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The Craving in Between

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The bar was its usual self, brimming with wall to wall co-eds blowing off steam at the end of a long week that had them hurtling towards winter finals. Emma Swan sat perched on a barstool, on display in a red dress that highlighted all of her assets. A few of her male classmates had attempted to garner her attention, but she was too preoccupied to pay them much heed.

It didn’t stop them from continuing their efforts though.

“He isn’t here,” Emma’s ex, Neal, told her after she spent more time looking around the bar in search of a certain pair of vivid blue eyes, auburn scruffed jawline, and artfully mussed dark hair than paying any attention to whatever he was saying to her.

“Who?” Emma asked with an air of innocence, sipping her drink then snapping her attention to the door as it opened, revealing… not him.

“Jones,” Neal grit out. “That’s who you’re all dressed up for, right? You, and every other pathetically simple-minded girl at this university.”

“Excuse you?” Emma’s eyes swung back to his, her hand clenching around her glass while she decided whether or not to hurl its contents into his face.

His expression gave her pause. It wasn’t exactly remorse, more like he was steeling his resolve to say something.

“Look, Emma. It isn’t your fault,” he said, leaning in so he wouldn’t be overheard by those around him. “Jones has this… ability. He can make people feel things, do things, they wouldn’t otherwise do.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“He’s not… he’s not what you think he is.”

“A teaching assistant?”

“No,” Neal whispered harshly, flicking his eyes around them quickly before coming even closer to whisper into her ear. “Human. Jones isn’t human.”

Emma couldn’t help the snorted laugh escaping her.

“I’m serious!” Neal hissed, grabbing her wrist in a tight grip. “My father told me all about him. Emma, the man is dangerous. I’ve seen you flirting with him, and I’m telling you to be careful. Don’t go drawing his attention.”

Emma yanked her arm away from him, every bit of humor gone from her mood. “We’ve been over and done with for over a year, Neal. You don’t get to tell me who I can or can’t flirt with.” She stood and grabbed her jacket off the back of her chair, forcing her arms into the sleeves with irritated force. “And I’m not the only one who’s been flirting,” she stated smugly. “I’ve already got the man’s attention, and that’s made you jealous. You’re the pathetic one, Neal. Not me.”

Enraged, Emma exited the bar, pulling her jacket tightly around her to ward off the brisk night air. Knowing Neal would be in hot pursuit, she darted around the corner that led back to the off-campus home she shared with three other housemates, planning to take a shortcut down the alleyways.

Her heels clipped along the pavement, snapping a terse rhythm as Emma’s mood continued to sour. Stupid Neal and his stupid jealousy. She hadn’t been the one to end their relationship at the end of sophomore year. Finding him in bed with another girl had done that quite effectively. He was lucky she was willing to let him back into her good graces at all, so they could at least be civil with one another as they finished out their courses while pursuing the same degree.

She wasn’t feeling too gracious towards him right now, though.

Emma shivered at the biting wind whipping through the street as she crossed from one alley to the next, the tight, thin dress beneath her jacket doing little to help keep her warm. She’d chosen it earlier that night hoping to impress a certain teaching assistant from one of the classes she and Neal shared. Killian Jones. A doctoral candidate several years her senior, and super hot to boot, Emma couldn’t deny she’d initially started flirting with him just to get under Neal’s skin, but as the semester went on and her overtures were met with equally witty and flirtatious banter, Emma had to admit there was something about Killian Jones that drew her to him.

Emma rolled her eyes, and not some mystical, mumbo jumbo, supernatural bullshit. Another scoff left her lungs, hanging before her in a mist of cold sarcasm. Not human. She shook her head. Well, what the hell is he then, Neal? She was almost curious to know what her ex thought Jones was. Almost.

Maybe the night wasn’t a total loss. Emma knew Killian lived close to campus, something her stalker-esque housemate, Ruby, had discovered earlier in the year. If he wasn’t at the bar she’d been staking out in the hopes of running into him, then he might be working late with one of the professors he assisted. She could always head that way on the off chance of running into him on the quad.

Wow, Emma. Desperate much?

Another huff puffed past her lips. Yeah, she wasn’t going to wander around campus in the freezing cold just to catch a glimpse of him. She was not one of the pathetic, simple-minded girls Neal accused her of being. In fact, she was going to head home and not think about Killian Jones for the rest of the evening.

Too bad the evening had other plans.

Emma turned down the last alleyway leading to her house when she stopped short. Halfway down the narrow corridor was a couple locked in an intimate embrace, the man’s mouth kissing the woman’s neck as she let out sounds that sent a ripple of awkwardness over Emma’s skin. She was about to turn around and head back out of the alley, hopefully undetected, when the man lifted his head and Emma’s heart dropped into her stomach.

His pale face glowed in the soft light attempting to dispel the darkness of the alley from the street beyond. An expression of unbridled satisfaction beset his features, sending Emma’s pulse racing. His eyes snapped open, the vivid blue of his irises only a thin sliver outlining his blown wide pupils that were now trained on her. Her breath stuttered when his tongue swept over his lips and flicked at the corner of his mouth. The corner where something dark and viscous seemed to cling.

Dark and viscous like the line of fluid slowly trailing down the neck of the woman still wrapped in his arms. Killian’s arms.

Breaking off whatever invisible hold his eyes had on her, Killian turned his attention to the woman, a co-ed, Emma could now determine. Murmuring something Emma was too far away to hear, he pulled out a square of folded fabric and gently wiped it against her neck. The girl’s head lolled in some sort of agreed compliance and Killian stepped aside, letting her pass, her steps unsteady as she made her way to the far end of the alley. Bringing up the fabric, Killian dabbed at the corner of his mouth and it was then that Emma realized what the viscous matter was.

Blood.

He hadn’t been kissing the girl’s neck. He’d been…

Emma stumbled backward, and Killian took a determined but unhurried step forward. Condensation hung in the air from the near hyperventilated rate of her breaths. Her legs felt like lead as she tried to get them to move faster, not daring to turn around and put her back to the still approaching… whatever he was.

He was nearly on her by the time she reached the street, but her name ricocheting off the brick buildings stopped them both in their tracks. Tearing her gaze from him, Emma saw her housemate, Elsa, rushing towards her.

“Emma! Thank goodness! Neal texted and said you two had a fight. He was worried when you left the bar alone.”

Emma looked back into the alley, but found it impossibly empty. Elsa followed her gaze when she reached her side.

“What is it? Did you see something? Emma, what’s wrong? You look as though you’ve seen a ghost.”

Not a ghost, Emma thought, finally knowing the truth Neal had tried to impart to her in the bar. He’d been right. Killian Jones wasn’t human. He wasn’t a ghost either.

Killian Jones… was a vampire.

~/~

Emma couldn’t concentrate on the lecture. She hadn’t taken so much as a single note all through class. How could she when a pair of piercing blue eyes were watching her from the corner of the room?

Not that she wasn’t used to those eyes being on her during class. They’d spent all semester practically eye fucking each other with furtive glances and challenging stares. Today, though, there was no swagger, no smolder, no dancing brows or crinkled corners. Just an unyielding gaze that was partially blanketed by the shadows cast by the setting sun peering in through the high lecture hall windows.

When their professor finally dismissed them with the instruction to place their papers on the desk for Killian to collect, Emma sprang from her seat. She practically tossed the assignment onto the desk and spun around before Killian’s voice called out from behind her.

“Miss Swan. A moment, if you please.”

Emma could hear the frantic rush of blood in her ears as her fellow classmates filed out, leaving her alone with him. Her eyes darted around the room, gauging the distance from the various exits while Killian busied himself with packing away the class materials.

“You don’t need to be afraid,” he stated from behind the desk once the lecture hall had cleared. “I have no intentions of harming you.”

“What are your intentions then?” Emma asked in a bravado that did not extend past the facade she was desperately trying to sell him, hoping he couldn’t sense the true level of her fear.

“I only wish to talk, Swan,” he assured her, stepping out from behind the desk to casually lean against its front with arms and ankles crossed before him. “I imagine you have questions after what you saw the other night.”

“And you’re just going to answer them?” Emma folded her arms over her chest, casting a dubious expression his way.

“I will,” he affirmed with a slight nod of his head. “And once you’ve had your questions answered you can decide whether you wish to retain the knowledge you’ve gleaned… and the memory of the incident that prompted it all.”

A thin sliver of dread worked its way up her spine. “What do you mean by that?”

“I can make you forget,” he replied. “What I am. What you saw.”

“Is that what you did to… to her?” Emma had no doubt he knew she was referring to the girl in the alleyway.

“Aye.”

The nonchalance his tone and body language were exuding over the matter sparked a flare of indignation inside Emma on the poor woman’s behalf. Her outrage fueled a moment of bravery to call the man’s… er, vampire’s, character into question.

“Did she know?” Emma spat out in an accusatory tone. “Did she know what you planned to do to her in that alley?”

“No,” Jones replied with a dismissive shrug of his shoulders. “But she had given her consent for my use of her body. I did not force or enthrall her.”

Emma took an enraged step forward, her hands falling to her sides and balling into fists. “Is that the justification you use to help you sleep at night?”

The corner of Killian’s mouth quirked up. “I don’t really do that any longer.” The perplexed pull of her brow had him leaning forward to clarify with a hint of amusement. “Sleep at night, that is.”

Emma gave him a disdained roll of her eyes and muttered her disgust of him under her breath. The shift in his demeanor was swift and unnerving, even though he remained reclined against the desk. The hardened edge in his words had Emma’s pulse racing out of fear once more as she reminded herself that she was not dealing with an ordinary man. An ordinary human.

“Do you gain permission from livestock before you consume them?” Killian asked pointedly. A dark and sinister shadow crept behind his eyes, clouding the usual brilliance of their blue hue into something much stormier, something dangerous. “Do you worry about the animal as you take its milk or eggs for your own sustenance?”

“We aren’t animals,” Emma protested weakly. The thin exhale of breath had barely been capable of leaving her lungs, the air between her and the riled vampire seeming to have evaporated.

“Of course you are.” His laugh was both harsh and humorless, as was his expression. “We all are. Some of us are simply more… domesticated than others.”

