Chapter 1: The Red Door
10 years ago, The Underworld
Gold watched Zelena delicately stir a pile of ash with the toe of her boot. A mere minute ago, that pile of ash was Hades, Lord of the Underworld.
"Now, explain to me again why you couldn't do that on your own?" Zelena asked.
"The contract, dearie," Gold said, struggling to keep his annoyance in check; he explained this already. "Hades owned me, therefore I couldn't kill him."
Once upon a time, Gold made a deal with a sorcerer to save Baelfire. Trading away the life of his second-born child had been easy. He never expected to become a father again.
But then along came Belle.
When Hades bought the contract Gold signed all those centuries ago, Gold's only option was to offer himself in place of his and Belle's unborn son or daughter.
So, he became Hades' pet.
Temporarily, of course. Gold didn't intend for things to stay that way, of course. He only had to play Hades' game long enough for an opportunity to come along. And it did, in the form of Zelena. Zelena, who was currently pouting, presumably about the inconvenience of having to trek all the way to the Underworld to help him.
"What are you so upset about?" Gold asked. "We both get something we want out of this."
Zelena gave her boot a delicate flick to remove the ash, then spun on her heel to face him.
"Speaking of which," she said. "You got what you wanted, now give me what I want."
"In a hurry, are we?"
"You may be willing to wait another decade to get back to your children, but I'd much prefer to be with my daughter right now, thank you."
Gold just smiled in bemusement.
"You do have the memories of all the previous Dark Ones, correct?" Zelena persisted, one eyebrow arced haughtily. "Or was that just a lie to get me to do your bidding?"
"It wasn't a lie. I have what you need," Gold said.
Nestled within his own memories were the memories of every single person who ever bore the Darkness, including its most recent hosts, Emma Swan and Killian Jones. Zelena wanted the spell Emma used to accelerate her pregnancy. It was trivial information, something Gold didn't mind relinquishing, especially when it was required purely for the sake of petty revenge.
"You just have to promise me one thing," he added.
"And what's that?"
"Promise me you won't harm Belle or our children."
Zelena was volatile, prone to explosion; Gold didn't want Belle or their children—yes, children, plural—to become collateral damage.
She snorted. "I won't touch your children, Rumple. I don't need them. Emma Swan has what I need."
Gold's smile grew.
Emma Swan had what he needed, too.
Rather, her unborn son did.
Which was why Zelena's plan needed to fail.
And it would, Gold knew, because Zelena was arrogant and impatient. But he wasn't impatient. He could wait for as long as it took for another opportunity to present itself.
When Zelena was gone, returned to Storybrooke, Gold took up the crystal scrying orb and carried it back to Hades' throne—his throne now, he supposed.
He sat, and lifted the orb to eye level. In its depths, an image flickered to life, an image of Belle sorting books in the library. Her pregnancy was beginning to show, and he could only imagine how much larger and rounder her stomach would become as the twins inside grew.
A boy and a girl.
He couldn't wait to meet them.
Granny's patio was packed with costumed customers. They flowed in and out of the diner, and poured out onto the sidewalk and into the street, which was blocked off for the annual Halloween festival. The side door of The Crow's Nest was thrown open, and Emma could see just as many people, adults and children alike, inside as out.
Killian was in there somewhere, doing whatever it was that he needed to do in order to extricate himself from his own business long enough for them to take their kids trick-or-treating together, like they did every year.
Emma, even though she knew she shouldn't be, was getting impatient. Fast.
It was fear, mostly; fear of what would happen when the natives began growing restless—the natives being her and Killian's two daughters.
Evie would probably be fine. Even at two-and-a-half she was the chillest of the bunch, totally content as long as she was in someone's arms, which she was right now, serenely watching the crowd with big green eyes from her perch on Emma's hip.
Emma leaned in and brushed her nose against Evie's plump, soft cheek. The girl had refused to learn how to walk for the longest time purely because she liked being held and carried, and Emma had shamelessly indulged her, knowing Evie was the last, wanting her to remain a baby for as long as possible.
Luckily, it hadn't backfired. Evie remained a calm, sweet, easygoing kid.
Jackie was the opposite, and it was Jackie that Emma was worried about.
She was currently occupied with eating a candied apple—if you could call scraping all the caramel and nuts off with your teeth and avoiding the actual apple part eating it—but wouldn't be for much longer.
Emma turned to her five-year-old daughter, who regarded her with eyes the exact same shade as Evie's over the apple she currently held in two sticky hands (because apparently holding a candied apple by the stick was for weaklings). Jackie wasn't very good at waiting. When the apple became just an apple, the questions would start, and the whining, and the impatient tugs on Emma's hand, then the insistent pushing on her rear end when the tugs proved useless.
Maybe if Emma got Jackie talking, she could stall the inevitable. All she had to do was distract Jackie long enough for Killian to arrive.
"How's your apple?" Emma asked, saying out loud the first and only thing that came to mind.
"Good," Jackie said, and licked a smear of caramel from the corner of her lips.
"Are you going to eat the actual apple part?"
Jackie grinned wickedly, an expression Emma blamed entirely on Ian.
"I eat apple," Evie offered, in a tiny, impossibly cute voice that Emma used to think could only come from a cartoon animal.
Emma raised an eyebrow. "You want Jackie's apple when she's done with it?"
Emma was about to talk her down—did she really want an apple coated with Jackie's saliva and some already-licked caramel?—but stopped herself. Her kids had weird tastes, and she knew better than to argue with them if she wanted to maintain the appearance of being in charge. At least this way they wouldn't waste food. Killian would be happy.
The little bell over the diner door tinkled, and Emma looked over, as she had been for the past hour or so, waiting for Ian and Enzo to try and sneak by, but it was only an elderly couple emerging.
No, it was two people dressed as an elderly couple.
Emma smiled faintly at the sight. She herself was not in costume; she'd given up believing she had the time and the energy and the time to properly pull that off years ago. About three years ago, to be exact, when she was pregnant with Evie.
It was fine. Emma didn't mind. All that mattered was that the kids dressed up and had fun. That was more sacred to her than anything, and every year she made a gigantic deal out of going to the store to pick out the perfect costume and all the proper accessories.
This year, Emma made the mistake of inviting her mom along with them. Mary Margaret had been living out the fantasy of having more daughters through Jackie and Evie since their births. One out of the two was not having it.
Jackie snubbed every pink princess costume Mary Margaret suggested in favor of being a skeleton, complete with the black-and-white, bone-printed onesie and a plastic mask.
Mary Margaret was disappointed.
Emma wasn't surprised. Emma knew her daughter, and she knew frilly dresses and plastic crowns weren't her thing. Jackie was a "rough-and-tumble sort of lass" as Killian liked to put it, all scraped knees and knotted hair and splashing in mud puddles with the dog. She liked to follow her grandfather around the farm, or Killian aboard the Jolly Roger, or tail Ian and his bike up and down the block with her Big Wheel; she couldn't be less interested in anything Mary Margaret—and sometimes Emma—had to offer.
Emma thought Evie might take Mary Margaret's pink, glittery bait, but in the end she'd chosen a Cookie Monster costume. Again, Emma wasn't surprised. Sesame Street was Evie's favorite, and nothing made Evie giggle like Killian's Cookie Monster impression did.
The bell over Granny's front door chimed again, and when Emma looked over that time, she saw two short figures in two very distinctive hats pushing their way through the crowd and towards the street.
Quick as lightning, Emma reached out and snagged Ian's arm, halting him.
"Hang on a second there, Watson," she said.
"Mom," Ian complained. His blue eyes flashed in annoyance, but for Emma it was difficult not to laugh—he was wearing a fake moustache, and it was crooked.
Carefully, Emma peeled the bit of fur off his upper lip and replaced it so it was centered. Ian held still, but he did his best preteen I'm too cool for this glare beneath the brim of his bowler hat. Behind him, Enzo, dressed as Sherlock Holmes, his red-gold hair perfectly coiffed under a grey deerstalker, watched placidly.
"Alright, much better," Emma said, giving the moustache a final smoothing to ensure it was firmly stuck in place.
Ian drew a breath, nostrils flaring, whatever bit of sarcasm he was about to spew already curdling the air—but then a second, much smaller set of fingers joined Emma's.
"I touch," Evie said.
Ian's mouth closed. The ice receded from his expression, the sea of moodiness ebbing. The mouthy, irritable Ian that Emma and Killian has been living with since 5th grade started in September disappeared, and regular Ian took his place. He tilted his chin up, pursed his lips, and let Evie stroke his moustache.
"Like it?" he asked.
"No," Evie answered, sweetly and simply.
Enzo snorted. Ian scowled and huffed through his nose, blowing air over Evie's fingers, making her giggle and withdraw her hand.
"Did you two eat dinner?" Emma asked.
Ian's eyes widened. "Uh..." he stuttered.
"That's a 'no', then." Killian emerged from the crowd on Emma's left, smirking. "Don't you remember what happened last year?"
"No," Ian lied.
"Last year you ate nothing all day before you went and ate half your bag of candy all at once," Emma said, and paused, waiting for Ian to say he remembered and spare himself some embarrassment, but he remained resolutely silent, so she continued, "You threw up all over yourself."
"Yourself," Killian amended, "and the little girl who was unfortunate enough to be standing next to you,"
Ian flushed bright red.
"It was basically like you were a fire truck and the little girl was a burning building," Enzo said dryly. "Only instead of water it was chocolate."
Ian rounded on him. "Seriously, traitor?"
Enzo shrugged, though Emma saw the slight upwards curl at the corner of his mouth, and the glint of amusement in his brown eyes.
Chuckling, Killian slid his hand around Emma's waist to the small of her back. "If you two weren't eating dinner, what were you doing in Granny's this past hour?"
