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Once Upon a Café

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She was late.  It wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last but she hated the feeling.  She always felt like she was letting someone down, not that there were many people that she could let down in this world because Emma Swan was the consummate loner.  She had no family, a handful of close friends, no lover, no pets, nothing but her job (that at least she was always on time for) and so when Mary Margaret had offered to set her up with a “nice young man who is absolutely perfect for you!” she had conceded if only to make this a moot point.  Emma didn’t do relationships, not ever, not since Neal and she didn’t feel the need to tell Mary Margaret why she didn’t need to meet someone because she was perfectly happy on her own. 

Sure, it gets lonely sometimes, she thought as she applied her mascara, taking care that there were no clumps in her long golden lashes, but that doesn’t mean I need to be herded into a mindless commitment with someone just because my best friend is getting married. 

That was it in a nutshell.  Mary Margaret Blanchard had been her constant companion from the first day of her freshman year had thrown them together in the campus dormitories and they hadn’t been parted ever since.  She’d become the sister that Emma had always wished for, the family she had never had, and now she was getting married.  She would be leaving their cramped apartment to being her new life with David, and Emma… Well, Emma would be alone again. 

She knew how it worked.  Other friends had married and gone off on their separate journeys since graduation and she’d seen or heard little from them since.  Why should Mary Margaret be any different?  She wouldn’t have time for Emma once they were married, and so this endeavour, this coffee date was her attempt at leaving Emma something (or rather someone) to occupy her time. 

She applied a thin layer of tinted gloss; with a shimmering rosé of colour on her lips, she pursed them and appraised herself.  Her hair fell in loose curls, almost to her waist, her makeup was subtle and understated (it was coffee not some black tie affair), and she’d opted for her favourite dress, knee length and showing enough without being too revealing.  It was only a coffee date and really, she would be more comfortable in this than anything fancier. 

Her phone rattled on the counter from the buzz of the vibration.  Ahh, a text from the bride to be!

Emma he’s running a little behind – David needed a little extra help with the boxes – he said he’d be about a half hour longer – is that ok?

What else was she going to say?  No, absolutely not – I may not even be completely ready myself but there’s no way he can be late too? 

Running a little behind myself, no worries MM :-)

She took one last cursory look at her appearance, scooping up the phone and her purse; she decided she shouldn’t be any later than she already was.  It would take her a good twenty minutes to get to the coffee shop – she still had the chance of being late even with her “date’s” being tied up.  She was glad she’d worn her flats – jogging might get her there faster. 

 


 

“Trust me Killian, you’re going to adore her!”

“I’m not the type to settle down, Dave… You know why...”

Killian still couldn’t think of Milah without a pang of regret for what might have been.  He rubbed absently at the name along his forearm.  She would always be there in some way, always colouring his relationships with other women because of it and if he was known as a gentleman player, well then, that was better than he could hope for.  He just couldn’t settle to one woman when all of his dreams had died with her. 

“Look, you know I have sat patiently by for you to finish hiding your grief in the endless stream of women that come through our door,” David had his stern reproachful  father face on, good practice for what would lie ahead now that he was on the road to marriage and being an old man, “but now that it’s just going to be you in that apartment I can’t even begin to think about you drowning away all the things you dreamt of just because you can’t let go of a ghost.  She’s gone, man.  Yes it was a tragedy and yes you will always miss her but she wouldn’t want you to live like this.  She wouldn’t want you to give up.”

Though he wanted to rail against his friend’s words, it was the truth and he couldn’t fault him for that.  They had all been patient whist he’d drowned his sorrows in booze and a revolving door of gorgeous and all too eager women.  He’d passed his classes, somehow, in a dazed and drunken stupor but David had never let him down.  Somehow, he knew he wouldn’t now. 

“I wouldn’t do this to you, nor to Emma because she’s become like a sister to me, but I think you two could be something… Special… If you’d let it.”

Killian raked a hand through his hair and laughed as he shrugged his shoulders.

“What the hell, it’s only coffee,” he said, a little blasé about the whole ordeal but he couldn’t shake the niggling feeling that coffee wasn’t the only thing that might be shared this afternoon.

 


 

Killian managed to clean himself up in record time, donning a pair of dark wash denim and a plaid collared shirt over a Henley loosely buttoned.  He ran his fingers along the stubble on his jawline and glanced at his watch, not enough time left to clean up the scruff so this would have to do.  He was doing them a favour taking a chance on this meeting, but he couldn’t help but feel a little bit of what David said was true.  He had been sheltering his heart for far too long. 

“It’s only coffee, just a coffee,” he muttered like a mantra on the five block walk to Once Upon a Café.  It wasn’t his normal choice of coffee shop, but there was something hopeful and quaint about the chosen location.  He knew it must be something down to Mary Margaret and the incurable romantic in her. 

