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Hook-Echo

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The air in her bedroom felt heavy and damp, but Emma Swan wasn't letting a warm spring night like this get away from her. Too often growing up, she had spent time arguing with her adoptive mother Ingrid about the thermostat and even though she hadn't lived with Ingrid for almost three years, Emma still thought the best thing about having her own place was control of her own environment. Summer and its brutal temperatures would be here soon enough and she and everyone else would then close themselves up in their air conditioning.

("Fishers are practically immune to the cold," Ingrid would say, with the thermostat set at 68 in April. "I'm not actually a Fisher, Mom," Emma would argue right back, bundled up in a hoodie and jeans even though it was 80 outside.)

No, tonight Emma planned on reading until she fell asleep, lulled by the smell of an incoming spring storm and the roll of thunder off in the distance.

Besides, she knew her boyfriend didn't mind it in the least.

She settled back against her pillow, turning the page as a breeze toyed with the curtains. It was a rare night where she got to be in bed before midnight, let alone with enough time to relax and make headway on this mystery novel - that she admittedly had to reread chapters at a time because she would go weeks between picking it up and forget plot points. But she had Graham's word that she had the night off, that David was on backup if anything should happen, and for once this small farming community outside of Oklahoma City was quiet enough for Emma to clock out on time.

It helped that it was nearing finals and the joyriders and other troublemakers over in Norman were probably trying to salvage as much of their GPAs as they could, but Emma would take whatever excuse she could get.

She actually made decent headway by the time her eyes started to cross, three chapters into stuff she hadn't read before, so she bookmarked her place and set the book on the side table with no small amount of satisfaction. The wind was picking up as she turned to look at the uninhabited spot next to her, lightning crackling and throwing the room into brief, sharp relief. Emma waited for the close crack of thunder to pass, then listened for the sound of creaking floorboards she knew so well.

With them came the sound of muffled cursing.

Emma sighed, slipping out from under the sheets and making her way downstairs. She peeked around the corner into the living room, smiling slightly at the familiar sight: Killian pacing the room, running his fingers through his already messy hair and muttering to himself under his breath, and two laptops set up on the coffee table and running several programs. "Big one?" Emma asked softly, trying not to startle him as she leaned against the wall.

She loosely crossed her arms over her chest, watching with amusement as Killian's gaze refocused on her, rather than whatever data program he was running through in his head. "Didn't you say you were going to bed, love?"

She smiled. "Like two hours ago. How many texts have you gotten from Will?"

Will Scarlet was Killian's storm chasing partner, another student from the university, and the unchecked impulsivity to Killian's deliberate strategy. Not that Killian didn't have his own streaks of rash decisions now and then, but when the two of them together were stuck in the TIV for a week or so, the stories Emma heard always seemed to follow a similar pattern. If Killian was up and pacing, then Will was probably chomping at the bit to go out there.

"Only about five," Killian said. Emma raised an eyebrow and he smiled sheepishly. "Alright, more like fifteen."

That sounded more like it. "Well, tell him to calm down. You should come to bed, Killian."

"Swan…"

Emma pushed herself off the wall, moving to sit on the couch and look over his computers. After so many years together with a meteorologist, first in friendship and then in dating - and growing up in the middle of Tornado Alley - she could glance over the radars and maps and have a basic understanding of what was happening, but the numbers running in the background were completely foreign. The mass of green, yellow, and orange moving on a loop on one of the screens didn't look like something that was worth Killian's pacing around the room. "Doesn't look like a supercell," she said. "There's no red."

"It's not," Killian confirmed. "But the low-altitude wind patterns -" he pointed them out on the other screen, "- signify the possibility of an event."

"Killian…"

He dropped onto the couch next to her, their shoulders and knees pressed together as he invaded her space and she welcomed him to it. The house was warm and a little muggy, but there's nothing she liked more than having him snuggled in close to her. His head dropped onto her shoulder as he sighed and Emma worked her arm free to wrap it around his waist.

It'd been a fairly dry spring, both in terms of rainfall and for Killian's research. She knew he was frustrated with the lack of local opportunities, which then turned into setbacks for finishing his dissertation. They both knew that if there was money to spare, he'd be able to hit the road for a couple of weeks, go chasing out in Wyoming and Colorado, or even further up north near Canada, where there'd been more active weather systems than here in the south. It hadn't been uncommon for him to be on the road for most of the spring in the years before they'd met, and even after he'd been known to vanish for a few weeks at a time; but travel took money, and Dr. Nemo Bhavsar, Killian's advisor, just hadn't been able to come up with the spare grant money to let him chase outside of the state. The rest of the initial grant money had been spent on repairs to the TIV after the accident last year. And since Killian only taught classes in the fall, it wasn't like he had spare assistantship money laying around either.

Emma knew all of these things and she understood why he was up and pacing most nights of the week.

But that didn't mean she didn't miss him.

"I know I promised you no more night chasing," Killian murmured against her shoulder. "I know and I won't, but my gut is just telling me…"

Emma bit back a sigh. She loved him, but his gut was going to be the death of her. It was an argument they'd had several times over the years, the risks he took for his passions; she loved him and she loved his enthusiasm, but she worried over how often he put himself into dangerous situations - how often those dangerous situations had actually hurt him. And he would argue that she did the same - a police officer took just as many risks as a meteorologist working on a doctorate that depended on data collected from natural disasters - but Storybrooke, Oklahoma, wasn't Los Angeles or Chicago.

She understood his point. They both could have bad days at work that could end horribly. They both had experienced days at work that ended badly. She knew that. But she worried anyway.

Just like she knew he worried about her every day. Just because Storybrooke wasn't Chicago or L.A. didn't mean that she was completely safe.

At least Emma only had to worry about one bad weather forecast.

She decided to switch tactics. "Come to bed, Killian," she said again, turning her face to bury her nose in his messy hair. He still smelled like his shampoo, something that reminded her of the beach and the ocean underlined with his own masculine scent. "I'll make it worth your while," she added, her tone a teasing song.

He chuckled against her, shifting his head slightly to nuzzle her. "Give me a bit more time here, love, aye?"

This time a small sigh did escape her. She knew this game, knew how 'just one more hour' would turn into three, would turn into another lonely night in their bed without him while he paced and tugged on his hair and fretted, but she nodded. "Alright. Tell Will I said hi. And don't stay up too late," she told him, knowing he wouldn't listen even as she kissed the top of his head.

They untangled themselves and she got to her feet. Killian scooted over on the couch to take up the middle and Emma lingered for a moment in the door. He was thrown into silhouette by the glow of his computer, hunched over watching his experiments with increasing tension and scrutiny.

She sighed to herself, a pang of loneliness accompanying her as she trudged back upstairs to their bedroom.


Three years ago…

She saw the problem as soon as she turned up the street.

As the most junior officer in Storybrooke's police force, Emma usually got stuck with scut work - in this instance, dealing with bickering neighbors about an 'unsightly obstruction' at one 639 Foxglove Lane. Chief Humbert hadn't been specific about what the 'unsightly obstruction' was, either because the complaint hadn't mentioned it or he wanted it to be a surprise, so most of her trip uptown had been spent envisioning what this might be.

She'd pictured something like three dozen plastic pink flamingos in someone's yard, or maybe someone was mowing the grass in their underwear.

She wasn't expecting what looked like an armored assault vehicle parked in the driveway.

Emma parked at the curb, warily inspecting the vehicle from the squad car. It looked vaguely familiar, but she was more preoccupied with why someone would have this kind of thing parked in their driveway. It looked like it belonged in Fallujah or Kabul, not Storybrooke, though the lack of camo in the paint job made her less suspicious of it actually containing any firearms.

Maybe. The painted-on pirate flag gave her pause.

Emma unhooked her radio from the dash, keeping an eye on the vehicle while she reported in. "10-23, Officer Swan on the scene at 639 Foxglove Lane. I have a 10-37, questioning the resident before further action."

The radio crackled for a moment before she heard the operator on duty - Ruby, from the sound of it - respond. "10-4, Emma, keep us posted."

Emma sighed, making a mental note to get the chief to talk to Ruby again about proper radio protocol. It wasn't the first time, and Ruby only filled in when Abigail had the day off, but Emma had a hard enough time getting the townspeople to respect her badge. It would be nice if one of her friends put in more effort when she was on the clock.

This is what happens when you go back to work in your hometown, Emma told herself as she got out of the squad car.

She decided to do a quick close-up check of the vehicle before pounding on the front door. If she didn't touch anything or breathe on it too hard, nothing should explode or go off, right?

She circled the vehicle once, noting that the front end was built a bit like a truck, and the bed of the truck reconstructed enough to support the outer metal shell. There were several antennae on the roof and what looked like exhaust pipes built from PVC pipes emerging from near the rear doors. She crouched down, inspecting the thick metal flaps that covered all but maybe six inches of the wheels. There were two more pipes attached to the front of the vehicle, but these pointed downwards and Emma couldn't figure out what was inside them - and she wasn't about to go poking around and risk blowing a finger off.

Something about the design wouldn't leave her alone. She'd seen it before, she was sure of it, and not in a news story -

Emma stood abruptly, eyes narrowing as she turned on her heel and stalked up to the front door. She knew exactly what the vehicle was now and this is exactly the sort of idiocy she didn't need on her watch. She rapped hard on the door, doing her best to school her features into some semblance of calm indifference and pretty sure she was failing to hide her irritation.

She really didn't need insane stunt "meteorologists" running around her town with a TIV - a tornado intercept vehicle. And she was honestly more surprised it took this long for the housing associations over in Norman to drive this guy out.

When no one answered the door, Emma rapped hard on it again, glancing on either side of the frame and failing to find a doorbell. Who the hell owns a house without a doorbell these days? she wondered. "Police, open up!" she called.

She waited, then banged on the door again. Still nothing. Just as she raised her fist to knock a third time she heard footsteps on the other side. Emma took a breath, settling herself into what she hoped was a cool composure, and tried not to look surprised when someone she didn't expect opened the door. "Yes? Can I help you?"

The man in front of her had to be at least six inches taller, with short, curling brown hair that was smashed up funny on one side from sleep, intense blue eyes, and a very out of place English accent. He was also shirtless, and Emma only allowed herself to glance down and make sure he was wearing pajama pants - seriously, it was after eleven - and would swear on… well, not on anything holy, but she'd swear on a box of bear claws that she didn't look at his well-muscled chest for too long.

Well, maybe she did, because Tall, Bed-headed, and English had to clear his throat before Emma remembered he'd asked a question. "Sorry, Mr…"

"Jones," he supplied. To his credit, there was only the ghost of a smirk on his face from her moment of distraction. "How can I help you, officer?"

Emma felt her back straighten at the use of her title. "Right. Mr. Jones, we've received several calls of complaint about the vehicle parked in your driveway. Your neighbors are under the impression that you're massing some kind of militia here. Thankfully, I recognize this vehicle as the tornado intercept vehicle belonging to Reed Timmer, so I won't have to arrest you for owning military-grade weaponry unlicensed -"

Jones' eyebrow went up and he crossed his arms over his chest. "There's no Reed Timmer here, Officer -" he fumbled for a moment, then looked at her nameplate. "Officer Swan. Just my brother and I."

Her frown deepened. She supposed it was possible that more than one of those idiots were around; the meteorology school was huge, after all, but this would be the first she'd heard of it. "Right, well, if I could speak to the owner of this vehicle…"

Jones looked pained for a moment, then beckoned her inside. "Killian!" he shouted, making Emma flinch as she closed the door behind her. "Get your sorry arse down here, the neighbors are complaining!"

A crash sounded upstairs, then hurried footsteps on the stairs. "Bloody hell, a man can't even sleep-"

The source of the racket, and the neighborhood complaints, stopped at the foot of the stairs. Emma stared, mouth agape, for only for a moment before schooling her features into something more respectable. Jesus Christ, it wasn't enough that the brother was good-looking; no, this one wore nothing more than a pair of white skivvies and one sock slouched down around the ankle, leaving just about nothing to the imagination; he was hairier and leaner than his brother, but no less muscled. Three-day old scruff covered his jaw and his hair stuck six ways up from Sunday, but she was relieved to see he seemed just as preoccupied looking at her as she was with him. "Killian Jones?" she asked, standing at a parade rest. He nodded and his posture shifted; she saw him turn into someone more charming, clearly used to getting his way by batting his baby blues and an easy smile. "That works better when you're wearing pants," she continued, ignoring the brother's guffaw. "I'm here because your neighbors seem to think you're building a militia in the driveway."

"No such thing, love," Killian Jones said, leaning on the banister while covering his front with his left hand. "It's part of my research."

"Research," she repeated flatly.

"He's a student, ma'am," the brother said. "Working on his doctorate at the university."

She scowled. Students were the bane of her existence and this one was shaping up to be more of the same. "Research or not, we've gotten three phone calls complaining about it. So I suggest you remove it from the property or start going door-to-door explaining that you're not parking a tank on the premises. Or start a leaflet campaign."

Killian looked mildly delighted at this, glancing at his brother. "Three phone calls, Liam, did you hear that? I've been here not even two days and there have been three phone calls to the constables."

The brother, Liam, looked less delighted. "Two days and already a public nuisance; that may be a record even for you, little brother."

"Younger," Killian insisted, and Emma noted that his cheeks were now pink.

"Regardless, like I said when you drove in, we'll have to find some sort of accommodation for your contraption, particularly when it's not storm season," Liam continued.

"It's not a contraption -"

"It's a contraption that's drained all your funds and rendered you to throw yourself on my mercy, Killian. If the police are here and the neighbors are raising a fuss then I think I get to call it whatever I bloody well want to!"

Emma started to feel uncomfortable as their voices rose, more arguments and accusations and pent-up irritations coming from each of the brothers; domestic disputes were her least favorite kinds of house calls and this was starting to feel unsettlingly like she was about to haul someone off in handcuffs for disturbing the peace. "Gentlemen," she started, and to her immense surprise both of them shut up immediately. "I don't think I'm needed for this part of the conversation. Mr. Jones," she said, looking at Killian, "I expect this to be the last time I hear about this. I get another call, I'm writing you up with a fine."

He looked ready to protest, his jaw working as he swallowed back whatever he was about to say, and instead fixed her with an intense gaze she wasn't sure she liked. She looked at the brother. "Mr… ah, Jones-senior-whatever," she hurried through the proper titles, ignoring the snort from the younger brother, "Sorry to intrude so early in the day for you."

"Sorry for the trouble, Officer Swan," Liam said, and unlike his brother he had some grace to look apologetic. "Rest assured, I'll be sure Killian will remove his contraption from the premises posthaste."

Her hand rested on the door as she wondered who the hell used posthaste in everyday conversation. "Just don't let me hear about it again," she said again, letting herself out.

Her shoulders dropped the moment the door closed behind her; as far as house calls went, that had been one of her stranger ones. Granted, it could have been worse, she mused as she walked down the driveway, seeing as how the original calls had indicated weapons on the property. And they hadn't escalated to fistfighting or any of the other things brothers did when their tempers were up.

"Swan!"

Emma turned and immediately averted her eyes to a spot on the house just over his shoulder as Killian came jogging out, still wearing the lone sock and just his skivvies. "Oh my God, do you even own pants?" she asked, not sure if she's blushing more for herself or because he apparently had no shame standing around outside in his underwear.

And it's only too bad that, since he's on private property, he could do this as much as he liked.

He ignored her question in favor of awkwardly running his hand through his hair and - wow, he was seriously hairy. Her gaze lingered for a moment-yep, definitely blushing more for herself now-as he said, "Look, lass, I just wanted to apologize."

She pursed her lips. He could have done this inside, but she supposed the threat of a fine would send a broke grad student into silence for a while. She also wondered what the older brother had said before Killian came sprinting outside nearly naked. "Again, this kind of thing works better when you're wearing pants," Emma said.

He raised an eyebrow and she stubbornly held his gaze. He sighed, drooping slightly as if she'd stolen all the wind from his sails. "Alright, apologies for the lack of pants as well, but in fairness you did wake me; or rather, my brother did."

"Yeah, I'm real sorry for waking you at noon."

"Some of us don't go to bed until after the bar closes down."

Emma looked at him askance; he was really trying to earn a spot on her People to Watch Out For list by running his mouth like this. "This apology of yours is going great."

He tugged at his hair again, an exasperated look on his face. "Fine, sure. I'm sorry for disturbing your morning, Officer. I didn't know people would raise such a fuss about my project. And anything else you may have found disruptive."

She rocked back on her heels, looping her thumbs through her utility belt as she considered the sincerity in his statements. Objectively, she could see that he was the kind of guy who was used to getting by quite a lot on his looks and giving people the same kind of sorrowful puppy eyes that he was giving her right now. Non-objectively, she could see how he got away with it, even if it was usually while wearing more clothes. "I appreciate the apology, Mr. Jones," Emma said, choosing her words carefully. "You'll find, though, that the housing associations here in town are more strict than they are over in Norman. People don't like weird things ruining their manicured lawns or whatever, so you keep that in mind before you start building more experiments around here. I'll slap you with so many fines, you won't know which way the wind blows in from."

The look he gave her confirmed her suspicions: he did rely on his looks to get out of trouble, and her threat was unexpected. She nodded when he didn't say anything further and turned on her heel. "Have a good day, Mr. Jones," she called over her shoulder.

Killian stood stock-still as she revved the engine and radioed in that she was going out patrolling. She only glanced in the mirror once, as she paused at the stop sign, and only when she started to turn away from 639 Foxglove Lane did he finally start to walk back up the drive.


It was hard not to feel like a stubborn teenager when you still lived with your mom in your twenties, Emma decided.

Ruby had shown up right after the plates had been loaded into the dishwasher, knowing full well that interrupting a Fisher dinner would earn a blistering lecture from Ingrid, wearing what had to be one million sequins and pleading with Emma to come out to the bar with her. Emma, on the other hand, hadn't wanted to and cited being tired, in addition to having to work tomorrow.

Well, apparently no one had informed her that Ruby and Ingrid had at some point over the last four years turned into the Ganging Up on Emma Squad, because the two of them overruled her fast enough to make her head spin and marched her upstairs into her bedroom to change. She didn't own anything nearly as sparkly as Ruby; in fact, upon closer inspection, it seemed like most of her wardrobe had changed from the sparkles and ripped jeans of college to… sensible, conservative clothing.

Maybe Ruby's right, Emma thought grimly, yanking her everyday clothes aside to find the little-loved section from her days before the police academy. Maybe I am getting too stuffy and boring.

There, behind the sensible button-ups and flowery shirts, were some things a bit more suited to going out for a night with old friends. The sheer button-up paired well with a lacy camisole and black jeans with enough rips to make Ingrid raise an eyebrow but make Ruby satisfied to be seen in public with her. There wasn't much she could do with her hair at this point, so she smoothed down the flyaways and straightened her ponytail out, then gave her makeup a quick touch-up before grabbing the first pair of comfortable shoes she could find and heading back downstairs. "Happy?" Emma asked, twirling a little as she walked towards them.

"Extremely," Ruby said.

Dropping her shoes on the floor, Emma braced herself on the wall to step into them, smiling a little to herself as she heard Ingrid call from the next room, "Emma Swan, how many times have I asked you not to destroy my hardwood floors?"

"Sorry, Mom."

"I've heard that before."

Emma rolled her eyes at Ruby, then went into the living room to kiss Ingrid on the cheek. "Bye, Mom."

"Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

"That doesn't restrict me much."

"Exactly! Go have fun!"

"Will do, Mrs. F!" Ruby said, looping her arm through Emma's and guiding her out the door.

They decided to walk; it was a warm spring evening, her mom's house wasn't that far from downtown, and they were going to drink, so Emma figured she should set some kind of example. "How's Granny?" she asked as she and Ruby picked their way around the cracks in the sidewalk.

She felt guilty, having been home and working for a few months already but not really getting time to hang out with her old friends. She supposed this was part of the reason why she'd given in to Ruby's pleading to go out. Ruby snorted, a smirk playing on her lips. "She's fine; the old lady's immortal. Asks about you all the time, you know; tells me to bring you around to feed you up or something."

Emma smiled. It'd been years since she was the scrawny, newly adopted kid who came here to start over, but after Ingrid, Granny was the first to give her unconditional acceptance-and when Granny gave her acceptance, the rest of the town soon followed, adopting her as one of their own, just as Ingrid had made that adoption permanent.

It helped that Granny knew her way around the kitchen and Emma was a more than willing test subject for new menu items at her diner.

"She just misses having someone to test desserts on."

"Your heart is gonna thank you for that - she's been experimenting with candied bacon lately."

"Oh, please, you know Leroy's always going to be first in line there."

They laughed and Emma started to relax a little, feeling like the night might not be so bad after all.

She slowed as they came into the downtown district, letting Ruby take the lead since she seemed hell-bent on going somewhere in particular. They walked down a less familiar street, this one mostly dark with all the regular shops closed up for the night, and one lone sign shining in the night. Emma peered curiously at it, racking her memory for any clues. She'd never seen this bar before, of that she was almost positive, though in fairness she hadn't spent much time bar-hopping in Storybrooke, not even before the police academy. But of all the local watering holes, she'd never heard of The Pour House. "Uh, what is this place?" she asked, following a few paces behind Ruby as they approached the door.

"New place, kinda," Ruby said, pausing with her hand on the doorknob. "Opened about six months ago, maybe more? The guy who runs it is pretty cute, but he brought in his brother a few weeks ago to help out and damn is that one just pretty."

Emma pursed her lips a little, saying nothing else as she followed her friend inside. Ruby's taste in men, and women, was kind of all over the place and completely non-preferential, so she wasn't about to take her word for it. Anyway, she wasn't here looking for a man. She was here because one of her oldest friends had practically dragged her here-and now that she'd warmed up to the idea, she'd focus on looking for a drink and some time to catch up with said friend.

The inside felt like most bars do: a little claustrophobic and a little haphazard; the lighting, as ever, remained focused on the bar like some sort of holy artifact or a beacon to guide lost souls to their numbing salvation, leaving the rest of the room to suffer eye strain as the patrons tried to decide if the person across from them was good looking enough to go home with or if they were drunk enough to figure it didn't really matter otherwise. This must have been owned by another at some point, Emma decided, because as they approached the bar, she could see the wood was old, shiny with years of polishing and hands and oils left on its surface. Even the best woodcarver couldn't make it look this well-worn from fresh wood.

The marks on the surface confirmed it for her, old initials and dates and gripes carved into the surface. The most recent she could see was a date in the seventies, and she wondered how long this place had sat empty before the new owner had come in to clean it all up.

"Liam!" Ruby called over the music, raising her hand as they sat down.

Emma looked up, that particular name still fresh in her mind from that morning. The bartender's back was to them; he wore a blue Henley and jeans, the sleeves pushed up. By the time Emma got to his curling hair she had a sinking feeling about this guy, which was justified when he turned. "Officer Swan," Liam Jones said as he came up to them.

"Small world," she said, leaning on her elbows and trying to project the nonchalance she absolutely did not feel.

Another bad thing about working in your hometown: having to continue seeing, talking to, and working with the very people you might have done police work on earlier that day.

"Small town," he corrected, as if reading her thoughts.

Emma felt Ruby looking between them, then she gasped. "Oh God, you were that call this morning."

"My brother, actually."

Emma grimaced, looking down at the initials scratched into the bartop. Any good feelings about the evening were quickly drying up as she passionately wished she were anywhere else but here. Ruby went on. "Is he working tonight?"

"He gets to sleep outside in his contraption if he doesn't."

She felt Ruby's eyes on her again and it felt like an itch between her shoulder blades, one she couldn't reach; Emma had filled out her reports and handed them in, but she wasn't in the habit of gossiping about what she did on patrols or calls. Ruby, on the other hand, always pestered the officers about what was going on and wasn't deterred in the least when someone told her there were privacy laws to think about. If she really wanted to know what Killian Jones' contraption was, she could go on up to 639 Foxglove Lane herself to see.

They shared a look, she and Liam, and she felt an unspoken agreement between them that they wouldn't discuss this further and let all future interactions stay as that of bartender and off-duty cop. "Whiskey, neat," Emma told him, hoping that going straight for the liquor would help her feel less uneasy.

Ruby huffed, muttering about how Emma was no fun, then ordered a vodka cranberry.

As it turned out, couple of their old classmates were at a table nearby; after Liam brought their drinks, Ruby dragged her over to catch up. Now feeling absolutely out of her element and growing more uncomfortable by the second, Emma just focused on her whiskey, nodding and making noises of acknowledgement when it seemed appropriate, but her thoughts were elsewhere. Her gaze swept over the bar again and again, keeping an eye out for the wayward brother, idly musing to herself about what he might look like when properly dressed and alternately scolding herself for even having those thoughts.

She really didn't want to have another reminder about her strange morning. She didn't have an escape plan in mind just yet for when he inevitably made an appearance, but she'd work on that while Ruby chattered on about who she'd been dating recently.

When her glass was empty, Emma volunteered to get the next round for everyone, which was met with great cheer. Feeling virtuous, she carried the empty glasses up to the bar and set them near the sink so Liam could take care of them when he had a moment. Then, because she had little desire to get back to the discussion on who had married whom and had which baby, she sat down on one of the stools. "Take as long as you want, I'm not in any particular hurry," Emma told Liam when he came over to get her order. He raised an eyebrow, but she tucked a five dollar bill under the garnishes tray for incentive as she rattled off everyone's drink orders.

Lucky for her, there were other patrons seated at the bar and Liam helped her out by filling their orders first. She traced an old carving with her fingernail while she waited, trying to will the tension out of her shoulders; tonight wasn't the first night she'd questioned the wisdom of coming to work in her hometown, but it was the first night where she'd had to face up to the fact that the people she was tasked to serve and protect were the same people she would have to live with and face every day. It hadn't seemed like a bad idea at first; Storybrooke was a sleepy little farm town, not much going on except some livestock getting loose occasionally. But when things got bad, they were bad, and Emma was always one of the first on the scene for those sorts of events.

Funny how the same people you've known since you were twelve, the same ones who'd been by your side and helped you feel like you were a part of something, looked at you differently when you were the one hauling their abusive spouse away.

Like you were the bad guy.

A shot glass slid under her nose and Emma looked up. She blinked as she tried to refocus into the present and her eyes widened when she realized Killian Jones stood in front of her, looking far less disheveled and far more clothed than he had not ten hours before. "You look like you need one of these," he said, tapping his finger against the glass.

"More like eleven," she muttered, then tossed it back; while she didn't really want to talk to him, she definitely wasn't one to pass up free alcohol.

"Rough day?" he asked.

She looked up, incredulous, but there was a teasing glint in his eye. Emma realized then that where Liam might feel differently, Killian apparently held no grudge against her for the house call that morning. She huffed a little, sliding the empty glass back towards him. "Just having one really uncomfortable moment after another today."

He looked at her with some sympathy, taking the glass and refilling it. She raised an eyebrow, accepting the new shot with some wariness. "Consider it a peace offering, officer," Killian told her. "I behaved rudely towards you this morning and tried to outfox a fox, as it were."

She eyed him, putting the shot back with ease. "I can't tell if you're trying to hit on me or not."

A brief flash of panic crossed his face. "Oh, bloody hell. I'll just cram the rest of my leg down my throat, shall I?"

Finally, Emma cracked a small smile. Maybe it was the shots, maybe she was just tired of feeling weird, but she decided to let him off the hook. "So when you said you didn't go to bed until after the bar closes down…"

Killian looked relieved at the change of topic. "I meant I was the one doing the actual closing, yes. Why, did you think I was drinking myself into a stupor?"

She gave a small shrug, tracing the rim of the glass. "Crossed my mind. Mostly nude, college kid, not awake at noon, kept running his mouth…"

The glass disappeared, going into the dishwasher with practiced ease. "Believe me, love, if I had the money to do such a thing I wouldn't have needed to move in with my brother and earn my keep."

Emma glanced up and found his eyes on her. "Looks like we both put our foot in it today."

The corner of his mouth ticked up as he grabbed the bottle of whiskey and two glasses. "And I'm hardly a 'college kid', as you so charmingly put it. If anything, I'm a university man. Educated, learned…"

"Pompous, asshole?" Emma finished for him.

"Hardly nice to call the man who controls your current alcohol consumption an asshole, love."

She grinned and held up her hands in acquiesce. Still smirking, he poured two fingers in each glass and gave her one. He held his own up. "You sure you should be drinking on the job?" she asked.

"Liam will just dock it out of my pay," Killian said, his grin full of mischief. "To missteps and new acquaintances, Officer Swan."

She hesitated, searching his eyes. The mischief faded, leaving bare hope and encouragement in its place, and she felt herself relaxing. She picked up her glass and tapped it against his. "To awkward first impressions and better second ones, Mr. Jones."

Chapter Text

Present day

When Emma woke up the next day, Killian's side of the bed was still empty. Nothing about it looked like he'd ever come upstairs. She stared at his pillow, her stomach feeling like it was full of lead, then sat up with a sigh.

Sunlight filtered in through the blinds as Emma threw the curtains back, the storm from the night before long gone and leaving a chill in the air that seemed to match her mood. She pulled on her pajama pants and dug up a sweatshirt to tug on over her cami, sweeping her hair up in a messy bun to keep it out of her face. It didn't help: pulling herself together only reminded her of the gnawing feeling in her stomach, and not being able to pinpoint why only made her feel uncomfortably close to falling apart.

It wasn't like this was the first time she'd spent the night alone. Before they'd moved in together permanently, there were weeks where he was on the road with Will for chases, or when he needed to be over in Norman for a few days to have meetings with his advisors. It wasn't even the first time he'd fallen asleep on the couch, whether it was storm season or just crashing after a rough night down at the bar. No, this was something different, and Emma wasn't sure if she could, or even wanted to, put a finger on what exactly it was.

The computer screens were dark when she glanced into the living room, his phone laying face-down on the table; Killian was sprawled out on the couch under a blanket, breathing heavily in his sleep. Her heart twisted at the sight of the blanket, something about the whole scene making her feel worse, but then she got a good look at the coffee table. He'd printed out a few stills from the radar and drawn on them in heavy black marker; one of them had arrows and the words "hook-echo" were underlined multiple times.

Emma took a step back, then headed to the kitchen, hoping she might be able to swallow some coffee past the lump forming in her throat.

His gut had been right.

"It's one of the hallmarks of a tornado-forming storm," he'd said, sketching out a blob on the scrap paper in front of them. "It's not a guarantee, because nature is chaotic that way, but most places call in a tornado warning if they see this." Here he pointed to the little curved tail he'd added to the blob. "And this is my project, learning more about them and how to better predict the spawning rate of tornadoes."

His gut had been right and even so, he'd stuck to his promise not to night chase anymore. And that, the first hook-echo in a long and dry chase season, was the reason he hadn't come up to bed.

Eyes burning, Emma muttered a curse to herself and went back upstairs, leaving the coffee pot to gurgle and splutter on its own while she went to shower. She had a shift at the station anyway, she'd drink the coffee they had there.


"He's not mad at you, Emma," Graham said calmly. "He might be frustrated, but he'll get over it. It's one night."

Part of her dearly wished it was her day to patrol, but one of the rookies needed the street time more and it was probably best if Emma wasn't trapped in a car alone with only her thoughts for company. And Graham talked sense, even if she was too busy wallowing to appreciate it properly. "Yeah, but it's the first night all season," she said for what felt like the hundredth time.

"Look," Graham said, pushing off the door frame and coming to stand in front of her desk. Emma glanced up from the keyboard, feeling like a pouting child. "I know he wants to graduate and finally be done with schooling. He wants to quit working at the bar and start making a difference, all those grand statements he's so fond of making when we get a bit of beer into him. But these things come with time, and so too does anger passing."

"You said he wasn't angry."

"No, I said he wasn't mad," Graham said calmly, sweeping her attempt at picking a fight away easily, like he did that every day. Which he kind of did. "Different levels of emotion. What I am saying is that if Killian Jones is going to be mad at you, he needs to pick a better reason than you wanting to keep him six feet above ground. His pride's all sore now, that's all, and you know we manly creatures need a bit of pride to stay upright."

Emma rolled her eyes, going back to her data entry. "Yeah, because none of you have enough pride to fill every balloon in the Macy's parade as it is," she muttered.

Graham's hand went to his chest as he staggered, looking insulted. "See? Those prickly edges, Emma, they'll pop a man's pride with no warning."

She finally cracked a small smile; he was ridiculous, even if he was just overreacting to get her out of this funk. He grinned at her. "There's my best deputy."

"I won't tell David you said that."

"I already know," David called from the hallway as he headed up front.

Emma shook her head and went back to typing. Graham paused at the door before he left. "You just need to talk to him, Emma," he said, sounding more serious now. "I know, I know, I said the bad words, but it really will work out for the best if the two of you sit down and have a chat about this. Particularly if you can do it before Liam or Will know."

She sighed, nodding as Graham went back to work. Will definitely already knew, there was no way he didn't; both of them were anxious to get out into the field at any opportunity, even a storm at night and even after everything that had happened last spring. She'd even put money on Will wanting to go out and chase without Killian, but Killian had the TIV and Will knew better than to try and face mother nature without every defense he could get.

But there was still a chance that Killian hadn't talked to Liam.

Liam was the one to worry about.

She spent the rest of the day getting some last-minute reports done and getting the updates on Mary Margaret's pregnancy from David; she was due soon and getting cranky about it. If Emma had learned nothing else from her time as Mary Margaret's roommate, it was that the woman had the patience of a saint and you'd better learn to duck when it finally wore out. Luckily, David knew just about every trick in the book to keeping his wife happy.

Her phone stayed silent all day, a small, weighted reminder in her pocket of the confrontation she had waiting for her. Graham gave her an encouraging smile as she left for the day and Emma worked on shelving her pride on the drive home.

They'd bought the place last winter; Mary Margaret had found out she was pregnant in September and that snowballed several discussions about who was moving in where and when. David had already basically been living with them in the loft at the time and moved in for real after Mary Margaret's announcement; and with Killian spending the night more often than not, things were feeling pretty crowded in what had once been a comfortable fit for two.

So, everyone had started looking at other options; Emma and Killian had sat down to have the talk about moving in together - she was nervous about it, having only known each other for about two years (nevermind dating), and Killian understood her conflict: former foster kid wanting somewhere to call her own, hesitant about letting people in all the way, just in case. But really, it was David and Mary Margaret's quick decision to get married at the courthouse that had spurred their decision to go ahead and find a house.

The wedding was on Halloween - they'd have a 'real' ceremony with all the trimmings after the baby came - citing that since everything in the months ahead was so scary and unknown, it was only proper to start their married life on the scariest day of the year. Emma had tried not to roll her eyes at their reasoning, but she'd gotten to be the witness while dressed up like Marty McFly looking like he'd crashed the Delorean so she couldn't complain too much.

(She'd had to pull double duty that day - the high school had an assembly on drinking and driving for the holiday. They'd figured out how to make it look like the flux capacitor was impaled in her head. She was very proud of that costume.)

The whole thing had been a big leap of faith, but for the most part it had been worth it. Emma had no desire to move again for a very long time, but she had a pretty good feeling they'd be sticking with this one for a while. It was just what they'd been looking for, though not without its trouble spots or upgrade potentials. Their house was on the outskirts of town, away from what hustle and bustle that their farming town could have, and giving Emma some distance from the people in town she might have dealt with at work on any given day. There was enough space for Killian to store his TIV and work on any new experiments in the enormous steel garage on the property. And they had trees, big shady ones that Emma loved and which none of their very few neighbors could say about their yards.

As Emma pulled up the drive in her Bug, she saw the garage was closed up and a light was on in the downstairs of the house. Killian didn't have another car, not since he'd converted his truck into the TIV several years ago, so unless Liam had come to pick him up, he was most likely the source of the light.

She left her Bug parked under one of the trees they'd discovered they liked to hang hammocks from when it finally started to warm up, and they both had time off. Then she jogged up the porch steps. The paint was looking a little worn on the railings and she added it to her growing list on the upkeep of the house; before they'd finalized everything, Ingrid had warned her about all of the little nuisances that you'd never think about for keeping a house looking nice, but sometimes the extent of it all still surprised her. It didn't help that Killian didn't have much income to spare and most of their living expenses came out of Emma's paycheck.

She bit the inside of her cheek. Now wasn't the time to get into it with Killian about money, not when she was about to try and act apologetic about a missed opportunity the night before.

She opened the door, on alert for any signs of him being upset as she shrugged out of her jacket and left her keys on the hook by the door. "Babe?"

"Kitchen, love."

She relaxed a little at the pet name. Hopping on one foot and then the other to wrestle her boots off, she dropped them in the closet on her way to the kitchen-he'd appreciate that, her neat-freak scientist, and she was going to pull out as many stops as she could to show him she was sorry. "Hey, something smells good," she said, hoping she sounded chipper.

He glanced over his shoulder from his place at the stove. "Made chili. Vegetarian, though; we just have odds and ends and I couldn't get ahold of Liam to take me to the store."

"You could have texted me."

Killian shrugged and it confirmed his irritation with her. "Then dinner wouldn't be ready when my favorite deputy came home," he said and she heard the forced cheer in his voice.

Okay, if they were both faking it then it would be easier to lay all the cards on the table.

"I saw your stills," Emma said, sitting down at the table. She watched his back as she talked, looking for changes in body language. "There was an event last night."

His arm stopped stirring for a moment, then started up again. "Aye," he said, his voice quiet.

"Was there any damage?"

Another shrug. "Minor tree damage, felled branches. Nothing released yet, but they'll classify it as an EF0 if there's enough evidence. It was too dark out."

Anything larger and Emma would have heard about it, otherwise people would just call it a bad windstorm or some downdrafts. "Well, I'm glad it wasn't anything major," she said, picking at the vinyl tablecloth. "And I'm sorry."

Killian paused again, then briskly rapped the spoon against the pot to rid it of any extra drippings before setting it in the rest on the stove. "What for?" he asked, turning and leaning against the counter, his arms crossed against his chest.

Annoyance flickered under her breastbone. Did he seriously have to do this right now, act all coy, when she knew he was mad at her and make her spell it out for him? She ground her teeth for a moment, ignoring her mother's warning in the back of her head about all the money she'd spent on braces, and said, "I'm sorry for making you stay home."

She didn't add that it was for his own good.

Neither broke eye contact for a long, tense moment. She didn't want to do this, have this lingering tension between them, but she was apologizing, dammit; he had to make the next move. And if he was even being stubborn about this because Will had done something like threaten to go chasing without him, she'd definitely have a few choice words for him. Or, God forbid, if Liam put any stupid ideas in his head about his lack of progress being her fault.

Just as Emma thought she'd snap from the tension in her shoulders - all her own doing, working herself up like that - Killian sighed and drooped a little. "Emma, I'm sorry."

Agitation vanished in favor of confusion. She blinked at him. "Um. Okay?"

His fingers found their way to his hair again and he looked rueful and sad and now she felt bad about getting all worked up over her own imagination. "Love, I was angry last night, but that doesn't mean I should have taken it out on you, even passively."

He moved to sit down next to her and covered one of her hands in his. She stared at the silvery pink spiderweb of scars littering his hand and up his arm, disappearing into the dark hair that covered his arms; they were the last reminder of that awful night last spring, and seeing them again only hardened her resolve that making him promise not to chase at night anymore. She turned her hand over and clasped his, feeling all out of sorts with how quickly the mood had switched around. "I know you want to be done with school," she said quietly. "I know you're tired of working for Liam and getting by on the stipend you get and not… and feeling like you're not giving this everything you've got. And I know I'm not helping, but I…"

Her throat closed up, remembering that night he almost didn't come home. Killian squeezed her hand. "Hey. Hey, look at me." She did and gave him a watery smile; he put his other hand on her back, rubbing it soothingly. "I know. I know, love, and sometimes it just takes a bit longer for my head to catch up to my heart. Or my gut."

She swiped her hand under her eyes. "It's awful to hope for something terrible to happen, but I do want you to finish soon. I just want you to be safe, too."

"While throwing myself into the maw of death."

"Don't put it like that," she scolded, even as she chuckled.

He pulled her in and kissed the side of her head. "We'll get through this, love. We always do."

Even as she nodded against him, she couldn't help but feel like this was another promise he couldn't actually make.


Three years ago…

"Oi, lads, here comes trouble," Killian announced over the noise of the post-Friday night football crowd.

Chief Graham, who Emma was certain rigged the schedule so he only had to work big rivalry nights, turned in his seat and raised an eyebrow. A guy Emma knew to be one of Killian's chasing buddies sat opposite of him and Liam was working further down the bar. "I'm not sure if you mean me or Mary Margaret," she said.

"Absolutely the pair of you," Killian said. "Though seeing as you're in uniform, love, I doubt I'll be asking your drink order tonight."

Emma felt Graham's eyes on her and she flushed; she'd been on scut work again, traffic control around the high school for the football game, while David got to sit near the edge of town in the squad car and watch for speeders and reckless drivers. They'd won, so Emma knew what was on Graham's mind, even if she was annoyed that he got to spend the evening relaxing while she and the other rookies and the deputies pulled extra hours. It's good to be king, she thought. She steeled herself against her nerves though, and her chin jutted out. "Stadium's cleared out. I'm in and out, chief, I'll take a car on patrol for any kids causing trouble. You just - you weren't answering your phone," she said.

It heartened her to see him redden at that, and dig in his bulky coat for his phone. "Ah, blast it. Sorry, Emma. What's the problem?" he asked.

