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Hook-Echo

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Over the next few weeks, life in Storybrooke returned not quite to normal, but to what would amount to a 'new normal'. Funerals were held, buildings were bulldozed, and everyone tried to figure out how life would resume its usual pace. But slowly, things started to feel normal again. For instance, the ritual of stopping by Granny's in the mornings for coffee and to catch up on the local gossip over bacon and eggs. And Ingrid was certainly contributing a lot to talk about.

Ingrid's shop had been one of the first to reopen and try to restore a sense of normalcy to the town. Knowing that some people might not have spare money for ice cream, she started having 'happy hour' in the afternoons: freebies for the under-12 crowd and discounts for everyone else from four until six. "It drums up business and gives people who might not have anything to smile about a little bit of happiness," Ingrid said one afternoon while Emma helped at the counter. "And more people to try out the new flavors."

She also started a little competition among the businesses on Main Street that were able to open up again. She'd arranged a sort of award from Regina - or rather, from the city - to sweeten the deal, too. The business that managed to gather the most donations by the end of July would win the first annual Storybrooke's Most Charitable Award. All the proceeds would help those in town who needed help rebuilding after the storm. Emma had no idea what other perks that might entail, because all she'd seen was a little plaque that could be put up in a lobby, but there were some interesting ideas being put into play to get people to start shopping again and donating their change. There were balloon animals and Tax Free Fridays and even Belle at the library got in on the spirit of things by hosting a "Read-a-thon" for the kids who might otherwise not get their summer reading done - people could sponsor them a dollar for every book they read over the month.

As the dust and debris was cleared away and summer settled over a much-changed Storybrooke, the sounds of construction filled the air as homes and businesses started to be repaired.

The police station was relocated to town hall for the time being; it made things like their weekly meetings with Regina much more convenient, but in Emma's opinion, having Regina right down the hall to oversee everything just made life a little more stressful. Graham was back by then as well, having only taken a few days off to recover before returning, with his arm in a sling and his good cheer bringing everyone out of their post-disaster gloom. "Not like I have anywhere to go right now, anyway," he said, sitting on Emma's desk like usual.

"Seriously, you can take our spare room," she said, trying to get used to the new laptop that had been procured for her. It was weird to work on a machine that had actually been made in the last decade. "You don't have to stay at Granny's."

"I like the floral and woodsy facade," he said, waving her off. "And I don't have to cook for myself, it's all included."

"You're such a bachelor," she said, rolling her eyes.

"And maybe I don't want to listen to the lovebirds making up every night across the hall," Graham taunted.

Emma blushed, but only smiled, going back to her work and letting him go bother someone else. She and Killian had definitely kissed and made up - multiple times, thank you very much - but it wasn't every night.

Though, sometimes it was multiple times in a single night.

It turned out that having a near-death experience made you really insistent on checking your partner's health and vitality as often as possible.

But Graham didn't need to know that.


 

Once it was clear that Liam had recovered enough to bear sitting up and conversing for longer periods of time, Emma and Killian decided it was time they sat down with him and talked. It wouldn't be the most comfortable conversation, but it was necessary.

Though maybe they were a little chicken by ambushing him instead of planning ahead.

So one evening, they showed up on Liam's doorstep unannounced and once he opened the door, Emma held out a six pack of beer and said, "This is to numb the pain."

"I don't think I'm allowed to drink with the painkillers," he replied, looking at them both dubiously.

"Didn't say they were for you, mate," Killian said, pushing past his brother and into the house.

They settled in the living room - Emma and Killian with beer and Liam with a soda - and Killian finally answered Liam's unanswered question of why they were there: they needed to reevaluate how their relationships would work moving forward. "Look, we're all family here," Killian started, picking at the label on his bottle. Both his brother and girlfriend looked at him in surprise. "Don't give me that, brother. It might not happen soon, but Emma and I have discussed marriage before."

She wanted to argue - they'd discussed it once, while deep into their second bottle of wine, and then the subject was dropped once they were sober again - but her better senses prevailed. She wasn't averse to the idea, she just… wasn't ready for it yet.

