I really, really cannot say thank you enough for all the feedback I've gotten on this series so far. Honestly, it means the world. I hope you guys enjoy this oneshot! Wildest Dreams screams Captain Duckling so, well...this happened.

All the thanks in the world to Amber (sentbyfools) and Ella (ellasaidlumos) for looking this over for me/encouraging me/helping my brain get out of ruts.

This is also a little longer than usual...hopefully you guys won't mind?

-/-

Emma hates balls.

It's not that she has anything against the fineries (besides the way the corsets cut into her spleen, but that's a separate complaint). She likes the dresses, most of them. She likes her hair all curled and pretty (though, again, comfort comes into question. Some of the maids take the curling irons from the fire and nearly put it to her skin as if they're trying to brand her with a poker). Emma doesn't even hate the too-tall heels that leave bruises on her feet by the end of the night.

It's the constant attempts at courtships that are getting to her.

You would think the fact that Emma has an eleven year old son would deter some of the pompous pricks in the slightest, but they seem all the more encouraged by it. She's an easy target to some of them, a princess with a child out of wedlock and the father nowhere in sight.

Her parents are nothing but forward-thinking, of course. Her bandit mother hit her shepherd masquerading as a prince father in the head with a rock and then they somehow fell madly in love shortly afterwards. They always stressed that she could wait as long as she wants to find someone, or even not find someone at all, and they'd love her anyways.

Well, David was more okay with not finding someone at all. Snow was more of the "I know you'll find True Love, someday" type, frequently espousing how one day she'd meet someone - prince or princess, peasant or not - that would make her wildly happy and Emma would understand.

(Emma liked David's mindset better.)

With both of them, though, her worth isn't measured in her ability to bear the family heirs (which she already has, bastard child or not, but that's beside the point) and Emma knows she has enough love in her life, between them and her son.

She's heard enough horror stories from the families of other princesses - ones who ship their daughters off in arranged marriages to powerful dukes - that she knows how lucky she is to have the family she does.

And, if she isn't mistaken, she just witnessed her father spit into the wineglass of one of the biggest misogynists determined to win her (her throne) over - good ol' Hans. Emma has to shake her head amusedly, meeting her father's eyes. He only raises his eyebrows and begins surveying his surroundings as if nothing is amiss in the slightest.

She also, very clearly, recalls her mother giving Baelfire a black eye when he dared to show his face in the kingdom a few years after leaving her alone and pregnant to save his own reputation. Emma almost thought that David would get there first, at the time, but her mother somehow managed to propel her fist into the man who broke her daughter's heart before he did.

They hadn't seen him since.

Yeah, she has all the love she could need in her life.

At that thought, her son appears behind her, decked out in his most royal fineries.

"Do I really have to wear the waistcoat, too?" Henry grumbles, tugging at the clothing in question.

Emma gives him a wry smile. "Kid, if I have to wear a corset, you can deal with a vest."

Henry gives her an exaggerated sigh. "Fine."

Emma takes his hands in hers and twirls her son around, amused by his antics. "You'll live."

-/-

Dancing with her son and joking with her parents are the easy parts of balls, the fun parts. They're probably the only reason she doesn't lock herself up in her chambers and sulk at these things, but it's the fact that she has to make nice with the neighboring royalty that tempts her to find an escape route out of her own damn palace.

Emma likes Aurora, Mulan, Phillip, and Cinderella just fine. She adores Elsa and Anna, the two women from Arendelle who have always been like the sisters she never had. There are, in fact, people she can stand at these things.

It's just that she usually ends up cornered by the people she can't.

Emma inevitably ends up in a soul-sucking, hour long conversation with the aging Richard from Odaethen about the merits of two different types of shoe polish. It's miserable, but it certainly beats conversing with Hans, who seems to be eyeing her conversation with him as if he's planning on swooping in the second Richard leaves.

Which he does, before Emma even gets the opportunity to escape.

Emma wonders how much of a scene it would make if she stabbed him with a fork. It's a good thing for Hans that she couldn't wear her sword with her dress.

"Shoe polish, hm?" Hans comments, looking remarkably proud of himself for his observation.

"It's rude to eavesdrop," Emma replies, voice clipped. She really, really hates this guy. So much. She thinks that maybe David should've filled his champagne with more of his salvia, at this point. Maybe that way he'd complain about the alcohol being too watered down and leave.

Hans ignores her, along with any semblance of politeness. "I guess you would rather have the guy talk your ear off about more interesting topics for a princess - sewing, perhaps?"

He looks as if he's half-expecting one of his eleven douchebag brothers to high-five him and say, "Ha! Women!"

Emma grits her teeth. "Yes, because women are only interested in clothes or hair, right?"

Hans scoffs derisively and she's curious if it'd really be that bad if she punched him in the face.. "Please, as if princesses are really interested in hearing about politics or foreign policy, like the men discuss at these things."

She can't keep in her response.

"Oh, what? Like your kingdom's policies of colonizing impoverished areas with the excuse of humanitarian work?" Emma deadpans, looking Hans straight in the eye as he struggles for an answer. "Yeah, The Southern Isle's diplomatic policies are so progressive. Almost as progressive as your blatant sexism, which is also - incidentally - about as subtle as my repeated demands for you to leave me the hell alone."

He blanches, jaw dropping.

"Oh, and by the way, if you're that determined to land a princess so you can fulfill your hopes and dreams of becoming king, I'd suggest trimming the sideburns." She scowls. "They're really getting out of hand. Also, it might help if you didn't treat them like shit. Just a suggestion."

Emma stalks off to sulk by the table filled with hors d'oeuvre, resolving that if another prince tries to talk to her, she is actually going to rip their head off.

"What a git," a man mutters beside her.

Emma whips around to face the voice, her red gown swishing around with her. She meets the eyes of a man - not much older than her - with blue eyes and messy dark hair. He's decked out in princely attire - a long coat and gloves - but the earring in one of his ears, the eyeliner on his eyes, and the scruff on his chin seem to almost contradict the rest of his appearance.

Emma raises an eyebrow; he seems to be analyzing her just as she had him. Finally, someone who potentially hated Hans as much as she did.

Maybe not all princes were total wastes of time and space.

"I can't disagree with you there."

He laughs, a low sound in the back of his throat. "I could tell by your thorough excoriation of the ponce. I don't think I've ever seen a man's pride so quickly wounded."

"Yeah, well," Emma shrugs, taking note of the way the man lounges against a pillar as if he's posing for a painting. "It sounded better than what I really wanted to tell him."

"Which was?"

Emma doesn't know how good of a first impression the words "Fuck off" would make. So, she elects to change the subject. "Who are you, again?"

"Allow me to introduce myself, milady." he greets with a bow, exaggerating the formalities as if he's doing it sarcastically rather than for purposes of decorum. "Prince Charles, at your service."

"Emma," she returns simply. She should curtsey, probably, but her feet are so sore in these heels that she doesn't really love the idea of putting extra exertion on them. Charles doesn't seem like the type to mind, anyway. There's something niggling in the back of her mind that tells her that he's not exactly who he's purporting to be, anyway, but she lets it go for now.

Charles doesn't seem to mind the lack of curtseying, but does seem almost puzzled by her lack of title. His eyes flick to the tiara on her head. "Not Princess Emma?"

