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Three Days Until Forever

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The cold, hard plastic of the hospital chair had stopped being comfortable about ten minutes after one of the ER nurses had shoved Killian into it. That had been three hours ago, and there was still no word on Emma.

He alternated between staring at the clock, staring at the heavy metal doors his wife had been rushed through, and glaring at the ugly white linoleum of the floor, while he prayed to every deity in the universe to hear his pleas.

He begged, he sobbed, he screamed inside his head, hoping against hope that someone would hear him and give him another chance to fix everything. Fix Emma. Save her.

Please, he begged again within his mind for thousandth time, I’ll do anything. Just please save her.

Killian was holding his head in his hands, wrenching his fingers through his hair, when someone finally called his name. “Killian Jones?”

Looking up, his ruddy, damp eyes came face to face with a well-built, platinum blonde haired man in green scrubs. The scrubs were spotless and for a ridiculous moment, Killian almost found humor in his own clothes being covered in Emma’s blood while the Emergency room doctor’s were spotless.

“Please, how is she?”

The doctor bit his lip for a second and motioned to a small sitting room off the main waiting area. “Let’s talk in here, shall we?”

Killian followed the doctor without a complaint. “How is Emma?”

The door slid shut behind the pair and the doctor turned to face Killian. “Mr. Jones, my name is Dr. Victor Whale and I’m the trauma surgeon who handled your wife’s case.”

Killian nodded his understanding; his eyes begging the doctor to skip the spiel and get to what mattered.

Realizing there was no point in delaying the inevitable, Dr. Whale simply gave him the facts. “Your wife experienced severe trauma from her accident. The car shattered both her kneecaps and fractured her pelvis, there was significant internal bleeding, and she sustained a severe laceration to the head.”

Whale hesitated to continue as Killian’s face looked more devastated with every injury, but he knew it would only be worse the longer the doctor drew out the truth. The surgeon sighed deeply before finishing what he had to say. “Mr. Jones, your wife’s injuries were too severe for her body. She fought as hard as she could, but it was simply too much for her heart to endure. I’m so sorry, she…she didn’t make it.”

Dr. Whale’s words reverberated through Killian like a lightning bolt. As devastating as it had been to watch her walk out their flat door, as gut-wrenching as it had been to watch her get hit by a car, nothing could have prepared him for the unimaginable pain of her death. As he looked around this ordinary sitting room with its dull, beige walls, sparse furniture, and devoid of any sound aside from the echoes outside the door, it occurred to Killian he couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate place to be told the woman he loved more than life itself was dead. The contrasting view of this hideous room—reeking of death and melancholia—next to that of his radiant, incredible Emma was staggering.

In that moment, anything that had been left of Killian’s heart turned cold and shattered into a million pieces within his chest.

He felt nothing. He wanted to deny it, all of it. His wife? Dead? It wasn’t possible. How could it be? Emma, the light of his life, the best person he knew, his true love, dead because of some ridiculous fluke car accident on her favorite day of the year.

It was like some sort of absurd, disgusting, cosmic joke the universe decided to play.

Killian put his head in hands and felt his legs give out beneath him. The hard linoleum would bruise his knees tomorrow and he welcomed the pain of it inside him. Pain, he truly believed in that moment, was quickly becoming an old friend.

He felt the grief already encircling his soul like dark tendrils of malice and before he knew it, an agonized sound wrenched itself from between his lips. He wailed from the anger, the devastation, and the insanity of Emma’s absence from the world.

 Killian knew without a doubt he deserved every single second of the madness his life was spiraling into.

After remaining collapsed on the floor against one of those four horrid walls for what was surely a small infinity, Killian looked up and realized the surgeon—Whale—had sunk to the floor next to him. The bleached man was both a welcome presence and a stark reminder of the horror he was still faced with.

