Dust filled the air as another heavy canvas was removed from the piece of furniture it had been tasked with protecting for many decades. Suppressing a cough, Emma Swan opened a few more windows in order to allow some fresh air in and let the staleness of the room out.
She was well accustomed to the stagnant and musty remnants of disuse in old homes. In fact, she made her livelihood off it. Well, restoring it, anyway. The homes, not the mustiness and decay. That would be weird.
Emma Swan was a sought after restorationist of historical homes and buildings. She loved history, and with the assistance of her handy brother and sister-in-law, she’d been able to turn her love of the past into a successful business that provided for her and her son’s present and future.
Her latest endeavor had brought them all the way to a small port town in England. Misthaven boasted a proud history tied to local lore of pirates and privateers, thanks to the grand three hundred year old manor house that sat upon the cliffs just outside the village that was once reportedly owned by a notorious sea captain.
Over the last several decades, the manor had fallen into disrepair due to its vacancy. Though it was still owned, in trust, by descendents of the original family who built the manor centuries ago, no one had actually lived there for nearly forty years. The family and local historical society wished to see it restored to its original splendor, hoping to draw in some tourism dollars with tours and activities, no doubt.
The manor’s curator, for lack of a better term, had led Emma and her team up to the attic where many of the original furnishings, artworks, and heirlooms resided. It was as good a place as any for Emma to begin her investigative work on the property. Research would have to be done in order to determine the course of decisions made about the restoration. Several remodels and renovations had occurred over the manor’s lifetime, and getting it back to its original state (with some modifications for modern convenience - hello electricity and running water) would take some sleuthing into historical records and references. The more Emma could learn about the manor and its original owners, the better.
Which made the attic’s contents a veritable gold mine of information. Furnishings, portraits, trinkets, knick-knacks, books, personal documents, it was like Christmas morning for Emma as she painstakingly uncovered each piece. Her excitement and intrigue sparked with each fresh discovery, but it was probably the large portrait she had located late in the day that had caught her interest the most.
Her son, Henry, had just arrived with Emma’s sister-in-law, Mary Margaret, telling her that they had picked up dinner, when she’d pulled the last heavy canvas from the framed artwork that was at least a foot taller than she was. Standing before her was the life sized rendering of an incredibly handsome man, garbed in full leather and braced at the helm of a ship. The bronze placard displayed on the ornate frame identified him as Captain Killian Jones.
“You’ve found our local legend, I see,” chirped the curator, a petite blonde woman with a tinkling voice and bubbly exuberance about her.
“Legend?” Emma inquired.
Though she preferred to ground her decisions about a project in fact, Emma knew that legends, tales, and folklore could hold valuable pieces of information as well. The stories had to have a basis of truth behind them somewhere, and those little nuggets could often lead her to revelations about a property and it’s history that records never could.
“Oh, yes,” the curator answered enthusiastically. “His story is well known around these parts. He’s part of the reason we’re eager to have the manor restored. The Legend of Captain Killian Jones is a big draw to the area, his family built the manor.”
“What makes his story so compelling?” Mary Margaret asked.
“Oh, probably the fact that he’s the ghost that haunts this place,” she quipped in reply.
“There’s a ghost?!” Henry exclaimed excitedly.
“There’s no such things as ghosts, kid.”
300 years ago…
Captain Killian Jones loved the sea. The freedom of the open horizon, the promise of adventure it offered while enticing you into uncharted and unknown circumstances that could result in great delight or peril. He never thought he’d find anything as satisfying as the smell of brine in his lungs or the salty spray against his face. Never thought anything could knock him off the perfectly honed balance he had cultivated during his many years on turbulent seas.
Not until he’d met her.
Now he knew better, for her rose scent and light kisses against his cheek were just as satisfying to his senses as that which the sea offered. After their first meeting in the tavern that fateful night he hadn’t been able to regain his bearings until he saw her again. Saw her and convinced her to run away with him, leaving her pathetic excuse of a husband and her lonely life behind. Which she did, happily.
Unfortunately, she hadn’t just left a marriage behind, but a child as well. A son. Too young to endure the trials and hardships of sea-faring, Killian had promised they’d come back for him one day when he was older. So far, that day had not come.
Over their many years together she had not once asked him to return for her son, and he selfishly never offered, too happy with the existence they currently shared, and too unwilling to raise another man’s child. A selfish pirate, indeed. He wanted a child of his own, not some surrogate, so when she confessed to suspecting she might be with child, he had insisted she stay behind at his family’s manor while he went on his latest venture.
Overdue on his return by a fortnight thanks to the garrison in Gibraltar (one country’s privateer is another country’s pirate), Killian was anxious to return and discover the answer to the question that had been plaguing him for five long weeks.
Was he to be a father?
As the lighthouse along the cliffs of his home shores came into view, Captain Jones gave the order to make port at the private dock on his family’s estate. Visions of reuniting with his love, her belly beginning to swell with the evidence of his child danced through his mind. He barely waited for them to dock the ship before barking out his last orders and making haste toward his manor on the clifftop; a sense that everything about his life was about to change surged through him.
He’d never been more right, and had never wished to be more wrong.
They’d started work in the east wing. Emma, Henry, David (Emma’s brother and the project foreman), and Mary Margaret (his wife and their business manager) usually preferred to live on site during their projects, and this one was no different. Though the west wing needed the most work in regards to stripping it back down to its original condition, it was actually the most conducive for comfort when it came to day-to-day living. It was already wired for electricity and had, somewhat, updated bathrooms, and a decent kitchen. So for the past seven weeks, they’d focused on restoring the east wing while making do in the west.
Those first days were like mini treasure hunts as Emma and her team explored the passage of time through layers of paint, wallpaper, flooring, and add-ons. David combed back decades, centuries even, trying to find the true origins of the grand estate through careful excavation of plaster and moldings while Emma scoured the artifacts stored away in the attic in an attempt to discover who and what had made it a home.
