Actions

Work Header

Walking the Tightrope

Chapter Text

September 30: Monday

Every day, Killian Jones walks from his respectable dwelling by the Storybrooke Harbor to where he works, located right off the main drag. Storybrooke is nearly the definition of small-town America, but it houses a quaint-sized office of a British publishing firm that opened a branch over here last year. Three months ago, Killian took a chance to upend his whole life and applied for a junior editing position.

From a life in the Navy to a redirection of passions towards the fine art of literature, Killian has used a rigorous set of routines to get through every major upheaval in his life, including but not limited to the aforementioned relocation from London to a small speck on the map.

He uses his daily habits from the moment his alarm sounds in the morning until he shuts his eyes at night – operating his life in a tidy way and controlling what he can control while doing his best to accept whatever tries to throw him off.

Because of his method to build up his regimens, he knows that anything that lasts beyond two weeks becomes more likely to stick.

And for six weeks, Emma Swan has been part of his routines. Monday through Friday they cross the street together. They never speak. Sometimes they’ll smile and nod in greeting, but it’s enough in Killian’s book. Or at least, they’ve come to some unspoken agreement that it’s enough. Since the middle of August, this has been his norm, and thus it is now just another thing that marks time throughout his days.

The only reason he knows her name is because of the star-shaped badge she wears on her hip. That and being the sister of the sheriff are dead-giveaways to an identity. He’d heard of Emma long before he saw her as Will Scarlet filled him in on the townies. She, on the other hand, probably doesn’t even know his name. But he’s okay with that. He’s not out to meet the love of his life – not after what he went through with his last major relationship – but to enjoy a walk across the street with an ease he doesn’t understand and doesn’t have to. 

Day after day, he continues on, never looking back to see if she’s still looking at him. He’s afraid of what he might find if he does: either she’s also glancing back and this immediately becomes something different, or she isn’t and he’s effectively found himself with some kind of rejection complex. Both ideas are ridiculous. At the mere thought, Killian snorts and picks up his pace. 

On October 1st, Killian discovers how easy it is to throw off the delicate balance of a routine as strong as his. The alarm never goes off, or if it does, Killian either doesn’t hear it or turns it off in his sleep. He wakes, instead, to the sound of his text messages going off in quick succession, followed by the phone ringing and Will’s chirpy voice alerting him as he answers that he’s going to be late. 

With that, his eyes shoot fully open and he throws himself into action, hoping to get out the door in record time. He skips the coffee and the shower, throwing on the clothes he set out last night and hoping his hair stays in place with the water he combs through it. He’s out the door fifteen minutes late. His boss, Robin, will hopefully understand - he’s one of the most easy-going people Killian has ever met. Will is going to take the piss out of him, but that’s no different from any other day. Killian knew it was a mistake to share his location with his friend but in this case, with Will able to see that he was still at home when he should already be making his journey, he wasn’t going to complain about it. 

Instead, what he’s most upset about is that he’s going to miss Deputy Swan standing at their corner.

And he’s right: she’s not there when he gets to the intersection. He pushes the button and diligently waits until it turns before crossing, just as he always does. It’s when he gets a full view of the patio in front of Granny’s that his steps suddenly halt. There she is, checking her phone and sipping from a to-go cup, standing at the table closest to the entrance. She glances up and sees him on the other side of the small fence that surrounds the front of the patio, and her eyes go wide.

Quickly, she jams her phone in her pocket and exits the patio with two cups in hand, heading towards the sheriff’s station and away from him until she stops just as suddenly. She turns around to where he’s still glued in spot, knowing that each extra minute is asking for more torture from Will, but she walks up to him and he wouldn’t move if a bus came careening down the sidewalk at him. 

“Hi. This might be weird but… nevermind. Forget it.” She turns again, but Killian hastens after her. 

“What seems to be the problem, love?”

She spins around to face him again, a perturbed look on her face. He doesn’t know if it’s at him or herself, though, so he waits for her response.

“I’m not…” The words trail off, but she redirects. “I thought you might need coffee. You’re always so punctual. Figured if you were running late, you didn’t have any. But that’s probably ridiculous and just…” she trails off again, turning to dump the to-go cup into the bin nearby but Killian lunges for it. 

“No no, wait!” He catches the cup just before it leaves her grip, smiling wide when he successfully rescues it. “Thank you, Deputy. I appreciate it.”

“Swan. Emma Swan.”

“Oh, I know,” he responds, surprised at the devilish tone to the words. The only time he flirts anymore is when he’s two pints in at The Rabbit Hole on a rare night out with Will, and even then it’s with no intent behind it. His watch buzzes and Killian glances down to see Will is calling him again. When he sees the time, he can understand why. “Bloody hell. I’m incredibly late,” he says quickly, moving to continue his journey to the office and forgetting all his manners. 

“Is there something else I can call you, Incredibly Late?”

“Killian Jones!” he calls out as he gets to the corner by the post office. He spins on his heels to turn back to her, lifting the coffee again in thanks.

There’s an odd little smile on her face when he says it, but he’s still moving and has no time to wonder what it’s all about. “See you tomorrow, Jones!” 

Her words follow him around the corner and he grins as he picks up the pace to the office.

He’s amazed at how quickly his day turns around after officially meeting Emma Swan. Robin isn’t even mad when he shows up late, just happy that he’s finally sitting in front of his computer working on the endless edits he’s been helping with for a new book by an established writer. One that has terrible punctuation skills, apparently. And spelling. And grammar.

It’s barely been a half hour when he finds his thoughts drifting to the woman he only knows by name and reputation, and knows that somehow, his daily routines will never look quite the same. He wonders how much this little interaction means to her, too, if she looked so out of sorts when he was late today. And startlingly, he realizes that it did turn into something.

Running a hand over his face, Killian looks back at the page he’s supposed to be proofreading. He’s read the same sentence at least three times and still can’t figure out why it doesn’t feel right. It’s too early in the day to shut his office door and start reading everything out loud, however, so instead he saves his changes and closes the file, opening up a rain app on his phone and letting the sound soothe him while he stands up and stretches. 

“If you’re playing the calming sounds, I feel like you’re ready for more coffee,” Will says from his doorway. 

“You’re probably right,” Killian says, finishing his current stretch and turning off the app. “Shall we?”

“Ask Robin what he wants. Your treat since you were so late this morning,” his friend adds as he turns from the doorway. 

Killian makes a noise of aggravation, but still walks the short length to Robin’s office to inquire. 

Robin is locked in his own work, looking back and forth between three cover mockups that Will’s department would’ve sent over when they were ready. He glances up when Killian enters but only barely. “Coffee run?” the other man asks as he nudges each design around. 

This, too, is like clockwork in his life, which is why Robin already knows why he’s standing in his doorway. “Aye. Would you like me to bring back the usual or will you need something stronger today?”

“The usual is fine. Else I’ll be tempted to add liquor to it and no one at the home office will appreciate what I think of their last company email.”

“I have that whole rant recorded. You’d better make sure I don’t have anything stronger today or else they’ll get it verbatim.”

“Remind me to have you killed later this week after that chapter is edited.”

“I’ll pass it on to your secretary to be added to your calendar,” Killian mentions offhandedly while he leaves Robin’s office. This isn’t the first time Robin has scheduled to kill him for information he has on his superior. Killian’s sure it won’t be the last, either. 

As he leaves, Killian catches sight of the pictures on the wall. There’s a few scattered around his office, mostly of Robin’s adorable son Roland and his late wife. Marian passed just after Roland was born, making Robin’s decision to head up the American branch of NeverEndings Publishing House an easy one. The reason he’s stayed so long is also evident in the pictures of Regina Mills, the mayor of Storybrooke, scattered among the others. Regina was his “diamond in the rough” - the woman he never expected to meet and fall in love with shortly after he set up shop here. 

Along with pictures, there are paintings and his degrees, an antique wall clock that matches everything else, and a vintage bow and arrow hung behind the mahogany desk he nearly lives in some days. The whole thing feels like the den of some expensive cabin in the woods, but Killian knows for a fact that Robin put most of this together on the cheap. 

He passes his own little office again, noting the blank walls, the tidy desk, the single chair on the opposite side for small one-on-one meetings. He’s never really gotten around to decorating his work area. His degrees are still in one of the boxes in his flat, as are all the pictures of his friends and family from back home. 

There’s a single frame on his desk - just a picture of him and Liam at graduation that was packed into his luggage when he moved. Liam is beaming with pride while Killian looks like he’s about to bolt from the courtyard they had all gathered in after the ceremony. His left arm is tucked close by his side, and he knows for a fact it’s because he was trying to hide the prosthetic hook he wears from being in the pictures.

“So, why were you late today?” Will asks when they reach the doors and head outside.

“Alarm malfunctions,” Killian responds, as if there could be something besides human error to blame. Will just nods as they make the short trek down the street to Granny’s. Foolishly, Killian hopes to find his favorite deputy out patrolling or stopping for her own midday caffeine, but the only blonde in the diner is Ashley, the attentive but clumsy young server. 

Well, the only blonde woman. Dr. Whale, trying his best to flirt with Ruby, doesn’t count. 

“Have you heard anything I’ve said in the last three minutes?” Will asks, a touch of exasperation in his voice but humor lighting up his eyes. Instead of answering, Killian just pushes him forward to place his order. He pulls Killian up next to him and presents him to Ruby. “Tell Jones here that he has to come out with us on Friday.”

“The only thing I have to tell Jones is to place his damn order,” Ruby responds, her expression challenging Will in the way that only Ruby can. She looks back to Killian with a sweet smile. “You paying for all three?” He nods as he hands over the cash. Ruby winks at him, processing the change and handing it back before spinning from the register to make their drinks.

“Come on, mate. Come out this Friday.”

“I still have things I’m trying to unpack.”

“You’ve been saying you were going to unpack those things for the last three months.” He throws air quotes when he says “things” as if they’re fictitious items Killian invented for the sake of an excuse. He almost invites Will over to see what he’s talking about but feels like that would somehow turn into a standing invitation for his colleague to come over whenever he pleases.

“Yeah? And now I might mean it,” Killian retorts instead. Ruby places their drinks down on the counter before Will can press any further, and Killian spends an extra moment thanking the younger Lucas for exceptional service, as always.

“Kiss ass,” Ruby says as they gather their drinks and leave. There’s a smile on her face, though, and Killian knows that her days would be infinitely less exciting without him and Will pestering her at least once an afternoon. 

When they get back, Will takes Robin his coffee without having to be asked, which Killian is grateful for. But he’s barely seated in front of his computer again before Will is popping back up in his doorway.

“You’ve been summoned to the dungeons, mate.”

Killian drops his head for a second, trying to gather the energy to just… get up and go see if suddenly his benevolent boss has had a change in heart regarding his tardiness this morning. But Robin just waves him in and motions for him to sit down. 

“As you know, we originally hired you to be a junior editor to collaborate on projects.”

“Aye, that was the explanation I was given when I interviewed.”

“Well, we’ve gotten a new project that I’d like to see you take on. This isn’t quite a promotion, but it’s a test to see if I can trust you with something bigger than just standard edits to a pompous arse that doesn’t know his p’s from his q’s… literally.”

“I’m definitely interested. What is this project?”

“A young author has written a novella that twists fairy tales. It’s short but it’s deep, and I want your best on proofreading, but also on suggesting edits. He’ll be in to discuss the project at the end of this month, so keep working on your current progress until then. I’ll send all the files your way this weekend so you can start reviewing them whenever you’d like. Sound good?"

“Sounds excellent,” Killian says, genuine enthusiasm coloring his answer. “I look forward to it.”

Another disruption to the orderly life he’s been living, but honestly, this is almost as good as meeting Emma Swan. At least this feels like his disastrous start to October is no indication on how the rest of the month will go. 

-x- October 2: Wednesday

The next morning, Killian is back to his impeccable schedule, so he’s calm and collected when he strolls up to the crosswalk. Only minutes later, Emma walks up, eyes trained on her phone, earbuds playing music that she nods her head in time with. He takes a moment before she notices him to appreciate the view, to take in the dark jeans she likes to wear instead of a uniform, with black boots up to her knees. Her red leather jacket is half-zipped. Soon the weather is going to grow colder and he wonders if she’ll be warm enough on her walks.

She looks up, then, and smiles at Killian while he raises a hand in greeting. She hesitantly waves back, moving to stand next to him while they wait. 

“Good morning, Swan,” he greets just as the light changes and they start to cross. Her response is mumbled as she pulls the earbud from one ear.

“Have a good day, Jones,” she says, dipping her head as a parting gesture. There’s a smile pulling at his cheeks, and he turns to look at where he’s going instead of risking the possibility of running into something and ruining his mood.

For the rest of the week, they get to the crosswalk and he greets her. They part ways at the diner with her sending salutations before she walks up the path. In a way, it becomes a new routine for them. It’s one of the only changes to his days that he’s accepted as a normal progression instead of an uninvited intrusion.

On Friday, hours after his daily dose of Emma, he’s in the middle of the last chapter he has to edit when Will pops into his doorway in the afternoon. He goes to save the files and start the coffee routine, but Will enters the room fully and places two coffees and a bag with lunch on the corner of his desk.

“I hear you’ve got a bigger project coming up. Figured I’d be a good mate for once and encourage hard work instead of mucking around like we usually do on Fridays.”

The times that Will has been genuinely kind to him are definitely countable on his hand, so he’s almost afraid to ask if there’s a “but” included somewhere in there. However, Will just gives him a cheeky grin and heads right back out the door. 

When he’s made the final change and checked over the whole chapter again, it’s beyond the time that he normally leaves, even when he stays late. His eyes are burning and his stomach is growling again, but there’s a sense of victory when he sends the files back to Robin and shuts down his office for the weekend. 

He’s surprised to find Will on the couch in the reception area, asleep by the looks of it, and Killian is this tempted to leave him there because he knows exactly why his friend is still there. But the man brought him lunch and still owes him a beer for repayment of some good deed or another, so he knocks into one of Will’s shoes and snorts as he startles awake. 

“Come on, then. Sorry to have kept you waiting.”

“Damn right, you are.” Will’s response is groggy and expected.

Killian makes sure the building is locked up tight before they walk the few blocks over to The Rabbit Hole. He’d rather be in bed, or watching whatever his neglected Netflix queue has in store for him. While Will obviously went home and changed into something more casual, Killian is still stuck in his suit from work. It’ll have to do.

One drink, that’s all he’s promised, and then he’s going home to get the sleep he deserves and return to his normal order of events.

They’re barely through the door when he realizes his plan is going straight into the bin. There, in all her blonde glory, is Emma Swan. She’s parked near the end of the bar waiting for Jefferson to take her order. As he moves towards her, he hears Will greeting other acquaintances, but he’s too focused on getting to interact with Emma outside of their usual crosswalk that he doesn’t veer off course. 

“Fancy meeting you here, Swan,” he greets as he props up next to her. 

She jumps a little, clearly not expecting him to be there beside her, but regains her speech far easier than he would’ve if the situation were reversed.

“I’m sorry, you’re that figment of my imagination that only lives on Main Street. What are you doing here?”

He chuckles at her description of him and rubs behind his ear in a nervous gesture. Two more sentences and this will officially be the longest he’s ever spoken with Emma, and he’s enjoying it far more than he should.

“Out for a drink with my mate Will to celebrate a project ending.”

“Scarlet? See, I always thought you had better taste than that,” she says, a smirk on her face and her eyes shifting over Killian’s shoulder to where Will must’ve come up behind him. 

“Oy, just because I’m romancing your friend doesn’t mean you have to insult me.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what it means,” Emma responds to him, but there’s lightness and sarcasm in the whole exchange. 

“Romancing? You mean you finally worked up the nerve to tell Belle you fancy her?”

“Like three weeks ago, mate. This is why I tell you to come out more often.” Will claps Killian on the shoulder with those words, accepting the beer that Jefferson deposits on the bar for him, and walking back to the large gathering of people in the middle of the room that Killian is just realizing are mostly people he knows.

“Not one for socializing very often?” Emma asks, following his line of sight and waving to her brother at the table. Killian swallows a little harder when David sizes him up, eyes scrutinizing the whole time. 

“Not as much as I used to. Will and I usually make our ventures out earlier in the evening and in the middle of the week when we do.”

“So is it the expat club or something? You and Will, Robin, Belle. I think Tink stops in and drinks with them every couple weeks or so, too.”

“Will and I work at NeverEndings with Robin. The rest is all just coincidence.”

She hums in consideration, sipping slowly from her drink. “There’s room at the table. Wanna come join us, too?”

“That depends.”

“On?”

“Is your brother going to murder me for speaking to you for longer than three and a half minutes?”

She glances back at David, who turns back to the group suddenly, clearly pretending he wasn’t watching them.

“Listen, he’s overprotective but he’s yet to kill anyone I had a conversation with. People I’ve dated, on the other hand…” she trails off, lifting her eyebrows to emphasize with a little shrug. 

He can’t help the laughter that erupts from him at that. She’s delightful. He could spend all his days having frivolous conversations with her and probably never grow tired of it.

“Come on, I promise he doesn’t bite unless you ask. Which is unfortunately more than I ever wanted to know but that’s what happens when you become best friends with your brother’s wife.”

“Thanks for sharing your pain with me. I hope it eases the burden of your knowledge,” he says low enough so only she can hear as he pulls out one of the remaining chairs for her. Her thank you is a quiet and pleased murmur, and he has to remind his heart to stop the constant drumroll so he can get through this evening with his dignity intact. He drops into the seat next to Emma and tries to bury the way his skin itches at the sudden change in his routine. 

A chorus of introductions goes around, with Emma giving names to random faces as she goes. He does know a majority of the people at the table, even if just by reputation. It’s nice to meet the kind schoolteacher that is David’s aforementioned wife, though he’s seen her in the library more than a handful of times since his arrival in town. 

“Everyone calls me Snow,” she explains after Emma calls her Mary Margaret. “Less syllables, more Disney Princess-ish.” When the topic shifts from greetings to the usual breakdown of everyone’s days, Killian seizes the moment no one is paying attention to them. 

“A Disney Princess that enjoys a little kink in the bedroom. Good to know,” Killian whispers in Emma’s ear, and her hushed laughter is music he wants to play again and again. 

When the conversation really starts flowing, he finds he’s less interested in drinking away his week and happier to engage with the people around the table. David still regards him with suspicion, but it probably helps that he doesn’t look like he’s trying to crawl into Emma’s knickers as the night continues on. He finished his singular beer ages ago but opts for water during his next trip up to the bar, along with food because Emma bursts out laughing when his stomach growls in the middle of her talking about a digital filing system they’re implementing. 

Emma nurses her one drink, and so he’s relieved to find her willingness to talk is due to genuine interest instead of alcohol’s influence. Of course, it may be because he’s supplying her in onion rings until she finally orders her own.

Their group slowly begins to break up, starting with the people who have someone home waiting on them. Then the couples start to leave, and Killian is pleasantly surprised when Emma all but shoves David out the door with Snow, insisting that she’s more than capable of taking care of herself. 

They talk of all things small: she tells him about working law enforcement in a small town, and he shares his experiences in Storybrooke since moving. She asks about his job and actually listens when he starts talking. 

“What’s this then?” Killian asks when Emma pushes up her sleeves. 

She looks down at it, scoffing a little. “A dumb symbol of youth and rebellion,” she replies. “I got it when I was sixteen because James and I got in an argument about how perfectly behaved I was.”

“James?”

“Oh, David has a twin brother. You know how people joke about having an evil twin? David actually has one.”

“Your family is delightful,” he comments, wanting to reach out and touch the heavy lines of the flower on her wrist. “Why this?”

“Buttercups are my favorite flower.” He’s learned so many new things about her so very quickly, but he files this information away in the event he has a chance to use it.

It’s when their whole group has officially departed that they realize the rest of the establishment is similarly abandoned, with only Jefferson wiping down bottles behind the bar. 

“Sorry about that, mate. Time for us to clear out?”

“I was gonna wait until I was done cleaning to see if you even noticed the place was empty,” Jefferson responds when Killian sets the last few glasses on the counter. Emma is behind him at the table still, gathering the smattering of bottles and the rest of the stuff to be washed. “Been a while since I’ve seen her talk that much to anyone she didn’t grow up with,” the other man remarks, nodding his head towards Emma. 

“My favorite bartender back home would probably say the same of me,” Killian admits, placing a few extra bills on the bar as a tip and wandering back over to help Emma get the last of the dishes from his late dinner and her ridiculously large pile of onion rings, of which she ate every last one.

“Thanks Jeff. Have a safe trip home,” Emma tells him as she hands him the items.

As they start walking, he expects anything but for Emma to fall back into casual conversation with him about the moving process he went through. He takes it in stride as they slowly amble down the street and back to their crosswalk. 

“I’m this way,” Emma says, indicating the direction she normally arrives from in the mornings. 

“I know,” Killian responds, his tone soft and content. “It was lovely getting to meet you, Emma.”

He holds out his hand, giving hers a firm shake. Once upon a time he was a lad who could court a woman without blinking an eye. It’s that thought that has him turning her hand and bringing it to his lips, eyeing her playfully from beneath his lashes as he looks up at her. This small gesture feels so foreign, but he likes the way she’s giving him a puzzled little smile.

“Goodnight, Swan.”

“See you Monday, Jones,” she almost whispers as he releases her hand. 

They head off in their separate directions, with Killian gently brushing his lips in wonder. 

Routines be damned, this is much better than a casual wave in the mornings.

Chapter Text

October 5: Saturday

Emma Swan doesn’t care about routines. She does most things at the same time each day, but that’s only because she wakes up, takes a shower, gets ready, and goes to work at the same time. Every day.

On the weekends, she’s a mess. She’s not entirely ashamed to admit there are some weekends she doesn’t even bother showering. She’s a single woman living alone so she’s the only one who has to deal with it.

It was by chance that, a little more than a month ago, she decided to walk to work early and saw Killian Jones for the first time. She’s been walking the same route for so long but she had never seen him before, more than likely because he seems to like to get to work early and she prefers to run in at the last second before she’d be considered late.

That first time was a fluke – she told David she would come in a little early to help haul records out of storage and there was this newcomer standing at the corner she crosses in order to get to Main Street. Storybrooke doesn’t get a lot of tourists, and of course she’d heard rumors that there was someone new, but to see him in person was a jolt of excitement.

He was reading something on his phone and looked like he was going to walk straight into the street. She had hustled to get to the corner sooner to stop him in case a car was coming (unlikely with how early it was and in this town) but he stopped, as if his shoes had suddenly stuck him to the spot. Without looking, he pushed the button for the crosswalk and kept on reading. Emma realized that this was something he had ingrained into him so deeply that he even knew where to stop because of muscle memory. Pretty impressive for a guy who’d only lived here a handful of weeks.

Despite being unconsciously aware of his surroundings, he didn’t seem to even notice her following him at a distance, so she lurked in her own way until she got to Granny’s, watching with interest as he took the left at the post office and went on his way.

Curious to see if he would repeat this chain of events, Emma showed up early again the next day just in time to see him walking up, but it was all wrong. He wasn’t reading, so he wasn’t lost in whatever was on his phone, and instead of just blindly stopping and pushing the button, his eyes met hers and he stumbled just the tiniest bit during the approach.

Suddenly, Emma kind of liked the idea of showing up every day around the same time to see if any of the above happened again – would be he lost in technology or would his steps falter again?

And both events did happen, but every time he’d get close to the corner, he’d look up and around, oftentimes catching the moment she was just approaching the crosswalk. Six weeks straight, every Monday through Friday, they walk together.

But last Monday he didn’t show up. She waited a couple minutes, but he still didn’t show. So she did what any sane person would do and went about her business. On a whim, she got two coffees at Granny’s and proceeded to stand outside for an extra ten minutes, not even sure he would pass by. Maybe he didn’t have to go to work. Maybe while she was getting the coffee, he went speeding past. Maybe he was dead in a ditch somewhere. She didn’t even know him but she was tempted to set out a search party for the man who always walks to work looking like a GQ model. 

With that in mind, she’d started texting David asking how out of line it would be to create a missing persons report for someone who was, by her calculations, twenty minutes late.

“Who do you think is missing?” he’d texted back, clearly humoring her.

But that brought up a whole new set of problems because sure, she knew his name. How could she explain to David that she wanted to check up on someone she’d never even had a conversation with? And how could she do it without making David incredibly suspicious of Killian Jones?

When she looked up, Killian was there, looking just as shocked to see her as she was to see him. She had a moment of mild panic, locking and shoving her phone in her pocket without responding to her brother. She grabbed the coffees and started to just leave, but she noticed he didn’t have his to-go mug in hand and remembered why she ordered two on impulse. 

So she officially met Killian that day, embarrassingly asking for his name even though she already knew it, and their daily interactions subtly changed again. She ponders this over a late breakfast the day after their bar run-in, marveling at the fact that she didn’t drink that much, that she’s not nursing a hangover with greasy food and a whole pot of coffee. Instead, she settles on the couch with a bowl of Fruity Pebbles and stares at the TV screen as she tries to decide which Netflix show to go for first. 

Halfway through the first show, though, her thoughts keep drifting to the way Killian’s lips felt on the back of her hand. It’s occurred to her that she’s in trouble because he’s already gotten closer than she’s let most men in the last few years. She all but swore off relationships after the last one, but there’s something magnetic about Killian that keeps drawing her back. There’s a kinship, maybe. She sees it in his eyes some mornings - just a flash of something she can’t quite name but that lives inside her as well. 

Knowing this is where dangerous thoughts lead, she finishes her cereal and eyes the visible messes in her apartment. Maybe some cleaning will help wipe the thoughts of getting those lips on hers from her brain. She starts with the overflowing sink. 

By the end of the weekend, her apartment is spotless but her mind is more restless than it’s been in ages.

It doesn’t help that David calls her Sunday evening, making sure to emphasize that Killian seems like a nice guy. She’s just gathering the last of her laundry to tackle while dinner is still in the oven, so she hauls the hamper down to the basement of her building while David pries into her personal life.

“Yeah, he does,” Emma replies nonchalantly. “Do you want me to bring breakfast to the station tomorrow?” If she tries to change the subject, no one can really blame her for it. 

“No need. It’s muffin Monday. But back to the guy that suddenly showed up after you were just texting me about putting out a missing person report on someone?”

“Geez, David. Way to be subtle,” she huffs as she finishes stuffing the clothes in the washer, starting the cycle before walking back to her apartment and pacing a circuit as the conversation continues.

“So, was it Killian? How long have you been seeing him?”

“I’m not seeing him,” she defends, even though David’s tone is less stern and more overly-cautious-about-who-dates-his-sister. “We just sort of walk together for a bit in the mornings. I got worried when he showed up late one day. The guy is like an advertisement for punctuality.”

David hums a response, not sounding convinced. “And spending time alone with him last night? How does that figure into all this?”

With an exasperated sigh, Emma stops walking around her living room and drops onto the edge of the couch. “It just means that I have a new friend or something. That’s all. Nothing more than that.”

“Uh huh. So make sure the Save-the-Dates have ‘David was right’ written somewhere on them, okay?”

“Oh, would you look at the time? Dinner’s burning. Gotta go!”

This is one of those moments she sincerely misses phones with cords because it’s not nearly as satisfying to click the lock button to end the call and toss her phone on the coffee table as it would’ve been to slam down the receiver. She leaves it there for the rest of the night until it’s time to plug it in before bed, letting it represent all the truths she isn’t ready to face yet. 

Killian is just on his way to becoming one of her friends. There’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing more than that, either.

-x- October 7: Monday

On Monday, Emma follows her own version of her morning routine and gets to the corner just as Killian is pushing the button for the crosswalk. She’s exhausted from a night of intermittent sleep, but can’t resist returning the gesture when Killian smiles and waves when he sees her. 

“Good morning, Swan,” he greets, his cheery demeanor trying its best to rub off on her but failing miserably.

“It’s certainly morning,” Emma grumbles, wanting to reach out and grab the stainless steel mug from his hand and chug until she can function again. 

“Well, that’s certainly a Monday mood if I’ve ever heard one. Not enough sleep last night?”

She shakes her head instead of responding, not really sure how to explain that he’s the reason without it sounding like either flattery or an insult. Truly, it was her own internal fuck-ups that kept her awake, and the fear that Killian Jones might be someone she wants to think about more often. This all floats through her brain on a lazy river of thought, and meanwhile, the light changes and Killian ushers her across the street and maneuvers her up the path to Granny’s before she can even register that she’s moved at all. 

But instead of that being the end of their daily interactions, Killian is still walking beside her, opening the door for her when they walk up the few steps to the entrance, and somehow herding her without touching her all the way to the proprietress. 

“Granny, I do believe our good deputy here is suffering from severe sleep deprivation. Might you have something strong enough to knock out her Monday?”

“You’re consorting with this one, now?” Granny asks her, confusion popping up one gray eyebrow above her spectacles. 

“I wouldn’t say consorting, as such, but we’ve become acquainted,” Killian says when she still can’t seem to find her words. 

“Americano,” Emma finally spits out. “Make that a double.” Her brain is trying so hard to catch up to everything but somehow hearing Killian describe them as not-quite-consorting is the comforting wake-up she needed. 

“There she is!” Killian’s exuberant tone jolts her a little bit, but she snorts a little and shakes her head. 

“I’m good now, Jones. Thanks.”

“No worries, love. Happy to help.” 

She remembers hearing the endearment the first time, that split-second instinct she had to correct him and tell him she was nothing to him at all, before she realized she’s been called the same by Robin and Will on more occasions than she can count.

Killian waits with her until the coffee is in her hands and walks the short length down to where they have to split in opposite directions to go to their places of employment. Emma tries not to linger once they get to that point, not wanting to hold him up from getting to work on time.

“Until tomorrow, then?” he asks, a gentle hint to the words. There’s something in his expression that speaks volumes more than his voice does, though.

“Until tomorrow, Jones.” She gives him a sly smile when she does it, lifting her coffee in thanks like he did the morning they officially met. 