She fought the urge to roll her eyes or tap her foot or anything else that might give away her agitation. Mary Margaret's hand on her arm helped keep her grounded. "Did you approve my time off this weekend?"

"Time off?"

It took every ounce of her patience not to scream in frustration; yes, she'd submitted the paperwork late, but he'd promised to review everything and get it all done in time. And knowing Graham, there was a good chance he was just pulling her tail about it anyway and she had no idea if that was the case here or not - not with half the town in here watching, anyway. "Tomorrow's moving day," Mary Margaret said brightly, intervening before Emma could get herself into trouble. "Ingrid wants us to take some of her old furniture so we need all the time we can get to haul stuff over to the new place."

If there was anyone Emma had expected to become roommates with, Mary Margaret would not have topped that list. A teacher from Texas, she'd become part of the regular group that went out to the bar; Ruby had made friends with her first and introduced her to them a few months back. David had been smitten and somehow, through his hilariously embarrassing antics, he'd managed to win her over into going out with him. In a lot of ways, she felt the polar opposite of Emma herself - sweet-natured where Emma could be prickly, outgoing where Emma was reserved. But they shared the same work ethic, an enthusiasm for what they did that not a lot of other people got, and Mary Margaret's patience and stubborn streak combined to break down some of that reservation Emma had about meeting new people and she found she genuinely enjoyed Mary Margaret's company.

And she had an uncanny marksmanship for darts and her wide-eyed, innocent face made her a great partner for hustling some unwitting drunks out of some betting money.

So when Mary Margaret had been griping about her teaching salary and fearing she couldn't afford her small, one-bedroom apartment anymore, Emma had volunteered to find a place for them to split. She liked living with Ingrid, and after being bounced around the foster system for the first fourteen years of her life, she would always be grateful and glad to have found somewhere that she actually could call home; but after college and then the academy, she'd gotten used to having her own space. And where Mary Margaret's salary wasn't great, Emma was a little better off, so when the two combined they could definitely afford splitting the loft apartment Emma had found downtown. It was near enough to both the elementary school and the police station that they could walk to work, and Ingrid donating some of her old furniture definitely helped cut down on costs.

Now all they had to do was make sure Emma could help when she, Mary Margaret, Ruby, and David were supposed to start moving everything in.

"Oh, right, right. That time off," Graham said. He grinned quickly and Emma glared at him; he was pulling her tail after all. "Didn't I already clear David for that?"

Emma crossed her arms over her chest. "Yes, but David's not the one moving in. He's just the muscle."

"It's just you two and David?" Killian asked, looking baffled.

"Well, and Ruby, but yeah," Mary Margaret said. "Ingrid's packing stuff for us, but she can't do much lifting, and there's no point hiring movers when it's just a few blocks."

Killian met Emma's eyes and she squirmed a little. Thanks to their equally hectic schedules they'd only been able to go out on two dates since he'd asked her out a few months ago. And they'd even kissed a couple of times, but she didn't think asking him to help her move was appropriate at this point in their very tentative relationship. It felt like she was taking advantage of his patience and how much it felt like he wanted to be around her. "I didn't want to impose," she said, her voice barely audible over the noise in the room as she answered his unasked question.

"Bloody hell," he groused, running his hand through his hair. "It's not an imposition, love."

She felt very exposed, having this conversation with her soon-to-be-roommate, her boss, and his friend right there, not to mention the crowded bar of well-meaning but gossip-mongering patrons surrounding them. "Well, I don't know many people who want to spend their Saturday moving stuff that's not their own," she said, a wash of guilt and self-doubt pinching at her insides. The excuse sounded lame even to her own ears, but it was the closest she could come to the truth.

"You'd have known if you'd have asked," Killian said. He glanced at their mild audience and stepped away, coming out from behind the bar and taking her aside towards the hallway that led to the back. "Look, Swan," he said, his voice so soft that she had to lean in to hear him better, "I'm not going to beg or plead with you on this, but I will say I'm a little hurt you didn't think you could ask me."

She blinked, staring up at him. "That's not - I just felt like -" She huffed a little, wishing she was better at conveying her emotions like he was. She just felt guilty and she really felt like she was taking advantage of the whole thing and she just - she hated feeling like that and not knowing how to explain it so he'd understand. "We're not like David and Mary Margaret," she said finally. "They've got their shit together."

Killian looked confused again. "And we don't?"

"Killian, we've only been out twice. I just," Emma paused, swallowing hard past her first instinct to keep everything bottled up, "I just didn't feel like it was right to ask the guy you've been on two dates with to lug your shit across town. That's more…"

"A boyfriend thing?" he asked, and Emma blushed, nodding. He sighed, then there was that rueful smile she was getting used to seeing on his face when it came to her. "Emma, love, I know you wanted to go slowly and I'm fine with that. But you know that asking someone to help you move is also a friend thing, right? And I'd hope you'd think I'm a friend at this point."

Her face felt even hotter as her gaze dropped down to the floor, the guilt increasing until her stomach hurt with it. "I didn't…"

"Didn't think of it that way?"

She shook her head. "I guess - I guess I'm just too caught up in the power dynamic thing still. I don't want you to think I'm just using you for… whatever. My own nefarious purposes. Or like..." Making you feel like I'm taking advantage of how much I know you already like me, her traitorous brain supplied, but she kept that thought to herself. She'd barely accepted that he was falling pretty hard for her; she wasn't going to open up a can of feelings-worms she wasn't ready to talk about just yet.

"Emma, look at me," Killian said, taking her hand. She did, just as he brought her hand to his lips. "We've talked about this. At length. About the many, many ways I'll be glad to be subjected to your power dynamics and dastardly plans when you're ready." She laughed at that, some of the tension leaving her body, and he smiled. "There's a girl. Now, I ask a simple price for humping boxes back and forth across town, and I'm willing to bet I can swing some help from Will over there if you agree to my terms. We'll get done faster, yeah?"

She smiled softly down at the floor for a moment, then met his gaze squarely. "Name your terms, Jones."

His teeth flashed. "Pizza and beer. And none of the cheap barley water you lot call beer either. Something real."

Emma laughed again and nodded. "Alright, alright, I'll spring for some IPAs or something, God. Twist my arm some more."

He moved to twist her arm around her back and she giggled; he wasn't putting any pressure on her and pulled her back against his chest, kissing her temple before letting her go. "We've a deal, love. Now, let's break the news to Will that we've taken advantage of him," Killian said, waggling his eyebrows at her and making her groan, "and get your boss to stop being a git about your time off, aye?"


They'd agreed to start moving things at eight, so why the fuck was she still up and packing at one in the morning?

Sitting cross-legged on the floor and surrounded by half-packed boxes, Emma sighed in disgust; she tossed the packing tape down on the floor and held her head in her hands. She knew she shouldn't have left it for this long, but life had just happened and okay, yes, she could have spent her night off packing instead of hanging out with Killian at the bar, but -

She flushed, though out of irritation with herself or remembering the way he'd challenged her to tying cherry stems with her tongue, she wasn't really sure.

"Emma?"

She looked up, seeing Ingrid standing in the door. "Mom, why are you still up?"

Ingrid smiled, folding her robe around herself tighter before joining Emma on the floor. "Mother's intuition," she said. "And maybe a little bit of nerves, too."

She pulled a box of clothes towards her and started refolding things (really just folding them in general, Emma had mostly tossed things into random boxes and figured she'd sort it all out when she got to the new place). Emma looked at her with no small amount of curiosity. "What do you have to be nervous about?"

"Well," Ingrid said, smoothing out a t-shirt, "you're leaving the nest. I know, you did college and then the academy, but this was always your place to land. And now you're really moving out, so I suppose I'm just… not quite ready for that yet."

Ingrid had a very calm, matter-of-fact way of talking about anything. It was something Emma had always found reassuring growing up; even when Ingrid had been fostering multiple children, she'd had an easy way of taking a room of fighting teenagers and calming them into behaving like actual people. The few times Emma could remember her mother getting overly emotional about anything all concerned her: the day she'd told Emma she wanted to adopt her, the day Emma got into her first-choice college, all of her graduations. So this wasn't much of a surprise, but it still pulled at her heart in a way that only the first person who loved Emma enough to keep her ever could.

She scooted over and tucked herself against Ingrid's side, resting her head on her shoulder. "Oh, Mom," she said, wishing she could express herself better.

"Now, don't go fussing over me, Emma," Ingrid said, her voice thick with emotion. She shifted so she could cup Emma's face in her hands. "All little birds grow up and leave the nest eventually, that's the way of life. But just because you're leaving home, Emma, doesn't mean this will never not be your home. Remember that, sweetheart. No matter where you or I end up, we'll always be able to find home with each other. And I'll always have a place for you."

Now her eyes were starting to water. Ingrid knew how much it meant for Emma to have somewhere to call home and it felt a little like cheating to play that card right now. "God, you're gonna make me cry, Mom," she said, swiping at her eyes as she chuckled.

Ingrid laughed, too. "I love you in all the ways that matter," she said. "And I am so very proud of you and the woman you've become. I'm just… I feel like I just got you back, and now I'm just going to miss having you around so much."

And now they both were crying, falling into a hug while sitting in the middle of Emma's bedroom that looked like some kind of box bomb had gone off in it. She tried to find the words to express herself, how grateful she was and how much she loved her adoptive mother, but all she could do was hug Ingrid tighter and wish she could figure out another way to keep her independence and make her mom happy at the same time.

"I think I'm a little more nervous than I expected," she said finally, after their hug ended and they just sat close together and fought with Emma's belongings.

"You have no reason to be nervous, sweetheart," Ingrid said.

Emma sighed. "Well, there's the whole… moving out for real thing. I don't think it hit me before now that that's what this is. And I know it's just a few blocks away so it's not like we aren't still gonna see each other all the time, but it's gonna be weird not to see you all the time, too." She saw Ingrid smiling out of the corner of her eye and felt her face flush. She'd never been very open about her feelings, even with her mother, so she thought Ingrid understood what this conversation meant for both of them. "Maybe that's why I'm up at stupid o'clock in the morning packing. I was kinda putting it off."

She'd probably blame the time on it, too - too tired to keep her own emotional defenses up.

"And I just… Mom, I think - I don't know. About Killian."

The words fell out before she could really process them. It really was late. Ingrid stopped folding another shirt, letting it rest under her hands on her knees. "What about Killian? I thought you liked spending time with him." Then she got that "Mom Look" on her face, the one that could read way too much into a situation. "You were putting off packing by spending time with him, weren't you?"

Emma scowled. "Not like that, Mom, God. He was at work. We've only been out on two dates."

"I'm not judging you, dear, I just-"

"Mom! God!"

She held up her hands in surrender. "Alright, Emma, go on with what's wrong with Killian."

Emma sighed again, this time more from frustration. "Nothing's wrong, just. I think I upset him earlier when he found out I didn't ask him to help me move. Well, no, I know I upset him, because we talked about it, because apparently I can have those conversations where you actually talk about what's bothering you, but it just… I don't know how to make him understand that I feel like I'm taking advantage of him. Or like I'm taking advantage of his feelings?"

Ingrid didn't say anything for a long moment, then Emma saw her shoulders droop. "Emma, sweetheart, Killian's a grown man. And if he's anything like every other man on the planet, he doesn't do anything he doesn't want to - even if it happens to involve helping a pretty girl," she added with a wink, making Emma blush. "Though I'm sure the pretty girl has something to do with it."

"Well, yeah, that's what I'm worried about-"

"Emma," Ingrid held up a hand, "what I'm trying to say is that if Killian really didn't want to help you tomorrow - today - then he wouldn't have brought it up. Even if he's thinking with parts of his body that aren't his brain -"

"Mom!"

"-or allowing that to be manipulated by you, he wouldn't offer if he wasn't going to get exactly what he wanted out of it. Which is what, in this case?"

Emma opened her mouth to argue, but realized what Ingrid was getting at. Emma had outright told Killian to name his price and he'd answered pizza and beer without a second thought. Even the expensive beer. And he'd conscripted Will into it without her or Mary Margaret suggesting it. "So you're saying..."

"I'm saying that you're overthinking it," Ingrid said, going back to fold shirts. "And that's not a bad thing sometimes. There will be times, and I know I'm not saying anything new to you here, when your position and authority will enable you to take liberties and abuse those privileges. I am very sure that this is not one of them - the fact that you're so worried about it tells me so. Someone who is so conscious of that wouldn't abuse their power in such a way."

Emma frowned down at the box in front of her, half-filled with books. "I'm afraid Killian likes me more than I like him," she admitted quietly. "And I'm afraid of what that means."

Ingrid reached over and squeezed her shoulder. "It's okay, sweetheart. You haven't seriously dated anyone in a long time." Emma scoffed, not wanting to talk about that particular disaster. "Well, life lessons aside, it's perfectly normal for two people in a relationship - yes, I said the big bad word - to be at different levels of affection throughout the course of the relationship. You'll catch up - or maybe you won't, and that's okay, too. It just means you weren't the right fit for each other."

"But it doesn't mean I can't have fun along the way; yes, Mom, you gave me this speech in high school," Emma said, rolling her eyes and stuffing a few more books into the box before taping it up. "I just don't want to hurt him."

She glanced over to see Ingrid's wistful smile. "Well, that's not entirely up to you, dear."

Emma sighed. "Yeah, I know."

They made some more progress on the room as the clock ticked closer and closer to three in the morning; Emma already felt vaguely nauseated at the thought of moving things on such little sleep, but she was already in it.

The clock downstairs chimed the quarter til softly and a thought occurred to her. "Hey, Mom?"

"Mm?"

"Why didn't you ever get married?" Emma asked. "Or... You've always been easy to talk to about this stuff but... I don't know, you've never been in a relationship since I've known you."

Ingrid paused, halfway through marking a box, then finished writing. She capped the marker; they just had to seal the one box Emma was working on and then they were done for the night. "I had someone," Ingrid said, "a long time ago. But life doesn't always go the way you plan it to - sometimes there are other plans in place for you. Or at least that's what I believe," she said. She crossed the room and cupped Emma's face again. "And the path I was given to walk led me to you, Emma, and I wouldn't trade you for anything else in the world."

She kissed Emma on the forehead and then hugged her close. Emma tucked herself under Ingrid's chin, feeling sixteen years old again, and let the peace that came from being held wash over her.


Eight o'clock came far too quickly for her liking. Emma didn't bother washing her hair; when her alarm went off at seven fifty, she just scrubbed the sweat off her skin from yesterday and washed her face. She braided her hair instead and threw on old work clothes.

Ingrid was somehow awake and already making coffee when she trotted downstairs. "Can I just mainline this today?" Emma asked, taking the offered cup. "My face feels like it's melting, I'm so tired."

"Well, if someone hadn't been busy making eyes at a certain bartender on Tuesday night, you wouldn't be feeling like this right now," Ingrid said, just as said bartender knocked on the front door.

Emma made a pleading face at her mother - to save her or to not embarrass her, she wasn't sure - and went to answer it.

Killian looked ungodly chipper for so early an hour, especially when she knew he'd probably gone to bed not much sooner than she had. Will, on the other hand, looked as surly as she felt, which made her feel less like an alien in this situation. "Morning, Swan."

"Hi. Thanks for coming by and helping," she said.

"Some of us weren't given much choice-"

"Stuff it, Scarlet," Killian said, elbowing his friend. "Apologies for him; he was raised in a barn and I got him too late to break him of bad habits."

Despite how exhausted she felt, or perhaps because of it, Emma found herself giggling. "Mom's got coffee going, if that's something you drink," Emma said, stepping back and letting them inside. "God knows I need it."

Will made a beeline for the kitchen without any further prompting, probably following his nose, leaving Emma and Killian alone in the front hall. He leaned down and gave her a quick kiss hello. "And how's my lovely lass this morning?" Killian asked quietly.

"Feeling less lovely and more like a melty wax candle," Emma said, knowing she was blushing and not really caring. "Mom and I were up packing until three."

She drank her coffee just to do something with her hands and tried not to look at the soft look Killian was giving her. "Nonsense, you're lovely as a field of daisies," he said.

"The bags under my eyes would need to be checked on a flight. And possibly be charged extra for being overpacked."

He snorted, hiding a smile with his hand under the pretense of rubbing his chin. "Why on earth were you up so late packing?"

She bit her lip, feeling very much like she should be twirling a piece of hair around on a finger coquettishly. A swarm of butterflies erupted in her stomach and she hoped he'd take this as the olive branch she meant it to be. "Well," she said slowly. "Apparently, spending your only night off for the week hanging around a bar because you've got a thing for the bartender falls under 'poor planning skills'. I ran out of time."

She didn't miss the way Killian's eyes lit up. "A thing for a bartender, eh? Should I be jealous?"

He leered, leaning in close, and Emma snorted with laughter, shoving him slightly. His grin only widened and he pulled her in close, careful of her coffee mug, kissing her softly. Emma sighed into it, relaxing into his embrace. She felt his tongue tracing her lips and opened for him, tasting the mintiness of his toothpaste and dimly wondering how that tasted against coffee, but then his hand was tracing the skin just under her shirt at the waist and she forgot to think about anything else except how she just wanted him to keep doing exactly this for the rest of time.

Except he stopped, pulling back from her after another very enjoyable moment of kissing. "We probably should go make sure Will isn't beleaguering your mother," Killian whispered.

Emma wasn't quite ready for words of that many syllables just yet. "Who is Will?" she asked, leaning in and hoping she could convince him to kiss her again.

Apparently, all of her worries about possibly taking advantage of his feelings for her were unfounded, because Killian was being the responsible one here - he gently guided her back by the shoulders instead of kissing her, and she couldn't even be mad about it because he was looking at her like she'd invented his favorite color and tucking her stray hairs behind her ears and making sure they looked presentable when they went to the kitchen. Meanwhile, she was the one feeling pouty and more than ready to say fuck it to all of this and spend the rest of the day making out on the couch.

Well, I'll be damned.


Her early-morning nausea at the mere idea of moving house while exhausted became real nausea as the day wore on and it got to be one of those absurdly hot fall days. Emma, who had never once puked during P.T. at the academy, had to stop and stick her head between her knees at least three times at various points during the day. She'd waved off concerns from her friends and her mom, but when things started to slow and Mary Margaret asked who wanted to volunteer to get the pizza and beer, Emma's arm almost flew out of its socket from the speed at which she'd raised her hand.

Pizza toppings were fought over and the order was placed after a ten-minute debate over pineapple, and Emma went to the store to pick out the beers first. As far as she was aware, Killian was the only real picky one - and she heavily debated getting some Killian's Irish Red, just to tease him - but she grabbed a few local IPAs and a pack of light beer for the less particular among them, before snagging some ginger ale for herself to nurse in the car.

Fucking Oklahoma. It was October, for heaven's sake; it didn't need to be in the eighties.

Joe's Pizza, the little shop she and Mary Margaret liked, didn't mind her bringing in an outside drink, so she waited at one of the high-top tables, remembering not to guzzle the ginger ale and running through the list of what else had to be done. Ingrid had put herself in charge of unpacking and organizing the kitchen, and once they'd gotten almost everything but the furniture moved in, Mary Margaret had started laying out the floor plans. Ruby was shuffling boxes around. That left the guys to move couches and bed frames and dressers and things like that.

Thinking about the way Killian's arms had looked while lifting the couch made her feel very warm in a way that had nothing to do with how hot it still was outside.

Or when he'd done that stupid thing guys did where they wiped their faces with the bottoms of their t-shirts and she'd seen just how chiseled - and hairy - his stomach was. Jesus Christ.

Okay, maybe I do like him a lot, she thought, tracing the initials carved into the table. Or maybe I just need to tackle him and ride him until neither of us can see straight. Or maybe both. I don't know.

"Pizza's up, officer," Joe said, snapping her out of her thoughts. "You feeding an army tonight?"

Emma smiled, digging out her wallet as she went up to the counter. "No, just moved. You know how it goes."

"Pizza and beer."

"You got it."

She paid and Joe even came out to open the door for her. "Hey, my brother said that you and that stormchaser kid, Jones, came to his place a few weeks back."

Emma bit her tongue against the immediate retort that came to mind - that people around here needed to mind their own business. Small towns thrived on gossip; she knew that better than anyone. "Yeah, we've gone out a couple of times. Tell Tony we had a nice time."

"He'll be glad to hear it. Have a good night, officer," Joe said, making sure she got into her car with no mishaps.

Well, that could have been worse, she thought, revving the engine and shifting gears out of the parking lot. Then again, Joe is way less gossipy than Tony. Just mentioning it was probably enough for him.

Her return with food was met with cheers; in the time she'd been gone, all of the big things had been put into some kind of working order that would make do for now. If they decided they didn't like something, Emma and Mary Margaret could easily rearrange things themselves. And since they already had a heaping pile of trash to take out, they just settled for paper plates. "I propose a toast," Ingrid said, holding up a can of ginger ale. Everyone grabbed their drinks and raised them. "To new beginnings. May they be scary, yet manageable."

"To good friends who help in a time of need," Mary Margaret added. Ruby made an appreciative sound, leaning her head on Mary Margaret's shoulder briefly.

"And a damn fine pizza after," Will added, making everyone laugh.

"Cheers!"

As bottles were clinked together and drank from, Emma caught herself staring at Killian, watching his Adam's apple bob as he easily put back half the bottle. He noticed her watching him and winked; she blushed and looked away, making herself very busy with folding her pizza in half to eat it.

The evening wore on with everyone chatting and trading stories and laughing; since it was a bit of an amalgamation of friend and acquaintance groups, eventually conversation drifted into how everyone had met, instigated by Will, who easily knew the least amount of people there. Ingrid had left after one round of drinks and pizza, citing weariness but likely just giving 'the kids' some space; Emma was now glad that she didn't have to bring up the whole adopted-orphan thing. "I met Emma when she moved to town like, a million years ago," Ruby said. "Granny said she needed feeding up, and it turns out I like having her around."

Emma made a face at her, grateful for how simple she'd kept it. Mary Margaret, who was more than a little red-faced now from drinking, piped up. "I met Ruby at a school thing. The police station was doing a safety day and she was helping. She invited me out for drinks one night and that's where David and Emma came in."

"David was working at the station already when I got the job," Emma said. "I don't know who Ruby had to blow to get her job-"

"Hey!"

"-but she was there before either of us. I came back to town after I graduated."

"For the record," Ruby said loudly, "I did not trade any fellatio for this job. I have standards, thank you very much. And I haven't done that since I was sixteen and Victor was being an asshole about being the assistant manager at the Dairy Queen."

Everyone laughed. As far as Emma knew, Victor was still kind of an asshole, but now he was in medical school and it was part of the deal to get into medical school that you had to be a bit of an asshole. Killian swallowed his beer, then clapped Will on the shoulder. "And this knobhead and I met years ago in grad school."

"Us foreign kids, we tend to stick together," Will added.

"Well, he's the foreign kid, I've been in the States for years."

Emma watched them bounce off each other with sleepy interest; it hadn't occurred to her before that either of them would be on a visa or even that either of them might have permanent residency by now. Which was stupid, she now realized, listening to them start to insult one another with obvious affection and none of the insults were ones she recognized as American. "How'd you get started chasing together?" Ruby asked, interrupting them and looping her arms around her knees.

"See, this one here," Will started, "had some kind of mad ideas about what went into a chase. Didn't help that we're in the kind of school that encourages mad ideas. And me, I figured he needed someone to watch his back. Did me undergrad at A&M, the whole Corps thing, they drill that sort of thing into you."

Killian rolled his eyes. "No, it was more like I needed a driver and the fighting farmer over here needed someone who worked out the technical bits on the computer. It so happens that our research ideas were of a range that made it easier to pair off than it was to go alone."

"And we're not allowed to go alone."

"There's also that."

She'd heard some of this before, so while she covered a yawn, Emma quietly excused herself to go rinse out her glass in the kitchen and then went upstairs to her new room. Ingrid had been up here at some point, made obvious by the fact that her bed was already made, and even though she was just a couple of blocks away, it made Emma's heart ache something fierce with missing her. There were a few boxes opened - all of them full of clothes - but nothing else was put away or put up for decorating, which meant that as usual, her mother had known exactly how Emma would be feeling by the end of the day: too tired to do anything but put on comfier clothes and go to bed.

Well, that was a lie. What she really wanted to do was take a shower first and then go to bed. But that would have to wait until everyone left, and judging by the shift in conversation downstairs, it might be a little while.

So, she started putting some things away: clothes in the dresser and some of her nicer things in the little standing wardrobe they'd gotten for her new space. Books went on the shelves, a lamp was set up by the bed. With all the exposed brick in the loft, they'd gone for a bit of a worn, vintage look for everything, which suited Emma just fine with all of her worn, well-used possessions.

As she sat cross-legged in front of a box of knick-knacks, attempting to figure out where she'd put what and stop yawning so much, a scuffing sound at the top of the stair made her twist and she saw Killian standing just outside of the 'entrance' to her room. "Mind if I come in?" he asked softly.

She smiled, nodding. He came over and sat next to her on the floor with a sigh that sounded every bit as weary as she felt. "You disappeared," he said.

"If I sat there any longer I would have fallen asleep," she said, proving her point by yawning again.

"Ah, so you needed the excuse to stay busy - to remain a good, awake host, you chose to be an absent one instead."

Her head whipped around to glare at him, but he was grinning at her in a tired way and she realized he was teasing. "You're an ass," she said instead.

"Maybe so." Killian seemed much closer than he had a moment ago. She could feel his body heat radiating on her arm and her eyes flicked down to his lips. "But I am glad it gave me an excuse to catch you alone."

She leaned into him as he moved forward, their lips meeting almost hesitantly. Emma relaxed almost immediately, all the tension and tightness she'd carried all day from exhaustion and the stress of moving flowing away as his lips moved against hers. Kissing, she decided, was a hell of a drug. And if kissing Killian meant feeling like she was floating away, then she would have absolutely no problem getting addicted.

Kissing while sitting shifted quickly into kissing while laid out on the floor. They both seemed aware that company was twenty feet below them in Emma's ramshackle living room; while they were content to lay next to each other on the floor trading lazy kisses, neither made any movements to escalate it in any way. And really, she thought, isn't this a great way to mark moving into a new apartment?

Her foot was draped carelessly over his calf, her toes tracing a nonsensical pattern on his skin, their arms resting on each other's sides or propping up their heads enough so they could keep making out without any awkward breaks. She knew she smelled awful, sweaty and gross from working so much, but it made absolutely no sense that Killian only smelled like some kind of intoxicating musk. Like he'd been working all day, but the scent of him only made her think he could spend the whole day working outside and still have the strength to carry her up a mountain to a secluded cabin and have his way with her.

Seriously, what was wrong with her? Was she that exhausted, or was she just going crazy?

Maybe it was just her hormones.

Oh fuck it, who cares.

Ruby's laughter broke through her thoughts of perhaps rolling him over and laying on top of him, and they broke apart reluctantly. "I'm so tired," Emma confessed, giggling a bit at the end.

"I admit, I may have overexerted myself today as well. Loathe as I am to move from this spot," Killian said.

"I would like to sleep in a real bed tonight." He cocked an eyebrow at her but the teasing glint was back in his eye and she fell against him, giggling. "I mean, you're welcome to stay, but I have a feeling Mary Margaret and I need to set up some rules about that first."

He made a noncommittal sound, his face carefully neutral, and her eyes widened slightly as she realized what she'd just said. There was a brief stab of panic, but then she realized it wouldn't just be her that needed the rules - David would probably be spending the night on occasion. Hell, they were all adults. This was her apartment, shared or not. If she wanted… a friend… to stay over, she was allowed.

The fear abated and Emma felt a little more secure in this whole Killian situation than she'd felt since they'd started… hanging out… dating?

Dating.

She decided not to go into it, hoping that Killian didn't press her on it - and he didn't. She thought he knew her well enough at this point to let her bring it up first, and she would...

Just after she and Mary Margaret established the ground rules on bringing their boyfriends over.

They got up with groans and Emma grabbed her shower gear and pajamas from where she'd set them aside. She was getting her shower tonight, dammit, and then no one was going to bother her before noon tomorrow, or else. Killian led the way downstairs, and before Will could say whatever he was thinking that made his face look like that, she said, "Okay, I hate to be the bad guy here, but I'm exhausted and it's my place so I can say this with certainty: get the hell out of my house."

David looked a bit affronted, but Ruby laughed. "She gets fighty when she's tired."

Bottles and pizza boxes were cleaned up while Emma dumped her stuff in the bathroom. Ruby was gone by the time she came out, while David and Mary Margaret were making eyes at each other and Will looked uncomfortably out of place standing by the door. Killian finished tying his shoes and David kissed Mary Margaret once more before heading out the door with Will. Emma hurried after them before Killian could close the door and the way he didn't look back made her think he probably expected her to just lock up after him. "Hey," she said softly, stopping him on the landing. She closed the door behind her and let Will and David keep walking down the stairs.

Killian had absolutely no right looking that good with his hair sticking up all over, but she made herself focus. She'd been the one to mess it up in the first place, after all. "I just - thank you, seriously. For today." She shoved her hands in her back pockets, feeling a little awkward. "And um, well, I wanted to let you know that - that if you ever wanted to stop by sometime, it's okay. If I'm home. We'll work out the rules for - for anything else later. But you're welcome here anytime, alright?"

She couldn't read his expression at first, but the slow grin that spread on his face made her feel lighter than air. "Yeah, Swan, alright. Sounds great."

"Okay," she said, feeling breathless. "Okay, good."

"Good."

"Yeah."

He stepped forward, then hesitated, and she moved the last few inches to press her lips against his again. "Goodnight," she said quietly.

"Night, love."

Chapter Text

Emma never really had erotic dreams. There'd been one embarrassing occasion during a sleepover at Ruby's when they were in high school, but the (thankfully mild) teasing she'd endured from Ruby after had scarred her a bit and her subconscious had apparently decided that was enough of that and it rarely happened again. So on this occasion, where she knew she had to be asleep because Killian was dry-humping her on a completely empty tropical beach and there was no way either of them could afford that kind of luxury, she was rather disappointed when she started to wake up.

Except where normally the throb of arousal between her legs would start to fade as she returned to the real world, this time it didn't.

And the tongue currently slipping through her folds didn't let up in the least.

Their bedroom was sweltering even this early in the morning and Emma pushed the sheets back, revealing Killian laying between her thighs and going down on her like a man starved. She caught his eye as he briefly came up for air and he winked at her, cocky devil that he was, before his head dipped back down and his tongue swirled around her clit. Her head fell back against the pillows, a moan escaping her as her hips rose to meet his face. His hands came up to grip her hips, holding her in place as he devoured her.

Emma yanked down her camisole, exposing her breasts, and her fingers found her nipples hard and aching to be touched. Maybe it was the fact that she wasn't quite awake yet, or maybe it was the fact that it had been some time since they'd done anything together, but she couldn't remember the last time this felt so good. Her toes curled as his tongue slipped inside her, then ran line after line through her core and drew circles around her clit. She felt alight with pleasure, tiny waves of it lapping at her in time with his tongue while the largest wave of them all began to build deep within her.

He paused and she wanted to whine in frustration, but then she felt him breathe, hot and heavy, over her core, and she shivered at the new sensation.

It was something he did to drive her crazy, temperature play without the shocking cold of an ice cube (they'd only tried that once, it hadn't gone as well as either of them would have liked); the fan overhead blew cooler air over her overly warm body, her nipples tightening from the dual sensation of the air and her fingers plucking at them, and the warmth he breathed onto her sex dissipated just as quickly as his head moved back to inhale again.

His scruff skimmed her thigh and she whimpered, quietly pleading with him to keep going. "Please, please, please."

"Are you close, love?"

Her voice pitched a little towards the hysterical as she spoke. "If I say yes, will you actually do something about it?"

Killian chuckled, low and dark, and then blew cool air over her clit. Emma whined, releasing one breast and reaching down to grip his hair. "Alright, love, alright," he murmured, moving his head to dislodge her hand, then turning to press a wet kiss against her palm. "I'll take care of you."

God, he was fucking good at this. Her hand went back to his hair just to give herself something to cling to as he tilted his head and licked her. No, she realized in her pleasure-filled daze. He was kissing her, again and again and with just the barest pressure of his tongue against her most sensitive parts. Emma moaned softly, her breaths coming out in short pants as she felt herself being pushed closer and closer to that peak, just out of reach, just out of -

She screamed when her orgasm hit, her hand fisting into his hair and her thighs squeezing together around his head as she rode his face through wave after wave of pleasure crashing inside of her. Dimly, she felt his hands prying her legs apart again and a very distant part of her thought that he was probably trying to breathe, but the rest of her was valiantly carrying on with the electric aftershocks of a thoroughly satisfying orgasm without a care in the world.

He kissed her core, then the inside of her thigh before extracting himself from between her legs and sliding back up the mattress to lay next to her.

"Wow," Emma said, struggling to catch her breath. "Not that I'm complaining, but what was that for?"

When he kissed her, she could taste herself on his lips. She could feel his erection pressed against her thigh as he slipped his tongue between her lips and she felt giddy at the thought that their morning affair wasn't quite over yet. Her hands found their way into his hair as he climbed on top of her and settled between her thighs, her nails scratching along the back of his neck in the way that made him growl as his hips rutted against her. "Well," he said when they came up for air, "for one thing you were clinging to me in sleep, making the most delightful noises. I found I simply couldn't bear to listen without taking part." She snorted at that, remembering the few times he'd accidentally walked in on her masturbating. He absolutely had no self control when it came to giving her pleasure. "And," he paused to kiss her cheek, then along her jaw, "I'm afraid I've been very negligent of you as of late. Can you forgive me?"

She pretended to think about it, settling back and tracing his scruffy chin. "Well… I suppose if you're very sorry about it…"

A corner of his mouth twitched. He shifted his weight, his erection pressing deliciously against her core. "What if I prove how sorry I am?"

She couldn't help the slow smile that crept up on her. "And how, exactly, are you going to do that?"

"Well, Swan," Killian said, and she felt his fingers drawing nonsense lines against her sides, "perhaps it's better if I show you."

They moved in sync, Killian taking his weight off her as she lifted herself up onto her elbows. He fumbled for one of his pillows, then shoved it under the small of her back. Emma leaned forward and nipped at his lips, then along his jaw, reaching up to run her hand down his side and rest along his hip. "I love you," she said quietly.

"I love you, too."

Then his hand was on her lower back and he was bending her until she formed an arch with her head resting on the pillows. He kissed and nibbled the skin along her chest and her breasts, biting at the camisole still stretched out under them, and maneuvering her until the pillow sat under her ass. His hand ran up her back and she relaxed onto the mattress, staring up at him expectantly.

His hands moved, running smooth lines down her thighs as he eased her legs further apart. As he sat up on his knees, Emma wet her lips, wondering for the thousandth time what he really thought when he saw her like this: laid (mostly) bare and spread open, wet and wanting, looking up at him with love and trust burning within her.

"You are, without question, the most beautiful woman I've ever seen," he murmured as he took his cock in hand.

She flushed, a denial caught in the back of her throat as she pushed down that first instinct to waive away praise that she worried she'd always have. She swallowed, instead choosing to watch as he slowly stroked himself. "You make that look so easy," she told him, blatantly staring at the effortless way his thumb popped the ridge of his cock as the head vanished into his enclosed hand.

God, he was so fucking hot.

"I've had a bit more time to perfect it than you have," Killian said, and there was a strain in his voice that told her he was holding back from just leaning forward and taking her in one stroke.

Which, come to think of it, sounded pretty good to her but… fuck, she couldn't remember the last time she touched him like this. It occurred to her then that she's not the only one on display here. While she definitely wanted to be fucked into the goddamn mattress right now after the way he'd made her come with only his tongue, Emma couldn't help but lick her lips again at the thought of returning the favor. "And, uh, if I maybe wanted a chance to… perfect my own skills?" she ventured, voice a little rough around the edges.

His hand stilled over his cock, breath punching out of him at her request, and she tried (failed, pretty fucking miserably) at biting back a smile when she blinked up at him and saw the expression on his face. "As… tempting as that is, love," he murmured, giving himself one last stroke before leaning back in to hover over her, "given how we do eventually have to leave the bedroom this morning, I think I'll have to take a raincheck."

She laughed, she couldn't help it, but that's as much as she managed because his hand was hooking under her knee and tugging her leg around his hip. The laugh broke open into a gasp when he slid into her, hard and fast and so fucking perfect. It was all she could do to grip the edge of the mattress to keep herself grounded before his hips snapped forward again, sharp and stinging and Jesus fuck, the friction against her clit was fucking perfect like this.

Occasions like this made her so, so glad she'd decided to spring for that birth control implant. Nothing but skin between them, nothing to keep her from feeling every single delicious inch of him inside of her.

His head was bowed, watching where his body ended and hers began, and while she might find that hot on other occasions, it wasn't exactly what she wanted right now. She reached for him, gripping his chin a little rougher than she'd intended and tilted his head back up until his eyes found hers. He looked more than a little punch-drunk, his eyes flicking back and forth between hers as if he couldn't focus on one thing for more than a breath at a time. "If we're taking a raincheck on me sucking you off, you don't get to stop and enjoy the view here," she huffed. Her fingers curled around to the back of his neck to dig her nails into his skin, shifting the angle when his hips jerked forward again, yes. "Just fuck me," she gasped, digging her heel into the small of his back to urge him on.

Killian groaned but leaned into her all the same, chest brushing against hers. "I always enjoy the view," he murmured, lips brushing against her ear. Emma's lips twisted into a smile as she dragged her foot up his calf, intent on wrapping her other leg around him. His hands found hers, fingers linked together, and then all of his weight settled over her, pinning her down.

She loved this, the sensation of being completely surrounded by him, his weight comforting rather than oppressive as he shifted his hips again and started to set a steady rhythm. She loved the way the hair on his chest felt against her body, she loved the desperation she could hear coming from him even though he was only breathing. She loved the feeling of him inside of her - God, she loved being penetrated, if she had one complaint about her first orgasm it's that he hadn't used his fingers - and the way he made her feel centered and whole.

Her fingers dislodged from his as she wrapped her arms around his neck, hands splayed across his back and in his hair, as she whispered again in his ear, "I love you."

That seemed to snap something in him and the bed dipped on either side of her shoulders as he braced himself on his hands. A surge of giddiness bubbled up inside of her as she let him go, laying back as he raised himself up. His hand caught her leg as it started to slip, holding on and giving him leverage as his thrusts grew more and more erratic and Jesus - fuck - Emma gasped as his pelvis ground against her clit. It was just enough to send her flying over the edge again, her orgasm sharp and spiking higher and higher as he fucked her through it. Her hands gripped the pillow, folding it in as her entire body quivered around him. Killian panted, a groan deep in his throat as he thrust into her only a few more times before stuttering to a stop, spilling himself inside.

The air felt cooler in the room, or maybe it was that she was sweating from the unexpected morning exercise and the fan chilled her damp, overheated skin. Killian pulled out with a wince and all but collapsed next to her, his cheeks stained red and his hair damp around the edges. "I think it's time to turn on the air," he said, out of breath.

Emma's lips twisted into a smile as she flopped her hand against his chest. "Good in bed and an excellent post-coital conversationalist, I don't know how I got so lucky," she teased.

"Not that good," he countered, "if you've still got words with more than four syllables in you."

She grinned, rolling onto her side to face him and then making a face at how her sex protested being closed up so quickly. "All the blood doesn't rush out of my head when I'm turned on," she said. "Basic biology."

"Physiology."

"Whatever. No coffee makes Emma confuse life sciences."

Killian propped his head up on his arm, smiling at her. "You're cute when you're post-coital," he said. She stuck her tongue out. He leaned forward and caught it between his teeth, then moved in and kissed her. "Love you," he said against her lips.

"Yeah, yeah, love you too," Emma grumbled, but she still smiled even as she twisted her head around to look at the clock. She sighed; she loved morning sex, and after having so little of any kind of sex lately she'd been kind of looking forward to laying around cuddling after, but time was not on her side. "I need to get in the shower."

Killian, bastard that he was, wolf-whistled when she stripped out of her camisole as she got out of bed. She threw it in his face and went into the bathroom, eager to scrub the sweat off, less eager to stop smelling like him so quickly after their tryst.

He had left the bedroom by the time she got out of the shower. She smiled at the neat press and fold of their made bed, no signs of their earlier tryst to be found, and went about her routine to get ready. At one point between blow-drying her hair and getting dressed she heard him talking downstairs; she hoped it was a phone call and not a sudden invasion of Will in the house. She needed coffee before she could handle Will Scarlet this early in the morning.

Coffee which she could smell as she trotted down the stairs. "Bless you, love of mine," she said, picking up the mug waiting for her on the counter.

Killian smirked over his own mug. "Maybe I should let you go without caffeine for a bit longer, you're starting to sound more like me."

She made a face at him and took a sip, sighing happily. She didn't know how he did it but it was always better when he made her coffee. "Who was on the phone?"

"Dr. Bhavsar."

She watched as he started to putter around the kitchen; it was a habit of his, needing to fiddle with or do something with his hands, when the conversation came back to his research and school. This time it was the toaster, unbagging the bread and dropping a few slices in while he talked. "It's time to come up and have another talk about my progress, start to go over data, figure out what we can work with in the dissertation. With how dry things have been this season, he's not sure if it wouldn't be better to start working on wrapping things up now, just get done with it."

"But you disagree," Emma said, because she knew him and all that pacing around wasn't for nothing.