His hips propelled his body forward, away from the desk and towards her. She stumbled backward at the sudden movement, but was halted from obeying the fleeing command her brain was screaming at her by the gaze she now felt herself caught in.

“Like you humans,” he sneered, circling her with a predatory grace. “Concerned with the humane treatment of your food source while weighing the morality of taking a life in order to sustain your own.” Emma shuddered when he stopped behind her, too paralyzed by fear to turn and face him as he continued to whisper in her ear. “And yet, do you fault the wolf for its necessary but brutal kills in the wild? Or the jackal for targeting the weakest and most vulnerable of the herd?”

When he came back into view, Emma realized he had a section of her hair twirled around his fingers before he lifted it up to breathe in its scent. The way his eyelids fluttered shut as he took in her aroma made Emma flush, and her knees went weak.

Killian’s eyes snapped open. The storm within those irises now held a different sort of danger than the one caused by his anger; the swells brewing from something no less primal. Emma’s lips parted from the gasp rushing through, drawing the vampire’s eyes to them. His tongue swiped along his own and he took a step forward, closing the already minimal gap between them.

“Don’t let my mask of domesticity fool you, love.” The silken quality of his voice, low and sultry, rippled over Emma’s skin, sending a shiver in its wake. “We vampires are wild, feral creatures. Existing at the mercy of our instincts and the laws of nature. It is only because, by vampire standards, it has not been so long since I was human that I concern myself with gaining any measure of consent at all. I do my damnedest to keep my lusts in check, but I am an untamed creature by nature. Never forget that, Swan.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Emma questioned breathlessly. “Why tell me any of this? Why not just make me forget?”

Uncertainty pinched between his brows as he considered her words. “Honestly? I’m not sure.” He ran a cold finger down the side of her cheek, but despite the shock of his icy touch Emma didn’t feel the need or the desire to flinch away. “You’ve a choice to make now though, love.”

“What choice?”

“Choose to forget, or…” His eyes swept over her, causing a rush of heat to sweep up from her chest as he paused in dramatic fashion. “Allow me to introduce you to a world you thought existed only in fantasy.”

He circled her again, close enough to touch. Close enough for her body to long for his touch before her better sense slapped her back into reality, but not before another shiver coursed down her spine.

“That’s what you want, isn’t it?” The gravelled cadence of his deepened tone washed over her, leaving her a tad light-headed.

“No,” she exhaled, wetting her lips when he faced her once more with a raised brow.

“Your quickened pulse says otherwise,” he smirked. “I’m going to let you in on a little secret,” he said leaning in. “We vampires are pretty good at knowing when someone is lying. We’re quite… perceptive that way. So, be honest.” He reached up and brushed a section of her hair off her shoulder then ran his fingers down her arm, leaving a wake of raised flesh as they grazed past. “Part of you wishes it had been you in my arms the other night. Am I right?”

Somehow Emma managed to swallow past the arid desert that had settled in her throat. “No.”

Killian cocked his head and tsked at her.

“Not the way you’re implying,” she amended, jutting her chin forward in challenge. Feeling a bit braver since it seemed he really didn’t intend to hurt her, or do anything to her without her consent.

“Are you quite sure about that, darling?”

The vapor of his breath hit her lips, alerting her to just how close he’d gotten without her even realizing. She took a step back and crossed her arms over her chest.

“I don’t want you to make me forget, but I’m not agreeing to what you’re asking of me either.”

“And what is it you think I’m asking of you?”

“My consent. Which I have no intention of giving.”

“Then perhaps I’ll just take what I want,” he said without any real note of threat behind his words or the casual shrug of his shoulders. “Although,” He swaggered forward and Emma stood her ground, letting him approach until they were practically nose to nose. “Changing your mind might be where the real fun begins.”

“You really think you can get me to change my mind about this?” Emma questioned. The spirited nature of their usual banter crept back into their words and body language as the atmosphere around them sizzled.

“Oh, aye,” he declared. “And when I do win your consent, it’ll be without any trickery or use of my thrall. It’ll be because you want me.”

“We’ll see about that,” Emma quipped with a playful smile of challenge before spinning around and exiting the room without a backward glance.

~/~

Emma considered her approach the next morning. From where he sat in the foyer of the building, right up against the windows that allowed the morning sunlight to filter in, it was clear to her that at least one mainstream belief about vampires was blatantly false.

He certainly didn’t sparkle.

She already knew that, of course. The class he assisted in, while now ending after the sun had set, given the time of year, was held in the late afternoon. Plus, she’d seen him crossing the quad throughout the day all semester long, going back and forth to his own classes as well as others he served in. Not to mention his penchant for working in that particular corner of the building during the mornings he had free from classroom obligations, which was how she knew he’d be there for her to watch from the balcony above while she gathered her courage.

Making her way down the steps, she noted an almost imperceptible reaction from him. Could he sense her coming? Did he have super hearing? Could he read her thoughts? Knew the unique rhythm of her heartbeat, or something?

These, and more, were questions that had plagued her mind since she’d left the lecture hall the day before. More than ever, the man intrigued her. Especially now that she knew he was no ordinary man.

“So, what about crucifixes?” she blurted out as she plopped down into the seat across from his.

“I beg your pardon?” He hadn’t even flinched when she’d seemingly snuck up on him, so he clearly possessed some sort of heightened or preternatural sense that wouldn’t make it easy for someone or something to get the drop on him.

“You said you’d answer whatever questions I had,” she reminded him. “Unless that was a one time offer.”

Closing the lid of his laptop, he removed it from his lap and stowed it away in the bag resting against the leg of his chair. “If you still have questions, Swan, I am only too happy to answer them.”

With his work secured, he turned his sole focus back on her and she took back her initial assessment. He did sparkle. Or his eyes did, at least.

“What about crucifixes?” he prompted.

“Do they repel… your kind?”

A smirk pulled at his lips and a brow arched up his forehead in a cheeky manner. “Why? Are you planning to devote your life to God in order to find a measure of protection against my unholy existence?”

The quipped response and amused expression couldn’t completely hide the hard edge of self depreciation underpinning his words. Her silence must have spoken volumes to the fact it hadn’t gone unnoticed by her, forcing his features to harden slightly as he repositioned himself in his seat.

“No,” he answered honestly. “Crucifixes have no effect. Neither does holy water or garlic. I can also cross bodies of water and move about in the sunlight... conditionally.”

“What conditions?”

He cocked his head sideways and cocked a brow her way. “A gentleman cannot give away all of his secrets. Where’s the fun without a little mystery?”

Emma huffed and stood. “If you aren’t going to take my questions seriously, then I guess we have nothing further to discuss.”

His hand shot out startlingly fast and lightly gripped her wrist, halting her retreat. “Forgive me, love,” he offered with an expression of sincerity. His thumb caressed a light pattern over her skin, tracing the lines and pathways of her veins, his tongue peeking out to run over his lips when her pulse increased.

Emma resumed her seat, noting the tight set of his jaw, and decided to leave the matter of these conditions for another time.

“Do you really not sleep?” she asked, turning the course of the conversation to something he’d already alluded to.

“I have no need to,” he responded with an earnest tone to his words, assuring her that he was taking her questions seriously. “I can rest in a sort of meditative state whenever I wish to quiet my mind, or simply… be. But it isn’t really sleeping.”

“No need for a bed then?” Emma remarked flippantly, wondering what the home of a vampire looked like and relieved to know he didn’t sleep in a coffin.

“A bed has uses beyond sleep, Swan. Please tell me you are aware of that.” The salacious look she’d grown accustomed to over the past few months settled on his chiseled features as he leaned in with a purr like whisper. “And if not, please allow me to be the one to enlighten you.”

Emma ignored the heated rush making its way up her neck while also settling low in her belly, and pressed on with her questions. “How long have you been a, um…”

“Since the 1870’s,” he replied, knowingly. “I was born in the 1840’s in London.”

One hundred and fifty years. Emma’s mind reeled over that information for a moment before she blurted out. “How did it happen?”

The muscle at his jaw clenched and flickered as his hand balled into a fist. “If it’s all the same, love, I’d rather not share those details with you just now.” He looked about at the bustling lobby then turned his gaze back to her. “Not here, anyway.”

Emma nodded that she understood. While they were being discreet with their conversation, it was clear that the telling of that particular backstory was more than he was willing to risk in such a public location.

“Okay. Will you tell me more about what happened with that girl the other night, then?”

Twirling the ring secured on his pointer finger with his thumb, he contemplated her request before leaning forward and beckoning her to do the same so they could ensure they wouldn’t be overheard.

“I needed to feed, and find the alleys by the bars a good place to… recruit a donor.”

“A donor? Really?”

“What would you have me call them? I don’t require any more than they’d give at one of the university’s blood drives. Would calling them a meal make it any easier for you to stomach?”

“Why not just feed on animals or break into a blood bank?”

Killian clucked his tongue at her and rolled his eyes. “Pop culture would have you believe that was an option for us, but I’m afraid it isn’t. We vampires can only truly be sustained on human blood. Fresh human blood. Animal blood does not have all the necessary components to satiate our thirst, and banked blood is laced with anticoagulants that make it hard for us to process.”

“How often do you have to--”

“Once every couple of weeks,” he supplied. Again, answering her before she had to voice the question. “I try and feed every ten days or so. Any longer and the thirst can become too difficult to control.”

“And if it does?” Emma swallowed hard, knowing she probably already had an inkling of the answer.

Killian pursed his lips together then ran his tongue over his teeth while reaching up to run his hand over the scruff at his jawline. “Then it would take more than my thrall to get rid of the evidence.” A shiver of dread coursed down Emma’s spine, and Killian’s forget-me-not gaze held hers more intensely as he imparted, “There are many of us that give little to no thought of their victims. While it only takes a little to slake the need, there are vampires, like humans, who glory in excess, even to the point of killing.”

