Author's Note: Here's some wee Captain Charming time! Because I couldn't resist.
Charming's eyes opened to the gray light of the early morning. A farmer through and through, he had been getting up with the sun as long as he could remember. Even after he became a prince and the days of rising early to tend to the animals were long behind him, his lifelong habit was too ingrained to break. In the castle he'd simply read by lantern light while waiting for Snow to awaken so they could face the day together. In the loft, though, he'd come to discover that he enjoyed using that quiet time to prepare breakfast for his family.
It was during those early mornings in the loft that he started a new habit: making his "rounds." During his rounds, he checked on each of his slumbering family members in turn and wished them soft, private good mornings. In the days following the breaking of the Curse, when Emma was still reticent and guarded, he would sit at the foot of her bed and simply watch her. His little girl, so hurt, so damaged, so vulnerable (no matter how much she pretended not to be). It had killed him every morning to stand up and leave her side with nothing more than a whispered, "Good morning, kiddo," but stealing a kiss or a tender touch with her walls still sky-high had seemed wrong.
Following the defeat of the Black Fairy, Charming had managed to form a routine that combined the best aspects of farmer and father. He'd make his rounds, checking on first Snow and then Neal and then take Wilby outside to tend to the animals. By the time he returned to the house to start breakfast, his family would be rising themselves.
This morning, though, was different. Instead of having two family members to check on during rounds, he had five.
As usual, Snow was sound asleep beside him, tucked up against his side. A smile tugged at his lips as he planted a gentle kiss on her forehead before carefully untangling her arms from his and climbing from bed. The morning air had turned chilly and the hardwood floor was cold under his bare feet. Swiftly, he tucked the blanket around Snow before the chill could disturb her.
His second stop was Neal's nursery to peek in on his baby boy. Surprisingly enough, Neal was still asleep, sprawled out on his back with one arm flung out across the crib mattress and the other curled around a teddy bear Emma had given him. Charming stood at the side of the crib for a long moment, finding peace in the soft rising and falling of his son's chest. "Good morning, little prince," he whispered before pressing a kiss to the tips of his fingers and touching said fingers to Neal's little cheek. Warmth flooded Charming's veins when Neal nestled his cheek into his touch.
At this point in the morning on a normal morning he would go downstairs and brew a pot of coffee. This morning, however, he continued down the hall to the first guest room. A peek in on Henry proved that he was also sound asleep, not that Charming expected anything different from a fourteen-year-old boy. He had, however, buried himself beneath the blankets so thoroughly that Charming was amazed he was still able to breathe. (Shades of his mother, Charming supposed; Emma had a tendency to snuggle under the covers like that as well.)
Since, unlike Neal, there was no chance of accidentally waking Henry up at this hour, Charming felt comfortable tiptoeing into the room and pulling the comforter off his grandson's face. The boy's nose wrinkling at the rush of chilly air was the extent of the disruption of his slumber. Smiling softly, Charming dropped a good morning kiss onto his temple and left the room, pulling the door closed behind him.
He paused a moment outside the door of the other guest room. Even with that moment of preparation, however, he was not at all ready for the explosion of love that filled his heart. His Emma, his baby girl, was curled up on her side in the middle of the double bed that seemed far too big for her little body. Surprisingly, she wasn't buried beneath the covers but she was getting there fast; the comforter was up to her ear. On the mattress by her feet lay Wilby, wide awake and keeping watch over his new lost lamb.
The dog lifted his head at Charming's entrance, ready to respond to his master's instruction. Since Charming didn't have it in his heart to tell the dog to leave the little girl, he held out his hand and shook his head. Wilby evidently understood the silent instruction because he relaxed and rested his chin on one of his outstretched paws.
"He's been with her all morning," came a soft whisper from the other side of the room.
It seemed Charming was not the only one awake at this early hour. Little Killian sat propped up against the headboard, pillows at his back and a book open his lap. He'd brought the projector into bed with him and had clearly been reading – or at least attempting to read – by the blue-tinged illumination given off by the projector's base.
The fact that Killian would have a similar body clock to Charming's own shouldn't have been such a surprise to him. A cabin boy's day probably started just as early as a farmer's, if not earlier. Plus, Charming remembered Emma once teasing Killian about going to bed early, to which he'd teased her right back about not getting up until the sun had been in the sky an hour or two: "The day's half-gone at that point, Swan!"
"Wilby's protecting her," little Killian said now, bringing Charming back to the present.
"He is indeed," Charming smiled.
"He protected her last night during her bad dream, too," Killian said softly.
Charming's eyes darted to his little girl, who was showing no signs of a nightmare now. "She had a bad dream last night?"
Killian nodded. "I got Mary Margaret. She helped her."
Conflicting emotions tugged at Charming's heart. He was upset for his poor little girl, guilty that she'd had a nightmare and he hadn't been there for her, and thrilled for Snow that she'd had the chance to be there for her instead.
"Well, it looks like she's doing fine now, no doubt thanks to Wilby's continued protection." Killian smiled, which had been Charming's intention. After a beat, he gestured towards Killian's reading setup. "I could get you a flashlight, if you want. It would be easier than trying to read by the projector's light."