Killian nodded. "I just… one more. One more storm, I feel it in my gut that's the one that'll get me what I need."

She did her best to hold on to the happy feelings he'd sparked in her that morning and the playful, passionate way he'd made love to her; it was her only line of defense against his gut instincts and the stubbornness that usually went with it. The toaster popped and she watched him butter the pieces with quick efficiency. "And what if it's quiet for the next few months?" she asked, hating the need to play devil's advocate, not when she knew he was asking himself the same question. "What if it really is a dry year and there aren't even lines to chase? And what about hurricane season? You've said yourself that hurricane tornadoes aren't the same, not for what you need."

He set the knife down with more force than necessary; Emma flinched. He reached up and raked his hand through his hair; from here she could hardly see the scars that twined around his arm, a constant reminder of what she stood to lose. "Then we push back publishing and graduating for another year. I don't know, Swan, what do you want me to say?"

She hated the sinking feeling in her stomach, especially after how nice of a morning it had been. She set her coffee down and went to him, her arms going around his middle and laying her head against his back. She held tight, hoping to convey in feelings what she couldn't in words, hoping this might make him feel less stressed about everything. She felt a little better when his hand covered hers. "I'm sorry. I don't want to argue. And I can't talk about this with you the way Dr. Bhavsar or even Will can."

"I know, love," he said, his voice rumbling through his chest to her ear. "And you're not saying anything I'm not already thinking. I just… this could save lives. Seconds mean everything for forecasting and I can't-I can't help but feel like I need to do more."

Another discussion they'd had several times before. She held back a sigh and instead squeezed him more tightly around the middle. "I love you," she told him, the reminder just as much for her as it was for him. "Figure out a time to go over to the university and have a… I don't know, an academic brawl with Dr. Bhavsar and the research assistants." Killian chuckled and she smiled to hear it. "Whatever it is you guys do up there. You'll feel better for it."

"I've always said I didn't like the shape of Liam's nose."

It took her a minute to remember this was a different Liam; Killian's brother was his confidant, his best friend, the man who'd raised him. Emma was the one who would probably end up punching Liam Jones in the nose one of these days if he didn't keep it out of their business. No, this Liam was Dr. Bhavsar's lead assistant; surprisingly, their lives were relatively free of people sharing the same name, something that couldn't be said of most people.

She shook her head slightly and then lifted it when he moved to turn in her arms. He tilted her chin up and kissed her softly on the lips. "I love you," he told her. "I'm sorry I'm an arse."

"Apology accepted," she said. "Am I dropping you off at the bar on my way to work?"

"No," Killian said and shifted in a way that told Emma that the hug was over. She went to get her coffee. "Working in the garage for a while on some design tweaks; brother dearest doesn't need me until the dinner shift. I'm closing, too."

She nodded into her mug. "Okay," she said, swallowing. "Call Dr. Bhavsar while you're out there. I don't think we have anything going on for the next couple of weeks, so you can go whenever."

"Might wait until the semester's over," Killian said. "Give people a chance to clear out."

"Sounds good."

She stole one of his pieces of toast, making a show out of eating it in front of him while he chuckled, then rummaged around in the fridge for something to pack for her lunch. The mood of the room lightened considerably as they went about their morning tasks - Killian was even humming while he did some prep for dinner later, (something he promised she'd just have to stick in the oven and the only thing she had to remember to do was take it out when the timer went off), and she couldn't remember the last time he did that. She even gave his ass a light smack as she went to go back upstairs and finish getting ready, making him yelp in surprise and her giggle.

He got his revenge when she came back down, stopping her at the door before she left and laying a kiss on her that made her knees weak and her insides feel like jelly. His hands slipped into her back pockets and squeezed her ass hard enough so that she stood up on her toes, her arms going around his neck just to keep herself upright. She absolutely did not collapse against him when he let up, despite the rumbling laughter under her ear. "Bedroom?" she asked, not sure she could trust her voice with more words.

"Ah, but what sort of deputy skives off work to lay in bed all day?" Killian asked.

She poked him in the ribs, near a spot she knew was ticklish. He squirmed under her and she snickered. "One with a bastard boyfriend who gets her all riled up before work."

"Mm. Such a greedy girl, Swan; you've already come twice this morning."

She flushed at that, swallowing hard. Two excellent orgasms, sure, but her body was telling her it was absolutely primed and ready for round three. "Yeah, well. Turns out I might have another round in me after all."

And then another, and maybe another after that… damn him.

He grinned at her, the predatory glint in his eye sending a shiver down her spine. Just an hour ago he'd given her a look much the same as that, a little dizzier and a little more lusty, just before he'd taken her and made her body sing. "As much as I'd love to test your theory, love, we're going to have to take a raincheck on that."

She sighed inwardly; she was the deputy in charge that day and couldn't just call off, and he was going to be working that night. It wouldn't kill her to wait a bit longer, she knew that much, but it might be another day or so before they could pick this up again. Still, it wasn't like she was the only party suffering here, and tried to make the best of it. "All these rainchecks you're writing, your ass better be ready for when I cash 'em," she said, looking up at him and batting her eyelashes innocently.

He bent down and their lips met, softer and more sweet this time. "Believe me, love," he murmured, "my arse is ready for anything you can throw at it."

She grinned, then stood up straighter, feeling a bit more confident in her legs now. "Promises, promises, Jones." She sighed again, running her hands up his biceps and regretting the need to do anything but march him back upstairs and have her way with him. "I'll stop in if I can't get dinner to work, okay?"

He gave her an unamused look. "I have faith you can work the bloody oven, Emma."

"Glad one of us does."

"Now, the timer on the other hand…"

She smacked his shoulder lightly, pushing off him and bending down for her boots. She felt him palm the curve of her ass as she yanked her boots on and leaned into it slightly. "We're really not getting anywhere today," she said.

"On the contrary, we've gotten off quite a lot."

"Oh my God."

She stood up and kissed him again, firm and quick, and he opened the door for her. "Have a good day, love," Killian said.

Emma took the porch stairs two at a time and only paused for a second to look back and wave before going to her car. And it really wasn't until she started the engine that she realized she actually was going to be responsible today and go to work.

Dammit.

Still, she had a nice drive in to work: no commercials on the radio, no annoyingly slow farm machinery taking their sweet time on the road, no jackass drivers making her think twice about memorizing their license plate and writing them up later for it. In fact, she went into work with a smile on her face - something her coworkers were quick to pick up on. "Wow, someone's in a good mood," Alex, the rookie on front desk, said, her eyebrows raised.

David, passing by on his way to his office, overheard. "What happened?" he asked, setting his coffee mug down on the desk. "Why are you - wait, no, don't tell me-"

He grabbed at her left hand, as if expecting to see a ring there, and actually looked mildly disappointed when he found it bare. "Seriously? I'd only be in a good mood if Killian proposed?" Emma asked.

"Well, you're not exactly known for your sunny morning disposition," he retorted.

Alex nodded and Emma side-eyed her; she was too new to already be siding with David against her on things. "I have plenty of things to be happy about," she retorted. "Just… felt like letting it show this morning." She paused, going back to David's insinuation. "Wait, do you know something?"

She started to feel a little overheated; they hadn't exactly talked about marriage, not even after David and Mary Margaret's hasty wedding, and she still wasn't sure how she felt about the subject. David held his hands up. "Take a breath, deputy, I don't know anything. Call it newlywed idealism; just hoping everyone else gets to be as happy as Mary Margaret and me."

Emma took a breath as he'd asked, feeling a little better after his reassurance. "I don't think anyone can be as happy as you and Mary Margaret."

"Touche."

Graham's head poked out of his office. "Am I paying the lot of you to stand about and gossip like hens?" he asked.

Emma and David shared a glance and rolled their eyes; Alex flushed and made herself very busy with the computer. "You don't pay us anything," David said, picking up his mug and going to his office. "The state does."

"Aye, and who tells the state your sorry arse showed up to work?"

"The computer I'm about to clock in at," Emma told him, just as her phone buzzed a few times in her pocket.

She shook her head as she went into her office, hardly listening to Graham's cry of "Insolent, the lot of you!" and wondering which TV show he'd been watching last night; he only got extra Irish when he was watching something on RTE.

She clocked in, noting that despite everything she was actually early - take that, Graham - and then pulled her phone out of her pocket to see who'd texted her.

It was Killian. A little confused - unless something had happened in the ten minutes she'd been gone, they normally didn't text each other during work hours - she opened her messaging app. Then, upon seeing the series of photos he'd sent, promptly kicked her door shut before anyone could stick their head in and ask why she was blushing so much.

A little something to keep with you today, he'd written, followed by several photos of his cock and what she presumed was his face while he was jacking himself off.

She could only be thankful he didn't send a video, or else she'd really be a useless puddle the whole day.

God dammit.


Two years ago...

Emma held her other hand out to steady herself, giggling as Killian led her somewhere. There'd been one quick phone call to confirm she didn't have any plans that day, work or otherwise, and then he'd shown up with a blindfold in hand and a question of whether or not she trusted him.

It was almost absurd how much she trusted him, so early in their relationship and not even knowing each other a full year yet.

His hands were gentle, guiding her to step up and her hands met something soft - it felt like seat cushions? Killian gave her a boost and helped her buckle the seatbelt - God, she hoped it was a seatbelt, they definitely hadn't talked anything through if this was anything other than a seatbelt - and she heard and felt the door shut. A few seconds later, the other door opened and then she heard the engine rumble to life. "Wait, is this the TIV?" she asked, feeling around.

She hadn't been in what he affectionately nicknamed the Jolly Roger more than twice at this point; he'd borrow Liam's car if they were going on a date and it wasn't Emma's turn to drive, or if he was feeling particularly chivalrous that night. The TIV (the Roger, the whatever, she wasn't calling it any nicknames, no matter how many pirate flags Will spray painted on the armor) was a beast and Killian didn't like to drive it when it wasn't for a chase, citing repairs and costs and other things that made sense for a broke grad student. She also suspected it guzzled a lot more gas than it did even in its former life as a pickup, with all the extra weight to haul around, but she kept quiet about that part.

"Killian, where are we going?" Emma asked, reaching for the blindfold.

He caught her hand and put it on the arm rest, holding it in his own. "You'll ruin the surprise. Yes, we're in the Roger; no, I'm not driving you into a storm. Just relax, sweet."

"I'd be a lot more relaxed if I could see where we were going," she grumbled, slumping back into the seat. "And the name is ridiculous," she added.

She heard him chuckle, deep and throaty, and it did things to her insides. Whatever he had planned for today, she hoped it included somewhere with a flat surface where she could have her wicked way with him; the tragically few times they'd slept together were both extremely memorable and horribly short, given their schedules and living situations, and she was hoping to rectify the situation. "It's not ridiculous," Killian said.

"I thought all you storm chasers were supposed to name your stuff after The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy and Toto and whatever."

"Now that is ridiculous," he countered. "And horribly overused. See, there's a woman in my program, Zelena, and all of her devices are named as such. She gets a little too into it, if you ask me. And I'd bet you anything that if one of us called our equipment even Munchkin, she'd fly into a rage and complain to the department head over it."

"Sounds like a real witch."

Emma realized too late what she'd said and she could practically hear the shit-eating grin on his face. "A wicked witch, if you will."

"I actually hate you."

"Do not."

"You're the worst."

He squeezed her hand. "Anyway, the Jolly Roger flies at the end of the story."

She pursed her lips, a twisting, sinking feeling erupting in her gut. "I thought the point of all the spikes and shields and heavy armor and drilling down into the ground was to make sure there wasn't any flying around?"

He took his hand back for a moment and she heard the engine kick in a bit more as he shifted gears. They must be heading out of town, then, and from there she had absolutely no idea what his plan was. "It is," Killian said, taking her hand again. "But the sensors and things I have to launch in the air need to fly."

"And they're what, fairies?"

"If you like."

She had a feeling he was pulling her tail a little. "Come on, why the Jolly Roger? Really, this time." He was quiet for a bit and she squeezed his hand. "Killian, I'm sitting here blindfolded and letting you drive me off to God knows where. I'm trusting you to do that. Let me in a little. Please."

Emma squeezed his hand reassuringly, maybe a little to coax him into sharing, and she felt relief when he squeezed back. "My mother," he said finally, his voice quiet but sounding rough with emotion. She wished she wasn't wearing the blindfold. "Peter Pan was her favorite story to read to us when Liam and I were young."

The silence in the TIV felt heavy as Emma covered their clasped hands with her free one. Neither Jones brother spoke about their family outside of each other much; well, Liam didn't speak to her about personal things at all, but all she knew from Killian was that their mother had died a long time ago. "Thank you," she whispered, and left the subject alone after that.

It was kind of hard, though.

Long drives in the car were normally something nice: playing around with the radio or the mp3 player of choice, talking about whatever came to mind, commenting on things that were outside of the car and wondering what things were.

Long drives in what amounted to a tank while wearing a blindfold? Not so nice.

For one thing, the only thing Emma could think to talk about was how he'd named his chase vehicle after something in his mom's favorite fairy tale. It was kind of turning around and around in her brain obsessively, like there had to be more to it than that, but maybe there wasn't? She'd never known her biological mom, so she didn't know if there was some kind of extra special bond or whatever that might drive you to do that. She loved Ingrid and she thought they had an excellent bond, but she didn't see herself naming her squad car after something in The Snow Queen. And that made her feel guilty and a little bit angry at herself for things she thought she'd gotten over a lot time ago, so really that topic of conversation was out. And then whatever it was that powered the sound system had died years ago; Killian said it was stored under the driver's seat but because of the way they'd refurbished the seats to have the necessary harnesses and extra padding for driving into powerful winds and excessive debris, they couldn't really take it out to fix it.

And, y'know, the whole blindfold thing meant she couldn't even play Cows.

"I spy with my little eye something black," Emma said, breaking what felt like a years-long silence, broken only by the engine struggling to haul them towards their destination and something rattling around on the roof.

"Funny."

She huffed, her mood dropping the longer this went on. "Can't I take this off? And seriously, I think something is broken on the roof."

"It's an anemometer. It's supposed to move," Killian said patiently. "It's broken if it doesn't move. And no, you can't take the blindfold off yet."

Emma slid down in her seat as much as she could, folding her arms across her chest. "I'm sure you take driving out of any equations if you're testing something," she said, sounding as grumpy as she felt.

"It's not a fun bit of math, but it's necessary. If it's really not fun, or if I'm annoyed with him, I make Will do it."

Since he'd helped with moving back in the fall, she'd been able to confirm an early suspicion: Will was more obnoxious than anyone else she'd ever met. It seemed more than plausible that Killian might make him do math as a punishment. While she'd discovered that Killian could be fairly reckless when he put his mind to it, Will seemed to be the instigator most of the time. And while Emma was never fully prepared for an encounter with him, she couldn't deny that Will was a good friend to Killian, and loyal to a fault. There were a few other guys who rotated in and out of the crew, filling in the extra seats in the back that were just as padded and protected as those in the front, but no chase happened without both Killian and Will. She'd asked. Apparently the whole operation could be done with just the two of them, but sometimes other students wanted to go out and get chase experience or collect data, and it never hurt to have extra hands.

Killian sighed and Emma suddenly felt bad about her grumpiness, like maybe her mood was souring this trip. Whatever this trip was for, and wherever this trip was heading towards. Then again, he was the one who'd insisted on the blindfolds and the secrecy, so maybe she shouldn't feel that bad about it.

Will would probably wear the blindfold without complaining, she thought suddenly, doubt creeping into her thoughts. With the doubt came a lot of second-guessing and a heaping helping of suspicion, with a couple more negative feelings hard on their heels. Killian had said he wasn't taking her chasing, but maybe this was some sort of test? Like she could handle it if necessary? Some kind of test to see if she was just as good and reliable as Will, that had to be it. Then she grimaced. No, he'd wear it and then complain about it the whole time. Loudly. While tying it on tighter.

"This isn't some kind of test, is it?" she heard herself ask. "The blindfold thing?"

Doubt gripped her tongue, making her want to ask more and she hated that she felt like she needed him to reassure her. "What makes you ask if it's a test?" Killian asked.

"I don't know."

"Emma."

There'd been more than one discussion about her lack of willingness to open up about things. Or rather, Killian had talked and Emma had tried to walk away from said talk. The tone in his voice said that he knew she was hedging around the truth. She ground her back teeth together in frustration. "Okay, not to pull the bullied orphan card here, but it's starting to kind of feel like this is some kind of trick or test."

"But you said-"

"It's not me saying I don't trust you," Emma said. "I'm just - It's just hard to shake old habits. Before…" She felt the words coming like it was some kind of word vomit, something she wouldn't be able to stop or take back if they started. She'd told him before that Ingrid was her adopted mother and she had a rough childhood, but she hadn't gone into detail about it, and Killian had respected that. She'd always thought she'd get around to telling him eventually - well, eventually was apparently now. "Before Ingrid adopted me, I was in a lot of different homes. Some of them were okay, most of them weren't. There was a family that had me for a long time, the Swans. They gave me back. I was three years old and they just - They were having their own kid, I guess. I don't remember much of it."

Lie. She remembered everyone that gave her back.

"A few other families would talk about adopting me, but something always happened. I got into a fight because someone would make fun of me for not having a real family, or one of the other kids in the home complained about something I did. Sometimes the adults were creeps. Sometimes I ran away before they could give me back. You know I was born in Maine? I've lived in more places than an army brat. I was in Minnesota before I came here, Maryland before that. I stole someone's wallet, bought a bus ticket, found myself in Oklahoma City. CPS picked me up there, back into the system."

Killian's hand found hers and she started, a little. She felt him lace their fingers together, his thumb rubbing soothing circles onto her skin, and he squeezed. He didn't say anything and she didn't know if that made things better or worse, but she held his hand anyway and it steadied her. "I was too old," Emma said. "It's like, after you turn ten or something the likelihood of adoption drops to like, zero. You're a problem kid or something's wrong with you or you've got too much baggage - why else wouldn't someone have kept you before now? Everyone wants a cute kid, a cute baby, someone they don't have to put any fucking effort into. The older the kid, the harder it is to "erase" old bad habits or evidence of the old family or whatever.

"I've heard every excuse in the book."

She paused when she heard her own voice crack, letting her emotions settle; sometimes she could talk about it without getting worked up, but since she was already in a bit of a sour mood, it was harder to separate herself from it. Killian squeezed her hand and she swallowed. "The other kids my age, in the new homes, they'd already be in their little cliques by the time I got there. I'd have to 'prove myself' to them. By that point I was so sick and tired of everything that I lashed out more and more. I fought, I screamed, I ran away. I'd get kicked out of homes faster. I had some kind of record, I think, I overheard my social worker talking about it. The year before Ingrid got me, I was in twenty different homes and five different school districts in one year.

"And that's where Ingrid came in. She had a few other kids when I got there, more assholes who tried to bully me into giving up my stuff, to prove I was going to play nice with them, but she wasn't having any of it. Ingrid has some kind of sixth sense about when trouble is about to happen, and she's really good at taking a situation down.

"She was the first person who was supposed to protect me to actually do that."

Emma fell silent after that; he knew the rest, how Ingrid stopped accepting new kids after Emma, how one by one all of the others were shuffled along until it was just the two of them, how Ingrid had taken her to an amusement park the day she'd announced her intention to adopt Emma, the move to Storybrooke to start fresh. "So yeah," she said lamely. "Part of me kind of feels like this is some kind of test, like if I match up to Will or something."

Killian took his hand back and it was probably the worst thing he could have done in that moment, but she felt the TIV turn and they bumped over some uneven terrain - could this thing actually do off-roading or was he just making this up as he went along? They slowed to a stop, and then Killian killed the engine.

She felt his hands on the sides of her face, gentle as he slowly slid the blindfold off. She blinked against the light, then tried to focus on his face - there wasn't any pity there, only a soft look that could only be described as 'adoration' as he watched her. He leaned in, closing the inches that separated them, and their lips met softly, briefly, before he sat back. "Emma Swan, please believe me when I tell you there is no one who I want you to be other than yourself. And I absolutely do not want you to be comparing yourself to Will Scarlet in any way, shape, or form. For one, you surpass him in almost every possible way - the exception is that you fill a category that I never want him to even be considered in."

Emma licked her lips, almost afraid to ask what that category might be, but Killian flashed that crooked grin at her and she started to relax again. "And what's that?" she asked.

"You, love, are someone with whom I very much enjoy spending time with, and who I also very much enjoy having sex with, and I absolutely never want to place Will in that category."

Emma started laughing and Killian slipped out of the TIV, hurrying over to open her door before she could contain herself. He helped her out as she caught her breath, and finally got a good look at where he'd driven them to.

"A corn field?"

"Hardly," Killian said, sounding offended. "This time of year it's alfalfa."

"Oh right," Emma said sarcastically. "Silly me. How could I possibly forget it's alfalfa season?"

He gave her an indulgent look, shaking his head slightly. Then he reached for her. "No, love, that is what we're here for."

With his hands on her shoulders, he steered her around until she saw the storm in the distance. They were far enough out that it was easy to see quite a bit of it; the clouds stretched out enough that she couldn't see how high up it reached, but what she could see was impressive enough. And without any large structures in the way, she could see why he'd bring them out to an alfalfa field. "Oh."

In the face of merled blue-gray-white clouds and the distant sound of rolling thunder, it was all she could think to say while taking it all in.

This was, he explained while hauling out, of all things, a picnic basket and a blanket from the back of the TIV, a relatively low-risk storm. "I thought this might be an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon: bit of a picnic, bit of a chat. Sometimes it's nice to just get back to basics. Watch the clouds, enjoy the power of nature. Remember why it is I want to do this."

Emma helped him spread out the blanket, anchored by their shoes and the basket; there wasn't just food in the basket, no, Killian had also brought a couple of his textbooks. "I'm not very good at teaching," he said when she made fun of him for it. "Ask any of my students, they'll be the first to tell you that. I can look at something and understand what it is, but making it come out in words that make sense to the uninitiated is harder than it seems, particularly without an advanced refresh."

"I know how thunderstorms form, Killian," she said, a little offended that he might think otherwise. She accepted the offered sandwich after they sat on the blanket. "Cold, dry air meets warm, moist air, then some science happens and then there's a storm."

He grinned, his eyes twinkling. "Very good, Swan, for a fourth grade science test."

"Hey!"

"I'm only teasing, love," he said. Annoyed, she bit into her sandwich - peanut butter and jelly with her favorite black raspberry, and it did not make her less annoyed with him that he'd remembered her favorite kind of jelly - and he reclined on one elbow. She'd dumped her whole sad past on him in the TIV and now he was teasing her about her ignorance in something he'd spent literally most of his adult life studying. "I'm not going to sit here and lecture you on anything. In fact, after what you told me on the drive here, what I had planned works in a fair trade."

That made her pause. "What?"

He made a motion for her to come lay next to him. As she did, a brilliant streak of lightning flashed, forking down towards the ground. "Did you know that lightning is actually five times hotter than the surface of the Sun?" Killian asked conversationally.

Emma twisted around to look at him. "Okay, now you're just making fun of me."

"No, no, really! It's even in one of the books here - sometimes there's things that are so unbelievable, even if they're true, that it sticks with you no matter what," he said. They lay on their sides, Emma's back against his front, and he reached over her to flip open one of the textbooks. He'd put a lot of tabs in this one, way more than she'd ever done with any of her books in school, but apparently it helped because he found what he was looking for almost immediately. "See, right there. Lightning can reach temperatures up to thirty thousand kelvins, while the Sun is a mere six thousand kelvins."

Emma frowned, leaning forward to read for herself. "Christ. And I get irritated when it gets into the eighties."

"Now think about all of those people who've been struck by lightning and lived."

She blinked slowly, trying to keep up with how quickly her brain was connecting different pieces. It helped that the text seemed to be designed for people like her - listing what the temperatures meant in fahrenheit and celsius as well as kelvins, though it was still a staggering number to think about. "Or how some trees just kind of - explode, instead of catching fire?"

"Exactly."

"That's crazy. I never even - Jesus."

She felt his rumbling chuckle against her back. "So think of lightsabers." Emma made a face - she loved Star Wars and while he enjoyed the movies, Killian wasn't anywhere near her level of geekery about it. Trust him to find some way to put it in a way she was sure to get. "All of those severed hands and no one bleeds out, right?"

"Yeah."

"Lightsabers are so hot that as they wound someone, they also immediately cauterize the wound. Lightning works a bit like that when it strikes a person - though quite a few cardiologists will tell you it's never a good idea to introduce that much electricity to the human body ever, and they'd be correct. It puts too much stress on the central nervous and cardiovascular systems and can cause serious problems much further on after the event. As for trees, well, they're a bit less complicated than humans. And I've seen some truly spectacular instances of trees burning from the inside out because of a lightning strike."

He pointed and Emma followed the line of his arm to where he indicated she look. "See there? It's only raining in one section?" He lowered his arm, settling it around her waist, and she found herself leaning back against him. "It's all chaos, Swan. The whole thing, all of it. And that's what we're trying to predict. Hail forms quite a bit but only falls sometimes, there's a twenty percent chance of rain, the odds of being struck by lightning in any given year is one in seven hundred thousand. Absolute chaos. And humans, we're foolish enough to think we can figure it out."

Emma turned a little, rolling onto her back so she could see him better. "You think you can't?"

He shrugged. "I think we can investigate pieces of it, but it's mad to think we'll uncover everything. And that's part of the beauty of it, I think." He looked down at her. "People need a bit of romanticism to be in the business of discovery. Some kind of hero's ballad waiting for them at the end. And that there's always something new waiting to be uncovered that makes people want to do it more."

There was a wistful note in his voice, and she didn't miss how he kept saying 'people' instead of 'we', separating himself from everyone else in his field. "And what makes you want to do it more?" she asked.

Something like a shadow flickered in his eyes and he glanced away for a moment. "My mother died during a storm," Killian said quietly.

She lay very still, realizing exactly why he'd named the TIV after something in his mother's favorite fairy tale, and waited for him to speak again. "We were still in England then," he said, his voice soft even as thunder rumbled in the distance. "Storms like this aren't as common there, and back then it was worse when it came to sounding an alarm if something worse was on the way.

"I was eight at the time. We had no warning there was a tornado," he continued. "Liam and I were at school, Mother - she was never very well, anyway; I hardly remember a time when she wasn't ill. She was at home. Father was - somewhere. I don't know. The storm came, and with it came the tornado, and it's very rare indeed to have one strong enough to do the sort of damage we saw. It took our house, and Mother with it."

Emma couldn't really reach his hands, positioned as they were, but she lay her hands on his forearm and tried to give comfort in what little way she could. Killian cleared his throat. "Father wasn't the same after that. He took a job here in America, I think to leave the memories behind. I always sort of hated him for that, for leaving her there and thinking that an ocean between us and her grave would make us forget her. We did alright, but after a time Father started drinking more. Now that I - I hated him for it as a teenager, being so absent, even if he was there at home with us. It took a long time to get past that hatred, finally realizing that Father really just never got over Mother's death.

"He died just after Liam graduated from secondary school, finally drank himself to death. That left Liam to get me through the rest of school and keep a roof over our heads." Killian paused, looking out across the plains, the wind toying with his dark hair. "I do this because I don't want anyone else to have to suffer the way we did, losing loved ones when there's even the slightest chance to save them. Give them enough warning to get to safety. I can't bring my mother back, but maybe I can save another boy from losing his."

Emma didn't know what else she could say. She wasn't good with words like he was, and she didn't know how to reassure him that he'd succeed - hell, he probably knew better than she did what his chances of that were. But then she realized that maybe, because he knew the odds, he needed the kind of reassurance that she herself would brush off? "Hey," she said softly, making him look down at her. She reached up and cupped his face between her hands, rubbing his scruffy cheeks a little. "You're going to be great. I might not know as much as you do about all of this, but I do know you; you won't quit unless something physically takes you away from it."

The corner of his lips quirked up a little and she pulled him down to meet her, kissing him softly. A crack of thunder overhead made them both jump, looking around to make sure it wasn't about to dump rain all over them. "Maybe a bit more on the path of this thing than I originally predicted," Killian said.

She smiled wryly. "Predicting chaos, right?"

The wind picked up a little, but they stayed well out of the way of the storm. They were able to finish their picnic and Killian gave her a few new pointers as the storm slowly rolled its way towards the northeast. It left a brilliantly painted sky in its wake, the sunset turning the clouds varying shades of purple that contrasted with the pinks and blues and oranges of the sky. Emma couldn't resist taking a few photos with her phone, even an awkward selfie or two of them laying down on the blanket, laughing as they lost their balance trying to stay upright for the photos. Killian, on the other hand, had an actual camera that he brought out at one point, taking photos that he said he would retouch a bit and then sell online. "It's not much, but it's gas money," he said.

"Whatever pays the bills," Emma said, closing her eyes and stretching out.

She heard the shutter click again, this time sounding a little closer to her, and opened one eye to glare at him. He grinned. "That one's just for me."

"It better be."

He hummed, turning back to take another picture. "I think you'll find that I'm terribly selfish," he said. "Rather like a dragon hoarding treasure."

"Or a pirate," Emma said, punctuating it with a yawn. "Mr. Jolly Roger."

Killian laughed. "That's Captain Hook to you, lass."

She groaned, rolling onto her side. Scanning the sky - the sun was almost gone at this point - she mused aloud, "I wonder if that's Venus or Jupiter."

Killian looked down at her, a mix of surprise and delight on his face. "Could be either, this time of year."

"It's hard to tell sometimes. I took an astronomy class for the hell of it in college," she said. "We got to use the big telescope one night. You can see some of Jupiter's moons all the way from here, you know?"

He hummed in agreement, sitting next to her. "One of my electives was astronomy. Seemed to me that if I was studying one part of the sky, I should look at the bigger picture, as it were."

She made a face at him and he snapped another photo of her. Then she stuck her middle finger up and he took a picture of that too. "You're ridiculous," Emma told him.

He looked like he was about to say something, then thought better of it. Curiosity gripped her tongue, but he spoke before she could ask. "Or," he said, laying his camera aside and sliding up next to her, "you could say I make a habit of studying heavenly bodies."

And with that terrible line that made her burst into laughter, he latched onto her neck, kissing his way up to her ear, and then finally finding her lips, murmuring, "I can't bloody well kiss you if you keep laughing at me."

"Stop feeding me terrible pick-up lines, then."

He kissed her again and she moved with him, lining them up so they lay side by side. "Would it be so terrible?" Killian asked.

"What, you wanting to study my heavenly body in an alfalfa field?" Emma asked, a little incredulous. He nodded and she blinked several times. "I mean - isn't that - what if someone sees?"

He looked around, his eyebrows raised. "If someone sees us in the middle of nowhere? We've been here for hours, darling, and not a soul has gone by. Not even Farmer Jim to make sure we're not ruining his crops."

Emma made a face. "Well, I don't really want to give Farmer Jim a show if he happens to pass by. I'd rather, like, break into Farmer Jim's house and use his bed. And this analogy is really getting away from me," she added as Killian laughed.

"So says an officer of the law. We'd commandeer the local farmstead to - what, satisfy your lustful urges?"

"Oh my God."

"You started us on this path, darling."

"You're the one who started it, you with your cheesy-" Killian cut her off, their lips meeting and a sigh escaping her as he wrapped his arm around her, hand splayed across her back and holding her against him.

Well, she had wished for a flat surface to have her way with him on, hadn't she?

He grunted in surprise as she pushed him onto his back, rolling with him and throwing her leg over his waist like she was climbing up into the saddle. She sat up, bracing herself on his chest, enjoying the look of surprise on his face. "Changed your mind?" he asked, his voice pitching a little high.

"Maybe you talked me around," she said, reaching for his belt. "Or maybe this was my evil plan all along."

"If this is what you call evil-" he hissed when she worked enough of his belt and jeans open to slide her hands inside, finding his hardening cock easily, "-then I am completely under your spell."

He reached up behind her back and fumbled with her bra clasp through her shirt. She paused long enough to remove it, tossing the offending garment aside while Killian rucked up her shirt and immediately latched onto her breasts. Emma sighed appreciatively, running her hands through his hair as she scooted back in his lap and let him sit up easier.

He groaned against her when she settled in his lap just the way she wanted, her core pressed against his hard length through their layers of clothes. She wriggled a little, sparks of pleasure zipping through her, and Killian sucked harder on her breast in mild reproof before continuing his gentle attentions on her. Emma undulated her hips, starting a slow rhythm to build up that fire inside, catching that sweet spot against the hard ridge of his cock again and again and making her toes curl in anticipation. "This won't last long if you keep that up, lass," he said, his voice muffled against her skin as he switched his attentions to her other breast.

She slowed. "I want to," she said breathlessly. "Feels too good to stop."

Not that he wasn't very good at foreplay - in fact, given their living situations, she was very well acquainted in all the ways he was fairly excellent at foreplay - but they'd been outside all afternoon with no chance to clean up before getting to this point. If nothing else, she was a little anxious about letting him nose around down there. He paused, looking up at her, and in the fading daylight she saw confusion giving way to understanding. "Ah. Right."

"Sorry."

"It's no matter, love. I'll just... lie back and think of England."

She had absolutely no idea what that meant, but his mouth found her nipple again before she could ask. His hands on her hips urged her to start moving again, and the question was gone as she started to rock, lost in a pleasurable haze that descended upon her as she ground down on him.

It was almost funny: he lived with his brother and she had a roommate in a loft with almost no interior walls to speak of, and yet now with their first chance to actually have decent sex with all the trimmings, she was more than content to dry hump the hell out of him like they were teenagers trying to sneak off and have a quickie before they were missed. Of course, she did plan on having actually decent sex, but maybe it was the added risk of getting caught that made this even hotter than it otherwise might be.

Screw Farmer Jim. We'll give him the show of his life.

She buried her hands in Killian's hair, rutting against him and feeling that coil wind tighter and tighter inside, but she could feel this wasn't going to be enough. Dammit. She'd wanted to come before fucking him, but that was apparently not in the plans for tonight. "Pants off," she ordered, getting off him abruptly.

He grumbled something under his breath, but did as she said while she wriggled out of her own jeans and panties. She heard him ripping open a condom packet - he'd started keeping one in his wallet after their second derailed attempt at actually having sex over the lack of protection - and tried not to squirm with anticipation while he got it on. "Alright, good to go," he said and she practically leapt at him.

She gripped his cock and ran the tip through her folds, enjoying the way his breath hitched every time she let a little bit of him inside her before pulling out and circling her clit again. "Bloody tease," he bit out.

"Impatient," she chided.

He bucked his hips up the next time she teased him inside, thrusting a little further in, and she gasped at the feeling. "Oh fuck."

Killian propped himself up on one elbow, reaching for her and coaxing her down for a kiss. She shivered when he started whispering a chant against her lips, "Let me in, let me in, let me in."

She slowly sank down onto his cock, letting herself adjust to him. He felt wonderful, and the angle shifted as he propped his knees up and lay back down, bringing her with him. She kissed him, soft and sure, as she rose up and sank back down on his cock. He used his feet as leverage to rise up and meet her - it was an awkward, bouncing rhythm, one that took a few tries to get right, but she buried her face in his shoulder and tried not to whimper at how good it felt to have him driving into her again and again. This was what she needed, just this, just the feeling of closeness and the mutual desire to get each other off, the feeling of his arms adjusting their grip on her as some kind of primal drive overtook him. He seemed to take the lead and it was less Emma doing the work on top as it was Killian rutting into her and guiding her body to take him. A groan clawed its way out of her throat and she heard the desperate grunts spilling from his lips and the words came out before she could think twice, "Come on, come for me, come inside me, Killian-"

The words were choked off by a gasp as her orgasm washed over her, Killian's desperate grunting giving way to stuttered, harsh breaths as her sex squeezed his own orgasm out of him.

There were fireflies flitting through the alfalfa, cicadas and crickets and other night insects she couldn't name singing in the evening air, the sound broken only by how hard they were breathing. Emma curled into his side, dimly hoping she wouldn't have to shake any snakes or insects or whatever out of her pants before putting them back on; she didn't really think Killian would appreciate her staining the passenger seat if she went without anything.

Then again, maybe not.

"We really need to figure out how to do this in a bed," he mumbled, and she heard the snap of the condom coming off. "There's a rock digging into my spine."

"You initiated this, buddy."

She gently urged him to slide over a bit and he sighed in relief. "My point remains. If we could do it like that again, but in a bed…"

Something pinched and Emma reached back without thinking, slapping her own bare ass in what was probably the least sexy manner that anyone had ever slapped their own ass before. "And I wouldn't be getting eaten alive by mosquitoes in a bed."

"They just know how sweet you are."

She made a face but heard the sincerity in her voice. "You're probably the only person, besides my mother, who would say that and even Ingrid would be skeptical some days."

"Nonsense," Killian said, rolling to face her. "You've a right to keep your heart guarded, love, after all you've been through. But you've plenty of sweetness to show to those of us who are lucky enough to have earned it."

She felt her throat closing up and swallowed past it, refusing to get emotional. Then another mosquito bit her and completely ruined the moment as she jerked to smack her leg. "Fucking blood-sucking little bastards - why aren't you getting bit?"

He chuckled against her. "Too hairy, they can't find any skin. I'll be more than happy to guard you," he said, reaching down and palming her ass, giving it a squeeze, "from any bloodthirsty beasts."

"Or we can get in the car, where there are no mosquitoes."

"Or," his grip on her tightened and she squealed as he rolled them both so she was on top of him again, both hands now firmly gripping her ass, "I could protect you even more."

"There is so much more of my skin to attack than my ass, you perv."

"Nonsense, it's the best part." He squeezed again for emphasis and she rolled her eyes.

"You're ridiculous."

"You love it," he countered and her heart stuttered.

It was way too soon for that. His breath caught in his throat, as if he too had realized what he said, and some of the ice that had started to form in her veins thawed slightly - maybe he thought it was too soon, maybe it was an accident. Maybe he already felt it.

Maybe she was too scared to think about it more than in passing, as an abstract concept, a maybe, an eventuality.

She swallowed. "I tolerate it," she said. He seemed to deflate, just a little, and she felt a stab of regret at how callus that must have sounded. "But I could learn to like it."

It was too dark to properly see his face by now, no matter how close they were, but she thought he didn't sound too disheartened when he said, "Well, then. I suppose it's a start."

Chapter Text

"Hey, are you okay?"

Emma blinked, roused from a daze. She realized she'd been staring at the map of the county pinned to her wall, and from the way her neck pinched when she sat up straight, she'd been out of it for far too long. Ruby leaned against the doorframe, her arms crossed, while she watched Emma with a raised eyebrow and concern on her face. "Yeah," Emma said, rubbing the back of her neck. "Fine, what's up?"

"Well, whatever's so fascinating about McClain County, apparently," Ruby said, pushing off the wall and going to sit on one of the chairs. "You've been staring for like twenty minutes."

Emma sighed. "Just… thinking. Nothing bad, not even work related, which is not something that should be repeated to Graham or David, but whatever."

"Emma."

It wasn't bad, but she just missed Killian, that was all. Between their respective work shifts, and a few times Emma got called out on an emergency, it had been more than a week since they'd spent more than a few hours in the same house, let alone when both of them were conscious at the same time. The only thing she could be pleased about was the fact that, despite going to sleep and getting up at different times, Killian had come to bed every night. No late night storms, no pacing, no self-flagellation for something he had no control over.

And she kind of liked having to untangle herself from him to get out of bed.

"Killian's been getting better," Emma said finally. "Our schedules… not so much."

The smile on Ruby's face was downright wicked. "Ah, so you were in here fantasizing."

"No! Well. Kind of." She felt overly warm and Ruby started to snicker. "Not really, I just… We had a really nice morning last week and the entire world has been conspiring against us from doing anything else." Emma sighed. "Spring's been hard for him and it felt like there was this thing between us that forced us apart. Like a rut or something. And, I don't know, something just happened last week where he was finally like 'hey, I've been kind of a dick, let me make it up to you', y'know?"

"With his dick."

"Why do I even talk to you?"

"Sorry, sorry. Continue."

Emma pushed her hair back over her shoulder. "Well, to be brief about it, it was a pretty great make-up session and we had a nice morning, a blip with his advisor aside. And we haven't been able to do anything since and I just miss him."

In one of the rare moments they'd been able to talk face-to-face, Killian had told her that he'd scheduled his next meeting with Dr. Bhavsar. More than anything else, she may have been a little more glum about the fact that he was leaving for that meeting tomorrow and it might be another day or two before he could get back. But she didn't want Ruby to think she was a complete sap.

"Why not just go see him at the bar?" Ruby asked. Emma opened her mouth to protest, but Ruby held up her hand. "No, I'm serious. You and me, we'll go together. And we'll bring Mary Margaret, since David's on schedule for tonight, and I know she's dying to get out of the house for a little bit."

"She's a million months pregnant."

"She'll be fine," Ruby insisted, "and you know whatever fuss Liam will try to kick up about you distracting Killian at work will go out the window because he'll be all responsible and making sure Mary Margaret's comfortable."

Emma wanted to argue, she really did, but the way Ruby had phrased it, 'distracting Killian at work', sent some gears into motion. She pursed her lips, pretending to think about it, then nodded. "All right, sure. But I've got a condition on this plan."

As it turned out, Mary Margaret was more than eager to get out of the house for the night. Even over the phone, Emma could hear David's mild protesting in the background, but they agreed it would be good for her to get out and have fun with friends before the baby came. And since they weren't going very far, Mary Margaret felt comfortable playing designated driver.

