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Love, Emma

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Emma clutches Ingrid’s yellow irises against her chest – almost too strongly, she might be bruising the inside of her fingers.

 

As she stares at the Arrival Board in front of her, she couldn’t care less for her own skin. The beat of her heart is drumming in her ears, and she is pretty certain oxygen is having a very hard time reaching her lungs.

 

Her right eyelid twitches. She wasn’t able to get any sleep last night, inhabited by a very childlike enthusiasm at the thought of seeing her friend again.

 

A breath of relief escapes Emma’s throat as the light next to Portsmouth changes color.  

 

“He has landed,” she whispers to herself, flowers still pressed to her chest.

 

She is too engulfed in her surroundings to notice she’s damaging the flowers. Ingrid is definitely going to kill her for butchering her favorite bush. She doesn’t care.

 

He should be here any time now. Her heart skips another beat and really, it’ll be a miracle if she is still standing on her feet by the time he reaches her.

 

Gazing all around her, she suddenly notices the large window in front of her that gives away a blurry reflection of her body. Emma frowns. One hand reluctantly gives up on the flowers to comb her hair.

 

You’re combing your hair for Killian, of all people, snorts her inner voice. But Emma is too happy to pay attention to her pride.

 

He’s been gone for nine months now, since last September. Has been going all around the world with the Navy, and she is proud of him. He did the right thing. (Even it meant leaving her behind.)

 

Emma has never known what it feels like to miss someone before she missed him. Being brought up as a foster kid, she hasn’t had anyone to miss for the longest time.

 

She’s bouncing up and down on her feet by now, anxiety shaking her legs.

 

Ingrid welcomed her in Storybrooke on her twelfth birthday. It was the best thing that ever happened to her. It allowed her to meet the brothers Jones – their orphan neighbors. Liam became Killian’s legal guardian when their father died.

 

The crowd of people around her brings Emma back to the present. More people gather together, and Emma understands they are all just as eager to see their loved ones as she is.

 

She cannot wait anymore. Her palm hurt around the cut flowers. Another few minutes go by, and time is painfully slow. She clenches her jaw. Unclenches it. Takes a look at the clock in front of her. Come on, relax, Emma.

 

And then, there he is.

 

“Killian!” The excited scream escapes her throat without her consent, a brutal wave of bliss sweeping her off her feet. She doesn’t hold it back.

 

He hasn’t changed one bit, or he isn’t the same at all. She doesn’t care. She only cares for the sweet hue of blue that meets her eyes and smiles in recognition.

 

“Emma!” He mirrors her happy scream.

 

Her heart beams as they run towards each other, and she throws herself into his arms as soon as she reaches him. (By then, the flowers are to be respectfully buried and missed.)

 

She wraps her arms around his neck, and her senses are filled by him – his smell, a strong cologne she isn’t familiar with, his skin under her fingers, his tousled black hair that is suddenly very kept, the beginning of a scruff against her cheeks, the strength of his arms around her chest, and when did he get this tall?

 

“I missed you,” she exhales against his cheek, and holds him tighter. She is very unwilling to let him go now that she has him.

 

She hears a chuckle against her ear, and it is the most wonderful sound she has heard in those last pitiful nine months.

 

“I missed you, too, Swan.”

 

A tear rolls down her cheek at the nickname – it’s been so long and her world has been so bleak without him and she’s never known this kind of homesickness – and she realizes just how wet her eyes have become. She’s never cried from happiness before, but tears are rushing down her cheeks without her consent.

 

His grip becomes tighter around her waist, and then he slowly lets go. She does not expect him to let go first. She profoundly inhales to chase down a feeling of fear deep within her throat and backs away, her hands still around his neck.

 

Staring at him after all this time seems to stir something really odd within herself and her breath gets caught in her chest. She didn’t remember him this handsome. Did his nose always look this elegant, and have his lips always been this bright pink, and why are his eyes the color of the sea?

 

And then she remembers the flowers crushed between her clumsy hands.

 

One finger tracing the scar on his cheek, she shoves the bouquet against his chest. “That’s for you,” she smiles and her fingers cannot seem to let go of his face.

 

“Swan,” his eyes are so kind over her gift, she can tell he is really happy about them, although their lives were cut short in their prime, “thank you so much. They are my fav—”

 

“—favorite, I know! That’s why I got them for you.” And she smiles, harder, her cheeks hurt but she cannot bring herself to stop.

 

She ignores as well as she can the alarm ringing in her head. Why is he not touching her? What’s wrong? Did she get ugly while he was away? He was always touching her, before.

 

“Aye,” he grins, and then relief – his palm is over her cheeks and something incredibly tender and innocent blooms in her chest. She sighs, leans in his touch. She’s missed him so much. “Shall we go, Swan?”

 

She picks up the bag he let go of to hold her while he very gracefully carries the flowers. Surely he wouldn’t have damaged them. Killian is very careful not to damage anything ever.

 

“Sure thing. Welcome home, Killian,” and before her arm finds his, she’s bold enough to press her lips against his scruffy cheek.

 

She lingers there longer than intended, longer than what is reasonable and appropriate.

 

The glint she catches in his eyes when she backs away triggers something painful in her. She swallows it down. (Why did he look embarrassed? There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. They are friends.)

 

But then, they are walking down the airport like old times, and surely she must be thinking too much – as per usual.

 

.

 

She is so glad to have him back, she ignores very meticulously all of the signs telling her Killian might not be as happy to be back. (To be with her.)

 

She’s holding a watering can while he delicately drops flowers – pink roses – on Liam’s tombstone. She watches him frown, fingers caressing the marble with care and something else – anger.

 

She swallows. This wound is still very fresh. It’s been a year.

 

She pours some water on the plant she brought last month – a gorgeous, bright pink bush of flowers, and she quickly puts it down on the grass to hold his hand.

 

His eyes flash in surprise and she offers him a smile – why is he surprised? Emma never liked to be touched before, before he touched her. She chases down the feeling once again and holds his fingers tighter in her hands. I am not letting you go. 

 

The sun is shining. It’s such a bright summer day. The air is not too warm, just warm enough to feel comfortable wearing a t-shirt, and a gentle breeze that carries summer smells brushes their cheeks.

 

It was also a wonderful summer day – the day Liam died. Her brows furrow. Last summer had been the best weather they had had in Maine for years.

 

“He would be proud of you,” she whispers, desperate to make him feel better.

 

She is aware there is not much she can do to help him fight this darkness that swallowed him alive. She is still willing to try.

 

“Would he?” He echoes back, and she does not recognize the bitterness she hears in his voice.

 

For the first time since she has known Killian Jones, Emma feels like she’s missing something. A piece of the puzzle to understand him. She feels like perhaps she does not know him as well as she thinks.

 

She would have taken a step back with anyone else. But with him, she playfully bumps her shoulder against his, fighting back her inner instincts. He got tall, and bulkier – only in a good way.

 

“Of course. You joined the Navy to make him proud, didn’t you?”

 

For the first time in ages, she really is asking him a question.

 

He’s been back for a month now, and his scruff is prominent over his face. She likes it. He looks manly. She thinks he knows he looks manlier.

 

She still looks like a teenage girl, with her long blonde hair and her freckles and her frail body, and she still wears sneakers with her dresses (when she wears them). And he looks so much older.

 

“Aye, I guess so. Thank you, Swan,” he smiles at her, his hand brushing her cheek, but somehow he is miles away.

 

She presses her lips against each other, firmly. There are pebbles in her belly. He put them there.

 

“Anytime, Killian,” she smiles, and in a desperate attempt to bring him back to her, she presses another kiss to his cheek.

 

He steps away quicker than she expects him. A cold breath reaches her lips in spite of the agreeable weather.

 

Another smile. She’s suffocating.

 

.

 

“Okay, so then after dinner we could finally go to a club!” She’s standing in the middle of her room, arms swung up towards the ceiling of her childhood bedroom.

 

Killian is chewing on a strawberry bubblegum, lying on her bed. He hasn’t let go of his phone all afternoon.

 

“As you wish, Swan. It’s your birthday, after all.”

 

Can’t he look a bit more involved? A very childish anger burns her tongue as her hands find her hips in disapproval.

 

“Exactly! Which is why I’m going to ask you to look a little bit more enthusiastic, Killian Jones.”

 

She doesn’t mean to sound this harsh but she does anyway. At least, that gets him to look up from his phone, and she sees a glint of regret pass in his eyes. A smile finally cracks his face.

 

“You’re right, Swan. Forgive me. I’m just a bit concerned by something but don’t worry, I’m all ears now.”

 

She hates herself for how quickly she kneels in front of him, on her pink carpeted floor that she hates but Ingrid tried her best to make her feel at home.

 

Even more for the way she grabs his hands, pouring her soul into his eyes.

 

“I can tell you’re not really here, Killian.” She pauses, watches as he raises one eyebrow – it isn’t what she expected but it isn’t mean either, “And I want you to know there’s nothing you cannot tell me.”

 

She’s so naïve. She means every word.

 

He nods. Her eyes look down at his lips. She wants to kiss him. But she cannot – not when he’s still miles away from her, still stuck in Portsmouth.

 

“I know that, love,” something blooms in her chest. He hasn’t called her love in a year now, “Don’t worry, I’m quite alright.”

 

He lies. It’s the first time he’s lied to her about something important since she’s known him.

 

Fear captures her heart. It’s green, and viscous, and it drips on everything she holds dear.

 

He’s slipping between her fingers. She’s losing him. She cannot lose him.

 

.

 

 

She’s the one lying on his bed while he takes a shower when she sees her message. She doesn’t mean to, really. But his phone vibrates on his bedside table, and she only glances at it out of curiosity.

 

She sees it. M. Who is M?

 

She rolls on her belly, glances at the closed door of his bathroom, and reads the message, heart drumming in her ears.

 

“I know, baby. Rumple is driving me crazy too. But it will all be worth it, soon. I promise. Just hold on to our love.”

 

Something rings in her ears, it’s painful, it spreads from her liver and all the way up to her mouth, and she cannot see anymore, and her birthday is tomorrow and he is in love with someone else.

 

It takes her a lot of strength then, to roll back on her back, to try and make herself comfortable again between his pillows and his smell – in spite of the rigidity in her bones and this feeling of utter disgust in her mouth. She holds on to the silver bracelet around her wrist - the one Killian offered Emma for her eighteenth birthday, last year. 

 

So many questions bounce in her mind, but one fact absolutely obliterates her. He doesn’t want to confide in her anymore. He is clearly struggling with this Rumple, and this M, and he doesn’t want her help.

 

The bathroom door swings open and steam invades his bedroom as he steps out, wet hair and big grin. She knows the grin will remain but will become a mere theatrical performance once he reads the message. She doesn’t want him to read it. She wants to keep him to herself.

 

“Ready for that ice-cream, Swan?” he attacks right away, all charms out. When did he get this charming? When did he become aware of his charms?

 

“Always ready for some rocky road,” she answers back, and she’s surprised to hear her own voice calm and collected.

 

Perhaps she is growing up, too. She used to be a terrible liar. But that’s what they do, now, apparently.

 

His smell fills her lungs, and it’s the one of her childhood – peppermint, and something muskier, and him.

 

 

.

 

“Emma, you won’t forget to take care of the garden –” exclaims Ingrid as they’re about to leave her ice-cream shop.

 

She squints her eyes. Fuck. Exactly what she wanted to avoid.

 

“Sure thing, Ingrid,” she mumbles, before taking Killian’s arm in her hers and guiding them both out of her shop.

 

Emma swallows a scream of injustice. That’s her punishment for stealing the flowers for Killian.

 

“Flowers are not meant to be picked. They’re meant to be cared for, admired, but not picked, Emma.”

 

Emma didn’t tell her what’s the use of having flowers if you cannot offer them to someone you love but she did stare at her with a lot of defiance.

 

Rocky Road has never tasted this wrong in her mouth, as they sit outside of Granny’s, on the warm concrete. It’s burning her naked thighs, but it still doesn’t suck as much as the way Killian stares at his phone – just like she expected him to. He’s waiting for M to answer him.

 

Emma wants to tell him he can confide in her but clearly he doesn’t want to. And it’s one of the strongest pain she’s ever felt – it’s a wicked, wicked pain that spreads from her heart to her pride and slays every inch of her good feelings.

 

She keeps licking her ice-cream, eyes locked to the road.

 

Her birthday is tomorrow. On the twenty-first, the first day of summer. She waits for summer all year, waits for the special moments she knows she’ll spend with Killian.

 

Only, this year, Killian doesn’t seem as happy to spend them with her.

 

Thankfully, Ingrid’s Rocky Road is still the best thing in town.

 

.

 

As she gets ready for her birthday party, Emma figures out she has nothing to lose. She decides to play all of her cards.

 

She’s staring at herself in the mirror while pop music plays in the background.

 

She hates her round cheeks and her slender body that refuses to give her the big chest boys seem to be so fond of. She’s frowning as she examines her features meticulously.

 

She usually doesn’t wear makeup, if not for a bit of mascara. It’s the only thing she’s comfortable with wearing on her face. As for her clothes, Emma is a jeans and sneakers kind of gal. Her only accessory is Killian's bracelet - and it doesn't count, because by now it is part of her. 

 

She didn’t use to mind. It’s who she is. But since she’s seen M’s contact photo – she really didn’t mean to intrude, it just appeared when she tried to call him – Emma has become more self-conscious. (Terribly so).

 

M has long back curls and red lips, and she’s a woman. Not a girl like her. Her eyes are blue but they’re not timid, they shine sure and knowing and her smile is confident.

 

Emma hates her freckles. She looks like she’s twelve.

 

Tentatively, she brushes her blond eyebrows – just like she’s seen Ingrid do. It doesn’t make much of a difference and she muffles a dramatic sigh, frowning.  

 

Killian will never find her pretty ever again.

 

That night, she also tip toes to Ingrid’s room to borrow some lady-like perfume. Emma only likes to use a very natural ginger fragrance – her smell but a bit better.

 

She winces. She hates the too-sweet, too-flowery smell that wraps itself around her body. Whatever. Killian must like that.

 

She’s nineteen tonight. The only teen year left of her life. She better make the most of it. (If Killian does not tell her about his mysterious girlfriend who’s far too beautiful for her to compete with, then she can’t really be doing something wrong, can she?)

 

She eyes the different dresses spread on the pink blanket of her bed. (Ingrid is very committed to pink.)

 

At her feet, the only pair of heels she could find in her wardrobe. They are small, black squared heels but really they’ll do the trick. They will have to at least.

 

Hands on her hips, she settles for the pink, light dress. It’s not her favorite color, but the fabric is very soft and fits her small waist like a glove. The lower part of the dress is flowy and ends well above her knees. Emma knows her legs are long and toned and she wants to show them off tonight.

 

To finish the look, she ties her hair in a high ponytail to get her hair off her face. Ingrid has always told her to.

 

As she eyes herself in her mirror, she thinks she looks pretty. She smiles at her reflection, her earrings glinting.

 

She glances at the big clock on her wall. 8:15. Killian should be here anytime, now.

 

Her heart beats faster, thinking of him.

 

She smiles, grabs her bag and goes down the stairs of Ingrid’s house. It already smells like dinner time, and it should comfort her, but it does not. She catches Ingrid’s surprised eyes in the kitchen.

 

“What do you think?” Emma asks, and it’s the first time she asks for Ingrid’s opinion on her appearance, but well –

 

Ingrid lets go of the tomato she is expertly cutting to stare at her. Her mouth slightly opens. And Emma swears she sees something very gentle sparkle in her green eyes.

 

“I think you look beautiful, Emma.” Ingrid’s smile is very tender over her figure, and something weird clenches Emma’s heart.

 

She simply smiles back. “Thanks, Ingrid. Don’t wait for me tonight, Killian and I are going to party!”

 

.

 

She almost runs to the door when she hears him knock. She tries to remain as composed and adult as possible, and instead calmly walk there. (Her feet are already killing her and her legs are stiff. This is going to be hell.)

 

She opens the door to discover him in a white shirt and black suit, and with a bouquet of yellow irises.

 

“Those ones I did not steal from Ingrid,” he smiles, his eyes glinting over her figure, and she could swear he likes what he sees, and her toes curl in her shoes and a very sweet heat invades her face, “Happy birthday, Emma,” he grins, and then she cannot hold herself back and wraps her arms around his neck.

 

She loves how her feet leave the floor for just a moment, as he spins her around, and she feels like they’re immortal.

 

“Thank you, Killian”, she murmurs against his cheek, presses a long kiss there, and intertwines their fingers together.

 

She thinks her crush is showing but really, as he glances at her body in her dress and climbs back to her face – a really lovely pink hue over his cheeks, and perhaps is pink not such a bad color – she doesn’t care.

 

She’s quick to put down the flowers on Ingrid’s kitchen counter, “Please take care of them!”, before disappearing in the night with her friend.

 

.

 

They pay all due respect to their Birthday tradition and go eat a grilled cheese at Granny’s. Granny’s give them a knowing look as they sit on the terrace outside. The old woman eyes Killian’s hand on the small of Emma’s back just as Emma feels it sending sparks up her spine.

 

They look like a couple, she’s sure of it, and the thought makes her feel giddy.

 

As they sit outside, by the lanterns and the Storybrooke sign, it feels like Killian never left.

 

“Remember when you were thirteen and I had to get you out of a bloody bin, Emma, just because you didn’t want to face Ingrid—”

 

“Hey!” Her scream isn’t really one and she’s waving an onion ring at him, “It’s my birthday, be nice to me.” And she rolls her eyes and he waggles his brows, and everything is right in the world.

 

His phone is still on the table, but face down. He is all eyes on her and she is very much pleased. (Even when it rings, once, twice, until Killian turns it off and she sighs in relief.)

 

“You’re very beautiful tonight, Swan,” he tells her as she finishes her grilled cheese.

 

And she hates him for saying so when her hands are wrapped around the greasy sandwich, and there’s probably cheese in the corners of her mouth, and strings of hair have fallen in front of her eyes – but she smiles.

 

“Thank you,” something warm and sunny blooms in her chest, “you’re not too bad yourself.”

 

She sees his eyes go wider, and she realizes he mustn’t have expected her to say something back.

 

She keeps smiling. She feels an unfamiliar confidence take hold of her, straighten her spine and push her to grab his hand, on the table.

 

He glances at their knuckles but he doesn’t back away, and that must be good.

 

Finally, he waggles his brows and lets a small chuckle escape his lips. “Eat up, Swan. Before your favorite meal gets cold.”

 

She thinks then that she’s been touching him with her greasy fingers, and clearly that’s a mistake M wouldn’t have made, but… but he didn’t seem to mind. And his cheeks are red again. And that must be good, right?

 

.

 

They walk down to the only club in town – one down the beach. Storybrooke is a small town, but their fake IDs should be enough to get in.  

 

Her feet are quite literally killing her, so when Killian offers that they walk in the sand instead, she happily complies. (She thinks he saw her suffering.)

 

It’s a full moon above them, and its reflection on the tender waves that come crashing at their feet is breathtaking. He is walking slightly ahead of her, but just now she doesn’t mind.

 

A sea breeze tangles her hair. She is happy.

 

“Hey, Swan,” he finally turns around to face her, and he is very handsome, and she realizes he has been carrying a plastic bottle in his bag. “Want some?” he asks her in a cheeky tone.

 

Her heart skips a beat in her chest. It’s not the first time Killian and she have gotten drunk together – and usually it ends with both of them asleep in one of their beds and a terrible headache the next morning.

 

(Killian’s always been her only true friend. Sure, she’s sympathized with Mary Margaret and Ruby at school – but they don’t get her like he does.)

 

“Hell yes,” she exclaims and stretches her hand to grab the bottle. “Cheaper to get drunk now than in the club.”

 

“Aye, that’s the spirit, Swan.”

 

She guesses he must have gotten drunk several times, this past year, without her. She figures he is grown up in all of the possible meanings of the word. It scares her, to think he’s going on without her. That’s he is already ahead of her, and she cannot quite catch up. She probably never will.

 

The bottle’s neck meets her lips, and it’s a pretty well done mix of vodka and fruit juice that she tastes against her tongue, and she wishes she were kissing him instead.

 

 She takes several big gups, wincing as alcohol burns her throat and abandons a pleasing warmth in her chest.

 

“Careful, Swan. This isn’t only fruit juice.” She wipes her mouth as she hands him the bottle over.

 

“Oh come on, Killian. It’s my birthday, let me have some fun.”

 

She hates the concern she hears in his voice. He isn’t her big brother. She can take care of herself.

 

She watches as he drinks at his turn, watches as his Adam’s apple goes up and down. They used to be so similar, both of them all slender bodies, and now he is a man, and his shoulders are wide and his back strong, and she isn’t quite sure she is a woman yet.

 

She waits for him to put back the bottle in his bag and grabs his hand.

 

“Come on, let’s have some fun!”

 

And then she’s twirling around him, laughing brightly, and only stops when her body reminds her she just drank vodka and this will end badly if she keeps pushing her limits. Out of breath, she wraps her arms around his neck to settle herself, and his arms come to meet her waist.

 

The sea still whimpers behind them, but she only sees the soft waves in his eyes and the soft smile he dedicates to her.  

 

There is a sparkle, in his gaze, a question at the tip of his tongue – but he will not ask it.

 

She wants him to.

 

Her fingers trace the shape of his jaw as she swallows, a small smile on her face.

 

“Dizzy, are we, Swan?” he asks her, and she realizes just how close their faces have gotten as his breath caresses her face.

 

She shakes her head. “Not dizzy at all. Happy.” She calmly exhales, licks her lips.

 

He will not kiss her. She wants him to. But he won’t. Because of her, she’s sure now. But, the night isn’t over.

 

He brushes a strand of hair behind her ear and steps back to let go. She misses the heat of his body immediately, can’t fight back the frown that takes over her features.

 

“I’m glad, Swan.” Why does he sound so mature? She hates it.

 

A childish anger shakes her heart and she feels cold. He left childhood behind and he didn’t bother to tell her he was leaving. He didn’t bother. And now she’s stuck in this weird limbo, not a child anymore but not an adult either, not really, not like M, and he isn’t with her anymore.

 

She shakes her head to chase her thoughts away.

 

“Right, let’s get in.”

 

It’s still pretty early, and there aren’t a lot of people queuing in front of The Forbidden Fruit (the name never fails to make her cringe). This allows Killian and Emma to display their fake ID’s quite quickly.

 

Killian plays the part awfully well, although they’ve downed the entire bottle of vodka before stepping in. Emma is very focused on not looking completely hammered, as Killian would put it. Girls get in easier, it’s a known fact.

 

The bouncer clearly knows they are underage but the forgeries are good. Killian got them done during his Navy year. And he is savagely challenging the tall, sturdy guy to prove those are fakes, one eyebrow raised.

 

How can he look this sober? It’s unfair.

 

“Fine, get in, kids,” mumbles the bouncer, and Emma is sober enough to muffle a scream of joy inside her palm.

 

Killian takes her hand in his as they enter the club. They let go of their bags in one corner – I’m not about to pay two dollars to have my stuff kept by people I don’t bloody know.

 

When they turn towards the dance floor, neon lights seize their eyes as pop music shakes the walls.

 

Killian turns to face her, smiling brightly. “Ready to party, Swan?”

 

She nods vigorously, her heart beaming. “Hell yes!”

 

He takes her hand again and it’s so easy to forget everything as they make their way between the swarm of young adults dancing. They swirl together, spin, fly some more. They are both soon panting and sweating but it does not keep them from continuing to jump around.

 

Emma thinks this is it, the great, terrible happiness she’s heard about her entire life. It must be this beat in her heart, this strong pulse of life inside of her, as Killian holds her hands and swings with her.

 

They dance for what seems to be only a few minutes – except almost an hour goes by – and Killian glances urgently at the watch on his wrist before pulling her towards him.

 

“Let’s go on the rooftop before midnight,” he yells into her ear, and it sounds like he’s whispering.

 

She nods again, smiling brightly, and presses a napkin against her forehead. She tries to catch her breath, stuck in some liminal space, but Killian is still very energetic and drags her along with him towards the stairs.

 

She finds her legs trembling under her weight and to be quite honest, the room might only be spinning in her head. He must feel her struggle because he turns to face her on reaching the stairs, and his hold is very firm on her hand as he secures his grip around her waist. She thinks she smiles then, and they climb up together.

 

“Since when do you hold your alcohol so well?” she asks, boldly, and it really isn’t the kind of question she would have asked had she been sober.

 

Purely because it echoes the year they spent apart. And they haven’t talked about it, at all. And she’d be damned before she opened up to him when he hasn’t opened up to her.

 

“Well, you’ve got to, in the Navy, love.” It’s the second time he’s called her love since he’s been back. Her heart smiles.