At lunch time, she’s feeling a little more like herself thanks to the coffee, but her energy is flagging and she realizes she never even ate breakfast, either. Just a granola bar she had in her desk from who knows when. 

“I’m gonna walk down to Granny’s and get some lunch. What do you want?”

“Usual burger and fries?” David sounds as drained as she feels thanks to the stacks of files he’s been working on all morning, so she makes up her own mind to bring back more coffee to save them both from the ancient pot they still keep in the corner for some reason. 

There’s something a lot more enticing than caffeine waiting in the diner, however, since she spots Killian in one of the booths almost as soon as she enters. He’s elbow deep in a stack of pages, oblivious to the world around him as it all bustles along. Instead, she has a suspicion that whatever he’s reading is where he lives now. 

She wars with herself over whether or not to disturb him when he looks so engrossed, but it also looks like he hasn’t stopped in a while if his half-eaten lunch is anything to go by. With a quick stop by the counter, Emma places her to-go order and asks for a refill on Killian’s drink. 

There’s a knowing arch to Granny’s eyebrow as she hands over the coffee and Emma pretends not to notice it, instead telling the older woman to let her know when her order is all ready. 

“Careful, Jones. You look like you’re about to blow a fuse,” Emma says as she reaches the table, leaning casually against the other side of the booth after setting his drink in the last clean space. Even with the blatant approach, Emma can still tell she’s surprised him by the way he jumps a little in his seat. It takes a moment for him to speak, his eyes never leaving the page.

“I have to concentrate a little harder when there are beautiful women standing beside my temporary work space,” comes his response as he marks his spot on the page he’s working through. It’s then that he looks up at her, his eyes shining with humor but also the truth of his words. She knows it; she has a thing about people and lies. So of course she blushes, averting her eyes to scan around his mess of a table.

“I figured you were more of a neat, orderly pile kind of person,” she says with a gesture to the table. “I mean, you just seem the type.”

If he notices her weird tone of embarrassment, he ignores it. “You’re not wrong. I’ve just been so lost in the stories here that I’ve let the chaos take over a little bit. Thankfully, everything is numbered, or else I’d be in trouble.”

“Why read here? Don’t you have an office with that fancy publishing company?”

“I do. It’s a very small, very modest office that I probably sit in more often than my home. But it also has other people who don’t like to respect my closed door in the afternoons. Namely, of course, Will Scarlet.”

She chuckles at that, not entirely surprised that he would choose to escape instead of trying to deal with Will. “Of course he wouldn’t.”

“And you? What brings you in? You look far more alert than you did this morning, by the way.”

“Thanks, I think? I’m here for lunch and coffee. We’re just getting started trying to get the old reports all transfered to our digital format. I love him, but David primarily uses the single fingers typing method that’s popular with dads and I couldn’t stand the sound of it anymore.”

“Emma!” They both jolt at the calling of her name, looking over to see Granny holding the bag with her order inside.

“Speaking of which, sounds like I’m up. I guess I should leave you to it, then. Wouldn’t want to add to your distractions list.”

“For the record, Swan, you’re always welcome to interrupt my work without ending up on my naughty list.” There’s just something about the way he says the line that Emma thinks is 99.9% totally innocent, but the very use of the word “naughty” has her 100% sure he could take it in a very dirty direction if given the chance. The most shocking part is that she kinda wants to walk right into it. “And thanks for the refresher on the coffee.”

“Don’t fry your brain,” she comments before pushing away from the booth and collecting her lunch. With reluctance, she walks out the door instead of going back to the damn booth and taking up more of his time. 

-x- October 11: Friday & October 18: Friday

The rest of the work week passes quickly, with greetings to Killian in the mornings, steady work in the afternoons, and dinner spent alone in the evenings. With each new day, her conversations with Killian got a little longer, more drawn-out, and she was finding out so much more about him.

By that Friday, they’ve talked about work, and bickered about the best toppings to go on waffles, what their sweet tooth go-to is. And then, again, their habits change a little bit more.

“Are you going out tonight?” she asks, not even sure what prompted her to say anything. She wasn’t initially planning on heading to the bar after her shift, but their morning topic of pet ownership is apparently enough that it makes her want to talk to him more. 

“Maybe,” he tells her. He means “yes” if his expression is anything to go on.

“Maybe isn’t yes, Jones.”

“It’s not a no, either,” he tells her, reaching up to push her hair off her shoulder with his hook. With that same smug expression on his face, he waves goodbye and leaves her outside Granny’s to get her coffee. One of these days she’s just going to steal his as retribution for saying that Pop-Tarts are not a suitable breakfast. 

He does make an appearance that night, sitting between herself and Snow after he wanders in with Will. She can already tell that he’s worming his way into Snow’s heart, and while that will ultimately make her life more complicated when the other woman starts pressuring her to date him, at least she’ll have her sister’s approval. 

He doesn’t stay long, claiming at one point that he could very well fall asleep on his walk back home. Emma is this tempted to ask if he wants her to walk with him, but he bumps her shoulder companionably and says he’ll see her on Monday before he rises from the table and walks to the bar to pay his tab. 

She keeps her eyes peeled on her own walk home to make sure he isn’t asleep somewhere along the route, just to be safe, and that’s damning enough on its own to indicate how she feels about him. 

The next Friday, she’s lost in thought picking up dinner from Granny’s when the voice of Will Scarlet intrudes her personal space. 

“Get your boyfriend to go out with us tonight. He’s refusing to leave his office,” he says bluntly, sliding up next to Emma at the counter. She’s thrown for a second by the word ‘boyfriend’ and stares at him for a moment before she realizes Will’s talking about Killian.

“Killian’s not my boyfriend,” she says, trying not to sound too bristly.

“Well, not with that bloody attitude he’s not,” Will says, grin still in place.

“Go away.”

“I will as soon as I’ve got food for that prickly bastard I work with.”

“Why’s he prickly?”

“He’s been locked away in that bloody office all week. Never left the room except for toilet breaks today. Propped a chair in front of the door so I couldn’t get in to try to make him break for lunch.”

“Doesn’t his door have a lock?”

“Do you really think a locked door can keep me out?”

It’s none of her business, not really, but she’s still a little concerned about that much work. 

“C’mon, Lady Sheriff. I figure if anyone is going to get him to cut back a little bit and take a night to recharge, it’ll be the woman he fancies.”

There are so many things for her to unpack in that sentence.

“I’m the deputy,” she corrects almost absently because the rest of her brain and a thumping portion of her heart are still stuck on the idea that Killian fancies her - the very British way for Will to say that he like likes her. Has he said that out loud to Will? Does he talk about her?

“I don’t have his number or anything. It’s not like I can just text him and tell him what to do.”

“Okay then, you can take him the dinner I was planning on dropping off and use your womanly charms to get him away from that bloody computer screen for a night.”

Emma snorts at the idea of trying to use any kind of womanly charms, since she hasn’t used those since she was helping chase bail skips back in her early twenties. She doesn’t think Will has the same ideas as she does when she hears those words, and thank goodness for that. 

In the end, when the food is ready to go, Emma takes the bag from Will. “Fine. But only because he’s probably so sick of your face that he’d just as soon starve than open that door for you again.”

Will is clearly torn between celebrating that his plan has worked and being an ass about her reasoning, but Belle walks in and diverts his attention, so Emma starts edging towards the door with the two bags of food in hand.

“You know where the building is, yeah?”

“I do.”

“Turn to the left past reception and it’s down the second hall to the right.”

It’s almost pointless that Will gave her the directions, since there’s only one office in the whole building that seems to be lit up. The rest of the place is deserted, but his door is propped open and she’s about to knock, but takes a moment instead to appreciate how intense Killian looks while he’s working. 

He’s chewing on his lip, eyes scanning his computer screen with fervor. He’s wearing glasses, which she’s never seen before, and even though she’s been standing here for at least thirty seconds, he still hasn’t seemed to notice she’s there with how deep he’s in the story. With a shifting of bags, she lightly knocks on the doorframe to catch his attention. 

“If you’ve come to get me out of this office, you’ll have to try harder than by bringing me food.”

“Even if it’s really good food?” Emma asks. “I see you unblocked the door.”

Killian’s head snaps up so fast that she’s sure he’s given himself whiplash.

As such, his voice is breathless when he says her last name, as if she’s a mere mirage standing in his doorway and he is a man dying of thirst. With the expression on his face, she’s pretty sure that’s not far from the truth. 

“You’re not Will.”

“And thank god for that,” Emma says, finally entering his office and presenting him with the bag of food marked with his name on it. 

“Ah, but he sent you,” Killian retorts as he accepts the bag. He sees the second bag in Emma’s hand. “Do you have time? Would you like to eat, as well?”

She hesitates for a moment, thinking about how all she was going to do was drop off the food and go, maybe remind him to drink water or something, but he looks like he could use the company of someone other than the fictional characters in front of him. “Sure,” she finally says, moving the chair in front of his desk closer so she can place her own food on the surface. 

As they each eat their dinners, Killian tells her more about the project he’s been assigned. 

“It’s a relatively short book compared to the other projects I’ve worked on, but because of how much is riding on this one thing, I feel like I’m hyper-obsessing over every detail. I read the whole thing that day you saw me at the diner, and I’m still in the first chapter making edits and comments because I keep wondering if it’s the right call or not. I meet the author in a couple weeks and I want to have more than three pages marked up before that day.”

“You need to stop psyching yourself out so much,” Emma concludes as she pops another onion ring in her mouth. “And you definitely need to ease up on the time in the office. How long ago did everyone leave today?”

“Most cut out by three on Fridays.”

“So you’ve just been here for three hours working by yourself in a dark office building? With the front door unlocked?”

“It’s Storybrooke, love. Who’s going to even want to come here?”

“You have a point, I guess.” She wipes her hands with a napkin, shoving her trash back in the bag and crumpling it up. “But still, you should consider going out with everyone tonight. Or at least going home and drinking a lot of water and thinking about self-care.”

“Will you be included in this everyone ?” He sounds a little quiet, a little unsure, a little nervous when he asks. 

The woman he fancies , marches back through her head and Emma’s heart flutters a little. “Yeah,” she says, with no intentions of teasing him or leading him on. She gives a little shrug, smirking along with it. “Besides, it’s… also my birthday. Just so you know.”

“Today?” His full attention is on her, now, even forgetting about the fry that was halfway to his mouth.

“Tuesday, but since it’s a weekday, we’re celebrating tonight.” The wheels are turning behind those tired eyes and she knows she almost has him. “You can tell me about how you finished this chapter when you get to the bar tonight.”

“Maybe,” he says, but there are cracks in the facade he’s trying to hold onto.

“Maybe isn’t yes, Jones.” Last Friday comes back to mind, and she thinks this may just be the start of a routine or something now if he keeps this up. 

“It’s not a no either, Swan,” he says with a smile that she’s beginning to recognize as the same she gets on her face when she thinks about him. She is so screwed. 

“Yeah, I know,” she says, standing from her chair and flippantly tossing the trash from her dinner into the wastebasket by his desk. “See you later.” She winks when she says it, and his responding smile gives away that he’ll definitely be there. 

-x- October 18: Friday

Fifteen minutes after Emma gets to the bar, she finally orders her drink. She knows Killian will show, but it’s a matter of how much longer. The drink has barely been in front of her for thirty seconds when she hears the door open and close again. She doesn’t even flinch when he appears by her elbow and orders his usual. 

With a casual glance, she sees that he’s still in his suit and tie. He looks a little ruffled from the long day, but even at what she’s sure is a rough state, he still looks like she’d like to kiss him. That thought isn’t new, but the intensity of it is.

“What a surprise to see you, Jones.” She takes a sip of her drink before she looks at him again. 

He’s shaking his head, looking like he’s trying not to smile but she gets to watch the grin fully bloom as he fails to keep a straight face. He glances around the empty tables where everyone usually congregates. “Where is everyone?”

“Well, I told Will that you wouldn’t go out unless we went to Aesop’s Tables. So I assume that’s where he is. And David and Snow had plans tonight.”

“Trying to get me alone, Swan?”

“I figured you could use a night to decompress without Will challenging you to a chugging contest.”

“You’re a savior, you know that?”

“I’ve been called that once or twice,” she admits, grabbing her drink and standing from the barstool. “Let’s go.”

“Go?”

“Yeah. Decompress. I have darts. You have a long week to put behind you. We both have good, strong drinks. Let’s go.”

He still looks baffled by the whole thing, and Emma’s not really sure why she’s so intent on trying to get him to loosen up, besides the fact that he’s one of the most put-together people she’s ever met and to see him a little disheveled is… kinda nice. She turns him and nudges him towards the other end of the bar where the dartboards are set up.

“Oh!” Killian stops in his tracks in front of her for a second and turns around. “What about your birthday?”

“What about it?”

“You said you were supposed to celebrate tonight.”

Emma fights with the smile forming on her lips. “Yeah, I did.”

“You didn’t have plans,” he says, the words tinted with a bit of confusion, but it’s definitely a statement. 

“Nope,” she says, popping the last consonant. “C’mon. Tell me about your book thing.” She gets him moving again with a gentle jab to the middle of his chest. 

And he does. As soon as they settle into a rhythm at the boards, Killian goes through the general premise of the twist on fairy tales. His arms are constantly moving as he talks, something that Emma finds fascinating. The impressive part is how he can do that and still throw without really concentrating. Sometimes, however, that doesn’t mean the throw is good .

“I haven’t played in a while,” he confesses after his first dart ends up on the floor and the second ends up embedded in the light cover above the board.

“Mmmhmm. Keep telling yourself that’s the reason,” Emma teases, collecting the darts and hitting three numbers she needs.

The game progresses with ease, however, and they keep up a steady conversation with the music buffering them from the other patrons and conversations. Round 1 ends up going to Emma. 

“He still has one detail I wouldn’t have written if it were my book,” he tells her when they’re deep in round two.
“Oh?”

“There’s the ever-present failsafe: True Love’s Kiss.”

“And why wouldn’t you have written that into the stories?”

“Because if these are twisted tales, why should that be the save-all? Case in point, what if it were a curse instead of the fixer?”

“What do you mean?” She takes her throw, but it’s a bad shot. She’s officially more interested in what he’s saying so her game is going to shit.

“Bear with me a moment. In most stories, that kiss is the thing that fixes everything, breaks the curse, completes someone, etc. etc.”

She nods as she takes a sip of her drink which is slowly becoming more water than alcohol from the ice melting. It’s clear he’s on a roll, both in telling the story and with the darts. With the first throw, he hits the triple 20. 

“So if I were to meet and kiss my true love, in Henry’s version, I would live happily ever after. But if I were the one twisting the fairy tales, my true love would turn into a hand. The thing that would literally complete me, so to speak.” The second dart hits the outer ring of single 19, leaving him with one more dart and only needing the double bullseye to win the game. 

“Then I’d just be this poor, lonely bastard with a reminder of this great love I was owed and instead have a hand to carry around at all times.” The dart goes flying, sinking into the middle of the board with ease. He spins, his look of disbelief fighting with the full-blown smile taking over his face. All Emma can do is laugh. 

“One hell of an ending, Jones,” she says, not sure if she’s talking about the game or the curse. “But for the record, I hope you don’t think that a missing limb makes you any less whole.”

He’s at the dartboard collecting the darts when she says it, and he leaves two of them on the board as he comes back to the table they’re set up at. She’s surprised the words even came out of her mouth, unsure of where the need to tell him that came from. 

“I did once, after it first happened. I was young and suddenly down one hand, discharged from the Navy because of it, and had no direction.”

“How did you find your way again?” 

It’s so close to home. She thinks about being 18 and alone in Tallahassee, trying to find any way she could to make money to get back to David and Storybrooke without breaking down and asking him for money.

“Mostly with the help of my brother, Liam. He kept me moving forward when I wanted to slide down the hill.”

“That’s one of the perks of having a brother,” Emma says, clearing her throat and taking a sip from her drink. 

“It certainly is,” he replies. Sensing the shift in tone, Killian offers to refresh their drinks. 

“Sure. But light on the vodka in this one.”

While he’s getting the drinks, she shakes off the memories. Maybe she should share with him that they have more in common than a route to work, but she also thinks that can be saved for another time. Because although they still haven’t exchanged numbers or full back-stories, she feels like this is all much bigger than a morning routine, now. 

They throw for best out of five. In the end, Killian is the victor of their mini-tournament. 

“Re-beginner’s luck,” Killian tells her as they settle their tabs and wish Jefferson a goodnight.

When they step outside, they start a slow, meandering walk back towards their homes. The October wind picks up, whipping her hair around her face and forcing her to zip her jacket up all the way. Without meaning to, Emma ends up huddled against Killian’s side, trying to escape the bitter wind. Somehow in the mix, she also ends up holding onto his arm, enjoying the way the fabric of his suit jacket feels beneath her fingertips. There’s a little smile on his face when she glances up at him, and when his eyes meet hers she can’t help but notice the way a quiet affection shines through. 

They don’t talk much, mostly about the nothings that get lost in the mundane details of their day, like how she’ll start driving the Bug again soon when it gets colder. At this, Killian seems to deflate a little, and she realizes that it’ll bring an end to their walks down the street until the weather warms up again.

“But that’s not for another couple weeks,” she says, trying to make up for the fact that yeah, eventually she won’t be up for frigid commutes to the station in the snow. It’s not until she glances around that she realizes they’ve walked all the way back to her apartment complex. “Oh. This is me,” she says, pointing with her free hand up at the modest building. “I didn’t mean to make you walk this far out of your way.”

“I’m always happy to escort Storybrooke’s finest,” he mentions. “And thank you for getting me to relax tonight. I’d probably still be in that bloody office if it weren’t for you.”

“Or be three sheets to the wind thanks to Will.”

“Again, you’ve saved me in multiple ways today, Swan.”

“And yet, this was my birthday celebration and you got me no gift.”

With a glint in his eyes, Killian sways just the tiniest bit closer. “Only one gift I’ve got to offer,” he says, his index finger going from nervously rubbing a spot behind his ear to tapping his lips twice, the smile that overtakes those lips knowing and teasing and everything she’s wanted to kiss since he touched her hand that first time. 

“Please,” Emma says, her voice dipping low. “You couldn’t handle it.” Even so, she’s moving closer without really meaning to, magnetically pulled towards his body in ways she can’t even explain. 

“Perhaps you’re the one that couldn’t handle it,” he retorts, holding eye contact with her the whole time. 

It’s a challenge. And she doesn’t like backing down from a challenge. 

Her eyes shift between his for a second more, and then she’s hauling him towards her by the lapels on his suit jacket. Their mouths connect, both anticipating, both going for it like there’s a prize for who wrecks the other more. Back and forth they go with who leads and who takes, coming up for air twice in the process, until they’re both breathing heavily and she has to hold onto him to steady herself for an extra second. 

“That was…” he mutters, his voice low.

They sway closer one more time and Emma’s pretty sure he’s going to kiss her again, but suddenly, the flight instinct takes over. She can’t like him. Can’t let him in. With barely a glance up, she decides to ruin the only good thing she’s had going for a while.

“A one time thing. Goodnight, Killian.” She says it with pain in her voice as she gently untangles herself from his embrace. It takes a lot of effort to command her own fingers to let go of his coat lapels and start walking away. 

She doesn’t turn back, doesn’t want to see the look on his face that she knows is the same one on hers. Because they only walk together for part of their daily commutes. Nothing more. More is what leaves her in the middle of the night. More is what falls for her and dies in her arms. More is a lying, cheating asshole.

The door to the building closes firmly behind her, cutting off “more” before it even begins. 

Chapter Text

October 20: Sunday 

All weekend, the kiss haunts her. 

It was just a kiss, she thinks more than once, eyes glazed over while the television plays something she’s already seen a million times. 

But there’s another voice in there. He’s not like the others, it says to her. It sounds suspiciously like Snow. Snow, and her endless hope speeches about love and how Emma builds her walls too high and tries to keep everyone out. With a frustrated grunt, she grabs her phone and dials one of the only landlines left in Storybrooke. She usually only calls when there’s something wrong, so she’s sure they’ll panic when she shows up on their caller ID. 

“Emma? Is everything okay?”

“Gimme the Disney Princess,” she demands after David speaks. He doesn’t say more, doesn’t push or question it. Emma can hear the shuffling of him moving from one spot in their farmhouse to go search out his wife. 

“She asked for you,” David says from a distance. 

“Thanks, Charming. Close the door behind you?”

If she wasn’t so used to the exchange, she would be rolling her eyes. But instead she waits patiently while they share a quick kiss and she hears David leave the room, the door to Snow’s craft and grading room closing with a faraway click. 

“What happened?” Snow finally asks, her voice measured without judgement or concern just yet. Emma imagines her in the faint glow of the warm room, with her readers perched on her nose as she decides whether or not her fourth graders accurately spelled each word on the list. 

“I kissed him,” she says, breaking her own mental image to bring back the reality of her life. 

“Kissed who?” 

“Killian. Friday after we walked back from the bar. We were joking, and then he teased me, and then I basically mauled him with my mouth.”

“Well, Emma, honey, that’s great!”

“This is not great,” Emma hisses as she gets up from the couch and goes to the kitchen to pour herself some water, suddenly parched and terrified. 

“Why not great?” Snow asks. “Is he married or something? Polygamist? Gambling addiction?”

“Not that I know of,” Emma mutters. “But the problem is with me. I’m the problem in this equation, Snow.” 

“You’re not.”

“I am. There’s no way I can let him in, because he’ll just end up gone like all the others.”

“You don’t know that. Won’t know it unless you give him a chance and let him prove you wrong.”

“Or, alternatively, I’m right and then I don’t even have my morning walks to look forward to because they’ll always be tainted by the memory of that creep I used to walk with.”

You kissed him and yet he’s already the creep that left you high and dry?”

“Why did I call you?”

“Because you know this is your past trying to talk you out of something that could make you happy and I’m your voice of reason. That’s why you called me. Can you text him and wish him a goodnight or something? Tell him you’d like to buy him coffee tomorrow?”

“I um… I still don’t have his number. So I can’t.”

“Well, in the morning, when you walk to work with him like I know you do five days a week and wouldn’t miss it unless your legs were broken despite the fact that you would never admit it out loud, you will give him a chance. Do you hear me?”

“Yes, mom,” Emma mutters. 

When she ends the call with Snow, she flops back onto the couch with a dramatic sigh. Tomorrow. Maybe she’ll fix this tomorrow. She can be better, right?

The closer she gets to their corner, the higher her anxiety goes. By the time she’s approaching Killian, her heart is beating so fast and she’s pretty sure she’s sweating despite the very chilly temperatures.

He’s engrossed with something on his phone, and Emma thinks about that first time she ever saw him walking to the crosswalk. At the very least, her thoughts calm down a little bit so she’s not jittering the entire time she approaches him. He glances up, then, the sun peeking through the clouds and hitting his eyes just right as he looks her way. 

It’s almost like he tries not to smile, maybe remembering the last thirty seconds where she fucked everything up on Friday, but it still comes through - that sweet smile and eyes crinkling. It’s almost breathtaking to see that expression aimed at her. She made someone happy like that, no matter what the ultimate outcome of the other night was. 

Whatever either of them had in mind for greetings this morning, they both fail at them, tripping over their words and half-aborted hand gestures. When the light changes, they start walking together, with Killian’s hand coming up and his fingers just grazing her lower back until he just as suddenly pulls away. 

When they get to Granny’s they stop, as if they each have something to say but can’t spit it out. 

“Just… be patient with me?” she finally asks when it’s clear both of them are failing at being casual about this.

“I’ve all the time in the world, love.” There’s this deep well of understanding in his eyes, and she sort of hates herself a little bit for the way she ended their night out, now. 

“Good. Thanks.” She reaches out, trying to bridge the gap, but her fingers just graze along his sleeve before she pulls away. “Well, um, have a good day, Jones.”

He rubs behind his ear, glancing down at the ground for a moment before looking at her again. “Have a good day, Swan.”

She lifts her hand in a wave, hesitantly shifting and then moving up the walkway to get her coffee when he makes no other comment. When she glances back, he’s still there, and she sees him sigh before he continues on towards his office. 

With a sigh of her own, she enters the diner and tries to push her turmoil to the back of her mind. 

-x- October 22: Tuesday

Sometimes, waking up on her birthday is just like every other day. Maybe it’s the fact that her birthday is assumed to be October 22 because that’s the day she was left in the hospital waiting room, looking freshly born and crying her eyes out. At least, that’s what Ruth told her about the day she was found. Ruth was working in the giftshop as a second job, just trying to make ends meet for her family. 

They never did find her birth mother, but when it was clear one wasn’t showing up, it was Ruth that stepped in and adopted her. Despite the fact that she already had five-year-old twins at home, she took in Emma and raised her as her own. Robert, though he would leave this earth far before she could remember him, was in full support of this idea. 

It was mostly nice having brothers around, too. Well, at least one of them. David was protective and chivalrous, kind and generous, and she looked up to him like he really was Prince Charming all while growing up. James, on the other hand, was the opposite. In fact, when James ran away and eloped at 18, it was almost a relief to all of them. He was out of their hair. Emma and David would never admit it to anyone, but they had a bet going on whether or not James would show up for Ruth’s funeral. Emma won the bet. He showed, but only so he could find out what was left to him and collect on it before fading away again. 

It worked out that he had no interest in the rest of Ruth’s estate. That’s when David and Snow moved out to the old farmhouse, leaving Emma all by herself in the apartment that they all awkwardly shared for a time. The loft that, after some much needed furniture replacements, quickly became her fortress. 

It’s where she wakes up on her twenty-eighth birthday, for once not obsessed with smacking her alarm to snooze it or wanting to roll back over and forget the day. She tries to temper her excitement a little bit. She’ll be seeing Killian soon, but it’s not like he’s obligated to remember it’s her birthday. She told him on Friday and who knows if he even cared? But the prospect of seeing him is enough to get her moving.

On the subject of seeing someone romantically, Emma’s mind isn’t made up yet. She hasn’t actually dated since Walsh, and that was enough of a disaster - and that word alone is an understatement for the heaping garbage fire that was the end of her relationship with Walsh -  that she’s not sure how she feels about officially dating again. But as Snow already reminded her, Killian is not the others. He told her she has all the time in the world, so she can only hope he’ll be patient as she tries to sort out her feelings. 

She wears what she always wears, slipping into one of her favorite pairs of jeans and a sweater. When she checks the temperatures for the day, she opts for the black leather jacket since it actually has a lining and might keep her warm for her walk to work today. She adds a beanie over her hair, pulling it down snugly over her ears. 

Emma’s heart pangs a little thinking about not sharing her mornings with Killian. Maybe she should just offer him a ride to work. It’s not like she would be driving miles out of her way with how small Storybrooke is. She knows he lives closer to the harbor, and what’s that? Three extra turns? 

Those thoughts follow her out the door, into the chilly quiet of late October. 

Killian looks nervous when she sees him. She doesn’t know how she can tell from this far away, but there’s something in his posture - it’s like he’s trying too hard to be casual. He checks his watch and then looks in her direction, his expression lighting up when he sees her. 

“Good morning, love. Happy birthday,” he says in greeting. New to his own outfit is a black leather jacket, and she grins widely at the fact that they’re matching. 

“Thank you. Like the jacket.”

“Same to you,” he returns when he notices she’s also wearing black. 

Before she walks up the path to Granny’s to get her coffee, he slows her down with a touch of his hook to her sleeve, easing a card out of the bag slung over his shoulder. 

“Don’t get excited or nervous. It’s not much,” he explains. “And don’t be alarmed, but I’ve gotten you two small things.”

As she takes it from him, her fingers brush over his and a thrill of contact runs through her. “The fact that you remembered means so much,” she tells him. “You didn’t have to get me anything.”

“No trouble at all, I assure you.”

“Well, thank you in advance. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

With one last wave, they part ways and she heads to the welcoming warmth of the diner. 

Her coffee is already at the counter waiting when she walks in, and Granny fixes her with one of those looks. 

“You got someone sweet on you, Deputy.”

“It’s possible,” she responds. Yeah, with that statement alone Granny is saying that the whole damn town has noticed, but that doesn’t mean she needs to explain it to the biggest gossip hound.

Killian is gone when she comes out, but that’s okay; the rest of the walk is quick enough and she has a card to open when she gets there. 

She expects the bundle of balloons that are tied to her chair. She even expects the cinnamon rolls that look to be still steaming, fresh from Snow’s diligent baking. What she doesn’t expect, and what David also certainly looks perplexed at, is the small vase of flowers sitting on her desk. It’s a varied bunch, with freesia and delphinium mixed together. It’s not a big bouquet, by any means, but it’s been so long since she got flowers at all that her heart speeds up just a touch.

At least now she understands why he was so nervous this morning.

David recovers from his confusion enough to come give her a hug, wishing her a happy birthday and telling her that dinner will be at six that night. 

“So, these are from the guy you’re not seeing, then?”

“Mmhmm,” she hums out, moving the flowers to the side so she can access her computer. She doesn’t say anything else on the matter, instead giving David a look and a smile that clearly says he better drop it. 

Emma waits until he’s back to work at his own desk before she slips her finger under the fold on the envelope that Killian handed her. It’s cardstock, clearly not purchased at the store, and there’s a rough sketch of a multi-tiered birthday cake drawn in the center. On top of the cake, there’s a small swan. She makes some noise in the back of her throat that she doesn’t mean to. But how can she not when this is sitting in her hands?

Inside, his beautiful, looping handwriting has scrawled out a simple message, along with his phone number.

“Here’s to metaphorically crossing the street to a new age. -Killian”

It’s so simple, but so sweet, and charming, and Killian that she has to physically restrain herself from getting up and marching over to his office immediately. Instead, she pulls out her phone, diligently entering him into her contacts before starting a new message. 

“The flowers are beautiful,” she sends him, taking a picture of them off to the side of her desk. 

“I figured the symbols of friendship and joy would be well-fitted to your birthday. There are no buttercups this time of year, so I did the best I could.”

Smiling to herself, she reads the message a few times before setting her phone aside. She props up the card next to her monitor and stretches one more time before diving into the things she wants to accomplish. 

