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And Now You Know

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It’s curiosity she supposes, that drives her in the end. That finds the Queen of the Enchanted Forest darting through the undergrowth. Tracking her way through the forest; careful to not make any sudden sounds or movements. She’s missed this, she realises. Missed the freedom that comes with a humble existence.

A Queen’s problems, she thinks idly. She will never take for granted the position she is in. It is a privilege to rule. A privilege to lead her people and to do it with her husband by her side.

He won’t be happy, no doubt, about her giving her guards the slip.

Like mother, like daughter.

For it is not an enemy she seeks in the woods. It is her daughter.

Her daughter who is certainly the reason Graham’s beard is now tinged with grey. He jokes that the young princess keeps him on his toes and ages him terribly in the same breath, but Snow knows there is no other she would trust with her daughter’s safety.

It’s not news to her parents that Emma sneaks away. Graham notifies them when she does and at first it had terrified them that she was stalking away down to the water or to the local village. Then he gently pointed out to them the evident happiness it brought her. This semblance of freedom.

She would always return full of light, a twinkle in her eye and so they decided to allow her this freedom. The life of a royal could be lonely at times no matter how loving a family or how well-liked Princess Emma was.

Of course, it isn’t quite the freedom that Emma thinks she has. The tavern she likes to inhabit on her excursions happens to be owned by an old family friend and the Widow Lucas is far from being the genteel lady she appears. Should any danger ever be on the horizon for Emma when she is in there, then Snow is in no doubt that ‘Granny’ (as the insists Snow and David call her) and her granddaughter can chase off the cause of the disturbance.

Emma too, for that matter. Her daughter is a fine swordsman and fighter. At times to her mother’s dismay, although Snow could not be prouder of her beautiful and headstrong daughter.

Which is why when Emma returned yesterday evening before dinner looking so terribly broken that Snow knew something was wrong. She was clearly not physically hurt but Snow had in no way bought Emma’s line about a bad migraine when David had asked her about it. She’d been quiet and solemn throughout the meal and then retired only to be up and out of the castle not long after dawn this morning.

Snow acted as she did best. As a mother would, she tries to reassure herself. She’s snooping. There’s not really another way she can justify that she is essentially now stalking her daughter’s path through the woods. Can almost hear David’s sigh as she explains this to him later.

But she knows her daughter and she knows something is amiss.

Voices ahead and to the right of her ahead cause her to suddenly pull up short. She stills. Listens.

Emma’s voice.

Gently placing her feet on the undergrowth, Snow moves forward until she’s in a position where she will hear clearly. She crouches down to keep herself hidden in the undergrowth.

Her daughter’s voice carries across the clearing and the emotion in her voice grips Snow’s heart.

‘You don’t have to do this. This is your choice. Don’t try and pretend that you’re doing it for me because you’re not!’

Emma’s voice rises at the end, pained and emotional and Snow has wills herself to remain where she is when all she wants to do is to rush to her daughter’s side.

‘Emma, please.’

A man’s voice. Equally hurt. She hears movement behind her and utilises the moment to move herself. Their footfall masking any noise she may make with their own.

Snow twists slowly. Carefully turning her torso so that she can see her daughter.

Her mouth drops slightly at the sight before her.

Emma, her wilful, strong Emma is wrapped up in the embrace of a pirate.

Or so Snow can only assume from his sweeping leather ensemble and the kohl around his eyes. Emma’s back is to her. Her creamy riding cloak pooling on the ground behind her. Somewhere in her mind Snow acknowledges the startling contrast they present. Emma’s light clothes and golden hair tumbling in waves down her back. The pirate dressed entirely in black with thick hair a match.

He’s handsome, she thinks. Tall and dark and though she dreads to think how he gained the means to dress himself so, he cuts a fine shape in his garments. Perhaps a few years older than Emma with a casually maintained stubble and tousled hair. No more than mid-twenties.

His eyes are shut and Snow suddenly feels as if she is intruding. This man, this pirate, and her daughter are sharing some sort of moment.

His horse whinnies where it is loosely tied to a nearby tree. The noise breaking the spell.

‘I won’t sacrifice your happiness for my own, Emma,’ he pleads.

Snow watches as Emma suddenly pushes him away angry. Her voice on the verge of tears.

‘No, no. You are ruining my happiness. How can you think this will make me happier?’

The pirate’s eyes open, pained. Even from here, Snow can make out their vibrant blue.

‘Emma,’ he says in a soothing lilt that doesn’t belong to this realm. He steps towards her with his hands outstretched before him as if approaching a scared animal. ‘Emma, I am doing this for you. This cannot go on. I won’t let this ruin you. If anyone were to find out –‘

‘I do not care about that. I care about you.’ Her daughter admonishes.

‘You will though, Emma. When all you hold dear turn away from you. When you lose the respect of those at court who will unjustifiably dismiss you as a weak young girl who got swept off her feet. They’d be fools, but it would stick. This will stay with you, Emma. Always. Your entire life is ahead of you and I won’t stop you from living it.’

Snow forces her gloved hand over her mouth to stop the gasp from escaping.

They’re in love. He loves her.

Her daughter has fallen in love and she knew nothing of it.

Emma steps closer to him and Snow can tell from the tilt of her chin that she is angered. Knows the flash of defiance that will dance in her eyes. ‘You are stopping me though. You are taking away my choice!’

The pirate speaks to lowly Snow barely hears. ‘I am not a choice you can make, Princess.’

‘Don’t call me that,’ Emma snaps. ‘Please. With you I can just be Emma. It has always just been us. Emma and Killian. Partners.’

Killian. Snow rolls the name around in her head. That will give her a lead to follow up at least. From the way her daughter said ‘always’ Snow can’t help but wonder just how long her daughter has been keeping this from them. How far in over her head she is to think of this man as her partner, her equal.

‘But you are a princess, Emma and,’ he sighs heavily, ‘you will make a wonderful Queen one day. You see people, Emma. Your subjects matter to you and you are good and smart and painfully determined and you will make such a difference.’

She hears her daughter’s watery sniffle and rather feels the same herself.

Killian rises a hand to cup her daughter’s cheek softly. He caresses her chin with his thumb. His whole demeanour soft and gentle. So at odds with the man he presents.

‘You will do great things and you cannot do them with me by your side.’

For a moment, Snow forgets. Forgets that the man before her is a pirate. Sees only a man who is in love with her daughter. A man putting her needs before his own.

She cannot hear Emma’s choked words. Whatever they are she watches as Killian pulls her to him and holds her close. Mutters words into her hair as he strokes the back of her head. He’s protecting her. Keeping her safe and Snow struggles to recall many times in her life when she has felt quite so overwhelmed.  

Eventually, they separate. Their hands entwined as they move to untether his horse. A beautiful chestnut brown mare who nuzzles at Emma’s face in recognition pulling a laugh from her daughter. Thankfully they walk away in the opposite direction to where Snow is hidden giving her some time to try and take in all that she has just seen.

She was right, her daughter was not herself last night. She was not herself because the man she has given her heart to a man who is leaving her to keep her safe.

Her daughter, the crown princess, is in love with a pirate.

How on earth is she to tell Charming? Any suitor of Emma’s was surely going to have a hard time given who her parents are (and given who Emma is Snow thinks, smiling) but she’s a little worried David may give himself a hernia when he takes this news.

There’s no question of telling him. Something has to be done.

Quietly, she follows in the direction they came. Keeping about twenty metres west of their path through the trees. They’ve thankfully taken one of the paths and so she doesn’t need tracks to help her. She knows there are twigs in her hair and mud smeared on her riding trousers. She smiles to herself. It feels quite good.

She sees them then. Tucked away at the edge of one of the lakes. The mare grazing beside them as they sit on his coat draped across the grass as a makeshift blanket. His arms are wrapped round her as they gaze across the water and Snow has no intention of watching any more.

It astounds her, baffles her that she even thinks it and yet she begins to walk away knowing that her daughter is safe in the arms of a pirate.

