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The Convenient Groom

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Killian Jones would never forget the first day he met Emma Swan. He’d been focused intently on the rocking chair that the Nolans had ordered for their new baby, and AC/DC’s “Back in Black” was booming throughout his workshop. He always worked to classic rock; it put him in the best creative zone. 

Suddenly, the shop was plunged into silence, and he straightened in surprise. Standing there, with the cord to his portable speakers dangling from her hand, was a veritable goddess with anger sparking from her light green eyes. She was dressed in a simple pair of dark wash jeans topped with a cream blouse, yet her trim figure still drew his eyes. He’d never had a thing for blondes, but her golden hair had him re-thinking that. She had caught him so completely off guard, he stood there gaping like a mere boy.

“I’ve got a client upstairs trying to pour her damn heart out, but I can barely hear myself think with this noise rattling the walls.”

Ah, so this was the new tenant in the office upstairs. Killian smirked and sauntered into her personal space. “Well, love, I’ve been told I’m rather good at rattling the walls.”

He hardly knew what had possessed him to say such a thing. Before Milah, he was well known for his charms, but that had been years ago. 

The blonde narrowed her eyes at his innuendo, though the blush upon her cheeks sent a far different message. “Not your love, buddy.” She tossed the cords at his chest, and one of them slapped him in the jaw. “Get yourself some damn earbuds.”

She strode towards the door, her high heeled boots tapping loudly on the concrete floor. “It’s Killian Jones, by the way,” he called out after her, “Ms . . . “

“Emma Swan,” she tossed over her shoulder, “and it’s doctor.”

He saw her often after that. It was difficult not to. Storybrooke was a small town, and they shared office space, after all. Their building on Main was also right across the street from Granny’s diner, the only place for a decent cup of coffee and a cheeseburger. Or grilled cheese and onion rings in Swan’s case. They’d crossed paths during their lunch break often enough for him to know her regular order. Yet to say Emma Swan had walls was an understatement, and just casual conversation was a challenge. One he had a rather enjoyable time tackling, honestly. 

Yet she never came into his wood shop again. Until one day six months ago, to put in an order. She had stood there in his lobby where he met with clients and rough sketched  their custom orders looking uncharacteristically nervous, her hands twisting at her waist. He had noticed the diamond sparkling on her left ring finger early on, and she fiddled with it now. He had never met the man who had given it to her, which he had always thought was odd. Especially considering how passionate Emma was about her career. Even stranger, Mary Margaret had never met him either, and Emma rented the loft from her and David. No one even knew the man’s name. Something was off about that, if you asked Killian. Not that anyone would.

“Can you make a wedding chuppa?” she blurted out.

“Aye,” he said as he leaned against the front counter, “I made one for Marco and Granny when they wed last fall.”

“Good,” Emma breathed out, but then her forehead creased with worry. “Marco’s Jewish, isn’t he? Is it okay to use a chuppa if you aren’t Jewish?”

“Hmmm,” Killian contemplated, rubbing at his chin, “is your fiance Jewish?”

“No,” Emma said with a shake of her head, “but we’re getting married outside, and I wanted some sort of focal point, you know?”

“Well, then,” he told her honestly, “I do think a chuppa has religious significance, so maybe an arbor or archway would be more appropriate? I’ve done those as well . . . “

He had come around the counter then and led her to the sitting area where he brainstormed with clients. He had shown her photos of an arbor he had made for his friends Eric and Ariel’s beach wedding, and several other options online. He found out many things that day: the location of the wedding (the gardens behind the old mansion on the outskirts of town), the flowers (middlemist roses), the color scheme (pale pink and wine red), and the date of the nuptials (late June). Yet he still didn’t know who this mysterious fiance was. Odd. 

“He doesn’t like the attention from my career,” Emma had attempted to explain, twisting her engagement ring around her finger, “and I get it. There would be a lot of scrutiny on him and our relationship.”

Killian nodded. Everyone knew about Dr. Swan’s bestseller Seriously, Ladies? which supposedly guided any woman on how to avoid disastrous relationships. Women swore by it, and Emma also had a blog and a podcast. The media was salivating over her upcoming marriage, including the identity of Mr. Right himself. 

“And I need your discretion on this,” Emma continued. “The media doesn’t know the wedding date yet, and I -”

Killian placed his hand on hers. “You can trust me, Emma. I won’t tell a soul about this order, much less when or where it will be delivered.”

He had worried that his word wouldn’t be enough, yet Emma had deflated with relief. “Thank you. I know this is a weird situation.”

“You deserve happiness, Swan.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “How do you know that? You know nothing about me.”

Killian had shrugged. “You’re somewhat of an open book, love.”

It was true. Despite her confidence, he could recognize another wounded heart when he saw one. Whoever this fiance was, he wasn’t doing a very good job of healing it, either, at least in Killian’s opinion. Otherwise her eyes wouldn’t still hold that haunted look. 

The order meant, for both good and bad, that Killian saw Emma Swan more often. It was good in that he got to know her better, saw her smile, heard her laugh. It was bad for one horrible, terrible reason. For him, at least. Six months was long enough for him to fall in love with her - the woman he was making a wedding arbor for. 

Killian sighed, his heart twisting painfully, as he covered the gorgeous arbor of carved mahogany with a moving blanket. Today was the day. For him, it felt more like the day of a funeral than a wedding. This man, whoever he was, better love her the way she deserved. It was all he could hope for now. 

“Killian, what the hell do you think you’re doing!” He whirled from the arbor to see Emma marching angrily across his workshop. The scowl on her face was identical to the one almost a year ago when he first met her. “Why did you send the moving crew away empty handed? Please tell me you finished it.”

“Of course I finished it, Swan,” he retorted, unable to keep the bite out of his voice. Wasn’t she supposed to be giddy, flushed with eagerness, floating on air? Instead, she looked so stressed he feared she might give herself a heart attack. 

“Then why didn’t you send it to the mansion? Are you being difficult on purpose?”

Killian tilted his head and grinned saucily at her. He couldn’t help it, teasing her was just too much fun. “Though getting you riled up is rather fun, I wouldn’t do that to you on your special day. I just didn’t trust anyone but myself to deliver it.”

“Oh,” she said lamely, biting on her lower lip. 

“I was just about to load it up, actually. Want to see it?”

“If it’s not too much trouble . . .”

“Of course not.” 

He pulled the moving blanket off, revealing the dark wood with intricate carvings of flowers, vines, and swans. Though the occasion it celebrated tore at his heart, he had never put so much work into a piece. He poured the beauty of the woman it represented into every detail. Emma’s eyes lit up as she ran her hands over the woodwork. The caramel stain brought out the natural beauty of the wood, but it would also make the delicate blush of the roses pop once the florist draped the arbor with them. 

“It’s beautiful, Killian,” she told him softly, “exactly what I told you I wanted. More, actually.”

“Thank you,” he managed to tell her around the sudden lump in his throat. 

The moment was broken by the ringing of Emma’s phone. She fished it out of her jeans pocket and pressed it to her ear. Killian busied himself covering the arbor and preparing it for transport while Emma paced across his workshop. 

“Walsh, are you insane?” he heard her snap, “Our wedding is only six hours away!”

Killian tried not to eavesdrop, but as he glanced Emma’s way, he saw her face grow pale. 

“Seriously? You’re doing this to me now ?” Though her voice was harsh, her body trembled as she sank to an empty crate next to the table saw. 

Killian frowned. He didn’t like how this sounded. 

“These are all things you could have told me yesterday!” Emma’s voice rose. “Or better yet, last week, last month .”

She glanced over at Killian, and her face turned bright red. She shifted so that her back was to him. She lowered her voice as she spoke into her phone, but Killian still heard her. 

“Is there someone else?”

Killian’s jaw clenched as he saw her shoulders fall and then begin to shake. The bastard.

Her voice was broken as she choked out her next words. “Well I hope you’re very happy together.” 

She hung up and dropped her cell phone. Killian winced as it hit the cement floor. She covered her face with both hands and wept silently. He crossed the room and gently placed his hands on her shoulders. 

“I’m so sorry.” 

“What am I going to do?” she wept. “Oh, God! What am I going to do?” She turned to Killian, her eyes wide and frantic as she clutched at the front of his shirt. “We invited the media to the wedding! It was the only way to keep them from hounding us during our engagement. Now they’ll get an even better story - relationship guru Dr. Emma Swan gets jilted at the altar. I’m ruined! My career is over!”

She was on her feet, pacing the floor, tugging at the ends of her hair. He wanted to tell her she was overreacting, but he couldn’t lie. In this day and age of cancel culture and internet trolls, she would be ruined.

“You’re going to think I’m an opportunist,” she continued, “but my wedding day was also going to be the kick off for my next book. Tomorrow they’re announcing it’s release.”

“I’m not judging you, Swan,” he assured her. “What’s the new book?”

Ladies, It’s More Than a Wedding ,” Emma said sheepishly, “about how to plan for your marriage and not just the wedding.” 

Emma groaned and dropped her head against the nearest wall. Killian was silent for a long moment, rolling an idea around in his head. She might shoot him down, call him crazy, but it was worth a shot.

“No one knows who your fiance is, right?”

She looked at him curiously. “No.”

“So . . . couldn’t anyone stand in for him?”

Emma’s mouth dropped open. “Are you crazy? Once the media knew it was a farce, things would be even worse. I have interviews lined up already. A promotion tour for the book. It’s about more than just the wedding.” She barked out a laugh. “Isn’t that ironic?”

Killian leveled her with a steady gaze. “What if it wasn’t a farce?”

She blinked. “You mean . . . like, actually marry someone else? Today ?” 

“That’s exactly what I mean.”

Emma let out another sarcastic chuckle. “Who the hell would agree to that?”

Killian wet his lips nervously. “I would.”

Emma shook her head in surprise. “You?”

He shrugged. “Well, I’m here, and I have nothing better to do today.”

“We’re talking about getting married , Killian. You know, commitment? Till death do us part?”

“Well,” Killian said slowly, shoving his hands in his jean pockets, “you need to stay married to promote your book, right? What are we talking? Six months? A year, at most?”

Emma’s brow furrowed as if she were contemplating it. But then she shook her head. “I can’t believe I’m even considering this! It would never work! How would it look if I got divorced in a year?”

“Or an annulment. You could blame it on me. I cheated on you or something. Make me out to be the bad guy.” He chuckled sardonically. “You might even get another best seller out of it. Dump His Cheating Ass, Ladies .”

He managed to get a real laugh out of her at that, and he smiled. Her mirth was short-lived, however. “But why would you do that? Tie yourself to me for a year, let your own reputation be damaged? What’s in it for you?”

I’m in love with you .

“I could use your help. With my family. Professional help.”

Emma narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest. “Okaaay. How so?”

“My brother and his wife. Their marriage is a little rocky.” LIe . Liam and Elsa were relationship goals if he ever saw it.  “I think it’s because her sister Anna and her husband Kristoff had to move in with them.” Another lie . They had moved in, but no two sisters were closer than Anna and Elsa. 

“So why don’t they just make an appointment?”

“They, uh, have this thing about therapy. They think it’s a sign of weakness. Or an embarrassment. Anyway, but if you were around, you could casually help them out. I think you and Elsa would hit it off.”

“So you want to marry me in exchange for free counseling for your brother and his wife?”

She sounded skeptical, and naturally so. He tried to play it off. “My brother means everything to me. He’s all the family I have left. Plus, my future nieces and nephews deserve a steady home life, unlike what we had as kids.”

Emma and Killian just stood there looking intently at one another. He held his breath, fully expecting her to call him crazy and walk out the door. Her gaze darted to the arbor, now ready to be loaded onto the trunk. 

“It would be a shame not to use that beautiful piece you made.”

Killian tried to hold back his smile and failed. “Consider it my wedding gift to my bride.”

“Okay, groom,” she told him with her hand outstretched for him to shake, “it’s a deal.”

Chapter Text

Not all brides handle the stress of their big day the same way. Some get emotional, some get stressed, some freeze. However, most brides don’t stomp around the room in their bare feet fuming. Of course, Emma Swan isn’t most brides, and this isn’t most weddings.

“Emma, seriously, you’re going to wear a hole in the carpet.”

“The carpet is the least of my worries, Rubes.”

At least Emma’s dress was simple. No voluminous skirt or long train to trip over. Nor was it one of those mermaid styles that forced the bride to shuffle around like a Barbie doll. The simple chiffon skirt swirled around her ankles, and the long slit up her left leg allowed her to move freely. The top of the dress was off the shoulder with a plunging neckline. Emma realized how sexy it was, but that hadn’t seemed to matter when it was going to be Walsh waiting for her at the end of the aisle. Now it was going to be Killian Jones waiting for her. Killian Jones. Her carpenter. Surely this was all a bad dream. That had to be it. Surely she’d wake up any minute now and laugh at the ridiculous scenarios conjured up by her nervous brain. 

“This can’t be happening,” she muttered as she continued to stomp around the room. 

“You mean Walsh cheating, Walsh jilting you at the altar, or you marrying a random acquaintance?”

Emma wanted to snap at her assistant, but instead she collapsed onto a nearby chair and put her head in her hands. “All of the above,” she groaned. 

Ruby sank to her knees in front of Emma and took both of her hands. Ruby hadn’t made the move to Storybrooke with Emma; she’d been too much of a city girl. She normally handled Emma’s schedule from New York - the wonders of the internet - but she had made the trip for the wedding. Emma was relieved to have her here. She wasn’t only Emma’s assistant, she was also her closest friend. Those were admittedly rare in Emma’s life. 

“Walsh is an absolute jerk,” Ruby fumed. “I’d like to rip his throat out!”

The door to the bridal suite flew open and Regina, Emma’s agent, came striding in, her heels beating out a staccato rhythm. She stopped right in front of Emma and propped her hands on her hips. 

“What is this? You’re falling apart over that bastard? That’s not the Emma Swan I know. The one who tells thousands of women every day to push back and refuse to let a man tell you who you ought to be.”

Emma scowled. “Well excuse me for being heartbroken when I get dumped on my fucking wedding day!” Regina’s no-nonsense approach to . . . well, everything, made her a great agent. It didn’t, however, make her a very good shoulder to cry on.

“I get that, and I’m sorry, really I am.” 

Really, Regina? I’m not so sure about that.

“But we’ve got media here, Emma, and I can’t have you a sobbing mess on what’s supposed to be the happiest day of your life.” She let out a huff, then shoved a stack of papers at Emma. “He signed everything with no argument.”

“Seriously?” Emma took the stack from Regina and flipped through it, though the legal jargon made her already aching head spin.

“It’s a standard gag agreement. I also had a friend of mine write up a quick pre-nup. There’s literally nothing in this for him. It’s strange, honestly.”

“Maybe he’s in love with you,” Ruby teased, giving Emma a little shove and a grin.

Emma rolled her eyes. “Hardly. We bicker like . . . like . . . “

“An old married couple?” Ruby supplied with an arched brow.

“Ruby!” she groaned. “This isn’t the time -”

“Sorry, sorry,” Ruby quickly apologized as she rose to her feet. 

“And the wedding license?” Emma asked. 

“Taken care of,” Regina assured her. She turned to Ruby. “I need you to run over to the groom’s suite and get Mr. Jones set up with a cordless mic.”

Ruby nodded. “Sure thing.” 

Emma rose from the chair as her assistant scurried from the room. She wandered aimlessly to the window that overlooked the strip of beach where the ceremony would take place. She sensed Regina coming up behind her, but the woman didn’t attempt to touch her. That just wasn’t Regina’s way.

“Look, Emma,” she told her sincerely, “I know this isn’t the day you’d dreamed of. But your career is hot right now, and this second book might make even more money than your first. You’d be set for life.”

Emma felt a sudden chill and hugged herself, rubbing her hands up and down her arms to dispel the goosebumps. Being set for life sounded nice, especially after all the years of hunger and homelessness in her past. Like it so often did, her mind also sped back in time to when she was sixteen, abandoned and alone with a baby on the way. She shuddered. What did she even know about this man, Killian Jones? Was Regina right? Would it be simply putting up with a roommate for six months to a year in exchange for the career she’d worked so hard for?

“I know that in my head, Regina. Just give my heart a minute to catch up, okay?”

“Unfortunately, we don’t have a minute,” Regina briskly replied as she glanced at her watch. “Speaking of which, let’s freshen up that hair and makeup.”

Emma let out a long sigh as she sat at the vanity. Regina rushed out of the room to get Ruby, since fussing over a friend’s hair and makeup wasn’t really her thing. Emma watched Ruby’s reflection in the mirror when she came back in and fake-swooned against the door. 

“If you ask me, Emma, you traded up . That man is some serious man-candy, especially in a tux.”

Emma bit her lip to keep from smiling in response, though she felt the traitorous blush stain her cheeks. Killian’s good looks weren’t lost on her - she wasn’t blind. 

“Help me with these smudges, will you?” she deflected, leaning forward and frowning at where she had smeared her mascara. 

Ruby rushed up to join her, swiveling Emma’s stool so she was facing her. She went to work on Emma’s eye makeup with confident precision. 

“If you do decide to go through with this annulment thing, I’ll gladly take him off your hands.”

Ruby winked at her, and Emma laughed. “ If ?”

Ruby shrugged as she turned Emma back to face the mirror. “You could find worse to grow old with, that’s all I’m saying.”

Emma’s hair, which she was wearing loose and flowing around her shoulders, didn’t need much help from Ruby, thank goodness. No surprise, considering the entire can of hairspray Ruby had shellacked it with. Even so, Emma frowned at her reflection as the title of the very first chapter of her book flashed before her mind.

Seriously Ladies, I Don’t Care How Hot He Is!

*****************************************

Truth be told, Emma Swan’s staff had planned the wedding, not her. Stressing over calla lilies versus roses, satin versus silk, band versus DJ wasn’t really her thing. The only thing she’d gotten personally invested in besides her dress was that damn arbor. She’d seen the rocking chair Killian had done for the Nolan’s with its intricate carvings and beautiful, smooth stain, and for some reason she wanted that for her wedding. Something uniquely her - something real. 

Something real - what a joke that was now. 

A string quartet played the opening strands of Canon in D , and Emma stepped out onto the satin runner that led from the back of the mansion to the beach below. It felt like the longest walk of her life with all of the guests standing and staring at her - she didn’t even recognize half of them. Cameras clicked all around her, reminding her once again that this was all on display for public consumption. 

Emma saw Killian up ahead, beneath the awning, but only through a haze. In a way it felt like an out of body experience. She didn’t really get a good look at his face until she was right in front of him. To her surprise, his smile was wide and bright, his eyes crinkling at the corners - as if he was actually thrilled to be pledging his life to her. She caught a glance at Regina over his shoulder, and the woman tipped her head surreptitiously, her eyes glaring at Emma. The message was clear - at least pretend you want to be here, for God’s sake! Emma bit her lower lip, then looked into Killian’s eyes and forced a smile upon her face. It wasn’t as if gazing into his eyes was a chore - far from it. She’d never seen eyes so blue. She had noticed it that very first day they met, despite her irritation over his loud music. But here beside the sea, his eyes were even more striking. 

Like the sea after a storm. Emma bit the inside of her cheek as the line from The Princess Bride came to her suddenly. On its heels came the title of chapter three of her book. 

Seriously Ladies, This Life’s No Fairy Tale!

The vows were over before Emma even knew she’d spoken them. Once, Killian even had to squeeze her hands and nod to prompt her. The guests merely chuckled good-naturedly, obviously chalking it up to normal wedding jitters. 

“I now pronounce you man and wife,” the officiant announced. “You may now kiss the bride.”

Kiss the bride! Oh shit, Emma hadn’t even considered this part. They should have discussed it, or . . . practiced maybe? Yet Killian didn’t hesitate, nor did he seem the least bit flustered. He cupped her face in his hands and tenderly bent to press his lips to hers. It was soft, yet deep, his tongue swiping gently against her lips. Emma found herself opening for him and melting into the kiss. Another movie quote flitted through her brain: church tongue. When he pulled away, her eyes stayed closed in bliss for a moment.

Damn, Killian Jones could kiss. 

Emma bit the inside of her cheek again as they faced the cheering guests. Now she was thinking of the title of chapter five.

Seriously Ladies, When it Comes to Kissing, Make Sure He’s the One Who Can’t Handle It

 

*****************************************************

If the wedding was a blur, the reception was even more so. Emma had heard stories of the crazy things people do when they’re suffering from shock. Walking miles on a broken leg, yanking things out of a gaping wound, dashing through fire, and yet not feeling a thing. She could relate, it was how she made it through her wedding day. 

Regina was doing facial gymnastics to get her to go through the motions. She hoped she smiled and faked a laugh enough to sell it. Killian certainly did. Honestly, the way he looked at her sometimes was enough to make her swoon like Ruby. Regina must have given him a hell of an acting lesson. 

Chapter Two: Seriously Ladies, All Men are Actors

Killian’s most Oscar-worthy performance came during their first dance. She wasn’t quite able to hide her reaction when the first bars of Extreme’s “More Than Words” played. Killian frowned down at her, his hand at her waist tightening slightly. 

“Are you okay, love?”

Emma sighed, “It’s nothing, it’s just . . . this was our song.”

Killian’s eyes widened at that. “Oh, I see. I’m sorry, love. None of this can be easy for you.”

“It’s seems easy for you,” she muttered. 

He chuckled at that and pulled her closer so he could whisper in her ear. “Well, I’ve got an incredibly beautiful woman in my arms. What’s so difficult about that?”

A shiver ran down her spine and an embarrassing giggle escaped her lips. She heard cameras clicking, and saw Regina give her a satisfied smile and a nod. Killian leaned back and arched a brow at her before spinning her out. When he pulled her back against his chest, he began to sing. 

“More than words is all you have to do to make it real. Then you wouldn’t have to say you love me cause I’d already know.”

His voice was . . . amazing, actually, but he accompanied the words with ridiculous facial expressions and wild spins across the dance floor, and it all made Emma throw her head back with genuine laughter. He ended the entire performance by dipping her, followed by a chaste kiss. The crowd cheered and the cameras clicked. When he righted her, he pressed his forehead to hers and lowered his voice so only she could hear. 

“No offense to your ex, but this song is basically a guy asking for sex as proof of love.”

Emma’s eyes widened. She should have been pissed at the observation, but . . . well, Walsh obviously hadn’t kept it in his pants, so . . . 

“Seriously Ladies, Sex Doesn’t Equal Love.”

Killian blinked. “Pardon?”

Emma laughed again. Cameras clicked. They probably assumed they were having some tender moment. “Chapter eight. Of my book. That’s chapter eight of my book.”

Killian laughed and lifted his right hand to scratch behind his ear. “I, um, must confess . . . I haven’t read it.”

“Well, I’m glad of that,” she teased, wrapping her arms around his neck. 

“You are?”

“If you were reading books on how to have a relationship with a man, then this marriage would really be doomed.”

He laughed again, and his eyes did that crinkling thing, and she noticed for the first time that he had dimples. The cameras clicked again. The media loved him already.

Too bad the bride barely knew him. 

*****************************************

Emma’s agent had told Killian he needed to act like a man in love, had lectured him on it for about ten minutes, actually. As if he needed it. Truth be told, he was having a hard time reining himself in. The wedding kiss, for example, was probably pushing it. But bloody hell, when he’d seen her walking down the aisle towards him, his heart had almost flown from his chest. She was so beautiful, she took his breath away, with her hair in those soft curls and that dress . . . God, that dress! The way her shapely legs peeked out of the slit as she walked, that plunging neckline that not only hinted at the swell of her breasts but also showed off her creamy skin - it was enough to make a man lose his mind. 

Emma hadn’t seemed to be bothered by the kiss though, and had actually kissed him back. Then again, she had to keep up the charade. It would certainly arouse suspicion if she seemed uncomfortable with his lips on hers. 

And his tongue tangling with hers. Shit, he probably shouldn’t have gone that far. He couldn’t stop touching her either, finding excuses throughout the reception to press his hand to the small of her back, take her hand, or tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. He was in heaven. 

He was a cad. Because this also had to be one of the worst days of Emma Swan’s life. 

Or was it Emma Jones now? They had never discussed that small detail, though he assumed with her career, she would keep Swan. Not that it bothered him either way. Even in a world of his most wonderful, wildest dreams where Emma Swan decided to stay when the year was up, he wouldn’t care what name she chose. 

He had made her laugh during their first dance, and he counted that a huge victory. He loved that he could make her smile after all she had been through with her horrible ex. Why the man would cheat on her, much less leave her high and dry on their wedding day was something Killian couldn’t comprehend. 

“Killian!”

His back stiffened at the familiar voice. He had seen David at the ceremony, but he’d managed to avoid him so far. Killian’s arm tightened around Emma’s waist as he turned to face his friend. His wife Mary Margaret was at his side, and she was practically beaming. 

“Oh, I am so happy for you two!” she gushed. “How in the world did you manage to keep this from us?”

“Yeah,” David agreed, his eyes cutting from Emma to Killian and back again, “how long has this been going on?”

“Oh David,” Mary Margaret admonished with a playful slap to her husband’s chest, “obviously he’s why Emma moved here.”

“Well, it does explain all those appointments to design that wedding arbor,” David laughed.

Killian scratched behind his ear and forced a laugh. “You caught us!”

“So how did you meet?” Mary Margaret, ever the romantic, asked in a sing-song voice.

“Um, well, I DM-ed her on Instagram.”

David narrowed his eyes. “You’re on Instagram?”

“Of course he is, sweetie,” Mary Margaret laughed, as if her husband was way behind the times, “I follow him. Gorgeous pictures of all his work . . . anyways, so Emma, you broke chapter twelve of your book?”

Killian felt like his bow tie was choking him. “Chapter Twelve?”

“You know sweetie ,” Emma said, elbowing him a little too sharply, “the chapter warning women against internet dating.”

“Oh . . . that, well,” his face turned red as she shot daggers at him from his eyes.

“What Killian means,” Emma said smoothly, turning to Mary Margaret, “is that he DM-ed me for relationship advice, not trying to flirt with me. A friendship grew from there, and then love.”

“Relationship advice?” David was crossing his arms over his chest now - not a good sign.

“Aye, mate. Being a widower is no picnic you know.”

David’s posture deflated, and he gave Killian a friendly slap on the back. “It’s good to see you happy again.”

Killian put his arm around Emma, pulled her close, and brushed a kiss to her temple. “Never been happier, truly.”

“I didn’t see your family here, Killian,” Mary Margaret said, concern creasing her brow. 

Emma jumped in before Killian could even get his thoughts in order. “We’ll be doing a small, private ceremony for them. We just couldn’t risk the media figuring out Killian’s identity.”

Killian blinked as he looked down at her. She smiled at him in an adoring way and squeezed his bicep gently. She was quite the actress - impressive. 

“So they don’t even know you got married?” Mary Margaret asked incredulously.

This was getting more and more complicated by the minute. “I didn’t want to ask them to keep such a huge secret,” Killian explained, “but don’t worry, I’ll be calling them soon.”

“Good,” Mary Margaret said on a sigh. She reached out to pat his hand. “I know they will be thrilled after all the pain they’ve watched you go through.”

Mercifully, the DJ announced that the bride and groom would be leaving for their honeymoon. Mary Margaret and David hugged them both and said their goodbyes, then Emma and Killian were whisked outside by Ruby and the wedding planner to a waiting limo. 

Once inside, Emma collapsed against the seat, and her face fell. It was obvious now that her smiles, her gentle touches, all of it, had been a facade. She turned away from him as the limo drove away, taking them to Cape Cod. Uncomfortable silence fell between them, and the inches separating them on the bench seat felt like miles. 

“Are you okay?” Killian finally ventured.

If she had snapped at him, he would have understood, but instead she looked at him wearily. “I woke up this morning planning to marry my fiance, and now I’m married to someone I barely know instead. How do you think I feel?”

He winced. “Fair enough. I just want you to know I’m here if you want to talk.”

She ignored him, slumping further and resting her head against the window. He couldn’t help watching her, his heart aching that he could do nothing to ease her pain. 

He was surprised when she spoke again, though she didn’t look at him. “I didn’t know you were married before.”

“I’m sorry, Swan, I should have mentioned that.”

“No,” she said, turning her gaze on him once again, “it isn’t that. I’m just . . . I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you,” he whispered. 

They fell silent once again, and the stress of the day started to get to Killian. He struggled to keep his eyes open, but finally lost the battle and succumbed to sleep. It felt like only moments later when the limo driver tapped on the window. Killian’s eyes blinked open, and he was surprised to find Emma’s head against his shoulder. He shook her gently to wake her. 

“We’re here, love.”

“Oh,” Emma said, voice still thick with sleep as she sat up, blinking. When she met his gaze, a blush stained her cheeks. “Sorry about that.”

