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Take My Hand, Just Carry On

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Not for the first time, Emma asks herself why she even has to be here. These council meetings are easily the most boring thing she has ever had to endure, none of it ever involving her and none ever of interest to her. Trading with other kingdoms, news of where the wars are taking place, disputes between nobles.

And Emma, Princess of Misthaven, cares about none of it.

Instead, with the words of the nobles around her barely registering in her mind as it wanders, she is thinking about all the things she would much rather be doing right now. She could be in the library, curled up with one of her favorite books, or out riding one of her horses across the pasture. She could be eating lunch, she realizes as her stomach rumbles, pack herself a nice picnic and take it down to the beach, using it as an excuse to go down and watch the ships come in, waiting for her perfect blue-eyed sailor to return from his voyage. Turning back towards her mother near the head of the table, she realizes that her brown eyes are staring right back at her as if she has realized that instead of paying attention to the council meeting, she is focused on something else entirely.

Some one else entirely.

But then her father says something that grabs her attention: “ The Jewel of the Realm has taken some damage and some of the naval officers on board have been injured,” King David says, and Emma feels her stomach flip at the words.

The Jewel of the Realm is the Jones brothers’ ship.

Suddenly, she is very interested in what her father has to say. “They made it to our infirmary today, but it might be a few weeks before some of them are back on their feet, especially the young Lieutenant Jones, who seems to have taken the worst of the injuries.”

It takes everything she has in her to not jump up at his words, leave behind this stupid council meeting and sprint down to the infirmary where Killian is sitting, bleeding, wounded, waiting for her, probably wondering why she hasn’t come to see him yet.

The only thing that keeps her in her seat is the fact that her parents do not know that she is so well acquainted with Lieutenant Jones, that she has been sneaking out of the castle on nights when he is portside for two years, had given herself to him months ago.

That she’s been in love with him for almost a year now, since he showed up at the ball to celebrate her seventeenth birthday as his own surprise, complimented every aspect of her appearance and swept her, quite literally, off her feet and across the ballroom.

And Emma has been careful to make sure her parents know about none of it. The only people that do are the two of them, Emma’s handmaidens, Ruby and Ariel, and most likely Killian's older brother and Captain, Liam.

“This is a rough blow on our royal navy. The Jewel of the Realm is our greatest asset, and Captain Liam Jones is one of the best our navy has. It will take a few weeks to get everyone back on their feet, but then hopefully they will be back at the helm and we will be back as the strongest navy in all the realms.”

King David stands up, pushing his chair away from the table, and the meeting is adjourned. “That’s all I have today. As always, thank you for your time.”

As calmly as she can, Emma stands up from her seat at the table and leaves the council room, but as soon as she is out of any unwanted eyes, she hitches the skirt of her dress up and takes off down the long hallway that leads the back way down to the infirmary. She feels like the journey takes forever, down long, echoing hallways and steep, dark stairways, but as soon as she pushes through the infirmary doors, her breathing heavy and face red from exertion, Mrs. Blue, who runs the infirmary, meets her at the door with a curtsy.

“Good morning, Princess Emma. What brings you by this morning?”

This is, of course, not something Emma had thought about in her rush down to the infirmary. So, as quickly as she made it down here, she comes up with a plan and paints a smile across her face.

“I was told about the naval officers here, so I decided to come down and see what I could offer them by means of assistance. Do you know where I could find them?”

Mrs. Blue smiles at her. “Of course I do, your highness. The Captain and his brother have their own room. Would you like to start there?”

“That sounds perfect.”

Blue leads her between the rows of beds lined against the wall, and she tries her best to smile at each of the men in them as she passes, though many of them are asleep or still being tended to by nurses. Following Blue through the door to their private room in the corner of the infirmary, she sees him lying there, propped up by pillows, his attention locked on to the book on his lap. She wants to run to him, wrap her arms around him, nurse him back to health.

But, again, there are people watching. People that, were she to act on her desires, would not only learn her secret, but would probably give her away to her parents.

So, instead of running towards the Lieutenant, she approaches the bed of Killian's older brother, Captain Liam Jones.

“Good morning, Captain,” she says, smiling down at him, and flashes her eyes towards his brother, whose eyes snap up at the sound of her voice.

“Princess,” Liam says, a smile to match her own growing on his face. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“I just heard about your unfortunate injuries, so I figured it was only fitting for me to come down and see what assistance I could offer you and your men.”

“As much as I appreciate your offer, Princess, I think this is a matter much better suited for you and my brother to work out,” Liam replies with a wink and a knowing smile.

Killian must have informed him of some part of their relationship, hopefully no more than necessary. Emma really isn't that surprised—Killian had told her that his brother was his very best friend and hiding their relationship from him was one of the hardest things he ever had to endure, so after his surprise arrival at her birthday ball, he was finally able to reveal his feelings about her to Liam.

“Thank you, Captain,” Emma says as courteously as she can. “Please do let me know if there is anything I can do for you, though.”

“Of course, ma'am.”

Then, trying to keep the smile on her face from growing too large, Emma turns to face the younger Jones brother, Killian.

Her Killian.

“Princess?” Mrs. Blue asks, and Emma tears her eyes from Killian to turn towards her voice. “I'm going to go back to my work, please do not hesitate to let me know if you require anything from me.”

“Thank you, Blue,” she says, turning back towards the door to smile at Mrs. Blue, who gives her one last smile before turning away from the door to their private room and closing it most of the way behind her.

Emma lets out a sigh of relief before sitting down on the bed beside Killian, running her fingers through his dark hair to push it off his forehead.

“Killian,” she breathes, and it takes everything in her not to lean forward and kiss him the way she wants to, but even behind the closed doors of their private room, she has to hold herself together.

“Hello, darling,” he replies, his voice weak, but the smile that forms on his face is still dazzling, reaching his shining blue eyes as he raises his hand up to cup her cheek. She's instantly reminded just how much she loves the smile lines that form around his sparkling blue eyes, the deep dimple that forms in his cheek next to her hand.