--------

She changes when she returns to the castle. David already gone into the village on some business with his guards.

It’s lunchtime by the time he returns and there’s still no sign of Emma yet. She will give her another hour, Snow thinks. Another hour before she sends Graham off to find her.

David enters through the door to her left and marches over to her with that boyish smile of his. ‘I missed you this morning,’ he says leaning down to kiss her. She will never tire of this man and the way he makes her feel.

‘I missed you too,’ she smiles squeezing his shoulder as he sits beside her. ‘How did you get on in the village?’

‘Good,’ he says loosening the top fastenings on his jacket. ‘The re-building of the damaged barns seems to be going well. The people are so very grateful.’ He shakes his head as if wishing there was more they could do. Emma is like him in that regard. Never feeling she has done enough to help those in need.

Emma.

David picks up the open letter on the table next to them. ‘Eric and Ariel?’ he asks seeing the seal. ‘How are they?’

‘Very well. Very excited about the arrival of their new little one,’ she answers gesturing for him to read the letter himself.

Emma.

She stands and begins to mull over how best to say this. She cannot outright come out and say, ‘Darling, I am giving our daughter less than an hour to return because I fear she may convince the pirate she is in love with to let her run away with him.’ No. That would not do. She also hopes that her assumption that Killian’s determination is as strong as Emma’s is right. That he will ensure she comes home.

‘Snow, you’re pacing.’ David smiles without looking up from the letter.

‘I am’

David raises his eyebrows. ‘Do I get to find out why you are pacing?’

She stops and turns to face him. ‘Emma didn’t have a migraine yesterday evening.’

‘I know,’ he says carefully. ‘I gathered as much when you said to me last night and I quote, ‘Charming, that daughter of ours no more has a headache than Grumpy has an affection for merriment.’

Instead of pulling a smile from her, she bites down on her lip and David seems to realise something is amiss. He stands and wraps her hands in his own.

‘Snow, what has you worried?’

‘I followed Emma. I followed Emma this morning when she left the castle.’

‘Snow,’ he sighs and it sounds exactly as she imagined it would.

She places a hand on his chest. ‘I know, I know. I know we agreed to let her have this small semblance of freedom when she can, but I knew something wasn’t right.’

‘And what did you learn from stalking our beloved daughter on her adventure?’

She decides a clear and concise answer is the best. ‘That she is in love and the man she loves is leaving her to protect her.’

David pales before her. Confusion marring his face.

‘Last night, she was morose because her heart is hurting.’

‘Snow…’ David breathes. ‘I wasn’t expecting this. She never said. Why didn’t she feel like she could come to us? Is he a commoner?’  he asks trying to compare why his daughter and partner in crime hadn’t spoken of this to him. ‘Surely she knows that if he is a good man then we would give them a chance to prove himself.’

She stands on her tiptoes and presses a kiss to his lips. This is why she loves this man with his honour and his big heart. 

‘Charming, I think you need to sit down.’

He complies.

‘He isn’t a commoner. He’s a pirate.’

---------

They swap places. She sits and he paces. Stomps would perhaps be a more apt word. It’s a full ten minutes before he stops his enraged mutterings. A pirate?  How dare someone like that presume to love my daughter. The dishonour of it. A profession of lies and deceit. If you can even call it a profession. Damn marauding is what it is.

Nothing he says had not crossed Snow’s mind, but she’d seen it. She’d seen them together and now somehow all her conflicting emotions are tangled in her mind.

David’s steps suddenly halt. ‘Is Emma here? Did she return with you?’

‘No.’

‘No? Snow, what do you mean? Where is she?’

‘I left them to say goodbye,’ she says softly.

‘You left out daughter with a pirate!’ he explodes.

She speaks softly, choosing her words carefully. ‘Yes, David I did. I left her there because she will never move on if she doesn’t say goodbye and she was safe.’

‘Safe? How can she be safe when she’s with a pirate?’

‘Because he’s putting her needs first and he’s leaving. For good.’

That stops him. His shoulders visibly relax. ‘Now, are you ready to sit down and actually listen to me?’

And so they talk. She fills him in on all she had seen and heard this morning. He asks the questions she had asked herself at the time. Answers as best as she can with her thoughts and ideas about the situation. David grips her hand beside her.

It is then that they hear movement outside the door and Snow glances up to see Emma move past. Relief floods through her.

‘Emma,’ she calls. ‘Is that you, sweetheart?’

Emma’s footfall stops and then retreats until she appears in the doorway. She wills herself to meet her parents gaze and Snow wants nothing more than to go to her. Her eyes are red rimmed and she looks pale.

‘Emma, are you alright? Snow asks feeling like a fraud when she knows her daughter is anything but.

‘Quite alright,’ Emma says in a voice stronger than Snow would have anticipated. And so this is how she has kept it from them for all this time. Her daughter has had time to master hiding her heart it seems. ‘The wind is getting up and it stung my eyes. I really shouldn’t have walked so far. I thought it would help to clear my headache but it hasn’t,’ Emma pauses. ‘I think I’ll retire for the day if that’s okay.’

‘Of course it is,’ she says aching to go and comfort her daughter. ‘Do you need anything?’

Emma, it seems, can’t find the courage to answer that one. Instead making a weak attempt at a smile and shaking her head before leaving the room.

‘Oh, David,’ she sighs clutching her hand over heart. ‘Why did she feel she couldn’t come to us?’

Her husband stands and loops his arms around her waist from behind.

‘Because he is a pirate,’ he says not unkindly.

‘What are we going to do?’

‘Be here. If she needs us. And give her time to heal.’

‘But she’s our little girl.’ Snow whispers feeling helpless.

‘She is but as much as it pains me, she is also a young woman now. And I hate to agree with the pirate but from what you said, he is right Snow. This is for the best.’

--------

A week passes and Emma still isn’t right. Snow tries to tell herself that a first heartbreak is hard and that Emma looks a little brighter each day but she’s not sure why she’s lying to herself about that. Emma is fine to anyone who doesn’t know her well. She’s carrying out her duties and training hard with Graham and her father in all the types of combats most princesses are not trained in.

She smiles.

Emma will never be ‘most’ princesses.

She checks the ships registered down at the harbour. No signs of a pirate ship.

Emma disappears every day still and it crushes Snow a little to think she goes in the hope that Killian will return.

Snow doesn’t think he will. He may only be a handful of years older than Emma but he is a pirate. A captain, she learns from her careful questioning of the harbour master. A young man who has lived and travelled and no doubt seen many terrible things in this world and there comes a certain sort of wisdom with that.

No, she thinks, he will not cause Emma further pain by going back on his word to leave.

--------

Two weeks pass and Emma is much the same. Graham tentatively…politely hints to Snow that he feels something is amiss with the princess and Snow tastes the lie on her tongue telling her dear friend that the princess is just feeling tired from her new responsibilities at court.

It’s plausible. Emma has taken on more recently but the truth of the matter is that she’s a natural. People respect her opinions when she offers them but she listens too so that when she does speak her words matter.

They already knew her to be kind hearted; now the people are getting to see glimpses of the ruler she will become.

And so she tells Graham her daughter is tired when really, Snow fears, she is a lonely.

David notices too. Snow sees the way his brow furrows at his daughter as they chat over dinner. Sees the way he worries.

‘She’s suddenly lonely,’ he says late one night as they’re curled up in bed.

‘I know.’

‘Perhaps if she visited Elsa and Anna it may help,’ he offers.

‘I think that’s a wonderful idea.’

And it is, she thinks. Truly. Emma has always been close to the two of them and it has been a while since her last visit to her friends.

Emma heartily accepts. One of the first genuine, and unaffected emotions she has seen since that day.

She hugs her daughter fiercely as she boards the ship that will carry her across the oceans. There’s a pirate ship in the harbour but Snow suspects she isn’t the only royal who knows it is not one captained by Captain Jones. Killian Jones, Snow learnt in her visits to the harbour. At David’s insistence, she hadn’t pried further into that knowledge. He’s probably right when he said that they don’t need to know any more. He is gone. Has strangely enough proved himself true to his word and they should leave it behind them and try to encourage Emma forward.

