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Black Velvet

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There is a sudden crash of glass shattering against the battered wood floor, stains of alcohol, blood, and the scuff marks of boots covering it to make it a darker wood than it originally was. She’s scrubbed that floor until her hands were dry and cracked, but the stains are as imbedded in the wood as the Jones family is in this place, their place. The stains might well be purposeful, and really, they could have been, a sure sign that the Joneses are not scared to let anyone know they do not mind getting blood on their hands or mind leaving the evidence behind. In fact, they are likely proud of it.

 

Loud cursing fills the usually subdued pub, arguments over whose fault it was for the spilling of the whiskey, but Emma knows that it doesn’t matter whose fault it was when she’s the one who has got to clean it up and scrub the damn floors clean when all is said and done.

 

Damn drunk men and their damn petty fights over what always amounts to being about a woman who has no interest in either of them.

 

Sighing, she turns on her heels behind the bar where she was polishing tumblers and other glasses and walks back into the storage room to retrieve the broom and dustpan along with some cloths. She is not supposed to leave the bar and the alcohol unattended, but she has been working here long enough to know that anyone who stumbles into this particular pub is smart enough to know not to steal from the Jones family.

 

They’ll be dead faster than the rum can pass their lips, and the Joneses don’t give out the good stuff to just anyone so that would be one pathetic last drink.

 

Twisting on the lights in the closet, her eyes scan over shelves of supplies and half-empty bottles that have somehow made their way back here, until she finds the broom, unattached from the pan.

 

Of course. Why would the broom ever be stored away with its matching set?

 

“Fuck,” she mutters, adjusting her trousers. They are too large around her waist, but she hasn’t had time to buy any new clothes lately. From what she’s gleamed, trousers on women are not widely accepted in Birmingham, but some days she cannot be bothered to wear a dress that squeezes the breath out of her. Today was one of those days, but unless she wants her knickers on display for everyone to see, she is going to have to buy new clothes soon.

 

“That’s no language for a lady.”

 

Immediately, she twists around to look at the other side of the room where the deep, accented voice originated. He’s standing with his gray suit clad legs crossed over another, arms stretched over his chest so that his shirt tightens around his muscles, and there is a bloody smirk plastered on that ever-handsome face under the dark brush of his facial hair. He’s without his cap and suit jacket today, but he’s never without his vest and the shirt that stays indecently unbuttoned. It is the one thing that never changes about his appearance, and the day she sees his shirt fully buttoned, Emma knows shit will start flying in every direction.

 

“Well, as you know, I’m far from a lady. I work here after all.”

 

Blue eyes flicker up and down her body, taking in the curves of her hips and her breasts even under her loose clothing, the bastard, and if possible, the smirk intensifies, curling from one side of his lips to the next.

 

“Now, darling,” he croons, uncrossing his legs and taking three strides forward to stand in her space, hovering just enough above her to make her feel smaller than she already is, “you and I both know that is not true.”



“Do we?” she argues, raising a brow in his direction.

 

He chuckles, something dark that heads straight between her thighs, and then warm hands are on her hips, rough fingertips brushing against the skin at her waist, and hot breath brushes over her ear and down her neck while whiskers prick her skin.

 

“Did you miss me, love?” Killian whispers before pulling back, putting space between them as quickly as he closed it off.

 

“Were you gone?”

 

His head tilts back with laughter, and she watches him roll his shirt sleeves up, revealing angry red scars and marks on his left hand. She’s heard the rumors of how he received those scars, but when it comes to Killian Jones, rumors are not reliable. He’s done things the average person could never dare dream of, and fiction and reality toe a thin line, both of them crossing until everything is blurred.

 

“I was in London for two weeks, love. I cannot believe you didn’t notice my absence. I would have thought it would be at the forefront of your mind.”

 

“Well, I know this may be hard for you to believe, but my thoughts do not revolve around you.”

 

His brow lifts, lines on his forehead moving with it, and he cocks his head to the side, disbelieving. “A woman as fascinating as you must have too many things to fill her mind other than me, so I can actually believe it if you must know.”

 

“You flatter me.”

 

Killian clicks his tongue. “I intend to.” He moves around her, footfalls quiet, and presses open the hidden door in the closet he must have walked through to be in here. “My brothers and I will be in our dining room today. Get the good stuff from the safe.”

 

Emma mockingly bows. “It would be my pleasure.”

 

He stares, blue eyes bright compared to the darkness of the rest of him, and then he slips out, moving through the back hallways and compartments that were installed during the War but are now used for the family to avoid their enemies and the coppers, who are usually paid off but can sometimes still question the Joneses’ business practices, especially when there’s a new hire for their more questionable ventures. It is a fascinating thing to watch how a family who supposedly manufactures automobiles and distills rum has such a varied number of enemies. Maybe that is simply how it is for all businessmen, but Emma wouldn’t know.

 

She is simply a barmaid after all.

 

When she exits the closet with both broom and pan in hand, the argument is over, but the shattered glass remains. She quickly cleans it, dumps the glass outside, and gets back to tending bar, talking to the men who wander in and out of the place. Half of them fancy her, she knows. It’s obvious in the way they speak to her, even more obvious in the way they will often attempt to touch her, but Emma does not get paid to appease the baser desires of the patrons of My Fairest Lady. If she did, she would be in an entirely different type of business where her purse would be full for once.

 

As the day passes, men come in and out in their tailored suits and carefully curated ties, and Emma watches all of them, seeing where they go and what they order. She watches as some walk up the stairs and only appear again hours lately, but mostly she watches the ones that walk into the pub and immediately turn right into the private room the Joneses sit in when they decide they are going to conduct business at the pub instead of in one of their offices. When the rest of the place quiets, she can often hear them, especially if she decides to rest near the small trap door through which they order their drinks.

 

Tonight, they are talking about needing new men, but she cannot hear well enough as to why. This has been her problem for weeks. She gleams a little information, but not enough, and if Killian Jones wasn’t so in tune to every noise in the place, she’d sneak through the back tunnels and listen from there.

 

That would surely get her killed.

 

The sun sets early, the smog from the factories outside aiding in the darkening of the world, and when her shift is over for the night, Emma grabs her things and leaves, walking through the streets of Birmingham until she is at her flat, a small, dingy little place that reminds her of the homes she grew up in. It wasn’t her first choice, but so often, things aren’t.

 

Emma twists the key in the lock and walks inside. For all of its faults, the place has electricity. That makes her life much easier since she does not have to go about striking matches and blowing out fire every few hours.

 

“Hello, dearie.”

 

Emma’s skin pales, and heaviness settles in her stomach, weighing her down to keep her from moving. Sitting at her kitchen chair is Robert Gold, and no matter how long she has worked with him, she will never feel comfortable when he decides to show his face without notice.

 

She will never feel comfortable even when he gives notice.

 

“Gold,” Emma nods, straightening her back. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

 

Slowly, he stands, using his gold-encrusted cane to prop himself up, and Emma shuts the door behind her. She has a knife in a strap around her thigh, and while she technically works for him, she doesn’t trust Gold as far as she can throw that knife.

 

“Have you located the guns?”

 

“If I had, you would know.”

 

“That doesn’t work for me.”

 

Emma tilts her head back and scoffs, her rapid heartbeat calming as her skin heats, rage and fire and disbelief settling in the bumps of her skin. “Oh, my deepest apologizes. It is obviously a simple bloody task to infiltrate the most notorious gang in the city and gleam where they keep stolen guns. They don’t talk so openly about their business!”

 

Gold walks closer, beady eyes reflected under the lamplight, and Emma stays steady. “We hired a woman to do this because women are Killian Jones’s weakness. Get to know him, get in his bed, and then you will be in the inner circle.”

 

She spits. “I am not sleeping with him for your cause.”

 

“Is my cause not your cause? Getting rid of undesirable gangs and criminals that disrespect the Crown and steal from our arms factories?”

 

Emma laughs, her heartbeat racing again. “I work for you because I have no other choice. It was this or death.”

 

He shrugs, tapping his cane. “You shouldn’t have made a deal with me, and we wouldn’t be in this position. Alas, we are, and you must deal with the consequences of your actions, dearie. All deals have a price. I’ll be returning.”

 

Gold steps around her, making Emma move to the side, and then he exits her flat. His presence, however, lingers, and she feels as if grime and smog are coating her skin. That is a feeling that never goes away, but it is especially present after one of Gold’s visits. Emma curses and stomps her foot, despising her situation. She is only twenty-three years of age, but she has lived the life of an elder. Growing up in orphanages does not set a woman up for a good life, and seven years ago when she fell pregnant but couldn’t afford to take care of the baby, she went to Gold for help. He was known to be able to do anything, especially find homes for children without charging the birth mother exuberant prices, but no one told her the price of his services would be to work for him and the government in backhanded deals. It was this, death, or harm done to a child she has only held once but loves as if she was allowed to raise him.

 

She couldn’t be a mother, doesn’t know if she ever will be able to again, but she will not let harm fall on that child.

 

So, now, she is shipped across Europe, putting her life at risk every day. After all, what is the potential of death when compared to certain death?

 

-/-

 

Days pass, and Emma learns of no new information. She works long hours, taking extra shifts and standing behind the bar until her feet bleed from blisters, her heels too small with swollen feet. Every day, Killian and his brothers Liam and Lee walk inside, often with William Scarlet and Rob Locksley following behind them, but they say nothing more to her than greetings and drink orders. Killian will spend additional time leaning over the bar, his voice deep with his flirtations, but she pushes them away. She will not sleep with him to get information, and she will not sleep with him because he thinks she is easy prey.

 

Men like him, no matter how enticing, do not lead to good things.

 

Knowing he’s the head of a gang doesn’t reassure her.

 

Knowing one day he will have a price on her head, well, it does not give her any confidence that she could ever be anything more than a warm body in his bed. Most likely, he wouldn’t give her the curtesy of taking her there, instead taking her behind the bar.

 

If only she had been born into a family with means. Maybe then she could live a life where death did not linger so closely.

 

“Swan, darling,” Killian calls from his private room, “can you come in here?”

 

Emma stills, gripping on her glass, but she quickly composes herself. It’s not often she is called into the room, and while she would like an invitation to the inside, she knows it comes with risks. Slowly, she moves around the bar and heads toward the door. Liam opens it for her, nodding, and she steps inside as Liam closes the door behind her. Killian, Lee, William, and Rob are sitting in the cushioned booths, and Killian pats the seat beside him. She nods and sits next to him, keeping her posture straight and face neutral.

 

“Emma, love,” Killian starts, “you’re educated, are you not?”

 

“I am not.”

 

Killian twists and looks at her with wide eyes. “You speak like you’ve been educated.”

 

“Natural intelligence,” Emma shrugs. Gold gave her an education, but she refuses to give him any credit when most of it has been of her own doing. “I attended school as a child, but not much else. Everything has been self-taught.”

 

“See,” Lee sighs, “I don’t need more schooling.”

 

“You damn well do if you want to be a part of this business! We are educated men, and you will be no different.”

 

“Where did you go to school?” Emma asks, not able to help herself.

 

“Oxford. Though, my studies were interrupted by my needed service in the War.”

 

“It’s a shame.”

 

“I think I’m doing well for myself, regardless, love.”

 

“You should go to school, Lee,” Emma tells the youngest Jones brother, a bastard child of their father they brought into the family business. “You have the Jones Corporation to fall back on, but if you want to be a true asset, you should better yourself as much as you can.”


“Oi, am I bloody well supposed to take advice from a woman? A woman who is a barmaid no less? What could you possibly know?”

 

Killian slams his hand down on the table, glass and silverware shaking. “This woman is far more competent than you, lad, and I suggest you respect her. Everyone is your equal, no matter what dear old dad told you to make you believe otherwise.”

 

Lee curses under his breath, and Emma slinks back into the booth as the room stills, the air heavy with unspoken words waiting to be set free. She doesn’t know if she should stay or walk out of the room and back to her job, but Killian makes the decision for her. “Why don’t you all go? Get back to work.”

 

“What about what we were discussing?” Liam questions, but he still grabs his cap and his coat.

 

“We will discuss it later.” The men nod and then begin to shuffle out of the room. Emma moves to join them, but Killian reaches out and grabs her wrist, the warmth of his hand spreading over here. “Stay, Swan.”

 

She doesn’t dare deny him as she cannot give up any opportunity to learn more about him, so she turns and takes the seat opposite him, smoothing out her skirt and her hair. “Is everything alright?”

 

“The horse race is this weekend, as I’m sure you know, and I’d like to bring you as a guest.”

 

Emma blanches. “Excuse me?”

 

A smile creeps onto his face, and he reaches into his pocket to slide a bag of coins across the table. “I’d like to take you to the races as my companion. You should use this to buy a nice dress and hat.”

 

“Are you trying to buy my affections?”

 

“I think we both know you cannot be bought.”

 

If only he knew.

 

Emma studies him, trying to read past the smile and the friendly invitation, but she sees nothing of any use. “Why me?”

 

Killian leans forward, elbow pressed to the table and chin resting on his knuckle. “I fancy you from time to time when you aren’t ignoring me, as I have made no secret.”

