Emma tipped her Uber driver and hurried out of the car, cursing how late she was. Of course tonight would have been the night their producer would keep them past curtain call for a big announcement. The night she was supposed to meet her friends so they could all watch The Dashing Rapscallions’, Killian’s band, perform at The Poison Apple. At this rate, she’d be lucky to catch the last few songs.
In the days since meeting Killian Jones, he’d become the main topic of conversation amongst her friends. Well, him and his band. Ruby had been relentless in her demand for every last juicy detail of their walk back to her house that night, which had spurred a myriad of questions from her housemates, friends, and, unfortunately, her brother, David. Curiosities piqued, they’d all insisted on coming to see his set, so she wasn’t at all surprised to find them all huddled around a few cafe tables halfway between the stage and the bar. She was also not at all surprised to see the throng of women pressed against the front of the stage ogling the sinfully attractive frontman strumming his guitar as he crooned into the microphone perched atop its stand.
Outfitted in a thin, black t-shirt that stretched wonderfully across the hard planes of his chest and tucked into an obscenely tight pair of black leather pants that laced up the front, Killian’s guyliner was on point, making the blue of his eyes pop even from beneath the fringe that had fallen over his forehead. He was all sex, leather, and smoulder, serving himself up with a tone of seduction that rolled off his tongue in a sultry timbre, the music of which radiated a dizzying desire throughout Emma’s entire body.
Fuck, was he hot.
One of her friends spotted her and flagged her over to the tables as the song came to an end. Impossibly, he must have heard her name being called out over the roar and whistles of the crowd, because she saw him scan the area around their tables, a broad smile pulling at his lips when his eyes found hers.
Setting his guitar on its stand, he wrapped his hands around the microphone and announced their final song for the night.
“It’s a cover you lot might recognize, by a gent named Adam Lambert.” A cheer went up within the crowd that made Killian chuckle. The deep resonance crackling through the speakers sent a ripple of wonder over Emma’s entire body. “It’s titled Runnin’, and it's dedicated to someone with whom I’d like to do the exact opposite.”
Emma flushed at the way his gaze flicked over to her before Will counted them off, and that heat only deepened throughout the performance, sinking into the very core of her being. Though she had heard the song before, this time the lyrics resonated with her in a way they never had before. She could only surmise it was the way he poured out his own soul with every verse, as if they were a confession, a testimony of the pain he himself had walked through.
His hands continued to grip the microphone as he attested,
Now I can't seem to breathe right
'Cause I keep runnin' runnin' runnin' runnin'
Runnin' runnin' runnin' runnin'
Runnin' from my heart
Words Emma could relate to a little too well.
She picked up on the emotional strain in his silky voice when it punctuated,
'Round and around I go
Addicted to the numb livin’ in the cold
The higher, the lower, the down, down, down
Sick of being tired and sick
And ready for another kind of fix
The damage is damning me down, down, down
When the tempo kicked up, the bass drum taking over at the bridge, Emma could feel not only the deafening beat reverberate through her body but the rhythm of something else she connected with in Killian’s eyes as he held her gaze and professed,
Oh, I’m coming alive
Oh, I’ll wake up now and live
Oh, I’m coming alive
A life that’s always been a dream
I’ll wake up now and live
I’ve been standing here my whole life
My heart’s beating faster
I know what I’m after
Emma was breathless by the time the set ended, only vaguely aware of them thanking the crowd and waving as they exited behind stage. She was yanked out of her lust and longing induced stupor by a sharp tug on her arm from Ruby beside her.
“Holy. Shit,” her friend exclaimed with wide eyes. “They were amazing!” Taking in whatever expression was currently residing on Emma’s face, Ruby narrowed her eyes mischievously and a smirk lifted at the corner of her lips. “You might want to see if they have something at the bar to catch all that drool,” she teased.
Emma rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to the rest of their group. David and Graham were busy discussing some of their favorite bands, and which songs they themselves would cover if they were even remotely musically inclined. Mary Margaret, Elsa, and Belle were all eager to catch Emma up on the other songs she’d missed, with Ruby interjecting all the visuals she deemed necessary in order to give Emma the full picture; from the way Killian held his guitar and how deftly his fingers moved over the strings, to the way he moved his body, how it rocked and rolled to the rhythm of the beat, his hips speaking some sort of forbidden language Ruby felt it imperative that Emma learn first hand.
