Warnings: This fic deals with issues related to loss of limbs, anxiety attacks, and lots of family feels.
Killian stood as still as possible on the wrong side of the door, trying his best to keep the boards under his feet from creaking despite the steady rocking of the ship. He stood there and tried to remind himself that cowardice was detestable, as if the reminder would be enough to get him through the door. It hadn't kept him from leaving the room in the first place, thankfully an entire fifteen or so minutes after his daughter had given her first piercing cry. He had no idea what he was doing.
The year after saving Henry, after he'd returned to Storybrooke with Emma and her family for lack of a better offer, had been a tumultuous one. There wasn't much to do for a pirate in a quaint Maine town, it turned out. But with half of the residents eager to get back to their ravaged Enchanted Forest, his ship had come in quite handy. It was easier to dive into a water-borne portal than it was to make the thousand foot vertical climb up a beanstalk, after all. And so, to his great despair, his ship had been relegated to the menial task of ferrying people and cargo between worlds.
On the first trip, he'd escorted the Queen back to her land, to the great unease of all involved. After that, it had gotten worse. The Charmings seemed to be de facto leaders and he could always count on one of them to be making the trip with him and countless strangers - he was repeatedly forced to spend a week at a time with the Prince who always seemed to be measuring him in some capacity, or with the Princess who seemed determined to convince him of something. He was never quite sure what, but he was leery of it nonetheless. It took two months for things to look up again. Two months before Henry, who had been able to play the docile lad who didn't mind missing out on the good times the adults were having, broke and demanded to make the trip himself. When Emma had refused outright, he'd brought out the real arsenal and reminded his birth mother that he'd barely gotten to see his adoptive mother before they'd been separated again. Against everyone else's better judgment, Emma had actually been swayed by that argument.
Killian would have said something himself - new love and commitment to peace or not, the Queen was hardly someone to be heading towards instead of away from - but he felt inexplicably more at ease on his ship when Emma was on it. She had rolled his eyes at him the moment she spotted him on the deck as they boarded, and when he'd winked back, something had loosened in his chest. On the trip back, having left Henry with his mother, and under the watchful eye of Snow and the Dwarves, Killian had found Emma back in her room below deck and broken out the ale. It was tradition by then. And it was tradition every other time she boarded after that - with Henry or without - until one day she crossed the plank and climbed aboard for no reason at all. When he'd asked why she'd come, she had simply shrugged, a mischievous grin barely noticeable on her lips.
The next time Killian had ferried the Prince, it was clear someone had told him the news and Killian suddenly understood why he'd always felt he was being measured. Now, he only hoped he wasn't found wanting. And nearly a year later, when they found out quite unexpectedly that Emma was expecting, Snow had put her arms around him and told him that this was exactly what she'd been hoping for him all along.
Seven months after that, his daughter had been born in the middle of the portal on the way to an awaiting castle. She had greeted the world screaming as loudly as the vortex around them, as objects fell and flew around them and her family tried desperately to protect her while holding onto anything immovable. Afterwards, when the ship was horizontal again and its contents stationary, the Charmings had all agreed that, all things considered, it had been a relatively easy birth.
Killian had stood over Emma's birthing bed completely enraptured by the face of his newborn child, swaddled in a blanket her grandmother had knit her, only stopping her squalls when placed in her mother's arms. He'd kissed them both, then - Emma first, his lips tasting tears that, this time around, spoke of nothing but joy, and his daughter next, catching her errant hand as she wriggled out of the swaddle. He kissed her tiny fist before tucking it back into the warmth of the blanket. Their audience had approached then, never having gone far to begin with. Henry gingerly touched his half-sister's dark hair with a smile before pulling his fingers away with a grimace. She hadn't been quite as clean as she would have been in a hospital. Snow didn't seem to have any such reservations as she crowded in and placed a warming cap on his daughter's head.
"Welcome to the world, baby girl." She'd said, tears falling steadily down smiling cheeks. "We love you so much."
Charming had followed, kissing all three generations of princesses in turn before asking to hold his granddaughter. Emma had smiled softly, raising her arms without taking her eyes off their child, and Killian had brushed his thumb across her nape. And then Charming had reached out to gently lift the baby and something had disconnected in Killian's chest. It was a sudden, breathtaking punch of something inexplicable. He thought it must be panic but it didn't feel like any panic he knew. Or fear. It wasn't anything he was familiar with, it was just wrong and he couldn't take it. He couldn't be in that room, he couldn't be there.
Trying to keep his facial expression steady, he made quiet excuses about having to check on the ship and make sure they were on course before leaving as quickly as he could without arousing suspicion. He had checked on the ship, and he had confirmed their course. In fact, he'd done every meaningless task he could while his family got to know his daughter. He had hid on the deck until land had been spotted on the horizon - that was how long he'd been able to keep the oncoming shame of having abandoned his family for no discernable reason at bay. Finally, it was with lead in his chest and more in his feet that he made his way back to his and Emma's cabin.