“No need to apologize, I feel asleep too.”

She nodded, weary, and climbed out of the limo. The resort was a throwback to the heydey of Cape Cod with quaint shutters and bright red awnings. The staff fussed over them, which wasn’t surprising since they were both still dressed like figures on the top of a wedding cake. The bellboy got their bags and led them to the honeymoon suite. There was a small sitting room that led out to a balcony with an ocean view. Off the sitting room was a large master bedroom with a king size bed and an ensuite bath. Housekeeping had strewn rose petals across the bed, and a bottle of champagne on ice sat on the nightstand. 

“Enjoy,” the bellboy said with a wiggle of his eyebrows as he slipped out the door. 

The silence after he left was palpable. Emma shivered as she stared through the open door into the bedroom, but then she quickly squared her shoulders and spun on him.

“Look, I hope you didn’t get any ideas because we’re technically married.”

Killian’s eyebrows shot to his hairline, and he lifted both hands in defense. “I would never in a million years expect anything of the sort from you, Emma. Clearly, I’ll be taking the couch.”

Emma cocked her head at him, her eyes narrow slits. “Oh, so you’re a gentleman?’

He couldn’t help winking at her. “Of course. I’m always a gentleman.”

Emma snorted and rolled her eyes. “We’ll see.”

It was late, and it had been a long and emotional day, so Killian wasn’t surprised when Emma grumbled that she was going to bed, shut the bedroom door behind her rather forcefully, and snapped at him not to bother her. He let out a long sigh as he toed off his shoes and started to remove his tie. He thought about calling Liam, but he just wasn’t emotionally ready for that conversation. Besides, it wouldn’t hurt for he and Emma to get the details of their story straight before that happened. 

There was a TV in front of the couch, and he flicked it on as he stripped down to his boxer briefs. He found blankets and a pillow on the top shelf of a closet and settled down with remote in hand. He flipped through the channels, but there wasn’t anything that captured his interest, so he shut it off and turned off the light. He lay there, his arms behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. He was exhausted, but sleep was elusive. 

Then a sound caught his ear. Killian tilted his head and listened closely. It was Emma, and she was crying. 

 

Chapter Text

Killian was awakened the next morning by his ringing phone, and when he went to reach for it, he almost fell off the narrow sofa. He almost forgot where he was until the crick in his neck and the light pouring through the glass doors leading to the suite’s balcony reminded him. In his confused state, he neglected to check the contact on the phone screen before he answered. 

“Hello?” He blinked and rubbed his hand over his face as he swung his legs to the floor. 

“What the bloody hell did you do?”

Liam’s voice was like ice cold water being poured over his head. “Wh-what are you talking about?”

“You got married ?”

“How . . . “ Killian stammered, “you mean you know?”

“It’s all over the news, little brother. I woke up this morning and my phone was blowing up with texts. No one even knew you were in a relationship! What the hell is going on?”

Killian’s hand drifted from his jaw to his ear and back again as he rose and began to pace. “Well, you see, with Emma being a public figure and all, we just wanted to keep our relationship secret. And with her line of work, we knew whoever she dated, much less married, would be under a lot of scrutiny. I mean, our relationship would have been picked apart, so -”

“So you lied to me?”

Killian almost dropped the phone. The lies were only just beginning. “Um, more like, I withheld information.”

“Vital information!” Liam’s volume was climbing, and Killian pulled the phone farther away from his ear. “Elsa is pissed, and Anna literally cried because she missed the wedding. How could you do this to us - again ? I thought I’d be your best man this time.”

Killian groaned as he heard the hurt clearly in his brother’s voice. “I’m sorry, truly I am. Emma and I are planning on doing a second, smaller ceremony for my friends and family.”

“So this was a publicity stunt. To promote her and her career.”

Great. Liam was pissed at Emma and they hadn’t even met. “A career which I support wholeheartedly. I didn’t even really care how we got married just so long as we did. I love her.”

It was the first truthful thing Killian had said since he answered the phone. 

*****************************************************

Killian had the television on while he simultaneously scrolled through social media on his phone. Liam hadn’t been exaggerating: the media was buzzing about Emma Swan - the one single women around the globe turned to for relationship advice - getting married. People magazine apparently had the exclusive rights to the photographs, which would be published in their next issue, but Emma’s press agent had officially released one photograph and it was literally everywhere. It was of their first dance, when Killian had gotten Emma to laugh. He hoped she was at least smiling in the rest that would appear in People . His heart would break if her shock, pain, and betrayal were on display for the world to see. He’d deal with the media, his brother, his sisters in law and their emotions - all of it - to keep that from happening. 

“Seriously? Already?”

He turned at the sound of Emma’s voice. She was standing there wrapped up in the resort bathrobe, a fluffy towel circling her head. He hadn’t even heard her stir in the other room. He fumbled for the remote and muted it. 

“Um, aye, your wedding is big news apparently - I mean, our wedding.” He gave her a nervous smile and scratched behind his ear. 

Emma moaned, collapsed onto the chair across from him, and covered her face with both hands. “I invited the media,” she mumbled before pulling her hands away with a sigh, “so I don’t know why I’m irritated. I guess I just didn’t expect all this attention so soon.”

Killian quirked a brow and waved his phone at her. “Well Swan, according to Instagram you’re #relationshipgoals to all of your followers.”

Emma grimaced, and he knew it was a bad joke. “Yeah, what goals? To get jilted at the altar and marry your carpenter instead?”

Killian shrugged. “It was a damn good arbor I made though, right?”

Emma managed to laugh. “It really was, Jones.” 

A silence fell between them. Killian turned off the television and set his phone aside. He knew she didn’t need any of it right now. Emma untwisted the towel from her head and ran her fingers through her wet hair. The picture she made: her hair tumbling wild, her long legs peeking where the robe had fallen open, the top gaping and giving him a peek of her cleavage was all too much. He wished for a robe himself as his boxer briefs tightened. He snatched the blanket from the couch and held it around his waist as casually as he could as he stood and made his way to the bedroom. 

“I think I’ll just, um . . . use the shower now myself,” he told her. 

“Sure,” she replied, and when she smiled at him, he could swear he saw a twinkle in her eyes. 

Emma had used up a lot of the hot water, but the cold shower was what he needed anyway. He lingered just long enough to wash away the sweat from the last twenty four hours and calm himself down. When he exited, he was relieved to see that his bags were lined up against Emma’s in the bedroom. The bellhop must have put them there the night before. He pulled out a pair of jeans and a simple grey tee from his bag. He had just slipped the shirt over his head when he heard a knock at the door and a voice call out “room service!”

Emma beat him to the door, and when Killian stepped out of the bedroom, she was ushering in a man pushing a tray that held their breakfast. Emma was still wearing the robe, and Killian didn’t miss the appreciative look the man gave her as he told her to enjoy her breakfast. Killian cleared his throat pointedly.

“Yes, we certainly will.”

The man had the decency to blush. “Um, yes, Mr. Jones. Enjoy your breakfast.”

Emma laughed after the man had shut the door behind him. 

“What?”

“Jealous, Mr. Jones?”

Killian huffed. “Well, did you notice the way he was looking at you?”

Emma shrugged. “Well, to be fair, I’m wearing nothing but a bathrobe.”

“But you’re married!”

Emma’s eyes widened. “But we’re not actually a couple.”

“He doesn’t know that,” Killian grumbled. 

Emma laughed again as she lifted the cover on one of the plates of food. Her laughter cut off sharply, however, and her hand froze in midair. “Are you kidding me?”

Killian rushed to her side, wondering what could be wrong with their breakfast, but then he saw it: the local newspaper tucked between the trays. The headline practically screamed: Emma Swan and New Husband Honeymoon on the Cape . Below it was the same official wedding photograph everyone else was posting along with a paparazzi shot of the two of them arriving last night in the limo. Emma banged the cover back onto the plate with a grunt of irritation.

“Everyone promised they would be discreet! The limo driver, the hotel manager . . . “ she trailed off with a scowl on her face.

“I’m sure they were, love. Anyone could have tipped off a reporter: a bellhop, a maid . . . “

Emma paced the room. “This means that any time we go out, there could be reporters.”

“Well,” Killian quipped, struggling to keep the shit eating grin off his face and failing spectacularly, “don’t most newlyweds stay in the majority of the time? Doing more enjoyable activities rather than sightseeing?”

Emma rolled her eyes, but a faint blush colored her cheeks. “I’m not going to hide.”

“In that case,” Killian replied, pulling the cover off a plate of eggs benedict and bacon, “I’m going to enjoy the view with my breakfast.” 

He carried the plate, some silverware, and a tumbler of orange juice out onto the balcony. He breathed in the salty sea air and let the breeze wash over him. 

“Relaxed?” Emma asked sarcastically. Killian turned to see her leaning against the open sliding glass door with her arms cross.

“Aye,” he answered, taking a bite of the eggs benedict and moaning. He was exaggerating slightly to get a rise out of Emma, but they were delicious. “By the way, love, if paparazzi are around, you may not want to lounge about our balcony in naught but your bathrobe.”

Emma blushed as she wrapped her arms around herself. “Do you always talk like a character in a Jane Austen novel?”

He laughed as Emma scurried to get dressed. 

******************************************

Emma leaned over the bathroom sink to sweep some blush across her cheeks. She didn’t want to waste too much time primping; those eggs benedict looked amazing, and she didn’t want them to get cold. Yet Killian was right - a picture could be snapped anywhere, and she didn’t want to look pale and depressed She tossed aside her makeup brush, ran her fingers through her hair, and rushed back out to grab her breakfast. Before she could lift the cover on the second breakfast tray, her phone started to ring. She was so hungry, she almost ignored it, but at the last minute, she snatched it up. With the media all over her wedding, anything could go wrong. 

Walsh.

Panic flooded through Emma at his name on her cell phone screen, and her hand trembled as she took the call. 

“You married someone else?”

Emma clenched her teeth. “Why good morning to you too, Walsh. How is your day?”

“Don’t play coy with me, Emma. We break up, and the next morning I wake up to find your wedding day splashed all over the news?”

“You didn’t just break up with me, Walsh! You cheated on me! And you waited until our wedding day to tell me!”

“And that wedding was never anything more than a stunt for your career. I didn’t even have any say in it.”

“Oh really? So you didn’t get down on one knee and propose? I just imagined that?”

Walsh let out a long breath. “That was eight months ago. A lot has changed since then.”

“I’ll say,” Emma grumbled.

“Don’t put this all on me. I was always your dirty little secret. I couldn’t even tell anyone I was your boyfriend much less your fiance.”

“How dare you!” Emma’s voice had risen, but she didn’t care. “That was you , Walsh! You said you didn’t like that I had a blog or such a huge social media following. You said it made you nervous. You said people would violate your privacy and try to dig up dirt on our relationship. So we kept it secret - because it’s what you wanted. I was your dirty little secret, not the other way around.”

A sleepy, feminine voice came distantly through the phone. “Walsh? Who are you talking to? Come back to bed.”

Emma felt sick. She knew that voice.

“Zelena West? You cheated on me with that bitch?”

“Hey, don’t call her that,” Walsh snapped.

Emma rolled her eyes. Zelena West had overtly flirted with Walsh at every social function back in New York, yet Walsh had insisted constantly that the Broadway starlet was just his client, nothing more. Even worse, Zelena went out of her way to undermine Emma on social media, posting snarky tweets and YouTube videos contradicting Emma’s advice. As if a Broadway actress who slept her way into every role she ever had was qualified to give relationship advice. In Emma’s opinion, Zelena’s dating advice boiled down to “make your man happy with a fake ‘you’ and lots of sex.” Advice that basically took women backward about six decades. 

“Is everything okay?”

Emma whirled to see Killian in the doorway to the balcony, his forehead creased with worry. On the other end of the line, Walsh laughed sardonically.

“Sounds like you’re one to talk. You’re on our honeymoon with - what did TMZ call him? Swan’s sexy catch ?” Walsh laughed again. “I always wondered why that wedding arbor meant so much to you.”

“You don’t get to judge me!”

“The point is,” Walsh said, his voice turning serious, “we drifted apart as soon as you moved to Storybrooke. I’m a New Yorker through and through, Emma. That kind of life never would have been enough for me.’

Emma sank to the couch and was surprised when Killian sat down next to her and laid a hand comfortingly on her knee. “The thing is, Walsh, you should have told me all of this six months ago. I didn’t deserve what you did to me. I didn’t deserve your cheating or your lying.”

“Who’s lying now?”

The edge to his voice sent a chill down Emma’s spine and she glanced at Killian with a worried expression. He frowned and put an arm around her. Before this phone call, she would have pushed him away, but right now she appreciated the support. 

“Are you threatening me, Walsh?”

“Don’t worry, I won’t ruin your facade of a marriage. Lord knows I don’t want my name dragged through the mud when it all blows up in your face.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“The truth will come out eventually, Emma, and when it does, your career will be over.”

“Sounds like a threat to me.”

“It isn’t, I promise you. I love Zelena, and I just want a clean break so I can give what I have with her a chance.”

“A clean break? That’s what leaving me on our wedding day is to you?”

“I can admit that my timing was bad, but you promise you won’t interfere with my relationship with Zelena?”

Emma rubbed her forehead wearily. “I don’t give a shit what you do with Zelena. Just stay out of my life. Don’t call me again.”

She hung up without waiting for a reply and tossed her phone down angrily on the sofa. Killian rubbed at her shoulder hesitantly. 

“Anything I can do?”

Emma shook her head. “No.” Then she squared her shoulders and rose from the couch. “We have five days here in the Cape, and I intend to enjoy it.”

Killian smiled up at her. “That’s the spirit. How does the beach sound?”

“It sounds great,” she told him, struggling to put a brave smile on her face. Then she went back to the cart that held their breakfast. “But first - I’m starving!”

************************************************

Killian was glad that his swim trunks were roomier than his boxer briefs because Emma Swan made quite the picture lounging in a crimson string bikini. She’d been sunbathing for awhile on her back, and he’d thought that was a tantalizing picture, but his view now was just as delectable. She’d flipped over onto her stomach, propping herself up on her elbows to read a book. Her bikini bottoms hugged her ass just as well as the top hugged her breasts. It made his mouth dry thinking of how much he’d like to . . . he took a swig from a bottle of water then pressed the cool plastic to his forehead. 

“Grab me one?” Emma asked, rolling onto her side and slipping a bookmark into her novel. 

Killian pulled one out of the cooler provided by the resort. A wicker basket contained the remains of their lunch - sandwiches, grapes, slices of cheese, and gourmet pretzels. The honeymoon package at this resort was four star, and far nicer than anything Killian had experienced before. Yet Emma wasn’t pretentious in the least. He had learned enough about her over the past few months to know at least that much. She’d moved her life and her practice to Storybrooke because she wanted to really help people, not just cater to the elite in New York. Her therapy fees were a bargain, especially considering her level of education. She lived simply, and he wondered if it was a sacrifice so she could help more clients or just the way Emma Swan rolled. He looked forward to finding out.

He couldn’t really read Emma’s expression behind her sunglasses as she took the water from him, but he saw her lips curl up in a tiny smile. “What’s on your mind, Jones?”

He shook his head. “What?”

“If you stare at me any harder, you’re going to burn a whole in my head.”

He chuckled nervously. “Sorry, I was just thinking.”

She took a sip of water. “About what?”

“You.”

“Oh,” Emma said softly.

“I mean, if we’re going to be husband and wife for eight months to a year, we should at least get to know each other.”

Emma was quiet a beat longer than he was comfortable with, but she finally gave a firm nod. “Okay, that’s fair.”

“Of course, we can start with me.” He reached into the basket for a handful of grapes and popped one into his mouth. “So shoot. Ask me anything.”

Emma arched a brow. “Anything?”

“Aye. I’m an open book.” Just don’t ask me how I feel about you. The grape almost stuck in his throat going down. Why was he agreeing to this?

“Okay, then,” Emma took a deep breath, “can you tell me about your first wife? I mean, just what you’re comfortable sharing.”

She was afraid she’d overstepped as Killian fell silent, rolling a grape between two fingers, his gaze distant. Then he popped the grape in his mouth, chewed, swallowed, then began to speak in a low voice. 

“Her name was Milah. I was a senior at Bowdoin -”

“Whoa, whoa, wait,” Emma interrupted waving her hand around, “Bowdoin?”

Killian chuckled. “Didn’t expect a carpenter to be a college grad, did you?”

“Yes, I mean no, it’s just,” Emma blew a strand of hair off her forehead in frustration. “That came out wrong. Lots of small business owners have a degree, it’s just . . . Bowdoin?”

Killian nodded with a smug grin.

“Business major?”

“Double major in music and visual arts.”

Emma whistled. “Wow. No wonder your work is so beautiful.”

He scratched behind his ear, a tell Emma had already come to learn meant he was nervous or uncomfortable. “Thank you, Swan.”

“Bowdoin,” she repeated with a shake of her head.

“I know what you’re thinking. It’s expensive. I had scholarships. Two of them - one for art and one for music. It added up to a full ride, but I almost didn’t go.”

“What!”

Killian smiled wistfully. “Believe me, I know. I was young and impetuous. Thought I’d go into the navy, actually, but Liam talked sense into me.”

“He’s your brother?”

“Aye.”

They fell silent again, and Emma wondered if he’d change the subject, if all she’d get was a name and that he’d been a senior at Bowdoin when he met her. 

“She was a professor, and she was already married” he finally said, glancing at her sideways as if expecting her reaction to be negative. Little did he know the stuff she’d heard as a psychiatrist. She doubted anything could shock her anymore. When all she did was nod, he continued. “Her husband was controlling, verbally abusive, and much older than her. He was wealthy, and she’d let herself get caught up in the trappings of his life. I think my youth, my freedom, were what appealed to her in the beginning. But over time, I don’t think anyone ever understood me the way she did. We were married at the justice of the peace a week after I graduated, only a month after her divorce was final. It was quite the scandal.”

Killian winked at her, but she got the feeling it was a deflection. She looked down at the beach blanket she was lying on and traced the pattern with her finger. 

“What was she like?”

“Brilliant,” he sighed, “and vivacious. She didn’t take shit from anyone. Her husband must have been a right bastard to keep her under his thumb for so long.”

He hadn’t said a word about her looks, which surprised Emma. In her experience, it was the first thing men usually thought of when someone asked them to describe a woman. 

“What was she professor of?”

“Music theory. She was quite the composer. The piano was her instrument, and she also had a beautiful voice.”

“What do you play?” Emma scooted closer. She had never imagined him as musical, just as a sweaty man flexing his muscles in that shop of his. 

He smiled at her. “The guitar, but I haven’t played much since . . .”

Emma frowned. “Since she passed?”

Killian nodded. Emma scrambled up to sit cross legged on the beach blanket. The mood had gotten heavy, and she suddenly needed to lighten it. She still didn’t know how MIlah died, but perhaps now wasn’t the time. She grinned at Killian and poked him in the leg. 

“Okay, Jones. Your turn to ask a question.”

He rubbed at his chin as he regarded her intensely, and Emma had to force herself not to squirm under his gaze. When he finally chose his question, it took her completely by surprise.

“I told you I haven’t read your book, and despite our cover story, I’ve never followed you online either. So tell me, Swan. What exactly is your philosophy on romance?”

Relief and eagerness simultaneously coursed through her. On the one hand, she was relieved that it was a professional question rather than a personal one. On the other, she always got excited talking about her ideas regarding relationships. 

“Well, first of all, it’s not about romance, it’s about building solid relationships.”

“You don’t believe in romance?”

Emma shrugged. “There’s obvious biochemical reactions when we are attracted to someone.”

Killian leaned close. “I said romance, not attraction, love.”

Emma glared at him over the rim of her sunglasses as she shoved him playfully in the shoulder. “Okay, smart ass, but what I’m saying is that women in particular can get caught up in what you call romance and miss the reality of who the person they are dating actually is. Men are experts at playing on a woman’s emotions as well in order to get what they want. So step one is for a woman to watch out for those tricks, to understand the games men play so they won’t be duped.”

This was usually the part where men got defensive and started arguing with her, but Killian didn’t.

“What’s step two?”

“Well, step two is the compatibility quotient.”

“Ah, I see, like those algorithms dating sites use.”

Emma shook her head. “No. Those are questions to measure personality compatibility. I help women figure out what they want in a partner. Everything from their professional goals to family goals, even whether they are more an urbanite or suburbanite or like to live way out in the country.”

“Let me guess. There’s a chart.”

Emma huffed. “Are you making fun of me?”

Killian lifted both hands in surrender. “Not at all, Swan. Just a simple question.”

“Yes,” she admitted, “there’s a chart. And I always recommend that women review what it is they want both before and after each date. If the man they’re seeing doesn’t fit, even if it’s only the first date, they end it. Of course, there’s always the red flags to look for too.”

Killian nodded, and you could have knocked her over with a feather at the way he was mulling over her words. Most men were pissed at her by now. Even Walsh had been before she explained how he perfectly fit everything she had been looking for. 

Or so she had thought.

“Red flags are definitely important. Milah said there were several before she married Robert, but she’d been blinded by their whirlwind romance.”

“Not rushing into things, that’s important too.”

“Chapter?” Killian asked with a grin.

Emma grinned back. “Chapter four - Seriously Ladies, What’s the Rush?

“What’s the rush as in my groom just left me and I need a replacement in six hours rush?”

Emma groaned, even though a laugh bubbled out of her unbidden. “I don’t think I covered this scenario in my book.”

“Well, Swan, maybe this will be fodder for your third book.”

It wasn’t the first time he’d said that, and Emma sensed a tone of self-deprecation in his words even though it was worded as a joke. 

“So what do you think?” she asked.

“About your third book?”

Emma rolled her eyes. “No, about my theories.”

Killian was silent for a long time. He spread out on his side and propped himself up on his elbows so he was looking right up into her eyes. 

“I think it’s all rather clinical, to be honest. I don’t know that love can be boiled down to compatibility or goals in life. I think love is messy and always a risk. It upends your life so that it’s never the same.”

Emma usually got angry when men argued with her about her life’s work, but something about Killian’s voice softened his words. 

“I agree, and that’s just it. Women have to protect themselves from allowing their lives to be upended by the wrong person.”

Emma’s face burned as she realized what she was saying. Obviously, her life had been upended by the wrong person. How could she have missed the signs? 

“Milah would have liked you, Emma.”

Her eyes widened at Killian’s words and the soft smile upon his face. He could call her out; point out the very obvious failure she had been at her own relationship, but he didn’t. Another long, silent moment passed between them before Emma cleared her throat and started rummaging through the drawstring bag she’d brought along. She pulled out a bottle of sunscreen and started rubbing it into her skin. She had a tendency to burn, and she wasn’t about to spend the rest of their trip miserable and slathered in aloe vera. 

Killian sat up and drew closer, reaching around her for the sunscreen and lowering his lips to her ear. “Don’t look, but farther down the beach, behind that sand dune is a man with a camera. He doesn’t look like a tourist, and the camera’s trained on us, not the water.”

Emma froze. “What do we do?”

“Give him what he wants,” Killian answered. “A woman in love would ask the man in her life to do her back, right?”

Emma could only nod as she gathered her hair off her neck. Killian sat behind her and squirted sunscreen into his palm. The sunscreen was cold at first against her skin, but then the warmth of his hands had her muscles relaxing. His fingers were calloused, his touch firm yet gentle. She bit her lower lip as he worked the lotion into her shoulder, her neck, then her upper back. He slid his fingers beneath the straps of her bikini so he wouldn’t miss a spot, then massaged down her lower back, his thumb trailing along the waistband of her bikini bottoms. She hoped he didn’t feel the shiver that coursed through her. 

“Lie down.”

His lips brushed the shell of her ear, and she almost leaned back against him with a sigh before his words registered with her brain. 

“Excuse me?”

“Lie down. I’ll get the backs of your legs.”

Emma managed to nod and did as he asked, propping her chin on her crossed arms. He massaged the lotion into her thighs and then her calves with such delicious circles of his thumbs that she almost let out a moan. 

“Done,” he told her in a husky voice. 

Emma rolled over to find herself caged between his arms. “Thank you,” she managed to choke out, yet he didn’t move.

“Newlyweds would kiss right now, don’t you think?”

“Why? Is he still taking pictures?”

Killian leaned in closer and gently removed her sunglasses. “Probably.”

“Then I guess we should.”

“Should what?” his lips were so close now, she could hardly breathe. 

“Kiss,” she breathed. 

“Right,” his lips brushed hers, then he pressed them against hers firmly. She kissed him back, opening for him immediately. Her arms encircled his neck, bringing him down to her. He could have taken advantage of the situation, pressing his body to hers, exploring her barely clothed figure with his hands, but he didn’t. He rested on his side, slipping one hand beneath her head and caressing her upper arm with his other. When he pulled away, he stayed close, their breaths still mingling. 

“That was pretty good acting,” she told him with a shaky voice. 

“Right,” he said, rolling onto his back and flinging an arm over his eyes, “acting.”

Now Emma rolled over, caging him between her arms instead. “Hey,” she teased him, “I think we’ve put on a pretty convincing show. Now how about we get out into that water?”

Killian pulled his arm away from his face and squinted in the sun. “Race you to the water?”

“You’re on!”

Emma thought she had the advantage, considering their positions, until Killian grabbed her around the waist. She yelped as he deposited her right on her rear. He then took off for the water line as she scrambled to her feet. She could scarcely breathe, she was laughing so hard. 

Not the way she’d imagined this honeymoon twenty four hours ago, that was for sure. She’d expected to be holed up in her room watching rom coms and binge eating ice cream. Instead she was laughing on the beach with Killian Jones who just happened to be a damn good kisser. 

Chapter Text

“Okay, repeat it back to me,” Emma ordered him, turning sideways on the narrow bench on the resort’s veranda. She pulled her legs up like they used to teach in kindergarten - criss-cross applesauce, was that it? - and Killian marveled at how petite she was. If he tried that maneuver, he’d fall onto the deck. The cold remains of their brunch sat on the table nearby. At this time of day, they were the only one’s enjoying the veranda.  

“Are we quizzing each other now?”

Emma shook her head. “No, but we need to have our story straight.”

“So it is a quiz.”

Emma rolled her eyes and groaned. “Fine. It’s a quiz.”

“Can part of our relationship history be that I get a rise out of making you roll your eyes?”

Emma’s brows shot up to her hairline. “Do you?”

He couldn’t resist his smirk. “Maybe.”

Emma blushed even as she glared at him. “Repeat it, smart-ass.”

“I messaged you on Instagram, and you encouraged me to get out there and date again. I wasn’t sure where to meet people in Storybrooke, so I kept asking you -”

“Bugging me.”

Killian arched a brow at her. “I kept bugging you about the possibility of online dating, which we all know you are against. I bugged you so much, we started just talking about life in general, feelings got involved, and I asked if we could meet.”

Emma chewed on her lower lip. 

“What?”  he asked. “Did I get it wrong?”

“No, you didn’t, but the story still sounds all wrong. It is internet dating.”

Killian winced, knowing he was the one who had dug them into this hole with his stupid off-the-cuff answer to the Nolans. 

“Not really. You didn’t sign up for a dating app or put your profile out there or anything. I didn’t send you some creepy stalker dm.”

Emma laughed at that. 

“It was organic,” he summed up. 

She let out a breath. “It’ll do. I guess. Continue.”

She circled her hand in the air as she said it, and he bit back a chuckle at her bossiness. 

“You were against meeting at first, so we started texting, then talking on the phone, then Facetime.”

“And how long did that last?” Emma prompted like a strict school teacher.

“A month. Then I met you in New York.” Killian leaned into her personal space. “And what, Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong, was I doing in New York?”

“Did you just reference a Spin Doctor’s song?”

“I absolutely did. And for the record, that song is far superior to ‘Two Princes’ and deserves way more airplay.”

Emma tilted her head, and if he wasn’t mistaken, there was a glimmer of admiration in her eyes. “You really are a guitar nerd, aren’t you?”

“I never should have told you about the guitar thing.”

“I thought the point was to get to know each other enough to fool your brother.”

  “Point taken. Now quit stalling, Swan, and answer the question.”

“You were in New York to look at a new shipment from your exotic wood dealer which I cannot believe is a thing.”

“Of course it’s a thing!” Killian gasped, putting a hand to his heart in exaggerated fashion. “She had just gotten a shipment of Brazillian teak.”

“You remember the type of wood you looked at seven months ago?”

“You should have seen it, Swan! Dark, with the most beautiful streaks of this caramel color. I made Granny some benches for the diner patio with it. Best wood for outdoors.”

Emma slumped against the back of the bench and pretended to snore loudly. Killian reached out and poked her playfully in the stomach. She jerked away, laughing.

