So, um, hi? Yes, after two years, I am finally back to writing. I know it's been far too long, and I am truly sorry for it, but please know that it was because I was focusing on getting some help and taking care of myself and my family. I have been desperately trying to write this entire time, but didn't have many opportunities and just couldn't seem to make any progress no matter how I tried.

I owe a huge thank you to my amazing friends. Both krustybunny and wordsmith-storyweaver looked this over, helped me get it to a place where I didn't want to cry when I read it, and encouraged me to post it even when I almost chickened out. In addition, I have to thank neverlandawaits us and holdingoutforapiratehero for being there for me through it all. I feel incredibly luckily to have met so many wonderful people through this fandom. Lastly, I also want to thank everyone who took the time to write to me here or on Tumblr. I was usually too ashamed and overwhelmed to write back, especially because I honestly didn't have any updates; the story was on hiatus until I could find a way to get it back on track. Still, every review and message was a push to keep trying, and I don't think I would have been able to get back to writing without them. This fic is isn't for everyone, and I get that. It is definitely imperfect, and looking back, there are a million things I would change, but anyone still reading it deserves to see the end. This isn't the final chapter, but it's a big step in the right direction. So thank you, again, for everything, and without further ado...

XXIX.

Hook crept through the various rows of cargo that littered the shadowy docks as silently as he could, listening to the sounds of Ed's wrath fade with the waves as he neared the anonymity of the city's streets. With a new coat of paint and a uniformed crew, the Jolly had passed for a Leinster naval ship without much difficulty, but it was his quartermaster's performance that really solidified the illusion. Ed was cantankerous even on his best days; the role of exasperated navy captain with little patience for the bumblings of an inexperienced young harbor guard was one the old sailor was born to play. Hook had to stifle a chuckle when he thought of the poor lad's blanched face and stuttered apologies as Ed ranted about protocol and falling standards. Sneaking off the ship had been downright simple thanks to Ed. He'd have to remember to buy the man a drink. Or five.

Thanks to information gathered during their assault on the Lady Victoria, they'd been able to plan their arrival and departure for maximum success. His crew had timed their approach to Leinster's port nearly perfectly, arriving just before midnight and, as such, right before the exhausted guards were scheduled to end their shift. There was little chance their subterfuge would be discovered before the harbor master arrived the next morning, and Killian had every intention of leaving these shores with his beloved princess long before that could happen.

The dockside taverns and back alley gambling dens were much as he remembered them; they were establishments he'd generally avoided in his straight-laced youth, but he'd searched for fellow sailors in them enough times to recall the geography of the area. It was all too easy to creep through the dark streets towards the imposing stone of the palace, which loomed far above the town on the cliffs facing the sea.

He had approached the castle from the forest during his previous rescue attempt, and thus had been spared the sight of his ruined homeland. Though KillIan had picked up stories of the once-great kingdom's decline over the years, he hadn't been fully prepared for how true the tales had been. What he saw before him was nothing like the glamorous capital city that had captivated his imagination when he was newly enlisted. Evidence of Leinster's slow decay during John's reign was everywhere, obvious in the crumbling facades of the once-beautiful buildings, dilapidated roads, and innumerable beggars sleeping on the streets. Even so, there were scattered signs of new vitality as well, as if Emma had brought her healing touch to the kingdom and spring was finally beginning to overtake the long winter of neglect. Scaffolding had been erected outside some of the more historic buildings, and the grand fountain in the main square had been freshly scrubbed and gurgled merrily in the quiet night, several large stone planters around it boasting fresh soil and bright flowers.

Circumventing the main entryway, Killian took to the woods once again. He arrived below John's private quarters and tossed a boarding hook onto the lowest balcony, using his years of experience to scale the side of the castle as easily as he would a galleon. His arms burned with fatigue, but within a quarter of an hour he'd successfully ascended via a series of windows and balconies, leveraging himself through a grand window and onto the carpeted floor of John's private bedchamber. Hook leapt to his feet, expecting discovery, but found the room silent and John's personal guardsmen as absent as the king himself. Slumping against the wall, he allowed himself to rest for a few moments before finally rising to take in his surroundings.