After work, Ruby and Emma split to go get ready for their night out; the plan was for Ruby and Mary Margaret to come pick her up last. That worked perfectly, because it had been a while since Emma had had to actually put serious effort into her 'going out' look and she needed the extra time to be able to have a minor panic attack about everything.

But her hair curled just fine and she didn't forget how to do the perfect smokey eyeshadow look, and the form-fitting red dress she'd bought on sale last year still fit great, so she felt about as ready as she could possibly be for a public seduction of her boyfriend.

The bar wasn't really busy, which was both a blessing and a curse for Emma's plan. Part of her hoped things would pick up over the next hour or so, and part of her thought if it stayed pretty dead then it might mean less glaring or thinly veiled accusations from Liam, but then she caught sight of Killian staring at her in a sort of stunned disbelief and decided it didn't really matter anyway.

Everything would happen according to plan and she'd happily tell Liam to go fuck himself if he said anything about it.

"Go get 'im tiger," Ruby hissed in her ear and then she and Mary Margaret went to claim a table for them.

Emma's back straightened and walked in a confident way that made her hips sway; Killian's mouth fell open a little and his eyes were practically glued to her sky-high heels. She watched his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed and she leaned over the bar a little, the low cut of her dress giving him an eyeful. "Hey," she said. "I heard this was a pretty good place to get a drink in town."

"Emma, you are trying to kill me," Killian muttered, absolutely staring down her dress.

She tilted her head to the side. "Sorry, have we met somewhere?" she asked, and his eyes snapped up to hers in confusion. She tossed her hair over her shoulder. "Me and my friends are just passing through," she continued. "But we've been in the car so long we just really needed to stretch our legs and find out what all this little town has to offer."

Killian's eyebrow ticked up as he understood her game; something in his whole body, his entire demeanor, shifted as he decided to play along and it sent a thrill through her to see him rise up and take her bait. "I see. Well, far be it from me to deny three beautiful women some of our good ol' Southern hospitality."

Emma grinned at his terrible Southern accent. Hers was no better. "Well, shucks, mister, that's awful kind of you."

He shook his head, a wide grin split across his own face, and picked up a few glasses. "So, what can I do you for?"

Oh you can do me alright, she thought, but placed an order to get them started. While he worked on mixing some drinks, he asked her name and after their reasons for 'traveling'; Emma decided to go with her real name and then tossed out a few fake answers. Something about getting Mary Margaret home to her mother before she had the baby and a road trip all in one, something none of them would ever risk and if only because Eva now lived six blocks from here, instead of in Dallas where Mary Margaret had grown up. Killian was nice enough to add a pineapple and cherry garnish to the "pineapple rum slush" he'd made for her (which was really just pineapple juice, a little seltzer for the zing, and blended up with some ice) before putting Emma's beer and Ruby's Long Island on a tray with it. "Fruit's good for the baby, even if a bar isn't," he said, winking as he slid the tray to her.

Emma smiled, picking it up easily from years of experience. "I'll remind her of that, thanks. You, uh, are you working all night?"

"I'll be around," he said slinging a washrag over his shoulder. "If you find you need a refill, Miss Swan, just ask for Killian."

She gave a sultry smile and said, "I will," before walking back to the table with that sway in her hips and knowing without looking that he was staring at her ass.

"I was ninety percent sure he would just haul you over the bar," Ruby said when Emma put the tray on the table.

"thought his eyes were going to fall out of his head," Mary Margaret said, taking a sip from her drink. "Oh, this is really good."

"He caught on pretty quick, so I think it'll be a fairly successful evening," Emma said, glancing over her shoulder towards the bar. "And he said to eat the fruit for the baby."

Mary Margaret rolled her eyes. "I swear to God, between him and David, this kid's going to be an Olympic athlete before he can walk. Healthy food this, nutrients that. If I hear the words 'folic acid' one more time I'm going to scream."

Ruby and Emma shared a glance, then chorused, "Folic acid," and were immediately rewarded with a growled shriek before Mary Margaret bit into the pineapple slice.

"So," Ruby said, stirring her drink. "Bets on how long it takes before David shows up as part of a 'routine walk-through'?"

The next couple of hours went by in a bit of a blur; despite the fact that Emma would get up to get refills and ramp up the flirting between her and Killian, she also just felt herself relaxing from hanging out with her friends and catching up a bit. The last time they'd gotten to really hang out was months ago, after Emma and Killian had moved into the house and before the baby shower. All of the baby and life updates Emma got were from David, and though she worked with Ruby, both of them tended to get sucked into whatever it was they were working on and didn't have time to dive in and really chat.

So it was going to be a good night for multiple reasons.

The second of which was about to happen, if Emma could play her cards right.

She went up to get another drink refill; she hadn't seen Liam yet, which probably meant he was the one cooking tonight and that was just fine with her. There was one other person working the front with Killian and it was slow enough that he'd probably take her up on her suggestion if she could figure out how to word it right.

But Killian, it seemed, wanted to turn the tables on her.

"Ah, can't get enough of me, can you?" he asked, taking the glasses from her and putting ready-made refills on her tray.

"Look at you anticipating my needs," she teased. "Someone's looking to make a pretty big tip tonight."

"Anything I can get from a beautiful lass such as yourself I'll count as a blessing, love," he said, and pressed something into her hand before she could move back from the bar.

Emma's eyebrow went up, but he was walking over to take care of a customer on the other side of the bar before she could venture any clever pick-up lines about tips. Shrugging to herself, she went back to the table and set the tray down before looking at what he'd given her.

Back office. Five minutes.

A note scribbled on a napkin, how... Killian of him. Emma bit her lip, grinning, and tucked it under her drink. "I'm going to use the ladies room," she announced, getting up.

Mary Margaret toasted her and to Ruby's eternal credit she did not whoop or cheer as Emma went to the back hallway where the restrooms and the administrative office was. She did stop and use the bathroom quickly - she had been drinking, after all - and then ducked into the office before her time limit was up.

Not even a minute after she'd closed the door behind her, Killian strode in, locking the door behind him before seizing her by the shoulders and kissing the living daylights out of her. "You," he said between kissing her cheeks and along her jaw and down her neck, "are a bloody minx and are going to be the death of me."

Emma giggled as he latched on to the juncture of her neck and shoulder, sucking a mark there; he slowly walked them backwards and when the backs of her thighs hit the desk he tried to get her to sit on it. His hands ran down her sides and then up again, squeezing her breasts and making her squirm with anticipation. "I'd say I'm sorry, but I'm really not," she said breathlessly. Instead of sitting, she gently pushed him back and indicated he go sit in the office chair. He looked at her in confusion and it only made her smile wider. "I came in here tonight with a plan, buddy, and there's no way you're going to derail that."

He raised an eyebrow with interest and sat at her behest, settling back to wait for what she had in mind. Emma wet her lips, propping one hand on her hip as she looked him over: his hair was sticking up from a gesture she knew well, the one where he gripped the front in frustration when a customer gave a complicated order; his lips were puffy and full from kissing her; his eyes roved over her body, drinking in her short dress and the way her shoes accented her calves.

She smirked.

"Now, do you remember when you were so very cruel to me," she said, sinking down to her knees in front of him, "and you denied me the chance to suck you off?" Emma watched him swallow hard as she ran her hands up his jean-clad thighs. "And then, to make matters worse, you got me all riled up again and just... sent me off to work?"

She palmed the now very apparent bulge at his crotch, watching his jaw work as he struggled not to cry out. Her fingers rested on his belt buckle and she met his eyes with hers. "I asked you a question, Killian."

His eyes widened and she saw his pupils were blown out, a combination of arousal and the dim lighting in the room. "Yes," he said, his voice raspy.

"Yes what?"

"Yes, I remember denying you. Twice."

She smiled; they'd played a similar game to this before and he was very good at remembering the rules. "Good." She lightly squeezed his cock through his jeans and he groaned, his hips bucking up into her hand. "Do you remember what else you did to me that day?"

His Adam's apple bobbed and a jolt of desire shot through her. "N-no," he said.

She squeezed his cock harder and he gasped, just on the edge of a whine, his back arching off the chair a little when she didn't let up. "Now, Killian, what have we said about lying?" Emma asked, arching an eyebrow.

When he didn't answer she tried another tactic, sliding her hand up his shirt and tracing her nails across his stomach. His muscles twitched under her fingers and she bit back a smile. "Good boys don't lie," Killian rasped finally and she lightly stroked his stomach in approval.

"So you do remember what you did?"

He nodded as her fingers traced the waist of his jeans. "I sent you pictures. I made myself come and sent you photos of it."

Emma licked her lips, thinking fondly of those photos. "I had to spend that whole day thinking about what you did to me in bed that morning, waking me up with your mouth on me, making me come with just your tongue. Thinking about the way you fucked me." She stroked his cock, loving how with every act she mentioned he breathed harder, as if he was holding himself back from repeating all of it right here on the floor of the office. "I'd finally gotten myself under control, and then my phone goes off, and I find out that I have a little treat waiting for me. All of that, and then I was stuck in my office all day, dripping wet, and couldn't do a damn thing about it.

"Worse, we haven't seen each other for more than five minutes to do something about it."

Killian opened his mouth, probably to protest, but she shushed him with a finger. "Oh, don't worry, I took care of myself," Emma said, still stroking him through his jeans. His nostrils flared. "Oh yeah, a few times while you were working late, I got myself all worked up again and had to get myself off."

"Emma-"

"So," she continued, as if he hadn't interrupted, "since you denied me twice, teased me, and left me to take care of myself, I'm going to finish teasing you and take what's mine twice. You're going to sit here and watch me take it, and then you're going to walk out that door and go back to work like nothing happened, alright?"

His jaw worked again and then he nodded. "Yes."

Killian sat back, watching her intently as she deftly undid his belt buckle and freed his cock from his jeans. Emma licked her lips, then held his eyes with her own as she took the head of his cock into her mouth.

His eyelids fluttered as she started to suck, but she squeezed the base of his cock with one hand to remind him that she wanted him to watch.

This wasn't the first time she'd given him a blowjob in this office, but it still thrilled her and turned her on every time they managed to sneak away from their (his) responsibilities and take a little time for themselves between their hectic schedules. Many of their trysts throughout their relationship had been quickies in the alley behind the bar or in this office when he'd gotten off work and they knew it would be their only time for ages to have any alone time together.

She'd kind of been hoping moving in together would fix that, but apparently not.

Emma took her hand away and took as much of his cock in her mouth as she could fit. Killian made a strangled sort of noise as she swallowed and hollowed out her cheeks as she pulled away. Taking him in hand again, she ran her tongue up the side of the shaft, watching as he struggled to keep his composure, and then swirled her tongue around the head again and again. She lapped at his slit, tasting the salty precum, and smiled to herself when she felt him pulse in her hand. He wasn't close, not yet, but he was definitely getting there.

She took his hand and guided him to grip her hair. She loved it when he guided her through sucking him off. She felt herself getting wetter as he took over, his grip on her hair just tight enough to send sparks of pleasure shooting through her body, and she moaned around him as her head bobbed up and down on his cock.

His hips jerked again and she tried not to gag as he unexpectedly hit too deep. "Sorry," he rasped.

"S'okay," she said when she came up for air.

Her jaw needed a bit of a rest but her hand kept stroking him, listening for each hitch in his breathing as she found all of those little, secret spots of pleasure around the head of his cock. His hand still in her hair, he kept massaging around the back of her neck just the way she liked and Emma felt like melting into the floor. "Getting there?" she asked.

He nodded. "Wanna come inside you," he said, his breath hitching again as she squeezed just right and popped the ridge.

She grinned, slowly, and his eyes widened again. "Good thing that's just what I had in mind," she said, and let go of him.

He made a whining noise as she stood but she ignored him. She yanked up her dress, smiling as she heard him inhale sharply, and dropped her panties, stepping out of them lightly. She dangled them on one finger in front of his face; he stared at her like she was some sort of hallucination, a creature out of his wildest dreams, and her core clenched at the thought. She let them fall onto his chest and went to the wall, bracing herself against it. She coyly glanced at him over her shoulder. "You gonna do something about this or not?" she asked.

Killian scrambled to his feet, her underwear falling to the floor, forgotten, and his own pants falling around his ankles. "You're not real," he said, kicking her feet apart roughly. Emma bit her lip as he gripped her hips and palmed her ass, lightly smacking her and then running his fingers through her slick folds. She shivered, more arousal dripping down and covering his fingers. "I dreamed you up, I had to have. There's no way this is real."

"Fuck me and find out," she said and felt the head of his cock brush against her inner thighs.

His hand moved away and then he nudged her entrance. She bent over a little more and he took her in one smooth stroke. "Fuck," she whispered, the stretch and burn exactly what she'd been wanting.

His fingers on her thighs gripped hard enough to bruise but she didn't care; she'd wear them proudly. He thrust into her hard and fast, the slide of his cock inside of her sex making her tingle from head to toe with pleasure. Her legs would feel like jelly after and the heels would be the most stupid wardrobe choice ever, but right now they gave her the perfect height to let Killian slam his cock into her over and over again. Emma groaned deep in her throat and reached down to rub her clit; she knew he had to be close after her attention to him earlier and she wanted more than anything to come with him, but his hand slapped hers out of the way. "Mine," he growled and the spike of arousal she felt at his possessiveness outranked anything else she could have done to him tonight.

His fingers were rough on her sensitive clit but she needed it. She reached back and grasped at his hip. "Please," she chanted, and he grunted, leaning over her back and driving his cock into her, if at all possible, even harder.

She'd been wired practically since setting foot inside the bar, the way he'd watched her stroll up to him with his mouth agape making her feel sexy and powerful. Her legs quivered as he pressed his fingers against her clit. The way he'd given himself up to her as 'punishment' for his naughty behavior had only heightened that and turned her on; she loved to watch him submit to her, just as he loved when she did the same for him. The needy, desperate grunts in her ear pushing her closer and closer to the edge. And this, a quickie in the back room before either of them could be missed, just turned her on more. The need to be quiet fighting the desire to scream her pleasure to the world - let everyone know just how fucking good Killian Jones was and how he was hers-

Her heartbeat pounded in her ears as she came, wave after wave of pleasure cresting through her body, and she buried her face against her arm to muffle her moans. She was dimly aware of Killian's jerky movements behind her as he came, too, her own orgasm squeezing him dry as they fell together.

Emma winced when he pulled out of her, not expecting how sore she'd feel, but it was absolutely worth it. She straightened slowly, her movements languid and feeling a little fuzzy with the haze of pleasure left over after her orgasm, and was rewarded with seeing Killian wiping the sweat from his face with the bottom of his shirt. She wet her lips again, eyes trailing down the hairy expanse of his stomach down to where his cock was slowly softening again. Killian caught her eye and smirked before pulling his shirt over his head. She watched him, confused, before he pulled a spare shirt out of a filing cabinet and pulled it on. "I'll say I spilled something on the other one," he said, winking.

She watched him pull up his pants and awkwardly scrunched her dress back down into place, slightly regretting the tightness of it. "I won't tell where you really spilled something," Emma said, feeling his come dripping down her thighs and making a note to stop in the bathroom again.

She went to grab her panties, but Killian got there first. He dangled them in front of her face, not unlike the way she had to him, before stuffing them into his pocket. "I think I'll hang on to these," he said, grinning.

She gaped. "You're such a jerk," she said, only slightly kidding - she really wasn't looking forward to spending the rest of the evening without underwear, not when she wasn't sure how much of herself she could clean up before returning to the table.

"A souvenir of our tryst, if you will," Killian said, leaning over and kissing her cheek.

"Still a jerk."

He kissed her lips next and she moaned, cupping his cheek as he slipped his tongue between her lips. His arms went around her waist and pulled her snug against him, his hands warm on her hips and his fingers pressing soothing patterns against her. "Love you," he said softly when they parted.

"Love you too," she said.

He winked as he unlocked the door and left her with wobbly legs and sticky thighs. Jerk distracted me with kisses to make me forget he has my underwear, she thought, glad that the bathroom was just across the hall. She just hoped she wouldn't leave a wet spot on the back of her dress, she didn't have anything to cover it with if -

His shirt.

She'd had a terrible habit of stealing Killian's shirts before they moved in together, enough that he'd actually found shirts in her dresser that he'd forgotten he ever owned. She liked using them to sleep in, letting the mixed scent of laundry detergent and Killian soothe her to sleep. Having the real thing in bed next to her helped curb that particular habit, but it wouldn't be so unusual if she came away with one of his Pour House shirts.

She snatched it up and slipped into the bathroom, cleaning herself up as best she could with the limited supplies at hand. She waited a bit more until she felt like she'd done as much as she could to limit any potential leakage, then did a quick spin in front of the mirror to make sure there wasn't any evidence on her dress. Then, to make the quick story she'd concocted in her head more plausible, she slipped the shirt on over her dress, feeling some tension leave her shoulders as she breathed in Killian's scent. It hung long on her, long enough to cover her ass if she tugged on it, so Emma exited the small bathroom with no small amount of satisfaction that everything had gone according to plan.

And promptly ran straight into Liam.

"Shit, fuck-" Emma blindly reached for the door frame, or the wall, or anything to keep her from falling on her ass.

"Emma." Liam reached out and steadied her, but there was a tone of foreboding in his voice that put her on edge. "You look…"

He drifted off, as if he wasn't sure how rude he was going to be about her attire. She glanced down: yes, the maroon of The Pour House t-shirt she wore clashed with the red of her dress, but in all fairness the skirt of her dress was so short that it almost didn't matter. Looking up at him, she raised an eyebrow. "Is there something wrong with how I'm dressed, Liam?"

His lips flattened slightly. "I just wasn't aware that the latest trend was an obscenely short skirt and a mismatched shirt on top."

Of all the things he could have said, this was hardly anything of note. "Killian said my dress was distracting," she said offhandedly. "I'd think you'd be proud that he'd give me something to cover up with."

"Yes," Liam said, and she knew immediately that he saw right through her. "Which is how I know that's not quite how you came to acquire the same shirt he came in wearing tonight."

Shit. "How would you even know that?" Emma countered.

He waved his hand. "There's a bit of a bleach stain near the collar, he only wears that one when he's annoyed with me." It was Emma's turn to frown. Who knew Liam Jones was actually Sherlock Holmes? "I also find it interesting that you came in wearing that," he continued, gesturing to her dress, or at least what little of it he could see, "knowing that he'd be gone for the next few days."

Emma pursed her lips, doing her best to keep a lid on her temper when it came to Liam and his opinions of her relationship with Killian. "And I find it interesting that you still don't understand anything about what goes on between me and Killian."

He chuckled mirthlessly. "Oh, I know far too much about what goes on between you and my brother. Such as the little incident last week when your rules kept him from going out to chase, causing him to miss a definite hook-echo and a confirmed tornado."

Her jaw actually ached from clenching it. "He didn't know for sure until late, and there's no guarantee he'd even have caught up with it in time-"

"But we'll never know that for sure, will we?"

"No, which makes your argument twice as stupid. We already talked it over, Liam, like an actual couple in an actual relationship, and we both apologized. So I'd appreciate it if you didn't go digging up dead horses to keep beating on them."

He shook his head. "We'll see. He might not be able to graduate with all the data he's missed, his advisor might hold him back again. It would be too bad, really. He's all hopeful about finalizing his dissertation-"

"God dammit, Liam, I know why he's going to Norman," she snapped, her restraint on her temper snapping. He was only being flippant to piss her off at this point, and she hated that it was working. "I'm the one who told him he should go. I live with him. I see how frustrated he is every single day, he needs to talk to someone who knows what the hell he's talking about when he talks about isobars or CAPEs or instability indices."

Liam's face clouded. "Then you know very well he needs to focus on what he needs to talk about when he goes!"

Emma scoffed. "Right, because he gets a lot of time to stop and ponder the mysteries of meteorology while he's tending bar. I completely forgot his workstation is back there and he can run experiments in between pulling pints. Please, if you really thought that then he'd have tonight off and we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"No, we wouldn't," Liam said, agreeing with her for once. "Because if he had been at home, you two would have done whatever it is you did to foul up my office in your own home and he wouldn't have any blood left in his brain to think about anything at all. He'd go into his meetings tomorrow without a clue of what to talk about because all his energy had been wasted in fucking you." Emma's mouth dropped open in stunned shock. "At least here he might have had a chance to think without you lurking about distracting him, but I suppose we don't live in a perfect world."

To her eternal embarrassment, she realized her eyes were stinging with tears. Liam had never really approved of them, but this stung worse for some reason. "No, we don't live in a perfect world," she said, giving herself a moment to make sure her voice wasn't shaking. "If we did, you'd understand that not everyone was a goddamn robot like you, without emotional wants or needs."

She turned and marched off towards the table before Liam could get another word in. She signaled to Ruby and Mary Margaret that she was leaving, and barely made it outside before she finally let those tears fall.


Three years ago…

It became a weekly thing, Ruby and Emma going out to the bar; Emma found it was more comfortable after she invited David, the other rookie at the department, to join them. She didn't feel like the lone cop hanging out and spying on people, and she had someone to talk shop with if Ruby got to chatting up someone else. And she liked David; he wasn't that much older but had the kind of passion for corny jokes and doling out tidbits of wisdom that she imagined the father she'd never had might.

The tidbits of wisdom grew less wise and even less coherent the more he drank, and with Ruby to ply him with more of those craft beers he liked so much, they heard more of those than the good ones.

"Please tell me you've got insurance for dart injuries," Emma said one night as she took a seat at the bar. It was her turn to refresh everyone and she was more than happy to get away from David trying to play darts over in the corner. It didn't help that there was a new girl joining them tonight, a teacher at the elementary school named Mary Margaret, and David thought this might impress her.

"I'll have to ask Liam," Killian said, watching the game with impish interest. "I don't know if that falls under liability or health."

Emma leaned on the bar, glancing over her shoulder and smiling at the scene: David trying to throw straight, thinking he'd landed it, looking expectantly at Mary Margaret, who - as she should - was looking at him like he was a few crayons short of a box. "If it gets much worse, I can stop it for drunk and disorderly conduct. Or just like, for his own good."

"Ah, Officer Swan in action, be still my heart," Killian said, and she knew from his tone he was only half-joking.

This was another thing that had become a semi-weekly occurrence. Despite their somewhat awkward first encounter, Emma definitely picked up on the fact that Killian was into her. And he wasn't weird about it - he smiled and flirted, gave her a free shot or two (usually with Liam glaring in the background), and none of their interactions gave her any indication that he expected anything in return. She'd watched him a bit with other customers, and yeah, he definitely flirted - to pull in tips. But there wasn't anything behind it, no heat or whatever; when it was just the two of them, Emma definitely felt like he was laying on a bit of charm.

But it was charm without expectations. Which was… kind of refreshing, honestly.

So she flirted back. Not all the time, just a little to let him know she was kind of, sort of, maybe interested. Which she was, she just… also wasn't sure if it was appropriate. And she didn't know who to ask about it. It was really more of an ethical thing than anything else, abuse of power or whatever, but it had enough pull to make her hesitant about giving him anything more than an inch.

"Easy, Jones, I left the handcuffs in my locker," Emma said, taking the offered glass of water.

"Pity, that."

She snorted, spraying water up into her face, and Killian tossed a hand towel at her while trying his best not to laugh (which was a piss-poor effort if it was his best). Emma glared at him over the towel, throwing it in his face when she was done. "You're the worst," she told him.

"I'm simply a man who knows what he likes, love."

Yeah well, I didn't need that image in my head, she thought, glad that she was sober enough to keep that particular thought to herself. She heard him chuckle, though, which is how she knew the warmth in her cheeks wasn't just from the crowded room or the alcohol she'd already drank.

She let him get back to work, if for no other reason than both Ruby and Mary Margaret had taken some not so subtle looks in her direction to see what she was up to. She waved the next time Ruby glanced over, then laughed at how Mary Margaret had apparently decided to show David what, exactly, was up and kick his ass at darts.

To his credit, none of this seemed to make David any less determined to flirt with her; and to her credit, Mary Margaret seemed to be into whatever that whole wobbly side-lean thing was that David had going for him right now.

Ruby looked torn between amusement and a need to vomit. Emma didn't blame her.

A tray nudged her elbow; Emma looked back, a little surprised to see Liam putting her orders on it. "Be careful with him, will you?" Liam asked, digging for a bottle under the bar.

"Who, David? I'm not the one you've gotta warn for that," Emma said, digging in her pocket for her money clip.

Liam side-eyed her. "I'm not talking about Officer Nolan; I'm talking about my brother."

She raised an eyebrow at that, wondering if maybe she had drank too much after all. There were a few possibilities at his meaning, but she couldn't really figure out what he was referring to or why he might bring it up now. The orders placed, Liam stood back, arms crossed over his chest in what was probably supposed to be an intimidating way, staring her down. "I'm not sure I understand what you're talking about," she said finally.

Let him make himself clear, then remove yourself from the situation.

She laid a couple of bills down on the counter while he continued to glower at her. "Killian," Liam said, as if that had been the cryptic part. "He thinks he's all smitten with you. Well, be careful how you tread with him, Officer Swan. He's come too far to mess anything up now; he's too close to being done with his research and doesn't need any distractions."

Both of Emma's eyebrows shot up, her mouth going slack at the accusation that she was just playing around, that she had no regard for how Killian would feel if anything were to happen between them.

Though, a part of her stung where Liam had gotten a bit too close to the truth, that she was just playing around. She wasn't playing around, though. Killian was a grown-ass man flirting with a grown-ass woman who decided to flirt back sometimes. They were both adults who could make their own decisions in this, Liam be damned.

Whatever 'this' was.

"Seems like there's two people in this mix, Jones," Emma said finally. "So why is it you're only talking to one of them?"

She picked up her tray and left before he could answer, silently fuming. Her return to the table was met with cheers and she took a hearty swig of her beer to wash the taste of that encounter from her mouth.

Still, despite how entertaining Mary Margaret and David's absurd flirting was, Ruby seemed to pick up on the fact that Emma wasn't in the 'having fun' headspace anymore. "Okay, spill," she said, leaning in close over the small table. "I thought you and pretty boy were having a decent time up there but now you're really bringing the room down."

Emma rolled her eyes, taking another swig of her beer. "It's not pretty boy that's the problem," she said, feeling sour.

She repeated what had happened when Liam came to fill their orders, trying not to let her own hurt feelings stain the encounter; but Ruby was Ruby and you could never hide anything from her for too long. When Emma finished, Ruby was sending death glares Liam's way; her eyeliner and dark red lipstick only served to make her look more menacing and Emma was suddenly very glad that Ruby was one of her best friends. "He's slut-shaming you," she said, her sharp eyes snapping back to Emma's. "Without the... y'know, actual sleeping together part."

Well, that explained why Emma felt so irritated. "God, like Killian never looked twice at a woman before. Unless this guy has given the whole 'you're a distraction' speech to everyone who's ever dared to flirt with his brother before."

"He'd be hella busy if that was the case."

"You did not just say 'hella'."

Ruby grinned, reaching across the table and shoving Emma. "Seriously, though, Liam can be kind of an asshole. Personally, I think he needs to get laid, get that stick out of his ass-"

"Ruby."

"I'm trying, he's just not biting!"

"Not what I meant."

Ruby rolled her eyes. "Well, anyway, he's kind of an ass. And I'm sure there's some big brotherly concern there. And, to be fair, you did threaten Killian the first time you met him."

Emma scoffed, picking up her pint. "To prove a point. And because he was being kind of an ass." She paused, letting the rim of the glass rest against her chin as she thought. Maybe Ruby would have some kind of insight. "Though... I guess it just kinda stung about the playing around part. I'm not sure if I could date Killian, if it came to that."

"So you're thinking about it?" Ruby sounded way too interested in this possibility.

"Stop it," Emma warned. "Floating possibilities. But the fact that I did meet him because of a police call kind of... it feels weird. And I'm not sure if I should even consider anything if any part of this doesn't make me feel one hundred percent okay. Does that sound too, I don't know, priggish?"

Ruby held up a finger and downed the rest of her martini. She set the glass down and speared the olive, using it to point at Emma. "Okay, one, no one says 'priggish', so cut that from your vocabulary. Two, very few things make you feel one hundred percent okay with taking part in them; those things are massages that you're using a gift card to pay for, and an orgasm with a vibrator."

"Why an-"

"Because there's no messy human attached to the other end, and no one knows what you like better than you," Ruby explained in such a way that led Emma to believe this wasn't the first time she'd used this particular example. "You're supposed to take risks when it comes to meeting other people, because other people in general are just a huge risk. Is it your soulmate or a serial killer whose gonna use your femur in his coffee in the morning?"

Emma winced. "Ruby. Gross."

"But plausible," she said, sticking the olive in her mouth. "And three, it's not that weird to date someone you met during a work thing, even if the work thing wasn't completely on the straight and narrow. You didn't arrest him, you roughed him up a bit with words. It turned out to be a misunderstanding. It would be different if this was like, good cop shacking up with drug lord, but it's not. This isn't Detroit, this is Storybrooke. We don't have a lot going on here."

Emma sighed. As much as Ruby had a point, she still couldn't quite resolve that in her gut. "I'm still gonna talk to Graham about it," she said finally, taking another drink. "I don't want to find the one thing that's completely loophole proof."

"Nothing is completely loophole proof," Ruby said.

"The one thing that's completely Ruby-proof."

The other woman grinned and raised her empty glass in a mocking toast. Emma inclined her head and took a hefty swig of beer, just as Mary Margaret whooped nearby. "Bullseye!"

They tabled the discussion on Emma's theoretical love life and she really did try to enjoy the rest of their evening. She and Mary Margaret teamed up in doubles against Ruby and David; and considering she carried the entire team, Ruby held up very well on her own. David, despite his best intentions, only wound up putting more holes in Liam's walls and loudly declared the other team was cheating by moving the board on him.

It was around that time that Emma declared it was time to go home. "You're gonna get more drunk and then more disorderly, and we're having too a nice time for me to arrest you," she said, easing David away from the darts and towards the door.

"I'm a police officer, you can't arrest me," he said.

She hummed. "Yeah, no, that's not how it works in my book."

"Is your book the law?" David asked, slurring more. "Because my book is the law and my book is better than your book."

She tried her best to keep a straight face but kept snickering. Mary Margaret wasn't entirely sober herself but she still rolled her eyes as she picked up her purse. Ruby, who'd drunk more than either of the other women, looked fresh as a daisy and moved easily on her heels. "Come on, Officer Nolan, let's get you back home before the chief hears about this."

She led the way through the crowd, leaving Emma and Mary Margaret to guide David in her wake. Once outside, Emma shivered slightly; it was the end of June, but after being in the stifling bar all night the temperature shift was a shock. There was a rumble of thunder in the distance that told her it would get even cooler, and it only made her move faster - the last thing she wanted was to get caught in the rain trying to get a drunk man home.

"Swan!"

Emma paused in the street, turning slightly. Killian hurried out the door to catch up to them. "Liam's going to kill you for leaving early," Ruby pointed out, the next crack of thunder in the distance seeming to put emphasis on her words.

Killian waved his hand as if brushing the notion off; Emma thought she had a point but kept that to herself. "It's just for a moment and then it'll be as if I never left. Do you mind if I speak to Emma for a moment?"

She could practically hear Ruby's eyebrows go up, but it was Mary Margaret who spoke. "Ruby, help me get David down to the corner; he can lean on the telephone pole. Emma, we'll wait over there, okay?"

Emma nodded, grateful that they'd stay nearby enough to wait but not to eavesdrop, and then she was left standing in the middle of the road with Killian. She shifted her weight, crossing and uncrossing her arms as she tried to make herself feel a little less visible, a little less exposed like this. "So… what's up?" she asked finally.

He was looking at her with an expression she couldn't pin down to one emotion: a mix of hope, wistfulness, determination, maybe a little bit of fear. The next rumble of thunder sounded closer; the storm was rolling in, and he seemed to stand up straighter with it. She swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry as she put the pieces together for what was about to happen. "Swan, I- I was hoping you might like to join me for dinner one night. Friday. Or Saturday, or… I'm afraid I don't know what the chief has you scheduled for, but perhaps we could come to some kind of agreement?"

"Killian-"

"Look, I know Liam's already tried to warn you off." Emma blinked at that; maybe this wasn't the first time Liam had pulled that particular stunt, or maybe he'd taken her jab to heart and talked to Killian too. "He's got it in his head that it's his job to keep me on the path, especially when it comes to girls. But I'm asking you to tell my dear brother to piss off and just come to dinner. Please."

Her lips pursed. The wind picked up a little, blowing some hair in her face. She reached up and tucked it behind her ear, glad for another moment to compose herself. "I'm not gonna lie. Liam didn't scare me, but he sure did piss me off," she said.

Killian winced, a streak of lightning throwing him into sharp relief. "Bloody hell… I'm sorry for him, truly. My last… well, I don't want to get into it, but my last relationship didn't go well at all and Liam seemed to take it more personally."

She still stung from earlier, and the looming conversation she'd decided to have about it with Graham stuck out in her mind. But she didn't particularly care for the thought of leaving Killian out to dry just because he had an overprotective ass for a brother or she had possible ethical conflicts. "I… I have to think about it," she said finally. "It's not Liam, it's… it's other stuff."

He seemed to deflate a little. "I see."

The wind ruffled his hair and she felt terrible for how pitiful he looked in that moment. "It's not that- Look, I want to," she said, admitting it to herself even as she verbalized it to him. "I do, it's just… weird, because of how we met. And I don't know if that's allowed, and I just don't- I just want to make sure we're on even ground first, okay?"

And just as quickly as she'd felt awful a moment before, it made her warm to see how much that little explanation seemed to brighten him up. "So you have to, what, clear it with an ethics committee?"

Emma winced as lightning flashed overhead and thunder rolled in hard on its heels. Dear God, she hoped not. "No, probably just have to check with my boss. I hope. I've never done this before."

"This?" he asked, his eyebrow quirking with interest.

"Gone out with a potential felon," she deadpanned.

Something in him shifted as he slid his hands into his own pockets, swaying into her personal space; that flirtatious air was back, the crooked grin and the raised eyebrow, and Emma had to actually bite the inside of her lip to keep from giggling. "Well, Officer Swan, rest assured that in the event that you do have to arrest me, I have every intention of cooperating with your requests and, ah, coming quietly."

Emma winced again, this time from just how awful that joke was, and covered her face. Killian barked a laugh, the sound carrying on the wind. "Here," he said, and she saw him pull his hand out of his pocket, holding something. "Call me, will you? Or text. When you have an answer?"

His number was scribbled on a napkin. As she reached to take it, he caught her hand in his grasp and pulled it up to his lips, brushing a kiss on her knuckles. The world seemed to stop in that instant, his lips lingering against her skin, her heartbeat pounding in her ears. Her eyes met his and held, each searching the other, and she wondered what would happen if she said 'yes' right now. "Think about it," he said, his breath warm on the back of her hand.

Goosebumps rippled up her arm and down her back and heat burned in her cheeks. "I… okay," she said softly.

Killian grinned, but it wasn't cocky or triumphant - no, it was just happy, and maybe a little bit relieved. "Okay," he said, punctuating it with a little chuckle of disbelief.

He let her go, the napkin with his number crumpled in her fist, and they stepped back from each other, matching silly grins on their faces. The wind picked up again and more thunder made itself known, reminding them both of the urgency to get inside and breaking most of the reluctance to leave. Killian turned back towards the bar, and Emma turned towards her friends, but at the curb she looked back; he lingered in the door, watching her go, and he raised a hand in farewell before ducking inside.

As she caught up with the others, a small smile still playing on her lips, she barely heard Ruby ask what he'd wanted to discuss. She only wanted to replay that moment over and over again in her mind, try to memorize how he looked when he was bent over her hand, the way his lips felt against her skin.

She was fucked and she hadn't even agreed to - hadn't even found out if she could - go out with him.

She just shook her head, hoping that would be enough to deter Ruby, but that damn smile wouldn't go away. And at any rate, Ruby wasn't one to be deterred. Emma just pulled her hand out of her pocket, still holding the napkin, and held it up, still smiling, as her friends gasped and shouted their joy - all while poor David, leaning most of his weight on Mary Margaret, slurred his congratulations while trying to remember how his feet worked.

"Nothing's set in stone," Emma said, trying and failing to sound rational and calm.

"It'll be fine, Emma," Ruby declared. "Even if I have to forge Graham's signature on some made-up ethics paper he'll claim we have."

"Ruby-"

"No, Emma, I will not tell you how many times I've done that."

Emma rolled her eyes and slung one of David's arms over her shoulders. "It's probably better if I don't know, anyway."

"The tagline of our friendship, baby."

"Oh my God."


Later that night, after everyone had gotten safely home, Emma lay safely in her bed, staring at the numbers scrawled on paper. Her phone sat on her stomach, still warm from how she'd been gripping it and typed and retyped several messages before erasing all of it and giving up.

Just tell him hi.

No, that's stupid. He said to text or call when we had an answer.

He didn't specify if the answer was just a general 'yeah let's go out on Friday' or if it was if we're allowed to date him.

What if he takes it the wrong way?

It's Killian. He's just going to be happy to see something from you.

Emma huffed, annoyed at the argument spinning around and around in her head. She listened to the gentle rain on the street outside, to the wind making the house settle, to the leaves rustling in the trees just outside her open window.

She picked up her phone.

Hey. It's Emma. Just so you have my number or whatever. You're probably still at work. Have a good rest of your night.

There. Simple. Straight to the point, an exchange of numbers, telling him goodnight. Satisfied, she plugged the phone in and went about her routine to get ready for bed.

She slept soundly until her alarm went off two hours before her shift started, and when she managed to blindly find her phone to turn it off, she saw there was an unread message in her inbox.

Hello, Swan. Thanks for checking in. Boring rest of the night, fyi, not much fun without my favorite constable.

Emma told herself the dopey smile on her face was from how tired she still was, how she hadn't had a shower or coffee to properly wake up. She didn't respond, clicking the screen off and getting out of bed, stretching.

The next time she texted, she'd like to have an answer to give him.

Chapter Text

Killian was gone by the time she woke up. And really, "woke up" was a stretch — she hadn't slept well at all the night before; in fact, Emma had still been awake when Killian came home from the bar. She'd lain there for hours, stewing, not sure who she was more upset with, but when he came to bed she immediately rolled over and clung to him. "Emma? You should be sleeping, love."

She shook her head. Killian sounded exhausted, but there was worry in his voice when he asked, "Darling, what happened? You left earlier than I thought you might, you didn't say goodbye. I didn't even see you or the girls leave. You're not really angry with me for taking your underwear, are you?"

Emma half rolled her eyes, nudging him to put his arm around her, which he obliged. He stroked her hair and it felt so nice she almost started crying all over again. "It's not the underwear," she said quietly. "Did - did Liam say anything to you?"

There had always been this unspoken agreement between her and Liam that they not mention their disagreements with each other to Killian, but she was starting to think it was a mistake. It almost felt like tattling, and she really didn't want to make him feel like he had to choose between her and his brother, but even after almost three years, it felt like Liam was still trying to put a wedge between them. And for what, because Killian was almost done with his studies? That was the same excuse he'd been using for years, and still Killian hadn't finished. It wasn't his fault, and it certainly wasn't hers.

She'd only forbade the night chases last spring, after all. And after what had happened, Liam should be thanking her for that, not scolding her.

Killian's hand stilled for a moment, then resumed his ministrations. "He mentioned something about abusing my break privileges, but that was about it. Why, what did he say to you?"

It took all of her willpower not to get up and drive over to Liam's place in that moment and rip him a new asshole the way he deserved, once and for all. It fucking figured that he would lay all the blame on her, take everything out on her, and let his brother off scot-free. Killian seemed to notice something was up because he sounded much more alert when he said, "Emma, if Liam spoke out of turn to you, I need you to tell me."

She sighed, her anger deflating just as quickly as it had built up. "It's nothing he hasn't said before," she mumbled. "Though he was a little more… crass about it this time."

He was quiet for so long she thought he'd fallen asleep. She jumped when he spoke again. "I'll talk with him about it. You'd think he'd bloody give up and accept things by now, but no, that requires someone without a pig's brain in their head."

Emma chuckled weakly, relaxing more into his embrace. She appreciated that he wasn't in denial or tried to downplay the fact that Liam and her didn't really get along. He'd have to be blind, or an idiot, to miss the fact, but she at least attempted to play nice and be polite while they were around his brother. It just bothered her that with how much she knew Killian talked about her, Liam had only found more fault with their relationship; surely he didn't just focus on the bad things, right? There were plenty of good things to talk about too.

Right?

She shook her head of those bad thoughts. "I'm a big girl, Killian; I can handle Liam."

"Aye, love, I know. Still doesn't mean I can't tell him to stuff his opinions back up his arse where they came from."

They'd fallen asleep not long after that, Emma a little more uneasily than Killian, but he could sleep through a, well, through a tornado.

(Which she knew for a fact that he could, and he'd been steaming mad about that the next morning.)

Still, she must have dropped into a deep sleep at some point because she never felt him get up or heard him pack his overnight bag and leave. After she ate, she decided to spend the day getting some prep work done on the painting they'd been putting off doing; she threw on some working clothes and spent the morning stripping the wallpaper in the hallways. The house was always weirdly quiet when Killian was gone so Emma kept the radio on, blaring a classic rock station and singing along to keep herself from going back to what had happened last night with Liam.

