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The Meaning of a Tragedy

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Graham dies on a Tuesday in August.

 

Dies is a nice way of putting it, Emma thinks when she has to explain to her ten-year-old why the first man she's let into their life in the past decade won't be coming around anymore. It's not that Henry doesn't understand, he's far too smart for the genes he's got, but she doesn't know how to tell him that Graham didn't just die. She doesn't know how to explain that he was murdered and it was probably random and she'll probably never catch them.

 

So, she goes with died.

 

Emma doesn't even know how to absorb it, really. Her best friend, her partner, her boyfriend – gone. Just like that. She hates that there's a bitterness when she thinks of him as one more person never to say goodbye. She doesn't really know if she'd loved him. She thinks she could have.

 

Henry doesn't burst into sudden tears, doesn't roll his eyes like she's made a stupid joke. He's downright calm, in a way she's working very hard to be, as he asks what happened. Emma knows her kid well enough to know he's hurting, though, and tugs him to her. She doesn't answer his question but he doesn't ask again.

 

---

 

The funeral is the following Friday. Nearly every cop in the city shows up and Emma vaguely wonders who's answering phones. David serves as a pallbearer, in full uniform, and Mary Margaret squeezes Emma's hand tighter than she'd have thought the woman capable of. Emma isn't sure which of the women the gesture is meant to comfort but she appreciates it just the same.

 

Technically, she should be in uniform, standing with the rest of the officers, but she wanted to stick with Henry. And the idea of donning the full get up for this occasion makes her stomach turn.

 

Afterwards, Mary Margaret and David host the wake because Graham had no family and Emma just can't. They'd never even asked her to, just taken the task on without question or comment and Emma had never been more grateful for her oldest friends.

 

She's keeping an eagle eye on Henry (who hasn't moved around the room much, but has been openly talking with anyone who came up to him just the same) when Mary Margaret moves next to her. Emma glances briefly at the other woman.

 

“Maybe he should talk to someone,” Mary Margaret suggests quietly, “maybe you both should.”

 

Emma turns fully towards her and, if it were anyone else, she'd be shutting this down immediately. But it's Mary Margaret and she deserves to be heard out. Emma crosses her arms as Mary Margaret raises her hands up in front of her, anticipating Emma's reaction.

 

“It doesn't have to be a therapist or anything,” she continues, “but it might help. Some people run groups for handling grief – just talking through everything and validating whatever you're feeling. I went to one when my dad died for a while and it helped, you know? I think Henry might appreciate having someone to talk to that didn't know Graham.”

 

She doesn't really wait for Emma to respond, reaching forward to rub her bicep gently before snagging a few cheese cubes and a plate and crossing the room to join her husband.

 

---

 

David tries to convince her to take another week off, but Henry has to go back to school and she needs to return to her life if she expects him to.

 

It's how, Monday morning, Emma finds herself locked inside a bathroom stall trying not to hyperventilate. All she'd done was walk in and move towards her desk. Except her desk had been face-to-face with Graham's suddenly very empty space and it felt a bit like finding out he was gone all over again. She forces air into her lungs and her eyes burn but she is not going to do this. She refuses to break down the way everyone expects her to.

 

She's not sure where the resolve comes from, but Emma finds it and forces herself out of the bathroom and back into the bullpen. It's buzzing with the normal activity of a Monday morning in Boston. David is taking a statement at his desk and Mulan is giving someone in the drunk tank her terrifying stare. Emma doesn't see Marian or Lancelot anywhere which means they're probably out on a call.

 

Taking a deep breath, she heads back towards her desk. This time she avoids looking over at Graham's work station and focuses on her own – booting her computer up, draping the hastily tossed coat over her chair, moving her coffee away from her keyboard. Except it's hard to keep yourself from looking straight ahead and soon enough Emma is staring at Graham's nameplate again. Except now there's something else settling in her stomach, something that feels far more like anger than grief.

 

Her computer comes to life and she unlocks her account before inputting Graham's case details. The file has already been inputted into the system and Emma knows from the way it's written that it's unlikely to be solved. She's filled out these kinds of cases before – random mugging gone wrong – and she should expect no less. Except her gut is telling her there's more and she needs to know.

 

A malicious voice in her head tells her it won't bring Graham back, it won't make her feel better, it won't help Henry. It makes her pause, for only a moment, but she prints a copy of the report for herself and sneaks over to the printer to fetch it.

 

Then she searches online for a grief counseling group.

 

---

 

She debates the pros and cons as she paces outside Henry's room. Mary Margaret would be proud of her – she can't decide if giving her best friend that win would be a pro or a con. Henry might need this. Shouldn't she be able to make this better for her own son? Emma starts when Henry's door opens.

 

“Why are you trying to wear a hole in the floor?” He asks with a raised eyebrow and Emma forces a chuckle, looking down at the post-it note in her hands. It's creased and a little crumpled from where she'd folded it and then shoved it in her coat pocket before leaving work. She looks back up at Henry.

 

“Have a seat, kid,” she says, leading him back into his room. “We need to talk.”

 

“The last time you said that...,” he trails off because they both know what had happened the last time she'd said that to him. He raises an eyebrow at her but drops down on his bed. Emma takes a deep breath before following suit.

 

“How are you doing?” Henry shrugs and Emma sighs. Maybe Mary Margaret is right, maybe Henry just isn't ready to talk to her about this.

 

“Listen,” she starts again, “how would you feel about talking to someone?”

 

“Like a therapist?” He asks and there's definitely some bitterness in it. Emma wishes he'd just tell her what he's feeling, that they could hash this out and deal with it. Though, she supposes, in terms of role models who are comfortable expressing all their emotions, he may not have had a great one.

 

“No, more like a group of people who are grieving, too,” she explains, “just people who want to feel better.”

 

Henry looks up and there's definitely some interest in his eyes. She takes that as a good sign and holds up the post-it with the numbers on it for him to see. He scans it but shrugs again, looking back down at his hands.

 

“Would you be talking to them, too?” He asks and Emma sucks in a breath. She hadn't really thought about going to the group for herself, it's just been about Henry healing. He and Graham had been so close even before Emma had started dating him and she hated that she couldn't shield Henry from this.

 

“If you want me to,” she promises him and he nods at that. So, she figures, if it will help Henry she can sit in on the meetings, too.

 

---

 

She waits until after dinner to call the number. Henry is working on homework in the living room and she peeks in on him a few times from the kitchen while she's cleaning up just to make sure the TV is still off. After checking on him one last time, she heads down the hall into her bedroom.

 

She holds her breath as the phone rings.

 

“Jones,” a man answers brusquely and she straightens.

 

“Hi, is this the person that runs the Horizon meetings?” She asks, suddenly unsure she'd copied the number down correctly.

 

“Yes,” he says quickly, his tone much nicer this time and Emma catches the accent easily as he continues, “sorry about that. Just cleaning up from a meeting actually. How can I help?”

 

“I just had a few questions about it. My son, he's ten, and he's never really lost anyone before. The website was kind of vague, is your group okay for his age?” She wants to keep it brief, just get her questions answered and get off the call. She's not looking forward to spilling everything that's happened to a perfect stranger in the first place.

 

“Oh, yeah, definitely,” he answers and there's shuffling in the background and Emma wonders what exactly cleaning up after a meeting entails. How messy could it get? “Will you be accompanying the lad?”

 

“Yes,” she answers immediately, “He's asked me to so...”

 

“Lovely. Do you mind if I ask your name?”

 

“Emma.”

 

“Well, Emma, I'm Killian. I run the meetings every other week and I'll look forward to seeing you and your boy next Monday.” He says it like it's a done deal and that rubs her the wrong way.

 

“I didn't say we were definitely coming to your meeting,” she frowns. His had seemed like the best, if she's honest, so they probably are but, well, she doesn't want him just presuming that. He does seem to hesitate for the first time in the conversation at her tone.

 

“Right, of course,” he says slowly, “sorry for the assumption. I should say I'll be hoping to see you next Monday. Is that alright?”

 

“We'll see,” she offers with a little more amusement than she means to. Killian chuckles on the other end of the line, covering it with a hasty cough but Emma can tell.

 

“Alright, then, Emma. It was lovely talking to you.” He sounds far more amused now and Emma doesn't know him but imagines he's grinning. She rolls her eyes but smiles a little herself.

 

“We'll see you Monday,” she says before hanging up.

 

---

 

If she's honest, Emma isn't really sure how she's getting away with investigating Graham's death under the radar.

 

Over the week, she's positive she's been caught at least three times. At one point, David had half sat on her desk right on top of the printed file copy and Emma was sure she'd been had. Until David offered to make a coffee run and left with a smile.

 

It's occurring to her that maybe the only reason no one is calling her on it is because they all know there's nothing to find anyway. Emma hates that she's beginning to question her own gut – something she never does. She's beginning to wonder if her gut is telling her there’s more because there is more or if she's telling herself there's more because she can't accept that his death was random. The latter gets too close to something she's not prepared to deal with so she tells herself her gut hasn't been wrong yet and pushes on.

 

By the end of the week, all she has is a splitting headache, no answers, and too many gory images in her head. Emma hadn't even allowed herself to actually look at the scene photos but her mind had taken the words and painted her a picture anyway.

 

She's got her face buried in her hands when she feels the desk shift as someone leans against it. Emma doesn't need to look up to know who it is, but peeks between her fingers anyway.

 

“How are you doing?” David asks, which is okay. At least he doesn't ask if she's alright because even Emma can't keep it locked up at how stupid of a question that is. He's frowning slightly in concern and it prompts the truth from her.

 

“Not great,” she admits quietly, aware of the bustling precinct around her trying to finish up their work for the shift change. Emma's on call Saturday night to Sunday morning and she doubts she'll get much of a weekend anyway. Henry's already planned a sleepover just in case and she's not looking forward to having the house to herself.

 

David nods like he understands and, she forgets sometimes that he probably does. Everyone around her is saturated in loss in some way and Emma wishes she could have kept Henry from it. She takes a deep breath, but David continues. She's glad not to have to elaborate on her feelings.

 

“Listen, Mary Margaret wanted me to invite you and Henry to have dinner with us on Sunday.” He goes on with a grin, “I say dinner, but it'll be more like a feast.”

 

“A feast?” Emma asks with a raised eyebrow and David's grin shifts, something less like amusement and softer.

 

“You know how she likes to cook when she's feeling out of control,” he explains and Emma nods. She barely has to consider it before she answers.

 

“We'll be there.”

 

---

 

Emma drops Henry off at his friend's house at two o'clock on Saturday – two hours before she's on call. She spends the rest of the afternoon cleaning the apartment and trying to ignore the sudden quiet of her surroundings. Since Graham's funeral, Emma hasn't really had the chance to be fully alone for more than a few hours. Between Henry and work, her vicinity is usually buzzing with activity.

 

When she gets a call at nearly 8 o'clock, Emma figures it's probably in poor taste to thank the universe.

 

At least, due to the late night case and most of it ending in paperwork, Sunday comes quickly and she finds herself looking forward to dinner. She sees David every day at work, but hasn't been able to see much of Mary Margaret in the past two weeks.

 

Emma picks Henry up, takes him to lunch and then out grocery shopping for the week. By the time they make it back to the apartment, they're rushing to get the food put away and themselves ready for dinner. They show up at the Nolan-Blanchard's apartment ten minutes late, but Emma figures they had to have been expecting it.

 

They can smell Mary Margaret's cooking as soon as they reach their floor. Emma's stomach grumbles in response while Henry bounces on his toes and quickens his pace down the hallway. He's knocking before she even reaches him and David pulls the door open.

 

After initial greetings, Emma finds herself gravitating towards Mary Margaret in the kitchen while Henry talks David's ear off about school that week. Mary Margaret stops what she's doing to grab Emma's hand and squeeze it gently.

 

“I'm glad you came,” she says quietly and Emma smiles softly at her.

 

“I'm glad you invited us.” Mary Margaret gives her a look like the idea that they wouldn't have is ridiculous. Emma knows it is but she's grateful either way.

 

Mary Margaret sets her to work tearing lettuce for the salad because, according to her, Emma can't be trusted around heat. Emma carefully steals glances to where David and Henry are seated, playing a video game Emma can't see, and the words just slip out.

