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just swear you'll stay (right by my side).

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In hindsight, Emma really should have expected this. She’s always known weddings were one of the worst places on the planet. Maybe even the universe, assuming there was another species out there dumb enough to swear eternal partnership to one another.

She should have shaken off Mary Margaret’s hand on her arm and Anna’s begging gaze and left with Henry instead of sending him home with Mrs. Lucas. Admittedly, it’s probably a good thing Mrs. Lucas left because now Ruby has Belle out on the dance floor and Emma swears if one of them doesn’t make a move soon, she’s doing it for them. Emma has seen her fair share of rom coms; she could do it.

Of course, none of that is the problem with this wedding. The problem is the man who’d shown up well after dinner and into dancing, looking too perfectly disheveled to be an accident. It’s just like him to show up late and make a scene of it. He’d sweepingly kissed Anna’s hand and given Kristoff several pats on the back while they chatted like old friends. Oh, God, are they old friends?

Emma is hidden at a table in the corner of the room while Ingrid talks her ear off about how beautiful the ceremony had been but that she’d have gone with more of a frosted blue color scheme. To be fair, usually Emma wouldn’t even mind. She hadn’t known them for long, but the family had practically taken her in during her custody battle. But, right now, she had more pressing matters to deal with than Ingrid’s affinity for winter color schemes.

“Aunt Ingrid, do you mind if I steal Emma away?” A calm voice asks from behind them. If Emma had been paying more attention to her surroundings than to the man at the bar on the far end of the room, she might have been able to make an escape. As it is, she’s screwed.

“Oh, of course not!” Ingrid nods, standing up from her chair and smoothing the skirt of her dress. “Just make sure you don’t leave without a goodbye, Emma.”

Emma nods silently while Elsa levels her with the look. Ah, well, better a lecture than a reunion, Emma decides.

“I haven’t done anything,” she says preemptively, reaching for the rum she’s been nursing since Henry left. Yeah, she knows, irony. Ain’t that a bitch?

“Emma, please,” Elsa debates calmly, arching one perfect eyebrow. “Henry left and everything was fine and then suddenly you clammed up and have been hiding her for the past twenty minutes. What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Emma insists with a shrug. It’s defensive and she knows Elsa will see right through it but she’s hoping the other woman wouldn’t push it here. “I’m just tired and I feel a little bad for ditching Henry. I don’t want him to feel left out.”

“Henry could barely keep his eyes open when he left,” Elsa smiles fondly, laying her hand over top of Emma’s. “That kid adores you, Emma. You’re doing a great job.”

Elsa’s is a biased opinion but, well, it’s still nice to hear. It’s been a rocky few years for Emma’s self-esteem and the older Henry gets the more she worries he’ll resent her. But, surprisingly, the whole mom thing didn’t take as much getting used to as she’d expected.

It helps that Henry is easily her favorite person in the world.

Elsa gives a big put upon sigh and Emma realizes she’d let herself get lost in her thoughts. When she looks back at Elsa, though, she smiling.

“If you’d rather head home, that’s fine. I’m sure Anna would understand as long as you say goodbye.”

Emma nods gratefully, standing and giving Elsa a hug. Ingrid must still be within sight because she comes bustling over – well, as much as someone with as much grace as Ingrid can bustle – to say goodbye to Emma as well. She grabs her drink as she heads for the bride and groom, tossing back the rest of it and leaving it on a random table. She would normally walk it back to the bar out of courtesy but, well, no.

There is a small part of her that feels bad for avoiding having to say long goodbyes to Mary Margaret and David or Ruby and Belle but none of them are leaving to spend a year somewhere remote and amazing with limited cell service. In fact, she knows she’ll be seeing David on Monday so she’s not worried.

When Anna realizes Emma has come over with the intention of saying goodbye, she nearly makes exactly the kind of scene Emma had been hoping to avoid. As soon as Emma mentions wanting to get home to Henry, though, Anna nods understandingly. She clasps her hands around Emma’s with a bright grin. It’s saying something, but it’s possibly the brightest Emma’s ever seen it.

“We’ll have breakfast, us ladies, after I get back from the honeymoon,” she insists and it’s not a question but Emma knows she can refuse. Instead she gives a gentle smile and nods.

“Make it a late lunch and I’m in.”

Anna laughs, high and delighted, and Emma wonders whether it’s excitement or alcohol at this point. Either way, she tugs Emma in for a tight hug and mumbles a million thank yous in her ear. Not that Emma had done much for the wedding, Henry had been the ring bearer but that was about it. By the time, Anna releases her, it’s too late.

“Tell me, mate, who did you let make your bar stock decisions? Because the rum selection is heinous.”

Seriously, fate can go fuck itself.

“Please,” Kristoff scoffs and there’s the sound of a hand hitting fabric but Emma is too busy desperately seeking an exit to see whose hand lands where. “You act all high and mighty but I know about your secret stash of Gosling’s.”

“Desperate times and all that.”

He wouldn’t have even known. If she had just turned and run and apologized to Anna later, Emma could have gotten away scot free. But she’s panicking and that never leads to good decisions. When Ruby squeals her name from somewhere on the dance floor, Emma turns towards her on instinct.

And that, of course, is when Killian Jones finally realizes.

Emma waves a quick goodbye at a quite drunk Ruby and turns back to Anna, intent on a final goodbye and a quick but calm walk to the door.

“Oh, Emma, this is my friend Killian,” Kristoff says instead. “He’s just moved to Boston. Killian, this is Emma.”

Killian opens his mouth to react but he’s still too caught in the surprise and the words don’t form fast enough. So, Emma smiles the best she can and says, “Nice to meet you, Killian.”

She doesn’t actually know how she gets away. Emma can only hope it was politely and not in a rude rush. Somehow she gets through the crowd and manages to pull on her black peacoat before he catches her just outside the door.

“Emma,” he calls, accent thick in a way she has absolutely no intention of analyzing. She almost keeps walking, can see the bright color of her bug from the sidewalk and the getaway would be so very easy.

Instead, she turns around.

“I can’t believe,” Killian breathes and it’s so quiet she nearly misses it. But then he’s stepping towards her and Emma’s brain panics again. “I mean, of all the places I thought I might run into you again, I had no idea it would be here.”

“I can’t say I ever planned on running into you again,” Emma admits, finally taking one unintentional step back when he’s only a few feet from her. It makes him stop advancing, freezing in a bit of confusion. He recovers quick, slapping his hand over his heart - ever the dramatic.

“I see you’re still just as good at wounding a man’s pride,” he pouts. Emma tilts her head to the side and smirks.

“That’s not the only thing I’m good at wounding.”

It shouldn’t be so easy, sliding back into the banter like it was yesterday. It surprises even herself when the words come from her mouth, a little flirty. Killian raises his eyebrows and advances another step. Emma remembers herself and crosses her arms, stepping back again.

“I really have to go, Killian, but it was good seeing you.” She doesn’t really try for sincere, not because she wants to hurt him but because he would probably still see through the lie. He takes another step, though, this once more harried and there’s a flash of fear in his eyes. Like if he lets her leave right then, he might never see her again. Harsh truth or not, Emma is sort of counting on it.

“Look, I just,” he sighs like he’s fighting a battle he’s already lost and digs a piece of cardstock from his jacket pocket. “I’m not expecting you to but, if you want to catch up, call me.”

He holds the card out and Emma figures she should walk away. Leave him there with his phone number and take the safe route of no temptation.

Not that she’d be tempted anyway.

She carefully takes the card by its corner, avoiding his fingers. It’s an actual business card with his name and email on it and everything. Emma would laugh if it were even remotely funny.

She does leave him standing there but tucks the card into her pocket anyway.

-/-

On the drive to pick up Henry, Emma considers allowing herself to be, albeit irrationally, angry at Anna or Elsa for not warning her. But, even the part of her that just wants to be annoyed at Killian Jones’ sudden appearance knows that wouldn’t be fair. After all, how could they know? She’d never told them.

When she picks Henry up from Mrs. Lucas’, she has to carry him to the car as he sleeps. He wakes up three streets from their apartment.

“Mom?” He asks drowsily and Emma hums in acknowledgment. “Are you okay? You look sad.”

No eleven-year-old should be this perceptive.

“Why would I be sad, kid?” She asks, shooting a smile over at him. “I’ve got you.”

He gives a great big yawn and nods like he agrees with her answer before shifting in the seat and falling back asleep.

-/-

Emma should shred his business card. She pulls it out of her coat pocket with the intention of doing exactly that. Instead, she stares at the embossed name for a few moments before slipping it back in the pocket. She’ll take it to work Monday and shred it professionally.

Emma had met Killian when she was 21. She was relatively fresh out of prison and chock full of heartbreak. Killian had been 23 and hot and interested in a way no one had been since Neal. Emma isn’t sure which her younger self actually craved more – Killian or that affection. He’d had his own set of problems at the time, old enough to be expected to have his shit together but young enough that he didn’t. He wore his own heartbreak on his sleeve.

Where Emma had walls, Killian had windows.

In the end, it’s probably what did them in. That and being too young to know how messy they were. Killian had to drag information out of her that he freely offered. The older woman who broke his heart when she couldn’t leave her husband was a free topic. Emma wasn’t as interested in telling him the ins and outs of the boy who’d left her pregnant and incarcerated. In the end, neither of them were really over their exes.

Emma doesn’t like to dredge up the past but, judging by it, any reconnection with Killian would be a bad idea.

-/-

Ruby wakes her up too early on a Sunday to yell at her for leaving so early the night before. Emma had been expecting a disapproving text from Mary Margaret, not a screechy 7 AM call from Ruby.

“God, are you still drunk?” She groans, face half shoved into her pillow, once Ruby takes a break.

“Haha, oh, Emma Swan, has anyone ever told you you’re a laugh riot?” Emma can practically feel the colossal eye roll all the way at her apartment. “No, I’m just peeved one of my best friends ditched me at a wedding, of all places!”

“Ruby, it was midnight. And you seemed like you were having a good time with Belle. Why are you even awake right now?” She perks up as a smirk grows on her face. “It isn’t because there’s a cute librarian in your bed, by chance?”

“Please,” Ruby scoffs, unbothered by the insinuation, “hooking up at a wedding is so tactless. I have some class, give me that. I’m just waiting for the right moment, you know?”

Emma sighs. Ruby’s been “waiting for the right moment” for months. But it’s too early to get into a fight about this. Before she can reply, Ruby is continuing anyway.

“No, I’m up because I have to work. And since you owe me, you and Henry are coming to the diner to have breakfast with me.” It’s not a question but Emma groans. “Just get there by, like, ten.”

Emma only manages a vague mumble of protest before Ruby hangs up.

Henry is awake by nine anyway and immediately perks up when she mentions breakfast at Granny’s. The kid lives for those pancakes.

The diner was Emma’s first job after moving to Boston when she was 22 and Ruby had been her first friend. Not that she would call them fast friends – especially with the awkward attempt at dating thrown in the middle. In the end, Ruby had been a good distraction but a better friend and they had decided that’s where that ended.

The Lucas’ had pretty much taken Emma in, allowing her to live rent free in the inn above the diner while she worked at the diner. Mrs. Lucas had even acted as a character witness during Emma’s custody battle. She would never stop feeling like she owed them for it all, despite their refusals.

Granny’s had been the start of many huge events in Emma’s life. She’d met Mary Margaret there who had convinced her to go through police training. It had been where she’d taken Henry after he’d shown up on her doorstep. They’d even thrown a private celebration there once she’d won custody.

The diner is mostly dead save for a few regulars by the time they get there and Emma figures the sudden chill in the air has people staying indoors. When she sees them, Ruby immediately tugs off the apron around her waist with the Granny’s logo emblazoned on the corner and hurries them into a booth.

“I am starving,” she groans, as they settle in the plush seats. There are already two hot chocolates in front of Emma and Henry’s seats. “I did not eat enough last night and didn’t think to eat when I got home.”

Emma grins, wrapping her cold fingers around the mug.

“You were distracted,” she teases, earning a glare from Ruby who then shoots a look to see whether Henry is paying attention. He’s too engulfed in getting every last bit of whipped cream out of his drink and into his mouth to notice when Ruby flips Emma the bird.

Mrs. Lucas appears from the kitchen after one of the two regulars left finishes up his coffee and heads outside. Emma glances him through the window as he nearly loses his hat to the wind and catches it just in time.

“Henry, how would you like to learn how to make those pancakes today?” Mrs. Lucas asks, her voice surprisingly rough for such a nice looking woman. Emma had been terrified of her when she’d first started working at the diner but Henry had taken to her immediately when he’d shown up. It was a gift of Henry’s, being a people person. Emma kind of hated to admit that he definitely must have gotten it from his dad.

“Can I, mom?” Henry asks excitedly, vibrating in his seat. Emma hums contemplatively looking between him and Mrs. Lucas. It has to be some kind of code violation.

“Yeah, go ahead,” she sighs, smiling softly at Henry as he bounces out of the booth immediately. “Just be careful!”

He’s gone before she even finishes the sentence but Mrs. Lucas nods at her.

“He’ll be fine,” she assures Emma before following after the eleven-year-old ball of energy.

“I’d be more worried about our pancakes,” Ruby mumbles into her coffee after her grandmother disappears and Emma snickers.

“So, can we talk about you and Belle, now?” Emma asks, once she’s gotten enough hot chocolate in her stomach to warm her up.

“No,” Ruby says easily, “but we can talk about the hot guy you were talking to before you left last night. At least, I think he was hot. It’s all a little fuzzy.”

“Shots will do that to you,” Emma smirks and Ruby shrugs because, well, it’s Ruby.

“Who was he?” She presses and Emma tries to come up with any sort of topic that would get Ruby away from this one. The girl is like a dog with a bone. Instead, she shrugs and puts on her best disinterested voice.

“He was just one of Kristoff’s friends, I guess. We just crossed paths as I was leaving.”

“Did this friend have a name?” Ruby asks, a teasing lilt to her voice. At the least, Emma is grateful that she hasn’t sniffed anything off in the conversation.

A voice in Emma’s head tells her to lie.

“Killian,” she says instead. Idiot.

Ruby stills as her brow furrows. Emma stares down into her hot chocolate, watches the flecks of cinnamon melt into the whipped cream.