God, she really wanted to just punch him in the nose.

The front door opened and startled her so much that she almost fell off the stepladder. "Jesus, Mom, ever heard of knocking?" Emma said, climbing down and turning down the volume a little.

"I have, though you still haven't learned to keep your music at appropriate levels," Ingrid said, though she smiled. "I knocked three times."

Emma winced. They really needed to get the doorbell fixed - whatever the previous owner had done before moving out hadn't lasted through the winter. "Yeah, well, you did always say I could do whatever I wanted once I had my own place."

Ingrid laughed. "That is true. Anyway, I stopped over with a couple of things, mind if I put them in the kitchen?" Emma waved her on, then followed to wash the dust off her hands. "I didn't know you and Killian were doing remodeling already."

"Kind of a spur of the moment decision," Emma said over the water. "He's over in Norman and I don't have anything to do until my shift starts at six. Figured I'd get a jump on some things."

"Killian went to Norman?"

She dried her hands slowly. "Yeah," Emma said, avoiding the look Ingrid gave her. "There's some thesis stuff going on."

"Bad thesis stuff, I take it."

"That's what we're going to find out."

"Mm."

Emma never did like it much when Ingrid made that noise. It meant she knew too much, or had guessed at whatever it was Emma was hiding from her, like the fact that her high school boyfriend was actually in his twenties or how he was having her hold on to his pot for him. She watched as Ingrid pulled a pint out of the freezer and sat down with it and a couple of spoons at the table. "I was going to leave this for you to try at your leisure, but I think you need someone to talk to. Ice cream helps."

"Mom…"

"Sit. I'm experimenting with some flavors for June and I need a second opinion."

Ingrid's latest kick was trying to out-do Ben & Jerry's by taking what she called 'sub-par ingredients' and replacing them with some more local flavor. She kept it to one new flavor a month and there were running polls and commentaries on her social media pages about which ones might become permanent additions to the roster. It was a very popular scheme and Emma hadn't seen Any Given Sundae this booming in years. "You know if it's not rocky road I'm not really interested," she said, sitting across from her.

Ingrid rolled her eyes as she took the top off the container. Whatever the flavor was, it was blue. "I can't believe I raised you to be such an ice cream snob."

"You bought damaged goods, you knew this going in."

The look Ingrid gave her was hard to read, but there was never any pity or sympathy in these kinds of expressions. Just some scrutiny and a little bit of reproof. Emma tried not to squirm under her gaze. "Something's going on with you and Killian," Ingrid said finally. "You haven't been this hard on yourself or this distant in years."

She gestured with her spoon for Emma to take the first bite. More to keep herself from answering the thinly veiled accusation, Emma did - blue raspberry and there were… Swedish Fish? She winced, swallowing. "Ok, I get it, you're going for a more ocean-related Phish Food, but no Swedish Fish. Gummy stuff only tastes good on froyo."

"We do not mention the accursed in this house, Emma."

"It's my house, Mom. I can talk about froyo all I want. Froyo froyo froyo."

Ingrid rolled her eyes again and took her own spoonful. Then she made a face too. "Alright, I see your point. Maybe I'll have something for July… No, I was working on that Independence Day themed neapolitan, so maybe it'll be for August, a last hurrah of summer. Hang on, I have more. In the meantime, talk."

Emma blinked at the speed at which her mother changed both marketing tactics and conversation topics. "About what?"

"Whatever it is that has you so… you."

"Mom."

"Emma."

She sighed in disgust, stabbing at the ice cream for more of the blue raspberry - gummy fish aside, her mom did make a mean blue raspberry - and shoving it in her mouth. "It's not me and Killian," she said, ignoring Ingrid's look about talking with her mouth full. "It's me and Liam."

Ingrid's brows furrowed for a moment, then understanding dawned. She opened the new pint and Emma was relieved to see chocolate in this one. "He's still giving you a hard time."

"I don't think I'd call it that anymore. He's just... " Emma sighed. "He's just mean about it now. And I don't get it. He doesn't give Killian that hard of a time - I asked. He only lays into me about it, like I'm the only one with any say in this relationship. We bought a house, for Christ's sake. You don't buy a house with someone you're only screwing around with."

There were brownie bits and fudge swirls in this one and Emma nodded in appreciation before taking another spoonful. Ingrid looked pensive. "Have either of you tried talking with Liam about his behavior?" she asked. Emma started to respond, but Ingrid held up her hand. "I don't mean taking him to task for it, I mean asking him about the root cause of all of this. It's gone on too long for it to be jealousy or something petty."

Jealous? Liam? Of them? Emma almost laughed at the idea, and would have if she wasn't so pissed at him. "We probably have," she said. "I don't remember, but Liam doesn't listen to me. If Killian has, it hasn't gotten anywhere. He said he'd talk to him again after what happened last night."

"What happened last night?"

Her face warmed. Fumbling for the words, Emma tried to explain what had happened at the bar without going into explicit detail, though she had zero doubts that Ingrid was well aware of what she meant by 'visiting Killian' and the context in which Liam's current anger happened in. The look she gave her confirmed that. "He was on break," Emma said, the defense feeling weak.

"Well, I'd still call it impolite at best," Ingrid said, making Emma wince, "but I'm not going to sit here and lecture you. It's already done and you're a grown woman. So I can see where Liam might be a bit irritated for last night, but it's hardly the worst thing to ever happen."

Particularly when it wasn't even the first time she and Killian had had sex at the bar, but Emma wasn't about to mention that. Alluding to it at all was humiliating enough. "It just isn't fair that he went after me and then Killian gets off scot-free," she grumbled, digging into the ice cream. "It takes two to tango."

"I don't need to remind you that life isn't fair," Ingrid said. "But I can maybe see where Liam's a little blind when it comes to his brother. We tend to develop blind spots about our children."

Emma thought back to when Killian had first told her about losing his parents, how Liam had practically raised him after their father died. She supposed Ingrid had a point, but it didn't mean Liam had to be an asshole about it. She said so, and Ingrid smiled. "I didn't say it was right," she said. "But sometimes it helps to see where someone is coming from."

Just then, Emma's phone rang, and it gave her an excellent excuse to avoid figuring out how to continue that particular conversation with Ingrid. It wasn't a number she recognized, though it was local, so she answered with her professional voice in case it was one of those stupid robo calls. "Deputy Swan speaking."

"Ah, Emma. This is Nemo Bhavsar, Killian's advisor."

Her eyebrows went up. "Dr. Bhavsar, hi." She shared a confused glance with her mother. She knew Killian had listed her as one of his emergency contacts, but he'd only left a couple of hours ago. "Is everything okay? I thought Killian was meeting with you today."

"He did, we just concluded the meeting."

"That was short."

He laughed. "Indeed, but for good reason. There's a strong front coming off the Rockies and I managed to get some funding to allow Killian to take a team out to Wyoming, possibly into the Dakotas if he follows it. We've had luck there in the past and I think this is just what he needs to finish everything."

The sinking feeling of fear for him was buoyed by the small hope that he might be done soon, but Emma was still confused. "I'm glad to hear that, but I'm a little confused on why you're calling me about it?"

Dr. Bhavsar exhaled - not quite a sigh, but close. "Killian gets this look in his eye when he's focused, one where he quite forgets the proper courses of action outside of accomplishing his task. I thought it might be better to notify you now, rather than receive a phone call when he's three states away."

She frowned; he wasn't wrong, per say, but she'd also never seen Killian get that worked up that he'd completely forget to call her. "Well, you've known him longer," she said dubiously.

"It's an academics thing, I'm afraid. When one gets caught in the single-minded pursuit of knowledge, one can lose sight of what's truly important. I've seen it many times before."

She pursed her lips. She hoped he was wrong in this case, but she knew better than to bet on that. Though, she remembered one of the things Liam had implied the night before, that without her Killian could focus better and actually accomplish what he'd set out to do. That hit her like a punch in the gut. "Well. Alright, thanks for giving me a heads up."

"Not a problem, Emma. Have a good day."

"You too." After she hung up, Emma stared absently at the ice cream starting to melt along the edges of the carton, chocolatey blobs against the scooped and scraped lines dotted with fudge and brownie bits. She didn't like to think that maybe Liam was right, that maybe a few days away from her would be good for Killian's research, would be good for him in general. But the thought was there, racing around and around in her brain like a merry-go-round out of control. She glanced up at Ingrid, who looked concerned. "Well," Emma said, forcing some optimism she definitely did not feel, "looks like I might be taking care of all the painting myself over the next few days."


It did make her feel better that Killian called later that night; he and Will were still on the road with two research assistants, somewhere in Kansas. He sounded excited about the prospects ahead and Emma couldn't help but smile as she listened to him go on about the models and figures. "How long do you think you'll be gone?" she asked, tucking her legs up against her tighter.

"If the line of storms stays strong, we could be after it a week or so. Depends on what we run into."

The urge to say something sappy gripped her tongue, but she held off, not wanting to embarrass him in front of his peers. Or maybe it was the lingering thought that he'd do better without her nearby. "Okay. I guess you'll be too busy to call much?"

"Probably, but I'll try to touch base when I can, love."

God, Liam couldn't have planned this better, if he even knew about it. He'd be crowing. Asshole. Emma swallowed, her heart both very full from missing Killian already and hurting because of what his brother had said. "Stay safe, Killian. Good luck."

"As safe as possible."

"I love you."

"I love you too."

Then it was just her, her erratic work schedule, and the messy house she'd made for herself. Emma sighed, and she swore it echoed through the empty house.

When she wasn't working, she kept the TV on rather than the radio. The noise helped to drown out the lingering taunts and obsessive thoughts in her mind. But there was another bonus to it. She primed every wall in the downstairs except for the kitchen while watching more Weather Center Live and Local on the 8s segments than she could remember ever watching in her life, even living with Killian. If there were going to be any updates on the front he was going after, she wanted to know as soon as possible.

She also watched a lot of weird survival-type shows about extreme weather conditions and even something about killer bees, but that usually got interrupted by news updates.

And it was on the news updates that she finally got word of Killian.

She was painting the living room - a dusty turquoise color she liked and she hoped he didn't have any objections to - when she heard the news break sound clip. Emma paused, watching the broadcaster move in front of the green screen and showcase the severe storm they were tracking in eastern Wyoming. Her lips pursed, worry causing her heart to beat a little faster, and she went back to painting, keeping one ear on the TV and waiting to hear what happened.

"We've got a regular correspondent, storm chaser Killian Jones, on the line. Killian it's good to hear from you, can you tell us what you saw there?"

Emma whipped her head around, watching as footage was shown on the screen from what must be the aftermath, listening to Killian talk about the storm. He sounds tired, she thought. And frustrated, which meant he didn't get what he needed out of this one. The scene certainly looked like there'd been a tornado, a couple of downed trees and debris everywhere, a caved-in house and an overturned pickup. "No deaths," she heard him say, "just a few minor injuries the first responders are tending to, but my team and I will be helping where we can before following this one."

Emma turned the volume down. She'd gotten what she needed, Killian was alright and he was going to be a bear about not getting what he needed, and it was going to be a long couple of days while he chased this system across the country.

Part of her wanted to run over to the bar and snap her fingers at Liam - Emma being around didn't have any effect on how Killian's research was going. The other part felt ashamed for feeling any vindication from his failed chase.

Really, though, overall she just felt drained.

She was going to need more paint.


The next couple of days passed much the same, but as Emma moved on from the living room to the dining room (a green that looked nice with all the whitewashed trim) and then into the hallways and stairwell (a neutral caramel that went with everything), Killian seemed to pop up on every evening storm report. Even on TV she could see how frustrated he was, the way he ran his fingers through his hair and the slight clench of his jaw during a question; that was the third day of chasing this particular system, when they were close enough to a nearby affiliate for a news team to come out. The other times were all phone-ins.

She didn't watch the livestreams, if Will did any; it would only make her more anxious, and they'd started muting them, mostly due to how much swearing went on when the chases went live, so it wouldn't help her figure out what was going on anyway.

Killian didn't call at all in that time and she had absolutely no idea what to think about that. Well, she kind of did, but it was such a mess of conflicting emotions that she didn't have the strength for sorting through right now, and so she just hoped she had no idea why he hadn't called.

Still, it was surprising to come home after a late shift at work to find the TIV in the driveway. Surprising, and a little hurtful that he hadn't called to say he was coming home, but Emma was glad to see the monstrous thing in one piece, nary a scratched pirate flag in sight - and hopefully the man who captained it was in one piece as well.

She opened the front door, thankful the smell of paint had died down with all the windows being open, and noted that all the lights were off downstairs. Emma left her shoes by the door and locked up, then went upstairs quietly. The upstairs was dark, too, and she shuffled around in the bedroom to get her things, trying not to make any noise - but her own silence alerted her to the fact that she didn't hear Killian.

He wasn't one to snore, but he could breathe pretty loudly when he put his mind to it. She flicked on the bedside lamp and noted with a frown the bed in much the same state as she'd left it that morning. Where was he?

Leaving everything in a heap on the bed, she went back downstairs. The hall light illuminated enough that she could see into the living room and just make out the lump on the couch that hadn't been there earlier.

Her heart sank with every step she took. She took in the empty beer bottles on the floor, the blanket that was half on the floor at this point and exposing his tightly folded arms and his scrunched up legs, and even in the poor lighting she could see the scowl that remained on his face even in sleep. Emma wanted to wake him, to bring him up to bed and hold him and ease away his frustrations, but her pulse just hammered in her throat every time she tried to open her mouth.

She could be glad he chose to come home, but it hurt to see him balled up on the couch, clearly having drank himself to sleep, rejecting the idea of the comfort of their bed and her arms.

So she swallowed past the lump in her throat and fixed the blanket, tucking it up around him and making sure it wouldn't slip down again. She hesitated, then felt a pinch of disgust at herself for doing so; she brushed his bangs away from his forehead and pressed a kiss there, not daring to hope he was waking up when he stirred a little under her. "I love you," she whispered.

She lingered for a moment, watching him, then slowly walked back to the hall, turned off the light and went upstairs, alone.


Two years ago…

"Swan!"

The front door slammed shut, jarring Emma out of her pleasure-filled daze. The sound of feet on the stairs and Killian talking as he ran happened faster than she could react. "There's an imminent event, the instability levels are the highest I've seen in ages, we're guaranteed to get something and I know I promised you-"

He stopped at the top of the stairs, his words cut off as he took in the sight of her spread out naked on the bed with her vibrator clutched in one hand. Killian blinked, slowly, mouth dropping open a little. "Interrupting, am I?" he asked, his voice sounding strained.

She was a little strung out, her body thrumming from a peak just out of reach, and she couldn't help but laugh a little. "Well, it's hot, and I was bored."

Her lofted bedroom had been stifling when she'd woken up; Mary Margaret was off at work and Emma had slept late after getting in around three in the morning. She'd opened the little windows above her bed and turned on the fans, but it only helped so much. So then she'd figured, whatever, she was home alone, she was a grown-ass woman, she could be naked in her own apartment if she wanted to.

And well, then she'd gotten bored scrolling through her phone.

Emma sat up, wincing a little as her core throbbed in protest. "What's going on with some imminent event?" she asked.

Killian crossed the room in two strides, his hands going to her shoulders as he gently pushed her back down on the bed. "Different imminent event first," he said, dropping to his knees.

"What - are you serious?" she asked. He took hold of her legs and gently pulled her forward until her ass was just at the edge of the bed. She felt warm in a way that had absolutely nothing to do with the temperature of the room; bad enough that he'd walked in on her going to town on herself, but now he was putting aside something urgent just to- "Oh God," she cried, her head falling back as he parted her with his fingers and licked a long stripe up her center.

She was definitely sensitive, definitely ready to come, and now she definitely didn't care about anything else other than keeping her boyfriend's head between her thighs.

He tasted her with short, firm strokes, easing her legs up over his shoulders and then gripping her hips with firm hands. She couldn't catch her breath, straining under his cruel ministrations. His tongue swirled around her clit and dipped down to her entrance and Emma's fingers dug so hard into her comforter that she expected the cross-hatch marks would never go away. God, she'd been so close when he'd hurried in, lost in a fantasy where they were playing a game of pirate and kidnapped princess; she wondered how he'd take such a game, if he'd be willing to make her submit to his whims, but that was a conversation for when he wasn't doing that with his tongue inside of her.

She made a whining noise when he pulled away, but she hadn't noticed his hand leaving her hip - something firm nudged her entrance and she lifted her head, looking down at him in confusion and he grinned at her, winking when he flicked the 'on' button of her vibrator. Emma gasped, her toes curling and her legs tightening over his shoulders, and then that absolute asshole bent down and pressed down on her clit with the flat of his tongue. Her gasps quickly turned into pleading moans, his name tumbling from her lips with a few curses tossed in for good measure. She couldn't hear him over the low thrum of the vibrator, but she knew he would be chuckling because he was an asshole like that, and her hips seemed to be rutting up against his face all on their own. She scrambled for a better grip on the bed, but his other hand found hers and she gripped him tight. "Killian - oh, fuck, Killian -"

And then she was flying, bucking wildly into his face and felt so good that it almost hurt, her skin was so overly sensitive from his attentions and her earlier play with the vibrator.

Killian turned it off and gently pulled it out of her while she trembled from aftershocks; she was sure she'd never be able to unlock her fingers from his, she was holding onto him so tight, and he looked at her with a mix of smug satisfaction and gentle adoration as he stretched out on the bed next to her, bringing their clasped hands up to his mouth to kiss her fingers. "Still bored?" he asked.

Emma exhaled, then turned her head to look at him. If she wasn't so overwhelmed by the aftermath of her orgasm, she'd be overwhelmed by the amount of feeling in the look he was giving her - the amount of feeling in her chest she wanted to express. But it was like a vice gripped her tongue, and she could only reply, "No, but now I think I need a nap."

He grinned and then, with an amount of energy it would take another decade for her to muster, he bounded to his feet and went to her wardrobe, tossing a t-shirt, jeans, and a lightweight plaid shirt at her, all while talking. "No time for naps, Swan, though I suppose you can do that in the car." He went to her dresser then, looking through the drawers. "As I was saying, there's an imminent event and we need to be on the road."

A pair of her own underwear hit her in the face, then a bra. "We?" she asked, not moving; she couldn't, really, her legs felt like jelly and laying on the bed felt nice.

"Yes, love, 'we'. I did promise you I'd take you on a chase when the opportunity presented itself, didn't I?" He paused, looking into the drawer thoughtfully, then tossed a pair of socks at her as well. "It'll be muddy if we have to get out of the TIV, so boots or trainers please. Work boots, not your everyday ones."

With enormous effort, she managed to sit up, moving the clothes off of her and onto the bed next to her. "You do realize that you've effectively rendered me useless for a few hours."

"That's why you'll be in the back. Will's driving, I've got the computers. You'll be along for the ride, a third set of eyes, but you can nap in the car until things get underway."

She raised her eyebrows at him. "You really think Will's going to be okay with you bringing me along and then me just conking out in the back for most of it?"

"He'll be fine."

"And you don't get to tell him why I'm so out of it."

Killian gave her another cheeky grin and she rolled her eyes, giving in. She grabbed everything and padded down to the bathroom to put herself together. She kept in mind that they'd be in the car for most of the day, and out in the wet and the wind if they got out, and braided her hair after brushing some dry shampoo through it. When she came out, Killian was cooling his heels by the door, and Emma raised an eyebrow at him again. "Am I going to eat at all today or is this a 'grab what you can when you can' kind of day?"

"We'll stop by Granny's on the way to Will's. Come on."

In fact, it seemed like he'd called ahead before he'd even gotten to her place, because Granny had two bags of take away waiting for them at the counter. "You bring her back in one piece now, you got it?" she asked, glaring at Killian pointedly over her glasses.

"If she's not in one piece, then it's because I'm also not in one piece."

Emma, blushing a little from Granny's overprotectiveness, gave a smile of thanks as Killian paid and they hurried back to the TIV.

They ate as he drove; Will still lived in Norman, so they were going to backtrack a little before making their way west and south to meet up with the cold front Killian was pinning all of this on. This was the first time she saw the TIV's interior all set up for a chase; instead of the brackets being used for Killian's computers, Emma just set up the trays to put her food on, smiling sweetly when he gave her an exasperated look. "It's a lot lighter than two laptops and all your batteries and wifi cables and whatever," she argued, spreading her onion rings out in front of her and sorting them from smallest to biggest, just because she could.

"No respect," he said with feigned dismay.

"Nope," she said, startling a laugh out of him. "Respect is for men who don't barge into my apartment unannounced and then give me excellent orgasms."

He hummed, an amused glint in his eye. "I'll keep that in mind."

She finished her breakfast-slash-lunch just as they pulled into Will's apartment complex; it was very much a student apartment block, one on the lower-end amenities-wise, but if Will was having similar money woes as Killian, it wasn't unexpected. Killian honked twice; Emma glared at him. "We have to get out anyway, just go and knock on his door."

"It's how he knows it's me!"

"And him opening the door to your face wouldn't let him know it was you?"

"Well, then we both have to get in the TIV and this way I'm getting things situated while he gets in."

Emma rolled her eyes, shaking her head. Men. They got out and she went to sit behind the driver's seat while Killian got his computers set up; Will hurried down the stairs and practically vaulted into the TIV. "Bloody hell, it took you lot long enough," he commented, barely buckling his seatbelt before getting them back out onto the road.

"We stopped to eat," Killian said mildly. Emma hid a smirk at his phrasing; she still felt pleasantly worn out from earlier. "And yes, there's something for you, you heathen."

While Will drove, ate, and managed to cuss out half the drivers on the road all at the same time, Killian started filling them both in on their plan of attack for the day. At this point, he'd gotten everything connected and running on his laptops and he could point out the wind and temperature patterns on his charts to Emma, who by now could at least understand what he was talking about, if not make an educated guess on what his charts meant.

They'd head west and south, possibly heading into Texas if they didn't meet up with the line before then. They would get into position to launch their probes, and possibly intercept if it could be managed. More for Emma's benefit, Killian explained how they had helmets and extra harnesses in the seats to keep them as restrained and safe as possible in case something went wrong with the intercept.

She watched him as he talked, fascinated at how animated he was about the whole process, from safety measures to tiny points of data. She couldn't see his eyes too well, he was wearing sunglasses even if he wasn't always looking back at her, but the enthusiasm in his voice was more than a little infectious. Yes, she'd asked if he'd take her out with him sometime, but it didn't mean the prospect wasn't more than a little scary; only now was she realizing that scary was okay - as long as he was there with her.

At one point, she leaned forward enough so that she could play with the hair at the nape of his neck while he talked; slowly, as if he reacted without realizing it, he relaxed into her touch. She smiled when he make a noise of content, but Will's reaction wasn't so pleased. "Oi, if you two are going to be all touchy-feely for the duration, I've got no problem letting you two get out and walk to Texas from here."

"Oh, stop it," Killian admonished.

Emma eyed the back of Will's head, pursing her lips. "Hey, I'd play with your hair too, if you didn't keep it cut like you were still a cadet."

"It's more practical this way."

She hummed, lightly scratching at Killian's nape one more time before sitting back in her seat. Killian turned a little to look at her, an exaggerated pout on his lips, and her stomach did a little flip.

God, she was so fucked for this man.

Smiling, she turned away, watching the endless farmland pass by outside. It was fairly repetitive: field of crops, dilapidated barn, the occasional pasture filled with some livestock, house, repeat. Eventually, it proved to be just soporific enough to put her to sleep, the excitement of the morning catching up with her.

She didn't know how long she slept for, and when she did wake it was hard to convince herself to open her eyes; the seats were comfortable with all the extra padding - another safety measure. Also, Killian and Will seemed to be having a rather heated discussion about her.

"Mate, I just don't see why you brung her."

"She wanted to come. I promised her ages ago I'd take her out, she wants to see what I do besides stare at Excel sheets."

"She don't take you out where she works."

"She's police, Will. Why are you so bothered by this? We've had other people work with us before."

"That's the thing, innit? They work with us. She's just - a bloody tourist, like one of those groups that charge you a couple hundred and drag you around the countryside and go 'welp, looks like it was a bad day, folks, sorry, no refunds'."

"She's not dead weight. If we need an extra pair of hands, she'll be more than capable. I thought you liked her."

Will's voice was quiet and Emma knew she needed to make it known soon that she was awake, but she also really wanted to know the answer to this. She and Liam were still less than friends, and she wanted to hear if Will thought similarly. "I do like her. This isn't against her, this is... I dunno, mate. I don't like feeling like I'm just playing chauffeur or third wheel on some kind of 'impress the girl' tour."

Killian sounded like he'd had a small epiphany. "This isn't about Emma. This is about Ana."

"Don't wanna talk about that c-"

They hit a hole in the road that caused the whole back end to jolt and Emma let out a little shriek of surprise as Killian swore. "Bloody fucking lazy-ass, penny-pinching, corrupt sons of-"

Will pulled over and Killian barely waited for him to stop before getting out and going around to inspect the front tire where they'd hit. They could still hear him cursing ODOT and all the holes they hadn't patched up on the highways, and Emma let her head fall back with a sigh. "How much of that did you hear?" Will asked, surprising her.

She caught his eye in the rearview mirror. He didn't look guilty so much as he looked embarrassed that she'd overheard. "Enough," she said, "to know that I seem to have this problem with the people in Killian's life."

"I'm sorry, lass," he told her. "Shoulda waited to talk to him without you nearby."

She shook her head. "Not sorry you said it, though."

"Like that mind-reading bastard said, it's not about you."

"Ana."

He sighed. "Don't wanna get into it, but she's a right bitch of the first order. Thought she was everything, instead she took everything. Look, I do like you, not that my opinion matters 'coz I'm not the one dating you, but you're good for him." Killian continued to swear outside and Emma smiled wanly. "Ain't never seen him happier, present situation excluded, and that might be what put a bug up my arse about it. So I'm sorry - my shit getting in the way."

She pursed her lips. Yes, it stung. Could she fault him for letting his own feelings cloud his judgement? No. "Next time you have a problem, just take it up with me personally; don't go through Killian. He's got enough on his plate."

He caught her eye again and she saw the crow's feet form around his eyes as he smiled. "He does, but I dunno if I wanna go head on with you, lass - you'll knock me dick up through my teeth if I'm not careful."

Emma just smiled, not confirming or denying anything, as Killian got back in and practically ordered, "It'll hold for now, just drive."

They stopped a little while later for gas and to put a little extra air in the tire, just in case; Will was the one to get out this time, leaving Emma and Killian alone in the TIV. Killian shoved his sunglasses up on top of his head, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I'm sorry if you heard-" he started, but she interrupted him.

"We already talked about it. He apologized, we made a sort of deal that we'll butt heads with each other about anything else in the future. He'll leave you out of it."

He looked guilty, and she unbuckled herself to lean forward and play with his hair again. "I didn't want today to go like this," he said. "Losing my temper like that, letting Will run his mouth. I wanted to share this with you, and I feel like it's just going badly."

Emma closed the space between them and kissed his cheek. "It's not your fault. I'm not even mad, I'm just… you have a lot of people who love you, and I'm a little worried about how much I have to prove to them that I - that I care about you too."

His eyes flicked up to hers, completely catching on to her stumbling over the words. They were just shy of a year of dating and they hadn't said it yet. Oh, she'd almost said it - back in April, for instance, when he'd taken her for that picnic and taught her about storms. One morning a few weeks ago when he'd surprised her at the station with hot cocoa and a bear claw, she'd covered up the urge to say it by taking far too large a bite out of her breakfast.

This morning, laying naked in her bed when he'd eaten her out and not asked for anything in return.

She knew he felt it. The way he was looking at her right now definitely said it. But he was waiting for her to make the first move, letting her set their pace, and she was just too damned scared to say it.

Even though she was almost positive she felt the same way as he did.

The door opened and Will got back in, so Emma just kissed Killian on the cheek again before sitting back in her seat.

Dark, heavy clouds sat low in the sky as they got back on the road and Emma scanned the cloud base carefully for any signs of activity. Lightning lit up the cloud interior here and there, and the occasional cloud-to-ground bolt made her start with surprise, but she reminded herself that this was what they'd come out here to chase and it would only get worse - if they were lucky.

Odd, to think that the worse the conditions, the luckier they'd be.

"Emma, love, do you mind navigating?" She looked up and saw Killian offering her the smaller laptop. "I'll give you where we need to be going and you tell Will where to turn. It gets trickier to look between both screens sometimes, especially when I have to send emails."

"Sure." She thought she'd do better with her phone, but she'd use the thing that didn't suck up her data plan out here in the middle of nowhere. "You're writing emails? Now?"

"Updates to the National Weather Service, love. Strictly business."

They stopped just on the edge of the storm and got out - Emma mostly to stretch, but Will and Killian wanted to get their anemometers and barometers and whatever-meters balanced to the area before going in. Killian took some photos too, while Will set up a GoPro on the front dash. "I can stream this on our social pages," he explained while Emma watched. "With social media, news stations can pick stuff up, let people know how bad it is, and we can get some cash from it."

Killian came up beside her, slipping his arm around her waist and tucking his hand in her pocket. She leaned into him and he pressed a kiss to her temple. "I let Will deal with Twitter and whatnot, I'm not good with the hashtags and selfies and whatever else kids are doing these days."

"You're such an old man," Will grumbled, looking down at his phone.

"Selfies are easy," Emma said, taking his camera from him. She held it in front of them and she felt his head bump into hers as they leaned in close.

Okay, selfies with an actual DSLR weren't as easy as they were with the phone, but she had to admit the photo came out nice anyway. Even if her hair was escaping from its braid, wisps of it all windblown and sticking up a little from all the static in the air.

"Now how do I put this on Twitter?" Killian asked, a teasing tone in his voice.

"First you shove it up your arse-" Will stopped, laughing as Emma reached over and smacked him on the arm.

A rumble of thunder reminded them why they were out there. "Alright, it's now or never," Killian said. "Let's get the helmets on now so we don't have to scramble if we get close to an intercept."

As they strapped in, belt and harness this time, and Emma settled her helmet on, she suddenly wondered why they hadn't seen any other chasers out, and mentioned it. "There's at least three other teams that we know of out now," Will said. "Just texted 'em. This storm's big enough to come at from a few different directions, so we coordinated a little."

"And I've been emailing with a few as well. We're all working for the same goal," Killian added. "It's not like one person gets to grab the singular prize and they win. Everyone has different reasons for chasing, so the only real reason we have to coordinate is so that if someone gets in trouble, the others can go help out. We're all looking at the same section of the storm, so you'll see another crew soon."

She had a thought; she could see their location on the map, so maybe these other crews were visible too? And there it was - if she zoomed out on the map, she saw what he was talking about; everyone's GPS location was there and she counted five other teams in the area. She went back to the original map positions as Killian started reading off probable target areas and Emma got to work figuring out how that translated to the GPS.

Rain splattered against the windshield, slowly at first with fat drops of rain, but soon increased to a torrential downpour. Killian didn't want them to get stuck in the rain too soon, so he and Emma worked together to get them towards the southern side of the storm, still east of where the hook was starting to form on the map. But the rain was persistent, even as it tapered to a more visible hindrance, and as they moved closer to their target area, hail started to pelt against the hard outer shell of the TIV. "That's good, right?" Emma called over the racket it was making.

"Hopefully!" Killian said.

"If it don't break our equipment!" Will added.

Emma saw another map come up on Killian's computer, this one mottled reds and greens. "Wind directions," he said. "We're looking for red and green close together, it signals they're in rotation and either a funnel cloud or an actual tornado."

He brought the radar and the wind map up side by side, and Emma joined Will in actually scanning the skies for signs of activity. "All the technology in the world can't make up for human senses," Will said.

She thought it was interesting how they balanced -Will could do the technologically social side of their job but preferred to use his eyes to do the actual work, Killian was helpless at social media but could run several programs at once to detect tornadic activity. Even if they were good friends otherwise, she was starting to see how they worked well as an actual team; friendship could only help so much in a working relationship.

"I think - yes, we need to go a bit northeast to get ahead of it, but there might be something," Killian said.

Emma scanned her map and told Will where to turn next. She zoomed out and saw a few other teams heading the same way. "Three others think the same," she said.

"Good. We'll get into position and deploy the probes, and then hopefully we can intercept."

"And it'll be a good day for everyone," Will added.

She looked out the window, looking towards the south and west of where they were. The rain made it a little harder to see, but she could still tell where the cloud bottoms were; wispy, low-hanging cloudlets darted along faster than the darker mass above, and she wished she knew more about what she was looking for in the churning gray clouds. For all that she'd lived most of her life in the Midwest and Tornado Alley, she'd never seen a tornado in person before, just the aftermath.

They put in another couple of miles before Killian launched the probes; it was one thing to know that it was basically like having six giant t-shirt cannons sticking out of the TIV, but it was another for all those air pressure valves to be released at once, right near Emma's head. "Sorry," Killian said, his voice dimmed by the ringing in her ears.

"What?" she asked loudly.

"I said - oh, bloody hell, you're teasing."

"Only a little." Emma looked at her map again. "Will, skip this next road and turn left on the one about a mile down the way."

"What? That'll put us way out of the way of the probes."

"Yeah, but the wind map says they'll get picked up and carried off - and the storm's turning."

She glanced up and Killian was looking back at her with sheer delight on his face. "You're learning, Swan."

She smiled, pleased that he was so pleased at how quickly she was picking everything up. The rain suddenly dropped off and Will swore. He gunned it, and all three of them looked off to their left. "I see it!" Will shouted. "Funnel cloud!"

Killian had his phone out in a second to call it in, while Emma scanned the clouds for what he was talking about. She only saw the wispy cloudlets, though, until Killian hung up and said, "Look behind the scud, it's a bit pointy -"

"The what?"

"Little wispy bits, they're called scud, look behind them for the funnel."

She looked again and saw what he was talking about: the thin funnel cloud was rotating as it slowly stretched downwards. "Can we get ahead of it?"

"Doin' me best, lass."

The engine roared as Will floored it again. He asked how many roads were available for turnoff ahead and she told him three; he took the second one, slowing down enough so that the whole TIV didn't tip over during a turn but just barely - they still leaned uncomfortably far and the tires were actually squealing a little before they got some traction and rumbled off on down the road. She wondered just how just further they'd go, watching as the funnel cloud reached the ground and a cloud of debris swirling upwards around it, when they slowed suddenly and the TIV shook as they went offroad. "Deploying," Will said, parking and pulling on a lever that dropped the lower armored flaps.

Killian had his own buttons to push, the ones that deployed the spikes deep into the ground and anchored them in place - in theory. One of these days, they might not work as well as they'd hoped, but he'd told her that in all his intercepts so far (three, in the last five years or so) the safety measures had worked without fail.

"Now what?" Emma asked.

"We wait," Killian said, his eyes on the tornado.

"If you're the praying type, I'd do that too," Will added.

Emma wasn't sure she liked the sound of that, but she swallowed hard and gripped her harness for something to do with her hands. The TIV started to shudder as the wind outside picked up. "It's not the funnel that's the problem," Killian said. "It's the wind's all outside it and what they carry. The funnel's just the middle."

He said all of this very calmly and Emma wondered if that's what she sounded like when describing a crime scene, and if people thought she was crazy for being so calm about something so dangerous, too.

Something bashed into the TIV on the passenger's side and she yelped. "See?" Killian said.

A small rain of debris started to join in beating up the TIV, along with the rain, and Emma's fight-or-flight instincts were extremely unhappy with her current situation. The wind outside roared and she squeezed her eyes shut as the shaking grew more violent. There were some serious regrets about asking to come chase sometime and she felt very much like she'd gotten into something way over her head here. She wasn't the type of person who put much stock into praying, but she thought it might not do any harm to asking whoever might be listening to get them through this in one piece.

Something touched her knee and she opened her eyes. Killian was reaching back for her, giving her a reassuring look as he twiddled his fingers at her. She took his hand and he squeezed it, just as the view outside of the windows grew dark with the amount of dirt flying through the air.

Emma didn't think she blacked out at all during the interception, but if she had to recall it later, the only thing that came to mind was how dark and loud it was, and the warmth of Killian's hand in hers. It felt like it lasted for days, and she didn't realize it was over until he tugged on her hand a little to bring her out of whatever trance she'd gotten lost in. "Come on," he said.

She blinked - surely he didn't mean what she thought he meant. But no, he did, letting go of her hand to undo his safety harness and seatbelt; Will was doing the same. She followed their lead, a few beats behind; she left the helmet on, though, she didn't want a rogue two-by-four falling out of the sky and bashing her head in.

The sky was already lighter as the storm rolled on ahead. Emma joined them on the road, watching as the tornado started to rope out in the distance. Killian was taking pictures again, Will filming with the GoPro. Emma felt the adrenaline start to wear off, and leaned back against the TIV for support, not caring how filthy her clothes were going to get. Killian turned, putting the camera on the passenger's seat. Evidently, his adrenaline was still pumping, because he pulled her up and whirled her around, a grin on his face. "That was the best intercept we've had in ages, love, you were brilliant!"

"Me?" she asked, breathless.

"You," he said. "You picked up on everything so quickly, you made that last call on where to go, and without it we wouldn't have gotten nearly so many results. We make quite the team, if you don't mind me saying."

Finally, she started to grin. She was tired - exhausted, really - and everything was sort of catching up to her all at once. "We do," she said, "and don't take this the wrong way, Killian, but as much as I love you I never want to do this again."

His face went slack. "What?"

"I never want to go chasing again. I think this was more than enough-"

"No, the part before that," he said.

Emma paused, trying to remember what she'd said. She'd gotten to see what he did, which was what all of this had started out as, and she loved him, but this had been more than-

She loved him.

She'd said it out loud.

She met his eyes, the fight-or-flight instinct coming back, and he was looking at her with such raw hope that it gave her the courage to ask, "The part where I said I love you?"

"Aye," Killian said, his voice cracking. "That's the one. You bloody maddening woman, you'll be the death of me."

He picked her up and spun them around again, meeting her lips with a quick kiss. "I love you, too," he said softly, for their ears only.

Emma grinned, bumping his forehead with hers.

Will sighed, loudly. "If you two are done bein' all twitterpated with each other? Can we go find our probes? Get back home before it gets too late and maybe start looking at the data?"

Killian hardly spared a glance to his friend. "Dunno, mate, we might not get back early enough for data mining. We've probably all earned a good rest after today, don't you think, Emma?"

She smiled coyly, hoping he was implying what she thought he was implying. "Oh, definitely. Take a look at it with fresh eyes tomorrow."

After all, she did have to repay him for this morning.

Chapter Text

There'd been more than a couple of times in Emma's life when she'd felt like she was preparing herself for war: her first day at the police academy, when she'd been outnumbered almost ten to one by the men; the first day of school in a new school district; every day she told her social workers about the abuse and neglect from various foster parents; the day she thought Ingrid was sending her back, only to have the whole day turned on its head when she was told about the adoption papers. She wasn't a stranger to conflict, and while her armor was a little rusty, it wasn't completely out of use.

However, she didn't like feeling like she had to prepare for war with Killian.

She'd gone to bed the night before and turned over all the usual self-pitying thoughts: what did I do? Why is he mad at me? Why didn't he call? What did I say? What, what, what. Why, why, why. She'd tossed and turned and made the sheets too hot and the pillow felt too warm to be comfortable, and when sleep finally claimed her, it was fitful and full of unsettling but ultimately forgotten dreams.

So going downstairs in the morning, she was tired, she was hurt, and she was pissed off.

"You painted," was Killian's mumbled greeting from the couch.

Emma stood in the doorway, her hands going to her hips as she tried to figure out if that remark would be the last straw or not. He lay prone on his back, one arm thrown over his face to block out the light from the windows over which she hadn't hung the curtains back up.

She didn't really feel bad about that.

"I did," she said. "Didn't really have anything else to do, what with all the last minute change of plans and all."

He sighed, heavily, and sat up with what seemed like an enormous amount of effort. He also looked like he'd been run over by a tractor, which gave her some kind of schadenfreude after how bad she'd felt for almost all of last night. "I did tell you-"

"No," she said, interrupting him. The last of her patience evaporated in that moment, gone over the last week of worrying about him and not hearing anything except for the national news, over a bad night of sleep and missing him terribly, over his fucking brother putting awful ideas into her head. "Do you know who told me you were just going to high-tail it out of here for a week or more? Your advisor. Dr. Bhavsar called me after you left to give me the head's up, because he thought you'd be too, what did he call it - forgetful about what was really important. And because I love you, I didn't say a word about it when you called me from Nebraska-"

"Kansas," Killian said quietly.

"Whatever. You were hundreds of miles away before you even thought to call me." Her eyes burned and she didn't know if she was just tired or if she was actually going to angry-cry over this. "Did you think I was going to stop you?"

"I don't know."

"Killian, I want you to be done just as much as you want to be done. You don't-"

"Do you?"

Emma blinked as he got to his feet, a hard look on his face as he stared at her. "What? Of course I do! I see how frustrated you are, how it affects us."

His hands flexed and she saw the silvery scars on his left hand standing out against pale skin. "If you really wanted me to be done, you'd take your ridiculous restrictions off of me-"

"Ridiculous? You could have died!"

He laughed without humor, holding up his hand. "But clearly I didn't, with only some scars and stiffness to prove anything happened. No, you just want to keep me coddled and tucked away, while the real professionals are out there at all hours to save lives."