“I came as soon as I heard the news, but you should have let me know sooner.” She turns to Liam, who has turned back to his book but still raises his eyes to her over the pages. “How are you? What happened? Is everyone okay?”

“We took some enemy fire not far from the Misthaven territory, and then found ourselves stuck in shallow water unable to avoid being boarded.”

“And unable to use our bloody cannons,” Killian interjects. “Then theirs took our mast down and there was nothing left for us to do but fight.”

“Thankfully, that's something we are fairly decent at, so we held our own well enough, though it wasn't long before another Misthaven ship rescued us.”

“Bloody miracle that was, at least. But they couldn't get there soon enough to save my hand,” Killian says, and when he pulls it out from under his blanket, Emma notices for the first time that it is missing, removed from just below the wrist and wrapped in crisp white bandages.

“Oh, Killian,” she sighs, carefully taking the stump of his arm in her hand, running her thumb over the end of it. “I'm so sorry.”

The corners of his lips try to form a smile, but it only lasts for a moment before it disappears.

“Thank you, Emma, but really, it—it could have been worse. Thankfully it seems to be the worst injury any of the men have taken.”

“Of course, the best fighter has the worst injuries,” Liam says matter-of-factly, flashing a proud smile at his younger brother, one Killian is more successful at returning than the last.

“Thank you, Liam, but I—”

“Don't even try to deny it.” Emma is the one who cuts him off. “You know you are an incredibly skilled fighter, and if anyone can come back from an injury like this, it would be you.” Taking his hand in her own, she mimics his favorite motion and pulls his knuckles to her lips, pressing a soft kiss against them. If she cannot kiss him the way she wants, she would have to make do with other options.

“At least they didn't knock the handsome out of me,” Killian adds, wagging his eyebrows at her, and if Emma had more information about his injuries, known that it would not have hurt him, she would have hit his chest with the back of her hand.

“No one is that powerful,” she says with a smile, tightening her hand around his own, and is about to reach up again to run her fingers through his hair when the door behind them bursts open, causing her to jump to her feet.

“Captain Jones, Lieutenant,” King David announces, a proud smile on his face as he enters the room followed by his wife, but it quickly disappears when he realizes that the Jones brothers are not alone.

“Emma? What are you doing here?” her mother asks.

Emma can feel her face turning red under the sudden scrutiny of her parents, and she quickly pulls herself together enough to answer him without giving anything away. “When I heard that the men on the Jewel had been injured, I came down to deliver my apologies and ask if there was anything I could do to assist them.”

Her father's questioning eyebrow slowly lowers itself down to its regular position, but the rest of his face stays unaltered. “Funny, I was planning on doing the same. How did you get down here so quickly, though?”

“I don't know what you mean, father?”

“You were at the same council meeting I was, in the same location, no more than a handful of minutes ago, yet you seem to have made your way down here fairly quickly to have beaten us by so much.”

“A woman on a mission, I suppose,” she tries with a shrug, hoping her father will drop the subject.

It works.

“You know Captain Liam Jones, then? And his brother, Lieutenant Killian?”

His question catches her off guard, though she does not know why. Her father knows of the few times they have met formally, but that does not stop her from wanting to spill everything right here, to tell him that she is in love with the Lieutenant and wants to spend the rest of her life with him, beside him on his ship and no longer bound to the boring life the castle brings her.

Of course, she can do none of that.

“If you will, sir,” Killian saves her, almost as if he can tell that her words are trapped in her throat. “The Princess and I met at the ball you held in honor of her birthday just over a year ago, and we have met through the court a few times since then.”

“Of course, of course, how could I forget?”

Too overwhelmed by the situation, worried that she could crack at any moment and spill her secrets to her father, Emma takes a few steps towards the door.

“Emma, wait,” Snow says, reaching out to take her by the arm and stop her from leaving. “I actually—since you’re already here, your father and I have something I would like to discuss with you and Captain Jones.”

Intrigued, Emma turns back towards the room, the skirts of her dress flowing around her. “Of course,” she says, the look on her face just as confused as the one on Liam’s.

“Your mother and I have to take a trip to Arendelle to be with Princess Anna as she delivers her child and stay for her introduction. Because we have decided to journey over land after the attack on the Jewel , we may be a few weeks, depending on how long it takes Anna to deliver the child.” He has said most of this to the Captain, but turns towards Emma to ask, “Will you be alright, princess?” calling her not by her title, but by the name he has called her since before she was born.

Sighing, she smiles at her father. “I’m eighteen years old. I’ve been regent more than a few times, father. I’m sure I will be okay.”

And then, King David says perhaps the most amazing thing he has ever said to his daughter, turning back towards Liam: “Captain, I’ve been told your injuries are much better than were originally assumed, so I was hoping to ask you and your brother, the Lieutenant, to assist the Princess while we are gone.”

Trying to hide her excitement at this statement, Emma only allows the beginnings of the smile she feels coursing through her veins show itself on her face.

“Of course, your Highness,” Liam answers, bowing as much as he can from the hospital bed, and Killian mirrors the gesture, trying to hide the smile on his face.

“I appreciate that, father. I'm sure they will both be very helpful.”

Her mother turns to face her, smiling across the room at her before sharing a knowing glance with David. Queen Snow fills the space between her and her daughter, wrapping her in a tight hug. “And who knows, sweetie,” she whispers in Emma's ear, though loud enough that she suspects the whole room hears. “A stronger alliance between us and Arendelle may build itself before we return.”

The smile on the Queen's face tells Emma that she thinks this is the greatest thing in the world, but Emma cannot even begin to explain how much she disagrees. But, looking up at her mother, Emma comes to one conclusion: before her parents return to Misthaven from their journey, she will make her courtship with Killian public, and hope that her father agrees when he returns.

“If you will excuse me,” she says, her hand on the doorknob. “I must continue on with my day. As I said, if there is anything I can do for you, do not hesitate to ask.” Smiling at all of them, then widening it as much as she can when she meets the stare of her blue-eyed sailor, she slips through the door and makes her way back through the castle and into her chamber, trying not to think too much about what her mother said.