 

The vibrant sea breeze that welcomes them outside nearly swipes Emma off her feet. Or perhaps it is the vodka. Either way, it’s a plausible excuse to grab him again.

 

From the corner of her blurry vision, she sees Killian set a timer to midnight on his phone. It’s funny, how the music from the club sounds like a very muffled sound and the only thing she hears now is her own heartbeat.

 

She’s still out of breath. She inhales deeply, and then bows down to him. “May I have this dance?” she asks him, eyes shining with mischief.

 

He chuckles, and it’s a wonderful sound. “Anything for you, Swan.”

 

There must be some synchronicity in the universe because then a much gentler song resonates, and it sounds like her teenage years and she cannot believe childhood is already over.

 

They swirl together, his warm palm in hers, and her arm is wrapped around his neck, and he still smells good after all their dancing and it’s unfair. She hopes she doesn’t stink.

 

Another swirl, another turn, and she’s back in his arms again, and nothing ever felt this right. She thinks he must feel it, how well their bodies fit together, how easy it is to be together.

 

Before she knows it, she’s staring at his lips and she thinks he’s staring at hers too, and no air suddenly reaches her lungs and the timer rings painfully.

 

A smile spreads across his face. “Happy birthday, Emma.” He murmurs, says it with a lot of caution and care and affection and that other word she’s scared of.

 

She grins, brightly, vividly.

 

And then, she stands up on her tip-toes, and before they are both aware of it, she kisses him. Melts into his mouth, muffles a whisper of contentment against his lips, eyes firmly closed, just in case he pushes her away.

 

He doesn’t.

 

He kisses her back, his arms wrapping tightly around her, and she swears in that moment something explodes inside of her. She never believed in butterflies. She does now. A swarm has invaded her belly.

 

Her hands are in his hair, while his roam back and forth between her waist and her shoulder blades, and she cannot help but notice how expert his movements are against her body when she is still shaking with emotions.

 

And then he pulls back, and he’s all disheveled hair and rosy cheeks, and then, and then – she falls.

 

To the ground.

 

.

 

A ray of sunshine falls on her closed eyelids. When she wakes up, her hand is spread over her face and her mouth wide open. She groans, whimpers, groans some more and finally opens very hesitant eyes.

 

What the hell.

 

A terrible headache says hello to her. It isn’t fair.

 

The first thing she notices is Killian’s hand around her waist. In spite of the pain, that does make her smile. The next is that she isn’t home but in Killian’s childhood home (the one Liam and he inherited when they lost their father).

 

She slowly, very carefully, turns her face towards the nightstand. Of course. He left paracetamol and water there and a small note: “For my dearest idiot. Love, Killian”. It is set next to a picture of her and Killian, from middle school. She leans forward, tries her best not to wake him up in the process, and grabs the bottle. She drinks avidly, trying to hydrate the desert that is now her body.

 

A small chuckle echoes behind her. “You alright, Swan?” mumbles a voice, still very full of sleep.

 

She turns to face him, an apologetic smile on her lips. “Except for a ferocious headache, pretty good, yeah.”

 

He’s smiling at her, eyes still puffy and there is a very clear pillow mark in the middle of his forehead that makes him look like a wizard, and she swears he’s never smiled at her this way before.

 

And then shame circles her throat as memories come back to her mind.

 

She really made a show of herself last night, didn’t she? She hopes he doesn’t hate her.

 

She hands him the water bottle, and straightens her back in the bed to get some composure.

 

“Hey Killian?”

 

“Mmm?”

 

“Let’s forget all about last night, ‘kay? I was drunk and I’m sure I was awful...”

 

She hears him gulp loudly beside her. Her eyes twitch. Oh, it must be worse than she thought. Guilt swallows her. What has she done?

 

“All… all about it?” he repeats, and she swears his cheeks have become redder.

 

Her hands come to the blanket over her body, hold it tighter against her to protect her.

 

“Yeah, everything. I mean, it would have never happened if we hadn’t downed that damn vodka just the two of us.”

 

She tries to shrug it off, rolls her eyes really hard to seal the deal, but really, she is so ashamed.

 

He swallows beside her, frowns. “Alright Swan, if that is your wish, then I—”

 

“—Oh yeah,” she cuts him, and she’s throwing her legs out of the bed, “—I’m really sorry Killian, it won’t happen again.”

 

As he stares at her with what she thinks is some sort of judgement, the thought that she might be forgetting something does slip her mind.

 

But only for a few seconds, and then it’s gone forever.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

August slipped away like a moment in time, // cause it was never mine.

 


 

Present Day – 21st of June.

 

 “—I’m really sorry Killian, it won’t happen again,” Emma’s words linger in Killian’s bedroom, long after she’s gone.

 

He is still lying on his bed, staring at his door, the one Emma escaped from. He stretches his bare feet over the lime green cover and frowns.

 

Well, once again, he got it all wrong. He really thought she meant their kiss. She really seemed to want him back.

 

His skin feels tacky under his fingers. He really needs to take a shower.

 

He finds a small blue plastic ball on his nightstand, and absently plays with it, swaying it in the air above his head.

 

“Bloody hell,” he whispers to himself.

 

An odd, nasty hand is gripping his heart. He’s not angry. He’s not even disappointed. He stopped hoping for something to happen between him and Emma a long time ago.

 

Except he’s lying to himself. Of course he is disappointed.

 

He called things off with Milah to give Emma and himself a chance, after these past months spent holding back from her. He was so surprised to find her this eager to be with him, once he got back.

 

He thought she would forget him over the year. He knows he desperately tried to. Milah appeared to be the perfect distraction.

 

Milah comes with a bigger cost that he is willing to pay, but that he only learnt a few weeks ago, over the phone. She finally confessed. It was a relief to find out he wasn’t being crazy or delusional. She has been seeing her husband again – the very same man she’s trying to get a divorce from.

 

He rolls his eyes, almost misses the ball. Milah is driving him crazy and he isn’t entirely sure she is worth it. At least, not when Emma’s green eyes look at him in the way he’s always wanted them to.

 

But that was a mistake, as well. Emma will never see him as anything but her friend. He made peace with that, when he left a year ago. It was too painful to hope, and with Liam gone, he couldn’t rely on Emma to be happy.

 

So he left, before she could leave him. It’s the most selfish thing he’s ever done, but he couldn’t, cannot bear to lose her.

 

Better to rip off the bandage straight away. Even if it leaves a wound over his heart, a wound that itches and burns.

 

His phone buzzes on his nightstand. He gives up the ball and stretches his arm to grab it. Twenty missed-calls. Milah must be freaking out.

 

And then, as hangovers usually go, his mind goes back to Emma. He cannot go on like this. He must know if she truly doesn’t want him back.

 

His fingers quickly find her name in his phone. Her contact photo is a picture of them both, from freshman year. They are sitting on Storybrooke’s carousel, near the beach. It’s fall. The wind is gently blowing their hair, as he hugs her from behind. She looks completely and utterly blissful, her head thrown back as a laugh crinkles her entire face. He is gazing at her, of course, he always has.

 

(He remembers Liam took the picture. The memory twists his stomach.)

 

It was so easy, back then, easy to love her and not want anything more. But the summer crush soon evolved into something more demanding – infatuation.

 

Killian presses her name. If Emma answers he’ll ask her.

 

He waits. For a long time. It is painful. But she doesn’t answer. And perhaps she does not want to. And then he gets a double call, and he knows before glancing at his phone who it is. M.

 

He reluctantly answers. “I hope you’ve got a whole script of excuses written down, Milah.”

 

He promises himself he won’t fall for her tricks.

 

He lies, again. Surely, Emma was wrong. Liam would not be proud of him.

 

(His eyes suddenly lend on the small, blue box on his desk. Bloody hell. He forgot to give Emma her present.)

 

.

 

A year ago, the 29th of June.

 

“Are you sure everything will be okay, little brother?”

 

Liam’s paternal tone sends angry shivers up Killian’s spine as he ties balloons around their front door. What an ass. Liam is very well aware that this nickname is, to Killian’s ears, the worst combination of two words.

 

“Aye. Don’t worry. You can go see Elsa in peace, brother.”

 

Killian shifts his gaze from the yellow balloon that’s also being a pain – just stick to the door! – to face Liam, standing in front of him with his hands on his hips.

 

Liam’s eyebrows are raised and it is difficult to know whether Killian is looking at his father or his brother. He winces. He’s going to get the talk, now, isn’t he?

 

“Alright. I expect to find this house standing when I come back.”

 

Killian swallows a very sharp answer. Liam’s entire life purpose solely relies on Killian needing him. Except he doesn’t anymore. He turned eighteen in February and he wants to see wider horizons than this bloody town. (The only thing – person – holding him back is Emma.)

 

“Don’t worry. It will stand just fine—”

 

“Great because…”

 

“— we don’t really need all of the walls, do we?”

 

Liam scoffs, visibly unimpressed by his sarcasm, and disappears once again into their home.

 

A home that is already filled by a smell of chocolate. After his last exam, earlier this afternoon, Killian made a cake – Emma’s favorite – to properly celebrate her birthday.

 

He hasn’t seen her in a week now, and for a very good reason: they all sat a horrendous amount of exams. Liam made sure Killian spent his week with his head buried in his books. Which is understandable, but also bloody unfair. (His life is tremendously boring without Emma Swan.)

 

Killian’s attention gets caught by Liam, coming his way again with a big, leather bag. He passes through the door and one hand finds Killian’s shoulder, presses it, as blue eyes delve into his.

 

“Be careful, Killian.” For once, Liam’s words seem really directed at him.

 

Killian simply smiles. “Always am.”

 

Liam grins as he nods and takes a step outside. “Do wish happy birthday to our roommate for me. She’s a good one.”

 

Killian rolls his eyes – what a nice way to remind him he probably shouldn’t invite Emma over all the time. Very Liam of him.

 

“I will. Safe car ride, brother.” With those last words, he goes back to blowing up the balloons.

 

It really takes a lot more effort than one might think. Emma will owe him a new pair of lungs by tonight. As he gathers all of his strength to blow up a pink balloon, he feels someone staring at him.

 

He looks up.

 

It’s Liam, in the car. He is waving at him, car window down. Behind him, the sky is distinctively blue.

 

Killian frowns but waves all the same. Weirdo.

 

.

 

“Alright. Everything’s ready,” mumbles Killian to himself, examining his living room.

 

He glances at the big clock on the wall. 8:15 pm. He is early, as per usual.

 

He shrugs his shoulders and dives onto his sofa for some relaxing me-time, getting out his phone. Emma has left him a text: “Leaving in 10, is that okay?” The thought of seeing her face warms his heart, and he quickly answers back: “Come whenever you want, I’m ready!”

 

As expected, the doorbell rings almost instantly. That makes him chuckle, imagining his Swan lass waiting in front of his porch – not wanting to bother him.

 

Emma didn’t have the happy childhood he did, with his brother and his father – although that did not last long. When they met, something was already irrevocably broken inside of her.

 

Chasing his memories away with a shake of head, he jumps to his feet and reaches the front door in a few long strides.

 

He opens with his heart drumming in his chest.

 

“Killian!” Her excited cry meets him as he discovers her outside.

 

She’s wearing a little black dress and white sneakers and her legs are already slightly tan, and she looks very, very pretty in front of this summer night sky and he must be blushing already.

 

Eyes open wide, it takes him a lot of willpower to exhale correctly. “Happy belated birthday, Swan!” He wishes he didn’t sound like he’s just run a marathon, but there is just so much a man can hope for.

 

Emma offers him a blinding smile. She’s the prettiest girl he’s ever seen.

 

“Thanks, Killian!” And then she shakes her wrist right in front of his eyes, and Killian’s horrified expression transforms into a soft smile. “And thank you for that, too.” The silver bracelet glints against her skin, “It’s beautiful, really.”

 

(He couldn’t bring himself to wait a week to give Emma her present. Thus, he dropped it on her porch on the twenty-first of June, with a small note: “Happy birthday, Swan. Love, Killian.”)

 

Killian is glad she does not ask further questions – because he would have had to justify the fact that this bracelet nearly cost him a hand. (Well, it did cost him two months of housework under Liam’s smug smirk, but it was definitely worth it.)

 

“Wanted you to have a proper gift for your eighteenth birthday,” he begins explaining but then she's grabbing his neck and quite literally throwing herself into his arms.

 

He is quite out breath at first – Swan’s always been a little brutal in her displays of affection – but then he feels her fingers tangle in his hair and her breath gets deeper in the crook of his neck, and that is definitely very nice.

 

Come on, Killian, hug her back. His limbs seem to have turned to stone as he gathers all of his mental power to gently hold her waist. He allows himself to close his eyes, for an instant, as he inhales her perfume – a fresh fragrance of ginger and herself.

 

“—And thank you for organizing this party for me!” she beams as she backs away, and she sounds ecstatic, which is surprising considering how she reacted the first time he offered to organize it.

 

(It was a lot of screaming and great sighs and “but no one will want to come!” and, finally, Killian’s hands on her shoulders, “I promise, they will want to, Swan.” He was the one who came up with the idea of simultaneously celebrating the end of the school year and her birthday – so as to divert the attention from her – and it was all it took to, finally, convince Emma Swan to celebrate her birthday.)

 

“My pleasure, Swan. However, I am going to need you to stop thanking me. I already know how perfect I am.”

 

Oh, the look she darts at him. She’s all fire, Swan, with her fiery green eyes.  He cannot say he does not love every second of it.

 

“Can I come in now or are we going to stay here a little longer to admire your door?” And then she’s glancing down at his hands still holding tightly her waist, and he blushes furiously, taking them back in a heartbeat. “Nice balloons by the way.”

 

Her amused words are a cold shower over his shoulders. He shudders, clearing his throat.

 

“Jeez, do come in, Emma. Sorry. Got lost in my thoughts,” he mumbles very quickly, grabbing her hand to guide her in.

 

Staring at the white walls of his living room allows him to cool down a bit. Damnit. He cannot be bloody flustered anytime she talks to him. Emma talks to him a lot. She’s his best friend, for heaven’s sake.

 

“No worries, your door frame is really pretty, when you take enough time to notice.”

 

He glares at her, but it’s with a lot of tenderness. “Shut up, Swan. You know what I’m like when I have to organize things.”

 

When he shifts to face her, she’s staring at the decorations he’s taken so much time to prepare. Everything is calculated, from the distance between the HAPPY BIRTHDAY sign and the crisp bowls on the coffee table and the color of the napkins – yellow of course, Emma’s always been yellow.

 

“I know, Killian. But it’s just a party. You can relax.” And with her last words, her arms have wrapped around his neck.

 

She cannot tell, but it’s doing terrible things to his heart rate.

 

“Thanks, Emma,” he rolls his eyes dramatically and gasps. “Doctors hate her, she found the secret cure to anxiety.”

 

Oh, how satisfying it is to see her blush suddenly. Why should he be the only one suffering from the heat?

 

She frowns, her fist gently bumping against his chest. “You know what I mean, Killian.” He hears the tiny bit of fear in her voice.

 

And smiles at her. “Aye, Swan. I’m teasing you.”

 

And then he stares at her with a big, idiotic grin and she’s raising her eyebrows and – unfortunately for their little duel –  the doorbell rings. They both jump, establishing a respectable distance between them. He doesn’t want the others to talk more than they already are.

 

“Ah, got to leave you, Swan. I have to be a perfect host.”

 

She snorts next to him and dives an expert hand into an open crisp bag on the kitchen counter. “Do go ahead. Do your worst, Killian.”

 

He rolls his eyes. He hates her.

 

.

 

It’s nearly midnight, and everything is going very smoothly in the Jones house. It is nice to see it come to life once again, with all of his friends having fun there.

 

It distracts him from the void that reigns between these walls, if only for a brief moment in time.

 

Killian presses a bottle of coke against his lips as David explains to him his last soccer game and Killian is barely paying attention to him.

 

Oh, David is a very nice guy – in spite of the orange t-shirt he is sporting with confidence that night. Probably one of the best friends he’s made in high school. But it’s really hard not to want to divert his gaze somewhere else when David wears this kind of t-shirt, especially since Emma seems very invested in a girly talk back in the kitchen.

 

She’s trying really hard to fit in, he can tell, from the way she holds herself – arms crossed over her chest to protect herself, but feet towards the girls, eyes alert, grin impeccable on her face.

 

He really wants Emma to have other friends – beside him. One cannot rely entirely on someone else. It just will not work out, for her. She needs to distill her affection. Even if it means settling for somebody who wears Yoda on his chest at a birthday party.

 

“Excuse me, mate. Need some water,” he mumbles and David doesn’t look very concerned.

 

“No problem, dude. See you later,” and with those words he swiftly joins another conversation animated by Robin – a guy from Killian’s mathematics class.

 

Killian rolls his eyes at his social ease. It’s unfair. David can just jump from one conversation to another and always feels welcome.

 

Killian heads for the bathroom, glares at one couple – Zelena, brought by Regina from Physics, and some guy – smooching on the stairs.

 

And then he really doesn’t mean to pry on the girls in the kitchen – but his ears catch his name.

 

“And what about you and Killian, Emma?” asks Mary Margaret – David’s girlfriend of two years now – in an impish tone, and he hates her for it.

 

Something blocks Killian just behind the wall of his kitchen – a crippling, human desire to know. From where he stands, he is able to hear but cannot see or be seen.

 

There is something very heavy and green, down in his stomach. Fear.

 

He hears Emma’s chuckle. He’d recognize it anywhere.

 

“Killian? Nothing! We’re just friends.”

 

Her words should not burn like this. It shouldn’t feel like someone just ripped his heart out in front of him. She’s merely stating the truth.

 

“Oh, come on Emma. Everyone can see how close you guys are at school,” Mary Margaret will not let it go and Killian is almost tempted to jump in like a devil to put this conversation to an end.

 

There’s a silence then. It’s deafening.

 

The universe conspires to play a slow song at this very moment. Killian can feel his heart beat in his temples. 

 

“No really,” Emma’s voice echoes once again. “To be honest, I’ve been crushing on someone else.”

 

Ouch. Lava seems to have been spilled in the vicinity of Killian’s heart. It burns. Killian’s hand is shaking as it finds the wall in front of him. He doesn’t know where to look. Nowhere seems fine. Everything is terrible and this place is too loud.

 

“Nooo! And who would that be?!” Their voices are too loud.

 

Killian knows the answer before she utters the name, and he is cursing every god above. Not him, not him, not him, please, not him…

 

“Neal.”

 

Killian’s heart shatters on the ground. The din is unbearable. He needs to get out.

 

Why is he so mad? They’re only friends. Surely he knew that all along.

 

A summer breeze welcomes him outside as he sits down on his porch, and its softness is in sharp contrast with the way his hands shake as he clenches his jaw to hold back something much scarier.  

 

He takes his head between his hands. It feels like he will never be able to go back inside his house. Except he will, of course. Not only does he simply have to on a practical level – it’s his house after all –  but also nothing is really as unbearable as one thinks at first.

 

.

 

Later that night, when everyone is dancing and Emma is searching for his eyes in the crowd, Killian receives an unexpected call.

 

He is sitting on the couch, surrounded by David and Robin, when Liam’s name flashes on his screen. Something stirs inside of him. Killian presses their shoulders, “I’ll be back, mates” and abandons their card game for the tranquil solitude of the kitchen.

 

It gives him a good view of the party without being a part of it. Emma, Ruby and Mary Margaret are still dancing in the living room.

 

“Mr. Jones?” A voice answers him on the phone. It is not Liam’s voice. And it is very distant, as if from another reality.

 

His initial instinct is to think it must be a mistake. Liam must have lost his phone.

 

“Aye, Killian Jones. Where is Liam?”

 

He isn’t even concerned at first, because Emma’s staring at him suddenly and wrath circles his heart. He is so mad at her for not liking him, not like he likes her. And at the same time, his heart cannot help but whimper as she smiles at him, her green eyes creasing. He notices she has smeared her black dress. Clown.

 

“Your brother had an accident, Mr. Jones. His car crashed into a heavy goods vehicle, and he was hurt in the process—”

 

A chuckle escapes his throat. What are they saying? Liam is immortal, of course he will heal.

 

“Did he break an arm or a leg?” Killian snorts. His weary gaze notices the chips spilled over the counter. He will have to clean that up.

 

“Actually, Mr. Jones, your brother did not make it—”

 

Another nervous chuckle escapes Killian’s mouth.

 

He doesn’t know his body has started to react before him. He does not feel the tears that rush to the corners of his eyes, does not control the movements of his face as something very evil swoops down on him. The only thing he knows is that at some point Emma enters the kitchen and she’s frowning furiously at him.

 

“Killian, what’s wrong?”

 

His phone is still pressed to his cheek. The paramedic hung up five minutes ago. But he didn’t make sense, and Killian is trying to call him back.

 

“Nothing, love. Liam is trying to trick me.”

 

He always used to do that, when he was a little boy. Nine-year-old Liam would hide until Killian wept and asked Liam to find him instead.

 

He doesn’t know why Emma stares at him in a weird way afterwards, doesn’t know why her brows furrow and her chin starts quivering, and she stammers. “Is he alright?”

 

She doesn’t make sense then. Why does she sound so panicked? It will be fine. Liam is playing a trick on him, hasn’t she been listening?

 

“He’s fine, Emma, really, it will be fine—"

 

Next to the chocolate cake and the chips on the kitchen counter, Killian notices the pink vase holding the yellow irises Emma left on his porch earlier this week as a thank you for her gift. (There was no note with it, but a red ribbon was delicately tied to the flowers.)  

 

Killian doesn’t know then that Emma’s face starts to reflect the expression on his features. Doesn’t know she’s staring at him as he breaks down, doesn’t see himself suddenly kneel to the ground in a desperate attempt to feel something cold under his skin, to feel anything – anything but this earthquake inside of him.

 

When she kneels next to him, a shiver of horror shakes his shoulder. “Don’t look this upset, Emma. It’s your birthday party,” he quickly utters. He doesn’t want to ruin her party.

 

And then, it clicks. Just like that. One second of understanding, and his life as he knows it is over.  

 

Emma’s hand is suddenly very firm over his knuckles still tensed around his phone, and she forces him to let go. He doesn’t fight back. Death has already taken her reward.  

 

In his memories, she’s the one who breaks down into his arms. It’s not what happened. The truth is he collapsed between her arms, and she held him so tightly, and with such strength, it felt like she had been ready for this her entire life.

 

He’s unable to look away from the yellow irises behind Emma’s back as she clutches into him. They’ve started to wither. It makes him sad.

 

 

.

 

Present Day.

 

Killian waits for midnight to strike before risking a glance at her window.

 

No light in Emma’s room. It’s now or never.

 

Grabbing his keys, Killian quite literally runs to her house. He reaches her door like a lightning bolt, and just like that, drops her present next to Ingrid’s doormat.

 

(He leaves no note. Didn’t know what to write.)

 

.

 

Killian avoids Emma all through July and August, and he does so quite well – just enough for it to be bearable and not so much as to make her worry.

 

One afternoon, he heads for ice-cream at Ingrid’s but his blood freezes before he can get in. He expected Emma to be working, but surely not Neal Cassidy to be leaning against the counter.

 

Killian fists his hands. Why are you angry? You’re dating someone else, for fuck’s sake.

 

He doesn’t like Neal. Neal isn’t a good guy. Neal is a terrible idea, one he’s tried to shake from Emma’s mind for a long time now.

 

Killian steps to the side so as to not be seen, and examines the scene carefully. Emma is wearing the blue uniform. For all he knows, she has been helping Ingrid out in the shop since they graduated from high school.

 

Emma never did like school very much. It only made sense when she decided she didn’t want to go to college and chose to stay in Storybrooke until she figured out what she wanted. 

 

Killian cannot see her face from his hiding spot, but Neal is all teeth out. His smile sparks fire in Killian’s belly. The air of this summer afternoon is uncomfortably dry and warm and grains of sand seem stuck down Killian’s throat.

 

Neal suddenly bends towards her, hands her a piece of paper –  his number, Killian gathers – and as Emma takes it, Killian’s gift glints around her wrist. (She added the charm he offered her. That alone nearly makes him suffocate.)

 

You’re dating someone else, his inner voice stammers.

 

When Neal reaches to brush a strand of hair from Emma’s face, it is simply too much for Killian. He turns back, his stomach twisting.

 

With one, heartbreaking thought in his mind – You’ve done this to yourself.

 

 

.

 

Late August.

 

Saying goodbye is incredibly bittersweet, this time. (So was last time but Liam had just died and it made sense.)

 

It feels a lot like they are both performing their friendship as they stand a foot apart, by the departure door.

 

There is so much bitterness in his mouth, on the tip of his tongue, in the rigidity of his muscles clenched around his heavy bag. Emma is tense too, won’t look at him, stares instead angrily at the departure board.