Both boys perked up and turned, grinning hugely.
Enzo produced a folded piece of paper and flicked it open with a flourish. "We were making this," he said.
It was a map, drawn in Sharpie and colored pencil. It showed the entirety of the residential section of Storybrooke, and, as far as Emma could tell, it was accurate down to every sidewalk, driveway, and bush.
Killian took the paper from Enzo and let out a low, appreciative whistle.
"Now this," he said admiringly, "is a proper map!"
Emma leaned in to see better. "What are all the stars for?" she asked.
"The stars mark the houses with the best candy," Ian said, pressing in on Emma's right. He pointed to a little square on the map decorated with a glowing yellow star. "This house had full-size candy bars last year. And this one-" He slid his finger over a little, to a square with a drawing of what was clearly a steaming pile of poop- "Only gave out Tootsie Rolls and Dubble Bubble."
Emma had seen enough of Ian's art to know immediately that the drawing and the coloring were his work—and she'd also seen enough of his handwriting to know that the labels were Enzo's. It was impressive, and it explained what they'd been working on in Ian's bedroom for the past month.
Killian shook his head slowly, eyes twinkling. "There's no getting between a pirate and his treasure, no matter the treasure," he said.
Ian beamed, and even Enzo, usually reserved to the point of appearing aloof to those who didn't know him, looked flattered.
Something poked Emma in the side. Apparently Ian felt it too, because he jumped. Jackie pushed herself into the gap, frowning. She took one long look at the map Killian held, and said, "I wanna go."
Ian turned wide, panicked eyes on Emma. He understood what she also understood: Jackie didn't just mean she wanted to go trick-or-treating, she meant she wanted to go trick-or-treating with Ian, something Emma had promised Ian she would do her best to prevent so he and Enzo could enjoy their first Halloween trick-or-treating alone, without adults.
"Be back by 8," she said quickly.
Ian nodded and started walking backwards, then stopped and wrinkled his nose. "Wait, 8?"
"The costume contest is at 8," Enzo said pointedly, grabbing his sleeve and pulling him into the crowd.
Killian hastily refolded the map and handed it to Emma, who shoved it into Ian's hands.
"Be careful, lads," Killian said.
"We will, dad."
"Don't go into anyone's house."
"Mom, we know."
"And stay out of the woods!" Emma called, but they were already out of sight.
It took Ian and Enzo the better part of three hours to complete their trick-or-treating route. They crossed off the houses on their map as they went, and occasionally added a note to help them plan a better, more accurate map for next year.
"Rude dog," Enzo muttered, scribbling inside one of the squares on the map as they walked down the sidewalk, kicking their way through piles of crunchy orange and brown leaves.
"Rude?" Ian squawked indignantly, clutching the forearm a large German Shepherd had just attempted to amputate with his teeth. The dog had burst out of the front door the moment Ian rang the doorbell, and only his thick tweed jacket and a little accidental burst of magic saved him. "How about evil?" he suggested. "Or, malicious?"
"Hm, malicious. Big word. I like it." Enzo crossed out 'rude' and wrote 'malicious' next to it. "They had exceptional candy though."
"I guess," Ian agreed grudgingly. "They could have given us a little more, to make up for their rude dog."
"I think two Snickers each is more than enough considering that you used magic on their dog."
"The dog's fine," Ian mumbed. He let go of his arm and reached up to remove his bowler hat and give his gelled hair a pat, reminding it to stay in place.
"Leave it alone," Enzo said, glancing over. "You're going to ruin it."
"You do a really good impression of my mom," Ian retorted, replacing his hat. "You should have been her for Halloween."
"Why are you in such a bad mood today?"
He was, actually, he just didn't know why. It might have been because Rowan was sick with the stomach flu and couldn't go trick-or-treating with them. Or it might have been because Neal pushed him face-first into a locker that morning and then he and all his football buddies stood there and laughed about it.
Either way, Ian's day wasn't going great. He couldn't even enjoy the fact that he had a giant bag full of candy, because lugging it around was making his shoulder ache.
"This bag's so heavy," he grumbled, dragging it from one shoulder and throwing it over the other. "Next year we should bring a little wagon with us to carry our bags."
"Maybe we can work the wagon into our costume?" Enzo said.
"We could be Transformers!"
"What? How would that even work?"
They argued about the best way to turn a Radio Flyer into a two-person Optimus Prime costume while they completed their route through the residential area and then turned back towards town. It was dark, but they took their time; the sooner they returned to their parents, the sooner their sugar consumption would be curtailed.
They traded candy while they walked. Enzo gave Ian all his Sour Patch Kids, and Ian let him take one piece of whatever he wanted in exchange for every package of the glorious gummies he handed over.
"Look, I don't know what you have against duct tape, but-"
Ian was stopped short by Enzo's hand over his mouth, and a hissed "Shhhh!" in his ear.
He pushed Enzo's hand away. "Oh my god, why are you so sweaty?"
Then Ian heard the voices—voices he recognized instantly.
"Neal and Philip," he whispered.
Neal was technically Ian's uncle, but in relationship they were more akin to cousins—cousins who didn't get along because one of them was a massive turd.
"Should we get out of here?" Enzo whispered back, but it was too late. Around the corner ahead of them came a group of five boys, all 6th and 7th graders, with Neal and his best friend Philip in the center.
Ian froze. None of the boys wore a costume; instead they were all wearing a football jersey, identical except for the numbers. Some carried cans of shaving cream, some toilet paper, and one had a carton of eggs. They were talking and laughing loudly, and the memory from that morning, of getting shoved into his own locker and then laughed at, rose up in Ian's mind.
Something else rose up inside of him as well: anger. It flowed through him, hot like lava, lighting up his veins and boiling in his stomach.
He scowled at Neal as he and his friends approached. He could get his revenge right now, he realized. He could beat Neal over the head with his candy bag until Neal cried, and no one would ever know. Enzo wouldn't tell. Neal's friends probably wouldn't either.
Before Ian could decide how much of a physical threat the other boys were—Ian bet none of them had been taught how to fight by their fathers, not like he had—Neal spoke.
"Hey, Ian," he said amicably.
The retort Ian had been preparing died on his tongue.
"Huh?" he asked, stupidly.
"We're heading into the woods to try and find some ghosts." Neal jerked his head in the direction of the woods, looming darkly over the roofs of the houses to the west. "Wanna come?"
There were rumors that ghosts haunted the woods at night, and it was a Storybrooke tradition for teenagers to go into the woods on Halloween and try to find them.
"I don't know," Ian said. It wasn't that he didn't believe in ghosts (because he definitely did, and he definitely believed there were some in the woods); what made him hesitate was Neal acting so friendly when he was surrounded by the friends he usually liked to impress by torturing Ian.
"Alexandra said she saw a ghost last year by that big hollow past the wishing well," Neal said. "We're going to look there."
Ian struggled not to roll his eyes. Neal would believe anything Alexandra Herman told him—too bad for him she didn't know he even existed.
"So, are you coming?" Neal prompted.
Ian and Enzo exchanged looks.
The woods were "off-limits" at night. Technically, the woods were forbidden at all times, even during the day, but that had never really stopped Ian and Enzo before.
They'd never been unsupervised on Halloween, however, and going into the woods to look for ghosts on the night they were supposedly the most plentiful was an opportunity they couldn't pass up.
"We're coming," they said together.
It was a ten minute walk to the woods. Ian and Enzo stowed their candy bags beneath a bush before following the older boys into the trees.
They were plunged into gloomy darkness immediately. It took most of Ian's concentration not to fall on his face. There were rocks, gnarled roots, and fallen branches everywhere, most hidden beneath a thick layer of soggy fall leaves. More than once Ian walked right through a thorn bush, scratching his skin and ripping his clothes. Despite the low visibility they had no problem following the older boys, who were crashing through the undergrowth like a herd of rhinos.
"Are you afraid?" he asked Enzo quietly, after they'd been walking for what felt like forever.
"No," Enzo answered defensively. "Are you?"
"No," Ian said, just as defensively, even as what he hoped was a leaf brushed his cheek and he nearly yelled. He wasn't super fond of the darkness. It had too many possibilities, and he'd heard too many stories—stories he was trying really, really hard not to think about.
Enzo was suddenly walking so close to him that their shoulders and arms brushed. "Can you use your magic to summon some light?" he asked.
"No," Ian said. "I mean yes, but if I do then my parents will definitely know we're not where we're supposed to be."
His mom always knew when he did magic—at least, she always knew when he did magic in the house. Ian didn't know the range on that particular superpower, but he didn't think now was a good time to test it.
They walked in silence for another minute, arms and shoulders still touching, before Ian realized that the woods were silent as well—he couldn't hear Neal and his friends anymore.
"Crap," he said, stopping.
Enzo pulled up next to him, and they both stared around, straining their ears for the sound of voices. The only sound was their shallow breathing.
"Hey, there's the well," Ian said, pointing ahead of them, through the cloud of their misted breath.
"It's on higher ground," Enzo said. "Maybe we'll be able to see them from there."
They jogged over to the well, but when they reached it there was nothing beyond except more deserted woods.
"Crap," Enzo echoed.
"They must have gone on to the hollow without us."
"Yea," Enzo agreed with a shiver. He grabbed the edges of his caped jacket and pulled it tight around his body. "Ian, I have to tell you something."
"What is it?"
"I think they tricked us."
Ian sighed glumly. "Yea, I think so too." He wouldn't be surprised if they had lured Ian and Enzo into the woods just to abandon them. In fact, the more he thought about it, the more certain he was that that was the case.
"Let's try the hollow," Enzo suggested. "Maybe they just went on ahead."
"Maybe they found the ghost."
"Maybe the ghost ate them."
"Do ghosts eat people?"