Hot anger was giving way to cold rage and Emma tried to keep a handle on her temper, or else she'd say something she was going to regret. "First, if you want to save lives so much, become a first responder. We need that kind of help. Second, you don't have time to be out at all hours to save lives, because whenever you're not out chasing, Liam has you working yourself half to death at the bar."

Killian snorted. "You really think he doesn't want me to be done with this, that he'd rather I waste away at his dive bar for the rest of my life?"

"I think he's a little blind when it comes to you," she said, trying to remember what Ingrid had said. "And I think he wants to protect you, because that's what he's always done, and he can't protect you if you're out there throwing yourself into a vortex of death."

He scoffed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Liam's not the one chaining me to the back porch like a dog who might run off after the slightest noise. Liam actually wants me to complete my program, to focus on what's important."

If she'd felt cold rage before, now her blood was turning to ice. "Oh right, I forgot. Liam knows what's best. Liam, who never wastes any time correcting me or talking down to me or treating me badly for no other reason than I'm dating you. Liam, who wouldn't raise a goddamn finger to help me if my car rolled over into a ditch."

"Don't you dare question what he would or wouldn't do-"

"He as good as called me a whore, Killian!" she shouted. "He calls me a whore and all you get is a slap on the wrist, because he's fucking blind when it comes to you. He just wants you to stop fucking some hussy and finish your degree, like the fact that I love you has nothing to do with it or the fact that I have no goddamn control over when the weather happens and it's fucking sucked this year! You and him are the same, you're both taking out all your anger about your fucking program on me, when I can't do a goddamn thing about any of it!"

"You could let me go!" Killian shouted, stalking up to her. Emma didn't flinch away, not now, not when she felt so cold she might actually break if he touched her. "I could have been done weeks ago if you weren't so selfish, that storm had an actual formation-"

"Selfish?" Emma asked. "Selfish? I'm selfish because you almost died? I'm selfish because I don't want to pay for your funeral?"

"Well at least one of us has the money to do it if I did die," Killian snarled, and her heart plummeted into her stomach. "You think I like living like this, waiting around and twiddling my thumbs because I can't contribute to anything? Because I'm constantly scraping to get by and paying for everything on bar tips and photos? You just went and painted our fucking house, Emma. You didn't ask, you just did it, because it was your money and you'd have the final say anyway."

"We talked about this!" she cried. "I didn't do it to throw money in your face, you know how tight our budget is anyway! We've been talking about getting rid of that stupid wallpaper, and I had nothing else to do while you were off doing fuck-all across the goddamn country, because my friends either work or are about to have a baby, and I'm not going to face your stupid brother when he's insulted me and you don't even have the balls to stand up to him for me."

His face was dark, his eyes like ice under his heavy brows. "Well I'm sorry that I'm all the entertainment you have," he said, his voice heavily layered in sarcasm. "I didn't realize I was your only plaything, seeing as how all of your friends seem to actually have their lives together. As for Liam, I did, as you say, have the balls to stand up to him - I told him to piss off about whatever we did together, that he had no right to speak to you as he did. And he reminded me that the last time I was this involved with someone, it ended badly then too."

She was trembling with rage and fear and dread, but she refused to look away from him. "Well I'm sorry you hate living here so much," she said coolly. "What with me flinging my paycheck around in your face and all, and dreading the day you don't come home because a chase went badly. If I knew that me caring about you at all was causing you so much pain, I would have told you to get out."

His eyes flashed, and in another moment he was stalking towards the door. "A fine idea that is," he snarled, grabbing his keys from the hook and slamming the front door behind him.

To her own credit, Emma managed to wait until she reached the couch, hearing the rumble of the TIV disappearing down the street, before she quite thoroughly went to pieces.


How she was able to pick herself back up, get ready for the day, and stomach any food, she didn't know. All she kept doing was replaying the fight in her mind over and over, like she was half asleep on the couch after watching a DVD and the start menu was playing on repeat again and again and she couldn't wake up enough to turn it off.

But she was awake. She couldn't turn off her brain. All she could do was kick herself for letting her temper get the better of her, for lashing out, for telling him to leave.

Remembering the look on his face as he'd left was like a dagger of ice in her heart.

"Emma?"

Graham was trying to get her attention, but Emma shook her head. "I'm fine."

He leaned against the door, arms crossed and a worried look on his face. "Sure, and I'm Bono. Just forgot me sunglasses. Did something happen?"

The word 'yes' stuck in her throat - admitting it to someone else made it real, made it not some kind of nightmare that she could shrug off and pretend never happened. So she stayed silent and just shook her head again, not even really aware of what she was writing at her desk. "Do you need to take some time off today?" he asked.

"No."

"Emma-"

"I'm fine, chief. I'll do patrol today, I need to go do something," she mumbled, and went to grab the keys to the cruiser before Philip, the usual patrolman, could.

She drove around town at random - Storybrooke wasn't that big, after all, so it's not like she had a really set area to stick to. She did have to make herself avoid Foxglove Lane - Killian would have no doubt gone back to his brother's place, and as much as she wanted to find him and try to make up with him, she also didn't know what to say to him.

Weirdly, all she really wanted to do was call him and tell him she'd had a fight with him.

Was that strange? Emma had several people she could call or go and see - Ingrid, Ruby, Mary Margaret, her cousins Anna and Elsa who lived in Missoula, any number of the people who have taken her in as their own over the years - people she could vent to and cry on their shoulders. But the only person she wanted to talk to was Killian.

Killian, who she told everything to. Killian, her best friend. Killian, who always made her feel better.

Except this time, Killian had been the one to make her feel this way.

She parked the cruiser near the edge of the road on its way out of town and watched for speeders, but this time of year and this time of day held little promise for anything interesting to happen. The fastest thing to cross her path was a squirrel, but even then it stopped a few times in its lazy hops across the road and she mentally scolded it to keep going in case a car actually went by.

She played with her phone for something to do with her hands as she watched clouds scuttle by above - puffy cumulus clouds, white and wispy at the top and carrying no sign of any rain that might wash away some of the dry dust that always seemed to settle over everything this time of year. She didn't know if she'd feel better if it was supposed to rain; at least a chance of rain might bring a chance for Killian to get another chase in, a chance to get the data he needed and be done with all of this.

Emma sighed, resting her head on her hand, her elbow propped up on the door. Even if, by some miracle, he did get everything he needed, would he still be mad at her? Would he forgive her for what she said?

Would he ask for forgiveness?

Would she even give it?

Her eyes blurred again and it stung, the skin around her eyes sore enough as it was, and she hated feeling this way. Blinking back tears, she threw the car into drive and headed for her mom's shop; it was the middle of the day, but Ingrid would put everything aside if Emma came in the way she looked right now.

Luckily, there was someone else helping at the front counter when Emma went in, the little bell above the door signaling her arrival. Ingrid smiled at first when she saw her, but the smile vanished into worry when she got a good look at her daughter's face. Without a word, Emma was bustled into the back room, the door to the front closed firmly behind them, and she fell into her mother's arms just as she started crying again.

Ingrid soothed her, drawing the story of what had happened out of her a little at a time; Emma was made to sit and given a bottle of water while she talked, and then she was given a milkshake that was made with rocky road and far more chocolate syrup mixed in than anyone was ever served out front.

She tried not to think about cliches and ice cream and things that soothed a broken heart.

They weren't broken up, they were just...

Broken.

"Oh my sweet girl, I'm so sorry," Ingrid said, holding her again and stroking her hair.

Emma leaned against her; her entire face hurt from crying so much in one day, how was that even possible? "I don't know what to do," she mumbled.

"You don't need to do anything right now. You both need space and distance from it before you can do anything rational."

"All I want to do is call him and tell him about it," Emma whispered. "Like when he's gone, we'll call and talk about our day, and all I want to do is be like 'hey, so I got in a huge fight with my boyfriend and it sucks' and talk it out with him, but he's the one I got into a fight with and he knows."

"I know, sweetheart."

"And he just looked so mad. He was so mad at me and I don't even know why."

Ingrid paused in her gentle ministrations for a moment. "I think he was mad about a lot of things and it just came out wrong. Same as you."

She thought back to that morning, wondering what the final straw would be, and thought maybe Ingrid was right. "I'm just... I'm just tired, Mom. I'm tired of missing him all the time when he's right there, I'm tired of feeling like it's my fault he's not done yet, I'm tired of feeling like I'm always putting him first and not getting anything in return. And I'm tired of Liam."

She felt Ingrid sigh more than she heard it. "I don't know what to tell you about Liam, other than you can pick who you love but you can't pick who they're related to. As for the rest... I can't fix any of it for you and I wish that I could. I'd like nothing more than to march over there and shake that boy until his teeth fell out for treating you so badly."

An immediate protest lept to the tip of her tongue - that Killian didn't treat her badly - but she stopped to consider her mother's words. If she were in someone else's shoes, looking at this, would she think the same way?

She was taught in school to look at a case from all the different angles, to try and distance herself from anything that might make her biased. She tried that now, looking over things as her mother might see it, as Ruby might see it.

They'd had their slips and rough spots before, but nothing that any normal couple hadn't faced. They'd talked and made up and compromised and worked together to make things better. And that had held true until the last several weeks.

Over the winter, as they'd gotten settled into the house, Killian had talked eagerly about the coming spring. He'd anticipated a wet spring with plenty of tornadic activity, his grant from the university to be renewed to continue chasing outside of the state, finishing his research and starting work on finalizing his dissertation. "This is it," he'd said one night as they lay together under the blankets of their bed. It wasn't even a proper bed at that point, they just had the mattress on the floor while they waited for the bedframe to be delivered. "This will be the last spring I'll need to finish everything, and then I'll be done. This is the start of something wonderful in our lives, Swan, I can feel it."

"There's probably something poetic in there about spring and new beginnings and whatever," she'd teased, her foot hooking around his calf and bringing his leg between hers.

"Probably and whatever," he'd agreed, and he'd kissed her, the sex that night giddy and full of hope.

But one wrong thing after another - the grant fell through, a dry spring, another delay on his work - and the stress started to grate on him. She understood and they'd still worked together to make do with what they could, but there was only so much she could do to support him, and she thought he'd understood that.

But maybe he did? "It's been a rough couple of months for him," Emma said finally. "I think it's like you said - he's mad about a lot of things and it came out wrong."

She wasn't angry anymore, not after spilling the whole story. She was hurting, yes - God, her chest ached and she missed him and she just wanted to sit down and talk with him. And she was hurt over some of the things he'd said, and she felt guilty about what she'd said in return, both of them spitting daggers before realizing they weren't actually mad at each other - they were just angry at the world and the things they had no control over and the final straw hadn't just broken the camel's back, it had caused the whole camel to shatter under pressure.

Okay, maybe she was a little mad at him about some things. Like he could have called. And he could do more to stick up for her to Liam.

But neither of those things were worth destroying everything they'd built together.

Ingrid pulled away, getting a paper towel and wetting it before coming to kneel in front of her, dabbing gently at Emma's cheeks. "I know you, sweetheart; you've already forgiven him, haven't you?" she asked softly, wiping away what was probably the worst raccoon eyes Emma had ever had in her life.

"No," she said, surprising herself. "But I'm open to the idea, if we talk first."

Ingrid smiled. "Look at you. You've grown so much in all the time I've known you."

Emma pushed herself off the chair and threw her arms around Ingrid's neck. "Thank you," she whispered. Not for today, though that helped; no, her mom knew what she'd been like for years, she'd commented on it just last week. Emma came to her a broken girl, hardened by the world, and it had taken a lot of patience and a lot of love from this woman to make her able to even consider having this kind of conversation with Killian in the future. "For everything, Mom."

She told herself she was imagining the little sniffle she heard, but she knew it was a lie as Ingrid's arms came around her and held her tight. "You're very welcome, my darling girl."


Three years ago…

To his credit, Graham did not, in fact, laugh her out of his office when she broached the subject of going out with Killian, but the look on his face said that he dearly wanted to. Emma would have been offended, except that she knew she was being overly cautious and ridiculous and, if she was being honest with herself, a little bit classically-Emma in trying to find a way out of entangling herself with another person romantically. Which was also why it had taken her two weeks to gather the courage to even ask in the first place. So instead of laughing at her (chuckling didn't count), she and Graham wound up having a very interesting discussion about how cops and criminals walked very fine lines around each other, how easy it was to befriend someone on the other side as long as they kept business out of it, and how this could easily wind up with cops turning dirty.

Most importantly, he told her that a simple spot check did not a criminal make, and if she really wanted to go on a date with Killian, she was allowed to.

"Now, if it turns out you break my bartender's heart, I might have a thing or two to say about that, but-" This time Graham did laugh as Emma reached across the desk to swat at him, her cheeks burning red.

"One dinner doesn't make or break anything," she huffed, sitting back down and avoiding looking at him.

He sounded odd as he responded, "One dinner can make or break anything, Emma."

She glanced up and was struck by the wistful look on his face; his gaze wasn't directed at her, instead looking off towards something she couldn't see. "Graham?"

He shook his head. "It's nothing. I think we've spent enough of the morning gabbing, let's get on with the business of the day."

By the time she got home, had dinner with Ingrid, and got up to her room, Emma had mostly forgotten the conversation she'd had with Graham that morning. She showered and got into her pajamas; it was early for bed, but she was just tired of wearing real pants and a bra. She was halfway through an episode of the show she was binging on Netflix before she remembered.

Hey. You busy?

She didn't think that blurting it out without knowing he could respond would help the cloud of butterflies that had erupted in her stomach. If he was working and it was a busy night at the bar, she didn't want to tell him and then sit there waiting and wondering and maybe he'd decided it wasn't worth it and he wasn't interested anymore and she wasn't worth it or -

Her phone buzzed. Got some time. How goes, Swan?

Emma swallowed, her mouth suddenly very dry. Okay. You?

Keeping busy.

Cool.

A pause.

So I talked to Graham.

Another pause.

He said it's ok. He didn't laugh at me, but he wanted to.

Still no response.

For the dinner or whatever you'd asked me about.

Another minute ticked by.

My answer is yes, if it wasn't clear.

More silence.

I know I'm ridiculous, by the way.

Now when there wasn't a response she started to get worried. No, it wasn't worry, it was outright nausea. Emma fought the urge to just throw her phone across the room and ignore it and keep watching her show, and now she'd missed like ten minutes of the plot and she had no idea what was going on and -

Bloody hell, sorry, Liam has the worst timing. As do I, apparently. I'm very glad to hear you want to go to dinner and that there are no restrictions on it. And I will take you to a proper dinner, but it's going to have to wait a few weeks.

What happened?

I'm leaving tomorrow on a chase, I'll be gone at least a week. Maybe more, if another system crops up. My grant got approved so I have time/money to get more research done before the opportunities drop off.

Her stomach was now somewhere under her bed. Now Emma wanted to throw her phone across the room for another reason, mostly so she could pretend this conversation had never happened and she could ignore reality for a while. Oh, she typed back, not sure what else to say.

She set her phone aside and skipped back a bit on her show to pick up where she'd missed things, but as she settled back down on her bed, her heart wasn't really in it. She curled up with her pillow and tried not to beat herself up about it; if she'd talked to Graham earlier, if she'd just ignored her worries and said yes like she'd wanted to, maybe they wouldn't have to wait - or maybe it wouldn't feel like some kind of contrived excuse for blowing her off. Maybe she really had waited too long. After all, she hadn't gone to the bar since he'd asked her out, not wanting to give him hope or give him the chance to talk about it when she hadn't actually checked to make sure it was okay. So really, there were plenty of reasons why he may have changed his mind, thought it wasn't worth waiting around for her.

Her phone buzzed on the bed - not a text tone, but an incoming call.

Emma's brow furrowed as she picked it up. "Killian?"

"Love, I am not doing this over texts, it's far too easy to misunderstand intent. Please don't take this as an excuse, it's not. This is the first good system I've had a chance to chase in weeks, and the opportunity exists for more. I need to get more research in this season or else I get another delay on my dissertation and graduation. I very much would like to take you out this weekend, but unless you can spring for a surprise week vacation and prefer eating at whatever fast food establishment I can find in the middle of nowhere, Wyoming, I'm afraid we have to wait."

She reached over and paused her show; if she'd heard him right, he somehow had gotten into her head in the last ten minutes. "How the hell did you know that's what I was thinking?" she asked.

"You're something of an open book, Swan."

Emma made a face. "Not something a cop likes to hear."

"Well, maybe your tough policewoman act works better on the seedy underbelly of Storybrooke, but not on me."

She had to laugh at his phrasing and his half-smug, half-provocative tone. "Don't forget, I had to make sure you didn't count as one of those seedy underbelly people."

"Ah, but who's to say I'm not? Maybe you just haven't found that side of me yet. Please, though, just inform me beforehand if you have to do a strip search so I'll be sure to have on clean boxers."

Emma snorted and covered her face. He really was ridiculous. "Didn't picture you as a boxers guy," she said.

"What, picturing me as more of a Calvin Klein man?"

She bit her lip at the image that brought to mind. They'd definitely be an improvement over the tighty-whities she'd seen him in that first time. Still, she'd gone there and she was only giving as good as she got. "Actually, I pictured you as more of a commando kind of guy."

There was an odd noise on the other end, and then it sounded like he dropped the phone altogether. Emma blinked. "Killian?"

"Uh - yeah," he said, his voice sounding oddly high, then he cleared his throat. He stumbled over the start of another sentence and she raised an eyebrow, her amusement growing at how flustered he sounded. Giving him a taste of his own medicine seemed to be working out amazingly. "So - dinner. As soon as it can be managed. Two weeks?"

She settled back against her pillows. It was a bummer that they couldn't get together before then, but at least she wasn't feeling as low about it as she did before. "Are you going to be back by then?"

"Swan, after what you just told me, I'll put some damned wings on the TIV if I need to."

Emma laughed, her stomach resettling in her abdomen and the leaden feeling leaving her as he charmed and flirted her bad mood away.


They kept in touch over text when they could over the next week or so. He didn't have good signal that often and she was often out on patrol for work, so sometimes an hour or more would pass between exchanges.

So, tell me more about how I go commando?

That one came just after she'd gotten into the patrol car to start her morning shift. She replied after she parked on the edge of town to watch for speeders.

Says the guy who made his first impression in some tighty-whities.

Nothing came until she got to the school to help with the pre-school year safety checks.

Intimate details, Swan, I want intimate details.

Unfortunately for him, she had to let him sweat it out while going over the new safety rules and school safety officer schedules with the district's principals and superintendent. After that came a long discussion on how to handle the sports schedules and the station's plans for the football season, and she only managed to reply just as her shift was ending.

Imagine, I could be telling you those intimate details in person if we were on a date right now.

In fact, since telling him in jest, she'd definitely had a few thoughts about the matter and could probably offer a few intimate details. But given the circumstances, and his interesting reaction to the comment in the first place, she wanted to see what he'd do if she actually did tell him in person.

His reply to that came as she was getting into bed that night, and it made her smile wryly.

You know how to cut a man deep, love.


She kept glancing at the clock, her leg bouncing so much that it was causing the pens and miscellaneous knick-knacks covering her desk to rattle around. Ruby kept giving her a Look whenever she happened to walk by and hear the minor racket she was causing, and one of the deputies, Arthur, had complained about noise earlier until Graham had told him to shut it. Arthur had continued to grumble under his breath, just loud enough for Emma to hear, but Graham had to threaten to send him out on patrol duty unless he knocked it off.

No one really liked either of Graham's deputies, but Arthur was easily the most disliked.

Towards the end of the day, Graham sauntered over and perched on the edge of her desk, his added weight offsetting the relentless bounce of her leg and quieting the rattling. "Officer Swan, if I didn't know any better, I'd say you were nervous."

"Shut up," she said, finishing up a report.

"Is that how you talk to your boss?"

"Shut up, sir."

He laughed, then pretended to think. "Now, why is it that you might be nervous? Do you by chance have something important happening tonight? A date, maybe?"

Emma glared up at him. Sometimes it was hard for her to balance the two sides of him that she knew: Chief Humbert was a sensible man, good-natured, but able to make you jump to attention with a single look. Graham, meanwhile, could be sillier than a basket of puppies and she'd been in a field of wildflowers with more sense than he had in his head. And God help her when the two occasionally mixed. "Did you need something, sir?" she asked pointedly.

"Nothing really, just checking to make sure you have the permission slip I gave you for your excursion tonight."

She groaned, dropping her head down on the desk between her arms. "God, shut up."

He chuckled somewhere above her. "You have to admit, Emma, it was a bit ridiculous."

"Like you didn't make any stupid mistakes when you were a rookie," she grumbled. She sat up and finished saving her report, moving the file to the shared drive and shutting down her computer. "I'm out for the evening."

Graham moved in her way before she could leave. "Seriously, though, have a good time," he said. "You deserve a bit of happiness, Emma, and I think he could do you a world of good in that regard."

She felt her face heat up; she never would have expected something like that to come from her boss. From Mary Margaret, sure, or even her mother, but Graham? "I - thanks," she said, her tongue feeling thick and clumsy over the word.

He let her pass and she went out to her car, still silently shaking her head over the exchange.

As she got ready, she kept second-guessing every single one of her decisions: did she really need to go out and buy this pink dress? Did it make her look too girly? Her hair - she'd curled it and then decided she wanted to wear it up, but would he like her hair in a ponytail like that? Should she go for false lashes? Did she really want to wear those shoes? Would they make her taller than him - come to think of it, there weren't many times when she'd seen him not behind the bar, and she couldn't remember how much taller he really was.

At some point she sat down on her bed in disgust and wondered if it was too late to call the whole thing off.

Then she remembered how she'd felt when he'd had to postpone everything, and thought better of it.

But the whole effort was worth it when she went to answer the door and his mouth fell open at the sight of her. "You look stunning, Swan," Killian said.

Emma's eyebrows rose as she took in the sight of him; she'd never seen him outside of a Pour House t-shirt and some worn out jeans - the first time in his underwear didn't count - so this well-dressed Killian was a treat in and of itself: tight black jeans, short-sleeved button-down shirt that brought out the color of his eyes, black vest. "You… look…"

He shrugged, an easy grin on his face. "I know." He pulled one hand from behind his back and offered her a single red rose. Emma took it, her face warm; she couldn't remember the last time, if ever, anyone had bought her flowers. "Shall we?" he asked, offering his arm.

Emma grabbed her purse and locked up behind them; Ingrid was working that night, after being sworn not to make a big deal about one date. She took his offered arm and he walked her down to a car she knew wasn't his; he'd told her about how he'd turned his truck into the TIV and hadn't bothered getting a second car.. "Liam's," Killian said, opening the door for her. "Only indulgence he allows himself, this old muscle car."

She knew nothing about cars past how to keep her vintage Bug in working order, so she just made what she hoped was an appreciative noise as she slid in and he closed the door behind her.

They were both oddly quiet on the drive to the restaurant; Emma fiddled with the hem of her dress, caught between wanting to talk and feeling like she had nothing interesting to say. Killian didn't seem too perturbed by it, opening the door for her and leading her in without pressing her about it; he'd made a reservation and they were seated almost immediately, and he even pulled her chair out for her. "Such a gentleman," she said finally, grateful for something to say.

"I'm always a gentleman," he told her, sitting across from her with a wink.

"I've seen you toss out disruptive patrons; the look on your face could hardly be described as 'gentlemanly'."

"Aye, well, ensuring the continued atmosphere and content of my patrons certainly is."

"Always worried about the atmosphere."

She wasn't sure at all how he managed to grin at her in such a pleased yet sultry way, but he managed to make it work, and from there the evening continued without any of the earlier awkwardness.

They decided to take a walk after dinner, continuing their conversation from dinner about her career plans, her hand grasped firmly in his. Privately, Emma thought they were just looking for an excuse to continue their time together, but waiting for some of the wine they'd had over dinner to work its way out of their system was as good an excuse as any. They meandered through the downtown area before slipping onto some of the side streets, the late-summer cicadas providing a soundtrack to their talk as it shifted to books. She wasn't as much of a reader as she used to be - she just didn't have the time - but she was able to hold her own when he started talking older books.

And she trounced him in Harry Potter trivia, which she delighted in teasing him about.

"I did move here when I was quite young, you know," he grumbled as they turned a corner.

"Doesn't matter, it was a global thing. You should at least know your House."

The street they'd turned down was less inhabited, or at least most of the houses on the block looked dark; after all the patrols she'd done and all the calls she'd gone on through town, she knew the area fairly well - retirees, empty nesters, no one who really went out past nine if they didn't have to. So when Killian turned her and pressed her back up against a tree, Emma felt quite reasonably assured that no one would be peeping on them at this point. She wet her lips, her heart racing as she looked up at his face - too close to hers to be thinking about doing anything other than what she hoped he was thinking - and in the dim light she saw his eyes flick down to her lips briefly before looking at her again. "You're kind of a geek, Swan," he told her softly.

"Says the giant science nerd who built a giant armored science tank."

"Then I'd say it takes one to know one," he breathed, his lips brushing hers, and a moment later he was kissing her fully.

She'd been kissed before. She'd had kisses that made her weak in the knees, kisses that stole her breath, kisses that made her forget her name. But never, before now, a kiss that did all three and then some. His hands came up to cup her face, his palms rough on her cheeks. She shivered as they moved down her neck, skimming her shoulders and down her arms. His lips were as gentle as his touch, dipping in once, twice, three times at different angles and with varying degrees of pressure. His hands settled on her hips and she felt intensely aware of every point where their bodies touched, but none more so than the feeling of his tongue tentatively tracing the seam of her lips.

She opened for him, eager for more; her arms went up around his neck and she groaned into his mouth as his tongue slid against hers. Her fingers slid through his silky hair and she was filled with the urge to grab on tight and use it as leverage to take this to the next level. She felt drunk, her skin tingling at every touch, dizzy and muddled and like she could do anything as long as he just kept kissing her.

She rose up on her toes, pushing off the tree, and he stumbled backwards a little; his hands slipped, her skirt bunching up, and she whimpered at the feeling of his fingers on her thighs. He made a questioning noise and she sighed an assent and her pulse quickened when he let the fabric slide over the hands that rose up to tease the edges of her lacy panties.

She actually squirmed when the tip of one finger caught under the edge and traced the line of her panties back and forth. There was a fire building between her legs and he was only stoking it higher and higher and she was definitely, definitely going to have to do something about this if he kept going -

A dog started barking down the street, distant enough that they weren't the cause but still close enough to make them jerk apart. Absurdly, she felt cold as soon as Killian stepped away from her, despite the warmth of the evening and how flushed she felt. "We should - we should head back," he said and she really, really liked how thoroughly wrecked he sounded.

He held out his hand and she took it, following him on legs that felt far too wobbly for some kissing and light petting. "I might not make it that far," Emma admitted sheepishly.

He just smiled at her. "I'll carry you if I have to."

But they made it back to the restaurant without having to resort to that, though she did entertain quite a few thoughts about how that might feel, and he drove her home without further incident. No driving down to the outskirts of town to go parking. Or kissing. Or hands where they shouldn't be.

Which was really disappointing.

He did insist on walking her to her door, though, and Emma claimed another kiss from him. This one was more chaste, with his fingers entwined with hers and her foot popping up precariously from sheer bliss. "Will you go out with me again?" Killian asked hoarsely, his nose brushing against hers and the question spoken against her lips.

She kissed him again instead of answering, squeezing their fingers together. "Text me."

Emma half expected her mother to turn on the porch light, they stood there so long lingering in each other's spaces, but Killian was the first to break, taking a reluctant step back. She moved to unlock the door, knowing if she didn't move now, she never would. "Good night, Killian," she whispered.

"Good night," she heard him reply, and then she slipped inside, closing the door behind her and leaning against it with a happy, yet a little overwhelmed sigh.

She was so, so fucked.

Chapter Text

The next couple of days passed slowly; as much as she wanted to, Emma didn't call or text Killian, wanting to give him the space to cool off. She had a feeling his cooling off period wouldn't be nearly as quick as hers had been, and she didn't want to tempt fate and maybe make things worse. She went to work, she finished tidying up the house and put the curtains back up and set everything to rights after painting, and she slept in their too big, too empty bed, and she missed him the whole time.

She was still mad at him, a little, but as time wore on, the scales tipped more in favor of missing him rather than being mad at him.

That morning, she woke up with immediate regret: the air outside was oppressively humid and hot. She showered and got ready for her shift, feeling sullen and annoyed and not in any mood to do more than try and stomach some toast and coffee before driving down to the station. Even after she'd shut up the house and turned on the air, she immediately had to leave and the obnoxious weather did absolutely nothing to improve her mood. The sun kept playing an annoying game of hide and seek with the clouds dotting the sky and the Bug had been baking in the sun all morning, leaving it roasting inside and the air conditioning didn't even bother getting cool during the drive to work. Emma was sweaty and fully irritated by the time she parked and went inside, grumbling a 'hello' to Alexandra before going to her office and slamming the door shut behind her.

Great. Everything was just lovely and… great.

Sitting at her desk, she put her head down and took a deep breath before cursing loudly, thankful now that she had walls around her desk so no one could hear her and ask annoying questions. Hell, just talking in general. It only led to prying and then she'd end up talking and- Emma swore again, taking a deep breath to try and calm down. She was going to allow herself exactly two more minutes of this temper tantrum before she got herself together enough to pretend everything was fine.

She'd managed to stave off any more questions about what was wrong over the last few days. Graham had kept trying to pry, knowing something was off, but she'd refused to answer anything and finally he'd relented, letting her know he was there to talk if she wanted. And she appreciated it, she did, but there was really only one person she wanted to talk to about all of this and he was currently not speaking to her.

When her two minutes were up, she got settled at her desk and pulled up the duty roster for the day; Graham had some sort of event over at the elementary school so he was out. David had the day off and was likely hovering nervously around Mary Margaret and driving her crazy - her due date had come and gone, and they were giving it another week before they'd induce labor, so David was naturally in overprotective mode. That left Emma in charge; Philip was already out on patrol; and Alex was on front desk duty.

Great. Good. Okay. Situation at work under control. Now to just… figure out what else to occupy her day with. Something that preferably wasn't thinking about the mess that was her personal life.

Making up her mind, Emma turned her phone off and shoved it into a drawer in her desk, locking it for good measure. If Killian - she swallowed hard past the lump in her throat - if he wanted to talk then he knew where to find her. He could do it in person and hopefully they wouldn't cause a scene - No, she thought. We're done thinking about this and all the ways it could go wrong.

There'd been a string of petty thefts in town over the last six months; none of the storefronts in town had reported anything missing, mostly lawn ornaments or small things left in garages that had been left open overnight, so Graham hadn't deemed it a priority. "It's probably just some kid. Run some leaflets and a newspaper announcement about basic home safety procedures, we don't need to waste manpower on this," he'd said, and in most ways he was right. He'd thought that making it harder to steal would deter the bored kid, but it didn't mean he, or she, would stop altogether if the right opportunity presented itself.

So now, without much to do today and a need to get her head into a different space, Emma went into the files room and dug up everything from the last six months to try and make a profile on the kid making the trouble. They knew most of the troublemakers in town, and even the older ones who came in from Norman, so she'd probably have an idea of whose parent to call before nightfall, but it was just the right opportunity to nip this one in the bud before they decided to make the leap from petty theft to grand larceny.

She spent her afternoon highlighting, underlining, and making notes on her computer. She pulled up the records they kept of the troublemakers and looked for similar patterns. She stood up and stretched and paced, mulling over the whole thing, before rushing back and typing up another note on what to look for. She made Excel sheets of what had been taken, the dates, looked up any specifics on why there might be significance or any correlation. She made more notes, closed files on cases and suspects alike when each was deemed unnecessary or irrelevant.

She buried herself in real, minute, mundane police work and couldn't remember the last time she'd felt so at peace or in control of what was happening in her life.

"Hey, Emma?"

She looked up, startled out of the intense focus she'd been in, staring at Alex like she'd never seen her before. "Hi. Yeah. Alex. What's up?"

Alex looked at her with concern. "You ok, boss? You haven't been… you lately. Well, you have been, but it's like a grumpier version of you-which is totally fine, but Phil and I were talking and we thought that maybe-or no, we weren't talking about you, we were just seeing if we needed to get Chief Graham involved-"

The more she talked, the redder Alex's face got. And maybe if Emma was still as irritable as she'd been that morning or if Alex hadn't caught her off guard, she'd get mad again at the babbling and the veiled threat to try bringing Graham in again. Instead, though, she just sighed and held up a hand to make Alex stop talking. "Okay, one? Don't worry about me. It's my job to worry about you, not the other way around. Two, we really need to work on the oversharing in the next professional development thing we do."

"Yes, boss."

"Good. Now what did you come in here for?"

Alex stood up a little straighter and not for the first time Emma had a strange sense of deja vu while looking at her, almost like she was looking at a younger version of herself. "It's time for muster. Or, it would be if we had one."

Emma tried not to smile as she looked at the clock, noting that it was in fact time for their part-timers to go home. "Very well then, muster out. Phil get back in?"

"Yes ma'am."

"Don't call me ma'am."

"Sorry. He's locking the cruiser's keys up now."

Emma nodded. "Okay. Get out of here, see you tomorrow."

"Call if you need us tonight!" Alex shouted over her shoulder as she left.

Emma shook her head, going back to her notes. It hadn't been hot enough for people to start going a little nutty, and it wasn't like if anything did happen it would need more than just her and Graham, if that.

She went back to work, underlining a few more words to try and link back to other events in the case. At her first yawn, she sat back and rolled her head on her neck, sighing with relief when the bones popped. Time for coffee, she thought, getting up and going to the break room.

She was in the middle of digging for a new pack of coffee filters when the weather radio shrieked to life. Emma banged her head on the edge of the counter and shouted curses, adding to the noise and making her throbbing head ache worse. She stumbled her way to her feet and across the room, one hand pressed to the throbbing spot on her head that would probably bruise, and pressed the button to make the weather siren stop. She squinted at the screen, trying to read the scrolling message: SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING.

Great.

Emma pressed the radio button twice to pick up the local National Weather Service office broadcast and went back to her coffee making routine, letting the robotic voice droning on about local weather conditions fade to white noise in the background. Between her job and dating Killian, she'd heard enough weather conditions to know she'd pick up on the important words, but for now she just let it be noise to fill the otherwise quiet station.

Walking back to her office as she stirred cream into her coffee, Emma felt the rumble of thunder overhead more than she heard it, the feeling of it in her bones mixing with the hum of the radio broadcast in the break room. Her eyes passed over the clock more out of habit than anything else: 6:27pm. She wondered if Mary Margaret had thrown David out yet for hovering, how Graham's event at the school went, if Liam was mad at her over the fight she and Killian had had. She wondered if Killian had even told him, or if he'd finally decided to keep his brother out of their relationship.

She wondered if Killian was at home or if he'd picked up another shift at the bar.

And then a sharp thwack against the window stopped her from wondering anything else.

Emma's head turned so sharply that her neck hurt. The sky outside was an ugly, mottled green color. Another thwack against the glass made her jump, and then another, and another. Goosebumps rippled up her arms and down her back as she hurried over to inspect the cracks in the windows spreading out from the impacted areas; the windows were bulletproof, but enough impacts from baseball-sized hail would cause even the hardiest of material to bend. More hail battered against the walls, the cars outside, the municipal utility box, giant balls of ice smashing into everything without a care. Rain fell in sheets, obscuring her view of anything more than about fifty feet out of the building. The hair on the back of her neck stood up as she watched, and she screamed in surprise when another ball of hail smashed against the window. Idiot! Get away from the window! she told herself as she scrambled backwards.

The lights started to flicker and that made her worry; they had a generator in case things went to hell, which it seemed like it was about to, but who was to say it wasn't getting damaged just like the power lines?

The sky outside went white with lightning and the crash of thunder that followed made her teeth rattle. It took every ounce of her willpower to stop the immediate urge to cover her ears and scream. Instead, Emma took a deep breath to settle her racing heart and went back to her office. The pounding rain overhead should have been soothing, but it only served to remind her that they were due for roof repairs soon and things would likely start leaking soon; the crash of hail against the roof didn't help. The phones were probably blowing up, people calling to report downed trees or utility poles or other things they really should be calling the electric company or the parks department about.

As she suspected, every line was alight with an incoming call. With a sigh, Emma picked up the receiver and went to take the first line.

Another blinding flash of light outside was immediately followed by a horrific crash and a sound like a dozen bullets being fired one right after the other. The station immediately went dark, the phone dead in her hand. "Shit," she muttered, hanging up.

The weather report in the other room went fuzzy with interference and Emma smashed her foot against the side of her desk as she tried to get up. Through the confusion of her foot hurting and the lingering headache from before, she fumbled for the door in the darkness, intent on the walkies at the front desk. She knew Graham had one and David had another at home; if the power was going out all over town, there would be people that needed help soon and they'd need all hands on deck.

She grabbed one of the remaining walkies and switched it on. "David, Graham, someone respond. Power's out at the station, probably downed lines all over town and hail damage, someone needs to pick up Phil and Alex to help."

Emma waited for a response, listening to the rain pounding on the roof and thinking about what Alex had said on her way out the door earlier - call if you need help. She almost snorted. Alex had probably seen an alert on her phone or something-

Her phone.

The walkie emitted nothing but static, so Emma tried again. "Graham, David, this is Emma. I'm at the station, someone respond," she said, doubling back to her office to get her phone. It should be fully charged after sitting turned off in her desk all afternoon. Maybe Killian had texted-

Killian.

Emma swore again, knowing there was no way he wasn't out there if he'd known about this storm. He might have texted her to let her know. She hoped he'd texted her, anyway. "David, Graham, this is Emma at the station," she tried again, wondering where the hell everyone was. She fumbled for the key for the lock on her desk. "Dammit, guys, where the hell are you?" She snapped, snarling when the key slipped out of her hands and pinged on the tile.

-Emma? Emma, repeat, Emma can you hear me?-

David. The radio crackled around his words, the storm interfering with the long-range walkies, but it was David and he sounded okay. Emma flinched at another crash of thunder overhead. "David, Jesus Christ are you guys alright?"

More static from the radio, then David's broken words came through: -shelter-town, destroyed the-Mary-not sure-

"David, I can't hear you," Emma said, a sick feeling welling up in her stomach "David, what happened? Is Mary Margaret okay?"

Static was her response and only a very small sense of self-preservation held her back from throwing the damn radio across the room in frustration. Instead, she got down on her knees and started fumbling for the key to her desk. "Graham, can you hear me?" she practically yelled into the radio. "Graham, God dammit don't tell me you started breaking protocol now, of all times. Graham!"

Her fingers found the key and she stood up on her knees. Emma winced as she heard glass shatter down the hall - the tree out front probably fell over, old as it was, and the front doors were probably gone. The rain sounded louder now, and another sound Emma couldn't quite pick out, a steady thrumming. As she turned the key in the lock and retrieved her phone, she realized what the thrumming sounded like.

A freight train barreling down the tracks.

Anyone who grew up in the middle of Tornado Alley knew that sound. Stories were often repeated and most people scoffed at the way it's likened to a train, but there was really no other way to describe it so that the uninitiated could have any idea of what you're talking about when you described how you knew a tornado was absolutely on its way to try and destroy everything you knew.

Even as she felt the adrenaline rush start to kick in, an odd sort of calm overtook her as she got to her feet. Emma pocketed her phone and grabbed a few other necessities - she kept the radio and grabbed a utility flashlight from the bottom drawer, and a spare water bottle and some protein bars from the packs she kept there for emergencies.

Normally the emergency was more of the "I'm hungry and don't feel like leaving my desk right now" variety, not the "an actual natural disaster is bearing down on me" kind.

With the flashlight to guide her, Emma went into the bathrooms and tucked herself up against the wall under the sinks. She tried the radios again, if nothing else but to keep herself from quietly starting to go crazy with worry and fear while waiting for the storm to pass. "David, Graham, I'm taking shelter. I don't know if you can hear me, but I'm taking shelter, I'm safe so far, I'm in the station bathroom. David, it's Emma, I'm in the station bathroom. Graham, I'm safe so far, I'm still at the station."

She kept repeating it, talking to each of them individually and then together, hoping someone might hear and respond, that someone might know where she was if the station got hit. Thunder boomed so loud overhead that it rattled the pipes, and she had a brief moment of panic about whether or not the pipes could transmit electricity if lightning struck the building before the heavy bathroom door blew open like it was made of paper.

She heard more glass shattering before she could hear nothing else over the roar of the wind and the sounds of the building being torn to pieces, brick by brick. The door swung wildly open and closed, the sound of the banging against the door frame completely lost to the terrifying force of wind that kept it moving. And then, the door stopped moving all together when part of the upstairs collapsed in on itself, crushing half of the bathroom with it. Emma curled over on her elbows and knees, her hands protecting her head, just like she'd been taught in elementary school years ago.

Later, the only way she knew she'd been screaming was how raw her throat felt. Like the sound of the door, the force of the tornado swallowed her screams before the sound could even reach her ears.

It felt like years, huddled up under the sinks and listening to the world ending around her, or at least what she could hear of it, waiting for the storm to pass. Even then, the ringing in her ears was deafening and she didn't know if it meant the whole thing was over or if it was a sign of something else to come.

She waited, taking breaths that shook and rattled in her chest as adrenaline faded and fear took its place. Irrational thoughts flickered through her mind, like that maybe she was dead and she just didn't know it, or she was going to starve or suffocate before anyone could find her; she pushed those thoughts away. For one, her knees wouldn't ache if she was dead - or at least she hoped they wouldn't - and for another, only the one side of the bathroom was caved in and it wasn't the side she was on. She had plenty of air for now, and she had a way to communicate out once the weather cleared up.