But he couldn't. He laid his forehead on the perpetually damp wood of his ship's walls and closed his eyes.
He couldn't go in. Everything still felt wrong.
He was too hot in his leather coat, too restricted. That was it. It had to be. It felt like he couldn't breathe. He just couldn't breathe.
He ripped the coat off his shoulders but when he tried to throw it to the ground, it snagged on his hook. He shook his forearm to dislodge it but the tip had dug in. He threw his arm back more violently, feeling a much more familiar panic creep over him. He couldn't get it off. He tried again and again but the damned thing was just - it wouldn't come off. He needed to get it off, he needed - he couldn't breathe. He just needed to get it off. The floorboards creaked and he was sure it wasn't him but he didn't have the presence of mind to check.
He shouldered his way into the room adjacent to his cabin and finally reached his hand up to grab the leather and tug violently. His coat came free almost offensively easily. He threw it across the room before punching his hook into the thick wood of the wall and pulling back, effectively ripping his arm free from the harness. He stumbled as he stepped away, but his lungs were working again. Working quite laboriously, in fact. Probably had been for some time. He was shaking, too, and his stumped wrist throbbed harshly. His hand massaged it by habit and a broken laugh escaped him when he realized how pathetic he must look, one-handed, out of breath from a fight with a coat, with what he really hoped was sweat running down his face.
Killian startled so badly at the voice that had he not left his hook in the wall, he likely would have gouged himself with it. Charming closed the door gently behind him, and made his way to the bench his son-in-law was occupying cautiously.
He didn't react when Charming sat down next to him with a sigh, and he didn't react when Charming looked pointedly at the metal catching light across the room, but he did react when Charming said, "Trying your hand at interior design?"
"I abandon Emma and our-", he cleared his throat, his voice was so much rougher than he'd expected, "our daughter and you're making light of it."
"Yeah," Charming said, nodding, "abandoned them from three feet away for a whole twenty minutes. You're pretty awful."
"You sound like your wife." Hook returned, not sure if he meant it as an insult or not.
"I had to leave her when she'd just given birth." Charming continued, his voice much more sober now.
"To save Emma's life."
"Yeah." Charming nodded. "Doesn't really change the fact that I left my wife alone and sobbing in our room minutes after she gave birth as I ran with our daughter."
Killian saw quite a difference but didn't get a chance to say so before his father-in-law continued.
"Emma's not crying and if she is, they're happy tears. She's not alone, she's not in danger, and she's not afraid. When you guys decided to try to get her back to the Enchanted Forest before she gave birth, I was worried. Pregnant women aren't supposed to travel, for one. And after 28 years in the a land of science, I was worried about having her out of range of a hospital, even if we had some magic on our side. But I think, I don't know," Charming shook his head with a grin, "I think your daughter was meant to be born on this ship. Here, through the portal, in the Enchanted Forest. It's...it's like coming full-circle for us, somehow. I've never believed as much in Fate as I do today. And for Emma, well, it's hard to worry about someone abandoning you when he literally has nowhere to go. When we reach the shore, maybe, but until then...this is your grace period. You're allowed to need a second."
"I don't know what I'm doing." Killian said quietly, digging his fingers into his still aching wrist.
"That's fatherhood. Here or in Storybrooke, no parent feels like they know what they're doing. You'll learn." Charming said, sounding so sure.
"I couldn't-" Killian swallowed thickly, feeling the panic swell up again. "When you - I couldn't - how could I -" He couldn't get the words out, but Charming seemed to understand. He reached out and pulled Killian's fingers way from his wrist gently but firmly.
"You're not going to hurt her." He said, but Killian was shaking his head.
"I can't even hold her without risking it." Killian said, brokenly. "What if she squirms? What if I'm jostled? One good wave and she's got three inches of metal-" He couldn't finish the thought. "I can't hold my own daughter."
Killian didn't understand how it had taken until today to come to this realization. It had just never been an issue before. As a pirate, he'd adapted. The hook had even added to his reputation and got him out of a few situations that could have escalated otherwise. As a man, he'd adapted as well. The hook was useful as a replacement and when he didn't need it, when he was with Emma, he just took it off. It had never been an issue. He'd never had to be responsible for someone so breakable, someone who depended on him for her safety, her comfort. He'd never needed to cradle someone so small and fragile to his chest with the assurance that she wouldn't fall or be hurt if he anything else happened, if he suddenly needed to attend to something else at the same time. Why hadn't he realized? Why hadn't anyone told him?
Why hadn't they told him he couldn't do this?
"Son," Charming began, "I waited 28 years to hold my daughter properly, most of it in a coma from being run through with a sword from holding her the first time. We had to break a three decades old curse for me to even know who Emma really was. You were there as we dealt with how to be good parents to her. You were there when we were together and she still felt like an orphan. And you're here now, years later, to see how it turned out. If you think something like being short one hand is what's going to keep you from being the best father you can be to that little girl in there, the father she needs, you don't understand this family and what it's capable of. We believe in each other always, and there is nothing that can keep us apart for good, certainly not something like a missing limb."
