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Walking the Baseline

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2012.

 

“You look nice, Swan.”

 

She’s standing in front of him in a pair of long white paints and a matching white shirt that bares her midriff. Her lips are painted red, her blonde hair long and curled. It’s different to how he usually sees her, but the same can be said for him as he adjusts his jacket sleeves. They spend their lives in athletic wear with sweat an almost constant companion. They do not spend their lives dressed up like this.

 

“Same to you. How are you not dripping in sweat?”

 

“Oh, I bloody well am. It’s hidden under the jacket.”

 

Emma laughs and flips her hair off her neck. “Damn Australian summers. Been trying to kill me since I was eighteen.”

 

“But now you’re the queen of the court. Congratulations, by the way. That was a damn good match.”

 

She smiles and adjusts her trophy as he does the same, the flashes of photographers surrounding them and the water behind them. They’ve both done their individual photographs but are now doing promotion for the tournament and Nike, their clothing sponsor. Killian has the beginnings of a long flight today, and Emma has an even longer one to America. He believes she lives in Florida, but it could also be New York. Maybe California. He’ll ask Ariel if she knows, because he already knows she will have the answer to every question he asks. His manager knows everything there is to know about everybody. Somewhere in that brain of hers, Ariel Fisher has a file on Emma Swan that Killian has never bothered to ask about.

 

It’s not that he’s never been intrigued. She’s a damn good tennis player and a successful one at that. He’s watched her rise to the top of their sport for years now, and while they’ve done a few photo shoots and charity matches together, they’re never talked much outside of a professional capacity. He knows her brother is her coach and she’s close to Ruby Lucas, another player, and he’s read a little about her upbringing. That’s something she keeps close to the vest, but he gets it. He does the same thing. That isn’t the easiest when you’re on the world’s stage like they are. Now, everyone has to know the details of personal lives of athletes, and it makes staying private difficult when you have to brand yourself to get sponsors. Killian would rather run for five hours over doing an interview, especially now that he’s given twenty interviews since the championship last night.

 

It’s media overload in every way.

 

“Congratulations to you. I may have slept through half your match, but what I saw was good.”

 

“Thanks,” Killian laughs, scratching his chin. “I’m terrified that if I sit down, I won’t be able to get back up.”

 

“Oh, that’s definitely a risk. David had to slide me out of the bed this morning. I’m only wearing this because I was too lazy to shave. I was pretty sure I’d have to have help.”

 

He bites his tongue to keep from making the comment he wants to make and turns back to the camera, smiling and nodding, following the rest of the instructions. He and Emma are quickly pulled in different directions to finish out their obligations, and before he knows it, he’s on a plane, flying away from Australia. It’s been a month since he’s been home, and Oxshott has never seemed so good even if there is no one at home waiting to greet him.

 

-/-

 

Killian grabs a sweater from the shelf, pulling it over his shoulders, and heads downstairs where he fixes himself a cup of tea and settles on his couch, his television playing in the background. It’s been a long day. His first day back training after a week break nearly killed his knees, but that’s over now. He’s put in his time on the court and at the gym, and no one is going to bother him for the rest of the day. He’s muted Ariel’s name in his phone, and if she really needs him, she’ll call him from Eric’s phone.

 

God does he hope she doesn’t need him tonight.

 

Nemo better not either because Killian does not want to see his coach’s face again until early tomorrow morning.

 

Despite his sweater, he’s still chilled. Going from an Australian summer to a British winter is quite the adjustment. It’s nearly as bad as the jetlag.

 

Killian’s phone dings in his hand, and he dreads what message he’s surely gotten. He expects it to be Ariel from Eric’s phone, but it’s an Instagram message.

 

@EmmaSwan: Whoever said @KillianJones was photogenic needs to take a serious look at these photos.

 

He looks at the photographs, and it’s a series of horribly awkward faces he’s made. He remembers this moment of the shoot. A bug kept trying to fly into his mouth, and at one point, it succeeded. Emma looks great in them, laughing with a bright smile, and she’s right: there’s no part of him that’s photogenic there.

 

@KillianJones: So you’re saying there are people out there who think I’m photogenic?

 

Her reply comes instantly.

