A huge thank you to my beta, icecubelotr44 for dealing with my insanity over the past six months!
Also, a huge thank you to my artists, couldnthandleit and hopeandbeans for creating wonderful artwork for this fic.
Artwork can be found here: post/164484823249/a-wing-and-a-prayer-by-xhookswenchx-on-ao3
Emma knew it was improper to walk away from her own engagement ball, but she just couldn't take it anymore. The sounds of music and celebration were muted in the halls, but the quiet didn't calm the turbulent thoughts echoing around in her head.
The whole kingdom of Misthaven may have been thrilled about the union, but she wasn't.
Not that she had much of a choice, really.
The truth of the matter was that Misthaven was under threat of war with the Dark Kingdom. Rumplestiltskin, its ruler, had set his sights on Misthaven years ago. Once Emma had come of age he tried using an arranged marriage to take control of her parents' lands. It wasn't a gesture of unification, but rather a demand that she marry his son - or face a hostile takeover.
The King and Queen had outright refused.
Though Emma would have done so to ensure the safety of her kingdom, her parents knew that a marriage to the Dark One's son would only lead to Emma's doom. While she appreciated the fact that they wanted her to marry for love, a war was on the horizon and Emma knew she needed to act quickly. Misthaven was far from defenseless, but the Dark One was powerful. They had an army, but their men would be no use against a magic user as strong as Rumplestiltskin. The fact was, when it came to magic, her kingdom was sorely lacking in firepower.
There was a small neighboring kingdom, Oz, that was ruled by a powerful witch. Going to her for help wasn't something that anyone would recommend, but Emma was desperate. Zelena was one of the few people alive who could hope to face off against the power of the Dark Kingdom. At least… that's what Emma hoped.
Zelena was all too happy to help Misthaven. All the witch wanted in return was an alliance of a more permanent nature. It made sense: magical assistance for military power. All Emma had to do was marry Zelena's second in command: The Wizard of Oz.
Her parents balked at the idea, but the deal had already been struck. Emma would marry Walsh and they'd have Oz's help in the war.
It wasn't an ideal match. Emma couldn't see herself ever falling in love with her husband-to-be. He seemed to lack the spine the witch had and he wasn't anywhere near the handsome hero that Emma had read about in the books she kept hidden under the loose floorboard in her room. He seemed nice enough, if a little bit shrewd. However, as far as suitors went, he was a better choice than the Dark One's son.
At least it seemed that way.
Unfortunately, after all was said and done, Emma learned otherwise. After stumbling upon a conversation she wasn't supposed to hear, she realized that Zelena had no plans to help Misthaven at all. Instead, she was planning on using the marriage as a way to hand over the kingdom to the Dark One, himself.
Two weeks before the engagement ball, Emma had known that she needed to find a way out of the arrangement. She couldn't just call everything off - Zelena may have chosen to not honor the treaty after the wedding but if Emma broke it beforehand, Oz would surely declare war. With two magical enemies fighting them on two fronts, Misthaven would surely be destroyed.
She couldn't go to her parents. It was her mess and she needed to clean it up without worrying them further. Putting them in danger was something she wanted to avoid at all costs. So, while her mother was preparing for the ball, Emma was trying to find a way to run away - without it looking like she'd run away.
At first, she thought she might go to Graham, her parents' most trusted knight, but quickly realized he might feel obligated to go straight to her parents. She needed to look outside the palace walls.
The stories from her childhood might hold the answer. Her father had often spun tales of magical creatures when she was a little girl. Unfortunately, she found that despite the magic found in the realm, the creatures she'd learned about were either fickle beings or nonexistent entirely. Fairies hadn't answered her pleas for help and it had been centuries since anyone had seen any sort of beast that kidnapped princesses.
By the time the ball began, Emma realized that she wasn't going to find a savior in fairy tales. So she took matters into her own hands.
Time was short. At any moment, someone - be it her parents, the palace guards, or even her fiancé - would notice she had been missing for far too long.
Emma sighed and slumped against the wall as hopelessness washed over her. She couldn't do this alone, and yet she was her only ally.
