There was a time in Princess Aurora's life where she would've delighted in a ball thrown in her honor. She'd float across the dance floor with her feet never touching the ground. She'd gossip with courtiers and flirt and be sweet and she'd go to bed late into the night knowing that she had done her duties, fulfilled her obligations, and made her parents proud. That's what a princess was supposed to do after all. Smile and dance and laugh at the appropriate moments.
Sometimes she wanted to scream.
"A fierce queen is a dead queen," her mother would say. "As long as they underestimate you, they won't see you coming."
There wasn't that sort of intrigue in Snow White's court and it was admittedly difficult to get used to the change. To have the sudden freedom to be herself after a lifetime of pretending was a difficult adjustment and a surprisingly exhausting one. Not long into the night, Aurora found herself moving away from conversation and sought refuge out on the balcony. Spring was in the air; Aurora could smell the blooming life from the mountains and woods that surrounded Starlight Lake and the castle of Snow White.
As lovely as the view was, Aurora felt an ache as she thought of a different scene. One of mountains free of snow, of a desert land as far as the eye could see. Of course there were stars here, the same ones she looked at from her bedroom window, but the world wasn’t half as vast as it has seemed in Ishtar. Yet Aurora had never quite understood how big it was under the stars. The Enchanted Forest alone was massive with more little kingdoms dotting the landscape than she could count.
What a lovely way to spend her birthday; reminiscing about things long lost, dreaming as she once did.
There was no longer a place for dreams.
Snow White appeared by her side, concern etched on her lovely face and she touched Aurora's elbow. "Are you not enjoying the party?"
"Oh! I am," she hurriedly reassured her friend with a smile. "I was just thinking about how the last time I had a party thrown in my honor, I ended up asleep for thirty years." Snow's look turned wry when she caught onto the joke and the dark-haired queen shook her head.
"From what my father told me about other kingdoms, our idea of a party is a little different I take it?"
Aurora shrugged a little. "It's a different land but it's been years. It's gone.” She paused for a second, “I suppose it doesn't matter." She tilted her chin up, straightening against the railing. It's what she always did, wasn't it? Continue on with her chin held high. "I'll find a new place in the world and all will turn out fine. It always does."
She couldn't stand to see the look of pity in Snow's eyes. While she knew that it came from a genuine place, long learned lessons of never showing such emotion in public (for privacy was always a false comfort) had her chafing at it. None of it showed on her face – Aurora's look remained pleasant.
Maybe she never did stop playing. The game had only changed.
"Have you heard from Emma and Mulan?" She didn't bother to hide the obvious change in subject but Aurora was genuinely curious. The two of them couldn't be any more different but Emma's blunt pragmatism was so familiar to her that she couldn't help but develop a liking for her. As Philip's death became a more distant event, he hung less and less between the two women, allowing them to develop a more genuine friendship.
It was nice to be surrounded by a new family but as much as she loved them all dearly and appreciated their friendship, it could be stifling, how protective they all could be.
Before Snow White could answer there was a polite cough and the two women looked over their shoulders. David stood there looking dashing in his formal clothes and Aurora saw Snow White glow from the corner of her eyes. She felt a twist in her chest. Aurora recognized that look that David was giving his wife and the one she returned. Her and Philip had looked at one another that way.
“I’m sorry to interrupt--” David began apologetically but Aurora held up a hand.
“No, it’s fine. I imagine you were looking for your wife.” Snow squeezed Aurora’s shoulder and still looked concerned but she wouldn’t have any of it. “Go on. You went to so much work on this, you should enjoy it.”
“And so should you,” Snow pointed out in that motherly tone, so different from Aurora’s own mother.
“I will, I promise.” She willed Snow White to understand without her having to voice the words and the Queen seemed to because she pulled Aurora into a tight hug. She returned it with a whispered ‘thank you’ and watched the happy pair go back into the bright light of the hall.
She watched them vanish into the crowd and light and an ache settled over her. Aurora turned her face back up to the starlit sky and tried to resist wrapping herself back in that blanket of pain that she had kept for so long.