"Well, yeah." she shrugs. "Just call me Emma, no need to get fancy. Would you like me to call you Prince Charles?"

"Do I need to constantly be reaffirmed of my royal status?" Charles supplies with a grin, eyes flickering to Hans. "Not particularly, love. I don't need to compensate for other...faults."

Emma has to laugh at that, this time.

"You've a beautiful smile, highness," he observes, holding his hand out in front of her in offering. "Is there any chance that a dance would keep it there?"

"Perhaps," she answers coyly, taking his hand with a certain sort of almost-giddiness. Emma isn't one for the courtship thing. The last man she was with was Baelfire, and well...it's not like that worked out well. But, really, what could the harm be in one dance? "I do have to warn you, though. I'm not much of a dancer. You may end the night with some bruised toes."

"That's quite all right." He leads her out on the dance floor easily, twining his fingers with hers and resting his other hand - wooden, she realizes idly - at her waist. "There's just one rule with the waltz, I believe. Pick a partner who knows what he's doing."

And with that, they're dancing. It seemed his advice rang true, because she hasn't even stepped on Charles' feet once. Emma has to admit, she's a little impressed.

"So, Charles," she drawls out carefully, meeting his eyes carefully. "Why haven't we stumbled across each other before? Because, I have to tell you, you usually get the same old crowd at these things past a point."

"Ah," he exhales, kneeling down so that she can walk around him with their hands still intertwined. "I come from a place quite far away, you see. I came to your kingdom with my navy to resupply and, of course, I heard about the festivities."

It's not quite a lie, but it's not quite the truth either. He stands up to take her in his arms again and she narrows her eyes. "Funny how that works out."

"Indeed," he replies, voice soft (too soft, really). "I suppose you could say fate brought me here tonight."

"That's sort of cliche, isn't it?" Emma replies, wrinkling her face. Deflection is one of her preferred strategies, but to be fair she wasn't expecting lines that may as well come out of her mother's mouth from the prince (or not prince, more likely, but she'll get to that in a minute) who started joking with her after she humiliated a man in front of him. "One dance and you get out that line?"

"Who says I was talking about you?" Killian retorts easily with a smile that contradicts his words. "I could be fated to dine on the delicious mutton tonight."

Emma rolls her eyes as he spins her around with a little too much enthusiasm.

"You've caught me, princess," Charles tells her lowly, pulling her a little closer. Emma can't find it within herself to complain, even as he moves to whisper in her ear. "The mutton was a tad dry. Your company, however, is nothing but enchanting."

Emma dismisses him easily. "Laying it on a little thick there huh, Charles?"

"Oh, but a woman of your beauty and intelligence deserves nothing less," he comments idly.

All she can do is shake her head, ignoring the heat she can feel creeping up her face.

They keep dancing through the rest of the song and she doesn't let go of him when it ends.

"The song is over," he notes with a grin.

"I know, but I'm not done." she murmurs and Charles' face lights up even further, if that was even possible. "After all, I still have to find out who you really are."

His face falls by a fraction and his steps falter. "I've no idea what you mean, love."

Definite lie.

"Let me guess, not really a prince?" she sighs, going through the dance with him and doing her best to keep a straight face. "I believe you when you say you're not from here, but we're not giant classists, you know. It's an open invitation to everyone anyway, not for just princes and dukes."

Charles does his best to keep his face impassive. He fails, a certain muscle in his cheek flexing. "As I'm well aware, love. Do you make a habit out of questioning men's royal statuses?"

"Not a habit, no. I do state the obvious sometimes, though. And the obvious is telling me that you're lying about who you are. I don't get why, but you must have your reasons," she explains briefly, noticing how his jaw flexes at her words. "So, it's probably a good idea for you to tell me the truth, now."

He opens his mouth to reply and as soon as he does so, the doors of the castle fly open. They both turn around to face the intruder, along with everyone else in the room.

"Well, well, well," a familiar female voice drawls, its owner ambling into the room. The Evil Queen's eyes the room with something like distaste.

Emma has only seen this woman a handful of occasions in her life - none of which were particularly pleasant and all of which involved various threats. Threats she was unable to deliver on, thanks to the quick thinking of her her parents and sheer force of will, but it was safe to say the woman didn't exactly generate a positive impression.

Regina was banished by force when Emma was sixteen, so she has no idea how the hell she managed to even step foot inside of her kingdom.

David draws his sword immediately and Emma curses the fact she doesn't have hers on hand. The guards mirror their king's actions, standing in a firm line.

"What do you want, Regina?" Snow White asks - barely holding her composure. Emma's mother is practically shaking with rage.

David has a similar question for The Evil Queen. "How the hell did you get here?"

Regina tuts in disapproval. "I'd expect a warmer welcome from this family. After all, aren't we family?"

Emma stiffens, her hands tightening on Charles. He only looks slightly bewildered.

"I see you've grown up since I've seen you last, your highness." Regina says the words acerbically, gesturing to Emma. Her back only straightens at the words, eyeing down The Evil Queen that tried to murder her and her parents more times than she could count with nothing but disdain.

"As a matter of fact…"

Regina turns around to face Henry, whom Elsa is attempting to shelter as best as she can with her body.

"Who might you be?" Regina coos, eyeing the boy with something like curiosity.

Elsa tucks Emma's son completely behind her protectively, while Anna mirrors her sister's stance.

It's too late. The thought is already in the queen's head.

Emma sees red, pushing past the prince - or fake prince, whatever - in order to storm up to the woman. "If you touch a hair on his head, I swear I will make banishment look like paradise in comparison to what I will do to you."

Lancelot and his men and women have Regina cornered in seconds, but that doesn't seem to deter the woman in the slightest.

"My, my. I heard the princess had a bastard child." Regina observes with distaste. "Don't you worry, dear. I'll take care of him for you."

In the blink of an eye, Regina is gone. Emma doesn't have time to wonder what the hell she even means by that before she notices Henry has vanished.

She swears her heart drops to the pit of her stomach.

Emma hears her parents immediately making commands to go after her, to get their grandson back, and Emma is tempted to just storm out of the place herself and walk until she can find Regina and strangle her herself.

But she knows Regina is long gone by now.

Emma stands there, shell shocked, for a moment until she notices the turn of a familiar brown coat behind her.

"Oh no, you don't." Emma practically growls, grabbing Charles - or whoever the hell he is - by the arm. "Did you have anything to do with this?"

"I bloody well did not." he protests, looking genuinely outraged at the accusation. "I may not be a prince, but I don't harm innocent children, either."

He's telling the truth and she narrows his eyes. Emma eyes him for a minute more. He hasn't moved an inch, but she notices something else.

The idiot didn't even take his necklace off and his pirates luck dangles, barely visible, in his vest.

"You're a pirate." It's a statement, not a question.

He nods with a bit of reluctance.

"What, you're here to steal our gold?" she asks sarcastically and, by the the look on his face, that's exactly the case.

That doesn't matter. Emma has a plan for what to do with him, anyway. She grabs his elbow and drags him off into the nearest hallway. The ballroom is in too much of pandemonium for them to notice her, at any rate.

He puts his hands - well, hand - up in surrender. "You've bested me, I admit. I can count the number of people who have done that on one hand."

Her eyes flick down to his prosthetic and she grimaces at the comment. "Is that supposed to be a joke?"

