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The Meat Cute

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Emma - 2007

They were perfect for each other. Absolutely, adorably, true love perfect, and even a jaded cynic like Emma Swan could respect a love like that. Her best friends David and Mary Margaret had been in love with each other more or less since the third grade. Mary Margaret had kissed David on the school bus, and he'd chased her around the playground the next day. It was pretty much a done deal when she'd sent him the note asking, "Do you love me? Check yes or no." He'd obviously checked "Yes".

Thirteen years later, David finally proposed, which is why Emma finds herself this very Friday night in a loud and rowdy honky tonk in Ft. Worth (over an hour's drive away from her quiet, comfy bed back in the sleepy little town of Storybrooke) celebrating Mary Margaret's Bachelorette Party. She even curled her hair and wore her best ass-accentuating jeans, for god's sake. To say this isn't Emma's usual scene would be an understatement. She doesn't have a usual scene, to be honest. Between her job at the diner, studying for her G.E.D., and taking care of an energetic four year-old, she can't remember the last time she had a night out. The only reason she's here tonight is out of love and loyalty to the soon-to-be Mr. and Mrs. David Nolan.

Well, that and the very generous offer of all-night babysitting from her boss, Granny Lucas, who happens to be Ruby's grandmother. It is this last fact which is presently keeping Emma from strangling Ruby, who keeps insisting that Emma participate in the PG-13 truth-or-dare list she created for the party.

Emma runs the scenario through her mind. Hey, thanks for keeping my kid overnight. Sorry about choking your granddaughter? Nah. Probably not cool.

Still, she admits to herself that this all could've been worse, even as she watches Belle - quiet, shy little Belle - do a body-shot off some stranger at the bar to the sound of hoots and hollers from the rest her group of friends (and a few bystanders). At least Mary Margaret was able to talk Ruby down from the original X-rated list.

"Come on, Em," Belle cajoles as she rejoins the group. "If I can do that, you have to do something, too." She playfully bumps Emma's shoulder with her own.

Ruby smiles wickedly at Emma and begins quietly chanting her name. "Em-ma. Em-ma. Em-ma!"

Emma scowls and waves her off, but soon Mary Margaret, Belle, and Ashley join in the chanting, getting louder and louder. "Em-ma! EM-MA! EM-MA!"

"OKAY!" Emma huffs in annoyed resignation and reaches her hand out to Ruby. "Gimme the damn list." After a quick perusal of the little pink piece of paper, Emma decides on the tamest item she can find. She hands the page back to a gleefully grinning Ruby. "I'll do number 12."

Ruby scans the list quickly. Eyes alighting on the appropriate line, she flicks her dark brown hair over her shoulder, clears her throat dramatically, and reads aloud to the others, "Item 12: Get a stranger to buy you a drink." She nods her approval. "Fair enough. I pick -"

"Whoa, wait," Emma interrupts, eyes widening. "Who says you get to pick the target?"

Ruby turns to Mary Margaret. "Alright then. What says the Bride-to-Be? Do we let Emma pick her own victim, or do we all get to choose for her? We'll defer to your ruling, since you're the princess tonight."

Mary Margaret giggles, but tries to assume a more regal posture, or at least as much as someone who's four margaritas in can manage. She's dressed for the "princess" role tonight. Her dark, pixie-cut hair is topped with a silver and white plastic tiara complete with mini-veil. A white satin sash proclaiming her status as "Bachelorette" slices across her deep teal dress. She even has a little plastic scepter which she is currently tapping on each of Ruby's shoulders as if bestowing a knighthood. Knowing full well where this is headed, Emma groans inwardly.

"M' royal edict -Tha's a funny word 'edict'." Mary Margaret snorts another giggle, then tries to compose herself. She raises her scepter and begins again. "Royal edict is that Lady Ruby of Lucas shall select the victim!" Ruby claps her hands excitedly as Mary Margaret continues. "I also rule that Lady Emma of the Swans must close her eyes for the choosing."

"Really?" Emma pleads.

Mary Margaret furrows her brows and points her plastic scepter menacingly at Emma. "Yes, really. No peeking. Thus sayeth the bride. I mean Princess." She pauses for a second as a thought occurs to her, and then claps a hand to her mouth to stifle a chuckle. "Ha! I'm the Princess Bride!" She whacks Emma's arm with the scepter. "Get it, Ems?"

Emma (and the rest of the girls) can't help but laugh at the happily drunken Mary Margaret. With a sigh, Emma places a hand over her eyes in capitulation.

"Okay, Ruby, my soul is prepared," she claims. "Do your worst."

A few seconds pass for Emma in darkened silence (or more accurately, darkened ambient bar noise), followed by awed whispers and murmurs from the group. This is sounding ominous, Emma thinks.

Ruby's voice breaks through. "I choose him."

Emma opens her eyes and follows the line of Ruby's perfectly manicured pointer finger to a man sitting alone at the bar. From this distance, she can make out his tousled black hair, broad shoulders, classic profile and a scruff-peppered jawline that could cut glass.

Emma swallows hard. Oh, god. What have I gotten myself into? The man is far too attractive, and she's long out of practice at flirting. Her son Henry has been the only man in her life - the only man she's wanted in her life - for years now. I'm not ready for this!

The girls all give her encouraging pats on the back and shoulder, but Emma is backpedaling as hard as she can. "Oh nonononono," she murmurs, her eyes wide in panic. "I- I have no idea how to get a guy to buy me a drink. I pass. Give me the list back, I'll pick something else. What would I even say?"

Just as Emma believes her friends are about to pick her up and physically carry her over to the dark-haired man's side, he stands and walks away, leaving a half-empty glass on the bar. Emma sags in relief, and turns back to the high-top table where she and her friends are congregating.

"Oh!" Emma snaps her fingers in mock disappointment. "Too late, he's gone. Let's do something else now. Anybody want jello-shots?" she chirps a little too brightly.

"Not so fast!" Ashley grabs Emma shoulders and turns her back towards the bar area. "See? He just walked over to the jukebox, and he left his drink behind. He'll be right back to his spot in a minute. Go!"

Emma can see her friend is right, but she still hesitates. "And do what exactly?"

Ashley shrugs. "I don't know. Go sit on his barstool? Then when he gets back he'll have to talk to you."

Emma nods and takes a deep breath. Get your shit together, Swan. Since when are you one to back down from a challenge?

She squares her shoulders and tosses her hair. As an afterthought, she tugs the neckline of her black tank top just a tad lower (a little extra cleavage couldn't hurt, right?), then marches forward with determination. As she nears the barstool, she peeks between the other patrons and sees its previous occupant is still pressing buttons on the jukebox. The bar area is crowded, and he likely won't see her until he's practically right next to her.

She orders a rum and Dr. Pepper from the bartender, and as she's digging out her credit card to open a tab, she notices the crumpled pack of cigarettes she rarely makes use of. If there was ever a night I needed a smoke, I think this is it. Emma hasn't had a cigarette in months. They're probably stale, but she lights one anyway, hoping the combination of nicotine and alcohol will give her just enough of a kick so that she can pretend she remembers how to flirt with a man. She says a silent prayer of thanks to the gods of honky tonks that this is one of the few bars in existence where a person can still smoke indoors.

She takes a long pull and exhales slowly, savoring the rush as the wonderful, deadly chemicals flood through her veins. She sips her drink and is just about to take another drag, when she feels a tap on her shoulder.

Emma turns and her gaze locks with the bluest eyes she's ever seen, as a deep, accented voice rumbles, "Excuse me, lass, but I think you've got my chair."


Killian - 2007

Another damn bar, another damn barstool, and Killian Jones feels no less a fool than the day she left him. He still cannot fathom how he could've been so wrong about Milah. He'd tried so hard to do everything right, to play by the rules. How had he missed the signs?

Married. His Milah was married. Correction, he thinks. Not MY Milah anymore - bloody hell, I guess she was never mine. Also, that would be "IS" married. Present tense. Looking to stay that way as well. Not only married but -

No, he can't let himself think about it. Hell, he started this ridiculous road trip for the exact purpose of running away from her memory, from the shattered remains of the life he'd planned for the two of them. For three weeks now, he's been drinking and fucking his way across America to try to forget Milah. Using rum to numb the pain, and women to try to feel something again. Fat lot of good it's doing me...

He motions for the bartender and orders two fingers of rum on the rocks. When the drink arrives, he drains half of it in one swallow, feeling the burn of cheap alcohol sear the back of his throat. He relishes the physical pain as an appropriate accompaniment to the ache in his heart. Closing his eyes, he turns her memory on, and lets the movie of their time together play behind his eyelids. As long as his eyes are shut, she's still there with him. It's always like this. Every night, in every town, in every bar, at the bottom of every glass, his fool-hearted memory waits patiently for the chance to fool him some more.

Slowly he opens his eyes again, and his senses are assaulted by the neon glow of beer lights, the twang of country music, and the smell of booze and a horde of sweaty bodies in fairly tight proximity. He glances down the bar and sees a petite brunette blushing furiously as she licks salt off some redneck's arm before downing a shot then biting a lime from between the man's teeth. This sight is closely followed by high-pitched howls coming from a high-top table further away where a group of women are presided over by a lass in what looks to be a plastic tiara with a veil. The brunette shakes her body-shot partner's hand embarrassedly, then returns giggling to her mates.

Killian cringes inwardly. A hen party. Wonderful. A celebration of love and marriage is exactly what I needed to be around tonight. Why the devil am I even here? He pauses his mental grumbling to look down at his still half-full glass. Ah, yes. Rum. That was it.

He downs the remaining contents and stares into his now empty glass for a while, trying to tune out the other voices around him (is that table of lasses chanting something now?) by focusing on the song playing in the background. He's never been a huge fan of country music - classic rock is more his style - but he's willing to admit that a plaintive steel guitar and crying fiddle make a perfect soundtrack for heartbreak.

He signals the bartender to bring him another round, and as he waits, he digs in his pocket for change. Might as well drop a quarter or two of my own in the jukebox. His drink is placed in front of him, and again he swallows half of it in one go. He's scrounged together three quarters, so he stands and wends his way through the crowd to the jukebox, leaving his remaining drink and barstool unattended.

Making a music selection is proving harder than he originally thought, however. To begin with, the jukebox is one of the modern wi-fi streaming, mp3 playing overly complicated models. On top of that, it seems to mostly be filled with only the latest hits out of Nashville - none of which Killian recognizes. He finally manages to find some older artists' names amongst the lot, and taps hopefully at Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and George Jones. Finally, he edges back through the sea of people to the familiarity of his spot at the bar, and the promise of alcohol-induced numbness. Except that -

Shite. What's this then? He's nearly back to the bar when he sees her, or rather he sees her back and the long blond curls cascading down it. Killian is in no mood tonight to deal with any member of the fairer sex, and this one now seems to have the audacity to be not only sitting in his spot, but smoking! Not that I couldn't use a smoke tonight myself, but she's going to bloody well get ash in my rum!

Rolling his eyes and quickening his pace, Killian marches up to the woman, attempting but not completely succeeding at keeping a tight rein on his temper. Reaching out with two fingers, he taps her on the shoulder, but as the woman turns to him, his heart very nearly stops, then leaps traitorously into his throat.

She is breathtaking, her eyes as green as a pine forest, her hair a glowing halo of sunlight even in the dimness of the bar. His mouth has gone bone dry, and all Killian can manage to do is mumble a raspy, "Excuse me, lass, but I think you've got my chair."


A/N (continued): The songs referenced in this installment are "Check Yes or No," "Fool-Hearted Memory" and "The Chair" - all by George Strait.

HUGE THANKS to Lena (lenfaz) and Krystal (captainswannl29) for beta-ing for me!

Chapter Text

 Present Day

"So Walsh proposed last night."

Emma hears Mary Margaret's excited gasp through the cell phone wedged between her ear and shoulder. Most friends wouldn't appreciate a phone call at 6:30 a.m., but with Emma busy at the restaurant (her restaurant, though that still feels strange to think about) from lunch time until late at night coupled with Mary Margaret's teaching schedule, early mornings are about the only quiet time that the two of them can have an actual conversation.

After a beat of silence her friend responds with, "Wait - why am I sensing that this is a bad thing?"

Emma sighs heavily. "Hang on."

She fumbles with her keys in the dim light of pre-dawn attempting to lock her yellow Volkswagen Beetle without dropping her cell. She's certainly not stalling for time to answer Mary Margaret's overly perceptive question. Not at all.

Hearing the clunk of the ancient vehicle's door lock sliding into place, Emma decides that maybe a quick but direct answer is better. Might as well just spit it out.

"Webrokeup." The words run together into a single blob. Emma hears Mary Margaret's slow exhale followed by a soft slurping sound. "Geez, are you literally sipping tea and judging me right now?" Emma turns and leans back against the car, swiping a stray piece of hair back underneath her ballcap.

Mary Margaret huffs indignantly, but Emma can still make out the clink of a tea cup being placed back into its saucer in the background. Thought so.

"Oh, Emma, I'm not judging you," she replies in what Emma lovingly refers to as her 'disappointed mom' voice. "I'm just not sure I understand. Walsh is a nice guy. You two were good together."

"Yeah, I suppose so…" Emma uses her hips to push herself off the car and begins walking to the back door of the restaurant. She wonders idly where the delivery guy from the meat market is. He's usually there with her daily order by this time.

Mary Margaret's voice softens and an edge of concern creeps into her tone. "You know I worry about you, don't you? That wall of yours - it may keep out pain, but it may also keep out love."

Emma hums noncommittally. Love, she thinks. That was exactly the problem… In her mind, Emma goes back to the night before.

Table for two. Candlelight. Wine. As she sits down at the table, Emma can see it in Walsh's nervous smile. She knows what's coming, and she's not ready to face it, so she picks at her dinner, hardly daring to make eye contact with him.

When dessert arrives, she can't put it off any longer because there's a diamond ring glinting on the plate amidst the swirls of chocolate, and then he's down on one knee telling her he loves her and loves Henry and loves their life together. The tears that had been prickling at the back of her eyes finally break free to trail down her face. He sees them, glinting against her cheeks in the glow of the candles, and he pauses mid-sentence - his all-important question unfinished.

He cants his head to the side, concern written all over his features. "Emma, what is it?"

Her breathing is shallow as she struggles to keep her composure. "Walsh, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

He reaches up to gently brush a tear from her face, and the softness in his gaze breaks her heart for him. "It's okay…" He swallows hard, seeming to brace himself. "It's okay. Just talk to me."

"I can't." She takes a deep breath. "Marry you, that is. I - I'm not in love with you. Not like that. I want to be…" She runs a hand through her long blonde hair in frustration. "I've begged and pleaded with my heart, but there's no getting through. I guess you just can't make a heart love somebody." She mumbles the last words, her eyes cast down to the floor.

"I see." He clears his throat and presses his lips together in a sad imitation of a smile. "I'm suddenly feeling a little foolish down here on the floor." He stands and resumes his seat across from her at the table. He catches her eyes again for a split second, almost reaching for her hand, but he pulls back. "Emma, please just tell me the truth about one thing, and I promise I won't be angry either way. Is there someone else?"

"No," she replies immediately, but a deep lilting voice whispers through her thoughts that maybe - just maybe - there is something more for her out there. Her eyes glaze over for a second as she takes a moment to consider her response more carefully.

"No. It's more like…" she bites her lip as she tries to find the words to explain. How do you tell someone that you're still holding out hope for that spark, that elusive magic without sounding like a starry-eyed idiot? "It's more like the idea of someone else."

As Emma absentmindedly unlocks the door, Mary Margaret's voice pulls her back to the present. "We just want you to be happy." Emma notices how her friend has fallen back into the collective 'we' so often employed by those in a happy coupling.

Emma gives a small chuckle. "You and David want me to find capital 'T' True Love, just like the two of you."

"And what's so wrong with True Love?"

"Ugh. Nothing, I guess." Other than the fact that I'm not the kind of person that it happens to. Emma sets her keys on the counter, and flicks on the lights. "But, let's look at the words you just used to describe my relationship with Walsh."

Emma's eyes land on the cash register, and it occurs to her that she left the box of receipt paper refills in her car. She turns and pulls the door open to head back to the parking lot. "'Nice' guy. 'Good' together. Those aren't bad things, but do you really think those are the descriptors of twoo wuv?"

As she begins walking to her car, she can almost hear Mary Margaret narrowing her eyes in disapproval. "Hmmm. I don't think you'd recognize True Love if it bit you."

Emma freezes in her tracks as memories flash through her mind unbidden.

She gasps as the sharp nip of his teeth and scratch of his stubble against her throat spread like fire across her skin. He raises his head, and she's lost - drowning in his too-blue eyes as he moves above her, filling and stretching her deliciously. She bites her lip to stop the moan threatening to escape, wrapping her legs tightly around his hips, pulling him closer, deeper…

The loud thud of the door shutting behind her snaps Emma back to awareness. "Shit."

"What's wrong?" Mary Margaret asks.

"Hang on just a sec." Emma trots the handful of steps back to the door and jiggles the handle. Locked. She growls in frustration, tugging angrily on the brim of her cap. "Really?" she pleads with the heavens.

"What!? What happened?" Mary Margaret's voice is even more anxious now.

Emma kicks the door, which does nothing to help the situation, and in fact actually hurts her toe - not that she'd admit it. "I locked myself out of the restaurant like a dumbass. I'll have to call you back later."

"Do you need any help?"

"No, I can handle it," Emma mumbles, her mind already running through her options for dealing with this situation, "but thanks," she adds as an afterthought.

The two friends say their goodbyes and Emma pockets her cell phone. She could call the locksmith, but that would take forever and cost extra money that she doesn't have. Ashley and Anton won't be here for a few more hours.

Okay then. Breaking and entering it is. Emma kneels down by the door handle, thankful in the moment that the locks are nearly as old as she is and should be easy to pick. She pulls a couple of hairpins out of the neat bun protruding from the back vent of her ballcap, and sets to work. The sun still hasn't crested the horizon yet, but she learned long ago that lock-picking is more an issue of touch versus sight. It's all in the tumblers…

She's so deep in concentration that the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps doesn't even register until she finds herself being lifted by the shoulders in a vice-like grip and pressed roughly against the wall.

On instinct, she brings her knee up fast and hard, connecting with the stranger's groin. She hears his cry of pain as he releases her and staggers backwards. Emma reaches into her pocket, and grabs her phone to call 9-1-1, when -

"Bloody hell!" the man groans and Emma freezes.

That voice. She knows that voice - it's been featured in a number of her best and wildest dreams over the last eight years. But it can't be…

She raises her eyes from her phone screen to survey the man doubled-over and gasping in front of her. He raises his head and their eyes lock. The pained expression falls from his face, replaced one of utter shock.

"Bloody hell," he repeats in an incredulous whisper. "It's you."

Emma blinks rapidly and shakes her head, unable to believe her eyes. "Killian?"


"It's our first day, Rob," Killian grumbles into his phone as the delivery van jostles down the two lane strip of blacktop locals referred to as a highway. "Our first bleedin' day and that rat bastard Smee is late. I'm making the morning deliveries myself." Squinting at a road sign illuminated by the glow of his headlights, Killian curses under his breath. "And now it looks like I've missed my turn. Hold on."

He sets the phone down in a cup holder next to his coffee, and executes a rather ungraceful U-turn in the middle of the empty road whilst spewing a few choice phrases he'd picked up in the Navy.

When he raises the phone to his ear, he can hear Robin laughing at him. "That's a picturesque suggestion, mate, but I'm not sure Smee's head would quite fit up there. Besides, it'd get a bit messy, wouldn't it?"

Killian turns onto the side road he'd missed before. "Glad my troubles are so amusing to you," he deadpans. Propping up his knee to hold the steering wheel straight, he scrubs a hand down his face and exhales heavily. "I just don't want to lose customers before I even get this mad enterprise up and running. Remind me again why I thought this was a good idea?"

"Damned if I know. Some nonsense about being tired of cities and nightlife," Robin replies.

Killian hums. "There's that. Not to mention the added benefit of no longer having to worry about walking in on you and Regina shagging in my office ever again."

"That was one time, and well - newly wedded bliss and all that." At least Robin has the decency to sound mildly abashed. "You know, if you get bored of being a country gent, I'll happily sell you back your share of the pub at a very modest markup."

Killian chuckles as he pulls the van into the parking lot of his first delivery. "What? After you underpaid me for it in the first place? That's highway robbery. You're a bloody thief, Locksley."

He slowly steers the van around the side of the restaurant, puts it in park, and cuts the engine. He hears Robin's huff of indignation through the phone, but Killian's attention is drawn to a small, shadowy figure crouched by the back door. He can't make out much more than a silhouette, but it looks like the person is trying to pick the lock. Robin starts to respond to Killian's flippant remark, but Killian cuts him off.

"Rob, I'll call you later. I think I've just come across a burglar." Before Robin can respond, Killian disconnects the call. He opens the driver's door as quietly as possible, and climbs out, pocketing his phone.

By some miracle, the burglar still seems to be unaware of his presence. He runs the distance between them and grabs the would-be perpetrator by the shoulders, lifting and pressing the person firmly against the wall next to the door.

In that instant, he's struck by a powerful rush of deja vu. He catches a flash of vibrant (and angry) green eyes, and for a moment he's somewhere else.

He barely hears the hotel room door click shut behind them because he's pinning her to the wall, her fingers in his hair and her mouth hot and hungry against his as though she would devour him on the spot.

That split second is all it takes for her to fight back, and the next thing he knows, he's doubled over in pain, having received a swift knee to the balls. He staggers back, bracing his hands against his knees as he gasps for breath.

"Bloody hell!" he manages to grunt.

Slowly he raises his head, still panting from the pain in his groin, but as he meets his assailant's eyes, his jaw drops. He knows that face. It's the face he's tried to tell himself he isn't looking for in every crowd. The face some part of him always hoped would walk into his pub one night. The face he'd almost convinced himself had only been the rum-soaked imaginings of a lost soul. How is this possible?

"Bloody hell," he whispers. "It's you."

She blinks and shakes herself, and he's mildly gratified that she looks as utterly flummoxed as he feels. "Killian?"

He stands upright, never taking his eyes off of her for fear this is some sort of bizarre mirage. His thoughts swirl erratically through his mind (because how exactly does he talk to the woman he hasn't seen since the best night of his life?), but the one that keeps rising to the surface over and over cries out, She remembers me! She remembers my name! Feigning a measure of rationality he does not feel, he manages to stammer, "What the devil are you doing here? And why are you trying to break into this restaurant?"

The initial shock seemingly passed, the woman's face hardens. She narrows her eyes, shoving her hands into the back pockets of her jeans and taking a small step toward him. There's a clear edge of annoyance in her voice when she speaks. "I guess I should introduce myself. Name's Emma." She removes one hand from her pocket, but rather than extending it for him to shake, she raises it to point at the large yellow sign proclaiming the establishment to be 'Swan's Bar-B-Q' in black and red letters. "Emma Swan."

Killian squeezes his eyes shut and can feel the tips of his ears burning in embarrassment. "You're the owner." He says it as a statement, yet still tentatively opens one eye, looking to her (Emma, apparently) for confirmation which he receives in the form of a grim nod.

Oh, well done, Jones, he thinks. Not only did I just attack my biggest customer, it's HER. Actually, literally HER. After eight sodding years of wondering… He groans inwardly. Is it possible that I pissed off some vengeful demon in a past life?

Killian opens both eyes and plasters on what he hopes to be a charming smile. "Right then. Since I've practically assaulted you and made a proper arse of myself, I believe I owe you a name as well." He pauses, tilting his head slightly as he considers. She remembers me, an overly hopeful voice chirps in the back of his mind. "Or, rather a last name, that is."

A lovely flush colors Emma's cheeks. Well, that's encouraging. His smile deepens into a smirk and he raises one dark eyebrow. "It's Jones. Killian Jones. Proud new owner of Killian's Meat Market."

He extends his hand to her, and she stares at it warily for a second or two, before tentatively stepping forward to accept the handshake. He swears he must be imagining the little prickles of energy he feels sparking up his forearm at the slight contact, but then he sees her eyes widen like a spooked animal as she pulls abruptly from his grasp. Did she feel that, too?

"So you're my new meat supplier," Emma begins, then stops herself, turning her head sharply to the side. After a second of pained hesitation she tilts her head back toward him, looking up at him through her eyelashes. "That came out weird. Sorry."

Killian barks out a laugh. "Oh no, love. Don't apologize. It sounds much more exciting your way. In fact, I'd be more than happy to slip some extra sausage in your box each morning, if you're interested," he purrs, punctuating the proposition with a waggle of his eyebrows.

He fears her eyes will become lodged in her skull from the vehemence with which she rolls them. "You did NOT just say that," Emma grumbles, but Killian can tell that the ice of awkwardness between them has finally begun to crack.

"Aye, but I did." Unable to stop himself, he winks at her and is rewarded with the barest hint of a smile. Not wanting to press his luck too far, he adds, "Speaking of your order, lass, I should probably go retrieve that from the van." He hikes his thumb at the vehicle behind him.

"Right," she replies, turning back toward the door of the restaurant. "And I should get back to trying to pop this damn lock. I almost had it before a wannabe vigilante slammed into me." She cuts her eyes at him pointedly.

He purses his lips. "About that. Might I inquire as to why you are breaking into your own establishment?" Unconsciously his hand reaches to scratch a spot behind his ear.

Emma is already on her knees by the doorknob resuming her work, and from his vantage point at her side, Killian can't help but admire the curved profile of her shapely arse in that position. Suddenly, another rush of memories assaults him.

She's kneeling in front of him, looking up at him through long, inky lashes with a wicked grin on her face. Her deft fingers make quick work of his belt and zipper, as his cock strains against his boxer-briefs, rock hard and begging to be set free…

Seeming to sense his eyes on her, she turns to him with a raised eyebrow of her own. "You couldn't have asked me that before you plowed me?" She freezes, the smirk falling from her face, and Killian valiantly attempts to stifle his laugh. "Over. Plowed - into - whatever. Nevermind." Her voice drops into a mumble, and she averts her attention determinedly back to the lock.

She gives the hairpins one final twist and the door clicks open. She looks up at him as a genuine smile breaks across her face - the very smile that had so dazzled him that night eight years ago. She rocks back on her heels and stands. "Boom. That's how it's done." A mixture of pride and sass laces her tone.

Emma's smile is contagious, and Killian finds himself grinning back at her. She catches the edge of the door before it can shut again. "To answer your question," she continues, "I left to get something from my car, forgot my keys on the counter, and managed to lock myself out. I'm gonna find something to wedge this open so it doesn't happen again, and then I'll follow you to the van to help you carry in the order."

