a whimper of surprise escaping her lips.

That sound catches his attention and he eases the pressure of grip, sucking in air through his teeth.  The storm brewing inside him is apparent when he meets her eyes, the deep blue of his the same as the sky on an overcast day, but he draws a steadying breath and the storm is gone, his eyes morphing into the soft blue of a spring afternoon.  She knows a moment of disappointment because she longs for that unbridled passion he seems to be yanking into check, but it's hard to be disappointed when his mouth settles on hers again, his tongue distracting her from her thoughts.

Oh yes, he can definitely kiss.  It’s incredible, the way his lips and tongue work together to turn her bones to water, the way the light nip of his teeth can send shivers down her spine.  But the most amazing thing is how he can speak to her without words, tell her the things he won't say aloud through the pressing of his lips to hers.  He's told her so much over the last twenty-four hours, and a good part of that has been just like this, his lips using an unspoken language of brushes and nips, tongues and teeth.  He's made vows to her, he's comforted her, told her he's happy, told her he's scared, told her he wants her… and told her he loves her.  It's like a language all of their own, and one that doesn't need words. A language they use when words are impossible or when they can't adequately describe the emotions they feel. 

And right now he's telling her he wants to cherish her, he wants to be the man she fell in love with, not the pirate he's become, and it makes her eyes sting, because he doesn't understand that she loves both sides of him equally, and she wants to be taken by the pirate as much as she wants to be cherished by the naval officer.  But since this is what he seems to need right now, she doesn't push, resolving to let him set the pace he's comfortable with.

He lingers over her skin with his lips and hand, drawing sighs and muted moans from her.  Her body blossoms under his ministrations, her skin heating and tingling everywhere he touches.  Wanting to give back, she tangles her hand in his hair and angles his head so that she can focus her attention on the thick muscle in his neck.  She feels his groan under her tongue and then he’s pushing into her, wrapping their hands together on the pillow next to her head.  Once he's fully seated inside her, he pauses, the proud length of him filling her so perfectly it feels like a piece of herself has been returned.

His body stays plastered to hers, the weight of him delicious as the rhythm begins.  Their lips stay close together, his hand tangled in her hair on the pillow while he tilts his head back and forth, catching her mouth from every angle, the wordless language telling her she’s beautiful, she’s amazing, she’s everything to himIt doesn’t take long before the heat gathers low in her belly and just as she’s careening toward the precipice, he breaks from her mouth to whisper her name, his hand tightening in her hair as he falls in the exact same moment.

Once they catch their breath, more kisses follow, the first telling her how happy he is, the second saying he doesn’t want to move because being inside her is so perfect that he just wants to stay here forever.  But just as he gets that message across, footsteps ring out on the deck above them and they both look up to the ceiling. 

Emma groans in disappointment. “Do you think they’ll miss us if we just stay here all day?” she asks.

“I’m afraid they would,” he replies but doesn’t move, kissing a path along her jaw as he continues, “and I did promise Dopey sword fighting lessons.” 

“Hmmm, that sounds like fun,” she murmurs contently, the playful nip to her chin making her smile.  “I could use some practice myself.  I think you have gotten better with a sword than me, so I’ve got some catching up to do.”

“Well,” he replies, balancing his head in his hand and smiling down at her, “I’d be more than happy to show you some new moves, love.  If you think you can handle it.”

“Oh, I can handle it, alright,” she teases back, rubbing her thumb over his bottom lip and loving the way his eyes darken so quickly.  “In fact, I’m looking forward to learning all of your new moves, Captain.”

He cuts off her laugh with a kiss.

Chapter Text

The Jolly Roger remembers the first time her hull touched the sea.  She remembers the first time her beloved kingdom’s crest was hoisted from her mast, the first time her sails were opened and she glided through the water…  And she remembers the first time Killian Jones graced her deck. 

He’d been young and optimistic, full of nerves but hiding them well in an effort to make a good first impression – and she must admit, she’s held a special place in her enchanted planks for the blue-eyed sailor since that first moment.  He’d alighted from her gangplank one stride behind his brother, Liam, who he’d looked up to and adored.  The brothers were always incredibly close – even while stalwartly following the chain of command – Liam was her captain and Killian her Lieutenant and the lines of protocol were rarely ignored.

Captain Liam had been a wonderful captain with an exceptional service record and a level of bravery that rivaled even that of the finest knights.  He was fair-minded and kind, charismatic and authorative, so it was no wonder that he’d risen to captain at such a young age.  As for Killian, he never seemed to mind being cast into the exceptionally large shadow of his brother, always one step behind, just as the day they’d boarded.  It had always amazed her that the two never had any type of sibling rivalry between them, more than likely due to the fact that their father had abandoned them as children.  They must have depended on each other their entire lives, so an accomplishment for one was a victory for both.  The love between them was nearly tangible, a strong and beautiful bond of mutual respect that only siblings can truly appreciate.

Captain Liam and his crew had taken fantastic care of her, kept her decks gleaming and her sails pristine. She’d been known as The Jewel of the Realm back then, Queen Snow and King David’s flagship and the pride of the navy.  She’d had little to worry about, her homeland at peace under the leadership of kind and generous monarchs, sailing the open sea under the flag of her beloved kingdom, transporting a beloved crew and, occasionally, even having her beloved royal family as guests in her staterooms.  She’d watched contentedly as Captain Liam had teased his brother over his love of a princess.  She’d been amused by the blush the older brother could always get out of her staunchly proper lieutenant.  She’d looked on with pride as the dashing young brothers navigated her through bitter storms and fair weather alike. 

Then it had all changed. 

It had been a horrific day, the day her sweet lieutenant had shown up at her gangplank, clutching his injured arm to his chest.  Violent winds and heavy rain had fallen while he’d been all but dragged across her deck, nearly unconscious; the waves were turbulent and unruly when she’d sailed away from her much-loved kingdom that last time; lightning and thunder had cracked through the sky while her delirious lieutenant thrashed wildly about as Master Jefferson had attempted to treat his obviously infected arm.  And later that night, after he’d been cleaned and bandaged, he’d laid his remaining hand on the ledge next to his bed and whispered to her that Captain Liam and the Princess were dead, that the kingdom was lost… and he’d begged her to take him away, to keep him and his makeshift crew of escaped prisoners safe. 

And since that day, that’s exactly what she’s done. 

She’d changed her flags to those of the dreaded skull and crossbones, rechristening herself as The Jolly Roger; she’d fortified her defenses against intruders; she’d outrun naval vessels and rival pirate ships alike; weathered storms and squalls and held fast against enemy cannons.  And, for the first time in her existence, she’d made use of her own cannons… and her plank.  She’d done everything she could to protect her new captain and his crew.  But nothing she did could protect Killian from his own personal demons. 

She’d watched, helpless, the night he’d stumbled up to the deck – still feverish and desolate with grief – grabbed a hook from one of her nets and stared at it until dawn.  Her dear lieutenant was broken and lost, his devastating agony seeping out through his skin and into the enchanted wood of her mast where he was slumped.  Not long after, she’d witnessed the first time he’d put on the brace, slipped on the coat and lined his eyes with kohl.  She’d felt his utter rage at fate and life – and most especially at the Evil Queen – when he’d clicked that piece of metal into the end of the brace, his transformation to Captain Hook complete. 

She’d always understood his motivations – or at least she thought she had.  The first time they’d sunk one of Regina’s naval vessels had been a satisfying day, and every item he stole from her suppliers was a small victory.  But it was never enough for Killian.  Her captain continued to sink further into that dark abyss of hatred, a glint of madness forming in his eyes, a sense of urgency to his actions.  She never understood what made him search every vessel they took from stem to stern himself.  She didn’t know why he’d return from every port they visited looking a little more insane, a little more desperate.  It finally occurred to her that he was looking for something…  something in particular.  She wasn’t sure what, but one incredibly awful day she’d figured it out… In fact, she’d figured it out the same day Jefferson had... the same day her lost and enraged captain had done the unspeakable. 

She saw the anguish cloud his eyes almost immediately after he realized what he’d done.  He’d locked himself in his cabin that night and drunk every ounce of rum he could find, he’d cursed and sobbed and shattered the last bottle against the wall, falling to his knees in the middle of the room and squeezing the item he’d found in his hand until it broke skin and he’d bled onto the floor.  She’d rocked him to sleep that night, kept a quiet vigil over him until he awoke the next day and gingerly laid the treasure into his special chest. 

He hasn’t touched it since. 

After that, he changed.  He was still angry – perhaps even angrier than before – but the urgent desperation was gone.  His eyes were dull and focused, his actions measured and calculated.  It was almost like he wasn’t even Captain Hook anymore.  But he wasn’t Lieutenant Jones, either.  He wasn’t anyone.  There wasn’t so much as a flicker of life left in his eyes.  And it wasn’t until Jefferson met Patricia that she saw it again. 

When Jefferson stood on her main deck and vowed his love to his beautiful wife, their plan had already been in place.  Patricia had come from a family who didn’t have the means to defend themselves and Regina’s knights had killed them over a few loaves of bread.  Thankfully, Patricia had escaped but when she’d met Jeff, she’d been nearly starved to death.  It wasn’t so much a moment of decision that carved out their next mission as much as the natural progression of things.  Her stores were laden with weapons, overflowing with food, and the people of Patricia’s small village had been in need. 

Killian hadn’t hesitated to empty the hold and turn it over to those people.  And that’s when the flicker came back, his eyes taking on a new life.  He had a new mission, a new purpose and he’d transformed once again, this time into the brilliant captain who used all the knowledge he’d gained over his life to give back to the people.  And he’d been overwhelming successful at it.

To the outside world, he was a fearless pirate who sought out riches and glory (and pleasure) above all else.  He was known across the realm as a ruthless strategist and a charming lady’s man, a dashing rapscallion with a reputation for leaving said ladies very, well… satisfied. 

There were only a select few who knew who he really was – his crew, of course, and Patricia – but even they didn’t know there were still moments when he’d drift into despair, still moments when he’d drink himself to sleep in the privacy of his cabin.  But she did.  She’d watched him for years, knew him almost as well as he knew himself and she knew that the ghosts of his past would come back to haunt him from time to time. 

But look at him now.  He’s actually smiling…

“Good form, lad!” he calls to Dopey when the little dwarf makes an impressive pivot and meets Killian’s blade with enough force to ring across the deck.  They’ve been at it all morning and the loveable little dwarf is proving to be an apt pupil. 

Examining her deck, she sees the rest of her crew scattered about.  Jeff and Patricia are standing at the helm, wrapped in each other’s arms and whispering something that she pretends not to hear (Grace is now sleeping in the crew’s quarters with her newest and best friend).  Grace and Ruby are at the bow with Emma while they encourage the princess as she practices her magic, their dresses changing color every so often.

She’s had many crews over the years and she’s loved every single one but this group is by far her favorite.  She has a handsome and intelligent captain in Killian, an eager and kind-hearted first mate in Dopey, a feisty and talented cook in Ruby, a cheeky and playful lieutenant in Jefferson and the rest of her crew is lovely and kind.  There’s hope gleaming in each one of them, joy emanating from their full-bellied laughs, and she cuts through the waves with delight as she watches over them. 

A gust of wind fills her sails while she keeps an eye out for approaching vessels, drinking up the peaceful day.  She sees Ruby and Grace retreat below as Emma steps forward and picks up a sword, joining in the practice with Dopey and Killian.  The Princess is smiling mischievously when she raises her sword in challenge to Killian and a few minutes later Dopey claps loudly when his princess manages to land a point.  She dings her bell to acknowledge the point and everyone laughs heartily – everyone but Killian who scowls in a non-threatening way in the direction of the helm. 

“You’re supposed to me on my side, old girl,” he calls out, making everyone laugh harder and she bounces on the waves, content in her crew’s happiness. 

She just hopes it lasts.

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Regina alights from the carriage and immediately brings a handkerchief to her nose.  She’s always despised the smell of the ocean.  Glancing around, her eyes land on the milliner shop, now boarded up with a ‘closed’ sign hanging on the door.  Without hesitation, she waves her hand and the door swings wide.  Her knights enter the establishment immediately and she follows behind them, her eyes searching every corner. 

The man did have a very nice selection of hats, she thinks begrudgingly as she looks around.  Stepping forward, she plucks one from a shelf and pulls it on, ignoring the commotion surrounding her as her knights ransack the place. 

“His office, my queen,” one calls, indicating a door along the back wall. 

As she crosses the room, she takes a moment to stop before a mirror to check her reflection and smiles at the striking picture she makes. 

“I’ll be keeping this one,” she murmurs to herself, “It would be a pity for it to go to waste.”

By the time she makes it to the office, her knights have already pulled every drawer from the desk and managed to pry open the safe.  They look to her nervously and her blood boils when she realizes every single one is empty. 

“Scour the entire building,” she barks, not even taking the time to see if they obey as she crosses to the desk.  She bends down to examine each slot where the drawers had been but she already knows it’s futile.  Someone with this kind of operation isn’t likely to leave anything behind by accident.

“Dammit,” she growls, upturning the desk with a wave of her hand then sending it flying into the wall. 

She marches out the door and back out onto the street, her eyes scanning the nearby shops.  Someone here knows something, she thinks to herself.  She just needs to find them and persuade them to talk.

K&EK&EK&E

Settling on a crate, Emma raises her face to drink in the sun’s rays, listening contentedly to Killian’s voice instructing Dopey on his stance, the supportive words he uses to encourage his student and the occasion chuckle of surprise when Dopey executes a more difficult move.  It brings an unconscious smile to her lips and she breathes deep, enjoying the sound of his laughter in the air.

“You’re a natural, my friend,” Killian praises the dwarf. “Now, try this.”

Emma doesn’t look to see what move Killian is demonstrating but she hears the shuffle of his booted feet across the planks followed a moment later by the slightly lighter sound of Dopey’s attempt to mimic it.  She’d been practicing with them earlier but decided to take a break to enjoy the wind her face and the sun on her skin.  She feels the warm metal of the sword hilt still in her hand as she breathes in the salty air of the ocean, the heaviness of her muscles from her earlier workout a welcome feeling, reminiscent to her many lessons when she was younger. 

A sound to her right has her opening her eyes to see Ruby settling down next to her, holding out a plate of food with one hand and munching on a crust of bread with the other.  Emma takes the plate and lays it in her lap, picking up a piece of dried beef and taking a bite.

“So, I assume it went well?” Ruby asks out of the corner of her mouth, her eyes focused on the lesson happening in the middle of the deck and her voice low enough that no one else can hear.

Emma knew this was coming.  Ruby has been trying to get her alone all day, giving her questioning looks and knowing glances over Grace’s head while they’d entertained the little girl earlier.  Blushing, she turns to her friend and she prays anyone looking their way will attribute her raise in color to the sun’s rays and not the rise in body temperature that spikes through her at the memory.

“It was…”  she trails off, trying to think of a word that would do justice to the night before, “beautiful.”

“Good,” Ruby says simply, then turns back to Killian and Dopey. 

Emma follows her gaze just in time to see Killian execute a perfect lunge, his shirt stretched across his shoulders and his pants tight around his hips.  He’s not wearing his coat again today and now his shirt is white instead of black with no vest donned to cover it.  He’s absolutely stunning, his hook gleaming in the sunlight as he demonstrates a spin, his blade stopping abruptly to change direction in a deft movement that would surely catch any opponent off guard. 

“It will only get better, you know,” Ruby comments from beside her, drawing her out of the awe she feels watching Killian. 

“I’m not sure how,” Emma replies with a grin.

“Trust me,” Ruby says with a mischievous quirk of her eyebrow. 

And it does. 

Later that evening, Killian takes her in his arms and massages the dull ache in her muscles from the day’s sword practice.  He caresses her skin as they wash together in front of the water basin, slowly revealing each other’s bodies.  Once they’re clean and dry he scoops her up and carries her to bed, easing her down onto the mattress with a soft glow in his eyes, his mouth brushing light kisses to her temple. 

He uses his lips to worship her breasts, his hand gliding along her waist and making goose flesh break out in its wake.  He takes her back to that gorgeous place where her body zings with pleasure by using his fingers on her center and his mouth on her neck, then he’s sinking into her while she’s still coming down, the absolute perfection of it making her sigh out his name. 

His smile is easy when he meets her eyes, his fingers running lovingly through her hair when he bends to kiss her slow and lingeringly.  Her heart thuds into her ribs when he teases at her nipple, her mind never really escaping the fog of her first orgasm before he starts building her to a second.  She only makes the slightest sound of disappointment when he eases out before she reaches it, flipping them both so that she’s on top of him. 

She gives him a curious smile to which he replies, “Your turn to be in control, love.  Take me inside of you and show me where it feels best.”

The thrill that goes down her spine at his words makes her giddy, his hand guiding her to sink down onto him, the languid rub of her breasts over his chest combining to send a jolt all the way to her toes.  She starts out tentative, not sure what exactly she should do, but he’s patient and gentle, lifting his hips and nudging at her thigh to show her the movement. 

She rocks experimentally and glories in the groan he makes, his eyes blinking shut before opening to hers again, the blue bright with pride in her.  She forgets all about her own pleasure, instead focusing on his, doing her best to pull another of those delicious sounds from his lips.  She changes the angle, completely focused on the flush that stains his cheeks until she hears it again, only this time it’s more growl than groan, his hips surging up so fast that he nearly unseats her.

When he opens his eyes to her satisfied smile, he huffs out an amused grunt. “You’re supposed to be showing me what makes you feel good, darling.  If you keep on like that, I won’t have the pleasure of learning the secrets of your body before I’m spent.”

“And when do I get to learn the secrets of yours?” she asks. 

“Just being inside of you is enough to drive me mad,” he breathes, pulling her mouth to his for a soft kiss.  “Now, show me what drives you mad.” There’s a subtle plea to his request as he glides his hand up her spine, a coaxing motion that has her moving again in a slow slide of flesh against flesh while his teeth drag along her bottom lip.  “Show me, darling,” he whispers again, repeating the motion with his hand to encourage her.

Somewhere in the back of mind it registers that his entreaty is about more than him learning her body, it’s about her learning it as well.  He wants to make it better for both of them, wants her to find her own secrets so they can share in them together, so they can be equals in this as they are in everything else.  Dropping her forehead to his, she relents to his plea, closing her eyes and concentrating while she experiments with moving her hips in different angles, looking for that spot he always seems to find.  His hand at her thigh urges her on in her task, his body pliant beneath her as she assesses each sensation. His eyes are heavy lidded but watchful as she experiments, his mouth dipping occasionally to work along her shoulder or neck.  She tries different rhythms – faster, slower, shallower, deeper – she spreads her legs wider to press that spot where sparks gather into the coarse hair at his abdomen.  It feels good but it doesn’t send her blood racing the way it does when he’s above her and she starts to wonder if she’s doing something wrong.  So, she squeezes her eyes shut and tries harder, grinding down into his hips with more determination, her fingers fisting into the sheets to get better leverage.  Her movements have become erratic, but no angle seems right, the illusive pinpoint that makes her head spin nowhere to be found and she wants to whine in frustration.  He makes it seem so easy.  What’s different about the way he moves and the way she is? 

After a time, he seems to sense her uncertainty and makes a soothing sound, gripping her hip to calm her fevered movements.  Embarrassment has her burrowing her face in his throat, distress rolling through her as she realizes how disappointed he must be at her inexperience.  His palm finds her cheek and he tries to coax her from her hiding place but she keeps her face resolutely buried, too nervous to meet his gaze.

“Emma, darling, please look at me,” he whispers and she shakes her head in response, mortified when her eyes start to sting.  “Please?” he entreats again. 

She draws a deep breath and releases it against his neck in huff.  “I’m sorry,” she says, lifting her head but keeping her eyes closed so as not to see his disappointment.  “You’d think I’d be better at this considering everything I’ve heard about it over the years but…  I just…”

He stops her words with a shushing sound, bringing her forehead to his. “Don’t, love,” he breathes against her mouth.  “You’re incredible.  You’re just thinking too much.  Just take your time and feel it.  There’s no rush, we’ve got all night.” 

While he speaks, he keeps his maimed arm wrapped around her waist to hold her still and uses his hand to grasp her wrist to get her to unfurl her tightly closed fingers from the sheets.  Bringing her hand to his mouth, he places a wet kiss to the center of her palm, the simply affectionate act coaxing her body to relax.  She watches, fascinated, while his tongue traces nonsense into the sensitive skin of her palm, his eyes blinking open to meet hers when his teeth nip lightly.  Her breath catches and his eyes twinkle, moving her hand away from his mouth and laying it on his chest, revealing a playful smile. 

He’s right, she was thinking too much, trying too hard.  It’s not about finding the right angle or rhythm.  It’s about feeling this connection between them; it’s about being open and vulnerable with each other and relishing this natural magnetism they’ve shared for as long as she’s known him.

She starts moving again, slowly this time, meeting his lips for a tender kiss.  She concentrates on the feel of his mouth, lets her hands wander over his neck and slide down his chest until she’s forced to raise up a bit to make room for them.  His eyes are watching her intently and she sees them dilate when her fingers run across his nipples.  It’s then that she feels an answering tingle in her own body, a subtle little jolt that makes her sigh. 

He notices her reaction and groans.  “That’s it, darling.  Do that again,” he whispers.

When she does, the tingle gets stronger, enough so that her breath hitches.  She chases that sensation, repeating the movement again and again until the tingle spreads down her thighs and she doesn’t have to think about what she’s doing anymore.  Opening her eyes, she keeps the rhythm going as she closes the distance and kisses him, delving deep in his mouth with a hot mating of tongues and teeth.  When they break apart, they’re smiling at each other, hers filled with wonder and his filled with pride. 

His hand finds its way to her breast, cupping its weight in his palm.  His eyes lower to watch while his thumb glides over the hardened peak and she gasps, lifting her torso a little higher to give his hand more room.

“Do you like that, love?” he asks huskily, and she nods in response, too overwhelmed to speak. 

There’s a dark chuckle that comes from him and she feels the vibrations of it echo in her center, then he dips his chin to pull her free nipple into his mouth and she cries out, a wanton sound that she doesn’t even try to contain. 

“Then let’s try this,” he murmurs, moving his hand to beneath him and pushing them both up until she’s straddling his lap. 

She groans at the way he slides deeper into her from this new position, his lips seeking hers as she settles into him. It’s like she’s taller than him this way and she bends her neck to keep their mouths together, surprised at how powerful it makes her feel.  She cups his face in both hands and directs his head to the side to sweep her tongue through his mouth while his arm moves to her back, pressing her into his body. 

She gets lost in the kiss for a moment, not realizing that her hips have stilled until he gives her waist a light squeeze.  In response, she rolls forward, tightening her thighs around him and grinding down, making him break the kiss and hiss through his teeth. “Bloody fu – ”

Lightning shoots straight to her pulsing center when he cuts off in the middle of the curse, the knowledge that he’s seemingly forgotten himself for an instant making her feel decadent and brazen.  She rocks again and he whimpers softly, digging his teeth into his lower lip before meeting her eyes with a wrecked expression that makes her smile down at him. 

His eyes darken with determination and he pushes up in retaliation, making stars appear behind her eyes and her forehead fall onto his.  She hears his low growl of victory a moment before he lowers his head and takes a nipple into his mouth, causing the stars to explode out until her entire body is full of them, twinkling bits of fire that race and meet in the spot where they’re joined. 

She thinks maybe she moaned or gasped but she’s not sure because all she hears is his triumphant voice against her breast, “There it is, darling.  I knew you’d find it.”

Her skin heats from the pounding blood, then his lips latch back onto her nipple and she pushes into his hips, her knees digging into the mattress and her hand clamping into his hair.  She arches her back to give his lips better access to her chest, realizing that sitting on his lap like this makes it easier for him to reach her breasts even while they’re joined.  She smiles wide at that knowledge and looks down under her lashes to see his tongue darting out to catch one rosy peak, sight of his dark hair and pink lips stirring the already chaotic fire into a maelstrom of sensations that assaults every nerve in her body.  She watches him work for a moment, each swipe shooting vibrations down her thighs that make her motions stutter, so she stills and revels in the sight of him teasing at her flesh without distraction while he nibbles and sucks, her hand moving to his jaw to stroke lightly.

He must realize she’s gone still and he lifts his eyes to hers without releasing her nipple, his eyebrow raised at a cocky and confident angle when he nips at the tip and leans back, replacing his mouth with his hand. 

“Does that feel good, love?” he asks in a low voice while his hand continues to knead her breast, his thumb teasing the peak.

“It does,” she replies without shame, her voice breathless and gravelly.

“And how about this?” He keeps his eyes on hers, dipping his head back to her breast while, at the same time, his hand sweeps down her torso to thumb at her throbbing core.

Her hips jerk violently and her eyes clamp shut, his low chuckle sending pulsations shooting from the taut peak to every nerve ending in her body.  “Yes,” she manages on a choked sound, forcing her eyes to reopen so she can look into his.

His left arm squeezes against her lower back as he repeats the action with his mouth and thumb, the added drag of him inside her stealing her breath to the point where she can’t make a sound.  She arches her back to increase the pressure of his thumb and he groans his approval, sucking and nipping at her nipple with abandon. 

“Can you ride me while I do this, darling?” he asks in a rough voice, his eyes staying focused on the breast in front of him while his hand cups and lifts it to right in front of his mouth.  “Just… ”  His left arm tightens and pushes her down in the same moment his tongue darts out and licks over the hardened peak and she cries out at the overwhelming combination.

She nods frantically in answer to his question even though he can’t see it as he groans and sucks harder, burying his face in her chest.  He doesn’t need to see her answer anyway, the thrusting of her hips more than an adequate response.  He loosens the arm on her back and lets her set the pace, sucking at her nipple lavishly while moving his thumb back down to rub at her again. When she whimpers, he breaks from her breast long enough to swallow the sound with his mouth and her head falls forward to land against his.  He starts to dip back to her breast but she stops him with a hand on his chin, holding him still so she can devour his lips with her own.  Her hips are now moving of their own accord, chasing the pulses that ignite with each roll and she straightens one arm down his back, digging her nails into his spine and pulling him closer each time.  His hand gets caught between them, his thumb still pressing into her throbbing center and she leverages the next stroke so that she can glide against it. 

He’s been so concentrated on her that it’s a thrill when whimpers, allowing himself a moment to focus on his own pleasure.  His voice is broken when he presses their noses together, his hand yanking from between them and tangling in her curls.  “That’s right, love.  Just keep doing that.  It’s so good, darling.  You feel so good,” he whispers against her lips. 

Her heart skips a beat and her hips grind down harder.  The familiar tightness starts to build and she gropes at his lower back to pull him to her with each downward thrust, desperate to get closer, to feel more of him with each roll.  As though he’s read her mind, he his hand finds purchase on her hip to help her, but it’s still not enough.  Then, in a move that surprises even herself, she plants her hands on his shoulders and pushes him roughly down to the bed in order to give herself more room to move. He gasps loudly and so does she when she takes advantage of the freedom, swiveling her hips in a sensuous slide that she swears makes her feel him all the way to the back of her throat.  All rational thought leaves her mind after that, and she plants one hand in the center of his chest and bows back, the other hand locking beneath his thigh and digging her nails in to pull herself down with hard, rough thrusts. 

Stilted grunts slip from her lips but she doesn’t care, the way she feels more of him with each thrust the only focus she has.  It’s starting, the tendrils of fire licking across her skin as his voice breaks through the haze.  “That’s it, take what you need, love.  Gods, you look amazing riding me.  Don’t stop.”

Her cheeks flush from the dirty command, but she doesn’t stop, continuing the demanding sway of her hips.  It feels fantastic, the compete abandonment of uncertainties and the feel of his thick cock gliding through the drenched heat of her core making her ravenous for more.  Biting the inside of her cheek to keep from screaming out, she throws her head back and glories in it, both hands moving to his chest as she gives over to the urgency suddenly racing in her blood.

She hears him say something else, but she doesn’t catch it, her blood pounding too loud in her ears as the pleasure gathers into a tight ball.  There’s a rumble in her chest that she realizes filters through her mouth and the ecstasy bursts, drenching her senses in euphoria.  She holds still for one blissful second then she shudders hard and – fuck – the orgasm is so intense she thinks perhaps her bones have melted in the heat of it.  

Before she has completely recovered, she hears Killian’s violent grunt and she pries her eyes open.  He thrusts his hips one last time, yanking her forward with his fingers digging into her thigh and goes completely still, his eyes clamped shut and his mouth falling open. The realization that she’s witnessing him come brings on a wave of tremors and she watches him shudder through it, his cock twitching inside her and his warm seed filling her womb.  It makes her hum in her chest when he bites as his lower lip, his face a mask of nothing but pleasure.  He’s gorgeous like this, with that flush on his cheeks and his jaw clenched and gods, she wants to make him look like that again and again.

After a moment of watching him, he opens his eyes and a grin spreads across his features. “You’re bloody fantastic, darling,” he rasps, grasping one of her wrists to drag her down on top of him.  “How on earth did the men in that village resist you?”

He doesn’t give her time to answer before his mouth is on hers and she chuckles into the kiss, still breathless but so happy that she can’t hold back her smile.  “You try living with seven men who are known for carrying axes and an old woman who is a proven marksman with a crossbow and see how many suitors are brave enough to court you.”

“Aye, I suppose that would prove to be quite the deterrent,” he agrees, rubbing his nose playfully against hers.

He falls quiet after that, his eyes closing and his fingers finding the back of her neck to massage it slowly. She doesn’t want to move and he doesn’t seem to be in a hurry for her to, so she closes her eyes and enjoys the feel of his touch, both her body and her heart sated and happy.

K&EK&EK&E

Regina stands over the lax form of the fallen woman and lets the dust that was once her heart filter through her fingers to the floor.  Overwhelming rage rockets through her as she stares at the red ringlet curls, realizing that in her state of anger, she’d crushed the heart before she’d gotten the answers to all the questions she’d wanted to ask. 

Dammit!  It had been an accident.  She hadn’t intended to crush it, but when the simpering little tramp had told her Captain Hook had been in the company of a dwarf…. Well, she’d fisted her hand and… this happened.

A dwarf.  There’s no way it’s a coincidence.  The princess and her band of misfits are now aligned with her most elusive adversary.

Glancing around the tavern, she scans the crowd of people but none of them are brave enough to meet her eyes.  She considers picking one at random, but before she has the time to decide, the doors swing open with a loud bang and soldiers in gold armor march into the room.  She draws a frustrated breath as watches them take their positions, one for each of her knights and another line that surrounds her, effectively guarding all the patrons.  As soon as they have all filed in, they move as one, spreading their feet with a unified step that rings through the rafters, followed by the thud of every sword tip being planted into the wooden floor.  It’s an impressive display, the discipline and cadence of a well-trained group of men who show no fear in the face of danger, and Regina reluctantly admires the efficiency Katherine’s soldiers possess, no doubt a direct result of her husband’s background. 

Speaking of the king and queen, they are the last to enter, two of their soldiers pivoting to the side to allow them into the inner circle where Regina stands.  They come to a stop directly before her, Katherine’s hands demurely folded in front of her while Frederick holds his sword at the ready. 

“Hello Regina,” Katherine says with a regal tilt of her head.

“Katherine,” she replies with an exaggerated nod, “Frederick.”

Katherine’s husband doesn’t say anything, but the hand holding the sword twitches just before Katherine’s hand lands on his wrist (and it’s a good thing, too, because the man’s fate was only an instant away from joining the whore at her feet).  The couple shares a look and Frederick relents, nodding to his wife and loosening his grip on the weapon.

It’s a smart move but not at all surprising.  Katherine has always been the pragmatic one.  She knows Regina could easily immobilize all of their men with a flick of her wrist, so she knows violence is not the answer.  And, as much as Regina is loath to admit it, she knows she can’t use violence, either.  Severing ties with Katherine would be foolish.  She depends too much on the gold she sends in payment to keep her lands safe – not that Katherine needs to know that.  So, she laces her fingers together and straightens her shoulders while the women wordlessly assess each other.  It’s been a long time since they’ve been face to face and Regina begrudgingly admires the sharp eyes of the woman who once jilted by that pathetic little sheep farmer.  In fact, that sudden memory brings on the possibility that Katherine could become a valuable ally, something she is in sore need of at this point.

Katherine gets right down to business, her cool eyes landing on the prone body on the floor before flashing with anger. 

“Might I ask what offense this woman committed?” she asks, her calm voice in direct contrast to her tense posture.

Okay, so maybe allies is a bit of a stretch. 

Regina juts out her chin.  “She had information I needed.”

Katherine raises an elegant eyebrow.  “And did you get it?”

“Some of it,” she replies as flippantly as she can manage. 

Katherine’s demeanor changes, a knowing and slightly smug look crossing her features that has Regina gritting her teeth.  King Midas’s daughter is sometimes a little too perceptive.  “Well, perhaps your methods of investigation need some refinement.  But – ” she adds quickly, raising a hand to cut off Regina’s scathing retort, “it just so happens that I think I know what you’re looking for.  And it seems our… methods produce better results than yours. You’re looking for a certain pirate captain, yes?”

“Yes.”

“Then you should have come to me first,” she admonishes with another flash of her eyes, but quickly recovers, adding in a more civil tone, “We’ve already conducted an investigation into this matter and, if you’ll join me for a ride, I’ll be happy to share with you what we’ve learned.”

Regina pretends to considers that for a moment, glancing around the now overcrowded tavern.  She really has no choice if she wishes to keep being supplied with gold, a position she absolutely abhors being in, but she doesn’t want to agree too quickly.  After a thoroughly tense moment while several of the patrons shift on their feet, she finally turns back to Katherine.  “By all means, Your Majesty.”

Katherine motions for Regina to precede her through the exit with an exaggerated wave of her hand, but instead of following, the queen hangs back long enough to whisper something to Frederick.  The king nods to his wife and motions to his men but he, himself, stays behind.  As the doors to the tavern swing shut, Regina catches a quick image of Frederick pulling out a purse of gold.

“He’s going to make sure the family is compensated if, in fact, there is one,” Katherine says coolly, her sharp eyes meeting and holding with Regina’s. 

Regina doesn’t comment on the statement.  How Katherine wastes her gold is none of her business.  It’s not like she’s hurting for it at any rate. 

“So, what is it that you’ve learned?” Regina asks. 

Gathering her skirts, Katherine steps into the awaiting carriage.  “I’ll tell you on the way.” 

“The way where?” Regina asks suspiciously. 

“I’m escorting you from my land,” Katherine replies, sitting back and straightening her skirts as Regina settles across from her. 

“You’re what?!” 

This time she doesn’t bother keeping her voice level. “You broke our deal, Regina.  You’ve just killed one of my subjects and your knights have been wreaking havoc on my kingdom.  You’re lucky I’m not cutting you off entirely.  But this is the only warning you’ll get.  The gold stops the moment you or any of your knights set foot on my land again.”

“You think I need your gold?”

Regina tries to sound derisive but Katherine doesn’t buy it.

“Yes, I do,” she states matter-of-factly, “You may have learned a great deal from your teacher, but spinning straw into gold was not one of them.”

Regina’s hand fists automatically, itching to produce a fireball and send it soaring through the woman’s smug face.  Katherine’s eyes flit to her tightly fisted hand, her demeanor completely relaxed and Regina reluctantly loosens her fingers.  She can’t kill the queen and apparently, Katherine knows it, the gold she sends is too valuable to give in to a fit of temper.

Once the moment has passed, Katherine quirks a smile and looks to the scenery outside the window, asking idly, “Speaking of Rumpelstiltskin, would you care to visit him before you leave?  His… monument is on our way.”

“I’ve seen it before,” she replies dully.

“I know.  You tried everything you could think of to return him to life,” Katherine comments with a dark edge to her voice.

The remark surprises her and Katherine notices, the smug smile returning.  “Do you think I don’t know what goes on in my kingdom?” At her silence, Katherine’s voice turns sincerely curious, leaning slightly forward in her seat, “I never got the impression you were that fond of him and yet you worked tirelessly to free him.  Why is that, I wonder?”

Regina keeps her silence again.  If Katherine had magic, she’d be a true threat.  She’s not one to mince words and she’s too perceptive for her own good.  On top of that, she’s smart.  She knew exactly what she was doing when she entered that tavern.  She knew Regina would have no choice but to relent.  But she has no idea how close she is to uncovering a nearly three decade’s old secret. 

No, Regina was never fond of Rumpelstiltskin.  She’d never cared about him in the least.  What she cared about was the scroll he’d been carrying when King Midas, disguised as a peasant, managed to get close enough to turn him to gold.  No one knows what that scroll was, no one realizes the importance of it, no one understands that it was that act that saved everyone in this ruddy realm from being ripped to another land where all their happy endings would have been snatched away from them. 

She’d been so close to winning, so close to her own happy ending, so close to exacting her revenge and reaping the benefits of having her very own place where she could rule with impunity, sit back and watch all of her enemies flounder and flail about, never knowing they were actually Kings and Queens, Princes and Princesses…

She realizes she’s squirming in her seat and she stills, glancing up to see Katherine’s expectant expression.

“He was a valuable teacher,” she says in way of explanation to the woman’s earlier question.

Katherine’s look is one that clearly says she isn’t fooled, but she doesn’t have time to say anything else before the carriage jerks to a stop.  She turns to the window.  “We’re here,” she says.

Regina glances outside to see they’ve come to the end of what appears to be a dead-end path.  “Here?” she asks, “I thought you were escorting me from your land.”

Katherine huffs.  “I keep my deals, Regina.  And I said I’d tell you what we’ve learned about Captain Hook.”

Katherine exits the carriage and Regina follows.  As soon as they are on the ground, Katherine waves a hand toward the entrance of a cave.  “This is the cave where your black knights held an innocent child captive in order to get her father to cooperate.”

“The Hatter’s child, you mean?”

“Yes.”

Regina wants to roll her eyes over the admonishment in the woman’s voice.  The concern some royals show to their subjects amazes her sometimes.  “And what does this have to do with Captain Hook?” she asks in a bored tone.

Katherine’s eyes harden but she lets it go.  “I believe the captain aided in the little girl’s rescue.”

That news isn’t at all surprising to Regina since she knows the Hatter is now with Captain Hook.  She’s actually much more interested in who else the captain came in contact with while in town but she follows along behind Katherine, waiting for the right moment to ask and listening with only one ear as the queen goes on, “We found four of your knight’s dead bodies hidden in the foliage over…”

Regina stops dead in her tracks as Katherine continues her dialogue but Regina doesn’t hear another word.  There’s an echo of something in the wind slithering along her skin and inexplicable panic rises up in her throat, the air growing thick around her and her breath coming in laborious pants.  She sees Katherine turn to look at her questioningly but she doesn’t offer an explanation, she just looks to the blood staining the grass at her feet, a sense of foreboding filling her chest.  There’s something sinister here, some remnant of energy that makes the air difficult for her to breathe.

She feels her eyes widen as comprehension slams through her system.

Magic.

K&EK&EK&E

He’s fairly certain she’s fallen asleep atop him, her breathing even with her head tucked under his chin and her hand directly over his heart.  Not that he minds.  His own muscles are still sated and slack, the warmth of her body covering his bringing a sense of tranquility as he slides his fingers through her hair. 

“Mmmm, that feels nice,” she murmurs, surprising him.

“I thought you were asleep,” he replies. 

“Not yet, but keep that up and I will be before long.”

He keeps it up, untangling the silken mass down her back and loving her occasional sound of appreciation.  Softy, he twines a bit of it around his finger and lets it unfurl across his arm, the silky strands tickling his skin.  Releasing a contented sigh, he kisses the top of her head and she shivers.

“Are you cold, love?” he asks, but the only response she gives is a small shrug of her shoulder, apparently so close to sleep that she doesn’t even attempt to speak. 

He reaches for the blanket, trying to extricate it from where its partially covered by their bodies but it resists.  Raising his hips from the mattress, he gives it one rough jerk and his arm hits the ledge, knocking something with his hand.  There’s a clatter and then Emma lifts her head, looking adorably drowsy as she reaches for whatever fell.  Taking advantage of the lightened weight on his chest, he manages to get the blanket out from beneath them and props himself up, coaxing Emma to turn and tuck herself into his shoulder. 

She grumbles a bit from the jostling but cooperates, her hand raising to reveal the item that fell as he tucks the blanket around them.  His hook comes into view and Emma twirls it in her fingers for a moment, her thumb running over the key in the base and glancing over to the chest sitting on the ledge near their feet.  Panic lances through him for one brief moment when she opens her mouth to speak but she changes her mind, instead leaning over to put the hook back where it was, lying it down so gently that it doesn’t make a sound as it lands on the wooden ledge.  Then, keeping her eyes on the chest, she leans back and pulls both of his arms around her waist.  It’s a long time before she finally drifts off and neither of them break the silence.

Once he’s sure she’s asleep, he draws a long breath and buries his nose in her hair.  He knows what she wanted to ask.  He knows she’s eaten with curiosity about what’s in that chest.  And if she had asked, he would have opened it, even though he dreads it with a ferocity that makes his stomach roil. 

Most of it he longs to share with her, things he’s found of hers and her family’s over the years, but there’s one thing… One thing he can’t show her yet.  And it’s the one thing she needs to see. 

He stares at the chest over her head.  He’s thought about it off and on all day, how to tell her about his past.  He’s done some terrible things, but there’s one act that stands out above the rest.  One moment when he let anger and despair push him to do something truly villainous. It’s his greatest shame, his greatest regret, and the item that prompted that horrendous act lays coiled up with everything else in that locked box of trinkets. 

He knows he’s being selfish keeping it from her, stealing these beautiful memories that she may one day in the not-so-distant-future see him unfit to have.  But he needs more of them, more nights with her in his arms, more days filled with joy and laughter.  After all, memories may be the only thing he has left after…  after he tells her… what he did.

He squeezes his eyes shut and pulls her closer.  “Soon, love,” he promises to her slumbering form.  Soon, he’ll open it and show her what’s inside.  He’ll lay his heart at her feet and beg her forgiveness.

If she can forgive him that, she can forgive him anything. 

Agony.  Overwhelming and complete agony drenches his being, the very last bit of hope he had blinking out in one devastating instant.  He stares at the contents of the jewelry box, his hand raising in slow motion to the piece sitting on top.  When his fingers brush along the metal, his heart turns cold in his chest and his eyes gloss over. 

He hears the questioning and concerned tone in the voice of one of his crew members behind him but he doesn’t even have the will to try to comprehend the words.  He just stands stock still as the memory assaults him, making everything else fade away. 

It's some space of time later that he feels a presence at his back, then he hears Jeff’s voice issuing quiet orders, a muted shuffling of feet and then complete silence. 

“Are those what I think they are?” Jeff asks from beside him and Killian nods, the tight lump in his throat preventing him from speaking. 

Jeff doesn't say anything else, he simply lays his hand on Killian’s shoulder in understanding and support.  He's never discussed his vague hope with Jeff before.  He knew it was next to impossible, but now… well, now even that sliver of hope is gone. 

Just…  gone.

It’s too much agony and his lungs start to burn, a heavy knot forming in his stomach that has him falling sharply to his knees.  He doesn’t even feel pain lancing up his legs at the hard contact with the floor, his entire body going numb except for the burning in his chest until it, too, fades out and there’s just… nothing.  There’s nothing left to hope for, nothing left to live for.  He wants to die, to sink through the wooden planks beneath him and continue sinking until his bones settle on the ocean floor.  Closing his eyes, he wills his heart to stop beating, he prays to whatever god may be listening to take pity on him and allow him to forfeit this life.

Let me die, let me die, the mantra repeats in his head.  Please, let me die.

He realizes his prayer will go unanswered when the hand still on his shoulder squeezes hard enough for the physical pain of it to penetrate through the numbness, everything around him coming back into acute focus.  He wants to scream, to curse the fate that brought him here, but the words won’t come, his throat too constricted to utter so much as a single sound. 

Slowly, he forces his stiff muscles to stand, reaching into the jewelry box and picking up the treasure.  Anguish and fury mix together when he grips it, holding it tightly until the cool metal has warmed in his hand, then he pivots and stalks out of the room.

He ascends to the deck, not looking anyone in the eye as he crosses back to the Jolly.  Jeff stays on his heels, calling out to the rest of the crew to return to their ship.  He watches with rage simmering in his throat as his men release the merchant ship from the hooks they’d used to tether the vessels together. 

Once the ship is a safe distance away, he softly issues the command. “Sink it.”

Jefferson, who is still next to him, stands straighter but doesn’t say anything.

“I’m sorry?” one of the crew members asks.

“SINK IT!” he shouts back, loud enough this time that his entire crew stops what they’re doing to look at him with disbelief.

“But Captain, they surrendered without a f – ”

His vision actually goes red with fury.  “MAN THE CANNONS AND SINK THE BLOODY FUCKING SHIP!”

The men closest to him shrink back at the force of his command while several others shuffle their feet uncomfortably.  Another moment passes as they all stare, many of them looking questioningly to Jefferson.

“Sink it,” Jeff confirms in a steady voice. 

He can tell the men are confused by the order but they do as they’re bidden, a sudden bustle of activity ensuing as they prepare the cannons to fire.  Killian walks to the bow and waits, his eyes trained on the unsuspecting vessel until he hears Jeff’s clear and emotionless voice.

“Ready to fire, Captain.”

He tightens his grip on the jewels. 

“Fire.”

Chapter Text

“FE FI FO FU – ”  Killian cuts off as the book shakes again, rolling his eyes in feigned annoyance and returning his voice to normal.  “Darling, how am I supposed to read this if you can’t keep it still?”

His question proves too much for Emma to continue to contain her laughter and she and Grace erupt into a fit of giggles while Dopey throws his head back in silent, but obvious, amusement.  They’re currently sitting on deck, Killian and Emma perched on a crate and Dopey sitting cross-legged at their feet with Grace on his lap while Killian tries to read a bedtime story to Grace.

“I’m s-sorry,” Emma stammers, “I just never knew what a flair you had for story-telling.  I wasn’t expecting the… voices.”

“Oh, Hook is the best story teller there is,” Grace pipes up with pride.  “He always does the different voices for me.  You should hear him do the Wicked Witch’s voice.  It’s amazing.”

“You mean like: ‘I’ll get you my pretty’?”  

Now it’s Killian’s turn to laugh.  “Princess, please never do that again.  You’ve got the accent all wrong.”

