Actions

Work Header

The Princess and the Pirate

Chapter Text

“The foal stays with its mother,” decreed the Queen, “but the owners of the father have equal say in all dealings with the animal.”

Prince Charming shifted on his throne in anticipation. This was the last case being presented to the royals for their personal judgment (well, for Snow’s far more than his own) today. All Snow had to do was stand and he’d be free from this hell for another month.

The doors to the throne room flung open wide and a young woman dressed in comfortable hunting gear strode in, flanked by two large men hauling an even larger man between them. The prisoner was shackled and sullen, dragging his feet, while his guards looked as if they (like Charming) would rather be anywhere else.

The young woman, on the other hand, was flushed with success. Her long blonde hair was held off her face in braids wrapped around her head to prevent anyone taking advantage. Her green eyes sparkled, her lips held an inappropriately delighted grin, and the strut in her step made Charming's hopes sink.

Holding back the groan at the edge of his tongue, he instead glared furiously at the young woman. She smiled sunnily back at him. Snow turned her attention to the newcomers and Charming spared a rueful thought for the comfort of his bed.

“Proceed,” she said.

Dropping into a deep bow, the woman said, “Your Majesties, I bring before you the bandit leader Thomas Greyhaven.”

The prisoner behind her snarled.

Snow raised an eyebrow. "Have you proof?"

The woman produced several scrolls from beneath her leather jerkin and brought them forward for Snow’s attention. “These are artist’s renderings of Greyhaven based on eyewitness accounts. In addition,” the woman grabbed Greyhaven’s arm and pulled up his sleeve, revealing an elaborate tattoo of a half naked mermaid decorating his forearm, “this tattoo is mentioned on all wanted posters for the criminal.”

Snow perused the images (for far longer than necessary, Charming thought impatiently), then gestured for the prisoner to be brought closer. She thoroughly examined the man’s face and tattoo before nodding decisively. “We accept this evidence,” she said. “What are the charges?”

“Banditry, obviously,” the young woman said, “theft, destruction of private property, vandalism, willful disobedience of the state, etcetera.”

“Do you have any defense?” Snow asked Greyhaven directly. The woman tensed, her eyes tightening, then smoothing away so quickly that Charming would not have noticed had he not been so attuned to her movement.

Greyhaven said nothing, only stared at Snow. Then he drew himself up and spat at her.

The blonde woman moved so fast no one saw it. Only that one moment she was standing still, and the next she had the prisoner in a headlock. She pulled her arm tight around his throat and snarled, “Do it again, I dare you -”

Snow raised a hand at the guards moving forward. “Release him.”

The woman glared at Snow, then stepped away from the prisoner. “What’ll it be then?” she asked.

Charming shifted. She was being reckless again.

Snow waited for several long, quiet moments, before decreeing, “Fifteen years hard labour. Take him to the mines.”

The gavel came down and Charming sighed, relaxing. The young woman watched the guards drag Greyhaven from the room, her excitement gone. The few remaining members of the audience straggled out after them, quiet murmurs rising and falling, until at last the three of them were alone.

“Well,” Snow huffed, getting up from her throne. “Aren’t you even going to say hello?”

The young woman turned back to them. Her expression cleared and she all but ran to Snow, smiling. “I’m sorry, Mother,” she said, wrapping Snow in a hug. “I was miles away.”

Charming stood too and hugged his daughter tight. “We were starting to worry, Emma,” he chastised gently. “No word for three weeks!”

“I’m sorry,” Emma apologised, still smiling, “he was a slippery one, Greyhaven. But I’m back now, and all is well.”

Snow and Charming exchanged a look.

“What?” Emma asked immediately. “What’s going on?”

Snow sighed. “Let’s not discuss it now,” she said, sounding tired. “It can wait until dinner.”

“Mother,” Emma began. Charming glared pointedly at her and she stopped herself. “At dinner, then.”

***

It had always been difficult to arrange family meals for the whole royal family. As far as the kingdom and, in fact, the world were aware, it was just Queen Snow and Prince Charming. Emma’s identity was a closely guarded secret, and as such she could not be seen spending too much time with her parents. Their abundance of powerful enemies had led the Queen and her consort to pretend that their only daughter had died at birth, allowing her to grow up without fear of being kidnapped or killed at a moment’s notice.

Still, old habits died hard. Deep within their private rooms in the royal palace was the private dining room where the royal family usually dined together. There, they made their own food and served themselves. Fewer servants meant less opportunity for spies. Any servants allowed in the private rooms were carefully and thoroughly vetted, both by regular and magical means. And Snow had never allowed mirrors.

“So what is it?” Emma asked the moment they sat down to eat. Charming and Snow groaned simultaneously.

“Honestly, Emma,” Charming said, “we’re both starving. Can we please have five minutes just to -”

“I've waited three hours,” Emma hissed across the table. “I just want to know what’s going on!”

Snow and Charming traded looks. Finally, Charming sighed and set his cutlery down while Snow began eating as quickly as possibly.

“It’s really not a big deal,” Charming said. “We’ve just had reports of pirates raiding the coast.”

Emma perked up immediately. “Pirates?”

Charming sighed. “Yes, but you can't go after him,” he said. “This one’s different.”

“Different how?” Emma asked.

“We think he’s immortal,” Snow said through a mouthful of food.

Emma’s eyes lit up. Charming groaned.

“Tell me everything,” Emma said excitedly.

“There really isn’t much to tell,” Charming said, doing his best to keep Emma’s enthusiasm under control.

“His name’s Captain Hook,” Snow said over the top of her husband, having finished her meal with alarming speed. “Records from several centuries ago indicate that he was once a lieutenant in the navy. He mutinied against his captain, killed him and stole the navy’s best ship, turned to piracy and proceeded to raid the kingdom for several years. Then he disappeared abruptly, leaving no trace of his treasure or his ship.”

Emma raised an eyebrow. “How can he possibly still be around?” she asked disbelievingly.

Charming shrugged. “Rumour has it he travelled to a land where time passes differently. To be honest, I’m not sure I believe it myself. But this man matches his description right down to the hook and the ship he travels in, and if the rumours are true…”

Emma leaned back in her chair, her meal lying forgotten before her. “Then clearly someone needs to find out the truth,” she said, eyes sparkling. “Perhaps by capturing a fugitive?”

“Out of the question,” Charming said. “Hook is dangerous, Emma. As a sailor in the navy, he was an accomplished swordsman and a daring tactician. With a few hundred years of experience under his belt, a man like that is bound to be a formidable enemy. Besides, we’ve had no reports of actual piracy just yet. As far as we can tell, he’s just wandering around.”

“I thought you said he’d been raiding towns,” Emma recalled.

Charming shrugged. “Only one or two, and those from certain mayors we know are… how shall I put this… prone to exaggeration. As yet, we have no proof of any harm done to the realm or any residents.”

“No doubt he’s out looking for easy targets,” Emma pointed out. “As the future ruler of the realm, I have a duty to make sure my people are protected from all threats, both present and potential.”

“It’s not exactly our policy to put out warrants for people who haven’t actually done anything,” Snow said, fair as always. “We don’t have any actual proof that he is the pirate from the records. And he really hasn’t done anything yet, Emma.” She frowned at her daughter. "We are not in the practice of making arrests without evidence."

Emma leaned forward again. “Then let me investigate,” she said. “I’ll find out who he is, I’ll find out where he came from, and if he is this Hook then I’ll capture him and bring him in to face the queen’s justice. What do you say?”

Charming and Snow shared a look. Snow could sense Charming’s resolve to keep their daughter safe crumbling in the face of her enthusiasm. And, to be honest, Snow was quite willing to let Emma risk herself. She was still young, only twenty five years of age, but she could take care of herself as Snow had, all those years ago. Besides, Emma had all sorts of advantages that Snow had never had. Snow had never been trained in how to defend herself, how to use the resources of the land around her, how to disguise herself. Emma had been taught all that and more - necessary lessons for the secret heir to a much-envied throne.

“Fine,” Charming sighed.

Emma sprang to her feet and kissed both of them on both cheeks. “You’re the best,” she declared, and made as if to run from the room.

“Oh no you don’t,” Snow cried. “At the very least finish your dinner before you go rushing off to save the world.”

Emma sighed and returned to the table. Tomorrow, she thought. Tomorrow a new adventure would begin.

Chapter Text

To begin with, Emma would need to find the man rumoured to be Hook and question him. Reports of the pirate came from all over the realm, including places he and the Jolly Roger, his ship, could not possibly reach. Emma sorted through all the reports, finally narrowing it down to three sightings which actually seemed legitimate. All three were coastal towns. The dates of the sightings indicated that Hook was travelling east: Emma theorised he was fleeing Misthaven. Perhaps he feared her parents' reprisal for his crimes, she thought, as well he should.

If it even was the man himself, the pirate who had raided the kingdom three centuries ago. Emma was convinced that it was, though. She could not say how, but she knew: the Jolly Roger was captained by the same man who had stolen and renamed her. Although she continued to remind herself that Captain Hook was almost certainly dead, a voice in the back of her mind was convinced this was the real deal. She was thankful for that - the same voice told her that her quest was righteous, that bringing Hook to justice for his age-old crimes was perhaps one of the most important things she had ever done.

Emma had learned a long time ago to trust her gut. Being the product of true love came with certain perks, like an instinct that was nigh infallible, especially when it came to her work. More important, however, in Emma's mind were the responsibilities of being heir to the throne, even if only in secret. Emma wanted to know her kingdom and its citizens as more than just a princess in an ivory tower. She was determined to learn as much as she could about her people before her twenty eighth birthday: the day her true identity would be revealed. It had been her idea to become what was, in essence, the queen’s personal bounty hunter in order to travel freely and without suspicion. She found wanted criminals and brought them to her mother so that justice could be served. Although typically she worked alone, on some occasions she invited others like her to help out.

This was one of those times. Emma’s plan to capture Hook - if it really was him - and his crew relied on the help of several others. Still, it was a simple plan. Find where the pirate was, ensure that he and all his men were mindbogglingly drunk, secure the ship and ambush the remaining crewmates. Emma herself would face down Hook - after her parents' descriptions, she knew that none of her carefully selected team would be capable of facing him.

First, though, she needed to meet the man herself. She needed to be sure.

Before long, she had an idea of his next destination. A quick debriefing with her team, and they were ready to find their target.

***

Emma entered the town alone, leaving the others camped in a cave on the outskirts of the town. Reconnaissance was up to her alone; if she found what she was looking for, she needed only to send a magical signal for them to carry out the rest of the plan.

Down to the docks she went, with an empty basket and a purse full of small coins. Fishmongers called their wares, and Emma wandered up and down under the guise of buying. Instead, of course, she was evaluating the ships, looking for one that matched the description of the Jolly Roger. It was a chilly afternoon, which helped, since Emma could keep her hood up and her cloak tied close over her chest and no one thought it odd.

Poring over a large tray of mackerel, Emma spotted it at last. The Jolly Roger sat at the far end of the dock, away from the hustle and bustle of the fish market and the other ships. But there was no mistaking it. Although not an expert, Emma knew how to spot quality when she saw it, and the Jolly Roger was without a doubt one of the finest ships she had ever seen. Which was a little strange, given that it was several centuries old. It did lend credence to the theory that Hook had indeed returned, however. If his ship had held up so well against the ravages of time, why should the same not be true of her captain?

The next step, Emma thought, was to speak to the man himself.

***

She found Hook and his crew drinking raucously in a local tavern, entirely unaware of their surroundings. The crew was unremarkable - commoners dressed in ragged, dirty clothing, laughing uproariously at any joke told within five feet of them and enjoying themselves to the fullest.

Hook, though, was different, and so Emma knew him the moment she saw him.

The captain appeared younger than most of his middle-aged crew. He was handsome, with dark ruffled hair and stubble that gave him a rakish air. He did not join in on his crew's laughing and talking, instead sitting quietly in a corner, drinking slowly and looking suspiciously at anyone who passed too close. His left hand was kept deliberately out of sight, presumably to conceal his hook from prying eyes. His clothes seemed much cleaner than those of his crew, and of a finer cut and quality.

Emma grinned, eager to see how he would measure up in a fight with her.

Before a physical altercation, however, would come the brief duel of wits. Emma had removed her cloak to reveal a low cut dress with a very tightly laced corset. She entertained no illusions about the man - it was clear from his demeanour that he was uninterested in anyone’s company, let alone that of a prostitute - but it was a good cover, and would allow for some probing questions under the guise of seduction.

Slipping into the tavern, Emma began her cover by flirting outrageously with every man she came in contact with. Many of them seemed interested in further discussion - though Emma thought it unlikely that they actually wanted to talk to her - but she was quick to brush them off without causing offense, years of etiquette training with her mother paying off.

She glanced round the room, allowing her feigned inebriation to become clear to anyone watching her. Then her eyes fell upon Hook.

He was watching her already, which was good. Eye contact made, she smiled a predatory smile and he did not look away.

Hook was not simply handsome, Emma noticed distantly as she approached him. He was extraordinarily beautiful. Not that it mattered to her just then; her mind was busy cataloguing her surroundings, evaluating potential escape routes if things went south, filing away the glares of jealous men as they watched her slide in next to Hook.

“How’s your night, handsome,” Emma slurred in his ear. She grinned, trying to strike the perfect balance of seductive and yet sloppy.

“All the better for having you here,” Hook purred. She was surprised at his accent; it was entirely unfamiliar to her. But Emma knew the tone. He’d done this a thousand nights before, said the words so often they rolled off his tongue automatically, but his heart wasn’t in it. He was too busy (like her, she noted ironically) watching his surroundings to watch her cleavage.

Something inside her twinged, but she ignored it. She tittered and slid a hand up his arm and across his collarbone, leaning in until she was practically hanging off him. Then - just as planned - she noticed the hook and gasped.

She felt him tense beneath her, felt his eyes turn upon her face. Instead of looking back, she traced her fingers down his wrist and onto the hook, trailing delicately over the metal.

“Isn’t that interesting,” she breathed, and felt him relax (if only slightly). “How did you get such a - fearsome appendage?”

Hook twisted slightly and his arm was around her, his hand clasped around her waist. “It’s a long story,” he murmured in her ear. His stubble tickled her skin and Emma fought to stay relaxed and supple in his arms. He raised the hook and used it to brush the hair from her eyes. Emma looked up into his face, and only avoided being utterly captivated through the cool, analytical voice in her mind keeping her on task.

“I’ve got all night,” Emma teased.

Hook smiled, and Emma was surprised by how genuine it seemed. He was certainly a good actor, perhaps as good as she was. “One night?” he said. “You mock me.” His voice was sad. “There is far too much to the story for one night, lass.”

“You can’t be older than thirty,” Emma said, eyelashes fluttering. She wasn’t sure whether he was being candid because he was drunk or because he believed she was, but she felt like she was getting close. “How long could your story possibly be?”

He laughed and Emma’s heart fluttered strangely. Adrenaline, she told herself quickly. Adrenaline that was certainly not capable of disrupting her focus. “A lot longer than thirty years,” Hook said meaningfully. “Far, far longer than that.”

Bingo, said the cool voice in her head. With the hand held out of Hook’s sight, she activated the beacon spell hidden in her skirts. Sparks burst silently forth before racing, unnoticed, out of the tavern. Now all that remained was for her to keep Hook distracted until her team had secured the Jolly Roger. A task that should not prove difficult, given the way he was looking at her now.

A look that certainly was not making her stomach do flips.

***

Over the course of the next hour, several young women in low cut dresses entered the tavern. Before long, members of Hook’s crew were leaving with them, spellbound by their flirtatious behaviour. They paid no attention to her, still flirting drunkenly with Hook.

She plied him with alcohol and, though he became less serious and more flirtatious, he was nowhere near as affected as Emma had expected. Emma did her best to keep him from becoming intense again, instead making frivolous jokes and laughing frequently. To her surprise, Hook was an excellent companion. He was not lecherous; though she was handsy as part of her persona, touching him whenever possible (even at one point sliding a hand along his thigh suggestively) he did not follow suit. His hand slid only from her back to her waist and back again, occasionally trailing gently down her bare arm, leaving goosebumps in its wake.

Which was only to be expected, thought Emma. Goosebumps were a natural physical reaction, nothing to be concerned about.

At last, the timekeeper cried midnight. Half of Hook’s crew were already gone, and the remaining few were so drunk they could barely stand. A young woman entered and signalled to Emma. At last, she thought. The crewmembers who had left with her girls were now locked up in the town’s jail. It was time to spring the trap.

She rose from her seat, entwining her fingers with Hook’s. “I think it’s high time we retire for the night,” she said, smiling coyly.

He looked up at her, expression unreadable. For a moment she feared she had miscalculated.

“Yes,” he said at last. “I will take you home.”

Emma’s throat closed over for a moment. Recovering briefly, she smirked, “With you, of course,” and bent to press her lips to his.

Hook’s expression flickered and he turned slightly. She missed his lips, instead pressing a clumsy kiss to the corner of his mouth, and withdrew, cursing herself inwardly.

He rose then and pulled her away from the bench. “Not here, lass,” he murmured. “I’m not one for public displays, you see.”

Relief swept over Emma. She was clearly losing her touch, though; Hook saw, and smiled. Raising her hand to his lips, he kissed her fingers lightly, and said, “I am nothing if not a gentleman, milady.”

As they left the inn, Emma risked a quick glance for her message runner. She was nowhere to be seen - a good thing, no doubt, as she had been told to return to her post once Emma had Hook heading back to the ship.

Despite being acutely aware during the journey back to the Jolly Roger, Emma picked up on no signs of her people following. She told herself again that it was a good thing. There was little chance they had decided to abandon the plan with her still in the midst of things, and if she noticed anything untoward surely Hook could too. Of course, he had consumed a ridiculous amount of alcohol in the last few hours, but he seemed completely unfazed by it and Emma simply wasn’t willing to take chances.

Hook was still holding her hand, his fingers laced through hers, though Emma was barely aware of it at this point. They walked down the docks towards his ship, and Emma made sure to draw in an excited breath when she saw it.

“That’s your ship?” she asked excitedly. “It’s beautiful.”

Hook lit up when she said it. He smiled, wide and open and genuine, and Emma was almost sorry she was about to arrest him. He led her confidently up the gangplank to his ship, followed by his shambling, stumbling, drunken crew. As soon as they were all on the deck, Emma whistled.

Chaos erupted as ten people appeared from the shadows of the deck and grabbed the drunks. Hook whirled, dropping her hand in favour of his sword, and roared as he charged at them. Emma took advantage of his distraction to regain her sword from one of her fighters and tear away the skirt of her dress before yelled Hook’s name as loud as she could.

He turned back to face her, confused. Emma swung her sword up and over, giving him plenty of time to bring his up to block her blow. Hook’s eyes widened. Instead of blocking, he ducked under and away from her. Now his eyes were narrowed, focused entirely on her face, and Emma saw at last the vicious, ruthless pirate she had been sent to capture.

They fought without words, the only sound between them the clashing of swords and their grunts. He was good, Emma knew, perhaps the best swordsman she had ever faced. At times he managed to force her into defense, her weak point when it came to sword fighting; something only her father had ever been capable of since she turned thirteen.

Out of the corner of her eye, she noted that the remainder of Hook's crew had been subdued and were being escorted off the ship. Hook took advantage of her distraction, striking suddenly at her heart. She deflected the blow at the last second, but still his sword scraped a long shallow cut just beneath her collar bone to her armpit.

She gasped from the shock of it, and Hook pressed forward, his sword flashing back towards her abdomen. But this time Emma was paying attention, and quickly regained the upper hand.

She stabbed her sword forward, intending to miss. He leaned away from her blow as she had known he would, and a second later she had him on his back. His sword flew from his hand and she pointed her own directly at his throat.

"Yield for the Queen's justice," she spat.

"Tell the Queen she can go fuck herself," Hook spat in return. His voice was ugly, twisted in rage at his loss.

Emma lifted her sword and hit Hook across the face with the handle. He glared at her in loathing as two of her people came forward, dragged him to the ship’s mast and began to tie him in place.

"Remove the hook first," Emma ordered, moving forward to keep her sword pressed to his throat. She noted dispassionately that his head was bleeding where she'd hit him.

"I won't tell you anything," he said to her, rage burning in his eyes. "You'll never know where it's hidden, I swear it, nor your bloody bastard queen."

Emma frowned, confused. She had no idea what he was talking about, but she could not admit weakness in front of a prisoner. "Insult the queen again and I'll cut out your tongue," she said calmly.

He grinned maniacally. “Oh, you wouldn't want to do that, now, my lady," he said mockingly. "I'm very good with my tongue.”

Emma punched him in the face with her free hand. His head lolled back and she could tell she had knocked him unconscious as well as possibly broken his nose. She grimaced, regretting her temper. I’ll have to get that under control before I take the throne, she thought, else foreign relations will take a nosedive.

She sheathed her sword and went to find her pack. Inside were the enchanted cuffs – she’d need them for a man as dangerous as Hook. She slid one onto her wrist and returned to the pirate. He was beginning to regain consciousness, she noted as she clasped the second cuff onto his wrist.

“What the hell is that?” he mumbled as he realised what she was doing. He tried to move and discovered the bindings keeping his arms and legs immobile. “I suppose if this is what gets you in the mood, I can be flexible -”

“They’re enchanted,” Emma interrupted. “I wear the other, which controls yours. If I am hurt, you’ll suffer the same wounds as me. If I die, you die. Go more than fifteen feet from me and you’ll feel pain like you’ve never felt before –“

“I doubt that,” Hook grunted, trying to get out of the bindings and failing miserably. “I’ve felt pain you wouldn’t believe –“

Emma talked over the top of him, her voice getting louder. “Go more than thirty feet and you’ll pass out, regaining consciousness only when I am once again within fifteen feet of you.”

Hook glared at her again. His eyes were the bluest thing she'd ever seen, far brighter than the summer sky or her mother's most precious sapphires. But the loathing there tainted their beauty, loathing she knew was not entirely directed at her.

"Why did you return to the Enchanted Forest?" she asked, genuinely curious. Hook stilled, his eyes narrowed. "I heard you found passage to a land where no one ages. Why would you leave?"

For a moment she thought he wasn't going to answer her. Emma huffed, feeling embarrassed, and stood up to leave.

"Vengeance," he said hoarsely. "I came back for vengeance."

He looked up at her, his eyes - beautiful, dangerous eyes - pleading. "I do not wish to harm anyone," he said. "Except one creature. A creature none could ever wish to protect."

He seemed utterly sincere, but Emma could not believe him. A pirate, a traitor to the crown, a man who had murdered his own brother, could no more be sincere about not wishing to harm innocents than a ship could grow wings and fly.

"Who is the one you seek?" she asked.

"Let me go free and I will tell you," he said.

Emma shook her head. "First you answer to the Queen for your crimes."

"I told you," he said heatedly. "I'm not telling you where it is. I won't let you give him what he wants."

"What are you talking about?"

His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "You don't know?"

Emma knelt in front of him, once again on eye level with him. "Who exactly do you think I'm working for?"

"Regina, of course," he said. "The Evil Queen. Who else would be after me? I've committed no crimes in this land except the one done to her, and only she would consider it a crime."

Emma sat back on her heels. "The Evil - no. I work for Snow White and Prince Charming. The Queen of this realm and her consort."

Hook was confused, she could tell. "What have I done to make them hunt me down?" he asked.

She snorted disbelievingly. "You killed officers of the realm, stole a ship, betrayed your own king, and terrorised civilians for years before leaving for this other realm. Nothing big."

Hook looked offended. "I have done nothing of the sort," he growled. “Well,” he amended, “perhaps one or two, but -”

"Like I’m gonna believe a criminal," Emma muttered. Someone coughed politely to her left and she turned to see Kate, one of her accomplices, waiting for her.

"All of the crew is now incarcerated in the local jail," Kate told her.

"Good," Emma said, thinking. "Tell the others we'll stay here for the night. I want five staying behind to ensure the crew don't attempt to escape. The rest of us will ride for the capital in the morning."

"You don't seriously think you can imprison me based on false charges, do you?" Hook demanded loudly. Emma sighed.

"The Queen's courts are fair and just," she said. "You will be tried based on evidence and eyewitness accounts, as all criminals are in our realm. If you are found guilty, you will most likely be executed, given that you are a traitor and kinslayer. For lesser crimes you would only be imprisoned for a length of time or possibly sentenced to hard labour."

"Kinslayer -" Hook looked very confused. "What?"

Emma shook her head and turned to walk away.

"No no no, don't you dare," he warned ineffectually. "Explain!"

She was sorely tempted to hit him again, but restrained herself. "Our records show that three hundred years ago," she began, tiredness catching up with her, "a sailor by the name Killian Jones worked for the kingdom's navy, on a ship called the Jewel of the Realm under the command of Captain Liam Jones, his elder brother. Our records also show that Lieutenant Jones staged a mutiny, killed his brother, stole the ship - the best in the fleet at the time - and turned to piracy, killing any member of the crew who did not agree with his methods."

Hook looked utterly horrified for a reason Emma could not fathom. "That's not -" he croaked.

"And that's not even counting the crimes committed during your time as a pirate," Emma cut him off ruthlessly. Tired and wanting to patch up her injuries before she slept, she gestured three people nearby to guard Hook. "Wake me if anything happens," she told them. "You'll be relieved in a few hours."

"Wait!"

She turned on Hook, half considering cutting his tongue out after all. "Quiet," she snapped. "You will have days to pester me -"

"Your name," Hook interrupted. For once, he had mustered a blank face, and Emma could read no emotion on it. "I wish to know the name of the woman who bested me."

Emma hesitated - there was great power in a name - before answering. He did deserve that much, she supposed. She had beaten him, yes, but she wondered if things could have been different, if Hook had been less honourable, if he had used his namesake for its intended purpose.

"Emma Swan," she said. "Good night."

This time, when she walked away, he said nothing.

Chapter Text

At dawn, Emma and those accompanying her back to the capital were ready to go. Emma attached the ropes tying Hook's hands to her saddle and they set off.

"Why exactly are you keeping me bound like this?" Hook complained. "I can't run away or hurt you what with these bloody things linking us."

He waved his cuffed wrist emphatically at her.

"Partly precaution and partly reminder," Emma told him. "And besides, you can technically still hurt me. I'd rather not be maimed or killed, even if I know the culprit will soon be suffering the same."

Hook grinned widely. "Thanks for the reminder, love."

For a time, the pirate walked alongside her quietly. Although Emma longed to travel faster, the horses could use the lenient pace and she had never been one to treat prisoners cruelly.

Even prisoners as dangerous as Hook.

To be honest, Emma was no longer sure that Hook was dangerous. She prided herself on her ability to tell when someone was lying, and she did not think he had lied when he said he'd committed no crime.

"Swan," he called to her, "I have a question."

His insistence on using her (fake) last name was irritating to say the least. He said it as if he knew it was a lie - and every time he did, Emma had to remind herself that there was absolutely no way he could know. Even he suspected her name was fake, he could not know why and that was all that mattered.

"These crimes you plan to charge me with," Hook said, mouth curling contemptuously, "exactly what proof do you have of them?"

Emma glanced at him, saying nothing.

"Given that I've done nothing to harm you or your kingdom since my return, I assume I am being brought to justice for my actions before I left, yes?" Hook elaborated.

Emma confirmed him with a nod.

"What proof do you have, then?" Hook asked.

Emma blinked.

"Every crime of piracy I ever committed - and there were far less than you seem to think and for far better reason - happened three hundred years ago, Swan," he said, smirking infuriatingly. "Any records you may have are automatically unreliable. In fact, I daresay I am the only man still alive today who knows exactly what happened, and your rather violent capture," he waved his bound hands at her expressively, "makes it clear that my word will not be trusted."

"You will be allowed to speak your piece," Emma said coolly. "Whether we trust your story is another matter." Looking down at him, she added, "You are right in that your version of events is unlikely to be believed."

Hook was sneering again, his mouth curling angrily at the corners. For an instant, Emma watched the curve of those soft lips, remembering the fleeting contact from the night before.

Fool, she thought. He may be pretty but he's also your prisoner. Stop that!

"What's your version of events, then?" he challenged her. "I want to know." His face darkened. "In detail, if it pleases my lady." He bowed flamboyantly, somehow managing to keep walking as he did.

Emma sighed. "I told you last night - "

"You gave a brief overview. I want details. What does it say exactly?"

"Lieutenant Killian Jones was raised to second in command of the navy's best vessel, the Jewel of the Realm," Emma said, her tone indifferent, "by virtue of his elder brother, Captain Liam Jones, being the captain of said vessel."

"That's ridiculous," she heard Hook muttering, "I won that position on merit alone, not bloody - "

"Captain Jones," Emma cut him off, "was sent to find a plant with magical healing properties called dreamshade from a far off land. When he found it, the Lieutenant grew jealous of its powers, wanting to keep it for himself rather than allow the king to use it to help his people."

She glanced at Hook; a muscle twinged violently in his jaw, but he said nothing.

"Lieutenant Jones mutinied, killing his brother and taking control of both the ship and the dreamshade," she went on, keeping an eye on him as she did. "He renamed the ship the Jolly Roger, declared himself a pirate, and forced all of his crew to turn with him or walk the plank."

Hook looked utterly furious. She was glad he hadn't looked like that during their sword fight: she was not sure she would still have won.

"After that came several years of attacking both trading and military vessels of the kingdom, as well as looting several of the coastal villages more than once. Then he - you - disappeared, and we have nothing but rumour after that," Emma finished. It was difficult telling the story of a man's life to the man himself, especially when he looked more and more murderous as she did.

Hook said nothing for several long moments.

"Well?" Emma asked expectantly.

"What," the pirate growled.

"What's your version, then?"

Hook refused to answer, staring straight ahead, the murderous look still firmly in place.

He did not talk to her again, not even when it came time to make camp for the night. They had ridden hard to reach Hook before he moved on, but there was no real need for that now. Hook could not escape and her parents weren't going anywhere.

Despite the enchanted cuffs, Hook remained physically tied to someone at all times. His missing hand could not be reliably restrained, so his remaining hand was permanently tied to someone else. Emma would know if he went too far from her, but there was no point being careless.

The brace which attached his hook to his arm was hidden in Emma's saddlebags. She could not trust anyone else to guard them as she would, to check and re-check that it had not moved since she had last looked. The close proximity to its owner was a price she was willing to pay for that added security.

She had no doubt that Hook knew where it was, but she did not much care. That night she slept with the saddlebag as her pillow. Spare clothes did little to make the brace a comfortable place to rest her head, but again, security was more important than her comfort.

They rose at dawn and continued onwards. Hook was once again tied to her horse's saddle. No one had heard him speak since their conversation the day before.

"You will say your piece when the trial happens, won't you?" asked Emma.

Hook glanced at her, but still refused to say anything.

"Fine," Emma muttered quietly. "Be that way."

She could not figure out why his silence was so frustrating.

***

Emma reined in, deep in thought. Perhaps it was about time for a rest, she thought. The sun was high in the sky and they’d been on the road for several hours now.

Still thinking, she bent forward to check her stirrups, and an arrow skimmed past her head. "Ambush!" she yelled at the top of her lungs, immediately unsheathing her sword and putting her heels into her horse's side.

"Swan!" she heard Hook yell desperately as her horse plunged forwards.

Emma pulled the horse up and looked at Hook.

"You're really going to leave me unarmed?" he asked, eyes pleading.

Emma cursed internally.

"Remember what happens if you try to run," she warned, cutting the rope binding him to her and passing him her spare sword. Another arrow whizzed by them and both flinched.

"I need my hook," he said levelly. Emma stared at him, trying to calculate the pros and cons of doing as he asked. An arrow sliced by her arm, leaving a shallow cut. Emma yelped, inwardly cursed, and threw the saddlebag containing his hook at him.

"Don't die," she told him firmly, and rode into the melee.

Three people had already gone down, Emma saw. She gave a moment's thought to the fervent hope that they weren't dead before someone came at her.

As they fought, she noted the superior weapons and horses of their attackers. They were armoured all in black, wearing helms that covered their eyes. Who are they? she wondered.

Arrows whirred through the air and her horse buckled beneath her. Emma yelled and rolled off, hitting the ground hard. Winded, she rolled over and tried desperately to inhale.

The person she'd been fighting had dismounted and stood over her. He raised his blade, prepared to hack into her. She brought her sword up, but she wasn't prepared, her hold was still shaky, she couldn't stop it -

Her attacker shuddered and fell, blood pouring from his mouth. Emma rolled out of the way and someone dragged her to her feet.