 

Emma thinks to all the times where she’s forgotten herself and has allowed Killian to get close in the way she doesn’t want, all the times he has lingered close to her and pressed his lips to her neck before she pulls away. She will not sleep with him for money or for Gold’s cause, but she would be telling a lie if she said she has never considered it for her own personal reasons. Her mind is constantly contradicting her there, and Emma has never been able to settle her thoughts one way or another.

 

Getting into bed with dangerous men leads to getting into bed with dangerous things.

 

Emma has already put on the sheets and started slipping out of her shoes despite her best efforts not to.

 

“So, you expect me to buy a nice outfit and spend a day away with you as nothing more than an ornament on your arm because you fancy me?”

 

“I expect nothing of you. Every choice is up to you.”

 

Emma reaches her fingers across the table and takes the purse of coins. “Any color in particular you’d like for my dress?”

 

“Surprise me.”

 

-/-

 

Her dress is red, and when she walks into My Fairest Lady on Saturday morning, she can feel the eyes of the entire place on her. It’s made of a delicate lace and flowered accents and flares out at the hips, but the corset makes her breasts push up, cleavage showing where she usually hides it. Her heels were dyed to match, her hat too, and it is the nicest thing she’s ever worn. It feels foreign on her skin, and while Emma would prefer comfort, she doesn’t mind feeling elegant for once. Anna, the woman who lives next to her, saw Emma carry her dress home, asked where she was going with it, and insisted she allow Emma to roll her hair with hot curlers and apply paint to her lips. She thinks the redness of her lips along with the cleavage may be the thing that brings down the Jones Company, and if she’d known that, maybe she would have dressed like this earlier.

 

“You look,” Killian begins.

 

“I know,” Emma finishes, taking his hand as he helps her into the carriage. “You look nice as well.”

 

“And much like you, I did know that.”

 

The drive to the races doesn’t seem long, but Emma knows they’ve traveled for at least two hours. Killian doesn’t talk for much of it, but when he does, it’s to point out something on the side of the road. He’s able to tie everything in with a story from the War or something William Scarlet has done, and Emma chuckles, seeing the lighter side of them. She knows how they spend much of their time, and it is not taking all of Killian’s suits out of his closet and replacing them with Lee’s so they’ll be several sizes too small.

 

When they arrive at Cheltenham, it is like nothing Emma has ever seen before. The building around the track is glamourous and obviously newly built, and everyone around is in their nicest clothes. To Emma, this is foreign, every bit of it. Her life is a life in the shadows in tattered clothes and normal things. Her life is not spent betting on horse races and wearing dresses worth more than her flat to accompany the head of a gang while she secretly attempts to discover where he’s hiding the guns Gold wants.

 

She does not even know why Gold wants those guns so badly when the factory can surely produce more, but her entire life is about finding them.

 

She should have never stepped foot in his house had she known these would be the consequences, but she needed to give that kid the good life he has.

 

“This is spectacular,” Emma says as the carriage stutters to a stop amongst all the others, motors slowly dying out.

 

Killian takes her hand and guides her out of the carriage, placing his hand on her lower back when they set foot on the gravel. “You haven’t seen anything yet, love.”

 

Killian is right in that she hasn’t seen anything because when they walk inside, the floor is lined with black and white tiles, and the ceiling is home to ornate paintings and chandeliers that look too heavy to stay there. Emma shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by it all, but she does. Killian knows every other person they pass, some greeting him with reverence and some greeting him with fear, but they all greet him just the same. His hand stays steady on her back as he moves her though the hallways, and he introduces her to several other women before disappearing into another room. She wants to follow him, to see what business he’s doing, but she knows she can’t.

 

“How do you know Killian Jones?” a woman with long brunette hair asks. Emma thinks her name is Ruby, but she cannot remember. It was too much talking at once.

 

“How do you?” Emma counters.

 

“I was his lover years ago.”

 

Emma arches her brow. “Well, that does not shock me.”

 

“Oh, you don’t know, do you?”

 

“Know what?”

 

Ruby steps closer to her, whispering so no one around them can hear. “He had an affair with the wife of a powerful man, and the man killed his wife in front of Killian and burned Killian’s hand. After that, he slept with anyone who so much as looked like his lover because he was often too drunk to realize the difference. So, you, you’re different. I have never seen him go with a blonde.”

 

“Well,” Emma steadies, trying to keep her heart from racing after what she heard, “I am not his lover, so I imagine you’ll have to keep waiting to see that.”

 

“Not yet,” Ruby tells her before stepping away, dress trailing behind her.

 

“You ready to watch the races?”

 

Emma jumps at Killian’s returned presence, and he chuckles, placing his hand on her back again while looking down at her, amused. “You alright?”

 

“I’m fine,” Emma lies. “Just fine.”

 

She flashes a smile that reaches her eyes, making it as genuine as possible, and before Killian guides her to their seats, she sees a spot of blood on his shirt. She doesn’t know if it is his or someone else’s, but she does know that whatever business he had at the races has very little to do with horses.

 

-/-

 

Emma’s feet ache when she settles into her seat in the carriage, and she immediately toes out of her shoes and tucks her feet underneath her. Killian eyes her with curiosity, but he doesn’t say anything. Instead, he shrugs of his jacket and lays it over her lap.

 

“You may not have been able to move, but you cut quite the figure in that dress.” Her cheeks heat, but she doesn’t say anything, simply smiling at him. “Did you enjoy the races, Swan?”

 

“I did. Though, not as much as you.”

 

“What makes you say that?”

 

Emma hums and taps her fingers over Killian’s suit jacket, moving it to cover more of her. “Well, your purse is fuller. Your horse won, and if I heard correctly, you are now in charge of all bets.”

 

He turns to look at her, and if she were talking to any other member of the gang, she would back away. For some reason, however, the leader doesn’t scare her tonight, not like he should. She had one too many glasses of fine wine.

 

“How exactly do you know that?”

 

Emma points to the small blood stain on his shirt. “I’m assuming that is the blood of someone from the Mills family, who all mysteriously went away before the races even started. Everyone came to Rob and Liam to make their bets. It does not take a genius to figure things out once the pieces begin to fall into place.”

 

“Not a genius, no, but someone with an observant eye.” He leans forward, invading her space like he so often does. “You, love, know a little too much.”

 

“What are you going to do about it?” Emma whispers, breathless.

 

He leans closer, until her air and his air are the same, and Emma closes her eyes to brace herself, not knowing what is coming next. His lips ghost over hers, but they do not firmly touch. Instead they linger, and Emma feels every move he makes. “Keep you close,” Killian finally says. “I believe you would know too much for me to let you go.”

 

Enough but not what she needs.

 

“I believe you may be right.”

 

Killian rests his hand on her thigh before pulling back, their air separating into their own entities once more. “Lee would have a bloody fit if he ever knew you so quickly figured things out. The boy has potential, but he is too much like our father. I believe that will be his downfall.”

 

“I believe underestimating women will be his downfall.”

 

Killian clicks his tongue and nods. “You see, that stems directly from our father, the bastard of all bastards, and you are correct. Many a man was brought down by the kiss of a woman, but few of them have the smarts to know it was her brain that truly brought them down.”

 

“And you know that?”

 

“Aye, I do.”

 

Emma wants to ask about the woman Ruby mentioned early, but she doesn’t dare. She’s already toeing the lines of danger tonight, and mentioning the deceased woman Killian used to love seems ill advised.

 

So, she stays quiet and keeps her place, knowing she is one step closer to where she needs to be. She is gaining his trust more and more each day, but she also feels herself slipping into a place from which she cannot return.

 

Fuck.

 

-/-

 

Weeks pass, and the weather chills, Birmingham’s winter quickly creeping upon them. Emma freezes every day on her walk to the pub, but one day a coat appears in a box with her name on it. It is long and warm, and besides her red dress, the nicest thing she owns. Killian never confirms it is from him, but she knows it was. She knows the coat, the gloves, and the scarves are all from him, and while she tells him thank you, he never accepts any of her words. Instead, he invites her more into his life. She knows about the gambling and the illegal businesses of the Jones Corporation, and her knowledge gets her foot in the door.

 

Everything that happens inside is up to Killian.

 

He brings her in from the pub to settle arguments, to help with the numbers after he discovers she’s better with them than Rob ever has been, and when Liam goes away for some time to take his wife to visit her family in France, Killian often has Emma sit in Liam’s seat with his hand on her thigh underneath the table.

 

Killian Jones is not a man who takes his time courting women, but Emma cannot help but feel like that is exactly what is happening with her. It is surely not proper, but there’s too much lingering between them for it to be anything else.

 

Though, it does always stay lingering, never crossing the line, and Emma finds herself thinking more and more about the woman he loved and the string of women who followed.

 

She finds her resolve to keep her heart away from him teetering over the edge of no return.

 

She also thinks of Neal, of how much he promised her, of how much he let her down. He was going to give her a better life, but then he disappeared into the wind, never to be heard from again when she realized she was pregnant.

 

Surely she must take some blame for her situation, but Emma always remembers that so much of it is because of Neal.

 

Tonight Killian is allowing singing in the pub. He never does, says it makes the place too cheery when that is not his style of pub, but once a week, he allows the men to sing after she leads them off in whatever song she knows. The joyous mood leads to more drinking, which is more money for them, and she imagines that is the only reason Killian allows it.

 

If she were a conceited woman, she would say he allows it to hear her sing.

 

The Joneses and their associates march into the pub, some of them disappearing into the back room, but most come to the main part of the pub, moving around the crowd and disappearing into the thick of it. Emma watches Killian, and she can feel his eyes on her no matter where he is.

 

He never does come to the bar for long periods of time, not while the place is full of people at least, but then when Arthur Pemberton’s hand gets a little too close to Emma, suddenly Killian is there, standing with her, hand possessively on her hip while he warns Arthur not to let his libations get to him.

 

“I can handle myself,” Emma hisses when Arthur has stumbled away. “I do not need you.”

 

“Of that I have no doubt.”

 

“Then what was that? You wanted to show off who had the bigger cock?”

 

“Darling, I know that would be me.”

 

Emma’s head tilts back with feigned, exasperated laughter, but Killian does not seem amused. She waits for him to laugh, for the blue of his eyes to light up, but instead his jaw clenches from beneath his whiskered chin.

 

“Fancy a song then, sailor?” Emma asks to change the subject and keep them from getting into a row. For all the nights they have spent talking about small little details of their lives and their wishes, so, too, have they spent nights arguing. She knows when they’re on the verge of both.

 

“Why would I fancy a song?”

 

“To make you smile.”

 

“Alright then.” He taps his hand on the bar top before helping Emma up to her new vantage point, arching his brow while he looks at her. “Sing me a song then, lass.”

 

Emma nods and inhales, knowing the entire room will be listening, but she only focuses on the one man with blue eyes as clear as the ocean on a sunny day.

 

“In a neat little town they call Belfast, apprentice to trade I was bound. Many an hour’s sweet happiness had I spent in that neat little town. A sad misfortune came over me, which caused me to stray from the land. Far away from my friends and relations, betrayed by the black velvet band. Her eyes, they shone like diamonds. I thought her the queen of the land. And her hair, it hung over her shoulder, tied up with a black velvet band.”

 

When she finishes, the room is silent, her voice echoing between the four walls, and when she looks at Killian, she can see water in his eyes, a new ocean amongst the blue.

 

“Another!” someone in the crowd yells, but Emma doesn’t turn away from Killian.

 

“Oi, the lady sings one song. If you want a new one, sing it yourself!”

 

Emma chuckles and allows herself to sit down on the bar top, Killian helps her to the ground, her heels clicking against the hardwood. His hand lingers, warmth spreading through her, but as soon as it warms her, it disappears as Killian walks away, disappearing upstairs.

 

“Are you truly not going to sing us another song?”

 

Emma rolls her shoulders back and turns around, Leroy standing in front of her. She smiles softly and takes his glass, pouring him another drink. “If you ask me nicely, I just might.”

 

The night passes quickly, My Fairest Lady filling as it does on this day every week, but eventually everyone leaves, the place emptying as the streets quiet outside, the drunks all returning to their homes or their mistresses. Emma takes her time sweeping up, toeing out of her heels to let her feet rest, and she hums all of the songs sung today, their lyrics filling her usually tired mind.

 

She doesn’t hear him come in, and it would startle her if he didn’t step directly to her, taking her hands in his and pulling her close, joining in the songs she was singing. She didn’t think he could sing, but he carries a tune almost better than she does.

 

“I don’t dance,” Emma whispers.

 

“That is because you have never had a partner who knows what he’s doing.”

 

“And this partner is you?”

 

“Aye.”

 

Emma hasn’t danced in years, and she doesn’t know any of the traditional ones. She would be out of place at a ball for many a reason. She could wear the dress, have the nice man on her arm, but her footing would give her way. One wrong step, and everything would be over.

 

One wrong step here, she could be dead.

 

Once more, she has no interest in thinking of the real reason she’s here. She wants to stay in this moment, allowing Killian to sing sweet melodies to her, and she wants to forget about Gold and her mission and everything else.

 

Emma wants to pretend that for now she is nothing more than a woman dancing with a man she has come to fancy despite herself, no darkness and secrets between them.

 

What a world that would be.

 

Emma tilts her head up, looking at Killian, at the softness of his lips and the length of his dark lashes. He is different in this light, softer than his usual hard edges, but Emma knows they are still there, just below the surface.

