an: sorry for the delay between updates! I sort of forgot that I had this ready to go. I hope you enjoy!
Once, when Henry was three years old, he hid in the back of Emma's wardrobe for hours. It made a ball of panic rise up in her unlike any other as she searched from top to bottom the entire castle grounds and had the entire castle doing the same.
That familiar knot of anxiety tightens in Emma's throat, but this time, she can't get rid of it the moment she wraps her arms around her little boy.
He's confused when she finds him in the barn holding onto Elizabeth's hand. His eyes widen and Emma gasps for a breath as she holds out her arms for him to jump into.
Emma falls to her knees on the ground and cups the back of Henry's head, leaving a kiss to the place beside his ear.
"Henry," she whispers. "Henry."
Emma's eyes squeeze closed and she swallows at that insistent lump in her throat, but it won't go away.
"Papa, is it okay?" Elizabeth's tiny voice asks.
Emma pulls away from Henry and studies his face. Her fingers slide down his arms and she forces herself to smile for sake of him not being afraid just because she is.
"Aye, starlight, everything's perfectly fine," Killian murmurs to his daughter. "Are you alright?"
Emma rises to her feet and turns in time to catch Elizabeth nodding silently at her father. She meets Killian's eyes and he wears a worried knit in his brow.
Emma forces herself to suck in a deep breath. She needs to think about strategy and she needs to protect Henry and she needs to get them back home as quickly as possible.
She begins to walk toward the doors to the barn with Henry's hand secured against hers, but Killian stops her with his hand against her wrist. She turns to face him.
"Can we talk?" he asks.
Emma clenches her jaw.
"We need to get out of here," she says in a low voice, trying to not panic the children. "I need to tell my father."
Killian searches her eyes. He steps forward, his grip on her wrist tightening. "You know I'm your best bet at getting the upper hand."
Emma nods her head. She yanks her arm away from him. "This isn't your fight. This is mine."
Emma walks out of the barn and heads straight for the cottage.
The air is somehow cooler and Emma can sense a shift in it, as if change is on it's way.
"Mommy, what's happening?" Henry asks.
Emma slows her speed and looks down at her son. She can tell that he's nervous. It's something she doesn't want him to ever feel, a fear that maybe this is his fault somehow that she made choices that brought her to a place where the realm's most dangerous being is after her child.
Emma can't blame Henry for his concern, though. She knows he must have heard something and Killian must have hidden him away with Elizabeth to protect them.
It's not something that is completely bewildering to her, that a man who hardly knows her or her son would be so willing to protect him from harm. The very man who had ruined his life, no less.
"Nothing, duckling," she says, forcing a smile as she stares at Henry. "We're just going to be leaving a lot sooner than I thought."
Henry frowns at that. "But we just got here."
"I know," Emma breathes. She bites on her lip and looks around anxiously before she lowers herself to be at Henry's eye-level. "Something happened."
"Something bad?" Henry asks with a trembling breath.
She swallows at the lump in her throat. Is it worth lying to her son about this?
"You're my strong boy," Emma whispers, smiling at him. "Can you keep being strong for me?"
Henry bobs his head. "Yeah."
Her fingers press against his cheeks and dig into his hair. "Good."
Emma kisses his forehead, holding tight to his cheeks. She studies him, trying to memorize the lines of his face, and in a heartbeat she knows she won't let anything happen to him. Regardless of what the Dark One says he'll do.
She stands up and opens the door to the cottage. Her parents are seated by the fireplace with her grandmother, all of them seemingly unaware of what had happened.
"Daddy, we need to go back home."
Her father gives her a confused look after meeting both her mother and grandmother's gazes. "What?"
Emma sucks in a breath. "It's Rumplestiltskin. He's returned."
The ride back to the castle is far less enjoyable than the trip to Ruth's cottage. It's darker outside. Rumbles of thunder shake the ground in the distance.
Emma sits nervously biting at her lip, keeping her attention on the world outside of the carriage while it speeds toward the castle. Henry seems to attach to that feeling, much like Elizabeth has, and silence weighs heavy over them.
Elizabeth crawls into Killian's lap and leans her head against his chest. Killian wraps his arms around her and breathes her in.
He keeps his gaze on Emma, watching as the princess seems to think until thought feels silly.
He waits, respectfully, for the children to fall asleep before he says anything. Killian knows better than to get into a discussion about the Crocodile with the children listening.
"Emma," he says quietly. The princess turns to look at him. "Please, let me help. I've spent years learning about the Crocodile. The least I can do is help figure out how we can prevent him from taking Henry."
Emma searches his eyes with tears glassing them over. She looks down at her boy. He lies with his head in Emma's lap. She gives his hair a soft touch with gentle fingers.