"Try not to do that again," said Hook. "You die, I die, remember?"

Emma shook him off and returned to the fight, Hook not far behind.

The fight continued, but it was becoming clear that they were outnumbered and losing fast. As more and more of her people fell, Emma had to make a decision - whether to keep fighting and lose more or cut their losses.

A choice like that is no choice at all, she thought, and putting her fingers to her mouth she let out an earsplitting whistle.

At once, the last remaining few of her people disappeared into the woods. Their attackers gave chase, but Emma knew they would not be caught. Most of the people Emma worked with had been street rats: running from authority was as easy to them as breathing.

"What the bloody hell was -"

Emma dropped her sword and raised her hands. "Surrender," she muttered to Hook, who (for obvious reasons) was still with her.

"Why aren't we legging it too?" he asked in a hoarse whisper.

"Because unlike the others, we're surrounded," she said tartly. It was true: all potential exits were blocked by faceless soldiers.

Emma was sure they were soldiers. The quality of their weapons and their precise, orderly fighting styles had assured her of that. But working for whom? she wondered. Who would dare come this far into Snow White's kingdom to attack a party of bounty hunters?

She had a few potential answers in mind, but she wasn't sure which one was worst. All of them involved her parents' worst enemies knowing exactly who she was.

All those lies, Emma thought bitterly, and it looks like all they did was buy me a few years.

Hook sighed and dropped his sword too. "I hope you know what you're doing," he whispered to Emma.

"I have a vague idea," she replied.

One of the soldiers stepped forward, raising his helm. He stared coldly at them. "In the name of Queen Regina," he announced, "I am taking you prisoner."

Emma's throat went tight. The Evil Queen. Her mother's stepmother, a woman so cold she had killed entire villages in her efforts to kill Snow White. This was without a doubt the absolute worst scenario Emma could have imagined.

"Kill the other," the soldier ordered dispassionately. The man next to him nocked an arrow and raised his bow.

"What? No -" Emma protested. Hook might be able to help her escape the Queen!

But to her everlasting shock, it wasn't Hook the arrow pointed at. It was her.

"No!" Hook cried, stepping in front of Emma. She glared at him, but he didn't even seem to notice. "Listen, mate," he said, smooth and charming, as if there wasn't a high chance he was about to die, "you can't kill her. If she dies, I die too."

The leader of the soldiers appeared skeptical.

Hook grabbed Emma's arm and held it up, displaying their matching cuffs. "These are enchanted," he explained. "If she dies or suffers any sort of major injury, I experience the same injury. And if I go too far from her, I'll die."

"Remove the cuffs," the leader ordered. Soldiers came forward and grabbed their arms.

"Don't -" said Emma.

Arcs of lightning burst from the cuffs, electrocuting the soldiers. They fell limply to the ground.

"Only I can remove them," Emma said, anger spiraling through her. "And I'm sure as hell not doing that now I know you'll kill me if do."

The leader sighed heavily and said, sounding bored, "If you agree to remove the cuffs we will let you go free."

Emma glanced at Killian. He was watching her, his expression unreadable.

"Sorry," she said. "I make a point of not trusting people who want me dead. The cuffs stay."

"Fine," spat the leader. "Then you will also come before the Queen."

Chapter Text

Meeting the Evil Queen was something Emma had always hoped she would never have to experience. Her parents had told her many stories of the things she had done to spite Snow White, with little cause other than misplaced blame. Even if the Queen had no idea who Emma was (and Emma would assume that was the case until told otherwise), the idea of simply being in her presence was utterly terrifying. She could only imagine the fate she would suffer if Regina discovered her true identity.

Although revealing so much information about the nature of the enchanted cuffs had been necessary to save both their lives, Emma still regretted Hook's blathering. The guards knew that preventing her escape was the key to preventing Hook's, which made Emma's situation far worse than Hook's. He was hardly bound at all; he had been gagged and his working hand was pulled tight against his body by ropes, which attached to Emma's bindings.

Emma, on the other hand, had her hands tied to one another, ropes wrapped around her upper arms and torso, ropes hobbling her to prevent her running or even walking faster than a snail, and was gagged except when they fed her.

It was humiliating, but Emma endured. She was already watching their captors' every move, looking for a way out.

The soldiers were hyper vigilant, using scouts and hiding whenever so much as a farmer approached. Emma would never give up, but she did admit to herself that escape would be difficult.

She had no chance to speak to Hook. They were separated when they ate, the only time they were not gagged, and watched constantly by at least two guards apiece.

For three days, they rode east in this fashion. Each day brought less hope of escape. The soldiers did not take chances or make mistakes. Until late the third day, when they reached the top of a hill. The forest ended abruptly; the land stretched out before them was entirely inhospitable. What few plants there were appeared dead, as did the remains of grass. Small drifts of snow piled up across the landscape, eddied about by gusts of wind every so often.

As they rode down the hill into the wasteland, Emma noticed the soldiers relaxing. They began to trade jokes, to laugh; the scouts rejoined the main party and the guards all but stopped paying attention.

Emma glanced at Hook. He had seen what she had, and nodded.

That night was the same. Although they were once again re-gagged after eating, they were lazy about it; after some small effort, Emma managed to spit out the cloth keeping her jaw closed. She looked around surreptitiously.

Only two people guarded both of them tonight. The rest of the soldiers sat around the fire they had made, laughing and playing games. The two guards were distracted. They sat close enough to hear or see if Hook or Emma spoke too loud or escaped their bonds, but they were not paying any attention to their captives.

"Hook," Emma whispered.

He was working the cloth out of his mouth as she said it, and for a moment she was distracted. Finally, he spat it out and whispered in response, "You thought of anything yet?"

Emma grimaced. "All I know is that they've let their guard down," she whispered, "which implies they think there's no chance of us escaping or being rescued now."

"I think they have reason to believe that, lass," Hook said. "Look around. There's no cover here. Even if we manage to break the bonds, it's a long way back to the forest, and the only way to properly lose them would be to take cover amongst the trees."

Emma wondered when they had silently agreed to work together.

"Why does the Evil Queen want you, anyway?" she asked, her mind working overtime for a solution to their predicament.

Hook's face hardened. "I took something important from her," he murmured. "She needs it back, but that will not be happening."

The soldiers had started drinking, she noticed. "Look," she whispered.

Hook glanced over. "Our only chance at a head start," he began softly, "is if we manage to sneak away in the night. And, to be quite honest, if we want to reach the forest before they wake up, it'll have to be tonight. We might have to steal horses."

"Let's focus on getting these ropes off first," Emma suggested. "The actual escaping can come after."

"All right," he said. "Come over here, then. Back to me."

Emma watched the guards carefully as she slowly worked her way across the ground towards Hook, rolling over to face away from him when she reached him. She could feel him pulling at the knots - he must've managed to slip his hand out from beneath the ropes strapping his arm to his side.

None of the soldiers were paying them the least bit of attention, but Emma knew that could change at any moment. They were lucky: the hard pace and eternal vigilance of the last few days had clearly worn them out, and now they sought a reward. Even at the expense of watching their prisoners.

"Got one," Hook whispered softly in her ear. His breath sent tingles straight down her spine.

They were well away from the fire, shrouded in darkness. Even so, if one of them looked over...

"Two," Hook murmured. Emma told herself she shivered because of the cold. She could feel the ropes beginning to loosen, and started to move her hands.

Hook grabbed her wrists, pulling them together with his hand. "Don't move," he murmured.

Emma obeyed, staying perfectly still. It was hard when he seemed dedicated to driving her mad, sliding his hand along her back to another knot and dextrously beginning to untie it. She wondered how he could untie knots with just one hand, and reminded herself that he was a sailor.

No, she thought. Not a sailor, a pirate.

She felt the last of the knots come free, and knew that now all that stopped her from walking away was the hobbles around her feet.

Hook leaned in close to her, his breath stirring the hair next to her ear. "Roll over," he whispered, "and untie me."

Emma turned slowly onto her other side. He had the ends of the ropes held in his hand; from behind her, it would seem as though she was still securely tied - at least until they looked close. She began to untie him, feeling his eyes on her face.

"We'll wait til they're asleep," he said quietly. Her eyes flicked to his face briefly, but he was watching the soldiers. "It shouldn't take much longer." He glanced up at the sky. "I estimate we have maybe seven hours until dawn, so we should get at least five hours head start."

"In the morning they'll be fresh, though, and we'll have gone a night without sleep," Emma said softly.

"We can hide in the forest," Hook said absently.

"I don't know this part of the kingdom," Emma hissed back, her hands still working furiously.

He looked at her, amused. "We'll figure it out," he told her quietly. "Never fear, I'll keep you safe."

Emma glared suspiciously for a moment, but the amusement in his eyes only grew more pronounced. She shook her head and returned to her work.

At last, Emma was done - slightly embarrassed that what Hook had accomplished in maybe fifteen minutes with only one hand had taken her twice as long, but that didn't much matter next to the hopeful possibility of escape.

"Are they asleep?" she asked him. She could feel the warmth radiating from his body.

"One's awake," he replied. "He's not watching us, but he does seem to be on watch, so to speak."

"Will he notice us?"

"He seems rather… inebriated," Hook said wryly. "The fire's gotten pretty low, and he hasn't seemed to notice that."

"But will he notice us?" Emma pressed.

"I'm not sure," he said. "Maybe if we crawl - slowly - away from their camp. When we're well out of the way, we'll get rid of the ropes."

Emma was about to agree when she remembered - "What about your hook?"

"If you are not opposed," he murmured, "I plan to sneak back in and retrieve it."

"Absolutely not," Emma hissed. "What if you're caught?"

"Love, I'm a pirate," he said, the amusement back in his eyes. "There's not a chance."

Against her better judgment, she acceded.

Emma was almost suspicious when the plan worked without a hitch. The lone soldier still awake did not see or hear them slowly wriggling away from the light of the campfire, and there was only the sliver of a moon to light the landscape. Removing the ropes wasn't difficult now the knots were undone. Emma coiled them up and attached them to her belt - no point leaving hard evidence behind. Hook had no trouble sneaking back in: he returned with his hook, their weapons, and a horse.

"For the love of -" she muttered when he came back, leading the horse and looking smug. His expression all but screamed 'I told you so'.

He gave her a leg up onto the horse and swung up behind her. It was becoming difficult to pretend she wasn't affected by his body so close to hers.

Physical attraction is nothing to be ashamed of, Emma, she told herself, even if he is supposed to be a criminal.

He'd pulled his shirt half off to fix the hook back on again.

"Hurry up," she said irritably. "We don't have much time."

Hook grinned at her, unfazed, and strapped the brace back into place. She could see scars where the leather had rubbed against his skin before he pulled his shirt back into place and redid the buttons of his vest.

Emma picked up the horse's reins and urged it into a fast walk. Two people on its back meant they'd have to be extra careful not to overwork it, but then again she planned to ditch the horse as soon as they reached the forest again.

Hook put his arms around her. "Well this is nice, don't you think?" he murmured in her ear.

She was tempted - very tempted - to elbow him in the stomach, but refrained. He does need to hold on to something, she reminded herself.

"Don't get used to it," she replied. "As soon as we're in the forest it's gone."

"Then I will make the most of it," Hook murmured. Emma wanted to be angry, but it was very difficult when she was too busy being acutely aware of all the places their bodies touched.

Fuck, she thought. This isn’t good.

Chapter Text

They were well into the forest when the light of false dawn began filtering through the trees, having set the horse free as soon as they entered the foliage, but Emma still worried. At least some of the soldiers would no doubt have woken as soon as it became light, and their absence would not go unnoticed for long once that happened.

"We should try to find a place to sleep," Emma said. "Somewhere secure."

"And how shall we go about doing that?" Hook inquired. "You don't know this part of the kingdom, apparently, and I was never one for mucking about on land even before I left this world entirely."

"Keep walking and hope for the best, I guess," she muttered. "Should we change directions again?"

Hook shrugged. "I'm mostly just wondering when you're going to take this off me, actually," he said, gesturing to his cuff.

Emma stared at him. "You don't seriously think I'm that stupid, do you?"

Hook looked offended. "Without me you'd never have escaped that lot," he said, "and I saved your life when they first captured us."

"Yeah," Emma retorted, "because you did that entirely out of the goodness of your heart, and not because of the cuffs."

"You think I wouldn't have saved you if we weren't linked?" he demanded.

"I have no way of knowing," Emma cried, "whether you would or wouldn't have helped me! I have no way of knowing if I can trust you. And I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re a little more upset with me than you let on - I did take you prisoner for the express purpose of having you tried and hanged as a traitor.”

Hook looked away from her sullenly. Emma did feel bad for him. They were both right, to a certain extent. Emma couldn't trust him, not when he had reason to hate her and his actions thus far could easily be down to pure selfishness. But at the same time, he could hardly prove himself unselfish in his designs to save her at every turn until she removed the cuffs. But without proof of his true intentions, she couldn't allow herself to do that.

"Listen," she said reluctantly, "I do owe you for saving me back there. But - "

Hook waved her off. "All I want is to be free," he told her, "to finish what I started. I suppose to do that I must earn your trust."

"And how do you plan to do that?" Emma asked.

"If I don't try to escape - "

"You can't escape," she said, exasperated, "the cuffs - "

"But there has to be a way," he countered. "Otherwise you lot wouldn't have tied me up when you were escorting me to the capital. If there was no way I could escape you, surely you wouldn't have bothered?"

Emma hesitated for just a moment, but it was enough. Hook smiled, his guess confirmed.

He wasn't exactly wrong, but not quite in the way he seemed to hope. There was no way for him to escape the cuffs unless she let him, and no way for him to leave her side with the cuffs on. But there was a way he could be free, in a manner of speaking, nonetheless. The cuffs meant he could not leave her side, but that just meant that any escape attempt would involve kidnapping Emma and taking her with him. She did not mean to let that to happen.

"I won't try to figure it out," Hook went on. "I won't attempt to escape."

"That still isn't proof that I can trust you," Emma said.

He held his arms out and bowed mockingly. "What would you have me do, milady?"

"Prove to me that I can trust your word," she said, "and I will let you go."

Hook raised an eyebrow. "What happened to bringing me to justice?" he asked.

Emma wasn't entirely sure herself. "I owe you," she said. "You prove I can trust you, I'll let you go and even give you a head start before I come after you again."

He smirked. "You will not catch me a second time," he said with conviction.

Emma raised an eyebrow at his condescending tone and opened her mouth to respond. She was interrupted by the sound of distant yelling and branches breaking.

"They're coming," Hook murmured.

Without another word, both of them broke into a run. It was hard going, especially through the trees, but endurance was one of many things Emma had been working on her whole life.

She could hear the murmur of water off to her right, and called quietly to Hook as she veered off towards it. The sound of water grew louder as they ran, but so did the sound of the soldiers coming after them.

The trees ended abruptly as they ran down a riverbank to a wide, swift-flowing body of water. Both Emma and Hook stopped, staring at the river. It was too wide to cross and there were no boats or bridges in sight.

"You know how to swim?" Emma asked. She pulled the rope that had once imprisoned her from her belt and begin tying it to Hook's waist. For once, they were lucky - the river was flowing away from the soldiers, further into her parents' kingdom.

"Yes," he replied, "but Swan, this is -"

"This may well be our only option," she interrupted, tying the rope to herself as well. She checked the knots and grabbed his hand. "Remember that if you let go of me or the rope breaks," she said, "you could very easily find yourself well past the boundaries of the spell."

"Swan," he said, as she pulled him into the river, "I'm really not sure about this -"

An all-too-near shout cut him off, and both Emma and Hook dived forwards.

The river was strong, but it wasn't difficult to navigate - all they had to do was let it pull them along. Emma tried hard not to let them get pulled too far into the middle of the river; staying near the banks risked capture, but better that than death.

Hook was a good swimmer, of course. Some sailors refused to learn to swim, thinking that drowning immediately was better than slowly losing strength, but Hook was a fighter. They didn't talk much, too focused on staying afloat and not drifting apart. The rope held, but Emma was terrified it would break. If that happened, all hell would break loose. She couldn't stop thinking about Hook falling unconscious and sinking below the water, her unable to cut across the current to save him -

“Here,” Hook said, reaching out to her. He waggled his fingers. “For extra insurance.”

Emma reached back, gripping his hand tight.

***

Emma lost track of time as they floated in the current, fingers entwined, moving swiftly down the river. The water was cold, but Emma preferred being cold to being captured again.

"It should be s-safe by now," Hook said. "We should g-get out of the w-water."

Emma looked at him and saw that his lips were beginning to turn blue, realising at the same time that her own body had become completely numb to the cold. She nodded quickly, and both of them struck out for the shore.

Actively swimming brought some life - painful, cramping life - back to Emma's limbs, but still she knew this wasn't good.

"W-we need to light a fire," Hook insisted.

"They might see the smoke," Emma argued half-heartedly. He was right. They both needed to get warm, and fast. Their clothes were completely soaked: a fire was the only option. "And it’ll be d-dark soon. We should t-try to find shelter first."

Hook led the way up the bank, back into the forest. Walking helped but Emma was still freezing. Both collected firewood and kindling as they went.

Before long, they came across a cliff face stretching up to make a large outcropping. Following it led them, eventually, to a crack in the cliff face. Emma peered through it; a decently sized cave lay inside, with the early evening sunlight streaming in through unseen holes.

They searched for a way in but found nothing until Emma tripped over a rock, falling against a patch of ivy covering the cliff face. She expected to hit rock behind the plants and was instead surprised by a passageway behind the ivy, leading into the cave. She called for Hook and together they entered. It was perfect; snug, well-hidden, with those unseen chutes available for light and ventilation. The floor was stone, uncluttered by much dirt or debris, and fortunately for them it was blessedly dry.

Hook continued to collect wood while Emma tried to dry her flint in order to light the fire. It was far better than matches - at least it would dry out and be usable eventually - but that didn't matter much to her when she was shivering so hard her teeth chattered. Again she kicked herself for letting this happen. If they had left the water even an hour ago…

Hook dropped another bundle of wood next to her and went looking for more. Emma began arranging wood to create the fire, but her flint still refused to strike when she was done.

Emma gritted her teeth and glared at the wood. Putting the flint down to dry, she went to find rocks to hold the fire in, telling herself to calm down. At last, the wood was perfectly arranged, the rocks meant the fire wouldn't get away from her - when she finally got it lit - but the flint was still too wet.

She sat back on her heels and, to her disgust, felt tears prickling behind her eyes. It's just exhaustion, she told herself, and knew she was right, but that didn't help the utter helplessness she felt in that moment.

Emma blinked a few times and the prickling left her, but there was still a lump in her throat that threatened to bring it back. Fury burst into her chest - how dare a little thing like this get to her? - and she struck the flint together one last time, making an angry noise.

She didn't see the flint spark, but the wood caught fire instantly and began to burn merrily. Emma stared, open mouthed, for an instant, before hastily grabbing more wood to put on the fire.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw Hook watching her and looked up at him. He nodded briefly and dropped yet another bundle of wood next to her. "I think that should do it," he said, unbuttoning his vest.

"What are you doing?" Emma said sharply as Hook began taking off his clothes.

He grinned at her. "Like what you see?" he asked, winking.

Emma rolled her eyes and looked away, hoping he wouldn't notice.

"Oh, don't be modest, love," he said, "your clothes are soaked through as well. You’ll dry out faster if you take them off."

Emma whipped her head back around to glare at him. The worst part was that he was right. She would get warm much faster without her wet, cold clothes in the way, and her clothes would dry faster off than on.

He sat down near her, completely naked and smirking cheerfully at her. "Might as well get it over with," he suggested.

Emma wished furiously that she could blindfold him. She stood, turned away from him and undressed quickly, leaving her undergarments on, before sitting back down. Hook had created a rack of sorts from branches and the irregular walls of the cave to hang their clothes on while they dried.

"You're very skilled at this sort of thing," she said, looking at the rack, "considering the hook, I mean."

Hook shrugged. "I've had a long time to practice, love," he said. He was lying down on the floor, looking up at the cave's ceiling. Emma looked up: he had positioned himself under one of the little holes up there, allowing him to look up at the stars - night had fallen while she'd been making the fire.

"How did it happen?" she asked him softly.

Emma watched the muscle in his jaw twitch as she said it and halfheartedly regretted her words. She did want to know, but it was obvious he didn't want to talk about it.

"You must know the constellations well," she said when it became clear he wasn't going to say anything, leaning back on her hands to make looking up more comfortable.

"It's been a long time since I was in the Enchanted Forest," he answered. "They're still familiar to me, aye, but something is different. And the stars in Neverland are -"

He stopped abruptly and Emma looked at him. "Neverland?" she asked. "That's where you went?"

Hook nodded, a jerky and unwilling movement.

"What was it like?" she asked.

For a moment she thought he wouldn't answer.

"It's beautiful," he said finally, "and the most dangerous place I've ever been."

"Why did you go there?" she asked. She wasn't entirely sure why she kept asking him questions, but it was nice to talk to him without hostility for once. And she was curious.

Hook laughed, a cold and ugly sound. "I thought you knew everything about me, Lady Swan," he said bitterly. "I thought your records had all the little details of my life written down in black and white so you could judge me and hang me for crimes done because your bloody king was -"

He stopped again and Emma moved closer to him. "What?" she asked keenly. "Hook -"

He sat up and Emma realised how close they had come, his face mere inches from hers. "What's the point, Swan?" he hissed, and she felt his breath on her face. "You've made it quite clear that nothing I say will convince you that your precious records might be wrong about something."

"That was before you saved my life," Emma said. His eyes were intense, passionate, and fixed on her own.

His eyebrows rose and Hook said, "I thought you didn't trust me."

"I don't trust you not to kill me the first chance you get," she corrected. "But I do owe you. And I'm willing to hear your side of the story."

He leaned back, letting out a sigh.

"Will you tell me?" she asked.

He lay back down, staring up at the stars.

Emma began to feel her extremities again. She could feel the fire's warmth slowly seeping under her skin, into her core, but when she got up to check her clothes they were still too wet to wear. Sighing, she sat back down and hugged her legs to her chest. She looked over at Hook; he continued to stare at the ceiling. She wasn't sure whether she was pleased or disappointed that he hadn't been staring at her, and resented the fact that such thoughts had even crossed her mind.

She knew she was attracted to him. It would be hard not to be attracted to a man like Hook, even without his incomparable eyes or saving her life. She had always been drawn to those who were driven by passion and willing to fight for what they wanted. But it was utterly impossible. She was a princess, if only in secret, and he a criminal she was supposed to bring to justice. And besides, she knew what exactly true love looked like - it looked like her parents. Emma knew she could never have that with a man like Hook.

"I didn't kill Liam."

Emma waited, but when nothing more was forthcoming she turned around to face Hook. He rolled onto his side to look at her, leaning on his elbow. She tried hard not to stare at his completely nude body - he'd even removed the brace for his hook.

"How did he die?" she asked.

He told her. Emma would not have believed a word he said but for the raw emotion on his face as he spoke of dreamshade and Neverland and a corrupt king who, in his mind at least, had all but murdered Liam Jones with his bare hands.

She understood now why he'd reacted so violently when she'd suggested he'd been the one to kill his brother. And of course the kingdom's records had lied - if word of the dreamshade or the king's attempt to find it had gotten out, it would have been disastrous. But someone had to take the blame for the catastrophe.

"I'm sorry," she said. Hook wouldn't look at her.

Emma took the opportunity to look at him instead, to really see him. In the light of this new information - that Hook had been a man of honour once, that as a young man he had been full of hope and ideals and naivety... It was shocking to say the least.

"Aren't you tired?" he asked her after a moment. His voice was bitter. She wanted to make him forget that bitterness, wanted to hear his voice the way it was when he flirted with her.

"Yes," she answered truthfully. It had been a long time since they'd been able to rest. Less than three days, she realised, but it felt like at least a week.

"Don't be shy," he said, winking at her, and held out an arm.

Emma rolled her eyes and swatted his arm away, trying not to smile. She had to admit, he was growing on her. Grabbing some of her clothes - dry at last - she fashioned herself a makeshift pillow.

"You'll have to try harder than that," she told him, yawning, "else I'll never be able to trust you." Now that she thought about it, she was exhausted.

"I'll think about it," he said quietly. "Go to sleep, Emma."

She yawned again. "I'll make things right," she promised. "With the records and the queen."

Hook looked at her, and she smiled sleepily at him. "She'll listen to me."

"Why would she do that?" Hook said slowly.

Emma folded her arms under her pillow for extra cushioning. "Snow always listens to me," she murmured, already half-asleep, "she loves me."

With that, she drifted away.

Chapter Text

Emma woke to sunshine streaming across her face. She moaned quietly and buried her face into her pillow, but it was too late: she was properly awake now, she'd never get back to sleep.

She could feel her whole body aching, and when she gingerly sat up she felt blood rush into all sorts of places that had been numb a moment ago. Groaning with the pain, she gracelessly stumbled to her feet and began to stretch.

Hook was still asleep. He looked as uncomfortable as she felt. Hard stone does not a good bed make, Emma thought, before realising he was still naked and she not much better. She winced and immediately dressed herself.

The fire had gone out in the night, but the cave was warm enough now that she'd rid herself of the bone-deep chill of the river. She looked down at Hook. If she left to find food, he'd be stuck here unconscious until she returned. Will he wake when the nausea hits him? she wondered curiously. She'd never bothered to find out.

She hesitated. If she was being entirely honest with herself, she wanted to remove the cuffs. They were a burden more than anything, and after Hook's story she trusted him - enough to believe he wouldn't try to kill her the moment she removed them.

But self-preservation stayed her hand. If not for the cuffs, she would have been killed when Hook was taken prisoner. If they were captured again - she couldn't risk it. And besides, he was a good partner, she told herself.

Admittedly, if they were captured again, a quick death might be better than whatever Regina had planned for Hook.

She crouched next to him and put a hand to his shoulder to shake him awake. He moved faster than she could react - she was spun about, her arm twisted behind her, his breath stirring her hair, his stump raised threateningly next to her head.

A moment later, Hook let her go. Emma whirled around to face him, shoving his chest hard. He clearly wasn't expecting it and fell backwards.

"Oi!" he said indignantly.

"Shut up," she snapped back, her heart still pounding from adrenaline.

"Don't do that," he groaned, massaging his chest. His very bare chest. He caught her staring and grinned. Leaning back, splaying himself across the cave floor, he all but purred, "Like what you see?"

Emma rolled her eyes and threw his clothes at his smug face. She stood and continued to stretch out her still-aching muscles.

He dressed quietly - Emma was surprised to see he could do up buttons one-handed with little effort - and they did not speak as Emma led the way out of the cave.

Together they went down to the river to drink. It was only when the water met her lips that Emma realised how thirsty she was. She gulped it down, scooping handful after handful to her mouth and sighing in relief when she was satiated.

"D'you think there's fish in here?" Hook asked, casting a considering look at the water.

Emma shrugged. "I don't want to be out in the open too long," she told him. "If you plan on catching fish, do it quick."

He started taking off his clothes - again - and Emma rolled her eyes, pointedly looking away. "You can look all you want, love," he said. She could practically feel him smirking.

Splashing ensued behind her and she turned to see Hook wading into the river - thankfully this time he'd kept his pants on - with the hook still firmly fastened to his arm.

Emma sat down at the water's edge and watched him. A little while later he came back, dumped a good sized fish in her lap and went back out. With a sigh, Emma pulled out her belt knife and began to prepare it.

He was careful not to go too far, though at one point she saw him dry heave and jump back towards her reflexively. Concern welled in her chest and she forced it back down at once.

Half an hour later, he had two more. Emerging from the water with a triumphant grin on his face, he gestured the two fish impaled on his hook at her and said, "Shall we, then?"

"I hope that thing's clean," Emma said, nodding to his hook as she stood.

"Clean enough," he said with a wink.

Another hour passed as they finished cleaning, cooking and eating the fish. Emma was glad he'd caught extras; she was starving.

"What now?" Hook asked her as Emma finished licking her fingers clean.

She glanced up. It looked to be mid-afternoon: they had no doubt slept much later than usual due to exhaustion, and eating had taken up a significant amount of time.

"From what we know of the soldiers," she said slowly, "they move during the day and set up camp around dusk. I think we should do the opposite. If we set out in an hour or two, it's unlikely that we'll run into them. We can walk through the night and find shelter around dawn."

Hook nodded. "I suppose it's as good a plan as any," he said, "although lack of light may be an issue."

Emma shrugged. "I'm willing to take my chances."

"Then what shall we do while we wait?" he asked, a wicked grin on his face. "I can certainly think of a few enjoyable activities..."

"Do you really mean that or are you just enjoying making me uncomfortable?" Emma demanded angrily.

(She wasn't sure which option she preferred.)

"Of course I mean it," he said, sounding offended. "You're beautiful, I'm devilishly handsome -" he smirked "- it only makes sense, you know."

"And do you proposition every beautiful woman that you meet?"

Hook chuckled lightly. "I'll admit, you do make it more enjoyable with all your blushing and glaring," he said.

"I do not -" Emma spluttered. Princesses did not blush over pirates!

He smiled at her, an utterly genuine smile. "I do quite like you, you know," he said casually, “despite the abysmal start to our relationship, what with you seducing me in order to immediately betray me. Still, we make a good team, all things considered."

"I suppose we do," she murmured. "But I still don't know if I can trust you."

His face hardened. Emma wished she could smooth that furrowed brow, get him to smile at her like that again, but at the same time she was right, and she knew it.

"You asked me to prove that you can trust me," he said, his voice husky, and she nodded. "Very well then." He was utterly stoic now, not a glimmer of emotion passing over his face.

He stood for a moment and Emma sat up straight, unsure what he was planning until he knelt in front of her. Hook took her hand in his and, looking straight into her eyes, said calmly, "I, Killian Jones, swear to you, Emma Swan, that from this hour til the last I will be faithful to you with regard to your life and the members of your body, in good faith and without deception. I will to you be true and faithful, and love all which you love and shun all which you shun. I swear this in the name of that which I once loved above all else: may my vengeance forever escape me should I break this vow."

Emma gaped at him as he pressed a soft kiss to her hand, then released her and moved away once again.

"That - that was -" Emma stuttered. She had heard oaths like that many times before, from lords and ladies swearing fealty to her mother and father. She had not expected to hear one directed at herself for at least another year, and certainly never from a pirate who had defected from her kingdom thanks to a traitorous king.

What will he do when he finds out who I am? she thought with a sudden stab of panic.

"I once swore an oath like that, long ago," Hook said quietly, staring into the fire. "I was not quite so motivated then, though, and far more naive."

"Who was she?" Emma asked softly.

His face did not change. "No one you need concern yourself with."

"Then how can I trust your oath?" she challenged. "You once broke an oath like that, long ago."

He turned on her. There was anger in his eyes, and pain, regret, sadness, self-loathing. She wanted to take it back but she needed to know.

"Her name was Milah," Hook said. It sounded as if each word physically hurt him, and the look on his face said the same. "I loved her and she was killed in front of me, because of me. I travelled to Neverland in search of a way to destroy the monster who murdered her, that she may rest in peace and I may be satisfied."

"Who killed her?" Emma asked.

He spoke as if he had not heard. "I will keep my oath to you, Emma," he said, a note of desperation in his voice, "but one day you must let me go free to find and kill him. Every moment I am in the Enchanted Forest, the clock ticks by and I lose the precious time I should be using to defeat him. Please."

She looked at him, and he looked back. For a long moment, she could not say anything. He was utterly desperate, that much was clear, but she felt for him. She was not sure what it was she felt - pity, she told herself, sorrow for his plight, nothing more - but it was powerful and she did not think she could refuse him. Not when he asked like that.

"All right," she allowed. "I will take off the cuffs when you make it clear you are a man of your word, and I will release you from your oath once I am absolutely sure you are not a threat to me or to the kingdom."

He smiled brilliantly at her. That smile is almost as dangerous as his eyes, she thought. It was getting harder to rein in those thoughts, and more and more Emma found herself not wanting to.

"Thank you," he said.

***

Before they moved on, Emma insisted on removing all traces of their presence from the cave. It may have been difficult to find, but even so she refused to take any chances.

When the cave had been cleared satisfactorily, they left. Emma took care to remove all traces of footprints leading to its entrance and they were underway once more.

They followed the river towards the sun as it sank slowly into the west. It was dangerous, to say the least, but Hook had pointed out that they would need a good source of water. And Emma thought privately that the river could always be used to escape again, if need be, although only as a last resort.