Her last birthday...
She remembered watching them all arrive. Courtiers and noblemen. Advisers and her brothers. Phillip. Phillip... so handsome in his livery with his eyes just for her. Phillip whom she’d grown to care for over the years of their arranged betrothal. Aurora had loved him and he had loved her and it was that love that caught her thoughts. Yes, his kiss had woken her from the curse but what was true love, really? She remembered Emma had explained how she’d broken the curse in Storybrooke. She’d woken her son from his own cursed sleep. That was true love, the love of a parent for their child.
Was the love she had for Philip one of someone dear to her? Had it been truly the love of the one she was meant to be with? He’d loved Mulan but it was his loyalty and love for her that brought him to her tomb. Aurora sighed. Love was complicated, multifaceted like the jewels of her father’s crown and thinking about it just made her confused.
Just like Killian, a voice in her head suddenly muttered. Aurora groaned audibly and leaned against the railing. Killian Jones. Captain Hook. The dreaded pirate who’d in the end had helped save everyone. The one who said things to infuriate her then turn around and said something ridiculously thoughtful to cheer her up. He was on Snow White and David’s council, just like her, which meant that their time was spent together more often than not and Aurora finally admitted to herself that perhaps things... perhaps things would progress with them. It was different with him. There were no shy glances and sweet gifts and chaste kisses with Killian. It was nothing like Phillip. It was different.
It was fire hot in her veins. It was the unbidden desire for him to trace her jawline when he pushed a lock of hair off her face. It was this ache low in her belly that she’d never felt before whenever she’d sense his eyes on her or meet his gaze. It was want. A fierce and confusing want for this man she couldn’t discern. Killian wasn’t just a pirate who liked making her blush. He made her laugh. He looked at her for opinions on things when the others forgot that she wasn’t just a princess bred to be a fashion doll or ornament on a king’s arm. He saw her.
Shaking her head, Aurora took a final look at the the view of the snow capped mountains and turned back towards the ballroom. There would be time enough to think of those things later.
Killian Jones, once known as the fearsome Captain Hook, was attending a royal party and wondering when his life turned out this way. A name for himself or not, he wasn't really anyone, was he? Son of a merchantman from a far off shore and a mother of no real standing whatsoever. A bastard child who'd run off to play sailor and look for fabled buried treasure. He shook his head, refusing to acknowledge those memories and instead focused on his goblet. He was finally starting to feel the effects of it and Killian suspected that the refreshments weren't supposed to have this much of a kick to it.
He tugged on his red coat in annoyance. This was why he belonged on his ship. There were no places to be had on advisement councils and there was no need to dress up to parties thrown for spoiled, frustrating, enticing little princesses who always gave him that look. That exasperated, 'I know you can do better' look that he really, really didn't like. Yet there he was, albeit standing in the shadows of the Great Hall watching said princess drift through the sea of guests with that smile on her face.
"You should go talk to her."
Killian side-eyed David who'd spoken with that equally insufferable smirk on his face. "You make me sound like a schoolboy at his first formal, mate." David just kept giving him that smirk and Killian wondered how much trouble he'd get into for hitting the King on the head with his goblet and decided that it really wasn't worth it at the moment. "Why would I go talk to her?"
"You've got the hand, right? Ask her to dance."
Killian's eyes flicked to the clockwork-powered hand he'd commissioned from Gepetto not long ago. It still felt strange being able to do things with it. A combination of magic and science, he was told and while it didn't look much like a real hand, it was a step in the right direction. Maybe. He was still trying to decide that.
Change. It never boded well for pirates.
Sighing, he lowered his goblet enough to properly look at David. The other man was incorrigible, much like his wife and daughter and annoyingly enough like that princess. "That would be assuming that I'd want to dance with said strumpet.” He settled back into the wall. “I'm quite fine over here, thank you."
