There was so much to do, so much to plan. Arthur was dead, but that didn't automatically mean a respite from that quarter. He had died childless and so his uncle would inherit, but his stance on their budding war was as yet unknown. The general in charge at the border would reach out on their behalf, but missives would need to be sent with instructions on what they could negotiate on, if it turned to that. The hope was that the new king didn't share Arthur's conquering nature and would remove their forces peacefully. If he wanted to press his luck considering Misthaven's lesser numbers, then the general needed to know how much he could surrender in the queen's name.
Emma didn't want to think about any of it.
She dithered for a time about what decision Snow would make before delegating it to Killian and the council, trusting the council to reach a reasonable and realistic decision, and her husband to make them act on it quickly. She wished she'd been able to supervise the discussion herself, to do this one last important thing for her kingdom before Snow took the throne again, but she found that she couldn't focus on anything long enough to be of any use, not when her every thought was on her mother.
She couldn't find it in herself to feel guilty. There was nothing more important to her than making sure her mother was all right.
And so she was at her mother's bedside when, after hours of waiting, her breathing finally changed, a quick indrawn breath accompanied by a twitching of her fingers, a furrowing of her brow. Emma moved quickly from her chair to sit on the bed beside Snow, holding her breath as she took both of her hands in hers and squeezed them tightly.
Snow's eyes fluttered open and focused almost immediately on her. "Emma?" she asked. She frowned, lifting her hand to touch Emma's cheek. "Why are you crying?"
Something that was a mix between a laugh and a sob fell from her lips as she quickly dashed the tears from her cheeks before pulling her mother up into a hug, wrapping her arms around her as tightly as she could. "I never thought I'd hear your voice again." Her joy faded as quickly as it had surged and she pulled back so she could see Snow's face.
"What is it?" Snow said quickly.
Her words stopped in her throat, choking her, and her mother's comforting hands on her only made it harder. How could she find the words to tell her that her husband had died?
"Emma," Snow said, her voice gentle. "What happened?"
One long, deep, shuddering breath, two, three weren't enough, and eventually Emma admitted to herself that no amount of waiting would make it easier. "You were poisoned," she managed eventually. "You and Father. You've been unconscious for weeks."
Snow's eyes widened, her lips parting in shock. "Weeks?" She shook her head slowly in disbelief. "And your father?"
Somehow, she got the words out, and when Snow's face started to crumple she slipped into bed beside her, took her in her arms and held her tightly, as though that might be enough to hold them both together. Emma's own tears started again soon enough, and they mourned together for one of the greatest men they'd ever known.
They cried, and talked, and cried again. It wasn't until someone knocked on the door that Emma looked around, noticed how dark the room was, and realised how much time had passed. Stretching her shoulders, she called permission to enter and Graham stepped into the room. "I heard your voices a while ago, but I thought you'd wish to remain undisturbed." He paused, and then a grin spread wide on his face. "I can't tell you how glad I am to see you awake, Your Majesty."
Somehow, Snow managed to still look gracious, despite her bedclothes and red eyes. "Thank you, Graham," she said, excusing protocol with the use of his name. She nodded to the covered tray that Graham balanced with one hand. "You didn't have to bring that yourself."
"I wanted to see how you were both feeling," he admitted, closing the door behind him and moving to set the tray on the table by Snow's side of the bed. "And I know that neither of you have eaten since you've woken," he added with a pointed look at Emma.
Her stomach growled as if on cue, and Emma might have felt embarrassed if she weren't so happy to see Snow smile in response. "I had other priorities," she said, and then smiled herself at Graham's knowing look. He'd seen her with Killian, briefly, before he'd gone to the council and she'd gone to her mother's bedside, and she was sure that it was clear that they'd reconciled. She pressed her lips together, lost for a moment in the memory of what it had felt like to kiss Killian with all the passion that she'd felt for him, rather than the chaste farce they'd shown before.
Snow pulled her from her thoughts, handing her some soft bread wrapped around a lump of cheese, and they were silent as they ate. Graham cleared his throat as they finished. "The council has approved a message to the border, Your Highness, and sent it already. Some protested that Queen Snow, or at least yourself, should have the final approval before it was sent since you were awake and it appeared that Her Majesty would awaken soon as well, but I assured them that it was too important to wait, and the two of you would appreciate your privacy. For the most part, there have been no protests to Killian speaking on your behalf until Queen Snow is ready to take control."
"What do you mean, 'for the most part'?" Emma asked angrily, at the same time as Snow said, "Who is Killian, and how does he speak on our behalf?"
Graham ignored her question, and instead stared at her with surprise and then what could only be described as glee. "You haven't told her yet?"
Emma was very determinedly not looking toward her mother. "I could hardly tell her without telling her why, and since you and Killian appeared to have everything in hand, I thought we could spare her from that for a time," she said, irritated.
Graham leaned forward in his chair, his eyebrows raised. "You haven't told her that we've been at war?"
Snow turned to stare at her. "We've been at war?"
