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Killian ignores the look of pity etched across Robin’s face as he pours another shot. Robin’s stern looks are just another reminder that his life has turned into a literal three ring circus. 

Alright, not a literal one but his point remains. He just wishes he was playing the part of ring leader and not the sad clown. 

Killian’s train of thought is derailed at the sound of her voice. He can’t tell what she’s saying, and against his better judgement he glances towards where she sits. As she places her hand on his shoulder, Killian swears the same spot on his own burns white hot. It’s then that he slams the shot, the rum no longer burning as it coats his throat, as he catches Robin shaking his head out of the corner of his eye. 

Pathetic. 

As Killian gets up to leave, Neal shoots him a grateful look while she’s distracted by something on her phone. He grimaces in response and attempts to tune out Neal’s carefully rehearsed line as he pushes on the door of the old pub. 

“Neal, I can't dance,” she protests.

“Nonsense, there's only one rule, pick a partner—“

The door slams but Killian’s mind is apt to finish the sentence on it’s own— he is the one who came up with it after all. 

Disgruntled, he shoves his hands in his pockets and begins the cold walk home, leaving his car to be retrieved in the morning once his libations wear thin— assuming he lets them. His mind can't help but wonder what other tips Neal used on his date with Emma tonight. He had advised his old friend not to use them all in one evening, but chances are Neal will be knocking on his door in the morning wondering what the next steps are and how Killian would go about taking them. 

How in the hell did he end up here? 

Two months ago, it would’ve been Killian in that booth, Emma’s hand lightly touching his bicep as conversation flows easily between them. As quickly as it began, their entire thing came to a screeching halt. Before he could fathom what happened, Neal was at the docks begging Killian to help now that Emma finally asked him out.

He’d never suffocated before but he’s positive it’d feel startlingly similar to the pain he felt as he processed what Neal had said. 

Fourteen days. Five kisses. Two secret dates. That was all he got with Emma Swan before she decided (much like many other women in his life) that he was better left a friend than loved as more. If they’re even friends anymore. He can’t say he blames her, he just wishes he knew why. Their friendship had always developed with ease, many of their mutual acquaintances supposedly taking bets for how long it’d be until it formed into something more. No one won, because no one even knew it happened. Not to mention Emma and Killian moved at their own pace and waited 16 years after meeting to give it a go. 

Her pinky wraps with his, “Promise me we are friends first and that I have a clean out if you are an awful kisser.”

“I promise, Swan, that we are friends first, and also that I am most certainly not an awful kisser.,” 

She slaps his arm with her other hand as she squeezes her pinky tighter. They may be approaching thirty years of age, but pinky promises hold the same weight as they did at twelve. She rolls her eyes, “Uh huh, sure. We’ll see about that, KJ.”

It’s practically unfathomable to him that their promise was less than three months ago and yet everything has changed. He always thought he knew Emma better than he knew himself, but her dismissal of him proved to be a massive blindside, no warning in sight. 

Worse was the lack of return to their normal friendship and the subsequent breaking of their initial promise, but he probably should’ve expected something like this. Emma is an enigma. Beautiful, and funny, and driven and strong, but also a bloody mystery. 

For fourteen perfect days he thought they may finally get their shot at what he'd hoped would be something brilliant. But brilliant was not in the cards for Killian— it hadn’t been most of his life and it seems, when it came to his feelings for Emma, it would be no different. 

Now it’s her and Neal and it has been for the better part of a month and a half. The kicker is, it’s all thanks to Killian. Neal couldn’t charm a girl to save his life and wasted no time in resorting to asking Killian for guidance. Little does he know, Killian’s head over heels for the woman he’s trying to swoon. 

Details. 

He helps craft text messages and gifts as well as aids in the planning for their numerous dates. Killian pulls from the depths of his love for Emma, because all he really wants is for her to be happy. He’d hoped that he’d play a part in that equation one way or another, and while he supposes he does have a role, he never would’ve guessed it would be in this way. 

While he remains lost in thought, he somehow finds himself back at his flat. As he ascends the old staircase, he has to catch himself from tripping up the top step. He can’t help but be distracted by the woman sitting against his apartment door. 

“Took you long enough, KJ.” She smiles at him and it sparks emotion in him he didn’t realize he was harboring. It seems over a month of watching her fall for his carefully coached understudy has finally gotten under his skin. How can she smile at him as though nothing has changed?

Tempering his anger, he answers her a shrug. She seems to get the message and moves out from in front of his door as he looks down to search for his key. 

Bloody hell. 

Robin insisted he leave his car keys– with no argument from Killian– but he had forgotten to remove the flat key from his ring. Defeated, Killian leans his head forward until it connects with the cool wood of his front door. For a moment he forgets he’s not alone, the small buzz of alcohol messing with his usual tack sharp retention, but soon Emma is digging in her purse and pulls out the spare key he gave her long before. 