Killian scraped his hands over his face but still couldn’t stop the tears from flowing down his cheeks. Whale sighed and his shoulders slumped with the weight of his temporary companion’s heartache. Normally, he was able to compartmentalize the weight of his patients’ and families’ grief, but this one was hitting him like a sucker punch to the gut.

“Mr. Jones,” the surgeon sighed heavily. “I know it won’t mean a damn thing coming from me, but I can tell your wife was an incredibly loved woman with a beautiful heart. I am truly, very sorry for your loss.”

Killian nodded absently, still looking away from the doctor, unable to process what he could feel was true. As much as he wanted to deny it, he knew deep in the recesses of his bones his wife was gone; if she still lived, he wouldn’t feel like his entire being had died along with her.

“But, if there is…anything I’ve learned in all my years of doing this job,” he turned to face the broken man next to him, “It’s that there is so much more to life than just this moment right now. I may be a man of science, but I can tell you loved Emma with every fiber of yourself—just as much as I’m sure she did you. Don’t forget that. Don’t lose sight of her life in the face of her death.”

Dr. Whale gave him a moment to absorb his words before lightly rising to his feet and presenting a hand to Killian to help him up. The recently widowed man noticed the silver band shining on the doctor’s left ring finger and wondered if he was even still married now that his wife was gone. Did Killian even still get to call himself someone’s husband?

Of course, you do, you bloody fool, he angrily yelled at himself while taking the other man’s hand to get up off the floor. What kind of idiotic question is that anyway?

The doctor left the room, directing Killian with a wave of that same hand to follow him down the barren hospital hallway and through a series of double doors. Before he could ask where Dr. Whale was leading him, Killian found himself standing outside a set of operating room doors. Through the small pane of glass, Killian could see a single light was shining down on Emma’s face, the ugly fluorescent bulb making her look even more like the now-hollow shell of the person she’d been only hours earlier.

“Go, Killian. Be with her, tell her you love her, and say your goodbyes—at least until you see each other again. Wherever that may be.”

With a last nod of his head and a light cuff on Killian’s shoulder, Dr. Whale took his leave. Killian stood listening to the man’s footsteps echoing down the halls far longer than he should have, dreading the last few steps of his own he’d need to take into the room in front of him.

When he’d stalled as long as he could, Killian took a deep breath and walked through the operating room’s door. What was only a few steps felt like thousands to Killian as he laid a closer eye on Emma’s form.

They’d managed to clean almost all the blood from her body, though Killian noticed her hair still shone with a grotesque, sanguine hue. Her head wound had been sewn up and her legs remained straight and flat on the table, hidden from view along with the rest of her body—save her arms and shoulders—under a white sheet. The ugly road rash on her face and the cuts on her hands remained, however, and Killian noticed there were more wounds peppered over her shoulders and collarbones.

“Still lovely as ever though, my Swan,” he softly whispered to her, reaching for an abandoned stool he found by her feet to sit near her head. Reaching for the stool almost made him chuckle when he noticed her feet poking out from beneath the shroud, her toes a glittering shade of holiday red.

He wheeled closer, finally allowing his eyes to linger over her face and lightly brushing a hand over her hair. He gently picked up her left hand, holding it to his lips and wanting to weep when he noticed the doctors had removed her wedding rings.

It wasn’t the missing rings that brought his tears. It was how cold her hand was against his cheek.

She’d always had cold hands; for as long as he’d known her, it was his job to keep them warm.

“I do not have poor circulation, Killian! For heaven’s sake, I paint every day!” A sixteen-year-old Emma rubbed the body parts in question through her hair and squealed in frustration. “Maybe it’s true what all the girls in Ms. Blanchard’s class said; maybe I really am just an ice queen on the inside.”

Killian, a year older than Emma then but—according to her—still less mature, chuckled at the absurd notion before taking her hands in his own. Smiling down at her, he gently scolded her for believing something so ridiculous. “Don’t be silly, love. There’s no way someone with as warm a heart as you could ever be made of ice. Fire, yes. Ice, no. Besides,” he paused, grinning wickedly. “You having cold hands just gives me an excuse to warm them for you. Which means I get to hold your hand as often as you need me to!”