 

“Well,” his voice finally breaks the silence. It doesn’t sound like a voice, it croaks in the hall. “Time to say goodbye, Swan.”

 

From the corner of his eye, he sees her nod, blonde hair floating around her face. As he risks a glance at her, he begins to understand she is shaking.

 

She’s holding back tears. And his anger dissolves into the wind, becomes shame and guilt and tenderness.

 

He doesn’t want her to be sad.

 

He lets go of his bag, and grabs her hands, her bracelet ringing playfully as a hello. “Hey, Emma,” he whispers, murmurs her name cautiously to make her look up. She does eventually, and her eyes are bloodshot.

 

His hands cup her face. “It’s going to be alright, ‘kay?” She nods again, but her chin quivers. It’s killing him. He knows she thinks they wasted their summer. He thinks so too. He only fears they’ve wasted more than that. “We’ll text, and call, and I’ll even write you letters like in those goddamn movies of yours.”

 

The last part makes her chuckle, but that quickly turns into a frown. She’s determined to not let any tears slip out, but her eyes are working against her.

 

He traces her features with his fingers, her small nose and her freckles, barely brushes her lips, and he looks up to see a peculiar glint in her eyes.

 

The weight of unsaid words crushes their young shoulders.

 

He licks his lips, tries not to stare at her mouth too long. Instead, he leans his forehead against hers, and finds a bittersweet comfort when she wraps her arms around him.

 

“Come back,” she eventually mutters, her breath tracing the shape of his lips.

 

He swallows, holding himself back. And holds her tighter, buries his face in her neck, breathes her in. “I will. Always, Swan.”

 

Then, they don’t say it. They don’t say it but it echoes like a din between them. It’s heart wrenching, and childhood is definitely over.

 

Summer has never tasted this bitter.

 

His jaw is tensed as he lets her go to grab his bag. He does not expect her to hold him back, her fingers gripping his hand with strength.

 

When he turns to face her, she’s staring at him with eyes wide open and lips pressed together.

 

“I’ll come back, I promise,” he simply states, but she frowns harder and he can tell it is not enough.

 

Nothing will ever be.

 

He doesn’t say it then – let me go, Emma – but she hears it anyway and her palm opens abruptly, freeing him from her grip.

 

And he takes a step ahead. And another one. Until his legs aren’t so stiff, and oxygen finally reaches his lungs.

 

He doesn’t need to look back to know she’s staring at him the whole time.

 

.

 

Four years later – July.

 

Don’t get him wrong, Killian Jones has had his lot of fucking shitty days, but this one is clearly competing for the highest place on his podium of heartbreaks.

 

He presses a glass of rum against his lips, drinks it up in a few mouthfuls. David and Mary Margaret are sitting next to him and he is aware that they look genuinely concerned. But he is too mad to look at them. He’s furious, furious that their speeches about hope and “finding the right person” finally got to him.

 

He believed them – even if it was only for the five short minutes during which he ran like a fool towards Storybrooke’s town hall – he believed them.

 

Around him, everyone is disgustingly happy. He still feels sweaty in his white shirt and he cannot shake an infuriating strand of hair from his forehead.  

 

Running was pointless, of course. He was too late. Has been for years now.

 

From the corner of his eyes, he catches a glimpse of Emma in her white dress. She stands up, and for a moment his attention is caught by the bracelet around her wrist. There are four charms on it, four charms echoing the last years of their friendship. She is still wearing it, in spite of everything. It makes him sad.

 

But Emma isn’t aware of it, instead rings a spoon against her glass of champagne to catch everyone’s attention.

 

She is still the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen.

 

“Hello everyone. Thank you all for coming to our wedding.” The man at Emma's side, her husband snorts Killian’s inner voice, smiles and watches her with adoration.

 

And Killian is watching his life fall apart, as he does too often.

 

(It fell apart a long time ago, mumbles his inner voice, but he is too sober to be thinking about this.)

 

“I really, really couldn’t be happier to have you all here.” And then her eyes are on him and Killian wants to disappear.

 

How can she still look at him this way after all this bloody time?

 

He forces a smile on his face, nodding at her and mouthing “go ahead, Swan, you’ve got this.”

 

It gives her all the confidence she needs to give her speech, and she does it well.

 

The teenage girl he knew is long gone. A beautiful, confident woman stands in the middle of the room.

 

A woman he wasn’t bold enough to love properly.

 

Killian lowers his gaze as she goes on about how happy she is, how perfect everything is, and he wants to vomit and pass out and forget all of this.

 

But then he feels her stare at him once again, and he looks up to catch her eye.

 

Can she tell he’s been in love with her all along? He hopes so, because he will never utter the words now.

 

.

 

He definitely expects her to find him, as he sits outside on the balcony of the big mansion by the sea she rented for the ceremony.

 

The moon plays with the gentle salty waves. It’s one of his favorite views of the world. She knows it.

 

She takes longer than he thought, judging by the amount of rum he manages to gulp down, but she does find him.

 

“Hey, what’s up, sailor?” Her voice echoes, breaking the comfortable silence he found himself in.

 

He doesn’t turn back. He doesn’t want her to see him like this. He makes such a terrible friend, he should be happy for her. Happy that after a bloody bumpy road, Emma and Neal finally found each other.

 

He hates them for it.

 

“Not much. How’s the bride feeling?”

 

Summer crickets playfully sing behind them.

 

He hopes he doesn’t sound as bitter as the taste on the tip of his tongue. His fingers absently play with his flask of rum.

 

“Pretty good,” she answers back, and it’s not really the answer one would expect after such a wonderful wedding. “How…how is your hand?”

 

Oh right, this. The worst part about missing a limb is that everyone can see it, there’s no pretending it didn’t hurt, and they all stare at him with pity. It’s part of the reasons why he didn’t want to come to Emma’s wedding. (Emma didn’t stare, of course. Emma tried to mend him, but there was too much to heal.)

 

“Well, still missing, but generally good.” His words come out harsher than intended and he blames the rum.

 

“I tried to call you, to thank you for my birthday present. But you never answered,” she risks once again, and this time the little tremor in her voice makes him shift.

 

He is urged by a need to look at her, stare at her big, green eyes glinting in the dimness. After all this time, his heart still stops. How is that she still looks the same, only more beautiful, and he’s a wreck?

 

He paints another smile on his face, fingers clutching hard on his flask.

 

“I’m glad you liked my present, Swan. And I am, really, happy for you” he finally affirms. He says it because the whole universe expects him to and it is easier to divert her attention.

 

He really wishes he were good enough to sincerely think the words he utters. But he cannot.

 

He sees her shoulders fall just the slightest bit forward, as if she is relieved, and he can’t believe he genuinely fooled her. Perhaps she is just unwilling to fight. He cannot blame her.

 

“Good,” she exhales, smiles, turns a burning knife into his chest, “Because you matter to me. You know that, right, Killian?”

 

That hurts. It nearly knocks him out, and he has to hold on to the rail of the balcony. The cold metal beneath his fingers grounds him.

 

An unknown, mystical force – rum – suddenly pushes him to move towards her, against all of his inner principles. “I hope you know, Swan,” he begins, and he has gotten dangerously close to her. Closer than he’s allowed himself in weeks now. He stares at her lips, shakes his head. She’s staring back just as intensely. “I hope you know how much I love you – ”

 

The words are out before he’s aware of them, and her eyes widen. Fuck. He thinks he sees panic in her eyes.

 

He’s quick to utter the end of his sentence. “—as my friend, my oldest friend, and I’m so glad you finally found your happy ending.”

 

He sees her glance go back and forth between his eyes, and he can tell she’s not breathing any more than he is. Fuck. He’s ruined everything again, hasn’t he?

 

Finally, a smile cracks her face open and he knows she does it for both of their sake. “Right. Of course. You’re my best friend, Killian.”  

 

And she reaches for him, for his good hand – touching his missing limb would have just been too much for both of them – and wraps her arms against his chest. He hopes he doesn’t stink. He very solemnly hugs her back, thanks the darkness around them for hiding the one tear that goes down his cheek. This is nothing like the embraces they used to exchange with a very desperate, very innocent affection years ago.

 

She’s touching him but she still feels a thousand miles away as he gently rubs her back, lost in her scent, and somehow it feels like if he tried, he could bring them back. But he cannot.

 

And when she backs away, his grip gets a little bit tighter around her knuckles, panic rising in his chest, and her bracelet rings one last time. He cannot lose her.

 

But she isn’t his to lose.

 

And then she smiles at him, and in that smile she reminds him there is no war to be fought anymore.

 

It kills him. “Go back inside, Swan. I’ll join you quickly,” he finally whispers and presses a kiss over her knuckles.

 

He would burn in hell to kiss her again. She won’t let him. That’s only fair.

 

Questions echo in her eyes as she gazes at him one last time, and he swears a gentle, pink hue colors her cheeks. The time for asking questions and pondering over answers is over, too. That was a long time ago. They never found any answers.

 

“Sure thing,” Emma eventually replies, and the few steps she takes to disappear into the night leave him boneless.  

 

She did not look back. Of course not. She never looks back, now. (He left her hanging with her eyes twitching too long for her to ever look back again.)

 

And he is stuck looking at the door behind which she disappeared, wondering if he could have held her back.  

 

If he could have held them back.

 

Chapter Text

 

Don’t want no other shade of blue,

But you.

No other sadness in the world

Would do.

 


 

Four years before Emma’s wedding – Augusta Airport.

 

Emma’s hand is very harsh on her cheeks as it childishly wipes her tears away. She’s still staring at the door by which Killian left. She cannot stop staring.  

 

She cannot even blame Augusta airport’s lack of air conditioning for the way her entire body shakes and trembles and seems about to explode into thousands of little pieces of confetti.

 

He left, again. And she is so mad. He was here all summer and they didn’t spend it together. And he left. And she is alone with her rage, now.

 

“Fuck.”

 

The exasperated whisper escapes her mouth as she feels something humid roll down her nose. Great, now she is blowing her nose in the middle of the airport. Killian is the one to always carry tissues in his backpack. Another spike of anger shoots right through her. Thankfully for her, her agitated hands find a used tissue in her front pocket.

 

It has the merit, at least, of making her decide to leave this goddamn place. Once her nose is dry and red, she aggressively strides forward – her pace sure as her face crumbles.

 

The sun is blinding when she reaches the outside world. It savagely burns her eyes and forces her to squint. Incredibly warm air fills her lungs and it tastes bitter, and everything is shit and she just wants, she just wants… Her thoughts nearly make her choke on her tears. She just wants Killian and he is gone.

 

One outraged foot stomps on the burning concrete, as if to allow her to regain some composure. She is Emma Swan. She doesn’t need anyone. She never has.

 

Liar.

 

Without a second thought, she heads for the bus stop. He left, again. Well, now is the time to learn to live without him, Emma.

 

Flashes of her past year haunt her thoughts, and she swallows painfully. Her throat is sore. She really spent a shitty year, huh.  

 

As she glances at the bus schedule, and the scorching sun causes pearls of sweat to roll down her back in the most unpleasant way, she feels a hand press her shoulder.

 

She makes a U-turn in the blink of an eye, hands fisted and ready to defend herself, but then her eyes meet a familiar chocolate gaze.

 

“Hey Emma!” Neal’s voice resonates as he smiles brightly at her. She sees his expression quickly change and Emma gathers her red nose and her swollen, teary eyes aren’t her best look. She firmly wipes the remaining tears on her face and grins as Neal keeps staring. “Are you okay?” He asks her and his hand gently brushes her shoulder, and it looks like he cares about her. 

 

She realizes he is exactly what she’s been waiting for. A distraction.

 

“Better now,” she affirms, and she hears her own voice as if it did not come out of her mouth.

 

She sees Neal arch an eyebrow, gathers he must be surprised that for once, she’s the one flirting with him.

 

But this is exactly what she needs. To feel special, desired, wanted.

 

(To feel like she isn’t someone one just leaves behind.)

 

“Good. Waiting for the bus?” he inquires, and she nods.

 

Neal is definitely tanner than the last time she saw him. He must be back from vacation.

 

She sees the grin on his face change, become something much more…dangerous. She isn’t afraid. She’s tired of feeling afraid.

 

“I’ve got my own car, if you want. I could drop you off.”

 

He’s biting his lower lip, and she sees herself brush a strand of hair from her face, unaware of the used tissue emerging from the front pocket of her jeans, as she leans into him.

 

“I’d like that, actually.”

 

She muffles the voice inside of her head telling her to be careful. Look at what careful gave her. It gave her nothing. It gave her goodbyes.

 

And she seizes the hand he offers.

 

.

 

Being with Neal is easy, mostly because she doesn’t have to wonder if he likes her as much as she likes him. He tells her. He lets her know. She thinks he likes her more than she likes him, but that’s also fine.

 

It allows this year to pass by fairly easily. She feels less alone. (Her heart still skips a beat when Killian’s name appears on her phone, but there will probably be no getting rid of that.)

 

She doesn’t tell Killian. What’s the point? He never told her about M. She wants to have secrets, too. She deserves to have her secrets.

 

.

 

It’s fall, and they’re sitting on Storybrooke’s carousel when Neal confides in her for the first time. (She really tries to shake her memories from her mind, the ones of her and Killian, once upon a time, when everything seemed easy and sure, and now it’s all over and she hates him.)

 

“I was given up, as a kid, too,” he tells her, legs wrapped around a brown horse. He is slightly below her, a kiss away. They haven’t kissed yet. She thinks they might. She thinks she might like that.

 

Emma feels her grip getting tighter around her white horse, breath caught in her throat.

 

He is the first person to understand her, on that level.

 

“And I understand, Emma,” he continues, and the warm brown of his eyes melts into Emma’s chest, leaves golden sparkles there. “I understand what it feels like.”

 

Oh, this is all too good. This is all she’s ever wanted. (She doesn’t care that Neal doesn’t have a job but can somehow offer a car and all the marvelous gifts he brings her. That doesn’t matter, not when he is staring at her as if she hangs the stars in the night sky.)

 

She’s leaning towards him, heart beating fast in her temples.

 

“I know your anger, your anger towards your parents.” He pauses, and Emma’s face suddenly stops on its way down. “I am angry, too.”

 

Something gets caught in her throat. Oh. No. That’s not it. She was wrong. He doesn’t get it.

 

She’s not angry. She’s just perpetually followed by a very grey feeling. This feeling has fuzzy legs and arms and they are wrapped tightly around her, at all times. And it sticks, it never falls to the floor, as most fuzzy things do. And it stares at her when she thinks she is happy and it tells her maybe not.

 

But she doesn’t say it, not that. She leaves it hanging there within the few inches that separate her mouth from Neal’s, and she kisses him.

 

Because this has to be good enough. This has to be what she deserves.

 

Neal’s hand comes up to cup her cheek and she kisses him harder. His lips are soft, and his hands softer, but she can’t close her eyes. Instead, she stares at the black horse and his red collar – the one she’s stubbornly avoided  looking at.

 

And she thinks if only she could hate Killian a little, then things would be easier.

 

.

 

As time flies by, and fall turns into winter, Emma thinks Killian might have been right about Neal.

 

When his kisses linger on her neck as she pulls her clothes back on in the back of his car, and there is this very funny feeling in the back of her mouth, and he hands her a big, black bag –  that’s probably the sign she was waiting for to run the hell away from him.

 

But she’s dumb, Emma, and she needs to be very certain that she is making a huge mistake before she can decide to step away.

 

“I’m going to need you to keep this for a while. But do not open it, Emma,” he tells her, and the poor girl glances at it with a lot of concern but also a complete blind faith.

 

“Please, tell me it’s not a dead body.”

 

It makes him chuckle, and he bends towards her to kiss her lightly. She does not smile into his kiss. Something feels very wrong. Her ears are buzzing.

 

“No, Emma. Don’t worry. And to make sure you keep quiet, here is a gift for you.”

 

And he takes out of his pocket a very beautiful, very much stolen watch, and Emma tries her best to silence the voices in her head that are, by now, screaming, howling that none of this is right.

 

But Emma wants to be loved, and she doesn’t listen to them. Surely he must love her if he gave her a gift.

 

(The bracelet on her right wrist glints under the moonlight. She almost takes it off right then.)

 

“Thanks Neal,” she eventually whispers. Stars are shining brightly in the window pane, it almost looks like a painting. “I promise I won’t say anything.”

 

And when she gets out of the car with this big, black bag, she finally figures out what this strange feeling that lingers with her is.

 

Neal waves at her before disappearing into the night. She waves back.

 

She feels used. She wanted to feel love and she feels used. Her grip gets firmer over the bag and she walks to Ingrid’s house.

 

Oh, shut up. Her thoughts are going to ruin everything, again. Just like she ruined things with Killian.

 

Her bedroom is incredibly cold as she comes in. She left her window open all day. There’s no light in the corridor; Ingrid is fast asleep.

 

Emma closes the window with tired arms. She cannot quite control the quick peek she takes at the house in front of Ingrid’s. It is forever engulfed in darkness, and she sighs. She wonders if Killian will ever sell it.

 

She puts down her heavy red coat and her beanie, leaves her boots next to the wall, and lies down on her bed.

 

Her fingers absently turn the charm around her wrist. She closes her eyes, makes a wish.

 

Her heart misses a beat when his name flashes on her phone.

 

“I miss you, Swan. Hope everything is okay. We should call soon.”

 

A small, salty drop hits her phone as a smile splits her face. She doesn’t know how he knew she needed him. But he knew. And this, this is the only thing that feels right, right now.

 

Her throat is tight as she texts back. “Miss you, too, Killian. Let’s call this weekend?” She’s still working with Ingrid during the week, and she realizes just how lucky she is. Ingrid doesn’t really need any help, but she’s too kind to tell Emma to find a real job.

 

“Ah, can’t this weekend, but the next?” Killian’s answer is a slap against her face, a much needed return to reality.

 

Her room is still so cold. And the stars are of no comfort that night. Why does she feel this sad?

 

She closes her eyes, one instant, to swallow down her pride and how much she misses him and them.

 

“No problem. Goodnight, Killian.”

 

He cannot call because he will be with her. She’s sure of it.

 

Emma wraps herself in her blanket and it smells of lavender, and she never told Ingrid she doesn’t like lavender, because when Ingrid insists on changing her sheets each week, Emma really feels like maybe she belongs somewhere. But that, she also doesn’t tell her.

 

“Goodnight, Swan.”

 

Her phone screen goes black. And just like that, Emma is swallowed once again by this very grey feeling, and she thinks she will never be able to see any colors again.

 

.

 

Sometimes life is just a shitstorm of bad luck, isn’t it? Well, at least, that’s what Emma thinks as Ingrid stares at her, with the big, black bag open revealing a good dozen stolen watches, and the one at her wrist simply confesses her crime.

 

“There are a lot of things I can tolerate under this roof, Emma, but robbery? That’s just un—”

 

Surely, Ingrid didn’t mean to find it. She was just cleaning her room, but she usually does so on Fridays after spending a week telling Emma she should really clean her room – and it is Thursday and she wasn’t meant to find this bag.

 

“—I don’t understand how you could possibly think this is okay and I am—”

 

But Emma isn’t listening. As Ingrid stands in the middle of her room, she is scanning her surroundings as fast as she possibly can.

 

She’s already packing in her mind. Her ears are ringing and her heart drums in the worst way possible, but she isn’t listening.

 

This had to happen. It’s fine, actually, because Emma has been saving some money just in case, and really Emma doesn’t mind surviving on her own, it’s what she did for most of her life now, and sure, it was nice having a home at Ingrid’s but it’s over now and it’s fine, she just needs to deal with it –

 

“Emma!” Ingrid is screaming now, and that she didn’t expect, and Emma takes a step back, hands coming in front of her face to protect herself.

 

She can’t listen. Her breath comes out in a heave. She sees however that Ingrid is trying to look calmer, she sees the line of her eyebrows become softer. “I’m sorry, Emma. I didn’t mean to yell. I shouldn’t have.”

 

She has a big sigh, Ingrid, and Emma knows she’s trying to tell her. But it’s fine, she wants to tell Ingrid, she already knows, she’s always known.

 

Ingrid shakes her shoulders and passes by Emma, the bag firm in her hands. Emma’s mouth is still open but no sound is coming out.

 

“We’ll talk about this, later. For now, clean your room, please.”

 

And she closes the door behind her, and Emma is swallowing glass suddenly, and she cannot breathe, and she cannot break down, she has to pack and leave, leave, leave, of course, she has to leave.

 

(Ingrid forgot to ask Emma to give back the watch around her wrist. Emma leaves it anyway, on her desk, with a simple note: “For whatever it’s worth, but I did not steal those watches. Love, Emma.”

 

Neal’s watch leaves a faint green and purple burn on her skin. It itches painfully.)

 

.

 

That night, she boards a bus to New York.

 

“Emma, are you okay? Why are you calling this late?”

 

“Would…would it be okay for me to stay for a while with you and David?”

 

“Of course, honey. But please, tell me what’s going on.”

 

A big sniffling – Emma’s never learned to cry silently. “I’ll tell you once I get there. I’m taking a night bus. See you, Mary Margaret.”

 

And just like that, she’s gone, without a look back at this house in which she spent the best moments of her childhood, with Killian, but Killian is gone, and there’s no childhood to look back at.

 

.

 

He receives Ingrid’s call, very early on Friday morning as he sips a black coffee in Milah’s kitchen. He is on Christmas leave, but thankfully for him, the Navy has trained Killian to wake up far before the sun – especially in winter.

 

“Everything okay, Ingrid?” he asks right away, because Ingrid isn’t the type to call just to know how he is doing.

 

He’s frowning furiously as he examines the world from the safety of this apartment window. Outside, the city of Portsmouth is frozen, as if wrapped in a dark blue dream of snowflakes. The streetlights are still lit up, drawing fireflies that will not fly on the pavement, and winter mornings always did stir something bittersweet in Killian’s belly.

 

“Killian! I’m so glad I could reach you!” Ingrid’s tone makes Killian’s stomach twist. Can’t she just skip to the part where she tells him what the bloody hell is going on? “It’s Emma,” she finally confesses, and Killian has to put down his coffee mug. It’s as if suddenly somebody opened the window, and the cold, savage winter air swallowed him alive. He’s breathing ice. “She ran away. And I don’t know where she went. And before calling the police, I thought you might know –“

 

Killian’s mind races. “Ran away? Why?”

 

“It’s about Neal. He stole watches. It’s a long story, one I wish I could tell you over a fire and –“

 

“Ingrid!” Wrath escapes his throat. “You have to tell me, did she leave any clue behind?”

 

But the poor woman is practically sobbing on the other side of the phone, and Killian rolls his eyes.

 

“No, no, she just left. I’m so sorry, Killian, I didn’t know and now I—”

 

A big sigh shakes Killian’s shoulders. “It’s going to be okay, Ingrid. I will find her. And Emma can take care of herself, she’s a big girl.”

 

He ends the conversation as fast he possibly can, takes one sip of coffee and starts his investigation. In front of him, the sun slowly rises, painting the sky in pink, orange and purple clouds.

 

He knows Emma well enough not to try to call her. She won’t answer. She’ll know Ingrid sent him.

 

Thus, he calls the next person, besides himself, who might know where the bloody hell Emma Swan is.

 

“Yes, hello?” answers him a very small, very sleepy voice, and Killian glances at the kitchen clock to discover that it is barely 8am. She’ll hate him, but that’s something he can live with.

 

“Hi, Mary Margaret. It’s Killian, Killian Jones. We went to high school together.”

 

There’s an “mmmm” on the other end of the phone, and Killian gathers she knows very well what he is about to ask.

 

“Would you be hosting a certain nineteen year-old girl? Blonde hair, big, green eyes and freckles.”

 

There’s a silence then, and he imagines her mind racing at high speed thinking whether she can confide in him or not. (Whether Emma will hate her or not.)

 

And, finally, “Yes. But Killian, she specifically said she wanted nothing to do with you. So I’m kind of breaking a sacred rule of friendship right now, but I think she really needs you.”

 

Something cracks inside of him. It makes a gruesome sound. A bird lands on the frozen window ledge; its feathers are of a very tender yellow.

 

“Alright. You don’t have to tell her I called. I’ll simply call Ingrid back to tell her Emma is safe and sound at yours.”

 

Another silence, Mary Margaret is almost audibly pondering her words. “…Mmm ‘kay. That seems fair. Bye then, Killian?”

 

He nods, but it’s to himself only. “Bye, Mary Margaret.” The first rays of sunshine are starting to burn his eyes.

 

“Why are you on the phone so early?” Milah’s voice suddenly resonates in the kitchen, and he turns to face her sleepy features.

 

He forces a smile on his face. “Family call,” he explains casually, but Milah frowns. She must know he’s lying.

