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Second in Command

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An heir and a spare.

 

How many headlines had been written that way since the day of his birth?

 

How many news broadcasters had repeated those words during the nightly circuit?

 

How many jokes about him being the spare tire had been told as he walked down the city streets, ball cap pulled tight over his forehead to conceal his identity?

 

How many times had he been told this doesn’t pertain to you, Killian, go find another way to occupy your time?

 

How many times had he been overlooked when his brother was around?

 

Not that he minded that last one. He actually quite preferred that, to be ignored by the press because Liam – excuse him, His Royal Highness Prince William – was always the one who they wanted in the frame of their photographs, who they wanted to be on the front page. He was just the spare prince in the corner, occasionally at his brother’s side or behind his father’s stance, possibly even five feet away from his grandfather in official portraits when his grandfather was still alive.

 

No, he didn’t mind melding into the background then. That was fine. He didn’t want to be tabloid fodder for when people sat at the airport going on holiday and needing something to occupy their time or when they flipped through the magazines in the supermarket aisle. He was fine with that anonymity – well, as anonymous as one can be when they’re currently third (almost fourth) in line for the bloody throne of England.

 

After all, he was already tabloid fodder when he screwed up, now wasn’t he?

 

What he minded (minds) is when his own brother and his own father treat him as a spare in his own home. When he was younger and shooed away from spending time with them, his idols as a five-year-old lad, he would run crying to his mother, curling up in her lap as she consoled him, repeating it’s okay baby, it’s okay my little love, mummy loves you so very much. She would run her fingers through his hair, and he would think that everything is okay, if just for a little while, because without fail, his father would find them cuddled up like that and scold his mother for coddling the boy, and his own little happy place wouldn’t be happy any longer.

 

He was treated much the same as Liam in many ways, the same lessons and the same schools, but it was always made very clear to him that Liam was different. That Liam was special in a way that Killian wasn’t. When he was younger, he thought it was just because Liam was older and that when he got to be Liam’s age, he’d be special, too. He didn’t quite understand until he was six and a child at school called him “the spare” that Liam is indeed special because he’s older, just not in the way that Killian always thought.

 

So it was at the tender age of six that Killian realized, truly realized, the difference between he and his brother. It’s also when he realized why people would sometimes take pictures of him when his mum walked him to school, but why they would always take pictures of him when he was with his brother or his father. He understood why when he had to dress up and go to the parades or stand on the balcony of the palace, they would ride in different cars or he would stand off to the side while on the balcony, not as far away as his cousins, but not in the center.

 

Eventually, he learned that it wasn’t a bad thing to be the “spare.” It was damn annoying to have to live his life in the spotlight, despite all of his privileges, but once he got older, he learned how to work it in his favor.

 

When he was seventeen, he realized that he was attractive, and he’s not saying it went to his head, but it definitely did, at least for the first few years. Girls would flock to him, and for the first time in his entire life, he craved the attention he was getting.

 

He reveled in it, really, until he began studying at Cambridge. Girls would come to him in droves, laugh at his jokes and flirt with him at the pubs, enticing him to go home with them that night, and it didn’t matter if he did or not. Something about him sleeping his way through Cambridge would be in the headlines the very next day.

 

And he always knew that as soon as the headline came out, whether that be on some gossip magazine like The Sun or the front page of the Daily Telegraph, he would be getting a call from either his father or his brother, scolding him for his behavior. It didn’t matter what he had to say, any explanation he had for his behavior – as if it was anybody’s business but his – all they cared about was the stain he was putting on the image of the family.

 

Thus began the true downfall of his relationship with his brother and with his father. They no longer saw him as a person, as family, they just saw him as the screw-up, even if he’d never truly done anything to stain the image of the family.

 

Liam is eight years his senior, so it’s reasonable that they’re not close when they’re young, but Killian is twenty-eight now to Liam’s thirty-six. There’s no reason that they couldn’t be close now. They’re adults. They should be able to hold a bloody conversation in the privacy of their own homes. If Liam can be kind to him, laugh with him and joke with him in public, why can’t he even attempt to show kindness to him at home?

 

Usually it doesn’t bother him. Not anymore. After years of neglect, he’s grown a thick skin.

 

But today is different.

 

It’s not different for him, no. It’s the same as every other day, but Liam and his wife just announced they’re having their second child – with none of the fanfare of how they announced their first – to the immediate family at dinner (it won’t be announced to the public for months) and all he can think about is how that child will never be shown the love his or her old brother is shown. That child will be treated as he was, like nothing more than a back-up child who’s not truly needed in the family. If they’re lucky, Abigail will show both children the love his mother showed her two children – shows her two children, even if it can be misguided.

 

So, even if today isn’t any different for him, he still hurts. Wounds made when we’re young tend to linger, and his wounds have opened up in a nasty way today. So he does what he always does when he needs to get away – frankly what he does almost every day he can – and he gets dressed in one of his ball caps and plaid shirts, slipping out of his slacks and into a pair of black jeans.

 

It’s not like the movies where he has to sneak out of the palace. He doesn’t live in the palace, Buckingham Palace that is. He lives in an apartment in Kensington, across the courtyard from Liam and his family. So when he wants to leave, he can just get in his car and go, only notifying his security so they can follow if deemed necessary.

 

Luckily, his security is very discreet.

 

So he climbs into his car and drives to his favorite pub, a small one about twenty minutes away whose patrons don’t care who you are, just that you keep quiet and don’t start any fights when the alcohol is coursing through your veins. It helps that the lighting is dim, so he’s less likely to be noticed. No one thinks a prince is going to be the guy sitting next to you at the pub nursing a beer.

 

After he parks his car a few blocks away, he makes his way to the pub, sliding onto said barstool next to a few older men who are watching a football game on the television. The bartender takes awhile to get to him, but he doesn’t mind. He’s not in any hurry.

 

When the bartender does finally turn to him, she recognizes him – not for who he is to the nation but who he is to this pub, a regular – and slides him a glass of rum, not even bothering to talk to him, just a small smile on her face in acknowledgement of him.

 

“Thank you, lass,” he tells her, picking up the glass to take a healthy sip, turning his attention to the game for the rest of the night.

 

He stays that way until it’s closing time, just enjoying having time to himself in a normal setting for a change. As the other patrons filter out, he doesn’t move. Just sits at his stool and watches everyone go.

 

As soon as the last patron leaves and the barkeep locks the door behind him, he’s turning in the stool to face the front door. And then she’s there, fiercely pressing her lips against his, wrapping her arms around his neck as he wraps his around her waist, running his hand up her back under her t-shirt, feeling the bare skin there, and pulling her closer so she can stand in between his legs, body against body.

 

“Hi, sweetheart,” he says against her lips, pulling back just enough so that he can look at her but not letting her go – he’s never letting her go.

 

“Why are you here Killian?” It’s not the softness he expects from her, from his Emma, but it’s not harsh either. He can just tell she’s confused as to why he’s here. He wasn’t supposed to see her until Thursday.

 

He’s not looking at her anymore, having moved to nuzzle his chin into her neck, beard scratching against the softness of her skin as he nips at her jaw. “I needed to see you,” he whispers against her neck, placing kisses up and down the side of it, moving down to her collarbone and ending at her shoulder, pulling her t-shirt aside to reach more soft skin.

 

He’s trying to distract her, and he knows it. The bloody ass that he is.

 

Apparently she knows it too because she’s pulling back from him, completely disconnecting their bodies until she’s standing two feet away from him, arms crossed against her chest.

 

“Killian, no,” she states firmly, giving him the glare he’s seen from her a million times before. “You’re here when you’re not supposed to be. You didn’t text me beforehand. You’re avoiding talking to me by trying to get me to go to bed with you. That’s Killian 101 for not talking about something that you need to talk about it.”

 

If he didn’t love her so damn much, he would hate her for knowing him so well right now.

 

Her knowing him doesn’t keep him from leaning forward to grab her hands, pulling her back toward him and running his hands down her back to rest against her bottom.

 

Yep, he definitely is an ass.

 

But the woman who has stolen his heart when he wasn’t looking, she isn’t a bloody ass. She’s a bloody angel. She’s his…she’s his entire life. She knows him better than he knows himself, has known him that well since he was twenty-three years old, and there’s nothing in the world that he loves more than her. And nothing in the world that he hates more than not being able see her every day, to go places with her and show the world (metaphorically, of course. He doesn’t want the actual entire world to know about her) that this incredible woman loves him for who he is, not for the titles next to his name or the money and fame that come with it.

 

They met on a day not dissimilar to today, him trying to avoid his family by disappearing among the everyday man, the man he so desires to be. He’d spent the day just wandering, no destination in mind. But London being London in the spring, it had started to rain, pour more like it, and he was nowhere near his car. So he just looked to the shops around him, trying to hedge what would be his best bet, and the pub stood out to him, limited crowd and dark lights.

 

Plus, you know, alcohol.

 

So when he finally makes it inside, clothes dripping water and clinging to his body like a second skin, he probably looks like some kind of ridiculous wet dog. He tries to shake off the water without getting it all over the place, but it doesn’t work, water dripping and shoes squeaking as he makes his way across the hardwood floor to find an empty booth to hide out in.

 

Just as he’s sliding in, clothes sticking to the leather seat as he moves, a blonde woman in some of the tightest jeans he’s ever seen (not that he was staring or anything like that) comes up to him, flipping her ponytail over her shoulder and placing her hands on her hips. Whoever this woman is, she means business.

 

She’s gorgeous, and she means business.

 

“Up,” she commands, raising her hands as if he doesn’t understand what the word up means.

 

He thinks he may be stunned into silence right now. He has absolutely no idea what’s going on.

 

“Up,” she repeats, a little more force in her voice now.

 

“Just…just what do you think you’re doing, lass?” His voice definitely just squeaked at that. He’s twenty-three. His voice shouldn’t fucking squeak anymore.

 

She just nods to the booth where he’s sitting, arms crossed over her chest now, and if he were to look down, she’s sure to be taping one foot against the hardwood floor. “You’re going to ruin the leather with how soaked through your clothes are, and while this place isn’t the palace, it doesn’t mean you can just ruin our booths.”

 

Bloody hell, she knows who he is. It’s not like he’s got some master disguise on, but he’s been doing this for years and to his knowledge, no one has noticed. And if they have, they haven’t said anything.

 

But obviously this lass is of a different breed.

 

She’s still staring at him as he moves to get up, booth indeed still squeaking – honestly much like his voice – as he goes. And when he stands, he realizes that the girl is quite short, as he’s standing a head and a half over her. From his place in the booth she looked as if she could slay a dragon no questions asked.

 

Not that dragons are real or anything. But if they were, he’d call her.

 

He thinks she’s about to kick him back out into the rain like some sort of lost puppy, but she doesn’t, just grabs his forearm and starts pulling him toward the restrooms.

 

What the hell is going on?

 

And why the hell is he following no questions asked?

 

Turns out, there’s an extra door in this hallway, and when she pulls out a key to unlock it, he thinks he’s either about to be murdered or she’s got an apartment up above the pub. Luckily, it’s the latter of the two options. Of course, she could still murder him in the apartment.

 

She doesn’t though. She just leaves him in the living room while she disappears down the hallway and through a door on her left. He’s unsure of what’s happening, unsure of what to do. Would it be inappropriate for him to look around? Are there rules in this type of situation? What kind of situation is this?

 

He decides to just say screw it, this isn’t a normal day. She’s left him out here, and it’s not a crime to look around.

 

It’s as he’s looking at a photograph of three people, an older man with sandy blonde hair, slightly graying on the sides, with a woman around the same age next to him, bright green eyes contrasted against her raven hair. If a young version of the blonde woman whose home he’s apparently in wasn’t in the picture, he’d know that the woman was her mother just from the eyes alone.

 

“In case your detective skills aren’t great,” the woman says, startling him enough to drop the frame back down on the shelf and turn to her, “those are my parents. And obviously me.” Then she’s thrusting some clothes at him, a pair of gray sweatpants and a t-shirt. “Here. Put these on. They’re my dad’s, and they should fit you. I can put your clothes in the dryer if you want. We have one here, just got it last year.”

 

“I, um, thanks,” he tells her, taking the clothes and scratching his beard. “That’s really kind of you miss…”

 

“Nolan,” she answers his unasked question. “I’m Emma Nolan. It’s nice to meet you, your Highness.”

 

He blanches at that, not wanting this woman – Emma apparently – to be so formal with him when he’s about to put on her father’s sweatpants. “Please,” he says, almost begging, “just call me Killian.”

 

She laughs at that, and it’s the most unexpectedly sweet sound he’s ever heard. “My mother might murder me if she heard me say that, but okay, Killian.”

 

She’s smiling at him now, just this small, little thing with her green eyes shining, almost like she realizes the weird situation that the two of them are in.

 

“Can, I, uh, can I just change in one of these rooms?”

 

“Bathroom is the first door on the left.”

 

When he comes back out, changed into her father’s clothes, which fit him surprisingly well, she’s in the kitchen making something to drink. He can already hear the dryer running. The woman, Emma he corrects himself, works fast.

 

He’s not really sure what to do with himself, feeling entirely out of place and unwelcome, but without even looking at him, she just tells him to take a seat at the counter, she’s making some hot chocolate for the two of them.

 

“Hot chocolate? No tea?” He probably sounds like an ungrateful asshole for asking, but it’s not because he wants tea. It’s because he’s curious about her choice of drink.

 

“Well, that’s very stereotypical British of you,” she tells him, turning around to look at him as she pours the hot chocolate into two mugs, sprinkling what looks like cinnamon into hers. “But I guess you are as stereotypical British as they come.”

 

“Are you not British, love?” And even as he asks it, he knows it’s a dumb question. The judgmental look on her face, nose all scrunched up, is deserved but not necessary.

 

“Well, if my American accent is anything to go by, I’d say no.” He must have gone all red because the harsh look on her face melts, just the tiniest bit, into a soft smile. “Dad’s American. Mom’s British. I’ve got dual citizenship. Was raised in America until a little after I turned eighteen, so we’ve been here for about two years now. Came across the pond,” she’s using a cheeky accent now, and he likes this lass, “when my mom’s dad died, and he left us the pub.”

 

“That’s quite the story, Emma.”

 

She just shrugs her shoulders. “Eh. It is what it is.”

 

Eventually, they dissolve into talking. It’s mostly about her. He has no desire to talk about himself. He’s tired of that. But when she says something that he likes, like mentioning a show he watches or a book he’s read, he chimes in with his opinion. Time seems to fly by, and when the dryer dings, he realizes he’s been up in this woman’s apartment for an hour, like this is something totally normal.

 

Once he’s changed back into his clothes, he doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t want to leave, but he’s sure Emma needs to get back to work. Now that he thinks about it, he’s not sure who’s been running the pub while they’ve been up there, but he’s sure Emma wouldn’t have skirted her responsibilities just to talk to him. He can tell from just an hour of knowing her that she’s fiercely independent, but her loyalty runs deep. She wouldn’t let her parents’ business run to the ground like that. Maybe it was her parents who stayed to run the pub while she came up here with him.

 

Oh gods, is he going to meet her parents right now?

 

Nope. Not going to be weird about this. Don’t make it weird.

 

He must have been caught up in his thoughts because when he snaps out of it, he realizes she’s staring at him again.

 

“So you can’t stay up here,” she tells him, picking up her keys and shuffling him to the door, “but I can’t technically just kick you out, especially now that you’re not going to ruin our booths with your wet clothes. So you can either stay down in the pub or go someplace else. It doesn’t matter to me.”

 

He realizes that it really doesn’t matter to her. She doesn’t care who he is. She just sees him as another regular person, and it’s the most refreshing thing he’s experienced in a long time. So he stays at the pub, choosing to test his luck and sit up at the counter with her.

 

Her parents weren’t the ones keeping the bar, just a young man by the name of Will, so bullet dodged there. Not that he’s quite sure what the bullet was. But he spends the rest of his time there, thoroughly enjoying getting to see Emma in action and getting to know her a little bit better.

 

So even after he leaves that night, he keeps showing back up when he can. He stays away for a week at first, not wanting to freak her out, but then he’s on one of his walks around the city and he just kind of ends up there. But this time she’s not there. Her parents are. And he gets to meet David and Mary Margaret Nolan.

 

When he comes around again, she is there, and she just smiles at him as she serves him his drink like he’s any other customer.

 

And over the course of a few months, he realizes that’s how the Nolans see him. They see him as a regular person, as a human being, and they treat him as such.

 

It’s the first time that’s ever happened to him.

 

And it’s…incredible.

 

Their pub becomes his favorite place, and he doesn’t think he could love it more. But then one night, it’s past closing and he’s still lingering there with Emma, casually throwing darts at the dart board while they talk about her early upbringing in America. It’s so normal, and he just longs to experience something like that. He’s just about to go collect his darts after he finishes a round when she stops him in his tracks, grabbing onto the collar of his shirt and pulling him toward her roughly, standing on the tips of her toes so that she can meld her lips and her body into his and consume him with a passion he didn’t know was possible.

 

When she pulls back, she rests her forehead against his, and they’re both breathing heavily. He has no bloody idea what just happened or how it happened or why it happened. All he knows is that he wants it to happen again.

 

Like, right now.

 

So he just goes for it, pulling her back into him, and he can’t stop touching her, left hand running down her side, up under her shirt to feel the smooth skin of her back, fingers dancing up her spine as his other hand makes its way into her hair, finally getting to run his fingers through the blonde curls he’s been mesmerized by for months. When she runs her hands through the hair at the nape of his neck and simultaneously runs her tongue against his bottom lip, biting down on it with her teeth, he can’t think of doing anything but backing her into the bar and just having his way with her.

 

So he does.

 

Or, at least the first part, a slight groan emanating from her when her back hits the hard wood. Then just as she started to unbutton his shirt, running her hands against his collarbone and the hair on his chest, he hears an over-exaggerated cough from the hallway.

 

He doesn’t want to pull away, doesn’t want to leave this moment, but he knows for a fact that it was Emma’s father who just coughed from the hallway. And he also knows that Emma’s father just saw him basically dry humping his daughter…and on the way to moving on a little further than that.

 

Bloody hell.

 

Bloody fucking hell.

 

“Killian,” David – though he calls him Mr. Nolan – grits out, voice strained as he obviously tries to keep his composure, “I suggest you wish Emma goodnight and make your way home.”

 

It’s a blatant dismissal – he literally told him to go home – but it could have been worse. There could have been yelling, and he could have asked him not to come back. He even told him he could wish Emma goodnight.

 

Though, by the tenseness of Emma’s body and the way she won’t make eye contact with him, he knows that she feels highly uncomfortable and he’s likely not welcome to come back for a little while. If not by David’s ruling, by Emma’s.

 

Not that he thinks Emma would let her father control her like that. She loves and respects him, that much he can tell, but though she’s only twenty, she’s a grown woman and can make her own choices. About him included.

 

So he backs away, whispering a goodnight, love to Emma and nodding at David as he walks out the pub door, tail between his legs and wondering if he’s just lost the only place he’s ever felt at home.

 

He doesn’t visit. He doesn’t call. He doesn’t even text. He cannot even count the times he’s picked up his phone to text Emma just to ask her how his day is going. But he doesn’t. And the smallest part of him thinks that maybe she’ll make the first move, maybe she’ll text him or call him, but he knows that she can be skittish, especially with guys. He doesn’t know what happened when she lived in America, but he knows it wasn’t pleasant.

 

But she was the one who kissed him. She was the one who instigated this new side to their…relationship? Friendship? He’s not really sure what they are, but they may not be anything anymore. Getting caught by her dad obviously triggered something inside of her, something that’s upset her, so as much as it’s killing him, he’s going to give her some space.

 

It’s probably a good thing he’s flying to Ireland for some official engagements with his mother, as it will keep his mind off of things, standing in suits and shaking people’s hands while he smiles. It was supposed to be his father going with him, but plans changed at the last minute. And people seem to love the combination of he and his mother on official visits, which is good, as she’s the only person in the family who treats him as if he is a human being just the same as Liam and his father.

 

They’re on their third day of the visit, and it hasn’t been as bad he thought it would be. Since it’s just he and his mother, things are not always overly formal and regulated. Like today, today they get to work with kids at a local private school, and he knows that while most of it will be talking to city officials, he’ll get to spend time with kids, talking with them about their interests and maybe playing a little football out in the school yard.

 

It’s one of the best days he’s had in awhile, and he’s glad for it, for helping to brighten up those kids’ days and for keeping his mind off of Emma. So when he and his mother take off to make their way home that evening, he thinks he may just close his eyes and relax, forgetting about every trouble that’s been plaguing him.

 

“Your father wants you to meet someone.”

 

His eyes snap open, head turning sharply to face his mother. She’s just sitting in her seat, reading the book in her lap like she didn’t just speak. “I’m sorry, what?” His voice is harsher than necessary, more brash than it ever should be when he speaks to her.

 

“He wants you to meet someone,” she repeats, voice nonchalant as she continues to flip through her book. It’s cold, and it’s not the mother he knows. “Has a few options for you that he’s selected. Thinks it’ll be good for your image.”

 

“My image,” he spits out, his blood suddenly going cold. “I’m not dating some poor girl dad’s picked out just because he thinks it’ll be good for my fucking image –”

 

“Killian,” she scolds, interrupting him and finally looking up from her book.

 

“We’re alone, Mum,” he groans out, running his hands through his hair, making it stick up in a million different directions. He cannot believe this is his life. “And there’s nothing wrong with my bloody image.”

 

She’s silent for a moment, just staring at him with no emotion in her eyes. “Your father thinks it will make you more appealing to the public. To have a serious girlfriend rather than all those girls you ran around with at Cambridge.”

 

“No.”

 

To hell with what his father thinks. He’s not doing that. No fucking way.

 

“Killian.”

 

“No, Mum. End of story.” He refuses to even acknowledge that this conversation is happening. That he’s having to refuse “dating” a girl just for his bloody image. “And next time Dad sends you to do his dirty work, say no. You’ve always treated me better than this. Don’t start this now.”

 

They don’t talk for the rest of the ride, and luckily it’s a short distance. They get into separate cars once they land, kissing his mother on the cheek before they part. He may be pissed, but he knows it’s not her. It’s his father.

 

Without thinking, he tells his driver to take him to Emma’s pub. It doesn’t matter that they haven’t spoken in several days – nine to be exact. It doesn’t matter that she probably won’t talk to him when he walks in the door. He just needs to feel normal for a minute. But mostly, he just needs to see her.

 

He was right in thinking that she wouldn’t speak to him because she doesn’t even look at him, doesn’t acknowledge his presence after the initial wide-eyed stare from her spot behind the bar. So he just slides into an unoccupied booth in the corner, shedding his suit jacket and tie, trying to make himself look as un-prince-like as possible. Apparently it doesn’t work because not fifteen minutes later, Emma’s tossing a Yankees baseball cap on the table in front of him.

 

She tells him to put it on, but that’s all. No more communication from there.

 

So he decides he’s just going to wait it out. He needs to talk to her, even if it’s just to get some type of closure, whatever that would be.

 

At around eight, he sees her talking to Mary Margaret behind the bar, and he can tell that the conversation is verging on heated, as both women are talking animatedly with their hands, a sure sign that they’re both passionate about what they’re saying. It makes him feel almost normal, seeing a child and parent having a disagreement, like what happened to him earlier is the same as what’s happening now, but he knows that it’s not. The subject matter is sure to be different, and the mother doesn’t look emotionless, uncaring like his did.

 

When Emma throws her arms to her side, slapping the skin of her thighs, he knows that whatever the discussion was about, Emma ended up on the losing side.

 

Before he knows it, she’s making her way over to him, scowl on her face.

 

“Come upstairs with me,” she mumbles gruffly under her breath, obviously irritated.

 

A part of him doesn’t want to follow because he knows this isn’t her idea. It’s obviously her mother’s, but he’s not a fool, at least about this. If she’s going to ask him to follow, he sure as hell isn’t going to stay sitting in this booth.

 

So before he can even control his limbs, he’s scrambling after her, and he thinks that he’s already always chasing after this woman. And he knows that he’d chase after her to the end of the world, or time.

 

When they get to the apartment, David is sitting at the kitchen table, glasses perched on his nose as he goes over what Killian assumes to be the pub’s finances, and he doesn’t even look shocked to see Killian there, just nods his head in greeting. He honestly thought he may be murdered the next time he walked in the door, whether that be by Emma or by David, and his cheeks flush red, face heating up at the thought of when he was last here.

 

He nods his head back at David, thinking of saying something but deciding against it when Emma walks down the hallway into the door he knows is her room, yelling at him to follow her.

 

Always chasing this woman.

 

When he gets to the room, she’s shuffling through a dresser draw, seemingly looking for something, so he takes the opportunity to look around. It’s pretty simply decorated, fluffy white comforter adorning her bed with a frankly insane amount of gray and lilac throw pillows scattered across it, some having tumbled onto the floor. She’s got a desk in the corner, picture frames of she and her parents and who he assumes are some of the friends she’s told him about. The desk seems to mostly be a place for her to just toss her dirty clothes, and he can’t help but smile because that’s just quintessential Emma, messy and organized all at once.

 

He’s distracted by the collection of hats she has handing on her wall, and he realizes the Yankees hat he’s got on must be hers, but then she’s talking to him, throwing a chain with a pendant attached at him and just assuming he’ll catch it.

 

He does.

 

“What’s this, love?” He’s running the cool metal through his fingers, spending extra time on the circular pendant that honestly just looks like the hook of a keychain, trying to figure out why she’s handed (thrown) this to him

 

She doesn’t reply, just sits on her bed, grabbing a pillow to cradle against her stomach and nodding her head at him to sit in the desk chair.

 

He takes the hint, the obvious one about sitting in the desk chair and the more subtle one about him not sitting next to her.

 

“I’m going to talk,” she begins, voice completely even, no emotion, “and you’re going to listen. No interruptions, got it?”

 

The stare she gives him is so intense, green eyes piercing into him, that he can’t do anything but nod and tell her aye.

 

“God, I can’t believe I’m telling you this.” She’s running her hands through her hair, pulling it out of the braid she had it in. He thinks maybe she’s changed her mind, that she’s not going to say whatever she had planned on, but then she releases a strong sigh, squaring her shoulders as if she’s preparing for battle. Maybe she is.

 

“When I was sixteen, I started dating this guy, Neal. Horrible, god awful asshole. But I didn’t think that at first. I thought he was…I thought he was just everything.” She’s got this far off look in her eyes, water starting to cause them to glass over, and he doesn’t know where this story is going, but he doesn’t like it. “So we date for a couple of months, everything’s is going great. I’m young and I’m in love, and it’s everything I thought life should be. Until it isn’t.”

 

Emma takes another deep breath, seemingly still gearing herself up for this.

 

“And then one day, I’m riding my bike home from school thinking that I’d just aced my geometry quiz, which I was super proud of because I sucked at geometry and worked really hard for that quiz. Anyways, I’m happy and can’t wait to tell my parents, but when I ride up to the house, there are cop cars in front of it. Immediately I think something is wrong, that my parents are hurt, and I dry heave in the bushes before I even get a chance to get inside.”

 

She’s not looking at him now, just staring at the ceiling as she speaks.

 

“And obviously you know they’re fine because they’re right out there, so it wasn’t them. Turns out the cops were there for me.” She laughs bitterly, and it’s something he never expected to hear from her, for her laugh to sound that tainted. “Apparently my asshole of a boyfriend got caught trying to fence some watches, and he framed me for stealing them. Which, you think wouldn’t work since I didn’t commit the fucking crime, but it did because he had given me one of those watches for my seventeenth birthday a few days before. So I had stolen goods on me.”

 

Killian has felt plenty of anger in his lifetime, plenty of resentment toward others despite his cushy life, but he’s never wanted to punch someone – repeatedly – as much as he wants to punch this asshole. His blood is running hotly through his veins, and the story is not even finished. So he just clenches his jaw, and he knows Emma noticed the tick of it, she always does. But he doesn’t care. She should know he’s angry for this, that he cares about her.

 

“So I get hauled into the station, am smart enough to know not to say anything, but I get processed, get a mug shot taken, and put in a jail cell, the whole nine yards. I’m still a minor at this point, so my charges aren’t super trumped up, and my parents can get me out on bail pretty quickly. We didn’t – still don’t – have a lot of money, but I obviously needed a lawyer because I wasn’t about to go to fucking jail, so we had to hire one, pretty much blowing out my college savings, not that I was too worried about going to college at this point.”

 

She pauses, taking another deep breath before she keeps going. He wants to hold her, to comfort her, but he knows that isn’t what she wants from him.

 

“So I have to go through this whole process, and there’s not much I can do but say that I didn’t do it. But Neal skipped town, and it’s not like even if he hadn’t, he would have told the truth. My lawyer wants me to take a plea deal, to say I’m guilty and go to jail for 11 months, and I really did think about it, but I didn’t commit the crime, you know? I didn’t want to have to give up my life just because I made the bad decision of dating the wrong guy.”

 

She’s crying now, he can tell. She’s trying to hide it, but there’s no mistaking the shake in her voice, the quiver in her lips.

 

“And just to cut the story short…” There’s that bitter laugh again, but this time it’s mixed with tears. “I go to trial, and I’m found not guilty. I’m not found innocent, apparently that’s a thing. You can be proven not guilty, but you can’t be proven innocent. Apparently the jurors were sympathetic enough to believe me, to believe that there was no reason for me to steal all of those watches and then sell them. But really I know it’s because they couldn’t trace the money back to me, so they didn’t have enough evidence to prove me guilty.”

 

“So that chain you’re holding,” she nods at his hand, and he grips the cool metal more tightly, like he can squeeze her bad memories away, “that’s the first gift he ever gave me, and while I don’t wear it anymore, I use it to remind me that people can hurt you, even if you trust them. So I usually don’t trust them.”

 

This entire time, behind listening to her story, behind finally understanding a little bit more about who this Emma Nolan is, he’s wondered why she’s suddenly felt the need to tell him this, to trust him with this despite the fact that she just said she doesn’t trust people.

 

But he gets it now. This is about him. He’s just not sure how.

 

“Emma, I – ” he starts, not really sure what to say, how to make this better.

 

“Don’t.” She got her hand held up, palm blocking him from looking at her.

 

“I just don’t understand what I did to break your trust.” The words spill out of his mouth despite her warnings, and he’s not even a little bit sorry. He needs to know what’s happened between their kiss and her father finding them, because it can’t just be the fact that David walked in on them kissing. “Tell me so that I can fix it. So that I can be worthy of you sharing that piece of you with me.”

 

“Killian,” she sighs out, and she just sounds so incredibly sad, bottom lip quivering even as she brings it between her teeth, “you haven’t done anything wrong. It’s – it’s who you are. Who your family is.”

 

She didn’t physically slap him, but it sure feels like it, the sting reverberating through him like her hand had made contact with his face and not just her words sinking into his chest, making a place there and darkening his heart to the world just a little more. He thought he’d finally found a place where they accepted him for who he is without all of the attachments.

 

He can’t be here anymore. Fuck closure, he doesn’t need it. Just as he’s reaching her bedroom door, ready to walk out and never come back even if it breaks him, she’s grabbing is arm, begging him to look at her. He’s always known she was petite, but she’s never looked quite this small before, green eyes almost blue with the tears laying unshed in them.

 

“I didn’t mean it like that,” she pleads, and he still refuses to look at her any more than he has to. “Killian, you know I don’t care about any of that, that my family doesn’t care about any of that. It’s not about you, I swear. It’s about me not being good enough for you.”

 

Well that’s got his attention. And as he finally snaps his eyes down to her, he sees that she’s let the dam break, and her face is pale and streaked with tears.

 

“Oh sweetheart, no,” he pleads, wiping the tear tracks underneath her eyes with the pads of his thumb before cradling her face in his hand. She reacts almost instantly, nuzzling her cheek into his palm. “How could you even think that you’re not good enough for me?”

 

“Killian,” she sniffles, tears still pooling in her eyes, and he’s not quite sure how they’ve gotten here, “you’re a fucking prince, an actual, literal, Disney movie prince. And it’s like I can forget about it when you’re here, when you’re with me. But then when my dad interrupted us that night –”

 

“I’m sorry about that, love.” He gives her a smile to tell her he’s not sorry about that, not sorry about kissing her at all, and it brings just the tiniest of upturns to her lips.

 

“ – when Dad walked in on us,” she continues, face schooled to try and hide her emotions. It doesn’t work. “,I realized that we can never be together. I don’t know why I thought we could in the first place. I guess, like I said, I just forget. You’re always just Killian to me. And then just, after you left, I had to sit down with my parents, and I swear for a second we were going to have the sex talk, but we didn’t.”

 

He lets out a little chuckle at that, probably the first light moment he’s had since this morning in Ireland. “What was the talk about, love?”

 

“You,” she admits, backing away from him again. “Dad really likes you. Don’t get confused on that. But he made me sit and really think about what would happen if I were to date you. All of the press and lack of privacy and the judgment from random people on the street, let alone the approval, or more likely disapproval, of your family. And I know you think that no one cares about you because you’re not the ‘heir to the throne’ or whatever, but Killian, people love you. You’re on the news all of the time, for good, positive things. And if you were to date me, you’d be seen as the prince who dated the American criminal. It doesn’t matter if I didn’t actually do anything. People can find that information and the mug shots and the newspaper articles that were written about me. And I just know any of my old boyfriends would talk to the press about how I am ‘in the sack’ or something else ridiculous.”

 

“I don’t bloody care, Emma.”

 

“But you should.”

 

He can’t think like this, with all of the emotions running through his head. This is too much, and all he wants is for life to be just a little bit simpler, to be able to kiss the girl he likes and not have to think twice about it.

 

“We’ll date in secret,” he blurts out, ideas suddenly bouncing through his mind like a tennis ball in a fifty shot rally. “We’ll date in secret, Emma. No one has to know. Just you and me and your parents since you live with them. It’ll be damn frustrating, but it can be done.”

 

She doesn’t respond, just kind of stares at him like she’s in shock, moving to sit back down on her bed. He follows, obviously, grabbing her hands because he just can’t handle not being able to touch her anymore.

 

“Emma, it’ll work. I swear to you.” He has no idea how this could work, but he’s got to try.

 

She still doesn’t say anything, but he’s not nervous. He knows she’s just processing things.

 

“Okay,” she sighs out, and it’s not in agreement. She’s trying to work through something. “I’m not saying anything or pressuring you into anything because I’m only twenty, and, like, we’ve kissed once, but what happens if against all odds, we make it? And you decide something crazy, like that I’m the one for you, because I just don’t see this ending in anything other than heartbreak for me, Killian. So I just need you to understand that I’m literally putting my heart in your hands.”

 

“We’ll figure it out when…if we get to it, yeah?”

 

She’s still got the small smile on her face, a timidly hopeful expression, and when she nods her head in agreement, he knows that he must look like the Cheshire cat.

 

But he doesn’t care because he’s leaning into her, something he’s craved for so many days, and instead of kissing her fiercely, he just lightly presses his lips against hers, a soft beginning to this thing that he’s sure is going to work out. He’ll make sure of it.

 

 


 

 

He’s brought out of his reminiscing of how all of this started five years ago to the present, to the very real woman standing in front of him, rubbing her hands up and down his biceps, like she always does when she’s trying to get him to talk.

 

“Babe,” she murmurs quietly, like he’s a child going to sleep in the nursery, hands moving to play with the hair at the nape of his neck, her favorite thing to do, “what’s wrong? I need you to talk to me.”

 

“Liam and Abigail are going to have another baby,” he mumbles quietly, leaning his head forward at her touch. And bless this woman because he doesn’t have to explain why this upsets him. She just knows.

 

“And you’re upset because you think this child, their second child, is going to be treated like you were.”

 

“Aye,” he confirms, nodding his head where it’s now rested against the top of her breasts, her fingernails scratching his skull, and gods that feels good.

 

“Killian?” she sighs, hands stilling as she lifts his head so he’ll look at her. “Do you want to know how I know that this child is going to have a life so full of love that he or she won’t know what to do with it?”

 

“How, love?”

 

“Because,” she smiles, and even if he feels like shit right now, he smiles back just because that smile of hers is so damn beautiful, “you, my love, are their uncle. And the amount of love that I know you have in your heart,” she rests her palm over his chest, and he knows she can feel his heart beating, “is just absolutely insane. So even if, God forbid, this child isn’t shown the love they deserve by their parents, they’ll have you, and that will make all the difference in the world.”

 

“I love you.” He just – he can’t believe that he stumbled into a life where this woman is his, and he loves her so damn much that he can’t not say it. He can’t not tell her at every opportunity he has.

 

“I love you,” he repeats kissing her forehead, her cheeks, her jaw, her ear, her neck, her shoulder, her lips, any place he can get his lips in contact with, whispering an I love you against the skin of every place his lips touch.

 

“I love you, too,” she finally replies once he gives her some reprieve, lips swollen and chest flushed red. “Will you come to bed with me tonight?”

 

“Always.”

 

They both know that last word can’t be true, not in their current situation, but he says it anyways.

 

 


 

 

Killian has been dating Emma for six months when he figures out a way for the two of them to go on holiday together, and he’s so proud of himself that when he goes to the pub that night and finds out she’s upstairs doing the books, he runs up the stairs – literally runs – and lifts her out of the chair, kissing her soundly as she squirms around in his arms, only stopping when he runs his tongue against her bottom lip.

 

“Put me down, you goofball.” She’s giggling, actually giggling, and it’s the sweetest sound he’s ever heard. So obviously he just has to kiss her again.

 

Eventually, he does put her down. She may be small, but he does have his limits in holding a person. And he’s just so bloody happy that he feels like his body might just burst in excitement.

 

“Babe,” she coaxes, putting her hand on his cheek, running her fingers along the scruff he has there. And honestly she started calling him ‘babe’ three months ago, and he’s still not used to it. Doesn’t think he’ll ever be used to the fact that she has a term of endearment for him. That she loves him. “You look like a kid in a candy store with an unlimited budget and no parents. What’s up?”

 

“How do you feel about Switzerland?”

 

“Neutral?”

 

He barks out a laugh, knowing he set that one up for her, and he must look like a madman right now, eyes wide in excitement, and he feels like his entire body is vibrating as if he’s had too much caffeine. He just loves her so bloody much, and he can’t contain his delight.

 

“How do you feel about going to Switzerland?” he corrects, grabbing onto one of her hips as he pushes her hair out of her face with his other hand.

 

“Um,” she begins, unsure look on her face like she’s realized where this is going and is not excited about it, “like I can’t afford it and even if I could, I don’t see how we could go and not be seen. Or how your family wouldn’t know. And also, I have work.”

 

“I’ll pay,” he eagerly admits, and he realizes a little too late that was the wrong thing to say.

 

“No,” she bites out, voice clipped and suddenly heavy, none of the lightness that was there just seconds before. “I’m not letting you pay for me.”

 

He realizes he’s walked into a bit of a minefield, something that obviously has to do with her past and probably a little bit of her present. “Can I ask why?” He says it hesitantly, like he’s walking on actual eggshells.

 

“Because I don’t want my boyfriend to pay for me, especially because my boyfriend is you.”

 

“Well what the bloody hell is that supposed to mean, Emma?” He doesn’t mean for his words to have such bite to them, but he’s been known to have a temper on occasion. This will probably be one of those occasions if he doesn’t manage to get his emotions in check.

 

“Killian,” she placates, voice strained at the 180 this conversation has taken, “I didn’t mean it like that. I just…I –,” she’s running her hands through her hair now, and if Emma Nolan had a tell she claims she doesn’t have, that would be it, “ – I just mean that if we’re trying to be normal, if we’re trying to be like any other couple, we can’t go jetting off to Switzerland. Maybe some other time when I can afford it. Because, as sweet as it is that you’re willing to pay for me and as much as I love you, I’m just not ready for something quite that big yet.”

 

He realizes that this has to do with Neal, that the asshole had once convinced her that if he bought her things, it meant he owned her, that she was only his and not her own person. So now she’s being overly independent as some type of twisted compensation she doesn’t need to pay.

 

But if it’s how she feels, he respects that in every way.

 

“I understand, sweetheart,” he reassures her, running his hands over her shoulders and pulling her into his arms for a hug, burying his head into her neck.

 

He’s kissing along her neck, kisses entirely too inappropriate for her parents being downstairs, but he can’t help himself, sucking a mark into her skin like he’s a teenager again. It just feels so damn good. And if the sounds she making are any indication, she feels the same.

 

“I do have an idea, though,” she tells him, pulling away, his mouth still chasing her neck.

 

“Mmmm, love?” he mumbles, just resting his head on her shoulder now.

 

“I’m assuming that you have a week off from engagements, right?”

 

“Right.”

 

“So what? You were going to tell your family that you’re going away for the week with your friends? That way no one would want to go because no one wants to go on vacation with a bunch of 24 year old guys.”

 

“Well, you would,” he smiles at her, giving her kiss a shoulder through the fabric of her shirt.

 

“Only with you, babe.”

 

Oh how he loves her.

 

“Sooo,” she continues on, lifting his head off her shoulder again so he’s looking at again, “do all of that, but come stay here with me instead.” She wiggles her eyebrows at him, something she’s taken up since they’ve started dating, and starts walking her fingers up his chest. “And maybe we can convince my parents to let Will run the pub for a night or two and have them go out of town, and we can have the place all to ourselves.”

 

He’s so incredibly turned on by her right now, and he can’t do anything about it. And she knows it. Minx.

 

“That sounds bloody brilliant, love.”

 

So a potential romantic week in Switzerland turns into a week living in the Nolan’s apartment. Most people think it would be awful to spend a week living with your girlfriend’s parents, but it isn’t too bad. And while David isn’t thrilled about it at first, Mary Margaret convinces him to leave and go out on several date nights while Killian is staying with them.

 

Those nights are his favorite, obviously, because he gets to spend time with Emma alone, no threat of her parents walking in on them as their roaming hands and eager kisses turn into something a little more…sultry.

 

And when Emma’s above him, gloriously naked, breasts bouncing up and down as she rides him, holding nothing back, he thinks that every day, every moment should be like this week.

 

Normal and wonderful and…perfect.

 

 


 

 

It’s his father’s seventieth birthday today, so obviously there’s a celebration. It’s just that it’s his father’s actual birthday, and according to tradition, there won’t be an official celebration until June next month. So they’re just having dinner at his parents’ apartment. There will be public celebrations, but he doesn’t have to take part in them today.

 

No, today he’s in a suit lounging in his parents’ sitting room as everyone talks about what’s been going on in their lives and television shows they’ve been watching. Despite a lot of their stodgier traditions and the things they must keep up for the public eye, a lot of their gatherings and interactions are normal. At least, when they’re talking about non-royal things.

 

He’s talking to Abigail about Alexander, and she’s just as sweet as can be when talking about her little boy. She’s extremely hands on, even if Liam isn’t, and sometimes he wonders how his brother found a girl like her.

 

“Kiwwy,” Alex waddles over, chubby toddler legs carrying him as he reaches his hands up, indicating he wants Killian to hold him.

 

So Killian, being the sucker he is, picks his favorite little friend up and lifts him into the air above his head, flying him around like an airplane. Alex is furiously giggling, short little breaths coming out of him as Killian lowers him back down to rest in his lap, Alex grabbing around Killian’s neck and hugging him tightly as Killian continues to tell wild stories to keep Alex entertained.

 

“When are you going to have some little ones of your own?” He almost drops Alex at that, mouth gaping open like a fish at Abigail’s inquisition.

 

He scratches behind his ear, still holding onto Alex with his other arm. “I think I probably ought to be married first, don’t you?”

 

“Fair point,” Abigail concedes, taking her son out of Killian’s arms and resting him on her lap, away from her slightly growing baby bump, “and when do you think that’ll be? You haven’t dated in what feels like years.”

 

Five, to be exact. He hasn’t dated anyone but Emma in five years, not that Abigail knows that.

 

“Surely that’s not true,” he lies, hoping that she’ll change the subject.

 

“Oh but it is, little brother,” Liam adds on, sliding onto the seat across from his wife and Killian. “Because I remember. The lass cheated on you. It was all over the news.”

 

“Thanks for the reminder,” Killian spits out, rising from his seat to go sit somewhere else, away from this conversation. He knows it will only end with Liam trying to set him up with someone ‘appropriate’ for him. He’s avoided it for this long, but there’s no guarantee his avoidance will always work. And he’s terrified to know what will happen on the day it doesn’t.

 

Once he’s found a new place to sit, a couch unoccupied by any of his relatives, he pulls out his phone to text Emma and ask her how her day has been going. He hasn’t seen her in two weeks, and he misses her.

 

Like, desperately needs to see her so much that he physically aches with missing her. And there’s absolutely no way he’ll be able to get out tonight to go see her. He doesn’t even have his car with him, and he’s expected at breakfast in the morning. It’s just not possible.

 

Killian: How has your day been, love?

 

He doesn’t even have to wait a minute before she texts back, so she’s obviously got her phone in her hand.

 

Emma: Busy, a lot of people are out to celebrate your dad tonight.

 

Killian: Really?

 

Emma: Any excuse to drink is a good excuse, right?

 

            Or at least that’s what I’m paid the big bucks to say.

 

He lets out a chuckle at that, not even bothering to try and hold back his amusement. He can’t see her, but he just knows that Emma’s standing behind the bar right now, texting him while she tells her regulars to be patient, you know I’ll be right there.

 

Killian: I miss you, darling. And I love you.

 

“Who the bloody hell are you texting, Killian?” Liam’s voice booms from behind him, and Killian shoves his phone in his pocket, sending up a silent prayer that Liam didn’t just see his messages. He knows that prayer won’t be answered.

 

“No one,” Killian replies quickly, resisting the urge to scratch behind his ear. He’s always been a horrendous liar, but that will give him away for sure.

 

“No one?” Liam’s voice is still raised as it was before, but now it’s agitated. And it’s this that makes Killian realize his life is about to change. “No one. So you tell this ‘no one’ that you miss them and you love them? Seems a tad bit odd, don’t you think?”

 

Instead of dignifying that with the response Liam wants, Killian does something even more idiotic. He yells back at his old brother. “What gave you the right to read my fucking messages, brother?”

 

“I was born with the right.”

 

He looks so smug, and it takes every ounce of Killian’s restraint to not punch his brother in the face.

 

“No,” he starts, anger simmering to the surface, but not rising above, just teetering right on the edge, “what you were born with was a privileged stick up your ass. You have no right to my life. You only care what gets out to the press, so as long as that doesn’t happen, you can leave me the hell alone.”

 

“So this does have something to do with your personal life?” There’s only two inches between the two brothers, but Liam is towering above him right now, pompousness adding to his height.

 

“As I said before, it’s none of your goddamn business.”

 

“Oh but it is, little brother,” and Liam knows he’s agitated Killian even more with the term, “you don’t get to date just anybody. So who is it that you’ve been hiding from us? Another one of your one night stands from Cambridge who convinced you to give her a little more? To date you for longer so the article she inevitably sells will be worth more? Whoever it is doesn’t love you, Killian. They love who you are. That’s why we must marry women who understand, not the street trash you’ve obviously found.”

 

“Liam,” Killian grits out, teeth grinding into each other as his jaw ticks and fists clinch, “I suggest you shut your fucking mouth, or I will shut it for you.”

 

It’s the gasp that he hears come out of his mother’s mouth that makes him realize it wasn’t just he and Liam in this conversation. It was everyone in the room, including Alex, who’s crying in his mother’s arms, and Killian has never felt like such an asshole in his entire life, no matter how angry he is with his brother and with his situation. He just threatened that child’s father in front of him.

 

Liam still has the smug grin on his face, like he realizes Killian’s sympathies toward Alex just won him this argument, and it did. Killian’s not going to keep arguing with Liam in front of Alex, in front of everyone.

 

So the conversation is over for now, but he knows that Emma’s no longer a secret. Even if they don’t know who she is yet, they know that she exists.

 

And it’s like five years of pure bliss have just crashed around him, rigid edges cutting him on their way down.

Chapter Text

When they’ve been dating for a little over three years, Killian finally does get Emma to go on holiday with him so that they can have time away with only each other. Emma is just about to celebrate her twenty-fourth birthday when Abigail gives birth to Alexander the week before on a chilly day in mid-October. With the world focusing on the birth of the new prince, Killian knew that he would be able to get away for a few days and no one would care.

 

After he got to know his nephew, of course. He wasn’t about to let Abigail’s brother be the little lad’s favorite uncle.

 

When he finally convinces her to travel, he’s lying in bed with Emma, her head on his bare chest as he runs his hands through her hair, trying to detangle the strands from where he got a little enthusiastic in their activities earlier.

 

“Darling?” he asks, voice quiet as he’s honestly not sure if she’s awake or not, her little puffs of breath coming out warmly onto his skin.

 

“Mhmmm,” she mumbles back, lips moving against his chest as she speaks. So awake, but just barely.

 

“How would you feel about finally taking that holiday?”

 

Well that certainly wakes her up.

 

“Killian,” she cautions, propping herself up on her elbows on his chest so she can look at him as she speaks, “we’ve talked about this.”

 

“Three years ago.”

 

“But we still talked about it,” she sighs out, raising her left eyebrow the way she does when she’s challenging him.

 

“We did talk about it,” he agrees, raising his eyebrow right back at her, “but it was also right after we started dating. We weren’t really ready to go away with each other yet. We didn’t know each other like we know each other now. You didn’t know me.” She doesn’t interrupt him, doesn’t say anything back, and as he tries to stuff down his hopes that she’ll listen to him, he realizes he can’t because there his hopes are, spilling right out of his mouth. “And you can pay if you want to, if that’s where your hesitation lies. But I’d really like to do this for you, for us. And if you’d let me, I’d like to do it for your birthday, as a gift from me.”

 

He gives her what he knows is his most charming grin, teeth on display as his eyes crinkle just a little. She loves his eye crinkles, so he knows it’s kind of a dirty move. But he doesn’t care.

 

“Plus,” he adds on, running his hand down her spine before cupping one of her ass cheeks and giving it a quick squeeze, “we can do things like this every day without your parents down the hall.”

 

That last move was even dirtier than the smile, but she doesn’t even flinch, just moves off of him to sit up against her headboard, letting the sheet pool around her hips, covering absolutely nothing up. The day she stopped being modest with him is still one of his favorite days, both for physical reasons and for the fact that it meant she felt fully comfortable around him. But he’s not focusing on that right now. He’s focusing on her face and trying to read the emotions behind it.

 

“Okay,” she sighs after a few minutes, and it’s a deep sigh, visibly moving though her entire chest.

 

Maybe he was staring at her chest a bit. 

 

“Okay?” he asks eagerly, body already jittery with excitement.

 

“On –” she starts talking, but he doesn’t listen, pulling her back down so that he can kiss her, caging her in with his arms and his body, her nipples rubbing against his chest as her smooth legs wrap around his ass, pulling him even closer.

 

“ – on one condition,” she finishes later, when they’re sated and her hair is even more of a mess than it was earlier.

 

“What’s that then, love?”

 

“You cannot buy me anything else for my birthday.”

 

She pokes his chest with every word, but he knows she won’t really be cross with him if he does buy another gift for her. Which is good, because he’s definitely already bought it.

 

Two days later, on the eve of Emma’s birthday, the two of them are sitting in a plane on their way to Switzerland. It’s where he originally wanted to take Emma, and that hasn’t changed. While he loves the sea, it’s too cold in Mallorca for them to visit there for boating purposes – and also too populated – so he thinks that bundling up into the snow-covered mountains will make for a fine holiday.

 

Maybe another day they’ll get to sail the open seas together, but he’s not about to complain about the situation he’s in. Emma’s staring out the window at the snowcapped mountains, continuously telling him to look at this, babe or oh my god it’s just like the movies with just the widest grin on her face.

 

It makes him smile seeing her so happy and enthused by something. No lines of stress are on her face, and she doesn’t have to worry about work or money or hiding their relationship from her friends. She just gets to have that kind of childlike joy that he knows has been all too rare in her life since before she was a teenager.

 

Sometimes he forgets that Emma had a different upbringing than him, though he’s not sure how he forgets that as most everyone had a different upbringing than him, but she grew up in America in a middle class family. There’s no reason for her to have gone skiing. There’s no reason for her to have seen the views of snowy mountains from up in the air. There’s no reason for her to own skis or boots or anything even remotely equipped for where they’re going. So when he picked her up that morning and all she had with her was a small duffle, he realized he might not have thought this one through enough, especially because he knows she won’t let him buy her everything she needs.

 

When they get off the plane and load into the vehicle he’s rented for the week, he drives them to the house where they’re staying. He seriously considered a hotel, but he knew that he ran the risk of being more easily spotted there. So he booked them a house accessible by roads but nestled into the mountains, where you can see the snow and the lights of the city from the floor-to-ceiling windows that face out onto the back deck. He doesn’t know when he’ll next be able to go on holiday with Emma, so he’s going to make this one count.

 

He’s had the place fully stocked, so there’s no need for them to go into town unless there’s an emergency, and when they arrive, Emma already shivering in her too-thin jacket, he knows that he’s going to have to convince her to at least buy a winter coat. The house, unfortunately, did not come with that.

 

They spend the first few hours putting away their things. Emma calls her parents to let them know she’s safe and sound, and he sees her snap a picture of herself in front of the windows where you can see the mountains in the background. She looks so unbelievably happy, like she truly doesn’t have a care in the world, and he wants nothing more than for her to feel that way every day for the rest of her life. If he could give her that for her birthday tomorrow, he would.

 

But he can’t. Not really. So he tries his best to just give her one of the best weeks of her life.

 

They spend the rest of their day lounging around the house, making plans for their week and watching television after dinner. Emma agreed to let him rent her some ski gear, as long as he helps her in her ski lessons. She’s a beginner, but she’s so naturally graceful that he thinks she’ll take to it quickly. And if she doesn’t, she’s so naturally stubborn that she’ll keep at it until she gets it right.

 

When he wakes the next morning, it’s still dark out, and Emma is sleeping peacefully beside him, arm thrown over her eyes with the other on his shoulder as his head rests between her breasts.

 

He knows it’s the cold air that’s caused it, but her nipples are hard underneath her top, the pink buds straining against the thin material, and he can’t help himself when he nudges the shirt away with his nose, licking a long stripe across her right breast before sucking the pert nipple between his lips. He bites gently, just to see if she’ll react, and she does, letting out a little whine as her body twitches. He repeats his motions, moving to her other breast and making sure her nipples stay at attention for an entirely different reason than the cold.

 

Just as he’s moving his way away from her breasts, running his tongue down the flat of her stomach and dipping it into her belly button, her eyes snap open, big green orbs staring at him.

 

“Well happy birthday to me,” she sighs out, pulling him back up her body so that she can kiss him, lips moving in a gentle dance against each other. When her hips involuntarily cant up into his, seeking some kind of friction, he moves off of her, and she lets out the whimper that he wants make at the lack of contact.

 

“Killian,” she breathes, “what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

 

She’s got her eyes closed again, but he can tell she’s frustrated with him. And it’s so damn cute that he can’t help but laugh at her.

 

Now her eyes do open, and instead of the surprised lust he saw earlier when she woke up, she looks as if she’s about ready to murder him. “You did not,” she grits out, body still squirming around, “just wake me up like that to not do a damn thing about it and then to laugh at me. That’s fucking cruel.”

 

He doesn’t respond, just gives her his most seductive grin as he moves back on top of her, supporting his weight with his forearms. He doesn’t let his body touch hers, just starts kissing his way down her stomach again, hot open-mouthed kisses, dragging his tongue behind his lips, occasionally nipping at her skin with his teeth.

 

When he starts kissing the inside of her thigh, she lets out a moan that has him rethinking his course of action. It makes him want to take her right now, like he’s done so many times before, but he can be patient. It’s always worth it when he is.