Somehow, she manages to concentrate at work without stopping to just sit there and literally smell her flowers. It’s a close call a couple times, though. Instead, she slogs through filing paperwork and typing up old reports into the digital system some more. It has to be one of the slowest jobs they’ve ever done but Storybrooke is hardly bustling. It’s just that it took them until 2019 to get the system in place so they have… a lot of files to copy in. Her goal is to finish 1997 by the end of the week, but with her mind preoccupied, she’s likely to barely make a dent. 

For the last three years, her life has been cut and dry; the phrase “same shit, different day” was pretty much her motto after she got out of the relationship with Walsh. While she never subscribed to the idea of building on specific routines, she was aware of the stagnation that came with nothing new and exciting ever happening. A month ago, she never would’ve guessed she would be considering asking out the stranger she casually walked with in the mornings. That was as far as their interactions ever got. For the time being, all she can do is be thankful that Killian was late that day so it broke them out of the pattern they were stuck in, even if she doesn’t know how to progress from here. 

At dinner, the first thing to come up is her relationship status. 

“Not you, too, Snow.” The other woman flits around the kitchen putting the finishing touches on dinner while Emma sits at the kitchen table with a glass of wine. 

“Well, it’s just that David sent me a picture of a very beautiful vase of flowers that he said were delivered to the station about ten minutes before you got there.” Her friend looks at her then, one slim eyebrow climbing up towards her hairline. 

“Yes, and now they’re sitting on the island in the loft.” 

“And these flowers were from Killian?”

“Yes.” Emma isn’t sure why Snow bothered to ask, since she knows damn well they are from Killian. 

“Killian Jones? The one I told you to give a chance and see what happens?”

“Yes, Snow.” The exasperation in her voice is evident with the second response. The woman never misses a chance to rub in being right. Ever. 

“Okay, just making sure. When will you get to see him again?”

Right as she starts to answer, David walks in, kissing Snow on the side of the head as he starts to move around her as if they’d synchronised this beforehand. They are the height of ridiculous relationships, in Emma’s book. 

“Tomorrow morning when we cross the street together like we do every morning.”

“And outside of those little moments?”

She’d hoped to bring this up at a different time, weigh pros and cons with Snow over the thought of maybe asking Killian on a date, but not when David suddenly looks far too interested in what she has to say in response.

“You know, this whole conversation is one factor in why I haven’t dated in so long,” Emma spits out. Snow and David both open their mouths to say something, but they both close them in tandem, looking at each other and having a patented Married Couple conversation without words. 

“You’re right, sweetie. We’ll skip the rest of the parental run-down. At least, until after you’ve finished a glass of wine.”

“It’s the least we can do,” David adds on, smiling and winking at her before he pops the garlic bread into the oven. “Okay. Ten minutes until dinner is ready. Wanna chug that so we can pry into your relationship a little bit more?”

She nearly chokes on her drink when he says it, but it has the intended effect of making her laugh so she’ll take it.

After they’ve eaten and cleared the table together, David leaves them to talk while he heads to the basement to finish his latest project. 

When he’s not busy doing sheriff duties or volunteering at the animal shelter, he builds birdhouses. It started with making one for Snow to post outside her classroom window back when they were first dating. He ended up making one for the tree outside Granny’s diner because the wind kept knocking the nests down. After seeing that one, Belle asked if he could make her one, which he made to look like a stack of books. Eventually, Snow forced him to start putting them on Etsy because he wasn’t paid for any of the thirty that are now scattered around the limits of Storybrooke. 

With him in his workshop, Snow ushers them into the den with steaming mugs of hot cocoa, letting Emma sit in silence and mull over hers for a few moments before she starts to prod. 

“What’s going through that head of yours?” Snow asks, sensing her need to talk about it.

“I just don’t know if I’m ready to date,” Emma admits. 

“Remind me how long you were with Neal?”

“Seven months,” Emma grumbles. She wouldn’t put out until she turned eighteen, which meant from June until October, the most she would do was kiss him. He somehow thought that if they ran away to Tallahassee together that she would magically change her mind about her virginity. 

But nope, Emma stuck strong on that, and in October she finally let him touch her breasts. That was apparently enough for him to stick around another three months until they had sex for the first time. Then, of course, the idiotic non-pregnancy scare happened, and she was left alone in Florida with a sub-par waitressing job and learning how to chase bail skips from a woman named Cleo that saw her chase down a guy that tried to dine and ditch on her. 

It took her three years to get back to Storybrooke but only because David figured out something was funky and flew down to Tallahassee to see her. As soon as he realized how unhappy she was, he was helping her ship her few belongings back to Storybrooke and buying them two plane tickets home. 

“Okay. Seven months with him. That’s not really a strong enough amount of time to decide if you’re even in love with someone, let alone someone who’s trying to manipulate you,” Snow tells her. 

And she knows. Because she’s been through the debate on whether or not she even loved Neal. She knows for a fact that he never really loved her despite him saying so a couple times. 

“And Graham?”

That one hurts. 

When she came back to Storybrooke, there was a new deputy in town. His name was Graham, he was Irish, adorable as sin, and immediately had a crush on her. His twenty-five to her twenty-one was better than the age difference between her and Neal, so she gave in to the relationship a little easier than she thought she would. 

“We were only together for three months,” Emma admits, lost in her thoughts of that accent and his soulful eyes. He admitted he was falling in love with her after a couple dates. Since she was still a bit burned from the whole Neal situation, she told him she would return the words when she was ready, and he was perfectly fine with that.

“Don’t blame yourself,” Snow’s words break through the fog of memories. 

“It’s gotten a little easier not to,” Emma responds with a tight smile. She sips from the drink in her hand but barely tastes it. “I didn’t know CPR back then, didn’t know he had a heart condition.”

“To be fair, neither did he.”

“You can’t know that for sure.”

“Emma, I saw all his medical records after… When we sent them back to his parents. According to everything he had on file, he was completely healthy. No arrhythmia mentioned, nothing. He had no clue he was going to…” Snow trails off there. 

“That he was going to leave me behind?”

“I think that man would’ve done anything in the world to stay with you, especially knowing your history,” Snow says, reaching over and giving her free hand a squeeze. “The whole town knew he was in love with you. If he knew anything about what was coming, I don’t think he’d have asked you out at all.”

They keep skirting around it, but the fact of the matter is that Graham died in her arms. She’d gone to the station to visit him while he was on the late shift and while he was kissing her, he collapsed. He was working alone that night, so there was no one to help. Once again, David came to her rescue. 

But it was too late. By the time the paramedics showed up, Graham was already gone, and at a young age, Emma had lost two people she thought she loved in two very different ways. 

“You’re probably right,” Emma finally says.

“Would you have gone out with him if you knew how it was going to end?”

“Him? Yeah, maybe. Walsh?” Emma makes a noise of disgust in the back of her throat. “Absolutely not.”

“Walsh was a type of scum that no one could’ve predicted,” Snow admits, a look crossing her face that says it all. 

There are no less than three people in Storybrooke who have all claimed rights to punch him in the face if he ever shows up in town again. 

“Let’s not dredge up that one again,” Emma finally says. “It’s my birthday and I’ll ignore any topic I want to.”

“Of course. All I was trying to point out is that your past relationships have never defined who you are. And they’ve been so short that it’s really hard for love to dig its heels in on you yet. You’ve even had a couple years since Disaster Boy and I know you must be scared to try again, but let’s look at some quick facts.”

Emma sincerely wonders when Snow crafted her pros and cons list, because this all sounds way too practiced to be off the top of her head.

“Go for it,” she sighs out, just wanting to get it over with. 

“Killian has lived here since June. You know as well as I do that it created a nice little bubble of excitement that someone new was moving in. And in that amount of time, how many women has he dated?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do. Because we would all know the second he took out anyone in town.”

“What about those rumors from the bar?”

“What, that he flirts with women?” She tilts her chin down when she says it, leveling Emma with a look she knows all too well to be her Mom Look. “You flirt with everyone in town at least once a week. You can’t hold that against him.”

“I do not flirt with everyone,” Emma defends. Still, she pauses as she thinks about it for a second. “I would never flirt with Will or Victor.

Snow snorts at that, raising her own mug in agreement. 

“So what are you going to do?” Snow asks after they’ve been silent for a few minutes.

“I don’t know. I asked him to be patient with me yesterday morning. He had every right to skip past my birthday but still went out and did these little things for me.”

“Take your time with it. He’ll wait. I can already tell he’d wait a long time if you just gave him a chance. And it can lead to something really great if you just open that door for him.”

After their mugs are empty and Emma helps clean up the kitchen, she heads to the basement to give her brother a hug before she leaves for the night. 

“Happy birthday again, kiddo.”

“Pretty sure we’re far beyond ‘kiddo’ years here, David. But thank you. I’ll see you tomorrow,” she says, squeezing him tight and heading upstairs to give the same farewell to Snow. 

When she gets in her car, she pulls out her phone again, fidgeting as she considers texting Killian. After a few seconds of weighing it, she finally taps out a quick message and hits send before she can change her mind. She locks her phone and puts it back in her pocket for the drive home. 

She’s just unlocking her door when his response comes through, and she smiles when she reads it. Just a simple “You’re welcome, Swan.” to her text of thanks and a smiley face after the message.

For once, it’s a birthday that she doesn’t mind remembering.

 

Chapter Text

October 25: Friday 

Friday is another night out at the Rabbit Hole, and for once Killian is there before her instead of the other way around. He’s in the middle of some animated story about lobsters, much to the amusement of those in attendance judging by their rapt expressions. There are two seats open at the table. One is the safe option, across from Killian and next to David. Or the other option is to sit at the head of this cacophony of tables and next to Killian directly. 

His gaze flicks over to her, as if he senses her thoughts, and as the story wraps up to the raucous laughter of their whole group, he puts on a satisfied little smile and lifts his hand in greeting. 

It looks as though he’s gotten the approval of both Snow and David, so that’s a mark in the right column. 

When her drink is set down in front of her, she wanders over, making a split second decision to sit at the head of the table. 

“Seems like I missed the best part of the evening,” she says as she settles in beside him.

“Long story short, the lobsters won the battle,” Killian tells her, smiling and sipping from the bottle in front of him. “How was your day at work, Swan?”

“David hit a new record in computer freeze-ups, so it was a little long.”

“It’s not my fault the computers are still running Windows 95,” David argues, his scowl not directed at Emma but at the ancient technology they’re currently running in the station. 

“And it’s not my fault you just decided this year that you wanted to start digitizing the last fifty years of records we have,” Emma retorts, losing the battle with herself and sticking her tongue out at David when he does the same to her. “Also, I would definitely argue that it is your fault that our equipment is so damn old.”

“Have you spoken to Regina about upgrade budgets?” This comes from the other end of the table, where Robin is seated, and almost every head swivels to look at him. “Ah, that’s right. You’re all terrified of my fiance. How silly of me to forget.” The blase tone has no offense to it; Robin is simply used to the stunned silence he gets at the obvious suggestion of asking Mayor Mills for budget increases in certain departments. It’s no big deal to him, the guy dating her, because one day he walked into her office to talk to her about a playground rebuild and suddenly they were seen everywhere.

Of course, back then, everywhere they were seen included heavy amounts of arguing. Then, suddenly, one day they were everywhere and making out. So that was an interesting development for a sleepy little town. 

“You know, I forgot that since she started dating you she’s been much easier to talk to,” Emma mentions. “Maybe I’ll schedule an appointment with her and ask about getting some upgrades in the station.”

“It’s best that you do this one on your own. She’s still mad at me for dragging a pack of dogs through those daffodils she had in front of Town Hall,” David admits.

“Only a little, mate,” Robin adds, winking when David looks at him. 

“Isn’t it rather handy to have the expat club around, love?” Killian nudges her with his elbow when he says it, grinning wide when she makes eye contact.

“It’s not so bad, I guess,” she responds with her own smile back. 

After a couple hours, the length of the day starts to weigh on her and she can feel her eyes drooping shut even with the group still in full swing. 

“Okay, I’m calling it a night,” she announces to their side of the table. 

“I’ll walk with you, Swan, if you’ll allow me. I’m at the end of my night, as well.”

It’s on the tip of her tongue to dismiss him, but Snow catches her eye and gives her one of her meaningful looks. She gives one of her own back, indicating that yeah, fine, okay she gets the message.

“Okay. Let’s go,” she says lamely, instead of whatever objection had been waiting.

Outside, they both take a moment to adjust to the quiet and the wind, with Emma pulling out her beanie and pulling it on snugly.

“I need to remember my own,” Killian says, indicating the hat on her head. “You’d think I would be better suited for cold weather given the track record of my home country.”

“After I moved back it was a struggle to get used to the temperatures again,” Emma admits.

“Moved back?”

“From Florida. I spent three years down there,” she says, leaving out all the rest of the story on purpose. But the answer seems to suit Killian just fine. 

“I never officially lived anywhere else until I moved here,” he tells her as they walk down the street. “Visited a lot of places in the Navy, but official, permanent addresses were all in the same town.”

“The Navy, huh?”

“Aye. One day you’ll get to hear all about my sordid but charming history,” he says, a teasing note to the words. 

It’s so easy, walking the short distance with him. She almost tells him she can take the rest alone when they hit their corner but she resists, instead leading him again along the path to her building. He stops when she does, still standing a respectable distance away. 

“Thanks for walking with me,” she says quietly. In truth, she wants to ask him up for a cup of coffee or something, but she can’t remember the last time she’s had a man in her home and now doesn’t feel like a good time to try when it’s getting late and she wasn’t lying about how tired she is.

“Always a pleasure. Goodnight.”

She responds in kind, itching like she did that first time he walked her home to reach out, to have some form of physical signature to end the evening. 

He’s just turning away when she moves again, grabbing his arm and going for a quick kiss on his cheek but he turns and the peck ends landing right on the corner of his mouth. Rather than sink into the comforting embrace of awkwardness, she stands her ground against the urge to run.

“Thank you again,” he tells him.

“For what?”

“Everything. Walking me home. Understanding. Not pushing me. I’m trying to get on the same level, and I wanted you to know that.” 

“All at your own pace, Swan. Goodnight,” he says again, his smile tinged with peace.

She makes sure to give him one last wave and smile when she gets to the door, liking the way this night ended much more than the last time he walked her home. 

-x- October 30: Wednesday

While Storybrooke is a small town, it doesn’t mean Mayor Mills has an abundance of time. As such, Emma can’t get an appointment until Wednesday. It’s something to break up the monotony of the day, however, so she doesn’t mind. Right before lunch time, she heads to the stately office building and waits her turn behind various townspeople requests.

It’s such a simple meeting, with professional courtesies and barely any spare chatting or gossip. Regina’s never really been the type, even before she got together with Robin. While he’s certainly made her more approachable, the meeting is still over about ten minutes after it begins, and Emma comes away from it with more than she anticipated.

Armed with her upgrades budget and a wishlist a mile long, Emma heads outside and starts walking back to the station. Across the street is NeverEndings and she slows down a bit, weighing the decision to go in. Ultimately, the idea of surprising Killian and maybe asking him if he wants to grab lunch with her is what sends her crossing, pulling open the heavy wooden door and rushing into the reception area. 

The last couple days have been really nice with him. They walk together in the mornings, and sometimes she loops her arm through his while they cross the street. She has snuck him two kisses outside of the library so that Granny doesn’t see it when he leaves her at the front of the diner. 

And today, she didn’t even have to stop at the diner. Instead, Killian was waiting at their corner with a second mug of coffee. The least she can do is give him his afternoon caffeine fix. 

It turns out the office building is a little more active during the day compared to when she brought him his dinner. She stands there in shock for a moment, remembering that there are people that work here that aren’t Killian, or Will, or Robin, and trying to decide if this really was a good idea. 

She’s just about to turn around and head out again when the secretary, a woman named Anna, calls out to her. 

“It’s nice to see you, Emma! It’s been too long! Is there anything I can help you with today?”

“Um, I’m actually here to see Killian? Killian Jones?”

“He’s in his office. Do you need me to take you back?”

“No, thanks. I know the way. Thanks Anna.”

It looks like Anna is about to launch into something else to say - the woman has a penchant for talking far too much but is one of the nicest people she’s ever met - but Emma moves quickly beyond the desk and back towards the office she knows. 

She weaves her way through the halls again, finding Killian’s door wide open this time. He’s not alone, however, and she startles when she sees a young teenager sitting in the chair across from Killian’s desk. Like he can sense she’s there, the man in question glances away from his computer screen and makes eye contact with her. 

“Ah, Swan! Good afternoon. Henry, just give me one moment,” he tells the young man in the chair, starting to rise from his own. 

“Sorry, I didn’t -” 

The boy turns then, curious brown eyes landing on her, so familiar that it steals all the breath in her lungs momentarily. Even his hair looks the same color as Neal’s. 

“I didn’t know you were busy. Never mind,” she says quickly, turning from the door and all but running back out through the front doors before Killian even has a chance to finish standing up.

“Emma?” 

His voice follows her down the hallway, but she doesn’t slow down, doesn’t even stop to consider what this may look like to him. The only thing she’s concerned with is getting away from the memories she wishes she could forget. 

Her feet take her to Granny’s - something about this place is the heart of Storybrooke and so everyone always ends up here one way or another - but it’s mostly a trip for comfort rather than necessity this time.

In that regard, the proprietress must sense her needs, because she’s handing over a bear claw fresh from the fryer while Emma waits for her usual lunch to cook. Directly after, a mug of hot cocoa is placed in front of her, cinnamon already sprinkled over the whipped cream. 

“How much do I owe you?”

“Same as always,” Granny says without slowing down in her movements behind the counter. “Dessert’s on me. The hot chocolate is from that one over there.”

Emma glances to where she’s pointing, expecting to see David or Ruby or anyone besides Will settling into a booth along the windows. He raises his own mug and turns back to his conversation with Belle, but she has a feeling that’s not the end of the moment just yet. 

She’s halfway through pushing her lunch around her plate when Will wanders over and props against the counter where she’s seated. 

“Did she put the rum in it like I asked?” he asks, pointing to the mug in her hands. Suddenly, she wonders if there was a different tang to the usual comfort today but Will’s smile is one she recognizes. “Only joking, lass. I know you’re on the clock. But surely you could’ve used it with the way you looked when you ran from the office.”

“You saw that?” She wants to cringe, to run away and hide again, but Will isn’t judging her so it’s not the end of the world. 

“Sped right past me as I was on my way back to Killian’s office. You know him and I go way back?”

“I thought you just met when he moved here.”

“Hardly. Met right before he joined the Navy through some literary club thing he was in. He was interning at the London branch when this position opened up and I told Robin to hire him and stop having all those brains wasted on fetching coffee and being a gopher.”

“Leaving England for a junior editor position had to be a big decision. Why would he come all this way for a spot he probably would’ve gotten if he stuck it out over there?”

“That’s all his story to tell you. But there is something I’ll tell you about Killian,” Will starts, and Emma won’t lie and say her heart doesn’t stutter at the words. She’s expecting the worst, as always, but she nods at him to continue.

“He hasn’t been in a relationship for a long time. Had his heart broken clean in two. If I’m not mistaken, that’s something the two of you have in common,” he says gently. There’s something about the way he says it. This is a level of friendship they’ve never crossed, preferring witty banter and faked hatred to show their friendly affection for each other instead.

“I’m guessing he doesn’t know you’re telling me this?” Emma asks.

“No. Probably tell me to mind me own bloody business. But it’s funny. About a month and a half ago he started smiling the way he did, before life got to him.” He gives her a look at that, before Belle is back by his side. Her fingers link with his like she doesn’t even know she’s doing it, and the sight makes something in Emma’s stomach clench with want. 

They turn to leave her, but Emma calls back to Will before he gets too far.

“Thanks. I’ll try not to be too mean to you from now on,” she says.

“Bollocks! That’s half the fun of it!” he exclaims, grinning ear to ear and turning around as Emma laughs. 

She doesn’t particularly want to return to the station but knows she should go back to work. The rest of her day is spent intently focusing on the files she’s copying. When David leaves for the day, she tells him to go on ahead. If he’s worried, he knows better than to push for information right now, which works just fine for her. She’ll talk when she’s ready.

When the last file of her stack is completed, she finally shuts everything down, looking up to find Mulan kicked back at her desk and reading a book. 

“Never thought you’d give up,” the other woman mutters without looking away. “Go home. David delivered food to your apartment over an hour ago.”

“I’m going. But not because you told me to,” Emma points out. She stands, bending and twisting and stretching until all the pops and cracks from her back have helped ease some of the pain she feels. 

With more amiable separating words from both of them, Emma finally leaves Mulan to take over the next shift, knowing that Phillip will probably be in after his aptly named son, Phillip, is put to bed for the evening. Her walk home is trudging, at best. Even knowing that David dropped off food for her isn’t helping pick up her feet any. 

The shock of seeing a kid look that much like Neal is enough to sour a whole day, if not the whole rest of the week. 

It’s not just that Neal left her, and that he left in the middle of the night while she slept, but that he did it because he thought Emma was pregnant. There was no indication that she even was. She had a stomach bug, three days of her head in the toilet which was preceded by her mentioning she had a craving for Granny’s grilled cheese sandwiches and a chocolate milkshake from back home.

Not even bothering to do the math or ask about her cycle, he just assumed that the cravings and the vomiting meant she was pregnant. They’d had sex once. For roughly thirty seconds until he complained that she was too tight and he pulled out. And he’d been wearing a condom. 

The anger of it starts fueling her into moving again, and she almost rushes right past Granny’s when she hears the calling of her name. 

“Evening, Swan!” Killian greets her from where he’s kicked back in one of the chairs on the patio, even though it’s far too cold to be sitting out here like that.

She waves, something jerky and unsure, and keeps moving along. She had no intentions of waltzing into his office and then fleeing like it was the scene of a crime this morning, and it’s mostly embarrassment that has her feet moving quicker. 

“Come on, Swan. Don’t make a man drink alone.”

“Not in the mood for a drink. Or a man,” she says, half-zoned out and just wanting to get home to try to process the rest of her emotions. 

“Emma, sweetheart?” he asks, hurt evident in his voice, and when she doesn’t slow down he gets up from the chair he was in and moves after her. “Wait a moment, Swan. What’s happened? What did I do between this morning and when you stopped by my office?” 

The fact that he thinks it’s his fault is what has her slowing minimally and letting him catch her around the forearm with his prosthetic hook. He uses that momentum to coax her to turn around, and the look on his face is finally what makes her cave. He doesn’t deserve the brunt of her fuckery. He’s been so patient through everything else, and while any other man in her life would’ve probably run at her first change of heart, this one has stood nearby with no pressure, no conditions asked. She fights through that heavy feeling in her chest, past the lump in her throat, so she can maybe even try to explain what happened. 

“It’s not you. I just… was reminded of my past and why I’m not good at this kind of thing.

“You’ve got to trust that I have no ill intentions here.”

“You think this is because I don’t trust you?”

“Isn’t it?”

“Of course I trust you. But it doesn’t change the fact that everyone I’ve ever been with has left me behind.” It’s probably the first time Emma has ever admitted any of this out loud, and suddenly what she thought was just a slight case of emotions feels a lot more like a boulder sitting in her stomach. For the tiniest moment, she’s afraid she’ll start crying. Her voice is almost garbled when she speaks again, fighting past the emotions welling up. “Neal, Graham… even Walsh. They left me in one way or another.” He doesn’t know them yet, doesn’t know what they did, but letting their names out into the open takes away some of their power.

Moving just a bit closer, Killian holds eye contact with her, probably just as much for him as for her. “Well, love. You don’t have to worry about me. I may leave this area on occasions, but I’ve no intention of leaving you unless you tell me to.”

It could just be an empty promise, but coming from Killian it sounds like a genuine one. She nods, just a fraction of her chin tilting down, to show him she understands. He moves forward the rest of the way, his intent clear without being overpowering. And then he’s kissing her, his arm coming snugly around her waist. 

It’s different from their first kiss and the small affectionate gestures they’ve shared recently. There’s something more than intention behind it and without the spontaneous factor involved, it’s calmer if not less intense. It doesn’t occur to her to be ashamed that they are standing in the middle of the street because how can she care about anything else when Killian is doing his best to remind her what human connection feels like with each subsequent press of his lips? 

This is enough for now, the start of a new routine for them. She always just assumed he was some nerdy dude with an office job, but really, Killian is like twenty things all wrapped into one and she’s discovering she’s eager to uncover each layer of him one at a time. 

With that thought, her final hang-ups fall away and she surrenders instead to the warm lips attached to the man that has changed her mind about dating. She thinks to tell him that, but then he’s shifting, his hand sliding into her hair as his left arm pulls her closer and then she’s all but crawling into his jacket. He’s warm, chasing away the chill she’s felt not just because of the temperatures but because of the hole she let herself sink into earlier. Chest to chest, she can feel the sound that rumbles through him when she wraps her arms around his waist. 

There’s a part of her that wants to know, desperately, why she was resisting this - resisting him, but she knows there’s still miles to go before all the dark spots fall away from her memories. This is a good start, though. It’s just them, figuring things out and also making out like they’re a couple of teenagers.

“There are better places to do that than the middle of the road.” It’s Granny’s voice that springs them apart. 

“Seriously?!” Emma says, looking over Killian’s shoulder at the older woman. 

Granny just gives her one of her patented looks and goes back inside, leaving them alone again.

“Would it be all right if I walked you home?”

“Sure. I’d like that,” Emma answers, taking his hand as they start heading that way. “Are you dressing up for Halloween tomorrow?”

“Aye. Quite the get-up I’ve got, too.”

“Oh yeah?”

He hums his agreement, but not saying anything more about it. “How about you, love? What have you cooked up for a costume?”

“I don’t normally dress up,” Emma admits. “But I think I can pull something together easily enough.” Even as she says it, she’s thinking of the parts of a suit she has at home. Surely she can pull that off with a couple accessories, right? It’s too good of an idea not to try, and so even though she's sad to say goodnight to Killian after the moment they’ve just had, she’s also excited to get inside and go tearing through her closet.

She makes sure to thoroughly kiss him goodnight before she does, however.

Chapter Text

October 31: Thursday

The night before Halloween, Killian is thankful for his prompt attention in setting out his Halloween costume a week ago since he doesn’t get home until after dinner time. Not that he’s going to complain, of course, since he had a damn good reason to be home at that hour after snogging Emma Swan in the middle of the street for way longer than either of them anticipated. 

He wonders if they’d still be there if Granny hadn’t interrupted them. 

Just thinking about it again sets his heart racing. After Emma asked him to be patient, Killian genuinely didn’t know if they would ever develop past friendly acquaintances. But after tonight, the way her hands had framed his face as she leaned up to kiss him before going inside, he’s pretty sure they’re well beyond that. He figured he would be lucky to find himself amongst the ranks of her friends and allies, but now there’s a genuine chance that this could turn into something more. 

Kissing her is an experience he can’t compare. Not only does she affect the way his heart beats but he would let her steal the air right from his lungs if that’s what she wanted. It’s probably dangerous to be this enamored with her already. 

Shaking his head, Killian pushes through his nightly routines, enjoying the ghost sensation of Emma’s lips on his.

At the end of the night, he doesn’t even notice that he didn’t follow his steps precisely or in the correct order, only that he completed what he had to before he climbs into bed anticipating the next day.

On Halloween, he wakes up early enough to fully prepare. He’d been told shortly after arriving that Halloween in this small town was a much-celebrated affair, and it just so happens that it is one of his favorite holidays to really get into. So he takes his time sliding on each part of the costume he’s had for years. 

Just about the only good thing that’s come out of losing his hand is the ability to authentically pull off a Captain Hook costume. He’s so adept at putting on the layers that he still has plenty of time to grab his coffee and secure his bag as he strolls out the door. 

It’s cold out, cold enough that he wishes again for a hat and a glove, and certainly not to have half of his chest exposed with the way the shirt buttons up. He hastens to his meeting spot with Emma, already looking forward to her reaction and to see what she’s wearing as her own costume. When he’d asked her about it last night, she’d smiled unassumingly and told him he’d have to wait and see. 

He’s more than a little surprised when he gets closer to the corner to find it already occupied. He knows it’s Emma, of course, but he’s so used to her hair being down and free-flowing that it takes him a couple seconds to absorb the fact that it’s carefully pulled back in a bun and pinned away from her face.

She turns when he gets closer, and his steps stumble just the slightest bit which causes her to smirk. She’s wearing glasses, which he’s never seen before, and his eyes just glance across the rest of her to take in the details. Her black leather jacket is on again, but instead of the usual jeans, she’s wearing a pair of dark grey dress trousers. On top, she’s wearing a button-up shirt and tie that look so close to something he owns that he wonders for a second if she snuck in and raided his closet. It’s all topped off with a waistcoat that matches the bottoms, but dips low and fastens beneath her bust. 

Her eyes must focus on him because her jaw is dropping and her eyes pop open wide beneath her spectacles, and they more than likely have matching looks on their faces. 

“Wow,” she says slowly, looking him up and down a few times. “You were not joking when you said you go all out.”

He spreads his arms wide so she can see the whole thing uninterrupted, spinning once when he finally gets all the way to the corner. She inches closer, tucking a book he didn’t notice before under her arm so she can reach out and grab the much older fashioned hook he uses with the costume. It’s a bit of a pain in the sense that he doesn’t have the functionality of his usual hook, but this fits the costume better and he loves the authentic feel of it. 

She lifts the apparatus to inspect it, running her fingers along the smooth metal. 

“Captain Hook? Really? Where’s the perm? The waxed moustache?”

“Left them back in England,” he tells her, shifting forward to move closer to her. 

“I like the eyeliner,” she confesses, her other hand sliding along the lapel of the greatcoat that he had specially made for this costume. 

“Our light is about to change,” he murmurs as she steps even closer still. He’s certainly not going to complain about these developments, even if it’s throwing their whole morning off by a few minutes. 

“Yeah, I know.” Despite those words, she still leans up and kisses him, lingering over the one simple press of her lips until just before the safety bell starts dinging to let them know the protected cross will end soon. 