Killian shrugs. "No worries, lass. I can manage."

Emma huffs and grabs a chair from inside to prop the door. "Hey, buddy. I'm a lot stronger than I look, and there's no sense in you making multiple trips. Lay it on me."

Killian's tongue swipes across his top teeth, and he takes a step closer to her, edging into her personal space. "Darling, I'd be more than happy to lay it on you any time you like."

"Do you ever stop?" Emma scoffed, but Killian had heard the catch in her breath before she spoke.

He hummed in response with a flicker of a smirk before turning to walk toward the van. "Come on then, Swan. I've no doubt you're a tough lass."

They work in tandem retrieving and unloading her order into the restaurant's industrial cooler, their movements seamlessly coordinated as if they've been doing this dance for years. It should surprise him, seeing as how this is the first time they've done anything so normal together, and yet it doesn't. It simply feels natural.

She walks him back to the door and he can't help but playfully nudge her shoulder. "I don't mean to upset you Emma, but I think we make quite the team."

She doesn't answer, but he does catch her giving him a side-eyed glance, a twitch of a smile playing at the corner of her pink lips.

"So," she finally says as they reach the door, "I suppose I'll be seeing you tomorrow morning?" Killian dares to believe her voice actually sounds the tiniest bit hopeful.

"Sadly no," he replies, his hand scratching the phantom itch behind his ear once more, "I'm only playing delivery boy this morning as my employee was late. Though for you, lass, I might make an exception."

He grins at her, his eyes flicking briefly down to her mouth. Her tongue darts out to wet her lips, and the gesture sends his blood rushing southward. Killian leans ever so slightly closer, and Emma tilts her head incrementally to one side. "Is that so?"

"Actually, love, now that I know you're the proprietor here, I shall have to make a point of coming as often as possible." Killian's voice is lower now - softer - and he doesn't bother to stop himself from placing a lascivious emphasis on the word 'coming'.

Bloody hell, this woman brings out the very devil in me. Better rein it in before I do something idiotic like plundering that exquisite mouth of hers. I wonder if she still tastes like - NO! Snap out of it, Jones.

Furrowing his brow, he clears his throat and leans back against the door frame (further from temptation). "Seeking your advice, of course."

Emma blinks at the sudden change in tone, her expression turning quizzical. "My advice?"

"Yes, Swan. You see the Miner brothers from whom I bought the meat market had a section of the premises dedicated to taxidermy. Apparently they not only processed deer and other game for hunters, but also stuffed and mounted trophies. That is not a part of the business I intend to continue, and it leaves me with unused space. I'm thinking of turning that part of the market into a kitchen and selling barbecue as take-out."

Emma's face falls and she crosses her arms over her chest protectively. "You're what?"

Confused by her sudden defensive posture, Killian answers slowly. "Opening my own barbecue stand. I'd appreciate any words of wisdom you could offer, since barbecue is apparently your area of expertise."

Emma narrows her eyes and Killian can practically feel invisible walls snap into place around her. "So, you thought what exactly? That you could just show up here and flirt with me to get me to spill my secrets?"

Still a bit stunned by the sudden shift in the conversation, Killian's own hackles begin to rise. He juts his hips forward slightly to pull away from the doorframe and moves closer into her space, crowding her just a bit. "Nothing of the sort, love. A little friendly competition is good for the blood. Or don't you think you can handle it?" He gives a deliberate pop of emphasis to the final 'T'.

Far from retreating, Emma steps even closer jabbing him in the chest with her pointer finger. "And what makes you think I'm the one who couldn't handle it?"

Killian's eyes widen at the challenge, and he finds himself in equal measure both angry and aroused. Before he can snarl a response (or pin her against the doorframe and kiss her senseless), a new voice draws their attention.

"Mom, who's this guy?" The voice belongs to a young lad, maybe twelve or thirteen years old, with shaggy brown hair and his mother's chin.

Killian freezes and instantly he's transported back in time to a very different doorstep.

"Momma, who's that?"

A mop of brown curls and two wide grey eyes peek around Milah's legs as she stands, arms crossed and scowling at Killian from her doorway. "It's no one, sweetie," she replies, looking down at the little boy and tousling his hair affectionately. "This man just has the wrong house. Now go back to your playroom, while I give him directions."

The boy nods and runs back inside. Milah steps forward onto the small porch, closing her front door behind her. Killian can only stand stock still in utter shock, his heart hammering in his chest with such force his ribs may break. He feels like the very picture of a fool, standing there before her in his best dress uniform, with a bouquet of flowers in his hand and a diamond in his pocket. A very redundant diamond, now he sees she is already sporting one on her left hand that somehow had never been there before.

"Milah, what's going on?" he finally manages to stammer.

"I should ask you the same thing! What the hell are you doing here? You never said you'd be in port today!" Milah's hands are on her hips and he's never seen her look so angry.

"I - I wanted to surprise you. My discharge went through a couple of weeks early, and I thought we could celebrate…" he trails off lamely, still struggling to process what is happening before his eyes.

Milah rubs her eyes in frustration. "Killian, you can't be here. This is my home. My son is here. Thank god my husband's at work or you might've ruined everything."

Killian blanches at the word 'husband', but Milah either doesn't notice or doesn't care. She sighs heavily and looks him in the eye. "I thought you understood our arrangement. You were fun and handsome and exciting. A fantasy. Why the hell did you think I never invited you here? We always met at your base or at a hotel." She scrubs a hand down her face. "Nevermind that now. Whatever this was-" she gestures between them "-is over. This is my real life, Killian, and I can't have you getting in the way of that. Now please go before any of my neighbors notice you."

She turns on her heel and storms back into the house. Before the door closes, he calls out, "Milah, wait! Milah, I-" the door slams shut behind her "-love you," he finishes in a whisper.

"Hey, kid! Shouldn't you be walking to school by now?" Emma's voice brings Killian back to the present. The boy trots the rest of the way over to where Emma and Killian are standing, and Emma casually throws an arm around the lad's shoulder, pressing a kiss to the top of his head.

No. NO! Not her, too. Killian clenches his jaw as he takes in the picture of mother and son. His eyes dart down to her left hand, finding the ring-finger empty. That doesn't mean there wasn't one eight years ago…

"Mom!" the lad grumbles with the dramatics of adolescence, and pushes Emma's side as she chuckles. "I was on my way, but I remembered I left my math book in your office last night. I just came by to pick it up." He pauses, turning to Killian and giving him a once-over before smiling and extending his hand. "I'm Henry."

Forcing himself to move so as not to be rude (it's hardly the lad's fault), Killian manages to turn the corners of his mouth up into a semblance of a smile that doesn't begin to reach his eyes, and shakes Henry's hand.

When Killian looks back up to Emma, her expression is hard as stone, her lips pressed into a grim line. "Henry, this is Killian Jones. He's the new owner of the Miner Brothers' Meat Market."

"And I was just leaving," Killian interjects.

"Yes, you were," Emma confirms as Henry looks perplexedly between the two adults.

Killian nods a terse goodbye and strides back to his van. He drives back to the market with a lead foot on the gas pedal, parks the vehicle and marches straight back to his office, tossing the van keys to a befuddled Smee along the way. The blighter will just have to handle the rest of this morning's deliveries himself.

He shuts his office door and slumps into his desk chair. He leans forward, resting his elbows on the desk and dropping his head into his hands. His fingers bite angrily through his hair into his scalp. He's had about all he can take for one morning. He'd found his mystery woman here of all places in the middle of bloody nowhere, and for a few shining minutes it seemed like eight years of "What ifs?" and fantasies were about to come to glorious fruition.

Then, she'd turned on him suddenly for reasons he still didn't understand, and worst of all he'd discovered that the woman that saved him, that brought him back from the brink of a self-destructive maelstrom was in fact exactly like the woman who had set him on that dark path to begin with. All these years he'd believed that his night with her (Emma, he forces himself to use her name) had been so much more than a one-night stand. That they'd shared a singular magic, shining all the more brightly for its brevity, a little piece of their souls blending together along with their bodies.

But no. Once again, he is nothing more than a handsome face and a good fuck. A little adventure to tide her over. Once again, he is a fool.

Emma Swan is just like Milah.

Chapter Text

Rain clatters against the tin roof of Swan's Bar-B-Q as Emma sits hunched over the desk in her cramped office, glaring daggers at the QuickBooks spreadsheet on her computer screen. Two weeks. She has managed to avoid KillianJones for nearly two weeks now. True to his word, he has not been the person to deliver her regular orders from the Meat Market (which she couldn't help but notice has a large new sign proclaiming it to be Killian's Meat Market in tall, green letters). Instead her brisket is brought by an unfamiliar bearded, portly man named Smee who constantly wears a threadbare red knit cap. Probably some hipster that Killian brought with him as a sidekick from… wherever it is that annoyingly attractive, scruffy-faced jerkwads come from, Emma thinks.

Not that she minds the new delivery man. She's relieved, in fact, that she hasn't had to see Killian's face or deal with the awkwardness from their previous encounter. Awkward? Emma thinks, Is that the word? It didn't feel awkward, it felt… She drums her fingers on her desk in contemplation. 'Charged.' It felt charged. 'Intense,' maybe.

Not that she bothers to think about it. Because she doesn't. Except maybe every five minutes or so.

Emma snarls in frustration and leans back in her desk chair, unable to focus on the books anymore. What the hell is my problem? she chides herself. He's just some guy I had a one-night stand with. That's all. So what if he turned out to be - Emma can't quite finish the thought. What exactly had he turned out to be?

Her competition? Yes, but he clearly hadn't known she was the owner of the only other barbecue joint in town, so it's not like he intentionally swooped into Storybrooke to ruin her business.

Shocked to see she had a kid? Also true, but then that night she hadn't told him she was a mother. Hell, when he first saw Henry, Killian might've even been trying to guess her son's age and doing some quick mental math. That thought gives her a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach. But there was more to it than that. He didn't just look surprised to see Henry, he looked almost angry. No…not angry exactly. More like hurt or offended even, but that just doesn't make sense. Why on earth would the sight of her son matter to him, unless he just has a problem with women who come with extra baggage? That has to be it, right?

A small voice in the back of her mind whispers to her that maybe the problem is that Killian turned out to be exactly the man she remembers - all piercing eyes and smolder, able to make her laugh with a lame innuendo or reduce her to a stammering mess with a flick of his wicked tongue. The man she let see inside the carefully constructed walls around her heart, if only for one night. The man she's been wondering about for eight years. What if? What if she hadn't run?

Her hand rests uncertainly on the door handle as she takes one last look at him. The sun is just beginning to peek through the gap in the curtains casting a slice of golden light across his features, so peaceful in sleep. His long black eyelashes brush his cheeks, full sensuous lips softly parted, and Emma's heart screams against the voice in her mind telling her to get out of there. What if she stays? What if she leans over and kisses those lips the way she's aching to? What if those dark lashes flutter open, his blue eyes sparkling in the morning sunlight, and he reaches out for her, pulling her close with a sleepy grin?

NO! Emma shakes herself from that dangerous train of thought. She had her reasons for leaving that morning, and they still hold true. She still doesn't have time or room for anyone else in her life. She is still struggling to keep her little family of two afloat, to make something of herself while at the same time doing everything she can to raise Henry in a loving home. The walls around her heart serve an important purpose, and the one person she will allow inside is her son. Since the first moment she held Henry in her arms, he's been her exception. She may not be a perfect mother, but she'll be damned if she doesn't make absolutely sure that Henry feels loved. It's the one thing she never had as a kid that she can give to him.

No, she repeats to herself. In that moment she knows precisely what Killian Jones has turned out to be - a threat. A threat to her business and to the emotional walls that protect her heart and the delicate stability of her little family of two. Any amount of time she spends with (or spends obsessing over) some guy is taken away from either Henry or the business. This particular guy is even more dangerous because he knows all her secrets. That sort of power can hurt her, and she can't afford to be in that position. She has to be able to keep it together and take care of everything else before herself. No chinks in the armor allowed.

Emma steels her resolve and straightens in her chair, wondering how long she's been sitting there staring at the ceiling. She glares at her computer screen again, hoping vainly that if she gives QuickBooks a stern enough scowl, maybe it will relent and give her slightly better news.

She hears the bell jangle over the front door, followed by the familiar click-clack of high heels on the hardwood floor. Only one person I know of would be out in this weather in stilettos, she thinks with a wry half-smile. Emma huffs in annoyance at her computer one last time, then stands and exits her office. Cutting through the kitchen, she notices Anton packing a take-out order. She reaches the door to the main dining room just in time to catch the tail end of Ruby assuring a very pregnant Ashley she needn't bother getting up.

"... and what the hell does that boss of yours think she's doing making you work shifts when you're this far along?" Ruby raises her voice for effect when she sees Emma emerge from the back room.

Ashley laughs and rubs a hand over her rounded belly. "Hey, I ask for the shifts, okay? I've got less than two months before this little girl makes her grand entrance, and Sean and I could use the money." She cuts her eyes over to Emma and quirks up a corner of her mouth. "Besides, the boss lady over there isn't so bad. When it's dead like tonight, she lets me sit around and put my feet up."

As she reaches the counter, Emma gives Ashley a sarcastic smile. "Glad to know I'm not being cast as the Evil Queen."

"Nah, Evil Queen is too harsh." Ashley laughs, crinkling her nose. "Maybe just Wicked Stepmother."

"Wicked Stepmother, huh?" Emma scoffs in mock affront and leans an elbow on the counter. "You just keep your feet up then, Cinderella, or else those swollen tootsies of yours won't be fitting into glass slippers anytime soon!"

Ashley tsks at Emma with a small shake of her head. "Rude," she proclaims flippantly.

Emma laughs and turns her attention to Ruby who had been watching the previous exchange with amusement. "Hey, Rubes. Anton'll bring your food out in a sec."

"Great! I'm starved." Ruby scans the room, taking in the empty tables and general gloom. "You're open, right? Is Granny's-" she stops to correct herself "-I mean Swan's staying afloat?"

Emma shifts uncomfortably and traces the faux wood grain of the countertop with her fingernail. "Yeah. Things are great," she answers with a tight smile, her voice unconvincingly perky even to her own ears.

Ruby narrows her eyes. "You sure about that, honey?"

Emma nods in confirmation and runs a hand through her hair. "We're in the black. That's what matters, right?" Emma shrugs. "Besides, Thursday nights are always slow. I'm glad you came by. I suppose a non-paying customer is better than none at all," she adds with an accusatory raise of her eyebrow.

"Hey, don't be jealous of my genius." Ruby smirks and raises her hands in a placating gesture. "Some of us paid attention in Sunday school. The prodigal son screwed himself by taking his inheritance early without making sure he knew where his next meal was coming from."

Emma smiles indulgently. "Well, I guess I can't complain too loudly about that deal you cut with Granny. I did get this place-" she gestures grandly at the dining area "-even if I have to give you free food for life."

"And I got the seed money for my bar. Everybody wins," Ruby concluded with a wink.

"Is this the part where I make fun of you for identifying yourself with the wayward villain of a parable?" Emma asks, but at that moment Anton, her assistant cook (because sous-chef sounds way too pretentious for a small town barbecue joint), brings out a large brown paper sack and sets it on the counter. He nods a shy, but polite hello to Ruby then shuffles quickly back to the kitchen. For such a big, burly guy, Emma is still surprised at how mild-mannered Anton is - a real gentle giant, and never more so than when Ruby is around. Emma suspects he may have a soft spot for her saucy friend.

Ruby opens the bag and takes a whiff of the greasy, smoky goodness inside, humming appreciatively. "Emma, honey, you have a gift. This smells like heaven."

Emma laughs lightly. "I never thought of heaven as smelling like smoked brisket, but I'll take the compliment. So how's business over at Howl at the Moon?"

Ruby's eyes light up. "Great, actually! Though, I suppose it helps being the only bar in town. It turns out the good people of Storybrooke appreciate not having to drive half an hour away just to get hammered. Go figure, right?" She leans in and swats Emma's arm conspiratorially before drawing back with a pensive expression. "I'm actually thinking about installing a mechanical bull."

Emma furrows her brows in skepticism. "Isn't that a little Urban Cowboy?"

Ruby purses her lips and shrugs. "Just a passing thought." Ruby waives a hand as if to flick the idea away. "Is there anything else you want to tell me about? Your hair looks sad."

"What?" Emma stands upright and scowls, tucking her long blond hair behind her ears. "My hair does not look sad."

Ruby reaches over the counter and tousles the hair at Emma's scalp, before Emma can pull back and knock her hand away. "Look at those roots. Sad, sad, sad," Ruby tsks and taps a talon-like red fingernail against the counter. "Tomorrow morning. Come by my place after you check your smokers in the morning, and I'll give you a touch up."

Emma shakes her head. "No way. I'm not letting you dye my hair, Rubes. The last time one of us let you play beautician, you turned Mary Margaret's pixie cut purple!"

"Wait, Mary Margaret had purple hair? How the hell did I miss that?" Ashley chimes in.

"It was lilac," Ruby corrects, "and it really brought out her eyes. She loved it!"

"Then why did she dye it back to brown a few days later?" Emma retorts.

All three women turn when the bell jangles again, and the formerly-lilac-haired person in question walks through the door snapping her umbrella closed and brushing droplets off her pale blue raincoat. She takes in the expressions of the other three women and asks warily, "Were you all just talking about me or something?"

"We were talking about how much you loved that lilac dye job I gave you last year," Ruby replies with an overly bright smile.

Mary Margaret presses her lips together and nods. "Well, to be fair, I did like it at first. Then I went to school the following Monday, and my students all thought it was grey. They asked me why my hair all turned grey over the weekend, and if that meant I was a grandma now. I dyed it back as soon as I got home from school."

Emma and Ashley have a good laugh at this, but Ruby just shakes her head unfazed. "Third graders can be so cruel." She turns her attention back to Emma. "So then, we're on for highlights tomorrow?"

Emma sighs and relents. "Fine, but just plain blond, okay? No getting creative."

Ruby grins toothily back at her. "I promise you'll love it. Now, if you all will excuse me, I have a bar to manage and patrons to intoxicate." Ruby picks up her take-out bag, then struts to the door on fierce-yet-impractical heels. She arms herself with a flame red umbrella and saunters out into the storm.

By this time, Mary Margaret has moved to a booth. Ashley lowers her feet to the floor and attempts to stand up to take her friend's order, but Mary Margaret waves at her to stop. "Oh, don't worry about getting up yet. I'm still waiting on David."

Emma walks over and sits down across from Mary Margaret. "So what brings you here in this weather? I usually only see you and David for Sunday lunch after church."

"Well, to tell you the truth, I went to the Meat Market to pick up a roast to cook for supper, but there was a line out the door!" Mary Margaret exclaims and Emma freezes, suddenly not liking where this conversation is headed. Mary Margaret notices her friend's change in demeanor, but simply shakes her head bemusedly and continues. "All women, too. I'm not sure why all of a sudden the women of this town have decided to learn how to cook."

And if everybody's cooking, no one is here eating, Emma thinks. He's already hurting my business and he hasn't even opened the barbecue stand yet!

Ashley scoots her chair closer and joins in the conversation. "Pretty sure that has to do with the new owner. Did you get a good look at him? Mmmmm. He's by far the tastiest thing on the menu," she says with a dramatic lick of her lips.

Emma can feel heat prickling at the back of her neck, but tries to maintain a cool facade, while Mary Margaret gapes at Ashley.

"Oh, it's just the pregnancy hormones talking." Ashley rolls her eyes. "No need to go clutching your pearls."

Mary Margaret huffs and turns to Emma. "You know - pearl clutching aside," she says with a side-eyed glance back at Ashley, "he was kind of handsome if you're into the whole scruffy bad boy thing. He was really quite charming, too. Emma, I know it's only been a couple of weeks since you and Walsh-"

"Wait, you talked to him?" Emma interrupts. "I thought you said you left because the line was so long."

"Well, no. I mean, sort of…" Mary Margaret trails off looking a bit embarrassed. "You know how curious I get. I had to see what the fuss was about. So, I waited in line, got my roast and took it home, but there wasn't time to cook it. So, I threw it in the fridge and called David to tell him to meet me here when he gets done with his shift at the Sheriff's Station." She pauses to check her watch. "Which ought to be any minute now, really. But, back to what I was saying."

She pats Emma on the wrist to make sure she's paying attention, and Emma cringes inwardly. I have a bad feeling about this.

"I know it's only been a couple of weeks since your breakup," Mary Margaret continues, "but maybe it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to start putting yourself back out there. Help you, you know, get your groove back-"

Ashley snorts a laugh. "Did you just seriously say 'get your groove back'?"

Mary Margaret clears her throat, pointedly ignoring the interjection. "Or at least be a good distraction. You've just been so down lately."

Emma looks down at her hands, trying to control her breathing. She's genuinely touched by her friend's earnest concern, but at the same time wants to smack her own head on the table. This isn't happening. She's not about to suggest that-

"Killian really seems like a good guy, Emma. Maybe you two should-"

Emma's head pops up. "Oh, it's Killian already, is it?" she snarks, surprised at her own outburst.

"Well, his name's in big green letters above the door. Hard to miss," Mary Margaret deadpans. "What's the deal? I know you're not the biggest fan of my meddling, but you seem kind of…" She pauses with a scowl, raking her eyes over Emma in an almost clinical assessment. "Is there something I should know about?"

"No," Emma answers too quickly.

"Emma. Do you know him or something?"

Only in the biblical sense. A manic giggle threatens to bubble up at the thought, and Emma fights to suppress it. She instinctively tugs at the neckline of her top, vainly attempting to hide the nervous red splotches she is sure are forming on her neck and chest.

"Not really," she finally answers.

Mary Margaret crosses her arms, tapping one finger petulantly against her bicep. She purses her lips and raises her eyebrows as if to say, "go on." It's the very same glare she uses on naughty school children to make them confess, and Emma finds herself powerless against it.

"Okay, stop with the teacher face," Emma grumbles. "We had a run-in a couple of weeks ago. Remember that morning when I was on the phone with you and locked myself out of the restaurant? I was picking the lock. Killian showed up with my order for that morning, thought I was a burglar and slammed me into the wall."

Mary Margaret pulls her head back, blinking a couple of times in surprise. "Not the best first impression, I'll grant you, but it sounds like it was an honest mistake. Did he not apologize or…?"

"No, he did. Then he proceeded to throw every sleazy meat-related innuendo in the book at me. He was trying to cozy up to me to get me to spill my cooking secrets - he's about to start serving barbecue at the Meat Market. I called him on his bullshit, and then he actually had the balls to suggest that I couldn't handle the competition. Total jackass. And you should've seen his face when he saw Henry. I was fine to flirt with until he knew I was a single mom. Then he couldn't get out of here fast enough." Mostly true, Emma admits to herself. That's how it felt when it was happening, anyway.

"Oh." Mary Margaret uncrosses her arms and begins to wring her hands together, refusing to meet Emma's eyes. "So then, I suppose it would be a bad thing that I asked him to help out with the school fundraising carnival and he agreed?"

Emma's eyes widen, and her mouth drops open for a moment before she states emphatically, "Yes. That would be a bad thing."

"So is he the enemy then? Do we hate him?" Ashley asks supportively. "I get ansty when I don't know who I should hate."

"Yes. We hate him."

Mary Margaret narrows her eyes, and Emma mentally curses her friend's perceptiveness. "Hate's a pretty strong word there, Emma. Are you sure-"

"We hate him," Emma repeats with finality. "He's just a pretty boy jerk who's trying to run me out of business."

Mary Margaret bites the inside of her cheek and nods. "Well then, in that case, his scruff is ridiculous. I mean - buy a razor! Not to mention a comb for that hair for Pete's sake. You can barely understand him with that pretentious accent. And - and he has a scrawny ass!" she concludes with a dismissive wave of her hand.

Ashley bursts into laughter. "I think that's one too far, Mary Margaret. That ass looked pretty sweet to me. Then again, not all of us have the privilege of being married to the best ass in Storybrooke like some people."

Mary Margaret's eyes widen comically, clearly flustered. "What - David?"

Even Emma is laughing now. "Okay, I think of David as a brother so this whole conversation just turned creepy for me, but - as much as it pains me to say this - you know you won the booty lottery with that man, right?"

Mary Margaret toys with the top button of her cardigan demurely, then crinkles her nose and grins. "Yeah, I did, didn't I?" She waggles her eyebrows suggestively as her friends giggle in agreement.

"You did what?" David's voice booms cheerfully from the doorway. The women are temporarily stunned silent, but quickly burst into a fit of laughter.

David looks bewildered as he walks toward the booth. "What? What were you ladies talking about?"

Ashley leans over slightly in her chair, craning her neck in an unsubtle attempt to get a view of the backside in question. "Just how lucky Mary Margaret is," she replies sweetly.

David's eyebrows shoot up to his hairline and he blinks a couple of times, briefly stunned. "I'm flattered, I think?" His tone is hesitant, but his smile affable. "And maybe a little sorry I asked."

Mary Margaret is blushing furiously, as her giggles subside. "Come on and sit down, honey." She pats the space next to her in the booth, then cuts a glare at her unrepentant friends. "I promise I'll make these two behave themselves."

Wiping tears of laughter from her eyes, Emma stands and side hugs David. He pats her shoulder fraternally and slides into the seat Emma just vacated across from his wife.

"Ashley, would you mind grabbing them a couple of iced teas?" Emma asks. Ashley nods and Emma extends her hand for Ashley to grab and helps pull her to her feet.

As Ashley shuffles away to the beverage station, Emma excuses herself to run to the ladies' room, in no way attempting to avoid any further discussion of Killian Jones or (for God's sake) 'getting her groove back'. That's just an added bonus.

Emma enters the restroom and lets the door swing shut behind her, turning her back to the stalls and walking over to the sink instead. She surveys her reflection in the mirror behind it for a few moments. "What is wrong with you?" she mutters at her image. "Why are you letting this get your panties in a twist?"

"I was wondering the same thing." Mary Margaret's soft voice from the doorway startles Emma. "You wanna tell me what's really going on?"

Emma begins stammering a denial, but Mary Margaret stops her with a gesture. "Emma, we've known each other since we were kids. I can tell there's more to the story than what you told us out there." She nods her head toward the door to indicate the dining room. "So level with me. Please?"

Emma sighs, crossing her arms over her chest protectively. She cants her head to the side and stares up at the ceiling as she answers. "Killian is THE GUY. From your bachelorette party." Slowly lowering her eyes to meet her friend's, Emma watches as the pieces click into place in Mary Margaret's mind, her expression changing from confused to surprised to ecstatic.