The pirate's deadpan stare tells her that yes, yes it is.

Emma huffs. "You're going to help me."

It isn't a request.

His eyebrows nearly reach his forehead. "I am?"

"My son was just taken from me, in case you missed that. You're going to help me get him back."

"And how the bloody hell am I going to do that?"

"You have a ship." she informs him, curtly. "Right? All pirates do. And judging by, well, you," Emma gestures to his stance - he's practically posing against the wall she's shoved him against. "I'm willing to bet you're the captain of it."

"Good guess," he concedes, still irritated. "I'm still not seeing how I'm going to be helping you, or how I am consenting to helping you. I've better things to do than cavort with pain in the arse princesses."

Emma just rolls her eyes. "Either you take your ship to help me find my son or all you'll be doing is tracing patterns on the inside of a cell, pirate."

"It's Captain, to you," he grits out. "Captain Hook, or Killian Jones if you prefer. Don't you have a naval fleet at your command, princess?"

"Right, because the Evil Queen will never notice a big ship with our kingdom's emblem on it." Emma replies sarcastically. "I doubt she'll bat an eyelash at a pirate ship, Hook."

He ponders it for a moment. "That's clever, I admit. I'm still not going to assist you."

"Fine," she spits out. "Guards!"

The ballroom is panicking, but that doesn't mean people won't come when she calls for them.

Hook's eyes widen. "You can't be serious."

"Oh, I am." Emma replies, voice low and threatening. She steps into his space, channeling every ounce of fury she has in her body at him. "You have no idea what a mother who is worried about her kids is capable of, Hook. I don't care how many rough pirates you hang around - I will be your worst nightmare. Now, either you can help me and get compensated for it with more gold than you could steal or spend an indefinite period of time in the dungeons."

"Tough lass," he exhales, looking up at the heavens as if they'll assist him.

No such luck.

"You'd make a hell of a pirate." Hook admits.

Sure enough, a few moments later Lancelot approaches them with worry clearly in his eyes. "Your Highness? Thank the gods, we were sure you'd just run aft-"

"I'm going after Henry," Emma tells him, matter-of-factly.

Lancelot looks as if he's expecting her answer. It was what he was just about to say, anyway. "We just sent a fleet after to rescue your son, princess."

He says the words like he knows it's an argument he won't win. And he won't.

"I know."

"And you're going after him anyway. I'd expect nothing less." Lancelot sighs, gesturing to the pirate next to her. "This man bothering you?"

"Nope," she replies. "Captain Hook, here, is going to be taking me to him."

Hook just looks resigned at the prospect, tucking his hand into his belt with an exaggerated sigh.

Lancelot looks quizzically between the two of them. "He's what?"

"Do you think Regina isn't anticipating us coming in, cannons blazing, after her?" Emma retorts, pointing in the direction of the ballroom. "She's luring us in and Henry is bait. You know that, Lancelot."

"And I also know that your solution would never be to leave your son behind," Lancelot observes. "That still doesn't explain the man I just caught you arguing with."

Emma gestures to Hook, at this. "Do you think Regina would be anticipating a pirate ship?"

Lancelot looks between the two of them - his confusion slowly making way to horror. "Emma, please tell me that you're not seriously…"

Emma only nods in response.

Lancelot scrubs at his face with his hand. "Your parents aren't going to be happy with this. I'm not happy with this. Of all the ideas in the world, highness..."

"Do I look like I'm changing my mind?"

Lancelot sighs, looking up the the ceiling very much in the same way that Hook just had. "No, I suppose not."

-/-

Her parents are, understandably, reluctant, but they're feeling a similar desperation that Emma is. They both insist on coming along on the ship (and Hook loudly denounces the idea of hosting an entire bloody royal family on his ship, thank you very much, and it's not as if he has the room for them, anyway). Emma manages to convince them otherwise (barely - and only because she told them she'd go anyway, whether they liked it or not and it's Henry).

David presses coming with her, even more than Snow, for her safety if nothing else.

"If you're so convinced about this pirate ship idea, why don't we just make one of our ships look like a pirate ship?" David suggests, much to the amusement of Hook and the exasperation of Emma.

"The crests are literally engraved in the ship, David." Snow points out with a groan.

David continues. "And do you know what kind of people pirates are, Emma? They're not a nice crowd."

Hook looks slightly affronted.

Emma just looks at her father in disbelief. "You and I both know I know how to handle a sword. I had a great teacher, after all."

He isn't impressed by the compliment. "You against an entire crew of pirates?"

"An entire crew of pirates that get paid?" Emma pretends to ponder the thought for a moment. "Hm, yeah, I don't think it would work out for them to toss me overboard."

Hook chuckles, but David only glares at the both of them. Snow seems conflicted.

"And how do you expect to save Henry with just you against her? Complete with her powers?"

Emma sighs. "You and I both know she's not the only one with powers, dad."

David pinches the bridge of his nose and Emma knows she's won.

"You trust him?" her father asks in disbelief, his one last protestation.

Hook makes a show of looking offended, but Emma ignores him entirely.

"No," Emma answers quickly. Hook pretends to look even more hurt by the statement. She has no idea how she's going to be able to tolerate him for the next few days. "But I know when people are lying."

David exhales.

They don't say anything else, just pulls her into their arms with a certain kind of desperate ferocity.

"Be safe," her mother urges. "I don't know if we'd be able to take losing a daughter and a grandson, Emma."

"I know we wouldn't." David adds, his voice getting more and more choked up by the second.

She hugs them back tightly, squeezing her eyes shut as she tries to memorize how it feels to have her parents holding her. They might not be able to again and the thought scares the hell out of her.

"We'll send another backup ship an hour behind you." Snow tells her once they've separated. She looks over to Hook. "And you better not touch a hair on my daughter's head, pirate."

Hook breaks his silence. "Your daughter seems fully capable of handling herself, your highness."

"Yeah," her mother replies, proudly. "She is. That doesn't mean I won't hunt you down and kill you myself if anything happens to her, though. I was an archer before I was a queen."

He seems vaguely disturbed by the statement. Emma has to laugh, though it comes out sharp and brittle.

Save Henry. Come back to her family.

That's the plan.

-/-

Emma only ducks into her chambers to change into her riding clothes, take the pins out of her hair, and pack a few belongings (clothes and, more importantly, weapons) into a small satchel.

"My crew is likely wondering where the bloody hell I am, princess." Killian starts as soon as she emerges from her room.

"It's a good thing we're leaving to your ship now, then," she replies, as if challenging him to say otherwise.

He doesn't. "Aye. Follow me out of the castle then, princess."

-/-

That's how she ends up on board The Jolly Roger. Hook gives her a quick tour of the ship, with exaggerated pleasantries, and she can't help but notice how eerily clean the ship is. Honestly, Hook must be one hell of a neat freak.

It almost looks like a royal navy ship.

Emma frowns at the thought, but before she can think too long about it, she hears Hook announcing something to the ship. She'd tuned out most of explanations: who she was (Princess Emma of Misthaven, announced with a flourish as if he was some pompous king), what they were doing for her (they need to take her to the Evil Queen's kingdom and back), and why they were helping her (gold!). The crew accepts this with some reluctance, eyeing her speculatively. Otherwise, they seem to be set on leaving her the hell alone.