By the time Killian and his bandmates made it to their table (having been intercepted a few times by eager fans requesting autographs, selfies, and lord only knows what else), Emma had been fully debriefed on all she had missed.
“Hello, love,” Killian murmured into her ear, sending a shiver down her spine. “I was starting to worry you wouldn’t make it.”
“Yeah. Sorry about that. The producers called a cast meeting after curtain.”
“Everything’s great, actually. Apparently some investors are coming to see the show this weekend, and there’s a possibility they might fund a national tour.”
Killian’s face lit up. “That’s brilliant news, Swan! Let me get us some drinks so we can celebrate.”
“I should introduce you to everyone first,” she said, halting his departure by grasping onto his arm. His very toned arm.
“No need,” he replied, “Ruby took care of that before our set. Brought everyone up to the stage as we were setting up.”
“Of course she did,” Emma muttered on an amused breath, only now noticing how easily Robin and Will had managed to enter into the discourse David and Graham were still engaged in… and how Will’s eyes kept slipping over to Belle.
“So, what will it be? Your usual martini, or the rum we both know you’ll steal from me anyway?” Killian asked with a cheeky smirk and lifted brow.
“Why don't you let me go get the drinks?” Emma insisted. “Given the amount of times you were accosted from the stage door to here, I’m not sure you’ll make it back from the bar in one piece. Much less with my beverage.”
Killian laughed at that, and Emma hoped the tiny bit of envy (okay, the giant jealousy monster. Whatever.) she was feeling wasn’t evident in her tone or expression. Fortunately, he relented, and some of Emma’s insecurities at seeing all the women in the bar devour him with their eyes were put to rest with the searing heat of his gaze following after her.
“Rum. Neat. Make it two,” Emma ordered when she finally caught the bartender’s attention.
“Rum? That’s not your usual.”
Emma froze at the sound of the voice coming from behind her. Peering over her shoulder, she uttered his name as though it were a curse. Because it was. “Neal? What the hell are you doing here?”
“I could ask the same of you,” he said, already pressing in too closely. “Isn’t Wonderland your normal haunt? That’s why Graham doesn’t let me in any more, right?”
Two tumblers were set down on the bar in front of her, and Emma wasted no time in handing cash over to the awaiting bartender so she could gather them up and get away from her ex before making a scene. Neal seemed to have other plans, made apparent by the way he refused to move out of her way.
“So, who are you here with?” he asked, jutting his chin towards the second tumbler in her hand.
“None of your business,” she snapped, pushing past him and others congregated around the bar.
When she finally managed to extricate herself from the crowd, she headed towards the cluster of cafe tables, her eyes decidedly fixed on Killian Jones, but the uncomfortable look on his face gave her pause until she heard Neal exclaim, “Killian fucking Jones?!”
Emma glanced between the two men who were now aware of the other’s presence. Killian stood with a slight slump to his shoulders, a penitent look upon his face as Neal’s eyes shot daggers at him.
“So, I take it you two know each other,” Emma quipped as she handed a glass of rum to Killian with a curious and somewhat amused smirk.
Killian eyes softened when he shifted his gaze to hers, accepting the proffered glass with a soft, “Thank you, love.”
“Don’t call her that,” Neal spat through clenched teeth.
Killian responded with a resigned sigh as he dropped his head with an air of contrition. Clearly there was some bad blood between these two, but Emma could see the remorse that Killian felt over whatever their past issues were. Issues that, as far as she was concerned, were between Neal and Killian.
Emma had her own issues with Neal.
“Excuse me?” she countered, taking a step closer and getting in Neal’s face. “I think it’s up to me to decide how a man can or can not address me. Not you.” Crossing her arms, she used her position to block Killian from Neal’s view. This wasn’t about Killian.
“Emma you don’t understand, you can’t trust that guy. He --” Neal began patronizingly. It wasn’t a plea, or a warning, but the beginning of a command. One Neal had no right in making.
“Oh, ho. Wow!” Emma exclaimed. “Trust? Really? That is rich coming from you.” Moments ago she had wished to not make a scene. Now? Well, she was used to the attention of a crowd, and they were about to get a show.
“Tell me, Neal. How is Tamara? Has the morning sickness passed, yet? Have you found out the sex of your baby, yet?” Now it was Emma’s tone dripping with hostility as she advanced toward him, backing him up with each accusatory question.