Mary Margaret gasps and flutters her hands excitedly. "Emma that's amazing! You actually found each other again!"

Emma shakes her head, shoving her hair behind her ears. "It's not amazing, it's awful. I was never supposed to see him again."

"But…" Mary Margaret pauses, her face darkening in bewilderment. "But you told me all those years ago that he gave you hope - that you could find that spark of connection with someone, maybe even that happy endings were possible. I know you weren't ready back then, but now-"

"Now I know that he was just another jerk. You should've seen the way he looked at me when Henry showed up. It was almost like I'd betrayed him or something." Emma ducks her head to avoid her friend's concerned gaze, and the words start to pour out faster and faster. "So maybe whatever little scrap of hope I had was a lie. Happy endings aren't for everybody. We don't all get that fairytale romance. Ugh. Maybe I should've just said yes to Walsh…" As Emma's babbling trails off, she finds herself wrapped in a hug.

"Oh Emma, honey." Mary Margaret sighs, patting Emma's back softly.

Emma pulls back far enough to look Mary Margaret in the face, allowing the anxiety she feels to show clearly in her eyes. "You don't understand. I told him everything. I let him in - really let him in - because I was never supposed to see him again. I mean the foster homes, jail, Neal, everything."

"Except for Henry?" Mary Margaret clarifies.

"Except for Henry," Emma confirms.

"And why did you leave that out?"

Emma takes a step backward, suddenly fascinated with studying her own shoes. "You know why."

"Yes, but do you?" Mary Margaret asks kindly.

Emma takes a deep breath, finally meeting her friend's eyes. "Because Henry is the only good thing I ever made. Honestly, I don't know how my DNA managed to produce such an amazing kid. Keeping him was the best thing I've ever done. No matter what kind of connection I think I feel with some stranger, I have to protect Henry. I couldn't take the chance that I was wrong about Killian." Emma releases a long sigh, and shakes her head. "Turns out I was wrong about him, so I guess I did the right thing."

Mary Margaret looks unconvinced, but Emma soldiers on, trying to lighten the mood. "Now can we please drop it, and get back out there before David thinks we both have a stomach virus or something?"

Mary Margaret laughs and nods her assent, but Emma doesn't like the calculating look her friend is giving her. As they walk back to the booth together to join David, Emma plasters on a smile. She dutifully takes their order and goes back to business as usual, but there is a tugging in her heart that tells her the Killian problem is far from over.

Chapter Text

 

"What can I get for you, love?" Killian smiles amiably at the cheerful brunette standing next in line. Her face is unfamiliar, which is surprising as he'd been certain he'd seen every woman in town pass through here at least a couple of times since the Meat Market's grand re-opening. She's attractive in a cute and perky way, but not really his type. Her creamy, fair complexion and sparkling green eyes hold some appeal, though he shoves aside any thoughts of why those particular traits would be of interest to him. It's been nearly two weeks since his last encounter with that other green-eyed lass, and he's bloody well glad of it.

"A pound and a half of bottom round, please," she answers, returning his smile. As he moves to get the requested cut from the glass butcher case, she takes a moment to study him.

Suddenly her eyes light again. "You must be the new owner!" she chirps, extending her hand up and over the top of the glass case between them. "It's rare to see an unfamiliar face in this town. Mary Margaret Nolan, by the way. Welcome to Storybrooke! It looks like business is booming already!"

"Killian Jones," he replies, then raises his plastic-gloved hand, wiggling his fingers to show her the blood and meat residue lingering on them. "I hope you won't be offended if I don't shake hands. Mine are a bit messy at the moment."

Mary Margaret withdraws her hand and quickly presses it to her chest, shaking her head at her own absentmindedness. "Of course! Silly of me. It's been a long day of teaching, and I think my third graders have finally fried my brain."

Killian chuckles and turns to face the back counter to pack her order, placing the round roast onto a pristine sheet of white butcher paper. By now he's become accustomed to feeling the eyes of his female patrons on his backside every time he turns around, so he ignores it and finishes folding Mary Margaret's order into a neat packet.

"So a school teacher then?" he asks as he hands her the roast. "An admirable calling. I've a great deal of respect for those who work with children. Shaping young minds for a better future and all that," he adds with a wink.

She dips her head demurely in an imitation of a curtsey. "Aren't you the charmer!"

Ignoring the annoyed glares and pointed throat clearing from the other women in line behind her, Mary Margaret continues animatedly, "Well, since you're so interested in helping children, perhaps you'd like to volunteer at our elementary school's fundraiser carnival? It's a great cause, and we could use all the help we can get. Plus it would be a great way for you to meet people in the community."

Killian huffs a laugh at himself. "I supposed I walked right into that, didn't I? But, of course, Ms. Nolan. I'd be happy to help."

"Wonderful!" Mary Margaret nods, clearly pleased. "It's a week from Saturday. I'll get back to you next week about the details." She raises an eyebrow in what is likely meant to be a casual manner, but something in her expression makes Killian suddenly feel on edge. "And there's no need to call me Ms. Nolan, Mary Margaret is fine! So, how are you liking Storybrooke so far? Are you and your wife settling in all right?"

And there it is, he thinks. Is there a shortage of eligible males in this town or something? Since I opened this place, I've been propositioned every day and twice on Sundays. Literally.

It's all he can do to stop himself from scratching at the back of his neck, but that's just a health code violation waiting to happen. He shuffles his feet a bit, attempting to cover his discomfort at the sudden interest in his marital status with a winning smile. He takes in a deep breath to begin his now well-practiced speech ("Oh, lass, I couldn't possibly. Time demands of running a new business, you understand."), but Mary Margaret breezes on, paying no notice to the fact that he hasn't responded yet or that the women behind her in line seem to be waiting with baited breath for his answer.

"We-" she stops and leans in, pressing her empty hand to the glass case "-I mean my husband David and I. He's the town sheriff, you see. We'd love to have you and Mrs. Jones over for dinner to welcome you to town."

Feeling mildly relieved that it seems she was only looking for another couple for a dinner party, he removes his gloves and begins to ring up her order. "Ah, yes. While I do appreciate the invitation, there is no Mrs. Jones, I'm afraid."

She tilts her head inquisitively and hands him her credit card. "Divorced?"

He clears his throat, slightly taken aback. "Ah, no."

As he swipes her card, she leans in closer, her face the picture of concern. "Widower?"

Her receipt prints, and he snatches it off the machine. He hands the card and receipt back to her, and immediately reaches behind his ear to scratch nervously, unable to ignore the compulsion any longer. "No, ma'am. I've never been married."

There is a collective murmur throughout the line as Mary Margaret signs her name on the bill in the clear, elegant handwriting of one who has spent years teaching penmanship. She hands the slip of paper back to him with a calculating glint in her eye. "You know, I have a friend that I would just love for you to meet. She's a small business owner, too, so I think you'd have a lot in common."

Good Lord, it's a fix-up. How did I not see this one coming? Just smile and nod, Killian thinks.

Mary Margaret ducks her head, looking up at him from beneath delicately arched dark brows. "She's also a gorgeous blonde, if that's your thing," she adds with a wink. "Just like you, never been married, but if you ask me that's just because she works so much. Doesn't give her any time to meet people. Oh! She'll be working the carnival, too! I'll have to introduce the two of you there."

"I shall look forward to it," Killian confirms politely with a small nod, a tight smile, and an inward grimace.

Mary Margaret smiles brightly, and Killian can practically see the cogs of her matchmaking machinations whirring as she turns to leave.

Well, this should be interesting, he grumbles to himself, but suddenly a few of her words begin to click into place in his mind. Small business owner. Gorgeous blonde. No. What are the odds?

Killian looks down at the counter and sees that she's left her package behind. He grabs it, rounds the end of the counter and jogs the handful of steps it takes to reach her.

"Mrs. Nolan! Ah, I mean, Mary Margaret-" Killian taps her shoulder, and she pauses turning her head to look at him with an eyebrow raised in question. "You forgot your order."

Mary Margaret drops her forehead into her hand for a second, flushing a soft shade of pink, then reaches to take the package from him. "Like I said, my brain is fried this evening," she replies with a roll of her eyes. "Thanks!"

"You're welcome," Killian answers politely, but rather than walking back behind the counter, he pauses, ignoring the impatient glares from the other patrons still waiting in line for his attention. His mouth opens to ask the question that's now stomping through his mind, but he can't quite get the words out. Ask her, he thinks. Ask her if it's Emma, you bloody git.

Mary Margaret notices his hesitation and tilts her head bemusedly. "Was there something else?"

"Ah, no. Sorry," Killian replies with a sheepish grin, then adds quickly, "Wait, yes there was." He digs in his pocket and retrieves a green and white business card. "My card. So you can call me with the details about the carnival."

Mary Margaret takes the card and stashes it in a side pocket of her purse. "Perfect! I'll be in touch!" she answers with another quick smile, then turns and walks out the door.

Killian returns to his station behind the counter and settles back into the rhythm of the market. Meanwhile his thoughts turn back to his last encounter with that particular gorgeous, perplexing, and utterly infuriating blonde.

It can't be her. Of course it's her. Bloody buggering hell. What have I gotten myself into? Wait. Did Mary Margaret say 'never been married'? The thought sparks something inside of him. He continues working in a haze, mechanically going through the motions of packing and ringing up orders while his mind is elsewhere.

Seeing Emma with her boy the other day had ripped open the old scars Milah left behind - made him jump to the conclusion that all those years ago Emma had used him the same way Milah did, sneaking around behind the backs of her husband and child. Not much of a jump, really, given that Emma had left his hotel room before he awoke, never even telling him her name.

Still, the idea had cut him, adding a fresh gash on top of the old wounds. Yes, he'd probably romanticized, even idealized that night over the years, but he'd always believed down to his core that it had meant something. That they'd shared something unique and priceless. It had changed him, pulled him back from his downward spiral of self-destruction, given him hope again. To have it revealed as just another cheap and tawdry one night stand pained him deeply.

But if Emma's never been married, then she wasn't married that night and he's a stupid arse for making knee-jerk assumptions. Is it too much to hope for that maybe he's been right all this time? He's not sure why she'd suddenly turned on him right before her boy showed up. Perhaps he'd been laying it on a bit too thick with the flirting? He could rein it in, try to behave himself but bloody hell, that woman brings out the fire in him. He should probably talk to her about it. Or not. Maybe he should just give her some space for a while. Shite.

How on earth has a woman like that never been married? She's beautiful, passionate, intelligent… It may very well be just as Mary Margaret had said - that Emma simply works too much to put herself out there. He's thankful as hell she hadn't asked him why he had never married. No one needs to know the answer to that question, let them guess what they will.

He'd had other lovers in the past eight years, of course. But, no matter what lovely lass fell into his bed, no matter how passionate the embrace, in the back of his mind, Killian was holding someone else. The mystery woman who stole his barstool and without even trying had managed to work her way under his very skin, making as indelible an imprint on him as the tattoo on his arm.

He'd tried and tried, Lord knows, but his heart always beat back to her, to Emma. It didn't seem fair to be with someone when his heart wasn't done wondering yet. He's still wondering, in fact, about more things than ever now.

He shakes himself out of his reverie when a customer has to repeat her order three times for him to catch it. His questions about Emma will have to wait for another day. He's got to get his head back into his work right now, or the next thing he knows he'll lose a hand in the sausage grinder. Wouldn't that be lovely for business?


Robin needs to mind his own sodding business, Killian thinks in annoyance. He's just gotten off the phone with his best mate - a phone call that didn't end particularly well due to Robin's insistence that he "stop being such a wanker and just talk to the woman." Now that Rob has found his own true love, he seems to consider himself some kind of bleeding romance guru.

Killian huffs and scrubs a hand down his face before replacing it on the steering wheel. It's been over a week since Mary Margaret offered to fix him up with a friend of hers and he's been stewing over whether she was talking about Emma ever since. Curiosity is very much getting the better of him. He drives along the empty stretch of road lost in thought, only vaguely aware as the open pastures zipping beside him give way to the occasional slightly shabby house indicating that he's almost back into town. He glances down briefly at the clock on his dashboard. He's running a bit later than he intended, but he still has time to make it to the carnival grounds to help set up for tonight.

Maybe Rob's right. Maybe I am just being a wanker. Assuming Mary Margaret was talking about Emma, then clearly I was wrong about… He sighs heavily. I should just talk to her. Apparently I can't stop talking about her - I ought to grow a pair and talk to her. Maybe tonight at the -

"Fucking hell!" Killian jerks the steering wheel to the left as a boy darts into the road right in front of his truck. He barely misses the lad, but the sudden change of direction causes the truck to fishtail. With a screech of rubber on asphalt, the front wheels skid wildly and come to an abrupt halt in the drainage ditch on the opposite side of the road from where the boy had appeared.

He quickly looks over toward the street to make sure the boy is uninjured, but his eyes catch on the big yellow "Swan's Bar-B-Q" sign directly across from where his truck has landed. He scrunches his eyes shut and leans forward to rest his head on the steering wheel, unable to stop the string of muttered profanity escaping his lips.

A sharp rap on his window and an earnest cry of "Hey, Mister! Are you okay?" snap him back to awareness. He turns his head to see two pre-teen boys gawking at him. One of them is the boy from the road, and - Of course. Could this day get any better? The other he recognizes as Henry. Emma's boy.

He rolls down his window. "Lads, I'm fine, but step back because I'm about to try to back my truck out of this we are all going to have a very serious conversation about looking both ways before crossing the street."

Both boys give him a solemn nod and move aside, their young faces the picture of repentance. Killian throws his truck into reverse, and gently steps on the gas pedal. No movement. He tries hitting the gas not-so-gently, only to hear the whir of his front tires spinning uselessly. His front wheels are dangling over the edge of the ditch just enough that they can't get traction, but not so far that the truck tips forward onto the sloped grassy shoulder. With a front-wheel drive truck, that means he's basically buggered. With a frustrated snarl, he gives up and kills the engine, getting out of the cab to walk around and inspect for any additional damage.

As he circles the truck, the boys run up to him. He leans as calmly as possible against the side of the bed and crosses his arms over his chest. "Now what the-" he clenches his jaw, reminding himself to keep his more colorful language in check. "What on earth were you doing running out into the middle of a traffic lane like that?" he demands, giving them his sternest expression. The very one Liam had given him so many times growing up, but he pushes that thought as far back in his mind as possible.

"I was trying to catch the ball," the first lad begins, looking utterly crestfallen. "Henry threw it, and I just ran after it. I didn't even think..." He looks up suddenly to meet Killian's eyes. "I'm really sorry, Mister. I'll save up my allowance for months to pay you back for the damage!"

"Yeah, me too!" Henry pipes up. "It's my fault as much as Avery's. I shouldn't have thrown the ball so hard. Or, you know, at the street."

Touched by the boys' sincerity, Killian's expression softens, and he places a reassuring hand on each lad's shoulder. "No need for that now. I'm just glad everyone is unharmed. But maybe next time, don't play ball so close to the road, aye?"

The boys both nod at him eagerly, and he drops his hands back to his sides. Killian's eyes pan the street and land on the ball that had caused all the trouble. A football. An American football.

"Now don't tell me that infernal object is the thing you risked life and limb to catch?" he asks, gesturing to the ball in question. Avery looks at him sheepishly in confirmation, and Killian shakes his head with disgust.

"American football," he grumbles. "Bloody awful game. Doesn't have the right to share a name with real football." He notices the boys giggling at him now, but there's a dash of residual adrenaline in his system from the accident, and he's too wound up to stop his rant.

"Why the devil do they call it football anyway? The so-called ball isn't even round. It's more a wonky sort of egg-shaped. Not to mention it's rarely ever put into play by someone's foot. It's nearly always being thrown or carried by hand. 'Hand-egg' would be a more appropriate title," he finishes authoritatively, and the boys burst into laughter.

At their outburst, Killian suddenly realizes what a ponce he must sound like, and scratches awkwardly behind his ear. "Sorry, lads. I get a bit impassioned about football, I suppose," he adds with a self-deprecating grin.

Henry tilts his head to the side and eyes him curiously. "You're Mr. Jones, right? From the Meat Market?" he asks. "I met you a while back with my mom."

Killian clears his throat. "Aye, lad. That I am," he answers, slightly wary.

Henry smiles broadly. "You're funny, Mr. Jones. My mom never said you were funny."

Killian's heart stops for a split second, and a wide grin involuntarily brightens his face. "Your mum talks about me?"

"Well…" Henry hesitates, suddenly seeming self-conscious, but before the lad can finish, Emma herself is marching up to the three of them, her green eyes flaring with anger.

"What the hell is going on?" Emma demands, placing herself between Henry and Killian. "I heard tires screech and looked out the window to find my son talking to some stranger on the side of the road!"

Equal parts irritated by her accusatory tone, and impressed by her fierce protectiveness of her son, Killian can't help the cocky smirk that forms on his lips. She's just so damn provocative, storming out here looking like an avenging angel. It makes him want to provoke her right back, if only to see the sparks in her eyes again.

"Well, hello to you, too, Emma. You look good, I must say, all 'what's going on?' in a commanding voice." His tongue flicks against his top teeth and she narrows her eyes at him, glaring daggers. He scrunches his nose at her and leans closer, lowering his voice. "And I'm hardly a stranger, love."

Emma huffs angrily and rolls her eyes, color rising in her cheeks to Killian's immense gratification. Gotcha, lass.

She crosses her arms over her chest, in what is surely meant as a defensive movement, but it does a rather fine job of accentuating the swells of her breasts. She catches Killian enjoying the view, and twists her lips into a scowl.

"Not your love," she deadpans, "and are you gonna tell me what happened here or not?"

"Ah, well, you see," he begins, smiling genially. "The lads here were playing a spot of football-"

"Don't you mean 'hand-egg'?" Henry interjects, stepping out from behind Emma with a conspiratorial snicker.

Killian beams proudly at him to Emma's obvious annoyance. "Too right, lad. At any rate, the ball was thrown into the street, and Avery here chased after it right in front of my truck. I swerved to avoid him, and landed myself in the ditch. But all is well, no harm done other than my being rather stuck."

Emma nods in acknowledgement, and Killian continues, "Now, if you'd be so kind as to give me the name of a towing service, I'd be more than chuffed to get out of your way."

This time it's Emma who smirks. "Well, there's only one repair shop in town that has a tow truck and they're closed on the weekends. Besides, Jones, you're in the country now. We don't have tow trucks, we have tractors."

Killian raises his eyebrows and blinks at her. "Very well, do you know of anyone with a tractor who could pull me out?"

Before Emma can say anything, Henry jumps in, "Anton does. He's got a bean farm nearby, and a big green tractor. I bet he could pull your truck out."

"Who is Anton, lad?" Killian asks.

"Mom's cook at the restaurant," he answers, hiking a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the building.

Killian furrows his brow in thought, glancing at his watch. "Hm. It's nearly time for your mum's dinner rush to start. It'd be bad form to ask her to give up her cook right now, wouldn't it?" He looks up at Emma to see her expression has relaxed a bit, and when she answers her tone is much more civil.

"Well, yeah. I mean I'd really rather not pull him off the line right now if possible."

"Right then." Killian nods as if the matter were settled. "Miss Swan, would you by any chance be going to the school's fundraiser carnival this evening?"

Emma's eyebrows knit together. "Yeah. How'd you know?"

Killian flashes her his most disarming smile. "You see, lass, I was drafted into service at the same event by Mrs. Mary Margaret Nolan." He sees Emma go still and an entrancing flush spreads across her chest and neck. He's struck with a desire to learn just how far down the lovely pink color extends, but he presses on.

"She promised to introduce me to her 'gorgeous blond friend'. I was hoping it'd be you." He punctuates the statement with a wink, finding he very much means it.

All he gets in response is a neutral 'Hm," but at least she doesn't seem hostile at the moment so he tries his luck. "To my original point, perhaps if you'd give me a lift to the carnival since we're both going there anyway, I can return here later to tend to my truck. Your dinner rush should be over by that time, and the vehicle is far enough off the road that it should be safe until then."

Emma doesn't answer right away, her eyes narrowing as she considers his proposal and Killian knows without a doubt that he's being weighed and measured.

"Okay," she replies finally, sighing in resignation.

And apparently not found wanting, at least for this round, he thinks. "Thank you, Swan." He nods, almost in imitation of a bow.

Emma shrugs. "Yeah, well…" She pauses, her eyes cast to the ground, and shoves her hands into the back pockets of her jeans. "Thanks for being considerate about my restaurant," she mumbles.

After a beat, she looks up and glances around to see that Henry and Avery have wandered a few steps away, both looking at Avery's cell phone screen. "Hey, Henry! You about ready to head out?"

Henry turns to meet his mother's eyes, his brows raised in supplication. "Avery just texted his mom, and she says I can ride with them and spend the night tonight. Can I mom? Please?"

Killian watches as Emma visibly melts when confronted with Henry's impressive display of puppy dog eyes. Emma sighs and runs a hand through her hair. "Okay, kid. Do you have your key, or do you need me to take you by the house to get your stuff?"

Henry beams at her. "I've got my key. Avery and I can walk over now, and Mrs. Williams will pick us up from there."

"Alright, go straight there, then. No detours to the 7-11 for slurpees. Oh, and be careful cutting across Granny Lucas's back pasture. It's still pretty muddy."

"Yes, mom," Henry groans.

"And you boys better behave yourselves. No prank calls, and no toilet papering anyone's yard. I'd hate for Uncle David to have come and arrest you." Emma finishes her speech by poking a finger in Henry's chest, though there's no real heat behind her words.

Henry rolls his eyes with another mumbled "Yes, mom," but he's already smiling again. He and Avery turn and - after very pointedly and dramatically looking both ways first, causing Killian to chuckle - bolt across the street back into the open grassy space where they'd been playing football.

An awkward silence descends between Killian and Emma now that the lads are no longer there as a diversion. Emma wordlessly jerks her head to the side, indicating that Killian should follow her. He nods in response and the two cross the street to the Swan's Bar-B-Q parking lot. A flash of violent yellow draws Killian's eye.

Surely she doesn't still drive that monstrosity, he thinks, but there it sits. Emma's vintage Volkswagen Beetle is unmistakeable even after all this time...

When she offers to drive, he doesn't realize the kind of vehicle he's agreeing to be chauffeured about in. "That's quite the vessel you captain there, lass," he murmurs in her ear, gripping her hips to pull her body flush against him. He feels the reverberation of her laugh through his chest, as she leans back further into him, grinding her arse against his suddenly very alert cock.

His grip loosens as he bites back a groan, and she turns in his arms. Her back now leaning against the driver's door, keyring still dangling from the lock. Her eyes glint with mischief as she scans his face, lingering on his lips as she licks her own. "You got a problem with my car?"

He surges forward capturing her mouth, drinking her in like a man dying of thirst. She parts her lips for him immediately and drinking turns to drunkenness as their tongues caress. She's intoxicating - the feel of her, the taste of her like nothing he's ever experienced.

They break for breath, his lips still chasing hers on instinct. Pulling away only far enough that their foreheads still touch, he finally answers her. "Only that it may well become the third member of a very awkward threesome, if we don't drive it back to my hotel straight away."

"...gonna run inside and grab my keys. You just stay there and keep staring at my car or whatever it is you're doing."

"What?" Killian swallows hard and feels the tips of his ears burning red as he realizes she's been speaking to him. "Right. I'll just ah…" He points to the passenger side of the vehicle, nodding in embarrassment.

Emma gives a small shake of her head (which Killian takes to mean she thinks he's a bloody idiot), and disappears inside the restaurant. She emerges a minute later, and with a firm declaration that she's driving ("I'd never dream otherwise, Swan."), they climb into her Beetle and depart.

Restless by nature and made even more so by his recent embarrassment, less than one mile into the ride Killian finds himself pushing every button in the car from hand cranking the window up and down to fiddling with the radio and the aftermarket (barely functioning) air conditioner. This, in turn, seems to be pushing Emma's buttons quite effectively as well.

After her fourth sharp exhale and third death glare, Emma must assume she is being too subtle in her hints. "Could you just stop with the fidgeting?" she whines. "You're worse than Henry."

Killian flips the sun visor back up and clasps his hands innocently in his lap, offering her a tight-lipped smile. He means to behave, really he does. He's here on her good graces after all, but -

"What's this?" His eyes alight on a bright red plastic strawberry rolling around in Emma's cupholder. He picks it up between his thumb and two fingers and begins examining it. "Bit whimsical for such a tough lass, innit?"

"Gimme that." Emma grumbles snatching the strawberry back out of his grasp. She steadies the steering wheel with her knees and grips the object with both hands, twisting it open. "See? It's lip balm." She holds the bottom half of the strawberry out for Killian's inspection, and he breathes in a waft of sugary scent. "And maybe I like whimsical."

"Aye. Maybe so," he agrees. "But I'd be willing to wager you didn't buy that for yourself. Too cloyingly sweet. Gift from a friend?"

"Mary Margaret bought it for me," Emma admits, her voice tinged with suspicion. "How could you possibly know that?"

"Perhaps I can read you better than you think," Killian replies, then leans closer, lowering his voice. "Or perhaps I simply remember that you used to prefer a bit more spice."

He flashes her a charming grin. "But where are my manners? We haven't been formally introduced. I'm Killian."

Her answering smile is dazzling. "Pleasure to meet you, Killian."

"And you?" He nods in her direction. "You are?"

"Ah, now where's the fun in that?" The fingers of her left hand slide tantalizingly over the back of his right hand where it rests on the bar.

All the blood in his body slams immediately southward, and he swallows hard. "Well then, can I drink you a buy?" Killian scrunches his eyes shut for a moment to recover his composure. "Oh, listen to me. What I mean, darling, is can I buy you a drink?" he corrects himself, schooling his features into a scandalous smirk. "Anything you please."

She smiles broadly, and his heart flutters unbidden. "I thought you'd never ask."

Killian cocks an eyebrow and raises a hand for service. When the bartender approaches, the lass requests a Captain Morgan and Dr. Pepper. Killian grimaces in distaste. "Why would you adulterate perfectly good rum with that sweet syrupy mess?"

The drink is placed in front of her and she shrugs, undeterred. "I guess I just happen to like things a little bit sweet and spicy."

Keeping her eyes on the road and the lid in her palm, Emma manages to dip her middle finger into the little pot of balm. Then she turns her head toward him just enough to make her message clear as she applies the balm to her lips using that same middle finger.

Killian raises an eyebrow.There she goes being provocative again. He should let it go, but he just can't stop himself. "Well, lass, if you're offering."