“That sounds familiar? Why does that sound familiar?” Emma doesn’t respond but Ruby doesn’t need her to. “Wait, it’s not that Killian, is it?”

Emma doesn’t answer but it’s enough of one for Ruby. She’s the only friend Emma’s ever shared the story of Killian with. When they’d met it had still been a fresh wound, not yet scarred over like Neal and her pregnancy, and Emma had let the whole story spill once. They’d never really talked about it again and it was so long ago, she’s surprised Ruby even remembers.

“Seriously?” Ruby hisses and Emma flinches. “Did you know they were friends? How is that even possible?”

“I don’t know, Ruby, we’re not exactly Facebook friends,” Emma bites.

“Facebook friends?” Ruby smirks. “You are such a mom.”

Emma rolls her eyes and sips at her hot chocolate petulantly.

“Okay, but really, Killian? Wow. How did that go?” Ruby asks, returning to the topic at hand. Emma sighs and realizes she’d rather be teased for being old than talk about her run in with Killian.

“I pretended not to know him when Kristoff introduced us,” she shrugs, “but he followed me out to the parking lot.”

“Creepy,” Ruby bites and Emma shakes her head. She knows that she certainly hadn’t painted Killian in the best light for Ruby but Emma’s old enough to recognize that it wasn’t entirely his fault.

“No, he just gave me his card. In case I wanted to catch up.”

Ruby nods and drink her coffee, watching Emma contemplatively. Emma waits patiently for her friend’s analysis so that they can finally move on from the topic.

“Are you going to? Catch up, I mean,” Ruby says finally and Emma raises an eyebrow at her.

“Why would I?”

“Because you’re not a messed up twenty-one-year-old anymore,” Ruby shrugs, “and at the least you should be rubbing that in his face.”

“What good could possibly come from that?” Emma asks, tilting her head to the side.

“Reunion sex,” Ruby smirks and that’s when Henry comes running back through the diner with a plate stacked full of pancakes that are just this side of burnt. He sets them on the table with a flourish and Ruby wastes no time doling them out onto the separate plates Mrs. Lucas brings.

It puts an effective end to the Killian conversation.

-/-

“Hey, I need you to go out on a call with Marian,” David says as soon as Emma starts to unzip her leather jacket on Monday. She sighs and zips it back, pulling the chain with her badge on it over her head.

“Well, good morning to you, too,” she offers dryly. David smirks, shrugging as he walks backwards back to his office.

“It’s a Monday, Emma.”

Marian briefs her on the vandalism call on the way out of the station, offering a cup of crappy coffee that Emma takes gratefully. She doesn’t realize until the end of the day that the piece of cardstock is still shoved in her pocket.

-/-

In her defense, despite not shredding the card, she barely thinks about Killian Jones over the next month.

It helps that fall is always just a busy time in her life. Something about the cold weather that kicks criminals into high gear. The orphan inside Emma knows it has more to do with stealing something worth enough to pay for the gas bill but, well, this is her job. Henry’s school usually leaves her with little to no free time as well. As soon as they reach the beginning of October, the Halloween season starts and so do the random reasons to send in treats (homemade, Henry insists) and wear costumes (store bought because her sewing skills are abysmal).

When Emma was a kid, Halloween was just one day. Since when did it turn into a month long process?

God, she is such a mom.

The list of reasons why Emma loves her son more than any human being is pretty much endless. His good heart, his fervent belief in happy endings and true love, his ability to roll with the punches in life. The kid is all around just much better than Emma deserves.

However, when she picks him up from Mary Margaret’s after a late shift and he informs her that he “needs those cupcakes for school tomorrow” like it was a conversation they’d had before. Well, Emma still loves him just as much but she likes him a little less for the moment.

“Don’t touch the stove, the oven, or the microwave until I get back, got it, kid?” She instructs as she drops him at home with some reheated leftovers. “And do your homework!”

She just barely hears his groaned reply. Emma might not be winning mother of the year right now but she figures eleven is old enough for him to be home alone while she runs to the grocery store.

Emma is staring at the boxes of cake mix, trying to decide between chocolate and the orange dyed white cake with black sprinkles mixed in when she hears his voice.

“My, Swan, we really must stop running into each other like this.”

Emma sighs and drops both boxes into her basket. His cart squeaks as he continues down the aisle towards her and Emma doesn’t turn, studying the frosting color options in front of her.

“Well, you’re right about that,” she finally comments dryly, when his cart stalls behind her on the other side of the aisle. He chuckles and when she turns to drop the black and orange cans of frosting in her basket, he’s studying its contents.

Emma tugs it behind her.

“Little late in the day to start baking don’t you think?” He asks.

You don’t have an eleven-year-old, she thinks.

“Well, when the craving hits you,” she shrugs, turning back to the shelves to grab the bat shaped sprinkles. “You know how it is.”

When she turns back, Killian is watching her intently.

“Aye, that I do,” he murmurs.

A voice in Emma’s head signals danger. It sounds surprisingly like Mary Margaret. Interesting.

“Well, I’ve got a lot of baking to do,” she trails off, moving to step past him.

“Wait,” he calls out suddenly.

Emma shouldn’t.

Killian continues when she hesitates before turning back to face him, “It’s your birthday soon, isn’t it?”

She’s so surprised he remembers, she can only nod dumbly. Everything has been so busy, Emma had even started to forget. He turns suddenly heading down the aisle and Emma would think that’s the end of it except he leaves his cart.

“Just wait here for just a moment,” he calls, turning back halfway down the aisle, “Please.”

And then he’s gone and Emma tells herself she will wait five minutes at the most and then leave. Killian comes back from the other end of the aisle after seven minutes but Emma is still there. He’s merrily swinging a small blue and white striped gift bag from his fingers.

“Killian, you don’t have to-,” Emma starts, rolling her eyes at him, but he cuts her off by shoving the bag into her free hand.

“Just open it, Swan.” Cops tend to go by their last name pretty much all the time. But no one has ever said it like him.

She pulls the hurriedly shoved in tissue paper out and thinks of how ridiculous Killian is. Emma knows he must have run up to the register just to buy whatever this is and assembled the bag before coming back.

She gives him a dry look when she lifts out the obnoxiously large bottle of ground cinnamon.

“Really?” She asks. “An industrial sized bottle of cinnamon?”

Killian is smirking and Emma’s memory had underestimated just how stupidly attractive he is. It doesn’t exactly stop her from wanting to slap the expression off his face though.

“I figured, if I still know anything about you, you’ll be able to put it to good use,” he explains softly.

It’s a stupid gift and more cinnamon than both she and Henry could use in their entire lifetime. But it’s kind of thoughtful, she’ll admit.

“Thank you, Killian,” she murmurs, shoving the bottle and the paper back in the bag. “But I really have to go.”

She lifts her basket for emphasis and Killian nods, stepping back and waving his arm out in a sweeping motion towards the front of the store. Emma walks past him, conscious of the space between them.

“Happy Birthday, Emma.”

-/-

“That’s a lot of cinnamon,” Henry comments as she unbags her items, the barest hint of judgement in his tone. Emma left the gift bag and tissue paper in the car, not up for the third degree from her son.

“Yup,” is all Emma says in response, hiding the bottle on the top shelf of the cabinet for it to hopefully be forgotten.

Henry forgets as soon as he sees the cake mixes she’s picked.

-/-

Despite Emma’s busyness, her friends don’t forget about her birthday.

Henry begs her for dinner at Granny’s, despite the fact that she’d already been thawing chicken since the morning. Emma’s puts it in the fridge and resolves to cook it the next day when she realizes she doesn’t really want to cook anyway.

She really isn’t expecting the place to be closed down for her surprise party but of course Henry would be in on it. The little sneak.

It also explains why David had insisted she take the day off, despite her protests. Emma will vehemently deny tearing up when her friends all yelled happy birthday.

“Were you surprised?” Mary Margaret asks when she slides into the booth across from Emma. David has Henry towards the back of the room, teaching him how to throw darts. Another thing that probably isn’t winning Emma any mothering awards any time soon. But Henry looks like he’s having a blast and she trusts David.

“Are you kidding? Even I’d forgotten about my birthday,” she chuckles. “I can’t believe you guys did all this.”

“It was mostly Ruby and Henry,” Mary Margaret shrugs modestly but Emma rolls her eyes and looks to the large spread of food that definitely isn’t on the Granny’s menu. Mary Margaret shrugs and continues, “Alright, maybe David and I helped a bit.”

Emma hums sarcastically and holds her thumb and forefinger up about an inch apart. Mary Margaret laughs and swats her hand out of the air.

“I’m just glad you’re happy, Emma,” she says when Emma stops teasing her.

“With all of you guys?” She asks, motioning vaguely to the full diner. Ruby, Belle, and Elsa are doling out plates of food and drinks and some of her closer co-workers mill together in some booths. Marian breaks off to join David and Henry by the dartboard. “How could I not be?”

Mary Margaret smiles and nods.

“I know the past few years have been tough, is all,” she says gently. “It’s just good to see you happy again.”

Emma nods, not interested in talking about the past today but appreciative nonetheless. She reaches forward and squeezes Mary Margaret’s hand across the table.

“I am,” she assures her. “But I might not be if it weren’t for all of you. Thank you.”

Mary Margaret squeezes her hand back and then glances towards where Ruby is threateningly holding a cupcake up towards a laughing Belle’s face. She sighs heavily and gives Emma an exaggerated look of annoyance.

“Duty calls,” she jokes as she slides out of the booth just as the cupcake ends up on Belle’s nose.

-/-

Halloween passes in a blur of school activities and Henry trying to decide between Luke Skywalker and Captain America and before Emma knows it Mary Margaret is trying to make Thanksgiving plans.

“Honestly,” Emma sighs, “Henry and I are still making our way through his Halloween candy. Can’t you give it a few weeks?”

Mary Margaret rolls her eyes like Emma is the one being difficult here.

“I’m just trying to get a headcount, Emma,” she huffs. “I’m not basting the bird and heating the oven.”

Emma chuckles.

“Well, you know Henry and I will be there. Just like every year.”

“And will you be bringing anyone?” She asks, too forced to actually be casual. Emma gives her a wary look.

“Who would I bring?” She asks even as her mind conjures up an image of Killian. Traitor.

“I don’t know, Emma,” Mary Margaret shrugs, exasperated. “You’re not exactly forthcoming about this stuff.”

Yeah, fine, Emma has to give that to her.

“Well, on the off chance a miracle happens before then, I will let you know.”

Mary Margaret rolls her eyes but seems satisfied enough with the answer.

-/-

She’s at work a few days later when David ducks his head into the breakroom. She’s heating up some of the pasta she’d made the night before and the microwave beeps just as he calls her name.

“Lance and I have to go talk to a skittish witness,” he tells her, “but he brought in a vandal a bit ago. Do you mind putting him in the system?”

“I’m on my lunch, can’t Marian-“

“She’s in an interview,” he cuts her off and Emma stirs her pasta a little more roughly than necessary. “Please? It’ll take no time and I already had a uniform bring him to your desk.”

Emma nods, only groaning in annoyance after David has left the breakroom. Sure enough there’s a man in handcuffs sitting at the chair next to her desk when she walks back into the bullpen. A woman in uniform is staring daggers at him to make sure he doesn’t go anywhere. Emma wonders how far the woman thinks he would get.

“I’ve got it from here, officer,” she says, a little rudely, as she walks up. Her frustration is with David and Lance but whatever.

The woman seems startled for a moment before nodding and running off. Emma sets her Tupperware container of pasta on the desk, sits down, and goes through all the motions of pulling out the proper paperwork and the filing system on the computer before she even acknowledges the man.

“Name?” She asks when she finally looks over at him.

He’s dark haired and thin faced, probably only a few years older than herself. He doesn’t look like a criminal, actually, he looks like a white suburban prat. Emma loves breaking those stereotypes.

“Robin Hood,” he says with an easy smirk. Whether his accent is real or not Emma can’t say for sure.

Her shoulders slump and she tilts her head, blinking slowly at him.

“Wanna try again?” Emma presses when he just continues to smirk. He gives a great put upon sigh.

“Not particularly but since you’ve cleverly seen through my façade, why not?” He straightens up, puffing out his chest as if he’s about to say something of great importance. “My name is Will Scarlet.”

“Like ‘in the foyer with the candlestick’?” Emma asks dryly.

“Ha,” he deadpans, not looking the least bit amused. “That was a woman.”

Emma bites and runs the name through her system next to his booking fingerprints. His file comes up alongside two mug shots.

“You’re pretty smug for a third time offender,” she comments, copying his date of birth from the files.

“You’ll notice there’s been no jail time,” he explains and Emma sets her pain down to steeple her fingers under her chin and watch him.

“Yeah, I did. How is that, exactly?” She wonders. “Your parents have a better wallet than they do a taste in names?”

He grins, mirroring her pose as best as he can in the handcuffs.

“Perhaps I’m just innocent.”

Emma hums in sarcastic agreement.

“I’m looking for Will Scarlet,” a voice says from the reception area and Emma looks up.

The officer from before points Killian in the direction of Emma’s desk. The moment his eyes land on her his eyebrows raise in surprise but his gaze moves to Will and his expression quickly turns to annoyance.

Emma stands up to intervene.

“What are you doing here?” She asks when he’s a few steps away and Will turns to grin broadly at him. Killian doesn’t return the expression but he doesn’t acknowledge Emma’s question either.

“You’re a right git and if you get me fired I’ll feed you the sharks,” Killian growls at the other man who chuckles.

“You’ve been saying that for years.”

Emma looks between the two of them before stepping in.

“Look, I don’t know how you know each other but your friend is in some serious trouble,” she tells Killian who nods solemnly. “He was caught trying to break into the harbormaster’s office.”

“Yes, I’m aware of the allegation but I wanted to make it clear that the dock doesn’t intend to press charges.”

Emma can only gape for a moment.

“Wait, you work at the docks?”

Killian frowns before realization surfaces.

“Ah, I,” he reaches up to scratch behind his ear. Emma is conscious of Will’s gaze on them. “I thought you’d have at least read my card before you tossed it.”

“I didn’t-,” she starts softly unsure where the sentence is really going but Will cuts her off.

“My good buddy Killian here is the dock master,” he explains, lifting his hands to rattle the chains. “Now would you mind uncuffing me?”

