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I Promise to Kiss You (Before You Die)

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“It is so beautiful to be loved as Laurie loves me; he isn’t sentimental, doesn’t say much about it, but I see and feel it in all he says and does, and it makes me so happy and so humble that I don’t seem to be the same girl I was. I never knew how good and generous and tender he was till now, for he lets me read his heart, and I find it full of noble hopes and impulses and purposes, and am so proud to know it’s mine. He says he feels as if he ‘could make a prosperous voyage now with me aboard as mate, and lots of love for ballast.’ I pray he may, and try to be all he believes me, for I love my gallant captain with all my heart and soul and might, and never will desert him while God lets us be together. Oh, Mother, I never knew how much like heaven this world could be when two people love and live for one another!”

- Amy about Laurie in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott



If anyone had been out on the streets of Storybrooke, Maine on the windy, snowy Christmas Eve of 1863, they would have found lights ablaze in the most prestigious homes of the small hamlet. Save for one.

The Gold mansion upon the hill was not only lit up like your proverbial Christmas tree, but carriages lined the circular drive as the most powerful men from the surrounding six counties arrived for Robert Gold’s lavish annual bash with their families in tow. They would wine and dine in excess of frivolity for the next twelve days of the season. 

The white grecian columns of the Mills Mansion would also sparkle with firelight, though the wealthy matron Regina Mills didn’t gather quite the crowd. Her festivities would be far more sedate and her crowd older. Of course the money was older too and not as dripping with unscrupulous business deals as Gold’s. It would mostly be family as well, though that was nothing to sneeze at, considering Regina Mills’ clan could trace their lineage back to the Mayflower.

The mysterious mansion of Admiral Nemo Jones, retired hero of the United States Navy, wasn’t filled with guests. However, the rooms of the mansion still blazed with light as the generous man allowed his staff to fully celebrate the holiday, complete with Christmas bonuses and lavish gifts. In a way it was also a welcome home party for his nephew, who had been lost and wandering on the other side of the ocean until Nemo had tracked him down. 

The only fine family of Storybrooke Maine (though many would say they were once a fine family - past tense) whose home was not ablaze on this festive evening were the Lucases. Some would say it was because Marco Lucas had been gone these past two years fighting (unnecessarily they would also claim) in the War Between the States. Others would say it was because the Lucases had squandered their fortune taking in orphans and vagrants. Others would say it was their involvement in that embarrassing underground railroad that had cost them their fortune and respect. They would all be wrong. 

The women gathered around the wavering firelight in the Lucas parlor did miss Marco Lucas terribly, and it was true that money was tight. Yet the reason their house flickered with only the tiniest light was because all they needed was each other. 

Paulette Lucas, affectionately called “Granny” by all who knew her, sat knitting in her rocker with a candle flickering on the table beside her. The girls had begged her to take one night off from the task, but there were too many soldiers in need to stop even for a night. She battled a smile as she focused on her task, knowing a letter from her husband was tucked into her apron pocket.

Ruby Lucas, as usual, was standing far too close to the fire. Her long, dark hair fell in waves over her shoulder. She was a striking beauty, and mothers watched her askance at the scandalous way she refused to wear her hair up though she was already sixteen. She was the only one who was a true granddaughter to Mrs. Lucas. Her mother, a scandal herself, had died of consumption in a saloon out west when Ruby was still an infant. Who her father was, no one knew. That probably had more to do with the scandalous looks rather than her hair (though the latter certainly didn’t help).

Mary Margaret Blanchard sat on the other side of the lamplight from Granny, helping with the knitting. Though she was the oldest of the girls, at seventeen, she had been living with Granny the shortest amount of time. Her parents knew the Lucases through the underground railroad, so when Mary Margaret’s mother passed of scarlet fever when she was ten, her father sent her to them. Only less than a year later, her father was arrested for violating the fugitive slave act. While in prison, he contracted scarlet fever and died.

Belle French sat by the hearth with several kittens mewling in her lap. She was engrossed in the book she held in one hand while her other stroked the kittens absently. Some would say she was even more beautiful than Ruby, even at only fourteen, yet her quiet demeanor and delicate nature turned fewer heads. Belle had been the Lucas’ youngest pupil when they still ran their boarding school. She was only seven when it was forced to close, and her father simply never came back for her. 

Then, finally, there was Emma Swan - the only one of Granny’s girls who was still a child. Twelve year old Emma sat curled up in her favorite armchair with a sketchpad in her lap. Her drawing pencils were worn down to almost nubs, yet still she scratched away with her tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth. Her blonde hair was a riotous mess, her fingers were smudged with charcoal, and her feet were bare. Not that anyone cared - the Lucas house never stood on ceremony, especially when they were alone. Granny had a difficult time keeping shoes on the child anyway, considering she had spent the first five years of her life without them. She was the child Storybrooke called “the urchin” - mostly in whispers, but sometimes when Emma could hear. Granny had literally found her eating out of the rubbish bin. The benefit of those humble beginnings were that Emma found their current “poverty” hardly trying.  

So, dear reader, do not assume that lack of finery equals a lack of happiness. The Lucas women will put aside their knitting, their books, their drawing paper and gather eagerly around Granny’s chair to hear their Papa’s latest letter. They will joyfully sing carols around their out of tune piano. Then they will share hugs and kisses goodnight and head to bed with more love in their hearts than all the other “fine” homes in Storybrooke combined. And across the hedge from their house, in the Jones mansion, a dark haired boy will watch the flickering lights of their candles - counting them: one, two, three, four - as they head up the stairs. He’ll watch them go out one at a time and wonder about the hands that hold them. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Merry Christmas!” Emma yelled the following morning, eliciting a groan from Belle, whom she shared a room with. Emma simply rolled her eyes. It was Belle’s own fault - she had stayed up far too late reading again. 

“It’s Christmas!” Emma continued to shout as she banged on doors and then thundered down the stairs. “It’s Christmas!”

Her sisters followed her reluctantly, groaning and complaining all the way. Emma ignored them as she fell to her knees beside the Christmas tree.

“Oh hush now,” Granny admonished, “every single one of you were the same at her age.”

“This one’s from me, Granny,” Emma said as soon as Granny sat in her rocker. She thrust an intricately wrapped package into the woman’s lap, then scooted close. Her sisters looked on fondly as soon as they saw that Emma’s enthusiasm wasn’t a selfish one. Granny peeled back the wrapping carefully, setting aside the ribbon Emma had used to tie it. When the gift was revealed, the woman gasped. 

“Emma, sweetheart, this is lovely!” It was a sketch of Granny’s favorite tree in the garden next to the house, and Emma had captured it in all its autumn glory of reds, oranges, and yellows. 

“I used the last of my colored pencils to get it just right,” Emma told her proudly. 

Granny pressed the gift to her chest as she fought back tears. Oh, how she wished she could have afforded another set of drawing pencils for her dear Emma!

None of the gifts beneath the tree were store bought, yet each one was exclaimed over with joy. Somehow, the ingenuity that had gone into making them made them infinitely more valuable. Soon, the tree had nothing beneath it but ribbons and paper. 

“I’ll play us a carol!” Belle announced. She sat before the piano, and they all tried to ignore that one key that was never in tune. 

As her sister played, Emma pressed her face to the glass of the parlor window. Her eyes widened to see a boy in Admiral Nemo’s house, playing a piano of his own. Of course, his was an incredibly fine piano that was surely always in tune. 

“A boy!” Emma cried out. “There’s a boy next door!”

Belle abruptly stopped playing, and the Lucas sisters scrambled to the window, all talking at once. 

“A boy?” Ruby asked, pushing the curtains aside further.

“At Nemo’s?” Mary Margaret asked incredulously.

“How old is he?” Emma asked, frustrated that she’d been pushed aside.

“What does he look like?” Belle asked, trying to see beneath Ruby’s arm. “What a fine piano he has,” she sighed when she was able to get a glance.

“I would hate to live with that scary old man.” Emma wrinkled her nose.

“Poor thing,” Mary Margaret tsked sympathetically.

“You don’t think he’ll come to call?” Belle suddenly gasped, looking nervously at her sisters and then over at Granny.

“You mean call, as in courting?” Ruby laughed. 

Mary Margaret laughed, too, “You ninny, he’s rich! He would never come courting the likes of us.”

“Thank goodness,” sighed Belle in relief, looking back out the window. She cocked her head as she studied him, “He’s awfully handsome.”

“Girls!” Granny admonished. “Come away from there before the poor boy catches you gawking at him as if he’s on display. Really, I have taught you some propriety.”

“Do you know him, Granny?” Emma asked as she settled down before the fire to play with the spinning top Papa had carved for them. 

“I know of him,” Granny replied, eyes never leaving her knitting. Once again, she refused to put aside the chore. “He’s Admiral Nemo’s nephew. He was living in London, and the Admiral has been beside himself since his brother’s death trying to track the child down.”

“I hear he’s had no upbringing at all,” Mary Margaret told them in a scandalized whisper.

“You’ve heard of him too?” Ruby asked.

“At the Rose’s.” Mary Margaret worked as a governess for the wealthy Rose family. “His mother was an actress and his father a cad who abandoned them both.”

“Where was he?” Emma asked. “Why was it so hard to find him?”

“Living on the streets, they say,” Mary Margaret told her softly, sympathy coloring her eyes. Sympathy that Emma always had and always would despise.

Ruby headed back to the window and peered out with a grin upon her face. “It will be fun to have a boy next door.”

“Well,” Granny spoke with a sigh, “I don’t know what mischief is in that pretty head of yours, Ruby, but we will welcome the boy as warmly as we can.” She set aside her knitting and clapped her hands as if that were that. “Now, let’s go begin preparing our Christmas feast!”

The girls all rushed to follow Granny into the kitchen, but Emma stopped at the window, her hands grasping the curtains. Living on the streets they say . The song that the boy was playing, which could be heard faintly on the wind, ended, and he looked up from his sheet music. His eyes caught Emma’s, and he winked at her. She gasped and shoved the curtains closed. 

Chapter Text

Emma sighed as she rolled over and stared up at the ceiling for what felt like the hundredth time. She scrunched up her eyes and tried counting sheep in her head, but she soon gave up. Counting sheep was so boring . She guessed that’s why people did it - eventually they would just fall asleep from boredom, but boredom didn’t make Emma sleepy; it made her antsy. She rolled over again, punching her pillow. She struggled to see across the room in the dark. 