Which works out perfectly for her.

"We leave tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" she repeats in disbelief. "My son is in the grips of a psychopath and you want to leave tomorrow?"

Hook frowns. "Let me guess - you'd like to leave right now."

Emma has absolutely no qualms taking control. She can play nice once she has her son back. "You're damn right I do. Or do you not want to get your gold, pirate?"

The crew seems to be looking back and forth between the two of them as if they're watching a particularly close game of tennis.

Hook sighs in exasperation. "You heard the woman."

They seem to accept this and Emma lets out a breath she didn't know she was holding.

"It's my ship, you know," he notes, once the crew has returned to their respective tasks and he leads her below deck. "Captains give the orders."

"Excuse me if I don't feel like giving Regina more time to try to harm my son," Emma deadpans, in no mood to debate the matter.

"Fair enough, lass," he concedes easily."I protested more for them than you, you know."

"Let me guess, remind them of their motivation when I inevitably annoy the hell out of them?"

Hook shrugs. "Scare the hell out of them, but you've got the right idea."

"I'm scary?" Emma repeats in disbelief. "Isn't this a crew of hardened pirates?"

"Aye, and you nearly tore the head off of their captain. You had the sort of expression on your face when you got on board, I'm sure you seemed as if you wanted to tear everyone you looked at to shreds," he tells her with a raise of his eyebrows. The words aren't said with malice, he just sounds vaguely impressed.

"Good," she grumbles. "Let them be afraid of the crown princess."

He chokes out a laugh before ushering her into one of the cabins.

The room is small, but that's to be expected on a ship. There's a window, though, as well as a few volumes of books stacked across the room. A table takes up much of the room. The tiny bed hardly takes up much space at all and Hook, of course, smirks when he notices how long she looks at it.

"Captain's quarters." he explains, motioning to the room.

Emma frowns. "You're giving me your bed?"

"It's not the first time a beautiful woman has been in it, I assure you. Though I suppose it'd be the first time she will be in it without my company."

Emma ignores the comment with a roll of her eyes, just accepting the answer as a yes. "Where will you sleep?"

Hook shrugs, unbothered by the prospect. "I have an extra cot that's no trouble to bring in."

"Oh."

"I could move it into the crew's quarters, of course, but-"

Emma shakes her head quickly. "It's fine. Just don't stab me in my sleep with the hook, I guess."

Hook gives her a disbelieving look. "I assure you, when women scream in my bed it's not in pain."

She groans at the innuendo and he only laughs.

"We should make landfall on The Evil Queen's kingdom in a few days, give or take," Hook adds. "It's important to get your rest while you can. I'll be above deck for a few more hours. You're welcome to get some of that rest while I do."

-/-

Emma doesn't sleep.

She hears him come to the room a few hours later and does her best to mime sleep, for whatever reason - keeping her eyes closed and her breathing even. Emma hears the sound of the cot dragging behind him. After a moment of the screeching, it stops. His footsteps are heavier and she can still hear a slight creaking.

Hook must have carried it the rest of the way so he wouldn't wake her up.

The thought makes her feel oddly warm and it's minutes after she hears his steady breathing that she's able to fall asleep.

-/-

Of course, it's not that easy.

Regina torturing Henry in front of her. Regina killing Henry - laughing all the while.

The images haunt from her nightmares haunt her and Emma wakes up calling for her son in a rasp.

Hook must be one hell of a light sleeper because his eyes flutter open to meet hers - on the cot feet from her - and he frowns. "You alright?"

Emma takes a deep breath.

"Yeah. Fine."

He doesn't seem like he believes her, but lets it go all the same.

-/-

Emma helps with the ship duties as much as she can the next day, hating the feeling of being idle. She feels useless stewing away in the cabin left with only her thoughts, so she winds up learning how to accomplish the ship's various tasks. Hook seems to get it, her need to just do something, so he's more than willing to accommodate her wishes.

Steering the ship is almost fun. Even if you include the presence of Hook at her back, guiding her hands at the wheel. He's ditched the prince outfit today, donning what she assumes is his regular pirate clothing. Leather pants, a red vest that shows an indecent amount of chest hair, and a long leather coat made up his clothing and it's a bit of a shock after just seeing him masquerading as a prince.

Hook, of course, teases her when her eyes nearly bulge out of her head when she sees the leather outfit. She maintains that she was just surprised at the sudden change.

And there's absolutely nothing, nothing at all to be said for the leather pants.

Nothing.

-/-

It's at that night's poker match with the crew that she truly feels competent, however.

It's really Hook's fault for goading her into it,

-/-

The table is full of the crewmembers, men anxious to get to gambling. She rolls her eyes when Hook guides her to the table, insisting that she have some fun, for once.

"I'm not playing poker with you, Hook."

He gives her an exaggerated pout, one she pointedly ignores, as he sits down.

"Now, either you can continue sulking - which won't help you rescue your son any faster, princess, if I may say so -" Killian begins, gesturing to her then to the table of pirates. "Or you can let me be a exemplary gentleman and teach you how to play poker."

Emma scowls. "I already know how to play poker. I'm willing to bet I'm better at it than you, Hook."

Hook guffaws and the men at the table follow suit, as if they don't believe her in the slightest. Except for Hook, maybe, who has likely been bested by her enough times to know she isn't the type to be underestimated. Not that he'd admit that, but -

"A princess winning a man's game? Why, that's a joke if I ever heard one," one of the men, Mullins, decides to pipe up.

Her eyes narrow.

Her pride is going to be the death of her, someday. If there's anything she feels a compulsion to do it's to prove men wrong when they doubt her capabilities in anything.

By the look on Hook's face (as well as the brief glare he gives Mullins) and his increasing self-satisfaction as he observes her stalk over to the table, he knows this. It's his strategy to get her to go along with this.

(And damn it, it worked.)

"How much are we betting?" she sighs, taking the proffered seat next to Hook. Emma isn't feeling quite dramatic enough to drag it to the other side of the table, but she might be tempted to, later.

Hook raises an eyebrow. "I knew you only wanted me for my gold, princess."

"Please," Emma scoffs - she's paying him, after all. "As if that's really your gold, anyway. More like royal fleet ship number nine's."

Hook shrugs, not bothered in the least by her assertion. "Well, it's ours now, isn't it?"

She huffs. Looks like she's going to be playing for dirty money, but that's a sacrifice she's willing to make if it means to can wipe the smirks off their faces.

Which she does.

Being a human lie detector comes in handy sometimes and, well, Mullin's overconfidence and high betting really came around to bite him right in the ass. Emma ends up with a lot of gold at the end of the night.

Hook's bets are startlingly low, of course. He jokes, once the crew have been granted copious amounts of rematches (that she won all of), that he knows better than to bet against her by now.

-/-

The crew builds a sort of begrudging respect for her.

(She's starting to build one for them, too. Well, aside from Mullins. He can still go fuck himself, as far as Emma is concerned. He's probably just being nicer to her after she robbed him blind in poker.)

-/-

"It's nice to have a woman on board again." Starkey admits one night, after Emma has resolved to help him with his duties below deck. He's an aging man, with hairs more grey than the rest of the crew and with a little bit of a limp. The man is also probably one of the kindest on board, though, to the point she wonders how the hell he winded up on a pirate ship half of the time. That's why she's determined to help him out as much as she can.

