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Captain's Choice

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"And so, Miss Muffet had me tied down to a tuffet -"

"What's a tuffet, Papa?" Meriel asked.

"Well, it's a sort of a footstool," Killian answered. "But poofy."

"How were you tied down to a footstool?" Finn asked. "She would have to loop the rope around and it's not like there are armrests or anything."

"You know, for six, you are remarkably bright," Killian said, tapping his son on the nose.

"So am I," Meriel said from the neighboring bed, not to be outdone by her younger brother. "Kai says I'm smart."

"No, you're clever. Clever's better," her father said, eyeing her shrewdly. "Now, can I finish the story, please?"

Finn re-settled himself amongst the pillows and gave a nod. "So you drank too much rum and Miss Muffet tied you down to a big, poofy footstool -"

"What are you telling these kids?" Emma's voice interrupted from the doorway. "I don't think we need to be filling them in on your drunken escapades," she said, taking a seat at the foot of Meriel's bed.

"It's a thrilling tale," Killian said, raising an eyebrow. "And quite suitable for children, if you'll let me finish."

"I'm all ears," Emma said with a smirk.

"Very well, then," Killian continued. "I was secured to the tuffet by the sticky, sinuous threads of Miss Muffets giant, killer arachnids -"

"What's an arachnid?" Meriel interrupted again.

"Spiders," Killian said, widening his eyes and waggling his brows. "Huge, hairy spiders with pincers that could snap a man's head from his shoulders..."

"This is suitable for children?" Emma asked, completely dismayed.

"Go on Papa!" Meriel squealed.

"Yeah!" Finn agreed. "I want to hear more!"

"You'll give them nightmares." Emma protested.

"I never have nightmares," Meriel said. "Never ever."

"Let him finish," Finn beseeched.

Emma let out a sigh. "Go on," she said, gesturing grandly. "Wouldn't want to deprive your audience."

"Now then...where was I?"

"Spiders!" both children screamed in unison.

"Ah, yes...spiders. They were coming at me, and Miss Muffet was sitting there, eating her curds and whey, just waiting for them to finish me off, when suddenly, my hook started to glow."

"Really?" Finn sat up, leaning forward.

Killian's eyes sparkled as he warmed to his tale. "It was the venom, you see. It had magical properties, that would imbue any instrument of death with incredible powers."

Emma gave him a look.

"Yes, well..." Killian rubbed his ear uncomfortably. "And since my hook theoretically could be used to...uh...hurt someone, it qualified."

"It glowed?" Finn's eyes were wide.

"And flashed!" Killian said with great relish. "Like lightning, it was, arcing off my hook and frying the spiders where they stood. Their screeching was terrible, and the smell of their charred fur -"

"They had fur?" Meriel sat up in her bed as well.

"Were you not listening when I said that they were hairy?" Killian asked. "Yes, they had fur. And with my super-powerful lightning-wielding hook of death, I fought them off, two...three...dozens at a time!"

He faltered a moment, catching his wife's smirk out of the corner of his eye. "Well, there were at least a half-dozen of them," he amended. "And once they were gone, I realized that Miss Muffet was on the run, and still carrying the sack full of jewels that rightfully belonged to me."

"You won them from her fair and square," Meriel said, nodding her head.

"With loaded dice," Finn added. "But they were your loaded dice, so she should have known better."

"Exactly," Killian said, pointing his finger at his son. "It was her folly for trusting a pirate to begin with. I caught up with her at the footbridge that led to a farm, owned by an old nemesis of mine, a man named MacDonald."

"Why was he a nemesis?" Meriel asked.

"What's a nemesis?" Finn wrinkled his nose up. "It sounds bad."

"A nemesis is an enemy," Emma said. "Your father had a few of those in his younger days."

"A nemesis is somewhat different than an enemy," Killian added. "It's more like a counterpart. Someone's who's more than a match for you in many ways." He looked over at Emma. "Your mother was an old nemesis of mine at one time."

"Because she tied you to a tree?" Meriel asked, tilting her head to the side.

"Because she hit him over the head with a rubbish can," Finn said gleefully.

"Or because she punched you in the face with a compass?" Meriel reminded.

Killian raised a perturbed brow at his wife. "I think we've had enough story for tonight," he said.

"Awww!" the children chorused.

"Your father's right," Emma said. "We're pushing off tomorrow, and you know how he likes to get an early start." She stood up, pulling the covers up over Finn's chest as he slid back down in the bed. She ruffled his hair and kissed his forehead, then traded spots with her husband so she could kiss Meriel while he leaned down and tickled Finn's ear making him giggle, and then yawn.

"Meriel, move to the center of the bed, honey," Emma said, kissing her daughter's cheek. "You're going to roll off."

Meriel rolled over sleepily, facing the center, but not really moving much. Killian shook his head with a smile as he doused all but one of the candles.

"Get some sleep, you two. It'll be all hands needed tomorrow," he said.

"Yes, Papa," Meriel said, yawning.

"G'night Papa. G'night Mama." Finn mumbled, rubbing his eyes and yawning again himself.

"We love you," Emma said softly as she closed the door. She turned to look at her husband.

"Giant, furry spiders?"

"It's a damn good story," he said. "Or, at least it was until your children took it over."

"Oh, so they're my children when they irk you," she said, with a knowing grin. He started walking toward their bedchamber, and she caught up to him, bumping his shoulder with hers good-naturedly.

"Do you really think of me as your nemesis?"

He gave her an exasperated look. "Not anymore, I don't. It's been years, love."

"But you did at one time?"

He stopped, reaching out for her hand and pulling her closer. "You were my match from the moment we met, and that's a fact," he said, raising her hand to his lips.

She gave him a smirk. "You mean, when I tied you to the tree?"

His eyes narrowed, but he kept his mouth against her hand. "As I recall," he said, kissing her fingers again, sliding the edge of his tongue between them ever so slightly, sending a frisson of head down Emma's spine, "I still haven't properly exacted my vengeance for that."

"You left me to rot in a prison cell," she reminded him.

"After you stranded me on a beanstalk," he refuted, taking offense. "And you poked me in my damaged ribs while I was chained and at your mercy. You were heartless."

Emma reached up, running her fingers along the soft edge of his beard. "I wasn't heartless. You knew exactly where my heart was. That's what scared me."

"I wasn't about to let you run from me," he said, setting her hand on his shoulder so that he could properly wrap his arms around her. "And now look where that's gotten us. Bedtime stories and family voyages and our former lives reduced to anecdotes that our children recite for amusement."

"They're called memories, Killian."

He leaned in, putting his forehead to hers. "We've certainly made our share," he agreed. "And I'm all for making a few more this evening."

She tilted her face up, brushing his mouth with hers. "What did you have in mind?" she asked.

"Well, I don't have a tree close by, but we have fourposter bed I could tie you to. I'm feeling a bit...vengeful."

"Is that a fact?" she murmured against his lips.

"Unless you're not up to the challenge," he said. "You are a former nemesis, after all."

She stepped back, narrowing her eyes and smiling at him before she pushed open the door to their bedchamber. She paused in the doorway and looked back over her shoulder, wetting her lips with the tip of her tongue. Killian's eyes darkened as he watched her.

"Game on," she said. "First one to break has to cook for our entire voyage."

She stepped through the doorway and he was behind her in two strides, closing the door behind him.

And as he slid the pancakes onto his children's plates the next morning, he looked down at his infuriatingly smug wife and gave her a wide smile that promised retribution.