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Seal of Fate

Chapter Text

Emma Swan groaned as she escaped from the driver’s seat of her ancient Volkswagen Bug and immediately pulled her arms into a long stretch. It had been a long drive from Maine to Massachusetts and apparently all the moving around she had done on the ferry from the mainland to her destination had been cancelled out by the last forty-five minutes she had spent driving from the ferry to her final destination - the small secluded town of Menemsha.

Scanning her surroundings, Emma had to say she was less than impressed. It wasn’t so much of a town as much as a scattering of Cape Cod styled buildings and fishing shacks. There didn’t seem to be a soul around, but then again, she was visiting a bourgeoise tourist trap out of season. It was better this way. After all, Emma wasn’t here for vacation.

She was here on a mission.

Grabbing her bag and closing the car door, Emma headed towards the large building that sat nearly on top of the marina. It was a fairly old building but well-taken care of with a fresh white paint job and newly cleaned windows. The large sign posted in front of the property claimed it was “Granny’s Diner” but Emma was fairly certain it was built originally to be a more residential property than a restaurant.

The establishment was as sparsely populated as the street. There were only three other patrons; grizzled and sullen men who were crowded around a small table by the window that looked out onto the sea. They eyed her warily as she walked towards one of the booths toward the back of the diner but she made a point to ignore them.

As soon as she sat down, a pretty dark haired waitress with vivid red highlights approached her with a small smile that was a shade more inquisitive than Emma would have liked.

“Can I get you some coffee?” the waitress asked, waving an ancient-looking coffee pot in emphasis.

“I prefer hot chocolate,” she replied before glancing up at the clock located above the breakfast bar, scrunching her nose when she realised she has made quicker time in her travels than expected. It was eleven-thirty and her contact wouldn’t be here for another thirty minutes. “Is too early to order lunch?”

The waitress glanced around the diner before looking back at Emma with a wry smile.

“Normally we don’t do lunch until noon but considering that there’s no one here, I think we’ll be willing to make a special exception. What do you want?”

“A grilled cheese and onion rings instead of fries will do.”

The waitress looked almost amused by the order, a smile quirking at her lips as she scribbled it down. Emma merely rolled her eyes in response. She had heard many a remark about her child-like diet in the past but she liked comfort food and the opportunity to eat it was few and far in-between. Private investigation wasn’t as lucrative as it sounded, especially when located in the sleepy state of Maine.

After a few moments, the waitress walked away to bring Emma’s order to the kitchen, only stopping to give the band of men at the other end round of good-natured bantering. The interaction merely confirmed her suspicions about the little fishing village. Everyone probably knew everyone. It was something that Emma hoped would help with her mission.

The waitress returned with her hot chocolate a few moments later with a reassurance that her food would be out within minutes. Emma gave her a brisk thank you, dismissing her with a nod and taking time to drink in more of the diner.

The place looked like it hadn’t been decorated since the fifties with its bold red vinyl seats and monochrome tiling. There was a large jukebox and an ancient looking gumball machine located near the door. Emma was willing to bet her last pay check that there wouldn’t be a single made before 1965 on it. Despite its rather dated decor, it was probably the cleanest greasy spoon that she had never been in.

While the diner had a homey feel to it, its patrons were a lot less welcoming. The men at the other end of the diner were still blatantly staring at her with undisguised suspicion. Unwilling to let herself be intimidated, Emma met their stare with one of her own, locking eyes with a grumpy looking gentleman as she sipped on her hot chocolate. A small surge of pride curled in her chest when the man looked away, obviously uncomfortable and turned to begin talking to his cohorts in hushed whispers.

“Don’t let those knuckleheads get you,” the waitress said when she returned with Emma’s order. “They’re a bunch of old gossips. We don’t get a lot of traffic here in the off-season so strangers are bit exciting to us.”

“I figured,” Emma replied, watching in confusion as the waitress placed down another plate containing a large burger and fries on the table before swinging into the opposite seat. “Um, I know I’m not from around here but is it normal for you to sit and eat with strangers?”

“No,” the waitress replied casually, picking up the burger to take a bite. “But I kinda wanted to get a feel on you.”

“Why?”

“Well, you are Emma Swan, aren’t you?”

“Depends on who’s asking…” Emma responded warily after a moment, trying not to let her hackles rise.

“I’m Ruby Lucas.” She held out her hand to shake. “You’re renting out my house for the next two months. Lucky you did that when you did, I was about to take it down for the season. I generally don’t rent it out post-September but I couldn’t resist the extra cash.”

Emma’s shoulders relaxed at this information. She captured Ruby’s hand in a brief shake before leaning back. She popped an onion ring into her mouth, chewing thoughtfully. “So, you’re Ruby.”

“I am.”

“You’re not what I expected,” she admitted, wiping at her mouth with the sleeve of her jacket absently.

When Emma had looked at the advertisement online, she had assumed that Ruby was far older considering the sleuth of rules and regulations that had come with the rental. They weren’t necessarily unreasonable, but Emma had expected them to be picked from the mind of a finicky old lady rather than the vibrant young woman in front of her.

“Neither are you. Though I can’t say I had a lot of expectations. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a person renting out a beach house in October and November in Cape Cod, let alone in Memensha. It’s kinda why I wanted to meet you here and get a feel, make sure you’re not a drug dealer or something.”

Emma’s eyebrows rose at her words. “You get a lot of those around here?”

“You have no idea,” she replied darkly, stabbing a french fry into a pool of ketchup with more force than necessary. “The island is kinda a hub for them in the summer. They generally come through the docks here because there isn’t much regulation despite all the petitions to Gold.”

“Gold?”

“Yeah, Mr. Gold. Owns the docks as well as the biggest shipping company in the village. Might as well own all of Martha’s Vineyard while he’s at it. He doesn’t care much for rules unless they’re his own,” Ruby said bitterly. “I don’t mean to bore you with local issues but they’re good things to note considering you’re gonna be here awhile.”

“I appreciate it,” Emma replied with a casual shrug, filing away the information.

Ruby leaned back, giving her another assessing look. Emma merely nibbled at her sandwich, waiting for the moment to pass. She didn’t have to wait long, as Ruby dropped her elbows on the table alongside her pretenses.

“So. What’s your story? Tortured artist? Romance writer? You’re not really like Janet Evanovich or something right? I love her books even if the plot gets a little repetitive.”

Emma snorted. “No. I’m not a writer. Private investigator actually.”

“Sounds exciting. What the hell are you doing here?” Ruby asked, eyes widening in surprise at her own rudeness. “Sorry that came out wrong. I didn’t mean to be such a bitch.”

“You weren’t. It’s okay,” Emma assured her with a forced smile. “It’s not like you weren’t going to find out anyway. I’m here on a case.”

“Case? In Menemsha? Are you looking for something? Because I’m pretty sure you won’t find it here. Nothing is here except fish and the occasional heroin crisis.”

“Not something. Someone,” she replied carefully, playing with her food and not looking directly at her.

Ruby sucked in a breath loudly, causing Emma to look up at her. “You’re not looking for David Nolan are you?”

“No. I’m not, at least I don’t think so. Who is he?”

Ruby visibly relaxed, eyes darting to the other end of the diner to make sure that the other patrons weren’t listening in on their conversation. She then leaned further forward and then spoke in a harsh whisper.

“David is this guy who went missing awhile back. My grandmother was good friends with his mother Ruth and he actually used to work in the diner. He just up and left one day, which good on him because this place is a shithole…but Ruth has never quite accepted that he left…kept saying there was foul play involved and hiring people to look for him. She died last week.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Emma replied, unsure what to do with the information.

“It’s fine. I didn’t really know her much. She was kinda crazy, you know? I just wanted to make sure you weren’t chasing after something you weren’t going to get paid for. Don’t want to waste your time here if you don’t have to.”

“Appreciate it. But I’m not sure David Nolan is connected to my case.”

“If you’re not looking for him, then who the hell are you looking for? Because he’s the only missing person I can think of.”

“It’s a bit of a cold case but I’m trying to track down anything anyone knows about a baby that was found outside the police station here in October 1983.”

“What’s so special about the baby?”

Emma couldn’t help but bristle at the question, squirming in her seat and scrunching her shoulders as she tried to keep her emotions in check. It wasn’t as if Ruby knew how personal this was for her.

“It’s not so much the baby. I know where she is. It’s her parents that I’m trying to find.”

“Why?”

“So, she can look them in the eye and ask them that exact question.”

Their conversation dwindled from there as they focused on their meals. When they finished, Ruby took away their plates and returned with keys in her hand.

“Ready to go?”

Emma eyed the other patrons before looking back at her. “Aren’t you, like, working right now?”

“Oh yeah, working super hard on three people who come here everyday and drink all of our coffee. They’re big boys and can handle a coffee machine on their own.” Ruby snorted.

“You trust them behind the counter?”

“If anything goes missing, I know who took it. There’s like barely more than 400 people in this village.”

Emma held her hands up in surrender, unwilling to question her anymore before following her out into the street.

“Do you need me to drive?” She asked, eying the main road to where it disappeared up the bend.

Ruby laughed, shaking her hand in dismissal. “No, it’s no more than a fifteen minute walk. You can walk all of Menemsha in about twenty-five minutes, no joke. Like I said, it’s tiny.”

They walked up the main drag until it broke into a fork. Emma knew from the drive down that one path lead to the main route that circled the island while the other hugged the coast and seemed to lead to more residential homes. Emma eyed the cottages that lined up neatly to face out towards the ocean. They looked incredibly cute but she knew from her perusal of the rental site that they cost more than a fortune. When she relied this to Ruby, the other woman gave her a bitter smile.

“Nearly everyone who lives here works for the three main fishing families - the Golds, the Hermans and the Spencers, the Golds being the largest. They cut pay last year to make up for a bad fishing season which doesn’t help when you’re barely making enough as is. So, renting out properties in the summer becomes a primary source of income for these people. You can’t blame them for it really and if people are willing to shell out that type of cash for a week in this hellhole, I don’t see the harm.”

“Huh,” Emma replied before sucking in a breath as she caught sight of the large house at the end of the road. Ruby followed her gaze, smile turning into a scowl.

“Ah, that’s where the Devil himself lives.”

“The Devil?”

“Gold.”

The house, if it could never be called that, was ten times the size of the cottages that lined the street with a Greco-styled terrace porch that screamed opulence. The lawn was manicured with a meticulously managed garden hugged the perimeter of the property.

It was a gorgeous building and would have belonged on the front cover of any real estate magazine if it weren’t for the large rack located on the front lawn covered in dark furred pelts. Emma didn’t know what type of animal they belonged to but looking at them sent a cold shiver down her spine.

“What are those?”

“Seal pelts,” Ruby responded with no small amount of disgust. “Mr. Gold loves to hunt them and show off their pelts like they’re trophies.”

“I take it you’re fan of seals?”

“Not particularly. They’re cute and all but they’re supposed to be protected. Killing them is a literal crime.”

“Why doesn’t anyone do anything about it?”

“Because no one wants to lose their jobs. A few dead seals aren’t worth going hungry. Listen, Emma, this place isn’t like anywhere on the mainland. We don’t work the same way. I’m not saying we’re lawless but certain people are untouchable. Gold is one of them and I know you’re just passing through, but I’m telling you right now, avoid him if you can. And if you can’t, it’s best not to get on his bad side.”

“Duly noted.”

“I’m being serious.”

“Alright, alright, don’t mess with the creepy seal killer. I got the message. Loud and clear.”

They stopped in front of a two-story house that was buttercup yellow and built the standard Cape Cod style. Though it was three houses down from Gold’s creepy seal skin display, there was cheery aura to the place that Emma appreciated.

“You like it?”

“It’s cute.”

“I thought you would like it since it’s the same color as your car. The inside is just as nice.”

Ruby unlocked the front door, leading them inside. The house was sparse in its decorating but just as light and cheery as the exterior.

“Will it do?”

“Yeah. It’s great.”

“Good. Just letting you know the place does have heat but if it gets too chilly, there’s a space heater in the basement. There’s a washing machine down there too but it’s old so be gentle with it.”

“Okay,” Emma nodded, giving her an assuring smile. “Thanks.”

“And don’t hesitate to contact me if you need anything. If you don’t feel like cooking, you’re always welcome at Granny’s. I’ll give you a discount.”

“Thanks Ruby. Really.”

“No problem,” she said as she walked back towards the door. She paused when she reached, looking back at Emma with a perplexed expression. “And good luck with your case. I hope everything works out for that woman who hired you.”

Emma gave forced another smile and thanked her again. She relaxed as soon as the door closed, dropping her head against the wall and sighing heavily.

Chapter Text

Emma hated the Vineyard.

Though she wasn’t a people person, she preferred the anonymity that came with living in the city and the phenomena of being alone without actually being alone. It was easy to lose yourself in the hustle of the city, to turn your brain off and just walk aimlessly until you found something to distract you from the world for a while.

There was no word to describe Menemsha except empty and she could feel that emptiness echoing inside her. While she had found some sort of companionship in Ruby whenever she went to the diner, it never went beyond casual conversation. Emma wasn’t necessarily looking for friendship - she was a loner by nature - but she found she couldn’t lose herself in Menemsha the same way she lost herself in Tallahassee, Boston and Portland. The silence of the village amplified the violence of her thoughts and her mind had become a torturous reel of her darkest moments. She couldn’t sleep with the echoes of the loud piercing shriek of a baby she would never hold, the compassionless voices of police officers reading her Miranda rights and the false platitudes of the countless foster parents who gave her away ringing in her ears.

Normally when her demons came to bite her in the ass, Emma would throw herself into work but she found no solace in researching on her own case.

Emma knew when she decided to finally look into her own case that it was going to be a difficult and thankless job. She knew that it was possible that her attempts to unearth the truth of her past might end in disappointment and failure. It was a fact that hung over her head like guillotine. She had been born into an era before computers and in an age where social services was less than careful in their documentation. It was possible that what she was looking for didn’t exist or, even worse, had been destroyed.

Menemsha was a small village and technically a part of the town of Chilmark. Though it had a police station, it did not have a town hall, a library or even a post office. Rather, Memensha had more restaurants that it needed, a fish market, one bed and breakfast, a general store and an art gallery that belonged to the Mills family. The more essential amenities were located in Chilmark which was a twenty-five minute trip by car. Normally such a distance wasn’t such a bother to her but when gas was five dollars per gallon, Emma couldn’t help but be a little resentful of it. Though, the librarian at the Chilmark Free Public Library had been helpful and had campaigned on her behalf to give her access to the archives in the Town Office.

Emma had nearly cried when she saw the state of the archives. She didn’t have high expectations to begin with but it was literally a hundred boxes of old documents that had been shoved carelessly into a musty basement to be forgotten about. On top of the distant lack of organisation, there was obvious water and mold damages to some of the boxes which made her nervous at the state of which actual documents inside were in.

It took her more time than she would have liked to go through all the boxes and pick out all the files marked 1983 but once she was able, she was left with four boxes out of the bunch. She didn’t bother asking for permission when she loaded them up into her car. It wasn’t worth the headache and Emma strongly suspected that they wouldn’t be missed considering the state of the archive.

Nearly a week into her time in Martha’s Vineyard, Emma found what she was looking for.

Or so she thought.

Her heart nearly stopped when she found the thin file that had been marked with the her case number. It was covered in watermarks and already she could feel her optimism fade away as she noted how thin it was. There couldn’t have been more than a few documents in it.

The sight of her Chapter 46 Section 1A certificate was nothing new. The documentation that marked her as an abandoned child had long since been in her possession and she was still fighting with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families for them to release documents made by her social worker in regard to the circumstances around her initial adoption. Despite the fact they were nearly thirty years old, the Department had a tight hold on them and wasn’t at all sympathetic to her cause.

Aside from her foundling certificate, there was only the police report. It wasn’t a long one but it was written in messy shorthand that seemed to convey the officer’s disinterest just as clearly as his words. Under the description section, they had written: “Just another unwanted souvenir most likely left behind by one of the fishing boats coming in from down south. No point in interviewing them, they’ll just deny it anyway.”

She read the lines over and over until her eyes blurred over, breath shortening and skin feeling too tight over her bones. Suddenly, Ruby’s house which had felt too big before now felt suffocating. Every cell in her body was screaming at her to run.

Without bothering to put on her shoes or her coat, she sprinted out of the house and ran out onto the beach. She stumbled when her feet hit the sand, entirely unfamiliar with the sensation and lack of give. She collapsed along the shore line, pressing a hand to her throat and vomiting into surf.

When she was finished, she stared out at the ocean, trying to calm herself. It was nearly dusk and there was no one around to witness her hysteria, something which Emma was incredibly thankful for. She didn’t need her nosy neighbors to witness her existential crisis.

As her panic attack subdued, Emma closed her eyes and reviewed once more in her mind the callous words on the police report.

An unwanted souvenir.

The term brought tears to her eyes once more. She had to bite her lip to keep back the scream that was burning her throat. She couldn’t remember the name of the man who had written the report, only his words, but she had never felt such an intense hatred for another human being before, not even when Neal had set her up and sent her to prison.

How dare he! How dare he not think she was worth investigating! She wasn’t a souvenir! She was a person! A person who deserved a real investigation and deserved to know the truth! This man, this nameless officer who had become the focal point of Emma’s anger, had robbed her of the truth, of the justice that an abandoned little girl deserved.

More angry tears slipped down her cheek. Emma didn’t bother to wipe them away as she stared out at the setting sun, more heartbroken and more alone than she had never felt in her entire life.

“Hello love.”

Emma jumped, she hadn’t realised she wasn’t alone. However when she saw her uninvited visitor, she let out a loud yelp. A pale man was emerging from the surf, naked as the day he was he was born, and coming towards her with purpose. She stumbled backward into the sand, wincing as her ass landed on a decidedly sharp shell. She grabbed an abandoned beer bottle and tossed it at him. She missed by a mile.

“You’re naked! Why the hell are you naked? Does Menemsha not follow any public decency laws or something!” Her eyes bulged as another thought occurred. “Oh god! Is this a nude beach? Is my house in front of a nude beach? What the fuck!”

The man stared at her in a mixture of startlement and confusion. He tilted his head to the side, regarding her the same way a dog did when it realised its master had tricked it out of a treat.

“In all of my years, I’ve never gotten that reaction before!”

“Dude! For real! You’re naked! Put some goddamn clothes on!”

The man ignored her. Instead, he advanced forward. She took a few steps back but his stride was longer than hers. He touched her arm gently with one hand and framed her cheek with the other, thumb wiping away a stray tear.

“Your sadness called to me. I couldn’t ignore it.”

“What the fuck are you doing?” Emma asked in a harsh whisper, trying to pull away.

“I can make it go away…if only for a little while…” he murmured before leaning down and shocking the hell out of Emma by capturing her lips in a fierce kiss.

She let out a shriek of surprise before pushing him away with all of her strength. As soon as she broke free, she struck him against the face with a closed fist and then raised her knee to strike him in the groin. He let out a groan of pain before crumbling to the sand and swearing violently at her.

“Bloody fucking hell! What was that for? You nearly destroyed my nadgers there, love!”

“Because you’re a fucking pervert!” She hissed hotly at him.

“Not a pervert! I’m a selkie!”

“What the fuck is a selkie!?”

“Do you not know your legends, woman? Have you never heard of the seal folk?”

“Am I being punk’d?” Emma looked around, trying to find any hidden camera men but there was no one around. She looked down at the man still keeled over in pain with narrowed eyes. “What the fuck is going on!?”

“You dropped seven tears in the ocean…”

“And what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?” She asked, placing her hands on her hips.

The man let out a pain chuckled, still holding his tender parts as he looked up her with a look that was caught between amused and disbelieving. “You honestly know nothing, do you?”

“I know how to work a taser and frankly, I think that’s all I need to know at the moment.”

“I don’t know what that is but it sounds menacing.”

“You bet your ass it is. Start talking. Now.”