 

“I took a stroll down broadway,” Killian sings, continuing her song from earlier, “meaning not long for to stay. When who should I meet but this pretty fair maid come a-traipsing along the highway. She was both fair and handsome. Her neck, it was just like a swan.”

 

Here, he runs a finger down her neck that ricochets into a tremor down her spine.

 

“And her hair, it hung over her shoulder, tied up with a black velvet band.”

 

“I thought you didn’t like music,” Emma whispers as his fingers toy with the ends of her loose hair. She’s enchanted by him, and for once, she isn’t afraid to admit it.

 

“That’s because not everyone sings like you, love.”

 

Slowly, Emma presses up on her toes, and her lips go gently over his, feeling the softness that resides there. He lingers, not pushing her forward, but before Emma can do just that, his hand comes to cup the nape of her neck, tilting her head for him to control the kiss. She never did imagine Killian Jones wouldn’t be the one to take charge of a kiss, so no part of this surprises her. He tastes like rum, the alcohol burning her tongue as heat overwhelms her, and Emma is so consumed by him that she doesn’t notice the way he’s backed her across the room until the edge of the bar is pressing into her lower back, leaving a mark that will linger longer than the burning of this kiss.

 

When Emma gently bites at his bottom lip, he growls, moving his hands to pick her up until she’s resting on the top of the bar. Emma cups his cheeks, the prickle of his beard scratching her palms, but she pays no attention to that when her legs wrap around his back and she feels his hips roll into hers, the firmness of him pressing into her in ways she hasn’t felt in too long.

 

It feels damn good, and if Emma were a proper woman, she would have stopped this and kept it from going too far.

 

She is not a proper woman.

 

Killian, however, seems to be a proper man, because he pulls back, sweat slicked forehead leaning against hers, and then he moves away, putting more space between him than Emma wants now that they’ve finally closed the gap they’ve lingered near since her first day on the job. All she wants now is to feel him pulsing inside of her, creating a rhythm that matches with the beat of her heart and brings her the pleasure she so craves.

 

“I am not having you on this bar,” he grumbles, his voice deep and hoarse. His hand falls down her back, grabbing onto her hip and pulling her closer to him. “You deserve more.”

 

“I wouldn’t mind.” And she means it. She once thought that he wouldn’t care enough to take her to a bed, but now she finds she’s the one who doesn’t care. Her blood is running hot, and she would be fine with it right here even if the countertop digs into her arse. “This is fine.”

 

He kisses her again, all teeth and tongue and rough determination, and she thinks he’s given up on his sense of chivalry, especially when he encourages her to wrap her ankles around him, but then he’s stumbling with the kiss and lifting her off the bar. She gasps at the sudden movement and circles her arms around his neck to keep from falling.

 

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Emma protests, pulling away as Killian runs his mouth down her neck.

 

“I said I wasn’t having you on this bar, and I meant it. I have a private room upstairs for when I can’t sleep at home.”

 

There’s a dark hunger in his voice, one that thrums between Emma’s thighs, and while she’d much prefer to walk herself to the room, she allows him to have this moment. Her legs are likely too shaky with desire for her steps to be steady.

 

This is not what she intended to do when she kissed him, but she should have known. It’s been building for months, and Emma has shown enough restraint.

 

She is tired of convincing herself that she wants anything other than this. s

 

When they get to Killian’s room, he lays her down on the bed, and Emma immediately starts unlacing her dress at her breasts as Killian undoes the buttons on his shirt, pulling it off before he leans down to assist her, his tongue and teeth tracing her exposed skin and leaving red marks with all of his kisses. The heat between her thighs is a sharp throb now, and Emma writhes underneath Killian has his mouth touches the hollow of her throat and his hand reaches behind her knee, pulling her up until he drags against her in the perfect way that has them both moaning.

 

“You have tempted me since the moment you walked in this damn pub asking for a job.”

 

His mouth is eager with its ministrations, especially when he finds her nipple, and Emma is left searching for words as her heart threatens to beat out of her chest. Snow falls outside, cold white flakes coating the ground, but Emma is nothing but warm. Parts of her feel like she is on fire, and even as things progress and clothes no longer lay on her body, she might as well be wrapped in down blankets with a fire burning next to her and a hot drink in her hand.

 

Instead, she’s pressing into the mattress, Killian’s hand palming her breast while his mouth goes lower and lower until her back is arching into the air and she’s dragging her nails down his back and up into the soft tresses of his dark head of hair. Sweat is beading down her chest and collecting at her hair, and Emma never thought it would be possible to sweat in December in Birmingham.

 

“Killian,” she moans when he does something sinful with his tongue. “Oh fuck.”

 

He doesn’t say anything back, simply keeps working how he’s working, and for a long while, it’s like the pleasure is never going to end. It’s a constant working up and up and up until she’s dangling off the cliff, ready to let go.

 

Killian barely gives her any time to recover from her fall before he’s working his way back up her body, settling over her and settling against her so she can feel him bare where she wants him. Emma licks a stripe up his neck, salt on her tongue, and he grunts in response, rolling his hips against hers until both of them are messes.

 

Shifting beneath him, Emma moves until Killian is face to face with her, his lips lingering over hers and his wild, sweat slicked hair in front of her. She imagines her hair is tangled as well, and it’ll likely never be the same.

 

“Hello, beautiful,” he whispers, cupping her cheek with his hand.

 

“So, this isn’t the bar anymore,” Emma jokes, looking for levity in a moment that seems heavy.

 

“No, no it isn’t.”

 

They’re both quiet as he presses into her in a slick stretch of heat, and Emma immediately spreads her legs wider for a better fit, allowing him to settle. He’s thick and heavy inside of her, and Emma digs her nails into his back, holding on tight as she moves her hips to get a more perfect fit.

 

She is going to leave her mark with him tonight, red scars from her nails stretching across his back.

 

“You are wonderful.” He kisses her again, muttering soft words while his hips start moving, creating a rhythm that might just burn Emma alive, especially when Killian’s hand slides down to her arse and helps himself slide in deeper. “So fucking wonderful.”

 

“You are too.”

 

He groans above her, and his hips become that little bit more frantic as his chest hair creates friction against her breasts. This is the best Emma has felt in months, maybe even years, and she wants to chase this high for as long as she can, even as she feels herself tumbling over with each thrust of Killian’s hip and swipe of his thumb as his lips devour hers, only stopping to mutter filthy encouragements.

 

This is not how she expected today to go.

 

She wouldn’t change it for a thing.

 

Her skin is boiling now, and if the curtains were closed, Emma wouldn’t know it was winter outside. Sweat is slicked everywhere, but she doesn’t care.

 

She doesn’t care about anything except how good it feels when Killian engraves her name into the side of her neck as he succumbs to pleasure as well, his bodyweight pressing down on her, melding them from two to one.

 

After, Killian is gentle when he helps her clean up, and they settle underneath the blankets. Emma presses her right leg between his and rests her cheek against his collarbone as her fingers tread through the dark hair on his chest. She moves it around from where sweat has matted it, and she traces the red scars that make up so much of him. They look almost silver in the moonlight.

 

They look stunning.

 

Emma feels lips press to her temple, and she smiles, burying her face in his neck and breathing him in.

 

Happy. This is what happiness feels like. It’s been so long that it surprises her.

 

“I have to go.”

 

It’s like she’s been slapped.

 

“Sorry?”

 

“I have to go,” Killian repeats, but Emma can’t quite come to terms with the words. “I have…business to attend to.”

 

Her walls immediately come back up, brick by brick.

 

“You have business to attend to? Seriously? What the fuck kind of excuse is that? What? You fuck me and then leave? Were you using me because – ”

 

Emma pulls back away from him, sitting up and pulling the blankets with her, and Killian stays settled against the headboard, hands behind his head. “I had this business before I slept with you. Believe me, there is nothing I would rather do than stay in bed with you until I’m bloody dragged out of it, but I have to do this tonight.”

 

Emma scoffs and crawls out of the bed, getting finding her undergarments. “I’m coming with you.”

 

“Swan.”

 

“If I’m jumping into bed with you, I want to know the exact details of the man I’m jumping into bed with.”

 

He arches his brow, mouth curling into a smirk as his head nods to how exposed he is. “It may be a little too late for that now.”

 

Emma should be flustered, but she’s not. She’s determined that she won’t be left behind.

 

Her hands fall to her hips. “That depends on if you let me come with you.”

 

“Grab your damn coat and a scarf. You’ll freeze without them.”

 

“Are you a gentleman now?”

 

He clicks his tongue. “I’m always a gentleman.”

 

They take Killian’s carriage, only with him driving this time instead of the two of them sitting in the back, and they don’t speak wherever it is they’re going. Anticipation courses through her veins, gooseflesh spreading across her skin wherever it can reach, and a lump permanently lodges itself in her throat. She doesn’t know what to think, what to feel, and when they drive to a graveyard, Emma is certainly confused. When Killian grabs a shovel out of the back and leads her to his mother’s grave, her skin crawls for a reason entirely unrelated to the cold.

 

“She’s not buried here.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“No. I had a stone made, but she is closer to the ocean. It’s the place she loved the most.”

 

“Then what is – ”

 

Emma doesn’t bother finishing her question when she sees the gleam of guns underneath the moonlight. Her heart drops to the pit of her stomach, and for all that Emma has pushed away her thoughts of Gold and his threats lingering over her, there is no denying them now.

 

She found the guns.

 

Rather, Killian showed her.

 

She knows where they are, and by sunrise, she could be out of this place and out of this damn deal.

 

But Emma knows better than to think she’ll truly be free from Gold. He’ll find her again and bring with him new threats, and she’d be a fool to think otherwise.

 

Life as a moll has not seemed too bad lately, especially now that she knows how Killian feels when he kisses her, but she’s still torn between two places.

 

If she tells Gold where the guns are, she’ll be under his control for the rest of her life.

 

If she tells Killian, he’ll surely kill her.

 

For a moment, she contemplates a third option, one where she both keeps her breath and is able to truly live. It would never work, however. Gold would manipulate her, and she’d spend her entire life leading a double life, betraying the man who has obviously given her his trust.

 

The strange thing is, she has given him the same.

 

It’s not enough, and Emma, surrounded by all these graves, already knows she will have no headstone. There will be no one to mourn her.

 

She needs time to figure things out, and she’s running out of time.

 

Emma floats through the rest of the night, not knowing what she’s saying or doing, and when Killian leaves her at her flat with a resounding kiss that shakes her to her core, she thinks of running away with him. It should be easy. She’s been doing it her entire life.

 

“It’s late,” Killian whispers, “You should go inside and get some rest, but tomorrow, I have different plans for you.”

 

“Oh?”

 

He kisses her again, warming every bit of her body that is chilled. “Goodnight, my love.”

 

“Goodnight, Killian.”

 

Emma exits his carriage and walks into her building, a smile on her face until she unlocks her door.

 

“I’ve been waiting for you.”

 

“Fuck,” Emma mutters, her senses coming back to her as Gold stands across from her. She hasn’t seen him since the last time he broke in, but he’s here now.

 

It’s too late for her to run away.

 

She is no longer floating through tonight.

 

“Where have you been?” Gold asks, his voice as cold as the snow outside.

 

“Working.”

 

“I noticed that Killian Jones himself drove you home.” The floor creaks underneath him, and his cane thumps against the floor at the same beat as her heart. “Interesting that. You didn’t come from the direction of the pub either.”

 

“We went for a drive.” Emma takes off her coat in an attempt at nonchalance.

 

“To where exactly, dearie?”

 

“Around the town. Nowhere in particular.”

 

“Is that so?” He steps closer and taps his cane. Emma doesn’t have a gun on her. She can’t risk anyone finding it at work, but she knows Gold has one on him. Fuck. She doesn’t even have her knife today, and they’re both across the room where Gold is. “Would your drive happened to have gone near the cemetery?”

 

Emma’s skin goes colder than the outside weather could ever make it, and it is difficult to keep her breath from shallowing.

 

She’s been caught, and Gold is most likely going to kill her for her disloyalty to him.

 

“The guns are in Allison Jones’s grave.”

 

She had to tell him. She had no other option.

 

She hates herself for it.

 

“That is what I needed to know. Meet me in Nottingham in a week. I’ll have a new assignment for you then.”

 

Emma nods and backs against the wall as Gold moves around her, his hand turning the knob on her front door. “What are you going to do with the guns? Return them to Churchill?” she asks against her better judgment.

 

He laughs, and gooseflesh appears on her arms and down her legs, pebbling her skin as nausea settles in her throat. “Well, I’m going to return them to Churchill, of course, but not before I have a little fun with Killian Jones. Wouldn’t you know that a gang leader was mysteriously shot in his home in the middle of the night? Must have been one of his many enemies that did it.”

 

“Why?” Emma whispers.

 

Gold smiles. “Jones is known for sleeping with another man’s wife years ago, and well, I was that other man.”

 

And then he’s gone, limping out of the room with that slow, aching walk of his. Emma feels as if she’s been slapped across the cheek by his cane, and she immediately turns to her sink, releasing her insides and heaving, waiting for her breath to come back.

 

It never truly does.