 

@EmmaSwan: Well, there were! ;)

 

Killian laughs and then clicks on her profile, scrolling through. She has several pictures from her win, a few training videos, but mostly it’s pictures of her with some of the women she’s friends with on tour or her brother and sister-in-law. His page is so different in that it’s made up of a majority of tennis photos. He doesn’t share much about his personal life there because there isn’t much to share lately, and when there was, he didn’t want the world to know who he was dating. They did, of course. There were few ways to hide it all when he had photographers literally hiding in bushes, but he imagines if it was a relationship he truly held sacred, he would find a way to keep it hidden away.

 

Milah was the last person he would have wanted that with, but she was a fan of the attention. She still is if what he sees around is any indication. She married some older man who is worth millions, but other than that, Killian tries not to keep up with her. Some days it goes better than others, but being disconnected from the world does help.

 

Social media definitely doesn’t.

 

And after looking at Emma’s profile a little more carefully, he realizes her profile is more private than he thought. In some way, every photo that has a person in it relates back to tennis.

 

Killian exits out of the app and goes to the link Ariel sent him of all the photos from his shoot with Emma. He clicks on it and tries to find one where she looks bad. It takes awhile, damn gorgeous woman, but he eventually finds one where the wind blew her hair in front of her and she’s making an awful face. It’s perfect, and Killian quickly saves it and a nicer photo to his phone before uploading them to Instagram.

 

@KillianJones: @EmmaSwan, if only your serve was as big as your hair.

 

@EmmaSwan direct messaged you.

 

@EmmaSwan: My serve stats are better than your serve stats.

 

@KillianJones: Lies.

 

@EmmaSwan: Okay, well, my hair is also better than your hair.

 

@KillianJones: Eh, I wouldn’t say that either.

 

@EmmaSwan: My ass is better than your ass.

 

@KillianJones: Now, I will fully agree with that.

 

@EmmaSwan: Isn’t it, like, midnight in England? What are you doing up, old man?

 

@KillianJones: Watching TV and having a cuppa. Truly exciting times here.

 

@EmmaSwan has added a picture to this chat.

 

It’s a shot of her legs, her feet resting on the court. There’s a pool of sweat underneath her, and he is not jealous. It’s February, and while he knows she lives in south Florida – he did ask Ariel – it shouldn’t be warm enough for anyone to sweat that much unless they put in a massive amount of effort.

 

He must be getting old for this game if just thinking about that makes him want to retire, but there’s no way in hell that’s happening anytime soon. He told Liam he would play until he no longer had a passion for the game.

 

That hasn’t happened yet.

 

@EmmaSwan: I’m making my mark on this court. I cannot wait to be in my pajamas watching TV tonight. If I can get up from this chair.

 

@KillianJones: I’m sure you can slide home in that lovely pool of sweat.

 

@EmmaSwan: Honestly, I have thought about it.

 

@EmmaSwan: I’ve got to practice my shitty serve, but I’ll think of smacking your face every time I do it. I’m sure my numbers will be higher than ever.

 

@KillianJones: Anything I can do to help.

 

-/-

 

“How do you eat your strawberries?”

 

“With my fingers,” Killian says, arching his brow at such a ridiculous question.

 

“You’re supposed to say with cream.”

 

Killian spins around behind him, and he immediately sees Emma Swan walking toward him. He hasn’t seen her in months as the tours haven’t had a joint tournament since Australia, but they’ve been chatting pretty regularly over Instagram. He’s never liked the app, but it’s one of his most used ones now.

 

“Excuse me, lass?”

 

“You’re doing a promotion for Wimbledon, idiot. They want all of us to say we eat our strawberries with cream.”

 

“I actually don’t love the cream.”

 

Emma mock gasps, covering her chest with her hands, before stepping up to him and giving him a quick hug he’s sure is for the cameras surrounding them. “Well, they should kick you out of England for saying something like that.”

 

“Believe me, they’ve tried, but I chained myself to the ground to keep it from happening.”

 

“I’m sure we could find you a place here if we had to.”

 

“Your place?” Killian jokes.

 

“In your dreams, Jones.” Emma widens her smile before turning to the camera. “I’d eat my strawberries with cream, just in case you want to use me for the promotions instead of this shameful excuse for a Brit.”

 

“Actually,” the producer behind the camera says, “we have a game that we’d love for the two of you to play together if you want. We usually don’t have two of the bigger names up here at once.”

 

“What’s the game?” Emma asks.

 

“It’s basically beer pong.”