"What do you know?" she asks. Her attention goes to him again. "How can we stop him from doing something like this? He's the most powerful sorcerer in the realm."
Killian clenches his jaw angrily. He shakes his head. "He's not undefeatable. He's got weaknesses of his own, just like anyone else."
Emma sighs softly. "Yeah, well, we don't know when or where he'll come to get him. I just know I won't let it happen."
Killian admires the sleeping boy with a heavy heart. He nods. "Aye. Me too."
When Killian meets Emma's eyes, she seems surprised. He straightens out his back and clears his throat.
"When we get to the castle, we should talk privately," Killian says. "I don't think we should strategize with the children sleeping like this."
Emma nods in agreement.
Killian watches her carefully. "Emma, it'll be alright. We won't let anything happen to your boy."
Emma strokes back Henry's hair and then reaches up to brush back her own hair away from her neck and face. She averts her gaze, shaking her head sorrowfully.
"It's my fault," Emma says quietly. "It's my fault that his life's in danger." She meets Killian's eyes. "If I hadn't run-"
"Emma, forgive me for being so blunt, but it isn't your fault," Killian says. "The bloody Crocodile acts for himself. When he wants something, he'll barter and steal to get it. That's who he is. It has nothing to do with what happened between you and his son."
Her lips part slightly and she sighs. Clearly, she wants to argue him.
"Baelfire died because I was reckless," Emma says. "He clearly wants to get back at me for that." Emma turns her attention onto her son. "And I kept Henry from him. Obviously, it's for good reason, but Henry's the only connection he has to Bae."
Killian watches as the princess begins to cry. He's known fear before, but this is painful to witness. She's such a strong woman, weeping over the idea that something in her past has caused herself and her son danger.
"Emma," Killian says softly. "I don't know what happened to you five years ago, but I can tell you right now that I personally will not let anything happen to him. He can take my right hand if he has to. If that means Henry stays with you- I'll do anything."
Emma's expression softens and she nods, finally accepting the comfort of what he's saying to her. He looks down at Henry, the boy's face crumpling while he dreams.
"He's a good boy," Killian tells Emma. "You're a good mum."
Emma wipes at her eyes and manages a gentle, honest smile. "Thanks, Killian."
He nods his head once.
The princess stares at him and Killian adjusts his grasp on his daughter, lowering a kiss to the top of her head as she rests. The storm outside seems to be coming closer by the minute, making him nervous.
"When we're at the castle, I want you to come to the council meeting,"
His heart skips a beat. "Your Highness, I'm not sure that's where I belong."
Emma gives him a look. "Seriously? This whole hero speech about making sure Henry's safe and you won't go to the council meeting?"
He feels a blush in his cheeks. It's silly, yes, but he's always quite aware of the fact that he's here by the skin of his teeth. He's not here because he's earned his keep. He's here because of Emma. But, he supposes it would make him a fool if he didn't go along with her requests.
"Alright," he says. "I'll go."
Emma smiles thankfully. "Good."
The princess reaches down to hold her son, her arm going around his middle so he can grab her fingers in his sleep as a baby might. It's a touching sight.
His heart feels a unique weight upon it. Loyalty to Emma. Loyalty to Henry. A longing to make sure the pair of them aren't separated like he and Liam or he and Milah.
When the carriage pulls up to the castle, Henry eagerly bounces his hands on his knees and smiles up at Emma with a sweet grin that reminds her of when he was even smaller than he is now. Emma leaves a kiss to his head and threads his hair through her fingers.
"Hey, duckling," she says. "Do you know how I can make magic with my fingers?"
Henry bobs his head. Emma glances away from her son, suddenly very aware that Killian and Elizabeth are here with them. Thankfully, Elizabeth is chatting with her father about something in a sweet chirp while Killian listens with an attentiveness that pulls at Emma's heartstrings.
Emma turns her attention back to her son and smiles at him again. "I'm going to use it to protect you, okay?"
Henry nods. "Okay."
The door to the carriage opens and Emma meets Killian's eyes, both of them nodding in acknowledgment of their private decision to allow him to be part of this mission against the Dark One.
With only one place she's willing to go now, Emma steps out of the carriage carefully, keeping her eyes set on the sky and the surrounding area. She holds tight to Henry's hand and hurries into the castle.
Killian and Elizabeth follow suit, bringing up the rear while Emma's parents walk ahead of her. It's safe, moving in numbers like this. She feels less anxious about anything happening when she has people who care for them surrounding them.
Emma takes Henry to the room beside the council chambers, a spare bedroom, and she sits him down on the bed. Emma pulls back the drapes and stares out the windows, searching for anything being different or worrisome. It doesn't feel like anything's off, but Emma knows her instincts could be wrong.