David crossed his arms over his chest and rocked back on his heels and Killian knew that man was getting much amusement out of this. He looked away and out to the dance floor and his grip tightened on the goblet when he saw Aurora be pulled into a strange man's arms. Her smile was bright and her laugh echoed over the music and he didn't care. Not at all. He didn't care a bit and besides he didn't like dancing to begin with.
Dammit. “Take this,” he snapped and shoved the goblet at David and started weaving his way through the crowd towards Aurora. Halfway to her the room swayed a little and he paused. So that wine definitely had a kick. He waited for a few pairs to twirl past him before weaving over to where Aurora was and tapped the man on the shoulder. Ah, the good Doctor. He should've suspected.
“Might I cut in, your majesty?” Victor's eyes narrowed and Killian replied with a perfectly innocent smile. At least, his version of innocent. He could feel Aurora's eyes darting between the two of them. “Don't you have some corpse to reanimate or whatever it is that you do in your spare time?”
The doctor's eyes flicked down to his prosthetic hand with his own look. “The last thing I worked on in my spare time was that hand of yours. I was considering making some improvements but I've been so overworked I thought a nice dance with Aurora was just what the doctor ordered. She was quite on her own and I couldn't let that stand.”
Killian felt his smile broaden, tightening at the dig. There was a whir as mechanical fingers clenched. He would not punch the man. He wouldn't. Not here, not in front of Aurora. Suddenly the Blue Fairy was there smiling sweetly. “Doctor Frankenstein, I was looking everywhere for you.”As predicted the man's attention was immediately grabbed by the low neckline of the fairy's dress and her demure smile. “We were having a discussion on the applications of electricity and could use your expertise.”She looked at Aurora apologetically. “I am sorry, majesty. Do you mind?”
Aurora had been quiet during the exchange and with all attention on her she shook her head minutely but looked downcast. “Well, I suppose. I will be sure to find you again, Doctor.” She smiled at the blonde and suddenly Killian and Aurora were left alone and her sweet look had turned unamused and rather annoyed. “That was incredibly rude,” she hissed but nonetheless she took his good hand in hers and he rested his mechanical one on her waist and off they went as a new song struck up.
He couldn't help but look down at her, relish in the feel of her slight frame against his. He was thankful her dress wasn't as full as the other gowns. It was easier to pull her closer without the cloud of delicate cloth getting in between them. She looked up at him, met his gaze with an assessing eye. “Why are you so jealous?”
The question caught him off guard and his good hand tightened around her delicate fingers. “I'm not jealous, I just haven't gotten to dance with you.”
“You could've waited your turn,” she rebuked mildly and he stepped away to twirl her. The feathered layers of white organza brushed against his legs when she spun, reminding him of that lavender dress she wore all those months ago.
“I didn't think it would lead to anything good leaving you in his presence,” he countered and pulled her back, pressing her closer than she'd been before. Aurora's eyes widened in surprise and she let out a tiny gasp as their bodies pressed together. “He'd only try to get under that pretty dress of yours.” It was crude to be sure and while he delighted in offending her delicate sensibilities to varying degrees, it was fueled in fun, not anger. Not jealousy as it was now.
Aurora's hand tightened in his grasp and he felt the bite of her nails. Color rose high in her cheeks and her eyes narrowed. Oh, she was angry with him. How delightful. “You assume that I have interest in letting him. I don't fling myself at every man I see wanting to give myself to him.” Oh, she was very angry and he could feel the tension vibrating through her body. She was going to slap him if he kept talking and he was surprised to realize that was exactly what he wanted. “You're drunk.”
“And you consume me, you bloody siren,” Killian whispered fiercely, more to himself than to her, but the message was loud and clear.
The admission came unbidden and the color drained from Aurora's face. There was no taking that back now. He didn't look away, didn't pull away. He kept them twirling through the crowd as the song changed and his hand moved from her waist to the small of her back.
It would never be said that Aurora couldn't recover quickly. Even with her face pale she cleared her throat and shook her head. "Killian, you're drunk," she tried to explain away and he wasn't sure how he felt about that. It twisted something in his chest.
It had hurt.