She moves fluidly, then, using her grip on his hook to guide him across the street. When they get to Granny’s they pause again. 

“I’ll be working late tonight,” she tells him. “Text me to keep me entertained?”

“Hordes of rival pirates couldn’t stop me, love.” He bends to kiss her cheek softly, enjoying the noise she makes in approval before he steps away again. “Have a good day, Swan.”

“Thanks. You too, Captain!”

She’s already moving up the pathway before he remembers to ask, confused at the bookish look she’s wearing. “By the way, who are you supposed to be?” he asks from the entrance to the patio. 

Just as she reaches the door, she turns and pulls the book from beneath her arm, flipping it open and adjusting her glasses on her face. “Isn’t it obvious? I’m you,” she responds, fixing him with a look he knows he gives her when he’s flirting. His heart beats double-time even as he laughs. If he’s not careful, he’ll fall in love with her before they even manage to go on a date. 

Thankfully, she takes the opportunity while he’s laughing to lift the book in farewell, entering the diner and leaving him still chuckling as he moves along towards his office. 

The whole company has dressed for the spirit of the day; Robin is dressed in full Robin Hood regalia and Will as his second-hand man. They’ve been friends for so long and the joke’s been made so many times that they just go with it now. Even Anna is playing along and wearing a traditional Norwegian dress that he knows for a fact was passed down from her ancestors because she’s told him three times now. 

For the most part, however, no one seems to be doing their work. If this was a Friday, he’s willing to bet that most people would be out of the office at noon. Instead, since they’re mingling and not attempting to be productive, he’s the only one in his office trying to get something done. He gives up before lunch time, packing up Henry’s book and all his notes and heading to Granny’s, but even there the festivities seem to be lingering and he can’t seem to concentrate on anything he’s reading.

Instead, after he’s finished his early lunch, he collects the darts from the board and starts throwing, thinking back to that night out with Emma. As if thinking her name summons her, the door to the diner opens and shuts and he turns to see her scanning the restaurant before heading straight for him.

“Everything all right, Swan? Or have you come to get your second caffeine fix?”

“Something like that,” she says, taking a moment to continue. He lines up his next throw but it ends up going far off course with what she says next. “Actually, I’m here to ask you out. To dinner, or something.” The clack of the dart hitting the wall goes unnoticed as he turns slowly to look at her.

“Shouldn’t I be the one to ask you out?”

“Should’ve known you’d try to be old-fashioned about it. But we’d both be three hundred before you managed to do it. You had the perfect opening last night!” 

The whole diner seems to have paused in their activities to watch the progression of their conversation. It’s not like he can blame them, since it’s definitely not anything he was expecting to be dealt today, and they all get front-row seats to the show. Even Granny is staring at them, only turning and going back about her business with a knowing smile on her face when she notices him look at her. 

“I was trying to follow your lead,” he says incredulously, throwing his hand and hook into the air. When Emma continues to just stare at him, he drops his arms and moves closer. “I’ll happily accept on one condition: you let me plan the evening.”

“I know how to plan a date!”

“You know how to chase traffic violators and blow into my workspaces like a whirlwind. I know how to plan an evening out.”

Her expression says she knows he’s not wrong, and she bobs her head in acquiesce. 

“Well, I don’t pillage and plunder on the first date, just so you know.”

He chuckles at that, moving closer as his scoundrel side peeks out again. He regards her from beneath hooded eyes for a second. “That’s because you haven’t been out with me yet,” he says plainly, breaking the moment only a bit with a smug smile when he sees the look in her eyes. 

“Saturday,” she says after she snorts and schools her facial expressions again. “Save it for Saturday.”

“I’ll try my solid best, love.”

She rolls her eyes, but she’s laughing under her breath as she does. She turns, looking like she’s about to head to the counter but instead she moves back and kisses him solidly again. 

“See you tomorrow morning,” she tells him as she backs away.

He watches as she approaches the counter, to Granny and the softly amused look on her face. “On the house, Emma,” she tells her as she hands over a bag of food that he doesn’t think Emma even had the chance to order yet. 

She says her thanks and moves back towards the exit, turning once when she gets to the door. He’s still watching her, fiddling with one of the darts and a star-struck look on his face. He lifts his hook in a parting gesture, pleased to see her returning grin come out full force. 

The second she’s out the door, everyone goes back to exactly what they were doing. Normal conversations resume, and the sounds of cutlery hitting plates echoes around the small place once more. Even the kitchen seems to make noise again, with the cooks calling out orders and the life returning to the whole restaurant. If Killian was a betting man, he’d guess that the whole town will know of their impending date by the end of the hour. 

He keeps his word and texts her later in the day, even sending her pictures of the other employees that dressed up. In return, she sends the picture she gets later of Granny and Ruby dressed up as they get ready for trick-or-treating. Granny’s usual outfit is just topped with wolfy ears and a tail, and a frilly white apron with Ruby dressed as Little Red Riding Hood. 

In the early evening as he’s just trying to pack up and head home, Will appears in his door. 

“Did you know your girlfriend dressed up as you for Halloween?”

He almost corrects Will that Emma isn’t his girlfriend, but now that might very well be a lie. They do have a date planned and she has kissed him multiple times now, so while the words are on the tip of his tongue, he just gives a long-suffering sigh as he continues to tidy his office, diligently shutting down his computer as he responds.

“I’m aware, yes.” 

“She steal the clothes out of your closet for that?”

“Amazingly, no. She hasn’t even been to my flat yet.”

Will makes a noise at that, but he looks impressed. The fact that he doesn’t push or tease any further speaks volumes as to how fast the news has already traveled. “You comin’ out for a drink tonight?”

“Aye,” Killian responds, tucking the last of his notes into his bag and looping it over his shoulder. “Might as well. But only the one!” They do have to be at work tomorrow, and he doesn’t plan on looking exhausted out of his mind when he shows up to his meeting in the afternoon. 

He’s glad he agreed after he walks into the bar. Despite it being a Thursday, the place is packed. Among the throngs, he’s still easily able to pick out Emma, leaning across the bar so Jefferson can hear what she’s saying. The other man, doing way too good of a job dressed as the Mad Hatter, nods and hands her a bottle of water before she turns and starts heading back towards where he’s still standing. 

As soon as she spots him, she grins and yanks him in the direction of the door. 

Outside, with the noise dampened by the structure of the building, he can hear her when she greets him.

“Hello, love. Off shift yet?”

“No, but almost. I just had to warn Jefferson that a group of teenagers was overheard bragging at the diner about how real their fake IDs looked. Hey, you’re Captain Hook right now. Think you can keep an eye out for some Lost Boys and scare them off if you see them?”

“Careful, Swan. I may just try to recruit them to join my merry band of pirates so we can finally defeat that blasted Peter Pan.” He makes sure to go into the full character, letting his voice dip low in a growl and shaking his hook with vengeance. 

Emma tilts her head back, chuckling at his theatrics before dropping it back down to level him with a stare. “Also, Prince Charming and his Snow White are in that bar somewhere so if you get out of line, at least one of them is coming for you.”

“I can’t wait to see the costumes,” he admits, even as Emma takes his hook in her hand again and he forgets what exactly he was excited to see when he heads back inside. 

“Don’t get into too much trouble?”

“I’ll be the very picture of innocence.” He takes her hand gently in his, bending low and kissing the back of it, smirking up at her when he catches the look in her eyes. “Unless you want me to be otherwise, of course.”

She hums, using her grip on his hand to pull him closer so she can place a kiss on his cheek. “Be good. I’ll be back in a bit.”

“Looking forward to it,” he says, waving as she starts heading back towards the station. 

By the time she returns, she looks a little frazzled and tired but relieved to see him still amongst the crowd inside. He’s spent the majority of the evening clustered at a hightop table with David and Snow, with Will and Belle popping by for bits of time. Emma happily accepts the seat Killian vacates for her, shrugging out of her jacket and throwing it over his greatcoat on the back of the chair. 

“Something to quench your thirst, Swan?”

“I’m tempted to ask for a whole bottle of rum but I’ll take a weak vodka cranberry, instead.”

He returns with the drink after a few minutes, careful of how close he stands. He doesn’t know what she’s told her brother about their progress into a relationship and he’s determined to let her do this all in her own time. 

It’s difficult, however, when she goes about rolling up her sleeves, loosening the tie around her neck and popping open a few buttons at the collar of her shirt. She rolls her neck, and when she looks at him, he can tell by her expression alone that she’s been doing it on purpose. There’s a smirk hidden in the corner of her mouth and he somehow manages to hold back the groan that’s trying to make its way out of his chest. 

If either of the others at the table notice anything, neither of their faces give it away. He’s just fine with that, though. 

It isn’t until David and Snow are occupied talking to Ariel that Emma places her chin in her hand and looks up at Killian with an innocent smile on her face. “Just a small taste of your own medicine.” He’s tempted to ask what she means by that but he sees she’s undone yet another button on the shirt and he sighs and averts his gaze. 

“One day you’ll pay for this, Swan.” When he looks at her again, she’s looking right back with a very readable expression on her face. She knows damn well what she’s doing, by the looks of it. 

This is still new. And because it’s still new, he knows that while he wants to venture into a whole sinful variety of responses to her teasing, he also knows he wants something that lasts. They have plenty of time to get to the fun parts, so for now he takes the coy behavior and slips it away with a redirection. “Tell me, love, did you ever gather up those Lost Boys that were running amok around town?” 

“Every last one of them has been taken back to their homes and tucked in for the night. And if not, it’s Phillip’s problem.”

As the evening continues, he gets pulled onto the dance floor by Emma. He knows dances - he knows the Waltz and can hold his own in a Tango if he has to, but casual dancing to a steady, heavy bass beat is a different ballroom, so to speak. 

“Come here,” she says when they get to the middle of the swaying bodies. “There’s only one rule. Pick a partner who knows what she’s doing.” 

Since he moved to Storybrooke, Killian has felt like an outsider looking in. Even with the Fridays at the bar and the new friends gained over the past months, there’s been something holding him back. But in this moment, as Emma moves to the music in front of him, this feels like him becoming a true part of the town. 

The dance they’re doing is very tame compared to some of the other couples around them, but this is a good start for him. At one point during a slower song, his eyes scan across the rest of the bar and his eyes land on Snow, her smile soft and considerate as she watches the two of them sway together. When she sees Killian looking, her smile grows wider. Then she’s grabbing David’s hand and pulling him to the dance floor, as well. 

It’s not long before Emma turns Killian’s wrist to look at his watch. She groans, resting her forehead against his chest for a moment. 

“One more song and then I’ve gotta call it a night,” she tells him.

“Agreed.”

Far earlier than he would’ve gone home on a raucous holiday in his youth, he and Emma push out of the bar and into the open, cool air. The spirit of the day follows them down the street, with Emma holding his hand and swinging their arms. 

“You know,” he starts. “I quite fancy you, Emma Swan.”

“Yeah? Enough to accept that I’m walking you home instead of the other way around this time?”

“If that’s what the lady wishes, it would be bad form to deny it.”

“I do wish it, so lead the way, Hook.”

“It does suit me, doesn’t it?”

“There’s a lot we could unpack with which version of Hook you’re trying to be.”

“You’re familiar with Barrie’s discussions about the character?”

“I liked reading as a form of escape growing up. When the internet became a thing, I kind of went on a Wikipedia bender and ended up looking up everything I could about the play. There was this kid in one of my classes that was named Peter. We all called him Pan and we got in appropriate levels of trouble whenever the teacher left the room.”

“And what happened to young Pan?”

“We don’t really know,” Emma says, her eyebrows drawing down in thought. “He was gone one day. His foster parents wouldn’t talk about it. I thought about trying to track him when I got older but decided that there are some things that shouldn’t be found.”

“Kindred spirit with reading to get through life’s challenges,” Killian says, more to change the subject than anything else. It’s clear that the subject of the past still upsets her but at least they had a major thing in common growing up. “I would read for hours after I was finished with my assignments and chores. It was a Liam-approved activity that kept me occupied and out of trouble until the trouble got into me.”

“Is that from the files of the… how did you phrase it? That sordid but charming history?”

“Aye. All of which you’ll get to hear about in a couple days if that’s where the conversation takes us.”

“We can skip all the breakup stuff, if that’s cool with you,” Emma throws in. 

Ground rules. He likes ground rules. And establishing them now means he won’t do something idiotic like pry into something she doesn’t want to discuss. And likewise, that means he doesn’t have to tell her anything about Milah, so it’s a perfect concept.

As they get closer to the end of the street, Killian nudges her a little bit. “This is me. The first floor.” He nods with his chin to indicate the charming little duplex up the short walkway. She tilts her head as she looks at it, smiling at the dark green and the small but intricate stained glass piece that makes up the window. 

He falters trying to decide if he should invite her in, spitting it out at the last second. “Would you like to come in? I have hot chocolate on hand, since I prefer it over the powdered varieties.”

“That’s what Snow always makes me,” she says with a wide smile. “And while I’d love to, I have to get home and wash the holiday out of my hair. But save me some?”

“Of course, love. Would you text me just to let me know you’ve arrived safely?”

Her grin stays put as she removes the space between them, pushing onto her toes for a moment to press her lips to his. “I can do that. Goodnight, Killian. See you tomorrow.”

His quiet tidings slip out of the dreamy look on his face, and he sighs as he watches her walk back up the sidewalk. He waits until she turns down the next street before he makes his way inside, closing and locking up before he rests against the door. 

It’s good that she didn’t agree, since most of his home is still packed away. Perhaps, he thinks, it’s time to change that.

-x- November 1: Friday

The hardest part of knowing they’re going on a date on Saturday, at least in Killian’s mind, is acting totally natural when he sees Emma Friday morning. Of course, it’s hard not to look excited and surprised when she throws off his whole routine by showing up outside his flat. She’s back to her hair flowing free, a knit cap snug over her head and a scarf wrapped around her neck. She lifts one of her gloved hands to wave to him, looking sheepish at the same time.

“Not that I’m not thrilled to see you, love, but what are you doing here?”

“Well, I figured it was pointless to make you walk by yourself when we’re going in the same direction. And the Bug is all warmed up and ready to go so those ears of yours don’t have to turn bright red again today.”

It’s only then that he realizes she’s standing in front of a yellow Volkswagen Bug, looking aged but well-tended if the soft puttering of the motor is anything to go by. 

“I’ve never been one to turn down the kind gesture of a beautiful woman,” he responds, making his way towards her from his front stoop. “And it just so happens I have one in return.” 

With care, he maneuvers his arm to shift one of the two stainless steel mugs from his protective hold and hands it over to her. 

“I was going to give you that at the corner, but I suppose now is a good time, too.”

She happily accepts the coffee, flipping the lid open so she can inhale the warm aromas before closing it up again. “Thank you,” she says on the exhale, smiling gratefully and beckoning him forward towards her car. 

“This is quite the vessel you captain, Swan.”

“Gets me from point A to point B. I take better care of it now than when I first got it.”

“There’s a story there. Going to share?”

Emma hums for a moment but says nothing else as she pulls on her seatbelt. She shifts into gear and starts making her way along the route he’s so used to walking. It goes so much faster, obviously, but then he realizes he has just a limited time to talk to Emma this way. In realizing this, his whole mind clams up and he’s at a loss for words as he watches the scenery zip by. 

“I’m having dinner at my brother’s place tonight, so I won’t be out at all,” she tells him as they get closer to their corner. “You have tomorrow planned?”

“Aye,” Killian responds, thankful for the conversation opener. “But you’ll have to wait to find out where we’re going.”

“Gonna give me any hints?”

“Wear whatever you think constitutes as nice,” he tells her. He looks at her when they stop at a red-light and she’s staring at him with her eyes narrowed, probably trying to figure out where he’s taking her. “It could be that outfit from yesterday and I’d be just fine with that. Light’s green.”

She presses her lips into a thin line, but it’s more to prevent the smile from getting any bigger. “Okay, okay. Keep your surprises.”

“I’ve every intention of doing just that,” he tells her as they pull up outside of his office building. “Until tomorrow, Swan.” He lifts her hand from the gearshift to place a kiss on her knuckles, even if it is through the fuzzy fabric of her gloves. He exits the car as gracefully as one can from such a cramped space and makes sure to give her one final wave of goodbye before she drives off.

Now to just get through a day of work with his head on straight so he can enjoy tomorrow. 

Once in his office, he sits down with his notes from the day prior and gets into the mindframe of where he needs to be for this story. Just from a quick glance at the planner in front of him shows he has a progress meeting with Robin today and another meeting with Henry on Monday. 

There’s a solid ten minutes where he sits there, frozen in his chair, staring at the words on his computer as they blur together. His life has been about routine and order for so long but lately it’s felt like a breeze of chaos has swept through it. Not that he minds, of course. The sole reason everything’s a bit less structured is because Emma brings a new adventure to his life every day.

He can remember a time when the simple act of being surprised, like he was this morning, could’ve derailed everything, but instead it was such a small but thoughtful act on her behalf and one that he finds he would invite into his life now more than ever. 

With a subtle shake of his head, he clears his mind in order to focus. Then, before he can get lost in thoughts of his date tomorrow, or what he’ll wear, or what they’ll talk about, he wades right into the next chapter of Henry’s book and lets himself be immersed. 

He reads through the chapter again, jotting down notes by hand to check consistency later. Then it’s time for the surface edits. Spelling errors and word choices, grammar and syntax. He follows through each step carefully before going back to the start of the chapter to make notes. He’s barely a page in when Will appears in his doorway with a steaming mug of coffee and a take-out bag from Granny’s. 

“Best to eat now because you’re up next in the line of meetings,” Will says as he sets the items down on the edge of Killian’s desk. Will has his own projects to tend to but he makes sure to leave some of the concept art for the cover of Henry’s book along with lunch. 

“You’re a good man, Scarlet. No matter what everyone else tells me.”

“Funny man,” Will mutters on his way out, holding up a hand in farewell as he goes back to his own side of the building. 

Killian has just finished his lunch when Robin taps on his door frame. “Ready?”

“Aye. Let me save everything I did today and we’ll get started.”

The rest of the afternoon is consumed with his meeting with Robin. He’s thankful for the freedom his boss is giving him regarding this project but it only means that this progress report goes longer than it would’ve if Robin was breathing down his neck the whole time. They sit there with their combined notes on the chapters Killian has completed and talk about what the discussion with Henry will consist of the following Monday.

Despite having a good deal of experience with editing under his belt, this is Killian’s first involvement from start to finish. It’s something he knows will get easier and smoother with time, but for now he’s already feeling the pressure to get it all just right. At the end of this tunnel comes everything else, including helping with marketing and strategy. With how young Henry is, there will be more buzz around this release than they generate for their usual authors. The road ahead is long and arduous, but one he’s absolutely willing to take.

In an astounding turn of events, Killian is one of those that ducks out of the office ahead of quitting time. He waves to Will on his way out, smirking when the other man throws up his hands in exasperation. He shrugs, pushing through the exit and welcoming the cold chill of November. 

The walk back home is a little more brisk than usual, and he’s grateful for the fact that his heat is on and working to make his house as comfortable as possible. 

He follows his own line of routines after he gets back, tucking his boots on the tray beneath his coat rack before heading to his office to put away his work. There’s a likelihood that he’ll sit down with it again later, but for now, he has every intention of going through every item of his clothing until he knows what to wear for his evening with Emma. 

Choosing his outfit for the next day derails everything else for a few moments. After dinner is in the oven, he goes to his closet and carefully selects the items, standing back and admiring the effect of each combination. The winner is one that’s not far off his usual brand, but different enough that he won’t feel like he’s going to work. And hopefully, Emma will see that, too. Pleased with his choice, he sets it aside and goes back to check on his meal.

Once he’s sitting at his kitchen table, he looks around the sparsely furnished area. Much like his office, he hasn’t done any settling in the time that he’s lived in Storybrooke. It’s not that he feels like he’ll be leaving again any time soon, but rather an inability to see the big picture of comfort here just yet. As he glances at the counters and surfaces in his respectable kitchen, however, he starts to see what he never could before and what he thought of last night: a home. 

Just after he finishes eating and cleans his dishes, he gets a text from Emma about dinner at the Nolan residence. There’s a picture of her hot chocolate, a respectable dollop of whipped cream to top it off, and he imagines what she must look like curled up in what is clearly a comfortable place for her. 

“What are you doing?” she texts a little bit later. He’s not quite sure how to respond, since there’s an absolute disorder of boxes and package filler littered around his normally pristine kitchen. 

“Creating a mess,” he sends back when he finally gets to his phone. He’s surprised when it rings right after.

“A mess?” her voice comes across, and it’s clear that he’s on speakerphone, so she must be back home already.

“An awful mess, Swan. Did you know that bubble wrap, if left alone for too long, multiplies inside the boxes you packed it away in?”

“I was unaware,” she says, clearly amused by the tone in her voice. “What are you unpacking?”

“Well, a little bit of everything. Other than some absolute necessities, my possessions have been living in boxes since they were shipped over. I’ve decided to start with the kitchen tonight, for some reason. And while everything is now out of the boxes, it’s in utter disarray until I get it all put away.”

“You finally settling in?”

“Something like that,” he says, his voice going a little soft. “Everything just seemed so orderly when I could keep a running inventory in my mind.”

There’s a momentary lull in the conversation, but he can hear Emma rustling around on the other line so he still knows she’s there.

“I was surprised you called,” he admits. On the other end, Emma huffs out a quiet laugh.

“I’m working on something. It was easier to call than text,” she tells him. “Besides, now that I finally have your number, I figured I should make up for lost time.”

“I nearly asked your brother for yours before I added it to your card,” Killian tells her. “I wasn’t sure if we were heading towards that ‘dating’ status and so I was afraid he might bite, as previously warned.”

Emma’s laugh comes across loud and clear, and he can hear the audio jostle. When she speaks again, it’s closer, and he knows she’s taken hold of the phone.

“Only if you ask him to, I told you that. I’m going to leave you to your chaotic kitchen. Don’t get so lost in it that you forget about our date.”

“As if I ever could, Swan.”

“Goodnight, Killian,” she says, her voice soft and smile evident.

“Sweet dreams, Swan.”

Chapter Text

November 2: Saturday

The last time Emma remembers going on a date, it was with Walsh - and while she has a feeling Killian would appreciate the LBD with a leather twist that she still owns, she’d rather not wear something that has a memory of that asshole attached.

All of the other dresses she owns are tight and short, which worked a lot better for picking up one-night-stands. None of those dresses are going to be the right ones, either, which is why they’re all still in the back of her closet.

Instead, she’s looking at the choices hanging in front of her that she unpacked while on the phone with Killian last night. One was an impulse buy from this past spring, and the other two are loaners from Ruby and Snow.

It’s noon, and there are hours to go before the date, but Emma wants this to be perfect so she diligently takes each dress off the hanger, slipping it on and assessing each option carefully before moving on to the next. 

Her timer goes off, letting her know it’s time to retrieve her laundry. Normally, all she wants to do on a Saturday is lounge around, but nerves have her going strong right now. She also wants the loft to be spotless. Just in case she has a visitor tonight, but that’s not something she’s anticipating , so to speak, but it could be. 

The way her stomach flips tells her exactly how big of a deal that actually feels like. 

Instead of dwelling on the hopeful way he invited her in for hot chocolate on Halloween, Emma focuses on her tasks. She switches out the clothes before going back to try on the last two dresses. 

It’s between a black one that Ruby lent her and a pink one she bought online, and it’s not until the latter is on her body that she decides it’s the one. It’s soft and almost fluid, and she takes a moment to turn back and forth to feel the skirts brush against her thighs. She stands in front of her mirror admiring the picture it all makes, so unlike how she dresses for work or even for a night on the town. 

Off it goes and back on the hanger, and Emma makes sure to set out the rest of what she’ll wear, finding the perfect heels to go with it before heading downstairs to clean her bathroom. 

She’s never been one for following a specific routine other than necessities, but Emma goes through her process later when she’s getting ready. It’s maybe the only time she cares about being orderly, stashing all her makeup back away when she’s finished with another whisper to herself that it’s better to be safe.

Killian texted and said he’d be there at six-thirty, and she’s just fixed the backing on her second earring when the knock comes. 

Shaking out her hands one last time, Emma swings open the door for Killian, and immediately all thoughts simple and pure fly out the window. 

Suits and ties, she’s used to. Even the waistcoats. But this look is somehow familiar yet completely new. No thoughts of offices and editors come to mind when she looks at the total picture that the black jeans and leather vest gives off. She's tempted to invite him in now, but she’s hungry and has no intention of turning Killian into one of her really bad statistics. 

Killian, meanwhile, has a look on his face that she’ll be replaying for as long as she lives. His eyes scan her from top to bottom, not in a sexual way but in stunned surprise. And yeah, because he’s used to seeing her in jeans and a leather jacket, she doesn’t blame him for the expression on his face. He finally picks his jaw up off the floor and looks her in the eye again. 

“You look stunning, Swan,” he says, the words slow to come out as he takes in her appearance. Good to know she’s knocked him off balance, as well.

“You look…” she trails off, not even knowing how to sum it up, but he saves her the trouble.

“I know,” he says, a little smug but mostly matter-of-fact. 

Her laugh is a quick exhalation, her lips turning up into a smirk before he holds out a single rose for her. It’s a small gesture, but it’s still better than any other man has done for her on a first date. Really, on any dates at all. 

“Let me pop this in water and we’ll go,” she tells him, moving quickly to the kitchen to find a vase. 

It’s only once outside that she realizes just how cold it is, and she’s glad she wore her wool coat but momentarily regrets the lack of hat. It would’ve ruined her hair but at least her ears would be warm. 

“I hope you weren’t lying about trusting me,” Killian says as he guides her to an SUV that’s idling against the curb. 

“What’s this?”

“Robin let me borrow his vehicle for the evening. He’s been helping me get used to American driving. Might be a different side of the road but I think we’ll be all right.” He opens the door for her and waits until she’s settled before closing it again. When he climbs in and closes his own door he turns to her for a moment. “I also hope a diligent law officer can turn a blind eye for the sake of a date, since I haven’t gotten my license just yet.”

Knew there had to be a catch,” she jokes, patting his arm comfortingly. “I won’t tell if you won’t.”

It’s been years since she’s gone to Tony’s, and never has it been with a man she was seeing. The last time she was here, it was with Ruby and Snow because they wanted to dress up and feel fancy for a night while also consuming their combined weight in pasta. 

Killian hastens to pull out her chair for her, smiling as he shrugs out of his jacket and drapes it over the back of his chair before settling in across from her. 

“No sad back stories,” Emma says as soon as their waiter walks away. “No prior relationships. Anything else is fair game.”

“You don’t waste any time, do you?”

“Not really. I like you. And I’m scared and excited to be on a date again for the first time in a very long time. And I don’t want to fuck that up by rambling about how shit my luck was before I made it to where I am now.” It takes a lot of effort not to wring her hands together, even as they’re sitting in her lap. No nerves, no tension. Just enjoy a date.

“Fair point. First, let me ask your favorite type of wine,” he says, handing her the menu to consider. 

“Most reds, but not tonight.”

“Afraid you’ll find me even more irresistible?” he asks, leaning back and doing something sinful with his eyebrows when he looks at her. He’s tempting… so very tempting.

“No,” she says after a moment to collect herself. “I like first dates. And I’d rather not be all cloudy by the time my dinner arrives.”

His smile turns to something pure and happy. “No wine, then.” He waits until the waiter has taken their orders before speaking again. “What’s your favorite thing about Storybrooke?” 

“That we have actual seasons here. Not like in Florida where it was just hot and humid until it wasn’t, with a smattering of hurricanes.”

“Or England where there’s maybe forty-five days when the sun shines.”

“You get the point on that one,” Emma tells him. “Why did you decide to move here?”

There’s a few emotions that cross Killian’s face all at once, and she knows without needing the explanation. Will did say it was a story for the man himself. “Okay, we’ll save that for another time, too.”

“I was genuinely surprised that a publishing company wanted to set up an office here in Storybrooke,” Emma says, realizing she’s never asked why .

“Robin prefers forests of trees over concrete jungles,” Killian explains. “There is a central office with a lot more people in New York City, but he only goes down when he has to and we utilize a lot of video conferences for everything else.”

“That’s a lot of distance for just some editing and such, isn’t it?”

“It’s more than just that, love. Robin’s looking to start up workshops and clinics for his signed authors. He’s been hosting a fellowship for new authors for a week at a time at a cabin he owns up on the edge of the town as well. If you ask him, this place has a natural fount of creative powers just waiting to be tapped into. That’s kind of how Henry happened.”

“What do you mean?”

“He was on vacation about a year ago with his parents… well, foster parents. They said as soon as he sat down in the room that he whipped out his pen and paper. By the time they got back from going to grab dinner downstairs at Granny’s, he had just about finished the first chapter. Worked out a deal to buy him a laptop for some chores.”

“That’s amazing. Do they come with him for his meetings with you?”

“Well,” Killian starts, and his face falls. Before the words are out of his mouth, she knows what he’s going to say. “He’s not with that family anymore. That couple did everything they could to try to make up for the fact that they had to move and not take him with them, so he has his own laptop, we communicate with him via an iPod, and he has a suitcase that he protects with his life. But his current situation is... not as ideal.”

Emma swallows hard, a bubble of emotion getting lodged in her throat. “I can imagine how much that must hurt for him.”

“He’s been in higher spirits since his new foster parents started letting him travel on his own. He’s just turned sixteen and he’s fiercely independent, so he loves to take the train from Portland by himself and make his way up the coast for a weekend, even if it’s just a few hours away.” 

“Sometimes even just a few hours can feel like a whole different country.”

“I gather you’ve lived in a few places if that’s the way you feel.”

“I didn’t really live in Boston. But sometimes going down there to visit was like going to the far reaches of the Earth. Tallahassee was too far, when it came down to it, so I’ve mostly lived here in Storybrooke with a few exceptions.”

“Where you’ve followed the family business to be a police officer.”