With a flick of her wrist, she pours her magic over the entirety of the room. Henry stares up at the shimmering glow of it with awe in his eyes. His mouth falls open and a gasp escapes his lips.
"Woah." he says breathlessly.
Emma leans down before him, taking hold of his hands. "Okay, Henry, I'm going to be right next door, but I need you to stay put, alright?"
The magic is only going to keep him safe for a little while, because it's only a temporary solution, her magic. She's not very skilled with it, even if she was born this way.
Emma knows the only way she'll be able to protect her son with magic is if she casts a stronger spell, one she'll find later in one of her books. But this will do for now.
She smiles hopefully at Henry. "I'll be back soon."
Her son bobs his head and she takes a deep breath as she steps out of the room. Emma bites down on her lip in hesitation.
There's a gentle knock at the door. Emma turns to find Killian standing there with Elizabeth's hand in his. The little girl smiles hopefully up at Emma.
"Princess Emma?" she asks. "Can I please stay with Henry?"
Emma laughs under her breath and nods. "Of course you can, Lizzie."
Elizabeth takes a quick breath and then releases her father's hand. "Papa, I'll be good and I'll keep Henry safe."
Killian hums. "That's my girl."
Elizabeth hurries into the room and Emma watches as the two children smile and start to talk amongst themselves. She turns to Killian and he smiles softly at her.
"I apologize," he says. "She wanted to come see him and I couldn't refuse her."
"It's okay," Emma replies. "It's probably for the best anyway. They'll both be safe here."
She glances over her shoulder and then turns back to Killian. He's waiting so patiently for her.
The day has been a total whirlwind for Emma. She probably never could have guessed she would have had a run-in with Rumplestiltskin, nor that her son's safety would suddenly become under attack.
Somehow, Killian makes this a little bit easier. He provides a calming presence that she would never have anticipated from a former pirate. It's completely jarring, because she knows he has feelings for her that he'd like to see reciprocated. But, Emma can't risk that.
It hurts too much, loving someone. It's not like it can be helped, but at least with her walls up and guarding her heart, she knows she won't be tempted to fall into that trap again.
Killian follows her out into the hall and Emma closes her eyes, taking a deep breath as they turn toward the council chambers. It won't start until she enters and she isn't sure she's ready.
Emma takes a few deep breaths as she steps toward the door and then she turns to face Killian.
"My son is the most important person to me," she says. She searches his eyes. "And I can't lose him."
Killian nods. "I know."
Emma, feeling weak, swallows thickly and shakes her head. "Did you mean it? Are you going to help me protect him?"
Killian takes a deep breath. He steps toward her slightly and searches her eyes. "I'm a man of my word, love."
She isn't sure if she can trust him, but he hasn't given her reason to ever distrust him. In fact, he's trying to get her to be more trusting.
Emma's tongue darts out between her lips and she reaches up to tuck her hair behind her ear.
"Right," she manages to say. "Then you need to be in the meeting and you need to speak up, because I know you know him better than we do."
Killian seems to recoil, if only a little. "Emma, I don't think that's wise."
"Why not?" Emma asks.
"I'm… bloody hell," he rakes his hand over his face. "I've seen more and done more evil than anyone in this castle has and I can't let that past be my present or my future."
Emma's heart skips a beat. She can see the honesty on his face. Can see the pain and the loss he's suffered. She knows he's a changed man. She's heard it in his voice and she's felt it in the moments they've shared.
"I need your help," Emma says. She searches his eyes. "If we're going to put the Dark One to rest once and for all, I need your help. As much as my parents might know about him… please. Just… please."
They stare at one another for a few long moments. Killian glances over at the bedroom where their children are probably building a fort out of blankets and pillows. He returns his gaze to her.
Emma nods. "Good."
Killian stands awkwardly off to the side when they realize that there aren't enough chairs at the table. The room is crowded enough as it is. Everyone keeps looking over at him, as if he's going to say something or as if they expect he's just here for David.
David, meanwhile, sits at the head of the table with a worried knit in his brow. Snow sits beside him, equally as concerned, and Emma holds her head up high and keeps her lips pressed together in a thin line.
"Well, I suppose we should get started." David says. He stands up, starting to pace around in a circle around the table.
"To alleviate any discrepancies in the story, I'll clarify what happened earlier today. We were visiting my mom at her farm in the forest." He glances over at Killian and gestures to him. "Killian had taken Henry and his daughter out to the barn to see the animals. Emma excused herself, and she was approached by Rumplestiltskin. He threatened that he'd be taking Henry as a replacement for his son Baelfire, who we all know has since passed away."