John's private rooms were completely empty, lit by only a handful of oil lamps and candles. Thinking better of his desire to roam the halls in search of his quarry, Hook decided to lay in wait, taking the time to explore his enemy's space in detail. Little in the opulent room had changed over the past year. Swords and other fine weapons of varying styles were displayed on the deep blue walls. Maps and documents were stacked haphazardly on a large mahogany table, which also boasted many bottles of expensive and exotic liquor. Several of the papers sported blotches of wine and other unidentifiable smears that led Hook to snort in derision; clearly the king was too often in his cups. Still, the quality of the assorted libations was evident, and Killian was briefly tempted to sample them while he waited before ultimately deciding that having all of his wits about him was far wiser.

It seemed odd that there was no real evidence of Emma or any other woman's presence in the space, save a large portrait by the fireplace. Strolling around the empty room, Killian investigated the new artwork above the mantle, and felt his throat go dry as he realized it was a painting of the day the young Prince was presented at court. John was centered on the canvas, sitting proudly on his throne with Emma beside him, their infant son held tenderly in her arms. It had been a year since he'd last gazed upon the face of his beloved princess, and though the portrait was a mere shadow of her true beauty, Killian felt the ache in his chest intensify just by looking into the painted visage. He didn't want to focus too much on the child, bitterness twisting in his gut at the illusion of happiness depicted in the colorful oils, but couldn't help thinking that the beautiful baby clearly took after his mother, all fine features and fair coloring aside from faint wisps of dark hair on his head that were captured in stripes of paint black as kohl. He instantly thought back to the daydreams he had when Emma had been with him, and felt so much angry disappointment that the child couldn't be his. In his refusal to acknowledge all he felt for her, he'd pushed her away, and now she'd been made to bear another man's son. Gods, what a mess he'd made.

A cacophony of grumbled curses and heavy footfalls announced the king's arrival as he emerged from a concealed doorway. His trousers were only half-laced and his shirt hung loosely on his shoulders, but the cloying, inexpensive perfume that mixed with the unmistakable smell of brandy made it fairly obvious that his bedmate had been someone of a lower standing than the queen. John froze as his eyes landed on Killian, amusement instantly shining in his eyes. "You!" he exclaimed, chuckling slightly as he leaned against the wall. "So you have finally come! I was beginning to think you'd moved on from all this. After all, your brother is still dead and your pretty little princess belongs to me now. I'd actually begun to think you were smart enough to know when you'd lost to a better man. Word on the street is Captain Hook's gone soft"

Refusing to be baited into making a mistake, Killian remained stoic, only the ticking of the muscle in his jaw belaying his utter rage as John pulled a fine rapier from its place on the wall, giving it a few careful turns in his hand. Each movement was graceful and precise, the obvious result of long hours of instruction. Never one to shy from an opportunity to prove his superiority, John had been somewhat infamous for a tendency to engage in duels early in his reign, but his success was as much from trickery as skill. Rumor had it that his blades were poisoned, and indeed, many excellent swordsmen had fallen late in their battles as their stamina suddenly flagged in spite of only receiving superficial injuries. The tactic was dishonorable and cowardly, but effective when combined with the king's years of training.

Hook had been a military man once. He knew all about proper form and protocol, had learned all the traditional moves and methods. More than that, he knew that fighting an opponent often came down to experience, and carefully orchestrated duels were nothing compared to decades at sea. In a fair fight, Killian had little doubt he would win.

This almost certainly would not be a fair fight.

"The only thing that's soft will be your guts spilling on this floor," Killian sneered.

John leveled an unimpressed stare Hook's way. "So, this is what became of the little navy boy who turned pirate." He shook his head, feigning disappointment as he gestured widely. "You are out of your depth, lad. You honestly thought you could take whatever you wished from me, and not face the consequences? How did that work out for you?" He paused as the two men slowly circled each other in the room. "Nothing you do now can change the past. I was sorry to lose your brother, as he was an excellent captain, but sacrifices must be made in times of war. As for Queen Emma, well, when you think about it, it was really you who destroyed her perfect little life."

Hook scoffed, pulling his own blade from its scabbard. "I'm not the one who manipulated her into an empty marriage for the sake of being your brood mare, you swine."