Once Upon a Café was small shop that seemed a hole in the wall, but in an intoxicating old world style that deceived its interior that was laden with cozy booths and walls lined with art and books like something right out of a fairy tale.  His lips turned upwards into a grin as he noticed the table that had been set out for them.  An elegant vase of oddly twisted and shapes and sizes sat dead centre in the table, and there, as had been instructed, were two flowers that gave off the most beautiful golden glow in the sunlight that eked out through the oddly shaped windows above.  His feet carried him to the table, taking a seat in the chair that faced the door so as not to obstruct the view of the vase for when his guest arrived. 

Emma.  He couldn’t really remember her – but he knew that they had met before, if only due to her being Mary Margaret’s closest friend and he being David’s.  He was sure that they would be thrown together a lot in the coming months as they helped with preparation for their friends upcoming nuptials – he was the best man after all, and he felt sure that Emma would be part of the wedding party as well.  He had heard a lot about her – or rather that Mary Margaret and Emma had done this or done that, were visiting this place or that place – they were inseparable.  At least until David and Mary Margaret walked down the aisle they would be inseparable. 

Killian played with golden buds, like velvet beneath his fingertips.  He couldn’t quite place the name of them – he recognized them to be sure, their name dangling on the tip of his tongue but unwilling to pass through his lips.  A shadow crept across the table until it obstructed the light from the petals and Killian was forced to look up. 

“Buttercups.”

She was a vision.  The light that had framed the now named buttercups basked her curls in a halo of sunshine.  The shade of her dress was a soft pale yellow, echoing the buttercups and taking on an unearthly glow.  She slid into the seat opposite him and waved towards the waitress before aiming a curious grin at him and extending her hand. 

“I’m Emma.”

He took the outstretched hand, feeling a jolt of electricity pass between them and at the sparkle in her emerald eyes he knew she could feel it too.  He pulled her hand to his lips, turning it gently and pressing a feather light kiss to the top. 

“Killian, it’s an absolute pleasure to finally make your acquaintance, love.”

Chapter Text

What the hell kind of man is this?  Who does that anymore? 

Emma couldn’t have torn her eyes away if she’d wanted to as her coffee “date” pressed his lips to the top of her hand.  Whoa.  Her lips forming a slight o as she tried to suck in a breath.  The current that passed between them was like nothing she had ever felt before.  Emma had chemistry with lots of people, but never had something so gentle felt like a raging electric storm as when his lips touched her flesh. 

“Killian, it’s an absolute pleasure to make your acquaintance, love.”

She couldn’t help but give Killian an appreciative once over, or as much as she could see barring the table top.  Raven haired, rough stubble along the finely chiselled jawline and cheeks blending in to that rough goatee, and those lips… His eyes were so blue, an ocean she could drown in given the chance.  He certainly was the most attractive coffee “date” she’d ever been set up on. 

“Have you been here before?  I can’t say as I’ve ever had the pleasure of setting foot in this charming little café.” 

His smile was genuine and his voice held a lilting accent – what was it about accents?  They had the potential to make a woman lose her mind, and Emma was no exception to this.  Irish maybe?

“Yeah, I’m a –“

“Hey Emma!” Ruby, one of the waitresses waved at her from behind the counter and proceeded to grab a tray and walk over to them

“ – regular here,” Emma finished warmly. 

To say she was a regular was putting it mildly.  Once Upon a Café had been her home away from home all throughout college.  She’d studied here, lounged here, hell she’d even brought one or two dates here but once she’d started working here she’d put that to an end.  Emma felt like she was home when she came in to the café, and there was no need to sully her sanctuary with the taint of bad relationships. 

Granny Lucas had opened the café with her husband, what seemed like ages ago, as a labour of love.  They loved the whimsical, loved romance and love and food and books… They were the quintessential hippies of their generation.  Their daughter was even more of a free spirited love child than they had been, but had tragically lost her life when their granddaughter Ruby was just a babe in diapers.  The café had become a family operation then, a labour of love to keep Ruby’s mother’s spirit alive.  Granny had soft of taken Emma under her wing as a surrogate grandchild – which was perfect considering Emma had no family of her own and Ruby had become like a sister to her in college. 

“I can see that,” he chuckled as he leaned back in his seat to create a little space between them when Ruby arrived by her side at the table. 

“The usual Ems?” Ruby paused long enough for her affirmative nod and then turned her radiant smile on to Killian, “And what can I get for your handsome friend?”

Ruby was flirtatious with all the customers, using her beauty to her advantage.  She swung her long brown hair over her shoulder and batted her lashes at him.  Normally, this wouldn’t even phase Emma, but there was something about this man in front her that left her feeling a little out of her league.  It only took her a moment to realize that she hadn’t captured his attention after all, or at least, Ruby wasn’t as interesting as he seemed to find her at this moment.

“And what is the ‘usual’ you speak of?”