 

So he keeps caressing her soft skin with his lips, worrying a mark onto her inner thigh, and when he gets to where she so obviously wants him, she lifts her hips in silent compliance, pushing down her underwear until she can get it to her ankles, kicking it off as fast as she can. And then he’s there, licking a long, flat stripe through her wet folds, lightly thrusting inside of her, teasing her just as much as he thinks he can get away with without her getting angry with him.

 

But then her fingers are in his hair, scraping at his scalp, and it feels so damn good, but he knows she’s only doing it because she wants him to move up, his experience with her guiding him. So, trying to keep from rocking his own hips into the mattress, he moves his tongue to focus on her little bundle of nerves, fast little flicks that he knows drive her insane.

 

“Killian move your fingers,” she moans, a breathy little thing as she thrusts her hips up into his face.

 

If her heavy breathing is any indication, she’s close, and so when he curls two fingers inside of her, curling them just so, her breath hitches just the tiniest bit before he can feel her walls fluttering around his fingers as she goes silent in the bliss he so hoped that he could bring her.

 

He pumps his fingers slowly as he brings her down from her high, eventually replacing them with his tongue as he licks a few more stripes against her flesh. That’s when he feels her fingers in his hair again, so he looks up at her from his position between her thighs and hums against her, knowing it will drive her sensitive flesh insane.

 

When he’s finished, he sits up on his knees, adjusting his, frankly, straining length in his pajama pants, and leans over her to kiss her, whispering a happy birthday, my love against her lips.

 

Before he knows it, she’s cupping him through his pants, and nothing has ever felt that good in his entire life. Well, that’s a lie because her nimble little fingers are moving beneath the waistband of his pants, stroking him in the slowest motion, and if he’s not inside her in the next thirty seconds, he might come in his pants like a teenager.

 

“Emma, sweetheart,” he grunts out, grabbing her wrist to stop her.

 

“Oh,” she’s batting her eyelashes, acting as innocent as can be even as her finger circles his tip, the little minx, “was that not what you wanted?”

 

“No,” he simply says, sliding his bottoms off his hips before stretching out on his back, reaching over to her to pull her on top him. She gets the hint and props herself up on her knees, teasing him by rubbing his tip through her folds, before placing her palms against his chest and sinking down on top of him at the slowest, most torturous pace, beginning to move her hips in such a good motion that the most guttural groan comes out of him, dark and heady.

 

She continues to move above him, his hands grasping onto her hips to help guide her as she circles her hips, her breasts bouncing when he thrusts up into her. When she starts to tremble, he flips them over gently – but not gently enough as she laughs at him when she accidentally knees him in chest during the motion– and pumps himself back into her, over and over again as he reaches to where they are joined, thumbing against her in rough, quick motions.

 

It’s much quieter than they usually are, which is odd since they can only spend their time together in her parents’ apartment so they’re already quiet, but this is love making, in every romantic, cheesy sense of the phrase. And it’s wonderful just the way it is.

 

When she goes silent, eyes closing and body tensing, he knows that she’s finished, and he thrusts back into her a few more times before joining her, holding onto her waist tightly as he empties himself into her and bending to kiss her, tongue languidly mixing with hers.

 

“I love you,” she sighs out, happy and content before getting up to use the restroom, walking away in nothing but her birthday suit, ironically enough.

 

“Happy birthday,” he repeats from earlier, lounging back onto the bed, “I love you, too.”

 

After eventually getting up and getting dressed, grabbing a quick breakfast on the way out, the two of them make their way to the ski lodge, finding Emma some gear to rent. She’s so padded up in her clothes, thick turtleneck shirt under her ski jacket and beanie with a comically large pom pom at the tip topping her head, and he can’t help but laugh at her, pulling her in for a kiss when she looks at him with wide, puppy dog eyes and a downturned lip.

 

“I look ridiculous,” she whines, trying to adjust her hair underneath her hat, jacket material swooshing as she moves her arms.

 

“You look adorable, love,” he tells her, grabbing at her hips even if he can’t feel her underneath all of her clothes.

 

She’s obviously never skied before, so they sign her up for the promised beginner’s lesson, and when Killian sees that it’s only kids in the group, he signs up too. He doesn’t need it, but he knows it will make Emma feel better if he’s with her. It was also one of her conditions for the trip, and even if she said it in jest, he’s not going to risk screwing anything up. So they go along with all of the kids and their instructor, going through the exercises before they’re ever allowed to even get on skis. After several hours of practicing movement and learning safety procedures, and several hours of watching Emma interact with all of the children they’re with (and if his heart swells just a little seeing her inherent kindness, no one has to know but him) before the two of them “graduate” from the class and are allowed to go to the bunny slope.

 

Emma falls on her ass at least ten times before she finally gets it right, and he just knows that she’s going to be sore tomorrow. But he was right in thinking that her stubbornness is what’s going to get her to learn how to ski, and on the eleventh try, when she goes down a portion of the bunny slope with absolutely no problems, she lets out an actual whoop, lifting her arms above her head and just beaming in excitement.

 

It’s…wonderful. There’s snow falling, white flecks gathering in her exposed hair and on her face, her petite nose turning red from the cold. She looks just absolutely stunning like this, even if she’s so bundled up that she looks more like a snowman than a human being. But he just loves her so goddamn much, and seeing her outside of the four walls of the pub or away from the dark streets of London makes him ache for when they can do things like this more often.

 

And then just as she’s finishing yelling in excitement, bringing him out of his thoughts, she’s telling him that she’s done for the day because her body fucking hurts, and he can’t help but laugh, because she really did keep trying until she could get it right before quitting.

 

“Alright, Nolan,” he chuckles, coming to wrap his arm around her shoulder, let’s go home and get something to eat.

 

“I knew there was a reason I liked you.”

 

“Because I feed you?”

 

“Exactly.”

 

He cooks her a pizza for her birthday. He would have just ordered something, but he can’t find a place that delivers, oddly enough. And after she’s eaten half, and telling him that she can’t eat anymore, putting her hands over her slightly-extended stomach, he pulls a box of cupcakes out of the fridge, a big 24 written across the top. And before he can sing her an awkward rendition of Happy Birthday, because honestly that’s just weird when it’s just one person, she’s swiping her finger across the icing and sticking said finger in her mouth, happy smile on her face as she does a little dance.

 

“When did you even get all of this? Because we came here together, and I know you didn’t leave bed to go grocery shopping last night.”

 

“I got it all stocked ahead of time,” he admits, going to swipe some icing with his pointer finger, “but I did have to put the 24 on it when you were in the shower earlier.”

 

“Thank you,” she grins, standing on her toes so that her lips can meet his. “This is, like, my second favorite birthday ever.”

 

“Second?” he gasps, dramatically putting his hands over his chest in offense. “What the hell could have been better than this?”

 

She shrugs her shoulders, smug little smile on her face like she’s not going to tell him, the little minx. So he does what comes naturally and picks her up, throwing her over her shoulder, telling her I’ll show you second best birthday and giving her ass a light smack as she giggles against him.

 

Later, when they’re in bed with the television on, curled up in the fluffy blankets, he sees that the clock has ticked past midnight, and he gets up from the bed to go search through his suitcase.

 

“Babe,” she whines at the loss of his body heat, “what are you doing?”

 

He doesn’t respond, just keeps shuffling though his bag until he finds the box buried at the bottom of the pocket containing his socks. Grabbing it out of the pocket and walking up to her with it behind his back, he smiles and it takes her approximately two seconds to figure out what he’s doing.

 

“Killian, I swear to God if you have a birthday gift for me, I will not accept it. We talked about this.”

 

He nods at the clock on the bedside table. “It’s not your birthday anymore now is it, love?”

 

He can see the gears turning in her head, and he knows the minute she resigns herself to the fact that this technically isn’t her birthday present. So he crawls back into bed next to her, sitting up straight as he hands her the small box, eagerly awaiting her to open it.

 

And when she does, green eyes going wide and breath hitching before she starts breathing heavily, he realizes his mistake.

 

“I’m not proposing, love,” he explains, placing his hand on top of hers to comfort her. And he knows he was probably imagining things, but it almost looked like she was disappointed. So he’ll save that for another day, one where things aren’t complicated and they don’t have to sneak off to Switzerland to be alone together.

 

“My cousin,” he starts, taking the sapphire ring out of the box to slide onto her right hand, his own breath hitching a little thinking about what it would be like to slide the ring onto her left hand instead, “was shopping for some jewelry for his wife. It was their anniversary a few weeks ago. And I went with him to some of the jewelry stores, and I saw this ring and just thought of you. You’ve mentioned once or twice before that sapphires are your favorite gemstones.”

 

“Killian –” she starts, putting her hand on his cheek, the new metal cool against his skin, before he interrupts her.

 

“And obviously I didn’t buy it with him there. I went back on another day. And I know you don’t like for me to buy you things, but Emma, I swear to God, it kills me that we can’t be normal. That I can’t take you out when I want to, that you’ve never even bloody been to my apartment. And I just wanted you to have something special from me, just because I love you.”

 

She doesn’t say anything back, just runs her knuckles across the apple of his cheek before holding her hand out to look at the ring. “It’s beautiful,” she whispers against his lips, giving him a chaste kiss. “And I love you, no matter what. I don’t need things or fancy dates, but I appreciate them when they happen.”

 

He just takes her hand and kisses her knuckles, right above where the ring rests.

 

They spend the rest of their week away in much the same way as they spent their first two days. While their bodies may be sore from various activities, more attempts at skiing included, it’s the most relaxed either of them have felt in a long time. No responsibilities will do a person good.

 

One of his favorite moments is on their last night there. Emma is in the kitchen in just an oversized t-shirt, creamy legs on full display, and she’s actually cooking. Something he has never seen her do before past making a bowl of cereal or popping bread in the toaster.

 

“So you’re telling me,” she starts, buttering up a piece of bread before dropping it into a frying pan, “that you’ve never had a grilled cheese sandwich before.”

 

“Aye,” he confirms, nodding his head. And she’s looking at him like he’s an insane person.

 

“Babe,” she’s putting a slice of that nasty artificial cheese on the bread now, and he already knows she’s going to make him eat it, “that’s ridiculous.”

 

“It looks disgusting.”

 

She turns on him like he just insulted puppies and kittens and babies and everything good in the world, wide-eyed stare on her face, her mouth hanging open slightly.

 

“This is my favorite thing to eat. Like, ever.”

 

“Why in the bloody hell is this your favorite thing to eat?”

 

“Because,” she drawls out, turning back to finish making the sandwiches, “it’s what my dad used to make when Mom would go home to London, you know, and it was just me and him. And he would always make it the night before she came home, so I don’t know,” she shrugs her shoulders as she flips the sandwiches, “they come with good memories.”

 

He just moves to wrap his arms around her waist, resting his chin on top of her head. “That’s a sweet story, love.”

 

“Plus,” she adds, flipping the stove off and putting the sandwiches on a paper plate, “they’re really good.”

 

They’re not, in fact, good, and he knows that despite his best efforts to hide it, Emma can tell from the look on his face that he hates it. She just shrugs and goes on chewing hers from her seat on the kitchen counter, legs swinging in the rhythm of whatever song is on the radio, and a happy smile on her face, having not a care in the world but her inquisition of can I eat that if you’re not going to? So he just hands his sandwich, two bites taken out of one side, to her and gives her knee a squeeze before going back to their room to pack up their things for the flight home tomorrow morning.

 

She finds him there later, folding some of her sweaters – she never would have done it on her own – as he neatly places them back in her bag.

 

“Killian?” she questions, sitting down on the couch in the corner so as not to mess up his packing.

 

“Yes, darling?”

 

“I was just thinking,” she timidly answers, and it’s the nervousness in her voice that his him snapping his head up to look at her. She’s twisting her ring, something he’s noticed her do a lot already, and he’s not quite sure what it means yet. “I was just thinking about a couple days ago, on my birthday, when I made the joke about this being my second favorite birthday and – ”

 

“I knew that was a lie,” he teases, smile tugging at the corners of his lips.

 

“You’ll never know,” she laughs, before her face turns more serious, “but I was just wondering…you know, you so rarely talk about your childhood, and I respect that. I get it. But everything you do talk about is so dark, and I know you must have at least one happy memory?”

 

“Aye,” he confirms, stopping his packing to sit on the couch next to her, resting his feet in her lap. She grabs onto his ankle, teasing the skin there underneath his socks. “I have several. Are you asking to hear one?”

 

“I am.”

 

He thinks for a minute before speaking. “So once upon a time,” he starts off, voice exaggerated enough that Emma squints her eyes at him in a glare he knows is telling him to be serious. “Once upon a time there was a little rascal named Killian. He was devastatingly handsome, even has a young lad. Dark hair and blue eyes, every little lass’s dream.”

 

She pinches his ankle. “You’re being cheeky.”

 

“And you, my darling, are interrupting me.” He grabs her wrist before she can pinch him again, moving it away so that it rests on his thigh. “Anyways, this little rascal lived in a palace and true to all of the movies and books, there are secret passageways in this palace. And as a child who was quite sheltered, interacting with adults more than children his own age, he had crafted himself a nice little imagination. Because not only was he handsome, but intelligent too.”

 

“I bet this little rascal has a hard time getting a girlfriend when he gets older. His head must be rather large from all of that ego.”

 

“His girlfriend doesn’t seem to mind how large he is.”

 

She makes the face he knew was coming, nose scrunching up as she gently slaps his thigh. “You’re disgusting.”

 

He just gives her a wink, interlacing his fingers with hers, thumb caressing her soft skin. “Anyways, this young lad took to hiding in secret passageways when he knew his family or some of the staff was walking by, and then he’d pop out of the door, effectively making every single one of them jump, sometimes dropping what they were carrying. It was magnificent.”

 

“Killian,” she giggles, “that’s awful. Those poor people.”

 

“I was eight, love.”

 

“Imagine the heart attacks you gave them.”

 

“Oh I know,” he admits. “I think I sent one of my nannies into early retirement. But the best part is that my father got so frustrated with me doing this that he legitimately sealed off some of the passageways, to be reopened at a later time. Bet you won’t find that in the history books. Though I reckon it would make for an interesting read.”

 

She moves his legs off of her lap, getting up to then crawl into his lap, straddling his hips. “You,” she starts, lips nipping at his jaw, “are indeed a rascal. And I,” she moves to his ear, kissing the skin just behind it before she whispers, “do love that rather large head of yours. But I mostly love you, secret passageways and all.”

 

She’s leaned back to look at him now, her knuckles running across his cheek as he wraps his arms around her waist, trying to pull her close. “That was quite cheesy, Emma.”

 

“What can I say? The artificial cheese went to my head.”

 

He barks out a laugh, throwing his head back, giving her unintentional access to his throat as she leans forward to trail kisses down it, eventually sucking at his pulse point, and he knows that she’s got to feel how fast it’s throbbing.

 

“Darling, I can’t think when you do that.”

 

She finishes sucking her mark into him, continuously marking him as hers, and then pops her head up to look at him. “Guess you’re not as intelligent as you thought.”

 


 

He would give anything to go back to that week in Switzerland, but he knows he can’t.

 

He would give anything to go back to his family not knowing he was dating someone, but he knows he can’t.

 

He would give anything to go back and be more goddamn discreet in his texting, for Liam to have never been so fucking nosy, for him to have not blown up in that fight.

 

But he can’t. He can’t go back. He can’t take everything that’s happened back.

 

He can’t protect Emma anymore.

 

He’s pacing in his room at his parents’, probably running a hole through the ground, and he’s realizing that he cannot breathe. Air is not reaching into his lungs, and he needs to sit down. To sit down right here where he’s standing and not move. So he does that, putting his head between his legs and closing his eyes, repeating breathe in, breathe out over and over and over again.

 

He knows that he’s been sitting like that for awhile, but he doesn’t really care how much time has passed. He doesn’t know what to do, how to fix this. He needs to talk to Emma, but he doesn’t want to worry her, not yet.

 

But he’s got to figure something out. If he knows his family, and he does, they’ll have some sort of full investigation into him and where he spends his time when not working. They probably would have eventually let it all go if he hadn’t engaged himself with Liam earlier. Not right away, but it would have calmed down. Instead, now they’re all probably in the den talking about him and his behavior and his, what did Liam say? Street trash.

 

Damn. He’s fucked up.

 

Oh gods, he’s fucked up.

 

He doesn’t really sleep that night. Just kind of lays in bed, his mind in overdrive. He hates this, hates that this is the family he’s been born into. And it doesn’t matter if they approve of Emma or not. He doesn’t bloody care. But if she’s exposed to the spotlight suddenly and without proper preparation, that will kill her. She’s worked so hard to overcome her past, to overcome the way she’s been treated unfairly, and it’ll come back, flashed on every front page and every television screen just because she loves him.

 

What a cruel price to pay.

 

How did the two of them ever think they were going to figure this out?

 

Before he knows it, it’s morning, and he doesn’t even have to look in the mirror to know he has purple bags under his eyes from a lack of sleep. He just forces himself out of bed and forces himself to go get ready to face the firing squad.

 

Maybe an actual firing squad would be better.

 

He’s a melodramatic fool.

 

Sure enough, so is his family, because when he makes his way toward the dining room for breakfast, they’re all sitting there, hands clasped on the table. It looks like something out of a fucking Bond film, and how much alcohol is too much alcohol for eight in the morning?

 

It’s…awkward, for lack of a better word. Throughout the whole meal he, his parents, and Liam sit in silence. There’s no Abigail or Alexander, and he feels a stab of guilt again at making his nephew cry. He wonders if Liam feels the same guilt.

 

For a minute, he almost believes this is just going to be a silent breakfast, but he’s obviously been lulled into a false sense of security. And when his mother looks at him, he can see the I’m sorry already flashing in her eyes.

 

“Killian,” his father begins, dabbing his napkin at the corners of his mouth, “last night’s behavior was inexcusable. You should know better than to act like that, even in the privacy of our own home.”

 

He’s twenty-eight years old, and he’s being scolded by his father for his behavior. What kind of world is this?

 

He doesn’t respond, just levels his father with emotionless stare.

 

“And your brother and I have talked,” of bloody course they have, “and we think this woman you’ve been seeing, whoever she is…Well, if she was worthy of being in the family, we would know about her, would probably have known she and her family for decades. You wouldn’t do all of this foolish, secretive dating.”

 

“This isn’t the 1800’s. I don’t have to be with someone who’s my fourth cousin or something ridiculous like that. There’s no law forbidding me from marrying a commoner.”

 

“Marriage,” Liam bellows out, a deep chuckle emanating from his throat, “who the bloody hell said anything about marriage? You’re obviously not going to marry this girl you’ve kept hidden away. If she was worth it, you’d have told us so we could vet her.”

 

“Do not talk about her that way,” Killian spits out, trying to keep his voice calm even if his father and brother don’t deserve it. “And yes, I intend to marry her. I’ve kept her ‘hidden away’ as you said, not because she’s something to be ashamed of. She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me – ”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous, Killian.”

 

“Don’t be a ponce, Liam.” He’s going to get through this, and he’s going to get through this without giving them any more of his dignity. “And yes, she’s the best thing to ever happen to me, but she wanted to keep her life private. And I wanted to respect that.”

 

“If she wanted to keep her life private, she should have never gotten involved with you.”

 

While his father is objectively right, it’s not that simple, and Killian feels another pang of guilt in his heart. This is all his fault. Emma once told him that she was putting her heart in his hands, and he never should have taken it, never should have put her through what he’s about to have to put her through. He sees two options out of this, and none of them have great outcomes.

 

“I agree,” Killian hesitantly admits, trying not to grind his teeth together, “but we were young, and I guess I stupidly believed that there would somehow be a solution to keep her away from the public eye.”

 

“Darling,” his mother starts, compassionate smile on her face, and he almost forgot she was there, “you said you were young. How long have you been dating this girl?”

 

“Five years,” he answers without hesitation, and for the first time in hours, he smiles.

 

He’s had eyes on him his entire life, from his family to the press to the children at school, but he has never felt so scrutinized. He has never felt such an intensity of stares until this very moment, three pairs of eyes seemingly staring into his very soul.

 

It’s silent for what feels like hours, just the sounds of the birds outside and the clock ticking in the corner of the room, and then the sound of his mother’s sobs fill his ears, his head snapping to look over at her. She looks so incredibly small, frail even at her age of fifty-eight, and he’s going to have to put too many people through pain today, just for being born into this family.

 

Privilege comes with a price.

 

Neither his father nor his brother move to comfort his mother, to embrace her, to wipe the tears off of her face, but he can’t be that cold, can’t be that uncaring. So he gets up from his chair, legs scratching against the hardwood floor, and pulls her up and into his arms, running his hands over her back as he whispers I’m sorry, Mum over and over again into her hair, his fingers tangling into the ends of her long black hair.

 

It goes on like that for a few minutes, just his mother blubbering into his shirt, a damp spot forming on the blue material, and when she pulls back, she runs her knuckles across the apple of his cheek, so full of affection and so much like Emma, that he’s tempted to let his dam break too. But he won’t.

 

“Damn you,” his mother snaps, voice still shaky from her tears but not lacking the conviction her words were meant to portray. “Damn you Brennan and damn you Liam for making our son and your brother feel like he cannot share that he’s been in love for the past five years, that he’s been happy for the past five years. Just, after all that I’ve heard from the two of you about this family and how you wish things were different, but you two are the very reason it’s still the same. Damn you.”

 

“Allison,” his father begins, voice completely stable as he tries to talk down his wife, “you know it’s not that simple.”

 

“Don’t, Brennan,” she hisses, voice quiet but hand raised to tell him to stop talking, “we’re figureheads. Figureheads that can do good just by people liking us, and if people knew how we’ve raised our sons…well, I imagine they wouldn’t like us very much anymore.”

 

Killian can’t quite believe what’s happening, that this is actually happening. His mother has always been his supporter, but never like this. She’s always let what she wants and what she thinks fall behind his father and Liam. This is, well, this is a stunning turn of events.

 

“So I suggest,” she continues, her voice the same tone as when he was younger and hadn’t done his schoolwork, “that you stop being such damn idiots and let Killian live his life.”

 

“But what if she’s not appropriate for the crown? Obviously she’s not if Killian has been hiding her away.”

 

“Liam,” his mother sighs out, rubbing her temples with her pointer fingers, “the amount of things that you have done that are not ‘appropriate for the crown’ are countless. What you’re doing right now, what you did last night, are prime examples. Unless she murdered someone, I think it’ll fucking be okay.”

 

And at that, his mother walks out of the room. There have been very few times in his life where he’s been stunned silent, but this is definitely one of those times. He suddenly feels queasy, like there needs to be another shoe that’s going to drop, like he’s not actually going to get out of this and get his happy ending, in some type of cliché fairytale type of way.

 

In some type of I love you, will you marry me and spend the rest of your life with me type of way.

 

But a man unwilling to fight for what he wants, deserves what he gets. And he’ll fight for Emma until the end of time.

 

“I’m going to go talk to her,” Killian tells his father and Liam, standing from his chair, “and the two of us are going to decide what to do together. And then, God willing, if she agrees to let her entire life be on a serving platter, I’ll let you meet her. And then after that, after you’ve already met this beautiful, intelligent, wonderful woman, you can do all of your research into her background. I don’t bloody care what the lot of you think. I love her, and if I have to, I will remove myself from this family.”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous, Killian.” Liam is staring at him with wide blue eyes that almost mirror his own, just a little more gray reflected in them, a little more darkness than light.

 

“Don’t be so stuck in the past, Liam.”

 

And much like his mother, he walks away. Maybe not with as good of a parting line and definitely not with as much conviction, but he’s got things to do and other conversations to have. He’s going to take charge of his life for the first time in a long time, and he just hopes that Emma will agree.

 

Whatever happens with them is as much up to her as it is to him.

 


 

He doesn’t text Emma or call her before he shows up. He can’t find the nerve to do it. He’s just going to have to walk in and talk to her.

 

In all of his show about not thinking about the conversation he’s about to have, about not notifying Emma of his arrival beforehand, he forgets that it’s not yet ten in the morning and the pub won’t be open. Emma is likely asleep since he knows she worked until closing last night.

 

So when he goes to open the pub door, it sticks, not budging an inch, just shaking a little with the force of his pull.

 

Well, damn.

 

He guesses he’ll have to call her after all. Yet, when he pulls out his phone and calls her, there’s no answer. She doesn’t answer. Her father doesn’t answer. Her mother doesn’t answer. And if he wasn’t starting to panic, he’d feel like an asshole for probably waking them up from their slumber.

 

He can’t just sit on the doorstep, can’t run the risk of someone recognizing him. He didn’t bring one of his caps because not only is he an asshole, he’s an idiot. He’s an asshole and an idiot who is laughing maniacally on the street outside of a pub at ten in the morning.

 

So he probably just looks like an alcoholic or something.

 

When his phone starts buzzing in his hand and a picture of he and Emma from Christmas – of course, it wasn’t really Christmas but a few days before – pops up, and he swipes to answer as quickly as he can.

 

“Killian?” she yawns out, and yep, he definitely woke her up.

 

“Hi, sweetheart,” he whispers softly, knowing that she’s going to need just a bit of coddling this morning, “I need you to come let me in.”

 

She’s silent for a moment, like what he’s said is sinking in, and then he hears a mumbled be right there before the line cuts dead.

 

Before he knows it, she’s opening the door, hair piled messily on top of her head and glasses perched on her nose making her wide eyes look even larger, plaid pajama pants covering her legs and a thin tank top accompanying it, showing off a little more than she probably intended and now is really not the time to be thinking that.

 

“Oh I’m so excited to see you,” she sighs out, throwing her arms around his waist and nuzzling her face into his chest. He does the same, pulling her in closer and hugging her as tightly as he can, two weeks of missing her and the possibility of this being it for them causing every second of this to be both bliss and torture.

 

Then she’s pulling back, looking up at him with her glasses crooked from the force of her hug. “Why – why are you here? Didn’t you have plans with your family all day?”

 

“Aye,” he answers, placing a hand on the small of her back and guiding her inside. “Are your parents home?”

 

“They’re asleep upstairs, why?” She’s got the most inquisitive look on her face even as she smiles up at him. When he doesn’t say anything back, just looks longingly at the booth he sat in that started this all, she places her hand on his face, urging him to look at her. “You’re scaring me, Killian. What’s wrong? Why are you here?”

 

“I’ve got to talk to you, Emma, and it needs to be in private. So I was just wondering where the best place for that would be.”

 

“Um, okay,” she says slowly, voice slightly shaking, “we can go to my room.”

 

So to her room they go, Emma grabbing his hand and squeezing tightly as she guides him up the stairs, as if he needs a guide, as if he hasn’t walked this path more times than he can count. And while he can tell she’s trying to be strong, trying not to freak out over him saying that they need to talk, she’s got a slight tremor to her hand, a slight shake to her voice.

 

When she sits on her bed, he takes the desk chair, and it’s like that night she told him about her history all over again. The night they really decided to give this a go.

 

What comes around goes around, he guesses.

 

She’s just staring at him expectedly, not saying a word, and he knows it’s because she trusts him implicitly. She knows he’ll talk when he’s ready. And he just loves her so damn much he doesn’t know what to do with himself sometimes.

 

So he starts talking. Tells her about last night, and how Liam read his texts without him realizing, how he somehow was stupid enough to not notice that someone was standing behind him. Tells her about the fight and how he scared Alexander, making him feel worse than he thought was even possible. Tells her about how he paced back and forth all night long, how he hasn’t slept and knows he must look awful, and that he feels awful, not just physically but emotionally. Tells her about how he feels guilty, guilty about Alexander and hurting his mother and hurting her. Tells her about the breakfast this morning and the arguments and the fallout. Tells her about all of it. Every word and every emotion he’s felt.

 

He tells her everything.

 

And she doesn’t speak. Doesn’t speak unless to ask a rare question. Just sits and listens, single tear occasionally falling down her face that she wipes away before he can get the chance to.

 

She doesn’t speak. She just listens.

 

When he gets down to it, to the last thing he said to his father and his brother…when he tells her that the time has finally come for the two of them to make a decision about what do about their relationship, what to do about them, she still doesn’t say anything. And it fucking terrifies him to his very core.

 

“I need a glass of water.”

 

It’s all she says and then she’s gone, walking out of her bedroom door to presumably go to the kitchen to get the glass of water. He doesn’t know if he should follow or if he should give her space. So he doesn’t move, just sits in the chair like some kind of marble statue, and prays that she’s going to come back and not end things with him.

 

He’s never been so nervous in his entire life.

 

After seventeen minutes and twenty four seconds – he knows because he’s been watching the hands tick on his watch – she comes back into the room, two cups of coffee in her hands, giving him the soft smile she has just for him when she places his cup on the desk.

 

“So I have some questions,” she admits, taking a sip of her coffee.

 

“I hope to have some answers, my love.” He says the my love for selfish reasons, and they both know it.

 

“If I do this, if I open myself up to the scrutiny of your family and the scrutiny of the world, what happens if we break up?”

 

“We’re not going to break up.”

 

“How can you be so sure, Killian?” Much like his mother this morning, she looks so incredibly small. And much like his mother this morning, he wants to embrace her, comfort her, love her. But he doesn’t. He knows she needs to do this is on her own.

 

“Because we’ve been together for five years,” he answers, like it’s the most simple question and answer in the world, “and I don’t plan on ever being with anyone else. Do you?”

 

She just shakes her head no. “But what if your family doesn’t approve? What if they see that I technically sort of have a criminal past and that I don’t come from any money and that I work in a bar?”

 

“Emma, I don’t care what they think.”

 

“Doesn’t your father have to approve of anyone you wish to marry? I know I’ve read that somewhere.”

 

“Aye,” he confirms, grin blooming on his face even though it shouldn’t. “Are you saying you want to marry me?”

 

She just rolls her eyes at him, and for a second, just this one wonderful second, it feels normal. “Not right now, babe.” And then it feels normal for another second more, the endearment warming his heart. “But yes, obviously, eventually. So what happens if I don’t, you know, pass the mark?”

 

“Then I’d give up all of my rights to the bloody throne.”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she scolds, rolling her eyes at him again. “That’s your family.”

 

“You’re my family.”

 

She just laughs, a small little chuckle as she looks down to the ring that rests on her right hand, the ring that he’s never seen her take off sans washing her hands or showering.

 

“You’re a charmer.”

 

“A charmer who loves you, darling,” he grins, putting down his cup of coffee and getting up to go sit next to her on the bed, taking her cup of coffee from her and taking her hands in his, his finger instinctively running over the ring, like it’s some kind of siren calling him home.

 

“If you’re willing,” he starts out, trying to keep his voice calm, “and only if you’re willing, love, I’d like you to meet my family. And introduce you to the world. Take you out on public dates, go on vacations where we don’t have to hide, maybe move in together. And yes, eventually, when we’re ready, marry you. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be damn difficult, but I will always, always be by your side.”

 

“I’m fucking terrified,” she croaks out, tears finally streaming down her face at the reality of their situation as she leans her forehead against his shoulder.

 

He releases her hands so he can wrap his arm around her shoulder, pulling her into his side as he places a kiss to her hair. “You still don’t have to do anything, Emma. We can…we can still break up if you want to. You don’t have to go through everything that this would put you through.”

 

“I want to be with you,” she speaks into his shoulder, lips moving against the fabric of his shirt, body still shivering slightly. “I cannot…I can’t not be with you. I don’t think I’d survive that.”

 

“You would,” he reassures her, pulling her even more tightly against him, if that’s even possible, “and you’d thrive and still live a wonderful life. But I don’t want that, for us to have separate lives, and if you don’t want that, then I think we’ve got quite the journey ahead of us, yeah?”

 

They still have a lot to talk about, to process, but Killian thinks they’ll be okay, that they’ll work through it. So they spend the next few hours just talking through some of those things, Killian answering every question Emma has. They decide, together of course, that Emma will meet his family first, get to know them as human beings and not the caricatures of them she sees on television – or as the villains Killian has described them as, as they’ve often deserved – and assuming all goes well with his family, after she feels comfortable enough, they’ll assimilate her into public life.

 

Emma eventually falls asleep on his chest, the lack of sleep and the emotions of the day catching up to her, and even if he feels like he can’t sleep, he knows that he needs to. So he closes his eyes, revels in the feeling of Emma by his side, knowing for the first time officially that this could be forever, and falls into the sleep he so desperately needs.

 

Killian stays with the Nolans that day. He needs the normalcy of it, and he needs to stay with Emma. This will probably be the last bit of normalcy the two of them will have for awhile. He also knows that he has to take the time to talk to David and Mary Margaret about everything that’s going to happen, about how their lives are probably going to change as well.

 

For the past five years, they’ve been like parents to him. They’ve given him so much of their time and of their love, that he feels another pang of guilt about what he’s going to put them through. Eventually, their lives will go back to a new kind of normal, but it’ll be crazy for a few years.

 

He expects nothing less than their kindness and their understanding when he and Emma sit them down to tell them about the events of the past twenty four hours, and it’s their kindness and understanding that he receives.

 

He thinks it’s all gone remarkably well, and he knows that this family is truly something special. When Mary Margaret grabs his hand from across the table and tells him that she’s always known he was the one for Emma, he has to hold back the sob he feels in his throat. He knows that his family is different, that they are who they are for a multitude of reasons that he can’t necessarily blame them for, but there’s always been a certain sense of coldness that comes from them, a coldness he hopes will one day melt away. But the Nolans, they don’t have a sense of coldness. They have a feeling of warmth. And even if he never felt love from his given family again, he’d know that he’d have love here, with the family that he’s chosen for himself.

Chapter Text

 

Before Killian and Emma started dating, when he was just an “annoying patron” at the pub, her words not his, they used to get into these rather enjoyable rows, his words not hers, about these small, insignificant things.

 

It was mostly because he was a bit of an ass and liked to get her all riled up because her pale face would flush red and her nose would scrunch up in the most adorable way as her mouth snarled in frustration. Even if she was the one who kissed him first, who officially made the first big move, he was the one who was immediately smitten with her from their first encounter. And he took to being smitten by acting like all the little lads who had crushes on the little ladies and teased her any chance he could just so that she would pay attention to him, even if it was only for a minute.

 

Also, the flush of red just looked so lovely on her cheeks, whether that red be from embarrassment, flattery, or anger.

 

The teasing went on like that for weeks.

 

But the thing about Emma is that she gives as good as she gets. She’s a spitfire, in every sense of the word. So for every time he would send back a drink asking for something a bit more chilled or maybe a little bit more room temperature – paying for it all at the end of the night of course – she’d come back to him, saccharine smile on her face and oh so kindly tell him to put his too warm drink where the sun doesn’t shine to cool it off.

 

After awhile, she took to mocking his accent, and while at first she was horrible, truly very terrible, she got better at it the more she practiced. But then another patron heard her mocking him and assumed she was mocking any British person, resulting in him getting up from his seat and angrily walking away, mumbling about stupid Americans on his way out the door.

 

She’d level him with the glare he’s so fond of now, like it was his fault that she’d lost customers. It may have inadvertently been his fault, but he didn’t make her do anything she didn’t want to do, which he was always glad to remind her that she was capable of making all of her own decisions. And without fail, that would queue up an Emma eye roll.

 

Eventually, it wouldn’t be quite so hostile – to tell the truth, it never really was hostile to begin with – and they’d just have petty, friendly quarrels, both of their words, to occupy their evenings and late nights at the pub.

 

“I just don’t understand,” he groans, throwing a couple of pretzel bites in his mouth to munch on as she sat on the counter behind the bar, legs swinging freely against the hardwood cabinets beneath her, “why do you have so many phrases that are different?”

 

“Um, no,” she corrects, motioning for him to toss her a few of the pretzel bites. They’ve got this routine down pretty well, if he does say so himself, throwing her the pretzels for her to catch between her hands. “Why do you have so many different phrases?” She stops to stuff all of the pretzel bites he just threw at her in her mouth, speaking before she finishes chewing. “I have lived with my very British mom for my entire life, and I still can’t get over the fact that you guys call cookies biscuits. That’s not what a fucking biscuit is. Oh,” another bite of an apparently hidden pretzel that he’s pretty sure she just pulled out of her bra, “and then there’s the fact that you call fries chips or crisps or whatever. It doesn’t make any sense.”

 

“You call your trousers pants. That’s underwear! It drives me up the wall when you say that a spilled drink got all over your pants because you’re not walking around in your pants!”

 

“Well, I would think you’d like to see me walking around in my pants from the way you like to stare at my ass when you think I’m not looking.”

 

She’s got him there (she has a fantastic ass and he definitely thought he was being more sly than he apparently has been), and he can’t help scratching behind his ear, his own pale cheeks flushing a similar red to the one that’s usually on her cheeks. She sees this and smirks at him, hopping down from the counter to grab some more pretzels for herself out of his bowl.

 

“Those are mine,” he scolds playfully, slapping her hand away as he pulls the bowl back to himself, cradling it like one would do with a child.

 

“Oh please,” she laughs, snatching the bowl out of his grasp, “didn’t anyone ever teach you how to share?”

 

Now she’s taking a sip of his beer while eating his pretzels, and he wonders how exactly they got to this point of familiarity. Not that he’s complaining. He quite likes the way this is going.

 

“Didn’t anyone ever teach you not to steal?”

 

He says it jokingly, but she flinches at that, putting his beer down and sliding it and the bowl back to him, immediately turning around to busy herself with rearranging the bottles of alcohol on the bottom shelf that don’t actually need rearranging. He’s obviously touched some kind of nerve with her, and he doesn’t want to hurt her. That was never his intention. And he doesn’t want to ruin this thing they’ve got going, so he does what he always does when he’s pushed his luck a bit too far with Emma. He does something to try to make her laugh.

 

She’s got a beautiful laugh, and if he could hear it every day for the rest of his life, he’d die a happy man. The cheesy, overly sentimental bastard that he is.

 

“Lass, I didn’t mean to upset you,” he pleads, leaning over the counter to tap her shoulder, trying to convince her to turn around. “It was just a joke. I was just asking you if anyone had taught you not to steal because it seems you’ve stolen my heart without me giving my permission.”

 

It’s corny, but that’s the point. And it doesn’t matter if a tiny (large) part of it is true or not.

 

She lets out a low whistle, rising from her spot where she was squatting on the ground working in the cabinets to finally turn and look at him, propping her chin in the palms of her hands as she rests her elbows on the counter in front of him.

 

“You get all your girls that way, Casanova?”

 

“First of all,” Killian begins, snatching onto Emma’s wrists and running his thumbs across the skin there, “I don’t have these hoards of girls you seem to think I have. Second of all, are you saying that you’re one of my girls?”

 

“Please,” she drawls out, rolling her eyes in an exaggerated fashion but making no move to remove her hands from his grasp, “like you would be interested in an American bartender for anything other than serving you your alcohol.”

 

Oh how little does she know.

 

“I’ll have you know,” he drawls out right back, rolling his tongue across his bottom lip as he releases her hands to cross his arms across his chest, leaning back in the stool, “I actually quite fancy you when you’re not yelling at me.” He adds in an exaggerated wink to complement Emma’s eye roll from earlier. “And a lot of times even when you are. Especially when you are.”

 

He’s flirting with her, and quite frankly, it’s fun. It’s been a good while since he’s had this much fun talking to a woman – talking to anyone, really – and he likes having fun like this. Being normal. Flirting. Flirting with this captivating woman to be more specific.

 

“You,” Emma groans, even if she has a smile on her face, “are absolutely ridiculous. I can’t believe your face is one of the ones who represents this country.”

 

“I happen to think my face is quite dashing, don’t you? Some would even say striking.”

 

“Hmm,” she hums out, tapping her finger against her chin, “it’s okay. Nothing to write home about. Not worth the cost of the stamps.”

 

She shrugs her shoulders at him, like she really means it, but then she’s throwing a wink in his direction, and he already knows that he’s gone for this girl.

 

Later that night (or that morning since it’s an hour past closing), they’re both sitting in a booth, collection of empty beer bottles gathered in front of them on the mahogany table.

 

“So tell me something,” she insists, pulling her hair into some kind of messy bun on the top of her head. It makes her look younger, more her age. It also looks heavy with all of her hair piled on her head like that.

 

“Anything, darling,” he answers, voice low and deep, not wanting to overpower the sound of the radio that is still playing through the speakers.

 

“You’re relatively young –”

 

“I’m three years older than you.”

 

“Three. Three hundred. What’s the difference?”

 

He can level her with a glare, too, furrowing his brow and narrowing his eyes as he looks at her, still waiting for her to get to the point of her line of questioning.

 

“You’re relatively young,” she repeats, still trying to adjust the bun on her head as she props her feet up on his lap under the table, “and I know you’re not super stodgy like the rest of your family from what you’ve told me and what I’ve seen on TV and, you know, from knowing you. But you have to sort of sneak away to do normal things, like to come out drinking.” She’s pointing between the two of them, as if to prove her point, and he grabs onto her ankles, feeling the exposed skin there.

 

“Aye, and?” he nods at her as he runs his fingers over the protruding bone, encouraging her to continue, the buzz of the alcohol and the buzz of this night with her making him feel like he’ll tell her anything she wants to know.

 

“It’s probably a stupid question, but –”

 

“It’s not a stupid question.”

 

“Stop interrupting me, Killian.”

 

He just raises his hands in defense, motioning the zipping of his lips, throwing back his hand as if he was throwing away the imaginary key before reaching back down to grab hold of her ankles again.

 

“So do you, like, have secret social media accounts? Do you spend your nights checking twitter or scrolling through Instagram? Do you Snapchat? Who in the world would you Snapchat? Like, the other princes and dukes and duchesses of the world?”

 

It’s an odd question to ask, and usually she won’t ask too much about the specifics of his life as a member of the English royal family, but he figures this is more curiosity of what it’s really like to be him than anything else. She deserves to know things about him. She’s his friend, and he annoys her at her place of business most nights. It’s the least he can do to answer some of her questions, and this is probably the easiest question she can ask.

 

“I don’t have any of those things,” he admits, and she almost looks disappointed, “I have several official accounts, but I’m only allowed to post professional things on there. And a lot of the time it’s not even me posting it, but it doesn’t mean I don’t spend time on the internet. I’ve spent more time looking at weird videos online than I care to admit.”

 

“Not gonna lie, I’m kind of scared to ask what kind of weird videos.” She lets out a small chuckle, looking down to pick at her nails before looking back at him through her eyelashes, and he can feel her trying to poke his stomach with her toes but her legs are too short.

 

God, she’s beautiful.

 

And infuriating.

 

And adorable.

 

And just lovely.

 

He can’t help but laugh in return, if only to give him time to answer her almost question. “Normal stuff, I guess. There’s a lot of funny videos of animals or babies or just people doing stupid things. I guess it gets a little weirder if I can’t sleep, and I just kind of keep clicking on whatever the next suggested video is.”

 

He’s expecting her to look at him curiously, but she doesn’t. She just smiles at him like she’s endeared by his late-night habits, but that’s got to be the alcohol talking, right?

 

“Well what’s the weirdest thing you’ve watched lately?”

 

He takes a minute to think on it, not really knowing what to say. This is kind of an unorthodox conversation, but he guesses when you’re sitting in an empty pub at three in the morning, anything goes. And it’s not like this is the first time they’ve talked about something weird.

 

Plus, she’s still giving him that look. Killian wants Emma to give him that look every damn day for the foreseeable future.

 

“It was a video about how some people don’t like the sound of whispering in their ears.”

 

“That’s ridiculous,” she laughs, covering her mouth with her hand to hide her amusement, her green eyes scrunching up in delight. “Don’t people, you know, usually like that?”

 

“What do you mean?” He knows exactly what she means, but her cheeks are already flushing a deep crimson from being flustered, and he wants to see how she deals with this for purely selfish reasons.

 

“You know, someone whispering in your ear?”

 

“And why would someone like that?” He does his best impression of being innocent, lacing his fingers together and propping his chin on them as he waits for her to answer.

 

“You know,” her voice is almost a whisper now, funnily enough, “whispering…saucy statements in your ear in the throws of passion?”

 

“Saucy,” he barks out a laugh, deep and bellowing because he can’t quite contain himself at her choice of words.

 

Emma’s face is completely flushed now, and he can see where that blush reaches down beneath her shirt. It would almost be arousing if he wasn’t too busy laughing.

 

“Ugh,” she groans, putting her face in her hands in embarrassment as her body shakes in silent laughter and maybe a little defeat, “I was trying to think of a word, and I know it started with an ‘s’ but I couldn’t think of a better word in the moment.”

 

“Sexy? Seductive? Salacious? Spicy? Scandalous? Sensual? Suggestive?”

 

He’s wiggling his eyebrows at her, still amused at her saucy statement and the look – death glare – she was giving him as he rattled off those words, counting them off on the fingers of his right hand like it was nothing, using his other hand to tap each word against the bone of her ankle to further prove his point .

 

“Yes, any of those would work, but I kind of like saucy now that I’ve said it. Really turns me on.”

 

She’s trying to keep a straight face, but he sees her jaw tick just the slightest bit, and he knows she wouldn’t let anything slip if it wasn’t for the alcohol buzzing through her and he’s going to enjoy talking to a carefree Emma while he can. So he just raises one eyebrow, questioning her truthfulness in that last statement, and she almost immediately bursts into a fit of giggles, eyes closing and smile brightening in her show of joy.

 

They spend the rest of the night – morning – talking about meaningless things, eventually evolving into him showing her some of the aforementioned videos, as well as Emma showing him how to use Snapchat – she snaps a picture of the two of them with a filter that gives you cat ears and he never does figure out a way to ask if she can send that to him, though he does notice her save it to her phone instead of sending it to someone so maybe he can still ask later.

 

When she yawns, nose scrunching as she doesn’t even bother to cover up her mouth, he realizes that he needs to go home and let her go upstairs to go to sleep. It’s as he’s excusing himself, telling her you need to go to sleep, love that she tells him he can sleep on the couch upstairs. He thinks it may be inappropriate, but she insists, telling him that she doesn’t want him driving home on the combination of alcohol and lack of sleep.

 

So he accepts, if a bit hesitantly at first, and follows her upstairs for the first time since the night they first met. She grabs him some of her father’s clothes out of the dryer, again so much like that first time, and after he’s settled down onto the couch, nestled into a blanket and into the cushions, she comes over to him, leaning over him just so that he thinks she might kiss him goodnight.

 

He hopes that she does.

 

She doesn’t.

 

But she does move her lips over to his ear, whispering that she hopes he has some saucy dreams tonight.

 

He doesn’t have saucy dreams that night, but he does go to sleep with a smile on his face and laughter on his lips. And maybe he wakes up with a different kind of dream for his future that he’s never dared hope for before.

 


 

It’s as he’s driving Emma to his apartment for the first time that he realizes this is truly it. They’re doing this. She’s finally getting to be a part of his life like he has been a part of hers.

 

They had decided that she’d come and spend some time with him in his apartment, get comfortable in it, and then they’d invite his family over for everyone to meet each other. He knows that there’s no way Emma will ever be truly comfortable meeting his family, so he wanted to do it on his own grounds, literally. It’s a delicate situation, and the two of them will have to tread lightly.

 

When he looks over to her sitting in the passenger seat, she’s just staring out of the window watching the other cars pass by, blonde hair in loose curls falling over the floral dress she’d put on for the day. It’s not often that she wears dresses just to sit around at home, and if he didn’t already know that she was nervous, that would be the clearest sign – like a flashing neon sign in the middle of the desert, really. So he just takes his left hand and puts it over her right, feeling the coolness of that ever-present ring against his skin. As nervous as he is, as nervous as they both are, he knows that eventually it will all turn out to be just fine.

 

Definitely.

 

Maybe.

 

Hopefully.

 

As he pulls into the gates to go through security, he feels her hand tense just the slightest bit under his, so he just squeezes back, handing her ID over to the guard in the security booth.

 

“You okay?” he asks her as he continues to drive after she clears security, traveling a little further into the grounds until he gets to his parking space, looking over at her when they’ve stopped.

 

“Yeah,” she sighs out, giving him the most reassuring smile that she can, turning her hand so she can interlace their fingers and squeeze his hand back, “it’s just a little weird, you know? Just the whole situation isn’t something I could have ever imagined. I mean, I watched documentaries on this place growing up.”

 

“You watched documentaries on me?” It shouldn’t surprise him, but it does, and he thinks how truly odd it is that they’ve ended up here. Odd, but right.

 

“Not you per say,” she corrects, and there’s the smile he knows, open and full of confidence, “but on the buildings and the history part. You know I’ve always been a big history nerd because my mom was a history teacher before we moved here. So while there may have been a tiny bit of baby Killian at the end of some of them, I didn’t watch them for you.”

 

She leans over across the center console to give him a quick peck, speaking against his lips, “if anything, I can’t wait to see more pictures of you as a kid. Those documentaries didn’t show me enough, and the only way I really followed your life growing up was through those bad Lifetime moves.”

 

He can’t help but laugh, giving her a kiss in reply and totally ignoring her Lifetime movie comment, because he pretends those don’t exist for the sake of his sanity. “Fair is fair, I guess. And besides, I’ve already gone through every photo album your mom has.”

 

“I think I’m still mad at her about that.”

 

“Why, love?”

 

She squints her eyes, scrunching up her nose. “Because half of those photos are me with food all over my face or me naked on the beach as a toddler.”

 

“Nothing I haven’t seen before.”

 

She doesn’t say anything back, just levels him with a stare that he knows is her saying think about what you just said, you idiot.

 

“That was a little creepier than I intended, wasn’t it?”

 

“Oh most definitely.” She moves her hand to trace her thumb over the scar under his eye, bringing some gentleness into the nastiness of the mark he’s had since he was eight and fell at the park. “Can we go inside now? I want to see this bachelor pad of yours.”

 

At that, he gets out of the car, reaching into the backseat to get the bags Emma’s packed. She’s going to stay with him for a few days, and he can’t quite believe it. He can’t quite believe that they’re finally doing this. Even if it’s going to come with some nasty conditions, he gets to be with her in his home, and that’s just…that’s everything to him.

 

When they get inside, he gives Emma a quick tour, but she spends most of her time looking over his personal items, his pictures and his drawings on the fridge from Alexander – they’re mostly just random crayon marks, but he keeps every one he’s been given. There are no pictures with her in the living room, but he has some in his bedroom. He’s been having to put them away when his friends or family come to visit, and he can’t believe he’s not going to have to do that anymore.

 

“I like this better than my apartment,” she sighs when she’s finished perusing his apartment, stretching out onto his bed and sinking into the mattress, closing her eyes in the process.

 

“Really now?” he teases as he crawls onto the bed to lean over her, kissing up her clothed stomach as he goes, stopping to pay special attention to the exposed skin at her collarbone, worrying a mark into her skin even though he knows that he probably shouldn’t.

 

She pops one eye open so that she can look at him as he bites at her pulse point, soothing the spot with his tongue almost immediately afterwards. “Is this really how you want to spend your first few hours with me in your apartment?”

 

“Absolutely.”

 

Two hours later, Emma has showered, long wet hair curling around her face as it dries, and dressed much more Emma-like in some black leggings and one of his old Cambridge t-shirts, sitting at the bar in his kitchen eating some grilled chicken he had in a tupperware container in his fridge.

 

He doesn’t want to ask because he can tell how comfortable she’s feeling right now, but he has to. “Have you thought any more on when you want to meet my family?”

 

She’s chewing on the chicken when he asks, so she holds her finger up to indicate that she needs to wait a minute, her throat visibly gulping. “Um,” she begins, pushing the plate away from her even though she’s nowhere near being finished, “I really don’t know. I feel like you need to surprise me or something because I’m not ready to do it now, but if we wait until the morning I’ll probably be up the whole night feeling like I have to vomit.”

 

“It’s going to be fine, sweetheart.”

 

“Says the guy who stayed up all night and felt like he was going to vomit two days ago.”

 

He moves to kiss her forehead, lingering there for a little longer than he usually would, but she needs the comfort. And maybe he does, too. “I think we should do it tonight. Have everyone over for dinner and bite the bullet so to speak.”

 

“Killian,” she whines, tilting her head so she can look up at him, “what if they hate me?”

 

“Mum won’t hate you.”

 

“I notice you don’t mention your dad or Liam.”

 

“Love,” he sighs, coming to rest his hands on her shoulders, bunching the material there as he rubs at the stress knots that have formed there, “they’re going to be assholes. I can almost guarantee it, but as cliché as it is, it’s not about you, it’s about them. My family’s not quite caught up to modern times in some aspects, relationships outside of the aristocracy being one of the main things. And it’ll be damn difficult, but honestly I don’t like them very much most days. You don’t have to get along with them, though I wish that we could. We just have to get my father on board for us to publicly be together.”

 

“And he’ll do that even if he doesn’t like me?”

 

“He’ll do it if he thinks you’ll make us look good to the public.”

 

“Well that’s a dick move.”

 

He barks out a laugh, shoulders shaking in amusement, and when he looks down, Emma smiles for the first time since they’ve started this conversation.

 

“Always remember, you kissed me first so this is really all your doing.” He means for it to come out confidently, but it leans more toward self-deprecating and the guilt he’s felt about this whole situation he’s putting Emma through starts to show through the cracks. Because it’s not her fault. It’s his.

 

“Hey,” she places her hand on top of where his is resting on her shoulder, “I don’t regret it for a second. I love you.”

 

After all this time, those words still get to him. Maybe everything will be okay after all, no matter how it turns out because her love isn’t a weakness. It’s strength.

 

“Oh my God, Killian. What the fuck do I wear?

 


 

The first time Emma told Killian she loved him it was an accident. The words just slipped through her lips like she had no control over them. And for a woman who he knows chooses her words carefully, it made these particular words feel even more special because it meant that she let her guard down around him, let those carefully constructed walls crumble just a little bit – or a lot in this case – so that she could fall in love with him as he had with her. He’d somehow won her heart, and God knows he probably doesn’t deserve it. But he’ll do anything it takes the keep it.

 

He’ll do anything it takes to be with her for as long as she’ll have him.

 

They’d been dating each other for a little over four months and had known each for three months before that, so it shouldn’t have surprised him that she could feel that way – that she could be in love – about him, especially because he had felt that way about her for what felt like forever. But it did surprise him. Emma was always surprising him.

 

While the drinking age in Britain is eighteen, and Emma had taken full advantage of that, she grew up in America where the drinking age is twenty-one and people often go out for big celebrations and get regretfully drunk with their friends. So, in honor of her American heritage, she was planning to host a twenty-first birthday party at the pub (I don’t technically have to pay for the alcohol, she told him while planning it, so it’s cheaper to do it here than to go out), and all of her local friends and family were invited.

 

Of course, Killian couldn’t attend because they both knew that her friends would recognize him immediately, and that would blow their cover before they even truly got this relationship afloat. But he could show up afterward, when the alcohol was flowing through Emma’s body, and he knew that he would immediately be putting her to sleep after getting to wish her a happy birthday.

 

But when he walked in the pub just before midnight and no one else was there, just his little blonde love sitting on top of the counter, swinging her feet in the air as she so often does, nursing what looked like a glass of water.

 

She snapped her head toward him when the bell over the door chimed, and the smile that bloomed on her face was…incandescent. She looked at him like he was everything she needed in her life, and his heart started thumping quickly, overwhelmed with his feelings for her.

 

“Killian,” she breathes out, still staying put in her spot on the counter, “what are you doing here?”

 

“Where is everyone, love?” He just ignores her question to ask his own, knowing that it didn’t really need an answer. She knew he was coming eventually. They had talked about it when he helped her plan tonight.

 

“Would you believe,” she starts, now hopping down from her place on the bartop, gracefully landing on both feet like she hasn’t had a sip of alcohol, “that my dad got food poisoning and he made us close up because he didn’t know if the bad food had come from us or not? And also because he’s sick, and we didn’t have enough staff to open tonight with me off the clock.”