“Go away Neal, you’re going to kill my buzz.” She turned her back on him once again to join her friends, but Neal wouldn’t go away. Just as she was about to reach her spot at the table, Neal grasped her elbow and turned her back to face him. A move that put every man gathered around their tables on high alert, ready to intervene. Emma held her hand up to stop them. She could, would, handle this.
“Emma, I’m not leaving you while he’s here,” Neal declared as he nudged his head in Killian’s direction. “Killian is--”
Emma had had enough. Wrenching her arm out of Neal’s grasp, she put up her hand once more to stay whatever Neal was going to say.
“Neal. Whatever happened between you and Killian,” she began, gesturing between the two men, “is between you and Killian. I don’t care.” That last remark was addressed more to Killian, thrown his way with an earnest glance before she faced Neal again to continue on with a fair amount of scornful sass. “Although, the fact that he apparently did something to piss you off this badly, kinda makes me want to kiss him. Again.”
Neal’s face, which was already red with fury, was starting to turn a bit purple. Emma watched as he clenched and released his fists at his sides and wondered if maybe she’d gone too far with her last remark. Even if she did get a perverse sense of pleasure knowing that Killian had once done something awful to the man who had done something so awful to her.
“Emma, I’m just trying to look out for you,” Neal said, attempting to calm his aggravation enough to at least seem sincere.
She wasn’t buying it.
“Look around, Neal,” Emma said while waving her hands towards all her friends gathered. “I have plenty of people to look out for me. I don’t need you. I don’t want you. Go home, Neal. Tamara needs you. Your child needs you.” Emma turned her back on Neal one last time, and caught David’s eye as she did.
When Neal tried to approach her again, David cut him off with Graham only a step behind. Neal begrudgingly allowed David to escort him away from the group and (hopefully) to the exit.
Emma took a long sip from her rum glass before looking around at all her friends, and muttered, “Sorry, guys.”
“You don’t have to apologize, Emma,” Mary Margaret insisted.
“Yeah,” Ruby agreed. “Neal’s an asshat. Nothing you can do about that.”
Emma glanced over at Killian who was gripping his glass of untouched rum tightly. A sense of shame and embarrassment radiated off his demeanor, prompting her to cover one of his hands with her own. The action seemed to startle him, jerking his head up to meet her gaze with a look of apprehension in his eyes.
“You wanna get out of here?” she asked him, which caused a flicker of surprise to pass through his eyes and tighten between his brow.
“Aye, love.” A soft smile lifted at the corners of his mouth, but didn’t quite reach his forget-me-not gaze. “I’d like that very much.” Letting go of his drink, he allowed her to thread their fingers together before inquiring of Robin, “Can you and Will manage the equipment without me?”
“Go,” Robin waved off. “We’ll likely store it in the back since we have that meeting here this weekend.”
Killian nodded, and they both said their good-byes to everyone before slipping out the backdoor (in case Neal was camped out in front), heading to Killian’s truck parked in the employee section of the back parking lot. Emma hoisted herself up onto the bench seat after he opened the door for her, then reached over to unlock his side of the vintage truck. A moment later, they were pulling out onto the main road with no clear destination in mind.
“I’m sorry about Neal,” Emma said after too many long, silent minutes.
“As Mary Margaret said, you don’t have to apologize for him, Swan,” Killian assured her. “If anything, I should be the one apologizing for his behavior at the bar. I’m the reason he--”
“No,” Emma interrupted. “He would have made a scene no matter what. Ruby’s right. He’s an asshat and can’t help himself.”
That managed to coax a smile from him, his eyes briefly flicking over towards her as he draped his arm across the back of the seat. Emma accepted the implied invitation and scooted closer, buckling herself into the middle of the seat so she could lean into his side. Head resting in the space between his chest and shoulder, Emma settled into the quiet of the cab, all the tension and awkwardness that had followed them from the bar dissipating the farther they drove.
When he turned down the road that led to the lookout point just outside of town, Emma quirked a brow and tilted her head back to look up at him. “Lover’s lane, huh?”
His arm shifted as he reached back to scratch behind his ear. “I, uh… thought it would be a good place where we could be alone and talk.”
Emma hummed with feigned suspicion, her eyes still peering up at him with a knowing glint “Talk, huh? I don’t think that’s what people usually do when they come up here. How did you know about this place anyway?”
