Author's Note: Absolutely thrilled about the way the third season ended and all too impatient for season four to begin. It's going to be a long summer...

Disclaimer: As always, I do not claim any rights to the original story, plot or characters. I simply borrow them for amusement.

Soft as Sunshine

If he was sure about anything, it was that he had been smitten with her from the moment he had first laid eyes on her.

It had started out as a dare.

A challenge between him and his older brother.

Liam had been lamenting about his brother's so-called charm with an affectionate scowl and roll of his eyes as his lieutenant managed to pull a blush and stammering directions from yet another young maid as they made their way further into the warm, inviting castle.

They had been asked to deliver a signed contract from their kingdom – an alliance between the two that was as important as any other cargo they had been entrusted with before, a marked sign of trust and honor for the Captain of the Jewel of the Realm and his crew.

"It's really quite simple, brother," Killian had countered with a roguish smile. "I'd daresay you could master the skill yourself if you gave it some thought and consideration."

Liam rolled his eyes again for the second time in as many minutes. "I prefer the use of my intellect rather than the batting of my eyelashes at a pretty maiden to get what I need."

Killian chuckled quietly. "Why Liam, you wound me! Charming a young lady is all about using your wit. Though, I do believe, of the two of us, I did receive more of the devilishly handsome end of the gene pool."

"Devilish is the word for it, aye," Liam retorted. "As stalwart and straight-laced of a lieutenant as any a captain could ask for in front of the men, but a flirt and a rogue when amongst the ribbons and lace of the women at port."

"I'm not so much a cad as all that," Killian grinned with a playful gleam in his eye. "Truly brother, I assure you, it's more than a smile and a wink. It's a skill. A very useful one I might add, one that you could afford to learn if you ever thought to smile at a lass instead of staring at her with that stern, tight-lipped expression of yours."

"Oh? You think it's as easy as all that, then?" Liam countered. "You think it's a trick and an art to persuade the womenfolk into leading them where you wish them to go?"

Now it was Killian's turn to roll his eyes. "I simply asked the last maid directions, brother. There's no need to get so defensive merely because you cannot hope to succeed where I excel for once."

Liam looked past Killian for a moment, seemingly lost in thought and deliberation before, with a sudden smirk, he met the now-wary blue eyes of his younger brother. "Alright then, little brother, if you are so confident in this skill of yours, how about testing it out on the princess?"

"The princess?" Killian's brows drew together in confusion. "Snow White and Prince Charming's daughter?"

Liam was already nodding. "Yes, Princess Emma, heir to the kingdom's throne."

Killian paused in his footsteps to eye his brother carefully. "You would encourage me to charm the princess? Are you sure you're feeling sane, brother? Perhaps we were out to sea too long and the return to firm ground has your head muddled from imbalance."

Liam's answer was to lift a single brow in challenge. "Is this your way of saying that your skills only apply to barmaids and servant girls? That a princess would be too quick-witted and sharp-eyed to see through your flowery words and philandering smiles?"

Killian accepted the dare with a wide grin. "Not at all. I could charm the princess as easily as any other lass in this or any kingdom."

"Be wary of your words little brother, I've heard tales that this kingdom's heir is as crafty and daring as her mother, and as charming and stubborn as her father."

"Younger, not littler," Killian corrected with the smallest of sighs. "And I doubt that one as sheltered as she has been will be ready to match wits with a worlds' traveler. No doubt her experience is with empty-headed princess and stuffed-shirt princes instead. Granted, she wouldn't be the easiest to get to know, what with her infamous parents, seven godfathers, and a werewolf for a godmother, but this shall still hardly constitute as a true challenge. It's a good thing we aren't laying wagers on your little dare, Liam, I'd hate to see you lose your coin as well."

Liam glanced at his brother out of the corner of his eye as they continued walking. "You truly know nothing about this kingdom, do you?"

Killian shrugged. "I learned what I needed to know in order for our mission to succeed, but as far as studying up on the habits and intelligence of a young princess, I rather fail to see why it's entirely necessary until she has grown into her own; whether she becomes a capable ruler or no remains to be seen." His eyes swept over the elegant yet simple décor of the castle they were traversing through. "I know about the king and queen, their history and the history of this land if that's what's bothering you. I know how to do my homework, Liam."