“Correct. Have a shiny degree with my name on it and everything. It’s just from an online degree program, but…”

She’s surprised when Killian reaches across the table to touch her hand. “Online degrees are just as valid and important as ones earned in person at a university.”

There’s something about the way he says it - Emma is positive that he’s giving the affirmation to both of them - but she pushes past wanting to ask him about it and instead flips her hand around to briefly link her fingers with his. “You’re right. They are. And I’m proud of mine.”

“But you refuse to wear a uniform?”

The urge to shudder crawls up her spine but she controls that, as well. “Hate the things. Way too unflattering, way too uncomfortable. Besides, David decided we didn’t really need them since it’s such a small department. As long as we don’t come in wearing sweatpants, he’s okay with it.”

“Do you enjoy it?”

“Yeah,” Emma says, almost immediately. “There was a time when I was younger that I was sure I wouldn’t, but I do now. By the way, Regina approved our budget for upgrades. I’m sitting down on Monday and just going to town online shopping for all the things we need. I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to get everything we want and still have some left over.”

“That’s fantastic,” he exclaims, looking genuinely happy for her. She’s so unused to this kind of support and attention, but she’s certainly not going to complain. 

When their food arrives, they slow down a little bit but not by much. Back and forth they ask and answer, between bites of food and avoidance of the hard stuff - both in liquor and life experiences. There’s plenty to be talked about there: Emma has a metric ton of shit in her history and she knows she’ll have to talk about it eventually, but eventually isn’t today . By the time they’ve ordered dessert, she’s more relaxed than she’s ever felt on a date before. They only ordered one of the delectable selections, something that’s ice cream and delicious and not the standard tiramisu. As the check arrives, Killian reaches for his wallet and Emma grabs for her purse. At that, his eyebrow pops up.

“I’ve never been on a date with a woman who pulled out her wallet at the end,” he admits. “Would you prefer to split or would it be okay if I paid for the both of us?”

“I’ve never been on a date with a man who asked,” Emma says, gesturing for him to go on as she tucks her handbag away again. “Did you have a choice to work in NYC when you moved here?” Even though they talked about the Storybrooke location earlier, she realizes she never asked him that. 

“No. Robin specifically hired me to be a junior editor in this office.”

“Would you have preferred to work there instead of here?”

“Not at all,” Killian says without even a second of hesitation. The quickness surprises her, just like so much constantly does with him. “I was working in London and living right on the outskirts of the city when I applied for this position. I’d had enough of bustling and tourism and noise . When Robin told me I’d be moving to a town in Maine that had a population of less than ten thousand, it felt like the right move. And now that I’m settling in, I know I’ve made the right choice.”

“I may be biased, but I think you did, too.”

With the bill all settled, they exit the restaurant into the cool night air, with Emma’s hand tangled with Killian’s. She noticed that the patrons all glanced as they came and went, but Emma hopes that she and Killian are yesterday’s news before too long. It’s probably the only downside to this small town that they all feel the need to gossip like wildfire. 

He opens the car door for her again, letting his fingers trail across hers as he releases her hand and sends little shocks of heat along her skin. 

Killian walks her all the way to her door, his thumb gently rubbing against hers as they climb the stairs. She turns when they get to her door, slipping a little bit into his personal space.

“Well, not bad,” she says, reaching down and taking his hand and hook in her hands. “You managed to make me forget that I’ve spent the last three days trying to get oil spots out of my jeans thanks to an unfortunate call to Billy’s shop the other day.”

“That’s an easy, three-step process if you’d like my assistance.”

“In that case, wanna come in for some coffee and stain removal?”

He hums, stepping forward so they’re toe-to-toe, their noses brushing as she’s just at the same height with her heels on. When he speaks, his breath tickles her lips and she frees up her hands in favor of running them up the lapels of his jacket to rest on his shoulders. 

“Aye, but first, I’ve been waiting to do this all night,” he tells her, his voice low and husky and everything she wants to hear right now.

Then his lips are on hers and she’s perfectly fine with not hearing his voice because she’d rather be doing this anyway. Carefully, without breaking the kiss, she inches backwards until she can lean on the door, pulling Killian against her and letting all her thoughts leave for the moment. She doesn’t put out on the first date, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do anything else, right? His grip on her hip feels as tense as she is, and she finally stops so she can get her door unlocked. 

When it swings open, however, her apartment isn’t dark and empty like she left it, and she jolts away from Killian in surprise at Snow propped on her breakfast bar and David standing behind her counter. 

“Hey! We weren’t sure when… oh!”

Clearly, the other couple hadn’t expected Killian to still be attached to Emma when they hatched a plan to come see how it went instead of waiting until the next day . Emma glances at Killian to see the amused smile on his face. She also sees that this is where the train stops tonight, and she sighs. 

“Give us a second,” Emma says to her family as she crowds Killian back into the hallway for some semblance of privacy; she knows how thin her door is. “Do you still want to come in and have coffee? Probably get the concerned-father speech from David?”

“I suppose we’ll just have to wait until next time for all of that,” he says, definitely not unkindly but there’s a hint of disappointment that this is where their evening ends, and she knows the feeling. 

“Next time, huh? I don’t remember asking.”

“That’s because it’s my turn,” he tells her, his voice light and playful. Just as quickly, he gets a serious look in his eyes and she’s not sure a marching band coming out of her apartment would tear her attention away from him. “Will you go out with me again?”

His eyes are so sincere, his expression hopeful and patient and of course she’s going to go out with him again. She steps forward, deciding that actions are better than words right now, kissing him softly but solidly, making sure it teeters right on the edge of the heat they were producing just a few minutes ago. 

She can’t get over the way he holds her, the way his arms come around her and mold her against his body. That paired with the way he kisses her back, the low rumble he makes when her hand comes up to brush against his cheek before sliding into his hair, she almost gets lost to the sensations all over again, Snow and David be damned. 

With effort, Emma pulls back the tiniest bit, trying to catch her breath more at the way he leans his forehead against hers than the kiss itself at this point. 

“Okay,” she breathes out. “Goodnight Killian.”

“Goodnight,” he replies, his voice sounding equally unsteady. 

She looks back at him one more time, biting her lower lip at the mirrored look on his face. 

“I need to get the locks changed,” she mutters as she opens the door to her apartment again. “So, let’s talk about how you guys broke into my apartment tonight!”

-x-

Listening to Emma re-greet David and Snow makes Killian chuckle for a moment, and he takes a big breath as he settles his blood again. This woman is already so far under his skin that it’s hard to believe it’s only been a few months since they first spoke to one another. 

He has Robin’s car until morning, so it’s a quick, warm drive home. When he steps inside, Killian closes the door and locks it behind him, turning on light after light as he walks through the rooms that he’s inhabited for almost five months. He’s restless, only because he’s already looking forward to the next moment he gets to see Emma, and as his eyes land on various boxes and empty corners, he decides to use this momentum to finish what he started the day before. 

After changing out of his clothes and into a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt, Killian retrieves his box cutter from the kitchen from his last unpacking adventure and starts with his office. 

It’s more than past time for him to officially make this place his home.  

-x- November 4: Monday

It takes effort for Killian to crawl out of bed on Monday. It’s probably the first time in as long as he can remember that he doesn’t bounce right out of bed as soon as his eyes are open. That excludes times he’s been sick, of course. He’s only human. But he’s not sick today. He’s tired. Downright exhausted, and with every right to be so. When he finally drags his eyes open, he looks around the room at all he accomplished. Gone are the barren walls and empty hangers. Every single piece of clothing he owns is now tidily put into its place. Trudging through his morning routine, Killian still manages to smile wide when he opens his closet to the wide array of clothes all readily available. 

He’s nearly ready when he hears the horn outside, and he smiles with the knowledge that Emma is out there waiting for him. With careful movements, he pours the two mugs of coffee from his pot and rinses it out, making sure it’s turned off before heading out. 

They’ve got a good deal starting, as far as he can tell. She brings the car, he brings the caffeine, and it’s almost as good as their walks. 

He rushes to the car through the morning chill, happy to at least have his scarf and hat in place. She pushes the door open from her side when she sees he’s laden with coffee mugs pressed against his chest with the help of his left arm.

“Hi! You found some winter weather gear!”

“Aye, finally got around to a lot of things I’ve been meaning to work on,” he tells her as he settles in, shutting the door firmly against a cold blast of wind. “Brought you coffee.”

“Thanks,” she says, grabbing the mug from him and taking a sip. She reaches over, almost without thought and squeezes his wrist to emphasize her words. 

Their banter on the way to his office is as it always is, but when she stops in front of NeverEndings, there’s care in the way she leans towards him. He meets her halfway, sighing into the simplicity of the kiss and wishing he could dawdle and kiss her in her car all day. 

“I have my lunch hour totally free today,” she tells him when they finally do part. “Want me to swing by?”

“I have a meeting with Henry this morning. I’m not quite sure how long it’ll go, but stop in and we’ll see?”

She smiles and nods, waving once as he climbs from the car and shuts the door. 

By the time Emma shows up at noon, he very clearly needs the respite. Henry is looking similarly worn down, obvious by the way the teenager is slumped in his chair, fiddling with a fidget cube that Killian keeps by his monitor for moments of extreme stress. That’s how Emma finds them, with Killian fighting off a yawn as he stares at his computer screen and Henry teetering on death by boredom. 

“Whoa. Are you guys working or just slowly melting into your seats here?”

“I’m melting,” Henry says without moving anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. 

I’m working,” Killian adds, sitting up and stretching his neck to release the knots that are dying to form along his spine. “Darling, I’ve got just three more pages left on these edits. I’m so sorry. Would you like to stick around until we’ve finished?”

“Are you his girlfriend?”

Killian sputters for a second, unsure of how to introduce them in this situation. 

“I’m Emma,” she says, saving him from anything else. “So, Killian tells me you come up for vacations?” After shifting around a couple items, Emma makes herself comfortable by perching on the edge of the desk. 

“I did, back when…” Henry trails off, and Killian can see from this angle that Emma’s face falls into something that borders on understanding. He knows that she was raised by David’s mother, but he also knows that she uses a different surname than the Nolan household, so maybe there’s a kinship that he wasn’t even anticipating between them. 

As they get lost in conversation, Killian desperately wants to keep paying attention, to absorb in the information that she hasn’t yet divulged to him, but the edits call back to him and before he knows it, he’s lost to the words in front of him once more. 

Far longer than he would’ve liked to spend on it, he’s finally at the end of the passage and he saves the file with a noise of victory. 

“Alright, lad. We’ve got it. That’s the whole thing with edits and comments now done.”

“Really?”

“Aye. The next part is all up to you. We’ll get a look at your schedule and set up another meeting in the middle of the month if you think you can handle that.”

The boy scoffs, accepting the folder and thumb drive that Killian hands over to him. “I can practically make these changes with my eyes closed at this point.”

“Yeah, yeah. Safe travels back to the city.”

With a final wave, Henry exits his office and Killian slumps down in his chair, peering around his monitor as Emma relaxes back in the chair that Henry just vacated.

“Thanks for your patience, love. How’s your day going?”

“Better than yours, it seems. I texted Ruby and she’ll have lunch waiting for us. You ready?”

“Would you carry me there?”

Emma laughs, music to his ears, and he hauls himself from his chair, taking her hand when she offers it. 

Killian’s own lunches don’t usually last very long, but he feels he’s earned the right to relax for a little bit since the first round of edits is officially done, and his “quick” morning meeting just went two hours over his proposed time slot for it.

It’s not the end of the job, of course. There will still be more edits after Henry comes back with his changes. But that’s in two weeks, and until that time, Killian can start worrying about everything else with the book. 

Not only are there design aspects to be considered, but they’ll have the company Christmas party in New York next month, which will act as some kind of debut for Henry. It’s the one time every year that all the employees and authors come together. In England, they’ll be hosting their own version of the event, but over here, it’s a chance to celebrate the creativity that’s come out of the whole year and for Robin to announce everything they’ll look forward to in the one to come. 

While he always has an outfit ready for the black tie event, he’ll also be in charge of making sure Henry is taken care of. He’ll have to ask the lad whether he has a suitable outfit. Despite being the editor for such young talent, Killian’s primary anxiety rests over getting everything done and in a timely fashion. He decided after their first meeting that Henry was more mature than a good deal of the grown men and women he’s worked with before, but in the eyes of the world, he’s still a child, and he wants them all to see Henry like he does.

After the party will be the actual book release, and the press for it. And then there’s the worry over its success or failure, of course...

“Hey, Killian.”

“Hmm?”

Emma pulls him down for a quick kiss right on the lips. “You’ve gotta let your brain rest for a couple minutes. Coffee?” 

He looks around, having missed the whole walk over to Granny’s, apparently. He sighs, letting Emma lead them up the path to the diner. “Yes, that would be helpful.”

“I might be wrong, but I feel like you’re freaking out a little bit.”

“You’re not wrong,” he admits to her. “I just want everything to be perfect. He’s so talented, but he’s young. And one wrong step could mean the book goes nowhere.”

“I don’t think you’re going to let that happen,” she says as she sheds her coat and gloves, setting them on the seat on her side of the booth before she slides in. 

Their food and drinks are placed in front of them almost as soon as they’re settled in, and Ruby gives them both a signature smile before she zips away from the table to tend to the rest of the lunch rush. 

“Told you I gave her the heads up,” Emma says, smiling at him and nodding to his food. “Dig in. How long until you have to be back?”

“I have a meeting with Robin at 2:30 to go over our progress from today,” Killian tells her, glancing at his watch and seeing that Emma’s hour is already almost up. “You want to get a box for that?”

“Nah. I already texted David and told him I would be back later than usual.”

“You’re simply a marvel, Swan. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” she says, smiling and propping her hand under her chin and getting comfortable with her hot chocolate, clearly settling in for some quality time.

-x-

It’s weird, Emma thinks, to be the source of comfort for someone. But judging by the way Killian relaxes almost as soon as she reassures him that he’s not going to fuck up is a pretty clear indication that he’s taken the words to heart. What’s weirder is that she likes the feeling, a lot, and wants to keep being able to do this for him whenever he needs it. 

“Tell me something new today,” she urges, using the moment to take a bite of her food before he can turn it around on her. She watches carefully as he gulps, clearly already knowing what he wants to say but maybe afraid to speak the words.

“Promise you won’t let it scare you off?”

“I can try,” she says honestly, but there’s no fear sparking in her stomach, no panic in her lungs. 

“Seeing you for the first time was the moment I finally felt like I was really here - that I’d really moved to a whole new country and started a brand new job. Your hair was down. It caught the sunlight first, and then your badge did. I couldn’t get over how you looked ethereal and yet so solidly real, and you were staring at me as if you were waiting for me.”

It’s her turn to swallow hard, hearing his admission, and knowing that the day he first saw her, she was waiting for him. 

“Wow,” she finally manages. She picks at her forgotten food, the blush rising to her cheeks and the smile unable to be contained. 

“I’ve been told I could write romance novels,” he says, and it’s the seriousness of his tone mixed with the smile in his eyes that finally makes Emma grin as it calms her nerves.

“I’d buy them,” she admits.

“I could write about a hapless Brit learning all about American culture from some blonde goddess in a red leather jacket.”

“And what adventures would they go on, Killian?”

“Epic battles, Swan. They couldn’t have just any boring old story. They would need action, fighting to find each other after being separated, and when it’s all said and done they would share True Love’s Kiss and she would turn him into a frog.” She is so obviously distracted by the way his hand has reached across the table and his fingers are rubbing over her knuckles, the deep timbre of his voice, that she almost misses the last part, but she hears it, and she chortles at the picture he’s painted. 

She takes a deep breath, prepared to share something of her own. “I didn’t want to date you,” she admits. It’s like an anvil dropped in the middle of the table but if he just admitted all of that to her, maybe she can meet him halfway.

His face falls, and she hurries to continue.

“Not like that,” she says reassuringly, giving his hand a squeeze to emphasize. “I had this idea that you would just be this stranger I passed on the street every day and that would be enough. And then we started talking and I thought - okay, this is cool. We can be friends.” She laughs even thinking of it, at the sheer absurdity that she was so sure there would be nothing between them.

“You started it,” he says. “You kissed me first.”

“Yeah? So let’s talk about setting up that second date.”

“Well, I’ve finally finished moving into my flat, so I think it would be nice to have someone over to see it without towers of boxes invading each room.”

“I think that sounds like a good plan.”

There’s a thought that flashes through her mind that adds together one part Killian, one part dinner, one part alone , and it takes her a moment to pull her mind from the gutter once more. Especially when she thinks of how they were interrupted before he could come inside after their first date. 

But more than for anything like that, Emma thinks about how nice it’ll be to have something closer to a quiet night - there won’t be any townspeople staring at them and taking notes to pass around to all their friends. No one will take notice of them leaving and speculate about what’s about to happen next. Plus, the idea of Killian cooking is quite appealing. 

“Saturday?” she asks before they part ways after lunch is over.

“Saturday sounds perfect,” he reassures her. And while she’s already excited for it, she also knows they have a whole week of little moments like this to look forward to. 

Chapter Text

November 16: Friday

Their second date goes even better than the first, with Killian showing off not only the beautiful apartment he scored when he moved (with every room decorated in such a fashion that Emma is almost jealous of the simple and elegant taste he has), but also his cooking skills which are pretty damn impressive if Emma is being honest. 

It probably would’ve gone even better if they hadn’t been disturbed in the middle of their movie. They’d settled into a comfortable spot on his couch, with her cuddled into his side and his hand teasing the skin behind her knee, slowly igniting a fire within her that wanted to burst free. But no, she had to go help with a drunk and disorderly call because the miner they call Grumpy will only listen to her after a certain amount of drinks for some reason. It’s why David has nicknamed her a magical savior when they have to go down this path. 

And now it’s been six days since his breath had stuttered out when her fingers teased the hair on the nape of his neck. Six days since he’d turned to face her in the low light of the room and kissed her in a way that made her feel utterly cherished and also so aroused she could hardly stand it. She’d just been about to act on all of it when her phone rang and she audibly groaned at the absurdity of the timing. 

Needless to say, it’s been a long six days. 

When Friday finally rolls around, Emma is pretty sure she’s going to walk into his office and climb him like a tree if he’s up for it, but when she gets there, Killian is something about ten degrees past distraught.

Pacing the small space end-to-end, his hair is practically standing straight up and he looks like he’s about to explode as he speaks quickly into the phone pressed against his ear.

“His schedule said that he should’ve been on the second or third bus this morning and he would’ve arrived by now had he taken either of them. I haven’t heard from him, his foster parents have called me six times, and we’re all freaking out just a little bit.”

He looks up, his whole body deflating in defeat when he gets the response from whoever is on the other line. 

“Well, can you call the bus station this time? See if they’ll give you any information?” Killian mouths the word “David” when she catches his eye again. “Thanks, mate. Emma just walked in. Call me if you hear something?”

When he hangs up the phone, he drops into his chair and presses his hand and brace (the attachment for his prosthetic is nowhere to be seen) to his face. 

“Hey hey hey, what’s up?” She takes quick strides around his desk to pry his arms away from his face and works on smoothing out his hair as he looks up at her.

“Henry hasn’t shown up. He’s either been taken or he’s run away.”

A lump of fear settles in her stomach. The likelihood that a foster kid ran away is pretty high; she knows the statistics. Shit.

“I have to go. Robin and I are going to check in some of his favorite places and see if he’s here and just not coming to us. I’m sorry to skip our lunch.”

“No apologies needed,” she says, her fingers absently playing with a chain she’s just started noticing he wears under his shirt. “I’ll help any way I can. But I have to go back to the station and get the Bug.”

“Call me if anything comes up?”

She hums her agreement, leaning up to kiss him again before she heads back out of his office and nearly jogs back to her car. 

Driving around town goes quick. She’s not sure the routes that Killian and Robin are taking, and where David is in all of this, but end-to-end she keeps driving for an hour before she finally parks near the public beach access and sets out on foot. 

There’s no one out here, not on a cold November day that’s threatening snow like this one is, but it’s when the terrain changes again that she catches a weird track. It looks like suitcase marks, but that would be ridiculous in most circumstances. Then she thinks back to her conversations with Killian and the suitcase Henry owns from his previous foster family that he would never leave behind. 

She’s not even all the way to the destination she knows she’ll find him when she texts Killian the location, letting him know that Henry is, in fact, safe when she gets visual confirmation. Physically safe, of course. Mentally? She’s about to find out.

Approaching slowly, Emma leans down to get into Henry’s line of vision and smiles reassuringly. She can’t really see him with the way his hood is up and he’s trying his best to curl in on himself.

“Hey, kid.”

“Emma? What are you doing here?”

“Well, you have a lot of people really freaked out right now. I’ve been out looking for you.”

“Is CPS here?”

“No, no one like that. But your foster parents are on their way and Robin and Killian are out looking for you. Are you okay?”

“Can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“Promise you won’t get mad?”

“Is it something you’ve done?”

“No.”

“Then I’m not going to get mad. And even if it was, I would hear you out and really listen before doing anything like getting upset.”

Henry takes a deep breath, and rather than ask anything at all, he finally lifts his head to look at her. With the way he’d been sitting, there had been a shadow over half his face, but now she sees it wasn’t really a shadow at all. Blooming around his eye, the bruise is going to be quite the shiner. 

“Who did it?”

“Mr. Carter.”

“What happened?”

“I asked if we could go out and buy a new suit for the party next month. I’ve been saving up every bit I can for the transportation up here so I don’t have to make the Carters pay for me. But I haven’t had the chance to do any dog-sitting jobs with the edits and my cash is running low. I told him I would pay him back.”

Emma finishes her approach to the playground, hoisting herself up to sit beside him. 

“Would you like a hug?” 

He doesn’t say anything, just nods and tips over when she puts her arm around him, holding him close as he silently falls apart. 

Distantly, she can hear someone approaching, knows that the text notification she’s getting in her pocket is probably Killian trying to get to them. 

“They’re going to take you out of that house.”

“I brought everything with me this time, just in case they did. Or even if they didn’t. Do you know where they’ll send me?”

“Well, we can talk to them and see if they’ll let you stay with me. I have a spare room in my loft. Or David and Snow have a guest room.”

“Do you really think they’d let me stay here?”

“I don’t know. But the least we can do is try.”

“Henry, you’re okay,” Killian says when he finally gets to them. She can see the second Henry looks up at him because Killian goes completely still, his expression flickering between concern, shock, and settling on a quiet rage.

“Did your foster father do that?”

“We’re going to try talking to his case worker and see if they’ll let Henry stay here with one of us,” Emma says. Henry nods at her words, seeming to fold in closer to her. 

“Of course. I don’t know if a couch will work but I’ll happily lend my home to this venture if necessary.”

“Call David? We’re going to want to get ahead of the Carters. We’ll need Archie and Dr. Whale to meet with us, too.”

Jumping straight into action, Killian pulls out his phone, contacting David and filling him in. Without even missing a beat, he helps Emma down when she starts to shift off the platform, holding out his hook to steady her as she lands on her feet.

“I’m handing you over to Emma now,” he tells David, listening for a beat before giving her his phone. 

“Hey,” she says quietly. She turns to watch as Killian helps Henry off the platform. As soon as he’s off the playground, Killian opens his arms in invitation, and Emma feels something in her chest constrict when she watches the way Henry leans into the hug. 

That was David to her, so long ago. It was David that found her in Florida, that picked her up, that helped put her back together. Struggling past the lump of emotion sitting in her throat, Emma turns away and talks to David about their next steps, only moving back towards them when she ends the call. Killian takes the suitcase that Henry had stashed beneath the playground and together they lead him back towards the parking lot.

Robin is waiting for them, looking just as relieved when the three of them appear from the beach access. He, too, goes through the stages of emotions when he catches sight of the bruise, and immediately he turns into some kind of hovering parent. While Henry and Killian climb into Robin’s SUV, Emma goes back to her own vehicle, taking a second after they drive away to take deep, even breaths. There’s a specific type of panic sitting against her breastbone and she wants to cry, to sob out all her frustrations. She only really cries when she’s angry nowadays, and fuck is she angry at this situation. 

From what Killian said, this kid had it all with the previous family. Had a life worth enjoying, only to get stuck with someone that would dare to hit him because he asked for money. She gives herself a shake, finally shifting the car into reverse and pulling away from the beach. 

It all gets a little more complicated than that when they get back into town. The foster parents show up, insults blazing the moment anyone even looks at them, and it’s clear they’re going to deny ever touching Henry in every way possible. 

“Henry is an upstanding teenager with no prior record of running away or violence of any kind. You’re telling me he went out and got in a fight the day he’s meeting with his book editor and then doesn’t bother showing up because he’s rebellious?”

The way David says it makes Emma proud.

There are long chats with CPS after that, with Emma offering her place but being turned down after she describes her home life and schedule. David goes to step up, but it’s Robin that speaks next. 

“We’d like to take Henry in, if that’s something he would be amenable to,” the other man says, gesturing to Henry first. “My fiance and I have plenty of room in our house. I have a son younger than Henry, so we’re definitely not new to parenting. And neither of us keep anything dangerous in the house. No guns, no medications beyond allergy nasal sprays, children’s medicine, and aspirin. We have a liquor cabinet that only has two keys that stay with us at all times. And our schedules are such that Regina or myself can be there when he gets home from school each day.”

“Is that something you’d like, Henry?” Killian asks.

“As long as you’re sure I’m not invading your space,” Henry starts to say, but all the Storybrooke adults in the room speak at once in a rush to reassure him that it’s no imposition. She watches the bashful smile form and he nods his head, accepting Robin’s handshake when he offers it. 

When they’re all wrapped up for the day, Killian lingers back with Emma just outside the station doors. 

“Do you have anything else to finish up with this?” 

“Nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow. Plus, David has most of it already started thanks to the digital system. Mostly just dotting some i’s and crossing any t’s that need it.”

His hand tangles with one of hers, and he smoothly lifts it to drape it over his shoulder, stepping into her space a little more after he glances around and confirms they’re alone. 

“Would you like to come to my place? Drink some wine, order some pizza, maybe… stay the night if you’d like?”

“I would, but I’m not going to.” Confusion immediately replaces the sultry look he’d been aiming for. “I want you to go home and sleep. Between the edits and the anxiety over the party next month, and then everything that happened today… Like I said, I always saw you as a neat-stacks kind of guy. And today you were chaos. I have wanted nothing more than a quiet night in with you since last weekend, but you need to unwind and decompress without the use of sex or alcohol.”

He’s looking at her intently the whole time she speaks, a smile starting to pull up at his lips as she continues. Finally, when she’s done speaking, he takes a moment before closing the distance between them and kissing her hard enough that it almost changes her mind. Almost

“This is why I like you. You know exactly what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. Would you at least do the honors and drive me home, please?”

“Absolutely,” she confirms, a matching grin on her own face. They move out of the station and towards Emma’s car until Killian stops her short just a few feet away from the Bug. 

“I’ve not had a chance to formally ask, but would you care to be my date to the party? I realize we’ve not been dating long, but I would love for you to accompany me.”

“I’d love to! And tell you what. Why don’t we do that whole pizza and wine adventure on Wednesday? We can decide later if it’s an adult-sleepover type thing or just another date, okay?”

“Aye, sounds perfect.” 

It doesn’t stop her from kissing the hell out of him when they pull up outside of his place, and Killian’s silly grin afterwards is worth the efforts it takes to let him get out of the car without doing it all over again. 

“Goodnight, Swan.”

“Goodnight,” she says back, watching him wearily walk up the path to his front door. She doesn’t drive away until he’s inside and the porch light is turned off.

-x- November 27: Wednesday

Killian Jones is having a shite day. Absolute shite. His computer crashes in the morning, leaving three days’ progress lost to the technological hell he finds himself in. He rubs his eyes when he thinks of the newest corrections he made to the novella, all of the progress lost. He thinks of the press releases he had finally finished drafting up, the wording absolutely perfect. He wishes for rum. Lots and lots of rum, and Emma Swan.

“Hey, you were supposed to - Killian? What’s wrong?” He looks up as one wish enters through the door and he idly wonders if she has rum stashed somewhere on her.

“I’m sorry, love,” he says, roughly rubbing his hand over his face again. “I’ve had a bit of a set-back. I should’ve called.” Especially after what happened last week, he should’ve called her as soon as he realized he was going to have that kind of day. 

After just a moment of lingering in the door, she moves to stand behind him at his desk, working her thumbs into the knots along his shoulders and the base of his neck. He wants to melt into his chair at her touch. His head drops forward and he sighs, letting his muscles relax for a moment.

“I’m beginning to think that bad luck is following you,” she says, her voice low in his ear. He can feel the shiver it causes all the way down his spine and it takes a few quick breathing exercises to stop his body from reacting to her overall attention. 

It’s been three weeks since their first date, and every date after has seemed cursed. There was the one interrupted by a phone call from David asking to help with some kind of public disturbance, and then they didn’t even get to have their date last Friday when Henry went missing. 

“I’m going to bring you some lunch,” she says, giving his shoulders one more squeeze before moving to sit on the edge of his desk.

“You really are a savior, Swan,” he says, grabbing her hand and kissing the back of it softly. The smile she gives him eases a little more of the tension in his body and he gratefully accepts the kiss she places on his lips. 

“I’ll be back in five,” she tells him before heading back out of his office.

By the time she returns, he’s at least recovered the corrections and marks on the novella, which makes his blood pressure return to something approaching normal. The press release seems to be gone entirely, though, so he knows the next few hours of work will be spent trying to recreate that. 

“I won’t distract you,” she says, placing a kiss on his cheek as she sets the bag down on his desk. “Call me later, okay?”

“I will. Thank you, Emma. For all of this,” he says sincerely, wishing their lunch break could’ve been spent together. Instead of a response, she kisses him again, smiling sweetly and wishing him luck before she slips out of his office. 

That’s how they usually do it - in the short time they’ve been together, he’s worked little routines into their daily lives. Emma doesn’t seem to mind one bit, following along with the well-worn steps they go through. And he’s also found that, in the last couple weeks, he isn’t holding as tightly to the strict schedule he used to keep himself on.