With a cocky smile, John closed and struck, retreating back a step as he did so. It was just a testing clash of steel, more to assess Killian's reach than to wound, but it was fast. "Ah, but you're the one who forced a broken engagement, took her innocence and then abandoned her to the merciless gossip of the court. You're the one who stole her and hid her away for your own pleasure. Frankly, without your interference, I would have had no reason to take much interest in Sylvania at all, but instead managed to get a fine bride and an alliance as well out of the mess. I doubt you can appreciate what a rare creature she is, possessing charm, beauty, and wit. I have been willing to overlook that she was seduced by a scheming rogue, and she has in turn proved to be more of an asset than even I had anticipated." Another quick strike, and he danced away again. "My people are sheep, but they absolutely adore her, you see, and having her by my side has made me far more popular than I ever would have been alone. She has enchanted them, and her efforts domestically have allowed me to focus almost singly on conquest and colonization. I find it rather amusing that you think she would have any interest in you now."

"And what of your sins?"Hook countered, uncomfortably aware that there was a grain of truth to John's obnoxious taunts. He tried a feint to the left before striking right, but John was quicker than he had expected and Killian narrowly missed getting caught by the rapier when the king followed his block with a quick thrust of his own, his hook catching the blade and directing it away at the last minute.

"You seem to think I'm a dishonorable villain. I would have suggested you take a look in the mirror, little lieutenant. Would your dear departed brother really want you chasing your revenge after all these years? All you will accomplish with this foolish endeavor is your death."

"A man unwilling to fight for what he wants deserves what he gets." He initiated another brief but unsuccessful attack around a table, though both men parted unscathed, forcing Hook to reassess his tactics. Were they on the Jolly Roger, he could have easily used the rigging and deck to his advantage, but here he was forced to account for the room's chairs, rugs, and other unfamiliar furnishings. The king's rapier had the advantage of speed over a saber, and while Killian wasn't afraid of being bloodied in a battle, a single strike from this blade would likely be enough to end him. In order to win, he would need to outthink the king.

"Man?" John laughed, "Some man you are! You fucked that gorgeous girl for-months, was it? Meanwhile, I had her on our wedding night and managed to get a child on her the very first time."

Hook scoffed, pinpointing in that moment John's greatest weakness- his arrogance. "That's not even possible."

"Well, the proof is down the hall, pirate. No man in my employ would be mad enough to commit treason with my queen, and the last time you saw her-"

"Was two nights before you married her. I filled her with my own seed twice right in your marriage bed, days before you'd even clapped eyes on her." He paused, watching John's brow furrow as he revealed yet another truth. "Her cycle coincides with the full and new moons, mate. She wasn't fertile on your wedding night."

The king narrowed his eyes at KillIan, as if really seeing him for the first time, then turned to the painting on the wall, anger, despair and disgust now vying for prominence where his expression had been smug mere minutes ago. Hook followed the king's gaze, noting for the first time that the babe's eyes had been painted vibrant blue rather than the green he'd originally assumed.

"No. You lie," the king whispered. "It cannot be."

Hope, dangerous and powerful, blossomed in Killian's chest as he pushed the king further into self-doubt. "How many women have you bedded, and not a single heir from any of them?"

"Enough!" John growled, grabbing a bottle from his desk and smashing it against the wall. He lunged at Killian, who allowed himself to be forced backwards as he defended.

Killian's expression showed a hint of fear even as his grin grew wider, more feral. He didn't dare believe that his taunts were true, but he could see John's poise falter with every doubt he planted. "All these years, and you thought it was that easy?"

John slashed furiously, forcing Killian to yield yet another step. "By the gods, I will kill her for this betrayal. Her, you, and that bastard she tried to pass off as my own!"

This time when their blades met, Hook intentionally slowed his movements as if fatigue had begun to take its toll. Batting John's weapon away as he ducked behind a chair, he avoided being nicked by the poisoned blade only to be caught by a punch to the face, the movement throwing him off balance as his cutlass clattered to the floor and he pretended to be exhausted. John's smile widened as he savored his seemingly imminent victory, playing directly into Killian's plan. He surreptitiously loosened his hook, praying he wasn't misjudging the bastard, and grabbed a dagger from his boot as he gasped.