Still, it doesn’t sit quite right with her as they watch their daughter sail away.

--------

Three weeks have passed and Emma’s letter form Arendelle is so typically Emma that it warms her heart. There’s hope.

David returns from an overnight visit to a nearby duke and comes in looking slightly harassed.

‘Charming, whatever is the matter?’ she says rushing to greet him.

‘Nothing,’ he says reassuring her with a smile and a kiss pressed to her knuckles. ‘Only a skirmish down at the docks that we came across on the way home and needed settling. I was simply already tired from travel and would have rather done without.’

Relieved, they sit and Snow curls into his side.

‘What was the problem?’

‘Pirates,’ he speaks behind her and she stills.

‘Not him, nor his ship.’

‘Oh.’

--------

It has been eight weeks and Emma returns. There is a flush once more in her cheeks and she speaks fondly of her time in Arendelle. Snow watches as her daughter throws herself back into the Royal life. Emma works tirelessly to help others and does so with great care and success and yet something is missing.

She sees it in the way Emma’s eye dull at parties and balls. The resignation weighing across her shoulders as noblemen from far and wide try to charm the crown princess. Some of them are good men. A few Charming may even approve of and yet, there is nothing in Emma’s demeanour to suggest any sort of inclination. Not that it appears to deter the suitors of course. Her daughter is well trained in the art of not saying what she shouldn’t. (If only any of the men knew her well enough to read the disdain on her face.)

‘Emma looked beautiful this evening,’ she remarks to Charming as they retire for the night.

‘Our daughter always looks beautiful.’

‘True,’ she acknowledges turning down the covers on their bed.

‘She never looks particularly happy at these kind of events, Snow. At least not to people who know our daughter.’ He leans over and presses a kiss to her forehead. ‘This is not anything new. Emma is not one who revels in the finery of such events and the flattery of others.’

Her husband is right, of course. Emma only truly enjoys herself at such events when she is in the company of but a trusted few who she can jest with and lightly mock the pretentions of some of their esteemed guests.

A part of Snow cannot help but wonder if she would enjoy them if there were a certain someone by her side. She chases the thought away.  A foolish fantasy of a mother wanting her daughter happy.

--------

It’s been eight months and Emma’s visits to the harbour stop. It is not a particularly remarkable day. Warm, but not overly so. That hazy air warranted by the change of spring into summer and Emma sits and stays.

Emma has never been one for stillness. Too curious to not be restless. Her mind too eager for answers.

She plays chess with her father and reads court papers. Snow can only answer David’s raised brow with a soft shrug. She doesn’t know the answers any more than he does.

 ‘I am ready for you to find me a suitor,’ Emma announces into their comfortable silence.

Stunned, Snow puts down her reading. David’s hand freezes mid-air, chess piece in hand.

They watch as their daughter stands before them with clenched fists before moving to brush some semblance of fluff from her gown. ‘I trust your judgement and so I am open to you organising someone to court me.’

When neither of them speak, Emma does so once more to say good night and leaves the room.

‘What just happened?’ Charming says finding his voice first.

She doesn’t rightly know. Her daughter has never once expressed any interest in any of the young men at court since Neal. Nor, she hopes, have her and David ever made Emma feel like they are pressuring her to settle down.

Snow detests the very term.

One day, Emma will have to marry. As their ruler, she will need to be wed. That day is not now. Their daughter is twenty-one years old and she and David (having had Emma so young) have many more years ahead of them yet.

True, there are rulers and realms that would have married Emma off at eighteen but not so here.

Her husband’s words force her back to the present. ‘Do you think she’s serious?’

‘Alarmingly so.’

She sleeps fitfully and when she wakes, Charming is dressed and gazing out across the grounds. He cuts a fine form silhouetted against the morning sun flooding in through the window.

‘Good morning, handsome.’

He turns and smiles before coming to her to wish her good morning too.

‘What has you looking so pensive this morning?’ She already knows the answer.

‘I’d like to talk to Emma, if you’re happy for me to? I just…’ breaking off on a sigh, her husband turns back to face the window. ‘This doesn’t feel right. She’s my girl and this doesn’t feel right.’

She rises from the bed and goes to him. Wrapping her arms around his waist. ‘Go talk to our girl then.’

Emma returns hours later after her day’s excursion with her father. ‘Papa said he needed to call in to the village to check on some business before he returned.’

Snow doesn’t believe that for a moment and wonders just where his conversation with their daughter has led him.

‘Did you two have a nice day together?’ she asks and Emma promptly launches into a discussion of all the places they had ridden to. The people they had stopped and talked to. She pointedly does not mention her announcement last night and Snow has to hold her tongue several times to stop herself from asking.

She will wait and see what news David brings, she thinks.

He returns for dinner and is his light-hearted and effusive of the day he has spent with his daughter. Snow watches Emma smile over at her father and her intrigue is fast spilling into impatience.

‘Perhaps we could take a turn about the gardens after dinner?’ she suggests to her husband and so she finds herself walking arm in arm with him on their favourite route through the rose gardens.

‘So this ‘business’ you had to attend to?’ She stops and fixes him with what he refers to as her ‘Queen’ stare. The one that wears people down.

‘I went to the tavern to speak with Granny.’

Oh. She hadn’t quite been expecting that. Watches as her husband runs a hand over his face.

--------

He cannot say he often surprises his wife of twenty-two years, but he sees the shock register on her face when he says he had called in to see their old friend.

Assumes she had thought he had simply taken a detour to work through his thoughts, but he’d had a singular purpose in mind.

‘She…Emma. She’s set on this, Snow. She’s set on this with that single-mindedness of hers and yet when I asked her about it there was no excitement, no anticipation to meet someone. To wed.’

His heart breaks a little at the resolve and resignation in his daughter’s decision to be married.

‘She didn’t mention love. Not once. We talked at length and she never mentioned her heart.’  He hears the way his voice cracks at the thought of his little girl signing away her happiness.

He’s grateful Snow is beside him. Feels the warmth of her slender hand wrap in his.

‘She said she trusts us to make a ‘suitable match’ as if this is a business transaction and I know, Snow, I know that happens to royals but she is our girl.’ He will not condemn her to a loveless marriage.

‘I even went as far as to ask what she was looking for in match. She didn’t, couldn’t answer, for a while and then repeated that she trusted our judgement.’

Snow is quiet beside him. He doesn’t quite know the words either. Emma who had always been so at odds with the concept of arranged marriages. Emma whose sarcastic comments on such reported matches amongst her royal peers had always made him hide his snigger behind his hand, a napkin or a well-chosen cough.

‘She admitted there was no-one whom she had met at court or at any ball who had piqued her interest. What do we do with that? As parents, as a father? How do I willingly agree to this?’

‘Well, I am guessing you haven’t.’

No. He hadn’t. He hadn’t said as much to Emma. Only changed the subject as father’s do best from time to time. Even royal ones. Especially royal ones.

‘We were riding back and I just kept thinking of her and what she had said. That she trusted our judgement and to my mind this all feels so wrong. So at odds with who we are and who she is.’

‘And so you went to speak to Granny…’ Snow tails off waiting to hear what he has to say next. He thinks he is reaching a conclusion he never thought he would come to. One that he hopes dearly that he isn’t alone in thinking by the time he finishes his tale.

‘I did.’ Sighing he continues, ‘I always trusted her with our arrangement. That Emma could continue to frequent the tavern so long as she was happy and safe and that people were not too aware and yet I couldn’t help but feel as if she knew of Emma and…’ He takes a breath. He may as well say it aloud. ‘Emma and her pirate.’

‘And did she know?’

‘Yes. Well, you can imagine how I took that at first.’

His wife lets out a snort that warms his soul. ‘I would say that I hope you didn’t terrorise her too much but this is Granny we speak of.’