 

Gold’s carriage sputters to life outside as Emma heaves once more, and even though her brain is functioning at half of its capacity, she knows what she needs to do.

 

She has to tell Killian.

 

Everyone in town knows what he does is illegal, but there’s no proof of his family’s crimes. They make it all as legal as possible through their legitimate businesses, and often the local coppers are on their side.

 

Gold, Churchill, and the Constabulary on not on their side. 

 

Gold is going to murder him just like he murdered his wife.

 

Emma grabs her coat, shrugging it on as she runs out the door, and she wishes she had a carriage. She doesn’t however, so as snow falls down around her, Emma runs through the streets of Birmingham, taking the alleys she frequents so often, to get to Killian’s home. She’s only been there a few times, nearly all of it for business reasons, but she knows the way.

 

Her lungs are heavy, her breath short, and her feet ache from the heels of her boots. She imagines frostbite is hitting her toes, but she can’t stop. She was foolish and allowed herself to develop feelings for this man, to fall in love with him in the midst of all her protests otherwise, and she can’t let him get arrested.

 

She certainly cannot allow him to be murdered. Gold has an agenda against him, and Emma knows the only reason Killian isn’t dead is because he wanted the guns first to cover up his crimes.

 

Fuck.

 

When Emma comes across the house, she runs into the door, banging her fist against the wood before picking up the clapper and hitting it. It seems like hours before anyone comes to the door, but eventually someone does, Lee opening it with his gun in his hand.

 

“What the bloody hell are you doing here?” he grumbles. 

 

“Where’s your brother?”

 

“If you’re here to fuck him, you’ll have to get in line.”

 

“What?” Emma gawks, her heart still pounding. She knows he’s fucking with her, but of all the people she doesn’t fully trust, Lee Jones is near the top of the list. She’s heard Killian talk about his similarities to their father too much to think of him as trustworthy. “No, it doesn’t matter. I need to talk to Killian.”

 

“If it’ll get you to be quiet, fine. First door on the right upstairs.”

 

Emma nods and hurries up the stairs, her steps as loud as a heard of elements, and while she does hesitate to enter his room because of Lee’s words, she still does. He’s sitting in his bed, alone, and now is really not the time for her to be focusing on how Lee is constantly trying to fuck with her because he spent too much time with their arse of a father.

 

“Swan? Bloody hell. What are you doing here?”

 

She may get murdered for this, but she’s trusting that she won’t. Maybe he’ll understand that she’s done him wrong in the past, but she’s trying to save his life now.

 

“Robert Gold.”

 

Killian immediately sits straighter and moves the blankets off him until he’s standing in front of her, looming. “How do you know that name?”

 

Emma rolls her shoulders back, the adrenaline pushing her words forward.

 

“I got pregnant when I was sixteen, and I didn’t have a job or a family. I had nothing. I heard of this man who could help with discreet adoptions, get the baby into a good home, you know? So I went to Robert Gold, and he took care of me and my baby, and he found the kid a family who could love him. I believed I didn’t owe him any debts, but he’s threatened to hurt me and my son if I don’t do what he says. I don’t think he’d hurt the kid anymore because I now know the kid’s parents are in the government, but I know he’ll hurt me.”

 

Emma starts pacing. She can’t look at Killian. She cannot look at the blue she loves so much because it is surely about to turn black while looking at her.

 

That would break her heart.

 

“I’ve been working for him. This entire time. He had me gain employ at your pub to learn the location of the guns you stole from the arms factory. All this time I thought it was because Churchill wanted them so they could send them to where they were intended. But tonight Gold was in my flat after following us to the cemetery, and he told me you had slept with his wife, which means the man who shot his wife and your lover in front of you was Gold. He’s going after the guns, Killian. He’s going to get them, and then he’s coming here to either kill you for your crimes against him or arrest you for your crimes against the Crown. Either way, he’s going to kill you.”

 

Emma doesn’t notice the silence between them as her heart is still pounding like the loudest of drums, but the silence is surely there, being filled second by second with Killian’s rage toward her and toward Gold.

 

She gained his trust, and then she betrayed him.

 

“Why are you telling me this?” he whispers, his voice as even keeled as she’s ever heard it.

 

She nearly falls to the ground at the sound of it.

 

“Pardon?”

 

“Turn around and look at me.” Emma braces her shoulders and turns, having no idea what she’s about to see, but she imagines it will be a low-burning fury. She’s wrong. “If you were anyone else in the world, I would have your head for this. I don’t take betrayals lightly, and I will not take this one lightly even though I understand what it is like to be under Gold's thumb. Do not be fooled. But for fucks sake, Emma, I love you. I haven’t loved a woman since Milah was taken from me, but I love you. I also believe all sins can be forgiven when you love someone, but that does not mean I forgive you tonight.”

 

Emma doesn’t know what to do or think.

 

There are too many thoughts stampeding in her mind, and she isn’t caught up with it enough to process it all. For now, all she can think is she isn’t dead.

 

But Killian may be soon.

 

“What are you going to do about Gold?” Emma asks even when she meant to say something else entirely. She meant to say the three words that reside at the tip of her tongue, but they keep being pushed back.

 

More important matters are at hand.

 

“How long ago did he leave your flat to go after the guns?”

 

“I don’t know. I ran here as soon as he left.”

 

Killian nods and cups her cheek, kissing her soundly, before he turns around and starts pulling luggage from his drawers before quickly grabbing onto clothes. “Find a few warm things for you. Quickly.”

 

“Why? What the hell is happening?”

 

“It’s not safe for us here. We have to go until I can figure something out. There isn’t time to ask every bloody question.”

 

Lee comes rushing into the room at the same time that Emma grabs a thick blanket and some of Killian’s shirts and what she can only assume are clothes women left here. She doesn’t have much time to process that particular fact. “What the fuck are you two doing?”

 

“We have to go. Gold is coming after us. Pack a bag and start the carriage.”

 

“What about Liam? He’s in France. We have to warn him.”

 

“Liam isn’t set to come back until February. We’ll have time to get him a message. Gold is only coming after me for now. Go, go, we don’t have much time.”

 

“I thought we didn’t run from a challenge.”

 

Killian’s jaw clenches, and he turns to face his younger brother. “We’re not running. We’re allowing me to conjure a plan so we don’t get our heads blown off. Fucking go or I’ll leave you here!”

 

Lee nods, and then he’s out of the room, his footsteps echoing in the hallway for a quick moment before he’s heading out the door and the carriage turns on with a rumble. Emma’s collected enough clothes to last her weeks, and she watches as Killian stashes money into his suitcase before handing some to her.

 

“For if we get separated,” he explains.

 

“Where are we going?”

 

“I have a place in mind, but I can’t tell you yet. Now, come on, go get in the carriage. He works fast, and he shows no mercy, as I’m sure you know. Don’t worry, love. We’ll be fine. I’m a survivor.”

 

Killian’s hand finds Emma’s back, and as they walk down the stairs, she takes in the beauty of his home. A lot of love has been put into it, and by all accounts, it looks more like a house than a home.

 

Emma would have liked to have this place as a home. She’s still aching for that place she can call her own.

 

Now is not the time to think of that.

 

The cold hits her when they walk outside, and it doesn’t fade away when she climbs into the carriage next to Killian, Lee sitting behind them. Emma clutches onto her luggage, her knuckles white but her fingers pink, and Killian quickly reaches down and hands her a pair of gloves. She takes them without protest, and in the dead of night, she begins moving with the Jones brothers, leaving a white-covered Birmingham behind them.

 

She doesn’t know what’s going to happen to anyone, not to William or Rob or any of the other Jones Corporation associates. Gold will surely go after them to try to learn of Killian’s whereabouts, hers too, but there’s not time to drive to their homes and tell them. They’re smart and resourceful. They’ll figure things out. At least, Emma hopes so.

 

There’s no way for them to avoid Gold forever. Emma knows firsthand that he has connections across Europe with his ties to the government, and he’ll never stop until he gets to Killian. She has so many questions about what happened between Killian and Gold’s wife, a woman he obviously loved, but now is not the time for questions when she’s being driven to who knows where, every breath she bringing her one closer to her last.

 

Now is not the time for a lot of things, but since she didn’t say it earlier, Emma whispers a quiet “I love you,” not knowing if Killian or the wind catches it.

 

When he places his hand on her thigh, the comforting movement he’s been doing for months now, she thinks she knows.

 

Emma’s exhausted, but she dares not fall asleep. Instead she sits silently, Killian’s hand still on her thigh, and she watches the sun rise, bright lights reflecting against the pureness of some of the snow. In some places, it is nothing more than slush, but in others, it is beautiful. She can smell water around them, the salt of the ocean becoming clearer with each passing minute, and eventually, she can see the budding activity in a port, a large ship waiting in the water as people walk on board.

 

“Where are we going?” Emma asks.

 

Killian turns to her and flashes a tired but bright smile. “America, my love.”

Chapter Text

1920.

 

Emma has never hated the sea more.

 

When she was a child, it was her favorite place in the world. The insides of orphanages and homes were dull with broken furniture and scratchy blankets, and when she could get away, she would try to find the ocean. There was a rare time in her life where she lived near the shore, and every day she breathed in the salt air and looked out onto the water with the hope that more was out there and with the hope that she wouldn’t always be so alone.

 

The sea was her safe haven.

 

Now it is her enemy.

 

One of many, if she’s honest. Her childhood dreams have become her waking nightmare. She’s spent fifteen days on the ocean on her way to a new country, but all she wants is to be back in England in the comfort of her bed in her grungy little flat she thought she hated. Every day feels a little closer to her last, like Gold is on her heels, a gun pressed to her temple.

 

Her thoughts have run wild with fear. What if he was fast enough and followed them? What if he’s on the next ship to America? What if he’s found William or Rob and hurt them?

 

What if he’s found her son and hurt him?

 

She doesn’t keep up with him, knowing that each bit of information about him breaks her a little more. She wasn’t ready to be a mother, still isn’t, and it isn’t fair to the kid for her to check up on him. She gave him up for him to have his best chance, for him to have a good life, and from what she’s seen, he’s had that.

 

Emma is terrified that her running away is going to strip that good life away from him, and she should have thought more about that before she allowed Killian to pay for their passage on this ship. Hopefully his parents have enough protections that everything will be fine, but she knows that just because they work in the government with Gold doesn’t mean he’s safe.

 

Gold will obviously betray anyone, but she hopes he has limits when it comes to a child.

 

Her stomach turns as they move over a rough patch of ocean, and she wraps her hands around the railings as another breeze washes over her. Her nose is red with chill, her toes curling under themselves in her boots, and suddenly the temperature warms, a solid body closing in on hers, an arm wrapping around her shoulder and pulling her closer as unshaven whiskers prickle against her temple.

 

“You’ll be nothing but an icicle if you stay out here, love,” Killian tells her as the ocean roars around them.

 

“And why would you care about that?” Emma bristles.

 

He sighs. “Please come back to the cabin.”

 

Emma pulls away from Killian, gooseflesh bubbling up her arms and a shiver wrapping around her spine. She doesn’t feel like having him near her or going back to the cabin. Escaping closeness to Killian is the reason she left the warmth of the cabin to begin with. “I don’t want to come back to the cabin.”

 

“You are going to freeze.”

 

“It is a hell of a lot warmer out here than it is in there.”

 

“You speak in falsities.”

 

She does, but she won’t admit that.

 

Emma cocks her head and rolls her eyes before looking at the ocean again. According to the Captain and several crew members, they should be in New York either tonight or tomorrow morning, and Emma cannot wait to step foot on dry land again. She doesn’t know what their plans are for when they get there, but she knows that even if she doesn’t stay with Killian, she has enough money to get her lodgings and food for at least a few months. She hopes that she’ll be back in England by then. Or another country in Europe.

 

“I don’t.”

 

Killian’s lips press into a firm line, and the lines on his forehead appear. She’s seen that look more than she would care for, and she doesn’t care to see it now. “Swan.”

 

“No. I don’t want to go back to the fucking cabin, Killian. I’ve been in there for two weeks with you and Lee, and I’m sick of it. I’m sick of having to listen to Lee complain, and I’m exhausted from having to figure out when you’re going to ignore me or not. I sleep with your chest pressed to my back every night, and I’ve never felt so alone.”

 

“What exactly is it that you want from me?”

 

Emma throws her hands up in the air as they hit another rough wave and Emma’s stomach churns. This fucking ship.  “I want you to make up your mind, Killian. Do you want to kill me for betraying you? Do you want to fuck me? Do you want both? Because I don’t know, and I need to know what I’m dealing with. Because if I’m going to die, do it now so I don’t have to suffer on this ship any longer.”

 

He takes a step back and crosses his arms over his chest, his coat shifting with the movement. Emma watches as his hair blows in the wind, long black strands whipping together then apart. He hasn’t shaved for these two weeks, his skin is paler, and there are purple bags underneath his eyes. Even with the striking blue, his eyes are tired, sad, and Emma likes to convince herself that he is just as confused and affected by everything like she is. He has to be, but then again, Emma has never known Killian to be unsure of anything.

 

His power is in his sureness. His steadiness.

 

It is all rocking beneath their feet.

 

“For fuck’s sake, I’m not going to kill you. That has never been in question.”