 

“I thought you were an orphan?”

 

He licks his lower lips. Well, that wasn’t very nice of her. She just woke up, let the damn woman breathe.  

 

“Aye, indeed, love. I still have some family left, though.”

 

He thinks she sees a flicker of pain in his eyes because she wraps her arms around his neck and kisses the side of his jaw. “Sorry, baby. That wasn’t very clever of me to say,” she already smells of menthol against his lips, “I’m so glad we’re spending this weekend together.”

 

Killian winces, as she drops kisses all along his neck. “About that, love…”

 

.

 

Mary Margaret would make an incredible mother, Emma thinks as the petite brunette tiptoes through the living room – so as to not wake up Emma.

 

It’s Saturday morning, but Mary Margaret is an early bird. She’s already wearing clothes that shouldn’t be worn ever, especially not on a Saturday morning – Saturdays and Sundays are for pajamas, that is the sacred law.

 

Emma feels good, buried beneath thousands of blankets that smell like soap, and she wants to remain like this forever, with nobody to ask her anything and no responsibility. Emma, you might need to confront reality, one of these days.   

 

She grunts as her friend switches on the kettle for some well-need needed coffee, and Emma turns on the sofa.

 

Mary Margaret has been living alone in New York for a year and a half now. David decided to stay in Storybrooke in order to follow in the footsteps of sheriff Graham, but they’ve been making this long distance relationship work. Emma isn’t surprised, what they share is unique and precious.

 

Last week, David joined Mary Margaret for the Christmas break, and Emma thinks she really is a big smear on their perfect little lives.

 

Except that, when Emma sees her friend start to whip eggs, although it’s barely nine, and she does so with such a big smile on her lips, Emma thinks that maybe she isn’t that much of a bother.

 

Gathering up courage, she swings her legs out of her improvised bed and stretches loudly to let her host know she is awake.

 

“Ah! Emma! Good morning!” Mary Margaret smiles instantly, and Emma thinks she really is a ray of sunshine. “Hope I didn’t wake you up.”

 

She even makes Emma smile, and that says a lot, because Emma does not smile in the morning.

 

“ ’Morning, Mary Margaret. No, don’t worry. I was already awake. How are you?”

 

The whipping intensifies as Emma makes her way to the kitchenette, shuffling her feet on the warm carpeted floor.

 

“I’m really good!” And then a frown. “How are you, Emma?”

 

A really big sigh shakes Emma’s shoulders then, as she glances at her phone on the living room table.

 

“I’m okay, I guess. Better, anyway.”

 

She spent the whole trip to New York trying to call Neal. He never answered. She doesn’t know what she expected. Everyone keeps leaving.

 

“I’m sure things will work out, with Ingrid—” Mary Margaret is trying to cheer her up but her words are stumbling over each other.

 

And Emma is tired, and she doesn’t want to talk about it.

 

“I know, Mary Margaret. My reaction might have been harsh, now that I’m not in the heat of the moment anymore –“ That was indeed very Emma of her, to let all hell break loose at the slightest inconvenience.

 

“—Yeah, my point is, Ingrid never asked you to leave…”

 

And Emma frowns because Mary Margaret’s words stir something nasty and painful inside of her. Clearly she was wrong, she is a bother, she always has been, Mary Margaret is trying to tell her to leave, and it’s fine really, and then, then – the doorbell rings and Emma has to keep all of her emotions bottled up inside. Her eyes twitch. She didn’t get much sleep last night.

 

Mary Margaret quickly squeezes her arm, but Emma backs away and returns to the couch with a lump in her throat she cannot swallow down.

 

She made a mistake coming here, thinking she could rely on other people, thinking she had friends…

 

And then, one name echoes in Mary Margaret’s apartment.

 

“Killian?! It’s been so long, what are you doing here?”

 

Mary Margaret is really a pitiful liar but Emma’s heart has already caught fire as she stands up like the devil and reaches the front door in a few long strides. Her ribcage is about to explode.

 

There he is. How dare he.

 

Why does it feel like coming home?

 

Emma fists her hands as exhausted blue eyes meet hers, and she gathers he took the first flight to see her. Of course he did.

 

“Hello, Swan.”

 

Oh, how much she wants to be angry. She wants to scream at him, but then her chin starts trembling and her legs wobbling and she cannot breathe and her body cannot handle the distance between them and… She doesn’t know who reaches first, but then her hands are in his hair and he is lifting her off the ground and she’s hugging him with all of this despair, all of this sadness in her chest, and she wants him to feel bad for what he did to her.

 

And all of the emotions she tried to bury rise at once, consume her completely, and she’s sobbing in the crook of his neck, until there are no more tears and no more her but him, and his scent, and his everything, and may he never let her go again.

 

Chapter Text

Would it be enough

If I could never give you peace?

 


 

Four years before Emma’s wedding – New York.

 

As Killian makes small talk with David and Mary Margaret in the kitchenette, Emma is quite thankful she cried this hard. While she really went all in, wept with both her eyes and her nose for a good ten minutes and clearly smeared Killian’s sweater for life in the process, Emma must confess that she does feel better.

 

Scientists didn’t lie about dopamine. The grey feeling in her chest is twirling in a salt puddle, but Emma knows it won’t be drowned forever. (Not when hazel lingers behind her eyelids, anyway.)

 

As she sits next to Killian, in front of a plate of scrambled eggs, Emma feels like she might be floating on a cloud. She’s almost tempted to close her eyes, and get some well-deserved rest, but Killian might leave again and her eyes shoot open at the thought.

 

She did not forget his text. He said he would be busy. Why isn’t he, suddenly?

 

Her fork slides to the right, and nearly stabs her cheek. Emma sighs, embarrassed, but they don’t notice her, engulfed in their conversation. That’s for the best.  

 

A nasty hope raises her heart. Maybe , just maybe

 

But then, no. No . She deserves better than this, better than being left hanging for him to look back at her. Knowing he never does.

 

“Well, I’m glad to see you two are still the most infuriating couple in town.”

 

Emma looks up to see a smile on Killian’s face. He is peeling an orange, and its smell fills Emma’s lungs with Christmas memories and Ingrid’s tender smile. She must be worried sick.

 

Guilt circles Emma’s throat, until she gets distracted by the orange peels dropped next to her. They look like petals.

 

Emma thinks, as Killian sits next to her, all upright and proper and Navy, that she sees him for the first time in ages. That the strawberry cloud surrounding him has blotted – somewhere between their last goodbye and the moment she realized she was blaming him for her grey, fuzzy feeling. She doesn’t know if she is allowed to blame him. Probably not. But it still itches.

 

David and Mary Margaret obviously like Killian. She sees it in the way David presses his shoulder when he reaches for butter, and Mary Margaret makes sure his cup of coffee is never empty. She thinks they always did like him more than they liked her. But that’s fair. She also liked Killian better. 

 

“Aha, thank you, mate ,” replies David, and he has a green apron on his right shoulder and he looks very much so adult and Emma frowns, feeling like she missed an important step from teenagerhood to adulthood. “What about you, any lovebird?”

 

Well, now that was quick.

 

Mary Margaret’s swiftly elbows David in the ribs, but it’s too late. The eggs are already stuck down Emma’s throat, and it feels like a strong hand is strangling her. She coughs loudly, and a glass of water is pushed in front of her. Killian .

 

He won’t let her be mad, will he?

 

“Careful, Swan.” He even dares to smile. She wants to yell at him but Mary Margaret and David would stare, and she would have to explain why she’s yelling, and then she would have to talk about this funny, funny feeling in her belly when she thinks about M, and… She drinks up.

 

Killian gives a small chuckle then, but Emma barely hears it. She only hears the fickle buzzing of her heart.

 

“Sorry mate, I’m not the type to kiss and tell.” Killian’s words are sure and calm.

 

Without a glance, Killian hands Emma an orange slice, as if it were the most natural thing in the world – and sure, for a while it was –  and she shoots him a death glare but she takes it all the same.

 

What does he think he’s doing? Does he think she’s just his to pick whenever he feels like it?

The small slice is very delicate and it leaves tangy, sugary drops on her fingers, but she does not think too much about it and shoves it in her mouth. It explodes in orangey sweetness.

 

“Can we change the subject?” asks Mary Margaret, and Emma isn’t looking up but she knows she’s staring at her with all of the compassion and the pity in the world and it makes Emma even madder.

 

Everything is so bitter. She doesn’t know where to look, where to be, for the pain to flatter.

 

“I need to get out,” Emma exhales suddenly. She doesn’t mean to say it like that, but those are the only words her brain comes up with.

 

“Oh. Alright. Well, David and I were thinking about going to the Christmas market but—”

 

“— It’s fine. You guys can go to the Christmas market, I’ll stay with Emma.”

 

Emma doesn’t offer Killian a glance, instead buries her nails into her palm. How dare he .

 

“Are you sure, Emma?” asks Mary Margaret, and Emma wants to snap back that she should have thought about it before inviting Killian over, but then she sees the gentle glint in Mary Margaret’s eyes and she can only sigh.

 

“Yeah, don’t worry. Killian and I need to talk, anyway.”

 

She hopes Killian’s heart makes a loop in his chest and the tip of his ears turn scarlet, as they always do when he is embarrassed. It’s all he deserves.

 

“Well, then it’s settled.”

 

And Emma wishes it didn’t smell like oranges and Christmas in the room, because then it would be easier to hate Killian Jones, for sure.

 

.

 

Bare are the trees of Central Park as Killian and Emma walk in, their boots crushing the fresh snow. Crunch, crunch , it sings. Emma loves that sound.

 

She is wearing her biggest red coat and a huge beanie but she is still shaking. She buries her hands in her pockets, walking ahead of Killian, and when she looks back he isn’t by her side. Panic rises in her mind, until she gets a glimpse of him a little down the street, queuing next to a coffee shop.

 

As she walks to meet him, her stomach twists. He’s getting her a hot cocoa. A green and viscous fury creeps from Emma’s toes to her heart. When he hands her the steaming cup, his fingers brush against hers and she blames the cold for the shiver that tingles her skin.

 

“Thanks,” she hisses, but still will not look at him. Twirls of chocolate steam escape the cup, it smells like heaven.

 

But Emma is very determined to hate Killian, from now on, and she hides her grin behind her cup.

 

“Should we sit on the bench?” offers Killian, and she loathes the gentle tone of his voice.

 

“Yup.”

 

Down the park, families are strolling and Emma’s heart sighs loudly. Oh, this is very much so unfair. What’s even more unfair, though, is the fact that when Killian presses one hand down her back, she doesn’t want him to stop.

 

She wants him to linger there. And when his hand quits her back as he sits down on the bench, it leaves frostbite.

 

She licks her lips, squeezing her thighs together. “Are you alright, Swan?”

 

She nods and sips the hot chocolate. Clouds of cinnamon tickle her nose. It makes her smile against her will, and then it makes her sad. He knows her by heart. Can you really leave someone you know by heart behind?

 

“I’m fine. So, we said we would talk,” she quickly mutters, and takes another sip of her warm drink.

 

Ah, this hot cocoa is definitely soothing her soul.

 

Killian crosses his legs, and she knows he only does so when he is uncomfortable and she is glad. He better be.

 

“What do you want to talk about?” Christmas lights twinkle in the trees behind him. They form the shape of a snowflake.

 

“First, who called you?”

 

They are green, red and yellow, the lights. Their sight should not tighten her throat like this.

 

“Ingrid. She was worried about you. She wants you to come back, Emma.”

 

She nods, a small, quiet cloud of white smoke escaping her lips.

 

“I thought she’d hate me. I thought she wanted to get rid of me.”

 

Killian’s furious stare burns the side of her cheek, and Emma blushes but she won’t look back at him.

 

“Why would she hate you, Emma? Ingrid’s always cared for you.”

 

She wants to tell him that he cared and he still left, but then she would start to cry, and she does not want that.

 

“Yeah, right. Well. I’m not used to someone putting me first.”

 

It’s hard to shake Neal’s smile from the cobweb of her thoughts. She thought he liked her. Hell, she thought he was in love with her and she was the one incapable of moving on from her teenage crush. She thought she was the one throwing away their chance at happiness. She was wrong.

 

And Killian reaches for her then, breaks their secret and unspoken oath of distance and loneliness and grabs the hand she let linger on the cold, wooden bench, and Emma can’t control the great dive of her eyes into his.

 

And blue are his eyes, icy blue, and so full of warmth, and she wants to drown in them. She clenches her jaw.

 

“I’m sorry for what happened, Emma. You deserve so much better than that scumbag.”

 

Well, does she? Anger burns deep within her. It’s a wicked flame.

 

She snatches her hand away from him and in that gesture she catches a smell of peeled oranges and everything sucks again.

 

“You were with her , right?” she attacks then, pushed by this bold fury in her heart, and they have to talk about it or it will kill her.

 

He opens his mouth then, but no sound comes out, and Emma swallows frozen stones.

 

“I…I was.” A pause. “How long have you known?”

 

She shakes her head then, blonde hair dancing over her eyelids. “Since this summer.”

 

But also, far before that. She thinks she knew the moment he stopped answering her calls at midnight and their texts got more scattered. That was probably the moment she knew.

 

She buries her hand in her pocket, so that he will not grab it again, and she drinks long mouthfuls of her hot cocoa. She swallows too fast and the vindictive liquid burns her throat. She winces.  

 

“I see. And since we’re talking great revelations, how long has this thing been going on with Neal?”

 

So much for friendship, she thinks. So much for loyalty and comfort and trust. It nearly hurts as much as the savage burn left by the hot cocoa down her throat. Liar .

 

“This summer,” she lies.

 

She wants him to think she never cared, even if she most clearly does, or she wouldn’t be clinging to her hot cocoa this way.  

 

There’s a scoff next to her. “I see.”

 

And then silence falls, and Emma doesn’t want this battle to end. But when she glances at him, his hands are calmly spread out on his lap, his cup of cocoa long forgotten, and she wants to shake him, to tell him to fight for her, for them, but he is already defeated and he doesn’t care.

 

“That’s it?” she asks, and her voice is hoarse with tears.

 

He looks at her then, shrugs. “What do you want me to say, Swan?”

 

Anything . Anything but his silence and his mature smile and his soft eyes that don’t see her.

 

“We’ve made mistakes, both of us, in keeping secrets from each other.” A pause. “I made a mistake. I should have talked to you. You’re my best friend, after all.”

 

“But we didn’t, Killian.” And this is very dangerous, because there is a sob curled up in her throat that is very eager to come out, and she cannot, she cannot let it out.

 

She needs him to understand.

 

“Why didn’t we talk about it, Killian? Why didn’t you say anything? Why ?”

 

And he’s staring at her with his big blue eyes, and she feels miles away from him.

 

He must feel it, he must know how wrong this whole situation is, for them to be with anyone else, he must feel it or she’s been wrong all along.

 

“Because –” he starts and she’s glad to hear his voice is quivering, too. “— because I care too much about you. I didn’t want it to change anything between us.”

 

The Christmas lights are so very sad suddenly. “But it has changed everything, Killian.” A snowflake lands on his black, tousled hair. It’s snowing.

 

“Are you mad at me for leaving?” he asks then, and it’s such a quiet whisper in the snow, she barely hears it.

 

Anger turns to sadness. It always does.

 

She peers at him through her eyelashes. “No. Yes. ” A pause, the cold is biting her lips. “I tried to hate you for leaving.” And then he looks sad, and she remembers his own sorrow, and guilt circles her throat. “But I couldn’t.”

 

Her tiny cold hand leaves the safety of her velvet pocket to grab his palm, and she hopes he hears it. I’ll love you until the end of time.

 

And in a heartbeat, she presses her lips against his scruffy cheek, discovers his skin cold and damp, and there is a stubborn, stubborn hope in her chest – the hope that he might turn his face at the last moment and drink her breath.

 

He doesn’t.

 

When she backs away, her hand lingers on his face as she gazes at him intensely – to remember the gentle shadow dropped by his thick eyelashes on his cheekbones, his cheeks that have turned crimson, and his lips, vibrantly red and tasting of chocolate, his entire face as she allows herself to run after him, one last time.

 

Her hand leaves his face for the cold wetness of his coat, the bracelet at her wrist ringing, ringing, but she cannot let go, not quite now.

 

“I’m sorry, Emma.” He whispers, and finally turns his face towards her. It’s unfair. He is twenty seconds too late.

 

Her heart skips a beat. She thinks it echoes all through the park.

 

“I never meant to hurt you.”

 

She nods, and she should find peace in that, but she doesn’t. And it’s fine. She doesn’t need peace, not when this soft flame burns within her. Not while it keeps her alive.

 

“I know that, Killian.” And she glances down at his lips, stares intensely at them, and she is this close from kissing him, this close , but he backs away, and she smiles – defeated. “Thank you for coming, even though you were busy.”

 

And she watches him lick his lips, frown. “I’d drop everything for you, Emma. I will always have your back.”

 

She nods, her heart bursting. Her hand falls down his arm, a pink petal dropped in the snow, and reluctantly settles for holding her cup of hot cocoa. It feels like something is being ripped from her flesh. But that is also fine.

 

She stares straight ahead, at the Christmas trees and the families, and she exhales: “Let’s go see that Christmas market, huh?”

 

“Aye.” And he stretches his hand for her to hold, and the tip of his fingers is red and frozen and, before she knows it, his lips are pressed against her cheek, and a flower blooms in Emma’s chest.  

 

And when she looks up, she swears she sees him bend towards her, a liquid flame burning in his gaze, and her breath gets caught in her throat. But then he stops, and snow melts on her lips.

 

The distance between their bodies, the unfinished course of his lips towards hers, the heartbeat she misses, all of this is fine.

 

She links their arms as they walk, muffling the voices in her head. They tell her she shouldn’t play with fire, but she has nothing to lose anymore.

 

.

 

Killian throws their now empty cups of hot cocoa in a nearby bin while Emma calls Ingrid. A weird pang lingers in his chest. This crisp winter day carries Christmas smells with it that fill Killian’s lungs with nostalgia and a strange kind of hope.

 

As he watches Emma pace restlessly in front of him, unaware of her surroundings, he feels proud of her for reaching out to Ingrid first.

 

Killian watches as Emma clenches onto the phone, throws a strand of hair behind her back and frowns, heels clacking on the pavement, and he notices just how different she looks. Her hair has grown, and she styled it to form golden curls over the red of her coat. She’s wearing lipstick as well, a bright red shade, and he doesn’t think he’s ever seen her with it.

 

She’s changing. Evolving without him. It shouldn’t feel like this, in his throat, but it does, and in a blink he looks down at his feet to conceal his feelings.  

 

His thoughts go back to Neal then, Neal who’s hiding somewhere and he desperately wants to find him and smash his pretty, pretty face.

 

But then he hears the click of Emma’s black boots on the snow coated pavement, and he looks up, forcing a smile on his face. There’s not much else to do but smile.

 

“Come,” she smiles and grabs his arm, “Everything we need is right in front of us.”

 

Oddly enough, they spend a good day together, one that brings Killian back to summer nights and long walks along the beach, and her hand in his, and the feeling, the conviction that this would last forever.

 

As they eat crepes and toasted marshmallows and somehow their laughter echoes between New York’s brick buildings, forever is merely a word and they are fighting against the passing of time.  

 

All of this is ephemeral. But then again, everything is. Perhaps it is the reason why he wraps his arms quite as hard around her when she whines “I’m so cold, so cold” by a street corner , and she is so small in the crook of his neck, and his lips linger on her forehead as a chuckle shakes both of their shoulders.

 

(They never join Mary Margaret and David.)

 

And when nighttime falls, and they’ve finally reached Mary Margaret’s building, and it is time to say goodnight and goodbye, always goodbye, he makes a conscious effort in memorizing the features of her face. The pavement shines, glints, glistens under New York’s street lights, wears its prettiest fluorescent feathers.

 

And Emma’s face is inhabited by that same green, wet light. Her curls have loosened throughout the day and a crown of baby hairs is escaping from her beanie. She only looks more beautiful and touching. Her cheeks and nose are red from the cold and her eyes are two green lakes shining with gentle sparkles and her mouth is wet and he desperately wants to kiss her.

 

It would be easy to cave in, lean forward and drink her breath. Easy to take advantage of her broken heart and mold it with his hands. 

 

And then what? Emma does not like him like he does, Emma is in love with Neal, she always has been it seems, and kissing her wouldn’t lead anywhere but to more heartache. 

 

And he thinks of Milah then, Milah who’s betrayed him but whom he deeply cares for and who is willing to be with him. Milah who loves him, and whom he might love, if only he allowed himself to.

 

He wants to tell Emma then, join me in my hotel room, I did not come all the way here just to spend a few hours with you, come lie next to me and we’ll – Sweet, sweet fantasy.

 

Where would that lead them? 

 

“So, this is it. I’m expecting you to call me once you’re safe and home at Ingrid’s,” he finally whispers, and he sees it, this strange glimmer in her eyes.

 

She’s smiling, nods, seems at peace.

 

“You never told me her name. What is it?” she suddenly asks.

 

Frozen, frozen snowflakes fall all around them. The fire burning between their two bodies is still excruciating.

 

“Milah.”

 

She nods again. Breathes in and, he’s starting to understand as well, lets go. Very resolute, very brave when she kisses his cheek – for just one instant. And then her lips vanish.  

 

And she smiles again, and Killian finally understands he is losing her forever.

 

He watches as she carefully cuts the golden string tying her to him, and his hand has a small jolt but he is not quick enough to stop her.

 

“I’ll see you around, next summer, I guess,” she simply mutters and does not wait for his reply to turn around.

 

The din of her boots echo on the pavement, until it does not.

 

And just like that, he’s lost her.

 

.

 

Watching Ingrid’s yellow bug park in front of Mary Margaret’s building, this Sunday morning, really stirs something strange and unfamiliar in Emma’s chest. She doesn’t know quite why but suddenly there is this heavy, heavy weight on her chest and it is hard to breath.

 

“It was nice to have you here, Emma. Do come back, when you are not in trouble, some day,” smiles Mary Margaret, and then she’s wrapping her arms around Emma’s body.

 

And Emma breathes into her, and she thinks everything is terribly overwhelming, but maybe it is a good kind of overwhelming for once. She clutches onto her friend.

 

“Thanks, Mary Margaret. I’ll be more than happy to come back.”

 

And then David’s pulling her into another hug, and Emma starts to think life doesn’t suck as much as she wants to believe it.

 

Ingrid gets out of the car, rubbing her hands together. “Well well, they don’t lie about New York weather.”

 

And Emma cannot tell but her face is definitely splitting into a ridiculous, ugly smile, and her chin starts quivering. An ocean of unfamiliar emotions is swallowing her. But maybe, just maybe, as Ingrid’s green eyes find hers and shine so very softly, maybe she is allowed to feel them.

 

“Emma.”

 

Ingrid .”

 

And then Emma doesn’t know who reaches first, it’s her, it’s her stretching her hand and grabbing Ingrid’s shoulder and pulling her against her, until the weight on her chest explodes into thousands of strawberry bubbles of happiness.

 

And it’s really hard to swallow the tears that threaten to come out of her eyes when Ingrid’s hand finds her scalp and gently massages it, and her smell fills her lungs, and she never realized Ingrid had a smell and that it smelled like home.

 

And then Ingrid’s lips are on her temples and Emma is nowhere to be found, melting into a puddle of glittering happiness.  

 

And when she looks behind her back, Mary Margaret and David have disappeared.

 

“I’m sorry I ever made you feel like you couldn’t trust me, Emma.”

 

And then Emma shakes her head, nods, laughs a little. “It’s fine, Ingrid. It’s fine. It was equally my fault.”

 

Ingrid grins, her hands cupping Emma’s face, and Emma feels safe and loved, and she forgives both of them.

 

Emma learns during their car trip back to Storybrooke that Ingrid found the jewelry store where the watches were stolen, and she gave them back, and the shopkeeper was so happy he withdrew his complaint.

 

Neal is nowhere to be found. But Emma thinks that’s quite alright, because this pain will fade away with time as well.

 

And when Killian sends her a text “Safely landed. Already missing you”, Emma ignores it and shoves her phone down her bag.

 

This pain will fade away with time as well.

 

.

 

 

Six months before Emma’s wedding.

 

 

Emma’s running. She’s running like she’s never run before. Mind you, as deputy Sheriff of Storybrooke, for two years now since David left for New York, running is part of her job description. But she’s never run with this kind of fervor before.

 

She’s running as if Killian Jones might close his eyes and never wake up.

 

“Family?” asks the hospital nurse without a look at her.

 

Big, big pearls of sweat roll down Emma’s temples as she stares at the nurse with eyes wide open, trying to catch her breath. “Y-yes,” she lies, in the blink of an eye.