“Have you ever…”

His eyes flicked down, a sense of remorse rolling over him which was all the answer Emma needed. The fact that he’d taken a life should have been enough for her to get up and walk away right then and there, but the amount of regret she could feel coming from the otherwise brash and confident man she’d come to know over the semester had her reaching out to squeeze his hand, causing him to snap his head back up to stare at her with startled eyes. Turning his hand within her grip, his thumb brushed against the back of her knuckles in silent gratitude before letting go and reclining back in his seat, putting a more appropriate distance between them in case anyone crossing the foyer should notice the tender moment they’d just shared. The vulnerability he’d displayed was gone in an instant, replaced by the roguish, devil-may-care demeanor he usually employed.

“Have I satisfied your curiosity, Swan? Or are there other areas of interest you’d like to explore with me?”

Choosing to follow his lead and not press him any further on the matters he seemed most sensitive about while hoping to lead them back to familiar, flirty waters, Emma wet her lips. The action had the desired effect, drawing his eyes to her mouth, his eyes narrowing with a darkening hue when she pulled her lip between her teeth and flicked her lashes at him.

“Just one more question,” she murmured innocently, crossing her legs which made her skirt creep just a tiny bit higher up her thigh.

“And what’s that, love?” he asked. His voice dropped into a deeper register, sending a tingle through her skin.

“Have you ever used your thrall on me?”

His brow arched upward. “Would you like me to?”

It wasn’t an answer, which only heightened Emma’s suspicion, making her side-step his aloof response. “How would I even know if you had?” she said with a flippant shrug. “You could have been using it on me this whole semester. Luring me to you like a predator attracting its prey.”

A smirk twitched at the corner of his lip and he leaned in once more, crooking his finger at her so he could whisper into her ear. “I have most definitely been attempting to lure you in, Swan,” he confessed, the heady vapor of his breath against the shell of her ear sending a warm current of desire straight through her. “But as I said, when you fall victim to me it won’t be because of my thrall.”

“Awfully sure of yourself, aren’t you?” Emma shot back, a bit more breathless than she would have liked.

“Aye,” he replied with a wink after pulling back. “You never know, love. You might enjoy being in my clutches.”

The way he shifted in his seat, his hand coming up to frame the side of his face while his tongue did something obscene with his lips and teeth had Emma ready to give in. Fortunately, a fellow co-ed called out to her, breaking the trance he seemed to have woven around her.

“Emma! Are we still on for Saturday?”

Wrenching her focus off Killian, Emma scanned the lobby for the person whose voice had rescued her from herself. At least… she was pretty sure it was her own libido and not his influence that had her wanting to drag him to a dark stairwell and have her wicked way with him. All the while imagining the wicked things he could do to her as well.

Finding her blonde, pixie-like friend, Emma answered back, “Yeah! Eight o’clock! See you then?”

“You know it!” her friend replied before heading off down one of the many corridors leading to lecture halls.

“What’s Saturday night?”

Was that a hint of disgruntlement in his tone? Was he unhappy she already had plans for the weekend? Suppressing a bit of smugness, Emma flipped her hair over her shoulder and turned back to face Killian. His attention latched on to the side of her neck, bared enticingly to him and forcing his Adam’s apple to bob in frustration.

Pretending she didn’t notice the undercurrent swelling between them, Emma replied, “It’s Ruby’s birthday. She wants everyone to dance the night away at Neverland, that new club off campus, before we have to hunker down and get ready for finals week.”

“I see.” He was twirling his ring around his finger again, agitation ticking along his jawline. “And I suppose an invitation to dine with me that evening wouldn’t be able to compete with celebrating your friend’s birthday.”

Emma couldn’t help the cheeky quip that rolled off her tongue. “Depends? Would we both be dining, or just you?”

An amused huff escaped him, relaxing the tension in his shoulders as he gave her a nod of his head as if to say, touche. With a light shrug of his shoulders, he said, “Perhaps a rain check then?”

“Or…” Emma drawled out, a dangerous idea hatching in her mind. “You could come and be a part of the celebration,” she offered. “Show me the fun in changing my mind you alluded to yesterday.”

Her challenge hung between them for a long moment, her pulse increasing with each passing second of having just agreed to playing the game he’d presented the day before. The game to win her consent and take that which he craved from her.

Slowly, he stood from his seat, collecting his laptop bag and slinging it over his shoulder. She followed suit, her breath hitching when he took her hand in his and raised it to his lips. “I love a challenge,” he murmured into her skin after pressing a surprisingly soft kiss into her flesh, sending a ripple up her arm.

Without any indication as to whether he’d join her at Neverland that weekend, he bid her good day and headed off towards the lecture halls. Emma’s legs could no longer support her, so she sank back down into the chair she’d occupied for the better part of an hour, attempting to steady her breathing and regain control over the mess of nerves he always seemed to leave her in.

She almost managed to get a hold of herself when the chair opposite her became occupied once more. A groan worked it’s way up her throat as she slumped back into her seat, not wanting to have to deal with him right now.

“I’m glad I caught you,” Neal said in a hushed tone, digging something out of his pocket. “I have something for you.”

“Neal,” Emma began to protest with an exasperated whine when he held out a necklace towards her. Did he think he could win her back with gifts of jewelry?

“This isn’t what you think,” he countered. “I know you don’t believe me, what I said about Jones not being human, but Emma you have no idea what you’re messing with.”

“I do, actually,” she informed him, crossing her arms over her chest and casting a raised brow his way.

“No, Emma. You don’t,” Neal snapped with vehemence, scooting his chair forward so he could lean in close, despite her reclined posture attempting to keep distance between them. “I know it sounds crazy, but Killian Jones is a va--”

“Vampire,” she cut him off. “Yeah. I know.”

Neal jerked back, a look of shock radiating off him. “How? How did you--”

“He, uh… he told me,” she fibbed with a casual shrug, not wanting to relay the scene she’d walked in on that night she’d left Neal behind at the bar when he’d tried to warn her about Jones.

“Has he… Tell me he hasn’t… you know.”

“What? Had a taste?” she teased, a saucy smirk on her lips as his complexion turned a mottled purple color.

“That’s not funny.”

“It’s also none of your business what I have or have not done with him.”

“It is if it wasn’t truly your own choice,” he shot back. “He can make you do things, remember? Make you think it’s what you want.”

“He hasn’t done that,” Emma stated, hoping the earnest tone she applied to her words would convince herself as much as Neal.

“That you know of,” he said, dismissively. “Look, Emma. I’m trying to look out for you. That’s why I brought you this.” He held up the necklace, a medallion engraved with a swan on the front and a latch on the side that revealed a disc intended to dispense aromatic oils within. “It’s vervain,” he informed her when her nose wrinkled at the herbal assault wafting its way to her nose from the swing of the pendant in his hand. “It counteracts their ability to persuade you. They can’t come into contact with it without risk of injury or poisoning.” He grabbed her hand and forced the necklace into her palm, closing her fingers over it. “Wear it. Please.”

“How do you know all this?”

The fervor with which he spoke, the sheer disgust that laced each mention of them unnerved her. Neal wasn’t one to ever take anything too seriously, including her. It was something that had bothered her throughout their relationship, and if his infidelity hadn’t put the final nail in the coffin, his disparaging attitude would have surely done so soon after. Even now, his insistence that she protect herself from Jones seemed to be less about his care for her and more about keeping Killian from acquiring her. Where was his concern for the other women on campus?

“It’s a family thing,” Neal muttered in a clipped tone, inviting no further inquiry as he stood and adjusted the strap of his messenger bag. “Just, promise me you’ll wear that and stay the hell away from Jones.”

Emma wasn’t about to promise him anything. The fact he felt compelled to rescue her like some damsel in distress made her bristle, but she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t curious as to how the necklace might prove or disprove her trepidations about Killian’s influence over her. “I’ll wear it,” she told him. “But it’s gonna be kind of hard to avoid him until the semester is over next week.”

Neal sighed and squinted out the window. “Yeah. At least we won’t have to deal with him much longer.”

Something is his tone and the way he no longer met her gaze had a small sliver of dread imbedding itself in her stomach. Before she could ask him what he meant, he told her he had to get to class and hurried out the door, leaving her alone in the now abandoned lobby. Opening her palm, she looked down at the swan pendant necklace and chewed her lip. If what Neal had told her was true, then it would ensure an even playing field between her and Killian while he pursued her. Securing the chain around her neck, she decided to give it a try, hoping it would only serve to hinder his thrall without causing him any of the torment Neal said the herb could inflict.

After all, should he choose to show up at Neverland Saturday night, she had another sort of torment planned for him.

~/~

The hands at her waist gripped her tighter when the beat of the music changed, and the rhythm of her hips with it. Emma ran her hands up the firm chest in front her, all the while aware of the forget-me-not gaze raking over her and her dance partner, Walsh, with various degrees of heat. She knew she was being cruel, to both Jones and the young man whose face had lit up as if it were Christmas when she’d agreed to join him on the dance floor, concentrating her attention on him and laying her interest on thick when Killian had arrived.

While Emma and her friends bumped and grinded, paired off with prospects they might engage in more enjoyable activities with later, Killian sat at the corner of the bar, sipping his drink and staring at her intently over the rim of his glass gripped tightly in his hand. It didn’t take long for Emma to start implementing her plan, to drive Killian wild with jealousy as she pressed herself against another. Her body writhed to the sultry melodies thumping through the speakers, beads of sweat collecting under her hairline before slinking a path down the back of her neck in an attempt to cool her heated flesh, flushed from exertion as much as the predatory sights she could feel penetrating through the throng of clubbers.

Could he hear her accelerated heart beat? The breathlessness overtaking her, making her dizzy from the exhilaration of anticipation? The anticipation of his reaction once her efforts were exhausted and she could mete out the last bit of torment with her continued refusal to grant him the thing he wanted from her, despite the pooling want between her thighs and the simmering need boiling in her blood. Did his heightened senses know about that, too, she wondered. She knew her eyes probably gave her away, a different type of hunger reflected in them than the one smouldering in his own, but how much did the rest of her body reveal to him? It had already revealed a great deal to her.

Even with the swan necklace laced with vervain cradled in her cleavage, Emma wanted him. She wanted Killian Jones, without any trickery or use of his thrall. In that moment, her feelings were her own, and the knowledge of that fact only seemed to make her want him more.

