It was a cool night in early October, and Emma went to bed with the windows open. The sighing of the wind through the trees lulled her to sleep. She felt as if she'd barely closed her eyes, however, when she was awoken by the mattress dipping behind her as extra weight was added to it. Her first thought was that Killian had returned from The Crow's Nest, but then a small hand brushed her back, and a quiet "Momma," was whispered in her ear.
"Hey, babe," she said, and rolled over to find Ian and One-Eyed Jim, the former using the latter as a pillow, staring back at her. She knew why he was awake -- nightmares had been chasing Ian out of his bed and into theirs since they had switched him out of his crib a few months before -- but she still asked, "Bad dream?"
He nodded minutely, big blue eyes -- his father's eyes -- watching her serenely. He was sucking rhythmically on his pacifier. It made that peculiar, squishy sort of sound. Emma resisted the urge to pluck it from his mouth. They'd begun weaning him off it as soon as they'd taught him to use the toilet -- they figured one trauma at a time was more than enough -- and he was nearly there, except he apparently had a secret stash of pacifiers somewhere that he went to whenever he had a nightmare. Killian and Emma had confiscated five from him already. They both suspected there were plenty more, but as hard as they looked they couldn't find where Ian had hidden them.
She lifted her arm, inviting him in for a snuggle, knowing he couldn't resist, knowing despite his being two-and-a-half-years-old, potty trained, and sleeping in a "big boy" bed, he still needed to be cuddled the way she'd cuddled him since he was an infant. He scooted closer until he was nestled securely in the circle of her arms. Sweat had turned his blonde waves into wild curls. She pulled her fingers tenderly through his hair, working the tangles loose. Ian gave a deep, contented sigh, and snuggled closer.
"What did you dream about?"
"Sharks," he said softly, the pacifier giving him a little lisp.
"You're safe now," she said, and kissed the top of his head. Then she felt her hair being gently tugged: Ian was playing with it, wrapping it around and around his fingers. It was one of the remnants of his babyhood, from when she'd been breastfeeding him, and he still did it on occasion when he wanted soothing.
The switch to a twin bed -- they'd foregone a toddler bed entirely -- had been difficult for everyone involved. Emma clung to the crib because, well, because she loved it; she loved laying her and Killian's son down to sleep in it every night. But the change was both unavoidable and necessary: Ian had been escaping his crib long before he turned 2, and besides the danger of him hurting himself climbing out of it in the dark, Emma also knew he was just getting too big for it. The first few nights of the new sleeping arrangements had gone smoothly, but then all of a sudden he was waking them up crying.
At first they'd followed the advice of a parenting website (it had been Emma who'd done the research this time, Emma who'd worried about what effects disrupting Ian's bedtime routine would have) and tried walking him back to his bed.
"Everything's alright little lad," Killian had said, swaddling Ian and his stuffed red octopus in the blankets as if Ian was still an infant. "I know you're scared -- nightmares are scary -- but they can't hurt you."
Ian hadn't looked convinced.
"You're safe, babe," Emma had said. "We're here. Your dad and I are here."
"Close your eyes," Killian added. "We'll watch over you until you fall asleep."
That worked for a about a week, until one night Ian woke screaming. They rushed into his room, scooped him up, a shaking, sobbing bundle, and carried him back to bed with them. At that moment, neither of them cared what any book or website said: their little boy was scared, and while his nightmare may not have been real, his fear was.
Emma remembered sleepless nights in the orphanage and many a group or foster home, nights she awoke in terror but had no one to comfort her, nights she cried herself back to sleep, wondering where her parents were and why they'd given her up. And Killian...Killian had his own thoughts on leaving children alone in the dark. His abandonment was a wound that still bled, but she knew Ian was helping to ease the pain of that memory, helping him heal.
Since that night, Ian had ended up in their bed at least three times a week, usually more. Neither she nor Killian really minded being woken up (especially if the alternative was their boy being scared by himself in the dark), and honestly he rarely ever actually woke them anymore. Only extraordinarily bad nightmares made him cry out for them. Generally he just walked himself (and Mr. Jim) down the night-light lit hallway, into their room, and burrowed under the covers with them. So quietly did he creep in that they often didn't realize he was in their bed with them until the next morning. Once she had woken up with Killian spooning her, arms tight about her waist, feet tangled with hers, but with Ian between them clinging to her as if she was giving him a piggy-back ride, arms thrown around her neck, tiny puffs of breath ruffling her hair as he slept.
Emma glanced at the clock. It was only a quarter to midnight, which was unusually early for one of Ian's nightmares. She hoped that was a sign that he was outgrowing them, and not that they were becoming worse.
"Where's dada?" Ian asked abruptly.