Henry delighted in the vastness. Exploring rooms that had been deemed safe, he lost himself to the more imaginative aspects of his ten-year-old nature as he questioned whether or not any hidden passages had been discovered or whether there was truly a ghost that haunted the house and grounds.
Which, of course, there wasn’t.
“There’s no such things as ghosts,” Emma kept affirming to her son. Every odd quirk and strange nuance about the manor could absolutely be explained logically - even if that logical explanation wasn’t completely apparent to her at the time of their occurrences.
Occurrences like the study door always being locked no matter how many times she had expressly stated that all doors needed to remain unlocked, or that the door’s key frequently went missing only to be discovered in the most random of locations. Locations where work had not even begun yet, and therefore had no reason for someone to be traipsing about misplacing keys.
Other strange things tickled the recesses of Emma’s mind and practicality as well. Things she hadn’t mentioned to anyone, and wondered if others had experienced them, too. Things like the faint sound of a piano playing at night. There was a piano in the house, but it looked as though it hadn’t been touched in years. There was also the humming she sometimes thought she heard along one particular corridor in the east wing. Humming that was always accompanied by an intoxicatingly masculine scent. A mixture of leather and sea and spice that she had caught a whiff of on several occasions throughout the manor, and had her covertly sniffing at the male members of the crew like a loon in order to try and identify its origin.
Then there was also the feeling that she was sometimes being watched. It didn’t unnerve her, per se, but it was definitely an acute awareness that times when she thought she was alone she felt as though she wasn’t. These moments usually culminated with a feeling that something might have brushed against her cheek or her hair, sending a shiver of wonder down her spine before the overwhelmingness of the experience vaporized and she was left assuredly alone once again.
Alone, and maybe even a tad lonely. Whatever she was experiencing was comforting, not frightening, which was another mark against the idea of a ghost. Which she absolutely did not believe in. Ghosts were supposed to scare and intimidate you with their presence, weren’t they? This was nothing like that.
Perhaps it was all just a working of her subconscious? Emma found herself feeling quite at home and at peace in the manor in a way she hadn’t experienced anywhere else. She was drawn to the history of the place and had spent many hours pouring over the personal effects and documents of its previous owners.
One owner in particular - one of the estate’s original owners, and the person whose legend was part and parcel the reason she was there in the first place - captivated her more than any other. Captain Killian Jones. While logging the possessions within the attic that first week, Emma had come across a trunk once belonging to the captain himself. Within it contained a number of journals, penned in his own hand, as well as a collection of letters he wrote to and received from the woman, legend said, he loved most dearly and lost so tragically. Milah.
The wife of another, she had left her marriage and a son in order to run off with the dashing sea captain. At times she had accompanied Captain Jones on his travels, and other times she’d remained behind at the manor when his mission was deemed too dangerous for her to accompany him. He was a privateer for England, but a pirate to other nations. A ruthless man by reputation, his name alone striking fear into the hearts of his enemies, to whom he rarely gave quarter or showed mercy, but Emma discovered within his personal journals and letters that Captain Killian Jones was a more complicated man than the legend gave him credit for.
Well… legends. Plural. Depending on who you asked within the small town of Misthaven, there were a few variations of the tale.
One legend spoke of a pirate with a black heart, whose dastardly deeds had earned him a fate worse than death. A man who murdered his lover when he discovered her infidelity, but not before being cursed by her as she lay dying on the rocky shores below the cliffs.
Another tale insisted that it was his infidelity that had caused the woman to fling herself from the cliffs of the estate. An action made even more grievous by the added detail that she may have been pregnant at the time.
Still another spoke of a tragic misunderstanding whereby the woman received word that her lover had been lost at sea, or hung by the garrison of an enemy nation for piracy, and in her despondency, she ended her life in order to reunite with him on the other side. Of course, he had not suffered either such fate and he’d actually arrived only moments later to find her broken body on the rocks.
Many added a spin of some sort of curse or evil spell befalling the captain as a punishment for his dark deeds and selfishness. A curse or spell that, some said, allowed him to become flesh every hundred years so he might have an opportunity to break it. A romantic and sentimental notion that usually had something to do with true love and not repeating mistakes from the past.
One detail remained the same in each tale, however. A detail that, by all accounts, held the merit of truth. The body of Captain Killian Jones had never been found or recovered. His place within the family mausoleum laid empty, further fueling the belief that he’d been cursed or fated to haunt the estate where he lost his love, for all eternity.
Actual historical records documented the return of Captain Jones’ ship in the fall of 1717, with the crew testifying to the fact that the captain had gone ashore at the private dock of the estate. The Jones’ butler had given an account that the captain had arrived at the manor, but then quickly left in search of his lady love. His lover’s body had been discovered the next morning upon the shores beneath the cliff and no one saw or heard from Captain Jones again.
Emma didn’t believe for one moment that the man had murdered his lover. His care, devotion, and love for her poured out through the ink he’d penned on the pages of his love letters. Captain Jones had wanted a future with Milah. Her name may have been lost to time within the recanting of the legend over the centuries, but it had been held with the highest regard and reverence on those yellowed pages where he had addressed her as his dearest or beloved Milah.
The man had wanted a family and a future. It was clear from his last journal entries that he was hopeful at the prospect that Milah might be with child, his eagerness to return to her and learn the truth jumping from the page. Not just that, but a fresh resolve as well. A resolve to set something right. Something he had become consumed with guilt and shame over, but hadn’t had courage enough to actually confess it within his leather bound logbook.
Killian burst through the large doors leading into the grand foyer of the manor.
“Milah?” he called out in happy anticipation.
“Captain? You’re back! How wonderful to see you, sir!” Mathers, the Jones’ butler, greeted.