(And maybe she was avoiding his captain, whose duties were largely above deck.)

All of that doesn't make any more sense of his observation, though. Emma just looks at him in confusion. "Again?"

Jukes hesitates, as if he's just said something he shouldn't have. He starts staring at his boots. "Think nothing of it, your highness."

"C'mon, Starkey," Emma goads lightly, leaning down to try to meet his eyes. "you can't leave a girl hanging like that."

He exhales, looking guilty before he even opens his mouth. "Don't repeat anything of what I'm about to say."

"Of course." Emma nods.

Curiosity killed the cat, but she's been trying her luck lately, anyway.

"We weren't always pirates, you know." he begins solemnly. "We used to be a royal navy, if you believe it. That's another story for another time, but it was a few years after we turned coats that the Captain met Milah."

"Milah," she repeats.

"Aye." Starkey nods. "Milah was married to a miserable coward of a man, you see. The people in her village treated her as less than nothing because of her husband's actions - deserting service by crippling himself - so when she met the crew one night she resolved to convince us to let her come with them. Killian fell for her immediately. She came with us that very night, though she felt quite a bit guilty for leaving her son behind."

Emma frowns. "What happened to her? Where is she?"

"Her husband wasn't too happy. Rumplestiltskin killed her and cut off the Captain's hand. We went to Neverland, stayed there for 300 years while the captain plotted his revenge, but when we returned to Misthaven he was long gone. We have no bloody idea where he vanished to."

"Wait," Emma tries to clarify, visibly confused. "300 years?"

Starkey gives her a wry smile. "We're a bit older than we look, princess. I've already said more than I should, though. I don't need to catch the captain's ire by telling the royalty on board more than she needs to know."

Emma still has more questions than she knows what to do with, but she lets it go. "I get it. I won't tell him about any of this, don't worry."

"I knew I liked you." Starkey chortles.

-/-

Emma can't get the conversation out of her mind for the life of her and she's still thinking about it when she falls asleep that night, Hook's steady breathing serving as a soundtrack for her thoughts.

There's more to him at every turn, it feels like.

-/-

Emma has another nightmare, in spite of herself. She dreams that Regina crushes Henry's heart in front of her while she's powerless to do anything. Emma wakes crying out her son's name.

It's seconds later that Hook stirs from his position on the cot, turning around to face her. "Another nightmare, love?"

She grimaces, feeling a little guilty for interrupting his sleep. This is her cross to bear, not his. "Sorry I woke you up."

He doesn't say anything for a moment, just slowly pads over from his spot on the cot to kneel down beside her bed. Hook rests his arms on the edge of the bed and she idly notices he's taken the hook off.

Which makes sense, considering the potential hazards in leaving it on while you sleep.

"Nonsense." he insists, eyes meeting hers. "You're worried about your son. It's a natural feeling for a parent. Is there anything I can do?"

Emma shakes her head, hunching further into the pillow. It's a weak defense, but a defense nonetheless. "You don't have to...do whatever you're doing, Hook."

"You can call me Killian, you know," he says quietly, ignoring the rest of her statement. "I believe one of our first conversations had to do with how we deal with our titles, didn't it?"

Emma snorts derisively. "How could I forget Prince Charles?"

"Prince Charles and I have a lot in common, you know."

She dismisses the compliment with a scoff. "Yeah, well, I think you liked me better when you were Charles."

"Actually," Killian corrects, a grin at his lips. "I find I fancy you the more we talk, Emma."

Emma doesn't know what to say to that, so she just shakes her head in dismissal. She falls asleep a few minutes later.

-/-

She has another nightmare that night, only hours later. Emma just wants to cry at the endlessness of it, wants to just let it out after being tortured with images of her son being brutally taken from her. Killian seems to have woken up again from his spot on the cot, he must have moved there after she fell back asleep, right along with her. He's facing her direction, so she wills herself not to cry.

Her emotions are traitorous and she feels moisture building at her eyes, in spite of her wants. She clamps her eyes shut, as if that'll help matters, and rolls over so that she faces the wall instead of the pirate.

It doesn't quite have the intended effect.

"Emma?" he whispers, sitting down beside her on the bed and gently resting his hand on her knee. "You alright?"

She knows if she replies it'll only escalate to full-on sobs, so Emma just bites her tongue instead of replying. Emma has embarrassed herself enough for the night. She doesn't need to add on to that by weeping in front of a pirate that she threatened into helping her.

He stays there, in spite of that, hand coming up to rub up and down her back as soothingly as he can manage. A part of her wonders if he comforted Milah like this, too, when she left behind her son in pursuit of a better life.

It's a thought she does her best to shove aside, seeing as it implies all sorts of things about potential feelings and, well, that's not a concept she's comfortable with.

"You - you don't have to," Emma manages to get out. You don't have to try to comfort the woman who is just paying you for passage. He is a pirate, after all, and one she's only known for a few days. It's surprising that he even would attempt to comfort her.

"I know," he replies simply - the words soft and quiet. Killian's hand skims down her back one final time before he grasps her hand. He laces his fingers through hers and she can feel the coolness of his rings, but it's not an altogether unpleasant feeling. "I want to."

They stay like that until she falls back asleep.

-/-

She sleeps through the rest of the night like a rock.

So does Killian, apparently, if the fact that his nose is currently nuzzled in her neck is any indication. Their hands are still intertwined, but his arm is flung across her body with her hand. It's not even dawn yet, so he's still likely going to be asleep until then.

Unless she wakes him up and tells him to go back to his cot, like she should.

But she's warm and she's comfortable and she really doesn't really want to wake him up.

Emma yawns, leans even further into the pirate at her back (which she would only do if she were this sleep deprived, is what she tells herself) and falls right back asleep.

She can over-analyze it in the morning.

-/-

When she wakes up again, Killian has already gotten up and returned to his duties. It's a sigh of relief that she doesn't have to endure the awkwardness of having to talk about, well -

The fact they were virtually cuddling.

Emma goes above deck and resumes helping the crew as usual. Killian does his best to act like nothing has changed between the two of them; he still throws a few lighthearted jokes her way and Emma gives him a few sarcastic responses.

It's their usual dynamic.

Killian also darts his eyes towards her a few more times than normal, hardly even bothering to hide it.

-/-

It's not something she can pass off as a coincidence - the waking up in each other's arms - that night, as much as she'd like to. She wakes up in the middle of the night, but this time it's not because she has a nightmare. Emma hears Killian panting from the cot and for a second she thinks - well, it's something it isn't, thank the gods - until she realizes the sounds are more of panic than of pleasure.

Emma isn't the only one with nightmares; he isn't the only light sleeper.

"Hey," she says, sitting up. "you okay?"

"Fine, love," he replies quickly, but his voice is hoarse and she can tell the words are a lie. "Go back to sleep."

Emma gives him a long suffering sigh. They lay in silence for a moment, Emma contemplating something that she really, really shouldn't be.

But his eyes almost look red and he did it for her, so she really should be nice enough to do it for him.

She gives in with a groan, laying back down and scooting towards the wall of the ship to make room for him. "Get in."

It's not a question. It's a command.

"What?" Killian asks quizzically, looking between her and the gap on the bed (which was hard to manage, given how small the damn thing is; they really don't have an option besides the cuddling).