As night fell, they continued to walk beside the river, close enough that their tracks were wiped out by the ebb and flow of the tide as they moved. They heard nothing but the sounds of animals moving through the forest and could see very little in the scarce moonlight. Still, both Emma and Hook were wound tight, constantly listening and watching for anything untoward.

The trees near the river began to thin, and abruptly the forest ended. The river flowed on, slowly beginning to wind its way north rather than west. Emma grabbed Hook's arm and pulled him into a crouch, sheltering next to a tree.

The field they had come across held a farm, with crops stretching out away from a tiny farmhouse and a paddock full of sheep right next to it. Lights glimmered in the window of the house, and Emma's stomach rumbled expectantly.

Hook looked to her for instructions, and she licked her upper lip absently. "I don't think we can ask them for help," she said, "not if it might bring the soldiers down on them."

"Isn't this your kingdom now?" he asked quietly. "Those soldiers work for the Evil Queen. They have no authority here. Although that might not stop them from trying."

"They could burn this whole farm to the ground just because we stopped here briefly," she said, looking at his face. It was easier to look at him in the dark, easier to tell herself she wasn't staring.

"That is true," he affirmed, "but we do need food and we have no idea where we are. These people might be able to give us directions."

Emma worried her lip indecisively. He had a point. She didn't want to risk these people's lives, but he did have a point.

"All right," she said. "We'll stop by, ask for directions and a bite to eat, and move on. I'd prefer not to go inside, if possible."

Hook nodded and pulled her to her feet. They started across the farmland, weaving through the crops without going more than two feet from one another.

One of the sheep raised its head and baa'ed at them as Emma led Hook around the side of the farmhouse and up to the door. "Let me do the talking," she said softly. Hook acquiesced with a slight bow, his arms spreading from his sides.

She knocked and put on a sweet smile for the people inside. A man opened the door with a well-oiled scythe in hand, and promptly hid it behind his back when he saw her.

"Good evening," Emma said, using the most innocent, charming tone she could muster. She ignored the look Hook gave her. "I'm so sorry to disturb you, sir, but we're quite lost and were wondering if you could point us in the direction of the capital?"

The farmer tugged on one end of a bushy salt-and-pepper moustache and said gruffly, "I'm no sir, miss, only a farmer. Call me Morgan. Come in, come in."

Emma and Hook exchanged glances. "Actually we need to be underway as soon as possible," Emma said hastily, but it was no use. Morgan was walking into the house, leaving the door wide open for them to follow.

Emma pursed her lips and went inside, closing the door as soon as Hook walked through. "Ten minutes," she told him sternly.

"As you wish, milady," he replied sardonically.

Emma huffed quietly and went after Morgan. He sat now in a warm kitchen, painted yellow and lit by candles. A woman sat at the simple wooden table with him, darning socks. She smiled at the two of them as they entered the room.

"Well now, what would you be wanting?" she asked kindly. "I'm Mary."

"We just need directions to the capital," Emma told her. "And perhaps some food, if you can spare it."

"Oh, I can whip up a meal for you in no time," said Mary warmly. She put her darning down and began to rise from her seat but Emma gestured her back.

"We're actually in a hurry," she said quickly. "Important news for the king and queen. Some bread and cheese will do us."

Morgan and Mary - his wife, Emma assumed - shared a look. "It wouldn't be about the princess, would it now?" asked Morgan in his gruff voice.

Emma forgot herself and gaped at him, utterly shocked. "What?"

"Oh, it's wonderful," said Mary excitedly, her face shining. "They have a daughter! An heir to the throne! We need no longer fear civil war when the good Queen dies."

"Th-they - they told - they -"

Emma was utterly speechless. Hook stepped forward, placing his hand gently on her back, but before he could speak Mary shook her head and said sadly, "But then again, they told us only because she's gone missing."

"Yes," Hook said quickly, "we have information as to her whereabouts."

Mary's face lit up, as did Morgan's, though he tried hard to conceal it behind lighting his pipe.

"So we really must be on our way to the palace," Hook said with a soft smile.

"Oh, but of course!" gasped Mary cheerfully. She stood and began to bustle around the kitchen, eventually pushing a basket of food into Emma's hands. She led the way out, chattering, as Hook gently pushed Emma along after her.

Morgan gave them the directions they needed - following the path in front of the house would lead eventually to a main road, which if followed north would take them to the capital.

"It’s about a day’s walk,” he said, “if’n you’re moving quick smart. If we had horses we'd lend them to you, but…”

"Thank you both for your kindness," Hook said, that soft smile still in place. He took Emma's arm and led her away from the farm.

"Swan?" he asked quietly when they had gone a fair distance. "Are you all right there?"

"I'm fine," she said, her head still spinning. Her parents had spent her entire life protecting her with this secret. They'd drummed it into her, over and over: secrecy kept her alive. All her life, she'd pretended to be Red's daughter instead, and as valued as Red was she was not a noblewoman. Emma loved her life and had loved her childhood, but she still remembered hearing the music from the balls her parents held and longing to be there, to take her place as princess, to wear a beautiful gown and dance under those sparkling chandeliers, to see her parents' radiant faces. Had they really been so worried as to reveal everything not three years before the agreed time?

Reaching the nearby village affirmed that yes, they had. Unfortunately no one seemed to have any idea what Emma looked like. Posters on a noticeboard in the middle of the town square described her accurately - green eyes, long blonde hair, average height - yet no one so much as glanced her way.

Admittedly it was very nearly midnight and the only people on the street hurried by with their heads down, but still. Morgan and Mary had clearly not thought that she herself might be the missing princess.

She turned to Hook and his eyes met hers, travelled to her hair and down its length, before a quick once over. He raised an eyebrow and she waited expectantly.

Hook said nothing, only looked at her. Emma frowned at him and walked on, saying, "We should keep going."

The basket of food swung from her hand as Hook followed, still quiet. Emma took a piece of bread from it and began eating.

"So how exactly did your parents decide that hiding their heir from their own kingdom was a good idea?" he asked conversationally as they left the outskirts of the village.

Emma glared at him. "Had they not," she snapped, "I have no doubt I'd be dead or worse by now." He watched her as she looked ahead. "They have enemies," she said quietly, "with unimaginable power."

"I suppose Regina is one of them," he speculated. A look at him confirmed his theory. "No wonder you were so eager to escape those guards," he chuckled, a dark tone to his laughter.

"I thought they'd come to take me," she said quietly. "I thought she'd found out, somehow, and decided to kill me. But no, of course the first thing you did upon getting here was piss off the worst enemy you could make in this land."

His jaw tightened. "No, lass," he said, "not the worst."

"I'm flattered," she teased, but he did not smile. "Who could be worse than her?"

"Rumpelstiltskin," he muttered. For a moment Emma did not believe him.

"Rumpelstiltskin is gone," she said, half-laughing. "Nobody's seen or heard from him in decades."

Hook's head shot up and he fixed her with one of the most terrifying looks she had ever seen. "What?" he growled.

"You didn't know," she realised as everything began to click into place. "It was him, wasn't it? He killed Milah."

Hook refused to meet her eyes, instead increasing his speed.

They walked in silence for a long time. False dawn had not yet tinted the eastern horizon when Emma decided it was time for them to sleep. Hook disagreed, but there wasn't much he could do - he'd sworn to do as she said, and if she decided to stop somewhere for the night he could hardly go on without her.

Still, he sulked silently as she found a nearby field full of haystacks and burrowed into one. Not exactly comfortable, but it would do. They needed cover more than comfort anyway.

They wound up lying back to back inside the haystack, Hook still refusing to speak to her.

"He's not dead, you know," Emma said finally. "Killing the Dark One isn't easy from what I've heard. He's just gone."

"How am I supposed to kill him if nobody knows where he is?" Hook snarled.

"I'm sure we'll think of something," she muttered sleepily.

"You certainly won't be involved," he said stiffly.

"Of course not," Emma said amiably, reaching around to pat the closest part of him. "Of course."

Emma fell asleep to the sound of Hook muttering acerbically under his breath.

Chapter Text

Emma awoke to every hair on her body standing up and the knowledge that something was terribly wrong.

She reached out to shake Killian awake. Her hand touched his arm just as she was yanked upwards, straight out of the hay.

She yelled in fright when she saw where she was: ten feet off the ground, held up by a shimmering purple field of light. Magic.

Emma was spun about, and the next thing she saw made her want to scream again.

It was a scene straight from one of her childhood nightmares. The soldiers who had captured them stood nearby, weapons ready, protecting a beautiful woman. A carriage pulled by four horses stood behind them.

Emma recognised her, though she was older than she was in the few pictures her mother had kept. The Evil Queen wore a slinking black gown and a smirk, but fortunately for Emma neither was directed at her.

Fortunate until Emma looked where Regina looked: Hook hung next to her, struggling desperately against the magic that held him in place.

"Well, well, well," said the Evil Queen. Emma had never heard her voice, yet it terrified her utterly. She smiled, and Emma’s blood froze.

"It's so good to see you again, Captain," she gushed, sugary disdain dripping from every tone she uttered. "I'm afraid you left in rather a hurry - I didn't even get to say goodbye."

"Yes, I'm so sorry," Killian said, sounding out of breath from his struggles with the magic keeping him afloat. "Was in a bit of a rush, you know -"

Regina gestured casually and Killian was cut off, choking as his throat constricted briefly. Emma made an aborted move towards him, stopped by the magic imprisoning her.

"What do you want?" she shouted, barely aware the words had left her mouth.

"And who's this?"

Emma looked back and straight into the eyes of her mother's archenemy. She opened her mouth, floundering for words. She was drifting closer to Regina as the Queen examined her - close enough to reach out and cut her throat, if only she could break free of her magic - !

"Just some bounty hunter who thought I might earn her a pretty penny," Killian grunted, free to breathe again. "She's nothing, I can tell you that."

Momentary hurt at his words was drowned out by the rational knowledge that of course he was lying to protect her.

Regina shrugged carelessly. "Then she's of no use to either of us," she said, and Emma's throat closed off.

She gasped, trying desperately to breathe, clawing at her neck as if she could break the magic there with her bare hands.

"No!" Killian shouted, as desperate as she felt, and Regina turned casually to him.

"What's the matter?" she asked, a knowing smirk on her face. "You wouldn't be trying to lie to me, would you now, Hook?"

"We're linked," he choked out, the cuff's magic beginning to affect him. "To stop me escaping - any harm you do to her affects me -"

Emma felt a release and suddenly she was sucking in great gasps of air, quietly and hysterically laughing with relief.

She was too busy rejoicing at the return of oxygen to notice at first, but Regina had lowered both of them to almost her level, though they still could not touch the ground.

"Well then," Regina said softly, a malevolent light shining in her eyes. "You know what I want, Hook."

"Aye," he said, voice showing only a hint of strain, "I do."

"Tell me," she snapped.

"Never," he said softly. "I'll die first."

Regina smirked. "I was so hoping you'd say that."

She struck, and Killian's body went taut, his head flung back, his mouth opened in a wordless scream. Emma tried to reach for him, tried to attack Regina, but she could barely move. It felt as if he hung like that for hours, but Emma knew it could only have been seconds before he was released.

He hung limp, panting, as Regina said sweetly, "Tell me where you've hidden it."

"Hidden what?" Emma said, injecting bravado into her voice.

Regina's eyes snapped to her. "This doesn't concern you, little girl," she said condescendingly. "Keep your mouth shut or I'll shut it for you."

"Swan," Killian muttered quietly. Emma ignored both of them.

"What do you want?" she demanded.

Regina's eyes narrowed and Emma's mouth snapped shut. For a moment she struggled furiously, relaxing only slightly when she realised she could still breathe through her nose.

"I begin to grow tired of this, Hook," Regina said to him almost kindly, tilting her head to the side. "I can keep you here all day, and no one will hear you screaming."

Emma rolled her eyes from side to side, trying to find a way to escape. The soldiers behind Regina stood still as statues, but getting past them came second to breaking the magic holding her in place. And Emma had nothing that could measure up against that. No tricks or schemes, not even her voice to work with.

Hook screamed again and something inside Emma burst. She ripped a hand free of the spell without a moment's thought for its impossibility, reaching for Regina with a snarl.

For a moment shock and fear spread across Regina's face. Emma grabbed her face, dug in her nails and tore, leaving four bleeding scratches in her wake. Her entire upper body was free now, but as she reached to grab Regina's hair she was frozen completely.

Fury still raged inside her as Regina circled her, a snake with a mouse in its sights. "Nothing, is she?" she snarled at Hook. At least he had stopped screaming, Emma noted dully. She couldn't bear it when he screamed like that.

The scratches on Regina's face vanished as if they had never existed. "So here I find the man I have been chasing for weeks," Regina said, a smile growing on her face, "with a woman he is willing to lie for."

She turned to Hook, leaned in towards him, and murmured something. Emma saw his eyes widen in fear, saw him open his mouth in wordless horror.

Pain flooded her body and she shrieked, twisting and spasming involuntarily as every nerve ending in her body tried to tear itself apart. She could hear herself screaming and sobbing, and a vaguely coherent voice shouting words she couldn't understand between screams of its own...

The pain stopped as abruptly as it had started and Emma hung bonelessly, kept upright by magic alone. She felt raw, like she had been flayed, her skin replaced with tissue paper.

Regina was talking to Hook, but Emma could barely bring herself to concentrate. It took three tries to lift her head up in order to look at him, and when she did she wished she hadn't.

He looked utterly devastated, staring at her. She tried a weak smile, but his expression only grew worse.

“And now,” Regina said coldly, staring Hook down, “it’s time someone taught you a lesson.” She smiled. “Of course, from what I hear, you’ve been taught before, but perhaps now it will truly sink in.”

"No," Hook moaned, "no, please - "

A second later, Regina thrust her hand into Emma's chest. She wanted to cry out, but she had no energy, no options, no hope of escaping the Evil Queen.

Until Regina tugged in a gesture clearly intended to remove her heart. Emma looked at her, detachedly noting the confusion on her face. She pulled again, but Emma's heart - as uncomfortable as it was - stayed put.

Regina looked into her face, the fear returning to her eyes, and asked, "Who the hell are you?"

"Emma," whispered a broken voice.

A pulse of pure white light burst from her, throwing Regina back. Emma fell to the ground, the magic holding her up abruptly dissipating.

She looked up to see that Regina and all of her soldiers had been knocked out, and Hook was free.

Emma struggled to her feet and ran to him. She grabbed him under the arms and hauled him up.

He stared at the fallen soldiers and Regina's crumpled body, awed. "What the hell was th-"

"We have to go," Emma insisted half-hysterically. "I'm not sticking around to be caught like that again."

Hook brushed the hair out from her face and nodded.

"You can ride bareback, I assume?"

He went to the horses pulling Regina's carriage and quickly set about breaking the restraints holding them in place, letting two of them go.

"Hook," she whispered, "I don't know how long they're going to stay unconscious, we must -"

He grabbed her by the waist and lifted her up onto one of the remaining horses. She frowned at him - patronising git - as she swung her leg over the horse's back, and he mounted the other one.

Emma kicked her horse into a gallop - not the sort of pace that could be sustained, but a pace they needed right now - and Hook followed suit.

An hour passed without a word spoken by either of them. They came across a farm with horses grazing in a paddock and, without discussion, traded their worn-out mounts for fresh ones. Emma told herself silently that she would return the horses to these people when she no longer needed them.

Now they rode less desperately. It did not seem like Regina was coming after them just at the moment. She and Hook had crippled her carriage, and the soldiers had not had any other horses nearby. Emma was sure that by midday they would reach her parents' palace and be as safe as possible under the circumstances.

She nudged her horse closer to Hook and said, "What was she talking about?"

He looked at her and sighed. "I stole something she needed," he said, "and -"

"Stop that," she interrupted. "I want the full story, not the same vague bullshit you've been telling me since we met."

Hook fought off a smile. "It was her father's heart."

"What?" Emma asked, flabbergasted.

"It's a long story," he said, "one I'd rather not tell entirely - wouldn't want you to think badly of me -" he winked at her, and she looked away. "Suffice to say that she offered me assistance in exchange for my help with a - problem she was having. The Queen then attempted to betray me, and I retaliated by stealing her father's heart."

"Why that, of all things?"

He grimaced. "She needs it to cast a curse," he said with obvious reluctance, "a curse that will destroy the happiness of everyone in this land."

"The Dark Curse," Emma whispered. "You can't be serious. I thought she gave that up?"

Hook looked at her sharply. "What do you know about the curse?"

“Very little,” she said. “My parents didn’t much like to talk about it.”

Hook’s mouth twisted sourly. “Rightly so,” he said. “From what I gather, the curse will transport the entire kingdom to another world, wiping our memories of our lives here.”

“How is that possible?” she asked. “And what other worlds could there be?”

“I don’t know,” he answered. “The Queen isn’t exactly one for explaining herself.”

"Do you know why she didn't cast it then?" Emma asked.

"She never said outright," Hook said slowly. "But - I saw the way she doted on her father, and I know the curse required the heart of the thing she loves most as its final ingredient. Perhaps she couldn't bear to kill him then, and when she heard that Snow White had lost her child -"

Emma nodded. "So she's been planning to cast the curse now that her father is old and dying anyway," she said, "but you took his heart and so she was stopped?"

He hesitated.

"Hook?" she asked in a small voice.

"I told her," he said heavily. "I told her where I hid it, Emma. She'll cast the curse within a day, perhaps less."

She stared at him. "Why - why would you -?"

But she thought she knew why. She knew now what he had said to Regina when she had been in too much pain to listen. She knew why he might be willing to do something like that for her, and the thought terrified her more than Regina's hand around her heart had.

"We have to go to the queen at once," Emma told him. Killian opened his mouth but she barreled right over the top of him. "There's no time: we have to warn them of the curse."

He touched her shoulder and nodded. "I agree." But his voice was guarded and his eyes held misgivings.

"I won't let anyone hurt you," she insisted. "After everything you've done for me - no one will lay a hand on you, I swear."

He nodded again. "I believe you, Emma," he said, his voice still guarded. "But I don't see how you can protect me if you - if the queen still wishes to hang me, she is well within her power to do so."

"She won't," Emma promised. "You swore fealty to me, Hook, and that means I owe you all the protection I can offer."

"You’re quite sure the queen will listen to you?" he asked.

Emma nodded.

Killian smiled at her. "Then I trust you."

Despite the panic roaming through her, she smiled back.

Chapter Text

The sun had begun to set when Killian and Emma rode through the gates of the capital. Emma led the way through the streets to the castle.

There was hardly any light left when they rode into the castle's courtyard. Emma dismounted smoothly and handed her horse's reins off to a groom who had materialised at the sound of hooves. Killian followed suit, and Emma gestured for him to follow her.

She strode through the front doors of the castle, flinging them open with a crash. Servants and nobles wandering about turned to look at her in shock - not one of them recognised her. But of course, she had expected that.

A maid appeared by her side and curtsied. "Is there anything I can do for you, milady?"

"I need to speak to the queen at once," she said firmly. "Where is she?"

The maid stared at her, eyes round. "I-I'm afraid they've given orders not to be disturbed, mi-"

Emma interrupted her. "You won't get into trouble," she said kindly. "But this is urgent."

Before she could answer, a man appeared just as rapidly as the maid had and waved her away. She curtsied again and left. Emma turned to the man - she recognised him vaguely as one of her father's manservants.

"The king and queen have insisted that they be left alone," he told her coolly. "They will not be disturbed for any reason."

"Not even to see their long lost daughter?" Emma asked, with an equally cold smile.

The man's face froze for an instant, but his calm was soon restored. "We've already had several impostors attempt to fool the king and queen," he said tartly, "a ruffian like you will certainly not -"

Hook chuckled, and as if on cue a familiar voice called Emma's name. Red burst from the scattered clumps of people watching them, a smile splitting her face in two.

Emma was swept up in a laughing hug before Red pulled away to pinch her cheeks and loop their arms together. She led Emma away from the now speechless manservant, Hook following without a word.

"Where have you been?" she asked quietly as they climbed the stairs, far enough now from the observers to avoid eavesdropping. "Your parents have been worried sick."

"I assumed as much," Emma replied dryly, "from the early declaration of my existence."

Red smiled. "Everyone was so excited - well, not everyone," she said, "those nobles who thought they might have a shot at the throne are quite unhappy, but your parents plan to throw a ball in celebration of your safe return -"

"I'm afraid there will be no balls any time soon," Emma told her gravely. Red stared at her questioningly. Hook coughed, and Red turned her attention to him.

"Who is this?" she asked in a flirtatious tone. Hook smirked at her - Red might be approaching sixty, but she was still beautiful - and Red giggled.

Hook began to introduce himself, but Emma hastily cut him off. "There'll be time for that when we speak to my parents," she said.

"Ah yes," Red said, "they're in the library. Here."

Two soldiers stood outside the room, but they made no move to stop Red as she opened the door and the three of them went inside.

The library was a large room, full of towering bookcases and comfortable chairs. Emma had spent much of her free time in here as a child after she learned to read, both on her own and finding books for her parents to read to her.

Red led them through the library, weaving through the bookcases until they reached a pocket of couches sitting at the far end of the room. Snow and Charming were there, both listlessly holding books but paying no attention to them.

Emma ran to them the moment they came into view. Snow looked up, joy lighting her face. Charming followed suit as Snow stood and held out her arms for Emma.

The three hugged tightly, Snow compulsively smoothing down Emma's hair and muttering distractedly about baths and food and new clothes and the ball they would be holding that very night in honour of -

"Mother," Emma interrupted, "we bring bad news."

Her father looked past her to Red standing there with a smile and Hook, less than a pace behind her. Prince Charming frowned and asked, "Who is this?"

Emma and Snow both turned to look at Hook. His face was carefully blank, and Emma beckoned him closer.

"This -" she started, and realised she did not know what to say. "This is -"

"Killian Jones," said Hook with a hollow smile, and bowed with his arms outspread, his hook on full display.

Charming reached for the sword that usually hung from his belt and, upon discovering nothing there, quickly pushed Emma and Snow behind him.

"Father," Emma said, pushing her way forward until she stood between him and Hook, "do you really think I'd bring a man who might hurt any of us into the castle with no restraints?"

Charming eyed him disparagingly. Despite appearing at least twenty years older than Hook, he still seemed to think he could match him. "You're both wearing those enchanted cuffs you like so much," he pointed out.

"He is," Emma acknowledged, walking to Hook. She lifted his hand and removed the cuff, ignoring the disbelief that spread across his face as she did. "And now he is not."

"So you are the infamous Captain Hook, then?" Snow asked, looking at him considerately.

"Aye, that I am," he replied.

"I thought you went to take him prisoner," Snow said to Emma.

Her cheeks reddened slightly. "I did, yes. And I did just that, initially. But then -" She hesitated.

"Things have changed quite drastically since the lady Swan took me captive," Hook said.

"And that would be an understatement," Emma muttered. "We had all best sit down for this. Shall we adjourn to one of the private council rooms?"

Snow and Charming exchanged a look, and after a moment Snow nodded.

***

Ten minutes later, the five of them were seated around a circular table in a small room, its windows overlooking the ocean. Hook kept glancing towards it, and Emma wondered if he planned to run away.

"All right," Snow said briskly. "Tell us what happened, beginning with the ambush."

"You know about that?" Emma asked.

"Some of your group returned here after," Charming said. "They said you ordered them to run and they couldn't find you once the attackers were gone."

"Emma, you were only gone three days," Snow said, half-laughing. "We've gone far longer without hearing from you without worrying a bit. Without their message, we would've been none the wiser."

"Thank heavens you got them out safely," Red said softly, and Emma smiled thankfully at her before taking a deep breath to tell the whole story.

She left out a few important details, of course, such as their adventure in the river (explained simply as "we lost our captors") and the following naked bonding experiences (brushed over with a "Hook proved himself trustworthy"). She figured his stories were his to tell. Her parents and Red listened carefully, her father's mouth drawn tight and her mother's eyes worried throughout. Red seemed to be enjoying herself, though: she grinned knowingly every time Emma omitted something. And Hook, sitting next to her, said nothing.

When she reached the part about being caught by Regina, Snow gasped and said, "She didn't know you, did she?"

Emma shook her head. "Hook told her I was just some woman who captured him. But -"

She told this part in full, albeit with less emphasis on the torture and more on her accidental magic use. "It had to be magic, right?" she asked. Her parents' eyes were wide, Red matching their expressions exactly.

"I think," said Charming slowly, "that it must have been. But what magic could possibly be that strong? Regina is the most powerful sorceress in the lands."

"We will have to ask the Blue Fairy," Snow murmured.

Red nodded agreement. “I’ll go fetch her at once,” she said, standing.

Emma inclined her head and Red ran from the room, as light on her feet as she had been at twenty.

Snow directed her next question at Hook, not Emma. "But what was it that she wanted from you?"

"I stole her father's heart after she reneged on a deal we had made," he said casually. "She needed it to cast a rather cruel curse and, as such, was somewhat upset when I took the most important ingredient from her."

Charming reached for Snow's hand and held it tight. They looked utterly devastated - Emma had never seen her parents so upset.

"What is it?" she asked.

"The Dark Curse," Snow whispered. "She's finally going to cast it, isn't she?"

"Aye, as far as I know," Hook said. "I have little doubt that it will reach us by nightfall."

Snow sighed, and Emma asked, "Mother, what exactly is the Dark Curse?"

She shared a look with Charming, and addressed Hook. "You don't know?"

"Not the full story, I'm afraid," he said, "and I daresay half of what I think I know is wrong."

"Well, Emma," said Charming, "I suppose you more than anyone deserve to know."

"You know, of course," Snow said, "that the Evil Queen, Regina, swore she would destroy my happiness on the day of our wedding."

Emma nodded - she knew the vaguest basics of the story, but Hook most likely had no idea. After all, he had been in Neverland at the time.

"Well, we discovered not long after that she had found a curse which she planned to cast in order to get her revenge," Snow went on.

"Revenge for what, exactly?" Hook interrupted.

Snow smiled sadly. "She blames me for the death of the man she loved," she said, "and to a certain extent she is right."

Charming squeezed her hand and continued the story with a warning glance at Hook. "We spoke to Rumpelstiltskin, and -"

"You spoke to that demon?" Hook demanded, sitting upright. Charming glared at him, and Hook returned the stare fiercely. Emma touched Hook's arm placatingly, and the fury in his eyes abated somewhat.

She did not notice Snow giving them a considering look, nor the intensity of Charming's glare increasing at the simple touch.

"That demon, as you put it," Charming said frostily, "was our only source of information on a curse that threatened to destroy not only our lives, but those of the entire kingdom."

"Do you know where he is now?" Hook asked.

Emma touched his arm again and murmured, "Priorities." He barely glanced at her, but nodded slightly and leaned back in his chair.

Snow, still with that considering look on her face, took up the tale. "Rumpelstiltskin told us that the curse would erase our identities," she said, "taking us to a world without magic and destroying all of our happy endings. He said there was only one way to break the curse." She took a deep breath, but it was Charming who said it.

"Emma, you were - are, I suppose - the Saviour," he said, "our Saviour. The original curse had a loophole, that you would find us on your twenty eighth birthday and break the curse to save us all."

Emma's mouth fell open. No wonder they hadn't wanted to tell her about it.

"I have to save everyone?" she asked. Her parents nodded. "I have to do it alone?" she said, her voice cracking.

"That wasn't the original plan," Snow said hurriedly. "Gepetto built a wardrobe from an enchanted tree with the power to protect one person from the curse. At the time, I was still pregnant with you, so we planned for me to go through the wardrobe and protect you until it was time to break the curse."

"But this time I'll have to do it alone, won't I," Emma said. It was not a question, not really. She barely registered the identical looks of concern on everyone's face, including Hook's: she was too focused on settling the pounding of her heart and trying to ignore the ringing in her ears.

No one said anything for a moment. Emma tried to swallow past the lump in her throat and failed. "Why didn't she cast the curse back then?" Her voice felt like half-shattered glass but no one seemed to notice.

"Well," Snow said slowly, "I would say there were two things that stopped her. First off, as we know now, one of the ingredients of the curse was the heart of the thing she loved most. She's become more and more evil as the years have passed, but she always loved her father. I daresay she found herself unable to kill him when she needed to."

"And then," Charming said softly, "right when she was willing to go through with it regardless, she heard the false proclamation that our child had been stillborn."

Snow shrugged casually, but hurt was written all over her face. "She wanted me to suffer more than anything," she said, "and what suffering could be worse than losing a child?"

"The curse would have made us forget losing you," Charming told her, "and so we think Regina decided to let us stew in her misery and, in the process, found it harder and harder to kill her father."

"Until he fell ill," Hook interjected, and all eyes turned to him, "and Regina heard that a certain princess was not, in fact, dead," his eyes were fixed on Emma's face, "and decided that her curse could wait no longer."

"Then you are the only reason we have not already been overcome," Snow said. "For that, I thank you."

Hook inclined his head, looking away from Emma. "I acted purely in my own interest," he said. "I had no idea as to the overreaching consequences."

"Believe me, we know," Charming said wryly.

"What do I have to do, then?" Emma asked.

Silence descended once more, until Snow said gently, "Emma, look at me."

She looked unwillingly into her mother's eyes and Snow continued in the same tone, "Everything will be all right."

That voice was the one that had lulled her back to sleep after a nightmare as a child, had comforted her after skinned knees and burnt fingers and cruel words. It helped, but Emma was old enough now to know that a voice could not shield her from the world, not any more.

But she smiled, concealing her terror, wanting her parents to believe that she would be okay. To be entirely honest, Emma was on the verge of a breakdown - how could she possibly handle the burden of all those people's lives? Of restoring her own parents to themselves?

Her eyes flicked briefly to Hook. He was watching her again, his face unreadable, but she fancied she saw worry in the crease of his eyes, the corners of his mouth.

She realised abruptly that her parents had begun to speak again. "...the wardrobe will protect your memories," Charming was saying, "then all you have to do is find us and break the curse." He smiled at her. "Far easier than waiting twenty eight years in an unfamiliar land, hmm?"

She smiled back at him. "Indeed it is." But the smile did not last long. “Will I still have to wait for my twenty eighth birthday?” she asked. “I’m not even twenty five, Father, how am I supposed to last three years in an unknown land with no purpose?”

Charming hesitated.

“We don’t know,” Snow said. “We need to consult with the Blue Fairy. The rules may have changed, Emma. No one but Regina or perhaps Rumpelstiltskin could answer those questions.” She smiled at Emma, and Emma could not help but smile tremulously back. “Just do your best and everything will be all right.”

Charming reached out and took her hand in his free hand, linking the three of them together. “I’m sorry to put this kind of pressure on you,” he said gently. “We love you beyond belief, Emma, always remember that.” He smiled, and added, “Besides, finding people runs in the family.”

"Then there is nothing left to do but prepare for the curse," Snow said. "Charming and I will make the arrangements, Emma. We'll meet you in the nursery in half an hour."

Emma nodded as Snow rose to her feet. Charming followed her, but not without a preemptively harsh look at Hook, who offered an infuriatingly polite smirk in return, and a sweet smile for Emma.

And then it was just the two of them.

Chapter Text

With Charming and Snow gone, Emma was alone with Hook once again. She thought she could feel him watching her, but she couldn’t look at him. Instead Emma stood and went to one of the windows looking out over the palace grounds to the city below. "All my life I've been preparing to rule this place," she said softly, "and now -"

She heard Hook come to stand behind her. "Have you ever thought you had a destiny, something important to do," Emma asked, "then discovered halfway down the line that -"

"That fate had other plans?" he finished for her. "Aye, love, I have." He smiled at her. “More than once, in fact.”

Emma turned to face him, raising her eyes to meet his. To her surprise, looking at him made her less nervous, made her forget exactly what was coming.

"Why did you let me go?" he asked softly, raising his hand and flexing his fingers.

She shrugged. "You showed I could trust you," she answered. "Besides, the curse will no doubt have some... adverse effects on the link."

"I thought saving your life wasn't enough for you."

"No," she said, "but saving me from unimaginable pain by giving up the secret protecting you from death was."

The intensity of his eyes as they fixed on her made her want to - Emma stopped herself. Even now when she trusted him absolutely... it was too hard, she thought, too hard to want him and have him and give him up so quickly.

"What will you do?" he asked her.

"I don't know," she said helplessly. "All I know about breaking curses is that true love's kiss always works, but -"

She stopped herself again. That, of all things, was a dangerous topic right now.