“In this fake relationship, do I also have to pretend to be fascinated by wood? Cause that might be a problem.”

Killian propped his chin on his hand and grinned. “Well, my brother’s never managed to muster any interest in horses, and that’s Elsa’s life.”

“Oh, so that’s Elsa! She runs Arendelle stables.”

“You’ve been?”

Emma shook her head vehemently this time. “Oh no, no way. David and Mary Margaret tried to get me to go riding, and I told them it’s never going to happen.”

“Ah, scared of horses?”

“I mean, the idea of riding them sounds nice, but the reality of them . . . they’re a lot bigger than you expect.”

“You sound like my brother. Elsa talked him into horseback riding once when they were dating, and let’s just say it was a disaster.”

“A disaster?”

“You know in movies when the girl’s horse gets out of control, and the dashing hero saves her?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, in this scenario Elsa was the dashing hero.”

Emma laughed. “Good for her.”

“So no worries, love. My family won’t expect you to be thrilled about wood.”

Emma fell silent for a moment, pulling her knees up to her chest. “Are we really doing this? I mean, is this really going to fool your family?”

Killian sighed and ran a hand over his face. “Honestly? I don’t know. Liam was pretty pissed on the phone.”

“Was he suspicious?”

Killian furrowed his brow. “I don’t think so, although he was shocked and hurt that he didn’t even know I was in a relationship.”

“You two are close?”

“Very. And to be honest, I haven’t gotten out much in the last few years.” Emma’s face fell, and he hurriedly squeezed her arm to reassure her. “Which is why we’re lining our story up with my trips to the Tiger Lily.”

“Why didn’t your brother ever suspect you were in a relationship with your wood dealer?”

“Probably because Tiger Lily prefers women.”

“Oh - wait, her name is actually Tiger Lily?”

“Aye. Her parents raised her on a commune in the Adirondacks.”

“Okay then,” Emma said with a slow nod of her head, “your wood dealer is a long time

friend raised in the forest by hippies. Should I be taking notes?”

“Maybe we should make a chart,” Killian teased with an arch of his brow.

Emma rolled her eyes and smacked him in the chest. Yes, getting her to roll her eyes was starting to be his favorite pastime. He cleared his throat, however, and looked at her intently.

“Can I ask you a serious question, Emma?”

She blinked rapidly, her expression suddenly much more guarded. “Does this have to do with faking this relationship?”

Killian let out a short breath. “Not exactly, but I’m trying to understand how easily you inserted me into this. I mean, no one knew Walsh?”

Emma’s gaze dropped to her lap. “I figured this would come up eventually.”

“It’s an understandable question, love. There wasn’t even a groom’s side to fill at the ceremony.”

“Walsh has no family. He was an only child, and his parents’ passed away suddenly when he was in law school.”

Killian arched a brow. “You telling me this guy had no friends?”

“He did,” she replied, a bit defensively, “mostly from work. He was in entertainment law. Most of his clients were Broadway performers.”

“Let me guess. Work was his life.”

Emma crossed her arms. Yes, definitely defensive. “He worked a lot, yes, but it was New York. I worked a lot, too. Both of us had high profile clients, and we just decided it would be too messy if our relationship was public.”

“Both of you decided?”

“Yes!”

“So you dated in secret?”

Emma rubbed her hands nervously on her thighs. She was wearing loose cotton shorts that accentuated her long legs, and he tried not to stare.  “No, we just . . . kept our private lives private. My blog and my social media following made him uncomfortable from the start; I mean, he’s not even on Facebook. Then my book came out, and it was a lot for Walsh to deal with. He said people would pick apart our relationship, and he was right.”

“What made you move to Storybrooke?”

“I had a roommate in college who was from coastal Maine. She used to invite me home with her on holidays, since I had no family.” Her gaze grew wistful and faraway. “It was just so . . . idyllic, you know? I always dreamed of living there someday.” She shook her head ruefully. “It probably sounds stupid.”

“Not at all. You were a success, so you finally got to live out your dream.”

“Anyways, I spent a two week vacation traveling up and down the coast of Maine and working on my second book. I found Storybrooke, rented Mary Margaret and David’s place during my brief stay, and . . . I don’t know, I guess you could say I fell in love with the place.”

“Did you make a chart first?” Killian teased with a wink. 

“Maybe I did, smart ass,” she teased right back.

He was about to ask her what Walsh thought of relocating to Storybrooke, but her phone rang before he could. 

“Ruby, what’s up?” 

Killian tried not to eavesdrop, but he couldn’t help watching Emma’s face as she rose and started to pace the veranda. Her hair was braided over one shoulder, and she fiddled with the end of it with her free hand. Elsa always did the same thing when she was nervous. Emma’s brow was furrowed, too. Then she turned her back to Killian, her shoulders hunched. Something was wrong. 

“Everything all right, love?” he asked after she hung up.

“No, it’s not,” Emma cried out as she sank back down onto the bench beside him. “Walsh was supposed to be handling our new rental. The loft was perfect for just me, but Wa- we wanted something a bit bigger after we were married. We found the perfect bungalow near the water, and Walsh said he was handling the paper work, but -”

“But he didn’t,” Killian finished for her. 

Emma groaned and put her face in her hands. “What are we going to do?”

“You still have the loft, don’t you?”

Emma shook her head. “I let the lease run out. All of my stuff was packed and put into storage by my staff the day of the wedding.”

“But David and Mary Margaret love you; they’ll understand.”

Emma yanked on her braid. “They would, but a new tenant is moving in as we speak.”

He smiled. “But the answer is obvious, Emma. We’re married, remember? You’ll just move in with me.”

Her mouth fell open. “Oh my God, how did I not think about where you were going to live? Everyone thinks we’re married!”

“Um, actually,” Killian corrected, scratching behind his ear, “we are married.”

Emma winced. “I know! We got married, and I didn’t even take ten minutes to figure out where the hell we were going to live!”

Killian grabbed both of her hands in his. “Breathe, Emma, it’s fine. My place is by the water, too. I think you’ll really like it. It’s not much bigger than the loft, really. It’s only one bedroom, but it’s a house.”  Although Killian was already beginning to see that material things were of little value to Emma Swan.

“One bedroom?”

“Yes, with a very comfortable couch in the living room.” 

Emma blushed pretilly, and he snatched up her phone. She reached for it, and he leaned back to keep her away from it. 

“What are you doing?”

“I’m calling your assistant and telling her to have your stuff moved into my place.”

“I can do it!”

Killian jumped up from his seat before Emma could make another grab for her phone. Despite her protests, there was a sparkle in her eyes. She reached for the phone again, and he turned quickly away from her as it began to ring.

“Emma?”

“No, this is Killian. Her husband?”

“Yes,” Ruby gushed, “I remember you.”

Emma made another lunge for her phone, and Killian raised his elbow just out of her reach. “Ruby, I would like you to have Emma’s things dropped off at my house. 110 Seaside Drive. The key is with the truck I left at the wedding venue. Can you do all of that for me?”

“Done.”

“Thank you, Ruby.”

“And can you tell Emma something for me?”

“Anything.”

“Tell her I told her so - she traded up.”

But Killian didn’t have to relay the message; he knew Emma heard Ruby clearly. It was written in the blush upon her cheeks.

******************************************

Emma couldn’t believe that four days had gone by so fast, but here they were, back at the wedding venue and transferring their luggage from their Uber to Killian’s truck. The honeymoon may not have been romantic, but it had been exactly what she’d needed under the circumstances: restful and low key. Killian had been perfectly content to let her sleep in, watch tv, or just read on their balcony. If he had insisted on being by her side or being entertained every second, she would have gone insane. Being holed up in their suite helped with the illusion that they were newlyweds, anyway. Of course, any time either of them wanted to go to the beach, stroll the quaint shops and restaurants, or hang out by the pool, they had to go together for the same reason: they were supposed to be newlyweds who were passionately in love. Even those times hadn’t been as awkward or stressful as Emma had expected. Talking to Killian was surprisingly easy, and he was fun to be around. Holding his hand or putting her arms around him felt strangely natural, and he didn’t repeat the kisses they’d shared at the beach unless they noticed press around. Luckily, once reporters had gotten the shots of them arriving on their wedding night and practically making out horizontally on the beach, they evidently felt they’d gotten plenty, and Emma rarely saw them again. 

That was also strangely disappointing. The lack of making out, not the reporters. The man could kiss, he was easy on the eyes, and Emma was only human. They’d have to kiss a little maybe to convince his family, but she doubted his brother wanted to see much more than that. 

Ugh, why was she even analyzing how often they would need to kiss? This was just a business arrangement, nothing more. She couldn’t afford to forget that.

Emma wasn’t surprised when Killian opened the passenger door of his truck for her. She’d already learned over the course of the past week that he was every bit the gentleman, despite his cocky flirting. When he got behind the wheel, he flashed a smile at her. 

“You ready?”

His expression was nervous, and she was sure hers mirrored the emotion. The proverbial honeymoon was over, and now they would be living together for an entire year. Emma had already made sure they were on the same page timeline wise. She could possibly spin her marriage failing at a year to her advantage. Six months, however, would be pushing it. 

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Emma replied, her own smile wavering. 

He started the truck and headed out onto the road. She had no idea where Killian lived, only that his house was by the water. They actually passed the cheery yellow bungalow that was supposed to be hers with Walsh, a “For Rent” sign still swinging out front. It was as if it were mocking her. Who was she kidding? Everything in her life was a mockery right now. Emma Swan, relationship expert, left at the altar by her cheating boyfriend. How had she missed the signs that she herself lectured others about?

“You alright, Swan?”

 “Oh nothing,” she bit out, “I’m just over here pissed at myself.”

To her surprise, Killian just hummed in response. “I know what that feels like.”

“It’s just . . . how could I not see it? How did I let this happen?”

“Now wait a second,” Killian interrupted her vehemently, “that bastard cheating on you is not something that you let happen.”

“I know,” Emma muttered, “it’s just . . . I should have realized when he was always busy at work. I guess it was just too easy to drift apart once I moved here.”

Killian gripped the steering wheel tighter and shook his head. “Still sounds like you’re taking too much of the blame here, Emma.”

Emma straightened up in her seat. “No, I am not taking the blame. He cheated, and that’s on him. I guess I’m beating myself up for not figuring it out, that’s all. I feel like I’m smarter than that.”

“It’s easy on the other side of things, hindsight being twenty-twenty and all of that.”

“I guess you’re right.”

Silence fell between them, and Emma noticed that they were turning onto Seaside Drive. She leaned forward in her seat a tiny bit, simultaneously eager and nervous about seeing Killian’s place. The paved road turned to gravel and then sloped down where it dead-ended. Straight ahead was a light blue, one story cape-cod style home with a clapboard roof, white shutters, and a wrap-around porch. Slightly to the left and farther down the hill was a larger two-story home. It was darker blue with white trim, and an old-fashioned widow’s walk lined the roof of the second floor. The two houses were so close, they almost looked like one property. Several people were walking up the hill from the large house, waving.

“Oh shit,” Killian muttered as he parked in front of the small cape-cod. 

“Um, what’s wrong?”

Killian clenched his jaw as he opened his door. “It’s my family. They can’t give us five minutes . . .”

Emma hurried out of the truck as Killian approached the small crowd. An exuberant red-head threw herself into Killian’s arms, squealing loudly. Her gaze landed on Emma and she relinquished her hold on Killian to embrace Emma.

“Oh my God, oh my God,” she gushed, “I’m just so happy, I can’t stand it. I’ve wanted Killian to find love again, and now he has you, and you’re sooo pretty. I mean, not that you aren’t smart too, because you totally are, and I read everything on your blog. This is just so wonderful!”

“Thanks,” Emma said weakly as the other woman finally released her, “and you must be Anna?”

“Oh, oops, probably should have said that first,” she grimaced slightly, though it did nothing to mar her smile, “let me start over. I’m Anna, Killian’s sister-in-law. Well, sort of.”

The red head took a step back as her hands landed protectively on the prominent baby bump beneath her t-shirt. A man with sandy colored hair came up beside her, extending a hand to Emma.

“And I’m Kristoff, Anna’s husband.”

“Nice to meet you,” Emma said, already feeling overwhelmed. She glanced over where a man with light brown, curly hair had Killian clasped by the shoulders, his face creased with concern. She assumed that must be Liam, the elder Jones. At his elbow was a woman with light blonde hair twisted into a french braid. 

Anna tugged Emma by the elbow. “Let me introduce you to my sister. Elsa, this is Emma. Emma, Elsa.”

Elsa smiled serenely and held out a slender hand for Emma to take. Her calm was in direct contrast to her sister. 

“It’s so nice to meet you, Emma.”

All Emma could do was nod, feeling suddenly claustrophobic, even though they were outside. Killian finally turned and looked her way with a sheepish expression. Though she knew it was rude, Emma couldn’t help the words that tumbled from her mouth.

“You live with your entire family?”

“Er,” Killian chuckled half-heartedly, palming the back of his neck, “next door, technically.”

Emma glanced between the two houses. “Very closely.”

“Emma,” Liam said, a slight edge to his voice as he held out his hand.
“Liam,” Emma replied tersely, taking his hand.

“We were very disappointed to hear we had missed the wedding.”

“Liam,” Elsa told her husband in a warning tone.

“I’m just expressing how much we would have loved to be there,” Liam countered, turning to Elsa. She simply arched both brows in unspoken communication. 

“I’m so excited that we get to plan another ceremony, though,” Anna piped up. “I love planning parties, and I can help you with anything you want, just say the word.”

“Oh . . . “ Emma trailed off, “that . . . will be great.”

“Don’t take on too much, babe,” Kristoff said, “the baby’s due soon.”

Anna rolled her eyes. “Two months is not soon.

“We don’t have to have the family wedding right away,” Emma hurried to put in. Two months? The last thing she wanted to do was plan another ceremony any time soon. And based on Anna’s gushing, she was wanting to make a big event of it.

“The main reason we came over,” Elsa interrupted, “was to invite you to dinner. I made a huge pot of clam chowder -”

“-and I made my famous chocolate pie-,” Anna added. 

“- so please come join us,” Elsa spoke so smoothly around her sister’s interruption, Emma wondered if talking as one was a regular thing for them.

To her utter relief, Killian came up beside her and put his arm around her. “I’m sorry, Elsa, that’s sweet of you, but we’re exhausted from traveling and just want to rest and get settled in.”

He brushed a kiss to Emma’s temple after speaking, and she noticed Liam’s intense gaze upon her. What was his problem? She turned her face up to Killian and made a show of pressing a kiss to his cheek in return, punctuating it with the most adoring smile she could muster. 

“Perhaps tomorrow night?” Liam asked. “And we can hear all about this whirlwind romance.”

“What do you think, love?” Killian asked her, completely ignoring the edge of sarcasm in his brother’s voice.

“Sounds wonderful,” she replied cheerily, eagerly accepting the kiss he brushed against her lips. If Liam wanted them to pass some sort of test, she’d give him a damn good show. 

“Come on Liam,” Elsa said, laughing lightly, “they’re newlyweds, remember?” She turned to Emma and Killian. “You’re always welcome, but no pressure, okay?”

Emma returned her smile with a genuine one of her own. She already felt a kinship to Elsa, maybe because she was trying so hard to soften her husband’s attempts at interrogation. Everyone nodded in agreement and said their goodbyes. After they turned and headed back down the hill to the large house, Emma followed Killian to his own front door. As he turned the key in the lock, she addressed him with thinly veiled frustration.

“You didn’t think to warn me that you practically live with your family?”

The look he gave her was one of genuine confusion. “What are you talking about? I have my own place.”

Emma’s brows rose incredulously as she motioned back in the direction of his brother’s house. “Barely! Are they over here constantly?”

“Of course not,” he told her softly, reaching over to take her hands in his.

She narrowed her eyes. “Are you over there a lot?”

He averted his gaze, and that told her everything she needed to know. 

“But that’s only because I’ve been living alone,” he hurriedly assured her, “you’re here now.”

She shook her head. “It’s not that, Killian. We may be legally married, but we aren’t a couple. I don’t care how often you hang out with your family. It’s just . . . don’t you see how this is going to make things ten times harder? We have to make this marriage look real with your family right on top of us!”

He shrugged. “Is there really a choice here?”

She blew out an exasperated breath, mainly because he was right. He cocked his head at her and gave her the most pitiful puppy dog look she’d ever seen. 

“Are you mad at me already, wife?”

She rolled her eyes. “God, you are exasperating!”

He swiped his tongue across his lower lip. “So I’ve been told. Now, are you ready to see the place?”

Emma simply nodded as she followed him inside. He flipped on the lights, but it wasn’t really necessary. Natural light flooded in from picture windows lining the back of the house. Exposed beams on the ceiling separated the kitchen from the living area.  It was small, just as Killian had warned her, but the interior had obviously been updated to an open floor plan, and the small eat-in kitchen had brand new appliances. In one corner, facing the windows, her treadmill had already been set up. The rest of her boxes from storage lined the far wall of the living area next to the tv. Yet the thing that Emma noticed the most was -

“It’s so . . . neat.”

Killian laughed as he walked past her to adjust the thermostat. “That’s all you have to say?”  He gestured towards Emma’s stack of boxes. “I knew you weren’t big on material things.”

“Oh, yeah,” she shrugged, “well it makes it easier when the time comes to move on . . . anyways, this place is nice, Killian. Really.”

He winked at her. “I’ll give you the grand tour. I think this area here is pretty self-explanatory,” he began, making a large sweeping motion with his hand, “but the best feature is through the kitchen.” 

Emma followed him, giving the kitchen an only cursory glance. She hoped he didn’t expect her to cook or anything. On the other side of the kitchen was the back door, and when he opened it, Emma’s breath caught. It wasn’t the spacious deck or the adirondack chairs (that he most likely made himself), however. It was the salty smell of the ocean that hit her nostrils, the cry of seagulls, the surf pounding the shore, and the breathtaking view.

“It’s . . . it’s . . . “

“I know,” Killian said simply. 

She turned to take in his profile and the way the ocean breeze blew his thick, dark hair across his forehead.  She imagined him coming with a realtor to look at this place, striding through the one thousand square foot home and barely seeing it, then stepping out on this deck and proclaiming, “I’ll take it.” She’d have to ask him about it one day. 

And why he lived a stone’s throw from his brother. There was also that. 

“Come on, Swan, let me show you the bedroom.”

She followed him down a short hallway that almost couldn’t even be considered a hallway and into a room just behind the kitchen. Like the rest of the cottage, it was minimalist in its decor, yet impeccably neat. She thought about warning him that she could be a little messy, but she figured he’d figure that out pretty quickly on his own. The room’s one window had the same view as the living room and back deck, and the bed was situated so that its occupant could lie in bed and take it all in when the curtains were open. 

Killian scratched behind his ear as he gestured to a door across from the bed. “I’m afraid there’s only one bathroom, and it’s small.”

Emma grinned, “Like everything else?”

He laughed, albeit nervously. “Aye.”

She opened the door and glanced at a stall shower with a glass door, a pedestal sink, and a toilet crammed into the tiny space. 

“It’s fine,” she told him honestly as she shut the door, “you should see the bathrooms in New York.”

He nodded, and she hated the sudden awkwardness that had stolen over them both. “Well, um . . . I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty beat. Are you hungry?”

Emma rocked on her heels. “Nope. I had that hamburger on the road, so I think I’ll just take a quick shower and head to bed.”

“Good, good . . . I’ll probably take one myself when you’re finished.”

“It’s your house, Killian.”

“It’s yours now too, love.”

Emma shrugged. “Not technically. Your name’s on the deed, right?”

Killian stepped closer to her, an intense look filling his too-blue eyes. “This is your home, Emma, for as long as you want it. Please know that.”

Emma swallowed a sudden lump in her throat and could only nod. His eyes darted to her lips, and she suddenly had the overwhelming desire to kiss him. She wouldn’t, but if he kissed her, she wouldn’t stop him. It would just be a kiss. A simple kiss between two mature adults. No big deal. They both swayed in each other’s space, but then Killian took a sudden step backwards. 

“Towels are in the cabinet above the toilet,” he told her abruptly. “I’ll probably watch tv or something while I eat, so no need to rush.”

Her mouth dropped open, but before she could reply, he was stepping out of the room. He shut the door softly behind him, and for a moment Emma was rooted to the spot. She shook her head when she heard the tv come on in the living room. It had been a confusing, mentally exhausting day. She just needed to lose herself in the warm spray of the shower and let the oblivion of sleep erase her nerves. 

Later, skin pink from the hot water and hair damp, she lay beneath the cool covers on Killian’s - her - bed. She already had the lights off, but she was wide awake. Out of the window, she could hear the soothing sounds of the ocean, and from the living room she could hear the muted sounds of the tv. She’d been lying there for over an hour now, based on the digital clock on the nightstand, but she found she couldn’t sleep knowing Killian would be coming in soon to take a shower. What the hell was he watching? She’d assumed, like most men, he’d mindlessly watch some ESPN for half an hour, but based on the sounds she heard, he was watching some fantasy adventure or something. She could make out the sounds of swords clanging, shouts of battle, and the neighing of horses. What was he doing - watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy to ensure they wouldn’t bump into each other in what used to be his bedroom? It wasn’t as if they hadn’t shared a bathroom on the honeymoon. 

So why are you lying here staring at the ceiling, Emma? asked her traitorous brain. Emma grunted and rolled over, punching the pillow in frustration. Suddenly, the living room was plunged into silence. She glanced over her shoulder and saw the light under the door crack disappear. Then she heard footsteps approach the door. Emma quickly looked away and forced herself to relax, forced her breaths to even out as she closed her eyes and pretended to be asleep. She heard him tiptoe across the floor, then rummage around in a drawer at the foot of the bed. Then the bathroom door was shutting softly, and soon after she heard the water running. 

Emma let out a breath of relief. She didn’t know how long he would be in the shower, but she at least had a bit of reprieve from the awkward situation. She’d feel better though once he was out of the room completely. She’d feel even better when they both got used to this strange arrangement and the tension between them dissipated.

Emma thought she wouldn’t be able to fall asleep until she was alone for the night, but between the droning sound of the running water, and the pounding of the surf outside the window, she drifted off. Her last conscious thought was the memory of the look in Killian’s eyes when he’d said, “This is your home, Emma, for as long as you want it.”









Chapter Text

Emma hadn’t expected to sleep well her first night in a new place, so she was surprised when she blinked her eyes open and stretched to see the sun streaming through the window and the digital clock on the nightstand reading a little past 8 am. It was a bit early for her to wake up naturally without an alarm, but she had slept deeply through the night, and she wasn’t used to such a sunny bedroom. She rolled out of bed, went to the bathroom, and then threw her hair up into a messy bun. She contemplated her options. She felt like a visitor, but if she was going to live here for a year, she had to get over that. What would she do on a normal Sunday morning? Well, first she’d make herself a cup of coffee, so she nodded at her reflection in the mirror as if to psych herself up. For what, she wasn’t sure. She just never liked this feeling of newness, this feeling of trying to insert herself into an already established routine. It reminded her far too much of her childhood. 

Well, standing there staring at her own reflection wasn’t going to change anything, so she shuffled out of her room, still not fully awake. A yawn cracked her jaw as she entered the kitchen. It was empty. The entire living area was empty, too. The couch looked like it hadn’t even been slept on. She sighed with relief as she filled the coffee pot with water. Maybe he’d gone into his shop or made a quick trip to the store for something they were low on. Whatever the reason for the empty house, it put her at ease. 

She was just pouring her coffee when the back door flew open, and a flash of gold fur came flying towards her accompanied by loud barking. She yelped and almost spilled her coffee as a golden retriever shoved his nose into her thigh and licked at her elbow. 

“You have a . . . “ but her voice trailed off as she looked up and saw Killian standing in the doorway. Shirtless. She knew her mouth fell open at the sight of him. It was all that chest hair for one, plus the perspiration that glistened on his skin. The June sun had bronzed him, and his chest heaved with every breath he took. His hair was a mess and slightly damp with sweat. The last shouldn’t have been sexy, but it was. Emma shook her head to dislodge the thought stuck inside. “A dog. You have a dog?”

Killian winced. “Guess I should have mentioned that, huh? Are you allergic?”

“No . . . “ Emma trailed off, awkwardly patting the golden retriever’s head. “I’ve just never had a pet, that’s all.”

The dog shook his head and then licked her hand, his tail wagging. Emma couldn’t hold back her grimace as she wiped the slobber off onto her shorts. 

“Smee!” Killian scolded. He grabbed the dog by the collar and pulled him to his side. “Sit!”

The dog obediently plopped onto his haunches, though his tail beat an excited rhythm on the floor as he continued to watch Emma. 

“Smee? As in Peter Pan ?” 

“Aye,” Killian answered as he got down on his knee beside the dog and began to scratch behind his ears. The dog’s eyes slid closed with obvious pleasure. “He’s my first mate. Aren’t you, boy?”

Emma smiled despite herself. As long as Killian took care of the dog and cleaned up after him, she figured it would be okay. He obviously kept the place spotless. Plus, what was she going to do, demand he get rid of a dog he clearly adored for the sake of their temporary, fake marriage? 

Killian stood and retrieved a dog bowl from the kitchen’s tiny pantry. He scooped some dry dog food out of a plastic bin under the sink, then set it down by the back door for the dog, who was already slurping water out of a matching dish. She’d somehow missed the bowl and the mat it rested upon. Snoopy was emblazoned across it, the cartoon character’s nose in a dog dish and the word “Suppertime!” printed in cheery letters. 

“Nice dog mat.”

Killian chuckled and scratched behind his ear. “Um, that was a gift from Anna last Christmas. She thought it was funny.”

“I see,” Emma nodded, taking another sip of her coffee and trying to look anywhere but at his abs. 

“Um . . . so . . . if it’s okay, I was going to shower -”

“Oh, well . . . yeah. That's fine, just . . . could I change real quick first? I was going to get a run in, too.”

“Sure,” he told her with a nod.

Emma set her coffee mug down on the counter and headed for the bedroom. How long would it be this awkward? She fished a pair of Under Armour shorts with a sports bra to match from the suitcase that she had slid under the bed the night before. She’d packed extra clothes, thank God, knowing that they wouldn’t feel like unpacking right away. They, as in she and Walsh. She was supposed to be waking up in that yellow bungalow with Walsh. She pushed the thought from her mind as she pulled the sports bra over her head, grunting like she always did as she started to maneuver the tight fabric over her boobs - never an easy task. She flushed as she imagined the possibility of Killian walking in on her accidentally. One boob stuffed into spandex while the other hung free, her arms twisted in bra straps wasn’t the way she wanted him to see her in a state of undress. 

Not that she wanted him to see her undressed. It was just inevitable, right? Living together in this tiny house for an entire year?

Or maybe she’d watched too many rom-coms. 

When she returned to the kitchen, Killian was leaning against the counter guzzling a bottle of water. He was still shirtless. 

What did he think this was? A photo shoot for GQ ? The words “put a damn shirt on” were on the tip of her tongue, but she swallowed them back. She ignored him and reached around him to retrieve an empty water bottle from the cabinet he’d shown her yesterday. As she did, she glanced in the sink and saw her coffee mug empty, washed, and upside down on the drying rack. 

“You threw out my coffee?”

He blinked as he swallowed more of his water. “Aye, it was left out on the counter.”

“I wasn’t finished with it!”

“You said you were going for a run!”

“So?”

“So, it would have been cold. Unless you plan on drinking coffee while running.”

Emma rolled her eyes. “I know both those things. I would have warmed it up in the microwave later.”

He wrinkled his nose. “That’s disgusting.”

Emma narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest. “Well, not to me, so in the future could you please leave my coffee alone?”

His brows rose. “And just how long is your coffee off limits? Until lunch? All day? Until mold starts to grow?”

“Until I say so!” she snapped and whirled away from him and his stupid neat freak tendencies and his stupid animated eybrows and stupid blue eyes and stupid sexy chest hair. She practically stomped over to her treadmill, not caring that she was being slightly immature. 

“You’re running there ?”

Emma groaned. “So you’re not only a coffee expert, but a running expert too?” 

He sauntered over - still no shirt - and inclined his head out the window before them. “I just don’t see why you would use that contraption when you’ve got this gorgeous beach.”

She gritted her teeth as she punched in the settings for her run. “Sand is bad for your ankles and knees.”

“Not if you run right at the water’s edge.”

The machine started her warm up, and Emma began to jog. “Then my shoes get wet.”

Killian leaned against the handrail of her treadmill and gave her his stupidly cocky grin. “What’s wrong with getting a little wet?” 