 

Emma tilts her head back with laughter and claps her hands together. “Oh, I’m good at this. You’re going down, Jones.”

 

“Nice to see your competitive spirit doesn’t die off the court.”

 

“It never does.”

 

Emma shrugs and walks over to where they have a ping pong table set up on the roof of this building. Killian gets to travel a lot of beautiful places for his job, and while he doesn’t get to explore a lot of them, he does get to take in the view. He’ll never get over the oasis that is Palm Springs with its mountains going as far as the eye can see with palm trees and lush vegetation filling in so many other gaps. There’s a hell of a lot of desert, but considering Killian only goes between the tournament and his hotel, he doesn’t see that. For him, it’s all about the oasis.

 

“You ready?” Emma asks as they settle at opposite ends of the table. “It’s going to be a challenge to beat me.”

 

He winks and leans forward, hovering over the cups of water. “I do so love a challenge.”

 

-/-

 

“I mean, I wouldn’t say that you had a bad reputation.”

 

Killian rolls his eyes and toes his trainers off, kicking them across his hotel room in Monte Carlo. He pulls his phone away from his ear and puts it on speaker so he can change clothes while Emma talks.

 

“Then what would you say, love?”

 

He imagines she shrugs, and if he wasn’t disgustingly sweaty despite his shower at the club, he’d video call her instead of this. “I would say you had a colorful reputation.”

 

“For fuck’s sake, that’s the same thing.”

 

“No, no, it’s not,” Emma sighs. “It’s…”

 

“Swan, I was on the verge of getting all my sponsorships taken away at the age of twenty-two. I’d barely gotten started, and I nearly fucked it all up by drinking too much and being enough of an idiot to do it in public.”

 

“And now you’re England’s poster boy for all sports, so at least from a publicity standpoint, it’s all okay.”

 

She’s right. He knows she’s right, and he appreciates being talked down after an awful contract negotiation with one of his sponsors and what will surely be an equally awful conversation with Ariel later. They decided that they suddenly had issues with some shit he pulled six years ago, and he’s tired of having to explain himself to people.

 

His fucking brother died, and Killian didn’t handle it well. How is anyone supposed to handle that, let alone a twenty-two-year-old whose only family was that brother? It was too much, and while he didn’t tank his career, he did derail it, drinking and sleeping around and making horrible choices for his body. There are times when he still wants to do that, but he knows better now. His grief is private, and the world will never see it again unless it’s on his terms.

 

“My brother’s life was taken because of a drunk driver, and, you know, I’d give up all the sponsorships to have him back. I’d give it all up. And I know I did a piss poor job at dealing with my grief by getting drunk just like the man who killed him, even if I never got behind the wheel, but what was I supposed to do? It hurt too much to not be dulled.”

 

The other end is silent, and he focuses on his own breathing. It’s heavy now, and he can feel his heart thumping. He hates this feeling. He hates talking about his past, and he damn well hates having to talk about Liam like this.

 

He’s got no fucking clue why he’s talking about it with Emma, but she called right after the meeting and he spilled his guts out of frustration.

 

“I never met your brother,” Emma says so quietly he can barely hear her, “but if he was anything like mine, I can guarantee that he’d be proud of you for getting through it and continuing to move forward. Life sucks, Jones, and we all deal with those sucky moments in different ways. I, for one, eat massive amounts of icing and candy. I have an entire stash in a drawer in my bathroom so David can’t find it and scold me for it.”

 

Killian huffs and reaches up to yank his shirt off before falling back on the bed. He tugs on his hair before blowing it off his cheek. He needs a haircut.

 

“You keep icing in your bathroom? That seems unsanitary.”

 

“I promise it’s very secure.”

 

Killian hums and more silence falls between them. He doesn’t feel the need to fill it, but he does anyway. “I live alone, so I think I may not need to hide my icing stash. I’d have to get one first.”

 

“Cream cheese is the way to go. It’s, like, two dollars and all the calories are so worth it.”

 

“Have you ever considered making it at home?”

 

“I would give myself food poisoning. I can’t really cook.”

 

“No?”

 

“Absolutely not. Never learned how to do anything past the basics, and I’m not home enough to try. When I do, Mary Margaret always takes over so I don’t get food poisoning.”

 

“Where are we together next? Rome?”