"Looks like you brought a hook and a knife to a sword fight," John taunted. "Neglected to do your research, did you? All I'll need is one little cut with this blade, and you're a dead man. The poison starts to take effect within a minute or two, and after that you won't be much of a threat. And then what am I to do with you?"He kicked Hook's sword away, angling his head towards the far wall, across from where he had entered only minutes before. "I'm sure you'd like to see your dear Emma one last time. My private corridor to her chamber takes but a few moments, but do I fuck her in front of you or strangle her so you can watch the light go out of her eyes?"

Killian slowly raised his weapons, making sure to let his hands shake a bit, as pure rage coursed through him. "I think you'll find I'm a survivor."

John's eyes just narrowed as he made his move, and Killian played into expectation, catching it with his hook before falling to his knees. With his opponent at a disadvantage and only a hook between him and victory, the king's smile turned predatory. Seeing that all he needed to do was free his sword and strike, John forcefully wrenched his rapier away, throwing his full weight into the motion with the anticipation of meeting resistance. Instead, the hook slipped easily from its place, causing his whole body to stumble backwards at the sudden shift in balance and leaving his entire torso wide open to attack. Killian instantly pounced, delivering a vicious upward stab with his dagger that cut through belly and lung in a long fatal thrust. John stared in shock for a moment, blood foaming at his lips as Hook twisted the blade and removed it, causing a waterfall of crimson to flow down the king's front as he choked wordlessly. A swift kick to the chest and John finally fell to the ground, silent.

Moving to lean against the nearby wall, Killian watched the king's dark blood stain the carpet in an ever-widening circle as he willed his heart to slow and paused to take a moment to ensure he hadn't been injured. It was done. The tyrant was dead. The corpse's lifeless eyes stared up at him, he didn't know what he should feel in the moment- relief, joy, satisfaction, perhaps- but while John's lifetime of horrible deeds certainly earned him a gruesome death, Hook felt strangely numb.

He retrieved his hook and sword, cleaning them thoroughly in the king's washbasin. He had no idea what would happen when he went through the passage to Emma's chambers, but he had to see her, and the young prince. He had to know if what he suspected about the boy's paternity was the truth. With equal measures hope and fear, Hook unlocked a hidden door in the wood paneling and went to find out if fate had at last been kind.

XxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXx

Emma was awakened by the creak of the king's private door in her room, immediately worrying that John had gotten drunk and decided he'd had enough of his mistresses after all. Terror caused that thought to fly from her mind when a black figure crept into the room, and she nearly called for the guards until she recognized the glint of a hook where the silhouette's left had would normally be. He walked to the bassinet and stood over it, swallowing audibly as he stared down at the child quietly sleeping. Slipping out of the bed, she paused halfway across the room when she heard his voice, hoarse and sounding loud in the still night despite the fact that he was barely whispering.

"Is it true?"

"Is what true?" She asked, slowly making her way towards him.

"Is he mine?" His voice broke on the question, and she wanted to cry knowing all he'd already missed.

"Yes, Killian. Liam is your son." She saw him tremble, and wrapped her arms around him from behind, nestling her cheek into the warm leather of his thick coat and trying to pick out his warm, spicy scent amongst the reek of blood and sweat as she held him close. He clasped her hand to his chest, squeezing briefly, then released her and slowly extended a ringed finger towards the sleeping baby, gently caressing his chubby cheek as Liam stirred slightly.

"You named him Liam."

She smiled gently. "Well, according to the official papers, it's His Royal Highness Prince William Henry of Leinster, but he's always just Liam when he's here with me."

He took another deep breath, seeming unable to tear his eyes from the child. "How do you- how do you know?""

The unspoken end of the question lingered in the air between them- How do you know he's mine?

As if on cue, Liam opened two tiny eyes to stare dreamily into his father's face before they blinked several times and slipped closed again, the all too familiar blue answering the question far more effectively than anything Emma could have said. "Well, he does have your eyes." She traced the shell of her pirate's ear with a dainty fingertip. "And your cute pointed ears- and your temper, just so you know. He's got the potential to be quite a little hellion, I'm afraid."

His shoulders relaxed slightly as he catalogued the tiny prince's features, seeing more of himself there than he had ever dared hope. "John is dead," he whispered, still refusing to look at her and afraid that the little miracle peacefully sleeping amongst the blankets might disappear if he looked anywhere else. He had been so sure that she loved him when he'd left over a year ago, but he worried that had changed in the time they'd been apart.