The man licked his lips for a moment, eying her warily. “You really are a fearsome lass.”

“And you’re stalling.”

“You dropped tears into the ocean, love, and not just any tears. Tears of genuine distress and loneliness. Selkies are attracted to loneliness. It’s a siren’s call to us. We thrive on turning loneliness into pleasure.”

“Right,” she replied with a snort. “Pull the other one.”

“It’s the truth,” he replied seriously, looking her straight in the eye.

Emma studied him closely. Though he was complete pervert with zero sense of personal space, he didn’t seem to be lying. If he had, her superpower would have picked up on it.

“You know I’m not lying,” he whispered.

“I know one thing and that’s that you believe all of this. That doesn’t mean it’s true. What it means is that you’re certifiable and there’s probably a mental institution nearby.”

“I’m not from a mental institution,” he frowned.

“Maybe not,” she said before she finally noticed the wet pile of black fur next to him. Her eyes widened as she realised it looked exactly like one of the seat pelts hanging on Mr. Gold’s property. “Maybe the local jail? Considering you’re a thief and all.”

She reached out to pick up the pelt but the man let out an inhuman snarl and snatched her hand than she could blink. When she looked up at his face, his eyes looked more black than blue.

“I would prefer if you didn’t touch that,” he said in an eerily calm voice. “I find myself in less than ideal circumstances when a woman touches my pelt.”

“You’re not human,” she whispered, fear rising up her throat.

“No,” he agreed as he released her hand. “I’m not.”

That’s when Emma’s self-preservation kicked in. As soon as she registered his words, she ran back to the safety of the beach house. She proceeded to lock the door and all of the windows, parking herself on the ancient loveseat located in front entrance. She toyed with her cell phone, passing between her hands as she kept her eyes trained on the door.

If she were anywhere else in the world, she would have called the police. However, Menemsha only had three cops whom Emma had met and found incredibly lacking. She had more faith in a mall rent-a-cop than she did in the men who were supposedly Menemsha’s main law enforcement. She could always call the Chilmark police but she had a sneaking suspicion that they were just as helpful.

On top of that, what was she going to say? She highly doubt that they would believe the naked man on the beach wasn’t human. They would probably just brush it off as the ramblings of a woman who had blown the issue of a nude bather out of proportion.

Instead, Emma went to sleep with her bedroom door locked and her gun underneath her pillow.

When she awoke the next morning, she found neither the windows or locks on the doors had been disturbed. Satisfied, she made her morning hot chocolate and nibbled at a strawberry poptart before deciding to finally retrieve the Vineyard Gazette , which had arrived faithfully at her door everyday despite never applying for a subscription.

She almost screamed when she saw the man from yesterday sitting casually on her front porch, stilled naked save for the pelt that was draped over his lap, and reading her newspaper.

“Staying attuned to happy accidents is a part of art, don’t you agree?” He said, not looking up from the newspaper. “Or at least that’s what the local potter is saying about the newest design on her trade. She calls it ‘the Wave,’ because it’s a deep blue glaze with a white line through. How original. Though, as someone who is more intimately acquainted with the ocean, I can tell you right now that water isn’t truly blue.”

She stared at him in disbelief. “What are you doing here?”

“Waiting for you.”

“Why?”

“Because I answered your call.”

“I didn’t call you,” she replied in annoyance, crossing her arms in front of her chest.

“Ah, but you did when -”

“My tears went into the ocean. So you said,” she cut him off. “I didn’t mean to call you. I didn’t want anyone in that moment, let alone a naked weirdo.”

“I’ve gathered that,” he muttered, finally looking up from the paper. “I feel I must apologise for yesterday. Normally, I’m better at sorting out which type of company women want. I should have known you’re a lady-loving lass.”

“Wait. What?” Emma stared at him in confusion.

“Yesterday. You were not receptive when I kissed you. I’ve never seen that happen before but there’s a first time for everything.”

“Me not wanting you to kiss me has nothing to do with my sexuality!” She hissed, clenching her fists. “That was me not wanting to be sexually harassed!”

“Sorry,” he muttered, rubbing the back of his neck. “Normally the women I come across are quite happy to be kissed by me.”

“You must come across some strange women then because most I know don’t like being randomly kissed by a stranger no matter how attractive they are!”

He perked up at this and a sly grin crossed his face. “You think I’m attractive?”

“You entirely missed the point of what I was saying and I’m seriously not afraid to tase you.”

“You keep using that phrase...tase...what exactly does it entail?”

“It entails me shocking you with 50,000 volts of electricity, mate ,” she replied, mocking his accent on the last word.

“That doesn’t sound particularly pleasant.”

“That’s because it isn’t.”

“I going to reaffirm my previous statement and say you’re quite a fearsome lass.”

“And don’t you forget it,” she responded, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Look, I need you to leave, dude, because as wonderful as this conversation is, I would really rather my neighbors not see you and ask uncomfortable questions.”

He raised his eyebrows at her, newspaper crumpling under his tight grip. “Oh, lass, you really think if I was able to go back to the ocean, I would be on your porch right now? If I was capable of that, I would have left last night after you ran away.”

“What?”

“I cannot return to the ocean until you feel some form of happiness,” he said seriously.

“You gotta be kidding me! No way!”

“I’m afraid I’m quite serious. That’s how it’s done. That’s how it’s always been.”

“That’s some Grade-A bullshit!” She protested.

“It’s never been a problem in the past,” he said with a huff.

“Well, it is now. Look, how about this? You leaving? It would bring me tremendous happiness.”

“It doesn’t work like that,” he replied, looking mildly offended.

Emma sighed and rubbed at her temples before looking at her watch. It was nearly seven in the morning and the few people who actually lived in the neighbourhood would be up and about soon. She really needed to get him out of sight.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this…” she said with a shake of her head before opening her door. “But get your ass in here.”

“How hospitable of you,” he remarked sarcastically before tidying up. He grabbed his pelt and slung it against his hips the same way any man would with bath towel, except the pelt was much larger and pooled around his feet.

“Just get inside.”

He obeyed her, following her into the house. She didn’t miss how his curious eyes seemed to drink in the style and makeup of the interior. When he met her gaze, he raised both eyebrows at her in question.

“This is….quite cheery, love.”

“It’s not mine,” she replied shortly. “Listen, have a sit in the kitchen and don’t touch anything. I’m going to into the basement and see if I can find you anything to wear.”

It was a long shot but Emma was hoping that there was at least something he could wear. She didn’t know how much longer she could handle talking to him while he was just in his birthday suit. It was making her uncomfortable and his complete nonchalant attitude towards it wasn’t helping.

She couldn’t help but feel like she was retreating again as she descended down into the half-finished basement of the beach house. The cement floor was uncomfortable underneath her feet but she braved through to peruse through the plastic bins next to the washing machine. It was a little invasive to be going through Ruby’s things like this but Emma reasoned that if she left them behind then she wouldn’t mind too much.

There wasn’t much in the top bins except blankets and table clothes but the bottom one held some promise in the form of old sweats. Much of it looked too small to fit her uninvited guest but she found a tent-sized cat sweater and a large pair of hot pink sweatpants. They looked as if they belonged to a robust-sized grandmother and smelled like mothballs but Emma figured beggars couldn’t be choosers.

When she returned to the kitchen with the clothes, she found the man hunched over her kitchen table and looking over the files she had left there from last night’s research. Her face coloured in annoyance.

“I said not to touch anything.”

“I’m not touching, I’m reading,” he replied airily.

“Same concept. It’s rude to read someone else’s stuff.”

“Sorry, love. Though, if it’s all the same to you, you shouldn’t be leaving things like this out for anyone to read.”

“I wasn’t expecting company,” she snapped, shoving the clothes in his lap. “Look, put these on, okay?”

He raised them up, inspecting them with a look of disgust. She couldn’t help but feel so much satisfaction at his obvious irritation.

“These are ghastly,” he stated, wrinkling his nose.

“They’re temporary. Quit whining and put them on.”

He made a frustrated noise before standing up and unceremoniously dropping the pelt around his waist right in front of her. Emma’s jaw dropped.

“Dude! Seriously!”

He gave her an amused look, lips tugging up into a smirk that made her want to smack him. “I’ve always found it amusing how human beings get so hung up over nudity. Nakedness is natural, clothes are not.”

“Spoken like a true nudist.”

He didn’t reply, merely pulled the cat sweater over his head and down over his torso. Emma knew that it had been large but it practically dwarfed him with the sleeves limply hanging over his hands and the stretched out collar went nearly half way down his torso. She held back a snicker.

“Can I ask you something?” He asked after he had pulled on the sweatpants.

“I’m pretty sure you’re going to anyway.”

“Who was he?”

Her eyebrows furrowed at the question. “Who?”

“The man who broke your heart and abandoned you…”

In her mind’s eye, there was a flash of crinkling brown eyes, dark hair and the sound of rich deep laughter. She turned away from the stranger at her kitchen table under the guise of turning on the kettle.

“Who said it was a man…”

“So, it was a woman then.”

Emma opened the cabinet, pulling out two mugs and placing them down on the counter a little harder than necessary. She emptied Swiss Miss packets into them instead of giving a response to his comment. After filling the mugs with water and half-heartedly mixing them, she returned to the kitchen table and shoved a mug in his direction. He caught her wrist, the sudden stop causing the hot chocolate to slosh over the rim and splash across his front. He didn’t pay it much mind, but rather kept his unnervingly intense focus on her face.

“You’re an orphan.”

“Was I?”

“Not was. Are. You’re something of an open book. You’ve got a look in your eye.  The look you get when you’ve been left alone for too long.” He released her hand and tapped his fingers against the police report. “And this. This is you, isn’t it?”

“I’m a private investigator,” she responded.

“It doesn’t make this any less about you,” he said softly, still studying her face with such severity that she had to drop her gaze.

“What are you doing?”

“Waiting for something normal to happen.”

“What’s normal about this?”

“Normal would be you kissing me, love.”

“You’re going to be waiting for a long time then.” She snorted, placing his hot chocolate in front of him and putting some distance between them by sitting in the adjacent seat. She clenched her mug with both hands like it was a lifeline.

“Human women, especially women attracted to men, normally aren’t so resistant to selkie charm. You’re unique.”

“Or maybe you’re not as charming as you think are,” Emma shot back.

“I don’t think you quite understand…” he said with shake of his head, drumming his fingers against the table in agitation. “We aren’t like your human blokes. We, as a species, have a...it’s sort of a hypnotic charm, if you will...to make women more receptive to us...it sort of a preservation technique…”

“Sounds more date rape-y to me,” she replied, narrowing her eyes at him.

He jolted at the accusation. “We never take what isn’t freely given.”

“You say that but you’re basically “dazzling” them into sleeping with you. How is that not sketchy?”

He ran his fingers through his hair, looking distraught by the very thought. Emma watched him warily, wondering if leaving her gun upstairs was a bad idea. He let out a huff, pushing his mug away.

“I..I see your point...but rest assured that was never my intention...you’re immune to the “dazzling” as you say, so you need not worry about that and you need not worry about me placing an unwanted hand on you.”

“Oh, I’m not worry,” she responded with a snort. “If you did, I would tase your ass so fast that I would be serving fried seal at my next barbecue.”

“You’re quite fond of that threat.”

“It’s very entertaining to see a scumbag get shocked with 50,000 volts.”

“I will take your word for it.”

Silence fell between them and they sat, drinking hot chocolate and studying each other. Since the moment she met him, Emma had avoided looking at him. However, now that she had the chance to, she could slightly see why the women he spoke of weren’t so quick to kick him out of bed. Even while wearing stained grandma sweater and hot pink pants, he was attractive; messy dark hair falling over startling blue eyes, feminine lashes and a strong but sharp jawline. He looked lost though, a fish out of water in this situation just like her.

“What would make you happy, love?”

“Emma.”

“Pardon?”

“My name is not love, it’s Emma,” she said, looking back down at her mug. “I would prefer you to call me by name rather than love or sweetheart or any annoying pet name you could come up with.”

“Alright, Emma,” he affirmed with a nod. “I’m Killian.”

“Killian,” she repeated, testing it out. “It’s...unique.”

“It’s a name,” he shrugged. “But, really, Emma, what would make you happy? Because it’s obviously not sex. You’ve made that quite clear.”

She snorted at his bluntness. “I know you’re a seal but I’ve gotta tell you, sex rarely ends in happiness as far as I’m concerned. It leads to disaster.”

“I’m sorry you think so.”

“I don’t think so. I know so. It can be great, don’t get me wrong, but once that high is gone, you’re back to square one. It doesn’t solve anything. If anything, you find out he’s married and his wife’s on her way back early and it’s just messy.”

“We’re getting off topic,” he said, looking uncomfortable and fidgeting slightly. “What would make Emma happy?”

She pulled the police report out from underneath his elbow, staring at the callous words scribbled messily across the page.

“The truth,” she said, meeting his eyes. “The truth would make me happy.”

“What truth do you seek?”

“I want to know who they are and why they left me. I want to look them in the eye and make them remember me, to remind them that I was a person, not something that could just be left behind.”

“Okay. How do we do that?”

“We?” she looked at him in surprise. “When did this become a we?”

“When you called me, Emma. Haven’t you been paying attention? I can’t go back until you’re happy and if that means finding your parents then it means finding your parents.”

“And how the hell is a fricking seal going to help me?”

He smiled at her and it was a smile that was so blinding that she wondered for a moment if he had succeeded in finally dazzling her.

“Oh, love, I think you’ll find that I have an honest knack for reading and research.”

Chapter Text

Killian surprisingly was a good research partner.

It wasn’t necessarily his actual research skills that were stellar but rather his ability to gain the assistance they needed. Where Emma had been met with stony faces and skeptical looks, Killian was greeted with smiles and batted eyelashes. The clerk at the Chilmark Town Office didn’t so much as look at Emma but rather focused all of her attention on him, tossing her hair over her shoulder and laughing at his remarks, even the ones that weren’t remotely funny.

Stupid attractive selkie.

Though, she had to admit that she was starting to believe this whole “selkie dazzle” thing. Whenever other women looked at him, a stunned dreamy-eyed look took over their faces and they seemed willing to do anything he asked. Emma was nearly certain they would sign over the deeds to their houses if he asked. It was a frightening power to behold, though Emma could admit she had less of an issue with it when he was using to further her cause.

“You’re scowling again, love.”

Emma cut her eyes to him, lips still pursued. “Yeah?”

“Your lips seem to be set in a permanent frown, darling.”

“Ugh. You’re not one of those, are you?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Those men who tell women they have to smile all the time and they’re only pretty when they smile.”

“No. I’m not. This is one of those ‘what is upsetting you and how can I fix it’ kind of gentleman.”

“A gentleman, huh?”

“Always a gentleman,” he said with a flashing grin. “And don’t think I don’t know an avoidance technique when I see one. You’re avoiding the question.”

“I just don’t get you,” she said, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “You...sometimes it’s like you’re from another world and other times you fit in so naturally that you make me feel like I’m the one who doesn’t belong.”

“Technically I am from another world,” he said, glancing at the sailboat painting on the wall with a sigh. “But I’ve had enough interactions with humans that I’m not entirely out of my depth.”

“Yeah, being in and out of women’s beds over the years must have been quite the education,” she snorted.

“You sound jealous.”

“Not jealous. Just irritated.”

“Over?”

Emma rubbed her temples, glaring at him. He was vexingly persistent in his line of questioning and she wished he would just shut up and leave her alone. Killian seemed to sense her hostility but merely met her ire with two raised eyebrows. She decided to change tactics.

“Tell me something. How does a seal know how to read?”

Now he was the one scowling. “I’m making an effort not to be insulted right now.”

“Well, you are a seal.”

“I’m as much a seal as you are a monkey,” he hissed between clenched teeth. “I am a selkie, love. Selkies, while related, are not seals.”

“Now you’re the one avoiding the question.”

“No, that’s still you. As mentioned previously, I’ve had more than my fair share of interaction with humans. Including one particular stint where I was trapped on land for nearly five years.”

“Couldn’t satisfy some chick?” She asked smugly.

“I wasn’t summoned by her,” he replied darkly. “Her daughter did, actually. However, it was the mother that took my pelt.”

“Your pelt?”

“Aye.” He ran his fingers through his hair, making it look even more haphazard. “A selkie’s pelt is the most important and fundamental part of us. It is our connection to the ocean. Without it...we cannot return home. We lose what makes us who we are…”

Without thinking about it, Emma leaned forward and placed her hand over his. He jumped, startled by the contact and looking at her with questioning eyes.

“I understand...We...we understand each other, you and I...I’ve always felt like something is missing...And that’s why I have to find them, that’s why I need to find them…”

“We’re going to find them, Swan. I swear it.”

He looked too sincere, too earnest and she couldn’t handle it. She looked away from his gaze and pulled her hand away, eyes dropping to the chaotic mess of documents spread out in front of them.

“Have you found anything interesting?”

“Only that David Nolan went missing six days before you were born,” Killian remarked, pushing the police file in front of her. “That could be something.”

“That seems more correlation than causation.”

“It could be related.”

“So could Tom Hanks,” she huffed. “This. This isn’t going anywhere.”

“Maybe we’re looking in the wrong place.”

“I think you’re right,” she agreed, letting out a groan. “We’re going to have to look at hospital records and I’m so not looking forward to it. It’s going to be a bitch to do.”

“Why is that?”

“On top of the fact it means we’re going to have to hike to Oak Bluffs? I can’t imagine how many files we’re going to go through. It’s going to take forever. If I ever see another piece of paper in my life, it will be too soon.”

“Oak Bluffs isn’t that far.”

“Yeah, maybe for you but who is paying for gas? Me, not you, buddy.”

“You tend to complain about funds quite often.”

“Yeah because I’m not made of money. I honest to god don’t know how people live here. It’s outrageous.”

“It has its charms,” Killian replied somewhat defensively before giving her an appraising look. “You’re running yourself ragged, darling. You need a break.”

“No. What I need is a goddamn breakthrough. I just feel like we’ve hit an obstacle every single step of the way. It’s like I just came out of thin air and no one cared.”

“Something’s going to turn up. You’re working something that’s nearly thirty years cold, love. You need just some more patience and perhaps some more of the chocolate beverage you’re so fond of from that lovely establishment you frequent.”

Emma snorted, rolling her eyes. “You just want to see Ruby.”

“She’s quite the vision. And she hasn’t assaulted me yet.”

“Give it time,” she replied dryly. “Once she’s not influenced by that dazzle thing you do, she’ll see how much of a punk you are.”

They packed up the files and placed them back in the archive downstairs. The clerk seemed disappointed that they were leaving, trying to flirt more with Killian - though he wasn’t as willing to humour her this time, which Emma appreciated. The walk back to the Bug was a silent one but she took great joy in the uneasy look on Killian’s face as they climbed in. Over the past few days, it had become quite clear that he was not a fan of cars and had a tendency to get queasy whenever they were in enclosed spaces. It was fascinating to see him so affected by it - nothing else seemed to faze him. It was somewhat humanising, though she knew that he would take offence at the term.

Killian grinned as they pulled into Granny’s almost non-existent parking but Emma ignored him in favor of watching the sunset over the waterfront. The sun glowed a vivid red as it continued to fall into the horizon, painting the sky with a kaleidoscope palette. The myriad of colors was further reflected onto the rippling waves in a way that seemed to steal the air from her lungs.

Emma had a lot of complaints about Menemsha. The sunset wasn’t one of them.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Killian asked quietly, following her line of sight.

“I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“That’s because there is nothing like it,” he replied quietly.

They waited until the sun disappeared and the color began to fade into the night before leaving the car. Emma was surprised to see the lot was nearly full. During her entire time in the village, there seemed to be only one or two cars parked aside from her Bug, normally Leroy’s ancient pickup and Ruby’s rental.

Emma was hit with a wall of noise as she entered the establishment. The sheer force of the commotion startled her, causing her to stumble backwards into Killian, who placed a firm hand on her back to steady her.