“Belle,” she whispered. “Belle, are you awake?”

Her sister made no response, so there would be no distraction there. It wasn’t that Emma wanted to go to the New Year’s Ball at Aunt Regina’s; it was just that she hated being left out. Belle was relieved not to go. She preferred books over people, especially crowds of people, and Aunt Regina made her nervous. Aunt Regina honestly made everyone nervous. 

She wasn’t really the girls’ aunt, but it was a less complicated moniker than “third cousin Regina.” She was closely enough related to have opinions about their upbringing (which she naturally found sorely lacking), and took every opportunity to try and bring the Lucas girls into proper society. Twelve, however, was too young to attend balls, especially a ball on New Year’s Eve that would last until the wee hours of the morning.

Emma gazed out the window at the full moon and wondered just how long her sisters would be. She was surprised to hear the rattling of a carriage and the stomping of horses below the window. She tiptoed out of bed and rushed on quiet feet to the window. She almost gasped when she saw the boy from next door alight from the carriage. He then turned and offered his hand to someone inside. That someone was Mary Margaret! She seemed to lean on him a bit as he helped her out. Emma spun away from the window and rushed from the room. She slowed down at the top of the stairs and tiptoed down the first few steps.

“I am much obliged to you, Master Jones,” Granny was saying in front of the open doorway. 

The cold winter wind rushed through the foyer as Ruby and the boy aided Mary Margaret over the threshold. Emma crouched down upon the stairs so Granny wouldn’t see her, and peered at the group below through the spindles of the banister.

“Please. Call me Killian, Mrs. Lucas.”

“Of course, my boy, but only if you call me Granny. Everyone else does.”

Killian grinned as he gave Granny a half bow. It was a wonderful smile, Emma thought to herself. It dimpled his cheeks and brightened his eyes, which she could tell even by the dim candlelight were a dazzling blue. 

“Then Granny it is.” He turned and gave a nod to Mary Margaret and Ruby. “Happy New Year’s to you both. I am glad I could be of service.”

With that, Killian Jones turned and headed back out into the snow, shutting the door gently behind him. Granny and Ruby turned slowly with Mary Margaret between them and helped her limp to the sitting room. Emma could stand it no longer and went racing down the stairs. 

“You’re back early!” she exclaimed. 

“Yes,” Ruby breathed out, collapsing onto a settee, “and all because Mary Margaret had to go and be a damsel in distress.”

“I would have stayed if you hadn’t interfered,” Mary Margaret snapped. She looked down at her black and blue ankle which Granny was examining. “He’s a dreadful boy,” she whispered in a scandalous tone.

“Hardly,” Granny admonished. “He escorted the two of you home, missing out on his first social event since moving to Storybrooke. Not only that, he kept your ankle from swelling by packing it with snow.”

Emma’s eyes widened. “He put snow on your ankle ? With his hands ?”

“Yes!” Mary Margaret exclaimed, her voice choking. “If anyone were to know he even saw my ankle much less touched it-”

“They’d what?” snapped Ruby with a roll of her eyes. “Insist that the two of you get married because of the intimacy between his hands and your ankle?”

“Oh my dear Lord,” Mary Margaret squeaked out as her face turned crimson.

“You girls stop it right now,” Granny admonished. “I have always taught you that a woman’s character can not be diminished by breaking ridiculous social proprieties. The insipid rule about ankles I’m determined was a completely arbitrary rule invented by men.”

“Here she goes again,” Ruby groaned. “Mary Margaret, can you calm yourself before Granny gives us yet another treatise on feminism.”

Granny gave her granddaughter a pointed look while Emma giggled. Her laughter was short lived however, when Granny pointed a finger right at her. 

“To bed, young lady.”

Emma sighed as she reluctantly turned back to the stairs. “Everything exciting happens to Mary Margaret.”

“Indeed,” scoffed her oldest sister. 

Ruby joined her sister up the stairs, putting an arm around her and whispering conspiratorially. “I danced with him.”

“Really?”

Ruby nodded with a sparkle in her eyes. “He even let me lead.”

“Between Mary Margaret’s ankle and you leading dances-”

Ruby waved away Emma’s concerns. “Oh, it wasn’t in front of everyone. I was hiding because I didn’t want to dance with that awful Victor Whale, and Killian was hiding because he didn’t know anyone.”

“Oh,” Emma said as they continued up the stairs. A wave of jealousy hit her. She hadn’t even gotten to meet the new boy yet, and Ruby had already danced with him!

Ruby squeezed Emma’s shoulder. “We shall all be friends with him.”

“Friends with a boy?”

“He isn’t a boy - he’s Killian!”

***********************************************

Killian wasn’t sure what he had been expecting when he befriended the Lucas sisters. All he had known was that he was intrigued by them, he longed to know them, and anything was better than the dull loneliness in his uncle’s house. Even the tutor Uncle Nemo had gotten him was dull - all narrowed eyes, crossed arms, and self-righteousness as he peered at Killian over the rim of his reading glasses. And perhaps he wished to escape his tutor for another reason. Perhaps it was because the blue eyes and light hair reminded him of someone else - someone he had lost. To avoid such morbid thoughts, he had let Ruby Lucas drag him across the lawn to meet her other two sisters. 

Mr. Nolan, his tutor, had just opened his mouth in protest when he caught sight of Mary Margaret, Ruby’s elder sister. She was hobbling along, leaning on a cane to support her injured ankle, and in her other arm she balanced a few sticks of wood. Mr. Nolan had forgotten all about Killian’s Latin declensions in favor of assisting the lovely brunette. Killian had exchanged a grin with Ruby, and they had quickly escaped. 

The last thing he had expected upon meeting demure Belle and freckled Emma was to be turned into a horse. Yet that’s exactly what he had become. The rope to the Lucas girls’ sled was around his waist and he was pulling all three girls on it through the snow in the middle of their garden. 

“Giddyap!” Emma yelled, yanking on the rope. 

He groaned and fell face first into the snow. Squeals, laughter, and shouts surrounded him as he was pelted with snowballs. Killian, recovering his breath, laughed as he gathered up snow of his own. He chased the girls around the yard, snowballs flying. Emma, with the agility only a twelve year old can possess, leapt upon his back and shoved snow down the back of his winter coat. 

“Oi, lass!” he protested and spun around to grab the little girl. 

Emma jumped away from him before he could catch her and raced back across the snow. The long, golden braid that peeked from the bottom of her woolen hat, shone in the winter snow. Killian chased after her, even as Belle and Ruby continued to pelt him. He overtook Emma and scooped her up with one arm and flung her over his shoulder. He was just turning to deposit her in a large snow drift near the gate, when an indignant shout stopped him in his tracks. 

“Master Jones, what are you doing to that young lady?”

Killian spun toward the voice. David Nolan had never looked so scandalized nor so angry at his pupil. His wide blue eyes and his mortified red cheeks reminded Killian so much of Liam in that moment, he dropped Emma without preamble. Luckily, she landed in the snow drift he had been aiming for all along. A soft delighted gasp left her lips, and her smile showed clearly that she was neither hurt nor shamed by his actions. Killian glanced to Mr. Nolan’s right and saw both Mary Margaret and Granny Lucas standing there. The former ducked her head and pressed her lips together to suppress her smile, while the latter guffawed loudly. 

“Please, Mr. Nolan,” said Granny, “they are just children having fun.”

“Pardon me,” David replied, inclining his head to Mrs. Lucas, “but I disagree. Your girls are part of society, as is my charge, and they shouldn’t be . . . rough housing or, or . . . ”

Granny’s smile didn’t waver, but her eyes took on a shrewd look. “Girls are no different than boys, Mr. Nolan, in their need for physical exertion. Delicate constitutions and fainting spells are a direct result of our keeping young girls confined to the house, bent over their needlework in restrictive corsets.”

David’s eyes widened even more, his face absolutely crimson. “Granny,” Mary Margaret hissed. 

“Oh, sorry,” Granny laughed, “I tend to get carried away in my views, and besides, at my age, one hardly cares about propriety anymore.” She stepped closer to David Nolan. “I can assure you, Emma is neither harmed nor compromised by Killian’s rough housing.”

“Can you do that again?” Emma giggled from her spot on the ground. 

Killian looked down to see Emma’s cap askew, strands of her hair freed from her braid and falling wildly about her face. A blush stained her cheeks, highlighting the sprinkling of freckles across her nose, and her wide grin was so infectious, he couldn’t help but smile back. 

*****************************************

The closing of Marco Lucas’s school was the first blow to finances at Orchard House, the estate he had inherited from his father, and the War Between the States had been the second. Shortly after their Papa left for the battlefield, Granny had been forced to let their housekeeper Ashley go. Therefore, the cooking and the cleaning all fell to Granny and her girls. This was scandalous enough for women of society. When they planted their own vegetable garden and acquired chickens too, Aunt Regina had practically fainted at the very idea. Then, with their Papa gone, the girls had to chop and gather the wood as well. Ruby scoffed at the idea that she wasn’t strong enough to swing an ax just because she was female, though she had to admit the chore was slow going at her hand. Captain Nemo couldn’t let such a thing continue and told his gardener to stock the Lucas wood pile as well. No words were spoken about this act of charity, though a plum cake and a new knitted shawl had shown up at Nemo’s door. 

It was a sparkling morning in mid-January and the Lucas girls were going about their morning chores. Emma was gathering the eggs, Mary Margaret and Ruby were drawing water from the well, and Belle was getting potatoes from the bin. They were all scraping the snow from their shoes at the kitchen door when a shout came from the house next door. 

“Girls! What’s going on over there? It’s dull as tombs over here. I-”

Killian’s words were cut off when he was yanked from the open window of Nemo’s library. David Nolan’s scolding could be heard clearly.

“One does not shout at ladies as if they were cattle!”

The Lucas girls all burst out laughing, save for Mary Margaret whose cheeks warmed as she captured David Nolan’s gaze.

“My apologies!” David called out sheepishly. 

Mary Margaret was the only one who acknowledged it with a soft smile and a nod, for her sister’s had already tumbled into the warm kitchen. Emma gently set the basket of eggs beside the stove for Granny, then plopped down into a chair by the fireplace as she unwound the scarf from her neck and removed her mittens. She picked up the basket of mending, her next chore of the day. Emma didn’t mind it, though. It was difficult to complain about the sewing when at one time she had no stockings, mittens, or hats to mend at all. 