 

“I found a group,” she tells Mary Margaret quietly. Emma hears the other woman still but keeps her attention on ripping the lettuce apart. “For Henry.”

 

When she eventually glances over, Mary Margaret is smiling at her knowingly but she nods before returning to her own task.

 

“I'm glad.”

 

---

 

As it turns out, dinner with her best friends had been exactly what Emma had needed to start her week. The tightening in her chest when she walks up to Graham's desk on Monday is still there but it's manageable. At the morning meeting, she gets assigned a break in with Marian and tucks the folder with Graham's case file into the bottom of her desk drawer before they leave.

 

“How are you feeling?” Marian asks during the drive and Emma is getting tired of the question but she knows it's only being asked because she has a group of people who actually care now so she's trying not to snap at anyone.

 

“I'm working on it, you know?” Marian nods, doesn't force a follow up question on her and Emma is grateful. She knows Marian has dealt with her own personal tragedies recently – her messy divorce had only just been finalized a few months ago only to be followed by a messy custody hearing – and appreciates the understanding of not feeling like talking.

 

“Well,” Marian starts again, lighter, as she parks in front of the burglarized building, “you feel like nailing a perp?”

 

Emma's grin is entirely unprofessional.

 

“Hell yeah.”

 

---

 

She and Marian spend the whole week tracking down the thief only for the store owner to decide not to press charges. Emma thinks it's a little ridiculous for her to decide that after they've spent all week tracking him down but also recognizes she wouldn't be so annoyed if the offender weren't such a snarky bastard.

 

“Tell me something, Sheriff,” he says in his annoying cockney accent as she opens the holding cell.

 

“Detective,” Emma corrects with a dry look, directing him towards her desk to finish the paperwork. He ignores her.

 

“What was the point of all this fuss if the owner was just gonna let me go?” He asks and she stares him down for a moment. To his credit, Will Scarlet does not cower under Emma's gaze.

 

“I was wondering the same thing, you know,” she tells him, considering him with a head tilt. “Now, what was so important that you couldn't just buy it from the nice woman?” Scarlet shrugs roughly at that, sitting back in the chair with his legs spread in front of him.

 

“I'm a thief, ma'am,” he offers, like it's just that simple. “It's what I've always done.”

 

Emma considers him a moment longer before turning her attention to the computer screen as she types his details into the generated form.

 

“That's an excuse,” she tells him and Scarlet seems to bristle at that, sitting up just a bit straighter and glaring at her.

 

“And how would you know?”

 

She doesn't bother looking over at him as she answers, “Experience.”

 

---

 

It's been nearly eleven years since she'd last been caught stealing. Eleven years since she'd found out she was pregnant after her boyfriend ran off to God knows where and left her to the wolves of the justice system. There's something full circle about her current position in said justice system.

 

David had helped. He'd shown up in her life with a job offer, a kind smile, and a genuine interest in letting her past be her past. Emma was an ex-con with a newborn and no place to live – she hadn't had the liberty of passing up the offer.

 

Eleven years later and Emma can't find it in herself to regret that decision, even in light of everything that has happened.

 

---

 

The thing about having a ten-year-old is that getting anywhere on time is kind of a fool's errand. Between Emma getting home from work late and her insistence that Henry finish his homework and eat dinner before they leave for the meeting, coupled with Henry's complete disinterest in Monday night homework, they show up to the meeting five minutes late.

 

Emma had completely been planning on getting there early and vetting the man who runs it in person before they actually sat through the meeting. But when they walk in, everyone else is holding various beverages and snacks and trying to find a seat. She has to tug Henry away from the refreshment table with a whispered later before they find seats in the back.

 

The room is set up almost like an AA meeting, the chairs grouped in a condensed semi-circle of multiple rows facing a single chair at the front. Once everyone is sat down, Killian Jones isn't a hard man to pick out. Especially not once he takes his seat at the front and starts speaking in his Irish accent.

 

Regardless, whatever Emma was expecting, it wasn't him.

 

He doesn't spend the first meeting singling them out. If it weren't for the way his eyes kept shooting back to herself and Henry, Emma might have thought he hadn't even noticed them. She wonders if he doesn't get a lot of new faces. Instead, he talks a bit about his own dealings with grief – he doesn't go into specifics and neither do any of the other speakers and she thinks that's promising at least. A few other speak up before Killian dismisses them, offering the refreshment table again and to speak privately with anyone who hadn't wanted to speak up.

 

This time he does look at her.

 

Emma almost doesn't go up to him out of spite but she can hardly vet him from the three minutes he'd spent talking to the crowd so she forces herself to cross to him at the front of the room. A dark haired woman with bright red lips and torn jeans is already standing in front of him, her arms wrapped protectively around herself. Emma notes that the nails of her right hand – chipped red paint decorating them – pick absently at the seams of her left jacket sleeve.

 

Emma keeps a respectful distance from the private conversation while she watches Henry buzz around the refreshments table. He's got three cookies in one hand and he's reaching for the coffee carafe when he looks up just in time to catch her look. Sheepishly, he pulls his hand back and grins at her around the fourth cookie already in his mouth. Emma can't stop the smile on her own face as she shakes her head at him. Henry walks back to where they'd been seated before and she turns back to the two people at the front of the room.

 

The woman is nodding and, after a few more moments, turns away from Killian. She gives Emma a lackluster smile and Emma watches her cross the room to pour herself a cup of coffee before leaving the community room.

 

“Emma Swan, I presume,” the man says behind her and she turns back to him.

 

“Got it in one.” Emma tries for something like a friendly smile but it feels more like a grimace.

 

“That your boy?” He asks, motioning to Henry and Emma looks back at her son quickly before nodding, the smile coming easier this time.

 

“Yeah, Henry,” she tells him.

 

“I'm glad you decided to come tonight,” Killian says quietly and Emma shrugs noncommittally. “Well, I'm sure you have questions for me. Go on, then, get on with the interrogation.”

 

Emma's eyes narrow.

 

“Who says I want to interrogate you?”

 

“It was rather obvious given our phone conversation a fortnight ago,” he chuckles and Emma frowns. A fortnight? Who talks like that? “I'm sure you don't want just anyone talking to your son during such a difficult time.” Emma crosses her arms over her chest.

 

“Yeah, I'm just wondering what makes you qualified,” she tells him, cutting right to the point.

 

“I'm not a medical professional or anything, Swan,” he says and she tilts her head at the moniker but he continues, “I just have some experience with grief.”

 

There's a sudden sadness in him and Emma wonders suddenly about how long he's been doing this – rehashing his old pains to help strangers feel validated in their own. Something in her feels the urge to reach out to him but Emma holds back.

 

“It's just- Henry's ten and he's never really gone through anything like this before and while I would have preferred to keep it that way I couldn't stop this,” she sighs, her arms falling limp before she runs a hand through her hair. “He's my kid and I don't even know how to help him.”

 

She hadn't really meant to get so open with Killian, Emma was supposed to be vetting him after all, but he nods when she finishes and then seems to consider her for a moment before he speaks.

 

“May I ask, who is it the boy's lost?” he asks gently and Emma goes still for a moment. She hasn't actually had to say it since it happened and she'd told Henry. Everyone else in her life knew Graham.

 

“My boyfriend,” she says eventually, the words acidic in her mouth, “he and Henry were close.”

 

Killian goes quiet again for a moment and it unnerves her and she hates that she's given the complete stranger the ability to do  that.

 

“Perhaps it's not just Henry you're here for then,” he suggests and Emma gives him a hard look.

 

“I'm here because Henry needs to talk to someone and he doesn't want to talk to me,” she tells him, “that's it.”

 

Killian stiffens at her harsh tone and she thinks maybe someone who deals with irate and grieving people should be used to it. Regardless, he spots someone behind her and she doesn't even bother turning around to see them.

 

“Then we'll see you in two weeks, Swan,” he says and she's about to correct him that her name is Emma but he doesn't give her the chance. He excuse himself abruptly and steps around her to speak to someone else. She watches him in annoyance for a minute before joining Henry.

 

“Ready to go, kid?” Henry nods, brushing cookie crumbs off of his pants and stands.

 

“Can we come back next time?” He asks. “I like this place.”

 

Emma's sure it has more to do with the cookies than the sharing atmosphere but she ruffles his hair and smiles. “Yeah, Henry, if you want to.”

 

---

 

Emma isn't sure what it is about fall that starts an onslaught of crime in Boston but she'd like to make a formal complaint with Mother Nature. She and Lancelot get tasked with a sudden wave of gang violence, a particular hatred of Emma's because no matter how many of these guys they catch, three more will crop up in their wake.

 

Prosecuting them is difficult because more often than not all they have is first hand accounts and Emma and Lancelot's words against their sleazy defense lawyer. Most of these guys are smart enough to avoid areas with surveillance. Kathryn Abigail is an incredible prosecutor but even her close rate on these cases isn't 100.

 

Emma and Lancelot spend two weeks dividing their time between the never ending calls on vandalism and violence and other cases that come their way. Because they're heading it, it's led to more than a few late night/early morning calls that have her scrambling out of bed and into a state resembling something like conscious just to take a statement that usually leads nowhere.

 

The only solace she manages to take is that Lancelot usually seems just as disgruntled by it as she does and it's always somewhat amusing to see her usually put together colleague in such a state.

 

Due to her own workload and Henry's school work, by the time the next Monday meeting rolls around she's almost completely forgotten about her not-completely-amicable encounter with Killian Jones.

 

“We're going to the meeting tonight, right?” Henry asks through a mouthful of pasta and Emma had almost completely forgotten but she nods.

 

“Yeah, if you still want to.”

 

Henry nods and digs back in and that's settled at least.

 

This time, they do manage to get there early by some miracle. Of course, Emma hadn't really intended to this time and when they walk in only a few people are milling about. Killian and the dark haired girl from the last meeting are setting out boxes of pastries on the table while a woman who seems somehow familiar is already sitting in one of the chairs with a brownie in one hand and her phone in the other.

 

Emma is so focused on trying to place her she doesn't notice when the other woman stops helping Killian and steps over to her.

 

“Hi, you're new,” the new voice says beside her and Emma jerks in surprise. She searches for a Henry for a moment and spots him already trying to make snacking decisions. She smirks at the back of his head before turning her attentions to the woman.

 

“Yes, sorry, we were here last time but we were a little late,” Emma explains.

 

“I'm Ruby,” the woman introduces herself, holding her hand out. Her nails are perfectly polished this time and Emma can't help but notice she seems to be in much better spirits.

 

“Emma,” she responds, shaking Ruby's hand before motioning to Henry, “and my son Henry.” Ruby turns her head to see Henry and nods before returning her attention to Emma.

 

“Well, it's nice to meet you,” Ruby smiles. “Obviously the circumstances aren't stellar but, you know, always nice to have a new face.”

 

Emma can't help but smile at the upbeat woman.

 

“Everyone here is pretty welcoming,” Ruby continues. “We're all just doing our best to get through whatever we're getting through, you know? We try to be as understanding and helpful as possible.”

 

Emma nods and looks behind her to spot Henry again but Killian catches her eye this time. He seems to straighten up some when he sees her looking and gives her a small wave. She smiles in return but it feels stilted.

 

“Yeah,” she sighs, returning her attention to Ruby who either didn't notice the exchange or isn't going to comment on it. “Henry's never really been through anything like this before. I just want to do whatever I can to help him.”

 

“I understand. There's no right way to deal with this,” Ruby frowns, her bubbly personality fading into something more somber. “Killian's helped me a lot with that, realizing that I can't just stop living because it hurts.”

 

Emma nods. She'd learned that lesson her own way, people always leave but it doesn't give her the justification to break down and stop living her life. Henry's been doing well in that aspect but she can still see it, places where her bright, happy, optimistic kid is fraying. He's not talking to her about it which kills her but she can tell he's still hurting.

 

“It's really nice meeting you, Ruby, but I actually need to speak to Killian.” Ruby nods easily and Emma's glad the other woman isn't taking it as a brush off. She appreciates the gesture of welcoming but she won't feel comfortable until she mends the first impression she'd made on Killian.