“What the hell is going on?” She whispered.

“Couldn’t tell you, love. You’re more of a local than I am,” he answered simply.

“What’s going on?” Emma asked as Ruby approached them with a large smile.

“The boys just came back with a huge catch of tuna. It’s the end of the season and we’ve been having a rough year. Nobody was expecting much but with today’s haul, people are certain that Gold’s going to be giving them a raise.”

“Oh. That’s good.”

“It’s more than good! It’s excellent! People have cash now and are willing to eat out. No offence but Granny and I can’t just survive on you guys and Leroy coming in everyday.”

“None taken, lass,” Killian chuckled. “I’m assuming that means the catch of the day special is still on?”

“For you it always is,” Ruby replied with a wink before gesturing to the back table that Emma had claimed as her own over the past few weeks. “I’d take your seat before I have to give it to someone else!”

They took the hint and slid into the opposing booths. Emma craned her neck so she could get a good look at the diner. The majority of the tables had been pushed together into a large group so that all the fishermen and their families could sit together. There didn’t seem to be many that were sober.

“I didn’t realize this many people actually lived here,” Emma murmured.

Killian opened his mouth to respond but then his entire demeanour changed. His nose scrunched and his eyes, now wide, cut towards the doorway. She followed his line of vision to a man who had just walked through the door. He was dressed in an expensive-looking longcoat and long grizzled hair that was styled in a way reminiscent of every mobster movie Emma had ever watched. His eyes were cold and scanned calculatingly across the diner.

Emma had never seen this man before in her life but she knew exactly who he was.

The infamous Robert Gold.

Her eyes cut back to Killian who looked both alarmed and disgusted by the sight of this man. His lips were curled back into snarl and his knuckles were white against the table.

“What’s going on?” She asked quietly.

“He smells like blood. Lots of it.”

She looked back at Gold, trying to find something to confirm what Killian had said. Gold didn’t look like he was covered in blood, rather he looked like he had watched the Godfather one too many times and had decided to take Don Corleone’s look to heart.

“He looks fine to me.”

“Of course, he does. You don’t have my nose. You all think that a little soap and water can cover up that rank but it can’t,” he replied, getting more agitated.

“I’ll have to take your word for it,” she replied skeptically. “But really? You can smell blood? At this distance?”

“I can smell a lot of things, love. But, yes, there’s no mistaking it.”

“Hey! It’s the boss!” A burly man shouted, rising his glass merrily. “Three cheers for the boss man!”

The fishermen raised their glass and broke into a raucous toast. While they seemed merry and full of cheer, Gold was not. He barely glanced in their direction but his lips pulled into a thin line of displeasure.

“Good to know that my money is going to good use,” he drawled, sarcasm heavy with every word. “One good catch doesn’t mean you’re off any hooks. I expect my men to be efficient and ready to work. You wake up drunk, don’t show up.”

A stunned silence followed his scathing words but Gold didn’t wait for a reply. He walked towards the counter stiffly. Ruby looked just as unhappy as Gold, she put down a large tray full of drinks and moved down the bar with an equal measure of irritation and wariness.

“Rent,” he demanded gruffly.

“It’s Thursday.”

“I’m aware of what day it is.”

“It’s not due until tomorrow.”

“A day early shouldn’t matter. You either have it or you don’t, Miss Lucas. And my patience is wearing thin.”

“Why don’t you leave the lass alone?”

Emma jumped at the bite in Killian’s voice when he spoke up. His brows were drawn and his jaw was clenched, making him look more menacing than beautiful. In the short time that she had known him, Killian had always seemed earnest but relaxed. Now, she had no doubt he was capable of killing someone with his bare hands. A shiver went down her spine.

“And just who do you think you are, that you can meddle with my affairs?” Gold snapped, dark eyes flashing angrily. It was the first time Emma had seen actual emotion in them and she couldn’t say she liked it.

“Someone who believes in good form,” Killian replied. “And harassing a lass at her place of work is decidedly bad form.”

“I know every man, woman and child in this village and I don’t know you. You don’t belong here. Outsiders don’t have a say in our business. Don’t say anything you’ll come to regret.”

“Outsider or not, I’m not going to sit here and let you treat her like this.”

“Killian, it’s fine,” Ruby assured him, pulling a large amount of cash out of the register and sliding it to Gold. “This is what you want, isn’t it? Now, either order something or I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“The day I order from this charming establishment will be the day I will voluntarily enter a mental facility,” Gold replied, pocketing the money in his breast pocket. “I would say it’s been a pleasure but I wouldn’t want to come off as insincere.”

As he turned to leave, he paused at Emma and Killian’s booth. Emma glanced worryingly towards her companion. Killian’s jaw was still clenched and he looked irritated but he wasn’t gripping his knife which she was thankful for. Gold, on the other hand, was creepy as hell, looking at both of them so intently that Emma wondered if he was examining their souls.

“You.” He turned to Emma. “I’ve seen you around. You’re the one who has been staying in the Lucas’ house. What is your name?”

“Emma.”

“Emma,” he repeated. “What a lovely name.”

“Ummm….thanks?”

“A word of advice, Emma. Muzzle your pet or he’s going to get you into trouble.”

Killian rose up in his seat and Emma reached her arm out to keep him from lunging at Gold. Instead Killian bared his teeth, letting out an animalistic snarl that nearly had her faltering but she remained firm.

“Killian, he’s not worth it,” she said softly before turning to Gold. “I think it’s time for you to go.”

Gold didn’t say anything at first. He was staring at Killian with the same sort of fascination that a crocodile had for its next meal. It made her wonder for a moment who she should really be protecting.

“Interesting,” he murmured. “Very interesting.”

And with that last comment, he finally exited the diner. Emma let out a breath that she didn’t know she was holding. She looked back at Killian who was still staring at the door as if he wanted to murder it.

“You can stand down now.”

“That isn’t a man. That’s a demon.”

“You’re being dramatic,” she scoffed. “He’s just an asshole.”

“I know a killer when I see one, love. And that’s a killer.”

“If you say so,” she shrugged, sitting back down. “If I buy you onion rings, will you calm down?”

“You have a living, breathing selkie in front of you, yet you doubt the existences of demons.”

“I’m more the believe it when I see it type,” she said. “Now, sit down before you make an even bigger scene.”

He scoffed but did as she said, leaning against the table and running his fingers through his hair. It was a habit she was beginning to notice that he did whenever he was stressed out or nervous.

Ruby quietly approached the table with a pair of large beers and placed them down on the table. Emma raised her eyebrows at her.

“We didn’t order these.”

“They’re on the house,” Ruby said before cutting her eyes in Killian’s direction. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

“I wasn’t going to sit by, just let him treat you like that and not say anything,” he responded petulantly.

“I appreciate it, but it’s not worth it. He owns more than half of this village and nearly everyone in it. He could make things unpleasant for you if he wanted.”

“I refuse to let that man bully me or anyone else.”

Ruby gave him an exasperated look and raised her hands in surrender. “Fine! But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“We’ll just take our usual order, Ruby,” Emma sighed, wanting to put all the Gold unpleasantness behind them.

They didn’t talk much throughout their meal. Though Killian ate at his fish special with enthusiasm, he never fully relaxed and she couldn’t say she was much better. The other patrons seemed subdued as well. Gold’s unpleasantness had brought down the mood.

Emma was exhausted when she arrived back at the house. She barely said a word to Killian before barricading herself in her room and flopping on her bed, still fully clothed. She didn’t remember falling asleep but she awoke to moonlight flooding into her room. She sat up, craning her neck to peer more out the windows.

The moon was high and full but it was not the sight that stole her breath - it was the moon’s reflection across the waves. It was so serene and so inviting that Emma felt compelled to have a closer look. Without even thinking, she slipped her shoes back on and headed down the stairs. Killian was sleeping fitfully on the couch and she did her best to quietly sneak past him and out of the house.

A sense of relaxation took hold of her as she made her way across the street to the small strip of beach. She stepped out of her shoes and wiggled her toes in the sand, enjoying the sensation with a giggle. She sat down, watching the moon glint against the water and listening to the gentle sound of waves crashing against the shore. There was something about being by the ocean that calmed her in a way nothing else had. As a child, Emma had never been the beach; none of her foster homes had been willing to take her. She couldn’t help but feel resentful towards her parents for robbing her of this. Though she didn’t particularly love Menemsha, there was something so compelling about the ocean that she could never look away from it.

She nearly jumped when a blanket fell over her shoulders and Killian sat down next to her.

“Couldn’t sleep?” He asked, not looking at her but at the water.

“More like I couldn’t stay away,” she responded. “It’s beautiful.”

“You say that a lot.”

“It doesn’t make it any less true,” she replied, drawing her knees up so she could rest her chin against her hands.

“If I didn’t know better, love, I would say you had some saltwater in your veins.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“You love the ocean,” he said simply.

“I do,” she agreed. “It’s...it’s...I’m not gonna say beautiful again because I’ll sound like a broken record but it’s...I have no words other than if I spent the rest of my life near it, I would be content.”

“Then maybe you should stay after you find your parents.”

Emma laughed, shaking her head. “No way.”

“Why not?”

“Well, one, I’m not made of money. I mean, the only reason why I’m here is because a friend of mine died and left me a fuckton of cash,” she said bitterly.

Thinking of Graham brought tears to her eyes. He had been her only friend when she moved to Maine. They almost been something and that was more Emma’s fault than anything else. Ever since Neal, she had been entirely put off relationships and that fear of being hurt had kept her from letting Graham get closer to her. She regretted her cowardice now, as he was gone and she was still alone.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Killian replied softly.

Emma shrugged, unsure of what to say. Instead she focused all of her attention back on the water, closing her eyes and listening to the lull of the low tide. It sounded like music to her, almost like a lullaby except it rarely made her sleep. More often than not, it kept her up at odd hours in the night, staring out into the sea and wishing she knew how to swim.

“I once lost someone too,” he said after a moment. “The only one I’ve ever loved.”

“Who was she?”

“Her name was Milah and she was a selkie woman. Had she been human, I would have gladly given up my pelt for her in a heartbeat. She was the one who helped me fit into this strange land.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if you haven’t placed from the accent, Swan, I’m not from around here,” he chuckled.

“No, I knew that,” she said, shoving him slightly. “I just assumed you swam over here.”

He laughed, shoving her back playfully. “Seals can’t swim that far, love. No. I was taken here. Remember the woman who took my skin?”

Emma nodded, waiting for him to continue.

“I was her slave for five years and she took me with her across the ocean and away from my home. I had spent the majority of my life in what humans call the North Sea. Though my family had long since been gone, lost to hunters, it was familiar and the only place I knew before that woman, Cora, took me here.”

“How did you get away?”

“Her daughter. Unhappy girl that she was. Her mother made her miserable and before she ran away, she gave me the key to my pelt and I never looked back...I owe Regina more than I could say.”

“She sounds brave.”

“She was in the end. It took a while. A little nudge from a friend.”

“What happened?”

“I was lost…and Milah found me. You would have liked her, Swan. She was a bit like you, tough, fiery and never let me get away with anything. The strongest woman in the world, my Milah.”

“What happened to her?”

Killian’s face darkened at the question. Emma touched his arm, rubbing her thumb comfortingly against his skin.

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” she said softly.

“No, it would be a disservice to her memory,” he said with a shake of his head. “She was taken. A man took her pelt and made her his wife and she was miserable. It’s bad enough for selkies when they willingly leave, it’s much worse when they are taken away forcibly…”

“Did you ever see her again?”

“Briefly. She escaped. She bore that man a son and the lad unwittingly gave her the freedom she desperately sought when he came across her pelt in his father’s study. She loved the boy but she loved the ocean more and she never looked back. We were reunited for a month before she died. Slaughtered like an animal. It was him, her human husband, I’m sure of it.”

“I’m sorry…” Emma didn’t know what else to say.

“Not your fault, love. I didn’t tell you that to make you feel sorry for me. I told you that because I understand loss...I understand pain.”

“I guess we’re both a little broken,” she replied with a small laugh that held no humor.

“Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be fixed.”

“Is this the part where you say we can fix each other and heal together?” She asked sarcastically.

“Absolutely not! I would never pluck such low hanging fruit,” he snorted.

Emma raised her eyebrows at him. “Seriously?”

“Aye,” he chuckled then looked at her seriously. “You don’t need me to heal, Emma. It would be incredibly wrong, not to mention completely arrogant, to suggest so. You’re one of the strongest women I’ve ever met and no matter what happens, you’re going to be okay.”

“You think so?”

“I know so,” he replied, lifting her hand off his arm and pressing a brief kiss to her knuckles. The brush of his lips sent a shiver down her spine but it was his pure unadulterated conviction that made her heart leap in her throat. No one, not even Graham, had such blind faith in her before. She didn’t know how to deal with the sudden surge of gratitude she had for him, so she took her hand away from him and smacked him across the chest slightly. Despite the violent act, she smiled at him and wrapped her arm around him. She pressed her face against his shoulder to hide her smile.

Killian stiffened at the contact at first, staring at her in disbelief. “Are you cuddling me?”

She smacked him again with her free hand but couldn’t stop the grin growing on her face. She buried her head further into his shoulder.

“Don’t ruin this, okay?”

“And what is this?”

“You’re ruining it!” She hissed, smacking him again.

“Okay, okay,” he chuckled. “I’ll stop talking then.”

“Finally!”

He pouted playfully at her for a moment before looking back at the water. As they stared out at the waves, he tentatively raised his arm and wrapped it around her, tugging her closer. When she didn’t immediately hit him, he got a little bolder and let his fingers run in her hair. She hummed at the gesture, closing her eyes.

“That feels good,” she whispered, words slightly muffled by his clothes.

“Then I’ll keep doing it.”

“Good. If you don’t, I’ll smack you again.”

“You’re an incredibly violent woman. You know that, right?”

“You love it,” she replied drowsily, feeling her eyelids become increasingly heavier. She knew she needed to move and go back to bed but she felt so comfortable where she was.

He made a mumbled response but Emma was too tired to catch it nor did she care enough to try. She merely snuggled further into his side and allowed herself to drift off to the ultimate combination of the fingers soothing over her hair, the song of the sea and the smell of Killian surrounding her.

Chapter Text

Emma Swan’s life was regulated by series of long, self-imposed rules. She always filled her gas tank whenever she hit the quarter ‘til empty mark. She didn’t trust food that didn’t come prepackaged. She always wore bike shorts under her dresses because of that punk kid in her fifth group home that skirted her. On top of that proverbial list of rules, written in bold red ink and underlined three times, was that Emma Swan did not ever, under any circumstances, sleep with men.

She didn’t sleep with men. Period.

Well, she slept with men but a purely utilitarian fuck-and-run way that satisfied occasional itches and abated the loneliness for awhile. She didn’t spend the night and she absolutely did not cuddle. Those sort of things led to issues. It meant conversations that were best not had. It meant being completely vulnerable with someone who was more likely than not a stranger she picked up in a bar.

Hence why she went into a full meltdown mode when she awoke the next morning still on the beach, sand in her pants and Killian curled around her like a clingy octopus. The very sight of him drooling on her shoulder sent off vaguely Kill Bill sounding sirens in her head.

So Emma did what she did best.

She ran.

And she didn’t look back. Not even for her shoes.

She went back into her house, grabbed her cell phone and keys, then got in the Bug and drove all the way to Oak Bluffs. Never before had Emma been so happy with the lack of a real police force on the island because she was sure to be have been pulled over with how fast she drove. The drive had been tense. She hadn’t been able to relax and no amount of tinkering with the radio assuaged her chaotic thoughts.

Killian was getting under her skin. He had been barely been in her life for more than two weeks but he had already gotten closer to her than anyone had in the past decade. It was something she needed to rectify and fast.

“He’s going to leave,” she mumbled to herself, slapping her hands against the steering wheel. “Once this is over, he’s going to leave and everything is going to go back to normal.”

The switch from West Tisbury to Oak Bluffs was a noticeable one. Where Chilmark blended in the West Tisbury almost seamlessly with the long line of white oak trees and the overgrown shrubbery that guided the poorly paved roads, the boundary leading to Oak Bluffs was noticeably more populated with houses and stores. The Cape Cod style that dominated Menemsha and Chilmark wasn’t so common and Emma was surprised to see some of the buildings actually looked like they had been built after 1970. Where the majority of the houses Emma had previously encountered tended to stick to the gray scale, these buildings were flamboyant shades of flamingo pink, soft orange and lime green. They reminded her of the elaborate gingerbread houses she had seen in the windows of bakeries as a child. It was fresh and new side to the island that she not yet explored and she allowed her curiosity to overtake the anxious energy that had dominated her mind since she had awoke.

As she got further into town, the scenery became more settled and more urban in its demeanor. If it weren’t for the occasional gingerbread house, she wouldn’t have known that she was still stuck in the Vineyard. It felt good be somewhat back in civilisation again.

It wasn’t until she was washing up in the bathroom of the infamous Black Dog bakery that she finally took notice of her unkempt appearance. She had mascara lines running down her cheeks, her hair looked like a rat’s nest and her clothes were rumpled. No wonder the cashier had given her an odd look when she had bought a bear claw. She looked like hell.

After running her fingers through her hair and washing her face, Emma tried to make herself look somewhat presentable. Her attempts were met with limited success but there was only so much that she could do given the circumstances.

As she walked over to the hospital, she couldn’t help but feel bereft. Over the past week and half, she had gotten used to Killian’s persistent commentary and suggestions on how to proceed. His absence sat heavy in her chest, pressing down on her ribs like a stone.

She didn’t want to but Emma couldn’t help how much she missed him. The realisation made her angry. She hated herself for growing so fond and so dependent on his company. He was merely a temporary fixture in her life, just like everyone else.

She didn’t need him and was probably better off without his help anyway.

The thought became a mantra, a mental war cry, as she straightened out her shoulders and walked towards the reception desk with the same dread and determination of a gladiator entering an battle arena.

The receptionist was a surly looking woman who eyed her with an expression that made it clear she was less than impressed with Emma’s appearance.

“This isn’t a recovery center. If you’re looking for one, you’ll have to take the ferry over to Hyannis. There’s a pamphlet for it on your left.”

Emma bristled at the comment, self consciously smoothing over the wrinkles in her shirt.

“My name is Emma Swan, I’m private investigator. I was hoping to look at your birth records.”

“No.”

“What?”

“I said no,” she repeated, this time with a hint of an edge to voice.

Emma sighed, fishing out her wallet and handing over her identification and investigator’s permit. The woman didn’t even in look at them, merely looked up at her with the same disapproving scowl.

“That’s my private investigator’s licens-” “I know what it is,” the woman cut her off. “If it’s not a court ordered document, I’m not letting you look at our database. I don’t know if you’re aware, Little Miss Investigator, but there is such a thing called HIPAA which means those documents are protected.”

“HIPAA does not cover birth and death certificates,” Emma replied through gritted teeth. “Those are a matter of public record.”

“Oh goody,” the woman replied in a sarcastic tone, “then go bother the Registry of Vital Records like everyone else.”

“I can’t do that. I don’t know exactly the specific person I’m looking for. Only that I’m looking for a female born in October 1983. This is related to a police investigation of an abandoned child out in Memensha.”

“You’re wasting your time,” she snorted. “The police probably looked at it in the 80s. You honestly think you’re better than a bunch of cops?”

“Yes,” Emma replied bluntly, bracing her hands against the desk and staring down at the woman with a look just barely short of contempt. “Because they didn’t investigate it. Now, I would like to look at your October 1983 birth records please.”

“HIPAA says-” “I give zero shits what HIPAA says. Please get me your supervisor.”

“No.”

Emma let out a frustrated sound, yanking her hands off the table and running through her hair. Killian wouldn’t have run into this kind of trouble. He would have just smiled and made a comment about how pretty her disgusting hair looked and that woman would have been willing to hand over her own social security number. The very thought made her even more angry.