--- --- ---

After she sees her parents off the next morning, she is sitting in the library when Liam comes to visit her, knocking softly on the large wooden door before letting himself in.

“Hello, Captain,” she says, a soft smile spreading across her face.

“Princess,” he greets. “Your maidservant, Ariel, told me that I could find you here.”

“Well, she was right.”

“Aye, that she was.” She watches his Adam's apple bob quickly as he scrubs his freshly-shaven face with his hand. After a moment, he speaks again, his words coming slowly. “I spoke with your parents before they left on their journey, and they mentioned forming an alliance with Arendelle, though to the best of my knowledge, there is no one in that kingdom that would make sense to pair you with.”

Emma drops her pen on the table, then rests her head on the book in front of her, groaning. “Not to mention anyone that I actually want to be with.”

Liam can't keep himself from smiling. “That's a different story entirely, princess. I know that you only have a heart for my brother.” Emma groans again, her forehead still pressed onto the pages. “Which is why I've come to help you.” Emma snaps her head up, meeting Liam's sharp blue eyes.

“What?”

“Your parents will be away for a few weeks, and I would like to use those weeks to make my brother's courtship of you public.”

“I—how did—” she tries, but she can't manage to string any of the words together. So she decides on a single one: “Why?”

Liam fills the space between them, sitting at one of the chairs across the small table from her.

“Why?” he repeats, allowing his smile to take over his features. “Because my little brother loves you, that's why. You have held his heart for a while now, and all I have ever wanted was for him to be happy. So, if you are the answer to it, then I'm going to do all I can to make sure he can be with you as he wants to.”

“Thank you, Liam,” Emma says after a moment, still overwhelmed by everything that has happened so far today, and it's not even dinnertime. “Does Killian know about this?”

Liam's smile widens. “Actually, I figured that he would like it better coming from you.”

“I can't—I can't thank you enough. Is he still in the infirmary?”

“Aye, he is. And I was planning on spending some time in the library.”

Jumping up out of her seat, Emma kisses Liam quickly on the cheek before leaving him in the library, the smile still on his face.

Once again, Mrs. Blue meets her at the entrance to the infirmary and greets her with a curtsy.

“I'm here to see the Jones brothers,” Emma says, trying to stay as professional as possible.

“The Captain left a while ago to run some errands, since his injuries are not as bad as we originally intended. But the Lieutenant is resting in their room, if you would like to go talk to him. If you’ll excuse me, madam, I'm very busy.”

“Thank you, Blue. I appreciate all that you are doing for us and for the kingdom.”

Before the head nurse can reply, Emma takes off down the aisle of the main room, knocking softly on the door of Killian's room before letting herself in. Closing the door behind her, she finds him asleep on his bed, the book he was reading still spread open on his lap. Not for the first time, Emma is taken aback by how perfect he looks when he is asleep, the shadow of a smile spreading across his pink lips and his dark lashes prominent against his cheeks. He looks much more peaceful than he ever does when he is awake, not overwhelmed by the pressure of the navy, of his position, of keeping the kingdom safe.

She sits down beside him on the bed as softly as she can, trying not to wake him. She ghosts her fingers across his cheek, covered with the softest layer of stubble from the past few days, and smiles as he unconsciously leans into her touch. Leaning down, she presses her lips against his forehead, and at this touch, he begins to wake. After a moment, his eyes open, rather confused as he takes in her face, until she sees the flash of realization cross his features and he smiles.

“Emma,” he whispers, reaching up to place his hand over hers on his cheek.

“Hi,” she says back, giving him a smile of her own. “How are you feeling?”

“Terrible, to be honest,” he says softly. “But your being here makes everything better.”

She turns back to the door, making sure she has closed it behind her, and once she is pleased with the answer, she curls her hand around the back of his neck, kissing him as she has wanted to do since he left Misthaven six months ago.

It is everything she remembers his kisses being, though even the memories of them do no good. His lips are soft and gentle against her own, and she can feel his smile form. His hand slides off her shoulder and into her hair as he pulls her closer to him, and though she wants to show him exactly how much she missed him, she is still worried about his fragile state, so she pulls away before either of them can do something they regret, or something that makes his injuries worse.

“I love you,” he whispers as soon as their lips part, rubbing his nose against hers as he slides his thumb across her cheek.

“I love you, too.”

Both of them keep their eyes closed, and stay that way for a few moments, happy to simply be in the presence of the other after the long months since Killian left. But then Emma remembers why she came down here in the first place, needing to tell Killian about his brother’s plans for their courtship.

“Have you talked to Liam recently?” she asks after a moment, pulling away from him just as much as she needs to watch his face, her hands still wrapped around his between them.

“No, he was gone by the time I woke this morning and has not returned since. Why, love? What’s going on?”

She fills him in, tells him about her parents’ trip, her father asking Liam to assist her while they are gone, and her mother’s plan to marry her off to someone in Arendelle, though none of them can quite figure out who.

She watches his features fall at this part of the story, thinking that this is the moment he has been dreading since he learned of her identity two years ago, the moment Emma tells him that yes, she loves him, but her station would never allow them to be together—a fear that he never confessed to his princess, but that kept him awake for nights on end during his journeys. Emma must see something flash across his face—fear, anger, jealousy, sadness—but stops him before he can say anything:

“And that’s why your brother wants to help us. Wants to make our courtship public, and help you get my parents’ permission to finally be with me.”

Whatever emotion was spread across his face, it disappears with her words, quickly replaced with just one: bewilderment.

“What?”

“By the time my parents come back from their trip, we should be able to be practically engaged.”

“Emma!” he says, jumping forward to wrap his arms around her in a tight hug. “This is—this is incredible!” Unable to contain his excitement, he kisses her cheek once, twice, three times.

“It’s all thanks to your brother, actually. And he makes it sound like he has a plan to get it all to work.”

“Well, where is he?”

Emma pulls out of his embrace, setting her hand against his cheek as a knowing smile grows on her face.

“Your brother is in the royal library, conducting some research for the time being.”