Emma can only stare at him for a minute. He rattles the metal again and she snaps out of it, frowning down at him.

“Stay here, Robin Hood,” she bites, “I have to call my captain.”`

She turns on her heel and walks to the desk across from hers for an attempt at privacy. Marian has one of those World’s Greatest Mom mugs on her desk and Emma focuses on it while the phone rings.

“Last time I’m sticking my neck out for you, mate,” Killian grumbles behind her and Will says something in reply that sounds vaguely like remorse but David answers the phone before she can make out his words.

“Well,” David sighs, after Emma explains what’s going on. “You’ll have to let him go then. If the dock isn’t pressing charges then we can’t keep him.”

Emma groans.

“Seriously? David, did you see this guy?” She asks in a low voice, glancing back towards Will who is still in a heated conversation with Killian. He almost looks sorry now. “Smug bastard.”

David chuckles.

“Just don’t put that in the official report,” he teases. “Don’t worry, if the guy is really bad, we’ll get him next time.”

Emma rolls her eyes. David is great and gave her a job she wasn’t qualified for when he didn’t have to. He and Mary Margaret helped her get back on her feet and never once thought less of her – even when the kid she gave up for adoption in prison had shown up on her doorstep. But his whole honor and everything will work out mindset can really grate on her.

Emma hangs up and turns back to the two men at her desk. She pulls the handcuff keys out of her desk drawer and uncuffs Will, tightening the cuffs a little first. He frowns and rubs his wrists once he’s free, eyeing Emma carefully.

“Well, I’ll be seeing you,” he says jovially, standing from the chair. Emma raises an eyebrow and Killian glares at him.

“If he values his life, he won’t be,” Killian corrects and Will has the decency to look remorseful. The two turn to walk out of the station, Killian just a half step slower out of hesitation and Emma nearly lets him leave.

“Hold on,” she calls, “I’ll walk you out.”

Will continues forward without her but Killian waits for her to fall into step next to him. Despite the offer, neither of them say anything until they’re standing outside the station.

“Do you need a ride?” Killian asks Will and Emma shoves her hands into her jacket pockets. Robin looks between the two of them a few times before shaking his head.

“Nah, not a far walk from here,” he says finally and turns to head through the parking lot without a goodbye.

Killian turns to her once Will is out of sight.

“So, a cop, eh?” He asks, a teasing lilt to his voice. “I must admit I wasn’t expecting that.”

“I just sort of fell into it,” Emma admits with a shrug. Killian stares at her for a moment and Emma considers cutting and running. She really does want to finish her lunch break.

“It suits you,” he says finally, something akin to pride in his voice. “Doing good and all that.”

It’s too much for Emma and she hooks her thumb over her shoulder towards the building.

“I should get back,” she says and he nods, a small frown tugging at his lips. Emma hates that she almost doesn’t want to walk away. “Try to keep your friend out of trouble, alright?”

“Out of trouble was never my specialty,” Killian jokes and Emma can’t help the grin that tugs at her mouth.

“Don’t I know it?” She turns to take the three steps back up to the front doors but stops in front of them. When she turns back, Killian is watching her. “I’ll see you later, Killian.”

“I’m certainly hoping so, Swan,” she hears him respond before the door closes behind her.

-/-

Emma digs the nearly forgotten piece of cardstock out of her coat pocket when she gets home that night and finally reads more than his name.

Killian Jones

Dock master, Port of Boston

He always did love the sea.

-/-

“Can I ask you something?” She asks Ruby one day over coffee from the cart at the end of the block from the police station. “Like, seriously with no teasing undertones.”

Ruby raises a perfectly manicured eyebrow, curiosity piqued, but nods.

“Why haven’t you just told Belle how you feel yet?”

Ruby gives an exasperated sigh but doesn’t immediately shoot the conversation down. They make it halfway down the block before she finally shrugs and stops blowing into her coffee cup to answer.

“Probably the same reason none of those blind dates Mary Margaret sets you up on never work out.”

“I had no idea Belle was a giant tool,” Emma comments dryly, earning a look from Ruby.

“It’s scary, Emma,” Ruby huffs, her breath making a white puff in the cold November air. “The chance that things might not work out. The possibility of getting hurt. You know that.”

“Yeah,” Emma nods earnestly, “I do. I’m sorry.”

They make it to where the parking lot for the precinct opens into the street and stop. It’s cold enough that Emma’s leather jacket will need to be upgraded to something heavier soon and she imagines there’s snow on the horizon.

“Still,” Emma continues with a shrug, “probably shouldn’t let that stop you from trying, right?”

“You gonna take your own advice on that?” Ruby grins and Emma smirks, raising her coffee to her lips.

“Maybe if Mary Margaret ever sets me up with someone who isn’t a giant tool,” she comments over the rim and Ruby laughs.

“Fair enough.”

-/-

Thanksgiving break for Henry means three days at Mary Margaret’s helping her cook while Emma still has to go to work on Tuesday and Wednesday. She’s chasing a perp down the block but still can’t help but wonder which one of them got the worse deal.

When she picks him up Wednesday afternoon, he seems proud of the work he’s done, though. Mary Margaret even insists it’s all completely edible when Emma asks semi-jokingly in the kitchen while Henry puts his coat and boots on.

“What’s the headcount for tomorrow’s festivities, anyway?” Emma asks, eyeing the abnormally large turkey Mary Margaret has stashed in the freezer.

When she turns around, the other woman is ticking them off on her fingers and Emma frowns. Somehow Thanksgiving gets bigger and bigger every year. It’s a bogus holiday anyway.

“I think ten,” Mary Margaret says eventually. “I’ve got wiggle room if it’s more or less, though.”

Emma nods and tries not to let her discomfort show. It’s not the people, really, since their group is usually the same people. It’s the holiday that has a tendency to get to her. Sure, she’s come a long way from foster homes and orphanages. That doesn’t make the memories of shitty Thanksgivings with families that kept her around for a government check or ones spent stealing the bare minimum of food from some unsuspecting convenient mart any less tangible.

Henry stomps loudly into the kitchen, his boots tied a little hurriedly and his coat only half zipped, and Emma’s glad that at least he won’t have those memories.

She bends down to zip his coat up the rest of the way.

“How did you convince Granny to let you do all the cooking?”

Mary Margaret sighs behind her and Emma hears the settling of a spoon in a pot.

“We compromised,” Mary Margaret explains. “She’s bringing lasagna in case I, in her words, ‘make a complete mess of the turkey’.”

Emma chuckles.

“Sounds like her.”

Henry is a barely contained ball of excitement when they get home, bouncing off the way in excitement for everyone to try the dishes he helped make. Emma is glad he understands her work schedule and always seems to make the best of it.

They order a pizza because, as Henry says, anything they cook tonight will pale in comparison to tomorrow’s grand feast.

The kid reads too damn much.

-/-

Emma allows herself the luxury of sleeping in because, well, she doesn’t get very many days off and usually it’s because she and Henry have to do something. Waking up to the smell of cooking sends her running into the kitchen in a blind panic, though. Instead of finding her eleven-year-old on fire, she finds Elsa standing at her stove while Henry happily chats away about what’s on the menu for their dinner that day.

Emma groans and leans against the doorframe, panic calming down into grogginess.

“Mom, are you okay?” Henry asks from where he’s seated at the island.

“Yeah, kid, I’m fine,” she assures him, grumbling under her breath as she continues, “just recovering from a heart attack.”

Elsa has the decency to look sheepish.

“Sorry, Henry let me in and I wanted to let you sleep.”

Emma waves her off, taking a seat next to Henry. She glances at the clock.

“It’s alright I should have been getting up soon anyway,” she reassures. “What are you doing here, though?”

“Mary Margaret asked me to bring an extra pie for desert,” Elsa explains, flipping the omelet in the pan. “I made a chocolate pie last night but I have some running around to do today before hand and then I’m picking up a friend who’ll be joining us. I didn’t want to drive the pie around with me so I thought-“

“Say no more,” Emma nods. “We can take the pie for you.”

“I did try to call but it went right to voicemail,” Elsa explains, sounding a little embarrassed. “I shouldn’t have just shown up.”

“No, it’s alright, really. I usually turn my phone off at night when I have a day off,” Emma explains before remembering something else Elsa had mentioned. A grin grows on her face. “So, who’s this friend you’re bringing tonight? A date perhaps?”

“No, not a date,” Elsa chuckles. “Just another lone soul on Thanksgiving. He’s a friend of Kristoff’s actually and just moved to Boston. You might have even met him at the wedding.”

Emma’s chest tightens.

“Oh?” She asks. “What’s his name?”

Fate’s a fickle bitch and she knows even before Elsa responds.

“Killian.”

-/-

After Elsa leaves, Emma sends Henry to take a shower and start getting ready to head over to Mary Margaret and David’s. She pulls the business card from where she’d moved it to the pocket of her leather jacket and dials the phone number listed under cell.

“Jones,” he answers a little gruffly and Emma wonders for a moment if she’s woken him up. It’s been so long, though, she doesn’t think she should know what his sleep voice sounds like anymore.

“What are you doing today?” She asks without preamble.

“Swan?” He asks, confusion coloring his tone but he continues, “Well, I have plans but I can cancel if you want to-“

“No, you shouldn’t cancel,” Emma sighs, leaning back against the front door. It was stupid to call, she doesn’t even know what she’d planned to do. Part of her knows that if she asks him not to come, he won’t. But that’s unfair, isn’t it?

“Oh,” Killian says quietly and the line goes silent for a moment before he continues with a bit more bravado than before. “Not that I mind it, love, but why are you calling?”

Emma flinches at the endearment.

“You’re going with Elsa to a friend of hers for Thanksgiving,” she says instead of explaining.

“Aye, how do you know that?” Emma lets it sink in and he sighs across the line. She can almost imagine him running his hand through his hair in frustration. “This friend is also a friend of yours I imagine.”

“Got it in one.”

“I honestly didn’t know, Emma, Elsa just mentioned a friend who makes quite the spread and offered an invitation,” he explains as Emma chews on her lip. “I can call her and cancel if you’d like.”

“No, it’s fine. It’s just,” she sighs and this is where it gets hard. Because Emma is a good liar and Killian was never too bad at it himself but lying to all of her friends, her son. Emma wanted to believe she was better than that. “These people are very important to me and it’d just be easier if they thought we met at the wedding.”

Killian hums as realization dawns on him.

“You’d prefer are history stay just that,” he finishes and Emma lets her head fall back against the door with a thump. “I suppose I can’t blame you.”

“I know it’s asking a lot,” Emma says but Killian cuts her off.

“Nonsense, Swan, these are your friends. If you’d prefer to keep us private, I won’t fault you for it.” He says it like us is present rather than past and Emma ignores the way her chest tightens.

“Things are just easier when the past stays in the past,” she explains, a hardness seeping into her voice as she tries to let him know where they stand.

The line is silent for a long moment.

“As you wish.”

-/-

Emma and Henry get to the Nolan’s hours before anyone else, at the insistence of Henry and the behest of Mary Margaret. On the way over, Emma picks up a bottle of rum as a show of good grace. Mary Margaret gives her an odd look when she pulls it from the bag.

“Planning some heavy drinking tonight, Emma?”

“Rum isn’t heavy if you know what you’re doing,” is all Emma gives in response.

Henry helps Mary Margaret in the kitchen while Emma and David attempt any interest in the football game.

“Would you even know what teams were playing if it weren’t at the bottom of the screen?” Emma asks David, sipping from her soda and reclining on the couch.

“Nope,” he answers easily, unperturbed.

Ruby and Mrs. Lucas show up with two trays of lasagna and Emma nearly applauds Mary Margaret’s calm and gracious performance. Instead, she shoos Henry from the kitchen and helps find spots for the pans in the over packed fridge.

“Emma, you’ve known me for a long time now,” Mary Margaret says, her calm demeanor giving Emma goosebumps. “Have I ever messed up Thanksgiving turkey?”

Emma chuckles and squeezes her arm.

“Don’t let Granny get to you,” she reassures her. “She’s trying to help in her own, slightly unhelpful, way.”

Mary Margaret takes a few deep breaths and it seems to help. Emma stays in the kitchen for a while to help her finish up.

Belle shows up not long after Ruby and her grandmother with a casserole. If everyone but Emma has been tasked to bring something, they’re going to have enough to feed an army.

Then again, knowing Mary Margaret, her night will probably end with a trip to the local soup kitchen.

It isn’t until Elsa shows up harried and a little late with Killian in tow that Emma realizes a few important things she should have realized earlier. The first realization coming when Elsa introduces him to everyone, reaching Henry and elaborating with “Emma’s son”. Killian’s eyes widen and Emma avoids his gaze because, well, she hadn’t really forgotten to mention Henry. She’d just elected not to.

The second realization, of course, is Ruby.

By the time Elsa makes it through the list of people to Ruby, she’s already tapping her foot and looking incredibly sour over Killian’s existence. Belle is staring at her and even Elsa seems a little hesitant to approach her.

Emma rushes over instead, grabbing onto Ruby’s arm.

“Ruby, will you help me with the wine, please?”

“No,” Ruby bites in response, dark gaze not leaving Killian’s face. Damn her loyal best friend.

Emma digs her nails into Ruby’s arm.

“Now,” she hisses, all but dragging her to the kitchen.

At least Ruby uncorks one of the wine bottles before starting the third degree.

“Did you know he was coming?” She asks first and Emma sighs, pouring herself a glass of wine. She thinks longingly of the rum in the cabinet.

“Not until this morning,” Emma answers and, when Ruby’s eyes go wide in surprise and accusation, rushes to continue, “When Elsa mentioned it.”

“Have you two been talking?” Ruby questions. “Or is this some grand plan of his or something?”

Emma rolls her eyes. Killian is hardly some evil mastermind.

“No, I called him after I found out and he offered to cancel but I told him it was fine,” Emma shrugs. “Please just play nice, okay? It was a long time ago and, honestly, neither of us were blameless in everything that happened.”

Ruby pours herself a large glass of wine and takes a long drink before nodding.

“Fine,” she agrees, “I’ll play nice. For now.”

Emma figures it’s the best she’s going to get.