“Fine! Then, I’m putting you in charge of warming up my hands from now until the end of time!” Emma raised her eyebrow in challenge before smiling cheekily back and winding her arms around his neck. “Killian,” she started to ask him a question but hesitated, and Killian tilted his head in curiosity. “Just this once, would you sing the song for me? Please?”

“Swan—”

“I know, I know. You have rules, you don’t sing in public, you don’t even sing in the shower. But! A little birdie told me you have a phenomenal singing voice, there is nobody around town this late, and it would be the best Christmas gift ever. Of my entire life. Please?”

The sight of his girlfriend practically begging Killian for this one thing might have made him laugh if he didn’t already know how much Christmas meant to her. That and the fact that she’d gone half her life not receiving much of anything for any holiday, least of all Christmas. He never explained to her why he hated singing in front of people, so he couldn’t exactly fault her for making the request. And considering that she selflessly never asked him for anything ever—product of being a foster child for the first 10 years of her life—perhaps he could consider giving in just this once.

Looking around the late-evening, Christmas Eve Storybrooke square and realizing they were, as she’d said, alone, he sighed deeply, scratched behind his ear, and rested his forehead against hers. Taking a moment to gather himself, he brought the song lyrics to the forefront of his mind before the soft tenor of his singing voice emerged from his throat.

Hey Jude, don't make it bad
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better

Hey Jude, don't be afraid
You were made to go out and get her
The minute you let her under your skin
Then you begin to make it better

And anytime you feel the pain
Hey Jude, refrain
Don't carry the world upon your shoulders
For well you know that it's a fool
Who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder
Na-na-na, na, na
Na-na-na, na

Hey Jude, don't let me down
You have found her, now go and get her
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better…

Killian knew it was a few choruses too early to end Emma’s favorite song, but his voice caught in his throat and he found himself unable to continue. Emma didn’t seem to mind though; she just lifted her forehead from his and smiled at him—looking happy as he’d ever seen her.

“Thank you, Killian. That was everything I could’ve wanted.”

She leaned up and gave him a tender kiss on the lips. Lovely as the moment was, however, it was quickly squashed by Killian making a loud hissing sound when Emma slid her chilled hands under the back of his jacket and beneath his sweater to warm them on his skin.

“Bloody hell, Swan! Your hands are bloody freezing! The second the stores open after Christmas, I am buying you the warmest pair of gloves I can find!”

The sound of her giggles was like magic bells in his ears while the pair of them finally turned to make their way down the street back to Emma’s house. Despite his distaste for the holidays, Killian couldn’t help but smile down at his girlfriend immersed in holiday joy. Even if he didn’t care for Christmas as much as she, he was all too glad to be going home with her tonight to celebrate.

Besides, Ingrid Swan’s fresh baked gingerbread cookies and homemade ice cream were enough reason for him to swallow his “Scroogey Self”—as Emma called it—for a few hours every December 24th and 25th.

Killian practically had to choke down the memory of one of the best holidays of his life, not to mention the thought of how he was going to tell her mother, when faced with the body of his wife resting on the table in front of him. The tears began to fall unbidden again and Killian sniffled with the effort it took not to explode from his overwhelming grief.

He allowed his forehead to fall to Emma’s hand, sniffling and sobbing, before he looked back at her again. “What were you thinking, Emma? Going after that bloody dog?”

As his throat burned with tears, Killian knew he’d never get an answer to that question. Not that he needed one. Emma was all heart; saving Pongo from potentially becoming another roadside statistic would have been the only option for her. She’d never allow something or someone to be hurt if there was any way for her to save them. That’s just who she was; a savior to those who needed her.