His stubble scratches her hand as he flashes her a smile to match her own, catching her drift.

“Sometimes, he proves that he's not always a pompous ass.”

“Just sometimes?”

“Aye, more often than not, that's exactly what he is.”

“You know that it's just because he cares about you, right?”

Killian leans back to cross his arms over his chest. “You've had a few heart-to-heart discussions with my brother recently?”

"AII I have to do is watch the way he looks at you. He has the same caring, overprotective eye that my father always has. He's raised you, Killian. He just wants the best for you."

Sighing, Killian shakes his head, then chuckles. "I know, I know. He loves me, he just wants to protect me, wants to make sure I get the best out of life. But on top of being my brother, he's also my Captain. I know I've said it all before, but I would follow that bloody idiot to my death if it was what he thought was best.”

Emma laughs at his words, though Killian's right: she's heard it all before. But there's something she hasn't heard before. “Killian?” she asks, then waits for him to turn his eyes up to her before she continues. “I know about your hand, but will you— will you tell me about the attack? About what happened to you?”

The corner of his cheek pulls up in a flash of a smile, but it disappears as quickly as it formed. “The Jewel of the Realm is the fastest ship in the realms, so how they caught up with us so quickly is beyond what any of us can comprehend. But as quickly as we saw them come up behind us, they were upon us, running us into the shoals so they could render our cannons useless and board us. I fought off a bunch of them, pushing some off the railing, simply doing what I had to do to defend myself and the men, when this—this thing appeared in front of me, suddenly, in a cloud of smoke. I'd never seen him before, but I'd heard more than enough stories to know that he was the Dark One. We sparred a bit, and he used his magic to tie me up against the mast. I thought—I thought he was going to kill me, but instead, he just laughed, cut off my hand, and disappeared. Him, the enemy, their entire ship. It was all gone, as if it were never there. But my hand was still missing.”

“Oh, Killian,” she breathes, moving to wipe the tears from her cheeks, but Killian's arm moves faster than hers. The only problem is, the arm that he raises is the one that's no longer complete, so his hand never reaches her face. It can't. She reaches out and wraps her fingers around the bandage as gently as she can, smiling at him as softly as she can. “Come here, darling,” she whispers, opening her arms to him, and he leans into her embrace. They stay that way for a while, Killian's breath evening out as Emma takes the opportunity to comfort him, an opportunity that she doesn't get often.

After a few minutes, Killian leans back, pressing his lips against hers as a smile forms. “Do you— do you know anything about dinner, love? I'm starved.”

Emma can't help but smile at him. “Well, you did sleep through lunch. Lucky for you, I'm the princess, so I might be able to scrounge something together for you.”

--- --- ---

It takes a week for Killian to heal enough for Mrs. Blue to feel comfortable moving him into a room in the same hallway as the Princess. It is a long week for Killian, only able to see Emma when she comes down to visit him or when Mrs. Blue gives him permission to dine in the Great Hall with her (which is, actually, quite often), but Mrs. Blue is true to her word, and the rooms are prepared for them and ready within the week.

Liam had been in the Misthaven castle before, but never really paid attention to how it was structured; so when he learned that all of the bedrooms beside the King and Queen's we're in the same general location, suddenly his plan wasn't as difficult to enact as he had originally expected.

But getting Killian to write to the King and express his desire to court Princess Emma? That was a little more difficult.

Killian always has had a penchant for overly dramatic vocabulary usage, but apparently, that all went out the window as soon as he picked up a quill to try to compose his letter to King David and Queen Snow.

“Why can’t Emma just write a letter to her parents? Tell them everything, that she wants to be with me, instead of this need to beg for their permission.”

Liam rolls his eyes at his brother, letting out a long, heaving sigh. “I was hoping she would be up for that, but not quite yet. First you must get her parents’ permission to court her, give it a little bit, then she can tell her parents that your feelings for her are reciprocated.” He lets his head fall into his hands as Killian sits at the desk in his new room, which sits directly across the hallway from the Princess's room—just their luck.

“You really have put a lot of thought in this whole scheme, haven’t you, brother?”

“As always, little brother, I just want to watch over you.”

Younger brother,” Killian corrects, but continues anyway. “And suddenly, watching over me includes helping me get permission to marry the woman I love?”

Sighing, Liam scrubs his hand at his stubble, his eyes dropping to the floor. When he does start speaking again, his voice is quiet. “This is the least I can do for you, Killy. You lost your hand because of me, an injury far worse than any even I have succumbed to during my time as a sailor. I may never know why that cretin chose to attack you over me, but I do know that I will do all I can to make it up to you.”

“Oh, brother,” Killian breathes, reaching across the space between them to set his hand on his arm. “None of this is your fault. I chose to follow you to the ends of all the earths, and nothing that happens can change that.”

A beat passes between them, sharing identical half-smiles across their faces.

But then, as if too overwhelmed by emotion and embarrassed by it, they turn away from each other, looking around the room to avoid eye contact with the other and both ending set on the paper in front of Killian

“Just describe your emotions , Killy,” Liam says.

“My emotions do not have very much experience in telling my King that I want to marry his daughter,” Killian says through gritted teeth, just as exacerbated with this activity as Liam.

Suddenly, Liam bolts up in the chair, resting his hand on Killian's healing arm, struck with an idea. “Then don't write to King David,” he says, a smile growing on his face as if this makes the most sense in the world.

“Is that really supposed to help me, Liam?” Killian asks, impatient, but it doesn't phase Liam.

“Instead, write to the Queen. Tell her about your feelings, your want to care for her daughter. Forget about writing to the King, if that's what overwhelms you. Write from the heart. I know you know how to do that.”

Liam waggles his eyebrows at his brother with the last sentence, but Killian doesn't even see him. Suddenly, he knows what to say, how to say it.

He has already won Emma's heart, he just needs to win her parents’.

