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Under the Crimson Flag

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The Enchanted Forest, 18 years earlier

The seven year old princess was already making quite the name for herself with her bold, unpretentious behavior and willful attitude.

But of course, a seven year old - even an intelligent, observant one (as she was) - is far too concerned with the matter of being a child to be aware of how they are perceived. To Emma, crown princess of the Enchanted Forest, life was a constant stream of tutors, tea parties and pretty dresses. She loved her mother and father, basking in their evident adoration but occasionally taking liberties with their often lenient ways. 

The first time she learned about what being a princess really meant was at the palace’s annual Christmas ball.

“Emma, you must apologize,”   her mother hissed as the little princess ran past her, giggling with her nanny, Nina, chasing at her tails.

“What momma?”   she asked, widening her eyes and stopping to join her hands behind her back.

Snow looked over at the small girl who was left in her wake: a good three inches shorter than Emma, she had bright, auburn hair and pinkish skin. Her mouth was turned down into a frown and her brow was wrinkled as she looked down at her shiny, red shoes.

“I saw you push Katrina! Go, say you are sorry.”

“Momma, she smells! And I had to sit next to her all through dinner.”   The young princess turned to look at the other girl; now she was pushing the toes of her shoes against each other and her face was beginning to turn a similar shade of crimson.

“You must apologize this instant!”

“But she’s your maid’s girl, momma! I’m better than her!”

Emma gasped at her mother’s shocked expression and immediately regretted her words. She knew she had crossed a line, even if she wasn’t quite sure which one yet. Her mother sank quickly to her knees and grasped her arms in her hands so they were face to face. “I never, ever want to hear you speak like that again, do you understand?”

Tentatively, Emma nodded, a cool dread slipping over her as she took in her mother’s disappointed face.

“You are royalty and you are privileged. And with that privilege, comes responsibility.”

Emma looked back at Katrina, a sense of shame washing over her.

“You are no better than any other person. It is your duty to be a wise and noble queen one day. Go, apologize and I will see no more selfish behavior - do you understand?”

Nodding, with eyes brimming with tears, Emma accepted her mother’s brief kiss on the cheek before turning around, straightening her shoulders and walking over to the other little girl.

“Katrina?”   she asked with a little hesitation. Katrina looked up, her big blue eyes wide and round. “I wanted to say I am sorry. For pushing you. It was wrong of me.”   Emma spoke so quickly the words were almost a babble. She felt stupid and embarrassed, giving furtive glances to her left to see who was watching.

“Oh, it’s fine,”   Katrina replied shyly, twisting her hands together, “I deserved it.”

And when Emma looked closely, she realized the little girl meant it. She thought she should be treated that way - because she was a servant and Emma was a princess. In an instant Emma got her first taste of understanding of what the power and responsibility of being a royal meant. And she felt her first taste of shame.

“No,”   she said honestly, “No you didn’t.”   Smiling she swung her arms from side to side, feeling a little awkward, having never apologized for such a thing before. “Come, let’s play,”   she added, grabbing the girl’s hand and tugging her away.

As Emma had stopped to listen to her mother’s final words, the captain had rushed away - his footsteps clipped and hurried as they clattered against the boarded deck. By the time she had turned around, all that was left of him was the swoosh of his long leather coat as he alighted the ladder out of the hold.

Awash with emotion, she followed in a daze. The tartness of her mother’s seeming abandonment had been almost neutralized by the way she had held her in her arms and cradled her gently.

God, she had missed her.

It was almost as if, for a second, time had stopped and rewound itself. She was a little girl again, safe in her mother’s loving embrace. Nothing could ever hurt her when her mother was there. But then of course she hadn’t been, for so long.

She sighed as she reached the ladder, pausing as a panel of light shone down on her face from above. Perhaps she would never be able to understand what had drawn her mother to leave that day, ten years ago. She naturally assumed an explanation would be offered, when the time was right, but her ability to accept and forgive was still in question. 

But she was her mother and she loved her, more than she had ever realized. And now she was back, Emma would not be parted from her again.

She thought back to the moments when the captain had held a dagger to her mother’s neck - oh the fear it had ignited! She wondered if he would have actually hurt her. Part of the princess said no: the man she had come to know would not do such a thing, would he? But then she was reminded that all her perceptions of this man - this pirate - were so confused and jumbled, she could never really be sure of him.

A part of her thought she ought to return to her cabin, but hunger suddenly pierced her belly and she crept to the mess where she searched the pantry, selecting a small round of cheese and some slices of salted ham. She wrapped these in her handkerchief, thankful that no one was around to ask any awkward questions as she as still unsure what the captain had actually said about her absence.

Ambling back to her cabin, she crumbled small amounts of the cheese into her mouth, its creamy, almost nutty flavor delicious against her tongue. So engrossed was she in her meal that she started when she suddenly walked into something. With a gasp she looked up - directly into the black rimmed eyes of Captain Hook.

“Captain-“   she gasped, equally surprised by both his appearance and his unexpected close proximity. Startled, he started for a moment. She felt hot under his gaze, quickly darting her eyes downwards. “Sorry-“   she muttered, her lashes fluttering in embarrassment.