“I told you, love,” he replied, backing into one of the spots that overlooked the town and putting the truck in park. “I lived here during uni.”
“Right.” Emma unbuckled and followed him out of the cab, but not before he reached behind the seat and produced a blanket which he then used to line the bed of the truck with, giving them a cozy place to recline and enjoy the view. “How many other girls have you brought up here?”
“Believe it or not, you are the first,” he told her, and the sincere look in his eyes told her the answer was an honest one. That, and the way he lifted her hand to his lips, brushing a soft kiss along the backs of her knuckles as he murmured, “And you never forget your first.” An uncharacteristic giggle left Emma, and she sank her teeth down into her bottom lip once more. “What about you?” he inquired with a small note of something that might have been jealousy behind his teasing tone. “You knew right where we were. Been up here with another beau, have you?”
“Actually, um...” He must have sensed what her answer would be with the way his face fell and his shoulders tightened. “Neal and I used to come up here… Before he cheated on me.”
His eyes snapped up to hers with an expression of utter incredulity upon his face. “He what?”
“Yup,” she confirmed, knowing he didn’t actually need her to repeat herself. “Knocked up his piece on the side, so she showed up at our apartment one day to let him know he wasn’t going to get out of taking responsibility. That’s how I found out they’d been sleeping together.”
“What a bloody bastard. I’m so sorry, Swan. You didn’t deserve that.”
“I know. I ended it right then and there. Packed my stuff and left him with the full rent on a place he couldn’t afford on his own, thankful I’d never signed the lease.” Meeting his consoling gaze, she was grateful it didn't hold any of the pity her friends’ sometimes still held to this day. Nudging him with her shoulder she asked, “What about you? How did he screw you over?”
His tell of scratching behind his ear made another appearance as he let out a deep exhale. “I’m afraid it was the other way round between Neal and myself,” he began with a heavy dose of regret in his tone. “We were mates back in college. Both of us on the same sailing team. We were close. Roommates, teammates. He was my best friend.”
Emma’s eyes widened as she shifted her position, crossing her legs beneath her and placing a supportive hand on his thigh while assuring him, “You don’t have to go into it if you don’t want to.”
“No, I… I think it best you know,” he covered her hand with his and held her gaze with a vulnerability she hadn’t been prepared to see from him, “so you have a clear idea of what you’re getting into if this thing between us goes further.”
“If?” she inquired on a soft stirring of hope.
“That’s up to you, Swan,” he said, his eyes drinking in every inch of her face, leaving Emma a tad breathless. “I’ve already decided, whatever may come, I’m in this for the long haul, but only if that’s what you want too.”
Emma couldn’t seem to pull a proper breath into her lungs. She knew he had to have been thinking of the potential tour he and his band had on the horizon. The possibility that they may not have much time to explore whatever this thing was between them had been at the forefront of Emma’s mind over the last several days as well, complicated further by the news she’d received that very evening. Still, knowing their time together was limited, Emma had wondered if he’d be willing to see it through anyway, even to the point of engaging in a long distance romance. Something she hadn’t quite determined whether she would be up for herself, until hearing the confirmation of his feelings on the matter.
Emma wet her lips and glanced up at him with a coy look from beneath her lashes. “Well then, I guess you better tell me what happened, so I know what I’m getting into. What got between you two?”
Killian gave her hand a tender squeeze of gratitude then inhaled deeply before answering, “A woman.”
Emma couldn’t help the laugh that erupted from her lungs. “What, did you steal his girlfriend or something?”
“No.” He broke off their eye contact and ran his tongue over his teeth before uttering, “His mother.”
Well, that wasn’t what Emma had expected to hear; the news effectively sobering her response. “Excuse me?”
“I assume, given you were in a relationship with him, you know Neal’s mother had an affair with another man before she died.”
“Are you saying yo-?”
“I was the other man,” he confirmed with a sorrowful nod. “I didn’t know Milah was Neal’s mother. She and I met in a bar off campus. I did know she was married, but… I didn’t really care.”
“Did you love her?”
“I cared for her,” he admitted. “And she for me, but I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say it was love. I wasn’t expecting her to leave her husband for me or anything. Being with her was a sort of adventure, but once I found out…”
“How did you find out?” She turned her palm up under his, lacing their fingers together in a show of continued support, sensing how difficult it was for him to relive the memories.