 

Her Majesty, Queen Snow,

To say that I am thankful for all the assistance my brother and I have received through your court at Misthaven is nowhere close to the sentiment I wish to extend to you. Since my brother the Captain’s ship was attacked and boarded by the enemy, we have been given nothing but the best treatment by the members of your court. While the injury I sustained during the attack on the Jewel of the Realm is far from the first I have taken in the name of the Royal Navy, it is certainly the worst, and though I will forever be without my left hand, Mrs. Blue has extended the most thorough care I have ever had the pleasure to receive.

But without a doubt, the greatest part of the care I have received during my time here is the time I have been able to spend with your daughter, Princess Emma. She is the most caring, passionate, and incredible individual I have ever had the pleasure of being acquainted with—and, given this, I hope that you understand my quickly growing affection for her. The time that I have been able to spend in her company has been the highlight of my days, and, given that she returns the same affection, I would like to ask your permission to court her and spend the rest of my days with her by my side.

I know that I may not be the royal connection you may have hoped to forge with her, but I do hope that you would be able to see the benefits of having your daughter marry an officer in your own Navy, who has always been loyal to your kingdom and your cause. If I am given permission to act on these desires and marry your daughter, I can assure you that I will carry that same loyalty and passion into my devotion to her.

Again, my brother and I cannot begin to express our thanks to you and your husband for all you have done, and continue to do, for us and our men in this time of healing.

Awaiting your response,

Lieutenant Killian Jones

After Emma reads the letter the next morning at breakfast, he sends it off to Arendelle via courier, telling him to take his time, he will be paid for four days’ travel so he should take all four.

Three days later, however, Ruby finds Emma in the dining hall with a letter from her mother, delivered her normal way: via bird, who let itself into the open window of Emma’s chamber. The letter is not a very exciting one, just informing Emma that they made it to Arendelle just as Anna was going into labor, so it will be only two days until his formal introduction and they can return home.

It’s less time than Emma was hoping for, so she decides at dinner that night that she will be composing her own letter to her parents, telling them that she has accepted Killian’s advances and allowed him to begin courting her.

But when she sits down at her desk that evening, all she wants to do is tell them the truth.

Killian must sense that she is having difficulty, and he pushes himself up off her bed to cross the room to her desk, where he kneels beside her.

“Emma, love,” he says softly, reaching up to cup her cheek in his hand. “Tell me what you want to tell them, and we can work together to continue on from there.”

Emma throws the pen down on her desk, splattering ink over the top piece of paper, and holds her head in her hands. “I want to tell them the truth, Killian. I want to tell them that no marriage alliance they can bring back from Arendelle will do any good because I already know who I want to marry, who I want to spend the rest of my life with, whether they like it or not.” Her words spew out, much faster than she wanted them to, and then she spins in her chair to face him. She opens her mouth to speak, but when she meets the brightness of his eyes, her words are stuck in her throat.

He smiles at her, a perfect, marvelous radiance that Emma is entirely sure could be the only sense of light for the rest of her life and she would be perfectly content.

“What I want,” she says finally, her words much softer this time, reaching out to wrap her arms around his neck. “Is to tell them that I love you.” The last words come out as a whisper, and she leans forward to press her lips against his cheek. “That I have loved you for longer than even I know,” she continues, kissing his other cheek before she adds, “And there is nothing they can say to change my mind.” Pressing her forehead against his, she rubs the very tip of her nose against the tip of his, and in the softest whisper yet, says, “I’m yours, Killian. All yours, and only yours.” By the end, her words are not more than a breath, soft against the skin of his cheek.

Tightening her arms around his neck, she crashes her lips against his, showing him every drop of the passion for him that she has held since she first saw him in the infirmary two weeks ago.

Since she said goodbye to him before the last time he took off six months before, leaving him in his cabin on the Jewel when she had to return to the castle before suspicion arose on her absence. When she was finally able to show him just how strong her love for him was.

Since her birthday ball just over a year ago, when she realized that she was completely and absolutely in love with him.

“Emma,” he mumbles from beneath her, his arms wrapped tightly around her waist, and he stands up to bring her with him. He pulls her body flush against his, too many layers of clothing between them as he tightens his arms around her, his left pulling her waist against his and his right finding its way into her hair.

Their kiss deepens, finally allowing them both to show the affection they've been holding back since the moment Emma locked eyes with him in the infirmary, and the feeling of her tongue sliding against his is enough to send Killian's heart pounding out of his chest—and his blood pounding to other parts of him.

“Gods, how I've missed you,” he says, though his lips never leave hers, his voice a low growl against her skin. “I have never stopped thinking about you, not for a single moment.” He runs his lips against her jaw, pressing soft kisses between each word, but it's not enough. Yes, they're together, she's back in his arms, but it's not enough . He pulls away from her enough to look her in the eye, and seeing the look on her face, her deep blush and her darkened green eyes, lips beginning to swell from all he has done to them already, he can only imagine the similar look that must cover his own face.  

“Emma,” he whispers, his voice suddenly a different timbre of wanting, filled with sincerity and vulnerability instead of sheer passionate desire. “Emma, love, tell me what you want, and I'll do it. Everything I am is yours, I have been only yours since the moment we met.”

Somehow, though she can still feel the hard ridges of his body against hers (one particularly harder than the rest, and more prominent), she watches the darkness of his lust-filled eyes soften when he speaks, the sincere sparkle returning as he bears all of the heart he has to give to her.

Please , Killian,” she whispers, one hand pressed against his cheek while she uses the other to pull herself closer to him, longing to feel him against her, beside her, inside her after what feels like forever, then presses her lips against the skin just below his ear. “Take me, show me I'm yours,” she says, her breath hot against his neck, then kisses his jaw again, her lips running soft kisses down his neck as her fingers find the buttons of his shirt, and pushes him back towards the bed one step at a time.

He finds her mouth with his again as he reaches behind her and begins to undo the buttons of her dress before he remembers that he has one less hand then the last time he had to loosen buttons. She feels him falter for a moment, a flash of worry passing over her face, and though it caught him by surprise, he is quickly able to learn that he only needs one hand to undo the buttons, unlike the opposite, and smiles devilishly at her as he makes his way down her back.

“No worries, love,” he says, but has no idea how he manages to get his voice to sound even. “Nothing can keep me from those perfect breasts of yours.”