 

“Madrid,” Emma sighs, and he hears a dog bark in the background. He’s sure she doesn’t have a dog, but maybe someone she’s with has one. Or she’s walking around her neighborhood. He never did ask what she was doing. Instead, he immediately started bitching about his sponsor meeting, and then they ended up here. Most of their conversations veer off track, so it’s nothing he isn’t used to. “I get there Monday.”


“I think the same unless I lose early here.”

 

“You best not. I have money on you.”

 

“Well, that’s a good way to get yourself suspended.”

 

Emma laughs, and Killian stretches out on the bed, flexing his feet. “Well, if you don’t tell anyone, I think I’ll be okay.”

 

“I swear I shall not say a word. Also, Swan, I don’t think we’ll have access to a kitchen in Madrid, but when we get to Rome, I’ll cook you something.”

 

“If I’m in Rome, I’m not wasting a dinner on your cooking.”

 

“We can eat two dinners then,” Killian suggests.

 

“I like that idea.” The dog barks again in the background, louder this time. “I have to go. My neighbor’s dog is walking over this way, and I have to give him my full attention.”

 

“Bye, love.”

 

“Talk to you later, Jones!”

 

The phone goes silent, and Killian closes his eyes. It’s been a rough day for a myriad of reasons, and all he wants is to sleep. His call with Emma has calmed him, as they usually do, but that’s something he often doesn’t like admitting to himself.

 

Getting involved with Emma would be complicated, and Killian isn’t sure he can do complicated anymore.

 

His phone buzzes, and he opens one eye to look at the message.

 

Ariel Fisher: I’m coming to talk to you because you stormed off.

 

Ariel Fisher: I have the key to your room, so make sure you’re dressed.

 

Ariel Fisher: I’m bringing dinner, so I know you at least kind of want to see me.

 

Killian Jones: I’m in the nude, and I’m not changing for you.

 

Ariel Fisher: It’s nothing I haven’t seen before.

 

Killian Jones: That is your fault for walking into my bathroom without knocking.

 

-/-

 

Killian wins in Monte Carlo, and it feels good to have a trophy for the first time since late January. It’s only April now, and he’s only played three tournaments since Australia. Yet, he had higher expectations for himself for this year. It’s a great year by anyone’s standards, but Killian has really focused on his training this year. He wants another record year like two years ago, and if he keeps this momentum going, maybe he can do that.

 

That year, he’d worked off the motivation of heartbreak. This year, he’s trying to work off the motivation of doing something for himself.

 

Whatever keeps him in the game.

 

Whatever keeps him loving what he does like Liam asked him to do.

 

-/-

 

The thing about Killian’s job is that he’s constantly surrounded by bloody people. From when he’s playing a match to doing press to sitting in the living room of the houses and apartments he rents for some tournaments when he doesn’t want to stay in a hotel. Sometimes the only times he has to think are when he’s on court, which is ridiculous because that’s when he’s surrounded by the most people and is supposed to be focusing on his plan for the next point.

 

Tonight, Killian had planned on having Emma over for dinner, but Ariel, Eric, Will, and Rob have all shown up and are sitting on his couch watching the television and he’s desperately trying to get Emma to pick up her phone before she arrives. He’s sure Nemo and Al could show up any second by the way things are going.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Swan!”

 

“Hey, I was just about to get a car from the hotel to your place. Everything okay?”

 

Killian sighs and massages his fingers over his forehead. “It seems my team and my mates have decided they’re spending the night with me, so if you want to stay at the hotel, I would understand.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Aye. Of course, you can still come if you want.”

 

“Is there still going to be food?”

 

“Absolutely, but I don’t think I’ll be cooking it.”

 

“Then I’m coming,” Emma laughs. “Would you mind if I brought some people over as well? I can pay for their dinners.”

 

“The more the merrier,” Killian says, even if that is not how he intended his night to go. “See you soon, love.”

 

Killian walks back to the living area and settles down in an armchair, bracing himself for the onslaught of questions he’s about to get. “Emma Swan is coming over for dinner. She’s bringing people with her. I don’t know who yet, but I know she is.”

 

Slowly, everyone turns and stares at him, and Killian is already dreading everything about tonight.

 

“Why the fuck is Emma Swan coming over?” Will asks as everyone else nods. “I didn’t even know you knew her.”

 

“How would I not know her?”