"Maybe this one does," Enzo said hopefully.
Ian kept his eyes peeled as they walked, searching for Neal and his friends. He wished Rowan was there. She probably would have been the voice of reason and prevented them from going into the woods in the first place.
Another minute of trudging through leaves and bushes that left the hem of his pants soaked through, and the hollow came into view ahead of them. They approached it from one of its sides.
It was shaped like a horseshoe. At the "toe", the inner edge sloped steeply down to a clearing far below. The slope was carpeted with leaves, with a rock poking out here and there and a few larger rocks gathered at the bottom. To their left the top edge of the hollow curved away into the darkness; to their right, the ground angled gently downwards for half the length of a football field until it leveled out again.
"There's no one here," Enzo said, unnecessarily—Ian and Enzo were very obviously alone.
It was all a prank, then. They'd been tricked into getting lost in the woods in the dark. They didn't even have their candy to keep them from starving to death while they searched for the way out. Ian was about to suggest turning around and heading back when he saw something across the hollow that chilled his blood.
Standing on the opposite side of the hollow, staring at them, was a man.
At first, Ian thought it was Neal—until he noticed the wolf sitting at the man's feet.
He was so shocked it took him several heartbeats to find his voice. "The ghost!" he breathed.
"What?" Enzo looked first at him, and then wildly around.
"There!" Ian said, pointing. He'd never seen a ghost before, and even though he had expected them to be silvery and see-through and this one wasn't, he knew it was a ghost.
"Where?" Enzo asked. "Where are you looking?"
"Across. Can't you see it?"
"Ian, there's nothing there!"
Ian wasn't going to let the ghost get away. With a growl, he took off running along the top curve of the hollow.
"Hey, wait!" Enzo called after him, but Ian kept running.
He crashed headlong through the low underbrush along the ridge, leaping over branches and rocks. He never took his eyes off the ghost, and the ghost never took its eyes off Ian. As he drew closer, he saw something glinting on the man's leather jacket—a golden Sheriff's star.
Ian grinned savagely and raced faster. He knew exactly who the ghost was.
He was halfway to his destination when a bush directly on his left rustled, and several large, bestial things leapt out of it with bloodcurdling screams.
Startled, Ian dodged sideways. One of his feet landed on the downward slope of the hollow, and he lost his balance. He hung there for a few seconds, arms pinwheeling pathetically, before he toppled head over heels backwards. He got a momentary glimpse of five grotesque Halloween masks being pulled off, and five sweaty faces staring open-mouthed at him before he was rolling down the hill.
When Ian opened his eyes, he was standing.
He faced the slope he had just tumbled down, and lying in a crumpled heap at the bottom was his body.
Ian blinked dazedly. This happened sometimes when he dreamed; he would fall asleep, and open his eyes again to find himself standing over his own sleeping body.
Only, he wasn't asleep. He knew he wasn't asleep. He was unconscious.
Or maybe he was dead.
Was this what the afterlife looked like? Ian glanced around. Everything was pale and drained of color, and a thin mist crawled along the floor, curling wispily around his ankles. He looked up at the ridge where the ghost had been standing, but there was nobody. He was alone.
He walked forward a few steps to crouch down next to his body. There was a large gash over his eye, and one side of his face was completely covered in blood. He was still breathing though.
So, not dead after all. Just unconscious.
He tried to remember if he'd ever been knocked unconscious before. He'd broken plenty of bones, gotten all sorts of cuts and bruises, but he didn't think he'd ever passed out before. Maybe this was just what happened when he was unconscious, just like how it sometimes happened when he slept.
Resigned to sitting and waiting for his body to wake up, he began looking for a good rock to sit on, and was surprised to see a door in the center of the clearing.
It was a red, radiant against the pallid landscape, and Ian was drawn to it as if by a magnet.
He grasped the handle. It was warm to the touch, and gave his hand that pins-and-needles feeling. Ignoring the voice in his head—the voice that sounded like Rowan—telling him that opening creepy doors in creepy in-between places might not be a good idea, Ian turned the handle and gave the door a little push.
It creaked open slowly.
"Hello?" Ian called. His voice echoed, as it would in a cavern or an auditorium, but there was nothing visible beyond the door, only inky blackness.
A chill crept up his spine, and Ian swallowed hard. Suddenly, he knew opening the door had been a mistake. Just as he leapt forward a gust of air rushed out, like a hot breath, reeking of sulfur. He fumbled for the door handle, but his hand passed right through the brass knob as if it wasn't there.
He stared disbelievingly at his hand for a moment, and then tried again, only to have his hand pass through a second time.
"What's happening?" he whispered, turning to look back at his body. And then he was in his body, opening his eyes to find himself lying in the dirt and the wet leaves, staring up at the dark canopy with a pounding headache.
He groaned. It felt like a bowling ball was rocketing around inside his skull, and there was one spot on his forehead that felt like it was on fire.
"Ian! Are you okay?" That was Enzo's voice. Ian just groaned again in response.
Enzo's face appeared above him. It was blurry. Ian touched his hand to his forehead, right where it hurt the most, and his fingers came away slick with blood.
"You hit your head," Enzo explained.
"Rock," Ian supplied.
Neal's face appeared next to Enzo's. "We have to get you out of here. Can you stand?" he asked.
Ian glared. "Hate you," he ground out, and then closed his eyes. His head hurt so much.
"I'm sorry," Neal said, and he did sound sorry, but Ian was in no mood to be forgiving. His head was split open, he was covered in blood and dirt, he was pretty sure he'd lost his moustache somewhere on the way down the slope, and, to top it off, there was no way his parents were going to let him eat any more candy tonight.
"Jerk," he persisted through his clenched teeth.
"We didn't mean for you to get hurt," said Philip.
Enzo started laughing.
"Can you stand?" Neal asked again, "Or should we go get help?"
Ian couldn't bear the thought of his parents having to come into the woods and carry him out like a child, so he said, "I can stand," took a deep breath, and sat up.
The pain in his head doubled, and a wave of nausea swept over him. Two pairs of hands grasped his shoulders, steadying him.
"Philip, run back to Granny's and find my sister and Killian." Neal's voice was brisk, commanding. "We're going to walk back the way we came. Have them meet us."
"Ok," said Philip, and then Ian heard him scrambling back up the slope.
"We're going to get you on your feet," Neal said. "You ready?"
"One, two, three, up!"
The hands on his shoulders moved to grip him by the armpits and drag him upwards. He managed to get his feet under him, but swayed where he stood.
"Let's get this over with quick," Enzo said.
He and Neal pushed and pulled Ian up the hill. When they reached the top, Enzo and Neal stopped to catch their breath, and Ian leaned forward and vomited. Enzo and Neal yelped in surprise and jumped backwards.
When Ian was done, he straightened. "I actually feel a little bit better," he said, and then everything went black again.
Chapter 2: Concussion
The Halloween festival was in full swing. All of Main Street was blocked off, its sidewalks dotted with tents and booths and food vendors' carts, the air scented with cinnamon and fried dough, and everything lit charmingly by strings of carnival lights hung between the buildings.
Emma, standing beside Killian, shoulder to shoulder with him and what felt like literally everyone in Storybrooke, checked her phone for the fiftieth time in the last half hour.
It was 8:45.
Ian and Enzo were late, and not just a little late—they were late late, the kind of late that got ten-year-old boys grounded for a week.
The costume contest was over, the winners were being shuffled off the stage with their prizes in hand, and the band was in the wings, ready to take their places. The crowd was milling about in anticipation. Emma stood on tiptoe, peering back towards Granny's and The Crow's Nest, hoping to catch a glimpse of a bowler hat and a deerstalker, hoping the boys were just lingering at one of the game booths or in line for hot chocolate at one of the drink stands.
"Can you see Jackie?" Killian asked. He tried to turn, but his mobility was limited by the tiny Cookie Monster on his hip.
"Yea, I see her," Emma said. At the ring toss booth was an auburn-haired Hermione Granger and a skeleton with a blonde ponytail and a lollipop stick poking from its grinning mouth. "She's still with Colette. I think they're going for that giant pink dolphin."
Killian snorted and muttered something about a "scam".
Emma dropped to her heels and slapped his arm. "They're little kids. Let them have their fun."
"Those games are impossible, Swan. They're designed to be unwinnable."
"They're not impossible. They're just...difficult."
As she spoke she dipped into her magic. It was like opening a box inside of her and reaching in; the moment she did, her veins hummed with power, and with a subtle twitch of her fingers she gave the ring leaving Jackie's hand a little extra help—it sailed through the air and landed neatly around the neck of one of the bottles.
"See?" Emma said, as Jackie and Colette started jumping up and down in celebration.
Killian cocked his head and frowned, one eyebrow raised disapprovingly. "You did that, Swan."
"I did not," she replied, not in any real attempt to lie, just on principle.
"You did, and I think the fact that you did only proves my point."
Emma shrugged. "What's the point of having a mom with magic if she doesn't use her magic to win you a giant pink dolphin every now and then?"
"I think the point of having a mother with magic is that she can use it to protect you—ah, speaking of which, do you want to deal with her candy now or later?"
"Definitely later," Emma said. "She'll notice if I do it now."
On Halloween, they let their kids eat as much of their candy as they want, then Emma makes half of it disappear as soon as they fall asleep and Killian rations out the rest in increments like a true pirate captain until Thanksgiving. Emma was pretty sure Ian used magic to obtain more than his daily allotted amount, but he wasn't the one that had a mouthful of cavities at their last dentist appointment, so Emma wasn't worried about him.
Actually, she was worried about him.
Really, really worried.
She pulled her phone from her jacket pocket. It was now 8:52, and she still had no missed phone calls and no new messages.
"They're late, Killian."