 

And then the nurse glances down at her left hand and Emma knows she sees the ring on her finger and thinks –  but she is mistaken and it is fine.

 

“Alright. His room number is 815.”

 

And Emma turns around like a devil, like she’s possessed really, and she thinks she is, she is possessed by a fear that’s tearing her heart down and setting it on fire.

 

“Miss?”

 

“Mmm?” What again?

 

“You might want to prepare yourself. He was given a huge amount of morphine, to lessen his pain. He probably won’t be awake when you come in. ”

 

Emma nods, swallows downs a disinfectant smell that burns her tired lungs. If she could prepare herself she would. But there’s no preparing for that.

 

.

 

As she steps into Killian Jones’s hospital room, Emma feels like her heart is thrown at her feet and the whole world is joyfully trampling on it.

 

Her entire universe stopped spinning when she received the call. (She’s still his next of kin. That thought alone infuriates her.)

 

But as she faces him, lying still on this small bed, his skin, so pale, so pale he nearly seems dead, with his eyes resolutely closed and this enormous, horrendous bandage around his wrist, she wonders by which miracle her legs manage to hold her.

 

“Killian…”

 

She tries to convince herself she won’t cry then, but her eyes do not care for her pride and are soon filled to the brim with tears as a smile crinkles her face, but it’s not a smile, it’s a terrible, terrible sob that won’t come out.

 

She drags her boneless legs towards the bed, and then she’s faced with an awful dilemma: where to touch him, where to tether herself, and not to hurt him in the process?

 

Her eyes twitch, she blinks, and settles for brushing slightly his cheek.

 

“Hello there,” she whispers then, “Heard you had a very bad fall. I came as soon as I could.”

 

Flashes of Neal’s anger and disappointment and anger and more disappointment linger behind her eyelids. He was furious.

 

He couldn’t understand why she would drop everything, why she would drop him on the spot, just to save this childhood friend she hasn’t seen in a year.

 

“When, Emma , when are you going to choose me over him ?”

 

And he tried to take her engagement ring away, the one she is turning around her finger, swirl, swirl, the golden ring, the golden cage.

 

A very viscous bile climbs back up her throat.

 

“I missed you,” she exhales, and clenches onto his bruised knuckles.

 

She gathers all of her willpower not to stare at the void, the void where his hand is supposed to be, and she licks her lips because she is scared this is one blow will simply be too much to withstand.  

 

Life has a peculiar fondness for punching Killian Jones straight in the face, it seems.

 

.

 

Opening one’s eyes is really the most natural thing to do. Until one’s eyelids seem as heavy as lead, and there isn’t much for one to wake up to.

 

His life really fell apart, in those last months, huh. Which is why, as this bloody machine closed on his wrist during the ship’s inspection, Killian Jones really wasn’t that surprised. He would have chuckled if not for the pain, taunting Fate with a very sharp “ Oh , is that what we’re going for now?”

 

That’s what he got for being promoted to Lieutenant. Any good Lieutenant made sure the ship’s mechanics were properly checked before sailing away. And he did, bloody hell.

 

It was the worst ship launching the Navy had seen in years. Killian would be proud if not for the pain, again.

 

And then he hears her voice. “Hello there,” and for a minute he fears he is dead.

 

But then her hand is on his face and the sun couldn’t possibly shine in hell, could it?

 

He wants to reach for her, but the only hand he has left refuses to move, and it is driving him mad. Her smell fills his lungs, fills it with ginger and herself and meaning.

 

And then she leaves the room and it is darkness and void and silence. And he wants to scream.

 

.

 

David and Mary Margaret stand up as one in the waiting room, as Emma shuts Killian’s door behind her.

 

Seeing them is such a relief, it makes her forget the pebbles in her belly for one instant.

 

“Emma, honey,” and Mary Margaret’s arms are around her, and it’s a wave of comfort. “We came as soon as we could.”

 

Emma drove all night from Storybrooke to Portsmouth and coffee is starting not to be enough to keep her eyes open.

 

“He still hasn’t woken up?” asks David as he presses his hand on Emma’s shoulder.

 

She shakes her head. “Nope. He went through surgery last night. He should wake up any time now.” This bitter taste in the back of her throat will not fade and the thousands of coffees she’s had only worsen it.

 

“How…How did Neal take it? Considering he was opening his pawnbroker’s shop this weekend?” risks Mary Margaret, in a very small voice.

 

Right. Neal.  

 

Mary Margaret doesn’t mean to hurt Emma any further, but there it is, the weight on her finger, swirl, swirl, swirl.

 

“Bad. Very bad. But he’ll manage.”

 

Emma tries to ignore their concerned eyes then, because they know too much and she doesn’t want to prove them right. Although every inch of her being is probably giving her away anyway.

 

Swirl, swirl, swirl.

 

But she wants to belong to someone, and Neal knows her, in spite of everything, he knows her and he chose her, and it is enough. Hell, he fought for her, for two years, showing up every day at the sheriff station once he learnt Graham had taken Emma under his wing, he showed up and he showed her he cared.

 

And she quite literally put him through hell before giving him a second chance after his first betrayal.

 

“I never meant to let you go, Emma. I swear it to you, but the police were at my back and I couldn’t bring you into all of this. But I never stopped loving you, I never did, and I’ll love you until the end of time – only if you’ll let me.”

 

And sometimes, all one really wants is to be wanted, after all.

 

 “Do we… Do we know if she ’s coming?” asks Mary Margaret in a very quiet tone, as if she doesn’t want to utter the words.

 

Emma has a big sigh then. “No, she’s not. Killian definitively broke up with her three months ago.”

 

David and Mary Margaret both stare at her with something terrible in their eyes. Emma pretends she does not see it.

 

“He found out she’d been cheating. Again,” she lies. It’s easier this way.

 

Emma doesn’t tell them that Killian didn’t tell her about the breakup, and she just learnt about it from the mouth of Killian’s superior, doesn’t tell them they have hardly spoken since she started dating Neal again, and especially doesn’t tell them that Neal proposed three months ago and she sent Killian a text to which he never replied.

 

Nope. That’s a cross for her to bear.

 

.

 

 

He moves. Emma’s eyes shoot open. He moved . It wasn’t really perceptible, but she felt it, the small clench of his fingers around hers.

 

Emma sits up straight. She thinks he is frowning. This is good. This is good . He is waking up.

 

“Come on, Killian. You can do this. Push through this.”

 

And finally, finally , his eyelids flutter, flutter, until blue emerges and his eyes go wide. She smiles, and it’s the most genuine smile she’s had in months.

 

“Ems’,” he begins, a hoarse whisper. His throat must be dry.

 

She presses her fingers softly, swiftly, against his dry lips. “Shush, Killian, it’s going to be okay.”

 

She rushes to the small sink in his bedroom. A plastic cup was left there, and she fills it with water, before tenderly pushing it against Killian’s lips.

 

He closes his eyes, drinks slowly as her other hand cups the back of his head.

 

And then the cup is put down with her bravery, and she grabs his fingers. She sees the waves of terror in his eyes, the waves exhaustion cannot quite hide, and it reminds her of their childhood and she desperately wants to mend him, to soothe his soul, but there is so much to heal and he won’t let her.

 

She presses a very trembling kiss onto his forehead. She sees him close his eyes into her touch, and her entire being is screaming.

 

“Feared you wouldn’t come,” he manages to whisper. She watches as he swallows down.

 

She shakes her head. “Of course I’d come.” A pause. “You absolutely do not have permission to ever scare me like this again.”

 

He manages to smile, somehow. “You don’t have to worry about me, Swan. I’m a survivor.”

 

Her chin quivers then, and she hates herself because she should be the strong one. But it is exhausting to remain brave when he seems completely, utterly defeated.

 

“Fancy that red-leather jacket of yours.”

 

And he makes her chuckle, the bastard, he is the one lying on a hospital bed and he makes her chuckle.

 

“Thanks, Killian.” And she brushes a strand of hair behind her ear, and she sees it. The glint of her ring under the yellow ceiling light. And he sees it too.

 

And he stares at her ring then, that glints, glints, and a lightning bolt shatters the blue of his gaze and she wants to throw it away so that she will never have to stare at this deep, dark blue sea of sadness.

 

Instead, she smiles. There is not much else to do but smile.

 

.

 

“Neal?”

 

“Emma, I’m so glad you called. I wanted you to know that I’m sorry, and I understand, I really do…”

 

“Don’t bother apologizing. I just wanted to warn you that I’m going to stay a while with Killian. He needs me.”

 

“…He needs you? He needs you? What about your job? What about me, Emma?!”

 

“Graham agreed to this. He owes me so many days off. And I will ask you this once, Neal: quit talking about Killian as if he doesn’t matter, or I swear to god, I will give you back your ring. And there will be no third chance.”

 

“See? See how you react, Emma? As if I’m the villain in this stupid little story of yours and I am tired of th—”

 

She hangs up.

 

Chapter Text

I've been having a hard time adjusting
I had the shiniest wheels, now they're rusting

I didn't know if you'd care if I came back
I have a lot of regrets about that


 

Six months before Emma’s wedding.

 

Large, golden sparkles dance over his closed eyelids. Wrapped up in a soft cloud of unconsciousness, Killian is reluctant to open his eyes. The pain has finally stopped. The buzzing in his skull as well. He is peaceful. He could remain like this forever.

 

Ah, denial, an old pal. But where is he, exactly?

 

As Killian emerges from his sleep, the first thing he becomes aware of is the soft, tingly sensation coming up from his forearm. Then, the pain radiating from his missing limb. And then warmth, against his body, a sunny and welcoming warmth. And then more pain, always pain.

 

Oh right. His hand. The machine. Then the hospital. Then Emma. 

 

Bloody hell.

 

In a grunt, he finally lifts his eyelids and his eyes slowly adjust to the light cascading through his hospital room’s window. It’s a very bright, golden light spilled onto each corner of the room that highlights dancing sparkles of dust around his bed and lands onto the same golden threads spread all over his forearm. They are the ones to blame for the familiar tingles in his arm.

 

A small, white hand rests above his stomach, while another one acts as a pillow under her cheek. Killian’s heart beams. She used her red-leather jacket as a blanket.

 

If his face is still frozen by pain and medicine, a part of him –  that part of him that believes in hope and happy endings – well, that part of him smiles. It’s a soft, timid, fragile flicker of light that spreads tentatively in his chest and leaves warmth there.

 

She stayed , stammers his ferocious, hopeful heart, she stayed . And the morphine he is under is simply too strong to allow him to fully understand what this means, as she lays asleep in this plastic chair, and her back must be killing her, and she stayed.  

 

Shush, heart. Those are territories we do not explore anymore.

 

Except that his fingers have suddenly found a peculiar interest in her golden curls, and he only realizes he’s been playing with them when Emma grunts in her turn and raises a sleep-wrinkled face.  

 

Killian takes his hand back in a heartbeat.

 

Oh , you’re awake,” she mumbles, and her mouth sounds incredibly dry as she does so.

 

A small chuckle escapes his lips. Killian is glad she is still too tightly wrapped in Morpheus’ arms to notice his embarrassment.

 

Killian thinks Emma has always been a sight for sore eyes in the morning, as she rubs her puffy eyes and tries to untangle her hair with impatient fingers and her green eyes find his and steal his breath away.

 

“Aye. I believe so, love. Are you, though?”

 

And he thinks she doesn’t miss the tender irony behind his words. He can tell because she arches one mischievous eyebrow as she straightens her back, and her hands meet her waist and she winces.

 

“Oh, very much so. My back is killing me.”

 

And he casts a very amused eye on Emma as she stretches some more, hands up in the air, and dramatically sighs. Then, she rests her palms over his arm again and swallows him with the waves of her big, green eyes and he needs to keep breathing or he is going to stay far longer in this damn hospital.

 

“Did you stay all night?” he asks, because he only remembers falling asleep, while she appeared captivated with Sheriff files, red leather jacket on her back and feet propped on his bed.

 

Lord is he glad that he was under so much morphine when she told him, last night, that she would stay in New York as long as he is hospitalized – anyway, Graham owes me so many paid vacation days – and he did not dare ask any further questions. This was just too good to be true, and instead he stared at the ring on her finger, the one she was twirling, twirling, twirling and he said “Thank you, Swan.” He didn’t find the strength in himself to add “You didn’t have to”, because he was scared she would leave.

 

“I did,” she exhales, and suddenly her gaze is all over him again, and he swears he feels completely submerged in its intensity. “Made quite the deal with the nurse – trading my Snickers bar for her Twix –  but definitely worth it.”

 

“Of course, you did.”

 

And then she pauses, mouth slightly open, as if words are about to come out of her mouth, and she’s looking at him as if he might shatter in front of her eyes, into thousands of bloody sparkles. He thinks he just might when a small sigh escapes her lips. “I just wanted to make sure you were alright.”

 

The confession is followed by a frown, a shake of her head, and Killian thinks she regrets it right then. 

 

His hand starts forward to grab hers.

 

And she doesn’t back away, although they’ve just spent more than a year apart, she doesn’t back away even as her muscles tense under his touch, and her eyes widen, and she stretches a smile on her face.

 

And there is so much loneliness in the gesture she doesn’t initiate, in the fingers she doesn’t tangle with his, in the straightness of her back.

 

And it is terrible then, to stare at her, stare at the void between them, this gulf of pain and distance and grief, to be able to touch it, almost, to see the splinters of their lost friendship and love and to guess the shape it used to have, but to be completely unable to put them back together.

 

He doesn’t risk his “You didn’t have to” that time either, instead settles for: “Well, thank you, Swan. It means a lot.”

 

There are still golden sparkles reflected on the white hospital wall. There are still words stuck in his throat, words he desperately wants to tell her but knows he has no right to.

 

Thank you for coming. You saved me in so many more ways than you could possibly imagine. There is no one left in this world for me to love but you. And you, I will always love.

 

Of course he broke things off with Milah, when he learnt about her engagement to Neal. How could he keep up the charade? It no longer made sense. 

 

“No need to thank me,” she abruptly answers, and her tone is not as fierce as she probably wants it to be, and she snatches her hand away from him.

 

A blink. A frown. She’s standing up, grabbing the plastic cup on the white sink, pours water inside and drinks it up. 

 

Nothing makes sense anymore. And it should be fine, really.

 

But if it were fine, surely he wouldn’t be staring at her like this, as she drops the cup on the sink and looks back at him, the beginning of a smile on her lips, and surely that smile wouldn’t die into a frown when she gazes into his eyes. Surely she wouldn’t be nearly melting into the white wall behind her back. 

 

“Want some?” 

 

A pause. What the bloody hell is she talking about? Oh right. Water. “Huh, aye, I’d like that.” 

 

This is bloody awkward. 

 

The cup of water is handed down and more niceties with it. 

 

But then Emma has a nervous blink down, what the bloody hell is she looking at and the plastic cup remains still in his hand, untouched. Why, hello there, the bandage around his wrist seems to tempt Killian — all white teeth out. And Killian feels absolutely numb. There is still an urge, inside of him, to stretch out this missing limb and grab her hand, but that will never happen again. 

 

And that should also be fine but it feels like swallowing glass. And he congratulates his brain for wallowing over Emma and him, a long lost fairytale, instead of his missing limb – denial is after all a wonderful thing – but they are both unreachable, forever gone, and it should be fine.

 

Thankfully for him, Emma takes the cue to start babbling. That’s something she used to do when they were younger and she felt exposed, or uncomfortable, or vulnerable, she’d babble to muffle a deafening silence.

 

“I’ll be staying over at a small motel near the hospital. Mary Margaret and David are staying there as well.  They’ll come by tonight to say goodbye. They’re flying back to New York. The nurse said you would have to remain under observation for a couple nights more. But then I’ll help you move back into your apartment, and surely there is some kind of support you can get from the hospital, like a nurse that’d come for your stitches at home…You have an apartment, right?”

 

He grins to muffle a scream. 

 

“Aye, that I do, Swan.”

 

Something terrible howls in his chest. Not even her eyes in his are enough to soothe it. 



.

 

Mary Margaret and David do pay them a visit, later that afternoon, when the sun begins its way down in the sky and leaves orange trails behind it, and Emma’s managed to sneak pizza into his room. 

 

Mary Margaret lends him a pile of books. “Pretty sure you’ll find plenty of time to read those now.” 

 

Killian finds comfort in their friendship. For a minute, as they all stand around his bed and David’s hand is pressed to his shoulder as Emma finally lets go of her red leather jacket to feel more comfortable, Killian forgets his missing limb.

 

“I’ll be sure to drop by New York on my next leave,” Killian says, and he means it. 

 

When they decide to leave, David shakes his car’s keys in front of Emma’s eyes – your coach awaits you outside milady – and Killian feels a very childish fear tighten his chest.

 

“Thank you guys for coming all this way from New York.” 

 

And David ruffles his hair playfully. “It was the right thing to do, Killian.” 

 

Killian smiles, blinks. Liam’s features burn his eyes. Has it always felt this lonely? 

 

“Take care,” whispers Mary Margaret, as she presses a kiss onto his cheek. 

 

“Always do.” 

 

It’s Emma’s turn to glance at him, and Killian nods, and he hopes she doesn’t see the frightened look in his eyes.

 

Loneliness is leaning against the wall, arms crossed, a satisfied smirk on her lips. She’s been his best friend for months now. And there aren’t a lot of things Killian is afraid of, but she is one of them. There’s no getting rid of her. She sticks to the walls and to his heart and she poisons his mouth.

 

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Emma whispers, and she modestly squeezes his hand as a goodbye.

 

And the distance between their two bodies leaves pebbles in Killian’s belly and a lump in his throat.

 

 

They spend those couple of days together, navigating around the ruins of their friendship. Very careful as they step around each other, not to wound the other. It’s a real battlefield full of sharp edges, of long given up swords, of yellow irises and broken hearts.

 

Emma shows up as early as she is allowed, and Killian knows what it costs her. She’s no morning person, as confesses the coffee she holds tightly against her chest as she enters his room with eyes half-closed and purple under-eye circles. 

 

“Have you been sleeping, Swan?” 

 

“Of course I have.” 

 

Liar. 

 

Emma is more guarded than ever. It makes him sad. She didn’t use to be like that...well, at least, not with him. 

 

Killian has to settle for niceties. It’s all she is willing to offer. He cannot blame her. 

 

She leaves around five, red leather jacket firmly slung over her shoulders and the last dying rays of sunshine tainting her hair with blood. 

 

“See you, Killian.” And she smiles, and he almost catches a glimpse of the girl who stood on his porch and held his hand. 

 

“See you, Swan.” 

 

.

 

Emma’s running. Again. She is late. She overslept. But she hardly slept all week, and it really had nothing to do with Killian, and she needed to.  

 

There are yellow irises clutched to her chest with her usual morning coffee, and she knows Killian will forgive her as she twirls between the walls of Portsmouth hospital to avoid nurses in her rush. 

 

Killian’s already all dressed up when she irrupts into his room, face flushed, and she hopes the nurses helped him with his shirt and – oh, he’s staring at her.

 

“Hello, Swan.”

 

And then he looks down at the flowers against her chest, and she tries her best to hide the grin that tickles her lips as she hands them to him.

 

“It’s been a while,” she mumbles and she figures in the eyebrow he raises that he is also attempting to conceal a smile.

 

“Still my favorites,” he simply answers.

 

All around them, dust dances in the sunlight.

 

“Good.”

 

.

 

Emma has trained her heart. Emma has trained her heart and she has given it armor – a red leather jacket – and she has taught it how to survive, how to remain strong. 

 

But all the training in the world might not be enough to muffle her heart’s sigh when Killian Jones walks beside her to his apartment, and he is pale, livid, and he is in pain, and she cannot save him.

 

February is such a nasty month. February is cruel and cold and has little care for their human hearts.

 

No more Christmas lights in the trees, no more snow on the pavement, everything is dead but the blinding, evil sun.

 

Emma glances quickly at Killian as she walks at his pace, making sure she stays within his reach. He did not look at her, getting out of the car, he did not look at her and she thinks it was for fear that she would try to help him.

 

She clenches her jaw.

 

“Almost there, Killian,” she attempts, and he simply lets go of a groan. The surgery he went through was heavy. He looks positively exhausted.

 

And yet the sun shines its evil beams.  

 

And Emma thinks, as her eyes remain fixed on his figure, that being with Killian always felt like being bare naked, exposed to his knowing eyes. There is not a corner of her soul he hasn’t seen and she only guesses what this must feel like – to have her stare at his missing limb and make out the extent of his anguish.  

 

And she might be a complete grown up, independent woman, and she might wear a red leather jacket, but Emma Swan’s heart will always have a special strawberry weakness for Killian Jones, and that is something she needs to navigate around.

 

Open the front door of his building. Let him in. Breathe. 

 

It was easy to convince herself, back in Storybrooke, busy with Sheriff duties and Neal, that she no longer cared for Killian Jones as much as she used to. That he absolutely wasn’t a living embodiment of a very big hole in her life. Nope. All it took to shatter this illusion was hearing his name on the phone.

 

“Careful, Killian,” Emma whispers as they finally reach the stairs leading to his flat. 

 

She doesn’t dare to touch him as he begins climbing, lips pressed together in a firm line. She doesn’t want him to think she thinks he needs her or something. And she frowns, she fists her hands, but she lets him climb alone, right behind him, in case he falls.

 

And when they reach his threshold she lunges forward to quickly unlock the door, and she hears the small wheezing sound escaping his lips. She shifts to face him, she watches as he closes his eyes and pearls of sweat roll down his temples and well – her arms have reacted without her consent.

 

She’s suddenly all over him, arms wrapped around his torso, and he glances at her through his semi-closed eyes, and he is pale, pale, translucent, and it’s breaking something inside of her that she thought no longer existed.

 

“You don’t have to, Swan—” he begins, his voice hoarse, but she shakes her head.

 

“—It’s okay to need help, Killian.”

 

And his eyes shine in recollection. He remembers.

 

He was the one who taught her this, a long time ago, when she was new in Storybrooke and this neighbor and his bright blue eyes were staring at her from his fence. He saw her struggle with Ingrid’s yellow irises and he said in a very gentle voice “It’s okay to need help.” And her eyes were twitching because he didn’t understand, the nice blonde lady would send her back if she killed her flowers. And then his hand had been very warm and tender over her shaking knuckles, and it was the first time Emma Swan thought she was in love with Killian Jones.

 

While the fear of being abandoned retreated, the teenage crush lingered in one hidden corner of her mind for a very long time. She doesn’t think it still lives there though.

 

“Come on,” she eventually whispers, to break this silence that is far too heavy on their shoulders and to guide him inside.

 

The door shuts behind them. 

 

And what Emma discovers stirs something very strange, very nasty in her belly as a smell of alcohol and rotting food fills her lungs and her throat does a strange heaving thing. 

 

“Sorry for the mess, Swan. Didn’t think I’d get any visitors anytime soon.”

 

“Aha, don’t worry. I’ve seen worse.”

 

Except she hasn’t. Well, she has, but not applied to Killian Jones. Killian is proper and Navy and upright and clean and organized, and not whatever the hell this is.

 

As she opens her mouth to utter a smart comment, it is as if, suddenly, her brain disconnected from the rest of her body.

 

She comes up with a joke, bad break up huh , but she settles for keeping her mouth resolutely closed.

 

Clearing her throat, her gaze sinks to her feet as she helps him sit in one corner of his sofa that is not already invaded by empty cups and pizza boxes.

 

She crinkles her nose. Something, that is not cheese, is definitely rotting there.

 

“There you go.”

 

Her gaze resolutely avoids the empty rum bottles on the floor. She did not come all the way from Storybrooke to Portsmouth to lecture him, to guide him towards the light or whatever, she came to help a friend after an accident and it is no big deal.

 

And it is no big deal either that she feels him staring at her as she observes his place with the blankest expression she can come up with, anything not to make him feel worse.

 

Except that she is almost tempted to run the hell away from all of this, from him, to run and never look back, because this is far more than she ever signed up for, and what the hell was she thinking, that she could just be a shoulder for him to lean on without losing said shoulder in the process.

 

And then she notices a picture of them, on his fridge, just below one of Liam and Killian, and her hands come to rest over her hips.

 

It’s a picture they asked Granny to take on her nineteenth birthday.

 

Killian must have followed her glance because she hears him exhale behind her: “We had quite the night, didn’t we, Swan?”

 

And she nods, although no coherent thoughts are to be spotted in her mind, except for a distinct and distant smell of vodka and fruit juice and the sweetness of rocky road ice-cream melting over her tongue.

 

Emma flips back, a big grin on her lips. “Still fancy a grilled-cheese? It’s the only thing I can cook.”

 

And she smiles, harder, mostly to savagely crush this urge to run between her teeth.

 

.