 

“Oi, you know what I meant! You know her, but you know her in a way that has you say hello in the hallways, not that you invite her and her mates over to take our food.”

 

“You were not invited here tonight, Scarlet.”

 

“I am always invited.”

 

“Wait, wait, wait,” Ariel sighs, holding her hands up between them. “I need more of an explanation. How did this come about? Are you dating Em – ”

 

“No, A. Bloody hell, no.” Killian stands from the chair and straightens out his t-shirt. “We got to talking about food one day, and I casually invited her over. Believe it or not, I can have other mates besides you lot.”

 

“Your personality says otherwise,” Rob teases, and Killian rolls his eyes.

 

“Alright, alright. What should we get delivered for dinner? A little bit of everything?”

 

“I still have so many questions,” Ariel tells him.

 

“I have no more answers. I’m going to order food. You guys can keep watching the match.”

 

“Isn’t this who you play tomorrow?” Rob asks.

 

“Mhm, but Nemo will take enough notes and give them to me, so I don’t have to watch the match too closely.”

 

Killian walks away from the living room and goes through the contacts in his phone for the restaurants he likes, and once he settles on one, he orders several meals for delivery, chatting with the owner and promising her he’ll be in to see the entire team before he leaves Rome.

 

There’s a knock on the door, and Killian glances out the kitchen window. He can see Emma, Emma’s brother, and her sister-in-law. He was expecting Ruby Lucas and Anna Jergenson, but he shouldn’t be surprised. Her family is nearly always with her.

 

Ariel gets to the door before he does, hugging and greeting everyone. She knows David and Mary Margaret from constantly working with Mary Margaret over management collaborations, and while this is a large industry, there is always going to be overlap amongst certain people.

 

“David, nice to see you,” Killian says, walking into the room and taking David’s hand before kissing Mary Margaret’s cheeks. “Mary Margaret, beautiful as ever. Hey, Swan.”

 

“What? Am I not as beautiful as ever?” she jokes as she embraces him. “I got all dressed up for this. I’m wearing leggings that don’t have any holes in them.”

 

“I thank you for your effort.” He pulls back and winks. “I’m sorry for the slight change of plans, but I guess I’ll give you food poisoning another day.”

 

“Can’t wait.”

 

Killian guides them into the living room, where it’s a mess of greetings and jumbled conversation, and Killian settles himself back in the chair in the corner, watching everyone talk. They’re in the middle of one of the busiest stretches of the season, and it’s nice to have a night where he can relax. He has a match tomorrow and possibly even more depending on how tomorrow goes, but he tries to forget about those. That’s something Killian is still working on. Liam was the one who usually made him forget, and while his mates, many of them under the same pressures, do a damn good job, there are rarely times when his mind doesn’t race with the possibilities of how everything good in his life can slip away.

 

Killian rents this house in Rome every year because it was Liam’s favorite, so this week is always a particularly difficult one when everything reminds him of his brother.

 

When the food arrives, Killian spreads it around the kitchen and gets out a few bottles of wine. He won’t drink tonight, but others might want to. They fill their plates and settle back in the living room, the match that was at the forefront now in the background as Rob and Will take the piss out of each other for how badly the mangled the Italian language while asking for directions earlier today.

 

“I didn’t grow up speaking two languages! I’m still learning!” Will grumbles.

 

“You trained in Italy for most of your childhood.”

 

“I have no excuses for Italian, I know. I do speak French pretty well.”

 

“Oi, and none of us have to wonder why that is,” Rob laughs.

 

“You’re all wankers.”

 

“Why does Will know French?” Emma asks him from her seat next to him.

 

“His girlfriend is from France.”

 

“Ah,” Emma sighs, picking up a piece of ravioli and putting it in her mouth. “This is delicious. Much better than whatever it was you were planning on cooking.”

 

“I’m going to prove you wrong one day.”

 

She shrugs and puts her plate down on the coffee table next to her glass of wine. “If you say so. Where’s the restroom?”

 

Killian points to the hallway behind the kitchen. “Second door on the right.”

 

Emma nods and stands from her seat, walking away toward the bathroom. He gets a notification on his watch that he’s got a text from Nemo, and it looks like a long one. Sighing, Killian moves away from the conversation and down the hall to his bedroom so he can text Nemo back. It’s an analysis of his opponent for tomorrow, and Killian skims through it. He’ll read it more in the morning since his match isn’t until the afternoon, but if he doesn’t text Nemo back now, he’ll call until Killian does. The man is a damn good coach, but he can also be high-strung.