"I assumed," she responded quietly, knowing that the king had been living on borrowed time and long comforted by the knowledge that she would be a widow soon. "You came from his rooms, after all. I didn't imagine he would survive being alone with you for very long, and I can't say that I'll mourn his passing. We both know that he earned his death many times over."

Hook turned in her arms then, hand coming up to cup her cheek. "I thought I'd feel something when I gutted the bastard, expected some joy or satisfaction, but all I could think of was you and the boy- of seeing you and learning the truth, or, had things gone badly, taking him with me if I didn't survive, so he could never lay a hand on you again. I should have hacked him to pieces for what he's done to me and, gods, to you, but then it was over so quickly and I felt... nothing. In the end, my revenge meant nothing at all, compared to how much I feel for you, my love."

She mirrored his pose, hands coming to his cheeks to steady him. "Killian Jones, the only things that should truly matter to you are right in this room." Whatever else she might have said was swallowed by his desperate kiss, and she was more than happy to leave further discussion for a later time, wrapping her arms around his neck to press her body against his, the sheer silk of her nightgown doing little to diminish the heat of his skin against her. He shrugged out of his heavy leather coat, dropping it to the floor before gathering her in his arms again. Stumbling backwards, they fell to the bed as his hand roamed every curve of her body, his touch lighting a fire in her that she had feared would be impossible to rekindle after their time apart. Unbuckling the clasps on his vest, she shoved it off his shoulders, her hands moving to untie the laces of his trousers as he pulled his shirt over his head. It took a few more moments for him to shed all of the heavy leather, but mere seconds for him to draw the gown over her head. His eyes practically bulged as he took in her swollen breasts, his hand caressing them ever so gently as it ran down her exposed flesh, raising goosebumps across her skin.

"Gods," he murmured under his breath. "How is it that you're even more beautiful than I remembered?" His fingers gently traced her waist and continued down, dancing over her few stretch marks with a reverent smile on his handsome face.

She wanted to cry in joy, her unwarranted fears that he would find her repulsive now that she'd borne his child evaporating in an instant. Shifting her legs, Emma moved so he could settle between her thighs as he kissed her, the nudge of his hardness against her entrance making her feel mad with desire. He kissed down her neck, rutting lightly against her as he whispered praises.

He could scarcely believe that it had finally happened; he had killed John, and reunited with his princess, who it turned out had given him a son. His heart felt like it might burst from it all, the ache of his intense joy making it hard to process that his deepest fantasies could come true after all. "Gods, my love, dreams of you have been all that kept me going these long months. I want you so much, Emma. Now more than ever, I want you."

Emma was the first to admit that Liam could be an occasional terror when awake, but she'd never been more thankful that he was a remarkably heavy sleeper than at that moment, her body begging her to welcome her pirate back into its embrace. His hand went between her legs to ready her, but she stopped him, suddenly nervous.

"Wait," she started, gently carding her fingers through his thick hair when he looked at her in sudden panic. "I want this. Just, please, be gentle. I haven't been with- not since well before Liam was born." She felt her blush creep down her neck, and his answering joy pressed into her breastbone in a lingering kiss before he moved down her body to duck his head between her legs. She protested a bit, not wanting him to feel obligated when it had been so long. "No, I didn't mean- you don't have to, Killian. I'm ready for you."

He chuckled, eyes sparkling mischievously as he shrugged slightly. "It's been quite a while for me too, love. Indulge me." He couldn't voice the truth that he hadn't been with a woman since that fateful night over a year ago when they'd come together for the last time right in this same bed. He felt overwhelmed and raw enough as it was, now realizing that they'd made Liam that very night.

His son.

It was far easier to focus on worshipping her body, and his mouth positively watered when the scent of her arousal hit his nose. He dove in immediately, licking a wide stripe through her slick cunny and moaning at the way she cried out quietly and arched her back. "Fuck, even though I dreamt of you every night, I'd almost forgotten how good you taste," he groaned, memories of the first time he'd tasted her and how far they'd come since spurring him to tease, lick and suck with even more desperation.

Emma hadn't felt pleasure like this since their last night together, and couldn't resist burying her hands in his thick hair and keeping him right where she wanted him. His hand tightened against her thigh and he groaned, pulling her even closer as his talented mouth quickly sent her over the edge. It took everything in her to hold in her cry of pleasure, and she couldn't keep her legs from shaking as he placed gentle kisses to her.