Emma drops the now closed strawberry back into her cupholder, and cuts her eyes at him. "Huh?"

Killian leans back in his seat, spreading his knees and angling his body toward her. "It's my understanding that in this country, that little hand gesture you just made at me means 'Fuck you.' So, if you're offering, I'd be more than happy to oblige, love."

Emma huffs angrily, but she's blushing again, and she's just so damned adorable when she furious and flustered. He can't find it in himself to be ashamed, and it must show on his face.

"You just think you're so clever, don't you?"

"Oh, the cleverness of me," he replies with a self-satisfied smirk, but her only reply is a confused scowl. "Peter Pan?" He waits a beat, but still nothing. "Really, Swan?"

She sighs. "Oh, no. I get it. I'm just surprised to hear a guy like you quoting from a children's book."

"What do mean 'a guy like me'?"

"You know, the kind that isn't into kids."

"Why the devil would you think that?" Killian asks, genuinely hurt and confused. "I'm on my way to volunteer at an elementary school carnival for god's sake!"

Emma's hackles seem to be rising as well. "So, then it's just single mothers you have a problem with?" Her voice takes on a sharp edge. "I saw how you reacted the first time you saw Henry. You looked offended - horrified by the idea that you'd fucked a woman with a kid."

Killian feels all the blood drain from his face as the realization dawns. "Oh." He sits up straighter in his seat. "Oh gods, Swan. No. That's not - I thought -" he pauses, taking a deep breath. "You remember that night-" he pauses when she snaps her head toward him, giving him a warning glare. "Right. Well. The woman I told you about. The one who smashed my heart into a million little smithereens? She, ah, was married and had a son - both facts she hid from me until the day I showed up at her door, heart in hand and ready to propose. I was expecting the beginning of my very own happily ever after and instead I got tossed out on my ear. When I saw Henry with you, well…" He hangs his head with a heavy exhale, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Let's just say it brought back some bad memories."

He raises his head and she meets his eyes briefly before looking back at the road. "I reacted badly and I apologize, Swan."

"Oh." Emma shifts in her seat, but doesn't look at him again. "Um, okay then. I suppose I should apologize for jumping to conclusions."

Killian nods. "I appreciate that. You know, seeing as our businesses rather depend on each other, it might prove mutually beneficial for us to reach some kind of peace treaty. You seem dead set on not bringing up our shared history, and that's fine. We're both adults, and there's no need for us to be awkward about it. If I may say, though, I believe it's a wasted opportunity."

Emma scowls. "What do you mean?"

"Come on, Swan, there's obviously some sort of something here." He gestures with his hand between the two of them. "I know you felt it, too, at least for a minute."

He'd let a touch of hope creep into his voice, and though Emma responds with an eye roll of epic proportions, he still feels validated by the slight shallowing of her breath, the faint touch of pink tinting her cheeks.

"Nonetheless," he continues, a small smile tilting up the corners of his mouth, "I will promise to be a good boy and cut the teasing and flagrant suggestive comments if it will help us to get along. Obviously, you would have to promise not to flirt with or provoke me as well."

Emma huffs a laugh and shakes her head, but the small uptick of her lips lets him know he's won. "Fine," she replies. "I think I can manage to restrain myself."

After a beat, her face turns more serious. "Although…" she bites the inside of her cheek in consideration. "If we're laying out terms here, I have one more. Besides the one obvious omission, everything else I said to you that night was real, and I'd rather you didn't go blabbing any of it to my friends and neighbors." She sighs, running a hand through her hair. "Most people don't know about my little stint in Juvie. They just know I left town one day and came back a little over a year later with a baby."

They lie on their backs side by side, the sheets in a tangled mess at their feet as the sweat cools on their naked bodies. They're both still catching their breath, his bicep serving as a pillow for her neck, while he idly toys with strands of her hair.

"Are you sorry you missed the end of your hen party, love?" he asks.

She laughs and rolls toward him, her breasts now pressing against his side as her arm drapes across his stomach. "Hen party? Really?" She tilts her chin and looks up at him through her eyelashes.

"Yes, hen party. The feminine celebration of impending nuptials by gushing about true love whilst getting thoroughly sloshed."

She laughs again, and he feels the reverberation of it in his chest. "I'm not sure I'd be doing much gushing about true love, but the rest is pretty accurate."

"Not a believer in true love?"

"Not so much." He feels more than sees the shrug of her shoulders. "But I will say, I believe in that particular bride and groom. So, who knows?"

"Have you ever even been in love?"

She's quiet for a long moment, and he's kicking himself for even asking the question when she whispers slowly. "I had a love once. And he just up and left me."

Killian stills, surprised at her openness. "I bet it broke your heart," he replies carefully.

"More than that. He -" she pauses as if unsure what she wants to reveal - "he was a thief. He set me up to take the fall for some watches he stole. Really high-end expensive ones. He had me pick them up from a storage locker where they were stashed because the cops weren't looking for me. He said I'd be safe. He said he could fence them, and we'd use the money to run away together into the sunset, like a freaking movie script ending or something. I thought he loved me. I was just a stupid kid at the time, barely 17. I'm lucky they didn't try me as an adult - even as a minor I still got 11 months in Juvie. Never saw the guy again."

The silence stretches between them, as the pieces of her story fall into place. If Henry was a baby when she came back to Storybrooke, Emma must've been pregnant when she went to jail. Henry's father must be the wanker that set her up. The white hot fury he feels toward the man on Emma's behalf mixes with his own shame at the thought that he'd ever compared Emma to Milah, when nothing could be further from the truth. He's a bloody idiot.

He clears his throat. "Right then. So we have an accord. We'll keep each other's secrets. We won't talk about our shared past. We'll both behave in a civilized and friendly manner. No snarking, no flirting. Deal?"

Emma nods. "Deal."


"Emma! Killian!" Mary Margaret's voice rings out across the practice field as she trots delicately toward them, clipboard in hand. The usually wide-open grassy space is now littered with small, brightly colored booths, inflatable bouncy houses, and a multitude of twinkle lights (as if the industrial grade floodlights at each corner of the field wouldn't provide enough illumination after the sun sets). Emma had to hand it to Mary Margaret - her friend knew how to create an atmosphere.

"Did you two ride here together?" Mary Margaret asks as she reaches them, her head cocked to the side with a tad too much interest glinting in her eyes.

"Uh, Jones had some car trouble," Emma responds quickly. "I'll tell you about it later."

Mary Margaret raises an eyebrow and hums. "Well then I guess it's just lucky you were there to give him a lift." Her words are neutral, but her eyes tell Emma she's going to get the third degree later. "Anyway, Emma - why don't you go get settled in at the concession stand?" She points her clipboard toward a red and white striped trailer to the left, then turns sharply to face Killian. "Killian, you're with me. David needs a hand setting up the dunking booth."

Her tone is so commanding, Killian appears to reflexively snap to attention like a proper naval officer. Realizing what he's just done, he plays it off by giving Mary Margaret a dramatic salute and a "Yes, ma'am!" that has Emma stifling a giggle in spite of herself.

Mary Margaret departs with her new conscript, and Emma walks the short distance over to the concession stand. She carefully climbs the three rickety wooden steps to reach the back door, and yanks it open, a loud creak of rusty hinges announcing her presence.

"Hey, girl!" Emma startles at the sound of Ruby's voice, and her eyes widen further as she takes in the tall brunette's appearance. Ruby has really gone all out with some kind of campy vintage waitress look - bouffant ponytail, dramatic winged eyeliner and a tiny red skirt complete with mini-apron.

"Hey yourself! What are you doing here? And isn't that get up a little much for a kiddie carnival?" Emma asks with a grin.

"First of all, I look fantastic and we all know this shindig is for adults as much as kids. We're supposed to be raising money for the school, so the outfit is to garner more tips from the grownups with said money. And secondly, I am here because after last year's fiasco, I promised Victor I wouldn't work the Kissing Booth ever again."

Emma laughs at the memory. "Ah. Well, you did cause a fist fight."

"I didn't cause anything! Victor's just a jealous ass."

"You did slip Jefferson the tongue right in front of him."

Ruby cracks a wry smile. "I was just trying to spice things up. He needs to be reminded from time to time what a lucky bastard he is to have me. I honestly didn't think he'd punch anybody."

"Yeah, well. Remind me not to cop a feel whenever he's around."

Ruby snorts a laugh. "Oh don't worry, he'd just love that." Ruby eyes Emma appreciatively. "You know, if you ever do feel adventurous…"

Emma rolls her eyes. "Oh my god, Ruby, I was kidding. I don't have time for a nice, plain vanilla, boring love life, much less whatever multiplayer debauchery is rolling around in that head of yours."

"Well, if you ever change your mind," Ruby singsongs, turning to lean her elbows on the sales counter. Something catches her eye across the field, and she purses her crimson lips, whistling low. "Hot damn. Speaking of debauchery - the things I wouldn't do to him!"

"I thought you were trying not to get Victor into a brawl this year," Emma laughs as she moves to join Ruby at the counter. As soon as she sees what caught Ruby's attention, her face falls. There, directly across from the concession stand, Mary Margaret is seating none other than Killian Jones at the Kissing Booth.

She tenses immediately, but forces herself to relax, tilting her head from side to side and rolling her shoulders. This is not a problem. So what if I have to watch him kiss other women all night? He means nothing to me. We have a peace treaty, and we can both be adults about this, and DAMMIT MARY MARGARET, YOU DID THIS ON PURPOSE!

Emma takes a deep, steadying breath. No. No, this is not a problem. I'm good.

"...behave myself, because I'd hate to see Victor ruin that gorgeous face," Ruby finishes.

Without thinking, Emma answers, "Vic might get the worse end of that one." She nods her head in Killian's direction. "He did some boxing in the Navy."

He tosses back the rest of his drink and narrows his eyes at her in obviously feigned seriousness. "Well, love, if you don't wish to use real names this evening, perhaps you'd prefer my more colorful moniker? Captain Hook."

Emma chokes out a laugh, nearly spitting her drink. "Seriously? Captain Hook?"

He laughs heartily. "Aye, lass. Picked it up in the Navy for my prowess in the boxing ring. Had a mean left hook, I did." He flexes his arm, raising his fist to chest level, and Emma feels her jaw slacken. She can't decide which to stare at, the bulge of his bicep under his thin cotton shirt, or the sinewy muscle of his forearm framed between the cuff of his sleeve at the elbow and a leather bracelet at his wrist.

Her tongue darts out to wet her lips as she finally tears her eyes away to find him eyeing her with a knowing smirk. "So you were a captain, then?" she asks.

"No," he shakes his head, a touch of his arrogance falling away temporarily. "The highest rank I attained was lieutenant, but 'Lieutenant Hook' just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?"

Emma's eyes go wide as she realizes her slip. She doesn't know where to look. She can't look at Ruby right now, and if she keeps looking at Killian… Oh, shit. He's just noticed her, and gives her a friendly wave, which Emma awkwardly returns.

The next thing she knows, Ruby's hand smacks her hard on the shoulder. "Shut the front door! You know him?"

Emma turns quickly to the back of the trailer, busying herself with preparing the stand for its first customers. "Um, we've met," she tosses back as casually as she can muster. She can tell Ruby isn't buying it by the clack of platform heels coming up behind her, but she's given a temporary reprieve by the creak of the trailer door opening again.

Mary Margaret pops her head around the door. "I'm here with the cash box! Are you girls about ready to open?"

"Just about!" Emma calls back. Irked as she is with her friend, she still hopes vainly that Mary Margaret will be enough of a distraction to put Ruby off her scent. "Come on in!"

"Yeah, come on in!" Ruby echoes. "You're just in time for Emma to tell us how she knows that scrumptious piece of man-candy you just planted at the Kissing Booth."

Emma turns slowly and shifts her weight back to perch on the edge of one of the industrial-grade coolers, arms crossed protectively. She lets out a long-suffering sigh and finally looks squarely at Mary Margaret for one of their silent conversations. Mary Margaret's eyes are clearly telegraphing 'Are you gonna tell her or should I?' Emma ducks her head incrementally, her eyes pleading in return, 'Fine, but keep it to a minimum. Okay?'

Mary Margaret nods briskly, turning to Ruby. "Oh, they're just business associates," she answers lightly. "He bought the Meat Market from the Miner brothers a few weeks ago."

Ruby narrows her eyes. "Uh huh. Not buying it. I saw that little telepathic conversation you two just had, and I want to know - in gory detail - exactly what kind of business they got down to."

Emma drops her forehead into one hand, while Mary Margaret rushes to the defensive. "Well, it's true, what I said. It's just that they may have met before…"

As Mary Margaret trails off, Emma raises her head. "We met before at Mary Margaret's bachelorette party, Ruby," she admits with a meaningful glance.

Ruby's head cocks to the side like a confused puppy for a few seconds. Her eyes widen as the memory hits her. "Noooooooo," she practically growls in disbelief. "That's Scruffy McHottie that you ditched us all for?"

Emma's head is in her hand again, but she nods in confirmation.

"Okay, no problem then." Ruby springs into action, taking the cash box from Mary Margaret and scurrying around the trailer to finish setting up. "I'll cover the concession stand for a while. You go get your skinny ass in the front of that line, and give him a good refresher on what he's been missing all these years. Then he'll be thinking about you all night no matter who he's kissing."

Emma starts to protest, but Ruby grabs her by the shoulders and spins her around toward the door, ushering her along with a couple of swift pats on the rear. "Don't worry. I've got this. You go make out with the cute boy. Scoot!"

"Ruby, stop!" Emma finally manages to shake her friend off. "It's not like that."

Ruby pauses, obviously nonplussed. "And why isn't it like that?"

"He - I - we just -" Emma stammers. "Ugh. I don't want to talk about it right now. Can't you just make like the blonde from that Frozen movie and let it go?"

"Fine," Ruby answers, but her sardonic grin adds an unequivocal 'For now.'

"Thank you," Emma replies earnestly, then turns her attention to Mary Margaret, who has been slowly edging her way closer to the door. "So, friend. I have the strangest feeling that Killian's placement at the Kissing Booth, which just so happens to be directly in my line of sight, is not a coincidence."

"Well of course not!" Mary Margaret bats her eyelashes in feigned innocence. "After last year, Ruby couldn't work the booth, so I needed another pretty face. I've already got David in the dunking booth, so his adoring fans can ogle him in a wet T-shirt. Killian may not be my type, but I know a money maker when I see one. Those big blue eyes are gonna raise a fortune for the kids!"

She pauses, perusing Emma's face carefully. "Besides," she continues, her voice sweet, but her expression shrewd. "I thought we were supposed to hate him. That's what you told me in the ladies room last week. But then, you don't normally give a ride to someone you hate, so maybe things have changed?"

"Um, say what?" Ruby interjects.

Emma scowls and points a finger at Mary Margaret. "You're deflecting."

"So are you," Mary Margaret replies, crossing her arms.

Geez. Not the teacher face again. Realizing she's not going to get out of this as easily as she'd hoped, Emma takes a deep breath and recounts her conversation with Killian from the car, strategically omitting his comment that there's 'some sort of something' between them. She hasn't had a chance to deal with that thought yet, and surely doesn't want to with her friends ready and willing to chime in.

When she finishes, Mary Margaret is the first to comment. "Well, that's great then. Very mature of the both of you." She nods her approval. "Aren't you at least a little bit relieved that he's a half-decent guy after all?"

No. Not really. "Yeah, I guess," Emma replies noncommittally.

"And since you and Killian are at a truce right now, there shouldn't be any problem with him working the Kissing Booth, right? I mean it's not like you're going to get jealous or anything."

Ruby snorts, but keeps her mouth shut when Emma whips her head around to glare at her. "No, Mary Margaret, I am not jealous."


I am NOT jealous, Emma repeats to herself as she stabs a metal scoop rather violently into the ice trough. It's overly warm in the trailer and whatever ice they have left to fill customer's drink cups is all clumped together into large unusable chunks. This is why Emma feels the need to smash those blobs of ice into smaller, more manageable bits. It has nothing to do with a primal need to pummel something, and certainly nothing to do with the constant throng of women (and a few men - who knew?) that linger around Killian's booth. Not that she's been watching.

He must be loving this. He's caught her looking at him more than once and made sure she knew it by giving her one of his stupid grins or a friendly little wave. It wasn't anything she could use to say he'd truly broken their peace treaty they'd so recently forged, but still… he just looked a bit too smug for her taste.

She's still not sure how she feels about this whole treaty thing. Killian was a whole lot easier to deal with when he was just some asshole who was trying to horn in on her business. That she could handle. But the guy who made her son laugh? The guy who apologized with such sincerity in his eyes that she had to look away? Who makes her feel all kinds of confusing fluttery things in her stomach, even when he's making ridiculously indecent jokes or fiddling with everything in her car like a sugared up 5-year-old? She has no clue what to do with that guy.

Especially right now when he's kissing some petite brunette who - wait, is that Belle? Emma's stomach roils, and the word 'traitor' floats up into her consciousness. She can't decide whether she's more concerned by the reaction itself or the fact that she's not sure if her brain was talking about Belle or Killian. She pushes those thoughts down to deal with later. Or never. Maybe she's just hungry. Low blood sugar can make you crazy.

Emma checks her watch to see there's another hour or so until the carnival is officially closed. "Hey, Rubes," she calls over her shoulder. "Can you hold down the fort for a few minutes? We're about out of ice. I'm gonna run over to the field house and get another bucketful."

Before Ruby can answer, Emma's stomach growls loudly, practically echoing in the small metal building.

Ruby laughs. "Only if you promise to eat something before you go. You haven't taken a break all night!"

She really is starving, so it doesn't take but a second before Emma relents. "Fine. What do we have that's ready to eat?"

Ruby turns and surveys the remaining food supply. "I just pulled a batch of corndogs out of the fryer. Want one? Not exactly health food, but at least it's protein."

"Sure," Emma replies, keeping her commentary about how it's not much of a quality protein source to herself.

When Ruby hands her a corndog in all its crispy, greasy, golden brown glory (Emma's three favorite food groups), she finds herself a hell of a lot more grateful for Ruby's suggestion. What's better than a corndog at a carnival, after all? This one just needs one more little thing. Leaning her elbow on the sales counter, she squeezes a thin squiggly line of yellow mustard down the side and smiles at her handiwork. Perfect.

Just before Emma takes a bite, Ruby's voice distracts her. "You ever notice how it's basically impossible to eat one of those things without looking like you're…" Emma turns to look at her friend as Ruby curls her hand like a tube in front of her mouth, and moves it back and forth a couple of times, poking her tongue into her cheek in rhythm. "You know."

Emma splutters a laugh and shakes her head giving Ruby a disbelieving look. "I can NOT believe you just did that. Mind in the gutter much?"

"Oh come join me," she replies unabashedly. "You'd make a lovely little gutter flower."

Emma rolls her eyes, but can't fully stifle her smile. Gutter flower indeed. Her eyes once again drift over to Killian - he's directly in my line of sight, that's all. Where else am I supposed to look? And once again his lips are brushing those of some random woman - a leggy redhead this time. The woman pulls back looking distinctly lust-stoned and walks around to get back in line again. Killian follows the redhead with his eyes, then looks pointedly at Emma with a smirk and a wink. She can practically hear him thinking 'See what you're missing, Swan?'

Emma narrows her eyes. He's really toeing the line now, and she feels it in her bones as some kind of challenge. Okay, fine. If Killian can push the limits of their agreement, so can she. Just a little bit couldn't hurt, right?

She looks down at the corndog still in her hand. The line of mustard kind of trailed off at the top of the dog and is just about to drip. That'll work. With a quick glance to make sure he's watching, Emma delicately swipes her tongue around the tip of the corndog catching the excess mustard. It's just a tiny movement. No one who wasn't looking straight at her would've noticed, but-

"Well that was pornographic." Ruby's voice breaks into Emma's consciousness from off to the side somewhere, and suddenly a memory floods her mind.

Now that his jeans and boxer briefs are no longer in her way, she pushes his chest hard. The edge of the bed catches behind his knees and he falls into a seated position, as she kneels in front of him again. Her heart is pounding, but she holds his gaze - that is, until his eyes roll back in his head when she curls a hand around the base of his cock and slowly swirls her tongue around the tip before taking him fully into her mouth.

She cuts her eyes back to Killian who is staring at her slack-jawed, his eyes positively feral, and she knows he's remembering the same thing. Uh oh.

Emma blanches, pressing her lips together and blinking vacantly for a second. Then she springs to action, darting to the back of the trailer and setting her uneaten corndog down on the counter before grabbing the handle of an empty five-gallon bucket. "Ice. We need ice," she states matter-of-factly, ignoring Ruby's highly unsympathetic giggling.

"Yeah, honey. You look like you need something to cool you down," Ruby replies fanning herself with her hand.

Without looking back, Emma rushes out the backdoor and lets it slam shut behind her. She stops, leaning back against the warm metal wall of the trailer for support as she tries to think of a way to avert the awkwardness she's just unintentionally created. It doesn't help that she'll have to walk right past him to get to the field house. Maybe if she times it right, she'll make it past him while he's liplocking with someone and he won't see her. Avoidance. Yes. Avoidance is good.

She peeks carefully around the edge of the trailer and sees that Killian is engaged in conversation with an elderly woman at the front of his line. Holy shit, is that Granny? Since his attention seems occupied, Emma starts walking - quickly, but not enough to be called a jog.

Just as she's passing his booth, Granny - it's definitely her - grabs Killian by the shirt front and plants one on him seemingly as much to his surprise as anyone else's. Emma freezes in her tracks, unable to look away, particularly as Granny releases Killian again and a blush spreads across her wrinkled cheeks. "Not too shabby there, boy," Granny says peering at him over her glasses. "But you might want to invest in a razor."

Killian laughs as Granny saunters away, and notices Emma about the same time that Emma realizes she's still standing there like a statue. So much for her avoidance plan.

"Swan! I was just about to take my break." He grins, and she can feel the heat behind it down to her toes. "But it looks like you still have work to do." He gestures at the empty bucket, and Emma loosens her white-knuckled grip on the handle. "Perhaps I could be of some assistance?"

Okay, he's not mentioning it. That's good. Be cool. "Um, no thanks. I've got it. Just need more ice for the concession stand."

"Well, then I'll simply keep you company, if you don't mind. I've been sitting in that booth for hours. I'd fancy a bit of a walk. Stretch my legs for a while."

Part of her wants to tell him to, how would he put it? Bugger off. Being this close to him just stirs up a mess of conflicting emotions (and dirty thoughts), and she's already not looking forward to driving him back to his truck at the end of the night. But, no. This is not a problem. He is not a problem. If he wants to follow her to the quiet, empty field house that has a locking door, where they would be totally alone, then that's not a problem.

Emma shrugs, biting the inside of her cheek. "Well, come on then," she says, and starts walking again.

He jogs a couple of steps to catch up with her, then falls into step at her side. He doesn't push her to talk anymore, something Emma is grateful for, and they walk together to the field house in a surprisingly comfortable quiet. When they reach the door, he opens it for her with an exaggerated flourish and chuckles when she rolls her eyes at him.

It's not until he's grabbed a scoop and is helping her fill the bucket with ice that Emma finally breaks the silence. "So, I have to ask. How on earth did you end up in Storybrooke of all places?"

Killian ducks his head almost shyly at the question and reaches up to scratch at the back of his neck. "I won't bore you with the details, but the short answer is I rather burned out on city life. I'd been co-owner of a pub for several years and was already planning on selling my interest to my business partner, then using the money to move someplace calmer, more friendly. One day I saw an advert online that there was a meat market for sale in a quaint little town only an hour or so away from where I already lived. It seemed like the perfect setup - far enough in the country to be away from it all, but not so far away that I couldn't make the drive into town to visit mates or take in a little urban culture. So..." He gives a small smile and a shrug. "I dove right in."

Emma can tell there's more to this story than he's telling, but her thoughts catch on one specific detail. An hour away? He's been that close all this time? "Wait, you lived an hour from here? Where was this pub?"

"In Fort Worth over by the old Stockyards. It's called The Anchor and Arrow. Ever heard of it?"

The name sounds familiar and after a moment's reflection, Emma's eyes widen. "I've been there - about three years ago. The girls took me there to celebrate when I finished my associate's degree." Emma pauses, feeling strangely off-kilter. Had he seen her that night? Did he not recognize her? She looks down and dumps another large scoop of ice into the bucket.

"I, uh- I'm surprised we didn't bump into each other," she says without meeting his eyes.

Killian furrows his brow taking one last scoop of ice. "This wouldn't have been, say, mid-January 2013 would it?" he asks.

"That sounds right," Emma answers. "I'd just gotten my last round of final exam results after New Year's." The bucket is full now, and Emma no longer has the menial task as an excuse not to meet Killian's eyes. She places her scoop in the sink, wiping her hands on her jeans to dry them and turns to face him.

"Unbelievable." Killian raises his dark eyebrows and shakes his head. "I went on a ski trip that January - very much against my better judgement, I might add - and broke my leg in several places. That was more or less the only significant amount time in over 5 and a half years of owning that place that I missed work. Of all the bloody bad timing…" He says the last part with more force than he apparently intended, and moves around Emma to place his own scoop in the sink behind her. As he turns to face her, his right hand is scratching behind his neck again. "I mean, I'd have let you and your mates drink for free, if I'd known you were there," he says with feigned nonchalance.

Emma can feel the air thickening around them as she meets his hesitant smile with one of her own. "I guess it just wasn't meant to be back then. The free drinks, I mean."

He swallows hard and takes a step closer to her. "Aye. I guess not."

Emma stomach is doing that weird fluttery thing again. She doesn't know what to do with her hands, so she shoves one into her back pocket while the fingers of the other drum a disjointed rhythm on the countertop. "I mean I ended up holding Ruby's hair back that night as it was, so it's probably for the best." She feels herself beginning to babble, and only just manages to put the brakes on it by biting her lower lip.

Killian's smile only grows wider. "Aye. It probably was." He takes another small step closer, but as he does, the toe of his boot hits the ice bucket with a deep thunk that seems to break the tension between them.

He shifts his weight backwards, rocking onto his heels away from her and clears his throat. "I'm keeping you. Sorry. We should be getting back or this will melt and our efforts will be for naught."

Emma answers with a nod, and both reach for the bucket handle at the same time. For a split second their hands brush, sending sparks of electricity up Emma's arm just as it had when he shook her hand the day he'd tackled her thinking she was a burglar. Emma snatches her hand back as if she's been scalded.