She pulled out her phone and immediately looked up the number for the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, specifically for the medical records department. When she found the correct number, she punched it and stared the receptionist directly in the eye as she held the phone up to her ear.

“Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, Department of Records, this is Astrid speaking,” a woman on the other end of the line stated pleasantly.

“Hello Astrid, my name is Emma Swan, I’m a private investigator who is licensed in the states of Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York and Florida. I’m investigating a cold case involving abandoned child in Menemsha October 1983. I was hoping I could look at your birth record files…”

There was a pause on the other end and Emma could hear the faint sound of conversation on the other end as she continued her staring contest with the nasty receptionist. A few moments passed before Astrid came back on the line.

“You wanted to look at the birth records during October in 1983?”

“Yes.”

There was another long pause. Emma counted the seconds in her head.

“Do you have a court order?”

“No,” she admitted. “But birth certificates are a matter of public record and as stated previously, I’m a licensed private investigator in the state of Massachusetts.”

“When did you plan on looking at the records?”

“Now, if that’s possible.”

There was a loud coughing noise on the other end followed by even more muffled conversation.

“Miss Swan, we need a little more time to get the records prepared for you. Give us a few hours, say after lunch around 2:30 and you can come down to the Records Department and have supervised access to the requested documents. Do you have more specific dates in mind or just the month of October?”

“Let’s keep it at the entire month of October just to be safe…”

“Okay. We will meet you at reception then and bring you down to Records at 2:30 then.”

“Thank you,” Emma replied, smirking at the receptionist. If she was feeling a little more immature, she would have fist pumped in her face. “I will see you then.”

After leaving the hospital, Emma wandered the streets of Oak Bluffs. She couldn’t help but feel that she was Martin Brody walking the streets of Amity Island. Everywhere she looked, it seemed to be tourist shops and ice cream places that had shut down for the winter. The only things that seemed to be open were the few restaurants like Sharky’s Cantina and Nancy’s. A large arcade on Main Street was also open despite the fact that there were only five kids inside, all of them crowding around some obnoxious game that involved loud shooting.

As she reached the docks, her phone buzzed. She frowned as she looked down at the screen, not recognising the number. She hit the ignore button as she began to examine the large yachts and fishing boats that were lined up. Some of them had clever names such as “The Codfather” and “The Aqua-holic.” Though the ship names held some amusement, she was shocked to see how far some were from home. Many of the ships docked were from Florida and South Carolina but there were a few from Jamaica and Bermuda. She couldn’t fathom why anyone from such sunny places would want to be in Martha’s Vineyard, especially in October.

It wasn’t until she was eating lunch at Dockside Marketplace that she realised whoever called her had left a message. Curious, she went to her voicemail and punched in her password.

It was Killian.

Swan! Where are you! I woke up and you were gone! Your yellow death trap is gone! Are you alri-” Emma didn’t wait to hear what else he had to say. She wasn’t in the mood to deal with him. In a fit of pettiness, she turned off her phone and spent the rest of her lunch in petulant silence, listening to Top 40s pop music as she munched unhappily on her onion rings.

When she returned to the hospital, the receptionist from before was gone and replaced by a young blonde with tired eyes and a kind smile. She was chatting with a brunette in scrubs that was leaning against the desk. They looked up as soon as she came in and gave her cautious smiles.

“Are you Emma Swan?” the brunette asked politely.

“Yes.”

“I’m Astrid Acker, I work in the Records Department. Do you mind showing me your ID and private detective’s license?”

Emma fished them out of her pocket and handed them over. Astrid looked at them both for a moment before nodding satisfaction and handing them back. She motioned for Emma to follow her down a long hallway. They reached a stairwell and descended down into the basement levels. It had a cold industrial feel to it, with exposed pipes lining the walls and sterile colored tiles. Astrid led her down another hallway before taking her into a sparsely decorated office. It was cluttered as hell and it immediately made her feel claustrophobic. There were three oversized desks, two that were covered in sprawling documents and dated computers while the other was completely clear save for a single case box.

Astrid pulled two chairs over to the clear desk. She held the first chair out to Emma before sitting in the other one. She pulled the lid off the box and glanced back at Emma.

“Martha’s Vineyard sees an average of 176 births per year,” she said quietly. “In 1983, there was a total of 216 births. 23 of those were born in the month of October. All of them are in that box.”

“23?”

“23,” she confirmed. “You can look at the records but you cannot take them, make copies or photos of them.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re quite welcome.”

Emma’s hands shook as she pulled the files from the box. Immediately she separated the males from the females, heart hammering in her chest as the number of files dropped from twenty-three to eight.

Six were born in the beginning of October. Only two fell into the potential time period that Emma was looking for. One was named Jennifer Cameron and the other was Julia Wright. She glanced up from the documents and back at Astrid.

“What’s the population size of Martha’s Vineyard?”

“Roughly 15,000 people.”

“Small.”

“I guess you can say that.”

Emma moved the eight files towards Astrid, every single atom of her being vibrating with tension. “Out of these eight files, do you know any of them personally?”

Astrid looked startled by the question. She gave Emma a long inquisitive look before opening each file and rattling off what she knew about each one.

“I don’t know Teresa...I don’t know Kayla either...or Laura….but I know Brenda. She dated my brother. They have two kids named Tony and Alana. Alison….if it’s the Alison I know, she left the Vineyard back in the tenth grade. Jen used to be friends with my brother but something happened and I don’t know what. Julia and Sarah were the mean girls growing up. Julia is married and owns a bed and breakfast in Chilmark and Veronica owns Vineyard Scoops in Edgartown.”

And just like that, all the energy, all the hope that Emma had, died. She felt like a popped balloon, scattered and deflated. Another dead end. She wanted to be angry. She wanted to be sad. She wanted to feel something but all she felt was numb.

“Thank you for your time,” Emma said after a moment before gathering all the strength she had left and standing up.

“I’m sorry.” Astrid was confused.

“None of these women are who I’m looking for.”

It wasn’t until she felt the hospital and was back by the docks that Emma felt something. A powerful and raw rage burned in her veins. She wanted to scream but she settled to for kicking a trash can and startling a small colony of seagulls.

Drawing a heavy breath, she turned her phone back on. She regretted the decision almost instantly. Twenty missed calls and nine messages left for her. All from the same number.

“Jesus Killian,” she mumbled under her breath as she called her voicemail.

You have nine new messages…first message received today at 12:05pm...Swan! Where are you! I woke up and you were gone! Your yellow death trap is-” Emma deleted the message before it finished.

Next new message received today at 12:34pm...Swan! Where are you! I’ve been looking everywhere-”  She hit the delete button again.

Next new message received today at 12:46pm...Swan, it’s me. I’m hoping you just went into town and got Granny’s or something...I’m going to go down and meet you. Call me back when you get this.

Next new message received today at 1:13pm...I just stopped by Granny’s...Ruby said she hasn’t seen you...Where are you? Please call me back.

Next new message received today at 1:19pm...Swan! I’m worried now! Where are you? I don’t understand what’s going on or why you won’t answer your talking phone.”

Next new message received today at 1:27pm...Swan...please just answer me...I want to know what’s going on…Just talk to me…

Next new message received today at 1:31pm…I don’t know where you are but please just call me. I just want to know you’re okay.

Next new message received today at 1:45pm...You left me...

She dropped her phone. All the emotion she thought she would feel after her latest failure came at the broken and defeated tone of Killian’s voice. Tears welled in the corners of her eyes and she held her hand up to her face in order to stifle the cry that desperately wanted escape her lips. She felt like the world’s biggest asshole.

She took a moment to try and gather herself, wiping at her sniffling nose as she stared out into the marina, watching seagulls dive at the water in search of fresh prey. She almost forgot to listen to the final voice message that Killian had left her.

...End of new message. To listen to it again...press one...To save it...press two...to erase it...press three…

She pressed down on the first option, knowing it would be unpleasant and Killian would more than likely be screaming at her but there was a part of her, the self-loathing part, that felt she deserved it.

New message received today at 2:56pm…Emma…” The way he said her name wasn’t angry. It was strained and filled with an emotion that words could not identify but she knew it on a fundamental level. Her blood went cold in her veins.

Something was wrong.

“Emma…” Killian repeated again and his time his voice wavered a bit. “The pelts...The pelts on Gold’s property...they’re...They’re selkie pelts.”

“Oh shit,” she whispered as the color drained from her face.

She had left Killian alone in Menemsha with a man who more likely than not hunted his kind. And more than that, she had left him without any means to defend himself; her taser and pistol were in the glove compartment of her car. Now, she was officially the world’s biggest asshole.

In the long list of self-imposed rules that Emma Swan had, near the top of the list was that she didn’t push the Bug faster than sixty miles per hour. There were practical reasons for this, mainly because the Bug was nearly two decades old and she didn’t fancy replacing it any time soon. She pressed the pedal to the floor as she raced down State Road and North Road on her way back to Menemsha, the needle on her speedometer jumping between seventy-five and eighty miles per hour.

She may have nearly killed more than a dozen rabbits on her way.

The Bug made its grievances known, sputtering and whining as she came to a grinding halt in front of the beach house. Emma barely acknowledged it over the thundering of her heart ramming against her chest as her eyes scanned the property, hoping against hope to see any sign that Killian was in the house and that he was alright.

There were no lights on in the house, but she didn’t expect any. Killian was practically an old man and had an almost amusing dislike for electricity. He had a habit of leaving the lights off as long as possible until he couldn’t read without them. It made Emma privately question a lot of what happened while he was stuck with Cora and her daughter during his five years stuck on land.

“Killian?” She called almost tentatively when she stepped into the house.

Only silence came to greet her. The stillness of the house unnerved her and she could feel her anxiety skyrocket in response.

“Killian!”

Various scenarios flashed into her mind but at the forefront was seeing his pelt hanging from the blood soaked rack on the front lawn of Gold’s property. Immediately, she scrambled up the stairs and into the guest bedroom. She didn’t bother with any pretenses. She knew exactly what she was looking for and where it was. She made a beeline for the large white dresser and pulled open the third drawer.

The sight of Killian’s pelt caused her to let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding. Without thinking, she pulled it out of the drawer and brought it to her face. She buried her nose in the thick fur, trying to take comfort in the fact that it was still in the house and not on the rack up the road.

She was almost surprised at how soft it was. Emma didn’t have much experience with fur, let alone seal fur but it felt incredibly silky and all she wanted to do was keep it against her skin.

“Swan?”

Emma froze, her cheek still rubbed against his pelt as she craned her head towards the doorway. He was looking at her with a guarded expression, shoulders tense and hands curled into tight fists. If she didn’t know any better, she would say that he was preparing himself for a fight.

“Where the fuck were you?” she hissed. “I got your message and I was scared out of my mind!”

“Got my messages, did you?” he asked, crossing his arms in front of his chest and raising his eyebrows at her. The coolness of his tone nearly made her flinch.

“Yes. I freaked out! You can’t leave messages like that and just run off! You could have been hurt! You could have been killed! I was fucking terrified that I was going to come home and see your pelt out there on that fucking rack!”

“I could say the same to you, love.”

“This isn’t a game, Killian!”

“I never said it was. I’m merely pointing out the hypocrisy as I’m seeing it.”

She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to quell the chaotic squall of emotions that wanted to bubble up to the surface. She wanted to be angry. She wanted to lash out but she couldn’t necessarily deny the truth in his words.

“I should have called you back, I’m so-” “No, it shouldn’t even have gotten to that point,” he cut her off. “You should have woken me up, Emma! We’re supposed to be partners!”

“We’re not supposed to be anything.” The words leapt from her throat before she could stop them.

As soon as she said them, Killian reared back as if her words had hit him with physical force. He stared at her as if he had never seen her before in his life. They stood there for a brief moment in tense silence. The distance between them was only about eight feet but it felt much larger than that. It felt like a canyon that Emma wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to bridge.

“Where were you?” she asked again, this time in a softer tone.

Killian looked somewhat bereft, swallowing his words and looking away from her. For a moment, Emma wasn’t sure he was going to answer her.

“I went into the house.”

She gasped at his explanation, staring at him in disbelief. “You didn’t. Please tell me you didn’t, Killian.”

“Considering all of today’s revelations, I’m shocked you care.”

“Of course I care! You could have been killed!”

“He wasn’t there,” he replied, still not looking at her. “He...I...He doesn’t just keep the pelts, Emma. There was a jar on the mantle...It was full of teeth...”

A cold shiver went down Emma’s spine. Ruby’s warning from her first day in Menemsha echoed in her head and a part of her wished she had given it more thought.

“How many?”

“I didn’t count,” Killian laughed humorously. A brittle smile crossed his lips and it made Emma feel sick. “I didn’t get close enough. I didn’t want to but countless...That whole place reeks of blood.”

“You shouldn’t have gone in there, Killian.”

His eyes cut to her. “And what should I have done, Swan? Waited for you? You cut out of here so swiftly, I wasn’t sure you were even going to come back.”

“Of course I was coming back. Don’t be an idiot. But Killian, think about this. Gold owns this town. No one knows who you are. You technically don’t exist here. He could have gotten to you and no one except me would have known something happened to you.”

“I’m very much aware of that, Swan.”

“Are you?”

“Yes, despite what you think, I’m not just a dumb animal. I’m quite intelligent despite your constant willingness to overlook that fact.”

“I know you’re smart-” “Yet you insist on treating me as I’m nothing more than dumb pet, not even worthy of leaving a note or even communicating with. Are you going to get me a ball to play with next? Make me eat out of a bowl?”

“You’re making a bigger deal of this than it actually it is,” she said with a roll of her eyes.

“No. I’m just seeing the clear picture. You don’t trust me, or anyone for that matter! You would rather be alone than let yourself get burned again! Whoever he is, he must have done quite the number on you that you would rather be unhappy and alone than take any risks and let anyone in. Being alone is a bitter existence, take it from someone who knows.”

“Oh! Because you know everything!” Emma jeered.

“When it comes to being alone? Yes! I told you what happened to me. I told you about losing my family, losing Milah. I’m not unsympathetic to your plight, Emma, but you need to get it through your head that you’re not alone.”

She wanted to punch him; wanted nothing more than to break his nose. He was so full of shit and she couldn’t stand the sight of him.

“Oh fuck you,” she snarled. “Stop the bullshit. You don’t actually care. The only reason you’re still standing here is because you’re trapped. As soon as this is over, you’re just going to back. You won’t even blink.”

“If you honestly still believe that then I can’t help you,” he said softly with a disappointed look on his face. He ran his fingers through his hair before looking back at her with a beseeching expression. “Look, I can’t do this right now. Just give me back my pelt.”

Emma froze. Her mind went blank at his request and she stared down at the pelt in her hands. Her fingers were curled into it so tightly that her skin was stretched white over her knuckles. She knew that the appropriate response was to give it back to him and let him go on his merry way but she couldn’t bring herself to let go of it. Without thinking, she instead tightened her own hold on it.

Killian stared at her, absolutely stunned. There was no mistaking the look of betrayal in his eyes. He stretched out his hand and Emma couldn’t help but notice that it was trembling.

“Emma…” He sounded broken.

Reluctantly, she let go of his pelt; depositing it in his hand before she could think more on her hesitation. She practically ran past him and took sanctuary in her room, trying to put as much distance as she could between them.

The tears didn’t come until she closed the door and it was firmly against her back.  

Chapter Text

Night fell and Emma watched it from her window sill, afraid to leave the confines of her bedroom. She didn’t want to leave and discover the magnitude of the damage caused by their fight. She wasn’t prepared to deal with an empty house.

Her stomach wasn’t on board with this however. It made a loud displeased growl, prompting her to finally creep out of her room and pad softly down the stairs. In a brief moment of courage, she glanced in the direction of Killian’s bedroom but the door was closed and she was unwilling to disturb it.

When she entered the small kitchen, she noted the large grocery bag on the counter and a wave of guilt rushed over her. Even though she had left him alone all day with no explanation, he had brought it upon himself to buy groceries without her asking. He had even bought her cinnamon sugar Poptarts, despite denouncing them as “sugar-coated garbage.”

She placed the box down on the counter, head buried in her hands. Once again, the gravity of their fight was weighing on her. She had driven away the one person who had, for a brief moment, given a damn about her. The weight of the loss alongside the hopelessness of her investigation felt like an anchor around her neck and she was slowly drowning.

It was almost mindless, the way she toed on her sandals and headed out the front door. The only thing that had been more constant than Killian in this place had been the ocean and she needed that right now.

The night air was cooler than she had expected, piercing even the warmth of her hoodie. Despite the chill, Emma continued her trek to the beach and sat down in her usual spot along the shoreline. She watched the waves softly roll in while playing with the sand, grabbing piles and allowing them to slip through her fingers.

“If I didn’t know better, I would think you were a child of the sea…”

Emma jumped, unable to believe her ears. She turned around instantly to make sure they hadn’t misled her.

Killian.

“You’re still here,” she whispered in disbelief.

“Of course I am, love. Where was I going to go?”

It’s then that she remembered that he was bound to her. She had been so upset about their fight that she had completely forgotten that Killian was stuck here until she became happy, something that felt nigh impossible at this point.

“Right, sorry.”

“It’s fine,” he shrugged before sitting next to her. “Today was…something.”

“That’s a word for it.”

“Well, I knew it was a matter of time before I would find you here. Even when we’re focused on looking for your parents, you always have one eye looking out towards the water.”

“People feel drawn to it. It’s kind of a normal thing.”

“Not like you,” he asserted. “Just who exactly are you Emma Swan?”

“An unwanted souvenir it seems.”

“I refuse to believe that.”

“Well, it’s the most likely option at this point,” she murmured, resting her head on her knees. “I’ve never encountered a trail this cold…There’s nothing…I…I went to Oak Bluffs today, you know, to see the hospital records and see if I matched any of them. I was so close, Killian, so close. There were two that could have been me and I wanted so badly to be either of them, but both of them are islanders. There’s nothing! It’s like I just showed up out of thin air and no one wanted to know why!”

“I want to know why,” he replied softly.

“You don’t want to, you have to,” she corrected. “Your only hope to go home is me and that’s not much hope at all…I’m sorry…”

Killian shifted uncomfortably at her words, scratching at the skin behind his ear. He let out a deep breath before turning his entire body to face her.

“That’s not entirely true, love.”

“What do you mean?”

He bit his lip, his eyes moving away from her face and darting past her to look at the ocean. He worked his jaw for a moment.

“I may or may not have misled you a bit…in regard to my ability to go back.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m not stuck here. I’m here because I want to be.”

“I’m sorry, what?” She couldn’t comprehend what exactly he was telling her.

“Selkies can go back to the sea whenever they want to. As long as they have their pelt, they can come and go as they please between land and sea…”

“What the fuck does my happiness have to do with anything then?!” It was only the knowledge that it was the middle of the night and her neighbors were probably sleeping that kept her from screaming at him like she wanted to.

“Well, selkies…we as a species… we like causing joy and happiness…we are used to being worshiped and adored by humans…you, you were so unhappy, you were unlike any human I have ever known, I just wanted to know you. I wanted to make you smile…”

“So I’m just some curiosity project for you?” She hissed, eyes flashing.

“I won’t lie that my curiosity is what brought me to your doorstep but not what kept me here.”

“Then what did?”

It’s then that he finally pulled his gaze from the ocean and looked her straight in the eye. “You.”

“Me?”

“Aye, you. You’re a force of nature, Emma. You’re more than just an unwanted souvenir. You’re wonderful and powerful, nigh unstoppable, which is why I’m asking you not to give up hope. If anyone is going to uncover the truth…It’s you.”

“I…thank you.”

“No need to thank me, it’s just the truth, love.”

“Still…” She trailed, unable to find the words she was looking for. She felt raw in the wake of his confession and more vulnerable than she had a long time. She looked back at the water, closing her eyes and allowing herself to be calmed by the sound of the surf.