But first… there was that promised bit of fun to be had.

Walsh’s hands became more assertive, pulling her in until she was practically flush with him then securing them over her ass, pinning her in place. She could feel the intentions he had for them growing hard within his pants, and knew it was time to put a stop to things before he got too carried away. Planting her hands against his chest, she pushed away with a tight smile at her lips. Ladies’ room, she mouthed at him, turning out of his arms and making a beeline for the back hallway that led to the facilities. When she noted the empty seat at the end of the bar her heart sank, but was soon jolted back into place with a frantic flutter when a hand shot out from the darkness.

“This is a dangerous game you’re playing, love,” Killian growled into her ear after pressing her up against the wall, molding his body to hers. The tip of his nose ghosted down the veins of her neck. Her skin tingled under the panted breaths escaping his lips, spiking her heart rate and drawing a tormented sound from deep within his chest.

“What’s life without a little danger?” she said on a breathless moan, canting her hips into his and tilting her head back when he reached the juncture between her neck and shoulder. Her eyes blinked open when she suddenly felt him pull back, his nostrils flared wide and a hiss rushing from his lungs.

“Not so dangerous when you have the proper weapons in place,” he said with his eyes narrowing in on the pendant hanging mere inches from where he’d been drinking in her scent. “New necklace?”

“Yes,” she answered. Her voice was still unsteady, her entire body vibrating like a live wire seeking out a conduit, willing him to return and complete the current his presence sparked.

Taking a cautious step forward, he braced a hand against the wall behind her. “And who gifted it to you, may I ask?”

Emma swallowed hard, her heart racing for an entirely different reason than before. What would he do when he learned she wasn’t the only one who knew his secret?

“I ordered it online,” she blurted out, knowing there was no way he’d believe the lie.

His unconvinced hum confirmed that assertion.

“I won’t insist you tell me, Swan,” he assured her. Though, Emma could see from the stiff set of his shoulders and dark swirl in his eyes that he would love to do just that. “I’m merely grieved that someone managed to gift you vervain before I could.” Reaching into the interior pocket of his jacket, he took out a parcel wrapped in plastic and presented it to her. Within was a sachet of herbs giving off the same earthy notes as the oil-saturated locket around her neck.

Vervain? He’d brought her vervain?

“I wanted you to know with certainty that your thoughts and actions were your own,” he told her.

Emma didn’t know what to say. She hadn’t actually expected him to fight fair. Absolutely sure he’d use whatever underhanded tactics he could to try and win her consent, she’d chosen to employ a few dirty moves of her own as a preemptive strike. Actual dirty moves with a hapless casualty she’d used rather unfairly and owed a huge apology.

“Swan?” Killian’s concerned tone and soft swipe of his thumb over her cheek brought her back to the dark alcove of the night club. Once again, he seemed able to read her, his brows taunting her as he suggested, “If you’ve finished toying with the lad in order to stoke the burning embers of my envy, perhaps you’d allow me to see you home?”

Heat rushed to the apples of Emma’s cheeks, not that she didn’t know how transparent she’d been, but Killian’s waggling brows and deep chuckle made her realize how ridiculous the plan was. Although… she couldn’t say she was disappointed with the reaction it had gotten her when he’d pulled her into the alcove, ready to devour her.

Would he have if not for the vervain? How far could one truly push a vampire before its instincts took over?

Emma shivered at the prospect. He’d told her she was playing a dangerous game, but Emma had always been one to play to win. The evening, and vervain, may have proven her desire for him was genuine, but she knew the hunger they held for one another was not at all the same. He wanted her body for a completely different purpose, and as intrigued as she was by the notion, she couldn’t help the thin quiver of fear running up her spine when she imagined putting her life in his hands that way.

Killian’s head cocked to the side, still awaiting her answer to his invitation to walk her home. With a deep breath of resolve, Emma told him she’d meet him out front, needing to say goodbye to her friends and grab her jacket from the coat check first. He bowed his head before disappearing into the darkness of the hallway until the back door opened, illuminating his silhouette as he exited, somehow without setting off the alarm.

Having wished Ruby another happy birthday and hugging each of her friends, assuring them she had someone walking her home, Emma exited the club and was slipping her arms into her jacket when unwelcomed arms snaked their way around her middle.

“There you are,” Walsh slurred sloppily into her hair. “I wondered where you’d gone. Ready to head out?”

Grabbing his wrists in order to peel his hands from her and guide them back to his sides, Emma stepped away and gave him a chagrined, apologetic look. “Yes, but, um… Listen, Walsh. I realize I might have led you on a bit, and I’m sorry about that, but I’m not interested in leaving with you, and it wouldn’t be fair to you if I--”

“Seriously?” Walsh scoffed. “You’re gonna pretend we didn’t have some major chemistry on the dance floor all night?” He took a stumbling step towards her, which had her stumbling backward into the wall. Hands braced next her head, his sickly sweet, liquor soaked breath had her stomach threatening to lurch as he hovered over her. “If you’re worried what Cassidy will think, don’t be. I’m pretty sure I could take him in a fight.”

Emma tried to hold him at bay with her hands pushing at his shoulders, but his weight was too much for her. “Walsh, stop. I told you I’m not--”

“The lady said she wasn’t interested, mate.”

A relieved exhale whooshed from her lungs when Walsh jerked back, spinning unsteadily to see who had interrupted them. Emma grabbed the hand Killian had extended towards her, assisting in extricating herself from Walsh’s attentions and drawing her into his side.

Walsh snorted, drunkenly. “Well, her body was saying something else on the dance floor, mate.”

With an unnerving calmness, Killian stepped forward and captured Walsh’s gaze with his own. The dulcet lilt of his voice stilled the atmosphere around them as he suggested, “Perhaps you ought to return to the dance floor and find a lass whose body and words match in their intent.”

Walsh nodded, his eyes devoid of any thought or awareness until Killian stepped back. Blinking rapidly, he snapped out of the stupor and gave Emma a friendly smile. “I’m gonna head back inside,” he told her. “Thanks for the dance earlier. Have a great night!”

Emma watched in stunned fascination as he headed back inside, her attention fixing itself on the vampire, whose attention had been solely focused on her, after Walsh disappeared into the noisy club.

“Did you just…”

“Shall we?” He held out his arm in invitation, completely ignoring the question he knew she didn’t really need him to answer.

Slipping her arm through the crook of his, Emma led the way towards the house she shared with her friends. The further from the club they got the more she continued to process what had happened with Walsh, and the more agitated she became. She attempted several times to voice all she was feeling, but the words stuck to her tongue.

“Out with it, Swan. I can hear you thinking.”

Stopping, she pulled her arm from his in order to fully face him. “I could have handled Walsh,” she told him. “I didn't need you to swoop in to save me. I can take care of myself, you know.”

“Aye, love. I know that,” Killian replied, looking a bit taken aback by the vehemence in her words and the rigidity that had taken over her posture.

“I know I was a little reckless, and using him that way isn’t exactly my proudest moment, but I’m not weak. I can handle myself. I know what I’m doing. I don’t need anyone to save me. I can save myself just fi--”

“Swan,” Killian interrupted, lightly grasping the tops of her arms and capturing her gaze with the intensity of his own. “What is this really about?”

The soothing swipe of his thumbs over the tops of her shoulders eased her muscles, making the weight of the pendant around her neck more prominent in her awareness. It’s weight, and the lack of faith it represented, the lack of faith in her ability to know her own mind and look after herself without some man feeling the need to rescue her, even if from herself. She didn’t need Killian or Neal to save her. The only one who saved her, was her.

Her stance grew rigid once more, compelling Killian to slip his fingers beneath her chin, prompting her to look at him so she could see the sincerity in his eyes as he spoke. “I only stepped in with Walsh to ensure the next young woman whose attentions he felt entitled to would be safely protected by my influence. I’ve never doubted your ability to look after yourself. The fact you’re here, at this university, on scholarships you earned with hard work and perseverance with no support of family is remarkable. You’re a marvel, Swan.”

Emma blanched. She’d never told Killian about her upbringing in the foster system, so how did he--

A knowing smirk lifted at the corner of his mouth, but it was not matched by the expression in his eyes. Those held a look that forced a shuddering breath from her lungs; a look she’d seen all too often reflected back at her in the mirror.

“You’re something of an open book,” Killian murmured. “And we lost souls have an uncanny way of recognizing one another.”

Taking her hand, he gently prompted them forward. All of Emma’s earlier frustrations were forgotten, replaced by a burning curiosity about the man, the vampire, beside her.

“Tell me about your life,” she requested. “Your actual life, before you became… what you are.”

A puff of breath crystallized in the air as a sigh left his lips. His head tilted upward, eyes combing the sky above them for several moments before returning their focus to the path they were taking. Emma worried her lip, sensing his hesitation made her stomach churn, but it didn’t compel her to retract her request. After another long, silent block, he finally spoke.

“I was born in London in 1846. My father was a dock worker, and my mother a seamstress. We weren’t well off, but my parents made a good enough living to support my older brother, Liam, and me. That is… until my mother fell ill and passed when I was about seven.”

The hushed timbre of his voice clenched Emma’s heart, his pain still so raw even after more than a century. She knew all too well, though, wounds made when one is young tend to linger.

“I’m sorry,” she offered with a supportive squeeze to his hand, earning her a lopsided smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.

“Thank you, love,” he replied, clearing his throat so he could resume the tale. A fresh strain prying the words from a recess he’d most likely buried them in for decades. “Her death drove my father to drink, and gambling soon followed. He racked up a number of debts he was unable to pay, and as a result the three of us - my father, brother, and I - ended up in a workhouse.”

Emma’s mouth gaped open. “Like… a literal Dickensian workhouse?”

“Aye,” he answered with a harsh clip snapping against his words. “Only my father did not have to endure it for as long as Liam and I did.”

“Because he died?”

“No,” he ground out through tightly grit teeth. “He leveraged our youth in his favor. Reduced his time to a paltry few months by signing my brother and me over to the foreman. Sold us into servitude, forcing us to slave away in that hellish nightmare until we came of age.”