Killian's face falls almost imperceptibly as he tightens his grip on the handle and lifts the bucket. "At least allow me to carry this as far as my booth so I feel somewhat useful."

Emma agrees without protestation - the full bucket is heavy as hell after all - and they make the short walk back to his booth side by side. When they reach the table, he sets the ice bucket in the grass, turning to face Emma.

She catches herself staring at his hands, the way his nimble fingers twist his heavy silver rings, and forces down any memories of the wicked things those hands can do. Say something. Don't just keep standing here like an idiot. Raising her eyes to his face and encouraged by his smile, she finds her voice again. "I guess I should thank you for your help."

Killian inclines his head and waves a hand dismissively. "Think nothing of it, lass. I should thank you for the temporary diversion." He cocks an eyebrow and his faces takes on its familiar smirk. "Now run along, Swan, so you can polish off that meaty treat you were laving at before you have to get back to work." He swipes his thumb across his lower lips as if removing a smudge of mustard.

Emma blushes beet red. "Just couldn't let it slide, could you?" she grumbles.

He crinkles his nose at her playfully. "Not a chance, love."

"Yeah, well…" She trails off as she spots a pile of green and white business cards on the table that she hadn't seen before. She picks one up and reads it: 'Killian's To-Go, you'll be Jonesing for a taste!'

Emma's heart rate speeds up as she stares at the card. Now she remembers. This is why she hates him. For all his charm and smolder, tight jeans and dimples, he's still the enemy. He's the fucking competition, and he's using his stupid lips to steal her customers. Though she's tried not to admit it to herself or anyone else, she has to face the fact that her restaurant is barely hanging on by a thread. But she's sure as hell not going down without a fight.

"What the hell is this?" Emma rasps, trying to keep her voice low.

"Ah, yes. The new cards!" Killian answers brightly. "I'm not keen on the slogan, but Smee assures me it's a clever play on my last name. At any rate, we just finished the renovations and my new take-out venture will be up and running officially on Monday," he declares puffing his chest out a bit with pride. "I've got a secret recipe I think you're going to like, Swan," he finishes, giving her a sly nudge with his elbow.

Emma's expression hardens. "Not interested in your secrets, Jones." She drops her eyes, and bends down to pick up the ice bucket trying not to grunt with the effort. Damn this thing is heavy. "I've got to get back to work."

She turns to leave, but remembers that she's promised to take him back to his truck later. No way is she going to be alone with him again. Not tonight. Without turning around, she calls over her shoulder, "I'll text Anton and have him come pick you up here after he closes the kitchen. I'm gonna stay late to help Mary Margaret and David."

She starts to walk away, but Killian catches her arm. "What just happened, Swan?" He asks with genuine concern in his eyes, but it isn't enough to make her resolve falter. "Have I said something wrong? I suppose it was bad form to tease you about the corndog, but-"

"Nothing's wrong," she intones calmly. "We both have jobs to do. Let's just get back to work." Emma shrugs his hand off her arm, hoists the ice bucket again with a huff, and stalks away.

"Swan?" He calls after her retreating form, bewilderment coloring his voice. Still, she doesn't stop, and he doesn't follow her.

Good, Emma tells herself. Let him think what he wants. She may be close to losing her restaurant, but no one - especially not Killian Jones - needs to know that. If they're going to be competitors, then so be it. She'll win. She has to. She just needs to keep her wits about her and avoid distractions. Particularly the kind with a sinful mouth and soulful blue eyes.

 

Chapter Text

 "Excuse me, lass, but I think you've got my chair," he manages to mumble in a raspy voice, as his mouth has gone bone dry.

As the woman turns to him, his heart very nearly stops, then leaps traitorously into his throat. She is breathtaking, her eyes as green as a pine forest, her hair a glowing halo of sunlight even in the dimness of the bar. She takes another drag of her cigarette, seeming to consider him, and Killian blinks stupidly at her for a few seconds, captivated by the sensuous way her lips purse around the cigarette and the graceful curve of her fingers as she pulls it away from her mouth.

"But, if that one's not taken," he indicates the bar stool next to the one where she sits, "I don't mind if you sit here. I'd be glad to share." Not exactly his smoothest line, but his tongue is still trying to catch up with the complete reversal his thoughts have taken in the last three seconds. He had practically stormed over here, ready to give this interloper a piece of his mind, but now… well, now he's feeling decidedly more friendly, and even Killian Jones (ladies' man extraordinaire) occasionally needs a breath or two to switch on the charm.

Recovering himself somewhat, he smirks in what he hopes is a devil-may-care manner. She studies him for a moment, flicking at the butt of her cigarette to drop ash into the tray on the bar top. Then a slow smile spreads across her lips, which he accepts as an acquiescence that he join may join her. He takes his seat on the stool next to hers, resting an elbow on the bar and angling his body toward her so that their knees nearly brush.

She still has not spoken, so he attempts to fill the silence. "Is it usually this packed here on Friday night?"

"I'm not exactly a regular here," the woman answers with a small shrug. "I guess this is pretty typical. But you..." She pauses and takes another pull on her cigarette, eyeing him up and down. "I don't recall seeing you around here before," she continues. "You must be new to this town." Her lush pink lips curl into a half-grin.

Something in her gaze makes him feel absolutely bare before her. A feeling he finds, to his surprise, that he does not mind in the least. "Accent gave me away, did it?" he murmurs, leaning as far as he dares into her personal space.

She laughs lightly. "There's that. And let's just say I think I would've noticed you." She punctuates the comment with a wink, and Killian's heart does a strange sort of stutter-step in his chest.

"I'm just passing through, but..." Killian leans back in his seat raking his eyes over her from head to toe before allowing a slow smile to spread across his face. "From the looks of you, lass, I could see me sticking around."

Her eyebrows raise at that, and he suddenly realizes how his comment must've sounded. Bollocks! What am I blathering about? he thinks, running a hand through his unruly hair. He hadn't considered it until this moment, but he's really let himself go from the clean-cut, clean-shaven Lieutenant he was just under a month ago. And why should I suddenly be so concerned about my appearance at this specific moment? Bloody hell... He needs to get himself back under control, and it occurs to him that maybe a little dose of nicotine would help him calm the fuck down.

"If you don't mind, could I talk you out of a light?"

"Hmm?" she asks with a tilt of her head.

He clears his throat. "Perhaps the correct expression is, 'Can I bum a smoke, baby?'" he clarifies using his embarrassingly bad faux American accent.

She laughs wholeheartedly this time, blonde curls shimmering in the neon pink glow of a beer light as she shakes her head at him. "Yeah, sure you can. Just promise not to do that god-awful voice again," she answers, nudging his shin with the toe of her boot.

He grins in response. "Then we have an accord, lass." He extends his hand for her to shake, but she places a cigarette and lighter in his open palm instead.

Killian slots the cigarette between two fingers and raises it to his mouth. He looks up at the lass, locking eyes with her as he uses the tip of his tongue to pull it the last few millimeters until it rests between his lips. He is inordinately pleased by the way her breath seems to catch at the gesture. Never removing his eyes from hers, he lights the cigarette and takes a long, slow drag.

"My thanks," he says, pressing the lighter back into her delicate palm, letting his fingers gently graze against her pulse point along the way.

Killian doesn't know what to make of what he's feeling. Naught but minutes ago, he was mourning over Milah, and now he's what? Falling all over himself for someone he's only just met? Then again, maybe this is exactly what he needs - to bury himself to the hilt in a beautiful, scintillating woman for the night and simply forget for a while.

She seems, if her body language is any indication, to be as affected by him as he is by her. There's just something about her, though, that's making him feel… different. This doesn't feel like the beginning of a one-night stand. That's ridiculous, though, innit? he tells himself, but god, when she looks at me like that I can barely remember my own name. Name? Have I told her my name yet?

Killian shakes himself out of the memory and takes a sip of his still-too-hot coffee, wincing as it sears his tongue. Remembering is a fair distraction, but he has more pressing issues to focus on at present than Emma Swan (not to mention his mental whiplash from their latest encounter). Today is the debut of Killian's-To-Go. He got here well before the crack of dawn to begin the preparations, including supervising Smee to ensure he didn't cock anything up or miss any deliveries before opening up the meat market. After a couple of hours working behind the counter with his new employee, a cheeky cockney bastard by the name of Will Scarlet that Robin had sent his way, Killian felt confident enough in the bloke's level of competency to take a breather in his office and recaffeinate himself. Now, however, it's nearly time to open the barbecue side for lunch. He raises the coffee cup to his lips again, thinks better of it, then sets it down on his desk in agitation and rises from his chair.

"Mr. Smee! Report!" Killian shouts briskly as he strides from his office. The mouthwatering scent of smoked meats has been teasing at his nose all morning, and as he enters the newly renovated kitchen, he inhales deeply letting the aroma hit him full force. If everything tastes half as good as it smells, this new venture will be a sweeping success.

Smee straightens his posture and doffs his ever-present red cap, twisting it in his hands as he speaks. "Everything is ready, sir. The morning deliveries are all complete and on time, smokers are fully operational, and the meat should be ready by 11:00 a.m. for our grand opening."

Killian nods and claps Smee on the shoulder. "Wonderful! And my secret weapon?"

"Bubbling away, sir. And might I add, I think it's a stroke of genius for us to make our own proprietary-blend barbecue sauce. It'll really set us apart from the competition."

At the mention of his competition, Killian's smile fades slightly, but he quickly recovers. "I'm just glad you were able to procure the special ingredient I needed to make it." He lowers his voice, his expression becoming stern. "Can I count on your discretion in not revealing the recipe to anyone?"

Smee's eyes widen comically. "Of course! I would never-"

"There's a good man," Killian interrupts with a rough pat on Smee's shoulder before the man can begin babbling in earnest. Smee can feign innocence all he likes, but Killian is well aware of his less-than-savory connections, not to mention his propensity to have his tongue loosened by the right price or a pretty face. Still, if it weren't for Smee's ability to find the unfindable, they wouldn't be about to serve up the best barbecue sauce this town has ever experienced.

The two men finish readying the kitchen to open, and at 11:00 a.m. sharp, Killian throws open the take-out window with a flourish. He's greatly gratified by the length of the queue he can see out the window, stepping back with a smile to allow Smee to handle the first customers.

Killian spends the rest of the day on his feet, splitting his time between the meat market and barbecue sides of the building to ensure that both operations are running smoothly. He's pleasantly surprised with Scarlet's performance. The man may be a sarcastic prat, tending dangerously toward insubordination, but he has a certain quirky wit that plays well for the customers.

By the time they close up shop at 9:00, he's bloody exhausted, practically staggering into his office and collapsing in his desk chair. He pulls a small key out of his pocket and unlocks the bottom drawer of the desk, retrieving the bottle of rum hidden within. He unscrews the top, not bothering with scrounging up a glass, and takes a healthy celebratory swig. Savoring the sweet burn of the liquor, he sighs heavily and leans back in his chair, propping his feet up on the desktop. He should probably go home and sleep - he has to do this all over again tomorrow after all - but that would require getting up out of his chair and right now that's more effort than he can muster.

It was a brilliant grand opening. He knows the crowds will diminish as the novelty wears off, but the endeavor is looking promising nonetheless. Assuming he can survive the hours. Still, something has been nagging at the back of his mind all day, specifically, Smee's offhand comment about 'the competition'.

Competition. The fateful day that Emma had reappeared in his life (or more accurately, that he'd come crashing back into hers by mistaking her for a burglar - bloody hell, he's an idiot), after the initial debacle, they'd seemed to fall right back into the easy chemistry they had shared before. Right up until he'd mentioned he was opening his own barbecue place. Right up until I became the competition.

When her boy had shown up shortly thereafter, Killian's past heartbreak from Milah had come crashing back to him, and he'd been so distracted by it that he'd forgotten what he and Emma had been talking about moments before.

Then after making amends in her car on the way to the carnival, everything had been fine again. More than fine, really. He'd caught her looking at him several times, and he'd swear he'd seen a twinge of jealousy in her eyes. They were talking again - even flirting, because Emma Swan is an intelligent lass and that trick she pulled with the corndog was definitely intentional. He had thought (hoped) for a moment in the field house that she'd wanted to kiss him. He'd certainly been thinking about it the whole evening. How could he not? He was working at the bleeding kissing booth for God's sake, kissing every set of lips in town except for the ones he actually wanted. Lips which conveniently and tantalizingly happened to be in his direct line of sight for hours on end.

At any rate, he was certain Emma was finally warming up to him again - until she saw the business cards. And what had she said as she walked away? That they both had jobs to do. She wasn't just referring to their respective carnival booths. That's it, then. That's why she keeps pulling away from him. She sees him as the enemy - the competition.

She's a tough lass, he knows. A fighter. He remembers everything she told him about her past that night, how hard she was fighting at the time to overcome it. He can only imagine how much more she's had to work in the years since to get to where she is - to owning her own business - so it only stands to reason that she would be fiercely protective of that. In fact, he respects the hell out of her for it.

As much as some foolish part of him may wish for more, he hopes at the very least they can be something like friends. The idea that she may think ill of him genuinely bothers him. He feels the discord between them almost as a tangible itch beneath his skin. He will simply have to make a point of extending the olive branch, so to speak. To show her that they can be rivals without being each other's nemesis. The million dollar question now is how?


Emma takes a final drag of her cigarette, snuffing the butt and leaving it in the ashtray on the bar as he (Killian, apparently) does the same. She keeps her eyes on him as she takes her first sip of the drink he bought her, noticing how his gaze lingers on her mouth as she licks a stray droplet from her lip, his blue eyes darkening slightly. She's so distracted by him that it takes her a few extra seconds to remember that this - getting a stranger to buy her a drink - was the entire reason she came over here in the first place.

She could walk away now. Mission accomplished. She could go right back to her friends, alcohol-laced trophy in hand, and hope it's enough to keep Ruby off her ass for the rest of the night about the stupid truth-or-dare list. Hell, as hammered as Mary Margaret already was when Emma walked over here, the bachelorette party's not likely to last much longer anyway. It kinda puts a damper on the evening when your guest of honor is tossing her cookies in the ladies' room, and Mary Margaret looked about one tequila shooter away from that state. Emma could walk away, take her drunk best friend home to the waiting arms of her groom-to-be, and never see this Killian guy again. Or…

Emma turns away from him intending to catch the attention of her friends, only to find they all seem to have been watching the scene at the bar unfold as if it were riveting reality TV and raises her cocktail in victory toast. Killian looks over his shoulder to see what's drawn her attention just as a chorus of "Woo-hoo!" breaks out amongst the group, Mary Margaret offering an encouraging thumbs-up to boot.

Turning back to her, he chuckles. "Friends of yours?"

She nods. "See the brunette with the short hair? It's her bachelorette party. We were playing kind of a game. I was supposed to get a stranger to buy me a drink, and now I have." She concludes the statement with a smug grin, and takes another sip of her drink.

For an instant, Killian's face falls, something like disappointment flashing behind his eyes, but he quickly shutters it, assuming a politely neutral expression. "I see. Well, then, I'm glad I could be of service. I'll simply take my leave then."

It's that tiny flash of disappointment that does it. If Emma hadn't seen it, she might've let him go. No harm, no foul. The way he'd been looking at her earlier spoke of attraction, lust even, and she'd be lying if she said it wasn't doing things to her. Still, other men had looked at her that way before, had been looking at her that way pretty much since she hit puberty. But that hint of vulnerability was different. Something new. Something that makes her feel like maybe he could be actually interested in HER and not just some cute, blonde, piece of ass. And maybe she can let herself have that, just for once. Just for tonight. She can't explain it, but something in her gut is telling her to stay. So, in that moment, she decides to be a little bit reckless.

She cuts one last quick look over at her friends, and gets an enthusiastic go-ahead gesture from Ruby. Killian begins to stand, but she stills him with the glide of her hand up his thigh. "No, wait. We were just getting to know each other."

Killian sucks in a sharp breath at her intimate touch, and Emma tries to hide her smile at the effect she seems to be having on him. His mask of neutrality falls away, and he leans in closer to her, his eyes roving her face, searching. "Can hardly say that, love, when you haven't even told me your name."

She pauses before answering. There's a strange sort of contradiction in what she's feeling, this sudden deep-seated need to connect with him is completely at odds with her usual self-preservation instincts. She's done the one-night stand thing before on the couple of occasions when she had someone to watch Henry for the night and she could no longer stand the absence of human contact. Those nights - it's like she was playing the role of "Emma the hot chick from the bar." Those men knew nothing about her except for her name, and that's exactly how she had wanted it.

She can't offer Killian any more than this one night, but she's tired of playing the part. Tonight she just wants to be Emma - the real Emma. So, the solution is simple. Take a chance, let this one man know the real her and see what happens between now and sunrise, but never let him know her name.

Her hand has not moved from his thigh as she leans closer still, her words no more than a breath against his ear. "Like I said, what would be the fun of that?" She leans back again to meet his gaze in time to see his tongue dart out to slip across his lower lip.

He furrows his brow slightly, seeming to consider her implication. "So just two ships passing in the night, then?" he asks, gesturing between them.

She bites her own lip in response, and slides the hand on his thigh down to give his knee a playful squeeze. "Passing closely, I hope."

Killian narrows his eyes for a moment, then nods. "Right. Well, since your mates are watching, what say we give them a proper show?"

Emma tilts her head to the side, bemused. "What did you have in mind?"

"Well, I don't know the name of the band, but they're good, aren't they? Would you like to dance?" Killian stands and extends a hand to her.

"Why not?" she replies with a soft smile, and curls her fingers delicately around his, allowing him to help her down from her perch on the tall stool, never letting go as he leads the two of them out to the crowded dance floor.

It's late afternoon on Monday, and Emma is wiping the counter down for the third time just for something to do with her hands. It's too late for lunch and too early for dinner, so the place is empty, save for Anton, who she can hear whistling as he putters around in the kitchen. Even Ashley left at 2:30 for her prenatal checkup, and Emma had told her not to bother coming back until 5:00 for the beginning of the dinner rush (which Emma is afraid is going to be a painful misnomer today). For the last hour, Emma has had nothing to do but clean everything in excruciating detail and think about things she has no business thinking about.

The jingle of the bell over the door draws her attention. Henry's warm brown eyes and casual "Hey, mom," bring a smile to her face. He slings his backpack onto the bench of an empty booth, and Emma walks around the counter to meet him halfway with a quick side hug.

"Where is everybody?" He asks.

"Hey, kid," she says warmly, walking with him back to the booth where they sit down across from each other. "Ashley's at the doc's office and Anton is in the back reorganizing the cooler again. How was school?"

"I got an A on the story I wrote for English class," he answers brightly. "My teacher says my work shows 'a keen mind and vivid imagination'." His imitation of his teacher's voice makes Emma chuckle.

"But," he continues, scrunching his mouth to the side as he stalls for time. "Math isn't going too great. It's just that we're doing these equations now that have letters in them as variables and well…" He huffs out a frustrated sigh. "I just think letters should be for reading and writing - not math. You know?"

Emma pats his arm sympathetically. "Yeah, I know. I had some issues with math when I was in about your grade, too. It's not that I couldn't do it exactly. It's more like…" She pauses, searching her memory for a way to explain. "I would just know the answer sometimes. I'd look at a problem and I'd just know, but I wouldn't know how I knew and I couldn't really show my work or anything."

"Really?" Henry asks, his eyes alight with curiosity.

"It's true. You know me, kid. I'm a go-with-your-gut kinda person. Anyway, my teacher wasn't nearly as nice as yours is. She was sure I was cheating. That I was copying the answers off of another student. The funny thing is, I got so tired of her accusing me that I did start copying your Uncle David's homework - the part where he showed his work - and I copied the process enough times that I finally learned how to do the problems the 'right' way."

"Wasn't that cheating?" Henry asks with a wry smile.

"Well..." Emma looks to the ceiling, tilting her head from side to side indecisively. "I never copied on tests, and the whole point of homework is to learn how to do something and that's what I was doing. I like to think of it as 'teamwork'." Emma smiles. "Besides, I'm glad I learned how to do it the 'hard way'. My intuitive powers aren't strong enough to tackle high school algebra."

Henry laughs and begins to pull his books from his backpack, spreading them out to turn the booth into a work station of sorts. "So," he says, intentionally not meeting his mother's eyes, "can I invite Violet over to the restaurant sometime? For, you know, teamwork?"

Emma's eyes practically bug out of her head. "Who's Violet?" No, no, no, no, no. My baby boy is too young for girls. I am not ready to deal with girls.

"Just a girl in my class. But she's really good at math, so maybe she can help me," Henry says detachedly, but the deep scarlet staining his cheeks confirms Emma's suspicions.

Emma leans back in the booth, crossing her arms over her chest, her well-practiced "Mom's not buying it" expression firmly in place. "Just a girl from your class, huh?"

Henry shrugs and fights back with his patented "look how cute and innocent I am" eyes. It's an effective tactic, so she counters by rolling her eyes at him and standing to reach over and tousle his shaggy brown hair. "Hmmm. If you're trying to impress a girl anytime soon, you might wanna get a haircut."

"Mom!" he whines, swatting her hand away. Then a wicked gleam flickers in his eyes, and she should know what's coming. She really should, the way her luck has been running lately, but it still catches her off guard when Henry says, "You know who has cool hair? Mr. Jones. What's the deal with you guys anyway?"

Shit. Emma opens her mouth to speak, gaping mutely like a fish for a moment before closing it again and slumping back down into the booth. Shit dammit fucking shit. I'm less prepared to discuss my love life or lack thereof WITH MY SON than I am to discuss my son's apparent burgeoning love life.

She manages to compose her features and states simply, "There is no deal with me and Mr. Jones. And nice subject change, by the way."

Henry smirks. "I learned from the best. But seriously, I'm nearly thirteen. I'm not completely oblivious. I've been around you twice now and you guys act like Avery and Grace."

Emma furrows her brow in confusion. "And what does that mean?"

"They were going together over the summer," Henry begins by way of explanation, and Emma withholds her commentary on how two twelve year-olds can be 'going together' or 'dating' when she knows neither of them are allowed to date.

Her face must give her away, though, because Henry adds with an eye roll, "You know what I mean. They were boyfriend-girlfriend."

Emma nods, inwardly cringing again that her little boy is now apparently old enough to be someone's boyfriend. She makes a mental note to put her shotgun in plain sight in their living room in case any evil little girls come over. Just as a friendly reminder.

"Anyway, at the end of summer vacation, Grace broke up with him. Avery's not really sure why. He still likes her, and I think she still likes him, too, but they keep acting really weird around each other. She smiles at him when he isn't looking, but then he makes these dumb jokes every time he talks to her or does something lame to get her attention and she either ignores him or acts all mad."

"And you think that's what Mr. Jones and I are doing?" Emma asks in a carefully measured tone.

"Yup. I think he likes you, and I think maybe you act like you're angry with him sometimes because you like him, too. I saw you smiling at him at the carnival. Did you guys used to go out? Did you break up with him or something?" Henry asks.

Emma can feel the prickle of a flush creeping up the back of her neck. She's always kept the few men she dated well away from Henry, so it's not surprising that he's curious. Even with Walsh, she'd been seeing him for six months before she introduced Henry to him. She has no idea how to explain a one-night stand to her son, and on top of that she has the sneaking suspicion that Henry is winding up to something.

"I, uh - I guess you could say we went on a date once. A long time ago," she finally answers.

Henry looks down, fiddling with the cover of one of his text books. "He, um…" he begins cautiously, still not meeting Emma's eyes. "He isn't - I mean, he's not my-"

"No! No, kid, he's not," Emma interjects, shaking her head. "We've talked about your dad before, remember?" she adds soothingly, reaching out to squeeze Henry's forearm.

"Just that you guys broke up before you knew you were going to have me, and that you don't know where he is now. You never said his name."

Emma tilts her head, smiling sadly. "To be honest with you, kid, to this day I don't know if the name he told me was his real one. But, that is definitely not a conversation for a school night. Just…" Emma huffs a sigh. "It's not Mr. Jones, okay? You were actually about four years old when Mr. Jones and I knew each other."

Thoroughly unsettled by the progression of this conversation, it occurs to her that this might be a great moment for a little diversionary tactic. "It was right before Uncle David and Aunt Mary Margaret got married, actually. Do you remember? You got to be the ring bearer." Emma smiles brightly, moving her hand from Henry's arm to tweak his shirt collar playfully. "You were so cute in your little bow tie!"

Henry jerks back out of her reach, wrinkling his nose in affront. "Hey! Now who's changing the subject."

Emma sighs and leans heavily with her elbows on the table. How on earth did I end up with such a smart and observant kid? "I don't know what else to tell you. I knew him before, and now he's back. Occasionally we have to talk to each other, mostly for work reasons." Emma shrugs one shoulder, eyeing her son suspiciously. "Why? What are you getting at?"

"Do you like him? It's okay if you do. I mean, I know it's only been a few weeks since you and Walsh broke up, but…" Henry pauses as if choosing his words carefully. "You just never seemed to be that into him. He was nice and all, and I was cool with you guys dating, but he was kinda boring."

Emma's lips quirk into a half-smile. "Yeah, he kinda was, wasn't he?"

Henry smiles back. "But you still haven't answered my question. Do you like Mr. Jones?"

Emma takes a moment to actually think about the question. If it were anyone else asking, she'd probably blow it off with a flippant comment, but this is Henry. She doesn't want to lie to her son if she can help it, and maybe… Maybe I'm getting tired of lying to myself.

Does she like him? She did eight years ago. Much more than she'd ever want to acknowledge. He certainly seems to be the same man she felt so drawn to back then, if maybe a little older and wiser, a little bit less damaged. Or maybe, like her, his scar tissue has just grown thicker over time.

Then again, they hardly know each other - that is, the people they are now. Eight years is a long time and a lot can change. A lot has changed. She doesn't want to have feelings for him. I can't have feelings for him. But even as she thinks it, she remembers his hesitant smile in the field house and the way her skin tingled from a simple brush of his fingers against hers. She doesn't have 'feelings' for him, but 'like'? It's possible that 'like' isn't too strong of a word...

"Maybe sometimes when he isn't being irritating," she finally mumbles, her eyes scrunched shut as if the admission pains her. She opens her eyes again and extends her hands toward Henry, palms up in pleading. "But I don't need some other guy in my life! I've got you. My best guy! My favorite guy!"

Henry gives her a textbook perfect pre-teen 'whatever' smirk, but adds sincerely, "I just want you to be happy, mom."

Emma's smile returns, her heart thoroughly warmed by Henry's concern. Can you believe this kid? She presses her palms to the table and stands, scooting out of the booth and walking to Henry's side to lean down and give him a hug. "Thanks, kid," she says, pressing a quick kiss to the top of his head.