"It's going to happen whether you're accepting of the notion or not," Killian continued. "But you're my brother - my only family - and I don't want you two at odds over every little thing for the rest of our lives."

"You'd really choose someone else over family?" Liam asked, and Emma pushed down the urge to strangle him.

"If Emma isn't happy then I'm not happy," Killian said, his voice firm. She glanced at him again and caught his eye, giving him the smallest smile. "And if you're the one making her unhappy, then I'll do what I need to in order to make her happy again."

A tense staring match followed, until Liam finally sighed. "Alright. Let's come to some compromises."

But then it seemed like no one had anywhere to start. They all traded looks and there were some false starts, until finally Emma blurted out, "Look, I don't care if you talk about me to Liam, if we're having a problem or something. It's not like I don't have people to go to when I need to vent. I just… I dunno, I want to feel like he's not the third person in our relationship and like he gets to have a say in how things go."

Killian blinked and took a swig of beer. "Go on, love."

"He's mentioned stuff that he'd only know if you told him. Or if you were venting. I just…. don't want the only stuff you talk to him about is when we're having problems, making me look bad. And you," she said, looking to Liam, "I don't want you to use everything I've ever done against me. If Killian vents to you in confidence, you don't get to come to me and start yelling at me about it - mostly because I'm probably already mad at myself for whatever I did. That's not your place. And really, it's not your place to lecture either of us about anything. We're all adults here, we all make our own mistakes and own up to them. We all mess up. None of us need parenting anymore."

Both Killian and Liam looked chastised. Emma sat back and drank deeply, her piece said, and waited for one of them to speak. Liam fiddled with his soda can and Killian's expression changed to something more pensive. "Actually," Killian said, "going off of that, I just want to be treated as an equal. Emma, we're working on that - and I know it's hard when you're largely the breadwinner in our house. I'm doing my best to make up where I can, and I'll put more in when I'm done defending. I would like some appreciation in what I do contribute."

She felt warm in the face; she never realized she made him feel like that. "Okay," she said slowly, trying to pick her words carefully. "Is there… I don't know, is there something specific you had in mind?"

"Well, often I prepare our meals. I don't complain about it, because quite frankly, darling, you're a terrible cook." She made a face at him, unoffended; she knew her skills were lacking, though he tried his best to teach her. "But just as often I find I'm also doing the clean-up. And the same with laundry. If we could work on either sharing the load, no pun intended, or simple gestures of thanks for taking on the majority of the housework, I'd feel better."

She nodded, then dropped her gaze. When he put it like that, she could see just how much he was taking on - and she was a little ashamed to remember how often she'd floundered or dropped the ball completely when he was out on the road. As she thought, Killian looked to Liam. "As for our relationship, brother, I don't know what else I can do to prove I'm an adult. Sometimes I still feel like I'm fifteen and you've dropped out of uni to keep me out of trouble and in school. And sometimes I still think you resent me for that."

"Killian, I've never-" At Killian's stare, Liam sighed. "Alright, I've… not resented you, but I have been jealous." It took all of Emma's willpower not to shout with joy at his admission. Liam took a drink before continuing. "You've done so many amazing things, lit-younger brother. Amazing and important things. And I've done everything I could to help you to that point, and I suppose… I suppose somewhere along the line I forgot to think about myself."

Another moment of silence before Emma said softly, "Liam, you have so much to be proud of. Not just through what Killian accomplished, but what you have. You raised your brother into a good man when you could just have easily left him to flounder after your parents were gone. A lot of older siblings would and have done just that."

Liam looked dumbfounded, as if he couldn't even imagine the kind of person who would do that. Killian leaned forward on his elbows. "Liam, you own a business. You're respected in the town for running a clean establishment that looks - looked like a seedy dive bar that every town needs. You've made smart moves to stay open, even when I know you've struggled. That's so much more than most people who don't have half the education I do can say."