They sat in silence, not looking at each other. Killian started toying with the small shells left behind by the high tide while Emma traced indiscernible designs in the wet sand by her feet. The lull in conversation laid uncomfortably on her shoulders and she felt the need to shrug it off.

“His name was Neal.”

He looked up, meeting her eyes with a frown. “Pardon?”

“You asked me more than a few times who broke my heart. His name was Neal.”

Killian didn’t say anything, merely watched her with a look caught between curious and concerned. When she realized he was waiting for her continue instead of responding, she continued.

“You see…I was adopted at first. They didn’t think they could have children so they took me in, and then when the miracle baby came along, I was unwanted and went into foster care when I was three. Eleven foster homes but no forever home.”

“That must have been difficult,” he murmured.

He placed a hand on her back, thumb rubbing a back and forth motion against her shirt. It was soothing but she couldn’t find it in herself to fully relax.

“It was sometimes. There were as many good foster homes as there were bad ones. I can’t say it was all terrible but the bad ones certainly left their scars,” she murmured, bringing her hand up to her collarbone and smoothing her fingers along the ridge as she remembered the foster father who used to use her as a personal ashtray. The burn mark from one of his cigarette butts was still there. “But the last one was the worst and that’s when I had enough and ran away.”

“How old were you?”

“I was seventeen. Old enough to figure things out things on my own but young enough that I shouldn’t have had to,” she replied. “Five months after I ran off, I met him. You see, no one wants to employ a homeless teenager with no high school diploma. I was stealing things to survive.”

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to calm the quelling emotional storm inside her. She hadn’t talk about Neal since she left prison. It felt like she was picking at an old scar that had healed wrong the first time. Killian said nothing, just continued to rub her back. She scooted a little bit closer to him. Like it or not, she needed his support for this.

“You know my Bug?”

“The yellow monstrosity you drive?”

“Don’t diss my car,” she admonished, lightly smacking him. “I met Neal when I stole that car. He had stolen it first, you see, and was sleeping in the backseat. He could have turned me in but instead he saved my ass…and we became partners…for the first time I felt like I was a part of something.”

“What happened?”

“Phoenix happened,” she spat. “That fucking asshole got me arrested.”

“He did what?”

“There were these watches he stole…we were going to fleece them and settle down together in Tallahassee…” She could feel the tears coming. “He sent me to what I thought was a pickup…but was actually a trap. There was an officer there waiting for me. Neal tipped him off.”

Killian swore softly under his breath. Emma nodded numbly in agreement, averting her eyes from his face. She didn’t want to see the look of pity on his face when she finished the story.

“I…I was pregnant.”

He stiffened, the hand on her back stilling.

“Did he know?”

She shook her head. “No. I didn’t even know, not until I went to prison. I never saw him again. I looked but he’s the one person I never found - well, aside from my parents.”

“That’s bad form…no, that’s the worst form I’ve ever heard…that’s…”

“Yeah,” she chuckled ruefully. “I don’t know what I would have done if I saw him again.”

“Tying him up and leaving him for the sharks would have been most appropriate,” he replied darkly. He softened his tone when he asked his next question. “What happened to the babe?”

The tears that had been welling up before this point finally fell, spilling quietly down her cheeks. Hesitantly, Killian’s hand moved from her back to her shoulder and he tugged at her slightly in order to bring her closer to him. She went willingly, burrowing her face into his chest as his arms wrapped around her tightly. She couldn’t remember the last time she had been held like that.

“I put him up for adoption. I was seventeen, had no family, no high school education and a criminal record to boot. There was no way I could have kept him…”

“But you wanted to.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yeah.” Her voice cracked and she hated herself for it.

Killian said nothing for awhile, just continued to hold her and rub her back. She kept her head in the crook of his shoulder, trying very hard not to cry more than she already had.  It was a moment before he spoke again.

“I want you to know that you’re possibly the strongest person I’ve ever met, human or otherwise.”

She snorted in response. “I highly doubt that. I’ve turned you into living Kleenex.”

“Crying is not weak, Emma,” he admonished quietly. “You’ve been through more than I could even imagine and you’re here, you’re still alive and you’re fighting for answers. Surviving is the strongest thing anyone can ever do.”

Emma didn’t know what to say in response to that, especially because she didn’t necessarily agree with him. So she remained silent, enjoying the comfort while it lasted. A cold gust made its way across the beach and despite Killian’s warmth, she still shivered. It was mid-October and the temperature was dropping more rapidly by the day.

“How about we take this indoors?” He suggested quietly. “And you make us some of the hot chocolate you’re so fond of?”

“That sounds good,” she chuckled dryly, wiping at her eyes. With all the emotions of the day, she was certain that she looked like a drowned raccoon at this point. Killian, almost reluctantly, separated himself from her and rose to his feet. Emma followed, feeling even colder than she had before. As if sensing her discomfort, he reached out and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, tugging her to his side.

“What’s with all the cuddling?” Despite her question, she didn’t pull away.

“Just being a gentleman and keeping the lady warm.”

She snorted. “I think the last thing anyone would call me is a lady.”

“I’m going to have to disagree with you on that, Swan.”

“Whatever.”

They quietly walked back into the house, making a beeline for the kitchen. Emma went searching for the saucepan while Killian unpacked the rest of the groceries that she had left abandoned on the counter. She grabbed the milk from the refrigerator and began heating it up on the stove. He watched her with mild curiosity, a frown playing at his lips.

“I thought you used that powder to make hot chocolate?”

“You can but it’s been a shit day and this calls for the real thing,” she replied.

“The real thing?”

“Yeah,” she chuckled lightly before biting her lip. “My favorite foster mom…Ingrid…she taught me this recipe. I save it for special occasions…”

“Why was she your favorite?”

“Because she cared,” Emma replied quietly. “She was the only one who seemed to and for a little while, it felt like I had a mother…I thought she was going to adopt me but then she got sick…”

“I can’t seem to stop picking at your worst memories it seems.”

She shook her head. “No, not all bad. Ingrid wasn’t bad.”

The conversation lulled again as she stirred in the chocolate. She focused her attention on making sure the milk didn’t burn while Killian shuffled in the background. When she was finished, she found him sitting at the table, looking back over the case files that were still strewn across it.

“So, the hospital was a dead end?”

“Yeah. I wasn’t on file. Total waste of a day.”

“Not entirely,” he replied, looking up at her. “I think I might have something actually.”

Emma froze. “What?”

“I said I think have something.”

“Why the hell didn’t you say anything sooner?!”

“Because it wasn’t appropriate. I was going to tell you when you got home but some issues got the best of us and it was pushed aside. You being upset became my primary concern.”

“What exactly is this lead of yours?” Emma asked.

“Well, as you’re aware, I didn’t necessarily sit on my rear all day.”

“Yeah, thanks for getting the Poptarts.”

“We’ll talk about your atrocious eating habits later but I decided to do some digging around town - you know, talk to some of the locals about what they knew about you.”

“Did you refer to me specifically or the case?” Emma asked, feeling her hackles rise.

He gave her a long look. “I’m trying very hard not to be insulted. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, love, but I’m a bit perceptive and I’ve noticed the amount of hoops you’ve gone through to keep the fact this case is about you secret. Of course I didn’t tell anyone that you’re the baby in question.”

She relaxed slightly at his words, raising her mug to her lips and sipping. Killian took it as a cue to continue.

“Anyway, I made it round to Granny’s and chatted with Leroy and those blokes. Miserable bastards, the lot of them really but they had a vague recollection of you being found. They didn’t know much but they’re not the lead.”

“Then what’s the lead? You’ve been building this up enough, haven’t you? Just spit out already!”

“The Lady Lucas knows something.”

“Ruby?” Emma was confused.

“No. Her grandmother. She acted strangely when I mentioned the case.”

She let out a disappointed huff, placing her mug down on the table and groaning. She rubbed at her temples.

“A weird reaction? That’s all you got for me?”

“It’s more than we’ve gotten so far. She knows something, Emma. I’m certain of it.”

“Killian, we need more than just a reaction to some questions…I…” she sucked in a breath. “I don’t know if I can handle another dead end…”

He stood abruptly, causing Emma to jump. He took steady footsteps towards her, placing his hands on her shoulders. The intense look on his face made her uncomfortable so she averted her eyes, looking down at her feet.

“Emma, look at me.”

Reluctantly, she met his gaze.

“We are going to solve this. We are. There is no question in my mind that we are going to find out where you come from. Do you hear me?”

She nodded wordlessly.

“I need you to trust me on this. Please.”

“You’re really that certain that she knows something?”

“I’m willing to bet my life on it.”

Emma searched his face, noting how serious his expression was. She had no doubt in her mind that he meant it. She worried at her bottom lip.

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“We’ll stop by the diner tomorrow and talk to her while we get coffee. I don’t think it’s going to lead to anything but I’m willing to humor you just this once because we got nothing.”

He frowned at her. “Shouldn’t we go now?”

“Killian, it’s the middle of the night. The diner is closed and, honestly? I’m exhausted. We’ll pick this up tomorrow morning.”

Killian looked like he wanted to argue but merely sighed in response. He picked up his untouched hot chocolate and gave her a rueful smile.

“To a better tomorrow, love?”

She chuckled, raising her own mug and tapping it against his. “Yeah. I can drink to that.”

She hadn’t been lying when she said she was exhausted but she realized just how completely drained she was as she made her way up the stairs. Her legs felt like lead and the weight of the emotional upheaval of the day felt heavy on her shoulders.

Despite her fatigue, she slept fitfully; unable to calm her chaotic thoughts. She gave up trying around four in the morning, rising from her bed and heading downstairs. Emma enjoyed staying in Ruby’s beach house but she wasn’t without complaints, particularly in the regard to the fact there was only one television. It had thrown her off at first, especially because she was in the habit of leaving it on while she slept.

She watched infomercials for a good two hours before she got restless. She gave the antique clock on the wall a quick glance. 6:50. If she walked over to Granny’s, it would be open by the time she got there. She got off the couch and walked to the bottom of the stairs, listening intently. Though Killian’s door was closed, she could still hear the muffled sound of him snoring.

She made a decision.

Digging out a notepad with the Black Dog logo on it, she scribbled a hurried note to let him know that she had gotten up early and was going to get coffee. She didn’t want a repeat episode of yesterday.

As she walked into town, a small wave of guilt washed over her. Killian, like it or not, was her partner on the case and he would most certainly not be happy that she had left him behind yet again. It was better this way however. Though she had agreed to humor him and most certainly would ask Granny about the case, she wasn’t so confident that anything would come of it. She didn’t want to deal with his disappointment on top of her own when it happened.

Ruby was just opening up the diner when she arrived. Though she was dressed in her waitress apron, Ruby didn’t look ready for anyone; eyes squinting in the morning light and a vague, zombie-like expression on her face. She became more animated when she noticed Emma.

“Hey! Where’s tall, dark and handsome?”

“Still sleeping,” Emma chuckled. “But probably won’t be for long. He’s got a nose for coffee.”

“Just coffee today?”

“Yes, unless you’ve got those amazing jelly doughnuts ready?”

“I wouldn’t call them amazing but yeah. We have some.”

“I’ll take six,” she paused, biting her lip. “Is your grandmother around?”

Ruby snorted. “When she is not? She takes micromanaging to a whole new level.”

“Can I talk to her? I think she might be able to help with our case…”

“Oh,” she blinked, slightly confused. “Yeah, sure, come on in, she’s in the kitchen.”

Emma followed Ruby into the diner, slightly startled by the classic rock that was blaring from the jukebox. It seemed a little too early in the day to be listening to the Rolling Stones. Granny was putting the doughnuts in the front display underneath the breakfast bar. She straightened up, brushing her hands against her knees and tentatively smiling as she caught sight of them.

“I’m assuming that you want the usual?”

“Actually, I was wondering if I could talk to you about my case.”

The smile was immediately wiped from her face. She glanced in Ruby’s direction for a brief moment before looking back at Emma. She let out a loud sigh, pursing her lips.

“Ruby, I need you to close the door and call Leroy. Tell him I’m sick and need him to man the kitchens. This is going to take a while,” she said before looking at Emma. “You’re going to want to follow me upstairs.”

“What?” This wasn’t what Emma had been expecting at all when she decided to humor Killian’s suggestion.

“What I have to say is best said in private,” she replied gruffly. “Come on.”

She then turned on her heel and headed down a narrow hallway that led to a flight of stairs. She turned and lifted her eyebrows expectantly at Emma before motioning for her to come. Completely confused by the turn of events, she tentatively walked towards her. They went up the stairs into a small apartment setup. It was tidy but cluttered, walls covered in photos and tables covered in various knickknacks.

Granny didn’t say anything to Emma nor she did offer her a seat. Instead, she went straight into the kitchen and picked up a bottle of whiskey off the counter. She then pulled two glasses from the cabinets, pouring two fingers worth.

“Isn’t a little early in the day for that?” Emma asked in alarm.

“If there’s any conversation that needs alcohol, it’s this one,” Granny replied, slamming back one of the glasses like a pro. She filled it almost immediately. “I always knew this day would come. I expected you to come sooner, you know…But the moment I saw you, I knew who you were. I hoped against hope that you weren’t but there’s no denying it…you look just like your mother…though you’re a blondie just like David.”

The colour drained from Emma’s face. She stood still for a moment, not even daring to breathe. She was afraid that if she moved, whatever was happening at this moment would cease to exist.

“You know who my parents are…”

The gruff expression on Granny’s face faltered and was replaced with one that ached of loss. She looked down at the glasses she had filled and Emma thought for a brief moment that she was going to throw back another one.

“I do. I knew them personally,” she admitted. “And they didn’t deserve what happened to them. You didn’t deserve what happened to you and it’s something I live with every day. But before we have this conversation, there’s something that I need to return to you.”

She handed Emma one of the whiskey glasses and placed the other on the coffee table before disappearing into a room that Emma could only assume was a bedroom. She was gone for less than a minute before she returned, this time with something in her hands.

At first, she thought it was a fur shawl, pure white and dainty looking. Granny placed it wordlessly in her lap before sitting across from her. Emma ran her fingers through it. It feel softer than anything she had ever felt and, surprisingly, familiar. She had felt this texture before.

And that’s when she knew exactly what it was.

The realisation hit her like a MAC truck and she nearly dropped it.  She made a frantic grab and caught it before it hit the floor, cradling it to her chest with shaky fingers. When she met Granny’s eyes, the older woman was looking at her with a remorseful expression.

“Please tell me this isn’t what I think it is.”

“I think you and I both know what it is, Emma. It’s yours.”

Chapter Text

Emma couldn’t stop running her fingers over the soft fur of the pelt on her lap. Every time she tried to take her hand away from it, an almost anxious feeling would take hold of her. It was a compulsion that frightened her but she couldn’t stop touching it.

Granny watched her intently, fiddling with her whiskey glass.

There were thousands of questions that were swimming in her head and she couldn’t figure out which one to ask first. So much had been revealed in the past five minutes that Emma felt whiplashed.

“My parents...” She swallowed, finding her throat dry. “They’re...they’re gone aren’t they?”

“I’m sorry.”


Emma squeezed her eyes shut, fingers curling into the pelt. She had considered the possibility that if she ever found who her parents were that they might be dead but now that the possibility was a reality, she felt crushed. The connection that she had been so desperate to find her entire life was now impossible.

“You knew them?”

“I did...their names were David Nolan and, well, your mother’s name we could never pronounce but we called her Mary-Margaret...they were wonderful people and good friends with my Anita. I thought of them as my own.”

“Good people, huh?” She tried not to sound bitter but she could feel the hollowness in her own words.

“The best people.”

“Then why did they leave me at the police station?”

“Oh honey, they didn’t leave you there,” Granny said, putting her glass down and reaching across to place her hand on top of Emma’s. “I did.”

The blood in her veins froze as an icy feeling took hold. She didn’t move, too stunned at first, but as soon as she fully grasped what the other woman had told her, she pulled away. Everything inside her was screaming.

“Why?” The question came out like a curse.

“Because I needed to get you off the island and fast,” she replied, looking at her with a mixture of regret and irritation. “You don’t know how much danger you were in, Emma. I had lost two dear friends of mine to that...that man...and I would have never forgiven myself if he got you too.”

“By that man....you mean Gold, don’t you?”

Granny didn’t say anything, merely sipped her whiskey. The silence between them was heavy and it was during this moment that Emma realised with stunning clarity that the jar of teeth upon the mantle in Gold’s house could potentially contain some that belong to her parents. Cold feeling inside her grew, clawing into her chest and squeezing her heart.

She wanted to throw up.

“When I came here...did you know who I was?”

“Not at first but I had my suspicions. You looked so much like your mother that I couldn’t help but suspect. It wasn’t until your boyfriend came around asking questions about who found you that I knew for sure.”

“But you suspected.”

“I did.”

“And you didn’t feel the need to say anything to me, to anyone?”

“Emma.” Granny’s voice was now sharp. “This isn’t something you can just tell anyone about. You’ve been on the island long enough to know that we don’t work the same way you do on the mainland. You can’t just go to the police or the papers or anything. Fishing is God here and Gold owns the fishing, the paper and the majority of the fish markets in Chilmark and Tisbury. No one goes against him unless they want to be out of work or have someone they love be out of work…I have Ruby to think about. She’s the only thing I have left.”

“At least you have something,” Emma replied bitterly. “I have nothing.”

“Oh? Not even that young man of yours? Imagine how you feel if he was in danger.”

“I don’t need to imagine,” she snapped. “Killian is...he’s like me.”

“You’re both selkies,” Granny whispered in horror. “You need to leave. Now. You should have never come here.”

“I’m not leaving. I’ve been alone all my life and wondered why...why I was never wanted...why anyone would be so cold as to leave me like that. I want answers and I’m not leaving until you give them to me.”

Neither of them said anything for a moment, too busy locked in a staredown; Emma glaring at her and Granny looking back in annoyed exasperation. Emma’s fingers curled so tightly around the pelt that she was almost afraid she would tear it apart. It was the only thing keeping her together at the moment and from giving in to the maelstrom of emotion inside of her.

It was Granny who turned away first, grabbing for her whiskey glass again. Emma briefly wondered if the older woman was trying to get herself drunk before eight o’clock.

“I watched David grow up. The Nolans never had it easy. Their father Robert went to the same school as me and even in high school, he was a mean drunk and worked on the old sheep farm over by Katama...that has since turned into a llama farm and the sheep were sold to Allens in Chilmark...anyway, he drowned in boating accident off of Gay Head and left Ruth alone with the two boys…”

“Two boys? I have an uncle?”

“Had. James died long before you were even born. Car crash in high school. In Chappaquiddick. Like Ted Kennedy but not so lucky.”

“Not sure Mary Jo Kopechne would call that lucky.”

“You know what I mean,” she replied, waving her hand as if she was swatting the comment away. “Went off that same bridge. Poor bastard was 17.”

“Jesus,” Emma muttered under her breath, finally picking up her own glass and taking a sip. She coughed as the alcohol burned her throat.

“Ruth didn’t have a lot of luck but she was a tough woman and worked as a seamstress and a damn good one too. All those fancy parties at Blue Heron? The Kennedys? The Clintons? Your grandmother did the fitting for all of their dresses.”

“Holy shit.”

“She also did my daughter’s christening, first communion and wedding dresses. Could have charged me an arm and a leg, she was that talented but never did. I wanted her to do Ruby’s too but she was too sick by then.”

“Was this before or after my father died?”

“After,” she replied quietly. “I have two regrets in life, Emma. Putting you in the sanctuary box and not telling your grandmother what truly happened to your father. I couldn’t and she suffered for it. She spent all of her time and energy trying to find him, refusing to believe he was gone.”

“You’re a coward,” Emma replied frostily, fingers trembling with cold rage.

“Perhaps I am but I’m alive and my granddaughter is alive. And frankly that’s more than what can be said to those who go against Robert Gold. I’ve watched so more than my share of brave souls go against him and lose….including your father.”