Slowly, the ringing in her ears faded and Emma couldn't hear anything but the sound of rain falling lightly in the distance. She decided it was safe to get up and turned on the flashlight when she was on her feet. "Whoa..."

Yeah, they were definitely going to need a new roof.

She assessed the way the ceiling had caved in; it was a steep incline, and the water dripping down from the hole where the roof had been made the broken tiles too slick for her to attempt to climb out. Sweeping the flashlight back to where the door once was, she saw a gap that she might be able to crawl through and get out. With the front doors destroyed and blocked by the downed tree, she'd probably have to use the emergency exit to get outside, if it wasn't blocked somehow.

Making sure she had everything clipped to her belt or tucked into pockets, she rolled the water bottle out first and then dropped down to do an army crawl. Water dripped steadily on her head and she gave an involuntary shiver at how cold it was. The building above her groaned and Emma bit her lip, hoping the pain could keep her focused; yes, it was an old building, yes it was damaged, but dammit, it could keep its shit together for another five minutes while she got herself to safety.

Once she was free, she grabbed the water bottle and did a quick survey of the station: the entire front of the building looked like it had caved in, her office and Graham's buried under what had once been the second floor. She pressed her lips together, refusing to think about how close she'd come to being under there, and turned towards the back way out. Thankfully, the back door wasn't blocked by anything and she emerged out into the rain.

She saw the parking lot first, eyes wide as she took in the uprooted trees and fallen light poles. A single tree had fallen across the front of both police cruisers left in the lot, crushing the engines. Miraculously, the Bug was completely untouched and a knot in Emma's stomach loosened at this simple fact. She had no idea how she would've replaced it if it had gotten crunched by something or swept away or whatever.

She had a spare set of keys for the cruisers on her keychain and got into the trunks, digging out some of the basic emergency supplies and using one of the blankets to towel off some of the rain before putting on one of the bright reflector jackets. She put the hood up, relieved for some respite from the steady rain that still fell, and hurried to take everything over to the Bug. She tossed boxes and spares into the backseat and then cranked the engine. The old girl roared to life and Emma felt herself relax for the first time since the weather radio had gone off.

She left the engine idling as she tossed the flashlight and the protein bars into the passenger seat and propped up the walkie on the door handle. Finally, she dug out her phone and turned it on, the seconds marked by the sound of rain beating against the windshield.

No signal.

She groaned in frustration; the storm must have knocked out the cell tower, the little at the top letting her know that only emergency calls would be able to go through. Well, dammit, she was the emergency call, and she needed to see if everyone else was okay.

She pulled out of the parking lot and slowly made her way to Graham's place; he lived nearby, ease of access and all, so it would be faster to get to him and his personal cruiser before going out to David's place. The chief's cruiser was an SUV, much better at navigating a debris-littered town than her old VW, or even the Crown Victorias that had been crushed back in the lot.

The Bug's headlights only helped so much to warn her about debris in the streets; it was getting darker by the minute as the sun went down behind the lingering heavy clouds; she would have pulled herself over for how slow she was going, but she'd made it this far and wasn't planning on doing anything stupid to get herself hurt or killed now. Still, it took longer than she would have liked to pull up to Graham's street, and the literal radio silence on the walkie was slowly killing her inside.

A fallen tree blocked her way to get onto Graham's street, so she parked and got out, armed with the flashlight and the walkie. The rain slowed now, a light drizzle, and Emma used the flashlight to watch for holes where trees had once been and to check for damage. Most of the street had been hit pretty bad, a few houses completely destroyed, and she hoped everyone got to a safe place before everything collapsed. She held up the walkie again. "Graham? Graham, it's Emma, I'm walking down your street. It's looking not so great out here; I hope you got to the basement in time. I hope you just left your walkie upstairs or in your car, for the first time in your life being completely irresponsible about it. I hope- Oh, God."

Emma stumbled, the light from her flashlight hitting what used to be Graham's house. A couple of 2x4s were left in the frame of a wall, everything else that used to make up a nice, one-and-a-half-story house completely obliterated. The SUV Emma had hoped they could use was on its side in the driveway. "Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck- GRAHAM!" Emma shouted, forgetting herself and running through the muddy grass, slipping and sliding until her feet pounded on the concrete walkway that led to nothing. "GRAHAM!"

She swept the flashlight beam across the floor; most of it had been ripped up, leaving the support beams bare and letting the light fall into the basement. "GRAHAM!"

Breathing hard, she listened closely as she swept the light over everything she could see. From the corner of her eye she could see flashing lights - the fire department was out surveying the damage. "Graham, come on, dammit, answer me," she muttered, the lights coming closer.

Her fingers ached from clutching the radio so tight and an idea came to her: normally, the only time they pressed the call button was on accident, and then they all wound up arguing and scolding each other for twenty minutes about who'd been the one to hit it. "It's for emergencies only," they'd all said at least once to each other.

Well, if this didn't count as an emergency then nothing did.

She pressed the button, the ungodly shrieking from her radio making her wince, but her heart jumped into her throat when she heard Graham's radio shrieking somewhere in the pit in front of her. So he'd made it to the basement, bringing the radio with him, but he wasn't responding - was he alive? Was he trapped? Was he-

"Emma?"

She jumped about a foot in the air. Turning, she saw an EMT she knew and liked. "Rapunzel."

Rapunzel, whose real name was Ngozi, had earned her nickname for the way she wore her hair in dozens of long braids, usually styled in something both elegant and out of the way that, in any other situation, normally made Emma sigh with envy. "Anyone down there?" Rapunzel asked.

"This was Graham's place," she said. "I can't get down there to see if he's alright, or if he was even in there, but I'm getting feedback from the radio, and-"

Rapunzel stuck two fingers in her mouth and let out an ear-piercing whistle. "We've got the chief down there!" she shouted.

Half a dozen first responders, EMT and fire department alike, hurried over with a ladder and a stretcher with some medical supplies on top. Emma was asked to stand back and she did so, watching helplessly as they swept the area with flashlights before dropping the ladder down into the basement. The sound of another car coming up the street made Emma look back, and Alex and Philip both piled out of it, running up with worry etched on their faces. "I told you to call!" Alex cried.

"I don't have signal and you guys don't have radios," Emma said, feeling dumb with her answer and realizing just how many things they were going to have to change when all of this was over. Even with all the advances in technology over the years, it was only easier to wipe everything out with one bad storm, one bad day. They all needed to be easily accessible, part- and full-timers, damn the state and their rules about who could be on call when.

All the rules went out the window in an emergency anyway.

"Is the chief down there?" Phil asked quietly.

Emma wasn't sure when the rain had stopped, she only just realized she wasn't getting any wetter than she already was in her standard-issue jacket. She watched as the first responders went down, Rapunzel among them, and someone up at the top handing down the spinal board and a neck brace in case they found Graham - when they found Graham alive.

She hoped.

"His radio is," she told him, and went to the edge of the pit.

It was probably better to let them work - she definitely preferred to do her first responder work without anyone hovering - but EMT, police deputy, they were all one and the same here. And she'd have been down here sooner except for the fact that she didn't have a way down; using her own flashlight, she did a brief sweep of the basement and confirmed that half the stairs were smashed anyway. Rapunzel nodded when Emma saw she was being watched and they both went to work, carefully moving debris and looking underneath where they could. She pressed the emergency call button on the radio again, turning and heading towards the shrieking reply. He'd have had the radio with him, she thought. So if it's over here, he should be nearby...

She found the radio itself, half-trapped under a fallen two by four. Emma swallowed hard, then swept the light around, looking for curly brown hair or jean-clad legs or- "Rapunzel!" Emma cried out, her tone rising with each syllable. "He's over here!"

All she could see was Graham's hand, the rest of him hidden by debris. Emma was careful when she crawled under it, not wanting to move anything for fear that the entire thing would collapse on top of her and leave them both trapped. She eased some of the wood and carpet and God knew what else aside, trying to uncover him enough to see if he was still - she swallowed hard, refusing to finish the thought. She just needed to get to him. "Emma, a few more people are coming down, we'll get him," Rapunzel said behind her.

"He's my C.O."

She knew she was being stupid and stubborn, but with how many things in her life had been upheaved in the last week, how many things had changed and how many people she stood to lose right now, she needed to do this. She needed to be the first to get to her boss. To her friend.

She needed one solid answer right now.

They could take him once she knew for sure what had happened to him.

"Graham," she whispered, finally moving enough debris out of the way to see him sprawled out on the floor. There wasn't any blood, which could be good or bad, and nothing besides the arm and hand she'd seen looked broken - that one was definitely smashed. She crawled up to his head, careful of everything, and put her fingers on his neck, searching for a pulse.

It was there. Maybe a little weaker than she would have preferred, but she could feel his heart beating and it was almost enough to make Emma break.

"He's alive!"

She didn't want to move him, not until they got the neck brace on him, but she did her best to smooth his hair back and check for any outward signs of injury. While she did that, ungodly noise above her said that the others were working to get all the debris away enough to move him. "Is he hurt?" Rapunzel asked.

"Arm's broken," Emma said, wincing as a bunch of wood crunched nearby. "He's unconscious, pulse isn't great but it's steady. I can't tell anything else."

"Good. We'll check him thoroughly, but until we get the rest, here-"

Emma turned and saw Rapunzel handing her the neck brace through the gaps she'd crawled through. "Put this on him, they've almost got you guys free."

And they were - by the time Rapunzel had walked her through setting the brace, the rest of the debris had been cleared off and Emma could sit up without hitting her head on anything. They'd also managed to make a rudimentary ramp, so that after they'd strapped Graham to the board, they were able to carry him up to the waiting ambulance. Emma heard Alex and Philip talking over each other before she even climbed up the ladder, and their questioning immediately turned on her before she'd even caught her breath. She held up her hands. "Enough. He's alive, he's a little banged up, but he's alive. He'll get to the hospital and they'll handle it from there. We need to go out and see who else needs help."

Alex looked towards the ambulance, worry etched on her face; she looked almost identical to her mother when she looked like that. Emma would know - Ella had been her guidance counselor in high school and had given her more than her own fair share of worried looks at everything from the fights she'd gotten into to her college and career choices. Philip just looked subdued. "Should we split up?" he asked.

"You two go around the perimeter of town, check in on some of the farms and then start moving inward. I'll head downtown and work my way out. Here," Emma reached back and unclipped Graham's radio from her belt, glad she'd thought to take it with her, "take this and check in with me or David. I'm heading to him next, he responded a while ago but I've had radio silence since."

She thought the little joke would get them to smile, but neither of them even twitched. She sighed inwardly; she had to remember this was their first major disaster and it would take some time for the shell-shock to wear off. Keeping them together was best: they'd keep each other grounded.

She took a step towards them, keeping her voice down. "Look, I know this is scary," she said. "I barely know what I'm doing either, but this is the only plan we have right now. We have help everyone we can. This is going to be a long night for everyone. If you need a minute to break down, do it in the car. It'll happen, it's okay. Just remember that everyone else is scared too, and they're going to be looking for you with answers."

"What do we tell people?" Alex asked, her voice wavering.

"I don't know," Emma said honestly. "Just don't lie. If people need somewhere to go, check and make sure the high school's still standing and then tell them to go there." A thought struck her like, well, lightning. "I'll try and touch base with the mayor when I'm on my way to David and radio you if something changes. She'll know who to get in touch with to get that open, if she's not already doing it."

They hesitated for a moment, then nodded. "Alright," Emma said finally. "Let's get to work."


One year ago…

The worst thing about being promoted, she decided, was that she was on call pretty much all the time now. Before, she'd only be the one to go out on a night call if she was on duty, but now it was a 24/7 thing. She had her regular shifts, but if an emergency came up while she wasn't on shift? Deputy Swan, reporting for duty.

Leaving her phone with the ringer on all the time was annoying, and she hated how it bothered everyone in the apartment if it rang at three in the morning. Her only consolation was that if David was spending the night downstairs, usually his phone was going off too. Mary Margaret promised it wasn't a problem, that she understood, and Killian said he wasn't bothered either, whenever he spent the night - though he could sleep though just about anything, and normally calls came in just after he came in from the bar, so maybe he just didn't hear it. Still, she felt bad about waking up the whole apartment; Mary Margaret often teased her, saying if it meant she brought home donuts every morning as penance, she could feel as guilty as she wanted.

But tonight when her phone rang around three in the morning, there wasn't an accompanying ring from David's phone downstairs. Blearily, Emma groped for it on her nightstand, wondering who the hell would just be calling one of them in on an emergency. But when she saw the call was coming not from the station, but from Will, she sat up. "Will?"

"Emma, you need to get up here, fast."

There was a lot of noise happening wherever Will was. Her brain still half-asleep, Emma tried to remember where Killian had said he was taking a team out to chase. Somewhere north - Wyoming? Colorado? No, wait, the Dakotas; when Killian called last he said they were following a line up to the Canadian border. "Where is 'here'? What's going on?"

"Bismarck. Emma, there was an accident."

Her feet were on the floor before she knew what was happening. She heard David call her name, but she was too busy putting on clothes and listening to Will explain how they'd been chasing and they'd been struck by part of a tree. They weren't watching the radar as closely and didn't realize how close to the tornado they were. The windows on the driver's side gave out, and then when they'd decided to get the hell out of Dodge before it got worse, they'd taken a turn too quickly and the TIV had rolled. "Killian, he - he was driving. I told him it should be me, I always drive, but we'd been on the road for hours at that point and he said I needed rest. He knows I'm not so good with the computer side of it and on top of it bein' tired as all fuck, but he insisted and now he -"

Will's voice broke, and that's what did it for Emma. She sank down to the floor, hand resting on her dresser. "How bad is it?"

"I don't know. They won't tell me nothing yet, they was yellin' a lot before they took off in the ambulance, but he weren't conscious when they got him out."

She rested her head against the cool wood, trying to make herself think rationally. She could fall apart later. "Did you call Liam?"

"No, he's next."

Oh, Liam will have a fit about that, she thought, but kept it to herself. She and Will still butted heads sometimes over stupid things, but they'd grown past a lot of that the more they got to know one another. That he'd thought to call her before Killian's own brother said a lot. "Okay. Call him, then make sure they tow the TIV to a repair shop. Killian's got that thing insured out the ass."

"I know, lass. How'm I supposed to get to the hospital?"

"Are the police still there?"

"Yeah, waitin' with me for the tow."

"Ask if they can take you, most will in an emergency like this. It'll take me a few hours to get there, but I'll be there on the next flight I can."

She hung up and pulled a duffel bag out of her closet and started throwing some extra clothes in. She'd worry about toiletries when she got there, fewer things for TSA to get on her about, and threw in her laptop and phone charger. "Emma?"

She glanced up; David was standing at the top of the stairs. A light was on downstairs, which meant everyone was up now. "Killian's in the hospital," she whispered, everything catching up with her at once.

David was on the floor with her in a heartbeat, kneeling next to her and pulling her into a hug. Light footsteps on the stairs said Mary Margaret was there. "I heard everything - Emma, there's a flight to Bismarck in a few hours, it'll give you time to get up to Oklahoma City and buy a ticket. There's a short layover in Denver but it's the first one that'll get you there."

"How did you-"

"I looked at the radar and put some pieces together," Mary Margaret said, waving it off as if anyone and everyone would do the extra detective work to make sure their friend could get across the country in the shortest amount of time possible.

"Thank you," Emma said, looking up at her from over David's shoulder.

"I'll let Graham know," David added. "Just get up there and be there for him, okay? Don't worry about things here."

She nodded, and he let her go. She grabbed a few more things to shove into the duffel, and then got to her feet. They sent her on her way with a thermos of coffee that Mary Margaret had set to brew before coming up, and some of the leftover donuts from the other day. As Emma flicked on the headlights of the Bug and headed out of town, she wondered just what was waiting for her up in North Dakota.


Liam wasn't on her flight, which she found strange. She almost expected it; how many flights went out of Oklahoma City to Bismarck, anyway? If she didn't see him there, she definitely expected to run into him in Denver - but no, there was no sign of him the whole trip. By the time she got to the hospital in her rental (after another call to Will to confirm which hospital Killian had been taken to), only Will was sitting in the waiting room. Will, who was on his feet in an instant and crossed the room in four strides to hug her - Will Scarlet, hugging her - and that alone told her how bad it was. "He's been in surgery for hours," he said, his voice muffled against her shoulder. "Nurse came out a few hours ago, said things were going as well as could be expected, but-"

"What the hell does that mean?" Emma finished for him, and felt him nod. "Where's Liam?"

"Couldn't get him on the phone for ages, finally he picked up 'round seven. Cursed the air blue, said he'd be up when he could."

She thought about that; her flight had been just before seven, and the next one hadn't been until almost eleven - and it was after noon, now, so Liam should be on his way if he got the next flight. "Well, that explains more than it doesn't," she said, then guided him over to the chairs. "Did you sleep at all?"

"No," Will said, sounding hoarse and looking miserable.

"Why don't you try to sleep a little? I'll be here if they come out again. If he's been in since he got here, or a little after…" She honestly didn't know how long surgeries took. She didn't know what he was getting surgery on, or if there were complications, or whatever else might be making it go on for at least ten hours. "He might be done soon, but you should get some rest while you can."

He looked like he wanted to argue, but then his shoulders slumped and he sighed, nodding in agreement. Emma sat back while Will made himself as comfortable as he could in the chair, crossing his arms over his chest; he was asleep in minutes.

Sighing, Emma reached into her bag and pulled out a sudoku book she'd bought at the airport. She needed something to do with her hands and something else to occupy her brain while she waited, or else she'd start preparing herself for the worst. She'd been taught a lot about going into something expecting the worst - anything from a fire to a home invasion to a murder-suicide scene - but she didn't want to start using those techniques in her regular, out of uniform life.

Even if she had less time actually out of uniform than before.

She'd finished the puzzle she started on the plane and moved on to the next one when the doors opened and two people came out. Emma got to her feet while the doctor pulled off her surgical cap and the nurse rolled a crick out of her neck. "Is it Killian? How is he?" she asked.

The doctor stuck out her hand. "Alexis Montgomery. That's Meredith Sloan. I'm sorry, I wasn't aware Mr. Jones had a wife."

Emma felt her face warm as she shook both of their hands. "Girlfriend. Emma Swan, I got up here as soon as I could. How is he?" she repeated.

Montgomery sighed and gestured for Emma to sit. They sat across from her and she felt a leaden lump settle in her gut. "He's lucky I'm damn good at what I do, Miss Swan, or else he'd have lost his left hand. As it is, it'll take some physical therapy to restore full movement, and even then there will be some limitations and stiffness if he doesn't take care of it."

She went on to explain more, that the rolling TIV and the lack of window to offer even minor protection had caused a break in three other places in his arm, as well as crushing the hand. He had cuts on his face from the glass being blown inwards and they'd stitched some of that up but the rest was considered mild enough to just require some ointment and bandages. The harness and the helmet had saved him from anything else, and the tough outer shell of the TIV had prevented his legs from being crushed. He'd be bruised and sore all over, but he'd live.

Emma frowned, mulling some things over and comparing them to similar scenes she'd witnessed as a cop. "How did Will come out unscathed but Killian's… not?"

She knew that drunk drivers often came away from accidents unhurt because the alcohol made them limber and loose. She knew that freak accidents happened. She wanted to know if Will was hiding some kind of massive internal bleeding and wouldn't wake up from his nap next to her.

Montgomery and Sloan exchanged a look. "I can't say for sure - if he was asleep, that would make it like any drunk driver - not being stiff and braced for impact lessens the chance for injury," Sloan said.

Montgomery nodded. "If your boyfriend was trying to shield himself with his arm, since the window was already gone and it was storming like hell? I can think of a few ways that wouldn't have worked in his favor in this specific scenario. But only these two can say for sure what happened, and it probably happened so fast that they won't know."

Emma exhaled, glancing at Will. She'd make him get checked out later; if he was strapped down as much as Killian, then he'd probably just be sore when all the adrenaline wore off, but she didn't need two people down for the count on her watch. "Alright. When can we see him?"

"He's in PACU right now," Sloan said. At Emma's furrowed brow, she said, "Post-anesthesia care unit. Post-op. Once he wakes up, they'll make sure there weren't any ill effects from the anesthesia, and then he'll be moved to another room for recovery. At that point we'll take you over to him. He might be groggy and won't remember a lot, or he might go back to sleep after we adjust the pain medication, but we can let you both in there."

Emma nodded, and after a few more quick questions and answers, they left her and Will alone in the waiting area. She sent a few update texts to David and Mary Margaret, and for the first time she wished she had Liam's number so she could let him know too. If their roles were reversed, she knew she'd appreciate having an idea of what to expect when she got to the hospital; but upon further thought, she wondered if Liam would even bother.

She wondered if Will's phone could be unlocked with his fingerprint.

A misspent and unfortunate childhood meant she wasn't bad at picking pockets (when she put her mind to it, anyway) but after giving a critical eye to all the usual spots men kept their phones, Emma decided he must be sitting on it. She considered putting herself to the test, but really, the last thing she needed right now was Will Scarlet waking up and asking her why she was putting her hands in his pants pockets.

With a sigh, she sat back and crossed her arms over her chest, letting her head fall back against the wall.


A hand shook her awake some time later; Will leaning forward on his knees, the heels of his hands pressed against his eyes. Emma looked up at the nurse who'd woken her up and they were instructed to follow her to Killian's room. "Text Liam so he knows what's going on when he lands," Emma told Will, her voice cracking from sleep.

"I don't know what's going on," he grumbled, but she heard his keyboard clicking away anyway.

She explained as they walked through the maze of the hospital, what she could remember anyway. Her nap had been just long enough to make her even more tired and she'd need coffee before anyone else needed to ask her questions or demand explanations. She also told him that under no circumstances was he leaving the hospital without getting checked for any injuries he might be trying to hide.

Will grumbled about that, but she wasn't taking any arguments about it.

"Alright," the nurse said as they came to a stop outside of a door. "Your friend might be asleep, or if he's awake he might seem a little loopy or groggy. Keep the noise down and if he wakes up and needs something, let one of us know at the nurse's station, or press the call button."

"His brother will be here eventually," Will said, holding up his phone. "Layover in Minneapolis."

The nurse nodded. "Just two visitors for now, we'll see if he's feeling up to having more later. Go on in."

Emma wasn't so sure Liam would want to be in the same space as her for that long anyway, but she left it alone. It was a problem for future Emma. Right now, as they walked into Killian's room, her problem was trying to control her emotions when she saw him lying on the bed.

He was asleep, his left arm covered in a splint from mid-arm down to his fingers and elevated on a small mountain of pillows. There were dozens of small cuts along the left side of his head and neck, all of them shiny with ointment, and a few larger ones had been stitched and bandaged to keep from infection. He didn't quite have a black eye, but there was bruising along the left side of his face and across his nose. She hoped it looked worse than it actually was; he seemed too pale, too frail in his hospital gown and under all those blankets and pillows to keep him comfortable. As she went around the bed, pulling a chair along with her to sit next to him and hold his free hand, she noticed more bruising on his chin and around his lips, along with a few up along his hairline. "Did the airbag go off?" she asked quietly.

Will made a noise that she took to mean 'yes' and it lined up with where his bruises were, if he'd gone face-first into the bag. He settled in a chair on the other side of the bed and Emma carefully put Killian's hand in hers, mindful of his IV. The heart monitor emitted a steady beeping noise and Will's phone ticked away as he texted more updates to, presumably, Liam. She heard the camera's 'shutter' click at one point, but she couldn't bring herself to tell Will off about it. All she could do it sit there and count the number of cuts and scrapes and bruises she could see and note just how close any one of them could have come to seriously hurting, or even killing, Killian.

It wasn't the most soothing train of thought, but it was all that was running through her head as she lay her head down on the bed next to his thigh. Everything was catching up with her, the early call, the worried flights, the long wait to get to this moment, and she was just so tired. She was tired and she wanted him to wake up so she'd know if he was okay and she didn't know when that was going to happen.

Will's phone ringing startled her out of her self-pitying daze and he answered it. The conversation was short and to the point, leaving Emma looking at him curiously when he hung up. "The repair shop," he said, grimacing. "They want someone to go over and talk what needs to happen to get the Jolly back in order."

"Did you want to go over there then? I mean, there's not much happening here," she said, gesturing to Killian. "I'll call when he wakes up."

"Don't have a car."

"Here." Emma reached into her pocket and pulled out the rental's keys. "Take mine, don't do anything wild in it."

Will took the keys with a roll of his eyes. "There's a reason I'm the driver and it's layin' between us, lass." He sobered. "Sorry," he said quietly.

Emma shook her head. He was right, though there was nothing that said Will and Killian wouldn't have just traded places if he'd been the one driving last night. "Go on, get the TIV squared away. We'll be here."

And then it was just her and Killian.

She lay her head back down on the bed after a while and must have dozed off at some point, because the next thing she knew, something was tickling her nose. She swatted at it, wanting more sleep, and she heard a man chuckling - Killian. Emma opened her eyes. He was awake, smiling, and it took every ounce of self control for her not to throw herself onto him. "Oh my God, you're awake," she said.

"I can't say the same for you, love," Killian told her.

There was a pitcher of water on the table next to them. Emma's mouth felt drier than a desert and she bet he felt similarly. "Thirsty?"

"Parched."

She helped him before downing half the pitcher herself; her stomach also reminded her that it had been a very long time since that bagel in Denver. Killian looked at her curiously. "When did you get here?"

"Around noon," Emma said, looking for a clock. It was after four now. "You were still in surgery then. Will's out talking shop over the TIV. I don't know what condition its in," she added, seeing the question in his eyes. "Liam's on his way, and he really should be here by now, I don't know what's been taking him so long. Will couldn't get him on the phone until after I was on a plane, last I knew he was in Minneapolis."

Killian shrugged, then winced. "Bloody hell that stings. Liam's not one to rouse easily. Likely crashed after closing the bar."

"Sounds like someone I know," Emma said drily.

"We Joneses do enjoy our sleep, love."

She shook her head. "Just think, if you'd been asleep last night, you wouldn't hurt so much right now."

He sighed. "Emma, there's no way I would have been able to sleep, knowing a storm like that was out there. Yes, things went awry, but-"

"Awry? Awry?" She struggled to keep her voice down, this was a hospital and there were other sick people trying to get better, but he'd been awake for five goddamn minutes and was already trying her thin patience. "A tree smashing in your windows and then you taking a turn so hard you roll your armored vehicle, having to be dragged out of it unconscious and then an eight hour surgery is awry?"

"Well, when you put it that way, no."

She looked skyward, asking whatever was listening to give her strength. Then she stood up, gently held his face between her hands, and kissed him. He hummed in surprise, then she pulled away. "I love you. I'm glad you're okay. You're driving me crazy," she said and he barked a laugh before wincing in pain again. "Do you need more medicine or something?"

He shook his head. "No, it'll just make me sleep again and I'd rather be awake with you."

"Now you're just being charming to make up to me."

"I'm always charming."

"You wish."

She moved the chair up closer and took his hand again. It was so easy to fall back into normal habits with him, she could almost forget all the cuts and bruises and the giant splint covering three-fourths of his arm. But the cut near his lip split when he grinned at her and the grin turned into a grimace while a trickle of blood slowly started to drip down his chin. She grabbed a tissue and blotted the cut, her good mood slipping away as she cleaned him up. "You really had us worried," she told him. "Will didn't sleep until I made him."

Speaking of, she sent a discrete text to let him know that Killian was awake. "I'm alright, love," Killian said. "Bit bruised and battered, but I'm okay now."

Emma raised an eyebrow. "I'd get you a mirror to show you exactly how wrong you are, but I'm worried that would send you on some kind of vanity spiral."

"Emma, really."

She opened the camera on her phone instead, putting it in selfie mode. "See?" He turned his head from side to side slowly; she let go of his hand to push his bangs away and show him the bruising up on his forehead too. "I'm a little worried about a concussion too, even if you were wearing your helmet. Do you remember the airbags going off?"

"Sort of," Killian said, looking a bit more contrite now. "Mostly I was trying to get us around and away from the center of the storm. Rain was pouring in from the broken windows, I was trying to block it as best I could, but it was hard to see just about anything." He looked down at his splint. "I remember it hurt a lot, but that's about it."

"They said you were unconscious when they pulled you out."

"Sounds about right."

She shook her head. "Babe, you can't keep doing this. Not - I don't mean storm chasing. I mean -"

A loud voice in the hallway interrupted her; they both looked towards the door, and after another moment, Liam came in. He looked about as tired as Emma felt, but where she was just frazzled and on edge, he just looked angry. "Bloody hell, Killian, what have you gotten yourself into now?"

"Liam," she said, her quiet voice carrying a warning tone, "he's been awake maybe ten minutes, don't start."

"And you," he said, eyes flashing. "How the bloody hell did you get here so fast?"

She silently counted to ten before answering. "I'm on call every night since I got promoted," she reminded him. "I'm used to my phone going off in the middle of the night and heading off to an accident. This one was just further away."

Liam's jaw worked, like he was about to say something and for once thought better of it, then he rounded on Killian again. "How are you feeling? How much mobility are you going to have? Where's the doctor?"

Killian sank back against his pillows, his face drawn and tired. "I'm fine, brother. Or I will be in a few days. I don't know about the other questions - as Emma said, I haven't been awake long. I'm sure rounds will be made soon."

Liam ran his fingers through his hair and muttered something about going to talk to the nurses before storming out again. Emma sighed. "He's going to be like this all evening, isn't he?" she asked quietly.

"I'm afraid so. He gets snappy when he's worried."

She wanted to say that he was always snappy around her, but she thought better of it. Liam was being enough of a pill on his own without their continuing conflict making Killian feel worse. They heard him being loud and demanding at the nurse's station and Emma was torn. "I don't know if I should go tell him to knock it off or let them call security on him," she admitted.

"I will do anything I can to make it up to you if you keep him from being tossed out on his arse."

She raised an eyebrow at him and his grin was cheeky yet tired. "The things I do for love. I'll let them know you need someone to look in on you while I'm out there."

One of the nurses was standing firm in Liam's way when Emma marched out there. She reached up and grabbed his ear, twisting in such a way that made him yelp in pain. "You're not helping anyone by being a pain in the ass," she told him. He struggled, but she twisted again and silently thanked whichever one of her instructors taught her how to subdue someone taller and heavier than she was. To the nurses, she said, "I'm sorry about him. Emma Swan, deputy chief of police out of Oklahoma. Killian Jones is looking like he needs someone to check him over, he's tired and I can tell he's keeping from me how much pain he's in."

"You'll need to control this one or else he's out of here," one of the nurses said, glaring at Liam. "This is a hospital and we have dozens of patients in this unit alone; Mr. Jones doesn't get any special treatment. If you need answers, the attendings will be more than happy to assist - when they get here."

Liam looked sullen but Emma let him go. "I'll let you and Killian have some time alone," she told him. "I haven't eaten since this morning. Don't scare anyone else away and don't cause any trouble. I don't have any pull here to get you out of jail if you raise another fuss."

He glared at her but didn't say anything before going back to Killian's room. "We get a lot like him," a nurse offered. "People get scared and fear manifests in all sorts of ways."

"He's just… Liam," Emma said lamely. "It doesn't give him the right to be an asshole."

"Wasn't the first asshole today, won't be the last," someone on the other side of the desk muttered.

With another sigh, Emma thanked them and apologized again before going down in search of the cafeteria. She'd be able to think more clearly once she had some food in her.


When she got back upstairs, food settled into her stomach and holding a cup of hot cocoa, Will had returned. Since there was a two visitor limit right now, Emma just elected to wait outside in a chair; she made arrangements with the nurses to let them know she'd be staying with Killian that night anyway and they said that would be fine and they'd bring a cot into the room for her after visiting hours were over.

She responded to texts wanting updates while she listened to the boys talking in the room. Will's detailed report on what needed to be done to get the TIV back up and running went over her head a little, though she understood things like "replacing airbags" and "replacing windows". She gathered that some of the equipment on top had been bent or snapped during the fateful roll, but when the talk turned to how to pay for it all, her ears seemed to tune in even more. "We'll have to spend the rest of the grant money on it," Will said, sounding like he'd been kicked in the shins.

"We need the Jolly, mate. She's our only way to get through our work, and we built her with grant money to begin with," Killian said.

"We'll be stuck next year," Will argued. "And hell, we're grounded for weeks now. They said at the shop they can do the basic repairs here, but for the equipment we've gotta get back to the university. So that's about a week here while you get yourself together enough to leave and the Jolly back to driving condition, and then I'll have to drive the damn thing home. And then Emma will kill me if I let you out there in only a cast and a safety harness now, so we're done for the season."

"Let's leave Emma out of this for now," Liam said, and her blood simmered. "Killian has already spent enough time courting the opinions of the women in his life, and look where that got him."

"Oh for fuck's sake, Liam," Will said, sounding dismayed.

"Can we go one day without you harping on me about how things went with Milah?" Killian asked. Emma blinked, the name only vaguely familiar to her. "You didn't like her-"

"For good reason, it turned out."

"-and you've been giving Emma similar treatment since before we've even been together and she's nothing like Milah ever was."

"Because you're a romantic, little brother, and you always see the best in the women you choose to fall in love with. Some of us have to be prepared to pick up the pieces when it all goes pear-shaped," Liam said, and Emma saw absolute red. How dare he just assume that they'd - they'd just break up? That she'd hurt him so much? She loved him, for God's sake - and yes. She knew it was a possibility that someday they might not love each other anymore, that something might happen to split them apart. But hell, she hoped nothing would happen where she wouldn't care about him as a person, that she wouldn't try to minimize the damage if she could.

And who exactly had Milah been - what had she done - to make Liam think so badly of Emma in that way?

Neither Will nor Killian said anything and she wondered if it was in quiet agreement or if it was being as shocked as she was and unable to think of what to say. "Now, there's nothing that says there won't be storms to chase later in the summer, or even in the fall, once Killian's healed."

Will sighed in exasperation. He sounded angry when he said, "Not like this, Liam, it's different."

Killian's tone was also dark. "We need certain kinds of storms, brother. Yes, we may be lucky later in the summer, but the fall will be questionable at best."

"Not to mention we're out grant money if we spend the rest here on fixing the ol' girl," Will said. "And your TAship is in the fall, Jonesy. Can't head out for a week or so when you've got papers to grade and exams to conduct."

It was Killian's turn to sigh. "I'll work on Dr. Bhavsar to get us another grant. We'll be fine for next spring. For the rest, we'll stay local. It's cheaper to stick to the state instead of going all over, anyway. It's still early enough in the summer that we'll be able to get something good even without the TIV-"

"Killian." Emma had never heard that tone in Will's voice before. "We're not going out without the best protection we have and that's final. I know the TIV is your baby and more or less I'm along as an assistant and to get some secondary data for me own research. But honestly, Killian, you're my best friend and I don't want to finish any of this shit without you. I don't know what I'd do if we went back out there in a month and you got hurt again. Or got hurt worse. Or died - especially now, I'm driving for good and there's absolutely nothing you can do to change my mind. You're a reckless bastard, Killian Jones, and I'm not havin' it on me conscience that I could have stopped you from getting yourself killed and did nothing about it. And that includes now, tellin' you to shove it up your arse and to be a lazeabout until the doctors say your arm's fine."

"Miss Swan?"

Emma looked up and one of the nurses had some paperwork she wanted her to fill out for her overnight stay - insurance purposes, she said, but Emma still read over every line to make sure she wasn't going to somehow be paying more than she would if she bunked down at the Motel 8 across the street. By the time she finished, Will was coming out of the room and he stopped to talk quietly with her. "Give 'em a few minutes," he said. "Where are you staying tonight?"

"Here," she said. "I made arrangements. I didn't want him to be alone."

Will gripped her shoulder for a moment, then shuffled off down the hall, hands shoved in his pockets. She wondered what else had been said while she'd been distracted by the paperwork, but she could still eavesdrop on what Liam was saying if she wanted. "...don't want you to waste this opportunity, little brother, that's all."

"Liam, how many times do we have to have this conversation?"

"Apparently it needs to be rephrased now and again."

Killian sighed. "There's no reason you can't go back and finish, you know. Especially now. It's not like you aren't stable and I can't get by where I need to. Hell, you'd have plenty of experience on the kids in business school. Be one of those annoying bastards spouting real life experience as it relates to the reading."

Liam hummed and even from here, Emma could tell it was noncommittal. "Let's get you done with school first before we talk about me."

A long moment of silence made her wonder if she should go in, when Killian asked, "Emma should have been back by now, shouldn't she?"

She took that as her cue and, just in time, one of the hospital staff came up with the cot they'd be setting up for her in the room. She went in first, smiling when Killian's face lit up. "Hey, sorry, wanted to give you guys some time together."

"What's this?" Liam asked as the cot was rolled in.

Emma went to reclaim her chair. "Oh, they said I could stay here tonight," she said, her tone light and airy. She had a feeling, though, that Liam could hear the undercurrent in her voice, the one that said 'I win, you lose, asshole'. "I made all the arrangements."

Killian's hand found hers. "You're staying with me?"

She squeezed gently. "Didn't want you to be alone."

Liam made a noise that was halfway between a scoff and a huff, but didn't comment. Emma resisted the urge to gloat about it. "Well, I suppose I should go find somewhere to bed down for the night, then," Liam said. "Visiting hours are when?"

"You can come back at 11am, sir," the staffer said, finishing with the cot.

Liam's mouth thinned, then he nodded. "Alright. I'll see you then, brother."

He didn't say anything to Emma before he left and she didn't know if that was better or worse than the alternative. "Prick," Killian muttered.

"It's not like he doesn't always do it," she said, though she dearly wanted to share that she'd overheard everything. She didn't want to spend their time together complaining about Liam, though. "Have you eaten?"

He let her fuss over him for a while, making sure he was comfortable, while he filled her in on what the doctor had said during the last round. "They'll want to keep me another two days at least to make sure nothing gets infected, and then we can start talking about discharging. I'll need an actual cast at that point, not this thing."

"It'll be heavier."

"Well, we'll work on that. If Liam's feeling so guilty, he can go buy a plush pillow for me to rest the damn thing on. And Will is going to handle getting the TIV in working order. It'll take longer, but I'm sure they'd prefer if I was driven home."

She nodded. "Will and I can trade off driving, it shouldn't take that long between the two of us."

"Emma, you can't take that many days off," he argued.

She waved him off. "I haven't taken a vacation since I started, I've already talked about it with Graham. He told me it's about time I took some time off, though it sucks that it's for this reason. There's a reason we have two deputies. I bought a one-way ticket, Jones; you're not getting rid of me that easily."

He didn't respond and she let him rest for a bit; she took her bag into the bathroom and got ready for bed. It wasn't even nine but she was just exhausted and wanted to be ready when she inevitably crashed. She really wanted to shower, but she'd save that for morning; she'd probably need the extra wake-up. If the coffee here was anything like it was at the hospital at home, it wouldn't be helpful.

"Come here, love," Killian said quietly when she emerged. She looked at him curiously, and he patted the bed next to him. "I moved over a bit, you can fit."

"Killian-"

"Please, Emma. After everything, I just want to hold you."

Well, when he put it like that, she couldn't resist him. She carefully crawled in with him, mindful of all the wires and tubes that kept all the machines around him happy, and tucked herself up against his side, resting her head on his chest. His arm settled around her. "Do you think what I do is too dangerous?" he asked quietly.

"No," she said. "Well, it can be, but most of the time no. My job is way more dangerous."

"But it can be."

"Yeah, obviously." She shifted so she could look up at him. "Why did you say Liam was feeling guilty?"

He huffed, looking annoyed. "Wanker going on about how he pushed me too hard and I had it in my head to do this to prove myself to him or some nonsense. If he thinks I did this to prove myself to him, he's got another thing coming."

"So he's…"

"I don't know what he is, love. One moment we're arguing about how I need to hurry up and finish, the next is how I shouldn't rush everything and take advantage of every opportunity. I've given up trying to decide how he's trying to mother me anymore. I know he wants to go back and finish his own degree, but he gets all dodgy when I bring that up, so I'm sure there's some vicarious living through me that he's doing… Bloody hell, I don't know."

"No, it's okay," Emma said. It fit with what else she knew about Liam, overprotective and nagging brother. "If he's not being straight with you, then there's going to be some confusion."

"I just wish I knew what he was going on about sometimes. Drives me mad, doesn't see me as a peer, just his kid brother…"

"Gets on you about past relationships?" she asked.

He grimaced. "You heard that, then?"

"Who's Milah?" Emma asked, genuinely curious. "If it's not-"

"No, it's… she's a long time ago." Killian sighed. "We were serious for a long time, but she ah… She stole some of my work. She nearly got away with it too, but I found out and I ended up turning her in. Hardest thing I ever had to do, but I couldn't… I loved her, but I loved what I did more. Liam… I don't know."

Emma's fingers found a gap in his gown and she lightly ran her nails across his chest. "Is an asshole?" she suggested, and he barked a laugh.

One of the machines started beeping a little faster and she worried for a minute until she realized it was the heart monitor. It calmed after he stopped laughing. "I suppose, yeah. And then there's Will, telling me off for even thinking about pushing myself, like I'm going to keel over tomorrow if I'm not careful…"

She started to see where all of this was going. "So now you're wondering if I'm going to tell you off." Killian was quiet and she took that for a yes. "Well, I'm not - but I'm not happy at the thought of you going back out there next week either."