So he lashed out. A continuously frustrating reaction to such an emotion. He lowered his mouth to her ear and he felt her shiver. "That prince of yours never got drunk, did he? Never told you what spell you put over a body." Aurora was stiff as they moved, her skin flushed but he wasn't fooled. It wasn't with desire. It was anger. Her nails were digging into his hand and he relished in the bite of pain. "I may have a code but I am a man, 'Rora and I want you even if you're still cold and shut off. I see you pretend. I see how hollow your eyes are.” The way she placated the doctor, her laughter that carried. How no one else could see its lack in genuine joy was beyond him and it stabbed at him every time. “I could steal you away. We could go and you could live again.” Killian lifted his head to look at Aurora and their noses brushed. Her eyes were luminous and damp, sparkling in the light of the ballroom and she looked stricken. “Let me kiss you awake, princess."
For a moment they stopped amid the revelry and couples twirled around them while they stood right in the middle of them all, frozen. It didn't matter if he was drunk, it didn't make what he told her any less genuine. Aurora stared up at him and her eyes were what gave her away. Round and wide she looked at him, pearly pink lips parted in surprise. She wasn’t saying anything. She was just staring up at him and they weren’t moving, they were just standing there amid the dancers who were starting to notice. His neck flushed. He could feel the heat rising up and he gritted his teeth but didn’t move his eyes from her. “Aurora,” he began.
She slapped him.
They were standing in the middle of the dance floor and the ones closest to them were starting to stare. He wanted to turn a glare on them all, demand to know what they were looking at but he knew it was him. Aurora had slapped him and her steely eyes were wet with unshed tears and she stepped closer to him and he inhaled the smell of her perfume.
“It’s my birthday, Killian,” she whispered and the words hung in the air for a terrifying moment before she whirled away in a cloud of purple and white and vanished into the crowd. He was left standing there, humiliation and pain.
What had he done?.
“Get out of my way,” he snarled and forced his way in the opposite direction.
It’s my birthday, Killian.
She wasn’t crying. Her lip did not tremble. Her hand, however, stung from the slap.
Aurora had ignored Snow White’s calls and ignored the scandalized whispering. Some things didn’t change no matter where you were and gossip was at the top of the list and there was already so much gossip about her and Killian that people thought she was unaware of. She didn’t care if it was juvenile of her; Aurora locked herself in the room she’d been given and refused to open it for anyone. Not Snow who pleaded and threatened to have Killian thrown in the dungeon. Not Ruby who offered to bite his head off (which wasn’t a serious offer, Aurora knew but she had appreciated it just the same).
At first she wondered exactly why she had allowed herself to give into such selfish endeavor, allowing the tears to come and throwing every fiber of her being into it. It wasn’t like her. She was compassionate, yes. She was empathetic and worrisome but Aurora was not one who gave into tears easily. Yet there she was locked in her room like a child. Had Killian’s words really affected her so much?
And you consume me, you bloody siren.
A fresh wave of tears caught in her throat and she turned on her back to look at the canopy. Everything he said tripped through her head. She’d been so caught off guard -- how was she meant to have expected any of what he said. Perhaps that was a reason she was so upset. Aurora hated to be caught unawares and unprepared. She should have noticed. She should have picked up
What are you upset about more, Aurora? That you didn’t notice or that you feel the same way? Aurora’s eyes burned and she pressed her knuckles to her mouth to muffle the strangled sound she made, even if no one was around to hear her.
Let me kiss you awake, princess.
She had wanted him to. Gods, had she wanted him to even when she wanted to hit him. Aurora looked down at her hand and the red of the beard burn stark on her pale skin. She waggled her fingers and they still tingled. How hard had she slapped him anyway? She had just swung with all her might and above the sound of the orchestra she could hear the sound her hand made against his cheek. Everyone had been staring. Aurora could feel the delayed burn of humiliation in her cheeks and she fell back on the bed and pressed her face into the downy pillow.