Hook smiled at her, and said, "If true love's kiss is all you need, then surely all that's required of you is to reunite your parents once the curse is cast? They can handle the rest."

"I don't know if I can," she said before she could help it. "I just -"

"Emma," Hook said firmly. "Of course you can."

The absolute faith in his eyes bolstered her confidence. It was hard to disbelieve anything when he said it in a tone like that.

She smiled back at him and asked, "Do you think so?"

"I have yet to see you fail," he said, "at anything you seek to accomplish. Although I'm not sure how you'll do without me to help you."

Emma lifted her eyebrows challengingly, and Hook amended, "We make a good team, you and I."

"I suppose that's true," she said. "I never would have escaped the soldiers if not for you."

"Well you never would've been caught by them, would you?" Hook corrected. "Of course I never would've escaped without you either."

"I hardly did anything," Emma scoffed. "You did all the work."

"Right up until you lit the fire which saved us from hypothermia," he retorted.

"If I hadn't suggested we go in the river, we wouldn't have risked hypothermia in the first place!"

"Without the river we couldn't possibly have escaped," he reminded her.

Emma frowned. "I still feel guilty," she admitted.

"You shouldn't," he said gently, and smirked. "I quite enjoyed our time together."

Her frown faded as she fought not to blush. "I suppose I did too," she admitted. "But I got along just fine before you came along, Captain Jones, and I'll be quite all right without your help now."

He smiled softly at her and said quietly, "Good."

She realised how close together they had drawn, how she leaned towards him, how desperately she wanted to reach out and touch him. Instead she turned away, back to the view from the window, wishing they had more time.

"Don't worry, love," he said, standing so close that her skin tingled with anticipation of his touch. "Perhaps when the curse is broken you'll be able to return here and have the destiny you wanted."

Emma looked up at him, his face far too close, and found that she did not mind, not really. Would it really be so terrible? she wondered.

His arms went around her and Emma lifted a hand to touch his face, ran her fingers over the short dark stubble surrounding his mouth, lifted her face to his -

Alarm bells began to ring, loud and persistent. Emma and Hook jumped apart as if caught stealing, both blushing furiously, but no one came to the door.

"I suppose that's my cue," Emma said hastily, barely listening to Hook's nonsensically muttered agreements, and all but ran from the room.

As the door closed behind her, she realised she had forgotten something important. Hook looked up in surprise when she yanked the door back open. "Where will you go?" she asked.

He shrugged. "I don't have time to leave the castle," he said. "I daresay I'll go up to the battlements and watch." Bitterness filled his voice, and when he offered her a smile it was no sweeter.

"Don't go where I can't find you," she said abruptly.

Hook's eyebrows raised, his mouth opened a little, and he said in a low voice, "As you wish."

Emma smiled shakily at him, and ran.

She wasn't sure how much time was left, though she was sure she had been talking to Hook far less than half an hour, so - to be safe - she ran the whole way. Fortunately no one tried to stop her. Most people seemed to be trying to work out what the bells meant. Emma quickly realised that the bells were directed mainly at her, and wished fervently that they had an easier method of long-distance communication.

Hidden away in the most private wing of the castle, Emma's nursery was a room high in a tower warded heavily against all forms of magic. There were no mirrors. Snow had never allowed mirrors around Emma as a child. She had been ten years old before she saw her own reflection, and that was with her parents nowhere to be seen and Red nearby - but not within view - loudly calling her a different name.

She entered the room, still set out as it had been when she was a child. It was tidy, as it had rarely been then, but the same toy chests and furniture remained in the same places. The only difference was the large wooden wardrobe standing in the middle of the room, with Snow and Charming before it. Their backs were to her as they embraced, talking quietly.

Emma came forward and her parents turned to face her. "Hello," Snow said in a quavering voice.

Emma pulled both of her parents into a tight hug. Her father's hand cradled the back of her head and she could feel Snow shaking. The hug lasted a long time, and when she finally pulled away Snow's face was tearstained and Charming's eyes were wet.

"It's not forever," she told them, trying hard to be cheerful. "We'll be together again soon."

Snow hugged her again. "Be careful," she whispered. "We don't know exactly what's going to happen."

"Of course we do," Emma said softly. "I'm going to break the curse and we're going to get our lives back."

Charming smiled proudly at her and Snow did the same once she let go of Emma.

She walked over to the wardrobe, bending to peer in through the doors. "It's rather small, isn't it?" she said. She crouched down and climbed inside. It was not as cramped as it appeared from outside: although Emma had to pull her legs up against her chest, there was enough room for someone to sit comfortably next to her.

Snow and Charming bent down to look at her again. "We'll shut the doors," Charming said. "When the curse comes, it will sweep you away like everyone else, but your memories will remain intact." He hesitated, then continued, “We’ve had no word from Red or the Blue Fairy, so we can’t give you any further details, but…”

Emma nodded. “I think I’m as ready as I’ll ever be, then,” she said, trying hard not to let her voice quaver.

"We love you," Snow told her softly. "We'll miss you."

Emma smiled at her, trying to hold back tears. "I'll miss you too," she replied.

Charming closed the doors, and Emma heard her parents walk slowly away. The doors to the nursery opened and closed. Emma was alone.

At least, she thought she was alone. She was proven wrong when a sparkling blue light appeared above her head and floated down in front of her face. The light solidified into the Blue Fairy, someone Emma had never officially met but knew by sight.

"Hello, Emma," said the Blue Fairy. Emma realised she was gaping, and shut her mouth hurriedly.

"What -" she began, but the fairy interrupted her.

"There isn't much time," she said fervently. "Emma, the wardrobe's magic is enough to protect two people, not one."

Emma stared at her in shock. "What?"

"The creation of the wardrobe was complicated," the Blue Fairy explained, sounding guilty. "Gepetto said he would only do it - it's not important now. But Gepetto's bargain was rescinded with his death, so I can tell you now: Emma, you can take someone with you."

"But -"

"The curse is coming, Emma!" shouted the Blue Fairy. "If there is someone who can help you break it, you must find them at once!"

Emma all but broke the doors in her scramble to get out. She had to find Hook.

She sprinted flat out, heart pounding not only from the exertion. He said he would be on the battlements -

In no time she was there, climbing the last of the steps, heaving air into her lungs. She looked about frantically - there he was, standing against the wall.

Emma flung herself towards him. He turned, his eyes widening when he saw her. She grabbed his coat and for a moment it was all she could do to breathe, overcome with joy.

"You have to come," she gasped, trying to drag him away. He caught her arms and held her there, making her efforts all but useless. "Quickly, we can -"

"What are you doing here?" he hissed. Startled, she looked him in the eye.

"The wardrobe holds two," she said. "We can go together, Killian."

His eyes widened, and dread washed across his face. "Emma," he said, his voice leaden. "Emma, it's too late."

She refused to look, even when he pointed; she didn't want to look away from him, not when it would mean acknowledging that she had failed before she had even begun. "No," she whispered, and dragged him back towards the stairs, "we can make it -"

"Emma." He was gentle, now, trying not to scare her. "Emma, it's all right."

She looked, and saw a purple fog racing to engulf the castle. It spread rapidly over the city below, bulging upwards towards them.

"The Blue Fairy," Emma said haggardly, "she said you could come with me."

She looked at him, and did not see what she had expected. There was none of the hopelessness she could feel threatening to engulf her, no worry or dread, not any more. Hook smiled at her, and his face was full of the trust she had seen before.

"You don't need me to break the curse, Emma," he said softly. "You will succeed, memories or no memories, with or without me."

"Do you really believe that?" she asked.

"I do."

Emma fisted her hands tight in the lapels of his coat and pulled his mouth down to hers.

It was far, far better than she had imagined, far better than the drunken brush of her lips against the corner of his, far better than any other kiss she had experienced. His hand went immediately to her hair, cradling her head gently against his even as he kissed her with more passion than she had ever known. She kissed back just as fervently, desperate to have as much of him as she could take in the few moments they had left.

And more than the indescribable magnificence that was the mere physical sensation of his lips on hers was the glorious feeling welling up inside her, filling her chest with a lightness she had never felt before. She felt a familiar pulse, something she knew instinctively though she had never actually experienced it personally.

Momentarily distracted, she pulled her face away from Hook's and looked up. A gasp escaped. The fog had reached them, but a shimmering silver bubble of light enveloped her and Hook, protecting them.

She looked back at Hook, and saw him staring at her with open devotion in his eyes. Emma smiled at him, utterly elated.

"Emma," he said softly, running his fingers through her hair. "Emma, I -"

The bubble shrank around them. Only slightly, but noticeably.

"We don't have much longer, I think," she murmured, unable to wipe the smile from her face.

"Best not to waste it, then,” he said with a smirk.

Hook kissed her again and Emma lost herself in the feeling, barely even registering it when the fog swept over them.

Chapter Text

Her head pounded.

It’s too bright, she thought, trying to roll over. And what is making that infernal noise?

At last she brought herself on to her stomach, discovering in the process that she was not in bed as she had (stupidly) expected. She was outside, in a ditch, in the dirt, dressed in strange clothing and with no idea where she was. She looked up: there were birds chirping happily in the trees. She groaned.

“What the hell?” she muttered, slowly staggering to her feet. Lifting a hand to her head, she tried to remember how she had wound up here.

And there was nothing.

She opened her eyes and looked around. She was indeed in a ditch, albeit one by the side of what might be a stretch of highway, surrounded on all sides by forest. Moving slowly - her head was killing her - she clambered out of the ditch and up next to the road. There were no signs of civilisation (apart from the road) as far as she could see, so she picked a direction and started walking.

As she went, she did her best to remember something that might help her figure out where the hell she was. Unfortunately, the harder she tried, the more she realised that there was simply nothing there to be found.

“And here I thought amnesia was just a stupid plot device in action movies,” she muttered under her breath. Switching tack, she tried to see if there was anything, even the tiniest thing, that might spark some kind of memory.

“Where was I born?” she wondered aloud. “I don’t know,” she answered herself.

“How old am I? Still don’t know.”

“What’s my name?” she asked, beginning to worry. Kicking a rock next to her foot, she begin to grumble. “How does this even happen, anyway?” she argued (with herself). “Shouldn’t I be waking up in a hospital as opposed to in the middle of nowhere?”

She turned a curve in the road and saw a sign not too far ahead. Breaking into a jog, she moved closer. “Welcome to Storybrooke,” she read. “I guess civilisation can’t be too far, then.”

She turned to look back the way she had come. She could hear a car in the distance, so she moved off the road, and turned back to the sign. She blinked once, twice.

The sign was gone.

Frowning, she stomped up to where the sign had been and waved her hand furiously in its direction. “What the everlasting fuck,” she said loudly. “Am I going crazy?”

The car was getting louder. Emma sighed and moved out onto the road, preparing herself to flag it down.

A yellow bug careened around the corner and Emma began yelling and waving her arms. The car screeched to a halt and a scruffy man poked his head out, glaring angrily at her. “What the hell, man,” he yelled at her, “you can’t just stand in the middle of the road like that, son of a -”

“I’m sorry,” she interrupted, “I really am, but I’m lost and I don’t remember anything and I just need a lift, that’s all.”

The man scowled at her. “Where’re you headed?” he asked finally.

Emma shrugged. “No idea,” she said frankly. “I don’t even know my own -”

She stopped. “Emma,” she said, wondering. “My name is Emma.”

The man’s scowl slowly faded. “Neal,” he said. “Hop in, Emma.”

Chapter Text

“Come on, kid,” Emma called, “we’ve got places to be.”

Henry jumped off the swings and ran towards her. “Can’t we stay a little bit longer?” he asked pleadingly. “They just put in a merry-go-round!”

“I’m sorry, Henry,” she said, “but it’s getting late and we have a special night planned, remember?”

Henry sighed and for one stupid moment Emma wanted to give in. Then his eyes lit up again and he grabbed her hand. “Okay,” he declared, “but I get blow out the candles.”

“On my birthday cake?” Emma protested, leading him back to the car. “Nuh uh, kid, that’s the best part of a birthday.”

“Half an’ half?” he countered, climbing into the front seat and doing his seatbelt up.

“I’ll think about it,” Emma said, sliding into the driver’s seat. She frowned at her son. “Shouldn’t you be in the back seat?”

“Come on, Mom,” Henry protested, “I’m practically eight!”

“You’re not even seven yet,” Emma muttered, starting the car and reversing away.

“I’m almost seven,” he corrected primly, “and seven is almost eight.”

Emma grinned, not taking her eyes off the road. “Good to see your counting skills are progressing nicely.”

Henry laughed, an bright innocent sound, and Emma’s heart swelled.

***

“Happy birthday to you!” Henry sang tunelessly, the candles flickering in Emma’s face. Then he hurriedly drew in a deep breath and began blowing out candles at the same time as Emma, the two of them competing to see who could get the most.

“I win!” Henry declared triumphantly. Emma rolled her eyes, exaggerating for his benefit.

“Of course you do,” Emma huffed, “I let you win.”

Henry wrapped his arms around her neck, grinning wide. Emma couldn’t help but smile back.

Emma cut the cake and they both dug in. Licking the last bit of icing from his fork, Henry said, “Mom, how old are you?”

Emma finished her last bite and contemplated whether to have another piece, mind slowly ticking over. "How old do you think I am?"

He squinted at her. "Fifty seven?" he guessed.

Emma laughed. "Not quite."

"Forty four?"

She shrugged. “I actually don’t know,” she said. "If I had to guess I'd say I'm about thirty two by now? But I just don't know."

Henry frowned at her, confused. “What do you mean, you don’t know?” he asked.

Emma bit the inside of her cheek contemplatively. She’d never really tried to hide her past from her son, but then again it hadn’t ever come up before. Part of her thought that if he was old enough to ask about it, he was old enough to be told. The rest of her knew that telling him her story could easily open old wounds. She made up her mind.

“About a year before you were born is the first memory I have,” she told him. “I woke up by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know anything about my life before that day. The only thing I could remember was my name, and in the years since then nothing else has come back to me.”

Her son was staring avidly at her. “You really don’t remember anything at all?” he asked, awed. “How is that possible?”

Emma shrugged. “I could never really afford to see a doctor about it,” she replied, trying to sound casual. “Nothing terrible has happened since then, and nobody’s ever come looking for me, so I figure I can’t have been too important to anyone.”

“We should investigate!” Henry exclaimed. “Where did you wake up?”

Emma hesitated, but Henry was already running to the bookshelf to grab an atlas. Pulling it over, he opened it before her and waited expectantly.

Ignoring the first few pages and the inscription she knew by heart, Emma turned through it. Henry leaned up against her side, watching her flip, until she found the maps of Maine. She pointed. “Right there,” Emma told Henry, looking at her son with fondness. “See? Nothing around for miles. Nowhere to go, nothing to see.”

“What are you talking about?” Henry asked, sounding confused. He added his finger next to hers. “Right there, see, Storybrooke.”

Emma’s heart pounded. Turning back to the map, she peered in close next to her son’s finger.

He was right. Exactly where she had pointed was a town marked Storybrooke, a town that Emma would swear up and down had never been on that map before.

She thought back to the day she’d woken up on the side of the road, a sign that disappeared when she turned her back - a sign that welcomed her to Storybrooke…

“What’s the matter?” Henry asked her.

“That wasn’t there,” Emma said, her voice sounding strange to her own ears. “And the sign disappeared…”

Henry’s eyes lit up, and Emma groaned. “Henry,” she said, aggrieved, “we can’t go running off on some wild goose chase just because -”

“Not a wild goose chase,” Henry protested. “A holiday.”

Emma sighed.

***

Ever since Neal had left her in the lurch with a positive pregnancy test and a stolen yellow VW, Emma had found it hard to put down roots. Which turned out to be a good thing right now: Henry was quite insistent that they investigate the disappearing town with all due haste and Emma figured they might as well spend some time there. Only a week, she told herself. A week and then back to Boston so Henry could start school.

So they packed their bags, filled up the car and drove. Henry, for some unknown reason, had always been happy to go travelling with Emma, to meander around the country at a moment’s notice. He kept insisting that the more of the world they saw, the more likely it became that they would stumble upon an adventure like the ones in the stories she told him before bed each night. But Emma thought the time was coming soon when he would give up that desire - hopefully coinciding with the introduction of new people and friends other than his mother. The thought pained her slightly. Henry was all she had in the world, and some tiny fearful part of her said that he would leave her behind (just like Neal) if he had other people to turn to. But she knew in her heart that it was utterly ridiculous to think that way. Henry was more loving than she could ever have imagined. He had enough room in his heart for the whole world, villains and ruffians included. But he would still love Emma best, and that was all that mattered to her.

It was only a matter of hours to drive to Storybrooke from Boston. As they drew closer, Emma jumped after every corner they turned, half expecting to see that sign and then have it disappear on her again. Until finally, there it was - “Welcome to Storybrooke” - and it didn’t seem to be going anywhere.

“There it is!” Henry exclaimed excitedly. “Is this where you woke up?”

Emma nodded.

“Pull over!”

Emma did as he said, pulling up in the nook behind the sign. “Why?” she asked her son, frowning.

“We can start the investigation here,” he told her, undoing his seatbelt. “Right where it all began.”

He jumped out of the car before she could stop him. Emma rolled her eyes and followed him out.

“So where exactly were you?” Henry called, making his way along the road.

“It was nearly eight years ago, Henry,” Emma called back. “I don’t remember the exact details, I just woke up in a ditch by the side of the road not far from this sign.”

“But what if you dropped something?” he shouted, thoroughly examining the ground.

“Don’t go too far!”

Emma picked up the pace, following her son back the way they had come. “Why would something I dropped seven years ago still be here,” she grumbled. Sometimes she forgot that Henry was only six.

She caught up to him quickly and grabbed his hand. “Come on, kid,” she said, “let’s find a place to stay the night and get our stuff put away, we can start investigating tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Henry said. She put him in the back seat, buckling up his seatbelt and pressing a brief kiss to his forehead.

Something made her pause as she closed the door. Looking out into the forest, she thought back to those first moments of her remembered existence. This stretch of road did seem oddly familiar, but then again half of the drive there had been along similarly winding roads through dense forest. Emma honestly couldn’t remember the exact spot that she had woken up. Even if she did, she really didn’t think there’d be anything left. Still, it was nice to get away from the apartment for a while and Henry was enjoying himself.

“Mom?” Henry asked, and Emma saw him.

A man stood over the other side of the road amongst the trees, watching her. She couldn’t see him clearly. Just his dark hair and the leather jacket he wore. But even so, when her gaze met his, Emma felt as if gravity had lost its hold on her. For one awful, elated moment, she spiraled out of control, unaware of anything except the stranger and his eyes, fixed on her as she was fixed on him -

“Mom!”

Dazed, Emma turned back to the car. “Henry,” she said slowly.

“What’s the matter?” Henry asked anxiously, leaning through the window to look up at her.

Emma stuttered, not sure how to explain it. When she looked back out to the woods, the man was gone.

Chapter Text

After finding and checking in to what appeared to be the only inn in town, Emma took Henry for a walk through the town. At first glance, it seemed like a standard, picturesque small town. But before long she noticed something odd.

Everyone she saw was walking alone. There were no loved up couples walking hand-in-hand along the sidewalks, no long married partners getting coffee together, no soon-to-be divorced parents fighting as they walked home from dropping off the kids at school. It was completely unlike the culture of all the small towns Emma had ever visited. Everyone here was a stranger - not just to her, but to all the people around them.

Oh sure, some of them were acknowledging each other. Little waves, brief smiles, a quick hello... The people she saw did know one another. But there was no interaction beyond the bare minimum.

“Park!” Henry cried suddenly, wriggling against her firm grip on his hand. “Mom!”

“All right,” she said, letting him go. He was off like a shot and she followed, thinking hard. It wasn’t that unusual, she told herself, for people to want to be alone. Even in places famed for friendly, tight knit, zero privacy communities. But she couldn’t dismiss the idea that something was wrong here.

Emma had just stepped within the boundaries of the park - still a fair distance from the playground where Henry was already swinging across the monkey bars - when she collided with someone. “Sorry, sorry,” she murmured automatically, brushing herself off and looking up. The man inclined his head, looking shaken. After a moment, Emma noticed why. He walked with a cane.

“Oh,” she said, not quite sure what else to say. “Sorry.” She stuck a hand out. “I’m Emma.”

A change swept over the man’s face. His face was lean and haggard, his hair long and white but still neatly trimmed. “Emma,” he said, and she noted the tremor in his voice. He reached out to take her hand. Something about the way he stared at her - as if he were a shark and she a newly bleeding seal pup - made her hackles rise. “A pleasure. They call me Mr Gold.”

She shook his hand, fighting the urge to strike him. Fear bubbled in her gut but she pushed it down and made herself smile politely. “I should get going.”

“Is that your boy?” Gold asked, nodding towards the playground without breaking eye contact. Emma nodded, not wanting him to know anything she didn’t absolutely have to tell him.

Gold maintained the eye contact for a long, silent moment. Finally he smiled. “Planning to stay in our little town for long?”

“Just visiting,” Emma said tightly.

Gold nodded. “If you’re looking for something to fill the time, might want to head down to the sheriff’s station. I’m sure they could use a woman of your talents there.” And with that, he walked away from her.

Emma stared after him. She had a feeling that something entirely outside her world of experience had happened during their conversation. Emma didn’t enjoy that feeling. It made her vulnerable.

Shaking her head, she went to find Henry.

He was sitting on the swings, talking enthusiastically with one of the other parents there as Emma approached. A few other children were darting around, but the woman speaking to Henry wasn’t paying much attention to any of them.

“Hey, kid,” Emma called as she got closer. Henry turned and waved to her, still speaking to the woman. Emma caught her eye and was shocked by the open hostility she saw there - hostility that disappeared so quickly Emma would have sworn it was just her imagination.

“Hi Mom!” Henry exclaimed when Emma reached them. He waved at the woman. “This is Regina.”

Emma looked the other woman over. Her first thought was that this was not a woman to cross. She was older than Emma, though not by too much. She had chin length dark hair and dark eyes, framed by exceptionally long eyelashes. Her lips were full, Emma noted, but drawn together so as to make her seem constantly displeased. Only for a moment, though, and then Regina was smiling warmly at Emma - although it didn’t quite reach her eyes.

“Lovely to meet you,” Regina said, somehow managing to simultaneously convey genial warmth and ice cold anger. “You must be Henry’s mother.”

“She’s the mayor of Storybrooke,” Henry added.

Emma’s eyebrows rose.

“I’m Emma,” was all she said, once again offering a stranger her hand. Regina looked at her distastefully but accepted the handshake.

“A pleasure,” Regina said in a tone that implied it was anything but. When she looked at Henry, though, that steel veneer faded away to reveal soft eyes and an open smile rivaling any mother with her newborn. “Your son is a remarkable boy, Emma.”

Emma smiled down at Henry. At least she had one thing in common with this woman who seemed to hate her on sight.

“So what is it that brings you to Storybrooke?”

The change between the two Reginas was astounding. When she looked at Henry, she was all charm and bubbly laughter; when she spoke to Emma, she looked as if she was trying to scrape something unmentionable off her shoe. Emma stuck her hands in the back pockets of her jeans. “Just passing through,” she said. “We’re on a road trip, figured we could do with some small town TLC.”

“How sweet,” Regina said.

“So which one’s yours?” Emma asked, looking around at the other children roaming about.

Regina looked confused. “Sorry?”

“Which one of the kids is yours?” Emma clarified.

“None of them,” Regina said, eyes narrowing.

An awkward silence stretched between them. Emma wanted to apologise but she wasn’t sure why. What the hell was the mayor of the town doing at a children’s playground in the middle of the day if she had no children to supervise?

She glanced back to Regina and realised that she looked as uncomfortable as Emma felt. At last, they were interrupted - Regina’s phone was ringing. She smiled half-heartedly at Henry and said “Duty calls. It was lovely to meet you.”

Emma received only a brief nod of recognition before Regina stalked away, phone in hand. “I like her,” Henry declared. He turned to face Emma, eyes shining. “I think she’s very lonely though.”

Emma knelt down to Henry’s level, fiddling with his jacket. “Oh yeah? What makes you think that?”

“She wasn’t doing anything,” Henry whispered conspiratorially. “She was just watching the kids play. And she looked sad. Do you think maybe she had kids once?”

“I don’t know,” Emma replied. It would explain a lot. “Why did you talk to her, then?”

Henry shrugged. “She looked sad.”

Emma smiled and ruffled his hair. “Haven’t you learnt about stranger danger yet?” she asked playfully. “Come on, kid, get back to it.”

***

When Henry became tired of the playground, Emma walked him back towards the inn. They took turns pointing out the various shops on the main street to each other, but Emma was constantly wary. There were hardly any people around, and virtually no one was entering or leaving the buildings nearby.

She glanced up at the clocktower as they walked past and was surprised to see that it read 8:15. “That can’t be right,” she murmured, checking her watch. Either her watch or the clock was broken. And she was ninety percent sure that, given that it was mid-afternoon, it couldn’t possibly be past eight.

“I think the whole town is stopped,” Henry said, tugging her hand.

Emma wasn’t listening to him. She could see the police station from where they stood. Gold’s words ran through her head once again. She pulled Henry forward.

“Mom,” he complained. “Where are we going?”

“We’re gonna see if maybe the sheriff knows anything,” she said as they crossed the road. Letting go of his hand, she opened the door.

Two attractive men, both at least five years older than her, turned to look at them. “Can I help?” said the closer one.

Emma smiled, switching smoothly into work mode. “I think I’m a little lost,” she said self-deprecatingly. Henry stayed close to her side and said nothing. “We were looking for Granny’s inn?”

“It’s just around the corner,” one of them said, gesturing directions. “Up a little way and across the street.” He looked between the two of them. “Are you new in town?”

“Just stopped by on our way back home,” Emma said. “We’ve been on a road trip, haven’t we?” She ruffled Henry’s hair and moved forward, hands in her pockets. “So how’s it going for you guys? I hear small towns can be a haven for criminal activity.”

The two men glanced at each other. “Trust me, Storybrooke is the opposite of a haven for criminals,” the other one said, his accentIrish.

“Is it just the two of you then?” Emma asked, glancing casually around the station.

“Yeah,” said the first man. He stood and held out a hand to Emma. “I’m David, by the way. Deputy.”

Emma returned the handshake. “Emma. Bailbondsperson.”

The Irish man nodded formally to her. “Sheriff Graham at your service.”

“So I guess you catch criminals for a living too, huh?” David asked, crossing his arms and smiling warmly.

Emma shrugged. “I guess so,” she said. “In fact, if you needed a hand with anything -”

Graham laughed. “Trust me, Storybrooke isn’t nearly villainous enough for a bailbondsperson,” he said. “The worst we’ve experienced in the last few years was some kids shoplifting and a couple of missing persons.”

Emma raised an eyebrow. “I guess you won’t be needing me then,” she said. “Although I'd love to check over the missing persons reports if it’s not too much to ask.”

Graham’s half smile made her want to blush, but Emma resisted fiercely. “I suppose it can’t hurt,” he said, rifling through papers on a nearby desk. “Not that you’ll be staying long enough to track anyone down, I presume.”

“Not exactly,” Emma admitted. “Still, I can keep an eye out.”

“Thanks,” Graham said, handing her the haphazard pile of paperwork. Emma glanced over it, barely paying attention - Miles, Wagner, Jones - and grinned at the sheriff.

“Thank you,” she said. “I’m a bit of a workaholic, holidays tend to make me nervous.”

“Then you definitely wouldn’t do well here,” David said, sharing her grin. “Nothing ever really happens in Storybrooke.”

“Mom,” Henry complained, right on cue, and Emma’s heart twisted a little.

“I guess we’d better get going,” Emma said, stroking his hair. “Somebody needs to be in bed as of fifteen minutes ago but it’s not gonna happen easy.”

David and Graham both laughed and Emma lifted a hand in acknowledgment as they walked out of the station.

“There’s definitely something strange going on here,” Henry said, tilting his head up to look at her. A breeze swept past them and Emma pulled Henry tight against her side.

“What makes you say that?” Emma asked.

“First of all,” he said, holding up an authoritative finger, “they asked if we were new. This is a small town, sure, but how is it possible that they’re that confident about knowing every single person who lives here?”

Emma shrugged.

“And secondly,” Henry continued, “there’s only two of them.”

“You heard what they said,” Emma countered. “There’s just not much going on here.”

“Still, only two police officers for an entire town of a couple thousand people?” Henry asked. “That doesn’t make any sense. Something strange is happening in this town, and I think you’re a big part of it.”

Emma scoffed automatically. “I think that’s a bit of a stretch,” she said.

“Mom,” Henry started to interrupt. Emma shushed him.

“But I have a feeling like maybe you’re not wrong,” she said hesitantly. “Not that I think you're right, exactly, but -”

“I think we should talk to Regina again,” Henry said.

“Why?”

“She’s the mayor,” he said honestly. “Maybe she knows something.”

The very thought of speaking to that cold, forbidding woman again made Emma’s stomach turn. “We’ll see,” she said. “For now, let’s focus on dinner.”

Chapter Text

“So when are we going to Regina’s?” Henry asked next morning at breakfast, his mouth full of pancakes.

“Don’t speak with your mouth full,” Emma said automatically, passing him a napkin. “I don’t even know where Regina lives, Henry, how are we supposed to visit her?” She eyed him suspiciously. “Why do you want to see her so badly, anyway?”

Henry rolled his eyes. “We’re not going to her house,” he said as if it were obvious. “She’s the mayor, we’ll go to her office.” He shrugged. “I think she’s interesting.”

Emma watched him as he attacked his breakfast with fervor. “So what’s your theory then?” she asked. “What questions are you gonna ask the mayor?”

“I’m gonna ask why the clock tower’s broken,” he said.

“Don’t speak with your mouth full!”

Henry swallowed and cleared his throat obnoxiously. “Then don’t ask questions while my mouth’s full,” he said. “And I’m gonna ask her where she grew up.”

“Why does that matter?” Emma asked.

“Because I think she’s met you before.”

Emma snorted. “That’s impossible,” she said, “if she knew me, she would’ve said something when we met yesterday.”

“Not if she’s hiding something,” Henry pointed out. “Which she almost certainly is.”

“Well,” Emma said, deliberating, “if you’re that set on interrogating her, I guess we’d better get started early. Maybe she’ll be in a better mood today.”

“I doubt it,” Henry said. “I think you really pissed her off.”

“Language,” Emma warned.

“Sorry,” Henry muttered. “It’s true though.”

Emma pulled a few crumpled notes out of her pocket and left them to cover breakfast. A quick wave to the girl behind the counter and they were on their way. “So what, you think she knows who I am but she’s not saying anything cause she doesn’t like me?” Emma asked her son. Sometimes she wondered what it would be like to have a kid with a less precocious imagination.

“Exactly,” he said. “I wonder what you did?”

“Why don’t you ask her?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Henry scolded. “She’s not gonna say anything if we just ask her the big questions right off the bat. We have to start small.”

“Like with the clock tower?” Emma asked. “I don’t even know why you’re so interested.”

“It just seems important,” he said. “And that’s not where we start.”

Emma sighed. “So?”

They came to a stop outside the town hall. Emma knelt down to neaten Henry’s clothes as he said, “Ask her what there is to do in town.”

“That’s not the kind of thing you ask the mayor,” Emma pointed out.

“She won’t care,” Henry said. “I’ll distract her after. And you can go snoop.”

“I’m not going to snoop,” Emma said crossly. “How exactly do you plan to distract her?”

Henry grinned wide. “By being my cute self.”

“Don’t push your luck, kid,” she said, unable to stop herself grinning back. “I guess it’s now or never then.”

The town hall was a spacious but minimalist building. The walls were white, the floor immaculate, and Emma found herself shrinking in on herself to avoid intruding on the pristine space. Signs pointed them towards the mayor's office and, in lieu of any signs for a reception, they simply went straight in.

Regina was there, behind her desk, flicking through paperwork. She looked up, startled by their entry. "Henry?" she asked, focused on him. Her eyes went to Emma and her mouth thinned.

"Hi," Emma said, not sure where to start. She plastered a smile on her face, an automatic response in the face of danger thanks to years of conning everyone she met with her innocent little girl act. "We were just wondering if you'd mind giving us some tips on our tour of Storybrooke today."

"I wanna see everything," Henry chimed in. Regina smiled at him.

"We tried to find some sort of information booth or something but in the end, Henry was pretty eager to come say hello," Emma added. She didn't miss the way that Regina's eyes lit up at her words.