A frown of confusion knotted the boy's brow. "What's a flashlight?"
"It's kind of like a lantern but it runs on batteries like that projector instead of oil or kerosene."
It was clear Killian wanted to ask what batteries were and how they made light but he simply gave a nod of understanding before setting his book aside. "No, thank you. I think I'm done reading for now anyway."
Something about the boy's demeanor troubled Charming, something he couldn't quite put his finger on. Maybe it was the overly polite tone of his voice, so much like the day before when he was frightened, or maybe it was the way he seemed to be trying to make himself smaller on the bed but something was wrong. The boy was withdrawing and Charming had no idea why.
Charming eased down at the foot of the daybed, getting down as close to Killian's level as he could while still maintaining a little bit of distance so as not to frighten the boy. "Is everything all right, Killian?"
"Yes, thank you," the boy said, giving Charming what he probably thought was a convincing smile.
Charming took a deep breath while trying to determine his next step. Last night, they'd simply let Killian come to them when he was ready but something about this interaction was telling him he needed to push. Gently, of course, but he needed to push. "Killian, I know the past day or so has been really hard on you. If there's anything either Mary Margaret or I could do to help make it easier-"
"No, no, you've both been wonderful. Henry and Emma have, too. It's just … I miss Liam."
While the gentle pushing had indeed been the answer, Charming's heart broke for the poor child. Snow had told him last night of Emma's theory that Killian hadn't been alone very long. He only knew the broad strokes of the story of Killian's father abandoning him and Liam but he knew enough to gather that this poor little boy was terrified. Liam was the only person he had in the world and here Killian was, in a strange land with strange people, no Liam in sight.
"Of course you miss Liam," Charming said softly. "You love him and he loves you. He takes care of you."
"He does. He takes good care of me." Killian paused then lifted his big blue eyes to look directly into Charming's. "Am I ever going to see him again?"
As Emma would say: well, crap. How was Charming supposed to answer that? No, Killian wouldn't see his brother again, not for a very long time. It may have been the truth but it was cruel and Charming could not tell this hurt and frightened little boy that he was a long way from seeing Liam again.
"We're working on it, bud," he said, opting for a gentle hedging. "Regina's working day and night to find out how to send you home and in the meantime, you have all of us. Emma and Henry and Mary Margaret and Neal and me. Regina, too, and even Wilby! And the sheep and the chickens, if you want."
A tiny smile had started pulling at Killian's lips from the moment Charming started listing family members but the addition of the animals was what finally got the boy to giggle.
Charming smiled at him, pleased that he'd managed to make him laugh. "We all want you to be comfortable and feel at home here."
"Home," the boy murmured, trying out the word as if it were unfamiliar. He looked up at Charming, his blue eyes glistening. "I've never had one of those before. Not really, not that I can remember. We've always lived on whichever ship my father worked."
"Well, Killian," Charming said as he swallowed the lump that had risen in his throat, "I hope you know that you have one now."
It was the gods' honest truth. In any incarnation, adult or child, Killian had finally found his home with them after all his centuries on his own. (It may have taken Charming a while to come around, granted, but that was beside the point.)
The boy stared at Charming, his eyes wide in wonder, and then, to Charming's utter shock, threw his arms around him in a hug. "Thank you," he whispered.
"You're very welcome, Killian," Charming murmured into the child's ear, holding the boy tight on pure paternal instinct "You're very welcome."
Killian pulled out of the hug a moment later, smiling sheepishly up at Charming. "Are Emma and I still going to collect the eggs from the chickens this morning?"
"Of course," Charming smiled, shaking off the rest of his emotion and going with the change of subject for Killian's sake.
Killian smiled a thank you before darting his gaze over to the other bed, where Emma was turning onto her other side, now unconsciously facing them. Charming's heart once again exploded with love and longing. "How long do you think we're going to have to wait?" the boy asked, returning a questioning gaze to Charming.
"Judging by how deeply she's sleeping, it might be a little while," Charming replied with a soft chuckle. "The sun's barely up yet, remember."
Though Killian nodded in understanding, it was clear he was getting antsy. A cabin boy, much like a farmer, was used to doing something with his early morning hours.
"I have an idea," Charming said. "Why don't you and I go feed the animals? Maybe by the time we've fed the sheep and the chicken and let the sheep out of their pen, Emma will be awake."
Killian smiled. "I'd like that."
Charming would, too, to be perfectly honest. He stood and held out his hand. Killian took it and climbed out of bed.
Again Wilby lifted his head but Charming once again told him to stay. He didn't want Emma waking up alone.
When Killian shot him a questioning look, clearly wondering why the dog wasn't coming with them, Charming winked at the boy. "We're giving him the morning off."
"Wilby looks like he likes that," Killian laughed, "and I think Emma will, too."
Charming chuckled as well and led the boy downstairs. He didn't normally have another person to help get the animals ready for the day but somehow he didn't think he'd mind the company.