Emma makes a sound of indignation and pinches him on the thigh to which he yelps and sticks his lower lip out in an exaggerated pout that has their audience giggling again.

In truth, he’s not upset in the slightest by the way this evening has gone.  It’s been absolutely perfect to his mind.  It started out with he and Emma relaxing on the crate, her back to his chest while they watched the setting sun before Grace appeared and begged a story.  He’d immediately agreed but Emma hadn’t wanted to move so she’d offered to hold the book while he read over her shoulder, a perfect solution is his opinion since it meant he could continue to hold her while he read.  But as the story went on, it was getting increasingly difficult to read with the way the book kept shaking.

He goes back to reading but cuts off again before he even reaches the bottom of the page.

“Hey,” she snaps when he attempts to take the book from her, holding it out of his reach.

“We’re never going to get through this story if you keep laughing,” he retorts, then lowers his voice and lines his mouth up next to her ear. “And if we don’t get through this story, we’ll never get to bed.”

That little reminder has her sobering immediately and he nearly hoots out a laugh himself. “Okay, fine.  I’ll stop, I promise,” she replies, settling back into his chest.

Reaching around, she pulls her hair to one side so he can lay his chin on her shoulder again, then holds the book back up.  He manages to get through the rest of the story with only one more interruption, and by that time the sun has completely disappeared.  

Grace and Dopey give a short round of applause while Emma snaps the book shut and hands it to the little girl, then she sits back up, lacing the fingers of her now free hand with his.

“Time for bed,” Patricia calls from the helm, starting toward the steps to collect her daughter.

“Do I have to?” Grace whines, making the woman in his arms chuckle.

“It’s late, angel,” Jeff says from behind the wheel.

Grace’s shoulder slump but, just as her mother reaches her, her head shoots up.  “Can I sleep in the crews’ quarters again tonight?” she asks with a smile.

Jeff and Patricia share a look and Jeff shrugs.  

“You promise to let Dopey sleep? You won’t talk his ear off?” Patricia asks.

“I promise,” Grace immediately concedes, practically bouncing on her toes.

“Okay,” her mother says, “Let’s go get you changed first, then you can pick whichever bunk you want.”

Grace grins widely, thanking her mother and hugging her tight around the waist.  

Killian chuckles when, as soon as she releases her mother, the little girl insists on giving goodnight hugs to everyone else on board.  She’d make a hell of a pirate, he thinks with amusement, watching as she sends her mother an innocent look even as Patricia taps her foot in impatience.  The child pulls out every stop to prolong her bedtime.  She always has.  

As the two finally disappear below deck, Emma settles into him again, her head leaning back to rest on his shoulder so she can gaze at the stars.  

He knows he should get up, check their position, set their course, but he doesn’t want to let her go just yet.  The night is warm and the moon is bright and everything else can wait.  He just wants to hold her for a few more minutes, so he lowers his head to rub his nose along her shoulder, relishing the happy sigh she releases as he does so.

He raises his head when he hears Dopey lighting the nearest lamp and the dwarf gives him a satisfied smile, nodding to him in approval.  He nods back and glances across the deck to see Ruby giving him a similar look – only hers is more knowing – and he nearly blushes.  Emma, who is completely oblivious to the glances being sent their way, snuggles closer in his arms and he buries his face in her neck to hide his smile.  

It’s been another glorious day.  He and Emma had spent the afternoon with Dopey working on his form, him instructing and Emma demonstrating.  Eventually, everyone else had joined in and it had turned into a full out fencing class.  Then they’d all enjoyed a lovely dinner on deck under the setting sun.

“Today was fun,” she murmurs and it doesn’t surprise him at all that their thoughts are aligned.  

“Yes, it was,” he replies, tightening his grip on her waist.  

She twists her neck to brush a sweet kiss on his lips and he closes his eyes to savor it. His eyes stay closed as she does it again, a soft glide of mouth against mouth, and his chest warms with contentment.  

There’s an easy breeze coming off the ocean, blowing through her hair to the point where the ends of it glance across his neck, the soft strands and her subtle fragrance mixing together into a moment he wants to revel in, to memorize and burn onto his heart.  It’s the simple moments like this one that he missed most of all, they’re the memories he played over and over again in his head for so many years, and the fact that he’s able to experience more of them now makes him want to etch the picture of every one on his brain, commit to memory the silky skin behind her ear where his fingers brush, the quiet sigh he hears when she turns further in his arms, skimming her lips across his again.  

He’s so lost in his effort to memorize every sensation that he misses the way she goes still when he buries his nose in her neck to breathe her in – roses and a touch of a spice he doesn’t recognize that will haunt him for the rest of his life – but when his nose brushes the lobe of her ear and her fingers dig into his shoulder, there’s something about it that draws his attention and he, regretfully, leaves the solace of her throat to look at her.  When he does, she motions over his shoulder with an amused and slightly embarrassed expression and he turns to find Jeff crossing the deck toward them.  

“Later,” he hears her whisper and he turns back to see her eyes shining with merriment.

“Later,” he echoes.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Jeff says when he reaches them, “but I wanted to talk about where we’re headed.”

Killian stands to face his friend, slipping his arm around Emma's waist. “I was thinking Portsmouth,” he replies, “I was there a few months ago, and I think it’s our best option.”

“Yes, that would be excellent.  I’ve got several…” his eyes dart to Emma and back, “contacts there.”

“Good.  We should be there in a couple of days,” Killian tells him, appreciative of the fact that Jefferson used the term ‘contacts’ instead of ‘spies.’  His friend obviously suspects that he hasn’t told Emma about their operation yet and the look on his face confirms it.  

“Once we get there, we should do a bit of scouting before Grace leaves the ship,” Jeff comments.  

“Of course, I was already planning on it.”  

“Planning on what?” Patricia asks, appearing at her husband’s side and linking her arm with his.  

Jefferson’s eyes soften at his wife’s appearance, turning to kiss her on the cheek, “We’re headed to Portsmouth and Killian and I were just talking about doing a bit of scouting before anyone else leaves the ship.”

“You’re not going without me,” Patricia immediately responds.

He and Jefferson share a look.  

“It might be dangerous, darling,” Jeff says to his wife.

“And your point?” she asks, crossing her arms over her chest.

Jeff just sighs, obviously not willing to put up the fight to stop her. “Just that you’ll need to be careful.”

Patricia gives a sharp nod at that but softens it with a light kiss then, linking her arm back in his, her eyes suddenly lighting up with an idea. “We should stop by the tavern while we’re looking around.  Their tavern is always bursting at the seams with the latest tidbits!”

“Fine,” Jeff agrees, resignedly.

“I’m going, too,” Emma says.

Bloody hell.

His body stiffens against his will and he knows she notices, her own back going ramrod straight as she turns to face him. She's got that determined look in her eye, like she’s daring him to contradict her, the argument forming before he can even say a word.  But he’s not going to argue with her – he’s not.  He’s going to keep calm no matter how this conversation goes.  He lets his hand fall from her waist, hooking his thumb in his belt and schooling his features the best he can.  

“Emma,” he says carefully, trying to get her to see reason, “the closer we get to your kingdom, the more likely it is that you’ll be recognized.  Regina is looking for you.  You should stay aboard the Jolly, she’ll protect you.”

“And what about you?” she asks, obviously trying to stay calm as well.  “Regina is looking for both of us.  She sent a garrison of knights to capture you. Or have you forgotten that?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Then what’s the difference?!”

Her voice is starting to rise and he grits his teeth against his need to match it.

“I can’t hide aboard this ship, love,” he says evenly, “I’m sure word of that encounter is spreading faster than lightning and I need to stop any rumors of my untimely demise as quickly as possible.”

“Why?” she demands, and now her arms are crossed over her chest.

“What do you mean, why?”  

“Everyone already thinks Killian Jones is dead.  Let them think Captain Hook is dead, too.”

No.”

He doesn’t expect the amount of venom that comes out with the word and Emma doesn’t seem to either, her eyes widening in shock.  

“But –”

“I don’t care what the general population thinks,” he cuts her off, “But the Evil Queen…?  She already knows by now that her plan failed and I’ll not give her the satisfaction of thinking she’s scared me into hiding!”

Her mouth snaps shut at that but her eyes are still flashing with annoyance.  After several cleansing breaths, he sees the tension in her shoulders start to relax and relief floods him, thinking he’s won this debate.  He’s just about to congratulate himself on keeping his temper (for the most part) under control, but then she lifts her chin at a regal angle.

“Fine, but I’m not going to hide, either,” she says.  Then, at the eye-roll he can’t contain, her voice goes a pitch higher, “People are going to find out I’m still alive soon enough.  What does it matter if they find out before we reach Camelot?”

“Outside of the impropriety of being seen in the company of a pirate?”

“Impropriety?” she asks in disbelief, “You’re worried about my reputation?”

“I’m worried about your LIFE!” he shouts.

“And I’m worried about YOURS!”

Their outburst echoes across the deck in the following silence, both of them breathing heavy and their stances stubborn.

Gods, she really doesn’t understand, does she?  She doesn’t see the difference…

He takes a long breath, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment to gather himself, grappling for any excuse he can come up with to convince her to stay aboard the ship.

“My life isn’t nearly as valuable as yours is, princess.” He rasps out the first thing that comes to mind.  “If Regina finds out where you are, she’ll set the remainder of her navy to find us. The Jolly is a marvel, yes, but she can’t stand against all of Regina’s ships.  If they find us before we reach Camelot, they’ll sink us without a second thought.”

“You know as well as I do that won’t happen,” she replies with derision, “By the time word reaches her, we’ll be half-way there and her ships won’t stand a chance at catching us.  The Jolly is a marvel, and she’s also the fastest ship in the realm.  Try again, Captain.”   

He bristles at the emphasis she puts on his title, a tinge of regret flickering through him that he’d made a point to use hers. But she needs to understand, dammit!  No matter how much she doesn’t like it, she is a princess.  She was born to rule a kingdom and her life is too bloody valuable to risk over a simple scouting mission.

(And that’s to say nothing of the prophecy that says she will be the one to defeat the Evil Queen - which he knows she knows nothing about, but she’s not stupid and she must at least suspect where this is headed.  While his life…  Well, he’s not as vital.  He’s already done what he needed to do.  He’s already awakened her magic and it will continue to strengthen with or without him.)

The tension is back in her shoulders as they stare each other down through the strained silence, her arms crossed so tightly over her chest that he idly wonders if she’ll have bruises tomorrow from how her fingers are gripping into her forearms. For his part, his heart is pounding heavily and he can feel his fingernails digging crescents into his palm.  He’s also acutely aware that everyone is watching, none of them daring to move.

It’s another few moments before Ruby’s voice breaks the non verbal battle. “What if there was no chance that she’ll be recognized?” she asks as though something just occurred to her.

Neither he nor Emma respond, their stares never wavering from the other, both of them so determined to not back down that they don’t even glance Ruby’s way, so it falls to Jeff to voice the question.

“How?” he asks.

“Magic,” she replies.  “Emma could do a glamour spell.”

That gets Emma’s attention and she finally breaks the nearly tangible tether between their eyes, swinging her gaze to Ruby.

“A glamour spell?”

“Yes, to change your appearance.  It’s the same principle you were using yesterday to change the color of our dresses,” Ruby says.

Killian’s stomach clenches into a tight fist when Emma’s eyes light up, an inexplicable but all-encompassing terror crawling up his chest.

“How do I do it?” she asks.

No.

“Just picture what you want to look like and let your magic do the rest.”

No, no, no.

Emma nods, closing her eyes and concentrating even as jagged claws tear at the back of Killian’s throat, the sudden onslaught of fear manifesting itself by choking off his air supply.  

No. She needs to stay aboard the ship, he thinks.  She can’t…  It’s too dangerous.

His lungs are burning with the need for oxygen by the time Emma’s eyes open, looking to Ruby and shaking her head in an indication that it didn’t work and Killian finally manages to draw a breath.

“Try thinking of someone you know well.  Someone whose face is familiar – Gwen from The Gold Mine, maybe.”

The dread washes through him again instantly when Emma’s eyes close, her hands going into fists at her sides even as his do the same.  

Don’t let it work, he prays desperately.  Please, don’t let it work.  She’ll be safer on the ship.

Emma shakes her head, looking to Ruby again.

“Okay.  Try me,” Ruby suggests. “You probably know my face better than I do.”

“It’s not that,” Emma replies, “It’s…  I can’t even get the magic to start.  It’s…”  she trails off, looking down to her hands with confusion as she turns them over and back again…  

Then, without warning, she whips around to face him, her eyes wide with realization and her voice sharp with accusation.  

“What the hell are you doing?!” she demands.

He nearly stumbles back from the force of her words, confusion and anger making his denial much more heated than he intends.  “I’m not doing anything!”

“Yes, you are!” she shouts.

“No, I’m NOT!” he retorts – even though he’s not sure what he’s denying.  He’s just bloody standing here.  He hasn’t moved so much as a single muscle, so what on earth could she possibly think he’s doing?

Her chin juts out stubbornly as she snatches his hand and links their fingers together.  Clenching her eyes shut, she squeezes his hand, her face a mask of determination as she tries one last time to call on her magic.  His eyes drop to their interlaced fingers but there’s nothing, no spark, no warmth in his stomach, no light igniting between their palms.  

She drops his hand as if he’s burned her, taking a step back and looking at him with wide eyes.

“You don’t want it to work,” she says, disbelief and hurt lacing the words.  

A heavy weight swoops into his belly, the pain on her face lancing his heart even if he has no idea what he’s done to put it there.  But she’s right, he doesn’t want it to work, so he doesn’t respond to her implied question – not that he needs to, she already knows what he’s thinking.

“Why?” she asks, idly rubbing her thumb over the palm of the hand she’d just released from his.

“’Why’ what?”

“Why don’t you want it to work?!” she demands at the top of her voice.

Because this is the best excuse I have to keep you on the ship.  To keep you safe.  Because I’m terrified of losing you.  Because I won’t survive it, not again.  It has nothing to do with you being royalty or you defeating Regina and everything to do with the fact that I can’t even think about a world without you in it without spiraling into a complete bloody panic!

“What difference does it make?” he says instead.

“Because I can’t use my magic!”

“And how is that my fault?!”

“Because, you stubborn pirate, it’s not just my magic.  It’s ours!”

Her declaration doesn't register at first, his greater concern the way her eyes widen in alarm as though she hadn’t intended to share that secret just yet.  But he doesn’t have time to wonder why that is before the meaning of her words slam into him like a bloody hammer and his breath catches.

Their magic? What does she mean, their magic?  It’s her magic.  She’s the one who has power, not him.  She’s the one who saved his life and Grace’s life and Dopey’s life.  He just… gives her a boost occasionally, he doesn’t have anything to do with how she uses it.

She must see his confusion, so she takes it upon herself to demonstrate.  “Watch,” she says, reaching out and taking Ruby’s hand.  “Ruby cut herself earlier while she was making dinner.  I’m going to heal it, okay?”

Before he can say a word, she waves her hand and he feels the spark in his stomach, the small cut disappearing.  That only serves to confuse him even more because her magic is working, so what on earth is she going on about?

“Did you feel that?” she asks.

“Yes, but what does that prove?”

“You wanted it to heal, right?”

“Well, I…  I mean, I obviously don’t want Ruby to be in pain, but I – ”  

“So, you wanted it to heal,” she surmises, releasing Ruby’s hand and taking a step toward him.  “Don’t you see?  It only works when we want the same thing…  Consciously or not.”

He shakes his head in denial.  “That can’t be true.  You’ve used it without me before.  Bloody hell, I was sleeping the other morning when you healed yourself – ”  

“But you’d never want me to be in pain.  Just like you’d never want Ruby to be.”

“But – ”

“Look, it’s hard to explain but… every time I use it, it’s… it’s like you’re there with me… it’s like I can feel your heart working alongside mine.”  

He shakes his head again, his thoughts reeling.  He’s part of her magic?  But it’s impossible.  Isn’t it?  He doesn’t have… power.  He’s no one.  A commoner who was lucky enough to catch the eye of a princess.  She’s the special one.  He’s the son of a man who sold him into servitude the moment he was old enough to be useful.  She’s the product of true love.  A princess… Royalty…

From out of nowhere, Jeff’s words from a few days ago pop into his mind.  The love between the two of you…  It was electric.  It was magic, Killian.  Literally.  Everyone around you could feel it.  

His heart thuds and his eyes widen, his blood starting to race as he frantically thinks back to each and every time she’s used her magic, replaying each one in his head…  

Arendelle… the attack on the Jolly… the cave…  He’s felt it every time.  Even yesterday, while she was practicing and he was fencing with Dopey there was a subtle spark in his stomach.  His eyes had been drawn to her over and over again because he could feel her calling on it, contentment filling him because he was happy that it was strengthening… as he was hoping it would.  

When he looks back to her, she’s nervous, wringing her hands together as she eyes him warily, like she’s afraid of what his reaction will be.  But the only thing he can think is how amazing this is.  How a man like him, a one-handed pirate, could possibly be part of something like this…  A love so powerful that it can heal and protect everyone around them because, like Jeff said, it’s their love that makes the magic.  

He’s moving in the next second, weaving his hand her in hair and kissing her so soundly that she squeaks in surprise.  

K&EK&EK&E

Okay, definitely not the reaction she was expecting – not that she’s complaining.  

She’d been standing there, watching each thought flitter across his face – from disbelief to confusion to acceptance – terrified that he’d misinterpret her recent actions as a ploy to use him simply so her magic would work.  Or that he’d be angry that she’s kept it a secret.  But he doesn’t seem to be either, especially with the way he turns his back on their audience to afford them a bit of privacy so he can sweep his tongue through her mouth.

He breaks the kiss as abruptly as he’d started it and she’s so caught up in the haze of his lips that she has to concentrate to pry her eyes open.  When his face comes into focus, there’s a look of awe in his heavy-lidded gaze, his eyes searching her features like he’s seeing her for the first time.  Slipping his hand further into her hair, he guides her head to nuzzle his nose against hers and her heart swells in her chest.

She’s definitely not complaining.

Someone coughs loudly and they break apart, both of them blushing and clearing their throats as they turn back to their friends.

“Well, now that that’s settled,” Ruby says, “Can we get back to our current problem?  Emma needs to be able to disguise herself if she’s going to leave the ship.”

Killian’s shoulders immediately tense again and she looks over to him, his eyes clouding just before he hides them from her.  

“Killian?” she asks, her chest tightening when she sees the way his jaw clenches.

He shifts around on his feet, keeping his eyes averted and she turns to face him, only vaguely aware of their friends silently retreating.  

He shakes his head, his lower lip caught between his teeth.  “I’m sorry, love, but I…  If it’s true that your magic depends on both of us, then I’m…”  

He trails off, opening his eyes to give her a pleading look, begging her to understand.

Her heart sinks and her temper flairs back to life.  “You still don’t want it to work,” she says, trying to keep the sharpness of the knives she feels in her chest from coming out in her voice.

“I can’t help the way I feel, Emma.  I can’t – ”

“Why?!” she demands, and dammit, he looks like she’s just jabbed one of those knives into his chest now with how he sucks in a ragged gasp.

“Emma, please…”

She takes a measured breath to calm herself at the pleading in his eyes, but it doesn’t do anything to slow her racing blood.  Still, she manages to mask the worst of her annoyance when she speaks again.

“You don’t trust me,” she says flatly.

“It’s not that,” he immediately replies.

“Yes, it is,” she retorts, “It’s exactly that.  You don’t trust that I can take care of myself.”

“Emma…”

“You know, I may not be a notorious pirate captain whose name strikes fear into anyone who hears it, but I'm not some spoiled, dainty princess, either!  I may have been living in ignorance for the past few years but I’m still me.  You used to have faith in me.  You used to treat me like an equal.  But now… what?  I’m supposed to sit on my hands while you go off without me?  I’m supposed to wait around on this ship like I’m fucking helpless while you risk your life?”  

“Love…” He takes a step toward her, raising his hand as though to sooth her and she bats it away.  

“Well, it’s not going to happen that way.  The only way you’ll get me to stay on this ship is if you physically restrain me!”

She turns on her heel and stalks off, too angry to even turn back when he calls her name.  

Once she’s safe inside his cabin is when the tears come, fury and hurt making them burn as they slide down her cheeks.  

That impossible… stubborn… thick-headed… pirate!  How can he even consider leaving her behind?  What does she need to do to prove to him that she’s just as capable as he is?  Because what she said on deck is true:  He used to trust her, he used to consider her an equal, he used to believe in her.  But now…  Now he doesn’t.

Her eyes land on the long leather coat hanging benignly on the peg next to the door and her blood boils.

Now he’s a highly-feared pirate captain who is used to people following his orders without question.  He’s the commander of his ship and everyone aboard.  And, somehow, he’s gotten it into his head that she’ll follow those commands without putting up a fight?  Well, he’s sorely mistaken.

Idly, she snatches a sword handle that’s sticking out of one of the chests lining the walls, pivoting and slashing it through the air with grace.  She may not be as good as he is with a sword anymore, but she’s no amateur.  Adjusting her grip on the hilt, she spins on the spot, the weapon zipping through the air so fast that she hears the hum of the blade before landing in a low lunge.

How naïve does he think she is? she thinks sourly.  Does he think she doesn’t understand the importance of what they’re doing?  It’s her kingdom they’re fighting for, her mother is the one locked in that tower, her father is the one who has been separated from his wife for all these years.  And if he thinks she’s going to let him treat her like some delicate, fragile figurehead who needs protecting while she stays behind…

She stabs the sword back into the chest, a satisfying clang of metal echoing through the room when it slides past the precious gold and silver treasures it had been nestled with.  Angrily, she wipes at her eyes, removing the evidence of tears and walks to the bed, plopping down and covering her face with her hands.

She’ll go mad if she’s stuck here worrying about him while he’s out there – probably rushing head-long into danger with a cavalier attitude toward his life.  Because that's exactly what he'll do.  He’s already proven he doesn’t see his life as a thing of value.  He’d been willing to die for Grace and he’d made it clear earlier that he considers her life more valuable than his and that’s just not true.  He’s more vital than he gives himself credit for but if half of what she’s heard of him is accurate, he takes insane risks on a regular basis and he… he can’t… She won’t survive losing him again.  She won’t.  She’s certain her heart would simply cease beating if…  if he…

Just the thought has tears spilling over again and she snatches up his pillow, hugging it to her chest as she lays back on the mattress.

She won't let him do it.  She'll chain herself to his side if she has to.  He's not going anywhere without her.

There’s a shuffle on the deck above her and she holds her breath, watching the hatch to see if it opens but it doesn't.  Instead, the footsteps retreat and she feels a pang of regret shoot through her.  She shouldn't have yelled at him.  She shouldn't have called him out for his pirate ways again. But dammit, does he really expect her to sit here and do nothing?

She clamps her eyes shut at the next sting of tears, willing them not to fall.  She considers going back up to try to talk sense into him, but changes her mind.  She'll wait for him to come down for the night.  They've already put on quite a show for everyone and she'd rather have this conversation in private.  

She stares at the ceiling and waits.  And waits.  

And waits.

It’s sometime later when she jolts to attention, confusion filtering through her when she sees the room is much darker than it had been. She must have fallen asleep, she realizes, unconsciously reaching across the bed seeking Killian.  Her hand glides over the empty mattress next to her and her stomach drops.

Glancing around the room, she notices the lanterns have nearly burned out, indicating she’s slept for a good portion of the night.  With a weight in her chest, she gets to her feet, her eyes still scratchy and sore from her earlier bout of tears.

Quietly, she makes her way up the ladder, expecting to find him at the helm.  Instead, though, she's greeted by another dark-haired man.  Jefferson is standing at the wheel and affords her a quick glance when he hears her.

“He's below deck,” he says without prompting, “assuring himself once again that all of the cannons are loaded and at the ready.”

His tone is reprimanding and, if she’s not mistaken, there's also a subtle implication of something more hidden in his words.  She's not sure because she doesn't know him very well, but her shoulders still slump at the admonishment.  He’s clearly not happy with her and who can blame him?  His loyalties lie squarely with Killian and their little scene earlier is most certainly the reason he’s not currently in bed with his wife.  Rather, he’s spent a good part of the night on deck, more than likely in an attempt to either console his friend or distract him.

Not wanting to deal with another confrontation, she skirts around him toward the stairs, but just as her foot lands on the first step, she hears him release an exasperated sigh.

“May I offer you a bit of advice, princess?” he asks.

She almost turns down his offer but there’s a trace of apology in his voice that makes her hesitate.  His sympathies might be with Killian but it does sound like he truly wants to help, and since he probably knows Killian better than anyone now, his advice could be immeasurably valuable.  So she removes her foot from the step and turns to face him, folding her hands demurely in front of her.  

Once he has her attention, he studies her for a moment, his eyes searching hers and his hand readjusting itself on the wheel in a nervous reflex, apparently trying to figure out how to approach whatever it is he wants to say.  She lets her hands fall to her sides at the obvious concern in his eyes and takes a step toward him, silently encouraging him.

Finally, he draws a deep breath, his eyes softening as he looks thoughtfully out at the horizon. “I've been married for some years now,” he starts, his voice soft, “and I love my wife with everything I have.  She and Grace have brought joy back to my life.  And joy was not something I thought to ever have again.”

This wistful admission is the last thing she expected and her brow wrinkles as he fiddles with the handle again.

“I won't pretend to know what it was like for you when you were informed of Killian’s death,” he says gently, “But I was there when he heard of yours.  He'd just lost his brother – killed right in front of him – and, within a fortnight, he lost you as well.  He had nothing left.  And it… broke him.”  

Emma’s eyes fill with tears, her heart aching.  He saw his brother die?  Liam died before they even escaped the castle?  She wants to ask what happened but her throat is clogged and, even though she tries, the lump obstructing her voice is too large to swallow past.

Jeff steps forward and takes her hand, holding it between both of his, his voice gentling even more. “I’m sure it was difficult for you as well, but at least you knew your parents were still alive.  You had, at least a sliver of hope for the future.  He didn't.  He lost everything in a very short span of time and… that kind of pain, it stays with you.  And it’s something you would give anything to keep from feeling again.”

She blinks to clear her blurred vision and it barely does any good with how fast her eyes fill again.  

“He doesn’t question your abilities, your highness.  You have to know that.  He’s just terrified.  And, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, I’d say the… strength of your anger earlier would indicate you are, too.”

Drawing a shaky breath, she squeezes his hand, a rush of affection pressing on her heart.  Yes, he’s squarely on Killian’s side but he also holds sympathy for hers.  And, he’s right, she and Killian are both scared of the same thing, it’s just that neither of them were willing to admit it.  (Well, Killian might have been but, once again, she relapsed to anger to cover her fear before he could explain himself.)  

As if understanding her predicament, he gingerly wipes a tear from her cheek, going on, “Take it easy on him, princess.  He’s nearly obsessed with keeping you safe.  This is the third time today the cannons have been checked.”

The statement melts her heart and she nods, his first comment when she alighted on deck suddenly making sense.  

Flashing a sad smile, he gives her a quick kiss on the back of the hand and steps back, returning to the wheel.  Then, in an effort to lighten the mood, he adds in a mischievous tone, “You know, there’s something I’ve learned over the years I’ve spent with my wife: Arguments are inevitable, especially when you’re both strong-willed people, but the making up can be…” he quirks an eyebrow…  “fun.”

She huffs out a laugh through her tears, completely taken off guard at his frank words considering the propriety he usually uses toward her.  

“Perhaps,” she replies in amusement but it fades quickly, adding, “but I wouldn’t know. Killian and I never used to argue.”

He must hear the melancholy return because his voice turns serious again. “That’s because you never had anything to argue about,” he points out.

At her questioning look he continues, “You were young back then, princess. You didn't have a care in the world.  Your kingdom was at peace.  There was no conflict, no war, and no reason to believe that would ever change.  You were, the both of you, fearless.  You'd never known loss, betrayal – and now there’s danger everywhere.  And danger makes emotions run high, especially when mixed with two people as headstrong as you and Killian.”

The creaking sound of a hatch opening draws both of their attentions and Killian appears, stopping abruptly when he sees the two of them at the helm.  Their eyes meet across the deck, but he doesn’t hold the gaze, instead flicking his eyes to Jefferson.  

Jeff looks completely unimpressed with Killian’s tense stance, in fact, he looks almost pleased at Killian’s irritation.  Turning back to Emma, he gives her a quick bow. “Well, I should leave you to it, princess,” he says, moving to walk past her.

She stops him with a hand on his arm.  “My friends call me Emma, Lord Galerus.”

He smiles softly.  “And mine call me Jeff, Emma.”

She gives him a thankful nod, hoping he understands how much she appreciates the help and insight she’s gained from him during their short conversation.  “Good night, Jeff.”

“Good night, Emma,” then he leans close to her ear, “Remember: Go easy…  the making up could be worth the fight.”

Her lips curve and she nods one more time in agreement, then he goes around her to make his way down the steps.  He pauses when he reaches Killian, whispering something to him that Emma doesn’t hear but makes Killian’s lip quirk for the barest instant.  Then he leaves, descending into one of the hatches.  

As soon as the creaky hatch latches shut, silence descends in a nearly physical fog, it’s thick weight even blocking out the sound of water lapping on the bow.  Killian hasn't moved, his hand anchored in the belt at his waist but, somehow, it doesn’t look as menacing without the pirate garb he’s been shedding over the past few days.  Still, his eyes are hard and his jaw ticking and her heart sinks even more.  She wants to go to him, just rush down the steps and throw herself into the comforting warmth of his arms, surrender the fight and beg forgiveness for losing her temper again, but her feet are rooted to the spot.   

“I thought you'd be asleep by now.”  His voice cracks the tiniest bit on the last word, completely at odds with the terse comment.  

“I thought you would've joined me by now,” she counters.

He fidgets and scratches at the back of his ear, looking away from her. “Well, I wasn't entirely sure my presence would be welcome.”

His voice has softened but it's still guarded and she aches to cross to him. To that end, she takes a step in his direction, “Killian – ”

“I don't want to fight, love,” he interjects, his hand lifting as though warding her off and she freezes mid-step.

“I don’t want to fight, either,” she replies, going ahead and taking the step closer.  

The space separating them feels like it stretches a mile and when he steps back as though to keep the distance even, her heart tightens so badly she fears it might stop beating.  

“Please Killian,” she rasps desperately, “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have yelled.  I just – ”  

“Why did you think I’d be upset about your magic depending on both us?” he interrupts in a rough voice, both curiosity and pain dripping from the question.

Her eyes pop wide, surprised that this, rather than her outburst, seems to be what has him the most upset, “It was just…” she falters, “Things have been getting better between us and I didn’t want to risk – ”

“Did you think I’d be angry?” he asks.

“I…  I just didn’t know how you’d react…” She replies, hesitantly starting down the steps to close at least some of the distance between them. “You see, this magic – our magic – it’s more than just us wanting the same thing. It also depends on… something else,” she explains.  

She's now at the bottom of the stairs and he hasn't moved, but she stops there and keeps her hand on the rail, needing something solid to hold on to as she goes on, “Right after I woke up, during those days when you were avoiding me… Well, it didn’t work at all then.  I didn’t understand why at first but once it did start working again, I realized it… Well, it…” she trails off and bites her lip, unable to meet his eyes.

“Its strength is directly related to the strength of our… feelings for each other,” he finishes for her, the way he says it giving her the impression that he’d already riddled through the matter while she’d been below.

She nods hesitantly, averting her eyes to stare at the grooves in the rail her thumb is nervously tracing. “Yes,” she manages in a jagged tone.

“And you were afraid I’d think you were only… using me to make our magic work.”

Again, she can tell he’s already reached this conclusion and even though there’s no accusation in the gently spoken statement, her cheeks redden in shame, her eyes filling with tears.  She nods slowly, her thumb nearly gouging the thick wood of the rail now.

“Emma,” he breathes taking slow steps until he's standing before her.  He shakes his head sadly, reaching out to cup her cheek, “I’d never think that, love.  Never.”

She’s frozen to the spot, swallowing tightly against the lump in her throat.  She sees moisture caught in the edges of his eyes and he lifts his left arm and uses his hook to gently tuck a stray curl behind her ear, searching her features with a sorrow so deep that it tugs at her heart.

“We don’t know each other at all anymore, do we?” he asks quietly.

The overwhelming sadness she hears makes her stomach plummet – because he believes it.  He’s been up here half the night, not upset because of her outburst, but pondering over her reason for not telling him about their magic and coming to this conclusion – this soul wrenching conclusion that they have changed so much that they don’t even know each other and he’s so wrong.  She does know him.  

“That’s not true.  I do know you,” she says, trying to put as much conviction as she can into her words, but her throat is so tight it only comes out as a croak.

He shakes his head in denial and tries to step back but her hands grapple at his shirt, urgently gripping it to stop him from retreating as she presses on, her voice getting stronger. “I know that you’re honorable and kind,” she declares fervently. “I know that you’d do anything for a friend and that you have a sense of loyalty that runs so deep you’re willing to give your life for it.”  She moves one hand to his cheek to make sure he keeps his eyes on hers. “I also know you’re scared,” she whispers, “you’re scared of so many things.  You’re scared to tell me what happened while we were apart, you’re scared that I don’t care for you the way I used to and that I won’t understand.”

“Emma…”

“But that’s not all you’re scared of,” she hurries on, because she doesn’t want to push that right now, “You’re also scared of losing me again.  And that’s why you didn’t want the glamour spell to work earlier.  You want me to stay on the ship so that I’ll be safe.  But what you don’t understand is that I’m just as scared of losing you.”

He sucks in a breath, his hand tightening at the base of her neck. “Darling…” he whispers, tears now falling unchecked down his cheeks as his head falls forward to land on hers with a strangled sound.

“I won’t let you go without me,” she vows, “and that’s not me being stubborn or trying to defy you.  It’s me being terrified that you won’t come back.  You want to protect me, and I understand that, but why can’t you believe that I want to protect you just as much?  That if something happens to you, I…  I…”  Her voice clogs and she leans back to meet his eyes, noting the tiny glimmer of hope now shining in them.  “I can’t lose you again.  I can’t.  I need you, Killian.  I need you beside me, I need your strength and your faith and your hand in mine.  And that has nothing to do with magic… or… or strategy… or…”

“I need you, too,” he rasps out when her voice breaks, and then he's moving, covering her mouth with a kiss so desperate that it shoots dizzying relief through her system.  

He kisses her thoroughly, a broken groan releasing into her mouth when he tilts his head and his tongue slides against hers.  She can taste his tears, or maybe their hers, but either way, it adds more fuel to her response and her tongue moves with greater purpose, tangling with his. 

She clutches his neck, holding on for all she’s worth when he backs her up until her spine makes contact with the corner hidden by the staircase.   He’s like a man possessed, his mouth burning a trail of fire across her cheek and down her neck as he pins her to the wall with his body.  

Tugging roughly on his hair, she brings his eyes to hers only long enough to say one more thing while she still can, something she needs to say and something he needs to hear.  “Never tell me again that my life is more important than yours,” she pants, clenching her fist in his hair for punctuation.  “Do you hear me?  Your life is just as important as mine.”

She connects their lips without waiting for his reply, using the same tuft of hair to angle his head and attack his mouth demandingly.  

“Never, do you understand?” she adds at the next break of lips.

“I understand,” he gasps out, his hand gliding down her spine and his hook nudging her thigh to prompt her to wrap it around his back.  

As soon as her leg is locked around him, he rocks his hips forward while his hand tugs her to him and she gasps, so caught up in the feel of him that she almost misses the mumble he releases into her neck.  “I can't lose you, either,” he grounds out. “I won’t survive it again.  I need you to breathe, love.”

His lips clamp down hard on her collarbone and suck even as hand and hook start yanking at her dress, his urgency making her mind simply turn off until she feels his fingers pressing into her.  It’s then that she realizes he intends to have her right here on deck and a thrill shivers through her veins.  Frantically, she reaches for his pants, nearly tearing them in her haste to free him from the confines, and amazes at the hard length of him jutting out and into her hand.  It’s the first time she’s touched him like this and she wants to take a moment to explore the feel of him, but she only gets time to register how silky the skin is before he’s batting her hand away and bending his knees to position himself.  He pauses for one breathless instant, meeting her eyes with feral need and then he’s plunging into her, his groan as loud and unrestrained as her own.  

It’s fast and fevered, single words all either of them are capable of – words like more, need, now, please – and then she’s tumbling, one trembling leg falling from his hip as he pushes her through it, ending the crazed mating with a final ‘fuck’ that is gasped out against her ear.  

She nearly crumples when she tries to support her own weight, her leg so shaky that it doesn’t have the strength to hold her up but he steadies her, his forehead and nose planted against hers as they both struggle to breathe.  His hand runs up her torso until his thumb glances over her cheek and he kisses her one more time, a barely-there kiss that makes her heart stutter.  It’s tender and sweet and she strokes his cheek in return, a tremulous smile shared between them.

A breeze makes its way into their little corner and glances across the sweat slickened skin of her neck and she jolts, dragging a half groan, half whimper from him that makes her smile widen.  He eases out and lets her skirt fall back between them, burying his nose in her neck as she chuckles.

“What has you amused, love?” he asks.

She meets his eyes, and thank all the world, there’s no trace of sadness left in them.  “Jeff was right,” she teases, running her finger down his cheek, “making up can be… fun.”

He huffs out a laugh.  “Why don’t we go make up again in the warmth of our cabin?”

“Mmmmm, sounds perfect.”

K&EK&EK&E

It’s hours later and Killian still hasn’t slept, his body exhausted but his mind reeling as he stares at the chest sitting on the ledge near their feet.  Emma is lying next to him, the peaceful cadence of her breathing keeping time with his heartbeat while he fiddles with the ends of her hair through his fingers.

He’s part of her magic – and that magic depends on them being close emotionally.  And she’s going to need that magic to defeat Regina – which means he can’t risk anything driving a wedge between them until after that happens.  And that means, no matter how much he wants to stop living this lie, he can’t tell her.  Not yet.  There’s too much at stake to take the chance on her reaction.  

He’ll get her to her father.   He’ll stand with her against the Evil Queen.  He’ll do whatever it takes to help David free Snow from her curse and see his King and Queen back on their rightful thrones.  Then he’ll tell her and hope she doesn’t turn him away.  Until then, he’ll do his best to keep her safe and happy.

Tearing his eyes off the chest, he relaxes in behind Emma, tracing his fingers down her arm and settling his hand on her hip.  She sighs softly in sleep and he presses a feather-light kiss against the back of her bare shoulder.

“I love you, Emma,” he whispers, and even though she can’t hear him, his heart feels lighter just by saying the words aloud.  

By the time he falls asleep, the sun is peeking over the horizon.

K&EK&EK&E

David stares out the window facing the ocean with a mixture of joy and trepidation, his eyes straining through the morning fog to see the masts on the ships as they come and go with the tides.  He knows it would be next to impossible for Emma to arrive so quickly but he can’t help but watch for his daughter’s appearance.  

His mind wanders as he scans the harbor, his eyes losing focus and letting his head fall back.  He’s been preparing for this for years, formulated plan after plan, gone through scenario after scenario.  There are so many moving parts, so many things to accomplish – and time is running out.  The closer they get to Emma’s birthday, the more anxious he becomes.  

He’s always been a worrier, something Snow used to tease him about on a regular basis.  She’d been very fond of coming up behind him while he stood on their balcony, his eyes unfocused on the horizon like he’s doing now.  She’d wrap her arms around his waist and tell him to come to bed, assuring him he would come up with the answer in time, the complete faith in her voice making him believe it, too.  Gods, he misses her.  He misses her mischievous smile and her cunning wit, her smooth skin under his fingers and her hand in his.  If he closes his eyes, he can almost feel her, her temple resting on his back between his shoulder blades as she wraps her arms around him like she did then.  

The memory brings a tear to his eye and he presses his hand to his stomach in the exact spot where hers would be clasped together if she were really here.  Breathing long and deep, he imagines turning to face her, You worry too much, Charming.  Stop trying to plan everything.  One step at a time, that’s what we need to focus on.  Just consider the next step.  

When he opens his eyes again, he’s calmer, the memory of her unerring hope making his heart settle.  She’d always had complete faith in him and now is not the time to lose that.  They’ll be together again soon, he’ll wake her from the curse and they’ll be a family.  

But first, the next step:  Find the dagger and reunite the blades.

It’s frustrating that he can’t be the one out searching for the legendary weapon but he knows he can’t.  Arthur can roam the realms freely whereas David would be hunted mercilessly if he were to leave the haven of Camelot.  But, dammit, he hates being cooped up like this.  

Still, if there’s one thing he’s sure Arthur of Camelot is capable of doing it’s fulfilling his own destiny to complete Excalibur.  He just wishes it could have been fulfilled years before.  But, according to the message they received yesterday, Arthur is now certain he’s found the dagger’s hiding place and it’s just a matter of time before he returns with his long-sought-after prize.

Emma will need the sword.  Everything hinges on it.  According to legend, Excalibur is the most powerful magical object in the world which, once whole, has the power to strip the magic from anyone who possesses it.  One cut is all it takes.  He’d been pessimistic at first, worried that such a weapon could be used to strip Emma’s powers, but he couldn’t deny the advantage it would give them – especially when he’d learned that Regina had been searching for the dagger as well.  Of course, Regina doesn’t have either half, and they’ve already got one, so her search for the dagger must have been for the sole purpose of keeping it away from its mate.  

But that doesn’t matter now.  It looks like Arthur has won the race and Lance is on his way right now to fetch the Promethean Flame that they’d found and hidden years ago.  Things are finally starting to come together.  Emma and Killian have been reunited.  The dagger will be their possession soon.  They have the spark Emma will use to reunite the blades.  Emma has her magic and she’s on her way here.  

Emma is on her way here.  

He draws a deep breath, once again imagining their reunion – and that’s where the joy and trepidation come from.  He longs to see her again and he wants more than anything for their reunion to be a happy one.  And it will be.  He’s determined that it will be. Perhaps Arthur’s idea for a ball is good thing.  One night of peace and happiness before he has to tell her what she’s destined for.  

He’s imagined telling her for years, played out every possible scenario in his head over and over again, and while he can’t wait to hold her in his arms again, he also knows that it’s finally time to tell her the thing he’s been keeping from her since her birth and he worries how she will react.  She’ll probably be angry at first, feeling betrayed that she was never told.  He prays fervently that she’ll understand why they kept it from her, prays that she’ll forgive him once he tells her all of their reasons.

He and Snow had made the decision together to keep her in the dark.  They’d prepared as best they could without telling her of the prophecy and her roll in it, both deciding that she deserved a normal childhood free of the burden the knowledge would give her.  Still, they were relieved when she took so easily to being trained in archery and swordplay, her love of adventure making them tasks she enjoyed so much that they were spared from forcing them on her and, inevitably, being forced themselves to tell her why she’d need such skills.  

Later, as she grew into a young woman, they’d considered telling her again, but couldn’t bring themselves to do it.  She was always so determined and spirited, and telling her the importance of finding her True Love would have set her on a mission.  And, knowing their daughter as well as they did, they feared she would put a little too much effort into something that should happen naturally.  They didn’t want her to analyze every man she met, weighing her feelings on some preconceived notion of what True Love is supposed to be.  

Then she’d met Killian.  It had been obvious almost right from the start that she’d been enamored with him and, as their relationship blossomed, neither he nor Snow could find it in themselves to give her – or him, for that matter – the dire news.  So, they’d continued to keep their silence, trying to enjoy the beauty of watching their daughter fall in love – even while that beauty was marred by the knowledge weighing on them.  

The night Killian had requested a private audience with him had been one of the best and worst of his life.  The honorable Lieutenant wanted to marry his daughter and he’d given his blessing willingly, but the entire time he’d been filled with dread.  The prophecy said they should never part and Killian was a naval officer, out to sea more frequently than he was on land with Emma.  So, he’d insisted on Killian leaving the navy, offered him a promotion in rank to stay and join the army instead to keep him close.  And it had worked.  Killian had been just as eager to stay with Emma as David had been to have him stay.  

Later that evening, after he and Snow had settled in for the night, he’d held her close while she wept, the knowledge that their time was running out now too obvious to ignore.  They’d resolved to wait until after the wedding, when the blissfully ignorant couple returned from their honeymoon, to sit them down and tell them of the fate that had been prophesied so long ago.  And, in the meantime, they would tell all of their most trusted friends, enlist the aid of all those loyal and discreet to form a plan to keep the young couple happy while also keeping them safe.  

They’d thought they’d accounted for everything.  They’d thought their plan was sound.  Secret passages had been added to the castle, horses were kept saddled at all times in preparation.  Rendezvous points were established; provisions were hidden all over the kingdom in case hasty exits were required.  August and Liam had worked together endlessly to arrange transport and safe houses, places only the two of them would know about so that when the time came, there would be no way to torture or coerce the locations out of anyone else.  And it should have worked.  Even as David had watched that balcony collapse, he’d still believed it would work.  As long as they were alive and they had August and Liam, there would be nothing to worry about…  

Then the unthinkable had occurred.  Not only were they separated, but Killian and Liam had been captured by Regina’s soldiers and both had been executed – or at least that’s what he’d been told.  

He wishes he knew what really happened that day.  He should have asked Killian before he sent him for Emma.  Obviously, Graham had been lying, but had he been lying about all of it?  What had really prompted Snow to eat that apple?  What had happened Liam?  Why did Regina believe Killian was dead?

He wrestles with those questions a little longer as he watches another ship appear in the harbor.  It’s not Emma, but one day soon it will be and, on that day, he’ll get the answers he’s looking for and be forced to deliver answers himself.  

Joy and trepidation, indeed.

K&EK&EK&E

The sun is high when he awakes and the bed beside him is empty.  Groggily, he rolls over and wipes his hand over his face.

“Good morning, sleepy head.  Or should I say ‘good afternoon?’”

Following the sound of her voice, he sees Emma sitting at his desk, looking over one of his maps.  She folds it quickly and returns it to its holder before standing and crossing to him.  She’s already dressed and he wonders how late it actually is.  

“Did you sleep well?”

No, he didn’t.  He tossed and turned, plagued with disjointed dreams of Emma and the Evil Queen, their magic locked in an epic battle of white and purple streams of light shooting in every direction while he tried to move… tried to help… But his heart was weighed down, his chest bearing a heavy burden that made his movements sluggish as he struggled to get to Emma’s side.  He’d awoken in a cold sweat, the image of Emma collapsing and Regina’s deranged glee as she stood over Emma and produced a fire ball seared into his eyes.