 

She’s in front of him now, twisting her hands into the material of his jacket at his chest, and he can’t help put place his hands on her hips, like they belong there or something. “I would believe that because that’s a bloody ridiculous thing to make up otherwise.” She sticks her tongue out at him, and even if it’s slightly immature, it’s just so Emma. “Plus,” he tacks on, reaching to push some of her hair out of her face, tucking it behind her ear, “I know you were really looking forward to your party, and I don’t believe you sitting on top of a bar counter alone drinking a glass of water really constitutes for a happy birthday, now does it?”

 

“I would say probably not.”

 

“But I have a thought on how we could make it…happier.”

 

He’s got an eyebrow raised at her as he squeezes her hip with the hand that’s still resting there, hoping she’ll catch on to his thinly-veiled suggestion.

 

She does. But she does not react in the way that he was hoping.

 

She laughs at him.

 

Like, fully belly laughs with snorts from where she can’t get enough air into her lungs, laughs at him.

 

“Kil – Killian,” she gasps out, trying to get a hold of her breathing, and he really doesn’t understand why it was that funny. He’s never quite had a girl laugh at him when he was coming onto them. “Killian, I just told you that my dad had food poisoning. Do you know what’s involved in food poisoning?” He just nods his head at her, her meaning slowly sinking in. “It’s a lot of gross stuff. Why do you think I’m sitting down here by myself instead of upstairs? It’s gross and we share a bathroom and in no way do I think I could be even remotely turned on right now.”

 

She starts laughing again, and even if he could be slightly insulted, he can’t help but laugh along with her.

 

When she finally calms down and has got herself a bit more under control, she just looks at him again and giggles, raising her hands in the air to stretch, sweater rising enough to show off the flat of her stomach. “God, if I didn’t love you so much, I would have kicked you out for even suggesting that we have sex tonight.”

 

She doesn’t realize what she’s said until he goes rigid, his hand tightening on her hip for an entirely different reason, and then suddenly the words she spoke must come crashing down around her as she lets her raised arms fall to her sides because her green eyes go startlingly wide and her skin goes pale.

 

She starts to back away from him, his hand falling from her hip, and that’s when he comes to his senses, pulling her to him and crashing his lips against hers, roughly and not at all as elegant as they’d gotten this routine down in the past few months. Somehow he finds himself backing her up into that same bar counter she was perched upon when he walked in, a gasp escaping her lips when the solid wood collides into the small of her back.

 

That’s when they both pull back, breaths heavy and eyes slightly hooded, and she loves him. To her, he’s just some guy who walked into her parents’ pub in soaking wet clothes and almost ruined one of their booths, and seven months later she loves him.

 

“I love you, Emma Nolan,” he tells her, making sure that she’s looking in his eyes so that she can be sure that he truly means it, giving her a sweet kiss before continuing. “And you can feel free to tell me you love me anytime you want. Not just while rejecting my advances.”

 

She laughs again as her head falls to his shoulder, slapping his chest in the process, and she really is quite the violent lass. “But what if that’s the only time I mean it? Because I feel like that’s going to happen a lot.”

 

She’s got this sly smirk on her face when she lifts her head, lips tugging up on one side, and while this isn’t exactly how he expected this conversation to go, it wouldn’t be them if it wasn’t a little out of place and a little weird and just…them.

 

“I love you, Killian,” she finally tells him, caressing his cheek with the back of her hand before wiggling out of his arms and walking toward the kitchen, like they hadn’t just professed their love for each other for the first time. “Now would you like to help me consume this birthday cake that’s sitting in the fridge? And don’t worry. It’s store bought, so the only thing we’ll be getting from it is a seriously delicious sugar high.”

 

So they spend her birthday, or a few hours after it really, sitting side by side at the pub’s bar counter eating a cake directly from the serving dish, Killian laughing when Emma smears icing all over his face, and Emma dissolving into a fit of giggles when Killian tickles Emma’s sides in retaliation, rubbing his icing-covered scruff into her neck as he takes his time kissing the skin there.

 

It’s simple, and it’s perfect. And when Emma teases Killian about their Switzerland trip being her second favorite birthday exactly three years in the future, she’s not lying. Because this one was the best one.

 


  

He invites his family to dinner at his apartment that night, not wanting to keep pushing off the inevitable and knowing that everyone is in town and have no previous engagements to attend. If he chickens out a little by making absolutely sure that Abigail and Alexander can attend to act as buffers, can anyone really blame him?

 

Emma has been pacing back and forth in his bedroom for the past hour, and he knows for a fact that she’s tried on every item of clothing she’s brought with her and even attempted to have him take her home to look at the others in her closet. At one point, she was sitting on his floor in just a pair of white pants and her bra, clothes scattered around her in a circle like a tornado had come through the room, only missing the spot where Emma sat with her hands covering her face in frustration, when in reality Emma was the tornado.

 

Eventually, she decided on those white pants and a fitted cream sweater, hair meticulously styled to look as if she hadn’t tried too hard when she really had. She’d worried about finding a happy medium between being too dressed up or dressed down. He knew she was overthinking it, but if it allowed her to feel some sense of control over what was happening, he didn’t mind the tornado of clothes scattered around his room and the various curling irons and makeup products over the bathroom sink. It’s probably what the apartment will look like when – if – Emma moves in with him someday if her room at home is any indication.

 

When the first knock sounds at his door at a quarter until seven in the evening, he sees Emma’s face pale, slightly tanned skin turning almost translucent, from her spot beside him in the kitchen. Honestly, if she makes it through the night without vomiting, he’d be surprised. It’s not that Emma isn’t tough – she’s the toughest person he knows – but it’s the fact that his family can truly be terrible sometimes, especially in complicated situations. This definitely qualifies as a complicated situation, and they all know it.

 

It’s not like this is your normal meeting the parents situation. He remembers meeting Emma’s parents for the first time, when he’d only met Emma once before, and he thought his throat was going to drop to his stomach then. He cannot imagine how Emma feels.

 

He grabs Emma’s hand, guiding her to the entryway, and silently asking if she’s ready by the gentle squeeze he gives her hand. She just nods her head, visible gulp moving through her throat, before he opens the door to see who awaits them on the other side.

 

Apparently everyone’s arrived together despite the fact that Liam’s family actually lives in the same compound, because when he opens the door, it’s to all of his family standing there, awkward half-smiles on their faces.

 

“Kiwwy,” Alexander starts out, breaking the silence as he tries to squirm out of Abigail’s arms to reach Killian.

 

“Hi, buddy,” Killian coos, reaching to grab Alex before he hurts himself and places him on his hip, moving back so everyone can come inside. “Hello everyone, you all can come inside, take a seat anywhere in the dining room or kitchen.”

 

When he turns around, it’s to Emma standing there with her hands behind her back, nervous smile on her face. And she’s probably going to cause her lip to bleed if she keeps biting it.

 

“Who this? Alex questions, arms pointing at Emma, and honestly thank goodness for having a toddler to break the ice.

 

“This,” Killian starts, nodding at Emma to let her know it’s okay and to remember to curtsey to his father just for a good first impression, “is my girlfriend, Emma.”

 

Emma curtsies, and honestly he hates that she has to do that, and then she stretches her hand out to shake everyone’s hands, smile wide, if a bit (a lot) nervous, with everyone she meets. Everyone shakes her hand back, giving their most diplomatic smiles, no longer the awkward smiles they had when he opened the door, and he’s just glad this has at least started off relatively well.

 

She seems to calm after the initial introduction, and his family, surprisingly enough, doesn’t start their inquisition into her until after they’ve eaten dinner when they’ve moved into the living room and are lounging on the couches, a children’s movie on the television for Alex. He has taken a real shine to Emma and is sitting on her lap, babbling to her as he plays with the toys that Abigail brought for him.

 

Again, thank goodness for toddlers for breaking the ice and for providing a sense of distraction from everything else that’s going on.

 

“So, Ms. Nolan,” his father begins, “what is it that you do for a living?”

 

“Oh,” Emma exclaims, seemingly startled out of her little bubble with Alex, readjusting him on her lap before she continues, “my parents own a pub down near the Thames, and I work with them there. Sometimes I work behind the bar, sometimes I’m a waitress, and sometimes I manage the books. But I never work in the kitchen,” she jokes, awkward chuckle spilling from her lips. “It just kind of depends on what we need that day.”

 

“Killian,” Liam scoffs, and Killian was really hoping some other spirit would possess Liam’s body tonight so he wouldn’t be such an ass, “you’re dating a bloody American waitress. How did this even happen?”

 

“Aye,” Killian confirms, ignoring Liam’s question as he reaches over to squeeze the inside of Emma’s knee to keep her from bouncing it up and down, something she does when nervous, “and what of it, brother?”

 

“Don’t you think that’s a little below you?”

 

“Don’t you think it’s a little below you to judge someone, who is right here in the room by the way, for their occupation when you were born into your job?”

 

“So were you.”

 

“And I don’t use it as a way to act as if I am above everyone else.”

 

Breathe in, breathe out, Killian reminds himself, looking over at Emma, polite smile still plastered on her face despite being insulted, to remind himself why he’s doing this, why they’re doing this. It’s for her. This is all for her and for them.

 

He’s just about to speak again, to argue with his brother with carefully chosen words that he can say around Alex, not wanting to upset him like he did the other night, when Emma places her hand over his on her knee and starts speaking.

 

“Listen,” Emma begins, voice uneven and hand shaking, knee threatening to do the same thing, but just the slightest of tremors, “I know that there’s a lot of hostility in here tonight, and I know a lot of it, if not all of it, is about me.”

 

“Emma,” Killian warns, shooting his eyes over to meet hers, “you don’t have to do this.”

 

“Just let me, Killian,” she pleads, giving him a sweet, genuine smile before continuing. “I know that a lot of it is about me, and I know I’m not exactly who you would choose to be the woman who Killian’s with. But I love him, and I have for a long time now. And I’m sorry that we’ve kept our relationship a secret, but I had some trust issues before I met Killian and I guess you should probably know that I don’t technically have a criminal record but –”

 

“What the hell, son?” Brennan hisses, and Emma flinches at his father’s reaction, Alex still happily playing in her lap with the innocence only a child can have. Killian can see Abigail begin to get up to take her son away, but she almost immediately sits back down, thinking better of it.

 

“Just let her explain, please,” Killian begs, hand tightening on Emma’s yet again. He’s got to stop doing that or he’s going to hurt her.

 

“Uh I – I was set up by an ex boyfriend,” she sniffles, tears pooling in her eyes as this story is still difficult for her to tell, “when I was seventeen. He stole some watches and when he realized he was going to get caught, he blamed it on me. Told the cops I had one on me as proof, which, admittedly I did, but it was because he gave it to me for my birthday. And long story short, I’m sure you can get access to the records for when you look me up, I was found not guilty because, you know, I didn’t do anything wrong.”

 

“Oh Emma honey,” his mother cries out, and honestly, bless his mother and bless Alex, “that’s horrible. And I assume that’s one of the reasons you two felt the need to hide your relationship? Because you were scared of what would happen when we found out and when the press found out?”

 

“Yes,” Emma quietly sniffs, trying to hold herself together. And it’s at this point that Alex realizes his new friend is crying, so he turns around to give her face kisses, as that’s what Abigail does to him when he’s upset. It makes Emma laugh just a bit, and she attempts to give Alex her biggest smile, even if it is a little watery. “Thank you, Alex, buddy.”

 

“But honestly,” Emma continues, taking her hand out of Killian’s grasp to wipe away the rest of her tears, “I should have told Killian that we should come to you all sooner, but I guess I just got comfortable, you know? We have this really beautiful, solid relationship, and I was scared of it changing.”

 

“That’s a little naïve,” Liam scolds, like the woman isn’t already teary-eyed and owning up to all of the possible mistakes (not a bit of it has been a mistake) they’ve made in their relationship, “for you to think that it could never change. You got involved with a prince.”

 

“It’s not that I didn’t know that things would change,” she bites, and it’s the most commanding she’s been since this whole thing started. “I knew that it couldn’t stay that way forever. Believe it or not, I’m not an idiot. And I knew that when the time came, I would have two options. I would have to break up with Killian, forever changing my life for the worse. Or I would have to change my life in a totally different way in order to stay with him. And I’ve chosen the latter. I chose him, and I accept the consequences of that decision.”

 

“That’s really not your choice, dear,” his father tells her, his voice almost kind, but it’s honestly like these people don’t have hearts sometimes.

 

“No,” Killian interrupts, “it is. It’s hers and it’s mine. And no one else’s.”

 

“I have to approve of anyone you marry, son.”

 

“Not if I give up my rights to the throne.”

 

Four gasps of what must be horror come from his family, little Alex imitating them just to play along, and Killian realizes this is the ultimatum. This is what will get them to at least understand that this is serious.

 

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, brother?”

 

Emma immediately covers Alex’s ears, mouthing over to Abigail if he needs to leave the room, and when Abigail nods in affirmation, Emma gets up to hand him over before Abigail takes him to one of the bedrooms.

 

And it’s a low blow. He knows it is. But he thinks at least Abigail is out of the room when he says it.

 

“Would you not do it for Abigail, Liam?”

 

“Killian,” Liam admonishes, voice clipped so it won’t travel into the next room, “you know we must put the country before ourselves. That is what we’ve been trained to do.”

 

“No,” Killian corrects, “you and father must do that. Not me, not always. It’s a funny thing,” he lets out a dark chuckle, “all my life I’ve been treated as nothing more than just the spare to your heir, and the one time I actually, truly am okay being treated that way in the privacy of my own home, you all act as if I’m going to be the next bloody King of England and not fourth, in a few years probably fifth, in line. So, please, go on living that way. Just fuck off and let me live my own life. I promise I’ll do nothing to embarrass you since I know that’s all you’re truly worried about. ”

 

“Killian,” Brennan placates, “you know that it’s complicated. We live a complicated life. How we present ourselves to the public is what keeps us living this life. You are one of the most heavily photographed people in the world. You of all people should know that even the slightest misstep leads to fallout.”

 

“And you think that this, me finding love, is a misstep?”

 

“I think it’s not about that and you know it.”

 

“Then what exactly is it about?” Killian spits out, hold on Emma’s knee tightening. “I’m not blind to the media coverage of me. I’m not blind to the scandals I’ve caused. How could I be? I’m constantly reprimanded for things that I did when I was younger that weren’t even true. But I’m also not blind to the fact that out of everyone in this family, I have the most influence among people my age, and the people my age are the ones who we’re always trying to get the approval of. So I don’t quite understand what you’re taking issue with.”

 

“The issue is with you being with someone who has a murky past.” His father isn’t looking at him as he speaks. Instead he’s staring at the painting on the wall behind Killian’s head. At least he has the decency to be slightly ashamed. “We haven’t even done our background checks into her, so who knows what other kind of potential scandals could be lurking, as if the ones we know about aren’t bad enough.”

 

He sees Emma recoil from the corner of his eye, but it’s just a quick motion, impossible to see if you don’t know her the way he does.

 

“You’re heartless.”

 

“I’m following centuries of protocol.”

 

“Maybe you could forget protocol and be a good fucking father for once.”

 

The room delves into a deep silence at the venom in Killian’s voice and the implications behind his words. It’s the kind of silence where you can only hear the breathing of the person beside you. The kind where silence isn’t really silence because the sound of your heart beating and the sound of your mind thinking are so loud, like drums beating in between your ears.

 

His father gets up without a word, nodding to his mother to indicate that they’re leaving because he obviously needs time to think, whether that be over how he raised a son like Killian or just the situation as a whole, Killian will likely never know. While his mum leans down to kiss his cheek and hug Emma’s neck, his father says nothing, just walks out of the apartment without a word. Liam follows suit after he goes to get Abigail, who walks out of one of the bedrooms with a sleeping Alexander. Abigail says goodbye, but Liam, so much like their father in every way, just slips out quietly.

 

He’s stunned, to say the least. He knew it wouldn’t go well, but there were times when Emma was talking that he thought she was really getting through to them. He thought they would see that she’s sweet and she’s charming and she’s so goddamn intelligent that it blows you away sometimes. He thought they would listen to him, their own flesh and blood. But it’s like the two of them, his father and his brother, couldn’t see any of that, couldn’t see past the headline words like waitress and American and arrested.

 

They haven’t truly cared about him for the entirety of his twenty-eight years of life, so why can’t they not care about him now?

 

He’s so lost in his own head, lost in running through every word that was said tonight, that it’s like he’s blind to Emma beside him. And he’s blind to the fact that she’s been holding back her sobs as silent tears run down her face. But then a sob croaks through, and his head snaps to her, and his instincts kick in, immediately pulling her into his lap and into his arms so he can embrace her, comfort her through this.

 

She chokes out loud, messy sobs, and her entire body violently shakes with her heavy breathing. She can’t get air in quick enough, and before he even knows what’s happening, she’s detangling herself from his lap and she’s running to the kitchen sink, dry heaving over it until her body can’t take it anymore. And then she’s sliding down to sit on the kitchen tile, body still shaking as she rests her face in the palms of her hands.

 

He’s there in an instant, scooping her up in his arms and alternating between whispering it’s okay, darling and I love you over and over again until her body finally exhausts itself, and she falls asleep against the warmth of his chest and the chill of the kitchen tile.

 

And he’s left sitting there thinking, this is all my fault.

 

He eventually moves her off of the floor and to his bed, slipping her out of her clothes and into one of his t-shirts. He’s not sly enough to do it without waking her up, so she helps him undress her, snapping at him that she’s not a child and can dress herself. But then once they’re in bed, that fire inside of her dies again, and he can feel her sobs make their way through her body even if he can’t hear them with her face buried into her t-shirt. Ultimately, she does tire herself out again, and she falls back asleep, hopefully to a slumber with no dreams.

 

He doesn’t sleep, however. And it’s his second true sleepless night in as many days. But when he can see the sun rise through the gap in the curtain, he slips from Emma’s grasp and slips into some joggers and a sweatshirt.

 

He doesn’t care how he looks, not in the slightest. He only cares about getting his point across. So when he walks into his parents’ home thirty minutes later and sees his father eating breakfast at the kitchen table like he has not a care in the world, he tells him, in non-negotiable terms, that either they accept Emma into the family with more open arms than they ever accepted him, or he leaves and doesn’t talk to them again, forever staining the image they seem to care so much about.

 

When he returns home, Emma is still in bed, curled up on her side. She’s awake, eyes staring at whatever movie she’s found on the television, but he knows she hasn’t physically gotten out of the bed that morning.

 

She looks almost zombie-like, and as he crawls into bed next to her, shuffling his body behind her to wrap his arm around her stomach, she doesn’t acknowledge him. Eventually, she shifts one of her legs through his, and he’s not sure if that’s her silent way of saying I’m okay or if it’s just her body’s instinct from years of experience.

 

She surprises him though, speaking when he least expects it. “Do you think they’re ever going to like me?”

 

She sounds so small, and he hates it. Hates that this is all his fault. He keeps repeating those words over and over again – all my fault, all my fault, all my fault. That this woman, this wonderful woman, feels this insecure because of him.

 

“Sweetheart,” he starts, rubbing his hand against her stomach, drawing patterns with his fingernails, “they don’t matter.”

 

“They’re your family, Killian.” She’s not looking at him, but he can hear the tears in her voice. “They’re your family, and they hate me. And obviously they fucking matter. Your father is the fucking King of England.”

 

She pauses, taking a minute to contemplate her next words, always the thinker, his Emma. “I like to consider myself to be a strong woman, Killian. I’m independent, and I know who I am as a person outside of you and me. I’ve survived a lot that I never should have had to survive. And I just need you to know that I love you so much that it hurts sometimes. But this, Killian, this whole situation hurts like a constant stabbing ache. I’ve been on trial before, an actual, legitimate trial, and I’d take that over this any day. To have the people who are supposed to love the man I love look at me with such distrust and such distaste, it hurts like hell.”

 

The tears are full on sobs now after she’s finally managed to get her feelings off of her chest, and he doesn’t know what to do. Just does what he’s done the past few nights and holds her as the sobs wrack her body, her tiny frame shaking in his arms.

 

“Shhhh, baby, it’s okay. It’s okay.”

 

He’s trying his best, but the tears won’t stop coming. He doesn’t know how she produces so many in such little time.

 

“I – I – I…” she stutters out in between sobs, trying to speak through the gulps and the hiccups, “…I just – I just wanted them to be okay – be okay with me. And I’m just scared that one day you’re going to…” She takes a deep breath her, attempting to calm herself. “…to leave me. To realize they’re right about me.”

 

Damn his family right now. Damn them.

 

“Emma, hey, look at me” he pleads, trying to get her to turn over so she can see his face. When she does finally turn, her eyes look hollow, and that terrifies him. “I love you more than anything in this life. That’s not going to change.” He tucks her loose hair behind her ears, running his knuckles against the apples of her cheeks afterward. “And I already talked to my dad this morning. Gave him the same ultimatum I gave him last night, but I made sure he knew that I truly meant it.”

 

“Killian,” she scolds him, voice high pitched as she levels him with that Emma glare, “why would you do that? What exactly did you say?”

 

“Accept you or lose me.”

 

She doesn’t react. No emotions on her face. No words. No actions. She just stares at him, and when he sees her eyebrow flicker, just the slightest bit, he knows that she’s trying to process this.

 

“I don’t want to be the thing that breaks your family.”

 

“It was already broken.”

 

Nothing else is said. Nothing else really needs to be said that hasn’t been said in the last thirty-six hours. Honestly, he’s tired of talking. He doesn’t want to talk things through anymore. So they don’t. Emma just turns back over to face the television again, shifting her leg back through his, and this time he knows it’s her way of saying we’re okay. I’m hurt and I’m upset, but you and me, we’re okay.

 

They don’t really talk much for the rest of the morning or the early afternoon. They don’t need to. It’s been, well, it’s been an emotional two days, and that’s exhausting, mentally and physically. So they just try to enjoy the relative peace they have curled up in Killian’s bed, when it’s just the two of them and no one else is around to put the weight of pressure on their shoulders.

 

At exactly 3:17 PM there’s a knock on his door. Emma’s fallen back asleep, so he leaves her in bed and makes his way to the door, still clad in his joggers and sweatshirt from this morning.

 

When he opens it, it’s his father holding a stack of files, expressionless look on his face.

 

“Can I come in, son?”

Chapter Text

Killian and Emma don’t fight often. It’s not to say they never argue or get into disagreements. They’re both highly stubborn people who are pretty set in their ways and in their stances once they’ve made their minds up about something. They have their own vices and their own flaws, imperfections both on the surface and buried underneath, a shallow hole that only opens up when you continue to dig. And it would be a lie to say that they always get along and that they always agree on everything because that’s never happened to any two people in the history of…ever. There’s no one in the world who has a person who mirrors their exact thoughts. There’s no one who’s going to agree with you on every thought that crosses your mind or on every situation that you find yourself in.

 

But there is going to be someone – most likely several someones, and they won’t all be romantic – who complements you. They don’t complete you. That’s a bit ridiculous. You can be complete on your own. But they understand you for all of your flaws and your insecurities. They like you for who you are, and they love you even in the face of your shortcomings.

 

You’re never going to like everything about someone. You’re never even going to like everything about yourself. Life isn’t about the search for your “perfect” person, but it is about the search for someone who is worth fighting for every day, someone who is willing to fight for you, too.

 

So Killian and Emma haven’t been in a lot of arguments, but it’s not to say that their relationship has been smooth sailing. In fact, it’s been extraordinarily difficult. They’re subjected to staying in one location, with the occasional excursion outside, and being contained to the inside of four walls can feel restricting, almost suffocating, like the longer they stay there, the smaller the room becomes.

 

On top of that, they’ve basically been conducting a long distance relationship while living twenty minutes away from each other, and even now, as solid as they are, Killian is reminded of the times when the tie that binds them threatened to undo and ravel away, never to be joined again.

 

When Liam and Abigail had been married for a little under a year, most of their public engagements were close to home because that is where their presence was most popular in response to the wedding and all of the fanfare that followed it.

 

The overseas engagements, however, had been delegated to Killian. He had loved doing them when he was younger and for all his family knew, he had nothing to keep him from wanting to travel, so no one saw an issue with him leaving for months at a time to travel to both New Zealand for one month and North America for another two. But Killian knew that he had Emma now, and while they had grown accustomed to spending time apart in their near year and a half of dating, it had never been for this long of a period and with this much distance between the two of them.

 

Killian had known that the trip was approaching, as it had been carefully planned out months in advance, and he’d told Emma about it as soon as it had been decided. She’d responded in the way that she always had to his royal duties, nonchalantly, just a simple we’ll figure it out when we get there shrug before she turned around and went back to fixing herself a bowl of cereal, leaving him standing in her kitchen wishing he could see life through Emma’s eyes.

 

But now, now Killian is in month two of his trip, having just left the frigid temperatures of northern Canada in November to the chilly temperatures of New York post American Thanksgiving. He’s visited diplomats and celebrities, sitting in both meetings for charities and political events while also sitting courtside at basketball games and front row at Broadway shows. It is both exhausting and exhilarating, every turn bringing a new hand to shake and a new conversation to be had. It is everything that Killian enjoys about his predetermined job, and he is thankful for the opportunity to get to interact with people outside of the political madness that is sometimes his life, even if he isn’t allowed to share his political opinions with the public.

 

Yet, with all of the chaos of his trip and his duties, he’s found that his personal life has been lacking. While in New Zealand, he and Emma constantly missed each other, in more ways than just the one. When he was awake and available, she was either asleep or working. When she was awake and available, he was either asleep or attending an event where he absolutely could not be seen texting away on his phone. It was…draining. It was draining him. It was draining Emma. It was literally sucking the life out of their relationship.

 

You can love someone with everything you have, but sometimes that love just isn’t enough.

 

They thought it would get better when he traveled to North America, but the strain continued to nag at the two of them. Killian will wake up to a text from Emma, immediately texting her back only to receive her response five hours later. Of course, that was only fair because that’s often how long it took him to respond, if not even longer depending on his work schedule for the day. They had their calls scheduled, either Killian waking up in the middle of the night or Emma offering to close down the pub so she would be awake when it was 11:00 PM in America. Seeing her face is the highlight of Killian’s day every time, but it always ended with one of them drifting asleep, phone falling from their hands to their respective beds.

 

To put it simply, he misses her. He misses her with his entire being, and this has been two months of his life which he’d gladly trade away just to be with Emma for one night. Sometimes he thinks that he can’t make it the other month. He has to continuously remind himself that others have gone longer without seeing their significant others, and he should be grateful that there is an end date in site. Yet, thinking of the pain of others does not diminish his pain, and he knows it doesn’t diminish Emma’s pain either. She is just as broken up about missing him as he is with her, possibly more so. He’s been taught for the entirety of his life to spend time away from the people he loves. Emma hasn’t. And every time he sees her face through the screen of his phone, though still the most brilliant shade of green he’s ever seen, her eyes look more and more hollow.

 

He’s got three weeks left of his tour when the separation and the distance all come to their peak, and the strain between he and Emma that he’s been fighting against finally snaps, slapping against his skin and leaving a mark, though not visible, is still every bit as pungent as a slap in the face would have been (times ten).

 

It’s one of their scheduled calls, but it’s the first one he’s been able to make in two weeks and he’s already an hour late, furiously hoping that she hasn’t gone to bed and given up on the call, given up on him.

 

When Emma answers on the third ring, Killian can’t help the smile that blooms on his face at just feeling near to Emma again, even if he’s an ocean away.

 

“Hello, love,” Killian greets her, stupid grin still on his lips as he takes in the familiar curve of her nose and curliness of her hair as it’s piled into a bun on the top of her head, a habit of hers when she has late nights at the pub and doesn’t want her hair to constantly be falling in her face. “I’m glad I caught you still awake. I know you usually like to crash right after you clean everything up and close down.”

 

She’s quiet for a moment too long, and Killian attributes it to the lateness of the hour.

 

“Well, I was waiting for you to call.” Emma’s voice isn’t…it’s not Emma. It’s quiet and a tad bit harsh, the word waiting sounding more like fuck you than anything else. Her frustration with him is understandable, but he wasn’t expecting it, even if he should have been. “I’m always waiting for you to call, it feels like.”

 

The last words don’t sound harsh, but that’s only because he can barely hear them. The whispered words barely audible to his ears.

 

“Emma,” Killian exhales, trying to figure out what to say even though he has absolutely no way to make any of this better, not being prepared to have a conversation more than how has your day been. “I’m so sorry, darling,” he begins, knowing the words, while true, don’t do anything to make her feel better. “I know it’s been hard. It’s been bloody hard on me, too. And I know that I’m the one who has fallen through the cracks as of late, but it’ll all be over soon. I promise. No more missed phone calls or unanswered texts.”

 

“Killian,” she sighs, pulling her comforter up to cover her shoulders, shielding herself from the near-winter chill and possibly even from him, “this isn’t fair to me or to you.”

 

She sounds so distraught, voice cracking as her plea goes on, and Killian doesn’t know how to fix it, to fix this. He can’t change anything. She can’t change anything. It will just take some time and some patience and God willing, Emma will agree to wait for that with him. To wait for him.

 

“I just don’t think I can do it anymore,” Emma continues, and she’s not looking at him through the phone screen anymore, her eyes trained ahead at what he knows is a painting of the ballet Swan Lake hanging on the wall in her room. Killian can already feel his heart beat slowing, the opposite of what it should be doing, but he doesn’t feel strong right now. He feels weak, and he’s not sure he or his heart can take what Emma’s trying to tell him.

 

“It’s just so difficult,” she murmurs, gaze having moved to her nails as she picks at them. “And I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but it’s like I just sit around all day waiting for you to call or text and that’s not who I am. I’m not the girl who waits around. And I want to wait for you, Killian. I do. I love you so much, but I also haven’t seen you in over two months. I barely saw you before that if we’re honest with each other. And it’s still basically a month until I can see you again. And for how long at that? Our schedules never match up. If I’m awake closing down the pub, you’re at an event or already asleep. If you’re sleeping, I’m waking up to get my day going. If I have free time, you don’t. I miss you, and it hurts.”

 

This is…this is not how he wanted any of this to go. They’ve had this conversation before, just not as serious, the desperation not seeking through them in the past like it is now.

 

Missing someone comes in unpredictable waves, and you never know when the wave will hit that takes you under.

 

“Emma, my love,” Killian pleads, making sure that he’s looking into the camera at her even if she’s refusing to look at him. “I understand. I understand that it’s hard. This is all killing me, too. But I’ll be back soon, I promise. I just need you to be patient and to trust in me. To trust in us. And everything will go back to the way it was, back to normal.”

 

“That’s the thing, Killian. Back to normal is still me barely seeing you. It’s still you sneaking off to come see me. It’s still us spending all of our time together in one building, never being able to venture outside of these walls. It’s still spending more time with my parents than anything else because I can’t afford to move out. I’m just not sure that this is something I can do anymore.”

 

The words feel heavy in the air, even if they aren’t sharing the same space, and it feels like something is crushing his lungs, the weight of the air not able to reach them, instead pressing down on his chest like an anchor.

 

“Do you want to end things between us?”

 

The words are whispered, almost indiscernible if you’re not listening for them. Killian knows he said them, but he feels as if he’s not in control of his own body right now. A part of him wants to hang up this call so he’ll never know Emma’s response.

Ignorance is bliss, right?

 

“No.”

 

“Then what do you want?”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“Then I don’t know what to tell you,” Killian mumbles under his breath, trying to keep that very breath even. “I don’t know how to help. I’m trying as hard as I can to be present and to be there for you, with you.”

 

“I think…I think I just need some time, Killian,” she tells him, finally making eye contact with him, and he can see now that her eyes are glassy with unshed tears. “And I think I might want to take it while you’re gone. We can talk when you come home.”

 

“I don’t want to come home if it’s not to you.”

 

“I just need the time, Killian. Please give me that.”

 

He can’t deny her anything, even if it breaks him to do it.

 

“Your heart’s desire, Emma. That’s all I’ve ever wanted you to have.”

 

Those three weeks are the slowest weeks of Killian’s life, seemingly dragging on at a pace similar to the now wintery temperatures outside. When he returns to England, it’s Christmas, and he has duties, all of the traditions his family practices every year, to attend to with his family.

 

Compared to Christmases of the past, this one is nice. He gets along with his father and Liam, actually enjoying his time spent with them. Killian even finds himself dissolving into a fit of laughter as his brother opens up his gag gift from him, an air pump for when Liam’s big head finally deflates. One would say it’s a Christmas miracle, but the spirit of the holiday seems almost dull without Emma, the colors muted and the music softened.

 

Emma told him that she needed some time, and he’s respected that. They don’t talk, just the occasional text to make sure the other is okay. He thought being separated from Emma just by physical distance was difficult, but nothing compares to the emotional barrier she’s constructed between the two of them. Killian spent so long breaking her walls down, only to have her quickly reconstruct them during a trying time in their relationship. He knows it’s not the end. He can feels that in his bones. But the doubts and second guesses start to creep in as the distance grows.

 

When December 27th rolls around, and Killian knows that Emma is aware he’s home – he’s texted her, and it’s been on the news – he decides that he can’t take it anymore. He has to talk to her. And if she turns him away at the door, he’ll leave, but he’s not going to sit around and not try. Distance has been their problem. He’s back now, but he won’t truly be home until he’s with Emma.

 

Killian doesn’t manage to slip away until after midnight, the 27th icing over into the 28th, and when he walks through the door of the pub, Emma is nowhere to be seen. It looks like her parents and Will are running things tonight, and as nervous as he is, he hopes this means she’ll have time to talk to him.

 

“Is Emma upstairs?” he asks Mary Margaret after walking over to where she was wiping down some used glasses behind the bar counter.

 

Mary Margaret doesn’t look startled to see him, doesn’t even look up from where she’s scrubbing at a glass, and he’s always kind of known she is basically a relationship guru, but it doesn’t stop him from being surprised every time she knows exactly how to handle a situation.

 

“She’s in her room, probably asleep,” she informs Killian, turning to stack the now clean glasses onto the shelf. “But it’s good that you’ve shown up today. She was in a better mood, and I’m almost positive she’ll be open to talking to you about whatever it is you two are going through.”

 

“Thank you, love,” Killian mumbles as he starts turning to make his way up the stairs.

 

“And Killian?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“You two will be just fine.”

 

The words don’t have any profound meaning to them, but they fill him with hope as he makes his way up the stairs, taking two at a time in his eagerness to see his love for the first time in over a quarter of a year.

 

Sure enough, she’s asleep in her bed when he finds her, small body curled under the covers. He knows that he probably shouldn’t, but he can’t help himself as he crawls behind her and wraps his body around hers, like an instinct that he’s been restraining himself from for months at a time.

 

He must fall asleep without knowing it because the next thing he knows he feels hot breath inching its way up his neck to his jaw, soft lips pressing up against the roughness of his beard that he’s let overgrow as of late. Before he knows it, the hot breath and those soft lips are connecting with his mouth, consuming him like he’s never been consumed before, a clash of dominance taking over as the two of them fight for control in something they haven’t been able to do in so long.

 

Killian tries to be patient, at one point almost pulling back because he realizes that they shouldn’t be doing this before they talk, but then Emma runs her tongue against his, the sensation traveling down south, and he can do nothing but flip her over so that her back rests against the mattress as his own body smothers her as their lips connect over and over again.

 

He’s missed her so bloody much that his body completely takes over, no thoughts in his head except how damn good it feels to have her lips crushed against his and his body pressed tightly against hers, warm skin setting him on fire as her hands travel underneath his jeans to grab his ass, the burn traveling all the way down until his cock is straining to the point of discomfort.

 

“Emma,” he groans, voice breathless as he ruts himself into her, trying to feel something through the front of his jeans, her hands only tightening on his backside, “I need you. God, please,” he grunts, voice hitching when her tongue starts swiping at the lobe of his ear, little nibbles from her teeth driving him further into the madness. “I need to have you.”

 

She doesn’t respond, just slips her hands out of his jeans and up under his sweater, attempting to pull it from his body even if there is no space between them for her to maneuver him out of it. Killian gets what she’s saying without speaking, having done this dance many times before, and complies, lifting himself off of her as he tugs at the material at his neck and removes the sweater himself as Emma removes her t-shirt to show her bare breasts, rosy buds already peaked.

 

It’s primitive to say, but his baser instincts are telling him that he’s missed her breasts almost as much as he missed her. So he does what comes naturally, dipping his head down to her chest and licking a stripe across the top of her right breast before sucking her nipple into his mouth, biting her soft skin until she writhes beneath him, her breath shallow as he gives her left breast the same attention with his hand.

 

He can tell she’s getting impatient with him, her hips pushing up to his in order to find some friction, and it takes everything in him not to groan in pleasure. He wants to move forward. He wants her. But he knows somewhere in the recesses of his mind that when this is over, whatever conclusion she’s made in this time apart is waiting for him. So if he can make this pleasure last forever, he’ll damn well try.

 

“Killian,” Emma pants out, labored breathing at an all-time high when they haven’t truly done anything yet, just his continuous teasing of her breasts and grinding of his hips, “I need you to touch me somewhere else,” she takes the hand on her left breast and guides it down to the place between her thighs, letting him feel through her pajama pants that she’s ready for him, “and I need you to do that now.”

 

“As you wish.”

 

After their clothes are fully removed, Killian is back to caging Emma in on her back on the mattress, his length teasing her wet folds, sending shivers through his body that he knows is his anticipation full of both love and lust. It’s as he’s about to sheath himself inside of her that he looks at her, truly looks at her, and he knows that he’s not mistaken when he sees the love, mixed with something else he’s not entirely sure of, in her eyes, tears lying unshed and making her eyes gleam.

 

“Hey,” he whispers, reaching up to wipe away a singular tear that’s finally fallen with the pad of his thumb, “are you okay, darling? We…we don’t have to do this. We don’t need to do this if you’re upset.”

 

Emma doesn’t respond at first, reaching her hands to run them up his arms, stopping to squeeze at his biceps, something she’s always done to silently reassure him.

 

“I’m not upset,” she whispers, hands traveling from his arms to cup his cheeks, running her thumb against the scar on his cheek, another familiar movement that makes it seem like he hasn’t been away while also filling his chest with a sense of longing that he thinks may never go away. “I think I’m just overwhelmed. We’re doing this all wrong, I know that. But I love you even with all of those things I said about needing time and space, and I’ve missed you so much that my body physically aches some nights. And I didn’t mean to say all of this when you were practically inside me and…shit,” she chuckles, a self-deprecating thing as she takes her hands from his face to wipe at the tears that are freely flowing now, “you must think that I’m certifiably insane.”

 

“I think,” Killian presses his lips against her cheeks, a smattering of small pecks, “that I love you, no matter what. No matter if you tell me you need space or cry before sex,” he wiggles his eyebrows at her, knowing that she needs a real smile to tug at her downturned lips, “or any other certifiably insane thing you come up with.”

 

“Yeah?” she questions, her sniffles slowing into almost nothing.

 

“Yeah,” he answers, never more sure of anything in his life.

 

She kisses him then, soft and slow, never pressing for more despite the exposure of their skin to the air and to each other. When his length accidentally brushes against her inner thigh, he jerks away, still not quite sure what Emma wants or what she’s okay with when it comes to him.

 

But then she’s reaching down to touch him, running her nimble fingers on his underside, tracing the pulsing vein there, before she circles his tip, driving him wild with her ministrations.

 

“It’s okay,” she sighs out, guiding him to her entrance, pushing him in as much as she can as she tells him, “we’re going to be okay.”

 

At her words and the feeling of her almost wrapping around him, he slowly thrusts into her, grabbing onto her waist and letting her adjust to being with him after being apart for awhile. After a few seconds and an impatient cant of Emma’s hips up into his, he begins to move, much more slowly than he had originally intended, a slow circle of his hips into hers instead of relentlessly pounding into her, making her thighs quiver in the constant anticipation of his cock rubbing against her bundle of nerves.

 

It goes on like this for what feels like forever, just a simple sway of their hips together, pleasure building in both of them when he feels Emma’s walls tighten around him, her face pinching in bliss as she reaches that feeling of ecstasy. Killian works her through it slowly until her eyes flutter open and she smiles at him, a dopey little thing that has him dipping his head down to meet her lips is a slow kiss, tongue languidly mixing with hers as he continues to pump himself into her, bottoming out and going at the harsh pace he had originally intended. When he empties himself into her, thrusts slowing until his body can’t take it anymore and he collapses onto her, knowing that she can take his weight, if just for a little while.

 

“So we need to talk,” Killian admits later when they’ve both showered and dressed in pajamas, Killian keeping a stack of his own clothes in Emma’s closet so he doesn’t have to borrow David’s anymore.

 

“So we need to talk,” Emma confirms, running her hand through the wiry hair on his chest as she snuggles into his side.

 

It’s got to be at least three in the morning at this point, the pub far past closed, and David and Mary Margaret having gone to bed soon after, and it’s probably not the right time to have a talk. But they’ve done this whole reunion thing the wrong way, so why not continue on that path?

 

Emma lets out a breath of air onto his bare chest, rolling out of his arms so that she can sit up on the bed, legs crossed as she looks at him, shoulders rolling back to loosen up her sore body. If he feels proud at that, the fact that her body is sore in all the good ways because of him, that’s the man in him that he’ll try to tamper down as this conversation plays out. But obviously he must have smirked a bit because Emma gently slaps him in the chest, eyes telling him to focus.

 

“So we were apart,” Killian begins, straightening so that he’s sitting against her headboard.

 

“We were apart,” Emma confirms, nodding her head as if he needs extra confirmation as to the basis of this talk. “And we didn’t handle it very well.”

 

“Aye.”

 

“Aye?” Emma repeats, not even bothering to do an impression of his accent like she usually does. “All you have to say to that is aye?” She’s not angry, but she’s definitely not pleased. And he was stupid to think that the words said in the almost throws of passion would be all they needed here to heal their wounds.

 

“I have more to say,” he tells her, reaching up to scratch behind his ear because he can’t help himself. “I just want to follow your lead on this because you wanted some time and space to think, so I feel like you deserve to air out all of your thoughts before I say anything.”

 

He’s attempting to save his own skin a little here, not wanting to mess up the fragile thing they’ve got going on before anything past physical reconnection really and truly begins.

 

Emma shifts in her position on the bed, reaching over him to grab her pillow, cuddling it against her chest as she takes in a breath of air, readying herself.

 

“I feel like I’m some kind of dirty secret sometimes,” Emma admits, managing to look directly above his head so that she’s not forced to look at him. “And I know that we agreed to this arrangement both for your reasons and my reasons, and I’m not suggesting we change that. But it was so damn difficult having you be away from me for so long. To know that I can’t see you, touch you, kiss you for months at a time was excruciatingly painful. And I know that’s a little dramatic, but I’m into the dramatics lately.”

 

She pauses, contemplating her next words, and Killian can tell they have been weighing heavily on Emma’s mind. “I need you to let me talk before you interrupt this next part, okay? Because it’s going to upset you, and that’s not my intention.”

 

“Okay,” he responds, dragging out the end of the word, “you’ve got my full attention.”

 

“I don’t think you cheated on me.” She was right. Those words do upset him before she even has the opportunity to explain further. For her to even suggest that she thought about him being unfaithful to her, it’s cutting and he knows that feeling must show on his face, his past experiences with an unfaithful girlfriend coming back to the surface. But Emma ignores it and goes on, like she told him she would. He’s not to interrupt, and he plans on listening to her, both her instructions and her words, as she needs to be heard and to be understood.

 

“No part of me thinks that because I trust you wholeheartedly,” Emma continues, grabbing onto his knee and giving it a squeeze. “But a lot of pictures of you with women have been released over the past few months, and while I know they were all for promotional events, the press was always painting headlines of how you were trying to find your ‘princess’ or whatever. And it’s stupid, but me missing you made me feel jealous. It made me envious of all of these other women who got to be with you while I was waiting here for you to come back to me, Killian. It made me feel weak, and I don’t handle feeling weak well.”

 

Don’t interrupt, he reminds himself, focusing on the touch of her hand against his pajama-clad knee instead of the words he wants to say back, words he might end up regretting if he speaks too soon.

 

“So I guess when our communication kept getting interrupted or you’d miss our scheduled calls, that ugly feeling would rear its head again, and I’d spiral into just this mess of emotions. So I think what I’m trying to say behind all of the crazy is that we need to find a way to be together more because I’m missing you even when you’re here and that’s not okay with me. I’m not okay with having a boyfriend who’s never around, even if it is for work. I love you so damn much, this separation having proven the doubts I didn’t even know I had, so instead of calling it quits, I’d like to work through this…with you.”

 

It’s…a lot. It’s a lot to take in, and while Killian felt the distance and the pain of their time apart, both by physical and emotional distance, he didn’t feel it quite the same way that Emma has. He also didn’t have to deal with seeing false rumors of his partner plastered across the media while not being able to get ahold of said person. He understands what Emma is saying, but he doesn’t like it. He doesn’t like that she’s been doubting him, doubting them, and he doesn’t like that she doesn’t feel connected with him even when they’re in the same room. It’s wrong, and it’s not what their relationship is. They lean on each other, and they trust each other. No part of it is one-sided, but he’s obviously let his side slip, no matter how unintentional, through his fingers. Even if a majority of this is on him, it doesn’t keep him from feeling the sting of her words.

 

“So you don’t trust me?” He says the words without thinking, still stuck in the first part of her confession and blocking out the rest.

 

Her grip on his knee releases, hands finding a place in her lap instead. “I do trust you, Killian. I just said that.”

 

“I just don’t understand,” he confesses, running his hand through his hair just so he has some outlet to let out his frustration. “You feel separated from me even when I’m here, but you asked for time apart. That’s what you wanted, not me.”

 

“We were already apart, Killian,” Emma calmly tells him, her emotions much more together than his. “I needed time to think about, well, about everything. It wasn’t you. It was this situation, our situation, and I needed to consider if I could live my life with you and still have it feel like my life, not like some kind of circus where instead of being part of the act, I’m a member of the audience.”

 

“Can you?”

 

“I can,” she quietly admits, eyes trained on him like she’s trying to gauge him, to read his reaction. He’s always been able to read her like a book he’s written himself, and she’s always been able to do the same.

 

The two of them have a lot to talk about. While they’ve had arguments before, it’s never been quite like this. And Killian knows that just because he’s going to be home almost exclusively for the next six months, that doesn’t solve all of their problems. He’s been a passive participant in his own relationship, and he needs to be able to transition back into being an active member. So the two of them, together, flesh out every problem they’re each having, trying to resolve the issues, not immediately, but with the hope that in time and with work, it’ll all get better. Killian can feel the early morning hours creeping into the afternoon, and when Emma falls asleep, purple bags underneath her eyes already fading away, he takes that opportunity to get some sleep as well.

 

Distance is a test of love, and while strained, he thinks that the two of them have managed to pass.

 


 

Killian doesn’t know if the fact that Brennan just called him son is a good omen or a bad omen. Regardless, he’s frozen in his place at the doorway, one hand gripping the wooden frame as the other hand hangs lifeless in the air.

 

“Sure,” he says after enough seconds to make this even more uncomfortable than it already is, opening the door and backing up so his father can come in the apartment.

 

“Is Emma still here?” Brennan questions, eyes darting around the foyer as if he could somehow see through the walls to where Emma resides.

 

“Aye,” Killian responds, nodding his head in the direction of the staircase that leads to his bedroom, “she’s asleep. She’s had a trying few hours, no thanks to you…Actually, entirely thanks to you.”

 

Part of him knows that he should be respectful to his father – it’s what he’s been trained to do for the entirety of his life, burned into his brain so that it’s almost second nature – but the words still roll off his tongue, every bit as harsh as he intends them to be. And it’s not exactly like he was respectful of him last night. But his father deserved it, deserves it. Every damn word.

 

“I deserve that,” Brennan admits, hanging his head as if he’s actually ashamed of himself, and Killian feels like he’s entered some kind of alternate reality where up is down and left is right, “and that’s why I’m here. Can we sit and have a chat?”

 

“Yeah – yes, sure,” Killian stutters out, leading his father over to the living room couches just like last night, an unpleasant wave of whiplash washing over him that makes him feel like he’s constantly swimming against the current. His father takes an armchair, placing the stack of files he was carrying down on the coffee table, while Killian sits across from him on one of the sofas, back rigid instead of relaxing into the cushions.

 

He should have never let his father in the door, but morbid curiosity about what his father has to say led him to letting the man in. Good or bad or somewhere in between, Killian needs to know. His need to know doesn’t keep the anxiety from rising to the back of his throat, almost like bile created just by the rapid pumping of his heart. It probably just enhances his anxiety, if he’s honest with himself, because his entire life is up in the air right now and there’s no guarantee of a soft landing.

 

Is there ever?

 

“So your mother won’t speak to me or Liam,” Brennan begins, and it’s honestly not the best start, but it could be worse – it could be we’re done with you. And it’s not that Killian would be too bothered by that, but he’s always held this hope, however farfetched, in the back of his mind that his family could be a real family, full of love and differences and the ability to work through those differences with love. So really, the fact of the matter is that Killian is bothered by the fact that he’s even had to put this wedge in his family, to draw the battle lines and have to stand firmly on the side receiving the gunfire. He’s bothered by the fact that he’s had to tell his family to make a choice about continuing their relationship with him, and he’s bothered by the fact that they very well could be saying that they’ve chosen the path he’s never wished to travel, despite all of his protests otherwise.

 

Killian is bothered by the fact that the people who are supposed to love him often act like they don’t, and he’s bothered by the fact that people who are supposed to love him may not ever learn to love the woman whom has stolen his affections.

 

It’s a complicated thing to have so much disdain for someone while also having such desperation to love them and to have them love you in return. It’s as if you were flipping a coin, praying for it to land on tails, only to discover that both sides had a depiction of a silhouette etched into the metal. What you want and what is available to you seem to be at a cross-roads, and you know that once you choose your path, the two roads never intertwine again.

 

“But that’s not the reason I’m here,” Brennan continues, clearing his throat before he continues. “I’m here because I went home last night absolutely fuming. I couldn’t believe that you would speak to me the way you did or that you had been lying to us for over half a decade. That was not the way I raised you to behave.”

 

“Father,” Killian admonishes, but Brennan just raises his hands, indicating that Killian should just let him finish. Killian has to bite his tongue, mouth filling with the taste of iron, but he keeps his mouth shut despite his first instinct to snap at his father that he wasn’t the one who raised him at all.

 

“I was angry, Killian,” he continues, reaching up to run his hands through his hair in the same way that Killian does, jet black hair turned gray so many years ago. “I was angry with you. I was angry with Emma. I was angry with the whole damn situation.” Brennan pauses, running his hand through his hair in the exact same motion as before as a moment before and Killian can see his chest move with the inhale of air he takes. “But mostly I was angry with myself.”

 

His father’s voice cracks, barely noticeable if you hadn’t spent your entire life listening to that voice as Killian had, and this is honestly the most emotional Killian has seen him in years, since Killian’s grandfather died most likely. For a long time, his father had been like a statue, rock solid and never changing. But maybe there could be chips in the stone.

 

There should be chips in the stone.

 

“I was angry with myself,” Brennan continues, “for what I’d allowed this family to become. I remember growing up and hating the way my parents treated me and hating the way it was almost inhuman, the distance between a parent and a child. You know, once I was reunited with my parents after four months apart, and they shook my hand when I saw them. Didn’t hug me. Didn’t kiss my cheeks. They shook my hand as a seven-year-old boy. And yet, here I am, encouraging your brother to have a pompous stick up his ass and demeaning you for finding love, actual love, with a nice, normal girl. I raised you and Liam both the exact same way I was raised. I tried my hardest not to, but I guess I wasn’t strong enough to not fall through the cracks and fall into the temptation of the precedent that was set before me.”

 

Killian doesn’t really know what to stay, may actually be shocked to silence at this. That seems to be happening a lot lately. His world keeps getting turned upside down on its axis and never resetting, instead staying constantly tilted so that nothing ever feels quite right, a constant uneasiness that he feels down to his bones.

 

“Son, you’ve, multiple times, you’ve said you would give up your place in this family for Emma –”

 

“I would.”

 

“And that’s what truly hit me. If not for the fact that your mother won’t speak to me until I make this situation better, it’s the fact that you feel both so little for us and so much for Emma that you would just leave. No questions asked. I realize now that we’ve treated you poorly, and that’s shameful. I’d like to change that, even if it’s far past due…and hopefully not too late.”

 

Killian doesn’t dare let a smile break out onto his face, a smile isn’t appropriate for the situation at hand, but for the first time in awhile, he feels hopeful. Still pissed off beyond belief, his anger and resentment flaring up inside of him as memories of his past assault him, but hopeful nonetheless. And not the kind of hopeful he felt yesterday when driving Emma to his apartment. That was a timid hope that was mostly just buried beneath his nerves. This is a hope that’s rising to the surface, crashing through the waves he’s been drowning in, the tide finally resigning itself back into the depths of the ocean.

“I’d like to think I can forgive you,” Killian calmly begins, bunching his hands into fists at his sides to help control his emotions. “I’d like to think that I can be the bigger man and forgive your lifetime of wrongs against me and these recent ones against Emma. But I’m not making promises or guarantees, and I’m damn sure not about to roll over and give my forgiveness to you now. That’s something you have to earn after years of neglect and poor treatment.”

 

Killian’s voice is a controlled quiet, like he’s scared that if it’s above a certain level, whatever spell he’s under will break and the waves will take him under again. “ But, just for now, what do you have in mind?”

 

“I had our security team look Emma up,” Killian blanches at that, even if it’s protocol and he knew he was coming, “and while the situation of her arrest and subsequent not guilty verdict is easily found despite the fact that she was a minor when it happened and it should be concealed, there’s nothing else that should cause too much issue or that gives me just cause to keep the two of you apart. I was wrong with my presumptions last night. I was wrong about a lot of things, actually. ”

 

“Are you serious?”

 

It’s Emma asking the question from her place in the doorway, still clad in her pajamas, t-shirt falling off her shoulder and exposing the skin there. Both Killian and Brennan’s heads snap toward her, but her eyes are only on Brennan, bright green staring into dark blue.

 

“Yes, Ms. Nolan,” his father confirms.

 

Emma doesn’t move from her spot in the doorway, and Killian knows that the look in her eyes is the one she has before she’s about to pick a fight. He’s been on the receiving end of it enough times to know that, and he’s sure his father is about to get an earful.

 

“Look,” Emma begins, squaring her shoulders and letting a breath of air out, “I’m not sure exactly how inappropriate this is or if you still have to power to behead me or something ridiculous like that, but you and your family have put me through hell. You’ve put your own son through hell, treated him poorly. Your other son called me street trash, I believe. And you, you were quick to judge before you listened to the entire story. And even after you listened, you were judgmental and frankly an asshole. You all acted like I was nothing, and I’ve never been nothing in my entire life. What I am is a better person than both you and Liam. And I know you’re trying to make amends now. I do. But I cannot forgive you today. Maybe one day I will because I love Killian so deeply and despite what he’s told me all these years and despite the way you treat him, he loves you. So maybe one day you can earn that forgiveness, but I’m not going to give it today just because you’ve decided to ‘let me’ be a part of Killian’s life. That’s fucking ridiculous. It should have never come down to that. You should have never made Killian have to even make an ultimatum. He should have been loved and adored and cared for enough that him threatening to leave the family wasn’t even conceivable as an option. So even if you’re all gung ho on this now, I’m with Killian. I may be able to forgive you one day, but today is not that day.”

 

Killian doesn’t know what to say or how to respond, but it’s also not his response that’s wanted here. It’s his father’s, and if Emma’s continued glare is anything to go by, it better be a good one. She’s breathing heavily, chest heaving as the adrenaline of her words pushes through her veins. She looks taller than her slight frame allows, and Killian knows that as small as she may be physically, emotionally she can pack a punch to take any man down.