Her tears eventually subsided and so Aurora lay curled on her bed and watched the sun rise through the open balcony door. It was always fascinating to watch the sky lighten from the dark blue of night to beautiful purple before pink bled across the horizon and the birds began to sing. Her eyes itched and the skin felt raw from the tears she had shed and still she could not find sleep. Not that slumber ever came easy for her, not since waking up from her cursed sleep. Aurora supposed that’s what happened when you slept for nearly thirty years.
Let me kiss you awake...
Even with a room at the castle for him (like all advisors), Killian stormed out of the great hall and straight out of the castle. He couldn’t ignore all the stares that followed him but no one approached him, which made not acknowledging them easier. The taverns were packed in the village but even if they weren’t, he had no desire to be around any more people. People who thought they were above a pirate.
You just like to think they’re all better than you a wicked voice sneered in his head. It only served to fuel his frustration and he stormed the gangplank with such ferocity that the crew lounging on board were startled from their games.
“Mr Smee!” he roared, pulling off his coat and throwing it at the portly man. “I am not to be disturbed.”
The crew had long grown used to their captain’s tendency to dark humor. They would stay out of his way no matter what sounds came from his cabin, whatever broke, whatever was thrown, whatever he yelled.
Killian, you’re drunk
It’s my birthday
The look on her face was burned in his mind. Not the way her eyes glinted in anger or the flush that crept on her cheeks. It was Aurora’s shock that haunted him; her blue eyes round and wide, the brightest blue as they clouded with tears and Aurora was not prone to tears. Sadness, yes -- empathetic bouts that threatened to overwhelm her careful facades to the point of breaking. They were more common when they’d first met, when her emotions were bubbling under the surface with wants of vengeance and fear at her lost love and this strange new world they all lived in.
Killian watched. He watched the days tick by while she picked up the pieces, as she drew little shards of herself together and stitched it all back until all those bits of life were bundled up tight. Control. So much control until, he thought, she was the way she had been before everything was ripped away. Killian hated it. He knew she hated it and it had turned into a game. He had done everything he could to peel those layers back and search for signs of life, signs of that sweet, naïve little princess who was so very out of her element. He had been forced to make himself content with chuckles and exasperated looks that were quickly gone.
All he wanted to do was grab her by the shoulders and shake sense into her. She didn’t have to be Emma or Mulan to be strong. No one strong would go through hell as she had done with her head held high and befriend a bitter pirate captain with no heart.
He’d even stayed to join that stupid advisory council for her. David had offered the position, yes, but it had been Aurora’s soft question of what he was going to do after it was all said and done that had made him take the offered place.
Killian was besotted. Consumed. Entranced.
With a pained roar, he threw the bottle of brandy at the door and watched it shatter. Liquor stained the wood and dripped down like rain against glass and still it wasn’t enough. The glint of his reflection caught his eye and Killian turned to look at the mirror across the room. An ornate thing set in gold that he couldn’t remember for the life of him where he’d found it.
He approached it, boots thumping on the floor and he took in the state of him. His pupils dilated from drink, pain twisting his features into an ugly mask. He could see how red his cheek was. A perfect little red handprint. He could still feel the sting of the slap and he touched his cheek with a mechanical finger.
He had deserved it. By the gods, he’d deserved it. How he could’ve spoken to her like that? Come to her like this with wine on his breath and jealousy guiding his actions? Killian felt sick with shame and for a moment he wanted to shatter that mirror and erase that sight but it was too late. There were never any take backs and everything came to bite back in the end, did it not? His mechanical hand whirred as if in reminder of what had he lost and he looked at the clenched fist.
It hurt so much because he had meant it. He felt what he had said in his bones.
In the end, he didn’t break the mirror. It wasn’t the mirror’s fault for showing him what he didn’t want to admit. Killian collapsed back on his bed and look at the ceiling with a sigh. “Old. Alone. Done for,” he murmured. His only company was the clockwork whir of his hand.
The Prancing Bear was a rather deceptive name considering the clientele it tended to cater too. Tucked back just off the main road it was run down and dreary but alive with the raucous laughter and sounds of crashing tables that constantly spilled out the doors and windows. For all the chaos and distractions, it was a prime place to conduct meetings not worth notice and it was there that Tom went to that night.