“Fine, love.  What time is it?”

“Nearly lunchtime,” she replies, taking a seat next to him on the bed and laying her hand on his bare chest.  “Are you hungry?  I could go get it and bring it back if you’d like.”

Her fingers are tracing patterns over his collarbone and his body reacts without his permission.  Groaning, he sits up and rubs his lips over hers, “Do that and we may never get out of this cabin today, love.”

He feels her smile against his mouth, her thumb running playfully over his nipple, “As much as I’d enjoy that, Dopey is already warming up for his next fencing lesson.”

The words have barely passed her lips when she ducks down and sucks on the nipple she’d just brushed and he falls back to the bed, tucking his hand in her hair to bring her down with him.  He watches her tongue dart out, his hand fisting when she applies more pressure.  

“Darling, you’re bloody amazing, but we shouldn’t…” he grits out, his actions defying his words by gripping more tightly in her hair to hold her to him.  

Closing his eyes, he arches his back and revels in her talented mouth, the tendrils of desire licking across his skin when she uses her teeth in a gentle nip.  Bloody fuck, his heart is already pounding and she’s only barely touched him, her light moan a siren’s song he’d happily drown in.  Her mouth moves to his neck as her hand traces down through the hair on his chest until it’s only inches from where he’s already growing hard.  She hesitates and he sucks in a breath, her boldness apparently not quite enough to lower it further.  Instead, she averts it to his hip, and it takes all his willpower not to grab it and move it back.

His breathing is heavy in his ears and it takes longer than it should for him to realize her weight is no longer on him and that she is, in fact, sitting up again with a mischievous smile playing at the corner of her lips.  

“I just wanted to make sure you were awake,” she says cheekily and then she’s standing, tossing him his shirt and trousers while his senses are still reeling.

“I’ll meet you at the helm for lunch,” she nearly sing-songs as she walks to the door.  “We wouldn’t want to disappoint Dopey.”

He shakes himself back into reality as soon as the door shuts, his lips curling at her underhanded tactics.  She’s more pirate than she’d care to admit.

When he joins her at the helm a few minutes later, she gives him a secret smile and he kisses it right off of her mouth with a loud smack and a louder chuckle.  But as they settle in to eat, her playful demeanor slowly morphs into a nervous expression, biting at her lower lip.  He considers asking what’s wrong but doesn’t, hoping that whatever has caused the change is something she’ll voice on her own.  And, as is the way of his princess, she does, looking to him with nervous eyes.

“Killian?”

“Yes, love?”

“About our visit to Portsmouth…” she hedges, obviously trying to avoid an argument but nonetheless making sure he knows this matter is far from over.  “I tried the glamour spell again this morning and it's still not working.”

“Emma…”

“I'm not angry,” she says quickly.  “Like you said yesterday, you can't help how you feel… but I… I just want you to think about something.”

There’s no way he can turn down the pleading expression she gives him.  “What’s that?” he asks.

She reaches across and lays her hand on the wrist above his hook, her voice gentle, “I know we’ve both changed, but we used to be a team – ”

“We still are, love,” he interrupts, placing his hand over hers, the action prompting her to meet his eyes.

After a beat, she tilts her head, pulling her hand from under his and sitting back in her chair to look at him with a calm but watchful expression.

“Are we?” she asks.  There’s no malice in the question, just sincere curiosity.

“Of course, we are,” he responds.

She studies him for another moment before shaking her head.  “I’m not so sure,” she says, and again, there’s not even a trace of anger in her voice, “I think, maybe, you consider me a bit…  naïve.  And maybe I am.  But I’m not as naïve as I was even a few weeks ago. I know I was protected for a long time, and you weren’t, but I’ve seen enough since we left Arendelle to understand what it is we’re up against.  And I’m not sure you’re giving me credit for that.  I think, maybe, you still see me as the princess you used to know, but I haven’t been that person in a long time.”

There’s a raw honesty in her words that makes him sit back and consider them, taking his time to truly look at this from her side.  Her nerves are gone now, replaced with an expectant and earnest expression as she waits for his reaction.  

After several reflective seconds, he lays his hand palm up on the table, inviting her to take it.  She doesn’t hesitate, leaning forward to cover it with hers.  

“You’re right,” he admits slowly, watching his thumb run across her knuckles. Because she is and he hadn’t realized it until now. “I haven’t given you enough credit.  Since I found you again, my first priority has been to protect you.  And I guess that protectiveness has… blinded me a bit.”

He hears her shudder out a relieved breath and he raises his eyes, twisting his hand and linking their fingers together.  

“We are a team, love,” he assures her, “We’re stronger together.  Even without magic, we’ve always been stronger together.  And I’m sorry I forgot that.”

She shakes her head to let him know the apology isn’t necessary, squeezing his hand in thanks.  

“And, as a team,” he adds, “I think we should visit Portsmouth together.”

“Really?” she asks almost sheepishly.

“Really,” he replies.

Her grin is near blinding – but not nearly as blinding as the light that immediately sparks between their hands.  He chuckles softly, closing his eyes against it as their magic spreads through his chest.  He draws a deep breath, embracing the warmth of it filling his veins before reopening his eyes, fully expecting to see the face of a stranger sitting before him.  When she comes into focus, however, his brow furrows.  It’s still Emma before him and she obviously realizes it didn’t work from the look on his face.

“You still see me?” she asks with disappointment but he doesn’t have time to reply before Ruby’s voice calls across the deck.

“You did it, Emma!” Ruby exclaims, rushing up the stairs to join them.  

Emma’s eyes shoot back to him and she gives him a surprised but delighted smile.  She starts to say something but is interrupted when Ruby pulls her from her chair, insisting that she do a quick spin so she can examine her closely.  “Nice job!  Gwen’s own mother wouldn’t be able to tell the two of you apart.”

The two hug enthusiastically, both laughing before Ruby breaks away.  She glances between the two of them with a smile that looks almost like pride then steps back.  

“Well, I’ll just go and tell the others, shall I?” she says.  Then without waiting or a response, she’s off again in a flurry of red skirts.

Once she’s disappeared, Emma turns back to him, bending at the waist to where their eyes are level and bracketing her arms around his neck.  

“Thank you,” she says with soft sincerity, then surges forward to place a chaste but firm kiss on his mouth.

“I didn’t do anything,” he tells her.

“You believed in us,” she replies, “that’s all it took.”

She’s pushing his chair back in the next second, giving herself enough room to plop down on his lap and hug him fiercely and he laughs into her neck.  After planting several kisses on each of his cheeks, she sits up, directing his eyes to hers with her thumb on his chin.

“You do still see me, don’t you?”

“Aye.  You can’t hide from me, princess.”

“As if I would ever want to.”

Chapter Text

Killian stands stock still in the middle of his cabin, his eyes trained on the long, black coat hanging on the peg next to the door. It hasn't moved from that spot since Emma hung it there the first night he spent sleeping in his cabin again. With her. He'd looked at it the next morning but the thought of putting it on had made his stomach twist. He didn't want to be Captain Hook anymore, and he didn't want to wear something that would remind Emma of the thing she so clearly despised. So he'd left it there, justifying it in his mind that Captain Hook wouldn't wear a damaged coat, anyway. But now, well… Now he'll need to be Captain Hook again. He's going to have to put that coat on tomorrow for their visit to Portsmouth.

From the corner of his eye, he can see his reflection in the mirror situated to his right and looks over to it, taking in the white shirt he's currently wearing. Killian Jones, the man who was at one time worthy of the love of a princess reflects back at him, that is until he shifts and his left han – his hook comes into view. Drawing a deep breath, he moves the metal appendage behind his back and straightens his shoulders to full attention.

But hiding the truth doesn't change it. It's more than the hook and the coat that have made him a different man and even with both out of sight, he can still see the changes as plain as day. He's not a naval lieutenant, not anymore. His eyes are harder, his forehead riddled with lines left behind by years of scowling, and even his jaw looks sharper now even though he's not sure why.

Relaxing his shoulders, he lets his left arm fall back to his side, the metal catching the sunlight filtering through the window. Captain Hook, a pirate motivated by anger and vengeance with no room in his heart for love. And Killian Jones, a naval officer motivated by honor and loyalty with the love of a princess. Two sides of himself that he can't reconcile, two pieces of a puzzle that don't fit together.

It's been heaven these past few days, being Killian Jones again, being with Emma and remembering who he used to be. But tomorrow… Tomorrow he'll have to be Captain Hook, the man who makes no apologies and strikes terror into everyone he encounters. And Emma will be there, she'll witness first-hand the way people look at him, the awe and fear his presence incites. She'll be reminded that he's not the same naval officer she fell in love with…

And, perhaps more importantly, so will he.

He should have thought this through some more. He'd been caught up in her declaration about wanting to protect him so desperate to believe that they could truly be a team again. But Captain Hook is not a teammate worthy of a princess.

"There you are!" Emma says, interrupting his thoughts when she breezes in through the door. "I was wondering where you got off to. Grace is excited to show you how many commands for the Jolly she's learned from Jeff. You should come up and… What's wrong?"

His stomach plummets. Of course, she'd notice his mood. No matter how hard he tries to hide it, she can read him like a book. Still, he tries to play it off, forcing a brittle smile, "Just a little worn out, love. Dopey's fencing skills are developing very quickly and he and I had a full-on duel earlier. I needed to clean up a bit after."

"Nuh uh, that's not it," she replies and dammit, she knows him too well.

"I just came down to change shirts, darling. The other was drenched."

Crossing her arms over her chest, she shifts her weight to one side, vague disbelief on her face. "You're holding something back," she says, a trace of astonishment in her voice.

"I…" his eyes involuntarily flick to the coat and she catches it, her smile turning amused.

"Is it the coat? What? You don't want people to see the slice on the arm?" she asks, completely misunderstanding. "We can fix it, you know. One swipe of my hand and…"

"It's not about the rip, Emma."

She stops in mid-step, already having started toward the coat and raising her hand, and this time when she looks at him, she sees it.

She sees everything.

"No, it's not, is it?" she asks slowly.

He meets her gaze steadily, watching the emotions playing across her face. He wants to look away but forces himself not to, not this time. Worthy of her or no, he made a promise that they were a team and he won't break it – not for this or any other reason.

She considers him for quite some time before she finally speaks. "You don't want to be Captain Hook anymore. That's why you've been shedding the black leather over the past few days."

When he doesn't reply, she takes it further, "Or is it that you don't want me to see you as Captain Hook?"

"A little of both," he admits.

She steps closer to him, her arms crossing lightly over her chest. "Because you see Captain Hook as a villain."

The way she says it makes him pause, the slight emphasis she puts on the word 'you' confusing him.

Everyone thinks of Captain Hook as a villain.  He’s done unspeakable things.  Destroyed untold numbers of families.  He’s killed indiscriminately, stolen from men just because they had the gall to do business with the Evil Queen, all the while convincing himself it was justified because of his own thirst for vengeance.  The reaction she had when she realized he was Captain Hook was completely warranted, no matter what he told himself at the time.  He deserved that distrust, he deserved her anger and accusations.  He deserved much worse, in fact.

"I'm sorry," she says, drawing him out of his thoughts.

"Sorry? What do you have to be sorry about?"

"I made a mistake the day I woke up – a terrible mistake. I should have trusted you. I should have thought about what I was saying before I said it. I hurt you and I'm sorry and I'll never be able to take that back."

He falters on his feet, sucking in a breath at the fact that her thoughts are so close to his. "It's alright, love – "

"No, it's not," she interjects. "If I hadn't reacted so badly, you wouldn't be torturing yourself like this. It was my reaction that day that made you start questioning yourself. Captain Hook may have done some terrible things but that was a long time ago. Whatever is in that chest… It happened before Grace was born, right? Maybe even before Jeff met Patricia? And you had started to forgive yourself until I showed up and…" she trails off to draw a deep breath in through her nose. "Look, whatever you did, you're not that person anymore. And you haven't been for a long time. I know you haven't. No matter how hard you've been trying to hide it from me."

"What are you…?"

"I know, Killian. I know what you've been doing the past few years. I've known since that black knight called Jefferson 'The Hatter.'"

Killian feels his eyes widen but he doesn't have time to respond before she continues, answering the question on the tip of his tongue.

"The Hatter is well-known, even in Arendelle. And those 'contacts' Jeff mentioned yesterday… they obviously work for him, spies and distributors and the like. They're part of his network. Of your network. You steal from Regina and you hand it over to Jeff to distribute."

He's utterly aghast, his heart thudding heavily into his ribs which is why he can't get his tongue to form a reply. She doesn't even sound angry that he's been keeping this from her. If anything, she sounds apologetic which makes no sense since he's the one who should be falling to his knees and begging her forgiveness.

"Everything in this room was stolen from her, wasn't it?"

Her gaze is set dead on him, almost compelling him to answer. "Either directly from her or from her suppliers," he admits slowly, dropping his eyes to the floor.

Her fingers guide his chin so that he's forced to look at her again. "And you would have told me all of this that day I woke up if I hadn't reacted the way I had."

His first instinct is to deny it but she sounds so sure of herself that it makes him pause, taking a minute to think it over. Inadvertently, his eyes go to the bed, imagining that moment when she'd stumbled and he'd caught her, the relief he'd felt at having her awake, the joy of holding her in his arms again, the warm glow that was shattered the moment her eyes had hardened and she'd backed out of his embrace.

Would he have told her back then? If she'd accepted him immediately, would he have confessed everything to her that first night?

The answer to that is easy – and it also rocks him to the core: Yes, he would have.

He would have because while he wasn't proud of everything he'd done, he wasn't so filled with self-loathing then that he would have kept it from her. He'd worked hard to make up for his mistakes. After that merchant ship disappeared beneath the unforgiving black waves of the sea, he'd been desperate to find some way to make up for it. And the night Jeff met Patricia had been like a gift.

She'd approached them at the pub, so thin that the dress she wore had been sagging, but she'd shone no fear and Jefferson had taken to her immediately. After an hour in her company and hearing the news of her village, the decision had been easy and he'd gathered his entire crew to unload the hold and give it all to the town. And those people had been so grateful. They'd been so welcoming. And they'd been thrilled to see them every time they returned while Jeff courted Patricia. In fact, most of them were now working for Jeff. He'd seen them several times over the years and they always gave him a secret look of appreciation, careful not to let anyone else suspect that they knew him and who he really was. And with each of those smiles, bits of himself had returned, little crumbs of forgiveness that had started to knit his soul back together… that is until Emma had looked at him with revulsion.

He hadn't even realized it. He hadn't realized just how much her initial reaction had affected him.

But she's right.

"I'm sorry," she says again and he'd swear she's reading his thoughts. "I don't have a good excuse. I… All I can say is that the 'encounters' I'd had with pirates weren't… good ones. I was naïve and a bit overprotected and when pirates came into The Gold Mine, they… Well, they weren't gentlemen."

His breath catches, images of grimy hands making unwanted advances hazing over his vision. He should have thought of that. He should have realized the type of interactions she would have had with pirates. She's a beautiful woman and she would have attracted a lot of attention. He's seen women with not half her beauty being groped by his rivals and the thought that she endured that type of disgusting, demeaning – A flash of fury like nothing he's ever felt washes over him but…

But he yanks it into check because now is not the time for temper – later, later he'll find out who it was and castrate the son of a bitch – but now… now he's got to stay calm. Right now, Emma is looking anxious and he has to let go of the fury to concentrate on the more important conversation they're having. And, while he knows she's not accusing him of anything, he wants to make it clear…

"I never did that, you know?" he says roughly, "I never touched a woman who – "

"I know. I wasn't implying…"

"I know you weren't." He gently takes her hand in his, linking their fingers together, "But I wanted you to hear it from me, just the same. The things I've done… None of them were… that."

She nods and casts a glance to the chest next to the bed, rubbing her thumb over the back of his hand. "You can tell me, Killian. I won't be angry."

He almost does, he almost says it, her hand in his giving him nearly all the courage he needs to confess it to her without fear, but… But they're in such a good place right now. They're learning to trust each other again. They're working together as a team and everyone is depending on them and he just can't risk it. Not yet.

"Not yet, love. I want to tell you. I do. But we'll be in Portsmouth tomorrow night and it's not a… welcoming place. It's…"

"You're afraid we'll need our magic and if you tell me, it won't work."

He nods in lieu of answering, his eyes falling away from hers.

"Hey, it's okay," she says, ducking her head down and lifting her hand to his cheek to direct his gaze back to hers. "You'll tell me when you're ready. I'm not going anywhere."

Relief floods him and he kisses the back of the hand he's holding. "Thank you, darling. It won't be much longer, I promise."

She hums and steps closer, bringing their foreheads together. "Whenever you're ready," she repeats, "And I think you're the one who deserves thanks, Captain. You and Jeff and Patricia. You helped my people when I couldn't and I'll never be able to repay you for that."

"Well," he says, the relief of having one more secret revealed leaving him a bit giddy, "Perhaps I can think of something…. A knightship, maybe? Or new sails for the Jolly once this is all over?"

She smiles and chuckles, "Both will be yours, if you want them."

"Or perhaps we could start with something a little more immediate," he croons, tilting his head so that his lips hover in front of hers.

"You know I'd be more than willing to do that anyway," she teases, the heat of her breath on his lips nearly distracting him from what he was going to say. In fact, he has to give himself a mental shake to stop himself from devouring those alluring lips right then.

"Good," he says, straightening, "Then let's get started. Captain Hook can't wear a damaged coat. He's got a reputation to protect and it doesn't include being anything less than impeccably dressed."

The sound of her laughter will always be his favorite thing in the world. "Fine," she replies, playfully poking him in the chest with her finger, "We wouldn't want to tarnish Captain Hook's reputation, now would we?"

She doesn't even look behind her, she simply gestures in the direction of his coat and the spark flashes through him, the hole mending in under a heartbeat.

Kissing the smile from her mouth, he pulls her into his arms, his heart soaring with happiness. And when he catches their reflection in the mirror and sees his hook resting at the small of her back, he thinks perhaps reconciling his two halves may be easier than he believed.

K&EK&EK&E

There's something disturbing permeating the air. The wizard can feel it in his bones the moment he materializes in the tower room. It's slinking across skin, its weight heavy on his chest. Each step closer to the sleeping queen makes it worse, the pressure increasing until his lungs fight for oxygen. About six inches from her form, there's a shimmering barrier and when his fingers touch it, energy races up his arm like a lightning bolt, pushing him back several steps and making him pant for breath.

Damn blood magic. Tricky stuff, that is.

Regina is more paranoid than he originally thought.

Planting his hands on his hips, he studies the room, the vaulted ceiling with what was once a stunning mosaic, now dull and chipped, the gothic windows whose broken stained glass now litters the floor, but most importantly, the line of drawers spanning across the back wall, each holding a beating heart. Slowly, he approaches again, pressing against the barrier once more, his eyes tracing the shimmer it radiates as it rounds the dais over the Snow White's sleeping form and the way it collapses in behind her only to stretch out again just enough to protect the wall of golden drawers.

She didn't bother protecting the entire tower – or even the whole room – only those things that needed to be protected. It's a taunt if he's ever seen one.

You can look, but you can't touch.

Taking a step back, he holds up his hands, light glowing from his palms as he chants an ancient incantation, then another… and another.

Dammit. Maybe if he had more time... But he doesn't.

Stepping forward again, he changes tactics, this time holding a single hand over the queen's forehead. It takes all his concentration and a great amount of effort but he chips away at the spell, pushing his consciousness through each barrier until he plunges into a flame filled room. After a quick search, he finds her, sitting dead center of the raging fires, her knees drawn to her chest and her forehead resting on them. It seems she's found the only safe spot in the room, flames licking to within inches of her toes but none able to reach her.

He wants to call out but without a full corporeal form he knows she won't hear him. He's not actually here, just invading for a short time. So instead, he floats over and stops in front of her. When he does, she casually lifts her head, her eyes closed and a gentle smile on her lips. Intrigued, he hovers lower, "What is it that brings you such peace even in this awful place, Your Majesty?" he muses quietly but, as he already knew, she doesn't hear him so no answer is forthcoming.

Curiosity has him raising a hand and waving it over the flames in front of him. They blink out and an image of King David fills his vision, his face slightly obscured by the smoke billowing in the air. He watches, entranced, as the scene plays out in her head, chuckling softly when he realizes just what it is he's witnessing.

"Excellent choice, my Queen. I've heard the story, of course, but seeing it through your eyes is much better. Sometimes the rockiest of starts make the best tales, don't you think? Your charming King never stood a chance at resisting the likes of you."

Another glance to Snow shows her smile widespread but it turns down quickly on a gasp as the image behind the smoke morphs into a picture of the Evil Queen stomping across a non-distinct hall and plunging her hand into Emma's chest.

"Now, now, Your Majesty, you know as well as I do that's not a memory, and we're going to do everything we can to make sure it doesn't come to that." But, again, she can't hear him, so he simply waves away the image and sends it flying into dust.

Snow's eyes open then and she looks around the room in surprise. "Is someone there?" she asks, looking right through him.

"I'm here," he replies, "but unfortunately, I have to go. There is still much to be done."

She's still searching in every direction when he retreats through the flames, his consciousness rushing back to his body. His eyes open to her slumbering form again and he drops his hand, "We're going to get you out of here, Your Majesty," he tells the sleeping woman, "It's almost over, I promise."

There's only the slightest twinge of guilt over the lie – he can't promise anything – but hope is a powerful thing and even the tiniest sliver of it is something Snow White deserves.

Then, glancing back down to the nearly invisible barrier, inspiration strikes.

Two can play at this game…

K&EK&EK&E

Emma knows Portsmouth is, by reputation, an unpredictable place, famous for its criminal element and back alley dealings. Spies from every kingdom in the land trade information there. Criminals fleeing justice hide behind its walls. It's said to be home to some of the most treacherous people in the world and its size has grown exponentially during Regina's reign.

But, while it's dangerous, it's also become a safe haven for those fleeing Regina's tyranny in recent years. No matter how volatile it is, it's one of the last free cities that remain and, as such, has attracted scores of people, families included, to seek new lives there. The people of Portsmouth live to their own set of rules. They recognize no sovereign, give fidelity to no kingdom.

Which is why this excursion needs to go as seamlessly as possible.

Emma has never been there before, so she stands quietly while the plan is discussed, not sure her opinion will lend much credence. Patricia and Jefferson have been there many times, although they both point out it's been years, but Killian has been there recently, so he gives them the lay of the land, a large map spread in between them.

"We'll dock here," he points, "the most remote spot in the harbor. That way we can, hopefully, disembark without notice."

"Do you really think there's a chance of that?" Patricia asks. "The Jolly is the most recognized ship in the realms."

"There's a better chance here than anywhere else."

"Won't that cause suspicion?" Ruby asks. "Captain Hook strikes me as the kind who prefers to be front and center."

"I'd rather look it look suspicious than have the whole of the city see Emma and Patricia disembark," he replies.

"He's right," Jeff agrees. "The less people who see them, the better. And Killian and I will leave first which will take at least some of the attention away from the ship. Then we'll meet up here, at the marketplace."

Patricia nods and points to a street just south of the center of town. "Mable's shop is here. She'd be the best source of information. Follow us at a discreet distance. Emma and I will go in the front and let the two of you in through the alley."

"Why can't they go in the front, too?" Ruby asks.

"Even though it will be closed by the time we dock, it's ladies' dress shop. Talk about suspicious behavior for Captain Hook…" Jeff says sardonically.

"Right," Ruby replies.

"After we find out what's been happening, we'll separate again and head to the tavern." Patricia's finger moves to another spot on the map. "That's where the most current news will be."

"Ahhh," Jeff puts in, "I've some very fond memories of that tavern."

Patricia blushes, her eyes snapping to Jeff. "That was a long time ago. And she had her hand on your…" she trails off and waves a hand toward exactly what the woman must have been grabbing.

Jeff chuckles.

"And I wasn't nearly as bad as you were the night that drunken lout stuck his hand down my corset."

Jeff sobers. "That bastard is lucky he's still breathing."

Patricia rolls her eyes. "No scenes like that this time. We find out what we can and send the signal, then the two of you can… 'collect' us and we'll be on our way."

Emma can feel Killian's eyes on her, his gaze anxious. She knows he's not happy about this plan. It had taken Jeff and Patricia both to convince him that splitting up was the best way and he had reluctantly agreed, but he's been shooting glances at her throughout the conversation. Emma, on the other hand, is looking forward to another tavern visit. There was something enormously freeing about their last excursion and knowing this time will end with Captain Hook 'collecting' her makes her more than a little giddy.

The planning session breaks shortly after that, Jeff and Patricia making a very transparent excuse about Patricia needing help fashioning holsters for the daggers she and Emma will be concealing in their corsets and Emma has to hide her chuckle with a cough.

The door has only just shut behind their friends when Killian's arms wrap around her from behind, his chin tucked into her neck.

"I wish we could go to the tavern together," he mumbles, "I don't like the thought of other men touching you, even if it is all for show."

"You'll be right across the room and when Captain Hook leaves, I'll be on his arm," she comforts, leaning her head to the side and lacing her fingers in his hair.

"Hmm, that thought may save the lives of countless sailors tomorrow night," he grunts before planting a kiss into the crease of her neck. He tightens his arms around her waist and sways on the spot and she increases her grip on his hair in reassurance, wishing she could think of something else to say.

"Are you sure you're okay with this?" he asks in a low voice.

"Well, you said it yourself before our last outing," she replies in an attempt at levity, "Captain Hook doesn't enter a tavern in a woman's company. Just… don't let anyone kiss you this time, okay?"

"I won't, love. I promise."

"Good, that will save countless women from being turned into toads."

This time her reply gets the laugh she'd hoped for and he turns her in his arms, giving her a smacking kiss. "There's no one else's lips I want touching mine, love. It's only you."

As if to prove that, he settles his lips back on hers, tongue darting out and tracing her mouth. His hand guides her head to the left with his palm on her cheek and the tips of his fingers teasing the hair at the back of her neck. It starts soft but midway through it turns edgy, his fingers tightening and his tongue moving with more determination. It's a release of anxiety on his part, his unhappiness with this plan humming under the surface and she clings to him, letting him take his frustrations out on her mouth.

When he breaks the kiss, his eyes are clenched shut, his forehead grinding into hers almost painfully. "I know we agreed no magic accept as a last resort but, if at any time you feel you're in danger – "

Stopping his words with a thumb over his lips, she nods, foreheads protesting from the tight grip they have on each other. "I promise."

He nods back, his breathing heavy and then he's kissing her again, his grip unrelenting and his lips frenzied. Her legs hit the bed hard when they trip across the room but he doesn't seem to notice, too busy claiming every inch of her skin he can find. His hand is everywhere, no finesse at all to his touch as his hand plunges beneath her skirt but she catches it, switching their positions with a quick pivot.

His eyes pop open when she pushes him down onto the mattress, impatiently wrenching his shirt off before applying to the laces of his pants. He swallows hard once the pants and shirt are discarded to the floor, looking at her with such desire and awe that she can't decide if she wants to kiss the expression from his mouth or push him further by giving in to the need to run her tongue through the dark hair on his chest. She goes with the latter, her mouth open and tongue twirling through the soft strands, marveling at the broken sound that tears from him.

He reaches for her clothes, his hand yanking at her top and she helps him by unlacing her corset while her tongue continues its work, sucking hard when she makes her way to his nipple. She's as bare as he is less than a minute later and she climbs atop him, arranging his body the way she wants it with him leaning back against the ledge. His erection is in full force, caught between their bodies and her hand drifts down. She's wanted to do this for days and after the short glimpse she had of it last night, she's determined not to let him stop her this time. Balancing herself on his upper thighs, she plants one hand in the center of his chest and closes her fingers around him.

His body bucks and the sound he makes is sensational, the long growl of approval going straight to her center. The skin is soft and velvety, but it encases steel and she strokes it slowly, her eyes on his when they eclipse into something dark and decadent. He leans forward to catch her lips but she pushes him back, not willing to let him distract her before she's explored him as thoroughly as she intends. Scooting down further on his legs, she brackets her thighs around his and lets her eyes wander him. There's so much to take in; his taut neck, his ragged breathing, his sculpted abdomen; but she's seen all of that before, she's run her hands over all of that before, and right now, she wants to see her hand explore something else.

When her eyes land on her prize, she sucks in a breath and he does the same, a subtle movement from his hips the only reaction she needs to tell her how much he's enjoying this. She strokes again, all the way to the root and his hand fists in the sheets next to his hip.

"I've heard… stories in the tavern about this thing men like," she says, her voice rougher than she expected as she watches her hand continue to pump. "Perhaps it would be a good way to say 'thank you' to the Hatter's secret supplier."

"I didn't do it for thanks," he groans and she tears her gaze from his mesmerizing shaft to his glittering eyes.

"I know you didn't, but you're going to get the thanks, all the same."

He doesn't reply and she takes his silence as permission, shimmying further down his legs and lifting one knee to place it between his. He cooperates easily enough but when she dips her head, his hand catches her chin.

"You don't have to," he grits out and, fuck, he already looks wrecked, his teeth set in a sharp line and his eyes half closed.

"I want to," she says, stroking him once more and glorying in the way his eyes flutter completely shut on a sharp hiss before he forces them open again to look at her. "You'll tell me if I do it wrong?" she asks on a sudden moment of uncertainty and he smiles as he traces her cheek with his finger.

"The only way you could do it wrong is to bite it off, love."

A chuckle escapes and the uncertainty dissipates as quickly as it had arisen.

His hand is tangled in her hair the first time she tastes him, his fingers reflexively digging into her neck for an instant, but she barely notices. She sinks her mouth down on him as far as she's able until she can feel the fleshy head on the back of her throat then she pulls back up, sucking her way to the top.

"Bloody hell."

She takes those ground out words as confirmation that she's doing it right and her body warms with satisfaction.

The sounds he makes are delicious, causing her heart to pick up speed and her nipples to ache but she continues to take her time, licking down the underside until her tongue makes contact with the hair at the base. Using one hand to hold him steady, she explores his sac with the other, her eyes feasting on the sight of him. He's impossibly hard and she strokes his length while she cups the sac, shocked when her hand gets covered in something sticky as it makes it to the top. Her sound of surprise has him grunting and she lifts her hand to see what's on her palm.

"Just a bit of spillage, darling," he whispers.

Her eyes are drawn back to the head of his shaft, another pearly drop oozing from his tip and she gathers it on her thumb, taking a moment to study the translucent liquid. It's satiny as she rubs at it with her forefinger, and when she lifts her thumb to her lips to taste it, she inadvertently pulls the most desperate sound she's ever heard from him. Raising her eyes to his, she makes a display of pulling her thumb from her mouth, his eyes glossy as he watches. The slight 'pop' when the digit releases is drowned out by another broken sound and his hips surge up seemingly of their own volition, causing the hand holding him to tighten and changing that broken sound to a hiss of air.

It's unbearably erotic to see him like this, his body completely at her mercy, his hips rocking subtly to encourage her to continue. It's got her dripping with desire and it only gets worse when she closes her mouth over him again and he whimpers, long and low. She gets a little lost in the power she has like this, her blood racing with euphoria, his growls and curses ringing in her ears. Her body is nearly vibrating now and so is his, the muscles of his abdomen clenching tight under the forearm she has resting there.

It's the sound of his voice that does it; the way his usual melodic tone eclipses into a harsh, guttural growl of broken words. "Emma – ah, you need – stop – darling – can't – "

It's the sound of his voice, and only the sound of it, that has her sucking harder, has her pulse racing, has her skin tingling. She doesn't want to release him long enough to speak, so she hums on an upward stroke, closing her lips around his tip as hard as she can before gliding back down, hoping he'll get the picture. She wants to taste more of him. She wants to feel his length pulse in her mouth while he struggles to speak, while those broken words stutter past his lips in hoarse whispers.

"Love - please - Can't... hold... it."

It's only two more bobs of her head and then it happens, his body shuddering, his cock throbbing in her hand and his seed spurting into the back of her throat. She continues to suck until she's sure she's gotten every last drop of him gliding across her tongue, then she sits up between his legs, tossing her hair over her shoulder.

He's watching her with a captivating mixture of awed reverence and savage greed, his eyes focused on her mouth. In another deliberate show, she swallows slowly on a long moan and his Adam's apple bobs along with her, the whine he releases as he does so her favorite sound yet. It's a pitch higher than his normal voice, a whimper that doesn't even attempt to form a word, just a sound of complete bliss that he can't control. His breathing is harsh and fast, his hand still fisted in the sheets and she releases his softening shaft and lays it gently against his abdomen.

She smiles, and he tries to smile back, but it's only a quick quirk between his heavy pants before his hand grips in her hair and hauls her forward, covering her mouth with his in a sloppy kiss.

She's on her back in the next second, his body pressing hers into the mattress while his mouth devours her skin, starting a trail from her chin and working lower. He pauses at her breasts, wetting one peak with the lave of his tongue then switching to the other where he sucks hard and pinches the first between his thumb and forefinger. Her chest rises further into him and he growls, the coarse hairs of his beard scratching at her skin as he sinks lower. He pauses again at her naval and he mumbles something that she doesn't catch all of, but the words 'incredible' and 'don't deserve' make it to her ears and her eyes sting with emotion.

His hand nudges at her inner thigh and she opens her legs, her breath catching at the way his eyes darken when they study her mound.

"I've wanted to do this since our first time together, love. I can't believe you beat me to it."

She's got one breathless instant to prepare before his lips dip into her sex and she nearly bucks off the bed, his hand coming to rest on her stomach to push her back down. He makes a sound that reminds her of someone savoring a particularly tasty bite of food and she looks down to see him raise his head and lick his lips and –

"Fuck," she grinds out, grappling for something to hold on to, one hand finding purchase in the sheets and the other landing on his shoulder.

A devilish chuckle sounds when he lowers his head again, sliding down further to settle himself between her thighs and lifting one up to trail kisses on the inner portion. He turns his head to the other thigh, his nose teasing across her mound as he does it, before lifting it over his shoulder while drawing a line with his tongue. Once he's found the position he wants, he uses his fingers to spread her folds, his eyes sparkling with what she can only describe as greed as he licks lips. That image is the last thing she sees before her eyes slip shut and she throws her head back, anticipation already making her blood race toward the spot his eyes are devouring.

She feels his maimed arm land across her stomach, pressing her into the mattress, and with a whispered, 'Be still, love,' his mouth is on her and she forgets how to breathe. It takes every ounce of discipline she has to keep her hips from jolting off the bed as he works her into an absolute frenzy, his tongue teasing at her center and his fingers playing with her opening. She's fairly certain a stream of obscenities leave her mouth but she doesn't actually hear them so maybe it was just one drawn-out gasp. Either way, it spurs him to delve deeper with his fingers, pushing them into her faster until she's writhing with pleasure.

The sound of her name has her glancing down and she's amazed to see her hand buried in his hair, the dark strands held tight between her fingers. She immediately releases him and gropes for the edge of the mattress instead, feeling a little guilty that she's apparently so far gone that she can't control her own actions.

"Emma," he says again, and her dull mind realizes he hasn't paused to point out she's been yanking at his hair but for some other reason.

"Yes?" she asks in a raspy voice.

"I need your help, darling."

"With what?"

He straightens out the arm across her stomach, the tip running across the tight peak of one of her breasts and she shivers.

"I know how much you love it when I play with your amazing breasts, but my hand is otherwise occupied so…" he nudges her elbow with his wrist, "I'd like you to do it for me."

"You want me to touch myself?" she asks with quiet amazement.

"Aye," he replies with a slow grin, "It would be a great service to me, darling."

The breath whooshes out of her lungs and she lets him guide her hand to her breast. As soon as her fingers settle on her nipple, his hand plunges forward and she groans, long and low.

"Sit up a bit, love. I want to be able to see you."

She pushes her free hand beneath her to leverage her upper body off the bed.

"Like this?"

"That's perfect. Now, touch yourself."

The moment she does, he moans into her nub, the thick sound reverberating through her and she loses herself a bit. His fingers slide home with a strong thrust and she bows back, riding them as his tongue presses with more determination. Her eyes have fluttered shut, the pleasure so intense her body quivers and when she finally manages to open them again it's to find his eyes trained on the hand she has at her breast. He catches her watching and moans again, lifting his head just far enough to show her how the flat of his tongue laps at her flesh, then he's diving back in and she swears she's going to burst at the seams.

She comes with a silent cry, her throat closing and her stomach seizing as ecstasy shatters through her, rushing down her legs and up her torso. He's humming through it, his mouth slowing to draw it out and his fingers curling on a deliberate drag that brings all those scattered tingles back to her core, the pleasure so much that she can't take it and pulls away with a yelp. He doesn't seem to mind if the devilish grin is any indication. Instead, he looks completely delighted.

"Seems I found another spot you like, love. We'll have to explore that some more later."

K&EK&EK&E

Regina's blood boils, her eyes fixed on the entrance to a dark alley that positively reeks of light magic. Perhaps it was a waste of time to come here, but she had to know. She had to be sure.

And now she is.

There's no way this wasn't the princess. It had to have been. Snow White's brat has somehow worked around the prophecy and gotten her magic without a True Love to awaken it. Either that, or the wizard lied when he told her there was no one other than Killian Jones with the power to unlock it.

But that's impossible. He couldn't have lied. She'd been holding his heart in her hand when she asked and there's no way he could have hidden the truth from her.

Or could he?

He is the most powerful wizard there has ever been – even stronger than Rumpelstiltskin. Maybe he found a way… Maybe Emma has found another True Love…

White hot fury races through her veins and she starts to raise her hand to transport herself back to her castle but stops halfway through the motion. If it's true that Merlin can conceal lies even while she holds his heart, it would be useless to talk to him again. And if she goes back now, without having found her prey, he'll only gloat. And no matter how livid she is over the deception, she won't give him that satisfaction. She'll find the princess and that illusive pirate and she'll return to the castle triumphant with both in tow and throw it in his face that he couldn't outsmart her.

But where to start looking… Where would Captain Hook feel safe enough to dock? It would have to be somewhere between Katherine's kingdom and Camelot – because obviously, he's taking the princess to her father – and there's only one major port in that area…

Portsmouth.

K&EK&EK&E

David straightens his collar and adjusts the cuffs at his wrist. It looks like today will be a beautiful one, the sun already burning through the fog settled over the harbor and slowly revealing the ships that docked during the night.

Still no sign of the Jolly Roger and Emma.

Sighing, he turns back to the bed where his jacket is laid out. He's just slipping his arms in when Lancelot burst through the door.

"I've got it," Lancelot announces, striding across the room and handing a tarnished gold box over to him.

"Excellent," David replies, clapping him on the shoulder.

Flipping open the lid, he marvels at a deceptively benign looking lump of coal sitting atop the faded velvet lining. "Hard to believe this is a powerful magical object."

"I know but considering the lengths Regina went to to keep us from obtaining it, it's power must be significant."

"Yes," David replies, drawing a relieved breath. This is a beautiful day, indeed, and it has nothing to do with the weather.

The Spark of Prometheus. The only spark capable of producing a flame with enough power to reunite Excalibur is now in his hand.

His fingers contract on the case, emotion tugging at his throat. This is another step closer to Snow. Another step closer to getting his family back. His vision blurs and he clicks the lid shut, his knuckles white from their grip.

"Any problems during your journey?" he asks, doing his best to keep his voice from shaking, but he knows Lance notices.

Still, the knight launches into a dialogue about his trip, relaying every single mundane detail and David realizes about halfway through that Lance knows he's not really listening. But his friend keeps talking, obviously aware of David's mood and doing his best to keep him distracted. It's not until there's an insistent knocking on the door that David's attention comes back into focus, a harried looking Percival entering with haste.

"I have a missive from Queen Katherine," the knight announces, holding up a scroll.

"Thank you," Lance says, reaching for the letter but Percival holds it from his reach.

"Sorry, old friend, but it was delivered to me by the queen herself with the strict instruction that it should leave my hand only for King David's."

"What?" David asks, taking the scroll and looking to see his name inscribed just above the seal. "Is there anyone who bought Regina's story about my death?" he muses aloud, glancing to Lance.

The knight just shrugs in response, shaking his head in bemusement.

Sighing, David lays the case on the bed and rips open the letter, barely noticing when Lance thanks Percival and dismisses him, too engrossed in Katherine's message.

Dear David,

Don't look so surprised. I never believed it for a second when Regina said you were dead. The man who helped me restore the love of my life was too cunning to be killed by Regina's soldiers.

(I'm sorry I haven't written before now, but I wanted to respect your noble streak by not getting involved in all this nonsense until you requested it – and you should have requested it long before now, David!)

Oh, but I digress. I didn't write you to berate you on your nobility, but because something has happened that you need to hear about.

But first, let me go back…

A few years ago, I was approached by a member of your court. I'm sure you remember him; his name is Jefferson and he had a particular fondness for hats? Anyway, he was looking for a safe haven to headquarter what has now grown into quite an operation. He came to me with a plan to create an underground supply chain to disperse goods and weapons to the realm. He wouldn't tell me where he was getting all of these supplies, but I still agreed to help. At the time, Regina's knights were terrorizing our villages and part of his plan was to 'pay-off' Regina to keep her knights away so that he could move more easily about. So, that's what we did. Don't be angry with me. My people were suffering and this presented me with a golden opportunity (forgive the pun) to keep them safe. And, besides, I learned later that most of the gold we gave her was actually stolen from her in the first place.

Now, on to the present.

A few days ago, a garrison of black knights broke our agreement by kidnapping Jeff's daughter and forcing him to cooperate. It seems they were looking for The Hatter's supplier and, shockingly, they knew who it was.

Now, I know you'll have a hard time believing this (I hardly believe it myself) but the supplier that Jefferson has been keeping secret all this time is none other than Captain Hook! Apparently, he's been stealing from Regina for years! You should have seen Frederick's face when he found out!

Anyway, according to witnesses, the garrison of black knights was able to board Captain Hook's ship, the Jolly Roger, by forcing Jefferson to lower the gangplank. A terrible fight ensued and, at some point during the battle, the ship sailed away, seemingly of its own will. (Honestly, that part's a little sketchy because so many people were reluctant to say it since it made them sound insane to believe a ship could sail on its own.)

Either way, it seems the pirate was victorious because during our investigation we learned that the little girl was being held in a small cave outside the village. Frederick and I went to the location personally to rescue the child but, when we got there, all we found were black knights – dead black knights. Someone saved that little girl before we had the chance and who else could it have been if not her father who'd sailed away with the ship? And, since one of the knights had a hook-shaped hole in his neck, I'd say Captain Hook helped.

After, we also verified that Jefferson's wife is missing as well. We can only assume she, along with her husband and daughter, are now aboard the Jolly Roger, and we've issued a dispatch of orders to our entire naval fleet to lend aid to them if at all possible. You might consider asking Arthur to do the same.

Now, here's the most disturbing part and the main reason I broke my silence with you: Yesterday, Regina showed up herself to investigate. We found her in a tavern where she'd just killed a woman Captain Hook had come in contact with while in town. In order to get her to leave peacefully, I offered to tell her what we'd learned about Captain Hook and even took her to the cave where her black knights had held the child.

You should have seen it, David. She walked up to that cave and her whole demeanor changed. I don't know what she saw or what she thought but something about being there made her… I can't even describe it. She was walking toward the cave, but about halfway across the clearing she stopped dead and looked at the ground. Then her eyes went wild and she started searching in every direction and, I swear to you, she looked positively terrified for a moment. After that, she walked the around the clearing for a good ten minutes, feeling around with her hand like she was tracing some invisible line through the air.

Like I said, I don't know what she was thinking, but something about being there scared her and, whatever it was, it also made her furious. She went absolutely wild for a moment, shooting fireballs in every direction – even blowing her own carriage to dust – before she barked an order at her knights to get back to her castle and then disappeared in a puff of smoke.

I honestly don't know what to make of it, David. But I thought you'd want to know.

Frederick has told me to add that our knights are armed to the teeth and the moment you have need of us, we won't hesitate to join you in this fight. You reunited us those many years ago, and we'd love to have the chance to help you reunite with Snow.

Sending best wishes to you,

Katherine and Frederick

David straightens and hands the note to Lancelot without a word, his head reeling over everything he's just learned. He's still working through it when Lance drops the parchment on the table.

"It sounds like Emma is safe, at least," Lancelot breaks the silence, "and still on her way here."

"Yes," David agrees with considerable relief, "And, apparently, you've been in league with a pirate much longer than you thought."

"Apparently so," Lance replies with a trace of amusement. "And now we know who The Hatter is as well."

He almost laughs at that. "The Hatter. Lord Jefferson Galerus. I should have known. He was a member of our court. Very charismatic fellow. A good man but not really in our inner circle. And he did have an obsession with hats."

"Well, galerus means hat or cap in Latin," Lance replies.

David looks up, surprised. "Truly?"

"Yes."

David shakes his head. "You studied Latin?"

Lance shrugs. "A bit."

David chuckles. His friend is full of surprises.

"What do you think it was that spooked Regina?"

"Magic," David instantly replies. "Emma must have used magic to help save Jefferson's daughter."

"So, you think Regina knows Emma is now aboard the Jolly Roger?"

"It's a possibility, but we've no proof that Regina knows Emma has gotten her magic as of yet. Can you reach out to your contacts and see if we can find out where she went?"

"I will, but it will be difficult if she's traveling alone. From the sound of it, she's left her knights and gone off by herself."

"Perhaps I can help with that," an unfamiliar voice says from behind him.

David is already drawing his sword as he whips around to meet the eyes of the new arrival, a dark-skinned man dressed in long robes trimmed with gold, his hands folded neatly in front of him.

"Who are you and how did you get in here?!" he demands.

The man quirks an eyebrow with an indulgent smile, his eyes flicking to the sword point only inches from his neck. "I got in here like this," he says, lifting one hand with flourish and vanishing into a puff of gray smoke, materializing a few feet away. "As to who I am? I am Merlin, the oldest wizard alive as far as I know, and I'm here to offer my services."

"You're Merlin?" Lance asks in astonishment. "The wizard who told Arthur of the dagger?"

"Yes."