 

“I can offer nothing by my sincerest apologizes and regrets,” Brennan replies solemnly, not moving his eyes away from Emma’s. “And the hope that I can do better by you, and especially by Killian, from now on. I’ve been a poor example of a father, and I have no excuses for it.”

 

“You’ve been a poor excuse of a human being,” Emma snarls, arms crossing over her chest now that her breathing has calmed. Killian loves her, and he loves the fire that burns bright inside of her. “You and Liam both. You do not get to treat me that way. You do not get to treat Killian that way. You do not get to treat anyone this way.”

 

“I am sorry,” Brennan repeats, obviously at a loss for words.

 

“I am, too,” Emma admits, moving from her place in the doorway to sit down next to Killian, running her hand on the inside of his thigh as she sits. “But I want to know what’s in those files on the table, and I want to know your plan for reconciling with your son by allowing him to be happy in the light instead of hidden away into the shadows.”

 

For the first time all morning, Killian lets out a genuine smile, turning his head to look at Emma and being overwhelmed by the notion that this woman has saved him. This woman has saved him from living his life hidden away in the shadows as some kind of shell of himself.

 

When he kisses her, lips moving hard and fast against hers, it’s entirely too inappropriate for them being in front of his father, but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t bloody care.

 

The three of them spend the rest of the afternoon – and late into the night – discussing plans of what this will be like, for her to slowly acclimate herself to being part of the royal family. It’s long and it’s detailed, and Killian idly wonders how long his father has had people working on this as he reads through the papers Brennan brought with him – if it’s something Abigail had to go through when she got engaged to Liam or if it’s something entirely new for Emma.

 

To start, the two of them will begin going out on public dates to be photographed, like they should have done years ago. And while it’s technically to help familiarize both Emma and the public to this new change, Killian can’t hide his excitement at actually being able to take Emma out onto dates. Actual, dates.

 

His father begins to tell Emma how her life is going to change and how her parents’ lives are going to change, even if there’s truly no way to prepare her for it. He’s been living this way his entire life, and he’s still not used to the flash of the camera lights. When the public gets wind of their dating, it’ll be like press feeding frenzy until it dies down – and it won’t die down really, just transform into something entirely different, a new normal. If she’s in public, pictures will be taken of her. If she’s working at the pub, they’ll be likely to have people show up in droves out of curiosity of who the prince is dating. Most people show respect and restraint toward them, but the press can be a different animal altogether. And Emma being a regular girl, and not someone who comes from title or wealth, will cause increased interest as nothing like this has ever happened before.

 

The information about what happened to Emma when she was younger will most certainly come out, and when they do, all of that information will be plastered on the front pages of the papers and will be the headlines of the nightly news and of entertainment sites for weeks. People from her hometown, and most certainly anyone she’s dated, will come forward with information on her, and it doesn’t matter if that information is true or not. When Emma realizes that Neal could somehow come back into her life, her breathing starts to become erratic because that’s somehow something she’s pushed into the dark recesses of her mind, determined to forget he ever got to be a part of her life. But it would be just like him to use her for some notoriety and the money that comes with it.

 

Killian just grabs onto her right hand, pulling it up to kiss the knuckles next to her ring, and her breathing seems to calm, heart beating at an almost normal pace.

 

Some people will be kind and understanding, most of them will actually, but the negative statements and accusations will be more obvious and stick in both Emma and Killian’s minds more. That’ll be when they have to stick together and know that they are stronger than the harshest of media critics.

 

Emma will have to undergo Duchess lessons, if they plan to get engaged at some point, and it’ll be an easier transition if she learns over time instead of all at once when she’s suddenly thrown into royal engagements and wedding planning.

 

Killian is surprised that all of the talk about weddings and marriage don’t have Emma running for the hills. It’s something they’ve talked about before, but it’s never been in such concrete form. She looks nervous. There’s no hiding that. But she’s powering through it, and he’s so proud of her for everything that she’s ever done.

 

Brennan goes on to talk about what Killian had mentioned last night, about how Killian has the most influence over younger people, about how he’s the reason they’re still popular amongst the younger generation. Brennan doesn’t want to be the stodgy monarchy of the past. He wants to move to a new future that he’s always hoped for but never had the courage or determination to do. He’s been stuck in the past, continuing to raise his children the way he was raised, even though he hated his upbringing. So if Killian and Emma can be the catalyst for change, he’ll support them in every way that he can.

 

After Brennan finishes going through all of his royal talking points, folders of information read through and discussed, he take the time to talk to Emma, to get to know who she is as a person, her background that’s more than just what can be reported on paper. It’s something that should have happened yesterday, just a father meeting his son’s girlfriend, but they can’t change what’s happened. They can only try to move forward. It’s not that he’s forgiven his family for all they’ve done to him or to Emma, but it’s the hope that there can be forgiveness later. It’s all about hope after all.

 

When his father finally leaves, and Killian shuts the door behind him, it’s to Emma rubbing her eyes with her knuckles.

 

“That was exhausting,” she sighs out as she reclines on the couch, tucking her feet under the cushions and a small chuckle escaping from her lips. “I feel like I just got a four-year degree in being a princess or a duchess or whatever in eight hours. Talk about a crash course.”

 

“Yeah?” Killian questions as he leans over her to give her a sweet, painstakingly slow kiss, determined to forget all of the negative emotions he’s been through recently, that they’ve been through recently.

 

“Mmmm,” is all she says back, her lips chasing his even as he pulls back. “I love you so much, babe.”

 

“Really?” he questions, surprised by the lightness of her tone. “That didn’t scare you off or make you hate my family anymore than you already do?”

 

“Oh, I’m terrified,” she admits to him, but her voice doesn’t shake like it has been lately, “I just don’t think I can cry anymore today. Plus, I like to think I’m pretty good at adapting to new situations, don’t you? I mean, I am a master skier now after just that one trip.”

 

Killian barks out a laugh at that, heart full of something resembling pure joy for the first time in awhile. It’s been the oddest turn of events, but with the way it’s turned out, even if there are still a lot of things to work through, he’s happy that the two of them have come through this on the other, potentially better, side.

 

“Darling,” he says affectionately, leaning down to scoop her up from the couch bridal style to take her to his room, causing her to gasp in surprise, “you are horrible, and you know it. It’s like you got worse as the week went on.”

 

“I did not.”

 

“You did,” he tells her, placing her gently on the bed and crawling on top of her, “but you know what?”

 

“What?” she whispers, reaching up, thumb tracing at the scar on his cheek.

 

“I still love you.”

 

And then he’s kissing her, lips against lips and tongue against tongue, and he thinks that this is definitely what he wants to do for the rest of his life.

Chapter Text

The first public date Emma and Killian go on isn’t one that’s been planned by the palace publicists. That’s supposed to be happening later this week. But Killian didn’t want their first date, even if it’s not really their first date, to be something that’s not genuine.

 

If he’s honest with himself, he might consider their first date to be the night they met, him stumbling into the pub soaked to the bone just looking for a way to get out of the torrential downpour. It’s reaching a bit, but they were in a bar, good conversation was had, maybe a little flirting (a lot of flirting, mostly on his part), and clothes were shed at one point. He could definitely frame it that way if he left out some pretty important details, but he knows that Emma wouldn’t agree. Emma would never claim that as a date because she always claims that she didn’t like him at first, thought he was a bit of an arrogant ass, but that’s reaching a bit too.

 

No, their first real date happened on the roof of the pub on a hot summer night in late July, somehow making it feel like they were somewhere different than their usual hangout, even if they were only a few feet removed.

 

“Will you go on a date with me?” Killian asks one night, taking a sip of his water to give himself something to do as his nerves raced through him waiting for Emma to give her answer. It had taken him a bit to work up the nerve to ask her the question, but he thought he was going to go crazy if he didn’t just blurt the words out right then and there.

 

Emma mutes the television, turning her body to face him from her position on the opposite side of the couch. “Is that not what we’re doing? Dating?”

 

She’s got this incredulous look on her face, brows furrowed and lips downturned. Emma genuinely looks confused, and even if he’s only known her for four months now, he knows that she’s serious in her confusion.

 

“Emma,” Killian begins, leaning forward to put his glass down on a coaster on the coffee table. When he relaxes back into the couch cushions, Emma props her feet up on his lap and wiggles her toes, a sure sign that she wants him to massage her feet. So he takes her right foot in his hand and begins to rub at the arch as he continues talking. “What we’re doing right now, watching a movie while spending time in the living room, could technically be considered dating, as that’s what couples do, but it’s not a date.”

 

Her cheeks flush red and she tries to remove her foot from his grasp, but he doesn’t let her, tightening his hold on her ankle as he continues to rub at her arch. “Have you…have you never been on a date before?”

 

Her eyes flash wide, green brightly shining as her mouth opens in surprise.

 

“Obviously I’ve had boyfriends before,” she groans, rolling her eyes at him as she still tries to yank her foot away again to no avail, his grip too tight. “You know that. We did the whole past mistakes and heartbreaks thing already. I don’t really want to have to go through that again. It was enough the first time.”

 

“Aye, but that doesn’t mean you’ve been on a proper date. Wined and dined so to speak.” He pauses, scratching at his chin and contemplating if he should try to push this issue or if Emma will retreat away from him if he does, still trying to toe the line of Emma’s rightfully constructed walls. “It’s okay if you haven’t, sweetheart. I just think you deserve one.”

 

She doesn’t retreat from him, ceasing to pull her foot away, instead letting it rest in his lap again, a comforting weight that seems to steady him. She’s not the only one who has walls, but how she’s been treated in relationships differs vastly than him. He’s been taken advantage of by shallow women for a moment of fame. He was never in love with them and never believed them to be in love with him. She was taken advantage of by a coward of a man – who she very much believed to have loved her – so that man wouldn’t have to own up to his actions, both criminal matters and matters of the heart. He never has, and he unfortunately probably never will.

 

“I…I guess that technically I haven’t been on a date in the way you’re referring to one. Neal never wanted to do anything outside of our parents’ houses or a Friday night football game at school, and the guys after him…well, I haven’t wanted to go on dates with them, I guess.”

 

“But would you like to go on a date with me?” Killian raises his eyebrows to help make his eyes bigger, smile tugging at one side of his lips that he knows will cause his dimples to show. It’s a tactic he’s used for years when trying to convince people to listen to him or agree with his suggestion. It’s a bit of a dirty move to use his looks, but it works. And he so desperately wants it to work.


He pokes her calf with his pointer finger, inching his way up to behind her knee where he’s recently discovered that she’s ticklish, and he’s got her in a fit of giggles, rolling back and forth on her sides as she responds to his ministruations, before she can even respond to his proposition.

 

“Kil – Killian,” Emma gasps, air not reaching her lungs as she stutters out his name. “Stoooop. I – I can’t…I can’t answer you if you – if you don’t stop.”

 

That’s got his attention, and he stops moving his fingers against her skin. Instead, he leans back, resting his body against the arm of the sofa while still holding onto her ankle, awaiting the answer she claims to have as she catches her breath and he holds his.

 

“I would love to go on a date with you, Killian,” Emma admits, soft smile blooming on her face, but when he leans forward to press a kiss against that very smile, she stops him, placing a finger on his lips. “But how exactly do you plan on taking me somewhere when we’re all double o seven incognito?”

 

She makes a valid point, but Killian has thought this through, having scoped out his options before having this conversation. Despite being a highly organized person, always having his ducks in a row so to speak, Killian is not much of a planner. But this, this is important. He only gets one first date with the girl who he already thinks may be the one, in every overly sentimental romantic use of the phrase. So he’s thought this one through, making inquiries and plans far in advance in the hopes that his girlfriend – yes, he gets the humor behind it – will say yes to having a date with him.

 

“I have my ways,” he teases, finger slipping back into the crease behind her knee, the threat of him tickling her making Emma squirm away so that she’s out of his reach. “Do you trust me?”

 

There’s no hesitation in her voice when she says “yes” before leaning forward to crawl into his lap, finally giving him the kiss he was hoping for as she straddles his thighs.

 

That night, they continue to watch the movie that was playing before Killian asked her to go on a date with him, and he knows that he’s got a ridiculous smile on his face for the rest of his time there when Emma rests her head on his shoulder and puts her arms around his waist, holding him closer than she has before. By his very definition earlier, this isn’t a date – though it kind of is. However, he can imagine spending many a night just like this.

 

June and July are busy months for Killian, filled with public engagements and short trips abroad for dinners with foreign diplomats with his family while Europe experiences pleasant weather, so it’s not until three weeks later that Killian can fulfill his promise of taking Emma on a date.

 

He wasn’t lying when he said he had made inquiries into places he could take Emma, but after putting careful thought into it, he knew there was nowhere in the London area where they could go without being spotted. At least nowhere that he knew Emma would be comfortable. It would be easier if he told more than just his private security guard what was going on, but you’re never quite sure who you can trust, and Killian doesn’t want to take the chance that information about he and Emma may end up in the very hands from which he’s trying to keep it away.

 

And since he knew Emma wasn’t willing to travel somewhere more private with him just yet, Killian realized he needed to be more creative with his dinner planning. If there was anything he knew how to do, it was how to plan an evening out. He wasn’t about to drop the ball on that.

 

Except, they can’t go out, and he wasn’t about to try to have a romantic night with Emma with her parents sitting ten feet away in the living room watching the television. Yet, despite his protests, it’s sitting in that living room with Emma’s parents that gives him the idea.

 

“I’m thinking about getting some new patio furniture,” Mary Margaret says one night while the four of them are eating dinner, and Emma and David just nod their heads, agreeing with her as they both stuff their sandwiches into their mouths. Like father, like daughter.

 

The three of them act like it’s no big deal that Mary Margaret wants new patio furniture, and he’s confused as to where the hell she would put it and what the hell she would do with it when the Nolans live in an apartment above a pub in the middle of a bloody city.

 

His confusion must show on his face because after Emma swallows her food, she tells him, “we have a flat rooftop with a small garden and some patio furniture. You can get to it if you climb up the fire escape.”

 

Emma goes back to eating her sandwich, paying no attention to him and the gears turning in his mind over this new piece of information and what he can do with it. It’s a bit stereotypical, but sometimes dating should be that way, and he thinks that a rooftop date during a summer night could be just the thing for he and Emma.

 

Killian is working the next day at an event to promote mental health and the benefits of talking about and truly, genuinely speaking about how you feel instead of keeping it all bottled inside. It’s something he’s passionate about, and he feels honored to be able to help others in what is one of his favorite events every year.

 

But he’s also got his date with Emma tomorrow night, so if his mind strays from focusing on mental health the slightest bit, he only feels a small tinge of guilt, especially when she texts him when he gets home later that evening.

 

Emma: So can I have a hint as to where we’re going tomorrow or am I supposed to just guess on what to wear?

 

Killian: I’ll tell you that we’ll be outdoors, but nothing else, Nolan.

 

Emma: I feel like the two of us going on a date outside is probably not the best way for us to be hidden away, smarty.

 

Emma: Also, that doesn’t help me with my outfit at all.

 

Killian: Just trust me, okay?

 

Emma: Okay, but if I end up having to travel through secret underground tunnels after we’re chased by our exes wielding paintball guns, I’ll blame you if I’m wearing a dress and heels. This isn’t Jurassic World.

 

Killian: I’ll have to change my plans then.

 

As Killian learns, it’s difficult to plan a date at his girlfriend’s house without his girlfriend actually knowing about it. It’s also difficult to climb up the fire escape ladder that resides outside of David and Mary Margaret’s bedroom without them noticing you, David popping his head out the window with a baseball bat yelling threats at the intruder who just so happens to be Killian.

 

“I will call the police, and don’t think I won’t…Killian?” David questions, finally seeing Killian on the ladder with a bag strapped to his back. “What the hell are you doing?”

 

His breath is labored, the nervousness over thinking his head was about to be bashed in by David still weighing heavily in Killian’s mind as he repositions himself on the ladder. If he could scratch his ear, he would, but he really doesn’t want to risk losing his grip on the rings still slick from the rain shower earlier this morning. “I um, well,” he stutters out, trying not to be too embarrassed over not telling anyone but Mary Margaret his plans. If there’s one thing he knows about Emma’s mother, it’s that she can’t keep a secret from her husband, so he’s genuinely surprised that David didn’t know he’d be out here. He probably should have told David instead of Mary Margaret now that he thinks about it. “I was trying to get to your rooftop to set up for my date with Emma. Thanks for giving her the night off, by the way.”

 

David doesn’t even look phased, just crosses his arms over his chest, bat still in hand, dangling there like David may still whack Killian with it. “Do we need to have a discussion about how my daughter is dating a man who’s basically a burglar? I thought I’d already been through that one.”

 

It’s a bitter joke, and the tone of it reminds Killian that it wasn’t just Emma who’s been affected by the events of her past.

 

“I prefer dashing rapscallion if I do say so myself.”


That was definitely cheeky on his part, and the grin Killian’s got plastered on his face to lighten the situation isn’t charming David in the way that it usually charms Emma. Which, in all honesty, is probably for the best because Killian definitely doesn’t want to charm Emma’s father in the same way he does Emma. That would be…peculiar. But he does want David to like him, so it’s not his brightest idea to test the boundaries when he thinks David has finally started to get used to the fact that Killian is with Emma. He was fine with Killian when he was just spending time in the pub, but the moment he caught Killian kissing Emma, he knew that his budding friendship with David would be strained, if not totally thrown out.

 

“I would prefer if you went ahead and climbed in this window so that we could have a discussion about your intention to use my rooftop.”

 

The tone of David’s voice makes it seem like he wants to talk to Killian about more than just his intention to use the rooftop. And as much as Killian thinks the “if you hurt my daughter/sister/friend/et cetera” threat is antiquated, he’s been expecting it. Mary Margaret is likely the only thing that’s held David back in having this conversation. Well, that’s not true. He’s sure Emma has told her father not to. She can take care of herself, but it’s nice to have someone who cares about her enough that she doesn’t always have to.

 

Killian complies with David’s request (see: command) and maneuvers himself through the small bedroom window, having to prop his feet up on the small ledge between the ladder and window pane. It’s not his most coordinated movement, but hours at the gym don’t really prepare you for crawling through windows to talk to your girlfriend’s father. Does anything prepare you for that?

 

Once he settles himself upright in the room, dropping his backpack onto the hardwood floor, he sees that David has finally relinquished the baseball bat and is sitting in one of the two armchairs in the corner of the bedroom, expectant look on his face as his foot taps away at a furious pace against the hardwood.

 

“Sorry about all that,” Killian apologizes, brushing off some of the dust that’s collected on his jeans before joining David in a seat in the open armchair. “The clamor outside and the use of your rooftop without your knowledge, I mean. I told Mary Margaret about it, but I guess I was wrong to assume she told you.”

 

“Oh, she told me.”

 

Confused, Killian furrows his eyebrows before nodding his head at the discarded bat. “Oh, well why the baseball bat and threat of calling the police? I thought I was about to be pushed to the ground for a moment there.”

 

“Just because she told me doesn’t mean I was expecting someone to be climbing up our fire escape at nine in the morning when I was getting ready for the day.”

 

“Eh,” Killian scratches behind his ear, nervous tick heightening. He feels like he’s seven years old and standing in a ballroom at Buckingham having accidentally broken some of the fine china at a dinner party, his mother staring at him with her hands on her hips and her lips downturned. “I’m sorry about that. Was just trying to get up there without Emma knowing. She thinks we’re going out somewhere tonight, but I logistically couldn’t make that work with somewhere Emma would enjoy.”

 

David studies him for a minute, and it takes everything in Killian not to shrink into his own skin. “So is this what it’s always going to be like for the two of you?” David questions. “Never being able to go out anywhere, always hanging around the pub or the apartment? It doesn’t sound like much of a life if you ask me.”

 

“It’s not,” Killian admits, guilt at dragging Emma into this lack of a life with him. “It’s not, and I’m sorry for that. But Emma and I have discussed it at length, and she’s willing to try this with me.”

 

“And you’re willing to try this with her? She’s not just some distraction for you?”

 

The questions stings in the way their intended, and as much as Killian hates it, it’s a valid question. Despite David having known him personally for over four months, his public persona has been that he’s the guy who “loves them and leaves them” so to speak. Killian doesn’t plan on doing that with Emma though. Well, not the second part. It’s already too late for the first.

 

“I love her,” Killian confesses, lips tugging upward despite his attempt to keep himself subdued. “She doesn’t know that, so I probably shouldn’t even be telling you. I don’t think she’s quite ready to hear it, but your daughter is this spitfire of a woman who anyone would be lucky to have in their life in any capacity.”

 

David doesn’t smile, but he does tilt his head to the side, staring at Killian in a way that makes him fidget in his seat, clothes suddenly two sizes too small.

 

“I’m just,” David begins, voice unexpectedly shaky for a man who has always been solid, “I’m nervous that she’s going to get hurt again. I know you can’t predict the future, so me telling you to never hurt her is pointless in more ways than one. And despite me still trying to hold onto my little girl, I know she’s an adult now, has been for longer than she should have been after she had to grow up far too soon. And the two of you are good together. It reminds me of Mary Margaret and I when we were younger actually.” David pauses here, small huff of breath escaping from his lips as he leans forward, elbows pressing into his thighs like he’s recalling a good memory. “It’s just that to us, to Emma, you’re a normal guy, but you’ve got the eyes of the world watching you, a pressure which I’m sure weighs you down more than any of us could ever imagine. What’s going to happen if my Emma is exposed to that?”

 

It’s the same concern he and Emma have already talked about, fleshed out, worried over, done anything you can think of, and it’s like the two of them decided. If Emma makes the decision that she wants to be with Killian enough to put her life on a platter, they’ll handle the situation as best they can. But no matter the naivety, they’re not at that point yet so the two of them are choosing to live their lives as normally as possible, even if that means having dates on rooftops and conversations with your girlfriend’s father while he holds a baseball bat because he thought you were breaking into his home.

 

“She’ll handle it in the way that Emma always does. A brave face even if she’s terrified. A brave face until she becomes brave in the face of adversity.”

 

That must be a satisfactory answer for David because for the first time during this conversation, he smiles.

 

“You’re a good man, Killian.” David stands to clap Killian on his shoulder before walking to the bedroom door, hand resting on the brass doorknob. “Watch the third ring from the top. It wobbles if you put the right amount of pressure on it for too long.”

 

At that, David leaves the room, and Killian isn’t sure what just happened, mind spinning as he replays the conversation in his head.

 

When he comes to his senses and he realizes that he’s been sitting in Emma’s parents’ bedroom by himself for several minutes, he stands from his spot, walking over to the window to pick up his bag before climbing out of the window and back onto the ladder to make his way up to the roof. Killian climbs the rings, the third from the top indeed shaky, and finds his way to the Nolan’s rooftop patio. It’s nicer than he expected, blooming potted plants scattered across the cement surface and on various side tables while vines grow up a white painted trellis that’s attached to the adjacent building that towers several stories above the Nolan’s. It makes the dreariness of the city brighter, a breath of fresh air in a place that’s often covered with a layer of smoke.

 

Mary Margaret’s new furniture, though it looks to be antique, matching well with the cobblestones of the alleyway below, a hodgepodge of colors and chairs and tables scattered across this small outdoor space to make it feel like a comforting oasis inside the chaos of the city. How he’s managed to be spending time here for over a quarter of a year and not know about it until recently is beyond him. It seems like the kind of place where they would want to spend all of their free time, but the weather has been especially dreary lately, a drizzle of rain constantly flowing from the sky.

 

All he’s brought with him is a tablecloth, some silverware, candles, and a speaker for music. It’s not much, but it’s normal. As much as he’d like this date to be special, he likes the idea of normal with Emma. They can be special all on their own.

 

After Killian finishes setting up, it’s nearing ten in the morning, and he knows that if he doesn’t leave soon, he risks Emma waking up and seeing him, ruining the surprise of the evening. Or possibly ruining the date before it even begins if she decides that it’s not really a date if she doesn’t get to leave her home.

 

The rest of the day passes without incident, no more threats of being hit with a baseball bat or even more intimidating conversations with his girlfriend’s father. It’s just a day where he can catch up on paperwork with the television on the background, unnecessary nerves building in his throat as the time on the clock passes by.

 

The beginning stages of July have been sweltering, humidity rising to uncomfortable levels between spouts of rainfall, so Killian dresses in a pair of navy slacks and light blue button down. It’s his go to casual look that’s not jeans and some kind of dark shirt. Though, probably not the best choice since he has to climb up the fire escape ladder again.

 

He grabs a hoodie to throw on over his head as he’s walking through the streets to get to the pub, and walks out of his apartment, heading to his car so that he can “pick Emma up” for their date. Yet, when he gets there, takeout in hand as he walks through the Nolan’s unlocked apartment door, Emma’s sitting in the living room reading a book wrapped up in a dressing robe with her hair and makeup done.

 

“What are you doing, love?” he inquires, leaning down to kiss the side of Emma’s forehead in greeting, the scent of her honey shampoo wafting through his nostrils as he lingers there a moment too long.

 

She shrugs her shoulders, uncrossing her legs and standing from her spot on the couch, making her way over to the hallway that leads to her bedroom. “Come with me.”

 

He doesn’t know what she’s doing, but he can’t help but follow her. He’ll probably always be following her.

 

“Behold,” Emma exclaims, moving her arm in a gliding motion in front of her, showcasing the piles of clothes that have spread from the usual place in her armchair to all over her room.

 

Killian doesn’t know what she’s trying to tell him with this, so he’s likely just going to stand there like an idiot until she explains what he’s supposed to be getting out of this besides the fact that her room is a bit messier than usual.

 

“I don’t know how to pick out a date outfit when I don’t know what we’re doing, so after many failed attempts –” she motions to the clothes again “ – I decided to wait on you so that I could try to gauge what we’re doing.”

 

At first he thinks she must be kidding. As nervous as he’s been about today, they’ve been together for almost two months and neither of them should be nervy enough to not be able to pick out an outfit. But Emma’s standing there beside him, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth as she does anything but look him in the eyes, and as strong and as wonderful as Emma is, sometimes she doubts herself too much. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, her past with men affecting her in ways Killian cannot even begin to understand, but he wants her to know that she could replace the robe she’s wearing with a burlap sack and it would be perfectly fine with him.

 

It’s a delicate line that he’s walking, careful not to toe too much to one side, so without saying anything, not wanting to risk making her feel embarrassed, he ventures into her room, shuffling through the piles until he finds her a white blouse and a pair of dress shorts. He’s not really sure how to put together a woman’s outfit, but he’s seen her wear a variation of this before.

 

“These will do just fine,” he tells her, handing the clothes to her and leaning into her to quickly brush his lips against hers. “It’s a good thing you waited. What a horror it would have been if I’d shown up and we were wearing the same thing.”

 

That puts a smile on her face, her demeanor instantly lightening up at his joke, and he’s glad to have accomplished his goal. Make Emma laugh. Always make Emma laugh.

 

When she’s changed into the new clothes, gentle smile still gracing her face, so different from the frown upon his entrance, Killian takes her hand and leads her to her parents’ room, causing a “what the hell” to slip from her lips as she halts her movements.

 

He just hums, tugging at her hand again until she moves into the bedroom. “We, my darling, are going on a date on the roof of Casa de Nolan, so up we go.”

 

Killian gently pats her ass before leading her to the window, unlocking the seal and pushing the glass pane up. Once he’s situated himself on the ladder, he smiles down at her, cracking a joke about how she can imagine they’re climbing a beanstalk like in the storybooks to make it a more memorable experience, before reaching out his hand so that he can help Emma start her climb.

 

“Oh, this looks so nice,” Emma exclaims when she gets to the top, wandering around to run her hand on the top of an iron bench. Killian’s setting out the food he’s brought with him, a wood-fired pizza from an Italian place that Emma loves. “I haven’t seen it since mom got the new furniture last week.”

 

“What did it look like before? I can’t remember you all ever mentioning it prior to a few weeks ago.”

 

“Oh about the same,” she responds, making her way over to wrap her arms around Killian’s waist, kissing the fabric in the space between his shoulder blades. “It was just old furniture that Grandpa had when he lived here, kind of old and weathered, so it’s nice to have some new stuff to make it more our own. Casa de Nolan instead of Casa de Blanchard as you’d say.”

 

Killian hums, laughing a bit at the last part, the feel of her wrapping around him lulling him into a sense of comfort he only finds when alone or with Emma. “Do you ever miss your grandfather?”

 

It’s probably not the best question to ask, but Killian loves learning about Emma’s beginnings. She often shares so little, despite her good relationship with her family, that learning about her history is akin to uncovering buried treasure using an encrypted map.

 

“All the time,” she sighs out, loosening her hold on him so that he can turn around to look down at her, encouraging smile on his face. “We lived closer to dad’s family, obviously, but my mom’s dad was the best. He would call twice a week and talk to me no matter what, and mom made a point of us seeing him at least three times a year. One of the times was usually at Christmas, and that always kind of added to the magic of Christmas and the holiday season, you know? I think he was my first real best friend.”

 

She doesn’t look upset, but there’s a certain melancholy tone to her voice. All of his grandparents have passed as well, and while he was never close to any of them, he can appreciate that Emma’s had some many wonderful people in her life, the good far outweighing the bad.

 

“He was so weird, though,” she laughs, suddenly breaking out of the melancholy bubble she was in into something lighter. “He never listened to anyone, always doing whatever he wanted…kind of like you.” Emma pinches his side, wink on her face and smile on her lips as he huffs in protest. “He was awful with technology. One time, when I was really young he was visiting and mom had let him take me to school that morning. You’ve got to keep in mind that he was British like you, learning to drive on the wrong side of the road and everything, so it was all kind of backwards for him. But I, being the master negotiator that I am, convinced him to take me to McDonald’s to get an ice cream after school. But when we he pulls up to the drive thru, instead of ordering at the box, he gives his order to one of the newspaper stands. I was seven, and I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in the fourteen years since.”

 

She’s got this bright smile on her face, all of her teeth showing as she leans back in his arms to look up at him. She’s the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen, and if she was ready to hear that he loves her, he wouldn’t hesitate to tell her.

 

“Did you ever get your ice cream?”

 

“No,” Emma chuckles. “He was so mad at the ‘technology’ that he just drove off, and I couldn’t tell mom because I wasn’t supposed to be eating ice cream anyways.”

 

She pauses for a moment, moving his hands off of her hips to make her way over to the table and her seat where their takeout resides. “All this talk about food though makes me really want to eat this pizza. It smells fucking incredible. And you obviously listen because it’s from Bucca’s, so boyfriend points for you even if us ‘going out’ for a date is going up on my rooftop.”

 

The rest of their date goes well, not that he truly thought it wouldn’t, but there was still that tiny part of him that was worried Emma would be disappointed that he couldn’t take her out to a restaurant or for a walk around the city. She doesn’t seem to be though, smiling as she speaks and laughing when he regales her with stories of his university escapades with his mates. After awhile, he forgets that they’re a simple ten feet above her apartment and twenty feet above the pub, instead relaxing into the little oasis that Mary Margaret has created.

 

At some point, Emma gets up from her chair and with as little grace as possible, flops down onto his lap and wraps her arms around his neck as her head nestles into his shoulder.

 

“This was a nice date at Casa de Nolan.” She says the words against the skin of his jaw, hands playing with the hair on his chest exposed by his button down, and it sends shivers through his entire body at the feeling of her lips against his skin.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Will you go out with me again, Emma?”

 

She doesn’t say anything at first, incredulous look on her face, and those unnecessary nerves begin to bubble up again, lodging themselves in his throat, only coming undone when his lips come in contact with hers, mouths moving in a way that he’s really come to appreciate in the past two months.

 

When they finally come up for air, she leans her head forward to rest her forehead against his, a comforting weight to keep them connected for a moment longer.

 

“In case you’re a little slow on the context clues, that was a yes.”

 

“Good.”

 

When it comes to their first public date five years later, however, he thought about finally booking that reservation at a nice restaurant, had even researched them again like he was a tourist visiting London and not someone who has lived in the area for the entirety of his life, but he never could find a place that he thought would work for their “first” date. He’d been dating the woman for over half of a decade, and he was nervous about impressing her with a nice date. It legitimately made him feel those first date nerves all over again, flashbacks of their night on the rooftop filling his mind, and he isn’t sure that the waves rolling in his stomach are ever going to cease. He’s not sure he wants them to.

 

He also feels a little like he’s putting his relationship out on a serving platter for the whole world to dissect. It feels wrong that something so private is suddenly going to be public. His entire life he’s known that he would never get to truly be normal outside of the safety of his home, and sometimes within the walls of it, but it still has the ability to unnerve him. Emma’s been his normal for years now and despite every time he’s longed and pined and ached for the ability to be able to take her out, he’s dreading the fact that his normal is going to be altered.

 

That’s probably why he kept pushing back the calendar date of their dinner, finding excuses any way that he could. It’s wrong, he knows, and he shouldn’t have been doing it, denying Emma everything that she deserves, has deserved, throughout their entire relationship.

 

He’s the one who’s terrified of making their relationship public when it’s Emma who’s completely giving up every semblance of privacy she’s ever had. Emma is trading her life for him, and he doesn’t think he’s ever felt so unworthy of her than he does every time she tells him that it’ll all be okay. To give up a part of your life to be with the person you love is a sacrifice that not everyone is willing to make.

 

So he does finally gather up the courage to just dive in, Emma by his side, and finally plans on having that night out. The feelings of being inauthentic still consume him, however, and Killian spends more time than necessary trying to think of a way for the two of them to have a more genuine first outing in between their work schedules.

 

Then, in the depths of trying to plan another first date, early on a Saturday morning, Emma wakes up and tells him that she is really craving a burger for lunch and is wondering if they can get some delivered to the apartment – she’s been staying with him for the past two weeks, and it has been magnificent. It’s then that a light bulb goes off inside his head, and he realizes that they can go out and get one.

 

Together.

 

So after dressing in jeans and a polo, baseball hat gracing his head – they may be allowed to go out in public together, but there’s still safety protocol and the desire to go as incognito as possible– and Emma dressing similarly, blonde hair falling over her shoulder in the braid she put it in, they make their way to one of the Saturday markets where Emma tells him there is just the best little burger stand.

 

And she’s right. It is good, but he thinks that being able to have a public meal with his girlfriend is even better. He gets to sit with Emma as she eats, talking about how her mom called her last night and shared far too much about her doctor’s visit the day before. Mary Margaret’s over sharing is nothing new to him, but it’s new to him to be able to sit on a picnic table outside, early afternoon sunlight hitting the tips of Emma’s hair. It’s seeing her in a new light, literally and figuratively, and the expedited journey of the past few weeks seems worth it, if just for a moment.

 

No one comes up to them, and he’s sure that his security is glad for it, but he’s aware that there are lingering glances and not-so-sly pictures taken the longer they sit at their table or wander around the market looking into the different booths. Emma tugs her hat down a little lower, shrinking into herself and into his side, and he knows that she is going to need some (okay, a lot of) adjusting to the attention every time she leaves the privacy of her own home. Sly phone camera pictures of unsuspecting people milling around town on a weekend afternoon are probably the way to start instead of leading with the blinding bright lights of camera flashes and yelling photographers asking personal questions they have no right to.

 

When they get home later that afternoon, the pictures have already made their way onto the internet. The two of them don’t check, but when Mary Margaret calls to ask Emma if she’s seen them, Emma laughs at her mother’s excited voice and says that she’s not supposed to look at them if the security team doesn’t put them in their briefs, so she hasn’t been.

 

Her mother is just shocked by that, and that’s when Killian realizes they’re going to have to keep Mary Margaret away from the media because she will not like when the news starts to go negative.

 

And the news does go negative. After enough appearances together, the two of them just living their normal lives, people begin to start figuring out exactly who Emma is. Since he’s been secretly dating Emma for so long, the press hasn’t had anything solid to talk about regarding his personal life, which just so happens to be their favorite subject. Any time he’s been seen with a woman, even if at a public event, rumors fly about his relationship status or lack thereof. He garnered a reputation as a bit of a player in university, most of which was unfounded (some of which was), and he’s never quite been able to shake that in the eyes of the gossip sites. Now that they have something new, something that’s solid and concrete and not grasping at straws to come up with a story, it’s like a circus where all of the animals have been set free before lunch.

 

Once Emma’s name is discovered, it doesn’t take long for the press to find out about her past. Technically, as his father said, her records are sealed and she shouldn’t even really have a record to begin with, but she lived in a small town where newspaper articles were written about the trial and neighbors are willing to talk about Emma with very little prodding. The arrest and subsequent trial was the biggest thing that ever happened to the small town. That is, until the girl involved grew up to be the woman dating one of the most famous people in the world. That is definitely something that’s going to get the town talking.

 

And talk they do. Some sing Emma’s praises and say that her kind nature and independent spirit make her a wonderful fit for the prince. They say that they’re happy for her, but others are not so kind. They take their opportunity for their fifteen minutes of fame and offer up any information they can about Emma and how they never believed she was innocent, that she actually stole those watches. If Killian hadn’t grown up in the spotlight, knowing exactly how vindictive people can be, he’d be shocked by what people will say or do for a little money, disregarding the feelings and emotional repercussions to the human being they’re bashing in the middle of the public eye.

 

Emma takes the whole thing in stride, though, oftentimes giving her trademark sarcastic commentary on the townspeople who suddenly knew her so well even if they had never spoken to her before, them mostly just staring at her with judgmental eyes as she walked down main street on her way to the high school. She takes it in stride when the articles – and there are quite a few – come out about how she’s a dirty American criminal who’s weaseled her way into the royal family, taking advantage of the prince in his desperate search to find love before he gets too old to be a suitable husband and father. Emma particularly likes the comments on his age, though he’s not yet twenty-nine, and he finds her giggling when he reads the articles aloud after he gets his daily press packet from his assistant.

 

She’s magnificent, and every day he grows to love her more.

 

But then one day, they’re lounging on the couch together, Emma having basically moved in with him, a natural course of action that they just kind of fall into, and they have on the television. They were watching a show that came on before the nightly news and didn’t manage to change the channel in time, because for the first time in nine years, Emma sees Neal’s face. And it’s there, in high definition on her screen, invading a place where she’s supposed to feel safe from the outside world.

 

He’s apparently given a tell-all interview about her that was kept secret until its airing, but Killian turns it off before she can hear a single word the bastard’s said, going so far as to unplug the television from the wall and take the batteries out of the remote, throwing them into the draw of the side table. Emma’s just sitting on the couch, back rigid and eyes staring straight ahead at the blacked out television screen. Killian’s cautious as he approaches her, not really knowing how she’s feeling, the storm undoubtedly raging within her mind. She’s handled all of this incredibly well, but this isn’t about her new life in the public eye. This is about her old ghosts coming back to haunt her when she thought they were finally, officially dead.

 

The minute he touches her, a simple hand on her shoulder, her body starts to shake, and he was really hoping he wouldn’t have to see her sob like this any time soon. It was already so much the last time. She shouldn’t have to continue going through things that keep trying to break her. She doesn’t deserve that. No one does.

 

“Can you call my dad?” she croaks out between the sobs, and he’s got David dialed before the next tear manages to escape her eye and roll down her face.

 

When David arrives forty minutes later, after some trouble getting someone to cover his job at the pub – it’s like a madhouse there now with all of the people itching to see where Emma works – she’s calmed down. Sobs no longer wrack her body, just quiet little sniffles that she wipes away with the tissues Killian placed on the coffee table in front of her position on the sofa.

 

“Daddy,” she cries out when David walks through the door and into the living room. Killian has never heard her call David anything other than dad, and honestly, that worries him more than Emma not wanting him to be the one to comfort her.

 

“Shhh, honey,” David comforts, wrapping his arms around his daughter as he sits down with her on the sofa, “it’s okay. It’s all going to be okay.”

 

Killian can’t hear anything else David says to Emma. He doesn’t even try, stepping into the kitchen to give the two of them some privacy and so that he can make an early dinner in case David wants to stay and Emma feels like eating later.

 

Just as he’s draining the spaghetti he made, David walks into the kitchen and sits down on a stool, burying his face in his hands on the marble countertop. Killian doesn’t say anything, just lets David take the time that he needs, and he idly (or not so idly) wonders where Emma is now and if she’s feeling any better after talking to David.

 

“He’s a damn bastard,” David finally spits out, bitterness seeping through his voice in a way Killian didn’t know was possible for the man. “He’s a damn bastard who I never should have let anywhere near her. The fact that he can still put her through shit over eight years later is impeccable. To know that she’s worked so hard to overcome what he fucking put her through and for him to still be the selfish asshole he’s always been. How can one person be such a dick? It’s like you think humanity can’t sink any lower, but then you meet a guy like him.”

 

“Where’s Emma?” Killian questions, knowing that there’s no real way for him to answer David’s question. Some people are just assholes. And while some can redeem themselves, others are too selfish to even try or deserve it. If he’s spent more time than he’s proud of thinking about how satisfying it would be to punch Neal Cassidy in the face, that’s something he’ll keep to himself.

 

“She’s taking a shower,” David answers, finally taking his hand off of his face. “It’s always made her feel better, and she can cry out the rest of her tears in there if she feels like it.”

 

“Why do you –” Killian stops and runs his hand through his hair, making it stick up in a new way, “why did she call you? You know, instead of me? She’s leaned on me for almost everything for a long time, and I don’t mean to be selfish, but it’s just worrying me a little that I couldn’t help. Or that she didn’t want me to help.”

 

David looks at him, tilting his head to the side as he studies Killian before speaking, shrugging his shoulders in a move that’s quintessentially Emma. “Sometimes a kid just needs their dad, you know?”

 

“I don’t, not really. Not until recently.”

 

And it’s the most honest Killian has ever been with David about his relationship with his parents. He knows that David knows a lot about him just from their time together and from Emma, but he’s never explicitly talked to David about his issues with his family.

 

“Killian,” David sighs, hesitating the slightest bit before speaking again, “I know that your relationship with your family is…difficult. Emma’s told us that Liam’s not exactly your best friend and that your father is still a bit hesitant despite him being the one to encourage the two of you to be together, but you have your mom and Abigail and Alex. And soon the new baby. Most importantly, you have Emma. And you have Mary Margaret and me. We can’t replace your parents and we can’t change what you’ve been through, but we’ll always be here for you. You’re the son we never knew we wanted but got lucky enough to end up with anyways.”

 

Killian can’t look at David. He just stares at a particularly interesting piece of kitchen tile, and nods at him, a timid smile budding on his face at the kind words. What he would give to have grown up with a father like David.

 

When Emma comes into the kitchen clad in black leggings and a sweater, wet hair twisted into two braids, she looks calm, like the shower really did do her some good in washing away her pent up emotions.

 

“You want some dinner, love?” Killian questions, finally looking away from the kitchen tile and nodding his head at the pot of spaghetti resting on the stovetop.

 

“God, yes. I’m starving.”

 

And so the three of them have dinner together, not for the first time and not for the last time. It’s nice and it’s normal, and Killian revels in it.

David’s been gone for a few hours when they crawl into bed after their nightly routines, and when Killian thinks Emma has finally fallen asleep, her breathing evening out, she speaks.

 

“You know it wasn’t because I don’t trust you, right? Or because I don’t think you can be the one I go to when things get tough?”

 

“What are you talking about, love?”

 

He feels her move even with his eyes closed, the bed shifting lightly under her slight weight. “When I asked you to call my dad, it wasn’t because I don’t trust you or want you to be there for me. I always want you to be there, to be here, with me.”

 

“Emma, I know that.”

 

“He was just there for me through the whole situation, and as much as I’ve told you, it’s different talking to someone who actually experienced it with me. I trust you with everything in my life, and that’s never going to change. Ever.”

 

She’s sitting up in bed now, back against the headboard, and he reaches up to take her hand, interlacing their fingers in the darkness of the room.

 

“You don’t have to explain,” he yawns out, tired despite trying to hide that away. “We have each other, but we also have other people in our lives. I think it’s wonderful that you have so many people who love you.”

 

“I love you, Killian.”

 

“And I you, my love.”

Chapter Text

When starting a business, the number one rule experts say is to never work with your family. It always ends messily, families falling into bitter feuds over money and power. There are entire courses taught at university, but nothing ever really prepares you for when it all falls apart, when both your business and your family shatter into pieces. Nothing prepared Killian for being born into the equivalency of a family business, even if his entire childhood was built around being prepared for that very thing. At some point, though, he had to accept his role in life and role in the family. He had to choose to make the best of it and stop living with resentment about something he could not change. Not everything always goes to plan, however.

 

His poor relationships with his father and his brother are not secrets to those closest to him, but he’s begun the process of mending fences with his father. Emma’s been a large force in that. Yes, his father apologized, but mending fences isn’t something that happens in a day. You can say sorry and be sorry, and while those are mighty fine things to be, they don’t suddenly erase the wrongs you’ve done or the wrongs done against you. If someone hurts you, even if that hurt was unintentional, it doesn’t change that on some level, whether deep or shallow, you were changed because of it.

 

So Killian wants to change his relationship with his family. He wants to live out the rest of his life not dreading seeing his own eyes reflected back at him through his father and more specifically Liam. Even if a vindictive part of him wants to stay angry with Liam for everything he’s done (because he very much is angry with Liam for everything he’s done), Killian finds himself thinking more and more often about wanting to make things better between the two of them. He’s not the one who broke things, but sometimes one has to swallow their pride and be the one to take the step forward instead of retreating backward.

 

“You can just talk to him, babe.”

 

“What?”

 

“Liam,” Emma answers. She’s brushing her teeth so her first words were mumbled, toothpaste filling her mouth causing the words to be almost indiscernible. “You can talk to Liam.”

 

“What in the bloody hell makes you think I want to talk to Liam?”

 

She fixes him with a glare, eyes slanted as the toothbrush hangs out of her mouth, a small bit of white foam sticking to her lips and chin. How someone can look so agitated and be covered in toothpaste at the same time is something that he thinks is quintessentially Emma.

 

“Because,” she drawls out, rinsing her mouth before taking a cloth to dab at the spilled paste, “I’ve watched your finger hover over his name in your phone for weeks now, and you always type out a message before deleting it every night before we go to bed. Plus, you get this, like, constipated look on your face sometimes, and I know that it happens when you’re debating something with yourself. You have more tells than you think, my friend.”

 

If he didn’t know the truth about how many nervous ticks he has, he’d dispute that last statement. He refuses to play poker with Emma because she takes him to the woodshed every bloody time, the sly lass. They played once in the beginning of their relationship, drunk and sleep deprived, and he underestimated her. It was the last time he ever did that because when he ran out of coins to wager with, she suggested making it more interesting. The male in him had him thinking they were about to do something like strip poker. The male in him was wrong because that’s how he ended up having to send her breakfast and hot chocolate (with cinnamon and whipped cream, Killian) every morning for three months. If he forgot, well, he’d rather forget what happened if her managed to forget her hot chocolate, ironically enough.

 

“I just don’t know what to do, my love,” he tells her, moving from his sink to wrap his arms around her waist from behind, placing his head on the top of her hair as he makes eye contact with her through the mirror. “I want to make amends. I always kind of have, despite myself, but at some point I just got kind of despondent about it, you know? Liam’s done so much to hurt me, to hurt you, and even if it stems a bit from having a skewed view on life, it still happened. He still said the things he said, and I still felt the way I did afterward. I want to forgive, but I don’t know how.”

 

Emma knows his entire heart. He cannot think of a thing he’s not shared with her, that she’s not supported him through, but sometimes he still finds it difficult to speak his mind about his family. It’s something he’s harbored inside of himself for so long that often the words and emotions get stuck in his throat, lodged there and unable to push through.

 

“Hey,” Emma says, turning in his arms so that she’s facing him, back pressed up against the stone of the countertop, “you are the best man I know, Killian. You grew up in a privileged life that most envy and look upon with wonder, but they don’t know how many years you’ve spent feeling unloved, how many years you’ve spent fighting the demons in your head. So for you, my love, to be able to show the amount of love that you do for everyone you meet, from household staff to children to your friends to me, that’s remarkable. But for you to show love, even if it’s hidden deep in here,” she taps his chest, fingers spreading out over his heart, “to people who don’t deserve that love, your love, that’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen.”

 

When he looks down at her, to those piercing green eyes he adores, he wonders what he did to deserve fate to decide he needed to walk into that pub that night. He’s never been sure if he believes in fate, but often he thinks about the events that had to line up, in not just his life but in hers too, for them to cross paths. If anything would make him believe in fate, it’d be her.

 

“So you think I should try to talk to him?” he questions, moving the hair that’s fallen in her face behind her ear, the softness of the strands always surprising to him, so that he can better look at her face. “To try to make amends?”

 

“I think that has to be your choice. I have my own issues with Liam, which I’ll handle in my own time, but Liam’s thirty seven years old and you’re nearing twenty nine. To me that sounds like two adults who have experienced enough in life to be able to know how to have a conversation about their relationship and if they want to fix it or not.”

 

“With all the things he’s said to you and about you, you still think he deserves some kind of chance? You’re sure about that?”

 

“I think you deserve the chance.”

 

Killian just leans down to kiss her forehead, knowing she’s right even if he doesn’t want to admit it. This is between he and Liam, and no one else can handle it but the two of them.

 

So he doesn’t text Liam that day, still stewing in his overthinking and inability to fight past the conflicting emotions inside of him, a clear winner never being decided, but he does call him three days later to ask if he’d be willing to eat lunch with him while Abigail and Emma are out together shopping for the new baby. It’s not a phone call he was ready to make, but sometimes he has to do things before he’s ready.

 

He doesn’t tell Emma that he’s meeting with Liam, and he’s not sure why he makes that decision. There’s little that he keeps from her, and despite the fact that they’ve talked about this, he finds that he cannot manage to find the words when she kisses him goodbye the morning of his lunch.

 

When he knocks at Liam’s door, Liam opens it immediately, almost like he was waiting directly behind the wooden frame instead of deep inside the apartment. “Hello, Killian,” Liam greets, closed-lip smile on his face that lets Killian know that he feels awkward about this whole thing as well. “Come on in. Do you want to go out for lunch or would you rather stay here?”

 

“Um,” Killian scratches his chin, trying to decide if this would be more or less uncomfortable with others around, “here is good, I suppose.”

 

“That’s fine. We had casserole for dinner last night, so I know there’s some leftovers I can pop in the oven to warm up.”

 

Liam’s already walking away from the front door, down the hallways until he gets to their kitchen. Liam’s apartment is laid out much the same as Killian’s, but you can tell a small child lives here, toys scattered across the dark hardwood floors, gray walls full of family portraits and drawings, and booster seats in the kitchen and dining room. It’s so different than Killian’s in that regard, so full of evidence of life that he never had before Emma started living with him, bringing her things and her inability to pick up her shoes with her.

 

Liam’s preheating his oven by the time Killian makes it to the kitchen, and he’s thankful that the food may provide some kind of buffer between the two of them.

 

“So how have you been, Killian?” Liam asks, setting a timer on his phone for when to take out the casserole. “Your charities been going well? I was doing some reading on your work with veterans the other day, and I really liked that the organizations help them become active in society again by giving them tasks to make them feel fulfilled. Also, Mum said something else about you forming a new program. I’d love to hear more about that.”

 

It’s nothing new for them to talk about their work. They often support the same causes and attend many an event together, and it’s always been a kind of safe space between the two of them. A safe space that Killian’s going to have to push aside for now.

 

“Really well on both accounts, I suppose, and I’d be happy to talk about the new program later. But, I, uh – I wanted to talk to you about something else.”

 

Liam nods his head, no sign of surprise in his demeanor.

 

“About Emma, yes?”

 

“Partially, yes,” Killian answers, taking a seat at the kitchen barstool while Liam rests his back against the marble countertops across from Killian. “But mostly about you…and, um, well, me.”

 

That seems to surprise Liam, though, his head recoiling back as his eyes squint in confusion. Liam obviously knew Killian wasn’t here just for lunch, and he’s definitely spoken to both their father and Abigail over the events of the past few months. Killian knows because both Abigail and Brennan have told him so. But it’s like Liam didn’t know that Killian doesn’t just want to see if the brothers’ relationship is worth repairing for Emma, but for himself, too. Has Liam already resigned himself to the two of them always having a strained relationship? Does he not want more?

 

“About us?” Liam slowly questions, arms crossing over his chest in a way that makes him look so much like their father, the gray hairs peppering his black hair not helping the matter.

 

“Look, I don’t expect this to be a pleasant conversation. I expect it to be a bloody unpleasant one, if I’m honest. But I feel like it’s time that we finally own up to the fact that we have a fucking terrible relationship that never should have been the way it is.”

 

Liam doesn’t blink.

 

“Whatever it is you want to say, go on, say it.”

 

Killian hesitates. He doesn’t know how to start this. He doesn’t know what to say. This is a conversation he’s had in his head more times than he can count, but now that it’s suddenly staring him in the face, he’s silent.

 

Deep breath in. Deep breath out.

 

“It’s messed up Liam, the way you’ve treated me over the years. Bad form in the highest degree. I get that you’re almost a decade older than me, that you’ve been raised in a different way than me, that you have different expectations on your shoulders.”

 

Killian pauses here, weighing his next words in his mind before he speaks. Liam’s facial expression hasn’t changed, still that stony expression that the two of them have been taught to keep when attending more somber affairs.

 

“But for you to demean me, to look down on me with disdain, to not just judge me for the decisions I make but to never help guide me to better ones? To just make my life harder and more miserable by judging and speaking before listening? There’s no excuse for that. And I’m sure I had my part. I’m not innocent in things. But I need you to understand how I feel and how I’ve felt my entire life. I’ve never felt good enough because of you and compared to you. I’ve always felt like I was just this spare in the family who didn’t really matter and never would. The spare to your heir, so to speak.”

 

Killian’s always been one to put the blame on himself. It’s part of his personality to take on both more than he can chew and more than he should chew Before he left home to attend university, his relationship with his family was fine. It wasn’t great, but it was fine. He chalked a lot of that up to the age differences between he and everyone else – while his mum will never admit to it, he suspects that he was a bit of a surprise to the family. Yet, as soon as he got that small taste of freedom, was able to act independently for the first time in his life, finally able to breathe in the fresh air of normalcy, that’s when everything really began to change.

 

Killian took his independence and ran with it, not far as he was still constrained by a theoretical leash, but he wasn’t going to be the man who sat around in his room with his nose stuck in a book while others his age went to pubs and parties and sporting events, laughter on their lips and alcohol on their tongues. So instead of withering away in his room, he made friends, always careful of who he could trust, often telling an outrageously fake story to anyone suspicious to see if they would leak the story to the tabloids. It was a trick Liam taught him, one of his better bits of brotherly advice, and while it was useful, Killian often forgot about it when it came to women, his body thinking more than his brain.

 

It wasn’t that he slept around, but he definitely had his fun flirting, the occasional woman warming his bed at night. It was fine, at first, but then a lass who he never met fabricated a story about their “time together.” Killian assumed it wouldn’t matter. It had never happened, so the woman couldn’t provide photos or real information and Killian knew that meant the story would stay in a small publication, never making it to the mainstream. The problem was that it set a precedent for those who he actually went home with, the stories becoming a little more detailed and believable, bigger publications catching wind and plastering grainy photos of him in a pub across their front page.

 

He did something every other young adult did, but Killian wasn’t – isn’t – every young adult. For that, he was heavily reprimanded. The phone conversations and in person lectures from both his father and Liam about how he must represent the family ended up straining their relationship even further. Killian understood their frustration. He understood how he made the family look. His father was the head of the Church, and Killian was caught going home with women after a night out. It wasn’t exactly the image he was supposed to be portraying.