Just as Emma was about to resign herself to marrying Walsh and hoping for the best, something stopped her. She couldn't place the strange feeling that had come over her, but it felt similar to the pleasant buzz she got when she drank just a bit too much champagne. Knowing that she didn't have nearly enough to drink tonight to cause that, Emma couldn't explain what was going on.
She straightened up and started walking back towards the ballroom only to have the strange feeling overwhelm her. Curious to the pull it seemed to have, she changed her course. Emma wasn't sure what she was following but she knew whatever it was had to be getting closer. The buzz almost felt as if it was consuming her, sparking just under her skin.
The sounds of the celebration were practically silent as she ventured further away. For a moment, she wondered if this was some sort of dark magic leading her away from anyone who could help her. The thought almost made Emma turn back, but she was too curious to give up now.
Whatever was leading her on changed from a pleasant buzz to something she couldn't quite describe. It was stronger - almost magnetic - and caused her to move forward with little effort on her part. She halted suddenly when the magic felt the strongest.
And realized she wasn't alone.
There was a man crouched just a few feet in front of her. His dark attire left him partially hidden in the dim light but there was no denying his intentions. His concentration was so focused on the lock he was trying to pick that he didn't even notice he was being watched.
Or maybe he just didn't care.
"What do you think you're doing?" she hissed, angry at his actions.
He didn't even startle.
"That would be none of your business, milady," the man answered without bothering to glance her way.
Emma stomped her foot, demanding his attention. When he refused to do anything but concentrate on the lock he was failing to pick, she cleared her throat. "My palace, my business."
That seemed to get his attention.
He turned to her, gave her a once over, then smirked. For a brief second she was mesmerized by his too-blue eyes. Then he opened his mouth again and the moment was gone. "Apologies," he said sarcastically, making an exaggerated bow, "none of your business, Your Highness."
Emma felt her cheeks grow hot as the man turned back to the task at hand. Never in her life had someone so blatantly disrespected her. To make things even stranger, he seemed fully at ease trying to break into her palace while she was standing right there.
Determined to beat him at his own game, she spoke again. "Would you mind telling me what you're looking for in the servants' quarters?"
Once again, he stopped what he was doing and turned to her.
"You're lying," he accused. "This has to be a treasury of sorts, and you're trying to tell me it's not in hopes that I'll give up."
"Suit yourself," she shrugged. "Don't say I didn't warn you."
The man rolled his eyes and went back to fiddling with the lock. Emma groaned, knowing that they'd be here all night at this rate. Some thief. "Move aside," she instructed.
He gave her a curious look, then made a grunt of disapproval when she shoved him out of the way. Within seconds, the lock was picked, and Emma swung the door open.
"How did you do that?" He asked, clearly dumbfounded.
"There's a lot of places that are off limits around here," she explained matter-of-factly, "even for a princess."
"You've got fire," he said, "I'll give you that."
He moved past her and into the room, only to turn back to her. "That's impossible!"
Just as Emma had promised, the door led to a living area, not the treasury. He pulled something out of his coat pocket. It let out a soft glow that seemed to match the sensations that were pulling at her. "It should be here. Blasted compass-"
"Maybe you should tell me what… that thing is, and then, what you're looking for?" she suggested. "Or I could just call the guards."
"Trust me, love," he chuckled with a gleam of mischief in his eye, "I'll be far away by the time they get to you."
His words gave her an idea. If he was quick at slipping away, maybe he could help her escape. She assessed the thief, wondering how much of a threat he was - then wondering how helpful he could actually be. "Maybe we can help each other out," she began.
He was quiet for a moment, as if weighing his options, then spoke. "This is an enchanted compass."
He pulled it away when she reached for it. "It's not for you!" he exclaimed angrily.
"What's it for?" she asked, hoping to calm his quick temper.
"The enchantment is supposed to lead me to a relic I need." He put the compass back into his pocket, and eyed her suspiciously. Whatever he found, it seemed like he was willing to trust her with what he was looking for.
"The product of True Love."
Emma let out a little gasp and hoped he didn't notice. " The product of True Love ?" she parroted.