Then his stupid tongue darted across his lips. Emma jerked her gaze away as she hit her stride. She refused to react to his innuendo. He pushed away from the treadmill and began to walk away, but then he threw one last comment over his shoulder.

“I bet I’ll get you running on that beach before long, Swan.”

“Doubtful,” she bit out.

Stupid, stupid man.

**********************************************

Killian drew his arm back then tossed the stick across the beach. Smee barked happily as he chased after it. Killian sighed as he watched the dog chase the stick, reviewing his argument with Emma in his head once again. 

He was a neat freak, he knew this about himself. He and Milah had even gotten into arguments because of it. Why did he have to make a federal case out of Emma’s coffee? Washing out the mug was something he had honestly done on autopilot. Too many years of living alone, he supposed. When Emma brought it up, he should have apologized, but he was also a stubborn man. Something about that flash of anger in her eyes riled him up, and honestly, seeing her so vexed at him had been a major turn on. Fighting over coffee felt so domestic, like something a real married couple would do. 

So he’d picked a fight. Picked a fight and then audaciously flirted, knowing it would get her hackles up all the more.

Smee was back with the stick, and Killian took it and praised the dog. Smee began to jump around eagerly and bark, clearly not finished with the game, so Killian threw it again. 

After he’d gotten out of the shower, trimmed his beard, and dressed, he’d gone back out into the kitchen to make amends with her.  Emma, however, had breezed past him saying she needed a shower, too. She’d left a second cup of coffee on the countertop, but he wasn’t foolish enough to spar with her a second time. She’d also left a dirty plate covered in toast crumbs on the kitchen table and a knife smeared with jelly balanced on the edge of the sink. Why did people do that? Kristoff did the same thing, and it was driving Liam insane. “Just in case I want another sandwich” - that had been Kristoff’s explanation. Killian wondered what Emma’s excuse was. He’d steered clear of her coffee, as she’d requested, but he’d cleaned the plate and knife. He’d tried to sit down with his own coffee and a book, but it felt as if the running water of Emma’s shower was echoing through the house. He had to get out.

He usually enjoyed Sundays, but today the hours of leisure stretched ahead of him filled with him and Emma awkwardly dancing around one another. 

After Smee retrieved the stick, something distracted him, and he swerved to Killian’s left. The dog dropped the stick and started to bark happily. Killian turned to see what had him so excited. Emma was coming down the steps of the back porch. 

She was dressed in navy shorts and a white peasant blouse. Her hair was plaited loosely over one shoulder, and the wind blew strands of it becomingly across her face. She would be the picture of weekend relaxation if not for the tense way she hugged her arms across her middle or the slight hunch of her shoulders. She ignored the dog bouncing around her for attention, and came to an abrupt stop at the end of the crushed seashell path. He jogged across the dunes towards her.

“What’s this doing here?” she asked once he was within earshot. Her eyes had gone wide, her lips rigid, as she pointed at the arch just above her head. 

“Well,” he answered, shoving both hands in the pockets of his shorts, “your people had it brought over with everything else. I guess this is where they were told to put it.”

He bit back his temptation to give the word “people” sarcastic bite. Emma groaned and rubbed at her temple.

“I forgot. You’re right, I told them to put it in our backyard.”

Killian nodded as he rocked back on his heels. “You just didn’t expect it to be this back yard.”

Emma actually winced and looked apologetic. “I’m so sorry, Killian. I just snapped your head off for something that isn’t even your fault. It’s just seeing this arbor -”

“No need to explain,” he quickly cut in. As much as she drove him crazy at times, and was even downright rude, he had to remember that her world had been thrown completely off kilter. None of this was easy. 

Her shoulders finally relaxed, and she gave him a tentative smile. She tilted her head up to look at the wedding arbor, then she rested her hand gently upon one of the swans he had painstakingly carved.

“It’s so beautiful,” she told him softly. Her hand stilled, and she turned to look him directly in the eye. “I never thanked you for the time you spent on this.”

He stepped closer, resting his hand opposite hers and leaning forward. “It was my pleasure.”

She ducked her head and fiddled with her braid for a moment before lifting her gaze confidently to him once again. “I came out here to ask what you were doing for lunch.”

He rubbed the back of his neck. “You know, I hadn’t given it much thought.”

“Well,” she said, shuffling her feet back and forth, “I was making myself a sandwich with the stuff left over from the honeym - from the trip - and I thought you might be hungry too, so . . . “ She blew a strand of hair out of her face with a slight grunt of annoyance. “Look, I can’t cook much besides scrambled eggs and pancakes, but I do know how to slap a sandwich together. It’s on the back porch if you want it.”

And with that, she turned on her heel and headed straight back from whence she came, Smee bounding behind her. Killian shook his head, feeling like he almost had whiplash from the mercurial Emma Swan. She was as mysterious as the sea - still as glass one moment and volatile the next. 

And God help him, he loved the ride. 

Chapter Text

Emma didn’t know why she was staring at him as he took a bite of the sandwich she’d made. It was just turkey meat from the deli with a slice of cheese and a piece of lettuce between two slices of bread slathered with mustard. Kind of hard to go wrong there. Except . . . well, people usually had a specific sandwich order, right? Like everyone took coffee a certain way or had a way they liked their eggs. Or at least, that was Richard Grere’s theory in Runaway Bride

  She had to stop with these rom-com cliches. 

“I didn’t know how you like your sandwich,” she finally admitted, popping a chip in her mouth.

Killian swallowed and then wiped at the corner of his mouth with a napkin.

“We had those sandwiches on the hon - er, the trip.”

Would either of them ever be able to refer to “the trip” as their honeymoon? 

Emma shrugged. “Yeah, but they were just generic and then all the condiments and stuff were on the side.”

Killian nodded and leaned back in his chair, regarding her with that infuriating grin of his. “I like it just this way.”

Emma narrowed her eyes at him. “You’re lying.”

He leaned forward. “Fair. Okay, you got it all right except I would have added pickles.”

Emma leaned forward as well, mimicking his serious expression. “What kind? Dill? Sweet? Gherkin?”

“Does it matter?”

Emma gasped and reared back. “Does it matter ? Killian Jones, I don’t think we can be married if you think the kind of pickle doesn’t matter.”

He chuckled as he picked his sandwich back up. “Bread and butter.”

Emma nodded as she picked up hers. 

“You, Swan?”

“Dill. There is no other kind of pickle.”

Killian arched a brow. “Agree to disagree?”

She gave him a dramatic nod as she “clinked” her sandwich with his. “As long as we keep both stocked in the pantry.”

“Done.”

They ate in silence for a few more minutes, until Emma noticed that Killian was fidgeting. He kept glancing from his phone, which sat on the patio table, then at her, then back again. He also began drumming his finger on the table while practically glaring at his phone.

“If you stare at that any harder, you’re going to burn a hole in it.”

“Hm?” he asked, gaze snapping back to her. 

She gestured with her chin as she chewed and swallowed a bite of her sandwich. “Your phone. You keep staring at it.”

“Oh,” he chuckled nervously, picking up the object in question and clenching his jaw as he pressed his thumb to the screen, “it’s this text I got earlier. Elsa made a huge pot of that chowder last night, and she’s rather adamant that we join them for dinner tonight.”

Emma’s eyebrows rose. “ Rather adamant ?”

“Aye,” Killian answered apologetically as he palmed at the back of his neck. 

Emma set her sandwich down and propped her elbows on the table. “You think we should go.”

He shrugged. “Well, we can’t avoid it forever, and the longer we wait, the more suspicious it will seem.”

“Hmm,” she mused, propping her chin in one hand, “or, they might assume that - like most newlyweds - we’re over here fucking our brains out all day long.”

Killian blinked rapidly, his face growing red. She found his discomfort at times incredibly amusing, especially considering the shameless way he had always flirted with her in the past. He stuttered for a moment, cleared his throat a few times, then found his voice. 

“Well they’re my family, you see, and I know they won’t be put off for long. Liam’s already suspicious, I can tell, and then there’s the chowder -”

“Your sister-in-law is really hung up on this chowder, isn’t she?”

He spread his hands in front of him innocently. “What can I say? She’s won the blue ribbon three years running at the Storybrooke Crab Festival.”

Emma snorted out a laugh that died when she realized Killian wasn’t laughing. “Wait - are you serious?”

“About the blue ribbon part or the crab festival part?”

She shook her head. “I know about the crab festival, I remember it from last year. I just didn’t know there was a chowder competition.”

“We Mainers are very serious about our clam chowder, love.”

She barked out another laugh as he waggled his eyebrows at her, then she sighed. “Sure, dinner is fine. I mean, I do love clam chowder.”

************************************************

Emma wasn’t sure what she’d been expecting when she agreed to dinner with Killian’s family, but this casual setting sure wasn’t it. Liam had lit the fire pit in their backyard which, like Killian’s, felt more like an extension of the beach. Everyone served themselves, then carried their bowls of chowder down the steps of the back deck. Cans of beer and softdrinks were crammed into coolers filled with ice, and a patio table nearby was spread with the fixings for s’mores later. It was more of a casual, beachside get together than a family dinner, and it made Emma feel much more at ease. Elsa and Anna were at her side from the beginning. Anna peppered her with questions, but Elsa was more quiet. Yet something about Elsa’s gentle smiles made Emma feel welcome.

“So,” Anna said as a grunt passed her lips. She wavered halfway down into a beach chair and began frantically waving for her husband. He rushed over and helped her heavily pregnant form down onto the seat. “As I was saying,” she chuckled, brushing strands of red hair out of her face, “how did you two manage this without any of us finding out?”

“Yes,” Liam quickly put in from across the fire pit, “I’ve been wondering the same.” 

Emma caught Killian’s eye, and he quickly answered his brother for both of them. “Well, until a few months ago, as you all know, Emma lived in New York City. After months of chatting online, she agreed for me to meet her there.” He crossed the lawn to come stand at her side and put an arm around her. “The rest, as they say, is history.”

“That still doesn’t explain why you never once mentioned her,” Liam commented before taking a sip of the beer in his hand. 

“Emma’s in the public eye, Liam,” Killian quickly explained before Emma could even open her mouth. “We didn’t think it would be a good idea. There would be way too much scrutiny on us.”

We would never scrutinize you!” Kristoff insisted. 

“Exactly,” Liam agreed.

“Yeah right,” Killian muttered into the mouth of his beer bottle before taking a swig. Only Emma heard him, and she pressed her face into his shoulder to muffle her laughter. 

“And we would have kept it quiet,” Liam added.

Emma felt like she couldn’t put all this on Killian, so she jumped in. “Well we took it slow at first. We didn’t even want any of you to know, just in case nothing came of it. But then -”

“It was kind of exciting sneaking around,” Killian finished for her cheekily. He then surprised her by claiming her lips. It was a quick kiss, but far from chaste. She could taste the beer on his tongue as he swiped it quickly against hers. When he pulled away, she had to blink to get her bearings. 

“You two are adorable!” Anna sighed. 

“I don’t remember you driving to New York any more than usual in the past couple of years.” Liam had set down his beer and was crossing his arms as he narrowed his eyes at them. 

“Oh Liam, stop,” Elsa admonished, smacking her husband in the arm, “they aren’t on trial here.”

“I’m just trying to understand how my brother fell in love, got engaged, then had a huge spectacle of a wedding without including any of us.”

“About that,” Emma said, clearing her throat, “we were wondering if 4th of July would work for the family ceremony. Killian said you all have a huge party that day anyway.”

“That sounds fantastic!” Anna cheered. “How can we help?”

Emma shrugged. “Honestly, I am so tapped out with planning one wedding, you can have free reign on this one.”

“Did you hear that, Elsa?” Anna asked, twisting in her chair to look at her sister. 

Elsa laughed. “Emma, you may regret telling my sister that.”

“You never answered my question, you know,” Liam said stubbornly. “I don’t remember that many trips to the city.”

“Bloody hell, Liam!” Killian cried out. “I took the boat, if you must know. Elsa’s right, you’re acting like we’re on trial.”

“You like boating, Emma?” Liam asked. 

“Uh, yeah, Killian got me hooked on it.” Emma’s head pounded as the lie slipped off her tongue. She hoped Liam didn’t start quizzing her on nautical terms or something. In actuality, the only boat she’d ever been on was one of those you paddled with your feet at that carnival Sarah took her to when she was fourteen. She’d never even taken the ferry in New York.

“Then we need to all go out on the Jewel sometime!”

Emma looked quizzically at Killian. “ The Jewel ?”


“Aye love, that’s Liam’s boat. It’s a bit bigger than The Jolly Roger.” He leaned over as if to brush a kiss to her cheek, but instead turned his head to whisper in her ear. “The Jolly is mine.”

“Oh,” she said with a nod, “that sounds . . . fun.”

With bright eyes, Liam raised his beer bottle in salute. “It’s a date then!”

Emma faked a smile before taking a huge gulp of her beer. How many lies were going to pile up before this marriage blew up in their faces? 

Chapter Text

Emma and Killian both had thought that life would slow down once they were back from the honeymoon, and it most ways, it had. The past week they had fallen into a comfortable routine. Killian woke first, tidied up the sofa where he had slept, then went for a run with Smee at his heels. While he was gone, Emma woke, made the coffee, and filled Smee’s bowl with kibble. Emma had her run on the treadmill while Killian showered, then he made breakfast while she showered. This kept Emma from leaving dirty knives poised on the edge of the sink, and gave Killian an opportunity to put her half-finished coffee in a travel mug. 

Emma then raced out the door after snatching her breakfast out of Killian’s waiting hands. She was always running late for her 9 am appointment. Killian had yet to figure out why she didn’t schedule her first one later in the day. As for himself, he lingered over his breakfast so he could read a bit before heading into work. 

Her book - he was reading her book.

Emma had seen it in various places around the house - on the coffee table, beside Killian’s morning coffee, and on the patio table. She wanted to ask him what he thought, yet at the same time she feared what his opinion would be. Men didn’t normally read her book, after all. Except for that one pompous windbag who only read it so he could skewer it. She couldn’t see Killian eviscerating her like that jerk had, but she also knew he would be honest. That tiny voice of doubt always at the back of her mind kept whispering that he hated every word she’d written. So she remained silent. She did note, however, that his book mark kept moving deeper into its pages. 

At work, things went on pretty much as they were before, with one exception. Even though the paparazzi hadn’t followed them to Storybrooke, they still couldn’t let down their guard. The town had to believe they were a couple too, and Emma still had to keep up pretenses on her social media. For that reason, Emma made her way into his workshop at twelve each day asking what he wanted to do for lunch. Some days they walked over to Granny’s to grab a bite together (hand in hand or arm in arm - for appearances sake), while other days Killian was busy on a project and Emma brought lunch back for him. Their “work lunches” had already appeared on Instagram.

They didn’t always leave for home at the same time. It depended on Emma’s schedule and how engrossed Killian was in his current project (he had a bad habit of losing track of time). Yet Killian always insisted on cooking dinner for them both, and no matter what work had been like, they were seated at the kitchen table with a home cooked meal at seven pm every night. After that, they’d plop down on the couch and find something to watch on Netflix . Right now they were doing a rewatch of Parks & Rec .

It had honestly been the most steady, domestic week of Emma’s life. She would never admit it to anyone, especially not to Killian, but she loved it. 

Unfortunately, there was one thorn in both their sides, and her name was Anna. They really should have looked closer at the calendar when they had suggested July 4th for the family ceremony. 

It was Thursday night, and their enjoyment of the shenanigans in Pawnee, Indiana, was interrupted by a light tapping on the back door. They both groaned as Emma pressed a throw pillow to her face. 

“I guess we can’t ignore her?” Killian asked half-jokingly as he paused the show. 

Emma whacked him with the pillow. “You’re the one who started the habit of your family coming to your back door. Who does that?”

Or maybe lots of families did that - Emma really wouldn’t know.

Killian sighed again, his head dropping onto the back of the sofa. “Come in,” he called out.

“There’s really only one more thing I need to ask you two,” Anna said without preamble as she rushed through the door. “Sparklers - yes or no? Because I think they’re romantic, but Kristoff says they’re for kids, and Liam said they’re cliche, and Elsa worried we’d burn our fingers, which if you think about it, kind of contradicts what Kristoff said because if kids use them, I’m pretty sure we can handle them without burning ourselves.”

Anna finally ran out of words, and just stood there in front of them expectantly. Emma was rendered speechless, wondering how Anna hadn’t passed out from lack of oxygen, and Killian simply looked confused. 

“Sparklers for what?” he finally asked.

“The wedding,” Anna clarified with a roll of her eyes.

“You know, babe,” Emma teased, poking him in the leg, “the reason she’s popped over here every single night?”

Killian rubbed his jaw, and Emma noted the bags under his eyes and frowned. For the first time, she wondered how well he was sleeping out here on the couch. 

“Aye, our small, family ceremony.” He looked at Anna pointedly as he emphasized the words. 

“It will be,” she insisted, punching Killian in the arm. “It’s just going to be the six of us. Now, what’s your song?”

She had a literal binder opened on her lap. It was so large, her pregnant belly was about to send it sliding to the floor. Her gaze was on them expectantly, a pen poised over the binder. 

Emma glanced at Killian. “Ummm . . . we don’t really have one?” She shrugged.

Anna’s shoulders slumped and her lips turned down into a frown as if Emma had just insulted her personally. “How can you not have a song?”

“It’s not a requirement, A,” Killian pointed out. 

“But . . . but . . . you had a first dance at your big fancy wedding. I saw pictures of it on the internet. What did you dance to?”

“Don’t use that,” Emma blurted out before she could stop herself. Anna frowned. 

“It was just some generic song the DJ picked out,” Killian explained hurriedly. “We didn’t like it, actually.” He turned to Emma with a grin. “Remember how we laughed about that song?”

Emma’s chuckle was genuine. “We sure did.”

“Oh, well that’s disappointing . . .” Anna trailed off, slumping against the sofa. Emma was really expecting the binder to hit the floor now. 

“I tell you what,” Killian encouraged her, “Emma and I will pick out a song, ok?”

“You can’t just pick out a song!” Anna argued, and Emma was startled as tears welled in the redhead’s eyes. “It has to be meaningful!” She dashed at her tears in frustration. “I’m sorry it’s these stupid pregnancy hormones.”

Killian moved to sit next to Anna and put his arm around her. “Don’t worry, A. It’ll be meaningful. I promise.”

“By tomorrow?”

“By tomorrow.”

Anna narrowed her eyes. “And it won’t be generic?”

Killian put his hand to his heart. “I promise we will find something meaningful to our relationship.”

“I know I’m being ridiculous,” she chuckled as she wiped the tears from her cheeks. 

“No you’re not,” Emma assured her, “it’s really sweet of you to put all this together.”

Anna gave her a watery smile, then started trying to hoist herself to her feet. Killian rushed to help her, then she gathered her binder and headed for the back door.

“Oh, and Anna,” Emma called out after her. 

“Yeah?” Anna asked as she turned back around.

“Yes to the sparklers.”

Anna’s answering grin was almost worth the nightly interruptions. Almost. 

“Okay, Swan,” Killian exclaimed as soon as the door shut behind Anna. “We’ve got some work to do.”

“The song?” Emma was incredulous. “You’re not serious!”

“As a heart attack. You heard her. She wants something meaningful . Don’t you think it will arouse suspicions if we pick, like . . . ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ or something?”

Emma narrowed her eyes. “Why would that be suspicious?”

“Because that’s in practically every rom com ever made.”

Emma snorted through her nose. “I never took you for the rom com type.”

He smirked at her. “I have many facets, love.”

Emma shook her head and couldn’t keep the smile off her face. “Okay, romance expert, how in the world do we pick a song? There are literally millions of love songs.”

“Well,” Killian replied, plopping down on the couch next to her and taking the remote, “I bet there’s a wedding dance playlist on YouTube. We’ll start there.”

He scrolled through the menu on their smart tv as Emma lounged against the back of the couch and studied him. “I’m still trying to imagine you watching . . . say . . . You’ve Got Mail or something.”

“Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are legends, darling,” he countered smoothly, still concentrating on the tv. 

“Okay, I guess, but what about . . . While You Were Sleeping ?”

“Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman? What’s not to love?” He winked at her. “Okay, Emma, here we have top 100 wedding dance songs.”

“100!”

He waved his hand at her dismissively. “I’m sure half of them we can rule out rather quickly.”

“You mean the super cheesy ones?”

“Precisely.” He narrowed his eyes as he pulled up the playlist, and Emma couldn’t stop the fleeting thought that he was cute like this - his eyes all crinkled at the corners and his brow furrowed. “Okay, we’ve got Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake -”

“No, and no.”

“Okay, The Chainsmokers -”

“You can not be serious.”

Whip/Nae Nae?!?”

“You must have the wrong list,” Emma told him, snatching the remote out of his hands. “That must be stuff to play at a wedding to get people to dance.”

“Ah, you’re right. Try first dance.

“Wedding . . . “ Emma murmured as she used the arrow keys to choose the letters, “dang it, Killian, you really need to get one of those voice activated tvs.” She glanced over at him to see him grinning at her. “What?”

“You stick your tongue out a bit when you’re concentrating,” he told her, gesturing towards her lips, “it’s cute.”

Emma glowered at him, but felt her cheeks heat all the same. She forced her gaze back on the tv. “Okay, let’s see . . . First Dance - Wedding Suggestions or Most Popular Wedding First Dance Songs . Both have 117 videos.”

Killian shrugged. “Just pull up the first one.”

“Ed Sheeran,” they both read at the same time, then glanced at each other. Simultaneously they both burst out laughing.

“I’m hoping that’s a no?” Killian asked her tentatively.

“Of course it’s a no! Ed Sheeran sceams generic.”

“You know, darling, maybe we’ve put the cart before the horse.”

“Okay, old man, what the hell does that mean?”

“Well,” he replied, smoothly overlooking her jab, “what kind of music do you like?”

Emma scrunched up her nose and tapped on her chin. Killian thought once again that she looked adorable, but he didn’t say so. “Ummm . . . I guess more rock than pop. Definitely no country. And don’t laugh but . . . I like punk.”

A slow grin spread across Killian’s face. “Love, I feel we are a match made in heaven.” When Emma’s jaw dropped, he sputtered and scratched behind his ear. “Uh, I meant musically speaking.”

“Riiight,” Emma said, nodding slowly. “Oh, and no power ballads. She rolled her eyes. I don’t think I can listen to an 80s hair band again after Walsh.”

Killian chuckled. “Okay then, let’s just scroll through these with all of that in mind, shall we?”

It wasn’t easy. Most were either pop or country, and the classics like Etta James “At Last” felt too cliched. A few had them chuckling. Who the bloody hell would dance to Dave Matthews Band. Do they have any idea what Crash into Me is about? And Killian played REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight this Feeling” just so he could dramatically sing it to Emma until she collapsed laughing on the couch.

“Wait!” Emma called out finally, clutching his wrist where he held the remote. “That one? Maybe?”

“This one?”

“Yeah - you think?”

He grinned at her as he rose from the couch and offered her his hand. Emma’s brow

furrowed. 

“What are you doing?”

“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m asking you to dance.”

She rolled her eyes. “We did that already, remember?”

Killian arched both brows at her. “But that was Walsh’s cheesy power ballad about sex, remember? Anna wants us to pick a meaningful song, and we can’t do that if we don’t get the full affect.”

Emma battled the smile that teased her lips and lost. “Okay,” she said, putting her hand in his. Her traitorous cheeks blushed as he pulled her up and close to him. He pushed the play button, and Paul McCartney’s voice filled the small house. 

Maybe I’m amazed by the way you love me all the time. Maybe I’m afraid of the way I love you.

For some reason, dancing with Killian now felt even more nerve-wracking than it had at the wedding. She stared down at their shuffling feet, inexplicably terrified to look into his eyes. His very pretty, blue, expressive eyes that she swore sometimes could see right through her.

Maybe I’m amazed at the way you pulled me out of time. Hung me on a line. Maybe I’m amazed at the way I really need you. 

“Well, the lyrics are definitely meaningful,” Killian chuckled awkwardly. “A won’t be able to argue that point.”

Baby I’m a man and maybe I’m a lonely man who’s in the middle of something that he doesn’t really understand. 

Inwardly, Killian was cursing Paul McCartney as the lyrics hit like barbs. He realized he had tightened his grip on Emma’s waist, but she didn’t flinch away. He cleared his throat nervously, then almost choked when Emma’s green eyes met his. She’d had them glued to her feet until this very moment.

Baby I’m a man and baby you’re the only woman who could ever help me. Baby won’t you help me understand?

“Yeah,” she whispered, “I mean, it is Paul McCartney.”

“Uh huh,” Killian winced at how utterly idiotic he sounded. What was this conversation about, again? 

Blessedly, the song went into an instrumental break. They continued to shuffle their feet across the living room carpet, but his grip relaxed, and so did Emma’s shoulders. 

“So . . . “ she said tentatively, biting on her lower lip, “I saw you were reading my book.”
“I am.”

Emma tilted her head. “So . . . what do you think?”

Killian pressed his lips together and gazed over her shoulder, collecting his thoughts. “I think you give women very good advice on how to be smart while dating. I also like how you draw a line in the sand, telling women they should never have to change who they are to keep a man. I feel like so much dating advice is really telling people to put on an act, and that’s just garbage. I think your book empowers women to cut off bad relationships.”

Emma nodded, impressed. Those were usually the things in her book that got her hate mail from irate ex-boyfriends. 

“Do I sense a but after that praise?”

Killian let out a long sigh, then looked her directly in the eye with such intensity that Emma couldn’t have looked away if she’d wanted to. “ But , the chart that’s in there? The one that will show you if someone is compatible with you?” He shook his head, and Emma swore his arm snaked farther around her waist, pulling her just a hair closer. His head bent closer to hers, and his voice dropped an octave. “Love can’t be quantified and measured like that, Swan. It defies logic. It takes everything you thought you knew and obliterates it. When it’s real, you can’t tell where you end and the other person begins. It’s terrifying, exhilarating, and comforting all at once. When you love someone, you don’t need a chart. When you love someone - really love them - you just know .”

Baby, I’m amazed at the way you’re with me all the time. Maybe I’m afraid of the way I leave you.

There was no mistaking it now, Killian had pulled her closer, his hand splayed across her back. Emma pressed her face to his collarbone, relieved that she was no longer looking into his piercing eyes. Killian pressed his lips against her hair. 

“I haven’t offended you, have I?”

“No,” Emma managed to choke out, “I appreciate your honest opinion . . . “

“But?” he prompted with a chuckle. 

“But your romantic views are exactly what gets people into trouble. That’s why I suggest people analyze the person before feelings get involved.”

Paul McCartney’s voice trailed off, the final strains of the music died, and a YouTube ad for Facebook Messenger started to play. Killian lifted his head and pulled back a step. Emma looked into his eyes once again.

“What if it’s too late?”

“My book says to fill out the chart after the first date, Jones.”

“What if it doesn’t happen the traditional way?” He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “What if love sneaks up on you?”

Emma swallowed and took a step back. His arm fell away from her waist, and she shivered. 

“I think Paul McCartney will work, don’t you?”

He chuckled. “Aye, Swan.”

Suddenly, Kelly Clarkson’s voice filled the room as the first strands of “A Moment Like This” played, and they both burst out laughing. It broke the tension, thankfully, and Emma plopped back down on the couch and snatched up the remote. She started flipping through the songs in the playlist again, just in case. Killian sat down next to her. 

“So,” she said, glancing at him out of the corner of her eye, “you said we’re a match made in heaven music wise. You share my tastes?”

He shrugged. “Mostly. I’m rock more than pop too, though I don’t discount it entirely. I mean, The Beatles are technically pop.”

“True,” Emma conceded, “and then there’s Michael Jackson.”

“Exactly! And, I’d go less for punk and more for alternative.”

“Let me guess. Pearl Jam? Nirvana?”

“Naturally. And Goo Goo Dolls, Smashing Pumpkins, Barenaked Ladies -”

“Wait, wait, wait. Barenaked Ladies are not alternative. They are one hundred percent pop.”

Killian gasped. “Pop, no way! The lyrics are way too tongue in cheek.”

Emma stuck her lip out stubbornly. “They are pop, Jones! Maybe veering a little towards punk -”

“Absolutely not, they are not punk at all!” Emma rolled her eyes as Killian snatched his phone off the coffee table. “I’ll prove it! Hey Google, what genre of music are The Barenaked Ladies?”

“The Barenaked Ladies,” his phone replied in that emotionless robotic voice, “are a Canadian alternative rock band formed in Ontario in -”

“Ha!” Killian crowed in triumph as Emma scowled. 

“Where did Google get that info, Wikipedia?” 