"Well," Regina hemmed. "It's not exactly part of the job description, but…"

"Did you grow up in Storybrooke?" Henry asked, moving forward to meet Regina. "And why doesn't the big clock ever change?"

Emma had to fight to stop herself rolling her eyes. So much for subtlety.

Surprisingly, though, Regina answered him without batting a eye. "No, I didn't grow up here," she said. "The clock's been broken for a long time, Henry."

He reached her side and gazed up at her. "Where did you grow up, then?" he asked curiously.

This time, Regina hesitated.

"Henry," Emma scolded.

Regina collected herself.

"A place a long way from here," she answered him. "You wouldn't know it."

At that, her eyes flickered to Emma and away, fast enough that she would've missed it entirely had she not been paying very close attention. Emma was almost beginning to believe Henry's theory.

"So, anything in Storybrooke we should definitely check out?" Emma asked.

"There's nothing particularly interesting for outsiders in our little town," Regina said, that cold false smile on her face. "I do recommend you stay out of the woods, though. Wouldn't want you getting lost up there."

Henry looked at his mother, but Emma was lost in thought. "Mom?" he said and she came rushing back to herself.

"We should really be going," Emma said, flustered. "Sorry for disturbing you, Madam Mayor."

"That's quite all right, Miss Swan," Regina answered. "But do try not to do it again."

"Bye, Regina," Henry said, waving to her as they left. Regina lifted a hand hesitantly, a tremulous but entirely real smile fluttering on her face for an instant.

"I told you she knows you," Henry hissed as they left the building.

"Hmm?" Emma said, still distracted. The man she'd seen in the woods when they'd first arrived had returned abruptly to her memory with Regina's warning, and now she couldn't get him out.

"She knows your name!" Henry said. "She called you Swan. How does she know?"

Emma slowly came to a stop as his words sank in. She replayed the last few moments in Regina's office and realised the gravity of the situation.

Dropping to the ground in front of Henry, she said seriously, "I didn't tell her my last name."

Henry nodded.

"Not even yesterday?"

Henry shook his head.

Emma thought, long and hard. "Maybe she looked up bailbondspersons from Boston," she suggested.

"Without knowing your last name?" Henry said.

"Maybe I told someone else and they told her," Emma said, but she knew she was grasping at straws. Henry was right.

"She knows you," Henry argued. "There's no other explanation. I bet you grew up together. She looked really weird when she said she lived far away."

"Why wouldn't she say anything?" Emma asked, standing back upright and moving along the sidewalk. "Seriously, what kind of person would run into someone that they used to know and not say anything?"

"I told you, she doesn't like you," Henry said. "Like, really doesn't like you. Or maybe she doesn't realise you've forgotten everything." His eyes lit up. "Maybe you guys robbed banks together and she's worried you'll blow her cover."

Emma laughed and cuffed Henry gently. "All right, calm down," she said.

"Maybe you sold her out to the cops!"

"How does a known bank robber become mayor of a sleepy town in Maine, hmm?"

"She obviously offered to sell out somebody even worse than you two," Henry conjectured, "so they put her in witness protection. And then she ran away from them, changed her name and came here."

Emma grinned at him, shaking her head.

"That's beside the point, though," he said. "So when are we going into the woods?"

Emma looked at him strangely. "Why would we do that?"

"Because Regina told us not to," Henry said, rolling his eyes at his mother's obliviousness. "So there has to be something there that she doesn't want us to see."

Emma shook her head again, suddenly very tired. "We'll talk about it later," she said. "Let's just go get something to eat."

Chapter Text

"Stop kicking your chair," Emma said sternly, "and finish eating already."

Henry glared mulishly at her.

Emma picked up her fork and waved it threateningly at him. "If you don't hurry up I'm gonna eat it all for you," she said, making mischievous gestures towards his plate.

Henry didn't respond.

Emma put the fork down. "What's the matter, kid?" she asked. "You haven't said a word all afternoon."

"Why should I talk to you?" Henry muttered. "It's not like you ever even listen to me."

Emma frowned. "Of course I'll listen."

"Then why won't you listen when I tell you there's something in the woods?"

Emma sighed, frustrated. "Look, Henry, this little adventure is all very well and good, but this isn't a game. Regina probably warned us to stay out of the woods because there's feral wild animals or something equally dangerous out there, and she doesn't want to have to deal with the paperwork of two idiot tourists getting themselves killed. So when I tell you to leave it, you need to listen."

Henry's chin sank onto his chest, his lower lip jutting out petulantly. He didn't answer her.

Emma fought the urge to sigh again. Henry was getting more and more sullen with each hour that passed since their talk with Regina. She wasn't sure exactly why her son was so fixated on the mysteries of Storybrooke but all Emma really wanted was to talk him down from the obsession so they could go home.

"Hey," she said gently. "Listen, let's go upstairs and get some sleep. We can talk more in the morning."

Henry ignored her. Emma struggled with the urge to roll her eyes.

***

"All right," Emma said, buttoning up Henry's pajamas while she went over their bedtime checklist. "Have you brushed your teeth?"

He nodded. "Will you read me a story?" he asked quietly.

"I'd like to," she said, "but I don't have any books."

Henry nodded again, subdued.

"I can go and ask the innkeeper," Emma offered, willing to do just about anything to stop him looking perpetually disappointed. He nodded and sat on the bed. "Wait here," she told him.

Trotting briskly down the stairs, she nearly ran into the innkeeper at the bottom.

"Ruby, right?" she asked. The other woman nodded. "Listen, I was wondering - kind of a long shot - do you have any children's books around the place? My son can't sleep," Emma said with a little shrug.

Ruby looked thoughtful, then shook her head. "I don't think so, no," she said apologetically. "Sorry."

Emma smiled ruefully. "Thanks anyway," she said, turning back towards the stairs.

"Wait," called a voice behind her. Emma swiveled abruptly to see an older woman, perhaps in her late thirties, looking at her. Her black hair was cropped close to her head in a pixie cut, a look that made her seem somehow more youthful. Her eyes were kind and warm. For a fleeting moment, Emma wanted to hug the woman, but thankfully the insanity passed over her quickly.

"I have something that might work," said the woman, smiling widely at her. Emma came forward, unable to stop herself smiling in return.

"Really?" she asked.

"Wait here," the woman said, brushing a hand over her shoulder for a brief moment in a show of solidarity. Emma's shoulder stayed warm where she had touched her.

The woman ducked out of the shop and returned minutes later - Emma anxiously checking her watch the whole time, wondering if Henry had given up - with a large brown book.

"I found it in my closet this morning," she explained, handing it over to Emma. "I was going to take it in for the kids at school - I teach elementary - but if you and your son would like to borrow it?"

"We'd love to," Emma said, tracing the words on the front cover: Once Upon a Time. She looked up into that warm smiling face and said, "Thank you, I don't -"

The woman waved dismissively. "It's nothing, honestly." She smiled brightly. "I'm Mary Margaret."

"Emma," she said. They shook hands and again, Emma was inexplicably warmed by her touch.

"You're staying at the inn, I take it?" Mary Margaret asked. Emma nodded. "How about I meet you here for breakfast, then? We can trade back if it doesn't cure your son's insomnia." She winked. "Money back guarantee."

Emma snorted. "That sounds wonderful," she said gratefully. "Seriously, thank you so much."

"Any time," Mary Margaret said, shrugging her purse over her shoulder. "See you in the morning!" She gave a little wave as she moved towards the door, and Emma returned the favour.

Emma turned back towards the stairs to see Ruby smiling at her. Emma shook her head. "Seriously, I always heard people from small towns were nice, but -"

"Believe me, not everyone's as nice as Mary Margaret," Ruby warned. "She's one of the sweetest people I've ever met."

Emma hugged the book close to her chest. "That's for sure," she said. "I'd better get back to Henry."

"Good night," Ruby said, and Emma echoed her as she went back upstairs to her son.

***

"Look what I found," Emma said proudly, dropping the book on Henry's bed with a thump. Henry looked up from the armchair he was slumped in, but still didn't move. "Come here," Emma said, gesturing.

Henry rose unwilling and came slowly towards her. Emma waved at the book. Henry shrugged unenthusiastically and climbed into the bed.

Emma pulled up a chair next to his bed and opened the book. "I suppose I didn't really find it," she said conspiratorially. "One of the women downstairs lent it to me. We're gonna have breakfast with her tomorrow."

"What is it, anyway?" Henry asked quietly.

Emma showed him the front cover again. "Fairy tales," she said. "But -"

Henry waited, but Emma didn't finish. She was leafing through the pages, frowning. "But?" he prodded.

"Not exactly the traditional stories," Emma said slowly. "And it keeps stopping and picking up other stories and then going back to the old ones?" Halfway through, she frowned. "Little Red Riding Hood is a werewolf?"

Henry's eyes lit up. "Read me that one!"

Emma smiled.

***

"'He wasn't the wolf,' Snow White told Red Riding Hood sadly," Emma read. "And as the horror of what she had done dawned on her, Red turned to her grandmother with pleading eyes."

"Why is Snow White in Red Riding Hood's story?" Henry interrupted.

Emma looked up. She'd become just as engrossed in the story as Henry had. "It might be a reference to another story called Snow White and Rose Red about two sisters and a bear," she said thoughtfully. "But this book just seems to be obsessed with Snow White, to be honest." Leaving a finger on the page as a temporary bookmark, Emma flicked through the pages. "Yeah: Snow White's in almost all of the stories in some capacity. Or Prince Charming."

Two thirds of the way through, something in one of the pictures caught her eye. It depicted Snow White holding her baby, Prince Charming by her side, sad smiles on both their faces. The baby was wrapped in a white baby blanket with a name emblazoned on it in purple.

"What is it?" Henry asked, leaning forward.

"They have a baby," Emma said, frowning at the drastic liberties the book had taken with the traditional tale. "Snow White and the Prince. And -"

"What?" Henry prompted impatiently. Emma didn't respond. Henry scrambled out from under the covers to see what Emma was looking at.

"Her name is Emma," she said. "Snow White and Prince Charming's daughter has my name."

Henry traced over the picture. "Keep going," he said. "I want to see what her story is."

Emma obeyed, turning the pages one by one. She only skimmed the text, mostly checking the pictures for updates. Then came a picture of the adult princess, and Henry shouted with glee.

Emma shushed him, glancing nervously at the door, but he wouldn't listen. "It's you, Mom!"

"That's ridiculous," Emma said, "it's just a book, Henry -"

She couldn't deny that there was a certain resemblance there. Princess Emma was fair-haired, like Emma, and they shared similar chins; but the picture hinted at a certain strength and resilience that Emma was certain she did not possess. Besides which, it was a book of fairy tales. But Henry wouldn't listen.

"See, it says they had to hide you from the Evil Queen," he was saying, reading the text next to the picture with a chubby finger to help. Emma took a moment to be proud of her son's reading skills before attempting once again to talk him down.

"Henry," she said gently. "I know it's a cool idea, but I can't possibly be a character from a book."

"What if they wrote the book about you?" he asked excitedly.

Emma sighed, glancing at the clock. Then did a double take, because - "Look, we'll talk about it in the morning," she said, "because as of an hour ago you should be asleep."

"But-"

"No buts," Emma said adamantly, taking the book away. "Time for bed."

Surprisingly, Henry stopped putting up a fight. Perhaps he was as tired as she was. Emma tucked him in and kissed his forehead, turned out the lights, then slipped between the covers of her own bed. Within minutes, she was peacefully asleep.

Henry, on the other hand, could not sleep. Trying hard to keep himself from fidgeting, he waited until he was absolutely sure that his mother was asleep, and then crept out from under the covers.

Somewhere in that book, he knew, lay the answers that they had been searching for.

Chapter Text

Emma awoke to the sound of birds chirping outside the window, the sunlight streaming over the sheets and onto Henry's bed. She stirred sleepily, mumbling wordlessly, still half-dreaming. The faint memory of her hand stroking through thick, dark hair lingered as her eyes fluttered open.

Henry's bed was empty.

Emma sat up straight, panic coursing through her veins, erasing the last flicker of her dream. "Henry?" she cried out.

Henry stirred from his place on the couch, Mary Margaret's book in his lap. "What?" he asked sleepily, rubbing his eyes.

Emma turned to face him, eyes wide. "What are you doing?" she asked, the adrenaline making her angry. She scrambled out of the bed and over to him, grabbing him by the shoulder. "You scared me!"

She hugged her son, Henry's arm coming up automatically to return the hug. "Sorry," he said, voice muffled by her shoulder.

Emma pulled back to look at him, then the book in his lap, then his unruffled pajamas. "What are you doing?" she asked incredulously. "Did you get up to read in the middle of the night?"

Henry winced. "Kind of?"

Emma scowled.

"But the book, Mom!" he said excitedly. "It really is you. But the Evil Queen cast a curse to make everyone forget and come here." He scrabbled through the pages, flicking urgently until he found the right one. A victorious finger stabbed at an image of the Princess Emma and a dark haired man kissing, purple clouds reaching out to envelop them. "Everybody else got fake memories, but yours didn't get replaced because of True Love's Kiss."

Emma stared at her son, anger fading away. A small part of her, the part that was normally drowned out by rationality, was fascinated not only by the story but by Henry's ability to believe in it. No matter how hard she tried, Emma simply couldn't bring herself to hope for such an easy answer. Easy in the sense that curses could be broken; that the memories she had lost could be magically restored; that she could have a family again without having to try at all.

Although she knew it was ridiculous and Henry would really only wind up more hurt if she let the delusion progress, Emma allowed herself to smile. "You really think I'm a princess?" she asked him.

Henry looked up from the book, eyes shining. "Yeah," he said seriously. "Now I just have to work out who everyone else is." He closed the book and pulled it upright in his lap. "It's hard to tell because most of the names have changed and the pictures aren't really that accurate."

"All right, we can get started on that today," Emma said, ruffling his hair. "Get dressed, we have to go meet Mary Margaret for breakfast."

***

Somehow Emma doubted that Mary Margaret would be getting her book back any time soon. Henry was loathe to let it leave his hands, let alone his sight, and Emma knew that if she tried to change that there would be hell to pay.

He kept it under his arm as they went down the stairs to the diner. Henry went straight to their usual booth and opened the book up again, flicking through pages and occasionally looking around at the other patrons. Emma went to the counter to order instead.

"I guess he wound up enjoying it after all," Ruby said with a smile. "Cocoa or coffee?"

"Coffee for me, cocoa for him," Emma said with a sigh. "Although he could definitely use the caffeine, if only he were ten years older."

Ruby raised her eyebrows.

"He stayed up way past his bed time reading the damn thing," Emma confided, and sighed again. "We're not gonna have a good day."

"I guess Mary Margaret won't be getting her book back," Ruby said, pouring the drinks.

"Trust me, he'd have a heart attack if she tried," Emma said. She grabbed the coffee mug Ruby slid towards her and drank half of it in a long gulp. "Thanks, Ruby."

"Breakfast is on its way," she said, smiling. Emma picked up Henry's mug and returned to their booth.

"Any progress?" she asked him, sliding into a seat. Henry pursed his lips.

"Not really," he said. "Although you should be on the lookout for a man who's missing his left hand."

"Why is that?" Emma asked. She took another long gulp from her mug.

"He's probably Captain Hook," Henry said absently, "your true love."

Emma nearly spat her drink out, choked, tried to swallow, choked again, then finally forced the coffee down her throat. Several hacking coughs later, she was able to say in a wheezing voice, "Captain Hook? Like Peter Pan? Wax moustache and a perm - that Captain Hook?" Emma vaguely remembered the picture of the princess - of her, according to Henry - and the dark haired man kissing, but -

Henry frowned disapprovingly at her. "Do you want some water?"

Emma nodded, trying to soothe her ruined throat.

Minutes later, after Henry fetched her a glass and a jug of water and Emma had drunk enough to make her feel vaguely human once more, she tried again. "Seriously Henry," she said, "Captain Hook?"

"He's not like in the Disney cartoon," Henry said impatiently. "He's more like in the book. He's handsome and nice. Once you guys get kidnapped, that is."

"Kidnapped?"

The bell at the door rang and Emma looked up. Mary Margaret had entered and was searching the diner for them. Emma waved.

Mary Margaret hurried over, unwinding the scarf from around her neck. "Hi," she said breathlessly, pulling a chair up to the end of their booth. "How are you?"

Emma grinned at her. "Not bad," she said. "What do you want?"

She waved a hand. "Ruby knows," she said, turning to look for her. Ruby caught her eye and nodded. Mary Margaret turned back to the table and returned Emma's smile. "There are advantages to living in a small town."

Henry was poring over the book again. "Henry," Emma said, "this is Mary Margaret. Why don't you thank her for lending you her book?"

"Oh, it's really nothing," Mary Margaret said quickly, blushing. "It's not really mine. I just found it."

Henry looked up and fixed his gaze on her. "So have you read the book?"

She hesitated. "I've skimmed through the pages," she said, "but no, I haven't really read it."

"Oh," Henry said, looking a little disappointed. "I was hoping you might know more about it."

Mary Margaret tilted her head to the side questioningly, glancing at Emma.

"I wonder who you are," Henry said, carefully examining Mary Margaret. He glanced back at the book and skipped a few pages.

Emma returned Mary Margaret's look apologetically. "Henry's very invested in the story book," she explained carefully. "He's matching everyone up to one of the characters."

"I see," Mary Margaret said. She crossed her arms and leaned forward on the table. "So who's who?"

"I haven't got very far," Henry said. "I'm pretty sure Regina is the Evil Queen though."

"What?" Emma exclaimed.

"That's why she doesn't like you," Henry said earnestly. "And why she's the mayor. She used to be queen, she cast the curse, she put herself in the most powerful position that she could. It makes sense."

"Henry," Emma said, glancing nervously at Mary Margaret, "she's not exactly nice, but evil?"

"Oh no," he said, waving a hand, "I think she's changed. She was really nice to me, she just doesn't like you."

"So who's Emma then?" Mary Margaret asked. Emma shot her a look, but Mary Margaret just shrugged.

"Snow White and Prince Charming's daughter," Henry said, showing Mary Margaret one of the pictures.

Mary Margaret raised her eyebrows. "Interesting," she mused. "Then who's Snow White?"

Henry looked at her speculatively. "I don't know," he said. "We haven't met many people around town just yet."

Ruby came with a plate of food and a coffee for Mary Margaret. "Who's Ruby?" Mary Margaret asked, touching her friend lightly on the arm. Ruby paused, looking quizzically at the group.

"Red Riding Hood," Henry said, flicking back through the pages and presenting an image of the girl in her eponymous cloak.

Ruby laughed, crossing her arms. "What makes you think that?" she asked.

Part of Emma wanted to stop them, the part of her that knew they were secretly mocking him, the part that distrusted anyone and everyone she had ever met. But she could see that Henry was enjoying himself and she did not have the heart to put an end to that.

"You work at Granny's," Henry explained, "as in Red Riding Hood's granny. And your name is Ruby, as in Red, as in -"

"Red Riding Hood," Ruby finished, still grinning. "That's cute, I like it."

She turned and went back to the counter. Mary Margaret was smiling too. "I always loved fairy tales as a kid," she said, resting her chin in her hand. "It's nice to hear stories affirming that good will always win out over evil."

"You might not like these, then," Emma said. "I'm pretty sure evil wins in the end. Right, Henry?"

Henry shrugged. "The Evil Queen casts the curse which takes away everybody's happy endings and sends them here to our world at the end of the book, yeah. But the story isn't over yet."

Mary Margaret glanced between Emma and Henry. "How do you think the story will end, then?" she asked carefully.

Emma's lips tightened.

"I think if we can convince Regina to reverse the curse, then everybody will be happy again," he said earnestly. "And my mom will -"

Emma shifted, glared at her son, and said loudly, "We'd better go, Henry, we have things to do."

Thankfully Mary Margaret didn't say anything. She just smiled and said, "It was lovely to meet you, Henry."

"It was nice to meet you too," Henry said, clutching the book to his chest. "Is it okay if I keep this a little while longer?" he asked unsurely.

Mary Margaret's smile grew. "I'll do you one better," she said. "It's yours."

Henry's face lit up and Emma couldn't help the corner of her mouth quirking up despite her best efforts. "Thank you!" he said.

"You're welcome," Mary Margaret said, leaning back in her chair.

Emma waved Henry on up the stairs to their room, but she paused a moment by Mary Margaret. Feeling just as unsure as her son, she placed her hand gently on Mary Margaret's shoulder. "Thank you," she said quietly. "It means a lot to him."

Mary Margaret covered her hand with one of her own, looking up at her. "It's really not a big deal," she said. "I just found the book in my closet one day. I don't even know where it came from."

Emma wanted to be surprised but she simply couldn't dredge up the feeling. She felt as if none of the weird things happening in this town could surprise her any more.

***

"So what do you wanna do today?" Emma called to Henry, still doing up her jeans.

"I want to find Captain Hook," Henry called back.

Emma went out to the living area, raising her eyebrows at him. "Really, kid?" she asked.

"I think if you escaped the curse somehow then he must've as well," he said eagerly. "So maybe he remembers something."

Emma sat down on the couch beside her son. "Henry," she said hesitantly, "you know all of this stuff - you know the whole fairy tale theory - you know it's a little -"

Henry looked at her, wide eyed and innocent. Emma bit her lip.

"It's a little hard to believe, that's all," she said. "There has to be a simpler, less extreme explanation."

Henry smiled at her pityingly. "It's okay, Mom," he said. "I think I know something which might help change your mind. Where's all the stuff you got from the Sheriff?"

"On the dresser," Emma said, gesturing. "But - "

Henry shushed her insistently and went to the dresser. He returned with his hands full of papers and spread them out over the coffee table in front of them. Then he began scanning over the sheafs intently. Emma watched quietly as he flicked through the pages, mouthing words to himself occasionally.

"Aha," he said victoriously after a few minutes. He grabbed one of the papers and pushed it over to Emma. "There."

"Killian Jones," Emma read, glancing over the page. Her heart nearly stopped when she saw the image of him. Small, black and white, and grainy as it was, she recognised him. It was the man she'd seen in the woods when they'd first arrived in Storybrooke.

"Also known as Captain Hook," Henry said smugly. He pointed to the section describing the man; he was missing his left hand.

Emma shared a look with Henry, then read the entire missing person's notice in full.

"He was last seen heading out into the woods," Henry pointed out. "And I know you recognise him, so -"

"It's not what you think," Emma interrupted. "I don't know this man. I just - he was in the woods when we first came here. He was watching us."

"Mom!" Henry exclaimed, bouncing on the couch. "He must've recognised you!"

"Okay, Henry," Emma said firmly, trying to catch hold of him, "stop. Stop!"

Henry stopped bouncing but began to jiggle impatiently from side to side.

"Look, kid," she said, "I love the ideas you've got going on. But you have to admit, it's a little far-fetched."

"You just think that because you only remember this world," Henry said, "where there's no magic and anybody who says otherwise is making it up."

"But -" Emma hesitated.

"But what?" he prodded.

"Well," she said, "it's just - it's kind of crazy."

Emma immediately regretted saying it, but it was too late. Henry's face fell.

"You think I'm crazy?" he asked in a small voice.

"Henry," Emma said, reaching out for him, but he sprang up and moved away from her. He shoved the book in his backpack and zipped it up. "Henry, I'm sorry, I really am," she said. He didn't respond. "I didn't mean it like that."

Henry shrugged, stroking the fabric of his backpack.

Emma moved slowly to crouch next to him, careful not to touch him. "What can I do to make it up to you?" she asked softly.

Henry was quiet for a very long time. Emma tried hard to be patient.

"Can we get ice cream?" he asked in a small voice.

Emma smiled, trying not to be too eager. "Of course!" she said. "I just need to finish getting ready. Give me a minute?"

Henry nodded. Emma jumped up and went to the bathroom, toweling the last drops of moisture from her hair and running her brush through it as quickly as she dared. She slapped some moisturiser on her face, smoothing it over her cheekbones and underneath her eyes, then ran back out to the living room to grab her boots and her jacket.

"Come on, Henry," she called, furiously tugging her shoes on.

She looked up, only vaguely surprised at the continued silent treatment, and froze when she realised he was gone.

Chapter Text

"Ruby," Emma called, rushing down the stairs, "Ruby, where are you?"

"Emma?"

Ruby poked her head around the corner, eyeing her curiously. "What's up?" she asked.

"Have you seen Henry?" Emma asked. She fixed her gaze on Ruby, tapping her foot impatiently.

"Not since breakfast with you," she answered. "Is something wrong?"

Emma lowered her voice. "I think he's run off," she said, nervously winding a wisp of hair around her finger. "I don't know where he is." She tried hard not to think about her son wandering, lost and alone, through an unfamiliar town.

"Oh my god," Ruby said, raising a hand to her mouth. "Should I ask around? Put the word out?"

"No," Emma said automatically, before thinking better of it. "Maybe? I don't want to alarm anyone - he's just upset with me, I really don't think he's gone far."

"I'll ask if anyone's seen him," Ruby said, giving her a small smile. "But we might leave out search parties for a little while."

Emma smiled faintly back and followed her out to the front of the diner. Mary Margaret was still there, sipping a cup of coffee. At the look on Emma's face, she immediately put it down and rose to meet her.

"Is everything all right?" she said, searching Emma and Ruby's faces.

Emma glanced around and lowered her voice. "Henry's run off."

Mary Margaret raised an eyebrow. "I saw him go out a second ago," she said. "He said you were meeting him somewhere."

"Tell me exactly what he said," Emma said, keenly aware of each moment trickling past her.

Mary Margaret shrugged. "That's it," she said. "He said you would know where to find him."

Emma stared at her, feeling hollow inside. Then it hit her.

"The woods," she said, horror replacing the hollowness. "He's gone to the woods."

"Why would he go there?" Mary Margaret asked curiously. "There's nothing special in the woods."

"He thinks there is," Emma said. "I need to go after him."

"I can drive you," Mary Margaret said.

"I'll give you my hiking gear," Ruby said, disappearing out the back.

Mary Margaret quickly mainlined the rest of her coffee and wiped her lips clear with the back of her hand. Ruby reappeared moments later with a backpack.

"Here," she said, shoving it towards Emma. "Water, trail mix, a compass, maps. Try not to stay out too long, though, it won't last you more than a few hours. The end of the day at best, if you stretch it."

"Thanks," Emma said, gripping it tight.

Mary Margaret led her out of the diner to her car. "I don't know the woods very well," she said, "otherwise I'd be coming with you."

"At least there'll be somebody here to call the sheriff when I inevitably go missing," Emma murmured, half hoping Mary Margaret would laugh.

All she got was a slightly concerned look.

A few minutes later, they pulled up near an overgrown walking trail not far from a pawn shop. "This is the closest hiking trail to Granny's," Mary Margaret said. "Odds are, if that's where he is, this is the path he took."

Emma nodded, sliding out of the car and pulling Ruby's backpack on. She was glad of her sturdy boots and leather jacket, albeit a little less glad of her lack of hair ties. "Thanks," she said. "I'll call you if I need anything, but if I'm not back by nightfall -"

"I'll assume the worst," Mary Margaret said, smiling at her. "Good luck."

Emma nodded again, taking a deep breath to bolster herself. Then she turned away from the car and walked into the woods.

It was slow going at first. Emma's body was having trouble remembering what it was like to walk along unreliable paths, following the rise and fall of the earth, through trees and bushes that did not care where you wanted to be walking.

Not that she had ever been one for this sort of thing. Emma had always preferred pounding the pavement to wandering the woods, but desperate times called for desperate measures.

She wound her way along the faded dirt path, occasionally calling for Henry. There was no response, not even the sound of her own voice echoing back to her. Which didn't entirely make sense: Henry was certainly intrepid, but a six year old couldn't have gotten far on foot, alone, with no idea where he was or where he was going.

Emma was so caught up in her thoughts that she didn't notice the ground climbing steadily up beneath her feet for far too long. It was only when she paused for a moment, after at least an hour, to catch her breath and take a sip of water that she looked down and noticed the slope pitching down away from her.

Now she was really beginning to worry. She had no idea how Henry could possibly have made it this far without help. What if she had it wrong? What if he'd just gone down to the ice cream shop and she was just overreacting?

The hint of dirt path she'd been following faded away into the undergrowth. Emma looked ahead, but couldn't see where it picked back up again. Turning in a circle, she searched without luck for the remainder of the path.

"Henry!" she cried, desperation filling her lungs and propelling her cry out into the woods. "Where are you?"

She strained her ears for a response, hoping against hope, but there was still nothing.

And then, the faintest of cries reached her ears.

"Henry?" she called again, rising on to her toes with eagerness.

The call came once more and Emma whirled towards it, bursting into a run.

She kept calling for him as she ran to orient herself. And each time his call returned a little louder her heart leapt. Until, in a poorly timed leap of her own, Emma landed wrong and tumbled ungainly over the lip of a ridge.

For a moment, she lay there, dazed. She could hear Henry approaching, and only that gave her the willpower to pull herself up. When she tested her right leg, however, sharp pain jabbed through her calf. She winced and grabbed onto the very ridge that had caused her downfall just moments ago.

"Henry?" she called, testing her foot again.

"Emma?"

Emma froze. That wasn't her son. All of a sudden, she wished she had a weapon on hand.

She stayed quiet, limping gently away from the spot where she'd fallen.

"Emma!"

That was getting far too close for her liking. Emma cursed herself silently for not paying closer attention to the voice responding to her.

"Emma, wait!"

The voice was English, Emma noted detachedly, still trying to hobble quietly into a semblance of a hiding place. English, and adult, and male.

"Emma?"

She froze. It was too late.

Leaning heavily on the closest tree, Emma turned to face her pursuer, and recognised the man from her first night in Storybrooke. The man whose eyes had made her lose touch with reality. She steadfastly avoided looking at them now, for fear of a repeat occurrence. Instead she took in his well worn boots and jeans, his black leather jacket, and the shirt that exposed far too much of his chest for Emma's comfort.

"You're hurt," he said, coming towards her. Emma flinched backwards and he stopped.

"Sorry," he said, a half smile appearing on his face. "I should introduce myself."

Emma watched him warily.

"Killian," he said, offering a hand. His only hand, she noticed. And suddenly it made sense.

"Where's Henry?" she asked.

"I took him to my house," Killian said, his hand still extended.

"And where is that?" Emma asked suspiciously.

"It's close by, up in the hills," he said. "I can take you to him."

"No offense," she said, her eyes lingering on his bared collarbone (in lieu of those dangerous eyes, she told herself), "but I'm not exactly inclined to trusting strangers."

He grinned. "Henry did tell me you might say that," he said. "He also told me you'd get over it on the off chance of finding him."

Emma worried her lower lip between her teeth for an instant. "He might have been right about that," she allowed. "I think I'm gonna need a hand, though."

"Unluckily for you, I only have the one," Killian said, "and I'm afraid I simply can't spare it."

Emma finally met his eyes and her breath caught in her throat. It wasn't quite the dizzying, reality-warping experience it had been the first time, but nevertheless Emma was thrown entirely off balance. He was still smiling warmly at her and she let herself smile back, just for a moment.

"All right," she sighed, waving him over, "let's go."

Killian came towards her, taking the backpack from her and slinging it easily over his shoulder before sliding one arm around her back. Her arm went over his shoulders and she huffed as she took a few experimental hops. She tried hard to think of her son, alone in a stranger's house, and not Killian's hand on her waist.

"So how far is it?" she asked, leaning against him as they slowly stuttered forward.

"I would say not far," he said, "but I'd be lying. With you like this? It'll be a fair while."

Emma sighed. "But Henry's okay, right?"

"Aye," he said. "I found the lad wandering around not far from here. He was -"

Emma waited, but Killian seemed unable to speak. "He was?" she prompted.

"He was calling my name," Killian said, utterly perplexed. "Which is odd, since I've never met him before in my life. Or you, for that matter."

Emma's heart thumped. That was one mystery of a sort solved, then. For a single brief moment, she had thought that maybe Henry was right: that he had found Captain Hook hiding out in the woods, and he had come running to find her, not because he had heard her calling for her son but because he remembered her from another land.

Which was utterly ridiculous, of course.

"Yeah," Emma said casually, "he's always been a bit of a weird kid."

"No offense," Killian said diplomatically, "but 'a bit weird' hardly begins to -"

"Look, there was a missing persons out for you in town," Emma said. "I guess he got a little fixated."

Killian raised an eyebrow. "Does your son often go off without you in search of strangers?"

"I'd really rather not talk about my son right now," Emma said firmly. "I just want to see him and know that he is all right."