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, Killian.” 

“Calm down, Swan, I’m not proposing you move in. I just want you to have it in case of emergencies.” 

She shrugs and he’ll be damned if there wasn’t a slight hint of disappointment in her eyes. “Fair enough. Call me next time you’re too drunk to remember to take your key ring.” 

He shakes the memory from his head as Emma unlocks the door. Killian continues inside and she waits, hesitating in the frame of the door. “When did we get like this, Swan?” He winces as the words leave his mouth, but the damage is done. Apparently rum effects more than his short term memory, leaving his carefully placed filter seemingly full of gaping holes. 

At first she looks taken aback, but she must reason that she deserves this on some level because she sighs deeply and answers his pointed question, “I broke the pinky promise.” 

That was not what Killian was expecting, but he answers all the same, “Aye, I s’pose we both did.” 

Emma shakes her head. “KJ– Killian… you and I both know that’s not true.” Killian starts to interject but she continues before he gets the chance, “You’ve put me first since the moment we met, and even more so over the past month. Even after I just… I just feel so stupid to not have seen it before now…” 

Emma trails off and Killian wraps his mind around what she’s saying– it doesn’t take long for him to realize that she knows . “How?” He meant for something more profound or curious, but the words escaped him– anything polysyllabic seeming near impossible to comprehend. 

Emma rolls her eyes, but he can tell the annoyance is not directed at him. He can always tell when it comes to Emma– that’s why he was so certain they were made for one another. “Neal asked to pinky swear that I’d go on a date with him next week and apparently you didn’t know I reserved those just for you. Not to mention the glare you gave him back at Sherwood’s probably could’ve killed someone. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together...” 

Killian didn’t know pinky swears were reserved for him, but to be honest, he didn’t know anything Emma did was reserved for anyone. Emma Swan is a firecracker set off in the middle of January. She lights her own path and kicks down her own doors. Fierce independence is the first trait that always comes to Killian’s mind, most likely a product of the absolute shit life she led growing up. She never let it phase her. The admiration he holds for this woman is leaps and bounds beyond what he thought capable for any one man, yet she stands here today starting an awkward conversation and standing her ground and he couldn’t be more entranced. 

He loves her. 

“You broke your promise.” That’s certainly not what he wanted to say, but he supposes just because he’d walk through fire for her, doesn’t mean the pain won’t linger. 

“I was scared, KJ.” He scoffs, he doesn’t mean to, not really, but he knows Emma doesn’t get scared. She’s as fearless as they come. 

“You don’t get scared, Emma.” She flinches at his use of her real name but recovers quickly.

“Hah,” Emma laughs sarcastically. She seems to think he’s kidding but he can tell the moment she recognizes the sincerity of this moment. She whispers, “You terrify me, Killian.”

His heart breaks a little and with its crack, the flood gates open; the anger that washes away bringing to light all that he’s been denying for the better part of 16 years. He’s scared of her, too. Scared she could do real damage, scared she could break him to the point of no return, but Killian is a risk taker. He always has been, especially if that risk involves Emma Swan. He thought she was a risk taker too, but she chose to play it safe. 

Because she feels the exact same way.

It hits him like a tidal wave, and he says the first thing he can think of, “I could never hurt you, Swan.” He hopes she can hear the conviction in his voice, his words ringing truer than any he’s spoken before. 

“Most people who fall in love don’t intend to hurt one another, Killian.” He realizes what she’s saying but he can’t help but get hung up on one word:

Love.

She loves him. She may not know it yet, but she does. That’s enough for him to try. 

He steps forward, every inch with less hesitation until they’re standing toe to toe. He can smell remnants of the bar on her, but it’s mixed with her comforting scent of cinnamon and vanilla that he’s come to recognize as his favorite. He’s positive he still smells like a barrel of Captain Morgan, but the buzz he feels is no longer from the rum. (Apparently emotional revelations are a quite sobering.) 

“I’m all in, Swan.” He pauses. “Please don’t push me away.” 

She doesn’t look at him, but he feels her fingers brush the hem of his vest and he can’t stop the shiver that rushes up his spine. It only intensifies when she speaks, “I can’t promise I won’t run again.” 

“Aye,” he gently grabs her chin, urging her to look him in the eye, “but I promise, so long as you want me, I’ll be there to chase you and bring you home.” 

She smiles brightly and starts to lean in for a kiss before stopping abruptly and raising her pinky to eye level, “Pinky swear?”

Killian can’t help but laugh as he once again connects his pinky to hers, “Pinky swear, Swan.”