 

The bedroom door clicks behind Killian as he closes it, and at the same time, Emma leaves the bathroom. The two of them are nearly pressed together in the close quarters of the hallway, and Killian aligns himself against one wall while Emma does the same with the other. Still, he can feel her foot brush against his, and he is close enough to see the freckles on her face.

 

Those freckles are what have himself tilting closer, his breath intertwining with hers, and for every movement he makes, Emma makes an equal one, the voices in the background fading away as Killian focuses on the flutter of Emma’s lashes and the subtle twitch of her lips. He mirrors her, curling up one corner of his mouth and teasingly tapping his lips.

 

“Please,” she laughs, “you couldn’t handle it.”

 

“Perhaps you’re the one who couldn’t handle it.”

 

Emma studies him as heat swirls around them and tickles up his spine, pulling him closer to her. He watches her, waiting to see if she’ll do something, but he expects her to make a joke, to turn away like she sometimes does when things get a little too serious between them when they’re talking in person instead of over the phone. She doesn’t always do that, not when he’s the one sharing, but when it comes to her, she’s more guarded, holding everything deep within.

 

Emma Swan is constantly subverting expectations, however, so when she pulls on the collar of his shirt and tugs his mouth to hers, he takes a moment to reciprocate.

 

Bloody fucking hell.

 

Emma is kissing him.

 

And she’s damn good at it too. Killian reaches up to thread his fingers through her hair, pulling and tugging until he can take a little of the control back from her. She’s a demanding one, and while he can’t say he minds, he would like a little control too. Her lips are soft, and she tastes of wine and the spices of her ravioli. He could get lost in it all, especially when she moans in response to him backing her up against the wall. Her back arches, and Killian rolls his hips as Emma’s kiss teases him. The friction is fucking amazing, and it would be so easy to take a few steps to the right to his bedroom and…

 

Suddenly, Emma pulls back, lingering in his space, breath hot against his skin, and Killian can feel a smile tugging at his kiss swollen lips.

 

“That was – ” Killian mutters, leaning in to kiss her again.

 

“A one-time thing,” Emma quickly tells him, shoving at his chest until he backs away, a mountain of space between them. “I’m going to go back to the living room. Actually, I think I need to go home. I have an early training session tomorrow.”

 

“Swan – ”

 

“Thank you for dinner. It was great.”

 

Then she’s gone, blonde hair falling away, and Killian can’t move from his spot, standing there with his fingers against his lips. He listens to her tell David and Mary Margaret she’s ready to go, listens to her telling everyone goodbye, and then she’s gone, the front door shutting behind her.

 

What the hell just happened.

 

And when did he fall halfway in love with Emma Swan?

 

Fuck.

 

“What happened to your hair?” Ariel asks when Killian gets the strength in his legs to walk back to the living room.

 

“Nemo,” he lies. “His analysis for tomorrow had me tugging on it.”

 

Ariel studies him like she doesn’t believe him, but then she’s back to drinking her wine and talking to Eric, her life going on as normal even when his isn’t.

 

-/-

 

He gets blown out of the water in his match the next day.

 

He can’t compartmentalize his thoughts, putting the personal behind him and the professional in front of him. That’s been the key to all of his success. No matter what’s going on in his personal life, he can always lace up his trainers and take the court, leaving all of that behind him.

 

Today, it’s like everything that’s happened to him in the past decade has come flooding back, and Killian wants nothing more than the floodgates to stop.

 

-/-

 

Emma doesn’t respond to any of his texts.

 

He pretends it doesn’t bother him as his team leaves Rome and flies to Paris, immediately preparing for Roland Garros. Killian can fuck around at other tournaments on occasion, but he can’t do it at a major. There are only a handful of those to go around, the importance of them will never be lost on him.

 

Even if sliding across the clay is the last thing he wants to do right now.

 

“Smaller steps,” Nemo yells from his place on the sidelines. “You’re going to fuck up your ankle if you run like that.”

 

Killian adjusts his footwork and keeps moving, sweat slicking down his back as the crowds around the practice courts fill in while more players keep showing up. When he sees long blonde hair in her trademark braid three courts over, his step nearly falters.

 

It doesn’t.

 

He can’t.