 

“Of course,” Ruby smiles, the easy tone back, “just let me know if you need anything.”

 

Emma nods and Ruby crosses the room to join the other woman in a seat. The other woman sets her phone down in her lap and greets Ruby enthusiastically. Emma turns away from them to join Henry at the snack table.

 

“Why do I even bother feeding you dinner before these things?” She teases but Henry's mouth is so full of brownie when he tries to respond she gives him a look until he finishes and swallows. He gives her a sheepish grin instead of trying to repeat himself and she suggests he save her a brownie and go pick out seats for them.

 

“Swan,” Killian grins widely with a flourish of his arm when Emma steps up to him, “you came back.”

 

“Did you think I wouldn't?” She asks.

 

“I admit I didn't want to get my hopes up.”

 

“Hopes?” She raises an eyebrow but Killian just gives her an unreadable smile. She presses on, “listen, I just wanted to apologize for the bad start we got off to last time. I shouldn't have snapped at you but I did mean it that I'm here for Henry.”

 

Killian raises an eyebrow this time, tilting his head at her and it's definitely not the moment for Emma's brain to realize just how attractive he is but, ugh, she is a terrible person.

 

“In my experience, these things are often easier when you're not going through them alone,” he points out and Emma shrugs, shoving her hands in the pockets of her leather jacket.

 

“It's how I've always done it,” she admits and Killian seems only moderately surprised at it. “It seems to be working.”

 

He considers her for a long moment and she refuses to give him the satisfaction of breaking his stare. Emma holds her stance and stares back.

 

“Try something new, darling,” he says quietly, leaning into her space with a smirk, “it's called trust.”

 

Emma gives him a dry look.

 

“Shouldn't someone who spends their time trying to console grieving strangers be less antagonistic?” She asks and Killian's smirk grows even as he backs out of her space.

 

“You find me antagonistic?”

 

“What else would you call it?”

 

Killian shrugs like he's considering it.

 

“Forthcoming,” he says finally and Emma frowns as she studies him but he's already spotted someone else behind her. “Grab yourself a pastry, Swan. If you'll excuse me.” It sounds like a brush off but his eyes flick back to hers and he seems hesitant to walk away. He gives her a soft smile before stepping around her to greet the new arrival.

 

Emma fills a styrofoam cup with coffee and takes the seat next to Henry while they wait for the meeting to begin.

 

---

 

It isn't until after the meeting that Emma finally places the woman from earlier. Even still, it's only once the woman comes up and greets her that Emma realizes.

 

“Detective Swan?” A quiet voice asks behind her and Emma spins to find the woman from earlier and it clicks.

 

“Aurora?” The woman nods quickly and Emma smiles at her. “I didn't recognize you earlier, sorry.”

 

“Oh, no, it's fine! I thought that was you but I wasn't positive so I thought I'd wait to come speak to you.”

 

Emma nods and turns quickly to urge Henry over. He steps in front of her with a grin and Emma places her hands on his shoulders.

 

“This is my son, Henry,” she tells Aurora, “Henry, this is Aurora. Graham and I met her working on a case about a year ago.” She doesn't realize the impact of the words until Henry's shoulders stiffen beneath her palms and her face falls. It'd been so easy to just slip Graham in, despite their surroundings she'd almost forgotten. She lifts her hands from Henry's shoulders to ball them into fists and shove them into her pockets. Aurora notes the tension.

 

“Mulan told me,” she says quietly, expression understanding, “I am so sorry.”

 

Emma nods as Henry slips from between the women, quietly telling Aurora it was nice to meet her before heading towards the snack table again. Emma doubts he's looking for another brownie and catches him edging his way towards Killian. It makes her chest hurt a little, the thought that he'd open up to a near stranger but not herself. But it's why they're here.

 

“How are you doing, Aurora?” Emma asks when the silence has stretched on for too long and Aurora smiles gently but shrugs.

 

“I've been here on and off over the past year,” she admits, “so, I could be doing better.”

 

A little over a year ago, Emma and Graham had been investigating a man's murder when they'd met Aurora. She was the victim, Philip's, fiance and she'd been overseas for work when he'd been killed. She'd put pressure on them to find his killer, in her own way that involved more accidental breakdowns in the middle of the precinct than yelling and throwing money around that a lot of angry grievers did. The case had been an especially personal one for the precinct as well because Philip had been an old schoolmate of Mulan's.

 

“Mulan's been so much help, though,” Aurora continues. “She's been such a good friend while we both grieved for Philip.”

 

Emma nods, surprised Mulan hadn't mentioned spending time with Aurora. She wonders if she should ask the other woman about it at work tomorrow, but decides against it. Mulan has always been a pretty private person. If she’d wanted Emma to know she would have told her.

 

“How are you doing, though? Mulan had mentioned you and Graham were close,” Aurora explains and now it’s Emma’s turn to shrug.

 

“I’m dealing with it,” she deflects, “mostly I’m just worried about Henry.”

 

“I can’t imagine going through something like this at his age,” Aurora sighs, looking over towards where Henry has taken a seat at the front of the room with Killian. The two seem deep in conversation and Emma sighs as well.

 

“Yeah,” she murmurs and Aurora turns back to her.

 

“Anyway, I just wanted to see if that was you,” Aurora continues. “I have to get home but, please, let me know if there’s anything I can do.”


Emma nods as Aurora buttons her coat and heads from the room, stopping to swipe one last brownie from the depleting pile.

 

---

 

When they get home, Emma sends Henry to change and wash up and get ready for bed. He comes back into the kitchen in his Star Wars pajamas and pulls out a chair at the table while Emma puts the dried dishes away. She'd debated asking him about his conversation with Killian on the way home and still hadn't really decided whether she should or not.

 

Eventually, she takes the seat across from him at the table.

 

“So, do you want to talk about anything?” Emma asks and Henry tucks one of his shoulders up by his cheek and stares at her.

 

“Like what?” He asks and Emma shrugs.

 

“Like what were you talking to Killian about?”

 

“I was just telling him about Graham,” Henry explains, reaching forward to toy with the edges of the place mat on the table in front of him. “Isn't that why we're going there?”

 

“Yeah, kid,” Emma sighs, locking her own fingers together on the table. “I just don't want you to feel like you can't talk to me about Graham, okay? Or even Mary Margaret or David. I just don't want you to think you're dealing with this alone.”

 

Henry rewards her with a smile.

 

“I know, mom.”

 

Emma nods and then points towards the hallway.

 

“Okay, then. Bed, mister. You have school tomorrow.” Henry heaves a great dramatic sigh but stands from the table and heads towards the hallway. Emma stops him, calling out, “I love you, Henry.”

 

He turns and grins at her again.

 

“I love you, too, mom.”

 

---

 

Henry doesn't really open up about Graham to Emma anymore over the following week, but she can tell whatever it was he'd said to Killian has helped. She can't say that he's completely fine all of a sudden over one talk, but she feels like he's progressing in a more obvious way.

 

David has the phones that weekend, so when Mary Margaret shows up alone on Saturday night with a bottle of wine and a fresh lemon meringue pie Emma is excited to spend some mostly alone time with her best friend. Emma gets plates while Henry helps Mary Margaret slice the pie. The women share an amused look when he cuts himself a large portion.

 

He looks to Emma like he's gotten away with something when he scoops it out of the tin and slides it onto a plate with the pie cutter. Emma rolls her eyes.


“You're just lucky it's Saturday, kid.”

 

While they eat, Henry and Mary Margaret take turns catching Emma up on the happenings of the middle school where Henry attends and Mary Margaret teaches. Back when she was newly released from jail and going through the academy so that David could officially offer her a job at the precinct, Emma had been living with David and Mary Margaret. For the first two years of his life, until Emma could save enough to move out, Henry had been raised by them nearly as much as by Emma herself.

 

If it had been anyone else, it may have felt like a hand out. Emma would probably be bitterly trying to repay them, but David and Mary Margaret had never made her feel that way. They'd taken her in as if she was already a close friend and offered her shelter and stability and a touch of the family she'd been searching for her whole life. They'd always made her feel like just getting herself back on her feet was enough payment without it feeling like charity.

 

Emma and Henry had even been a part of their wedding. It was hard to hold any resentment towards them when they'd so easily and wholeheartedly established themselves as family.

 

“So,” Mary Margaret starts as she helps Emma clean up while Henry turns on the video game he'd gotten for his birthday a month and a half prior. “How is he?”

 

Emma sighs and sets the plates in the sink before leaning back against the counter and shrugging. She watches Henry lean side to side in tandem with his control, the game being a full body experience for him.

 

“Better, I think. The meetings are doing him good,” she tells Mary Margaret, the other woman leaning against the counter next to Emma and watching Henry as well. “He talked to the guy who runs them last time, opened up about Graham. I wish he felt like he could talk to me but I guess I'm just glad he's talking to someone.”

 

Mary Margaret nods and turns to place the rest of the pie in the refrigerator.

 

“This can't be easy for him,” she sighs as she steps back over to Emma. “I was about his age when my mother died and I just remember not knowing what I was feeling or if it was normal or selfish or what. Talking to someone who didn't know Graham might help him disconnect and just sort his feelings.”

 

She reaches over and grips Emma's hand and Emma smiles leaning against her friend.

 

“Yeah, it was a good idea,” she admits. “Thanks for suggesting it.”

 

“Well, I am always right,” Mary Margaret teases. “Just ask David.”

 

Emma laughs, earning a surprised look from Mary Margaret and even Henry's head swings around at the noise but he turns back to his game easily. Emma covers her mouth in surprise, not sure the last time she'd let out a genuine laugh and Mary Margaret nudges her arm with her own.

 

“You know, if you need to talk-”

 

“I know,” Emma nods, giving the other woman a grateful smile. “Thank you. For everything.”

 

Mary Margaret only nods before reaching behind her to grab the wine bottle off the counter and wave it enticingly at Emma.

 

---

 

The following Tuesday, Emma's phone rings obscenely early considering she usually doesn't start her shift until nine. She almost ignores it. Except it's the number for the precinct lighting up the screen and she knows she can't ignore it. An on duty beat cop tells her there's been an incident that's believed to be related to the influx of gang activity and that Marian will meet her at the precinct.

 

“What about Lance?” Emma asks, trying to force the sleep from her voice and she dresses in the dark with the phone pressed to her ear.

 

“He worked the graveyard shift, he's out on a different call right now,” the guy – she feels bad for not remembering the name he'd given her at the beginning of the call – tells her and Emma nods. She tells him she'll be there in fifteen minutes and hangs up to dial Mary Margaret. She explains the situation and asks the other woman to pick up Henry for school and Mary Margaret agrees easily.

 

She's got her feet shoved into her boots and her gun holstered at her hip before she wakes Henry up to explain what's going on. He tells her that he'll have cereal for breakfast and tells her to get the bad guy. Emma laughs and assures him she will. He's fallen back asleep before she even pulls his door closed.

 

When she gets to the police station, Marian is waiting by a squad car with two to-go cups of coffee resting on the hood. Emma waves to her as she runs inside to clock in.

 

“Sorry they called you for this call,” Emma says when she comes out of the building. Marian pushes one of the cups across the hood of the car towards her and shrugs.

 

“S'alright, Roland's with his dad and I know Lance was on graveyard last night. Hardly your fault.”

 

They slide into their respective sides of the car and Marian pulls the car out of the parking lot, putting them towards the docks.

 

“What happened?” Emma asks after a few generous drinks of her hot coffee.

 

“Shop owner on the north docks called in a vandal and burglar,” Marian explains, one hand on the steering wheel while the other supports her own coffee in the cup holder, keeping the liquid from bouncing out as the car moves. “Apparently, it was pretty dark this morning when he got there and the trespasser got the drop on him. So, you can add assault to that.”

 

Emma lets her head hit the back of her seat and groans.

 

“And they think it's gang related?” she asks and Marian shrugs.

 

“Better safe than sorry, I guess.”

 

Marian's right but Emma is really starting to think she and Lancelot drew the short straws on this never ending assignment. Honestly, they should have an official gang unit for this stuff. But it's not just turf wars and West Side Story bullshit – Emma and Lancelot get called in when it's vandalism and burglaries that seem to have gang ties. At least it's a break from murders.