Nipping softly at the porcelain skin on her inner thighs, he let her come down, delighting in her ragged breathing and proud to know that her body still responded to him so dramatically. He began to kiss back towards her center, thinking he'd make her come again, when her hands yanked on his hair, urging him to climb over her writhing body. He could feel her wet warmth against his cock as she wrapped her legs around his hips, and met her eyes for confirmation before shifting slightly and pushing just the tip into her, holding back as she bit her lip and moaned quietly.

"Are you alright, love?" He asked, brow furrowed in concern.

She laughed breathlessly, rocking her pelvis to take him a bit deeper. "Oh gods, yes. For the first time in a very long time," She framed his face with her hands again, tears swimming in her eyes as she stared up in adoration. "Make love to me, Killian."

His fierce kiss stole her breath again as he began to take her in slow, long strokes, thrusting slightly deeper each time. Finally sinking all the way into her hot cunny, he held still, shaking with white-hot pleasure. He couldn't remember the last time he'd gone so long as a month without fucking a woman, let alone over a year, and the intensity of being deep inside her was so overwhelming that he felt like a green lad with his first girl. "Oh fuck, Emma," he groaned, tipping his forehead to hers. "You feel bloody amazing." A quiet gasp of pleasure escaped her parted lips on his next thrust, and he couldn't hold back any longer, making love to her with every bit of his body and soul.

She could tell he was close already, the tension in strong muscles of his back obvious under her hands as he moved over her. Snaking a hand between their bodies, she rubbed frantically at her still-sensitive clit, his moan when she tightened around him only spurring her efforts. "I- I'm sorry love," he said, voice tight. "I don't know how much longer I'm going to last."

He sat upright, pulling her hips into his lap as she remained splayed out before him, touching herself as his thick cock disappeared into her perfect little body. She had a slight roundness to her figure now, and he found that he was just as attracted to her as ever; her larger breasts bounced with every thrust and her soft hips fit perfectly in his hand. Her eyes suddenly screwed shut as she came, and he was powerless to fight his own climax as the pulsing walls of her cunt squeezed his cock. He drove himself deep one last time and fell over the edge.

Fighting through the haze of her orgasm, Emma opened her eyes, wanting to watch her beloved pirate come. His brow furrowed and his mouth dropped open as he groaned, everything in his expression showing the pure pleasure he felt as he finished inside her. She moved her thumb over the stubbled line of his handsome jaw, then traced his hairline and ran her fingers through his hair, soothing him as he relaxed into her touch.

Killian reluctantly slipped out of her warmth and crawled beside her on the bed, pulling Emma close and burying his nose in her hair. If their intimate reunion was anything to go by, she was just as relieved as he was that their long year of separation was finally over. He suppressed a smile, realizing that he'd now bedded her as both a princess and a queen, but could no longer think of her as a conquest despite his many years as a greedy, lustful pirate. She could have a thousand titles or none, and his love for her would only grow, so long as Emma's heart was his. After fighting for so long, the pain of the last 15 years was finally melting away.

He took a preparatory breath and began to shift slightly, wanting to spend forever in her bed but realizing that John's corpse would be discovered before long. Tapping her hip gently, he urged her to rise. "Come on, love. Time to pack your things. We'd best be off before anyone finds your dear departed husband's body and much as I'd love to spend the night in this bed with you, we have already been reckless with our time."

She only held him tighter, tucking herself into his side, and he paused, watching her troubled face and tilting her chin until she met his eyes. "Emma, love, what is it?"

She sighed quietly, shaking herself awake as she looked away. "I've thought about this, Killian. Every night I imagined what I would do when you came for me. At first I just wanted to run away from this place and never look back, but seeing what this land could become and having Liam has, well, changed things. Now that John's dead, the administration of the kingdom would fall to me until Liam comes of age. If I leave with you tonight, I'll be suspected of playing a role in the king's death, and we'd be hunted until the end of our days." Her eyes turned to him, sad but sure. "It's not just about us anymore. We have the people of your homeland to think about, and the baby."

His gaze turned icy. "You know I'd never let anything else happen to you or Liam once you're with me. As for Leinster, it hasn't been my home in a long time."