-/-

Somehow Killian and Henry end up in a conversation in the living room and Emma would be annoyed, but she knows her kid. Always eager to meet a new face. She plans to intervene if only to keep Henry from giving Killian his entire history, but she gets pulled away by Mary Margaret. By the time she makes it back Henry is on the couch with Belle and Killian is nowhere in sight.

Emma gives it all of ten minutes before she goes looking. She finds him out in the hallway just as he hangs up his phone and sidles up to him. She leans against the wall behind him and waits for him to turn around.

“So, dockmaster, huh?” She asks lightly when he does and Killian smirks. “You always did love the sea.”

“Looked me up, eh?”

Emma pulls the card from her jacket pocket to show him. It’s a little creased in some places but otherwise intact and he stares at it in surprise.

“I couldn’t have just thrown it away,” she admits, slipping it back into her coat.

“You didn’t call either, though,” Killian points out and Emma sighs.

“You know why I couldn’t have,” she insists. Killian huffs, shoving his hands in his jacket pockets. It’s a defensive stance of his. That much Emma remembers.

“I’m not a messed up twenty-three-year-old anymore,” he asserts, a little annoyance lacing itself in his words and she understands. She can understand the want to be looked at as more than your past. But it can’t be completely ignored either.

“Neither am I,” Emma counters, “I have people that count on me now. Henry and my job and I can’t just get sucked back into that train wreck again.”

“It wasn’t all bad, was it?” He asks.

“Killain, please,” she sighs, “Let’s not do this.”

He’s quiet for a moment but his hands fall from the pockets of his leather jacket and he nods.

“I’m sorry, love, I’m being unfair.” He runs his hand through his hair. “Perhaps we could attempt a fresh start, though. We’ve both done our fair share of living in the past, I think.”

Emma can’t deny that.

“Sure,” she nods. “I think I’d like that.”

When Mary Margaret offers him the rum before dinner, Killian shoots Emma a surprised look. When she smiles softly at him, he returns it before accepting the glass from Mary Margaret.

It feels something like a start.

-/-

“I’ve never met anyone as scary as your friend Ruby,” Killian comments the next time they run into each other.

This time it’s entirely Emma’s fault. She’d worked an early shift and decided to get some errands done while Henry was at school. They’d brought her down by the docks which left her in his neighborhood. Still, she’d thought Boston was bigger than this.

It’s only been about a week and half since Thanksgiving and Emma’s been scrambling to get the apartment looking as Christmassy as she can. It’s another one of those things she tries to do because she’d never had it as a kid and Henry deserves better than her. Plus, she’s not a little orphan girl anymore and it’s kind of nice that she doesn’t have to still feel like she is.

“Yeah,” Emma snickers, “I think that’s what she was hoping.”

When she’d run into Killian at some little out of the way shop where she gets her Christmas lights, he’d asked her to coffee at the place down the street. Emma had an hour before she needed to pick up Henry and made the decision to stop running from Killian.

“I got the impression she already knew of me,” he says, a little too casually, as his picks at the cardboard sleeve around his coffee cup.

Emma nods a little ruefully.

“I might not have painted you in the best light,” she admits. “I met Ruby right after I moved here so it was all pretty fresh.”

“I probably wouldn’t have been the easiest person to paint in a good light,” he smiles self-deprecatingly but it turns genuine after a beat. “I’ll just have to prove myself to her, then.”

Emma raises an eyebrow.

“Planning on spending more time with Ruby, are you?” She means it to be teasing but it sound a little bitter. Emma’s not going to analyze that, especially when Killian lets it slide.

“I suppose I’ll have to be if you and I are going to be friends,” he says with a shrug and Emma lets out a surprised laugh.

“Oh, we are, are we?”

“Well, I certainly hope so,” Killian nods. “You know I like you, Swan.”

It’s a little too genuine and Emma is beginning to regret her decision not to run from him.

“You barely know me anymore,” she deflects, shrugging as she lifts her coffee cup to her lips.

“All the more reason to get to know one another again,” he says jovially.

Emma doesn’t know what to say to that. Instead, she checks the time on her phone.

“I should probably leave soon,” she says when she realizes how late it’s getting. “I have to pick up Henry.”

Killian nods understandingly but Emma doesn’t immediately make any move to leave. She really isn’t in a rush and as long as they can avoid any loaded conversations, she’s finding she actually still enjoys Killian’s company.

“Brilliant lad you’ve got there,” he comments and Emma can’t stop the grin that spreads across her face at the thought.

“Yeah,” she chuckles. “I have no idea where he got that from.”

“Don’t sell yourself so short, Emma,” Killian smiles.

Emma rolls her eyes but sips her coffee to hide her smile.

“Is he…?” Killian continues, leadingly, when Emma doesn’t respond. It doesn’t take much effort to know where he’s going with it.

“Neal’s?” She finishes for him. “Yeah.”

It’s not hard to figure out if you know the story. Henry’s the right age and Killian isn’t stupid. It’s only been eight years since she and Killian had last seen each other.

Killian hums contemplatively at this information but he doesn’t seem shocked, just interested.

“How did that happen?” He asks finally and Emma shrugs her shoulder.

“It’s kind of a long story,” she admits. “Too long for right now, at least.”

“Another time then,” he says quietly and Emma can’t help but nod.

When she finishes her coffee and heads out the door, he joins her. They hesitate awkwardly outside the door to the coffee shop and Emma is about to just make a run to her Bug to avoid the weirdness when he breaks the silence.

“We should do this again sometime,” he says a little haltingly. It sounds more like a question and Emma is nodding before she has a chance to think better of it.

“Yeah,” she agrees, “we should.”

When Emma makes it to her car parked out front of the little Christmas light store, she glances back at Killian. He grins broadly and waves.

Her stomach doesn’t flip when she waves back.

-/-

“You and Henry should come over for lunch this weekend!”

Emma should have known that those words out of Mary Margaret’s mouth always meant trouble. Not that they hadn’t gone over there and had a good time in the past. But, usually, that phrase could be roughly translated to I want to talk to you about something that will upset you in a capacity where you can’t hang up on me.

Sometimes having friends that care can be a real burden.

“He’s lovely, Emma,” Mary Margaret insists and Emma realizes the minute the other woman had sent Henry off to play a video game with David she should have known what was coming. “Honestly, I promise you’ll like him!”

“That’s what you said about the last guy,” Emma groans. “And the one before that.”

It’s been months since the last time Mary Margaret had tried to set her up. Actually, before the wedding, now that Emma thinks about it. She swears it’s like a holiday or big event compulsion for her friend. Not that Emma doesn’t appreciate that Mary Margaret’s concern for her very nonexistent love life but, still.

“I’m learning about your tastes,” Mary Margaret admits slowly, “But this time I’m sure you’ll like him!”

“So, lunch was great,” Emma says, attempting to change the subject. “You’ll have to send me the recipe.”

“It was Kraft mac and cheese and sandwiches,” Mary Margaret deadpans.

Emma sighs dramatically.

“Mary Margaret, I appreciate it really but I’m okay,” she emphasizes. “I don’t need these set ups.”

Mary Margaret tilts her head and Emma feels like she’s being scrutinized by a tired parent. Yeah, she’s pretty sure she’s given Henry this look before.

“Just tell me you’ll think about it, okay?” Mary Margaret pleads. “Can you just do that?”

Emma should say no, shoot this down immediately. But, what the hell, right?

“Sure,” she sighs, “I’ll think about it.”

She’s pretty sure she’ll be eating those words.

-/-

It’s not that Emma and Killian are spending time together regularly. It’s just that some days he’ll text her and invite her to coffee and some days she’ll say yes. Not every time or anything but when her work schedule works out they get coffee or lunch. As the holidays get closer Emma’s schedule gets increasingly tighter.

So when Ruby calls on her day off and insists they have lunch but Emma already has plans with Killian, she invites him along.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather just reschedule our lunch?” He asks when she calls him to inform him of the change.

“No, it’s fine, really,” Emma insists, though she can’t deny the thought of Ruby and Killian sharing a booth at Granny’s is more than a little amusing. “This month is gonna be really busy and I don’t want to cancel on either of you.”

He still sounds hesitant when she hangs up but, well, Ruby’s been warned and surely they can all enjoy a meal together.

“You’ll be nice, right?” She asks Ruby, just in case, as they wait for Killian.

Ruby rolls her eyes and gives something like a noncommittal hum. Emma groans. She flinches every time the bells above the door ring and Ruby finds it very amusing.

“So, are you two…?” Ruby questions leadingly, making a vaguely dirty gesture with her hands.

“We’re just catching up,” Emma explains with a shrug. “Having coffee here and there.”

“Catching up is one coffee,” Ruby counters. “Coffee here and there is something else entirely.”

“We’re just friends,” Emma insists, gripping her hot chocolate defensively.

Ruby puts her hands up in defense.

“Hey, I’m just saying there’s friends and then there’s…” The door bells chime, Emma flinches, and Ruby’s words trail off.

“Sorry, I’m late,” Killian says in a rush as he reaches their table, brushing snow from his dark peacoat. “I had a spot of trouble finding the place.”

“Missed the neon sign, huh?” Ruby asks dryly and Killian freezes. Emma shoots her a dark look. “What? I’m kidding! I’m just glad you’re here so we can order.”

Ruby waves down the waitress that’s working while Killian slides into the booth beside Emma. She smirks as she brushes a surprisingly large pile of flakes from his shoulder.

“Meeting today?” She asks and Killian shoots her a surprised look.

“Aye,” he nods, unfolding a menu. “How did you know?”

“The only times I’ve seen you in anything other than leather is when you have a meeting or Kristoff and Anna’s wedding,” she explains, motioning to his coat.

Killian looks up from his menu to stare at her but Emma can’t decipher the emotion on his face. She’d call it wonder if that weren’t ridiculous.

The waitress makes her way over and chats with Ruby while Killian continues to skim the menu. Eventually Emma rolls her eyes and nudges his shoulder.

“Get the lasagna,” she advises, “trust me.”

Killian nods and orders her suggestion and a coffee.

For a lunch between her ex-whatever you could call them and her best friend that helped her mourn that relationship, it goes surprisingly well. Killian kicks the charm into high gear in an attempt to impress Ruby who shoots it down at every turn. But Emma can tell her friend is warming up to him.

“So,” Emma starts after a quiet lull in conversation, resting her chin in her palm.

“Oh no,” Ruby sighs before Emma can even continue.

Emma snickers.

“Come on, Ruby, the halls are decked, there’s mistletoe everywhere,” Emma says cheerfully while Ruby groans. “When are you gonna pony up and ask Belle out?”

Killian looks between them, a quirk in his brow that shows he’s interested in this development. Ruby doesn’t blush but she manages a hearty glare in Emma’s direction.

“You’re as bad as Mary Margaret.”

Emma gasps in mock offense.

“These are two completely different situations,” Emma insists but Ruby hums sarcastically.

“Am I missing something?” Killian asks finally once the glares Emma and Ruby are sharing have become too much.

“Mary Margaret is constantly trying to set me up with these terrible people,” Emma explains, picking at the remains of her grilled cheese. “And Ruby, here, has been saying for months she’s waiting for the right time to ask Belle out. But has she? No.”

“I’ll ask Belle out when you agree to go on another one of Mary Margaret’s blind dates,” Ruby says, leaning back in the booth with a smirk like she’s won. Emma stares at her for a long moment before pulling her phone out. “What are you doing?”

Emma holds a finger up for Ruby to wait while the phone rings.

“Hey, listen, I’ve thought about it and you’re right – I should give that guy a chance,” Emma says when Mary Margaret picks up. She flinches at the excitement in her friend’s voice. “What’s his name again? Really? That’s not a name it’s a university.”

When she hangs up, she’s smirking at Ruby this time.

“You’re move, Lucas.”

Ruby grumbles something and excuses herself to make a phone call. Emma turns to Killian with a grin.

“I’d say that’s a mission accomplished.”

“Stubborn as ever, Swan,” he smiles, though it’s a pale comparison to his usual grin. “But was it worth a terrible date with a stranger?”

“Eh,” Emma shrugs. “Maybe it won’t be that bad.”

Killian nods noncommittally but the waitress shows up with the checks and Emma decides not to worry about it.

-/-

His name is Walsh and Emma has to cancel on Killian in order to meet them when they’re both free. She feels a little bad but the only other option was meeting him for the first time at the Nolan’s Christmas party in front of all of her friends.

Which, no, that was not even a real option.

Walsh is a little boring but otherwise nice. He seems genuinely interested when she mentions Henry, rather than like he’s scouting for the nearest exit. Emma realizes she’s actually shopped at his furniture store before but doesn’t admit not to buying the end tables she’d seen because they were awful.

All in all, it’s hardly the worst first date she’s been on.

For some reason, that doesn’t stop her from calling Killian when she gets home and spots her stash of rum hidden on one of the top shelves in the kitchen. Emma doesn’t have to work in the morning and Henry is spending the night at a friend’s.

“I owe you for cancelling today,” she says when he answers, continuing despite his protests. “Do you want to come over for a drink?”

He agrees almost immediately.

“So, the date was they boring, eh?” Killian asks once they’re both seated on her couch with two glasses of the dark liquor. He’d shown up in his black leather and covered in snow. Emma had quickly ushered him to the couch to get warm.

“Nah, he wasn’t too bad,” Emma insists, shaking her head. “I mean, I’ve had worse first dates.”

Killian groans and Emma grins because she knows his mind has gone exactly where hers has. He throws his head back against the top of the couch in exasperation and Emma chuckles.

“I’ll never live that down, will I?” He asks, sitting up enough to take a swig from his glass.

“Nope,” Emma grins, popping the p. “No first date could ever be as disastrous as having the guy steal a boat, pretend it was his and take you out on some sweeping romantic rendezvous on the open sea.”

Killian groans again but Emma persists.

“Only to be picked up by the coast guard.”

“I was such a prat,” Killian sighs, sitting up fully again. “I have no idea why you agreed to see me again after that.”

“I have no idea how you avoided a jail cell,” Emma teases, finally pulling a grin from Killian at the memory.

“I was such a mess,” he says, shaking his head. “I’ve no idea what you saw in me back then.”

“Eh,” Emma shrugs, the truth spilling from her mouth before she can stop it. “I liked you because you were a mess. It made me feel better about my own mess.”

Killian wiggles his eyebrows suggestively.

“Is that the only reason, Swan?”

Emma sighs exasperatedly now.