He could barely hear anything over the loud horn pipes and fiddles. Men roared and women laughed and he kept to the outside of the room and worked his way over to the stairs that led up to the rooms upstairs. The stairs were half rotted and creaky, the stairwell narrow and dimly lit and it was with some effort he made the journey to the third floor, where the music was less of a blaring noise and became a more easily ignored din. The room was at the end of the corridor and after looking over his shoulder to be sure he hadn’t been followed; he rapped his gnarled knuckles on the rough wood.
The door creaked open and a reedy, pockmarked man stood in the doorway. His skin was sallow and yellow with scurvy, his eyes black like pools of ink and he felt himself taken aback. The decades, nay centuries in Neverland had made it difficult to remember how hideous sailors could be. Tom had long become used to the dirty faces of children and the tanned skin of the natives to remember what scurvy and rotted teeth looked like. He made a move to enter the room but the man who answered the door snarled.
“Password?” came a voice from within the shadowed room. He gave a start, not expecting that. Blast, what was that password?
“T-the sky is, uh, bruised blue?” Tom tried, hoping those were the right words to the odd password he’d be told and his eyes darted to the shadows and back to the scurvied man all but growling at him. His hands shook inside his cloak in the charged silence.
“He’s fine, Os, let him in.” Tom shuffled into the room and Os shut the door and stood in front of it, blocking the only means of possible exit. “Please, have a seat. I have been told you have a proposition for me.” The chair creaked as he sat and even with only the table separating them, the lamplight did little to illuminate the other man’s face. It did little to settle his nerves. A glance back at Os he took a deep breath and pulled out a roll of parchment from his cloak and slid it over.
“It’s my understanding that your captain is not entirely fond of Captain Hook and I’m willing to broker trade with your captain to remedy the situation.”
While his own chair creaked, the contact moved silently as he took the roll of parchment and drew it into the darkness with him. Tom listened to the rustle of paper.
“Mutiny? You’d ask my captain to assist in your mutiny? Haven’t you anyone else to help you?”
Tom licked his lips. “I’ve seen what happens when my captain decides to take on a woman. It leads to limbs being cut off and three hundred years of vengeance. This one? He’s a fool for. Joining the Royal Council. What’s going to become of us? He thinks of nothing but himself and he’s gone too far!”
The chuckle cut him short and it sent a snake of fear down his spine. “Is that really all? You waste my time because you’re jealous that daddy has decided to settle with some tavern whore?”
“That’s the problem. Last time it ended up being the wife of the Dark One. This time it’s Princess Aurora.”
The chuckling stopped and it felt like the air was being sucked out of the room. “The Ishtarin princess? Princess Aurora of the Sands who was cursed to sleep for a century?”
“The very one,” he swore. “Hook wants to hang up his sails and become some nobleman and all it’s going to do is get Maleficent on our tails this time and I’m not dying for some desert girl.”
An arm suddenly shot out from the shadows and grabbed Tom by his collar, dragging him dangerously close to the candle. He could feel the heat licking at the soft underside of his chin; smell the scent of burning hair as it singed his beard. This close he could almost make out the man's features. Bearded, only lightly, one dark eye catching the light while the rest of his face remained in darkness. Tom could make out a flash of gold and he arched his neck in an effort to stay away from the flames.
"The Sleeping Beauty is one of the most coveted treasures of a dead empire," the man murmured and it felt like ropes hooking around his neck at the tone of that voice. "She is not just some desert girl."
The grip loosened and he rocked back gasping in his creaking chair and he felt it lurch, threatening to break. There was a rustling sound and a scarred, tattooed hand slid a pouch across the table before the hand drew back into the dark. "Our ship leaves by Thursday when the moon is high over the Rock. Bring her then and you will have your desires. We compensate well, I assure you."
Tom looked down at the little sack and took it with a trembling hand and tucked it inside his vest. "Thursday at the Rock. I'll be there with her."