David's blood heats. This is the wizard who charged Arthur with his quest when the king was a child. The wizard who left his friend with nothing but the most vague of instructions, then vanished, never lending guidance to aid him in his mission.

"But you're rumored to be thousands of years old. How do you look so…?"

"Physically fit?" Merlin finishes Lance's question. "Let's just say being a wizard is good for the skin."

"Where the hell have you been all these years?" David growls.

David notices the man's demeanor change, his back straightening and eyeing David with a watchful and somewhat wary expression. "That's a long story but, most recently… in the dungeon of the Evil Queen's castle," he replies slowly.

It takes him a minute, his mind racing… The Evil Queen's castle? What? Why would he…? His heart stops. Merlin has the gift of foresight. Merlin can see the future. And Regina has had a seer working for her since the fall of the kingdom.

The seer that helped thwart every attempt he's made to save Snow.

He's moving before he realizes it, closing the few feet of distance in less than a heartbeat and connecting his fist with the wizard's jaw.

K&EK&EK&E

Merlin sees it coming. Honestly, he first saw this moment years ago, and it's one of only a handful of moments that has never once changed. But he doesn't try to avoid it. If there's one person in all the realms who deserves a shot at him, it's King David.

The pain zings along his jaw and his eyes water immediately, his head snapping back so quickly that his neck cracks. The man hits like a bloody hammer, almost like his knuckles are made of steel, and Merlin wonders for a moment if his jaw is actually broken. Foreknowledge and self-preservation have him lifting his hand to catch the next blow, stopping it less than an inch from his temple.

"I'll give you one, Your Majesty, but that's where I draw the line."

David's eyes widen with disbelief that his second blow hadn't landed as he'd planned, but his face slips back to fury after only an instant, yanking his fist away from the iron grip Merlin has on it.

"Get out," David hisses, "Go back to wherever it is you came from. We don't need your help."

Merlin rubs at his jaw, almost tempted to let the pain linger, (it's invigorating in an odd sort of way) but changes his mind and dissolves the already-forming-bruise with a quick swipe of his hand.

"I know you're upset – " he starts.

"Upset?!" the king shouts in incredulity, "You're the one who has helped Regina keep me from my wife for years! Upset doesn't cover it, wizard!"

"I know, but I can explain – "

David scoffs.

"Whether you believe me or not, I did that for your own good."

"Yeah, well, I don't believe you."

Merlin sighs, raising a hand in a gesture of assurance. "Regina was willing to let you live, to not attack Camelot, so long as Snow White was still under the curse."

David's eyes narrow suspiciously. "Oh, she told you this, did she?"

He laughs at that. "No. She didn't tell me anything – the Evil Queen isn't much in the sharing department – but she didn't have to. I saw it. Over and over again, I saw it! Every time you put a new plan together, I saw you and your wife die!" He pauses there to calm himself, noticing the king's shocked expression and the way he lowers the sword he's still holding.

In a more controlled voice, he continues, "Yes, there were a couple that would have succeeded in reuniting the two of you sooner, but you both would have been dead by now. As it was, it took a great deal of scheming just to keep you alive. More than once, I had to employ quick maneuvering to save your life. If you're one thing, Your Majesty, it's persistent."

Silence falls after his speech, David regarding him with slightly less animosity and glancing over to Lancelot. The knight's sword is also drawn and at the ready and Merlin is tempted to magic the weapon away from him just on principle. (But that's probably not the best way to earn trust, so he doesn't.) Instead he waits, letting both men gather their thoughts. He knows they'll get there eventually. One of the most difficult things he's had to learn over the years is how to keep his mind occupied while he waits for things he knows are going to happen (no one likes a know-it-all). So he takes a long breath and glances between the two men while they carry on a silent conversation with their eyes, passing the time in one of his favorite ways: by picturing those around him in a land with no magic. Lance has the build of a football player, a linebacker most likely, while David would be a quarterback, his skill for tactics making him one to rival the best. They'd make quite a team, really, and he hides his smile when the image of both of them in football pads flashes through his mind.

At long last, David turns to him. "Okay," he says slowly. "What exactly do you have in mind?"

"Well, first, I'd like to offer you a token of good faith."

"What token?" David asks.

Merlin draws a deep breath. "How would you like to see your wife?"

Chapter Text

To my incredible and lovely readers,

I've seen some worried people since Jen announced she wasn't returning, wondering what will become of our fandom now that she isn't coming back. People are unsure what will happen with not only the show, with the CS happy ending, and what Hook's roll will be, but also with fics, fic writers, gif makers and artists.

Let me assure you, I will see this fic to the end. I already know how it's going to play out and, in fact, I have several future scenes already written. So, even if there is no one left to read it, I will post every single word. I hope you stick with me.

Hugs to all of you,

Rachel


"How would you like to see your wife?"

The air gets sucked out of the room the moment the words leave Merlin's mouth, leaving David to struggle for breath and an intense hum to sound in his ears. His heart pounds into his rib cage which, when combined with the humming, leaves him worried that he may actually pass out. He tries to speak, tries to form the word – yes – but he can't find his voice, the overwhelming emotion strangling him.

See Snow? Finally be with her again? Awaken her from the curse and feel her silken skin under his fingers? Gaze on her sweet smile and hear her beautiful voice calling him Charming in that teasing way?

He wants that more than anything – to hear her voice – because he's started to realize over the past few years that he's not even sure what it sounds like anymore. Pictures are easy. Pictures he can see with complete clarity… the first time they met, their wedding day, the day their daughter was born…

But the most vivid picture, the one he sees nearly every time he closes his eyes, is the excruciating painful glimpse he had of her as she'd been drug through the door of that ball room…

The ground is shaking and splitting, the chandelier overhead swaying, but he doesn't see it. He doesn't see anything but her kicking and lashing out against her captors as they drag her across the dais. He rushes toward her just as she lands an impressive heel on the shin of one of them and she almost breaks free. His heart vaults but then there's a cracking sound so powerful and deafening that his eyes are drawn away from her, turning to see the balcony split right in two. He squints his eyes against the sudden barrage of dust and debris, but amazingly enough, none of it comes in his direction, instead only taking out several black knights nearby by burying them in stone and rubble.

He doesn't take time to marvel over his luck before he rushes forward again, scaling a large pile of rock that landed directly in front of him. Snow is still in the same place she had been, her eyes transfixed on what's happening above and he breathes easier for an instant. The knights holding her seem as stunned as everyone else and he takes advantage, adrenaline pumping through his veins as he maneuvers the now rock-filled terrain, jumping over one hurtle after the next.

Another glance to Snow catches her look of relief at what's happening on the balcony and he casts a quick look over his shoulder to see the cloud of dust clearing. He takes one heartbeat to thank the gods that both Emma and Killian have survived the crash before he's charging toward Snow again. He's just cleared another obstacle when he hears her voice.

"You have to run, Charming!"

He looks up to see that her captors are coming back to their senses, pulling her once again toward the door in the corner of the room.

"No! I'm not leaving you!" he shouts, making the next leap.

"GO!" she screams, twisting and kicking with all her strength.

He shakes his head furiously, panic crawling up his chest as he takes the first step on the dais. He stops there when a line of knights move in between him and Snow, too many to fight alone and almost inadvertently, he drops his eyes to the chest between their thrones.

"Don't even think about it!" his wife bellows, "One of us has to be free!"

It was supposed to be you, he thinks, still eyeing the chest. He takes one step, already raising his hand to unlatch the lid when someone knocks hard into him, toppling him to the ground.

"You can't!" Graham yells, "I know you wanted it this way, but you can't! She's right: One of you has to stay free!"

It's like the world pauses then and he twists his head to look at his beautiful wife. She's still fighting but they almost have her to the door. There's noise all around them, the fight still ensuing but all he sees is her, the crown on her head slightly askew and her flawlessly pale skin smudged with dirt and dust.

His eyes mist and he knows this is it: this is the last moment he'll see her for who knows how long. The guards aren't trying to kill her. They obviously have orders to take her alive. Whereas him, well, that line of knights is already moving forward with their swords raised and at the ready. There's an instant when they block his view of her and he struggles wildly against Graham until he has her in his sights once again. Their eyes lock, the jade depths of hers begging him to get out, begging him to survive and his throat closes.

"I will find you, Snow," he vows, because now everything has clicked into place, no matter how badly he wanted this to play out differently. "I will always find you."

His last glimpse of her shows her face morphing to relief, her voice soft but strong. "I love you, Charming."

She's gone before he can reply, disappearing through the door, and the shout that releases from his throat feels like it tears right through his vocal chords. He wrestles out of Graham's grip and vaults to his feet, utter madness filling him as he plunges his sword into one knight after the next. They fall and fall but there are more and more and it's not long before Graham tugs him away, fighting to an open corridor and pushing him down the hall. They run for their lives, Graham placing a well-aimed jab of his sword to the loose stone in the wall. The painting in front of them swings open and he jumps through the narrow gap, turning to make sure Graham made it as well. But Graham didn't even attempt the jump. Instead, he's closing the painting.

David's arm shoots out to stop it but Graham doesn't relent.

"I'll lead them away," he says. "And if there's any chance at all, I'll try to get her out. Be safe, my King."

The painting shuts and David is plunged into darkness, falling to his knees with his hand still pressed against the canvas. He stays there for a good long while, lungs heaving and tears staining his cheeks as he listens to the chaos on the other side, frantic orders being yelled to split up and check all the rooms. He considers staying. He wants to stay and fight, but the final look from Snow flashes through his mind.

He won't let her down.

He'll find a way to get back to her.

No matter how long it takes.

The memory blinks out and Merlin comes back into focus, his too-knowing eyes set dead on him like he's just seen the same thing.

"Is this a trick?" he asks, his voice harder than he intended.

"No trick. I'll take you to her – but," he raises a finger, "I must warn you: You'll not be able to wake her."

"WHAT?!" he roars.

Merlin seems completely unimpressed with his rage, continuing calmly, "She's guarded by a protection spell and I'm afraid no one but the Evil Queen herself can breach it."

"A spell the most powerful wizard ever can't break?" Lance asks with incredulity. "It sure sounds like a trick to me."

"It's not a trick," Merlin insists, eyeing each of them, "Regina used blood magic to cast the spell and there's no way around it. I've tried. Believe me, I've tried!"

"So, what's the point in taking him, then?" Lance asks.

But it doesn't matter to David. Seeing Snow again, even if he can't touch her, is worth the risk but he doesn't have time to voice that opinion before Merlin's eyebrows raise.

"Because, we need to cast a protection spell of our own."

David's stomach drops to the floor. "Why?" he demands, "Is she in danger?"

"Not at this very moment, but she soon will be. Regina was satisfied with keeping her under the curse but once she realizes Emma has her magic, it will only be a matter of time."

David goes completely still. "What makes you think Emma has her magic?" he asks.

Merlin chuckles. "Foresight, remember?"

David mulls that over, still not completely convinced the wizard is trustworthy.

"Look, I can do it myself if you prefer. Just give me a drop of your blood and I'll cast the spell alone. I just thought you'd like to see her."

"I do," David replies instantly. "I'll go with you."

"Are you sure, Majesty?" Lancelot asks, stepping forward.

"Yes," he insists, looking over to his friend. "It's worth the risk just to be able to see her."

Lance's eyes soften the tiniest bit and Charming gets the feeling the knight is thinking of something – or someone – else for an instant.

"You're right. Love is worth the risk."

David turns back to Merlin. "When do we leave?"

"Right now," Merlin replies, holding out his hand.

K&EK&EK&E

Regina has always hated the smell of the sea - its rank, salty, fishy scent. But she meanders the dock anyway, the long piers filled with ships abustle with activity as cargo is loaded and unloaded. Her eyes search every mast, every flag, a little annoyed when she realizes how many kingdoms seem to use this harbor as a means of trade. And even more annoyed that none of the flags are the one she's looking for. There are pirate ships, yes, many of them, but her prey hasn't shown his colors yet.

There are several men who send her looks of interest and she realizes perhaps it would have been wiser to pick a more homely woman to clone. One of them even has the courage to head her way but she crooks a finger and a rope falls into his path, making him trip and flush with embarrassment. She would much rather have made that large and very heavy looking crate fall, but an accident of that magnitude would draw attention. People's morbid curiosity is a predictable human response and she doesn't want half the city here to investigate.

Self-control is a huge asset when you're trying to blend in.

The day grows late and she's sweaty and tired, more impatient than ever when, suddenly, a familiar looking head of dark hair disembarks from a ship close by. Smiling slyly to herself, she follows him away from the docks, a plan forming in her head.

K&EK&EK&E

The holster is digging into Emma's chest but the weight of the dagger is oddly comforting. Walking to the mirror, she takes a deep breath and lets it out, watching carefully to make sure the blade is completely concealed. Behind her, she can hear Killian's movements, getting ready himself. They work in silence, apprehension weighing down the air, their impending separation looming more heavily on both their minds than she had anticipated.

They'll only be apart for a short time. She'll go straight to the square and he'll meet her there as soon as he's finished ordering supplies for the Jolly Roger. An hour at most. It's not so very long. He'll meet her at the square and everything will be fine.

Everything will be fine.

But a lot can happen in an hour. And they don't have any clue what they're walking into. Outside of it being an unpredictable city at best, it's been months since Killian was last there and it could be overrun with black knights by now. Jefferson swears that's nearly impossible. He is 'The Hatter,' after all; his spy network is extensive and news of black knights in Portsmouth would not escape his attention. But even without black knights (probably) there's still so many things that could go wrong…

And Killian knows it, too. That's why neither of them are speaking. That's why the heavy air feels ripe with dread. That's why their movements are measured and precise. They're both on the edge of their nerves, both filled with apprehension. And both afraid that one word would send the other into a panic.

She practices drawing the dagger from its sheath a few times to distract herself. Just as Patricia promised, it makes no sound at all but the quick movement catches Killian's attention and their eyes meet in the mirror. He's wearing a grim expression that matches the tight knot in her stomach and his hand is arrested on the buttons of his black shirt. Their eyes hold in the reflection as she slides the dagger back home but then he dips his chin and goes back to buttoning (very few) of the buttons on the shirt.

Before he can reach for it himself, Emma picks up his vest and holds it out for him to slip on. There are still no words but the finger he uses to reverently trace her chin while she fastens the buckles speaks volumes. Her heart is beating so hard that she can hear it in her head and her hands are damp and shaky. She fumbles one of the clasps and his hand covers hers, squeezing it while she draws a steadying breath. Once the buckles are fastened, she rests her hands on his chest and realizes his heart is pounding, too.

With slow movements, he reaches for his belt and scabbard, applying it to his waist. While he attends to that, she walks over and takes his leather coat from the peg she'd hung it on days ago. He slides his arms in and she pulls the collar up to his neck, rounding to the front of him to position the lapel and run her hands over the shoulders of the leather.

Stepping back, she studies the finished product from head to toe while he does the same to her. He's Captain Hook again, but… not. He's Killian Jones, dressed up for a charade that he's played many times. And she's costumed as a tavern wench with daggers in both her corset and her boot.

They're ready.

They both move in the same instant, like opposing wave crashing together, the stormy kiss that follows filled with desperation – with promises to be careful – with fear and worry and too many other emotions to name. She has no idea how long it lasts but their lips never part; the release of anxiety near brutal in its force. But somewhere in the middle, it changes, lips softening and slowing, fingers gliding tenderly over chins and necks. The gentleness doesn't last, though, and it changes back, a whirlwind of passion that has them moaning into each other's mouths. Her fingers begin to ache from the hold she has on his collar, using it to guide his head first one way and then the next. His head is at a severe tilt to delve his tongue deep when the knock sounds at the door. They ignore it at first, too desperate for more time to break apart just yet, but when the insistent bang sounds, they regretfully separate.

"Come in," Killian calls, maintaining a vice grip on her waist when he turns to the door.

Jeff, Patricia, Ruby and Dopey all walk in, Jeff and Patricia dressed as pirate and tavern wench as well, and they gather around the table, going over the details of the plan one last time.

Once they've recapped the everything, Patricia looks to Ruby with nervous eyes. "Remember, Ruby, Grace needs to stay below until we return. She won't be happy about it but – "

"Don't worry," Ruby interrupts, taking both Patricia's hands in hers, "She and I are going to be in the galley. I've promised to let her help me make some cookies. My grandmother taught me how to shape them like animals and we're going to put together a full menagerie by the time you return."

"Thank you," Patricia says, squeezing Ruby's hands, the word filled with more than simple appreciation.

"We'll keep her safe," Ruby promises and Dopey nods vigorously in agreement.

"Dopey, you'll be on deck," Killian puts in, "Keep an eye open for anything suspicious. And I mean anything. If, at any time you feel like there's something amiss, send Ruby immediately and set sail. Grace has been taught all of the commands for the Jolly and the old girl will answer to them."

Dopey nods again, placing his fist against his heart.

The Jolly's bell rings and Killian looks up. "Okay, that's our cue. I need to steer us into the harbor. Jeff, Dopey, let's get up there."

He starts to turn but Emma catches his hand, pulling him back and into a fierce hug.

"I'll come back down once we've docked," he breathes into her neck and she nods, too choked up to reply.

Emma paces the floor while she waits. She knows she needs to stay out of sight until Jeff and Killian have left and Dopey has given the signal, but she wishes she could be on deck with him, treasuring these last few minutes.

The Jolly groans to a stop and Killian immediately appears, descending the ladder with haste saying, "There aren't a lot of people about but they're watching. Jeff and I should move fast before more show up."

His feet hit the floor and she's in his arms before she can reply, his mouth solid and ravenous on hers. But now, there are too many words to say and with each break of lips they're whispered urgently to the other.

"Be careful." "I'll see you soon." "Stay with Patricia." "Don't worry." "It will be fine." "It's only a short while."

Each utterance is punctuated with a deeper kiss, a tighter grip, until the words dissolve between their joined mouths and they're clinging to each other with all their strength.

Jeff's boot lands hard near the opening of the hatch and their lips break long enough for Killian to glance toward the sound. Swallowing hard, she tells herself to release him, to let go of his collar so he can leave with Jeff. But she can't let go. She can't let him leave without telling him… He needs to know… Just in case… When he looks back to her, his eyes are filled with the same conflict she feels, studying her with such intensity that her heart skips a beat.

"Killian…"

But he covers her lips with his thumb, his breathing heavy. He wants to say it first. She can feel it in the way his fingers reverently move from her chin to glide across her cheek. She can see it in the way he shuffles restlessly in front of her.

He wants to say it.

"Emma, I…"

He wants to… but he's still scared.

Say it.

His fingers contract in her hair.

I love you.

He shakes his head, blue eyes landing on hers with apology and regret shining in them.

"Please be safe, love. Please just… Be safe."

He's gone before she can swallow the lump in her throat – before she can return the sentiment and her eyes fill with tears. Be safe, she prays. I love you.

The silence is deafening as she glances around the room. The Jolly feels empty in his absence.

As does her heart.

K&EK&EK&E

David's stomach lurches when his feet land on solid ground again, the sensation of weightlessness not a pleasant one in the least, but he pushes past it, eagerly scanning the room for his wife.

"She's not here," Merlin says, immediately laying his hand over the one David was just about to move to his sword.

"We need some supplies first," he explains, "I can't cast the spell with your blood alone."

David's posture relaxes. "So where are we then?" he asks.

"Regina's storeroom. Just give me a few minutes to gather what we'll need."

David nods and eases back, scanning the room. The light isn't very good but it's adequate enough and there's a strange and musty smell in the air. The walls are lined with cabinets, all of them with different sized drawers and Merlin busies himself with opening one after the next until he finds whatever it is he's looking for. With the wave of a hand, a fire ignites in the hearth, illuminating a black iron kettle hanging over the flames. He works with impressive efficiency, tossing one thing after another into the pot.

After a time, David moves to the center of the room where a table is set up and he runs his finger over the rim of a bowl, glancing over to Merlin.

"Go ahead and ask," the wizard says.

David frowns. It's annoying, this whole foresight thing. "Do I even need to?"

"You want to know why I didn't help Arthur along a bit more, yes?"

"Yes," David confirms.

"Well, here's the thing," the wizard says, still focused on his task, "I'm not a prophet. I know that's a common misconception, but I'm not the person who prophesied Arthur's quest. I was only the one to deliver it. As to why I didn't help more?"

He pauses there, and David gets the feeling he doesn't really want to answer that question. Still, he straightens and turns, looking David directly in the eye. "I couldn't."

"What do you mean you couldn't? Even if you're not the prophet, you can see the future. You could have given him more to go on."

"Actually, no…" and now the reluctance is obvious, but his eyes stay on David, "because I can't see that part."

"What does that mean?" he asks.

"It means that none of my visions include Excalibur."

David feels his eyes widen. "What?! Why?"

Merlin goes back to his work, tossing something that looks like a dead insect into the kettle. "I'm not positive, but I think it's Excalibur itself that blocks my vision. It's the most powerful magical object in the world and, if myth is to be believed… it's greedy. That's why it has the power to strip magical beings of their abilities. It's wants all the power to itself."

David takes a moment to let that sink in. "So you didn't know where the dagger was, or even how to reunite the blades," he surmises slowly.

Merlin nods, "And I don't know how or when Excalibur will be used. I can't see anything relating to it."

David exhales a long breath. "Which means you can't tell me if Emma will be successful in using it against Regina."

Merlin looks almost apologetic. "Exactly."

David feels like the wind has been knocked out of him, his head spinning. He'd thought that having Merlin on their side nearly sealed victory but now…

"What have you seen? Have you seen Snow awaken? Have you seen the kingdom under her and my rule once again?"

Merlin is shaking his head and David's pulse jumps to an alarming rate.

"So Regina will win?" he asks, his voice so tight it's almost imperceptible.

"I don't know," the wizard replies sadly. "The last vision I have is you, reuniting with your daughter. After that, everything goes black."

Merlin turns away to check the potion but David senses there's something else, something that's weighing him down. Then, with sudden and complete clarity, it comes to him.

"You can't see it because you die?" he asks.

Merlin's head raises but he doesn't turn around. "I don't know," he says again, a small sigh accompanying it. He fiddles with the pot for another moment and then he turns, holding a vial in his hand.

"It's ready," he says, dismissing any further conversation regarding his possible demise. Crossing the room, he holds out a needle and the vial. "You just need to add one drop of your blood and then we'll be able to trump Regina's magic."

David takes the needle and adds the required drop.

"Now, let's go see your wife," Merlin says, holding his hand out.

The weightless feeling is back but this time he's more prepared and he lands with a solid 'thunk,' his eyes immediately searching… and finding Snow, laid out on an alter only feet from where they landed.

He walks forward in slow motion, his heart an odd mixture of hammering beats and pure peace. She's still stunning. She's still the fairest thing he's ever seen and his ears buzz as he comes to a stop right next to her. Her hands are folded serenely over her stomach, her gown still the same one he last saw her in. Mesmerized, he reaches out to stroke her cheek but, before his fingers make contact, excruciating pain shoots up his arm and a blast of energy sends him flying through the air. He has one split second to brace for the impact of the hard, stone floor but instead he lands on a thick, soft mattress.

"I knew you wouldn't be able to resist," Merlin tells him with a mixture of sympathy and mirth, his eyebrow cocked at an amused angle, and David begrudgingly admits to himself that foresight isn't as annoying when it's saving your backside from a severe bruising.

"Thank you," he says, getting back to his feet.

The wizard nods in acknowledgment and steps back from the alter, giving David enough room to approach his wife again. This time he stops a few inches from her, his eyes drinking in every detail of her face. Slowly, he feels a grin spread across his features, just staring at the smooth skin, just watching the subtle rise and fall of her chest. She's gotten some gray at her temple, just like him but, somehow, it only enhances her beauty, the realization of which makes his heart feel lighter.

"Can she hear us?" he asks Merlin without looking away.

"I'm afraid she can't, but there's a chance we could… send her a message, as it were."

"How?" David asks, his eyes darting to the wizard.

Merlin looks a little hesitant to explain, his eyes lowering to the ground. "A sleeping curse… It's not a pleasant place to be, but we could… invade that for a bit."

"So I could talk to her?"

"Not in the conventional sense, but we could send her a memory. It would have to be one that's strong enough to push past the spell, but I feel certain we could accomplish it, if you want to try."

"Yes," David immediately responds. "What do I need to do?"

"Take my hand," Merlin replies, stepping up to stand next to him.

Merlin extends his other hand over Snow's forehead as David reaches out but just before their fingers touch, he stops.

"Wait, will you be seeing the same thing?" he asks.

Merlin grins mischievously. "Yes, so if you could keep it PG, I'd appreciate it."

"PG?" he asks in confusion.

Merlin's grin grows. "Just… I'd rather not see your daughter's conception, if you know what I mean."

"Riiiight," David replies.

Drawing a deep breath, David lands his palm against Merlin's and closes his eyes, his vision immediately engulfed by the one memory that he prays will give her the most hope…

"And you can't get married without this," she says, pulling the pouch from under her arm and handing it to him.

It takes more effort than it should to look away from those enchanting green eyes so that he can open the pouch and inspect the contents.

He finds his mother's ring and holds it up. "I know, not your style, right?" he asks.

"Well, there's only one way to find out…" she replies, her fingers closing around it and sliding it onto her finger before he can blink.

She's holding her hand out, her eyes focused on the gem when he feels the tug in his stomach, the air around them suddenly twinkling with… something. She darts her eyes between his and the ring for a moment and he can't stop staring at how red her lips are, how immaculate her porcelain skin looks when it blushes the slightest bit.

"No, not me at all," she says in an unconvincing tone, removing the ring and handing it back to him.

The memory goes blurry and something pulls at his lungs. Gripping Merlin's hand tighter, he skips ahead and rushes through the part he wants to remind her of most of all.

"If you ever need anything – "

"You'll find me?"

"Always."

There's a yank at his naval and he gasps for breath, coming back to the present in a dizzy fog that has spots appearing in his vision. Another tug and he's on the floor, the stone hard on his shoulder. Shaking his head, he tries to focus but those spots, they're not clearing, they're flashing brighter and brighter and…

Reality snaps back, a crackling sound assailing his ears as he realizes those weren't spots at all but the protective spell over Snow violently pulsing in and out over and over again until it dissipates with a final burst of light. Stunned, he stares at the altar, Merlin's hand holding a death grip on his arm from where he'd pulled him out of harm's way.

"That's impossible," Merlin whispers, his voice louder than it should sound due to the sudden stillness.

"What's impossible?" David asks.

"The spell is down."

"We broke it?" David asks in joyous disbelief, already gaining his feet.

Before Merlin has time to answer, a golden drawer along the back wall pops open, and David freezes, watching as a purple fog appears and surrounds it. A whooshing sound fills the air, the smoke condensing in until it's so thick it appears black, then with a loud crack, it vanishes.

"She needed a heart," the wizard breathes.

The words jolt David out of his stupor and he launches toward Snow.

"NO, David, DON'T!"

But he doesn't heed the warning, not when he's got this chance. His hand finds her cheek, still as smooth as ever, and time seems to suspend around them. He bends to kiss her, his eyes focused on the full, red lips… Finally… Finally, her eyes will open, she'll say his name, she'll smile at him for the first time in ages…

K&EK&EK&E

Emma has to admire the efficiency with which Patricia operates. Her mind is solely on the mission and she doesn't waver once in her course as they trudge through the city. She wonders vaguely how she came to know the streets so well (perhaps she lived here at one time?) but she doesn't ask because the longer she's away from Killian, the more nervous she becomes and she doesn't want to delay the journey in any way.

As they wind their way through the streets, the rumbling of raised voices fills the air along with the aroma of spices and the smell of meat being cooked. Two more turns and they're in the marketplace and Emma nearly gasps at the grandeur of it. It's huge and alive with activity, children running through the tightly knitted booths with laughter ringing out in their wake, vendors calling out to advertise their wares, musicians playing their various instruments on corners with hats left out to collect tips from the consumers.

It's the exact opposite of what Emma had anticipated. She'd expected dirty streets and questionable people, something on the surface that would hint at the clandestine operations and outright violence the city is known for. But the energy surrounding her is almost celebratory, and she finds herself smiling in wonder. She's just about to step past Patricia to get a better look when the woman shoots an arm out to stop her.

"A word of warning, Highness," she whispers, "People here may look innocent, but not all are. Keep your purse close. There are pickpocketers everywhere. And don't flash your gold around. That will make you a target faster than you can say 'the Evil Queen is dead.'"

Emma nods, twining her fingers through her purse strings.

"Stay with me. This place can turn in an instant. It's not unheard of for fights to break out in the streets but so long as we're together, everything will be fine."

Emma nods and Patricia enters the marketplace. They browse several booths in an effort to blend in but they continue to steadily make their way to the center. The vendors, themselves, are friendly and offer fair prices, selling anything from ladies' ribbons to fresh grown vegetables to antique weapons. The aroma is intoxicating as well, foreign spices hanging in the air along with the smell of cooked meats that are being sold on wooden skewers.

As they round the last corner, something prickles under Emma's skin, an uneasy feeling that has her searching in every direction. Whatever it is, it's got the hairs on the back of her head standing on end, but she's distracted before she has time to consider it further by a resounding cheer that sounds for a juggler who is currently performing on a raised platform in the middle of the square.

Her eyes immediately start looking for Killian. The sun is starting to set which makes her search of the crowd take longer than it should and she's just about to start panicking when a hush descends, a gap appearing on the other side of the crowd.

He saunters in with his hook resting on the hilt of his sword and Jefferson standing to his right, both of them exuding danger and excitement. A rush of astounded whispers ensues, the most prevalent of which is: 'He's alive,' and Emma finds herself smiling when Killian quirks a brow at the crowd as if to respond, 'Of course I'm alive. Did you think for a second that the Evil Queen would best me?'

The appearance of Captain Hook is so disruptive that even the juggler loses his concentration and the batons he'd been flinging through the air clatter to the ground around him, bouncing off in different directions. One of the batons rolls to a stop right in front of Killian and the astounded whispers quiet as the crowd watches with baited breath when Captain Hook bends to retrieve it.

Examining it with vague interest, he expertly twirls it through his fingers and Emma can feel a new tension settle among the observers, none of them quite sure how he will react. In the end, though, he simply spins the baton off the tip of his thumb, tossing it up and catching it in one smooth motion before lobbing it back to its owner. The juggler looks like he's just earned a reprieve from the gallows and the audience lets out an audible sigh of relief on his behalf. After gathering his other batons, the man looks to Killian again and Killian waves a hand at him in an indication that he should continue his performance.

As soon as the man starts juggling again, Killian's eyes seek out hers. Emma has to hide the smile that threatens when Killian finds her, his shoulders sagging in noticeable relief. Raising a brow, he tips his head toward the juggler with amusement and the smile she'd been trying to hold back spreads across her face. She can certainly see why Jeff and Patricia didn't seem to mind this splitting up plan. There's something exciting about being incognito, pretending to be someone else and fooling everyone around you.

A cheer goes up when the juggler finishes his routine and the crowd begins to disburse. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Patricia nod to Jeff and they start moving away from the square, turning down a nearly deserted street of shops that have all closed up for the night. She can hear Jeff's and Killian's footsteps behind them as they walk but she doesn't look back. Patricia keeps up a casual conversation, making it appear that Emma (Gwen) is new to the city and she is showing her around.

After another turn, Patricia slows and indicates with her head toward one of the buildings. When Emma looks, she sees a sign hanging above the door that reads, simply, 'Mable's.'

"She's one of the best seamstresses in the city," Patricia says. "I wonder if she'd be available to mend this rip in my dress."

"It looks like the shop is closed for the night," Emma replies, in an effort to play along.

Patricia rolls her eyes, pulling Emma along behind her. "Nonsense, she's an old friend of mine. I bet if we stop for a visit, she'd do it without my even asking."

Mable is a kindly looking older woman with a round belly and a welcoming smile. She's obviously surprised to see Patricia but she recovers quickly and invites them in for tea. As soon as the door shuts, Mable's arms wrap around Patricia in a crushing hug. "I've been so worried. Are Jeff and Hook with you?"

"Yes, they're coming in the back."

The three of them hurry to the back and when Killian walks in, Emma is already moving to embrace him but Mable beats her to it, nearly knocking down both men with how forcefully she hugs them.

"How dare you two lads worry me like this! I've been terrified since I heard that story of black knights attacking the Jolly."

"We didn't mean to, I assure you," Jeff sooths, patting Mable on the back.

It's another minute before she releases them but she keeps a hand in each of theirs, stepping back to appraise them. Emma notices the way her chest expands, looking at both of them like a proud mother who hasn't seen her children in too long.

"Well, the two of you together again," she says wistfully, cupping both of their cheeks. "I'm so happy to see you. And look at you, Jeff, all dressed up like a pirate. I'd forgotten how handsome you were with that kohl."

Jeff rocks back on his heels with a smug smile, winking at his wife and Killian clears his throat loudly.

Mable laughs, "And you, Hook, how could anyone forget those eyes of yours? Two of the most stunningly handsome men to sail the seas."

Patricia scoffs, "Please Mable, their egos don't need any more puffing up – "

But Mable shushes her, "I can puff them up if I want to. They saved my life – and yours – and everyone else's back home. I think that warrants a little ego puffing. But – while I'm sure you two would enjoy another hour of me fawning over you, I don't think that's the point of your visit."

"No, it's not," Jeff says.

Mable motions to the stairs. "Well, you'd best come in then. I'll make some tea and we'll talk."

Jeff, Patricia and Mable start up the steps and Emma goes to follow but Killian's hook catches her wrist and hauls her into his chest.

It's a long, relief-filled kiss that ends with an affectionate rubbing of his nose against hers while his hand weaves itself into her hair. They breathe the same air for several heartbeats before he steps back and waves his hook toward the stairwell.

"After you, love," he says with a twinkle in his eye and Emma precedes him up the steps.

Mable eyes them suspiciously over the tea service she's carrying as they walk into the room, her eyes darting to their interlaced fingers. After setting the tea on the table, she straightens and heads directly toward Emma.

"I don't believe I've had the pleasure," she says, blocking Emma's path.

Jeff sniggers and Patricia lifts a hand to cover her grin.

"This is Gwen," Killian lies easily, "We met in Arendelle a few weeks ago."

Mable's eyes narrow, looking Emma up and down and crossing her arms. "In Arendelle, you say?" she asks thoughtfully, tapping her foot on the floor, "Another site of recent black knight activity."

Emma is shocked by the implication the old woman adds to her tone, sudden and clear distrust in her eyes.

"What was your story?" she asks, stepping into Emma's personal space, "It must have been a good one to weave your way onto Hook's ship."

"She's not a spy, Mable," Killian says, pulling Emma back so that he can step between the two of them.

"How do you know?" Mable asks. "Don't you find the timing a bit suspicious?"

"Believe me, she's no spy and her story is her own."

Killian's voice has turned hard and Mable stares him down, searching his eyes until she's satisfied with whatever she sees there. After a beat, she steps back with a nod, and Emma is surprised how quickly that stubborn look morphs into a full-fledged grin. "Well then, you should let her come in so I can get a look at her."

Killian steps away and Mable raises her hands to Emma's cheeks. The assessing look she gives her makes her want to squirm but she manages not to, holding her gaze steady while Mable makes her appraisal.

"You'd better treat him right, girl, or you'll have me to answer to," the woman says with meaning and Emma feels her cheeks flush when Killian chuckles next to her.

"Now," Mable says, indicating for everyone to sit, "I'm sure you're here looking for information but the most popular rumors going around are one's you would know the most about. What the hell happened? How did black knights get aboard the Jolly and why are the two of you here together? What's so important that you'd risk Hook's cover?"

"Regina has figured out our little plot, Mable," Jeff says grimly. "She had Grace kidnapped and forced me to allow her knights onto the Jolly."

Mable's eyes widen, already starting to rise. "Where is she? Is she okay? Do you need my help to find her? I'll kill – "

"She's fine. We got her back," Patricia sooths, laying a hand on Mable's shoulder and pushing the feisty old woman back into her chair. "She's aboard the Jolly. We just wanted to make sure it was safe before we brought her into town."

Mable looks overwhelmingly relieved but it doesn't last. "So, the Evil Queen knows, does she?" she comments thoughtfully, "That would explain a lot."

"Explain what?" Killian asks.

"Got a message from Will that she showed up personally to investigate Hook's escape," Mable replies gravely, "Ransacked Jeff's store, killed some poor woman at the tavern before Queen Katherine stepped in."

Killian stiffens beside her, everyone falling silent to gather their thoughts.

"So, she's coming after me herself," Killian murmurs softly.

"She's coming after all of us," Patricia points out.

"Well, she wouldn't have found anything at the store," Jeff says, "Will and the others would have cleaned it out as soon as they realized we were gone, so she won't have any leads on where to start looking. Everyone's cover should be safe."

There's another pause in conversation before Patricia speaks up. "What about here, Mable? Has anything out of the ordinary happened?"

"Nothing that I've heard about. No one has missed a check-in and the most recent batch of supplies was sent out to Misthaven yesterday. Joseph and Phoebe checked in two days ago – they own the tavern now, you know – and the most interesting things going around there are the number of theories surrounding Hook's escape and The Hatter's disappearance."

"My disappearance?" Jeff asks. "I didn't think that would be common knowledge."

"Well, apparently, it is and the two of you are causing quite a few debates. Most people are of the opinion that they are unrelated incidents but there are a few who believe they are somehow connected."

"Connected how?"

Mable shrugs, her eyes landing on Killian. "Some think that the Evil Queen attacking Captain Hook indicates that he's not all he seems to be," she says with meaning, "They figure if the Evil Queen is after him, there must be a reason. Some have even taken to the theory that he and The Hatter are partners."

She stops there but keeps her eyes on Killian and Emma gets the feeling she's walked into the middle of an old argument.

"Well, we're not going to confirm or deny any of that, if that's what you're thinking," Killian says.

Mable presses her lips together stubbornly but doesn't comment.

Patricia, though, shows no such restraint. "We could, you know?"

"But we won't," Killian replies with finality.

"Why not?" Jeff argues. "The point was to keep the connection from Regina and she knows now, so why – "

"And how would we do it?" Killian interrupts with sarcasm. "You want me to just make an announcement in the middle of the tavern? No one would believe it."

"I could do it," Jeff says.

"And why would they believe you?" Killian asks. "No one knows what The Hatter looks like. You think you can just waltz in there, say you're The Hatter and everyone will trust you?"

The three of them all deflate at that and Killian softens his tone. "Look, I know none of you like it, but Jeff's anonymity and my reputation is the backbone of this operation and we all know it. I don't need to be seen as a hero. What I need is the air of ruthlessness. That's what makes ships surrender as soon as they see the Jolly's sails. If you start painting me as some benevolent soul, they may not be so eager to raise their white flags."

Emma's heart thuds in her chest, only now realizing how difficult it must have been on him to keep up the pirate persona all these years. It's obviously something Jeff, Patricia and Mable don't want for him, but he's done it anyway. And he did it to save lives. Her heart surges with love and she links her fingers with his, drawing his gaze to hers and earning a squeeze of his hand.

There's a moment of silence before Jeff acquiesces. "Fine, we'll continue with the charade," he says with a sigh, dismissing the subject. "Is there anything else Mable?"

"Nothing," she replies, looking less than happy herself.

Jeff pushes to his feet. "Well, then, we'll head to the tavern just to make sure nothing new has happened and, if nothing is amiss, we'll be back tomorrow with Grace in tow."

Mable stands as well, giving Jeff a hug. "I'll get some rooms ready for you. You're welcome to stay here until you get settled."

"Thank you, Mable," Patricia says, hugging the old lady as well.

Emma is surprised when she's the next to receive a hug from the woman, her eyes warm and full of appreciation. "It's been a pleasure to meet you, Gwen. I can't tell you how happy I am that Hook finally found a woman who can put up with him."

She smiles at Hook over Emma's shoulder and pulls him into the hug as well, and if Emma's not mistaken, her eyes mist when she steps back.

"Now, off with you youngsters. And bring that sweet child to see me tomorrow. I've got a dress I made from the last batch of silk you sent me that will be beautiful on her."

K&EK&EK&E

David's lips are less than a hairsbreadth away from Snow's, his heart full of joy and his soul content. He's about to have his wife back. The dream that has kept him sane over the past several years is about to be realized. She'll be by his side when they see their daughter again. They'll be together when the Evil Queen is defeated and they reclaim their kingdom…

But then –

Pain.

Pain like nothing he's ever felt blossoms on his side – a burning and all-consuming pain that penetrates every cell of his being before he's ripped away from heaven by a lightning fast yank on his arm.

He's on the floor and he can't breathe, Merlin's hand frantically swiping over the blood stain that runs from his shoulder all the way to his knee. "She only lowered the spell long enough to call the heart to her," the wizard tells him through the haze, "You were standing in its path when it reappeared."

His lungs are on fire, the memory of that pain lingering on the outskirts of his of consciousness. It felt like he was being cut in half, like a blade was slicing right through him and it hits him hard just how close he was to death for that instant.

"Blood magic. It's dangerous stuff," Merlin murmurs.

David nods, unable to do anything else. His lungs are still protesting with exertion, like he's just run a mile at top speed but slowly air becomes easier to breath. Merlin stays crouched next to him until he has recovered, looking more than a little concerned. Finally, his breath returns and he's able to focus his thoughts again, his eyes landing on the wall of drawers.

"Whose heart did she need?" he wonders aloud.

"I don't know, but it wasn't mine," Merlin replies, standing and offering his hand.

"What? What do you mean it wasn't yours? She has your heart?"

"Yes. Mine is in the fourth drawer from the left, second row down," the wizard tells him while pulling him to his feet, "Which is another reason we need to get this spell cast. There's no telling what she could command me to do if she gets desperate."

David doesn't reply and Merlin turns away to get back to business, waving his hand over Snow in a wide arc. As he does, the silvery dome of Regina's spell shimmers into sight and this time David traces along the edge with his eyes, only now seeing the way the barrier also protects the line of golden drawers behind his wife. The second wave of Merlin's hand produces a second dome about a foot away from the first. Without a word, the wizard tips the vial over the glistening air and the seemingly fragile dome solidifies and burns bright red for a long instant that David can feel pulling at his veins. Then the wizard steps back and, without looking at him, reaches out to touch it. There's a loud sizzle when Merlin's fingers meet the edge and he snatches his hand away as the dome glows bright again.

"Now, you," Merlin says.

David approaches carefully, lifting his arm in front of him. The closer he gets to the barrier, the faster his blood pumps but when he makes contact, his heart calms instantly and his hand pushes through without a single ounce of discomfort.

"Excellent," he hears Merlin say.

David realizes then that he's been holding his breath and it whooshes out in a relieved huff.

"We should get going before a patrol of black knights finds us."

"I'm not leaving," David declares.

Merlin rounds on him in surprise. (Apparently, even the most esteemed wizard there has ever been can be caught off guard upon occasion.)

"Your Majesty," he tries to reason, "there's nothing more you can do here. You'll be discovered – "

"Have you seen that?"

"Well, no, but visions aren't like watching movies. I don't see everything, only bits and pieces…"

David ignores the 'movie' reference, cutting back in, "Then you don't know if I'll be discovered."

"I know there are other things you need to do and I know you can't do them if you're here!"

The argument on David's tongue deflates, his eyes moving to Snow's angelic face. Dammit, this is torture of the acutest kind. Being this close and being denied. He'd touched her – his fingers are still tingling from her skin – he'd nearly awoken her.

If only he'd been quicker…

If only he'd had ten more seconds…

If only…

If only he had another chance.

And maybe he will…

"Regina could lift the spell again," he says with rushed words as the idea forms in his head, "It was down long enough. If it happens again, I could get her outside the spell, then awaken her. It could work. Regina will need to put the heart back, won't she? Obviously, she doesn't carry them around if they're all here. She'll lift the spell to put it back and I'll move Snow as soon as it's down. It may not even be that long to wait. Maybe if we just – "

David cuts off his furious train of thought when he turns to Merlin, the image he sees making his heart freeze mid-beat.

Merlin's eyes are glossed over, his irises not even visible. He's standing completely still, hands at his sides but his breathing heavy and quick. It must be a vision, he thinks to himself, curiosity and unease filling his stomach with a heavy weight.

The wizard gasps and coughs as he comes out of it and David has to catch him to keep him from falling to the floor. After blinking several times, his irises return to their original brown, but they're filled with alarm.

"She won't be putting the heart back," he says, "and we have to go. Right now. Emma needs help."


Not as much CS in this chapter, but a lot of important stuff. The next one is slow going... but I hope to have it posted without too much delay. Wish me luck! And as always, I welcome your comments and theories!

Chapter Text

To say Killian hadn’t been looking forward to this little excursion would be a vast understatement.  He remembers all too well the last time he and Emma visited a tavern, the near suffocating jealousy he’d felt when he’d been forced to watch her sidle up to and flirt with another man.  It had been nearly unbearable. 

Tonight, however…

Tonight is different.  Tonight, she’s throwing him conspiratorial grins and flirtatious winks every chance she gets.  Tonight, she’s flittering around the tables with Patricia, moving from man to man, never allowing one to get too familiar. 

He’d forgotten that about Jeff and Patricia; how the two of them have perfected this game of intel gathering.  There’s been a steady stream of women coming and going from his own table, as well.  It’s a bit awe-inspiring the way Jeff manages to dismiss them while still making them feel lucky to have so much as sat with them for a short while. A few pout as they leave, but even those do so with a smile.

There’s still a twinge of jealousy, to be sure – on both sides.  Earlier, a particularly overzealous sailor’s hand had wandered over Emma’s backside and he’d nearly seen red.  Before he’d been able to move, however, the man’s hand been bent back at an awkward and painful angle, causing Killian to switch from anger to pride at Emma’s quick reflexes.  After that, there’d been a lass who had draped herself on his arm and practically crawled into his lap which had had Emma’s eyes flashing until he’d unseated the woman by abruptly standing and excusing himself to the privy. 

He smiles to himself as he remembers the quick tryst that little insurrection had spiked, Emma catching him in the back hall and yanking him into a darkened stairwell, her breath hot in his ear when he’d made a jest about her jealousy, “Just remember who you’re dealing with, Hook.  If I were jealous, the place would be full of toads by now.”  His resulting chuckle had been swallowed by her mouth, and when she’d teased him back about his own jealousy, he had pointed out swiftly that, “All the bastards are still alive, aren’t they?”