He sighs again and opens the bag of food Emma left him, breathing in the smells and resolving to eat before he throws himself into that blasted press release. 

It’s not the same when it’s finished, that much is obvious, but it’s close enough. When it’s clear that everyone else is leaving for the holiday weekend, Killian compulsively saves the file a few times before shutting everything down for the vacation. 

He calls Emma after he gets all his winter gear on, making sure his earbuds are attached and securely in his ears before he slides on his hat and dials her number.

They’d made plans last week - pizza, wine, a quiet night - and he confirms that they’re still on for said plans as he makes his way through the quiet streets of Storybrooke and back to his home. 

“I could’ve picked you up,” Emma says when she realizes what he’s doing, but he brushes it off and asks her what time he should be there.

WIth their plans finalized, he happily enters his apartment with a skip in his step. To be clear, he’s not expecting sex tonight. Does he want it? Yes. Does he think Emma wants it? There have been many clear indications that she does. So, while he doesn’t expect it, he plans for it just in case, making sure to be thorough with his shower.

When it’s just about time, Killian walks over to her place, letting the bracingly cool air calm the anxious pit in his stomach. It’s good anxiety, this time, but it’s still better to not have it at all. 

He beats the pizza delivery man by just a minute, hustling out of the way as Emma moves to answer the door she’d barely had time to shut. 

“Perfect timing,” she says out loud.

It’s the quiet night they’ve both been hoping for. No interruptions so far, no work distress lingering over their heads. Just the two of them, a pizza, and some time. 

The switch flips in an instant - one moment they’re sitting on her couch discussing how their days went and then she’s crawling into his lap, pushing him further into the cushions as they try to devour each other. This feels momentous; they finally get to learn about each other more intimately when they’ve spent so much time learning about each other. 

It’s clear they’ve both been holding back in the small snatches they’ve found to spend together between their dates. When Emma’s hips settle over his, he groans involuntarily. Being underneath her is one of the most exquisite tortures Killian has ever felt and he would give anything to stay right here, with her almost subconsciously rocking her hips against his as weeks of sexual tension finally come to the surface. 

The latent movements suddenly have purpose, the intent obvious when Emma leans back and Killian can see the heat in her eyes that sends tingles along his scalp and down his spine. 

His hand slides under her sweater, gliding along the smooth skin of her back. With an arch of his eyebrow he asks permission without words. When she nods, he deftly unhooks her bra and brushes his fingers up the rest of her spine. 

“Shit,” she whispers, a smile spreading instantly as she visibly shivers. 

Her hands are slowly rubbing down his chest, resting over his belt buckle, and he draws her back down to kiss her again as she slowly starts working the metal and leather apart. Her fingers are just dipping beneath the waistband of his jeans when the door to the loft swings open and someone comes flying through the door. 

“Sorry to barge in but Granny’s all out of holy fucking shit I’m so sorry!”

By voice alone he identifies the culprit as Ruby. 

“I’m just… gonna go find what I need in the kitchen and I’ll be out of your hair.”

“Give me a minute and I’ll help you,” Emma finally says, giving him a regretful look as she eases back a little bit. 

“No really, I just need some brown sugar for the apples.” 

When Killian looks over his shoulder, the other woman is holding a hand over her eyes, almost blindly searching for the ingredient in Emma’s cabinets. 

“Hang on, Ruby,” Emma says again, trying not to laugh. “I’m sorry.” Her voice is soft, but she’s grinning. He cups her cheek in his hand, giving her a smile of his own. 

“This really was just a shite day,” he mumbles. “Though I much prefer this nuisance to the other ones my day has given me.” He makes sure she can hear the sincerity of his voice as he rubs his thumb across her cheek. “It’s getting late. I should go.”

“You don’t have to,” she says as she stands and holds out her hand to him.

“No, spend time with your friend. I’ll text you when I get home,” he insists, quickly fastening his buckle as discreetly as possible before he kisses her goodbye. It’s sweeter this time, but there’s still a hint of heat behind it and he’s tempted to throw caution to the wind and stay, but instead he bids her goodbye and accepts the kiss to his cheek she bestows upon him. 

When a moment has passed, one must accept it and move along. He knows a sign from the universe when he sees one. 

The walk home is sobering and lonely, much more subdued than the walk over. Killian has gone back and forth in his life on how patient he can be. There was a long time where he took without thinking of the consequences and hurt some people along the way. But with Emma, it all feels different. He feels like he’s waited a lifetime for her and knows he’d be willing to wait another one for something like physical intimacy when there’s so much more to who she is as a woman. 

It’s this thought that follows him through the door of his own dwelling and he leans against the wood for a moment. Alone in the quiet, he accepts the early bedtime he’s about to have, rubbing his hand over his face. He makes sure to text Emma that he got home before wandering through and flipping on the few lights he’ll need for the process of getting ready for bed. 

His text alert pings in his pocket as he’s shuffling to his room to change, and he smiles when he sees Emma’s name across the screen. 

“Ruby’s already apologized a million times since you left.”

He smiles at the message, knowing that Ruby’s apologies have probably been loud and likely detailed exactly what she thinks she was interrupting. Nevermind the fact that she’d be correct, but he’s sure Emma’s face has probably been a permanent shade of pink all through it. 

They text back and forth while he gets ready for bed, with the time creeping up on when he used to so dutifully go to sleep that he’s surprised he’s not really as tired as he’d expect with the day he had. He’s just checked the locks to make sure they’re secured for the evening and goes to turn out the living room light when he hears a knock. 

Killian takes a moment to stare at the door in question, because it’s almost eleven and he’s afraid there will be another unpleasant surprise waiting on the other side. Moving warily, he slides the deadbolt out and pulls open the door enough to see who’s on the porch. He takes in the sight of Emma standing there, in her pajamas under all her winter gear, with what looks to be an overnight bag slung over her shoulder.

He swings the door open wider with shock on his face, and Emma grins wide.

“Swan? Is everything all right, love?”

She walks in when he motions her inside and sets her bag on the floor by her feet while he locks everything back up. 

“Everything is fine,” she says, waiting until he’s back in front of her before she tugs him towards her by the collar of his t-shirt. She tastes like toothpaste when he kisses her and he finds the same heat that was simmering before is now boiling over.

When her fingers untangle the knots on his flannel bottoms, he thinks there’s something to be said about bad days having better endings. 

-x- 

After Killian leaves, Emma has every intention of listening to her friend’s food-based crisis and spending a hefty amount of time calming down her hormones. But then Ruby starts a string of apologies as soon as Emma turns to her and explains that she didn’t realize Emma wouldn’t be alone and she’s used her key about a million times before without a thought and…

She does listen to Ruby’s food-based crisis and helps with not just the apples, but an issue with the pumpkin pies as well. Ruby and Granny go serious business for Thanksgiving, after all, and Emma is happy to do her duty to make sure everything comes out perfect. 

When the door closes after her friend, Emma wanders to her room to get ready for bed. She changes into her favorite pajamas and heads to the bathroom to brush her teeth and wash her face, all while texting Killian. It’s somewhere between doing her mouth rinse and walking back towards her bedroom that she makes a decision.

She’s in the Bug before she knows it, with a presumptuous overnight bag on the seat next to her. The entire drive leaves her jittery, and by the time she taps on his door, she’s almost sure he’ll be able to see her heart rate the moment he looks at her.

Instead, he’s more worried than anything else at first, and she doesn’t really blame him. When her fingers finally get the knots of his pajama bottoms undone, all previous tensions and fears either of them may have felt have evaporated. 

In the back of her mind, Emma knows that she has to be at David and Snow’s at a respectable hour, but she also knows that neither of them have to go to work tomorrow. This thought and all others vanish from her mind as Killian knocks her coat from her shoulders. She thinks her gloves are next to the bag that got left right in the entryway, but how much can she really care when she draws Killian’s shirt up over his ribs and helps him remove it? How can she focus on anything at all when this solid, handsome, wonderful man is looking at her like she’s a delectable treat he wants to devour whole? 

“See something you like, Swan?” The cocky grin she’s gotten used to over the time she’s known him is back on his lips, his hand and wrist shoved into the pockets of his sleepwear while he rocks back on his heels. The husky tone he uses sends heat between her thighs and she’s absolutely ready to explore this brand new territory.

“Maybe,” she offers back. She’s proud that her voice comes out low and seductive, instead of squeaky and unsure. His chuckle is low as he pushes off the wall. 

“I’m glad you’re appreciating the view,” he says as she pulls him against her.

“Maybe isn’t yes, Jones.”

“It isn’t no either,” he reminds her. She bites her cheek to stop from smiling, thinking of all the times they’ve said those words to each other already. At least this time she’s allowed to shut him up with her lips. 

She feels the thrum of tension just below his skin, can feel it in the way he kisses her back with desperation. She lets instinct take over, instead of thought. She doesn’t think about how tired she is from the day she’s had, or how tired Killian might be. Besides, he doesn’t seem tired right this moment from the way his hand is sliding under her shirt, drawing it up and over her head, his hand immediately finding her bare breasts. 

She gasps at the contact, steps out of her shoes and starts nudging him towards his bedroom. He shifts his attention from her lips to her neck, to the spot just behind her ear. She pauses their route to the bedroom to push him against the wall in the hallway and while his hand slips down to her lower back to hold her close, he hesitates for a second.

“Emma, are you sure?”

She doesn’t respond with words, instead choosing to step back and hook her thumbs into the waistband of the flannel bottoms she wore on the way over, sliding them down her hips and letting them fall to the floor. She watches as his eyes sweep down her whole body, sees the muscles of his jaw clench as he swallows and drags his eyes back up to meet hers.

He doesn’t move, and it takes everything in her power not to fidget in front of him with how intense his stare is. There’s something below the surface between them, something she isn’t willing to look at tonight in the quiet dark of his hallway, or even tomorrow in the light of day. It hasn’t been long enough, and she knows she’s not ready. 

Finally, he brings his hand up. He rests it lightly on her shoulder for a moment before softly running it all the way down until the back of his hand moves over her fingertips. He starts again at the top, this time brushing his fingers over her collarbone, sweeping down and just dusting across one breast and then the other, across each nipple, before he continues down. He places his wrist gently on her hip and urges her closer to where he’s still leaning.

“You’re stunning, Swan,” he whispers in the dark. She bites her bottom lip, running her hands all the way up his arms to rest on his shoulders. When he kisses her this time, it has more to do with tasting than rushing, so she sighs into it, into him, pressing against him. The feel of his bare chest against hers is sweet torture.

She pushes at the hem of the sweatpants now riding low on his hips, stepping back to take in the full picture just as he did. Emma discovers that she could stare at nearly-naked Killian all day if she didn’t have anywhere else to be. She’s surprised her glasses, askew as they are, aren’t fogging up at the sight.

They move in tandem this time, lips connecting, tasting, and nipping. He easily lifts her and she squeaks in surprise, her legs wrapping around his hips. 

Fuck , Emma,” he grumbles, moving swiftly down the hall and settling her onto the bed.

“Exactly,” she whines, accepting the kiss he gives her as he chuckles, his tongue sliding against hers when she opens her mouth to him. When he pulls away again, she’s smiling at him, but the restraint is obvious in the lines around hers eyes.

“Patience, Emma.”

“I think we’ve shown more patience than either of us expected,” she says with a level look. “You locked the door right? None of your friends are going to barge in? Liam isn’t planning any quick visits to see you, right?”

When Killian moves away from her completely, laughing as he goes to the nightstand by his bed, Emma lets her arms fall above her head on the mattress. His bedroom is warm and cozy, and the heat of her skin from anticipation doesn’t hurt either. 

“Fair enough to assume they might, however, I even engaged the deadbolt and if anyone so much as rings the bell, I’ll knock them to the ground,” he tells her, pushing his boxers out of the way before he stands at the foot of the bed. “Now, a woman as beautiful as you demands my full and prompt attention.”

She pushes up to her elbows, obliging and lifting her hips when he taps one to slide her panties off. With those delegated to the floor, he finally crawls back onto the bed but stays near the bottom. She wants him inside of her, and almost tells him so, but the moment his fingers slide along her entrance as his tongue finds her clit, she decides to utilize the patience he just told her to have.

It’s totally worth it.

The man is gifted beyond reason, taking directions to what she likes with the same attention to details he gives everything else in his life. In past experiences, she’s not always been lucky enough to get foreplay like this, and so she’s surprised at how quickly he pulls her up, up, up and over the edge of climax. 

Giving her a minute to collect herself again, she looks down the length of her body and watches with pointed interest as Killian rolls a condom down his length. He catches her eye, shrugging and smirking at what they both recognize as a skill. Shifting again, he’s kneeling between her legs, the tip of his cock just pressing where she is so ready for him. 

Instead of waiting for him to ask, she grasps his hips and nods, pulling him until he’s filling her up. He rests his head between her breasts, hips already rocking just a bit, enough to amp them both up. She tugs him up to kiss him again, silently begging him to move. Finally, he does, pulling out and pushing back in just a little faster, causing her to gasp and break the kiss. He sets a pace that has her breathing harder, even more so when he nips the top of one breast.

“Bloody hell, Emma, you feel amazing,” his whispers hoarsely against the sensitive skin and it further ignites the fire that’s been building since he opened the door. She lifts her hips to meet his thrusts, hands clutching at his biceps where they’re braced on either side of her head. She breathes out a request for more and he complies, moving his hand as he quickens the pace.

He trails a path from the center of her chest, down her abdomen, ending right above where they’re joined so his fingers find and circle her clit in time to his rhythm. She fists the sheets with one hand, the other slipping between them to press against his as her climax rises and breaks, her back arching off the bed, her head pushing back into the space below his pillows and her eyes shut tight. 

She says his name in a sigh as she comes down and he kisses her greedily, his movements getting jerkier as he reaches his own peak. She pushes her hips up, accepting as he settles deep inside of her with a groan as his orgasm takes over and he drops his head to her shoulder. 

With choppy little movements, he comes back down and settles on top of her. Both of them are struggling to catch their breath, but a hazy smile is plastered on her face and she runs her fingers along his scalp while she waits for him to recover. 

It clearly takes some effort, but he shifts in order to drop into the spot beside her. 

“Worth the wait,” he tells her, rolling close to kiss her before he’s rising from the bed to get cleaned up. All she can do is hum in agreement as she stretches in lazy contentment. As he leaves the room, she opens her eyes and realizes nothing is in focus.

“Watch out for my glasses,” she calls after him. “I have no idea where they fell off but they’re definitely not on my face.” He makes a noise of acknowledgement, and Emma lets her body rest in the comfort of his bed for the short time he’s gone. It could be minutes, or it could be hours, all she knows is she could live this strung out on an orgasm every day for the rest of her life and not complain. 

“Found em!” he calls from the hallway on his way back in. He’s grinning when he enters the room, his own glasses perched on his face as he hands hers over. His arms are full of their discarded clothes and her overnight bag.

“I set out a washcloth in case you’d like to clean up at all,” he tells her as he drops everything on the edge of the bed. 

Heaving herself up, she moves to stand next to him, reaching up and pulling him down for a kiss. “Thanks.” She gives him one more kiss and then smiles, turning and helping him sort out their mess of clothing before she goes to the bathroom with her bag to get cleaned up.

She’s barely settled back in the bed with him before sleep overtakes her, claiming her fast after he wraps his arm around her waist and whispers her goodnight. 

-x- November 28: Thursday

When he awakens, it’s to the November sun trying its hardest to break through the clouds. Trying, but definitely not succeeding. Though the weather may be doing its best to soldier on into winter, none of that reaches the warmth and comfort of Killian’s bed, especially when Emma stretches beside him. 

“I’m not gonna lie,” she says as she burrows further under the covers. “If I didn’t have to stop at David and Snow’s and make an appearance at Granny’s later, I would be finding a way to convince you to stay in this bed all day.”

“It wouldn’t take any convincing at all, just for the record. What time is this dinner?”

“Five o’clock. Are you going?”

“And miss my opportunity to listen to you all gripe about how this American tradition is born on the genocide of the people that inhabited the land while still eating turkey and mashed potatoes? Of course I’ll be there,” he says, turning on his side and propping up on his wrist. He fixates for a moment on the way the blankets are leaving one of her shoulders slightly exposed, running his finger along the only bit of skin that’s visible.

“That sounds accurate,” she says, her voice going a little breathless when his hand slips below the blanket to follow the lines of her bicep. “And until then?”

“By my calculations, we can have a little bit of that aforementioned time in bed,” Killian says with nonchalance. 

Emma’s expression morphs into a happy grin and she scoots closer. “If you get me coffee first, there’s a lot of really great ways I can think to repay you.”

“Coffee it is,” he murmurs, pressing forward to kiss her before the moment slips away. 

Chapter Text

It takes time, but they both manage to get out some of the difficult parts of their pasts. Emma tells Killian snippets of her former relationships, including why she ran from Henry the first time she saw him. Graham’s story is kept brief, Walsh is brushed off as a bad experience. Killian is patient about it, holding her hand and listening closely. She can see the questions forming behind his eyes, but he never pushes for more info than she’s willing to share. 

He’s hiding bits of his own past, too. He’s very open about the accident that took his hand, how he grew up in Liam’s shadow but preferred it that way, and his strong passions for fiction and poetry. But when it comes to information about his time in university, she sees the way his shoulders tense. There’s a lack of enthusiasm when he speaks of his master’s studies. She’s seen the picture of him at graduation that sits in his office. She knows there’s more to the story. 

They’re watching television one night, background noise as he works on some edits. With the money they got for upgrades, Emma purchased a shiny new laptop, one specifically loaded with the software to digitize the town’s records, and so they work on their own stuff together. 

Something on the screen that neither of them are glued to must catch his attention, however. It’s a rerun, something that used to be popular but has now reached syndication and thus plays on every channel when there’s downtime. It’s something Emma’s seen enough times that she knows the general storyline without really even paying attention. It’s the one where a professor starts a relationship with a student. 

While she’s mostly tuning it out, it seems Killian is finally tuning in, and she looks up as he lurches for her television remote and hits the power button. His breathing is visibly quicker than it should be. Even when the screen goes dark, there’s a tension around his eyes she has never seen before. 

“You okay?” she asks, mostly because she’s not sure he remembers she’s there right now.

He shakes himself a little bit, brushing off the moment for all she can tell, before he turns to her. “Hate this show,” he responds. 

“It’s been on for the last hour.”

As he focuses on her face, she can see the moment he sheds whatever was trying to creep up on him. “I was pretty deep in my work. I do apologize, love.” He’s lying, but she’s willing to let it go if it’s something from his past that he doesn’t want to talk about. 

“Hey, no worries.” She reaches out, squeezing his bicep once for comfort. “You want coffee? Tea?”

“I’ll get it. What would you like?”

“Surprise me,” she says, knowing that he’ll bring back the hot chocolate he knows she loves. 

By the time he returns, the tightness on his face has eased up a bit, but it’s replaced with something she would call contemplation. “Swan, I want to tell you a little piece of my past, but I hope you won’t judge me too hard or let it change the way you feel about me.”

“A little ominous, but okay. Go for it.”

“Back in university, I was involved with one of my professors.”

Emma takes a moment to let it absorb, trying not to flinch or let her facial expressions change at all. It’s his past, and she knows just as well that those moments shouldn’t define the current moment. 

“Tell me about it?”

“As you know, Liam convinced me to enroll in university as a way to pull me out of my slump after I lost my hand. He helped find out if I could take my classes online since I wasn’t ready to go out into the world.”

Emma reaches over, closing her fingers over the hook attachment he has on today. It’s become second nature, but sometimes she wants to tell him without words that she accepts him for who he is and this is one of those moments.

“Eventually, I was comfortable going to classes on campus. I was engrossed in all things to do with writing and literature and editing, and knew that’s the direction I wanted to take. And then I met Milah, one of the professors for a professional writing class. And she was just that for a while, and then when I entered into my master’s studies, we sort of…crossed the boundaries when she was helping me with a project.”

“Milah was married, is married, though they are separated. Her husband, some wealthy bastard, agreed that if she was discreet that they could see other people. He wasn’t anticipating that she would take up with a student, former or otherwise.

“What did he do?”

“Threatened to expose the affair to the university. Milah would’ve been fired. I would’ve likely been expelled. He said he would divorce her and cut her off from his wealth. He only agreed to back off when Milah and I split and I filed to finish my master’s online, much as I began the whole journey.”

“Was the money that important to her?” It’s the question that hits; she can tell immediately.

He grimaces before answering. “She liked to pretend it wasn’t. Painted herself as a free spirit that didn’t need wealth. But it didn’t stop her from walking away from me like it meant nothing.”

Without even prodding, Emma can see that the story isn’t done. She adjusts her grip on him and waits for him to continue.

“I almost didn’t finish my degree after that. I started drinking heavily every chance I got. Took Liam a couple weeks to figure out what was going on, pried out what had happened, and then intervened. He’s the only reason I still completed my coursework.”

“He sounds like a good brother.”

“Right pain in the arse, but yes, he is.” 

“You really loved her?”

“Aye. She’s the only person outside my own family that I ever professed my love for.” He’s quiet for a moment before meeting her eyes once more. “Have you ever been in love, Swan?”

“Maybe I thought I was, once,” she admits. Mostly, she realizes that the feelings she thought she had for Neal and the ones she told Walsh she had were nothing compared to the way Killian makes her feel. “Thanks for sharing all of this with me.”

“I figured you should know,” he tells her, simple as that. 

When Friday rolls around, she’s all set to join her boyfriend and friends in public. Normally, Emma would be one of the first to ditch out on work and get to their usual spot in the bar, but tonight she’s working with Belle to relabel and organize their filing system. Previously, their idea of “orderly” bordered on chaos, and they had trouble keeping track of just about everything. Along with the digital system, they decided to reconfigure the physical records as well. 

They’re in the process of fixing the system when Emma’s email account dings, and she glances at it briefly to make sure it’s nothing important before they get back to work.

What she finds, instead, is a message with a link to a website. Normally, she would write this off as a spam account, but there’s no fill-in-the-blank recipient. There’s no lead-up to the message at all. Just the words written below a link: You’ll have to trust me. Type in code 92574. Check Maine.

With a heavy amount of trepidation, Emma clicks the link and follows the instructions. Her brows furrow as she tries to process what she’s looking at, but it appears to be some kind of personal page, with links to the fifty states. Finding Maine in the list, she clicks it, and almost immediately drops her phone as if burned.

“Oh my fucking god,” she mutters, her vision blurring around the edges.

“Emma is - oh! Oh my goodness!” Belle immediately backs away from the glance she’s just stolen at Emma’s unlocked phone on her desk, looking back at Emma with horror and surprise in her eyes. “What…. What is all that?”

“Something I was told was destroyed a long time ago,” Emma says, her voice shaking and her body feeling heavy and weak all at once. “Can you drive stick?” Her phone finally goes dark and auto-locks, and she’s honestly not sure if she can feel her face right now.

“I’ll text Will and let him know we’re on our way.”

-x- December 13: Friday

The last few weeks since Thanksgiving have been some of the best in Killian’s life. While the project of Henry’s novella is speeding up in momentum and racing towards the end, he and Emma have been taking things at their own pace and enjoying every moment together that they can.

It’s getting easier for them to talk about their pasts. From their shared lack of parentage to finally breaking the barrier of previous relationships, he knows they’ve both made great strides. Being able to tell her about Milah and not have her go running for the hills was admittedly a huge relief, and he only hopes that she’ll trust him to open up about anything she’s still holding out.

Normally, when they go out on Fridays, Emma is right by his side when he enters the bar. While Emma is working with Belle, he and Will have gone to the bar early to have their own catch-up until everyone else arrives. 

They each spend a fair amount of time grousing about work, about late nights and tired eyes and how much they love their jobs despite their words. And they also spend just as much time talking about the women in their lives. He’s happy to see Will as content as he is. He also knows that, despite the strange and often passive-aggressive friendship between the two of them, Will is happy to see Killian with Emma.

About an hour after they sit down, Will gets a text from Belle saying that the two women are on their way. They each share a look, automatically noticing that something feels off, but unable to tell what. That sensation is amplified by the look on Belle’s face when she arrives with Emma not far behind.

There’s a tightness around her eyes that Killian has never seen the soft-spoken woman have before. Emma is just behind her, with her arms crossed over her chest and a look that he would best describe as being a cross between solemn and murderous. Only his girlfriend could manage that combination of expressions. 

“All right, Swan?”

“No. Not all right. Can uh, can we go back to my place?”

“Sure. Let me just -”

“I’ve got the tab. Go on,” Will says, his thick eyebrows drawn together. 

The Bug is waiting for them when they get out, still running. Clearly, she hadn’t intended on spending long inside whether he was coming with her or not.

They’re silent on the drive back to her place, and even while they make the trek up to her loft. She’s quiet as she unwraps her scarf and kicks off her boots, all with deliberate and jerky movements. 

“I have to kind of process through something,” she says, her voice thick with a myriad of emotions. “I don’t wanna talk. I don’t really want to do anything at all. But will you stay with me?”

“I’m here as long as you’ll have me. Whatever you need,” he tells her, making sure to catch her eyes so she knows he’s being honest. 

Wordlessly, she locks the door before she leads him upstairs. 

While Killian is normally the one with the carefully crafted routines - which, admittedly, have taken a backseat to finally relaxing and enjoying his time here in Storybrooke - there are certain things that Emma does every morning and every night as far as her own rituals command. He has never seen her go straight to her room without carefully scrubbing her face and teeth and removing her contacts. 

Usually, she also takes that time to braid her hair to keep it from tangling too much while she sleeps, but tonight she leaves it hanging free, and he’s surprised when she only shucks off her clothes and pulls on a t-shirt before climbing into her bed. 

Following suit, Killian removes his clothes and quickly folds them, leaving them on the cedar chest by the bottom of her bed as he usually does when he stays over before he climbs under the covers. Immediately, Emma is shifting until she’s pressed against him, her ear over his heart and her arm wrapped tightly around his midsection. 

“You won’t leave?”

“Only if you tell me to,” he admits, hoping that it’s what she needs to hear. Her grip only tightens, and he decides to stay awake as long as he can to make sure she’s all right. 

He must doze off because he wakes again to Emma’s lips pressed against his, her hand sliding into his boxers to stroke him awake. As soon as he’s aware of it, he’s kissing her back, helping her push down his boxers before she hastily rips off her own underwear and finds a condom. This is not how they usually have sex - he recognizes it immediately - but even as he hesitates, he hears her whispers.

“Please - I know, please, I just need…”

He responds by pulling her closer, kissing her as hard as she was kissing him to let her know he’s on board. She slides on top of him, gripping his hand like a lifeline and rocking against him as if it’s her one salvation. He can feel the panic and anger with each move of her hips above him and he just holds on, hopes she can feel the reassurance radiating from him, hopes she feels that he’s an anchor she can trust - that he’ll be with her no matter what this all means.

When they’re both sated, she collapses onto his chest, and to his surprise he feels the quiet sobs wracking through her body a few heartbeats later. She only really cries when she’s angry - she admitted as much to him some time ago when they were trying to decipher the use of pathos in commercials. He wraps his arms around her, running his hand soothingly over the small of her back and whispering anything he thinks may bring her back to him.

“I’m sorry,” she finally says, her voice hoarse. “I’m sorry that wasn’t… I basically just used you to fuck away my anger and that’s not…”

“Swan,” he says quietly, releasing his hold on her so he can coax her to look at him. “No apologies necessary, love.” 

With hasty swipes, she dries her face. “I’m just so mad right now.”

“Will you tell me what about?”

“Just… give me a couple more minutes,” she says, sliding off of him and climbing off the bed. He hears her footsteps retreating down the stairs and the door to the lavatory close. 

He takes a deep breath, pushing himself to sit up, turning on the light beside her bed and grabbing a couple tissues to clean himself up. He slips his boxers back up while he’s at it before sliding between the sheets again. 

When she returns to her bedroom, her hair is tied up and her robe is wrapped around her like body armor. She must’ve used the time to scrub the last of her makeup off, as well, and his heart stutters a beat to see her looking so down but still so beautiful. She climbs up, sitting next to him at the head of the bed with her legs crossed at the ankles. 

He’s watching her carefully, trying to not pressure her to talk but wishing she would say anything at this point, as the silence is slowly pressing in around them. 

“My last ex was the absolute worst,” she finally starts, fingers fiddling with the ties on her robe. “Worse than Neal, obviously. And worse than I ever thought he was when I found him cheating on me the day that Ruth died.”

He’s quiet, understanding that now is not the time for empty condolences for either incident. Instead, he reaches out and places his hand on her knee.

“He was a shitty antiques dealer down in Boston, never wanted to come up here to visit, never wanted to be seen with me, it seemed like. And unfortunately, he kept a lot of mementos from our time together.”

“How so?”

“You know how I told you I burned my uniform a couple years ago?”

He nods in response, tilting his head and wondering just where this could be going. She’d told him the beige monster was uncomfortable and unflattering, saying that any photographic evidence of the uniform in question was destroyed along with it.

“Well, I left a tiny part out,” she admits, looking over at him briefly.

“Nothing you tell me is going to run me off, Swan. I promise.”

With a bracing breath, she nods, focusing back on her hands in her lap. “I used to wear a uniform. Took it down to Boston with me because I was supposed to go straight to work the day I left his place. And he wanted to see it on. We were joking around and having fun.” She stops, grimacing and visibly willing her face to relax a moment later. “I let him take pictures. He had this fancy photo printer so he had physical copies and deleted them after they were done. At least, that’s what he swore he did. Just like everything else, it turns out that was a lie. 

“Emma?”

“He has a website . A fucking website with all of us.”

“All of who?”

“Every girl he fucked in the year that he and I were together, according to the site description. He proposed to me, you know, right before we ended things. I was going to say yes but told him to give me some time. Ruth passed away about a week after he asked me and I drove all the way to Boston because I wanted… needed the person that claimed to love me. And he was in the middle of fucking another woman when I walked in the door. I told him to give me the photos before I left while this redhead sat naked on his bed and watched me gather my stuff.”