She straightens and turns to leave, but suddenly thinks better of it. "Hey, Henry. You basically grew up in this place when it was Granny's. What do you remember being your favorite thing about it? I need some ideas on how to spice things up around here."

Henry thinks for a moment. "You mean besides how Aunt Ruby always used to sneak me lollipops when you weren't looking?" he asks cheekily. "The onion rings. Definitely the onion rings. Come on, mom, that one's obvious. They were your favorite, too."

Emma nods thoughtfully. Henry's right - Granny's onion rings were a thing of local legend, but no one had ever gotten her to give up her secret recipe. Emma might have to work on that. "You're right, that's a good one. Anything else?"

"Oh!" Henry exclaims after another moment's thought. "School Spirit nights. It was cool how practically the whole town would come in after the Storybrooke High football games on Friday nights, and Granny gave everybody a discount if they showed up in school colors."

Emma's face brightens as she remembers the way the old diner would bustle with activity on those nights, the people still sizzling with energy after a win or collectively lamenting a loss. Groups would sit for hours eating and drinking, deconstructing every play or regaling each other with stories of how they ran the offense back in their day. As a waitress, she could make more in tips off the 'Friday night lights' crowd in one night than the rest of the week combined. It had been a huge money maker for the diner, but when Granny retired over a year ago and passed the torch to Emma, the tradition had fallen by the wayside somewhere in the transitional shuffle.

"When's the next home game?" Emma asks.

"This Friday," Henry answers, his eyebrows raising with interest. "Are we gonna bring back Spirit Nights?"

Emma smiles broadly. "We sure are. You're a genius, kid." She gives Henry's shoulder an affectionate squeeze, and begins muttering under her breath. "I'll get some fliers printed up tomorrow. Maybe Mary Margaret will let me use the copy machine in the teacher workroom?"

She looks up to see Henry watching her in apparent amusement. "Hey, would you help spread the word? Maybe tack up some fliers at school or around town?"

"Sure, mom-"

But before Henry can say anything else, Emma's phone buzzes in her pocket. "Just a sec," she says, pulling out the device and taking a quick look at the screen. "It's Ashley. I need to take this."

Henry nods and Emma walks back around to the counter before answering the call. "Hey, Ash. How'd it go at the doc?"

"Well…" Ashley hesitates and Emma can already tell from the tone of her voice that something's not right. "I'm fine and the baby is fine, but, um, did you ever hire a replacement waitress for when I go on maternity leave?"

"Yeah," Emma answers warily, worried for her friend but not wanting to pry. "I did. She's scheduled to start her training a week from today. She had to give two weeks notice at her old job, so that's the soonest I could get her. But you're not due until the first week of November, right? Is everything okay?"

Emma can hear Ashley sigh heavily over the line. Finally she says, "Yeah, I mean the baby and I are healthy, but she seems to be trying to come out into the world ahead of schedule. Doctor Whale says all the walking and straining to carry trays can make that worse. Emma, I hate to leave you in a lurch, but he's putting me on bed rest. Effective immediately."


For once, Emma is thankful the restaurant is quiet for the evening. After reassuring Ashley that they could soldier on without her and she shouldn't worry about anything but her baby girl, Emma and Anton manage to take care of the few customers that pass through without much trouble. Nine o'clock rolls around and there isn't a soul in sight save for Henry scribbling something in one of his spiral notebooks over in a corner booth, so Emma makes the executive decision to close early for the night. She needs to go home and wrack her brain for something resembling a plan of action.

Henry begins to nod off on the short drive home, and Emma can't help but smile softly when she catches a glimpse of his sleepy face in her peripheral vision. Her brilliant baby boy. Her baby boy who's beginning to notice girls and will probably be shaving soon and… She isn't sure if it's the sound of her sharp exhale at that train of thought or the crunch of the yellow Beetle's tires on the gravel driveway that rouses him.

"We home?" he mumbles, blinking at her groggily.

Emma nods in the affirmative, patting his arm affectionately before cracking open her door, and the two walk together up the front steps of the small, but (mostly) well-kept farmhouse that they call home. Sure, the paint may be chipping in a few places and the screen door may have a hole or two, but Emma couldn't be prouder that she actually owns a home of her own. Well… she will own it after a hundred or so more monthly payments to the bank. But after years of renting that tiny apartment from Granny Lucas (for what she now knows was way below market value, even for Storybrooke), it feels good to have someplace that's just hers and Henry's.

Henry certainly acts like he owns the place, immediately flopping down on the couch, throw pillow clutched to his chest and feet propped up on the seat cushions. Emma thumps the toe of one sneakered foot with a frown.

"Hey, sleepyhead! Shoes off the sofa. And shouldn't you be getting ready for bed about now? It's a school night."

He looks up at her pleadingly. "Can't I watch just one show on TV first?"

Curse those big, brown eyes. "Fine. You can watch one show while I go call your Aunt Ruby, and then bedtime."

Henry beams at her ridiculously and Emma rolls her eyes at him, shaking her head as she grabs her cell phone out of her purse and walks to the kitchen. Once she's out of Henry's earshot, she taps Ruby's name in her contacts list and surprisingly only has to wait two rings before her friend picks up.

"Howl at the Moon, Ruby speaking. What can I do you for this evening?"

Emma chuckles quietly at the nearly-professional sounding greeting. "Hey, Rubes. It's me."

"Emma? Not that I'm not glad to hear from you, but shouldn't you be at work right now?"

Emma takes a deep breath, trying to figure out what exactly she wants to say as the tinny sound of country music filters through the phone. "I've got…" she pauses, exhaling heavily. "I'm in a bit of a situation. Your boyfriend the doctor just put my best and at the moment only waitress on bed rest, and I mean, of course I want Ashley to take care of herself, but that means that-" Emma makes a short growl of frustration, shoving her free hand through her hair. "I guess what I'm trying to ask is if you and the bar have a waitress or two I could borrow? Whoever's off shift for the night or something? It'd only be for a week until the new waitress I hired can start."

"I'll do you one better. You can have me for the week, for the lunch shift anyway. God knows, I've carried a tray or two in that place over the years. Pretty sure I remember how. And you wouldn't have to pay me. You can keep my tips or, hell - I don't know, buy Ashley a baby present with them or something."

Stunned speechless for a moment, Emma presses a hand to her chest and shakes her head as if Ruby could see her silent denial. "I couldn't possibly ask you to-"

"You didn't," Ruby interrupts. "I'm offering. It's only for a few days, and besides, I consider it helping to preserve Granny's legacy or some sentimental bullshit like that," she finishes with a laugh.

"Thanks, Rubes," Emma replies, her throat tight with emotion. "I mean it. Thanks."

"No worries, girl. You'd do the same for me." Ruby answers lightly, as if working 16-hour days to help a friend is no more taxing than getting a pedicure. "You know, you should ask Belle if she can help out with dinner. She gets finished at the library around 4:30 I think. Mary Margaret could probably help, too, unless she's got PTA meetings or something this week. We all did our time waitressing at Granny's back in high school and during the summers from college. It won't kill us to dust off our aprons. We're all here for you if you need us."

Emma tries to swallow down the lump in her throat. She knows intellectually that Ruby is probably right, but her heart can't quite grasp the concept of the three of them rallying to her aid. Even after years of her friends standing by her on the rare occasions she allows herself to ask for help, the lost little girl inside her is still surprised and touched by it. It's strange, because she absolutely would do the same for them (Ruby is definitely right about that), but it's almost like she forgets sometimes that she's a person who people give a damn about. That her chosen family is completely different from the biological parents who abandoned her and the foster 'families' (if such a term could even be applied to those people) who ignored her or worse.

Pushing aside those darker thoughts to deal with later (or never), Emma finally answers, "Okay. I'll ask them. But first, I'm gonna call the new girl I hired and see if she can start any sooner. I hate to put you guys out any more than I have to."

"Fair enough," Ruby replies, and Emma can hear her smile through the phone line. "Now, tell me: have you seen any more of Scruffy McHottie? And if you have seen more, I want an inch-by-inch description of each part. For science, of course."

Now THIS is the Ruby I remember. "Ugh," Emma grumbles. "No, I have not. His name is Killian. I will leave all inches up to your florid imagination," she replies, her tone flat and robotic. "Why is everyone so interested in my interactions or lack thereof with Killian Jones? Even Henry was bugging me about it earlier."

"Um, maybe because anyone - even a 12 year old - who's been around the two of you for more than ten seconds can see the chemistry there? We barkeepers have a saying - if three people tell you that you're drunk, you should go home and go to bed. I think the same principle applies. If three people tell you you have the hots for someone, you should go home and go to bed with him. So then that's me, Mary Margaret and now Henry. Three. Oh! And Granny. She told me she saw you making goo-goo eyes at Killian at the carnival."

"I did NOT make-"

"Sorry. It's four against one," Ruby declares matter-of-factly. "Can't argue with math."

Emma wants very much to argue with Ruby's sudden apparent interest in math and science, but instead she asks, "Don't you have a bar to run?"

"Nah, I'm good. So, tell me more about-"

"Well, I have to get Henry to bed, so…"

"No prob. I'll be seeing you for hours every day this week. We'll have plenty of time to talk!"

Emma slumps against her kitchen counter and drops her forehead into her hand, suddenly feeling slightly less grateful for her friend's proffered help. Immediately after she and Ruby say their goodbyes, she calls Aurora, the new waitress she had hired, to see if it's at all possible for her to start any sooner than next Monday. Luckily, Aurora tells her that she can start as early as the dinner shift Friday night.

Two more phone calls (including a lengthy pep talk from Mary Margaret) and she has a solid game plan in place. Since Mary Margaret has to work the concession stand at the Friday night football game, she's agreed to help out with the dinner shift on Tuesday and Thursday, and Belle can work Wednesday and Friday night.

Between herself, Belle and Aurora there'd be three of them to work the floor on Friday. That ought to be enough to handle a Spirit Night. God knows Emma could use the revenue boost if the town really did show up in force like before, and with the next home game more than two weeks away, this is her best chance. It could also be a complete disaster, but charged up on the glow of her friends' supportiveness and with Mary Margaret's words of encouragement ringing in her ears, Emma decides it's a risk she's willing to take.

Feeling a renewed sense of purpose, Emma shuffles Henry off to bed without any complaint from him this time. He did get to watch two TV shows after all, due to her extended stint on the phone. Once she hears the door of his bedroom click shut, she fires up her laptop and uses her rather limited Word and clip art skills to make a half-decent looking flier:

SWAN'S BAR-B-Q PRESENTS:

STORYBROOKE SPIRIT NIGHT!

THIS FRIDAY 5:00PM - 11:00PM

COME SUPPORT THE STORYBROOKE KNIGHTS AND

RECEIVE 15% OFF YOUR ORDER IF YOU WEAR SHS BLACK AND RED!

B.Y.O.B.


Killian has seen the fliers all over town, in fact, someone even handed him one when he was working the register at the market. As much as he has a personal distaste for American football, he can't help but be intrigued and rather charmed by the community spirit that seems to surround it in this small town. Though he'd never admit it to Robin - the blighter would mercilessly take the mickey out of him for it - he's actually a bit disappointed that he can't attend the game, what with it conflicting with his own dinner shift.

Speaking of shifts at the barbecue stand… He's absolutely knackered from working all these extra hours - between coming in before dawn to check the smokers, staying late to close the barbecue side - and the regular meat market bustle. For someone who works in the food industry, he's barely eaten all week. Just one more day of madness, and then he can sleep it all off when his shop is closed on Sunday.

He finds himself thankful when, after a frantic first week working his arse off, Friday night is deadly dull at his shop. Killian can only assume the sudden drop in customers is due to a combination of the football game itself and Emma Swan's 'Spirit Night'. He should be annoyed, or at the very least feel some degree of competitiveness that she's stolen all his business for the night, but instead his curiosity is slowly getting the better of him.

The high school stadium is only a couple of miles down the road, so for the last two hours, he's been listening to the roar of a distant crowd interspersed with sharp bursts of brass and percussion from the pep band, laughing to himself at how very different "All About That Bass" sounds when played on trumpets and sousaphones. As he peers out the take-out window now, he can see the long line of headlights on the main road which can only mean one thing - the game is over and the post-game revelries are about to commence.

Hoping to perhaps catch a final burst of business, he waits until the headlights passing grow fewer and farther between, until finally the last straggler passes him by. Deciding to simply give up for the night, he grabs his truck keys from his desk and tells Smee to lock up. He's clearly not going to make any money himself tonight, so it seems like the most logical business decision to go to where the people are. Bond with his fellow townsfolk, even if that means going behind enemy lines - not that he considers Emma the enemy. No, she rather seems to have applied that designation to him. Or at least sometimes she does.

He hops in the cab of his truck, and puts the keys in the ignition, but pauses before cranking the engine. Is this really a good idea, showing up at Emma's place? On the one hand, she'd likely be more comfortable on her home turf, and it's possible that the communal good energy (not to mention a healthy amount of cash in the till) might put her in a less guarded frame of mind, and give him the opening he needs to show her he comes in peace. On the other, she may assume that he's merely there to spy on her or attempt to steal back the customers and everything will go to hell again. He flexes his hands on the wheel in frustration. Bugger.

He should give up on her entirely and save himself the exasperation. He would do so, if it weren't for those precious few moments when she lets her guard down and he can again see the woman who had so captivated him all those years ago.

"Okay then Lieutenant Killian or Captain Hook or whoever you are, what else should I know about you?"

"Ah, ah, ah, love," he answers raising an eyebrow at the mysterious lass. "Tit for tat. I told you a story about myself, and now it's your turn."

"Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies," she sing-songs with a coy smile. Still, he sees something in her eyes - a sort of unexpected earnestness, almost as if she WANTS him to ask.

"I see," he says with a smirk. "You're afraid to reveal yourself. To trust me. Well, I don't need you to share. You're something of an open book."
"Am I?" She asks, her expression changing to a challenge. She leans back in her chair, scooting her hips forward to the edge of the seat and propping one elbow on the table. It's a pose of practiced nonchalance, but the move has placed one of her legs so that it rubs against his. Clever girl.

"Quite." Never breaking eye contact with her, he reaches out to trace a delicate circle around her knee. "This for example," he says tapping her kneecap with two fingers. "Classic diversionary tactic. I think you're accustomed to hiding behind a facade - hence all this 'mystery woman' business - and I'd be willing to wager it comes from years of having to put on a brave face and take care of yourself."

Her eyes narrow and her body goes very still. "How would you know that?"

How indeed. It's only something he's seen in the mirror a few hundred times. "Like I said - open book. But I also think that…" he looks down at the table, pursing his lips for a moment before raising his eyes to hers again. "That maybe you're weary of the facade. Fancy a night off, aye?" He flashes her a wicked smile, and sees her own lips quirk up at the corners in response. "Perhaps with a dashingly handsome gentleman that you'll never see again?"

Though she seems to be fighting it, her smile broadens. "Perhaps."

He studies her, knowing with absolute certainty that he's right. In that same moment, he realizes that he was wrong, though, too. He was wrong about what HE needs from her. He thought at first he needed another night to forget - to push aside the painful memories of Milah and to deaden his feelings in rum and meaningless sex.

But no - he's tired of his own bullshit, tired of the numbness he's been calling a life lately. For this one night, he wants to remember how to feel, how to be there and care for another person. So tonight, he will see her - really see her, and listen to whatever she wants to tell him, share with her whatever she wants to know. He'll give her whatever she needs, knowing that in helping her, she'll be helping him to heal himself. Just for one night.

He leans toward her, resting his own elbow on the table as he moves into her space. "So the question remains: Just who are you, love?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?" She whispers, her eyes an invitation and a promise.

"Perhaps I would."

And he still does want to know her. The real her. Right now it feels as if there are two of her. There's the unflappable, even prickly exterior designed to keep everyone at arm's length. Then there's the other her - still just as fierce and strong and intelligent, but also vulnerable, playful, caring. He knows why she's so guarded. He remembers every word she said to him that night. But she let him in once, and he can't help but hope that she'll let him in again - not simply into her bed, but into her life.

He sighs, turning the key in the ignition and the truck's engine rumbles to life. He pulls out of the parking lot and turns onto the main road in the direction of Swan's Bar-B-Q. Worth at least one more try, innit?


When Killian arrives, the place is packed. So much so that the empty field next to the restaurant where Henry and his friend had been playing football the other day is now being used as a makeshift parking lot. Even if he hadn't checked the final score on his phone, he'd have known the home team won. The small building seems to radiate an aura of joy and celebration.

As he walks through the front door - the first time he's been inside since the day he found Emma again - the patrons are all shoveling food in their mouths and talking animatedly. A gaggle of teenage girls move as one toward the ladies' room, whispering and sneaking glances at a table of boys. A handful of little tots run around between the tables, while their parents divide their attention between attempting to have a conversation with their fellow adults and intermittently shouting reprimands and warnings at the tykes. In a corner, a booth full of middle aged men laugh and slap each other's backs as they tip back long neck bottles pulled out of a cooler on the floor. He's even fairly sure he saw Leroy Miner slip a flask out of his jacket and take a quick pull.

He finally spots a golden blur of motion near the back of the dining room that he determines must be Emma, and so carefully picks his way through the crowd to lean against the wall next to the kitchen, hoping to catch her on the way in or out so he can pay his respects. She stops at the counter to ring up a customer's bill, and even though he can only see her back and a sliver of her profile, he can tell from the set of her shoulders and the tightness in her cheek from a presumably fake smile that she's tense as a bow-string.

Finally, Emma turns toward the kitchen. He knows the moment she's noticed him because she freezes stock still. She looks utterly frazzled, her eyes wide, ball cap slightly askew with feathery wisps of hair framing her face where they've fallen out of her ponytail, and a light sheen of perspiration on her lovely face and neck.

Killian smiles as Emma's face falls and her shoulders sag. She must be exhausted because she doesn't even bother putting up an impassive front.

"Jones, I don't have time for this," she says wearily.

"Emma, I just-" he tries to reply, but she's on a roll now, her words flowing out in an increasingly fast and angry torrent.

"My new waitress is basically clueless. She has screwed up four orders in the last half-hour alone, and spilled no less than five full glasses of sweet tea all over my kitchen floor. Did you know a floor could be sticky and slippery at the same time? IT CAN. Belle and I are busting our asses while trying not to literally bust our asses and - as I said before - I DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS. So, if you came here to gloat about your new place or watch me crash and burn, I just - I hope you're happy now."

Killian's jaw is hanging open at this point and before he can pull it up off the floor to answer, Emma has already stormed back into the kitchen. Well, I suppose that was unguarded at least. Shite.

Feeling extremely self-conscious for just standing there like an idiot, his hand moves on instinct to scratch behind his ear. He takes a surreptitious glance around the room, wondering if any of the patrons had overheard his exchange with Emma, though exchange is hardly the term, since he barely got a word in. From where he stands he can see behind the counter and into the shallow storage shelves beneath it, and his eyes catch on a black apron folded neatly on a shelf next to a stack of notepads. Well, perhaps if she won't let me speak, I can SHOW her I'm not the enemy.

Killian snatches the apron off the shelf, tying it around his waist with quick, efficient movements, then grabs a notepad sliding it into the apron's front pocket, right behind the "Swan's Bar-B-Q" logo embroidered in bright red thread. He locates a pen cup next to the cash register, pops a ball point behind his ear and gets to work. He's waited a table or two in his day, and before that he was a Navy man. God knows he can take an order.

The first time Killian drops off an order slip in the kitchen, the cook - who he recognizes as Anton, the man whose tractor pulled his truck out of a ditch last week - looks awfully surprised to see him, but the pace of the restaurant is too frantic to give him time to argue any more than a headshake and a mumbled "your funeral, man." As Killian is heading back out to the dining area, he passes a tiny slip of a lass with long, auburn hair that he remembers from the carnival as Belle (she visited his booth more than once, and was quite charming). Her eyes widen comically when she first sees him, but her expression shifts quickly into a knowing smile as she passes without a word, instead rushing her heavy laden tray of empty plates to the dishwasher.

He manages to stay out of Emma's way for three trips to the kitchen and back out, but as he's scribbling down his fourth order (soda refills for a table of pre-teens), he can feel the weight of eyes on him and looks up from his notepad to see Emma glaring at him from across the room. She looks like she's right on the verge of marching over to tear into him again, when Belle walks up beside her and wraps a hand around Emma's arm, leaning in to whisper something in her ear. Whatever it is Belle said, Killian thinks he must owe her a debt of thanks because Emma pauses then, cocking her head to the side to study him, her face unreadable. Finally she nods at him, and he releases the breath he'd been holding, then gives Henry's table a smile and a promise to be right back with their drinks.

It's nearly a half-hour later, when he and Emma cross paths again. She's just finished ringing up a check, and he's grabbing a fresh pen from the cup by the register.

"Ran out of ink, love, but I'd best get back out there before the natives get restless."

He taps the new pen against the counter twice, then turns to go, but before he can move away her hand is on his wrist, stilling him. He turns to face her, and finds she's still looking at him with that searching expression he'd seen earlier, and he still isn't quite sure what to make of it. Like she's trying as hard as she can not to let him read her.

"I didn't need your help, you know." Her words aren't exactly warm, but the way she says them isn't accusatory. More like she needs him to know she's not some helpless damsel. As if I needed a reminder of what a tough lass you are, darling.

"I know," he answers simply, offering her a small smile. "You and Belle and even Aurora are perfectly capable of soldiering on. I've no doubt you would've made it work. At the very least, I've yet to see you fail."

She raises an eyebrow at that, but the barest hint of an upward tick at one corner of her mouth and the fact that her hand is still around his wrist convinces him to go on. He steps closer, leaning over the counter between them and arches his own eyebrow back at her.

"I wanted to help, Swan. Besides, it's not as if I'm going to keep my tips - though I must say I've made a rather tidy sum. Must be my dashing good looks," he finishes with a self-satisfied smirk.

Emma rolls her eyes, but her lips bloom into a real smile as she fires back, "Well, it's certainly not your customer service. Leroy there-" she bobs her head toward a table, and Killian looks over his shoulder to follow her gaze, "has been waving at you for the last thirty seconds. Might want to hustle over there. He's a tea-tipper."

Killian looks back at her, furrowing his brow bemusedly. "Tea-tipper?"

Emma huffs a small laugh. "Yeah. The longer his ice tea glass sits empty, the lower the tip."

Unable to resist, Killian places his free hand over Emma's where it rests on his wrist, relishing her quick intake of breath at the contact. "Well, then I shall have to tell him I was diverted by my lovely boss," he murmurs, his voice low and husky, then gives her hand a squeeze and walks away to attend to his tables with a bit more spring in his step.

It's well past the official 11:00 p.m. closing time when the last table of customers finally heads home. Emma sends Aurora home, making the lass promise to come in early the next morning for extra training. Anton is finishing mopping the kitchen, and Henry is camped in a booth playing some kind of video game on his phone. Belle and Killian each finish straightening the chairs and sweeping their sections, then walk over to meet up with Emma at the register.

Belle unties her apron, pulling a wad of cash out the front pocket, and begins speaking excitedly. "Look at all this! I haven't counted it, but I think it'll be more than enough to buy Ashley that fancy infant swing on her registry."

Killian listens as he unties his own apron. "What's that, lass?"

Belle turns to him with a smile. "For Emma's waitress. The one who had to go on maternity leave early."

"Ah, yeah. I lost my only waitress on Monday, so Belle and Mary Margaret who you've met, and my friend Ruby who you might have seen at the carnival last week? They've been helping to fill in for me, and they decided to pool their tips to buy Ashley something really nice for the baby," Emma clarifies, looking slightly sheepish.

Killian nods, impressed. "That's very kind of the lot of you. And it does explain why you've got a librarian waiting tables." He inclines his head toward Belle with a polite grin. "Albeit quite adeptly, I must say." He places his apron on the countertop and pulls his neat stack of tip money out of the pocket and sets it next to the register. "May I be permitted to contribute to the cause as well?"

Belle beams at him, but Emma eyes the stack cautiously. "Killian, there's nearly a hundred dollars there. Are you sure you want to donate that to someone whose name you didn't even know five seconds ago?"

Killian meets Emma's eyes, attempting to pour as much sincerity into his gaze as possible. "If your Ashley was here, she'd have earned that money herself, so it only seems right for it to go to her. I told you, Swan, I was only here to help."

"Wonderful!" Belle squeaks, picking up the stack of bills and combining it with her own. "Emma, I'll take this home for safekeeping, and go shopping tomorrow evening after the library closes. But for now I need to scoot. I've got to open early in the morning for Story Hour."

"I'm out, too, boss lady," Anton calls out from the kitchen door. "I just finished cleaning the back and I'm exhausted. Are you good to close by yourself?"

"Yeah, I got it," Emma answers looking between Belle and Anton. "Seriously guys, I can't thank you enough for tonight."

They both bid Emma their "you're welcomes" and "goodnights", before Belle exits through the front door and Anton returns to the kitchen to exit out the back. Killian knows he should probably take his leave as well, but he can't quite convince his feet to move in the direction of the door. Something is tethering him to this spot - something with sparkling green eyes that are at this moment looking at him with more softness and warmth than he had ever expected to see in them again. He realizes he's staring, and clears his throat awkwardly, glancing down at the counter and back up.

Emma seems to shake herself awake as well, blinking a couple of times. "I should take the till back to my office to do a final count and close out the receipts," she says, hiking a thumb over her shoulder presumably in the vague direction of her office.

"Hey, mom!" Henry's voice rings out. "While you're back there, can you check and see if we have any more of that pie Granny brought over the other day?"

Killian had almost forgotten the lad was there, he'd been so quiet and seemingly consumed with his game, but when he turns to look in Henry's direction, it's just in time to catch the lad giving his mother a significant head bob in Killian's direction. He wonders just how much attention Henry had been paying after all.

"Oh. Um, right," Emma stammers. She takes a breath and straightens her posture, "Killian, can I offer you a slice of Granny's homemade pie? It's the least I can do to thank you for all your help tonight."

Killian smiles, and damned if he doesn't try to keep the innuendo out of his voice as he answers, "I'd love to have a piece," but he fears it's there nonetheless, when he sees that faint blush he loves so much coloring Emma's cheeks.

She pulls the cash drawer out of the register, giving Killian a subtle side-eye as she does, then turns her attention to Henry. "And you better get started on your homework. I'm not staying up until the wee hours doing your science project for you Sunday night." She uses her shapely backside to push open the kitchen door, and disappears to the soundtrack of adolescent grumbling.