"Of course he's all right," Killian said, sounding insulted. "I don't think he was here for long before I found him."

Emma was having a hard time concentrating on her clumsy hopping walk with the dual distractions of conversation and Killian's touch, so she simply didn't respond. It was crazy that a stranger could have this kind of effect on her. Part of her wanted desperately to believe that maybe Henry was right, that this man was her true love, that they had met before and found each other because their souls had reached out and drawn them back to one another. But she was utterly convinced that there was no possibility of that, not for her. Maybe not for anyone.

Still, she kept returning to the look in his eyes as he gazed at her across the road -

"Wait," she panted, pulling him to a stop. "I wanted to ask you something."

She unzipped the backpack and, withdrawing a water bottle, took a long hard swig from it. Killian waited patiently.

"We've never met before," she said. "Right?"

"Of course not," he said. "I would have remembered someone like you."

Emma searched his face for sleaze and found only sincerity. "Then you don't remember me from the other night?"

His eyebrow raised quizzically.

"On the road," she said. "I was in the yellow bug."

Realisation crossed his face. "Oh," he said softly. "Yes. That, I remember."

Emma wanted to ask if he had experienced what she had - if he had felt the earth spinning away beneath his feet and not cared at all because her gaze anchored him, regardless of where he was - but she simply couldn't find the words. From the look on his face, though, it seemed like maybe he had. But then again -

"It was hardly a proper meeting, though," Killian said, interrupting her thoughts. "It's not as if we introduced ourselves. We didn't even speak."

No, she thought. We just saw into each other's souls, that's all. Hardly a proper meeting.

She opened her mouth, struggling to think of a way to ask without asking, then gave up. She wasn't going to open herself up like that when it was so clear that he hadn't felt what she had.

"We should keep going," she muttered, taking a small hop closer to him. She steadied herself against him, ignoring the way he was looking at her, and yelped when he swung her up into his arms. "Put me down," she demanded immediately.

"It's really not far now," he said blithely, seeming unconcerned by the weight of her. "We'll be back with Henry much faster if you let me carry you."

Begrudgingly, Emma put her arm around his neck. "It's not even that bad," she grumbled. "I just need to not walk for a few hours, and -"

"I have bandages and ice in the cottage," he said. "We'll have you shipshape in no time."

Unfortunately for Emma's ego, Killian was right. Less than ten minutes later he placed her safely back on the ground and nodded through the trees. She turned and saw a tiny cottage, made of rough but well-fashioned wood, sitting in the midst of a small clearing. "Henry?" she called, limping forward. She was grateful that Killian hadn't insisted on carrying her into his home.

"Mom?"

Henry appeared at the door of the cottage and Emma did her best to run to him. "Henry!"

She fell to her knees and grabbed him in her arms, hugging the life out of him. "Don't you ever do that again!"

He hugged her back, arms tight around her neck. "I'm sorry," he said, voice muffled by her hair. "I won't, I promise."

Killian cleared his throat. "Perhaps we could move the joyful reunion inside," he suggested. "Emma, we need to see to your leg."

Henry pulled back, concerned. "Did you get hurt?"

"It's nothing," Emma said, rising back to her feet and ignoring the new dirt stains on the knees of her jeans.

"Still," Killian said, herding the pair inside. "Better safe than sorry."

Killian was a very good herder, it turned out. Emma didn't even have time to take in her new surroundings before she was seated on the couch, her boot off and her foot resting on a pillow on the coffee table in front of her. Henry sat beside her, looking stricken, as Killian retrieved his first aid kit.

She took advantage of the lull to look around. The house was small and sparsely decorated. Earthy tones were everywhere - the rugs were brown and yellow and red, the couch orange, the walls a warm vermilion. Quite the opposite of what she had expected. Emma has almost assumed the room would be full of blues and greens to complement Killian’s exceptional eyes.

Virtually everything was in one room. A small kitchen consisted of a tiny fridge, a sink, and what appeared to be a wood fire stove. A small circular table with two rickety chairs separated the kitchen and the living area, which seemed to include the couch, the coffee table, and a chest of drawers. A single bed was in the corner and the only door (apart from the one they had entered through) led, no doubt, to the bathroom. The only thing which did not fit, as far as Emma could tell, was a painting of a sailing ship sitting directly over the bed.

"I'm so sorry, Mom," Henry said, holding tightly to her hand.

"You should be," Emma said sternly.

"I didn't mean for you to get hurt!"

Emma tugged him closer to her, putting her arm over his shoulders. "Not for that," she said. "I don't care how upset you get, running away never solves anything." Her voice softening, she added, "And I'm sorry too."

Henry hugged her again, his head resting against her. She was grateful to him, for not bringing up their fight in front of a stranger, for not pointing out that he had been right about one thing - about one handed Killian, his imaginary Captain Hook, found exactly where Henry had known he would be. But she was trying not to think about that. Emma didn't know what scared her more: the thought that Henry could be right about the curse and the fairy tales and her life, or the thought that he was wrong and they were both just going crazy.

Killian knelt by her foot, the first aid kit open on the coffee table next to her pillow. Emma tried not to think about how terrible her foot probably smelled right now and instead said, "So what's the verdict, doc?"

He glanced at her, amused. A shiver ran up her spine. "Do you mind?" he asked, raising his hand above her ankle. She nodded. He touched her gently, sending more shivers up her spine, and said, "Definitely a little swollen. Tell me if it hurts." He pressed gently and looked at her inquiringly. Emma shook her head.

"It's not tender," she said. "Just hurt when I was walking."

He shrugged. "Should be fine, then," he said. He produced an ice pack and applied it to her ankle. "Still, you should keep still for a little while."

Killian smiled at her, full of genuine cheer and a hint of wickedness. Emma lifted a hand to the necklace Neal had given her, long ago, and forced herself to block out that smile and remember only the sting of betrayal.

Chapter Text

"Hate to say I told you so," Henry said smugly, not seconds after Killian left the cabin muttering about firewood. Emma scowled at her son.

"Told me what, exactly?" she asked. "I see no proof of anything."

"Oh really?" he challenged. "So a man matching the description of the true love of your fairytale twin living in the woods where Regina told us not to go, just like I said, is just a coincidence?"

Emma sighed, lifting a hand to rub her temples. "Henry, honestly, I get that it's a little weird, but -"

"And you like him, too," Henry accused. "I can tell."

"I do not," she said, offended.

A sly smile stole across Henry's face. "Well," he said, casually, "he certainly likes you."

"He does not," Emma said, outraged.

Henry rolled his eyes. "Mom," he complained, and butted his head against her arm. "Why won't you just believe me?"

Emma stroked his hair. "Maybe you should get some rest, kiddo," she said gently. "You need sleep."

Henry continued grumbling even as he put his head in her lap and stretched out on the couch next to her. He looked so small. Protectiveness swelled in her throat.

The door opened and Emma flinched.

"Sorry," Killian said quietly. Nodding in Henry's direction, he asked, "Sleeping?"

Emma nodded, still stroking his hair. "He didn't sleep much last night," she said, keeping her voice low.

It was quiet in Killian's cabin. No background street noise, no music, no humming of electronics. It unnerved Emma a little - she was a city girl at heart. The silence of the woods was alien to her.

"He's that upset?"

"Not exactly."

Killian raised an eyebrow at her, leaning against the wall opposite her. She had to admit (to herself, and none other) that he was the most attractive man she'd ever seen. The lithe, sinuous lines of him, the striking jawline, the shadow of stubble, the piercing blue eyes. And those soft, full lips, with that sonorous English voice? Of course Emma liked him. Maybe liked him a little too much. But she wasn't going to let him get to her, and that was what counted.

"Well," he said, still quiet, and Emma's heart fluttered at his concern for her son, "you'd best both be getting comfortable. You'll be here a while."

Emma shifted, every nerve in her body suddenly alert. "What?"

"Storm's coming," he said, nodding his head towards the window. Emma turned and saw that he was right. Although the sun still shone upon the house, in the distance she could see dark clouds massing. "And you won't be walking out of here until it's daylight again."

As much as Emma wanted to protest, she couldn't argue with common sense. "I don't really think we could find our way out again anyway," she said. "I'm hopeless out here in the country."

Killian's brow creased. "Strange," he said. "I had you pinned for the woodsy type."

Emma laughed, and Henry stirred a little. She hastily smoothed down his hair and he quieted. "Not at all," she said, still smiling. "I've only been out in the woods once before - "

She stopped herself. What was she doing? Tall dark and handsome batted his eyelashes and she turned into a babbling bird, cooing on cue? She shook her head angrily, her hair falling down into a curtain that hid her face from him. She could still feel his eyes on her but it helped, somehow.

"So what are you doing out here now?" he asked.

"I was looking for Henry," she said.

"And what was a little boy doing out here on his own?" Killian prodded.

"Look," she spat, whirling on him with the full force of her fury (abetted only somewhat by Henry's head in her lap), "you don't get to judge me, all right?"

Killian's eyes widened. "I would never," he said, his voice low. "Emma, I'm truly sorry I've upset you. I swear, I didn't mean it like that. I just - "

They looked at each other in silence for a moment. Then he said, in a lighter tone, "Would you like to play cards?"

Emma blinked at him.

"I'm afraid there's not much to do up here," he said, smiling. "No TV or computer, or phone reception," he added, as Emma reached for her pocket reflexively. "Just a couple of old board games and my trusty deck of cards."

"What do you do for fun, then?" she asked.

Killian shrugged. "Not much," he said. "Mostly I'm too busy working."

Emma raised an eyebrow. "You have a job?"

Killian laughed a little, rummaging through drawers in his kitchen. "Not quite," he said. "I work. It's quite different."

"Ah yes," Emma said, "because those of us who live in the real world just turn up, get paid and head home."

He brought the deck of cards over and pulled up an ottoman so he could sit next to the coffee table, across from her. "Again, not what I meant," he said. "I very rarely go into town, so whatever I need, I grow or find or make myself. And I do it out here, in the woods, with nobody coddling me."

Emma's hand curled protectively over her son. If this stranger thought she'd ever been coddled in her life -

Killian saw the look on her face and tilted his head back, huffing a frustrated sigh. Emma tried not to watch the line of his throat as he swallowed. "Must you misinterpret everything I say?" he asked, aggravated.

"Maybe if you were better at communication we wouldn't have this problem," Emma said, smiling tightly to avoid scowling.

He sighed. "I must admit, my people skills are rusty to say the least. I haven't spoken to anyone but myself in years."

Curiosity finally getting the better of her, Emma leaned forward a little, careful not to squash her son. "How many years?"

Killian squinted into the distance, brow furrowed. "I honestly can't say," he said absently. "A long time. As long as I remember." The line between his eyebrows creased further and he added, "In fact, I think I may be long overdue for a trip down to Storybrooke."

"Well," said Emma archly, "you'll have to come with us tomorrow."

He smirked at her. "Someone's eager to see more of me," he said, waggling his eyebrows.

Emma frowned. "Someone's eager to see her son get home safe," she said pointedly.

Undeterred, Killian began dealing cards. "What should we play?"

"Go Fish," mumbled Henry sleepily. Emma stroked his hair.

"As the boy says," Killian said, nodding formally to him. "Milady?"

Emma looked at him, and it happened again. Her eyes met his and the world fell away. Only this time, she was somewhere else entirely - they were back in the woods, Killian dressed all in black, Emma wearing something that seemed comfortable but entirely unfamiliar. They were fighting, she knew instinctively, but it didn't matter right now. She couldn't hold on to herself. She didn't know where she was. She couldn't remember -

"Mom?"

Henry's voice brought her back to herself. Emma tore her gaze from Killian's and met her son's concerned face instead. He was sitting up, touching her cheek. "Henry," she said, startled.

"Are you okay?" he asked, voice cracking. He threw his arms around her neck. "You left," he said, voice muffled in her neck. "Please don't do it again."

Emma patted his back, thoroughly shaken. She risked a quick glance at Killian. His face had gone white and sweat beaded his forehead. "Well," he said, voice strained. "That was an experience."

Emma wanted to stand up, but with Henry in her lap and her foot still up on the table, she couldn't. Instead she glared at Killian. "What the hell was that," she snapped.

"Trust me," he said, voice level, avoiding her gaze, "I have no idea."

"What did you see?" Henry asked, his voice muffled. Emma held him close and refused to answer.

Luckily for her, Killian had no such compunctions. "I was in the forest again," he said, "and you were there, Emma, and we were fighting. That's all."

Emma pressed a kiss to Henry's head. He emerged slowly, blinking suspiciously. Emma brushed her thumb over his cheek and tried to smile at him, hating herself for making him cry.

"What were you fighting about?" Henry asked.

"I don't know," Killian said. "Emma?"

She shook her head.

Henry scrambled out of her arms and went to his backpack. He pulled out the storybook and Emma tried not to roll her eyes. She was really starting to hate that thing.

It thunked on the table and Henry slid it across to Killian. "You're in the book," he informed him frankly, "and so is Emma and so is Regina and so is everyone in the town."

Killian glanced up at him. "You know Regina?"

"She is the mayor," Emma said coldly. Killian glanced over but his eyes refused to rest on hers, no matter how hard they drilled into his head.

"How do you know her?" Henry asked. "In Storybrooke, anyway."

Killian's mouth twisted into an ugly sneer. "She's the reason I lost my hand."

Henry frowned. "No she's not," he said with conviction. "Rumpelstiltskin took your hand."

Killian appraised Henry for a moment. Emma was ready to tear him apart, but all he said was, "Is that so?"

Henry nodded. "I'll show you."

He flicked through the pages, landing on an illustration of a handsome man in black leather with a hook for a hand, standing on the deck of a ship. "That's you," Henry said. "Captain Hook."

Much to Emma's surprise, Killian didn't seem at all fazed by this. He didn't exactly look happy, but he wasn't upset or incredulous: in fact, Emma would have to say he looked curious. "Interesting," he murmured, turning the pages. "What happens?"

"You went to Neverland with your brother," Henry said, a smile lighting up his face. "You were both sailors in the king's navy and he wanted you to get a magical healing plant. But the plant turned out to be poisoned, and Peter Pan tricked your brother into testing it, so he wound up dying. And then you left the navy and became a pirate because the king lied to you. And then you fell in love with a woman named Milah - don't worry, Mom," he added, turning to Emma, "it was like a hundred years before you were even born - "

"Wait," Killian said, lifting his hand to stop Henry. "How is that possible?"

"You went back to Neverland," Henry said impatiently, "because Milah was Rumpelstiltskin's wife. And he killed her and cut off your hand because she didn't love him. So you swore revenge and went to Neverland so you wouldn't grow old while you figured out how to kill him."

"All right," Killian said, lowering his hand. "That makes sense."

Emma scowled at Killian. He raised his eyebrows innocently.

"I have to go to the toilet," Henry announced. "Where is it?"

"Through that door," Killian said, pointing. Henry went.

"Say thank you!" Emma yelled.

"Thank you," came Henry's trailing cry as he shut the door.

As soon as he did, Emma leaned over her leg and hissed, "Stop making fun of him."

He looked genuinely shocked. Emma had to give it to him. "I'm not," he said. "I honestly wouldn't dream of it. He's what, seven?"

"He's six," Emma said, keeping her voice low. "And he's very invested in this whole fairy tale thing."

"That's why he came out here on his own, isn't it?" Killian said. She was glad he understood the need for quiet. "Because you don't believe him."

"Believe him?" Emma whispered frantically. "They're fairy tales."

He finally met her eyes. Emma was very glad when nothing happened. "The thing about fairy tales, Emma," he said slowly, "is that they're supposed to help us deal with the problems we face every day in our own reality. You behave as if our world is real and theirs is not, as if all this is simple and straightforward, black and white, real and not real -"

"What are you talking about?" she asked, breathless. His eyes were so blue. It was getting hard to hold onto herself, but she couldn't look away from him.

Henry flushed the toilet and Emma took a deep breath, closing her eyes and holding onto the thought of her son instead. When she opened them, Killian was rubbing his forehead with his hand, looking pained. "I'm sorry," she said, flustered. "I wish we could go - "

"No," Killian said with conviction.

Henry came back out, throwing a furtive glance between the two of them.

"Did you wash your hands?" Emma accused, the words coming out sharper than she intended. Henry scowled at her and dutifully returned to the bathroom.

"Emma," Killian said, leaning across to her. His hand stretched towards her. Emma refused to meet him halfway, and his hand withdrew. "At least try to believe in him," Killian said quietly. "I think he sees more than you know."

Henry appeared again, pointedly wiping his hands on his pants. He trotted back over to Emma and smiled sheepishly at her. "Is everything okay?" he asked.

Emma smiled. "Yeah, kid," she said. "Wanna play cards?"

Henry nodded.

Chapter Text

After Henry proceeded to win eight rounds of Go Fish and three of Snap (mostly because Emma couldn't bring herself to look at Killian, much less risk touching him), getting more and more restless with each round, Emma insisted it was time to do something else.

"I could show him the garden," Killian offered. "Henry?"

Henry looked at her, suddenly shy. Emma smiled at him. "It's up to you, kid," she said, waving him off. He stood tentatively, then asked, "Won't you be bored?"

"No," Emma said firmly. "I'll take a nap. I'm exhausted, you know."

Henry giggled. "At least you got to sleep all night."

"Hey," Emma said, stabbing a finger in his direction, "don't remind me. I should send you to bed right now."

Henry leapt away as she made to grab him, still giggling. Killian lifted his hand to his face and Emma automatically followed the movement. He was trying not to laugh, his face warm. Emma looked away.

"Come on!" Henry said, grabbing onto Killian. "Let's go."

He pushed Killian towards the door. Emma knew that Killian was trying to catch her eye, to ask for permission, but she couldn't. She just couldn't.

When the door closed behind them, Emma let out a shaky breath and buried her head in her hands. What was happening to her?

She was almost certainly going crazy, that's what was happening to her. Emma put her head back on the couch and tried to sleep like she'd told Henry she would. She lasted maybe sixty seconds before her eyes were open again, looking for something to occupy herself.

The only thing close by was the book. Henry's book, Mary Margaret's book, the root of all her problems. Emma wanted to pretend it didn't exist.

Instead she reached for it, pulling it off the table and into her lap. She flicked through the pages, pausing on each of the pictures. Snow White seemed oddly familiar somehow. "Hi Mom," Emma murmured, brushing her finger against the queen's cheek. She stifled a bubble of hysteria in her throat and moved on.

The picture of Captain Hook gave her pause as well. It did look oddly like Killian, albeit much… darker. His blue eyes were cold and fierce, unlike Killian's warm, welcoming gaze. His mouth was twisted in a sneer, his hook raised threateningly, his body swathed in black leather.

Emma kept turning.

Finally she reached the picture of Princess Emma and stopped. "I don't want to do this," she whispered. "I should put this pile of junk down and take Henry home and pretend nothing ever happened."

Instead, she started reading.

As she read, she couldn't help but catalogue all the differences between herself and the princess. Fairytale Emma was confident, self-possessed, and dignified. She was talented and quick-witted and could probably kill a man with her pinky and a paperclip. (Emma wasn't sure why that mattered, but it definitely did.) Fairytale Emma was not only destined to become the queen of the kingdom, she wanted it. Looked forward to it. To the day when hundreds of thousands of people would rely on her to steer their destinies.

Real world Emma could barely cope with having Henry reliant on her. Her first month out of jail, living in assisted housing, surrounded by other women and their children, she'd held Henry close to her chest and fought off the rising panic. The only thing that kept her together was the knowledge that he needed her, but at the same time it was that knowledge that threatened to shatter her. Feeling like that for an entire kingdom of people? There was no way Emma could handle it.

And yet somehow her story felt familiar. As if Emma had read it before. Impossible, of course, but Emma found herself knowing where the story would go before it arrived there. She shivered when the princess nearly kissed Hook in the tavern. She found herself grinning wildly as they fought on board the Jolly Roger. Her whole body tensed when the Evil Queen's men captured them.

She turned the page to find a picture of the two of them, Princess Emma and Captain Hook, in a clearing surrounded by swords. They stood close to one another, almost back to back, but his body inclined towards hers and her hand rested on his wrist. Emma shivered again.

She kept reading. They escaped, and dove into the river to avoid recapture, and got naked in a hidden cavern to get dry again. Emma's face flushed. She groaned when she realised Henry had almost definitely read this passage already. She'd hoped to be able to keep this particular part of the story secret, mostly from her parents but definitely from any future offspring.

Another picture appeared. This one depicted Emma, sitting by the fire in her undergarments, the light flickering on her face as Captain Hook told her his story. She looked so alone in that moment that Emma's heart went out to her. She knew exactly how that felt. She remembered sitting alone in a cold, dark room. She remembered telling herself, over and over again, that men could not be trusted, especially not handsome charming men who pretended to help you but only wanted one thing. She remembered shivering in the cold, the fire's warmth the only thing stopping her from asking to share the heat of his body -

The door opened. Emma looked up and met Killian's eyes. This time, the world didn't fall away, because Emma had already lost her grasp on where she was. She was sitting in a cave - in a cabin - in the woods - in the woods - on a comfortable couch - on hard painful rocks covering her in dirt - looking into Killian's eyes - looking into Hook's eyes - but at least she knew exactly who she was.

"Hello," she said, her voice clear. Henry leapt forward, his face lighting up.

"You're reading it!"

The feeling of clarity vanished. Too late, Emma realised that the book was still open in her lap. She closed it quickly, feeling guilty for getting his hopes up, but it was too late.

"Which part?" Henry demanded, grabbing onto her face and squeezing it excitedly. "Which part?"

He pried the book from her and sat next to her, flipping through it. "The part with Princess - Emma," she said, glancing nervously over at Killian.

"I told Killian all about it outside," Henry said without looking up. Emma's brow furrowed. "Where did you get up to?" Henry asked.

Emma blushed.

Henry grinned. "You recognise it, don't you?"

Killian came forward, watching the two of them curiously. "If I may be so bold," he said, "can I hear the story of Princess Emma?"

Emma couldn't stop herself looking at him. She avoided meeting his eyes, but now she let herself stare at him. He was beautiful, and kind to her son, and that only made him more dangerous to her.

"Do you want me to read you the whole story?" Henry asked Killian. "Or do you just want me to tell you what happens?"

"I'd like to hear your version," Killian said, smiling at him.

"Emma is Snow White and Prince Charming's daughter," Henry said, his eyes alight and his hands moving as he explained it to Killian, "but everybody thinks she's dead so she can be safe from the queen's enemies, like Regina the Evil Queen."

"Regina?" Killian interrupted.

Henry nodded. "Yeah. She wanted to kill Snow White, but she couldn't. And then she cursed Snow White to sleep forever, but Prince Charming woke her up with true love's kiss. So then she tried to cast a really bad curse that would make everybody forget who they were and take away their happy endings, but then she heard that Snow White and Prince Charming had a baby and the baby died. So she couldn't cast the curse, because if she did they'd forget about the baby dying and they wouldn't have to be sad about it."

"But the baby was Emma," Killian said. Emma watched the way he interacted with her son and drew the walls around her heart a little tighter. "And Emma's here with us."

Henry nodded enthusiastically. "Snow White and Prince Charming lied to protect her," he explained. "So she grew up knowing who she was, but nobody else knows who she is. Except her parents. And Red Riding Hood. But then Captain Hook appears in the kingdom, and Emma has to go lock him up."

"Hang on," Killian protested. "I don't want to be locked up!"

Henry laughed, clapping his hands animatedly. Emma didn't realise she was smiling until she caught Killian's eye for a moment. She frowned at him firmly, but it didn't stop his eyes sparkling.

"You don't get locked up," Henry giggled. "But Emma has to try because you're a pirate. And she thinks you betrayed her great great great great great great great great grandfather. And killed your brother."

Something in Killian hardened. The sparkle left his eyes and his mouth thinned. "Is that so?" he said quietly.

Henry tilted his head to the side. "You didn't, though," he said quickly. "It's just a misunderstanding. So you and Emma could meet."

Killian looked at Emma. "How could you think that, love?" he asked, faking hurt so well Emma was almost fooled for a moment. "I would never."

"Hey, I didn't write the story," Emma said, raising a hand.

"You kinda did," Henry said. "You're the one who wanted to capture Captain Hook in the first place."

Emma sighed. Her head was starting to throb. "Henry," she said, "can't we just go to bed?"

"It's only two o'clock," Henry said.

"It's all right," Killian said, a statement which seemed to be directed at her son. Emma tried to assert her status as parent, adult, and taker of all responsibilities, but she couldn't get the words out. "I'll put her to bed."

"I'm fine," Emma said, yawning. Her eyes refused to open.

Warm, strong arms lifted Emma into the air. Her ankle twinged but she couldn't bring herself to care. She leaned into the embrace, feeling static cling to her where her head met his chest. All too soon, he was putting her back down again. Emma rolled away, burying herself in pillows. Blankets came up to surround her and Emma sighed with pleasure. A hand stroked the hair off her forehead and, drowsily, Emma pressed a soft kiss to the palm. The hand tensed, then stroked her hair a second time and withdrew.

She could still hear Henry telling Killian the story - "and then she puts the magic cuffs on you!" "are you sure this is a children's tale, lad? let me - " as she drifted off.

Later she would know that she had only been half asleep, that she had still been listening to Henry tell Killian the story he claimed was hers. But in the moment, her dreams were reality, and she believed him at last.

Because she remembered it. She fought Hook on a boat, in the middle of the night, and she defeated him and captured him and used magic to make sure he couldn't leave her. She recognised him, because Hook was Killian and Killian was Hook, and she cried when he told her the true story of his brother's death. She told him about Neal, about the stranger who'd made her first few months after the amnesia bearable, who'd pretended to love her and left her in jail with the keys to his car and a baby to take care of. He cried too, when she told him, cried from sadness and anger and remorse, and Emma felt reborn.

She searched for him in a castle where the bells wouldn't stop ringing and a poisonous purple fog followed her every move. When, finally, she burst onto the roof of the castle, she found him there, and he took her in his arms and kissed her hungrily. Emma's body sang and the fog recoiled and the bells stopped their harsh jangling in favour of a symphony. They lived happily ever after, in the castle by the sea, and every day was bliss, because Emma was a kind, wise, fair ruler - like her mother before her - but where was her mother? And where was her son?

Emma fell.

***

When she woke, it was to the sound of a crackling fire and Henry's quiet snoring from the couch. Emma sat up, unfamiliar surroundings immediately putting her on alert, and looked around.

Killian sat in the plump orange armchair opposite, watching her. "You should have woken me," Emma said quietly. "Henry needs the bed more than I do."

"He wouldn't let me," Killian replied, voice hushed. Henry stirred regardless and Emma slid out of the bed, testing her foot briefly before standing. Padding over to her son with only a few twinges of pain, she lifted him easily and settled him onto the bed, still wrapped in the blankets that Killian had obviously given him.

"Mom?" Henry murmured.

"Shh," Emma whispered, stroking his hair. "Sleep."

She pressed a kiss to his forehead and Henry's breathing grew regular again. She turned back to Killian, who was still watching her. Emma's heart fluttered and she ignored it. Moving away from the bed, she said, "We should talk."

His eyes were dark and familiar. "Indeed," he said, and stood. He held out his arm towards the door and tilted his head. "After you."

Emma went to the door and opened it, only to be met by a gust of cold air. She shivered. A blanket settled around her shoulders and Killian pushed her firmly out, closing the door behind them. "You'll let all the cold air in," he admonished quietly.

Emma drew the blanket around her, looking at him. The air was crisp, the sky was clear, and the night was all but silent. Emma tilted her head up to look at the stars and drew in a breath. All around her was pure, perfect stillness. Emma wanted to stay in that moment forever.

"I dreamed of you," she said.

"I know," he said.

Emma looked back to him. "Who are you?" she whispered.

Killian smiled sadly at her. "I don't know," he said. "I thought I did, and then you came, and now I don't. I dreamed of you, too, you know."

Emma nodded. "What did you dream?"

"You were queen," he said softly, "and you sentenced me to death, and you came to me in your own dungeons and kissed me until my heart was ice. It shattered, and you laughed, and then you cried, and your tears put my heart back together."

"That sounds pleasant," Emma said dryly. He laughed.

"Another time, you were a mermaid and I chased you across oceans," Killian said, his smile fond. "Only I couldn't catch you, no matter how hard I tried, until the day I abandoned my ship and dived into the water after you. And then you drowned me."

Emma couldn't help the bubble of vaguely hysterical laughter that popped out of her. "I'm sorry?"

"Oh, don't worry," he said, "I always wake up wanting more."

She raised an eyebrow. "What, more heartbreak and death?" Something occurred to her, then, and her mouth opened. "What do you mean, always?"

Killian shrugged. "Always," he said. "As in, every single time."

"As in more than once?" Emma asked softly.

Killian went still. They were quiet for a moment. Emma could hear owls hooting in the distance.

"I thought - " he said. "I thought that you had…"

"I dreamed of you tonight," Emma said quietly. "Just now, in your bed, after all that… weirdness. I thought - "

"I didn't mean to presume," he said, voice hollow.

"Did you know you have the same name?" Emma asked, hearing the slightly desperate note in her voice and hating herself. Killian looked confused. "The same name as Captain Hook," she elaborated, "in the book."

"Oh," he said. "Yes. Henry mentioned it."

"Did he tell you that Captain Hook is Princess Emma's soul mate?" she asked, aiming for sardonic and landing on scared and hopeful. She hated it.

"Yes," he said. He looked at her and for a moment, Emma felt what he felt. Hope and fear and longing, a longing so deep that Emma could hardly fathom it although she felt as if she'd known it from the moment she'd woken in that ditch eight years ago. Her heart threatened to pound out of her chest.

"No," she said harshly.

Killian looked as if she'd slapped him, but Emma couldn't stop. "It explains nothing, do you hear me? None of this means what he thinks it means. That book is nothing but a book, and fairy tales are just fairy tales. I don't care what your dreams say."

"Emma," he said, holding his hand up. "Don't you - "

"You don't get to tell me what to do," Emma flared. "Tomorrow morning, I'm taking my son back to that ridiculous town and we are going home without that fucking book. None of this matters to me, do you hear me?"

Killian was still looking at her, his face sad and soft, and Emma was furious. Furious with him, for not responding to her anger with his own, for not giving her a target. Furious with herself for letting any of this happen. Furious with herself for wanting him, when the last time she'd let herself want anything it had put her in jail.

And it gave you Henry, a small voice in the back of head whispered.

Emma ignored it. Tearing her eyes from Killian's, she moved to walk past him, to go inside and forget everything.

He reached out, grabbing her by the wrist. "Emma," he said, voice low and pleading. "I - "

She turned towards him, unable to help herself. His touch made sparks spiral along her skin, sliding their hooks up into her chest, up her neck, tingling along her cheek. They stood close, but not quite touching, and Emma could feel the warmth of his body.

"Let me go," she said firmly.

For a moment his grip tightened. Then, with an obvious effort, he did as she asked.

Emma turned and stalked inside. She stopped briefly over Henry, brushing the hair off his face. He murmured something unintelligible and rolled towards the wall. Emma ignored the door opening behind her and went instead to the couch, lay down, and pretended to sleep.

She heard Killian return to the armchair, settling in once again. She closed her eyes, refusing to let herself picture the firelight flickering over his face. Refused to investigate the tantalising hints of a real memory that matched the imaginary. None of this matters to me, she reminded herself, and forced herself to sleep.

Chapter Text

Sunlight woke Emma early the next morning. She rolled over on the couch, looking around for her phone, and saw that Henry had somehow turned himself around in the night. He lay on top of the bed's blankets, head at the wrong end of the bed, his arm dangling towards the floor. Killian was asleep, too, sitting in the armchair, oddly close to her son. Emma watched the two of them sleep, her heart swelling with an all too familiar pang. Then she slid quietly off the couch and went to the bathroom.

When she came back, her ankle stiff but usable, and started collecting their things, Killian stirred. "Swan," he murmured, and Emma pretended she couldn't hear him.

"What time is it?" he asked her groggily.

Emma reached for her phone. "Half past five," she replied.

Killian groaned quietly and threw his arm across his face to block out the light. Emma stopped herself from smiling and went to sit by Henry.

"We should go," Emma said to Killian, running her hand along Henry's back. "I told a friend to call the cops if we weren't back by sundown yesterday."

Killian raised an eyebrow. "And they still haven't found you?" he asked. "Their competence is astounding."

Emma didn't answer. Henry was stirring. "Mom?" he murmured, sounding grumpy.