"Aye, you know of it?" He asked incredulously. "It's rumored to be the key to saving my kingdom."
"Maybe we can help each other." The plot was forming in her head. It was crazy, but since she now had leverage, she could bargain for his assistance. He gestured for her to go on, and she smiled. "I just so happen to know where this relic is. Maybe if I bring it to you, you could help me save my kingdom, too?"
"It seems a fair trade," he agreed cautiously. "What seems to be plaguing your kingdom?"
"Witches and Wizards," she said, tiredly. "It's a long story. I can explain on the way."
"On the way where?" he asked, raising a curious eyebrow.
"To wherever my kidnapper wishes to take me," she gave him a hopeful grin.
" Kidnapper ?" He shook his head and scowled at her. "Who is kidnapp… I didn't agree to any such thing."
"You don't understand," she said, her words rushed and desperate. "If I just run away, my fiancé's kingdom can declare war. I need it to look like I was taken unwillingly. Then my parents and our kingdom appear blameless. If you won't be a part of it, maybe… maybe you know where I can find someone to help me? I've tried to find any of the magical creatures I know of, and none of them seem to even exi-"
"You'll bring me the relic?" he asked quickly.
The sudden change in attitude towards her half cocked plan was a shock, but she wasn't going to question her good fortune. She nodded back just as quickly.
"All right," he sighed. "Then it has to be public. If I just steal you away here, there's no evidence that you didn't run off on your own."
"The terrace," she offered, starting to formulate more of a plan in her head. "It's outside the ballroom and there's a great view from inside. We can make a scene and everyone will know, without a doubt, that I've been kidnapped."
"And what of me? Surely kidnapping the princess comes with consequences."
"I'll take care of that," she said, hopefully. Her parents would have to understand - once the kingdom had been saved.
The man nodded in agreement, "I'm trusting you, Princess. Don't double cross me. Meet me on the terrace in an hour. Bring the relic and I'll see you to safety." He bowed again, gave her a wink, then brushed by her to take his leave.
"Don't double cross me ," she muttered to thin air, hoping she hadn't just made another mistake.
As she closed the door to the apartment, she realized the buzz she felt had completely disappeared.
Killian couldn't believe his luck. The princess promised to hand over the relic he had been searching for almost his entire adult life with almost no fuss at all. The product of True Love existed and he would have it in a few short minutes
He hoped the Princess would forgive him for what he was about to do. After he had a little fun with it, of course.
She was expecting a thief, and while he had no doubt he could be in, and have her out in no time, there was no fun in it.
Maybe next time, the silly little princess wouldn't make deals with strangers.
He watched from the hillside, waiting for her to come out to the terrace. She would be easy to spot with her dark blue dress and hair that rivaled the sun. He didn't expect the sudden feeling of jealousy that bubbled up when he noticed she wasn't alone. There was no way to be certain, but he was sure it was her fiancé. From this distance, he couldn't tell exactly what was going on, but it seemed to be a disagreement of sorts.
Maybe she was trying to get the man out of the way, just in case he tried any heroics.
Killian chuckled. Now he was going to have even more fun. A common thief might not be a match for her intended, but he wagered the man wouldn't come across as quite so brave when faced with Killian.
But there wasn't time to dwell on frivolous things, he had a princess to kidnap.
Not wanting to alarm anyone prematurely, he stole down the hillside in full stealth. It always amazed him just how quiet he could be.
"I just don't understand why you're acting so distant," Walsh said snidely. "Especially when this whole party is just for us."
Emma rolled her eyes. Walsh hadn't left her side since she'd returned from her little adventure. It was almost as if he thought she might run. What Emma couldn't understand was why he was so adamant that she act as though she completely adored him
"I'm doing you a favor," he reminded her, for the millionth time.
"I'm sure it's such a burden for you," she said, just as snidely as he had. "Marrying a princess and inheriting a whole kingdom."
Emma hated that she had to practically sell herself to the highest bidder, and she hated it even more that the highest bidder was Walsh. He knew she didn't have any plans to fall in love with him but he hadn't seemed to mind. At first, she thought they could possibly come to be friends. But after discovering the plot to double cross and silence her, that went right out the window.