 

So while he understood that, he didn’t and couldn’t understand how two people who were supposed to love him could be so heartless in these situations. Killian’s trust was being continuously betrayed by his schoolmates, by the girls he fancied. It all came to a head when he discovered his ex Milah had been dating him solely for the purpose of being paid off by a tabloid magazine, cheating on him in more ways than one, and instead of expressing kindness and sympathy toward him, his family treated him with disdain, like the rip on an otherwise perfect painting.

 

The only rip, though, was the one he felt between he, his father, and Liam. His mother was his saving grace, but she shied away from dealing with how the family dealt with how they were portrayed in public, instead focusing on just what it was like at home. Obviously some things slipped through the cracks.

 

It was all a downward spiral from there, hostility building to the breaking point, which just happened to be Liam reading Killian’s texts and directly insulting the love of his life on several occasions because he thought that the appearance of the crown and the antiquated traditions of one hundred plus years ago should take precedence over familial love and human decency.

 

Killian understands how Liam got his distorted worldview, but understanding and agreeing with are two separate things.

 

Killian also understands that it can take two people to dissolve a relationship, even if one is more at fault, and if he’d had the courage to speak up for himself through the condescending chastisements, maybe the situation wouldn’t have escalated to this peak.

 

It’s better late than never though, and that’s why Killian’s here, pushing through the pain to see if there’s anything left worth salvaging. Not necessarily for Liam, but for himself.

 

“And I love Alexander with my entire heart,” Killian continues, changing the course of his monologue even if it’s connected, “and as happy as I was when Abigail shared you two were expecting again, I felt more sadness than anything because I was…am terrified that this child is going to end up being treated the way that I was. I am almost thirty years old, and I break down at the thought that what I’ve been through is going to happen to someone else. And later we’ll talk about the things you’ve said about Emma, the way you’ve handled that situation because it was fucking insane how awful that was. A complete sodding git you were.”

 

Killian has to clench his jaw there, fists forming into balls of frustration over everything he’s saying. It’s like years of pent up emotion being released all at once, rain finally falling to the ground after a record dry spell. Just controlled, calculated, well thought out rain.

 

“The fact that I am even here trying to have a conversation about these things is difficult for me because when I look at you all I want to do is yell and scream and wonder how the hell we got here and how the hell we’re ever going to make our way to how everything should have been in the first place.”

 

Liam’s been staring at Killian this entire time, eye contact never faltering throughout Killian’s rant even when he had to move to get the casserole out of the oven. Killian finds that his own breathing is heavy, the intensity of his brother’s stare making him more nervous than he’s been throughout his entire visit. Those words have been lodged in his throat for years, and releasing them doesn’t relieve the weight or the pressure. Instead it gives him a new worry of what will happen now that he’s aired his grievances.

 

“I didn’t ask for this life, Killian.” Liam’s words are measured. Every word he says is of a man who’s been coached on how to speak diplomatically. “You didn’t either. No one in their right mind would ask to live this life. People have these fantasies about what life as princes and princesses is like because they don’t realize our life isn’t a storybook. It’s not the movies. It’s real, and there’s no magic wishes or fairy godmothers. But, you’re right, the weight on my shoulders is vastly different compared to the weight on yours, so while I admit that you also feel the pressure, you have more freedom than me.”

 

Liam takes a breath, his chest visibly moving underneath his sweater before his shoulders dip, immediately rolling back as soon as Liam realizes he’s changed his posture. It’s like a physical representation of the weight of responsibility they both carry. Sometimes they let it get to them, but they can’t for long.

 

“And I’ve hurt you. I’ve hurt Emma. I said things that when I play them back in my mind, I’m ashamed of myself. I admit that. I admit that I can be an undeniable asshole. I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of, but I would never hurt my child. That is my child, my children, and I love them more than anything in the world.”

 

“I am your brother. You were supposed to love me, and look how that’s turned out.”

 

The words are hissed out in anger, and Killian has always struggled holding back when his emotions are involved. The calmness with which he spoke his words earlier was surprising.

 

“And you said just recently that you must put the crown above personal relationships. That you put it above Abigail, and I should put it above Emma. How was I supposed to know that you wouldn’t treat your children that way? It’s the way you’ve treated me.”

 

“I don’t’ know,” Liam sighs, reaching up to run his hand through his hair as Killian does the same. “I don’t know what you want me to say, Killian. That I fucked up? Yeah, sure, I’ve fucked up, but I’m not going to accept all the blame for everything that’s gone wrong in your life. And I’m not going to have you insulting my love for my family.”

 

“You insulted my love for my family.”

 

“It’s different.”

 

“The hell it is, Liam. It’s exactly the same.”

 

The brothers are quiet, a silence washing over them that’s only filled with the sound of the ceiling fan running over them. This conversation hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s almost like they’ve moved toward a blocked road with no alternate routes.

 

“I’m sorry, Killian,” Liam sighs, rolling his head back to look up at the ceiling. “I’m sorry that it’s like this between us. I’m sorry for everything I’ve done wrong or father has done wrong or even that you’ve done wrong. I’m sorry for what I’ve done to you and what I’ve done to Emma. I’m just sorry. And I know that it may seem like this is coming out of nowhere, that I don’t truly mean the words, but I do. Abigail and I have had more nights where I end up in the guest room than not because we’ve been talking about my behavior recently and how I became this way. When I think about how we are, and then think about how that could end up being my children, it physically pains me, like this weight that’s keeping air from getting in. But I’ve been too damn stubborn to admit that. I guess I might as well admit it now.”

 

“I care about the past, Liam, but we can’t change it. I’m mad as hell, but I just want us to be able to live amicably. I don’t care if we’re ever friends. I think that would be the ultimate goal, but right now, I just want to do something so that both Emma and I can be comfortable being in a room with you.”

 

Liam moves to lean against the kitchen island and places his face in his hand while Killian fidgets with the watch on his wrist.

 

“We can’t start over, brother,” Liam sighs, looking up from his hand, “but we can try to be cordial and go from there. I’m working on changing, but you of all people know that doesn’t just happen overnight. If anything, I’d like to do better by my children and my wife. If that helps me do better by you, then it’s even better.”

 

It’s not what Killian wants to hear, not really, but it’s better than he was expecting. He cannot expect bounding leaps when they’re only at the stage for baby steps.

 

Almost like clockwork Killian hears literal baby steps, the sound of Alex running down the hallway yelling for “daddy” suddenly audible the closer he gets to the kitchen.

 

Liam’s entire demeanor changes, smile appearing on his face as the stress lines are replaced with laugh lines that Liam never had before being a husband and a father. Age and happiness have become a part of Liam’s life without Killian ever really noticing it.

 

“My boy,” Liam bellows, moving to scoop Alex up into his arms, gently tossing his son in the air before catching him, causing Alex to laugh at his father’s antics. “Did you have fun with Mummy and Emma today?”

 

“I got a new toy, daddy!” Alex tells him in broken toddler speak, looking to his hands like said toy should be there. When it’s not, the lad’s bottom lip starts to quiver, alligator tears threatening to spill to his cheeks.

 

Just when the dam’s about to break, a blonde savior walks into the room holding a stuffed giraffe that must be the new toy Alex was talking about.

 

“Alex, Emmy’s got it,” Emma comforts, walking over to Alex and handing him the doll, wiping away the tear that managed to fall. He immediately brightens, watery smile forming on his face when Emma leans in to kiss his cheek. If Killian does say so himself, Alexander is smitten with his love.

 

It’s when she pulls back that she notices Killian there, her brows furrowing in confusion as to why the hell he’s here. He shrugs his shoulders in response, and the pointed look she gives him lets him know that she definitely plans on having a conversation with him later. And when she gives him that look, he knows he’s rarely in for a pleasant conversation.

 

“Hello beautiful.” Killian greets her with a smile on his face and a kiss on her lips, having gotten up from his barstool so that he could greet her. “I hope you lot had a good day, but I find myself thinking that we’re missing a person here.”

 

“Oh,” Emma replies, catching onto his confusion, “Abigail’s upstairs going through her closet for some clothes she bought before she got pregnant and never got around to wearing. We got to talking about how I’m never quite sure what to wear when I go out with you, and she’s kind enough to allow me to have some of her clothes since her belly keeps her from wearing them. But since you’re both here, you two can go to the car and get all the baby stuff we bought today, yeah?”

 

“Of course,” Liam replies before handing Alex off to Emma and clapping Killian on the back. “Will you take him upstairs and put him down for his nap?”

 

“Sure thing.”

 

After Killian and Liam bring in what has to amount to at least twenty bags full of various items for the soon-to-be new addition to the family, the two of them sit down to finally eat the casserole with Emma and Abigail while Alex sleeps upstairs. The conversation is often stilted, the tension still permeating below the surface, but Abigail and Emma are friendly enough to always have something to talk about despite already spending the morning together. If all else were to fail, Abigail spends most of the time telling Liam about everything she got finished on their checklist that morning so there’s no need for strained pleasantries when the room goes silent.

 

Liam’s so affectionate with her when in the comfort of his own home that it takes Killian aback. He knows that Abigail married Liam because she sees the good in him and loves him, but taking what you know to be true now and reconciling that with your past experiences often makes for a blurry image.

 

Killian and Emma leave in the mid-afternoon when Alex wakes up from his nap and Abigail decides that she needs one, leaving Liam to spend some time with his son.

 

“So what were you doing there?” Emma questions as they walk through the private garden connecting their apartments, Killian’s arm wrapped around Emma’s shoulder while they leisurely make their way home. He’s always loved spending time out here, various flowers always in bloom depending on the time of year, shades of green mixed with pastel tulips and roses that surround the walkways and the fountains, stone benches and patio tables mixed throughout. It’s nice weather outside today, the heat of the summer cooling off as autumn nears.

 

Emma and Killian end up sitting on one of the stone benches, hidden in the hedges with a view of a pond across from them. Killian takes advantage of this semi-privacy and leans in to give Emma a slow kiss before interlacing their fingers and finally answering her question.

 

“I went to talk to Liam,” he begins, reaching up to scratch his chin with his free hand. “I wanted to clear the air, so to speak, like we spoke about a few days ago. See if there was anything salvageable or if we would just end up being brothers but not family for the rest of our lives.”

 

Emma’s quiet for a moment before she squeezes his hand, a silent form of communication that they’ve mastered over the years. “How did it go?”

 

“It was…well, it was interesting to say the least. I don’t really know how I feel about it. He apologized for some of the things he’d done, for just being an ass in general, but it was kind of like he didn’t really feel sorry about it because of me. It was more like he felt sorry because he wanted to be better for Abigail and Alex and the baby.”

 

Killian is still processing everything that’s happened, the contradicting emotions of wanting to forgive and not knowing if he can. His ability to forgive doesn’t depend on Liam’s apologies but on if Killian is willing to move on from his scars.

 

“Don’t you think that’s at least something?” Emma inquires. She’s watching one of his cousins, Rebecca, walk her twin sons through the path that leads to the private playground Liam had installed before Alex was born. All of the children who live here like to take advantage of the play sets when the weather is pleasant. There’s a tree house equipped with slides, swings, and anything else a child could need to enjoy their time outside. “I know you’d like to be the reason he changes, but isn’t it just enough that he’s willing to change for someone?”

 

He just hums, not really knowing what to say. Either Kincaid or Calhoun is currently hanging upside down from the swing set. They’re so similar that Killian cannot tell them apart from this distance. All he can tell is that Rebecca is standing with her hands on her hips likely telling whichever one it is to get down. Watching them is a distraction if he’s ever known one, but it makes Killian long for the childlike innocence they possess where nothing matters more than who can swing the highest on the swing set.

 

“Rationally, I think yes, but it still stings that I wasn’t enough for him.”

 

He knows that Emma’s watching him with wide doe eyes, but he doesn’t want to look at her, focus still on watching the boys play. It’s not that he’s ashamed of feeling weak. He’s not. But insecurities of not being enough run deep, and as comforting as it would usually be, he doesn’t want to see the understanding in her gaze.

 

“I think I just need some time, darling.”

 

She runs the pad of her thumb over his, the sensation bringing him out of his own mind and back to reality.

 

“He can’t change if he’s not given a chance. He may not deserve it, but you do. You deserve to be happy.”

 

Killian finally looks at her, and sure enough there’s the understanding gaze he was expecting. “I am happy. You make me happy.”

 

“You deserve to be happy in all aspects of your life. Not just in your relationship with me.”

 

“I just need time,” Killian repeats his words from a moment ago, the sentiment not having changed.

 

She studies him for a minute, obviously debating her options before speaking. “I think since you need time,” Emma reiterates, rising from her seat on the bench, “we should go offer to help Rebecca with the boys. It looks like she needs help, and we can always talk later when you’ve had time to think things over.”

 

She’s too good for him.

 

The two of them make their way over to the playground, the boys now running around chasing each other while Rebecca sits on a bench watching them, eyes shaded with gray bags. When she sees the two of them making their way over to her, she yells for the boys to calm down around Killian, but he just waves her away and lets her know they’ll run around with them to tire them out while she rests.

 

Kincaid and Calhoun don’t spot Killian until he catches up to both of them, grabbing them around the waists and spinning them around until the two of them are gasping for breath and kicking their legs in the air in an attempt to touch ground again. Eventually Killian convinces them to let he and Emma join in their game of tag, the boys constantly chasing after Emma even if she is “it.” She’s got this ability to make everyone comfortable around her, especially children, and he knows that’s a natural trait rare in someone who grew up without any other children around.

 

After he and Emma have been chasing them for thirty minutes, he’s out of breath, huffing and puffing while thinking that this shouldn’t be possible. He exercises, running and going to the gym several times a week. How have two five year olds caused him to be bent over with his hands on his knees, sweat collecting at his hairline, while his girlfriend doesn’t even seem to have been bothered at all? She’s on the swing set with the two of them, having a contest as to who can swing the highest, the childlike innocence he thought of earlier evident on all of their faces as the force of air propels them back and forth.

 

When Rebecca and the boys have left, instead of going back to the apartment, Killian joins Emma on the swings. Instead of pushing high, they idly sway, bumping each other with their hips every few minutes.

 

“Hey, so I have question,” Emma asks. She’s scuffing her sneakers against the woodchips below the swings, digging through the material until she reaches the earth beneath. Whatever it is she wants to say she must have been thinking about for awhile, the companionable silence they’d been sharing more contemplative for her than anything else.

 

“Yes, love?”

 

“So Abigail was talking in the car this morning about how difficult it is for them to figure out the new baby’s name because everything has to be historical. Plus, you know, she’s going to have at least four names without really having a last name.”

 

Emma pauses, heel digging in the dirt even more. She’s going to ruin her shoes if she keeps at it. She’ll usually bit her lip when she’s nervous, but today she’s decided to destroy the ground instead of her skin. Killian changes his momentum so that his swing sways into hers, their hips gently bumping into each other before he reaches over to kick his foot against hers, silently encouraging her to continue.

 

“So I was just wondering,” she muses, moving to kick his leg back like the mature adults they are, “do we have to give our kids the whole seven names that are all rulers of the past who may or may not have beheaded their wives or can we name them whatever we want?”

 

“Are we having kids now?” Killian teases, nodding his head at Emma’s flat stomach.

 

“No, definitely not,” she laughs, hand instinctively smoothing out her shirt over her stomach. “But I’m talking about in the future. I know we’ve always kind of skirted around the idea, but I feel like that’s kind of something we need to talk about more seriously to make sure we’re on the same page. I’m not itching to have children right now, so I don’t want you to think I’m pressuring you to put a ring on it and put a baby in me or anything.” He reaches over to grab her hand, looping his arm around the chain of her swing so that he can twine their fingers together. “It was just on my mind with all the time I spent with Abigail today.” She shrugs her shoulders. “I was curious.”

 

“I would never think you’re pressuring me, Emma.” He brings their joined hands up to his mouth to kiss her knuckles. “When both you and I are ready for marriage and children, we’ll know. They’re things we know we both want, but we’re also entering this new phase of our relationship that’s uncharted territory for us. We’re no longer living in the bubble of privacy in your parents’ home. We’re living together, around each other more often than we ever have been, and we’re not living in privacy anymore. Suddenly there’s more than just the two of us involved, and while I’d like to think that the outside interference doesn’t affect us, it does. Almost every time you step out of the house, there’s a photograph or a headline about you. It’s new and it’s different, and I think it’s better for you, for us, to adjust for awhile before we make any big changes like that.”

 

“I think I like that idea.” She pauses, releasing his hand so that she can give her swing more momentum. “But I’d still like to know about the whole name thing because I’ve been with you for over five years and still don’t quite know what your last name is besides ‘Windsor’.”

 

“Well, that’s technically it, darling,” he laughs, and she sticks her tongue out at him, squirming away so that he can’t retaliate. Here they are having a serious conversation while on a children’s swing set acting like the children who should be occupying it.

 

Windsor is the name his family has been using for years on official documents, but it’s definitely odd not having a normal name. His mother’s maiden name is Jones, and he’s often considered just going by that but he’s never felt the need to have a regular surname. When you’re raised with royal titles, you never know differently.

 

“Our kids, though,” he’s grinning like an idiot thinking about their hypothetical children and how he could be so blessed to have products of their love manifested into human beings, “their names can most definitely be normal. Just first and last and possibly a middle name if we’re feeling particularly affectionate toward them on the day of their births.” He wiggles his eyebrows at her, eliciting a toothy grin from Emma as she leans her head back to laugh, blonde hair cascading down her back. “Depending on what Father decides, and what we decide with him, won’t have royal titles unless he grants him. So that’s definitely something we’ll have to think about.”

 

“And I won’t be a princess, right?”

 

“You’ll be my princess.”

 

“Oh that’s bad, babe.”

 

“I like to think it was charming. Swoon-worthy really.”

 

“Do I look like I’m swooning?”

 

“Obviously, yes. My charms are irresistible.”

 

Emma just rolls her eyes, digging her heels into the ground to stop her seat’s momentum before getting up and dusting her jeans off and walking over to him to grab his hands and pull him up with her. She wraps her arms around his neck, standing on her toes to give him a sweet kiss. “Do you want to go out for dinner tonight? I feel like you’ve had a long day and need some fun. Who knows? You might even get lucky beforehand because we’re both sweaty and in desperate need of a shower. Conserving water and all that.”

 

“And you thought my flirting was bad earlier.”

 

“Your flirting was cheesy. Mine gives you the promise of getting laid. I think I win by default.”

 

“Valid point, my love,” he agrees, wrapping his arm around her shoulder as they finally, a few hours and two serious conversations later, make their way back to the apartment.

 

Killian is lucky in more ways than one, and after definitely not conserving any water, the two of them get ready to go out for one of his new favorite things with his long-term girlfriend: a date. It’s a nice evening full of good food and good conversation, and Killian is glad that a day which started on a heavy note is ending on a much lighter one.

 

In bed that night Emma’s breathing is even next to him, small puffs of air blowing against his chest when she exhales. She’s got her right hand resting on his chest, and the sapphire ring that’s a constant part of her is digging a bit into his skin. He’s distracted by it, the way the moonlight glints off of it so that it shines even in the darkness. One day the things they talked about today will be a reality. They’ll be shopping for their own child’s nursery or running around the park to tire out children that come home with them every night. The sapphire ring on Emma’s right hand, though it likely will always be there as a reminder of their first few years together, may be replaced. More likely, though, is the fact that her other hand will be the home to another pair of rings that have not more meaning, but a different one.

 

Chapter Text

The world has known about Emma for three months now, summer slowly drifting into autumn. The longer the month of September goes on, the more the heat begins to subside and the leaves begin to prematurely fall to the ground, a myriad of colors scattering the sidewalks.

 

Autumn has always been his favorite season. The humidity seems to fade away, and the streets tend to smell less like hoards of sweaty, hurried people and more like the occasional clear air that will waft through England when the stars align to create a day where the air is neither filled with smoke nor rain. September is a fine month, his birthday always falling toward the tail end of it, but he tends to favor October.

 

It’s a month most people pass by without much thought, directly between the thrill of summer vacation and the merriness of the winter holiday season, but to some, often those with small children or adults who have a sense of imagination and adventure (and often those wanting the opportunity to imbibe in a few libations), it’s the month that marks its end with ghouls and goblins and witches oh my.

 

He’s never been one to celebrate Halloween as an adult. He’d been to one or two parties while at university, sure, always throwing together a last minute costume that more often than not resulted in him throwing on a tux that he already owned and going as James Bond. If he got really creative, he’d shave his beard, throw on a pair of spectacles and go as Clark Kent.

 

So he likes Halloween, enjoys the sweets and the horror films and the way the store fronts fill their windows with intricately carved pumpkins, yellow candles flickering inside as the sun sets into darkness.

 

He likes it, but Emma loves it. She loves everything about it. As soon as the calendar flips from September to October, she pulls a chest out from under her bed that’s full of DVDs (We can just watching them online, darling, he’ll say. It’s not the same, she’ll say) to watch at least one a day until the clock strikes midnight on Halloween and the pumpkins turn into Christmas trees (or turkeys for those living in America). In her closet there’s a box of every Halloween costume she’s ever worn that somehow managed to make the trip from America to London.

 

He once found a princess costume that was made for a girl no older than five, and when he teased her about how she’s obviously had a thing for him for her entire life, she told him that it was really Liam she had a thing for, her lips curling up into a smirk as mirth danced in her eyes. He was left speechless holding a sparkly blue dress as he watched her proudly bask in the glory of her joke. Later she told him, whispered in the darkness of her room after she had physically reaffirmed that he was the only man for her, that she could have dressed as a princess every day of her life and still never have been prepared for him and every way he’s surpassed any dream she ever had of a prince sweeping her off her feet just by being Killian.

 

He could have never prepared for her.

 

Emma carves pumpkins and buys candy ahead of time only to eat it all and have to purchase more before the holiday passes (and then buying the discount candy on November first so that she has enough to last her until the Valentine’s Day sales). She researches ghost stories online and then retells them with the enthusiasm of someone who likes being scared shitless at the possibility that the dead haunt her movements.

 

So his girlfriend loves Halloween, and he knew that going into their relationship, part of the basic getting to know you process that happened over late nights and glasses of rum she eventually didn’t charge him for. However, he didn’t get to experience Halloween with her until they’d been dating for over two years. The first year he’d had to miss it because he rearranged his schedule so that he’d be around for her twenty-first birthday the week before. She’d told him she loved him for the first time that night, and he would trade all of his Halloweens for the rest of his life just to keep that day the same. The next year he’d been on his two-month North American tour that had resulted in them not speaking for a few weeks, so he hadn’t even gotten to listen to her enthusiasm about the holiday (She was a bar wench he later found out. An appropriate costume that ended up looking very inappropriate on her).

 

When he realizes that he can finally celebrate with her on his third try, the smile that crosses his face may rival Emma’s when she’s watching Hocus Pocus.

 

“So you’re sure about this?” she questions as she pushes her box of movies back underneath her bed, settling on the creepy and the kooky Addams Family.

 

They both had the day off, and Emma had begged, not that she needed to, for the two of them to spend the day watching movies and eating candy out the bowl she’d already depleted at least once – he would know, he had to stop and buy her a mixed bag of candy on his way here. If she pulled a pumpkin primed for carving out of her closet, no part of him would be surprised.

 

“I am positive,” he tells her as she crawls into bed next him, moving his arm so that it wraps around her shoulder, his fingers instinctively going to find the skin just below her shirt. “I have purposely arranged my entire autumn schedule so that I will be free to spend Halloween night with you.”

 

“You know what this means, though, right?”

 

“That I’m going to have to schedule an extra dental appointment because you’re going to force feed me candy until my teeth rot?”

 

“I mean, obviously,” she teases, kissing the underside of his jaw from her vantage point below him. “But it means you have to wear a costume. Like, a real costume that you buy ahead of time because we have a costume party every year downstairs. And, like, not to be like the clichés of all the movies about royalty going out into disguise on Halloween, but if you could wear something that partially covers your face or alters your identity, that would be great because then I can kiss you downstairs and no one will even question it.”

 

“Are there really movies like that?”

 

“You have no idea.” She kisses his jaw again, the sensation running all the way through him. He is so crazy in love with her that sometimes he doesn’t know what to do with himself. “One day I’m going to teach you about all of the clichés that you fall under.”

 

He can’t help but laugh, pulling her closer to his side as the theme of The Addams Family finally begins to play on the television. They spend the rest of their day watching movies that have him ranging from laughing to sweating to being incredibly turned on. He eats more kit kat bars than he’s proud to admit, his stomach rounding where it’s usually more defined, and by the time he’s leaving to make his way home, he feels more like one of those pumpkins he thinks Emma has hidden in her closet than anything else.

 

Emma’s just kissed him goodbye, a little more enthusiasm than usual, when he realizes something he missed out on earlier.

 

“Wait,” he pulls back from her lips to look her in the eyes, “if I’m dressing up, that means you’re dressing up. What the devil are you wearing?”

 

“Be patient,” she begins, lifting up on her toes to give him another kiss, slow and sensual and something he very much wants to continue, before pushing him out the door, “because that is a surprise that you’re just going have to show up to see. It’s kooky.”

 

Damn. That’s something he can’t wait to see.

 

Finding a costume that won’t make him feel ridiculous ends up being more difficult than he thinks. He considers several that require him to wear a mask that completely covers his face, but those seem to be farcical more than anything else. He thinks of going as a pirate, but that just didn’t seem to call to him, the leather and eyeliner unappealing. When he comes across an entire section that’s full of prince costumes, one even entitled Prince Killian, he almost buys it just for the look on Emma’s face. Eventually after all of the sailors and clowns and police officers are eliminated, and he settles on being Tom Cruise in Top Gun. It’s a happy medium between what he’s comfortable with and what really getting into the spirit (pun intended) of Halloween means. Plus, he can mostly be himself with dark shades used to cover his eyes. It’s surprising how many people don’t recognize him simply because he has on a pair on sunglasses.

 

It’s Halloween, and Emma’s been suspiciously silent, only texting him short little nothings when he texts her first. It’s not totally abnormal, but for this to be one of her favorite days of the year, she doesn’t seem to be too excited. It unnerves him, and even though he was supposed to wait until the pub’s patrons are pleasantly buzzed, he ends up sauntering through the door at a quarter after ten to find Mary Margaret and David, dressed as a cat and a dog in the way that only two people in their late forties can, but with no sign of Emma anywhere.

 

The place is unusually busy, the younger patrons outweighing the older crowd that usually frequents the place, making the space feel smaller than usual. It doesn’t help that the Nolans have stretched fake cobweb across the pillars and between booths, causing people to duck around them if they don’t want to end up with whatever artificial material is used to make the decorations. On all of the tables are carved pumpkins he knows the three of them worked on two days ago. He spies the one he did a week ago, crooked smile from where the knife slipped in his hand. It’s on the table of the booth in the back – their booth, he likes to think, the one where they met – and he can’t help but think that Emma Nolan can be sentimental sometimes, too.

 

Right now, though, he’d really like to find Emma Nolan and whatever costume she’s hidden from him.

 

It’s then that he sees her, short black dress with a white peter pan collar, the sexiest thigh high boots he’s ever seen, and a black wig parted down the middle into two braids, her lips painted in a black lipstick the he imagines she won’t let him kiss her with. She’s Wednesday Addams. She gave him a clue by the movie they watched last time he was here, and no part of him even thought about it. He spent a hell of a lot of time thinking about it. Of course, knowing her, she very well could have come up with her costume idea while they were watching the movie.

 

He makes his way over to where she’s refilling a few glasses of ale, grabbing her wrist and pulling her to him so that he can kiss her cheek and squeeze her hip just because he can.

 

“Where’s your costume, darling?” he teases when he pulls back from her skin, knowing exactly what her answer is going to be, the Halloween-loving woman.

 

He can tell she has to hold back a smile before she deadpans, “this is my costume. I’m a homicidal maniac. They look just like everyone else.”

 

She delivers the line exactly as she should, identical to Wednesday Addams, not even throwing him a wink like she so often will when she tells a joke, the lines on her face as straight and narrow as possible.

 

It’s only when she seems to take his costume in, her eyes perusing the jumpsuit and the dark aviator sunglasses in a way that makes him feel like there’s no air circulation in the pub. He tries to reign in his nerves, leaning down to whisper in her ear. “Do you like it?”

 

Emma pulls back so that he can see her, the corner of her lips lifting up on one side. “Eh, I prefer how Maverick looks on the beach, but this’ll do.” And then she’s walking away, flipping the pigtails of her wig behind her, finally giving him the wink he expected earlier. The little minx.

 

It ends up being such a busy night that he doesn’t get to see much of Emma. She’s always refilling drinks or wiping down tables when people leave. He doesn’t mind, though. Just watching her, he can see that she’s having a blast with all of the people who dressed up tonight. When a group of girls all dressed as the Addams Family women walk in, Emma practically squeals, a very un-Wednesday like thing to do.

She convinces them to take a picture with her, telling them that it’s going to go up on the wall where her family keeps pictures of big events that happen here.

 

Seeing her this happy keeps a smile on his face throughout the night, even when he’s had one too may rums and realizes he has to take off the jumpsuit to relieve himself. It’s annoying and inconvenient, and when he comes out of the restroom cursing under his breath about bloody fucking Halloween (though no blood was involved in this Halloween), it’s to Emma leaning against the wall with her arms crossed waiting on him, right eyebrow perched high on her forehead.

 

“You know, Nolan, that’s a little creepy you waiting out here for me.”

 

“I wanted to get another picture of us to put up on the wall.”

 

“Won’t that be suspicious?”

 

“Nah, I’m just going to say it was a really hot guy who came by on Halloween, and I needed an excuse to get close to him. Who knows? Maybe later I’ll even get his number.”

 

She’s…happy. She’s happy and flirtatious, two things he’s seen her be so many times before, but it’s like it’s contagious tonight, a disease which he’d very much like to catch.

 

So they take the picture for her to hang up on the wall. He’s smiling in it, wide toothy grin as he wraps his arms around her shoulder. She’s not smiling. Instead, her body is stiff and her hands are placed at her sides, unhappy look on her face that has him in stitches when he looks at it later. It’s a picture he’d like to keep just for the look on Emma’s face.

 

His favorite picture of the night, though, happens later when everything is closed down, and he’s starting to get tired, the only thing keeping him awake is the way that Emma’s mouth is moving against his, lazy and sloppy but all together delicious. He thinks that they’re on their way to other activities, his jumpsuit suddenly even more restricting, but then Emma starts hysterically laughing, tears rolling down her eyes as her hair, wig removed, falls in her face.

 

It’s not often that a woman laughs at how he kisses, so he can’t help but feel a tad bit insulted.

 

“Emma, love, what the bloody hell are you laughing at?”

 

She just leans over to her bedside table to grab her phone, snapping a picture of him without him knowing what’s happening.

 

“What are you doing? Why are you taking a picture of me?”

 

“Just hold on a minute, and I’ll tell you.”

 

It’s then that she twists in his lap so that she can take a picture of the two of them together, her head leaning on his shoulder. He thinks that maybe she just felt the overwhelming need to document the night, but then she’s thrusting her phone in his face and he sees why she’s laughing.

 

It’s a wonderful picture of the two of them. They look happy and vibrant despite the late hour. It would be just like every other photograph except for the fact that the black lipstick she had on with her costume is now smeared all over his lips and his chin, even a bit of his nose. He looks bloody ridiculous, and when he looks over to Emma she’s covering her mouth to hide her laugh.

 

“That’s really not your color, babe.”

 

It’s a night that he remembers fondly, the picture saved on his phone and the lipstick tube tucked away in a box of things that he’s collected from Emma over the years.

 

It’s not yet October, though, and Killian knows that a Halloween like that will most likely be a thing of the past for the two of them. They’ll have different kinds of holiday celebrations now, and while that does make him feel a tinge of longing for the ways of the past, he’s excited for the future.


Killian turns twenty-nine this week, and he’s having a quiet – by his family’s standards – celebration with just his family – his entire family, extending beyond just the immediate – as well as Emma and her parents. It is a bit of a combination event, both a celebration of his birth and an introduction of his girlfriend to the extended family she hasn’t met and vice versa, an introduction of her small family to the largeness of his.

 

“Are you nervous?” Killian questions, moving to zip Emma’s dress, one hand caressing her hip as the other guides the zipper up its path.

 

“Honestly,” she sighs out as she moves her hair off of her back and over one shoulder, exposing her neck to him, which he gives a soft kiss to when he finishes zipping her into the dress. It’s this little black thing she got from Abigail that’s long enough to be acceptable in the new dress code she’s trying to adhere to when she goes places with him that are a step up from the supermarket, but it still shows off all of her glorious curves. She looks beautiful, radiant even, and it doesn’t matter that he’s the slightest bit biased. “I don’t think I can really be nervous around your family anymore. It’s more this feeling I can’t describe, kind of like I’m walking on eggshells but only sometimes, I guess. It’s fine tonight, though, babe. It’s your night. I think I’ve officially grown a tough skin. I’m immune to all of the new bites from the Windsor clan.”

 

She’s ghosting over things, he can tell. He caught some of the flashing “it’s fine” signs in her little spiel, but he goes against his better judgment and ignores it for tonight. He ignores his own signs, too.

 

“They’re not piranhas, love.”

 

“No,” she says, turning around and placing her hands on his shoulders, straightening his shirt collar, “they’re not. I’ve already faced those.”

 

“And you did it swimmingly.” He leans down to quickly meet her lips with his.

 

“Was that a pun?”

 

“Always. I’m just naturally witty like that.”

 

“I think you’re fishing for compliments.”

 

He laughs, leaning down again to peck her cheek so as to not mess up her lipstick anymore. “You, my love, are the only fish in the sea for me.”

 

“Okay, I’m done with the bad puns. We’ve got a party to go to, old man.”

 

“What a kind, loving birthday wish from my girlfriend.”

 

“That’s what I’m here for, babe.”

 

And at that she walks away, hips swaying enticingly in that little black dress. When she gets to the doorway, she turns her head and fucking winks at him, and he’s got to make it through the entire night with her looking like that.

 

He catches up to her, jogging just a little down the hallway as they walk to his car on their way to Windsor Palace. It’s where his parents have been staying recently, as it’s much more low key than the busyness of London, even if it’s a bit of a drive from Kensington.

 

When they get there, it’s still about an hour before most of his family is supposed to arrive, but he wanted to spend some time with just his parents and Emma’s parents before all of the others arrive. The Nolans met his family two weeks ago, and they’ve all gotten on surprisingly well despite the rocky start this whole thing had. It probably helps that he and Emma decided to keep some of the nastier details of her introduction to his family to themselves.

 

Mary Margaret and Allison have become fast friends and have discovered that they share many of the same interests, having even gone to a few of the same schools growing up, though Killian’s mother is several years older than Mary Margaret. David and Brennan get on fine. They don’t have a lot in common, but they don’t have to. As long as they have Killian and Emma in common, they’ll always have things to talk about.

 

Emma’s never been to Windsor before, so he decides to giver her a small tour before joining his family in one of the dining halls. She did tell him the first time he brought her home that she’s fascinated by being able to see buildings she studied in primary school in real life. She’s brilliant, his love, with a mind most people can only hope to have half of, and though he knows that she’s happy with her decision not to attend university in exchange for helping her parents, he finds himself wondering what it would be like for her to take history classes. Would her face light up as she delved into research for papers? Would she hate having to stick her nose in a book to learn about history instead of getting to explore it for herself?

 

They’ve broached the subject, her going back to school before, but she always says that she’s happy. She likes her job, and she likes spending time with her parents and her regular patrons. So he doesn’t push it. He doesn’t need her to have a degree. He has one in Philosophy that he’s never once used before. He just wants to make sure that if she has the opportunity to do something she wants to do, she can.

 

“Babe,” she calls out from her spot a few feet ahead of him, and he already knows what she’s looking at before he catches up to her. “How old are you here?”

 

She’s staring at a portrait that’s far too large, something he protested with his mum for what felt like hours on end, and he can tell she wants to reach out and touch it, run her fingers along the lines of his face.

 

“I was fourteen, and before you say anything else, yes, I had to pose for it. It was bloody awful.”

 

“Can we get one of these at our house?”

 

She’s teasing him, playful smile on her lips, but all he can focus on is that she just said “our house.” They’ve been living together for a few weeks now. He’s sure she’s said something similar before, but it hasn’t hit him until then.

 

“Hey,” she says when he doesn’t speak for a moment too long, turning to caress his cheek, her face level to his with the heels she has on, “I was just teasing. I think this is amazing. I love getting to see more of you when you were young.”

 

Killian moves to wrap his arms around her waist, pulling her into his side so that he can rest the side of his forehead against the top of her head. “Aye, I know. We can have anything you want, Emma.”

 

She tilts her head back as much as she can, his grip on her waist more snug than usual. “Are you okay?”

 

“I’m fine, my love. I was just thinking about how if we get one of these for home, we also have to hang up that photograph of you from the time you dyed your hair brown and it ended up as some kind of purple.”

 

She scrunches her nose, mouth twisting in disgust. “Mom never should have documented some things. But fine. No giant portrait of teenage Killian. Though, I thought it might look really good over the bed.”

 

He can’t help put laugh, kissing the crown of her head before releasing her from his side and grabbing her hand so that they can finish their tour and show up to the dinner.

 

When they walk in the door to the dining hall, they don’t even have a chance to breathe before they’re ambushed.

 

“Mummy,” Alex squeals, squirming away from where he was sitting with Abigail and Liam on a couch so that he can make his way over to them, pointing at Emma as he waddles over to them, “it’s Emmy.”

 

Emma just hurries her steps up, swooping Alex up into her arms and covering his face in kisses, leaving red marks from her lipstick all over him that he always finds hilarious when he looks into a mirror later (Killian likes to think he wears Emma’s lipstick marks better than Alexander, but who is he to compare himself to a toddler?). She’s his new best friend, and Killian’s not saying that he’s upset that a soon-to-be-two-year-old is ignoring him for his girlfriend, but he’s worked hard for that favorite relative position just to be usurped by Emma in a matter of months.

 

Forget all of the murders and strategic arranged marriages of the past for people trying to overtake the thrown. Emma usurping Killian as Alex’s favorite person outside of his parents is the real royal scandal.

 

“Emmy,” Alex giggles, squirming in her arms as she’s moved on from kissing him to tickling his stomach. “Mummy has baby in belly.”

 

“Really?” Emma gasps, over-exaggerated voice that she’ll use sometimes when talking to him. “Mommy has a baby in her belly! That’s so exciting, Alex! Are you excited to have a new brother or sister?”

 

“Yay, baby,” Alex shrieks, raising his hands in the air and clapping, something his parents have obviously taught him to do with the mention of the new baby.

 

“Yay baby, indeed,” Abigail says, walking over to Killian, Emma, and her son, slight but obvious stomach reaching them before she does.

 

“Alex, darling,” Abigail coos, reaching to take him from Emma and transfer him to Killian, “what did daddy teach you to say to Uncle Killian today?”

 

Alex just stares at Abigail, like he has no idea what she’s talking about, his little face all scrunched up in confusion as he thinks.

 

“Does Happy Birthday ring a bell, Alexander?” Liam asks, making his way over to them from his spot on the sofa, clapping Killian on the back and resting his hand there. Killian’s flinch is barely noticeable.

 

The two of them are not best mates or anything now, as that would be hoping for miracles in a land where those are scarce, but there’s definitely less hostility between the two brothers – at least, on the surface. Killian knows that on top of the talks (talks, yelling matches, hushed conversations with Emma and Abigail in the other room) the two of them have had over the past few weeks, their father also sat down with Liam and talked about some of the changes they’re making and how they’re attempting to be more of a family in private, rather than just being kind in public. Killian hopes that with some work, it’ll be something that actually works out. He hopes that he can have the heart to let it work out because his feelings on the situation are about as messy and as convoluted as one’s thoughts can become.

 

Emma still tenses when Liam’s near, however, and obviously he does as well. She doesn’t make it obvious, but he can see how she squares her shoulders the slightest bit, the way her smile fades at the corners. He can’t blame her. He does the same. But the sacrifices she’s making for him are evident in the way her smile fades from brilliant to polite.

 

Alex gets it now, eyes lighting up as he stares at Killian. “Happy Birfday!” he shouts, just a little too loud, but it’s cute and he truly appreciates the fact that Liam took the time to teach Alex how to wish him happy birthday.

 

Everyone in the room bursts into laughs, clapping for Alex and he just grins, showing off his little toddler teeth in pride.

 

“Happy birthday, brother,” Liam wishes, clapping Killian on the back again, and this feels like the most normal interaction they’ve had in years. “You’re getting on up there in the years.”

 

“Says the man who’s closer to forty than thirty now.”

 

“Daddy old,” Alex adds in, and Emma lets out a series of loud giggles, having to cover her mouth with her hands to contain her laughter. Killian raises his eyebrow at her, silently asking now where did the little lad learn that? She just shrugs her shoulders, mouthing it wasn’t me at him.

 

After all of the happy birthdays are exchanged and Killian’s aunts and uncles and cousins (and second cousins and third cousins he’s not really sure he’s related to) show up at the allotted time, they have dinner, table full of conversation and laughter. He’s not quite sure when the last time he felt this comfortable at a family event was. Maybe he’s never felt this comfortable – and comfortable may be the wrong word, but he’s not dreading every move his family makes, knowing that they’re on their best behavior. But he just looks over at Emma next to him, hands wildly moving around as she tells a story to his aunt Carolyn about what it was like to grow up in America, and he can’t help the grin that blooms on his face. It won’t always be like this, but at least he has tonight to push down all of the dark thoughts that threaten to emerge.

 

It’s then that his father stands from his seat at the head of the table, wine glass in hand.

 

“Good evening, everyone,” Brennan greets, his lips forming a small smile. “Allison and I would just like to thank everyone for making the trip up here. I know it’s a little too rural for some of you.” The room laughs at that, and Emma turns to him to mouth how in the hell anyone could consider this rural. “But nevertheless, I’d like to make a birthday toast to my youngest, Allison’s baby as she still calls him despite Killian’s protests. Killian, my boy, you’re twenty-nine now. At your age I was this unrefined, unmarried man whose mother had to remind him to get his clothes washed before he went on to an event as a representation for Britain. You, on the other hand, are this intelligent, well-composed, brave young man who understands more about life and love than I think I ever have. To see you come into your own, find a love of your own, especially in the last few months, brings me a joy that I didn’t know was possible. So may you continue to be as happy and as vibrant as you are tonight for the rest of your days! Happy birthday, Killian!”

 

The room echoes with happy birthday, Killian, smiles gracing the faces of people who usually look so stern when all gathered together. His parents are beaming at him, Brennan kissing Allison’s cheek as she wipes away a tear that’s fallen to her cheek.

 

“Happy birthday, Killian,” Mary Margaret echoes, reaching over Emma to pat his arm. “Now not to be nosy, but has Emma given you her gift yet?”

 

“Mom,” Emma hisses, lightly smacking Mary Margaret’s arm, her lips slightly parted in surprise.

 

“What? I wanted to know if he liked it!”

 

“I wasn’t going to give it to him until later.”

 

Emma looks so frustrated with her mother, like Mary Margaret actually gave away whatever this secret present is. She didn’t, and while he’s bloody curious, he can wait until later since Emma obviously wants to give it to him alone.

 

“Oh,” Mary Margaret squeaks, placing her hands on her lap as David tries to hide his laughter next to them. “Well you’ll have to call me and tell me in the morning.”

 

Emma leans her head to her left so that she can rest it on her mother’s shoulder, the two women interlacing their fingers. “I will, Mom. I promise.”

 

The rest of their time there goes well, everyone in that blissful state of being just buzzed enough to let their inhibitions down. He and Emma somehow get roped into having dinner with his parents next week, and Emma’s grip on his hand tightens the slightest bit. The four of them have been trying to spend more time together, them getting to know Emma for the first time and Killian for the second time around – possibly the first if he truly considers it. Despite that, or possibly because of it, Emma’s still tense around them, for more reasons than one. But she handles it as best as she can, and he couldn’t be more proud. She handles it with more grace than he ever has.

 

Later that night he’s lying in bed, reading his book like the old man he now is, and Emma saunters out of the bathroom, clad in nothing but the lacy black bra and underwear she had on under her dress. He doesn’t pay her much attention, trying to finish the chapter he’s on, but then she’s crawling over the covers and onto his lap, knees on either side of his thighs.

 

“Babe?” she prods, nestling further into his lap, and honestly it’s killing him not to buck his hips up into hers, the early friction already enough to send a buzz down his spine. But this is the path he’s chosen to go on tonight for some insane reason. The old age must be making him delusional.

 

“Mhmm,” he answers back, flipping his page.

 

She starts kissing the side of his neck, working at the skin between his neck and his collarbone, worrying a faint bruise there that won’t show in the suit he has to wear at his events tomorrow. Crafty lass she is.

 

He’s got no idea what’s going on in his book anymore. It’s like he’s never read before in his life, pleasure coursing through his veins distracting him. She’s working her way back up his throat, slowly running her tongue across his jaw before she starts nibbling on his ear. He’s just about to give in, to pull her lips to his and her body so close they’re basically one, when she pulls back, propping her hands up on his shoulders and adjusting herself so that her hips are no longer aligned with his.

 

He could groan at the lack of contact. He does groan at the lack of contact.

 

“What are you doing, love?”

 

“Well I was trying to seduce you for your birthday.”

 

“Is this my present?” he questions, fingering the cup of her bra, lifting it so that the top of her nipple is exposed as his other hand runs down her side, cupping her waist. “As much as I appreciate this, and I do plan on appreciating it later, I can’t help but think that this is quite the odd present to have told your mum about. And for her to be excited about it on top of that. I didn’t know you shared about our sex life with your mother.”

 

Her face twists, lips pursing into a scowl. “The only person who gets details on our sex life is you, despite Ruby’s protests now that she knows about you. And this is definitely part of your present, but I do have something else if you want it.”

 

“Of course I do, darling.”

 

“Okay,” Emma tells him, extracting herself from his lap and making her way to the closet. The cut of her panties makes her ass look particularly firm, and he’s really beginning to regret not immediately devouring her when she came out of the bathroom.

 

She’s wrapped herself in her dressing gown by the time she comes out of the closet (he has to hold back a groan at that because damn) holding two wrapped presents that have bows that he’s come to know as Mary Margaret’s specialty.

 

“So Mom doesn’t know about the first gift,” she motions between the two of them before settling beside him on the bed, her feet tucked under her as she faces him, “but she did help me pick out this other stuff. I know we go over this every time we have a holiday or anniversary or whatever, so you know the drill. It’s not super expensive or nice or –”

 

“Hey,” Killian reaches forward to press his thumb against her chin, running it back and forth as he smiles down at her, “and you know that I don’t care about any of that stuff. We do the same routine every year. I think we should probably stop doing it.”

 

She leans down to kiss his thumb, nuzzling the finger further into the dent of her chin as her eyes flutter shut.

 

He loves her so much it’s ridiculous.

 

Emma hands him the larger package. It’s light to the touch, and he puts it next to his ear, shaking it slightly to see if it makes a sound. His father used to do that to presents when Killian was younger, and it’s one of his traits that he got from his father without ever realizing it. Emma hates it, and once she realized he did it, she’s always made sure to never wrap anything fragile.

 

“You can open that one first because it’s the more casual one.”

 

When he opens the box it’s to several new dress shirts, all different shades of blue and white, some with stripes or small dots. He just smiles at her, folding each shirt back into the box before she shoves the smaller box into his hands. Inside are several different sets of cufflinks, ranging from normal black and gold circles to ones in the shape of pizza and martini glasses.

 

“These are fantastic,” he laughs, admiring a pair that are in the shape of umbrellas. She looks nervous, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth, and he can’t help but wonder why she’s so nervous over cufflinks. “Though I do have to ask what went into the decision making for buying these because I feel like you had a purpose behind them.”

 

She bounces a little from her position on the bed, the mattress squeaking with the movement. “So,” she begins, taking the pair of umbrella cufflinks out of his hand and running them between her fingers, “I pulled a you and decided to be kind of sentimental.” He leans toward her with the intention of pinching her side, but she moves away from him at the last minute. “The umbrellas are because it was raining on the night we met. The beer mugs and the martini glasses are because we’ve spent most of our relationship in a pub, obviously. The pizza is because that’s what we had to eat on our first date. Um, it was kind of hard to find other things because I don’t think cufflinks are really made to showcase relationship progress, so I just got the other ones, like the anchor and the initial ones, just because I thought you’d like them.”

 

“I love them, Emma. I love you.” He leans forward to quickly press his lips against hers. “Thank you. I’m going to wear the umbrella ones tomorrow.”

 

“I love you, too. And you are, really?”

 

“Most definitely. Though, if I’d had an umbrella that night we might not have met.”

 

Her face changes then, the nervous smile fading into a frown. “I can’t even imagine, Killian. I mean, can you? What would our lives be like? It’s just insane to think about. It honestly freaks me out a bit.”

 

“I know, love, but we don’t have to think about it. It happened, and now we’re here.”

 

Emma moves to take the boxes out of his hand, placing them on her bedside table (she has a bedside table) before curling up into his side, her head on his shoulder and her hands wrapped around his middle.

 

She’s quiet for a moment, nuzzling her nose into his bicep.

 

“How did you deal with today? With all the family? I thought everyone was good today, but I always just feel so edgy around your dad and Liam. I could tell that you do, too, even if today was a better day.”

 

A sigh passes through his lips before he reaches to pinch his nose, his other hand rubbing soothing circles on Emma’s back. He doesn’t want to talk about this right now.

 

“I’m confused, to be honest,” Killian admits. “It’s like I don’t know how to feel. Father is fine, I guess. He’s really turned things around in the effort he makes to be kind to me and to you, which is what I find to be the most important. He works with me on things, listening to my side instead of just going with his. I appreciate it, truly. But I just don’t know how to feel about Liam. He’s…he’s trying. But sometimes it’s like he doesn’t understand the gravity of everything we’ve been through. It doesn’t matter how many talks we have, how much I say. I think he knows he’s wrong and understands that, but I think he has a difficult time owning up to it, if that makes sense? It’s like he wants to say sorry and just move on without acknowledging things. And sometimes I just become frustrated to such a degree that I need a physical way to express that. I think it’s why I’m running even more now.”

 

Emma turns to nuzzle her head into his chest, kissing the skin there, soft little butterfly kisses that he can barely feel. “Killian, I’m so sorry. I wish I could help in some way. Make things better besides us just talking.”

 

“You already do, love.”

 

“That’s sweet, babe, but a lot of this is because of me. At least the recent stuff. You can’t ignore that.”

 

“Hey,” he reaches to squeeze her side before continuing to rub her back, something that’s probably more for him than for her, “you’ve done not a thing wrong, my love. It’s not because of you. He reacted to you because of the way he is. It’s from a lifetime of living on a high horse and never being knocked down until recently.”

 

“What would make the whole thing better for you? Do you think it’s better to just drop this whole trying to be better toward each other thing and live as you were before? Do you think it’s worth it? I mean, really think it’s worth it to try to be on friendly terms instead of just faking it when you have to? Is that something you actually want, or is it something you’re doing just because you feel like it’s what you should do?”

 

He doesn’t want to talk about this. He’s so tired of talking about this.

 

“I don’t know. I do think it’s better, that what we’re doing is better, and sometimes he and I will be having a conversation and it’s like all of the shit fades away and we’re just normal, you know? But then my brain reminds me that we’re not. It’s almost like, before I didn’t care how bad our relationship was. I had just resigned myself to it being messed up. But now, now it’s like I’m so desperately searching for something that’s just out of my grasp, and it hurts that every time I reach for it, it moves just a little bit further away.”

 

She hugs him a bit tighter, a sure sign that she doesn’t have any words to comfort him, left with just the physical touch that he relies on almost as much.

 

“Do you still think it’s possible to forgive him? Do you even want to? Not for him but for yourself?”

 

“Is it possible to not forgive and still try to move on with him as someone who has to be a part of my life?”

 

“Killian, I’m not sure. That has to be something you decide for yourself.”

 

He means his next words, but he doesn’t intend for them to come out as gruffly as they did, harsh and disparaging, and he knows this isn’t how tonight should have gone at all.

 

“I’m damn tired of thinking and talking about this. It’s like it’s been my entire life lately. As much as I appreciate you trying to help, I’d really rather not talk anymore tonight, Emma. I’d just like to go to bed.”

 

She’s silent at his side.

 

At least she’s still at his side.

Chapter Text

He doesn’t sleep much that night, his mind running all over the place at how he can be both at his happiest and his most confused. He can name exactly how he got here, all the steps and decisions and things he just fell into, but he’s having a difficult time making sense of it all. The conversation he had with Emma replaying in his mind, especially the way his voice sounded at the end, only to be mixed in with visions of his past, all blurring together so that he cannot make out one memory from the other.

 

“Killian, you need to go to sleep,” Emma mumbles against his chest, the smallest glint of her light hair visible in the darkness of the room.

 

“Shhh, darling,” he whispers, running his hand over her back, “it’s fine. I’m fine. You should go back to sleep.”

 

“You have a big day today, though. I don’t want you to be exhausted.”

 

“Baby, it’s fine.”

 

She flips over then, removing herself from his embrace and facing the wall opposite him. “It’s obviously not fine or else you would have fallen asleep at some point. It’s three in the morning, and you have to be up in four hours.”

 

“I just have a lot on my mind. That’s all.”

 

“Do you want to talk about it some more? I know you said you didn’t but –”

 

“Not right now, not anymore.”

 

Emma reaches over to him, hand patting along the bed until she finds his hand, placing her palm over his knuckles. “Just try to get some sleep, okay? For me.”

 

“Okay.”

 

He does fall asleep eventually, somewhere in the realm of four in the morning, and when his alarm goes off at seven, the shrill beeping making him want to commit murder, he thinks that this is what death feels like. When he finally manages to open his eyes, the grogginess making the lids heavy, he realizes that he’s alone in the room, no Emma to be seen. She’s not an early riser, so that rings a few alarm bells in his head. They’re just dull because his head is too bleary to think about anything else but how tired he is.

 

After taking a shower and dressing himself in a navy suit, one of his new blue shirts and umbrella cufflinks, as promised, he makes his way downstairs in desperate need of several cups of strong coffee and something to eat if the headache subsides.

 

It’s there that he finds Emma, sitting on the window seal of the kitchen bench staring out into the gardens that are beside their apartment. She’s got a mug of coffee in one hand and her phone nestled between her ear and her shoulder as she listens to whoever is on the other line.

 

As curious as he is to what she’s talking about, he doesn’t want to eavesdrop on her. There’s a reason she’s down here early instead of in bed, and he tries to convince himself that it’s okay and she’ll tell him in her own time. So he makes his presence known, loudly getting a mug out of the cabinet before pouring himself a cup of coffee out of the pot Emma must have made, just the smell of it making him more awake than he was thirty seconds ago.

 

“Hey mom,” he hears Emma say as he leans against the island, back pressed into the edge as he takes his first sip of coffee, “I’ve got to go, okay? I’ll call you back later. I love you.”

 

He hears the muffled speak on the other end of the line, not able to make out what’s said, until Emma ends the call and gets up from the bench, leaving her coffee mug and her phone behind.

 

“Good morning, handsome,” she makes her way over to him before running her hands up his stomach, settling her palms on his chest, “you look nice this morning.”

 

“Thank you, love. Is everything okay with your mum?”

 

“Yeah, yeah, it’s fine. I was just up early and wanted to talk to her, tell her that you liked the presents and everything.”

 

She’s not lying, but she’s also not being entirely truthful. He doesn’t want to press her on it, though. Not yet. His head is still pounding and frankly he doesn’t have the time before he has to leave.

 

“Aye, they were wonderful.” He moves his arm to show her his wrist, the small blue umbrellas visible there. “See, I’ve got several of my new gifts on and everything.”

 

She doesn’t say anything, just kisses the skin at his throat from his unbuttoned collar, nestling herself into his chest. At least she doesn’t seem to be cross with him this morning. “When are you going to be home tonight?”