 

The sun has at least started to rise when they reach the docks but the long nights of fall means it's not high enough for there to be much more than a dull grayness to everything. It's eerie and Emma doesn't know if the shiver that overcomes her as she slides out of the car is from the breeze coming of the water or the atmosphere.

 

“About bloody time,” she hears someone grumble and there's a shadow moving towards them, favoring his right hand. Marian shoots Emma a preemptively annoyed look at the man's attitude and Emma can't help but smirk.

 

“Mr. Jones?” Marian asks and Emma's steps nearly falter as he gets close enough that his features are discernible. She catches herself at the last minute and blames her lack of sleep for not placing the accent.

 

“Aye,” Killian confirms, attention on Marian and Emma doesn't think he's spotted her yet. “And the bastard headed up the dock. Not before getting in a few good hits. Poor form hitting a man when he can't see you. I gave chase but he disappeared before I got a look at more than a shadow.”

 

“A shadow, huh?” Emma teases, stepping up to them and earning a surprised look from Marian for her tone. “Maybe we should be looking for Peter Pan.” Killian's gaze lands on her and he seems surprised but smirks at her.

 

“Aye, lass, perhaps,” he nods sagely. “Though it may be hard to persecute a boy for the actions of his shadow.”

 

Marian is still staring at her like she's grown a second head and it makes Emma shake off the familiar atmosphere and return to her professionalism.

 

“We usually don't recommend civilians chasing after potentially armed trespassers though, Mr. Jones,” Emma tells him and Killian shrugs.

 

“Well, I don't appreciate people mucking with my shop, Swan.”

 

Marian is still looking between the two of them but shakes herself as well.

 

“I'll need to get your statement, Mr. Jones,” she says, her attention on Killian as she shifts her weight and pulls out her notepad. Killian grins at the sight, shooting Emma a look like he can't believe they actually do that. “For the sake of honesty, though, it's unlikely we'll find the guy if you didn't actually see him. We can get a crime unit down here to dust. Do you have security cameras?”

 

Killian opens his mouth to respond but Emma notices movement over his shoulder before one of the barrels outside his shop tips over, rolling across the wood planks of the dock.

 

“Hey!” She shouts, hand moving to the gun on her hip as she takes off after the movement, a figure passing around the shop and taking off as well. Emma hears feet against the wood behind her and imagines Marian is right on her heels. She turns the corner around the shop, pulling out her gun when she spots the still retreating form.

 

“Freeze!” She calls at the same time Marian pulls up behind her. The man stops almost instantly when he realizes he's cornered himself up against a wall. His shoulders slump before he puts his hands up, spinning slowly on the spot.

 

“Scarlet,” Emma breathes at the same time as Killian growls it and she realizes belatedly that he'd followed their pursuit as well. She decides to chew him out for it later. Will Scarlet's face falls as he takes in Emma and Marian.

 

“Bloody hell,” he groans, “are you two the only cops in this town?”

 

Marian rolls her eyes and steps up to him, turning him around so she can cuff him.

 

“Guess you're just really lucky,” she smirks, tightening the cuffs around his wrist. He flinches but just gives her a glare as she starts leading him back down the alley. Emma moves to follow but Killian seems to be struggling with something. Marian and Will make it to the mouth of the alley before Killian heaves a great sigh and calls out.

 

“Wait.”

 

Marian spins slowly, confusion written across her features, and Will follows the movement. He's smirking at Killian in a way that irks Emma.

 

“What?” Marian asks.

 

“Yeah, come on, is this really how you'd treat an old mate?” Will asks, directing his attention only at Killian who Emma realizes has become tense. “That wouldn't be very nice, Jones.”

 

Killian heaves another sigh.

 

“You agree to return anything you took and pay for any damages and,” he seems like he can't believe what he's about to say and Emma is going to burn a hole in the side of his face with how hard she's staring but he doesn't even meet her eye, “of course, I won't be pressing any charges.”

 

“Killian,” she hisses, finally gaining his attention. “He broke into your shop. You don't owe him anything.”

 

Marian is removing the cuffs from Will who is grinning like a smug bastard but Killian just shrugs halfheartedly at Emma. She turns her gaze to Will, glaring as she steps up to him.

 

“What is it about you that has everyone giving you breaks?” She asks. “Because, honestly, I don't see it.”

 

Will places his newly freed hand over his heart and hisses out a breath between his teeth.

 

“Ouch, Sheriff,” he says, adding a groan for effect. “That hurts.”

 

“Detective,” Emma corrects through gritted teeth. Will shrugs, unaffected, and steps away from her looking between her and Marian.

 

“Well, ladies, it's been lovely catching up,” he grins falsely, “but since I didn't actually get around the thieving part of this adventure, I've nothing to return. Now, I imagine I'm free to go?” His voice goes up at the end, framing it as a question because he knows Emma and Marian can't force Killian to have Will arrested. Emma's hands ball into fists but Marian nods at him.

 

“You're free to go, Mr. Scarlet,” Marian says, but Emma can hear the underlying current of annoyance in her voice. She's glad it isn't just her who's pissed off at this whole situation.

 

“Killian, what the hell was that?” She hisses, turning back to the man beside her. Killian gives her a sheepish look, one arm lifting to scratch behind his ear, but merely shrugs before heading out of the alley himself. Emma stares after him as Marian crosses to her.

 

“And, how do you know Killian Jones, exactly?” Marian asks and it takes a moment for Emma to stop staring at the mouth of the alley where Killian's disappeared and return her attention to her partner. She sighs and her shoulders slump.

 

“Henry and I have been going to these grief counseling meetings twice a month,” Emma explains. “Killian runs them.”

 

Marian stares at her with a raised eyebrow for a moment, like she doesn't believe that's all there is to it, but nods eventually and shrugs.

 

“Well, since this turned out to be a bust, want to go get breakfast before we actually have to be at work?” At the thought of pancakes, Emma's stomach growls. She grins as Marian laughs. “I'll take that as a yes.”

 

---

 

Emma has other things to worry about besides Killian Jones. Graham's file has been hiding in her desk drawer, untouched, for over a week and David has been on everyone's asses about making sure all their paperwork is fully complete and old files are digitized.

 

None of this stops the thought of the upcoming meeting from filling her with unease. Emma knows she doesn't really have a right to expect anything from Killian, but she can't help that Will Scarlet and his ties to Killian make her nervous.

 

The weekend blows by much faster than usual.

 

Henry seems excited about the meeting, which makes her feel a little better. He comes home and finishes his homework in record time for a Monday. If he's excited about the prospect of talking to someone, it shouldn't matter that it's not her. Emma has faith he'll talk to her eventually and if he needs the leeway right now, she'll give it to him.

 

They get to the meeting early again because of Henry's insistence that they leave early. It's not quite as early as last time but they're still two of the first people there. Henry makes a beeline for this week's pastry selection and even Emma has to admit Killian had gone all out this time. She swipes herself a mini cannoli and is surveying Henry's own pile of treats to cut him off when Killian comes up to her.

 

“Evening, Detective,” he greets and, of course, Emma's just taken a bite of the Italian pastry. Killian smirks at her predicament and she shoots him a dark look as she nabs a napkin from the table and swallows.

 

“We're not friends,” she blurts once her mouth is free and, well, it isn't really how she'd meant to start the conversation but there it is. Killian's expression is somewhere between surprise at the outburst and hurt at the sentiment.

 

“Okay?” He says it like a question and Emma rushes to elaborate.

 

“I just mean you don't owe me anything and I get that, really, but,” she huffs out a breath, wrapping the rest of her cannoli in the napkin, “why did you let Scarlet go?”

 

Killian sighs and she wishes suddenly that she'd waited until after the meeting. She can't play the school night card and grab Henry and run if this goes sour.

 

“Listen, Swan, Will and I's history is not pretty but we do have one,” he admits. “In honor of that, I'm not pressing charges but, trust me, he's hardly off the hook.”

 

Emma nods because she didn't really expect any kind of explanation at all. She doesn't feel right pushing him for details. Ruby calls to him from across the room and he nods in acknowledgment before looking back at Emma.

 

“And, for the record, I was under the impression we were friends,” he says with a smile before stepping away to join Ruby at the front of the room. Emma sighs and takes another bite of her cannoli before finding Henry. She has to make him put back three items before they find their seats.

 

---

 

Emma falls into a rhythm. Every other Monday she and Henry go to meetings where he shares and she observes. During the week she works on her normal caseload and on the weekends she puts what time she can into looking over Graham's case. It's mostly just an open case that's waiting for a lead. There isn't much to go on, but Emma works on it anyway.

 

It's a Wednesday in November, when the precinct's walls are decorated in handmade decorations of red and orange and brown courtesy of Mary Margaret, that Emma jolts at the sound of the alert she has on Graham's case going off. It's a soft ding but it brings her mind immediately to the case. She has an alert out in case anyone accesses or makes any changes to the file.

 

Someone had accessed it only moments ago but Emma scans the file desperately and can't find any changes made. By the time she switches back to the alert and sees whose badge number had accessed it, it's too late.

 

“What are you looking at?” Mulan's voice behind her nearly makes her fall out of her chair in surprise. She quickly clicks out of the file and alert system and spins in her chair to glare at the other detective.

 

“How did you know?” Emma hisses as Mulan rounds her chair to sit in the visitor's chair next to her desk. Mulan raises an eyebrow.

 

“Are you suggesting you'd been being subtle?” She asks and Emma frowns.

 

“Well, no one else has said anything,” she points out, sounding more than a little like a petulant child. Mulan sighs.

 

“I didn't have any proof you were looking into Graham's case until just now,” she admits. “But, Emma, you know you shouldn't be. They handed the case off to a different precinct for exactly this reason, we're too close to it.”

 

“I know that, okay?” She groans, still trying to keep her voice down but growing in frustration. “But they're barely even doing anything and I know they think it's a lost cause but I need to know. I know you can understand that.”

 

Reluctantly, Mulan nods. Emma sits back in her chair and stares at the computer screen for a moment. She's spent months looking it over and refusing to look at the crime scene photos. It's a glaring error and she knows she could be missing something but she just can't.

 

“I haven't been out to the crime scene,” Emma says suddenly, hoping Mulan will get the hint. She does and it leads to another sigh.

 

“You and both know any evidence there is long gone by now.”

 

“I know,” Emma admits. “It's just I haven't been able to make myself look at the photos and I just need...” her voice fades because, honestly, she doesn't know what she needs but she knows it involves seeing the scene at least once.

 

Mulan stares her down for a long moment but Emma can see the moment she gives in.

 

“Alright,” she nods briskly, “but this doesn't mean I'm condoning it.”

 

“Of course not,” Emma nods with mock seriousness as she stands from her chair, grabbing her jacket from the back of it, and trails after Mulan out of the station.

 

The scene turns out to be a bust and it doesn't suddenly make Graham's killer obvious the way it does in TV shows, but it feels like more progress than Emma's made in months regardless.

 

---

 

Henry makes friends the way he breathes – naturally and without fail.

 

After the meeting following her and Mulan's impromptu trip, he's easily and excitedly telling stories to Ruby and Aurora who are caught with rapt attention. Henry paints tales like a writer in training and Emma will absolutely be the mother one day in the future who brags about how amazing her future best-selling author of a son's writing assignments were all the way back to kindergarten.

 

When it comes to Henry, Emma lacks all humility. He's always been a gift to her and she doesn't know how she got so lucky to have a son like him.

 

Ruby, Aurora, and Henry are all sitting at the front of the room. Henry has taken Killian's usual seat where he leads the discussions and Emma and Killian are sitting towards the back of the room, watching in amusement.

 

“When I was seventeen,” Killian starts suddenly, quiet as though the tale is only for her ears. With Ruby and Aurora solely focused on Henry, she figures it probably is. “My brother was killed in a random robbery. We were in a gas station when it got held up. He was always trying to play the hero and I'd begged him to shut up and stay hidden but, of course, he didn't. Bloody idiot. The distraction gave the cashier time to trigger the alarm and when the cops showed up, the guy had only just made it to his car.”