 

“Then what do you want?”

 

“Bloody hell! I don’t know, Swan! You cannot expect me to have everything between us figured out in a fortnight when I’m aware of the fact that I’ve known you since June and yet all of it has been a lie.”

 

“It hasn’t all been a lie.”

 

“What hasn’t been?” he counters, his voice still raised, and she notices the crowd around them turning their heads to look. Their conversation has piqued the interest of the ship, and Emma doesn’t want that. She cannot have this conversation with people watching, listening, judging her. “I need to know because I cannot be a fool who is brought down by giving my trust and my heart to someone who hasn’t bothered to do the same.”

 

“What you mean to say is you cannot be a fool who is brought down by a woman.”

 

Killian scoffs and steps toward her, pressing his hand into the small of her back. It’s a feather of a touch beneath her layers of clothes, but she can still feel it, warmth permeating through. “Let’s go back to our cabin.”

 

“Is Lee there?”

 

“No.”

 

Emma nods and begins walking through the crowd until they come across the staircase that leads them below deck and to their cabin. They’re in the middle of the hall, and she has to kick the door open until she’s in the small space that has nothing more than two small beds and a dresser that is bolted into the floor. There were more luxurious rooms as well as ones without privacy, but Killian didn’t want to waste money when they don’t have much of a plan for what to do when they arrive in New York. Well, he might have a plan. Before they left he managed to send a letter to Liam as well as making several phone calls, but Emma wasn’t privy to any of that information. She was still trying to wrap her head around the previous twenty-four hours of her life.

 

The door clicks closed behind them, and Emma settles down on Lee’s bed while Killian sits opposite her on their bed, his knees hitting hers. In reality, it’s much warmer down here, and the shivers that were taking over her begin to dissipate.

 

Emma loves this man sitting across from her. She loves the blue of his eyes, the quirk of his smile, the scars lining his skin. She loves the way his mouth feels when it’s on her, the way he feels inside of her. She loves the way he tells a story, the way he makes her laugh until her stomach hurts, and the way that despite their history, he makes her comfortable for the first time in her life.

 

No part of her is comfortable right now.

 

Sucking in a deep breath of air, Emma looks up from her twiddling fingers and to an expectant Killian. She doesn’t know what he wants from her or what she can give him, so she begins with the basics, the history that is unchanged no matter how much she wishes to change it. “I was born in Brighton. I don’t know of my parents. I was raised in homes until I left to be on my own at sixteen. That’s when I became pregnant, and everything after that has been me working for Gold. He gave me my education out of necessity for the job, and everything I own has been his doing. A part of me sometimes feels like everything I am is his doing.” Emma shrugs and clasps her hands together. “I can’t think of any specific lie I’ve told you. I have learned it’s easier to keep track of things if I only tell the truth, even if it means cutting some details short. The only lie was my intentions and why I walked into My Fairest Lady.”

 

“How old are you now?” Killian asks.

 

“I turned twenty-four in October.”

 

He hums and leans back, closing his eyes so his dark lashes fall against his cheeks. “So Gold has had you under his thumb for eight years then?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“He’s a coward of a man,” Killian growls, but his eyes stay closed. “His wife, my Milah, was tired of the way he paid her no attention. She wanted out of the marriage. She wanted…she wanted to do many things with her life, but he wouldn’t let her leave. When she did, he murdered her in front of me and then set the building on fire. I nearly lost my hand trying to save her. I’ve never understood why he went away after that, why he was waiting to catch me in an illegal act. He could have pulled the trigger at any moment, but he didn’t.”

 

“Do you have an idea as to why?”

 

One eye opens, and his foot hooks around her ankle. “I think he believed that living on the edge of fear would be a greater torture than instant death, but I fear neither him nor death. He should fear me for what I’m going to do when I see him again.”

 

The venom in Killian’s voice has Emma’s shivers return. This is a man set out for vengeance, a man who wants to take a life, and as much as she would like to do the same for all Gold has done to her, she doesn’t know if she can.

 

Emma has feared death for years, and all she wants is to live without shackles holding her down.

 

“How do you despise Gold but love me?” Emma asks. “I worked for him. I could have been the reason you were murdered.”

 

“You had no choice, love.” He leans forward, invading her space, and his breath comes up in a white puff of air between them. She can smell the rum he must have had earlier. “I never once thought I would love again after Milah. My heart was black, and there was no room for that sort of thing, especially after the War. My only job in life is to keep the Jones Corporation alive and make sure it continues when I’m gone, but then you walked into the pub and sang as you poured a drink for Leroy. Something shifted inside of me then. I cannot give you my full trust, love. Not yet. And I cannot guarantee that there will be no strife between us because I am still trying to figure what the hell is going on in my mind, but I would like to imagine there is a world where you and I can have the simple pleasures in life.”

 

He leans back and laughs, clicking his tongue. “Well, at least on occasion. I don’t think you and I are set for a life with a white picket fence and nothing to worry us.”

 

“I’d like that,” Emma smiles, “I think. It’d be nice not to worry.”

 

Killian leans forward and reaches his hand out. She takes it and is pulled into him, settling her knees on either side of his hips and she settles in his lap. His lips ghost over the bare skin of her neck, his hand tugging away her scarf until there’s more skin for him to devour, and Emma lets him. She does not know what is between them or what will come next, but for now, she can forget about all of that.

 

She hasn’t felt good like that for two weeks, and the chill that’s been constant on her skin has been both from the ocean and from Killian, his shoulder turned to her even when he’s pressed against her.

 

“Swan,” he whispers, almost reverent, as her hands reach underneath his coat and start to take it off. “What are you doing?”

 

“Do you have to fully trust me for us to do this?”

 

His breath is warm against her, his teeth sharp with her skin, but his nose is soft as it presses into the hollow of her throat to speak. “No.” He helps her push his coat off, and now she can feel the muscles in his back. “You don’t have to fully trust me either, love, but one day, we’ll do this with no barriers between us.”

 

Emma’s nails scratch against his skin. “What a glorious day that will be.”

 

Killian kisses her until she’s dizzy, touches her until she’s breathless, and he moves inside of her until she’s fully warm, sweat beading at her temples and the small of her back. Killian’s weight above her is a comfort, his hand on her thigh is a guide, urging her to lift it higher so he can sink deeper, and his voice is a melody of a song that is familiar but the lyrics are floating away, so close, but far enough away for her to not be able to reach.

 

She doesn’t care.

 

Not when she finally might have someone who could want to be hers.

 

“Oi, did you see what they’re serving in the dining hall?” Lee groans as he pushes his way into the room with little preamble. “It’s nothing more than stale bread. I – oh, fuck off,” he mumbles as Killian shifts over Emma to cover her and pulls the sheets over his arse. He chuckles into her neck, and Emma presses her lips to his cheek. “I have to share this cabin with the two of you. Have a little compassion.”

 

“Lee, go back to the fucking dining hall and get us some bread,” Killian mumbles, pulling away from her neck and winking.

 

“Did you not hear me when I said it was stale?”

 

“Are you so obtuse that you do not realize that the lady and I need our privacy?”

 

“I expect my own room whenever we get to New York.”

 

“You’ll be lucky if I don’t leave you on the streets. Now go.”

 

Lee curses underneath his breath, but he quickly leaves the room, the cabin door clicking behind him. Killian’s jaw clenches, and Emma reaches up to caress it, her fingers dancing along his skin, coaxing him back to her.

 

“Would you really leave your brother in the streets in a foreign country?”

 

“Eh,” Killian clicks his tongue, “possibly. He has a few lessons he needs to learn.”

 

Emma sighs and closes her eyes before pressing her lips to the underside of his jaw. “Promise me you won’t leave Lee on the streets…unless he insults me because I’m a woman again. Then he can spend some time away from us.”

 

“That is a promise I can make,” Killian chuckles.

 

-/-

 

When they step on dry land the next day, Emma’s legs nearly crumble beneath her. America is a foreign land, and while the soil should feel the same as England, it doesn’t.

 

She doesn’t know how it feels or what to feel, and Emma doesn’t fully process everything that happens once they leave the ship. She fills out papers, careful only to give as much information as is necessary, and she watches as Killian puts in false information. She should have done the same, but it’s too late now.

 

Hopefully Gold will never make the voyage here and if he does, he won’t come through this port and check the records.

 

She doesn’t know where to go, but Killian does, taking them to a line of smaller boats that are going to take them into Manhattan. The thought of getting on another boat makes her stomach queasy, but she does it anyway, keeping her luggage in her lap. When they’re on land again, they start walking, wandering through bustling streets that are full of more people than Emma ever saw in Birmingham. As they move and her feet begin to ache in her boots, she watches as the clothes and the hair change, going from dull and much like hers to bright and extravagant. The buildings change too: fresh paint, doormen, nice cars waiting on the outside. It’s two different worlds, and from everything she’s heard, there are more worlds within this place. It’s divided between classes and race, and Killian walks through every section like he belongs.

 

He knows not a soul, but Emma swears some who pass by look as if they know who he is, what he does.

 

The chill that runs down her spine and makes residence there returns as she thinks once more of why they are here, of what they’re running from.

 

She’s been running for her entire life, but she’s never run this far.

 

She’s never had someone to run with.

 

They stop at a small restaurant for something fresh to eat, the aroma of fresh baked bread overpowering the scents of the city, and Emma nearly melts into the leather booth that sits by a warm fire. Killian orders their lunch, nicely cooked beef with a heavy soup and bread, and the taste is so miraculous that even Lee is quiet for the duration of the meal. He’s been complaining, wishing he would have stayed back in England and traveled to see Liam and Elsa instead of coming to America, but unless he wants to get back on the ship and travel back now, he is stuck with them.

 

Emma isn’t too fond of the kid, but at the end of the day, he is still a kid who has time left until he’s technically a man. Even growing up in times of war in a family that is entrenched in crime and danger, he still has the soft edges of a child who has been raised without a mother and is searching for someone to guide them.

 

Emma would know. She’s been searching for her entire life, and she did not have any brothers to surround herself with.

 

The couple who owns the restaurant comes to say hello and ask if they would like any more food, and when they hear the differing accents, they begin to ask questions. It puts Emma on edge, as if these two people who radiate kindness could know they are on the run, and she doesn’t like to answer with anything more than the minimum. Killian is much better at talking to them, eloquently giving them enough information without giving too much, and she does not fail to notice the way he keeps her left hand in his, hidden underneath the table.

 

“My wife and I are thrilled to be starting a new life here,” Killian tells them, squeezing her hand, a silent request for her to play along. “It seems we’ve already picked the greatest restaurant in the city to dine in, so we are off to a wonderful start.”

 

“Oh, how long have you two been married?” the woman, a petite brunette with short hair asks.

 

“Newlyweds,” Killian answers. “What about the two of you?”

 

“David, how long has it been now? Five years?”

 

“It was five years in October.” David kisses his wife’s temple, and Emma moves closer to Killian, glancing at him in an attempt to see what angle he’s playing. “Best five years of my life.”

 

“And you’ve opened up this damn fine establishment in this time?”

 

“If only,” Mary Margaret laughs, holding her hand to her chest. “My parents own several businesses across the city, and when we were married, they gave David a few of their finer dining establishments to manage. Where are you two living? We could give you all of the best recommendations.”

 

“We haven’t figured that out yet, love, but I’m sure we will find a place.”

 

“Stay with us!” Mary Margaret suggests, rising on her toes in excitement.

 

“Pardon?” Killian asks as Emma coughs on her drink and Lee kicks his leg under the table.

 

“Stay with us,” Mary Margaret repeats. David doesn’t look thrilled at her suggestion, but she’s powering on. “We live in an apartment a few blocks away, and it is far too big for just the two of us. You could have your own bedrooms, bathrooms, and living area. We would have to share the kitchen, but I’m sure that wouldn’t be a problem, would it, honey?”

 

“We couldn’t impose,” Killian insists, laying on every ounce of charm he has with his smile.

 

“My wife won’t take no for an answer, so believe me, you wouldn’t be imposing. We’d love to help get you on your feet. Maybe one day if we make it over to England, you two could be our guide.”

 

“Absolutely, mate,” Killian promises, squeezing Emma’s hand.

 

-/-

 

When Mary Margaret mentioned her family owning several businesses and restaurants, Emma knew they were wealthy. It was obvious in the way the woman dressed and the way she spoke, but as Emma sits on a bed with blankets as soft as silk and as warm as every coat she has ever owned, she is taken aback by the luxury of the place they are in. Emma has never been in a palace, but she imagines the Nolan flat is similar. Everything is ornate, no detail left unchecked, and being inside here is a different world than the outside. Even where the city is bustling and bright, there is still a darkness to it with the rarity of nature. It’s not Birmingham with its lack of sun and smog-coated air, but there are similarities.

 

This flat is a world away from any place she has ever stayed, and she imagines once they leave, she’ll never return.

 

If she’s honest with herself, Emma is worried her clothes are going to ruin the furniture every time she sits down.

 

“Emma,” Mary Margaret calls as she enters the room, a basket in her arms. “I know you likely have your own things, but I figured you could use some soaps and lotions. I also brought a robe. I have several, and I can only wear one at a time.”

 

“That really isn’t necessary.”