Walsh just gave her the same smug look he'd given her the day Emma asked for Zelena's help.
"I think I've thanked you enough for you generosity, " she grumbled.
Walsh backed her up against the wall, just out of sight of the party still going on inside. "Oh, you'll be thanking me plenty after the wedding," he said with a lecherous grin.
It took every bit of her years of training at her mother's knee not to gag.
Never in her life had she been so repulsed by a man. Just weeks ago he was the better choice. But now Emma saw him for what he really was: no better than the Dark One's son.
Emma wasn't sure if he knew she'd overheard them that day, but he definitely noticed the difference in her attitude towards him. There was nothing more she wanted to do than beat him into a crumpled heap and leave him for dead. But that would blow her plans to hell and her parents - and her people - would suffer dearly.
"That's what this is about, isn't it?" he asked. "You're nervous about the wedding night, aren't you?"
"That's okay," Walsh continued, ignoring her completely, "it'll be fun. For me."
The sound of a deafening roar distracted Walsh long enough for her to duck away. At the moment, she didn't care what had made the noise, she was just grateful for the chance to escape. It wasn't until Walsh made a pathetic whimpering sound that she turned and saw it.
Emma's eyes widened at the sight of the dragon. Before she could react, Walsh shoved her out of his way, and ran back inside. She heard the distinct 'snick' of a lock sliding into place.
She was trapped.
"You coward!" Emma shouted.
She ran towards the doors quickly but Walsh had already managed to shut them. She could see through the windows that guests were fleeing the room. Her parents, she noticed, were doing their best to run towards her, but were getting lost in the shuffle.
She was outmatched by a long shot but she wasn't going to go down without a fight.
If the monster wasn't about to kill her, she might find him beautiful. He moved with a grace one wouldn't expect from such a large creature. His black scales shimmered in the moonlight, reminding her of the night sky, itself. There was a lighter tone to his underbelly but Emma couldn't make out the color in the dark. It gave the beast a mysterious air and she found herself pondering where he'd come from. If there were more of them. If they all looked the same. She wondered, briefly, if he would spray fire like they always did in the stories her father told at her bedside. But Emma shut that thought down immediately.
Better not to borrow trouble.
Shaking her head, Emma pulled herself from her thoughts. There wasn't time to admire the beast; she needed to think fast.
Her mother had chastised her earlier for wanting to bring her sword. "This is a ball, not a battle," the queen had reminded her as her father shrugged helplessly - there were some things even he didn't cross the queen on.
But Emma was known for her defiance and she was glad she didn't completely adhere to the 'no weapons' edict that had been imposed on her.
Still, all she had was a dagger. And there wasn't any part of her that wanted to get close enough to a dragon to fight with such a small weapon.
She grabbed a small potted plant, flung it in his general direction, and missed by a mile. Frustrated, she grabbed another pot and tried again. The dragon seemed irritated, especially when a few of her shots hit him, causing the pots to shatter and dirt and plants to scatter wildly through the air.
He swiped at his eyes with long talons that Emma didn't want to imagine anywhere near her. She guessed that the dirt had gotten into his eyes, but it barely slowed him down. Within seconds he was standing in front of her. She swore she saw him smirk when he leaned down to eye level. Not wanting to give up just yet, she punched him in the nose.
A burst of fire shot from his nostrils, and Emma barely had time to duck. Quickly, she lifted her skirt and grabbed the dagger she'd strapped to her ankle. As he reached to grab her, she struck, slicing through the pad on his front foot.
"Bloody hell! That hurt!"
Emma dropped her dagger and stared at the dragon in disbelief. Had he just… No. She tried to shake the thought. That was ridiculous.
The dragon was quick to take advantage of her state of shock. He grabbed her roughly around the middle then took to the sky.
"Let me go!" she shouted, pounding her fists on his talons.
He squeezed her a little tighter, but his grip was careful - almost protective - as if he didn't wish her harm. Once they were in the air, she stopped hitting him, and chose to scream instead.