Killian was the nightmare soother. Ian whined for Emma whenever he was sick or overtired or had taken too hard of a tumble, but it had always been Killian who kept the darkness and the monsters that lurked within at bay. Emma thought it was rather fitting, as Killian had conquered his own darkness (twice) and had helped Emma conquer hers; she could think of no one more fitting to protect their son from it as well.
"Dad's at work," she said. "Do you want me to call him? See if he'll sing you a lullaby?"
Killian sang to Ian constantly, and if he wasn't singing to him he was reading to him or telling him some old story from memory. Emma often came home from the station to find them together on the couch, wrapped up in a book or a story or a song.
Emma grabbed her phone from the nightstand and dialed Killian's number. He didn't answer, which she had sort of expected. It was Friday, and Fridays were big nights for the bar. During the week, Killian, Will, and Smee's schedules rotated so that there were always two people working a day -- with Robin or Ruby throwing in the occasional shift, when they felt like it (or when Ruby needed the extra cash). On Fridays and Saturdays, however, all three hands were on deck to deal with the larger crowd the bar drew naturally during the weekend.
Emma waited a minute before calling Killian again, but got the same result. She looked at Ian, who was looking back, watching her expectantly. He was wide awake, and Emma was too now. There was no going back to sleep for either of them. They could wait for Killian to come home, which could take hours, or...
"Let's go see dad," she said.
Emma threw her hair up in a bun, dressed in jeans and a sweater, then bundled Ian in his jacket and his little knit hat, put some socks and his red sneakers on him, and carried him out to the car. Killian glanced over carelessly as she entered the bar with Ian on her hip, then did a double take. He shoved the glass he'd been filling from the tap into Will's hands and rounded the bar to meet her halfway.
"Is everything okay?" he asked, expression anxious. When it came to their son, Killian was a worrier. His hand went instinctively to Ian's forehead, brushing the wavy locks aside to feel for a fever.
"He's not sick," Emma assured him quickly, and the concern left his eyes, to be replaced by curiosity. "He just had a nightmare and couldn't go back to sleep. He wanted his dad."
"Dada," Ian added, grinning around his pacifier, eliciting an immediate smile from Killian.
"Do you have a minute to sing to him or read him a story or something?" Emma asked. Killian didn't answer, he just eased Ian out of her arms and into his, then stooped and kissed her. It was a chaste kiss, just a soft press of his lips against hers, the faint tickle of his beard, but as usual it filled her with warmth from head to toe.
All of a sudden a laugh was bubbling up through Killian's chest and spilling from his lips. Emma drew back and saw that Ian, head resting on his dad's shoulder, had reached up a hand and was petting Killian's beard in the same affectionate way he'd played with Emma's hair earlier.
"He hasn't done this in a while," Killian said quietly to Emma, allowing Ian to continue stroking his face. "Must have been some dream."
"Sharks," Ian said, frowning pitifully. "They ate me."
"Mmm," Killian hummed, resting his free cheek against Ian's hair. "I don't think your brother should have let you watch Jaws with him."
Emma groaned. Henry had taken to being a big brother like a fish to water -- he was fantastic with Ian, in spite of being a mostly-antisocial teenager -- but sometimes he forgot Ian was 2, not 16.
"Henry let him watch Jaws?"
"Aye," Killian sighed. He began swiveling at the hips, rocking Ian side to side. After a moment, Ian's eyelids drooped, and he started sucking sedately on his pacifier.
"Get that thing out of your mouth," Killian said in mock sternness.
"Nope," Ian answered, grinning broadly.
"Pacifiers are for babies. You're no longer a baby, lad."
Ian just giggled.
Killian eyed their boy, taking his measure, sizing him up with an exaggerated scowl on his face.
"I'll trade you a glass of orange juice for your pacifier," he said.
"O'nge juice and a story."
Emma was unable to stop from smiling.
"Fine. Orange juice and a story," Killian agreed.
"Deal!" Ian said. He yanked the pacifier out of his mouth and put it into Killian's waiting hand. It disappeared immediately into Killian's pocket. Emma took Ian's willingness to relinquish his pacifier as a sign that his secret stash was still well-stocked. She wondered how long it would last. A month? A year? She wondered how he had managed to pilfer so many without her noticing. He was a pirate at heart, just like his dad.
"Your father and Lancelot are at the other end of the bar, love. Why don't you join them?"
"You sure you've got him?"
"Aye, Swan. I can handle the bar and this little scamp, no problem, " he said, and winked. "I'll get you a drink."
Despite the crowd that packed The Crow's Nest, Killian somehow managed to tend the bar and Ian at the same time. Killian and Smee minded the counter, with Smee occasionally shuffling off to the storage room for refills. Killian had one arm wrapped around Ian and poured beers from the tap, fished bottles from the cooler, and mixed cocktails with the other. Ian clung to his side like a burr, guzzling orange juice from a sippy cup. Killian took orders from customers and flashed his smile, all the while talking in a low voice to Ian.