“Hot chocolate with whipped cream sprinkled with cinnamon.  It’s the only thing Emma ever gets to drink here,” Ruby rolled her eyes just so Emma could know what she thought of that grain of truth.  The café had tons of fruity concoctions, and some of the best coffee in town, but Emma couldn’t shake her love for the hot chocolate. 

“Sprinkled cinnamon?”

“It’s delicious!”  Emma giggled – actually giggled which was something she never did.  Her cheeks flushed a little as she sank back further in to her chair, playing with her hands in her lap.    

“I think I’d like to try some of that as well then, lass.  Another Hot chocolate with whipped cream and sprinkled with cinnamon, if you please.”

Emma’s eyes snapped up from her hands to his, and he was smiling.  The way the light fell on him, he seemed to glow, as if even the sun agreed that she had made the right decision to come today and to bring him here.  Based on attraction alone, Emma knew she was in trouble, but just how much was left to be determined…

 


 

 

They had closed down the shop – hours spent sitting and talking, drinking hot chocolates and nibbling on the little appetisers the waitress would bring over.  Killian had never closed down a shop with someone before – never, not even in the heady early days of his relationship with MIlah – but he and Emma Swan had connected.  There was a shared pain there, but they also shared things they both found joyful. 

They’d talked of everything and nothing, all at once, and when Ruby came and let them know that she was going to lock up in fifteen minutes, he couldn’t believe that three hours had passed.  It felt like they’d just sat down, and now dusk was settling on the town.  He didn’t want to stop talking, he didn’t want to stop hearing about what her favourite television shows are or what kind of books she liked best.  He didn’t want to stop hearing about what her job was like, and why she loved it so much.  He didn’t want to miss the way her face lit up when he talked about music, or how she sang (slightly off key) along with him when they stumbled upon bands they both loved.  He wanted more, for the first time in many years he had made a connection with someone and he wanted more. 

“May I walk you to your door, milady?”

He’d offered her his arm and he was touched and surprised when she took it, because he knew she was fiercely independent – knew it from the way she carried herself and the way David had described her, knew it by her choice of profession.  Emma Swan could take care of herself, most assuredly.  All he wanted was to spend a few more moments basking in her glow. 

“Why thank you, kind sir.”

When she smiled, his heart stuttered.  It was almost bashful and timid, not something he’d expected and it warmed his heart. 

“Oh no, sir makes me sound like too much of a noble gentleman, I prefer the term scoundrel,” he paused and she laughed, like chimes dancing in the breeze, “No?  Perhaps dashing rapscallion?”  It was truly one of the most beautiful sounds he had ever heard. 

“Hmmm, dashing rapscallion… That almost makes you seem like some sort of pirate.”

“Ahh, and jig is up!  Alas, I confess that I am a sort of pirate – though more inclined to piracy of good cups of coffee and the laughter of beautiful women.”

He was rewarded for his trouble with a glance, a smile, and then more of that charming, melodious giggle.  Could it be hours to her door instead of minutes?  She’d mentioned that the café was merely blocks away from her apartment earlier, and that this was her favourite college haunt.  She’d guided him towards the northern block of apartments – the block that was directly across from his own sparse accommodations.  He ferried her safely across the street and as they stood in the doorway of the brownstone building, she gently released his arm. 

“Well, this is me… I – I hope I haven’t taken you far out of your way?”

“No, not at all, love,” he gestured at his own building with his head, scratching behind his ear, “That’s me right across the street.  Apparently, we have been neighbours all this time but we’ve never been quite this neighbourly.” 

And she laughed again.  There was a roll of her eyes and a smile to go along with it. 

“Well, it is a big city… People don’t often meet their neighbours around here.”

“No, I suppose not,” he wanted to lean in and kiss her.  He wanted to know if she still tasted of cinnamon and chocolate, and how she would react to that, but that was a little too forward for this kind of date. 

“I had a really nice time tonight, Killian.  You’re a neighbour that I’m glad to have met.”

“509,” was all he could reply.  The night air had stolen any sense from his reply and he could see the confusion in her expression.  He gathered himself quickly enough and added, “Should you ever, you know, be in the neighbourhood…  Just buzz 509.  I would loathe a missed opportunity to continue our conversation about the merits of alt rock bands of the early 2000’s.”

“Absolutely!”

Emma’s laughter was a thing of beauty, and her merriment made the overhead light dance in her jade eyes.  If he could spend an eternity basking in that kind of joy…  She’d turned from him and slipped the key into the lock of the entryway, turning it slightly before she stopped and turned back. 

“Goodnight, Killian,” she stepped in to him, onto her toes and pressed her lips to his cheek softly, “I’ll – see you around, neighbour.”

It sounded less like a statement than a question, her voice raising on the end of the word neighbour as she turned back to the door and quickly turned the key in the lock.  As she pulled open the door, he spoke softly, unsure if she’d heard him. 

“Aye, I believe you shall.”

The coquettish smile she threw him over her shoulder as she made her way to the elevator in the foyer left no doubt in his mind that she had.