“Parent’s Day our Senior year.” After offering a small smile of thanks, he tilted his head back against the rear window of the cab and kept his gaze fixed on the dark sky above. “In the spring the school would host a day inviting the parents to come out and watch the races. When Neal introduced me to his parents, my heart stopped. I broke things off with Milah the next day.”
“How did she take it?”
“Quite well, actually. I told her how Neal had come to suspect that his mother was having an affair, and now that I knew I was the other man, I couldn’t go on knowing the pain it caused him. She said she understood, and my words must have resonated, because a week later she confessed to having an affair and left her husband.”
“Did she say it was you?” Killian shook his head, his focus still trained on the night sky. “How did Neal find out, then?”
“When I broke things off, Milah gave me a charm pendant she always wore. Said she wanted me to have it to remember her by. A few weeks later, Neal found it when he was looking for something in my room. Faced with his direct questioning, I couldn’t lie to him. He moved out of our apartment later that day, and didn’t speak to me unless it was absolutely necessary after that.”
“And she died a couple of months later, right?”
“Aye,” Killian sighed out a sorrowful breath. “Car accident on the way home from our graduation.” Lowering his head, Emma felt his hand clench her own for a fraction of a second as his eyes now stared down at some invisible spot past the bed of the truck. “I think it made him hate me even more.”
“Why?” Emma shifted her position again, attempting to put his attention back on her. When he continued to stare off, trapped in the memory, Emma cupped his face with her free hand and gently coaxed it her way. “It wasn’t your fault.”
The look on Killian’s face told her that he felt otherwise, that he had been harboring this guilt for nearly a decade.
“Before she left the ceremony,” he continued with a strained tone. “She made a point to come over and congratulate me. Our interaction caused a fight between her and Neal’s father, and she left in a bit of a rage.”
“You can’t blame yourself for that, Killian.”
The soft brush of her thumb against the apple of his cheek finally seemed to reach him. He covered her hand with his, keeping it still as he turned his face into it and applying a soft kiss to the inside of her palm.
“I know,” he murmured. “I just wish Neal… I don’t fault him for his anger, and if having someone to blame makes dealing with his mother’s death easier, then who am I to begrudge him that.” He removed his hand from hers to toy with a section of her hair while she continued to drag her thumb over his stubble laden jawline. “The whole bloody mess just… I lost a woman I cared deeply for and one of my best mates in one fell swoop, and I wish there was something I could do to change it.”
Emma had no words of wisdom for him, no advice on how to repair the damage that had been done so many years ago, and if she were being honest, she really didn’t think he needed to bother. It was clear how much he regretted what happened, and she didn’t doubt for a second that he had tried to make it up to Neal long ago. If the man wasn’t willing to let go and forgive, that wasn’t on Killian. It didn’t change the fact that, “You’re a good man, Killian Jones.”
At some point during her inner musings, she’d managed to climb onto his lap, straddling his hips with her forehead pressed against his.
“Thank you, love,” he replied with a slight lift of his brows scrunching against her own, displaying his surprise at her actions. “I take it,” he began, running his tongue over his lower lip and taking her waist in his hands, “that this means my confession has not deterred you from wishing to continue our association?”
“Whatever gave you that idea?” Emma teased before leaning in with a kiss to give him her actual response.
A soft moan vibrated against her lips and his hands slid up her back, one burying itself in the back of her hair as it kneaded the muscles of her neck and shoulders. Killian sat forward, allowing her to wrap her arms around his neck, her grip tightening when he rolled them so her back lay against the plush blanket beneath them with him hovering over her. It was as his mouth began exploring the column of her throat that a shiver wracked her body, from both the eager sensation of anticipation as well as the cool night air.
“Are you cold, love?” he questioned into her skin.
She wanted to lie so they could continue on with these enjoyable activities, but she knew once her body started reacting to the cold she would just continue to shiver beneath him. A fact that was confirmed by another shudder, it and her silence effectively answering his inquiry.
“Perhaps it’s time I took you home.”
Emma wrapped her arms around him to stop him from pulling away and said, “I don’t want you to take me home.” When he opened his mouth to protest, she silenced him with another press of her lips then murmured, “I want you to take me back to your place.”
A wide grin stretched across his face and he nuzzled the tip of his nose against hers before purring, “As you wish.”