He rubbed a hand across his face, then raised his brows. “Yes?”

She suddenly realized that he thought she had been looking for him. She was about to say this was not the case, when a sudden urge to talk to him over came her. “May we talk?”

He sighed in a slightly annoyed manner, but then he reached out and pulled up the latch to his cabin, “Quickly,”   he ordered and she hurried inside.

At first upon entering, she wasn't sure what to say. She wandered about the room, looking first out the small windows opposite the door and then running her finger along the bookshelf adjacent to his desk.

“And?”   he asked impatiently. When she turned he was standing about six feet away, his thumb tucked into the buckle of his belt, his hooked arm hanging at his side. He was wearing the usual, nonchalant swagger that would accompany him whenever he was on deck.

“You owe me an apology.”

He arched an eyebrow and her heart beat faster; she wasn’t entirely certain in what direction she would be taking this line of enquiry.

“And why would that be?”   he answered with a slightly bored expression.

She licked her dry lips, adjusting her weight on her feet and straightening her shoulders. “Many reasons,”   she began, “First - you dragged me halfway across the ship, I shall be shocked if I don’t bear the bruises come morning.”

His lips twitched into a crooked smile and he gave her a small, mock bow, “My lady, I apologize if my rough nature offended your delicate, feminine sensibilities.”

Although he was mocking her, the swagger in his voice didn’t extend to his eyes. They were as blank and cold as when she had met him in the corridor. Shrugging off his response, she continued. “And, your treatment of my mother was excessive. Holding a knife to a woman’s throat - what sort of man are you?”

Her heart began to throb tightly as she waited for him to respond. He was either thinking or purposefully making her wait, slowly moving his hand into his jacket and pulling out his flask, tugging out the cork with his teeth and finally taking a slow drink.

Swallowing deeply, he dipped down his chin so their eyes met, “I’ve told you many times, love, I’m a pirate.”   This time his voice lacked the derisive tone of a minute ago. In fact, it was almost apologetic – sad, even.

“So you’ve said,”   she replied, moving over to his desk and perching on its surface and then crossing her arms, “But you lead me to believe there is more to Captain Jones than mere pirate.”

He glared at her over the flask as he took another sip, fastening the cork back in with his thumb as he walked to where she sat. “Well I apologize if you were misinformed.”

“So you are capable of apologizing then,”   she quipped, tilting her head as he stopped arm’s length from her, jutting out his chin a little so he had to look down his nose to where she sat.

“You’re quite annoying at times, for a princess I mean.”

“I call it being persistent,”   Emma smiled with raised brows, “And I didn’t know you were so familiar with princessly behavior.”

“I’ve gotten around, love,”   he replied with a wink and she felt heat jolt straight to her stomach at the implication of his response. Visions of him dancing and flirting and - more - with scores of women quickly flashed through her mind. He was too damn close to be comfortable and her body inched back involuntarily further onto the desk. “But, as I’m feeling in rather good spirits in this moment, I will extend my apologies to you and your lovely mother. Though I dare say, you understand my motivation.”

And the strange thing was, she did. If it had been the other way around - her family gone and only a tiny clue to the culprit, she would have moved heaven and earth to find them. “I understand,”   she admitted, “But it’s still not very gentlemanly.”

The word ‘gentlemanly’   made him start a little and she saw she had struck a nerve. For a moment, she saw that flicker again in his eyes - that flame of the man who she’d kissed all those nights ago and she felt her knees weaken and blood rush to her face.

His small nod of acceptance was enough, for now and she loosened her demeanor as he turned away, his gaze lingering on her for a second or two more than necessary before his head joined the rest of his body. Emma watched as he shucked off his coat and hung it on the small, iron hook behind his door. Next, he loosened his belt and tossed it over the small dresser opposite her. She was transfixed - her eyes following on the way his muscles moved beneath his clothes; the flex of his biceps as they pulled and released and the  delicious curve of his ass  that sent heat straight between her legs. Instantly she blushed and felt ashamed of her own mind.

Desperate to occupy herself, she scrambled for conversation, “Um- When - when will you be letting us go?”   she asked, sliding back to the floor with a soft clunk.

“Us?”   he asked, turning around as he unbuttoned his vest.

“My mother and I, you have what you want…”

“What I want, is Blackbeard’s head on a plate,”   he lifted up his hand and gestured to the room, “Do you see that?”

“No….”   she began, feeling the sudden change in his mood.

“You may go as you please, that was our agreement. But she must remain until I am satisfied - currently she is the only tangible connection I have to his death.”

“But what possible benefit is there of keeping her? She has told you what she knows!”   Emma felt a flush of anger rise in her chest, her fists clenching at her sides.

“She is staying on board until I am avenged. I will not be swayed on this point.”

A steely impasse had descended between the two. His shoulders straightest and jaw firm, she saw that - at least for the moment - there could be no negotiation in this matter.

“Fine, then let me help you find him and we can be on our way.”

He seemed amused at her suggestion, “And how would you be of assistance, love? Didn’t know you possessed tracking skills?”   A smile licked at his lips and his eyes sparkled a little, the first time she had seem them do that since - [a brief memory of their kiss flashed over her again and she had to shrug away the shiver which ran down her spine].