‘True. I felt thoroughly chastised I can tell you. King or no King.’ He smiles. It’s good to have people in your life who treat you for the person you are and not the title you wear. Granny is one of them for he and Snow and, according to the Widow Lucas, Killian Jones is for their daughter. ‘She said she knew but that she kept out agreement to the letter. That we had asked only that she was safe and happy.’ He turns to meet his wife’s eyes. ‘She said Emma was never happier or safer than when they were in one another’s company.’

Tears threaten to spill from Snow’s eyes. His own feel the emotion of his words.

‘What else did she say?’

‘That he and his crew were respectful enough for pirates when in town. That his crew had only docked once before she had seen them together and then it was never more than three weeks before they returned.’ He lets the weight of those words sink in. Hardly typical for a pirate crew to so regularly dock in the same port.

‘How long?’

He swallows. ‘Eight months.’

‘But, Charming,’ Snow gasps.

He knows. Knows Emma’s sudden decision to be wed coincides with eight months to the day since the Captain and his crew had left. Seemingly never to return.

‘It’s worse,’ he smiles ruefully. ‘Granny said his crew never caused any trouble when in our port. That they were rowdy and well-paying customers but that their captain stepped in at the first sign of any trouble.’

‘Did you ask?’ Snow whispers at his side. He knows what she refers to of course. The woman by his side is his best friend. He knows the way her mind works as surely as he does his own.

‘She said she knows what love looks like between two people and that our daughter and,’ he swallows, ‘Killian were certainly in love with each other. The ‘true kind’ she said that was settled on something beyond the lust in a young person’s eyes.’

His obvious discomfort at using the word ‘lust’ in reference to his daughter caused Snow to chuckle at his side.

‘She trusts our judgment.’ Snow says turning to meet his eyes and he knows then that her thoughts have led her to the same resolution as he. He thumbs the indentation in her chin. The one Emma also shares.

‘He is a pirate, Snow. How do we reconcile that with Emma’s life?’

‘We’re missing something here,’ Snow says frowning. ‘It doesn’t quite add up. They’re in love. He leaves to protect her reputation and her future, but he’s a pirate. He shouldn’t care for those things even though he cares for her. He should have whisked her away on his ship and called for ransom.’

A strangled sound leaves his throat at the thought.

‘But he didn’t,’ Snow continues. ‘Granny trusted him with our daughter. I even felt that I could trust him with her that day in the woods; I couldn’t explain it.’

‘Emma trusted him.’

‘She did. She does. And he has been true to his word but I cannot understand it. A loyal pirate? A pirate who prevents his crew from running amok in port. Who doesn’t use generated unrest as a way to assert power.’

He smiled as his wife ran through all the thoughts he had had in his own head but with far more eloquence.

‘We’re missing something.

‘I agree, sweetheart and I have no intention of organising a match for my daughter when she is resigning herself to a lifelong partnership of indifference.’

‘Well,’ Snow smiles and there’s a light in her eye that makes him fear she has a plan, ‘now perhaps we shouldn’t be too hasty about bringing some suitors to court.’

--------

It had taken three weeks to ascertain where Captain Jones and his crew were. Another four days to convince Charming that she should come and not him.

‘But this is absurd! I agreed to this plan in the first instance because I could see the thread of sense running through it but if you think I am going to let you board a pirate ship for private talks with the captain without my being there then you are wrong.’

It was probably the wrong time to tell him how handsome she found him when he was being overprotective but she couldn’t stop herself.

‘Snow,’ he sighed but the bite had left his voice. ‘This isn’t a laughing matter.’

‘No, it is a matter of your daughter’s heart.’

Her words had the intended impact and truly she had thought this through. ‘I assure you I have no intention of taking any unnecessary risks and if I judge it to be so then I will turn home, but it does need to be this way round.’

‘How so?’ he implored.

‘Well as rational as you usually are in these situations, I have no doubt you will not remain calm in the company of a pirate captain aboard his ship when that man may just know your daughter as well as you do.’ David’s jaw clenched but he did not answer. ‘Plus, if either one us will get Emma to open up about this whole affair then it is you.’

She knew she had won then because she was right. Bizarrely, she knew Emma was more likely to talk to her father about this. Their plan was to set up a list of potential suitors while one of them (Snow) sought out Killian Jones in order to find some answers. Their hope that in forcing the subject with Emma, she may crack.

It was a long shot knowing quite how stubborn their daughter could be and yet they had to try.

And so, yes, it had taken three weeks to ascertain where Captain Jones and his crew were. Another four days to convince Charming that she should come and not him. Another eight before she found herself here. On a naval ship in the middle of an ocean awaiting the return of the bird she had sent out to Captain Jones’ ship. Her message had been simple, clear.

I wish to speak with you about a person very dear to both of us.

Queen Snow White of the Enchanted Forest

An hour passed.

Then another and for a moment, Snow feared she simply wouldn’t get a reply but then, out of nowhere, the Jolly Roger appeared beside them.

The alacrity at which it had appeared caused her men to draw arms. ‘Stand down,’ she called hoping with every fibre of her being that her judgement was right. The crew onboard her ship were good men, loyal and true. Men with families at home.

She scanned the deck of the pirate ship. Its crew had stopped work but none had drawn weapons. She looked for him and found him at the helm. Their eyes met and he gave the slightest incline of his head meant only for her to see.

Clearing his throat, he called out. A throaty and commanding sound. ‘You may come aboard, your highness, so that we can conduct our business, but you and you alone.’

She met his gaze, ‘I agree.’

‘Your Highness, this is madness!’ Graham burst out beside her. ‘You cannot seriously be considering this?’

‘I am quite serious,’ she said turning to her dear friend before lifting her skirts to march across the gangplank Captain Jones’ men had lain for her.

‘Weapons to the ground!’ Graham called out across the water to Captain Jones.

‘If that is what her Majesty wishes,’ Killian’s words were spoken to her and though she could see he meant his words they were also laced with a clear message of who was in charge to Graham.

Knowing she was likely to be responsible for a  great strain on her friend’s heart as well as a little on her own she agreed to them lowering her weapons so long as she could keep her own.

‘Weapons on the floor, men!’ Jones barked and she heard the clattering of swords lay on the ground. No hesitation.

One more step and she would be on board the Jolly Roger. She’d never set foot on a pirate ship. Odd that she had somehow expected it to feel different underneath her feet than the naval ships she frequented. It didn’t. They felt oddly symbiotic.

She watched as Captain Jones downed the steps to great her. She recognised that only now did he surrender his height advantage over them. Smart move. A subtle show of power.

‘Captain Jones.’

‘Your Highness.’

She watched as his blue eyes flickered over her face. He was looking for signs of what her visit was regarding. Scanning her face to see if he could gain answers to his questions. Snow couldn’t help but think it a good sign. Concern remained. Feelings remained.

‘Perhaps we could talk in private somewhere, Captain?’ she said inclining her head to below.

He swallowed and for a moment panic crossed his face before he once more school his handsome features into a show of cool indifference.

‘Of course,’ he smirked loud enough for his men to hear, ‘after you.’ With a sweep of his arm he gestured for her to walk before him as they made their way to the captain’s cabin.

Unsurprisingly, he had not lain down the sword he himself carried yet Snow didn’t feel a threat of physical harm. She had been truthful when she told Charming she would not continue with the plan if she felt at risk.

They enter his cabin and though he pushes the door over, Snow notes he does not shut it. For her benefit, she wonders?

Snow stands next to the fastidiously tidy desk and watches as he paces before her.

'Your Highness, is Emma... Forgive me, the princess, is she alright? Is she in trouble?' 

'Killian, may I call you Killian?'

His gaze whips to hers in shock, 'Your Highness, it wouldn't be -'

'Proper. You were going to say it wouldn't be proper.'

'Aye, Your Majesty. I was.'

Hmmm, she hums intrigued as to where he had acquired such manners. 

'Well, if I told you that I was here to talk to you as Emma's mother and not as a sovereign, would that help?' 