“Don’t be a sore loser, Swan,” he teased, and then his eyes brightened. “You know, I may have an even better song for us.” He took the remote from Emma and tediously typed something into the search bar. 

When Emma saw what it was, she cried out in protestation. “That can not be our song!”

“Why not? It’s the style of music we both like.” He gave her a faux-innocent pout.

Alternative Girlfriend ?”

Killian shrugged then winked at her cheekily. “Well, there’s no song called Alternative Wife.

Emma smacked him in the chest. He hit play on the YouTube video and then began crooning the song to her. 

You’re in an all-girl band, your futon is second-hand -”

“Yeah, Jones, this screams wedding song.”

I have a job in a shop - see, that’s me!”

“Sure it is.”

Killian kept singing as he yanked her to her feet and swung her around the room. “ You’re my alternative girlfriend. I love you and now you cannot pretend. There’s nothing left that won’t cross over.”

Emma laughed as he spun her out and back in again and she collided with his chest. “I’m pretty sure by alternative girlfriend they mean the alternative rock lifestyle.”

“No way, they mean a girl you date - or marry - because she’s in a pickle. For pretend.”

“Did you just basically say that I’m in a pickle?”

“Aye, Swan, a dill pickle because those are the only kind.”

Emma was laughing so hard now, her sides ached.  They ended up staying up until two in the morning sharing music on YouTube. Some that were their favorites, some that they loved to make fun of, and others they were ashamed to admit they liked in their younger days. 

And even though they had decided on it hours earlier, they texted Anna a little after two am to tell her that “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney was officially their song. They figured it served her right. 

Chapter Text

“This dress is absolutely gorgeous,” Anna gushed as she helped Emma zip it up. 

“Thank you,” Emma told her sincerely, “but I really didn’t have to wear it again. A simple sundress would have been fine.”

“Excuse me?” Anna snapped with an arch of her brows and a hand on her hip. Behind her, Elsa chuckled. 

“Anna, don’t be rude.”

“I’m not!” she retorted, and Emma could easily imagine these two as kids. “I simply want to get the full effect of this wedding, okay? We didn’t get to be there, so today better be the next best thing.”

Elsa shook her head and caught Emma’s eye in the mirror as she adjusted the baby’s breath woven through the loose braids crowning Emma’s waves. It wasn’t the style she would have gone with personally, but she had to admit that Elsa had done a gorgeous job with her hair. 

“It’s fine,” Emma assured the other blonde, “your sister has a point. And I don’t really mind recreating the wedding - in a smaller version, of course.”

The door leading from the basement out to the backyard rattled, followed by a frustrated shout from Killian. Anna shrieked as she raced for the door. 

“You can’t see the bride before the ceremony, Kil!” 

“We’re already married, A! This is ridiculous!”

“Humor a pregnant woman!” she barked, and Emma and Elsa couldn’t contain their laughter any longer. 

“Fine,” Killian snapped back, “I’m just here to tell you that Liam and Kristoff want to eat soon, so we better do this.”

“Men and their stomachs,” Anna grumbled with a roll of her eyes. 

“Look up,” Elsa told Emma, and she complied. Elsa gave her eyelashes one more swipe of mascara. “There, you’re perfect.”

Emma picked up her small bouquet of forget-me-nots (that matched Killian’s eyes, Anna had pointed out), and lifted the bottom of her dress so her heels wouldn’t get tangled. 

“Okay, let’s get this show on the road.”

Anna nodded, then turned back to the door. “Are you still out there, Kil?’

“Yes.”

“Well, go take your place under the arbor!”

Killian mumbled something about bossy women, but did as he was told. Anna peeked out, just to be sure the groom was where he was supposed to be, then she flung the door open. She and her sister went out first, walking out to strands of Canon in D . When the classical music faded out, Emma stepped out of the door. She almost burst out laughing when the music for her processional began.

You re in an all-girl band, your futon is second-hand . . . 

The arbor, which had been moved to Liam and Elsa’s backyard, wasn’t that far away from the basement door, and Emma was close enough already to see Killian’s wink. Emma couldn’t suppress the grin on her face, and Anna couldn’t suppress her glare. 

“What kind of bridal song is this,” the redhead hissed as she smacked Killian with her bouquet.

Killian ignored her and waggled his eyebrows at Emma. 

“It’s perfect actually, Anna,” Emma assured her, “let’s just say that it’s an inside joke.”

“Fine,” Anna huffed, “and we need to stop talking! This is a wedding.”

“A fake wedding with a grand total of seven people,” Killian muttered.

Anna smacked him with her bouquet again. At this rate, there wouldn’t be any petals left on the thing.

“Dearly beloved,” the officiant intoned as Emma turned to face Killian. She glanced in surprise at the elderly man, then whispered to Killian.

“Who the hell is this?”

“Can you two please take this seriously?” Anna exclaimed. “This is Kristoff’s Grand Pabbie.”

“Is he even ordained?” Killian asked.

“I’m standing right here,” the old man said dryly, “and I suggest you let me continue. You’re getting married.”

“We’re already married.”

“Then who cares if I’m ordained?”

Killian and Emma shared a look and then shrugged. The man cleared his throat pointedly.

“Dearly beloved, we gather here today to join these two in holy matrimony. If anyone knows why these two should not be wed, speak now or forever hold your peace.”

Emma’s eyes narrowed. Had the officiant said that at the first ceremony? She didn’t think so, but then again, everything that day passed in a blur. Kristoff’s Grand Pabbie paused . . . and paused . . . and paused some more. Killian narrowed his eyes in confusion, and Emma gave a small shake of her head. 

“Oh my God,” Anna exclaimed in exasperation, “no one objects! Just get on with it!”

“Well,” Grand Pabbie said slowly, his bushy eyebrows moving expressively across his forehead, “Kristoff had mentioned a concerned brother, and I just -”

“Liam,” Killian growled. 

“Have I said a word?” his brother countered, both hands raised in surrender. 

“You can get on with it, Grand Pabbie,” Kristoff told the elderly man, his face flaming red.

“Okay then, where was I . . . “ the old man narrowed his eyes as he shuffled the papers in his hands. Emma’s eyes met Killian’s, and they couldn’t help bursting out with laughter. Emma could hear Anna huffing in frustration behind her, and she bit the inside of her cheek to get herself back under control. Killian cleared his throat and clenched his jaw, though she could still see the merriment in his eyes. 

“Ah yes, here we are . . . Marriage is a sacred union in which two hearts are joined as one. Emma and Killian, repeat after me . . . “

Emma was more aware during this second ceremony, which made sense. She wasn’t in shock like she had been the first time around. Yet she also was surprised to realize that this wedding was more suited to her personality than the one she had spent a year planning - and this wasn’t even real. There was just something about the simplicity of it and the small crowd who was there because they were emotionally invested, not so they could get free food and an open bar. 

Then they were pronounced man and wife for the second time in a month, and Killian was told he could kiss his bride. He hadn’t kissed her since that day on the beach with the paparazzi. She hadn’t forgotten what a good kisser he was, but somehow it felt different. It was a simple kiss - more than a brush of lips, yet far less heated than the one he had laid on her at their first wedding. It probably had something to do with his brother glaring at them two feet away. Yet for some reason, Emma felt light headed when he pulled away, and she swayed towards him like he was a magnet she was drawn to. Or like a moth to a flame? Or being pulled out with the tide? It was some sort of romance novel cliche like that, and what made it twice as embarrassing was that she didn’t open her eyes until she almost lost her balance. 

“Are you alright, Swan?” he asked as he grasped her by the shoulders to steady her.

“Yeah,” she hurriedly assured him as she gave her head a quick shake. 

He tilted his head, and his lips parted on a breath. Before he could question her further, Anna clapped her hands and made an announcement.

“Now the bride and groom will have their first dance!”

“What?” Kristoff blurted out. “I thought we were eating!”

“Not until after their first dance; that’s how it’s done.”

“But I’m hungry!”

Anna leveled her husband with a look that could melt ice. “You don’t think the pregnant woman is hungry? We won’t starve while they dance!”

“Fine!” Kristoff muttered, throwing up his hands. Then he grumbled under his breath, “Isn’t even their first dance since it isn’t their first wedding.”

Killian shrugged at Emma, and she laughed. Elsa pulled up the song they had selected on her phone which was hooked up to the outdoor speakers. Killian set his hands at Emma’s waist as Paul McCartney began to sing, and Emma slid her arms around his neck. 

“Are you sure you were alright a minute ago?”

His face looked so concerned that Emma told him the truth. “It just felt different kissing you this time, that’s all.” Her face burned as Killian’s eyes widened. “I mean - not like that or anything. It’s just that we . . . I mean, I  . . . I know what pickles you like now.”

A slow smile spread across his face. “Pickles.”

“Yeah, pickles.”

He tilted his head and studied her. “I see. I wasn’t aware pickle preferences were such a sign of growing intimacy.”

The way his accent rolled over the words made the whole thing sound far more serious than Emma intended. She let out an indelicate snort. “You know what I mean. I know you better now. Like . . . like the pickles -”

“So we’ve established.”

“And . . . what you watch on Netflix . . . and . . . I’ve seen you . . . sweaty.”

Killian arched one brow and quirked his lips into an absolutely sinful, crooked smile. She swore she could see his eyes darken slowly under those stupid thick eyelashes of his. 

“Don’t say it!” she warned him.

“Whatever do you mean?” His tongue darted out to wet his lips, and she swore he must have worked for some sex phone line thing to be able to make syllables drip like that. 

“Whatever dirty innuendo you were about to make,” she told him through gritted teeth. “Just. Don’t.”

He nodded but gave her a smug look. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

Killian leaned closer, his nose in her hair and his lips brushing against the shell of her ear. He whispered in that low timbre of his, “I don’t need to say it, love, because you’re already thinking it.”

******************************************************

Emma watched the flames in the backyard fire pit lick at the marshmallow on the end of her stick. It caught and was engulfed, and Emma smiled as it charred. 

“You burned it,” Anna observed as Emma pulled it out and blew on it.

“Nope,” Emma said, spinning it and admiring its black crust, “it’s perfect.” She gestured to the slightly browned marshmallow Anna had just slid onto a slab of chocolate. “Yours is still raw.”

Anna sandwiched the treat between two graham crackers, then replied around a messy bite. “I guess everyone makes their s’mores differently.”

Emma watched her catch a glob of marshmallow with her pinkie, and was relieved to see that her table manners didn’t matter with this crowd. Walsh had elegant tastes and took her places where you had to know which fork to use with what course. It had been exhausting.

Emma’s gaze flitted to Killian, who was laughing over beers with Kristoff. Behind them, Elsa was talking to Liam with a bundle of sparklers in one hand and a lighter in the other. Her brow was furrowed as she asked her husband something, and Liam looked intense with his arms crossed over his chest. Emma thought about her agreement with Killian and thought now was as good a time as any to do a little recon about his brother’s marriage.

“So . . . “ she said slowly and casually to Anna, “is Liam just as bossy with your sister as he is to everyone else?”

Anna literally snorted and almost choked on her s’more. “Are you kidding? Liam would walk on broken glass for Elsa if he had to.”

“Really?” Emma asked incredulously. Her gaze landed back on the couple. A gentle smile broke across Liam’s face as his hand closed over Elsa’s where she grasped the lighter. Elsa laughed, her eyes sparkling, as Liam pulled her to his chest and kissed her tenderly. Emma’s eyes narrowed.

“But they’re both opinionated.”

“Well yeah,” Anna said with a shrug, “but so are you and Killian, right?”

“Uh . . . yeah.”

Anna gave Emma a little nudge with her elbow. “Paul McCartney was a great choice. Especially since The Beatles were Alice’s favorite.”

“Alice?”

“Yeah, their mom.”

“Oh, of course,” Emma replied hurriedly, her face burning, but Anna seemed more interested in the messy chocolate that was dripping down her wrist.

“God, I’m a mess,” she chuckled.

“I’m not much better,” Emma laughed, trying to lick sticky marshmallow off her thumb. 

“I really have never seen anyone love someone the way Liam loves my sister,” Anna said with a smile. “I mean, not that Kristoff doesn’t love me in an amazing way, he totally does, and he’s - like, super supportive, it’s just . . . Well, Elsa was closed off for so long. She got hurt really badly when we were in high school. To say her heart was broken is a huge understatement. Anyways, I didn’t think she would trust anyone with her heart until Liam came along. Of course, you know from personal experience how Jones men are.”

“How so?” Emma asked before she could stop herself.

Anna tilted her head and looked at her like she was completely dense. “They love completely and fiercely. When they commit to something, they’re all in.”

“Oh . . . “ Emma trailed off and quickly stuffed more dessert in her mouth. She hoped the chatterbox would move on to a different topic, but for once the woman was silent. Emma swallowed and gave her a nervous smile. “Guess that’s why he’s into rom-coms, huh? When we were picking out a wedding song, he seemed to know the plot of most of them.”

Anna’s brow furrowed. “He didn’t tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

“Killian Jones watches sci-fi and fantasy. The only reason he knows those rom-coms is because of me. I had a horrible break up before Kristoff, and Killian asked me how he could help. I said ice cream and rom coms, not really taking him seriously. He was over within an hour with a pint of chocolate chip cookie dough and While You Were Sleeping .”

“Really,” Emma said thoughtfully, her eyes landing on Killian once again. 

“Yeah, he came over every night for like a week.”

************************************************

Emma wrapped her sweater around her shoulders tighter as she made her way across the dunes. It was dark now, and almost time for the fireworks over Storybrooke harbor. They wouldn’t have the best view in town, but the privacy was worth the trade off. Killian came up next to her with unlit sparklers in his hands. 

“The wedding coordinator demands our presence once again. Something about kissing with sparklers all around us. Very popular Instagram pose, apparently.”

Emma laughed as she turned to face him. “How are we supposed to kiss and hold sparklers at the same time?”

“Very carefully?”

She took the metal stick he offered her, but the jolt she felt was attraction, not electricity. She could admit it now. She was attracted to him. Honestly, who wouldn’t be? He fit the bill of tall, dark, and handsome to perfection. And then . . . 

“Anna told me about the rom coms.”

He tilted his head, his brow furrowed. “The what?”

She made a circling motion with her hand. “You know. The reason you know all those cheesy rom coms is because you binge watched them with Anna. To cheer her up after a break up?”

“Oh,” he said, his hand going straight to that favored spot behind his ear, “um, yes. It was the least I could do, really. That Hans was an absolute git. No, worse, a complete and utter narcissist.”

His jaw was clenched now, his eyes narrow, and Emma’s heart flipped over how angry he still seemed on Anna’s behalf. You know from personal experience how Jones men are . . . They love completely and fiercely. Emma realized her gaze had dropped to his lips, and she shook herself out of the stupor she’d fallen into. 

“Anyways,” Killian shrugged, “my heart just broke for her, and I didn’t know what else to do.”

“It was sweet, and far more than most men would do. Unless they wanted to get in a woman’s pants.”

Killian wrinkled his nose in offense. “Please don’t even hint at me and Anna’s pants. She’s like the kid sister I never had. It just sounds . . . wrong .”

Emma smiled up at him, tapping his chest with the tip of her sparkler. “Exactly. That’s what makes it so wonderful.”

“Hey, lovebirds!” Anna shouted from the edge of the yard. “Get over here and act romantic for the camera!”

It turned out the Instagram shots consisted first of Emma and Killian holding the sparklers out in front of them while they kissed, then Killian dipping her and kissing her while his family held up sparklers behind them. 

They were starting to get really good at this kissing thing. Emma was getting a little bolder in her response, and tonight she could taste the mixture of sweet and smoky from the s’mores on his tongue. 

When he righted her, his brows were lifted, and she braced herself for a quip about her new enthusiasm when he kissed her. Instead, he merely smiled that crooked grin of his. She narrowed her eyes and leaned in to whisper in his ear. 

“It has to look real for Instagram.”

He moved his lips to her ear so he could whisper back, “Who said I was complaining, love?”

Chapter Text

“Ask me another one,” Emma called out from the bathroom, her words garbled by the toothpaste in her mouth. The words were followed by the sound of her spitting into the sink, and Killian winced. Emma Swan was a mess - literally. She left dirty clothes all over her bedroom floor, left wet towels in a heap in the bathroom, had a bad habit of kicking off her shoes wherever she happened to sit down, and at this very moment he knew there was toothpaste flying all over the sink and the mirror above it. 

And God help him, he loved her more now than he had when he first agreed to this charade. 

“Okay,” he called back, clearing the emotion from his throat with a short cough, “port and starboard.”

Killian grabbed a bag of pretzels from the pantry and tossed them into the waterproof tote with the rest of their food. He could hear Emma gargling down the hall, then spitting again. He shook his head thinking of all the little splashes he’d soon have to scrub from the mirror. 

“Um . . . okay, port is the . . . left side of the boat. Right - I mean, correct?”

“When facing which way?” He turned to the fridge as he spoke, gathering up a six pack of sodas and another of beer.

“Facing . . . the bow. Which is the front of the boat?” Her face was scrunched up in a hesitant expression as she walked into the kitchen, her arms above her head as she twisted her hair up into a messy bun. 

An adorable hesitant expression. 

“Good job, love!”

Emma beamed even as she gave him a nonchalant shrug. “So that means starboard is the right side of the boat when you’re facing the bow.”

“You got it!”

“I don’t know . . . “ she trailed off hesitantly. “Ask me another one?”

Killian closed the lid on the cooler and stepped close to her, resting both hands on her shoulders. “You’ll be fine. Liam isn’t going to be giving you a pop quiz.”

Emma arched both brows. “You sure about that?”

He couldn’t stop his jaw from clenching, but he forced a smile upon his face nevertheless. “It’ll be fine.”

“You sound so convincing,” Emma muttered as she slipped into a pair of flip flops that she had kicked off underneath the coffee table. 

“I wouldn’t wear those.”

“Why not?”

“They aren’t safe for the boat, plus you could easily lose them in the water.”

Emma sighed like a teenager. “Fine, I’ll wear my BOBS.”

She shuffled down the hall, and Killian shook his head. Her voice floated back to him with a muffled sound, and he could hear a clunking sound as shoes hit the floor.

“Ummm, Killian! Have you seen my BOBS? The navy ones?”

“The back porch, love!”

Emma scurried past him as he hoisted up the tote and the cooler. He followed her out the back door, and Emma grabbed his bicep as she hopped into one shoe and then the other. 

“How did I ever find my shoes without you?” she asked him with an innocent smile. 

She turned away from him to snap Smee’s leash onto his collar and then grab the second tote filled with their towels and sunscreen. Killian felt frozen in place at her words, though he knew she meant nothing by them. He watched her jog down the back steps, the sea breeze tugging at her hair, and smiles for the dog whose tail wagged in adoration at the newest member of the household. The only thing he could think was that he would gladly spend the rest of his life helping Emma Swan find her shoes. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Emma felt slightly dizzy, her stomach churned a bit, and she wasn’t even on the boat yet. She was tough and adaptable, so she wasn’t really worried about not having sea legs. The nerves in her stomach were all about the captain of this vessel - a very overprotective and suspicious big brother named Liam Jones. 

She would feel a lot better if she and Killian had been able to take the Jolly Roger out a few times before today. But between work and several July thunderstorms, it had never happened. Oh, and there was the one Sunday that her menstrual cramps had her in the fetal position with a heating pad. Oh well, there wasn’t anything she could do about it now but hope that sailing101.com was sufficient to pass Liam’s test because despite what Killian claimed, that’s what this was - a test. 

The August sun was so hot and bright that Emma squinted even behind her sunglasses. She looked over at Killian’s boat which was sleeker and smaller. It was also a sailboat as opposed to the trawler motor boat that Liam owned. Emma would have called it a yacht before sailing101.com, a mistake Killian assured her would not have gone over well with his brother.

It sure looked like a yacht to her. 

“Ready to come aboard?”

Emma tilted her head up. Liam stood at the boat’s edge with his hand out to help her up. She chewed on her lower lip as she eyed the edge of the dock nervously. She’d sort of been expecting a ramp or something, and that looked like a pretty big gap she had to cross. Thankfully, Killian appeared at her side and put one hand firmly at her waist and the other at her elbow. She tried not to wobble as the brothers helped her onto the boat. Smee jumped up without preamble after her, and she had to grasp the railing as the dog almost knocked her off her feet. 

“We’re so excited you’re here!” Elsa exclaimed as she hurried down from the boat’s upper level. Emma felt herself relax slightly as the other woman embraced her. “Here, let me take that,” she continued, reaching for the bag looped around Emma’s shoulder. 

Elsa took Emma to the bow off the ship where there were comfortable padded benches for sunbathing. She lifted one to reveal a storage area and tucked their swimming gear inside. Smee came bounding up, sniffing at the opposite bench. 

“Oh no you don’t,” Elsa laughed, “that’s not for you.” 

She pulled Smee away by the back of his doggie life vest, which Emma couldn’t deny was adorable in a funny sort of way. 

“I’m guessing there are treats in there?” Emma asked. “Of the human variety?”

Elsa nodded. “There’s a cooler in there with drinks and a tote with munchies. There’s a kitchen in the cabin, and all the lunch stuff is in there, but it’s nice to have snacks up here.” 

“Where are Anna and Kristoff?”

“Oh, Anna hasn’t exactly been a fan of the boat since she got pregnant. I don’t know if it’s physical or psychological, though. The day she put two and two together was on the boat. She never gets seasick or motion sick of any kind, but that day she spent most of her time bent over the railing.” 

Emma wrinkled her nose. “That doesn’t sound fun.”

Elsa laughed. “Agreed.” She plopped down on the padded seat and patted the spot next to her. “Relax, Emma, and enjoy the sun.”

Emma glanced nervously over her shoulder. Killian was untying the ropes from the dock while Liam steered the boat and shouted instructions. 

“Should we be helping?”

Elsa shook her head. “Those two enjoy pretending they’re sailing the seven seas. I only help Liam when it’s just the two of us.” She rolled her eyes. “It’s the only time I want to strangle the man. He takes being captain way too seriously.”

Emma sank down onto the seat next to her. “Then I’m glad we could come along.”

“You have no idea!” She glanced up at her husband, then leaned closer to Emma and lowered her voice. “And don’t take Liam’s gruffness too seriously. He’ll figure out how good you are for Killian sooner rather than later. Admitting it, however, may take a bit longer. If you haven’t noticed, stubbornness runs in the family.”

Emma shrugged her shoulders. “That’s okay, I’m pretty stubborn myself.”

Elsa grinned as she reached over and fished two beers out of the cooler. “So am I, Emma. Liam needed someone stubborn to put him in his place.” She handed one of the beers to Emma. “So here’s to stubborn Jones wives.”

Emma grinned back as she clinked her bottle with Elsa’s. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Emma reached into the mini fridge in the boat’s small kitchen and pulled out a bottle of water. She then pressed the cold plastic first to her forehead, then both cheeks. Her hand trembled slightly, and she took several deep, slow breaths. Everything had been fine at first. She’d enjoyed drinks at the bow with Elsa, talking and laughing together. The sea breeze in their hair and the sun on their faces had been exhilarating. The men had stayed by the controls talking about whatever boat lovers talked about as they skimmed over the waves. 

After laying anchor, the four of them had jumped into the water. Emma had tired out more quickly than was normal for her, but she still had a great time. The ocean water was a pleasant and refreshing change after all of the sun. She’d gotten out and toweled off before anyone else, and she had braced herself for criticism from Liam. Surprisingly, it never came. 

It wasn’t until lunch that Emma felt that churning in her stomach again. She thought at first she just needed air and had convinced everyone to take lunch up on the bow. It had helped, even though her stomach had still protested a bit at the food. She’d ended up nibbling at her sandwich and only grabbing three or four grapes. Luckily, everyone was so busy talking, no one really noticed her lack of appetite. 

Emma leaned over the sink to steady herself as the boat swayed a bit more than it had been a moment ago. She unfortunately didn’t hear Killian making his way below until it was too late. 

“Are you okay, love?” he asked with concern as he came up behind her. He placed his hand on the middle of her back and started to rub gently. 

“I’m fine.”

“You look pale, Swan, maybe we should head back to shore a bit early.”

“You know we can’t do that,” she hissed under her breath.

“If you’re not feeling well, I really don’t give a shit about what my brother thinks.”

Emma straightened and pushed her hair back from her forehead. “Well I do. I’m not going to give him the satisfaction. Besides, I’ll be fine. I took some Dramamine with my lunch when no one was looking.”

Killian’s face was still lined with concern but he nodded. “Okay, but if you don’t get any better, let me know.”

Emma fanned her face. “I think I need some air.”

She rushed for the ladder to get back up above, her stomach lurching and heat flaming along her cheeks. Things didn’t improve once the cool ocean breeze hit her face. If anything, her equilibrium was even worse on deck, and she knew immediately that what little she’d eaten at lunch was about to come back up. She ignored Elsa’s concerned inquiries and raced to the railing. She leaned as far over as she could, retching violently. She moaned, her arms shaking as she continued to vomit. 

“Killian, get up here,” Elsa shouted below. She rushed over to Emma’s side and rubbed her back much like Killian had done. Emma moaned again, this time in embarrassment. At least she’d worn her hair up so she wasn’t vomiting in her hair. 

Killian was at her side quickly, pressing a cool cloth to her forehead. She pushed him away, not because she wasn’t touched by his kindness, but because she was retching again. God, she hadn’t eaten that much today. How could she still be puking?

“Motion sickness,” Liam said flatly, “well, that’s strange. I thought you said you two were out on the water all the time?”

“Shut your trap, Liam before I shut it for you,” Killian growled, “and this seems way too severe to be motion sickness.”

“Maybe you’re pregnant,” Elsa teased. 

That only made Emma dry heave until she remembered her period from two weeks ago. God, that would suck if she was knocked up by Walsh. Emma reached out a shaky hand for the cool cloth Killian had brought her and used it to wipe her mouth. 

“I think it’s passed,” she whispered, her strength completely drained. If Elsa and Killian hadn’t been there, she would have collapsed to the deck. Blessedly, Liam had already moved to pull up the anchor. She couldn’t help a whimper escaping when she thought about how long they had sailed before stopping. All she wanted was her bed. 

“Would you feel better up here or down below?” Killian asked her.

“Up here I think. The breeze helps.”

Elsa helped her to the benches on the bow while Killian assisted his brother in preparing the boat for the return trip. Emma laid out on the bench with the damp cloth over her eyes.  She must have fallen asleep at some point because the next thing she knew, Killian was gently shaking her. 

“Emma,” he said softly. He pressed a hand to her forehead, then gasped. “Darling, you’re burning up!”

The next thing Emma knew, Killian had scooped her up into his arms. The sun made her head pound, so she closed her eyes and pressed her face into Killian’s collarbone. She could hear Smee’s excited breathing and the tinkling of his tags as he bounded around Killian’s legs. Despite the dog and the unsteadiness of the boat, Killian carried her smoothly to the deck. He didn’t seem winded in the least as he headed across the sandy path to their house, nor did his arms shake beneath her weight. She wasn’t really surprised at his strength and stamina considering he spent all day doing physical labor. What surprised her was how much she liked it. She let herself relax against his warm chest, telling herself it was just because she was sick. 

Sooner than she had expected, she heard the screen door squeak open. 

“We’re home,” she whispered thankfully.

“I should have done this sooner,” Killian told her as he shifted her weight so he could open the kitchen door. 

“Do what?” she asked, looking up into his face.

He grinned down at her. “Carry you over the threshold.”

She wasn’t sure how to respond to that, so she turned her face into the crook of his neck. He smelled like a mixture of sea salt, sunscreen, and sweat. It was a great smell. Yankee Candle Company would make a fortune if they made that into a candle. The sexy sailor candle. Emma chuckled into Killian’s skin.

“What’s so funny, love?”

“Nothing.” He started to carry her to the bedroom. “No, the couch.”

“I can’t let you do that, Swan, you’re sick.”

“But the tv will take my mind off feeling like shit.”

Her logic seemed to satisfy him, and he turned around and deposited her gently onto the couch. He covered her with a blanket and handed her the remote. Emma leaned back on the pillows, thankful to be off the boat, even though her stomach still rolled like the waves. 

Killian returned with a thermometer in his hand and a pot under his arm. He set the pot in Emma’s lap. “This is for if you get sick and don’t think you can make it to the bathroom.”

Emma looked first at the pot, then back up at him. “Please tell me you don’t cook with this.”

He chuckled and palmed the back of his neck. “Um, no, it’s the puke pot.”

Puke pot?”

“I know, it sounds disgusting. When Liam and I were kids, our mom bought a dirt cheap soup pot at a discount store for when we got sick. It got dubbed the puke pot.”

Emma wrinkled her nose and looked down into the empty pot. “You don’t keep this in the kitchen, do you? Like, I don’t want to accidentally make pasta in the puke pot.”