“You were a hot deviant and you know it. What’s the point in making me say it?”

“I like hearing you say it,” he all but growls, holding eye contact until Emma has to look away.

“So, dock master, did you ever buy that boat you always said you would?” She asks, guiding the conversation towards safer waters.

He did, in fact, buy that boat it turns out. A few years ago, he’d saved up enough to buy a little thing. Small but seaworthy, he’d said proudly and Emma had smiled easily at the words. He talks about it like a dream, even as he describes it the way Emma would imagine any boat in the marina, and even offers to take her and Henry out on it sometime. Emma is suddenly struck by the man in front of her.

So much the boy she knew and yet so much this man she doesn’t.

“So, Henry,” he starts and Emma smiles, knowing where it’s going. “How exactly did that happen?”

“He showed up almost two years ago,” she explains. “Just this little boy appearing on my doorstep, telling me I was his mom. I couldn’t figure out how he’d tracked me down, why he would have wanted to.”

“You said he’d been adopted before you’d even had him,” Killian comments and Emma nods.

Killian must notice the dark mood that rolls over her because he reaches forward and places his hand gently on top of hers on the back of the couch.

“The woman who’d adopted him she was,” Emma fumbles for a minute, trying to find the words to describe the manipulative, emotionally abusive, awful woman who’d adopted Henry. “A real witch.”

Killian seems surprised at the choice of words but Emma explains in limited details her struggles in getting custody of Henry. She’d drove him back home with the intention of leaving him back with his adopted family. Only her car had broken down and she’d been stuck in the little town for a night. The next thing she knew she was being threatened with a lawsuit and a restraining order if she didn’t leave immediately.

“I take it your Spidey senses started tingling,” Killian offers and Emma nods.

“It didn’t take much for me to realize I wasn’t the only she was that hostile with,” Emma explains. “She treated Henry like he was some crazy little kid, nearly lost her mind at him coming to find me. I understand fearing having your kid taken from you but this was… something else.”

Killian nods understandingly. They’ve each had their fair share of shitty parental figures. Emma explains her custody battle, how it had led her to meeting Elsa who had helped her through all the necessary legal and social worker jargon in order to get custody of Henry.

“She really saved my ass,” Emma finishes. “If it weren’t for her, Henry’s adoptive mother’s lawyers probably would have ripped me apart. Elsa helped me make sure I had the proof I needed and the right character witnesses.”

“Well, if the saving of those who need it run in the family, then Kristoff has certainly found his soulmate in her sister,” Killian comments and Emma tilts her head at him at the reminder.

“Yeah, I never actually asked how you two know each other.”

“Ah, well, Kristoff found me at my worst,” he starts, a little hesitantly but Emma flips her hand she can lace her fingers through his in encouragement. He smiles at the gesture before continuing, “Believe it or not, I was not at my worst when you knew me. A few years after we separated, I got word that Milah had passed away.”

Emma squeezes his hand on instinct.

“God, Killian, I’m so sorry.”

Milah had broken Killian’s heart when she’d been unable to leave her controlling husband before Emma had met him. He’d told her stories about the woman when they were together. At the time, Emma had been so sure he’d never get over his past love. It had made it easier to keep him at arm’s length.

“I hadn’t seen her in years,” he admits, shaking his head, “but some part of me hadn’t been able to lose hope.”

Emma scoots a little closer, her hand still wrapped tightly around his, but Killian conjures up a brave smile and clears his throat.

“Anyway, Kristoff found me pissing my life away between bars and somehow convinced me to get my shit together and,” he gestures vaguely to himself, “you see the result.”

“Not too bad of a result,” Emma assures him and Killian ducks his head but she catches the corners of his mouth tick up.

When he looks back up, he swallows thickly and takes a long swig from his glass. Emma knows she could move the conversation to a lighter place. Instead, she wades deeper into the murky waters.

“A few years ago,” she starts softly, her gaze focused on the amber liquid in her glass while Killian’s moves to her face, “Before Henry showed up, I lost my partner.”

This time Killian squeezes her hand and she smiles at him, a quick grateful smile, before looking back down at her glass. She hadn’t intended for the night to turn into all the darkness they’d seen in their years apart but they’d end up there eventually. Emma figured they might as well lay it all out at once.

No point in slowly removing that band-aid.

“Graham was my best friend and the first man I’d loved since,” Emma hesitates. She doesn’t say you, but it’s a close thing. “Well, I don’t know when.”

“I’m sorry, Emma,” Killian murmurs. She can feel his gaze on her face and it prompts her to look up.

She shrugs halfheartedly.

“Dangers of loving a cop, I guess,” she offers, a little bitterly, and Killian’s hand tightens around hers again suddenly.

She prompts him to tell her something about his job and he takes on the task of lightening the mood easily. Apparently, Killian works with a group of unwieldy, rambunctious men who wouldn’t be out of place on a pirate ship. Emma giggles at the comparison.

She isn’t sure when she decides to kiss him. Somewhere between the easy way he lightens the dark mood and her third glass of rum, she thinks. But it hardly matters because her mind has decided it completely without her acknowledgment and she’s nearly sitting in his lap already.

He tastes like her cheap rum and mint toothpaste and wastes no time pulling her entirely into his lap. It shouldn’t be so easy to slip back into the routine but Emma lifts up onto her knees, tilting his head back for a better angle as she does.

Killian groans low in his throat and it vibrates through her own chest.

“Emma,” he breathes against her lips as her fingers rake through his hair. The ragged way he says her name has Emma diving back in for more, Killian’s hands sliding up her back. One of his hands slips just under the hem of her sweater and the touch to the base of her spine sends a shiver through her.

Her phone pings with a text message in the kitchen and Emma nearly falls off of the couch when the sound makes her jump. She’d laugh at the ridiculousness of that if Killian weren’t breathing raggedly underneath her.

“Emma,” he says again, tone less rough and more sad. Emma hates herself a little bit as she carefully extricates herself from him, moving a few feet away from the couch.

“I’m sorry,” she says quietly, wrapping her arms around herself. “I shouldn’t have done that. We can’t do that.”

Killian nods understandingly and, fuck, who is this guy? Eight years ago he’d have accused her of screwing with his head and pushing him away. Eight years ago he would have been right.

Now, she doesn’t know what she’s doing.

“Aye, love, you’re right,” he says softly, pushing off of the couch as well. Emma thinks he might come towards her in an attempt at comfort but he keeps his distance, mills in front of the couch.

“It’s late and we’ve been drinking. I should go.”

Emma shakes her head.

“No, I can’t let you drive, Killian,” she insists, if only because it’s actually her job now to make sure he isn’t out on the road drunk.

“S’alright, Swan,” he says with a false grin and there’s the bravado she was waiting for. “I’ll go down to the lobby and call a cab.”

Emma nods because it seems stupid to try to make him stay. She’s done enough stupid for one night. Killian gathers his jacket and heads for the door.

“Killian,” Emma calls, stopping him in the doorway. He hesitates, but doesn’t look back. “I am sorry.”

“Don’t be,” is all he says before he pulls the door closed behind him.

It isn’t until morning that Emma finds the text from Walsh telling her his schedule cleared up and asking if she’d like to get coffee next week. Emma agrees before she can talk herself out of it.

-/-

Mary Margaret insists Emma bring Walsh to the Christmas party when she finds out they’ve been, essentially, dating. As much as a dinner, a few coffees, and the occasional make out can be considered dating. And, whoa, that is not a path Emma wants to go down.

So, she’s loathe to refuse.

Mostly because the argument of can’t take my current romantic entanglement because my ex-romantic entanglement who I recently had a serious make out session with will be there would only result in one of Mary Margaret’s patented disappointed oh, Emmas.

In her friend’s defense, Emma still hasn’t admitted that she didn’t meet Killian for the first time at Kristoff and Anna’s wedding. Ruby is still the only one who knows and Emma feels bad for the lie but the truth would hardly accomplish anything good.

“You look great,” Walsh says sincerely when Emma opens the door.

She smiles, running a hand over her curls, and invites him inside. She considers offering a drink before they go - nerves getting the best of her. Instead, she grabs her nice peacoat and Walsh offers her his arm after she locks the apartment door.

“What’s Henry doing tonight?” He asks as they head down the hallway and Emma grins.

“Winter break celebratory sleepover,” she explains. “I can only imagine the sugar hangover he’ll have tomorrow.”

Walsh chuckles.

“What’s he into right now, anyway?” He asks, pulling open the door to her lobby. “For Christmas gift purposes, I mean.”

Emma freezes for a half step but quickly resumes her pace, hoping Walsh won’t have noticed it.

“Oh, you don’t have to get him anything for Christmas, Walsh, really,” she insists.

Walsh waves his hand like it’s no big deal and it probably shouldn’t be except Emma hasn’t exactly told Henry about Walsh. Sure, he knows she’s been spending some time with a new friend but they’ve only gone out a handful of times and Emma is trying to be careful.

“What’s the problem?” Walsh asks, stopping when they hit the sidewalk outside her building. Her arm still locked around his means Emma stops as well. “Did I overstep?”

“No,” Emma sighs, “it’s just I haven’t really dated anyone around Henry and I don’t want to introduce something into his life that could be temporary.”

Emma cringes as soon as the words are out of her mouth and Walsh seems, somewhat understandably, offended.

“You think we’re temporary?” He asks and Emma groans in frustration.

“No,” she says, shaking her head. So much for her perfectly done curls. “I just mean we can’t be sure what’s gonna happen and I have to look out for my kid first.”

It takes a moment but Walsh nods. He still looks a little peeved but Emma had been under the impression he knew what he was getting into.

“We should go or we’re gonna be late,” he says quietly and Emma can tell she hasn’t actually smoothed anything over. “I guess we can talk about this later.”

Emma doesn’t say there isn’t anything more to discuss. They can fight or not fight or whatever Walsh is implying about it later. In the meantime there is an apartment full of alcohol and Christmas foods waiting for her across town.

-/-

Killian shows up with Elsa again and Emma is trying not to read too much into that. She really is.

She hasn’t seen him since her Night of Terrible Decision Making, as she’s now calling it, and is really only a little offended when he makes the rounds of gracious party guest but avoids her like the plague. Emma understands, really, she does. It’s not like she’s called him for a coffee or tried to make lunch plans.

Walsh is still in somewhat of a sulky mood but Mary Margaret seems to have him entertained, discussing the intricate decorations throughout the apartment, so Emma slips into the kitchen for a drink refill.

She really should have known better.

“Howdy, stranger,” she greets, trying for an easy tone as she leans back against the kitchen island. Killian’s glass nearly slips from his hands as he jolts in surprise.

“Bloody hell, Swan, you’ll give a man a heart attack that way,” he scolds and Emma chuckles.

When he turns there’s something soft in the way he looks at her and Emma has to look away. She ducks her head a little as she pushes some of her hair behind her ear.

“I’m sorry I haven’t reached out in a little while,” she offers because Emma is an adult. She can have an adult friendship with Killian. She enjoys having a friendship with Killian, actually. She’ll be damned if one stupid kiss is gonna ruin that.

In her defense, he hasn’t called her either.

Killian chuckles a little darkly and it prompts Emma to look back up at him. The softness has faded a bit and Emma frowns.

“It’s quite alright, love, I imagine you’ve been busy.” He motions vaguely towards the door leading to the rest of the party as he says it and it takes Emma a minute to realize what he means.

She sighs and pushes herself off of the counter. It puts her closer to Killian than she intends and she can see that it startles him.

“Walsh and I have been dating, I guess,” she starts and Killian raises an eyebrow at the comment but she presses on, “And Mary Margaret insisted I bring him tonight. I should have warned you, I hope it doesn’t make things weird.”

“Why would it make it weird?” He asks and Emma knows he’s just daring her to say it.

She resists, sidestepping him to put a bit more distance between them and pour herself a drink. When she turns back around, refreshed drink in hand, he’s leaning against the island watching her.

“I’ve missed you, Swan,” he says softly after a beat. “Perhaps we should stop making it a habit of running from each other.”

Emma nods silently.

“We should,” she says, motioning back to where the part is happening and Killian nods, spreading an arm out in a sweeping motion.

“Lead the way.”

She does, heading back through the door with Killian trailing behind her. Ruby gives a squeal as soon as they reach the doorway, shouting for them to stop where they are. Belle is smirking from where she’s pressed up against Ruby’s side as Ruby points somewhere above their heads.

Emma knows what’s coming before Killian even looks up.

“Mistletoe,” Ruby says unnecessarily and Emma wonders since when the stupid tradition of kissing under a poisonous plant is so important to her.

By this point, though, they have the entire room’s attention and she’d never realized how quickly her friends could turn into a group of giggling school children. Even David who, despite his chumminess with Killian still has a tendency to be a bit standoffish, is grinning at the sight of them caught under the world’s stupidest trap.

“You have to,” Mary Margaret says with a shrug like David would be forced to arrest them on the spot if Emma were to walk away. “Tradition.”

“Let’s get it over with,” Emma sighs, motioning for Killian to come at her as if she’s preparing for battle.

“That’s the spirit,” he comments dryly but advances nonetheless.

It’s far too slow for Emma’s taste if the goal is not to make themselves anymore of a spectacle. He comes towards her like he’s approaching a skittish animal rather than about to kiss a woman. Then, at the very last second, his hand comes up between them and finds hers, shaking it firmly.

“To appease the masses,” Killian announces to the room to the sound of booing and annoyed groans. He ducks forward and pecks Emma lightly on the apple of her cheek.

It’s almost worse than if he’d just kissed her.

“I’m not a fan of audiences,” he breathes just before he pulls away, his voice low and breathy.

Emma walks away first but it’s a close thing and she spends the rest of the party drinking more than she should and sticking to the opposite side of the room from Killian.

It should be the least of her problems, though, because, boy, if she thought Walsh was sulking before. Emma can’t find it in herself to appease her maybe boyfriend with more than a few shows of affection, nothing more than a quick peck or hand holding. She’s not a show pony.

When Walsh drops her back at her apartment, she’s too buzzed to be bothered by the fact that he isn’t the man she spends the rest of her conscious time thinking of.

-/-

There are advantages to being the only child between Emma’s friends for Henry.