 

“I insist.” She walks a little further into the room and places the things on a low table. “The boys are having a drink together and talking business. You know how men do. So I figured I could make sure you’re comfortable.”

 

“This is the nicest place I’ve ever been inside, so yes, I am more than comfortable.”

 

“Good.” Mary Margaret smiles, and sits down on the arm of a sofa. “Listen. I don’t know if you’re interested in working or if Killian is the breadwinner for you and Lee, but if you are, I have connections with every department store and several offices where you could be a secretary. What did you do back in England? Did you work? I know it is rare for married women to work, but I take you for a rare woman.”

 

“I was a barmaid,” Emma lies. She was, technically, but for years before that she was blackmailed into being a spy. A part of her doesn’t feel free of that yet. “I was a barmaid and sometimes I would clean homes.”

 

“Oh, well, if you want to work in one of our restaurants, I could arrange that. Or you don’t have to do anything at all. What does your husband do?”

 

Emma blanches, and she inhales to calm her breathing. “He produced rum, owned a few pubs. It’s a family trade, actually. After the War, Killian and his older brother took over, but Killian wanted to explore the world for a little while and allow Lee to experience new things and mature. I don’t think Lee expected that would mean traveling with the two of us.”

 

“Is that how you and Killian met? At one of his pubs?”

 

“Yes.” Emma nods and smiles, rubbing her hands up and down her arms to smooth away the gooseflesh. “That’s how we met.”

 

“Do you not wear a ring?”

 

Emma’s fists clinch, and she attempts to hide her left hand, wrapping it under her arm. “Oh, it’s in my luggage. I didn’t want to risk losing it or having someone take it off my hand.”

 

Mary Margaret nods and returns Emma’s smile, hopefully believing her lie. “Anyhow, I don’t mean to be intrusive. I’ll leave you to bathe and take care of yourself. Would you like to have breakfast with me in the morning?”

 

“I would love that.”

 

Once Mary Margaret has left the room, Emma rises from the bed and collects the things she left. The bathroom is connected to the room, and the tile is cold against Emma’s feet. The bathwater is warm, however, the lotions all smell of vanilla and apples. After she’s bathed, Emma’s skin is softer than it’s ever been, and the dark shadows that have been lingering underneath her eyes for two weeks have begun to fade. She’s clean and comfortable, and she melts into the sheets when she gets into bed. Emma doesn’t know what time it is when Killian sulks into the room, but what she does know is that he never comes to bed. Instead, he sleeps on the chaise in the corner of the room and she’s left with no warm body pressed into hers.

 

Emma’s confusion grows, but at the moment, all she cares about is how she is sleeping with solid ground beneath her.

 

-/-

 

There’s a note and a box sitting next to her head when she wakes up the next morning.

 

Wear this. The Nolans are traditional. That is why I said we were married in the eatery. I realized in my conversations with David that we would need rings and to discuss a few details to align our stories. I don’t want to take advantage of them or their kindness, but as you well know, sometimes lies can be used to get us what we need.

 

Killian.

 

Emma squints her eyes to see if the words change, but they don’t. The words don’t change, and Killian’s lack of presence in the room doesn’t change either. She doesn’t know what time it is or where he is, but she knows he’s not here.

 

She also knows that inside the black velvet box is a ring, a gold band holding up a round emerald stone. It’s delicate and intricate, and even with her untrained eye, she knows it is real.

 

-/-

 

Emma’s day is spent with Mary Margaret in the flat and in another one of their restaurants where they eat lunch. They chat and wander around, and Mary Margaret shows Emma her collection of books as well as some paints and fabrics she uses to occupy her time when she cannot drive to her family’s land where they have horses and a bow and arrow course where Mary Margaret apparently likes to spend much of her time.

 

Emma never would have figured the woman for enjoying so much time outdoors, and the past near decade of Emma’s life has been spent reading people for their secrets.

 

Killian returns long after the sun has set, Lee and David with him, and David informs all of them that Killian will now be handling the books at several restaurants until he establishes himself in the city. Lee will work as waitstaff when he can, but they want to work on him enrolling in University.

 

It all sounds great, but to Emma, it sounds like she’s been left out and that she’ll have to piddle around all day with nothing to do but talk about fabrics and the latest fashions with Mary Margaret.

 

Emma isn’t used to not working, and she’s going to need something to occupy her time if she doesn’t want her mind to run wild. Working in a department store or as a secretary sounds dreadful, but she may have to take the offers she can get.

 

-/-

 

“Do you like it?”

 

“Hmm?”

 

“The ring. Do you like it?”

 

Emma glances down at the stone on her finger, the heavy weight she’s been fiddling with all day, and she turns back to Killian as his arms wrap around her waist and his lips press into her neck.

 

“It’s beautiful. Where did you get it? How did you get it so early in the morning?”

 

“I have my ways.”

 

“Killian.”

 

He doesn’t say anything back, instead kissing her until no thoughts are left in her brain and no clothes are left on her body. They fall into the back and forth, the push and the pull, and Emma’s left breathless as she moves on top of him, every problem melting away into the firmness of Killian and the comfort she feels with him.

 

The pleasure too, especially when his head is buried between her thighs, and Emma can do nothing more than hold onto his hair as tightly as she is holding on the sheets.

 

-/-

 

When she wakes up in the morning, he’s gone, and she’s not sure if he slept next to her or not. The blanket hanging over the chaise makes her think otherwise.

 

-/-

 

Emma takes the next few days to explore the city. As kind as Mary Margaret is, she cannot spend all of her time with the woman, and she certainly cannot commit to a job when she isn’t sure which would make her less miserable. So, she walks and explores, listening to people play music from street corners and coax people into their stores. It’s as if the people never sleep and more and more come in each and every day. Emma thrives in it, even if she stays in the corners and observes.

 

So much of her life has been spent with a gun pressed to the back of her head, and for once, she has been relieved of the cold weight of the metal.

 

She isn’t sure how to deal with any of it.

 

Days begin to pass, and Emma spends many of them wandering, even more of them sitting by a large window with a pile of books next to her as she stares out at the snow falling outside and coating the streets with a white powder. Killian comes and goes, sometimes coming back for meals in the middle of the day, sometimes not, and a week after arriving, Emma tells Mary Margaret she would love to work in one of their eateries as a barmaid or a server, even if that is uncommon in America.

 

That’s when all hell breaks loose, and the government passes laws about the sale of alcohol.

 

The prohibition, they call it.

 

Bloody pointless, Killian calls it.

 

Every night at dinner, Killian and David discuss how not being able to sell alcohol is affecting the restaurants. Mary Margaret’s father comes by one night in a rage of fury that is only quenched when he realizes Killian, Emma, and Lee are there, and it seems that the little slice of paradise they’ve found may be disappearing.

 

“Should we look for somewhere else to stay?” Emma asks as she rubs lotion down her arms, vanilla filling the bathroom. “I know the Nolans will never lose their money because they owned more than pubs and eateries, but I can’t help but feel we’re taking advantage of them.”

 

Killian moves a blade across his jaw as he stares in the mirror. “The only lie we’ve told them is about the state of our relationship, love.”

 

“That’s quite the lie.”

 

“I don’t think it’s too far fetched.”

 

Emma turns to him and crosses her arms over her chest. “We are not married, Killian. We are so far from married that we don’t sleep in the same bed. Actually, I take that back. From what I’ve heard of some couples, we might as well be married in that you fuck me and then leave. So I guess you’re right. We’re not lying to them.”

 

He doesn’t flinch. Instead, he finishes his shave and puts the blade down near the sink before turning to her with a clenched jaw and fire in his eyes. “What is it you’re trying to say, Swan?”

 

“I don’t think I have to bloody explain it!”

 

Killian cocks his head to the side and mirrors her, crossing his arms over his bare chest. “So, you’re cross that I’m not sleeping in the bed with you?”

 

“I think it’s preposterous that you sleep in a chaise when we have a bed.”

 

“I think that’s not what you’re truly mad about.”

 

“Well, what would you know about what I think?”

 

“You’re an open book, Swan. I’ve told you that before, and I’ll tell you again. You try to hide how you feel, but you cannot do that from me.”

 

“Well, that makes you a real arse because then you would know that I’m not happy to be wandering around this place all day with Mary Margaret. I’m not someone who is meant to be a housewife.”

 

“I thought you were tending the bar at – ”

 

“I obviously lost that job, Killian. We can’t sell liquor.”

 

Emma turns away from him and catches a look at herself in the mirror. Her hair is long and soft, brushed out and curled, and it’s never been like this, never this smooth and well taken care of. Half a month in a new place, and she already looks like a different person.

 

“I don’t like not having work,” Emma continues, “and I don’t like that I’m in a new country and the man I came here with runs off and spends all his time in business I know nothing about.”

 

Killian scoffs and drops his hands to his sides. “Need I remind you that we are here because you got yourself involved with Gold.”

 

“Need I remind you that you slept with his wife and are a gangster. I didn’t make him come after you like that. You know I had no fucking choice, Killian. I was trying not to die or to have my son killed! You have always had a choice in your actions. This is not my fault.”

 

“You betrayed me,” Killian says, his voice steady even as his fingers twitch, the ring on his left hand catching the light from the lamp above. “You betrayed me. You worked with my enemy, you lied to me for months, and you made me believe you were getting close to me because you fancied me. Little did I know that it was because you were trying to learn all of my secrets so I could be carted off to prison while you continued to live your life.”

 

“I didn’t have a choice.”

 

“I know.”

 

Emma throws her hands in the air and covers her face, trying to regulate her breathing to calm her breath.

 

She is not successful.

 

“So what do you want, Killian? I can’t keep having this conversation. I can’t keep walking on the edge of a cliff. I want some stability. I want to not be terrified all the time, and not knowing where I stand with you terrifies me. If it would be better for us to part ways, let’s part ways. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life feeling like you’re never going to trust me. I’m tired of us running in circles and not solving anything.”

 

Killian moves her hands away from her face, calloused fingers cupping her chin and tilting her gaze up to his. His eyes are still dark, his mouth still firm, but there’s a softness there that wasn’t there before. “I am not an honorable man, love, and you deserve better than me. You deserve to live a good life with a man who can give you everything your heart desires and who doesn’t have so many secrets.”

 

“Tell me your secrets,” Emma whispers. “Tell me, and I’ll tell you the rest of mine. That’s the only way we can make this work, and if we can’t, I can find my way back home or to a new place. I’ve always been on my own, and I don’t have any problem with that.”

 

Killian leans his head forward and presses his forehead against hers, wet hair dripping onto her. “I should hate you. You should hate me for how I’ve treated you over the past month, for how I treat others.”

 

“I don’t hate you.”

 

“No?”

 

“I think you’ve been a right bastard lately, but I also think I deserve it.”

 

“You don’t.” Emma chuckles, and Killian presses his nose further into her cheek. His lips inch closer, but they don’t touch, not yet. “We’re fucked up, Swan. There’s no way around that.”

 

“But we could be less fucked up if we tried.”

 

Killian huffs and gently kisses her. “Will you come to bed with me?”

 

“Well, as long as we get into bed and not your chaise.”

 

“Aye, I think that sounds like a better plan. The bloody thing has been straining my back.”

 

Nothing about their relationship has ever been normal, and as they settle under the covers of their oversized bed, Emma is once again reminded of that. They’ve never had this, not like this. They had their night in the pub, which was interrupted, and then they were forced to share space on the ship. Here, Killian has only come to bed for sex, and then he’s moved to his own space.

 

This is foreign, especially as Emma rolls over to face Killian and finds him already looking at her with his hand reaching out for her hip underneath the covers.

 

“The night we first slept together,” Emma begins, “why’d you have to get that gun that night?”

 

He slowly blinks. “Rob needed it the next day for a job, and it wouldn’t have been smart to go digging in graveyards in the daylight.”

 

“What was the job?”

 

Killian raises his brow. “Someone made an attempt on his lady’s life, and he needed to take care of it. I was the only one who knew the location of the guns, so it had to be me who retrieved it.”

 

Emma nods and moves an inch closer as Killian’s thumb traces circles on her hip. “Will you tell me more? About everything? As if I was one of your brothers and in the inner circle?”

 

Killian huffs and squeezes her hip. “You are certainly not one of my brothers, and thank fuck for that.”

 

“So crude,” Emma laughs.

 

“I’ve never claimed to be otherwise. My life isn’t pretty. Are you sure you want to hear it all?”

 

“No secrets,” Emma repeats. “That’s what I want. Keeping them has gotten us nowhere.”

 

So, he tells her. He tells her of how his family has been in the business for generations. They used to be wealthier, but they fell apart under his grandfather’s guidance. His father, who Killian holds no affection for, was ruthless and his ruthlessness elevated the Jones Corporation to the levels it once held in the past. He made the relationships with the coppers, figured out how to hide illegal dealings in legal ones, and it is with all of his teachings that Killian learned everything he knows.

 

It is with Killian’s hatred of him that Killian has learned to do everything better than his father.

 

It is his love of his mum that kept Killian from living his entire life in the pursuit of money and revenge. After he lost Milah, all he wanted was revenge on Gold and every person who had done him wrong, but then the War happened and Killian saw more evil in the world than he had ever seen before. It changed him, and while violence is still necessary in his line or work, he does everything he can to avoid it or minimize the carnage.