"I could let you go now, if you'd like," he grumbled, sounding annoyed.
"Please don't!" she cried.
He faltered a bit, their smooth flight turning rocky as he seemed to be caught off guard.
And then it sunk in. "Wait… did you just talk to me? Oh no. I'm delusional. I'm imagining a talking dragon. Please just kill me and get it over with."
"Bloody hell, Princess. I'm not going to kill you," the dragon snapped. There was something familiar about him, though she couldn't quite place it. "I'm helping you, remember?"
"Thief?" she asked.
"Name's Killian, actually," he informed her, trying to cover the shock of learning she could understand him when he was transformed. Even after centuries, he was still learning what being a dragon truly meant. "Might you indulge me and tell me your name, Princess?"
"Emma," she said. "My name's… wait a minute. So you are the thief? Why didn't you tell me you were a dragon? How… how am I even talking to you?"
She paused for a moment, but it was clear she wasn't finished. He could almost hear her thinking.
"And if you're a dragon, why did you waste all that time picking the lock when you could have just burned down the door?"
"Aye," he answered, trying his best to remember everything she'd asked.
He wasn't sure how she could understand him, so he skipped that for the time being, hoping she wouldn't press further. "I am the thief. But how would it have looked if you'd known I was a dragon. Were you just going to hop on my back and we could ride off into the sunset together?" he teased.
Emma stammered out something, but it was a mumbled reply at best, and he didn't catch a word of it.
"Your capture needed to seem realistic," he reminded her. "And I'd say we gave them quite the show, didn't we darling?"
When she didn't respond to his continued teasing, Killian laughed, but answered the rest of her questions. "I didn't incinerate the door because I just wanted the relic. I wasn't trying to destroy your palace, or cause a commotion… though… I suppose I wound up causing one anyway."
She let out a weak laugh at last, and he sighed in relief. A calm princess would hopefully make the confrontation with his brother much easier.
Liam would likely murder him upon his return. Dragons had earned quite the reputation in all the years since they had last been seen among the realm's inhabitants. Killian often heard stories of them in his travels. Beasts that kidnapped young maidens, villages that sacrificed virgins to the imaginary beings they felt plagued their lands, hoards of treasures that they guarded fiercely.
His brother hated every bit of it.
"They think of us as uncivilized monsters," he'd often complained. "Father may have been many things, but never once was there a demand for a sacrifice."
"And what of you, brother?" he'd tease. "Never took an offering?"
That particular quip had earned him a punch in the face more than once. Liam insisted they were honorable men. They didn't kidnap people; they were just the product of their own legends.
Perhaps his brother would forgive him when he finally broke the kingdom's curse. Dóiteán had been his home for centuries, and he was loathe to see it - and his brother's people - trapped as they were. He hoped Emma had kept her part of the bargain and brought the relic. Otherwise, he'd wasted a perfectly good evening and would have to go back and find the damned thing on his own.
And maybe leave the bloody princess locked in one of Liam's dungeons for spite.
They made the rest of the trip in near-silence. Every once in awhile, he'd hear Emma make a frightened sound or feel her shiver against the cold, but for the most part she didn't speak. He pulled her a little closer, hoping his body heat would keep her from freezing.
She tensed up when the palace came into view and he couldn't blame her. It was a fairly ominous-looking structure. He knew reassurances wouldn't help because there was still a small part of him that was just as intimidated as she was - even though it had been his only home for centuries now.
Killian could already hear Liam storming down the hall as he reached the balcony. He set Emma down gently and landed in front of her.
"You're not going to sacrifice me to some dragon god, right?" she asked.
"I told you I wasn't going to harm you," he reminded her. When she seemed unconvinced, he realized he was still very much a ferocious looking dragon.
"Here," he said, gesturing for her to give him a little space. "Maybe this will make you feel better."
He transformed back into his smaller, more fragile, but no less devilishly handsome form.
Emma just stared at him, dumbfounded.
"You… you're… how?"
He could tell right away that she was on the verge of… something. There was a calm about her, but it was bordering between acceptance and panic.