“It’s good to be back, Mathers. Could you tell me where Ms. Milah is?”
“Certainly, sir. She went walking out by the cliffs. I’m surprised she hasn’t come back by now. Surely she would have seen you make port at the dock? Shall I have one of the servants go fetch her for you?”
“That won’t be necessary,” Killian dismissed as he crossed through to the back of the house and made his way out onto the verandas.
He surveyed the sprawling back lawns for a glimpse of her silhouette in the moonlight, then made his way towards the lower lawn that edged the cliffs when he did not readily see her from the house. His pulse raced in anticipation, for as impatient as he was to hear the news of her condition, Killian had his own news to share. News of a decision he‘d made that would change things every bit as much as a babe. The decision to do the right thing.
Killian had spent many nights at sea contemplating fatherhood these past several weeks, and one such contemplation had dogged every moment of joy he’d allowed himself to feel over the prospect. The knowledge that he had left a child utterly abandoned by its mother. He’d come to consider the possibility that perhaps Milah had wanted to return to her son, but had never pressed him to do so because she thought he would refuse, or would make her choose. His love or her son’s.
He would have gone for the boy if she’d asked, but he’d been content to leave things as they were, so he’d never offered. He’d selfishly wanted her all to himself, and had allowed an innocent boy to suffer the consequences of that self-centeredness. A wrong he aimed to set right, which was why, during his hold over in Gibraltar, he’d sent word to the boy and his father requesting they come to Misthaven. He’d made provision for their passage, and expected they might arrive any day, should they have accepted the offer. He hoped to surprise Milah with the news, and celebrate with her the increase of their family.
If he ever found her, that is. Where could she have gone?
Let’s see her find it this time, Killian challenged silently to himself as he left the key to his study in a long forgotten drawer in the butler’s pantry, a sly smile pulling at his lips as he swept from the room.
When the Swan girl and her team had arrived, Killian had determined to simply stay out of their way. He’d had to contend with the living on and off for the last three hundred years, and the manor provided ample space for avoidance. Usually. This time things were different. These weren’t people attempting to carve out a cozy living space within the vast number of rooms and floors. No. They were there for an altogether different purpose. Restoration.
A project his brother’s descendants, through the family trust, and the local community had spearheaded in order to combat the wasting decay that had befallen the manor in recent decades. A mission to bring back the splendor that had once been prevalent throughout the estate. A splendor Killian felt could never be fully restored, seeing as how a curse held the entire property within its holding. The curse of him - Captain Killian Jones, the legendary ghost of Misthaven that had haunted the Jones Manor for nearly three centuries.
Three centuries of existing just out of step with the living around him.
It had nearly driven him mad those first few decades, watching his brother live out his life with a wife and children at his side. Liam had returned to Misthaven from his station in London after his little brother had gone missing, refusing to give up the search for some sign of Killian’s whereabouts. Killian had yet to acquire the skill of object manipulation, and attempting to communicate with his brother had been useless. No one could see or hear him. He was damned to the audience of his brother’s grief, and then tormented by the life Liam had the privilege to enjoy as he raised a family and experienced the love of the same woman until he took his last breath.
Killian had hoped that when the moment of Liam’s passing came he might have the opportunity to be reunited with him, but his curse made it impossible. Killian realized then that he did not exist on the same plane as the living or the dead. He was isolated. Alone. Forever cursed to walk the halls and grounds of the place where he had lost everything.
In the centuries since, Killian sequestered himself to the parts of the manor far removed from its living occupants. A feat made easier over time as modern conveniences and societal norms called for less servants and less use of rooms deemed outdated in their purpose. In the boredom of his existence he’d learned how to interact with the world around him in limited measure, but drew a line at engaging with actual people. Oh, he’d certainly made his presence known from time to time with his late night compositions at the piano, or his insistence that his study door remained locked, which had vexed a great number of inhabitants over the years. None as entertainingly as the current inhabitant, however.
Killian wasn’t sure what it was about this Emma Swan woman, but her presence within his home had compelled him to emerge into those spaces he’d long since reserved for the living, or had abandoned to the uselessness of the past. At first it had been simple curiosity. He’d watched from the dusty corners of the attic the first day of her arrival as she pulled back the tarps and coverings that had buried the evidence of his life for centuries. Captivated by her intense focus and reverent response to those things he had once held most dear, and transfixed by the gentle and thoughtful nature in which she applied her discoveries to the project at hand, Killian found himself drawn to her in a way he had not been pulled to any other living person.
He tried to tell himself that it was because he’d been alone within the manor for so long. Argued that it was simply her stunning looks and beguiling figure that had him so enthralled. After all, he may be a ghost of a man, but a man he remained. A man that could still appreciate a lovely lass, though a base appreciation didn’t explain the compulsion to always be at her side.
He’d followed her around like some lost puppy that first week. Observed the plans she and her brother had constructed regarding the manor and marveled at her staunch refusal to settle for less than perfect accuracy in its restoration. Touched by her dedication and slightly unnerved by her tenacity, he wasn’t sure what to make of her discovery of his trunk. At first he’d considered hiding away the more damning, or private items contained within its depths, but couldn’t shake the longing he felt at having someone truly know him after all this time.
He knew what the legends said about him, and although many of them held kernels of truth, none of them gave a full accounting of Captain Killian Jones. It was important to him that she would know the truth, though he could not say why.
He did not make it a habit of entering her private rooms. Scoundrel and pirate may have been his reputation, but he had always believed in good form and strived to be a gentleman. The few times he had taken to visiting her rooms he’d found her pouring over his personal effects. Though he warred with the idea that she would be privy to his private thoughts, her response of quiet acceptance and understanding at each passage soothed him. When she reached some of his more heartfelt or heartbreaking entries he could not help but stroke her cheek as unchecked tears fell upon them. An action he tried to quell many times over without much success.