On Christmas Eve, she allows him one small gift because she was a pushover that first year and now it’s turned into a tradition. Henry excitedly tears at the wrapping paper covering a box and unveils the new hat, scarf, and gloves set Emma had picked up for him.

She grins a little evilly as he sighs despondently.

“These are nice,” he says, not ungratefully, “but I was hoping it’d be a toy.”

Emma laughs.

“I know, kid.”

After he heads to bed, Emma brings out the rest of the gifts to put under the tree. Elsa and Ingrid usually head further north to visit extended family but drop off gifts for her and Henry on their way. They’re making the trip without Anna this year but there were still two gifts marked from them. Emma should have expected Anna to plan ahead.

David and Mary Margaret spend the 24th through 26th juggling their two families. Emma wishes them luck with Mary Margaret’s awful stepmother every year and every year Mary Margaret spends the week after Christmas recovering from her awful stepmother. They always buy Henry way too many gifts, though, and mark most of them from Santa. Emma appreciates it but figures it has more to do with the couple's’ attempts to have a baby than trying to outdo Emma.

Really, if it were anyone other than David and Mary Margaret, Emma probably would have shut that down from the start.

It isn’t until she’s placing the gifts under the tree that Emma finds the extra presents in the bag from Elsa. One has her name scrawled across it in a nice, elegant scrawl while the other, larger than hers, has Henry’s.

There’s no from name but Emma doesn’t need one. She only knows one person who writes like they skipped cursive in elementary school and went right for calligraphy.

Emma almost doesn’t put them under the tree. She places everything else and sits for a little while staring at the two boxes before reminding herself that she’s being ridiculous and placing the one for Henry in the front and the one for herself in the back.

In the morning, Henry tears through the admittedly large pile of presents excitedly. He even stops to show interest in the sweaters Mary Margaret and David picked out for him. He hesitates at the oddly nautical Santa themed wrapping paper.

“Who’s this one from?” He asks, turning it over in an attempt to find a name.

“Oh, you remember my friend Killian, right?” Emma mentions casually. “From Thanksgiving.”

Henry and Killian have seen each other a few times here and there since but it takes Henry a moment before he remembers who exactly Emma means.

“Oh,” he says easily, already tearing at the wrapping. “Cool!”

Underneath the paper, a large Lego box shows an intricate pirate ship. Emma thinks vainly of the amount of the plastic pieces she’s going to be finding everywhere but Henry grins broadly and holds it up to her.

“This one looks awesome!”

“We’ll have to make sure to thank him the next time we see him,” Emma says, nodding. Henry’s excitement is enough to wash away any fears she had about including Killian in this tradition.

After Henry has opened his own gifts, he always turns the table to play Santa to Emma, handing her gifts from both him and her friends. He goes out shopping with Ruby to buy Emma presents and each one he gets her nearly brings her to tears. Henry rolls his eyes as she unwraps a calendar, pulls a World’s Best Mom mug from a bag, a tears up.

“Mom, I’m glad you like them but they’re not that great,” Henry sighs. “I couldn’t find anything really good this year.”

Emma tugs him towards her for a tight hug and chuckles.

“They’re perfect, kid,” she assures him. “I have the perfect spot for that mug on my desk.”

Henry grins proudly and goes back to doling out her gifts. She gets a hand knit scarf and a sturdy pair of black boots from Mary Margaret and David. It’s not hard to imagine whose contribution was whose. From Elsa, an assortment of bath salts and bubbles. It’s a less than subtle hint that she should relax from time to time. Ingrid has picked out a nice cookbook and Anna sent a small basket of lotions, soaps, and candles. Emma imagines the thought from Anna is somewhere along the same line as her sister’s.

“Oh, look, you got one, too!” Henry exclaims, coming upon the small box addressed to Emma in the same nautical themed paper.

Emma hesitates to open it. Fate makes the decision for her when her phone rings and Emma realizes they’re going to be late for their brunch at the Lucas’. She sends Henry to get dressed and decides she can open the present later.

-/-

After breakfast with Ruby and her grandmother, Emma and Henry had met Walsh for lunch and some various Christmas activities. After their fight before the Nolan’s Christmas party, Emma had compromised with Walsh that she’d make more of an effort for him and Henry to get to know each other. She hadn’t budged on Walsh getting Henry a gift, though.

They’d spent most of the afternoon with him and then Emma had cooked dinner before heading out again with Henry to see some Christmas lights. By the time they got home, even Henry didn’t have the energy to pay his new presents any mind. He put himself to bed and Emma was about to do the same when she spotted the unwrapped present.

She sits down on the couch and stares it down for a few moments before giving in. Carefully, she removes the paper, cringing at the cardboard jewelry box underneath. There’s a note taped to the lid that she pulls off to read first.

I noticed you no longer wear that swan around your neck. It seemed a shame.

P.S. Because I know you’ll worry, I didn’t spend an extravagant amount on this. Just enjoy it, love.

  • Killian

Emma pulls the lid off and stares down at the simplistic silver swan. It’s shaped a bit like a closed off S and hangs from a silver chain.

When they’d been together the first time and Emma’s wounds from Neal were still fresh, Emma still wore the keychain he’d given her around her neck. Despite the many things Emma had shared with Killian about her time with Neal, she’d never admitted that the necklace was a part of it. She’d only been able to stop wearing it a few years ago, when she felt like she could finally put the past behind her.

Funny how that works.

Emma takes the necklace into her bedroom with her as the phone against her ear rings. She sits on the edge of her bed and looks down into the box.

“Ah, this is a surprise,” Killian answers cheerfully when he picks up. “Merry Christmas!”

“You shouldn’t have done this,” she says softly, ignoring the sentiment in favor of what she called to talk about.

The line goes quiet for a moment.

“You opened it, did you?” He asks finally. “I wasn’t sure you would. We hadn’t discussed gifts but I saw it and I, well, it made me think of you.”

Emma runs her thumb over the swan gently, as if it might shatter if she presses too hard.

“It’s beautiful,” she admits. “But I didn’t get you anything and I’m not sure I can accept it.”

Killian sighs, like he knew this was coming and maybe he did. Emma’s changed but some things are fundamental.

“You can make it up to me, Swan,” he assures her. “And it really didn’t cost that much.”

Emma swallows and finally detangles the necklace from the box holding it in place. She holds the chain up and examines the pendant closer as it twists in the light. Killian is quiet on the other end of the line, waiting for her.

“Henry loves his pirate ship,” Emma says finally and Killian chuckles. “He’s really excited to put it together.”

“I’m glad,” Killian says and Emma can almost picture the grin on his face. “I thought he might enjoy a challenge from his toys.”

Emma nods to herself, still a little transfixed by the dancing swan.

“Thank you, Killian,” she says eventually, too quiet to be completely casual.

“Merry Christmas, Emma.”

“Merry Christmas.”

Emma’s not actually sure she hangs up before she falls asleep but she definitely didn’t intend to fall asleep clutching the little silver swan.

-/-

While Henry suffers from post-Christmas depression, Emma deals with her own pre-New Year’s anxiety.

Walsh subtly, and not-so-subtly at times, hints towards wanting to spend New Year’s Eve together. Emma evades the topic as best as she can but even she knows it’s obvious. It isn’t until three days before the end of the year that Emma manages to swing on-call status at the precinct.

Lance couldn’t figure out why on earth she’d want it but wasn’t going to say no to the chance to spend the night unimpeded with his fiancee, Gwen.

It’s a good enough excuse to avoid having to make plans with anyone but Henry and Emma really doesn’t plan on actually getting called in. People get rowdy during the celebrations but usually not anything that would require an actual detective.

So, naturally, she gets the call at 9:27 PM while she and Henry are making their way through the leftover Christmas pastries Mary Margaret sent over.

In hindsight, she should have had a backup plan. There goes that last swing at Mother of the Year, she supposed. Ruby and Belle are out barhopping with a captive Elsa. Mary Margaret and David host a small party for Mary Margaret’s friends from the school every year.

The only reason she calls Killian is because she trusts him to watch Henry and he mentioned not having plans at coffee the day before.

“It’s no bother, Swan,” he assures her over the phone and Emma can already hear the jangling of keys on the other end.

She cringes at the thought of him driving on the roads tonight.

“I owe you big time,” Emma says, as she pulls the apartment door open.

He gives her a dry look but steps inside when she waves him in. Henry is sitting on the couch, eating a cookie and watching the ridiculous celebrations in New York on TV.

“Henry, you remember Killian, right?” Emma asks, getting her son’s attention.

His head whips around and he takes Killian in for a moment before nodding quickly. Okay, no sugar for like a week after tonight. New Year’s resolution for Henry.

“You got me the pirate ships,” Henry elaborates and Killian grins proudly.

“Aye, that I did,” he nods. “Have you assembled it yet?”

Henry sighs heavily like the question weighs on him. Emma shakes her head.

“No,” he groans. “We’ve been busy.”

He says the word with an intense dislike and Emma can’t disagree with him there. New Year’s resolution for herself; no more being busy. Killian chuckles as well and nods.

“Well, you must find time to relax.”

Emma thanks Killian again before she finally leaves, calling dispatch to let them know she’s on her way to the scene. It’s a pretty simple theft case, probably some drunk idiots trying to finish the year off with something crazy. The owner of the store whose window has been smashed is pissed though and Emma spends over an hour and a half taking his statement and filling out paperwork. He supplies her with the security tapes from the night and Emma sends it to the analysts to try matching with facial recognition.

She makes it home just before midnight to find a nearly fully built pirate ship on the coffee table and Henry passed out on the couch. Killian is sat in front of the coffee table, paying no mind to the TV and still fiddling with the Lego pieces.

“If you stare at that any harder the plastic may start to melt,” she calls quietly as she toes off her boots.

Killian jolts, dropping the brick in his hand, and Emma realizes he’d been so caught up he hadn’t even heard her come in. She chuckles, crossing the room as Killian checks the time on the television.

“You made it home just in time, love,” he comments, pushing up into a standing position. “You’ve only got a few minutes left before it’s a whole new year.”

Emma nods silently, stifling a yawn.

“How late did he make it?” She asks, nodding her head towards Henry on the couch.

“Ah, he’s a trooper. Only passed out about twenty minutes ago.”

Emma chuckles.

“Good, we can both sleep in tomorrow,” She turns to Killian, reaching out to place her hand on his arm. “Really, thank you, Killian. You really helped me out tonight.”

“You’re more than welcome, Emma,” he says sincerely. “It was hardly an intrusion on my evening.”

Emma smiles softly as she retracts her hand. Killian wishes her a soft happy new year before slipping on his leather jacket and heading out the door, closing it quietly behind him.

Emma kisses Henry’s forehead when the ball drops before carrying him to bed. It’s not a bad end to her year.

-/-

She breaks up with Walsh the same day she actually starts wearing the swan necklace but the two really aren’t related. Emma just realizes at some point as she’s laying in bed waiting until she actually has to get up on the first day of a new year that Walsh is nice, but that’s about his only redeeming quality.

Of course, she phrases the breakup much more nicely to him.

“I understand,” Mary Margaret sighs when Emma breaks the news to her. It doesn’t exactly sound like she does but Emma appreciates the effort. “He’s just not the one.”

“Maybe there just isn’t a one for me,” Emma shrugs. “You got so lucky with David and I love you guys, really. But maybe that just isn’t for me. I’m really happy just me and Henry.”

Mary Margaret raises an eyebrow.

“Is that your way of asking me not to try and set you up anymore?” She asks and Emma laughs.

“Is that all it would have taken all this time?” Emma questions. “Or are you just teasing me with a pipe dream?”

Mary Margaret lifts her mug of hot cocoa and sips at it for a minute.

“We’ll see,” she hums.

-/-

“He was a bit of a prat,” Killian says over coffee when Emma tells him about the breakup.

Emma nearly inhales her coffee when she laughs at him.

“Gee, Killian, tell me how you really feel,” she chuckles and Killian grins in pride at the response.

“I just mean you told me how he reacted to you being hesitant to have him around Henry,” he shrugs, “And it wasn’t my place to say anything at the time-“

“And now it is?” Emma smirks but Killian rolls his eyes.

“I can’t affect your decisions now,” he insists before pressing on. “Henry has to come first and anyone who can’t respect that might not be the most suitable.”

Emma nods silently, picking at the cardboard sleeve around her coffee cup.

“I must say, love, I’ve never seen you so happy.” Emma raises an eyebrow and he clarifies. “Not without Walsh. Just in general is all.”

“Well, you didn’t exactly know me at my best,” she points out, smiling nonetheless at his observation. “But I get what you mean. Henry is easily the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Heartbreak that led up to it aside, I wouldn’t trade any of it.”

Killian nods and they slip into a companionable silence as Killian drinks his coffee and Emma shreds bits of cardboard from hers. She breaks it to ask him about work eventually and Killian smiles even as he tells her of an annoying client.

“You seem really happy, too,” Emma says suddenly at a break in between stories. Killian seems thrown by the sudden softness in her voice but nods.

“I am.”

-/-

He does, Emma begins to realize now that she’s looking for it, in fact seem very happy. Somehow happy, put together Killian is even more attractive to her now than messy, broody Killian had been nine years ago.

And that, well, it’s a problem.

Killian has started spending more time with David which Emma would find weirder if this weren’t New and Stable Killian who she is, somehow, having even more trouble predicting than Old, Emotionally Dysfunctional Killian.

Suddenly, Mondays at work have turned into hearing about David and Killian’s latest almost boringly tame weekend exploits. Emma listens anyway, fascinated by this sudden change in dynamic.

It’s her fault, honestly. She knows her friends well enough that she should have seen it coming when David started getting chummy with Killian and Mary Margaret started casually asking about Emma and Killian’s coffee meetups.

“Come out with us to dinner this Saturday,” Mary Margaret had said innocuously. “It’s been a while and Ruby already said she’d watch Henry.”

Emma had groaned.

“Is this gonna be a setup?”

“No, Emma, of course not,” Mary Margaret had insisted, as if the mere thought was an affront to her character. Emma had agreed eventually, upon her friend’s continued insistence that it was just dinner with friends.

Emma is an idiot.

She realizes the minute she shows up to the semi-fancy restaurant and spots Killian sharing the table with Mary Margaret and David. There are already four glasses of wine at the table settings. Emma isn’t sure which emotion is winning out - embarrassment at being duped into a double date with Killian or annoyance at her friends’ continued interference.