“It isn’t funny, Ruby!” Mary Margaret exclaimed as she removed her own outerwear and hung them near the fire to dry. “Between your hair, his shouting, and Granny going on about corsets to anyone who will listen, I’ll never have any suitors.”

Ruby merely let out a scoffing sound as she set the full bucket of water by the fire. Belle frowned as she emptied her skirts of their load of potatoes into the basket in the pantry. 

“Why do any of us need any suitors?” Belle asked nervously. “Why can’t things just stay as they are?”

“I agree with Belle,” Ruby announced as she stood and straightened her spine. “I plan to be independent, even if I have to seek a career on the stage.”

Mary Margaret gasped, her hands stilling for a moment as she tied her apron. 

“I simply wish for my girls to make the world a better and kinder place,” Granny announced as she stirred the eggs, “ whether they marry or not.”

“It’s not easy for a woman to make money alone,” spoke Emma from the corner, “and believe me, you’ll want money when the hunger comes.”

“Oh my dear little Emma,” Mary Margaret said softly as she rolled the biscuit dough.

They suddenly noticed that Belle was sniffling as she set the table. “What is it?” they all cried in alarm. 

“I just want the war to end so Papa can come home. Then we won’t have to worry over suitors.”

Ruby rushed over and put her arm around her. “Oh sweet Belle, we all want that.”

*********************************************

A week later, it was another cold morning, and the Lucas girls were seated with Granny around the breakfast table. They were all startled to hear a knock at the back door. 

“Who on earth could be at our kitchen door?” Granny wondered. 

Ruby dropped her fork with a clatter and rushed from the table. 

“Oh Ruby, do be proper,” Mary Margaret scolded. 

Ruby flung the door open to reveal Killian on the other side. The girls all cried out with delight and rushed from the table as well. Granny laughed and chided them to let the poor boy in from the cold. Yet before they could, Killian knelt before them like a knight of old, holding out before him what looked like a bird house. 

“My dear ladies,” Killian announced eloquently, “I beseech you to forgive me for my lack of manners and accept this humble gift.”

Mary Margaret smiled demurely, Belle and Emma giggled, and Ruby shook her dark hair and laughed heartily. Killian winked and demonstrated that his gift was not a bird house at all, but a receptacle for mail. The roof of the house opened and closed on a hinge. 

“How delightful!” exclaimed Belle.

“It’s so cute!” squealed Emma.

“We shall put this in the hedge between our houses,” Killian explained, “and inside we can put all kinds of correspondence - shouting from windows being forbidden.”

The girls loved the idea, and Ruby reached eagerly for the mailbox. Killian pulled it out of her reach, however, and smirked at his dear friend.

“Now Ruby, don’t be so eager. Look more closely.”

“Presents!” Emma cried, for inside the mailbox were three small packages and one larger one. 

“Belle, Mary Margaret, Emma,” he said as he handed them each one of the smaller packages. Belle and Mary Margaret tore the paper from theirs first. 

“A hummingbird!” Belle exclaimed. “Oh, it’s so delicate. Look at the wings!”

“A bluebird,” Mary Margaret said, turning the wooden carving over in her hand delicately. “Killian, did you make this?”

“Aye. A friend of my mothers . . . ” he trailed off self-consciously.

“Killian,” Granny spoke in a stern yet kind voice, “you need never be ashamed of your mother or her friends in our presence.”

Killian smiled gratefully at the older woman. “A friend of my mother's taught me. His name was Smee. He was one of the actors in her troupe.” 

Emma still held the brown paper package in her hand reverently, her face filled with awe. Killian frowned with concern. 

“Emma, love, aren’t you going to open yours?”

“She gets very emotional over presents,” Belle explained softly.

“They’re special to her,” Mary Margaret added, putting a comforting arm around her little sister. “Go ahead,” she encouraged.

Emma peeled back the paper slowly until her own bird carving sat in her hand, painted pure white, it’s graceful neck curved like half of a heart. 

“A swan.” Her heart sank. She had hoped . . . she wasn’t sure what she had hoped. “Like my name.”

Killian’s brow furrowed. “Your name? I thought it was Lucas. You mean . . . your middle name is Swan? That’s just incredible, lass! What a wonderful happenstance.”

Emma tilted her head. “You mean, you didn’t know?”

Killian’s gaze flitted to Mrs. Lucas who stood behind the girls beside the breakfast table. Her eyes were welled with rare tears. 

“Her last name was Swan,” Granny managed to get out, “before . . . she was mine.”

“I see,” Killian said softly, dropping his head. “I hope I haven’t brought you pain, my dear. I simply carved a bird for each of you that I felt most suited you. A delicate, joyful hummingbird for Belle, a lovely, sweet bluebird for Mary Margaret, and a swan for you.”

“Why?” Emma asked in that direct way of childhood. 

“Well,” Killian chuckled, awkwardly palming the back of his neck. “A swan is lovely, but it’s also bold, and . . . vicious when provoked.”

“Hey!” Emma exclaimed, shoving him in the shoulder. 

Killian winced as he rubbed at his shoulder. “And you have perfectly illustrated my point.”

“What about me?” Ruby demanded, hands on her hips. 

“Well,” Killian said, his face going red, “I just couldn’t see you as a bird, so I carved this instead.” 

He bit his bottom lip nervously as Ruby unwrapped her slightly larger carving. When the paper fell away, it revealed a majestic, gray wolf. Ruby inspected it silently, her green eyes narrowed. Finally, she looked up at Killian with a broad smile on her face. 

“It’s perfect.” 

Emma saw the way Killian released a breath, his shoulders relaxing. 

“And it’s howling at the moon I see,” Ruby added with an arch of her brow. 

“I know,” Killian said, watching Ruby from beneath hooded lashes, the blue of his eyes darkening. 

Emma clutched her swan carving to her chest, but she found herself wishing she were a wolf instead. 

Chapter Text

Chapter Three: On Walden Pond



Winter that year was an enchanted one for Killian Jones. The weather, for one, was something out of a dream. All he’d ever known in London was the bitter cold, the icy wind, and the dirty slush. The world was rarely a pristine winter wonderland, and even when he saw glimpses, it was gone just as quickly, trampled beneath the hooves of too many horses and too many wagons on the crowded streets. Here in Maine, he often woke to an endless expanse of glittering white, unmarred and almost blinding in its purity. Icicles caught the sun, splashing a prism of colors onto the windows. Then there was the trappings of winter that he’d never experienced before: sledding, ice skating, and sleigh rides filled with fun and laughter alongside the Lucas girls. 

The snow covered landscape was currently distracting him from his studies. He couldn’t stop feasting his eyes upon it, delighting in the nature spread before him. The endless white interrupted by the dark green of firs, the brilliant reds and blues of so many birds, and the occasional umber of a graceful deer. He never knew he was starved for such things until now. 

Today it was a flash of gold, however, that caught his eye amidst the snow. A gold head, sans the red wool hat she should have been wearing. Her dress was topped with a thin red shawl, but her coat was nowhere to be seen. Killian frowned at the sight, then glanced around the library for his tutor. David had slipped out to give him quiet space to work, so Killian abandoned his Latin declensions and headed down the hall, through the kitchen, and out into the back yard. There Emma was, pacing back and forth on the Lucas side of the fence. 

Killian paused, watching as she kicked at the ground, sending puffs of snow flying up into the air. He leaned against the fence and called out to her breezily, “Emma, what are you doing out here? And without a coat or hat. You’ll catch your death of cold.”

Emma startled at first, clearly not hearing him approach, but she quickly schooled her features into one of carelessness. She shrugged her slim shoulders. “I have gloves, which is more than I had before Granny.”

He nodded, even as he took in her threadbare shawl and the holes in said gloves. “Aye, it was the same for me on the streets of London.”

Emma’s eyes widened as she neared the fence. “Was your mother really an actress?”

“Aye, Uncle Nemo disapproved of her. As for my father, he left when he grew bored of us. When Mother died, I didn’t even know Uncle was looking for me.”

Emma scrambled up onto the bottom rungs of the fence and leaned over the top as he told his brief tale. He noticed then the leaves caught on the crown of her head and how disheveled her braid was. He thought he detected a red mark upon her cheek and frowned. 

“Why are you out here in the middle of the day, Emma?”

She sighed and her shoulders slumped. “I got kicked out of school. For fighting. And I don’t know how I can face Granny or Belle. I thought about going to Aunt Regina’s to get Ruby, but I’m more afraid of Auntie than Granny.”

Killian couldn’t say he blamed her on that front. He reached over and pulled open the gate. “Well, I can’t soften the blow, but I can at least offer an ear and a cup of cocoa.”

“Truly?” Emma squealed as she jumped down from the fence with the type of energy only a twelve year old could muster. 

Killian smiled and bowed exaggeratedly as she stepped through the open gate. “Of course, m’lady. As much cocoa as you can consume.”

She giggled. “With cinnamon?”

“Naturally.” He winked and offered his arm. 

That was when Emma’s crush began in earnest, though she knew it was hopeless. He and Ruby were rarely apart, and Emma saw the way he sometimes looked at her older sister. When she heard he’d danced with Mary Margaret at Sally Moffett’s coming out ball last weekend, she was suddenly worried the rumors of a proposal weren’t just rumors. And she noticed even Belle blushing at him over the top of whatever book she was buried in. Why would he ever notice Emma? 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Emma did indeed get a lecture from Granny on the importance of using one's words and not one's fists when facing injustice. Emma retorted that it had been her words that had gotten her slapped across the face by Minnie Moffett. 

“I told her that her father was a tyrant sending children to early graves.”

“Emma!” Granny scolded. 

“I only repeated what you said last night at dinner.”

Granny sighed and put away her knitting. She gestured for Emma to come near, and the child came eagerly. She was the only one still small enough to sit upon Granny’s lap, and truthfully was enjoying it for much longer than the others had. No one said anything about it, however, knowing Emma had gotten precious little affection in her earliest years. Emma snuggled close to Granny, resting her head upon the old woman’s shoulders.

“Emma, my dear, while what I said about Mr. Moffett’s silk mill is true, I didn’t intend for it to go farther than our kitchen table.”

“But Minnie was turning her nose up at my dress,” Emma retorted, “saying it was old fashioned and threadbare. She said silk was all the rage now, that her father milled it right here in Storybrooke and that’s when I said she’d never get a penny from the Lucases. That we would rather wear muslin than hurt little children.”

Granny remained quiet, running her hand over Emma’s hair as she rocked back and forth. Finally, she spoke gently to her youngest child. 