Yes, tonight is very different than their last excursion, the jovial atmosphere of the tavern and the obvious enjoyment Emma is taking from their mission turning the evening into a singularly entertaining experience. 

It helps having Jeff at his side again, his boisterous behavior and outgoing personality making it feel almost like a celebration.  It’s clear he and his family will be able to stay in Portsmouth and, as such, Jeff seems determined to relish their last evening together.  It’s a bit bittersweet when Killian thinks about it.  It could be Captain Hook’s last night of revelry with his original first mate, and Killian can’t deny he wants to enjoy it as much as possible.  So he orders another bottle of rum from Phoebe (who has now recovered from seeing him and Jeff together - her eyes had nearly popped out of her head when they’d walked in) and even pours her a drink when she delivers it. 

He’s tempted to buy a round for the whole bloody tavern. 

And that’s another thing that has leant to his good mood.  He’s still receiving distrustful looks but not nearly as many as he usually gets and he admits to himself that it does lift a bit of the weight from his chest.  He’s not sure why people seem less anxious around him, whether some of them believe he and The Hatter truly are partners or if it’s just the fact that he’s now squarely in the corner of being a common enemy of Regina’s, but the patrons around him are looking at him with more curiosity than fear. 

He's just won a round of dice against Jeff, lifting his glass of rum to toast his victory when something catches his eye.  The glass nearly slips from his fingers and he gapes at the sight, all the air in his lungs releasing in a rush.  As he starts to rise, he hears Jeff breathe out an awed but harsh curse, immediately followed by a curt dismissal to the ladies presently sitting with them, then Jeff is rising, too.  The blood pumping through Killian’s veins makes his head light as he watches the new arrival study the room, terror crawling up his chest.  His eyes fly to Emma to find her engrossed in conversation with the sailor she’s next to, oblivious of what’s unfolding mere feet away.  He’s tempted to call out to her, to tell her to run, but he doesn’t.  She’s safe in disguise.  The thought of which reminds Killian that he’s not – and neither is Jeff – not when it comes to the person across the room.  He reaches for his friend, but it’s too late – the man’s eyes have made it to their corner of the tavern and the moment they land on his own, they widen with recognition.

 K&EK&EK&E

An uneasy feeling spikes in Emma’s stomach as she lowers her glass and her eyes immediately seek out Killian.  As soon as they land on him she freezes, alarm jolting through her system.  He’s staring at something off to the side that she can’t see, his eyes wide in disbelief.  His posture screams danger and Emma grasps Patricia’s hand, slowly rising to her feet.  It doesn’t take Patricia long to see what Emma does and they move as one across the tavern, trying to casually make their way around the obstacles that have their view blocked to whatever Killian and Jeff are so captivated by.  She stares a hole into the side of Killian’s head as she goes, trying to get him to look at her, to give her some indication of what’s happening but his eyes stay resolutely on the same spot.  The fact that he won’t even flick his eyes in her direction is a message in and of itself, and when the subject of their attention finally comes into view – a dark green cloak and chestnut hair – Emma immediately realizes why.

She comes to an abrupt halt and Patricia nearly crashes into her.  “What’s happening?” she whispers.  “Who is that?”

Emma doesn’t answer right away, the implications of his sudden appearance racing through her brain.  She can feel each breath she takes, every one of them more labored than the last as those implications become more dire in her swirling thoughts.  He’s already seen Killian.  There’s no way he doesn’t recognize him – which is exactly why Killian won’t look at her.  He’s not going to risk drawing attention to her and, in a flash of clarity, it hits her that standing here staring is not the smartest thing.  So she turns away and pulls Patricia toward two empty chairs at the bar, situating herself so that she can inconspicuously watch the scene by looking over Patricia’s shoulder. 

“What’s happening?” Patricia asks again.

“It’s just been discovered who Captain Hook really is,” Emma whispers back, “and it may now be impossible to keep it from the Evil Queen.”

Patricia’s face blanches.  “How? Who is that?” she asks.

“A man I thought was dead,” Emma replies.  “The captain of my mother’s personal guard.  His name is Graham.”

 K&EK&EK&E

Tension hangs thick in the air, so much so that Killian is surprised its weight doesn’t alert the other patrons to the danger in their midst.  But none of them seem to notice, the lively music ringing through the room almost a mockery to the gravity of the moment. 

Graham now knows who Captain Hook is and while that, in and of itself, is alarming, it’s not the main concern racing through Killian’s brain.  The greater concern is why his old friend walked into this bloody tavern in the first place because he obviously wasn’t expecting to find Killian Jones.  But was he looking for Captain Hook?  Possibly as an assassin?  Could he be after The Hatter?  Or worse, could the Evil Queen have sent him after Emma? 

“Could it be coincidence, do you think?” Jeff asks in a low voice. 

Not bloody likely.

The words almost leave his tongue but they stick there when Graham makes a sharp movement, turning to study the other side of the room.  He goes back to searching the rest of the establishment and Killian’s stomach clenches, the question as to why the huntsman has suddenly appeared now answered:  He’s looking for Emma.

Somehow…  Somehow the Evil Queen has discovered that the Swan Princess is in league with Captain Hook.

“It’s not a coincidence,” he replies, “he’s here for Emma.”

“For what reason?  To capture her?  He’s not even carrying a sword.  It makes no sense that she’d send him to capture Emma since she already knows about his heart.  It’s not like she’d go anywhere with him willingly.”

No, she wouldn’t.  Of course, she wouldn’t.  And Graham would know that.  And the Evil Queen would know that which means –

Bloody hell.

Which means Graham isn’t the danger.  He’s here for another reason…  “He’s trying to draw her out.”

Jeff straightens.  “He’s bait,” he surmises grimly.

“Yes, which means Regina is here… watching us all.”

As if Graham has overheard their conversation, his eyes suddenly meet Killian’s again and they both freeze.  In the periphery of his vision, Killian can see Emma sitting at the bar with Patricia and it takes everything he has not to meet her gaze. 

“What do we do?” Jeff asks out of the corner of his mouth. 

“We need to move this outside.  Whatever Regina is planning, we don’t want it to happen with this many innocent people around.”

“And… Gwen?”

It takes a herculean effort not to look to Emma.  “She needs to get back to the Jolly.  Make your way to her and give her the message without raising suspicion.  I’ll go out the back.  Tell her to use the front.”

“What if Regina sees?”

“She can’t watch both of us and I’d be willing to bet she’s more interested in keeping an eye on me.”

Jeff nods nearly imperceptibly and starts moving away.  Killian doesn’t waste any time, going in the opposite direction toward the door with the hope of splitting the Evil Queen’s attention as much as possible.  He only makes it two steps before his path is blocked, a sultry voice whispering into his ear, “Going somewhere, Captain?”

Too distracted, he doesn’t even bother to look at the woman, simply moving to step around her but she takes the step with him, her fingers closing around his upper arm.  It’s then that he drops his eyes to hers and what he sees makes his heart thud against his ribs.  He’s seen those eyes before.  Once, a long time ago, those eyes looked directly at him.  They were embedded in a different face then, but they’re definitely the same eyes.  There’s no one else in the realm whose eyes harbor such madness and distain. 

“Nature calls, love,” he says, doing his best to keep his voice flippant, “but when I return,” he glances up and down her body, intentionally letting his gaze linger appreciatively, “perhaps you’d allow me to buy you a drink?”

It doesn’t fool her and he’s not surprised.  He’s not really trying to fool her so much as he’s trying to buy time for Emma to get out of here.  But she pretends to play along – at least for a moment – slowly raising up on her toes to invade his space, her hand moving to his shoulder for leverage. 

“Did you really think that would work, Hook?” she purrs into his ear, “Do you really think I’m that gullible?”

His skin crawls from her proximity and he clenches his teeth.  His hand is squeezing his sword with a death grip but he doesn’t draw the weapon yet, hoping to move a little further from the crowd before having to do so. 

Taking half of a step back, he meets her eyes, “I think you want something from me, love.  Otherwise I’d already be dead.  And I’d much prefer to discuss whatever it is with an empty bladder and a full stein.”

That makes her chuckle, “Look at the pirate being all civilized,” she chides, her finger running down his chest while those malicious eyes sweep him from head to toe.  After a thorough examination, she’s back in his personal space, her hands fisted in collar of his coat and her breath on his lips.  “Fine.  Let’s sit, shall we?”

She releases him with a smirk, and in one last ditch effort to move this away from the crowd, Killian nods in the direction of the door, “I really should run to the – ” but he’s cut short when his vocal chords contract, the feeling akin to a vice closing around his neck.

“Don’t push your luck, Hook.”

The vice is gone as soon as she’s finished speaking and he gasps in a breath.  She’s already walking toward his abandoned table and he raises his hand to his throat, taking advantage of the few seconds her attention is elsewhere to find Emma.  She’s standing close to the front door with Patricia, her eyes wide with comprehension.  She has obviously surmised just what is going on here and he wants to tell her to run, to leave him and save herself, but just as the thought enters his mind, she shakes her head and nods in the direction of the empty seat at the bar she’d only recently vacated.  His eyes flit to Patricia and Jeff as well, only to find them thinking the same thing.  Whatever is about to happen here, they’re all staying. 

As casually as he can manage, he takes a seat next to the Evil Queen and watches her pour two glasses of rum.  Without a word, she hands him one, then clinks the glasses together in toast.  He doesn’t even feel the burn of the alcohol as it slides down his throat and when he lowers the glass, she’s studying him over the rim of her own.

“Have we met before, Captain?” she asks as though she’s just now noticed something about him that she finds familiar. 

His jaw hardens to the point of aching but he doesn’t even try to disguise it.  Instead, he stares her down.

“Aye.  We have."

K&EK&EK&E

Most of it is a disjointed mess, the hazy memories he has of the days in the dungeon after the Evil Queen’s takeover.  He was in and out of consciousness from pain and despair, freezing one moment and burning with fever the next.  He remembers the foul smell of body odor and bile.  He remembers Liam cleaning his wrist, murmuring reassuring words, telling him to rest.

But that day…  That day he remembers in perfect detail.

He awakens to the sound of iron creaking, the words, “Get them up,” in a commanding voice ringing through the cell.

Liam shifts behind him and he realizes he must have been sleeping against his brother’s chest.  They’re both wrenched to their feet and Killian immediately sways.  He feels hot, feverish.  He sees the floor rising up to meet him when his legs give out but Liam is there, grabbing his good arm and securing it across his shoulders to keep him from falling. 

Then they’re moving.  He’s not sure if his feet are actually walking or not but he’s definitely moving.  He hears Liam grunt and he tries to help, tries to put one foot in front of the other but it’s no use. 

“I’ve got you, sailor,” he hears Liam say.  “Don’t try to walk, save your strength.”

He has no strength, he wants to respond – but he doesn’t.  He’s gotten a glimpse of the castle corridors and the black knights surrounding them and he refuses to admit weakness in front of them. 

They’re ushered into the Great Hall where he sees some men from their ship along with a mixture of other sailors and a few of the castle guards, maybe fifteen men in all.  A gasp sounds at their arrival immediately followed by an urgent whisper from Liam to keep quiet.  They stand there as others are escorted in and a moment later, he feels a presence on his left.   Jefferson wordlessly and gently lifts his left arm to take some of his weight as Graham appears on the other side of Liam.

“They’re looking for him,” he hears Graham whisper.

Killian feels a moment of relief – the king must have escaped – but the relief quickly gives way to confusion when Liam stiffens next to him.

“Do they know what he looks like?” Liam whispers back – which makes no sense at all.  Why wouldn’t they know what the king looks like?

“Apparently not,” Graham replies.  “Just a vague description.  The king and queen were smart to keep them around only those most loyal.”

The conversation is too confusing for Killian to follow in his weakened state and he’s just about to give up on trying when Liam turns him in his arms and shakes him until his eyes open. 

“Listen to me, brother.  I need to you swear… Swear to me that whatever happens in the next few minutes you won’t say a word.”

The jostling brings Killian’s foggy mind into focus long enough for him to notice that the doors are barred and the black knights have left the room. 

“Why? What’s happening?” he asks in sluggish tone.

“Just swear it to me, sailor,” Liam says urgently, shaking him again.

Killian wrinkles his brow and reopens his eyes, doing his best to keep them open this time.  He’s never seen Liam so intense and foreboding settles into his chest but he nods anyway, too weak to argue or insist Liam explain further. 

“Say it,” Liam demands.

“I swear,” Killian immediately responds in a voice stronger than he feels.

Liam’s eyes leave his to look at Graham and Jefferson in turn, nodding to each of them. Then he looks at the others standing around.  “That goes for the lot of you,” he announces in the voice he uses when he captains his ship, “not a word, do you understand?”

The men nod their agreement, many of them placing their right hands over their hearts and responding, “Yes, Captain,” as they do so.

Killian slumps again and Liam and Jefferson turn him so that his weight is shared evenly among the two of them once more.  As they wait, Killian does his best to survey the room.  It takes some effort, his eyes heavy, but he manages to notice several things. 

The tables from the ball are still present, though most of them have been tipped over, but the thrones on the dais seem to be untouched.  The banners with the king and queen’s crest are still hanging from the walls but they’re askew and riddled with holes.  Rubble litters the floor, pieces of stone from the pillars and wood from the broken tables alongside shattered dishes and discarded wine goblets.  There’s a stain of blood a couple of feet in front of him and he remembers vaguely that he’s standing in almost the exact spot where the king had been the last time he saw him.  That thought has him giving in to the weakness again, sagging further and letting his head fall. 

When the door behind the dais swings open with a loud bang, it startles him out of the near unconscious state he’s drifted back to and, when he looks up, he sees several black knights enter followed by the Evil Queen herself.  The men in the room shuffle nervously and Liam turns to the side, subtly positioning himself between Killian and the queen as she comes to stand before the thrones and surveys the room.

“Oh, this won’t do,” she says offhandedly when her eyes land on the banners.

With a wave of her arm the banners behind the thrones disappear to be replaced with new ones, black, trimmed in silver with the crest of a lion. 

“Much better,” she announces to no one in particular before turning back.  “So, these are the prisoners.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” one of the black knights replies.

Hands on her hips, she paces the dais, taking the time to look at each and every one of them.  When her eyes land on him, he holds her gaze, the dark brown not nearly enough to hide the demented evil in her soul.  She raises a brow and he feels his jaw tighten, fury boiling in his veins.  Her lips quirk into a smile at his defiance before she flicks those insanity-riddled eyes to the next man. 

K&EK&EK&E

 “I must admit, I’m surprised I don’t remember you.  It’s not like me to forget such a handsome face.”

The words call him back to the present but the memory lingers in his mind, his fury so intense that he’s sure she’ll notice.  But if she does, she doesn’t let on, her posture casual as she leans back in her chair with a deceptive air of nonchalance. 

Doing his best to relax his jaw, he mimics her cool demeanor.  “Well, I wasn’t looking my best at the time.”

Regina’s answer is a sly smile but she doesn’t pursue the topic and Killian assumes it’s because she’s simply lumped him into a pile of other countless faces that she’s left bereft over the years.  Instead, she gets down to business.  “You know why I’m here, of course. Why don’t we make this easy and you just tell me which one she is?”

“Never.”

“I can offer you gold,” she suggests and Killian chuckles.

“I’ve got plenty of gold.  A fact you should be well aware of considering how I procured most of it.”

Her eyes flash for an instant – but only an instant – before she sighs in exasperation.  “Fine, we can do this the hard way if you’d prefer...  In this very crowded tavern...  With all these innocent people about.”

The threat is clear and Killian can’t stop his eyes from glancing to the people around him, all of them still blissfully ignorant of what's happening in their midst. 

“It would be much easier if you tell me of your own free will.”

His eyes snap back to hers so quickly that she actually looks startled.  “Free will?” he asks and even he can hear the sharp accusation dripping from the question.  He knows he’s treading on shaky ground but he doesn’t care, the absolute wrath those words invoke too violent to hold his tongue.  “Interesting choice of words, Your Majesty.” 

K&EK&EK&E

"Well, they are a sad looking lot,” Regina says condescendingly once she’s completed her assessment of each man.

“Do you think he’s here, my Queen?” the knight to her left asks.

The queen takes a deep breath, her nostrils flaring.  “There’s one way to find out,” she replies, “Bring her in.”

There’s a collective gasp from the men when Snow White is escorted into the room, her arms held securely by two black knights and Killian feels some of his strength return as rage fills his chest. 

Snow’s eyes scan the men as she’s led to stand before Regina.  When she meets his gaze, her step falters and her eyes widen but no one else seems to notice.

“Ah, Snow, darling, what do you think of my new decor?” the Evil Queen asks with delight, waving a hand toward the banners.

Snow glances up and then meets her step-mother’s eyes. “I think they match your black heart,” she replies in a strong voice.

The Evil Queen laughs at that.  “Yes, they certainly do,” she agrees with amusement, placing her hands on her hips and turning again to admire her handiwork.

Snow rolls her eyes at the queen’s display of glee.  “You didn’t summon me here to discuss interior design, Regina.  What is it that you want?”

Regina turns back to Snow, dismissing the knights holding her arms by waving a hand at them. “Oh, I want so many things, my darling Snow… But right now,” the queen’s voice turns hard, “I want to ensure a certain prophecy is thwarted before it has a chance to come to fruition.”

Snow White’s shoulders stiffen for an instant.  “What prophecy?” she asks.

“You know what prophecy!” Regina bursts, making everyone except Snow shuffle nervously.  Then the Evil Queen immediately turns away to take a calming breath.

Snow’s eyes dart to Liam while the queen isn’t looking and, for the first time, Killian can see fear in them. 

“Are you really going to play coy with me?  I know you know what I’m talking about.  That’s why you’ve kept his identity a secret for so long.”  Then, turning back, she adds, “Tell me, is he as handsome as they say?”

Snow White straightens but doesn’t answer.

Regina is undeterred by Snow’s silence.  “Ah, I’m sure he is.  How could he be anything else to have won the heart of a princess?”

Killian stiffens, realization hitting him hard in the chest:  The Evil Queen isn’t looking for King David, she’s looking for him.  Liam’s hand closes over his arm in warning, subtly reminding him of the promise he made to keep silent.

Killian averts his eyes to the ground and finds himself studying the blood stain in front of him as he tries to process this information.  A prophecy?  What prophecy?  A thousand questions run through his head but he can’t make sense of them, his mind too foggy with fever.  He looks to Liam questioningly but Liam won't meet his gaze, instead simply increasing his grip again and Killian turns back to Snow who is staring Regina down as she says something about a sailor.

“He is a sailor, isn’t he?  I’m surprised at you Snow, that you’d give your blessing to your daughter with a commoner, but I suppose I shouldn’t be considering your own ‘prince’ is a simple sheep farmer.”

“That’s rich coming from the granddaughter of a miller,” Snow retorts.

The Evil Queen’s eyes turn murderous at those words. “My father was a KING!” she shouts.

“So was MINE!”  Snow immediately responds, “And my mother a QUEEN, not some conniving, opportunist – ” Snow cuts off in the middle of her reply, her hands going to her throat, struggling for breath.

“Be careful what you say about my mother,” Regina hisses, looking absolutely livid, her hand raised in front of her in a way that looks like she’s gripping the queen’s neck.

Several of the prisoners grumble, some even taking a step forward to protect their queen but Regina waves a hand and they stumble back. It’s not until one of the black knights steps forward, voicing a wary, “Your Majesty,” that Regina lowers her arm.

She huffs out a breath. “Thank you, Claude,” she responds, “I nearly forgot why we’re here.”

Snow gulps in air, rubbing at her neck while Regina waits patiently, weaving her fingers together in front of her.  Once Snow’s breathing normalizes, Regina speaks again, her voice sounding almost conversational, “As I said, I won’t let this prophecy come to pass.  My knights are scouring the kingdom looking for your daughter but there are rumors that her lover didn’t escape.  As such, I’ve gathered all the men of the right age from the dungeon.  Tell me which one he is and I’ll spare your daughter’s life.”

Snow shakes her head in denial, straightening and letting her hands fall from her throat. “I won’t tell you anything,” she states with finality.

Regina laughs at that.  “So this is a secret you think you’ll be able to keep?  I find it interesting that when I had a secret, you weren’t so tight-lipped.”

“I find it interesting that you still blame me and defend your mother when we both know – ”

“Enough!” Regina cuts her off, her voice rising again and taking a step in Snow’s direction. “You can tell me what I want to know of your own free will or I will make you tell me!”

Snow White seems completely unimpressed and actually smiles a little at that.  “Free will,” she replies thoughtfully.  “You know, I remember the last time you gave me the choice to do something of my own free will.  Do you remember, Regina?  You offered me an apple and told me if I took a bite, you’d let Charming live.  You were lying then and you’re lying now.  You’ll never let Emma go free.  You will hunt her until your dying breath.”

“Perhaps,” Regina replies, her tone slipping into something that makes Killian’s blood run cold. “But you’ll never know.  I’ve wanted to crush your heart for a long time, Snow, and I think the time has finally come.” She starts rolling up the sleeve to her dress, walking with purpose toward the other woman. “But before I crush it, you’re going to tell me what I want to know.  And fair warning: Once your heart is in my hand, I’ll know if you lie.”

Snow doesn’t hesitate when Regina’s hand shoots out, quickly knocking it away from her chest and darting across the dais.  She sinks to her knees in front of an ornate chest and yanks open the lid.

Regina laughs wickedly with what sounds like true amusement.  “There’s no escape Snow.  You’re not getting out of this room.”

While the Evil Queen speaks, Snow’s eyes meet Liam’s over the chest before locking onto his own.  She doesn’t nod, she doesn’t say anything to him, but her eyes carry a command that Killian will forever understand:  Be safe.  Survive.

When she turns back to the Evil Queen, she’s holding an apple in her hand. 

The apple, Killian realizes with a shock.  They’ve kept it here all this time?

Regina grasps what’s happening and starts rushing forward a moment before Snow lifts the apple in the same way someone would lift a wine glass for a toast.

“Free will, Regina,” she says with a smile…

And takes a bite.

K&EK&EK&E

Regina’s eyes narrow on him and he knows without doubt that she’s piecing the puzzle together.  There’s a part of him – a very small part, mind you – that worries over the dangerous turn this conversation has suddenly taken but the bigger part just doesn’t care.  He’s been waiting for this for years.  He’s bided his time and lived in the shadows long enough.  Besides, he knows there’s an excellent chance he’ll never walk away from this table alive, anyway, so if these are to be his final moments, he will, at the very least, use this opportunity to seize any amount of satisfaction he can get.

“So that’s where I remember you from,” she says slowly, “You were there that day.”

“Aye,” he replies.

“And that’s how you know my… pet,” she adds with a nod in Graham’s direction.

Killian flicks his eyes to Graham who has now moved to lean against a pillar in the middle of the tavern and he feels his jaw tighten.  “He and I have known each other for many years.”

“A friend of yours, was he?”

“He still is.”

“Even after he betrayed his country?  His princess?”

“He never betrayed his country or his princess.  It’s not a betrayal when you have no choice.”

For some reason those words make her pause, her eyes narrowing on his and considering him carefully. Her fingers drum lightly on the table and Killian gets the impression that she’s working through some complex riddle in her head – a riddle, it seems, that she thinks he has the answer to.  Her thorough study is enough to send his mind racing, trying to think why his statement would draw such a reaction but before he can reach a conclusion, she tilts her head to the side, her voice low, “So you believe the betrayal hasn’t happened yet.”

It hits him then that she’s talking about the prophecy, a vague memory of Leroy mentioning something about a betrayal the night he found Emma in Arendelle.  He tries to think back to exactly what Leroy had said but the only clear memory he has of that night is the terrifying moment when Emma had collapsed at his feet. 

Regina must see his confusion and she chuckles.  “You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”

Killian chooses not to answer that because it seems his lack of knowledge has eased some of the tension in her shoulders and while he’d like nothing more than to throw it in her face, he doesn’t have a death wish.

“So, you weren’t close enough to my step-daughter and her husband to be privy to their plans but you were close enough to the princess that she trusts you – and not only trusts you, but has enough conviction in that trust to seek passage on a pirate ship?”

Again, he chooses not to answer, instead simply raising an eyebrow.

“Just who are you?”

Killian can tell she’s trying to act like it’s idle curiosity but he can see the wheels turning in her head and it makes foreboding settle into his stomach.  “I’m not sure you’d believe me even if I told you,” Killian evades, casually moving his hand closer to his sword.

“Well, you must have been a member of Snow’s court.  A duke, perhaps?  Or an earl?  Or maybe you were a mere stable hand,” she adds with scorn, “but – it doesn’t really matter anymore, does it?  The only thing that matters now is that you seem to be a better choice than my pet over there.”

He catches her meaning instantly and tries to twist away but she’s too fast, her hand shooting out and boring into his chest.

Her cold fingers close around his heart in the same instant the magic bursts, the force of it colliding with Regina’s so strong that it sends him and everything nearby flying. There’s a ripping feeling as her hand leaves his body but it’s overshadowed in the next moment when he lands hard on the ground, hard enough to knock the wind out of him and leave his head reeling. Stunned, he struggles to stand, but his muscles are sluggish and protesting and he can't manage to get his legs under him before he's knocked back to the ground by the panicked horde of people scampering and shoving toward the door.

Someone's foot lands on his stomach and another makes hard contact on his hip but he can't even worry about that right now. The most pressing concern is whether his heart is still in his chest. He can hear it pounding in his ears and that gives him some relief but it’s not until Regina’s voice booms through the air, her words laced with fury that he knows for certain that it’s not in her possession.

“WHAT THE HELL!?!”

The outrage and volume of Regina’s shout causes the entire pub to stop moving and it’s only an instant later that every single window and door slams shut, trapping the remaining patrons inside. A quick glance around tells him that a good number of people made it out and he frantically looks for Emma in the mass of bodies. The task is easier than he’d anticipated when her face appears in front of him just as strong arms lift him from behind. A glance over his shoulder reveals Graham who immediately shoves Emma to the side with a whispered ‘stay back,’ and for a moment Killian feels a flash of anger at his old friend but it’s squashed in the next second when the mass of bodies starts moving again and the space between them and Regina clears.

She’s not in disguise anymore and whispers filter through the crowd as they press into the shadows. He can see Emma on the periphery of his vision being pulled further back by Patricia but he doesn’t look because Regina is walking straight for him, looking absolutely livid.

“How did you do that!?” Regina demands at the top of her voice.

 The strength of her anger projects across the room along with her words and Killian feels it hit his chest.  He’s still reeling from his flight through the air and it’s only Graham holding him steady that keeps him from swaying on his feet.  He inhales deeply while the crowd watches with bated breath, everyone seemingly enraptured by the scene playing out before them. They’re separated into two main groups, one gathered at the front door and one at the back with a few scattered against the far wall underneath the windows.  Jeff is standing on the edge of the group at the back door, just off to his left with his sword drawn but pointed to the ground.  Emma is to his right, subtly struggling against the grip Patricia still has on her.

“How did you do that?!” Regina demands again, but doesn’t give him a chance to answer before she goes on.  “That magic came from inside you!  It’s not possible! Just who the hell are you?”

Satisfaction fills Killian’s body at how enraged and insane the Evil Queen looks in that moment.  She’s completely unhinged, her eyes wild and frantic but, underneath the intimidating exterior, Killian can also see fear – the panic-stricken terror she’s trying to hide. 

He can’t help but smile.  This moment is going to be as rewarding as he always knew it would be.  It’s going to be worth all the hiding, all the secrets, and all the pain to witness her reaction when she finds out. 

“WHO. ARE. YOU?!”

“I thought you said it didn’t matter anymore,” he taunts.

The queen’s eyes darken dangerously, reaching into the folds of her skirt and pulling a glowing red heart from its depths.  She holds the heart out in front of her, and without looking away from Killian gives it a slight squeeze. “Who is he?” she snaps to Graham but the huntsman just grits his teeth and shakes his head. 

When her fingers contract harder over the heart, Jeff rushes forward, both he and Killian supporting Graham to keep him on his feet.  “WHO IS HE?”

Pushing Graham into Jeff’s arms, Killian steps between them and Regina, leveling an even gaze on her.  “This is starting to feel a bit familiar, isn’t it, Your Majesty?” 

K&EK&EK&E

A chorus of gasps sound as Snow crumples to the floor, immediately followed by stunned silence as the apple falls from her hand and rolls ominously across the dais where it stops right in front of the Evil Queen.

But Killian’s eyes don’t follow the apple, they stay on his queen, Emma’s mother, the most gracious and kind woman he’s ever known.  She’s lying on her side next to the chest in an unnatural position and Killian’s eyes sting with tears.

No.  The word hammers in his head over and over again. No, no, NO!

He wants to go to her, at the very least straighten her neck from the awkward angle it landed in, but he's frozen to the spot, her final unspoken command ringing in his head.

His attention is drawn back to Regina a moment later when she makes a sound of utter rage and bends to pick up the apple, hurtling it across the room.  Then she stalks toward her fallen adversary, fury coming off her in waves that Killian swears makes the air harder to breathe.  But once she’s standing over Snow’s lax firm, she stops abruptly, her eyes widening as she inhales a sharp breath. “’One will sleep both night and day,’” he hears her whisper. 

Another inhuman sound leaves her mouth and she spins, lashing out at Snow’s throne and sending it crashing to the floor.  The resounding bang that follows echoes through the hall and makes even the black knights jump in fright and step back.

She’s completely insane after that, sending one thing after another sailing across the room, causing everyone else to duck or take cover to keep from getting hit.  Killian closes his eyes and braces for impact when a table comes flying at them but Liam and Jefferson manage to move him just in time.  Pain lances through his arm, making him see stars when Jefferson inadvertently brushes his wrist and he falls to his knees, cradling his maimed wrist to his chest while Jefferson and Liam hover over him, protecting him with their bodies.  They stay that way until the mayhem quiets and, when he risks opening his eyes again, Regina is leaning over while bracing her hands on the arm of the Emma’s throne. 

The sudden quiet is tense while everyone watches carefully for her next outburst, bracing themselves to run but not daring to move lest they draw her attention.  She takes several deep breaths before lifting her head in a sharp motion, turning to the prisoners with a wicked gleam in her eyes as she seems to realize something.

“He’s here,” she says softly.

“Excuse me, Your Majesty?” the one called Claude asks.

“He’s here,” she says again, louder this time.  “She wouldn’t have taken a bite of that apple to save herself, only to save another, which means he’s here.”

Straightening to her full height, she walks to the center of the men, looking at them with disdain. “Which of you is Killian Jones?” she barks.

Liam and Jefferson look to each other over his head but neither say a word, nor does anyone else.

At their silence, the Evil Queen opens a palm and produces a fireball out of thin air. 

“If Killian Jones does not make himself known to me, I will kill each and every one of you!” Regina shouts.

Still silence.

People are scattering in the next instant as Regina raises her hand to throw the fireball at one of the men, ducking behind tables and hiding behind columns and Liam takes advantage of the distraction to bend down in front of him, meeting his eyes with determined resolve.  “Not a word,” he whispers urgently, then he raises a hand and clamps it around the side of his neck, holding him there and giving him a small smile before adding, “I love you, little brother.”

Killian’s eyes widen as he realizes what his brother is about to do and he opens his mouth to protest, but before he can Liam turns away and steps into the middle of the room, announcing, “I am Killian Jones.”

There's a scream bubbling in Killian’s throat but it doesn’t make it past his lips, a whispered, “Don’t,” coming from Jefferson, making him gulp it down.  So Killian watches, frozen in place as Regina turns on Liam, the fireball in her hand extinguishing with a tightening of her fist.  Slowly, she makes her way across the room, her eyes alight with maniacal glee as she studies his brother.

“So, the rumors were true,” she says in a velvety voice when she reaches him, extending a hand to run it down his chest, “Handsome.  It really is such a pity that a man of your… caliber… has to die.”  She lifts the hand and runs it along Liam’s cheek.  “And those eyes…  they’re as piercing blue as I’ve been told.  Such a pity,” she repeats.

Liam says nothing, just stands straighter and clenches his jaw.

“And so noble,” the queen adds with mock admiration as she steps back and presses her hand over her chest.  “But I wonder,” she continues, narrowing her eyes and tapping a finger to her lips, “Are you honest?  Are you really him?”   Regina’s eyes snap to Graham.  “You’re the huntsman.  The Captain of Snow’s personal guard.  If anyone here knows who Killian Jones is, it’s you.”

Before Killian even has time to blink or consider what those words mean, she steps forward and plunges her hand into Graham’s chest, wrenching a startled gasp from him.  His friend’s mouth falls open and his eyes widen as the queen yanks her hand back, clutching his still beating heart in her hand. 

K&EK&EK&E

Regina's eyes narrow, the glowing red heart beating frantically in her palm. “If you remember that day, you know I can make him tell me.”

“I remember it perfectly. The question is:  Do you?”

“Of course I remember!  Snow thought she could outsmart me, but it didn't work.  She ate that apple and I still won.”

Emma releases a small gasp that he prays Regina doesn’t notice just as magic starts gathering in his stomach.  He knows she’ll be angry later but he tamps it down because she can’t reveal herself yet.  They’ve got to get Graham’s heart first.  If they don’t, the man is as good as dead. 

Killian directs his attention back to Regina, taking immense pleasure in the tinge of madness in her eyes. “Did you, Your Majesty?  Did you win?”

“You were there!  You saw me crush Killian Jones’ heart!”

Killian doesn’t answer and Regina’s eyes switch to Graham, realization starting to flicker across her features.  “I crushed his heart!  I pulled it from his chest and turned it to dust in my hand!”

No one answers but Graham walks forward to stand to Killian’s right, a satisfied smile lighting his face.  At the same time, Jeff comes to a stop on Killian’s left.  Regina glances between the three of them, her chest heaving.  “You couldn’t have lied!” she yells at Graham, “I was holding your heart!  You couldn’t have lied!”

She sounds nearly hysterical now and Graham takes another step.  Killian is tempted to pull him back but there’s something about the set of Graham’s shoulders that stops him.  He knows what he’s doing – after all, he’s been defying Regina right under her nose for years now.  He’d helped Emma escape, kept Killian’s secret, done god only knows what because the Evil Queen had ordered him to, and that’s not even mentioning the fact that he’s the one in the most danger at this very moment.

Graham stops a few feet away from Regina.  “Think back to that day, Regina,” he says softly.  “Do you remember what you asked me?”

The Evil Queen’s eyes drop to the floor, her brow furrowing.  It takes several strained heartbeats but when her eyes fly back to him, there's panic and understanding in them.

Graham smiles.  “I didn’t have to lie.”

K&EK&EK&E

Graham falls to his knees and Liam rushes forward to catch him. 

“You don’t need confirmation,” Liam yells desperately, “I am Killian Jones!” 

“We’ll see about that, sailor,” she says, seemingly intent on studying the heart in her hand while she absently motions for two black knights to separate Liam from Graham.  Liam struggles furiously against their hold, grunting and twisting as he's pulled away, but he can't get free.

Once Liam is no longer blocking her path, the Evil Queen changes her attention from Graham’s heart to his face, leaning over to line up their eyes and giving the heart a small squeeze.  Graham winces and grits his teeth but not a single sound escapes.

“Is he?” she asks quietly, almost gently, “Is he Killian Jones?”

Graham doesn't reply, his eyes filled with fury when he squares his shoulders and boldly stares down the Evil Queen.

"More nobility," she comments, straightening and stepping back.  "Resistance is pointless, you know.  You will answer."

Graham shakes his head even as he winces again at the way Regina tightens her grip on his heart.

Wincing himself, Killian looks to Liam who is staring hard at Graham, both arms held tightly behind him by one of the knights. When Liam's eyes shift to his, he sees fear in them but he doesn't make a move or say anything.

"Is that man Killian Jones!?" Regina shouts and Liam directs his gaze back to Graham. 

But Killian doesn't look, he keeps staring at his brother, his heart pounding in his ears. 

It won’t work! Killian wants to yell, the queen is going to find out the truth and when she does, they’re all going to die!   She’ll kill Liam for lying and everyone else for helping him.  She just said that she’d know a lie while holding someone’s heart.  Graham is a strong man but he won’t be able to resist forever…

“ANSWER ME!” she commands.

Killian only barely notices Graham's grunt of pain or the way he falls forward onto his hands, too busy straining against Jefferson's grip. He won't speak, he gave his word, but he's got to do something.  Everyone in this room is about to die because of him, but when he tries to break free his body betrays him and his head swims at the exertion, a wave of dizziness nearly sending him to his knees.  It's only Jefferson's arm around his waist that keeps him from falling, squeezing warningly even as he pulls him back.

His body sags, pain and fever threatening to pull him under and a dizzy haze filling his mind that blurs what's happening around him while he struggles to remain conscious.  He can tell the queen is becoming more outraged by the way her voice raises, he can hear Graham's agony filled shouts of pain as he continues to resist, but the actual words don't register. 

Why are they even bothering? he wonders in despair as blood rushes to his ears and blocks out everything.  He already feels like he's dying.  They shouldn't even be trying to save him.  There's an excellent chance this fever will kill him either way.

It's the jolt of Jefferson catching him as he nearly crumbles to the floor that brings him back to consciousness and he opens his eyes to meet Liam's across the room.  His brother's look is hard, carrying a message that Killian can practically hear shouting in his head.  He’s telling him not to die.  He’s telling him to fight, that there's something bigger going on here and he's got to survive. 

Somehow, Killian nods to his brother, and the clear relief he sees on Liam's face fills him with such determination that he starts to feel his strength return, the world sharpening back into focus and the blood clearing from his ears. 

Turning back to Regina, undiluted rage rockets through him just as Regina shouts again, “IS THAT MAN JONES!?”

Graham slumps instantly at the question, seemingly giving up the fight, but Killian knows better.  Then, the huntsman raises his head to the queen, pain still riddling his features as he grounds out the word, “Yes.”

She didn’t ask if it was Killian Jones, just ‘Jones.’

It’s not a lie.

Killian feels a mix of satisfaction and agony flush through his body.  Satisfaction that they have managed to thwart the Evil Queen and agony because he knows what’s going to happen next. 

Regina looks positively giddy when she straightens.  “Thank you,” she says to Graham in a sickeningly sweet tone, holding his heart out to the black knight to her left.  “I think I’ll keep this,” she says of his heart, “It might come in handy.”

The queen turns on Liam in the next second even as the other prisoners all start yelling things at her back. 

Killian is struggling again.  He won't speak, he knows there's no way to stop what's about to happen, but his body acts instinctively because he can’t just bloody stand here and watch his brother die for him but –

But Liam doesn’t struggle, he doesn’t run. He stands straight and tall as the queen approaches, his voice full of conviction when he speaks his final words. “My princess will destroy you.”

Liam’s calm faith and utter belief makes Killian still and even the Evil Queen's step falters for one second. 

“Not now, she won’t,” she replies, quickly closing the remaining distance and sinking her fist into his chest.  Liam’s eyes land on Killian as the queen yanks out his heart and an instant later he collapses to the floor. 

Dead.

K&EK&EK&E

Regina shakes her head in disbelief. 

It can't be.  It just can't! The moment of her greatest victory cannot, now, be the moment of her most devastating defeat!

But…

But the pirate has blue eyes – bright, smug-filled blue eyes – that are glittering with an air of cool triumph that no one else in the realm has dared level on her in years.  And the princess… she has her magic now.  And Merlin said only Killian Jones could unlock it.  And he'd been in Arendelle… the first place she’s sure the princess had used her magic.  And he's been her most persistent adversary… the most illusive…. the most mysterious… and…

And it can't be true but...

But when he raises his eyebrow at a cocky angle, when those intense blue eyes sparkle in mockery, when his pristinely white teeth flash in victory, she knows.

“You're – ”

His grin widens into a full-fledged smile. “I’m Killian Jones.”

Chapter Text

Emma can barely breathe as she watches the scene play out, her heart hammering. She doesn't know the story – Killian has never told her – but it's clear both Jeff and Graham do. It's also clear just how this stand-off is going to end. So she watches, as entranced as the onlookers surrounding her when Graham approaches the queen.

"Think back to that day, Regina. Do you remember what you asked me?" He pauses until the Evil Queen's gaze lands on his. "I didn't have to lie."

There's a wealth of meaning in Graham's words that has Regina breathing heavy, her eyes wild. Graham takes another step while she's distracted, and Emma immediately sees his intention. A quick glance to Killian tells her he sees it, too, and this time when she tries to gather her magic Killian doesn't stop her.

The Evil Queen shakes her head in denial, her eyes narrowing on Killian and Emma knows it won't be much longer. The wheels are spinning in her head and she's going to figure it out and, when she does, this stalemate will be over and they're all going to have to act very quickly.

"You're…"

"I'm Killian Jones."

The statement stuns the entire room and there's a half-second of utter silence, a half-second when Regina stares open-mouthed in shock, and it's in that half-second that Graham makes his move.

Graham swipes at Regina's hand in the exact moment Emma sends a burst of magic directly at her chest. The combination of magic and Graham's swipe is enough to dislodge the heart but not enough for Graham to grasp it and it drops to the floor as Regina stumbles back with a bellow of rage.

Killian and Jeff immediately scramble for the heart, diving into the open space. Before they reach it, however, Regina's magic erupts – a massive ripple of energy that sweeps out in a full circle with as much strength as a gale force wind. Killian and Jeff get hit first, both clawing at the floor to keep their position but it's futile. They get blown back just as the wave hits Emma, the impact of it like ice against her chest. She gasps and stumbles but when she sees Regina bending to retrieve the heart, her reflexes kick in and she reaches out with her magic and calls it to her.

The heart flies across the room and Emma knows a moment of relief but, with an outraged sound filling the air, it stalls midway across, hanging suspended over the floor. Emma feels the resistance straining against her magic, the cold and twisted power slithering its way around her own but she doesn't relent, her eyes narrowing on the glowing red orb and concentrating with all her strength.

"There you are, princess," Regina hisses. "It's about time you showed your pretty face."

There are some gasps from the crowd, but Emma barely hears them.

"Let it go, Regina. You won't win."

Regina laughs at that. "You think so, princess?"

Without meaning to do so, a white stream of light shoots out from her hand just as a purple light shoots from Regina's, both of them engulfing the heart in the exact same moment Graham rushes forward and tries to pluck it from the air. The combined magic sends him staggering away and Emma feels a shot of energy race up her arm.

"Stay back!" she yells without taking her eyes off the heart.

Magic radiates through her, the flow of it rushing to every nerve ending while the heart teeters back and forth in the center of the room. Killian's heartbeat is ringing in her head and she'd swear she can feel a desperation in the frantic beats that matches her own. The sound of it is almost dizzying, rising from a subtle hum to a nearly deafening roar that is only broken by the Evil Queen's voice.

"Come on, princess. You can do better than this, can't you?"

The Evil Queen's chuckle enrages her and Emma increases her efforts, using every ounce of strength she has to bring the heart to her. The globe around it expands, the white and purple streams twisting and merging together until the organ itself isn't even visible. The light is near blinding and, when combined with the thundering of her and Killian's combined heartbeats, it causes Emma's senses to reel. Then, without warning, a blast of purple light releases from Regina's free hand, shooting across the room to hit her squarely in the chest. The force of it is enough to have her gasping for breath and the heart zips toward Regina.

"No!" she screams, reapplying her strength and halting the heart a few inches from Regina's hand.

The Evil Queen doesn't hesitate, shooting another surge of magic at her. She braces for impact but Patricia jumps forward to take the brunt of it, the power of it lifting her from the ground and catapulting her into some of the onlookers. Emma hears the grunt she makes when she crashes and Jeff gains his feet in a rush to help her. Killian stands as well and immediately starts for Emma's side but Regina shoots a fireball into his path and Graham tackles him to keep him from getting hit.

Trying to retaliate, Emma pushes a blast of her own toward Regina but the queen easily ducks in time and the heart edges further away.

"Is that the best you've got?" Regina taunts, and if Emma's not mistaken there's true surprise in her voice. "You're nothing! You're a spoiled child with no training and mediocre magic."

Her brow furrowed in concentration, Emma watches the globe inch in her direction but it doesn't make it far before her magic stutters unexpectedly. Eyes widening, she looks to her hand only to see the white light wink in and out again. Her heart thuds in panic and she increases her strength, struggling to keep the magic consistent.

The world around her blurs into a fragmented haze; she hears a grunt and a thud that sound very far away, catches a glimpse of another fireball flying past, but she has to keep her focus narrowed on the heart, terrified that one lapse in concentration will allow Regina to win. Her head swims and her muscles shake from exertion, but she refuses to give up even when her knees start to buckle.

She's saved from falling by Killian's arm around her waist, lifting her back up and into his chest. The magic pulses with his touch and the heart surges in their direction.

"You've got this, love. You can do it," he whispers in her ear.

But she can't. The magic is already starting to wane again, the brief flash of strength his touch gave her flickering out too quickly to bring the heart entirely to her.

Her lungs are on fire and her head aches, watching in horror as the heart inches back toward Regina. Regina chuckles wickedly and Emma's eyes meet hers across the room, discouragement filling her when she sees the Evil Queen is still standing tall despite the amount of energy Emma puts into her efforts.

"If this is the best you can do, I can't believe I was ever concerned about you, princess."

Her body sags again, her fatigued muscles weighing her down.

"Emma?"

There's concern in Killian's voice, but she doesn't have the strength to respond. Her vision is hazing and when the next blast of magic comes their way, there's nothing she can do to avoid it. It's only Killian's reaction that keeps them from getting hit, hauling her bodily to the right along with him.

She's going to lose. The heart is less than a foot from Regina's fingers now and Emma barely has the energy to keep her head up. Killian is calling to her again and this time there's more than mild concern in his voice. She feels his fingers tighten around those on her free hand and she tries to pull strength from that but there is none. There's no power left. She hears her own cry of agony through the pounding in her head and a moment later the heart rockets into Regina's palm.

She has one final glimpse of the heart glowing red before it disintegrates into black dust and her eyes fall shut.

K&EK&EK&E

"EMMA!" Killian screams as she crumples in his arms, so scared for her that he doesn't even notice the muted 'thump' of Graham's body hitting the wooden floor.

Gathering up her limp form, he cradles her into his chest, panic consuming him when head lulls back over his arm. Desperately, he shakes her, trying to get her to open her eyes. When she doesn't respond, he sinks to the floor, frantically checking for a heartbeat.