 

Emma is quiet as she watches him. Killian is normally stellar at eye contact to an almost unnerving degree but now he stares at his hands, unable to meet her eyes as he tells his tale. The cop in her would usually red flag it as the behavior of a liar but her gut tells her it's the truth.

 

“After he'd shot Liam, he saw me reach for him and shot what I suppose was meant as a warning shot.” He lifts his left hand suddenly and Emma raises her eyebrows because she's never noticed the scarring before. Killian flexes his fingers. “Grazed my palm, apparently a pretty important part. They managed to patch me up pretty well but I've got some nerve damage. Works alright for me, though.”

 

Emma's eyes flicker back up to his and he's looking at her now. She's not sure what makes her do it, she knows he's not really asking but that he's hoping anyway. She takes a deep breath.

 

“When I was seventeen my boyfriend at the time set me up to take the fall for him in a theft and I went to jail,” she tells him, fiddling with the necklace around her neck. “I found out I was pregnant with Henry while I was there. I almost didn't keep him but I couldn't stand doing to him what my parents had done to me.”

 

Killian is silent but he's paying rapt attention to her as she tells him her story. Now, Emma's having trouble keeping eye contact herself.

 

“When I got out, I met my friend David who let me live with him and his fiancee on the condition that I enroll in the academy. And, well, you know how that turned out.”

 

“Well it would seem,” he smiles softly and Emma returns it with a nod.

 

“Yeah,” she breathes, “I don't know where I'd be if he and Mary Margaret hadn't helped me out.”

 

Killian shrugs and shifts in his seat so he's facing where Henry is still talking at the front and Emma follows his lead, accepting that the heady conversations are over for the night. She appreciates the lack of follow up.

 

“I imagine you'd have done alright regardless,” he tells and Emma raises an eyebrow in his direction. “You hardly strike me as the type to give up easily.”

 

---

 

After that conversation, they manage to fall into a somewhat easy relationship. Emma and Henry tend to hang around for longer after meetings along with a few of the other regulars. She's not sure how it happens but they usually end up being two of the last people there besides Ruby who seems to always help Killian clean up.

 

Emma doesn't know a lot about Ruby's story other than that she had lost a very close friend a long time ago and still struggles with it. Emma knows there's some sort of guilt there, can read it in Ruby's bad days, but doesn't think it'd be right to ask.

 

Henry is performing in a Thanksgiving play at the middle school and, of course, invites anyone who wants to come from the meetings. Killian agrees eagerly and Emma assures him once Henry's moved away that he shouldn't feel obligated.

 

“Come now, Swan, of course I want to see the lad perform!” Killian says with a great grin and a flourish. “He's a gifted storyteller, I look forward to it.”

 

Of course, Emma also invites her co-workers – not that she'd needed to, David had already beat her to it at Mary Margaret's behest. It helps that Marian's son, Roland, is also in the parts of the play for the younger students.

 

When the night rolls around, Henry and Roland's guests need an entire row of seats to themselves. They mill outside for a while and Emma ends up making introductions between the people from the meeting and her co-workers. Aurora and Mulan come to the play together and Emma decides she should definitely not comment on that. The only one who doesn't show is Lancelot who had texted Emma earlier that he'd been called in to deal with one of his ongoing cases. He'd told her to wish Henry luck and take pictures.

 

Somehow she ends up sitting between Mary Margaret, who grins and grips her hand at her favorite parts, and Killian, who makes stupid comments in her ear during any time that Henry isn't on stage. She can't remember the last time she was surrounded by this many people who cared about her.

 

Emma doesn't think she'd ever been.

 

---

 

Afterwards, Henry comes running out with Roland on his heels, two balls of excitement over the task they'd just performed. Henry pulls up short in front of the group while Roland weaves between bodies until he barrels right into his mother who scoops him up in her arms, assuring him of how well he'd done.

 

Henry grins widely at the group but takes a particular interest in Killian.

 

“You came,” he points out happily and Killian chuckles, reaching forward to clap a hand on his shoulder.

 

“'Course I came! Wouldn't have missed this for all the fish in the sea.”

 

Henry seems a little thrown at the comparison but grins nonetheless before turning to greet Mary Margaret and David and the rest of the group. Killian shoots Emma a warm smile and she turns, following Henry's progress through the group to hide her own.

 

Unfortunately, it means Mary Margaret does not miss it.

 

“Well,” she exclaims, clapping her hands together in front of her and gaining everyone's attention, “we were going to treat Henry to dinner. You should all join us!”

 

Emma gives her a disbelieving look if only to let her know that she and David will absolutely not be paying for everyone's dinners. Mary Margaret ignores her as she looks around the group for confirmation.

 

Marian explains that her ex-husband is somewhere in the crowd waiting to see Roland and that she's on call and Mary Margaret nods understandingly even as David makes a comment about drawing the short straw with a grin. Ruby admits that she's neglected her own job for the play and if she doesn't get back soon her grandmother will hunt her down. Mulan and Aurora shuffle awkwardly, giving a flimsy excuse for why they each can't join them. Emma makes a mental note that she definitely should ask about that.

 

“Killian,” Mary Margaret says bright and innocent like he hadn't been her target all along. “You can come can't you?”

 

Killian hesitates, his eyes jumping from Henry's hopeful face to Emma. She understands he's asking for confirmation that it's okay. Shoving her hands in her pockets, she nods at him.

 

“You should come,” she tells him quietly and Killian smiles.

 

“Then I shall.”

 

---

 

Sometimes Emma forgets what a fantastic buffer Henry can be. It probably makes her a terrible mother to think of her son in such terms, but Henry manages to keep everyone so occupied throughout dinner that Killian doesn't get grilled as much as he could have.

 

Mary Margaret asks appropriate questions for getting to know someone. She asks about the meetings and what Killian does for work. David throws in comments with smirks at Emma throughout but otherwise doesn't seem as interested in Killian's history as Mary Margaret.

 

When the check comes, Killian insists on splitting the bill with David who seems like he might fight him on it. Emma does before David has the chance, insisting she can pay for herself.

 

“Come on, Swan,” Killian grins, already pulling bills from his wallet and winking at Henry. “Henry is the guest of honor, it'd be poor form to expect you to pay.”

 

Emma sighs and sits back in her chair while Killian and David work out the particulars. Mary Margaret shrugs in Emma's direction, mouths boys at her with a smile.

 

They make their goodbyes outside the restaurant and David and Mary Margaret leave first, heading towards their car arm in arm. Emma smiles at their easy intimacy while Killian and Henry say their goodbyes. Henry runs off towards her yellow bug, sticking out brightly in the parking lot, and Emma turns to Killian.

 

“Thanks for coming,” she says. “It meant a lot to Henry.”

 

Killian nods.

 

“He seems to be doing better. Brighter than those first couple months,” he points out and Emma nods, glancing back at where Henry is leaning against the car, Game-boy in hand.

 

“Yeah, well, in no small part thanks to you,” she admits and Killian shrugs, scratching behind his ear in what Emma has come to realize as a nervous gesture of his.

 

“I've not done much other than lend an ear,” he insists and Emma rolls her eyes.

 

“Well, regardless, thanks.” He nods and Emma smiles, reaching out before she can think better of it to squeeze his upper arm lightly. “We'll see you Monday.”

 

“I'll be counting the moments,” he smirks and Emma rolls her eyes as she drops her arm. She can't stop the fond smile on her face as she turns and walks away.

 

---

 

They're in a meeting in early December when Emma's phone rings. She's sat towards the back with Henry but Killian still finds her eyes to give her a look. She smirks as she digs the phone out and turns the volume down.

 

“I'm on call,” she shrugs unapologetically as she stands from her chair. Killian manages an amused eye roll before returning his attention to the redhead in the front who'd been speaking. Emma gets to the hall before she hits the answer button.

 

“Hey, Mary Margaret, this is kind of a bad time-” She starts but her blood runs cold at the quiet sobs at the other end of the line. Mary Margaret is clearly trying to compose herself, quick breaths coming across as she tries to speak. Emma gives her a minute, heart beating rapidly in her chest.

 

“It's David,” Mary Margaret hiccups eventually and Emma's fingers tighten around the phone, blunt edges digging into her knuckles. Not again, she thinks, please not again. “He was shot. He's in surgery and I just- I need-” She breaks into sobs again and it brings Emma back to herself.

 

“I'm on my way,” she says immediately and Mary Margaret tries to turn it around, insisting that Emma has other things to do, Henry to worry about, but Emma isn't having any of it. “Text me the details. I am on my way.”

 

She hangs up after Mary Margaret's whispered thank you and heads back into the meeting room. Her hands shake and she stops in the doorway when all eyes turn on her. Emma searches out Killian, though, and it must be obvious because he's already half out of his seat. She sucks in a shaky breath and looks to Henry before crossing the room towards him.

 

“Hey, kid, I have to go to the hospital,” she tells him, placing her hands gently on his shoulders. She probably shouldn't tell him, shouldn't add to his worries but Emma's never liked lying to Henry even for his own good. “David's hurt and I have to help Mary Margaret, okay? Can you just stay here with Killian until I know something?”

 

She meets Killian's eyes, begging for this favor. He's already nodding when she looks to him. Henry is pulling at Emma's forearms, trying to pull them from his shoulders. She holds fast.

 

“No, no! I wanna come with you! I wanna make sure he's okay!” Emma is vaguely aware of the scene they're making but, hell, if anyone in the world would understand it's probably the people in this room.

 

“Henry, he'll be fine, okay? Please just-”

 

“Don't lie!” Henry shouts suddenly, finally managing to force her arms off of him. Emma's vision blurs and she drops to her knees only half intentionally.

 

“Please,” she pleads, “just stay here.” Henry goes still for a minute before the fight goes out of him and he nods. Emma lets out a breath before standing back up and rushing out the door.

 

When she gets to the car, she finds the text from Mary Margaret. The words are misspelled, probably from shaking hands, but she knows where she's going and she's not above pulling the cop card when she breaks every speed limit to get there.

 

---

 

It's hours before David gets out of surgery and then hours after that before he's expected to wake up. Mary Margaret tries to force Emma to go home, but Emma grips her friend's hand the same way Mary Margaret had gripped her at Graham's funeral months earlier and refuses.

 

She calls Killian at some point and asks him to take Henry home. He offers to stay with the lad before she can even mention that she'll just call a friend – despite the fact that most of her friends are in the waiting room with her – and she says yes before she can think too much about it. Emma tells him she'll call when there's a change. Killian assures her that they'll be fine and to keep her focus on David.

 

When the doctor comes out and tells them he's awake in the morning, Mary Margaret rushes to her husband's room while Emma calls Killian and asks him to bring Henry to the hospital. When she's given Mary Margaret enough time, she sneaks into the hospital room. The other woman has a chair pulled as close to David's bed as she can get it. David gives her a dopey smile and waves her in.

 

“I see the meds are working,” Emma chuckles as she joins them. Most of what David says in nonsense and Emma knows trying to question him on the shooting right now would be pointless. Not that they really need to, Lancelot, who'd been with him on patrol, has already filed a report and the perpetrator is in custody. She can imagine the piss poor treatment he's getting down at the precinct for shooting one of their most beloved colleagues.

 

Emma doesn't even think he means to tell her. David's so incredibly out of it the words come out slurred and sound as if he's recounting a dream. But it's enough to turn her insides to ice and for her rib cage to close in around her heart.

 

“He mentioned Graham,” David recounts, “before he shot me.”

 

It's all Emma can do to stay standing but somehow she manages to push out of the room, Mary Margaret calling after her. Lancelot jumps out of his chair, Mulan following, and Emma realizes he was keeping it from her. A flash of anger towards him rides through her but it isn't enough to stop her. She can deal with him later.

 

“Emma,” Mulan calls out and it sounds enough like warning that Emma knows she knows, too. She wonders how many of them have been keeping this to themselves while she's been here feeling helpless. Lancelot is steadier on his feet right now and blocks her path easily.

 

“Get out of my way,” she nearly growls, her own voice almost unrecognizable.