“Emma, it makes me happy and immensely proud to know that my girls stand up for what’s right. However, there is a way to go about it without attacking others. If we speak in a voice of hate, we are no better than the oppressors we are standing against.”

“So how do we help the children at Moffett’s Mill?”

“By making up the poor baskets, by baking for the Sunday school parties the church gives, and fighting for our right to vote. When women can vote, I bet children won’t have to work in factories anymore.”

“That could take forever!” Emma exclaimed.

Granny chuckled. “Not forever. We may not see it for ourselves, but one day, it will be so.”

“I only shoved Minnie after she slapped me,” Emma grumbled. 

“I believe you, child.”

Nevertheless, Emma wasn’t allowed back at school until the following Monday, which seemed a cruel injustice since Minnie hadn’t been punished at all. Emma’s teacher would never admit it out loud, but it was painfully obvious that he considered Emma somehow morally depraved for being an orphan. Though Killian Jones had been an orphan, and no one seemed to think less of him. 

“He’s rich,” Mary Margaret had explained with a shrug, “and he’s a boy.”

Emma sincerely hoped Granny and the rest of her fellow suffragettes got them the right to vote sooner rather than later. The list of things in the world that were unfair seemed to get longer every day. Of course, there was one injustice that had nothing to do with suffrage and everything to do with Ruby and her infuriating beauty. Killian was mesmerized by it, and it drove Emma absolutely crazy. 

For one, Killian left far more notes in the hedge for Ruby than he did for the other Lucas girls. The notes he left for Emma in particular were downright babyish, and he always wrote “to my little cygnet.” Emma wanted to crumple them up in her fist and toss them in the fireplace, but she could never bring herself to do it. Then there was the way Killian flirted with Ruby. Belle wanted to know just how much Emma could possibly know about flirting. Emma retorted that she was twelve, not blind. 

One day, Emma was at her desk sketching the snow covered fir trees from her window when she spied Killian chasing Ruby around the yard. She wasn’t sure what they were fighting over, but Killian was attempting to wrestle it away from Ruby by grasping her about the waist. Emma frowned and slammed her pencils down upon the desk so hard the tip of her green one broke. She grumbled and stomped down the stairs. When she flung the kitchen door open and stepped outside, Killian turned to her with a wide grin. 

“Good afternoon, Emma!”

“Hi, Killian,” she mumbled back. “I was trying to draw and the two of you are being way too loud.”

“Sorry,” Ruby chuckled, “Killian was trying to steal my figs.”

“And you promised to share,” he retorted, trying to snatch one out of her hand again. He grasped Ruby’s wrist, but she switched the last fig to her other hand and popped it in her mouth. Killian did not release Ruby’s wrist, and Emma frowned. 

“If you still want me to show you the wishing well, we need to get started,” Ruby said around a mouthful of fig.

Emma’s eyes lit up. “I’d like to go too!”

“Emma,” Ruby groaned, “you’re too little. You’ll get tired and complain.”

“No I won’t!”

“Yes you will.” 

Emma’s eyes flashed. “You’re just hogging Killian!”

“Emma, that’s quite enough with your school girl crush,” snapped Ruby.

Killian laughed. “That’s ridiculous, Ruby. Emma’s just a little girl!” He turned to Emma with a dimpled grin and a wink. “It will be many moons indeed before she has to fret about such things. Am I right, cygnet?”

“Stop calling me that!”

“A cygnet is a Swan, love. It shows I’m fond of you.”

“A cygnet is a baby swan, and I’m not a baby!”

Ruby laughed. “Oh Killian, don’t hurt her feelings. She’s imagining herself as the future Mrs. Jones, lady of the grandest house in Storybrooke.” Her voice dripped with elitism as she pretended to fan her face and swoon. 

Emma’s cheeks grew hot as she clenched both hands into tight fists at her side. 

“You are the biggest hypocrite in all of Maine, Ruby Lucas!” she shouted. “Teasing me when everyone in Storybrooke knows you’re hunting for a proposal from Killian.”

Killian’s eyes widened and his jaw came unhinged just a bit as he looked over at Ruby. She wasn’t looking at him, however. Her eyes were flashing fire at Emma, and rage flared her nostrils. 

“How dare you say such a thing! Whatever could cause such a ridiculous thought to even enter your brain-”

“It isn’t that ridiculous,” Killian frowned, his face unable to hide how her words wounded him.

Emma gave little thought to Killian’s feelings, too thrilled by the reaction she’d elicited in her sister. She gave her chin a haughty tilt and flipped her braid off her shoulder saucily. 

Everyone in town is gossiping about it. The way you’ve flung yourself at the boy next door in desperation for a proper match.”

Killian blanched then. “Desperate?” he whispered. 

Emma’s gaze skittered to him, and her heart sank for just a moment at his devastated expression. For that reason, she didn’t see Ruby launch herself across the lawn until it was too late. Soon, the two of them were wrestling upon the snowy ground and screaming like hissing cats. Their cries brought the rest of the Lucas family running. Granny and Mary Margaret pulled Ruby off her little sister, and Belle rushed to comfort a now weeping Emma. Her hair was ripped from its braid, and she had a cut on her cheek from Ruby’s fingernails. Ruby didn’t get out unscathed either. Her dark hair was riotous and wild, pulled free of the pins that had held it out of her face, and her cheek was red from Emma’s fist. 

“I’ll never forgive you for this, you little brat!” she screamed. 

“Ruby!” Granny admonished. “What could the child possibly have done?”

Ruby fell in a heap upon the ground, weeping. Mary Margaret sank to her knees and gathered her close. Emma peeked out from the shelter of Belle’s arms and was relieved to see that Killian had disappeared. No doubt he thought they were completely out of their minds. 

“How could you, Emma?” Ruby wept. “He’ll never come back to see us now. Not if he thinks we’re scheming for his inheritance.”

“Who?” Mary Margaret asked, her brow furrowed. 

“Killian!” Ruby cried.

“We’ve never schemed for any proposals,” Belle pointed out matter-of-factly.

“We certainly have not,” Granny stated firmly, “and I highly doubt Killian believes such a thing.”

“He will,” Ruby said, tears flowing once again, “because Emma told him just to spite me, and now our friendship will be ruined.”

“It’s only ruined because you were so mean,” Emma countered. “You made it seem like marrying him was disgusting.”

“It is disgusting!” wailed Ruby. “You know how I feel about marriage, yet you slandered my name to Killian, making me seem like nothing more than an insipid, silly girl.”

Ruby had risen to her feet by this time, clutching her skirts in her white-knuckled hands. She spun away from her family and fled away; off into the woods where she so often found solace. 

Silence fell amongst the rest of the Lucas females, and Granny sank wearily onto the  bench beside the barren rose trellis.  

“Emma,” she sighed, “when will you learn to control that sharp tongue of yours?”

“Me?!” Emma cried out, scrambling to her feet. “Ruby needs to learn to control her temper!”

“You’re right,” Granny admitted, “but you were both in the wrong here. What’s worse, you hurt poor Killian in the process.”

Tears rolled unbidden down Emma’s cheeks even as hot anger rose within her chest. “I know we hurt him! The worst part is, Ruby is too blind to understand why!”

Not wanting to hear her family confirm what she already suspected - that Killian was smitten with Ruby - Emma turned and fled up the stairs to her room. She flung herself across her bed, indulging in a rare fit of weeping. 

It turned out, however, that Ruby was wrong. Killian left a note for her and one for Emma that very night in the hedge. They were both silly, with a little cartoon drawing at the bottom, with no mention whatsoever of the embarrassing argument and ensuing fight between the sisters. Ruby had rewarded Killian with a tight embrace and a kiss to his cheek, much to Emma’s chagrin. 

Ruby did, however, keep her vow to hold a grudge against Emma, and in so doing, kept Killian away from her as well. Emma was relegated to watching them from her bedroom or parlor window, her heart sinking at the beaming smiles and bright eyes Killian bestowed upon her sister. 

“Ruby will never forgive me,” Emma sighed one day, her forehead dropping to the frosted window pane. On the other side, Killian and Ruby were having an enthusiastic snowball fight.

“I’m sure that isn’t true,” Belle encouraged, glancing up from her book. 

Emma wasn’t so sure.

********************************************

Emma ran over the hills, her ice skates thumping against her thighs. When she drew nearer to Walden Pond, she could see Ruby and Killian laughing as they raced across the ice. 

“Wait for me!” she cried as she scrambled over the last hill. 

Ruby looked at her with harsh narrowed eyes, then turned away with a haughty tilt to her chin. She grabbed Killian by the arm and dragged him farther across the ice. Emma blinked back the tears that pricked at her eyes, then pressed her lips together in a thin, angry line. With determination she started to buckle the skates to her boots. 

“I’m coming, Killian!” she shouted as she hobbled on the thin blades to the edge of the pond. 

Killian looked in her direction at the sound of her voice, but Ruby told him loudly, “Ignore her!” 

He still looked toward Emma who was edging out onto the ice on wobbling legs. Ruby shoved him in the shoulder and said something to him in a voice too low for Emma to catch. Then Killian shrugged and leaned forward to race Ruby across the pond. Emma started to shuffle her feet faster, pausing every now and then to steady herself. 

“I want to race!” she called out, but her sister and Killian were skating quickly away from her. 

Emma was in the center of the pond now, cursing herself for not being faster on her skates. One moment she was pushing off across the ice, and the next the bottom dropped out from beneath her. The icy waters of Walden Pond hit her like a thousand knives as she plunged into the black depths. She screamed but it was cut off as her skirts dragged her quickly under. Panic seized her immediately, and she pushed up towards the surface. Granny had made sure they all knew how to swim, her feminist ideals surpassing any scandalous notions about ladies swimming, and Emma was glad for her eccentricities as she kicked and pushed down at the water with her hands. She managed to lift her head above the surface, but the bitter cold seeping into her bones was already making her sluggish. She knew she was being pulled under once again by the weight of her skirts and the fatigue that was washing over her. A cry clogged her throat as fear gripped her. What if she drifted below the ice and was trapped?

A strong hand grabbed the back of her coat just before her head slipped back under. She could vaguely hear Killian’s groan and the sharp crack of ice. The pond was giving way beneath him! 

“Emma!” Ruby’s terrified scream penetrated her foggy brain. “Grab this!” 