“No,”   she hissed, “But firstly - he doesn’t know me. If you or one of your men are within fifty feet of him he’d smell it.”   Killian nodded softly. “And secondly, being female, I possess certain talents which - well, let’s say could be useful when dealing with the male sex.”

His brow twitched when she said the word ‘sex’.

“So you would seduce him for me? I’d not considered that approach, but-“

“Perhaps,”   she quickly replied, folding her arms again across her chest, enjoying the way his eyes ran across her body finally meeting her face again with a slack, jawed look.

“You’re full of surprises, aren’t you, princess?”

“Oh, you don’t know the half of it, pirate. And I prefer Emma, if you please. The word princess carries with it so many assumptions.”

“So I gather,”   he replied in a low gravelly voice, which caught her breath in her throat. He let out a breath and then held out his hand. “Fine, it’s agreed. You assist me and you both may leave with my best wishes.”

Emma took his hand. It was warm and firm and large, her small fingers melted into his and she felt herself flushing a little at his touch - quickly drawing away her hand. “Good,”   she nodded, trying to compose her face. “Where do we start?”

“Why Langston, of course.”

“Langston,”   she gasped, the notorious pirate haven a name that cast fear into the hearts of most, “But that’s-“

“Where he ports his ship when not at sea. Predictable, I know.”

“Fine,”   she added, shaking her head and mentally starting to prepare herself for what she might see. “When do we set sail?”

“We should arrive in two days - good winds depending.”

“Then it’s settled,”   she smiled, a little unsure of what she had gotten herself into. The conversation had suddenly died, the two eying each other a little awkwardly while a feeling of claustrophobia rose up her neck and made it hard to breathe. “I must go,”   she mumbled, “Rest.”

He nodded and stepped aside so she could reach the door. A step away she turned back, “I’m not afraid of you, Killian Jones. You know that, right?”

“You should be,”   he replied with a smile.

“I thought most of the stories were made up?”

As if she wasn’t there, he began to tug up his shirt, revealing a strip of sun darkened skin across his stomach. Emma tried to look away, he hand clawing for the door behind her.

“Stories have a strange way of becoming reality, love, if you’re not careful.”

She didn’t really understand what he meant, but as she tried to think, he suddenly tugged the shirt over his head and her mind became blank. The burning heat returned and she had to escape, hurriedly flicking open the lock and tumbling into the corridor.

14 years ago, somewhere at sea

“Now, then. You have been boarded by my captain - the infamous John O’Grady. Those who swear allegiance to him will be spared - try and be a brave bastard, and it’s the plank for you.”

Killian couldn’t stop his knees shaking. He was standing next to Liam. He’d done as he was told, looked at the men who boarded in the eye but dropped his cutlass when a musket was directed at him - raising his arms in surrender. Frozen he’d listened to the crack of gunfire and the cry of the wounded as he was herded together with other men who had been captured. Every moment his eyes had strained for Liam, until with great relief, he watched him being led towards him by a long haired pirate wearing a filthy red coat.

Their happy moment had been short lived; the ship was quickly overtaken and the remaining men lined up along the deck.

There was the sound of clipped footsteps.

“Why, Oliver, what a fine introduction! You make me blush!”   The pirates around them laughed.

Killian looked in the direction of the voice. There stood, he assumed, the captain. Perhaps old enough to be his father - dressed smartly in a long royal blue coat and tricorn hat. He didn’t look that scary, he conceded, the tales of pirate captains with hooked noses and pointed teeth seeming somewhat exaggerated in that moment.

“My first mate is correct - I am a reasonable man. Join my crew and share in our bounty. I know your navy only takes the best men. And for what? A few measly pieces of gold a trip? Join me - join us - and we will show you what true riches are.”

A roar of approval shot up around them. The men of Liam’s ship looked at each other - some a little uncertain, others eyes widening at the promises being made.

“So what say you,”   the captain continued, “Who will be joining the Jolly Roger? Or shall we prepare the plank?”

Liam stepped forward. “I think I can speak for the men here - we see the value in your offer and we accept on the condition we are treated the same as any man on your crew.”

“And who may you be to speak for them?”  

The captain advanced along the line until he was standing toe to toe with Liam, Killian tensed his body, his eyes fixed on the captain’s glossy boots.

“Liam Jones, formerly lieutenant of the king’s army. Happy to take any position you may offer.”

The pirate seemed amused, his lips twitching a little.

“Well, Liam Jones, I think that can be arranged. After a suitable period of training, of course.”

“Of course,”   he echoed, with a small bow.

“Ha!”   cried the captain, “Strip the ship!”   he ordered, walking away towards his first mate, his sword swinging in his wake.

Killian’s heart was racing. His brother placed a hand on his shoulder, “Relax, we are safe for the moment.”

“Are we pirates now, brother?”   he asked, still a little unsure as to what and happened.

Liam’s brows raised, as if this had not occurred to him until that moment. “Aye lad, I’d say we were.”

A/N - Thank you, again, for all your support! It is so inspiring to me and I love reading all your wonderful reviews! J x