"Emma, PLEASE!"

Patricia drops next to him, gathering Emma's head and pushing it up to lean on his shoulder. Her heartbeat is there, though it's sluggish and frail, and he leans his forehead into hers, tangling his fingers in her hair.

Regina's evil laughter penetrates through the terror and a hot burst of rage flushes through his body. He doesn't hesitate, thrusting Emma into Patricia's arms and stepping forward to block her from the Evil Queen. Without regard for anything or anyone else, he draws his sword and charges, his only intention to strike down the malicious bitch before she can lay so much as lay a hand on Emma.

He sees the fireball form in her palm… He sees it but he doesn't care. If he's quick enough he'll be able to cut her down before it hits him. Let it hit him, he thinks, so long as his blade slices through its target. But just as his sword starts its upward swing, there's a thunderous explosion and he's immediately blown back, crashing hard on the floor for the second time tonight.

Dazed, he raises his head to see a shimmering white barrier between himself and the queen at the same moment astounded whispers start trickling through the crowd…

"The king! It's the king!"

Whipping around, he finds the front door has been blown off its hinges and the opening is now filled with two men. His eyes land on King David first who pauses only briefly on the threshold before rushing toward Emma. He falls to his knees next to her and pulls her from Patricia's lap into his own.

"What are you doing here?! You can't be here!"

Regina's shout is a mix of confusion and outrage and, when Killian turns back to her, it's to see her gaze leveled on the man still in the doorway.

"Apparently, I can," the stranger replies.

"But… you can't get out of my dungeon. I…"

The man chuckles. "You never ordered me to stay there, Your Majesty. You just locked me up. Did you really think those flimsy iron bars could hold the oldest wizard alive?"

The oldest wizard alive? Merlin?

"Well, that's a mistake I can rectify easily enough," Regina retorts, opening her palm and looking down to it.

Killian holds his breath while the queen whispers something into her hand, pushing himself up to a sitting position. Regina stares at her palm for some time, concentrating so hard that her hand starts to shake before the wizard's voice cuts through the air. "It's no use, Regina. You can't get to my heart anymore. As a matter of fact, you can't get to any of your hearts."

Those words have Regina's eyes flying back to the wizard's. "What!? How!?" she demands. "What did you do?!"

Merlin grins. "I protected them the same way you did. With blood magic."

An inhuman sound leaves Regina's throat and she thrusts out with her hand, sending a fireball sailing toward the wizard but it hits the shimmering barrier and bounces back, nearly hitting her instead.

"Well, come on then!" Regina rages, her fists tightened at her sides. "It looks like that prophecy was wrong. It's going to be you against me. Lower this damn protection spell and we can have it out right here."

"I'm afraid I can't do that."

"Why not?!"

"Because you did order me not to harm you," Merlin replies mildly, "It was one of the first things you said while holding my heart. And since my heart is still technically in your possession, I have no choice but to follow that order. But that doesn't mean I can't stop you from hurting someone else."

The queen makes another frustrated sound, sending a blast of magic into the protective barrier.

"Give it up, Regina. You're done here. My magic is stronger than yours and you know it."

Regina glares at the wizard for several heartbeats. "This isn't over!" she shouts with a stomp of her foot, then she raises her hand and disappears in a puff of smoke.

The moment the smoke clears, Merlin drops the confident air and rushes to David's side, falling to his knees and laying a glowing hand on Emma's forehead.

"She's breathing," Patricia says to Merlin and Merlin nods.

After a quick examination, Merlin releases a relieved sigh, then sits back on his heels and raises a comforting hand to lay on the king's shoulder.

The entire tavern is immobile, watching the king hugging his daughter to his chest. David seems completely oblivious to the attention, sitting with Emma on his lap and his face buried in her hair as he rocks her gently.

Killian feels tears sting at the back of his eyes. This wasn't the reunion he'd had planned for them. He'd wanted to bring Emma to Camelot unharmed, he'd wanted to see the joy on both their faces as they'd raced into each other's arms but now…

It takes the king quite a while to loosen his grip on his daughter, but he finally does, cradling her head in the crook of his arm and combing the hair from her face with shaky fingers.

"I'm here, Emma," he whispers. "I've got you." When he looks to Merlin, there are tears on his cheeks. "Can you heal her?"

Merlin shakes his head sadly, "I can't. It's not a physical injury. But she'll be fine, she just needs rest."

David swallows and nods, his eyes moving back to Emma.

Merlin gives the king another moment before he speaks up again. "We should get her to a bed," the wizard says softly, then without waiting for an answer, he raises his eyes to Killian's. "We'll take her back to the Jolly."

Killian nods, not sure he's capable of anything else at the moment.

The wizard seems to understand his predicament, his voice gentle when he adds, "I'll be back shortly, just as soon as the princess is safe."

And with that, the three of them 'poof' away in a gray cloud.

Killian stares into the empty space they'd just vacated, a bit shell-shocked by all that has transpired in the last few minutes. Realizing he's still on the floor, he goes to stand just as Jeff's hand appears in front of him to pull him to his feet. Breathing heavy, he glances around to the audience still looking on with fascination. Then, almost unwillingly, his eyes land on Graham's lifeless body sprawled out in the middle of the room. His eyes sting as he slowly crosses to the huntsman, the silence outweighed by the buzzing in his ears. With measured movements, he sinks back to the floor as Jeff does the same on Graham's other side.

He was a loyal man. A good man. A true hero who'd never wavered in his dedication to his kingdom. And now, like so many others, he's dead. Misery claws its way through his chest and squeezes at his lungs. It's so unfair.

Gently, he reaches out and closes his friend's eyes, bowing his head and letting the tears burn down his cheeks. It takes him a minute before he can lift his head again and when he does, it's to see that Jeff has straightened Graham's neck and arranged his hands over his stomach. Jeff's cheeks are wet, too.

"We should find a good spot in the forest for him," Jeff says roughly, "Someplace under a grand oak tree but open enough that the sun will hit it every day."

Killian nods, sniffles. "Yeah, he'd like that."

There's a rustling sound behind him and he hears Merlin's voice. "I know the perfect spot."

A moment later Patricia joins them and Killian feels Merlin's hand on his shoulder. Once Patricia has taken Jeff's hand, Merlin inclines his head and they all vanish from the room, leaving the still gaping crowd to stare at the smoke.

K&EK&EK&E

Regina's anger is so intense that the door to the tower room shatters when she waves it open. She marches across the stone floor, coming to a stop a few feet from Snow's prone figure and shooting a wave of magic at the dome. It flashes bright with light magic and Regina curses harshly, throwing another wave at it – and another.

"Damnit!" she shouts after several more futile attempts, placing her hands on her hips and pacing back and forth.

That sneaky wizard! He's been waiting for this. He's been plotting all this time. Patiently… Patiently waiting for the princess to get her magic.

He'd tricked her – told her to be patient. And she'd fallen right into his trap. She could have killed that spoiled brat years ago. She should have killed that spoiled brat years ago. But now…

Now the time for patience is over. Now, she has to act. All she has to do is get the princess alone. The brat's magic is nothing compared to her own. She just has to get her alone and end this.

But Merlin is now protecting her. Merlin and that blasted ship that won't let anyone aboard.

She'll send her naval fleet after them, of course. But she already knows it won't work. Still, it will keep them busy while she comes up with a new plan.

K&EK&EK&E

The sun is rising when Killian, Jeff, Patricia and Merlin appear on the Jolly's deck. Killian is bone weary but Graham is now laid to rest in a beautiful spot deep in the forest, a peaceful place near a clearing full of tall grass and wildflowers.

In a daze, he walks in the direction of his cabin, dimly aware of the way the Jolly is rocking on choppy waves, indicating a storm brewing. They must have left Portsmouth, he idly realizes, but the thought doesn't go any further. He just wants to see Emma. Gods, he needs to see Emma. After the emotional turmoil of the night and the soul crushing sadness of burying a good friend, he's desperate to feel her hand in his, desperate to reassure himself that her pulse is beating in her wrist. Just five minutes of quiet, five minutes to look at her face and listen to her breathing.

Coming up short at the door to his cabin, a ragged breath escapes at the sight of the king's slumped form sitting next to his daughter. He's holding her hand and Killian watches as he presses it to his cheek, keeping it there as though to warm it. He feels like an intruder on a private moment but he can't quite make himself turn away.

He knows how the king feels. He remembers the gut-clenching despair he'd felt holding vigil at Emma's side while she'd laid unmoving for days on end. He remembers the helpless feeling weighing on his chest because there'd been nothing he could do to help her.

Inwardly, he curses himself. He should never have let her leave the Jolly. He should have gone into Portsmouth alone. The Evil Queen should never have been able to get that close to her. It was risky and foolish and if it weren't for David and Merlin, they'd both be dead now and Regina would have won.

That thought has guilt crashing down on him. It wasn't only Emma's life he'd put at risk, it was the entire realm. After everything Snow and Charming had sacrificed, he'd risked it all just to avoid another argument with her. But this is bigger than a difference of opinion. And he won't forget that again.

Gods, she'd crumpled in his arms. He'd felt the magic start to fail and this time his touch hadn't even been enough. The Evil Queen's power was stronger than even the both of them together. He'd felt the moment it gave out completely like a blow to his heart and then she'd crumpled in his arms.

Reaching up, he rubs his hand over his face, guilt and despair making his head pound. Pinching at the bridge of his nose, he tries to ease the throbbing but it's no use. Only a modicum of relief results and he drops his hand.

"You don't have to brood from all the way over there," the king suddenly says, "I know you're as worried as I am. Pull up a chair."

The invitation surprises him but he's not about to turn it down. So he crosses the room and places a chair directly next to David's near Emma's head. Before he sits, he brushes his fingers over her forehead and bends to kiss her hair.

The two of them sit in silence for several minutes before Killian speaks up. "The same thing happened after she used magic in Arendelle."

"I heard. Ruby told me. I just… I want to be here when she wakes up."

Killian nods, completely understanding, and silence falls again. After another few minutes, Killian glances to the king. "I'm sorry," he says and David looks over to him, surprised.

"Sorry? Sorry for what?" he asks.

"I should never have let her go into Portsmouth with me. I should have made her stay on the ship."

The king smiles. "Do you really think that would have worked? Making her stay on the ship? I haven't been able to make her do anything since she was six years old."

"Still – "

"Killian, you couldn't have known and Portsmouth was the safest choice."

Killian lets the matter drop. David is right. It was the safest choice.

The king goes back to his earlier posture, pressing Emma's hand to his cheek but Killian can see him darting looks at him every so often, like there's something he wants to say but isn't quite sure how to broach the topic.

At long last, he finally speaks, "I imagine you have some questions."

Killian is surprised by the apologetic tone in the king's voice and meets his eyes. "I do," Killian replies, "but I'd rather wait until Emma is awake."

The king nods.

More silence.

"You buried Graham?"

"Yes."

"You're a better person than I am." There's bitterness in his voice. "He betrayed us. You know he's the one who told Regina where Emma was, don't you?"

It's on the tip of Killian's tongue to defend Graham, but one look at the king's tense shoulders tells him now is not the time. This whole betrayal business and what it has to do with the prophecy can also wait until Emma is awake… and when David is in a more amiable mood.

A knock on the door interrupts the moment and they both look to see Merlin entering. He nods to each of them as he crosses the room, stopping to lay a hand on Emma's forehead. He closes his eyes for a few seconds and when they open again, he shakes his head to clear it.

"It's going to be some time before she wakes," he tells them, "I suggest you both get some sleep. It's been a long night and it's near twenty-four hours since either of you slept."

"I'm fine," Killian and David both reply in the same moment.

A smile teases at Merlin's lips. "I'm sure you are but the sun will not be out when she awakes, so you've got some time." As the wizards speaks, he flourishes his hand and two cots appear in place of the table.

"So she'll awake tonight?" Killian asks.

"Tonight or one night soon. I can't be sure exactly when."

When neither of them make a move, the wizard adds, "And you'll both be here when she does. I promise."

K&EK&EK&E

The king snores. He snores like the roaring of waves over rocks.

Fitfully, Killian tosses around on the cot, gauging the time with a glance to the window. It looks to be late afternoon, at least an hour of daylight left, and since there's no way he'll be able to get any more sleep with the incessant snoring, he runs his hand over his face and stands.

Quietly, he crosses to the bed and brushes the back of his fingers over Emma's cheek. She looks peaceful, still a bit pale but some of her color has returned. Sighing heavily, he bends and kisses the back of her hand.

"I'll be back before nightfall, love," he whispers.

There's a cool mist falling when he alights on deck, a fluffy gray blanket of clouds covering the earth for as far as the eye can see. There'll be no chance to check their exact location with the stars tonight but by the position of the sun, he can tell they are headed in the general direction of Camelot.

A quick glance around deck tells him that everyone else has sought refuge from the damp afternoon below. Everyone except Merlin who is standing next to the mast, his hand pressed against it with his eyes closed and a small smile on his face.

For the second time today Killian feels like an intruder on his own ship, something about Merlin's posture giving the impression that he's having a private moment. Shuffling on his feet, he sees the wizard rub the wood of the mast in apparent affection just before he opens his eyes. Then the wizard leans forward, his lips moving like he's sharing a secret with ship and the Jolly's bell dings softly.

"She's very fond of you, you know," Merlin calls across the deck.

Almost out of habit, Killian's thumb caresses the spoke he's holding. "I'm very fond of her as well."

Merlin smiles at that, making his way up the steps to join Killian at the helm. "Thank you for taking such excellent care of her." Killian's confusion must show and Merlin continues. "The wood that was used to make her came from a… very special tree. It served as my prison for many years and my magic infused itself into it."

Killian's eyebrows raise. "So it's your magic that enchanted her?"

"Yes."

Up until this moment, Killian hadn't quite decided how trustworthy the wizard was but… well, he's felt the Jolly's magic for years and he trusts it with his life. "She's an incredible ship."

"Yes, she is."

They watch the waves rolling in for a while, the spray of them dampening the air. The silence stretches, and just like David, Merlin casts several furtive glances at him.

Annoyance begins to creep into Killian's chest. It's obvious the wizard is waiting for him to ask about the prophecy and he wonders why on earth everyone is suddenly so interested in talking to him about it. Because, whatever it is, it's been known for years. It's been known since before the fall of the kingdom. Liam knew it, Snow knew it, Graham knew it. They all sacrificed themselves to see it fulfilled. And even though he and Emma are at the heart of it, no one thought to tell them. But now everyone seems to be itching to let the secret out. While Emma lays unconscious, they're practically lining up to tell him.

"You probably have some – "

"You're right, I do," Killian snaps, "but, like I told King David, I'll wait until Emma is awake."

Merlin calmly nods and Killian feels a moment of guilt. Merlin isn't the one who made the choice to keep him and Emma in the dark, so his annoyance is sorely misplaced. But the wizard doesn't look offended. In fact, he looks almost sympathetic which is probably what loosens Killian's tongue.

"I know about the prophecy," he blurts before he realizes it. "I don't know exactly what it says but I know that Emma is supposed to be the one to defeat Regina."

Merlin tilts his head to the side, waiting for something more and it's then that Killian realizes the real reason for his annoyance.

"Why would it say that when her magic is clearly not enough? Regina is stronger. She – "

"It's your magic, too, Killian. You know that, don't you?"

"It's – "

"And you know what it depends on, do you not?" Merlin interrupts.

Their love. It depends on their love.

Merlin nods like he heard Killian's thoughts without the need voice them. Then, turning to go, he adds cryptically, "Think about that for a while."

Killian stares at the wizard's retreating back in a state of stunned irritation. What does he think he's been thinking about all this time? And how is he supposed to come to an answer when he doesn't have all the facts?

Yes, their love is the source of the magic's strength but what does that mean? Is he supposed to love her more? How can that be possible? He already loves her with every cell in his body. He can't love her any more than he already does. He'd die for her. He'd nearly died last night to protect her. What else is there? What are they missing?

Or maybe it's about Emma. Does she need to love him more? No, that can't be it. If there's one thing he knows without doubt in his heart, it's that she feels as strongly for him as he does for her.

Finding no answer, he glances to the sun which is just starting to set on the horizon, so he turns away and heads for the hatch, praying that Emma will wake tonight.

K&EK&EK&E

Emma doesn't want to wake. There's something about waking that fills her with dread, some reality that she knows will crash down as soon as consciousness returns to her. And, right now, she's lost in a dream, a beautiful dream where Killian's arms are around her, holding her close to his chest. She can smell the sea, feel the soft mattress beneath her. He's murmuring something, his baritone soothing and filling her aching limbs with balm. She wants more than anything to stay there with him. But the lamp is bright and it's invading her peaceful dream, and even though she struggles against it, reality comes creeping in.

The tavern… the Evil Queen…

Graham – Oh, god, Graham.

He's dead.

Graham is dead.

And Killian –

Killian was holding her when their magic failed. It had been nothing to match Regina's. She'd passed out – She'd passed out and left her friends with no magic to fend off the Evil Queen – She'd passed out and left them all defenseless and – oh god –

"Killian!"

She jolts straight up, her head swimming and her body throbbing in pain.

"I'm here, love."

The sound of his voice fills her with relief and then he's beside her, cupping her face in his hand and supporting her lower back with maimed wrist. She tries to lift her arms to hold him but the simple act of sitting up has drained her strength and all she can do is let her head fall to his shoulder.

"It's alright, darling. We're safe. We're on the Jolly."

"Graham…"

Killian's arms contract around her, his cheek nuzzling into her temple. "It's alright," he repeats.

But it's not. It's not alright. Graham is dead. She couldn't save him.

She tries to shake her head but the pain and exhaustion are pulling at her, her muscles leaden and weak. She feels herself being gently lowered to the bed and then her hand is being lifted. She knows the moment he presses her hand over his heart, the spark in her stomach too powerful to miss. The light that emits is brighter than the lamps and before she knows it, the pain is disappearing – the physical pain, at least.

The sobs choke out the moment her body has the strength to allow them. Her chest shakes with them, the agony crushing at her lungs. Killian's arms come around her and lift her back to a sitting position, cradling her head against his shoulder while she cries. She grips him tight and lets the tears fall, keeping her face buried in his neck until the tears subside.

"How?" she asks once she feels steady enough to speak. "How did you – we – get away? Are Jeff and Patricia – "

"They're fine, love. We're all fine, now. We, ah… Well, I've got a surprise for you."

"What surprise?" she asks, pulling back to look at him.

His eyes flit to the left and she follows his gaze and…

It couldn't be…

"Dad?"

He steps to the bed and kneels next to it.

"Is it really you?"

"It's me, pumpkin."

The sound of her childhood nickname has fresh tears filling her eyes as he reaches out with shaky fingers to brush her cheek. She catches his hand, surprised at how familiar the callouses still feel and presses her cheek into his palm.

"You're here," she marvels softly, trying and failing to keep the tears at bay.

"I'm here, sweetheart," he replies, thumbing away the dampness on her cheek. Then, leaning in, his forehead lands against hers. "I've missed you so much."

"I've missed you, too."

They stay like that for a minute before he pulls back enough to study her, his eyes full of tenderness when he gently pushes a stray curl off her forehead.

"You're all grown up." His voice catches and he clears his throat. "You're lovelier than I ever imagined."

Emma bites into her lip and tries to smile, then surges forward into his arms – arms which lift her immediately and spin her through the room.


Chapter Text

His baby is in his arms.  At last.  It’s been years since he’s held her, so many desolate years dreaming of this moment and, still, nothing could have prepared him for the intensity of emotion that rains down.  Her tears soak his shirt and he realizes he’s crying, too, his relief at having her awake releasing in a torrent of overwhelming emotions that seep from his eyes.  It’s joy and sorrow and mixed together, rampant waves of them colliding in his lungs.  Her arms are encircling his waist, her cheek nestled into his shoulder in a manner reminiscent to when she was a child and he cups the back of her head protectively, just like he did when she was little.

But she’s not little anymore.  She’s a full-grown woman – even more so than she’d been the last time he saw her. 

He’s missed so much.

But she’s alive.  And safe.  And that’s all that matters.  She’s breathing a deep sigh of contentment and he closes his eyes as he rocks her back and forth.

“You still smell like nutmeg,” she mumbles into his neck.  “Every time I smell it, I think of you.”

“And you smell like the gardens on a spring day,” he replies, hearing the smile in his voice. 

She chuckles and leans back to look at him.  “You used to say that was because of the mud that was always caked on my dresses.”

Her eyes are twinkling with the same amusement he used to see there when she was ten and he can’t stop himself from booping his finger to her nose.  “It was true and you know it.”

A blinding smile spreads across her face before she’s hugging him tight again. 

“But I don’t understand…  How are you here?  Is it over?  Has Regina been defeated?  Are we on our way home?  Is mom – ”

“No.  No, we’re not on our way home.  Regina is still… We didn’t defeat her yet.  We…”

“Then how did we get away?”

“We, uh… had some help.  Merlin has – ”

“Merlin?  The wizard?”

“Yes, as it turns out, he’s been alive all these years.  Held captive by Regina.”

He sees more questions forming on her tongue but he shakes his head.  “Let’s save it for now.  We have so much to catch up on.  And there are a lot of people who are very eager to see that you’re okay. Ruby made your favorite dish for dinner in the hope you’d awake.  You must be starving.”

“I am,” she agrees, even though her brow wrinkles at his evasiveness.

“Well, then, why don’t we leave you to get dressed and we’ll meet you in the galley in a bit.”

She nods and he kisses her on the forehead, catching Killian’s tense stance over the top of her head.  His hand is anchored in his belt, his eyes narrowed and David’s stomach knots with nerves.  Whatever reprieve he has before revealing all he knows will be short.  Now that Emma is awake, Killian is going to insist on answers.  Still, when Emma turns his away, the pirate wipes his face of the suspicious look, and David can’t help but be grateful for that.  He’s not sure if he’s hiding his annoyance for Emma’s sake or his own, but there’s no denying the protective way he embraces her or the tenderness with which he kisses her cheek before he follows David out.

As they make their way to the galley, Killian’s footsteps echo behind him, each one ringing ominously in his head like a clock ticking off the seconds before he has to face the hangman’s noose.  A few steps from the galley door, he turns and faces him. 

“I’ll tell you everything.  Both of you.  But, I’d appreciate it if we could at least wait until after dinner.  I’d like to enjoy some time with my daughter before we…  get into the rest of it.”

David’s watches the man’s jaw clench and unclench several times while he considers that.  He’s obviously holding onto his temper by a thread and it’s striking to David just how much the mild-mannered lieutenant has changed in the past few years.  Gone is the easy-going sailor, gone is the optimistic and proper boy he knew so long ago.  Now replaced with a hardened and intense man who shows no awe at standing before a king. 

“We’ll wait until Grace goes to bed,” he concedes with clipped words.  Then as though he’s just remembered himself, he gives a stiff nod and goes to pass him to the galley.

“We were only trying to protect her.  We were trying to protect both of you.”

Killian’s hand stops on the door handle and he draws a long breath, his shoulders slumping.  When he speaks again his voice has softened.  “I know, but that doesn’t make it right.”  He turns back, his eyes showing the barest flash of anger. “We were in constant danger and we never knew it.”

Surprised by the pirate’s insight, David’s brow raises but he doesn’t bother denying it, instead saying simply, “You were guarded more closely than you realize.”

“Which is why you told Liam.”

“Yes.”

Pain flicks into Killian’s eyes before he drops his head, taking several deep breaths.  When he lifts his eyes again, there’s resignation and, surprisingly, a touch of understanding in them as he nods in the direction of his cabin.  “As far as I can tell, she knows nothing of the prophecy,” he relays softly.  “I haven’t told her anything either – not that I know much about it anyway.”

“But you know there is one,” David says and Killian nods.  “How long have you known?”

“Since the day I watched your wife take a bite of that apple.”

“You were there?  You saw what happened?”

“I did.”

“Graham said – ”

“Let’s save it for now,” Killian echoes his own words back to him.  “It’s a tale I’d rather tell only once.”

It’s difficult to say the least, not to press Killian for more right then.  But he bites back the questions nearly burning his tongue as he watches the man enter the galley. He stays where he is for a few more seconds to give himself time to find some calm, letting Killian announce the joyous news of Emma’s recovery.  Then, with a sigh, he enters the galley and directly crosses the room to join Merlin.  He makes a quick request of the wizard and Merlin nods his agreement before retreating through the door.  A moment later, a goblet of wine appears under his nose and he looks up to see Ruby standing before him.  She doesn’t say anything but by the look on her face he knows she understands the source of his worry and she gives his arm a bracing squeeze of support before she turns back to the stove. 

It's not long after when Emma enters and the worry plaguing him is temporarily overrun by the infectious enthusiasm of the group.  Laughter rings out, hugs are exchanged and even a few tears are shed.  It’s a testament to the human spirit that even in the darkest of times, people find something to celebrate.  And their narrow escape from the Evil Queen certainly ranks as a victory worthy of celebration. 

After some debate, David relents to Killian’s insistence that David should sit at the head of the table during dinner.  Emma sits to his left with Killian on the other side of her, followed by Dopey and Ruby.  Grace is to his right with her parents and Merlin sits at the far end, directly across from him. 

Grace is a welcome distraction during the meal.  She’s full of questions and giggles and David finds himself immensely grateful for her presence.  It’s been a long time since he’s allowed himself to truly relax, always focused on the tasks to come, and now, even with the end drawing near and so much at stake, he finds it remarkable that it’s a child who reminds him of what exactly it is they’re fighting for.  It’s more than just getting his wife and their thrones back.  They’re fighting for the future of their kingdom and what better reminder of that is there than a child with her whole future ahead.

Still, the reprieve is a short one.  Dinner is over too quickly and the jovial atmosphere slowly begins to dissipate.  Grace begs to stay up for a while longer and thankfully her parents agree even though it’s the middle of the night, but with each yawn he can see Killian’s shoulders getting more stiff. 

Emma notices, too.  In fact, everyone does.  And the moment the little girl’s eyes start to droop, the entire room goes quiet, watching as her head lands on her father’s shoulder. 

Killian shoots Jeff a nod and the man carefully scoops his daughter up, making soothing noises as he carries her from the room. 

Somehow, the silence gets even more acute as the door closes behind them, a taut moment when everyone’s eyes flitter back and forth between each other.  It’s Ruby who breaks the tension, standing to gather the plates, and Patricia rises to help her.  While they tend to that, Dopey fetches a large bottle of rum and new glasses for everyone.  He fills and dispenses them with measured movements, leaving the bottle in the middle of the table and rounding back to his seat.  He’s just sat down when Jefferson re-enters, taking his spot next to Patricia.  Emma leans back in her chair, her confusion and worry obvious with the way her eyes flick between Killian and himself. 

Slowly, he meets her eyes. 

“We need to talk, Emma,” he begins.  “There are things I need to tell you.  Things that your mother and I…”  he trails off, searching for the right words and drops his eyes to the table.  “I want you to understand, we were trying to protect you.  We wanted you to have a normal life but…  I realize now that we should have told you before.”

“Told me what?” she asks, her voice laced with nerves. 

He raises his eyes back to hers.  “The day we defeated Regina the first time…  When we got back to our room that night there was a scroll sitting in the middle of our bed.”  He pulls the scroll he’d asked Merlin to retrieve earlier from his pocket, laying it on the table in front of him.  Then, fingering idly at the scroll, he tells her.  He tells her about the shock and despair they’d gone through when they read it.  He tells her about the many times they considered revealing the truth to her and how it had weighed on them both every day since. 

Mid-way through the story, he sees her hand blindly seek Killian’s and the way he squeezes hers in reassurance.  Her eyes dart to the scroll several times while he speaks but she doesn’t ask the thing he knows she wants to.  She waits patiently for him to finish, her features becoming more and more apprehensive as she listens.

There’s a moment of silence when he stops before she speaks.  “What does it say?” she asks in a strong voice, nodding to the scroll.

Rather than answer, he pushes it to her. 

It takes her a minute, her eyes focused on the parchment with both nerves and fear.  Then with shaky hands, she disentangles her fingers from Killian’s and picks up the scroll.  Once it’s in her hands, she pauses, looking at each of the occupants of the table in turn.  She starts with Merlin who holds her gaze steadily, then to both Dopey and Ruby who avert their own with a guilty slump of shoulders.  Next, she looks to Jeff and Patricia whose expressions are filled with apprehension and concern to match her own and even though David doesn’t know them very well, it’s clear to him that Emma has grown attached to the couple and they to her.  There’s a trust there between them that is nearly tangible, and David is grateful for it.  He can’t see her expression when she finally looks to Killian but whatever it is, it has the pirate clenching his jaw and lifting his hand to her cheek in comfort. 

“Go on, love,” he whispers in encouragement.  “Whatever it is, we’ll face it together.”

She nods to him and unfurls the scroll, speaking the words slowly but clearly.

“‘The tides have changed today, it’s true, and peace will once again renew.  And with it you’ll forget your fears, as it will reign for many years.  But tides are fickle as the sea, they’ll change again, it’s destiny.” She clears her throat and sits up straighter, “So heed my words, you must prepare for darkness is still in the air.  She will return, make no mistake and happiness she will forsake,’” she pauses to draw a shaky breath.  “‘And when this darkness does arise, you must decipher truth from lies. Many will fall and one betray… and… and one will sleep both night and day.’”

She stops there, raising her eyes to meet his.  “You knew?  All those years, you knew mom would…?”

“I had hoped it would be me,” he replies roughly.  “I wanted it so badly to be me but…” his voice breaks, “Well… it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to.”

Her eyes are full of sympathy and she reaches over to briefly squeeze his hand.  The action causes a lump to form in the back of his throat and he grips her hand in return as he stares into those eyes…  her mother’s eyes…

Drawing a deep breath, she looks back to the parchment, “‘But even in the blackest night, do not abandon hope and light.  For there is one who’ll wield the power to save us in this darkest hour:  A…  A princess born of love that’s true – so long as she can find it, too.’”

Her eyes fly to Killian, who has obviously already seen the line, his eyes wide with realization.  A look of pure astonishment crosses his features and something about it has David’s brow furrowing.  There’s more to that look than the comprehension that what they have is true… something deeper that David can’t quite interpret; an emotion so strong that David averts his eyes to give them a moment. 

He keeps his eyes averted until the next line is read, only now it’s Killian’s reading, his voice low and gravelly, “‘Together they will light the dark.  She’ll be the flame, he’ll be the spark.  For it’s written in the stars above that magic comes to her through love.’” He pauses on a quick inhale, his voice strengthening on the last lines. “‘So seek the man who holds her heart and make sure that they never part; and when the lass turns twenty-eight, the Evil Queen will meet her fate.’”

The silence following is heavy but not as uncomfortable as David would have presumed.  The Jolly creaks loudly on the waves and Emma gently lays the scroll on the table so that she can take Killian’s hand back in hers.  They don’t look at each other, they don’t look at anyone, their eyes focused on the parchment while they gather their thoughts. 

It’s Killian who speaks first.  “This is why you kept the apple.”

It’s not a question but David answers anyway, “Yes.”

Killian’s eyes raise to meet his for a long moment before flicking to Jefferson.  Something passes between the two men, some unspoken sorrow they share that David longs to understand.  In fact, it’s on the tip of his tongue to ask the question but he gulps it down when Killian goes on.

“It was right there – sitting between your thrones for all those years – and no one knew it.”

David swallows hard.  “Snow and I discussed it many times.  We…  We had hoped not to leave the choice to Regina.  We – ”

“Well, you succeeded in that,” Killian interrupts.  “Regina was furious when your wife took that bite.  She was about to force her to identify me.  She was going to take her heart and…” he takes a long breath and squeezes his eyes shut.  “And your wife chose to…”

The scraping of his chair against the wooden floor is shrill when he pushes up from his seat – a whip of untamed fury that has everyone sitting straighter.

Everyone except Emma who continues to stare at the scroll with no reaction whatsoever. 

“She sacrificed herself for me.  And so did Liam.  He pretended to be me.  He stood there and let Regina crush his heart so that this bloody prophecy could be fulfilled!” 

David holds his breath, trying to think of something to say.  He hadn’t known that Liam sacrificed himself.  He hadn’t known why Regina believed Killian to be dead.  But now it makes perfect sense.  In the end the only thing that comes to mind is, “I’m sorry.”

Surprisingly, the words diffuse a bit of the tension in Killian’s shoulders, his eyes going back to the scroll.  “’Many will fall,’” he quotes with a shake of his head.  “Well, they certainly got that bit right.  And now we’re to wait around for someone to betray?” 

“After what Graham did, I don’t think that’s an issue anymore,” David replies.

The flash is back in Killian’s eyes, “Yes, Regina said the same, but Graham never betrayed anyone.”

The defensive tone almost brings David to his feet, “How can you say that when he – ?”

“He didn’t have a choice! Regina had his heart!  She took it that same day.  And even after she did, he managed to keep my survival a secret!”

Killian’s words send a chill down David’s spine.  If it wasn’t Graham then…

“It was me,” Jefferson says, drawing everyone’s attention.  “I helped those black knights board the Jolly Roger.  I – ”

But Killian is shaking his head.  “I don’t think so, mate,” he tells his friend.  “You didn’t have a choice either.  They threatened your daughter.” 

“But it was still a choice,” Jeff insists.  “It wasn’t like Graham where his actions were controlled – ”

“Jeff,” Killian stops him with a look. “No parent would ever have a choice in that situation.  You didn’t want to do it.”

Jeff doesn’t look convinced.

“Killian’s right,” Merlin puts in.  “A betrayal can’t be coerced.  It has to be made of free will.  And with your daughter in danger, you didn’t have that.”

“Then, someone is still going to betray us?” David asks.

“Possibly,” Merlin replies.

“What do you mean ‘possibly’?” David demands.

“I mean there’s a possibility that it already happened without your knowledge,” Merlin replies.  “For example, do you know how Regina and her knights managed to get into the castle the night of the ball?  It could be that someone let them in.  And, if so, that could have been the betrayal.  How did Regina find out you were in Camelot? Or how did the black knights find out Jefferson was the Hatter? It could be one of a dozen things that have already happened.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Emma speaks for the first time, her voice flat as she rises to her feet.  “None of it matters.  I can’t defeat her.  She’s stronger than me… She…”  She lifts her eyes to his.  “I’m so sorry,” she chokes out and he immediately reaches for her, but she’s too fast, turning on her heel and running from the room. 

K&EK&EK&E 

Emma doesn’t know where she’s going.  She only knows she’s strangling and the walls of the galley had felt like they were closing in on her.  Stumbling up the first ladder she comes to, she lands on her hands and knees on deck, the planks slick with mist under her fingers.  She gulps in air, quickly glancing around for a place she can take a few minutes alone to think.  There’s a thick fog hovering around her, the grey haze so dense that she can barely make out the helm.  Panic rises up, the feeling of being closed in returning with force. 

It all rests on her.  The fate of her friends, the fate of her family, the fate of the whole bloody kingdom.  It’s on her shoulders and her shoulders alone and she’s not strong enough.  She couldn’t even save Graham.  The Evil Queen’s magic was too powerful, and she’d beaten her with pathetically little effort.  And now the whole kingdom is depending on her?

Her stomach churns and she forces her feet to stand so she can sprint to the rail, leaning over and emptying every bite of her dinner into the sea. 

It can’t be.  She can’t be the only hope.  There must be some other way.  Because if she truly is the only one who can defeat Regina, they’re all doomed.

“Emma?”

She hears Killian’s voice and feels the urge to run, but her stomach lurches at just the thought and she bends back over the rail.

“Emma!” His booted feet rush across the deck, “Are you alright, love?”

Hysterical laughter bubbles in the back of her throat.  She knows he’s asking about her physical health but the question is so ludicrous…

Is she alright?  Is she alright?

She’s still bent over the rail and his hand lands at her lower back.  She’s thankful for the curtain of hair that keeps her face concealed, but then his hook is there, gathering the tangled strands and pushing them over her shoulder so he can examine her.  She turns her face away, and she thinks maybe he sighs but it’s drowned out by her own quick intake of breath. 

“Emma – ”

“Don’t.”

He stiffens, his fingers digging into her spine for half a beat before he starts rubbing soothing circles into her back.

Taking several measured breaths, she tries to clear the lump in her throat.  When she finally straightens, a wave of dizziness swamps her that is so intense that she has to grope for the rail to keep herself from swaying on her feet.  After a few more deep breaths, she opens her eyes to find a black handkerchief in her vision.  She takes it without comment and rubs it over her face as the soothing circles resume. 

“Better?” he asks quietly. 

She nods in lieu of answering, the simple question making her eyes sting.  He’s being so sweet, solicitously hovering over her like a mother hen taking care of a chick and she can’t even look at him.  She’s still gripping the rail when his arm slides around her waist, gently easing her back into his chest.  She doesn’t exactly resist but there’s no hiding tension in her shoulders.

She doesn’t know what to say.  She wants to thank him for taking care of her, but she doesn’t want to invite conversation, her emotions too close to the surface.  She’s scared and confused and angry, the weight of the world resting on her shoulders.  Plus she’s still dizzy, still nauseous and still craving fresh air even though she’s surrounded by it.  So she holds herself rigid, prepared to bend back over the rail if needed, praying that he takes the hint and keeps silent.  And he does.  He stands perfectly still, wordlessly offering support and comfort while thoughts batter around in her head. 

Part of her wants to rage at the heavens – just scream until her lungs burn.  It’s so unfair, this destiny business, this inescapable fate that has pitted her against an enemy who is vicious and evil… an enemy who is more powerful than she is… an enemy who won’t stop until one of them is dead. 

That’s what it will come down to in the end – one of them will have to die.  And, as things stand, it’s a good bet that Emma will be the vanquished.  After all, it was only Merlin’s intervention that saved them all in Portsmouth.

Killian’s fingers flex on her waist, holding her more tightly and pressing a kiss to the back of her head.  She tempted to turn to him and tell him to run, find the words to apologize to him for dragging him into the mess with her.  He didn’t ask for this.  It’s not his kingdom.  Falling in love with a princess always comes with a price, but this… Well, this is more than either of them bargained for. 

But she knows what he’d say if she told him to run.  She knows he won’t leave her to fight the Evil Queen alone.  They’re True Loves after all.

The thought has her drawing a sharp breath.  They’re True Loves

True Loves who can’t even tell each other they love each other. 

It’s like a cruel and twisted joke. 

“Emma?”

It’s her father, his tentative voice floating through the eerie fog, and she and Killian both turn to look over their shoulders.  He’s flanked by Merlin and Ruby, with Dopey, Jeff and Patricia close behind. 

“There’s more,” she surmises in a flat voice.

“Not exactly more but – ” 

“Then it can wait,” Killian clips out, stepping forward like a protective shield between her and her father.

Her father stops moving, his eyes widening at the blatant display of impudence.  There aren’t many people brave enough to stand up to a king and before Regina’s takeover, Killian would never have dared.  Now, though, she can see his shoulders squaring off for battle, and something about it makes the knot in her stomach ease.  No matter who the adversary, he’ll fight for her. 

“I wish it could, but we’re running low on time,” her father replies, a subtle edge to his voice.  “Emma’s birthday is only a few weeks off.”

That makes Killian’s spine straighten even more.  “Then you should have told us long before now.”

Her father’s eyes flash, stepping forward and flicking his eyes to hers.  She knows she must look a fright, her cheeks tearstained and her eyes puffy, and her father must see it now, too, because he stops abruptly and his expression softens. 

Then, turning his attention back to Killian, he says in a much calmer voice, “Look, I understand your frustration and I’ve already admitted I should have told you before the fall of the kingdom.  But since then there was no reason. You were presumed dead.  There was no guarantee that Emma would ever get her magic.  Did she need the burden of that?  I’ve done everything I could to protect her.  Before I found you, I’d already planned to travel to Arendelle myself before her twenty-eighth birthday, but then you showed up in that tavern and I…” he trails off and glances to the ground.  “Maybe I should have told you in Camelot.  I considered it.  But I can’t change the past.  Now is all I’ve got.”

Killian’s hand is still fisted but his shoulders have loosened and Emma steps forward to gain his attention by linking her fingers with his.  “It’s alright.  I’m feeling better now,” she tells him, a little surprised that it’s actually true. 

Fully turning to face her, he studies her face while using his hook to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear.  “Are you sure?” he asks.

“Yes, I’m sure.  And we may as well hear the rest of it.” 

After a small hesitation, Killian nods.

“So, what else is there?” she asks her father.

“It’s nothing about the prophecy.  It’s… We have a plan.  You won’t have to face her alone and you won’t have to face her unarmed.  Arthur, Lancelot and I have been searching for the pieces of Excalibur.  We’ve found one and Arthur believes he’s soon to find the other.  The sword can strip a person’s magic and with your fencing skills…” he gives her a small smile but one that is filled with pride.  “We just have to find it and reforge it.  We’ve also got the Spark of Prometheus.” He motions to Merlin and Merlin pulls out a brass case and hands it to Killian.  “According to what we’ve found, it’s the only spark with enough power to reunite the sword.”

Emma looks down to the box which Killian has flipped open.  Inside sits a harmless-looking piece of coal. 

“This?” she asks.  “This is going to reunite the sword?”

Her father’s eyes crinkle the tiniest bit.  “I thought the same thing when I first saw it,” he agrees, “but I’ve been assured it will work once it’s lit.”

“Okay,” Killian says, “So how do we light it?  I’m guessing it’s going to take a bit more than striking flint with steel.”

“Yes,” Merlin puts in.  “It takes powerful magic to ignite it.”

“The power of the savior,” her father adds meaningfully.

Emma is confused when Merlin’s and her father’s eyes move to her, both of them wearing expectant expressions.  It takes a few seconds before she understands their meaning.

“And I’m the savior,” she says.

“Yes,” Merlin replies.

Emma’s eyes go back to the Spark, trying to feel something, anything that hints at the powerful magic it supposedly contains.  The stone is dense and black and, even with the lanterns flickering, it doesn’t even so much as reflect any light.  But then something emerges…  a subtle orange glow at the center no bigger than a grain of sand.  Her heart picks up speed and she watches the glow spread, vaguely aware of how her father and Merlin step forward to get a closer look.

The stone fills almost to the edges, light pulsing in and out like a heartbeat.  There’s an echoing flicker of something inside her, but when she reaches for it, it recedes and the stone returns to its pure black color.

Merlin’s and her father’s shoulders slump in unison as an inaudible sigh of defeat releases among the group. 

“Don’t worry,” Merlin says, though his tone isn’t exactly reassuring.  “We’ll figure it out. We’ll – ”

But he’s cut off by three rapid dings of the Jolly’s bell.

Killian immediately tenses, his thumb slamming the case shut and thrusting it toward her father.

“There’s a ship approaching,” he translates, he and Jefferson already moving to opposite sides of the ship to study the horizon. 

“Do you see it?” he calls to Jefferson. 

“Not yet,” Jeff replies.

“Spread out and look for it,” Killian orders to the group, “Dopey, man the helm!  Patricia, get below with Grace and stay there!”

Everything else forgotten, Emma spins and runs to the rail, her eyes straining to see past the fog.  She can hear the sound of feet running behind her – then, off to her right, the high-pitched whistle of a cannonball.

“To the starboard!” she yells an instant before the cannonball impacts the sea directly in front of her, the ensuing splash throwing a shower of water onto the deck. 

Clenching her eyes, she twists away from the frigid wave, the heavy weight of it hitting her back and sending her stumbling.  Strong arms catch her before she falls – her father – righting her before rushing to the rail to look for himself. 

“Where is it?” she hears Killian yell.

“I can’t see it,” her father replies, “This fog is too dense!”

An instant later, Emma feels a rush of warmth move over her and she turns to see Merlin sweeping his hand over the mist.  He’s creating a thin line of vision in the middle of the fog, a narrow window that closes back in on itself as it travels across the horizon that will, hopefully, allow them to locate the enemy vessel without giving away their own position. 

Her eyes trace the gap Merlin is creating, as do everyone else’s, peering through the narrow opening until the ship is visible. 

“There!” she shouts just as the enemy ship fires again, the word drowned out by the resulting explosion.

“Take cover!”

This one overshoots, whizzing well above the mainsail and crashing into the water on the far side of the ship. 

“They’re shooting blind, the fools,” Jefferson says, “Firing off one cannon at a time and just hoping they hit us.” 

Killian nods his agreement.  “They are.  They must have only caught a glimpse of us.  Let’s make sure we’re not where they think we’re going to be.  Hard to starboard!  Make ready the deck cannons!  Open the foresails!”

Her heart in her throat, Emma rushes to her father’s side, helping him load one of the cannons while the ship creaks and tilts into its turn.  The fog is still thick and Emma strains to look in the direction where they’d seen the ship but there’s nothing but gray wafts of mist in her vision.  They get the cannon loaded and wait for Killian’s order, a thick and heavy silence descending as the Jolly continues its slow turn.

“Hold steady,” Killian instructs in a calm voice, low and confident, the tone of it loosening the nerves in Emma’s stomach.  This is Killian’s expertise, captaining a ship and commanding a crew, and his calm command tells her he’s got this well in hand.

He’s standing at the rail, his face a mask of concentration as though he’s counting the seconds tick by, then without turning to face him, he says in the same low tone, “Dopey, shift the rudder and straighten us out.”

The Jolly creaks and groans, everyone holding their positions while the ship levels, ready to fire the cannons as soon as Killian gives the order.

Holding her breath, Emma listens to her heart thud against her ribs, each beat increasing in pace, the tension in her muscles growing with each taut second…

Waiting… waiting…

“Fire.”

The night is split with explosions, a volley of blasts coming from both the deck and below that reverberate loudly in her ears. The shots hit true to their target, exploding on impact and illuminating the night. 

“Reload!” Killian orders but his command is quickly followed by Merlin’s urgent voice.

“We don’t have time.  We need to get out of here!”

“And how do you propose we do that? We’re already at full sails!” Killian yells back. 

“Leave it to me and Emma,” the wizard replies, rushing to take her hand and pull her toward the mast. 

Emma follows, but they’re not quick enough, the crack of cannonfire from the enemy ship piercing the air as they race across the deck.

“Hard over to port! Brace for impact!” Killian shouts, his voice close behind her just before he engulfs her in his arms and pulls her down with him, covering her with his body. 