"Come on, kid," she said softly, pulling him into her arms. "We have to get home."

He lifted his face and blinked at her. "Is Killian coming?"

Emma nodded. "Killian has to show us the way," she said softly. "What do you need?"

Henry rubbed his eyes. "I'm hungry."

"I'll make breakfast," Killian said, hauling himself out of the chair. He ran his hand through his hair and stretched, his shirt riding up to reveal a line of perfectly formed muscle and thick dark hair. Emma watched, transfixed, and refused to think about how incredibly screwed she was.

***

After breakfast, they left the cabin. Killian didn't bother locking the door. "Anyone steals from me, they'll regret it," he said darkly when questioned. Emma didn't press him. In fact, Emma didn't want to talk to him at all.

Henry walked next to Emma, chattering about Killian's garden, while Killian brought up the rear. "And there are chickens," Henry informed her. "To make eggs. And he grows all his own vegetables, and - "

Emma listened attentively, making all the right noises to show her interest. Secretly, she was impressed. A one handed man living alone in the woods seemed like a recipe for disaster to her, but Killian had managed to make himself completely self-sustaining. She admired that kind of resourcefulness, even if she couldn't stand the man himself.

Before long, trekking through the woods, Emma started to hear shouts in the distance. Killian heard them too, lifting his head, his entire body stiffening. "That'll be your ride," he said, his voice hard. "This is where I leave you."

Emma and Henry turned to look at him. "Thanks," Emma muttered, figuring he at least deserved that much. Killian nodded tersely to her and turned away.

"Wait," Henry cried, tearing free of Emma and rushing over to Killian. "You said you'd take me home," he said pleadingly, holding onto Killian's jeans.

"Henry," Emma scolded, but Henry wouldn't budge. Killian looked torn.

"I'm sorry, lad," Killian said. The shouts were getting clearer: they were calling for Emma and Henry. Killian glanced nervously in their direction. "But I can't go any further."

Henry buried his face in Killian's leg. Killian looked helplessly at Emma, who looked just as helplessly back. She shrugged.

Killian sighed and lifted Henry up. "Don't you remember what I told you last night?" Killian said quietly to him. Henry wouldn't meet his eyes. "If Regina finds me again…"

"I'll protect you from her," Henry declared. "She likes me. In fact, you're probably safer staying with me than you are out here on your own."

"Henry," Emma said, and her son looked at her. "You can't make people do things they don't want to do, no matter how hard you try."

Killian's gaze blistered her, but Emma was unmoved.

"Emma!"

Emma turned to see Deputy David running through the trees towards them. She waved automatically before remembering the situation.

"Are you all right?" David asked breathlessly when he reached them. "Ms Blanchard raised the alarm last night, but the storm stopped us looking for you until now."

"We're fine," Emma said, turning back to Henry and Killian. "David, this is Killian."

David's eyes widened when he saw Killian. "Jones," he said, sounding surprised. "What are you doing out here? I thought you joined the navy."

"I changed my mind," Killian answered. He put Henry down and gave him a gentle push towards Emma. "Let's get it over with, then, Dave," he said, sounding tired.

"What?" David asked, clearly thrown. He looked between Emma and Killian. "Get what over with?"

Killian raised an eyebrow. "She didn't do it," he said under his breath, then something too quiet for Emma to hear. "Misunderstanding," he said, loud so they all heard. He smiled, but it didn't touch his eyes. "It's nothing."

"Are you coming with us?" Henry asked him, sounding vulnerable. Emma took her son's hand and, gathering her courage, met Killian's eyes. She wouldn't say a word to him, but she didn't need to.

"Sure," Killian said. Henry's face lit up and Killian smiled down at him.

Emma had no idea how she was going to convince Henry that going back to Boston was their only option.

***

They made their way back down through the forest, Killian carrying Henry, David calling the other members of the search party to organise a reunion back at the inn. Mary Margaret refused to believe Emma was safe until she spoke to her, so David handed the phone over, smiling softly at Emma. She liked the way the corners of his eyes crinkled up. It made her feel the way Mary Margaret's smile had.

Back down at Granny's, Henry clung to Killian and Emma felt oddly lost. Mary Margaret was an excellent help, fussing over her and making sure she had whatever she needed before she knew she needed it, but Emma was constantly searching for her son and feeling a deep sense of misery at the sight of him talking animatedly with Killian. As much as she hated it, she knew that part of her was jealous over the loss of Henry's undivided attention. She'd always known she would have to share him one day. She'd just hoped that day would wait a little while longer, and had expected it to come about in a very different way. But that wasn't all of it.

Something about the sight of them together - the man she barely knew yet felt an intense connection with, and her son, the only person who truly mattered to her - felt right. And Emma wanted it to last. Emma daydreamed briefly of waking up next to Killian, his lips pressing briefly against hers before he made breakfast for the family, then they'd rush the kids off to school and her off to work. After a busy day at the office, she'd come home early to surprise him and, after taking the dog for a walk, they'd spend the rest of the afternoon wrapped up in each other before -

"Emma?"

She snapped back to reality. Mary Margaret sat next to her, a protective hand on her arm, but a hovering David was the one who'd said her name. "Are you all right?" he asked.

"Sorry," she said quickly. "Just thinking. What was that?"

"It's all right," Mary Margaret assured her, glaring at David. "He thinks he can bully you into it, but I told him, I won't have a bar of it."

David chuckled nervously, scratching the back of his head. "I'm sorry, but…" he trailed off, eyes fixed on Mary Margaret.

Emma looked between the two of them. "What?" she asked.

"I just wanted to be sure you're okay," he said hesitantly.

Emma smiled. "Yeah," she said. "Henry's good, so I'm good."

David glanced over to where Henry and Killian were sitting. "Yeah," he said. "Listen, just how much do you know about him?"

"Killian?" Emma asked, lowering her voice. "Not much. Just that he lives out there on his own and he's got beef with the mayor, apparently."

David sighed, taking a seat on the other side of the booth. "It's a little more complicated than that," he said quietly. "I did some digging."

"And?" prompted Emma. David glanced between her and Mary Margaret.

"She's got a warrant out for him," David said softly.

"What?" exclaimed Mary Margaret and Emma in unison. A few people looked their way before returning to their conversations. Checking over David's shoulder to make sure Henry and Killian were still safe, Emma leaned in closer to David. "Tell me everything."

"There's honestly not much to tell," David said. "Otherwise I'd have picked him up already. But it's so vague, you know? There's no information about why it's there or when she issued it. And," David hesitated. "We've all been having doubts," he said slowly, "about Regina. For a long while now."

Mary Margaret nodded in agreement. "Something's wrong here, Emma," she said softly. "We all feel it, but no one knows what to do about it. We go about our business and pretend we don't know anything, and Regina storms around with a face like thunder all the time. Only sometimes, she locks herself up in that mansion for days at a time, and sometimes I catch her staring at me looking like she's about to cry." She pressed her lips together.

"So vote for a new mayor," Emma said matter-of-factly. "Seems simple enough."

David and Mary Margaret both looked puzzled.

"What?" Emma asked again, almost dreading the answer.

"I don't remember ever electing a mayor," Mary Margaret said vaguely. "Is that really how it works?"

Emma's heart sank. "Yes," she said slowly, looking between the two of them. They wore identical looks of confusion. David put his head in his hands.

"I don't know what's real any more," he said hopelessly. Emma swallowed, afraid.

"I'm really sorry about that," she said gently. "I am. But I think it's time Henry and I went home."

"It's probably for the best," Mary Margaret said, her voice choked up. "You're not a part of this."

Emma wanted to comfort her but she didn't know how. She stood and then stopped, looking between the two of them. Something about this seemed familiar to her - the two of them crying, about to say goodbye to her for who knew how long. Emma shook her head firmly. "I'm sorry," she said faintly, backing away.

She gathered up their things, whirling around the room. When she reached Henry, anticipating a fight, and said his name, his eyes were bright and he came with her easily. "Can Killian come?" he asked.

Before Emma could say no, the door to the diner opened and Mr Gold entered.

The entire inn went completely silent. Mr Gold smiled politely at the patrons and said, "Don't mind me, now."

A space cleared around him as everyone returned to their conversations (albeit now in hushed whispers). Mr Gold made his way slowly over to Emma, Henry, and Killian. His eyes rested on Henry and Emma had the senseless urge to snarl at him like a bear with her cub.

"Hello again," he said cheerfully.

"Hello," Emma said warily.

"Hello," Henry chirped. "Who are you?"

Gold gazed at him. "A good question," he said. "Miss Swan, if I might have a word?"

Emma turned to look at Henry and saw Killian, half out of his chair. "No," Emma said firmly. "We were just about to leave."

Killian's face hardened and he slumped back into his seat, refusing to meet her eyes. Emma scooped Henry up and turned to face Gold again, drawing herself up to her full height. His brow was furrowed in confusion. "If you'll excuse us," Emma said, moving as if to sweep past him.

Only she didn't quite make it. Gold grabbed her by the arm with surprising ferocity and Emma winced. "Your boy," he said, polite as ever. "Such a sweet child." He raised his eyebrows. "I wonder where he gets that from."

Emma yanked her arm away from him, shifting so she was between Henry and Gold. Henry leaned in to whisper in her ear, "I don't trust him," and that was all Emma needed.

Fighting the urge to hurl out a parting shot, Emma turned on her heel and went for the door. She clattered down the stairs outside the diner, looking frantically for the car, dreading the inevitable sound of someone - though she wasn't sure who - coming after her.

"Miss Swan!"

Emma put Henry down, gave him the keys to the car, and told him seriously, "Lock yourself in." Henry took them and ran. Emma turned back to Gold, who was calmly making his way toward her. Behind him, Killian stood in the window of the diner, watching everything with worry etched into every line of his face. Emma looked up at him, hoping for a chance to memorise those lines before - before whatever Gold was doing happened.

"There's no need to be so worried, Miss Swan," Gold said innocently, coming to a stop before her. "I merely wanted to ask for a favour."

"The answer's no," Emma said coldly.

Gold looked over his shoulder at Killian, watching them, then leaned towards Emma and said quietly, "Not even if I could give you what you and your boy came here for?"

Emma's breath caught in her throat. She stared at him, wide-eyed.

Gold smiled. "That's what I thought," he said. "You'll do as I say."

"No," Emma said, shaking her head, taking a step backwards. She hesitated. Gold's eyes narrowed. "Not without knowing what it is," she said finally. "And not without some proof that you have what you say you have."

"It's nothing, really," Gold said. "Nothing to you, anyway." He smiled pleasantly. "I just need you to help me with something."

"With what?" Emma pushed.

Gold raised a hand. "I need your word," he said.

"And I won't give it," Emma said, her voice rising, "not unless you have what you say you do!"

Gold sighed. "Regina is angry because you foiled her plans," he said, clearly annoyed, "and prevented her from murdering the one handed wonder in there." He jerked a thumb towards Killian. "Only now you've shown up with no idea what's really going on and she's found herself rather enamoured of your boy. Understandable," he said, grinning his shark toothed grin, "but stupid, because really she should've killed you on the spot."

"What are you talking about?" Emma whispered, utterly confused. "What plans?" She looked at Killian, who was looking angrier by the minute. "I know him?"

"I gave you what you asked for," Gold said, unimpressed. "Now you're going to do as I say."

"Why, because you told me something you made up?" Emma exclaimed. Shaking her head again, she said, "No. I'm not going to do anything for you."

Gold's face darkened and he stepped forward, suddenly seeming far more forbidding. "You will regret this," he growled, almost spitting in her face.

The door to the diner opened and Killian came out. Gold turned to look at him, then snarled and stalked away past Emma.

Killian jogged down the stairs to her, Emma too busy watching Gold leave to see. When she turned back he was too close, and she couldn't decide whether she wanted to move away or closer. "What did he want?" Killian asked.

Emma shrugged, still rattled. "He wouldn't say," she said quietly. She looked up at him, and he at her. Emma wanted to drown in his gaze. "I should go see if Henry's all right," she said.

"Would you mind if I came?" Killian asked. Emma eyed him suspiciously, but he seemed genuinely concerned. "Gold isn't exactly a reasonable man," he explained. "I wouldn't want him trying anything with you on your own."

Emma snorted. "Believe me, I can handle myself," she said acidly.

Killian placed a light hand on the small of her back as they walked down the street towards the bug. It was kind of endearing, the way he was keeping a protective watch for danger as they went. Emma half-smiled fondly. "I have full confidence in your self defense abilities," Killian said. "He's still dangerous."

Emma shrugged. "He doesn't scare me," she lied. "Henry and I are leaving now."

Killian took her gently by the arm and swung her around to face him. Emma glanced over her shoulder at the bug where Henry was waiting. "I suppose there's nothing I can do to change your mind," Killian said softly.

Emma crossed her arms over her chest. "No," she said, only half convinced it was the truth.

He wouldn't stop looking at her. Emma couldn't decide whether it made her uncomfortable or if she never wanted him to stop. "Okay," he said, and kissed her.

Emma was taken entirely by surprise. For an instant, she absorbed everything: the feel of his stubble against her skin, the warmth of his mouth on hers, the taste of him - and then she kneed him in the groin and ripped herself free of him.

He groaned, bending over himself, and Emma said very calmly, "Get fucked."

"Wait," he said, still winded, but doing his best to look her in the eye. "Emma, wait - "

Emma walked the few remaining feet to the car and knocked on the window to get Henry's attention. Thankfully, he hadn't been watching, and so hadn't seen his new hero assault his mother.

"Emma!" Killian cried, and Emma was shocked at the level of heartbreak in his voice. She looked back at him. "You can't," he said, looking absurdly devastated. "Emma - I remember you. I remember everything."

She heard the doors to the car click open, but she didn't get in straight away. Instead, Emma continued to stare at Killian as he brought himself back upright and started to laugh.

"Are you all right?" Emma asked. Henry wound down the window and stuck his head out. "Killian?" he asked.

"Oh, Henry," Killian gasped, wiping his eyes. "Henry, you were right. You are right. About all of it."

Emma stormed back over to him, incensed. "How dare you," she seethed. "How dare you - !"

Only she never finished, because that was when the fog came.

Killian saw it first, because it was coming from behind Emma. "Oh, fuck," he said, far too loudly for Emma's liking, and she would've told him so if she hadn't turned around.

Henry cried out for her and Emma scrambled to grab him. "It's the curse," Killian said in a voice of dread. "Not again, not now - "

"What the hell are you talking about?" Emma screamed at him as the wind whipped into a frenzy and nearby citizens of the town emerged onto the street before shrieking in fear and running from the encroaching purple fog. "What the f- what is happening?"

He looked at her and the look in his eyes frightened Emma more than anything in the last few days had. "It's the curse that brought us here," he said dully. "And it's taking you away from me again."

"That's the curse?" Henry said incredulously. "That makes no sense. The curse is what brought you here! There's no magic in this world!"

"There is now, dearie," said a calm voice behind them. All three of them turned. The last thing they saw before the fog swept over them was Gold, standing in the middle of the street, smiling his shark smile.

Chapter Text

When the fog cleared, Gold was gone, and Emma was ready to unleash hell.

"I want answers and I want them eight years ago," she seethed, glaring daggers at Killian. He was still grinning stupidly at her.

"I'm just happy you're here," he said.

"You already know everything, Mom," Henry said reasonably. "I've been trying to tell you."

Emma closed her eyes and pressed her fingers to the bridge of her nose. "Henry," she said patiently, "those are fairy tales. They're not real."

"The fog was real," he insisted. The smile disappeared from Killian's face.

"Wait," he said, as Emma put Henry down and people started coming out of the nearby buildings. "You don't remember?"

"No!" Emma yelled, at the end of her rope. "I don't! I have no memories of anything in my life before a time about eight years ago! I'm not even sure if the name I think is mine is real! So you'll forgive me for finding it a little hard to believe in all this bullshit!"

Henry's mouth dropped open and Emma sucked in a breath. "Sorry, kid," she said quickly. "Won't happen again."

"But the kiss," Killian said, brow creasing, "the kiss made me remember, because - "

"You remember?" Henry exclaimed, jumping excitedly. Then he stopped and frowned. "Wait, you kissed my mom?"

Killian looked guilty. "Yes, on both counts," he said. "Sorry."

Henry waved it off. "But you remember?" he asked again. Killian nodded and Henry's smile grew. "I really was right?"

Killian smiled back at him. "Aye," he said. "Of course. I don't know where that bloody book came from, but it's a godsend."

"You're insane," Emma said frankly. "But more importantly, where did Gold go?"

"Ah yes," Killian said. "The Crocodile. I suppose in this world he's a little more vulnerable, eh?"

"Mr Gold is Rumplestiltskin?" Henry asked, eyes widening.

"Aye," Killian said. "Oh, that reminds me. We should find your grandparents."

"All right, that's it," Emma said, reaching for Henry and pulling him close, squaring off against Killian. "This ends, now. I will not allow you to lead my son on with all this ridiculous - "

She waved a hand and the street light above them flared bright before exploding, sending shards of glass flying everywhere. Killian leapt forward, shielding the two of them. As the glass settled around them, Emma looked up at the light, then gazed wide eyed around her. "What - "

Car alarms all around them began going off. People were staring. Emma could see Mary Margaret and David standing outside the diner. Killian was guiding them away from the glass, murmuring comfortingly in her ear, but Emma paid no attention to him. She was starting to shake. Too much was happening and she had no idea how to process it all.

She turned to look back at her car and saw Regina stalking down the street towards them. "Regina," she got out, and Killian turned. Fury crossed his face and he pushed both Emma and Henry behind himself.

"Stay back," he warned. "I think she - "

Regina waved a casual hand and Killian shot up into the air. The nearby onlookers made a variety of interesting noises: some shrieked, some gasped, at least one fainted clean away. Most of them immediately scattered.

"Well, well," Regina said, trembling with barely contained anger. "What have we here?"

"Put him down!" Emma shouted, staring up at Killian's dangling body.

Regina raised an eyebrow. "You really should be more specific, Miss Swan," she said. Killian dropped several feet in free fall.

"Put him down gently," Henry said, stepping out from behind Emma. Regina stared at him. Killian jerked to a halt.

"Henry," she said, surprised.

"I know you're just scared," he told her kindly. "That we'll all be angry. And I think Killian is angry, and so is my mom, but I think if we all talk about it we can figure something out."

Emma raised a hand, ready to act if Regina so much as twitched in Henry's direction. But thankfully, she seemed to be listening to him. Killian came floating down and Emma grabbed hold of him as soon as he was within reach, holding onto him for dear life as his feet touched the ground. She touched his face, then realised Henry was still there, and reached for him instead.

But Henry was still moving slowly towards Regina, out of Emma's reach. Killian grabbed her and pulled her back against him, restraining her. Emma struggled for a moment before she heard Killian saying in a low voice, "Emma, wait. Look."

She turned and watched as Henry held out his hand to Regina, whose hands were pulsing with a strange red light. Regina seemed nervous and Emma made an aborted move to reach for her son again, foiled by Killian's arms keeping hers pinned to her sides. Killian whispered again in her ear, "Trust him."

I do, Emma wanted to say. I don't trust her. But then the red light dissipated and Regina reached out to take Henry's hand. Henry smiled from ear to ear, and tugged Regina gently back to Emma and Killian.

"You all right?" Killian said in her ear, his grip loosening. Emma nodded and he let her go, stepping away just a little.

Henry was still talking to Regina as they approached. "The book is about you, right?" he asked her. Regina nodded reluctantly.

"Aye," Killian growled, "she's the Evil Queen, just as you suspected, lad."

Regina's eyes grew cold and Henry frowned at Killian. "If we're going to get anywhere, Hook," he said pointedly, "I think everybody needs to start forgiving everybody else."

Killian pointed angrily at Regina. "Not without an apology."

Regina laughed incredulously. "You first, Captain," she said darkly. "You stole my father's heart."

Emma's eyes widened.

"I was trying to stop you doing all this!" Killian cried, spreading his arms.

"And look where that got you," Regina said cuttingly.

Henry turned his frown on her. "If everybody's going to forgive everybody else," he said, "then everybody needs to apologise for the bad things they've done. If you can't forgive him without an apology, how do you expect him to forgive you?"

Emma glanced between the two of them. They wore identical expressions of hatred. A muscle twitched in Killian's jaw. Finally, reluctantly, Killian ground out, "I apologise, Regina, for trying to prevent you from destroying everyone's lives - "

"Oh yes," Regina began hotly, "because your intentions were so noble -"

Henry coughed and they both looked ashamed. "I'm sorry," Killian finished.

Regina drew herself up, looking down her nose at Killian. "I'm sorry for trying to kill you," she said offhandedly, refusing to meet Henry's eyes.

"You did what?" Emma asked, enraged. She looked accusingly at Henry. "You want to befriend a murderer?"

"She's different now," Henry argued. "I really do think she wants to be better."

"She literally just tried to kill Killian!"

"Oh yes," Regina said. "I'm sorry for that too."

Emma's eyebrows raised. "You've tried to kill him more than once?"

Regina thought for a moment. "Probably about four times, I think."

"Five," Killian said shortly.

Regina waved a hand dismissively. "Yes, but that was the last time."

Killian snorted.

"Good," Henry said sternly, "because any new attempts and you'll have to answer to me."

Regina looked down at him and her face softened. She bent to pick him up and Henry put his arms around her neck. Emma honestly didn't know how to feel at that. Was she being replaced?

"You know," Regina said gently. "I think all this makes me your great-grandmother. Technically." She glanced at Emma. "If your mother is who I think she is."

"Step-great-grandmother," Henry corrected.

"Okay," Emma said, putting her hand to her head and rubbing her temple. A headache was brewing. "Somebody needs to explain to me, as simply as possible, what exactly is happening here. And don't tell me I should already know," she added, directing it at Henry (who had just opened his mouth). "I didn't read the whole damn book, okay? I got through maybe half of two stories in there."

"You're the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming," Killian said gently. "Regina is Snow White's evil -" A look from Henry, and Killian amended himself, "Snow White's stepmother." He smiled at her. "Princess Emma."

Emma held herself together through sheer force of will. Quietly, she asked, "Then the stories are real?"

Killian nodded.

Emma looked to Regina, who - despite seeming to hate her with every fibre of her being - did not seem like the kind of person who would participate in this kind of delusion. Regina nodded too.

"That's why I don't remember?"

Henry nodded. He scrambled to get down and Regina lowered him so he could spring safely to the ground and go to her. Emma knelt before him and pulled him into her arms, burying her face against his shoulder. "I'm sorry," Emma whispered.

"It's okay," Henry whispered back. "The curse jumbled your brain."

Emma laughed a little, then pulled away to look her son in the eye. "Then who are Snow White and Prince Charming?" she asked, looking up at Killian and Regina.

"Is everything all right over there?"

"That'll be them now," Regina said, sounding resigned. "Let's get this over with."

Henry laid a hand on Regina's arm. "It'll be hard for them," he said gently, "but I really do think that Snow White still loves you."

"We'll see," was her only response.

Emma stood up as David and Mary Margaret approached, looking confused. She drew a deep breath and was glad when Killian brushed his hand gently over her back. She smiled at him and did not miss the way his eyes lit up.

"What's going on here?" David asked, eyes running over the members of this unusual gathering. The town hermit, the mayor, the tourist and her kid; a motley crew indeed.

Emma stared at him. Her father, theoretically, although something in her still rebelled at the idea. Mary Margaret stepped up behind him, concerned, and when Emma met her eyes she was thrown for a loop.

"Emma?" Mary Margaret asked. The sound struck a chord deep inside her.

Regina frowned. Turning to Killian, she said, "I thought you two idiots fixed things."

"Not exactly," Killian replied. "If we had, Emma would remember by now. There must be something else."

"But you're the Saviour," Regina said, turning back to Emma. "You're supposed to be the one."

"The Saviour?" Emma echoed.

"You're gonna break the curse," Henry said. "Don't push her, Regina. She'll get there."

"What curse?" David asked, confused.

Mary Margaret patted his arm and said, "Henry thinks we're all fairy tale characters."

"Henry's right," Regina sighed.

That confused Mary Margaret, but not enough to stop her asking Henry, "Do you know who I am yet?"

Henry nodded. "Snow White," he said.

Mary Margaret frowned. "But doesn't that mean - "

"You're Emma's mother," Regina interrupted, resigned. "Yes. And I'm your stepmother." She turned to Emma again. "You really need to do something about this."

"What am I supposed to do?" Emma exclaimed. "I don't - "

Killian cleared his throat. "Well, theoretically, True Love's Kiss should do the job," he explained. "So if you two wouldn't mind - " He gestured to David and Mary Margaret. They both blushed, refusing to look at one another.

"Us?" David asked incredulously.

Killian nodded. "You are Prince Charming, after all," he said with a smirk.

David's eyes nearly bugged out of his head. Mary Margaret's face grew even redder.

"Look, tell you what," Killian said patiently. "Humour us. A quick peck on the lips and then we won't need to continue this farce."

Mary Margaret looked around the circle. Regina crossed her arms and arched an eyebrow. "We're all waiting."

David and Mary Margaret turned shyly towards one another. Henry reached to take Emma's hand. David placed a hand on Mary Margaret's face and leaned in to brush a chaste kiss across her lips. Nothing happened.

"Well?" Emma demanded. The two broke apart, now looking both confused and embarrassed.

Killian shrugged helplessly. "I don't know."

Regina huffed. "Shouldn't it be you two?" she demanded. "Emma's the Saviour. By all rights, it should be her True Love who does the kissing."

Now it was Killian's turn to blush. He scratched the back of his head nervously. "We may have already tried that," he said delicately.

"You tried it," Emma muttered. Her heart was sinking.

Regina was unfazed. "Then what about Henry?"

"What about Henry?" Emma asked.

"He's your son," Regina said softly. "Surely that makes him just as qualified a True Love as anyone."

"She kissed me yesterday while she was putting me to bed," Henry pointed out.

"Magic wasn't back then," Regina countered.

"That's what the fog was?" Killian asked. Regina nodded.

"Look, if it helps at all," Emma said, and bent to press a kiss to the top of Henry's head. Nothing happened. She shrugged, fighting back disappointment. "No true love."

Henry twined his fingers in hers and smiled up at her. "I don't need magic to tell me you're my true love," he said innocently. Emma picked him up and squeezed him tight.

"Back at square one, then," Killian said. Emma tried not to read in to the disappointment in his voice.

"Not quite, dearie."

Lightning flashed and Regina blocked it. Mary Margaret shrieked and David whipped out his gun, pointing it directly at Gold, who had appeared less than ten feet from them. He was smiling madly. "Hello, Regina," he said.

"Rumpelstiltskin," she snarled. Emma blinked, refusing to allow herself to be surprised by that.

"Rumpelstiltskin?" Henry asked, excited.

"What do we do about him?" Emma asked Regina.

"I have an idea," she said slowly. "But somebody needs to stay here to draw his fire, and it'll have to be me."

"Give me a crack at him," Killian snarled. Emma looked at him, shocked, and saw someone nigh unrecognisable. Except she knew where it came from, now: this was Captain Hook in all his glory. It scared her a little, though she knew he would not turn it on her. "I'll tear him apart."

"He has magic and you have one hand," Regina snapped. "Maybe if you had tried earlier - "

"We don't have time for this," Emma cut in.

Gold disappeared and fire began to rain from the sky. Regina created a shield above them and David looked around wildly for Gold. "What the hell is going on here?" he yelled.

"You two," Emma barked. "Back in the diner. Take Henry with you. Do not let him out of your sight!"

"Mom," Henry protested, but Emma was already shoving him into Mary Margaret's arms. David and Mary Margaret made a break for it.

They were nearly at the entrance when a large fireball barrelled directly towards them. Regina was focused on the barrier she'd already established. Emma reacted.

White light pulsed from her hands, covering the three refugees and letting the fireball burst harmlessly over them. Then they were inside and Emma let out a breath she hadn't known she'd been holding. Killian squeezed her arm. "Well done, love," he said warmly.

"If we could focus," Regina yelled, straining from effort. Emma and Killian turned back to her. "Hook," she said, "you remember Belle?"

Killian nodded.

"She's in the hospital's psychiatric ward," Regina said. "Code's 8716. Gold thinks she's dead. That'll be why he's trying to kill me - he thinks I killed her. If you can get her out and bring her here - "

"Got it," he said.

"And hurry!" Regina shouted as Killian grabbed Emma, tugging her away from the danger zone.

The fireballs stopped falling and lightning began to strike again, hitting dangerously close to Regina. Emma looked over her shoulder and nearly went back to help, but Killian grabbed her hand and pulled her onwards.

Chapter Text

They ran through the streets of Storybrooke, the sky growing darker, Killian leading the way. "So who is Gold?" Emma called as they ran.

"Rumpelstiltskin," he said, "the Dark One. Most powerful sorcerer in all the realms. He's my nemesis."

"Really?" Emma said. "Most powerful sorcerer around and you decide to pick a fight with him? Seems kinda like a bad call."

Killian laughed. "He killed the woman I loved," he shouted back. "You'll remember when we break the curse."

Emma's heart pounded in her chest. She wasn't sure she could break the curse. If this whole True Love thing was the real deal - and Emma had seen no evidence yet that it was - then Regina was right. Henry was her best bet at a True Love and yet nothing had happened. Emma didn't know what else she could do. Whatever magic she seemed to have, it wasn't exactly controlled, and it was difficult to reliably use something that only ever reacted to mortal danger or anger.

For now, though, they just had to reach the hospital, find Belle, and stop Gold from killing Regina.

"Then who is Belle?" Emma shouted.

"Gold's true love," Killian told her.

"He has a true love?"

Killian shrugged, an odd feat considering they were still running flat out. "Takes all kinds," he said. He reached for her and guided her into a nearby building. "Here," he said, out of breath.

Emma grabbed a nurse and asked, "Where's psychiatrics?"

The nurse stared blankly at her. Emma shook her. "Down the hall, first door on the right," the nurse said, "but you need a code to get in - ?"

Emma and Killian were running again. They found the door and Emma approached the keypad, stretching her hands out in front of her before tapping in the code Regina had given them.

Emma raced down the stairs, followed closely by Killian, and up to the reception desk. "Belle," she panted. "We're here to see a woman named Belle."

The woman at the desk raised a cool eyebrow. "Your names?"

"We're here on the mayor's behalf," Emma said desperately. The woman's other eyebrow rose to join the first.

"Ah," she said, sounding not at all surprised. "This way, then."

She lead them deeper into the hospital, past dozens of sealed rooms, moving at a pace that made Emma want to scream. Henry was still back there, potentially in range of Gold's wrath, and here she was, not protecting her son - !

The receptionist finally stopped and, pulling out a set of keys, unlocked one of the doors. It swung open to reveal a woman, about the same age as Mary Margaret and David, with tatty brown hair and standard hospital scrubs about all Emma could see of her.

"Belle?" Emma ventured a guess. The woman didn't react.

"Aye, that's her," Killian said, giving Emma a small push. She went into the room, holding out her hand.

"We've come to take you home," Emma said. She wasn't sure that was true, but when Henry's safety was at stake she was more than willing to lie for it. "Come with us, Belle."

The woman looked dully up at them. "Who are you?" she asked.

"My name's Emma," she said. "But we have to hurry. We have to go right now."

Something akin to thunder rumbled in the distance.

"All right," Belle said warily. She climbed to her feet. "Anything to get out of this place, at least."

Emma led her out, Killian bringing up the rear by unspoken agreement. That way, if Belle tried to make a break for it, he'd see it coming. Emma hoped she didn't realise she was, for all intents and purposes, their prisoner.

"Remind me when this is over to find my hook again," Killian called up to her playfully as they left the hospital. Emma glanced at him, amused, as they all broke into a jog.

"Where are we going?" Belle asked, following their lead.

"Tell me, Belle," Killian said, "what do you remember?"

Belle stared at him. "Nothing."

"Sounds about right," Killian said. "Look, it's a little hard to explain, but we're taking you to someone who loves you dearly."

Lightning flashed. Emma picked up the pace.

***

By the time Emma, Killian, and Belle skidded around a corner to reveal the street before Granny's once again, they were all running flat out. The sounds of fighting in the distance had only grown worse. At one point, the ground itself had shaken, and Emma had forced herself to move faster, thoughts of her son trapped in the inn running through her head.

When they reached their destination, though, Emma flung out an arm to stop the others. "Wait," she said. "We have to be careful. One wrong move now, and - "

Killian nodded and took Belle by the arm, drawing her back to shelter against the nearest building. "Be careful, love," he said.