Killian wanted to believe him. He really did. He just didn't have that strength, that innate faith that everything would be alright that those from the Enchanted Forest seemed to possess. He came from a world where the people you loved were ripped away and there was no winning. There was no revenge, no vengeance, no atonement. The past two years hadn't yet managed to fix what the three centuries before them had destroyed.
Charming waited an extra moment when it became obvious that Killian had nothing to say in return, but eventually stood. Instead of heading for the door, however, he moved to the corner where he and Snow had placed most of their final pieces of luggage to bring to their new home. He laid one suitcase down, opened it, and retrieved a rather large box.
"We meant to give you this at the end of the trip as a thank you for everything you've done for our people. For bringing us home. But of course nothing went to plan. That's also a constant in this family. It should be on our crest at this point." Charming placed the box on Killian's lap, lock facing him, before going to the hook embedded in the wall. It took a couple of tugs but it came out, and instead of returning it to Killian, he set about unscrewing the metallic attachment from the leather harness's base.
"Go ahead," Charming said, gesturing to the box as he retook his seat. "We had the benefit of a few Disney movies to inspire us."
Keeping the box stable with his forearm, Killian opened the front latch and lifted the top to reveal half a dozen attachments that looked like they would fit perfectly on the base of his harness. Most were metallic; one shaped like a rapier that would no doubt be useful in a fight, another like a regular hook but with jewels embedded through the metal. But the two that caught his eye were made of stiffened leather that was still soft to the touch. One was shaped nearly like a hook but the curve was less pronounced and the tip wasn't nearly as sharp. It would be useful for finger-like manipulations but safe in case of accidental jabs. The other, the one Charming picked up, was as broad as a man's palm and mostly flat, with a gentle, upward curvature on the farthest edge, almost like a nearly flattened ladle - perfect for cupping something.
Killian watched Charming affix the attachment to the harness silently, unsure as to what he was feeling for the second time in an hour. But this sensation wasn't a precursor to panic like it had been earlier; it was nearly its antithesis. It was the overwhelming sense that he was being taken care of, that there was someone ready and willing to hold him up when he stumbled. As Charming tightened the attachment and tested its hold, Killian felt for the first time in over three centuries what it felt like to truly belong, to be part of a family.
"Thank you." His voice was rough again but he was beyond caring at that moment.
Charming smiled with satisfaction and said, "Up."
Any other day, Killian would have rolled his eyes, but today he lifted his arm as he was bade, letting his father-in-law slip the harness over his wrist and secure the band around his elbow, and to the straps of leather that snaked up and around his shoulders. Charming then pressed down on the attachment to demonstrate the great deal of weight it could take. "Good?"
"Great." Killian said, trying to put the very depths of his gratitude into the word.
"Then let's get you back in there." Charming said, clapping him on the arm and taking the box from his lap. Before he put it aside, however, he opened it once more.
"Just so you know," he started with a hint of a smirk as he picked up the jeweled piece, "Snow had this one made for your wedding."
"Is that so?" Killian said, welcoming the familiar ribbing and letting his own smirk form on his lips. "Well, how could I live with myself knowing I'd disappointed a lady?"
Charming let the top of the box drop with a grin and held out his hand to help Killian up. "When that lady is your mother-in-law, any living you did would be short indeed."
"All the more incentive then," he returned before saying sincerely, "not that I've needed any." When Charming tilted his head in question, Killian nodded to the desk behind his back. Charming got up and shot him a suspicious look before opening the top-most drawer slowly, as though its contents might spring out and attack him. His eyes narrowed on something and when he looked up, looking pleased and approving, Killian was filled with an unexpected burst of pride.
Wordlessly, Charming closed the drawer again and cleared his throat to say, "your daughter first. One major life event at a time."
"Daughter first." Killian agreed. "My daughter." He repeated, loving the feel of the words in his house. His fingers brushed against the smooth leather where his hand would have been, and he smiled. "I want my daughter."
When his feet finally crossed the threshold to his cabin, it was with Charming at his back, not as an obstacle against retreat but as a hand to hold him up if he needed it. And as he'd implied, Killian's absence hadn't seemed to cause too much concern as all eyes were still on the newest addition to their family, just as they had been when he'd left. When they approached, Snow's eyes dropped to his wrist before she looked away with that insufferably knowing grin, but he ignored her because Emma's gaze landed on him and, miraculously, it shone with nothing but tired contentment. He smiled at her and wondered how he'd ever been afraid at all. Everything he needed - every part of him - was in this room. A moment later, she was lifting their daughter into the cradle of his arms and he couldn't memorize everything about this moment quickly enough. She was so warm, and heavier than he'd expected, more real, somehow. But so small, so breakable, and so precious.
"Hello, princess." Killian murmured, and slowly, carefully lowered his hand to take Emma's when she offered it.
They'd be just fine.
Their family always was, in the end.