 

“Not until late in the evening, after dinner most likely. You’re still going to spend the day with Abigail and Ruby, right?”

 

“Yep,” she answers, popping the p as she unwraps her arms and goes to grab her cup of coffee. “Are you nervous for your meetings? Do you think everything is going to go well? I know this has been your thing for so long. You must be so happy that it’s all coming to light. I know that I’m happy for you.”

 

“I’m thrilled, really,” Killian admits, already pouring himself another cup of coffee, “but yes, also nervous. This is important, and not just for me. For the kids, you know?”

 

A little over eight months ago Killian got the idea of starting a charitable program for children. He spends most of his time supporting some really wonderful charities, often spending his days meeting the people who run them and the people who are helped by them. It’s rewarding work, and with every event that he attends, he learns a little bit more about all of the struggles that people from all walks of life can go through and the ways that good can come out of them by helping others.

 

He’d wanted to start something of his own for awhile, but he could never decide on anything, his mind always circling around having to choose what to do. An idea came to him, however, one night when he was watching a football match. It doesn’t make much sense, how is mind developed the idea, but after meeting with his advisors and a few experts in the matter, he had a business plan for something of which he’s immensely proud.

 

Kidding a Goal: a sporting program for children of all ages to make sure that no matter what their age or background, they can be involved in sports and team experiences. It provides equipment for children whose families cannot afford for them to play sports, as well as coaching, various program scheduling for each sport sponsored by the event, weekly classes for children who cannot make the long-term commitment, and two big events a year that will act as a promotional event for the program in order for more money to be raised as well as just being a day for children to have fun together.

 

It seems like such a simple thing, but one of his fondest childhood memories is his time playing football, and he fully believes the impact it made on him could help others who don’t have his fortune in life.

 

Today is a day full of meetings, finalizing details on their plans before officially announcing its development to the press outside of their headquarters later in the day.

 

Emma’s not technically supposed to come with him to official public events just yet so she cannot come with him today. He wants her there with him, this program is something that he keeps near to his heart, but he knows that she has plans to spend time with Abigail and her friend Ruby after she finishes doing some work for the pub from home (she’s had to stop physically working there because of the crowd), so he cannot begrudge her for not being there for many a reason. Killian’s thrilled that her circle of people is expanding, that she has someone to talk to besides him (and about him for when he drives her mad) when it comes to all of the changes in her life as well as just how her day is going. Though, Ruby’s required a bit of a learning curve to get used to having around. She makes him anxious in ways that no president of a country or prime minister ever has.

 

 


 

 

Killian has been so nervous that he feels like he might throw up a number of times in his life. His first day of primary school had him shaking in his boots – or the loafers his mum had him wear with these ridiculous socks and shorts that had him looking like a child in the 1920s instead of the year 1994 (Emma keeps the picture of him dressed like that on her bedside table, and he hates it). There was the time he first kissed a girl, fourteen and gangly and worried about the fact that he was a bit of a late bloomer compared to his mates. Or possibly the first time his father sent him on a solo overseas trip to China where he managed to accidentally insult at least fifteen different people within his first few minutes of landing.

 

His nerves seem to stem from first-time experiences now that he thinks about it.

 

Most of his nerves often happen around first times with Emma, however. There’s no one he feels more comfortable around, but there’s also no one who has the ability to make him overthink every action he makes than Emma. She doesn’t know she does that (it’s all in his mind). Well, maybe she does, but she definitely didn’t at first. The longer they’ve been together, the less anxious he feels, but there have been times when he thought he would implode just from being around her.

 

He couldn’t be nervous the first time they kissed because he didn’t know it was happening until their lips were slanting over each other and his hand was buried in her golden locks. But he sure as hell was nervous the first time they slept with each other. He can’t explain it now when he thinks about it. He hadn’t been that anxious the first time he’d had sex in general, but a few weeks into dating when their leisurely make out session ended up with Emma grinding into his lap, he suddenly felt both an extreme sense of arousal and like his heart was caught in his throat.

 

He was nervous as hell, but he wasn’t about to let Emma know that. He presented himself with this kind of swagger, confidence that’s unshakable, and yet when Emma lifted her top over her head that day, exposing herself to him, he suddenly felt like the fourteen-year-old lad who’d never kissed a girl before. His body knew exactly what to do, bucking up into her with abandon, but his mind was running all over the place with thoughts about how he didn’t want to, couldn’t, mess this thing up.

 

Eventually he was able to relax as Emma continued to press soft kisses over his body, the sensations causing his mind to blank, but the feeling of nerves never really died down, always simmering below the surface. He wouldn’t find out until years later that Emma had felt the same way, the confession whispered under the influence of spiced rum and heady kisses.

 

So he was nervous then, and he was nervous a multitude of other times. He always wanted to – wants to – do right by her, so the thought of disappointing her would weigh heavy on his mind every time he had to confess an unseemly anecdote from his past or a threatening possibility of the responsibilities she would face should they stay together. His Emma, though, well she had a way of calming him. The kind smiles and the comforting touches combined with her simple outlook on how things work out the way they do, and sometimes you just have to deal with it.

 

So Emma Nolan had the ability to both wind him up with nerves and wind him down to a sense of peace that he didn’t know existed before her.

 

That’s what was happening right now. She is trying to calm him down by peppering kisses across his face and whispering sweet nothings against his skin.

 

Well, for the first few glorious minutes. Then she no longer felt the need to baby him.

 

“You’re being ridiculous. You know that, right?” She emphasizes her point by poking him in the chest, her lips thinned into a straight line.

 

“I don’t think I’m being ridiculous in the slightest.”

 

He was. He definitely was.

 

“You act like you’re about to enter a swordfight with no sword.”

 

“That’s what it bloody feels like.”

 

“It’s just lunch, Killian.”

 

“With your best friend who I’ve never met before.”

 

“Her bark is worse than her bite.”

 

Killian had known about Ruby Lucas for years. She was Emma’s best friend, and while he had known about Ruby for years – and heard enough about the girl to feel like he personally knows her – she had only known about him for a few weeks.

 

Ruby had been rightfully cross (fucking pissed were Ruby’s words) with Emma when she told her she had been dating Killian for the past five years without telling her. Emma had relayed the whole conversation to him when she made the confession to Ruby a few days before their first public date. She hadn’t wanted Ruby to find out from the press, so Emma made sure to talk to her in person.

 

It went…well, it went horribly. Ruby didn’t believe Emma at first. She thought it was some kind of practical joke that Emma had concocted as a response to Ruby’s renewed effort of trying to set her up on a series of blind dates. Emma couldn’t think of another way to convince Ruby that she was telling the truth but to show pictures of them together. After going slack-jawed, Ruby just handed Emma’s phone back to her, mumbled a holy shit under her breath, and walked out the door.

 

The women didn’t talk for several days, Emma’s mood rightfully sour, and Killian knew that it was his fault for their rift. He’d once (and several times after that) told Emma that she could tell Ruby about their relationship, but Emma had been the one to say that she’d rather not risk anyone knowing who didn’t absolutely have to. Ruby had every right to be angry with Emma – and with him. Both she and Killian understood that, but Emma knew Ruby well enough to know that after a few days she’d come around.

 

It ended up taking a few weeks for the two of them to reunite and talk things through, and Killian was more relieved with their renewed relationship than he was with the renewed relationship he was building with his father. That relief turned into nerves, though, when Emma told him that Ruby wanted to meet him.

 

Meeting your girlfriend’s best friend is a right of passage even for someone in his late twenties, and he didn’t want to disappoint. Ruby is a force of nature, he knows that much, and he’d managed to brew a storm with her that was about to touch ground. He’s an overdramatic ass, but this is decidedly worse than meeting Emma’s parents.

 

“You’re being ridiculous,” Emma repeats, running her knuckles across his brow, her tone somehow both stern and soft, a perfect mix of Emma. “She doesn’t hate you. She was just mad that I’d kept something that big from her. I mean, can you even imagine what it would be like to have that kind of bombshell dropped on you? We’ve been on the giving instead of the receiving side of that. You know how she is. She spares no details. She’ll tell me things that range from if she thinks she’s peeing too much in a day to the thought process behind picking out her nail polish color. We share. That’s just us. She only wants to get to know you. I want you to get to know her.”

 

So that’s how he’s ended up here, sitting in Colbert with Emma while they wait for Ruby to show up. If he shakes his leg anymore he may very well start a small earthquake that will ripple throughout London. He can see journalists with cameras hanging from straps on their shoulders already gathering outside of the window closest to their table. Why him eating a sandwich and possibly drinking a cup of coffee was worthy of publications sending out people to take pictures will be something he never understands. It’s not in the slightest, and he’s managed to do it several times before without being noticed. Today’s increased attention most likely has to do with the blonde putting her purse on the table to block the photographers’ shots, though. He’s rarely had people following him with this much rapt and attention, so this is shocking even to him. It’s not going to keep him from finally going out in public with Emma, though. That’s something of which he’s sure.

 

He’s still distracted by watching Emma lower the window shades as far down as she can when Ruby shows up. “Emma, the best part about this boyfriend of yours is that I’m definitely going to end up on instgram somewhere. I wonder who they think I am. Maybe one of Killian’s ex lovers who you two are meeting to keep quiet so I don’t spill scandalous secrets.”

 

Emma scoots out of the booth to hug her friend, her grip tight as she laughs at Ruby’s greeting. The woman is every bit as vibrant and enthralling as he imagined, and even though he knows he’s about to get an interrogation that rivals the actual interrogation his family put him through when meeting Emma, he can’t help but smile at what it’s like to see his girlfriend brilliantly beaming to see her best friend.

 

“So, Rubes,” Emma says when she releases Ruby from their hug, “I believe I have someone who you’d like to meet.” Emma moves to slide into the booth, blocking Killian from getting out of the booth, a move he’s sure Emma did so he wouldn’t do that awkward debate of deciding whether to shake her hand or give her a hug. “Killian, this is Ruby. Ruby, this is Killian.”

 

Ruby studies him for a moment, her lips twisting up into a smirk that has his skin crawling as she slides into the seat opposite him and reaches her hand out to shake his. She’s got a fierce grip, and how can he possibly be this scared of a person?

 

“He’s cute, Ems,” Ruby compliments, a small blush rising to his cheeks even though she’s looking at Emma and not him. “Much more handsome than he looks on television. Though he does blush like a small boy who’s just learned what cooties are.”

 

He can feel the heat growing on his face, and Emma runs her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck to try to calm him down. It’s a sweet gesture, but she’s also turned away from him to muffle her laughter into her shoulder.

 

He’s not about to be out foxed though.

 

“What can I say, lass? It seems that you make me go red.”

 

“Oh yeah? Do you go red all over or just in your cheeks?”

 

Okay, maybe he is going to be out foxed.

 

“Ruby!” Emma squeals, reaching over to playfully hit her friend’s hand.

 

“Oh come on, Ems,” Ruby whines, moving her hair over her shoulder, the red streaks in it doing justice to her name, “I’ve been deprived of over five years of sex information from you. And he’s an actual prince. Like, holy shit. That’s, like…how can I not ask about it? It’s like I’ve hit the jackpot. Or maybe you did. I’m not really sure because you haven’t told me anything, and I’m dying over here!”

 

Ruby’s got her head thrown back against the top of their booth, and her flare for the dramatics has definitely not been over exaggerated.

 

“You can ask about it, but to me later and I’m not saying I’m going to tell you anything,” Emma hisses out, indicating to Ruby to lower her voice. “You can’t really talk about things like that in public.”

 

“Oh, right.” Ruby seems to realize they’re in public and mimics the closing of her lips. But then she’s looking out the window and blowing a kiss to the paparazzi. She’s like if every one of Emma’s qualities was multiplied by ten and put on steroids.

 

Ruby does calm down, eventually, and once they’ve finished their meals he’s actually almost sad that the lunch is over. He knows Emma individually and what she’s like with her parents, but to see her with her friend, sometimes almost unable to speak because she’s doubled over with laughter, it’s like he gets to learn who Emma is all over again.

 

There’s magic in the first time you experience something. It’s like discovering a book series, the way your eyes scan across the pages at breakneck speed only for you to realize that the pages have run out and the words have ceased to appear. Conflicting emotions assault you, both satisfaction at finally having a resolution to all of your inquiries and despondency over the story you engrossed yourself in having come to an end. It’s like there’s this tingling feeling in your throat where the emotions are fighting each other, each struggling for dominance but neither winning out, leaving you in a sense of limbo that you feel from which you’ll never escape.

 

Sometimes, though, if you stumble across the right set of books, you discover that there’s another novel in the series, another set of words to read and another set of pages to flip through, that feeling of newness slightly dimmed but no less enthralling.

 

That’s what it’s like for Killian to see Emma in this new light.

 

He would never change a thing about their courtship. It’s theirs, and it’s worked for them. But if he had to pick just one thing, one feasible, realistic thing, it would have been for Emma to allow her friends to know about the two of them. His status in life and their choice on how to deal with it made her hide a part of herself from those closest to her, and if he could change anything, it would be that so that she never has to hide a part of herself again.

 

It’s why, even if there have been several late nights, heated arguments, and tears from both of them, he’s glad that they’re able to be open about their relationship to other people. It’s been, well, it’s been damn difficult, and it’s not over yet.

 

 


 

 

“I know, babe,” Emma insists, opening up the fridge to look for something to eat. “Do you want breakfast or are you going to get it there?”

 

“I’m going to get it there. I should eat, but I’m kind of head sick right now.”

 

She closes the fridge and places the egg carton on the counter before walking over to him and running her hand over his jaw, her fingers dancing along the line of his stubble in a tender caress that he doesn’t deserve. “You’re going to do great, Killian. You’ll make it through today, and then hopefully you’ll get some sleep tonight.”

 

He turns his head to kiss her palm. “Hopefully.”

 

His meetings go well, long and taxing and at one point he thinks he may finally succumb to his lack of sleep, but well. They finalize a start date for the promotional games to kick everything off for next March, right around the six-year anniversary of when he and Emma first met.

 

Hours later, though it feels like days, he’s standing in front of a sign with the charity’s logo and posing for pictures in front of at least thirty different cameras, flashes blinding him as he answers the questions thrown at him. He thinks it’s going surprisingly well, everything focused solely on Kidding a Goal, and that’s when he hears it, the first negative comment from the press about he and Emma. It’s not that he hasn’t heard the criticism on the news or read about it in the papers. He has. That’s something that he deals with every morning when his aide debriefs him. This is just the first time he’s been witness to it in person.

 

“Your Highness,” a photographer yells out, capturing Killian’s attention, “how can you claim to be supportive of Britain and all that we stand for when your girlfriend is an American commoner with a criminal past?”

 

He wants to respond. Wants to tell the photographer that first of all, Emma has dual citizenship and second of all, she doesn’t have a criminal past. Also, he just wants to say fuck off. Actually, that’s the first thing he wants to say, and also the only thing. But it’s not worth it, and frankly it’s none of the man’s goddamn business, so he just keeps on smiling for the others like nothing ever happened.

 

But it nags at him for the rest of the afternoon, and when he gets home that evening to find Emma sipping on a glass of wine as she watches the television, he can’t help but ask after leaning down to give her a quick kiss in greeting.

 

“Sweetheart?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

She looks so content, relaxed, and he doesn’t want to ruin anything. But he needs to know if his suspicions are correct, and he needs to know if she’s been keeping things a secret from him. There have been a lot of small signs, things that he just looked over as her getting used to the changes, because they talk about everything together, don’t they? But then there was the call with her mum this morning, the one she purposely woke up early for so that he’d be asleep while she had it. She has her right to keep things from him, she doesn’t owe him anything, but he just worries that she’s bottling things up inside. It’s hypocritical, he knows. He’s been doing the same thing, letting out just enough to appease her, but keeping everything else trapped inside.

 

“So, look, we’ve talked about this until our faces have turned blue, and I didn’t want to bring it up again unless you wanted to talk about it but something today got me thinking…I know you’ve gotten used to, as much as you can get used to, the flashing cameras and people everywhere you go, but…” he trails off, scratching behind his ear as he tries to figure out what to say.

 

“But,” she prods, encouraging him to continue, looking up at him through her long eyelashes painted black with her mascara.

 

“But,” he continues, “have you been having them call out a lot of negative comments? And maybe not just the paparazzi. What about just people who you run into when you go to your parents’ or when you go grocery shopping? Today when you went out with Ruby? Maybe even when you go on runs? Just anywhere when you’re not with me.”

 

She doesn’t respond, but the way her face contorts answers his questions without her even having to speak.

 

“You have,” he answers for her as she takes another sip of her wine – more like a big gulp until her glass is empty. “Why haven’t you told me?”

 

“I didn’t want to worry you,” she quietly admits, bending down to pull the throw blanket further up her body to cover her bare legs.

 

“Emma, I’m always worried about you.”

 

“Yeah, but I didn’t want to add to that anymore. You’ve got a lot on your plate right now.”

 

“Love,” he sighs, sitting down on the coffee table in front of her, taking her glass out of her hands so he can replace it with his own hands, intertwining their fingers, “we are a team. We’ve always been a team. Why would you think that harboring all of this on yourself was the better option? Besides the fact that you didn’t want me to worry.”

 

“Because some of the things that have been said have not been…pleasant. But the good has far outweighed the bad, and I know you told me not to say it again, but I really didn’t want you to worry about it. I wanted you to think that I was doing really well with all of the changes because, you know, I am. Most of the time.”

 

She just shrugs her shoulders, insecure smile tugging at the corners of her lips, and he doesn’t know how he was so naïve to think that it had all been going almost seamlessly since the Neal incident, this afternoon’s incident and the family drama notwithstanding.

 

“I just – ” she starts, removing her hands from his so that she can twirl her hair between her fingers, “I really am fine most of the time, but it’s hard, Killian. And I knew that going in. I’ve been doing it because I love you. We’ve discussed it for so many hours that I’m sure it’s actually taken up days of our lives, but talking and experiencing are two totally separate things.”

 

And there’s that familiar sense of guilt that seems to always be in the back of his mind.

 

She adjusts the blanket over her lap before closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, a visible gulp traveling through her throat.

 

“It’s just weird, you know? And sometimes awful. I’m from a small town in Maine where before the scandal or whatever, I could walk around outside in my pajamas and no one would care. Every time I leave the house now, there’s someone watching me. If I go to the grocery store, my face is plastered on the magazines in the aisle. How fucking weird is that? I had to delete all of my social media, but sometimes Ruby will send me things online. Killian, there are blogs dedicated to me, to us. They speculate if we’re engaged based on our damn body language or if I’m pregnant when my belly is bloated or I wear a loose shirt. I have to be careful on what I say or what I do because I can’t do anything without it being reported somewhere. And I know this isn’t new to you, but it’s new to me.”

 

He is a selfish asshole for not talking about this with her more than he already has. They should have handled this better. He shouldn’t have been so naïve.

 

“What else, Emma?”

 

“I can’t walk into my own home, my parents’ home, without people trying to talk to me or even sometimes trying to get into the door. And I know it wouldn’t be that way if the door to the apartment wasn’t actually inside a working business, but it’s still fucking scary sometimes.”

 

Bloody buggering hell.

 

“Have you been feeling unsafe?”

 

“Sometimes,” she sheepishly admits, molding her body back into the couch. “But a lot of the times it’s not too bad. People are nice. They tell me that they’re happy you’re happy, and that’s always so sweet to me that these people who don’t know you care so much for you. And I like talking to them, but then sometimes someone will take it too far. They’ll insult me or sometimes try to touch me. Mom said there have been a few fights at the pub, which isn’t something we’re used to since, you know, it’s mostly been older men just watching sports in the evenings after work.”

 

“I’m getting you security.” There’s no uncertainty in his voice, just determination as he pulls out his phone to call his chief of security.

 

“Babe,” she admonishes as she reaches to take his phone out of his hand, “you can’t get me security. People won’t like that they’re paying for my security because as far as they know, we’ve been together for, like, four months. Also, I don’t need it.”

 

“People have put their fucking hands on you, Emma.” His voice is raised, but he’s not yelling, though he does feel like punching a wall…or maybe some of those people. That wouldn’t go over well. “I’m not negotiating with you on this.”

 

“You’re not negotiating with me on this?” she scoffs, incredulous tone in her voice as she crosses her arms over her chest, and he knows that he’s fucked up before the next words come out her mouth. “You don’t get to make decisions for me, Killian. You get to make decisions with me. What happened to the whole we’re a team thing a few minutes ago? Despite what you and a surprising amount of people think, I’m my own fucking person.”

 

“Emma, that’s not what I –”

 

‘And on top of that, all your talk about me harboring things inside, that’s a load of crap, Killian. Every time we try to have a discussion about what’s been going on, how you’re feeling about it, we get down to the meat of the conversation and then you close yourself off. You tell me that you need time or you don’t know, and I get it, Killian, I do, what you’re going through emotionally. It’s draining on you, but it’s also draining on me. And I love you, so when you hurt, I hurt. But I just don’t know what we’re supposed to do because obviously we’re both holding things inside instead of talking to each other. That’s crap. That’s not us.”

 

“No, it’s not,” he admits, leaning back to increase the distance between them as Emma pulls her blanket further up her body, shielding herself from what he hopes is just the cold. “Emma, I close myself off because I don’t know how I feel. The only thing I’m sure of anymore is you and me, and here we are snapping at each other and admitting to holding things back from each other. It’s like my entire life is up in the air in some kind of weird limbo, and I can’t find my way out. And, god it’s wrong, I know it, but I think I’ve been using you as some kind of anchor. Like as long as you and I are steady and sure, nothing else matters? And that’s not true, I know it. I can’t be wrapped up in just one person, even if that person is you.”

 

He runs his hand through his hair, making it stick up on its ends, and pinches the bridge of his nose before continuing.

 

“Everything I’ve ever known is changing, and it’s changing for what, deep in my heart, I believe to be the better, but I don’t think I’m handling it well. I think I’m struggling, and I think hearing that you are too, that the thing I’ve been avoiding in hopes of it not being true, just made me snap. Darling, the thought of you being hurt in any way, physically or emotionally, it’s like this sharp ache that I can’t handle. It feels like I can’t breathe.”

 

“Killian, the thought of you hurting makes me feel like I can’t breathe. We can’t…we can’t not tell each other things. This morning I was on the phone to my mom talking about how worried I am about you. That’s why I was up early. I know you were going to ask about it, so don’t even protest. I mean, baby, at night when we’re supposed to be asleep I can feel that you’re awake. I can see it on your face during the day, the bags underneath your eyes getting darker every day.”

 

She reaches forward to run her thumbs under his eyes, a gentle caress that makes him wonder if it’s possible to love her more.

 

“I know, Killian, that I should have shared with you that I’ve been having a hard time and have had some scary situations, and I’m up for discussing it with you now, but can you understand why I didn’t? You have so much on your plate, and I didn’t want to add to that.”

 

“You are always my first priority, Emma.”

 

“Killian, sometimes you have to be your own first priority. Put your own air mask on first, so to speak.”

 

Killian sighs, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees and his chin on his palms. His mind is racing, and he needs it to calm down. He can feel water pooling in his eyes, and he doesn’t know if it’s from sadness or frustration. Maybe both. “So if I – if I work on finally expressing whatever it is I’m feeling, how I’m dealing with things, you’ll do the same?”

 

“I don’t think the two things need to be codependent on each other, but yeah. That works for me.”

 

“Can I at least have some rum first?”

 

She laughs for the first time all evening, and even if it’s watery, at least it’s still a laugh.

 

“I mean, this was my second glass of wine, so I feel like it’s only fair.”

 

After a hearty glass of rum Killian settles down on the couch next to Emma, pulling her blanket over to cover his legs as well, connecting them in a way they were separated before.

 

“Okay,” she begins with a timid smile gracing her lips, clapping her hands together before placing them in her lap, “it’s time to talk, my man. Tell me what’s on your mind so that when we go to sleep tonight, we’ll actually be going to sleep.”

 

“Really? You’re just going to rule out another kind of sleeping together?”

Killian wiggles both of his eyebrows at Emma, lips tugging up on one side of his mouth to form a smirk. Emma tosses a throw pillow at him, softly landing on his lap.

 

“The day you stop flirting with me at inappropriate times is the day that I know someone else has inhabited your body. But in all seriousness, talk, Killian.”

 

“Complete honesty, right?”

 

“Complete honesty.”

 

Breathe in. Breathe out.

 

“I don’t think Liam deserves my forgiveness. I think I deserve to forgive him for myself, so that I can move on and be happy, but I don’t think he deserves it. I think he can try to be better all he wants, but I’m not sure that’s ever going to erase the pain from years of my life that he’s caused.”

 

“Did you really think all the pain was going to go away just like that, though?”

 

“Realistically, no. Optimistically, yes.”

 

Emma readjusts her position, turning her body on the couch so that she’s facing him, her lips opening and closing like she can’t get the words out of her mouth.

 

“I know, um, I know that I practically just barked down your throat for you using ‘time’ as an excuse, but do you ever think that that’s the solution to this? I mean, if there is a solution. Do you think that maybe you’re…we’re expecting too much too soon? I think maybe everyone, you, me, Liam, your parents, my parents, whoever, we all need time to adjust. I think we got on the express train when we needed the full service.”

 

“What will that really do?”

 

She shrugs her shoulders.

 

“Give Liam time to grow? Give you time to grow? Killian, the past is always going to hurt if you give it that power. I had one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through thrown back in my face nine years later, and you saw me, I broke down. I broke down because I still felt like that teenage girl who’d just been betrayed by the boy she thought she loved. I was still giving Neal the power to hurt me, so he did. People on the street use Neal’s words to insult me, to degrade me, and if I let them do that, I’ll become someone who never leaves the house out of fear. I’ll let him and my demons win.”

 

“Do you forgive Neal?”

 

“What he did is about as fucked up as you can get. I guess, if you think about it, it’s sort of the same as your situation. Someone who was supposed to love me betrayed me in an unimaginable way. But he never tried to get better. He ran. He never owned up to things. He never tried to get better. He still finds ways to use me for his own benefit. Liam is at least trying.”

 

“But have you forgiven him?”

 

“I’ve forgiven myself for blaming myself for the things he did to me.”

 

“You never have to see him again. He’s not your family.”

 

She cocks her head and furrows her brow as she studies him before answering.

 

“No, your situation is much more nuanced, but I think it might require the same mindset. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but it gives you time to learn how to deal with your wounds in newer, better ways.”

 

He doesn’t really know how to feel, everything still jumbled up inside, but it’s starting to clear the slightest bit, a light at the end of the metaphorical tunnel that’s become his life. He should have really, truly talked to Emma sooner. About a lot of things. He was foolish not to.

 

“So the solution is time?”

 

“The solution is time while actively considering and acting on ways to make things better. Not time where you just push it to the back of your mind where it can collect dust and cobwebs. That doesn’t help anything, babe, and that’s what we both do. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, at least you’ve tried something.”

 

They fall into a contemplative silence, each thinking about the conversation they’ve just had, the words spoken and the meaning behind them. Killian knows that Emma’s got a point. She’s most likely right in her idea. If nothing else, he can’t keep living in his mind like he has been. It’s slowly driving him into madness. And it’s not just affecting him. It’s affecting Emma, as well.

 

“Okay,” he sighs, leaning his head to the side to rest against the cushions, “I’m going to try this out because it makes sense to me. It’s the first thing that’s really made sense to me through this entire process. But I’d really, truly like to talk about what’s going on with you, love, because if you’re in danger, we have to address that. Not just privately but publicly as well. I’d like to talk about that more than anything else. I don’t think I can focus unless I know what’s going on with you.”

 

“Killian,” Emma hesitates, twisting her hair around her finger, “it’s not that big of a deal.”

 

“What happened to complete honesty?”

 

Emma blanches at that, her shoulders curving inward as she tries to physically protect herself from this conversation. Killian cannot stand to see her as a shell of herself, and while he doesn’t want to push her too much, he has to. So he just nods his head, his lips curved into an encouraging smile.

 

“So, basically, it’s sucked,” she begins, eyes downcast as her fingers mess with the threads in the blanket, “and there have been times when I’m scared. I knew people could be assholes. I have firsthand experience with this, but this, this is something else. It’s like people think that because I’m now a public figure or whatever, they have a right to my life. And it’s not just people online writing the harmful articles. We know about that. We’ve been dealing with that with the lawyers or whatever. But it’s these people on the streets. They think they can share their opinions on how I look or where I go. They think they can share their opinions on if I’m acceptable for ‘the crown’ or if what I do…did for a living is ‘respectable enough.’ Obviously you’ve experienced this your entire life, so you understand, but I’m still learning.”

 

She seems to hesitate before she continues, taking in an audible gulp of air before she goes on. His mind is all over the place, trying to listen while also trying to think of ways to make this better, to protect her, a natural instinct that he’s having trouble pushing down right now so that he can hear her with a clear mind.

 

He almost wishes he didn’t hear her, though. He wishes it wasn’t real.

 

“But Killian, I have people follow me. I’ve had several men grab onto my arms or my wrists if I try to walk past them on the street without acknowledging their calls. I have people call me a ‘fucking gold digger’ or an ‘American bitch’ or even a ‘thief.’ I know these things aren’t true, but I’m being harassed and I was too nervous to say anything because I just didn’t know how.”

 

She’s the most composed woman he knows, her steely resolve one of the many things that he admires about her, but that steely resolve can’t hold forever, tears pooling in her eyes now, especially when it comes to things like this. He can’t even hold his right now.

 

“Sweetheart, come here,” he motions his hands toward his body, scooting over on the couch so that he can pull her into his chest, their arms wrapping around each other as she sobs into his shoulder, the tears dampening his shirt. “Shhhh,” he whispers, running his hand up and down her spine, kissing her hair with each stroke, “it’s okay. It’s not going to happen anymore. I’m going to fix it, and we’re going to solve this, okay?”

 

He can feel her nod her head against his chest, the most subtle of movements, but it’s there. He holds her like that for the rest of the night, just staying as a comforting presence, just being there until she falls asleep on the couch.

 

Today has been…a lot. It’s probably more emotionally charged than any day should be. He’s tired of these emotionally charged days. He wants them to be over. He wants to be able to live his life, to go to work, to come home and spend time with Emma, to go out with Emma, to see his friends, to spend time with the people he loves and the people who love him. He’s tired, physically and emotionally, and he just wants to be past this.

 

Killian slips out from underneath Emma and goes to his office, making a phone call to his security team before opening up his laptop and typing out a statement to be sent to his advisor and his father, and then sent out for immediate release in the morning once Emma has given her approval.

 

Prince Killian is fortunate to live a life where he gets to serve the people of his country every day. While some may not see, his life has been dedicated to serving you. He is always thankful for the kind reception and support he receives from you all.

 

He also understands that there is an interest in his personal life, and while he understands this and is happy to share certain aspects of his life with the public, there are some things that cross the line. He is thrilled for the overall kind reception of his girlfriend, Ms. Emma Nolan, but he has recently been made aware of incidents of harassment against Ms. Nolan outside of the negative comments, articles, and television interviews made by the press which the Palace has been working against for the past few months and is quickly coming to a solution as to how to respond to those outlets who go out of their way for private information on Ms. Nolan.

 

Harassment is an issue that affects men and women across the globe, all of varying degrees and all important to discuss, understand, and respect when listening to a victim who is brave enough to share their story. While this is not something the Palace has set a precedent for in the past, it is something they feel the need to address at the behest of Prince Killian and Ms. Nolan.

 

Prince Killian and Ms. Nolan are worried about Ms. Nolan’s safety. He no longer is able to protect her from the outside world, and this deeply disturbs him. She no longer feels safe walking down the street or visiting her parents’ home. She has been forced to resign from her job as it has become too disorderly for her to work in the place where she has been employed for the past seven years, a family business that her dearly departed grandfather founded. Ms. Nolan has willingly subjected herself to the public eye in order to pursue her relationship with Prince Killian, but she has not willingly subjected herself to harassment. It is unfair to her, and it is unfair to the two of them to have this kind of strain put on their relationship when they are just two people who want to be together, like any other couple in the world.

 

He understands that this is unusual, but he felt that it should be said in hopes that the Palace, the press, and the people can all work together to learn to respect the privacy and the boundaries of the lives of others, both of those who are in and out of the public eye.

Chapter Text

“Love,” Killian shakes her arm, waking her up from her slumber even though he doesn’t want to. He wants to let her sleep, but he needs her to read the statement before they release it. He’s not going to make such a public decision without her approval.

 

Together, they said last night. And together they’ll say from now on.

 

“Emma, darling,” he shakes her again, tapping his hand against her shoulder as his other hand moves the hair off of her forehead so it doesn’t keep falling in her face. Her eyelids twitch the slightest bit before she burrows herself into the couch cushions, a sure sign that she’s waking up. He continues to run his hand against her forehead, along the line between soft skin and softer hair, until she turns on her side, eyelids fluttering open to reveal bright green.

 

“Is everything okay?” she mumbles, stretching her arm out to aimlessly try to reach for his thigh in the dark.

 

“Everything’s fine. I just need you to look at something with me, okay? I need you to wake up, sweetheart.”

 

“What time is it?”

 

“It’s early, but we’ll go up to bed when this is finished, I promise you.”

 

Emma ever so slowly rises from her spot on the couch, taking a moment to blink her eyelids to try to wake up and adjust to the light. “What am I supposed to be looking at?”

 

He reaches over to grab his laptop, opened to the document he’s spent the night crafting before, despite his better judgment, indulging himself in another glass of rum. He’s sober now, but he’s damn tired. He needs this whole thing to be put behind him for many reasons, but right now mostly so he can get some sleep.

 

When he hands the device to Emma, her eyes squint as the brightness and the words register with her, her hand reaching up to rub away the sleep. She doesn’t say anything, but he watches as her eyes flicker across the screen, her face mostly emotionless as her fingers move at the pad of the laptop to finish reading, scrolling back up several times as if she’s double and triple checking the words. He’d be nervous if he weren’t so tired.

 

“Send it to your aide or whoever and tell them to release it.”



“Are you sure?”

 

“Yes, it’s good. It needs to be said. I don’t want to have to hide out for the rest of our lives.”

 

“It’s going to change things, Emma.”

 

“Let it. I’m ready.”

 

He takes the laptop out of her hands, immediately sending the email to all of the people who need it before closing it and taking her hand, pulling them both up to lead her upstairs to their room. He doesn’t bother changing clothes, just slipping off his slacks and unbuttoning his shirt, having discarded his belt and suit jacket hours ago, before crawling into bed and wrapping himself around Emma, kissing her bare shoulder before falling into a sleep that he so desperately needs.

 

When he wakes up, it feels as if he’s been asleep for years, the light dancing through the curtains feeling more like it’s burning him than anything else. He doesn’t feel refreshed. He might even feel worse than he did when he went to sleep, but that will happen when you were basically up for over forty-eight hours.

 

“Hey,” Emma whispers, running her hand across his jaw from her position beside him, blonde curls pinned up against the pillow, “you’re awake. How are you feeling?”

 

“Bloody tired.”

 

She chuckles softly, fingers still working their magic against his skin. “That’s the most you’ve slept in awhile. I imagine you feel a tad bit groggy.”

 

He groans, shutting his eyes for a moment before wrapping his arms around her and pulling her flush against his chest, running his hand down her back until it dips under the material of her shirt, the soft skin warm against his palm as he rubs circles over it.

 

“What time is it?”

 

“It’s almost noon.”

 

“That’s still too bloody early.”

 

“You don’t have to get out of bed, but you do need to wake up so you can sleep tonight, okay?”

 

He moves his hand from her back and reaches up to touch her hand, stopping her movements and turning his head so that he can kiss her palm. “How are you today, my love?”

 

She hums against his shoulder.

 

“I have a headache, and I’m bloated. But that’s more my period starting in a few days than anything else.”

 

“Do you want to take a bath to soothe the ache? I know they help you.”

 

“Do you want to take it with me?”

 

He raises his eyebrow. “Is that even a question?”

 

When the water is warm, scalding really, and the tub is full, a honey bath bomb that smells like Emma scenting the room, he slips into it, immersing himself into the water and feeling his muscles almost immediately loosen. Moments later Emma slips in with him, nestling herself between his legs and leaning her body against his chest and her head back against his shoulder, her hair pulled up into a bun to keep it out of the water.

 

So many times in his life this has been an erotic moment, their skin soft and wet and pliant pressed against each other, but that’s not what this is. This is jut a comforting moment for the two of them to have some time to themselves with nothing else beating down on them. He likes to think they’ve earned it.

 

He’s running his fingers across her stomach, the muscles both hard and soft against his touch when she tilts her head to the side and kisses his jaw.

 

“Do you remember the time we first did this?”

 

He presses his lips against the back of her neck and holds them there, content to stay like this forever.

 

“Aye, how could I forget?”

 

“Mom and dad were out of town to visit dad’s brother, and they’d left the pub to Will, his first real test as a manager, Dad had said. And we were just so excited to have the place to ourselves after not getting to see each other…”

 

It had been raining for weeks, the transition from winter to spring not a smooth one, and the two of them had been as frustrated with their schedules conflicting as most people were with the fact that they couldn’t step outside without being splashed with water. But then by some blessing, David had decided to go see his brother in America, and Mary Margaret had decided to tag along with him, leaving Emma behind to make sure that nothing fell apart with Will in charge.

 

Emma had told him that when her parents left, her mum had told her to have fun and be safe while they were gone, but her dad had given her some kind of cryptic message about not letting people who aren’t supposed to come into the building in. Emma and Killian had been dating for nearly nine months, had known each other for nearly a year at that point, and David could still be unsure about Killian spending time with Emma. They were both adults, but sometimes it’s difficult for a dad to let go of his little girl.

 

Killian couldn’t be with Emma during the first two nights of her parents’ absence, but on night three, he had two days off of work, so he was more than ready to slip away from his responsibilities and spend time with Emma.

 

Emma: The apartment door is unlocked, so let yourself in and lock it behind you whenever you get here. xoxo

 

He does just that, walking through the pub and immediately heading for the staircase, switching the downstairs lock before taking the steps two at a time in his excitement over seeing Emma. It’s been a week, and while not long in the grand scheme of things, it’s the longest they’d been apart since they’d begun dating.

 

“Emma?” he calls out when he opens their front door and she’s not in any of the obvious places, the living room, kitchen, her bedroom, et cetera. He knows she’s here, though. The doors wouldn’t have been unlocked otherwise. She can be forgetful, but she’s never forgetful enough to risk someone getting into the house when no one is home.

 

“Emma?” he repeats, dipping his head in her parents’ room to find nothing.

 

“In the bathroom,” he hears her yell, her voice muted through the walls, “you can come on in.”

 

He figures she’s just doing her hair or something, but when he opens the bathroom door in the hallway, it’s to Emma sitting in the tub reading a book, the bubbles she had in there having faded away so that she’s on full display to him, his eyes raking over her despite his attempt not to.

 

He’s already half hard, and he can feel his jeans becoming tighter by the second.

 

“Hey,” Emma greets, titling her head back and motioning him over with her finger, hooking it into the collar of his shirt when he reaches her and pulling him down until his lips are slanting over hers and her hand is buried in his hair, immediately pulling at the strands so he can get closer to her.

 

“Hello beautiful,” he responds when they finally pull apart from each other, his breath heavy against hers as they rest their foreheads together. “To what do I owe the pleasure of you being gloriously naked before me?”

 

Blush used to rise to her cheeks when he’d say things like that, but not so much anymore. Sometimes he misses it, but he likes that she feels comfortable in their relationship.

 

“Honestly?”

 

“Honestly.”

 

“I figured you wouldn’t be here for awhile, and I decided to treat myself, but…if you’d like to join me in here, that would be more than welcome.”

 

She might not blush much anymore, but he still can. His blood rushing to both his cheeks and his cock.

 

“Yeah?” he questions, already pulling his t-shirt over his head, ruffling his hair as the material rises over his head.

 

“Very much so,” she promises, scooting forward so that once his jeans and briefs are hastily removed he can slip in behind her, nestling her lithe body into his embrace, his arms immediately running down her stomach as he begins to press kisses against her neck. Emma’s breath is already catching at the way he runs his tongue behind her ear and the way his hardness is inches away from nestling into her softness.

 

Fuck, it feels good, and all he wants to do is slide into her and feel the way her wet heat contracts around him. But he knows she’s not quite ready yet, so he continues to tease her skin with his lips as she begins to squirm in his embrace. There’s something to be said about foreplay, the soft, sometimes demanding, touches that work you up until you almost can’t take it anymore, the only relief coming from finally being able to slide home.

 

He’s distracted in the feeling of Emma’s skin against his lips, the lukewarm water lulling him into a sense of comfort, when she moves away from him, turning her body so that she’s straddling his lap and melding their lips together in a kiss much deeper than the one he gave her in greeting.

 

Her breasts are rubbing against his chest, hard peaks mixing in with his hair, and he’s missed the feeling of her skin against his. It sets him ablaze every damn time, and he doesn’t think he’ll ever tire of it. If he ever does, if he ever tires of the weight of her breasts in his hands or the little whines she makes when he runs his tongue against hers, hot and slick, if he ever tires of the way her breath hitches when they first join together, her muscles contracting against his pulsing length, or the way her face contorts when she reaches her peak, lips parted as her head is thrown back…if he ever tires of those things, he won’t be the man Emma deserves.

 

“You feel so good, darling,” he murmurs against her lips, lightly biting down on her bottom lip before soothing it with his tongue. “I’m not even inside you yet, and you feel so bloody good.”

 

She lets out the little noise he loves, a quiet whimper that lets him know she’s ready almost as much as her lifting up on her knees to rest over his length, guiding him to her entrance before sinking down on him, the heat of her walls causing a shiver that runs all the way to his toes.

 

“Fuck,” she groans, leaning her forehead to rest against his shoulder as he runs his thumbs against her hips, small circles to distract himself from the lack of movement as she adjusts to him. “Killian, I’ve missed you. I’ve missed this.”

 

He kisses her nose.

 

“I know, darling. Me too.”

 

At that, he captures her lips with his and grasps her hips, helping her lift and then sink back down on him without sloshing the water out of the tub. Everything is heightened this way, the sensation of the water swilling around them as Emma’s breasts continue to rub against him and the feeling of her hot quim surrounding him makes him feel like he’s on fire even if he’s underneath water.

 

Once Emma’s comfortable with her pace, he releases her hips so that he can snake his hand in the small space between their bodies to where she’s moving against him at their hips. He knows the moment he finds her clit with the way she gasps, having to cease the way her hips were thrusting and rest her head on his shoulder.

 

“Is that good, love?”

 

“Mhmm,” she mumbles against his skin, and the fact that he’s dissolved her into a wordless mess with just one flick of his thumb against her clit lets him know that she was more keyed up than he had imagined.

 

So is he.

 

Not being able to stay still any longer, his hardness painful inside of her, he thrusts up into her while continuously thumbing at her bundle of nerves, changing the speed and the intensity based on Emma’s breathing until she moans “fuck just like that” when he’s harshly flicking against her and slowly pumping himself up into her, both of them teetering on the edge before Emma falls first, his name on her lips as she grips his shoulders, nails digging to the point that he’s sure they’ll leave marks tomorrow.

 

No part of him minds.

 

It only takes a few more thrusts, the feeling of her fluttering around him aiding to his cause, for him to fall too, pleasure shooting through him as he empties himself into Emma. He usually only needs a moment to bask in his orgasm before finding his legs again, but today he feels the need to rest his forehead against the crown of Emma’s head while he tries to regulate his breathing and feel something other than the tingling sensation running throughout his body.

 

“Do you think we can do that all the time?” Emma jokes, falling back from him to rest against the other side of the tub, breasts resting above the water and legs tangled with his. It’s suddenly much smaller in here than he remembers it being a minute ago, the porcelain hard against his body.

 

“I think it may be a little too loud,” he looks down to the water on the floor, “and a little too messy to be doing this all the time with your parents around.”

 

“They’re not here this week, though,” she teases, walking her foot up his chest until he snatches it and holds it still against her while he runs his fingers against her ankle. “How long do I have you for?”

 

The inflection of her voice changes from taunting to melancholy in a matter of moments, and all he really wants to do is hold her when he sees the way her eyes are staring off into the distance, right above his head.

 

“Two days, and then I’m going to France for a few days for a dinner and some meetings.”

 

She doesn’t respond. Instead rising from the tub, water dripping off her bare body (damn) before she wraps herself in a fluffy white towel, offering him his own before she brushes through her hair, untangling the strands that managed to get wet.

 

“Sweetheart, what’s wrong?” he asks later when they’ve both dried and changed into pajamas. Emma’s sitting in the armchair in the living room holding her mug of hot chocolate, only now it’s no longer hot, having cooled as she holds it but doesn’t drink it. When she doesn’t respond, he asks again. “Emma, are you okay?”

 

“If I tell you something, will you promise not to freak out or act weird afterwards?”

 

“I promise.”

 

“Sometimes, or a lot of the time really, I think you’re going to leave me.”



Bloody hell.

 

“That’s not going to happen, Emma. I’m in this for the long haul.”

 

“I mean, logically I know that. But then I’ll be looking at you, and it’s like Neal’s face will flicker across yours and I’m seventeen again getting arrested for something I didn’t do.”

 

He doesn’t know what to say, how to handle this, so he just asks what feels right.

 

“What about today made his face flicker across mine?”

 

“It wasn’t really his face but his voice…I’m happy, and it still surprises me sometimes. And it’s like he’s nagging at me about how if I wasn’t good enough for a low life criminal like him how could I be good enough for you?”

 

He’s up in an instant, tossing his blanket aside and taking her mug out of her hands to fold his palm over her forearm. “Emma, my love, I understand how and why you feel this way. We all have our demons, some more present than others, but that particular one is a demon who needs to die.”

 

“I don’t know if it’s ever going to go away.”

 

“I know,” he brushes her forehead with his hand, moving the hair back before kissing her stomach through her tank top, lingering above her navel simply so that he can feel connected to her. “And I don’t pretend that I can kill it. That has to be you, but I want you to know that no matter what, you’re always good enough for me. Better than I deserve, really. I love you, yeah?”

 

“I love you, too,” she confesses without hesitation, the downward turn of her lips reversing into the smallest smile Killian’s ever seen.

 

“I can’t guarantee that you’ll never be hurt because of me, but if you trust me, you’ll have to trust that I’ll never leave you unless you ask me to.”

 

She just nods her head and cuddles further into the chair cushions.

 

“Do you want to eat dinner tonight or no?”

 

“I can order takeout from the Chinese restaurant down the road. They’ll deliver, and I can text Will to get it at the door.”

 

“Sounds perfect.”

 

Once they get their food Emma seems to settle into a better mood, the demons quieting down for a night. It’s nothing new for her to be worried that he’s going to leave her or do something to betray her like Neal did. Some scars don’t heal. We just learn to live with them marking our skin. Sometimes learning that takes longer than you expect, and that’s okay.

 

“I don’t see his face anymore,” Emma admits, bringing him back to the present where they’re comfortably soaking in the tub at his (their) apartment, her neck resting on his shoulder as she leans back into him.

 

“Whose face, love?”

 

“Neal’s. I don’t see his face flicker across yours like I told you I did that night.”

 

So much like back then he doesn’t know what to say, not sure that there’s ever going to be a right response to something like this.

 

“Killian, I love you.” She places her hands over his on her stomach, squeezing them. “This time in our life is tumultuous…we’re – we’re going through things, both individually and together, and I absolutely cannot wait to come out on the other side with you, believe me. And I’m not glad that it’s happening, but I’m glad that it’s happening now, where I’m sure of myself and sure of us. I don’t have the urge to run or think that you’re going to leave me when things get rough. And I know sometimes you think we shouldn’t have done everything the way we did, but if we’d done this five years ago, I don’t think I’d have made it. I’d have still loved you, but I don’t think I’d be able to handle all of this.”

 

He just tightens his hold on her waist and tilts his head so that he can kiss her temple, lingering there and squeezing his eyes shut before speaking against her skin. “I’m sorry for everything, Emma. For every bad thing that’s ever happened to you. I’m sorry for everything that you’ve been going through recently. All I want is to protect you.”

 

“All I want is to protect you.”

 

“At least we’re on the same page,” he chuckles as he holds her the slightest bit tighter.

 

When the water cools, he moves so that both of them can get out of the tub, Emma slipping into his bathrobe while he slides on a pair of joggers and a t-shirt, the dampness of his hair dripping down the back of his shirt.

 

“I’m tired of living in the past,” she admits as she washes her face at her vanity, the white scrub bubbling up on her skin before it’s cleansed off with water.

 

“I know how you feel.” He runs his hand along her back in soothing circles. “I need to do some work. Do you want to come hang out with me in there or do you have your own things to do?”

 

“I promised Dad I’d put in our orders for next month because I can do that from here, so I guess I can sit in your office with you.”

 

They’ve been working for a few hours, Emma having finished and moved on to scrolling through her phone, when the doorbell rings.

 

“Darling, can you go get that?”

 

Emma rolls over on the sofa before making her way out of his office and presumably to answer the door. Killian answers a few more emails, calling his aide to confirm some of his upcoming events, and continues to work on a speech for the opening of a hospital wing he’s sponsored. He keeps waiting for Emma to come back so that they can discuss her security detail more and to tell him who was at the door, but before he knows it fifteen minutes have passed and there’s no sign of her.

 

Curiosity wins over, and he rises from his desk and walks down the hallway, running his fingers along some of the picture frames Emma has put up, until he passes the archway for the living room and sees Emma sitting in one of the recliners, wiping away at her eyes.

 

“Hey, there you are,” he greets as he walks toward her, only seeing that she’s not alone in the room when he’s fully in the room.

 

“Hello, younger brother,” Liam greets from his position on the couch, legs crossed with a manila folder in his hands.

 

“Uh, hi Liam.” What the hell is he doing here and is he the reason Emma’s crying? Killian feels his fists clench and has to reign himself in so that he can at least ask what’s going on before punching his brother. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”

 

“If you’d like to take a seat, I’d love to talk with you about what I was just talking to Emma about.”

 

Killian looks back at Emma for some kind of silent confirmation that everything is okay, and she nods her head as she genuinely smiles, lifting up the right side of her body so that he can slip in the chair behind her and wrap his arm around her waist while she sits in his lap. She pats his leg in a comforting manner before they both look to Liam.

 

“So what were you two talking about?”

 

“I was just telling Emma here that I’m sorry for everything that she’s been going through lately, both because of me and because of the press and the people. I could have helped with all of it, prepared the two of you better for it, and I was too caught up in myself and my life to be the person I should have been.”

 

“How could you have helped with the press?”

 

Liam holds up the folder. “I’ve been through all this before with Abigail. We might have had different paths to this point in our lives, but we can still help.”

 

Liam opens the folder before thumbing through a few pages, laying them out on the table. “So this is basically going to be your lifeline,” he begins. “Killian could have gotten most of this from his aide, but I felt that it would be better coming from me because most of this can get awfully dull when you’re reading through it without the humans who experienced it firsthand.”

 

Emma rests her head against Killian’s and moves his hands to rest above hers, his fingers pressing over her ring.

 

“And Abigail is open to any questions you have, Emma, but she was feeling a bit under the weather today.”

 

“Is she alright?” Emma asks, her body tensing against Killian’s.

 

“Aye, pregnancy is just catching up with her, and she needed to rest. You two will understand one day.”

 

Liam doesn’t give them time to stew in that comment before he goes on. “So I have some personal tips and tricks in here for how to navigate places without bringing too much attention to yourselves, though Killian is already great at that, but it’ll help you, Emma, to know some protocol on top of what you know now. You’re getting security in light of all of the incidents, correct?”

 

“Right,” Killian answers for them.

 

“So you’ll feel much safer because you will be safer. No one is ever going to lay a hand on you again, okay? You’re not going to go through that any longer. We have the ability to protect you, and we want to protect you. Father and I have also decided, as long as the two of you are okay with it, that we’re going to give you the same kind of media protection we get. There will be repercussions for anyone who tries to get interviews spewing nasty information from ex boyfriends or old classmates. What happened with the Neal fellow never should have been allowed, and I’m sorry that you were subjected to that. You didn’t deserve it.”

 

Killian feels Emma take a breath against him, her body rising and then falling back against his, and the emotions are practically radiating off her body. This is a lot to take in for many a reason, but the fact that Liam is here offering his help and talking about how he’s been working to protect them means more to Killian than he can even comprehend.

 

Even if it’s late, it’s appreciated.

 

“Is this all for real, Liam?” Killian questions, kissing Emma’s hair, the scent of honey still lingering there from their bath earlier.

 

“Yes, Killian. It’s all for real. I’d been working on some of this for awhile, but when I got the alert of your statement this morning before it was released, I couldn’t focus on anything else. This life we live isn’t fair sometimes, most of all with the fact that our personal lives are on display, but it’s unacceptable for people to be treating Emma the way she’s been treated. I realize that’s a bit of the pot calling the kettle black from me, but I’m trying. I’m trying for myself, for my family, including the two of you. I’ve wronged you both and even if you never forgive me, which you have every right not to, I’d like to do better by you both.”

 

“Thank you, Liam.” Emma’s voice is soft, quiet like when she wakes up in the morning. “This means a lot to me that’d you and Abigail are willing to help out. It’s been like I’ve been isolated on an island for two with no way out sometimes, and it’s really helpful to know that there’s a way out.”

 

“Of course, lass,” Liam smiles softly at her, nodding his head. “I’d like to talk to your parents at some point about how all of this is impacting their business as well to see if we can remedy that.”

 

“Yeah, uh, yeah that would be great.”

 

Liam rises from his seat and Killian and Emma do the same, Emma tightening her bathrobe where it was starting to come undone.

 

“I’m sorry to come over without any notice, but I’m on my way to Vancouver for the week. I didn’t want to leave without at least having a bit of this conversation. We can flesh everything else out when I return, if that’s what you both want. I just wanted you to know that we’re here for you, even if we weren’t at first.”

 

“That’s very kind of you. Thank you.” Killian almost moves to hug his brother, the temptation building like it never has before, but something holds him back from embracing, well, the embrace. Instead he steps forward and places his hand on Liam’s shoulder, squeezing the skin there. “Have a safe trip, okay? We’ll check in on Abigail and Alex. Have them over for dinner or something.”

 

“They’d appreciate that,” Liam responds, placing his hand over Killian’s on his shoulder, the movement feeling like something’s shifted into place after a lifetime of earthquakes shifting them apart, before removing both of their hands and edging out of the living room. “I’d be best to let you two go. Almost anything you need to know is in the packet, but if you have any questions, write them down for me later, aye?”

 

“Aye,” Killian confirms as he watches Liam walk out of the room, the sound of the front door closing following soon after.

 

When he turns back around, it’s to Emma sitting back down in the chair, legs tucked under her and hand back to swiping at the tears that are pooling in her eyes on the verge of escape.

 

“Darling, what’s wrong?” Killian questions, squatting down so that they’re at eye level with each other.

 

“Nothing, I promise,” her sniffles betraying her. “It’s just been a highly emotional few days, and I kind of feel like I’m experiencing whiplash. But, baby, you just had a moment with your brother. Like, a real live no-hostility-involved family moment.”

 

“I know,” he whispers. “Was it weird?”

 

“It was wonderful.”

 

He stands from his squatting position and leans over Emma, resting his hands against the back of the chair to support his weight as he leans over her to slant his lips against hers, resting their foreheads together when they pull apart so as not to lose the connection.

 

“You’re the love of my life, you know that?”

 

“I had an idea.”

 

He kisses her nose.

 

“You’re the love of my life too, Killian.”

 

“Good, now that we’ve got that established, do you want me to make us something to eat before we go through those papers? Or do you want me to make us something to eat and to put those off until the morning and just live in a bubble for the rest of the day? Because I’m kind of feeling like the bubble.”