His fingers itched to run through her tresses. His arms longed to hold her. The floral scent of her hair and skin taunted him, as did her radiant smile. She was a tough lass, her authoritative role over the teams of men and women laboring within the manor stirring an appreciation of camaraderie within him as one who was accustomed to command might have for another. Her care and consideration for those within her employ and love displayed for her family stirred his heart. The fire and passion that sparked from her enthusiasm or temper stirred… other things.
Killian let go a long suffering sigh as he moved down the long corridor. Why was he torturing himself with thoughts of this woman? And not just thoughts, but actual attempts at interaction? The key to his study had become a sort of game between them, though she was not fully aware of her participation. He couldn’t deny how enjoyable it was to see her so vexed by it, the way her cheeks would flush with irritation when she was barred from entering the room. Her fists balled up at her sides as she huffed her frustration, demanding to know who had locked the door and where the key was. Some days it only took her a few moments to locate it, other times days would go by before it was discovered.
She may not have been fully cognizant of the game, but it didn’t stop a self-satisfied and slightly victorious smirk from playing at her lips when she was finally able to insert the key into the lock and gain entrance to the room once again. He knew it was childish, but it didn’t stop him from pilfering the key from her every few days only to begin their game again.
The reference wiped the smile from Killian’s features.
She had a child. A son.
A precocious lad full of innocence and wonder. A nature not unlike his mother’s that stirred another sense of longing within Killian, but this longing had compelled him away from interactions, not towards. His guilt and shame regarding another boy long since gone from the world keeping him shackled to the burden of his cursed state, and unwilling to cause the lad any sense of discomfort he might feel at Killian’s ghostly presence. Resigning himself to watch from distant vantage points as the boy explored and played within halls that had not seen such vestiges of life in many long years.
Halls like the one Killian was currently haunting.
Rounding the corner that led back toward the main stairs, Killian spied the lad studying the old portraits hanging along the corridor. His smile renewed at the object of lad’s attention; a rendering of he and Liam as children, resplendent in finery that had made them itch and chafe, their wiggles causing no end of frustration to the artist. Killian gave a soft chuckle at the memory and looked down to see what the lad might make of the image, only to find the boy facing him as if he were looking right at him.
Believing the lad might just be sensing his presence, Killian took a step back with the intention of moving on as to not submit the boy to any feelings of dread when his brown gaze followed the movement causing Killian to freeze. He cocked his head sideways to assess the lad only to have the action mirrored back to him. If he’d had a pulse, Killian was sure it would have been racing in his veins in that moment. He swallowed thickly - an exercise in muscle memory over actual need, but one that naturally applied itself to his apprehensive state - then cleared his throat; a sound that had the lad’s eyes widening with an excited sparkle.
“You’re him, aren’t you?” the boy chimed.
Killian spun around to look behind him, certain that someone else must be present within that hallway. Someone actually alive and visible.
“Captain Jones?” Killian heard the boy question, forcing him to shoot the lad an incredulous look.
“You can see me?”
“Well… yeah. I’ve seen you a couple of times now, actually,” the boy confessed. Killian’s shocked confusion must have been evident as the boy continued, “Do people not normally see you?”
“No one has seen me in this form for three hundred years, lad. Nor do they usually hear me. You can hear me, aye?”
“Yeah, I can hear you,” he shrugged, as if standing in a darkened hallway with the ghost of a three hundred year old pirate, er… privateer, was some sort of everyday, normal occurrence. “How come I’m the only one that can see you?” the lad asked.
“I’ve no bloody idea,” Killian answered honestly, scratching behind his ear as he pondered this new development.
“You look just like your portrait,” the lad stated as his soft and curious gaze swept over Killian’s form. “Is that a sword?”
The corners of Killian’s mouth ticked up at the boy’s wide-eyed enthusiasm over his weapon. “Aye. I was wearing it when I... “ Killian paused, unsure of how to explain, or if he should explain, the circumstances which had led him to his current state. “All the bloody good it does me,” he grumbled as he fingered the hilt. “It’s not as if I need it now.”
“Can you teach me how to use it? Or, you know, how to fight with one?”
Killian contemplated the boy and his question for a long moment. Curious as he was as to how it was possible that this boy could see him when no one else ever had while he was in his ghostly state, Killian wasn’t about to question the good fortune he’d found in finally having someone, anyone, to engage with.
Before Killian could reply, another voice sounded from the end of the hall.
“Henry?” Swan’s inquest echoed down the corridor. “There you are! What are you doing up here?” she questioned as she made her way towards her boy, completely unaware of the additional company.
“Talking with Captain Jones,” the boy answered honestly.
“Captain Jones?” she questioned with a heaping dose of skepticism and raised brow. “Like, the ghost?”
“Yeah. He’s right there,” the lad pointed.
Killian offered the boy a soft, sympathetic smile before he reminded, “She can’t see or hear me, lad.”
“Right…” his mother replied. “Do you talk with Captain Jones often?”
Killian could see she was merely humoring the boy, as could the lad, but it wasn’t in a patronizing sort of way. She seemed to want to encourage his beliefs and imagination, perhaps wishing to stay the coming years of transition from boyhood to manhood for as long as possible. Killian’s smile grew at that realization, and his affection for the woman swelled a bit more.
“No,” the boy shook his head in reply. “We’ve never spoken before, but I’ve seen him plenty of times.”
“He’s the one that plays the piano in the ballroom. Sometimes I watch him from the upper balcony at night.” That news startled Killian every bit as much as it did the boy’s mother. He knew that there were times when his music carried from whatever state of being he existed into the realm of the living, but he’d had no idea that the lad had been watching him play. “Sometimes I see him watching from the corner of a room, or upper levels of the house.”
“Well… you mostly. He seems to like watching you.”