"Hardly," Emma said, hoping to lessen the impact. She knew how it had felt for her, to know that they faced an outside attack while also dealing with the loss of her father, and she didn't want to worry or stress her mother. "It's nothing you need to concern yourself with at the moment, and almost definitely done with besides."
The last was said with a very pointed look in Graham's direction, but neither he nor her mother seemed to notice. "That last is true, at least," Graham acknowledged. "Thanks almost entirely to Killian."
Snow threw up her hands. "Will somebody please tell me who this Killian is?"
Graham pressed his lips together and looked at her, and so Snow did as well. Sighing, Emma spoke to the blanket covering her lap. "He's my husband."
After a moment of silence, Emma ventured a look at her mother and saw her staring back at her blankly. "Your husband," she said flatly, then turned to look at Graham. "Her husband."
"Yes, Your Majesty."
She was quiet for a time longer, looking between the two of them. "Graham, I'm sure you'd be kind enough to fetch my son-in-law to me. And you," she said to Emma, "had better start explaining how you've come to be married with your father gone and me… indisposed, and how this is tied into this supposed war we've had."
Graham was already on his feet and halfway to the door by the time Snow had finished speaking. When he reached the door he turned to make a short bow, and Emma managed to catch his eye, sending him a pleading look. She hoped that he'd at least warn Killian on what he was walking into, even if she wasn't entirely sure what that was.
She considered telling Snow the story they'd concocted, but settled on the truth instead. She was certain that her mother would have seen through her in an instant in any case. She told Snow how she'd received King George's offer of marriage, and then come by Killian as though by chance. How she'd returned home to find both of her parents poisoned, how instead of only pretending to be her lost love and husband, he's stepped into a full role as her consort, supporting her in every way and taking on many duties without being asked. How, when he'd found out that Arthur had been behind the poisoning, he himself had gone into the enemy's camp to find justice. She told her of how he'd found out that she'd been targeted as well, and still managed to learn the cure before he returned home to her.
Snow listened to her tale in silence, though Emma could tell from the many times she pursed her lips and her hands fidgeted in her lap that she had many questions. When she finally finished, the one that she asked her was not the one she'd expected. "Does he know that you're in love with him?"
Emma opened her mouth, closed it, paused and then tried again. "I never said that," she protested.
Snow raised her eyebrows slightly, and Emma wished she could tell what she was thinking. "You didn't need to, darling."
Taking a deep breath, she thought back to her conversation with Killian earlier that day, and how good it had felt to tell him how she truly felt instead of holding him at arm's length. "Yes. He knows." She paused. "I should have told him much sooner, but now he knows."
A knock at the door interrupted them. While Graham had been gone, Emma had risen and lit numerous candles around the room for light, and wakened the fire in the hearth for warmth, before sitting on the chair beside the bed. She didn't want Snow feeling her nervousness in every shift of her weight on the bed. She realised she was twisting her skirt in her hands and forced herself to flatten her palms against her thighs. Snow remained in bed, still in her nightgown and propped up by a few extra pillows, and somehow that felt more intimidating than if she'd taken great effort to her appearance.
Killian entered the bedroom right behind Graham, who stayed in the room at Snow's nod. Killian stood with his back straight and his head held high, but she could see his nervousness in the tightness of his jaw and the way he held himself. She felt a certain amount of satisfaction that it mattered to him to make a good impression, even as she knew that his appearance would be the furthest concern from her mother's mind.
"Captain Jones," Snow greeted him. It was impossible to tell her thoughts from her tone.
Killian swept a low bow, catching Emma's eye in the process, and she wondered if her reassuring smile was convincing. She suspected that it wasn't. "Your Majesty."
"My daughter has just informed me of everything that's happened in my absence," she said formally. "To hear her tell it, you've become an asset to the throne in the short time that I've been indisposed."
His bowed head wasn't modesty – she knew that he felt uncomfortable with too much favourable attention on him. "I've only done my duty to my kingdom."
"And was marrying my only daughter and heir a part of your duty, Captain?" Snow tilted her head slightly. "Usually when a princess has a suitor, they approach the girl's parents with an offer of marriage."
Frowning at the rebuke, Emma looked between her mother and her husband carefully. Snow knew very well that their marriage had started at her suggestion, for reasons purely to benefit the kingdom. When Killian didn't answer immediately, Snow leaned forward. "I know your reputation, Captain Jones. What possibly makes you think that you can be a suitable husband for my daughter?"
Emma opened her mouth to protest but paused when Killian met her eyes, momentarily overwhelmed by what she saw there. "You'll not find a man who loves her more than I do, Your Majesty."
Snow dropped her head for a moment, and when she raised it Emma didn't miss the glisten in her eyes. "And that's the only thing that matters, as far as I'm concerned," she said with a wavering smile. Emma let go of the worry that she'd been trying to hide. "I'm glad to finally see you back at court, Killian, and to welcome you to the family."
"Thank you, Your Majesty," Killian said eventually, his voice thick. It was bittersweet to think that Snow's words had meant so much to him. She thought, then, just how wonderful it would have been to share their happiness with his brother. She knew, with a strange certainty, that Killian and David would have gotten along well.