 

“I think the bubble sounds like a good plan, to be honest. I really feel like I shouldn’t be reading through important things when I didn’t even bother to put on anything but your robe. Plus, I’m really hungry, and if you’d like to make me some kind of comfort food for dinner, I’d be eternally grateful.”

 

“Good comfort food or your version?”

 

“My version is good.”

 

Emma ends up deciding that she wants mac and cheese, the kind with the crackers sprinkled on top, so he’s busy crushing ritz crackers while she sits on the countertop watching him. It’s as he gets the dish in the oven that he comes up with an idea.

 

“Emma, do you want to go for a drive?”

 

“A drive?”

 

“Yeah, like I cook this and put it in a tupperware container and we just drive? Spend some time together and get out of the house without having to worry about anyone bothering us?”

 

“That sounds like a good plan, babe.”

 

After Killian’s macaroni and cheese is made and they’ve got some sandwiches and waters to go with them, all packed up into a small cooler bag, they make their way to Killian’s Range Rover, him sliding into the driver’s seat while Emma settles into the passenger side, fiddling with the radio until she finds some songs that she likes before pulling her legs up under her and resting her hand on his thigh as they drive off into the busy streets as most people are coming home from work and they’re trying to get away from it.

 

He didn’t have a plan on where to go when he suggested they try to get away for a little while, but as he continues to take turns down different roads he realizes he’s driving to Brighton. If they hit traffic the right way, they’ll be able to get near enough to the water just before the sun sets over the horizon. Sure enough, they’re a bit fortunate, and Killian speeds a bit, but an hour and a half later they’re sitting on the pebbled sand of the beach with hats and sunglasses shielding their faces as they eat the macaroni out of the container and watch the orange of the setting sun reflect across the blue of the water.

 

“This is good,” Emma mumbles, her mouth still full of the noodles, “even cold.”

 

Killian takes a bite with his own fork, chewing and silently agreeing with her.

 

“And you can’t beat this view,” she continues, taking another bite.

 

He looks over at her and the way the sun glints off the curls of hair that trail down her shoulder beneath her hat. She looks beautiful and more relaxed than she’s been in days, and he’s so glad they did this. He must zone out for longer than he realizes because then she’s leaning over and bumping her shoulder into his, taking her sunglasses off so he can see the green of her eyes.

 

“Hey, you okay?”

 

He takes her hand and lays a kiss on her palm before moving up the rest of her arm. “I’m perfect, darling. I’m just thinking.”

 

“Not to be repetitive of, like, our past few weeks, but do you want to talk about it?”

 

“I think we should go on holiday.”

 

“Now?”

 

“No,” he chuckles, bringing her hand to rest in his lap. “I’ve got a lot coming up, especially with all the changes we’re making, and I don’t want to go anywhere that’s not for work until Abigail has the baby. So I was thinking after Christmas.”

 

“It’s not even October, and you’re thinking after Christmas?”

 

“That’s not that far way, love, and we have to decide on where we want to go. I’m thinking someplace tropical.”

 

“No snowy ski resorts?”

 

“No,” he laughs, “I’m thinking white beaches and clear waters and places where I can watch you walk around with sun on your face and a good margarita in your hand.”

 

She bumps her shoulder into his again. “So this is all about seeing me in a bikini?”

 

“That’s a definite perk,” he teases, taking off his sunglasses as the sun has now set and the nighttime ocean breeze is wafting across his skin, “but I think I’d just like to get away with my love in a place where we’re not always being watched. Just you and me. Going back to our basics, so to speak. I think we deserve it. Maybe we can finally go sailing.”

 

“Do you even know how to sail or is that just something you say?”

 

“I actually know how to sail, thank you very much. Our parents taught us growing up. It’s one of Father’s favorite things to do when he gets the chance.”

 

“My father likes to play bar games in his spare time.”

 

“Aye, and he bests me every damn time. You’d think he rigged the darts.”

 

“And don’t you forget it, buddy,” she laughs, leaning her head on his shoulder as he releases her hand to wrap his arm around her waist, pulling her into him, the soft lines of her body molding against his. “Do we have to go home?”

 

“Unless you intend to sleep in the car, I’d say so. But we can stay out here for a little while longer, though you’re likely to get cold in just your leggings and t-shirt.”

 

She sighs against his shoulder, her breath causing goose bumps to rise against his flesh. They stay like that for awhile, just two people mixed among others all across the globe sitting near the water and staring out at the sky surrounding them.

 

They’re not the only people in the world who are in love, but sometimes it feels that way to Killian, especially later that night, when the sun has fully set and stars scatter across the sky as they pull up to the apartment, Emma’s hand interlaced with his as they make their way to the front door. It’s late and he’s groggy, but that doesn’t stop him from lifting Emma up into his arms, her laugh echoing throughout the hallways as she peppers kisses across his face, only stopping when he has to walk up the stairs.

 

He doesn’t bother turning on the bedroom lights, letting the light from the lamps outside flitter through the windows, before gently placing Emma on the bed, soft giggles escaping from her as he captures her lips, so soft and pliant and warm, with his own. There’s something to be said for kissing just for the sake of kissing, the feeling it sends through your body, and when Emma gently runs her tongue across his bottom lip, asking for entrance, he gladly grants it, tangling their tongues together in one of his favorite dances. You just have to pick a partner who knows what they’re doing.

 

He can feel the moment Emma runs her hands through the hair at the nape of his neck, something of which he’ll never tire, and she keeps her hand anchored there while the other runs up his spine, soft little taps of her fingertips against the bone underneath his shirt. They stay that way for awhile, lips moving together, until Emma’s hand leaves his hair to move underneath his shirt as well, pulling up at the material until he pulls back and tugs it over his head.

 

She’s lying beneath him as he stands at the end of the bed, her blonde hair splayed out on the white of the comforter behind her. She’s beautiful. Her mouth is ticked up on one side as she whispers a “come here” to him, crooking her finger and encouraging him to move back down to her. He complies, because what else is he going to do when it comes to this woman?

 

Killian plants a chaste kiss against Emma’s lips before trailing his own over her jaw, the soft whines emanating from Emma encouraging him in his caresses until he finds himself kissing down her clothed stomach, only stopping when she props herself up on her elbows, her stomach muscles contracting, to lift her shirt over her head, exposing the light yellow lace brallette she had on underneath.

 

“You’re so beautiful, my love,” he whispers against her skin, kissing the tops of her breasts as her eyelids flutter closed, his arms reaching behind her to unclasp the lace until it falls loose, Emma shrugging her shoulders so that the straps easily fall off, exposing her glorious breasts to his gaze.

 

“I remember the first time I saw you, Emma,” he speaks into the darkness of the room as he runs his thumbs across her nipples, the pink buds pebbling at his touch as Emma whimpers, the sound shooting straight through him. “You were – are so bloody gorgeous, the curls of your ponytail framing your face and the dark of your eyelashes looking down at me as you told me to get my soggy ass out of the booth.”

 

“I didn’t say that,” she protests, running her hand through the hair at his forehead as he dips his head to lick a flat strip in the concave between her breasts, tasting some of the salt air they exposed themselves to just hours ago.

 

He continues to move his tongue up her body, over her collarbone, and then up the hollow of her throat until he reaches her lips, pulling away just before she can capture his bottom lip between her teeth. “But you were thinking it,” he whispers against her lips, giving her the barest of touches as he runs his hand over her stomach, splaying his fingers over her navel as the other hand twists her nipple between his thumb and index finger, tweaking it until Emma arches her back off of the bed and into his chest. “You looked so frustrated with me, like how dare I walk into your pub in order to get out of the rain.”

 

“Shameful, really,” she teases, reaching her hand into his hair and pulling until his lips crash back into hers, forceful and demanding and not at all the mood he’s going for here, so he has to slow her down, tilting his head to gain more access as he languidly kisses her, nibbling on her lower lip before soothing it with his tongue.

 

“Killian,” she moans, moving her hands so that they run down his back, nails delicately scraping down his skin until she manages to get her hands on his ass, pulling him into her so that he’s nestled into her hips, the thin material of her leggings and of his joggers not hiding how ready they are for each other, “what are you waiting for?”

 

“I am romancing you, darling.”

 

“You don’t have to do that.”

 

“I want to.”

 

She releases her grip on him then, moving her hands to cup his cheeks, running her thumb over the scar on his cheek in the most gentle caress as she gazes up at him with wide, adoring eyes. “You are a wonderful man, Killian. I love you more than anything in the world, and I want you to make love to me tonight, okay?”

 

“Okay,” he nods against her forehead before he feels her try to move from under him, using her legs to encourage him to flip over onto his back.

 

As he splays himself there, his legs stretched out while Emma stands between them ever so slowly hooking her fingers into her leggings and pulling them down down down to reveal that she didn’t have anything underneath, her blonde curls beneath the flat of her stomach enchanting him and causing him to suck in a breath. She winks at him then, her mouth forming a goofy grin that reaches all the way to her eyes, and his love’s ability to be both seductive and playful at the same time never ceases to amaze him.

 

He’s distracted by his thoughts so he doesn’t even realize that she’s hooking her thumbs into his sweats and pulling them down as much as she can before he lifts his hips off the bed to help her out, kicking them off his ankles and onto the floor while Emma is busy kissing up his thigh, her hand running up his length and damn that’s amazing.

 

“Emma,” he moans, trying to contain himself, but the sensation of her lips on his hip and her hand on his cock is too much.

 

“I am romancing you, Killian,” she teases, throwing his own words back at him, and wow has he come to regret them as she crawls up his body, peppering open mouthed kisses against the trail of his chest hair until she’s leaning over his mouth, her folds teasing him at their hips.

 

“Your eyes, even blown black with desire like they are right now,” she whispers, circling her hips above him in a way that has him struggling to keep his eyes open, “are the most gorgeous blue I’ve ever seen.”

 

She touches his face then, running her fingers over his jaw. “I love your stubble, how it’s black with a little bit of red peppered in, and I love when you don’t shave for a few days and it’s full and just the right mix of soft and prickly. I love the way it feels when you rub it against my cheek in the mornings when you’re waking me up or how it feels against the inside of my thighs.”

 

She kisses his jaw, running her tongue behind her lips, and this is torture. Some kind of amazing, pleasurable torture.

 

“I love,” she says, running her hands down his biceps as she sits on his lap, right below where he wants her, “the strength of your arms when you hold me, no matter what the occasion. And I love,” she moves her hands through the hair at his chest, “this hair and how it pokes through the top of all of your shirts. I love the ways that your eyes crinkle when you’re truly smiling.”

 

She rises on her legs and scoots forward, guiding him to her entrance before slowly slowly slowly sinking down onto him, and the feeling of her around him, so tight and warm and wonderful, has him throwing his head back and reaching for her hips just so that he can touch her.

 

“And mostly, at least for our purposes right now, what I love is the feeling of you inside me, thick and full and perfect.”

 

At that, she starts to move, rolling her hips against him as her breasts bounce with each movement, and it feels so goddamn good that he can do nothing but look up at her and mutter encouragements as his fingers dig into the skin at her hips, feeling the bone there.

 

She’s setting him on fire, the slow roll of her hips in the unhurried pace that they’ve been keeping with all evening. But the pace is starting to become more pain then pleasure, so he takes control of their movements, speeding up the pace as he thrusts up into her. She let out a whimper that makes his blood rush out of him, but that’s nothing when she moves to cup her breasts, rolling the already pert nipples with her fingers as she smiles down at him, her hair curtaining her face.

 

He can’t take being this far apart from her, despite being literally connected to her, so after giving a pointed roll of his hips, causing her to throw her head back in ecstasy, he grabs her hips and rolls them over to change their position, his body encasing hers. The way she clenches to keep him from slipping out has him stopping to mutter a “bloody fuck” against her shoulder before thrusting himself into her once more.

 

He can tell that she’s getting close, rising higher and higher to her peak, so he releases her hips to grab her wrists, sliding his hands until their fingers are interlaced above her head. He tilts his hips so that his thrusts catch her clit, and he knows he’s got a good rhythm when her breath hitches and her legs wrap around his backside. He continues to pump himself inside her as he nibbles at her shoulder, and he’s aware of the moment she’s reached ecstasy because her moans cease and her lips part as a tiny sigh escapes them.

 

He can’t help but grin at her, kissing her jaw before snapping himself into her at a furious pace, eager to meet Emma in her bliss. It doesn’t take long, the whole night being wondrous torture that he doesn’t want to end, but it does eventually with him moaning Emma’s name against her skin.

 

Later they’re curled under the blankets, and he’s running his hand over Emma’s stomach, his fingers dancing across her flesh before ghosting over her still bare breasts and finally landing on her hip. Her breathing is steady and deep, and he knows that she’s asleep, has been for awhile, their day and their love making having lulled her into a slumber while he stays pleasantly awake with the feel of her moving against him.

 

He’s said it often today, thought it even more, but he loves her so deeply and so truly that sometimes he doesn’t know what to do with himself. It’s like he cannot physically contain it, always needing some kind of physical or emotional outlet. He moves to brush her hair off of her temple before placing a soft kiss there, checking to make sure that she’s still asleep before whispering, “I cannot wait to marry you, Emma Nolan.”

Chapter Text

In the first week of November Emma spends her days with her parents before the pub opens in the afternoons. Nothing is wrong between she and Killian, but she wanted to spend time with her parents in the privacy of their home simply to take a breath from the whirlwind that is now her life. She also needed to pack up the rest of her belongings to move them to Kensington, but it had been difficult finding a time and a way to get her home without the media circus following her. Once her security team was in place, however, it was easier for her to go places without the immediate fear of being overwhelmed.

 

It is during this time that Killian decides to spend time with his own parents, something he’s been trying to do in a way of getting to know them past the basics of what he’s grown accustomed to. He’s always been closer to his mother, a natural occurrence most likely due to the fact that even when she put the crown above family, he knew she loved him no matter how that love was shown. Even if he’s disagreed with her, he has never doubted her, even when he’s doubted everyone else in his life, himself included. She was his rock before Emma, even in the shakiest of times, and she’s his rock now, when times are on much steadier grounds.

 

When he walks into their home, he’s reminded so much of his childhood and learning that his home wasn’t just a home. It is a part of history in the same way that he is. He’s always saying that his life isn’t a fairytale. It’s not like it is in the movies where he meets the girl of his dreams decadently dressed in a gown at a ball one night only to think he’ll never see her again because the clock strikes midnight. No, instead he meets the girl in a pair of blue jeans in a pub and stays with her after midnight only to have their entire lives scrutinized and criticized and splashed across every front page in the nation while the turmoil at home goes unnoticed by the outside world. But it does have its moments, and sometimes the storm comes to an end.

 

The halls of the palace show the grandeur he tries to keep out of his every day life, plush red carpets and patterned tiles that line the floors connected to walls with gold detailing and high ceilings from which intricate chandeliers hang and sparkle in the sunlight. While other children scuffed the floors and wore down the furniture, he often ran through empty hallways where his footsteps would echo against the walls and make it sound more vacant than it actually was.

 

He remembers growing up and learning which furniture was historical and off limits for playing and which furniture was only made to look historical but perfectly acceptable to be sat upon. He knew who every person who had a portrait hanging in one of the great halls was by the time he was ten, and by the time he was fifteen he knew every secret those people had hidden away from the public. He always found it curious as to why they kept their lives secretive as all he wanted was to get out into the world and be free. It wasn’t until he went and search of that freedom that he craved the safety of these hallowed halls. Even if these are the halls that keep him restrained, they’re often better than the outside world and all of the demons that came with it.

 

But demons can come from the inside as well.

 

He’s supposed to meet his parent’s for lunch, but he finds himself wandering the hallways, his fingers running across the side tables and the marble statues, the occasional bust sitting against the wall under a portrait. Before he knows it he’s in his childhood room, so much less refined than the rest of the palace but more decadent than anything he has in his home now.

 

He knows, though, that underneath the canopy bed with the tufted navy bedspread, far too many throw pillows atop it, there are boxes full of books and movies that didn’t fit with the look of his room. He knows that there was once a television in here, one of the flat screens that were somehow clunky, and that it was hooked up to many a game system over the years that was often the only thing he and Liam had in common when Killian was twelve and Liam twenty. He knows that if you walk into the closet, behind the rack that held his suits, there’s a collection of ships in a bottle he often worked on when he couldn’t sleep. There are one or two on display, but he kept the rest hidden away. If you peruse the bookshelf where the more acceptable books were on display (think less nerdy, more historical), there’s a copy of Anna Karenina with a hollowed out center where he once hid a flask of rum when he was sixteen.

 

He finds himself sitting on the bench next to the windows staring out at the courtyard and how empty it is. It’s so unlike his home, where the private gardens are full of life, both from the blooming plants now wilting for autumn and people milling around without a care in the world. This almost feels like another lifetime ago, even if he last lived here under a decade ago, and he’s somehow found a balance between the demons inside and out and turned the world into a place he wants to be instead of a place from which he wants to hide.

 

Yes, there are still times he must hide, spending more time within the privacy of his own home than without, but that comes with being a public figure of his stature. Once you step outside of the carefully drawn lines of your home and into the open fields, you drop all pretense of privacy and expose yourself to the flashing lights and inquiring minds. Killian’s just glad that when he comes home, it’s no longer to hostility and instead to something much kinder, something leaning on the side of the normalcy that he’s always craved.

 

Eventually he does make his way back downstairs to meet his parents for lunch, sitting in the very dining room where the first blow up about Emma happened, and he hopes that one day this room won’t be tainted with the memory of that day and all that came directly after it.

 

It’s odd to him, the three of them sitting in room where he once always had to wear a tie when now he’s wearing a plaid button up and a pair of blue jeans. If he weren’t aware of all of the emotional and relational changes that have been happening, this would be the most striking evidence of all.

 

That and the fact that he has a text chain with Liam where they speak of things other than just official duties and engagements. That might as well be a glaring neon sign with a speaker attached that things are different.

 

His parents just returned from Scotland for a few days, one of the entire family’s favorite places to visit for official duties, and so they catch him up on old friends and acquaintances and memories of the two of them when they were younger and went on their first tour together. It’s then that he tells them the news that was one of his primary reasons for visiting today, on top of simply seeing them. He’s nervous, even if he knows that they’re going to be happy with what he has to say. He’s nervous because at one point not too long ago, he thought he wouldn’t get to be doing this, that they’d never approve. And it’s more than just his parents’ approval. It’s the approval of his King on his marriage.

 

“I’m going to propose to Emma.”

 

The sound of forks and knifes against the ceramic of plates stop as both of his parents stare at him with their lips parted and their knives in the air. He has flashbacks to the morning where he’d threatened to leave the family, but then he sees two smiles so similar to his own that a sigh of relief leaves his body and causes his chest to heave.

 

“Oh that’s wonderful, my darling,” his mother sighs, getting up to squeeze him so tightly that he cannot breathe.

 

“Aye, wonderful, son. Though it was probably best not to tell your mother. She’s not one to keep a secret.”

 

He cannot help but laugh, knowing that it’s the truth, but he couldn’t keep it from her. She’s his mother, and she’s waited for this moment since the day he was born. Or so she’s jokingly, or not so, told him since he was old enough to date.

 

Killian also feels a weight lifted off of his shoulders. Months ago, if they had said no, had reacted poorly, he would have left the monarchy, left his family with barely a thought. Today, he would have done it to be with Emma, but he would have been heartbroken.

 

“Have you gotten a ring?”

 

“Ah,” he scratches his ear, “no. That’s what I wanted to talk to the both of you about, really. I’ve bought jewelry for her before, but not something so secretive and, well, important.”

 

“So you want to go through some of the family jewels?”

 

“If that’s okay, yes.”

 

“Of course it’s okay, Killian,” his mother absolutely beams. “We couldn’t be more thrilled for the two of you.”

 

He knows it’s the truth, and he feels that weight lifted a little more.

 

“So how did you decide that it was time?”

 

It was Emma’s birthday weekend a week and a half before when he realized she might be ready, that she’s fully coming around to the idea of her new role in life.

 

After the press statement was released at the tail end of September, their world shifted a bit. He and Emma worked with his father and their aides to find her a body guard she is comfortable working with, as it’s vital to find not only someone who is fit for the job but also compatible with the person they’re guarding. He’s grown up with the same group of people around him, so having a tail is nothing new to him. But it’s new to Emma, and she struggled coordinating her plans for the day with someone other than those closest to her. But after another incident involving paparazzi trailing uncomfortably close to her going on a run, she fully understood and appreciated having someone by her side at all times. She’d experienced the dangers of her new life before and had agreed to the security detail to keep her safe, but a part of her still felt like it was unnecessary until that morning.

 

She’s all in on this, on them, but the waters can still get rough enough to sometimes want to jump ship instead of hanging on for dear life.

 

She’d come home covered in sweat an absolutely shivering mess, crawling into bed and staring at the television until he joined her, wrapping his arm around her middle and pulling her to his side so that he could calm her with his touch.

 

“Emma, you don’t have to do this.”

 

“I don’t have to do what?”

 

“You don’t have to live this life. I told you this months ago when most of our hostility came from my family instead of the outside world, and I’ll tell you now that our hostility comes more from the outside world than our family. If this isn’t what you want, we can end it. You don’t have to live your life this way.”

 

“Killian, what the hell are you talking about?”

 

“Do you want to end things between us so that your life can go back to relative normalcy?”

 

“Baby, no,” she turns in his embrace to face him, and she looks so incredibly sad. “Why would you ever think that?”

 

“Because you don’t deserve to go through this.”

 

“So what? You want to break up with me?”

 

“Bloody hell. Of course not.”

 

“Then stop suggesting it, Killian.”

 

“I just want you to be happy.”

 

“I am happy. But remember our agreement? We give the changes time. No expecting everything to get better over night, right?”

 

“Right.”

 

“I’m all in with this, with you and me. Always.”

 

So things are rocky, but not between them. Not really between his family either. While Killian will still be hit with flashbacks of words said against him and against Emma, they’re trying, and that’s better than he could have expected at this time last year.

 

There’s also been a shift in the media’s access to Emma, especially after the running incident. They’ve managed to cut off any media outlet that goes out of their way for private information on Emma, especially those who send photographers to chase after her during private moments. It’s not to say that they’ve solved the issues, because there will always be those who are sleazy enough to do whatever they want for money, but it’s more under control. In the world they live in, power comes from controlling the information released about you. If media outlets are vying to be the company the Royal Family releases their information to, then there’s less opportunity for sleazy behavior because they are all trying to be on their best behavior in hopes of winning one of the coveted spots.

 

Public favor, and Killian hates that he even has to keep up with this but he does, has also risen in response to the two of them showing how serious this relationship is, and people have mostly backed off from the sneering comments to Emma in public. If Killian has those articles of people who don’t restrain from the sneering comments removed from Emma’s debriefing packets, she never needs to know about that or the comments. Ignorance is not always bliss, but no one should be subjected to the crass opinions of people who have no right to comment on their lives, Emma most of all. She’s the strongest person he knows, but even the strongest people have their own kryptonite.

 

They’ve made mistakes in how they’ve handled this situation, but they’re doing the best that they can.

 

September ends and the calendar shifts to October, leaves officially falling and pumpkins popping up everywhere you look. Emma’s twenty sixth birthday is tomorrow, and she decided that she didn’t want anything big. She just wants her parents, Ruby, and his family to come over for dinner. When she tells him she wants his family there, he’s a little surprised, still having to come around to the fact that it’s been weeks since they had any sort of conflict. It’s surprising when he considers the track record of his life, but it makes sense when he thinks about the absolute rollercoaster he’s been on lately. Maybe that rollercoaster is coming down a gentle decline.

 

Thank the heavens for that.

 

Her birthday is busy, Mary Margaret and David coming to spend the day with the two of them and taking he and Emma out for a birthday lunch before the dinner that night. Emma’s got on some kind of long dark floral dress with a sweater over the top, half of her hair down while the other half is in a knot on her head. She looks beautiful, and he’s so glad that even if Abigail has been helping her with clothes, she’s not sacrificing what she’s comfortable with in order to fit in with the, frankly often outdated, dress codes his family adheres to. Leave it to Emma to forge her own path.

 

They go to Rosewood for the privacy of their rooms, and Mary Margaret somehow convinces the waitresses who normally wouldn’t be caught dead singing happy birthday, to sing happy birthday to Emma. It’s the most life the tearoom has had in its history, and Emma’s smile as she laughs at one of the chefs hitting a high note is one of the most beautiful sights he’s ever seen. She’s tilting her entire body back as she laughs, clapping her hands together, and he can’t help but pull her into his side and kiss the top of her hair after she blows out the candles.

 

When they leave the lobby of the hotel the restaurant’s in, Killian’s pleased to see that there are no journalists or photographers outside, just what looks to be a few people waiting to see them outside. He doesn’t mind when it’s like this, just a few people wanting to chat, and Emma seems to take it in stride. He’s not supposed to take pictures with people, but Emma can. So when they discover a young girl is there to celebrate her birthday as well and asks for a picture with Emma, she happily complies, squatting down to wrap her arms around the girl and smiling for the picture.

 

“So are you two going to get married or what?”

 

“Lauren,” the girl’s mother scolds, pulling her back to her side, “you cannot ask her that.”

 

Emma simply laughs, taking Lauren’s hands in hers and then looking back at him and winking before answering the question. “I don’t know, Lauren. I think he’s handsome and very charming, even a little funny. But most of all I think he’s kind. So what do you think? Should I marry him?”

 

Lauren seems to contemplate her answers, even releasing Emma’s hand to put her thumb on her chin to think. Killian suddenly feels nervous over the answer of an eight-year-old girl.

 

“Well, my mum tells me he’s cute.” Her mum looks like she’s going to melt into the sidewalk. “And I think so, too. Plus, he sent that letter about you to everybody.”

 

Emma nods her head, smile still tugging at her lips, “he did.”

 

“And my papa writes letters to my mum before he goes to work in the morning.”

 

Emma nods her head again, looking back to Killian for the briefest of moments.

 

“So I think he sounds pretty good.”

 

Emma laughs, while Killian and Emma’s parents do the same. “I think so as well, Lauren. Happy birthday, sweetheart. I hope your day is every bit as magical as you want it to be.”

 

Emma wraps her arms around the girl, squeezing her tightly, and it doesn’t matter how many times Killian thinks that he couldn’t love her more, he’s always wrong. He can always love her more.

 

He is a sentimental fool.

 

That night the four of them, Ruby, and Killian’s family are sitting in the living room of their apartment watching Alex “perform” a show for them as they let their dinners digest. At one point Alex starts shaking his bottom, and Killian cannot stop laughing because where the hell did he learn to do that? It gets even better, though, when Liam stands up there with Alex and copies his movements. It’s the most carefree he’s ever seen his brother, and in the moment Killian doesn’t feel even the slightest tinge of sadness at everything they’ve been through to get here.

 

He mostly feels a little awkward when Ruby joins in and teaches Alex how to better shake his bottom (I’m just trying to teach him some rhythm, guys).

 

“Killian, why don’t you get up there and join them?” Brennan jokes, heartily laughing as he reclines on the couch, his feet propped up on the coffee table.

 

“If you join them, Father, I think I’ll get up there in just my briefs.”

 

“Well no one here but Emma wants to see that.”

 

Emma and David both throw pillows at Mary Margaret at that one.

 

“I’d like to see Killian do that,” Ruby chimes in from where she’s spinning Alex around in circles.

 

Ruby blocks herself from the pillows by holding Alex in front of her like a tiny human shield.

 

“Liam, this is definitely how you should dance at the Christmas ball this year,” Allison jests, getting up from her seat to pick up her grandson from Ruby’s arms and snuggle him into her lap.

 

“Christmas ball?” David asks. “You guys have actual balls?”

 

“Well, that’s why we need to see Killian in his knickers.”

 

A chorus of “Brennans” and “Fathers” rings throughout the room.

 

“It’s more like a party where we just dress a bit nicer than usual and raise money for the Royal Foundation,” Allison answers, looking over to David while everyone settles back into the couches. “You two are more than welcome to come with Emma. You, too, Ruby darling. I’m almost positive we had added you to the guest list.”

 

“We did,” Liam adds in. “You’re all also welcome to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with us during our private celebrations. But of course you’re welcome to just do your own thing. We wouldn’t want to take away any of your traditions.”

 

Emma looks up at him from her position next to him, and he continues to rub slow circles over her back, inching his hand up under her sweater at one point. “What do you think, guys?” Emma asks, still looking at Killian.

 

“I feel like that sounds like a wonderful idea.”

 

“Emma,” Ruby squeals, plopping herself down next to the two of them, “we have to go shopping for dresses together. I am finally dragging you somewhere in fancy heels and makeup and sparkly dresses. This is basically a miracle.”

 

“I’d like to take you three girls, if that’s something that you want,” Allison offers, her bottom lip pulled between her teeth in the same way Emma does when she’s nervous. “You as well, Mary Margaret.”

 

“Oh you don’t have to, Allison.” He kisses the top of Emma’s head as she leans into him, propping her feet up on Ruby’s lap.

 

“I’d really like to, Emma. I don’t know if I’m overstepping my boundaries here, but I had two boys. I never got to do the stereotypical girly things like taking a daughter dress shopping before Abigail, and I’d like to do that with you as well Emma.”

 

“She’s got excellent taste,” Abigail chimes in. “I don’t know if I’ll make it to the gala this year depending on when the baby comes, but I think it would be a great time.”

 

“I would love that,” Emma admits, softly smiling at his mother, and even if this isn’t a big deal, it’s a big moment.

 

Everyone stays for about another hour before either heading home or to one of the guest rooms. Killian is almost completely sure that his girlfriend won’t be coming to bed anytime soon with Ruby staying over, but then she comes into the bathroom, stripping out of her dress and sweater, before she wraps her arms around his stomach and presses her nose between his shoulder blades while he’s brushing his teeth.

 

“So that went remarkably better than your birthday this year,” Emma laughs before releasing him and going to wash her face, the suds bubbling up as she scrubs at her skin.

 

“In all fairness my birthday was fine. It was just what came after it that ended up being rough.”

 

“Yeah, but you and me, we’re all good now, right? No more secrets and harboring things inside because we’re concerned with worrying the other person.”

 

“Exactly.”

 

He moves across the bathroom to mirror her position from before, standing behind her at her sink and kissing the skin behind her ear.

 

“Whoever gave you these earrings has impeccable taste.”

 

“He’s very humble, too.”

 

“Excellent taste in earrings, in desserts, in women…”

 

“Women? Like, plural?”

 

Killian chuckles against her ear. “No, just the one.”

 

“Well good. I’m not one for sharing.”

 

“I am well aware, darling. You almost bit my finger off for swiping some of the icing off your cake.”

 

“That’s the best part, babe. You know that.”

 

She turns to kiss him, and she still tastes like the icing from the cake when his tongue mixes with hers, soft and slow until he’s lifting her up and placing her on the edge of the counter. Then their lips are moving together at a much more punishing pace, and he’s just pulled her bra off of her to bare her breasts when it happens.

 

“Hey, Ems can I borrow your –”

 

Killian tries to pull away from Emma, but she’s yanking him back toward her and burying her face in his back to help cover her up from Ruby’s gaze.

 

“Oh shit,” Ruby gasps, but she doesn’t even bother to walk away or at least turn around. This isn’t even the most mortifying moment of his life, and that’s saying something. “I just wanted to borrow your face wash. I totally didn’t mean to walk in on birthday sex.”

 

“Rubes.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Why are you still standing there?”

 

“I’m still waiting on the face wash.”

 

He can feel Emma shuffling around behind him before she’s thrusting the bottle over his shoulder. Ruby very slowly walks over to get it, studying him in a way that makes him feel as uncomfortable as Emma must be, before she takes the bottle and walks out of the room.

 

“Two things,” she says before fully leaving, and Killian actually groans in both frustration and mortification, “Use protection because I am too young to be an aunt. And also, remember that I am just down the hall, so watch the noise.”

 

“Ruby, oh my God, leave.”

 

“Goodnight children, and nice rack, Emma. No wonder Killian likes it so much.”

 

Ruby walks away, but her presence is no less evident.

 

“So I’d like to go back to the world where Ruby hasn’t seen you fondling my boobs.”

 

Emma’s walking to the closet when she says this, and when she comes back out she’s got on a t-shirt, hugging her chest tightly to cover herself further.

 

“I’d like to go back to the world where I’m fondling your boobs.”

 

“Killian,” she whines, walking away from him and into the bedroom.

 

He has to take a moment to compose himself, because, well, he is a man, before following her into the bedroom. She’s already snuggled up under the blankets with the television turned on by the time he joins in her, so he simply crawls in as well, resting on his back with his hands supporting his head. She seems to find something she’s okay watching before she turns to embrace him, kissing his shoulder.

 

“Are you okay, Emma?”

 

“Yeah, fine. I’m not a prude or super modest or anything, you know, but I like to keep that aspect of our relationship to just us. I feel like so much else is open to everyone else, and I like holding onto something private.”

 

He runs his hand down her arm before running it back up and playing with her hair, the strands soft between his fingers.

 

“Our relationship is between the two of us and no one else. It’s just us, you and me. I know it doesn’t always feel that way, but we’ve fought to keep this love and I like to think we won, Ruby not knowing to knock on a door notwithstanding.”

 

Emma lets out a small puff of air with her laugh.

 

“I love our families and our friends and I loved today, but I do like just you and me time. I don’t know if that makes me selfish, but I really don’t care. Our lives are crazy, and sometimes I just need our time together.”

 

 

She’s silent for a moment before looking up at him and speaking. “I’ve been taking my duchess lessons from your mom’s secretary.”

 

She looks sheepish, a worry line in the middle of her forehead as her lips turn down. He can’t have that, so he reaches out to cup her cheek, running his thumb along her forehead to soothe away the line.

 

“Darling, why have you been keeping that a secret?”

 

She shrugs as much as you can lying on your stomach. “I wanted to surprise you. In the spirit of complete truthfulness, I also want you to know that I’m working with your dad on preliminary plans for charities I want to champion or start. I know I’m kind of jumping the gun a bit on that but I –”

 

He surges forward to kiss her, the angle a bit awkward, but he doesn’t mind.

 

“You’re a marvel, you know that?”

 

“I had an idea.”

 

“You know you won’t be required to do any of that until we’re engaged or really even married, right?”

 

“I know. I wanted to be prepared because it’s not like we’re going to be ‘living in sin’ forever.” She rolls her eyes at one of the headlines in the Daily Mail from a few days ago that had slipped through his fingers and into her hands. “If there’s anything we’ve learned recently, it’s that things take time. Plus, you know, I wanted to see if they were going to make me walk with books on my head like in the Princess Diaries, even if Julie Andrews is not my teacher. I was really hoping for that.”

 

He laughs before giving her forehead a chaste kiss.

 

“No, but they will teach you how to swordfight.”

 

“Shut up,” she rolls her eyes at him before rolling off of him, “they don’t do that. I’ve literally just been learning how to cross my legs and how to interact with foreign dignitaries.”

 

“Oh, they do. You’ll have to fight in a duel for my hand in marriage against all of the other ladies courting me.”

 

“It’s a good thing I’m a little scrappy then.”

 

He turns on his side so that he can look at her as she braids her hair down her back, something that’s always fascinated him.

 

“I love you more than anything, my darling Emma.”

 

“I love you more than anything, you big sap.”

 

Emma’s phone buzzes then, and she reaches over to pick it up off the bedside table before reading it aloud to him. “Ruby says she’ll cook breakfast in the morning so that my parents are occupied if, and I quote, we want to get it on.”

 

“She’s fiery, that lass.”

 

“Ugh, I know, but I love her.” Emma texts something back before turning off her phone and throwing it to the end of the bed. “I told her to make sure it’s a good breakfast. I did not tell her that it’s my birthday, and I can have sex with my boyfriend if I want to.”

 

“Are you referencing a song?”

 

“Just shut up and kiss me, Killian.”

 

After that Emma was much more open about her lessons, and he learned that she’d been going twice a week while he was away just to ease herself into it since there was no pressure. He joined her a few times because, frankly, he needed to brush up on his own etiquette, and he wanted to be as helpful as he possibly could be. He was always mindful to remember how much Emma is sacrificing to be with him, and everything he could do to help, he did.

 

If he and Emma walked around their apartment one night balancing books on their heads just so she could have her Princess Diaries moment, well, his mother’s private secretary never needs to know that they could be so frivolous in their learning.

 

For days he watched Emma read books and practice her greetings. She had notecards that she’d talk over with him when they went for walks in the garden, watching the leaves transform in front of them as Emma did the same. Most important of all, though, was that even as things change, their cores stay the same.

 

“I’ve always known she was the one,” Killian answers to his father’s question of how he knew it was time to start the process of proposing as their lunch plates are cleared away and tea is served, “but I needed her to be ready first, you know? I once told her that whatever happens between us is as much up to her as it is to me, and that will always hold true. She’s, uh, she’s fully embraced all of these changes, and we’ve been through hell and still come out on the other side. So I don’t know when I’m going to ask, but I’d like to have the ring ready.”

 

Later his mom pulls up a private archive of jewels in the family’s collection, rings that are already made and that he could use as well as diamonds and other jewels that he could use to make a customized ring. He most definitely wants to custom design Emma’s ring, and after a few hours and several phone calls, he’s fashioned several ideas of what he wants designed for her, an oval diamond to be the center with two similar oval diamond’s from his family’s collections encasing it on the side, all fastened together with a gold band made from the traditional gold from which nearly every royal wedding band is made.

 

By the time he’s finished discussing it, it’s evening, and despite how the ghosts of his past protest, he stays for an early dinner with his parents. They do not eat at a dining table, instead, sitting on the couch in one of the casual living rooms and eating broccoli and cheddar soup while watching television. It should be odd, but it isn’t, the dichotomy of the past and present slowly dissipating the more time goes on. His mum heads upstairs early to call her sister, and he’s left with just his father.

 

“Do you know how I met your mother?”

 

“Yeah, you met because your parents ran in the same circles. I believe Grandfather was tired of you being unwed, so he encouraged the two of you to date.”

 

“Encouraged…demanded.”

 

Killian’s head snaps over to his father, and how he never considered this before is beyond him. “You and Mum were an arranged marriage?”

 

“Yes and no. I had a choice between women, as disturbed as that is, and your mother was the only one I had true feelings for. It’s just that we weren’t in love when we married, and the fact that we fell in love soon after is a blessing I’ll always be thankful for.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

 

“You deserve to hear it. To know that we live in a modern world with antiquated rules inside these walls. We’ve come a long way from when I was your age, and the things you’re doing by simply being unapologetically you, that will change this family in ways that it should have been changed long ago. Where we’re a family first, and a monarchy second.”

 

Killian feels the emotion lodged in his throat, and he doesn’t know how to respond to any of this. His father has always held an aura of impassability, steadfastness in his way of life, but he’s finally showing those cracks Killian has always craved.  

 

“I don’t know what to say. Thank you.”

 

“I’m sorry, son, for ever even considering that the woman you love was not worthy of you or this family. I’ve come to find that we’re not worthy of you. You know I love you, right?”

 

He didn’t, but he does now.

 

“I love you, too.”

 

“Your Emma is a marvel, son. I’ve been getting to know her more when we’ve been working together, and I am consistently blown away by her passion and her drive. To understand the battles she’s conquered to get here and to be the woman she is, bloody amazing.”

 

“So you like her?”

 

His father laughs, and he sees himself in Brennan in this moment, their eyes the same in almost every way.

 

“The fact that I ever thought otherwise is the most idiotic thing I’ve ever done.”

 

When he gets home later that night, it’s to Emma mixing what looks to be some kind of batter in a glass bowl in the kitchen.

 

“Hey,” he greets, getting a bottle of water out of the refrigerator and giving her his cheek to kiss. “What are you doing?”

 

“Making waffles.”

 

“Waffles?”

 

“Yeah, Abigail texted me to tell me she really wanted some waffles. And so I invited she and Alex over while Liam is at that museum thing so that we could have breakfast food for dinner, the greatest invention of our time.”

 

He laughs at both the fact that Abigail comes to Emma for when she’s craving things and for the fact that Emma thinks breakfast food for dinner is the greatest invention of their time, but it does sound like a grand idea so he pulls both himself and Emma off the floor to go prepare for their house guests. Little Alexander can be very judgmental over the cleanliness of homes.

 

Abigail and Alex do eventually show up, and when Killian begins to cook the food, Emma shoos him away because I’m perfectly capable of cooking this dammit. He plays with Alex, whose vocabulary has increased tenfold since turning two. They’re just getting into a rousing conversation about how the red blocks are better than the green blocks when Abigail joins them in the living room.

 

“Are those waffles going to be edible because I think I might fall out if I don’t get to eat some soon?”

 

Killian can’t help but chuckle at the concerned look on Abigail’s face as she sits in one of their recliners, feet propped up on the ottoman and hands rested over her belly.

 

“Aye, they’ll be fine. Though I don’t think Emma is your best bet when it comes to fulfilling your pregnancy cravings.”

 

“She eats junk food with me when you and Liam won’t. Sometimes she’ll walk over at random times carrying a box of pastries the two of us definitely shouldn’t be eating, and I think at that moment I might love her more than you do.”

 

Alex has now distracted himself with some plastic cars, running them over the couch cushions and Killian’s arms while he leans his back against the couch and talks to Abigail.

 

“I cannot tell you how much I appreciate you being so kind to her throughout this whole thing.”

 

Abigail looks down at him softly, almost motherly despite the fact that she’s only three years his senior. “Think nothing of it, Killian. She’s brilliant, and getting to know her has been so wonderful that it makes me sad we’ve missed out on so many years of the two of you.”

 

“You understand why we did things the way we did, though?”

 

She nods her head and places her hands on her ever-growing belly while Alex runs a car over Killian’s face. “Of course I do. I went through the circus of what’s it like to marry into this family. I understand that in a way no one but a select few people can. I also know how much of a…let me change this for Alex, donkey, Liam can be. I love him with my whole heart, but he has done and said things neither of us are proud of. Even before Emma came into the picture we were arguing about things, about how he treated you.”

 

“Were you really?”

 

“Yes, and I think that even though we’ve all, especially you and Emma, basically gone through,” she looks to see if Alex is paying any attention before whispering, “hell to get to today, it’s been for the better, don’t you think?”

 

She echoes almost the exact words he did earlier.

 

“I think so.”

 

The two of them are silent for a moment before Abigail speaks again. “So how long do I have to lose the baby weight before you two get married?”

 

He feels like an actual truck just ran over him instead of one of Alex’s toy trucks.

 

“What?”

 

“I mean, I know it’s not really my business and Emma won’t say anything to me, but what’s holding you back from proposing?”

 

What the hell is happening? Has his mum already managed to say something?

 

“Um, no,” he scratches behind his ear, “but I did tell my parents of my intentions today.”

 

He leaves out the fact that he worked on designing a ring with them.

 

“And it all went well?”

 

“Better than I ever could have expected.”

 

Abigail hums, smiling softly at him as she leans down to pick Alex up and rest him on her belly. “Don’t let either of your mums know before you buy the ring and propose because one of them will most definitely let the information slip out of pure excitement. They have a binder full of wedding plans for you two already.”

 

Well, shit. His mum already knows. Hell, she’s helping him design the ring.

 

“You’re kidding.”

 

“Absolutely serious. I found it the other day when we had breakfast with your parents, and I was helping Allison organize her cookbooks.

 

“I feel like I should be surprised,” he laughs, scratching at his beard, “but I’m not.”

 

Abigail’s opening her mouth when Emma walks into the room, oblivious to their conversation. “So it took a few tries, but I think I’ve got the waffles of your pregnancy dreams, Abigail.”

 

“Dreams or nightmares?”

 

Emma scoffs, walking over to take Alex from Abigail’s arms. “For that, I’m taking your baby and keeping him all to myself.” She lifts Alex’s shirt and blows a raspberry to his stomach, making him dissolve into a fit of giggles as they walk out of the room.

 

“Did she just steal my child?”

 

“Aye, but she gave you possibly edible waffles in return.”

 

Later they’re all sitting at the kitchen table, Alex in his highchair, eating what turns out to be the best thing Emma’s ever made. Maybe she’s just been holding out on him so that he cooks for them all the time instead of them splitting it up.

 

“This is good,” he mumbles, taking a bite out of his waffle and waving his fork in the air.

 

“It’s just from a box,” Emma replies, bashful smile on her face.

 

“Well, it’s delicious,” he says, giving her a wink and running his foot up her bare calf underneath the table, feeling the shiver run through her body as she bites her bottom lip.

 

“You guys are disgustingly cute,” Abigail tells them, resting her hands on her almost comically small belly for how far along she is in the pregnancy. “I miss that, the being flirtatious all the time and knowing you can do something to back it up. I feel like a whale.”

 

“Obviously you did something to become like a whale though.”

 

Both Emma and Abigail reach over to slap him.

 

“Mummy whale,” Alex tells them, bright eyes lighting up when he smiles, a bit of waffle falling out.

 

Emma can’t help but giggle, and Killian has to cover his mouth to hide his laugh.

 

Abigail sighs, a small laugh passing through her lips at this entire conversation. “He’s very into repeating things lately. It’s driving Liam crazy, but I know that he secretly loves it. He keeps saying the most ridiculous words just to see if Alex will say them back.”

 

“Yeah, that’s totally explains why I thought he said his own version of bullocks earlier.”

 

The three of them dissolve into conversation through the rest of dinner, and after Abigail has had her waffle fill, they walk she and Alex home, having to stop at the playground when they can’t convince Alex otherwise. By the time he and Emma get back to their apartment and finish straightening up for tomorrow, it’s past midnight and the two of them practically collapse on top of the bed.

 

“I am never eating again.”

 

“You made extras for the sole purpose of eating them tomorrow.”

 

She flips over onto her back and rests her hands over her stomach. “I know. I’m just tired, and you know I get dramatic when I’m tired.”

 

He flips over as well and pulls her into his chest so that her head is nestled under his chin while she plays with the hair there.

 

“Did you know our mothers have a binder planning our wedding?”

 

“Oh yeah, mom kept that a secret for about a page before she asked me if I preferred satin or lace.”

 

“Is this normal or are our mums insane?”

 

“A little bit of both, I think.”

 

They’re silent for a moment before Emma continues.

 

“Dad said that the new security at the pub has calmed things down, but they’re still thinking about moving.”

 

“Are they still going to keep the pub?”

 

“Yeah, yeah of course. That’s our home. That’s where you and I fell in love. I doubt they’ll actually move and if they do, not any time soon, but I think they kind of miss having a yard, as nice as the rooftop is. Dad had never lived in a city before we moved here. I mean, I guess I hadn’t either, but I was much more adaptable than him.”

 

“Do you ever think about moving?”

 

“To where?”

 

“I don’t know. A house of our own? A house that we build together.”

 

“I love this place, though. It’s got more than enough room, we have a yard, and we’re in walking distance from your family. I know that months ago that would have been a reason to leave and never come back, but is it weird that I don’t want to be far away from the babies and Abigail?”

 

He moves his fingers into the ends of her hair, playing with the strands at the bottom of her braid. “No, I understand. I like it here, too, especially with my new roommate. She’s pretty fantastic.”

 

“Has anyone ever told you that you’re a sentimental fool?”

 

“Perhaps it’s just because I adore you, Emma.”

 

They fall asleep like that, their legs tangled together and Emma’s hand resting on his shoulder while her head rests on his chest, those soft puffs of air he’s so used to now lulling him into a dreamless slumber.

Chapter Text

Emma’s perched on top of the kitchen counter, her bare legs crossed as she shovels cereal into her mouth with one hand while typing on her laptop with the free one. Her hair is all over the place, half of it piled on top of her head while the other half falls in loose strands from where it escaped from its elastic. The black frames of her glasses rest at the tip of her nose and her sweater is falling off of her right shoulder. She looks about as disheveled as she possibly could be, but all he wants in life is for her to be comfortable and to be happy and she seems to be both of those things.

 

“Hey, babe?” she calls to him before eating another spoonful of cereal while he takes another sip of his coffee.

 

It’s his third cup, and loading up on caffeine, especially because of that caffeine being coffee, was probably not his brightest plan if he doesn’t want to be jumpy for the rest of the day. He needs to be calm today, and he can feel the buzz running to all of his limbs. It’s like he’s a damn bee or something.

 

“Mhmm, love?”

 

“Do you have your calendar for the next two months available?”

 

“Yeah, why?”

 

“Because I’m making the schedule for the pub, and I need to know what days my parents need to be available for all of the Christmas events.”

 

“I think my schedule is synched to yours now if you want to just look there.”

 

He goes back to his coffee and his paperwork at the kitchen island while Emma does her own work, and he’s not sure how they got to the point of being a middle-aged couple on a Saturday morning but he doesn’t mind.

 

“Killian?”

 

He hums again.

 

“Where the hell are you going on January second for ten days? I feel like I should have known about that because that’s a lot of you being gone on top of the three weeks in Africa you took over for Liam since Abigail hasn’t given birth yet.”

 

“Shit,” he murmurs, rising from his barstool to make his way over to her and her laptop to see that day on the calendar marked in red when it wasn’t supposed to be marked at all. “That was not supposed to be there.”

 

Emma raises an eyebrow and waits for him to explain.

 

“Remember awhile ago when we talked about getting away for awhile?” She nods. “That’s us getting away for awhile. To Seychelles since I know you’re going to ask. I was going to surprise you for Christmas.”

 

Her face softens, lips pressing back into a sympathetic smile as she leans down to kiss the bare skin of his shoulder. “Well fuck,” she mutters, “I’m so sorry that I ruined the surprise. I didn’t mean to do that. I just wanted to know where you were going to be because that’s a lot of missing you in a short span of time. I didn’t even think that it could have been something for us.”

 

“It’s fine, darling,” he sighs, moving her cereal bowl so that he can lean over to kiss her temple. “We’ll just have to suffer with the fact that we’re going to spend ten days at a private beach villa, just you and me and no work or obligations or invasive family members. It’s bloody torture, really. We’re going to have a miserable time.”

 

“God, I know,” she jokes, winking at him as her mouth ticks up at one side. “Babe, that’s really sweet of you to plan that for us.”

 

“We deserve time for just you and me, yeah?”

 

He leans over to peck her cheek before going back to his work as Emma does the same, pulling her cereal bowl back and taking another bite.

 

“What time are you going shopping with Mum and the girls today?”

 

“At noon, so I really want to get all of this done before then. It’d be finished if someone hadn’t kept me up late.”

 

“If I remember correctly, you came to me and told me that if I’d come to bed you’d make it worth my while.”

She rolls her eyes before closing her laptop and heading upstairs, leaving her bowl on the counter instead of in the sink. He loves her, but she cannot put away a bowl in proper time to save her life.

 

When Emma walks out the front door to go shopping for a gown for the Christmas gala, Killian follows shortly behind her, but instead of perusing through dresses he’s going to greet David at the gates so that they can take a walk through the gardens to let David know of Killian’s intentions with Emma going forward. He’s not asking for permission for Emma’s hand in marriage, as that can only come from Emma, but he looks at David as both a father figure and a friend, and he finds it to be good form to at least let David know what is going on. After all, David has done more for him than he could ever hope to repay.

 

He would talk to Mary Margaret as well, but as much as his own mother cannot keep a secret, Mary Margaret is worse. The fact that she never let he and Emma’s relationship slip to anyone is a miracle in its own right. He should thank her for that one day, too. He probably has a lot to thank Mary Margaret for actually.

 


 

Two months into knowing the Nolans, Mary Margaret invited Killian to dinner with them, most likely not at the behest of Emma or David. He wasn’t really sure how David felt about him at this point, always walking the line between like and dislike. Actually, he wasn’t too sure of how Emma felt about him at this point either. All he knew is that he was smitten with her – how could he not be – and they were friends of a sort. No, definitely friends. He was going to go with definitely friends.

 

He tried to decline the dinner invitation. He really did, fiercely protesting the kind gesture, but Mary Margaret can guilt you into anything with a kind smile and the promise of some kind of chicken dish that comes with fried onions and mashed potatoes and everything he’s ever liked about visiting America. Mary Margaret may be a Brit at heart, but she’d spent enough time in America to pick up on their way of cooking. He didn’t miss the look Emma shot her mom when Mary Margaret invited him to dinner, and that may have been a reason he didn’t actually try too hard to decline. Why not piss off the girl you like? That always seems like a solid plan. Foolproof, really.

 

So that’s how he’s ended up here, helping Mary Margaret cook while Emma and David watch a tennis match on the television a few feet away.

 

“So where’d you learn to cook, Killian?” Mary Margaret questions as she rolls the chicken in the batter, Frank Sinatra playing softly in the background mixed with squeaking sneakers.

 

“My father actually. His mum would always try to make him eat healthily growing up, and rightfully so, but he tended to want things that trended more toward comfort food than anything else. So if he wanted it, he had to cook it. And he passed that down to his children.”

 

Mary Margaret hesitates for a moment, stopping her preparations before finally deciding on saying whatever it is she’s thinking. She looks so much like Emma when thinking, the scrunch of her nose and the twist of her lips, that he wonders if she got anything from David but his hair coloring and his ability to scare Killian witless with one look.

 

“Not to pry because I’ve been lectured by both David and Emma about this, but don’t you have chefs? Couldn’t they have cooked for him?”

 

He laughs, mostly because he’s imagining Mary Margaret being chastised by her daughter for asking him questions about his personal life when Emma does that very same thing but in her own Emma way.

 

“Aye,” he answers, peeling a potato because Mary Margaret Nolan does not do things halfway and doesn’t just buy the instant version, “but we tend not to use them but for on days where we’re busy or if we have guests. Plus, I like to think that even though my family definitely does a few…not normal things, we tend to stray on the side of normalcy. We have our own sets of issues. They’re often just different issues.”

 

There’s no need for him to delve into his family’s real issues with Mary Margaret, but a part of him obviously wants to talk about it because he vaguely mentioned it, baiting the line so to speak. No matter, he mostly still hopes that Mary Margaret doesn’t press further. He feels like she could get him to spill all of his secrets with one kind smile. After all, that’s how she got him here.

 

“Well I think you’re a very well rounded young man,” she compliments, and he swears that he doesn’t blush. “Very handsome, too. It’s no wonder that Emma –”

 

He’s very (see: extremely) curious as to how Mary Margaret was going to finish that sentence, but then Emma’s practically sprinting into the kitchen and yanking on his forearm, pulling him into the hallway as she mumbles something to her mum about needing Killian in the other room.

 

“So you need me,” he teases, stepping into her space from where she’s leaning against the wall very obviously trying to regulate her breathing and to get the blush to disappear from her cheeks.

 

“No, I just needed you in the other room.”

 

“And why’s that?” He looks around, tapping his chin. “I don’t see anything in this hallway that is of importance.”

 

“I was just going to ask you, ah,” she’s looking around the hallway now, and he’s a smug bastard because Emma most definitely pulled him out of the kitchen because her mum was about to share something Emma didn’t want shared. So he steps a little further into her space, testing the boundaries of whatever it is they’ve got going on.

 

“You were going to ask me what?”

 

“Oh, um, we’re thinking about repainting the pub, and as a valued patron, I wanted to ask your opinion.”

 

They’re so close now, his breath intermingling with hers, and if he was a bit braver and more sure of how Emma felt about him, he’d close the space without hesitation, bringing their lips together in an embrace that he so desires. But he’s not sure, so he continues to tease, just lingering right out of reach, and he swears he can hear her heartbeat, maybe even feel it. He hopes that’s a good sign.

 

“So you need to ask me…away from your mother…in the hallway?”

 

She rolls her eyes.

 

“I didn’t want you to be influenced by her opinion.”

 

For someone who is able to read him so well, she is a bloody horrendous liar.

 

“Aye, and it had nothing to do with me having a conversation with your mother that may have been leading to something you didn’t want me to hear?”