Henry sits up straighter in his booth and rummages around in the backpack on the table. Killian hesitates, not really knowing what to do with himself until Henry looks up from his massive textbook and addresses him.

"So, Mr. Jones, how's the barbecue stand going?"

Killian hesitantly sits down in the booth across from Henry, unsure of how Emma will feel about him chatting with her boy. Still, Henry's demeanor is warm and open, so he settles in on the bench and gives the lad a smile. "I appreciate the manners your mother has clearly taught you, but feel free to call me Killian. And the stand is going quite well, though the hours are murder. I've no idea how your mum does it every day," he answers truthfully. "At least the evening shift is a bit slower. Gives me a break at the end of the day. It looks like most of my customers are going to be people on their lunch break from work. But, it's hard to say for sure, since it's only the first week."

Henry seems to ponder this for a moment. "That's weird. This place is just the opposite. Mom says it's usually pretty quiet for lunchtime, but when I'm here in the evening I always see people. Sundays after church are the busiest though. Mom's always worn out on Sunday nights. That's why she's on me to get my homework done early. She'll be too tired to help me Sunday night."

Killian nods thoughtfully, impressed by Henry's powers of observation. Emma has certainly raised a bright lad. "So what is it you're working on there?" he asks.

Henry sighs heavily, propping one elbow up on the table and leaning his head on his hand. "It's like my mom said. I've got a big science project due Monday, but I need to get my other homework out of the way first. We're reading 'The Hobbit' in English class, which is no problem because I've read it three times already. But this -" he taps the textbook sadly with his pencil, "is my math homework. Not exactly my best subject."

Killian gestures to the book. "Mind if I take a look?"

"It's all yours," Henry answers, pushing the book to Killian's side of the table.

Killian looks over the equations on the page and nods. "You know, lad, a lot of what I did in the Navy involved mathematical calculations. More often than not, I had to to do them in my head on the fly. I'd be happy to teach you a few tips and tricks if you're interested?"

Henry looks up at him hopefully, "You don't mind?"

"Not a bit, lad," Killian answers with a grin. He stands and moves to Henry's side of the booth. "Now shove over, and let's see what you can do."

Henry grins back, and scoots over allowing Killian to sit down next to him. The two of them set to work, and it doesn't take long for Killian to realize Henry is picking up everything Killian shows him rather quickly.

"You seem to have pretty good instincts for numbers after all," he comments. "Is there an issue with your teacher or something?"

Henry's expression suddenly shifts to cagey, and he seems to have developed a keen fascination with a small tear in the red and white checked table cloth. "I, um," he finally answers, "I sort of have trouble paying attention in math class."

Killian raises an eyebrow, having a fairly good inkling why a twelve year old boy might have a problem concentrating in class, but he keeps his tone serious. "And why is that?"

Henry sighs, finally meeting Killian's eyes. "Well, you see there's this girl…"

"Is there indeed? I like this tale already!"

"It's not like that," Henry adds quickly. "Her name's Violet and she sits next to me in class. She's just a friend, but…" he trails off, looking back down at the table.

"Sometimes you find her distracting?" Killian asks.

Henry looks up and nods, and Killian grins at him.

At that moment Emma emerges from the kitchen with a plated slice of pie and fork in each hand. Henry and Killian simultaneously snap their heads up to look at her. She sets a plate and fork in front of each of them, and Killian eyes the fluffy confection appreciatively.

"Ah, coconut cream. A personal favorite. Developed quite a taste for coconuts during a stint in the South Pacific. Only problem is the bloody things are the very devil to open if you don't have the right tool."

Emma huffs a laugh, and licks a trace of meringue off her thumb, Killian's eyes following the movement intently.

"Well, good thing back here in the states we can buy it pre-flaked at the supermarket," she replies, before falling back automatically into waitress mode. "Can I get you boys something to drink with that?" She pauses, realizing how she sounded. "What I mean is, Killian - I have some decaf brewing in the back if you're interested."

"Love a cup, Swan."

She nods in acknowledgement. "Henry? Chocolate milk?"

"Yup. Thanks, Mom," he answers.

"No problem, kid. Be right back." And with that she turns on her heel and disappears into the kitchen again.

Killian watches her retreating from, then turns to Henry again. "I, ah - I think I know how you feel, lad," he says wistfully, referring to his earlier conversation with the boy.

Henry smiles sympathetically, then looks down at his pie, picking at the toasted coconut topping with a tine of his fork. "It'd be okay, you know, if you asked my mom out. I mean, I wouldn't mind."

Killian is touched by Henry's apparent blessing, but smiles sadly. "I appreciate that, lad. Truly. But I'm, ah…" He ducks his head giving a small self-deprecating chuckle. "I'm not sure she fancies me much."

Before Henry can respond, Emma is back with two cups of coffee and a glass of milk. Henry and Killian exchange a quick glance and take large bites of pie in perfect synchronization.

Emma looks between them with a scowl as she sets the drinks on the table. "Why do you two look guilty?"

"Not at all," Killian answers. "I've just been telling Henry here that I'd had a grand time this evening playing waiter." She sits down across from him, and he fixes her with a smirk. "I'd even be willing to tie an apron back on for the next Spirit Night if you asked me nicely." He finishes with a wink.

Emma scoffs at him, but the tension seems to have left her shoulders. Her expression is open now, and she seems to be stifling a smile. She relaxes into her seat in the booth, and soon the three of them are chatting amiably as Emma sips her coffee and the boys finish their dessert. It feels so comfortable and domestic, Killian may intentionally be taking the smallest bites he can without arousing suspicion to draw the moment out as long as possible.

When his last crumb is devoured, and he can find no other reason to justify his continued presence, Killian gets up and thanks Emma for the dessert and fine conversation. To his surprise her face falls slightly, almost as though she's as loath for him to leave as he is. His heart stutters a bit at the thought, but he's endured too many ups and downs in Emma Swan's favor at this point to put too much stock in it. And yet...

Emma presses her lips together, looking at him with widened eyes and stands as well. "Do you, um- " she shoves her hands in her back pocket and clears her throat, "Would you want another cup of coffee?"

Killian's tongue swipes across the back of his teeth as he considers her words, a hint of a smile curling his lips when he sees her eyes flick down to his mouth and back. "I think I must politely decline, Swan. It's late and I'm honestly dead on my feet. But the offer is much appreciated," he answers, allowing his smile to spread wider.

Emma nods, her eyes crinkling at the corners in response. "I'll walk you to the door then. I need to lock it anyway."

They walk to the door together, and she opens it for him, but before he can bid her good night, she stops him, reaching out her hand to lightly touch the back of his with her fingertips. Just the barest hint of contact, but somehow laden with meaning.

"I just wanted to thank you, Killian," she begins in a soft voice, her eyes darting down to his lips again before lifting into a small smile. "For your help this evening, I mean. That was… unexpected."

Feeling suddenly emboldened, Killian takes her hand and raises it to his lips, delicately grazing a kiss across her knuckles. He lowers their joined hands again, and looks deeply into her eyes, watching as a kaleidoscope of emotions swirl through their emerald depths - curiosity, trepidation, desire, and a flicker of something unnameable.

"It was a pleasure working with you, Swan," he whispers, biting his lower lip to suppress what would certainly be an idiotic grin. He glances over her shoulder for a second to see Henry watching them with rapt attention. Best behave myself in front of the lad.

He meets Emma's eyes again, giving her fingers a final squeeze before releasing them. "Goodnight."

He gives a small bob of his head in imitation of a bow. It's an almost courtly gesture, but one she seems to appreciate given the way her eyelashes flutter in response.

"Goodnight, Killian," she answers softly, her tongue slipping out to wet her lips as she takes a step back.

He turns to make the walk back to his truck where he'd parked out in the neighboring field earlier, barely resisting the urge to skip like a school boy. Instead, feeling her eyes on his back as he leaves, he decides to add a bit of swagger to his gait just for show. He's halfway across the regular parking lot the truck, when he hears her muffled chuckle before the restaurant door clicks shut and the deadbolt clunks into place. Smiling to himself, he jogs the rest of the way to his pickup.

Killian drives home feeling lighter than he has in weeks. It was a risk coming to Emma's restaurant tonight, but as it resulted in a warm, comfortable evening spent in Emma and Henry's charming company, it's a risk he's willing to take again. He doesn't know when the tides of Emma's favor may once more turn against him (though he thinks he's finally learning how to navigate those rocky shores), but the way she looked at him tonight… Just for now, just for this one night, he will cautiously allow himself a tiny sliver of hope.

Chapter Text

Killian rubs his eyes, thankful that the sun has finally sunk below the treeline. Saturday afternoon passed by in relative quiet. He and Will have already started the process of shutting down the Meat Market for the day, though the barbecue stand will stay open for a few more hours. The sharp jangle of the bell above the door startles Killian out of the daze of routine. He’s even more surprised to note that his customer is David Nolan.

He nods in greeting. “Sheriff Nolan! What can I get for you this evening?”

David pauses, hands on hips and a hesitant furrow to his brow as if he’s not sure how to phrase what’s on his mind. “Actually I came here to ask you a favor.”

Killian raises his eyebrows, curiosity piqued, and gestures for David to go on.

“See, Mary Margaret has me coaching a little league soccer team, and my assistant coach just quit on me.” He glances away, still apparently feeling a little awkward. “I was thinking that-”

“That because I use words like ‘bloody’ and ‘mate’, I might know a thing or two about proper football?” Killian asks, a wry smirk twisting his lips.

David closes his eyes for a second and exhales heavily. “Sorry. You’re right. That was-”

Killian raises his hand in a stop gesture and grins. “I’m just winding you up, mate. No worries. I’d be happy to help.”

David shifts his weight, looking relieved. “It’s just that Henry said you’d talked to him about ‘football’ before.”

Killian can practically hear the air quotes around the word football, and stifles the urge to roll his eyes. One word clicks in his mind. “Henry? Emma's boy is on the team?” he asks, attempting and likely failing to sound casual.

David tilts his head, his gaze narrowing. “Yeah, he is. Is that a problem? I noticed you waiting tables at Emma’s place last night. I thought you guys were friends now or something.”

Friends. Well, that’s one word for it. Acquaintances with an unusual history that they’ve agreed not to discuss and who are on mostly good terms after a rocky start, all while still being (mutually he hopes) intensely attracted to each other - that would be another way of putting it.

“We’re friendly enough, I expect.” Killian pauses, pursing his lips in thought. “Though, it might be well-advised to get her opinion on it before making the coaching job official. She and I have had a run-in or two and I’m not certain I’m completely back in her good graces.”

David frowns. “Do I wanna know?”

“Likely not,” Killian answers, keeping his expression guarded. He isn’t sure how much of their history Emma has shared with David, and he certainly doesn’t wish to get into the subject at the minute.

David nods slowly. “Okay, then. I’ll try to feel her out about it.” He digs in his pocket and pulls out a folded piece of paper to hand to Killian. “Here’s the schedule and address for the game field. We practice at the empty field next to Swan’s. I’m assuming you know where that is.” He pauses, giving Killian a chance to glance over the schedule. “Think you can handle it?”

“Aye. That’ll be fine.” Killian jerks a thumb over his shoulder at Will. “Scarlett here can man the helm for a few hours in my absence.”

David for the first time takes notice of Will loitering by the back counter, and the two men bob their heads at each other in acknowledgment.

“Thanks, Jones. I owe ya. Hey, why don’t you come by practice tomorrow? You can start running some warm-up drills with the boys while I talk to Emma.”

“Wait. I won’t be required to call the sport ‘soccer,’ will I?”

David crosses his arms over his chest and grins. “As long as you’re willing to help out, I don’t care what you call it.”

“Right,” Killian answers. “See you tomorrow then. Please pay my respects to your lovely wife as well.”

With a final nod, David turns and strides out of the Meat Market. The door has barely closed behind him before Killian hears Will’s cheeky laugh.

“Coaching footie for the little lads, mate?”

Killian turns to face Will with a scowl. “What of it?”

“Befriending the son to get in with the mum. Yup. No one’ll ever see through that,” Will answers with a smug expression that Killian very much wants to punch right off his face.

“Why don’t you keep your thoughts to yourself, mate ? And perhaps get back to work?” Killian pauses as a thought occurs to him, his own smug amusement quickly replacing his irritation. “Or do you want to cut out early today? Got more books to return to the library? Pretending to be an avid reader to get in with the pretty librarian. I suppose no one’ll ever see through that ruse either.”

This time it was Will’s turn to scowl indignantly. “Oi! I’m a man of letters, I’ll have you know.”

“Aye. And those letters are S.O.B.”

“Har bloody har .”

Killian laughs as Will shakes his head and pushes off the counter he’d been leaning against to resume his work cleaning up the shop.

“Honestly, though, does Belle know you fancy her?”

Will glances down at the floor in thought before answering. “Dunno. I’ve been coming ‘round enough, she should’ve gotten the idea by now, but she hasn’t exactly given me the ‘come hither’. Haven’t worked up the nerve to ask her out yet.”

Killian raises an eyebrow and sighs. “Know how you feel, mate. We’re a sorry pair, aren’t we?”

Will snorts a laugh as he continues cleaning. “Too right.”

Killian opens the register, removing the cash drawer. He takes a couple of steps toward his office, but stops, turning back to Will. “I can finish closing up by myself. Why don’t you go check out the selection at the library?”

Will looks up at him then, obviously fighting a grin. “Might just do that. Cheers, mate.” He shucks off his gloves and apron, leaving them on the back counter before hustling to the front door.

“See you tomorrow,” Killian calls out, but Will is a man on a mission. He doesn't turn, instead only acknowledging the words with a half-hearted wave just before the door closes behind him.

And perhaps I’ll see Swan tomorrow as well, he thinks. This should be interesting.

—/—

“So where’s that handsome new waiter of yours?” Mary Margaret asks innocently, fluttering her eyelashes as she takes a long sip from her iced tea.

“Stop.” Emma huffs and presses the icy, metal pitcher in her hand to Mary Margaret’s bare upper arm in retaliation. No prim cardigans today. It may be mid-October, but no one seems to have told the weather. Today’s high is supposed to top out at a balmy 92.

It’s the tail end of a long and blessedly busy Sunday lunch shift. Only a few families from the after-church crowd linger, including the Nolans. Far be it from David and Mary Margaret to miss an opportunity for Granny’s peach cobbler and a little meddling a la mode.

“I’m just saying it was pretty nice of him to tie on an apron and lend a hand. I hope you thanked him properly.”

Emma’s head whips around and David nearly chokes on his cobbler. After a split second’s worth of confusion, Mary Margaret’s eyes widen.

“Not like that! Sheesh, I’m not Ruby, for God’s sake,” she retorts, scandalized. “I just meant I hope you were nice to him, you know, in a friendly and completely G-rated--”

Emma holds up a hand to stop her friend’s rambling. “I fed him some pie and said thank you. Okay, mom? Or do I need to send him a handwritten note, too?”

Mary Margaret rolls her eyes dramatically and David chuckles.

“Well, you know what they say about the fastest way to a man’s heart,” he replies, lifting a forkful of golden syrupy peach by way of example and giving her a little wink before shoveling the bite into his mouth.

“Ugh, not you, too,” Emma grumbles. She sets her pitcher on the Nolan’s table, and plunks herself down on the bench next to David. Her elbow to his ribs and unceremonious “Scoot over!” only prompt more laughter from him as he gladly complies.

Emma looks between her friends briefly, then settles her gaze again on David. “Shouldn’t you be outside setting up for soccer practice right now instead of in here giving me grief?”

David and Mary Margaret share a look. “Speaking of Henry’s soccer team, Tom just quit on me. I need to find another assistant coach before next Saturday’s game or we’ll have to forfeit.”

“What’s the deal with Tom?”

“His allergies,” David answers. “Apparently there’s ragweed growing near the game field. He told me he can’t take it another week.”

Emma scowls. “You’d think a pharmacist would be able to…” she gestures vaguely with her hand, “you know, self-medicate or something.”

“You’d think.” David sighs, shaking his head as he stares back down at his dessert and spears another peach slice with his fork. “Anyway, I’ll be spending my afternoon trying to find someone to replace him.” He takes a bite and chews thoughtfully for a moment, then looks back over at Emma with a hopeful raised eyebrow. “Unless you can think of someone who would do it?”

Something in David’s tone sets off Emma’s internal bullshit detector, but she can’t figure out why. “You can’t just coach by yourself?”

“Nope. The league’s insurance requires at least two adult coaches per team.”

Emma pats David’s arm sympathetically and gets back to her feet, picking up her refill pitcher. “I sure hope you find someone. Henry will be crushed if the team can’t play until you get a new assistant. Speaking of Henry...” She casts a glance around the dining area and frowns, not seeing the boy in question. “Did either of you see where he went? He’s supposed to be in that booth over there working on his science project until practice starts.”

“He and one of his little buddies headed outside with a soccer ball a while ago. I guess they wanted to get an early start,” Mary Margaret answers. “Sorry, I didn’t know he was supposed to be doing homework or I would’ve said something.”

Emma waves away her friend’s apology, but same as with David, some quirk of Mary Margaret’s demeanor is setting Emma on edge.  She just can’t put her finger on what . “No problem. I’ll just go grab him by the scruff of his little pre-teen neck and drag him back in,” she says with a tight smile.

She walks over to the drink station and sets her pitcher down. She pauses there a moment as she wipes her hands on her apron. What are the odds? What are the odds that David casually mentions needing an assistant coach, right after both Nolans tease her about Killian AND Henry disappears with a soccer ball in hand?

He’s out there, isn’t he?

She grasps the doorknob, looking briefly heavenwards in a prayer for patience with overly helpful friends, then yanks the door open, knowing full well what she’s going to see mere steps from the building. There they are. Henry and his teammates, all red-faced and panting like puppy dogs, running drills in the afternoon sun, thankfully this time kicking away from the street.

And there, off on the sideline barely a few yards away is … Oh holy hell.

Emma swallows hard, suddenly suffused with a heat that has nothing to do with the blazing temperature outside. She knew. She knew he’d be there. Still, that knowledge had not prepared her for this. For Killian Jones in loose-fitting black soccer shorts riding low on his hips, muscled calves on full display. For the sweat-soaked FC Dallas t-shirt hugging his toned pecs and biceps. For the way the muscles of his throat work, his head thrown back as he gulps from a water bottle. She's near enough she can make out the rivulets of perspiration that roll down his jaw, winding their way past the twin freckles on the side of his neck, and she remembers the first time she saw those freckles up close.

 

He turns to face her fully as they step onto the dance floor, and in a blink, his arm is around her waist, pulling her body flush to his. A thrill of excitement runs down her spine. She’s so distracted by the feeling of his lean, defined torso pressed against her ( God, he’s warm. Almost too warm ), that she might’ve missed the bob of his Adam's apple if it weren’t right at her eye level.

Feeling suddenly self-conscious for reasons she can’t explain, she takes a moment to slowly pan her gaze upwards, mapping the freckles that dot the column of his throat, the scar that marks one sculpted cheekbone. Still not quite ready for eye contact, she instead looks down to her side where Killian is gently taking her hand. Her eyes follow the movement of their joined hands as he raises them until they’ve assumed the usual dancing posture. Her heart is pounding, and she doesn’t know whether to be exhilarated or annoyed at herself for getting so worked up over just touching this guy. She finally allows herself to meet his eyes.

The look he’s giving her makes her toes curl - searing, but also searching - and she decides to let herself go, to give in to what she’s feeling. So she smiles at him, something soft and real, and he smiles right back.

“Hold on tight, love.”

She intends to.

 

That thought wakes her up and she looks down quickly, chiding herself for so blatantly ogling him. Geez, all that scene needed was slo-mo and a guitar rock anthem playing in the background. At least he didn’t see me. The sound of throat clearing draws her attention. She looks up again to see Killian smirking at her.

“Quite hot, don’t you think, Swan?” he practically purrs, his tongue flicking to the corner of his mouth.

Or maybe he did. Smug bastard. She glares at him, but doesn’t take the bait.

“I mean outside, of course,” he continues innocently. “I was about to bring the lads indoors for a water break. Need to keep the squad properly hydrated.”

“Uh-huh,” Emma replies skeptically, biting the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling in spite of herself. “Come on in. Tea and lemonade are on me.”

There’s the expected commotion as a troop of sweaty pre-teens files into the restaurant. During the shuffle, Mary Margaret grabs David’s truck keys and waves her goodbyes to the room, heading home to grade papers. The kids get situated at a long table, with David taking a seat at one end. He leaves the empty seat across from him for Killian, but instead of joining the group, Killian seems to be lingering a bit.

He’s close. Not inappropriately so, but enough that Emma catches the scent of clean sweat and woodsmoke that clings to him. And speaking of clinging, the way that t-shirt clings to his chest should really be…

Blinking quickly, Emma clears her throat. “I’ll just go get those drinks then.”

She turns toward the kitchen, but before she can get through the swinging door to hide the flush that’s creeping up her face, she hears footsteps behind her.

“I’ll help you, love.”

That’s just… great. “Fine,” she replies without looking back at him. “But no apron for you this time. Don’t want you sweating all over it. And wash your hands.”

His low, rumbling laugh follows her into the kitchen.

Emma grabs two large serving trays from a shelf and begins filling glasses with ice as Killian moves to the sink and washes his hands as commanded.

When she glances over at him, he gives her a sly smirk. “So, we’re back to being prickly today, are we?”

Emma frowns as she scoops ice into another glass. “I’m not prickly. I just don’t want to get tagged with a health code violation.”

Killian turns the faucet off, and looks at her appraisingly. “Then I suppose you’d better wash up as well,” he taunts, then flicks the water off his fingers at her.

“Hey! You’re getting me all wet!” she exclaims, then her eyes widen as she sees him pressing his lips together tightly, mirth dancing in his eyes. Before the barely repressed innuendo can burst out of him, she points a scolding finger at his chest. “Don’t even.”

His shoulders shake with silent laughter and he holds his hands up in surrender. “I wouldn’t dare, love.”

“Good,” she declares haughtily before returning to the task of pouring the drinks.

Killian grabs a pitcher of lemonade and starts to work on the second tray. “Honestly though, haven’t I proven to you by now that I’m not the enemy?”

Without looking up from her task, she answers him in a quiet voice. “I don’t think you’re the enemy.”

“Well, that’s something at least. I understand that my showing up here in your life - especially the manner in which it happened -” he runs a hand through his hair with a nervous chuckle. “I get that it caught you off guard. Believe me when I say it was quite the shock to my system as well, but you’ve nothing to fear from me, Swan. There’s no need for defenses.”

His tone is plain and sincere, and Emma makes the mistake of looking up to meet his too blue, too earnest eyes. “The thing is, my life - Henry, the restaurant, all of it - it’s a very fragile balance, and you and I barely know each other. The people we are now anyway. I just…” She turns her attention back to the drink tray and pours the last glass of lemonade. “I can’t take the chance that I’m wrong about you.”

Killian doesn’t respond right away, and she finally looks back up at him. She doesn’t know she expects to see, yet is still surprised to find him merely regarding her with quiet consideration.

“Okay,” he answers, “but has it ever occurred to you that by that logic you’re absolutely eliminating any chance that you’re right ?”

Emma’s mouth falls open, her breath catching in her throat and a strange tightening in her chest. Before she can reply, or more accurately, before her brain can cease it’s frantic whirring and even make an effort at formulating a reply, Killian gives her a small smile and shoulders one of the heavy laden trays. He turns wordlessly toward the kitchen door and Emma hefts the other tray and follows behind.

“You make a fair point, Swan,” he says casually just before they exit the kitchen. “While you and I know some rather intimate details about each other, we never really got to know the little things.”

“Guess so,” Emma agrees, suddenly wary. She eyes him quizzically as they walk the short distance across the dining room and set the trays down on an empty table.  She picks up a glass in each hand, and moves to the team table to begin distributing them. “So what do you want to know?”

Killian frowns in thought, picking up a couple of glasses as well to assist. “Favorite color?” he asks, setting the glasses on the table and moving to grab more.

“Yellow,” Emma answers as she continues passing out the lemonade to the eagerly awaiting boys. “You?”

“Green,” he replies automatically, but there’s something in the way that his eyes flick down after he says it, his long eyelashes dusting his cheeks, that makes Emma’s heart flutter.  “Favorite food?” he asks, settling the last two glasses in front of Henry and David and finally taking a seat at the table himself.

Emma walks to the head of the table to stand with Killian seated to her left and David to her right. Henry leans forward in his chair to peek at her around David’s shoulder.

“I know this one,” her son pipes up. “Fried stuff with cheese.”

David crosses his arms and rests them on the table. “Now hang on there, Henry. That’s what she eats every day-” he pauses to give Emma a pointed glare, earning him a swat on the arm from her. “But, let’s not forget that your mom is a carnivore. I think her actual favorite thing is a good steak.”

“Humans did not claw their way to the top of the food chain to eat vegetables, okay?” Emma retorts, earning her a laugh from those in earshot and a nod of agreement from David.

Killian simply grins at her and she doesn’t want to think about that too much, so she taps her fingernails on his tea glass. “So, here’s a question for you. Tea. Hot or iced?”

Killian quirks an eyebrow at her. “Ah, now we’re getting down to truly important matters. You know, England may revoke my dual citizenship for this, but I’ve actually come to quite like it iced. Never sweetened, though. That’s a sacrilege I cannot abide.” He finishes the statement with a shudder as if the very thought pains him.

David laughs heartily. “And that statement could get you booted out of the Great State of Texas, mate.

Emma hums. “So is the interrogation over now? Or is there something else you’d like to know?” She extends her hand to Killian in an offer to shake, and fakes a bubbly voice. “I’m Emma Swan, age 29 and I like wildflowers, cheap clothes and expensive makeup. Nice to meetcha,” she says with a sarcastic smile.

Killian laughs and takes her hand. “Killian Jones, age 34, and I enjoy classic rock, cheap beer and expensive guitars.” He gives her hand a firm, businesslike shake. “Enchanted.”

David rolls his eyes at the pair of them and gulps the last of his tea. He leans forward to look down the length of the table at his team and claps once to get their attention. “Okay, guys. Break time’s over. Let’s get back out there and run some more drills!”

There’s a general shuffling and scraping of chair legs against the wood floor, and soon the group is headed out the door. Killian hangs back just long enough to send one last warm smile Emma’s way.

“Definitely enchanted,” he says with a wink, then jogs off to join the team.

—/—

Monday morning arrives, as does Emma's regular delivery from the Meat Market. She signs the delivery slip and as she gives the clipboard back to the driver, he in turn places a small, flat parcel in her hands.