"It's your bed," she insists, patting the space next to her to cement her point. "I'm not a total hog."

She waits for him to make a joke about a woman inviting him into his bed, but he doesn't. Killian just deeply inhales and moves to sit on the bed. "Are you sure?"

"Well, I mean, we sort of already shared before." Emma shrugs, as if she didn't spend the day panicking over what it meant to wake up with a pirate captain fucking nuzzling her neck. "It's not that big of a deal."

Maybe it is, but it's best if she pretends like it's not.

"Alright," he replies carefully, laying down next to her, keeping a small distance between the two of them. "So long as you're comfortable with it, lass."

"Don't make it weird," she grumbles, still facing him.

He laughs. "That wasn't the plan."

-/-

Emma wakes up that morning in a slightly different position than the one she was in the morning before. This time her head is pillowed on his shoulder, his arm is curled around her waist, and her palm is resting on his chest.

This position feels almost more intimate than before. She doesn't think about waking him this time, sitting up almost in a panic. She was really, really not good with the...whatever this was, thing. Emma has been hurt enough times, she doesn't need to wake up in compromising positions with Captain Hook.

The movement wakes him up, his eyes blearily blinking open up at her. Killian doesn't seem the least concerned about their position - even if she's practically sitting on top of him.

"Good morning, love."

Emma just gapes at him. "I'm sorry, for…"

"What?" he asks, propping himself up against the pillows. "I believe it was you who was comforting me, not the other way around."

She frowns, unsure of what even to say. "I'm sorry. About all of this. You probably didn't…"

She can't even meet his eyes as she says it, studying the patterns in the quilt instead.

"Emma," he protests, bringing his hand up under her chin to meet her eyes. "There's nothing to apologize for. I don't have the faintest clue why you could be feeling guilty about this."

She purses her lips, fidgeting a little under his gaze. "I don't think this is what you signed up for when I promised you gold in exchange for you taking me to my son."

"It hasn't been about the gold for some time now, princess." His fingers move to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear and he gives her a sad smile.

"I…" Emma gasps, rasping the words out as the gap between them begins to close little by little. "I have to focus on saving Henry."

Hook stops.

"Of course," he murmurs in response. "I understand."

And by the look in his eyes, maybe he does.

"I just need to figure out the best way to get my son back."

"And you will." His response is immediate and soft, eyes boring into hers like he's convinced she could lift the world if she wanted to.

Emma's breath leaves her in a woosh. She's been alternating between the prospect that she's not good enough or that she's not fast enough, so the unwavering faith is a weird feeling. "You think so?"

"I have yet to see you fail." Hook murmurs, and he sounds so much like Henry or her father or her mother that she physically aches. She hasn't seen any of them in days, and she really, really misses the endless love and support they constantly provided.

Like Hook is currently providing, with his earnest eyes and small smiles and the way he lingers and -

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

It's only thanks to the endless, torturous etiquette classes that she doesn't let the words fall from her lips at the realization.

"What's wrong, love?"

"I just need some air," she manages to choke the words out and tries not to notice the way his brow furrows in worry at her - admittedly, erratic - current behavior.

Killian doesn't question her, though, and for that she's grateful.

Emma walks (runs, nearly) out of the captain's cabin, shutting the door behind her. She slumps against the door, hands pressed to it, with a sharp sigh.

She's projecting. He's been nice to her for a paycheck and to stay out of Misthaven's cell block, nothing else, no matter how much he insists it's not about the gold.

But it wasn't a lie.

Emma has been wrong before and she's not anxious to revisit that.

But he has been stupidly, brutally honest with her ever since she outed him as a pirate captain rather than Prince Charles.

She's here to save her son.

This is convincing, if nothing else. She thinks of Henry - of his endless love of stories and chocolate and the smile she swears has been the same ever since she first held him in her arms. He's at risk every second she's standing here pondering over the state of her lo- not hate entirely, life. She's going to bring him home and she's going to keep him safe.

And Emma is never going to have to think of the name Killian Jones ever again.

Emma feels a weight at the other side of the door a few moments later, mirroring her movement from seconds ago. She hears his breath hitch from the other side of the door and knows he feels her, too.

The thought of him being out of her hair isn't as reassuring when she doesn't know if she'll manage to get him out of her mind.

-/-

She redirects her attentions - aggressively so - back to finding Henry. It's not as if she ever wasn't focused on that goal, but there may have been some distractions along the way. Distractions that wore a long leather coat and had a hook in lieu of a left hand. Emma all but locks herself in the cabin, plotting meticulously on how to get him the hell out of there.

Distract Regina and escape with Henry.

Okay, it's not very meticulous, but it's not as if Regina has her guards anymore and, well, it's not as if she could come up with more than that if she wanted to.

The excuse of planning is just a good cover for avoiding the captain. Emma should talk to him. She really should, but she...can't.

It's better like this. She's better off alone. It's not as if anything could work out between a princess and a pirate, anyway.

Killian doesn't even seem hurt by the distance, just looks at her with what can only be described as understanding.

Somehow that's worse.

-/-

They make land at Regina's kingdom the next day.

Emma is baffled to see Killian getting off of the deck with her.

She wrinkles her eyebrows. "What are you doing?"

"Helping," he replies simply, as if it hadn't occurred to him to do anything else.

"You don't have to come with me, you know," Emma points out as he lifts his satchel over his head. "I mean, that wasn't part of the deal."

"I know," Killian tells her much in the way he has before. "But it doesn't hurt to have backup now, does it?"

Emma sighs, biting her lip. "No, it doesn't."

He grins. "I have an idea, in case you were wondering."

-/-

As it turns out, he does.

Killian walks up the the door of the palace and knocks while she hides in the bushes, sending her a wink as he does so.

It takes Regina a few minutes, but she opens the door in complete befuddlement. "Excuse me?"

Killian immediately launches into his explanation. "Sorry to disturb you, your majesty. You see, my ship seems to have run out of its supply of water and - as I'm sure you're aware - that's something we find we cannot go on without. We've never been to this land before, but we were hoping a queen as regal and powerful as yourself would be willing to grant us a small amount supplies for our way to the next port."

"You're a pirate." Regina notes with disdain. "I don't associate with pirates."

He shrugs. "Would you rather a navy?"

She narrows her eyes.

"I recognize you," Regina mutters, voice icy. "Where have I seen you before?"

"I've no idea." Killian replies glibly, with a dramatic shrug of his shoulders. "I've been many places, your majesty, I suppose I'm an easy man to run into."

He makes a great distraction, as it turns out, and Emma manages to duck inside the palace as he babbles to Regina. If there's anything the man can do, it's talk.

It works a lot better than her plan of setting something on fire in front of the palace and running like hell, at any rate.

The palace is huge, confusingly so, and it takes a lot of ducking in and out of rooms (as quietly as she can manage) to find her son. He sits with his back facing her on a bed, still clad in his outfit from the ball. His shoulders are slumped, but he seems, otherwise, completely okay.

Emma lets out a sigh of relief. "Henry."

Her son turns around to face her and he lights up as soon as he sees her. "Mom!"

She runs to embrace him before she notices the chains on his wrists and frowns.

His hands are cuffed to the bed and she can't help but be thankful that Baelfire, at least, taught her one useful skill.