Liam couldn't fully suppress the small grin that was twitching at the corner of his lips. "Not as thoroughly as you should have, little brother," he smirked.

When Killian threw him a look of confusion at the quiet remark, he missed the foot that so effortlessly reached out to trip him up from the start.

And so it was with profound embarrassment and a brilliant scarlet hue that Killian first came face-to-face with the young princess and heir to Snow White and Prince Charming's kingdom by nearly face-planting into the ground at her feet.

There was the tiniest of gasps of surprise from behind the queen's hand followed by a quick, "Are you okay?"

"Fine, your Majesty," Killian managed to mumble as he hastened to straighten himself, only to find his eyes meeting the dancing green eyes and amused smile of Snow's daughter. And it was with a start that he realized the young princess he had imagined was little no longer.

Curling flaxen hair framed a face lit with intelligence and spirit, her lithe body held in a stance of steadfast assuredness and control.

She extended a slender arm in a silent offering of help.

He thanked her courteously but stumbled to his feet under his own power, her eyebrow lifting in surprise at his refusal though she made no other comment.

Graciously, the king and queen decided to politely ignore the moment as they greeted the Captain and his lieutenant.

After the proper exchange of greeting, Liam extracted the contract from deep within the linings of his coat to hand over to the royal couple. As the pair looked over the document, their daughter leaning over to glance at it as well, Killian quickly threw his brother a glare.

Liam didn't bother to hide the small mischievous smile that graced his face as he refused to look his brother's way. The look vanished just as quickly as it had arrived when the three royals looked up from the stiff parchment with the quietest of relieved sighs.

Emma caught her mother's eye, a silent conversation passing between the two before, with a discreet nod they turned to look back at the sailors in front of them.

"Thank you, Captain," King David began, his tone full of a gentle authority. "We can't begin to tell you how grateful we are to have received this."

Liam bowed smartly, his brother following not seconds behind. "It was our honor, your Majesty."

"Please, join us for refreshments," Snow smiled cordially as she slid her arm into the nook of her husband's arm. "I'm sure it's been a long journey, and you've earned at least a brief respite as we look this over more carefully inside."

"We are flattered by your generosity, your Majesty." Liam and Killian rose from their bows in unison.

"Captain Jones?" Emma spoke up suddenly with a practiced, light air. "Would it be possible for me to steal away your lieutenant for this meeting? I would appreciate some company out in the gardens as you discuss the finer details of this contract with my parents. Surely his presence is not required?"

"I would be honored, Princess," Liam bowed once more, shooting a look at his brother as he did so to silence the protests that were sure to be ready on his lips if not in his eyes at the thought of being excluded from the meeting. He rose from his bow to smile courteously at the young woman before him. "My lieutenant was just commenting on how he'd like to get some fresh air and shake out his land legs mere moments before we met. Weren't we brother? Something about being away at sea too long?"

Killian caught the devilish glint in his older brother's eyes and did his best not to narrow his own. "Aye, that I was." He turned to face the princess once more with his most charming smile, extending his arm chivalrously for her to take.

Emma's responding smile had Killian's heart stopping mid-beat in his chest as she slid her hand gracefully onto his elbow, her touch light and delicate but the effect it had on him was immediate. Vibrant blue eyes met enchanting green and Killian swallowed shallowly as she stepped closer to his side, the warmth from her body reaching out to his as she turned them toward the towering archway to their right.

Her father looked like he was going to argue, or at least demand an escort, but was stopped by the gentle press of fingers upon his arm from his wife.

With a bow and curtsey, Killian and Emma made their way out into the dazzling brightness outside, leaving their respective families behind.

Sunlight refracted in a happy dance upon their skin as Emma led them past cheerfully bubbling fountains.

Songbirds chirped merrily in the leafy green canopies above as she guided them further into the luscious gardens, gracefully ducking around sweeping vines and hanging branches.

The barest hint of a breeze picked up, as soft as a caress on their cheeks. Its slender fingers playing gleefully with their hair, like tiny faeries frolicking amongst the strands.