 

If Emma is going to put distance between the two of them, he’ll let her. He had a life long before he began talking to Emma Swan, and he’ll have one if she never talks to him again.

 

He’s a liar if he says that his world would be anything other than miserable for awhile.

 

-/-

 

Killian crashes out in the quarterfinals of Roland Garros, and he immediately puts it behind him, bracing his shoulders for a month of grass court tournaments in his own country, where the pressure is always highest.

 

Sometimes it can be suffocating, but he has to do it.

 

-/-

 

“Okay, now that you’ve answered all of our questions, we want to show you a little video clip,” Chris McKendry tells him while Killian adjusts the mic resting on his ear.

 

“It’s never good when you tell me that, Chris.”

 

She laughs, as fake as always, but Killian goes along with it. “I promise you’ll enjoy this one.”

 

A producer for ESPN hits play on the video, and Killian keeps his eyes glued to the screen even as someone slides several bowls of strawberries and cream in front of him. The video of he and Emma from California plays on the screen, all of the promotional work the two of them did that day after she took the piss out of him for his answer to how he ate strawberries and cream. Killian forces a smile on his face, not allowing the cameras to see him slip, because this is what he does now. He’s a perfectly polished PR machine. If he’s going to show emotions other than happiness, they’re going to be either on the court or behind the scenes with no cameras rolling. They are certainly not going to be here.

 

“So, Killian,” Chris laughs as the video rolls, “we thought it would be fun to bring you some strawberries and cream with a spoon to eat them.”

 

Killian chuckles and takes the spoon, scooping up a large helping of the strawberries and cream and eating it. It’s not bad. He doesn’t like it, but it’s not the worst thing he’s ever had to eat because someone has asked him to. And the faster he plays along, the faster he can get out of here.

 

“I think I’ve got it right now,” he jokes, “though I know my last answer went viral because I failed all of Britain with it.”

 

“Well, I wouldn’t say that, but we are giving you this chance to redeem yourself so you can have this crowd behind you for the fortnight. With your draw, I think you might need it.”

 

“Draws don’t always hold up, but nevertheless Chris, I’m ready for the challenge.”

 

“You always are.”

 

-/-

 

She’s fucking incredible to watch.

 

She moves with grace but with incredible power underneath her feet and determination set between her brows. Her play gets better with every match she plays, and Killian is mesmerized by it even if he’s been avoiding her matches over the past few weeks. But now she’s on Centre Court, and her match is playing on the screen above his bike where he’s cooling down from his match. There is no avoiding it, and he can’t say he wants to at the minute. He’s obviously a glutton for punishment.

 

He’s seen her draw, knows that it’s just as difficult as his, and while she might not win here, the Olympics are just around the corner on these same courts. He can’t imagine her not winning at least one of the two.

 

Then again, he is aware of his bias, but he is also aware of Emma’s skill.

 

Killian grabs his phone and takes a picture of her match, posting it on his Twitter, which Ariel has told him he has to use more since he “needs to interact with people online.”

 

@KillianJones: She’s graceful like a swan but also just as vicious. What a match to watch on my cool down. @Emmaswan is the type of player every kid should try to emulate when they pick up a racket

 

It’s an olive branch.

 

If she doesn’t take it, Killian will be fine. He may have fallen hard and fast, but that doesn’t mean Emma did. She is free to take things at her own pace, whatever that may mean for the two of them.

 

-/-

 

@emmaswan mentioned you in a tweet.

 

Killian swipes across his screen and opens Twitter, where he sees a picture of yesterday’s match. It’s from high above in what is obviously a private room, but it’s still clearly him on court, pumping his fist after a big point, the crowd standing all around.

 

@EmmaSwan: @KillianJones, I don’t think any of these people like you. You should try to get them on your side.

 

He laughs and falls back on his couch. He’s not well liked in a lot of places, but in his home country, he knows that as long as he’s winning, he has the country behind him.

 

No pressure.

 

@KillianJones: @EmmaSwan maybe you could help me out. How do I get the crowd to like me?

 

@EmmaSwan: @KillianJones cook them a home-cooked meal. It’s the way to everyone’s heart.

 

Killian nearly drops his phone. She’s joking. She has to be. This is the first time he’s so much as talked to Emma in weeks, and she either doesn’t realize the magnitude of her words or is sending him a clear message.