There was a thick tree branch right in front of her, and Emma clumsily grabbed it. However, her mittened hands were like blocks of ice, and she couldn’t get a firm hold of it. She started to weep. Was she going to die?

“Killian!” Ruby screamed. “The ice!”

The sharp pops of cracking ice reverberated across the pond. 

“I won’t leave her!” Killian shouted, and he reached into the icy waters to grab Emma beneath the arms. He was halfway in the water now, but grabbed ahold of Emma with one arm and the tree branch with the other. The ice continued to crack as he wriggled backwards, still holding onto Emma. She tried to help him, but she had never been so tired, her brain never so foggy. Behind them, Ruby yelled with a feral cry as she pulled on the other end of the tree branch. Finally, Emma felt her legs scraping across a frigid surface, then she felt dirt and snow beneath her. Killian collapsed, his breaths ragged, his arm still holding her. He only gave himself a brief respite, however, before he clambered to his knees beside her. 

“We have to get her out of these wet clothes, quickly,” Killian told Ruby as he began to pull at Emma’s coat. She was in and out of consciousness as they pulled off everything but her shift then wrapped her up in Ruby’s outer garments. Killian scooped her up and raced through the woods back to Orchard House. The arms of his coat were damp too, but his chest was warm against her. 

Emma shivered, feeling brittle as ice, Killian’s face swirling above her. “I love you,” she burrowed further into his coat, “but you don’t love me back.”

“Of course I do, little cygnet, I love all the Lucas girls.”

That wasn’t what she meant. 

**************************************************

Emma’s eyes flickered open; she wasn’t sure how long she had been asleep. She was warm beneath piles of blankets, and her stockinged feet were toasty. Someone had clearly slipped a bed warmer beneath the feather bed. A hand was gently caressing her forehead, and someone else’s arm slipped about her waist. She shifted to see Ruby cuddled up on her left and Belle on her right. 

“Ruby Lucas! Did you walk all the way from Walden Pond in nothing but your petticoats?” a voice cried from across the room. 

Emma lifted her head just enough to see Mary Margaret in front of the fire, hanging up their wet clothes. 

“As if she even noticed,” Belle laughed softly, hugging Emma tighter.

“Thank you for saving me,” Emma said in a scratchy voice.

Ruby hugged her and kissed the top of her head. “Oh forgive me, Emma! If anything had happened to you . . .” She trailed off as if the idea was too terrible to even contemplate. “Thank God for Killian.”

Yes, Killian had saved Emma’s life, and in doing so, he had made her fall even more in love with him. 

“Ruby?” Emma whispered. “Do you love Killian more than me?”

“Don’t be silly,” Ruby laughed. “I could never love anyone as I love my sisters.”

Emma smiled and snuggled deeper into her sisters’ embrace. “Good.”

Chapter Text

Emma sat rigid on the settee in the parlor, her hands curled around the edges of the seat. The brocade was rough beneath her fingers. Down the hall, everyone spoke in low voices as if Emma’s age made her hard of hearing, yet she heard and understood everything. Belle was sick with scarlet fever, and Emma had never had it before. They were going to send Emma away. She blinked away the tears forming in the corners of her eyes as dozens of questions flitted through her mind, each one more frightening than the last. What if Belle died? What if Emma had already caught the fever? What if she died too? What if they sent her away and decided they didn’t want her anymore? Emma closed her eyes and gripped the seat harder.

“Emma?”

She startled at Granny’s voice, her eyes flying open. She looked up into the woman’s face which was lined with worry. Emma licked her suddenly dry lips nervously. 

“What are you doing out here? I thought you were upstairs.”

“Is Belle dying?” Emma whispered.

Granny knelt before her and gently pried her hands away from the edges of the settee. She took Emma’s small, smooth hands into her larger, wrinkled ones and rubbed soothing circles into her palms. 

“Belle is very sick, but she is strong of spirit.” Granny’s tremulous smile and tear filled eyes were filled with only the most tenuous hope. 

Emma released a shaky breath. “And you’re sending me away?”

Granny’s eyes widened in both surprise and sudden understanding. “Oh my child, only for your own safety and only for a brief time.” 

She rose and squeezed onto the settee, pulling Emma close to her side. Emma melted into it, sobs wracking her small frame. Granny rubbed soothingly at her back and kissed the top of her head.

“Where are you sending me?”

“Granny?” 

Emma raised her tear-stained face at the sound of the masculine voice in the doorway. 

“Killian?”

He glanced between her and Granny, shuffling his feet nervously. “I’ve come to take you to your Aunt Regina.”

“Aunt Regina!” Emma cried. “I have to go there ?”

Granny brushed the hair from Emma’s damp face with soothing hands. “It won’t be forever, my darling. Belle will recover, and you will be back with us before you know it.”

“Please don’t make me go!”

Tears leaked from Granny’s eyes as she pried Emma’s hands from about her waist. “I can’t risk you getting ill. Emma, I beg you, don’t make a scene. Go upstairs like a good girl and pack a bag.”

Emma blinked the tears from her eyes as shame washed over her. She glanced from Granny’s distraught face to Killian’s. His eyes were soft and full of sympathy as he regarded her. He gave her a gentle nod and the hit of a smile. Emma took a deep breath, rolled her shoulders back, and rose as stoically as she could from the settee. She took the stairs slowly, went to her room, and numbly packed a carpet bag of her things. She grabbed her favorite doll, the one her sisters had scrimped and saved up to buy her several Christmases ago, and then descended the stairs. Killian waited for her at the bottom and gallantly offered her his arm. As he guided her out the front door, she glanced sadly over her shoulder at Granny. The woman waited until the door shut behind the child before she succumbed to weeping. 

In the carriage, Killian sat silently beside her as they drove to Regina’s mansion on the other side of town. Emma’s carpet bag was in her lap, and her doll sat on the seat beside her, nearest to the door. 

“I’m not taking a doll because I’m a baby,” Emma finally explained.

“Of course not, cygnet.”

“I’m taking it because it makes me think of Belle. She and I loved to play dolls together when we were little.” Emma fell silent again, worries thumping against her mind like moths around a lantern. “She can’t die. She won’t die.”

Killian put his arm around her, and Emma’s head dropped to his chest. 

“What if I get scarlet fever and die?” For some reason, she felt she could express her deepest fears in this small, dark carriage. “I’m too young to die.”

“You aren’t going to die, love.”

Emma tilted her head up to look at Killian. “If I die,” she told him matter-of-factly, “you must give Mary Margaret my pearl combs. Aunt Regina gave them to me when I turned ten, and they are my greatest treasure.”

Killian nodded seriously.

“Belle is to have Lilith - that’s my doll - and Ruby is to have my garnet ring.” She tapped it for Killian. “I wish it were a ruby, like her name, but it’s close enough, don’t you think?”

Killian nodded once again, though he was biting the inside of his cheek. He knew Emma was being completely serious, and he would not laugh at her girlish concerns. 

He cleared his throat. “It suits Ruby excellently.”

Emma exhaled a breath of relief and settled against his chest again. The carriage rattled along silently for a moment or two, and then Killian heard a long sigh escape Emma’s lips. 

“I’ve never even been kissed. I’ve waited my whole life to be kissed, and what if I die before it ever happens?”

Killian squeezed her arm, and Emma looked up at him. “I tell you what. I promise to kiss you before you die.”

A bright smile filled Emma’s face and red tinted her cheeks. Killian laughed merrily and pulled her close, wrapping both arms around her. Emma sagged in his embrace, wrapping her arms around his. With a contented smile, she kissed his arm and snuggled against him. When they reached Aunt Regina’s, she had fallen asleep. Killian carried her up the winding staircase of the Mill’s mansion, a lady’s maid fluttering around him with concern. He lay Emma gently down upon the bed and pressed a kiss to the crown of her golden head. 

“I love you, little cygnet,” he whispered before backing slowly out of the room so the lady’s maid could dress Emma properly for bed. He chuckled to himself as he headed back down the stairs. Meanwhile, in her room, Emma dreamed of her gallant, dark haired hero who promised to kiss her before she died. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Ruby made twenty five cents a week as Aunt Regina’s companion, which was really just a nicer way of Regina Mills giving the Lucas girls charity. Now Ruby was not only needed to help nurse Belle, but she also couldn’t risk exposing the Mills household to the fever. Therefore, the task of companion fell to Emma. She did her best to do Ruby’s job without complaint, knowing her family couldn’t afford to lose two whole dollars per month, yet it wasn’t easy. Emma had no freedom in the Mills mansion to do as she pleased. There was no sketching in the afternoon sun, no snowball fights with Killian, no ice skating. Instead, she must sit in the parlor with Aunt Regina doing the same thing day after day. After breakfast, they did their embroidery (and Emma must help Aunt Regina with the threads when she couldn’t see them well). After lunch, Emma must read aloud to Aunt Regina until she dozed off. Even while Aunt Regina napped, Emma was not free, for if Aunt Regina awakened, Emma must continue her reading. After napping, there was afternoon tea followed by restful music on the piano. Aunt Regina did give her two hours of free time before dinner, but never in Emma’s life had her days been so strictly regimented. 

The worst part was that Aunt Regina had such dull taste. The only reading materials to choose from were either Pilgrim’s Progress or the Bible. At the piano, Emma could only play Bach or Haydn. Popular music was apparently of the devil while even Beethoven or Mozart gave Aunt Regina heart palpitations. So Emma sighed as she dutifully played. She didn’t have Belle’s talent with the instrument, and even Ruby could play better, so Aunt Regina was also constantly striking the floor with her cane and making Emma start over again whenever she made a mistake. At least her embroidery skills were better than Ruby’s so she didn’t have to pull out the thread and start over like her sister always did. 

“Perhaps I have been investing in the wrong Lucas girl,” Aunt Regina mused on more than one occasion. “I believe I can make a proper lady of you yet, Emma.”

Emma had been at the Mills mansion for three days, though it felt more like three weeks. She had the Bible open on her lap and was reading in the book of Numbers, which had to be the dullest one in the entire Bible. 

“ . . . and his offering was one silver dish whose weight was one hundred and thirty shekels, one silver bowl of seventy shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, both of them full of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering . . . “ Emma trailed off, sighing in complete and utter boredom. “Can’t we skip ahead to David and Goliath? That’s more exciting.”

“No, I read the Bible straight through every year, as all civilized people should. That is where your sister left off.”