Thundering explosions surround them and she’s never been so frightened, burying her face in his throat and squeezing her eyes shut.  The Jolly shakes violently and debris begins to rain down, the crack of wood and whine of metal screeching loud and terrifying.  Killian grunts in pain when something lands on his back, his breath hot against her temple and his hand clenching reflexively in her hair.  Smoke fills the air, the acrid smell burning in her nose while they ride out the attack, both clinging strongly to the other amid the chaos.

She’s a bit disoriented when she’s abruptly pulled to her feet, her ears ringing and her head spinning.  The smoke is getting thicker, but she doesn’t have time to look for the source before Killian is pulling her away. 

“Add your magic to mine,” she hears Merlin say, then his hand is linking with hers and pressing it into something solid.  She has one instant to realize they’ve made it to the mast before she’s suddenly hit with a wave of power so strong that she gasps. 

The Jolly surges forward, the planks groaning and vibrating under her feet.  She’s still a bit dizzy and the power flowing from Merlin’s fingers isn’t helping, the enormity of it pouring through her and leaving her breathless.

“Emma, add your magic to mine,” he repeats, his hand squeezing hers, “I can’t do this alone.”

She raises her eyes to the wizard’s, and it’s only then she realizes Killian is still at her back, bracing her against the mast.  Drawing energy from the warmth of his body, she gathers her magic and adds it to Merlin’s. 

The Jolly surges forward, but halts after only a few feet.  Then it surges again – and again.  The violent, stuttering motion throws her into the mast and her temple hits hard against the wood.  Pain splits through her skull, exacerbating the dizziness, and she fears she may actually pass out. 

“Emma!”

Her head is spinning as she grabs at the mast with both hands, trying to answer, but the noise is deafening and she can’t gather her thoughts, she can’t make her eyes open –

“EMMA!”

And the ship is shaking, and the wind is gusting, and she can’t focus –

She can’t –

“Emma, LOOK AT ME!” Merlin shouts with such authority that her eyes obey immediately.

Merlin’s features sharpen in her vision, his gaze boring into hers.  His brow is drawn together in either worry or confusion – she’s not sure which – but then his eyes flick between her and Killian a few times and his mouth thins into a grim line of what looks like understanding. 

Shaking his head, his eyes lock with hers.  “You can do this,” he says calmly even as the whistle of another cannonball approaches, “You’ve just got to remember…”  His hand squeezes hers in reassurance, and something hazy settles over her, dimming the present, “Just… Close your eyes… And remember…”

His voice is almost a caress now, fading into the distance but somehow still echoing in her head as her eyes slip shut.  The moment they do, the world around her disappears and a peaceful warmth sifts through the terror, surrounding her with a brilliant glow.  When it fades, she’s still on the Jolly but it’s no longer night.  It’s bright and sunny and a carefree lightness settles over her heart.  Her vision is hazy, like the edges are blocked by clouds but right in the middle where she can focus, she sees her parents standing side by side, her father calling out to her. 

She goes to him, linking her arm in his.

Father, she’s incredible!  I can’t wait to see how she sails!’

Somewhere in the corner of her mind, Emma recognizes what’s happening, but the knowledge is vague and only flitters around the edges of her awareness.  She’s about to meet Killian.  She’s about to look into his eyes for the first time.

She wants to turn to him right then, but she can’t seem to, like she’s stuck in a body that won’t do her bidding – which she supposes in a way, she is.  She also longs to embrace her mother, simply throw herself into her arms.  The fact that she can’t should be irritating but, somehow, it isn’t.  Somehow, it’s peaceful…  It’s peaceful being in this place again – even though her subconscious knows all that happened later.  Because, right now, that doesn’t matter.  Right now, she’s with her parents…  And Liam is there and…  And it’s tranquil and warm and lovely.  Anticipation builds in her stomach while the moment plays out… She hears Liam speak and she makes some sort of answer, then her mother’s voice - she hears her mother’s voice! – introducing her to…

‘Emma, this is Lieutenant Killian Jones, the Captain’s brother and navigator.’

Their eyes meet and her body fills with warmth – with hope – and…

The vision fades out and another fades in, standing with him outside her room, a bouquet of buttercups in her hand.  He’s shuffling in front of her, his nerves evident and she surges forward to plant her lips against his.  

Their first kiss…

The warmth in her body intensifies.

More visions follow, each one flitting in and out faster and faster…

Walking through the gardens, fencing in the courtyard, rowing on the lake…

His face is young and unlined, his eyes a brighter blue than she remembered; his smile joyful and unrestrained.  There’s no danger, no secrets, no worry to mar his features. 

Strolling through the forest, talking on the bow of the Jewel, holding hands on the balcony…

The whirling visions pause there, everything slowing back down and the scene solidifying.

“You’re leaving at first light?” she asks, regretting the question the moment it leaves her lips. 

He nods in lieu of answering, his eyes moving to look out over the gardens rather than meet hers. 

They’ve been ignoring his impending departure all day, neither of them wanting to tarnish their time together with talk of another separation.  

“How long will you be gone?” she asks gently. 

“At least two months,” he replies. 

The pall cast over them is nearly tangible and Emma is desperate to lessen it. 

“Lucky you,” she comments lightly, “that means you won’t have to endure Baron Everly’s visit while I’ll be stuck here listening to all his nasally complaints about the state of the roads, or how the sun is too bright, or why the air has to smell like flowers all the time.”

“Who would complain about the air smelling like flowers?” he asks with a trace of amusement. 

“Baron Everly.  The man loves to grumble.  It doesn’t matter what it is, he finds something to whine about.  It’s almost impressive how he can turn anything into a gripe.”

The annoyance in her voice turns his smirk into a full smile and he steps forward to wrap his arms around her waist.  “Well, then it’s too bad I won’t be here.”

Emma chuckles.  “You want to hear him go on about how fabulous Granny’s cooking is just so he can lament over the fact that his cooks are awful?”

“Well, no,” he admits, “but I would, if I were here.”

“Why on earth would you do that?”

“So you wouldn’t have to,” he says simply.

Her confusion turns to understanding and her face lights up.  “You’d do that for me?”

His hand lifts to her cheek, his voice turning serious, “I’d do anything for you, Emma.”

Emma’s heart flutters and the words leave her mouth before she even considers what she’s saying. 

“I love you.”

His eyes widen and he draws a sharp breath, his hand falling away.  He doesn’t reply, he just stands there staring at her, the silence stretching so long that Emma feels a strong urge to flee. 

She thought she knew how he felt about her. She thought he felt the same way.  But the longer he remains silent, the more doubt creeps into her mind.  And he must see it, her decision to run, because his hand shoots out to block her escape route in the same moment she takes the first step.  She freezes but is too terrified to look at him.  She knows her cheeks are flaming in embarrassment and disappointment, so she turns her face away from him as far as she can and squeezes her eyes shut.

“Emma…” he whispers, the forefinger of his free hand gently nudging at her chin until she’s facing him again.  “Emma, open your eyes, love.”

She does as he’s asked to find a profound tenderness in his expression, his lips curved at the edges.  For a moment he simply looks at her, bringing his other hand up to run through her hair.  Once he’s finished his study, his eyes come back to hers.

“I love you, Emma.”

Her heart jumps in her chest, so much so that it nearly drowns out the sparks that erupt from within it, and then he’s bending to meet her lips, his tongue begging entrance and softly tangling with hers.

K&EK&EK&E

Killian’s heart is pounding while he tries to hold Emma steady against the violent shaking of the ship. 

“Emma add your magic to mine.  I can’t do this alone!” Merlin shouts.

Magic fills his chest and the Jolly jolts up and forward.  It feels like the hull has left the water for an instant, but it drops after only a few feet, splashing back down into the sea.  Then it jolts again.  And again. 

Everyone is grappling for something to hold onto.  He sees David wrap his hand into one of the nets and reach for Jefferson’s belt when he nearly goes over the side.  Dopey loses his grip on the wheel and it spins chaotically until Ruby stumbles forward and steadies it.  The planks are shaking and screeching with each surge, the hull battering against the water in a sort of skipping motion that makes Killian begin to worry the old girl might split right in two. 

“Emma, LOOK AT ME!”

Merlin’s authoritative command brings his attention back to the wizard.  His eyes flick between the two of them for an instant, then he leans forward and speaks to Emma in a low voice.  Killian can’t hear the words but whatever it is causes Emma’s body to go nearly limp and Killian immediately replants his feet to steady her. 

Worried, he leans forward to check on her.  As he does so, magic starts humming in his blood, its intensity almost mesmerizing.  It builds slowly at first, softly drowning out the chaos around him, then faster and faster until, without warning it bursts so strongly that it takes his breath away.  It’s warm around his heart and it fills his head with a hazy hum of happiness that feels vaguely like the buzz of too many shots of rum.

Somewhere in the distance, he realizes the Jolly is no longer stuttering, her path now calm and smooth.  The knowledge is dim, but he thinks he hears laughter as well.  With some effort, he pulls himself out of the haze and scans the deck.  A shout of victory penetrates, immediately followed by Ruby’s joyous words: 

“We’re flying!” she exclaims, turning to David in wonder.  “We’re actually flying!”

David chuckles in return and casts a glance over to where he, Merlin and Emma are standing, his eyes filled with pride. 

Leaning his head back, Killian looks up to the sails open above him.  With amazement, he watches as the fires blow out, the edges of the holes left behind sparkling and collapsing inward until they’re completely mended.  Then he goes up on his toes to see over the rail and finds Regina’s ship engulfed in flames below, the scene only slightly obscured by the fog they’d left behind.

Patricia and Grace burst through one of the hatches and Jefferson pulls them into his arms, turning so that they can gaze over the rail together.  The little girl giggles and Killian feels an answering smile touch his lips.  It’s then when he notices the magic ebbing slowly away and he turns back to Emma to find her eyes open and on Merlin, something in their expressions making him feel like they’ve just had a silent conversation.  Emma nods to the wizard and the ship begins to descend back to the water.  The moment it touches down softly on the waves, Emma and Merlin release their grip. 

Killian knows a moment of worry that the show of such powerful magic might have drained Emma’s strength but she just laughs, turning to accept the thanks and congratulations from the rest of the group.  When she finally faces him, her eyes are filled with something he can’t place and she hesitates for one instant before throwing her arms around him and burying her face in his neck.

Chapter Text

Dopey has always prided himself on his ability to see the best in every situation.  And he’s always endeavored to encourage others to see it as well.  Life can be stressful.  It can be fraught with danger.  And in the case of those closest to him, stress and danger are a regular occurrence which, at times, has made his goal nearly impossible to accomplish.

And it certainly has been impossible for the past week.  The blanket of anxiety that has settled over the Jolly Roger since the night they escaped Regina’s warship has been nearly suffocating.  Everyone is tense.  Everyone on edge.  And no amount of distraction is helping. 

The Spark of Prometheus is still unlit.  Regardless of how many times Emma and Killian try to light it, it continues to lay stubbornly in its case, dull and black.  And with each failed attempt, the peace the two of them had forged since finding each other again has deteriorated.  In fact, it’s gotten so bad, they are barely speaking.

For instance, right now.  There they are at the helm with Merlin while he holds the case and murmurs encouragement.  Killian’s hand is resting on Emma’s waist, but that’s the only point of contact between the two of them.  Emma’s hands are balled into fists at her sides, her brow glistening with perspiration and her eyes clamped shut in concentration. 

No one else is on deck and Dopey can’t blame them.  During the first few attempts, everyone had been gathered around, watching expectantly, but now they intentionally make themselves scarce.  Even Merlin looks like he wishes he could be anywhere else. 

Long minutes pass, and Emma’s breathing becomes harsh.  Her eyes squeeze tighter and her head bows.  Then, with a sound of frustration, she stomps her foot and opens her eyes. 

Killian’s hand drops from her waist and Emma mumbles something Dopey can’t hear.  Then she turns and walks to the hatch, disappearing from view.  Killian shakes his head and walks to the opposite hatch.

Dopey sighs and goes back to polishing the Jolly’s bell.

The way Dopey sees it, there are two obstacles standing in their way. 

First, David.  As much as he loves his king, the man is hell bent on keeping Killian and the princess from having more than a few minutes alone.  His protective nature was a bit comical at first, but as time has passed, it’s become clear the king is hindering more than the couple’s… um…  romantic tendencies. 

The second reason is less obvious.  At least to most.  But Dopey can see it plain as day.  Killian is keeping something from Emma.  A secret that weighs heavily on him.  And he’s been keeping it from her since the first day she awoke on the Jolly Roger. 

“Do you know what it is?”

The sound of Merlin’s voice startles Dopey so thoroughly that he drops the scrub brush to the deck with a clatter. 

Turning, he faces the wizard with wide eyes.

“Do you know what he’s keeping from her?” the wizard asks again.

Confused, Dopey turns to scan the deck behind him to see who on earth Merlin is addressing.  Finding no one in the vicinity, he looks to the other man and points to his chest.  Me? he thinks. 

“Yes, you, Dopey,” the man confirms.

I…  I don’t…  You can hear me?

“Yes, I can.”

That takes a minute to process.  Dopey has never had a full conversation with anyone.  He’s always been limited to hand gestures and the occasional nod, so the thought that Merlin can understand him is a bit awe-inspiring.

A grin breaks across Dopey’s face.  This is amazing!

Merlin mirrors his smile.  “No more amazing than your innate skill of observation.  I’d be willing to bet you know more about the goings on in this kingdom than anyone, even the king himself.”

Dopey didn’t think his eyes could get any wider, but now they feel like they’re ready to burst from their sockets. 

The wizard is right, though.  He does know more than anyone.  People tend to disregard his presence most of the time.  It’s almost like his inability to speak renders him invisible, which has made it very simple for him to learn a great many things.  Of course, his knowledge is all for naught since he can’t communicate it, but…

“You can now,” the wizard says.

Right.  Wow. 

Dopey bows his head, his brow wrinkling.  Now, what’s the one thing I’ve always wanted to - Oh! He looks up to Merlin as the thought gushes out.  Doc and Granny have been having an affair for almost five years now but they’ve kept it secret because, when we were young, the seven of us swore we would always put our brotherhood first which included never getting involved with a woman.  Whew! It feels good to get that off my chest.  But – you can’t tell anyone.  Doc will have my head if you do.

Merlin laughs outright.  “How long have you been holding that one in?”

A long time.

“Well, their secret is safe with me.”

Thanks.

“What about Killian?  Do you know what he’s keeping from Emma?”

Sorry, no.  I just know he’s keeping it from her.  Something catches his eye and he points over the water.  Oh, look!  A baby dolphin!  Isn’t she sweet!  I wonder where her mother is…

“Dopey, focus,” Merlin says, bringing Dopey’s attention back to him. “Are you sure he hasn’t mentioned anything?”

Nope.  But can’t you see it?  I mean, you can see things, right?  Things you weren’t actually there to witness?

“Yes, but not everything.  I can’t pick and choose what to look at.”

Dopey eyes scan the water as he replies, Well, I’m not sure it makes a differ – Oh there she is! Look!  He points over the rail to the mama dolphin who has just emerged next to her calf.

This time, Merlin spares a glance over the rail and a grin flitters across his face.  “Yes, the mama won’t let her get too far.  But back to Killian and Emma?”

Oh, right, well, I’m not sure it matters what the secret is.  Only that he won’t tell her.

“Fair enough.  But why wouldn’t he?”

Dopey thinks back to the first day Emma awoke and tells Merlin about the whole ‘pirate’ issue.

“Ah, I see,” Merlin replies.

And…  Well…

“Well, what?”

Well, I’m not sure having the king here is helping matters. 

“You’re right about that,” Merlin says.  “We need to figure out a way to get him to go back to Camelot.”

Any ideas?

“Usually the simplest way is the best one.”

And that is?

“Tell him the truth,” Merlin replies.

Predictably, the king is none too happy about the suggestion.

“You can’t be serious!” David bursts.

“Unfortunately, I am, Your Majesty,” Merlin replies.

The king’s arms are crossed over his chest but he drops them to his sides.  “I’m not leaving my daughter!”

“David – ” the wizard tries again.

“No.  I’m not going back to Camelot without her!”

“But they need time alone.”

“They can have time alone.”

Dopey can’t stop the pfft that comes out of his mouth but when David turns his fury on him, he sidesteps to stand behind Merlin.

“Your Majesty, please,” Merlin says in a calm voice, “I know you can see Emma’s frustration growing.  She and Killian need to talk.  And it’s not the type of discussion either of them can have if they’re worried about you hovering around.”

"I don't 'hover'!"

Merlin lets his silence answer. 

"Okay, fine.  Maybe I hover a little.  But if I didn't..."

"If you didn't, what?"

"Don't treat me like a fool, wizard.  I know damn well they were sharing a cabin before I showed up."

"And I feel certain they'll share one after you leave."

David’s voice takes on a dangerous edge.  “If that’s your way of trying to talk me into going, I can assure you it’s not helping.”

This from the man who snuck into Snow White’s room every night for a solid week before their wedding, Dopey thinks.

“Did he?” Merlin asks, turning to Dopey with interest, “Did he really?”

“’Did he really,’ what?” David asks.

Merlin smiles at Dopey.  “You really are a font of information, aren’t you?”

Dopey shrugs and Merlin shakes his head in wonder.

“You and I are going to have to have a little sit down later to see what else you know.”

“What the hell are you two talking about?” David growls.

Merlin turns back to David but amusement still lights his face.  “We were just discussing a castle wall you figured out how to scale in your youth.”

David’s eyes widen then land on Dopey.

“You knew about that?”

Dopey tilts his head and gives David a sardonic look.

“It doesn’t matter,” David declares, “This is a completely different situation.  Snow and I were – ”

“True Loves?”  Merlin interrupts.

David grits his teeth.

“Look, there’s more to this than just giving them time.  Think of all the things you could do in Camelot.  You could prepare for our arrival, find out if Arthur has found the other half of the dagger, coordinate with the other kingdoms.  There’s not much time left and a great deal that still needs to be done.”

David remains steadfast, shaking his head.  “Then, you go,” he says to Merlin, “Check in with Lance and come back and give us a full report.”

Merlin rolls his eyes.  “You think if I return to Camelot without you, Lancelot will answer a single one of my questions?  If you’ll recall, he wasn’t too keen on you joining me in the first place.”

“I can write him a letter.  Explain everything.”

“And he’ll think I forged it or forced you to write it.” 

“Then we’ll wait,” David asserts, “We’ll be there in two days, anyway.”

Merlin lets out a long-suffering sigh.  “Okay,” he says, “You don’t want to leave your daughter.  I understand that and I sympathize.  But they’re further from lighting it today than they were the day after we escaped the Regina’s warship.”

“That can’t be…”

“It is,” Merlin insists.  “If you don’t believe me, watch our next attempt.  We’ll be trying again after dinner.”

“Fine.”

K&EK&EK&E

Three hours later, David has to admit Merlin might be right.  He’s standing on deck, subtly observing the lesson.  

Tension radiates from the couple standing at the bow.  Killian stands behind Emma, his hand on her hip but keeping an obvious and awkward distance between their bodies.

As David watches, Emma releases a frustrated growl and opens her eyes. 

Killian drops his hand from her waist.  “Emma…” he says gently.

“If you tell me I need rest again… “

Killian’s mouth snaps shut.

Looking back to Merlin, Emma adds, “I think we’re done for the day.”  Then stalks away and disappears into the ship.

Killian stands immobile as he watches her go, an indecipherable emotion crossing his face that causes David’s brow to wrinkle.  It’s not anger.  It’s not frustration.  It’s something else…  Defeat, maybe?  No.  Not with the way his eyes cloud and his jaw tightens.

Killian mumbles something to Merlin and goes off in the opposite direction Emma had taken, stopping at the rail to look out over the water.  David stays where he is, apprehensive curiosity holding him frozen. 

What the hell is going on?

He watches the pirate run his hand through his hair and lean over, bracing his elbows on the rail.  His shoulders are slumped, his head bowed and realization slams into David’s chest. 

Guilt. 

David’s not sure how he knows, but that’s what the indecipherable emotion had been.  Guilt. 

Guilt and fear. 

Over what? David wonders. 

“He’s keeping something from her,” Merlin says in a low voice, having crossed the deck to stand beside him.

“Do you know what it is?” David asks.

“I have my suspicions.” 

David continues to study the pirate’s defeated posture and things start falling into place.  This is the reason for that look they shared when they read the prophecy, when they found out they were True Loves.  Apparently, it was an issue before he even showed up on this ship, he’s just been too distracted by other things to see it until now.

“Something that happened while they were separated?”

“Yes.”

While they were separated…  which the prophecy said they should never be. 

“Now do you understand why you need to give them space?”

Resigned, David bows his head.  “Yes,” he replies, “I guess I do.”

“Good,” Merlin says.  “So, you’ll go back to Camelot?”

It’s a struggle to be sure.  He doesn’t want to leave Emma.  He’s just gotten her back and the thought of willing saying goodbye to her makes his stomach churn.  It’s not just about the thought of her and Killian sharing a bed.  She’s his little girl.  His family. 

He’s waited years…  Years of solitude in Camelot.  Years of being cooped up while others were out doing.  And the past week, while he’s been on this ship, he finally feels like he’s contributing. 

The end of this is near and his patience is thin.  He’s always been a man of action.  And the thought of going back to the virtual prison of Camelot, grates under his skin. 

“Couldn’t I just stay out of their way?”

Merlin’s voice is sympathetic. “I don’t think that will work.  They need privacy.  The kind of privacy that excludes parental supervision.”

David’s thoughts take a dark turn at Merlin’s phrasing.

“Not like that,” Merlin adds quickly. 

David huffs out a breath.  “Fine.  But I’m going to have a talk with a certain pirate before I go.”

K&EK&EK&E

After staring at the ocean for what feels like an eternity, Killian turns and heads below.  Hesitating on the bottom step, his eyes dart toward his cabin where he knows Emma is but he goes in the opposite direction toward the galley. 

Despite his somber mood, amusement tickles at his lips when he enters the room.  He’s never seen the galley look so warm and inviting.  Ruby has put her unique staple on it.  The spices are lined up on the counter in pristine order, a plate of cookies made to look like different animals sits on the table, and where on earth she managed to find a cloth to cover the scarred wood, he’ll never know, but the room looks more suited to royalty than a rowdy pirate crew.  Smiling, he chooses a cookie that was obviously made by Grace, a line of sugar used to draw what would usually be a menacing tiger’s snarl now a happy grin. 

Rolling his shoulders, he pops the cookie into his mouth and sits down to reach for the scroll still sitting in the middle of the table.  He’s read it enough times over the past few days that he could recite it by memory, but he opens it anyway.

He’d been right.  It will be Emma against Regina – every one of his greatest fears confirmed – the now certain fate that the woman he loves is the only hope for the realm. 

His True Love. 

She’s his True Love.

It’s the most powerful magic of all.  Or at least it’s supposed to be.  And yet, when they faced Regina it wasn’t enough.  And that’s his fault…

Stuffing another cookie in his mouth, he leans back and stares at the ceiling. 

“Do you have a minute?”

Killian’s eyes swing to the door to find King David on the threshold. 

Standing, he nods and David enters the room. 

“Please sit.”  David says, crossing to take the empty chair on the opposite side of the table. 

David leans forward to study the plate of cookies, taking his time making his choice.

He holds one up.  “What is this one supposed to be, do you think?”

It’s an odd opening for the king.  David is usually the type to get right to the point but for whatever reason, he’s taking his time today. 

Killian examines the cookie.  “My guess would be a dragon.”

David nods, still considering the cookie.  “You may be right.” 

At long last, he breaks a piece off and pops it into his mouth, then he sits back in his chair, eyeing Killian while he chews. 

“I’m going back to Camelot tonight.”

It’s the last thing Killian expected to hear and his mouth drops open.

“I don’t really want to leave Emma, but it would be better for me to return ahead of the rest of you so that we can prepare for your arrival.”

He pushes a map across the table and Killian sees an ‘X’ that has been added since the last time they spoke.

“This is where I want you to dock.  It’s remote but the cliffs are easily defended and the cove will provide privacy for us.” 

Killian looks more closely at the map, examining the area to see if he can identify any potential danger. 

The king drums his fingers on the table while he waits, and after a few minutes of study, Killian drops the map. 

“It’s an excellent choice, Your Majesty.”

David doesn’t respond, he just keeps drumming his fingers, his eyes narrowed and on Killian’s face. 

After a few tense moments, during which Killian has to resist the urge to squirm, David finally speaks.  “Are you still planning to marry my daughter, Captain?”

Killian can feel his eyes widen, but before he can reply, the king continues.

“Because your engagement is still official to my mind.”

“I…  well… I hadn’t really…”

“Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about it,” David says with a touch of derision.

“I – I mean, we – we haven’t really discussed…” 

“You love her,” David says, reaching for the prophecy.  “You can’t say you don’t.  The proof is right here.”

“It’s not a question of love.  It’s…” 

“It’s what, exactly?”

It’s a question of whether she’ll still want me when this is over, Killian thinks.  But he can’t say that, so instead he bites at his lip and lowers his gaze to his lap, idly twirling the ring on his thumb. 

Several heartbeats pass in silence before the king speaks again.

“You want to marry her, don’t you?”

“Of course, I do,” he replies instantly, “But…”

“But, what?”

Sucking in a harsh breath, he regards his king.  David isn’t going to let this go.  And Killian can’t blame him.  The king isn’t a fool and he’s surely aware that Emma and he have already… consummated their relationship.  But the thought of voicing the doubts plaguing him makes his stomach churn. 

His silence prompts David to sit back in his chair and let out a small sigh. 

“I’ve heard a lot of stories about you, you know.  Stories of the ruthless pirate, Captain Hook.  Some were brutal, some were impressive, and some were simply outlandish.  I imagine the truth lies somewhere in the middle.”

It’s doesn’t surprise Killian that David has honed in on the real issue.  He’s intuitive and smart and misses very little.

“I’m not asking what you did,” the king continues, “but you need to talk to Emma about it.  If you’re afraid she won’t understand – ”

“That’s not what I’m afraid of,” Killian interrupts, but then sucks in a deep breath.  “No, that’s a lie.  I am afraid she won’t understand.  But that’s not…  all.  It’s…”  He picks the scroll up and holds it out.   “I love her.  She loves me.  Like you said, the proof is right here but…”

“But what?” David prompts.

“What if that’s not enough?”

“How do you mean?”

“Merlin told us that our magic is light magic.  Its power is fueled by good.  So what if I tell her and our magic still isn’t powerful enough?  What if that power has been diminished because I’m… dark?”

“But you’re not.  Not anymore.”

“Maybe.  But I lived in darkness for a long time.  I’ve done some terrible things.  And I do regret some of them.  But others I don’t.”

David regards him in silence for a long moment before speaking.  “Everything you did – every choice you made – brought you here.  It brought you back to my daughter.” 

“Yes.  It did.  But you don’t understand.  That darkness, it’s…  it’s still there.  I can feel it inside me.  So if I tell her.  And if she forgives me… What if that’s not enough?”

“You’ll never know until you try.”  The soft feminine voice has both of their heads swinging toward the threshold where Emma is standing, silently watching them. 

Both he and David freeze, but the king recovers quickly. 

“I’d say that’s my cue,” he says, standing and crossing to his daughter.  “I’ll see you in a few days, pumpkin.”

“A few days?” she asks.

“Yes, I’m going back to Camelot tonight.  Merlin is taking me.  I’ll ensure everything is ready for your arrival.”

“But I don’t want you to – ”

“Merlin – and Dopey – think it’s better this way, and as much as I don’t want to agree with them, I do.”

Emma’s smile is a bit sheepish but she nods her head.

The two embrace before David crosses back to Killian and extends his hand.  Killian takes it and nearly winces at the strength of the king’s grip. 

“You will marry her,” he says in a voice low enough that Emma won’t hear.  “Do you understand me, pirate?”

When Killian nods his agreement, David releases his hand and Killian immediately shakes it out to allow the blood to flow again. 

“Good,” David says, then raises his voice back to a normal level.  “I’ll see you both in Camelot.”

K&EK&EK&E

Regina is sitting in her storeroom, pouring over her books when the door swings open.  She snaps her head up in annoyance at the interruption but before she can react, Claude steps in, his pace urgent.

“Sorry to interrupt, Your Majesty, but there’s someone here to see you.”

“Who?”

“I think it’s better if you see for yourself, my queen.”

Regina’s brow wrinkles.  It’s not like Claude to speak in riddles so whoever it is must have substantially flustered him.  With a long-suffering sigh, she lays the book down and stands. 

Claude follows her out and half-way down the corridor motions to four other knights to flank her.  His concern piques her curiosity.  It’s not usual for her to have bodyguards.  She doesn’t really need them and Claude knows that and yet, for some reason, today he feels she does. 

Who on earth would warrant such a display?

The doors in front of her swing open and she stutters to a halt, her eyes widening. 

Well, that answers that question. 

Of all the people in the world, this would have been one of the last people she would have expected to show up on her doorstep. 

Her guest turns, eyes meeting hers.  They size each other up for a heartbeat then her guest inclines their head with a quirk of a smile, “Your Majesty.”

Regina raises a brow.  “What do you want?” she asks, refusing to deal with pleasantries.

Their smile spreads into a full-fledged grin.  “A great many things.  But let’s start with what I can offer.”

K&EK&EK&E

Emma follows behind Killian as he leads her to his quarters.  He hasn’t said a word since her father left them in the galley and his shoulders are stiff and set. 

He holds the door open and lets her proceed him into the room.  Once she reaches the center she turns to see him leaning against the now closed door, watching her. 

A distant ‘whooshing’ sound has her glancing to the deck above them, and she tries to smile. 

“Alone at last,” she comments in an attempt to lighten the mood.

But Killian doesn’t smile, his expression doesn’t change at all.

“I think, perhaps, you should sit down, love.” 

His voice is flat but not harsh and she complies, taking a seat at the table and folding her hands. 

Crossing to his desk, he pulls out a bottle of rum and two glasses.  He pours both, then drinks one and refills it before crossing back to the table to hand one to her.   She stays silent, worried that any word from her would only make his anxiety worse, so she simply throws her head back and downs the contents of her glass, laying it gently on the table when she’s done.  He’s already turned away again, studying the amber liquid in his own glass as he swirls it around, then with a long exhale, he lifts the glass to his lips and swallows.

Keeping his eyes on the empty glass, he begins, his words slow and controlled, “The news came of your death while we were still in the Evil Queen’s dungeon.  The guards celebrated it, cheering in the corridors and rattling their swords along the bars – taking immense pleasure in taunting all of us.  Our kingdom was lost.  Our beloved queen was cursed, our brave king on the run and our beautiful princess dead and…”

He trails off, dropping his chin to his chest and squeezing his eyes shut as though trying to fend off the pain rising in him.  After taking a moment to gather himself, he lifts his head, his gaze unfocused somewhere on the wall in front of him. 

“I nearly died in that cell.  My wrist was infected and I was burning with fever, and losing you took away all the will I had left to live.  But I hallucinated, you see…. vivid hallucinations of you galloping across an open field of flowers, of walking through the woods, and I…  I just…” his voice starts to rise, “I thought I’d know it if you were gone.  I thought I’d feel it and I… I didn’t.”

He enunciates the ‘t’ on the last word, practically spitting it out, then takes a deep breath.

“After we escaped, I convinced Jeff to help me search for you.  Liam had told both he and Graham about an inn where we were supposed to meet you and he made them swear that if anything happened to him, they’d try to get me there.  So that’s where we went.  The innkeeper denied having ever seen you but I didn’t believe him.  He’d obviously been paid off to keep your whereabouts a secret, so we searched the area, looking for any clue and… and that’s where we found August.”

His voice breaks and he stops again to take several deep breaths. 

“I knew August would protect you with his life and it seemed that, if he were dead, there was no hope…  But even after that, I kept hoping.  I didn’t tell Jeff.  He always thought it was a slim chance and finding August was enough to convince him.  And since there was no trail to follow, we couldn’t continue the search anyway but…  But I held onto that hope.  I lived off that hope until…  Until I found something that, in my mind at least, proved you were gone.”

His eyes flick to the chest and Emma has to fight the urge to stand and go to him.

He angles his body away from her, his voice rough and dripping with self-loathing when he tells her what he did.  He tells her about the ship they came across.  He tells her how he’d felt when he found the proof of her death.  He tells her how he’d wanted to die himself.  He tells her about the venom that had run through his veins when he’d stood at the bow and given the order to sink the ship, the need to make someone pay for stealing his life.  He even tells her about the satisfaction he’d felt when the ship disappeared beneath the waves… 

Then he tells her about the fall out.  He tells her about the instant he’d realized what he’d done and the grief that rained down on him. 

Emma almost wishes he’d stop speaking, not because she doesn’t want to hear anymore, but because she can see how much it hurts him, how badly he’s tortured himself over this.  He made a terrible mistake, a mistake that, yes, was horrendous, but it was a mistake

Tears stream down his cheeks, and hers, too, the image of him blurring as the words drip like acid from his tongue. “They didn’t deserve to die,” he says fervently, finally swinging his eyes to hers, “They were simple tradesmen who happened upon something of value.  They had no idea what they had.  They had no idea it was ever yours.  They were innocent men trying to provide for their families and I murdered them.  And for what?  Vengeance?  They hadn’t done anything wrong!”

The blue of his eyes bore into hers like he’s trying to convince her to hate him as much as he hates himself and her stomach drops to the floor.  She starts to rise but the step back he takes stops her.

“But it didn’t matter to me who they were,” he goes on with venom in his voice, “They did business with Regina and that was enough to justify it in my mind.  I made widows and orphans out of their wives and children – wives and children who, to this day, don’t know what happened to them because I couldn’t see past the hatred in my heart!”

He stops there, his confession complete, viciously swiping at the tears on his cheeks, like he realizes he doesn’t even deserve to mourn those men.   Shaking his head, he sniffles and crosses the room to stand in front of the chest. 

When he speaks again, his voice is clogged but his tone is calm and detached.  “Every time I’d find something of yours or your family’s, I’d put it in here.  Other than a few things of Liam’s, everything in here belongs to you.”

Slowly, he lifts the chest and carries it to the table, setting it gently down right in front of her without meeting her eyes.  The click his hook makes when he removes it echoes through the quiet room before he lays it on top of the chest.  Instinctively, she covers his hand with hers before he can draw it back and he sucks in a breath, his fingers contracting around hers.  They stay like that for several seconds while he watches his thumb traces circles on the back of her hand but then he shakes his head and steps away, pulling his hand from hers. 

The message is clear: This isn’t over yet.  It’s not over until she sees what’s in the chest.  But more than that, he’s not ready to accept her forgiveness no matter how badly she wants to give it.  He doesn’t trust yet that this isn’t a snap judgment.  He wants her to take some time alone to process everything he’s said. 

He looks raw and broken when he meets her eyes one last time.  Then, without another word, he turns and walks out of the room. 

She keeps her eyes on the closed door, almost tempted to chase after him without even looking in the box.  She even takes a step in that direction but stops herself.  Because he’s right.  She needs to see what’s in there.  She needs some time to gather herself – not because there’s a chance she’ll change her mind but because she needs to take a minute to let everything sink in.

With shaky hands, she reaches for the key, twisting it in the lock until it clicks.  Slowly, she lifts the lid and her eyes widen, amazed at the number of treasures he’s found.  Her father’s crown is on top, her mother’s rubies, her pearl necklace, her mother’s ring…  She looks through every piece, memory after memory blooming with each new item but then…  Then she sees what he found and her eyes gloss over, her heart contracting.

Her jade necklace.  The necklace she was wearing the night they were separated. 

With slow movements, she reaches in and curls her fingers around the jewels.  Tears stream down her cheeks and she cradles them to her chest, misery crawling up her throat until she sinks into the chair and sobs.

K&EK&EK&E

The night is starless and still as he stands at the helm and surveys the ocean.  There’s nothing, absolutely nothing, to see but pitch black in every direction; there aren’t even any waves being illuminated by the Jolly’s lanterns, the calm eerie and desolate.  

He doesn’t hear her approach, which is surprising given the utter silence of the night, and he startles when a plank only a few feet behind him creaks. 

Turning to face her, he finds her cheeks dry, but her red-rimmed eyes tell him they haven’t been dry long.  His own eyes are gritty and burning and it takes a great deal of concentration to keep them from filling.  She stands speechless for a moment, the diamonds and jades on the necklace in her hand glittering even in the near black night.

At long last, she looks down to the necklace, fingering at the jewels.  “I had to sell them to pay for a new roof for The Gold Mine,” she starts, “Leroy wanted to sell it because we couldn’t afford the wood, so I offered to sell these to make up the difference.  I didn’t want to move again.  I’d finally found a place where I could have a little peace and the thought of giving that up was agonizing to me.”

She sniffles lightly, finally looking up to him and he’s surprised to see how tortured her expression is.

“Do you know what brought me that peace?” she asks quietly and he shakes his head, his lungs burning from his attempt to hold the tears at bay.  “Naval ships used to dock there and, occasionally, the officers would come in and it…” she pauses to swallow and swipe at a tear that escapes, “It was the only thing I had left of you.  The only connection I could find and… And I would have done anything to keep it. This necklace… It meant nothing to me but…  Being near the sea…  Being near anything that kept you close to me… I – ” 

She cuts off and turns away, struggling to find words once again.  He aches to hold her, so much so that his arm twitches at his side, but he stays where he is, knowing there’s more she wants to say. 

“It never occurred to me that you might still be alive.  Graham told me he saw you die and I had no reason not to believe him.  I never had any hope, so I don’t know what it must have been like to have it crushed.  But I do remember what it felt like when Graham told me you were dead… the way every muscle in my body turned to stone, the way my lungs squeezed into an icy cold weight that pressed on my heart…”

She pauses for several more deep breaths and then her demeanor changes, her shoulders straightening and her head lifting as she looks out at the blackness of the night.  When she speaks again, he’s surprised by the malice in her words. “The next night, black knights caught up with us on the road and I was…  I was glad to see them.  I wanted them to catch us.  I wanted an excuse to draw my sword.  And I wanted them dead.  I charged into them before August could stop me and...  and…”

She shakes her head to cover the crack in her voice, “He chased after me.  He was standing right next to me when he died.  And I can’t help but wonder…  If I’d been more retrained…  If I’d waited like I should have but…” She clears her throat and tightens her hands into fists.  “But I was so angry that I… I couldn’t stop.  I wouldn’t stop until either they were all dead or I was.  I can still remember that rage racing through my bloodstream.  I was consumed by it.  I enjoyed killing them.  Every single one that fell made satisfaction rise up in my chest, every drop of blood was gratifying to watch as it spilled to the earth.”

Killian’s feet feel rooted to the ground, his heart hammering to the point of pain as her confession settles cold and hard in his stomach.

Turning only far enough to see him out of the corner of her eye, she takes a deep breath. “I know it’s not the same as what happened to you.  But my point is, I know how what it feels like when fury blocks out everything else and twists you into another person for a time.  I remember it with perfect clarity.”

The last words come out as nearly a whisper and he forces his feet to work, crossing to her and spinning her into his arms.  Cupping her chin, he lifts her eyes to his, smoothing his thumb over her temple as he takes in the dark emerald. 

She does understand.  She does remember.  And she’s just as tortured and repentant for her mistake as he is. 

His heart aches for both of them, but there’s a cleansing quality underneath it that surprises him, realizing this is something they’d both been in need of.  They’d both needed to make these confessions.  And now that they have, they can bear the burden of them together.  It’s an astoundingly profound feeling, this feeling of being completely exposed, of breaking down the remainder of the walls that had been between them. 

They stand silently for some time, slowly allowing the guilt and sadness to release itself, both seemingly content to simply hold the other.  A breeze begins to blow, soft and warm, and Killian feels a sudden peace settle into his heart.  He hears Emma release a long sigh and snuggles further into his chest.

He lifts her chin to find her eyes soft and smoky and he smiles.

“I love you, Emma,” he whispers. 

Her chest expands against his on a sharp breath. 

“I love you, too.”

The moment she says it, he feels an overpowering crackle of magic rush through him but he ignores it in favor of lowering his lips to hers.  They meet softly, light grazes filled with reverence and love while the world around them brightens.  He doesn’t notice at first and she doesn’t either, too distracted by the shimmering peace that settles more firmly with each brush of lips, too caught up in the relief and joy of finally having no barriers left between them.  Eventually, though, the light amplifies so much that it can’t be ignored and they turn in unison to see the Spark of Prometheus burning brightly in its case. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Merlin and David materialize in the middle of the war room. A quick glance around shows no one in the immediate vicinity.

"Come on," David says, heading toward the door. "We'll find Lance and get a report before you return so you can pass the news along to the others."

Merlin follows behind David as they cross into the east wing of the castle. When they knock on Lancelot's door there's no answer, so next they head to the main hall. Due to the late hour, the room is nearly empty but David spies Percival and leads Merlin to him.

After a quick introduction, David asks about Lance only to be told he left the day after David had.

"Where has he gone?"

"He didn't say, Your Majesty."

David shifts beside him in obvious frustration. "Any word from the king?"

"He's due back any time."

"What about the queen?"

"She went to visit her sister. She's expecting her second child any day and the Queen wanted to be there for the birth."

David dismisses the knight with a quick thanks, but waits until Percival is out of earshot before stalking back toward the war room. Merlin follows and shuts the door behind them to ensure privacy.

"Not the welcome you were expecting?" Merlin asks once they're alone.

"No," the king replies shortly, crossing to stand at the window facing over the harbor.

Since the king's tone doesn't invite conversation, Merlin waits in silence while David stares out into the night, apparently lost in thought.

"It's odd, don't you think?" David muses aloud.

"What's odd?"

"That Lance would leave without telling anyone where he's going. Even more so when you consider both the king and queen are away."

"I suppose it is," Merlin comments. Another few minutes of silence ensues before Merlin speaks up again. "What are you thinking?"

David's eyes, dark with thoughts, lift to his. He opens his mouth to speak but then shakes his head. "Nothing," he says, turning back to the window. "It's not possible." Then in an undertone that's almost too low for Merlin to hear, he adds, "It just can't be."

K&EK&EK&E

Killian keeps Emma in his arms as they stare at the Spark, both in awe of the tiny flame. Unlike a regular flame, the heat it radiates permeates the air all around them so that the warmth doesn't just come from the direction of the flame itself but from every angle. Killian's back which is facing the sea can feel the warmth as keenly as his front.

"It's incredible," Emma whispers.

"Aye," he replies, squeezing her around the waist.

"It feels almost like… love," she breathes.

Killian's brow wrinkles. "How do you mean?"

"Its warmth doesn't just come from the flame. It comes from… well, everywhere." She turns her eyes to his. "Does that make sense?"

"It does. But I suppose that's what Prometheus was about when he gave it to humankind." At Emma's puzzled look, he continues, "Prometheus was the brother of Zeus and a champion to humans. To that end, he sought to give us fire, against the wishes of his brother and the other gods. This is the Spark he gave us. It was given out of love so it's not surprising its effects are similar to love."

"I suppose so. And I suppose that's why it took love to ignite it," she points out.

"And it's love that fuels it as well."

"Well then," she murmurs, turning to him with a twinkle in her eye, "I think we should add fuel to the fire."

His face lights with a smile. "I agree," he replies, guiding her backwards toward the hatch.

He motions for her to lead and pauses long enough to close the hatch and lock it before following her down. She turns at the bottom of the ladder and raises up on her toes to meet his lips the instant his feet hit the floor.

Killian grunts in surprise and wraps his arms around her. With a quick twist, he clicks off his hook and tosses it toward the corner. Emma is already slipping off her shoes, while at the same time, unclasping his vest. He groans when her hands meet his chest and he anchors his hand in her hair to pull her back.

"Slow tonight, love," he murmurs. "Tonight, I want to love you slowly. Endlessly."

Her breath draws in sharply and her fingers dig into his chest. "But I – "

"Slowly, darling," he repeats, releasing her hair to run his hand down her spine. "And all night long."

Her breath whooshes out and her fingers loosen. Then in the most beautiful image of surrender he's ever seen, she simply lets her head fall back.

He takes his time on her neck, licking and sucking his way around from one side to the other. As he does, he feels the remaining urgency drain from her limbs and he groans in satisfaction.

Slowly, as he promised, he undresses her, taking the time to relish every inch of her skin. Once they are both completely bare, he eases her onto the bed and lies next to her. His hand drifts down to the thatch of curls between her legs but before he can slide his fingers in, she catches his hand.

"Not like that," she whispers, cupping his cheek with her other hand to bring his eyes to hers. "Not tonight. Only together tonight."

Any disappointment he'd felt at her denial melts away instantly. Because she's right. Together is what tonight wants. Together in spirit. In mind. And in body.

Nodding, he shifts over her, meeting her lips in a long, slow kiss. Her thighs spread to welcome him and he enters her with luxuriating softness. Her breath catches and she pulls him deeper with her hands, never breaking her lips from his.

Tangling his hand in her hair, he leverages up to stare into her eyes and begins a slow thrust. "I love you," he says softly, then takes her mouth again until he hears her moan.

Propping himself up on his elbows, he continues the slow thrusts, his eyes tracing her features. He already knows her body. He's memorized both the look and feel of it over the last few weeks but… right now, in this moment, it's never been more beautiful to his eyes and never felt so soft and smooth under his fingers. He keeps his gaze glued to it as he traces the curves he's come to know so well, entranced anew by the flushed pallor and silky texture of her skin.

She's exquisite. She's perfect. And she's his.

The pads of his fingers tingle as they brush along her torso, her skin erupting in goosebumps and a groan rumbling low in her throat. His eyes land on the place where they're joined, the stunning beauty of the way their bodies fit together making his heart stutter. He anchors his hand on her hip to encourage her to move slower, deeper, keeping his eyes on the sway of her body as he fills it again and again.

This was meant to be. It's True Love. It's been destined even. She is the woman he was always meant to find and share his life with.

And she loves him. Every broken and imperfect piece.

And he loves her. Every gorgeous and flawless inch.

Every time with Emma has been profound and meaningful but this… There's a layered beauty that unfolds with each touch, an unparalleled happiness that settles into his heart with each kiss. It's the most exquisite feeling he's ever experienced, every cell of his body filled with it, the poignant joy perfect and complete. That is, until he's careening toward the precipice and she guides his chin so that their eyes meet.