David lingers at Emma's side and he shakes his head. "We need a plan of action. This has gone on long enough, this war with the darkness in the forest."
"I agree," Snow says to the table of trusted allies. "We were able to cast Regina away, but that doesn't mean she's quit. Who knows. Maybe they're working together. Maybe they're still trying to destroy us."
Killian watches Emma now. She stares at the members of the council and then turns to look at him. She swallows.
"Killian is well acquainted with the darkness," Emma says. "He's fought with the Dark One and hunted him for years."
There's a low murmur that goes through the room, but Queen Snow silences it with a firm hand against the table. She sits upright and shakes her head.
"He might have been a pirate once, but I believe, as should we all, that we should never be defined by our choices in the past. If we're able to move on and show ourselves in a new light, that should be enough to prove we've changed. I've seen nothing but goodness from Killian since he's been here. If you had told me he was Captain Hook I wouldn't have believed you."
Killian, feeling more than humbled, feels his face burning up and he reaches up to scratch behind his ear while Snow smiles at him.
"What do you know about him?" Granny asks. She's sitting by Snow, knitting a scarf, and her glasses rest at the bottom of her nose.
Killian looks at Emma for strength and she gives it to him on a nod.
"I… know quite a bit, actually," Killian sighs. "I've been studying him for a long time."
"We need to find him. Lock him up for good this time." David says.
Killian shakes his head. "Your Majesty, all due respect, but incarcerating that beast will only tame him for a while. The darkness has taken over who he is. I know he doesn't desire to change."
"Can we kill him?" Emma asks.
His heart sinks. He shakes his head again. "No, milady. The Dark One is something inhuman. He's practically already dead."
Silence fills the room. It feels like a completely dire situation and Killian absolutely hates it. Henry's become a friend of his, even at four, almost five, years of age.
"But, I do know a way we can at least control him," Killian says. "We need to get his dagger."
David's frown deepens. "How do we do that?"
Killian sighs heavily. He knows it isn't the answer anyone wants to hear, but he himself hadn't been able to figure it out. "That's a good question."
Emma walks with him out into the hall after the meeting ends. Everyone else has left. Somber silence falls between them and they stop just outside of the bedroom where their children are keeping one another company.
Emma stares at him, searching the features of his face, and he does the same. He feels something rising up in him, the desire to promise her the whole world and protection from the Crocodile, but he bites back the words.
"I'm going to go find it." Emma says quietly.
His eyes widen. "What?"
She sucks in a breath and looks around, as if worried she'll be overheard. She leans in close, shaking her head. "The dagger. I'm going to go find it."
Killian feels sick to his stomach. Chills climb his arms and he grabs her by her elbow when she begins to move away from him. "No, Emma. You might have magic, but it's no match for him."
Emma seems to take it as a challenge. Her eyes brighten. "He's not going to take my son from me."
Killian clenches his jaw. "Emma this is foolish. Give it a few days of planning with the council. I'm sure the blue fairy will come up with a better idea soon enough."
The princess searches his eyes. "Come with me then."
Her proposal hits his chest with a pang and he hesitates, tilting his head as his jaw falls open. He releases her arm.
"Emma-" he cuts himself short. "Do you at least have a plan?"
She shrugs. "I'm going to go to his castle and get his dagger. Then I'll be able to control him."
"It's not as simple as that!" Killian says, shaking his head at her flippancy.
Emma becomes tense, her jaw tightening as her eyes glisten with tears. "What do you want me to do? My son is in danger. What would you do if it were Elizabeth he'd threatened to take?"
His blood boils at even the simple idea of it. He all but growls as his eyes fall closed. He has to fight the urges he has to take off on this fool's errand with the Princess of Misthaven.
"I wouldn't abandon her," he says, his voice beginning to edge on angry. "I'd think about my options first."
Emma opens her mouth, but he silences her when he steps into her space.
"Emma, listen to me. He's safe right now. The Dark One said it wouldn't happen just yet. Give it a few days before you run off to your death. I don't think you can imagine just how that would impact everyone at the castle."
"I've run off before," Emma reminds him. "And I made it back in one piece."
Killian searches her eyes. His chest heaves with his breaths. "You can't always count on luck when you're playing with darkness, Princess."
Emma averts her gaze.
"I've been exactly where you are," Killian admits. "After Milah passed… I just wanted to protect Elizabeth from him. I wanted to see his heart in my hand, crushed as slowly as I could possibly do it." He shakes his head. "So trust me when I say that I want to see him fail just as badly as you do."
She meets his eyes and nods slowly. "Fine. I'll wait."
Killian feels like he can finally breathe again. He smiles slightly and nods. "Good."