“And you got the physical ones from him?”

“Yeah, no surprise he lied about those being the only copies. He kept them in the top drawer of his dresser, so now I have to wonder where the rest are kept. The day after Ruth’s funeral, I burned the uniform - with David’s permission and minimal questions asked - and the photos.”

She goes quiet after saying that, not really keen on making eye contact for the moment. Killian takes the opportunity to gather the words he wants to say, trying to find the best order of questions and statements. 

“You know that none of this is your fault, right? Nor do I blame you or feel any differently towards you because of your past.”

Emma sniffs at that, a half-hearted attempt at acknowledgement, so Killian leans closer and turns her face to his so he can plant a kiss on her lips. 

“I mean it, Emma. This is on that wanker, not you at all.” 

Her lips thin out for a second, but ultimately she nods and leans forward to give him another kiss. 

“Now, will you tell me about how you found this all out?”

“I got an email while Belle and I were working on our little project. I figured it was spam at first but it just had this link to a website called ‘Banging U.S.A.’ and some instructions for a passcode and a state. When I clicked, there was a whole lot more of me than I expected to see. He must’ve been taking pictures through the whole thing, since not all of them were ones he printed and showed me later.”

“So some taken without your knowledge or consent? How much worse can this guy get?”

“Oh, it still gets worse. I tried not to click on anything else, but I ended up on the newly launched world edition ,” she says with quotes around the words. “Without really thinking, I clicked on this little British flag and there was the woman I found him with. She was clearly far more into the photography thing than I was.”

“Bad, but how is that worse?”

“In the first three pictures, you can see one of my t-shirts on the dresser. In the others, it’s gone. Which means he went right back to fucking her as soon as I left his place with my stuff.”

“Definitely worse,” Killain mutters, drawing his hand over his face in disbelief. 

And we all had subtitles. Hers was the Wicked Witch of the West… and my South Pole.

“Ouch.”

“Mine was Officer Tie-Me-Down and Fuck-Me-Up .”

“Bloody hell, Swan, how much villainy can one man possess?”

“Apparently, his cup runneth over.”

“Clearly.” They fall silent for a moment, until Emma’s head tilts over to rest on his shoulder. “Any idea what you’ll do about it?” he asks after letting her mull for a moment.

“No fucking clue.”

He shifts in order to kiss the top of her head, pulling her closer when she pushes her way under his arm. It’s still hours more before either of them fall asleep again.

-x- December 14: Saturday

When Killian wakes up again, it’s to the sound of Emma’s voice floating up from down below.

“I know, and I’m sorry for bailing without letting you know,” she says. “I had something come up.”

With much effort, Killian hauls himself out of the bed, pulling on his undershirt before making his way downstairs. 

“No, it’s kind of why I was calling, though. Do you still have that phone number for James?”

Whatever response David must have for that is lengthy and aggravating, judging by the look on Emma’s face when Killian makes it to the main floor. She looks up and gives him a wan smile, pulling the phone away from her ear long enough to lean up and give him a kiss on the cheek. Dave’s voice is, indeed, squawking out quite the storm from the earpiece, and Killian does nothing more than raise an eyebrow in question before giving her a kiss of his own and moving towards the coffee pot. 

“Well, when you calm down about that, give me a call back. I need his number and you’ll agree with me when I tell you why.”

Her phone clatters to the table but she’s already moving towards where Killian is standing against the kitchen counter. 

“Good morning,” she says, leaning up and pulling him down to give him a much warmer, much more thorough kiss. 

“Same to you. Feeling a little better?”

“More like a fire’s been lit under my ass and I have a plan. I have to swing by my brother’s place to harass him about our other asshole brother. Want me to drop you at home?”

“If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, I need to head to the office to finish up the last of the preparations and my notes for the party on Friday.”

“No trouble at all. Wanna get breakfast along the way?”

“Food and time with my girlfriend? Only a fool would refuse such blessings.” 

When they part ways, he’s amazed at the clear change in mindset she’s gone through in less than twelve hours. Even as she kisses him goodbye, there’s determination burning in her eyes. 

-x-

It takes roughly forty minutes of needling David before he finally caves and gives her the phone number James had called from once, on accident, a couple years ago. She’s plugging it into her phone and hitting ‘call’ before she’s even halfway out of David’s workshop, taking the steps two at a time to get to the first floor. 

“Don’t hang up,” Emma says as soon as James answers.

“Emma?”

“You mean you actually have my number saved in your phone?”

“I’m sure that’s surprising but yeah, makes it easier to call you if I need to ask for money.”

“Ah, you haven’t changed a bit,” Emma responds, rolling her eyes at his words. 

David reaches for the phone when he gets to the kitchen but Emma bats his hand away. 

“I’m guessing you’re the one that needs something if you’re calling me.”

“You’re still in Boston, right?”

“And what if I am?”

“You still have that fancy talent at hacking computers and websites?”

“Listen, I haven’t done anything wrong. I stopped doing all that ages ago.”

“I don’t care if you’re a law-abiding citizen,” Emma snaps. “I need someone who doesn’t care about the law.”

“So the wonder twins need my help because I don’t follow the rules?”

“Pretty much. I have an ex that needs to be taught a lesson.”

“Fine. Come down here next Friday and I’ll see what I can do. If you’ll do something for me,” he adds at the very end.

“Like what?”

“We’ll discuss my terms on Friday.”

“I have a party…”

“Oh? You have a party ?” His tone is mocking, and Emma swallows back the retort she wants to spit at him.

“Fine. Fine. I’ll be there. David is coming with me. You do the job, I’ll repay you however you want me to, and then I never have to see you again.”

“Sounds good to me,” James singsongs. “I’ll text you the address. See you Friday, little sis.”

“That guy’s the worst ,” Emma snaps when the call ends. “How is he your fucking twin?”

David just shrugs. “And this is why I didn’t want you to call him. Are you going to tell me what’s going on now?”

“You have to promise you aren’t going to have a coronary or something, okay?”

“Go for it. I will… do my best.”

She takes a deep breath before she urges him to sit down while she starts to tell him what she’s just found out.

To give him some credit, he doesn’t completely lose it. But he does turn an interesting shade of purple at the news that there’s a website that has pornographic photographs of his sister. Trying to get around those words is possibly the most mortifying thing she’s ever been through, until David opens his mouth when she’s done speaking.

“Has Killian seen this site?”

God, David. No . And he won’t if I have anything to do with it. I’m not going to show my boyfriend pictures of me fucking another guy,” she screeches, standing and stomping over to their coffeemaker to indulge in more caffeine. 

She doesn’t really want to tell James the same news. She doesn’t want to tell him more than she absolutely has to, but she also needs the skillset he picked up from being a generally bad person in order to get this chapter of her life wiped from existence. 

Unfortunately, it’s going to mean missing the one thing she was looking forward to since Killian first told her about it. 

She stops by his office to see him next, admiring the way he looks when he’s deeply concentrating. She can also see just how much he’s put into decorating his office in the time they’ve been together. She remembers stark walls and an empty desk. Now, his degrees are hanging, along with a few artistic prints of book covers. His desk is similarly fuller, with picture frames and small knick knacks beyond the single one that used to be there.

With one more bracing breath, she prepares to go in. He’s going to understand, because he already knows what’s going on, but she hates to disappoint him.

“Swan?”

She’s knocked from her idle watching by him softly saying her name.

“Everything all right?”

“Yeah,” she says, walking in and shutting the door. She moves around to lean on the edge of his desk right in front of him. “But I have some bad news. I can’t come to the debut on Friday. That’s when my creep-o brother can help me out. I’ll have to be in Boston.”

His face falls, the disappointment clear, but his hand reaches out and brushes along hers. “As much as I’m sad you won’t be with me, I know it’s for a bigger purpose. Is this evil twin in law? Law enforcement?”

Emma’s face freezes, realizing that she never shared with him how she planned on having James help her. 

“Okay, long story short? James is really good at being a bad guy.”

To his credit, Killian listens with full attention as she launches into her plan and doesn’t even call her crazy.

“Barring any legal repercussions from this Walsh, I find no fault in this plan.”

“I’m pretty sure with James’ help, I won’t have to worry about him trying to come back at us.” At her reassurances, Killian nods in what she hopes is approval. “Should I let you get back to work?”

Slowly, he eases her off the desk and into his lap. “Maybe in a moment or two?”

It’s a question, leaving the answer in her court. 

“I’d be happy if it goes a little longer than a moment,” Emma responds, settling herself fully into his lap and chuckling at the look in his eyes. She pulls her shirt over her head, reaching behind her to unhook her bra. 

“I like to think we’re making up for all those times we’ve been interrupted,” Killian says before sucking a nipple into his mouth.

Straight to the point. She’s glad she locked the door when she closed it.

Chapter Text

There’s a lot to be said for the quiet moments they create while they’re together, and Killian is ever happier for the one they had in his office on Saturday. As the week wears on, both of them get more nervous and distracted for what’s coming for them at the end of the week. While they have two different kinds of anxiety, Killian also knows at this point they’re just feeding off each other’s nerves.

Killian is definitely feeling the pressures of the party looming closer. It’s a simple holiday party; he’s had no hand in planning it which is always a relief to him, but it’s bound to feel bigger because of the stakes involved. The most he’ll have to do is give a small speech and make sure Henry is present, and even that isn’t really his job with Robin and Regina as his new foster family.

Closer to Friday, Killian and Emma spend time at each other’s places getting ready for their trips. He’s flying out on Friday morning with the Mills-Hood clan for a weekend in New York City. His original intentions were to take Emma to the party, then spend a day in the city and an evening together before they drove back on Sunday. With no Emma, he was able to tag along with the others for their trip down. 

Emma, meanwhile, is driving down to Boston with David. Her task is a little more soul-destroying than his is going to be. With that in mind, he accepts the help she gives on picking out his suit and tie, packing them into his travel garment bag and making sure everything is included. 

They spend the next night at Emma’s place, the emotions on the same wavelength but nowhere near as intense as last time they were there, until Killian can finally coax her to sleep with the way his fingers travel through her hair over and over again. 

Much like the last time, one of them is awoken from the gentle persuasion of lips on lips, but this time, Killian is remaking that memory with every intention of sending Emma off on her trip in a lighter mood than she would be. 

The dawn light is just starting to break through, and Emma will have to leave sooner than either of them wants her to, but in the warmth of her bed, they can both pretend that nothing else exists.

With his lips against hers, Killian slowly draws Emma from her sleep. She’s a temptress when she wakes up, as it’s with her inhibitions low that she has no hesitance showing and telling him exactly what she wants. This morning is no different than the other times they’ve woken each other in such ways, as her hands start gently encouraging him downwards.

It was the destination he had in mind, and he’d never deny her anyway, so he easily glides from the kiss to giving proper attention to her neck and chest. He pushes her sleep shirt out of the way in order to spend a little time with her breasts while his hand slips beneath the ridiculous things she calls sleep shorts. He pays close attention to her movements, her breathing, her sounds, and when she’s on the precipice of losing her patience with his pace, that’s when he moves onward again, replacing his fingers with his lips while he slides her shorts down her legs. 

With deliberate motions, he works on coaxing her up to a climax in a slow and steady way. Just when her hands are clutching at his hair, however, he backs off, easing her away from the breaking point while smiling against the barrage of angry noises she makes. 

Twice more he takes her up to the edge of the cliff of pleasure, making sure that she’s on board the whole time even though her noises of aggravation are starting to include the way she grumbles his name. 

By the time he relents and brings her to climax, he’s almost painfully hard and he and Emma are both covered in a thin sheen of sweat. All the way down her chest is pink from the exertion, but she’s the one that pulls him up, and readies him with protection while he’s still catching his breath. With obvious intent, she pushes him onto his back, sliding onto his cock in one easy movement. 

It’s new every time they have sex - the feelings change, or the mood is different - and this time is no exception. She’s a powerhouse on top of him, pulling his hand up to cup her breast while she rides away. Between gasping breaths, she whispers his name, bringing them both close to orgasm with each movement of her hips. 

When her hands clench where they’re positioned on his chest, he knows it’s only a matter of time before she crests again, and so he presses against where they’re joined with his left wrist, planting his feet for better leverage to meet her thrust for thrust and urging her to fall again before he reaches his own. 

It doesn’t take long, and then Emma is grinding down on him in need, falling against his chest when pleasure takes her over one more time. She lazily bites his shoulder as she comes down, finally igniting his own orgasm and he holds her against him with all his strength. When the last drop of him is spent, he relaxes, letting his legs fall back to the mattress but still cradling Emma close to him. 

“You are marvelous,” he whispers against her forehead. 

She sits up, pushing sweaty hair off her face and smiling down at him. “So are you. Hopefully we’ve both made up for the fact that we won’t be spending this weekend together.”

“And there will be more where that came from when we meet up again, love. Meanwhile, we both know David will be here sooner than either of us want him to be,” he informs her, regretting the fact that she’s shifting out of his arms and the comfortable hold her body had on him releases.

She sighs at that, smiling as she climbs off the bed. “You’re right. Stick around until I’m done?”

He nods at her, pulling her back for one more solid kiss before she grabs her robe and heads off down the stairs. 

In the meantime, he cleans up as much as he can and heads down to make coffee and toast for the both of them. 

-x-

Emma is something beyond used to the drive to Boston. Thanks to dating Walsh, the route is so familiar now that it’s almost boring. Okay, so it would be boring if she’d managed to stay awake past ten minutes after they got on the road. But it’s still way too early and Killian did too good of a job of helping her relax this morning, and so she’s out like a light right as David hits his comfortable speed.

She dozes for most of the drive, knowing that the trip is in David’s very capable driving skills. He wakes her up when they’re about twenty minutes away from the address that James gave them, and while she knew he wouldn’t be smack in the middle of downtown, she’s surprised at the suburban feel she’s getting as they get closer and closer. 

“No fucking way,” Emma mutters when they reach the address. 

The house they pull up to is large and sprawling, and nothing at all what she imagined James would be living in. Of course, she mostly imagined he’d live in some seedy apartment building in the shady side of town with some kind of elaborate code system to even get into the lobby. 

But this looks clean and wealthy, and she honestly doesn’t know what to think anymore. 

If she thought she was surprised before, she doesn’t know what she is when James answers the door. 

“Ah, if it isn’t the do-gooders of the family. Come in,” he tells them, still gently bopping as a baby in a harness sleeps against his chest before he moves back into the house. 

Emma looks over to David, who looks back at her with the same wide eyes she knows she has.

“Heat costs money. Get in or get out - either way I don’t care as long as that door is shut.”

At the distant prompting, they finally both move forward, closing the door behind them and taking a moment to remove their boots on the provided mat. With her shoes off first, Emma follows the sounds she can hear and finds James in the kitchen. He’s carefully pulling mugs off a set of hooks beneath the cabinets, while an expensive looking kettle heats on the stove.

“I figured this was a conversation that would do well with some tea. You have a preference?” 

“My boyfriend probably would, but I’ll take any kind you have,” Emma says, moving to sit on one of the stools he gestures towards. David joins just a moment later, settling in next to Emma after offering to help and getting shooed away. 

When James turns back to work on getting the tea ready, all Emma can do is mentally compare the two brothers in her head. James has this whole brooding look going for him, with facial hair that frames his jaw and chin but looks trimmed and maintained. While David usually wears anything in blues, James is dressed in a black shirt and gray slacks - nothing Emma would expect someone to wear casually around the house, but she has no explanations for anything this man does. 

“So why would the two of you need my help when you’re both in law enforcement?” James asks, breaking her from her thoughts.

“It’s Emma that needs the help, actually,” David points out. “You’re a father?”

“This is Robert James. We call him RJ. And he’s king of this household,” James introduces, lovingly stroking the infant’s wisps of hair. “You need me to hack something?”

“Sort of. Yeah. Probably. Okay, definitely.” She’s having a hard time concentrating when she can’t stop staring at the baby attached to the evil twin of her two brothers.

As if sensing this, James huffs and rolls his eyes. With gentle maneuvers, he takes RJ out of the carrier and carefully deposits him in Emma’s arms so swiftly that she doesn’t even have time to protest. She feels the way her lip pouts at the adorable sleeping boy in her arms but she just can’t help it. She’s been hoping for ages that David and Snow were going to have one of their own so she could have a moment like this. She’s an aunt , no matter if she’s in this kid’s life or not. 

“Okay, Auntie Emma. Spill.” 

At the title, no matter how sarcastic he was being, she does almost cry, but takes another moment to look at the sweet innocence in her arms before she starts her explanation.

“Okay shut up and don’t say anything in response to what I’m about to tell you,” Emma finally says. “I was dating a guy down here a couple years ago and it turns out he has this sick website with naked pictures of all the women he’s slept with.”

James stares at her for a second, lifting an eyebrow. When the tea kettle whistles, he goes to retrieve it, pouring equal measures into each of the mugs placed on the island.  “What you’re telling me is that sweet little Emma has porn? On the internet?”  

“James.” The warning tone in David’s voice is evident.

“No no, little brother. I get to take a moment to soak in the fact that mom’s second favorite is involved in a porn scandal, okay?” He stands back, placing his hands on his hips and taking a few deep breaths. “Fantastic. Okay. So you want me to hack the site and delete yours?”

“I want them all deleted. The whole website. But this time I need to know that all digital copies were destroyed. And I’m sure he has physical copies, as well.”

“Tallying this up, we’re looking at breaking and entering, hacking, a nasty virus if needed, and theft of personal property?”

“Personal property that he doesn’t have consent to have.”

James bobs his head in consideration for that. “Okay. You have your needs, and I have mine. I want any cash we find in his place. And David has to watch the baby.”

“What?”

“You can’t bring a baby to a B&E, David. And I’m certainly not bringing my son, either,” James says with almost a straight face. He laughs and shifts out of the way of David’s half-hearted attempt to punch his arm. “So what about you? Where’s your kid?”

“We uh, we don’t have one yet,” David admits. 

“Is everything all right?” James asks, and Emma looks sharply at him, trying to decipher that tone. “I mean, she’s not a prude or anything, right? I remember Snow was a hottie when you met her.”

That’s a more familiar tone. She’s almost sure that there’s a softness to him that wasn’t there before, though. 

“You’re an asshole,” David announces, clearly missing the nuance of the previous statement. “I’m the sheriff. It’s not easy to just take off that amount of time.”

“That sounds like bullshit. You have Emma here as your deputy and the whole town is like two thousand people. You can probably take as much time as you need.”

“How do you know I’m the deputy?” Emma asks, but David speaks a moment later and her question goes unanswered.

“I worry about being a good father. We didn’t have a lot of years with dad and I just… I worry.”

“Dave. If I can keep a baby alive, I’m pretty sure you can.”

“This is a weird energy,” Emma states, unused to the fact that James is being the calm and confident one and David is on shaky ground. 

“Here,” James says, taking RJ from her arms and placing him with David instead. “Follow me. It’s time to put him in his crib. Emma, don’t go through my stuff.”

Of course, the minute he’s out of the room, Emma is up and out of her seat. She wanders the kitchen first, taking a peek into his disgustingly clean fridge and opening a few cupboard doors just to see. 

In the entryway, there are several portraits of RJ looking fresh and tiny. In one, he’s wrapped snugly in a gray blanket, his eyes closed and a peaceful expression on his face. The one next to that has him cradled between two arms, artfully posed so that no little baby bits are exposed due to the lack of clothes. 

“He shit in my hand like ten seconds after that,” James says from directly behind her. There’s such a fondness in his voice that it makes her smile.

“You probably deserved it,” she says, turning and placing a hand on his elbow. “Congratulations. He’s really adorable.”

“Thanks,” is all he says in response, giving her a genuine smile for the first time. 

Returning to the kitchen, they spend a few extra minutes talking as they finish their drinks. They leave David shortly after their mugs are empty, with James reminding him no less than four times to call if there are any problems. 

There’s total silence on the ride over, and James makes sure to park two blocks over just to be safe. It would be so much easier to do this if it wasn’t December and freezing right now, but at least it isn’t snowing. The latch on the door to the building is still broken, which is fine by her since it’s one less thing they have to break into.

“You remember how to do it like I showed you?” James asks, pulling out his lock-pick set and holding it out to her. 

“Don’t you ever tell David I know how to do this or I will hunt you down,” she mutters as she takes the kit and gets to work. 

They split up once inside in order to thoroughly comb the small space Walsh likes to call home. It’s little more than a one-bedroom hovel, barely larger than a postage stamp and definitely not worth the rent he’s paying per month. While James focuses on the computer and getting into the website, Emma goes through every drawer, every closet, every nook and cranny she can find.

She hits the jackpot in his bedroom closet, there in the very back, where a locked box sits on the top shelf. She doesn’t even need the kit to get it open, wiggling the flimsy lock just right and grinning when it pops open. She tries not to look too closely at any of the pictures, but it’s definitely a carefully catalogued collection. She sets it on the bed while she keeps combing through his stuff, only satisfied when every item has been shifted and put carefully back in place. 

Since it’s the middle of a workday, she never expected that they’d have to confront Walsh at all. She’s doing nothing more than waiting for James to finish up at this point when she hears the front door open and close again.

“Fuck,” she mutters, knowing that they can’t exactly hide. 

“Well, it’s a good thing I’m all done here,” James says. His thumbs hook under the ledge above the keyboard when he goes to push away and his eyebrows draw down for a second. “ Almost done,” he adds, lifting the thumb drive that was clearly not meant to be found. He pockets it just as Walsh walks into the room.

-x-

After seeing Emma off, Killian walks back to his place to shower and get ready for his own trip. Since he had to change his whole trip around, he managed to get on to the same flight as Robin and his merry band of family, and they’re picking him up on their way to the airport soon.

The flight is quick, and he takes his time settling into the hotel room; he’s in for a whirlwind of an evening, so the quiet leading up to the event is something he strives to enjoy.

There’s the small matter that he hasn’t heard much from Emma. But again, she wasn’t quite sure what she was walking into with her ex and David’s twin. He’s glad she was at least able to text him that she’d arrived safely in Boston, but he tempers his hopes that he’ll hear from her again before this is all over.

For most of their events, NeverEndings hosts their parties right in the office, but this one is the biggest event they’ll host all year. The venue has a spectacular view of the city, especially when there’s a light snowfall just starting. He knows it isn’t going to last, and none of it is supposed to stick, but it makes for a pretty view beyond the windows as the sun sets behind the clouds and the party begins. 

All of the major clients of the publishing house start filtering in, and Killian makes sure to paste on the smile he’s perfected for such events. After only a couple minutes of schmoozing, however, he feels like his cheeks are going to crack and his eyes are watering, so he excuses himself to get another drink. It’s just ginger ale tonight, which is fine by him. 

At the bar, he finds Henry looking dapper in his new suit and his hair slicked back much like Robin styles his. 

“All right there, lad?”

“Yeah, just trying to take it all in,” Henry responds, smiling and observing the room at large. “Hey Killian? I never got to say thank you to you or Emma for all your help. Why isn’t she here tonight?”

“She had a personal matter to attend to. I’ll make sure we get lunch sometime soon so you can say it in person,” Killian tells him. “How are things going with Robin and our illustrious leader?”

“It’s going great! I mean, Regina has me doing all these chores around the house and she’s got me enrolled in school for after the holidays end. It’ll be weird going back to public school after being home-schooled so much. She also loves signing us all up for activities. We’ve done two painting classes as a group now down at Aurora’s shop.”

Killian knows the boy is aiming for disaffection or something similar, but the wistful tone to his voice is giving it all away. He’s loving it. From one great family to an absolute personal hell, now back into something like a family, Henry is having the experiences he always wanted as a child. 

“Is she making you eat vegetables, too?”

Henry groans with great exaggeration. “ So many vegetables. I like Pop-Tarts and Apollo Bars!”

“She just might be the best mum ever, then,” Killian points out, wagging a finger at Henry’s face.

The teenager’s mirth settles until his smile is soft. “Yeah, she might be. She also wants to sign me up for these online writing classes so I can get even better so maybe you’ll have an easier time editing the sequel to my novella.”

As soon as the words are out of his mouth, Henry looks like he didn’t mean to say them.

“I mean, if you guys even choose to publish it. I don’t expect you to. I don’t mean...I’m sorry.”

“You have a second one started?” Killian asks, forgetting all about the fact that they should be mingling, that he should be introducing Henry to everyone that’s still wandering in. “What’s it about, then?”

“Well, I mean, it’s still in the works. I just started it during Thanksgiving after I moved up here. But I had this idea to use someone like… like a villain in other stories. Like Captain Hook? And make him this anti-hero who helps the heroes even though he doesn’t feel like he’s one of them, and it’s because of this that he falls in love.” He’s avoiding eye contact with Killian and the math is pretty easy at that point, so Killian hides his grin behind his ginger ale. 

“Who does he fall in love with?”

“Haven’t decided yet,” Henry says, the frustrations of a young writer coming out in his voice. “It’s between a couple different people. You figure after all those happy endings that all those fairytale characters went and got married and had kids, right? So maybe he meets someone like Rapunzel and Flynn Rider’s daughter when she’s all grown up. Or Snow White and Prince Charming!”

“I love the concept. And can’t wait to edit this next one with you.”

“Next one? Has my liege acquired our services for his next novella?” Robin comes over, clapping Henry fondly on the shoulder as he gestures with his other hand for another round of drinks. 

“Aye, your lad seems to have the next installment all figured out. All we have to do now is get him to write it.”

“Knowing him, he’ll have it written before spring break,” Robin says fondly. “How are you handling all this so far, Henry?”

“It’s… a lot to take in.”

“We’ll go slow. Let either of us know if you need a breather. We’ll focus most of the interacting after dinner is over so you can get adjusted.”

Henry nods, turning just in time for the ball of energy that is Roland to come bounding into his arms. 

“Come look! Come look!” the boy says, grabbing onto Henry’s hand and pulling him away from Robin and Killian. Henry sort of rolls his eyes but stands up, looking over his shoulder and shrugging as he gets led over to the windows as Roland excitedly points at all the buildings visible from this angle. 

“He may look like a grumbling teenager, but don’t let him fool you. He loves it,” Robin says after they’re both out of hearing range. 

“I feel like I already know the answer to this, but how’s he doing?”

“Better than I ever could’ve expected. If I would’ve realized what he was living with, I would’ve suggested this move sooner.”

“How’s Regina handling yet another male in the house?”

Robin chuckles for a moment. “You know, she told me shortly after we started seeing each other that she couldn’t have children. I had Roland, so it’s not like I was in a rush to have any more. But she loved him so quickly and so fully, that I was sure we were fine exactly as we were. And then Henry came in and completed the picture that I didn’t know was unfinished.”

“I’m happy for you all, mate. And I’m glad he’ll be in town with all of us. Talent and imagination like that needs to be cultivated and loved. And lord knows we all have the skills to do that in Storybrooke.”

“That’s why I prefer the branch to be with us instead of down here. It’s all very pretty, lit up like this and with the snow and the Christmas spirits dancing in the air. But Storybrooke has that all the time - not just around the holidays.”

“Also, if you don’t pick up his sequel, I will personally lay my professional career on the line in order to publish it,” Killian says after a moment.

“Don’t be ridiculous. We’ll sign any and all books that lad publishes for the rest of his life, if I have my way. Also, we haven’t told him yet, but we’re already looking to adopt him if he’ll have us.

Robin leaves Killian standing there with that information and Killian can’t help the full grin on his face. He takes a deep breath, asks for one more refill on his drink, and then wanders to their table to wait for dinner to be served.

Chapter Text

Walsh still looks exactly the same as the last time she was here. Emma tries her best to keep her stomach calm when all she wants to do is throw up on his face, projecting an outward cool that she doesn’t feel as he enters the room and looks up at her. 

“What the - Emma ? What the hell are you doing in my apartment?”

“Taking back what’s rightfully mine,” Emma says, gesturing to the box of pictures sitting on the bed beside her.

“Oh no, sweetheart. I would hardly call all of those yours.”

“Don’t call me sweetheart, asshole.”

Through all of this, James has been watching a progress bar load on the computer screen. With a noise of victory, he looks back to her.

“There you go, Emma. All done.”

“You brought David with you? Mr. Wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly?”

“Oh, buddy, believe me. You’re gonna wish I was David by the end of this. Good job hosting a whole website with a bunch of non-consensual photos on it. But shame on you for making it so easy to break into.”

“You have another brother?”

“Didn’t I ever tell you that David was an identical twin?”

At the little jingle that plays from the desk, he tries to push James out of the way. “What did you do to my computer?”

“Gave it a little tune up,” James tells him, crossing his arms with pride as a little unicorn marches into the center of the screen. 

All three of them watch with rapt attention as the unicorn stands and waves, before squatting. 

“Oh my god,” Emma says, bursting out in laughter as the unicorn defecates in the shape of an artfully written “fuck you” in rainbow colors. 

After a couple seconds, the whole thing emits a screeching noise and shuts off with a loud pop

“All your buddies that subscribed to your email list got something pretty similar. I mean, I don’t know if they’ll all open it but with the heading ‘Check out the brand new section!’ I’m willing to bet a lot of dudes are about to lose their computers.”

Walsh finally makes it around James, desperately trying to turn on his computer but nothing happens when he hits the button. “ All of my business files were on there.”

“You kept all your shit on your personal computer? Wow . You’re even dumber than I thought.” James turns towards Emma on the tail of that thought. “You ready?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Emma responds, picking up the box of photographs and handing it over to James. They manage to make it out of the bedroom before Walsh must come to his senses, and he’s after them immediately. 

His hand closes around Emma’s arm, and she spins around. On instinct, Emma swings as she breaks the hold. And while James misses taking a snapshot of that hit, he doesn’t miss the one where Emma knees him in the nuts hard enough to bring him to his knees. 

“I have the perfect new image for the welcome screen on his trash web page,” James says as Emma backs away. He holds the phone out for her to see and she just barely stops herself from cracking up. “Here, take this. I’ll be right behind you.” He hands over the box, gently ushering her towards the door. 

She doesn’t go far, leaving the door cracked just enough to hear what James has to say to Walsh. 