She sat up, running a hand through her golden hair. "But it's been mine for a year, Killian, and they deserve so much better than what they've had. You're not the only one whose life has been destroyed by John's villainy. Your son could rule well, and change the lives of all these people. He could make this kingdom a place of joy and prosperity. You want to love a princess? A queen? I was raised to believe that this is what being royalty should mean. This is my duty!"

"I don't know how you expect me to walk out that door, knowing you and my son are here." He rose up as well and folded her into his arms, holding her tightly. "I can't lose you again, Emma. I can't. Come with me, love."

"And be what?" She snapped. "Just another in a string of people who have failed this kingdom?"

"You could be my wife." He didn't hesitate when she snorted at his casual suggestion. "What? Officially, you're no longer married. Why not?"

"You and I both know that I can't just follow my heart, even if I stay. A queen can't marry a pirate." Hurt flashed in his eyes, and she soothed it with a kiss, stopping him from interrupting with a shy smile. "But I have looked into this, quietly, over the last year. A little careful reading here and there, always hoping you'd return to me. With John gone, I'm sure Leinster will have need of men who are brave and loyal to defend it's lands and it's young heir from forces that, unwisely, see me as weak."

He chuckled slightly in spite of their words, brushing a bit of hair from her face. "Fools, then- the lot of them."

She huffed out a breathy giggle, then continued. "Were a pirate to pledge his loyalty to me, and become privateer, there'd be no questions when I eventually knighted him for his valiant service, and while I can't marry a pirate, I can most certainly marry a knight of the realm." She faced him fully, ivory hands coming up to frame his stubbled face. "I love you, and want to be with you for the rest of my days. I shall marry none until I can marry you, Killian Jones. There will never be another man for me, nor, I hope, another woman for you. I would have gladly given the title, the luxury, all of it up to be with you a year ago! Can you not make the same kind of sacrifice and leave a life of piracy behind to be with me and your son?"

Tears lined his eyes, and he closed them, loosing a long shaky breath. "What you are asking of me, gods, Emma, is nearly unbearable. Still, it was I who set you on this fateful path, I who attacked your ship and took you into my bed. For all the wrong I have done you, you have given me hope where I had none, and for that I cannot ever thank you enough. You have shown me that a heart full of love is the most precious treasure of all, and it is one I don't intend to lose." Hook sighed again, wishing he could stay but realizing with a heavy heart that he now had one more task to accomplish. "It also means that I need to go back and hide the evidence of John's murder, to spare you from any chance of suspicion. No one will ever know how or why he died, save you, and I suppose that will have to be enough."

"Killian, I- I'm sorry." She apologized, leaning her forehead against his.

"No, it's alright,"he assured her. "Truly. He is dead. In the end, that is all that matters. The world may never know that I had my revenge, but I've gained far more than I've lost, and far more than I'd ever dared dream I could have." He turned again towards Liam, a tender smile playing at his lips. For his son, for his love, he knew what his decision would be. A solution he'd used countless times to hide the evidence of his seafaring crimes came to him almost immediately, and he moved into action.

"There's no denying how he died unless the body is destroyed but fire should be able to cover up his murder. I'll lock the passage door behind me. Keep Liam with you." She ran to scoop the boy into her arms, holding him close. "And the moment you smell smoke, run into the hall and call for help. " He briefly scanned their elegant surroundings. "I hope you're not overly fond of anything in this room, because I have no idea what the extent of the damage will be. "

She hurriedly crossed to her vanity and retrieved an ornate gold locket, then returned to his side, opening it to reveal a small portrait of their infant son. Pressing it into Killians palm, she smiled softly at the painted likeness and caressed the calloused skin of his fingers. "Only this, my love. I commissioned it when our portraits were painted, just in case I might ever have a way of giving it to you. Now, go before they discover anything amiss and we have a whole new set of problems. Fate seems to be with us at the moment, but," she shook her head, "I think we both know better than to believe that will remain unchanged."

Careful of Liam, Killian wrapped her in his arms, kissing her thoroughly. She poured every ounce of love she could into the kiss, hoping it would be enough, hoping this parting would be the last they needed to do with the fear of discovery looming. He cradled Liam's tiny head, pressing a gentle kiss to the wisps of dark hair, and turned to leave the same way he'd come when she whispered.

"Make your way to Port Jefferson in a month's time. You'll have a letter waiting."