Emma moved cautiously towards the newly formed battleground. The place had been torn apart. Cars had been flipped onto their roofs, the street paving had been ripped out and flung through nearby windows, and shattered glass was everywhere. Emma glanced towards the thankfully untouched diner, heart fluttering in her chest.

"Is that all you've got?" she heard Regina shout. Thunder shattered the air around her and Emma saw a fireball wing from the ground up into the circling clouds. She ran towards it, leaping over the debris that littered the street.

"Come and get me, imp!" Regina shouted. A mad cackling filled the street and Gold reappeared, face twisted weirdly, not ten feet from Emma. Thankfully, he was facing away from her. Emma could only hope that meant he didn't know she was there.

"It's all your fault," he was whispering, "all your fault, all your fault - "

Emma pounced. Hands outstretched, she thrust a bubble of white light forward to surround him. Gold didn't move, only turned slightly to look at her. There was a mad look in his eyes. "Ah," he crooned. "The Saviour. Come to work her magic. At last."

"Regina," Emma called, fighting the wayward urge to allow the power surging through her to simply release. "We have her."

"What are you waiting for?" Regina snapped, emerging from her cover behind one of the cars in the street. She looked dishevelled, her hair gray from dust, her clothes torn, and a scratch on her cheek bleeding profusely. "Get her out here!"

Emma shook her head, arms straining. "First," she addressed Gold, "you and I are gonna make a deal."

Gold giggled.

"You're going to behave yourself," Emma said sternly, unconsciously using the same tone she used to make Henry go to bed. "You're going to stop trying to kill people and you're gonna stop damaging other people's property."

"Oh?" Gold said, voice raised high. "And what could you possibly have to make me do all that?" He glanced back over his shoulder at Regina. "She killed your grandfather, you know," he said conspiratorially. "And tried to kill your mother, and you, and the pirate," he said, snarling the last part, "and she killed my - "

He faltered, then, and Emma took advantage of it. "Not exactly," she said. Raising her voice, she yelled, "Killian!"

A long, quiet moment passed. Killian and Belle emerged from the nearby wreckage, picking their way delicately over to the source of the conflict.

Emma watched Gold carefully. All the colour drained from his face when he saw Belle. "It's a trick," he whispered.

Emma took a stab in the dark. "Like the Saviour being stillborn was a trick?" she asked. "Like your only hope of escaping this curse being dead before she lived?"

Gold didn't move.

"Well?" Killian asked, moving around to stand behind Emma. She barely noticed the concern in his eyes as he watched her trembling with effort. Regina moved up next to Belle and placed a firm hand on her shoulder.

"Rumpelstiltskin," she said coldly. "Do as the girl says, or I really will kill her."

Gold narrowed his eyes at Regina. Everyone stood quiet for a moment, poised to react, and finally Gold laughed his mad, strange laugh. "Fine!" he gasped. "I accept the deal, Saviour. Let me go."

Emma looked to Killian for a sign. A muscle twitched in his jaw, but he nodded anyway. "One thing can be said for him," Killian said. "He keeps his deals."

Emma lowered her arms, breathing a sigh of relief as the white light was sucked safely back into her body. Gold stretched, standing up on his tiptoes, before going to Belle. He glared at Regina until she moved away, then took Belle's arm and led her away. "You'd best hurry up with the curse breaking, Saviour," he called over his shoulder. "Else we'll be renegotiating."

Belle looked a little shell shocked. Emma was just about to take it all back and go after her when she noted how gentle Gold was with her, and the smile on his face as he looked at her. She made a mental note to check up on them once she managed to break the curse.

If she managed to break the curse.

"Well," Regina said, sounding oddly surprised. "That was easier than I expected."

Emma looked at her. "Why did you do it?" she asked, fed up.

Regina looked down her nose at her. "What exactly are you referring to?"

Emma gestured. "This," she said, "the curse, this place. Why did you do it?"

Regina drew herself up, no doubt ready to spit out a sarcastic retort, then abruptly deflated. "I don't know," she said wearily. "At first it was just about making Snow White pay for what she did, but I couldn't - I couldn't kill my father." She seemed naked, somehow, all her armour stripped away. "Then I heard that you were dead and I spent years thinking that it didn't matter." Regina drew a hand over her brow. "Except then that was wrong, and you were alive, and suddenly I had all this wasted time that meant nothing because she was happy the whole time, and I suppose - "

She hesitated. Killian laid a hand on Emma's back and she tingled at the touch.

"I suppose I was jealous," Regina said at last. "That she had been happy and surrounded by family, and I had been stewing in useless anger. Back then all I wanted was to take it from her, so she could be like me, but now I realise that what I really wanted was to be like her."

"So you cast the curse to take away her family," Emma said, suddenly exhausted. "And it worked, but it didn't help."

"No," Regina whispered. "And then I met Henry, and I thought - " Regina looked up at Emma and she saw the fear on the Evil Queen's face. "I'm sorry," she said. "I don't mean to presume."

Emma shrugged. "Technically," she said slowly, "he is your family."

A flicker of hope appeared in Regina's eyes. Emma thought of Henry, of her hopeful little boy who believed in happy endings.

"I suppose we could all be a family, really," Emma went on. "If you wanted."

Regina's eyes filled. "Yes," she managed to whisper. "I would like that. Very much."

"I guess that's sorted, then," Emma said. She turned to Killian and couldn't stop herself smiling at him. "I guess we should go explain things to David and Mary Margaret then."

Regina smiled and set out for Granny's, but Emma was prevented from joining her by Killian's hand in hers. "Actually," he said, smiling back at her. "I think you and I have some unfinished business."

"What?" Emma asked.

"You believe Henry now?"

Emma sighed. "Listen," she said, "it's not so much the whole fairytale thing I had trouble with. It's the lack of proof. Sure, there was a ton of weird coincidences, but there was no proof."

"And then?" Killian prodded, smiling infuriatingly.

"And then," Emma said, "I watched a purple fog allow people to teleport, throw lightning and fireballs, and cause me to break out this weird but pretty cool forcefield stuff. So yeah, I'm a little more willing to believe in Henry's cursed fairytale character theory than I was twenty four hours ago." She shrugged. "Plus, the addition of adult witnesses helped."

He tilted his head. "Anything else you're a little more willing to believe in?"

Emma's heart thumped. "Like what?"

Killian's eyes were dark and Emma fought the urge to lick her lips. "You know what, Swan," he said hoarsely.

Part of Emma wanted to walk away from him. Part of her was desperate to turn on her heel, find the bug, and drive back to Boston without a backwards glance. But Killian was here, and real, and if he really was who Henry said he was - who he claimed to be - well -

How could Emma let herself turn her back on that?

So she lifted a hand to touch his face gently. His eyelashes fluttered shut against his cheeks as she lifted herself onto her toes to press a kiss lightly against his lips.

She felt an indescribable power ripple out of them when their lips met, saw a flash of rainbow light against her eyelids, and opened her eyes to Hook's familiar blue eyes smiling wickedly down at her.

Emma shook her head, suddenly disoriented. She looked around to see the door to Granny's diner open. People were spilling out onto the street, talking loudly, shouting names and hugging frantically.

Her parents were somewhere there, she knew, but she didn't know whether to run to them or stay here with Killian - with Hook - for a moment longer. She turned to him and his smile, though a little bittersweet, was genuine.

"Go be with your family, Swan," he said, and Emma couldn't help but kiss him again. This time she was a little more thorough, pressing her body against his, opening her mouth up and nipping gently at his lower lip.

She took his hand and led him back towards the diner where, she was sure, several happy reunions were taking place. Pushing gently through the crowd of people milling about, Emma entered the diner with Killian in tow.

Everyone there turned to look at them when the door opened. Emma took it all in: Red behind the counter, Regina and her mother talking, her father with Henry wrapped up in his arms, and everyone smiling joyfully.

"Emma," Snow breathed, rushing forward. Emma caught her up in her arms, hugging her so tight she feared for her ribs. Snow didn't seem to mind, though, and only hugged her back harder. "My beautiful, wonderful, incredible girl," Snow said, pulling away to look her in the eye, cheeks flushed. She put her hands on Emma's face and Emma felt tears prick her eyes.

Charming came forward too, Henry still in his arms, and pressed a kiss to Emma's forehead. "We knew you could do it," he said, and Emma's heart warmed at the pride in his eyes.

The four of them hugged furiously close, Henry's head squashed in between the three of them. "Hate to say I told you so, but - " Henry started to say. He was cut off by laughter from all corners, and grinned cheekily at Emma.

"Look at this!" Snow exclaimed, pinching his cheek and turning to her daughter. "We let you go off alone for what, less than a decade, and you come back with a grandchild for us?" She tutted, then laughed again.

Emma felt herself blushing.

"I guess something good did come of all this after all," Charming said, fair as always.

Snow turned to face Regina and held out a hand. Regina came forward, oddly shy, and took her stepdaughter's hand. "Not only is she your step great grandmother, Henry," Snow said, smiling faintly at Regina, "I guess she's also the reason you're here. If she hadn't cast the curse and forced Emma to come in contact with your father - "

"Someone she never would've met if not for the curse - " Charming interrupted.

" - then where would we all be?" Snow exclaimed.

"I'm still sorry," Regina said quietly. Henry looked hurt and she quickly amended herself. "Not because of you," she said hesitantly. "But for everything - else. Can you ever - "

Snow placed her other hand on Regina's and said firmly, "Yes."

Regina smiled, tears in her eyes.

"It's not gonna be easy," Snow warned. "But I want us to all be a family again, as we were meant to be."

Emma turned then to look at Killian. Snow and Charming followed her lead. Killian looked uneasy. Emma held out her hand and he came slowly, unwillingly forward, taking her hand in his.

"Mom," Emma said, looking her parents in the eye. "Dad. This is Killian Jones." She smiled.

There was quiet for a long, long time. Killian held still, eyes focused on Emma, as everyone in the room examined him critically.

"He'll do," Henry declared eventually, and the answering laughter was all Emma needed.

Chapter Text

It's been almost a week since the curse broke and things have settled down, for the most part. Her parents are overjoyed: they adore Henry beyond belief, and he them, and Snow is just so happy about Regina's change of heart that she could love an angler fish if it succeeded in reuniting her entire family.

Emma's one regret is that - what with dealing with the fallout and catching up and reassuring everyone that of course she's looking for a way to get home (not that most people want to go) - she still hasn't had a change to really talk to Killian.

Oh sure, they're both fully aware of what they mean to one another. But Emma doesn't know how that fits in with her life. Is he her boyfriend? The word seems entirely insignificant. Lovers has all sorts of titillating connotations that Emma cannot afford, not with a six year old, and significant other seems bland and inadequate. Besides which, she's barely had a moment to be alone with him since they remembered everything.

And boy does she want to be alone with him.

It's a Friday night and they're just finishing up dinner at Regina's house. Snow and Charming are there, of course, as are Archie and Red and Graham (the latter two unable to stop blushing whenever they catch each other's eye), and Henry is in awe of his incredible new family. Imagine, Snow White and Prince Charming for grandparents! A wicked witch for step-great-grandmother! Jiminy Cricket and Red Riding Hood and the Huntsman for honorary aunts and uncles! Emma can't help but grin fondly. For a kid who started life with a single mother and nothing else, he's definitely lucked out.

"Come on kid," she says, after all the dishes are cleared away and everyone's finished the last dregs of their drinks, "we should get going."

Henry pouts. "Could I stay with Regina tonight?" he asks hopefully.

Surprised, Emma looks to Regina for an answer. Regina shrugs, looking just as surprised as Emma feels, with an extra dose of hope. "I can make up the spare room for him, if you want," she offers. Emma is struck by the vast difference between the woman who had tortured her in the Enchanted Forest (the woman who had reveled in her parents' misfortunes) and the woman who stands before her now.

"Sure, kid," she says, giving him a little smile. "I'll come by tomorrow for breakfast, sound good?"

Henry cheers and flings himself at her, arms wrapped around her middle. "Thanks, Mom," he says, voice muffled. He draws back his head to look up at her, a cheeky smile firmly in place. "Now get lost, it's bed time."

Everyone laughs, including Emma, because her son is precocious and sweet and adorable. She can't help but wonder, though, if perhaps he had an ulterior motive.

"Where's Hook?" he'd asked her impatiently when they'd first arrived. Oh sure, he waited until everyone else was in another room, but he didn't exactly use his inside voice.

Emma winced, hoping her parents couldn't hear. "I don't know," she'd said. It was (mostly) the truth. She was pretty sure he was out on the Jolly, but he hadn't said much when she'd invited him earlier in the day. Just brushed her off - not rudely; in fact he'd smiled softly at her when he said he simply couldn't make it - but no reasons or excuses were forthcoming.

Henry had huffed and said snidely, "Well I think he should be here."

"So do I," was Emma's somewhat self-pitying response. Henry had side-eyed her then, but Archie had come back into the room to ask Henry about school and the topic was dropped.

Now, though, Emma looks at her son, and he winks at her as he leads her to Regina's front door. "Have a good night," he sing songs. "See you tomorrow!"

And she's left out on the stoop, her parents looking curiously between the two of them, Henry firmly shutting the door in her face.

"You okay?" Snow asks her.

"Do you need a lift?" Charming says.

Emma shakes her head, a small, sweet hope bubbling up inside her chest. "No thanks," she says. "I'm gonna take a walk."

Her parents don't push it and Emma thanks every god she can think of. "Good night," they murmur, exchanging brief hugs and brushes of lips against cheeks and I love you's. Then they're sliding into their car and driving away from her.

Emma watches them go, then turns the other way and starts walking.

It's been nearly a decade since she was really alone with Killian.

She sneaks into the corner store, figuring that since she's the Saviour and her dad's on the police force and her mom's the queen nobody will mind a little breaking and entering for a good cause. She leaves the money in the till and goes back out the way she came, locking the door behind her, pocketing her almost-stolen goods.

Then she makes her way down to the docks.

The Jolly Roger is berthed there, swaying in the breeze, waves slapping gently against the hull. Emma walks slowly up to it, pausing just before the gangway. There are lights on below deck and her heart leaps erratically.

She moves forward, drawn inexorably onto the ship. She can't hear anything but the water and the wind, try as she might to detect a hint of Killian's movements. The light is bleeding out from underneath the door that no doubt leads to his cabin, and Emma pauses again before she opens it. Her hand falls to the knob and, ever so slowly, turns it.

The door slides open without a sound and Emma steps forward and down the stairs, treading lightly, hoping now that she might take him by surprise. She tries to calm her breathing but it's hard; she feels like she's wanted this all her life. In some ways, she has.

She reaches the bottom of the stairs just as the door slams shut behind her. Emma turns towards it, silently cursing her own inattention. Then something slams her into the wall.

"You picked a bad time to get lost, mate," Killian whispers, breathing heavily.

"Are you sure about that?" she teases.

He draws back and Emma is pleased by the surprise that flits across his face. "I thought you were at dinner with your family," he says, confused.

Emma loops her fingers through his belt and pulls him back against her, unwilling to let the warmth of his body leave hers. His eyes cloud over and he braces himself with his hand against the wall behind her. She feels small, trapped, entirely at his mercy. But her heart swells again at the look in his eyes, and she knows she's entirely in control here.

"I was," she allows, the corner of her mouth drawing into a lazy smirk. "Henry wanted to stay with Regina tonight."

She leaves one of her hands right where it is, keeping him pressed against her, as the other slides up his body, over the thin fabric of his shirt. He's entirely absorbed in watching her and Emma loves it, loves the way his mouth hangs ever so slightly open, loves the obscene way he licks his lips, loves the tension hanging thick in the air. He hasn't reverted back to his old pirate clothes - hook aside, although he doesn't seem to be wearing it now - which pleases Emma enormously. It'll be much easier to undress him like this.

"Swan," Killian whispers. "What are you doing here?"

His breath ghosts lightly across her face. She meets his eyes, answering the desire there with her own, and she whispers back, "Something I've wanted to do for a long, long time."

With the hand in his belt, she brings him flush against her, feels his body pressed against hers, feels his hard length press against her thigh. He groans, and warmth pools in Emma's belly. "Something I've wanted," she says, sliding her other hand over his arm, "since I saw you sitting in a dim, dirty bar in another world."

He murmurs her name again, only this time it's half a moan, and Emma pushes him back. His back slams against the door to his cabin and then they're kissing, all teeth and fire and passion, and Emma's whole body is alight.

Killian's tongue darts into her mouth and he's sucking her lower lip and biting and Emma moans, long and low. His arms are wrapped around her, pressing them together, and she's pulling frantically at his belt, ripping it free in a victorious frenzy. It's never been like this before, Emma thinks, almost smug with victory, never been quite so desperate. He won't stop groaning her name and Emma loves it, needs it, never wants him to stop. "Killian," she moans, and he pulls away from her, panting, looking like sin. His hair is mussed, his lips are red and swollen, his eyes are dark and desperate.

"What?" she whispers.

"Say it again," he demands, his voice pitched so deep it sends a series of rolling shock waves through her body.

She smiles instead, a wicked, teasing smile. "Say what again?"

He growls and spins her, slamming her back against the door, pressing her into it with the force of his whole body. She can feel his erection up against her thigh still and it's driving her insane. "Say my name," he insists, his nose a millimetre away, his eyes boring into hers. He punctuates it by rolling his body sinfully against hers, sliding against her, and Emma draws in a breath.

He smirks, mirroring her, and Emma breaths reverently, "Killian."

He groans as he meets her mouth with his own once more. Emma's never wanted anything so much in her life. She can only hope he knows, can only hope he understands just how much she needs this, by the way she's kissing him desperately and clawing at the button of his jeans with one hand. The other is fumbling for the door knob, and a moment later they're stumbling through the door, falling to the floor of his cabin.

Killian tries to pull her to her feet, and Emma just laughs, pulling him down to meet her instead. She can taste the smile against his lips. There will be many more nights, she thinks with a sudden moment of clarity, of smiles and laughter and sweet everlasting love to lull them to sleep. Not tonight.

She flips him onto his back, straddling him. His jeans are half undone already so she takes the opportunity to rip off the plain white shirt he's wearing. She's still fully dressed, in her boots and jeans and shirt and jacket, and Killian appraises this as she sits above him. Emma cocks a challenging eyebrow.

He lunges up to meet her, kissing the life out of her, tearing her jacket from her shoulders and throwing it across the room. His handless arm wraps around her back, keeping her in place, while his hand slides up her body to roughly palm her breast. Emma moans, breaking the touch of their lips and pressing kisses down his neck. She sucks at the hollow of his throat, biting and licking and hoping to leave a mark, as he murmurs nonsense in her ear.

"You are wearing far too much clothing," he growls, fumbling with her shirt. Emma pulls away from him briefly to pull it off, and then they're sitting there, together on the floor of his cabin, both shirtless, both looking utterly wrecked.

Emma takes a moment to gaze at him. She's only ever seen him bare chested once before, in the cave after the river, and at the time she was hardly using the opportunity as wisely as she could. Back then, she'd been too focused on trying not to let herself be attracted to him. Only now, when presented with his body against hers, does she realise just how foolhardy she'd been. But he only gives her a moment to drink in his well muscled body, his broad shoulders, the expanse of chest hair tapering to a narrow waist and those damned jeans before he scrambles to his feet, lifting her up and throwing her onto his bed.

Killian climbs on top of her, hovering above her, close but not touching. Emma reaches for him, tries to pull him down to press their bodies together once more, but he won't budge. He smirks infuriatingly at her and slides down to kiss her neck. He takes his time, sucking and biting, and Emma wriggles impatiently. He puts his hand against her hip and looks up at her. "Patience, love," he murmurs, sliding down further to nip at the rise of her breasts. "Good things come to those who wait."

"I've waited more than long enough," Emma says. The words taste like a promise. She rises up to snap the catch of her bra undone and reaches for the buttons of her jeans, but Killian grabs her hand before she can.

"Careful, love," he says, and Emma shivers deliciously at the danger in his eyes. "Don't make me restrain you."

Emma grins at the thought and says, "Not if I do you first."

She knows the exact moment he pictures it by the way his eyes nearly roll into the back of his head. "Swan," he groans, reaching up to take off her bra. "I swear - "

Emma takes advantage of his closeness to kiss him again, to drown herself in the taste of his mouth. Whatever plans he had disappear along with her bra and his chest presses against her bare breasts. She grabs for his jeans and is finally, blessedly, able to remove them (albeit with a momentary and regrettable pause in the kissing to slide the damned things down off his legs). He's not wearing any underwear and Emma makes a pleased noise at the sight of Killian, naked at last.

She slides her hands appreciatively down the small of his back, over the soft curve of his ass and down his thighs. She presses kisses against the flat planes of his stomach, deliberately ignoring the thick bobbing length of him now on level with her breasts, and Killian lets out a breath. Emma smirks. He pulls her back up against him and returns the favour, kissing a line of fire down her stomach, sliding her jeans off. Emma raises her hips instinctively and he kisses her hip bone, mouthing along the line of it, just above her underwear. She tilts her head back and enjoys the desire burning in her belly. Her jeans come off and his hand comes up to slide underneath the edge of her pants.

Emma's expecting him to just get on with it, so when he starts to kiss up the inside of her thighs she squirms impatiently. He slides his scarred stump down to rest on her hip, urging her silently to stay still, while his hand slides tantalisingly over her without ever quite giving Emma what she desperately, desperately wants.

She slides her hand into his hair and pulls tight, moans his name again. She can feel him tense with desire but he refuses to give in. His mouth draws close - so close - to that sweet spot between her legs, and then he simply shifts over to her other thigh and repeats his line of kisses. Emma bucks ever so slightly against the restraint of his arm.

He reaches the top of her thigh and moves so that his head is directly between her legs. Emma looks down and her eyes meet his, those exceptionally blue eyes, as his breath ghosts over her most sensitive flesh. "Killian," she says again, trying hard not to sound so breathy, "Killian, I swear to - "

Killian grins and slides his fingers underneath her underpants again, ripping them off her. Emma spares an instant's thought for all the ruined clothing of the night, but then her head tilts back and she can't really bring herself to care about anything except Killian's mouth any more.

His mouth.

He wasn't lying when he told her he was good with his tongue.

He presses his face into her, licks soft teasing circles around her clit, sucks gently but insistently - which causes Emma to buck furiously against him, prevented from breaking his nose only thanks to his ever-present arm on her hips - then dives down to press his tongue inside her, flicking in and out, circling her opening and occasionally stopping to press gentle kisses against her thigh. Emma is overcome not only by the physical sensation of his mouth, his tongue, his lips, showing her exactly how much he desires her, but by the emotion behind those kisses. She thinks back for a second on their past, on the journey that led them to this point, and knows that it was entirely worth all the heartache to have someone love her as much as Killian loves her.

Then he introduces his fingers and Emma loses the capacity for thought.

She's reduced to nothing but a puddle of desire as his fingers fuck her and his lips suck on her clit and it's far too much for Emma, everything is too much, and she comes with his name on her lips and his head between her legs. She gasps his name, her new mantra, as she returns to something resembling rational thought and realises that both of her hands are now tangled in his hair. Killian's resting his chin on her hip, now, the lower half of his face still shining from eating her out, smirking insufferably at her.

"I did warn you," he says.

Emma tugs on his hair and he comes towards her, kissing her again, and she relishes the taste of herself on his lips. "You taste so fucking good," he murmurs, and Emma smiles. His cock brushes against her thigh and Emma slides a hand lazily down his chest, her eyes never leaving his, and takes hold of him. Killian inhales abruptly, his eyes fluttering closed, and Emma grins.

It takes a little maneuvering, since Killian - famed pirate captain, terror of the seas, scourge of Misthaven - has only a single bed, but before he knows what's happening Emma is on top of him. She's still slick between her legs and she takes full advantage of it, sliding against his cock, delighting in the way his mouth hangs open and his head falls back as she does.

"Swan," he pants, gripping her hip with his hand, staring at her with heavy-lidded, lust-filled eyes, "do you have any idea -"

She leans down to cut him off, kissing him hard, still slowly grinding against him. "Shh," she breathes against his mouth.

"Emma," he says, and she can hear the pleading tone in his voice. She leans back, biting her lip, and drinks in the sight of him. He looks utterly wrecked. She can practically feel his desire for her, rolling off him in waves, pulsing into her body. Something in her responds and Emma is powerless to stop it. Not that she wants to.

She slides one last time, tilting her pelvis away from him, and Killian moans at the loss of contact. Emma presses a finger to his mouth to quiet him and he sucks it into his mouth, his cheeks hollowing. She's tempted to make him wait a little longer for the insubordination, but she craves him and she can't wait another minute.

Her hand circles his cock and his head tilts back again, his mouth faltering. Emma withdraws her hand and lifts his tip to meet her, poised to enter at any moment. Killian's breathing hard, and not looking at her, and Emma simply won't have it.

"Killian," she says, her voice dark. It takes a second, but he tilts his head up to look at her, his eyes pleading. "I want you to look at me," she commands.

His hand slides along her body, his eyes filled with wonderment. "I never want to see anything else," he says, and Emma is filled with affection for him. So she does the only thing left to her.

The tip of his cock slides in with no trouble. They're both panting and Emma bites her lip as he fills her, closes her eyes, allows the ecstasy to swell. It feels almost like coming home, like they really do belong together in every sense of the word, and she looks back down at him.

Killian lifts his upper body to meet her, brushes the hair out of her face with his hand, and kisses her tenderly. She rolls her hips against him and he moans, but doesn't break the kiss. She keeps up the motion, enjoying the shift of him inside her, enjoying the look on his face. She tightens her pelvic muscles and he groans so loud she worries someone might hear. Then she remembers exactly where they are and stops holding back.

She pushes him back down, gripping his face with her hand. "Killian," she says, voice direct and inescapable. "I want you to fuck me."

He growls and lunges and then they're on the floor, still entwined, still together, but now his weight presses down on her, pins her to the floor. He kisses her like it's his last chance and she responds eagerly, scratching hard along his back with no fear of hurting him, and the sounds that he makes encourage her. It's raw and animalistic and pure, and it's better than anything she's felt before. He thrusts into her and she pulls him deeper, grabbing his ass, squeezing and scratching and biting his lips.

He palms her breast and presses his chest against hers, and she begs him for more - harder, faster, deeper. She can't find the words to tell him how badly she wants him, how much she's always wanted him, how long she's waited for this, so she shows him instead. Shows him in the ripple of her body against his, the tightening of her muscles around his cock, the litany of nonsense and pleading that falls from her lips.

Killian shifts ever so slightly, pressing his head into her neck to kiss her there, and Emma nearly screams from the new way he's slamming into her. "Don't stop," she begs, "don't ever stop," and he doesn't, can't, won't, can only keep going, can only keep fucking her.

"I want you to come," she says now, her lips against his ear. It feels so good, so indescribably amazing, that she can't help but want to know that he feels it too. She strokes lightly down his back, squeezes around him, feels him shudder against her.

"Emma," he says, with only the slightest stutter. "Emma, you feel -"

He shifts again and the head of his cock slides effortlessly inside her and Emma does scream this time, feels her muscles tighten unconsciously, feels herself tip over the edge. Somewhere in her is the knowledge that she's saying his name and he's saying hers, and she can feel him coming too now, can feel him pulsing inside her as he thrusts one, two, three more times, and then he's done.

They lie there, on the floor of the captain's cabin, him still inside her, his head buried in her neck. One of her hands is stroking his hair tenderly; the other is still on his ass. She's exhausted and relaxed and she's never felt so whole as she does now.

He presses his lips against the side of her throat. Emma makes a contented noise and Killian moves as if to separate them. She frowns and pulls him back in.

"As enjoyable as it seems," he murmurs, nuzzling against her throat, "we can't lie here forever."

Emma groans, this time from annoyance rather than pleasure, and Killian slips out of her. He rests on his side next to her, his body still up against hers, and begins tracing patterns on her stomach. She looks up at him and he smiles down at her.

"God, you're sexy," she says. It's all she can think. He laughs at her and Emma fights the urge to blush.

"Darling, you have no idea," he says, leaning down to kiss her. It's a heated, long-lasting affair. Emma runs her hands over his body, touches his softening cock playfully, then pulls back as she remembers something.

"What?" he asks anxiously.

Emma nearly smacks herself in the head. "I forgot the condoms," she groans.

Killian looks just as embarrassed as she does in that moment. "Oh shit," he says. "I don't actually have any here."

"No, but, I bought some on the way over," she explains, scrambling to find her jacket, "because I wanted this and I wanted to be prepared -"

He reaches for her as he gets to his feet, catching her by the wrist and pulling her towards him. "Emma, love," he says, nuzzling against her cheek, "it's fine."

"Easy for you to say," she murmurs.

"I promise I don't have syphilis," he teases.

Emma rolls her eyes, hitting his shoulder playfully. It really doesn't seem all that bad, not when his arms are around her and he's smiling at her like that. "It's not exactly syphilis I'm worried about," she says, aiming to share in his light-heartedness. But his smile falters and Emma cocks her head. "What?"

"Would it be that bad?" Killian asks her, watching her with a measured gaze. She doesn't know what he means, and he elaborates. "More children."

Emma's eyes widen. "No," she says automatically, and then backtracks. "Well, not in general, but I was just hoping to not have to worry about it right now."

"Well," he says slowly, carefully, "I want you to know that - I want that. With you. And Henry."

"Want what, exactly?" she says softly. He looks oddly sad.

"A family," he says.

"Of course I want that with you," Emma says, lifting a hand to his face. She brushes her thumb over his cheekbones, down his face, across his lips. "But we have time, Killian." He relaxes, relieved, and Emma smiles again. "For the first time," she says, wonderingly, "we have all the time in the world."

She leans up to kiss him and this time it's unlike any kiss they've shared before. Soft, tender, and sweet. She pours everything she feels into the kiss and feels him respond in kind. When he pulls away, it's only so he can gaze at her again, with that soft wondering look on his face. (It's a look she's sure is mirrored in her own expression.)

"I love you," Killian says suddenly, staring searching at her.

Emma knows, has known for a long time, and yet still she's surprised. "I love you too," she says. "You know that."

It comes out as a question and Killian pulls her close, whispers in her ear, "Of course." She wraps her arms around him, squeezes him tight so he can't move away. She yawns against his shoulder and he laughs.

"Bed time for the lady," he says primly, leading her to his bed. His stupidly small bed.

"You're gonna need a bigger bed," she says sternly as she tumbles in, pulling him in after her. He puts his arm under her neck and his hand on her side, stroking her skin, but Emma's stuck with her arms folded awkwardly in front of her. "Since I'm going to be coming here so often."

"A ship is hardly a place to raise children," Killian says, scandalised. "I'll get a bigger bed when we move in together."

Emma raises an eyebrow. "Move in together?" she asks incredulously. "We've been dating, like, two weeks."

Killian roars with laughter. Emma is a little embarrassed at her instinctive response. It's modern day Emma's thoughts, the first reaction of a woman who knows nothing of love except a single bittersweet taste that ended with her in jail with nothing but the promise of car keys and a positive pregnancy test. Now that she's regained her old self, she feels differently.

"Ah yes," Killian says, still trembling with mirth. "Because agreeing to one day start a family and, presumably, get married some time in the near future - "

"I never said near," Emma says emphatically, poking him in the chest. "And you never said married!"

"Of course we're getting married," he says. "Emma, you are - quite literally - my soul mate."

"Yes, well," she huffs. "It'd be nice if you could at least ask."

His eyes are twinkling. "Emma Swan," he says, "my love, will you marry me?"

Emma sits up, staring crossly down at him. "You really think that's good enough?" she demands. "I'm telling you, Captain, you're gonna have to pull out all the stops for me." She lifts her nose high, doing her best to channel Regina at her most haughty. "I'm a princess, you know."

Killian's still laughing as he sits up to kiss her, running his fingers through her hair, tracing lines between the freckles on her shoulder. "Princess Emma," he says, "will you agree to a preliminary betrothal agreement with Captain Killian Jones of the Jolly Roger, pending a more thorough and magnificent proposal?"

"And at least three tasks to win my hand," Emma stipulates.

He raises three fingers in the air. "Saved you from torture by an evil witch," he says, lowering his fingers one by one, "at great personal sacrifice, may I add; saved you from said witch's evil curse; and provided you with means of breaking said curse. Already done."

Emma considers it for a moment. Sighs. "Fine," she says. "I agree."

His lips are sweet and Emma knows she will never get tired of kissing him. "Good," he says. "I love you."

She smiles into his mouth. "I love you too."