Killian wiped his hand over his face again, attempting to remove the tears blurring his vision. “You can’t leave me like this, love, not thinking that I…”

He shook his head again at the notion of what he’d almost done. What he’d almost allowed to happen. What he had caused. What his moment of weakness cost. The guilt was overwhelming. His regret buried him.

“I have to tell you. You have to know, Emma.”

Killian closed his eyes, willing his wife to open her own, to say something, to breathe again. But he knew she wouldn’t.

Killian kept his eyes shut and prayed, begged again, willing someone to hear him. Please, please just help me. Please, give me another chance with her.

The silence around him was deafening. No response came and when he opened his eyes, he was still alone with the body of his dead wife. Losing any last shred of hope he had within him, Killian allowed his head to fall across her arm and wept for all he had lost.

~ · ~

Killian had sat sobbing over Emma’s body for close to an hour before a kind nurse named Ruby finally found him and told him they needed to take Emma to the morgue. By that point, his tears had long since dried up, leaving his eyes raw and red.

He held tight to Emma’s hand while he still could before they finally wheeled her out of his grasp, Ruby explaining that he wouldn’t be able to follow where they were taking her. She directed him to another nurse’s station where he managed to cling to his sanity long enough to sign a dozen forms he didn’t read and accept a bag of Emma’s things he realized she would never need again.

The sight of her wedding bands and her swan pendant—the one he’d gifted her on the day of their wedding as a reminder she’d always be his Swan—tore a fresh hole through his already mangled torso.

Killian couldn’t be sure how long the walk from Boston Medical’s Emergency Room back to his building would take on a good day, but tonight it felt like it had taken an eternity. The clear plastic bag containing Emma’s things felt like it weighed a ton in his hand. He moved slow, like he was trekking through lightning sand, and Boston was the Fire Swamp.

The thought of Emma’s favorite film was shudder-inducing. He wanted to smash  their copy of The Princess Bride the second he walked through his front door so he’d never have to see it again.

Before Killian knew it, he was standing in front of his apartment building, keys in his hand uncertain how they got there. Inserting the key in the lock, his lingering agony was momentarily quieted in place of confusion.

The bloody piece of metal wouldn’t turn.

He took it out, checking it was the right key, before attempting and failing to unlock the door again. Letting out a frustrated sigh, he rested his head against the cold glass of the door for a moment.

Turning to the buzzer panel, he tried ringing the bell for the building superintendent—hoping the man would be lucid enough to hear the call so early in the morning. No response came, so he just decided to ring every buzzer, his frustration and misery over the entire evening overwhelming him again, coupled with an enormous desire to crawl into his and Emma’s bed and never see another Christmas as long as he lived.

When Killian stood for minutes and still received no response, he turned back to face the lock again, considering his options. He seriously considered just putting his fist through the glass—the thought of a different pain to quell the anguish inside him was highly appealing—when  he noticed a glowing reflection in the window. Turning around, he saw a neon sign in the window of a shop across the street he’d never noticed before advertising “Locksmith”.

Beneath that sign was another that said, “Open”.

Not giving any consideration to the oddness of a business being open at 4:30 in the morning on Christmas Day, Killian ambled across the street and made his way up the salt covered steps of the business. The comically giant key over the door glittered in the light of the twinkle lights wrapped around a small Christmas tree near the entrance.

He approached the door with caution, wiped away a bit of frost covering the window, and noticed a small lamp lit indicating there was in fact someone inside. Opening the door let in both Killian and the harsh winter wind that had picked up in the hours he’d spent grieving at the hospital. “Hello?”

“Hey, you want to shut that door, pal? It’s cold,” A voice called from a room beyond the primary shop floor. A beaded curtain blew lightly from the wind in the open door.

Killian quickly moved to shut the heavy glass door behind him and apologized to whoever had shouted out to him. Looking around, the shop was only minimally lit at this time of morning but was considerably warmer than the air outside—compliments of a wood burning stove taking up an entire corner of the small space. Soft grey paint dressed the walls and all manner of safes, doorknobs, and padlocks took up spots on every available surface and shelf.