The flowers were a riot of color – bluebells, daffodils, snowdrops, blushing pink roses, honeysuckles, amaryllis, black-eyed Susans, violets, morning glories, chrysanthemums, rain lilies – butterflies floated almost lazily in the dizzying array before balancing delicately on soft petals.

Killian felt as if he was walking in a dream.

The natural hush of peace that permeated the air seemed to seep into his very marrow, and he wondered, fleetingly, if the rumors of the royal couple with their magic of True Love extended as far as to affect everything and everyone around them.

He snuck a quick peek at the quietly smiling young woman at his side and thought that perhaps it wasn't so much the king and queen's enchantment but their bewitching princess. If True Love was the most powerful magic of all, what exactly then did that kind of potency have living inside their daughter? For truly he had never seen eyes so open and full of life nor a smile light up a room the way hers did.

Surely it had to be an enchantment of some sort.

That could be the only explanation for this kind of captivation.

Emma turned to him with a smile that widened as she caught his staring and subsequent blush.

"How are you finding our kingdom, Lieutenant? Is it to your liking?"

"Aye, Princess," he managed to unstick his tongue and mumble a passable answer.

"It must seem small in comparison to the world you've seen," she commented casually as she glanced at him sidelong, a small smile lifting her lips almost apologetically.

"I've found that some of the most alluring discoveries can be found in the smallest and most unexpected places." His eyes met hers and held them.

He was delighted when a soft rosy hue descended upon her cheeks and she looked away demurely in answer.

She paused in her footsteps to perch delicately upon a carved wooden bench tucked beneath the shade of an ancient oak tree.

He sank to his seat at her side and watched as if in a trance. Her suddenly shy gaze was now fixated on her hands as they lay in her lap. A small quiet smile tugged at her lips, dark eyelashes against fair skin before she spoke again.

"Your reputation precedes you, Lieutenant."

"Does it now?"

A strand of hair, shining like spun gold fell forward into her face and before she could brush it back behind her ear, she flushed at the quick, nimble fingers that did it for her.

He played with the gossamer tresses, as smooth and fine as silk in his calloused fingers. There was the briefest of touches as his fingertips trailed across her cheek before he tucked the errant strands back into place.

Her soft skin deepened to a rosy hue, one to match the delicate shade of her lips and it took all of his willpower to resist caressing her face once more, to see if he could deepen the flush into one to match the deep red of the camellias bursting forth behind her.

Emma studied him, pursing her lips together as her vibrant green eyes searched his open, captivated face before, with a quick glance to check for prying eyes, she kissed him chastely on the lips.

A daring smile threatened to race across her face as he sat in a half-wondering daze when she pulled back far enough to hold his gaze with her own.

"A word of advice, Lieutenant," she whispered, her eyes bouncing with impish glee and tempered desire. "Do not take up a challenge you have no hope of winning."

Before he could collect his senses or fully process her words she pressed one last, sweet kiss against his cheek and darted off back into the maze of the surrounding garden.

The parting image she left for him was one of a graceful swan, the sweep of her dress flying out behind her like a pair of pale amethyst and silver wings taking flight as she vanished behind a trellis of climbing jasmine, her heart hammering in her chest and an unmistakable look of delight adorning her features.

He could only sit there for a few moments, ensnared by the lingering warmth and softness of her lips, as gentle and comforting as a ray of sunshine.

When he later recalled the moment through much stuttering and blushing to Liam later, after a good deal of poking, prodding and cajoling, his brother laughed uproariously, slapping him good-naturedly on the back, and remarking between tears and guffaws that his younger brother and stalwart lieutenant may have finally met his match – the charmer left enchanted and speechless by a mere slip of a girl, one who was just starting to come into her own.

He even finally admitted to catching a glimpse of the princess overhearing their conversation and resulting challenge earlier as they had first been making their way through the halls, much to Killian's chagrin.

Princess Emma had bested Lieutenant Killian Jones, and he could count on one hand the number of people who had managed to accomplish that.

However, he was delighted to discover that rather than feeling abject mortification, there was instead an excitement trilling through his veins.

Her parting words had been teasing, but a challenge had clearly been issued.

One he was all too willing to accept as he recalled eyes as bright and shining as sun-laced waves and a playful smile as wild and reckless as the seas they danced upon.

The enchanting swan princess was a rare find indeed.