He hastily nods his assent but the tips of his ears turn red and Snow surprises herself by how endeared she is to the pirate captain before her. A young man riddled with contrasts. 

'Emma is not in danger. She is perfectly safe and healthy back at our home.'

She pauses. Watches the relief wash over him. His whole demeanour changing.  

'She is, however, suffering from a broken heart.'

Killian stands then and moves towards the small row of windows lining one side of the cabin, gripping onto a high shelf to his right. He is still dressed in black as he was that day in the woods. More leather than she would know how to keep clean. His beard is a little thicker and his hair a little longer. Altogether a little more hardened. Rather like her daughter, she thinks sadly.

Snow allows him a moment but she isn't here to give him his solitude.

'Judging from the five minutes I have spent in your company, I would say you are too.' 

She speaks softly, but her words have their intended impact. He spins to face her with a pained look on his face. There's a fire there too, a grit that Snow does not doubt has helped him to reach the position he is in today. A determination to match he daughter's. 

'I do not know what you want me to say, Your Majesty. To be perfectly honest, I don't know why you have chosen to come aboard my ship.'

She stays quiet which only serves to build his frustration. She bites back the smile wanting to dance on her lips. He and Emma really are very alike. There have been many times where Snow has employed silence as her most powerful weapon in getting her daughter to talk.

'You clearly know of my relationship with your daughter and that it has now ended.' He breathes on an angry exhale. 'You no doubt think me abominable and a traitor but where your daughter is concerned I tried to do right by her. '

He pulls a flask from in his coat pocket but seems to think better of using it in front of her.

'I did not hurt her willingly if that is your assumption. She was not some conquest.' The final words spat out, clearly tasting bitterness on his tongue at the very notion of Emma as a prize.

She knows that, knew that already from the conversation she had overheard those months ago. She can see it now, in the desperate way he is clinging to the honour which informed his decision. His care for Emma's well-being justifying his own heartache.

'I know that, Killian. My daughter has grown into a wise young woman. One who would not feel so strongly for someone with dishonourable intentions. She does not give her heart easily, nor does she trust easily, but you seem to have earned both in her eyes.'

She is surprised again when a flicker of understanding quirks his brow. Perhaps Emma had told him of Neal and her past heartache. 

'Tell me about her.' She says leaning back into her seat. 

'Pardon me?' Surprise washes over his face.

'Tell me about my daughter. The woman you know.'

Chapter Text

'Tell me about her.' She says leaning back into her seat. 

 

'Pardon me?' Surprise washes over his face.

 

'Tell me about my daughter. The woman you know.'

 

He reaches a hand to scratch behind his ear in a somewhat nervous gesture. Snow adds it to the list of qualities piquing her interest. 

 

'I do not feel right, discussing Emma without her permission.'

 

That she wasn't expecting. She's assumed the nervous gesture was in relation to the thought of discussing his feelings. Not in relation to refusing a request from a sovereign.

 

(She's alarmingly pleased by his loyalty to her daughter's agency. Even now.)

 

'My apologies, Killian. I am not asking you to share my daughter's secrets. I am merely asking that you share a little of the Emma you know.' 

 

His blue eyes meet her gaze and whatever he sees has him jerkily nodding his assent. He begins to pace until she demands he sits. Makes some quip about using her bow if he doesn't. It pulls a smile from his mouth and he finally perches on the end of his bed. It’s made so neatly; the castle maids couldn’t have done better.

 

He leans forward with his head in his hands for a moment. She's not asking him this to cause him pain, but she needs to know he loves her. Loves her daughter, and not the title.

 

'Did you meet her at that tavern she likes to sneak away to?' 

 

Killian looks up. Affection shining in his eyes. 'She doesn't think you know about that.'

 

'I know it hasn't always been easy for her. Growing up without siblings within the royal walls can be lonely. It is a life of privilege, but also one of responsibility and duty and so my daughter's craving for a little freedom was to be expected. To be fair to her, she never stretched those boundaries too far. Or so we thought.’

 

She realises from the way Killian’s jaw clenches that she has said the wrong thing. The thought of his acquaintance with Emma hurting her is clearly not something he can come to terms with.

 

She gives him a moment and then tries to re-direct, ‘Or perhaps it was the woods she loves to ride in?’

 

‘It was neither,’ he says quietly. ‘I was taking in the view at a spot on the hill above the harbour and she told me off for intruding on her space. Claimed it was her favoured spot and that I should find my own.’

 

Snow can see the way in which the memory affects him. The fond remembrance of a time where he was happy. ‘That does sound rather like my daughter.’

 

‘She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen and by far the smartest too.’ He smiles to himself. ‘She wouldn’t have fallen for any of my charms and I couldn’t have used them if I wanted to. I felt completely out of my depth after spending an hour in her company.’

 

That is what Snow wanted to hear. Needed to hear. Someone who spoke of her daughter and not of a compatible match. Of her prospects or some timely union between realms and families.

 

Killian meets her gaze clearly regretting saying so much - showing so much of his heart. ‘Again, I ask, Your Highness, what you want from me?’

 

‘I followed her, you know. That day you said goodbye in the woods.’ That does seem to take him by surprise. ‘Call it a mother’s intuition that my daughter’s claims to a migraine were wrong the night before and I was curious.’

 

Watching his face, another piece of the puzzle clicks into place.

 

‘You were going to leave the night before and you stayed another day,’ she says softly. ‘You stayed because she was too upset for you to leave?’

 

He inclines his head. ‘Yes, well it turns out it didn’t really help the matter.’

 

‘No. I suppose not.’

 

Quiet settles over them. The soft lull of the waves outside calming to Snow’s mind. The young man before her clearly suffering.

 

‘I apologise for making you think of such painful memories again.’

 

He looks in wonder at her apology, but shakes his head. ‘You haven’t,’ he admits. ‘It is always at the forefront of my mind.’

 

‘You know, you were right before when you said all of those things. That we would deem it unthinkable that our daughter had given her heart to a pirate, that you were a threat to her safety, to our crown.’

 

‘Those are the reasons why I left,’ he says tightly.

 

‘You also left because you love her and you put her first.’

 

‘If you have come seeking an apology from me for loving your daughter, then you will leave disappointed, Your Majesty.’

 

‘Good.’

 

He stands in alarm at her words. Yes, she thinks. She does always enjoy keeping people on their toes.

 

‘No, I came because we both love my daughter. I have come to realise that. I have also had to watch my brilliant and bright daughter lose herself to sadness these past eight months and yes, I hoped initially that she could forget you and move on from you. Your reasons for leaving were valid and in so many ways my daughter’s life would be easier if she could happily give her heart to some caring nobleman.’

 

It has taken she and David so long to reach this point and she knows she must choose her words with care.

 

‘She has not, though. Her heart is yours, Killian. I believe irreversibly. Do you know she came to the harbour every day that she was home for eight months?’

 

Killian’s jaw jumps with the effort to stop himself from speaking out.

 

‘Eight months to the day of your leaving, she stopped. She kept that hope that you would return for as long as you had known one another and then,’ she pauses knowing this news may be the least favourable thing she has had to tell him so far, ‘she returned one day and insisted her father and I find her a husband.’

 

He picks up a glass from the desk and looks dearly like he wishes to smash it against the floor. His hand shakes ever so slightly, imperceptible to someone without the trained eye of a hunter.

 

He speaks quietly but there is a venom laced in his voice that Snow imagines drives fear into those that cross him. ‘Are you here then, to tell me she is wed? To tell me to give up once and for all?’

 

‘I am not.’

 

Finally, finally his resolve breaks and he throws the glass across the room tearing his hands through his hair. He paces the cabin and Snow wills herself to stay calm. It’s not that she fears for her safety but her words are hurting him and though she is starting to get a measure of the man, she doesn’t quite know which route to take.

 

‘Then for the love of God,’ he spits, ‘why are you here?’

 

There was the brutal honesty she was waiting for.

 

‘Because I nor my husband have any intentions of organising a loveless marriage for Emma. We want our daughter to be happy and respected, and seen. Seen for the ‘most beautiful woman’ that she is and ‘by far the smartest too.’’