Rolling her eyes at his comment, she laughs, but as if on cue, he releases enough of the buttons that he can pull her dress down and off her chest, revealing the perfect breasts in question.

“See?” he asks but gives her no time to respond before flicking his tongue against one of her quickly-hardening buds before taking it in his mouth. Though every movement of his tongue makes it harder for her to concentrate, she manages to finish unbuttoning his shirt and pushes it off his body just as the back of his knees hit the bed, and he spins them around quickly to put her on the bottom, pulling her dress the rest of the way off before climbing up beside her.

“You're bloody beautiful, darling,” he says, his teeth finding her earlobe as his fingers slowly crawl across her breasts and down to her stomach, but no further than that. “Absolutely fucking perfect.”

As much as she appreciates the sparks his fingertips send through her body, the way her skin heats up as he slides his lips down her neck, across her throat and onto her breasts, covering every inch of them with hot, wet kisses before using his teeth to play with her nipples, which he quickly learns drives her mad with need— it's not enough.

“Killian,” she begs, tightening her fingers around his hair, and he turns his eyes up to hers but keeps his mouth on her. “ Please , Killian, I need you.”

Now he releases her, but only to smile at her, watch her reaction as his hand leaves her chest and slides painfully slowly down her stomach to where he knows she is aching for him. “Uh, uh, uh,” he says, shaking his head with each syllable. “I've never been able to fully worship you the way I long to before, and now that we have the time and no fear of interruption, I intend to take my time with you.”

Intrigued but confused by his words, she has no idea what he is talking about, but she does know that the few times they were able to be together before this one they were pressed for time and only in a semi-private cabin on a naval ship. She shudders at his words, her excitement growing without even knowing why, but it gets lost when his fingers dip down between her legs and cover themselves with her wetness before running slowly through her folds. She has only ever done this to herself before, following written instructions from Ruby that she asked for in an especially embarrassing conversation, but feeling Killian's fingers against her is better than anything she had ever done herself.

Every movement he makes against her skin moves her closer to ecstasy, but it is not until she feels him dragging slowly inside of her that she sees stars. With his hand between them assisting her, she comes quickly, his name as whisper on her lips, and he follows quickly behind her.

Once they settle in against each other, it does not take long for Killian to drift into sleep beside her, his arm wrapped around her shoulder and her head on his chest, and she can feel the rhythmic rise and fall of his breath under her hand, the soft beating of his heart in her ear.  

She runs her fingers across the dark hair covering his chest, trying to match his long, slow breaths with her own, but her mind is moving at a mile a minute.

For two years, she has been avoiding the reality of having feelings for a sailor, knowing in the back of her mind that one day, her responsibilities would catch up with her and she would have to give up the fairy tale she was secretly living. Marriage for the Princess of Misthaven was to formulate allies, to strengthen relationships with other countries, but never for love.

Until her parents, that is. Her mother had become Queen as a young teenager when her mother passed away, had ruled on her own for ten years before her counselors even dared to bring up the prospect of marriage. Snow just laughed at them and asked if anyone had any concerns that she actually cared about. Snow met David a few years later, a shepherd who came to the palace in an attempt to settle a land dispute, and it was love at first sight. Queen Snow was the first woman in the history of Misthaven to marry for love.

But even still, Emma never imagined that she might actually be able to follow in her mother's footsteps. She and Killian spent two years avoiding the reality of their situation, foolishly falling deeper and deeper in love every time they saw one another.

Killian mumbles something in his sleep, turning his head until she can feel his breath hot on the top of her head, and she decides that she doesn’t care. There’s nothing that her parents can do now that would change her mind, nothing her mother can say in response to Killian’s letter that will make her able to love anyone other than her Lieutenant, the one that she has already given her whole heart to.

When she wakes up in the morning, she tells herself, the slow beat of Killian’s heart finally lulling her to sleep, she is going to write the letter she wanted to write tonight, no matter what. She is going to tell her mother that she has already decided on her future, and there is nothing either of her parents can do to change it, Princess of Misthaven or not.

--- --- ---

Emma has always been the one to sneak away in the middle of the night, pressing a soft kiss to Killian’s temple before sliding off the bunk and padding across the wood floors of the room and of the deck in her bare feet until she got back to the dock. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to wake up next to him in the morning: in truth, she wanted nothing more than just that. But she was still the princess, and still had duties she needed to see to in the morning.

So when she wakes up and rolls around to nuzzle closer to Killian, she’s incredibly surprised to find the other half of the bed empty. Pulling the covers further up over her, she lets out a soft groan and stretches out her legs.

“Good morning, darling,” she hears from across the room, soft words just above a whisper, and she slowly opens her eyes, letting them adjust to the morning sun.

Slowly, she looks around the room, her vision still blurry from sleep, and it takes a few moments before she finally finds Killian, who has perched himself in a chair under the open window, a book spread open across his thighs.

“Are you always up this early?” she mumbles, her words barely coherent, but he closes the book and makes his way back to the bed.

“Aye, love,” he says, sitting down next to her and pushing her hair off her forehead. “It’s something you grow accustomed to when you grow up on the seas as I did.”

“Good to know,” she replies, scooting herself across the mattress to nuzzle her face into his stomach, reaching her arm up to scratch her fingernails through the hair covering his chest—both of which, thankfully, he has left uncovered.

“Also, I got a letter this morning?” Killian says, though the question in his voice is unmistakable. “A, uh, bird delivered it to the window?”

At this, Emma sits up, pulling the covers up against her chest, and Killian stands up again to find the letter on her desk where he left it.

“From my mother.” Unlike Killian, Emma’s voice has no question in it. No one else delivers letters by bird. “But she… delivered it to you?”

“It had my name on it, but yes, it came to this window.”

Emma sighs, running her hands through her hair to push her curls out of her face. After a moment, she asks, “Did you read it?”

“Of course I bloody read it! It had my name on it! However, I am unsure of what to make of it.”

“What does that even mean?”