"And then the princess said -- can you hand this bottle to Leroy, lad? Thank you -- and then the princess said..."
Ian grinned, excited to be included. He passed Leroy a bottle and in return Leroy pressed a dollar bill into his small hand. Ian offered the money to Killian, but Killian said, "That's a tip, lad. It's yours; you earned it. Put it in your pocket!"
Emma sat in between her dad and Lancelot, nursing a bottle of Goose Island, watching Killian and Ian. Sometimes seeing how much they adored each other made Emma physically ache with love for her two boys.
"Looks like Ian might grow up to be a bartender," David said.
"I doubt it," Emma said. "He told me yesterday he wants to be an octopus like One-Eyed Jim when he grows up."
David and Lancelot laughed.
"Who's on duty tonight?" Emma asked.
"You know who," David said darkly.
"Ah," Emma said. She and her father shared the position of Sheriff, with Lancelot occupying a role as "undersheriff", or assistant sheriff, though truthfully they both considered him to have the same amount of authority as either of them. There were also a handful of deputies on payroll whose primary function was to ensure the office was manned at all times. They ranged in capability from Emma and David trusting them to do their own patrols to Emma and David worrying that watching the phones overnight was too big a responsibility. The woman on duty that night was one of the latter. She was well-meaning, she was just...hapless.
Will circled the bar, waiting on tables and groups that were forced to stand because there was no where left to sit. He had an easy manner with customers. More than one group of young ladies burst into flustered giggles whenever he drew near.
Killian had a few fans of his own, Emma knew (and who could blame them, really: her pirate was undeniably the sexiest thing on two legs), but they knew better than to make their attentions obvious when Emma was around, and Emma knew Killian didn't encourage them to do it when she wasn't around, either.
Will swooped in and blew a raspberry against Ian's cheeks, making him giggle and squirm. Ian loved his Uncle Will.
"You're interrupting my story, mate," Killian chided.
"Sorry, mate, didn't realize," Will said with a cheeky smile.
"As I was saying," Killian said pointedly, "The dragon lay slain upon the ground. The mighty princess retrieved her sword from the monster's breast, cleaned its black blood from the blade, and returned to her horse, which was still waiting at the mouth of the cave..."
After half an hour, Ian was passed out, slumped against Killian's chest. Killian continued serving the bar, but it was clear Ian's dead weight was now a hindrance.
"Want me to take him?" David asked.
"Sure," Killian said, sighing in relief. He carefully passed Ian over the counter to David. Emma and Lancelot quickly moved the beer bottles from the path of Ian's dangling feet.
Ian's eyes cracked open as David settled him in his lap, and he looked up at his grandpa blearily, a little crease between his brows.
"Hey, buddy," David said soothingly. "It's alright. Grandpa's got you."
Ian's eyelids fluttered shut again, and he snuggled himself against David's chest. Emma saw her dad's pleased smile. He probably didn't get many moments like those with Neal anymore, as Neal was nearly a full year older than Ian.
"Neal won't be jealous, will he?" Emma asked teasingly.
"I don't know...honestly, I swear he can smell other kids on me like a dog..."
It was nearing 2am when the crowd finally started to thin. David and Lancelot had left a half hour before, and Ian was in Emma's lap now, still asleep.
Emma's eyelids were drooping, as well. On the counter before her was the same Goose Island she'd been drinking since she sat down. It was still half-full.
"Why don't you go home, mate?" Will said, nodding towards Emma and Ian. "Smee and I can handle last call and closing up."
"Of course. Go home with your family."
Killian clapped Will on the shoulder. "Thank you, Will. See you tomorrow."
Ian didn't wake up when they put him in his car seat, or when they took him out of it, or when they worked him out of his jacket and hat and shoes and put him back in his bed.
"He'll be okay, won't he?" Killian asked her quietly. He was sitting on the edge of the mattress, stroking Ian's hair, running a finger lightly along Ian's forehead, down his cheek.
"He'll be fine," Emma said. "All little kids get nightmares. It's a part of growing up. The switch out of the crib probably didn't help, but he'll get used to it."
Sometimes she wondered if Marco hadn't accidentally used enchanted wood to build the crib, which had somehow caused Killian's promise -- his love for their boy, a love that had burned inside him, she knew, from the moment they'd heard his heartbeat -- to manifest as a protective force.
"Plus, he knows we're here," she added. "He knows nothing can hurt him as long as we're around."
Killian nodded, accepting her reassurance, eyes still on their sleeping son. She ran her fingers through the short hairs at the nape of his neck. He tilted his head back, into her hand, humming contentedly.
"C'mon, we need to go to bed. He'll be up again in like 5 hours," she said.
"Are you tired, Swan?"
"Not really," she admitted.
"Then perhaps you'd be up for some other activity; something more enjoyable than sleeping?"
"What did you have in mind, Captain?"
With a low growl he grabbed her up and carried her back to their bed.