 

She watches as his quoted words hit home. He lets out a weary sigh looking at a loss for what he is expected to do.

 

‘I am a pirate.’

 

‘I know.’

 

‘Hardly fit company for your daughter.’

 

‘I trust her enough to make that judgement for herself.’

 

Killian looks as if he is fit to shake some sense in to her about the way the world works and she does understand that feeling, truly. She has spent many a sleepless night getting herself here.

 

‘You see, my husband was a shepherd.’

 

‘It is hardly the same thing.’

 

‘No, it is not. Rather I am trying to say that my family are in the habit of taking people as we find them and my daughter has found you worthy of her heart. Can you deny it?’

 

She leaves the question hanging in the air between them. Goading him.

 

‘Are you asking me to?’

 

She says nothing.

 

Killian glances up at the ceiling stealing himself for his next words. ’No. I cannot. I cannot say I am worthy of it but knowing Emma, loving Emma and being loved in return is the single greatest thing in my life.’

 

‘I see that.’ She does. Truly. ‘I wonder then why you are making both of you so unhappy?’

 

‘Forgive me for my bluntness,’ he snaps incredulous, ‘but how can you ask me that? Surely you must know, must see the answer.’

 

‘And I am saying there is another option. Come to the castle, return with me and meet my husband.’

 

‘Your husband the king? For what, to be interrogated prior to you deeming be untenable as a suitor for your daughter? How would that possibly help? How would it achieve anything but hurt Emma? It would drive a wedge between you and her and I will not be responsible for that.’

 

‘And if I said that you may earn our approval? Would you still be as troubled?’

 

Silence. She knows there is more to his reluctance. He does not wish to be parted from Emma yet he remains torn. Tortured.

 

‘Whatever the reason, perhaps help could be offered.’

 

‘Help?’ He explodes. ‘Help? No King can help solve a problem of their own kind's doing.’

 

‘Your problem is with royalty?’ she gasps. It hadn’t really occurred to her. Not when he clearly had given his heart to the Crown Princess. ‘With King Charming? 

 

He shakes his head bitterly. 'I have no personal issue with your husband the king.’

 

‘But you do with a king.’ She says joining the dots.

 

Killian flexes the muscles in his neck at whatever memories are being dredged to the surface.

 

Snow pulls out the chair from behind the desk and sits.

 

She will wait.

 

She does wait.

 

He finally gives in to the draw of alcohol and pours them both a healthy dose of rum. They sit silently. Snow sipping at her drink. Killian’s long gone.

 

‘You should let your man know you are well,’ he says gruffly. Sensing he needs a moment alone she goes to speak to Graham briefly before returning.

 

‘That was not a bad idea,’ she says lightly as she lets herself back into the cabin. ‘Between Emma and I, we have aged poor Graham terribly.’

 

He looks up with sadness in his eyes but the corner of his mouth upturns in a smile. This time, Snow closes the door softly and retakes her seat.

 

Killian looks up at her.

 

‘My brother’s name was Liam and he was captain of this ship.’

 

--------

 

David must have walked at least a mile pacing back and forth as he listened carefully to Mary Margaret’s words.

 

‘We will need to investigate this further,’ he says decisively. He stops abruptly and turns to face Snow. ‘He was telling the truth?’

 

She nods.

 

‘We need to be sure, Snow. If we take this further, we will unsettle nations.’

 

His words sadden her heart. It will bring unrest if it cannot be settled behind closed doors. The notion of a king willing to commit genocide.

 

‘We will, but the cost otherwise is untenable.’ She cannot quite comprehend that George is capable of planning such atrocities and yet at no point did she doubt Killian when he spoke.

 

‘We should brief Robin and his men,’ David says and she is nodding her agreement. He and his Merry Men have a way of finding out information that few others possess. They will need proof. Something unquestionable to strong-arm the King from his position and someone to trust as an heir.

 

‘And who could we trust to take the throne?’ David asks giving voice to her thoughts.

 

‘I will write to Aurora as their kingdom is closer and see who she knows. If she has heard anything that may help us.’

 

The weight of what Killian had shared with her rests heavy on her shoulders. The young man swallowed by grief and betrayal. He’d opted not to return with Snow until further news. She strongly suspected he had gone in search of further evidence.

 

‘So,’ Snow says, ‘I have shared the tales from my journey. Did you manage to unlock the vault Emma is keeping her emotions in?’

 

‘I have this,’ he says reaching into his breast pocket and unfolding a list. Handing it to Snow he explains, ‘That was my way of ‘baiting’ her so to speak.’

 

Snow glances down and fights back laughter at the absurd list of qualities David had written down as essentials a suitor for Emma must hold.

 

‘Well looking at this list, I rather imagine it worked. ‘Exalted’, David? That surely drew her anger.’

 

David chuckles, ‘Most of it did in all honesty. She had quite a problem with ‘serene’ too.’

 

Laughing, Snow leaned forward to kiss her husband.

 

‘Well she rather lost her temper with me. Asked if she should call a physician because I was surely not in my right mind if I thought she could marry a man like that.’

 

‘It worked then,’ Snow mulls.

 

‘A little. I then asked her to write her own list and help her old father out. She wouldn’t, of course. I told her to write down the qualities of a man she could love as I do you. She said it was not possible for someone we matched her to to be a man she could love.’

 

‘Because it wouldn’t be Killian…’

 

‘I rather think so, but I asked her to humour me.’ Her husband sighs heavily. ‘To imagine if she were ‘just Emma’ what kind of man it would be.’

 

‘And?’

 

‘Well, she stormed off for a ride. This is Emma after all.’

 

Snow shook her head sadly. Off course she did.

 

‘And sometime later, when there was no longer steam rushing from her ears, she returned and wrote only this.’

 

David turns over the piece of paper in her hand and Snow’s eyes catch on the words written at the bottom in their daughter’s looped hand.

 

My partner

 

Snow lets the tears slide from her eyes.

 

--------

 

It had pained David terribly to see those two words written in anger and frustration and hurt.

 

My partner

 

And it made him admire his daughter all the more. There was a wisdom, a truth in her words beyond that of a young princess. They were the words of a woman who had found the person whom they always wanted by their side.

 

And when he thought about it, those two words perfectly encapsulated all that he and Snow were to one another. Partners in everything. They would stand by one another, protect one another, choose one another every day for the rest of their lives.

 

How could he deny that pleasure to his daughter? The sheer wonder of knowing that you have someone by your side who will always be there for you every step of the way.

 

A true partner was never more needed than in a royal marriage where isolation and loneliness were never too far away - edging around the meeting room doors to shroud you in a life of solitude.

 

He didn’t want that life for Emma. Never wanted her to feel alone in her duties. His daughter before stands looking out over the gardens, lost in thought. He can well imagine where her mind has led her.

 

‘You are far wiser than I give you credit for at times,’ he says moving to stand beside her. Matching her stance. ‘I certainly did not realise when you had grown so wise in matters of the heart.’

 

She does not speak but he sees the way her lower lip trembles and he aches to pull her to his side. Knows it will only drive her away. He must wait for her.

 

‘If you do ever want to talk about it, then I am always here for you.’

 

He waits beside her for a moment and when she does not speak he kisses her temple and moves toward the door.

 

His fingers curl around the door knob when he hears her, ‘I do not think I am very wise in matters of the heart.’

 

Turning slowly, he hopes the thudding of his heart cannot be heard outside of his own body. He dearly wants Emma to open up to him about this. He knows all the logical reasons why she didn’t. He would have been mad, furious, hurt. Reacted in a way that would likely have damaged his relationship with her had he found out about it in circumstances others than the ones they find themselves now in.

 

He also wishes dearly that she had told him. Felt that she could trust him with this and that is not Emma’s shortcoming but his own. They have always been close. The two of them alike in their sense of humour and at ease in one another’s company. Both easily irritated by the bureaucracy of court dealings when they simply want to act.