 

Killian tells her so much of everything she’s never heard before, and as each minute passes, the man in front of her changes, a chameleon that she is attempting to keep up with.

 

She does the same.

 

She tells him everything she can think to tell in the dark of night when sleep is creeping into the edges of her eyes, and she knows in the morning she won’t remember each word she utters and each story she tells. But in the morning her heart will be lighter, and maybe, just maybe, she and Killian can be lighter too.

 

For good this time, with all of the trust they did not have when exchanging stories on the ship.

 

-/-

 

He drives her across the city in the morning, not telling her the destination, but she recognizes Harlem and the way it differs from Fifth Avenue almost immediately. The buildings are smaller, not as luxurious, the people are more diverse, and the streets are filled with children playing and more street performers than in the main parts of Manhattan.

 

It is more like what Emma is used to, and it creates a stark divide between the wealthy and the normal.

 

She imagines she would like to live here more than in the Nolans’ flat.

 

“Was that Lee?” Emma asks as they drive past a small block of apartments. “Isn’t he supposed to be in classes?”

 

“He gets time off, and the lass he fancies lives here. That is not what I’m trying to show you no matter how interesting the lad’s love life may be.”

 

What he is trying to show her is an empty café, the black and white tile work half done but no one around to finish it. Despite the obviously new tile, it looks abandoned. “What is this place?”

 

Killian takes her hand, interlacing their fingers, and walks her through the café and toward the back wall. He presses against it. There’s a click, and then the wall is sliding open. Killian guides her through the hidden door, which makes her heart ache for the My Fairest Lady back home, and then they’re walking down a hallway and down a set of stairs until they’re in what looks like a combination of a pub and a dance hall. It’s darker and full of stained wood, and the lights are dim. There are no windows, but she does see several doors behind curtains and counters.

 

“Killian – ” Emma begins as he turns on more lights. “Killian, please tell me this isn’t what I think it is.”

 

He turns to her and flashes his trademark smile, the one that could get her to do anything without a word muttered from his lips. “It’s a speakeasy.”

 

They’ve been popping up across the city ever since the ban on liquor was announced, and she should have known this is what Killian has been doing.

 

Emma shakes her head. “You’re a scoundrel.”

 

“Dashing rapscallion. I prefer that.” He winks and takes both of her hands in his. “I don’t know how long we’re going to be here. I’ve wired and written Liam and Will, and they both say they’ve heard whispers of Gold searching for me, for us. Liam is staying in France for a longer time to protect Elsa. Will and Rob are taking care of the businesses. I don’t have everything figured out yet, but I thought we should make the best of our time here.”

 

“You’re going to get arrested. You don’t have the coppers in your pockets here. Do you know what you’re doing?”

 

“This is who I am, Emma. This is what I do. I find ways to maneuver around the bloody system when I can. I know many a lass expects a man to change and become softer when he falls in love, but I do not want to give up who I am.”

 

“I would never ask you to do that.”

 

“Then trust me,” he insists, cocking his head and smiling, a real, genuine smile this time. “I know what I’m doing, and this is an opportunity for me, for us. If I don’t do it, someone else will. You can help me. You can be by my side, fully this time. It’ll be similar to how I ran things back home.”

 

“That nearly got you killed.”

 

“I don’t think a spy is going to maneuver her way into my life and seduce me.”

 

Emma tilts her head back with laughter. “She better not.”

 

Killian tugs her closer until they’re pressed together, and he glides his lips over hers as his hand slides down her back and rests in the dip. He’s gentle and demanding all at once, and he could convince her of anything with one kiss.

 

One kiss, one smile, one turn of phrase.

 

“We make quite the team, love.”

 

“We’ll have to see about that.”

 

-/-

 

Over the next few weeks and months, Emma watches as Killian works his magic on this place. Out front, construction continues on the café, a place that will sell sandwiches, sweets, tea, and coffee at a quick pace to compete with other cafes, and in the hidden halls behind and below, the dark room is finished and transformed into a pub that Emma would have wandered into in England with little question. It’s beautiful, and when it’s full of people and records are at full blast, Emma can feel the life vibrating through her skin.

 

New York City is unlike any place she’s ever been before, more alive than any place else, but hidden in the back of a café with Killian’s arm around her waist and a drink in her hand as people dance around her, Emma knows that she partially feels that way because of the man she’s with.

 

He brings out color in things that are black and white, and she could dance and laugh with him forever.

 

The money comes in like nothing she’s ever seen, and Liam brings in barrels of rum and whiskey from England. It’s a coordinated effort that nearly goes awry at the port, but they manage it. For a week, Liam, Lee, and Killian are reunited, and since Liam brought Elsa, Emma takes her to meet Mary Margaret, who insists on taking them shopping and to get their hair done before they dine in a park, the new spring flowers beginning to bloom. Mary Margaret and David have no idea as to what goes on behind the scenes of one of their businesses, and Emma hopes they never do. She’s grown overly fond of the couple, and they’re good people. She doesn’t like taking advantage of that kindness, and after much warring in her heart, she’s decided that she won’t tell them about any of it. Their ignorance is for their safety.

 

That isn’t a thought she has too often, though. She’s too busy helping Killian by making sure everything runs smoothly. Every day more people come to their speakeasy. Lately, it’s been full of singers and actors who are in the pictures and on Broadway, and Emma knows they’re gaining a reputation as one of the best places for drinks and music. As good as business is, that also comes with its own dangers. With more notoriety comes more of a chance of the coppers finding out, but with his impossible charm, Killian has managed to get them in his pocket as well. It hasn’t been easy, and there have been times when she’s not sure Killian is going to return to their bed at night.

 

He always does, laying a kiss on her cheek before he falls into a slumber right before the sunrise.

 

Elsa and Liam return back to Europe after a wonderful week, taking Lee with them after his schooling period finishes, but Emma and Killian don’t join them on their return. Rumors of Gold run rampant through Birmingham. Few have seen him, but Liam told Killian yet again that the threat on his life is still prominent. It would be better to stay until they can locate Gold and take care of their problem. Liam looked at Emma with disgust when he said it, like every danger toward Killian was her own fault, but she knows that Gold’s history with Killian predates Emma. His deciding to murder Killian, however, does not, and she never allows that to slip from her mind. Emma doesn’t think Liam likes her much, likely thinks her too much trouble, and she wouldn’t disagree.

 

She never was too fond of Liam, but after he assures her that her son is safe with his parents living life completely unaware of his birth mother’s troubles, she thinks she has never loved anyone more.

 

She won't let anything bad happen to that child. She wouldn’t be able to live with herself.

 

When Mary Margaret announces she’s pregnant in May, Killian makes the decision that he and Emma are going to move to their own place. The Nolans insist that they stay. They like having them around, but it truly is the best for them to find their own home. Emma promises that she will see Mary Margaret every week and that she will be sure to shower her baby with all of the finest things.

 

“Are you two thinking about children?” Mary Margaret asks as she cradles her bump. “You would be a wonderful mother, Emma.”

 

“Maybe someday,” Emma insists, trying to keep her voice steady when it wants to waver. “Maybe someday.”

 

Killian takes her hand, warm palm over the cool metal of her ring, and squeezes before guiding her out of the Nolans’ apartment and to the car that’s waiting to take them to their new home, a brownstone away from Fifth Avenue but still close enough that Emma can easily walk everywhere she needs to go.

 

Their furniture has already been placed, food stocked in the cupboard and the icebox, and while now would usually be the time for them both to go to the café, Killian assures her that someone else is taking care of it for the night. They can take the night off to relax into their new home and make it theirs.

 

Emma quickly learns what he means by that when his hand cups the back of her head as he pushes her into the door. She laughs into the kiss as Killian murmurs filthy words, but soon she’s breathless. Each touch, each whisper, each kiss builds her higher, and by the time they’re in their bed and stripped out of their clothes, Emma is dizzy in the desire for it all.

 

As she moves above him, each thrust of his hips and movement of hers bringing them closer, all Emma can think about is how she’s home.

 

This is her first true one, and it is nothing like any of her dreams told her it would be.

 

“I love you,” she whispers to Killian as her nails leave red marks on his chest.

 

“And I you,” he promises, bringing her down to meld their lips together.

 

-/-

 

Emma’s staring at the ceiling of her bedroom, soft sheets strewn over half her body, and Killian’s leg is half hooked over hers, his breathing coming down from heavy until she can barely hear it at all. Emma reaches out for him, placing her hand on his chest, and Killian reaches for it and brings it to his lips to kiss.

 

“Do you like your ring?” he asks.

 

“Hmmm?”

 

“Your ring. Do you like it?”

 

Emma lifts her hand away from Killian’s and moves her fingers, watching the gold and emerald glint in the lamplight. For so long this ring felt foreign on her. It felt like more of a lie than it was, but now, when she takes the ring off to bathe or to clean, it’s as if something is missing from her.

 

“It’s beautiful.” Emma flips over onto her stomach, her breasts pressing against Killian’s chest, and she props herself up on her elbow to look both at Killian and the ring. “How did you get it so quickly? You left it by the bed so early in the morning. I don’t think any jewelers were open before the sun rose, and you didn’t answer the first time I asked.”

 

He clicks his tongue and presses his head back to the pillow. His hair is messy from where her hands were running through it, and she can see some of the lines around his eyes and the few that have started to form on his forehead. She realizes now that she has no idea how old he is. He was born in August, but she doesn’t know what year. He asked her about her age, but she never thought to do the same.

 

“It was my mum’s.”

 

Emma stops tapping her fingers against his chest and looks at Killian. “What?”

 

“Your ring was my mum’s. She had it made for herself, and she wore it every day. When she was sick, she gave Liam her wedding ring, and she gave me this one. We were instructed that we were to give the rings to the women we married, and, well…”

 

Killian arches his brows, as if he wants Emma to fill in the blanks, and Emma drops down and rests her hands on his chest and her chin over her knuckles so her eyes are on the same level as him.

 

“We’re not married.”

 

“Aye, but…” Killian tucks a strand of her hair behind her ear, and his left hand finds her back, cool metal running against her skin. “We could be. I could make an honest woman out of you.”

 

“I think you and I both know neither of us will ever be honest.”

 

Killian chuckles. “We’re honest with each other, and that’s enough for me.”

 

Emma’s heart is beating in a faster rhythm than a jazz band, and yet, she feels calm.

 

She feels steady, and her home is so much more than the four walls around them.

 

“Would you really want me as your wife? All I seem to do is get you into trouble.”

 

“Ah, but I love trouble.” His hand slides further down her body and squeezes her arse. “And you only get me into the best kind. So, what do you say, Emma Swan? Would you like to marry me?”

 

“Yes.”

 

-/-

 

They get married a week later in the park near their home. Killian wears a suit that isn’t in his daily rotation and Emma wears a white dress with silver beads sewn into it that she found while walking to the café two days before. It’s simple, intimate, and if Emma is honest with herself, not much changes other than her last name.

 

Emma likes it that way.

 

She likes her life.

 

She loves her husband.

 

“One round of drinks on the house,” Killian exclaims in the speakeasy that night as a band plays loudly in the background. “But only the one. I’m not made of gold.”

 

There’s a chorus of cheers around them, and Killian nods to the bartender before wrapping his arm around her waist and pressing his lips to her check, stubble scratching against her skin.

 

“Well, aren’t you generous?” Emma teases. “What’s the occasion?”

 

“Married the bloody love of my life today.”

 

“She sounds wonderful.”

 

“Aye,” he winks. “The best.” Killian pulls her closer and moves his lips over hers in a dirty kiss. “Most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Most intelligent too.” He kisses her again, then moves to her jaw. “Witty and wild and fierce.”

 

“Wild?” Emma sighs, tilting her neck back to give him more access.

 

“You wouldn’t believe the things she gets up to. I hear she had the bollocks to become friendly with gangsters.”

 

“Who would ever do that?”

 

“She would.”

 

Emma laughs and presses her fingers against Killian’s chest, tugging on his jacket sleeves to pull him even closer. “You have a private office here, right?”

 

He arches his brows. “Aye.”

 

“You might consider taking me to it.”

 

“Mrs. Jones, you need only ask.”

 

She and Killian walk through the crowd of people, stopping to say hello to everyone along the way, before they move past a wall of beads hanging from the ceiling and several doors that lead them to Killian’s back office. It’s filled with files for the speakeasy and from the café, his legitimate and illegitimate businesses combining in one place, and Emma shakes her head when she sees it all. How has he managed to pull this off?

 

How have they?

 

The door clicks behind her, several bolts shifting as it locks, and the heat of Killian catches up on her as he moves behind her and wraps his arms around her waist, breathing her in and slowly swaying her. Emma sighs back into him and tilts her head to look at him.

 

She could get lost in his eyes, and she would willingly throw away the maps.

 

“Do you remember the song,” Killian begins, “the one you sang in the pub?”

 

“The one that made you kiss me for the first time?”

 

“Aye. That would be the one.”

 

“Of course I remember.”

 

“Would you mind singing it again?”

 

Emma laughs and twists around in his arms. She wraps her arms around his neck and continues to sway. “Well, if you insist.”

 

“I do.”