His eyebrows raised halfway to his hairline, he shakes his head quickly a few times while handing her the letter. “Just take a look yourself, love.”

She can't help herself: she reads it out loud. “Lieutenant Jones, my husband and I are exceptionally grateful for your formal request for permission to court the princess. In response to this, there is really only one thing we can say: good luck .

“Our daughter is nothing if not hard-headed, but I can say with full confidence that if anyone would be able to get through to her, it would be you, since I have a feeling that any approach made by you would be excitedly accepted.

“On a less formal note, Lieutenant, my husband and I hope that you and your brother are healing rapidly and well. We are looking forward to discussing our plans for the future when we return to Misthaven within the next few days.”

After reading her mother's last words, Emma drops her jaw and the letter to her lap, turning her eyes up to Killian, who is standing next to the bed and eagerly awaiting a response.

“What… does this mean?” Emma asks, the words coming out slowly and dripping with disbelief, but she can’t help the smile that spreads across her face as she realizes what it does mean.

It means Emma and Killian do not have to hide their relationship anymore, and they take advantage of that in every way over the course of the next week. All their meals are shared in the company of one another, whether they be with others or not. On two different occasions, Killian packs them a picnic and takes her out to the fields beyond the castle; and three days in a row, Emma convinces him no, of course she’s not needed in today’s council meeting, they should absolutely take the horses out for a ride through the wood.

They walk through the market hand in hand, Killian wearing the new trousers and shirts that Liam insisted on buying for him so he could wear something other than his uniform, especially now that he will be spending more time in the court. Killian introduces himself to the shop owners who smile so sweetly at Emma.

To the knowledge of far fewer people, Killian spends every night in Emma’s chambers, sometimes worshipping her with his fingers and his mouth before finally taking her, sometimes simply wrapping his arms around her and holding her against him until the sun starts to peek through the windows.

And then, it happens. Eight days have passed since Killian received Queen Snow’s letter, and they are down in the kitchen putting their own lunches together when the courier rushes in. Will, her father’s personal courier, pushes through the doors to the kitchen, fully out of breath and his face as red as his tunic, and Killian and Emma both turn towards him.

“Princess!” He gets out between deep, heaving breaths as he leans against the doorway. “Your parents will be home in thirty minutes. They sent me ahead to see if you and the Jones brothers would be available for lunch with them in the garden.”

“Of course,” she says slowly, still trying to come to terms with the reality of actually having to talk to her parents about her relationship with Killian.

Because there’s no hiding from it anymore, no avoiding it. The moment of truth is just thirty minutes away, so close she can feel it on the tip of her tongue just as much as the grape she ate moments before.

“Emma, love?” Killian asks softly, his hand finding the small of her back, and as she turns her eyes up to him, she realizes all her worry must be painted on her face.

Turning back to Will, she nods a few times, then smiles. “Of course,” she says again. “Thank you, Will. I will make sure we have everything we need for their return.”

“Thank you, Princess,” he says quickly, his breath still heavy, but bows quickly and turns away from the kitchen, disappearing through the doorway.

Emma gives him a few extra moments to make sure that he is out of earshot before turning quickly to Killian, and she can only imagine the state of bewilderment spread across her features.

“Half an hour?!” She throws her hands in the air as she begins pacing in the small space around her in the kitchen. “Half an hour,” she repeats. “Nothing at all from them for eight days, no response to my letter that I poured my heart into, and then they give us half an hour before they come home? That’s not nearly enough time! We need to think , we need to figure out what the hell we’re going to do —”

Turning to Killian, her words stop completely, her mouth still open with the rest of her ramblings, but seeing him standing before her, coolly leaning back against the counter with an apple in his hand and a smile on his face, the words stop suddenly, her anxiety quickly replaced with confusion.

“What are you doing? Why aren’t you freaking out, Killian?”

In no hurry whatsoever, Killian sets the apple back down on the counter, then fills the space between them with two long steps, reaching out to cup her face with his hand before softly pressing his lips against hers.

“Because,” he whispers, his forehead resting against hers. “I love you, and you love me. We have your parents’ permission. Nothing can take that away from us. There is nothing for us to worry about, darling.”

Closing her eyes, she takes a long, deep breath, snaking her arms around his neck as her face finds the crook of his shoulder.

“You’re right,” she whispers, then smiles against his neck. “You’re always right. I just—sometimes I forget that we’re actually getting the outcome I have been dreaming of since we first met, the outcome that I never thought would become a reality. It’s still taking some getting used to.”

“Aye, love,” Killian agrees, pressing his lips against her temple as his fingers play with the ends of her hair low on her back. “But we’re getting it , you need to remember.” He wants to reassure her more, wants to tell her just what he and Liam have planned for their dinner with her parents— damn, he would kiss every inch of her if he thought it would make her feel better.

But she is right about one thing: they don’t have enough time for that. So instead, he pulls her tighter against him for the few moments he knows they can spare, then pulls his head back to look at her. “I have some things of my own that I need to take care of before your parents arrive, but I can meet you outside your room in twenty minutes and we can walk down to the garden together?”

Though the lines on her face make her stress obvious, she still manages to smile at him before pulling his lips down to hers. “Sure, that sounds perfect.”

He kisses her again, a lingering press against her lips full of excitement for their future together, before turning on his heel and leaving her there.

By the time Emma and the Jones brothers climb the stairs that lead to the pavilion in the garden, Emma can swear that only a few moments have passed since Will approached them in the kitchen and not the full half-hour, but her parents are already waiting there, lunch spread out before them courtesy of Ariel and one of the kitchen servants.

For the most terrifying of moments, Emma’s arm tightens around Killian’s when she notices the harsh gaze of her father, but when she focuses instead on her mother, the Queen’s face covered with a smile so wide the tip of her nose crinkles up, she feels her stress almost melt away, and she rushes across the space between them to wrap her in a tight hug.

“Welcome home, mother,” she says at the same time Snow whispers, “Congratulations, sweetheart.”

David shakes both Killian and Liam’s hands, then trades places with his wife to hug Emma.