If Killian didn’t know any better, he’d have thought the lad’s revelation had caused him to blush. Surely that wasn’t possible without blood actually coursing through his veins. It didn’t stop him from ducking his head with a sense of bashfulness at being caught admiring the boy’s mother, though.
Killian glanced over at her to gauge her response to the boy’s observation, and found a beguiling blush tinting her cheeks with her bottom lip pulled between her teeth, attempting to suppress a smile. His brow quirked at her reaction and when he turned his attention to the lad he saw a smirk upon the boy’s lips that he was sure matched his own.
“Okay, kid,” she redirected, drawing the conversation back towards her original purpose. “Enough flights of fancy for one day. It’s time for bed.”
She slung an arm over the boy’s shoulders and started leading him back down the hall. After a few steps the lad called out, “Goodnight, Captain Jones!” over his shoulder, pulling a giggle from his mother as she copied her boy with a, “Goodnight, Captain,” of her own.
Killian watched the pair retreat back to their rooms for the evening, a warmth spreading through his chest he wasn’t sure he’d ever experienced - living or otherwise. His grin remained as he considered the lad’s request of sparring lessons, and though Killian had little experience with children, the prospect of spending time with Swan’s boy filled him with a sense of worth he hadn’t experience in centuries.
Killian noticed the silhouette of something small next to the cliff’s edge in his periphery. His stomach dropped as he approached, recognizing it as one of Milah’s slippers. Picking it up from the ground, Killian spun around to look back toward the manor as he continued to frantically call out her name.
Panic coursed through him as he tried to tamp down the instinct that told him to look over the cliff’s edge.
No. No, she couldn’t…
Killian fell to his knees at the sight below. His beloved. His dearest Milah lay upon the rocky shore.
It seemed to take hours to reach her. Sobs choked him as tears blurred his vision. Finally at her side, Killian gathered her broken, lifeless body into his arms and poured out his anguish into her blood soaked hair.
“She didn’t even ask about him,” a voice oiled over the sound of the surf, momentarily pulling Killian from his grief as he looked up to see who had spoken.
“Wha-? You?!” Standing before him was the man Milah had deserted in order to run away with him. The man he’d invited to come to Misthaven with their son. Her husband.
“She only demanded to know why I was here,” the man continued as if the woman with whom they had both shared a special bond wasn’t lying dead between them. “She never even asked about our son,” he sneered.
Their son. Was he here, too? He couldn’t… he shouldn’t see...
“The boy? Where is he?” Killian inquired frantically. “He shouldn’t see his mother like this. Don’t let him see her like this,” he pleaded.
“He’s dead,” the man stated hollowly.
“What?” Killian gasped, his heart dropping once more in torn agony.
“Dead,” the man repeated. “Died last spring. He went down in a storm with the ship he was on. He’d run off to go and find his mother, and perished in his pursuit. She didn’t even ask about him.”
Killian’s eyes fell shut with grief and guilt. He’d been too late. He’d meant to set his mistake right, but he’d been too late. The boy had perished, and his Milah… his Milah…
“What did you do?” Killian seethed as the full realization of how Milah had ended up at the bottom of the cliff settled over him.
“I avenged my son,” the man hissed. “He’d still be alive if it weren’t for you. If Milah had just stayed where she belonged, my son would not have gone to sea trying to find her!”
“Well, what are you waiting for, then?” Killian shouted. “Go on. Kill me!”
“Oh, I’m afraid that’s not in the cards for you sonny boy,” the man mocked. “I want you to suffer, as I have suffered. And I’ve brought someone with me to see that you do.”
Killian’s attention was pulled past the man as someone emerged from the shadows of the cliff wall. The cloaked figure made their way to stand beside the vile man where they slowly lifted the hood from their head, revealing themselves. Killian sucked in a startled breath of recognition.
The Witch of Misthaven.
Emma watched as Henry swung his wooden sword through the air, leaping and dancing about the front lawn, much as he’d done most days over the warm summer months. If he wasn’t honing his sword fighting skills, then he was practicing the little tune he’d started playing on the piano (thank goodness they’d finally gotten it tuned), or challenging members of the work crew to some dice game he’d invented, and usually won, or was simply whiling away the school free days of the season, exploring the grounds of the estate as Emma and her team continued the restoration of the manor.
Five months into the project and Emma could see a light at the end of the plaster coated, revarnished, historically accurate tunnel. To say that it had been a labor of love would have been an understatement. With only two months left before the restoration would be complete, Emma was starting to feel overwhelmed at the prospect of leaving. As ostentatious as the manor was, it had begun to feel like home, and not just to her, but to Henry as well.
She’d always considered Henry to be a happy and energetic child, but their months in Misthaven had unearthed a completely new level of exuberance and joy she’d never before witnessed in him. She supposed she had Captain Killian Jones to thank for that, for ever since that evening when she found Henry talking with the captain, his already overactive imagination had propelled him into a world of all things pirate. Including his current obsession of pretending to sword fight with the legendary captain himself.
At first it had been kind of sweet, but now Emma was starting to wonder if Henry’s imagination was getting a little out of hand.
“Do you think ten is too old to have an imaginary friend?” Emma asked Mary Margaret as the pixie haired woman came up beside her to observe Henry’s antics.
“Henry has an imaginary friend?”
“Yeah. Captain Killian Jones.”
“The ghost?” her brother, David, called out as he joined them.
“There is no ghost,” Emma scoffed. “It’s just his imagination.”
“Of course. Yes. Absolutely,” David teased. “And his imaginary friend is the ghost of Captain Jones?”
Emma sighed. This was why she hadn’t mentioned it before. David got as much of a kick out the idea of a ghost haunting the manor as Henry did. She wouldn’t put it past him to be the one behind the locked study door and endless key search.
“I wouldn’t worry about it, Emma. Henry’s just making do the best he knows how. It isn’t as if there are a lot of kids close by he can play with,” Mary Margaret offered supportively, probably sensing Emma’s growing concern with her son’s preoccupation with a ghost story.