 

He should have done better. He’s let her down.

 

Her eyes dart anywhere but on his. ‘He left anyway,’ she shrugs hiding the significance of her words.

 

‘Did he tell you why he left?’

 

She swallows and nods hastily swiping angrily at a tear she clearly wishes she hadn’t shed.

 

‘Can I ask you something?’ he asks. Waiting for her permission he sees her struggle to stay still. Can see the way she wants to move, to burn off some of the anger and the hurt.

 

‘Yes’

 

‘If the situation had been reversed, and you and this man had swapped positions. Would you have done the same as he?’

 

Pain spreads across Emma’s face. Her brow crumples and she raises a hand to her mouth at the realisation of her answer to the question. Yes, she would have. Of course she would have. You protect the ones you love. He moves instantly tucking her to his chest as her walls fall and she sobs. Her hurt, hurts him. His strong daughter. He whispers reassurances into her hair but nothing he can say can really help.

 

He resolves to make it right.

 

--------

 

They’re careful not to let Emma hear of the news they have regarding King George. Snow uncertain of what Killian had shared with Emma about his brother and she doesn’t want to give her false hope until they are sure.

 

But today is the day they are meeting with King George on neutral ground (or rather so he thinks) at Phillip and Aurora’s castle. George does not know the paperwork they have found thanks to Robin and his men, nor of Killian’s information. Killian’s willingness to submit to a truth serum to prove his words aiding their cause. No, the errant king does not know that they have enough to order an execution. They have no intention of it, but all of Phillip’s guards will be outside of the room on guard and they have the ultimate coup d’état in Eric’s cousin’s claim to the crown.

 

This has gone beyond securing her daughter’s happiness. This is about finding justice for Liam Jones and security for the future citizens of nations.

 

Emma, of course, had been suspicious. Had questioned again their reason for their sudden journey but Graham successfully managed to distract her with a need for support for some of the local children in a nearby town.

 

If this worked, they would return with news they hoped would bring happiness to their daughter forevermore. Following Emma’s lead, they had not discussed again what she had shared with her father that night. It hangs over Snow like a dark cloud.

 

Aurora and Phillip had offered to house Killian had he wished to see the King brought to retribution. He had come to shore some twenty miles ride from here to share further what he knew. His features schooled into that of an arrogant captain as he sat in on their meeting. Or rather stood. He refused to sit in the seat offered (as he had refused to return to the palace with Snow) and instead leans against the window seat. Snow’s not foolish enough to not realise it was because his back was to the door.

 

How have they ended up here? Trying to earn the trust of a pirate. She knows he is much more than that now. Unearthed naval records show he was highly esteemed as his brother’s lieutenant. Earmarked for his own ship to captain one day. Notes had commented on his fastidiousness, loyalty and ability to lead by example. 

 

But the naval man, wasn’t the one he was presenting here. His guard was up and he was protecting himself. Snow recalling the way in which he and David had seemed to communicate silently with one another as they met. David had, in her eyes, adopted his ‘King’ stance – all flexed muscles and folded arms – and the two of them had simply stared at one another. To his credit, Kilian hadn’t flinched. After what surely felt longer than it was, David had nodded briskly and received a nod in return.

 

Snow was rather glad Aurora had been there. She needed another female by her side to recognise the absurdity of a male ‘conversation.’

 

Phillip and Aurora’s offer had taken him aback though. An imposing king did not faze him, but kindness still did. For a moment, the mask slipped.

 

Killian was quiet before he spoke. ‘I appreciate the offer Your Majesties, but if I see that excuse for a man I will kill him myself.’

 

He looks up and his blue eyes scan the room waiting for someone to challenge him. It is David beside her who nods at him before both men look away. She knows David recognises the choice he is making, to let go of his revenge in order to seek his future.

 

When they finish their meeting, Killian swiftly disappears alongside Robin and his men. Snow reaches across and plays with the hair at the base of David’s neck.

 

‘Do you think he will continue to wear so much leather?’ he says, pained.

 

‘I rather hope so. He looks quite dashing.’

 

Her husband groans. ‘I am not ready to hear jokes on the matter, darling.’

 

--------

It had worked. Their plan. George blindsided and shucked of his armour. He had tried in vain to dig himself from the hellish hole he had placed himself in but came up short against their compelling evidence.

 

It would no doubt puzzle the people at first. His abdication. They had offered him the choice. Abdicate and remain imprisoned for the rest of his days or the truth and execution under his own country’s law.

 

Eric’s cousin was a good man. Smart, well-intentioned and warm. His new people would take to him in time and a rather compelling speech from the abdicating King in his successor’s favour was negotiated into the deal.

 

And so they found themselves in the drawing room at their friend’s castle sharing a light supper. The conversation comfortably sparse following the enormity of the events of the day.

 

Phillip’s footman opened the door and announced the arrival of Captain Killian Jones.

 

They stood. Two queens and two kings. Killian looking completely baffled by the formality of his welcome when he rounded the door; his shoulders hunched forward and worry across his brow.

 

‘It is done, Captain Jones,’ Snow speaks to his left. ‘He will never see life outside of a cell again.’

 

The Captain’s breath leaves him in a ragged jolt. He nods at them unable to do more and with an incline of his head leaves.

 

‘That poor man. What a path his life has taken,’ Aurora muses as they sit.

 

David swipes a fine-looking bottle of whiskey from the side table and a couple of tumblers. ‘Do you mind, Phillip?’

 

His friend waves him away and he makes for the door. He has to ask the palace staff in which direction Killian headed. Doesn’t know the man’s habits well, or the man himself if he’s being honest.

 

He finds him standing at the edge of the thicket to the right of the castle. A morose air about him that David can almost feel as he comes closer. It crosses his mind that perhaps the man would rather be alone. If that’s the case, David will make his offer of company and leave.

 

Killian turns swiftly at David’s footfall. Hand immediately going to the sword at his side but relaxes when he sees who it is.

 

‘I thought you might be in need,’ David says holding up the bottle by way of introduction. ‘Wasn’t sure if you’d want a glass.’

 

‘I’m a pirate, not a heathen,’ the younger man says lightly and David is pleased that perhaps he has taken the right course of action. He pours them both a healthy amount of the amber liquid and leans back against a tree.

 

Killian breaks the silence apologising for not thanking them properly before he left.

 

‘I did not come out here to lecture you’

 

‘You’d be within your right.’

 

They both know they are no longer talking about what happened ten minutes prior. Given the circumstances, they haven’t had chance to talk of Emma yet.

 

David takes another sip of his drink. ‘I would, but perhaps I may also need to thank you loving my daughter so much that you put her first.’

 

The Captain is clearly shocked by his words but follows David in speaking the truth. ‘I would do anything for your daughter, Your Highness. I know you have little reason to believe me, but it is the greatest truth I own.’

 

Looking at the man before him, David doesn’t doubt his words. All that they had discovered about Kilian Jones had led David to believe he was a young man who had been dealt a terrible hand in life. One who had thrown away his potential in grief and betrayal, but not a man who was naturally deceitful or violent. A good man who had lost his way and found hope in the arms of his daughter.

 

‘I think I am coming to see that. I won’t lie, Killian. Your path moving forwards will not be easy. You will have to make some changes to your life if you wish to return to her.’

 

‘Return to her?’

 

‘Well, yes. I thought that was clear from your conversations with my wife?’

 

‘I never…I was never certain what she was implying.’ He gapes at him. ‘I never let myself hope.’

 

‘Hope is rather my wife’s specialty. You’ll do better to learn that now.’ David nods firmly at him. Feels warmed by the disbelief on the other man’s features. ‘You will not be able to remain a pirate. The reasons you once gave to my daughter are true but I checked the records, Captain Jones.’

 

He had been fastidious. Checking and re-checking them. He had to be sure.

 

‘You have never attacked our ships nor caused unrest in our harbour. As such, the Enchanted Forest has no quarrel with you.’

 

The younger man reaches up to scratch behind his ear. ‘Well, I encountered your daughter on my first visit.’