"We'll get you out of these while we still have Regina distracted," she mutters, grabbing a few pins out of her hair.

"Distracted with what?" Henry replies, confused.

She gives him a soft smile, putting the pins in the locks of his cuffs. "A friend of mine. Now, I just need to do this really fast or-"

It's as if Emma has summoned her.

"That takes some nerve, princess," Regina spits the words out as if she's trying to get the taste of poison out of her mouth. Killian is noticeably absent and Emma's heart sinks. She draws her sword. "Breaking into my own home after making your way here on a pirate ship? I shouldn't be surprised."

"Says the woman who kidnapped my son," Emma retorts, putting herself in front of Henry protectively. She reaches around with the hand that isn't holding her sword to grasp Henry's hand and gives it a firm squeeze. "Where's Hook?"

"Your pet pirate?" Regina asks derisively. "I did wonder how the prince dancing with you at the ball managed to turn up at my doorstep, I do admit."

Killian races into the room seconds later. "Bloody hell, how many rooms does this woman need?"

Emma exhales, more grateful to see him than she can put into words. Killian ignores Regina completely - who can't help but roll her eyes - and races to where Emma and Henry are standing.

"Apologies, love," he murmurs, drawing his sword to point it in Regina's direction. "She disappeared soon after she recognized me."

"You should have run away," Emma mutters under her breath. He looks at her as if she's just suggested something insane.

"Enough with this," Regina dictates, snapping her fingers. Henry appears at the other end of the room, hands bound to the wall this time. "Let's make things interesting and come up with the best way to skin your son in front of you."

"Why did you take Henry?" Emma asks, voice acerbic and her eyes never leaving her son. He's scared, though he's trying his best to show it, and it breaks her heart. "Why not me? Why not just kill us right then?"

She is not going to let anything happen to him. She's certain of that.

Regina doesn't reply, only scowls at the question.

Emma gapes in understanding. "You can't kill me, can you?"

Regina scoffs at the accusation, but a twitch of her eye gives her away. "That's ridiculous. Why wouldn't I be able to kill you? As I said - I wanted to draw the process out and make it all the more painful for you."

"That's a lie and you know it, Regina." Emma replies cooly. "Now tell me, why are we still alive?"

"Do you want me to kill you right here? Because I have no problem doing so."

"Do it."

"Do what?" Regina questions, jaw dropping. She wasn't expecting that answer.

Emma's eyes only leave Henry's panicked ones (his screams are muffled by his gag and - God - she hates hurting him like this but she knows, she knows this won't end with her leaving him and if this is what it takes to keep him safe-) to meet Hook's briefly.

Killian pales, grasping her arm with a roughness she knows he'd never attempt if he didn't think she was on a suicide mission. "What the devil are you doing, Emma?"

"Kill me, Regina." Emma's tone is disconnected, neutral. It's as if she's reciting a well known fact - water is wet, the sky is blue, the ocean is deep - and her eyes flit from Hook's horrified ones to Henry's similar expression.

Regina's wince is barely noticeable, but noticeable nonetheless. Emma has played poker enough with pirates during the last few days, she knows a bluff when she sees one. "Well, if you really want me to I suppose I can't reject that offer. Would you like me to make do with your pet pirate, too, or-"

"You can't kill me. If you could I would've been dead a long time ago." Emma barks out. The words aren't a lie. "Why?"

Regina's mouth forms a hard line, looking as if she's considering finally giving up the ghost. She does. "I can't kill you because you're the Savior, whatever the hell that means. If I tried to rip your heart out and stomp on it like I did when you were a child-"

Emma has zero recollection of this, but okay.

"It wouldn't work. Days old in your crib with your parents and guards knocked out, and you still managed to get in the way of my happiness, just like your mother." The words are said with a vicious sneer and Emma resists the temptation to roll her eyes.

Getting in the way of her happiness by not being murdered as a child. Classic Regina.

Killian looks fractionally relieved at the news and the muffled yells from Henry become quite a bit more subdued.

"What does that even mean? Why couldn't you kill me?"

"Magic is wasted on such idiocy, frankly. I don't care much for explaining your identity to you, I just want to tell you all of the other ways I can make your life miserable." Regina sneers, gesturing to Henry - still tied up feet from her. "A list that starts with torturing your son in front of you, of course. That's much more satisfying."

Regina moves her arm, as if she's about to plunge it into Henry's chest, and Emma can only react on instinct.

Emma doesn't know how the hell she managed it, but with one burst of light Regina ends up crumpled to the floor, evidently knocked unconscious. She knew she had magic, sure. But this? A little beyond her usual skillset. The Blue Fairy practiced with her in an attempt to hone her skill, after she accidentally caused one too many magical accidents as a kid. So far, Emma hasn't been able to do little more than float feathers and make her hot chocolate disappear.

Apparently, though, her magic was enough to knock out the most powerful enchantress in the land.

The Savior.

What the hell.

"Bloody hell," Killian mutters, mirroring her thoughts. "I suppose that's what the witch meant by magic."

She doesn't have time to think about that. Emma rushes over to her son immediately. Killian uses his namesake to cut through Henry's bonds easily, and her son sags into her arms.

"I knew you'd find me," Henry says, all matter of fact as if he hasn't spent the past few days with an insane woman with aspirations of torturing him to get back at Snow for something so petty Emma doesn't even remember the reason for it anymore. "I knew you would."

It's all Emma can do not to cry in relief. She just clings to him tighter.

"I'll always find you, Henry," she tells him, pressing a kiss to his head. "Always. I promise you."

There's a certain sort of longing when Killian looks at the two of them; it's not the same as when he looks at her sometimes, but it's a little different. It seems to go beyond that.

"It's as I told you, Emma. I've yet to see you fail," he says, once she's let go of her son.

She smiles.

Henry looks up at Killian in awe. "You're a real pirate?"

"Aye." he replies with a fond sort of grin, kneeling down on his haunches to meet his gaze. "That I am. Your mother, however, has bested me in the grand acts of bravery department."

Emma gives them both a sheepish look. She's always been notoriously awkward with compliments. "I should probably see if I can figure out a way to make sure Regina doesn't pull something like this again."

"Here," Hook says, rummaging in his satchel for a small bottle. He tosses it to her. "Squid ink."

She raises an eyebrow. "Should I ask how you managed to get squid ink?"

"Pirate, love."

-/-

They, miraculously, make it back to the Jolly safely. Henry is nothing less than ecstatic at the idea of going home on a pirate ship, with a pirate crew - no less.

"We should probably talk about your fascination with illegal activities, kid."

Her son shrugs off her commentary, looking around at the deck with awe. "This is so cool."

Killian seems amused with his antics, at least. And the crew, for whatever conceivable reason, adores him.

"You're a hero, Swan," he informs her with a wide grin, pride in his eyes.

"So are you," Emma replies in turn. And he is, not many pirates - not many people - would risk their lives to save a boy they've only seen once in passing.

Hook scratches behind his ear, a staple habit for whenever he's embarrassed. "I thought perhaps we could talk, princess."

She cocks her head to the side. They're still above deck and she has a careful eye on Henry, though he seems happy just to drink everything about this grand adventure in. "About what?"

He hesitates and Emma thinks it's maybe something she doesn't need to hear.