There was a dysfunctional organization to the store that Emma would have appreciated.

“I know it’s late,” Killian called to the voice in the other room. “But, I-I got—”

“Locked out?” The man who’d been in the other room emerged through the curtain and answered for him. “Yeah, I know.”

Killian quickly glanced over the man a few inches taller than Killian, taking in his dark wash jeans over heavy work boots and a thick, red plaid flannel. The hint of white feathers poking out from the neck of the white t-shirt beneath the flannel almost gave Killian pause, but it was forgotten once he’d laid eyes on the man’s face. Creamy, pale skin with the hint of a five o’clock shadow and a light scar on the right side of his chin, burning blue eyes lighter than Killian’s own, and a head of light blonde hair.

If Killian didn’t know any better, he’d say he could be looking at the father Emma never knew, save the eyes.  

“Um,” Killian swallowed down the lump coming back up his throat, “It’s just across the street, can you help me?”

“That’s what I’m here for.”

“Great,” Killian nodded to the man and waited for him to move out from behind the counter or pick up some tools to get going. Instead, the man just made a small, crooked smile and continued polishing the large, golden key in his hand.

“Could-could we go now?” Killian asked, trying not to allow his frustration to escape him. “I’d like to get home.”

“What’s your hurry, Killian? She’s not there anymore.”

The locksmith continued polishing his key without looking up and Killian tilted his head in confusion. “Do I know you?”

“No,” the man said woefully, staring down at the key before picking his eyes up to meet Killian’s again. “But I know you. I know everyone.”

Bloody hell, Killian thought to himself, this is what I get for going to a locksmith who’s open at 5 in the morning on Christmas Day.

“You know what, mate,” he scratched lightly behind his ear before slowly backing up towards the shop door, “I must have just used the wrong key. My apologies for bothering you.”

Killian turned away from the flannel-clad man to leave the shop when he gasped out, “Bloody hell!” Where only seconds ago the bizarre locksmith had been standing behind the counter at least a few feet from Killian, now the blonde man stood before the door blocking his path, his arms crossed in a not-quite-confrontational manner.  It was as if he had appeared out of thin air, like magic.

“I’m not your mate. Name’s David.”

Killian’s mouth fell open in shock and he whipped his head to look behind him, but the man—David—still stood impossibly before him. “How did you do that?”

“I’m not really a locksmith.”

“Well then, what the devil are you?”

“Interesting choice of words.” Killian’s question was apparently funny to David because the man let out a few deep chuckles. “I’m the answer. To your prayer?”

David paused, waiting for his comment to sink in, though Killian wasn’t apparently making the connection fast enough. David merely swept his eyes past the man before strolling around him to return behind his counter. “You wanted another chance, didn’t you, Killian? Another chance with Emma?”

The drop of his wife’s name had Killian whipping his body around to face the unusual man again, the confusion he’d been feeling quickly morphing into agonized rage. “Okay, I don’t know who the hell you are—”

“I’m David.”

“Or what you are.”

“I’m an angel.”

Killian’s eyebrows flew into his hairline and his mouth fell open again. Emma would tell him to watch it before he caught something unpleasant.. “You’re a what?”

“Oh, I know,” David chuckled while leaning over to retrieve something from under the counter. “You wanna see wings, right? Is that what’s gonna do it? Because it’s not going to happen. It’s way too ostentatious and my wife says it’s not very charming.” He had that crooked smile on his face again before he dropped his eyes to the metal file he was now using on that same gold key.

Killian tried not to let the mention of David’s wife sting as much as it did, but the wince came against his will. He nodded his head and yanked his keys out of his pocket. “Okay, you’re an angel. Sure.”

As he attempted to leave again, David waved the file through the air in a circle sending off a dusting of shimmery light and spinning Killian back to face him again.