 

David huffs out a laugh. He had been a goner for Snow as soon as he had lain eyes on her too.

 

‘Your own kingdom has now quarrel with you either.’

 

At that, Killian’s head snaps up. ‘What?’

 

‘Sebastian, Eric’s cousin and the soon to be King, has pardoned you for stealing a military ship given the facts of the matter.’

 

‘I cannot ask you to do that.’

 

‘I didn’t. I wouldn’t use my power in that way and the decision was not mine to make. This was Sebastian’s choice. I think he would like to speak to you about it in the not too distant future. He said he had the pleasure of completing some military training alongside your brother.’

 

Killian is lost in thought beside him and in truth, David doesn’t want to pressure him at this time - so soon after finding some semblance of peace for his beloved brother.

 

‘You brother sounded like a fine man,’ he nods and moves to leave. Only getting about twenty paces before Killian calls out to him.

 

‘You can ask me.’

 

David’s steps falter and he glances over his shoulder.

 

‘The question you want to ask me.’ Killian gestures with his head that he can go ahead.

 

His wife had said he seemed very perceptive. Turning, David folds his arms over his chest. Snow had wanted to find out if he loved Emma and not the title, but that is not what David needs to know.

 

‘Do you love her enough to love the princess too? I do not doubt that you love my daughter but you met Emma in the woods and at the harbour all this time. She will rule, Killian. She will rule and she was born to do it. I’m not talking about birth right. She will be a ruler like no other. She will bring great things to her kingdom and the people in it. I need to know that you will love her despite the trappings of court life and meetings and balls and visiting diplomats.’ He pauses. ‘I need to know that you will forsake all others.’

 

Killian pushes himself off the tree he leans against and meets David’s gaze. ‘I love her. I love every part of her and as long as she wishes me to be by her side, then I will be there. Since the day I laid eyes on Emma there has been no other. There is no other for me.’

 

David holds his stare but a calm settles over his chest. Yes, he thinks, his daughter was right. She had found her partner.

 

‘We leave in the morning. Be ready.’

 

-------

Snow straightens and restraightens the table linens. Not that she needs to. The palace staff are attentive and perfectionists, but she wants this to be right.

 

Needs it to be to right the fault she can’t quite erase - that she didn’t know what was going on in her daughter’s life. In her heart. Snow may be a ruler, but she is also a mother.

 

‘Darling,’ she hears David’s voice behind her as he squeezes her arm. ‘You know our daughter cares not a jot about table linens and I highly doubt Killian does either.’

 

‘I know,’ she sighs. ‘I know. I just want to give them this. I feel like they’ve lost such a lot of time. I want it to be perfect.’

 

His eyes crinkle at the edge and he doesn’t try to hide his smile. ‘I promise you, neither of them will even notice the table, or the food upon it.’

 

‘You’re right. I know. Is he here?’

 

‘Downstairs. Arrived an hour ago.’

 

Of course he did, Snow thinks. He’s more eager than she is. They’d had a long ride yesterday and returned close to midnight. Emma had already retired for the night not knowing that they were returning that day. They had offered Killian to stay, but he had politely decline saying he wished it to be Emma’s choice whether he was to stay or not.

 

He'd been nervous on the ride home and he hadn’t denied it when she’d asked. She’d outlined his options for his future occupations knowing he was not one to sit around and do nothing. She had offered him a commission in their navy or to take up a position amongst the knights. He had proven himself a capable leader and highly intelligent.

 

‘I appreciate that, Your Highness, but I cannot take these roles out of pity no matter how kindly given.’

 

‘I am not in the habit of ‘handing out’ roles in my military, Killian,’ she insisted. ‘I want the best. The best men to protect by country and to support our leadership with their skills. That is the reason why I offer these positions because I firmly believe you will excel.’

 

He blushed offering his thanks and said he would think it over. She had bitten her lip knowing that he fully meant that he would discuss it with Emma.

 

Emma’s entrance into the room causes her to squeal with delight and rush to hug her daughter.

 

‘You’re home?’ Emma asks smiling, ‘When did you return?’

 

‘Late last night but we didn’t wish to wake you.’ Snow watches as Emma moves to hug her father before spotting the set breakfast table.

 

‘Oh, sorry. Were the two of you set to have breakfast?’ she asks noting the two set places at the table in the window bay.

 

‘No,’ she blurts out and she can feel her husband raise his eyebrows at her. She tries again; this time with a little more restraint. ‘No, sweetheart. Sit.’ She says steering Emma to sit down.

 

‘Well is one of you planning to eat standing up?’ Emma laughs.

 

‘No, sweetheart. You have a guest.’

 

At that Emma’s face falls.

 

‘Wait? I do? Who? It’s early, I honestly don’t want to meet anyone right now. I know I asked you to organise a match but I – ‘

 

‘-Emma, hush. Don’t worry.’ Snow says moving to crouch down before her. She hears David leave the room in order to collect Killian. ‘I promise you, your father and I have not organised some match for you. It is someone who we have only just had the pleasure of getting to know very recently and someone we are hoping to get to know better with time.’

 

Emma’s brow remains furrowed and she can tell her daughter doesn’t quite believe her. ‘Trust me,’ Snow says cupping her chin in her hand. Hearing noise behind her, she stands and moves back. Her own heart pounding in her chest.

 

Emma rises to greet their guest, as to be expected, when her father re-enters the room and she watches as he moves over toward Snow. It is another moment before she registers the knock on the open door.

 

When neither she nor David speaks, Emma frowns at them and then answers herself. ‘Come in.’

 

Snow can’t tear her eyes from her daughter’s face. The pure, unadulterated happiness and disbelief that crosses her features.

 

‘Killian?’ she cries in disbelief before she runs to him as he moves toward her and they wrap one another up in a fierce embrace. Emma’s voice muffled against his chest. ‘You’re here, you’re here.’

 

She watches as her daughter pulls back and reigns a shower of kisses over Killian’s face. He himself refusing to loosen his grip on her. He looks years younger in her arms, Snow thinks. The smile on his face brighter than any she has seen. Pain giving way to joy.

 

‘What are you? How did you? Killian, you’re here!’ Emma cries in between kisses.

 

‘Aye,’ he laughs. ‘Your parents found me and I’m here, Emma.’

 

‘You’re here,’ Emma says in disbelief. ‘You’re really here.’ For a moment they are quiet, mapping the face of their loved one after so long an absence. ‘But what about Liam?’ she asks searching his face. ‘What about the justice you needed to find? What about -’

 

‘I have it, love and I’m here. Exactly where I should have been all along. Here to stay if you’ll have me?’

 

‘What?’ Emma again shakes her in disbelief but the smile on her face is wide and true. Tears run freely over her cheeks. ‘Of course, of course I’ll have you. Always.’

 

‘I love you so much, Emma.’

 

‘I love you. I love you, Killian.’

 

Her daughter is lifted into Killian’s arms. Their laughter filling the air before he pulls her in for a kiss.

 

Snow feels David’s hand close over her own and tug her towards the door behind them. He looks at her with the same emotion she knows she feels herself.

 

She dares a glance over her shoulder as she moves to the door. Killian’s hands cup Emma’s face. His thumbs brushing away her tears and whatever her daughter whispers to him causes him to let out a throaty laugh. Emma too laughs and presses another kiss to his lips pulling his forehead down to hers.

 

They’re happy. They’re partners, she thinks musing on her daughter’s words.

 

Following David through the door she softly closes it behind her.

 

‘They won’t have an easy ride to begin with,’ he says gently wiping away Snow’s own tears of happiness. ‘People will take time to get used to this and forgive his past.’

 

‘They will, but David you saw them together in there. They’re strong enough to weather any storm and the people will see that too. Our girl is happy.’

 

David nods, smiling freely. ‘Well, my dear,’ he says with amusement dancing in his eyes, ‘I rather think I won’t be telling you not to go snooping into other’s people’s business again any time soon.’

 

Laughing, she leans up to kiss him. Her very own partner.