 

“Emma, what are you gonna do?” Lancelot asks and he's clearly trying to force some kind of sense or reason but she doesn't have time for it. Emma attempts to sidestep him but he expects her. Mulan is at her side now, reaching out towards Emma as if she's a skittish animal.

 

“Think about this,” Lancelot tries and Emma glares at him before shoving past him.

 

“Mom, what's going on?” Henry's voice calls out to her and that makes her stop. How stupid of her to have Killian bring him before she had all the facts. Emma shoots Lancelot one more look before she crosses to Henry and Killian in the waiting room.

 

“I have to take care of something, okay? Just stay here with Marian,” she tells Henry and he looks like he might fight her but nods after a moment. When she spins back around, Lancelot looks like he might try to stop her again but she makes it past him. It's Marian's voice from the waiting room that makes her hesitate.

 

“It won't bring him back.”

 

Emma's steps falter and she nearly trips but it doesn't stop her.

 

---

 

It's Killian who finds her in the parking lot. Emma's desperately trying to hold herself together as she grips the steering wheel. Her knuckles are white and her breaths are shaky but he just slides into the passenger seat of her yellow bug.

 

“Do you want to tell me what's happening?” He asks and she releases a heavy breath, flexing her fingers against the wheel.

 

Don't counsel me,” she snaps and he raises his hands in defense.

 

“Wouldn't dare, love.”

 

It's too quiet in her car and his voice is low and it feels like something and she doesn't have time for that.

 

“What do you want?” She asks, the fight leaving her before it really had a chance to begin. There's a man in interrogation right now who tried to kill her best friend and who either did kill or knows who killed her partner and no one will let her be angry.

 

“I just want to help,” he admits quietly and she gives him a look.

 

“You're supposed to be helping Henry,” she counters and Killian shrugs, leather of his jacket brushing the leather of her seats.

 

“Those weren't really the rules, Swan.”

 

Emma blows out a breath.

 

“I don't want to talk,” she admits quietly, her hands falling to her lap.

 

“Then we won't,” Killian promises.

 

But he sits with her in silence until she's ready to go back inside.

 

---

 

By the time she gets to work the next morning, the shooter has been interrogated, processed, and moved to the county jail. No one bothers to pretend the rush on it was unintentional. Emma doesn't want to admit that even she knows nothing good could have come from her getting him alone in an interrogation room.

 

She wants to know why though. She needs to know why Graham and why David and what they could have possibly done to have this person target. If anyone knows the answers, they aren't sharing and it makes Emma eagerly take a patrol on the other side of town just to get away from all the cautious eyes.

 

She ends up at the dock, walking along the wood planks and letting the wash of the waves and the creak of the wood push her mind into emptiness.

 

Emma is extremely not proud of the fact that she nearly falls into the ocean when Killian says her name from next to her.

 

“Oh my God,” she gasps as he steadies her with a hand on her arm. “You scared the hell out of me!”

 

Killian grins at her, clearly amused at her surprise. Emma glares at him and crosses her arms over her chest, effectively brushing his hand off of her arm.

 

“I'd called you when I spotted you,” he tells her, “I didn't realize you hadn't heard me. I apologize.”

 

He's still smiling in amusement so the apology doesn't feel all the genuine. She shifts her weight and gives him another look before turning her attention back towards the horizon.

 

“What's brought you all the way out to my part of town?” He asks eventually.

 

“Patrol,” Emma answers shortly, the reminder of everyone at the station staring at her like she might go on a rampage any moment bringing a fresh wave of anger to the forefront of her mind. Killian nods, though, apparently not bothered by her tone.

 

“I must admit I'm glad,” he comments and Emma raises an eyebrow at him. “I'd wanted to talk to you after yesterday morning.”

 

Emma heaves a sigh and turns away from him, continuing on her walk down the boardwalk. She's sure he'll follow her path and isn't surprised when she hears the telltale creak of his own footsteps behind her.

 

“Look, I'm fine now, okay? I promise I'm not about to go rampaging through town or anything.”

 

She can't see his physical response but his stride doesn't break.

 

“I'm glad to hear it, but I'm still not quite sure what happened at the hospital that had you in such a state,” he admits and Emma sighs. She hadn't explained to him or Henry that David's shooter had mentioned Graham. She didn't like keeping it from Henry but she couldn't see what good telling him would do either.

 

Her shoulders slump and she turns on the spot to face Killian. He's much closer than she'd anticipated, the movement putting them in each others space. Killian seems surprised at the change but doesn't back away.

 

“Whoever tried to kill David either killed Graham or knows something about who killed Graham,” she explains, voice quiet as Killian watches her intently.

 

“You're sure?” He asks, matching her tone. Emma nods.

 

“David remembers him mentioning Graham. So, now whoever this is has tried to take away someone else I care about and everyone is acting like I'm not allowed to be angry.” She tilts her head back, looking up towards the sky in annoyance. It's a beautiful day for December in Boston and she has to blink a few times at the brightness.

 

“You've every right to be angry,” Killian tells her and she'd appreciate it if should couldn't sense the oncoming but. “You mustn't let that anger drive you though.”

 

Emma huffs and pulls away from him, spinning back around to continue on her walk. Killian follows still.

 

“He killed my partner,” she bites. “What else am I supposed to be feeling right now?”

 

Killian sighs behind her.

 

“I am only saying that you have to be careful of that anger, Swan,” he calls to her over the sudden pickup of the wind off the ocean. Emma shivers in her heavy coat. “Trust me, it does you no good to let it consume you.”

 

Emma pauses, unsure what to do with that comment. There's clearly more to his story than he's told her but she doesn't want to ask. She wants to let her annoyance fester for a little while.

 

The radio at her hip crackles with a break in two blocks over and Emma quickly responds that she's on her way. She turns back to Killian. He's farther away this time but she can see the sadness in his eyes and Emma knows she shouldn't be grateful for a crime being committed but it does feel a bit like being saved by the bell.

 

“Off to fight the good fight then, Swan?” He calls and Emma gives him a gentle smile. She steps passed him to get back to her squad car, letting her gloved hand brush against his as she passes.

 

“I'll see you later, Killian.”

 

“I look forward to it.”

 

---

 

That Friday night Emma is on call so Henry goes to a friends house again. She likes their little ritual. Henry gets to spend time with his friends and never makes her feel bad about it. Emma would feel worse if she were leaving him with a friend or a babysitter while she ran off – she used to feel terrible just leaving him with Mary Margaret – but Henry always has a good time and she isn't on call that often so it works for them.

 

Her phone has been blissfully silent so far and she's cautiously sipping a glass of wine and catching up on her DVRed shows when someone knocks on the door. She checks the time – a little after six-thirty – and pulls open the door.

 

“Killian,” Emma breathes in surprise and it pulls a smile from him. It's never been difficult to make him smile but she finds herself returning it. “What are you doing here?”

 

“I was hoping to speak with Henry, actually,” he explains, “we got interrupted at the meeting Monday and I thought I'd come by and see if he wanted to finish our talk.”

 

“He's actually at a friend's house for the night.”

 

Killian nods but his eyes flick over her shoulder and she shifts her weight to one foot, crossing her arms over her chest.

 

“Yes, of course, sorry. I should have called ahead, I apologize.”

 

Emma raises an eyebrow.

 

“But if you'd done that you wouldn't have been able to catch me off guard in my own space,” she points out and Killian flashes her a guilty smile but steps just the smallest bit closer. He's not quite over the threshold of her apartment but he's toeing the line.

 

“And why would I want that?” He asks quietly, eyes flicking between her own as if he actually doesn't have the answer but hopes she does. Emma swallows, her breath stuttering at his proximity.

 

“I haven't figured that out yet,” she murmurs. Killian holds her stare for a moment longer before falling back on his heels and suddenly putting space between them.

 

“Right, well, feel free to kick me to the curb if this is a bad time, love,” he says, “but I was kind of hoping you and I could talk as well.” Emma hesitates for a moment before glancing back at her apartment. It's mostly tidy but Henry's school things are still spread across the table and she hasn't cleaned up from her early dinner yet.

 

“Uh, no, that's fine,” she tells him, turning back before stepping to the side and waving him into the apartment. “Come on in. What did you want to talk about?” Killian is surveying her apartment, seemingly taking it in, but he reaches a hand up and scratches behind his ear. Emma is immediately on alert.

 

“Er, Graham, actually.” His hand drops as he spins back to face her and Emma's stiffened.

 

“Killian, I don't-”

 

“Just hear me out, please,” he insists, stepping back up to her. “If you still don't want to talk to me about it afterwards, I'll let it be.” Emma shifts her weight uncomfortably but eventually nods, stepping away from him to resume her seat at the couch. Killian tracks the movement but doesn't follow until she eventually sighs and pats the cushions next to her.

 

“You know of my brother's passing,” he starts and Emma raises an eyebrow but nods in confirmation. “But he's not the only person I've lost. Much more recently, in fact, I was seeing a woman. Her name was Milah and she was, well, she was indescribable. But I loved her, more than I'd have thought myself capable of. Unfortunately, she was married to another man at the time.”

 

Emma's insides go cold and she doesn't need him to finish to know where this is going.

 

“He killed her,” she whispers.

 

“Aye,” he breathes, voice rough and this time when Emma feels the urge to reach out to him, she doesn't ignore it. Her hand falls over his forearm and he stares down at the contact. “He'd found out about us, I'm afraid. I was young and foolish. I thought she was the love of my life.”

 

She notes the use of past tense momentarily but Killian swallows and Emma doesn't understand how he does it. She can't understand how he can relive all of this over and over just so that some strangers don't feel alone in their pain. Emma's hand tightens on his wrist and he meets her eyes again.

 

“I could never prove it was him. I knew but there was no evidence of foul play so there was nothing to be done. It's how I knew Will Scarlet, actually, he'd been one of my contacts to the criminal underground.”

 

“He's still walking around?” Emma asks, eyes wide with terror and anger at the system she works in everyday. She doesn't even have time to pause on Scarlet and Killian's apparent criminal history. Killian shakes his head, though.

 

“No, he passed a few years ago as well. When I heard about it, I- well, I'd spent so much time convinced I'd prove it someday, I'd make sure the old bastard got what he deserved. When I learned he'd passed, I thought I'd feel relieved but I just felt nothing,” he sighs, lifting the hand not in her grip to run it through his hair as he focuses over her shoulder. “Him being gone, it didn't fix anything the way I thought it would. It didn't help. He was dead but I wasn't living either.”

 

He looks up suddenly, blue eyes bright and fierce when they meet hers.

 

“That's why I started the group, I want to help people live.” Her breath catches in her throat and she has to look down at her own lap now, his gaze too knowing.

 

“Killian, I can't just let this go. The person who killed Graham is still out there and I have to find them,” Emma insists and Killian nods.

 

“And you will,” he says it like it's absolute, like there's no doubt in his mind. She doesn't understand how, with everything he went through, he could believe so unfailingly that she'd find Graham's killer.

 

“You think so?”

 

“I've yet to see you fail,” Killian assures her quietly and Emma can't make herself break his gaze. “I only want to make sure that you remember to live while you do.”

 

She wants to blame the wine, but Emma's a big girl and she'd only had a few sips so there's really no excuse when she leans forward and kisses him. She realizes almost as soon as her lips cover his what a bad idea this is, but Killian's hand wraps in her hair and he responds with such enthusiasm any thoughts of pulling away and apologizing fly out the window.

 

“Swan,” he breathes against her lips when they part but she's already tangling her own fingers in his hair and pushing him back onto the couch. Killian leverages them so that he can flip them over and suddenly Emma finds herself pinned underneath him as he nudges his nose lightly against hers and kisses her far too gently. Until he nudges one of his legs between hers, thigh pressing down right where she needs it and eliciting a sharp gasp from her. It's all he needs kiss her roughly, sloppily and any sense Emma has left disappears.

 

Her hands press at his jacket, trying to shove it off his shoulders, and Killian sits up just enough to tug it off. Emma leans up on her elbows and stares at him. He ducks down for another kiss and Emma laughs against his mouth.

 

“Killian,” she whispers, “what are we doing?”

 

He pulls back enough to hold her gaze steadily. He seems wary but determined all the same.