Unable to accept that this bizarre man in front of him could possibly be what he said he was, Killian chose the route of denial. “How did you bloody do that?”

David smiled at Killian’s naïveté and answered him. “It’s way too complicated to explain right now.” The man chuckled again, as if he was in on some cosmic joke Killian had no business hearing.

Then again, if this guy, David, really was an angel like he said, perhaps it was a cosmic joke of some sort. Either way, Killian was through playing games.

“This cannot be happening…”

“So, what exactly were you thinking messing with that Milah in Seattle?” David held the key up to his work light, examining it as he asked. If Killian didn’t know better, he’d say the locksmith-angel-whatever was walking a fine line between intrigued and almost…angry?...when he questioned Killian.

“Hang on, I’ve never messed with…Wait, how the bloody hell did you know that?!” Killian stepped closer to the counter in confused anger, wishing he could figure out what exactly this man’s agenda was.

“Do I have to spell it out for you again, Jones? Angel.” He exaggerated his pronunciation of the last word, pointing to himself with the file as he did so.

“Okay, look,” Killian stomped the remaining feet to the counter and slammed his hands down on it. “It’s David, right? This is the worst night of my entire, blasted life. I don’t have time to play your games.”

“Games?”

“Yes, so why don’t you just tell me what you want?” Killian was so exhausted and confused and frustrated and angry. He didn’t want to mess with whatever this guy was attempting to do anymore, didn’t want to think about his dead wife laying in some cold morgue anymore, didn’t want to think of all the prayers he made that may actually have some chance of getting an answer.

He was too afraid to hope for such an outcome.

“Hey, if you’re going to have that attitude, you can forget it, pal.” David set the key down softly on a linen cloth and tossed the file back into his toolbox. “I’ll cancel this assignment. If you don’t want to spend more time with Emma, that’s fine, I’ll just go back home.”

Killian’s heart stuttered at David’s words, at the sight of him shrugging in resignation and turning to leave the room.

“Wait, woah, woah!” He reached out and latched onto David’s shoulder, practically leaping over the counter in his haste. “What do you mean, spend more time with Emma?” He wasn’t sure if he sounded more frustrated or hopeful. Probably a mix of both.

“Listening now, huh?” David shook his head and returned to his task with that same key. “Such a tragedy. A woman with as much light within her as Emma to die with a broken heart. She thought you betrayed her—”

“I didn’t! I love her!” Killian couldn’t help but interrupt David’s comment, to deny something so untrue. “I would never—”

“It’s all been taken into account,” David said, holding up his hand in a halting motion and looking at him with a serious expression, “which is why, you’ve won the jackpot, my friend.”

Killian just looked at David, holding his breath, terrified to hope but unable to do anything else.

“I’m here to bestow a gift. A very rare gift, Killian.”

Killian shook his head, his eyes pleading for understanding. “I don’t follow.”

David’s voice seemed to resonate deep within Killian’s soul, “When you wake up tomorrow, you’ll have the past three days to live all over again. Emma will be alive, with no memory of the original three days. You, however, will remember everything.”

The angel paused for a moment, allowing what he was saying to sink into the grieving widow’s mind, before continuing.

“Are you hearing me? Because starting tomorrow, you can live those days any way you like. But just remember, you only get this one shot. You have to prove to her, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you love her. Unfortunately, when Christmas Eve rolls around,” David sucked in a short breath, “she will still meet her fate.”

Killian had been listening enraptured up to this point, but he couldn’t help the brief gasp of denial at this. “But—”

“The same accident is going to happen at the same time.”

“No!”

“11:58 exactly.”

“Why?!”

“It’s her destiny, Killian. It’s beyond your control.”

“Well, I won’t let it happen. I won’t let her go.” Killian smacked his hands to the counter again and shook his head fiercely.