“I know,” Emma replied, “but when I suggest making a play date with some of the friends he made during the school year he refuses and says he has plans with Killian.”
“Killian?” David chortled. “The pirate captain lets him call him by his first name? Impressive. I figured he’d be made to walk the plank for such a presumption.”
“Ha. Ha,” Emma retorted while giving David a withering side eye.
“Henry’s fine, Emma,” David offered with light-hearted confidence. “I’m sure once school starts up again, and he has more time with kids his own age, all this Captain Jones stuff will be forgotten.”
Emma wasn’t so sure about that.
Emma couldn’t really fault Henry for getting caught up in the fantasy and mystery of Captain Killian Jones, not when she’d been guilty of it herself over the past several months. Of course, her interest in the man was purely out of research for the project.
Yeah… she knew that was a load of crap.
There was just something about the man. He had a fascinating personal history of military service and then less than above the board activities that had lent themselves to his becoming a privateer. Personal documents and correspondence testified to a close, and just shy of hero-worshipping, relationship with his older brother, Liam Jones. And, of course, he’d been a man of great passions, willing to risk everything for the love of a woman.
It had been quite scandalous, his taking up with a married woman, living with her, and traveling with her, outside the bonds of marriage. His letters made it clear that he hadn’t given a wit as to what others had thought. Letters that Emma continuingly poured over most nights.
Emma Swan did not swoon, but oh, boy. Those letters. Even the man’s handwriting was romantic and sexy, and the words he’d penned ranged from the purest of love to the purest of sin. She’d never admit to it, aloud or otherwise, but sometimes she imagined that his words were written to or about her. Why she was concocting this crazy fantasy about a man who lived and died three hundred years ago, she’ll never know.
It didn’t help that Henry kept alluding to the ghost’s infatuation with her, or that she probably stared at his portrait every single day marveling over his incredibly handsome features.
Yeah, she had a serious problem, swooning over a man she could never have. Which was probably another thing that made him so appealing. He wasn’t real. It was easy to fall in love with the idea of someone who would never be able to let you down. Let your son down. Less than a zero percent chance of ever getting hurt.
Except that it did hurt.
After all her months of research Emma felt like she really knew Captain Killian Jones, and she’d be lying if she said her heart didn’t ache just a little bit at the thought of never meeting him in person. Which was stupid. The man died centuries ago. But that knowledge, and the fact that she absolutely did not believe in ghosts, didn’t keep her from sometimes imagining that the tingling sensations she continued to feel on her cheeks or in her hair was the loving caress of his hand.
Yeah… she had it bad. For a ghost of a man, no less. Literal or otherwise.
The ballroom was finally done. It had probably been their most extensive project within the manor, and Emma was relieved to have it completed. She took in the magnificent space around her with a sense of pride and then focused her attention on the crew that was getting ready to hang the last of the chandeliers. The finishing touch that would make the space one hundred percent complete.
As she made her way over to the workmen, Emma saw Henry moving about next to the piano. He knew he wasn’t suppose to hang out in work zones, they could be dangerous.
“What are you doing, kid?”
“Okay…” she replied, studying his movements with a more purposeful eye. Huh… it does kind of looks like dance steps.
“Dance with me, Mom,” Henry invited enthusiastically, holding out his hand for her.
“Sorry, kid. I don’t dance.”
“Killian says all you need is a partner who knows what he’s doing.”
“Well, since that’s neither you nor I, I guess we’re out of luck,” she deflected before she put her mom face on and led him back toward the stairs at the end of the ballroom. “Let’s go, kid. You’re not suppose to be in here.”
The men had begun hoisting the final chandelier in place when Emma noticed that the safety line wasn’t secured to wall. She had just stopped to bring it to David’s attention, and didn’t realize that Henry had kept going, when she heard the frantic yells and the sound of thousands of crystals jostling together. Emma watched in slow motioned horror as the massive chandelier began plummeting right on top of where Henry stood. Before she could scream out her son’s name, a miracle happened.
The chandelier just stopped.
Stopped in midair no more than two feet above Henry’s head.
Everyone stood transfixed at the sight before one of the workers shouted, “Thank God we had the safety line tied off!”
Emma ran to her son and wrapped him in her arms, thanking every god she could name that he was safe.
She knew that line hadn’t been tied off. Had been about to tell David that it wasn’t tied off. How could it have been loose one second and tied firm the next? No one would have had the strength to grab the line, stop a plummeting chandelier mid-fall, and then tie it off securely. It wasn’t possible.
“It was Killian,” Henry said with muffled words against her chest.
“It was Killian. Captain Jones. He jumped from the balcony to the safety line and stopped the chandelier from falling.”
“Henry,” Emma exasperated lightly.
“Really, Mom! It was him. Look at the knot if you don’t believe me!”
Henry was clearly in shock. Hell. Emma was in shock. They were all in shock!
“Okay, Henry,” Emma soothed. “Everything’s okay now. Why don’t we get out of the crew’s way and let them finish. Okay?”
She wasn’t quite sure how she made it up the ballroom staircase on such shaky legs, or how her heart hadn’t managed to pound right out of her chest yet, or why she wasn’t more shocked to learn that the knot used to secure the safety line had been the type sailors commonly used to tie off rigging, and that no one owned up to having been the one to do it. What she was sure of, was that the incident had absolutely nothing to do with ghosts.
A certainty she kept repeating over and over in her mind long into the evening and night, and one she felt compelled to announce to an empty ballroom in the wee hours of the morning after she’d laid in bed listening to the sounds of that blasted piano music again.
No one was there when she entered the room, yet she couldn’t help but feel she wasn’t alone. Which only made her more determined to express her certainty.
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” she stated emphatically to the nothingness surrounding her. “I trust in what my eyes can see. What I can feel and touch.”