"Please don't scream," he begged. "It's bad enough my brother already knows I'm home. If he thinks-"
"Killian Jones !"
"Bloody hell," Killian groaned. "Emma, pleas-"
He didn't get to finish asking her for assistance as he caught her just before she hit the floor - right as Liam made it to the balcony. "This isn't what it looks like, brother."
"So, you didn't bring a woman back to our home, breach all our laws of secrecy, and have her collapse at your feet?" Liam asked. His arms were crossed, and he looked at Killian expectantly.
"Well… I did," he admitted, waffling on how - exactly - to explain this. "You see, she needed me to kidnap h-"
"You kidnapped her?!" His brother was fuming and Killian imagined that if Liam had been in possession of his ability to transform, he'd have smoke curling out his nostrils.
"But she asked me to!" Killian exclaimed.
When Liam answered with a growl, Killian knew he needed to somehow wake up Emma so she could help verify his story.
"Don't let her freeze out here!" Liam barked. "Get her inside!"
Killian quickly complied and brought Emma into his room.
"She'll need more blankets," he said, hoping that sending Liam on a mission would get his brother out of his hair for awhile.
When Liam hesitated, Killian rolled his eyes. "Bloody hell, brother. I'm not going to hurt her!"
Once Liam hurried off to find more blankets, Killian set Emma on his bed. She didn't move as he bundled her up in the few sheets he had available. When Liam returned a short while later, they layered the heavy wool over her.
Killian felt her face and frowned at the chill. "I didn't mean to hurt her. I was only trying to help her."
Liam growled again.
Killian looked up at him, finally. "She'll be all right, won't she?" he asked, looking for reassurance. Mortals were such fragile beings.
"We'll just have to keep an eye on her." Liam nodded over to the hearth. "Perhaps you should get a fire started?"
Liam continued to question him while he started the fire and shut the doors to the balcony. His brother wasn't at all pleased to discover she was the princess of Misthaven, but he seemed amused when Killian told him about the stabbing and being punched in the nose.
"She promised to help me if I would help her," Killian said. "She caught me looking-"
"You're not still looking for that damned relic, are you?" Liam groaned. "It doesn't exist . Whatever the prophecy said can't be trusted. Consider the source."
He had considered the source. Numerous times over the past few centuries he'd thought about it. The dryad who'd cursed the kingdom, had informed Liam that Killian would break the curse with the product of True Love. Trusting the word of the creature that caused the trouble wasn't always the best choice, but there were others Killian had met along the way who he felt he could trust, like Anton.
Anton was a giant that Killian had met on his travels. Though they had a rough start, they'd become close friends since. By the time Killian mentioned the curse, he had been at his wits' end. He wasn't sure what a giant could do about difficult magic but Anton had surprised him. He handed over a compass and claimed it was enchanted.
Killian couldn't help trusting the compass he'd been given by his friend. It called to him, even now.
"It will help you find what you seek," was the giant's only explanation.
For years, the compass did nothing. Then one afternoon, just about twenty years ago, it began to glow. It was a dull glow that never seemed to change throughout his travels.
Until he happened upon Misthaven.
"Keep watch," Liam said, breaking him from his thoughts. "We're far enough away that it might take her family some time to get here, but you don't know who else may have seen you. You need to be on the alert and we need to protect her at all costs."
Killian looked over at Emma when she suddenly moved, burying herself deeper in her blanket cocoon.
"No funny business," Liam stated with an expressive jab of his finger, calling Killian's attention away from Emma.
Killian rolled his eyes in response.
"I'm serious, Killian!" Liam growled. "She'd better be right where we left her when I return."
Liam turned to leave before he stopped and added, "We'll have words in the morning."
Killian groaned when Liam stormed out. He'd hoped explaining himself would be enough, but apparently, his brother wanted to hear it from Emma. He figured it was a win, knowing Liam trusted him enough for guard duty, but he was still slightly annoyed that he was being treated like a naughty child.
After Liam left the room, Killian transformed and curled up on the floor next to the bed. He checked Emma once more, then drifted off to sleep.