“I thought you said you loved him like a son.” Emma scowled at her over the rim of her glass.

“I did. David was a good man. Hardworking. Intelligent. Handsome. He could have done anything he wanted in life but he chose to stay here and look after his mother. Gave up university so she could keep the house and became the island handyman...sinks, cars, boats, you name it, he could fix it….That’s how I think he met your mother.”

“You think?”

“Well, I don’t know the whole story with them, to be honest. I know the story they spun. That she was a fisherman’s daughter from one of the Carolinas.  I knew that was bullshit from the beginning. She was far too beautiful to be spending weeks on end without bathing.”

“So she was the selkie?”

“I think that ball of sealskin in your hands answers that question more clearly than I ever could,” she replied sardonically.

“What was she like? Aside from pretty.”

“Smart. Feisty. Fierce. She loved the living hell out of your father. The legends always talk about how selkies ensnare humans but I think she was just as head over heels for him as he was for her.”

“How did you find out that she was a selkie?”

“Because when you’re young and in love, you do stupid things. Like meet up in public places like the beach out back. I caught her shedding that skin of hers. And honestly, it was pretty gross. That don’t come off gracefully.”

Emma couldn’t help but pet her pelt defensively in response to that. She didn’t know why but Granny’s words felt insulting to her. The other woman didn’t seem to register her bristling however.

“They tried to play it off like it was some kind of wetsuit but I’ve never been a fool a day in my life,” she continued. “I almost didn’t believe them when they told me the truth but I couldn’t deny what my eyes had seen...I grew up on stories about selkies. My Nan used to whisper about them…Seal wives taken by fishermen and the dangers of selkie men and their kisses….”

“What did you do when you found out?”

“Nothing. I didn’t say a word. I let her stay up in the loft and she shared a room with Anita. Like sisters the two of them. Anita wasn’t the same after it happened. She died eight years after them.”

“What happened?”

Granny pursed her lips. “I’ve lived in this village my entire life and as long as I’ve known Robert Gold, he’s been obsessed with hunting seals. It wasn’t always illegal, you see. And before he completely took over the fishing market, he owned a sealskin business. Expensive, durable and sleek. They were all the rage on the Canadian market and he made the majority of his money off sealskin.”

“You mean he made the majority of his money off slaughtering selkies,” Emma replied, looking down at her pelt as a wave of nausea took hold again.

“I don’t know. When I was a young woman, I didn’t think much about it. I don’t know what came first, whether it was the hunting of seals or selkies. I was never close enough to the man to ask...all I know is rumour.”

“Rumour?”

“That his wife ran off with a selkie man and drowned herself.”

“The rumour mill knows about selkies?”

“No, that’s just my theory but she did run off and came back in a closed coffin. Their son wasn’t the same and he ran off himself after high school. No one has heard from him since. Smart kid. It’s the best thing he could have done for himself rather than be stuck here.”

“And what’s this got to do with my parents?”

Granny eyed the bottle of whiskey that was now down to its last dregs. She reached for it but Emma was quicker, reaching across and snatching it. She held the bottle just out of reach, shaking it violently.

“Answer me.”

“See, this is what I mean when you’re just like them,” Granny scowled. “You don’t think before you act and go around irritating the wrong sort of people. Not ones for tact, your family.”

“What happened to my parents?” Emma asked, unfazed. “You’ve spent the last ten minutes rambling about everything other than what happened. Just tell me.”

“It’s just as I said. They, specifically your father, went around irritating the wrong sort of people. David didn’t take kindly to bullies, especially not Gold. You see, David was a handyman around the island but he wasn’t Gold’s handyman…You see, he had his own guys, and the people renting out his houses were only supposed to use those services...Gold would charge you your soul if he could to have his men snake your pipes. Lots of people couldn’t afford their repairs and they were living in shacks that were expensive enough as is.”

“Jesus, that man is the Devil.”

“No, the Devil is kinder. David got on his bad side by going to the houses and making repairs free of charge. As you could imagine, Gold wasn’t happy about that. They often were at each other’s throats and it wasn’t uncommon to hear them threatening each other...and it wasn’t too long after Gold threatened to sue him that David disappeared.”

“How did you know it was Gold that got him?”

“I didn’t at first,” Granny replied. “I thought perhaps he went to the mainland to find a lawyer and just forgot to tell anyone. It’s wasn’t until Mary-Margaret that I knew what had happened…”

“What happened?”

“Three days after David disappeared, Mary-Margaret came back...with you.”

“Where did she go?”

“Home, I imagine. She would stay for awhile and leave for months on end. She loved your father but I don’t think she could stay away from the ocean for too long. She would get this look when she saw the waves and it was like a compulsion at times. David never begrudged her for it as he seemed to always know she would be back...he would miss her terribly and lord, he would play that Brandy song non-stop. I had to break into that goddamn jukebox myself and remove the record to get him to stop.”

A lump formed in Emma’s throat at this information. She had parents; parents who honestly loved each other. None of this was what she expected. She had half-expected her parents to be teenagers who made a mistake and couldn’t deal with the consequences. Instead, they were something out of a fairytale. She didn’t know which was worse.

“How long had she been gone?”

“Emma, I honestly don’t remember but it had been a while. I didn’t know she was pregnant. Shocked the hell out of me to see her crawl up the beach with you, all swaddled in that pelt. You were cuter than any newborn had the right to be. New babies are supposed to look like aliens. It’s an unwritten rule in the book of humanity...you were perfect.”

“What happened?” She sounded like a broken record at this point but she needed to know. There were still so many questions. She was afraid of the answers but knowing was better than being left in the dark like Ruth, searching blindly and left with nothing but fear and speculation.

“She went looking for him. She left me with you, believing it would take only a matter of hours before she would be back and you would get to meet your father...The hours went by and then  days and then I woke up the one morning to your mother’s pelt on the god awful rack alongside your father’s shirt. Both were covered in blood....Anywhere else in the world, the police would have questioned him about David’s shirt being on that rack...they never brought him in for even questioning.”

The chill from earlier returned. This time it was more condensed, like a ball of dry ice in the pit of her stomach. She had a feeling this was how the story would end. There was a sick poetry to it. Her parents were the stuff of fairytales and a fairytale ending they got, not the sanitized Disney endings that Emma had fallen in love with as a child but the Grimm brothers’ endings with stepsisters cutting their feet to fit a glass slipper and Rapunzel left alone and wandering in the wilderness without her prince.

“Why did you leave me at the police station?”

“I already told you. You were in danger. He killed your parents. It was only a matter of time before he figured out who you were.”

“Why the police station? Talk me through the logic of leaving me there.”

“The police station was close to the diner and it had a sanctuary box...I’m not sure they’re a common thing on the mainland...sometimes they’re called safe haven boxes or baby hatches. In the 1960s, we had issues with abandoned babies. The women from the boats...living at sea is no life for a child, let alone a newborn and they would leave them out in the cold. The St. Andrews Church in Edgartown started the sanctuary boxes in order to give these women a place to put them where no one would ask questions and the children would survive...I figured it was the easiest way to get you to somewhere safe, somewhere far away.”

“You never thought to give me to Ruth?”

“The thought had crossed my mind but that meant telling her what I knew. And she would have thought I was crazy. You weren’t going to be safe, not with me, not with Ruth, I thought I was giving you your best chance.”

Over the course of her life, Emma had gotten good at hiding her emotions, placing a wall between herself and the rest of the world. Before she came here, she could count on her fingers the amount of times she had cried on a single hand. She had cried when she had been arrested, when she found out she was pregnant, when she gave her child away, when she was released from prison and Neal wasn’t there and finally when she first saw her foundling papers.

The walls she had built with trauma and heartbreak had been crumbling over the past few weeks. The bricks had started falling since that first police report, then with Killian and then with each dead end they had encountered. Now, she was left with nothing, not even a foundation.

She didn’t realize she was crying until Granny had reached over to give her a tissue. Emma snatched it quickly, settling as far into her chair as she could to keep distance between them, feeling incredibly raw and vulnerable. Granny seemed to understand her need for space and tentatively grabbed Emma’s forgotten pelt off the floor with the tips of her fingers before placing it carefully on her lap and backing away. She wiped at her face briskly before cradling her pelt to her chest like it was a lifeline.

“I would ask if you were alright but I feel like that’s a waste of breath.”

“No shit,” Emma snapped.

“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry...for everything.”

Emma didn’t want her apologies and she opened her mouth to make that fact known but as soon as she did, she found the words stuck in her throat. She shut her mouth abruptly, jaw clicking and teeth clanking loudly. It was a waste. All of it was a waste. 

“I need to leave...to think…” Emma said, getting up abruptly.

“You have a lot to process,” Granny nodded in understanding.

“I…” she sucked in a breath. “I’m not sure if I can forgive you.”

“I don’t expect you to. Just know that I tried to do what was right by you and it was never my intention to cause you or anyone else pain.”

She couldn’t respond to that, at least not without lashing out.  Instead, she gave the older woman a curt nod before heading back downstairs. She ignored Ruby’s questions as she walked out of the diner, completely forgetting to pick up the coffee and donuts on the breakfast bar.

She had solved her case.

It was a realization that hit her as she was walking up the street and she was so stunned by it that she stopped in her tracks. She had spent her whole life trying to find out why she had been abandoned and who her parents were. It had been her one goal as long as she could remember. And now that it was over.

She didn’t know what to do. Not with the information. Not with herself.

She never thought past finding the truth because honestly, she never expected to find it. Two weeks in Menemsha and the search that had become her life’s mission was over.

What the fuck was she going to do.

“Emma…”

She broke out of her reverie to see Killian standing in front of her with a tentative expression on his face. She blinked in surprise, taking in her surrounds. She was standing on the beach where she had met him. She didn’t even remember walking here.

“Emma…Are you alright?”

It was a question she had been asked a thousand times before in life by foster parents, social workers, doctors, nurses and even by the police officer who had arrested her. The question had never felt sincere before, obligatory almost with perhaps a mild surface interest in the answer.

Until now.

There was a deep furrow in Killian’s brow and her fingers twitched in a sudden impulse to run across the play of folds. His lips were twisted in a small frown as he took a few steps forward into her personal space. The genuine concern in his question reflected in his eyes and she couldn’t stop herself from launching at him, the snow white pelt she had been carrying since Granny’s falling into the sand.

He took it in stride, outstretching his arms and allowing her to fall into them as he curled them around her. She buried her face into his neck in order to hide the quiet sob that came boiling up to the surface again. He didn’t say anything about the sudden wet patch on his shirt, merely held her while swaying them both back and forth. He murmured nonsense into her hair and placed a soft kiss there. Emma just closed her eyes and allowed herself to be comforted, taking in both his scent and the salt of the ocean coming off the breeze.

“I wish you waited for me before going there. I didn’t want you to go on your own…”

“I didn’t want you to be disappointed if it was nothing.”

“I’m assuming it wasn’t.”

“No. It was the opposite of nothing. It was...everything.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked softly, soothing small circles into her back.

“No.”

He nodded, resting his head lightly on top of hers and just continued rocking them back and forth. Emma couldn’t help but feel grateful that he hadn’t pushed her on this. Neither of them spoke for a minute.

“You forgot the donuts.”

She couldn’t help but laugh at that, whacking him in the shoulder. More tears leaked from her eyes but this time they held more mirth.

“Oh my god, you would!”

“You promised me donuts, Swan,” he teased, lifting up his thumb and wiping her cheeks. “Donuts and coffee, I believe your note said.”

“Yeah, well, I got a little preoccupied.”

“I noticed,” he said gently before pulling away.

She felt bereft for a moment from the loss of contact until she realized he was picking up her pelt. Something akin to panic jolted through her as he gingerly took it into his hands, his thumb running over it gently. He looked up at her with almost mournful expression before holding it out to her. She snatched it out of his grasp faster than neither of them could blink, hugging it to her chest.

“That,” he spoke so softly that Emma almost missed the anger in his voice, “is an abomination.”

“What?” She looked at him in horror, completely taken aback by his words. She clutched it closer to her, as if trying to shield it from him.

“It is an abomination,” he repeated. “To take a pelt from a pup.”

“I didn’t take it,” she hissed. “It’s mine!”

“I know it’s yours,” he said, meeting her eyes. “I’m not angry at you, love. I’m angry for you. You have no idea what has been stolen from you. It’s really no wonder you felt so lost and alone all of your life...you said you felt like something was missing all of your life...and it was...but it wasn’t your parents...it was you.”

Emma flinched at his words, looking away from him and down at the soft pelt in her arms.

“How did you know it was mine?” she asked slowly.

“Because I know you,” he replied quietly. “And you aren’t the type to do such a thing...and because I already suspected.”

“You already suspected what?” She looked up, narrowing her eyes at him.

“I suspected that you might have selkie heritage,” he admitted.

“How long?”

“Since the first night if we’re being honest,” he replied. “When you pushed me away.”

“You suspected I was a selkie because I wouldn’t sleep with you?” She spat.

“Selkies can’t seduce selkies, Emma.”

“You knew,” she whispered in disbelief. “You knew all along and you never told me!”

“Knowing and suspecting are entirely different things! I didn’t want to believe that you were because I knew it would mean this!” He said, shaking his head. “I kept hoping it wasn’t true and I allowed myself to believe that because you’re blonde, maybe you were just human after all.”

“What the fuck does hair color have to do with anything?”

“Seals are dark, Emma. Our adult pelts are dark, so in human form we tend to have brown, black or gray hair.”

“My father was a blond!” she shot back.

“Emma.” His voice was strained. “If you have a pelt, you were born in the water. You weren’t born human, you were born a seal. Human genetics don’t apply here.”

She didn’t reply; couldn’t think of anything she could say in response to that. How did one respond to finding out they weren’t necessarily human? She didn’t know and a part of her wished there was some sort of manual - a How to Come to Terms With Being a Different Species for Dummies.

“The only reason for you to be so light is shedding your pelt as a newborn. That pelt you’re holding, we only have for three weeks, Emma. You were less than three weeks old when you shed your pelt. I can’t think of any reason why a mother would allow you to shed so young!”

“She wanted me to meet my father,” she replied softly.

“Your father was human then?”

“Oh, you didn’t suspect that too?” she asked bitterly.

“You’re not being fair.”

“No!” she hissed at him. “You do not get to talk to me about fair! Fairness doesn’t exist! If the world was fair, I would have had parents! I would have had a home! I would have had my son! Nothing, absolutely nothing, is fair!”

He stepped away from her. “I’m not the one you’re mad at, love.”

“Really? Because I’m pretty sure you’re the asshole who withheld the fact that I’m a fucking seal!”

“Selkie,” he corrected. The word seemed to fly out of his mouth automatically.

“Oh fuck you!”

“Calling yourself a seal is derogatory, Em-”

“I really don’t fucking care,” she cut him off. “I don’t. I really just don’t.”

His lips formed a tight thin line and Emma could tell he wanted to argue with her but he remained silent. There was a long pregnant pause and Emma wanted nothing more to be away from him, from everyone.

“I don’t know what to say to make this better,” he said after a moment, licking his lip. “You’re right. What happened to you isn’t fair. I don’t know what she told you or what exactly happened but I can only imagine that it was something horrible.”

“They’re dead…”

“I figured as much.”

She debated telling him about Gold but decided against it. Killian would do something with that information, something bad and much worse than trespassing onto Gold’s property. She knew he would murder the man with his bare hands if given the opportunity and though Emma was angry about what had happened to her parents, Gold’s death would not bring them back. The only thing it could do is potentially take Killian away from her.

“Is there anything you don’t know?” she asked bitterly.

“You make it seem like I know everything. I don’t. I just know that I’ve spent the last two weeks with you and that the only way someone in their right mind would have left you is if they couldn’t come back.”

“Tell that to the eleven foster homes I went to,” she replied bitterly. “Tell that to fucking Neal.”

“I think the key phrase there is ‘in their right mind.’ Which they weren’t. Couldn’t possibly have been.”

“I…” she sucked in a breath, feeling some of her anger leaving her. “I just...Thank you.”

“It’s just the truth, love.”

She couldn’t handle it. It was just too much between Granny, what had happened to her parents and the revelation that she was actually a selkie. Adding Killian and his goddamn sincerity and emotions on top of it was overwhelming.

She needed to get away.

“Listen, thank you,” Emma mumbled. “I just…I think I need to go grocery shopping.”

Killian blinked, looking lost and horribly confused.

“What?”

“I need to go grocery shopping,” she repeated.

Killian opened his mouth to reply but seemed to think better of it. He looked at her in something that looked suspiciously like understanding and Emma had to avert her eyes. She fiddled with her pelt nervously.

“Okay,” he said softly. “It’s okay. I get it. You need those bloody Poptarts.”

“Yes,” she laughed uneasily, as she walked . “You hate them.”

“They’re absolutely disgusting,” he replied with a tight smile.

It wasn’t until she was in the car that she remembered that Killian had done the grocery shopping yesterday. And he had bought the Poptarts. Cursing under her breath, she turned off the main track and went onto North Road, heading west. There were only two Stop & Shops on the island, one in Vineyard Haven and the other on the outskirts of Edgartown. She reasoned to herself that trekking thirty minutes to the other side of the island would be worth it if she was able to pick up a few things that wouldn’t be available in the village market.

It would also look like she hadn’t completely run off on him.

“The market doesn’t have Cinnamon Toast Crunch,” she mumbled aloud, trying to reason with herself.

There were only three cars parked in front of Stop & Shop but Emma still parked near the back of the lot, trying to keep distance between herself and anyone else. A large black sedan parked right next to her, dashing her strategy but she paid it no mind as she walked over to the trunk of her car to collect her plastic shopping bags, willfully ignoring the car and its driver.

That was a mistake on her part.

As she closed the trunk, there was a sharp pain in the back of her head and suddenly everything was black.

Chapter Text

Emma awoke, head throbbing, a taste of cotton in her mouth and her cheek pressed against a rough cold surface. The pain wasn’t sharp but dull and constant, poking at the edge of her awareness. She felt a little fuzzy and not in the normal way she felt when she usually awoke. It was like her brain was made of cotton; thoughts flighty and less concrete.

Like she had been drugged on top of being knocked out.

The next thing that hit her was the smell of sharp chemical cleaner and decay. Both smells were something she had become familiar with in her runaway days, when she had stayed in an assortment of places from seedy unclean motel rooms to abandoned buildings with dead animals in them. It brought back memories of a hollow stomach, frozen toes and never-ending loneliness.

She opened her eyes. Almost instantly she regretted the decision.

She was on the set of American Horror Story. 


That was the first thing that popped into her head as she surveyed her surroundings. She was laying on the concrete floor of an unfinished basement with no windows, wall beams and insulation exposed. Different types of knives and tools were hanging from the various nails on the beams. Directly across from her face was a rack of sealskin that looks freshly cut. Nausea churned inside of her at the sight but that wasn’t the worst of it.

In the corner of the room, there was a large tub, surrounded with various types of chemicals and dark stains on the floor. The tub itself was filled with a churning pinkish mixture that was bubbling and fumes were rising from it. There was something large floating in it but Emma didn’t dare to investigate further. She didn’t want to know.

What she wanted was to get the hell out of there.

To her surprise, she was not bound or chained to anything but rather than critique the kidnapping skills of her abductor, she stood and stretched. She was alone aside from whatever was in the tub, no sign whatsoever of the person who had taken her from Stop & Shop. Immediately she began looking for a window or a door. From the looks of it, the only way in and out was the stairway.

Tentatively, she ascended and pressed on the door. Again, to her surprise, she found it was unlocked. She opened it slowly, trying not to make a sound and alert whoever was around. Despite her efforts, it creaked loudly and she stopped pushing it almost immediately. She strained to hear if there was any activity on the other side, barely able to make out anything aside from the thundering of her heart.

There was nothing. No sound or movement came from the other side.

She let out a shuddering breath as she pushed the door a little farther, just enough to slip through. Moving as quietly as she could, she inched herself through and into an immaculate looking kitchen. The place was spotless and it was hard to believe that she was still in the same house that contained the horror downstairs.