She began pacing the length of the room, shaking out her hands in an attempt to expel the tension and strain pooling within her chest. A tightness that had been gripping at her heart and lungs and gut for hours.
“There’s no such thing as ghosts,” she repeated into the darkness. “Everything that’s happened around here has a perfectly logical explanation.” Her pace back and forth over the parquet floor quickened even as her strides became shorter and more purposed. “What happened today… there’s a rational explanation. That line had to have been secured beforehand, right? Maybe… maybe I didn’t get as good of a look as I’d thought when it seemed the line wasn’t tied off before it... Maybe-”
Her throat began to tighten up again, breaths coming in shallow bursts as the reality of what could have happened to her son hit her once more. Emma wrapped her arms around herself and squeezed tightly, willing the haunting visions of her son crushed by the massive chandelier to flee her mind.
After drawing in a shaky breath, Emma exhaled a quiet, “Thank you.”
“I don’t believe in ghosts, but just in case… thank you. For Henry. He’s my… he’s my everything, and if I ever lost...” Hot tears made their way down her cheeks, and the emotional dam she’d been fortifying all afternoon and evening finally burst as sobs wracked her body.
She sat down at the piano bench and spent her tears into her hands as they came up to cover her face. After several long moments she wiped her cheeks with the end of her sleeve, her worst nightmare finally laying itself to rest within the far reaches of her mind. She sniffed and sat up, allowing the peace and quiet of the room to soothe her.
Before she could make a move to stand and head back upstairs, a tingling sensation bloomed along her cheeks as if someone were cupping her face in their hands. Emma closed her eyes at the comforting feeling that thought gave her, and felt the sensation spread to her lips. She drew in a sharp breath and was overwhelmed by the now familiar masculine scent filling her senses. As she opened her eyes the tingling sensations vanished. Emma pressed her fingertips to her lips and swallowed.
Killian looked on as workers struggled with the oversized portrait that contained his likeness. Work in the grand foyer was now complete, and member’s of the Jones Family Trust, as well as the Misthaven Historical Society, felt the finishing touch ought to be the portrait of Captain Killian Jones on prominent display as soon as one entered the manor. Several poor, unfortunate souls had been tasked with the job of carting the life-sized artwork from the attic down to the first level for hanging, and Killian chuckled at the relieved looks the men gave when their foreman declared they’d break for lunch before proceeding.
As it usually happened whenever he found himself in Swan’s presence, Killian couldn’t take his eyes off the woman as she stepped forward to appraise his image set upon canvas. The past several months had been a type of sweet torture, and he’d found himself spending more and more time within her company. Indeed, it seemed that if he wasn’t occupying himself with her boy and his ever enthusiastic desire to spar, play dice, practice the simplified tune he’d taught him on the piano, or a vast number of other things the lad talked him into, then he was at Swan’s side tormenting himself with longing. Tormented by the fact that despite all of Henry’s protestations that he was, in fact, real, Emma refused to believe in his existence.
That was until that night in the ballroom.
Killian was certain that if he’d had a heart beating within his chest it would have stopped at the sight of that chandelier crashing down towards Henry before he’d been able to stop it. If he’d been capable of producing tears Killian would have expended them alongside Emma as she sat upon the piano bench that night. All he’d been capable of was to try and offer some measure of comfort. He’d taken her face in his hands and placed a kiss upon her lips, and if he’d had breath in his lungs, he would have lost it when she seemed to look right at him as she whispered her thank you.
The same look she was giving him now. Well, not him, she still couldn’t see or hear him, but the rendering of him framed before her. Killian watched in awe as she stared at his portrait with a smile on her lips and brought her hand up to brush her fingers along his painted cheek. Killian watched the action with great yearning and placed his hand against his own face, wishing with every fiber of his being that he could feel the sensation of her touch.
The workmen made their way back and his portrait was hung in its place of honor, with Emma overseeing the entire affair. As the crews departed once more, she remained appreciating the finished room and his likeness in its proper place. Drawn to her smile and the glint of pride sparkling in her eyes, Killian stood beside her as she took in the fruit of her labors. He was startled to hear her, once again, speak into the seemingly empty room.
“I hope you’re happy with the work we’ve accomplished on your home, Captain,” she whispered softly, and Killian could not stop himself from placing a kiss upon her cheek in response.
Emma smiled and tugged her bottom lip between her teeth as she reached up and caressed the spot his lips had whispered across. She shook off her reaction a moment later, tsking at herself as she made her way toward the main hall. Watching her go, still firmly set in her belief that he couldn’t possibly exist, Killian set firm the resolve he’d determined within himself months ago.
He was going to break his bloody curse, no matter what it took.
“What are you going to do?” Killian asked with trepidation.
“Me?” the man questioned. “Why, I’m not going to do anything. I’ve made a deal, you see. The witch has agreed to curse you for the evil you’ve done. A curse that will ensure you can never tear apart another family again.”
“Please,” Killian pleaded with the woman. The witch he recognized from the village. A petite woman, with wisps of blonde hair framing her face, giving her a fairy like quality that masked her rumored nature of dark magic. “I tried to make it right. I didn’t know about the boy’s fate. When Milah told me she might be with child, I-”
“She was with child?” the witch questioned Killian sharply.
“I don’t know,” he answered, more tears of anguish pooling in his eyes. “She suspected so before I left. I was hoping for her confirmation when I returned. I realized how selfish I’d been. That’s why I invited you and your son here,” he expressed to the man imploringly. “I wanted to try and make it right.”
“Too late for that now, Dearie,” the man spat.
“I know,” Killian responded with weary acceptance. He’d been too late. The boy was dead. Milah had suffered this terrible fate because of him. He deserved whatever the witch was about to do to him.
“Well?” the man prompted, and Killian looked up to face the woman whose hands his fate rested. “What are you waiting for?”