Killian hefted Evie higher on his hip, making the googly eyes atop her costume's hood roll crazily. "You know how the lads are when it comes to Halloween," he said. Emma could tell he was only trying to sound reassuring; worry strained his voice, a slight undercurrent beneath his otherwise calm, even tone, and his eyes roved the horde of people swarming the festival tents. "For all we know, they've established a trading post on some street corner and are exchanging all their—what's the candy they despise?"
"Right. For all we know they're conning some poor, unsuspecting children out of all their Sour Patch Kids and Snickers for a handful of Dubble Bubble."
Emma sighed again, inwardly this time. She could picture what Killian was describing perfectly—she'd gotten multiple calls from school about Ian's trading tactics in the cafeteria during lunch—and yet she couldn't ignore the feeling in her gut that told her something was wrong.
"They missed the costume contest," she said.
"Perhaps they merely decided an extra hour of collecting candy was more worth their while."
"I don't know..."
It was totally feasible that Ian just wanted more time to eat as much of his candy as possible before it became property of his parents, but as crazy as he got for candy every Halloween, he got equally fanatical about his costume, and this year the selection process had been particularly...stressful.
Ian originally wanted to be Harry Potter. When Enzo said he was going to be Ron Weasley, Rowan chimed in and announced she and Colette would be joining them as Ginny and Hermione.
Enzo, who liked everything neat and orderly and sensible at all times, wanted Colette to be Ginny, because Enzo and Colette were siblings just like Ron and Ginny. Colette didn't want to be Ginny, because Ginny liked Harry and Ian was Harry. Ian didn't want Colette to be Ginny either, and he definitely didn't want Rowan, his crush, to be Hermione.
It was very nearly World War III. Many tears were shed (mostly by Colette), and eventually Emma and Killian had to sit the boys down and have a chat about maybe picking a new theme and letting the girls do Harry Potter.
Enzo suggested Sherlock Holmes, and, perhaps in revenge, the boys threw themselves with zeal into their new costumes. Some plastic props, two hats, and a ton of tweed from the thrift shop later and the boys were boasting that they would take home the prize for best costume. Rowan and Colette, both by nature a bit more mature than Enzo and miles more mature than Ian, merely rolled their eyes and stated they didn't care about a stupid costume contest, they just wanted to be Ginny and Hermione and get some candy.
"Me want cookie."
Emma's thoughts were interrupted by the voice of Cookie Monster issuing from her husband's mouth, as perfectly as if Killian was being possessed by the spirit of a certain fuzzy blue puppet. It was always as amusing as it was eerie.
"Me want cookie," Killian repeated, staring pointedly at the giant chocolate chip cookie Evie held—it was bigger than her head, and Emma couldn't resist buying it the moment she saw it at one of the food stands in the street. In an hour, Evie had managed to work her way through only half of it.
"Here," Evie said. With both hands, she offered Killian her cookie.
"Om nom nom nom!" Killian took huge, pretend bites of the cookie, and then turned on Evie, nuzzling his face into her neck and making gobbling noises. Evie squirmed and giggled.
Emma's mom senses tingled. "Killian, be careful," she warned, spotting the half-chewed clump of cookie tucked into Evie's cheek. "She has a mouthful of food. She's gonna choke."
Killian stilled immediately and withdrew his face from Evie's neck. "Ooh, sorry little love," he said in his normal voice. "Finish eating."
"Ok." Evie chewed obediently. Killian adjusted her in his arms again, dragging her higher onto his hip and settling his arm firmly beneath her bottom. Emma pulled back the hood of Evie's costume and ran her fingers gently through the cap of sweaty hair beneath. It wasn't black like Killian's, but it was a brown nearly as dark and just as rich. At the same age, Jackie's blond hair had been nearly down to her rear end (from the back it looked like a grown woman's head on a toddler's body), but Evie's hair remained stubbornly short, soft waves that curled over her brow and around her ears and chin.
Emma withdrew her hand and—without even meaning to—checked her phone again.
She looked from her phone to Killian. His eyes met hers. Evie's Cookie Monster costume was bringing out the brilliant blue of his irises. The twinkle that was there mere seconds ago was gone.
"Maybe they're with Belle," he said.
Emma shook her head. Belle was running the raffle tent with May Margaret, which was why Colette had to go trick-or-treating with Emma and Killian and the girls after Rowan got sick with the stomach flu and Colette was left without anyone to trick-or-treat with; it's also why Emma had said she'd keep an eye on Enzo when he and Ian returned.
"What about your father?"
"Why don't we look for the boys there?"
Emma hesitated, then bit her lip. "Do you remember when I used to get visions?"
Back when she was pregnant with Ian, she started having visions of the future, nightmarish things directly linked to Zelena and her plan to use Emma and Killian's baby to fuel her time travel spell.
A crease appeared between Killian's brows. "Did you have a vision?"
The visions lingered for a few years after Ian was born—like aftershocks—but eventually faded. Currently Emma only ever got the vaguest impressions of the future, and only from direct touch. It had been a long time since she felt that peculiar itch that preceded a real vision, and she didn't exactly feel that now, but she felt something—like she was supposed to be seeing something, but wasn't.
"I just have a really bad feeling," she said. "I know something's wrong."
His eyes searched hers, and then his jaw set and he nodded, slowly.
"Let's go find them," he said.
He took her hand and began pushing his way through the crowd. Emma clung to his fingers with one hand, and held to his jacket with the other. Her stomach twisted, tightened. She hoped she was mistaken, she hoped everything was fine and she was just being a paranoid parent.
She sort of knew that wasn't the case, but still.
They gathered Colette and Jackie and the giant pink dolphin that Jackie was now the proud owner of, and led them to the petting zoo all the way at the far end of the festival. It was inside a large, peaked white tent, heated and well-lit to keep the animals warm and comfortable.
David grinned and waved when he caught sight of them entering the tent. There were only a few people inside, as almost everyone else was at the opposite end of the street waiting for the band to start playing.
"Hey!" David said. "Here for a pony ride?" He nodded his head towards the center of the tent, where five ponies stood tethered to a spoked wheel.
"Sure are!" Emma said brightly. She handed Jackie and Colette off to Happy and asked Bashful if he'd mind holding on to the stuffed dolphin. Jackie wasted no time running to Domino, her favorite spotted pony, and climbing into the saddle; Happy held another pony, a shaggy chestnut thing named Duncan, steady while Colette mounted.
Doc tried to take Evie but Evie shook her head politely and reached instead for David; David smiled and lifted her out of Killian's arms.
Killian hung back while David got Evie situated—a pony had bitten him at Colette's birthday party several years earlier and he still held a grudge against the entire breed. Emma drew up quietly to David's side and whispered, "We need you to watch the girls for us for a little while."
David's hands, adjusting the tiny little stirrups for Evie's tiny little feet, slowed but didn't stop.
"Is everything okay?" David asked, eyes on his work but voice tense, alert.
"Yea. I just want to go find Ian and Enzo. I told them to be back by 8 and they're late."
"Do you want me to come with?"
"No. We'll be okay. I'm sure everything's fine."
"Do you want me to call Lancelot?"
"Nah, he's probably pretty busy as is. Parrish called out tonight so it's just him and Bucky manning the west station."
David was silent for a moment, fiddling with something else on the saddle Emma didn't know the use of, and then he looked at her and asked quietly, "You sure everything's okay?"
Emma's lips compressed around the lie she wanted to tell. Lying to her dad wasn't something she liked to do, if she didn't have to. After Killian, her dad was the person she trusted the most.
"I don't know yet," she admitted.
David nodded. "I've got the girls. Call me when you find Ian. Or if you need me."
"Oh, and if you see Neal, tell him to start heading back. He's out trick-or-treating with Philip and some other boys from the football team."
"Alright, dad." She started to turn away, and then stopped. "Oh, hey, you should probably send one of those ponies to pick up mom. She's been on her feet for too long."
David smiled, a smile that lit up his gentle blue eyes. "I've got Leroy in there with her making sure she's sitting down like she's supposed to be," he said.
Emma patted his arm reassuringly. "We'll be back," she said quietly, and then she and Killian slipped from the tent, stepping from the warmth and the light into the chilly darkness.
Emma stood for a moment and shivered, less from the temperature and more from the tension wriggling in her stomach. It would take the girls at least two pony rides and five minutes of feeding the goats to realize she and Killian were gone. From there, if Emma and Killian still weren't back with Ian and Enzo, David would just have to handle things however he could.
"Where should we start, love?" Killian asked.
She shook her head, and faced the dark, empty streets beyond the festival. "I don't know."
The feeling she had that something was wrong was even stronger, more intense, an absolute certainty now and not just a hunch. Ian was out there somewhere, in danger, or hurt, or...or something.
They'd been lucky—everything had been pretty quiet for the past decade, just minor bumps here and there. But this felt big. This felt like standing on the shore, watching the waves recede before a tsunami. It felt like the calm preceding the storm.
A warm hand slid into hers and squeezed. The nervous wriggle in her stomach stilled. Killian was her rock, her safe place, the thing she knew she could always count on.
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She was about to tell Killian they should just start looking, even if they didn't have a plan, when she saw Philip running up a side street towards them. He was breathing hard and, despite the chill air, drenched in sweat.
Tension gripped her again, immediately. She sprang forward, racing to meet Philip as fast as her legs would carry her, Killian on her heels.
Philip saw them and stumbled to a halt, clutching his side. Damp brown curls clung to his forehead, and his cheeks were bright red from exertion. "Ian," he panted, when Emma and Killian were within earshot.
"What about Ian?" Killian thundered, the air practically vibrating with the force of his voice.
"In the woods," Philip said, looking between Killian and Emma. "He fell. Hit his head. He's bleeding."