If Liam's ears turned any redder, Emma would bet they'd pop right off and his head would be steaming like a kettle.

They talked a little more after that, going around and trying to bolster Liam's confidence in his own accomplishments, but also to set ground rules in their interactions in the future. Emma thought that Killian not working for Liam anymore might help most, and thus give her less excuse to have so much face time with Liam as well. If they weren't all in each other's pockets, she thought they might get along much better indeed.

"I do have one request," Liam said at the end of the meeting.

"What's that?" Killian asked.

Liam leveled a glare at both of them, but there was a wry smile on his lips. "Just stop having sex in my bar."

Emma and Killian shared a look. Her lips twitched with a suppressed smile. "I think we can manage that."

She didn't think she and Liam would ever be best buddies, though maybe things would have changed a little anyway after she'd pulled him out of the rubble. She didn't really know. But there was tolerance now.

And maybe a budding respect for each other.

It was a start.


 

Though the house had sustained fairly minimal damage, at least compared to a lot of the rest of town, they managed to convince the insurance agency that a lot of the wear and tear of the paint and the roof warranted being covered in the storm damage; so in addition to rebuilding the porch and installing new windows, they were getting a new roof and the house painted. It was almost worth being woken up at ungodly hours of the morning by the sounds of a construction crew.

Almost.

And if Emma had thought that she'd seen less of Killian over the last couple of months, the vanishing act he pulled over the course of the summer was a feat to behold. He was always up before her and left breakfast ready before he left to spend the day holed up in a study carrel over in the university library. But it was something they'd discussed: he wanted to finish his dissertation and make all of the edits before the summer was over so he could defend in the fall. He usually had lunch with Dr. Bhavsar to discuss his assistantship in the fall, but he was always home for dinner and Emma got her evenings with her boyfriend back. They had a rule: leave work at work and focus on mending their relationship.

Though there were a few evenings when she saw him linger a bit too long on the Weather Channel or the evening news and she'd just raise her eyebrow expectantly while he blushed and muttered something about habits being hard to break.

As summer turned to fall, Killian submitted his dissertation for review and set up his defense date. Emma went back to keeping the peace during Friday night football games and Killian's days were spent more in the classroom than in his carrel. He graded papers in the evenings while she had the night shift and they traded complaints when they were together - her about the idiot drivers or fights between neighbors, him about juniors writing essays that sounded like a high school freshman wrote them. Emma's birthday came and went quietly, as she preferred it, and they decorated the new porch with pumpkins and cornstalks for Halloween.

The night before his defense, on a cold night in early November, Emma lay in bed reading, listening to the familiar sounds of Killian pacing the floorboards downstairs. In her mind, she could see him pulling on his hair and muttering answers to questions to himself - she'd asked if he wanted her to go with him tomorrow and he'd said no. "I'm already nervous enough, love, I don't want you to see me puke all over my shoes."

It gave her more time to prep, anyway. She and Liam had a surprise party planned for him at the new Pour House location - not a new building, but a new spot procured after the insurance companies finished their battle over legalese. The grand opening had been just before Halloween and while the new place lacked some of the old and faded charm of the previous location, it was larger and could actually seat a lot more people for meals. Liam was already planning on expanding the menu.

Eventually Killian did come to bed, but even after all the warnings and advice about getting a good night's rest beforehand, she knew he slept restlessly. She never slept well when he didn't and she could practically hear his mind whirling in anticipation of the next day.

On the morning of Killian's defense, she did his tie for him; despite the physical therapy, his hand tended to seize up when he was nervous, and delicate work like tying things got to be difficult - and she made sure he was clean, pressed, and presentable. "I'm not going to wish you any luck, because you won't need it," Emma said, running her nails through his scruff lightly. "You're going to do great."

"I'll still claim a kiss for luck," he said, and she smiled, obliging him.

Killian took Liam's car to Norman, and after he was gone Emma went downtown to help finish setting up for the party. "How's he feeling?" Liam asked when Emma came in.