 

“If there's one thing I've learned over the years, love,” he tells her, “it's to make the moments in between the grief count.”

 

Emma finds herself unable to debate that as she pulls him back down to her. He's got his leg back in that spot as his fingers dance along her side and Emma is quickly losing any control she had left when her phone rings from the coffee table. She pulls her mouth away from Killian and lets out a groan.

 

“What?” He asks.

 

“I'm on call,” she explains apologetically, squeezing from underneath him to grab the buzzing object on the table. Killian eases back, helping her into a sitting position. She scans the text and sighs.

 

“Sorry, Lancelot and I are working on this gang thing still and someone's called in about it,” she explains, missing his look.

 

“You work with a man named Lancelot?” Killian asks, eyes wide and disbelieving when she looks back over at him. Emma can't help but laugh at his expression as she shrugs.

 

“Your name is Killian,” she points out.

 

“Fair enough,” he smirks. Emma runs a hand through her hair, sure she looks exactly like she'd been making out on the couch. She pushes herself from the couch and unlocks her gun from it's lockbox, attaching her holster to her jeans while Killian watches her.

 

“Listen,” she starts and Emma can't be sure where her bravery is coming from tonight but she knows it'll be gone by morning if she doesn't act now, “I don't know how long this will take yet. It could be nothing. Do you want to just wait here for a bit?”

 

Killian seems pleasantly surprised by the offer and something warm stirs in Emma's stomach. He nods and Emma has to turn to the coat rack to hide her smile.

 

“If that's what you want,” he says and she appreciates it, that he wants her to know it's her choice. She pulls the red leather jacket off the hook and turns back to him as she pulls it on.

 

“Yes,” she nods, not bothering to hide the smile this time. “That's what I want.”

 

She's pretty sure if she tries to kiss him before she leaves, she'll never get out of her apartment. So, she turns on her heel, grabs her keys and leaves Killian in her apartment.

 

It's three hours later when the bust turned out to be much more than she or Lancelot had been expecting and the holding cell is nearly at capacity that Emma texts Killian. She knows she won't be getting home until the early hours of the morning and tells him not to bother waiting for her.

 

She convinces herself it's for the best.

 

---

 

“I kissed Killian,” Emma practically blurts out on Sunday to Mary Margaret. Her friend's eyes widen at the sudden outburst and Emma looks around the apartment to make sure David and Henry are out of earshot. Emma and Henry have come over for dinner to welcome David home from the hospital. He still has a lot of recuperating to do but the doctors had cleared him to finish his healing in his own home.

 

“Oh,” Mary Margaret says gently as she sets the timer on the oven. “Why?”

 

Emma frowns because it's kind of an odd follow up question and, well, she hadn't really thought about why so much as how much she should not have.

 

“I don't know,” she shrugs, “he came by the apartment on Friday and we were talking and I just kissed him.”

 

“Okay,” Mary Margaret starts slowly, “well, was it just a kiss or was is a kiss?”

 

Emma feels her cheeks heat up.

 

“Well, if I hadn't been on call Friday night, it definitely would have been much more than just a kiss.” Mary Margaret smirks and Emma gives her a look. “Come on, I'm being serious. This is bad, right? I should not have kissed him.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because he's Killian. He's supposed to be helping Henry and it's only been four months since Graham.” Emma huffs out a breath. “I just can't risk screwing up this relationship, it means too much to Henry.”

 

Mary Margaret stops what she's doing and leans back against the island across from Emma with a frown.

 

“Emma, is this about Henry or is this about you?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I just mean that it's okay to move on,” Mary Margaret explains. “Graham would want you to.”

 

Emma sighs. She's definitely using Graham as an excuse and she doesn't honestly think she'll ever be over him. Not anytime soon, but she knows how this works. People leave. It's the harsh truth Emma has spent her entire life coming to grips with. She can't risk getting into a romantic relationship with someone Henry thinks so highly of.

 

“It's not worth the risk,” Emma says and Mary Margaret gives her a look that Emma knows means she disagrees but she doesn't fight her on it.

 

“It's your decision here, Emma, but if you spend all your time waiting for the other shoe to drop, you'll never be able to appreciate it when it doesn't.”

 

With that the other woman turns back to preparing dinner and Emma glares at the wine bottle in front of her, wishing she hadn't driven.

 

---

 

Emma will admit she is dreading the upcoming meeting more than she's entirely proud of. Killian gives her her space over the week following the kiss, but she knows she can't avoid him forever. It doesn't help that Henry's enthusiasm over the meetings doesn't diminish from week to week. She'd almost call him back to one hundred percent, even.

 

After Emma and Lancelot's large bust that weekend, the gang unit had taken over their task force which Emma was glad for. The early morning calls had stopped and she was back to her more usual work schedule. The downside was that it gave her more time to stew over Graham's case. Lancelot had eventually told her that David's shooter had confessed to being paid for the shooting. He'd also confessed that someone had paid him to take out Graham.

 

He hadn't had any answers as to who or why, insisting it was all an anonymous process. He'd been paid to make it look like a random mugging and it had at least reopened interest in Graham's case for the precinct investigating it. Emma couldn't think of a single person who want Graham dead, let alone pay for it.

 

When the next Monday meeting rolls around, Emma drags her feet getting ready. Henry is ready to leave long before her but she makes sure they don't leave until she knows they'll get there right as it's starting. She doesn't want to give Killian the chance to corner her before the meeting – especially since she still has no idea what she's going to say to him.

 

By the time they walk in, everyone is already seating and Emma has to usher Henry in the direction of the empty back row as opposed to the refreshments table. Killian meets her eye as she takes her seat and Emma quickly drops contact. He doesn't try many more times throughout the meeting to catch her gaze but she can see the frustration in his face.

 

As soon as the meeting ends, Henry slips away to the snack table and it gives Killian all the opening he needs.

 

“Perhaps we should talk,” he says quietly as he steps up to her. Emma shoots a furtive glance towards where Henry is standing at the table chatting with Ruby.

 

“Outside,” she commands, turning on the spot and leading Killian into the hallway. When they reach it, he manages to put himself in her space and Emma bites her lip but can't bring herself to step away from him.

 

“The other night was-” He starts but Emma cuts him off as he searches for a term.

 

“A one time thing.”

 

Killian seems surprised at the words but nods jerkily.

 

“Right, of course.”

 

“It's just not a good idea, Killian,” Emma sighs. “You can understand that, right?”

 

Killian seems to consider her for a moment but nods.

 

“Yes, of course. I apologize, though, I shouldn't have kissed you so soon after you'd lost your love,” he says gently and Emma almost yells in annoyance because, as terrible as it may make her, this isn't about Graham.

 

Henry is my only love,” she insists and Killian nods.

 

“Right,” he murmurs, still so close and she can't force herself to take a step back.

 

“I appreciate everything you've done for us,” Emma says and she doesn't want to think about the way her hands are shaking or that, when she looks down at his chest rather than his eyes, his breath fans out across her forehead. “But I can't take the chance that I'm wrong about you.”

 

It's not a proud moment when Emma turns tail and runs back inside, pulling Henry and his too full plate away and leaving. When she passes back by Killian, he seems upset, but not surprised.

 

That somehow makes her feel worse.

 

---

 

“Listen,” she says to Henry over breakfast the following Wednesday, “I was thinking maybe it's time to go to less meetings. Every once in a while when we need it rather than all the time.”

 

Henry frowns.

 

“Why?” He asks and Emma falters.

 

“Well, you're feeling better, aren't you?” She asks and Henry nods, though he still seems confused. “That's good and that was the point of it. So, maybe now when you're feeling down you'll be ready to talk to me.”

 

Henry seems to consider this for a few moments and Emma holds her breath.

 

“Okay,” he says slowly, eventually, “will we still see Killian?”

 

Emma looks down at her untouched breakfast and her heart hurts for her son. All of this was about Henry not getting attached only to lose someone again and here she was taking the person away. She convinces herself it's better for both of them this way. Leaving before Killian has the chance.

 

“I don't know, kid, he's probably busy.”

 

Henry nods though it seems stilted and Emma figures she might be the worst mother ever.

 

---

 

They go a month without going to any more meetings and Emma notices that Henry's mood doesn't necessarily suffer for it. She really does think her kid is too strong not to come out of all of this on the other side. The holidays pass in a blur of overly festive school assignments, an abundant amount of thefts, and more food than Emma has seen in years. David's healing has left him and Mary Margaret in Boston for the holiday season rather than visiting his mother down south.

 

It's nice being surrounded by family for the holidays. Henry is enough and the extra people make it busier but, still, it's nice.

 

It's the end of January when Emma gets t-boned at an intersection. She remembers the blur of fear at the oncoming car and the pain as she blacked out but not much else about the accident itself. Fortunately, she's only out for a short time and by the time she comes to she can hear the sirens of the ambulance.

 

She has a raging headache from hitting the driver's side window and the hand that had been on the steering wheel is killing her but otherwise she feels fine. They make her go to the hospital where they call her emergency contact, Mary Margaret, though.

 

They run a few tests on her head and wrap her wrist in a brace.

 

“What the hell happened?” David asks when he bursts into the room first. The doctor stares at him with wide eyes because Emma's pretty sure he isn't supposed to be there. She has to hid her chuckling behind a cough but still earns a look from David.

 

“Sir, you're not supposed to be back here yet,” the doctor tries even as David circles him to stand next to where Emma is sitting up on the bed.

 

“It's okay,” Emma tells the doctor – Whale, she thinks, which is such a weird name she doesn't think she could have made it up. “He's family.”

 

The doctor seems hesitant but nods before going on with what he'd been saying before David had interrupted.

 

“Right, well, as I was saying – your wrist is sprained but there's no obvious damage to your head. That doesn't mean you don't have a concussion, though, and unless you have someone to stay with you overnight it'd be best if you stay here and let us monitor you.” Emma groans, she knows the risks of a concussion. She's had one before when she was newer to the force but the waiting around to find out if she's going to slip into a coma is the worst.

 

“I'll stay with her,” Mary Margaret says, coming into the room and earning an exasperated look from the doctor. Emma's pretty sure some poor nurse is gonna get chewed out for this. But Mary Margaret sounds like she'd run all the way from the parking lot and, more importantly, she seems to be lacking Henry.

 

“Where's Henry?” Emma asks, sitting up straighter to see if she can spot him outside the room.

 

“I wasn't at the school when I got the call,” Mary Margaret explains, putting a warm hand on Emma's arm. “I called someone else to pick him up. They should be here soon.”

 

Emma frowns, but nods.

 

“So, what happened?” David asks again and the doctor seems to have given up, exasperated, and tossed her chart on the table at the front of the room and left, grumbling something about getting her exit papers.

 

“I was going through the intersection at Boylston and Tremont when someone just blew through the red light and hit me,” she explains. “I'm fine, honestly, it could have been much worse. It's just a sprain and a headache.”

 

She's signing the exit papers with Mary Margaret and David buzzing around her making plans for the evening while Mary Margaret stays with Emma when Henry comes in.

 

“Mom!” He calls and Emma almost signs her name wrong in the rush to finish the papers and see her kid. The accident wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been, but that didn't make her any less eager to see her son with the knowledge that that morning could have been the last time. Henry pulls up short at the side of her bed, afraid to jostle it.

 

“Are you okay?” He asks warily and Emma nods.

 

“I'm fine, kid. See,” she lifts her hand and waggles her fingers, “only hurts when I wave.”

 

Henry grins at the joke and climbs up on her bed without hesitation now. She pulls him to her side and squeezes him in a tight hug.

 

“Killian said you would be fine but I was worried,” Henry is saying and Emma freezes, pulling back enough to make sure she heard him right.

 

“Wait, Killian?” She double checks, shooting a glance over at Mary Margaret who looks sheepish and Henry nods. That's when Emma notices the silent presence at the door to the room.

 

“Glad to see you're well, Swan,” Killian says quietly now that she's noticed him. “You gave us quite the fright.”

 

Emma flounders for something to say. He doesn't owe her anything after the way she'd cut ties and she doesn't know how or why Mary Margaret would call him but she appreciates him bringing Henry. It feels like it means more than a simple car ride but she doesn't know what to do with that knowledge.