While they begin preparing their plates with the food spread in front of them, a thick, nervous air settles over the table. But, to no one’s surprise more than Emma’s, David is the one to break it.

“Anything of note happen while the Queen and I were away?”

Liam clears his throat, stifling a laugh, and shares a glance with his brother before turning back to the King, and Emma knows that her mother watches as she smiles at Killian.

“Just the, uh, regular, every-day happenings of a kingdom,” Liam says, followed by a quick sip of his water, then nudges Killian’s arm as he glances over at him again. “Right, brother?”

“Yes, that’s, uh—that’s r-right,” he sputters, then realizes he has been slouching and adjusts.

The Queen chuckles under her breath, just loud enough for the rest of the table to hear before trying to cover it with her glass of water.

A moment passes between the table, Emma and Liam both letting out breathy, knowing laughs, but Killian stands up after this moment just as David asks, “Okay, did I miss something?”

As if avoiding David’s question—or, more likely, failing to hear it, Killian blurts out, “I would like to marry your daughter.”

“Finally,” Snow says, at the same time as David’s “I beg your pardon?”

Emma’s eyes go wide, staring across the table at her smiling mother, but Killian’s gaze is locked on the King, who can’t decide who to look at. “What?” they say in unison.

All Liam can do is laugh.

“Your-your daughter…?” Killian says, though it almost comes out as a question. “You— or, your wife , she— she said that I could—”

“Come on, David,” Snow says, stopping Killian’s words both with her own and with her hand reaching across the table to set it on his arm. “We saw this coming.”

The King finally sets his gaze on his wife, but when she sees the serious expression covering his face, her smile falters for just a moment.

“I thought you knew,” she says softly.

Liam’s nervous laugh taking over the table once more, and when Killian sits back in his chair, Emma’s hand quickly finds his under the table.

“Why would I know?” David asks, finally realizing that, while he may have missed something, his wife has not.

Snow just shrugs, but after a second, her dam breaks and she begins to laugh. “Everyone else knew. I assumed you did, too.”

“Why would you just assume I know? Why haven’t you said anything?”

Emma laughs at this, but when David’s head snaps towards her, she stops.

“How long has this been going on?” he asks, but before she answers, she turns to Killian for just a moment.

“Two years,” she says—

But, at the same time, her mother says, “Since her last birthday.”

A moment too late, Emma realizes her mistake. “My last birthday,” she tries to correct, but her mother heard her own answer.

“Two years?” Snow asks. “When did you meet him? I thought you met at the ball.”

“We met a few times before then,” Killian answers when he realizes that Emma has been struck silent with her last answer. “Saw each other through court appearances and around the town. But it wasn’t until her birthday ball that we really realized our feelings for each other.”

Nodding slowly, David turns to Liam, then back to his wife. “And you knew about this, Snow?”

“Of course I knew,” she says quickly, trying to dispel the nervous embarrassment that is painted across both Killian and Emma’s face. “I thought everyone knew. I thought it was obvious, just seeing them together, and I suppose I just assumed that you noticed the change, as well.”

David nods again, his deep breath obvious in the rise and fall of his shoulders, but he finally leans back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. After a moment, though, his expression shifts back to confusion, and he turns to his wife, his tongue slowly wetting his bottom lip, and his mouth hangs open for a moment before he finally asks what is on his mind:

“I thought you said there was someone in Arendelle you wanted her to marry?”

Snow laughs, a soft, bright thing, and turns to her husband, her laughter showing her disbelief in learning just how oblivious he really is to the whole situation. “Who in Arendelle did you want me to marry her to? One of Kristof’s cousins? The new prince ?”

David just shrugs, a dark pink hue quickly taking over his face when he realizes his mistake. “I figured you had some sort of plan, I was just going to go with it.”

This perks Liam up, and he finally speaks: “What was your plan in Arendelle, your majesty? If you don’t mind me asking.”

Snow turns to the older Jones brother, a large, radiant smile taking over her face. “Of course I don’t mind, Captain. My plan was to get Emma to confess her true feelings by making her believe I was going to come home with a marriage arrangement. Before I received your letter, Lieutenant, I was planning on writing one of my own trying to convince my daughter that it was time to think about who she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, hoping that you would be her answer.”

Looking around the table, Snow finds everyone a little dumbfounded by this, both Liam and Emma’s mouths agape, and David scrubbing his hand against his face as he tries to put everything together. Killian alone seems to understand, his hand sliding out of Emma’s and into his pocket, smiling across the table at the Queen.

“So, this means…” he says, and Snow nods across the table at him.

When he stands and kneels next to Emma, her mouth snaps shut, her bewilderment replaced with pure, incandescent happiness, especially when he holds up the ring that he had in his pocket. Emma recognizes it from the one Liam wore around his neck, given to him by their mother before her death.

“Well, then,” he says, a smile slowly growing across his face, which is still painted with nervousness. Emma notices his hand is shaking, and she reaches out to take it, but not before he can begin to ask: “Emma, will you do me the greatest pleasure of becoming my wife?”

“Of course!” is all she can say in response before Killian leans into her and crashes his lips against hers, forgetting for a moment that Emma’s parents and Liam are watching them, before pulling away just enough to find her hand and slip the ring on her finger.

It all happens so quickly—their engagement announcement to the kingdom, their small wedding just a month later, the King and Queen’s gift to them being Killian’s promotion to Captain and his very own ship, which they take on a voyage through the realms as a honeymoon that doesn’t have an end date, no reason for Killian and Emma to return with Liam back at the helm of the Jewel and the Dark One in a cell in Camelot.

Only a few months pass before Emma learns she is pregnant, returning home for the last few weeks before their very own daughter is born, and they are back on the sea in time for her first steps, raising their little Margaret— Maggie, my sweet cygnet , as Killian liked to coo to her as he rocked her to sleep.

Sure, one day they will have to return to Misthaven, Emma as the Princess and Killian as Prince and Captain in the Royal Navy; some day beyond that, they would have to return as King and Queen. But for now, all they have to be is Emma and Killian, happy, together, and terribly in love, finally having everything they ever dreamed of having.