Emma wasn’t sure what possessed her to throw her arms around Killian’s neck, hugging him tightly. It only took a scant second before his arms circled her, one hand splayed across her back and the other burying itself in her hair as his face nuzzled the side of her neck.

“I… I don’t know what to say,” she murmured into his shoulder. “I’d ask what kind of parent does a thing like that, but seeing as how mine just left me on the side of the road…”

“Quite a pair, aren’t we Swan?” he rasped into her skin.

The heat of his breath ghosted up the column of her throat, his lips grazing the skin over her pulse point making it flutter when her heart responded erratically. In an instant, the sorrow of the moment gave way, the heavy gloom dissipating as the air around them crackled. The feather light motion of Killian’s nose outlining the veins of her neck, the tip icy cold against Emma’s now heated flesh, sent a shiver of captivation through her. She jolted slightly when his teeth scraped across her skin, a feral sounding growl vibrating along her neck. Half expecting, and fervently wanting to feel those teeth sink themselves into her flesh, Emma whimpered when she suddenly found herself standing alone on the sidewalk.

It took a moment to locate him in the darkness. With a speed she could not comprehend, he had managed to cross the street in a blink of an eye. His chest heaved and his hands were fisted at his sides. Releasing the tight grip on one of them, he swept his fingers through his hair and let go a shuddering breath before snapping his eyes to hers. Transfixed by the maelstrom swirling within those blue depths, growing closer to her with each measured step he took, Emma stood rooted to the cement beneath her feet.

Running his tongue over his lips he offered her his arm again, “I think it's time we got you home, Swan.”

Unable to form words, she merely nodded and took his arm, thankful her house was only another block away.

“I remember when this street housed the elite members of Storybrooke society not long after its founding,” Killian said, breaking the silence between them as if nothing at all had occurred. “Yours is the blue one, yes?”

“Yes,” Emma answered, her mind reeling at what he’d just said. She knew a little of the history of the house she shared with her friends. Belle, prolific reader that she was, had read all about the beginnings of the town and how the wealthiest families had congregated to the same area, outdoing one another with the grandeur and fine details they had crafted into the stately homes time now deemed antiquated. “How long have you been in Storybrooke?”

“Only for a few years this time around,” he told her. “I settled here after leaving England at the turn of the last century. I have to uproot myself every so often as to not draw attention to the fact I do not age, but something about this place keeps drawing me back.”

They walked up the steps that led to the expansive front porch and Killian scanned the architecture while Emma fit her key in the door. “It’s a shame fire got to this one early on,” he said. “Nearly burned to the ground from what I remember.”

“Yeah,” Emma replied, swinging open the door then propping herself against the jamb. “According to Granny, only a partial amount in the back half is original, the rest they had to rebuild. Apparently they tried to match what was here before, but only the original structure is protected under the historical registry.”

“Aye, they didn’t have the original craftsman to help restore it. He, unfortunately, died not long after the home was originally completed.” Killian’s hands skimmed over the mouldings framing the door, caging her between his arms. “Marco was a skilled woodworker. Too bad his son couldn’t match his father’s expertise. Still,” His eyes flicked around once more, a little too nonchalantly, before capturing hers in an intense stare. “It’s a fine house. Perhaps, I could come inside and see how well a restoration August did on it?”

Emma cocked her head to one side and eyed him suspiciously before understanding dawned on her. “You can’t come in unless I invite you, can you?”

The tightening of his jaw was a sufficient enough answer.

“I thought, perhaps,” he murmured in that low sultry tone of his, “after our shared moment you’d be willing to concede defeat, remove that infernal pendant, and invite me in.”

“Why on earth would I do that when so far, I’m winning?” Emma tugged on her bottom lip, coyly assessing him with it captured between her teeth and reveling in the upper hand she now had.

“Come on, Swan. You know I’ll get invited in eventually.” He pressed closer, only the thin wall of protective magic at her threshold separating them. “And once I’m in, you’ll be completely at my mercy. Isn’t that what you want?”

“I know it’s what you want.”

“No.” he countered, the ravenous look of hunger in the darkened depths of his eyes sending cascades of want trickling down her spine. “It’s what I crave.”

“Well,” she stated, breathlessly, throwing down the gauntlet. “I guess the only way you’ll ever get what you crave is by being invited in. Too bad that’s never going to happen.”

“Don’t be too sure, love.” he purred. “Never is a very long time, and I have all the time in the world.”

~/~

Over the course of the following week, time was not Emma’s friend. Finals week was usually like that. Late night study sessions, rushing to complete final projects or hand in papers she’d labored over for weeks, staying connected with her housemates through abbreviated texts and quick exchanges coming and going from the house, not to mention those frantic hours leading up to sitting for the exam that could make or break your entire semester.

The thing that had been a friend to her throughout the week was a vampire who seemed to know her every need before she did. Arranging pizza delivery for the all hours of the night cramming sessions, providing her with an open tab at the campus coffee cart so she could get a fix whenever she needed, giving her meticulously kept notes he’d obviously taken when he’d sat one of her classes during his undergrad years, ensuring her top marks in the most difficult course her degree offered; all culminating in one of the more successful finals weeks Emma had ever had. Her only worry was the class Killian assisted in, his presence causing a huge distraction while she tried to concentrate on the exam before her while her body hummed and her blood sang in response to his proximity.

It wasn’t that they hadn’t seen one another since the night he’d walked her home from the club that had her insides feverish. They’d had the occasion to be in each other’s company a number of times since then. No. It was the fact that after today there would be no reason, other than her consented desire to see him, that would keep him close. And she’d come to accept that she very much wanted him close.

Very close.

Regardless of that acceptance, she wasn’t ready to wave the white flag just yet. The contest laid out between them had become too much fun for her to let go of just yet. All his attempts to gain her invitation into the house had been thwarted, and she wanted to savor those victories for just a bit longer. Plus, there was still the lingering fear she couldn’t seem to shake. The unease she felt when she caught a glimpse of Killian’s predatory side, like a rabbit caught in the sights of a wolf when she felt his eyes roam over the expanse of her throat, regardless of how the action also sent a swell of heat straight to her core.

By the time the exam ended, Killian was being called away to help proctor another class’ final. When Emma handed in her test, her professor asked that she come by before office hours the next afternoon, spiking her nerves as her eyes darted to the back exit Killian had just disappeared through. It wasn’t technically against university policy for a student and assisting doctoral candidate to engage in a relationship, but Emma couldn’t help but worry that her professor planned to admonish her all the same. A worry that was ridiculous, the more she thought about it through the day and over the course of the night.

She and Killian didn’t have that kind of relationship. Sure, they’d flirted rather shamelessly with one another since the early weeks of the semester, and their mutual interest in one another went beyond the scope and sequence of the syllabus, but if that were really a point of concern then why bring it up to her now? It wasn’t like Killian had any influence over her grade in the class.

Or did he?

What sort of influence was behind this summons to appear at her professor’s office before his hours to see students began? The question weighed heavily on her mind the next afternoon when she presented herself in front of the heavy wooden door along the empty corridor of the tenured staff. Hand raised, ready to alert the occupant of her arrival, there was no need to carry through with the action when the door swung open revealing, not her professor, but the imposing figure of Killian Jones.

“Good afternoon, Swan,” he greeted, stepping back and gesturing her inside.

“I knew it,” Emma huffed, making her way into the office. “I knew you were behind this.”

Rounding on him, her heart fluttered a bit when he reached up to shyly scratch behind his ear, a bloom of pink tinted the apples of his cheeks. “Aye, well. I wasn’t sure you’d come otherwise, so I convinced our dear professor to deliver the message for me.”

“You used your thrall on him, you mean.”

“Vampire,” he quipped, unashamedly.

“Have you done that often?”

“What? Use my power of influence on the staff here?” When she nodded, he ran a hand over the stubble at his chin, brows scrunched in a concentration of nostalgia. “A time or twice. Mostly as a way of making them forget they’d met me before. Some of these professors have been here for ages, and there’s only so many times you can make the tale of an uncanny family resemblance and penchant for carrying on my specific name believable.”

Emma hummed her hesitancy to believe him, even though she somehow knew he was telling the truth, and sank down into one of the chairs in front of the grand mahogany desk that took up much of the room. “So, what was so pressing that you wanted me to meet you here and didn’t think I’d come if you asked?”

Plucking a folder off the richly varnished surface, he presented it to her while maintaining a distance Emma found uncharacteristic of him. “I wanted to show you this.” Opening the file revealed her transcript for the semester, marked with a string of A’s. “I hoped you might see it as a cause for celebration.”

“A cause for celebration,” she embittered, “or something you feel entitled to my gratitude for?”

Killian’s brows knitted together as his head cocked sideways. “You think I had something to do with your exceptional grades?”

Emma tossed the folder back onto the desk and crossed her arms over her chest. “You just admitted to having used your influence on the faculty before.”

Killian scoffed, the offense underlaid with an air of amusement. “Do you really hold such a low opinion of your own abilities that you think my thrall is the only reason you could have garnered such marks?” Emma flushed at his words. She knew how hard she’d worked this semester, knew deep down she’d earned each and every one of those A’s, but harsh, careless words spoken over her throughout her years as an orphan had always left her doubting. “I assure you, Swan. I had nothing to do with these grades. You earned them all on your own.”

“Why lure me here to tell me, then?”

Seeming to understand that she believed him, he leaned back against the edge of the desk and began fiddling with the edge of the folder. “As I said, I wasn’t sure you’d meet me without the pretense. Now that the semester is over, you’ve no reason to endure my presence any longer, and yet…” His eyes flicked up, an earnestness clear in their blue sparkle. “I was hoping, seeing as I’ve failed to garner an invitation into your abode, you might accept one into mine.”

“You’re inviting me to your place?”

“I am. Tonight. For a meal we will both partake in.” His gaze slowly roamed over her seated form, the seductive heat blazing a path over her skin as he added, “Though, I confess to the aspiration that dinner might lead to… dessert.”

“Tonight?” Emma’s heart sank even as it beat a current of lust through her veins from the intent behind his statement.