"I love you," she whispers just as he falls and everything that came before pales in comparison. He'd swear his soul itself bursts, the orgasm enveloping his very spirit. The potency of it is beyond words, lighting his every cell with utter beauty. He luxuriates in the sensation, pulling her impossibly closer with each stutter of his hips, releasing every ounce of love he can into her. He hears her hum next to his ear, feels her body clenching him as she finds her own completion and he holds her through it, stroking his fingers gently down the curve of her spine.

"I love you, too," he whispers once his voice returns, and feels her smile against his cheek. Dragging his lips back to hers, he sinks deep into a tender kiss that makes his still fuzzy senses spin to a dizzying degree. Slowly, he turns her on the mattress, twisting enough so that his chest presses into hers without breaking the kiss. Eyes closed, he keeps the kiss going, not wanting to give up this connection until it's absolutely necessary.

K&EK&EK&E

David awakes to the sound of cheerful chirping. Grunting, he rolls to his side and opens his eyes. And there, right on the coverlet next to him, is a bluebird.

The brave little animal stares directly at him, its head cocked to the side as though studying him.

Moving slowly so as not to startle his visitor, he sits up. It chirps once but doesn't move.

"And good morning to you, too, little friend," he says. "I see I left the window open. I imagine it's warmer in here than outside."

The animals head swivels to the other side, its eyes wide, then chirps again.

With awe, he stares at the animal. Snow had always loved bluebirds and they her. Before the kingdom fell, it was not uncommon for one to show up in their room. But this is the first time he's awoken to the chirping since she's been gone.

The thought of that prompts a memory of her on the terrace with one perched on her finger. He remembers the long white nightgown she wore and the length of shiny raven hair flowing down her back. She'd been pregnant with Emma, her free hand resting on her stomach as she murmured soft words to the bird.

With a smile lighting his face, he looks to his small visitor.

"Thank you for that," he says quietly. "That's a memory I needed today."

The bird chirps in what sounds like agreement just as David's door opens.

"Lancelot is back. And so is the queen," Merlin announces.

The little bird jolts from his spot and flies to the windowsill. Then, with one more look over at David, takes off into the early morning.

Ripping his eyes from the window, David looks to Merlin. "I'll be right down."

Merlin nods and leaves.

David finds Lance and Guinevere in the war room engaged in what appears to be an intense conversation. When the queen sees him enter, however, she steps away from Lance to meet him.

"David, I'm so sorry I wasn't here for your return," she says taking both his hands in hers.

"Not to worry," David responds, "So, is it a new niece or nephew?"

She beams. "A new nephew with a full head of curly brown hair. They've named him Jared."

"That's excellent news. Please send my congratulations to your sister and her husband."

"I will," she promises, then turns to Lance. "Thank you again for your help. I can't tell you what a relief it was that you appeared when you did."

"It was my pleasure, You Majesty," Lance replies.

"What's this?" David asks.

"My caravan was set upon by black knights on the return trip. For a moment I was sure they'd capture me, but Lance swooped in at the last minute and saved me."

"Black knights in Camelot?" David asks, surprised.

"Yes," Lance says, "It appears the Evil Queen is becoming more and more bold."

"She's desperate," Merlin says from the doorway, having just joined them.

"Well, whatever the reason, I'm very grateful to you, Lancelot. I'm forever in your debt."

"Think nothing of it, Your Majesty."

"As you say," she capitulates with a nod then turns to David. "Now, I must admit, I'm exhausted. We rode through the night, so I'm very much looking forward to a bath and some sleep."

The men bow with wishes of restful sleep as the queen turns toward the door. They all keep silent until the latch clicks behind her.

"Sorry I wasn't here to greet you," Lancelot says, "I understand you arrived last night."

"Not a problem," David replies, "Where did you go?"

"I got a message from Galahad. He requested a meeting. He's patrolling near Regina's castle as you know and he wanted me to see something."

"What was that?" the wizard asks.

"Smoke," Lance tells him.

"Smoke?"

"Yes, the entire castle has been engulfed in smoke so thick you can barely see two inches in front of your face. It's so dense I got lost in it for a few minutes before Galahad found me."

"What color?" Merlin wanted to know.

"Well, that's the strange part. It was nearly every color. Galahad said he'd never seen anything but purple smoke come from the castle before, but this time it was purple, blue, green, red. It was filled with lightning as well. Spreading across the grounds and blocking the gate.

"Interesting," Merlin murmurs.

"Interesting how?" David asks.

"Well, there are two possibilities I can think of off the top of my head. The first is she's preparing to cast a powerful curse. Although I find that doubtful."

"Why?"

"Because to cast it she needs something she doesn't have."

"And what's that?"

"Someone she loves."

"She loves no one," Lance comments.

"Exactly, which is why she can't cast the curse."

"And the second possibility?" David asks.

"She's trying to conceal the castle. Obviously, she knows it's under surveillance. Perhaps, there was something or someone she didn't want anyone to see."

"Perhaps," David murmurs. "We'll have to give it some more thought."

They switch to other subjects after that, filling Lance in on the attacks in both Portsmouth and the one at sea. By the time they've finished, Lance is drooping in his chair.

"Apologies, Your Majesty. I, like the queen, was up all night. After the black knight attack, we didn't want to risk stopping until we were home."

"You should get some sleep," David tells him.

Lance agrees and, with a quick bow to David, leaves the room.

David waits until the door closes behind Lance before turning to the wizard.

"Before you return to the Jolly, I think we should check out this colorful smoke ourselves. Just to be certain it isn't a curse."

"Yes. I agree," Merlin replies, "And while we're there, we could speak to Galahad."

"You read my mind."

When they materialize on the edge of the forest, the view of the castle is completely clear. Not a hint of smoke anywhere to be found.

"Definitely not a curse," Merlin states flatly.

"So she was trying to conceal something."

"That would be my guess."

The two men share a look before going to find Galahad.

"So, you're saying you didn't ask Lance to come?" David asks.

"No, Your Majesty," Galahad replies, "I only sent the message about the smoke. I was completely surprised when he showed up in person."

"And he walked right into it?" Merlin asks.

"Well, yes and no. He walked up to it but when he got close, it… spread. Quickly. It… engulfed him. Almost like it was trying to rope him in."

"And how long was it before you found him?"

"Fifteen, maybe twenty minutes."

"Thank you," David says in dismissal.

Galahad bows and walks away.

"What do you think?" Merlin asks David in a low voice.

"I think fifteen or twenty minutes is long enough to have a very in depth conversation."

"I agree."

David sighs and shakes his head. "I can't believe Lance would betray us."

"If you were expecting it, it wouldn't be a betrayal," Merlin points out.

"Yes, but Lance? I've never known a man so dedicated to his cause. He's saved my life – on more than one occasion. I just…" David trails off, shaking his head again.

"We've no proof," Merlin puts in. "It could be just as Galahad said. If Regina saw the chance to capture one of the most feared knights in the land, she wouldn't pass up the opportunity."

"But that doesn't explain why he lied to us when he told us Galahad had requested his presence."

"No, but there could be a very reasonable explanation."

"I suppose," David says, pressing his lips together. "Go back to the Jolly. Tell them to stay at sea until Emma's birthday. In the meantime, check in daily. If I find proof, we'll readjust."

Merlin nods and turns to go but stops when David adds, "I know you can't force visions but if you see anything…"

"I'll let you know at once."

K&EK&EK&E

The news that they are to remain at sea longer than they had anticipated is greatly appreciated by Killian. First, it gives he and Emma an extended respite from the real world and secondly, it gives them time to perfect their magic. Over the course of the next two weeks, Merlin drills them daily, and nearly every demand he makes of them is accomplished with ease. They still can't beat Merlin one-on-one but they manage to drench him with water once. The Jolly seems to be enjoying the lessons as well, weighing in occasionally to aide them. It had been an amusing sight to see Merlin hanging upside down from one of her ropes yesterday.

The nights are spent in each other's arms, holding each other through the dark. The bond between them continues to strengthen with each passing day almost to the point where they can feel each other's thoughts.

When Emma's birthday arrives, they make for port. Killian has just finished scanning the coast through his telescope when Jefferson appears beside him.

"Anything?" Jefferson asks.

"Not that I can see," Killian replies, handing the scope to Jeff so he can look for himself.

Before Jeff can raise the scope to his eye, Merlin materializes on deck.

"I've got news," he says with no preamble. "Let's get everyone together."

Ten minutes later, everyone is gathered on deck and Killian takes Emma's hand in his.

"Arthur has returned with the second piece of Excalibur," Merlin announces.

Emma's fingers tighten and she takes a long breath.

"So what now?" she asks.

"The two of you light the Spark and reforge the sword."

"We'll make it to the cove this evening and head straight for the castle," Killian tells him.

"No," Merlin responds, "I'll return once everything is ready. Until then, stay on the ship." He turns to go, but stops and faces Emma. "I almost forgot. Happy Birthday, princess."

Chapter Text

Despite Arthur’s insistence, there is no fanfare upon Emm’s arrival.  Emma’s eyes scan the crowd gathered around the round table; her father, Lance, Arthur and Guinevere, Jeff and Patricia, Ruby, Dopey; all of them watching her and Killian expectantly.

The Promethean Flame is burning bright in its case, the hilt and dagger of Excalibur lying on either side of it.  Killian is to her right, their shoulders almost touching and their magic glowing warm between them. 

With a steady hand, she motions to the flame and it lifts into the air until it has risen to eye-level, then she turns to Killian. 

“Together?” she asks.

A smile blossoms on his face.  “Always, darling,” he replies.

She nods to the dagger sitting in front of him while she reaches for the hilt.  He slips his left arm around her waist as he lifts the dagger and holds it up, the tip of it meeting the severed end of the hilt in the exact center of the flame.  Energy surges up her arm and the flame intensifies, the brightness of it causing her to turn her face into Killian’s neck to protect her eyes.  The energy spreads through her body, molten heat so powerful that she’s tempted to pull away.  She doesn’t, though, instead squeezing her eyes tighter and burrowing in further until she feels Killian’s fingers under her chin to lift her face.  She opens her eyes as he cups her cheek, his lips curved in a sweet and joyous smile and it hits her that if his hand is free he must no longer be holding the dagger.  His grin widens, like he’s read her thoughts and then, with a lift of his brow, he motions for her to look.  The light is still blinding but it doesn’t so much as faze her – or Killian apparently – even though everyone else in the room has been forced to avert their eyes.  The sword is whole and in her hand and it’s…  It’s magnificent.  Time seems to stand still while she stares, the blade shimmering and sparkling in the bright yellowish glow of light. 

“We did it, love,” she hears Killian whisper and her eyes are drawn back to his.  His smile tells her he’s feeling the same awe she is, then he plants a kiss on her forehead and they both turn back to the sword, his cheek pressed into her temple. 

The glow fades but the sword is still shining when the others are finally able to look. 

Incredible,” Arthur whispers.

Her father nods his agreement, then makes his way around the table to engulf both she and Killian in his arms.  “I knew you could do it,” he says to them.  But then he turns his full attention on her, cupping her cheeks as tears well in his eyes.  “Soon, we’ll have your mother back.”

He says it with such reverence that her throat closes and all she can do is nod.  When he wraps his arms around her waist, she drops the sword to the table and they both laugh as he spins her through the room. 

“Nothing can stop us now,” he exclaims, his voice booming with joy. 

K&EK&EK&E

The celebration is unparalleled, wine flowing and everyone talking and laughing.  Killian stands right in the middle of it with Emma at his side, accepting congratulations from all their friends.  They have every reason to be joyful, do they not?  It’s a great feat that has been accomplished.  Excalibur is whole after centuries of being separated and now their victory is imminent. 

But Killian can’t shake the feeling that something is off – something they’re missing. 

Still, he can’t deny the victory of today, so he pushes the nagging worry aside and pulls Emma with him into a dance.  Her eyes are sparkling with happiness, her smile brilliant with joy and he spins them through the room with the ease they’ve always had.  Arthur and his wife join in, then Jeff and Patricia and Emma giggles when Ruby is bombarded with simultaneous invitations from both Lance and Merlin.  Lance is the lucky winner, so Merlin turns his attention to Grace who makes everyone laugh when she drops into a deep and formal curtsy before accepting his hand. 

The night goes on like that, the ladies switching partners from time to time to make up for the lack of females.  Killian stands to the side to watch Emma dance with her father, then snags Patricia from Jeff while Emma dances with Merlin. 

The wizard returns her to his side, both of them a little breathless as he slaps Killian on the arm and compliments Emma on her tolerance when it comes to his two left feet.  Emma immediately denies his lack of dancing skills, telling him he did very well – for a man of his age. 

Merlin throws his head back in laughter but Killian…

Killian doesn't know what alerts him, what instinct compels him to move.  Later, he might attribute it to a glint of light in the corner of his vision, or a muted gasp that floats on the air.  But right now, in this moment, his body moves faster than his mind and he pushes Emma behind him, grabbing frantically for his sword in the same motion.  His hand closes on the hilt just as a sting blossoms on his neck, but he disregards it, ripping the weapon from his scabbard and swinging blindly in the direction of the apparent danger.

A dull thud sounds next to him, then there’s a harsh clang of metal that echoes through the room as vibrations zing up his arm.  Then there’s chaos – a barrage of frenzied movement that his eyes can’t even register.   He spins, reflexively lifting his hook to stop the flash of silver that is rapidly descending upon him. 

His muscles strain, his hook frozen in front of his eyes as they finally focus, revealing the curved blade of Excalibur caught between it and his own sword mere inches from his face.  King Arthur’s features appear behind the weapon, his eyes alight with madness and his face dark with determination as the two of them struggle against one another for several tense moments.  The weapons teeter between them, muscles shaking from exertion, but with a rush of strength and a deliberate twist of his wrist, Killian sends the legendary weapon clattering to the floor just as a dagger comes to stop a hairsbreadth from Arthur’s throat held by none other than his most trusted knight, Lancelot.

The treacherous king raises an eyebrow when his gaze flicks to Killian’s neck and a devious smile spreads across his face, but Killian doesn't have time to ponder on that as Emma shoves past him and falls to her knees at his side.

“No!” she screams, and he follows the sound of her voice to see Merlin sprawled on the floor, his hand soaked in blood when he lifts it away from the red stain on his chest.  Emma’s hands dart out to cover the injury and Killian immediately feels the spark of magic in his stomach.

“What have you done?!” King David bellows, drawing Killian’s attention back to Arthur just in time to see Emma’s father adding his sword to the dagger Lance still holds against the man’s throat.

Arthur snickers.  “Why, I’ve betrayed you, Dave,” he replies with a touch of pride. 

David’s brow draws together, his eyes widening with understanding.  “It was you,” he breathes.  “All this time, it was you.  You’re the one the prophecy foretold.”

“I suppose so,” Arthur replies pleasantly.

David’s face slips into a mask of rage, his hand tightening on his sword as he takes a half-step closer, the tip of his blade pressing into Arthur’s neck.  “Why?!” he demands at a shout.  “Why would you do this?”

Arthur's eyes turn cold, “Excalibur was meant to be mine! To be wielded by me!” He motions to Merlin. ”He told me it was supposed to heal MY land!  He sent me on a fool’s errand to… what?  Just hand it over to you? Let you and your daughter claim all the glory?”

“Glory?” Merlin asks in a strained voice, disdain dripping from the word. “Is that what you want?”

“I want what was promised to me!”

Merlin blinks rapidly a few times, obviously fighting against the pain to stay focused.  “And this is going to get it for you?” he asks. “You want to go down in history as the man who murdered me?”

“It's better than going down in history as the fool who spent his life fulfilling someone else’s destiny!”

“Oh, what a disappointment you are,” Merlin croaks in reply.

I’m the disappointment?!” Arthur rages, breaking free from Lancelot and stepping away from the group gathered around Merlin.  “I’m the one who did everything that was asked of him.  And what do I get for my loyalty?  Both of my closest friends have betrayed me.  One has stolen my destiny to hand it over to his daughter and the other has stolen my wife!”

Lancelot blanches but it’s Guinevere who speaks up.  “That’s not true!  It’s not like that – ”

“Enough with your lies!  I see how the two of you look at each other.  Do you think me a fool?  But it doesn’t matter anymore.  I’ll have what I deserve. Regina is going to reward me handsomely for this.”

“If you believe anything she said, you are a fool,” Merlin tells him, falling into a fit of coughing as soon as the words are spoken.

Emma’s body stiffens and she pushes harder over the wound, the usual warm tug of magic in Killian’s stomach shooting an unexpected flash of pain up his chest.  Their magic seems to be having no effect and he instinctively drops to his knees by her side, slipping his arm around her waist in the hope that his touch will help.  Her hands shine brighter and the discomfort in his chest intensifies but Arthur’s next scathing comment distracts him.

“It's no use,” the bastard chides, “a wound from Excalibur can't be healed.”

“He's right, princess,” Merlin gasps, “don’t exert yourself.  It's futile.”

“No, there has to be a way,” Emma replies with determination.

Merlin’s eyes fill with gratitude and he even manages a small smile but Killian can tell he’s only placating her, especially when he next slides his eyes to David’s. “Well, I guess now we know why I could never see how this ends.”

Killian glances to David whose brow is furrowed in sympathy.  “I’m sorry, my friend,” he whispers. 

But Emma is not one to give up, frantically shaking her head.  “No!  There has to be something we can do.  There has to be!”

As if to specifically contradict her words, a dense black fog suddenly appears, filtering out of the wound and through Emma’s fingers.  Its abrupt and sinister appearance causes Emma to jolt away from the fallen wizard even as Killian pulls her back.  The room goes deathly silent, everyone watching in horror as the eerie cloud splits into slithering tendrils in the air, coiling and twisting slowly toward the ceiling. 

“What is it?” Lancelot asks quietly.

“It's my magic,” Merlin replies on a choked sound. “Looks like the legend was right.”

Once the fog stops oozing from the wound, a rush of air comes from nowhere and the cloud disintegrates, breaking into millions of tiny flecks that all blink out in the same instant.

“And that’s my cue,” Arthur speaks up, his voice much closer than it should be. 

Killian whips around in alarm to find Arthur only a few feet away, his forearm closing around Guinevere’s throat.  Apparently, while everyone was distracted, the retched king had slinked his way back into the group. 

Lancelot immediately raises his weapon, but Arthur is too quick, putting Guinevere between them like a shield. 

“Ah ah, old friend.  You wouldn’t want to tarnish this flawless skin, would you?” he asks, one finger brushing against his wife’s neck. 

Guinevere struggles.  “Let me go,” she demands.

“I can’t do that, dear wife.  You’re coming with me.”  His eyes flick to Lance.  “And soon you’ll forget all about your gallant knight.”

“You’ve nowhere to go.  The knights – ”

“Are more loyal to Lancelot than to me.  Yes, I know.  But I’ve got a better way.” He pulls a potion bottle from his pocket and holds it up to show the group, his eyes triumphant as he scans the faces.  With one last look at Killian, he raises an ominous eyebrow and throws the potion bottle to the floor. 

Lance lunges into the purple smoke that engulfs the couple but when the mist clears his arms are empty. 

There’s a tense moment of silence, no one moving an inch, but Merlin’s strained cough breaks it.  Emma shoots forward, her hands already glowing again as she covers the injury.  Merlin’s breathing is starting to hitch, his chest wheezing with each intake of air and Emma’s hands glow brighter with power.  Killian feels it yanking at his lungs, making his own breathing difficult but he keeps his arm in place around her waist.  She must be putting a great deal of effort into it because his vision blurs again and he has to balance his weight on his hook to keep from fainting dead away at the quick onslaught of dizziness that assaults him. 

Merlin says something, and David says something else but he can’t make it out past the roaring in his ears.  There's something wrong, he's never gotten weak or nauseous from their magic before, but now it's sending waves of pain through him, waves that start in his stomach, travel up through his chest and collide in a spot near the pulse pounding in his neck.

Without thinking, he lifts his hand to cover the excruciating pain and draws it back to find blood covering his fingers.

“Emma…” he breathes, his voice barely even a whisper as it all starts to make sense.  The sting on his neck when he'd pushed her out of the way… the triumph on Arthur’s face… and the last glance he’d given him as he’d disappeared.

A wound from Excalibur can't be healed. 

His stomach drops and he fights the darkness descending upon him, forcing his eyes to stay open even when his vision grays.  “Love…” he tries again but he can’t get it out. With the last bit of strength he has, he grips at her waist, his fingers barely contracting on her hip just as the dark swirl of dizziness engulfs him and he collapses to the floor.

K&EK&EK&E

Emma’s ears are ringing, magic saturating every cell in her body.  She can feel Killian behind her, his hand resting lightly on her waist, his heartbeat humming alongside her own but then… 

Then, the furious beats lose their synchronization. 

She feels one instant of confusion before her father shouts his name.

“Killian!”

She knows immediately.

Even before she sees him…  she knows. 

Her breath stops and the most agonizing panic she’s ever felt seizes at her lungs.  A low hiss sounds in her ears; a terrible, grating sound that intensifies until it pounds against her skull.  Her movements are sluggish when she turns, like every muscle in her body rails against what she already knows she’s going to see.    

When her eyes land on him, the scream rips through her throat, “NO!!”

The wound on his neck looks like it’s already festering, the edges of it curled and the skin raw.  It’s also oozing blood, painting a crimson streak that disappears behind the collar of his black shirt.  Her hand covers it immediately and she can feel his pulse working beneath the cut, each frail beat soaking her fingers in red.  There’s also a sheen of sweat on his brow and he’s so pale that it makes his lips appear as red as the blood now coating her hand. 

Gripping at his collar with her free hand, she shakes him with all her might. “KILLIAN!”

He sucks in a harsh breath and his eyes open, the blue riddled with pain as they land on hers. 

“STAY WITH ME!” she shouts desperately, pressing harder on his neck, “YOU HAVE TO STAY WITH ME!”

“Emma…” he gasps, his eyes squinting like he's not sure if she's actually there.

“I’m here,” she reassures him, already calling on their magic again, “you're going to be fine.”

He gives a pitiful shake of his head as her palm glows, his eyes blinking several times even as he tries to raise his hand to touch her.  His fingers make it to within inches of her chin before the effort becomes too much and his hand drops to his chest. 

Quickly, she links her free hand with his, leaning down to press a kiss to the back of it and digging deep into her heart to gather as much magic as she can and push it into her palm.  The glow strengthens but the injury doesn’t respond, another drop of blood escaping and rolling down his neck.

“It was Excalibur,” Killian croaks, his voice sounding almost apologetic.

Emma’s eyes lift to his and her stomach plummets. 

No. 

No, no, NO! 

This isn’t – It can’t be… 

She can’t lose him now, not after everything they’ve overcome, after everything they’ve been through… 

This can’t be it.  Their story can’t end like this. 

“It's alright, love,” he grits out, “you have everything you need now.”

“No.  I need you.  I can't do this alone.”

“You won't be alone. You'll have… your parents…”

His eyes slide shut and she shakes him desperately, “No! You have to stay.  You have to stay.  Please, Killian!”

“Take that sword and defeat her, darling.  You're the only one who can.”

Her throat closes. “I can't, not without you.”

“You can,” he insists, prying his eyes open with obvious effort, “you can do anything.”

Tears cloud her vision and she shakes her head frantically to clear them.

“I love you, Emma,” he whispers, lifting his hand one last time to touch her face. The tips of his fingers make it to her chin, grazing lightly before his strength gives out and his arm falls limply to the floor, his eyes slipping shut.

“NO!”

Her hand leaves the wound on his neck, urgently holding it over his chest to check for a heartbeat.  It's there but it's faint and she clings to it, her mind racing.

There must be a way.  He can't leave her.  There must be something. Her eyes dart in every direction and come to land on the legendary sword that did this and her temperature spikes.  Merlin said it was selfish, he’d warned her it was greedy, and as she stares at it lying benignly on the floor a few feet away, she feels such rage that her skin heats from it. 

“Don't Emma,” Merlin gasps, and Emma feels an instant of guilt because she'd forgotten all about him lying on her other side. 

“It could save him,” she replies. “It could save you both.”

“But you don't know that.”

“Emma? What are you…” her father asks slowly.

But Emma doesn't answer as she continues her desperate train of thought.  She needs something solid… something stronger than Excalibur… something…

The stone.

Rushing forward, she nearly trips as her hand closes around the hilt of the weapon, the handle sending a shock up her arm when she lifts it and turns on her heel.

“Emma, what are you doing!?”  “Emma, stop!” “You can't!”

But the sword… the sword hums as if in encouragement, vibrating in her palm.  It slides easily into the sheath of the stone and she'd swear she hears a light sigh of relief.  Once it's buried, she grips the hilt with both hands and yanks.

K&EK&EK&E

Killian fights against the inevitable, clinging to the sound of her voice.  No matter what he said, he doesn't want to leave her and he combats the approaching darkness with every ounce of will he has.  His consciousness goes in and out, one instant he can feel her presence next to him and in the next she's gone, then the next there’s a bombardment of shouts and yelling, enough so that he manages to force his eyes open.  They're telling her not to do it; they're screaming at her to stop and Killian struggles to search the room for her, desperate to see what’s happening. 

His eyes land on her and, if his body had the strength, he’s sure his stomach would clench.  As it is, though, his body has no physical reaction but his brain screams in protest.  She's at the stone, the sword buried half-way into it while she pulls on the handle with all her might. 

She's trying to break it. 

No, his brain screams, it's too valuable.  You’ll need it to defeat Regina.  He's not worth this. 

But then their eyes meet over the hilt of the weapon and with one last jerk that has her bellowing with rage and exertion, the blade snaps in a shower of sparks.

It feels like an instant later that their magic is flowing through him again.  It's warm and shimmery and it swamps every single blood vessel in his body.  There's a gasp and an echo of it and then he's jolting up, sucking in a clean, fresh breath of air that fills his lungs for the first time in what seems like ages. 

“Killian!”

Emma crashes into him and he almost falls back over from her weight, his strength not fully returned yet but he manages to catch them just before they hit the ground. 

“It's alright, love.  I'm alright.”

Her tears soak his shirt, her face burrowed in his neck and he pushes them up into a better sitting position so he can return her embrace, tangling his hand in her hair and burying his face in her throat.

“I'm alright,” he assures her again, but she’s not letting go, she just nods into his neck while their magic burns through him, the life of it warming him from the inside out until even his skin feels hot.

Emma is nearly suffocating him, but she’s shaking so badly that he doesn’t dare move for fear that she’d not be able to sit up without his support.  As to him, his strength is returning rapidly in the wake of their magic, his lungs expanding more easily with each breath.  He sees a glimpse of Merlin getting to his feet, he hears some murmured words being spoken between the wizard and the rest of the group but when he tries to turn, Emma grips tighter. 

“No, don’t let go yet,” she pleads roughly, “Just… I need another minute.”

His heart constricts and he crushes her closer, a rush of reverence pouring through him as he realizes just how broken his brush with death has left her.  He knew she loved him – it’s not that he didn’t – but the unreserved urgency of her touch in this moment is more powerful than any words that have ever been spoken between them and it’s… well, it has him closing his eyes and basking in it, has him pressing his nose into her cheek while her fingers dig urgently into his back. 

And that’s where they stay, cradled together on the floor, both of them oblivious to the conversation going on around them, both of them trying and failing to get their breathing under control.  He’s not sure how long it lasts, how many times their chests rise and fall, but he’s in no hurry to end it.

Chapter Text

She doesn’t want to let him go and she clings to him with all her might, but the adrenaline is fading and her arms are starting to protest the iron grip, so she eases it and runs her hand back to his neck, letting it rest over the spot she’d healed and concentrating on the pulse she can feel pounding beneath it.

He’s alive. 

His lips glance her temple, soft and reverent and she draws a slow breath.

He’s alive and he’s holding her.  He’s breathing and warm and he’s going to stay that way.

She can hear the others murmuring behind her, the hushed whispers from her father and the rest as they all try to come to terms with the fact that she’s just destroyed their best chance at defeating Regina.  She can see the broken sword over Killian’s shoulder, the hilt on the ground and the edge of the other half peeking out from the top of the stone.  Her eyes then move to the copper case where the Spark of Prometheus resided for so many years – the only spark known to man capable of producing a flame strong enough to forge the sword.  It’s empty, of course, a worthless relic lying on the edge of the round table. 

What has she done?

Guilt flashes through her for an instant before she’s clinging to Killian again, the force of her grip drawing a surprised grunt from him. 

She did what she had to.  And she knows it was the right thing.  Even the sword had agreed with her.  She’d felt the weapon humming while she’d yanked at the handle, an encouraging resonance that had settled somewhere in her chest just before a rush of strength came from nowhere and the blade snapped.

They’ll find another way.  There must be another way to defeat the Evil Queen.  And with Killian at her side, she knows that together, they’ll find it.

Slowly, the words being murmured a few feet away start to filter through the haze of her thoughts. They’re talking about mobilizing Katherine’s army, sending for she and Frederick, and Elsa and Anna, and the rest of their allies.  They need to band together now.  They need to have every weapon and power available at their disposal when Regina makes her move.  And it won’t be long until she does.  By now, she’ll know that Merlin has no magic.  She’ll think both he and Killian are dead.  There will never be a better time for her to attack than this moment.

The thought no sooner enters her mind before the doors burst off their hinges and a great gust of wind blows through the room.  Turning, she sees both the Evil Queen and King Arthur on the threshold, the pair flanked by a garrison of black knights.

 

K&EK&EK&E

“Sorry, I’m late,” Regina purrs as she strides into the room.  “My invitation was only just now delivered.  And by King Arthur himself.”

Killian vaults to his feet, pulling Emma up with him even as the hiss of swords being drawn fills the air.  Without hesitation, he steps to the middle of the room, raising his weapon in front of him. 

The Evil Queen stops dead in her tracks when she sees him, her expression turning from triumphant to confused to furious in rapid succession.  Swinging on Arthur, she shouts, “You said he and the wizard were dead!  You LIED to me!

“They were – they should be,” the king stutters.  “I cut them both with Excalibur… I – ”  his eyes dart around the room.  “Look! The sword is broken again!”

Regina follows his gaze, shock registering on her features just before they slide into triumphant.  She turns to Emma.  “You destroyed the only weapon capable of defeating me to save your pirate?  You foolish child!” 

Regina produces a fire ball and goes to throw it but before she can Emma extends her arm and shoots a stream of magic that whizzes across the room and collides with the Evil Queen’s middle.  It sends her soaring back where she crashes into her knights, knocking several to the floor along with her.  When she raises her head, he can see the surprise at how powerful Emma’s magic has become.

“Perhaps I don’t need a weapon,” Emma replies.

The taunt makes the queen’s eyes darken before she turns to her men.

“Well, what are you waiting for!” she shouts while struggling to stand.  “Get them!”

The knights immediately snap to attention and charge, dozens of them rushing into the room and fanning out in every direction.

They’re outnumbered by a factor of ten and Killian hears Lance’s shout for reinforcements but Regina motions the doors shut, adding a barrier to them before any of the men make it through.  Bracing himself, Killian raises his sword to take on the first line just as Emma steps up next to him and waves her arm at the throng, blowing most of the closest group back into the men behind them.  She immediately pivots and does the same to the knights on their right, then pivots again to send the next bunch sailing.  It helps but there are too many for her to fend off all of them and Killian lunges for the first one who gets through.  He blocks the knight’s swing with his hook and plunges his sword into his neck. 

A flash of purple magic shoots past him as the man slips from the end of his sword to the ground, but he doesn’t have time to look before the next knight is on him.  He aims low, slashing at the legs of his attacker, then immediately ducks as another leaps over his fallen comrade.  He straightens just in time to block a blade that swings perilously close to his throat.  Before he can return the attack, his opponent is on him, his momentum sending both of them to the floor.  They land in heap of limbs and weapons, one of which slices against his right arm.  He ignores the pain, wrenching his left arm from where it’s caught beneath his rival’s side and twisting his wrist to make sure his hook slices through flesh as he frees it.  A grunt and a shove and the man is off him, putting enough space between them to finish him off with his sword.  Not wasting another glance, he springs to his feet, whipping around in an effort to locate Emma. 

He catches one glimpse of her thrusting her hand forward to send a white streak of power across the room before his view is blocked, a near wall of armor coming right for him.  There are at least a dozen of them and he swipes his sword in a quick, desperate arc that he only prays will catch one or two.  And it does – but with the number descending, it doesn’t help much.  Still, he plants his feet in a wide stance, meeting the first sword with venom, the second with determination and the third with rage.

He’s surprised when one falls without his aid, even more so when the man’s eyes glow purple the instant before they dull, but he just keeps fighting.

 

K&EK&EK&E

Emma sees the knight step into the path of Regina’s magic and nearly cries with relief.  The Evil Queen seems more determined to hurt Killian than herself and nearly all of Emma’s energy so far has been in an effort to protect him and the rest of their friends rather than make attacks of her own. 

But she’s determined to keep everyone alive.  Regina will not claim one more innocent life in this war. So Emma bides her time, using her magic to decrease the black knight threat and deflect Regina’s magic rather than go on the offensive with the Evil Queen. 

With a wave of her arm, she throws one of the knights sailing.  With a flick of her wrist, she disarms another.  Then she spins on the spot and tosses a shield into the path of Regina’s magic. 

Her eyes meet Regina’s from across the room and, with a deliberate twist of her wrist, she angles the shield to bounce the magic directly back along its path.  It’s a satisfying sight to see the Evil Queen dive to the ground to keep from getting hit. 

Taking advantage of Regina’s momentary distraction, Emma pushes a burst of power at the doors, trying to allow the reinforcements entry but the spell Regina cast must be very powerful and her magic has no effect.

“She must have used blood magic to seal the doors,” Merlin shouts.  “They won’t open as long as blood runs through her veins.”

Dammit!  Emma thinks.  Looks like they’re on their own.

Rather than lament over that fact, though, she waves away the knight currently engaged with Ruby and turns her attention back to the Evil Queen.

Regina has regained her feet, a fireball forming in her hand that she immediately throws once again in Killian’s direction.  Emma deflects it easily with a flick of her fingers, redirecting it into a black knight nearby.

They continue like that for a time, Emma redirecting and diverting Regina’s attacks and using them to dwindle the number of black knights.  In the meantime, Emma makes mental notes of where all her friends are in the room, trying to help them when they become too outnumbered. 

Lancelot and Arthur are locked in a vicious battle, seemingly oblivious to the rest of the chaos and it appears that no one else is approaching them.  Emma can only assume it’s because Arthur had made it known that he wanted the legendary knight to himself.  Jeff and Patricia are lined up back to back, swiping their swords with expertise and Ruby and Merlin are doing the same.  Killian is fighting alone and so is her father but Emma sees her dad maneuvering closer.  She doesn’t see Dopey or Grace, so she assumes Dopey has the child hidden away somewhere and is acting as a guard.  But, no, that’s not it because from the corner of her eye, she sees Dopey stealthily weaving through some fallen chairs, using his lack of height to sneak up on a trio of knights who are pursuing her father. 

It’s just then that the shrill scream of a child rents the air and Emma twists on the spot to see several knights yanking chairs from the round table, one knight peering under it where Grace had apparently been hiding.  In a frozen moment of clarity, Emma realizes no one is close enough to protect the child.  Without regret, she turns her back completely on the Evil Queen and throws a whip of magic in their direction, then fists her hand and yanks the one closest to Grace away. 

With the little girl as safe as she can make her for the moment, she pivots back to Regina just in time to see a stream of purple light soar past, heading right for Killian. 

K&EK&EK&E

Killian’s heart is pounding in his chest, instinct and adrenaline guiding his sword.  He’s not sure how he manages to hold them off.  He can’t find openings to do mortal damage but he’s able to block the worst of the swings, picking and choosing which sword will either incapacitate or kill him. 

A shout of rage rings out and then he feels a presence behind him – not another enemy, but the solid feeling of an ally covering his back.  It’s a relief to say the least because with one side guarded, he can now fight back rather than just deflect and he does so immediately, cutting up through two blades and stepping forward to plunge his sword into the gap on the side of one of his enemy’s breastplates.  Without hesitation, he turns to another, taking out his leg and twisting the man’s sword away with his hook. 

A knight falls to the floor on his left, a fatal gash spurting blood from his neck that his partner must have landed, then another falls to his right, his armor clashing loudly into one of the men Killian had previously defeated. 

The volume in the room is deafening, shouts of exertion and screams of pain ricocheting off the vaulted ceiling and echoing forcefully in his ears.  He tries once again to find Emma but doesn’t get enough time to locate her before another sword appears in his vision.  Reflexively, he raises his hook to deflect it, using the momentum to direct it toward another knight approaching from his left.  When it pierces flesh, Killian spins on the spot, kicking out and landing a hard blow to its owner’s gut.  The man stumbles back while the other collapses and Killian slices his blade up, tearing through the arm wielding the weapon.

He hears Grace’s scream and he frantically surveys the room.  Just as he locates her, one of the knights trying to reach under the table is yanked away as though by an invisible hand.  The next thing he knows, Emma’s heart-wrenching cry fills the air and he turns his head just in time to see the stream of purple magic coming right at him.  It’s already too close for him to dodge it, but his partner – King David – must have seen it sooner and he’s already moving in front of him to take the hit.  The king is quick, but not quick enough and the magic smacks into them both, its force enough to lift and fling them hard into the stone wall several yards away.  Killian’s head hits first, a sharp pain that would have been bad enough without getting sandwiched between the wall and David’s full weight, but the combination has him seeing stars, the awful thud of skull meeting stone the last thing he registers before everything goes black. 

K&EK&EK&E

Emma emits a bellow of rage when she sees Killian slump against the wall, spinning back to the smirking queen and letting loose a blast of magic so powerful that it nearly burns her palms as it releases. 

Regina stumbles when the magic collides with her own but she manages to deflect it, sending it sailing into the rafters.  With eyes gleaming in victory, she smiles from across the room.  “So you’ve learned a thing or two,” she taunts, “But while I’m sure Merlin is a capable teacher, he’s got nothing on Rumpelstiltskin.”

Keep her talking, keep her distracted, Emma thinks to herself as the two of them begin circling one another, both with their hands raised and at the ready. 

“And just what did you learn from Rumpelstiltskin that is so valuable?”

The first chance she gets, her eyes flick to Killian.  He’s alive.  She knows that much.  His heartbeat is still filling her senses, the steady beat thrumming in her veins.  He may not be moving, but he’s alive and their magic hasn’t so much as wavered in its strength. 

“A great many things,” the Evil Queen replies, shooting a quick stream of magic into Emma’s path.

Emma feints away to avoid being hit and then resumes circling. 

“Would you like to know the most important lesson he taught me, princess?” Regina asks with false amiability.

“How to cover your gray hair?”

Regina chuckles. “No, although that has come in handy.”

Another glance to Killian shows him beginning to rouse. 

“What then?” Emma asks.

Regina stops moving, tilting her head in Killian’s direction and Emma sees her intent.  “Love is weakness.”

With a lightening fast fling of her arm, Regina sends a ball of power toward Killian in the same instant Emma throws a shield.  Regina’s magic hits it but rather than deflecting back at Regina as Emma had intended, it bounces off in a completely different direction, striking against the stone where the blade of Excalibur is still sheathed.

The stone shatters behind Regina, the blade landing next to the hilt and Emma sees the red jewel in the handle begin to glow brightly.  Regina doesn’t notice, but Emma does and something blossoms in her chest. 

A shout of frustration draws her attention back to Regina just as she turns the full force of her magic on Emma.  Emma raises her hands as the stream of purple light approaches, shooting her own magic out to meet it halfway.  The result is a straight stream of magic between them, half purple and half white. 

A roar of sound and heavy winds fill the room, whirling around the walls like a hurricane.  Emma tries to keep her concentration on pushing Regina’s magic back.  She tries to gain ground but there’s something… something prickling at her senses.  She ignores it at first, too determined to increase her advantage in the light battle to think of anything else. 

But it’s… persistent.  And it’s growing.  A hum that vibrates in her blood.  And with a quick flash of recognition, it hits her.  It’s the same hum she felt when she and Killian reunited the blades.  That mixture of serenity and violence, the whip of power that swamped over her. 

And, suddenly it’s clear. 

And now she knows what needs to be done.

K&EK&EK&E

Killian groans and rolls over, his head spinning so badly that he nearly passes back out from just that small movement.  Violent winds howl around him, forcing him to squint his eyes when he finally manages to open them.  The first thing he sees is David lying next to him, his face planted into the floor and blood dripping from his mouth.  He gives him a quick shake and is relieved to hear David groan in response. 

Lifting his head, he searches for Emma.  He finds her and Regina in the center of the room, their magic forming a violently pulsing line between them.  It mesmerizes him for a moment, the epic battle that had been foretold so long ago now filling his vision.  Regina is darkness in its most terrifying form, her black dress flapping in the heavy winds while a sinister, purple light shoots from her hands.  Emma though…  Emma is pure light, and she’s…  beautiful.  It’s an awe-inspiring sight, her golden hair appearing almost white in the glow of magic surrounding her.  It’s nearly blinding.  She’s nearly blinding.  But the most beautiful thing about her is her strength.  She’s powerful and stunning, facing off against pure evil and holding it at bay. 

A movement to his right has him snapping to attention, turning to find David gaining his feet to square off against a group of black knights who are heading their way.  Killian rises to help him, the clash of swords nearly drowned out by the howling wind. 

He and David fight side by side now, swords hissing and grunts rumbling.  They may have depleted the black knight threat, but those remaining are skilled and taking them down is getting more and more difficult. 

From the corner of his eye, he can see the light battle at the center of the room, neither Emma nor Regina gaining ground.  Desperation guides his sword, an all-consuming need to rush to Emma’s side and add his strength to hers overpowering the fatigue weighing on his muscles. His blood is racing, and his head is spinning but these last few knights are putting up quite a battle and he can’t leave David alone.

“She’s not gaining ground,” David shouts over the whistling wind, echoing his thoughts, just as one of the knights slips off his sword.

Killian can do no more than grunt in acknowledgement, too concentrated on the sword currently crossed with his while his muscles strain against the brute strength of his opponent.  The man has fifty pounds on him at least and he’s taking advantage of his size to angle the blade toward Killian’s throat.  He tries to reposition into a better stance but there’s no room with how close David is standing so his only choice is to continue the contest of strength – a contest where he is outweighed, literally. 

Killian has experienced danger before.  He’s been in many tight spots where the only things he had were his wits and his sword.  And there’s a certain quality about them that always amazes him later when he has time to reflect.  Each and every time, there’s a moment of clarity, a moment when your mind sees in an instant what would usually take hours for it to process.  Call it adrenaline, call it self-preservation, call it whatever you will, but that moment could mean the life or death of everyone around you. 

And this moment, while he can do nothing but strain against the sword crossing his is one of those moments. 

Flashes of memories, snippets of conversations – things that seemed insignificant at the time but now weave together to create a staggering understanding that blossoms more quickly than the ding of the Jolly’s bell.  It crashes down on him, his eyes widening with the realization. 

It was always right there, staring them in the face. 

And no one saw it. 

But now he does.

And, now, he knows what needs to be done. 

Across the room, he can see the hilt of Excalibur lying on the floor next to the now shattered stone, the blade of it close by.  The jewel imbedded into the handle is glowing, almost like it’s eager to fulfill its destiny.  With renewed determination, his eyes go back to his opponent, a guttural growl releasing as he feints just enough to throw the man off balance so that his size works in Killian’s favor.  That provides the opening he needs and he rips his hook into the back of the knight’s neck. 

The behemoth falls with a loud crash, landing on the dead body of another knight just as Jeff and Patricia appear.  

Killian keeps his eye on the glowing jewel as he battles through more of the knights, impatience eating at him.   It’s frustrating to say the least that he can’t barrel past them all and head straight for the sword but the urgency to finish this makes his reflexes hyper-sensitive and he makes short work of those standing in his way.  With one last mad swipe, his path is clear and he leaps over the fallen knights to run full speed across the room. 

When he reaches the stone, he drops his own sword and tucks Excalibur’s severed blade into his belt, then he bends to retrieve the hilt.  The jewel glows brighter the instant he closes his fingers around the handle and a hum fills his veins.  He looks up to find Emma’s eyes on him even as the stream of light connecting her and the Evil Queen pulses wildly. 

She gives him a small nod. 

She knows what needs to be done, too.

The black knights are all but defeated now, the few stragglers all engaged with the others, leaving no one to block his path.  Emma takes a step closer to the Evil Queen, then another, until they are mere feet away from each other, the light battle between them condensing into a sphere of purple and white light.

Regina grunts in exertion but holds her ground, her face a mask of concentration, giving Killian the opportunity to line up behind her without her noticing.  Once he’s in position, Emma takes the final step, angling her hands to push the sphere up to the ceiling where it breaks against the mosaic.  Then, before Regina has time to react, Emma’s fist pounds hard into her face, stunning the Evil Queen long enough for Emma to catch the hilt of the sword Killian tosses to her and plunge it into her chest even as he pulls the blade from his belt and sinks it into her back. 

The Evil Queen stumbles away in surprise, gulping in breaths as she stares at the handle sticking out from her chest.  Killian can see the moment of realization cross her features and then she raises her head with a wicked gleam in her eye.

“Did you really think this would work?” she spits, “it’s useless now. Nothing but a broken relic!”

“Not for long,” Emma replies.

Regina’s eyes narrow.  “The spark of Prometheus is gone! And only the strongest of sparks can reunite –“

“Exactly,” Killian interrupts and Regina rounds on him.  “Have you forgotten the prophecy, Regina?”

He steps around her to stand at Emma’s side. “‘Together they will light the dark,’” he quotes, “’She’ll be the flame.  He’ll be the spark.’”

Regina’s eyes widen in understanding and she gropes for the hilt, trying to pull it out just as Killian clasps Emma’s hand. 

It starts as a red glow in the Evil Queen’s chest, like her blood itself is filled with light.  Then, it spreads, luminescent rays shooting from her eyes, her mouth, the tips of her fingers.  Her skin turns translucent and her head falls back, light magic pouring out in every direction.  It brightens like the sun, the strength of it filling the entire room until nothing but white light is visible.  It pulses once, twice and then bursts in warm gust that washes over him like a wave.

When the light dissipates, the Evil Queen is gone and Excalibur, reunited and glowing, is laying on the floor directly in front of them.

“We did it,” Emma breathes.  “Killian, we did it!”

She throws herself into his arms and hugs him close and he chuckles.  “Aye, we did, love.”