"Nervous. I don't think he slept more than twenty minutes," she admitted as she shrugged off her jacket and hung it up. "But he's got it all. His PowerPoint is solid, I know as soon as he gets in front of everyone he'll start charming the pants off of them, he's got all his notes and handouts…"

"He's so dramatic. He has no reason to be nervous," Liam said, wiping down the bar.

She raised an eyebrow. "Really? None at all? Mr. 'I gave him everything to succeed'?"

It was funny how the little things proved Liam and Killian were related, like how the tips of Liam's ears turned red when he was embarrassed. "Well… alright, I'll grant you that one."

"He wants to make you proud," Emma said, heading towards the kitchen. "He's worried about disappointing you."

"He could never," he muttered. "He's already made me proud."

"Well, you should think about telling him that sometime."

She glanced back and saw him pause in wiping down the bartop. Their eyes met and his mouth worked for a minute before he nodded, just slightly, and she followed her nose into the kitchen.

Liam had been marinating pulled pork all night, so the kitchen smelled even better than usual. Emma went to work getting sides together while Liam changed the layout of the front of the house for the party. Ruby and Granny were bringing desserts, and Mary Margaret had been warned that if she did anything but bring the baby, Leo would be kidnapped until she took the food home.

Not that Emma wouldn't be hogging all sorts of time with Leo anyway. Little stinker was too cute for his own good.

Killian had said his defense would last around two hours or so; around the two hour mark, people started trickling into the bar and Emma started checking her phone at a frequency that could be called 'obsessive'. At the two and a half hour mark, she started to get nervous. She didn't want to call him - there were probably rules involved about phones - but she just wanted to know he was alright.

One of the lingering effects of the last spring was how much more they checked in with each other if they hadn't heard from the other in too long.

Finally, her phone buzzed with a text. Can you call, love?

Brow furrowing in confusion, Emma stepped outside so he wouldn't hear the people crowding the bar and ask questions. The line rang twice and then she heard, "Dr. Jones speaking."

A grin split her face. "You asshole, you passed?"

He laughed. "I did, and it was the most harrowing experience of my life."

"I feel like you've had more harrowing experiences."

"Hardly. They really took me to the wall. And then they deliberated for so long that I started to worry they were going to fail me - the attendees kept giving me these pitying looks. But then Dr. Bhavsar opened the door and called me Dr. Jones and I honestly can't remember what else happened, I was so elated."

Emma leaned against the wall, smiling fondly. "I'm so proud of you," she told him. "Hey, why don't you meet me at the bar so you can tell Liam?"

"I could just call him," Killian said, his voice taking on a darker tone that promised her absolute sin. "I admit, after such a stressful morning, I rather had a few ideas on how you and I could, ah, unwind."

She shivered, and not because it was November and she stood outside without her jacket. "I mean, I'm really not opposed to the idea. And I have no problem helping you unwind a little later, but I have a feeling it would mean a lot to Liam if you told him in person."

He was silent for a moment, then sighed a little. "I suppose you're right. And I am famished. A bit of a celebratory lunch, then? And then you'll permit me to whisk you away and refuse to come out of our bedroom for a few days?"

She giggled, waving at Ruby as she came hurrying up the sidewalk with a pie in her hand. "We might have to negotiate on that, but yes, we can have lunch and then disappear."

"Excellent. I'm about ten minutes out, I'll see you then."

"Cool. Love you."

"Love you too, Swan."

She hung up and held open the door for Granny, who was coming along at a much more reasonable pace than her granddaughter, with a baking pan in hand. She followed her in and waved her hands for attention. "He'll be here in about ten minutes, so everyone start getting in place!" she called out.

Liam caught her eye and she nodded, a small smile on her face. She put her jacket on and went back outside to wait, planning to act like she'd gotten there just before him and was waiting.

After a few minutes of cooling her heels, she heard the familiar purr of Liam's car cut out down the street, and watched Killian walk briskly towards her. "Business seems to be picking up around here, didn't see anywhere closer to park," he called when he saw her wave at him.