Killian’s face fell at her tone. “You are otherwise engaged, I take it?”

“I am. I’m sorry.” She really was, not having realized how much she wanted to take him up on his offer until she discovered she couldn’t. “It’s the last night we’re all gonna be in the house together. Elsa and Belle are both leaving for home tomorrow, and Ruby a few days after to go see her girlfriend before she has to be back for the holiday. We’re having one last dinner together. Elsa’s out doing all the shopping for it now.”

“I see,” he said. Although still wrapped in disappointment, his tone was understanding. “And what about you, love? Where will you go during the break?”

Standing, Emma made her way over to him, flicking her eyes up at him from beneath her lashes while noting how his body stiffened in response to her proximity. “I’m not going anywhere,” she told him, sinking a deeper meaning into her words that he seemed to pick up on given how his eyes darkened. “Granny lets me stay at the house during breaks. I pay my share of the rent out of my scholarship and pick up shifts at the diner to help with the added holiday rush.” Running her hand up his chest she felt the deep vibration of his guttural response in her palm. “So, you’ll have many opportunities to try and persuade me to let you in over the next few weeks.”

“Oh, I won’t need weeks, love. I wager I’ll gain access into that house much sooner than that.”

A knock interrupted their sensual summit, forcing them apart before the door swung open without a bid to enter.

“Hey Professor, I was wondering if--” Neal froze at the sight before him, eyes widening first in shock then anger.

“I’m afraid our good professor hasn’t arrived yet,” Killian told him, seemingly unaffected by the daggers being shot his way.

“What are you doing here, Neal?” Emma exasperated.

“I could ask you the same.”

“I’m here getting a document I forgot to grab from the professor yesterday. Killian was kind enough to open the office for me.” On cue, Killian slid the folder forward so she could grab it off the desk and cram it into her bag before shoving her way past Neal towards the door. “Thanks for your help, Killian.”

“Always a pleasure, Miss Swan,” he crooned after her with a raised brow and quirked lip. “Have a wonderful break. I hope to see you around during the holidays.”

“I hope so, too,” she said back to him, pausing briefly at the doorway to gift him a playful smile.

Catching another glimpse of Neal’s thunderous expression had her retreating from the office, hoping to avoid another confrontation with her ex. Sensing Neal’s pursuit hot on her heels, Emma sighed and slowed her pace down the deserted hallways, surrendering to the inevitable.

“Don't think I’m fooled for a second,” Neal snapped. “What was really going on in there between you two?”

“None of your business.”

“Damn it, Emma! What do I have to do to get through to you about how dangerous he is?”

“You’re wrong about him, Neal,” Emma argued. “He’s not a threat to me.”

Neal sneered, a scoff barking out over a harsh laugh. “What? Like you’re special, or something? Like you mean something to him? You don’t mean anything to him, Emma. You’re nothing but a meal, or maybe a pretty little distraction to entertain himself with until he gets bored of you and moves on to another girl. You don’t know him, Emma. Not like my family does.”

Dread slithered down Emma’s spine as she homed in on a deeper story between the words he was spewing. “What do you mean?” Emma asked in a hushed breath of trepidation, unsure if she truly wanted him to answer, but needing to know why Neal seemed to hate him so much.

Neal pulled her into an empty room and sat her down, making sure no one lingered in the hall before closing the door behind him. She’d never seen him like this. So serious, so intent, so… hostile.

“It’s a tale that’s been passed down in my family for generations,” he began. “From the Golds, an off-shoot of the Cassidy family tree. They were a prominent family back in London in the late 1800’s. Milah Gold, my ancestor, was seduced by Jones. No one knows for sure how long the affair went on for, but once Jones was done having his fun, he tossed her aside, and devastated by his abandonment, she took her own life.”

Emma couldn’t help the gasp that rushed from her lungs, a sound that only seemed to gratify Neal, spurring him on in his tale.

“Her husband, seeking revenge and wanting to make sure the monster couldn’t destroy another family, hunted Jones down, but the sadistic bastard got to Gold first. He ripped the man’s throat out right in front of his young son. Leaving him orphaned. That son, Bae, spent his entire life devoted to the extermination of vampires, but he was never able to kill the one who’d torn his family apart. He left his account in a journal that’s been passed down. Dad gave it to me when he realized Jones was back in Storybrooke.”

“No,” Emma said, shaking her head. “That can’t be the whole story. Killian wouldn’t--”

“Jones isn’t human, Emma,” Neal seethed, cutting her off. “There’s no humanity in him. He’s an animal, a demon that takes what he wants without any concern for those whose lives he ruins along the way. We’re nothing but sheep to him, and you are making yourself a little lamb readied for the slaughter.”

Emma shot out of her seat, conflicted by what Neal was saying but unwilling to listen to anymore of his vitriol. “I know how Killian views humans,” she told him. “I know he’s killed before, and I’ve seen the regret he carries with him. I know he can be dangerous, but I can handle myself, Neal. I don’t need your help.” Holding up her hand, Emma staved off the protest of his opened mouth. “I know you’re going to bring up the necklace, so let me save you from your gloating,” Reaching back, she unclasped the chain then grabbed for his hand, depositing the pendant within his palm. “Killian gave me a pouch of vervain last weekend, so I don’t need this any longer, not that I ever did. And if you’re worried about me being alone in the house after the girls leave, don’t be. As long as I don’t invite him in, I’ll be safe. I don’t need you to protect me from Killian, so just… stay out of my business.”

Shoving past, Emma stormed from the room and nearly mowed down her professor. As soon as Neal came into the man’s view he seemed intent on discovering what it was that had brought Neal to his office earlier. Emma had a sinking suspicion Killian might have had something to do with the interference the professor was running for her, and as much as the thought irritated her - did no one think she was capable of looking out for herself? - she couldn’t help but be grateful to have Neal off her back.

Though his presence had been removed, Emma couldn’t shake his words. His insistence that she was nothing special, nothing more than a tantalizing morsel, a conquest to achieve dominance over coalesced with all the things that had been spoken over her throughout the years. No one wants you. You’re not good enough. You’ll never be enough. You’re nothing. Nothing. Nothing more than another co-ed he could make forget. Was that really all she was to him?

Trudging up the steps and into the house, it took her a minute to focus in on the voices jovially resonating from the kitchen. She’d just rounded the corner when one in particular distinguished itself. A prickling rush of disbelief skittered over her skin when her eyes landed on him, casually leaning against the counter with a steaming mug of coffee clasped in his hand while he chuckled at whatever it was her housemate was saying.

“Emma!” Belle greeted. “We were wondering when you’d get back. You’ve been gone for ages!”

Had she? Eyes still firmly fixed on the vampire her friends were flitting around, each completely unaware of the danger lurking in their midst, she could see the sun starting to set through the windows in her periphery. She hadn’t realized how lost in thought she’d been, how long she’d wandered around campus contemplating the man, the vampire, somehow, impossibly, standing in her kitchen.

“What are you doing here?”

“Oh!” Elsa said, organizing the ingredients she’d gotten at the store for their dinner that evening. “Mr. Jones was walking by when I got back from the grocer and offered to help me get the bags inside.”

Pulling her usually icy friend aside, Emma whispered, “You invited him in?” Why had it never occurred to her that the invitation could come from anyone, and not just her? Surely, he must have known he could gain entrance through one of her housemates? Why had he waited so long to take advantage of that loophole?

“It was a lot of stuff, Emma,” Elsa answered. “What’s the big deal? I thought you liked Mr. Jones.”

Emma tried to form words in response, but Killian’s polite lilt, which sounded a tad strained to her, broke through her incredulity.

“Much obliged for the coffee, but I must be off. Don’t want to intrude on your evening now Miss Swan has arrived.”

“Thanks for your help, Mr. Jones,” Elsa replied. “Are you sure we can’t get you anything else before you go?”

“No thank you, lass. I have plans later and would hate to ruin my appetite.” His eyes flicked to Emma’s, a smug and triumphant smile twitching at the corners of his lips.

Emma remained frozen where she stood when he approached to retrieve his jacket hanging from one of the hooks they typically had aprons draped over.

“I’ll be by later to collect my spoils,” he rasped low, so only she could hear. “No need to leave the light on, Swan. I see quite well in the dark.”

With a wink, he was gone, and Emma finally managed to draw a full, painful breath into her lungs. Needing a place to gather herself, Emma retreated to the back den and sank onto the settee, her head braced in her hands as soon as her elbows were planted on her knees.

He was coming for her. Tonight. There was no way to stop it. If she were being honest, a part of her didn’t really want to, but the other part… it didn’t want to consider what tomorrow would mean once he’d had his fill and the game between them was over. Reaching up, she gasped, fumbling for the necklace that was no longer there. Crestfallen, she remembered the only thing that might have helped keep him at bay had been handed over to Neal out of some need to prove herself capable.

She was a fool.

Tears blurring her vision, she looked out the wavy panes of glass from the century old window. One of the only original features of the home that had partially burned and been rebuilt. This den and the room above, which served as her bedroom, were all that was left of that dwelling. A dwelling that was technically separate from the rest of the house, according to the Storybrooke Historical Society.

Emma sat up a bit straighter, her head tilting back as she considered the room above her; the one Killian would attempt to enter later that evening. The one, she realized with a surge of giddiness, he may not have access to the way he thought he would. Could there be such a loophole? Could such a designation have a bearing on the supernatural rules that governed Killian’s existence?

Emma shot up and rushed to the kitchen. “Did Killian go into the den?”

Her roommates all startled at her blurted out question, their faces pinched in bewilderment.

“What?”

“Killian,” Emma repeated. “Did he go into the den while he was here?”

“I, uh… no,” Ruby answered. “I think he turned to go that way, but ended up hanging it on the apron hooks instead. Why?”

A triumphant smile spread across Emma's face, further eliciting confused looks from her friends. The game wasn’t over yet. Killian would be in for a rude awakening when he arrived at her bedroom later. Although she wasn’t sure how she felt about continuing their contest past this point, given what she’d learned about him from Neal, Emma suddenly found herself quite eager for nightfall. She couldn’t wait to see the look on his face when he realized he hadn’t bested her after all.