She propped herself up on her elbow. "I wanted to talk about this earlier, but Liam came in and was all… Liam. I heard what Will said and I agree with him. And there's another point - I know you want to save lives, babe, but I don't want it to be at the cost of your own."

She couldn't really interpret the look on his face, some kind of cross between dumbfounded and appalled and maybe some guilt? "I don't know what I'd do if the next phone call I got said you were gone," Emma said softly.

"Emma…" The tips of his ears were turning red. "Darling, no, I wouldn't do that to you."

She shook her head. "That's not something you can promise. I knew that going in. And you know that someday you might get a phone call about me."

He looked stricken now, his arm around her tightening. "I - I don't know what I'd do if that happened. If I lost you…"

Her hand fisted in his gown. "I can't ask you not to chase anymore," Emma said. "I wouldn't do that to you. But - you couldn't see anything last night. Will said it was raining too hard and the headlights didn't do much, you couldn't have seen the tree coming."

"You're asking me not to chase at night anymore."

She nodded, hating that she felt like she was holding him back now - what if something happened and he missed out? But what if he went after that storm and this happened again? What if it was worse? "You told me once it was about risk assessment. Well, right now I see it as too big of a risk - I can't ask you to stop risking yourself for something that's so important to you. But I can ask that you stop risking yourself when you're going in practically blind. Trees don't show up on radar."

"You've been listening to Will too much," Killian said, a little half smile on his face.

"Yeah, well, turns out that human senses are pretty important," she retorted.

He sighed, then bent forward slightly to kiss her on the forehead. "Alright, love. For you. I promise I won't chase at night anymore."

Emma curled up into him again. "Thank you," she whispered, holding on to him tight, like he might disappear if she let go.

Chapter Text

Getting to Regina Locksley-Mills' house was no mean feat. There were downed trees and flooded roads everywhere, and more than a few roads were closed down because of downed power lines. She saw at least one emergency crew from the electric company out to handle those, but she didn't want to think how many other live wires were down right now, and was just glad no one in their right mind would be letting their kids run around unsupervised right now.

When she pulled up to the white mansion, Emma was glad to see it was all in relatively one piece; a tree in the yard was down, but otherwise the house was in tact. She slammed the door shut and trotted up to the front door, ringing the doorbell and trying not to fidget. A boy of about eleven opened the door: Henry, Emma remembered, Regina's eldest. "Hey, kid," she said.

He looked a little shaken from everything, but otherwise fine. Kids were resilient creatures. "Hi Emma. Are you here to see Mom?"

"Yeah, we need to talk, city stuff. Where is she?"

Henry led her down into Regina's home office. She was on the phone, which surprised Emma... not at all, honestly, that her phone service and electricity still worked. There was probably a backup generator somewhere. Since her back was to the room, looking out across the backyard as she talked to whoever was on the other end, Emma felt free to take a seat next to Robin, Regina's husband. Their second child, Roland, was fighting off sleep in Robin's arms. "You guys make it through okay?" Emma asked quietly.

"Roland had a bit of a scare when the tree went," Robin said. "But he insists it was all 'very cool' and 'exciting'. Bit too much excitement for me."

Emma nodded. "You guys were lucky it was only the tree."

"How bad is it out there, deputy?"

Mindful of Roland and Henry, she kept the recap of the tornado and the aftermath she'd seen so far short. She did mention that Graham was in the hospital, but she didn't elaborate on how she knew that. "I'm still trying to touch base with David, but there's been too much interference. It's just me and the junior officers right now, and they're starting on the outside working in. I came to see what's up with any relief effort."

"Well, the Red Cross is getting here as soon as they can manage it," Regina said, setting the phone into its cradle with more force than necessary. "Which isn't soon enough for me, but at least they'll be coming in tonight."

A knot between Emma's shoulders relaxed. "Good. I told Alex and Philip to start sending people to the high school if they need somewhere to stay."

Regina nodded. "I'll have someone over there to unlock it and keep order. I assume you're busy elsewhere."

It might have been the truth, but Emma had never quite gotten used to Regina's way of getting straight to the point, no questions asked or feelings cared for. "Primary sweep for survivors and damage assessment," she said.

She hesitated, wanting to go on, but the kids were still sitting there, watching with tired fascination. Robin, bless him, seemed to understand that business needed to be discussed away from sensitive ears. "Come on boys, let's try and get ready for bed," he said, standing up with Roland still in his arms.

Emma waited until she could hear their footsteps on the stairs before continuing. "I don't even know what path the damn thing took, but it took out half the police station so who knows about the rest of downtown. I basically made a beeline for Graham's place after I managed to get out of the wreckage, but his whole house was gone. His street was pretty bad, but he seemed to get a direct hit, he's lucky to be alive."

Regina sat down across from her, folding her hands across her knees and it was then that Emma realized she was still dressed in her usual sensible suit and heels. It was almost nine and there'd been a tornado, but Mayor Locksley-Mills was still dressed and ready for business. "Tell me everything," she said.

It took nearly half an hour, but Emma filled in everything she hadn't mentioned to Robin, assuming correctly that even though she'd been on the phone, Regina had heard everything. To her credit, Regina didn't interrupt at all and when it was clear that Emma had finished, she finally spoke. "What about that boyfriend of yours? Isn't he a storm chaser?"

Guilt gnawed at Emma's gut. "He is."

"And what does he have to say about all this?"

"I wouldn't know. I haven't talked to him in a couple of days." Regina was silent at that, an unreadable look on her face, and Emma didn't know if that was better or worse than just asking the question. "There's at least one utility crew out doing repairs on the power lines in town, but it's going to be days before we're back on the grid."

"I'll work on that," Regina said, waving her hand dismissively. "Anything else?"

Emma shook her head. "No, if you've got relief efforts underway. It's going to be a long night."

Regina nodded. "I'll head down to the school in a while."

"Part of the relief effort yourself, Madam Mayor?"

"It's important to let the people you work for see you when things are troubling, Miss Swan. And I know where our own town emergency supplies are."

Emma frowned, feeling like as part of the emergency response team she should probably know where those things were too, but this wasn't the time or place to argue about it. They'd get into it another time. "Alright then. I'll get back out there and see what I can do."

Regina nodded, dismissing her without a word, and Emma left quickly and quietly. Her radio was chirping when she got back to her car. "This is Emma," she said, yanking the door shut behind her.

-Oh thank God, you weren't picking up.-

"David?"

-Yeah.-

"David, holy shit, I've been trying to get ahold of you for hours. Are you okay? Is Mary Margaret okay?" Emma asked.

-Mary Margaret went into labor, so we're on our way to the hospital.- The voice changed. -Hey, Emma. I'm holding the radio so he can drive, don't worry.-

Mary Margaret sounded tired. "How's the farm?" Emma asked.

-Nothing crazy, the animals are spooked but there's not much I could do. Roads are flooded though so we're going slow.-

-My contractions are still pretty far apart so we're okay. Are you alright?-

Emma laughed to herself, more in a self-deprecating way than anything with humor in it, and got herself on the road before answering. "Well, I only just made it into the station bathroom before half the building fucking collapsed, so yeah."

-Oh my God!-

-We're okay too!- Alex's voice cut in, and Emma had completely forgotten that this was their open channel. -We've got patrols set up to look for people, so just worry about Mary Margaret, David!-

"Graham's in the hospital too," Emma added. "His house is gone, we found him under what was probably the living room. He's alive, miraculously, but he's gonna hurt for a while."

There was silence again and she concentrated on getting back downtown. If she remembered right, Ingrid was supposed to close up tonight, and she wanted to make sure her mother was alright. -Emma, are you sure you don't need me?- David asked.

"David, be with your wife. Make sure something good comes out of tonight. Mary Margaret, he keeps a spare set of cuffs in the glove compartment, feel free to chain him to your bedside if he gets any ideas."

She heard Mary Margaret laughing and smiled, even as she reached downtown and saw how badly the damage was. "Christ, I think that thing just swept down Main Street," she said. The pavement was pretty torn up along one side of the road, trees and telephone poles gone, buildings all along the same side of the road as the station in varying states of collapse or just being completely gone. "I'm heading off to do checks, you guys stay safe."

-Got it.-

She parked at the end of the street, figuring she'd move faster on foot. She kept the radio on her belt and the flashlight in hand, pulling the hood up against the mist that was starting to fall in the aftermath. A lot of these shops closed around the time the tornado hit, so she wasn't too sure what she'd find. Lights from a fire truck flashed at the other end of the road and Emma nodded to herself. Good, she and the fire department would just meet in the middle.

Her first stop was the row of shops that also contained Any Given Sundae. The windows were all blown in, the law firm that stood between her mom's place and the butcher more of a mess than the shops on either side. The building was still standing, though, which couldn't be said for the line of shops across the street. She glanced down the road as far as she could; including the police station, it didn't look like much of that side of the road was in any kind of good condition. Emma went into her mom's place first. "Mom?"

Glass crunched under her feet as she headed to the back; there was a basement that all three storefronts shared, she knew, and it was possible everyone was just down there, but her mother sat at the table in the back room with her head in her hands. "Mom!"

Ingrid's head shot up and her eyes were rimmed red. She almost knocked the table over, and she did knock the chair over, in her hurry to get to Emma and hug her. "Oh my God, Emma - I saw the station but I couldn't see the Bug anywhere and I thought - I thought -"

Emma hugged her hard, glad that Ingrid was alive and unharmed. The shop could be fixed, especially if it was only the windows that were really a mess. "I got to shelter in the back, and the Bug was the only way I could get anywhere. All the other cars are ruined."

"Where's everyone else?"

She explained quickly and concisely about Graham, and then Mary Margaret being in labor. "I haven't been by the house yet, but I think you should go to the school for now, Mom. We're sending people there until there's a full damage assessment."

Ingrid waved her off. "I'll go check the house and if it looks bad, then I'll go. You get back to your job - have you talked to Killian at all?"

The name was like a punch in the gut. "My phone's down," Emma said lamely. "I don't know where he is, and he - he never tried talking to me."

Ingrid smoothed Emma's hair back behind her ears. "Alright. Well, knowing him, he's probably out there somewhere. Just do what you need to do; worry about Killian later."

But now that Ingrid had reminded her of the possibility of Killian being out there, all she could do was worry as she headed down the block and checked on the law office and the butcher. Across the street, she helped pull some customers out of the rubble of the toy shop, the wedding boutique, and the bakery; she set up a signal flare for the EMTs to come and check on the one woman whose arm was at a funny angle. As the ambulance slowly worked its way down the street, Emma went over to Granny's, which looked to be mostly in one piece, though all the patio furniture was completely gone.

All the doors and windows were open, though, and the inside was too smokey for Emma's comfort. "Granny?"

"Emma!"

Ruby bustled her outside. "Everything's fine, we just had a little fire in the kitchen. Probably a surge or something. It's under control. Granny's getting people out of the inn."

"Jesus, Ruby."

"I know. We're all safe though, and I promise I'll make her talk to the EMTs. How's everyone?"

Emma shrugged, giving the rundown again. "You haven't seen Killian, have you?" she asked. If Ruby was here, it meant she'd have been around before the dinner rush started, and might have seen if Killian went into the bar or not. "My phone's been down."

The look Ruby gave her made her gut uneasy. "I thought I saw him heading towards The Pour House when I was coming in, yeah. I don't know, though, the guy was on foot and wasn't wearing one of their shirts so maybe it wasn't him."

"Yeah, but how many guys who look like him head into the bar before dinner?"

Ruby glanced down, frowning in a sad sort of way that only made Emma's gut churn with anxiety, then looked up at her again. "Did you guys make up at all?" she asked quietly.

No, she hadn't spoken to Killian in days, and now she was starting to regret giving him all that space to figure things out. She should have just called him the day after their fight, and kept calling even after he ignored her. She should have just gone over to Liam's and insisted on talking to him. She should have done a hundred things differently before realizing that maybe she wouldn't be able to do any of them -

No.

She wasn't going to go down that path, not yet. She'd seen a small section of the town, heard one thing that may or may not be the truth, and she wasn't going to panic just yet.

"No, but believe me, when I find him, that's the first thing I'm going to do tonight," Emma said, and Ruby smiled, worry still on her face. "You get things figured out here, okay? And if nothing else, head to the high school for the night."

Seeing the fire truck coming this way, Emma decided to get back to the Bug and move on. She called for a report from Alex and Philip while she drove off of Main Street and over towards where a lot of the bars and restaurants were. This street was more in line of the tornado's major damage, a bunch of the buildings flattened or in shambles. Most of the fire department and several ambulances were here, and Emma felt a little useless getting out to help, but she knew that every extra pair of hands was needed.

And when she got out of the car and realized the lumps on the road weren't rubble, but bodies being removed from the rubble, she knew her help was definitely needed.

She tried to separate herself from what was happening around her, looking over the scene with cool detachment, but it was so fucking hard when she knew the faces of people lying in the street. She pulled that guy over more often than anyone else for speeding near the elementary school. That girl was a grade below her in high school. This one had been quiet, always eager to help around the athletics programs, the kind of person people took pity on. The two guys over there always tried to make her blush at the bar when Killian wasn't looking.

The bar.

Emma's feet found their way to where the building that contained The Pour House used to be. The upper stories of the building were gone, the first floor in shambles - the first floor being The Pour House itself. The sign that once hung above the door was stuck in the ground, caked in mud. Everything inside was piles of bricks and cement and splintered wooden planks - where the upper stories were mostly swept away, what was left must have collapsed.

Another first responder stood in front of the wreck that was once the door, silently handed her a pair of work gloves, then went in. Swallowing hard, Emma steeled herself and then followed him.

Even with the flashlight, Emma wished it were lighter out so she could actually see where she was going. She didn't know if she was stepping on someone or something, or what was in her path next. Her friend started moving bricks to the side after he found a foot sticking out from under them; she turned away, her stomach rolling at the thought of who he would find under there.

She tried to separate herself from the situation, crouching down and starting to move bricks and boards off of someone, but when she uncovered his face and found Leroy, the town drunk, staring at her with the blank eyes of death, she couldn't do it anymore.

This was her town. Her people. They'd taken her in and she'd promised herself a long time ago that she would protect them. And now her people were dead or dying. She knew Leroy from nights spent in this bar or letting him cool his heels in the drunk tank, but she'd never have to haul him in for drunk and disorderly conduct again. Her friend pulled out another regular, Maurice, dragging him out by his arms - it didn't matter how they got the dead out, just that they were all accounted for.

Leroy had been stout, but death made him even heavier; Emma ended up copying her friend, dragging Leroy's body out and laying him next to Maurice. Her eyes burned but she turned and went back in, determined to see this through. These were her people, this was her town, and it was her duty to see them through to whatever end they came to.

"Damn thing hit right at the dinner rush," her friend said quietly, starting another stack of bricks. "Maybe not so many here, not like the other restaurants, but these won't be the last."

"It's Thursday," Emma said, her voice just as quiet as she saw another hand sticking out from a pile of junk. "Liam has a reuben special on Thursdays, it's popular."

Her friend actually looked at her, then a look crossed his face as he recognized her. "Deputy Swan."

"Yeah."

"Marco," he said, touching his chest. "You might not remember me, but you knew my boy in school. August."

Emma had been trying to keep the flashlight away from his face out of politeness, but she aimed it near him to get a look; she wavered between wanting to hug this man, who was probably closer to being her grandfather's age than the father of one of her old classmates, and keeping her composure. In the end, keeping her composure won out - if she hugged him, she'd break down, and she worried she'd never be able to put herself back together. "Mr. Booth - right, I'm sorry, the dark and-"

"Emma, it's alright," Marco said. "It's going to be a long night for everyone."

"Is August-"

"Safely in Thailand, working on his next book. As safe as one can be, anyway."

She nodded, relieved that there was one less person she needed to worry about. She and Marco got back to work, pulling out more familiar faces and more stories Emma knew almost as well as her own from spending so much of the last couple of years hanging out at this bar.

As she approached the bar itself, she felt like she was watching herself from a distance. She knew she'd find at least one person back here and she didn't know which one she'd rather find. Part of the upstairs floor blocked her path, so she almost ended up throwing her back out to yank it out of the way. Carefully, she picked her way over the rubble, sweeping her flashlight around behind the bar and-

"Liam."

He was slumped on the ground, leaning against the mini fridge that held the milk and juice for mixed drinks. There was a bloody gash on his forehead that bled sluggishly; she found a clean-ish dish towel in one of the drawers and pressed it to the would, checking for a pulse and that he was breathing - yes on both counts, and she sighed in relief. "I've got a live one over here!" she shouted.

Liam groaned. "Easy," Emma said softly. "Don't move, not until some help gets here."

Actually, she wondered if laying him down and propping his feet up might help, but she really just didn't want to risk anything right now until they knew the extent of how hurt he was. He opened one eye blearily. "Emma?"

She smiled tightly. "Probably not who you hoped to come to your rescue," she said.

His eye closed again. "No, it's... fine... better someone I know..."

She shifted so she was kneeling instead of crouching. "Do you remember anything?" she asked. She wanted to keep him talking, keep him alert until the paramedics got over here.

"Building came down... rush hour, annoyed at... at Killian..."

Her heart leapt into her throat. "Killian?"

She should have been thoroughly unsurprised that her saying his name is what got Liam to be more alert, but she still raised her eyebrows when he opened his eyes. "Killian. He wasn't... he came in and... told me off," Liam said, his gaze sliding over to her at a pace that would be considered speedy by a sloth's standards. "He told me… he said I was being unfair… to you… to him…" Liam took a breath and winced. "Told me I had... no right... to call you names. No right to… think the worst anymore… anything… anything I had to say… I could say… to him…"

Emma swallowed hard. He blinked and then looked at her again. "Threw his shirt at me… told me he quit… said he wouldn't stand by and… allow me to level… abuse at you… stormed off… dunno where…"

He coughed, wincing again, and she helped him sit up straighter. She heard people trying to get into the area. "I thought he'd have been staying with you," she said. "I haven't seen him for days and I would have bet anything he'd have gone back to you."

He shook his head. "Will," Liam said. "Been with Will."

It was a little surprising, but if Killian really had wanted to put some space between them to figure things out, well, twenty miles away certainly was some space. Liam lifted his hand and put it on her arm. "Emma… I love my brother, he'll always… come first for me… Everything he is now… everything he's done… I have sacrificed everything… to get him there… And it hurt. It hurt to see him… get toyed with…"

She bristled - she didn't care if this was Liam's deathbed or not, she wasn't toying with Killian. She opened her mouth to argue, but he squeezed her arm. "Not you - Milah."

Emma resisted the urge to roll her eyes and leveled him with a look out of spite. "Uh-uh. Try again. Killian told me about Milah, and short of being involved with him there's not much basis for comparison. We're not in the same field, Liam, I'm not even a student—"

"He took you chasing."

Her heart stuttered in her chest a little at how much gentler Liam's tone was, but knowing it was more than the injury talking just made her angry— and she really, really did not want to let herself be this angry with him right now. Not if— "And… what?" she prompted, trying not to let her temper get the better of her. "I'm a distraction?"

Something shifted in Liam's expression but it was hard to figure out exactly what it might have been in the low light. "You told him you loved him."

Emma swallowed hard. "So, yes."

Liam shook his head, though, and drew in a breath that didn't sound too steady. "I worried for so long… that you'd end up hurting him too… that he was wasting time with you… when he could be out getting work…"

Her temper snapped a little. "Do you know what I did after Killian asked me out for the first time?" she asked. She didn't know if Killian had ever mentioned this before; he'd never said, though he still found the story very funny. "I put off answering him for weeks because I felt like it was an ethical dilemma. Because of how we met. I asked my boss's permission to date Killian. I didn't want either of us to get in trouble somehow. I didn't want to hurt him before I even really knew him all that well. Does that honestly sound like someone who's just going to toy with him? Or mess up his chances at a career?"

Liam's eyes were closed. "I didn't know…" he said softly. "You know… you make him happier than I've ever seen him… you talk sense to him when he… doesn't listen to me… you kept him safe after… last year…"

She shook her head. This felt like a dying confessional - dammit, he wasn't going to die on her, and he definitely wasn't going to die before she finished giving him a piece of her mind in return. "Liam, you've been an asshole to me for years," she told him. "Even after the accident - I heard you. Comparing me to Milah, someone I'd never met - someone I was nothing like. And a few weeks ago you as good as called me a whore. And you've never once given Killian the same treatment. Everything's always my fault - you and Killian both, recently. Blaming me for everything, making me a scapegoat."

Liam didn't respond for a long moment and she worried he'd passed out - damn him, making her worry when she was supposed to be mad at him. But then he shook his head. "I'm… truly sorry, Emma… you can… not believe me… if you wish… but I am… In truth, I was… jealous… not of your relationship… but how Killian seemed to have… everything…"

"You gave him everything."

"Aye, I did… except the one thing I couldn't give him… what you could give him… Hope."

Hope? Now she was worried Liam had a concussion - first he was apologizing, something she never would have believed he was capable of, and now she gave Killian hope? "What are you talking about?"

"He has a future with you," Liam said, and his voice grew weaker. Some shuffling behind them told her the paramedics were coming in. "He has… everything I ever wanted him to have… and I never realized… that in giving it all… to him… I left nothing… for myself…"

"Deputy, we'll take him from here," someone behind her said.

Emma twisted her head around and nodded, then looked back at Liam. "You don't get to die tonight," she told him fiercely. "You get to tell Killian all of that, and then we all get to work out our shit with each other, alright?" Liam didn't respond and she shook his arm a little. "Liam, do you understand? You don't get to die tonight."

"Or… what? You'll… arrest me?" he whispered, and she almost laughed.

"No, I'll just make you fix Killian's contraption, whenever he gets back into town," she said, and he wheezed in what might have been a laugh.

It was a tight fit, the paramedics and Emma with Liam all crowded behind the bar, but they managed to make it work. Emma held his hand while they got the neck brace on him and then eased him onto the spinal board. She stayed until they got him on the stretcher, then excused herself to find a quiet spot to crouch against a crumbling wall in the alley and let herself fall to pieces.

Killian was alive. Or at least, Killian hadn't been in the bar. He'd quit - he'd stood up to Liam for her, told him off in front of all those people that he wasn't going to let his boss, his brother, berate his girlfriend anymore. He'd quite literally thrown in the towel - shirt, whatever - and stormed off - where? He had to have known about the storm coming in. Had he quit and then just gotten into the TIV and driven off to intercept?

If he'd stood up to Liam, then maybe he'd texted her. Or called.

Wiping her cheeks with the waterproof sleeves of her jacket really didn't do anything, but she tried anyway and then pulled her phone out of her pocket. The signal bars were still gone, still just a big E, and only a sense of self-preservation kept her from throwing it across the alley in anger.

Maybe she should have asked Regina to call whoever operated their cell tower and get that back in order.

Maybe Regina would have told her to go fuck herself.

(Okay, that one definitely would have happened.)

Someone tapped her on the shoulder, and Emma looked up. "I'm sorry, Deputy, but we need your help," the EMT said, and she nodded. Time to get back to work.


Hours passed - Emma's joints were stiff by the time she was told to go home. The other first responders had been rotated out and now it was her turn. They'd found a number of survivors among the rubble, which made her feel better when she remembered the number of dead laying in the street waiting to be taken away. When she got to her car, Alex and Philip were standing there, looking anxious. "What's wrong?" Emma asked, too tired to match their nerves.

"We were just worried," Alex said. "You weren't answering the radio-"

"David checked in," Philip added. "He was able to see Graham at one point."

"Mary Margaret told him to."

"Chief's gonna be okay, he was awake and talking when David came in."

Emma almost collapsed again, her relief making her weak in the knees. "I left the radio in the car," she said, and waved in the direction she'd come from. "I've been..." She didn't really know how to phrase it, the words muddling up in her brain. "I don't know. Looking for hope. Not finding a lot of it."

Alex reached out and gripped her arm. "You okay, Emma?"

She nodded. "Tired." Drained, exhausted, weary, other words that Killian would say. She'd checked her phone several other times, kept her ears open for the rumble of the TIV, but nothing since finding Liam. She wanted to go back out and find him, but she was so... "Just tired. It's been a long night."

"One of us can drive you home," Philip offered.

Emma shook her head. "No, you two go home, get some rest. When you're up, it's back on duty."

"What about-"

She jerked her head over towards the swirling blue lights. "Staties are in for now, covering. They know we're a small operation. Rest up, then get back out to help where you can. Look at it this way, you're getting some serious overtime."

The joke was weak and they all knew it, but they were both kind enough to smile at it anyway. Philip led the way back to his truck and Alex hugged Emma quickly before following; Emma just shook her head, too exhausted to even feel emotional over the brief show of affection, and got into her car. "David, I'm done on cadaver duty," she said into the radio.

-You okay?-

"Yeah. No. I don't know. How's Mary Margaret?"

-Ready for this kid to get off my sciatic nerve and into my arms,- Mary Margaret said loudly.

-The epidural doesn't help,- David explained.

If she were less tired, she might know what all of those words meant, but for now she just filed it away for Rested Emma to pick apart. "I heard you talked to Graham."

-Yeah, he's gonna be alright. Arm's broken in a few places, banged up to hell, but otherwise he's fine.-

"Good... Hey, if you get a minute, see if you can find Liam?" Emma asked, cranking the engine.

-Liam?-

"Pain in the ass bartender? My boyfriend's brother?"

-Yeah, but - he's here?-

"Yeah. Make sure he's not dead. I told him he wasn't allowed to die tonight and even after our little chat, it wouldn't surprise me if he did out of spite anyway."

Morbid, to be sure, but Emma was past any pretense of manners or polite behavior at this point. Once she got David's assurance that he'd find out what he could, she put the Bug in gear and headed for home.

A home that, to her eyes, was a little worse for the wear.

The predawn light gave her a decent view of the damage the house had weathered. One of their trees had fallen, and that made her heart hurt - she loved those trees. Even just one gone made a difference in how she envisioned their home. There were some boards sticking out of the garage - as in, the tornado had sent some spears in the shape of a few two by fours straight into the sides of the steel garage and they still stuck out of it, making it look like some kind of balding porcupine.

There were also a few boards in the kitchen windows.

The front porch was a little broken and busted up, but other than that and whatever damage had been done to the kitchen, the house was standing.

And Emma got out of the Bug, looked at the blessedly minimal damage, and started to cry again.

Her home. The first permanent home she'd wanted to make for herself - a house she'd bought and shared with someone she loved. And it wasn't - it wasn't ruined, but it was broken. And in her delirium from the last ten or so hours, she couldn't help but wonder: was it a sign?

Killian had stood up to Liam for her, but she hadn't seen him yet. She didn't know where he was, couldn't contact him at all, didn't know if he was alive. Maybe he regretted it, or maybe Liam just had a concussion and couldn't remember things right - maybe Killian had just gone in and they'd fought about him missing a shift so he could go chase.

What if he was just gone?

Her heart twisted in her chest and her knees gave out as she choked a sob. Their home. It was their home, small and imperfect, but theirs, and what if the last thing they'd said to each other was all started by an argument about how she'd painted the walls without checking with him?

The birds were starting to sing, heedless of the woman kneeling in her gravel driveway and too exhausted to stop crying or even get herself inside where she could at least cry into something softer and less filthy than her hands. Between the birdsong and her own sobs, she didn't hear the engine coming up the street until it was almost right behind her, and then she heard shouting, "EMMA!"

She barely looked up before she was being hauled up on her feet and hugged tightly. "Emma - oh God, Emma, love, I'm sorry - I'm so sorry - oh you're alive, you're alive and I thought -"

Exhausted and addled and probably dehydrated at this point, it took her far too long to realize who was holding her and shaking almost as hard as she was. "Killian?"

He pulled back just enough that she could see his face - just as drawn and exhausted, hair windswept and eyes bloodshot, cheeks damp with tears and in desperate need of a proper shave - before he kissed her, his hands cupping her face and she had to grip his sides for fear of collapsing all over again.

Someone coughed and they broke apart; Will, stood there sheepishly, and Emma reached over to hug him too. "You're okay," she breathed.

"'Course we are," Will said, hugging her briefly. "But I might not be if you keep huggin' me like this - he's been a bear for the last few days."

It felt so strange to laugh, but she did, and went back to Killian, his arms around her making her feel safer than she's felt since sometime yesterday afternoon. "We saw the police station," Killian said, holding her tighter. "I knew you were on duty today and I thought - your office was under all of that - and Will said your car was gone but since the others were smashed I just thought it had been picked up and carried off. They wouldn't let me near the station to even look for you, when I thought… I didn't know if... "

Oh.

She looked up at him and he reached up to smooth her hair away from her face, rubbed dirt from her cheeks - it was like he was physically incapable of not touching her. "You never responded, so I - I didn't know if you -" he whispered.

"I was so angry today," she said quietly. "Yesterday. I was so annoyed about so many things and I just - I turned my phone off and put it away. And when I got it back out, all the cell towers were down. I never got anything."

Will cleared his throat. "Maybe we should do this inside? Or you can, I just want to find a flat surface to kip on."

The sun was rising and Emma hadn't slept in nearly twenty-four hours and her house was broken - but fixable. But they agreed and went inside, taking note of the damage that had been done there. Water and leaves and dirt tracked down the hall from the kitchen, but aside from some knicknacks getting blown around, the rest of the house was pretty untouched. They got some towels to clean up most of the mess and Will and Killian managed to shove the two by fours out the windows and find something to cover the holes with. "I'll call someone later to come out and put in new windows," Killian said, scrubbing his hand over his face. "I'm so bloody tired."

"Good thing we have insurance," Emma said. "Will, you can sleep on the couch."

"I'd take the floor, but couch is fine. If either o' you wake me before noon, I'm not responsible for my actions."

"Same," Emma and Killian chorused, then smiled at one another wearily.

She trekked upstairs and even though she'd seen that only the windows downstairs had been damaged, she was still relieved to see that the upstairs was fine too. "We'll have to check the roof anyway," she mumbled, stripping out of her filthy clothes.

As she piled them on the floor, she wondered if she should even bother washing them. The shirt would probably be fine, and the jacket was technically the police station's property, but her jeans were likely ruined, and maybe even her boots too. There'd been a lot of mud and blood and cement and God knew what else going into the last twelve hours, and maybe she'd be better off just burning them instead of trying to salvage them.

Standing there in only a bra and her underwear, she started to shiver, though not from the cold. Faces of the dead she'd pulled from the wreckage of town swam before her eyes, the sources of most of the grit and grime on her clothes, and even though she pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes, instead of the usual starbursts she only saw Leroy and Maurice and Laurence and Keagan and a hundred other faces she'd seen and known every day for the last decade and a half -

"Emma?"

Killian's hands on her arms jolted her back to the present. Her eyes burned, but she was so drained and so tired she just didn't have the energy to cry anymore. "I need to shower," she whispered. "I'm so - I'm so tired, but..."

"Go on, sweet," he said, brushing her hair away from her back and unsnapping her bra for her, more efficient than he might in a more heated moment. "We can talk after you're clean."

She didn't know if she'd ever feel clean again, but she tried. Thankfully, the water still ran, and ran hot, and she was careful not to swallow any of it just in case there was going to be a boil alert for a while, but getting the grit out of her hair and from under her nails felt wonderful. With the power still out, the hairdryer wasn't an option, but she didn't care, toweling herself dry as best she could before going back to the bedroom and putting on one of Killian's shirts.

He was already in the bed, his face scrubbed clean at least - she had heard him in the bathroom while she was showering - and immediately she went to his side. "I'm sorry," she told him. "I've wanted to talk for days, but I wanted to let you cool off first. And then I just kept having this awful thought that I'd never see you again and the last things we'd said to each other were terrible."

"Me too," he murmured, rolling onto his side and holding her tight against him. He felt wonderfully solid, real, and alive against her. "I was angry, and it took me a while to realize I was angry at myself, and I regret that I took it out on you, my darling. And then when I saw the station - when I thought you were buried under all of that - I despaired that I'd said such awful things to you and stormed out like a child. I'm so sorry, Emma."

"I hid in the bathroom," she said. She shuddered at the memory, the thought that she was almost buried, and he held her close. "The second floor collapsed, I think I was right outside of where it all came down." He held her tighter. "I was lucky."

Though exhaustion dragged at her bones, she told him about what had happened that evening - going to find Graham, Mary Margaret going into labor, finding Ingrid at her shop, helping downtown and saving Liam. Through it all, Killian's thumb ran in small circles on her back. "Liam and I talked," she added.

"Oh?"

"I think he was concussed, mostly, but he told me what you did," Emma said, yawning. "What you said."

"I meant it," Killian said, sounding tired even as he kept soothing her with his hand on her back. "I've known for a long time that things between you two weren't the best, but I don't think I knew just how bad it was until we fought."

"We kept it from you," she said, her eyes unable to stay open any longer. She tucked herself under his chin, letting herself feel small and safe, just for this moment. "It was between us, and I think it's the only thing we've ever agreed on: don't bother you with it."

"Except it became personal. Liam never should have taken it that far."

"He apologized. He was jealous - of you, not me. Well. Kind of. I don't know. You had all the things and he didn't. Something else we'll all need to talk about... after we sleep," she said, her words broken up by another yawn.

If Killian replied, she didn't hear it. Exhaustion grabbed hold and she fell into a blissfully dreamless sleep.


She woke up to her phone pinging on the bedside stand with new message tones, and really, this time she was going to break it, but then she saw that it was well into the afternoon and realized she should probably consider getting up. Killian grumbled and tried to pull her back to him when she rolled over and reached for it on the bedside stand - something she didn't remember doing, maybe he'd done it? - and she snuggled back into his embrace once she had her phone in hand.

Seven unread messages from Killian:

Coming into town to talk to Liam. Can we talk later?

Hold that thought. Storm's on the way. Please be safe.

Answer your phone please.

Love, I know you're still mad at me, but please let me know you're getting to safety, this looks like it's going to be bad.

Tornado inbound. Emma, answer your phone.

We intercepted. Please tell me you're okay.

Emma where are you?

There were also two voicemails from Killian:

"Emma, I know we parted on bad terms, but I'd like to speak with you later this afternoon if you'd allow it. I'm going to… well, I wanted it to be a surprise, but I'm quitting the bar. I can't work for someone who disrespects you so, even my own brother. And I'll tell him so. If you get this before then, please let me know if you'd be able to talk. (pause) I love you."

"Emma, I know you have your phone off, but turn it back on, please. There's a monster of a storm heading right for Storybrooke, we're going to intercept, and I need you to get to safety. This one blew up so suddenly, I don't know how much time they'll have to call an alarm if something happens. Please just let me know you're alright, love."

Her throat felt tight and she blinked back hot tears and her eyes burned from too much crying in the last twenty-four hours. She scrolled through and found several update messages from David:

Found Liam. Concussion, lost some blood, couple of broken ribs. He'll live, he's just not very coherent.

She's doing great, I promise!

That one came with a photo of a very tired, very sweaty Mary Margaret giving the camera the finger and Emma laughed, wondering how mad Mary Margaret would be if she had that photo printed.

I know all of these are going to send at once but I need something to do with my hands. Being the dad in this situation is very boring. Graham's still doing okay, if he has no mishaps they'll let him go home tomorrow.

Leonard James Nolan, 7lbs 8oz 16.5in. "Leo", after Mary Margaret's dad. Also The West Wing, but she won't let me tell people that.

Also mom and baby are fine, should have mentioned that.

And there was a photo of little Leo, all scrunch-faced with his little hat and swaddled against Mary Margaret's chest. Emma nudged Killian awake. "Look, Mary Margaret had the baby."

"Very nice. Sleeping."

She sighed and rolled her eyes. MenCute little guy. I didn't realize babies come with hats, she texted back, to keep up the West Wing reference, and then put her phone down on the side of the bed.

She needed coffee and she needed something to eat that wasn't a granola bar and she desperately wished she didn't need to go back out into the mess and see if there was anything else left to clean up.

She wanted to stay in bed and pretend she and Killian didn't need to have a serious conversation.

With a sigh, she sat up and Killian whined. "I've got two choices, babe," she said, running her fingers through his hair. "I can go see what else needs done around town, or I can stay here and we need to talk before anything else happens."

He sighed, rolling onto his back. "I'll have the talk if it means you don't have to leave," he said, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

Her eyebrows went up. "Alright," she said, and reached for her phone again. She texted Alex and Philip and David to see if any of them knew if everyone was still needed for clean-up, and then received a bunch of negative replies. "Looks like they don't need us outside of our regular duties. I don't know what Regina pulled, but we've got some National Guard people here helping."

"Resourceful Regina."

"Remind me to thank her," Emma said drily, and laid back down. She felt a little weird having a heart to heart in their bed, but at the same time, she'd rather have a serious talk in a place of comfort, rather than somewhere that might build up into an explosive argument again. "So."

"So."

"I hope you weren't really upset about the paint, because that took a long time to do."

Killian scrubbed his hand over his face again. "No," he admitted. "I like the paint, I think… I think I was just hurt you didn't ask my opinion. And that was on top of a week of bad chases and bad aftermath, on top of a bad season. I've been so frustrated, love, and I've tried so hard to not take it out in the wrong place."

"I've felt like you were pulling away from me," she said. "All spring, I've felt so… Lonely feels strange, but I have felt alone. I hate going to bed and then waking up and you're not there. I hate that I can't talk with you about these things, even though I try my best."

"I think I pulled away to keep from lashing out wrongly." He propped himself up on his side, staring at her. "I know none of this has been your fault. If our roles were reversed and you had been injured last year, I would have asked the same of you."

"And I would have been just as frustrated," Emma said. "I know it's not your job, but that was part of the research deal and I... I just got scared of losing you."

"Aren't we a pair?" he asked with a smile, then sobered. "Emma, truly, though, there's been so much that I - I've felt so inadequate. You do so much with the house and your job, and I feel like I've been flailing about trying to figure out how to start being an adult. I felt so hopeful this winter about everything we planned to do, and I just feel like it's all slipped away."

She reached up and cupped his face. "Hey," she said softly, her thumb grazing along his jawline. "It hasn't all slipped away. Not everything has to be finished when you expect it to. And there are always going to be setbacks. I'll always have your back, Killian, you know that right?"

He smiled wearily and nodded. "I'm sorry I yelled," Killian said. "I'm sorry I couldn't handle all of this and took it out on you. I'm sorry I made you feel alone. I'm sorry I didn't call when I left for Wyoming."

Her smile felt watery. "I'm sorry I made you leave."

"I'm sorry about Liam."

"Liam and I will work it out, but there's definitely some stuff you two have to work on too. Actually talking, like this, not just yelling at him in front of the dinner rush and throwing your clothes at him."

Killian grimaced. "And... I'm sorry I have to find another job."

She rolled her eyes. "We'll figure that out."

"I do have good news," he said suddenly, perking up. "The storm yesterday - we intercepted and I believe it's garnered us enough data that I can finish my dissertation."

Emma sat up. "Seriously?"

"Yes, we-"

"No, you were just going on about plans slipping away and you're sitting on this fantastic news?!"

Killian sat up as well, eyeing her warily. She tried (failed) not to notice the sheet slipping down to barely cover his waist. "Well, it hardly seemed the time."

"Killian."

He sighed in exasperation, then said, "Fine, I think I may be able to finish my dissertation this year after all and perhaps, just perhaps, I was being overly dramatic about it. Are you happy now?"

Emma grinned and leaned over, holding his face between her hands before she kissed him. "Very."

His tongue slipped between her lips and she hummed in surprise. He gently urged her to lay down again, his body covering hers as the kiss turned more hungry. "I feel like I need to keep touching you," he murmured, his hands wandering where they could, fingers tapping her sides and arms and neck. "I was terrified… I feel like I need to make sure you're still in one piece, that you're truly alright."

She appreciated the sentiment, but she wasn't really in the mood for all that statement implied. She just wanted to be held and comforted and maybe get another twelve hours of sleep. He got the hint when she pushed against him a little, moving off her so she could breathe but still holding her close. True to his word, his thumb grazed across her cheek before he started smoothing the flyaway hairs away from her face. His eyes roamed over her face as if he was memorizing every inch down to the last freckle. "It was… horrifying," she admitted softly. "I think - I think the worst part of it was that I didn't have you. We weren't talking. And the last time I went through anything near to that, I had you. You held my hand and made it okay. This was just me and I had no idea if I was going to die."

His arms tightened around her. "I wish I could have spared you that," he said. "I don't know how, other than dragging you out with me, but I wish you hadn't had to face that alone."

"I'm okay," she whispered, and she wasn't sure if it was for his benefit or her own. "We both lived. So we're okay, right?"

He nodded, a small smile on his face. "I think we're on the mend, love."

He kissed her again, soft and sweet, and she melted into his embrace.

There was a crash downstairs and then they heard Will yelling about a spider, and Emma sighed. "You know," she said, pulling back. "I was just thinking that there's probably something poetic about silver linings or the calm after the storm that applies here."

"Probably," he agreed. "You'll have to forgive me for not giving a damn and wanting to strangle my best friend instead."

"You should call the window company to replace the ones in the kitchen. And save Will from the spider that came in."

"I should," Killian said. "But Will's a big lad and he can handle a spider."

She started to argue, but then in a rather impressive move he rolled them both over and lurched out of bed, carrying her fireman-style. Emma shrieked with laughter as he hauled her into the bathroom, closing the door behind them to block out the sound of Will calling them names from downstairs.

Chapter Text

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.