"Where in the woods?" Emma asked, but Killian swept past her. She glimpsed his face, dark with anger, and then he grabbed Philip by the front of his football jersey and hauled him upright, nearly onto his tiptoes.
"What did you do?" Killian growled.
Philip's eyes widened, and Emma saw a tremble pass through him—a tremble that may or may not have ended with him peeing himself a little.
Emma laid her hand on Killian's arm, lightly.
Killian's fists tightened briefly, threateningly, in Philip's shirt, and then Killian released him.
Emma gently nudged Killian to the side. Philip's eyes flickered from Killian to Emma and then back.
"Philip," Emma said calmly, drawing the boy's gaze back to her own. "Where's Ian?"
Philip blinked, swallowed. "The Wishing Well," he answered. "They're walking back now. I can take you to them-"
Emma reached into her magic, the bright, eagerly glittering pool at her center, and grabbed Killian's arm. In her mind, she pictured where she wanted to go, and—with what felt like a physical tug—she teleported them there.
Ian felt like they'd been walking for hours. Sometimes his eyes were open and he was certain he was awake. Sometims his eyes were closed—and when they were closed, it was difficult to understand whether he was still awake, or unconscious, because sometimes when his eyes were closed he wasn't in his body.
Sometimes he was standing in the trees some distance away, ahead or behind or to the side, watching himself in between Enzo and Neal, their arms around his shoulders, supporting him, holding him up, dragging him stumbling through the woods.
Sometimes he saw the red door, hovering in a shallow pool of mist. Sometimes it was close, sometimes it was far away. Sometimes he saw a flicker of red in the corner of his eye, but when he turned his head there was nothing.
Ian hoped those ones were just dreams.
"We should talk to him to keep him awake," Neal suggested. "I think it's bad if you pass out after you hit your head."
"Been there," Ian said, his voice a rasp, "done that."
He was awake, eyes stuttering open—he closed them almost immediately; the way the forest swayed around him made him feel nauseous again.
"You don't talk," Enzo scolded. "You just concentrate on not passing out again."
Ian smiled, faintly. He decided not to mention that he was more passed out than awake, and instead concentrated on keeping his legs moving and trying to bear as much of his own weight as possible.
Emma and Killian touched down with a jolt to their legs—as much as Emma tried, she could never quite get the landing right.
They were standing on the edge of the trees. The ground beneath their feet was more dirt than grass, smooth and well worn. A path lay before them, winding through a thick clump of bushes and disappearing into the dense darkness of the forest.
It was a popular place to enter the woods, as from there it was pretty much a straight shot to the Wishing Well. Even without the path Emma could have found her way, and she wasn't exactly an expert navigator. Killian was the one with the near perfect sense of direction (even when surrounded by trees instead of waves), and that was why he took the lead, plunging into the forest without hesitation.
Emma jogged in his wake, leaping over rocks or logs when he did, dodging around thorn bushes, ducking beneath low hanging branches. He glanced back often, ensuring she was still there, reaching back when she fell behind, waiting for her fingers to find his, briefly, before they leapt ahead once more.
It reminded her eerily of searching the woods for Zelena and Mordred a decade before—only Ian had been in her belly then, not out in the woods bleeding and probably concussed.
The idea of concussion sent a hot wave of panic rolling through her.
Ian had broken plenty of bones—his arm falling out of an apple tree when he was five, his leg playing hockey when he was eight, his collarbone falling (jumping) off the roof when he was nine, and his collarbone again playing hockey a few months later.
Broken Bones Emma could heal—had healed, on some of those occasions—but Emma didn't think she could heal a brain injury.
She puffed along, legs and lungs burning, fear boiling in her gut.
She opened herself to her magic and tried to sense him. They had shared magic once, while she was pregnant with him, and a fraction of that connection remained. Sometimes, if he was close enough, she could feel his magic—even if he wasn't using it—like calling to like.
Maybe once they got close enough...
Her magic spread, stretched.
She pushed it farther, felt it thinning at the edges. She kept reaching, and-
She could feel him. His magic was a white flame, glimmering faintly in her senses like a candle glimpsed from afar. He was still a long distance away—they were a bit lost, moving in the wrong direction, but at least they were moving.
He slowed but didn't stop, turned his ear towards her.
"I can feel him—hold on!"
Emma teleported them on the fly. It was easier to teleport other people if she was touching them, but she managed. They touched down hard, knees buckling with the impact. Killian's hand darted out to keep her from falling, and together they paused to listen.
Emma couldn't see Ian, but she could hear him.
Actually, she could hear Enzo and Neal.
They were bickering loudly, their voices clearly audible over the noise they were making crashing through the leaves. A moment later three figures came into view ahead of them, two supporting another one in between.
Even in the darkness the gold of Ian's hair was visible.
"IAN!" Emma yelled.
Enzo and Neal stopped arguing and looked over. Ian lifted his head, and an invisible fist took hold of Emma's heart and squeezed it.
Ian was as white as a sheet, and one entire side of his face was slick with blood.
Emma closed the gap and skidded to a halt in front of them. Enzo looked relieved to see her, but Neal couldn't seem to meet her eye. Emma tucked that away for later, and focused on Ian.
"Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Ian said, stubbornly. Just over his eyebrow was a long, ragged gash, caked with congealed blood and dirt. His eyes were alert, focused, but his brow was crinkled and his mouth was a thin, taut line.
He was in pain.
"We have to get him to the hospital," Emma said. She didn't want to heal the flesh wound because she didn't know what the underlying damage was, and she didn't want to teleport him and risk that somehow injuring him more.
Carefully, she and Killian maneuvered Ian out of Enzo and Neal's arms and onto Killian's back. Enzo kept his arms on Ian to steady him, and even though he was actually more in Emma's way than he was helpful, she let him do it. Neal stood to the side, silent.
Ian slumped against Killian. "My head hurts," he said dully, eyes drooping.
"We're here, kid," Emma said, resting one hand on Ian's back as Killian started walking. "We're here."
She only got two steps before a flash of something red caught her attention. She turned her head quickly, but there was nothing, just the trees and the darkness and a thin mist crawling over the ground, so she gave herself a little shake and hurried to catch up to Killian.
They walked for twenty minutes. Killian was in the lead and Emma was behind him, simultaneously keeping an eye on Ian and making sure Enzo and Neal were following. She could tell by the stiff set of Enzo's shoulder that he was angry with Neal, another thing Emma tucked away for later.
When they neared the edge of the woods they were greeted by flashing red and blue lights. Silhouetted against a cluster of squad cars and an ambulance were two figures Emma recognized: Lancelot and David.
They were ushered out of the woods by a wave of deputies with flashlights. She heard David talking to her, to Killian, and she heard Lancelot talking to Enzo, but Emma kept her eyes on Ian and didn't pause to look around until he was on a gurney in the back of the ambulance, and even then it was only to check on Killian. His face was a mirror of their son's, only it was emotional pain and not physical that lined his forehead and stretched his lips into a taut line.
The emergency room was crowded, but they managed to get a private room right away—whether it was because Emma was the Sheriff, or because Ian was there so often he may as well have a frequent customer punch card, nobody could guess.
The diagnosis was a concussion. Whale told them to wake Ian up every two hours to check on him, and then he ordered a nurse to stitch up Ian's head.
Ian sat on the edge of the bed, eyes narrowed in pain and fingers twitching while the nurse sewed the skin over his eye shut with a curved needle and a length of thick black thread. Killian paced the room. Emma stood over Ian, smoothing his hair, more for her own comfort than for his.
The nurse left them with instructions to keep the wound dry for 48 hours, and to return in 5 days to have the stitches removed. She also mentioned that the wound would most likely leave a scar.
"Don't worry, lad," Killian said with a grin. There was a smear of blood on the shoulder of his jacket where Ian's head had lain. "A scar only adds to your charm. How will the 5th grade girls of Storybrooke be able to resist a boy with a scar and a story?"
"I doubt any girl will be impressed by 'I got scared and fell down a hill', dad," Ian said.
"Well, I guess you'll just have to come up with a better story."
Ian rolled his eyes. The color was back in his cheeks. He probed the bandage over his eye tentatively until Emma knocked his hand away.
"Hey, what about my candy?" he asked.
"What about it?"
"I want it."
"We can look tomorrow to see if it's still there," Emma said.
"What if it isn't?"
"Then I guess we'll have to look for the world's fattest, happiest squirrel instead."
Ian scowled, and slid from the hospital bed to his feet. His bowler hat and mustache were missing; all that remained of his costume was his three-piece tweed suit and the overcoat, both streaked with dirt and blood.
Emma sighed. "Let's get you home."
Ian took a step and halted immediately. The color drained from his face and he swayed, eyes fluttering shut.
Emma and Killian lunged forward and caught him, their hands on either of his arms. His eyes opened, and he frowned.
"I'm okay," he said, and, to prove it, he marched past them and through the door.
Emma and Killian shared a look—a familiar, long-suffering look—and followed.
As they walked to the car, it was as if Emma's brain came suddenly to life. She filtered through her memories of the past hour, sorting through information. She remembered hearing David tell her that Jackie and Evie were with Belle at the house, and then after that—after she knew her other two kids were safe and sound—she had blocked out everything except for Ian. Now, she turned her thoughts to her little brother, and his role in whatever happened to Ian.
She reached out and found Killian's hand waiting. He looked over, and she read the look in his eye, the look that said he was wondering the same things she was wondering. Emma nodded minutely, in agreement, and turned her eyes back to Ian.
Tomorrow, she told herself. Ian's okay, and that's all that matters. We can sort out the details tomorrow.
Chapter 3: The Aftermath
It's been a minute since I last updated. I was sort of dumb for thinking I'd be able to balance updating this and updating AUIGH at the same time. Anyway, I'm not giving up on this story or anything, it's just coming slowly; I'll update when I can, when I find time in between the AUIGH sequels. Thank you for sticking with me and for your comments and your encouragement!!!