 

Killian sleeps all afternoon, curled up on his sofa. Emma tucks a blue blanket under his chin and sets her mind on cleaning his flat. It’s rather a nice place to live in. It’s far bigger than Mary Margaret and David’s, back in New York, and only smaller than the one she shares with Neal in Storybrooke. It has one bedroom and a big living room and a small kitchen, and the walls are luminous and white and bare and – alright, it definitely makes her sad.

 

A pizza box hits the floor, near the trash can.

 

“Damnit.” 

 

Emma grunts, bends down to drop the damn box back inside. 

 

It’s as if Killian did not want this place to belong to him. She doesn’t even know how long he’s been living here. Perhaps he moved after his breakup with her .

 

Hidden behind the fridge, Emma finds a broom against the wall. She picks it up. 

 

It isn’t exactly the kind of place she pictures when she thinks about Killian. She can see different hues of blue, and yellow, and a naval theme going on, and also a very neat place.

 

Her hands stop over the broom. Perhaps she doesn’t know him at all anymore. It’s been so long, after all, since they’ve had a true conversation.

 

“How can you settle for him, Emma?”

 

“You’re one to talk about settling, Killian! You’ve been clinging to Milah for years now, even though you are miserable!” 

 

“You don’t know that, Swan!” he screamed, but she only heard: “You don’t know ME.”

 

“Well, if I don’t know… then, then I’ll just hang up!”

 

“Suit yourself!”

 

“FINE.”

 

Memories of their last fight flash before her eyes, and she grunts. Her eyes land on him — asleep on the red sofa. His mouth is slightly open. He looks peaceful, younger.

 

And then a sigh, a shrug. No need to look back at the past. They’ve made mistakes. They’ve made a lot of them. And so what? They’re still friends in spite of everything. They’ll always be.

 

And she sweeps the floor with more intent.

 

.

 

He wakes up to a smell of soap, and tomato sauce and basil tingling his nose and he opens his eyes in a groan.

 

No, she did not…

 

“Swan,” he grunts, and there are so many reproaches echoing in his tone.

 

He rubs his eyes, a terrible headache invading his skull – one of the many side effects of anesthesia – and discovers her behind his grey kitchen counter, hair up in a ponytail and a spoon in her mouth.

 

The sun of this late afternoon is long gone, and all of the lights are switched on in his flat, and she cleaned everything and he feels terribly ashamed.

 

“You really didn’t have to clean up my mess.”

 

“Oh don’t sound angry Killian, you’re gonna love this. Trust me.”

 

He raises one eyebrow.

 

“What is it?”

 

“Pasta and tomato sauce. What? I told you I’m no chef.”

 

“Wasn’t complaining.”

 

“Oh, but your eyes speak for you.”

 

And then the banter and the lime green apron are put down on the counter and she makes her way towards him, brows furrowed.

 

“Are you feeling better?” she asks and he has stopped breathing somewhere in her path between the kitchen and the living room towards him.

 

She looks infuriatingly beautiful, with her hair up.

 

“Aye,” he exhales, and then she’s leaning forward to grab his arm.

 

But bile climbs up his throat, and it is simply too much for him to take, and he has to push her away and... his arm jerks out of her grasp. 

 

She backs away, immediately. Broken are the splinters in her eyes as he swallows glass again.

 

“Thank you, but I can do this alone,” he utters, and he tries to sound gentle, but the damage has already been done.

 

She stands in his living room with her hands on her hips and she’s smiling but it isn’t a smile, it’s the mere shadow of a smile, it’s killing him, and he cannot, will not reach for her.

 

.

 

They eat silently, as normally as possible. It’s a lot of awkward silences and “This is really good, thank you, Swan”, and “No problem,” and “Could you pass me the salt?” and “Sure, here you go,” and Emma’s tone is suddenly sharp and merciless and he stares at his fork with the serious intent of digging a hole through his plate.

 

Luckily for him, he did not lose the hand he uses the most.

 

And anxiety is just a blink away, it’s lurking in one deep corner of his mind, ready to roar and leap on him at any given moment. And Emma is twirling her ring again, twirling, twirling and suddenly it is difficult to breathe.

 

What is he going to do if he cannot re-join the Navy? What if they don’t want him back?

 

“Erm…Are you okay, Killian?” tries Emma in a small voice, and she must have seen him become paler. 

 

He looks up with eyes wide open. No air is reaching his lungs.

 

She has tomato sauce in the right corner of her mouth, and he wants to tell her, but he cannot.

 

His heart is drumming in his ears. It’s as if he just understood the extent of his wound. It’s not only limited to his hand, it spreads to every inch of his life.

 

“Aye, I just…”

 

Breathe, Killian, breathe.

 

He sees her brows furrow, he watches as she leans forward. “Come on, Killian. There isn’t much you cannot tell me.”

 

And her ring glints under the white ceiling light, glints far brighter than the bracelet around her wrist, glints .  

 

“Aye. I was simply thinking about the Navy and what’s to come, for me.” He is surprised his voice comes out this calm and collected.

 

He sees her give up on her fork and knife and seize his hand on the table, as if it is the most normal thing in the world.

 

Flashes of once upon a time pass before his eyes. Once upon a time, she held his hand on Granny’s table on a summer day and he thought she meant “I love you”, and the sun was reflected in her golden hair, and perhaps she meant “I love you”, but that doesn’t matter. The moment slipped between his fingers and there is no getting it back now.

 

Still, he takes the initiative of intertwining their fingers together and he smiles faintly, heart still beating far too fast.

 

“You’ll be okay, Killian. You’re a survivor, remember?”

 

And his knuckle is brushing the side of her hand, and she isn’t taking it away.

 

“Aye. Although it’s not very fair to use my own words against me, Swan.”

 

And she grins, and she is an angel of beauty in a house of decay, with her blonde hair cascading down her shoulder blades and her pink lips, and it is a hard endeavor not to stare too long at them, to look away in spite of how brightly she is shining.

 

“Come on, Killian, eat up before it gets cold.”

 

He nods, but the drop of his eyes to her mouth is inevitable. He is hypnotized, it seems, and suddenly he is bending towards her. 

 

Her eyes widen. She doesn’t back away. 

 

And he cannot quite prevent the chaos he is about to create, cannot quite stop the course of his lips towards hers, and he looks up, sees confusion in her gaze, then glances down at her lips, and up at her eyes again, and down, down… And before he knows it, his hand has cupped the back of her head, fingers slipping into her ponytail. She has a small whisper then, a small hiccup, “What are you doing—” but the end of her sentence dies on his lips and he is kissing her open mouth.

 

He shuts his eyes. Hard. 

 

Tasting her after all these years sends a wave of shock rattling through his body. She tastes exactly as he remembers, as he tried to forget. 

 

His heart drums, drums, drums and she does not back away. She kisses him back. She is kissing him back.

 

She steps into him, pressing her mouth harder against his, and Killian is no longer breathing because a firework has started in his chest and there is smoke in his lungs. 

 

Somehow, she crosses the distance between their two bodies, and suddenly, she is straddling his lap, and her hands are in his hair, and they tug, they tug for dear life, and his arm comes to wrap around her waist as he holds her tighter, as close as he possibly can, and he cannot breathe...Her lips move above his, an hypnotic rhythm, open slightly to allow her tongue to taste him, and she bites his lower lip and his heart comes crashing down in his chest, it drums, drums, drums.

 

And then, it stops

 

Just like that.

 

Drum, drum, drum.

 

She lets go. Stands up. Runs although her legs aren’t moving. As a brutal sea of frozen waves swallows him alive.

 

“Killian, I…I,” and she stammers, takes a step back, creates a necessary distance between them, is blushing furiously, brushes an inexistent strand of hair behind her ears, “what are we doing? You just had surgery, and you’ve still got drugs in your system, and I am engaged, and this should not be happening, and I cannot do this, you understand, right? This isn’t right. It isn’t.”

 

And as the taste of her lips lingers on his tongue, finally , he desperately wishes she were wrong. He is still high on drugs and that’s why he dared to kiss her. No other explanation. No underlying feelings.

 

“You’re right, Swan. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have. I don’t know what came over me.”

 

Except, he knows full well. And you, I will always love.

 

.

 

She leaves the next morning in a deafening, groundbreaking silence. He watches as she makes sure everything is settled, that he is comfortable, that the nurse will come check on him every day for the next couple of weeks, and she tells him “call me if there’s anything you need” but they both know she doesn’t mean it, what she means is “call someone else”. And this rest of his life without her must go on.

 

That night, he sets his mind on finally writing down his thoughts. Finally telling her. After what feels like years of miscommunication, a good old-fashioned letter might do the trick to confess his feelings.

 

My dearest Swan, my oldest friend,

 

Thank you for coming. You saved me in so many more ways than you could possibly imagine.

 

I know the kiss was confusing, and it shouldn’t have happened that way, and for this I apologize. But I am begging you: if a part of you, no matter how small, does not want to marry Neal, do not do it. You deserve someone who loves you for who you are and who knows how lucky he is to have you. I don’t ever want you to settle like I did.

 

As for me, there is no one else in this world for me to love but you. And there is no else I would want to love. How could I? You are bloody brilliant, amazing, and I think a part of me has always loved you.

 

If you find that your feelings reciprocate mine, please answer this letter. If not, I’ll simply pretend I never sent it and we can go back to being friends. 

 

Love, Killian.

 

.

 

 

“Emma, I’m leaving for work now!” exclaims Neal as he climbs down the stairs of their new house.

 

“Mmmm, see you tonight!” Emma gargles for answer, and Neal smiles.

 

When Emma brushes her teeth, she really goes all in.

 

Grabbing his satchel from the living room table, his eyes look down at their front door.

 

They’ve got mail. A lot of it.

 

“Damnit, I don’t have time for this.”

 

But then he’s already kneeling down and he goes through the envelopes in the blink of an eye, bills, bills, more bills, until – until one name catches his eyes.

 

Killian Jones.

 

What the hell does Killian Jones want to say to Emma in a letter?  

 

“Fuck.”

 

He glances up at the stairs, watches as Emma rushes to the bedroom again, towel in her hair, completely oblivious to him and that’s for the best.

 

And he rushes to open the letter, fingers trembling with the fear of losing the love of his life.

 

What he reads then freezes something deep within him. They kissed. Of course they did. What was he thinking? That Emma could simply see her old pal and not make out with him?

 

And then another shudder.

 

He loves her . Killian Jones loves Emma Swan and he wants her.

 

And something very green and nasty strangles Neal’s heart. He will not lose her, even if she made a mistake. He strangely finds that he would rather never address her betrayal, never confront her than risk losing her forever. (Denial is a nasty bitch anyway.)

 

Steps clatter down the stairs. Neal shoves the letter down into his pocket.

 

“Any mail for me?” Emma asks, arms slipping into her red leather jacket as her deputy sheriff star shines at her belt.

 

He simply smiles, his big grin, the one she loves. Presses his lips to hers. Conceals as best as he can this vicious, dripping mix of fear and anger. “Nope, nothing, baby. Just an enormous amount of bills to pay. Who knew adulthood meant paying a bunch of bills you know nothing about? ”

 

And she looks the slightest bit disappointed, and she wasn’t expecting him to write her, was she?

 

“See you tonight.” A last kiss and he’s out, with a letter capable of putting an end to his happiness in his pocket, and a rage he will never voice in his throat.



Chapter Text

But I knew you'd linger like a tattoo kiss
I knew you'd haunt all of my what-ifs
The smell of smoke would hang around this long
'Cause I knew everything when I was young
I knew I'd curse you for the longest time
Chasin' shadows in the grocery line...

 


Six months before Emma’s wedding, a week after Emma and Killian’s kiss.  

 

 

Emma tosses and turns in her bed. She does not want to glance at the clock sitting on her bedside table. It’s probably joyfully, painfully displaying a horrendous number set between 1am and 5am and Emma wants nothing to do with it.

 

There is not a spark of light in the room she shares with Neal, the heavy window shutters closed down.

 

Emma wishes there was some kind of light. Perhaps then the weight over her chest would feel less terrifying, would feel less like the terrible, dark blue waves of a tormented sea she watches swallow her alive and spit her back onto the sand. 

 

She’s battered between the waves, back and forth, back and forth, skin rocking against water, until she manages to reach the surface and breathes in deeply.

 

But she’s only inhaling sea water and it fills her lungs and brings her to tears and it’s bitter, and it’s shit, and she cannot forget the taste of Killian’s lips.

 

Another turn, a grunt of anger and despair.

 

How dare he kiss her and let her leave him when he was in pain. How dare he.

 

It was inevitable , whispers another part of her, but that part she ignores diligently. 

 

Nothing is inevitable. Especially cheating on her future husband. With her friend whose feet were barely out of the surgery block.

 

Well, she didn’t properly cheat if he was the one to kiss her…that would have been true, had she not furthered their kiss.

 

Had she not backed him into his chair and sucked his breath away and marked his scalp with her fingers and tugged on his hair and filled his entire being with her, and her only. It was long overdue, after all.

 

She turns, more aggressively this time, nearly knicks Neal out of the bed, her right foot whizzing past him. 

 

She kissed him back because he was clearly seeking support and comfort and because a part of her will always love him, has always loved him and there’s nothing wrong with that.

 

Horseshit.

 

It is wrong. Utterly, completely, wrong .

 

Nobody deserves to be cheated on. Nobody. Period.

 

She’s just a piece of shit, now, is she?

 

She glances on the side. Neal is still laying on his back, peacefully snoring, one arm flung across his face. She nearly hates him for it. She totally hates him for it.

 

His chest raises up and down, comfortably, peacefully. What would Emma give for just an ounce of peace in her veins.

 

Her breath is coming out in short puffs.

 

It was inevitable , stammers once again her inner voice.

 

“NO.”

 

And the scream she thought only existed in her mind causes Neal to startle next to her, and this time she’s thankful it is complete darkness in their room, because he cannot see the flush on her cheeks.

 

She can make out the shadow of his head lifting in the dark, and she imagines his features groggy with sleep. “You okay, Emma?”

 

She turns back, grumbles. “Yeah, don’t worry. It’s just a nightmare.” And she definitely sounds like she’s blaming him for it.

 

.

 

A long, tortuous week flies by. Emma’s under-eye circles darken with each passing day, and she is alarmly pale when Graham asks her in a weary tone: “You’re sure everything’s okay, Emma?”

 

She nods and glances down at where Graham has been looking, and she realizes she’s been holding the files upside down.

 

Well.

 

“Shit. Yes. Sorry, Graham. I’ve been having a rough couple of days, is all.”

 

And then Graham does this thing where he leans into her space, with his big brown eyes, and this kindness in his smile, and he inquires again: “Everything okay with Neal?”

 

And Emma nods a bit too abruptly for it to be believable, and she knows Graham is smart enough to see it, but she nods harder, it’s the only movement her brain seems to know. “Neal? It’s never been better.” And a quick, lively chuckle to seal the deal. 

 

And really had she laughed harder she would have choked on her fears.

 

(Her fears have blue eyes and are missing a limb now, and she does not dare to send him a text, to ask him “How are you?” because he must be feeling like shit, and in part it is because of her, she left him, but he had no right to kiss her like this and she had no right to kiss him back.)

 

.

 

She has David on the phone later this week.

 

“Hello, Emma. I’ve arrived in Portsmouth. I’ll be spending the week with him.”

 

She hates the feeling of guilt that circles her heart, even as she sighs her biggest sigh of relief. 

 

“Thank you, David, it means the world. I would have come, you know, but I’m so busy with the wedding and the sheriff station and—”

 

“Sure thing, Emma,” he blurts out and Emma thinks he sounds so accusative, it nearly knocks her out. She is convinced she deserves it. “I’ll take care of him, don’t worry.” A few words more, and he hangs up.

 

For the first time in ages, Emma feels like Killian and she are on opposite teams, and David has chosen his.

 

She swallows a lump down her throat. 

 

.

 

Emma caves in on Saturday night. Outside, the rain is pouring heavily against her windows. The wind is also howling, curling around the walls of the house and threatening to crush it under its strength. 

 

Neal is out at Granny’s watching a soccer game with friends when Emma sits down on the hard wooden floor of their living room. Her legs are crossed and her heart is drumming in her ears, and she calls him. There’s a bottle of red wine in front of her, and it’s looking at her with a lot of judgement in its glassy eyes but Emma doesn’t care.

 

She cannot go on like this. She needs to know that he is alright, and that this was all a grave, stupid mistake, and she needs him to say something like “I’m fine, Emma, I’ll survive this” but also “I meant to do that for years” and then it would be her cue to nod under the ceiling light, tears in her smile and she’d say some stupid shit like “Oh god, I’ve been waiting for you to say that” and then she’d drop everything to fly back to him and they’d be happy together or some shit.

 

Ring, ring, ring.

 

That’s a lovely dream indeed.

 

Ring, ring, ring.

 

And just as Emma gets impatient, not to say she gets scared, a voice answers her. It’s a groggy, foggy voice, and it does not belong to Killian.

 

“Hello, what is it?” The voice echoes, chuckles, as music resonates behind it, and it is the voice of a woman.

 

Emma figures they must be in some kind of pub, just like Neal is.

 

“Is this Killian’s phone?” attempts Emma, fingers clutched onto the phone, and heart on her sleeves.

 

“Yup...” Another giggle. Emma decides she hates the voice. “But he is currently unavailable. Do you want me to give him a message?”

 

And then Emma hears his voice, emerging from a twirl of songs and other talks. “Why are you using my phone, Tink?”

 

Emma thinks Killian’s voice irrupts into her empty house just as a gust of wind rattles her shutters. She flinches. And for a minute, glances above her shoulder, afraid that he might appear behind her back. 

 

But silence is her only companion. And this house is so impressively, distinctively silent. 

 

Something clicks inside of Emma’s brain. Tink. She knows Tink. What’s her real name? Mary something. They went to high school together, and she had a disgustingly big crush on Killian, and, and –

 

“I dunno, some chick.”

 

And Emma barely has time to hear Killian’s “Which chick?” before she hangs up on a whim.

 

She heaves, hands trembling around the phone, and something grotesque disfigures her face.  

 

She was worried about him and he’s been having the time of his life with this Tink, and, and – what was she expecting?

 

She stares at the floor as though she is able to distinguish the broken bits of her heart spilled there, and the bloody marks they leave, and it’s such a goddamn mess, and how could she allow herself to feel this way after all these years, after having been shown all the goddamn reasons why Killian Jones will never love her back a hundred fucking times.

 

.

 

Rose-Mary, of her surname Tink, tosses and turns in Killian’s bed. He is fast asleep next to her, one hand thrown across his face. He snores lightly.

 

Tink has this tingling desire deep within her, this desire to grab the phone he left on his nightstand and delete Emma Swan’s call from it.

 

“Give me the phone, Tink!”

 

Back in the bar, she was quite lucky to find out in the shape of his raised eyebrows that Killian Jones wasn’t actually serious, that he was seriously hammered and couldn’t have cared less for his phone if he had tried. As her only answer, she had simply locked her lips to his and pressed his phone’s home button to switch it off.

 

Because Tink knows Emma Swan.

 

Killian Jones was already in love with her when Tink asked him out, during their senior year. She cannot forget the look on his face, as she was standing in the middle of the hallway, risking her heart. Behind her, Emma Swan was leaning against a locker with Mary Margaret and Ruby, and Killian simply, positively wouldn’t look Tink in the eyes.

 

“I’m sorry, love,” he said, “but my affections lie elsewhere.” And Tink remembers thinking he surely didn’t have to sound like he escaped from one of Shakespeare’s plays, and she turned to discover the pretty blonde smiling at Killian, waving with mischief, and his arm around her shoulders as soon as he reached her.

 

Some things were truly unfair.

 

As luck would have it, Killian’s path crossed hers years ago – when he moved to Portsmouth to join the Navy whilst she began Nursing school. But even then, he didn’t seem interested, was dating an older woman.

 

And then, finally, two days ago, their paths crossed again in a bar. He is missing a hand now, but he is still the same handsome guy she crushed on in high school. Perched on a stool, he looked disheveled, desperate, nose in his rum glass, and he welcomed her into his warm, solid arms.

 

“Still in contact with Emma Swan?” she asked, and it wasn’t like she cared. She didn’t want more than he could offer. But still, she asked.

 

“Emma? Who’s Emma? I only see you.”

 

Although she knew that to be a lie, she still decided to kiss him back, knowing the instant Killian Jones heard Emma Swan’s name again, well then, he would find a very gentle, delicate way to make her go away.

 

And that’s fine. But if she can prevent it, well –

 

Tink stands up as silently as she can, and like a feather in the wind, grabs his phone. He casually gave her his pin number earlier during the night — change this bloody song Tink will you — and Tink deletes Emma’s call in the blink of an eye.

 

Satisfaction sparkles in her heart. No one will bother them anymore.

 

.

 

As Neal and Emma go on tasting wedding cakes, Emma thinks about how Killian never called her back. Not the morning after her conversation with Tink, not the night after, not the day after, he did not call. Period. It’s the only answer he is willing to give, and she accepts it.

 

He doesn’t care about her. Not like she cares, anyway.  

 

“The chocolate one,” Emma mumbles, trying not to spit crumbs of cakes out of her mouth and failing, “it’s perfect.”

 

Delicacy remains a skill she has yet to learn.

 

But Neal doesn’t seem to mind when he chuckles and kisses her cheek. Emma grabs his face and doesn’t care that there are still chocolate chunks in her mouth and she kisses him, hard, to forget the taste of Killian Jones’ lips.

 

.

 

Killian stares at the picture of Emma and himself on his fridge. It’s been a month, stammers his heart. She will not call, now.

 

Tink is still sleeping in his bed. He needs to call things off with her as well. She’s too attached, he’ll break her heart. That’s one too many hearts to be responsible for.

 

He swallows stone, but he takes the picture off the fridge. It’s too painful to stare at what ifs .

 

.

 

A few minutes before Emma and Neal say “I do”.

 

Taking a picture off a fridge is simple enough. Not racing towards the town hall of Storybrooke to try, one last time, and stop Emma’s wedding, isn’t nearly as easily done.

 

Hope and denial are, after all, two very close kingdoms and both of them inhabit Killian’s heart.

 

At least he’s got that going for him. However, Mary Margaret and David – who are also running beside him – really have nothing going for them except for their foolishness.

 

How dare they show up in his home and tear him out of his cobweb of misery and self-pity. How bloody dare they.

 

“There’s no use arguing, I’m not going!” he yelled, and then Mary Margaret had this very dangerous smile, and before he knew it, his ass sat on a plane between the two of them and he was wearing his most expensive tie.

 

“And look sharp, Killian.”  

 

Which is why, as Killian races down that street corner, and up that small hill by Granny’s, and then down again Main street, towards the town hall, Killian no longer expects Emma and Neal to come out of the building, holding hands, married. 

 

But that’s exactly what happens.

 

They come out as a crowd of strangers surrounds them, and they look like the sun has set all of its rays of sunshine on them, they are shining, shining, much like the waves of fear down Killian’s belly because he is too late. Of course he is. 

 

And he wants to turn around and hit David in the face. 

 

But what’s the use of fighting anymore? The war is lost. Lay your weapons down. Bring the soldiers home.

 

And in that moment, as the sun seems to align with some divine power and its golden beams shine on Emma’s eyes, glittering green lakes, she gazes at him and he holds his breath. In spite of everything, he still thinks she is the most beautiful woman on earth. He smiles, as his heart shatters to the ground, as Neal kisses her open mouth. 

 

What is there else to do but smile?

 

“Fuck,” exclaims Mary Margaret next to him, and Killian sure does nod.

 

“Aye. Couldn’t have said it better myself.”  

 

.

 

Present day – Neal and Emma’s wedding reception.

 

Neal watches as Emma shuts the large French windows that lead to the balcony behind her. He puts down his glass of champagne on the white table in front of him. The bubbles fizz inside, as if to mock him.

 

For there’s not the shadow of a smile on his wife’s face. In fact, she looks utterly devastated. Her complexion is pale, her cheeks have lost all the colors they gathered during their dances, and there is not one sparkle of happiness left in her green eyes.

 

A frown. Why does his wife look devastated at their wedding?

 

He sees her glance down, seemingly lost, and she does this thing when she doesn’t know where to put her hands, so she folds them in front of her. And she plays with the bracelet around her wrist, twists the little charms, twists, twists his heart.

 

And then he realizes. She’s waiting. But for what? Or rather, for whom?

 

He wishes the answer didn’t come quite as soon, not quite as sharply, he wishes the room did not start spinning as Killian Jones leaves the balcony in his turn – devilishly handsome as he’d say and looking entirely like a mess.

 

What a picture. They both look devastated. They look like the bride and groom, him in his white shirt and her in her white dress. Two bleeding snowflakes under a golden chandelier.