“Of course not, love, I keep it under the sink in the bathroom.”

“Thank God,” she muttered. 

Over the next forty-eight hours, Emma would come to understand the beauty of the puke pot. She wasn’t sure if she’d ever been so violently sick in all her life, and not having to leave the couch when the nausea hit was a blessing. There was also something about being able to grasp the handles as she hugged it to her chest. She just felt awful for Killian, who had to clean it. Awful and humiliated. 

She kept telling him how sorry she was. She apologized when he held her hair back while she retched. She apologized when he pressed cool cloths to her forehead. She apologized every time he helped her sit up and sip Gatorade. He kept telling her she had no reason to be sorry, but she kept saying it anyway.

Killian never left the house once in forty-eight hours. He was always there when she needed him. She’d never had anyone take care of her like that before, and on the second evening, as he pressed yet another cool cloth to her forehead, she suddenly began to cry. 

“Are you alright?” he asked in alarm, pressing the back of his hand to each of her cheeks to check for a fever. 

“Why are you doing this?”

His brow furrowed. “We’re married.”

“Not really.”

“Emma, listen to me,” he said, his voice serious, “regardless of what our relationship is

or isn’t,  I care about you. I won’t stand by and watch you suffer alone.”

Emma nodded, unsure how to respond to his sincerity. As she so often did, Emma deflected by changing the subject. 

“So, um . . . I’ve been wondering. You and Liam have British accents, but you said mom and you called it a puke pot. Aren’t those American words?”

Killian gave a soft laugh and nodded his head. “Aye, they are. My mother was American. Dad hated some of the American words we picked up from her. Puke being the worst, in his opinion.”

“Well, puke pot does have nice alliteration.”

He laughed even harder at that. “Yes, it does.”

She searched his eyes, and realized how much she wanted to ask him about his childhood. He spoke of his mother with affection in the rare moments he mentioned her. His father, on the other hand, rarely came up. Yet asking him about that opened the door to questions on her beginnings, and she wasn’t sure she was ready.

“Thank you,” she finally said, “for taking care of me.”

He brushed a strand of hair gently away from her damp forehead. “I’ll accept a thank you, but no more of this I’m sorry business, okay?”

“Okay,” she whispered softly. She buried herself in the blanket he had brought her earlier, her stomach settling just enough so that she hopefully could sleep. Killian took the pot off her lap and set it within reach on the coffee table. Then he tucked the blanket under her chin before flipping off the lights.  As she drifted off, her last thought was that a girl could get used to this. 

Whatever virus Emma had caught was evidently a 48 hour bug, because the next morning she woke up with an appetite for the first time since before the trip on the Jewel. Killian shooed her out of the kitchen, however, reminding her that she was still weak. When he brought her breakfast, it was plain toast and more Gatorade. She pouted up at him. 

“Dry toast? Can I at least have a bagel?”

He frowned down at her, his arms crossed at his chest. “You need to ease slowly back into eating, Swan. Just see if you keep that down okay, and we’ll go from there.”

“Fine,” she grumbled, reaching for the remote. She had rescheduled all of her sessions for the rest of the week, wanting to be sure she wasn’t contagious. She was relieved since her short walk to the kitchen and back to the couch had left her surprisingly winded. 

Killian came back in with a mug of coffee in his hands. The smell of it made her crave some, but she doubted Killian would go for that. “So,” he said after taking a sip, “would you be alright on your own here today?”

“Absolutely,” Emma said as she nibbled on her toast, “I feel so much better - you have no idea. And I know you’ve got to be behind on work at the shop.”

“Good,” he told her with a genuine smile, but then he narrowed his eyes at her. “Can I trust you to take it easy and not to eat anything heavy?”

“Yes, Dad,” she assured him with a roll of her eyes. 

“Okay,” he said, “I’m off then.”

He bent and brushed a kiss to her cheek before heading out the door. It wasn’t until he was already gone that Emma dropped her toast, paused the episode of Gilmore Girls , and cried out, “What the hell was that?”

Chapter Text

Emma sighed as she polished off another piece of toast. She brushed the crumbs from her lap and relaxed into the comfortable chair on the back porch. She enjoyed the view of the ocean and the soothing sound of surf. It felt wonderful to be out in the fresh air after days cooped up inside sick. She contemplated going back to the kitchen for something more substantial, but she had given Killian her word. Besides, she’d already pushed her luck by spreading an extremely thin layer of butter on her toast. 

Her cell phone started ringing on the patio table, and she jumped as if Killian had some sort of sixth sense about the butter. It was Ruby calling, however, not Killian. 

“Hey, Rubes.”

“Hey, Ems,” Ruby’s simple reply was laced with meaning, “sooo, how’s it going being

married to Mr. Hottie? Please tell me he leaves crumbs in the bed or smells really bad when he first wakes up in the morning. Otherwise I’ll be depressed over the state of my love life.”

Emma laughed as she flicked a few more errant crumbs off her pajama pants. “Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but he’s annoyingly neat. As for what he smells like when he wakes up, I wouldn’t know.”

There was a fumbling sound on the other end and a muttered curse from Ruby. “I’m sorry, I almost dropped my phone. How the hell do you not know? Please tell me you’re not -”

“Making him sleep on the couch? Well, yes. This isn’t the fifteenth century where I sold my body for a goat or something.”

“So the poor man has to sleep on the couch indefinitely?”

“Well, technically, I’ve slept on the couch the past couple of days. I had some sort of stomach bug.”

“That sucks, Ems, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Killian took good care of me.

“Did he?” Once again, Ruby’s voice was laced with unspoken meaning. 

“Don’t start, Ruby, he was just being nice.”

“If he took care of you when you were sick, I personally think you should let him back in the bed.”

Emma rolled her eyes. “I can’t let him back in bed if he was never in it to begin with.”

“Girl, I would change that arrangement ASAP.”

Emma just laughed and shook her head. “Ruby -”

“Emma,” her friend countered, “if you’re going to be married to that for a year, you might as well enjoy it.”

“And the purpose of this call is exactly . . . “

“Fine, fine,” Ruby muttered, “straight to business, if that’s what you want.”

“Yes. Please .

“Okay, well Regina asked me to call and go over your itinerary for the book promotion.”

Emma rose from her chair to go back inside and find her laptop so she could pull up her calendar. “That’s good. I feel so out of the loop. I mean, I’m back to normal at my practice, but the new book has honestly been the last thing on my mind.”

“I don’t blame you with that fine piece of -”

“Ruby,” Emma cut her off, “focus.”

“Right, right, okay . . . so, we’ve got that interview set up on The Tiana Show. And Regina did tell you that will also have a Q&A segment with the audience, right?”

“Mhm,” Emma said as she scrolled through her calendar, “yeah, I made a note of that.”

“They also requested that Killian be there, and Regina okayed it.”

“Wait - what?”

Ruby’s voice was reassuring. “They just want him in the audience. You know, so they can pan to his reactions and stuff.”

Emma slouched back on the couch and wearily rubbed her forehead. “Ruby, how could the two of you not check with me first? Killian has a business to run. He might not be able to take off to New York in the middle of the week.”

“I don’t know, the man seems pretty willing to come running when you call.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing, never mind,” Ruby said hurriedly. She changed the subject to the next item on Emma’s itinerary, and Emma didn’t press it. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know what her friend meant by the comment.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Killian came home from work, he had a huge pot of chicken noodle soup that Elsa had made. It made Emma wonder if the woman cooked anything but soup. She was also grateful for something to eat that wasn’t toast. Personally, she could go for a cheeseburger, but she doubted Killian would agree.  

He did, however, agree to eating outside on the back porch. He also said nothing when Emma slathered a hunk of French bread with butter. The bit she had at lunch hadn’t bothered her stomach, not that she would tell Killian that. 

“Why do you look so nervous?” Killian asked her after blowing on a spoonful of soup. 

Emma jabbed at a chunk of chicken with her spoon rather than looking at him. “I just have to ask you something, and I’m a little nervous you’ll be pissed.”

His forehead creased. “Why would I be? Emma, seriously, you can ask me anything.”

Emma gave him a tentative smile. “That’s sweet, but it’s just . . . well, my agent kind of agreed to something for you.”

Killian rested his elbows on the table. “Okay, I guess that was inconsiderate of her, but I’m not going to blow up about it or anything. Especially not at you.”

Emma let out a breath of air. “Good, and I told Ruby that they need to ask first from here on out.”

Killian tore a piece of bread from the loaf and dipped it into his soup. “So, what is it? I may have to tell them no, depending on what it is, but . . . “ 

He trailed off and shrugged as if to say he would have an open mind about it. 

“They want you to go with me to do a talk show in New York City in a couple of weeks. Not to be interviewed or anything,” Emma rushed to add, “just to be in the audience. The show wants you there for like, reactions or whatever while they’re interviewing me.”

Killian nodded, completely calm, and it honestly threw her more than if he’d gotten pissed. “That’s fine with me. When is it?”

“A week from this coming Wednesday?”

He shook his head at her as a smile lifted the corner of his mouth. “You don’t have to phrase it as a question. I don’t bite, love. Unless you ask me to, that is.” 

He punctuated the innuendo with a wink, and she rolled her eyes as she laughed. “You think you’re cute, don’t you?”

“I try.”

“So can you do it?”

“I don’t see why not. I don’t have any plans.”

“But isn’t this your busy time of year? I mean, with all the tourists around.”

He reached out and took her hand. “Not so much that I can’t take one day to support your career.”

Emma felt her jaw drop slightly, and her gaze flicked to where his thumb was caressing her knuckles. When he saw her expression, he quickly pulled his hand away and cleared his throat. 

“I mean, that’s the whole reason for this arrangement, aye?”

“Right,” Emma said with a nod, “to save my career.”

Silence fell between them as they continued eating their soup. Emma drained her bowl with a sigh, almost embarrassed at how ravenously she had eaten. 

“Did that hit the spot?” 

“Definitely,” she replied, patting her stomach, “I just hope I don’t regret it later.”

“I’m sure if your appetite has returned that you’ll be fine. Besides, it was soup.”

She nodded, regarding him thoughtfully as he continued to leisurely eat his own dinner. “So,” she finally worked up the courage to ask, leaning her elbows on the table, “your half of the bargain was that I would casually help your brother out with his marriage. But from what I see, they’re fine.”

Now it was Killian’s jaw dropping as he paused his eating, spoon held in midair. Emma arched one brow at him. 

“Well,” he finally said, resting his spoon on the table, “they do love each other tremendously, and Elsa’s good for Liam -”

“But?”

“But, there’s been some tension lately.”

Emma searched his face intently as she rested her chin on her clasped hands. She didn’t know why in the world he would lie about his brother needing her help, but it felt like he was grasping for words. “Tension?”

“Aye, tension. Elsa’s ready to start a family, you see, and Liam -”

“Doesn’t want kids?”

“No, no, it’s not that. He does. It’s just . . . he wants to be sure they’re ready. Financially speaking.”

“That’s wise. Having children isn’t something you do lightly.”

“And Elsa understands that, but she -”

Emma lifted a hand. “If you say anything about her biological clock, I might dump the rest of that soup over your head.”

His eyes widened at that. “Okay, I sense a touchiness -”

She gave him a withering glare. “I just don’t like women being treated like they have a shelf life, that’s all.”

Killian leaned back in his seat, his arms crossed, his brow furrowed. Uh-oh. “So you’re going to deny basic biology?”

“What basic biology?”

“That there are a certain number of years -”

“Choose your words very carefully, buddy.”

His hands dropped to the table, and she noticed that his hands were now clenched in fists. “All I’m saying is that Elsa’s waited the first five years of their marriage for something she wants deeply, and my brother is being way too practical. As usual.”

“You have to be practical - it’s a lifetime commitment!”

“But no one can ever be one hundred percent prepared!”

This had quickly gotten out of hand, both their voices rising slightly, and Emma wasn’t even sure where the conversation had gone off the rails. She took a deep breath and when she spoke again, she used her professional therapist voice. 

“It’s a big decision that you shouldn’t rush into.”

Killian leaned across the table, his eyes flashing. “Or it’s something that scares you to death, scares the hell out of you actually because you never had a good example of what a father should be. So even though you want it more than you ever wanted anything, that fear holds you back. So you wait, then wait some more, until one day you’ve waited too long!”

He rose from the table then, so forcefully that the chair behind him flew backwards and wobbled, almost toppling over. Then Killian turned and left, the screen porch door slamming behind him as he headed down the beach.

Emma just sat there for a moment, processing what the hell just happened, and suddenly understanding dawned. She didn’t have a phD in psychology for nothing. 

This had nothing at all to do with Elsa and Liam. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Killian came to a dead stop halfway down the beach when he realized what he was doing. He leaned over his knees, taking big gulps of air. It wasn’t from the exertion of his run - he was in better shape than that - it was the sudden fear washing over him. How could he be this stupid twice? And Emma was just getting over being sick. What if she tried to follow him, got dizzy, and . . . and . . . 

He couldn’t finish the thought. Instead, after one more deep breath, he raced back the way he had come. The fear was even worse when he saw how far he’d run. The house seemed so far away . . . 

Finally, he slowed down right at the back of the house. In the distance, he saw Emma by the fire pit talking to Anna. Relief flooded through him, and he suddenly felt like he’d run a 10k in less than a minute. Once again, he was leaning over, bracing his hands on his knees. Emma turned towards him, but he couldn’t tell from here if she was angry or not. Then she turned back to Anna, gesturing in his direction. Anna nodded, then turned around and went back into the house. 

Killian straightened as Emma drew closer. Her arms were crossed, holding a sweater around her frame, and the ocean breeze tugged at her hair. Even when she got close, her expression was unreadable. 

“I’m sorry.”

Seemed as good a place as any to start.

She tilted her head at him. “I’m sorry too. I didn’t know.”

Killian blinked, then looked back over Emma’s shoulder at his brother’s house. He sighed, “Anna told you?”

Emma nodded, then her expression changed, and her eyes widened. “Wait - did you race back here because you were worried about me?”

Killian ran a hand wearily over his face. “It was just so eerily the same. A fight, me running off -”

Emma stopped his words with a gentle hand to his arm. “Her death wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was just a senseless accident.”

“You don’t understand, Emma. We fought about . . . “ he swallowed the sudden lump in his throat. “We were renovating our house, on the other side of Storybrooke. We added on a new master suite, giving us three bedrooms instead of two, and then Milah suddenly starts referring to one of them as a nursery.”  He turned to look out at the water, his hand raking through his hair. Emma said nothing. 

“I always brushed her off with a joke or something. Finally, we talked about it, and I told her I wasn’t sure we were in a good place financially. The truth was, I was scared.”

“Of what?”

He turned to look into her green eyes. “Of failing. As a father. My dad left us when we were kids, you see, and . . . well, how was I supposed to know what a good father looked like?”

Emma just nodded. “I understand that fear.” She settled down in the sand and motioned for him to join her. He did, knowing she might still be weak from being sick. 

Killian shook his head and sighed before continuing. “But it meant so much to her. Her first husband never wanted kids either, was really volatile about the issue, and it got to be a touchy subject between us.”

Emma said nothing, just looked at him with an expression that made him feel it was safe to go on. No wonder she was so good at her job.

“One day, we were in the middle of working on the house, and she confronted me about it, wouldn’t let me deflect. We ended up getting into a huge fight, and I took off in anger. Just like I did tonight.” He struggled to go on, lowering his head so she couldn’t see the tears starting to form. 

“You don’t need to explain the rest if you don’t want to. Anna told me.”

“If I had been there, she might not have fallen off that ladder.”

“You don’t know that.”

“She might have lived.”

“Killian,” she said in a soft voice, “Anna told me what the coroner said. She broke her neck. Even if you had been there, you wouldn’t have been able to save her.”

He shook his head, clenching his jaw. “But she might not even have been on that ladder if I hadn’t taken off. She might have been more careful. She was probably so distracted . . . “

“Killian look at me,” Emma knelt down in front of him in the sand and took his face in her hands. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“I was only gone for ten minutes. No one expects their life to change that much in ten minutes.”

Emma gave him an encouraging smile. She had also started to stroke his face, and he wondered if she even realized she was doing it.

“Exactly. Ten minutes. How could you have possibly known what would happen? You left for a few minutes to calm down. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“I . . . I didn’t . . . it wasn’t my fault.” 

Emma nodded. Liam had told him the same thing a thousand times. So had Elsa. And David. Yet for some reason, here on the beach with Emma’s soothing voice and gentle hands, the truth of it finally washed over him like the waves crashing against the shore. Something broke inside of him, and his head fell forward onto Emma’s shoulder. She wrapped one arm around him while she stroked his hair with her other hand. He waited for tears to come, for sobs to shake his body, but instead he felt lighter somehow. He supposed he’d shed an ocean of tears for Milah over the years, and nothing but a shaky sigh was left. 

“She wouldn’t want you to blame yourself,” Emma told him. 

He pulled back and took Emma’s hands in his. “You’re right. She wouldn’t.” He stared down at Emma’s hands for a minute, rubbing his thumbs over her knuckles. The sound of the ocean surrounded them, and he slowly breathed in the salty smell of it, then exhaled. 

“Better?” Emma asked.

He nodded, feeling slightly sheepish all of a sudden. He rose to his feet and offered Emma a hand, which she took. Once she was up, he turned towards the house, but she didn’t relinquish his hand.

“You know,” he told her, “I never scheduled a session.”

She laughed. “Lucky for you I had an opening.”

“How much do I owe you?” he teased, bumping her hip.

“This one’s on the house, Jones.”

Despite their fight and the intense conversation on the beach, they spent the rest of the evening the way they normally did - on the couch with Netflix. Around eleven, Emma stretched and yawned. 

“You’ve got me falling into the sleeping habits of an old man,” she told him, poking his leg with her toe. 

“Hey, I may have a few years on you, but I’ve retained my youthful glow.”

She laughed and rolled her eyes as she rose from the couch, wrapping an afghan around her. “What about you?”

A yawn cracked his own jaw as he rubbed at his tired eyes. “I think I’m ready to turn this couch into my bed for the night.”

Emma chewed on her lower lip as she regarded him carefully. “Why don’t we just share the bed?”

He arched a brow at her. “Seriously?”

She shrugged. “Yeah, why not? I mean, we’re both adults.”

Killian rubbed at his jaw as he thought it over. He wouldn’t lie, he was sick of the couch. And as long she was comfortable with it . . .

“Come on,” Emma said, giving him a playful kick, “don’t make a big deal out of it. You know you miss sleeping in a real bed.”

“Well, if you’re sure -”

“One hundred percent.”

“Okay then.” He tossed aside the remote, got up, and followed Emma down the hall. She had already changed into her pajamas, so she brushed her teeth while Killian changed in the bedroom. He went ahead and slipped under the sheets and flipped off the light before Emma came in. Why was his heart pounding like a fifteen year old?

He heard Emma shut off the faucet and flip off the bathroom light. “Whoah, it’s dark!” Emma cried as she stepped into the room. “Why are you hiding? Do you sleep in the nude?”

“No,” Killian protested, “well, not totally. I mean, I’m wearing boxers.” Shut up, he reprimanded himself, you sound like a nervous idiot.

Emma swore under her breath as she tripped over something on her way to the bed. Knowing her, it was a pair of shoes. He felt the bed dip as she got in and wrapped herself up in the covers. He tried to make her out in the dark, but all he could see was her hair. 

“Good night,” Emma whispered.

“Good night,” he whispered back. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Killian was awakened the next morning because something was tickling his nose. It was Emma’s hair - spread all over her pillow and his. He brushed it out of his face as he rolled over. Emma was curled up on her side, her back to him. He took the opportunity to admire her creamy shoulders on display. One strap of her tank top had slipped, and the sight had him getting hard. He was just about to slip out of bed before she noticed how - er - excited he was to see her, when she suddenly rolled over to face him.

“Hey,” she said groggily.

“Hey,” he answered, his voice strained. He tried to inch farther away from her without making it obvious.

“You don’t have to be embarrassed.”

He blinked. “Uh, why would I be embarrassed? Like you said last night, we’re adults.”

“Exactly,” Emma replied through a yawn. She arched her back and stretched both arms over her head, which definitely didn’t help his erection. “And I’m also an adult who counsels couples and has extensive knowledge of sexual physiology and psychology.”

“Are you bragging, Swan?”

“No. I’m just trying to explain why I understand your situation. After all, it’s extremely normal for a healthy man to wake up with an erection.”

She smirked at him as he coughed. He wished he had control over the red creeping up his cheeks. He quickly recovered, however, and winked at her.

“That confident that I’m happy to see you?”

She shrugged, that damn strap still teasing him. “Guess it’s good I’m not a cuddler, or there would be no doubt.”

“Oh trust me, love,” he told her, dropping his voice an octave, “when I jab you with my sword, you’ll feel it.”

Now she was the one blinking rapidly as a blush stained her cheeks. He laughed as he flung the sheets aside. 

“Now look away, darling, unless you want an eyeful. My boxers have never been able to contain my prodigious manhood.”

She didn’t respond at first, and he chuckled again. But when he reached the door of the bathroom, his pillow hit him in the back of the head. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sharing a bed was changing Emma’s sleeping habits. She was getting up earlier for two reasons: one, she had lied to Killian. She apparently was a cuddler. Every morning her eyes flew open before the sun was up when her body sensed something warm, solid, and hairy beneath her cheek. She always extricated herself from his embrace before he woke up. Second, Killian had convinced her to ditch her treadmill and join him on his jogs. She had to admit, she looked forward to her morning workout more with the combination of the gorgeous setting, Smee’s encouragement, and Killian’s company.

He wasn’t chatty on the morning runs, for which she was grateful. She preferred getting in the zone when she exercised. However, they were talking over breakfast and coffee each day. Now that she was up earlier, she had time for more than a bagel as she dashed out the door. She could honestly say that they were friends now, and she enjoyed his company. She had hopes that things wouldn’t be weird after all this was over, and they could still hang out. Especially since they worked in the same building. 

Emma was far more aware of the sounds coming from below her than she used to be (heavy metal music aside). She now knew the difference between the sound of the table saw versus the sander, for example, though both were faint by the time they reached her ears. Her clients probably didn’t even notice. 

She also knew when he was meeting with a client. The sounds in his workshop ceased and the pleasant timbre of his voice drifted up through the vents. Not enough for her to eavesdrop, but enough to bring a smile to her face. He was talented at what he did, and she wanted him to succeed. 

Right now, she could hear the buzz of his table saw as she listened to her current client talk about finally setting boundaries without apologies with the man she had just started dating. Emma was encouraged by her progress, and honestly proud of the young woman. When she first started seeing Emma, she was broken and filled with social anxiety after going through a very public breakup. It had taken a year for the woman to even accept a date from a man who had already proven himself as a good friend. Now, here she was speaking up for herself without apology.

“You know, Jasmine,” Emma told her, “I think you are at a very healthy place. How about we try meeting every six weeks instead of monthly?”

“Really?” the woman asked, beaming. “I think that would work. Does that mean I don’t need the citalopram anymore?”

“No, I think you should still take it. Talk it over with your doctor, but it’s a really safe medication, and ten milligrams a day is a very small dose. Besides, remember what I always say?”

“Medication is just another of my tools to help me cope and nothing to be ashamed of.”

Emma grinned. “Exactly.”

They both rose, and Emma showed Jasmine to the door at the top of the stairs. Over the brunette's shoulder, she saw Killian welcome in a smiling redhead. The woman flipped her hair over one shoulder as she laughed, then she laid a hand on Killian’s bicep. Killian smiled back, then - Emma’s breath caught - he reached up and scratched behind his ear! Emma’s lips pressed together in a thin line. That was his tell when he was nervous - usually sexually nervous. Emma barely heard Jasmine’s goodbye as her head spun. She leaned over to try and see the pair, but Killian led the redhead further into his shop and out of sight. 

Emma went back into her office and started pacing in the small waiting area. Ariel! That was the woman’s name. Killian had made an arbor for her wedding to Eric, similar to the one he had made for her. Well, this Eric might want to know that his wife was flirting with other people’s husbands. 

As soon as the thought entered her brain, Emma tried to put on her therapist hat and remind her subconscious that the woman’s red hair had triggered memories of Walsh’s infidelity with Zelena. 

Her subconscious was hearing none of it. 

Emma stilled her movements and cocked her head as she tried to make out the low voices from the first floor. Were they laughing again? The woman sure was smiling a hell of a lot.

Maybe she always smiles a lot . Therapist Emma tried to say.

Her subconscious ignored Therapist Emma.

Emma marched over to the floor vent near the door so she could hear better. All she could make out was Killian’s accent and Ariel’s more bubbly voice, but not what they were saying. She rolled her eyes and let out a huff of breath before getting down on her hands and knees. Wait, was that more laughter? She leaned closer, turning her ear to the vent and concentrating. She thought she heard Ariel say Killian’s name. In her mind’s eye, she saw her smiling brightly at him, flicking that unfairly beautiful shade of red hair over one shoulder, and gushing, “Oh Killian, you are just so funny.”

Emma snapped back to reality and realized that it had gone quiet. Why were they quiet all of a sudden? What were they doing? Emma’s ear was practically pressed to the vent at this point, and -

“What the bloody hell are you doing?”

Emma let out a strangled yelp as she jumped up from the floor. Killian was standing there in her doorway, looking at her with confusion etched on his brow and barely contained humor teasing the corners of his lips. She blinked and suddenly wanted the floor to open up and swallow her. She had been acting like a complete fool!

“Umm . . . I was . . . looking for something. What are you doing up here?”

He arched a brow at her and struggled to keep a smile at bay. “It’s lunch time. We were going to go over to Granny’s - remember? What did you lose?”

“Lose?”

“You said you lost something,” he said, gesturing to where she’d been on all fours like a dog.

“My earring,” she lied quickly, “I thought maybe it rolled into the vent.”

“Oh,” he said, “well let me help you -”

“No that’s okay!” she told him hurriedly. “I found it, see?” She held up an empty hand with the fingertips pinched together as if she were holding something, then she pretended to fiddle with her earring. Thank God she wore studs!

Killian arched a brow at her, then sauntered close. So close, his chest almost brushed hers. She had to tilt her head to look up at him. He leaned down, his lips almost brushing her ear.

“You mean this earring, love?” he purred. He reached up and caressed the ruby stud with his calloused fingers. “The one you were already wearing when you first stood up?”

He pulled back just enough so he could look her in the eye, and the sinful smile upon his face should have made her furious. 

But it didn’t. Damn him, it almost made her melt into a puddle of goo on the floor.

HIs eyes scanned her face, and for one thrilling moment she thought he would kiss her. Kiss her with absolutely no one watching. But then he pulled back and walked backwards towards the door. 

“You coming, love? Grilled cheese at Granny’s?”

“Uh . . . yeah,” she muttered. 

Emma wanted a way to wipe that shit eating grin off his face, but she couldn’t figure out how to do it. 

“Oh and Emma,” Killian said before she could head down the stairs, “Ariel was smiling and laughing because she and Eric need me to make them a cradle. For their new baby.”

His satisfied smile as he sauntered past her down the stairs made her want to kick him in the ass as hard as she could. Mostly. But another part of her was too busy being relieved about Ariel’s order. 

Chapter Text

Killian Jones really needed to stop giving Emma more reasons to find him adorable and sexy. Like playing blocks with two year old Leo in the middle of the Nolan’s living room. 

“Wow, lad! This is a super tall tower! Do you think we can add this last block?” 

He was on his stomach, guiding Leo’s hand ever so carefully to add one last wooden block to their creation. Killian scooted up on his knees and grinned at the toddler. 

“Now are you ready for the best part?” 

Leo bent his knees and did a funny little bounce with his bottom sticking out. His grin was wide and his eyes sparkled with excitement. 

“Okay,” Killian said, putting an exaggerated tough expression on his face, “ready to dinosaur stomp?” 

Killian swung his arms a bit and “stomped” on his knees while growling. Leo did the same, scrunching his face up adorably as he growled. Then both of them let out a loud roar, and Leo swung his arms at the block tower, knocking it over with a satisfying crash. Killian cheered for the boy, and Leo grinned broadly as he launched himself at his “Uncle Killy.” Killian caught him, but fell backwards as if Leo was too strong for him.

“Oh no, it’s the tickle-saurus-rex!”

Leo’s giggles were so infectious, Emma found herself laughing too as he attempted to tickle Killian. She left the couch to join them, helping the toddler to tickle Killian.

“Not fair!” Killian gasped between bouts of laughter. “The giganta-saurus can’t help the tickle-saurus!”

“Hey!” Emma retorted. “Watch who you're calling gigantic.”