Killian doesn’t bother to hide his reaction to her red dress and that, at least, makes Emma smirk at him.

It isn’t until later when Killian offers to walk with Emma back to her apartment, that Emma questions his involvement.

“So, did you know this was a setup?” She asks, a little accusatory, as she adjusts the scarf around her neck. She’d worn the swan necklace tonight and Killian hadn’t said anything but she’d caught his gaze on it a few times. The red scarf is pressing it into her skin and Emma has a feeling there’ll be an etching of it on her collarbone when she gets home.

“No, of course not,” Killian sighs, clearly catching the hint of distrust in her voice. “Dave just invited me to dinner with them. I assume the same way Mary Margaret had with you.”

Emma nods, a little chagrined.

“Right, sorry, it’s just Mary Margaret said she’d back off after Walsh and it was just weird having them try to set us up,” she explains and Killian nods silently, not looking over at her. Emma continues, “I know it’s my fault. I should have just told them at Thanksgiving but…”

She trails off into a groan and Killian nods again.

“I understand, Swan,” he assures her. “The past isn’t pretty for either of us.”

Emma wraps her arms around herself tighter and they continue through the light snow towards her apartment. She’s regretting the decision to walk to the restaurant as the cold seeps through her thick tights. The silence between her and Killian is usually comfortable, that of two people who know each other well enough to just exist in each others space.

Now, it feels like Emma is missing something huge and she can’t figure out what.

“Might I venture a question?” Killian asks once they reach the door to Emma’s apartment. She hadn’t intended for him to walk all the way up with her but hadn’t wanted to say goodbye either. Emma considers invited him in but knows Ruby will be dropping Henry off soon.

“Go for it.”

Killian seems to consider it for a moment, his eyes dropping to where Emma scarf sticks out from her coat. Her mind drifts again to the pendant pressing against her skin.

“I’m not who I was when we first met,” he says finally.

“I know that,” Emma hurries to assure him, earning a small smile for her efforts before he continues.

“And neither are you,” He says and Emma nods in agreement. “So, why are we allowing those people to affect our current choices?”

Emma’s gaze flicks down to Killian’s collar sticking out above his jacket rather than his eyes.

“I don’t know what you mean,” she says quietly and Killian takes a small step closer. It’s enough to bring him firmly within her space in a way he hasn’t been since she kissed him two months ago.

“Emma,” he murmurs, the softness in his voice pulling her eyes back up to his. “I think you know how I feel. And, I hoped you might feel the same.”

She could escape, turn and unlock her door and disappear inside. It’d certainly be the safest route. Instead, she stays frozen in place.

“Perhaps I’m wrong, though,” Killian says finally, stepping back out of her space but Emma follows his movement, stepping forward.

“I didn’t say that,” she rushes out and Killian’s gaze flickers to her. There’s a glimmer of hope Emma recognizes there and she’s afraid to fan that flame falsely.

Killian must recognize whatever he sees there because he nods.

“Whatever you decide, love, I will respect,” he tells her gently.

The elevator dings and Killian steps away from her just as Henry and Ruby step off of it. Henry comes running down the hall, excited to see Killian and tell him all about how he’s finished his pirate ship. Ruby hesitates, shooting Emma an apprehensive look.

Killian grins at Henry and lets him finish his excited babbling before bidding them goodnight. Emma watches him until the elevator doors close and almost misses Ruby watching her in curiosity.

“Henry, shower and then bed, alright?” Emma calls as he runs through the apartment door. He groans but heads towards the bathroom anyway.

Emma turns to Ruby.

“You wanna come in for a drink?” She asks tiredly and Ruby nods.

“I think I’d better.”

-/-

Henry is fresh smelling and in bed before Emma actually tells Ruby the whole story. Her friend listens with rapt attention.

When she finishes, Ruby hums in contemplation for a long time and Emma rolls her eyes at her friend’s dramatics.

“Ruby,” Emma bites, when it goes on for too long. “I know you have something to say, just say it.”

“Okay, okay,” Ruby says, throwing her hands up in defense. “I guess my question is why are you letting the past stop you?”

Emma sighs.

“Not you too.”

“Emma,” Ruby begins slowly, like she’s speaking to a small child. “Do you know why David and Mary Margaret may have tried to set you two up?”

Emma ignores the nagging voice in her head that tells her, yes, yes she does and shrugs instead.

“You can’t see it but it’s the way you talk about him, okay? It’s so obvious you two are into each other and no one can fathom why you aren’t doing anything about it-”

“But you know-,” Emma tries to interrupt but Ruby shoots her down with a look.

“Yeah, I know what happened nine years ago but, honey, you aren’t twenty-one anymore,” Ruby reminds her. “You’re an awesome person with your shit together and Killian also seems to have his shit together. Isn’t it at least worth seeing if the people you’ve become have any chance at making it work?”

Emma sighs, shrugging further into the couch while Ruby picks up their wine glasses and takes them to the kitchen. She shrugs on her coat and turns back to Emma.

“I love you, you know that, and I want to see you happy. If Killian could give you that, then,” Ruby shrugs. “Well, at least think about it, okay?”

If she’s honest with herself, Emma doesn’t really need to think about it. She sits for a while after Ruby leaves and stews on it but ends up texting Killian before she goes to bed.

I’ll be interested to see how you top our first first date.

He responds as she’s sliding under the comforter, I promise the only cop there will be you.

-/-

He manages to keep that promise until they’re leaving the restaurant he’d chosen and Lance walks in with Gwen, stopping at their table for a quick hello. Emma teases Killian all the way back to her apartment about it.

The date otherwise is nice. Not in the boring way it’d been with Walsh, but it wasn’t some sudden eye opening outing. Emma realizes that dating Killian isn’t much different from coffee or lunch with Killian. Actually, they’ve probably been dating for a while now, even if she doesn’t want to admit it.

The difference is now he kisses her at her door and Emma has to take a two minute breather after he leaves before she can face Henry and Elsa inside.

Despite that realization, Emma hadn’t really expected being with Killian again to come so easily. He meets her at work for lunch a couple days out of the week and always checks before coming over when Henry is home. Emma doesn’t even feel the same worries about allowing him to become close with Henry that she usually does and Henry thinks Killian is awesome.

Emma kind of thinks Killian is awesome, too.

He takes her out on his boat almost a month after their first date. It’s March and they’re in Boston so she spends the entire trip freezing her ass off and clinging to Killian for body heat rather than fun reasons. The trip ends prematurely when he realizes Emma is actually possibly in danger of frostbite. His apartment is unsurprisingly close to the dock and he wastes no time ushering her there and wrapping her in blankets.

“You’re overreacting,” she comments even as her teeth chatter a little.

Killian rolls his eyes as he starts a fire in the fireplace. Emma hasn’t actually been to his apartment before and it’s surprisingly large and open. It’s all wood and rustic decor with a touch of that nautical theme that Emma expects from him.

“Better overreact than ignore that you’ve been chilled to your bones,” he responds once the fire is growing and he settles himself next to her and her mass of blankets on the couch. Emma spreads her arms, opening the seam of the blankets to curl up against his side. Killian wraps his arm around her, rubbing her arm gently.

“I’m sorry I ruined the outing,” she sighs. “I really don’t know how you can deal with that everyday.”

“You didn’t ruin anything, love,” he insists. “Aye, it’s certainly more enjoyable during the warmer months but you get used to it after enough time.”

Emma nods, her cheek rubbing against his shirt, and tightens her grip on him. Despite spending the same amount of time in the frosty wind as her, he’s still radiating warmth.

“Well, maybe you can take me out there during the summer, then,” she offers, drowsily. She looks up when Killian doesn’t respond to find him smiling dopily down at her. “What?”

“I like that you think we’ll be together in the summer,” he admits, grin only widening as Emma’s cheeks heat up.

“I’m not that much of a flake,” she defends, knowing that’s not what he means.

“No, but you’re quick to decide whether you want something or not,” he clarifies. “And, honestly, Emma, I never thought you’d want me again after our last go at it.”

Emma pushes off of him, pulling her legs beneath her to kneel next to him on the couch. The blankets slip from around her shoulders and Killian reaches for them, ready to fuss over her again but Emma grabs his collar to hold his attention.

“I thought we agreed we weren’t letting our past make our decisions for us,” she reminds him and Killian watches her intently, his hands releasing the blankets to land on her hips instead. “I want this, okay? So, unless you’ve changed your mind-”

“You know I haven’t,” he interrupts, his fingers flexing against her hips. One hand dips dangerously close to the hem of her sweater and Emma gives him a soft smile.

“Then we don’t have a problem,” she assures him before dropping down while pulling upwards on his collar to meet him in a kiss.

Killian wastes no time in using his leverage on her hips to tug her towards him and Emma slides easily into his lap. His hand slips under her sweater fully to rest on her back. Emma’s fingers slip down his collar to work at the buttons of his shirt. He groans when she shifts her hips and Emma gasps when he nips at her lip before dropping his head down the junction of her neck and shoulder.

His teeth scrape against her skin and Emma’s fingers slip against the button she’s working on. She has to pull his hair a little to get his attention and Killian looks up at her in confusion.

“Bedroom?” She suggests and he nods, wordlessly adjusting her to wrap her legs around his hips so he can lift her. Emma lets out a little breathless laugh as he leverages her underneath her ass.

“Emma, love, what could you possibly be laughing about right now?” He asks, voice low and rough as he sets her down gently on the bed. “You’ll hurt a man’s ego that way.”

“Your ego could use a little reality check,” she teases but the any bite is lost when she tugs him in for a long kiss, pulling him back onto the bed with her. She continues when they pull apart, “I’m just glad I didn’t leave that wedding early is all.”

Killian stalls in his trek of kisses down her neck, just above her collarbone, and holds himself above her by his forearms.

“As am I, Swan,” he agrees softly and Emma smiles before pulling him back in.

Killian, as it turns out, is just one of those things that got better with age and Emma relishes in the morning after aches she feels the next morning.

-/-

By the time they’re about two months into the relationship, they’ve reached a point where Henry regularly checks if Killian is coming over. Not necessarily because he spends that much time at their house in Emma’s opinion but she thinks Henry enjoys the company Killian affords. It simultaneously lights a spark of terror in Emma and brings a smile to her face.

She’s always been afraid of letting Henry get attached to any of the men she dates, no matter how long they last but something about Killian doesn’t scare her. The nagging voice in her head, reminding her of a past she’s still trying to completely put behind her, tells her it should.  Emma ignores it rather mightily.

David texts her one day late in April asking if she’s heard from Killian and that he just wants to make sure everything is okay. Emma hadn’t seen Killian since two days before but they’d talked on the phone yesterday. It does occur to her that she hadn’t even sent her a text all day.

When she calls his phone it goes straight to voicemail. Emma sends a text trying to check in because David seemed worried, but it goes unread for a few hours. She actually starts to worry as well. She leaves Henry at home while she runs to Killian’s apartment. His car is in the parking lot but there’s no answer when she knocks on his door.

Her emotions teeter between worry and annoyance because it’s mildly easier to deal with than the worry.

It isn’t until she’s back at home, cooking dinner, that it strikes her. Once dinner is on the table, she sends one final text to the phone she now realizes is turned off.

Just realized the date. Check in when you can. Love you.

Emma realizes over text is a lame time to say that for the first time but she figures Killian will need to hear it regardless.

He’d told her the story so long ago she’s amazed she remembers the date. Then again, she remembers a lot more about her time with Killian than she maybe should. When he was nineteen he’d been in a car accident with his older brother. He’d sustained some major injuries, had nearly lost his hand, but his brother had been DOA. It was the other cars fault legally, but Killian had been driving at the time. He’d never stopped blaming himself and every year on the anniversary he shuts himself away. It had been the beginning of his spiral, even before his time with Milah.

One more thing from his past he can’t escape.

Emma doesn’t hear from him until he shows up at the precinct to take her to lunch the next day. Killian kisses her a little chaotically as soon as they’re outside the building and Emma pulls away breathless.

“What was that for?” She asks.

“I love you too,” Killian says simply before leading her down the steps and to his car.

-/-

Emma gets complacent in the happiness. Killian makes it so easy, Henry thinks he amazing and he’s already friends with her friends. So, when it comes crashing down it feels like plunging into the bay in the middle of March.

Emma gets called to some drunken bar fight in the middle of the day. It’s not terribly unusual that she gets sent when they don’t have a free uniform because Emma was always pretty good at dealing with drunken men in her rookie cop days. Two large men have the upper hand over a smaller man when she and the uniform that had been available show up. Prying the men apart isn’t that hard when they flash their badges. Drunk or not, most people don’t take kindly to the word jail.

Neither the owner or the few other patrons are willing to point a finger so all three of the men end up being dragged down to the station. The smaller man has a split lip and there’s a steady stream of blood coming from somewhere above his eyebrow. Emma sends the uniform ahead to the station with the other two, mostly unscathed men, and calls for an ambulance to have him treated and checked out for further injury.

Emma doesn’t actually recognize him until he’s chained to a hospital bed, cleaned up, and deemed concussion-free.

“Oh, shit,” she breathes when she steps into the room to take his statement and finally realizes what that niggling feeling at the back of her mind had been trying to tell her.

“Lovely to see you, too, Sheriff,” Will Scarlet offers cheerily when he hears her.

“Detective,” Emma corrects dryly, stepping further in the room and forcing herself to be professional. Will shows no sign of having heard her but she presses on, “I’m here to take your statement.”

“Good thing you showed up too,” he nods, mock seriousness in his features despite the stitches in his forehead and the bandage wrapped around his free wrist. “I was just about to make my final move on those men.”

“Is that your official statement?” Emma asks and Will must sense the accusation because he turns his head, frowning seriously now.

“It was two against one in that bar,” he asserts, “you can’t honestly believe I started it.”

Emma sighs, folds her arms across her chest.

“Right now, I don’t know what happened. No one else is talking, there are no witnesses. It’s your word against theirs.”

To Will’s credit, he holds himself together well. His anger seethes beneath the surface though and Emma doubts he’ll contain it for long.

“I believe I’m within my rights not to speak with you,” he says like someone who’s been through the drill before. Emma did read him his rights as she handcuffed him in the ambulance. “And now I’d like my phone call.”