Emma sighed and tilted the giant family Bible once again so she could see it better. “ . . . one gold pan of ten shekels, full of incense; one bull, one ram, one male lamb one year old, for a burnt offering -”  

Regina stopped her by taking Emma’s hand and squeezing it. “Belle will get well.”

Emma gave her aunt a tremulous smile, then resumed her reading. She didn’t really pay attention to the words as she read them. Killian had promised to visit her everyday, but that day he had not yet come. On all the previous days, he had come in the morning, just after breakfast before he began his studies. Emma was inwardly chafing, wondering what was keeping him. It had made the day go by even more slowly.  

“Emma,” Regina said, startling her out of her monotonous reading, “why don’t you set aside the Bible for today. I think I shall nap in my room. I feel a headache coming on, so I’ll have Lucinda draw the curtains.”

Upon hearing her name, the maid came rushing to Aunt Regina’s side to help the woman out of her chair and up the stairs. Emma watched her go, somewhat alarmed. She had heard whispers that Regina Mills was not well, that her sickness was why she had never wed, but Emma had never seen weakness in the woman until now. 

“Oh Emma,” Regina called to her, pausing at the bottom of the stairs, “I thought you might be interested in the trunks of old clothes up in the attic. I sometimes forget how much younger you are than Ruby. I have been remiss in not giving you more time to play. I have no toys, but perhaps the contents of those trunks will entertain you.”

“Thank you Aunt Regina,” Emma said politely, while inside she was vibrating with excitement. She forced herself to sit quietly in the sitting room until she heard the door to her Aunt’s room close. Then she bolted from her seat and dashed up the stairs. She raced down the hall and flung open the door leading up to the attic. She took the winding, wooden steps a bit more slowly, taking in the humble surroundings which were so different from the rest of the house. 

At the top of the attic stairs, Emma slowly opened the plain wooden door. She wasn’t in the least bit frightened. She and her sisters spent many hours, especially in the winter, playing in their own attic at home. The four of them and Killian had even put on an elaborate play for Granny, Nemo, and David Nolan in their attic. Even when a mouse scurried across Aunt Regina’s attic, Emma wasn’t frightened. She knew mice were more afraid of her than she could ever be of them. Plus, Granny said mice were no respecters of persons. They scurried within the walls of mansion and hovels alike. 

The trunks Aunt Regina had spoken of were shoved beneath the gable window facing east, and sunshine streamed over them as if inviting Emma on some grand adventure. She grinned as she sank to her knees before the first one and opened it. Inside were several beautiful gowns that must have been Regina’s when she was a young woman, perhaps Ruby or Mary Margaret’s age. There were also hats of all kinds: winter bonnets lined with moth-eaten fur, small beribboned hats to be worn in the summer tucked beneath a woman’s hairstyle, and hats with almost comically large, upright brims decked with flowers. Emma laughed as she tried them all on. How silly fashions were when Regina was young! 

Beneath the dresses were several tin-types of Regina, her mother Cora, and her sister Zelena. Emma giggled even more at how their hair was styled in twin buns low over their ears. Then she sobered as she thought about how Zelena had died of cholera at only sixteen, and she shoved the picture back into the bottom of the trunk along with her sudden fears for Belle. 

Emma opened the second trunk and found more accessories: fans, gloves, parasols, and costume jewelry. She chose her favorite dress from the first trunk and stepped into it. Then she added the small hat. She couldn’t figure out how to get it to stay without hat pins, so she just tied the ribbon under her chin and let the hat dangle behind her. Then she chose a pair of lace gloves, a silk fan covered in roses, and a pink parasol. She added a necklace and then several rings and bracelets. She could imagine Aunt Regina admonishing that a lady would never bedeck herself in such a fashion, but Emma wasn’t just a girl in Storybrooke anymore. She imagined herself as a powerful sorceress in a fantastical kingdom. She swung around, lifting the locket at the end of the chain around her neck as if it were a magical amulet. 

Emma was so engrossed in her fantasy that she didn’t hear the footsteps on the stairs. She had left the attic door open, so she also didn’t notice someone standing there watching her. 

A smile slowly filled Killian’s face as he saw Emma swimming in all that lavender satin and lace. The sunlight hit her golden hair, making it shine more than usual. Her eyes sparkled as she rested the parasol against her shoulder and pretended to recite a magical incantation. Killian hadn’t seen her so happy in days, and it warmed his heart. 

She whirled around again, and when she did, she saw Killian standing there. She let out a gasp of delight and let the parasol clatter to the floor. She dashed across the attic toward him, tripping over the excess fabric of the gown that was several sizes too big. Killian rushed to catch her before she hit the floor. She looked up at him, her face flushed, her hair wild about her face. Ribbons from the dangling hat brushed her pink cheeks. In her expression, and in these clothes, Killian saw a hint of the woman she would soon become, and it startled him. He let go of her just as quickly, and Emma still wobbled in a pair of silk heels. 

“Killian!” she squealed, completely oblivious to his brief existential crisis. 

He shook his head to clear it. He didn’t want Emma to grow up. She deserved to play and be free for as long as she could. He didn’t wish a brief childhood on anyone, for he had lived it. She tilted her head at him curiously.

“Did you miss me?” he asked her cheekily.

“I did!” Emma exclaimed. “It gets so boring here. Your visits are all that I look forward to.”

He looked her up and down. “It looks like you’re having fun entertaining yourself.”

Emma shook her head vehemently, sending the precarious hat tumbling to the floor. “It’s nothing like our plays at Orchard House. Not when I’m all alone.” 

She tugged on his arm, pulling him toward the stairs, heedless of all that she was wearing. When they reached the second floor, Regina was just coming out of her room after her nap. Killian hurriedly bowed to her. 

“Ms. Mills,” he said gallantly, “I apologize for bursting in upon you. Your ladies’ maid directed me to where I could find Mistress Emma.”

“Killian, come on !” Emma exclaimed, pulling Killian toward the stairs. Laughing, he followed her. 

Regina watched them with a knowing gaze. She noted how the melancholy lifted from Emma’s shoulders every time young Master Jones came to visit. She also noted how seriously he took his visits, and the way Emma made him smile. Clearly, the boy still saw his friend as the child she was, but nevertheless, Regina had a feeling the Lucas sister who would end up marrying into the Jones fortune wouldn’t be who everyone thought it would be. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Everyone had been correct; Belle recovered from scarlet fever, and Emma was able to return home after a month with Aunt Regina. However, from then on, it was Emma who acted as her companion rather than Ruby. Regina also provided her young charge with private tutors, including art instruction. This education was much better than what Emma had received at the girl’s school.

Ruby was relieved that she no longer had to languish in the Mills manor day after day. Instead, she volunteered alongside the rest of the Lucas women and kept the house running. When time allowed, they all continued their studies under Granny’s tutelage. 

As winter melted into spring, however, one change occurred. David Nolan accompanied his pupil more and more in visiting the Lucas girls. While Ruby chafed that the man acted the serious chaperone, the other sisters came to adore David just as much as Killian. Well, all but Mary Margaret. She seemed to adore David far more than Killian. 

As for Emma, she was perfectly content as long as Killian was there, even though he still called her “cygnet” and “little one.” Her thirteenth birthday came on a bright day in late April, and she thought that surely now he would see that she was growing up. Alas, he had winked at her in that same playful way, called her “cygnet” yet again, and planted a brotherly kiss to her brow. 

It was now May, and Emma was atop the pasture fence with her sketchbook balanced upon her lap. Killian was sitting astride Roger, his favorite horse, and Emma was attempting to capture the beautiful animal’s powerful gait. When Killian noticed her, he slowed his horse and dismounted. 

“Why hello there, Emma. I thought you would still be at your aunt’s.”

“She let me go early today. She wasn’t feeling well.”

Killian frowned. “I’m sorry. Tell her I wish her good health.”

“I will.”

Killian came closer and leaned over Emma’s sketchpad. She’d shown him her art in the past, so she didn’t mind. He was always encouraging her talent. 

“I have a difficult time capturing the horse’s movement.”

“I think it’s quite good,” Killian countered, pointing at her work. “The way you’ve used shading to accentuate the horse’s musculature is stunning.”

“Thank you,” Emma said, then she flipped to another page in her sketchbook, glancing slyly at him as she did so. She watched as Killian’s eyes widened. 

It was a sketch of him in profile, looking out across the pasture. Killian smiled, then lifted his hand to scratch behind his ear. “It’s . . . a good likeness.”

Emma beamed. “I’m glad you think so.”

Killian flashed Emma a cocky grin which was the only preamble to what he did next. He grabbed her about the waist with both hands and swung her down off the fence, sending her drawing pencils and sketchbook flying. She was so flustered by it, and so concerned for her sketches that her initial reaction was anger. 

“Killian Jones, you are a cad!” she shouted, shoving him away and snatching up her sketchbook. Luckily, they were no worse for wear. 

Killian didn’t look at all apologetic as he gathered up her pencils and handed them to her. “It’s too fine a day for sitting around. Instead of sketching horses, you should be riding one.”

Emma held her sketchbook tight against her chest and glanced nervously over at Roger. He was even larger and more intimidating up close. 

“I’ve never ridden before.”

Killian’s eyes widened. “You haven’t? I would have thought . . .” but he trailed off, realizing that while horseback riding was an acceptable leisure activity for proper ladies, it was hardly a necessity for good breeding. What reason would there be for the Lucas girls to learn riding?

Emma blushed under his scrutiny, pretending to be fascinated by the pastures in the distance. She knew for one where his thoughts had gone, and she also suddenly recalled the feel of his arms about her waist and his chest beneath her palm. 

“Well then,” Killian finally said, bowing with a flourish and offering his hand, “that must be rectified.”

Emma drew back. “What if I fall?”

“I won’t let that happen,” he told her with a wink.

A smile teased the corners of Emma’s mouth as she took Killian’s hand. Then a startled cry left her as Killian pulled her close, grasped her waist once again, and swung her up into Roger’s saddle. Emma straddled the leather on instinct, then gasped as her face turned red.

“Aren’t I supposed to ride side-saddle?”

“Well,” Killian grunted as he put his foot in the stirrup and swung up behind Emma, “I’ve not the slightest idea how to ride side-saddle.”

He settled himself behind her, and Emma’s heart began to pound at the feel of his chest against her back. Then his arms went about her to gather the reins, and she felt her heart might fly out of her chest. He leaned forward and whispered in her ear, and she felt dangerously close to fainting and falling right off the horse. 

“I won’t tell if you won’t.” 