While he drove home, Killian glanced continuously between Emma, chewing her lip in the passenger seat beside him, and the rear view mirror, where he could see Ian in the back, leaning against Evie's car seat with his eyes half-closed. The boy's face had been scrubbed clean by the nurse that stitched his forehead closed, but he had the beginnings of a black eye and a fresh spot of bright red blood already stained the bandage on his temple.
Killian's grip tightened on the steering wheel. Suspicion brewed in his mind. He desperately wanted to ask Ian what had happened in the woods, desperately wanted to confirm his own speculations, to decide which emotions to focus on—fury and bloodlust or just pity and heartache—but he forced himself to refrain.
Now wasn't the time. Ian needed to rest and recover. The truth could wait.
Strangling his young brother-in-law could wait.
They pulled up to the house just before midnight. Five fat Jack-o'-lanterns with ghoulish, flickering faces sat on the porch steps; the only other light was coming from the kitchen windows, which Killian hoped meant that Belle had managed to get the girls to sleep.
Ian shrugged off Killian and Emma's helping hands and staggered ahead of them up the sidewalk. Emma hovered, clearly wanting to assist, clearly hesitant to upset whatever delicate balance was keeping Ian awake and on his feet.
Killian was right behind, ready to catch Emma in case she had to catch Ian.
They all stepped over the screaming doormat at the base of the stairs and ducked beneath the veil of fake cobwebs that shrouded the porch. A giant black spider with purple-and-orange striped legs hung from the eaves at the top of the steps; normally it shook and its eyes lit up whenever it sensed motion, but now it was silent—Belle must have turned it off, likely for Evie's sake, as the poor lass was rather frightened of it. Apparently it hadn't managed to scare away any of the trick-or-treaters, however, as the candy bowl on the landing that Killian nudged aside with his foot was empty.
Ian opened the front door and went through. Inside, they were greeted both by the dog and by the sight of Belle reading at the kitchen table.
"I'm fine, Bonny," Ian told the dog, who was whining and licking his fingers. She whuffled in what sounded like disagreement, and Ian turned his hand over to scratch the wiry fur beneath her chin.
Belle rose from the table and walked swiftly over. She had her fussing face on, a face Killian had learned the hard way not to get in the way of. He sidestepped Belle, mumbled, "I'm going to check on the girls," to Emma, and slipped upstairs to the second floor.
The hallway was dark and hushed, lit only by the muted glow of nightlights issuing from beneath two of the bedroom doors. To all outward appearances, it was a normal night at the Jones house, the sort of night that soothed Killian's soul and filled him to the brim with contentment.
He felt a heaviness lifted from his shoulders—he knew it was only temporary, but he embraced it nonetheless.
He padded silently to Jackie's room, footsteps muffled both by the carpet and from much practice, and eased the door open. He almost didn't see Jackie at first, so large was the pink stuffed dolphin that lay beside her; it was longer than she was tall, and her arms just barely fit around its middle. She was still in her skeleton costume, and her blonde hair was knotted around her head in a very obviously un-brushed tangle, but she was asleep.
Smiling to himself, Killian closed the door, and turned back down the hallway towards Evie's room. She slept in what had been her nursery and Ian and Jackie's nurseries before that. She was also asleep, snuggled beneath her comforter on her toddler-sized bed, pacifier in mouth and cheek pressed against a plush mermaid doll.
Reassured that two-thirds of his children were safe and sound and not concussed, Killian started to close the door, but Evie's soft voice broke the silence.
Killian stepped fully into the room. "Aye, lass?"
Her face was turned towards him, her big green eyes bright even in the dim room. One of her hands appeared from beneath the blanket to pluck the pacifier from her mouth.
Evie was, through-and-through, a momma's girl.
Killian went to her bed and knelt beside it. "She's downstairs, little love," he said. "You'll see her in the morning. Now go back to sleep."
Evie nodded, replaced her pacifier, and obediently closed her eyes. Killian remained there for a few minutes, humming and stroking his fingers along her brow and cheek and through the short, dark curls of her hair until she was clearly fast asleep again, then he stood and returned downstairs.
The heaviness settled over him once more, growing more oppressive with every step.
Ian and Emma were in the kitchen now. They had left their shoes and coats in the entrance hall, but Belle was still fussing over Ian as if he was a puppy someone had kicked—Ian was wise enough to let her do it, but Killian could see his son was in need of some rescuing.
He shed his stealthy tread and stepped loudly into the kitchen. Heads turned as he stripped off his jacket and slung it over the back of a chair, then started unbuttoning his cuffs.
Ian watched him, expression tired but wary. The spot of blood on his bandage was larger, and it sparked twin embers of anger and grief inside Killian.
Gone were the days when he could protect Ian from the world, apparently.
"Upstairs, lad," he said. "Time for bed."
Ian's eyes flickered downwards, then he nodded and trooped out of the kitchen, Bonny at his heels, his arm brushing Killian's lightly on his way past.
"Your mother and I will be up there in a few minutes to check on you," Killian added, softly. It wasn't a threat, as it had been when Ian was 4 and Killian ordered him up to bed so he and Emma could have a moment's peace; it was meant to be comforting.
Killian listened to Ian's footsteps as the lad trotted up the stairs and went directly to his room, then he returned his attention to the kitchen.
"What happened?" Belle asked, arms folded over her stomach, hugging her elbows tightly.
"We don't know exactly," Killian said, glancing at Emma. "He told us they were at the hollow past the Wishing Well and that he accidentally fell down one of the slopes, but..."
"But we think there's more to the story than that," Emma finished for him.
Belle nodded. "Do you want me to ask Enzo what happened?"
Killian and Emma shared another look, a lengthy one, and then Killian said, "I'd like to give Ian the chance to tell us the truth first—but if he doesn't then yes, I'd like to hear Enzo's side of the story."
"Ok. I'll talk to him in the morn—actually, I'm sure he's sitting up at home waiting for me so he can tell me everything now."
A smile tugged at Killian's lips. His godson was like that.
It wasn't that Enzo was a telltale, it was just that Enzo wasn't as stubbornly prideful as Ian, who'd rather seethe in silence than tell either Emma or Killian that Neal had stolen one of his toys or sucker punched him in the hallway at school.
Enzo's only loyalty was to Ian, and there was no inconvenient blood-relation getting in the way of him hating Neal Nolan with every fiber of his being.
Killian and Emma saw Belle out to her car, thanked her for taking care of the girls, then went back inside the house.
Without needing to be asked, Emma walked straight to the cabinet where Killian kept his rum stash, pulled the bottle down off the shelf, and poured some into a glass.
"Thank you, love," Killian sighed as he took it from her.
Her response was a kiss on his cheek.
"I'm going to go look in on the girls," she said, her hand lingering on his shoulder, her eyes steady on his.
"I'm right behind you, Swan. I just need a moment."
She nodded and went upstairs. Killian watched her until she was out of sight, then he sipped the rum slowly, savoring the sharp bite on his tongue and down his throat, relishing the way it burned his stomach, willing it to quench the anger boiling there.
He was fairly certain he knew what Enzo would tell Belle. He remembered the lad's face in the woods, the cutting glares at Neal, the pointed looks at Killian—he'd wager the Jolly Roger that whatever had happened to Ian, Neal was the cause.
Killian finished the remainder of his rum in one long pull, then he put the glass in the sink and followed Emma.
He sat in Ian's room overnight, perched in the absurd saucer chair he and Emma had bought Ian for one of his birthdays. It usually functioned as a dirty laundry receptacle, a halfway house for socks and underwear and t-shirts on their way to the hamper standing an entire two feet to the left.
Emma slept in their bed, but she appeared every two hours to observe while Killian gently shook Ian awake and asked him a few simple questions.
"Who am I?"
"How old are you?"
"What's your dog's name?"
Bonny, having heard her name, would wag her tail from where she lay at the foot of the bed with her upper body draped over Ian's legs until Emma reached down and scratched her neck.
After Killian asked his questions he'd lay his hand over Ian's forehead and feel for a fever. By the time he'd pull his hand away, Ian was always already asleep again. He'd then shoo Emma away, back to their bed to go get some rest, watching the glow of the cell phone she clutched in her hand drift down the hallway until it disappeared into their bedroom before he returned to the saucer chair.
Killian himself drifted in and out of sleep, soothed by the usual noises the house made in the night, the natural creaks and groans of its wooden frame, the hum of warm air issuing from the vents, and the faint droning of the refrigerator.
Near dawn, he was brought sharply back to wakefulness by another sound—the sound of Ian muttering.
Killian blinked and was about to respond before he realized Ian wasn't talking to him, but to something in his dream.
"Hello?" Ian repeated.
Bonny lifted her head and started growling. Killian felt the hairs on the back of his neck raise; a chill crawled down his spine, like the caress of an icy finger.
Ian sucked in a shuddering breath. "Who's there?"
The dog's growls deepened, a sound that made it feel as if the air itself was trembling. Ian twitched, huffed out several rapid breaths.
Killian jolted to his feet and crossed the room in a single bound. He dodged Ian's flailing arms and took him by the shoulders, shaking him hard until he stopped thrashing and his eyes flew open.
"Da-" Ian started, then stopped, gaze darting to the side, past Killian. His eyes widened, and his body became rigid beneath Killian's hands. "No," he said hoarsely.
A flash of red in the corner of his vision, Killian turned—but there was nothing between him and the closet aside from the saucer chair and several piles of dirty laundry.
"It was just a dream, lad," he said, turning back to Ian and laying a hand lightly on his brow, careful to avoid touching the bandage. Ian's eyes flickered back to Killian's. "You're fine now. I'm here."