“You gi-unt. Leo wi-tul,” the two year old explained, jabbing Emma with a pudgy finger. 

“I guess you’re right, Leo. You’re little, and I’m giant.”

Killian shrugged from his spot on the floor. His hair was a mess, and it was way sexier than it had a right to be. 

“You can’t argue with the boy’s logic, can you, Swan?”

“Alright kids,” David teased from the dining room, “it’s time to eat.”

Emma scooped Leo up as she stood and balanced him on her hip. Killian stood, groaning as he did. Emma laughed at him.

“Feeling your age, old man?”

“Maybe,” Killian groaned, rubbing at his lower back.

Emma reached out to fix his disheveled hair. She couldn’t help herself. Besides, he didn’t want to look ridiculous in front of his old friends. Right?

“Thanks, love,” he told her softly. 

Emma paused with her fingers just behind his ear. “No problem.”

“Hurry over here before the fish gets cold,” Mary Margaret called out.

Emma yanked her hand away, and Killina cleared his throat awkwardly. Mary Margaret gave Emma a look she couldn’t quite read as she approached the table. She deposited Leo in his booster seat, chatting with the little boy so she wouldn’t have to face whatever look Mary Margaret was leveling at her. 

They all settled around the table, passing around food and chatting amicably. David had grilled some striped bass he had caught just that morning, and Emma held back a moan at how delicious it was. The fresh fish around here was one of the perks she had grown to love. She had never had anything like this in Manhattan. 

As usual, she and Killian had to keep up appearances, so Killian’s hand would every so often land on her knee, or he would press a kiss to her cheek. When the plates were all clean, and they were simply enjoying the conversation, Killian leaned back and slung his arm around the back of Emma’s chair. He doled out casual affection so readily in a fake relationship, she wondered how attentive he would be in a real one.

“So,” Mary Margaret said as she hoisted Leo out of his booster seat, “when did Walsh leave you high and dry?”

Emma’s mouth dropped open, sure she had heard her friend wrong. Mary Margaret just waited for an answer while she wiped Leo’s face and hands with a baby wipe. 

“Please tell me he at least gave you 24 hours,” added David.

Killian’s arm dropped away from her shoulder with a thud as he exchanged a shocked glance with her. Emma blinked rapidly, hardly able to process the turn the conversation had taken. 

“I’m sorry. Who?”

Mary Margaret rolled her eyes. “You two don’t have to fake it with us. We know Walsh was your fiance, Emma. This building is old, the loft is right upstairs, and the walls are thin.”

David eyed them both as he crossed his arms over his chest. “So what’s going on?”
Emma and Killian both released long sighs. 

“Look, I was at Killian’s shop checking on the wedding arbor when Walsh called and dumped me.”

Mary Margaret gasped. “The day of the wedding?”

Emma nodded, then glanced at Killian again with an expression that said help !

“So, uh,” Killian began to explain, “I sort of . . . offered to stand in.”

“So this is a fake marriage?” David’s eyebrows arched.

“No!”

“Yes!”

Emma shook her head at Killian, and he ducked his head and scratched behind his ear. She had to tell him to quit doing that. Surely she wasn’t the only one who had figured out it was his nervous tick. 

“What Killian means is, yes it’s a real marriage in that the wedding was real and there’s a marriage certificate and everything. It’s legal.”

“But,” Killian clarified, his face already turning red, “Emma means that we haven’t . . . that is to say it isn’t . . . “

“Consummated?” Mary Margaret asked.

Emma choked on the sip of water she had just taken. Killian’s face turned positively crimson. 

“So that’s a no, thank God,” David muttered.

“Excuse me?” Killian blurted.

“You’re not my dad,” Emma muttered.

“David, seriously,” Mary Margaret scolded.

David lifted both hands in defense. “I just want to be sure Killian isn’t taking advantage of the situation.”

“I didn’t pimp myself out to him, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Emma snapped.

“Nobody is saying that,” Mary Margaret assured her.

“I would never assume . . . “ Killian stuttered, “I mean . . . “

His face might remain red for the rest of his life. 

“David,” Mary Margaret announced decisively, “take Leo in the living room. Emma’s gonna help me with the dishes.”

“But -” David protested even as his wife thrust the toddler into his arms. Mary Margaret gave him a look , and he sighed and rose from the table. 

“Killian?” Mary Margaret asked pointedly. 

“Yes ma'am,” Killian told her, hanging his head and following quickly after Davd.

Emma laughed. “You use that teacher voice well.” 

Mary Margaret shrugged as she started gathering plates. “Whatever works on third graders also works on men is what I’ve found.”

Emma helped her clear the table and take everything into the kitchen. The building was old, and except for the third floor loft apartment Emma had rented, it was the opposite of an open floor plan. She and Mary Margaret were tucked away from the men where they couldn’t overhear their conversation. Oh, Mary Margaret was good .

“Okay, spill it. Why did Killian Jones agree to marry you at the last minute?’

She also wasn’t subtle. 

Emma avoided her gaze as she ran the hot water and squirted soap on the pile of dishes. “I don’t know. He said he hoped I could help his brother and his wife with some marriage issues.”

Mary Margaret snorted. “And you believed that?”

Emma scowled at her, but when Mary Margaret gave her a pointed look she sighed. “Killian honestly confuses me. I thought he was inconsiderate when he was just the carpenter downstairs blaring loud rock music. When he was making my arbor, I thought he was nothing but a shameless flirt. But now . . . I don’t know what to make of him.”

Mary Margaret tilted her head, regarding Emma in a way that made her blush. She looked quickly down into the sudsy water and started scrubbing at a saucepan. 

“Are you falling for him?”

“You two really need a dishwasher,” Emma grumbled, scrubbing harder.

“Don’t change the subject.”

Emma looked up at her friend in frustration, blowing a strand of hair out of her face. “We have an agreement, okay? Nothing more. We fake this marriage for a year, then we part ways. Killian even says I can spin it in my favor.”

Mary Margaret frowned. “You mean paint him as the bad guy? Emma, that’s awful!”

“I’m not saying that’s what I’m going to do! I’m just saying that we went into this agreeing to no strings, know what I mean?”

Mary Margaret took the clean saucepan and began to dry it with a dishcloth. She said nothing as Emma started washing the plates, but Emma could tell something was bothering her. 

“Spit it out,” she finally groaned.

“I don’t want to see my friend get hurt,” Mary Margaret admitted after a beat of silence.

“I won’t.”

“I wasn’t talking about you.” 

Emma’s brow furrowed. “It was his idea.”

Mary Margaret put down the dish she was drying and turned Emma to face her, ignoring the sudsy water dripping from Emma’s hands and onto the floor. She cupped Emma’s face in her hands. 

“Why do you think he offered, Emma? You can’t be that oblivious, you're too smart for that.”

Emma blinked and sucked in a sharp breath. Mary Margaret couldn’t mean that Killian had serious feelings for her. Could she? Sure, the man could kiss, and he had come to be an actual friend she could talk to, but that didn’t mean he lov - had feelings for her. 

Emma shrugged Mary Margaret off and turned resolutely back to the dishes. 

“We’re being careful.”

“I don’t see how you can be,” Mary Margaret muttered, “living together, pretending to be married, and all those little touches he was giving you tonight.”

“We had to keep up appearances. We didn’t know you had figured it out.”

Mary Margaret kept talking, ignoring Emma’s explanation. “I’ve also just never seen him this happy.”

Emma dropped a handful of silverware into the sink with a splash. She recovered her composure quickly and fished them back out of the water. 

“I think you’re exaggerating.”

“You didn’t see him after Milah died. He was a mess. He sold the house they had been renovating for way less than he should have, bought that little cabin from Liam, then shut himself away. Then he started drinking too much. If it hadn’t been for Liam and David, I don’t know what might have happened.”

Mary Margaret’s words caused Emma to freeze, a sudsy plate in her hand, dripping water all over her jeans. What the hell had she gotten herself into? Mary Margaret pried the plate from her hand silently and started to dry it. 

“I’m not trying to break his heart,” Emma whispered. 

Mary Margaret looked at her gently. “I know that. I also know he’s a grown man who did this of his own free will. I guess I just can’t help worrying.”

“You’re a good friend.”

“I’m your friend too, Emma, so can I give you a little advice?”

Emma bit her bottom lip, the answer “no” on the tip of her tongue, but she finally found she couldn’t resist Mary Margaret’s earnest expression. “Fine, bring it on,” she answered with a teasing smile. “I don’t want anyone to say I can dish it out but can’t take it.”

“I know Walsh hurt you, and it may seem like building a wall around your heart is the wise thing to do. And that wall of yours might keep pain out, but it will keep love out, too. Just . . . open your eyes when it comes to Killian?”

Emma swallowed nervously as she turned quickly back to the dishes in the sink. She never did tell Mary Margaret yes or no. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“So how long have you been in love with Emma?”

David Nolan was many things. Subtle was not one of them. 

Killian groaned and dropped his head into his hands. “Is it that obvious?”

“You standing up in a tux sure was. Why else would you do this?”

“I’m a nice guy?”

David laughed. “No one’s that nice.”

Muppet Babies was playing on the tv to keep Leo occupied, and the two year old giggled at something Gonzo said. He shifted on David’s lap, and Killian noticed the boy’s eyelids drooping. David brushed a kiss across the child’s blonde hair, and Killian’s heart clenched as he looked away. The words Emma had him repeat - “it wasn’t my fault” - replayed in his mind. Yet he also realized that he wanted what David had more than he had been willing to admit. For the first time, hope for the future flickered within his heart instead of regret for the past. 

“Seriously, though,” Killian told his friend, “I didn’t want to see her hurt and humiliated. Not to mention what it would have done to her career.”

David turned away from the dancing Muppets to level Killian with a look that he had seen before. David had given it to him every time he had tried to hide away or drink himself into oblivion after Milah died. Every time he lied and said “I’m fine,” David would give him that look. The look that basically said he wasn’t buying Killian’s shit. 

“And you had absolutely no hopes for anything more?” 

Killian rubbed wearily at his temple before answering. “I confess I hoped we might get . . . closer, but don’t forget, she was left at the altar. I have to proceed with caution.”

Leo had fallen asleep the way only children can - with no preamble. He was limp in David’s arms, his neck bent at an angle that no adult would be able to endure. Somehow, he was already sweaty. David moved with agonizing slowness to grab the remote and mute the cartoon. Then he turned to Killian with a serious expression on his face. 

“Are you prepared for her to leave when this is all over?”

The thought kept him up at night, especially now that Emma shared his bed. He had to admit, he was falling harder every day. And yet . . .  He met David’s gaze with resolve in his eyes. 

“When I win her heart, it won’t be through any trickery or manipulation. It won’t be because I’m convenient. It will be because she wants me. If she doesn’t, I want her to walk away. All I want is her happiness. I mean that, David.”

His friend nodded. “That’s all I want too. For both of you.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Killian sat in the audience of The Tiana Show , sticking out like a sore thumb. Every other audience member was a woman.

He was amazed as well to see how small the stage was. On tv, it looked much bigger. 

Not that he regularly watched The Tiana Show . He had little interest in “swoon worthy” male celebrities, fashion trends, or segments on “how to feel confident choosing a gynecologist.” He had only suffered through a handful of episodes with Emma while she prepped to be a guest. 

The stage still looked bigger on tv.

Tiana herself came out on stage for a sound check and a walk through of her marks for the different segments. The crowd cheered, and she waved. She saw Killian, and her face brightened as she rushed over. 

“I am so glad you could join us, Mr. Jones,” she told him, giving him a firm handshake. 

“I’m happy to be here,” he told her. And he was. Emma was successful, smart, and cared deeply about her clients. She deserved all of the recognition she could get. “But call me Killian, please.”

“Okay, Killian. Did my team prep you on where the cameras would be?”

“Yes, and they made it clear I wasn’t to look at them.”

Tiana pointed a finger at him, “You might just be made for tv, Killian. God knows the camera loves you!”

Killian, unsure what to say, just chuckled nervously as he scratched behind his ear. Tiana winked at him, then returned to the stage where she would give her opening monologue. She addressed the studio audience, getting them pumped up to applaud before they went live. 

Killian didn’t pay much attention to her monologue or the cooking segment that had something to do with a new diet fad. Finally they went to another commercial break, and Tiana moved to the other side of the stage where her interview couch was set up. She winked at Killian as she got settled. He assumed it was a “are you ready for this, proud hubby?” kind of wink and not a flirtatious wink. 

“And we’re back from commercial in 3, 2 . . .”

“Alright, ladies,” Tiana announced, “are you ready for some tough love in the relationship department?”

The audience clapped and cheered loudly as they had been prepped to do during the commercial break. 

“That’s what I thought! Well, today I’ve got a fantastic guest for you. She’s the author of the best seller Seriously, Ladies? , and is releasing tomorrow her new book Ladies, It’s Not Just About the Wedding . She’s got five hundred thousand followers on Instagram, and her videos on YouTube have hits in the millions . Ladies, give it up for relationship expert Dr. Emma Swan!”

The audience applauded, and Killian joined in enthusiastically. Emma smiled at the audience, and gave a little wave. He was probably the only one who knew this wasn’t her favorite part of her job, and he only knew because he’d been living with her for two months. 

“Thank you for being here,” Tiana said to Emma as soon as the crowd quieted.

“I’m happy to be here.”

“We’re going to get to your new book in a moment, but first I have to ask you: how is marriage? It’s been two months, right?”

“Yes,” Emma answered, her smile widening as she caught Killian’s eye, “and I have to say it’s been an incredible two months.”

There were “awes” from the audience, and Killian knew there must be cameras on him. He blocked that out, though, and just kept his gaze on Emma. He didn’t have to fake his smile, though. Looking at Emma always made him smile. She looked especially beautiful today, her glorious blonde hair curled and pinned to one side with a gold barrette. She wore a bold, dark floral dress with a flared skirt. Simple gold bangles on one wrist were her only jewelry. He was seriously lucky to be married to this woman, even if it was only for a year. Who wouldn’t want to be her cheering section?

“Well everyone on social media loves him already.” Tiana gestured to a screen above them where Instagram and Twitter comments appeared. “Right here, lovestruck84 says If I can get man candy like that following Emma Swan’s advice, take my credit card, Swan! darcywaitsforme says Where’s Emma Swan been for the past two months? Are you kidding me? If I married a guy who looks like that, I’d disappear for two YEARs. But I think my favorite is hearteyes4ever91.”

The audience laughed as that particular Instagram comment filled the large screen. Killian had started blushing from the get go, but now his face burned even hotter. 

“If you can’t see this in the back,” Tiana laughed, “it’s just a row of drooling emojis.”

When the audience quieted, Emma responded with poise. “Yes, he is handsome, and I am a lucky woman. But I hope everyone realizes that good looks isn’t what makes a man a great catch. That’s one of the things I address in my new book.”

“Yes,” Tiana agreed, “I was so impressed with your book. I was highlighting like a mad woman. It’s interesting that you wrote it before your wedding. Do you find yourself wanting to change anything now that you’ve settled down?”

“No, not at all. Many of the principles of dating apply to marriage as well. Any relationship requires work, communication, care, and respect.”

“Can you give us an example of that within your own marriage?”

Emma’s gaze turned to Killian again, and the tenderness in it took his breath away. He had no idea what she was going to share, but the look she gave him told him he had nothing to worry about. 

“Everyone’s been going on and on about how handsome Killian is, but they should have seen the way he took care of me when I was sick a couple of weeks ago.” The audience once again melted with a collective awww . Emma pulled her eyes away from Killian’s and back to Tiana. “And believe me, I was not looking sexy one bit, nor was I the nicest patient. Marriage means seeing each other at your worst, so don’t say I do to a man who isn’t willing to hold your hair back while you puke.”

The audience laughed, and Tiana nodded. “Wise words.” Then she looked straight into the main camera. “And when we come back, we’ll hear more from Emma Swan as she fields questions from our studio audience.” 

Tiana and Emma both relaxed a little on the couch and chatted in soft voices. A producer came out and explained to the audience how the Q & A would go. It would look like Tiana was choosing people at random, but they had actually been chosen ahead of time. The producer reminded those women not to change their questions and made sure Tiana knew where they were sitting. Emma, however, had no knowledge of what the questions would be, and he could see the worry lines on her face. When she caught his eye he winked at her. She rolled her eyes in response, but now she was smiling. 

“And we’re back from commercial in 3, 2 . . . “

“Welcome back to the Tiana Show, everyone,” Tiana said, her relaxed posture replaced by one that was ramrod straight and bordered on regal. “Today we have Dr. Emma Swan, relationship expert, to talk about marriage. Emma, before we get to our Q & A portion, I’ve been dying to know: what exactly made you leave New York City. Was it just love for a certain carpenter?”

Emma smiled graciously. “Storybrook is where Killian’s family lives, but he’s very supportive of my career. He would never ask me to move if it wasn’t right. No, the real reason I moved is because I wasn’t satisfied in New York. I mean, I love the city, but my career there just wasn’t what I had set out to do.”

“How so?”

“Well, it got to the point that the only people who could afford my therapy were the super wealthy. I was seeing celebrities, socialites, politicians. I was giving advice to my followers online, but I still sort of felt like a fraud. I keep my past private, but I will share this: I didn’t grow up with a lot. By moving to Storybrooke, I can live more simply and have a smaller, less visible clientele.”

The audience applauded, and Killian joined them. He knew Emma was being one hundred percent genuine. She had told him the same thing before. He also suspected that Walsh hadn’t been completely on board with the move to Storybrooke. 

“That’s beautiful, Emma,” Tiana said, reaching out to grasp her guest by the hand. By the tears glistening in the woman’s brown eyes, Killian sensed she was genuine as well. 

“I’m not trying to be a savior or anything,” Emma laughed. She shrugged. “I just want to make a difference as much as I can.”

“Shouldn’t we all? Now, the moment our studio audience has been eager for! Are you ladies ready to get some free advice today?”

The audience responded with loud cheers. Tiana asked them to raise their hands if they had a marital problem they wanted Emma’s help with. Tiana’s show wasn’t shock tv, so Killian assumed the questions would be common ones and fairly innocuous. Nevertheless, Emma had expressed to him her nerves about this part. He found her gaze again and gave her an encouraging nod. Soon, the first woman was speaking into a microphone. 

“Hi,” the dark haired woman said timidly, “I’ve been married for two years, and I had a question about some advice my mom gave me.”

“Okay,” Emma said calmly, nodding at the woman to continue. 

“Well, she always tells me not to nag my husband, but it’s really hard. We both work, so we divided up the chores, but he always waits until the garbage is overflowing to take it out. It drives me crazy! How can I get him to take it out if I’m not supposed to nag?”

Emma nodded her head, her face neutral. Killian had never seen her do therapy, of course, but this gave him a tiny window into her professional life. She was giving this woman her full attention, with no trace of judgment or even humor on her face. 

“First of all,” Emma began, “no offense to your mother, but this is one of those long held pieces of marriage advice that can be really harmful. I mean, it’s kind of sexist if you think about it. Do you ever hear people telling men not to nag?”

There was a ripple of laughter through the audience, and Killian smiled. They were hanging on her every word. 

“I think we need to define the word nag . If you mean constantly yelling at someone or constantly reminding them of their failures, then yeah, you shouldn’t nag. No one wants to be talked to that way - not a friend, not a coworker, not a child with their parents. Unfortunately, so many women have taken this advice to mean you should never ask your husband to do anything or remind him of things or express your feelings. That is very dangerous because a relationship can’t work if you aren’t able to communicate your wants, needs, and feelings.”

“So how do I get him to take out the garbage?” the woman asked, and the audience laughed. 

Emma smiled. “Well, first you have to tell him that it’s bugging you. He may have no idea that it bothers you. Have you told him?”

The woman wrinkled her nose sheepishly. “Um, no.”

“Then start there. He may think it’s totally fine to wait until things are falling on the floor to take it out. It may never have occurred to him that it bothers you. That actually may solve the whole issue.”

The audience clapped and the woman sat down with a smile on her face. Tiana looked at Emma and tilted her head. 

“Now I know men. What if her sorry husband just keeps on being lazy with the trash? I know my boyfriend just keeps cramming stuff in there, and I’m like do you not see stuff falling all over the floor? Am I right, ladies?”

Emma chuckled. “I never said communication would fix your partner. The important thing is that you are open with your feelings. Another part of strong relationships is having patience with one another’s flaws and accepting the person just as they are.”

“So who’s the messy one in your house, Emma?”

Emma’s cheeks flushed as she glanced at Killian, then she stared at her hands in her lap and chewed on her bottom lip. Tiana threw her head back and laughed. 

“Oh I see how it is,” the hostess quipped, then she turned to Killian. “Mr. Jones, who’s the messy one?”

If there was one thing Killian knew how to do, it was turn on the charm. He cocked an eyebrow and flashed a lopsided grin. 

“Well, Tiana, let’s just say I will happily pick up Emma’s shoes and wet towels for as long as we both shall live.”

Another chorus of awww swelled through the studio audience as Killian winked at his wife. His bloody brilliant, amazing wife. 



Chapter Text

The weeks of August slipped by, and as they did, Emma came to feel more and more comfortable with her “temporary” arrangement. She no longer felt the need to put distance between them in the bed. She sometimes woke to find Killian’s arm around her and his nose buried in her hair, and she found she didn’t mind. She had told him she wasn’t a cuddler, and she wasn’t - he was. The thing that surprised her, however, was how comforting it felt. She didn’t feel the need to slip quickly from his arms or squirm away. Quite the opposite, actually. She usually drifted back to sleep for a few more minutes with a contented smile on her face. Come to think of it, she was sleeping better than she had in years. 

Her days were simpler here than they had been in New York. Walsh had been concerned that they would miss the excitement of the city, but she didn’t miss it at all. She liked the slower pace of her days, the leisurely meals with Killian, and the lazy evenings of Netflix and hot chocolate. Even when they walked across the sand dunes to join Killian’s family for dinner, it was relaxed, ending with all of them gathered around the fire pit as the stars twinkled overhead. 

Kristoff and Anna moved out mid-August, settling into a quaint Cape-Cod style house a few streets over. They closed on the house just in time as tiny Lukas - seven pounds, eight ounces, 18 inches long - made his appearance on August 20th at a little past two o’clock in the morning. Emma and Killian had been awakened from a deep sleep with the news. They had tumbled out of bed in excitement, throwing on clothes, then racing across town to Storybrooke General to see their nephew. It was amazing to Emma how easily she thought of the baby boy that way as she held him in her arms. Technically, he wasn’t even Killian’s nephew, but Anna said technicalities didn’t matter - family was family. 

Mary Margaret and David had become family too, welcoming them for dinner often as well. Leo was always excited to see “Uncle Killy” and “Aunt Emmy.” It was a nice change, too - not having to put on an act, since MM and David knew the truth. Although Emma had a harder and harder time telling what was an act and what wasn’t. 

August melted into September with barely any change in the weather but a slightly cooler breeze off the water. It was still creeping into the high 70s during the day, though Emma knew that by the end of the month, those would drop about ten degrees. She wondered what their daily runs would look like when the weather really got cold, but she didn’t ask Killian. She didn’t want to think too far into the future these days, and she certainly didn’t want to bring it up in conversation. 

They were out for a walk along the water’s edge one evening after dinner when everything changed. They were enjoying the colors of the sunset in silence, tossing a stick leisurely to Smee as they went along, when Killian suddenly got more personal than Emma had wanted. 

“Emma.”

“Yeah?” She turned into the wind to see his face, and her hair blew across her eyes so she couldn’t see his expression. By his tone, she imagined his jaw was clenched. 

“Can I ask you a question?”

Emma swallowed nervously. “Um . . . sure, I guess.”

He turned and stepped closer to her. He reached out and brushed her hair out of her face, tucking it behind her ears. 

“Where is your family?”

His words were gentle, his brow furrowed in concern. This was a topic that she avoided like the plague. She had made it clear in interviews that her past was private. As a matter of fact, as popular as she was on social media, she worked hard to keep her content focused on her work and not her personal life. The only reason her marriage had gotten entangled in it was the nature of that work. 

Emma searched Killian’s earnest face and realized that it wouldn’t be fair to him if she refused to answer. He had shared his most vulnerable memories of Milah, after all. She let out a shuddering breath and closed her eyes for a moment, gathering her courage.

“I don’t have one.” She raised a hand to stop his protests. “I mean, obviously I had parents. I have no idea who they are, though. I was a baby when they dumped me on the side of the highway.”

“Surely an adorable baby like you was adopted right away?”

Emma nodded. “Yeah, I was. By a couple in their fifties who were unable to have kids of their own - the Baxters. Thing is, I don’t remember them either. Unfortunately, Mrs. Baxter died suddenly of a heart attack, and Mr. Baxter just couldn’t cope. Family services got involved and took me out of the home on multiple occasions due to Mr. Baxter’s many problems.”

“Problems?” Killian asked softly. 

Emma shivered as a breeze blew past, even though she was wearing a sweater over her long sleeved tee. 

“Neglect. Substance Abuse. Child endangerment. I’ve read the files. All I really remember is this intimidating man who sat in his La-z-boy drinking beer all day long. I ping ponged between him and multiple foster homes. He didn’t relinquish custody until I was eight, and by that time, no one wanted me.”

“Don’t say that, Emma,” Killian told her in a strained voice. He drew closer and cupped her face in his hands. “You’re wanted.”

She shook her head. “Not then. No one wanted to adopt me by that time. I was too old. Everyone wants a baby or a toddler. I wasn’t . . . enough.”

A single tear slipped down her cheek, and Killian caught it with his thumb. 

“Liam and I . . . our dad took off when we were kids. Mum died when I was thirteen. Then it was just us. Foster care didn’t even try to keep us together, but when Liam aged out, he found me.”

“I didn’t have a Liam.”

“You’ve got me now.”

His hands were warm against her face, his breath caressed her lips, his nose brushed hers. The look in his eyes was too much, and she looked away, over his shoulder and across the horizon. Living by the water all these months, it wasn’t the first time she had seen rain moving across the sand and water like a sheet, but she gasped and stumbled backwards anyway. 

“Rain’s coming,” she said in answer to the hurt in his gaze. Before he could say anything, she turned and ran down the beach, back towards the house. Smee thought it was a game and ran with her, letting out happy barks. She couldn’t run fast enough. Killian called after her, but she just ran faster. Smee bounced happily across her path, playfully nudging at her heels, and she tripped over his furry body. She didn’t go down at first, pinwheeling her arms and digging in her heels. But the rain had already started to come down, and the sand was slick. Her heels slid forward and she landed on her rear end. Killian was at her side almost immediately.

“Are you alright?” he asked as he helped her up. 

“I’m fine,” she snapped, shaking herself from his grasp. She knew it wasn’t fair, but her nerves were raw.

“What were you running from?” 

“The rain!” She had to shout as water poured from the heavens in sheets.

“It’s just rain,” he shouted back, “not a storm.”

“I didn’t want to get wet.”

“We’re already wet!”

They were. His hair was flat against his head, and hers was stuck to her cheeks and neck. Emma’s sweater felt like lead across her shoulders, and Killian’s t-shirt was like a second skin, accentuating every muscle. 

“You!” she shouted through the downpour. 

“What?”

“I was running away from you!” 

His gaze was bewildered as he struggled to blink the rain from his eyes. She didn’t know how else to say it, so she acted instead. She grabbed him by a fistful of his soaked shirt and yanked him to her. This wasn’t a kiss for the sake of appearances when there was an audience. This was unadulterated passion - messy, with clacking teeth, bruised lips, and tangled tongues. When she could no longer breathe, Emma pulled back. She had to grasp his shirt tighter as she stumbled in the sand. Killian steadied her, then reached up to peel strands of hair from her cheeks. 

“Let’s get inside and dry off,” he told her. 

She nodded dumbly, not sure what to say after she’d pretty much humiliated herself. First by running from him like a lunatic, then kissing him like a desperate woman. She released him and turned towards the house. Killian wasn’t far away, his hand hovering a little awkwardly first at her back, then at her shoulder blades. 

They made their way up the back porch steps and through the screen door. Luckily, they kept towels there for drying off Smee after he’d been in the water. They scrubbed themselves wordlessly. Smee shook himself, sending water flying all over the porch. Killian scrubbed the dog next, and Emma kicked off her shoes before going inside.

She stood there shivering in the kitchen, water dripping from her sweater and pooling all over the floor. With shaking hands, she discarded her sweater. The loss of its weight felt nice, but the cold air against her did not. The door banged shut, and she turned to see Killian enter with Smee at his heels. His brow furrowed in concern when he looked at her. 

“You need to get out of those clothes, Swan, before you freeze to death.”