Emma looks down at it blankly, taking in its pristine white paper wrapping, tied with butcher’s twine in a neat bow with a single yellow wildflower tucked beneath the string. “What the hell is this?” She asks, but when she looks up at the driver, he's already holding out a small note card covered in tidy script. She takes the note and reads:

“A brown-eyed susan for a green-eyed Swan and some extra protein to strengthen my star midfielder. Please enjoy.

-KJ”

That smooth sonuvabitch, she thinks with a shake of her head. She looks up to return the package to the driver but he's already back in the cab of his van.

“Wait!” she calls. “I can't-”

“Sorry, miss,” he replies through the open van window. “I was told there are no returns or exchanges on bonus items.” He gives her a cheerful wave and drives away.

“Oh, I'll just bet you were,” Emma mutters to herself, but as she looks down at the parcel again the sight of the little flower has her fighting a smile. She furtively glances around (as if anyone would be out at this godforsaken hour of the morning to see her), and pulls the bloom free, tucking it carefully behind her ear.

When she returns to her kitchen, she opens the parcel to find two absolutely beautiful tenderloin filets. Emma's teeth pull at her lower lip. On one hand it's kind of a weird (albeit thoughtful) gift, but on the other, well… She does have a peppercorn rub she's been meaning to try, and really there's no sense in wasting a prime cut of beef. Somewhere in the back of her mind, a voice that sounds just like Ruby is shouting, ‘ Girl, that's what I've been saying! ’ but she ignores it. Mostly.

And maybe if she gently re-wraps the steaks and places them in her fridge with a goofy grin on her face, and maybe if she puts her flower in a little glass by the register so she can look at it all day, well then that's her own business.

—/—

It’s a gorgeous, clear blue Saturday afternoon. Perfect game day weather. Autumn is finally catching up to Storybrooke, and what with the breeze that toys with Emma’s hair making her wonder why she even bothered to brush it this morning, it could almost be considered cool outside.

Emma hoists her folding lawn chair out of the VW’s trunk and totes it over to the sidelines to join Mary Margaret and the other team moms. Despite the lovely day, there’s an ominous feeling in her chest, her mind swirling with conflicting emotions. On the positive side, she’d finally convinced Granny divulge her secret onion ring recipe. Emma had tested it today during the lunch rush, handing out free samples to a few of her regular customers. Everyone raved about them, both for the nostalgia of bringing back a ‘classic’ as well as the actual flavor.

The response should have given Emma a boost of confidence about the potential for more revenue and new (or returning) customers, but there was something else that niggled at the back of her mind. No one had said anything to her directly, but as she’d worked the floor with the lunch crowd, she’d overheard a few statements about the barbecue sauce. ‘ Sauce seems kinda bland today,’ ‘You’re just used to Jones’s sauce,’ ‘Think Jones would bottle that stuff?’ ‘Swan’s has better food, but that sauce, man. It’s addictive.’ Emma files those comments away to process later.

She sighs as she removes her folding chair from its tote bag and settles it down next to Mary Margaret’s empty seat. She spots her friend further down the sidelines talking animatedly to David who has his arms crossed and brow furrowed. Emma smiles to herself  and wonders who’s actually running this show. Mary Margaret’s ‘helpful suggestions’ have been known from time to time to come out sounding more like royal decrees.

She picks Henry out of the cluster of boys jogging toward the team bench. She waves to catch his eye, and he offers her an only slightly embarrassed sounding, “Hey, mom!”

“Hey, kid!” Emma smiles broadly. He must really be excited about this game for him to publicly acknowledge her like that - adolescent street cred be damned - and she’s happy for him.

Her exchange with Henry apparently draws someone else’s attention to her as well. A second later, a deep, accented voice calls out, “Bring it in, lads!” and soon the owner of said voice is sauntering her way. He’s wearing those damn soccer shorts again, this time paired with a green t-shirt with ‘Cobras’, the team’s name, emblazoned across his chest in crisp, white letters. Not that she’s looking at his chest. Or his calves. Dammit, she’s never really been one to notice a man’s legs before. Why does her stupid brain have to start now? Emma swallows hard, trying to will her pulse back to a normal pace.

“Swan! Glad you could make it,” he says, a now familiar smirk gracing his lips. “You look lovely in green.”

“Well, it is the team’s color,” she replies with a shrug. Of course that’s why she wore this top. Not because it has a particularly flattering neckline, and certainly not because he mentioned that green was his favorite color the other day. “Just showing some team spirit.” She manages to keep her voice even, but he’s raking his eyes over her, swaying further into her space and licking his lips and dammit why is her face heating up like this?

“Right,” he says, leaning in and lowering his voice as if imparting a secret. “I rather fancy that shade of pink on you as well.”

Emma glares at him, but her flush only deepens. She huffs in frustration, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Was there something you wanted?”

He chuckles and steps back to a more respectable distance, but there is mischief in his eyes. “Oh, Swan, there are a great many things I want,” he answers with a wink, and Emma’s stomach does a strange little flip.

He pauses a beat, bouncing on the balls of his feet and his demeanor shifts from cocky to something more sincere. “But, I only meant to inquire about the steaks I sent over. Did you like them?” His hand reaches up to scratch behind his ear in a surprising show of insecurity, and this time it’s Emma’s turn to smirk.

“Wait, was that your weird way of buying me dinner without actually having to ask me out?”

The tips of his ears turn red ( score one for Emma! ), but he manages to maintain his cool exterior. “Nothing of the sort, love. Merely a gesture of goodwill to my biggest customer.” Cool turns to flirtatious, and his sky blue eyes bore into hers. “I can assure you,” he drawls, “if I were to court you, you would know you were being courted.”

A voice in the back of her mind shouts that she does, in fact, know it, and she’s not really sure what to do with that knowledge yet. Emma realizes her mouth has fallen open slightly, so she swallows. “In that case, the steaks were delicious, though I’m not sure Henry even tasted his. He basically inhaled it.” Emma glances over to the bench, indicating the boy in question.

Killian laughs lightly. “I’m glad to hear it. Afraid to say, the hoovering of food is part and parcel for a growing lad. My brother used to insist that I must’ve had a hollow leg to eat as much as I did and stay so scrawny.”

Emma watches, her eyes widening as flashes of emotion cross his face in rapid succession: a warm smile at the memory is quickly replaced by a flicker of pain and finally covered with a blank mask. It may have been eight years since she’s heard about Killian’s brother, but she realizes exactly how big of a deal it is for Killian to have not only spoken of him at all, but to mention him so casually and cheerfully.

The fact that he would be so unguarded with her, even for just a second, well… it matters , and Emma feels the weight of the moment at odds with a funny sort of lightening sensation in her heart. She reaches out to touch Killian’s arm, but as soon as her fingers make contact, he subtly pulls away, turning to face toward the field.

Okay then , Emma thinks. New tactic. In order to change the subject, or rather return to the previous one, Emma bumps her shoulder against his.

“Anyway, thanks for the steaks.” When he turns to her with an arched brow, she feigns a scowl and adds, “But you really shouldn’t have.”

Dimples cut into his cheeks as that damn eyebrow raises higher. “Ah, Swan, it was my pleasure. Besides, I told you I’d be more than happy to slip a little extra meat in your box anytime.”

“And we’re back to the innuendo.” Emma rolls her eyes, but a smile flirts with the corners of her lips. They’re quiet for a beat. Killian turns his attention back to where David seems to be giving the boys a pre-game pep talk. Emma glances down the sidelines. Now that she’s taken a minute to notice, she’s painfully aware of the looks they’re getting from some of the other team moms, ranging from casual ogling of Killian to outright jealousy of the attention he’s paying her.

Emma clears her throat, drawing Killian’s attention back to her. “Get outta here, Jones. Go do coach-y things.” She gives his shoulder a one-handed shove vaguely in the direction of the field and he laughs, the spark he’d lost for a moment now blazing back full force.

“As you wish,” he replies, inclining his head to her in semblance of a bow before turning and jogging over to join his team. She shakes her head, chuckling softly at his ridiculousness. He casts one last look at her over his shoulder, and she can't help but smile at him.

Interesting , Emma thinks as the referee blows a whistle to officially start the game. Things get awkward or a little too real and he reverts to flirting and innuendo. For a man who likes to talk about her defense mechanisms, he seems to have one or two of his own.

Emma walks over to the cooler one of the parents brought and grabs a can of Diet Dr. Pepper. By now, Mary Margaret has resumed her seat on the sidelines, so Emma joins her to settle in and watch the game.

And Emma does watch the game. Mostly. Middle school intramural soccer isn’t the most riveting thing ever, but she does genuinely enjoy watching Henry have fun. The boys actually seem to be playing a little bit better this week, too, so maybe David made the right call asking Killian to help out as a coach.

Emma’s known forever that David was good with kids - Henry calls him Uncle David for a reason - but as she looks down the sidelines for probably the hundredth time, she has to admit that David isn’t the only one looking like a pro with the boys. Watching Killian now, Emma can hardly believe she ever thought he could be anti-kid.

He’s enthusiastic, encouraging, and the team clearly respects him. He’s animated to the point that it’s hilarious. He gets so excited when the team scores their first goal that his voice actually cracks as he cheers them on. He scowls and snarls every time the referee makes a call he doesn’t agree with. His hands have spent so much time pulling at his hair in anxiety on the boys’ behalf that it’s now sticking up haphazardly in every direction. And that is in no way attractive as hell.

Not to mention that he and David make quite the pair, between all the high-fiving and chest bumping - a fact not lost on Mary Margaret.

“Well, I think Tom Brady has officially been replaced as David’s man-crush.” Mary Margaret says, snapping Emma out of her reverie. Emma tries and most likely fails to make it seem as though she wasn’t just staring at Killian - another fact Mary Margaret picks up on. “You know, if you don’t want to go out with Killian, I think my husband might.”

Emma snorts a laugh, and Mary Margaret continues. “Actually you both may have some competition.” She bobs her head to the side, indicating where she wants Emma to look. “Don’t those three hussies have kids on the other team? The way they’re looking at Killian, I think they’ve got more than good sportsmanship in mind.”

“Did you seriously just say ‘hussies’?” Slowly turning her head in an attempt to be subtle, Emma scans the sideline (again) and sure enough, a trio of buxom blondes has appeared practically out of nowhere and is rather effusively trying to ply Killian with Gatorade, giggling and fawning at him the whole time. Something feral stomps and growls in Emma’s gut at the sight, but it’s quickly tempered with a little bit of amusement at how utterly (if politely) uninterested Killian appears and how much the spectacle seems to be irritating Gaston, the opposing coach.

“I think you may be right,” Emma replies as coolly as she can, despite the fact that Killian keeps darting glances her way, his eyes seeming to beg for a rescue from his new admirers. At this point she’s trying not to smirk from an irrational sense of triumph, but she refuses to give Mary Margaret the satisfaction. “Can we please just watch the game?”

Emma takes a sip of her canned drink as Mary Margaret eyes her knowingly. “Yeah, it’s definitely the game that you’ve been watching.”

“New subject,” Emma says, the implied ‘don’t push it’ hanging in the air between them.

“Fine.”

Eventually the three women give up and head back to their own sideline. As they walk away, Emma unclenches her jaw, realizing she’s been biting the inside of her cheek the whole time. The game is going well and she’s just starting to relax when Mary Margaret casually sips from her water bottle and peers at Emma from the corner of her eye.

“So your birthday is this Thursday.”

Shit. After twenty two years of friendship are we really having this conversation again? “I guess so,” Emma replies, deliberately keeping her eyes on the field. “Hey, that was a pretty good pass.” Emma pops up from her lawn chair, cupping her hands around her mouth. “Go Henry!” she hollers, catching his attention briefly and earning her a quick, subtle thumbs-up from her favorite boy.

Emma settles back into her seat and Mary Margaret continues, blatantly ignoring the fact that Emma is blatantly ignoring her. “It’s your thirtieth.”

“Uh huh.” Emma scowls as a kid from the other team steals the ball and begins dribbling it back down the field in the other direction. She knows Mary Margaret isn’t going to let up, but she’s determined not to make it easy for her friend to lure her into a conversation about her birthday. Mary Margaret has been dropping hints for weeks about planning a birthday party for Emma, but really - she knows how Emma feels about the subject. Just because “It’s a milestone, Emma,” and “You’ve come so far, Emma,” doesn’t mean she’s ready to embrace Mary Margaret’s ideas about celebrations and specialness.

It’s not until she hears Mary Margaret’s sharp exhale of annoyance that she finally turns to face her friend. Emma can’t stop the immature roll of her eyes in response to the “teacher-face” she receives.

“Okay, how about this?” Mary Margaret asks in her most reasonable tone. “You and Henry can come over to our house Thursday night after the boys get done with their practice. I’ll cook a big meal and we can all have just a nice, low-key family dinner together. Sound okay?”

Emma purses her lips, considering the offer. “Something greasy and unhealthy?”

Mary Margaret smiles indulgently. “I’ll bust out the deep fryer if I have to. And bake you a cake.”

“No. No birthday cake. No candles. And no singing.”

“You’re telling me you don’t want dessert?” Mary Margaret raises her eyebrow skeptically.

“I didn’t say that ,” Emma hedges. “You could make those homemade cinnamon rolls I like…”

“That’s a breakfast food, not a dessert.”

Emma does her best impression of the puppy eyes Henry likes to use on her when he wants something. “But it’s my birthday?”

Mary Margaret shakes her head and chuckles. “Done. So we’ll see you Thursday night?”

“Okay. We’ll be there.” Emma leans sideways to bump her shoulder against her friend’s. It’s a small gesture, but she hopes after all these years that Mary Margaret understands what she means. Thank you for taking care of me. Thank you for giving a damn about me. Thank you for not pushing. When she opens her mouth, however, all that comes out is a simple, “Thanks.”

—/—

Several hours later, Emma finds herself wishing all her friends were as understanding as Mary Margaret.

Henry’s team lost, but the score was much closer than the last game. Since Emma had to go back to the restaurant, Henry - after giving Emma a very sweet, but sweaty hug - hitched a ride home with David and Mary Margaret. At the time Emma left, Killian had been busy talking with other team parents, and Emma noted with some degree of smugness that the other moms from Henry's team were a lot less brash about ogling the hot coach when their husbands were standing right next to them. Though she and Killian had actually gotten along pretty well at the beginning of the game (okay, they’d flirted shamelessly), she was relieved that she could slip away from the game without much more than a wave goodbye from a distance. The way he’d smiled at her was something she wasn’t prepared to think about too deeply.

And speaking of things she didn’t want to think about...

“Ruby, no.” Her phone had rung nearly the second she’d walked into her house after closing down the restaurant for the night. She expected it to be David calling to let her know that he was about to bring Henry home, so she was surprised to see Ruby’s number on her phone screen. It didn’t take long for Ruby to make her motives for calling crystal clear.

“Ruby, YES.” Emma can hear her friend’s wicked grin even through her shitty cell phone connection. “Emma, it’s your Dirty Thirty! You HAVE to have a party.”

“I have…” Emma flounders for a word that will get Ruby off her ass about throwing some ridiculous drunken fiasco in honor of Emma’s birthday, but finally decides no such word exists. “Plans, she finishes lamely.

“Uh huh. Yeah. And what are these plans exactly?”

“Having dinner at David and Mary Margaret’s.”

As expected, Ruby scoffs. “That doesn’t begin to count as a party, hon’.”

“Hey! You know I’m not into the whole birthday thing, and it’s actually a pretty big deal for me to have someone else do the cooking for once. Besides, I’m bringing a date.”

“YOU MEAN YOU FINALLY ASKED KILLIAN OUT AND YOU DIDN’T TELL - Oh, wait. You mean Henry, don’t you?”

“Maybe.”

Ruby’s sighs dramatically. “Emma, I love Henry to death. He’s my favorite little dude, so don’t get me wrong here. But you need some grown up fun. So, go have your nice family tea party with the Nolans on Thursday night, but by 10pm on Friday I expect your ass to be in my bar. That’s when the fun begins.”

Emma grunts, both a show of frustration and a wordless admission of defeat. “Remind me why I’m friends with you again?”

Before Ruby can answer, Emma hears the front door open and Henry shuffles in with a sleepy, “Hey, mom.” She smiles at him and reaches out to scratch his back as he passes her, heading straight toward the kitchen.

“Because I gave you your first tube of lipstick. And because you love me,” Ruby replies smugly.

Emma smiles to herself. “Yeah, I guess it was something like that. Alright, I’ll see you Friday, Rubes.”

Emma hangs up her phone, just as Henry emerges from the kitchen, a plate of leftovers in his hand.

“What’d Aunt Ruby call about?” he asks around a mouthful of food.

“Didn’t you eat dinner at the Nolans’?” Emma responds, ignoring his question for the moment.

He rolls his eyes, a habit he unfortunately inherited from her. “I did , but you know, losing really works up an appetite,” he answers with a cheeky grin.

“Hm. If you say so, kid, but I was really hoping you’d be further into your teens before you started eating us out of house and home.” Emma sighs. “Anyway, I was just telling Aunt Ruby that you and I are going over to Aunt Mary Margaret and Uncle David’s house for a big dinner on Thursday. You can walk home from practice and take a shower, and I’ll come pick you up from the house to drive over there.”

“Cool! Is this a thing for your birthday?” He shovels more food in his mouth.

Emma nods, not wanting to get into a birthday discussion with yet another person today. “How about you go sit down with that.” She gestures at his plate. “At least pretend you weren’t raised in a barn?”

Henry moves over to the couch, setting his plate down on the coffee table in front of him. Emma follows and settles down on the cushion next to him.

“Nah, I was raised by wolves,” he says, picking up the remote and clicking on the TV.

It’s Emma’s turn to roll her eyes. She wonders how Granny and Ruby would feel about that particular turn of phrase, since they were his constant babysitters most of his early life.

“Aunt Ruby also wants me to go hang out with her at Howl on Friday night after I close down the restaurant. Think you can spend the night at Avery’s?”

Henry frowns. “I think his family is going out of town that weekend.”

Emma ponders this for a moment. “How about I ask Granny if you can stay over at her house?” It’s not as exciting an option as a sleepover with friends, but Emma and Henry both know full well Granny will spoil the snot out of him. There will definitely be a pie involved.

She can see the wheels in her son’s head turning, and a small smile begins to tickle at the corners of his lips. “Yeah. That’d be okay I guess,” he answers with feigned disinterest.

Emma reaches over and tousles his hair. “I’ll call her tomorrow.”

—/—

The sky has slowly turned from overcast to downright threatening as the boys finish their last round of drills on Sunday afternoon. Killian is thankful when David blows his whistle to signal the end of practice. To be honest, he’d hardly been paying attention the last half hour anyway, not since Emma came outside her restaurant to bring him and David large take-out cups of ice tea. She hadn’t said much, just an exchange of pleasantries really, but there was something in her smile today - half-hidden, but present nonetheless - that filled him with hope.

He’s winning her over, he thinks. He feels it in his bones. His goodwill gesture seemed to have had the intended effect, and he doesn’t believe he’s deluding himself in thinking that they shared something of a moment before the game yesterday. Bloody hell, they’d been so at ease with each other bantering back and forth that he’d actually talked about… He shakes himself out of the memory and begins rounding up footballs (he still refuses to call them soccer balls) and gear to load into David’s truck.

“Heads up, coach!”

Killian looks up in time to see Henry throw a ball his direction and he snags it out of the air one-handed. “Oi! There’s no throwing in football,” he says with a feigned scowl, but Henry’s clearly not buying it. He rolls his eyes at Killian before jogging the rest of the way over. “Good practice today, lad. I’ll see you Thursday evening, yeah?”

Henry smiles brightly. “Oh! Are you going to my mom’s birthday party then?”

Killian blinks in surprise. “Well, I meant I’d see you at our next practice. Is your mother’s birthday on Thursday as well?”

“Yeah!” Henry replies. “The party’s at Uncle David and Aunt Mary Margaret’s house. She’s an awesome cook. You should totally come!” As the lad pauses for breath, David walks over to join them. “Uncle David, tell Killian he has to come over on Thursday.”

David places his hands on his hips and shrugs, a half smile tilting his lips. “Well, from what I hear, Mary Margaret’s planning on making enough food to feed an army, so the more the merrier as far as I’m concerned. You remember how to get there?”

“Aye, I can find it,” Killian answers. “Thanks for the invite, mate. Let me double check that Scarlett and Smee can handle things at work for the whole evening, but it shouldn’t be an issue.”

“Great!” Henry exclaims. “See ya Thursday, Killian.” With that he dashes off into Swan’s Bar-B-Q to work on homework or eat a side of beef or whatever it is young lads do.

It takes approximately ten seconds for realization to come crashing down on him. It’s Emma’s bloody birthday which means he needs to get her a present , and he doubts raw meat is going to cut it this time. It can’t be anything too extravagant or intimate. It’s far too soon for that. It must be unassuming, yet thoughtful. Something that will impress her, but not overwhelm her.

Bloody hell, he needs to call in reinforcements.

—/—

“Rob, I need to speak to the missus.”

“Killian. Nice to talk to you, too. Oh my day was lovely, thanks for asking. Now why are you calling me at eleven o’clock at night to speak to my wife?”

Killian sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose with his free hand. Robin is going to take the piss out of him for this. “I need shopping advice.”

“I should say so. I told you your whole black-on-black aesthetic was far too citified for small town life. Unless you’re trying to pass for Johnny Cash.”

“That’s not what-” Killian huffs in frustration. “Just put Regina on the phone. Please.

There's a pause where he hears muffled voices in the background. After some shuffling sounds, Regina’s familiar businesslike voice comes on the line.

“Jones, I hear you’re in need of a personal shopper. It’s about time.”

“If you and your husband are quite finished critiquing my fashion sense, then yes. I, erm…” he hesitates, not sure how much Robin has told Regina about Emma. “I need help selecting a birthday present.”

“For whom?”

“A woman.”

“Okay.” He can hear the growing irritation in Regina’s voice. “Are we talking a co-worker? Social acquaintance? You don’t date, so it couldn’t be-” The line goes quiet and Killian assumes Regina is looking to Robin for some kind of confirmation. “It’s for that woman. Emma, right? Sounds like you finally took Robin’s advice and talked to her.”

“Aye, it’s for Emma. Things have been going a bit better of late. Her son invited me to her birthday party and I haven’t a bloody clue what to get her.”

“There’s a lot to unpack in what you just said, but I’ll let it slide for now.” Regina hummed in thought. “A bottle of wine would be tasteful without being over the top. Do you know her favorite varietal?”

“I don’t think she’s much of a wine drinker, to be honest. As I recall she prefers rum.”

“Why am I not surprised? A book, perhaps. That could be personal, but not overly intimate.”

“She works long hours like I do and she has a young son at home. I doubt she has much in the way of free time for reading.”

“So what do you know about her interests?” Regina’s voice had gone flat, well, flatter than usual.

Killian sighs, scratching behind his ear even though no one is around to see it. “I know she likes flowers and rum and Dr. Pepper. She told me she likes cheap clothing and expensive makeup, but I wouldn’t dare attempt to buy her any of that. She cooks and runs a barbecue restaurant just down the road from mine. Perhaps I should get her something for her kitchen?”

“Wait, she’s your competition? Then no. Any cooking-related gifts could be seen as some sort of passive-aggressive insult.”

God, he hadn’t considered that. “Bloody hell, Regina, what am I supposed to get her then?”

He hears Regina take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Finally she answers, “I don’t know, Jones. Buy her some flowers. Maybe get her something from one of those fancy bath shops at the mall. That’s a solid default gift. Besides, if she works as hard as you say, she might appreciate a relaxing bubble bath on occasion.”

The idea of getting Emma a ‘default’ gift hardly thrills him, but he knows he’s reached the end of Regina’s patience. “Alright. I’ll think about it. Thanks, Regina.”

—/—

He had driven forty-five minutes to get to a town large enough to support a shopping mall, but that’s nothing compared to the two hours he’s been wandering aimlessly around this god forsaken place. Shop after shop he’s searched, but nothing seems right.

He stops in the food court to buy himself a soft pretzel on the vague hope that a dose of salt and carbohydrates will somehow spark his inspiration. As he takes a seat at a wobbly and disturbingly sticky table, he looks up and sees it. Directly across from his spot in the food court, large obnoxious yellow signs with red letters proclaim some kind of sale as well as, “For a limited time only: Throwback Favorites!” He hasn’t a clue what that last bit means, but Regina’s suggestion looms large in his mind, and he’s getting a bit desperate.

By the store’s entryway, a lass in a red apron is offering a sample spray of whatever scent is on feature to a teenage girl who’d stopped to eye the display. Apparently the scent is a “90’s classic” that the girl simply must try. The girl nods her assent and the saleswoman spritzes her liberally as Killian returns his attention to the snack in front of him. He’s two bites into his pretzel when the aroma from the bath shop finally hits him - clean, sweet and achingly familiar even after all this time.

 

The song goes into its final cadenza, and Killian decides to show off a bit. Well...perhaps he’s been showing off a tad the entire song, but this woman has met him step for step. He’s mesmerized by the way her firm, supple body moves with him, every push and pull, every swivel of her hips, every swish of her hair.

He’d pulled her into his arms hard and fast when they’d first reached the dance floor, just trying to get a rise out of her, but damned if the sensation of holding her for the first time didn’t very nearly get ‘rise’ out of him. The press of her breasts against his chest, her pelvis against his thighs… He’d had to swallow hard, counting backwards from ten to get his body’s reaction to her back under control.

Now she’s laughing, flushed and breathless, eyes bright and he thinks she’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. He takes her through an elaborate spin, then pulls her in close, one hand at the small of her back, the other sliding up into her hair to cradle her head.  He dips her low as the final chord lingers in the air, and she lifts her chin, granting him access to ghost his nose down the long column of her throat to her collarbone. He holds her there just for a second, just long enough to breathe her in. She smells like heaven. A hint of salt, a dash of something sweet and fresh.

Slowly he raises her back to standing, releasing his embrace and simply letting his hands rest on her hips. Her hair falls forward to frame her face, but he can still see the pretty blush on her cheeks beneath the gossamer strands. He watches her eyes flick down to rest on his lips, her own pink mouth subtly parting. He wants to kiss her - gods above does he want to kiss her - and he will. She’s made it fairly clear where this evening is headed after all. But it’s too soon and it’s too public. They have all night.

Killian huffs a laugh at himself and shakes his head. Perhaps Regina had the right idea after all, though damned if he’ll tell her that. He stands and makes his way toward the store. He knows just what to do.