Ian stared up at him for a long moment, then said, "I saw a ghost."
"There're no ghosts in here, lad. Just you and me."
"No, I mean in the woods."
Killian frowned. "You saw a ghost in the woods?"
"Yea. Right before I fell. He had a wolf."
"A ghost man with a ghost wolf?"
"No. The wolf was real."
"There's a wolf in the woods?"
"Dad, you're missing the point: there was a ghost!"
Killian shook his head. "Frankly, I'm more concerned about the wolf." An animal like that running wild was a danger to the hikers, bird watchers, and fool children that frequented the forest.
Ian narrowed his eyes. "You don't believe me," he said.
"I do believe you, Ian."
"You don't believe me about the ghost," Ian clarified.
Killian sighed. "I do, actually." He wished he didn't, but he does; he's never seen a ghost before, but he's seen far too much else for him to truly doubt their existence. "I believe you, lad, I just don't see the point in discussing it right now while you're lying in bed with a concussion."
"But nothing," Killian said firmly. "You're hurt. You need to rest and recover, and unless you're telling me it was the ghost that caused you to fall..."
He trailed off, gave Ian an opportunity to contradict him, but Ian only pressed his lips together.
"Then the ghost can wait," Killian concluded.
Bonny crept forward then and laid down at Ian's side, nuzzling her head into the circle of his arm. It seemed to signal an end to their conversation, though Killian couldn't be certain if Bonny was telling him that, or Ian.
"How do you feel?" Killian asked.
Ian grimaced, but said, "Fine."
"Do you have a headache?"
"I'll be right back. Get comfortable."
Killian left Ian's bedroom and headed down the hallway. He passed silently through his and Emma's room to the master bathroom to fetch the bottle of children's Tylenol from the medicine cabinet and the First Aid kit from the drawer. He kissed Emma on his way out, lightly so as not to wake her, then got a glass of water from the kitchen and returned to Ian's room.
Ian was sitting up in bed, a candy bag in his lap and a Kit-Kat hanging out of his mouth.
"What the bloody hell do you think you're doing?" Killian growled.
"What? I wanted my candy," Ian said, around the Kit-Kat.
"And you thought you should use magic to get it? While you have a concussion?" Killian thundered, his blood pressure rising. "What are the rules?"
"Magic is for emergencies only," Ian recited, completely unruffled by Killian's furious scowl. "Dad, this was an emergency."
The pounding in Killian's ears increased as curses began rocketing around the inside of his skull.
He loved his son. He would do anything for him; he was willing to die for him the moment Emma confirmed that she was pregnant; he would kill to protect him.
But sometimes his son was a complete idiot.
"Want one?" Ian asked, holding up a fun-size Snicker's bar.
A complete idiot with zero sense of self-preservation, Killian amended.
"Give it here," he grumbled, and snatched the candy bar from Ian's hand.
After Killian changed Ian's bandage—gently scrubbing away the dried blood encrusting the stitches while Ian glared fixedly at the wall—he gave Ian a dose of children's Tylenol and tucked him back into bed.
Ian was asleep again within minutes, though some traces of the pain Killian had just caused him lingered in the tightness of his mouth, the way he clutched Bonny to his side like an oversized stuffed animal.
Killian collapsed into the saucer chair, eyes closing, the image of Ian's stitches—thick black thread, puckered skin—floating behind his eyelids.
His stomach twisted.
A concussion wasn't a monster Killian could fight. It wasn't a scraped knee or a broken arm or even a shattered collarbone.
It was far bigger than that. Far scarier than that. It was possible brain damage. It was personality changes, memory and concentration problems, permanently affected balance and reflexes, irritability, mood swings, depression.
It wasn't a bump on the road, it was a fork in the path.
A quiver passed down his arms and he gripped the rim of the saucer chair to prevent the shaking from spreading.
He couldn't think that way. They didn't know any of that yet. They didn't know how bad the concussion was or what the long-term effects—if any—would be.
Whale had examined Ian thoroughly and pronounced him fit to be discharged. He hadn't even ordered any further tests or scans, just ample rest and children's Tylenol for the pain.
Ian could come out of this completely fine.
Killian opened his eyes, and was met with the green-eyed stare of his five-year-old; Jackie was standing in the doorway, a tiny skeleton with bare feet and a nest of blonde hair knotted around her head and shoulders, trailing her old yellow-striped baby blanket behind her like a flag captured from a conquered vessel.
"Hey there, lass," Killian whispered. "Everything okay?"
In answer, Jackie trotted over and climbed into his lap. Killian held his breath until her sharp knees and sharper heels had safely settled, then helped her cover herself with her blanket and rested his arms around her.
She leaned into his chest. "Is Ian okay?"
"Aye, he is. He just hurt his head. He'll be fine."
She nodded. Her feet swung idly back and forth, and one of her hands fiddled with a button on his vest. He hadn't changed his clothes at all. He probably smelled horrible, and he was certain there were crumbs from Evie's enormous chocolate chip cookie still in his pockets. Jackie didn't seem to mind, however.
They stayed that way while the sun rose, painting the room with bold strokes of orange and gold. Killian dozed, waking intermittently to check that Jackie was still there and that Ian was still asleep.
Emma awoke later, the sound of her opening Evie's bedroom door rousing Killian.
"You up, babe?" Emma asked.
Evie's response was too soft for Killian to hear.
"Do you have to go to the bathroom?"
Another quiet reply from Evie that Killian couldn't discern.
"Alright, grab some undies."
Emma held out her hand, and a moment later Evie appeared in the hallway clutching a pair of toddler-sized underwear; she took Emma's hand and followed her to the bathroom.
Killian listened to Emma and Evie talking, Emma asking questions in a calm, even tone and Evie replying in sentences that, to an untrained ear, sounded like an alien language but were 100% comprehensible to Killian and Emma.
After the toilet flushed and while the sink was running, Emma leaned out of the bathroom doorway and flashed a diaper and a thumbs-up at him, meaning the diaper was dry—Evie was mostly potty-trained, but they still put her in a Pull-Up during the night just in case.
Killian grinned, and Emma disappeared back into the bathroom.
It was amusing, the way fatherhood could change a man. For instance, never once in his life had he imagined that one day someone would show him a dry diaper and he'd feel proud.
Emma exited the bathroom with Evie on her hip. She walked over to Killian and leaned down—Evie leaned farther, arms opening to wrap around Killian's face, her cheek landing on his forehead and snuggling into it.
Killian chuckled. "Good morning, little love."
She squeezed his head affectionately and said, "Dada."
"How's Ian?" Emma asked, and Evie's weight disappeared from around his head as Emma hefted her back onto her hip.
"He's alright," Killian said. "I changed his bandage a few hours ago and gave him some Tylenol. We talked for a little bit. He seems coherent."
She leaned down again, and this time it was a curtain of golden hair that fell over his shoulders. He raised the arm not pinned beneath Jackie and buried his fingers in the wavy locks, inhaling deeply. It calmed him, her closeness, the warmth of her body, the floral scent of her soap.
"I'm going to go make pancakes," she said.
"Mm, sounds good."
"Do you want me to take Jackie?"
"No, love. She's fine here. Let her sleep."
"Alright, I'll call you when breakfast's ready."
Killian rested his cheek atop Jackie's head, her hair tickling his nose, and closed his eyes again.
He went to the woods in the afternoon.
He traced the boys' path easily, straight to the hollow, straight to the slope Ian fell down. His feet carried him to the bottom, where a large rock with a splash of dried blood on it stood. He knelt and touched the rock, warm from the sun, then looked back up the slope—and froze.
A wolf stood on the ridge where Killian himself had stood only moments before.
It was a massive creature, white and gray and with one gleaming red eye.
Killian stared. The wolf stared back. And then...it left. It turned and padded away, disappearing silently into the forest, not even giving Killian a chance to worry if he was about to be eaten.
It was several long minutes before Killian regained control of his body and was able to move again, and when he did he bolted straight up the slope and out of the woods as fast as he could.
Killian wanted to tell Emma about the wolf, but he walked into his home to find his kitchen crowded with several more people than usual.
Mary Margaret was sitting at the table, her chair pulled back to accommodate her pregnant belly. David stood at his wife's shoulder, his arm along the backrest of her chair, his posture tense.
Killian couldn't remember the last time he'd seen his mother-in-law not sitting down. It had been months, he thought, ever since she lost one of the twins and Dr. Whale put her on bed rest. The sight of her, the knowledge of what she'd been through, of all the hopes and dreams that rested upon the shoulders of the daughter she now carried...
It made Killian's heart ache.
He wished she wasn't here; he wished he could deal with Neal and whatever had happened between him and Ian without Mary Margaret, because Killian was done being kind to the boy, he was done making excuses for him and the way he treated Ian, he was done letting his behavior slide because he was both a child and Emma's little brother.
Neal sat beside his mother, head bowed and shoulders hunched as if he knew what was coming.
Ian was in the chair across from Neal. The smudge of a bruise that had started in the corner of his eye had spread, a mottled blue-black smear that reached all the way to his cheek bone. That eye was puffy, the other drooped tiredly.
Emma hovered near Ian, her arms folded over her stomach and her hands gripping her elbows; she was shifting her weight from side-to-side in a manner that's familiar to Killian, though he can't remember if she used to do it before they had children or if it's just her habit now after years of rocking their babies to sleep.
Bonny was next to Ian, her head in his lap, her tail brushing Emma's legs; Evie and Jackie were nowhere to be seen, so Killian assumed they were watching a movie in the den, likely with a pile of Halloween candy to keep them occupied.
Killian closed the door and went to the kitchen. David glanced at him, pressed his lips together in—not a smile, exactly, but an acknowledgement.
"As I was saying," David said. "We came here because Neal wanted to apologize."