He nodded, swallowing hard, and said. "I love you, Emma. Both of you."

"And I love you, Killian."

Their eyes met for another moment, and he was gone, slipping through the door and audibly turning the lock behind him with a click. Feeling momentarily lost, Emma crossed the quiet room and lay on the bed, setting Liam beside her as she waited.

John's chambers remained mercifully undisturbed, and Killian quickly got to work, carefully retrieving his enemy's rapier and returning it to its proper place on the wall. He spat upon he king's lifeless body, then retrieved a large bottle of strong liquor from the desk, dousing the corpse in the liquid and dropping the empty glass bottle beside it. Killian made a last scan of the room before pushing an oil lamp from a nearby table onto the saturated carpet. Almost immediately, the flames engulfed the alcohol-soaked rug, quickly spreading to where john lay sprawled on the ground. The sickly sweet smell of burning flesh filled the air as the flames consumed the king, and Killian wasted no more time, swinging out the window and descending much the same way he'd climbed.

Shouts of alarm broke out above him just as he'd reached the woods, and he lingered long enough to see Emma race from the gates with their crying son in her arms, a look of absolute terror frozen on her beautiful face as the servants soothed and cared for her. She waved off the approaching guards, assuring them she and the prince were fine, albeit shaken, tears in her eyes as she asked what was happening. Though he knew her concern for John was an act, the distress in her expression was all too real, and he ran from the palace if only to keep himself from racing to her side.

It was still well before dawn when he returned to the Jolly Roger, quietly giving Ed the command to set sail before ducking into his cabin. Hook could tell by the crew's stunned faces that they fully expected him to be accompanied by the princess, but knowing better than to ask questions, they shoved off as asked. Once they were underway, Killian emerged, watching the shadow of the castle fade into the distance. After spending the better part of an hour pacing the deck until they'd safely left Leinster's waters, he called the crew together, explaining John's defeat, the truth of Liam's paternity, and Emma's request. Silence followed the story, until Smee sheepishly asked, "So, we'd no longer be outlaws?"

"No," Hook responded, before reassuring his crew, "though any who want to find themselves a new ship are welcome to do so. Emma and the prince have my allegiance, but I won't push you men into this."

"Are you daft, man?" Ed exclaimed, startling Killian with his lightheartedness in the face of such a serious decision. "We were willing to dress up in these ridiculous clothes and risk our necks for your girl. You're saying we have the chance to fight for her, with a full pardon and the possibility at a home and roots again? I can only speak for myself, Captain," he laughed, "but I'm getting too old for this pirate shit, running from every navy and living month to month. Privateer has a mighty nice ring to it."

Killian gaped, shaking his head slightly. "There would be rules, you realize. Codes of conduct. Prizes we'd have to overlook because they belonged to ally ships. We wouldn't have the freedom we do now."

"As if you don't run a tight ship already?" Billy shot back with grin, sharing a conspiratorial look with his crew mates. "We figured we'd be lucky to get out of this without the entire Leinster navy on our tails, but this? You did good for us , cap'n." He smiled fully then. "And you did damn good for yourself."

Mullins simply clapped Hook on the back before dragging Billy back to his duties. As they walked off, he heard the younger man muse "I wonder if she has any pretty ladies in waiting who might have a thing for rogues as well..." and couldn't fight the laugh that bubbled out of him.

When they docked in Port Jefferson four weeks later, Hook immediately set off for Mad Jefferson's office, with the shouted encouragement of his nearly unchanged crew ringing out behind him. A new hat was perched on Jeff's head, this one made of purple velvet and even more ridiculous than the last, but Killian barely even noticed as eagerly accepted his bundle of letters and pulled out two in particular to read. The first bore the Royal seal of Leinster and was addressed to Captain Killian Jones.

Captain Jones,

We are aware of your past offenses against the crown, but hold you in great esteem nonetheless and believe you to be, at heart, a man of honor. You are therefore invited to present yourself and your crew at court for a royal pardon in exchange for your services as privateers.

Come defend our waters and keep us safe.

HRH Queen Emma, regent of Leinster

The second was stamped with a simple swan motif and bore only his initials, a message for his eyes alone scrawled in Emma's elegant cursive.

Dearest K,

Your family misses you. It is time to come home, my love.

Yours always,

E