 

Emma has never cared much for subtly.

 

He closes out of Twitter and texts her, hoping he’s not fucking up the olive branch she took by snapping it in half.

 

Killian Jones: I’m making salmon tonight. It’s just me here tonight. I promise. Do you want to come over for dinner?

 

Emma Swan: How good is your salmon?

 

Killian Jones: It’s good.

 

Emma Swan: I’ll be there.

 

-/-

 

Emma Swan walks into his home like she belongs there. She steps inside his front door, removes her trainers, and easily walks to him in the kitchen, propping her hip against the counter while he prepares dinner. They talk, mostly about work, and Killian tries to act as unaffected by her presence as possible. The last time they were this close to each other, he had Emma pressed up against a wall. It’s been over a month since then with very little communication, and Killian constantly feels like a bucket of ice has been dropped over him.

 

He still doesn’t believe she’s here when he is clearly having a conversation with her.

 

They eat dinner on his couch, the television turned low in the background, and the conversation stays stilted. If Killian is honest, he wants to sink into the cushions and have this night be over with, but he knows better. Either this night firmly cuts the ties between them, or it ties the string back together.

 

He knows which one he wants, but he dare not speak for Emma.

 

“This is really good,” Emma says as she scoops up some of her remaining salad. “Thanks for cooking.”

 

“Thanks for coming over.”

 

“It’s a really nice place. I bet it must be nice to be able to stay home for a month while still working.”

 

“Yeah, it is.” Silence falls between them again, but it’s not comfortable, not like it used to be. “Look, Swan, I – ”

 

She holds up her hands and places the plate in front of her on his coffee table before twisting around and crossing her legs under her on the couch. “Don’t.”

 

“Pardon?”

 

“Don’t say it. Don’t apologize for doing something wrong when I’m the one who made out with you and then ran away. I fucked things up between us, and I don’t know how to fix it.”

 

“Do you want to fix it?” he suggests, knowing the line he walks is thin.

 

Emma shrugs, sheepish smile on her lips. “I don’t know. I don’t – I mean, I like…you’re…we’re…I don’t know, Killian. I am obviously not the most emotionally aware person, but I care. I care about my family, my friends…you. I care about you. Like, a lot, which was unexpected.” She leans forward and buries her face in her hands, all of her words coming out muffled. “I don’t know how I can do this without messing things up between us where we’ll be avoiding each other while having to walk the same circles.”

 

Killian arches his brow and stifles his laugh. He shouldn’t be laughing. This isn’t funny, but there is something comical about it.

 

“What I’m hearing is that you fancy me.”

 

Emma peeks out from behind her hands, and she glowers at him. “Seriously?”

 

Killian shrugs and leans forward, grabbing her hands and slowly intertwining their fingers. “I have no bloody idea what I’m doing either, and I don’t mean to upset you Emma. I really don’t. But we make quite the team. I think it would be foolish not to try, but I’ll do whatever you want.”

 

“That’s really fucking unfair to make me make the decision.”

 

“If I did, you would find a way to turn it around on me.”

 

She digs her nails into his palm, but he doesn’t flinch. “Asshole.”

 

“I would agree with that assessment most of the time.”

 

Emma rolls her eyes, but there’s also determination there, green, blue, and gold all mixed together to create the emotions hidden just below the surface. “We don’t tell anyone. Like, no one. I don’t like my private life to be public, and if we tell other people, it’ll become public. I’m already risking a hell of a lot possibly being with someone who I’ll have to see on tour if things get fucked up, so I want a safety net even if this doesn’t solve every issue.”

 

“You’re a romantic.” She parts her lips to protest, and he squeezes her hands, leaning forward and lingering in her space, closing half the gap. “But I agree with you, wholeheartedly. I was with this woman, and – ”

 

“We don’t have to talk about our pasts right now. I’ve got a match at one tomorrow, so we sure as hell don’t have time to get through everything. I’m also not entirely sure I trust you with everything yet.”

 

“You shouldn’t,” Killian half jokes as his lips ghost over hers, “but I hope to earn it.”

 

“Good,” Emma whispers, wrapping her arms around Killian’s neck and pulling him those final few inches toward her until her lips are softly gliding over his, pulling him under as pleasure trickles up his spine.

 

Good. This is all damn good.

 

They have no idea what they’re getting into, but Killian can’t wait to figure it all out.