 

Neal watches as Emma risks a glance back, but Killian doesn’t look up, only stares at the hard wooden floor, Neal watches as she presses her lips together and straightens her back, but still glances back at him.

 

Always back at him. Of course. 

 

And that’s when one realization hits Neal quite hard.

 

His wife… His wife is in love with someone else. He just married someone who is irrevocably and for all of eternity in love with someone else.

 

Why did he do this to himself? For the longest of times, Neal thought it didn’t matter that Emma’s gaze was filled with green, shimmering clouds of pain whenever Killian Jones’ name was mentioned in a conversation, he really thought it didn’t matter that her cheeks would always flush whenever she received a text from him, because he was the one kissing her lips and sleeping between her sheets.

 

He was such a fool.

 

He married a woman in love with someone else.

 

Such a fool.

 

Neal grabs his glass of champagne again, downs it in a few angry mouthfuls, and gathers courage and legs to stand and stride towards his wife.

 

Emma might be in love with Killian, but she loves him too, surely she does, or she wouldn’t have agreed to this marriage, right?

 

And there is something very scary vibrating in his chest, fear, a green and viscous fear, he’s losing her, she’s slipping between her fingers…

 

“Neal,” Emma’s voice is very soft as it greets him, but her smile doesn’t reach her eyes.

 

How dare she, how dare she be in love with Killian, when Neal gave up everything for her, when he…

 

From the corner of his eye, Neal can see Killian lean against the wall. He is looking at them. Perfect. Now watch, you little fucker.

 

“Hello, baby,” two words, and Neal dips Emma and savagely presses his lips onto hers.

 

A burst of applause rattles the crowd. 

 

Neal tries his best to muffle the voice inside his head that sneers that the only thing their guests are cheering at, is the end of their love.

 

.

 

 

“I’m going back to our room, I’m really tired” mumbles Emma over her empty mojito glass.

 

The sea whispers behind her back. Neal doesn’t look up from his piña colada. 

 

On the terrace of this luxurious hotel by the French Riviera, Neal and Emma are sitting and everything sucks.

 

It is the third day of their honeymoon, and for Neal, it is the last straw. There is no way in hell he can keep up this charade. They both deserve better than this.

 

She’s been looking miserable since they arrived here – it isn’t for a lack of trying to conceal it. Actually, no, it’s worse than that. She’s been looking miserable since Killian Jones left their wedding without a look back at her. Should have seen her face, Eurydice left by Orpheus in the depths of hell.  

 

It’s killing him to see her like this, to know there’s nothing he can do to make things better. Purely and simply because, as much as he’s tried to, Neal Cassidy will never replace Killian Jones in Emma Swan’s heart.

 

And as she bends towards him to give him a quick peck on the lips, a very vicious sentence tickles his tongue and he lets it out without a second thought.

 

“Bet you looked more eager to kiss Killian.”

 

It is a dick move, yes, but after all he isn’t the one who cheated on her, and Neal thinks she deserves a little karma.

 

The look she darts on him then would have probably killed him, had there not been empty glasses standing between the two of them to shield him.

 

“What the hell are you talking about?” she spits out in a sharp, defensive tone. 

 

Neal is surprised she tries to deny it all.

 

“Your lover sent you a letter,” he hisses back.

 

Satisfaction sparkles in his heart at the sight of her face turning crimson under the moonlight.  

 

He watches as she angrily gulps a last mouthful of rum, watches as her knuckles whiten around her glass and her jaw clenches. “Who are you talking about?”

 

“Who the hell do you think I’m talking about?” 

 

And then the god forsaken, sacrilegious name. “...Killian sent me a letter?”

 

And from guilt to anger, there is only one, treacherous step. And she seems eager to jump it.

 

“Oh yeah, he did. Said it all about your kiss and loving you, and I nearly vomited…”

 

And then it is really upsetting because he wants to be mad but her face does that thing where it just freezes, mouth open wide and eyes even wider, and it would have been funny had he not been putting an end to their short-lived marriage.

 

“He…he loves me?”

 

She cannot possibly not know it. She can’t be that oblivious to reality.

 

“I’m telling you I know you cheated on me and that’s your only reaction?” A roll of eyes, his voice coming out shriller, to mock her, mock her pain, because he wants to hurt her like she hurt him. “ “He loves me?” Of course he loves you, Emma!” he blurts out, because the entire world knows it except for her, apparently.  

 

He can’t have married someone as oblivious.

 

Well, you did marry her knowing she was in love with someone else.

 

And she stands up, cheeks hot and burning and red, and she isn’t making any sense anymore. “What the hell are you talking about? Killian doesn’t love me, he never has.”

 

And seeing her wrath, the way her body trembles and shakes, he knows she is truly convinced Killian Jones isn’t in love with her.

 

But how…

 

“You really don’t know, do you?”

 

“Where is that letter?”

 

“I got rid of it, of course!”

 

“Then you have no proof! How convenient.”

 

He wants to stop her then, to yell “Hey YOU cheated on me,” but he can tell that in her grand order of things, her cheating on him has nothing on Killian Jones possibly loving her.

 

And then a small, mad chuckle jolts out of her mouth. “Killian would never write a letter. You made that up.”

 

“But how would I know about the kiss?”

 

“I don’t know, and I don’t care, and I, I—” A turn, and then she is gone, disappearing in a tornado of anger and guilt and sand.

 

Neal doesn’t try to hold her back, remains very still on his seat, lets her go, much like he should have years ago. He glances down at the empty drink between his fingers.

 

The waves crash against the sand, whoosh, whoosh, and Neal feels terribly lonely.

 

But at peace.

 

But mostly lonely.

 

Damnit, she is stubborn, and she is lucky he’s in love with her. That he’ll always be, somehow, even if he is a fucking idiot who probably blew his only chance at love when he stole those watches.

 

.

 

Later that night, Neal finds her sitting on their king side bed and its perfectly white blankets, hands folded in front of her like he knows them to, shoulders down and head bent towards the floor, and Neal desperately wants to hug her.

 

There is not an ounce of anger left in his body. Only sadness. 

 

There’s not a flicker of light in their room as he sits down by her side. The rustle of the waves can be heard from their room. It’s the only reason why he chose it. He knows she loves that sound. 

 

(He doesn’t know she loves it because of him , but that’s fine.)

 

 “Hey…” he begins softly, and his shoulder gently bumps against hers. “You okay?”

 

She’s twirling her wedding ring around her finger. Of course she is. She always has been. And that should have been a clue, too.

 

“Are you being sincere right now?” she asks, and her voice is nothing like the voice he’s grown to love.

 

Emma’s voice has always been soft, but vibrating with a very triumphant confidence as well.

 

“What do you mean?” he asks, because precisely he doesn’t know what she means.

 

He’s never understood her like Killian can, in spite of how much he loves her. And while he spent most of the beginning of his adulthood hating him for it, he realizes now it is simply a battle he cannot win.

 

She lifts her face up, and he makes out her shimmering eyes in the darkness.

 

“I cheated on you. Aren’t you mad?”

 

A gigantic sigh shakes his shoulders as these past six months flash before his eyes.

 

“I was angry, Emma. But it’s been too long, I’m not anymore.”

 

“Too long?”

 

Oh, right, that. She’ll hate him, but well, she deserves the truth. He winces, fidgets with the collar of his shirt.

 

“I might have been hiding this letter from you for a good six months now…” he whispers, and forces a smile on his face as an apology. 

 

“You what?”

 

She doesn’t sound nearly as angry as he expected her to. In fact, she doesn’t sound angry at all. She sounds defeated, hopeless.

 

“I was so scared that if I confronted you, you would just run and never marry me, and I thought I could hold on to you by not telling you…But I was wrong. There was no holding on to you.”

 

And something terrible rattles her body then, as she cups her face and disappears even more in a small, scared puddle over the bed.

 

“Fuck. I’m sorry Neal. I ruined everything.”

 

And he shakes his head then, grabs one of her hands. “There’s no need to apologize, Emma. We both fucked up. I should have let you go a long time ago.”

 

His throat is tight, but he knows this is the right thing to do.

 

“What are we going to do now?” she whispers, just as one of his arms comes to wrap around her shoulders.

 

She muffles a sigh in the crook of his neck while he gently brushes her hair.  

 

“I don’t know. Is there some kind of three weeks wedding notice?”

 

She chuckles then, but he can clearly imagine the tears rolling down her cheeks as she sniffles into his neck.

 

“You’re an idiot.”

 

“I am.”

 

Silence. By then, it’s somehow raining in the room and his shirt is soaked.

 

“I’ll always love you. You know that, right, Emma?”

 

She nods in the darkness, her hand clutching onto his shoulder, and she seems to him a firefly caught between a child’s chubby hands.

 

“I know, Neal.”

 

“Good.”

 

 

.

 

Moving out of this house is one of the weirdest things Emma has ever had to do.

 

“Emma, you’re not coming?” calls David’s voice, and Emma looks up to see his head peering from the driver’s seat of his old, orange truck.

 

Safely packing all of the pieces of furniture was a collective effort. Mary Margaret, Ingrid and Ruby also came to help, and Emma is quite thankful. It’s such a blinding, sunny day of August, and if not for the fresh breeze that swirls between the tree branches, it would be unbreathable.

 

Emma simply shakes her head. “No, don’t worry. I’ll join you guys later at Granny’s.” 

 

Her right foot nearly knocks out the small cardboard box at her feet, sending a loop down her stomach. 

 

This one she’ll carry herself.  

 

Neal and Emma agreed to sell the house and the furniture, and Neal – well Neal decided to move to Boston, and Emma cannot quite blame him.

 

This last month has been…weird, on so many levels, and Neal wasn’t the weirdest thing about it.

 

“Alright. Call us if you need anything.”

 

As David drives away, Emma stares back at the house. Her feet seem buried into the doormat, the door still open wide, and her fingers clutch onto the keys.

 

It is a bittersweet sight, those empty walls.

 

She thinks life has a funny way of coming around. She thinks she thought she’d have a family there, with Neal, she thinks she thought this was what she wanted, what she could bear to have and risk losing.

 

She’s glad that Neal showed himself braver than she ever could. That he refused to settle, for both of their sakes.

 

She inhales deeply.

 

Exhales.

 

And lets it go. All of it.  

 

Click , she locks the door, and turns her back on her past.

 

A summer breeze greets her face, swirls around her legs and tangles her hair, and she closes her eyes into the warm embrace. It carries childhood smells, this smell of burnt wood, and Rocky Road ice-cream, and Killian’s cologne.

 

“Heard you needed help moving out?” Her eyes snap open. Her heart skips a beat.

 

It’s August in Storybrooke, Maine, and anything is possible again. 

 

The wind carries the first fallen leaves to her feet and his scent to her heart. Something mystical splits her face as she takes a step towards him. She nearly trips on the cardboard box at her feet, again , grunts and picks it up in a blink, and she hears it – his laughter in the wind.

 

As she looks up, a flower blooms in her chest, carries blood to her heart and her face with its roots, and her lungs are soon filled to the brim with petals. 

 

“Yeah.” A quivering whisper, it is hard to breathe when the sun drops golden and blue beams into his eyes. “Thank you, Killian.”

 

And in a few strides he imprisons the cardboard box she held against her chest, the one containing memories of her childhood, and his eyes are so warm on her face that he steals her breath away.

 

“Any baggage left?” he asks, and it is a hoarse whisper as well. 

 

She swallows hard.

 

She shivers beside him. She’s a fallen leaf herself, caught in a whirlwind. Her eyes are open wide and she feels completely swallowed by his gaze but it is a wonderful kind of fear.

 

“Not at all.”

 

And he smiles then, and it is one of the most gentle smiles she’s seen on his face, and at last, he is Killian and she is Emma.

 

“Good.”


 

I knew you'd miss me once the thrill expired
And you'd be standin' in my front porch light
And I knew you'd come back to me
You'd come back to me

 

Chapter Text

Time, mystical time

Cutting me open, then healing me fine

Were there clues I didn't see?

 

And isn't it just so pretty to think

All along there was some

Invisible string

Tying you to me?




Present Day -- August, Storybrooke, Maine. 

 

That night, Granny’s dinner is fuller than usual. Fuller with people, fuller with life.

 

It’s an agreeable summer night, the air a cool breeze against Killian and Emma’s bare arms as Mary Margaret and David argue over the color choice of the napkins for their upcoming wedding. Crickets chirp all around them, seeming to mock them.

 

Their plates of food are now empty, and Ruby expertely piles them up on her left arm as Mary Margaret shoots a death glare at her boyfriend. 

 

“White is simply perfect, David.”

 

“So you play Snow White once in High School and now it’s your favorite color? That’s ridiculous, Mary Margaret.”

 

“Is it now? And what kind of color would you go for? Orange ?”  

 

“Well, orange would be a statement for one!”

 

“Over my dead body, David. It’s white or nothing.”

 

If Emma weren’t so distracted by the warmth of Killian’s fingers around hers, she would have probably choked on her beer and mumbled “Mary Margaret - 1, David - 0.” 

 

Thankfully for everyone, the palm that curled around hers a few minutes ago metaphorically threw her straight into a pink cloud kind of paradise. 

 

Looking up from their intertwined fingers, Emma is greeted by the very real purple pink clouds in the night sky, behind Killian and Mary Margaret’s back. They are sitting opposite Emma and David, while Ingrid sits in the middle, a small contented smile on her lips, as she eats her onion rings in silence.

 

Fairy lights hang above their heads. Emma loves fairy lights, she always has.

 

“Why not settle for another color, mates?” tries Killian in a calm, soothing voice, and Emma is surprised he is talking at all. 

 

He should know better. Grave, stupid mistake it is to get between Mary Margaret, David and their napkins. 

 

“NEVER,” the couple answer as one voice, and Emma watches with a chuckle caught in her throat as Killian backs away, hands in front of his face. 

 

“Wohoho, mates. Calm down. The only people you’re allowed to kill are each other.” 

 

And as Emma swallows another grin, she thinks Killian and she haven’t talked about it , but that’s fine. Emma’s brain doesn’t seem able to come up with words, anyway. 

 

A few hours ago, the walk back to Ingrid’s was achieved in near complete silence, and it was weird -- considering with whom she was walking. Actually, cross that -- it was weird to be walking back to her childhood house with Killian Jones, period. 

 

But Emma was able to find comfort in Killian’s lack of words as well, and god knows how talkative Killian can be, she found comfort in his breathy tone when he handed her the box back and the flush on his cheeks, knowing if she could barely hear anything if not for her own heartbeats, surely he wasn’t pulling this any better than she was.

 

“Earth to Emma, would you like a desert?”

 

Emma blinks. Two green eyes are staring at her. 

 

Right. Dinner. Granny’s. Damnit, focus Emma. Ruby’s voice sends a shameful loop down Emma’s belly.

 

“...Mmm, no, actually. I’m fine, for now.” 

 

Ruby’s raising an eyebrow. Everyone is staring at her. Why are they staring? 

 

“Are you sure, Ems?” 

 

“I am. Why do you ask?” 

 

“...It’s just, it doesn’t sound a lot like you.” 

 

And then Emma’s pretty sure her hair stands on end. 

 

“Really.” And each word is meant to sound more threatening than the last. “I. Am. Fine. Ruby.” 

 

She’s not looking at him, but Emma catches Killian’s small chuckle all the same. It’s hard to ignore how easily her rage melts away, and she hides the beginning of a smile behind a napkin. 

 

“Fine.” And Ruby nearly sounds like she is the one who got attacked. (Perhaps she was. But she deserved it.) 

 

As the waitress disappears in a clatter of heels, Ingrid is tapping a napkin against her mouth, delicately, and Emma knows very well what this means. 

 

“Well, it’s already 10pm. I think I’ll leave you youngsters to it.” 

 

Emma watches as Ingrid folds the napkin in front of her, just like she always does, and gracefully stands up.  

 

“Goodnight, kids.” Ingrid grins, and everyone replies with a lively “Goodnight, Ingrid!”

 

A kiss is dropped onto Emma’s forehead, and Emma doesn’t miss the subtle pat on the back Killian receives on Ingrid’s way out. Emma thinks Ingrid’s always liked Killian, but then she stops thinking about it because David and Mary Margaret are coughing, and it is the least natural piece of acting Emma’s had the chance to witness in a while. 

 

They both exchange a sly glance, nod and stand up at their turn, and Emma stares at them -- cheeks burning. 

 

“Yeah, we’ll go, too. It’s getting pretty late, and we flew in very early this morning.”

 

Traitor , shout Emma’s eyes at Mary Margaret, but the small brunette is smiling with all of her teeth out and doesn’t seem concerned by Emma’s impending murder threat.

 

“Enjoy your night, guys,” David looks far too delighted. “Byye.” 

 

“Aha, bye guys.”

  

Away from Granny’s dinner and up Main Street towards Granny’s B&B, the couple vanishes into the night.

 

And just like that, Emma and Killian are alone under the fairy lights.

 

Chirp, chirp. 

 

This time, Emma cannot ignore the childish panic that strangles her throat, as his touch begins to burn her skin and her hand slowly slides out of his palm. She looks down at the green plastic table.

 

What to do now? Jesus, she is not nineteen anymore, she needs to take initiative, and—

 

“Fancy a walk along the beach, Emma?”asks Killian, and Emma is so thankful for the distraction she nearly knocks the table down as she springs to her feet.

 

“Excellent idea!” Why do her legs feel so wobbly?

 

And Killian smirks, and she wonders if he knows just how badly she is afraid, of him, of her, of risking her heart.

 

“Perfect then, let’s sail away.” 

 

But she wants this to work, she wants them to work. She spent a good part of her life agonizing over this relationship, daydreaming about it, and then cursing it, and it better be as good as she thought it would be.

 

.

 

As things turn out, this walk along the beach feels like brutally falling down a rabbit hole. It knocks the wind out of Emma and it is wonderfully terrifying. 

 

The wind blows that night. Salt air dances with Emma’s light dress and Killian’s hair. 

 

Emma’s shoes dangle from her fingers, but she is still shaking like a leaf.

 

Awful, isn’t it, to finally get all you’ve ever dreamed of?

 

She knows it’s not entirely hers yet, she knows she still has to dash forward and grab it with her two hands, and not let it go – on any account. ( Do you want it? )

 

It’s terrifying. 

 

She did not reach out to Killian, this past month, although she knew about his letter...and she probably wouldn’t have reached out first, had he not appeared on her porch. 

 

There is still this stupid fear, down her stomach, this stupid fear that he never cared, he never will, and this is all a sick joke. 

 

(She wants it.)

 

“Should we sit?”

 

“Aye.” 

 

He complies as she sprawls into the sand she feels moist under her toes, sitting down a few inches from him. 

 

Somehow, staring at him still feels illegal. 

 

When he gets a flask of rum out of his leather jacket, she rolls her eyes, and her bracelet glints under the moonlight. For the first time in ages, it is not a painful sight. She does not twist the little charms. 

 

“Really? Is rum your solution to everything?”

 

“It’s not rum, Swan. It’s merely water.”

 

“Is it now?”

 

“Nah, it’s definitely rum. But it never hurts to have a drink between friends.”

 

And at that wicked, wicked word, they both stare at one another and gape slightly. 

 

It should be funny. Except it still itches. 

 

Aren’t they friends? 

 

There are stars reflected in his eyes. There is still this ache inside her chest. 

 

Emma is urged by a desire to look down then, but she doesn’t cave in. Instead, her mouth curves into a smile. 

 

“…Friends or other types of acquaintances,” he adds after a while, and Emma’s smile widens. 

 

The flask of rum is handed to her, and she drinks a few mouthfuls that diffuse a sweet heat and courage down her throat. Lord does she need it.  

 

“Acquaintances, you say, um?” 

 

She licks the small drop of rum that rolls down her lower lip, notices with satisfaction as Killian’s eyes follow the movement of her tongue and widen when he realizes she has caught him red-handed. 

 

“Aye. I believe we’ve been acquainted.” There is a delicious twirl, down in her stomach, that could drown her fears, she knows it, if only she allowed herself to let go. 

 

“Right.”

 

Idiot. Her cheeks burn. It is ridiculous, they are ridiculous and she doesn’t mind.

 

Woosh, woosh , the waves giggle. 

 

As Emma inhales deeply, she figures she has to give him back his flask and that this -- whatever the hell this really is -- is probably going to be more difficult than she initially thought.

 

Her fingers brush against his as his hand closes over the flask -- of course they do -- and Emma couldn’t honestly say who’s to blame.  

 

“Thanks, Swan.” 

 

Oh, how many scenarios she made up in her mind, about him showing up. They all ended with their lips locked together. What she had a very hard time figuring out was the in-between. The talking. The confession. Because there has to be one, right? 

 

She hears him gulp a few mouthfuls of rum down next to her and she refocuses her gaze on him. He clears his throat.

 

“So, erm, any plans for the foreseeable future?” he inquires. 

 

The flask is buried in the sand between them. 

 

“I don’t know, to be honest. For now, I think I’ll stay in Storybrooke. It’s my home.”

 

And then a pause, she glances at him through her eyelashes. A mischievous wave comes crashing at their feet, bites their toes. 

 

“What about you, Killian? Still in Portsmouth?”

 

She watches him tilt his head next to her as he carefully sieves a handful of sand between his fingers, brows furrowed. 

 

“Actually, I’ve been thinking about moving back to Storybrooke. Joining the Navy again would not be easy, and I’m not sure it’s entirely what I desire. I mostly did it to honour Liam but it’s never been a dream of mine…” 

 

A pause, a breath, for him, Emma has stopped breathing somewhere after “Storybrooke”. And her mouth refuses to shut. 

 

“Plus, there’s the fact that Graham did mention the need for another deputy,” he casually adds, shoots a swift glance at her. 

 

Oh. Breathe, Emma, breathe. 

 

It’s very hard, then, for Emma to swallow the smile that tingles her lips.

 

“You are?” she asks, curses silently her quivering tone. Clears her throat. Dammit, why did it come out like this?

 

If he notices it, Killian doesn’t show it. Instead, he goes on, the ghost of a smile over his lips.

 

“Aye. I don’t think there’s anywhere else for me to be. It is high time I came home.”

 

Home. The word echoes between them, much like the gentle rustling of the waves.

 

And Emma nods and she has no idea where to put herself, what to say. She settles for telling the truth. 

 

“That’s great. I could really use you around.” A pause. “I’ve missed you.” 

 

Twinkle, twinkle the stars in the night sky, and the constellations in her heart as her eyes meet his. They put to shame the sea of stars in front of them.

 

Emma’s heart is bursting out as he slowly glances down at her lips, and then even more slowly looks up, a dangerous grin overtaking his features.

 

“Aye. I’ve missed you too, Swan. I don’t want to be apart from you anymore.”

 

Hearing him repeat her words is positively the worst thing that could have happened to her heart rate. That one nearly rips her heart out of her chest and sends it ricocheting on the waves. 

 

She nods, laughs a bit, crinkles her nose mostly to hide how flustered she truly is. 

 

“How…How did this happen?”

 

And he sighs next to her, a very dramatic sigh that she recognizes as a poor attempt to hide a deeper kind of pain. She watches as he stretches his legs, digs a shape into the sand with his fingers. 

 

“How did you end up marrying Neal Cassidy, you mean? Poor judgement, if I do say so myself.”

 

The bastard.

 

She elbows him in the ribs, of course, he deserves it. 

 

And he only chuckles, feigns a moan of pain, and… and grabs the arm she threw at him to bring her closer to him. There are grains of sand stuck to his skin as his hand closes over her fisted palm. As he stares at her, all air has definitely been knocked out of Emma’s lungs.  

 

His nose gently brushes hers. Little pulses of magic seem to climb up her hand, her arm, to gently tickle her heart.

  

And she gazes into his eyes, mortified. Swallows hard.

 

“To be fair, he did hide that letter from you. A shame really, it was truly a pearl of literature.”

 

His breath tingles Emma’s lips, and it isn’t fair.

 

She snorts, she tries to at least, because it is hard to do anything when he is this close to her.

 

“David told you,” she mumbles, rolls her eyes dramatically, blushes furiously. 

 

He isn’t denying the letter. He isn’t denying anything. 

 

“Aye that he did. You can’t trust the guy with a secret, love.”

 

She doesn’t know what David told him over the phone, but Emma thinks it is safe to assume that it is somewhere near absolutely everything . And it should bother her, it should bother that secret and private part of herself, but Emma’s tired of fighting against herself, and she lets it go. All of it. 

  

Her hand is still in his, twisted against his chest, right above his heart. She doesn’t mind. They could remain like this, forever, for all she minds. But that wouldn’t be very practical, now, would it? 

 

“And it’s not like I didn’t know…” he continues, and Emma’s mouth drops even more, if it is possible. “I think I’ve known from the moment I met you. Haven’t you?”

 

A nervous chuckle shakes her shoulders.