"That's a good thing, right?" she asked, then squeaked when he not only hugged her, but picked her up and spun her around before kissing her hard enough to make her forget her own name. "Dr. Jones, I presume," she said breathlessly when they parted.

"Deputy Swan," he replied, pressing his forehead against hers. "I like how it sounds on your lips."

She tried not to think of all the nosy townsfolk just inside the bar, gleefully taking in the show they were putting on for them. "Do I have to start calling you Indiana, or can we just call the dog that?" she asked, her tone teasing.

"Are we getting a dog?"

"Do you want a dog?"

He kissed her again. "Right now, all I want is you. And maybe a reuben. But we can discuss any animals coming to live with us later."

She smiled, not sure if her cheeks were pink from the brisk air or his shameless affection. "Then let's go in and tell Liam the good news."

Emma took his hand and led him into the bar, bracing herself for the rush of people calling out - "SURPRISE!"

Killian actually stumbled back, pulling her with him, his other hand pressed against his chest as he realized what was going on. "Bloody hell, you lot. What's this then?"

Emma turned, grinning. "We knew you could do it, so Liam and I planned this for you."

"And is there good news to accompany this party, brother?" Liam asked, coming up to them.

Killian looked around, a slightly stunned look on his face, before he looked at his brother and grinned in a slightly disbelieving way. "There is."

Emma stepped away so Liam could clap his brother on the shoulder and hug him tightly. With his arm still around him, Liam turned and gestured to everyone. "I have the honor of introducing my younger brother, Dr. Killian Jones."

Everyone clapped and whooped and suddenly there was a rush to press food into his hands and Emma slipped out of the crowd to put her coat away and get something to drink. Liam caught her eye again and he steered Killian to a table, where Emma met him with drinks; Killian could accept congratulations and hold court as well from a table as he could standing right in front of the door.

At some point during the festivities, Ruby, Mary Margaret and David joined them, with Leo in tow. Emma immediately commandeered the baby, getting some snuggle time in while they chatted with Killian. His arm settled around Emma's shoulders while he talked job prospects with David and Ruby, Mary Margaret leaning against her husband with a tired but happy smile on her face. "Dunno for sure, mate, that's the next step while waiting for graduation. Plenty of opportunities in the area, though," Killian said, plucking an onion ring off his plate and handing it to Emma.

David looked between the two of them, his smile unreadable. "Anything like that in your future?" he asked, nodding to Leo, who was content and asleep in Emma's arms.

"Oh, come on, David," Ruby said, rolling her eyes. "There's not some kind of checklist they have to get through - get degree, get hitched, get baby."

Emma raised an eyebrow, then glanced at Killian, who was looking at her in return. "Someday," she said, and he smiled. Maybe after another conversation - no wine included this time. Well, maybe some wine. Just not two bottles worth. "I think Ruby's right, but this year has been eventful enough without any other major life changes. And like I said, David, I don't think anyone else could ever match you two in happily wedded bliss."

Mary Margaret grinned. "Good, because if it turns into a competition, we'd win."

They laughed and David gave his wife an adoring look. "Aye," Killian agreed, pressing a kiss to the side of Emma's head. "There's plenty of other adventures we should undertake first."

"What's this about adventures?" Liam asked, coming to sit at their table.

"Oh, I was just about to tell them of the time you decided a dragon lived down the way when we were children," Killian said, a wicked gleam in his eye. "What an adventure that was."

"Oh shove off, Killian, I was ten years old."

As the brothers bickered good-naturedly and Emma traded an eye-roll with Mary Margaret and Ruby, she resettled Leo in her arms and leaned into Killian's side. His arm tightened around her a little and she rested her head on his shoulder, sighing in content. He'd waited and worked for this moment for a long time, and she was just glad that everything had come together just right. The plans they'd talked about last winter could finally come to fruition.

The last year had been tough, but they'd come out tougher and stronger. Whatever adventures life threw at them next, they'd handle it as they always did: together.