Emma dreads it but she waves towards the phone on the table next to his bed.

“Be my guest,” she tells him, easiness of her voice a contrast to the storm she’s feeling inside. “I’ll be just outside.”

-/-

Killian calls her less than ten minutes later.

“I was starting to think the bastard had actually called a lawyer,” she sighs in lieu of a greeting as she answers the call.

“So, it’s not a stupid joke then,” Killian says. “You’ve actually got him handcuffed in a hospital.”

There’s a disappointment or accusation or something there that makes Emma grit her teeth in annoyance.

“I can’t talk about this with you over the phone,” she responds, adopting a professional voice. “We can talk about it in an official capacity when Will has been transferred back to holding. His injuries are minor and they’re ready to release him as soon as I get a car to move him.”

“Emma, you can’t be serious,” Killian tries but Emma continues.

“If you have any questions about Mr. Scarlet’s status, call the station.”

She hangs up before he can argue anymore and steps back into the hospital. Will looks like a petulant child and Emma almost wants to leave him locked up in the hospital bed a bit longer.

“You’re being released from the hospital and transferred to holding,” she tells him but Will holds his silence. Emma doesn’t doubt he knows better than to talk after invoking his rights.

Another uniform shows up with a car within a few minutes and Emma uncuffs Will from the bed only to reattach the open end to his injured wrist. She leaves it loose enough as to not agitate the sprain.

Killian is already waiting at the station but Emma breezes past him to hand Will off to another officer and get the information on the other two men’s statements from the first cop. When she finally finds Killian in the lobby, he’s pacing and agitated.

“What the hell is going on?” He snaps when she walks up and Emma frowns, motioning for him to keep his voice down.

“I’m going to need you not to make a scene or there are going be a lot of angry cops here,” she warns him, more than familiar with the ire of upset loved ones of criminals. Killian’s jaw tightens.

“I don’t give a damn about their feelings, Swan,” he hisses, “I want to know what’s going on with Will.”

“It’s a little complicated, we’re still trying to get all of the information-”

All of the information? It was two on one, how can you think Will was the start of it?”

His voice is raising again and Emma heaves a sigh before steering him towards an empty office, away from the busy bullpen.

“The owner of the bar isn’t talking and neither are any of his patrons,” she explains. “It was a seedy place and you know how that loyalty works. There are no witnesses willing to identify a culprit so right now it’s Will’s word against the other two.”

“Were the other men even injured?” Killian questions, a little too smoothly and Emma is beginning to question just how often he’s been through this with Will.

“Minor bruises.”

“And yet, Will was sent to the hospital.”

“As a precautionary measure,” Emma counters, frustrated. “Look, Killian, there’s nothing I can do.”

“So you’re going to let the victim face justice he doesn’t deserve?”

It’s a low blow and he knows it. Emma blanches for a minute.

“Will is hardly an innocent,” she argues.

“Are any of us?” He asks. “What about not being judged by our pasts?”

“That’s not fair. Our past is in the past, Will’s is still the present,” Emma points out. “It doesn’t matter, even if I wanted to just let him go the owner isn’t interested in the truth but he is interested in money. He wants to press charges against all of them for destruction of property.”

Killian turns away from her in frustration, his hand coming up to tug lightly at his hair. Emma wishes she could soothe him but keeps her distance.

“You had to know there’d come a day when you couldn’t fix it for him,” she offers silently and Killian freezes.

“You don’t know him, Emma,” Killian bites, back still to her and Emma crosses her arms defensively at his tone.

“I know that not eight months ago you were in here putting your ass on the line for him,” she reminds him. “I know that he has at least two priors and God knows how many more than you helped get him out of.”

“Since when do you pass so much judgement on those who make mistakes?” Killian asks, finally turning back to face her.

Emma takes a deep breath, holds her head high.

“He’s a sinking ship,” she says. “If you want to get pulled down with him, don’t expect me to sit back and watch it happen.”

Killian freezes, his jaw ticking. Emma almost thinks he’ll stop her when she turns and opens the door.

“You can pay his bail at the front desk,” she mentions. “Although, I’m pretty sure you’re familiar with the drill.”

He doesn’t stop her when she steps out of the office and Emma doesn’t see him leave.

-/-

She’s always been better at pushing people away than keeping them around. Killian knew that better than maybe anyone else, he must have known it would happen eventually. Even if Emma didn’t.

“I just don’t understand,” Mary Margaret says softly, without judgement. She places her hand over Emma’s and squeezes gently. “I’m sure you two can work it out.”

Emma sighs, glances through the doorway to where Henry is destroying David at some sort of fighter game she can never remember the name of. She shrugs as she looks back towards Mary Margaret.

“We were always a mess,” she admits. “I don’t know why I thought this time would be different.”

Mary Margaret frowns.

“I don’t understand.”

Emma’s tired of secrets, anyway.

-/-

“I’m sorry about Killian,” Henry offers quietly over a dinner one night.

It’s been about a week and a half since her and Killian’s fight and Emma had had to come clean to Henry after only a few days. The kid is perceptive but even Emma has to admit it was weird for them to go three days with Killian’s presence somehow.

“You don’t have to be sorry,” Emma tells him, shaking her head. “It’s not your fault.”

“I know,” Henry nods. “I just don’t like it when you’re sad.”

Emma stares at her kind hearted kid who is too much like her and also so much better than her at the same time. She offers him a gentle smile and he looks up from his chicken to return it briefly.

“Why would I be sad, kid?” She asks. “I’ve got you.”

Henry seems satisfied enough with that answer and lets the subject drop. Emma’s satisfied with it, too.

-/-

It’s two weeks before the first time Killian calls and Emma sends it to voicemail unsure how to deal with it and too busy to try.

“Star Wars or Jurassic Park?” She asks, setting her phone down on the table to give Henry her full attention.

Henry seems to contemplate this for a minute before a shit eating grin grows on his face.

“Space dinosaurs,” he answers and Emma groans.

“Jeeze, kid, you could try to make it a little easy on me,” she says and Henry laughs before shrugging.

“Star Wars, then,” he decides and Emma nods, writing it down on a notepad outlining the details for Henry’s birthday party. She’s only got a little over a week left to plan everything and she’s trying not to dwell on how close Henry is to being a teenager. It seems like yesterday he was this little nine-year-old knocking on her apartment door.

Luckily, she has Mary Margaret, party planner extraordinaire, and Elsa, the most organized person she knows, on her side. Between the three of them, even with Emma’s work schedule, she isn’t stressing about getting the party ready.

Three days before the party, Emma runs into Killian in the supermarket.

“This seems familiar,” he comments, lightness in his tone a little forced, when he just barely stops Emma from turning right into him.

Emma grimaces and steps out of his space. The hand he’d used to steady her falls from her arm.

“Sorry,” she says but Killian shakes his head.

“No, that’s alright,” he assures her. “A happy accident if you will. I called you but-”

“I know, I’m sorry for that, too. I’ve been busy with Henry’s birthday,” she explains and Killian nods.

“That’s a good reason not to call me back,” he admits, a small depreciating smile on his face. “Two weeks is a bit long to wait to call after a fight, I admit.”

“A fight? Killian, I’d say it was more than that.”

He frowns and nods.

“Swan, it was just a fight,” he argues. “I know I was a prat and then I got busy but you can’t just be ready to call an end to it after one fight.”

“Look, we tried, right? And it didn’t work,” Emma points out but Killian shakes his head.

“It was working until we had one fight,” he insists. “I’m not ready to give up on us because of that.”

Emma gives a frustrated sigh, wishing they weren’t in public. This was why she hadn’t called him back anyway. It was easier with a clean cut, she didn’t want to debate about why they should let themselves get hurt again.

“We’ve been trying so hard to prove we’re not the same people we used to be,” she starts, looking down at the basket full of Star Wars party favors hanging from her wrists. “Maybe the truth is that whoever we are, we just don’t work.”

Killian is quiet for a moment and it prompts Emma to look back up at him. He’s studying her but tilts his head when her gaze meets his.

“Is that what you want?” He asks. “To stop trying?”

Emma nods silently and Killian takes a moment before nodding slowly himself.

“Then stop, we shall.”

Emma watches him leave and refuses to cry in this crowded supermarket.

-/-

Elsa shows up early enough on the day of the party, she even beats Mary Margaret. Emma pours her a mug of coffee and sits at the island with her as Henry gets ready.

“You’ve got serious face,” Emma comments. “Out with it.”

Elsa heaves a sigh.

“Killian called me yesterday,” she says and Emma raises an eyebrow. “He asked if I’d bring Henry something from him. I told him I wasn’t sure how you’d feel about it and he said it’d be your decision but he had seen it and thought Henry’d like it.”

Emma chews her lower lip while Elsa watches her.

“I shouldn’t have agreed to bring it,” Elsa sighs after a few minutes of silence but Emma shakes her head, patting her friend’s hand.

“No, no, it’s okay,” she assures Elsa. “I’m glad you did.”

“Really?” Elsa asks, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes,” Emma nods resolutely. “Whatever it is, I’m sure Henry will enjoy it. Tell Killian I said thank you if you talk to him.”

Elsa nods and Emma appreciates that that’s where she lets the conversation drop.

Mary Margaret shows up a half an hour later with David in tow, prepared to make Emma’s apartment look like a Star Wars haven. The party goes off without a hitch, despite the dozen or so excited twelve-year-olds. Killian had picked out another extravagant Lego set, this time a vintage looking spaceship and Henry looks absolutely amazed when he opens it.

After his friends leave, Henry passes out early due to all the excitement and Emma cleans up some before following his example.

-/-

It’s two days later, after going back and forth on it, that Emma finally calls Killian.

“Swan,” he greets, sounding too happy and gentle to be talking to someone who’d just broken up with him. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Emma can’t help but smile because he’s ridiculous.

“I just wanted to say thank you for Henry’s gift,” she says. “He’s really excited about it. You didn’t have to do that for him and it means a lot that you did.”

Killian sighs at the other end of the line.

“I realize that our separation might not only be affecting us and, well, to be honest, love, my affections haven’t changed. If you or your boy ever need anything, you can always call,” he tells her.

Emma doesn’t really know what to say to that but she nods to herself, well aware he can’t see it.

“I should go,” she sighs and hears Killian do the same once more. “Thank you again.”

“Anytime, Emma.”

-/-

It’s been exactly four years since Graham died and in that time there haven’t been a lot of men in Emma’s life. The ones that there have been have been easy to put behind her. She’s simply never had strong enough feelings for them to leave enough of a lasting impression.

Her feelings for Killian continue to stick with her, though.

No matter how busy Emma makes herself between work and Henry and her friends, she can’t ignore them. It comes it waves of missing him and realizing that what she’s doing - however small or menial - was much more fun to do with Killian’s ridiculous commentary.

She visits Graham’s grave on the anniversary of the shooting. Henry is staying at a friend’s house and Emma is prepared to allow herself some time to wallow over the love she lost and the love she pushed away. She buys a bottle of top shelf whiskey on her walk to the cemetery and takes a swig in front of the headstone before pouring a small portion out for him as well.

May nights in Boston aren’t exactly toasty but it’s warm enough that Emma feels comfortable sitting in the grass and talking to him for a while. It’s not something she used to do, right after it happened. It seemed stupid and there was too much anger to allow her the release. But there’s something cathartic about telling him her troubles, even if she’s just talking to a slab of stone.

She stays for about an hour, talking and drinking on and off. By the time she starts her walk home, she more than a little buzzed but well enough to function.

Emma’s halfway home when she makes a decision, turning suddenly and hailing a cab.

-/-

Killian answers the door in low hanging sweatpants and a black t-shirt and it’s only the sober part of Emma’s brain that keeps her from jumping him right then. Which, even the sober part might have let happen if she didn’t have questions she needed answered first.

“Emma,” he says in surprise and she pushes past him into his apartment without waiting for an invite. He comments dryly, “Please, come in.”

Emma doesn’t stop moving until she reaches the couch but instead of sitting, she spins back to face him.

“Why is he so important?” She demands and Killian’s face scrunches in confusion.

“Who?” He asks.

“Will,” Emma says, like it should be obvious and maybe she’s more than a little passed buzzed, if she’s honest. But she needs to know and if sober-Emma won’t ask, then this is the only solution. “Why is he so important? He’s trouble and we both know that even if you want to act like you don’t. So, why risk losing everything for him?”

Her face falls for a moment and she drops down onto his couch.

“Why risk losing me?” The words come unbidden from her addled mind but it’s what’s been eating her subconsciously regardless.

Killian knows her history and it’s those words that spring him into action. He crosses the room to sit next to her on the couch, hands instinctively seeking her out in an attempt to soothe her.

“He’s not worth losing you,” he assures her but Emma shakes her head.

“But you did.”

“Aye,” he agrees, ducking his head. “I did. But I’ve tried fighting for you to stay, Emma, remember? I remember how well that worked out.”

She remembers. Emma remembers being a twenty-one-year-old, terrified of letting the wrong person in to hurt her again. She remembers Killian trying to find an opening despite her attempts to keep him at arm's length. She remembers running when it became too much.

“As for Will,” Killian continues, meeting her gaze once again. “He was a friend of my brother’s. I ran into him a few years back and helped him out of some trouble. I felt like I owed it to Liam, somehow, if I couldn’t save him…”

“You could at least save his friend,” Emma finishes for him, realization dawning. “But you can’t keep blaming yourself for that, Killian. One day you’re going to have to let yourself off the hook.”

Killian nods though Emma isn’t sure he actually agrees yet.

“Either way, Will isn’t a bad guy. He’s an idiot who makes bad decisions but I wouldn’t still be putting my ass on the line for him, as you so elegantly put it, if he were a bad guy,” he tells her.

“I know that,” Emma sighs. “I shouldn’t have given you an ultimatum.”

Killian squeezes her hands gently to make sure he has her attention.

“Love, that doesn’t matter. I didn’t choose Will over you. I reacted poorly but, even if we are just friends, if it comes down to choosing between you and something else, I will always want to choose you.”

Emma kisses him and Killian makes a surprised noise but adjusts quickly, his hand coming up to tangle in her hair.

“Maybe I should fight for you this time,” she whispers when they separate.

“I assure you, Emma,” he replies, brushing his nose against hers. “It would be a quick battle.”

Emma’s willing to fight anyway.