His breath was hot against her ear and fluttered the strands of hair against her neck. Emma felt a shiver go through her, but Killian didn’t seem to notice as he clicked and urged the steed forward. He kept her at a trot around the fence at first, and the feel of the rise and fall of the animal combined with Killian’s arms around her put Emma at ease. Then he turned Roger towards the open pasture and into a canter. 

“What do you think of riding so far?” he asked her.

Emma turned to look up at him and grinned broadly. “I want to go faster.”

He winked back at her. “As you wish.”

Killian urged the horse into a gallop, and the pasture was eaten up beneath the pounding hooves. The wind tugged at her hair and cooled her cheeks, and Emma felt exhilaration course through her. Killian gathered the reins in his right hand so he could encircle her waist with his left and hold her tight. Emma felt like she could stay here forever with the warm sun, the thrilling speed, and Killian’s embrace. 

The ride was over much too soon, and as they approached the fence, she saw Killian’s uncle by the pasture fence. Emma was suddenly keenly aware of the fact that she was riding astride, with her skirts hitched up and her tights showing above her boots. She wondered if Killian sensed her embarrassment, for he slowed the horse several yards from the fence. He easily swung down from the saddle, then helped Emma down. She rested her hands upon his at her waist as he set her feet upon the ground. She looked up into his face, but his blue eyes were focused upon his uncle, not on her. Emma’s gaze fell to the ground at her feet, her cheeks burning. 

“Thank you for the ride,” she muttered, stepping back quickly. Then she turned and fled to where her drawing supplies still lay upon the ground. She avoided Admiral Nemo’s face as she gathered them up, then hurried out of the gate. 

Killian smiled easily at his uncle as he approached the fence, guiding Roger along by the reins. He didn’t understand the man’s scowl, nor could he fathom why Emma was racing down the path back to her home as if the devil were after her. 

“What in God’s creation are you thinking, Killian?” his uncle demanded the second he was close enough.

Killian blinked in surprise. “Riding.”

“With a lady?”

Killian chuckled. “You mean Emma? She’s just a child.”

Nemo crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes at his nephew. “She is hardly a child anymore, Killian. She just turned thirteen! She’s closer to womanhood than childhood, and she should be treated as such.”

Killian shook his head in confusion. “I was just giving her a ride. She had never been on a horse before.”

“Then you should have led her around the pasture instead of galloping off with her astride the animal! Not to mention the improper way you were embracing her.”

Killian’s face turned red. “I don’t think of Emma that way.”

His uncle’s face softened. “Perhaps you should. I’ve long been thinking of a match between you and one of the Lucas girls.”

Killian blanched. “You wouldn’t! I’ve no interest in an arranged marriage, and I hardly think the Lucas girls do either.”

“That’s not what I mean,” his uncle hurriedly assured him. “Granny certainly wouldn’t agree to such a thing anyway. That woman is determined that her daughters make their own futures.”

“Then what do you mean?”

Nemo inclined his head towards the stables and came through the gate. Killian followed his lead and guided Roger in that direction. As he brushed the animal down, his uncle explained the idea that he had long been mulling over.

“The plain fact of the matter is that at least one of the Lucas girls needs to marry well. I have tried to do as much as I could to help them over the years, but when I saw that you had formed an attachment to them, I realized a way to help them permanently.”

Killian paused in his brushing. “I am fond of them, Uncle, but when I marry I wish to marry for love. I’m sure those girls feel the same. As a matter of fact, I know they do.”

Nemo leveled Killian with a look. “I get the impression you are more fond of one Lucas girl than the others.”

Killian felt heat rise to his cheeks, and his gaze dropped to Roger’s flank. 

“Killian,” Nemo said gently, “I know full well who you have your eye on. Don’t toy with an impressionable young girl’s affections.”

Killian’s head came up quickly. “Emma is still a child. She thinks of me only as a brother.”

Nemo chuckled. “I thought you were smarter than that, my boy. I suggest you open your eyes when it comes to those four girls.”

His brushing finished, Killian patted Roger and exited the stall, giving the horse an affectionate pat. Nemo followed him, and they closed the gate of Roger’s stall. As he walked out of the stables, Killian shook his head.

“I see them, Uncle, I do. Mary Margaret has eyes only for David Nolan, and I believe a proposal isn’t far off. Belle’s heart may never recover from the fever, and Emma at thirteen is still far from thinking of proposals. And Ruby . . . “

Killian trailed off, unsure what to say. He knew his judgment was clouded when it came to her. She made it abundantly clear on multiple occasions that she found the idea of marriage abhorrent, yet he held out a sliver of hope that she might change her mind. If it was the right person proposing . . . 

“You may not want to pin your hopes on her, lad,” Nemo told him softly. 

Killian looked up at his uncle in surprise. Were his feelings that obvious? His uncle smiled softly at him and laid a comforting hand to his shoulder. 

“You have time yet to make such decisions. Have you thought more on what we discussed?”

Killian nodded. “I have. I know you believe me intelligent enough for college, but I simply can’t stand the thought of being cooped up with books for four years. I know you were worried about the idea initially, but . . . four years in the navy is what I really want.”

Nemo struggled to keep his face neutral, not wanting to influence the young man’s decision. Yet deep inside, he was honored that his nephew wanted to follow in his footsteps. 

“My concerns a year ago were because of the war, but now that Lee surrendered at Appomattox, that is no longer the case. I think serving in the navy will suit you, Killian.” The man stopped and turned to the boy, clasping both his shoulders in his roughened hands. “And when you return, you will be ready to begin taking over Nautilus Shipping.”

Killian’s eyes widened with pleasure. “You really think so?”

“I have no son to pass it along to,” Nemo replied, struggling to keep his composure, “so nothing would please me more.”

Killian was so overcome with emotion, the only way he could respond was by grasping his uncle in a firm hug. “Thank you,” he choked out against the man's shoulder. 

When he released him, Nemo clapped his nephew firmly. “You’ve earned it, my boy. And keep in mind when you go out to sea . . . a lot can happen in four years here at home.”

Killian sobered at that. Ruby was a beautiful girl, and he well knew he wasn’t her only admirer. He had never considered that he could come home to find her engaged or already wed.

His uncle looked at him slyly as he began to walk back towards the house. “Yes, much can happen in four years. Hearts can strengthen . . . little girls grow up . . .”

“Uncle!” Killian exclaimed in exasperation. “Enough with that!”

Nemo shrugged. “I’m only saying that Ruby isn’t the only Lucas girl who is lovely, smart, kind . . .”

Killian groaned. “You’ve made your point.”

His uncle may think that Belle or Emma would make just as fine a match as Ruby, but he clearly didn’t understand the way the heart worked. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It took months, but after Lee’s surrender, the troops began to trickle back home. Many were maimed permanently with losses of limbs or painful limps that would be with them for life. Marco Lucas returned home with such a limp, but also to an enthusiastic houseful of females. Ruby saw him first and ran down the road in most unladylike fashion to greet him. Mary Margaret and Granny, who had been weeding the vegetable garden, followed. His sweet little Emma, grown far too much in his absence, had been sketching in the attic. When she heard the commotion, she came flying down the stairs, tripped on the foyer rug, then hugged him about the legs from her place on the ground. He’d laughed and scooped her up, swinging her around and kissing her. 

Belle stood sobbing in the middle of the parlor, shakily supporting herself on the edge of a chair. Marco began to cry too as he came nearer, shaken to the core at how weak and pale she was. He took her tenderly in his arms, their tears of joy mingling. Soon, the rest of the family enveloped them in a group embrace. 

“Together at last,” Ruby sighed, “I don’t ever want us to part from one another again.”

Yet life is change, and though they had their Papa home, the Lucas girls were forced to part with Killian Jones who had become like a brother to them. They said their goodbyes in front of the Admiral’s mansion, Killian standing handsome and solemn in his navy uniform. The carriage with his trunk waited to take him to the train station. From there he would travel to the Naval Academy in Annapolis. 

Emma had never seen him look so handsome, and her throat was tight at the rigid way he stood, his shoulders thrown back and his chin tilted up. Ruby didn’t like it one bit, preferring the mischievous, playful boy she knew to this stranger before her. As a matter of fact, the two had already argued over his decision to join the navy. 

“You’ll come back knowing all sorts of things I’ll never know, and I’ll hate you!”

“Nothing’s going to change, Ruby.”

The Lucas girls all wept as they told him goodbye. Mary Margaret’s hug was light and sistelry, Belle’s was tender, Emma’s was girlish as she wrapped her arms tight about his waist. Ruby’s was a bit stiff, but Killian held her close, his eyes falling shut, and it made a hard pit form in Emma’s stomach. Then he was climbing into the carriage and driving away, waving at all of them from the window. The girls stood waving until the carriage was gone from sight, and Emma felt like her heart had gone with it. They all turned to head back home with heavy hearts. Mary Margaret seemed to sense Emma’s mood and threaded their arms. 

“Four years will go by quicker than you think,” she told her softly so the others couldn’t hear. “After all, you’ll be doing so many things and growing up so much, you’ll scarcely notice it passing. Why you’ll be seventeen when he comes back home, Emma!”

Emma dropped her head to her sister’s shoulder.  Being thirteen, it still seemed like an eternity to her. Yet Killian had been wrong and his uncle had been right. 

Much can change in four years. 

Chapter Text

Four years later . . . 

 

As the carriage rattled through the streets of Storybrooke and away from the train station, Killian’s knee bounced nervously. He was tempted to wipe his clammy hands on his dress uniform, but he refrained. Instead, he fiddled with the hat in his hands. 

“Regretting surprising them?” Nemo asked.

He smiled at his uncle and shook his head. “No, I’m just excited.”

“They’ll be excited, too. Mary Margaret and David both seemed quite disappointed when it looked as if you wouldn’t make it to the wedding.”

“It was a happy coincidence that my ship made it in time,” Killian agreed. Then the two men fell silent again. 

Killian could feel his uncle’s gaze on him, but he was too distracted with thoughts of seeing Ruby again after all these years. All four of the Lucas girls had written him over the years. Ruby’s letters were filled with woes of womanhood and her frustrations with the limited choices afforded to her. 

“I wish I were there with you, my dear Killy. Why should you and Papa be allowed to face the lions of injustice while I must sit and embroider for my dowry (which I shan’t need, mind you)? I rather crave violence, to be honest. Of course, I know what you’re thinking. We aren’t at war anymore, Ruby. Yet you’re still going on your most grand adventure without me! Please write me in great detail about life on a navy ship, for I shall . . .”