“Here’s the deal, you Wizard of Oz -looking monkey piece of shit. All of the accounts for that website are completely wiped out. All that money you made off of people like my sister ? That money is so far offshore that you’ll never be able to trace it ever again. Got it?”

“I’ll call the cops,” Walsh says weakly.

“You won’t. You have no evidence. And if you try to do that, or ever try to do this again, I will screw up your whole life. We’re in a digital age now, Walsh Whitney Covington. I have everything of yours now. Personal records, social media, bank accounts, the password to your pretentious little LinkedIn page that lists you as a connoisseur of wood, which… come on, man.”

“That’s all illegal,” he whines back, and Emma is mostly just enjoying the sniveling tone in his voice. 

“Yeah? And? I’m sure Emma signed a consent form for those pictures you had posted of her, right? You had her sign away her financial freedoms for the profits on it, too? Don’t ever fuck with our family ever again or you’ll regret it.”

After a couple more minutes of silence, James exits the apartment and gives her a bright smile. 

“Now, that was a fun afternoon with my brother. See? We should bond like this more often,” Emma says as they make their way out of the building and back down to where he parked his car. 

“Yeah yeah, don’t get used to it. Jack would kill me if she found out this is how I spent my day.”

“You’re still with Jack?”

“Why wouldn’t I be? I did marry her, after all. She wanted to wait until she made partner to have a baby and so I switched gears and became a stay-at-home dad after she went back from maternity leave. It helps to have a super lawyer as your wife.”

“None of the words that just came out of your mouth are what I was expecting when I called you about all this.”

“Well, it’s not like I send out Christmas cards with updates on the family,” James says, a little resignation in his voice. 

“Did you really take all the profits from the website?”

“And refunded the money you spent on that settee you bought there back before you started dating.”

Just as he says it, Emma’s phone dings with a notification. There’s a message from her bank saying there’s been a deposit into her account. Looking at the numbers, it’s way more than what she paid for the moderately priced item, but James shrugs. 

“Maybe I got the numbers backwards in my head. Added an extra digit. Whatever. So you mentioned earlier that you have a boyfriend? You haven’t changed your status on Facebook.”

“You follow my social media?”

“Just because I don’t let any of you know about what’s going on in my life doesn’t mean I don’t check up on you.”

“Well, I’m supposed to be at a Christmas party for his company down in New York but someone insisted we do this today.”

He rolls his eyes as he opens his door and climbs into the driver’s seat. No sooner is she seat-belting in when another notification chimes on her phone. 

“Did you seriously just buy me a plane ticket to New York City?”

“I’ll hand all of that over to David,” James says, indicating the box she placed in the backseat. “Besides, he and I are severely overdue for a brotherly chat.” Without another word, he starts a route for the airport. 

“When was the last time you had one of those? When you were fifteen?”

“Something like that. Hey, text him and let him know what’s going on. I should be back there in about an hour but I don’t want him to worry.”

She shakes her head, doing as he asked and sending a message to David. 

As they pull up outside the airport, Emma turns to James. “So, what do I still owe you?”

“Nothing. I got the cash he had stashed in his desk, all the money from his subscription side of the website, and free childcare for the evening after Jack gets home from the office today.”

“Did you tell David that yet?”

“No, but I will. And you know he will - he’s David. Go on,” he tells her when they arrive a short time later. “Enjoy the party.”

“Okay then. And hey, thanks for all your help. I couldn’t imagine doing that with anyone else.”

“Yeah, yeah. Hey, Emma?” 

Her door is open and she’s just about to climb out when he says her name. 

“It was nice seeing you,” he admits. 

She leans in quickly and hugs him, noting how familiar yet utterly foreign it feels. “Come visit us sometime,” she tells him as she pulls away. She stands there until his car pulls away and he’s out of view before she walks through the doors. 

Somehow, James managed to get her the perfect flight so she had enough time to get through security, although she looks suspicious as hell going in with nothing but her purse, if you ask her. It’s still considered early when she lands in the city, but with nothing else with her, she has to get party-ready with nothing but the money in her bank account. Thanks to James, there’s a little bit extra to play with in there.

Emma feels like she should be in some cheesy movie montage as she struggles to find everything she’ll need to get ready. Hair and makeup come first, and she’s thankful the salon isn’t far from a decent looking clothing shop or else her charges in cab fares alone would’ve gotten out of hand. 

The dress she finds is perfect - a sleek, black number that doesn’t fit too tight but that doesn’t hide her shape. It’s similar enough to the dress she was planning on wearing to this, the one she borrowed from Ruby as a first-date possibility but put aside in favor of the soft pink she wore instead. She admires the whole look in the mirror as the shop attendant helps her clip tags after Emma pays. She buys two pairs of shoes - a cute pair of cutout ankle boots and a pair of flats - in anticipation of the point in the party where she’ll want to feel her toes again. 

It’s only once she’s fully satisfied with the total picture that she heads out, making sure everything she wore down here is tucked securely into the weekender bag the attendant helped her pick out. 

This time, she opens the rideshare app for a little more comfort, and then it’s off to the Manhattan Penthouse to finally get to where she wants to be.

-x-

Tucking away the knowledge that Robin just gave him, Killian settles into his seat with only a lone glance at the empty chair beside him. He has Henry on his other side, and the rest of the Mills-Hood family in the remaining seats. They’ve not even begun when he receives a sharp, bony elbow to the side. 

“Hey,” Henry whispers as he leans close. “Isn’t that Emma?”

He turns his head, glancing in the direction Henry is pointing, and his breath catches. Sure enough, Emma is standing there in a black dress that surely should be illegal to look so good in. Her hair and makeup are all done, and she’s scanning the room. It takes another elbow to his ribs for Killian to finally stand up, waving over his girlfriend and attempting to wipe the surprise off his face while he does.

“Hi! Sorry I’m late.”

“You’re just in time, actually. I’m so… don’t get me wrong, Swan, but I never expected you’d be able to make it.” He leans forward, pressing a kiss to her cheek and taking a moment to soak up her closeness.

“Yeah, well, sometimes when you make a deal with the devil to take down satan, you get what you want faster than you expected,” she says, and while he doesn’t fully understand, he knows he’ll get the full story later. 

He pulls out her chair for her, pushing it in as she sits. “I do believe we all know one another,” he says to the table at large. “I’d told them to cancel your meal, so excuse me while I get that turned around.”

“Emma! I’m so glad you’re here!” Henry who’d been sitting on his right, beams from ear to ear as he slides over to talk to her. 

“Hi Henry. Everyone. Glad I could make it.”

Hearing her voice and the animated conversation that sparks up between her and Henry immediately calms his nerves for the evening, and he hastens to find one of the caterers so he can return to the table. 

By the time their dinner is served, he’s noticed no less than four times Henry has pulled out his iPod to jot down something in his notes. He smiles as he watches it happen, watches the gears turn in the lad’s head and the magic take root. He manages to keep it in his pocket for the entirety of the meal, but he’s pretty sure that was due to a questioning look from Regina right as the salads were placed in front of them.

With the rest of the table occupied with their desserts, Killian takes a moment to lean over, keeping his voice low as he whispers in her ear. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Me too,” she says, a satisfied little smile on her face. There’s been a peace evident on her face since the moment she walked in, and he’s intrigued but enjoying it. She was never too tightly wound to begin with, apart from the times she got stuck in her own head. This, he assumes, is due to the business with her ex being all wrapped up. 

After the dishes have been cleared, Killian rests in his seat for a bit. There’s still a lot more networking he’ll have to do, but for now he takes the time to relax as he and Robin discuss strategy for announcements. He’s in the middle of helping figure out the order when Emma’s hand creeps onto his thigh. His words falter for a moment, and he can see Emma’s smile get just a little wider. 

When her hand travels a little higher, he reaches down, knowing full well that his ears and cheeks are both bright with flush, and takes a moment when Robin is asking Henry a question to fully turn to her.

“Have pity on me,” he whispers, pulling her hand to his lips to place a kiss on the back of it, and she laughs quietly, turning her palm to link her fingers with his. 

“Just this one time,” she concedes, settling in with their hands clasped. 

-x-

Walking into the venue, Emma is momentarily overwhelmed. She forgot that the Storybrooke office isn’t the whole team, and that a lot of the authors would be there, so there’s just a sea of people as far as she can see across the space. But then Killian stands up, her eyes finding his as he waves her over. 

And it’s halfway between where she is and where he’s waiting that it hits her full in the gut: She is in love with Killian. She is so in love with that man that she can hardly stand it. He has never once looked at her differently or placed unrealistic expectations on her - he never set out to hurt her. 

There, with the lights of the chandeliers glittering overhead, and the backdrop of the city getting dusted in snow, Emma realizes that she is looking at the man she wants to spend all of her time with if she can. Her heart squeezes, even as she smiles and accepts the kiss he places on her cheek as they settle in.

It’s the first time she’s ever been to a party like this, and she has to think it’s going pretty well. While Killian is occupied with his duties, Emma offers to watch Roland so Regina can go with Robin as he makes rounds to greet everyone. Emma follows him as he drags her from one end of the penthouse to the other, eager to show her anything and everything he can. 

By the end of the night, her feet hurt and she’s all too happy to get her belongings from the coat check room so she can slip on the flats she bought. She’s leaning against the wall, innocently trying to pry her feet out of the booties when Killian comes up behind her, his hand warm through the material of her dress and his voice hot in her ear. 

“Are you trying to kill me tonight?”

I’m just trying to change my shoes. It’s not my fault your eyes automatically go to my ass when you approach me.”

He looks affronted when she turns to look at him, a smile hiding behind the expression.

“Besides,” she says, “I just can’t wait for you to get me out of this dress.”

“I’m ordering us a car right now.”

It’s amazing; she knows he prefers the quiet and solitude of their little town, but he performs so well in the city - like he was built to live here - and she loves that he chooses not to. They’re both on their best behavior in the car, but Killian purposely sat on her left so his hand can rest on her knee. Rather than spiking that part in her that’s always game for another round of sex, though, it reignites her thoughts from when she entered the party and she stares at him in the dark as the city lights pass them by.

When he notices, he turns to her with a peaceful look on his face, and they smile at each other. “What?” he asks, his fingers tightening once.

“Nothing,” she replies, taking the moment to rest her head on his shoulder for the rest of the journey. “Tonight was great.”

Back at the hotel, they at least manage to settle a bit before Killian follows through with her request, with both of them sighing as the dress slips from her shoulders and drops lightly to the floor. They take their time, slow and languid, savoring each moment with each other.

“I know I’ve said this plenty of times, but I am so happy you were able to make it,” Killian tells her as their skin is still cooling. She needs to go wash the makeup from her face but she’s not quite sure her legs will function in order to do so.

“Me too.” She stares at him, her eyes roaming his face and sinking into the wonder that has been the last three months of her life, thanks to this man.

“What is it?” he asks, his expression serious as he tries to figure out what she’s thinking.

“I… want to thank you for everything. You went into this without knowing and you still haven’t pushed me to talk about what happened or anything and so I just… wanted to say thanks.”

His smile falters, still there but just a touch disappointed that the words weren’t the ones he was expecting after she set it up to be something else, and she knows how it feels. Her thumb strokes along his cheek, pushing at his smile briefly as she leans in to kiss him. 

Maybe next time , she thinks as she moves to the bathroom to clean up before climbing back into bed. Outside, the city keeps moving on as their world slows for sleep. 

-x- December 21: Saturday

As usual, Killian is the one that wakes up first. He sets about ordering breakfast and jumps in the shower in the interim. Emma is awake and sitting up in bed when he comes back out, and he leans over the bed to kiss her good morning. 

“David texted me that he’s on his way home. He has everything we took from Walsh and he’s going to drop it off at my place.”

“That’s certainly good news. Even better news is I have coffee and breakfast being delivered soon.”

She chuckles at that. “Perfect. I wish I had more clothes with me, but I suppose yesterday’s will be fine.”

“My luggage is yours, love. I always pack extra just in case, so help yourself.”

Which seemed like a good idea, until Emma walks out of the bathroom after her own shower in one of his button up shirts, the sleeves rolled up to her elbows and her supple form filling out the garment better than he ever could. 

They eat breakfast in bed, the curtains flung open wide to let in the weak, winter sunshine. As they graze their food, Emma books her ticket for their return to Storybrooke, crowing in victory when she scores a seat on Killian’s flight.

“I’ll text David and see if he can pick us up,” Emma tells him when they’re getting ready for their outside adventure, pulling her hat securely over her ears and wrapping her scarf around her neck.

They brave the cold to hit some of the popular winter activities in the city, taking in the Christmas markets and strolling Fifth Avenue. In the early evening, they meet up with Robin, Regina, and the two boys again to enjoy dinner together. With the pressure from the night before long gone, they talk instead of the upcoming holidays. 

It’s clear that Henry is willing to keep the magic alive for Roland, asking the younger boy what he’s planning on asking for Christmas when they go to see Santa after the meal is over. When Killian catches Henry’s eye a short bit later, the lad smiles and gives him a thumbs up. 

After dinner, they set out on their own again to see the Rockefeller tree in person. They stand there, watching the lights twinkle and the skaters on the rink until neither of them can feel their toes and their noses are bright red. 

Sinking into their hotel bed that night, Killian makes sure to set his alarm, but Emma grabs for it before he can set it down.

“Just wanted to double check. Wouldn’t want to miss your alarm or anything,” she says, that smile hidden in the corner of her mouth. 

“Cheeky woman,” he says quietly, making sure to kiss her hard and lovely before they each burrow under the covers. 

There’s another message from David waiting for Emma when they wake up letting her know they’ll be there to pick them up. Thankfully, with no luggage, their disembarking process is much faster and they’re able to get out of the departure door right as David and Snow pull up.

While they go their separate ways when they get back to town, he and Emma have a standing appointment for later in the afternoon to take everything that was acquired from Walsh’s apartment to send it off properly, as she did with her uniform. 

He sets to work on a mission, unpacking his bag and stripping off his dirty clothes to throw everything in his hamper. There’s still time before he meets with Emma, but since he’s been out of town since Friday, he’s behind on his weekend duties and he knows he’ll feel better if he takes the time to do it now rather than waiting. He throws his clothes in the wash, opting for warmer clothes for their task ahead. Instead of sitting around and waiting for the machine to be done, he takes the time instead to pack a picnic of sorts for the task ahead of them. Those items and a blanket all go into a tote bag he got from the last publishing conference he attended. 

Shortly after his laundry is folded and put away, Emma breezes through the door with a large box in her arms. 

“Ready?”

“Aye, just let me grab my keys.”

He locks the door behind them on their way out, and then they make their way to the beach closest to his flat. There’s a fire pit that was built ages ago, large stones surrounding it and a fresh pile of logs that Killian would place money on betting that David set it up for them. 

As he sets to work lighting the fire, he hands Emma the tote to start unpacking their items. She hums happily as she finds the soup, and again when she opens the second thermos that has the hot chocolate. He’s just finishing with his task when he turns to see her pouring the drink into each mug he brought, and raises an eyebrow as she tips a generous amount of whiskey into each one. 

She shrugs when she sees his look. “Believe me, I’m going to need it,” she says after a sip to taste-test. 

They stay on the beach much longer than most people would in December, with fresh snow occasionally falling around them. But they make sure each individual picture makes it into the fire. As delicately as they can, they remove them from the box, and he hands a stack face-down to Emma for her to fold each picture so he can feed it into the fire. 

She sets the thumb drive on the rocks around the pit, making sure to give it a solid stomp before throwing that in as an afterthought. 

“I’m sure it’s terrible for the environment but I need that thing wiped from existence.”

When each item has met its demise, including the box it was all packed away in, Emma puts out the fire using every precaution he’s sure David taught her.

Back in the comforting warmth of his place, Killian pulls out every blanket he owns and waits for Emma to come out of his bedroom from getting changed into pajamas. He piles them on top of her, going to change his own clothes before joining her on the couch. He holds her while she processes the whole thing - some anger and tears, some relief, until she falls asleep on Killian’s shoulder and he has to shift around until they can both stretch out. 

He doesn’t fall asleep until long after she does, whispering a quiet “I love you” against her hair before he finally falls asleep, as well. 

-x- December 23: Monday

They’re still on the couch when Emma wakes up, if only just barely. She’s facing Killian, her back pressed against the couch, with Killian’s arm looped over her waist. She’s just opening her eyes when she hears his gasp and then he’s teetering off the edge. Now wide awake, she peers down to see Killian wincing on the floor.

“Are you okay?”

“Just peachy, love,” he grumbles, rubbing his head where it smacked on the floor. She’s stifling laughter when he leans up and kisses her softly. “Good morning to you, my sweet couch hog.”

“We could’ve moved at any time. Why didn’t you wake me up?”

“Because I love you and wanted you to rest more than I cared about my own comfort,” he responds, only realizing as he finishes speaking that he may have said too much. His eyes, wider and brighter blue than she’s ever seen them, meet her steady gaze.

“I love you, too. But that’s a little dramatic of a reason for why you’re now on the floor.”

“I’d go to the ends of the earth for you. Or time. This time just happens to be on my remarkably uncomfortable area rug.” She can’t help the laugh that slips out this time and she runs her hands through his hair. Hangover be damned, she loves this man so much.

“Thanks again for last night. I was a bit of a mess,” she says, even though it feels like a vast understatement to what she actually was the day before. He waves his hand to dismiss her words.

“Sometimes, we just need to throw a mini-rager and burn a bunch of illegally obtained pornographic materials. You sure we’ll never need any of that as evidence in case there’s some kind of criminal investigation?”

“James was pretty clear with Walsh about what would happen to him if he tried to pursue legal action. Not only that, but every picture on the website has been removed and the only thing that pops up when the site is unlocked now is a picture of Walsh clutching his junk with an expression of pain on his face.” 

“I wish I could’ve been there to see you make that hit,” Killian admits, pushing up off the cushion to stand. “Come, love, let’s sail away to the kitchen where I can recite dirty poetry to you and make you breakfast.”

She laughs as she takes his hand, because while he doesn’t recite dirty poetry, he does make her breakfast and convince her to play hooky with him for the day. And when he takes her to bed a short time later, he infuses her skin with the words of his love over and over again. 

It’s the first time in years he doesn’t stick to any kind of routine at all, and they’re both perfectly okay with that. 

Chapter Text

-x- April 

The day that Killian forgets the coffee mugs on his counter is the day he locks himself out of his apartment for the first time. He and Emma huddle on the front stoop together in the early morning chill waiting for his landlord to come unlock the door. He opens his jacket and pulls her closer, jumping when her cold nose touches his collarbone and she chuckles as she repeats the action until her nose is warm and he’s even warmer. They thank Marco profusely when he arrives with the spare set of keys.

They’re also both late for work that day.

The next day, when Emma comes back from getting coffee, there’s an envelope propped in front of her computer at work. When she opens it, a weight settles in the envelope and she pulls out the folded note. Killian’s neat handwriting stretches across the paper.

“My love,

understand me,

I love all of you,

from eyes to feet, to toenails,

inside

all the brightness, which you kept.

It is I, my love,

who knocks at your door.”

So next time I lock myself out, you can unlock it for me.

She peers into the envelope to see the key resting in the bottom and thinks he may be onto something with poetry if it always sounds like that.

Emma makes sure to beat Killian to the door when they walk back to his place after work so she can try out her new key, and she only smiles wider when the lock slides open. She makes a big show of swinging open the door, gesturing him inside with a sweep of her arm. 

When she gets home that night, Snow and David have once again broken into her loft, but she doesn’t much care for two reasons. Firstly, she knew they were going to do this after they texted her twenty minutes ago and asked whether or not she was spending the night at Killian’s. Secondly, it takes her five whole seconds to read the message on Snow’s shirt that proudly states that she’s “Pregnant AF” (the shirt’s words, not hers) and there’s a whole bunch of happy crying and flailing that follows. 

-x- Late August

Emma arrives home a little late one night to Killian already making dinner. The routines they do still live with all include household chores and the way they divvy them up, and she’s perfectly fine with the structure he’s brought to her previously chaotic lifestyle. He glances over his shoulder when she walks in and smiles.

“Get stuck late again?”

“Not quite,” she says as she comes to stand behind him. “That smells amazing, by the way.”

“It’ll be done in just a bit.”

“Want me to set the table?”

“I’d like to know why you’re avoiding a simple inquiry into why you were so late in such an obvious manner.”

Emma sighs heavily. “I kind of walked all the way back to the loft before I realized I didn’t live there anymore.”

“Kind of? I don’t think that’s something you can kind of do, love,” he says, still managing to stir whatever it is he’s making even when she goes to swat his arm. 

“Okay, so I did. You said it yourself, though. Old habits, right?” She hops up on the counter to watch him cook. 

“Indeed, love. So, I’ve been meaning to ask you. How do you feel our adventures have measured up to the expectations?”

“Well, you didn’t turn into a frog.”

“Aye, I’m sure there’s still time for that. We’re only in the middle of this tale. We’ll just have to see where the pages take us from here.”

“You are such a fucking romance novelist,” she says, laughing brightly when Killian removes his sauce from the stove and turns it off before he moves in to attack. And even though she’s squirming to get away from his nimble fingers as they target her ticklish spots, she sends up a quick thank you to Killian’s faulty alarm clock and his old habit of routines. 

-x- September

“You could just leave those until later,” Killian says, coming up behind Emma as she washes their dishes from dinner. He has his hand and hook on her hips and his lips on her hair, his voice full of implication. 

He’s learned not to try to talk her out of cleaning up, and instead he just enjoys distracting her in the best ways possible. 

She’s wearing a skirt - something she only does when she’s out of leggings - and the soft gray jersey fabric clings to her hips before flaring and draping down. It hides much of her legs, but her backside looks fantastic in it. On top, she has a light yellow shirt that’s tickling at his memories, the lines of a poem he once memorized during his university years making their way back to mind. 

Steady movements continue as she washes and rinses each dish, stacking them in the drying rack before starting to scrub out the sink. He’s struggling to remember the lines, yellow sweater , and with a smirk he glides his hand down to palm the back of her thigh.

“These are anything but boyish haunches,” he says out loud. Emma gasps as the shift from peaceful innocence to dirty.

“What?”

He hums, nosing some of her hair aside so he can find her neck with his lips. “From a poem. Your shirt brought it back to me. ‘The Mists of Pornography’ was the title,” he responds, moving his hand to the front of her thigh and sliding it up to rest on a spot right below her hipbones.

“Why am I not surprised that you know something with ‘pornography’ in the title?”

“Ah, but Swan, it’s about much more than that. Close your eyes. Listen,” he says, and uses his hook to brush the hair off her neck and lean closer to her ear. He sways just a little bit closer as he starts to speak. 

When you rose out of the mist / of pornography - He runs a single finger along her spine until it rests between her shoulders - with your talk of marriage / and orgies / I was a mere boy / of fifty-seven / trying to make a fast buck / in the slow lane / It was ten years too late / but I finally got / the most beautiful girl / on the religious left / to go with her lips / to the sunless place - and here he makes sure to push his hips against her to emphasize as she snorts. He continues reciting, crowding her against the counter, making sure the edge is pressing right where he wants it to.

This was my life / in Los Angeles / when you slowly / removed your yellow sweater - As he speaks, he slowly draws her shirt over her head and she lifts her arms - and I slobbered over / your boyish haunches - He runs his hand over the path that started this all and pushes the skirt off her hips to rub over the back of a now-bare thigh - and I tried to be / a husband / to your dark and motherly / intentions.

I thank you / for the ponderous songs / I brought to completion / instead of fucking you / more often - He punctuates by rolling his hips against her and she gasps as she clutches the sink for stability, and he keeps going.

Your panic cannot hurry me here / and my panic and falling / shoulders / our shameless lives / are the grains / scattered for an offering / before the staggering heights / of our love - His hand glides over her stomach and up to cup a breast through her bra. He’s sure she can feel where his cock is pressing against her ass, hard and wanting. Her hips are pinned against the sink and with each line, he thrusts against her, slowly lighting the fuse of what promises to be a spectacular orgasm if he doesn’t stop.

And the other side of your anxiety / is a hammock of sweat / and moaning - It’s getting harder to pay attention to the poem, especially when he pulls down the straps and cups of her bra, palm meeting her already hardened nipples as he alternates between them. Her body shudders with pleasure and he struggles to continue - and time comes down / like the smallest pet of God / to lick our fingers - he licks her shoulder instead - as we sleep / in the tangle / of straps and bracelets. 

With a great deal of effort, he keeps going, trying to make the lines appear in his head so he can read them off with ease and still give her the attention she deserves - and Oh the sweetness of first nights / and twenty-third nights / and nights / after death and bitterness - She reaches one arm back to wrap around his neck and firmly grasps his hair - and the impeccable order / of the objects on the table - He’s rocking her into the counter at just the right speed and he can tell how close she is with each new word - the weightless irrelevance / of all our old intentions / as we undo / as we undo / every difference.

With the last word of the poem out of his mouth, she tugs hard at his hair and she climaxes, coming undone and leaning back against his chest and tries to catch her breath. 

“Oh god, Killian ,” she moans. He’s still rocking them against the counter as she rides out her orgasm. “By far, this is the most interesting way you’ve ever made me orgasm.

“Have I made you a fan of poetry yet, Swan?” He moves his hand back down to her hips, his fingers sliding just under the waist of her panties. She feels loose and light as she turns in his arms and pulls him against her.

“A couple more poems like that and I can definitely be convinced,” she says. “But for now I think I’m more interested in spending time with this one. What was that about lips and sunless places?”

His mind reels because she drops to her knees between him and the cabinets. He grips the counter for stability when she drags her teeth over the zipper of his slacks.

“Think you can recite another one?” She unfastens his trousers, sliding the material down and taking his boxer briefs with it. She wraps one hand around the base of his cock, lightly gripping his hip with the other.

“Hmm?” He’s concentrating really hard on not rocking his hips forward into her skilled hands, incredibly aware of the counter just behind her head. The absolute last thing he wants to do is accidentally give his girlfriend a concussion.

“Another poem, Killian. You have another one up in that head of yours?” She leans in and licks the tip of his erection, grinning up at him.

His mind scrambles for any other poems he memorized.

“You’re making it incredibly difficult to concentrate, love, but I did always love a challenge” he admits, another moan pulling from him as she wraps her lips around the head and sucks lightly. She pulls back again and looks up at him, her smile shining in her eyes.

“You once promised to read me dirty poetry. You’ve given me one. Surely you have another up there,” she says before leaning forward to kiss a spot below his hip bone. 

“There once was a man from Nantucket,” he starts, but she cuts him off with her laughter.

“No, no. Make it a good one.”

The poem that finally makes its way to his mind is not dirty, but he knows she’ll appreciate it. He clears his throat, closing his eyes and trying to concentrate on the words in his head instead of the love at his feet.

All night I have slept with you / next to the sea, on the island. He begins, and she runs her hands along his thighs. Wild and sweet you were between pleasure and sleep, / between fire and water. She grips his cock again and begins stroking it gently, placing kisses along his hip again as he continues.

Perhaps very late / our dreams joined / at the top or at the bottom, / up above like

“Fuck, Emma , ” he moans, her mouth going from the innocence of kisses to wrapping her lips around him once more and swirling her tongue around the tip.

“Keep going,” she pants out when she breaks away, dipping her head right back in when he starts reciting once more.

Perhaps your dream / drifted from mine / and through the dark sea / was seeking me / as before, / when you did not yet exist, / when without sighting you / I sailed by your side, / and your eyes sought / what now—/ bread, wine, love, and anger—/ I heap upon you / because you are the cup / that was waiting for the gifts of my life.

The hand that isn’t gripping the base of his cock trails up his thigh once more, pausing on his hip for a moment before brushing under the shirt that he’s still wearing and she runs her nails down his chest.

I have slept with you / all night long while / the dark earth spins / with the living and the dead, / and on waking suddenly / in the midst of the shadow / my arm encircled your waist. / Neither night nor sleep / could separate us.

She begins bobbing her head while her hand strokes the rest of his length, and it’s a struggle to remember the last stanza for a moment. He drops his head, opens his eyes again to watch her move and it’s too much. His movements against her during the first poem had already aroused him, and her attentions on him now are pushing him closer to the edge.

Emma moans around his length and his knuckles go white where he’s still gripping the counter. He can feel his release coming and she feels it too, speeds up and doesn’t prolong the torture. When it hits him, he has to brace his feet a little more so he doesn’t collapse. He’s breathing hard when she gracefully stands back up into the cage of his arms. She’s grinning, the cat that got the cream, as she winds her arms around his neck.

“Is that the end?” she asks, fingers threading through his hair. He shakes his head and swallows, wraps his arms around her and pulls her close.

I have slept with you / and on waking, your mouth, / come from your dream, / gave me the taste of earth, / of sea water, of seaweed, / of the depths of your life, / and I received your kiss / moistened by dawn / as if it came to me / from the sea that surrounds us.

He kisses her after saying the last verse, tasting his release still lingering on her tongue, and she hums into the kiss.

“Not bad,” she says when she breaks the kiss. “You may have just swayed my opinion. I’m now pro-poetry.” She’s smiling when she meets his eyes, and he chuckles. He places one more kiss on her forehead before bending to hastily pull his underwear back up, stepping out of his discarded trousers and leaving them on the floor.

“I’ll try a lofty and pretentious one next time,” he promises, remembering their previous discussions about poetry now that she’s brought them up.

“Only if you’re fucking me into the mattress when you do it,” she says off-handedly. He huffs out a laugh and rests his forehead against hers.

“You’ll be the death of me, love.” He hugs her tight to him as he says it and he can feel the laugh vibrate through her.

“But you love me anyways,” she responds, dancing her fingers across his shoulders.

“Aye, until the end of time.” He kisses her again, and she whispers her love for him across his lips.

And when they wind up in bed a short time later, he recites whatever he can think of—limericks, haiku, even a poem by Shel Silverstein—as he fulfills her request. 

When the Save-the-Dates go out a few months later, there is, indeed, an asterisk at the bottom that says “David was right.”