~/~

Nerves churned within Emma’s stomach and palpated in her chest as she paced the length of her room, flicking her gaze for the thousandth time to the digital clock on her nightstand. 12:24am. What was taking him so long?

Plopping down on the foot of her bed, Emma huffed and smoothed her hands over the nightgown she’d chosen to wear. A shift of red lace and satin, she could just imagine Killian’s expression when he saw her in it, only to discover his well garnished meal was still out of his reach. Her heart ticked up a notch, now racing with anticipation. Attempting to steady it with a deep inhale, the fine hairs of her arms lifted in some Darwinian response, alerting the primal part of her brain to the presence of a predator.

Slowly, her eyes adjusted to the darkness saturating the hallway until she could make out his outline. Without sound, he stalked his way along the hall that led to her room, a gloating swagger in his hips and victorious arch in his brow. With equally silent steps, Emma made her way to the door, stopping just shy of the threshold.

“You’ve no idea how I’ve hungered for this moment, Swan,” he murmured on a hushed exhale. “I haven’t quenched my thirst since you came upon me in that alleyway, saving myself for this moment when my craving will finally be satisfied.”

Emma took a step back when he picked up his foot to take that last step forward, the one that would have brought him into her room if it weren’t for the protective barrier stretching across the opening. His brows snapped together in confusion, and a low growl rumbled from the back of his throat.

“Looks like you won’t be satisfying that craving tonight,” Emma crowed with a victoriously raised brow of her own. “Or any night for that matter.”

Fury and disappointment swept across his face, along with something more alarming that had her flesh rippling in response. Both their attentions were grabbed by a grunting snore echoing from the bedroom next to hers, and Emma’s sense of dread increased when Killian moved and lightly pressed against her roommate’s door, swinging it wide with his arm stretched out over the threshold, demonstrating his ability to access the adjacent room. Glancing back at her, he raised a questioning brow, the ultimatum clear from the dark piercing look in his eyes. Either she invited him in, or he'd take what he'd come for from one of her friends.

He wouldn't, Emma argued with herself. Killian would never…

"Don’t let my mask of domesticity fool you, love... We vampires are wild, feral creatures. Existing at the mercy of our instincts and the laws of nature … I am an untamed creature by nature. Never forget that, Swan.”

The playful countenance he usually exuded during their encounters slipped from his features. He turned and looked into her housemate’s room once more, the muscle at his jaw tensing as he brushed his thumb at the corner of his mouth. She could see the conflict warring within him, the hesitation in his vacillating stance as the instincts of the predator he was snarled at the humanity he was desperately trying to cling to. When he took a step into her friend’s room, Emma knew the predator had prevailed.

"Wait," Emma cried out in a pleading whisper. His eyes snapped to hers and her breath caught at the feral hunger she could make out in their midnight hue. Killian stumbled back from her friend's room, shaking his head hard, then braced his hands against the jambs of her doorway, leaning into the threshold as far as the invisible barrier would allow.

“Why won’t you just admit you want me?” Killian growled. An element of pleading grated over the words and his knuckles whitened from the strain he was employing to keep himself anchored at her door.

He'd come here expecting to have her at long last, believing he'd finally bested her in the dangerous and erotic game she'd insisted on playing with him. He didn't want her roommate, but the need was becoming too much. Emma could see that now. She thought back to their conversation little more than a week ago and remembered him telling her how he needed to feed every ten days or so, or else the need could become uncontrollable. It had been longer than that since she’d stumbled upon him in that alleyway. The last night he’d given in to his hunger, putting off feeding in the hopes she would be the one to slake his thirst.

When she didn’t respond his shoulders slumped, his head falling forward with a heavy sigh as he pushed himself back. “I’ll go,” he said. “I’ll leave Storybrooke, and not trouble you again. You and your friends will have nothing to fear from me, Swan.”

His tone was strained from the fight he was putting up in order to maintain control of himself. The wounded expression upon his features gripped her heart painfully, stealing her breath as she chastised herself. What are you doing? Say something! Stop him! Despite all that Emma knew, she didn’t want him to leave. Didn’t want him to disappear from her life, not without knowing if she’d truly been wrong about him. Watching him stride down the hallway, bypassing her housemate’s room with determined steps, she finally managed to draw air back into her lungs before his foot hit the top step.

“Killian, I…" Emma's words faltered, but they managed to halt his retreat. “I do want you. Only I… I don’t want to be just another conquest. Just another co-ed in a back alley that you make forget, or some… some pretty distraction you’ll discard once you’ve had your fill. Like Milah.”

His head snapped around, looking back at her over his shoulder, all the air seeming to have momentarily left his body. “Milah? How did you…” His eyes fell shut as understanding dawned on him. “Cassidy. It was Cassidy, wasn’t it? The necklace, Milah’s tale of woe. I thought I saw the resemblance.” Grasping at the strands of hair at the back of his head, he muttered, “It seems no matter where I go, I cannot escape that accursed bloodline.”

Gaze landing on her, he took tentative steps back towards her room, a vulnerability in his eyes and tone that begged her to believe his side of things. “Milah was not a conquest. She was not a… pretty little distraction I discarded.” Anguish poured from his lips when he professed, “I loved her. I wanted to be with her. Forever. And she had agreed. I intended to change her so we could be bonded together for eternity, but she was already married, to a cruel and ruthless man. Whatever Neal might have told you, it was Gold who brought about Milah’s demise, not me.” Anchoring himself to her doorway once more, his eyes fell then slid shut. “Although, if not for me, she would have gone on living her life as she had been. So, perhaps, I do share some of the blame.” His forget-me-not gaze rose up to her face, his hand attempting to reach for her but thwarted by the barrier still in place. “She was not some conquest, and neither are you, Emma. Don’t you know that?”

Emma shook her head, a single tear escaping her lashes and leaving a wet streak down her cheek. Her heart ached, clenched in a vice of uncertainty and turmoil. She wanted to believe him. Truly. Desperately. But the little lost girl no one ever wanted couldn’t quite make herself believe.

“Try something new, darling,” he beseeched. “Trust me.” Raising his hand, his palm pressed against the veil separating them. “Have I told you a lie?” Emma opened her mouth, brows pinched together in confusion, about to voice her frustration that she didn’t know the answer when he reminded her, “Vervain doesn’t just protect you from my thrall, it can strip away all pretense, allowing you to see the truth of my words. I can see you’ve removed the necklace, but the herbs I gave you are still in this room somewhere. I can smell them. Which means, they can allow you to hear the truth in my words. So, I ask you again… have I told you a lie?”

“No.” The answer was quick to leave her lips, and with it, any lingering doubts she had evaporated. Placing her hand against his, she stood before him breathless with longing.

“I don’t know what this is between us,” he said. “But I felt it the moment you stepped into the lecture hall that first day of class.”

“Felt what?” she whispered, her body practically vibrating with anticipation.

“Possibility,” he breathed. “I never thought I’d be capable of letting go of my first love. My Milah. To believe that I could find someone else… until I met you.”

Emma curled her fingers between his. "Killian," she whispered, before giving him a light tug. "Come in."

Her words and action allowed him to sway into her room, but he did not fully embrace the invitation. “Are you sure, Swan?”

Emma let go of his hand and reached up to grab the lapels of his jacket, pulling him to her and crashing their lips together. “I’m sure,” she murmured before coaxing a response from him with the nip of her teeth against his bottom lip.

He didn’t have to be told twice, backing her up further into her room and kicking the door closed behind them while his mouth plundered her with a deep hunger that went beyond that of his vampiric urgings.

“Tell me I can have you,” Killian implored, one hand coming up to cup her face while the other skimmed over the silky material covering her. Despite the coolness of his touch, the trail of its exploration blazed a path down her back, over the curve of her hip, and across her backside. “And not just your blood, but your body, too. Tell me I can have all of you, love.”

“Have me,” Emma mewled while her hands peeled the leather jacket off his shoulders. “Have what you want, take what you want. I just want to have you, too.”

“You do, love. More than you know.”

His mouth was back on hers, his hands rucking up her nightgown until he could effortlessly lift it over her head. The disgruntled protest of her groan when his lips had to leave hers was forgotten when she stood bare before him. His eyes combed over every exposed inch, the acute vision of his nature allowing him to see every detail of her curves, making her flush under his tender scrutiny.

“You’ve no idea how I’ve craved you,” he whispered, removing his shirt and pressing his naked chest to her own. His mouth danced along the veins of her neck, his words sending micro bursts of pleasure through her extremities. “Craved the warmth of your skin against mine, the taste of your lips.” His hand grazed along her side, descending down her body until he reached the apex of her thighs and dipped his fingers into the wetness pooled there. “The feel of you,” he rasped. “Warm and lush around me as I take you again and again, giving you pleasure you’ve only ever dreamed of before finally quenching the thirst you cause in my veins.”

Emma’s knees nearly gave out. Before she could hold onto him for support, he spun her around, one hand wrapped around her waist, fingers splayed over her lower abdomen while he sucked her essence off the ones he’d removed from her drenched center.

“However,” he drawled darkly, her skin erupting from the husky breath puffing against her throat, “now that I’ve had a sample, I find myself rather ravenous for a different sort of taste of you.”

Killian slinked down her body, his hand firmly pressing against her back, bending her forward until she met her mattress. Her eyes widened, a loud gasp escaping her when she felt his mouth at the cleft of her ass, his tongue mapping the entirety of her from back to front. The sounds he managed to coax out of her were downright obscene, but so were the things his mouth was doing. Her comforter balled in her fist and she rose up to her tiptoes when she felt his teeth scrape over her clit, the euphoric pain quickly soothed by flutters of his tongue.

It was almost embarrassing how fast he managed to get her to the precipice of her climax, but given how quick his vampire reflexes were and how well he was able to control them, it probably shouldn’t have shocked her. Still, her orgasm rolled through her before she was ready for his ministrations to end, tremors spasming through her extremities in a way they never had before.