 

“I should be heading back to work,” Killian says when she can't come up with anything. “Please, call if you need anything.”

 

Emma nods numbly as he turns to the door.

 

“Killian,” she calls out and he stills, turning halfway back to her. “Thank you for bringing Henry.”

 

“Of course, love,” he says with a short nod and then he's gone and Henry is asking her questions about the accident while Mary Margaret and David fuss over getting her home.

 

---

 

“Why would you call Killian?” Emma asks as she and Mary Margaret clean up the kitchen. Henry is in the shower and it might be the only chance that Emma gets to ask. “How did you even have his number?”

 

Mary Margaret sighs and shrugs, folding the dish towel neatly before hanging it from the oven handle.

 

“I looked it up, he was pretty easy to find. Not a lot of Killians in the area,” she admits. “And I just didn't know who else to call. I was panicking. The hospital had just called and said you'd been in an accident, they wouldn't tell me if you were okay or conscious or alive and I he popped into my head.”

 

Emma sighs and nods, leaning back against the fridge.

 

“Yeah, I can't blame you, I just,” she shrugs and rubs her cheek against the fabric of her shirt on her shoulder. “I'm a little surprised he came.”

 

“Why's that?” Mary Margaret asks.

 

“In my experience, blowing people off the way I did to Killian doesn't usually inspire helpfulness,” Emma explains and Mary Margaret smiles softly at her.

 

“Maybe Killian will surprise you.”

 

Emma doesn't know about that. All she knows for sure at the moment is that her head is pounding and if she has to be woken up every few hours, she wants to get to bed early. She can deal with any wayward thoughts about Killian Jones in the morning.

 

---

 

Emma doesn't slip into a coma throughout the night, but she does get the day off from work. Mary Margaret takes Henry to school in the morning and Emma sleeps in now that it's safe for her to.

 

Around noon, she's combing the fridge for something quick and easy to make for lunch when there's a knock at the door. She frowns, closing the fridge and moving towards the door. She checks the peephole and her breath catches. Killian is milling on the other side of the door looking adorable uncomfortable and holding a container of something.

 

Emma takes a deep breath before pulling the door open. Killian's face lights up at the sight of her, the awkwardness going out of his stance.

 

“Swan,” he smiles and Emma can't help but return it. “You look like you're doing well.”

 

Emma nods and waves him inside. There's an alarm going off somewhere in her head reminding her that this situation is far too familiar and dangerous. She ignores it as he steps over the threshold.

 

“Well, I haven't slipped into a coma so I'd say I'm feeling great,” she jokes and Killian chuckles as he turns back to her. He holds out his hands, reminding Emma of the container he'd been holding.

 

“Soup,” he explains, “chicken noodle. It's an old family recipe.”

 

Emma's eyebrows raise.

 

“You made me soup?” She asks incredulously.

 

“Aye,” he nods, scratching behind his ear. “Well, I know you're not sick but I wasn't sure what the proper thing was for sprained wrists and possible concussions.”

 

Emma grins as she considers this, tilting her head.

 

“They probably don't make a cake for that,” she admits and Killian smiles wider.

 

“No, I should think not,” he agrees and Emma laughs leading him to the kitchen. She puts the container in the microwave to keep warm until she's ready to eat it. Killian mills around the table, the discomfort seeping back into his movements.

 

“I'm glad you came over actually,” Emma starts.

 

“You are?” He asks and when she turns, Emma can see his surprise at the statement. She smiles gently.

 

“Yeah, well, I wanted to thank you again for picking up Henry yesterday,” she says. “You don't owe me anything. It was really helpful.”

 

Killian sighs and steps up to her. She ends up boxed between him and the counter behind her and her heart skips a little in her chest.

 

“Emma, you must know by now that I am only interested in helping you,” he tells her quietly. “That hasn't changed simply because you don't feel the same for me as I do for you.”

 

Emma freezes.

 

“Killian, it's not that,” she admits.

 

“Then what is it?” He asks and Emma bites her lip as she considers him.

 

“People always leave,” she explains. “That's just a fact of life and I'm used to being let down but Henry isn't and I can't keep bringing people into his life just for them to leave.”

 

“This is a preemptive strike, then?”

 

Emma swallows.

 

“Something like that.”

 

Killian goes quiet for a long moment, eyes on her face, searching.

 

“You know, Emma, when I told you about Milah and my love for her, I told you I’d thought she was the love of my life. I’d thought for a long time that I would never love someone like that again,” he says quietly, eyes intense as they hold hers, and she can do nothing but listen. “Until I met you.”

 

Her heart jumps in her chest and she nearly pushes away from him but her body has since stopped listening to her brain.

 

“I understand you’re afraid to be let down again but, I must tell you, I have no intention of letting you down,” he insists and Emma almost believes him.

 

“How can I be sure of that?” She asks quietly. She doesn't know what she wants him to say but a strong part of her wants him to convince her, make her believe that he won't leave.

 

“You could let me try to prove it to you,” Killian suggests quietly, ducking his head slightly and Emma goes quiet for a long time. The whole apartment goes silent for a long time and it almost gives the feeling as if everything is standing still.

 

“Okay,” Emma says suddenly, surprising even herself some as she nods vigorously. “Okay, prove it to me.”

 

Killian looks up surprise and disbelief quickly giving away to elation as he leans forward and captures her mouth under his own. Emma lifts her good hand, wrapping her fingers in hair as he traps her against the counter with an arm on either side of her.

 

It's much gentler than their first encounter but Emma aches to push forward, return to where they'd been all those months ago. She lifts her other hand without thinking and grips his collar too tightly, pulling away from Killian to gasp in pain at the sharp pains in her wrist.

 

Emma pouts as Killian pulls away, looking carefully at her wrist. He smiles when he sees her pout but shakes his head and pulls farther away, giving them both space.

 

“Probably for the best,” he murmurs and Emma tilts her head, a little offended at the insinuation. “I tend to lose my head around you, love, and I have to get back to the shop.”

 

Emma sighs but nods understandingly. Killian moves away, running a hand through his hair as he crosses the kitchen to the door. He hesitates though, looking back at Emma.

 

“You'll call, won't you?” He asks and Emma can't help the smile that spreads across her face. She knows the gesture is him leaving it up to her, giving her room to back out again if she needs to.

 

Emma doesn't feel like she needs to this time.

 

“Yeah,” she nods, “I'll call you.”

 

Killian shoots her one more grin before he pulls the door open and disappears through it. Emma's stomach suddenly protests, reminding of her hunger and the homemade soup in the microwave. It feels like a sign she's made the right decision.

 

---

 

It's nearly a year after Graham's death that she gets the call.

 

It's a Saturday in July and Emma wakes up to Henry banging on the door of her bedroom. She groans and buries her face further into her pillow. Killian chuckles beside her and she rolls over just enough to glare at him.

 

“I hate you,” she grumbles and he hums in acknowledgment. Emma gives another groan as Henry bangs on the door again. She shouts to him that she'll be out in a minute and flops onto her back. Killian is already rolled onto his side, watching her.

 

“What kind of a day camp forces the kids to be up before sunrise for a field trip? On a Saturday?” Emma pouts and Killian reaches over to brush her wayward locks from her face.

 

“Perhaps that is a question better left to Mary Margaret,” he points out and Emma sighs. She lifts her hands up, pressing the heels into her eyelids. She hears Killian chuckle again and is working up the strength to glare at him when he speaks, voice low in the quiet of the room.

 

“Where's the permission slip, love?”

 

Emma opens one eye to look at him.

 

“Killian, you don't have to-” He cuts her off with a look and she smiles to herself. “It's in the mail organizer by the door.”

 

He gives her a look like it's the oddest place he's heard of storing something but Emma rolls her eyes at him and he slides from underneath the covers and out of bed. She tells him to tell Henry she loves him and to have a good day as he gets dressed and he nods, ducking down to kiss her quickly on the lips before leaving the room.

 

Emma sighs in content and pulls the blankets up over her head before going back to sleep.

 

She doesn't sleep for much longer, her alarm waking her at the usual time. She moves around the apartment, tidying up from the natural disaster that is Henry making his own lunch – something he has started insisting on doing.

 

Killian's coat is still hanging from the coat rack and she rolls her eyes at the sight because it may be July but it's Boston and the break of dawn, it's not exactly warm. Henry had taken surprisingly easily to the change in Emma and Killian's relationship, which had lifted a huge weight off of Emma's shoulders. Over the past six months, he hadn't moved in or anything but she figured it was safe to say he spent more time at their apartment that he did his own.

 

Not only for Emma, either, he spent so much time with Henry. He had even started teaching him to sail over the summer, something that made Henry ecstatic and Emma nervous. Killian assured her of the safety of it time and time again, though, so she was getting more comfortable with it.

 

Henry was back to his normal cheery self and, while they had hardly forgotten about Graham, she was glad they could talk about him with the wound feeling like it's constantly being reopened.

 

Emma was just finishing cleaning up the kitchen when Killian came in, shuddering and stomping water off of himself. She hadn't realized it'd started to rain but she smirked at Killian as she leaned back against the sink.

 

“Should have taken your jacket,” she points out in the same way she might have to Henry. Killian gives her a dark look but Emma can see the dangerous gleam in his eye.

 

“Killian, don't,” she says, putting a hand up before he's even started across the apartment for her. She makes a break for the bedroom but Killian catches up to her, boots making heavy footsteps behind her, and wraps his arm around her waist, holding her fast to his chest. She gives a yell of protest but it's too late and she can feel the water seeping through the back of her thin shirt.

 

“Asshole,” Emma grumbles when he finally lets her go, spinning her around to face him. Of course, Killian's smirking at her.

 

“Now, Swan, you're going to hurt my feelings,” he says, shaking his head with a click of his tongue. “You keep saying all these rude things to me this morning.”

 

She rolls her eyes at his dramatics.

 

“I'll show you rude,” she smirks, placing her hands on the hem of her shirt and tugging it over her head. Killian's eyes widen at the suddenness of the movement but he wastes no time pushing her backwards into the bedroom. Emma laughs as he backs her towards the bed, kicking the door shut.

 

They're lazing in the bed afterwards, Emma's body deliciously languid in movement as Killian traces patterns on her lower back with his fingers where's she's draped over him. When her phone starts buzzing on the nightstand, Emma almost ignores it. But Killian catches her gaze and ducks his head, placing a kiss in her hair.

 

“Go on, then, Swan,” he says quietly, “fight the good fight.”

 

She grins and snatches the phone off the table, David's number lighting up her screen. She answers and almost drops the phone when he speaks, abruptly and without lead in.

 

“Emma?” Killian asks because he must be able to read it on her face. “Love, what's wrong?”

 

Emma hangs up the phone, struggling out of bed and accidentally pressing her elbow sharply into Killian's arm. He rubs the injured limb while she pulls clothes out of the dresser. She barely hears his voice as he tries to speak to her as she tugs on her jeans. She only stops when he steps up behind her, hands landing gently on her upper arms.

 

“Tell me what's happened,” he requests quietly and Emma almost lets herself collapse into him. But she knows if she lets herself go now, she won't get back up.

 

“They've brought someone in for questioning in Graham's case,” she tells him. “It could be nothing but it's the first lead in a year and if David called me-”

 

“Then it's important,” he nods, squeezing her biceps lightly. “Go, then, and be careful.”

 

Emma spins to face him, leaning up to brush a kiss across his lips. He responds eagerly but keeps it chase, letting her pull away after just a moment to tug a shirt on over her tank top.

 

“I'll call you when I can,” she promises but hesitates before she can step away. It hits her suddenly and terrifyingly but she doesn't want to keep it in. She looks back up at Killian. “I love you.”

 

His smile is blinding and, despite the swirl of emotions trying to drown her, Emma can't help but return it. Killian kisses her again, fiercer this time as if he's been holding back himself.

 

“I love you,” he mumbles against her lips and Emma has to push away from him if she wants to make it out the door. He whispers, “Go, love. Save the world.”

 

She thinks it's an overstatement but it gives her what she needs to get out of the apartment and for the first time in a year, she doesn't think Graham's case is going to drown her.