“This man is not who you said he was,” she replied.
“Of course he is! A selfish pirate. The man who stole my wife, and kept her from our son. He’s a villain, undeserving of a happy ending.”
“No,” she stated firmly. “I don’t think he’s truly the villain here.” Her pointed look at the man made Killian’s blood run cold, but the evil little imp seemed impervious to her steely gaze.
“What you think doesn’t matter,” he sneered. “We made a deal. A deal that you are obligated to uphold due to the constraints of your magic.”
The witch narrowed her eyes at the man as she questioned, “How would you know that?”
“Do you really think I hadn’t done my research? I’m not in the business of making deals where I could come out the fool.”
“That’s what this is really about, isn’t it?” she asked with a look of fresh understanding within her eyes. “It isn’t about your wife, or your son, though I can see that her betrayal and his loss have grieved you. It’s about your wounded pride. You don’t hate this man for loving your wife, or sending for your son too late. You hate him because he made you feel like a fool.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he seethed. “We have a deal, and you will honor it.”
The witch sighed and turned back to face Killian, still cradling his love in his arms.
“He’s right. I do have to honor the deal,” she admitted sadly.
Killian’s eyes fell shut at her words and he steeled himself for what was to come next.
“I may be forced to curse you, but,” she said, pausing until he met her gaze once more. “I believe you deserve a second chance. You will be placed under a curse to haunt these grounds and the manor upon it, but every one hundred years you’ll take on a form of flesh and blood so that you might have a chance to find the way to break it.”
Killian swallowed back the bile rising in his throat to ask, “How? How do I break the curse?”
“You don’t,” she replied. “But this will help guide you to the answer.”
She extended her palm and within it appeared a golden compass.
The enraged man beside her snatched it from her grasp and thundered, “This was not part of our deal!”
“Our deal was for me to place a curse on him so he could never again tear apart another family. The curse will ensure that, and it will only be broken if that assurance can remain should he become flesh and blood once more. Now, do you want him cursed or not? I can not break our deal, but you can. It isn’t too late to change your mind.”
“No,” the man scorned. “I won’t change my mind. He deserves to suffer. I want to see him suffer.”
“Very well,” she said. “Give me the compass.”
He placed the artifact back into her outstretched hand and Killian held his breath as the witch waved her other hand over it, causing it to glow. Several things happened at once as Killian began to feel a transformation come over him. He could no longer sustain the weight of Milah’s body, and she passed through his arms to the craggy shore beneath him as her husband began to howl in pain and screamed at the witch, demanding to know what she’d done.
“Do you think it a simple thing to merely curse another?” she mocked. “It seems you made a deal you did not fully understand after all. Spells are alive, you see. They take energy to create. Your energy, in this case. Your life will give this curse its existence.” The compass glowed brighter still, absorbing the very nature of the man within its essence until nothing remained of him.
After the glow of newly birthed magic faded, the witch handed the compass to Killian who despaired at the now translucent quality of his appearance.
“What do I do now?” he asked despondently.
“Nothing,” she replied. “But when the time comes, the compass will guide you.”
One week. One week and Killian would become flesh and blood again, able to enter the world of the living once more. Every one hundred years he was granted corporeal form for a fortnight before turning back into his ghostly self.
The first time it had happened, he’d had to hide away from the family and servants residing within the manor at the time. He learned that even though he was within a tangible body, he was still tied to the manor and grounds of the estate. Unable to leave, and unable to remain in the house undetected, he’d camped out in the woods and spent his time mourning Milah and Liam and everything else lost to him.
The second time the manor stood vacant due to the Great War raging across Europe. With the men away to fight, the house had been closed up. The estate had been in danger of being sold off bit by bit due to the high cost of managing it and the perishing of the way of life that had sustained it for centuries. Killian had been able, through correspondence, the use of the newly installed telephone, and the cache of treasure he’d long ago hidden away on the property, to secure the estate within a trust that would ensure its legacy within the Jones family for perpetuity. For he had no idea what would become of him should the estate be divided or the manor torn down.
He had given little thought to the compass during either of those reprieves from his cursed state. The first time he’d been too consumed with grief and self pity to try and work out the riddle of its breaking, the second time he’d had more pressing matters and no one to confide in.
But this time…
This time he had a reason for wanting it broken other than so he could simply die and be reunited with his loved ones. This time he wanted it broken so that he might have a future. A future with the woman who had stolen his heart and the boy who made him long to be a father.
This time it would be different, because this time he’d have help.
Killian retrieved the compass from its long standing hiding place below the floorboards of his study and made his way to Henry’s room where the lad was waiting for him. Handing over the compass, Killian poured out the entire tale, every detail that led him to his cursed state, culminating with the fact that the compass was supposedly the guide to breaking it.
“I need your help, Henry my boy,” Killian beseeched as he watched the lad turn the compass over in his hands. “I haven’t the faintest bloody idea how to break this curse except that it has something to do with that compass and the riddle etched upon its casing. You’re a clever lad. The cleverest I’ve ever seen. Surely, between the two of us we can work out the riddle. What do you say?”
Henry beamed at his friend as he excitedly answered, “Of course!” and then turned his attention to the engraving upon the compass’ shining surface.
A cursed man needs a guide, the answer inside the compass I’ll hide.
For when the needle starts to spin, your quest for love and life shall begin.
Find a woman that makes you complete, but be careful the past does not repeat.
Life will be restored. Should she choose to trade her truest love for his displayed.
Simply place the compass within her hold, and watch as all your dues unfold.
Henry sat with furrowed brow as he read over the riddle again and again while Killian lost himself in his own ponderings of it. Moments later Killian was pulled from his frustrated musings by Henry’s shaky question.
“Um… Killian? Has it ever done that before?”
Killian looked down at the compass and saw an astonishing sight.
The needle had begun to spin.
End Part One