Emma had almost reclaimed her senses when she was suddenly flipped over onto her back. Peering down her body, she caught sight of the gleaming tip of Killian’s fangs just before they sank into the still quivering flesh of her inner thigh. When his lips latched on and he began to drink from her, Emma’s head fell back onto the bed. The boneless quality her release had left in her limbs magnified exponentially, her body felt as though it were floating away on a cloud of bliss from which she never wanted to descend.

“Still with me, love?” Killian’s voice cut through the haze of ecstasy clouding Emma’s brain, and when she opened her eyes she found him hovering over her. “I didn’t take too much, did I?” Gently, he pulled her into a sitting position, his eyes surveying her for any indication he may have gone too far. “Are you light headed? Cold?”

“Killian, I’m fine,” she assured him, placing her hand over where she would have expected to feel his heart beating, if it still beat within his chest. While there was no thrum beneath her palm, what she did feel had her eyes widening.

“You’re warm,” she marvelled, running her hand over his chest. “I can feel it spreading its way through you. Is that…”

“What your blood does to me?” he answered by way of a question. “Aye.”

Emma chewed her lip as she got up the nerve to ask, “What would your blood do to me?”

Killian tensed infinitesimally, and swallowed hard. “It would... heighten your senses. Make you feel things in a way you’ve never felt them before.” Knowing how tempting that must have sounded to her, he rushed to add, “But it is not without side effects or potentially disastrous consequences.”

“Would it change me?” That was the only consequence that truly concerned her. Unsure if that was something she’d ever want, though willing to explore the possibility some day. Just not today. “Will it make me a vamp--”

“Only if your heart stops with my blood still in your system.”

“Have you ever let anyone--”

“No,” he replied with an air of wistfulness. “I never got the chance to with Milah, and since then… there hasn’t been anyone with whom I've wanted to share the experience.”

“Will you share it with me?” Knowing it would be a first for him, when there weren’t likely many firsts left for him, given his age, made the prospect all the more appealing for her. “Please?”

“Emma,” Killian warned. “The risk of doing so--”

“Is nothing to worry about,” she tried to reassure him, taking his face in her hands. “How likely am I to be hit by a bus tomorrow, honestly?”

“It isn’t just tomorrow, Swan,” he argued. “It could take upwards of a week before my blood is fully metabolized.”

“Then I guess you’ll have to stick around to make sure I’m safe.” When he remained stoic in the face of her teasing, a root of rejection began to plant itself deep within Emma’s chest. “I mean… unless you don’t want to. Unless it’s too intimate, and not something you’d want to share... with me.”

Killian’s arms enveloped her, squeezing her tight before his hands cupped her face so she was forced to look him in the eyes. “Of course, I want to share my blood with you,” he professed in a rushed whisper. “But you’re right, Swan. It is intimate. Probably the most intimate act a vampire can share with another, and I just want you to be sure. Sharing blood will connect us in a way neither of us have ever experienced. I want that with you, but I have no idea how it will impact…”

His words trailed off, but Emma knew what he was hesitant to say. How would taking this step impact what they had together, right now, in this moment?

“I’m willing to take that leap, if you are?” Emma declared.

His expression softened, and a glimmer of something primal flashed in his eyes as he repositioned them on her bed so they were kneeling before one another. Grabbing one of the pendants he wore around his neck, Emma released a soft gasp when the dagger proved to be a real miniature as he unsheathed it from the tiny scabbard that covered it’s sharp edge. With a quick flick of his wrist, he sliced a line along the top of his collarbone, dark crimson pooling in the hollow just above the hairline that blanketed his chest. With her pulse pounding in her ears, Emma leaned forward, flicking her gaze up to him and receiving an encouraging nod before running her tongue over the wound to soak up his blood.

The metallic wash of copper was expected, but as she swallowed, something else hit the back of her throat, something that had her wrapping her hands around his shoulders so she could consume another mouthful. It wasn’t just Killian’s blood she was feasting on, it was his essence, the source of his existence that made him who he was. Past the notes of salt and iron, Emma could taste the joy and contentment of his youth, the acid of betrayal, bitterness of loss, and the ambrosia that accompanied the bloom of a first love. She drank in the years of his loneliness, savoring the familiar melancholy she herself had been nursed on from a young age.

A moan vibrated against her neck, followed by the small pinch she recognized as Killian’s fangs piercing her skin. He did not draw from her vein as deeply as he had before, just enough to connect himself to the moment she found herself in with a new flavor dancing along her tongue. The flavor of sunshine and honey, a longing like liquorice paired with the dark chocolate of desire. A hint of cinnamon and a note of something Emma recognized from the times she’d held her nose to the baby blanket she was found swaddled in and could have sworn she could smell the scent of her beginnings.

Her palate was overwhelmed by the time she pulled away, but not before a new redolence filled her senses. A pungent bouquet that dulled all the others that came before with its briny finish wrapping itself around her like the man she was currently plastered against.

The taste and smell of home.

Lips smeared red and eyes a glassy, deep ocean blue, Killian stared down at her, his chest heaving. “That was…”

“Yeah,” Emma exhaled. “It was.”

Try as she might, Emma couldn’t catch her breath. Desperate pants heaved from her lungs and an itch flared beneath her skin in a fiery rush of desperation that originated from the pit of her stomach.

“Killian,” she moaned. “I need--”

“Aye, love,” Killian replied, his hands already at his belt. “I’ll give you what you need. Just lie back.” Pulling his belt free from his pants, he made quick work of the fastenings before shoving them and his boxer briefs down his legs and settling between hers once more.

Emma was on fire, his blood igniting something primal within her, making her skin flush and her clit throb. The only thing to bring some semblance of relief was the cooling sensation of his touch as he spread her legs further apart then nestled himself into the cradle of her thighs, further relieving the scorching in her veins as his body moulded itself to hers. A new burn, accompanied by a delicious stretch, overtook Emma’s senses when he eased his way inside her, filling her inch by glorious inch with each thrust of his hips until he was fully seated and groaning into her hair.

“Killian! Move,” she urged, canting her hips in search of the friction she sought.

“As you wish,” he grunted, drawing back until he was nearly out before slamming home again and again, each time with fresh expletives collectively falling from their lips. “Bloody hell, Swan. By the gods, you feel amazing.”

Emma had no words with which to reply. The building force of her impending orgasm had stolen them all from her mind. Killian had been right about how his blood would affect her. Every sense was heightened, every movement and touch like a strike of flint within her core, shooting sparks up her spine. The slide of his cock against her walls, the vapor of his breath on her ear, the rough calluses of his hand on her breast, the taste of him still coating her tongue; a combustion of elements that finally set her ablaze, her release consuming her like a wildfire through brush until she was left smouldering with embers flickering in her nerve endings.

Killian collapsed beside her, equally spent with a wide contented grin stretching across his face as he reached for her. Wrapped in the other’s embrace, their bodies cooled - his more so than hers - and their breathing evened out to a matching rhythm.

“Do you want me to go?” Killian murmured some time later.

Emma craned her neck to look up into his face. “Why would I want you to go?”

“I don’t wish to make things awkward for you with your housemates when morning comes and they find a naked vampire in your bed,” he teased.

Emma rolled her eyes, but he had a point. She wanted to share her happiness with her friends, but was tomorrow really the right time?

“How about, I stay until dawn?” he offered as a solution to her quiet conundrum. “You can tell your friends about us when you’re ready. Although,” he said with a serious tone as his eyes flicked towards her door. “I may have to pay a visit to Miss Lucas’ room before I go.” A cheeky smirk and cocked brow replaced his worrying expression when he met Emma’s gaze and he quipped, “I might need to enthrall her to forget the sounds she woke up to when my head was buried between your thighs.”

Emma smacked him hard in the chest. “Shut up.”

A chuckle rumbled beneath her palm and he placed his hand over hers to keep it nestled over his silent heart. “Don’t worry, love. I’m sure you’ll be able to convince her it was just a dream.”

“This isn’t, though. Right?”

His grip tightened over her hand. “No, Emma. This is very real.”

His lips sought hers, brushing them gently before encouraging her to relax into his side so she might get some rest, the clock beside them ticking ever closer to dawn and his departure. It was the most restful night’s sleep she ever had.

~/~

“Before I go,” he murmured, coaxing her from slumber as sleepy rays of sunlight filtered in past her curtain. “I want you to wear this when you go outside.” He twisted one of his rings off his fingers, the one he wore on his left pinky that held a stone matching the one on his right pointer finger. “Remember when I told you I could go about in sunlight, conditionally?” he asked her. “Well, this ring,” he held up his right hand, indicating to the one with the large red stone in its setting, “allows me to do that without suffering the fatal effects the sun would otherwise have on me. A witch enchanted the garnet within after I was changed. And this one,” he dropped the smaller ring into her palm and closed her fingers around it, “holds the same enchantment.”

“Why do I need to wear it?”

“Sensitivity to light is one of the side effects of taking my blood,” he told her. “This will help minimize it, and any others you might face until my blood is gone from your system.”

Emma took the ring and slid it over her fingers until she found one it fit upon. Killian’s breath visibly caught in his chest, a sharp inhale alerting her to his reaction even as something stirred in her blood, attuning her awareness to him.

“What? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” He shook his head and a resolve planted itself in his declaration, cementing something in his spirit. “It’s just,” he took her hand in his, his thumb stroking the gem stone that sat upon her finger, “this ring belonged to my brother. The same witch who enchanted mine placed the charm on it for…”

“For Milah?”

“No… Well, I thought so, once,” he amended. “But in truth, I told her I wanted to have it at the ready for the woman whose hand it would one day rest upon... for all of eternity.”

Emma’s eyes widened, her heart hammering in her chest. “Whoa… Killian, I--”

“Relax, Swan. I’m not proposing,” he assured her, and a part of Emma sulked a bit. “Not today, anyway. Nor tomorrow. Maybe not even a year from now.” His eyes dropped to the ring he was still caressing with his thumb. “I do want you to keep this, though. As a reminder that I’m in this for the long haul, no matter how long it takes to gain your consent.”

“My consent for what, exactly?” Emma asked in breathless anticipation of hope.

“To remain by your side,” he murmured against her lips. “Forever.”