 

Emma sighs and rolls her shoulders back, all of the sounds of the outside fading away as she focuses on Killian and the way that he is gently swaying her, their steps only matching up with each other instead of those outside the room.

 

“In a neat little town they called Belfast, apprentice to trade I was bound. And many an hour's sweet happiness have I spent in that neat little town. A sad misfortune came over me, which caused me to stray from the land. Far away from my friends and relations, betrayed by the black velvet band.”

 

Killian closes his eyes in the middle of the verse, but his lips tick up in a smile. There’s a flash of white teeth, and Emma leans her head against his shoulder, resting her cheek in a place of comfort, and sings in his ear.

 

“Her eyes they shone like diamonds. I thought her the queen of the land. And her hair, it hung over her shoulder, tied up with a black velvet band. I took a stroll down Broadway, meaning not long for to stay when who should I meet but this pretty fair maid come a-traipsing along the highway. She was both fair and handsome. Her neck, it was just like a swan. And her hair, it hung over her shoulder tied up with a black velvet band.”

 

“Do you know how this song ends?” Killian asks.

 

“She betrays him.”

 

“I think it’s rather fitting for you and I, but the lyrics would have to change for us.”

 

“That can be arranged.”

 

Killian laughs into their kiss, and Emma can feel joy spreading over her body as she melts into it. He is not perfect. Neither is she. They will never be two people who have a white picket fence and no stains on their hearts, but if Emma is honest, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

All she needs is to be happy, and she is.

 

There’s a sudden bang outside the room, and Emma pulls back from Killian’s lips. His hands tighten on her back, and they still as another bullet is released from a gun.

 

“Bloody hell.”

 

“What’s happening?” Emma whispers as Killian moves away from Emma and toward the door, pressing his ear against the wood.

 

“Fuck,” he hisses. “Fuck. The coppers are here, and I don’t think it’s the ones who enjoy our drinks.”

 

Emma feels her stomach drop.

 

“What do we do?”

 

“We stay here,” Killian says, slow, measured. “Help me move the desk against the door.”

 

“They’ll hear it scraping.”

 

“Not if we lift it. There’s too much commotion outside for them to come here first.”

 

Emma nods and helps Killian move the desk. It’s a heavy oak, and she struggles to keep it from falling to the ground. They get it, along with several filing cabinets, and Emma’s heart pounds as the commotion outside keeps happening. There are several exits for this exact reason, for people to run away if someone snitches on the place, and Emma hopes most everyone is able to leave and run to safety.

 

She knows that she and Killian are not going to be so lucky. They’ll only have so much time before they’re arrested.

 

Emma turns to see Killian with a crowbar, and he pulls back a plank of wood siding on the wall. “What are you doing?”

 

“There’s a tunnel through here,” he explains. “I had it installed when Dave put me in charge of construction on the place.”

 

“Oh my God, are the Nolans going to be charged for this?”

 

“No.” Killian shakes his head. “I changed the paperwork. Even though this is connected to them, no one will ever know. And if someone finds out, Mary Margaret’s father has enough power to aid them. Come help me. We’ll only have so much time to get out of here.”

 

Emma nods and walks toward him, helping to pull away boards until there’s a big enough gap for them to move through. Killian gets down on his knees and goes first, and Emma follows behind him, only a little light available to guide them. Her hands and knees are covered in dirt, and with each passing minute, they become more scraped and bloodied. It stings, but it’s nothing she can’t handle.

 

Emma doesn’t know how much time passes or how far they travel, but eventually, they come to a stop and Killian kicks against another panel. The sounds of the city come through, pouring rain joining it, and when Killian climbs out first, she can see streetlights. He helps her out, apologizing for making a mess of her dress, and Emma doesn’t have to look down at it to know that it is no longer white and that some of the beads are lost.

 

“Where are we?”

 

“A few blocks over. C’mon, love. We have to go.”

 

They walk through the rain, puddles gathering at their feet and water soaking through their hair and their clothes. Killian attempts to shield her with his jacket, but it does no good. She is already a drowned rat, and she might as well accept it. They can’t go back, can’t see what’s happening in the place they’ve put so much of their heart into, so they go home.

 

Nothing about it feels right.

 

“Aren’t they going to come looking for you here?”

 

“I’m Mr. Jones to everyone there. No one knows my first name. No one knows anything about us. We should be safe for now, but I’ll have business to attend to. We may need to leave for awhile, possibly return to England to keep me from ending up behind bars.”

 

Emma stills then slips off her heels. “What will we do with everything here?”

 

“Save it for us to return. We can make a home in whatever place we desire. The options are there for us, sweetheart.”

 

Emma reaches up and squeezes the water out of her hair as Killian undoes some more buttons on his shirt, his hair dark with water on his chest. “What about Gold? You remember what Liam said? He’s looking for you, Killian. He’s looking for us.”

 

“I am not scared of that crocodile of a man,” Killian seethes. “He is a coward who has others do his work for him.”

 

“Are you not a coward, Mr. Jones? Running away with your mistress to America and then running back to England when your threads are pulled?”

 

Gooseflesh rises on every inch of Emma’s skin, and ice runs down her veins. She knows that voice. It haunts her nightmares and her waking hours, and she thought she’d washed the grime from him away. She thought he was gone, that she was safe.

 

And yet he’s here, in her home, emerging from a dark corner. The silver of his gun appears as lightning flashes outside and thunder joins with it, shaking their home to its bones of wood and brick.

 

“Killian,” Emma whispers. Her hands are shaking, and she wants to vomit. Her legs are heavy, unmovable, and she watches in horror as Killian’s eyes widen. For the first time, she sees fear there.

 

“What do you want, Gold?” Killian turns away from her to face Gold, and his shoulders straighten. The tension is obvious through his soaked white shirt, each muscle defined despite the lack of light.

 

“I want you dead, of course. I’ve come all this way to finish you off for all that you’ve done to me.”

 

“I did nothing to you.”

 

“You had my wife.”

 

“Your wife left you, and you murdered her.” Killian’s voice is even, but she knows he’s raging inside. They don’t talk about Milah often, only on nights when Killian is near drunk and a little melancholy, but Emma knows Killian loved her and she loved him. “That happened years ago. An entire war has been fought since then. You’ve had plenty of opportunity to kill me. You could have shot me while I was walking down the street at any time. I half expected it every time I left my home. What are you getting from this?”

 

“Getting to see you suffer, of course.” Gold steps closer, his face becoming more illuminated, and though it has only half a year since Emma last saw him, he looks years older. “It was so pleasurable the last time, but you didn’t get your due then. No, no, that comes now.”

 

All those times Killian suspected that Gold let Killian live because he wanted Killian to suffer from uncertainty were right. That’s exactly what the bastard was doing, but the time of waiting has run out.

 

Killian’s hand flicks behind him, and she knows he’s trying to subtly reach for his gun. Emma regrets not having any weapons on her. She didn’t think she’d need any today. She didn’t expect this to happen.

 

Any of it.

 

The raid of the speakeasy and Gold showing up in their home are connected, and while Emma wants to know how he found them and why he waited until a day that was supposed to be about them celebrating their marriage, she knows none of that matters when he might kill them both.

 

“It’s so nice to see that the two of you have patched things up,” Gold giggles, maniacal. “I assume this means you know you’ll not be with a blushing virgin tonight, Jones. What a shame for you to have to deal with on your wedding day. Broken goods.”

 

“Keep your mouth shut about her,” Killian hisses, his hand flinching right over his holster. “This has nothing to do with her.”

 

Gold clicks his tongue. “That’s where you’re mistaken. It has everything to do with her. You took my wife. Now I think it’s time I took yours. It’ll be so much more satisfying than it was the last time.”

 

The glass shattering behind her comes to Emma’s attention before she realizes that shots have been fired. She doesn’t know who shot first, where any of the bullets landed, or if Killian is okay. The power has gone out in their home, the rain and the thunder have picked up outside, coating the world in darkness like she has never seen before, and when the lightning comes, she sees flashes of limbs moving. It’s not enough to know where anyone is or what’s happened, and Emma is pulled down to the ground as another bullet soars by her, crashing into a mirror. Emma covers her head and drops fully to the floor, careful not to cut herself on any of the glass.

 

She should run.

 

She’s been doing it for her entire life, but she can’t do it now.

 

She can’t leave Killian behind.

 

Grunts, groans, and curses mix in with the roar or the thunder and the pounding of the rain, and she sees more flashes of movement, hears more shouting. Killian lets out a loud hiss of pain, and Emma moves closer to where the noise is coming from, trying to find him.

 

She can’t find him, and her heart starts to pound.

 

One beat, two beat, three beats too fast until her cheeks are heated and her chest aches in pain.

 

Killian is still making noise, so he can’t be dead.

 

He can’t be, he can’t be, he can’t be.

 

She cannot lose him.

 

“Emma,” he groans, and she turns. He’s in the corner of the sitting area, his knee clutched to his chest, and there are visible red stains on his fingers and his shirt. “Emma, love, you have to go.”

 

“I’m not leaving you here.” She moves quickly in an attempt to get to him, to heal whatever has been hurt, but then she’s being yanked back and can feel the barrel of a gun pressing into her temple.

 

It’s not the first time it’s happened, but she has a sinking feeling it will be the last.

 

“You should have listened to him, dearie,” Gold whispers in her ear, and that old familiar shiver at the sound of his voice comes back. “Better yet, you should have listened to me and not run away with a dirty gangster.”

 

“How is that any worse than having to work for a dirty politician?” Emma spits.

 

“Because with me, you don’t end up dead.”

 

Not dead but certainly not alive.

 

Emma hears him cock the gun. She feels him twitch behind her. It’s not enough and too much all at once, and Emma’s hand flexes, blood running across her palm and she takes the shard of glass she’s holding and jams it into Gold’s bad leg. It’s enough for him to fall back in pain, for him to lose his footing and stumble to the ground, and before Emma has a chance to do anything else, a bullet hits Gold.

 

One that will keep him from ever getting back up.

 

“Emma, darling,” Killian pants, dropping his gun to the floor. “Emma I need you to come wrap my leg, and I fucking need you to get me my rum. This bastard fucking hurts.”

 

If she wasn’t too busy crying, Emma would laugh at Killian’s words. Right now, all she wants to do is collapse to the ground, but she can’t. She has to help Killian, so she moves to the kitchen, stumbling over furniture and hoping her bare feet don’t get cut up with glass, and she finds Killian’s rum and some wraps before returning to him. She can’t see, but she thinks there’s a bullet in his thigh, and she already knows he won’t allow her to take her to the hospital for this.

 

“Are you okay, love?” he asks as he takes a large gulp of rum.

 

Emma laughs at the ridiculousness of his question. “I’m not the one who got shot.”

 

“But you could have.”

 

She yanks on the cloth and starts wrapping it around his leg. She won’t be able to do anything more than stopping the bleeding right now. “I didn’t.”

 

“I should have been more careful, love. I shouldn’t have allowed myself to get so soft.”

 

“Killian Jones, never in a million years could that happen to you.” He manages a lopsided smile, but from the way he grits his teeth afterward, she knows it’s taking more effort than he would admit to hide his pain. “Some wedding night, huh?” Emma jokes as she tightens the wrap. If she had been a nurse in the War, she imagines she would have been sent home almost immediately for her shoddy skills.

 

Killian laughs, this time genuine, and Emma leans forward to press her forehead to his and press her hand over his heart, thankful to feel it beating right along with hers. She can feel his smile pressing into her mouth, and she never wants to lose that feeling. “We’ll get there, my love.”

 

And they do.

 

In the morning light and with the help of one of Killian’s bartenders who was actually a nurse in the War, Emma gets Killian back to functional. He struggles walking for awhile and is stubborn enough to act like nothing hurts, but Emma knows him better than that. They know their time in New York is limited with everything that’s happened in the past twenty-four hours, so after packing a few bags and Killian having his men here clean up the mess with instructions to return the house to livable condition as soon as possible, they make themselves look presentable for a few last goodbyes.

 

Emma buys Mary Margaret baby gifts, and Killian buys a pram to put it all in, his way of thanking them for everything they did that neither Killian nor Emma deserve. They don’t see them, instead leaving a note and promising to come back to visit when the baby is born, and Killian leaves a separate message for David about their work. It’s not the cleanest break, but there’s no way they could allow the Nolans to see them with all of their scrapes and bruises.

 

It would only break their hearts.

 

Soon after that, they’re at the harbor, Killian is buying them two tickets back home, and Emma can do nothing more than stare at the ocean, the one that she is ready to cross again when she spent so many months hating it.

 

Once again, it is her safe haven.

 

Though, she may have found another one, a man whose eyes mirror the ocean and consume her all the same.

 

Killian grunts as he sits down on the bench beside her. She takes his hand in hers and squeezes, wishing she could take some of the pain away. It won’t last forever, and soon, his scars will be another mark on his body, another story to be told. If Killian tells the story, she imagines he will embellish every detail. The thought makes her smile even as the cuts on her own two hands sting when they are hit with the mist of the salt water.

 

“I don’t want to run away again,” Emma admits. “I know we’ll never be traditional, but I’d like to stay in one place and be surrounded by our family. I think it’s time you took back your rightful place as the head of the Jones Corporation in Birmingham. For good.”

 

“As long as I have you by my side.”

 

“Always.”