“You have to. If you try to change destiny, those three days will be gone. They’ll never have happened.” David set down the key, resting his hands on the counter and his eyes piercing deep through Killian again, willing him to listen to what he was trying to say. “Don’t focus on her dying, Killian. Focus on her living.”

The newly widowed man remained at the counter, stunned by the conversation he’d had with the angel and with the knowledge he’d imparted on him. He couldn’t help but think back to what Dr. Whale had said earlier in the evening, to concentrate on Emma’s life in the face of her death.

Realizing David was returning through the curtain to whatever the room beyond was, Killian tried to stop him, “Wait, I—”

“Oh, I almost forgot!” David started patting his hands over his shirt and pants pockets, searching for something. A small “A ha” and he pulled what he was looking for from the back pocket of his jeans. Holding it up to the light, Killian realized it was that same golden key he’d been working on through their whole conversation—the one he’d set down on the counter only moments earlier.

David smiled again and tossed the key over the counter to Killian—who caught it quickly in his hand. Looking down at the key, he noticed it was a burnished gold, reminding him of Emma’s hair, with a handle fashioned into the shape of a large buttercup and  a fleur de lis running down the middle.

Killian heard a small crackle, like a charge of lightning through the air, and when he looked back up, he was no longer standing in David’s “locksmith” shop. Instead, he was across the street in front of his building door, key still in hand and a look of genuine disorientation coloring his features. He turned back to look at the shop across the street, only to find it dark and empty of the neon signs that had gleamed like a beacon a short while earlier—with no indication it had been open for any kind of business in some time.

He took one last look at the oversized key in his hand before taking a deep breath and inserting it into his door lock. To his surprise, the key spun easily, and the door opened for him immediately. Passing through first the outer then inner door, Killian faced the steps leading to his flat like a man facing a guillotine. Knowing when he walked through that door his wife wouldn’t be there to greet him felt like a steady thrum of pain throughout his already decimated metaphorical body.  

Despite the magical possibility of her return in the morning, Killian still hated having to make this walk alone.

The door to his flat swung open just as easily as the building door had, and Killian slowly forced himself across the threshold into his entryway. Dropping his keys—including the one gifted to him by David—on the side table by the door, he couldn’t help but hate the silence that permeated every inch of his apartment.

Making his way across the living room floor, Killian took in the few decorations Emma had managed to put up before her anger and betrayal had prevented her from continuing. The ornaments lay out on the coffee table by the tree which was strung with a simple strand of white lights. Emma’s latest stack of library books lay waiting to be read on the end table by her side of the couch, and her favorite afghan was wrinkled carelessly on the floor—dropped in her haste to escape him hours earlier.

The room felt not only empty, but angry at him, as though he had no right to be there when Emma couldn’t be. The silence around him—despite the city noises beyond—was both suffocating and deafening. Killian walked over to the Christmas tree, gently pressing on the floor button connected to the lights to extinguish them for the night. Or what was left of it. Sweeping one last look over the empty apartment, Killian retreated to his bedroom to finally find sleep after the worst day of his entire existence.

After stripping himself of his clothes covered in Emma’s blood, which he planned to burn along with that wretched DVD as soon as he found a safe place to do so, Killian took the hottest shower he could stand without harming himself. He kept his eyes trained ahead on the shower’s white subway tile, unable to look as the water turned pink and disappeared down the drain.

Moments later, he toweled off as quickly as he could and left the en suite. Grabbing the first pair of pajama bottoms from his drawer, he threw them on before sliding beneath the safety of his sheets. The smell of Emma’s coconut shampoo and her magnolia perfume permeated every inch of the blankets.

It was enough to make him sick.

Before the grief swallowed him whole again and the distraught sobs wrenched themselves from his throat, he mustered enough energy to whisper one thing to her, hoping against hope she could hear him. That he would wake up tomorrow and David’s gift would be  real. That this day would all just have been a vicious, earth-shattering nightmare.

“I love you, Emma.”