Her phone was on the counter.

Immediately, she grabbed it, noting the time. She had been out for at least four hours. Killian had blown up her phone. She didn’t bother looking at the messages. She hit the call button. It rang twice.

“Swan!”

“Killian,” she spoke softly, moving through the house in hopes of finding a quick exit. She had no idea where her abductor was and she didn’t necessarily want to come face-to-face with them.

“Where are you? I’ve been calling and calling!”

“I was taken somewhere,” she whispered as she entered an expensive-looking living room. “Someone hit me and then I work up on the set of the Friday the Thirteenth.”

“Now is not the time for your nonsensical references! Where are you?”

That’s when she saw it. On the cherry wood mantle. It was the only thing sitting there. No photos, no baubles or no knick-knacks. Only a large mason jar full of teeth. Her stomach dropped.

“Gold,” she whispered.

“Get the hell out of there! Swan, you need to get out of there now!”

She opened her mouth to speak but before she could get the words out, she was grabbed from behind and a cloth was placed over her mouth, muffling her scream of surprise. The noxious smell of chemicals hit her nose and almost immediately she was hit with a sense of drowsiness. Her phone fell out of her grasp as her body went limp and the last thing she remembered was high-pitched laughter ringing in her ears.

The floor wasn’t so smooth the next time she awoke, feeling just as hazy as she had the last time, though this time her hands were bound with duct tape. The floor was now cold, wet and rocking. Nausea returned and this time, she couldn’t hold it back. She got up in a sitting position so she could vomit without getting it in her hair.

“Rohypnol doesn’t work well on you, dearie, does it?”

Emma lifted her head, finally taking in her new surroundings. She was on what she could only describe as a generously large boat. Gold wasn’t looking at her but rather looking out at the ocean from the captain’s seat. He seemed normal, calm, as if he was going for a night cruise rather than abducting someone. His nonchalant attitude made her blood boil.

“You roofied me? You son of a bitch!”

He ignored her outburst, still scanning the horizon. “You should have been out for hours yet. How curious.”

“You’re psychotic!” She hissed.

He turned to face her. Emma expected anger or at least annoyance. There was nothing. It was as if she hadn’t said anything at all. He merely stared at her with the same curiosity that person had when observing an insect, detached and only vaguely interested.

“You have fire,” he said conversationally. “I wonder how long it will last.”

He moved away from the captain’s seat, stalking in her direction. Emma immediately scooted backwards, trying to keep as much distance from him as possible. He snorted in laughter, passing her to drop an anchor over the rail.  

“Going somewhere?”

“Anywhere away from you.”

“Afraid your options are quite limited, dearie. We’re a mile from shore. Nothing but you, me and the open ocean. Now, let’s chat.”

“I make a point not to talk to people who kidnap me,” Emma replied through clenched teeth.

Gold looked down at her for a long moment. This time Emma stared back into his eyes, which she know noticed were as cold and emotionless as those of a reptile. She remembered her first impression of him in Granny’s diner and how he reminded her of a crocodile. The same look he had given Killian was now aimed in her direction. It caused a shiver to go down her spine. It was then Emma remembered exactly who she was dealing with. She was dealing with the man who murdered her parents, a man who had slaughtered and killed selkies and, more importantly, a man who believed he was above the law.

She was stuck on a boat in the middle of the ocean with a serial killer.

He opened a cooler that had been sitting alongside the benches that lined the craft. At first all she saw was blood and ice. He plunged his hand into it, barely even flinching at the cold temperature and pulled out a large fish head.

“There are two ways this conversation can go,” Gold said, still in that nonchalant tone of his. “This could be a nice conversation where it’s just you and me or I could bring some...friends along and you can go for a swim. The choice is yours.”

He gave her a significant look as he tossed the fish head over the side of the boat.

“I think you plan to kill me whether or not we chat,” Emma replied.

Gold chuckled, pulling out another bloody severed fish head and throwing it over. “Nothing gets past you, does it?”

“I’m not a moron. You allowed me to see your face and I’m not bound to the island so you can’t keep my silence. You don’t plan on me living.”

“It’s strange how history repeats itself,” he said, still laughing. “I’ve had this conversation before, you see. About thirty years ago, now that I think about it. Young man who thought he was brave. Brave only gets you so far…”

“David Nolan?”

“My, someone has been doing their research. David, David, David. Everyone used to say how smart he was but he wasn’t so smart in the end,” he mused, a wicked smile contorting across his thin lips. Emma felt sick. “You see, like you, he got himself involved with a selkie and well, hunters don’t appreciate those who stand in the way of their prey. I wonder how smart you’re going to be.”

“I don’t think smart has anything to do with it if I’m going to die either way.”

“Oh but it does. You see, if you’re smart, I kill you nice and clean before I throw you overboard. No fuss. No pain. The sharks won’t be as kind.”

Emma swallowed. She could feel her knees rattling against the deck. She couldn’t tell what was causing her to shake more, the chill in the air or the fact that there was no way she was getting off this boat alive.

“I’ll say one thing, you’re stronger than most. You haven’t started begging or crying yet. No bargaining, no pleading for your life.”

“Sorry to disappoint.”

He moved, crouching in front of her. She flinched when he touched her face, gripping her jaw and forcing her to look at him.

“Who did you call when you were in my house? It wasn’t the police. They would have said.”

“The FBI.”

“Doubtful,” he tutted as he smacked her cheek. “I would have known. I have contacts there as well. I’m more valuable to them than you could ever be. No. You were talking to someone you want to protect...the diner lady? Her harlot granddaughter? Or was it your selkie?”

Emma said nothing, merely glared at him. She had never hated another human being more than she did in this moment. Even during her worst nights in prison, she didn’t hate Neal as much as she hated Gold.

“It was, wasn’t it?” The smile grew more cruel. “You thought he would rescue you, didn’t you?”

Again she remained silent, visualizing what how his face would look after she had bashed it in with her fists. He treated this as a confirmation as well, crowing with sick delight and laughing more.

“Don’t you know? There’s no one more selfish than a selkie. They never think about anyone but themselves. They don’t care about the hearts they’ve stolen or the families they’ve destroyed. All they care about is pleasure and freedom. He won’t come for you.”

“What makes you so sure he’s a selkie?”

“Oh dearie, dearie, dearie. I know them better than they know themselves. I’ve been hunting them since before you even born. I know a selkie when I see one. Dark, beautiful, selfish and vicious. They always reveal themselves in the end. I saw him for the beast he was the moment I set eyes on him.”

The cynical and jaded part of Emma wanted nothing more than to laugh in his face. Here he was bragging about how well he knew selkies while there was one right in front of his very nose and he didn’t seem to realize it.

“If he’s the one you want, then what do you want with me?”

“Information.”

“I thought you knew everything there was to know about selkies.”

“I do, which is why if anyone knows the key to finding him it’s you. They’re chatty creatures when they’re trying to impress their latest victim.”

“You mean victims like your wife?” She didn’t know why she was baiting him but she couldn’t help but ask the question.

His eyes bulged in surprise for a brief moment, clearly caught off guard. It wasn’t long before they narrowed anything, the cold emotionless look replaced with something akin to fury. It was the first time Emma felt like she was seeing a genuine emotion from him.

“And what do you know about my wife?”

“She left you for a selkie man and you couldn’t handle it.”

“Is that what you think?”

“That’s what I know.”

“Which is absolutely nothing!” he snarled. “My wife was no victim. She was selfish and had little regard for anyone, including our son. I gave her everything. A home. Money. Clothes. A beautiful boy to take care of. All I wanted was her to be my wife and what did she do to show her gratitude? Returned to the ocean at her first chance.”

She felt her jaw drop as she realized exactly what he was saying.

“Your wife was a selkie,” she whispered in horror.

“And a vicious one at that. Heartless. Milah took from me what I desperately desired so I took away what she desired the most,” he replied, fiddling with charms of the crude necklace around his neck. “And now, she’ll never leave me.”

Emma stared in horror as she realized that charms he was playing with weren’t actually charms, but rather very human-looking teeth, canines if her elementary health classes had taught her correctly. Given the context of their rather gruesome conversation, Emma could only assume that they had belonged to his wife, which is why they were around his neck rather than in the mason jar on his mantle back in the house. Bile rose in her throat.

An even sicker realization hit her.

Milah. It took her a few moments to place the name but when she did, it felt like someone had dumped an ice bucket over her head. Gold’s wife had been Killian’s Milah, the selkie woman who had become his rock in a new and unforgiving environment. The man who had killed her parents had also killed the woman Killian had loved. She didn’t know why she was surprised. This man seemed to thrive on destroying the lives of those around him.

“You killed her because she wanted to go home.”

“She killed herself when she decided to abandon her family.”

“You couldn’t stand her saying ‘no’ to you. You’re like a child who destroys his toys when they don’t work the way he wants!” She shouted back at him.

Gold’s face flashed with fury. He lunged forward, grabbing a handful of her hair and slamming her facedown against the deck. The blow was sudden and disorientating, pain shooting through her skull. She could already feel the massive bruise beginning to form on her cheek.

“That will teach you to be mouthy. You will be silent unless I tell you otherwise,” he hissed into her ear.

“No.”

“Excuse me?”

“I said no,” she repeated bitingly, her head still swimming. “I will not be silent. I will not cooperate with you. You will get nothing you want from me. I refuse. You might as well throw me overboard now.”

“That is a request I will happily grant,” Gold snarled, tightening his hold on her hair and proceeding to drag her across the boat.

Emma screamed, thrashing her body and waving her bound arms in hopes of hitting or loosening his hold. She wasn’t going to go down without a fight. She landed a few good hits, causing Gold to swear violently at her but she paid no attention to his words. In the course of her struggle, she managed to kick over the chum cooler, sending ice, blood and fish parts sliding across the deck.

As Gold attempted to drag her towards the ledge, something happened. A black mass burst from the water and jumped onto the boat, sending both Emma and Gold backwards. Emma let out a yelp of pain as she smacked her elbow hard against the deck. The boat rocked violently, seesawing back and forth in a fashion that made her wonder if the boat was going to flip over. Gold screamed as he fell, red flashing across her vision.

Initially, Emma thought it was some sort of shark that jumped aboard. It has been incredibly large and powerful enough to nearly capsize the boat. But as she got her bearings, she realised that she was seriously mistaken.

It was a seal.

A large black furred seal, larger than any animal that Emma had ever encountered before in her life. It was easily six to seven feet in length and looked like it weighed a few hundred pounds, more than capable of crushing both her and Gold. It looked more dangerous than any wild animal had the right to be, baring sharp teeth and barking noisily. She flattened herself against the deck, hoping that it wouldn’t take notice of her.

Gold had no such fears. He stood up on shaky legs, yanking Emma up by the arm. When she resisted, he pulled a switchblade from his pocket. She went still as he brought it against her neck.

“Yield.”

At first, Emma thought he was talking to her but Gold wasn’t looking at her. His eyes were trained on the still snarling animal. It was then that Emma really studied the creature. When she first caught sight of it, all she had noted was that it was large and terrifying but now it was familiar. Its sleek pelt had taken on a distant pattern that she had seen before but she didn’t make the connection until she saw the unnatural intelligence in its eyes.

Killian.

“Yield, beast.” Gold held the knife higher on her neck. “Take off the pelt and we will talk like men. Do anything rash and dear Emma gets a bloody necktie.”

The low growl emitted from Killian’s throat, lips raising to show off more sharp teeth. Gold didn’t so much as flinch - if anything, he pressed the knife closer to Emma’s skin. A few moments passed where nothing happened and Emma felt each second pass slowly as adrenaline pumped through her veins, heart beating a tattoo against her ribcage.

The seal shifted, rolling its shoulders followed by.a clicking noise. Emma watched, oddly fascinated, as bones began to shift beneath the skin. It was almost grotesque to watch it but she couldn’t look away as a flipper became more like an arm and the fat seemed to melt away from its torso, the pelt falling loose. She sucked in a breath as the face of the seal was pulled away to reveal a more familiar human one. The removal of the pelt was followed by an awkward squelching noise and it was then that she realised that his human skin was covered a thin layer of disgusting gunk. Faintly she mused that this was why selkies needed to dazzle humans into accepting them, watching the transformation from seal to human was pretty gross.

“You know, I’m hunted your kind for decades and I can count on a single hand how many times you lot have come back for humans. Not the smartest seal, are you?”

“You shouldn’t have brought her into this,” Killian said in a quiet tone. Despite his calmness, Emma could hear the anger in his voice.

“You’re the one who brought her into this, dearie.”

“Let her go.”

“And why would I do that?” Gold taunted.

Killian didn’t answer his question. His lips formed a tight thin line as his eyes cut away from Gold and met Emma’s. His demeanour changed, from furious to desperate. He seemed to be silently pleading with her but over what, she didn’t know.

“Tell you what, you hand over your pelt and the girl goes free.”

“No!” The word escaped her throat before she could stop it.

“Quiet,” Gold hissed, fingers digging into the skin of her arm. “That’s my deal for you. The pelt for the girl.”

“I’m not worth it,” Emma whispered, shaking her head, heedless of the knife at her throat.

“No…” Killian swallowed. “You’re worth everything.”

He stepped forward, pelt in his hands. Emma wanted to scream at him for being so foolish and so reckless and for choosing this moment, the worst moment in the history of bad moments, to be romantic. He was an idiot. Gold had no intentions of letting either of them go and he was surrendering the most fundamental part of him in a desperate, useless measure that everyone on this boat knew would amount to nothing. This was unacceptable.

She refused to accept this. She wasn’t going to.

An eerie sense of calm overtook her as she came to a decision. There was a sudden disconnect between her mind and her body, as if she was just watching a movie rather than experiencing it firsthand. The only thing she knew was that she wasn’t going to allow Killian to do this, not while she was living and breathing.

Over the course of her career as a private investigator, Emma had watched her fair share of shitty romantic comedies, including Sandra Bullock’s “Miss Congeniality.” It wasn’t the best film in the world and there were parts that Emma found more irritating than endearing but there was one scene that seemed to be burned into her memory and that was the scene where Gracie Hart taught the audience how to SING and not in the entertaining way.

Bracing slightly, Emma brought her elbow up and swung backwards as hard as she could. She made contact with his solar plexus, catching him off guard and causing him to stumble. The knife came down against her collarbone, cutting into her skin but Emma paid it no mind as she slammed her foot against his instep and pivoted back to hit him with her elbow again.  Gold fell backwards and she moved to finish the job but Killian shoved her out of the way, getting in on the action by hitting him with a bodyslam. Gold went over the side of the boat with a loud shout, pulling on Killian’s arm in desperate attempt to stay onboard. Killian stumbled, clawing at the railing to keep from falling over as well.

“Fuck!” Killian screamed, trying to pull his arm back. “You’re going to pull my bloody arm off!”

“I’m going to do quite a bit more than that once I get back on board!”

“I’m going to run you over with your own goddamn-“ He didn’t finish his sentence. Emma watched in horror as the boat shook from a sudden collision with a large force. Killian went flying over the edge with a yelp and into the water, bringing Gold with him.

Emma scrambled to her feet, a fresh sense of panic taking over. There were only two things that could have hit the boat like that, a whale or a shark, and neither of them were good.

Red.

All she could see bubbles and blood spreading. No sign of Killian and Gold. She had never been more terrified in her life, not even when Gold had put the knife to her neck.

“Killian!” Her eyes searched the water desperately, looking for a sign.

Suddenly a dark head arose from the churning sea, gasping for breath and splashing frantically. It was Killian and he looked positively terrified.

“Emma!”

Her relief was short lived as she noticed the dark shape in the water and an all-too-familiar triangular shape breaking the surface as it moved towards where Killian was barely keeping afloat. She had seen enough Jaws movies to know what it was.

“Killian! You have to get out of the water!”

She searched frantically, looking for something to help him. She found portable boat ladder leaning casually against the side and immediately placed it over the rail. Killian began to swim towards it but his movements were sluggish and slow.

He wasn’t going to make it in time.

“No, no, no, no,” Emma chanted under her breath as she began ripping at the duct tape around her wrists with her teeth. It took her a few moments to break it but when she did, she didn’t bother to take all of it off. Instead she looked around wildly for something that she could throw or distract the shark with. All she could find was buoys, life jackets and things for boat maintenance. She highly doubted throwing a can of WD40 was going to do much.

The only thing that looked remotely useful was a long thin metal pole with a small hook at the end of it. She had no idea what it was for and she didn’t care. She just needed to figure out how help Killian.

Armed with her weapon, Emma returned to the side of the boat to survey the situation. The shark was nearly on top of Killian who only a few feet away from the ladder. She didn’t think, smacking the pole against the water in hopes of warding the shark off. It swerved to avoid the pole but wasn’t deterred from its course. She continued to violently stab at the water in hopes of keeping it away from the boat, hitting it at times along the top of the head and nose. It reared back when Emma managed to get a nasty shot at its gills. She let out of a shout of victory as Killian clambered onto the deck, unhindered by the shark.

Or so she thought.

As soon as he made it over the side, he collapsed. Breathing heavy and white faced, he cradled his left arm against his chest. Blood and water pooled around him and that’s when Emma noticed his hand.

Or lack of it.

It was gone, leaving an gnarled wrist in its wake. Blood and shredded tendoned curling around the stump. Emma fought back the urge to scream and recoil. Freaking out would solve nothing. Killian needed help and he needed help fast.

It was a vague memory from her middle school health class but Emma tore off her shirt and immediately wrapped it around Killian’s wrist in hopes of creating a makeshift tourniquet. Her hands shook violently as she tightened the cloth around his ravaged wrist.

“What are you doing, love?” He asked weakly.

“Stopping the blood flow,” she answered shortly, taking off her belt so she could keep the shirt in place. Red quickly spread through the fabric and Emma didn’t like how fast he seemed to be losing blood. “I’m going to need you to keep this elevated while I try to figure out how to get you help…Can you do that?”

“Whatever you want, love.”

As much as she didn’t want to, she left his side and began searching through Gold’s stuff again, looking for something, anything really, that could help them get help. She had no clue how to drive a boat, especially one of this caliber and she was almost positive that any attempt to drive it back to Menemsha would be detrimental to Killian.

She nearly sobbed when she found an almost ancient emergency radio and a pack of flare gun. She picked up the radio, unsure if it was on the correct channel or even if she was transmitting correctly and spoke.

“Help! Help! Help! Is anyone out there! I need help!”

There was no response. She shifted the channel, repeating the same desperate plea and waiting thirty seconds for a response before changing it. Only the third shift, someone finally replied.

“Ma’am, is this mayday?” A man’s voice crackled over the radio.

“Mayday, help, what, I need someone and I need them now!” Emma shouted back. “I’m in the middle of fucking ocean, someone dead and my friend is dying! I need help!”

“Ma’am, what is the condition of your craft?”

“It’s fine but my friend isn’t! Send the Water Ambulance, the Coast Guard, the Avengers, someone! He’s been attacked by a shark and is bleeding out and I don’t know how to drive this thing! The guy who did is dead!”

“Ma’am, calm down, this is the US Coast Guard based in Chilmark that you’re speaking to. Do you know where you are?”

“No fucking clue,” she said, letting out a hysterical laugh. Just her luck. She could get the Coast Guard on her first attempt of radioing for help but she had no idea where she was. “All I know is that we came from Memensha.”

“Do you know the name of the craft, ma’am?”

“No,” she replied shortly.

“Listen to me carefully. I need you to look find the name of the craft you’re on. It should be on the side or near the back of the craft. Can you do that for me?”

Before he had even finished, she had moved to crane her head over side to get a look. There was a name inscribed in large gold lettering and a bunch of black vinyl numbers underneath it that Emma could only assume was a serial number.

“Ma’am? Ma’am? Are you there, ma’am?”

“Yeah?”

“Did you find the name of your craft?”