Killian smiled, remembering her words as he studied his hat. He tried to spin tales for Ruby, though his excitement had more to do with that volatile mistress, the sea, than with violent enemies. His time sailing the Atlantic and the Mediterranean had more to do with showing off the United States’ now powerful navy to all of Europe. 

“A Lieutenant,” Nemo said, his voice laced with pride, “you did very well for yourself, my boy.”

“Only junior grade.”

“You still climbed the ranks admirably in only four years. You’re sure you don’t want to make a career of it?”

“I didn’t want-” Killian broke off, clenching his jaw. “That is to say, I’m eager to learn the family business. And Nautilus Shipping will still allow salt water in my veins.”

Nemo raised an eyebrow knowingly at him. “You were going to say you didn’t want to be away too long, weren’t you? Twenty-one is rather young to think of settling down, you know.”

“For me it is,” Killian snapped defensively, words from Ruby’s letters drifting to the forefront of his mind, “yet why is Ruby at the same age hearing whispers that she shall become a spinster? Why must girls marry so young?”

For the first time since Killian had known him, his uncle grew visibly uncomfortable. “Well, I . . . that is, when it comes to starting a family . . .” Nemo trailed off, then his eyes brightened as he craned his neck to look out the window. “Ah, here we are at Orchard House!”

Killian stepped down from the carriage, replacing his hat on his head. He was disappointed to see that the ceremony had already taken place. A receiving line wrapped around the front yard of Orchard House, and Mary Margaret and David stood on the front steps with their wedding party lined up beside them. David received hand shakes from well-wishers while Mary Margaret received kisses, just as tradition dictated. A slow grin spread across Killian’s face as he joined the line, his disappointment replaced with the eagerness he felt to surprise all four of his favorite girls. 

His scheming was worth the reaction he received from his long-time friends. David’s bright grin as he pulled him in for a hug was worth the wait in line. Over the last four years, the two had exchanged letters, their pupil/teacher relationship blossoming into friendship. (Though David’s brotherly advice and encouragement still felt like a welcome stand-in for the brother he had lost so long ago). 

Mary Margaret teared up as a grin dimpled her cheeks. She embraced Killian tightly and received the kiss he pressed to her cheek with far more joy than she had bestowed on the other guests. 

Ruby gasped and dropped her bouquet as she launched herself at him in her typical scandalous way. When she released him, she shoved him lightly in the chest. 

“How dare you surprise us like this! Do you know our hearts all sank to our feet when we didn’t see you in the crowd during the vows?”

Killian laughed and winked at his friend, “It was my intention to be here a wee bit earlier, but I can’t deny my delight at surprising all of you.”

“We’re so glad you’re here,” Belle said softly, opening her arms to receive a hug from him. 

Killian drew her close gently, concerned at the thready sound of her voice and the pale color of her cheeks. As he held her, he also noted how thin she had become. None of her letters had even hinted at any type of illness. He glanced over at his uncle, who averted his gaze. Nemo had clearly known how poorly Belle was faring, since he had invited her to come and play his piano regularly now that Killian was no longer home to fill the hallways of his mansion with music.

“Welcome home, Killian,” a voice he didn’t recognize spoke at his elbow.

He turned at the sound and was completely taken aback by the lovely woman before him. All the Lucas girls had braided their hair and threaded buttercups and baby’s breath through them, but somehow the effect was more ethereal in Emma’s hair. The bright sunshine of her waves were wild in her youth, but now it was more like spun gold catching the light. Her figure in the lace cream bridesmaid dress captivated him, and the scooped neckline showed off the decolletage she had not possessed four years ago. Killian tore his gaze away and up to her green eyes, his cheeks heating at the instant attraction he felt. He pushed it down, lecturing himself that this was Emma, whom he had always felt brotherly affection for. 

“Emma,” he murmured, slightly embarrassed at the breathlessness of his voice, “I scarcely recognized you.”

“I grew up,” Emma laughed. “Did you think I wouldn’t?”

“My apologies, lass,” he said as he lifted her gloved hand to his lips, his gaze never leaving hers. When he straightened, his heart raced once again at the blush that stained her cheeks. 

“I’m glad you’re home.” 

Was she just as breathless as he was, or had he imagined it? He suddenly remembered his uncle’s words: A lot can happen in four years . . . girls grow up . . . 

“And I am happy to see you, Emma. I can’t call you cygnet anymore, can I?”

“I never liked being called a baby, if you recall. Yet I have always liked being your swan.”

The coyness of her tone and the smirk in her smile made him light-headed. He lifted his hand to scratch behind his ear, but then stopped himself. It wouldn’t bode well for her to know how she was affecting him. 

“And that you shall always be . . . Swan .”

***********************************************

Emma burst into the house with such energy and enthusiasm that her bonnet went flying from her head. She shouted for Granny and her sisters, but the first floor was empty. She thundered up the stairs, shouting that she had exciting news, but her family was nowhere to be found on the second level either. She grinned when she saw that the attic door was open and raced up the stairs. Some of the pencils in her hand slipped from her fingers and bounced down the creaky stairs, but she didn’t pause to retrieve them. 

“I have wonderful news!” she cried the minute she reached the attic, but she came to an abrupt stop when she saw Ruby on the sofa in the corner, weeping. Belle had her arms around her sister, comforting her. Emma clutched her sketchpad tighter against her chest. “What’s the matter?”

Ruby just turned her face further into Belle’s embrace, and the smaller girl gently patted her back. Emma had never seen Ruby need comfort from anyone, least of all from Belle. Dread filled her stomach. Was someone hurt? Sick? Was something wrong with Killian? Mary Margaret? Granny?

Belle looked up at Emma with a sad expression. “She has refused Killian.”

Emma was rendered silent for a moment as competing emotions rattled within her. On the one hand,  she was furious with her sister. How could Ruby be foolish enough to cast aside a proposal from a man as wonderful as Killian? A man who clearly adored her and always had? Yet another part of Emma, the selfish part, was relieved. She had tried over the years to prepare herself for the day when Killian would take Ruby as his wife, but the thought had always left her heartbroken. How could she endure having Killian as a part of her family, but not in the way she longed for? How could she see him for the rest of her days as nothing more than a brother, when her heart ached for so much more?

All of this flitted through Emma’s brain in a moment as she sank onto the edge of the sofa with her sisters. The words that fell past Emma’s lips weren’t even a conscious thought.

“Oh Ruby, how could you?”

Her sister lifted her tear-stained face to Emma in shock. “Do you think I did this to spite him? Do you think I relished breaking his heart?”

Loud, melancholy notes pounded out from the piano next door and floated on the summer breeze up to the attic window. Ruby groaned. 

“Listen to him!” She rose from her seat, crossed the attic, and slammed the window shut. She began to pace, worrying her bottom lip. “What can I do? I tried to explain it to him. We would be a horrible match! We’d fight constantly, and eventually, we’d despise each other.”

“But you love him,” Emma said.

Ruby stopped pacing and stared at Emma, shaking her head until her thick brown waves tumbled over her shoulders. “Not like that. Only as a friend. I’ve said it a thousand times, and I’ll say it again: I’ll never marry!”

“You don’t love him?” Emma shouted, jumping up from her seat and tossing aside her sketches. “How can you say that? After all those years of flirting with him!”

“I don’t flirt!”

“Seriously!?” Emma scoffed. “You know what? You don’t deserve him!”

Emma stomped over to retrieve her sketches, her entire body trembling. She was so confused right now. Her relief was overwhelmed by the knowledge of how deeply heartbroken Killian was. She wanted to shake her sister in frustration for so easily casting aside what Emma would give anything to have. 

“Emma,” Ruby said gently, placing a hand at her elbow, “I know that you feel for Killian in ways I never could. Don’t be angry with me, thank me!”

Emma looked up at her sister with a trembling smile. “I’m not angry with you, not really.” The strands of Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D floated into the attic, despite the closed window. It felt like a premonition. “I just don’t know that he’ll ever get over you. You know how deeply he feels.”

When Ruby didn’t reply, Emma bent down to pick up her things, then turned toward the door. 

“Wait,” Belle called after her, “what was your news?”

Emma felt suddenly sad at the way her earlier excitement had so quickly ebbed away. She mustered a smile for her sisters. “Aunt Regina is taking me to Europe.”

“Why, that’s wonderful!” Belle exclaimed.

“I’m so happy for you, Emma,” Ruby added. “You can study painting.”

Emma nodded and forced a brighter smile upon her face. “She hopes I might make a suitable match there.”

The words fell heavy in the room as Emma turned and made her way back downstairs. 

**********************************************

Admiral Nemo sighed, his forehead creased with worry as the train chugged its way out of the station. He didn’t think his nephew would find the balm he was seeking on this journey, yet what could he do? The boy was as stubborn as they came. 

He ran a hand wearily over his face as he turned away from the station and went back to his waiting carriage. Regina Mills’ Brougham was parked nearby, and the woman herself sat stiffly inside it. Nemo headed over and tipped his hat to her. 

“Good day, Miss Mills. What brings you out today?”

“My man is purchasing our train tickets for the morrow,” she told him primly. She arched one brow and continued, “Ms. Swan and I are leaving for our European tour.”

Nemo’s brows raised. “Is that so?”

“Yes it is,” replied Regina with a sly smile, “and I assume you just saw your nephew off?”

“I did,” Nemo sighed.

“Rumor has it, he is off on his own European tour.”

“If you could call it that,” Nemo scowled. “He’ll be heading to Italy to reconnect with his mother’s old friends in the theater. God knows where he’ll go or what he’ll do after that.”

Regina nodded sagely before speaking again. “Sometimes a young man needs time to nurse a broken heart.”

“More like sow his wild oats,” Nemo bit out. “I had hoped he would go to London to take charge of my business there, make something of himself, but alas . . .”

“A pretty young lady with a good head on her shoulders could entice him to do so.”

A slow smile spread across Nemo’s face. “I agree.”

“So you’ll write me and let me know his itinerary?”

“Gladly,” Nemo assured her with a conspiratorial grin upon his face. He had tried to steer his nephew toward Emma, especially after he witnessed their reunion at the wedding, but it had been to no avail. Yet if the pair just so happened to cross paths in a more romantic setting . . . 

“Good day to you, Admiral,” Regina said as her man returned with the tickets. Her eyes sparkled with sly mischief as the Brougham rolled away.