 

“What exactly have you always known?”

 

“You can’t answer my question with another question, Swan. That’s just not how the English language works.” 

 

“Well, if you could drop the metaphors and double entendre, then perhaps, perhaps I…” A breath. There’s no need to hide anymore, although something ludicrous seems about to explode inside her chest. “Y-yes, I think I knew...But I --” 

 

“-- Good, because in that case, there’s no use for me to hold back from doing this…” 

 

And as she opens her mouth to complain about metaphors and double entendre, again, he leans into her, tilts his face and, as Emma’s heart does a weird leaping thing in her chest, delicately presses his lips to hers.

 

While Emma does think it is definitely very rude of him to interrupt her like that, she cannot bring herself to complain too much. 

 

Neither can she ignore the sudden explosion in her chest, thousands of strawberry bubbles of happiness that taste of childhood and dreams bursting out. 

 

Oh god. She muffles a moan against his mouth, snatches her hand from his grip to tug at his hair, brings him closer to her, as close as humanly possible, presses her mouth harder against his, as hard she can, and she quite literally feels like a house set on fire.

 

Thump, thump, cries her heart, as their lips dance together, as his hand gets lost in her hair, and no air reaches her lungs and this goddamn flower keeps blooming inside her chest and there isn’t any space between them, and she’s pretty sure she’s combusting into flames, but it’s fine, it’s really fine when his mouth opens and gives her access to his tongue.

 

It’s a gentle kiss, in spite of the passion. It’s such a gentle kiss, in the way with which his hand tenderly lingers in her curls, as if he were afraid she’d shatter under his touch, or in the way his other arm curls around her waist, holds her tightly, but not too tightly, so as not to break her it seems.

 

Years of yearning will do that to you, make you afraid of shattering the glittering and fragile object of your affection.

 

And when they let go, burning forehead against burning forehead, because they really, really need to breathe, Emma doesn’t want to run. In fact, she doesn’t want this to ever end. And she doesn’t know it, but she smiles. 

 

“Then why –” he begins, his lips lightly, delicately brushing against hers as he speaks. 

 

And how dare he be talking! She can barely breathe. 

 

“—why the wedding?” she lazily answers against his lips. “Because I didn’t think you cared…” A pause. “You never told me you did... You didn’t even call, after the k-kiss.”

 

Damnit, that was harder to spit out than anticipated. And it probably sounded more accusing than she wanted it to, but she forgives herself. 

 

The painful memory allows her to step back a little, to gaze into his blue eyes and discover his cheeks crimson and an awestruck look on his face, as well as a lot of guilt and tenderness.

 

A sigh. “Of course I didn’t. I was waiting for you to do it. You were bloody engaged, may I remind you.”

 

Her brows furrow. 

 

“And I did! But you didn’t answer.” Silence. “Tink did.”

 

She watches his features with weariness. She watches as he frowns. Backs away slightly, to gaze into her eyes, seems to seek the truth. And then, sighs. 

 

“Of bloody course. Tink.” Emma watches as he rolls his eyes dramatically, hisses a few insults between his teeth. 

 

She thinks he is still infuriatingly handsome. 

 

Another nervous laughter begins rattling her body, because this is ridiculous, they are ridiculous, they just had to talk it out and it would have been fine but -- 

 

“Seems like our lack of communication isn’t only on us.” 

 

Emma smirks. “Well, it’s mostly on us.” 

 

“Point taken.” And it’s unfair because he smiles a bright smile then and her heart jumps once more.

 

And he looks down, again, at her lips, and Emma feels frozen only she is burning. She needs to kiss him again, and forever, probably. 

 

“But if you cared--” Why is he talking again? She opens eyes she didn’t know she had shut to dart a murderous gaze on him. He doesn’t see it, the fool, keeps talking instead. “--why did you ask me to forget our kiss?”

 

That nearly knocks her out. “Our kiss? Which kiss?”

 

She doesn’t know just how right she is to ask this question. 

 

He raises an eyebrow. His cheeks are flushed and his hair dishevelled, and Emma has to focus to look into his eyes and not stare at his swollen lips. 

 

“You mean to tell me you don’t remember?”

 

 And his eyes do a weird twitching thing. He doesn’t seem alright. And he sounds a little bit as if a part of himself has just died.

 

“I mean… I sure as hell think I would remember this.” Oh, she totally would.

 

“Your nineteenth birthday,” he exhales, and if he could raise his eyebrows any harder, they’d get stuck up his hairline, “we kissed on the rooftop right before you fell to the ground.”

 

Well, she does remember the wicked headache she got that day, but she thought it was caused by the alcohol and…

 

“No…Yes?” A pause. She frowns. Realization sinks in. Well that would explain a lot, indeed. “We did?”

 

That would explain his crumpled face as she asked him to forget their night, it would explain why he avoided her all through summer, and why he stayed with Milah, and why she started dating Neal in the first place, and oh -- they are two idiots, aren’t they? 

 

“Aye. And you specifically asked me to forget that night.”

 

If she keeps frowning her eyebrows will remain stuck forever. She frowns harder.

 

“But I had no memory of that kiss.”

 

“Bloody hell.” And Killian lets go of a very dramatic sigh, shakes his head.

 

Emma’s mouth forms an “O” as she watches Killian glance further away, to the sea, and she begins to understand years of struggle could have been avoided, had they, had they…well, talked about it, it seems.

 

An angel passes. 

 

“Damnit,” she whispers. 

 

And Emma is surprised to find a chuckle tickling her throat. Why is she laughing? This isn’t funny. 

 

He still isn’t looking at her. Impish waves keep nibbling their toes. She hates how heavy everything suddenly feels. 

 

Emma thinks that all this time he thought-- he thought she didn’t care, but she did, oh she cared, and...

 

Emma breathes in, fingers pressed to her temples. Shrugs a bit, breathes out and casts an eye on Killian. He doesn’t seem alright. But she knows how to distract him. 

 

“Since I don’t remember, allow me to ask: did you kiss me?”

 

His blue eyes flash in the dimness as she smirks.

 

She doesn’t think she has seen him look this offended before. 

 

“I beg your pardon? You bloody kissed me, Emma!”

 

His high pitch does make her chuckle. 

 

“Don’t give me that offended look. That does sound like something you’d do.”

 

Oh, the wrath sparkling in his gaze then, it’s a sight for sore eyes, and she cannot stop smiling.

 

“Nah, you were the one who melted onto my lips and sucked the bloody life out of me, perched on your high heels.”

 

“They weren’t that high. And, at least I did something about my feelings.”

 

“Well, you forgot so it was pretty useless in the end, anyway.”

 

“Hey!”

 

And her fist punches his chest, and he captures it again, traitor, and time stands still for a moment, as they glance at each other. 

 

Everything still feels very fragile and terrifying. But that’s quite alright. 

 

And then with a swing of his hip, he shifts her under his weight, onto the sand, and her body meets the ground softly. 

 

His face surrounded by dark, tousled hair hides the moon from her sight, but as her breath catches in her chest, she doesn’t mind.

 

“You were saying?”

 

“Mmm…”

 

Emma thinks sand will get stuck in her hair. And it’s going to be a pain to wash it out. But that’s okay. 

 

They’re only twenty-three, murmurs her inner voice, they’re allowed to be young and stupid and messy and –

 

“Well, I’m glad it didn’t take us another ten years to figure our shit out. Wouldn’t be nearly as sexy.”

 

“Speak for yourself, Swan.”

 

“Idiot.” 

 

And without a second thought, or a first, she raises her face to capture his lips, drink his breath, because she is allowed to, and this is right and all she’s ever wanted. 

 

.

 

Up the beach, down Main street, Killian and Emma walk along the roads of their childhood.

 

Emma doesn’t know where they are going, but it doesn’t seem to matter, not just yet. 

 

Fear is of course lurking in one deep corner of her mind, but it is easy to ignore it while her hand is safely tucked in his.  

 

“Where are you staying?” she asks as they shift to stare at one another. 

 

Granny’s green B&B sign flashes behind Killian’s back. 

 

Amusement sparkles in his eyes. “Granny’s.” 

 

Emma remembers New York’s cold street lights, and the snow melting onto her lips, and Killian’s damp hair, and the sad glimmer in his blue eyes and her cold, shaking hand in his. 

 

It was the night she decided to give him up, not knowing, not knowing he cared too. 

 

It was the night she would have burned in hell to hear him invite her into his hotel room. 

 

(Was it worth it, all the pain, in the end?) 

 

“Fancy a last drink, Swan?” 

 

Streetlights dabble gold beams into his blue eyes. 

 

She nods, a little out of breath. Something soft and awful swallows her from inside. 

 

“Yeah.” 

 

And down the road, up the stairs, they go, hands clasped together. Her bracelet jingles up the stairs. 

 

Emma remembers standing on his porch before her eighteenth birthday party, forehead pressed to the door, eyes locked on her phone screen, heart beating fast, fast. 

 

“Come in whenever you want, I’m ready!” And her stomach twisting at his reply. 

 

Things were so easy while she was still convinced that she was in love with him and she would never love anyone else and they had all the time in the world. 

 

She was wrong, but that’s also fine. 

 

(Isn’t pain just pain?) 

 

Click , he’s unlocked the door, and Emma steps forward to gaze inside. Beyond Granny’s questionable decoration choices, everything is clean and proper and Navy and Killian. What a relief. 

 

It is quite late now, and exhaustion burns Emma’s eyes, circles her throat and crudely brings to light her fears and insecurities. She feels bare, exposed, vulnerable under the dark green chandelier. 

 

For a short moment, she fears there will be too much to mend between them, too many scars over their chest for them to offer their hearts again. 

 

“Make yourself at home, Swan.” 

 

The red leather jacket is dropped onto the bed just as he neatly folds his own on a chair by the wall. 

 

And she keeps staring at those four walls, at this cramped room, and she thinks a month ago she was marrying someone else. 

 

She’s still scared. Is she supposed to be scared? 

 

“You okay, love?” he nudges her. 

 

His hand softly grabs her shoulder. 

 

She shrugs. If she is honest with herself, she does feel a little bit overwhelmed. This room is too silent. She can almost hear past echoes of their hearts breaking. 

 

“Yes, I’m just…” 

 

“Reminiscing?” 

 

A smile. “That’s not the word I would have gone for, but yeah.” 

 

His hand hurtles down her arm and slides into hers. His touch still shoots electric trails all over her skin. 

 

“Want to sit down, Swan?” A nod, and he’s tucking her down with him. 

 

When Killian switches on the small outdated TV on the wooden table in front of them, Emma sighs in relief. 

 

And when still no words echo between them, Emma feels his eyes burn the skin of her cheek. 

 

New York again. A cold bench. The snow falling onto his hair. This pain, in her chest, as he utters her name. Milah. 

 

(Pain is just pain.) 

 

“What are you thinking about, Swan?” 

 

She blinks, licks her lips. Breathes in. 

 

Will not look at him. 

 

Augusta airport this time. His back, his image printed in blood over her retinas, this dark shape she cannot forget, forever turned on her. 

 

“The past.” 

 

The pain. 

 

Storybrooke’s town hall. Her weary eyes twitching back and forth from Neal towards the door. Begging Killian to appear. And he doesn’t. (Or he does, but he’s too late.)

 

“Listen, Emma,” and his fingers have found hers again, and they are soft, and she looks up to discover his eyes even gentler, and his lips spread in a tender smile, “The past is behind us and we cannot change it.” 

 

“But there’s been so much pain…” 

 

She sounds like she is twelve again, she can almost touch Ingrid’s wooden fence under her fingers, can almost feel the tingling fear that a splinter might get stuck in the tender skin, and she can almost smell the yellow irises, and it almost brings her to tears. 

 

“I know. But we can do better now.” 

 

She nods. Can they do better? What if all of this is just a chimera and they’ve both idealized their love and what if … What if none of this is real? 

 

She should sleep. Her eyelids are heavy and her eyes burn. 

 

But then his hand cups her cheek, and its warmth brings her back to reality, tethers her. Her own palm settles above his as she leans into his touch. Closes her eyes, for just one bit. 

 

She is so tired. Morpheus is luring her into his arms. 

 

“As long as I am alive--” Oh, but then he is talking, and his voice is velvet against her skin, and she opens her eyes to stare at him. She’s pretty sure he can hear the thump of her heart. “--you can live with the conviction, Swan, that I will always be by your side.” A pause. “Always.” Another silence, his words sinking into her skin, as his fingers trace butterflies along her neck. A smile. “I’ve always been in love with you. From the moment I met you.” 

 

Oh . Her eyes widen. Thump, thump

 

She is swallowed by a gigantic wave of confused feelings. She thinks an earthquake is shattering the windows and shaking the walls. She thinks a tear rolls down her cheek, but she is not crying. 

 

And it’s not like she didn’t know, she knew, but, but also she didn’t, for so long, and this is all very confusing and unexpected but very much expected, and he keeps staring at her and she doesn’t know what to say, for fuck’s sake. 

 

And the only answer she can come up with is her trembling hands caressing his cheeks and then slowly grabbing the lapel of his t-shirt, and then, finally -- the pressure of her lips against his. Tender, at first, and then furious, desperate, hungry. 

 

She wants to tell him, I loved you when you walked away from me, the first time, and the times after that, as well. I loved you although you never looked back at me, and I couldn’t look forward. I loved you when you were avoiding me, and I loved you when I didn’t think I loved you anymore. But mostly, I loved you from the moment I met you. 

 

Instead, she presses her mouth into his, fiercely, for all of those times she wishes she had been brave enough to kiss him and she didn’t. 

 

And Emma forgives them both. Forgives their past mistakes and heartaches. 

 

They will do better. (They want to, and that’s already half of the journey, isn’t it?)

 

 

A number. Nineteen. Emma’s nineteen tonight. He’s been for a while now. (He feels a hundred years old since Liam left. Feels like he’s been holding his breath for centuries. Only the pain doesn’t flatter.)

 

They’re on a rooftop. Emma’s pink dress floats in the wind, much like a pirate flag. Her smile, that night, is bright, vivid, infuriatingly confident as she glances down at his lips. 

 

The waves crash against the sand, back and forth, back and forth. 

 

Her body is warm against his chest. Both of his hands hold her waist. 

 

Time stands still, as she stands up on her tip toes and kisses him. 

 

It’s an explosion, then, in his chest. A mercurial bliss. 

 

And this time, he catches her before the fall. He doesn’t let her go. This time, his grip is secure around her waist, his fingers firm around her hips as she stumbles forward and they chuckle together. 

 

This time, she doesn’t forget their kiss. 

 

No.

 

Instead, she stares deeply into his eyes and she says: “I’ve been meaning to do that for a while, now.” 

 

And he says: “I’ve been waiting for you to say that.” 

 

And if everything is easy, it’s only because it is a dream. 

 

.

 

A ray of sunshine tickles Killian’s eyelids. His face crinkles, he groans, opens one hesitant eye. 

 

Bloody hell. What a dream. Or a nightmare, he cannot really tell. 

 

There is a weight against his chest, bitterness at the back of his mouth. 

 

He glances down. Emma . She fell asleep in his arms last night while he was slowly rocking her, and they forgot to close the shutters and now Killian will never fall back to sleep again. 

 

His eyes still burn. 

 

He gazes at her face buried in the hollow of his neck, blonde hair across his chest. He smiles. 

 

A hospital room, eight months ago. A blinding, golden light. Her sleepy smile. “ Oh , you’re awake?” 

 

He would pinch himself if he had a hand to spare. 

 

Those six months, without her, thinking she didn’t want him, were some of the bleakest of his life. 

 

It was like losing a limb, only he lost two. And he had to keep on learning how to walk without an anchor, how to live without a hand and without hers to hold. 

 

And then, David’s call, one morning. 

 

“They broke up, Killian. Neal found your letter. I think you should do something about that, or I will personally come to murder you in your pitiful apartment, do you hear me?” 

 

Emma snores lightly against his skin. He traces the shape of her jawline with gentle fingers. 

 

He is terrified. Perhaps it is the only way to be, for now. 

 

Perhaps it is good. It means they’re trying. They’re evolving, together, for the first time in ages. 

 

A grunt, her small hand spread across her face, she’s starting to wake up, he can tell. 

 

There is still a lot of sadness in his chest, for the boy who loved a girl and suffered deeply for it. For the boy who lost everything and still managed to lose more through the years, until there wasn’t anything left to lose. 

 

Liam’s smile from his car window. A wave. And then void, nothing. 

 

Killian clenches his jaw. 

 

“Hey,” a small voice groans, “if you keep staring at me while I sleep, it’s going to get creepy.” 

 

A grin. 

 

“Sorry love, couldn’t sleep.” 

 

Emma lifts her chin, green eyes shimmering in this golden morning light, and she tries a sleepy smile. 

 

“Morning, Killian.” 

 

“Morning, Emma.” 

 

“Am I crushing you under my weight?” 

 

“I think I’ll survive, love.” 

 

She still hesitates to kiss him, he sees it in the small start of her head backwards, so he bends forward to kiss her. 

 

It’s a sloppy morning kiss, but he wants all of them. 

 

Last night, they absolutely did not take time to undress. Emma fell asleep like a rock, and he was too afraid he’d wake her up to try and remove his clothes. 

 

But she seems very much awake as her legs curl around his hips, and it is very hard for Killian to ignore the way her dress climbs back up her thighs and gives away the beginning of her red panties. 

 

He can feel his cheeks become hot and red, and suddenly Emma’s smirking at him. 

 

“Like what you see?” 

 

He swallows down. 

 

“It’s quite alright, aye.” 

 

A squeeze of her thighs around his torso, he is trapped, and his heart leaps. 

 

“Alright?” she repeats. “That’s definitely a disappointing answer.” 

 

As for Killian’s heart, it’s practically bursting out in his chest by now. He gulps. 

 

He cannot say he hasn’t thought a lot about it, what it would feel like to go beyond a simple kiss with Emma. How her skin would taste under his tongue. 

 

He may have started to think about it at around age fifteen, when he saw her come back from summer vacation all tan legs out, and he can still hear Liam’s mocking tone “If you open your mouth any wider, little brother, you’re going to swallow flies.” 

 

The thoughts worsened after their kiss. There were some lonely, desperate moments as well during which he imagined tracing the shape of her body, much like his fingers flutter against the side of her leg right now.

 

His eyes don’t leave hers, scrutinizing her to know if he is allowed to go further. 

 

“We don’t have to, if you don’t want to, Emma,” he whispers. 

 

The wicked smile she shoots him is a sufficient answer. “Oh don’t worry, I want to.” 

 

And then her lips find his again and his fingers are gripping her thigh now, clutching her skin, leaving marks, climbing back up some more and feel the soft skin right under the fabric of her dress. 

 

She moans against his mouth, and it’s a wonderful sound, and suddenly they are both wearing far too many clothes and they have to hurry or they’ll combust into flames. 

 

Emma straddles him just as her nimble fingers pull her dress up and throw it over her head. 

 

“Couldn’t have done it better myself,” he mumbles and it’s very hard to look anywhere else but at her naked body.

 

But she’s already getting impatient with his t-shirt, and she groans. “Come on Killian, help me. Raise your arms up.” 

 

“Didn’t think you’d become such a morning person, Swan.” 

 

She laughs a bit as his t-shirt hits the floor in its turn in a muffled sound, and she does this thing where she stops to gaze into his eyes and he will die for a lack of oxygen. 

 

He watches as she swallows, ogling him. 

 

“Some things are worth waking up for.” 

 

And then she’s melting into the skin of his neck as her fingers sift through his hair, and Killian ceases completely to think. 

 

.



A month later -- Augusta Airport. 

 

Emma clutches Ingrid’s yellow irises against her chest. Her hold is gentle but her lips form a firm line.  

As she stares at the Arrivals Board in front of her, the beat of her heart is drumming in her ears, and she is pretty certain oxygen is having a very hard time reaching her lungs. 

He’s only been gone a week , mumbles her inner voice, but Emma’s too happy to pay attention to her pride. 

She glances up, and a breath of relief escapes Emma’s throat as the light next to Portsmouth changes color.  

“He’s landed,” she whispers to herself, flowers still pressed to her chest.

She glances down, careful not to damage the beautiful bouquet Ingrid offered last night, over the dinner table. 

“I know how much he loves them,” Ingrid smiled. 

Another look at the clock. He should be here any time now. 

Her heart skips a blissful beat. 

A part of her still cannot believe this is real. That he is coming home, for good, that Emma found them a cute apartment near the beach and they’re going to get everything they’ve ever dreamed of.  

“Are you sure you want to do this...I mean, we could wait, and I could go back to Ingrid’s for a while…”

A butterfly in the dark, a kiss in the night. 

“I’ve never been so sure of anything…” 

Gazing all around her, Emma spots the familiar large window in front of her. It still shows a blurry reflection of her body. Emma frowns. Well, that will never change. One hand reluctantly gives up on the flowers to comb her hair. 

It is now mid September in Storybrooke, Maine, and Emma has to admit she’s missed him.  

It wasn’t the kind of missing him she was far too familiar with only two months ago. It wasn’t a burning ache in her chest. It was just like losing your glasses and finding them again on your bed table, where you left them. It’s a kind of missing she knew to end. And it made a great difference. 

As she remains very still, feet stuck to the ground, she remembers shaking, bouncing up and down on her feet, waiting for him to come back the first time, four years ago. 

Nothing’s really changed. She is still Emma and he is still Killian. Except everything’s changed. 

It feels like another lifetime. Emma smiles down at the flowers in her hands. A very peaceful sunflower blooms in her chest. 

The crowd of people around her brings Emma back to the present. More people gather together, and Emma understands they are all just as eager to see their loved ones as she is.

And she waits, knowing her love is about to arrive. 

Another few minutes go by, and time seems to slow down. She clenches her jaw. Unclenches it. C ome on, relax, Emma.  

And then… And then , there he is.

“Killian.” The blissful whisper escapes her throat as a brutal wave of bliss sweeps her off her feet. She doesn’t hold it back. It isn’t scary anymore. 

She’s somehow thankful to notice he hasn’t changed one bit, but it’s only been a week, what was she expecting? A tender hue of blue meets her eyes and smiles in recognition.

“Emma, my love,” he mirrors her happy sigh. 

Her heart beams as they walk towards each other, their pace sure and quick and knowing, and in a few steps he lets go of a thousand suitcases to pick her up from the ground.  

“Careful, Killian, your flowers,” she complains even as her feet quit the floor.

And she tries to hold the bouquet away from his face, but he doesn’t seem to care and presses a long kiss to her mouth instead.  

She sighs happily into his embrace, wraps her arms around his neck, and her senses are filled by him – his smell, a strong cologne she is only too familiar with, his skin under her fingers, his tousled black hair.

“I missed you,” he exhales against her cheek, and drops another kiss to her cheek. 

She slowly backs away, smiling. “It’s only been a week…” 

He raises an eyebrow that challenges her to lie some more. She chuckles, crinkles her nose, mumbles: “Okay, I might have missed you too…” 

He sighs a dramatic sigh, rolls his eyes. 

“Now, you nearly gave me a heart attack, Swan. I was this close from flying back to Portsmouth.”   

Idiot, her inner voice snorts, unimpressed. But her heart isn’t very concerned, and a giggle jolts out of her throat. Even her cheeks give her away, flush furiously, and she hates them for it - come on, it’s been a month now. 

Her hand lingers on his face, tracing the little scar on his cheek.  

“Are you going to take those flowers, or should I keep them for myself?” She attacks in a coy, sharp tone. 

He flutters his eyelashes. The fucker. 

“If the lady insists.” 

A roll of the eye, a bright smile, and Emma’s heart sighs -- defeated. And the flowers carefully slip into his hand. 

He drops another kiss to her lips. “Thank you, love.” 

“Of course, Killian.” 

And then there is this very dramatic moment during which they both stare at his three enormous suitcases and wonder how the hell they are going to make this work. 

“Damnit. Did you have to take your whole life with you?” 

“Well, a blonde lass did ask me to move in with her.” 

Her fist punches his shoulder, playfully. Another sigh echoes all through the airport’s hall. 

“Well, let’s go, I guess.”  

 She’s quick to grab the bag he let go of to hold her and seizes two red suitcases. And he watches her, the fucker, flowers in the crook of his arm and the third suitcase secure his hand. He seems infinitely entertained. 

“Don’t you dare laugh in my face, Killian Jones.”

“Well, if it weren’t for the flowers, I could maybe hel-”

“-- NO. You keep the damn flowers! For once Ingrid offered them.” 

And as they are walking down the airport like old times, Emma knows they’ll do better. They already are doing better. 

(Emma thinks pain is just pain, and they should have known sooner, they should have known better but she also thinks that doesn’t matter because surely there is no kind of pain that cannot be absolved by a lot of love.)