So, she redirects to what she's comfortable with. It's bound to be a question he's itching to ask her anyway. "Can we just talk about payment, later? I'm really appreciative for what you've done, don't get me wrong, but I really ju-"

"Bloody hell, Emma!" Killian exclaims, hand coming up to scrub at his face. "Is that what you think this is about? Payment? I don't know how many times I can say that this isn't about gold to me, not anymore."

"Then what is it about?" she replies, rising to the challenge. This conversation isn't going anywhere good (anywhere safe, anyway), but again, her pride is something that rises to the bait when nothing else does.

"You," Killian states, jabbing a finger inches from her shoulder. He's frustrated and angry and staring at her as if he isn't sure whether or not she's his salvation or damnation. "Ever since you stepped on bloody my ship, it's been about you."

Emma softens marginally. She doesn't know what the hell to do with that. "What are you saying?"

He stares at her in disbelief. "Are you implying you don't know? You don't know how to spot the truth until it's staring you right between the eyes, I suppose?"

"What the hell are you -"

"I let you on my ship for the reward, yes," he murmurs, the fight seemingly drained out of him. Killian twines her fingers with his and - well - she lets him take her hand and rest it against his chest. "But I gave you everything else for very different reasons."

"Gave me everything else?" she repeats, still confused. They're not far apart, now, and they'd make quite the pair to anyone interrupting the two of them - what with her hand on his chest and his hand in hers.

"Don't you know, Emma?" Killian says the words gently, almost in a caress. "It's under your very palm, love."

She feels the steady beat of his heart, sure enough.

"Killian…" Emma trails off, unsure of what else to say. His hand doesn't leave hers and she can't will herself to let her hand drop from its position on his heart.

This is insane. He's a pirate who she met while he was masquerading as a prince in order to steal from her and she threatened into helping her. They've only known each other for days.

A voice that sounds a little too much like her mother's (rather, her insistences that she'd meet her true love, someday, just like her parents had) says that her parents met when her bandit mother tried to rob her fake prince father's carriage and somewhere along the way they'd never stopped chasing after each other.

"I can't expect you to feel the same way, however." Killian adds quickly, voice a little rough around the edges. It's a deviance from his normal, cocky self and one that almost stings. Her hand stings a little as he drops it, at any rate. "I still have a few days to win you over with my winning charm, of course."

"Killian I-" Emma murmurs. "I'm not the whirlwind romance kind of girl, you know."

He raises an eyebrow. "Whirlwind romance? Is that what we are?"

She doesn't know how to reply to that. "I'm not... good with relationships."

"I doubt that. I think it's more likely that some sodding arse broke your heart when he should've considered himself lucky to ever have it in the first place." He swivels back into her personal space, eyes boring into hers. "That's a mistake I don't intend to make, love."

Emma scrunches her eyes shut. The words sound nice, but if she had gold for every time a man told her something he couldn't back up, she'd have enough to buy an entire kingdom. "That's an easy promise to make, not an easy one to keep."

"I can wait as long as you'd like, Swan," Killian replies carefully, and - goddammit - he means it. He raises his hand to brush his thumb across her chin. "If you need time to believe me when I tell you I don't intend to let you down, I've got all the time in the world."

He moves to go about his duties and get them the hell out of there.

She thinks.

-/-

Emma spends the rest of the trip back home doing just that, thinking. Killian doesn't approach her again after that, aside from a few greetings and pleasantries. He's backing off, letting her spend time with her son and she appreciates it.

Emma thinks it's probably best that she doesn't get too attached. She can't spend forever on the deck of a ship.

She also wishes he would just talk to her.

-/-

Their goodbye is a little bittersweet.

When they make land, he still hasn't spoken much to her and there's this feeling on almost panic that creeps up on her. Emma said it was best if she didn't get attached, but, hell, she may have already.

She shoves the thought down.

"I guess this is it," she says, internally patting herself on the back for making it sound so flippant.

Killian has a melancholy expression on his face. "I suppose so."

He told her she had his heart, but she still has to leave anyway. Emma frowns, uncertain as to where to even go from here.

"Will you come visit?" Henry asks, practically bouncing on the deck.

Killian smiles, reaching out to ruffle Henry's hair. They've bonded for the past few days, oddly enough. Henry's complete delight in anything and everything is contagious and, well, the kid adores the pirate. It seems to go both ways. "You haven't seen the last of me quite yet, young sir."

A small smile creeps on Emma's face at that. "Good to know."

"Is it?" he replies with a matching grin.

-/-

Emma looks back when she gets off the deck with her son, before her parents can receive her. Both of them are standing near the docks, most of the guards behind them, seeming to have seen the ship come back.

She looks back and Killian still has that stupid smile on her face.

And her mother catches it on hers when she embraces her.

"I see a lot has happened," Snow observes with a grin while David scoops Henry up in one of the world's fiercest hugs.

"Yeah," Emma says slowly. "I guess it has."

-/-

Emma is happy to be home. She really is. That being said, she is a little exhausted after receiving so many congratulations (for living?) from a wide variety of people - most of whom she hasn't even met before.

She likes her people. Emma genuinely does. She also likes the idea of getting back to her bed and taking a nice, long nap.

It's hard to do that when a pirate is laying in your bed with his ankles crossed and his arms behind his head, though.

He's lucky she didn't instinctively run him through with her sword. They're really going to have to talk about the stealing each other's beds thing.

"You snuck in?" she asks, not nearly as outraged as she's pretending to be, as she enters her room.

Killian gives her a lackadaisical shrug, sitting up to greet her. "Well, you left your window open."

Emma raises her eyebrows. "You scaled the palace to get in? You know you could have just, y'know, knocked on the front door."

"Pirate, love."

She laughs and it's a full laugh. One that has her shaking and her ribs hurting. It's weird, the sort of euphoria she feels at seeing him again only hours later.

Killian grins as she sits down next to him. "I take it you're happy to see me again."

"Maybe a little." she says fondly. "Why aren't you on your ship?"

Killian does his best to look flippant. "It's not going anywhere while the crew is disbanded."

"Wait, what?"

"I couldn't win your heart while I was at sea now, could I?" Killian murmurs with a grin. "I still have the Jolly, but I think she'll remain at port for a long while."

All Emma can do is gape at him.

She manages words, eventually, though they're not quite as steady as she'd like them to be. "You gave up your ship for me? Or at least, sailing on it with your crew?"

Killian's reply is free of his usual verbal grandeur. "Aye."

He gave up his home for her. Someone he's only known for over a week, he's given it all up - sailing around the world and piracy and disbanded his crew. Emma doesn't know what to do with that.

That is, besides kiss him.

Which she does.

Emma leans up on her tip toes and, at first, it's one of the gentlest first kisses she's ever had. It escalates, of course, into something much more passionate and raw and, really, the man knows how to kiss.

When they fall into the bed it's not because of nightmares, this time.

-/-

It's safe to say that David nearly chokes when he sees the pirate at breakfast. In contrast, Henry is thrilled. Snow has the sort of twinkle in her eye that Emma always saw whenever she went on one of her tangents on Emma finding True Love just like her parents.

And maybe it all worked out, just like that. Emma doesn't think that storybook writers are likely to put attempted robbery on a list of roots of a healthy relationship, but her family has never really been the typical sort.