Neal must have come clean to his parents then.
David nudged his son, and Neal lifted his dark-haired head and said, "I'm sorry."
"Fine," Ian replied tersely.
Neal didn't look surprised by Ian's reaction; Mary Margaret flinched.
"Emma..." she said.
Killian intervened before Emma could respond. "If you don't mind," he said, circling the table until he could see Neal's face, "I'd like to know exactly what Neal has to be sorry for."
"Dad, no-" Ian started, but Killian cut him off.
"Then you can go right back upstairs to bed, lad, and your uncle and I will have this conversation without you." Ian stayed where he was, so Killian turned his attention to Neal once more. "I want to hear what happened last night."
Neal raised his eyes hesitantly to Killian's. The boy looked like his mother, though he somehow managed not to resemble Emma at all. It must have been the dark hair, the oval face, and the slightly tilted eyes that gave him a sharper, more impish expression.
"Go ahead, Neal," David said. "Tell Killian what you told us."
Neal dropped his gaze again. "Me and Philip and some of the other football guys tricked Ian and Enzo into coming into the woods with us," he said, voice monotone. "Then we went ahead and hid so that we could jump out and scare them."
Killian's brow furrowed as he recalled the scene at the hollow, the disturbed pattern of the leaves, the scrapes in the exposed dirt.
"You hid near the edge of the hollow," Killian said.
"Yea. We didn't...I didn't know he'd fall down the hill."
Killian could picture it. Ian must have been standing right on the edge of the slope when Neal and his friends jumped out and frightened him; he must have moved sideways on instinct, hit the incline unbalanced, and toppled over.
Hearing Neal's confession calmed the fire burning in his gut.
It was an accident—an accident caused by a couple of thoughtless, cruel children, a crew of bullies, but an accident nonetheless.
Killian was still angry, he still wished he could do to Neal what Neal did to Ian—he wanted to pick him up, carry him into the woods, and hurl him down that same slope—but it relieved him a bit to know that Neal didn't physically push Ian down the slope—which is sort of what he'd been imagining.
"This is all going to stop," Killian said.
Neal blinked and looked up with wide, startled eyes.
"The way you treat Ian," Killian explained. "It ends now."
He wanted to say more, but he wouldn't with Mary Margaret sitting there. Killian knew Neal understood, he knew David suspected, and that was enough.
Killian and Emma had made a mistake with Neal—and with Mary Margaret.
Neal always been a bit of a brat—snide comments, taunts, leaving Ian purposely out of games, breaking his toys—and Mary Margaret had always been quick to dismiss claims that her son was anything other than the sweet, courteous boy that she knew.
Killian and Emma had learned early on that Snow had blinders on when it came to her son, so they'd backed off and minded their business, dealt with Neal one-on-one.
But perhaps they shouldn't have.
Perhaps they should have pushed from the very beginning.
Perhaps instead of just sending Neal home every time he disrespected their home or their children, Emma and Killian should have brought him to David and Mary Margaret and confronted them.
Perhaps instead of coaching Ian on how to handle Neal peacefully, they should have just exposed Neal to both the school and his parents.
They should have put Ian first, unequivocally, instead of worrying over how it would strain Emma's relationship with her mother further than Neal's complaints that Emma was mean to him already had.
"Am I making myself clear?" Killian asked.
"I need to hear it."
"Yes, you're—I get it. Yes."
Mary Margaret, David, and Neal left immediately afterwards, Mary Margaret silently and Neal as quickly as he could.
David remained, and turned to Killian and Emma in the doorway.
"She's upset. Neal-" he halted, swallowed hard. "It's been a rough couple of months."
"I understand, mate."
"We know, dad."
Mary Margaret and David had been trying to get pregnant since Evie was born. They endured a long two years of miscarriages before they tried IVF, and Killian would be an idiot if he didn't believe Neal's increasingly aberrant behavior over that time period was correlated.
"Let's talk tomorrow, okay?" David said.
The door clicked shut, and Emma's hand appeared on Killian's wrist. He pulled her into a hug.
"I don't think my mom's going to be talking to us for a while," she muttered, her voice muffled by his shirt.
"It'll be fine, love. She'll get over it."
He felt her sigh into his shoulder. "We should have put a stop to all this sooner."
"We tried. We just..."
They did what they thought was best.
And they were wrong.
"Yea," Emma agreed, as if she heard his thoughts. "The cat's outta the bag now though, so hopefully things will change."
"And if they don't?"
"And if they don't, then whatever happens to Neal happens. If my parents won't take responsibility for their kid and teach him to stop being such a little jerk, then I'm not going to be responsible for my kid punching their kid in the face—actually, no; I will take responsibility for that because the next time I hear that Neal was mean to Ian I'm going to give Ian permission to punch him. I don't care anymore."
"Good to know," Ian said.
Emma startled and stepped away. "I forgot he was there."
"Aye. I'm not used to him being so quiet."
Ian glowered. "I can still hear you."
"Good," Killian said, "then you'll hear this: I saw your wolf in the woods."
Ian grinned. Emma's eyes widened.
"There's a wolf in the woods?" she asked.
"Yea," Ian said. "And I saw a ghost, too—I think it was Graham."
"Uh-huh. You know, the old Sheriff dude? He died-"
"I know who Graham is, I'm just...are you sure that's what you saw? The ghost of Graham Humbert?"
Ian had, throughout the years, been able to sneak a look at Henry's story book often enough to glean a treasure trove of information about the town and its inhabitants; his knowledge had gaps, however. For example, he apparently knew who Graham Humbert was, but he had no clue of the significance the man held for Emma.
"Why do you think he's haunting the woods?" Ian continued, completely oblivious to his mother's frown, or the way her hand sought Killian's.
Killian caught her fingers and squeezed.
"That's enough," he said. "I told you this morning there'd be no discussion of ghosts until you recovered."
"But-" Ian started, but halted himself and bit his lip in an angry scowl before Killian could interject.
"Now, since you slept through breakfast, what would you like to eat?"
The rest of the day passed sluggishly. Ian wasn't allowed to watch TV or play his Game Boy or even read a book, so when he was awake Emma and Killian sat with him and kept him company.
Both of the girls understood that Ian was hurting, and both reacted in their own way: Evie brought Ian every stuffed animal she owned and placed them all very carefully on top of him as he lay in his bed, and after she'd exhausted her supply but he still seemed "sick" she borrowed some of Jackie's toys.
Jackie herself mostly stayed away, appearing every now and then only to check, presumably, that he was still alive.
"I'm not dead yet, you can't have any of my stuff," Ian grumbled on one such occasion, but Jackie had already vanished back downstairs.
When Killian went into the kitchen to refill Ian's water glass, Jackie sprinted into him and wrapped her arms around his waist.
"What's wrong with Ian?" she asked, as tremulously as it was possible for Jackie to be tremulous at all.
"Ian will be alright, lass," Killian assured her, rubbing her between the shoulder blades because she did not like people playing with her hair. "He just needs some rest."
By bedtime she'd worked up the resolve to sit with Ian, and that's where Killian found her—and Evie—while he was searching the house for where the Halloween candy had mysteriously disappeared to.
"Okay, two Reese's is gonna cost you five Sour Patch Kids," Killian heard Ian say.
"Three Sour Patch Kids," Jackie countered.
"Four—four or I'll give the Reese's to Evie."
"Bloody hell," Killian swore, and pushed through Ian's bedroom door.
Ian and Jackie were sitting cross-legged on Ian's bed facing each other. On the blanket in front of them was all of their candy, arranged into piles. Evie was perched in Ian's lap with her pacifier in one hand and a half-eaten mini Snickers bar in the other.
"Do not give your sister candy before bed," Killian said, meaning Evie.
Ian looked up, the eyebrow not inhibited by a bandage raised. "You did," he pointed out.
"I gave her candy at 4:00."
"That's technically before bed."
"Aye, but I'm also her father and capable of making those decisions for her."
Her little round cheeks were too full for just one bite of chocolate, and there was drool all over her chin.
"How many does she have in there?" Killian asked.
Ian looked down at Evie, and then at the five Snickers wrappers around his ankles. "Uh..."
Killian reached over Jackie and plucked Evie from Ian's lap while Jackie shoveled her candy back into her candy bag; she darted from the room before Ian could notice she'd escaped with his two Reese's.
"Goodnight," Killian said pointedly, and waited until Ian was laying down before he turned out the light and then took Evie to the bathroom to fish out whatever was in her mouth. After she'd spit at least three Snickers worth of goo into his waiting palm he cleaned her up and put her in bed.
Forty-five minutes, two stories, and a lullaby later both girls were asleep and Emma and Killian were finally crawling into their own bed.
Killian collapsed into the mattress gratefully, not even bothering to pull the blankets over himself. Emma fell next to him and rolled until she was tucked against his side with her head on his shoulder and her hand over his heart.
"That thing about Graham's ghost being in the woods? I want to look into that."
Killian opened his eyes. "We will, love," he said. He lifted one hand to her cheek and ran his knuckles lightly along her skin, from brow to chin. He held her gaze until she closed her eyes and nodded, snuggling her face into his t-shirt.
"Do you think you'll be able to sleep?" she asked.
His answer was a grunted laugh.
He set a timer on his phone for two hours, and then he closed his eyes.
Ian woke up afraid. His room was dark, the house was silent. He sat up and looked around.
His body was on the bed, fast asleep. Everything was drained of color, which was the norm when this happened, and it was cold. Ian sighed. He'd never liked this place and he liked it even less now that he'd visited it while unconscious.
He started to get out of bed to go look for some way to entertain himself until his body woke up when he noticed the door.
It wasn't his bedroom door or his closet door, it was the red door—the red door he'd seen at the hollow.
It stood in the center of his room, and it was open.