He had discarded his t-shirt on the porch and stood there bare chested, his skin glistening with rain water, his dark hair hanging tantalizingly over his eyes. She swallowed thickly as desire pooled in her belly. 

“I’d like you to get me out of them,” she replied. She meant to say it with playful flirting, but it came out with crackling, straining tension instead. 

“What?”

Emma crossed to him in one stride, pressing her palms to his wet chest. His skin was warm and rose and fell with each breath. Time seemed to slow as her gaze met his, then sped up again as she surged closer, sliding one hand behind his neck to yank his lips to hers. He didn’t hesitate, kissing her back with aggression, wrapping one arm around her and tangling his other in her wet hair. 

He backed her up against the opposite wall, pressing his wet body to hers. Emma let out a sound that was part moan, part desperate pant as her head dropped back against the wall. They were both frantic now, their hands roaming and grasping. Killian traced her jaw, then the column of her neck with his tongue. As his teeth lightly nipped at her earlobe, his hands found her waist and began pushing the wet fabric of her shirt up her torso. She raised her arms, moaning at the loss of contact with his body as the shirt was pulled over her head. As soon as the garment landed with a wet plop on the floor, Killian assaulted her mouth again, swallowing her groan of pleasure with his tongue. His hands skimmed up and over her chest, leaving fire in his wake. His fingers found one of her bra straps, and he slid it with aching slowness over her shoulder, following the path with his lips. Emma dug her fingers into his hair and thrust her hips forward. He groaned as he lifted his head and buried his face in the crook of her neck. 

“Emma,” he whispered on a ragged breath, hot against her skin. “I want you so desperately, but are you sure?”

Emma yanked on his hair, forcing him to look at her. His blue eyes were darkened with lust. 

“Take me to our bed, Killian.”

Our bed?”

She answered with an aggressive kiss and another thrust of her hips. Killian’s hands slid up her back, and he unclasped her bra. He broke their kiss to trail his tongue once again down her neck as he slid her bra off and tossed it aside. She panted at the thought of feeling his lips on her breasts, but instead he pulled her flush against him as he claimed her mouth once more. The feel of wet skin against wet skin and the feel of his damp chest hair rubbing against her sensitive nipples sent heat skittering across every inch of her body. 

Killian reached around, grasped her by the ass, and hoisted her up. Emma wrapped her legs around his waist. He walked her deftly to the bedroom without breaking their kisses. He deposited her onto the bed and slid both her wet shorts and wet panties down her legs in one deft movement. 

Emma was bare before him, and she felt nothing but eagerness. His gaze caressed her, and she had never felt so desirable. She trembled all over as he discarded his shorts and boxers. Up to this point, everything had been frantic and greedy, but now Killian took his time. There wasn’t one inch of her body he didn’t worship, coaxing multiple orgasms out of her before he even entered her. When he did, she was writhing and begging for him, something she never did. She expected him to smirk or laugh at her gasps of “please, please ,” but he didn’t. He sank into her slowly, a look in his eyes she had never seen in a man during sex before. 

There was a lot about him in bed that shattered everything she thought she knew, and she didn’t know whether to be awed or terrified. 

************************************************

The first thought Killian had when he woke up the next morning was that he was colder than he had been before he fell asleep, and he reached out for Emma before he had even opened his eyes. His arms met cold sheets, and he opened his eyes then, puzzled for a moment. Then he heard the shower running, and he relaxed. 

A little, anyway.

A lazy smile curled his lips as he thought over the previous night. After making love and cleaning up, Emma had bounced out to the kitchen in nothing but one of his t-shirts, full of energy and flushed smiles. He, on the other hand, was boneless and spent, his chest still heaving. 

Emma brought an armload of junk food back to bed, and they had eaten their fill as they talked and laughed. That had been followed by kisses which led to swollen lips, which led to more sex. The second round was rougher than the first, Emma on top, her hair wild and glorious all around him. 

He groaned as he buried his face in his pillow, feeling his arousal. He toyed with the idea of joining Emma in the shower, but the water shut off, and he heard the glass door open and shut. As he waited for her, his arousal was replaced with worry as he thought again of last night. He probably shouldn’t have whispered, “I love you” into her skin as he made her come, but she was so bloody glorious, she made it difficult to think straight. 

Emma stepped out of the bathroom in her tiny sleep shorts and strappy tank top, rubbing her long hair with a towel to dry it. God, she was gorgeous!

“Morning, love.”

“Good morning,” she said tightly.

He frowned and reached for her. “Come back to bed.”

She shook her head. “I’ve got a lot to do today.”

“On a Sunday?”

She kept her back to him as she tossed the towel to the floor.

“I’ve got that radio interview coming up, remember?”

He sat up, letting the sheets pool around his waist. Emma’s cheeks warmed when she turned back to him, and he gave her his most charming smile. 

“Not much you can do to prepare for that.”

She tilted her chin. Uh-oh. “I beg to differ.”

He leapt from the bed before she could reach the door, and he gently grasped her elbow. He drew her close, and she didn’t resist, placing a palm against his bare chest. He leaned down and whispered in her ear, his lips brushing her skin. He could feel her shudder at his touch.

“How about breakfast in bed?”

“I said I’m busy,” she snapped, pushing him gently away and turning to the door. “And put some damn clothes on.”

Killian snatched up a pair of boxers and almost tripped in his haste to put them on. He followed after Emma, finding her filling the coffee pot in the kitchen. 

“Emma, we need to talk about last night -”

“I think that was a mistake.”

Killian blinked in shock as he watched her turn away from the sink and pour the water into the coffee maker. Unsurprisingly, she wouldn’t meet his gaze. 

“A mistake?”

“Yeah,” she said with a shrug as she opened a cabinet to retrieve a mug. “We’re both adults with sexual desires, and last night we succumbed to them.”

He shook his head. “Are you saying it meant nothing to you?”

Cold dread snaked through his bloodstream as Emma pressed her lips together in a thin line. She set the mug down on the counter, filled her coffee mug, and took a leisurely sip. 

“Well,” Killian finally said, his voice thick, “it may not have meant anything to you, but it did to me. I meant what I said last night. I love you, Emma Swan. You can run from that, you can ignore it, but you can’t change it. It’s how I feel about you, and I won’t apologize for it.”

He turned away from her then, mumbling about needing a cold shower. When Emma heard the bathroom door slam, she set her mug down with trembling hands, hugged her middle, and wept. 

**********************************************

Emma set herself up on the back porch with her laptop to prepare for the radio show she would be on in the next week. She’d been surprised when Regina set it up, thinking of radio as out of touch with her typical audience, but this show was national and its interviews were also released as podcasts. Emma tried to concentrate on the information Ruby had compiled on the show’s host, but she was distracted by the sounds drifting down the short hallway. The house was so small, she could detect each sound and knew what it meant. Killian just shut off the water in the shower. Now he’s closing the glass shower door. That’s the sound of the handles on the bureau as it opens, so he’s probably getting out new boxers and a shirt. Now he shut the bureau . . . 

She set down her mug of coffee and wearily rubbed her head. She was far too aware of him, and far too rattled by their fight. She’d only told the truth. They were adults, they were both attractive. This was bound to happen sooner or later living in such small quarters. It didn’t mean anything. 

So why was her heart aching?

It may not have meant anything to you, but it did to me . . . I love you, Emma Swan. 

Emma groaned. She could tell herself all day long that it was just sex, but Killian had laid all his cards on the table. And she’d promised Mary Margaret she wouldn’t break his heart . . . 

“I’m going to the workshop,” Killian muttered as he came out of the bedroom, his hair still damp from his shower. 

“Okay,” Emma said hesitantly. He never went in on Sundays. She wondered if she should try to smooth things over, but before she could even gather her thoughts, the front door was slamming shut. 

Emma chewed on her lower lip as she turned back to her laptop. It was a beautiful day with a pleasant breeze blowing off the water and the sun warming the porch. She wanted to soak up every moment of it before the weather turned chilly. Yet it may as well have been freezing cold and stormy for the sinking feeling in her chest. She rubbed her eyes as she rose from the patio table. She wandered back into the house, feeling slightly lost. 

She noticed her wet clothes from the night before still laying in the middle of the kitchen, so she scooped them up and took them to the laundry room. Then she went into the bedroom to retrieve her shorts and panties and Killian’s shorts and boxers. His t-shirt and all the wet towels were still in a heap on the back porch. Killian was more pissed at her than she’d thought. He usually never left messes like this. Smee seemed to think the laundry gathering was some sort of game, and he followed her around the house barking. Emma dumped all of the clothes, still slightly damp and sandy, into the washing machine. 

Looking down at their jumbled, damp clothes, flashes of the night before assaulted her memory. There were images of bare skin, sweat, and moans of pleasure, but there were memories that were more difficult to process. Blue eyes looking at her with such intensity; words whispered against her flesh. I love you .

Emma slammed the lid of the washer shut, then swore aloud when she realized she forgot the damn soap. She opened it again, dumped in some detergent, then started up the wash cycle. 

She was just walking out of the laundry room when a knock at the door made her jump. Smee started to bark threateningly, though Emma knew he would be useless if there were an actual intruder. 

“What are you gonna do, huh?” She teased the dog. “Slobber them to death?”

Nevertheless, it was comforting to have Smee at her side as she approached the front door. A fall wreath that Elsa had hung the day before blocked Emma’s view out the door’s small window, so she opened it hesitantly. When she saw who it was, she let out a sharp, loud gasp. 

“Walsh!”

“Hi, Emma,” he replied in a tone that sounded halfway apologetic. 

Emma’s eyes narrowed and her lips pressed together in an angry line. “Are you crazy? Get off my front porch before someone sees you!”

She reached out and practically yanked him inside. Once she had shut the door and turned to face him, his expression had turned to gleeful satisfaction. 

“Afraid I’ll blow your little charade to pieces?”

Emma glared at him. “What the hell do you want?”

“What do you think? I love you, Emma. I wanted to marry you! I still do.”

Emma crossed her arms over her chest. “Really? I thought you were in love with Zelena. Remember her? The woman you left me at the altar for?” 

Walsh shook his head. “I was a fool -”

“We can agree on that at least,” Emma snorted.

“Can you just hear me out?”

“I don’t owe you a damn thing, Walsh!” 

After Emma shouted, everything went downhill in a blur. Walsh reached out and grabbed her arm, and a second after that, Killian burst through the door. Later, Emma would realize how it must have looked to him - her shouting and then running in to see Walsh grabbing her - but in the moment, it was jarring. One moment Walsh was grabbing her, and the next Killian was flinging the man against the opposite wall. 

“Don’t you lay a finger on her!”

“What the hell!” Walsh cried.

“Yeah, what the hell!” Emma protested. “I was about to punch him myself!”

Killian glanced at her, his eyes wide with admiration, his mouth twitched up in appreciation. 

“I just came to talk, for God’s sake!” Walsh shouted. 

“Get out of our house,” Killian growled. 

Walsh adjusted his sports jacket and glared at both of them. He looked first at Emma, then at Killian with a wicked gleam in his eyes. 

“So you’re fucking him. I wondered.”

Emma lunged forward, but Killian beat her to it, landing a left hook to Walsh’s jaw. The man fell to the ground with the force of the blow. 

“I said. Get. Out,” Killian seethed between clenched teeth. 

Walsh scrambled to his feet, a hand to his swollen jaw, his jacket askew again, and his hair falling in his eyes like a coward on the playground. He yanked the front door open, but before he walked out, he turned to Emma and sneered at her. 

“I’d watch out if I were you, Emma. The truth is going to come out. Sooner rather than later.”

Emma opened her mouth to ask him what he meant by that, but he hurried out the door, slamming it behind him before she could speak. She heard the wheels of his sports car on the gravel drive, then heard the engine rev as he drove away. In his absence, a lead weight seemed to fall between her and Killian. 

“Why was he here?” Killian finally asked in a wounded voice.

“The hell if I know!” Emma snapped. “You think I invited him?”

“I don’t know what to believe,” Killian bit out. “I certainly misinterpreted things last night. Now I show up and your ex is here -”

“That’s not fair!” Emma interrupted. “I didn’t ask Walsh to show up, and for that matter, I never asked you to . . . to . . . develop feelings for me.”

“Love you,” Killian clarified boldly. “You never asked me to love you.”

“Okay then!” She shot back, her voice rising. “I didn’t ask you to love me!”

Killian searched her gaze for a moment, and then his shoulders sagged and his head fell forward. 

“You’re right,” he finally said quietly. “You didn’t.”

He turned and walked right back out the front door. Emma hugged her torso and wondered stupidly why he’d come home to begin with. She glanced at the clock and saw it was a little past noon. He’d come home for lunch and found Walsh here. She groaned and rubbed her forehead wearily, then she sank with a thud to the couch. 

As she buried her face in her hands, she realized with a wave of sadness how much easier it would have been if Killian had kept yelling. Anger was so much easier than this ache in her heart. 

 

Chapter Text

Emma yanked a blouse off a hanger, wadded it into a ball and stuffed it into her suitcase. Then she swept her hand through her underwear drawer, came up with four pairs of panties, then unceremoniously dumped them in on top of the blouse. She stomped over to the pile of clean clothes she’d just removed from the dryer, fished out a couple of bras, and crammed those into the bag as well. Everything would be wrinkled when she got to New York, but what the hell did it matter? It was a radio show anyway. 

Most radio shows these days called in their interviews, but radio legend Victoria Belfrey preferred to do hers in person. She liked to tell her listeners how she was sipping tea with various powerful women. 

“I know you're angry with me, love, but don’t take it out on your clothing.”

Emma looked up at Killian, a pair of her jeans balled up against her chest, and scowled at him. “Call it cathartic packing.” 

She shoved past him to get to a pair of high heeled boots that were tossed in the corner. Behind her, she heard Killian give a long-suffering sigh. 

“Please let me go with you?”

Emma refused to look at him as she shoved the jeans into the bag, then zipped it shut. “No need. It’s just an overnight trip.” 

“Yet another convenient way to avoid me.”

His jaw was clenched, and he stood in the doorway, legs spread, fists tight at his sides. They’d just had yet another fight. This was their new normal; avoid one another until it was no longer possible in the tiny house, then get into a rip-roaring fight over something ridiculous. This time it was back to her habit of leaving dirty knives next to the sink. Killian was back to sleeping on the couch, and Emma was back to running on the treadmill. 

“I’m not avoiding you,” she lied.

He gave a sardonic laugh. “And we’re also just fighting about messy kitchen habits.”

“Killian -”

“No seriously, Emma, we need to talk. Really talk.”

“No we don’t!” she spread her arms wide. “Because none of this is real! We agreed to cohabitate for six months to a year, that’s it, so let’s just get through it, okay?”

“But we -”

“Stop right there.”

Killian closed his mouth and his entire body deflated. “As you wish.”

The next sound Emma heard was the door slamming shut. She sank to the edge of the bed and put her head in her hands. Weariness spread through her body, but she forced herself to get up and finish packing. She had just wheeled her small suitcase out of the bedroom when she heard a knock at the back door. That meant it could only be Elsa or Liam. Emma’s head dropped back as she let out an exasperated sigh. 

“Come in!” she called out. 

The door opened, and Elsa stepped hesitantly over the threshold. “You sure you want me to? That didn’t sound very welcoming.”

Emma dropped to the couch. “I’m sorry. I’m just . . . stressed.”

Elsa gave her a pointed look as she sat in the chair across from her. “Stressed. You mean because you married Killian at the last minute when your groom didn’t show?”

Emma felt the blood drain from her face as her mouth hung open and her eyes blinked rapidly. Had she just heard Elsa right?

“Wait, uh . . . what?”

“Your marriage of . . . what would you call it? Convenience? Unless it’s a fake marriage.”

“No, no, we’re legally married.” Emma tilted her head, her forehead creased. “Are we seriously having this conversation?”

Elsa laughed. “Oh, it’s real.”

Emma rose from the couch and started to pace back and forth, rubbing her forehead wearily. “Well what the hell are we even trying to do? I mean, have we fooled anyone at all?”

“You fooled Anna. And all of your Instagram followers, apparently. The hostess on that talk show seemed to eat you two up.”

“Liam?”

Elsa shook her head. “Suspicious from the start. To be honest, I thought he was overreacting at first, but then . . . “

Emma sank to the couch again, lowered her face to both hands, and groaned. “How did you figure it out?”

“Well, first of all, it didn’t make sense that Killian would have been able to hide a relationship. He kind of wears his heart on his sleeve, you know? Plus, since Milah died, he’s been a man of dull routine. If he’d been seeing you all that time, we would have noticed, since we live right next door. But it was the man who visited you the other day that caused all the pieces to fall into place.”

“Walsh.” Emma swore under her breath. 

“I wasn’t trying to invade your privacy,” Elsa clarified, both hands raised. “I was hanging another one of my wreaths, you know since we have that double front door, and I -”

“You saw him.”

“Yeah, I did, and I recognized him. I realized I had seen him with you in town once.”

Emma fell backwards onto the couch and hugged a pillow to her chest. “I am the worst human being in the world. You and Liam must hate me.”

Elsa rose and came to sit next to her. “I don’t hate you.”

Emma looked up at her with arched brows. “I notice you said I , not we, so I’m going to assume that Liam at least hates me.”

“Hate’s such a strong word,” Elsa laughed.

“How are you so calm about this?”

Elsa leaned against the back of the couch, resting her chin in her hand, “You were in a crisis situation, and Killian came to your rescue. Let me guess, you got the news when he was delivering your arbor.”

“Pretty close.”

“Killian can’t resist playing the hero, it’s in his DNA. Besides that, he -” Elsa suddenly found the pattern on the throw pillows fascinating.

“He what?”

Elsa sighed. “Come on, Emma, you know what. He likes to play the hero, yes, but think about it for a second. A man doesn’t jump to marry just anybody.”

“Six months to a year. That’s all we agreed to.”

Elsa leveled her with a look that had her squirming. Emma jumped from the couch and started going through her purse. Emergency cash - check; cell phone - check; quarters for tolls - check, granola bar for when she got hungry - check.

“Emma,” Elsa said softly, coming around the couch to gently touch her elbow, “take it from someone who’s been there. Jones men are in it for the long haul. He won’t abandon you.”

Emma squeezed her eyes shut and clutched the straps of her purse tighter. “You’re talking as if I . . . I . . . “

“Love him?”

Emma’s eyes snapped open at Elsa’s words. Her lips tightened into a thin line. She slung her purse over her shoulder, then yanked her suitcase across the floor towards the front door. 

“I have someplace to be,” she muttered, not caring about how rude she was, “you know how to lock up.”

**********************************************************

For the first time since he first met Emma, Killian cranked up the music in his workshop as loud as it would go.  AC/DC thrummed from his bluetooth speakers louder than was necessary, even for him. He would probably have a headache later. He knew it was immature and downright stupid. Emma wasn’t even coming into the office today. She was probably already halfway to New York by now. 

Killian was using the electric sander when suddenly the workshop was plunged into absolute silence and the sander went still in his hand. He swore loudly, assuming it was a power outage, but when he turned around, Liam was standing there with cords dangling from his fists. 

“What the bloody hell!”

Liam scowled at him as he tossed the cords on a nearby work table. “I’ve been shouting at you for five minutes.”

“I doubt it was five,” Killian muttered as he removed his safety glasses and yanked off his work gloves. 

“I brought you lunch,” Liam told him, jerking his head back towards the front of the store. 

“Not hungry,” Killian told him flatly as he untangled the sander’s cord from the bluetooth cords. 

“Listen, I don’t know what happened between you and Emma, but you’re both acting like you’re pissed at the universe. So one way or another, you’re gonna talk to me about it.”

Killian’s brow furrowed. “How do you know how Emma’s feeling?”

“Elsa went by to talk to her.”

“I’m sure she regrets testing the wrath of Emma Swan.”

Knowing his brother wouldn’t back down, Killian stomped out to the store front and flipped the “open” sign to “closed.” He grabbed the two take out bags from Granny’s and sat down with them at a table in the corner. Liam joined him wordlessly. For a while, they ate in silence, but once Liam had polished off his club sandwich, he crumpled the wrapper, tossed it into one of the bags, and leaned back with his arms crossed.

“Now that your blood sugar is at an acceptable level, do you mind telling me the damn truth? And start from the beginning, little brother.”

Killian sighed and ran his hand wearily over his face. “When did you figure it out?”

“I didn’t. Elsa did. Though I knew something was off from the beginning.”

Between french fries, Killian told Liam the whole story, starting from the wedding day when Emma came by his shop to check on the arbor. He finished by explaining (in only the vaguest terms) how their relationship became physical, what he’d told Emma, and the way she had been pushing him away ever since. 

“Falling in love wasn’t part of our agreement, and it was stupid of me to let it happen.”

Liam gave him a scrutinizing look that was downright uncomfortable, then shook his head. “I asked you to start from the beginning.”

“I did! It all started when Walsh -”

“No,” Liam cut him off, “start with when you first started falling in love with her.”

Killian dropped his face to his hands with a groan. “I’m an idiot.”

“You’re not an idiot. A hopeless romantic, yes, but not an idiot.”

“You would never do something like this.”

Liam chuckled. “The boring, straight-laced, big brother thing, huh?” He leaned over, resting his elbows on his knees. “That may be so, but you’d be surprised what I’d be willing to do for Elsa. Love makes us do crazy things. The question is, are you ready to give up yet?”

Killian clenched his jaw. “No way.”

“Then keep being there for her. You’ve still got at least . . . three months? Three months of this marriage of convenience to win her heart.”

“Only if she wants me. I won’t use any manipulation or trickery.”


“I would expect nothing less of you.”

*****************************************************

“So your brother and Elsa figured it out?”

Mary Margaret paused with tongs poised over the caesar salad she was tossing. She 

and David had invited him over for dinner while Emma was gone. They were planning on listening to Emma’s radio show together too.

“Yes,” Killian replied as he sliced a loaf of garlic bread. 

“So what’s the point anymore?” David asked from the kitchen table where he was buckling Leo into his booster seat. 

“David,” Mary Margaret admonished as she brought in the salad and set it on the table, “they did this for Emma’s career, remember? All of her Instagram and YouTube followers, the media - they all believe she’s married.”

“Besides,” Killian added as he sat down with the bread, “no one else knows but them and the two of you. Even Anna and Kristoff don’t know. I’m frankly relieved my brother knows. Lying to him wasn’t easy.”

“I can imagine,” Mary Margaret told him sympathetically. She reached across the table to squeeze  his hand. 

“And Walsh knows, don’t forget that,” David added. Mary Margaret scowled at her husband, and Killian laughed when David suddenly yelped. “Ow, what was that for?”

“You two are the farthest thing from subtle,” Killian chuckled. “In all seriousness, though, I’d rather not talk about Walsh right now, so can we just eat?”

His friends did as he asked, and they busied themselves by passing around the food. As they ate, talk turned to more benign things like Leo’s latest exploits, the adorableness of Killian’s “nephew,” and the colt that Elsa had helped deliver at the stables. Leo also added to the distraction by making an absolute mess of himself. David shook his head and sighed as he lifted the boy out of his seat and headed for the bathroom.

“I guess lasagna isn’t the best idea for a two year old,” Mary Margaret chuckled as she wiped down the tray that clipped onto Leo’s booster seat. 

Killian grabbed a roll of paper towels so he could help get blobs of tomato sauce and cheese off the floor. Down the hall, they heard the water running, then David shout.

“No, don’t wipe your hands on the wall!”

Killian and Mary Margaret dissolved into laughter again. 

“I’m sorry,” Mary Margaret groaned, “this isn’t exactly the nicest dining experience.”

“Well, it is entertaining.” Killian rose and tossed the messy paper towels into the trash can. Then he looked at his friend and told her sincerely, “I don’t mind Leo, honestly. I love being with your family. You know that, right?”

Mary Margaret’s eyes welled up, and she started to fan her face with her hand. “Now don’t do that, Killian, you know I’m a sap!”

She crossed the room and enveloped him in a tight hug. At the same moment, David came out of the bathroom with Leo wrapped up in a towel. 

“You're not making a move on my wife, are you Jones?” he teased.

“How can I when you won’t give us any privacy?” Killian quipped. 

“You two,” Mary Margaret laughed. Leo squealed when he saw his mother and reached out his pudgy hands for her. “Let me get this little guy in his pjs while you big guys set up the computer.”

By the time Mary Margaret got Leo down for bed, the men had The Victoria Belfry Radio Show pulled up online and had the bluetooth speakers set up. Mary Margaret collapsed wearily onto the couch next to David. 

“Did he demand you sing three different songs and read an entire stack of books before he could go to sleep?”

Mary Margaret wearily rubbed her forehead. “Close. Have I missed anything?”

Killian shook his head. “No. Belfry’s just doing the intro right now.”

“And now, ladies,” Belfry’s elegant voice cooed over the radio waves, “ let’s talk to the woman herself Ms. Emma Swan, relationship expert. Welcome, Emma.”

“Thank you for having me, Victoria.”

“It’s my pleasure. I wish all of you at home could join us here on my veranda for tea. I have had so many powerful, intelligent women join me here -”

“I wonder if they really have tea,” Mary Margaret mused, “and she always sounds kind of snobby to me. Going on about how many powerful intelligent women come to her veranda .”

David chuckled. “I guess we’ll have to ask Emma when she gets back.”

Belfry chatted with Emma then about her newest book, her philosophies on healthy relationships, and what her top advice would be for single women. Unlike most interviews, Belfry didn’t ask about Emma’s marriage, for which Killian was relieved. He wasn’t one hundred percent sure, but he got the impression from listening to her that Belfry didn’t like men very much. Scratch that, she sounded like she thought men were scum.

“Am I the only one thinking this woman hates the entire male species with a passion?” David asked.

“I was thinking the exact same thing,” Killian laughed.

“Well you are annoying sometimes,” Mary Margaret deadpanned. 

Her husband tickled her, pulled her onto his lap, then kissed her nose. Mary Margaret’s smile was practically blinding as she reached up and cupped David’s face in her hands. 

“But I guess I’ll keep you around.”

As they kissed, Killian looked away, his heart sinking. It reminded him of everything he wanted with Emma and how badly things had been between them when she left. 

“Emma, your advice is so empowering and encouraging for single women.”

“Thank you, Victoria.”

“After this commercial break, we’ll take calls from our listeners, so stay tuned!”

Killian sagged against the couch, unaware how tense his shoulders had been. Emma just had to get through the call-in portion of the show without letting it slip that they weren’t speaking right now, and they were home free. 

“She’s doing great,” Mary Margaret assured him. 

“Of course she is,” Killian replied, “she always does. I just don’t want her to be put in an awkward position just because we’re fighting right now.”

He almost said he didn’t want her to have to lie, but they’d been doing nothing but lie since June. 

After a couple of commercials, Belfry was back. She welcomed the first caller, who tearfully asked how to get her cheating boyfriend back, and Killian felt guilty when he was relieved. Emma handled the call with grace, encouraging the young woman to cut all ties with the cheater and move on. The second call was from a newlywed who felt like her husband didn’t talk to her as much as he had when they were dating. Again, Emma amazed him with her brilliant answer, and he felt himself relax a little. 

“We have time for one more call,” said Belfry, “caller number three, you’re on the air.”

“Yes, I’m calling with a question for Emma Swan.”

“Okay, what’s your question?” 

Killian could tell from the sound of Emma’s voice that she was feeling at ease, even invigorated. He knew how much she enjoyed helping women avoid or get out of unhealthy relationships. She really, truly, wanted women to know that they were never nothing, that they were enough and never too much. He found himself smiling because he was just so bloody proud of her. 

“Emma, I want to know how much you paid Killian Jones to marry you.”

It felt as if the air had been sucked out of the room. Killian lifted his stricken face to Davd’s and Mary Margaret’s. They looked just as horrified as he felt. 

“I’m . . . I’m sorry,” Emma stammered. “I have no idea why you would ask me something like that.”

“My name is Zelena West, and I know for a fact that Killian Jones was never your fiance.”

Zelena West? Zelena! Killian groaned. Shit, this was bad. 

“Victoria,” Emma said in a strained voice, “I think we should end this call. I have no wish to speak to this woman.”

“Why won’t you answer her question, Emma?” Belfry asked cooly, with the tiniest hint of glee in her voice. 

Killian’s jaw clenched at the oily sound of it. The woman was clearly loving the juicy information she was getting live on her show. 

“Ms. Swan was engaged to Walsh Barnum, NOT Killian Jones,” Zelena continued, “and I know this because I was with Mr. Barnum when he called Emma Swan and told her he wouldn’t be marrying here. It was the morning of their wedding, so I ask you again Ms. Swan: how much are you paying Killian Jones?”

Killian swore at the exact same moment Emma did.

“Shit.”

“Shit.”