“The Spinning Wheel,” she replied. “And I think, serial code...RU3PL3ST1K?”

“Thank you, ma’am. Your craft has a locator on it. We should be able to get to you in about 30 minutes to an hour depending on the accuracy of your locator. In the meantime, keep your radio on and tend to your friend. We’re sending a helicopter to get you. Look for any flares aboard your craft and set them off. They will help our responders find you.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.” She couldn’t stop saying the words.

As soon as she was off the comm with the Coast Guard, she immediately shot off the flare gun. She watched in brief fascination as the flare flew up; red smoke bursting through the air, thick and vivid. It reminded her slightly of fireworks.

She returned to Killian’s side. He was propped up against the side of the boat, cradling his injured arm against his chest and looking as white as bone. Emma immediately wrapped her arms around him, pulling him to her.

“Someone is coming,” she murmured into his hair. “You gotta hang on because someone is coming and they’re going to help us.”

Killian nodded weakly, seeming to barely register her words.

“So much for a dashing rescue,” he said faintly.

“What can I say, the only person who saves me is me,” she replied shakily, attempting to smile.

He chuckled a bit at that, the corners of his lips lifting faintly. “You’re brilliant, Swan.”

“And you’re going to be okay...you have to be okay…you said you weren’t going to leave me…”

“I’m not sure I have much of a choice in this…”

“You’re right, you don’t. I’m not going to allow you. I won’t let you. I refuse god fucking damn it!” Hot tears leaked out of the corners of her eyes as she clutched him tighter, afraid that he would slip through her fingers. She ran her fingers down his back in attempt to comfort him, placing fleeting kisses against his crown.

She couldn’t lose him.

Killian had become important. In the past few weeks, he had wormed his way past her walls, through her rib cage and straight into her heart. She didn’t know what they were or what they would be but she knew that she wanted him alive and in her life. He was her person in a way that no one else had been.

Despite her insistence that he wasn’t allowed to die, she had held her breath; fully aware that neither of them had control of the situation. Emma had done her best to stop the bleeding but there was no telling how much blood he had lost before she had even applied the tourniquet. She watched his color, growing increasingly more panicked as he got paler and paler.

She nearly burst into tears when she heard the beating sound of the helicopter’s wings cutting through the air.

They were going to make it.

Chapter Text

Eight Months Later...

The Vineyard Sound was calm, the surface of the water almost as smooth as glass as Emma Swan sat down on the front porch of the yellow beach house. There wasn’t a single soul on the beach across the road, but it was only May and she could only imagine how crowded it got once the vacationers arrived. She knew from what Granny Lucas had told her that the beach was a private one and meant only for the residents of the neighborhood but Emma assumed the majority of the houses here were rental properties and soon the street would be crowded with strangers.

Emma hadn’t expected to remain on the Vineyard past October but something had felt wrong about returning to Maine, especially with Killian in tow. Nothing was waiting for her there while Memensha was full of ghosts, full of history that she had yet to uncover. So, she had given up her shitty loft apartment and decided to stay. She had appealed to the Lucases to remain in the house, offering to pay extra in rent. Ruby and Granny were more than willing to let them stay in the house but had refused their money, claiming that the property should have been hers in the first place because it had been Ruth Nolan’s before it had fallen into their possession. Granny had even forced Ruby to return the rental money, something that Emma was certain had more to do with her guilt than the debatable ownership of the beach house. Feeling awkward about the situation, she had insisted on paying utilities which they relented on.

Emma had taken to working shifts at the diner over the winter on top of working as a freelancer investigator alongside Killian. The majority of their work was on the mainland but Emma sensed that he enjoyed their near daily-ride over to Hyannis, his eyes glued to the ocean. He had yet to go near the water since he had lost his hand. More than once she had caught him looking out over the Atlantic with a mixture of longing and anxiety.

Two fur pelts were waiting in the top dresser, dark and sleek next to white and fluffy; one much larger than the other. They never talked about it but Emma knew it was only a matter of time.

Killian placed a whiskered kiss on her cheek as he placed her hot chocolate down on the table and sat down in the chair beside her, knee bumping into hers. Emma gave him a soft smile, mug in one hand and placing the other on top of his truncated wrist. She had taken to touching his injury in hopes of helping him become more accepting of it. In the first few weeks since the incident, he had taken to hiding it from view. If he had been a normal person with an actual driver’s license and health insurance, Emma was certain he would have been in therapy for it. Since none of those things were available, it was up to her to help him heal from his injuries and trauma. All the websites had recommended she treat his injury as it were normal and that she didn’t see him as less for it. It had been a long and rough road over the winter, yet they were both getting there slowly but surely. Rather than shake her off, as he had done in previous months, today Killian just stiffened briefly at the contact. He relaxed when he turned his attention on the water. Emma took this as a small victory.

“It’s calm out there today,” he said quietly as he drank from his own mug.

“I was just thinking that. And how it won’t be long before it’s swarmed with people.”

“Aye,” he placed his mug down, jaw tightening. “Which is why I think now is the time.”

“Time?” She looked at him uncertainty.

“Time,” he repeated. “Time for us to take a swim.”

“Now? In May? Are you serious? The water is probably freezing!”

“Perhaps to a human, but not to us,” he said quietly. “The ocean is a part of us, love. It’s our home.”

Emma hesitated, placing her hot chocolate on the table and straightening her shoulders. This is a conversation she had played over and over in her head during the past months. They should have talked about this sooner but she had been so happy to have him in her life and so desperate to keep him after everything that had happened, she had allowed them to play house while keeping her fears trapped in the back of her mind.

“It is your home,” she said, looking him in the eye. “But I’m not sure it’s mine.”

“What do you mean, love?” He was looking at her with such concern that it almost hurt.

“I was born a selkie but I’ve lived the last thirty years of my life as a human being. The only time I’ve really spent around the ocean has been when I came here. I don’t even know how to swim, Killian, that wasn’t necessarily a priority for kids in foster care, you know?” She took in a deep breath. “And my pelt...you’ve seen it...it belongs to a baby…what if my connection to it is broken? What if I can’t connect like you can?” Her voice wavered slightly on the last question.

Killian met her gaze steadily, taking her hand off her mug and entwining it with his hand, interlocking their fingers and giving them a small squeeze.

“Been thinking about this for awhile now, have you?”

She bit her lip, not wanting to tell him that she had been thinking about it since October. When she didn’t answer his question, he sighed and spoke again.

“Emma, what happened to you...was unprecedented to say the least. I understand why Granny did what she did even though I don’t and could never agree with it...I don’t know what will happen if you tried to slip into your sealskin but what I do know is that no matter what happens, I’m not leaving.”

“I can’t keep you from the ocean, Killian,” she whispered.

“I can’t promise that the tide won’t call to me - I will need to leave at times, but there is something that I can promise and that promise is that I will always, always come back to you. You are as much part of me as the ocean is, love, and I don’t think I could bear being separated from you any more than I could being separated from it.”

He squeezed her hand again before bringing it up to his lips and placing a kiss on her knuckles.

“Well okay then, you’re certainly no Mr. Darcy,” she responded with an uneasy laugh. She expected him to give her his patented curious look but much to her surprise, he gave her a small smirk and quirked an eyebrow at her.

“I’ll take that as a compliment, love, he was quite a wretched orator. I would have been insulted by that proposal as well and would have hit him for good measure. Much better writer.”

Emma blinked, not expecting this response. “You know who Mr. Darcy is?”

He gave her a slightly condescending look, as if she had dribbled on her shirt.

“I’ve been on dry land for nearly eight months now, love. I know how to read and have plenty of spare time to catch up on all the delightful references you seem to make…” he paused for a moment, smirk growing on his lips. “So, if I’m not Darcy, then who am I?”

“Mr. Collins,” she drawled.

“Hey!” He pushed her shoulder lightly. “That’s not nice! I’m Mr. Bingley at worst.”

“So you would rather to be the guy who can’t make his own decisions and is easily persuaded by his sisters and best friend?”

He frowned at that. “Perhaps not. I’m more of a Mr. Knightley kind of man anyway.”

Emma’s eyebrows knitted in confusion as she tried to recall a Mr. Knightley character in Pride and Prejudice . When she came up short, she frowned at him.


“There isn’t a Mr. Knightley in Pride and Prejudice.”

“No, there isn’t. I’m afraid he’s in character in another one of Jane Austen’s works. The novel he’s in is probably my favorite of her books. I think we both have a lot in common, particularly in regard to women.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, he happens to be in love with the titular character, a woman who is headstrong and a complete force of nature. Her name fits her perfectly.”

“Oh, what’s her name?”

He gave her a fond smile. “Emma.”

She almost hated how much her heart leapt in her chest when he said that. It didn’t seem to matter how many times he had expressed his feelings to her, every time felt new and sent a jolt through her system. It didn’t seem like a reaction that was going away anytime soon.

She leaned forward, giving him a brief kiss before pulling away and bumping his nose with hers.

“You’re a sap.”

“Perhaps, but I’m your sap,” he replied, squeezing her hand again. “And I think we’ve drifted dreadfully off course with our conversation in regards to swimming.”

She shook her head.

“It’s way too cold. It’s practically still ice. We had frost on the ground last week for Christ’s sake.”

“And as I said before, it’s too cold for a human but not for us.”

“And as I said before, we don’t know if I’m selkie enough for it.”

“Well, there’s only one way to find out.”

She studied him for a moment, taking in the earnest expression on his face before sighing and getting up from her chair. She stretched out her limbs, raising her arms and rolling her shoulders.

“Alright, fine, but if I freeze to death, I’m going to kill you.”

“Don’t worry, love, if you get too cold, I know more than a few ways to warm you up,” he replied with a leer, eyebrows dancing.

Emma gave him a whack on the shoulder in response, but the reproach in her actions was negated slightly by the small smile that was tugging at her lips.

It was while she was rummaging through the dresser that Emma realized that not once in her life had she owned a bathing suit. The revelation heightened her anxiety, another reminder that Emma had been completely separated from the ocean, from Killian’s world. She pulled on a sports bra and a pair of running shorts, hoping that they would suffice.

Her fingers trembled slightly as she opened the top drawer, revealing the pelts that had been left untouched since October. She ran her fingers through the fluffy white fur, relishing in the calm feeling it always seem to provide her whenever she felt stressed. She pulled it out, staring at it with mixture of fondness and dread. It would barely suffice as a shawl, let alone cover her entire body. She didn’t have a lot of optimism in that department. She sighed as she placed it in the beach bag she had pulled out of the closet. At least she would finally have answers.

She was worried about touching Killian’s pelt, remembering how he had reacted the last time he had caught her with it. Though it had been eight months since that incident, the look on his face when she had hesitated in returning it was still fresh in her mind.

“You gonna pack it up or what?” He called over her shoulder, causing her to jump.

She turned, fixing him with a glare.

“Don’t sneak up on me like that!”

“Apologies, love, but you seemed to be taking a while to get ready,” he responded with a frown.

His eyes darted between the pelt in the drawer and the fear on her face. Emma watched as understanding seemed to dawn on him. He stepped forth, placing his hand and wrist on her shoulders, smoothing them down her arms.

“You can touch it,” he said quietly.

“I didn’t know if I was allowed,” she responded. “I’m still kinda new at this.”

“You’re more than allowed...it’s as much yours as it is mine.”

“I don’t want your pelt, Killian. It’s yours. I don’t know how to make it more clear that I don’t want to trap you.”

“And I don’t know how times I have to tell you that I love you and I’m not leaving you. You’re not trapping me. It’s just a gesture of trust. I trust you.”

“I don’t need it, okay?”

“Okay,”  he sighed, kissing her forehead. “Now, grab the damn pelt and let’s hit the water.”

They walked across the street, fingers interlocked and hands swinging between them. Emma paused as they got nearer to the shoreline, her eyes darting up the coast and towards the Gold house which still stood imperiously on the hill overlooking the street. There was no one there but she couldn’t help but shiver every time she saw it, thinking of the horror show basement and the jar of teeth on the mantle. The house technically now belonged to Gold’s estranged son but no one had heard anything from him since he had left the Vineyard and the radio silence had continued even after his father’s death.

She still had nightmares about the incident. Her dreams were plagued with shrill laughter and red ocean water. Even the discovery of Gold’s mangled body fifteen minutes away on South Beach near Katama had done little to assuage her fears. Only Killian’s presence beside her at night seemed to help - though still, every once in a while, she woke up screaming and they would both sit outside with hot chocolate and stare at the water.

Killian seemed to follow her line of thought, loosening her hold on his hand so that he could wrap an arm around her shoulder and pull her close. He placed a kiss on her temple.


“Hey, he’s gone. He can’t hurt us, you know that.”

“I know,” she replied quietly. “I just want to burn the place to the ground though. I can’t look at it...without thinking of my parents...of Milah...of all the people he’s murdered and the selkies he’s skinned...He deserved a lot worse than he got.”

Killian flinched slightly at her words. He was still coming to grips with everything Gold had done in the past, as she was herself. They had spent more hours than they could count talking about the gravity of what he had done to them, to the people they loved. There was still a lot of anger and pain buried in them that they needed to work out but Emma hoped it would lessen with time.

“I don’t know, Swan, getting mauled to death by a shark is a selkie’s worst fear. I can’t think of a more fitting death aside from it being at one of our hands - well, in my case, hand.”

She was silent for a moment, choosing her words carefully.

“I’m glad.”

“About what?”

“I’m glad that it wasn’t us. I’m glad that we didn’t kill him because then his blood would be on our hands and we would have stooped to his level.”

“I think I’m going to disagree with you on that, love, and table it there. It’s not worth the argument. That man isn’t worth any more of our time than he’s already taken. Now, I’m going to teach you to swim.”

Emma reached to grab the pelts from her bag but Killian stopped her, placing his hand gently on her arm.

“I was thinking I would teach you the human way first. There’s no need to rush into this head on. Shifting form can be uncomfortable and I want you more comfortable in the water before we add to that…”

She nodded, dropping the beach bag on the sand and shifting around the beach towels to cover up the pelts. There wasn’t anyone on the beach but Emma felt more comfortable covering them, hidden from view should anyone walk by.

It was Killian who hesitated this time, just short of where the waves were gently lapping at the shore. His shoulders were tense and squared up, as if he was facing the enemy rather than the place he called home.  

“You okay?” she placed a hand between his shoulder blades.

“I…” he paused, a muscle jumping in his jaw. “I haven’t been in the water since it happened.”

Her heart clenched in sympathy and it was then that she realized that she wasn’t the only one anxious about this. Killian had frequently mentioned that getting caught by a shark was a nightmare scenario for a selkie and it was a nightmare he had barely survived. Emma had always figured that his reluctance in the past months to return to the ocean had been about his missing limb but now she realized it was only a part of it.

“Hey,” she murmured, smoothing her hand down his back. “I got you and you got me. We’re going to be okay.”

He laughed at this but Emma could hear some strain in it.

“Aye, I’ve seen your shark fighting skills up close and personal, Swan. If anyone’s going to save me from the finned devils, it’s you.”

“Exactly,” she grinned. “So what are you waiting for?”

The water was cold but not nearly as bad as she had been expecting and the longer she waded in the water, the more she got used to it. Killian gave her a smug grin as she followed him farther into the waves.

“Not too cold for you?”

“Yeah. It’s not too bad. What is it, like, 70 degrees?”

“I don’t know how your garbage American temperature systems works but it’s like 13 or 14 degrees celsius.”

Emma did the math quickly in her head, eyes widening in realization. She looked down at the water then back at his face in astonishment.

“Jesus Christ, so this is like 45-50 degree water we’re in! How are we not freezing?”

He laughed. “How many times do I have to tell you that selkies don’t work the same way humans do? Our bodies are designed for this. I’ve happily stayed in these waters during the winter when it’s much colder than this.”

“I guess I just didn’t expect it would be the same for me…”

“Hey,” he said softly. “What happened to you doesn’t make you any less, okay? You might have been out of the water for a long time but you were born one of us. You were always one of us...Now, want to see something else we can do that they can’t?”

“Ummm...sure?”

He laughed, head disappearing under the waves. She stared in confusion, not comprehending what he was doing. A few moments passed and nothing happened. His head broke the surface of the water and he gave her a frown.

“You were supposed to follow me…”

“Killian, I’m barely swimming as is, I don’t need to go under.”

“You’re fine and yes, you do.”

“Why?”

He gave an annoyed look. “Can you just trust me please?”

“Fine, fine,” she replied, rolling her eyes.

She closed her eyes, dunking her head under the waves. With her head submerged, it felt slightly warmer and she waited for something to happen. When something touched her face, she opened her eyes without meaning to.

Clear vision.

Emma had never stepped foot in a pond, lake, pool or any body of water to speak of but she was very much familiar with the fact that normal people generally couldn’t see that well in water and that old filmmakers had used wax paper to show that effect. She found no difference in vision between land and sea.

Killian smiled at her, pulling his hand away from her cheek and holding up three fingers. Slightly confused, she copied him. His smile widened as he brought up his pinkie and spread his middle and ring finger to make a Vulcan salute. Again, she followed suit. He did a few series of hand motions, each more complex than the last, changing it up every time she finally did each one. When she copied the last one, which was a simple cross of fingers, he moved forth to kiss her.

It wasn’t nearly as romantic as the movies made it seem, nose banging into hers, lips sliding awkwardly and teeth clacking when he pushed forth with a little too much effort. It was how Emma imagined kissing in space would be like - a cute idea but hard to maneuver in reality. It got better when he anchored his hand in her hair. It didn’t last long however, as Emma’s lungs practically screamed for air. She couldn’t help but laugh as she broke the surface.

“That...that was something!” She chuckled.

Killian tugged her closer, bringing her in for another kiss that was more successful than the last one and had more heat to it. She was constantly falling in love with the soft sound he made when she would nip at his bottom lip.

“You could see,” he murmured, smiling at her and resting his forehead against hers.

“I could,” she grinned.

“That’s good sign. Are you ready to try the pelt?”

“Honestly no but it’s better to do this now rather than speculate on it any further.”

It wasn’t until they reached that shore that Emma felt her nerves kick into overdrive, heart hammering in her chest and adrenaline coursing through her veins. Killian grabbed both of their pelts and handed hers over with a soft smile.

“Whatever happens, we are going to be okay,” he reminded her gently.

They dived back into the surf, swimming further out than where they had been last time. Killian spread his pelt in front until the head was facing in his direction. Emma followed suit, her pelt looking slightly larger in the water than it did on land.

“You’re going to want to press your foot in,” he said quietly, demonstrating.

Dubiously, Emma copied the motion, slipping her foot into her sealskin. She had expected resistance, as it was only the fraction of her size but amazingly enough it stretched to envelope her entire leg. She looked back at Killian in amazement. He merely chuckled in response but pushing his other leg in. She followed his demonstration, lifting the stretching skin over her  shoulders and finally her head.

A strange sensation to hold of her, bones shifting and clicking. It wasn’t painful so much as uncomfortable, shifting without her conscious thought. Her skin stung and she let out a small whimper, feeling like a thousand little needles were biting into her skin and sewing the pelt to her. Something wrapped itself around her, making comforting noises. She opened her eyes. A large seal was pressing its face against her, rubbing affectionately. She moved what she thought was her hand, only to realise her arm motion was limited. It took her a few seconds to realise she no longer had an arm but a flipper.

A flipper.

She was a seal.

Killian continued to circle her, nuzzling his head against her body and making small noises which she instinctively knew meant love and affection. As much as she returned his feelings, his constant circling was getting in the way of her learning to use her new limbs properly and she made an impatient nip at him. He seemed to get the message but only just barely, practically vibrating with excitement.

Moving in the water somehow was freer than walking on land and she revelled in maneuvering so effortless, letting out small trills of happiness. Never before in her life had she felt so free. Killian followed her, copying her movements and moving soft noises that were affectionate but different than his original message. It took Emma a few moments to figure out what he was communicating to her.

Welcome home.