Snow only waved her hand dismissively. "You'll do your best by my daughter, and we'll do fine. As long as you start calling me by my name." She turned to Emma, and Emma smiled sadly and gratefully at her. "And now I understand that I've been monopolising Emma's time when I'm not the only person who has claim to it any longer."
Emma sighed. "Mother…"
"It's all right, dear," she said quietly. "I think I'd like some time alone."
Her throat tightening with her understanding, she got to her feet immediately, reaching forward to wrap her arms around her mother. "I love you," she said softly, and felt Snow nod against her shoulder. Pressing a kiss to her temple, Emma didn't comment on the tears caught on her lashes, only bid her goodnight and followed Killian and Graham from the room.
Graham hesitated outside the door. "With your permission," he began, but Emma cut him off.
"No," she said simply. His jaw tightened defiantly, but it didn't lessen his red eyes or the dark smudges beneath them. "You can't complain that my mother isn't well guarded." She nodded toward the two guards standing on either side of the door they'd just come through, both people that she knew and trusted. "And you know I'll be fine with Killian. When was the last time you slept?"
"Keeping you safe is my priority –"
"And you can't do that unless you're awake enough to be aware," she said quickly, happily throwing out the argument that he'd used on her many times. "I expect to see you in the morning, Graham. Well rested."
He didn't look pleased, but didn't try to argue the point. That matter dealt with, Emma took Killian's arm and headed back to their rooms. Smiling to herself, she leaned her head against his arm as they walked, not quite believing that she could feel happy like this after everything that had happened. She felt warm, loved, content –
Until she closed the bedroom door behind her, and felt anxiety twist her stomach and then spread through every inch of her. Without looking at Killian, she grabbed the nightgown that lay ready for her on the bed and fled behind the partition in the corner of the room, her cheeks burning, her head swimming.
Closing her eyes, she buried her face in the soft material, willing herself to calm. She felt like a maiden at the cusp of her very first time. She wasn't quite as inexperienced as would have been expected of her, but this felt different. This felt far more significant. She didn't want to rush it.
Taking a deep breath to try and calm herself, she changed quickly into her nightgown and stepped around the partition just in time to see Killian, dressed for bed in only his small clothes as usual, slip under the covers. Blowing out most of the candles, she left one in easy read on her bedside table and followed suite, settling on her side, facing him, but with the usual amount of space between them.
His face was just visible in the soft candlelight, and it held none of the annoyance or impatience that she'd feared she would see, only a small smile and a crinkle of his brow. They laid there in silence, the tension growing thicker between them and Emma's nerves increasing with every moment until she couldn't take it anymore. "Why does this feel so awkward?" she said under her breath. "I feel ridiculous."
Killian's quiet laugh sent relief flooding through her. He opened his arms to her. "Come here," he said softly, and as soon as his arms settled around her she felt more at ease. She rested her cheek against his shoulder and marvelled at the warmth of his bare skin. "There can be a lot of pressure in a moment like this, when it's something one's wanted for such a long time." She felt his lips on her hair and her heart in her throat.
"Does that mean you'll still be here when I wake up in the morning?" she asked, hiding her smile against his chest.
Killian was silent for a few seconds, and when he spoke his voice was thick with emotion. "Emma… Do you know how hard it was for me to wake every morning and not be able to pull you into my arms? Lying here beside you, with your beautiful face the last thing I saw every night as the first thing I saw when I woke, your scent overwhelming me. You infected my dreams almost every night, and I woke up… wanting. I felt I would burst from my skin with how much I wanted you." He moved against her slightly, and she was instantly aware of every place his hard body pressed against hers, and somehow it was too much and not enough all at once. He continued speaking, and she wasn't sure she could take it. "Sometimes when I woke you were in my arms already, and it was all I could do to pull away… I thought it a betrayal of your trust to hold you as if I had any right to, but it was so hard to let you go. It was a torment for me to leave you every morning, but worse to stay and not be able to love you like I love you. I did what I thought you'd want me to do."
Unable to help herself, she pressed her body more firmly against his, lifting her head slightly to press her lips against his jaw. His hand gripped onto her hip, and she felt like his fingers were going to burn her skin through her nightgown. His breathing seemed as uneven as hers did. "We wasted so much time," she whispered.
"But not anymore," he said, his voice almost a growl as he lowered his mouth to hers, kissing her with as much hunger, desperation, need as she felt for him. His previous words swam in her head, reminding her of the want she'd felt when she'd woken alone but with his smell all around her, but that was nothing to how she felt now. She needed him closer, closer, and when there was finally nothing between his skin and hers, his body moving against and within her, their mouths on each other the only thing quietening their moans, she finally knew a completeness that she'd never before even dreamed of.
She woke to a whispered good morning and lips pressed to her neck, warm sunlight on her face and a warm chest against her back. For one quiet moment her world felt peaceful, but even when the weight of her responsibilities, from her mother to her kingdom to Camelot, forced their way into her mind, she knew that at least she wouldn't be facing them alone.