 

“Exactly. I just needed your opinion on painting. You seem like a guy who’s got good taste…in paint colors.”

 

Killian hums, suppressing a laugh because as comical as this whole thing is, Emma’s very obviously flustered, her cheeks flushed and her eyes nervously darting around like she’s trying to figure out an escape plan for a situation she’s put herself in. This dinner with the Nolans is already better than he expected it to be.

 

“I think, Emma,” he begins, backing up to give her more space so that she’s comfortable with him while he taps his chin again, “that everything down in that pub is perfect just the way it is.”

 

“Oh, um,” she stutters, stepping to the left so that she’s straddling the archway between the hallway and their living area, “great. Thanks. We’ll take that into consideration.”

 

And then she’s scurrying into the other room, and he’s left standing there thinking that Mary Margaret was definitely about to tell him that her daughter thinks he’s handsome. Which means not only does she find him handsome but that Emma talks about him with her mum. He’s not even going to pretend to hide how much joy that brings him.

 

Killian makes his way back into the kitchen with an ear-to-ear grin gracing his face only to discover that Mary Margaret has finished all of her prep work for dinner and no longer needs his help. How long were they in the other room? Nevertheless, if they’re all finished in the kitchen, he and Mary Margaret find themselves in the living room with David and Emma.

 

Mary Margaret was definitely an awesome wing woman to her friends when she was younger because she sits down on the couch and stretches out so that the only other seat is next to Emma on the loveseat. He swears Mary Margaret winks at him, but that could have been a figment of his imagination.

 

It wasn’t.

 

When he sits, his thighs touch Emma’s, and he feels a bit like he did when he had his first crush, thrilled by the slightest touch and terrified of everything else. She doesn’t try to move away from him, though she does make a pointed effort not to move any closer. So he doesn’t take it as a win, but he definitely doesn’t take it as a loss.

 

The four of them finish watching the match before eating dinner, and he’s not one to make what could be construed as erotic noises while eating, but damn it is good. He wishes that every meal he ate was that good if he’s honest with himself, but then he’d have to go for more runs.

 

Killian tries to excuse himself from their apartment after dinner, but Mary Margaret, who is quickly becoming his second favorite Nolan (he’s not going to downgrade Emma so sorry David), invites him to watch a movie with them. He’s not one to shy away from watching a movie with parents, but he does find himself squirming a bit every time Mary Margaret, pure as the driven snow, laughs at an inappropriate joke, which is basically the entirety of Twenty-One Jump Street. Nothing compares, though, to the look on Emma’s face when her parents make a joke about their sex lives. He thinks she might melt into the couch and never come back.

 

“You alright there, love?” he whispers into her hair from his position next to her (thanks again to Mary Margaret).

 

“Mortified that my mom just made a joke about getting it on with my dad, but yeah, sure. Fine.”

 

He wants nothing more than to wrap his arm around her shoulder and kiss her hair, but he can’t do that. So he takes what he can get and softly laughs at her mortification.

 

“Your parents are young, love. They probably still have…desires.”

 

He wiggles his eyebrows, and he knows she’s going to slap his chest before she does.

 

“Shut up,” she hisses, but he’s pretty pleased with himself, stifling a laugh but not his smile as he leans back into the cushions and crosses his legs over the ottoman in front of them. She does the same, lightly tapping her feet against his in silent acknowledgement that she’s not actually frustrated with him. And if she continues to tap his feet with hers for the rest of the night, he doesn’t complain. He just grins.

 

That night he falls asleep in the Nolan’s apartment for the second time after that night he and Emma stayed up talking down in the pub and she let him sleep on the couch. Except this time he’s not by himself because when he wakes up in the middle of the night to try to figure out where it is he’s fallen asleep, he finds Emma sleeping on his shoulder, soft little puffs of air coming out onto his neck. He can’t help but smile at how he’s ended up here, and when he notices that they’ve got a blanket over them, he just knows that was all Mary Margaret.

 

It’s a good night.

 


 

David is leaning on the inside of the gates talking to Arthur from security when Killian finds him.

 

“Hello Dave, Arthur,” Killian greets, clapping David on the back without hesitation. “How are you doing today, Arthur?”

 

“Well, your Highness.” Killian can see the way David grins at that, and if anyone is going to tease him for his title besides Emma, it’s going to be her father. “And you today?”

 

“I’ll have to tell you the answer that later,” Killian jests, “don’t be letting riff raff like this inside in the future, yeah?” Killian winks at Arthur while urging David away from the security building and through the archways that lead to the gardens.

 

“So I’m riff raff now?” David prods as Killian continues to guide him through the grounds until they reach the private gardens. He would take David back to the apartment, but he doesn’t think he can sit down for this. He’s on edge, that earlier coffee definitely not helping, even if he knows he has nothing to worry about.

 

“Eh,” he moves to scratch at his beard, “I’m just going to cut to the chase because I’m assuming you’re not dull enough to think I simply invited you here to hang out.”

 

“What? I thought you and I were going to drink a few beers and watch some American football.”

 

A small puff of air passes through Killian’s lips as he laughs. He can’t really look at David, instead watching as he kicks rocks on their path.

 

“I feel like first off,” Killian begins, watching a pebble skip across the ground to a hedge, “I must apologize for all of the torment I’ve put your family through. Not just in the past few months, though I know it’s probably been the craziest few months of your life, but over the past five years. You and Mary Margaret have been parents to me when I felt like I didn’t have parents of my own, and I don’t know how I can ever repay you for that.”

 

“Killian, do you want to sit down for this?”

 

“Not really.”

 

David sighs before he smiles at Killian, and this is not really going how Killian wanted. He wanted to be brave, courageous, and not so goddamn nervous that he cannot even sit down.

 

“I just…” Killian runs his hands through his hair before squaring his shoulders. “I love your daughter more than anything in the world. It’s like I love her so much that I physically feel like my heart hurts, and I’ve put her through hell just to be with me. I’ve put you and Mary Margaret through hell. And I don’t deserve any of you or how much you mean to me, and I didn’t really mean for this to turn into this much of an apology but it did.”

 

David studies him for a moment before placing his hand on Killian’s shoulder and squeezing the bone there. It’s the first time that he’s looked David in the eyes since this conversation started, and all he can see is the kindness this family has continuously shown him.

 

“Killian, you didn’t force us to do this. We wanted to do this for you and for Emma. We knew it would be hard. These things always are. But some things are worth it. Love is worth it.”

 

“You sound like your wife.”

 

“Is that a bad thing?”

 

“No, an incredibly good thing.”

 

They keep walking in silence for awhile before David finally takes a seat at a picnic table, silently urging Killian to join him.

 

“Do you know how I met Mary Margaret?”

 

“Emma’s told me once or twice.”

 

“We went to the same college, or university as you two would say. She was an exchange student, and apparently she had a preferred seat in the biology lab that I kept sitting in. And she’d get so incredibly pissed that I’d sit there every day until eventually she got to the lab an hour early to claim her seat. I didn’t see what the big deal was, so I sat in the seat one over. Eventually I got to know her and fall in love with this incredible woman. And the way I felt about her, feel about her, is the same way you feel about Emma.”

 

“Sound like we both pissed them off by sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

 

“I like to think of it as the right place at the right time.”

 

They both chuckle as the autumn wind picks up, leaves flittering across the ground and covering the once clean cobblestone path.

 

“My daughter,” David continues, “is the bravest woman I know. I have watched her grow from the day she was born until today and seen her go trough things that no one should ever have to go through. All I’ve ever wanted was for her to be happy, and even if you don’t believe it sometimes, she’s happy with you. And though I know she’d still marry you if I said no because it’s really none of my business, I wouldn’t dream of giving you anything but my blessing since I know that’s why we’re really here.”

 

“Truly?”

 

“Of course,” David grins. “You are a part of the family, Killian. Why not make it official? Plus, I always wanted my daughter’s wedding to be televised and watched by the entire world. I look fantastic on camera.”

 

Killian legitimately laughs for the first time in this entire conversation, a real laugh with no worries underlying it, and he can already feel the tenseness leave his shoulders.

 

“If you think anyone is going to be paying attention to you, Dave, you’re out of your mind.”

“Killian, there are articles about Emma Nolan’s ‘hot dad’ so of course people are going to be looking at me.”

 

“I’ll have you know that you should never believe anything that you read online.”

 

“There’s also articles like that about you.”

“Well, those you should believe.”

 

David stays with Killian for the rest of the afternoon because they do end up drinking a glass of whiskey instead of beer and watching football, just not the American kind. It’s nice spending time with just David. There’s usually someone else around, and he’d like to think that he and David are more akin to friends than anything else. After all, Killian has spent the majority of his twenties sitting in David’s living room or drinking a pint at his pub. David’s only twenty years Killian’s senior while his father is forty-two years older than Killian. It makes for a different kind of relationship, even if Killian is dating David’s daughter.

 

Emma walks in carrying a garment bag right after David leaves in order to open up the pub, and while David being there could have easily been explained away, he’s glad that the two of them just missed each other. He likes to consider himself good under pressure, but being good under pressure and being good under Emma’s pressure are two different things.

 

“Hey,” Emma greets after pecking his cheek and putting what he assume to be her Christmas gala gown up in their closet. “How was your day? What’d you do?”

 

He pulls Emma into his lap instead of letting her curl up into the couch cushions. “It was good, my love. Just a day of nothing big, a little work. Went for a walk in the gardens.”

 

“Yeah? You’re such an old soul with your leisurely walks.”

 

“It keeps me young for you. You’re hard to keep up with, Nolan.” He squeezes her side quickly before shifting underneath her. “So you found a dress?”

 

“Mhmm,” she hums, wrapping her arms around his neck. She’s got a new perfume that smells like flowers, and it’s heavenly. “But you can’t see it until the gala.”

 

“Why the hell not?”

 

“We’ve got to keep things spicy in the relationship.”

 

“Bloody hell, Emma,” he chuckles, kissing her temple. “Who did you hear that from today?”

 

“Your mother.”

 

“That is the most disturbed thing I’ve ever heard, especially because she was basically giving you sex advice to seduce her son.”

 

“Allison is a very knowledgeable woman.”

 

The way she wiggles her eyebrows has him chuckling before she peppers a few kisses against his jaw and up to his temple, a sure sign that she’s feeling especially affectionate today. He loves when she’s like this, walls completely down in the safety of their home, and it’s something he’s come to crave even more since they’ve gone public with their relationship.

 

“But everything went well today, though? Any issues with security?”

 

“No, just the normal stuff, and we had extra since your mom and Abigail were with us. I’m the only one who actually found a dress. I’m pretty sure your mom has designers custom-making things for her anyways. Plus, Abigail got too tired and needed to come home.”

 

“Is she okay?”

 

“Just super pregnant. Like, her due date was last week super pregnant.”

 

“Is she going crazy?”

 

“Insane. I think she thought walking around today would induce labor. I don’t know why she would have come otherwise.”

 

Walking around must do something because Abigail goes into labor early the next morning, far before the sun rises, and when Killian’s phone goes off at a quarter until three in the morning, all he can think about is that something is deeply wrong, immediately hitting over to Emma’s side of the bed until he slaps her skin.

 

“Ow, shit, Killian. What was that for?”

 

“I was just making sure you’re here.”

 

“By slapping me?”

 

“Killian,” Liam says through the phone, and when did he even answer the call? “Killian are you there?”

 

He’s far too groggy to understand what’s going on, but it’s Liam on the other line frantically talking to him, the words blurred until Killian manages to calm his heart rate and actually listen.

 

“Killian, have you heard a single word I’ve said?”

 

“I’ll be honest, no. I’m still mostly asleep.”

 

“Asleep my ass,” Emma mumbles before reaching over to put the call on speaker phone.

 

“Abigail is in labor, and we didn’t have the nanny scheduled for tonight, so I need you to watch Alexander.”

 

Emma’s already crawling out of bed and slipping on a pair of pajama bottoms and some slippers. “Babe, tell him to bring Alex by on their way out. I’ll meet him outside because you’re obviously out of it.”

 

“Did you hear that, Liam?”

 

“Yeah, I’ll be there with him in five minutes.”

 

“Okay. And brother?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Congratulations.”

 

Ten minutes later Emma comes back upstairs with a snoozing Alex over her shoulder.

 

“Do you want me to put him in the other room, or is he okay to sleep with us?”

 

He pats her spot on the bed.

 

“He can sleep with us.”

 

When Emma settles back down into bed, Alex clings around her neck, even when she tries to lay him down. She doesn’t complain, though, just rubs the young lad’s back so that he can get more comfortable sleeping in a new place. They probably should have gone to stay at Liam’s, but the best decisions aren’t always made at three in the morning.

 

“Abigail says she’s convinced he’s going to be especially clingy when the baby is born,” he whispers across the top of Alex’s head.

 

“I think he’s already started that,” she looks down at Alex before looking across at him, her eyes hooded with bags growing underneath. She’s tired, and he really should have gotten up to get Alex from Liam. It’s unusual for Emma to be more together in the mornings, especially when woken suddenly. Oh God, he really did slap her in the middle of the night, didn’t he? “Can you believe that they’re going to have another baby?”

 

“Aye. Known about it for awhile now.”

 

If she didn’t have a toddler between the two of them, he knows that she’d slap his shoulder over his cheekiness and maybe a little bit to get back at him for earlier. Instead she reaches across Alex and cups Killian’s cheek, thumb running across the bone.

 

“Do you remember the night you told me Abigail was pregnant again?”

 

He does. He remembers how distraught he was over thoughts of this child growing up in the same way he had. He’d shown up at the pub a complete mess and tried to get Emma into bed instead of talking through what was bothering him. But she’d known him so well, knows him so well, and made him talk about what was bothering him instead of drowning himself in her and in alcohol.

 

“Yes.”

 

“So much has changed since then. Everything really. You and your family are an actual family, babe. A family with issues but also with love. It’s amazing.”

 

“It’s all because of you, Emma.”

 

She laughs, so quiet so as not to disturb Alex in this hushed conversation.

 

“I mean, I was at the root of some knock down drag out fights, so I wouldn’t say that.”

 

“I would.”

 

“Killian, if the relationship you have with your family is better, that’s all you. You fought for what you deserved, no matter how hard it was, and I’d like to think that you’ve got a winning strategy.”

 

He really wishes he had that ring right now. He’d ask her to marry him right now.

 

“I love you.”

 

“I love you, too.”

 

When Killian wakes up in the morning, it’s to an empty bed and for a moment he forgets that Alex was even staying with them. The pounding in his head from the lack of sleep makes him remember.

 

When he does eventually make it downstairs, it’s to Emma stretched out on the couch with a cup of coffee in her hand, a toddler on her lap, and Peppa Pig on the television.

 

“Well look who finally decided to join us,” Emma quips, causing Alex to snap his head away from the television, but just for a moment. First he’s usurped by Emma and now Peppa Pig.

 

“How long has he had you up, darling?”

 

“One or two hours, but it’s okay. Liam texted to let us know that everything is going fine, and they’ve got an outfit laid out in Alex’s room for when you take him to visit if she has the baby today, which they think will be happening pretty soon for how dilated she is.”

 

“Don’t you want to come as well?”

 

“Am I even allowed to go with you?”

 

“Do you want to?”

 

“I mean, yeah,” she confesses, shrugging her shoulders, “I’d like to see Abigail and the baby. It’s kind of like one of my best friends is giving birth to my niece. And I’d like to spend some more time with Alex.”

 

This woman.

 

“Of course you can go, darling,” he tells her, giving the top of her head a kiss.

 

Abigail gives birth to a healthy baby girl within the hour, and while it’s traditional for Liam to come home and pick up Alexander to take him to the hospital to visit his mum and new baby sister, they’ve been breaking a lot of traditions lately, both in private and in public. Liam extending so many olive branches and Killian accepting them has had a lot to do with it. His father, so set in his ways for so long, is actively working for change, and this baby being born will live a better life because of it.

 

For all of the shit that Killian and Emma have gone through, knowing that this child will live a better life because of it makes it infinitely more worth it.

 

After they get the text to bring Alexander to the hospital, Killian walks across the gardens with Alex, dressing him in the outfit Abigail laid out in his room, he brings Alex back to the apartment, the little lad babbling on about his new brother or sister ever since Killian told him that’s what they’re going to do today. They hadn’t told Alex the sex of the baby because they wanted it to be a surprise when he met her. Plus, there was the chance that he would accidentally tell someone who wasn’t supposed to know the gender. It’s not as if toddlers know how to filter their words.

 

When the two of them walk back into the apartment, Emma is sitting on the couch in the living room doing her makeup, products scattered all over the coffee table. Ever since she moved in with him, her stuff is everywhere. He found a bobby pin on his tie the other day. It makes no bloody sense.

 

“Emmy,” Alex yells as if he wasn’t just with her, running over to crawl up on the couch next to Emma, settling in her lap when he gets there.

 

“Well hi there again, my friend,” she greets him, putting her foundation and brush down so that she can give Alex a hug. “Are you excited to go meet the baby?”

 

“Yes!” he exclaims, putting his hands on both sides of Emma’s face, running them up and down where she just put on makeup. “Look like mummy.”

 

“Do I?” she questions, looking back over at Killian to ask what Alex is talking about because she looks nothing like Abigail.

 

“Your makeup, love,” Killian answers, “he sits with Abigail when she’s getting ready in the morning.”

 

“Ah, okay,” Emma nods, turning Alex so that he’s sitting in her lap facing the television. “Well, how about you sit here and help Emmy put on her makeup so that we can go see mommy and daddy and the new baby?”

 

It takes significantly longer for Emma to get ready with Alex “helping” her, but they do eventually get it done. After Emma is dressed in a fitted marble sweater and black skinny jeans, riding boots gracing her feet, the three of them make their way to the Lindo Wing of the hospital. When they’re getting out of the car, Alex asks to walk with Emma, who is obviously his new best friend, and leaves Killian to walk by himself.

 

And it’s at this point that he finally accepts that Emma has swooped in and made herself Alex’s favorite of the two of them. Not that he can blame the little lad. She’s his favorite out of the two of them as well.

 

The press have a field day seeing Alex walking in holding Emma’s hand, all of them calling out questions and trying to get Alex to pose. When Emma picks him up, resting him on her hip and telling him to wave, he happily complies as long as Emma waves with him.

 

As they’re nearing the stairs a photographer yells out, “Emma, why is Alex walking with you and not Killian?”

 

Killian thinks Emma won’t answer, as it’s not the most inspired question and she’s been trained to only answer when comfortable and when the question is appropriate. She’s been undergoing media training at least twice a week, and this is the first truly public event she’s attended. He knows she’s brave, she has to be to go through all of this, but she is camera shy and tends to shield herself from them as much as possible. But she surprises him, as she always does, and gives an answer that has the whole place roaring.

 

“To tell you the truth,” she begins, shifting Alex on her hip, “Alexander here is always telling me that he loves his Emmy more than he loves his uncle Killian because I know where we keep the good cookies…I mean, biscuits. Still getting used to the change in vernacular no matter how long I’ve lived here.”

 

“Biscuits,” Alex joins in, raising his hands in the air and then rubbing his belly, causing the reporters and the crowd to roar in their laughter.

 

“Killian can’t give them to him because we hide the biscuits from him. He’s got a bit of a sweet tooth, you know.”

 

Seeing how comfortable Emma is like this makes him want to join in on the conversation. Seems as good of a time as any.

 

“Well, that’s why I love you, darling. Because you’re so sweet.”

 

“He’s also apparently got a thing for cheese,” she tells the crowd, throwing a wink at him. And he should have known that she would tease him when given the opportunity.

 

He leans down to give her a quick peck, making Alex cover his eyes with his hands, and he can hear the laughter mixed in with the clicks of the shutters on the cameras.

 

He knows that despite the rocky start, this moment right here is what’s going to change the tides for Emma’s life fully merging with his in the public eye. Some will be mad that she came with him to the hospital, but those without a stick up their ass will see the moment as a simple everyday, family moment. He doesn’t care. He’s glad she’s here. Always.

 

After waving goodbye to the crowd, Alex really learning to revel in all of the attention being given to him, even sticking his tongue out at one point, the three of them make their way into the hospital, bypassing security to enter Abigail’s room.

 

“Mummy,” Alex squeals, wiggling himself out of Emma’s arms to run toward his mother as soon as they walk into the room, only being stopped when Liam scoops him into his arms, resting him on his shoulder.

 

“Daddy,” he whines, laughing when Liam started to tickle his stomach, “I want Mummy.”

 

“We have to be gentle,” Liam coos, “like we talked about because of mummy and the baby, remember?”

 

Alexander just nods before Liam places Alex next to Abigail and his new sister, big smiles on all of their faces as Abigail tells Alex to be gentle.

 

Killian and Emma stand off to the side and let the now family of four have their moment, Killian wrapping his arm around Emma’s shoulder and pulling her into him, kissing the hair at the crown of her head.

 

“They look so happy,” Emma whispers in his ear before placing her head on his shoulder.

 

“Aye,” he agrees.

 

“Would either of you like to hold her?” Abigail asks them, already sitting up from her reclined position in the hospital bed.

 

“Can I?” Emma asks, voice small as if she wasn’t just directly asked.

 

“Of course you can,” Abigail answers, motioning for Emma to come closer. She hands the newborn over to Emma, making sure that Emma supports her head as she cradles the tiny figure in her arms.

 

“Oh, she’s so beautiful, Abigail,” Emma compliments, walking around the room with the little girl, before tacking on, “and Liam. I guess you possibly had something to do with this, though I think she’s likely to get all of her good looks from other members of the family.”

 

Liam laughs, actually laughs at Emma’s tease, white teeth flashing in an exuberant smile that Killian has rarely seen in his life.

 

“I think that sounds about right, Emma,” Liam chuckles, moving over to stand next to Killian, throwing his arm over Killian’s shoulder. “You best hope your children get their looks from you and not this one here.”

 

Emma’s face flushes red, but she doesn’t say anything back, just shoots Killian a timid smile, mouthing he’s right to Killian, throwing in a wink just for extra emphasis. Killian is hit with a sense of want – want to have children, want to have those children with Emma, and want for those children to look just like her – that he has to stifle, just winking right back in response.

 

The little girl starts fussing, and Emma moves to hand her back to Abigail, sitting on the hospital bed chatting with Abigail and Alex while Abigail feeds the baby.

 

“She’s doing so well,” Liam says suddenly, arm falling from Killian’s shoulder.

 

“Abigail? Yeah, she seems to be doing great, the tough lass she is.”

 

Liam just chuckles, shaking his head. “Well, yes, Abigail is incredible, bloody amazing. But I was talking about Emma.” It’s a good thing they’re already in a hospital because Killian thinks he just suffered a stroke. It doesn’t matter how many strides they’ve made. He’s always taken aback at this different way of life. “It takes a strong woman to stay with one of the two of us despite our lives, and we’ve found some of the good ones.”

 

Killian doesn’t know what to say, so he redirects the conversation. “So a little lass, huh?”

 

“I’m already out of my league.”

 

“You’ve been batting out of your league for your entire life, brother.”

 

Liam barks out another laugh, and both of their women turn their heads to them, smiles on both of their faces as the two men get along with each other.

 

Killian and Emma spend about an hour more with the family before leaving them be and exiting the hospital and making their way back out to the crowd.

 

“They’re going to flip every time the door opens thinking it’s Abigail and the baby, so be prepared for the light and the noise.”

 

“Out into the lion’s den then.”

 

He just smiles down at her, holding the door open as he ushers her out, hand on her lower back as they exit to the sounds of cameras and shouts of how’s the baby or is it a prince or a princess. Killian and Emma just smile and wave, teasing the audience by telling them you’ll just have to wait and see like the rest of the world.

 

“I can’t wait to see my brother suffer more,” Killian jokes to the reporters right as the two of them are stepping into the car and closing the doors.

 

“Do you ever get used to it or comfortable around the cameras?” Emma wonders as they navigate away from the hospital with the flashes of cameras around them.

 

“Comfortable with it? No. Used to it? Yes.” He glances over at her to see that she’s texting on her phone, her fingers speeding across the screen. “I’ve got to pack for Africa when we get home and then chat with my advisors for last minute briefings.”

 

She’s quiet the rest of the ride home, and she makes her way to the living room while he goes to his office to make the necessary phone calls for his trip and to get the preparatory packets of information from what he’ll be doing and what he needs to know before going. It seems like a fascinating cause to champion, and he’s glad that of all the engagements he could have swapped with Liam that it’s this one. It’s much better than another diplomatic meeting in a boardroom. But it also means he’s leaving Emma for nearly three weeks when he knows how much the Christmas holidays mean to her and how much she was looking forward to truly spending one with him with no secret rendezvous or delayed celebrations.

 

He finds her still curled up in the living room, her boots unzipped and thrown on the floor while her hair is pulled up into a ponytail. “Hey,” he greets before settling into one of the leather armchairs, “you’re okay with me going on this trip, right?”

 

“I’d rather you not, but it’s your job. It’s a wonderful charity, and it’s who you are.”

 

“I’ll call at every opportunity that I can, and I will be home just in time for the beginning of all of our Christmas celebrations, okay? I promise.”

 

“Okay.”

 

Three days later Killian is zipping the last of his suitcases and having them loaded into the car waiting to take him to the private airport.

 

“I love you,” Emma whispers against his chest as she hugs him, her arms wrapped around his middle and her head buried in his chest.

 

He runs his fingers through the ends of her hair. “And I you.”

 

He releases her, and then he’s off.

Chapter Text

Killian hates flying. It’s not that he’s nervous about being suspended thirty thousand feet in the air with mountain ranges or deserts or entire fucking oceans beneath him. If he thinks about it too much, that does cause him a wee bit of concern, but he mostly hates flying because more often than not if he’s flying somewhere, he’s going to be away from home for long periods at a time. He’s thankful and appreciative of the fact that his life affords him the luxury of not just seeing the photogenic parts of the world, but also the parts that are struggling to survive. It allows him different perspectives, and he’s nothing if not someone who is willing to broaden his horizons. It’s just that those horizons take him away from home, from Emma, and there’s no place like home, especially now.

 

There’s also the fact that he’s on a plane for over ten hours right now, and while he’s not stuck in economy with cramped legs and a snoring neighbor who doesn’t know what deodorant is, he’s ready for his feet to touch the dirt, solid and firm.

 

He spends his time reviewing his itinerary for his next few weeks and brushing up on the wildlife preservation efforts. He’s done a few of these trips before, but it’s mostly Liam who has handled them. He’s happy to do it, though, so that Liam can spend time with his family and his newborn daughter. Killian cannot imagine ever having to leave a child of his own for over two weeks, let alone one he’s just now been able to meet like Liam has with Elizabeth. He knows that it’ll happen one day, though. He’ll have to be the dad whose children learn to kiss computer and phone screens while he’s away from them on these kinds of trips. They’ll tone down for him once he has an official family of his own, but they won’t stop until his hair looks more like salt and pepper than inky black.

 

His text chime goes off from his phone’s place on his table, and while he expects it to be Emma telling him something she forgot to mention before he left, it’s his mother.

 

Allison: I realize that you’ve just gotten on a plane, but the jewelers have finished Emma’s ring. They need your approval before it’s completely set.

 

Well, shit.

 

Would it be too much to turn this plane around?

 

Killian: Will you go look at it for me? I’ll check on it as soon as I get home.

 

Five hours later his mother texts him again, just as the plane is making its descent, touching ground in Africa while his mind is in England.

 

Allison: It’s beautiful, my boy.

 

His week seems to pass by slowly and all at once. He spends his days waking up early to go on expeditions, astounded by the beauty of the wildlife reserve as miles of open land extend beyond him with the sun rising and coating the grounds with an orange glow every morning before the crackling heat takes over. On the days he doesn’t spend observing nature, he works with the people who try to preserve this land and these animals every day. It’s work that he could never do, but if he can support them in their endeavors and bring light to both the struggles and the successes of their organizations, it would be a win for everyone. Sometimes he feels like he’s simply a poster boy, and while that can be true, his name and his face help people by merely being there and showing his support.

 

One day, though, he’s lucky enough to visit an underfunded school where the Royal Foundation is providing new supplies for both the staff and the children. He’s thrilled that he can help out, but he’s also been told that these children have a particular fondness for football even with their total of two outdated, deflated balls. So he arranges with his aides to get new balls and jerseys for the children. It’s the least he can do, and the way the children squeal when he brings the mesh bag full of balls around causes him to throw his head back in laughter.

 

He’s dressed casually enough in his slacks and loose button down, so when they ask him if he’d be willing to play with them, he can’t help but comply.

 

“How old are you, Prince Killian?”

 

“Twenty nine.”

 

“You’re out of breath like you’re much older.”

 

He’ll have to make sure to tell Emma about that when he finally gets to call her later.

 

And when he catches his breath.

 

He and Emma have either been totally missing each other on their nightly calls, or he’s been falling asleep either before a call starts or in the middle of it. Thank the heavens for texting, but reading words on a screen don’t bring quite the same sense of comfort that actually being able to hear her voice does, let alone seeing her face, even if it’s just through their computer screens. Maybe he’s already a bit like the man whose loved ones have to kiss him through a screen.

 

He runs late that day, keeping to how this week has been going, getting caught up talking to some of the teachers at the school before he has another engagement that night, and by the time the car pulls up to the house he’s staying in he’s practically sprinting inside and running to his room so that he can get to his laptop, quickly opening it and dialing Emma twice before her face finally showed up on the screen.

 

“Hi,” Emma greets, waving her hand at him like she’s not sure what to do with her hands, and oh is he so glad to see her.

 

“Hello, beautiful. How was your day?”

 

“Oh good,” she laughs, tucking that loose strand of hair behind her ear. “My dad apparently threw out his back, though I do think he’s being a bit dramatic, so I spent the day restocking the shelves and doing inventory at the pub before we open since Will has the next two days off. So that would explain,” she picks up her computer and moves it around to show him where she is, “why I’m sitting in my very empty old room with sheets that have clouds on them.”

 

“So you’re staying with your parents tonight?”

 

“Tonight, maybe the next few days.”

 

“Why aren’t you sleeping at home?”

 

“My bed here is much more comfortable than our couch. Plus, you know, people who talk about more than if a baby is eating enough.”

 

“Why are you sleeping on the couch?”

 

She simply stares at him, her lips in a straight line as she quirks her eyebrow. Oh, she’s not sleeping in their bed because he’s not there. That’s…love. Maybe a little bit crazy, too. But what is love without a little crazy? That’s love to not want to sleep in their bed when he’s not there when it has to be infinitely more comfortable to sleep in a bed alone than with him.

 

Though he will wake up in the middle of the night here, eyes flashing open as he worries that he’s rolled a bit too far to the right and on top of Emma only to realize she’s not there and his body is only meeting more mattress.

 

“I love you, Emma. More than anything.”


“I love you, too. Infinitely or whatever since you stole the ‘more than anything’ line.”

 

He chuckles at the indignant look on her face. She’s never been one to verbally express her love as explicitly as he does, but even if her words aren’t as eloquent or as often, he still knows that she means them. “Now tell me about your day.”

 

“So I began the day looking at a herd of elephants and in the middle there was this lad who called me both old and out of shape.”

 

“You’re kidding.”

 

“No, we were playing a bit of football, and I guess I lost my breath. They all got a kick out of it. Pun intended.”

 

They talk for a bit longer, but before he manages to wish her a goodnight, she’s fallen asleep sitting straight up against the headboard of her old bed, her head drooping forward to rest against her chest.

 

“Ten more days, my love.”

 

He caresses her face through the screen, his fingerprints marking up the laptop, before shutting the device and shutting away Emma.

 

By the time his two and a half weeks are over, he’s exhausted, the long days and physical treks having him be completely knackered on his plane ride to London as well as in the car back to his actual, physical home in Kensington. He’d meant to have a look at Emma’s ring, give it the final approval, but he simply couldn’t force himself to go anywhere other than home. He cannot wait to see Emma, and he knows from their sporadic talks that she’s had a difficult few days without him. But he’s home now, just feet away from her, and that’s the only thing that really keeps him from falling out as he walks through their front door.

 

“Emma,” he calls as he steps into the apartment, the one bag he managed to bring from the car trailing behind him until he drops it against the hardwood. “Darling, are you here?”

 

He’s checked both the living room and kitchen, walking through the dining room and sitting area as he goes, and there’s no sign of Emma anywhere, just boxes of Christmas decorations they need to put up. He knows she should be home. He texted her as soon as he landed, and she said she was.

 

It’s then that he sees her bounding down the stairs at breakneck speed and before he knows it her arms are wrapped around his neck and her legs wrapped around his waist as she peppers kisses everywhere she can reach. It’s bloody wonderful, and he can’t help but nuzzle his face into her hair and breathe her in.

 

He’s missed her.

 

Bloody hell, he’s missed her.

 

“Hello, love,” he laughs after she’s cupped his face and planted a smacking kiss on his lips, his arms now completely supporting her weight under her thighs. “Did you miss me?”

 

“Not at all,” she jests as he walks them to the kitchen, setting her down on the countertop so that he can stand between her legs and give her a proper kiss, his tongue edging into her mouth and tasting the peppermint he smelled on her breath a moment ago.

 

“I missed you like crazy, my love,” he sighs against her lips while he runs his hands up and down her biceps over the softness of her sweater until his hands find the exposed skin at her stomach and he trails his hands under the material until he’s brushing the sides of her breasts through her bra.

 

She cups his face again, running her thumbs underneath his eyes. “You look tired.”

 

“I’m not that tired,” he protests, running his thumbs over the flat of her stomach while his other fingers work at her back.

 

Killian.”

 

“I’m bloody exhausted.”

 

“You should go to bed, at least a short nap.”

 

“I’d really rather take you to bed.”

 

He begins kissing at her neck, mapping her skin with his tongue in the way he hasn’t been able to do in over half a month, until she pushes at his shoulders and he rests his forehead against her collarbone.

 

“Later. After you sleep.”

 

When Killian wakes up from what turns out to be a much more rejuvenating nap than he was aware he needed, he and Emma finally begin decorating the apartment for Christmas. They’d gotten everything out of storage before he’d left, but the only thing up was the tree, which was still bare of all lights and ornaments. Emma’s got a Christmas playlist playing on speakers throughout the apartment, and she most definitely spiked his hot chocolate with rum, not that he’s complaining.

 

Growing up, his family would never personally decorate a Christmas tree because their staff would always do it for them to make sure the trees were decorated the same every year, and then the children would add a few ornaments at the end. It wasn’t until Emma that he began decorating on his own, and it wasn’t until his third Christmas with Emma and the Nolans that he got to celebrate in the way that most people do, having been unable to be with her for the first few.

 

 


 

 

They’re decorating the Christmas tree that’s currently situated where his favorite couch in the Nolan’s apartment usually resides. Actually, no. They’re trying to decorate the Christmas tree, but the lights are tangled and every time he manages to get one string undone, Emma’s handing him another thread of colorful lights that are twisted into knots that shouldn’t even be physically possible. What the hell happened in these boxes over the past year? Did the lights come alive?

 

“So you’re telling me that you’ve never gone to a Christmas tree farm?”

 

“When would I get the opportunity to go to a Christmas tree farm? I have to go through secret maneuvers just to get here, inside a private apartment, just to see you, love.”

 

“I don’t know?” She shrugs, taking the current string he’s working on out of his hands and messing with it because apparently he’s taking too long to untangle it. “Sometime in the dark of the night with prosthetics on your face and a blonde wig?”

“Well that’s an image of myself I never wanted.”

 

“What? You don’t like blondes? There are a lot of us out there.”

 

“Don’t I know it?”

 

“Hey,” Emma protests, tossing a plastic candy cane in his direction, “there better only be the one blonde in your life.”

 

“Aye,” Killian acknowledges before standing from his spot on the floor and pulling Emma toward him so that their bodies are pressed together and her arms are around his neck, her hands playing with the tips of his hair. He just got it cut, and whenever he does that Emma’s hands always manage to find their way into it to test out the new length. “You’re my favorite blonde, darling.”

 

“And don’t you forget it,” she laughs before capturing his lips with hers, a leisurely sway of lips turning into a passionate dance of tongues, and before he knows it he’s got Emma pressed against the remaining couch while his body covers hers.

 

Her hands have just reached into the back of his jean’s pockets, squeezing his ass and aligning their hips better together, Killian rolling his to get some friction for his growing hardness, when both of Emma’s parents walk in the room.

 

“Hey, do you two want to…what are you doing?”

 

“Good heavens, Mary Margaret. You have eyes. You know what they’re doing.”

 

All Killian knows is that he wants to melt into this couch right now and take Emma with him. He hasn’t moved off of her yet, and she’s most definitely using his body as a shield from her parents. Oh shit, her hands are still grabbing his ass.

 

 

“Right,” Mary Margaret stutters, and he can see the flush against the white of her cheeks, “we’re just going to go back to our room now. We forgot some decorations, didn’t we, David?”

 

He’s not quite as mortified as Emma is, though he is a tad bit embarrassed that her parents just caught them dry humping on the couch. He’s a twenty-six year old man, and his girlfriend’s parents should never even really have the option of knowing about his sex life. Of course, her parents’ room is right across the hall from Emma’s, and they’ve probably heard a lot worse than what they’ve just seen…not that he would ever dare point that out of Emma. He might be out of both a girlfriend and sex all in one sentence.

 

“I really need my own place,” Emma mumbles as he pulls away from her so that he can look down at her. He was right. She’s gone red as Christmas.

 

“I’d probably help if you had taken your hands off my ass at some point.”

 

“You’re being an ass.”

 

“I’m simply stating the obvious.” He pops his hips up to point out the fact that she’s still very much feeling him up, and she finally gets the hint, removing her hands so that he can climb off of her to try to go back to decorating and to get his still tight jeans situation under control.

 

David and Mary Margaret eventually come back out into their living room after texting Emma to make sure that the room was safe of all plundering, and the four of them finish decorating the tree. Most of their ornaments are homemade, things that Emma made for them in primary school. He finds several that are pictures of young Emma in what seems to be a snow globe made of colored construction paper, and he wishes that they had things like that in his home. He’d of course made crafts in primary school, and while the occasional few would go on display around the house, it was never in the way that the Nolans keep all of Emma’s work. Mary Margaret basically kept them in as pristine of condition as she could, and even if Emma is embarrassed by having some of the items on display, he is simply glad to know that Emma’s always been loved.

 

None of them are working in the pub that night, Emma only sneaking down to get a bottle of whiskey clad in her pajamas, when her parents begin telling him stories of Emma as a teenager. Even if he’s heard them all before, he still takes delight in how embarrassed Emma becomes over them, her cheeks flushed with both the alcohol and the desire to never hear about when she was a cheerleader for two weeks before quitting the team.

 

“Do you still have that uniform, love?”

 

“Yeah, you interested in seeing if it’ll fit you?”

 

That night he watches as the Nolans lounge about in their living room, Emma’s hair messy and un-brushed as she lies with her head in his lap, and not a one of them caring how they look or if they meet the right dress code and eat their food the right way. Not every one of his family’s Christmas traditions are stiff. Some are quite fun if he’s honest with himself, but they would never dare to lounge in front of the television in their mismatched pajamas, drinking whiskey out of coffee cups and Chinese food out of the cartons. Instead they sit in a great hall watching a movie on a projector, drinks served in fine stemware.

 

David and Mary Margaret fall asleep around eleven, snoring on the couch in a position that he knows will hurt them if they stay that way all night.

 

“Put your coat and shoes on, Killian.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Just trust me.”

 

He does as Emma says while she stuffs her feet in her boots, throwing on her insulted jacket and a beanie before walking down the hallway and turning into her parents’ room, unlocking the window before climbing up the escape ladder. It’s freezing outside, a slight bit of snow falling, and he has no idea what could possibly drive her to want to go up to the roof. But he’s not going to stay inside and never find out.

 

“Emma, what the hell are we doing up here? Are you going to freeze me to death?”

 

“No,” she deadpans bending down and picking up an outlet and an extension cord, “we have a heater and the rest of that bottle of whiskey.” She finishes making sure that the electric heater is working before walking over to him looking more like a human snowman than Emma, and grabbing his hand to lead him to the edge of the roof. “Look,” she points to the road below, “you can see all of the other people who have decorated from up here.”

 

She’s right because when he looks down onto the cobblestone street he can see that different businesses and homes have lights brightening up the place more than the usual streetlamps, and if he looks carefully he can see Christmas trees inside the upper floors of the buildings where most of the business owners reside, some of the lights flickering off the later in the night that it gets as the light snow continues to fall, painting the rooftops in a faint dusting of white.

 

“Isn’t it beautiful?”

 

“Aye.”

 

“It’s one of my favorite things about moving to London.” He nudges her shoulder. “I mean, besides you. At home we’d go on car rides around the town, looking at the neighborhoods and downtown just to see what decorations people came up with that year.” She sighs before she moves to stand in front of him, his arms over her shoulders as he rests his chin on the top of her hat and she reaches up to rest her hands over his. “Mom would make to-go cups of hot chocolate.”

 

“With cinnamon?”

 

“Sometimes with peppermint. And we’d drive and drive until I’d seen every house in the town at least once before Christmas. There was this one…oh my God, Killian. It was amazing. It was like something out of a movie, the way the lights were strung around the trees leading up to the house and these giant wreaths that are bigger than me.”

 

“That sounds wonderful, darling. Like a real winter wonderland.”

 

“Yeah,” she exhales, leaning back into him even more, “I miss being able to do that since at least one of us is working most nights, so I like to come up here and watch the neighbors…which sounds creepy now that I say it out loud.”

 

He laughs before kissing the material of her hat even if she can’t feel his lips.

 

“Thank you for sharing and for showing me this. One day I’d like to drive around to look at all of the Christmas lights. With you, if that’s okay.”

 

“If you bring me hot chocolate with either cinnamon or peppermint, I’m yours, babe.”

 

“I’ll bring both.”

 

 


 

 

Between Emma and Killian, they get most of the apartment decorated, the usual shades of gray and blue now replaced with reds, greens, and golds. It’s festive in the way that it should be for those who celebrate Christmas, and as much as he hates that Emma waited on him for weeks to decorate, he’s glad that they’ve gotten it done now and done it together.

 

Six years together, and it’s their first actual Christmas together. No celebrating a few weeks early or days into January. This is Christmas, completely together.

 

He’s still bloody exhausted, however, and so he goes to bed earlier than expected that night and doesn’t feel the bed dip until a few hours later when Emma joins him, backing up so that her back is nestled against his front. She reaches back to pull his arm around her stomach, but he’s already there, wrapping himself around her and pulling her closer as he kisses the back of her neck.

 

“That wasn’t even the longest we’ve been apart, and it felt like forever. Like it was never going to end.”

 

“I know, darling. I know, but it’s over now.”

 

He crawls out of bed early the next morning, just before the sun rises, and texts his mum to see if she wants to go with him while he gives the final clearance on Emma’s ring design before it’s fully set in the band. Emma’s still as asleep as she can be, stretching out on the mattress when he moves off of it, and he needs to pick up the ring while he has the opportunity to do so before all of the holiday festivities begin.

 

It’s beautiful, stunning really, and while he’s never been one to wear much jewelry himself, he’s been raised in a world where his family is in possession of some of the most stunning jewels in the world. This is one of them, and he’s almost giddy with excitement over the thought of it adorning Emma’s finger one day soon.

 

He doesn’t know where he’ll hide it in the apartment, wary of Emma stumbling across it in her search for one of the items she always seems to be losing, so when his mother offers to keep it with her at home, he doesn’t hesitate to agree to that, handing her the velvet box with his most prized possession inside and giving his mother a kiss on the cheek as they part ways and make their way to their respective homes to prepare for the Christmas gala tonight.

 

Emma’s still asleep when he gets home, and he lets out a sigh of relief knowing that he won’t have to explain his absence from her. Instead he strips from his clothes and into the shower, trying to get as ready for this evening as he can so Emma and the stylists she’s bringing in can have the bathroom for the rest of the day without his interruptions. She’d protested having someone doing her hair and makeup, but it’s going to become as much of a part of her life as any other weird aspect that comes to being with him. She’s going to have a love/hate relationship with having a stylist. He already knows.

 

“Good morning,” she yawns when he walks out of the bathroom to see her piling her hair on top of her head, an errant strand sticking to her forehead and the sheets pooling around her waist. “You’re up early.”

 

“Darling, it’s nearing ten in the morning, and we’ve got a big day today. People, your mum and Ruby included, are coming over in a few hours.”

 

“I don’t want to get up.”

 

“You have to,” he leans down to kiss her good morning, lingering against her skin before walking downstairs and getting on with his day while Emma most likely goes back to sleep.

 

He spends most of his day downstairs, just passing the time by watching the television or last minute Christmas shopping online while Emma and the girls get ready, everyone arriving a little after two. His family doesn’t give each other much, but they do give a little so he needs to finish up on a few items as well as checking that the rest of Emma gifts will arrive on time for their own private celebration in between his family’s celebrations.

 

Mary Margaret and Ruby come down the stairs, fully decked out in their dresses, hair and makeup done as they settle beside him in the living room, so he knows that Emma must have offered to go last.

 

“You look beautiful, ladies,” he compliments, taking both of their hands and kissing their knuckles before he makes his own way upstairs to get dressed for the evening. He can’t very well sit around as a slacker all day, now can he?

 

Emma’s makeup and hair stylists are packing up their bags and their tools when he enters the bathroom, nodding at them before opening the closet door only to have Emma standing there with her hair trailing down her back in loose curls and nothing but lacy black underwear on. His breath catches at the sight before he closes the closet door behind him so that no one out there is privy to this sight besides him.

 

“You’re not supposed to be in here yet,” Emma protests as he comes to stand before her, one hand running down her side and landing at her hip while the other lightly caresses her face, careful not to mess with her makeup or her hair.

 

“You look so stunning, my darling Emma,” he breathes, voice deeper, huskier than he intended as he looks into the emerald of her eyes before his gaze flickers down to her bare breasts, her nipples slowly hardening into peaks.

 

“You only say that because I’m basically naked,” she laughs as her own hands run up his back to rest at his shoulder blades, her breasts pressing into his chest. “But thank you. I cannot wait to see you in your tux.”

 

“Can I convince you to take me out of my clothes before I put the different ones on?”

 

She laughs as he backs her up to the island counter in the middle of the closet, hoisting her up by the waist and placing her on the cool marble while he’s busy nuzzling his neck against hers, kissing the skin at her pulse point while his hands trail up at the insides of her thighs, feeling the soft skin over her twitching muscles.

 

“Baby,” she groans, tilting her head to the side so that her hair falls to her back and he has more access to her neck. It’s almost swan-like in its length when she does this, and he runs his tongue along the straining cords there, the scent of her perfume enthralling him. “Baby, we can’t. I’ve already got my hair and makeup done.”

 

“I won’t touch your face or your hair.”

 

“Well it’s no fun that way.”

 

A chuckle passes through his lips and his hands move from her thighs, painstakingly slowly up her sides while he listens to her breathing deepen, hitching when his thumbs run over both of her nipples in a gentle caress.

 

“Oh,” she gasps when he pinches her, and the sound goes straight through him just like the blush now gracing her chest. She’s watching his every movement, every inch that his hand moves or every path that his tongue traces until his lips are ghosting against hers. She chases after his lips after he lingers there for too long, but he jerks up to kiss her nose in that moment. “You’re so annoying,” she laughs before she reaches up and runs her hands through his hair, the feeling of her nails scratching at his scalp causing him to gasp as well.

 

“You still love me though.”

 

“Always.”

 

He dips his head to kiss her for real before running his lips down the concave between her breasts before reaching her stomach, dipping his tongue into her belly button so that she has to brace herself on her hands behind her, a folded sweater falling to the floor. When his lips reach the lace, he looks up to see her nod before pulling her forward on the countertop so that her ass is on the edge while he hooks his fingers into the lace to pull them off her legs.

 

He takes his time, even if they really don’t have any, kissing up the inside of both of her thighs before kissing her mound, building her up as quickly as he can, her whimpers just urging him on while he teases at her, licking long, flat stripes through her folds and circling her bundle of nerves until her whimpers cease and her back arches, her release hitting her while he eases her through it.

 

“That’s not what I was expecting today,” she sighs as she pulls him up to kiss him, her lips rough as she molds their faces together, her makeup obviously be damned, “but I’m glad even if I am going to be slightly sweaty.”

 

“I think they call that glowing.”

 

She laughs against him, pushing at his shoulders until he gets the hint and backs up, helping her off the counter with her legs still slightly shaky.

 

“This was both a brilliant and horrible idea because,” she shuffles through a drawer before slipping into a different set of lingerie while going to unzip the garment bag with her dress, the black material catching the light, “while it was amazing for me, we are officially out of time. And I know for a fact that your tux pants are tight, so you’ve got to get rid of your problem, babe.”

 

His chuckle is mixed with a groan as he turns around from her to take his tux in the bedroom and get dressed while he calms himself down. She was right. It was both a brilliant idea and a horrible idea, but he doesn’t regret it in the slightest as he gets dressed. He’s got everything on but his bow tie as it hangs loosely around his neck, white shirt unbuttoned at the top, when Emma comes out of the bathroom in a sinful black dress that hugs her top before billowing out at the waist, yards of tulle covering the slit that goes to her mid-thigh. She’s added that red lipstick she loves as well as some of the jewelry he’s given her over the years.

 

“You look beautiful, Emma,” he compliments as she sits down on the bed to slip on her heels, buckling the straps as she smiles over at him.

 

“Thank you.” She rises to come stand before him, her palms running up his chest until they land at his undone bow tie. She ties it for him, continuously having to restart because she’s never quite satisfied with how it looks until she finally gets it right, harrumphing in light of her success. “You look handsome. Very dapper and dashing and one hundred percent like you should dress like this more often.”

 

“Yes, black tie around the house all of the time,” he chuckles before taking her hand and guiding her downstairs, the slight train of her dress trailing on the hardwood enough that he scoops down to hold it for her.

 

He and Emma, along with Ruby and Mary Margaret load into a car and make their way to Buckingham with David meeting them there. He has to enter separately from Emma, so he leaves her be to go and join his parents and his brother, Abigail not attending as a part of her maternity leave, so that the four of them can wait in a sitting room until all of the guests have arrived and they can make their entrance. He’s always found this to be a weird tradition, entering a room at official events through order of succession so that his father enters last, but some traditions do not fall to the side, and this is one of them.

 

Once they enter the ballroom, he makes his rounds through all of the people he’s obligated to speak to, government officials, foreign diplomats, the occasional celebrity who he is much more excited to see than the third cousin of the Prime Minister. Killian catches up with a few of his old university friends whose families were invited before he sees a flash of blonde hair in his peripheral only to have her come up to him and wrap her arms around his elbow as Robin regales the group with a story of Killian singing karaoke at a pub one drunken night.

 

“Please tell me there’s a video of that,” Emma laughs, looking up at him, the black of her eyelashes highlighting the green of her eyes. She’s so beautiful that sometimes he cannot believe it, cannot believe that he gets to spend his days with her by his side.

 

“Sadly it was before the time of everyone having an iPhone in their palms. I’m Robin,” he sticks his hand out to take Emma’s, “you must be the literal famous Emma Nolan.”

 

“And you must be the famous through Killian’s stories, Robin Locksley.”

 

Robin laughs at the two of them as Emma fishes for stories of Killian in his younger days before Killian eventually leads Emma to the dance floor as the music slows and the sounds of soft piano fills the room.

 

“Are we going to just sway or am I going to embarrass myself by having to do a waltz or foxtrot or something where I don’t know what I’m doing?”

 

“We’re simply going to sway, darling,” he answers as he pulls her into him and rests his hands around her waist. “But if we were to do one of those other dances, there’s only one rule.”

 

“What?”

 

“You pick a partner who knows what he’s doing.”

 

“And that’s you?”

 

“That’s me.”

 

She laughs before resting her cheek on his shoulder, her hands resting at his lower back, and this is a wonderful night. Magical almost under the glistening lights of the towering Christmas trees and chandeliers tinted in silver lights that coat the room.

 

When the song finishes, he leads her off the dance floor, finding an empty section off to the side so that he can speak without having to raise his voice.

 

“Do you want a drink?”

 

“Oh my goodness yes. I’ll meet you at the bar after I run to the restroom, okay?”

She gives him a sweet kiss before they part ways.

 

“Two glasses of whatever wine you’re serving,” he tells the bartender before resting his back against the counter, watching as people mill around the room, some dancing, others eating, all talking.

 

“Having a good time tonight?”

 

He turns to see his father’s younger brother Albert standing at the bar to his right, nursing what looks to be a glass of whiskey. He didn’t even know they were serving whiskey tonight.

 

“Aye, it’s a wonderful time. Everything is beautiful this year. Mum did a great job.”

 

Albert laughs before putting his glass on the bar top and turning so that he’s completely facing Killian. His uncle has never resembled his father too much, hair too light and eyes too dark, and even if Albert also grew up as the so-called other spare to the heir, Killian has never found comfort in speaking to him.

 

“You know, Killian,” Albert drawls, “when you brought these people around for your birthday, I thought it was just a phase. And then you released that statement, and I was sure that you’d lost your mind.”

 

“Uncle, you’ve had too much to drink tonight.”

 

“Just the one glass. I’m perfectly sober. Your father, my brother, must be always inebriated though. He’s gone soft, letting you bring your flings to these events. And how rude of you to take the street trash to the hospital for Elizabeth’s birth. Weren’t you taught anything by those tutors and excellent schools you received while my children got your table scraps?”

 

“What is your fucking problem?”

 

“What is yours? We are a monarchy. We do not associate with the common whores like you have been.”

 

Killian’s jaw ticks as he tries to regulate his breathing, regulate his anger. All he wants to do is break Albert’s bloody nose, but he cannot do that. They are in a room full of people, photographers and journalists included, and it would be unwise to assault his uncle no matter how satisfying it would be or how much he deserves it.

 

He really fucking deserves it.

 

“Oh yes,” Emma spits, and shit, when did she get here? “I am a common whore, using my vagina and womanly wiles to seduce the prince so that I can have his money and his power. Because isn’t that what I’ve always been, a lying American criminal?”

 

“Emma,” Killian warns, grabbing onto her hand before she snatches it away from him.

 

Albert doesn’t say anything else, his heavy breathing increasing as his dark eyes stare into Emma like she’s an antelope and he’s the lion.

 

“Lass, you don’t belong here. I’d suggest you remember where you come from.”

 

“The only people who don’t belong here are the assholes who think they’re better than someone just because their parents happen to be royalty.”

 

“That by its very definition makes me better, makes Killian better, than you.”

 

“Fuck you.”

 

“You’d like to do that, wouldn’t you, Ms. Nolan?”

 

Killian’s not sure if he or Emma are going to punch Albert first, but when he sees Emma’s hand flinch at her side, he reaches to squeeze her side as a silent encouragement not to do anything, relieved that she doesn’t snatch it away from him again. Neither of them get the chance because suddenly Liam is in between the two of them and Albert with his main security detail behind him.

 

“Albert,” Liam sterns, his eyes cloudy with irritation. “Get the hell out of here. You’re not welcome if you say things like that, you sod.”

 

“I was here before the two of you were ever born, and all you’ve done is shame this family, especially your spare. I would have never been this disgraceful.”

 

“You’re being infinitely more disgraceful than Killian has ever been, you prick.”

 

Albert is discreetly guided away, and Killian thanks Liam, wanting to discuss what the hell just happened, but he can practically feel Emma fuming beside him, her hands clenching and unclenching as she tries to calm herself down while he does the same.

 

“Killian,” she grits, not bothering to look at him, “I would suggest that you take me to your room here right now before I do something else that I’m not supposed to do.”

 

He guides her out of the ballroom, through hallways and corridors until they reach the private part of the palace. When they get to the grand staircase that leads upstairs to his room, Emma stops to take off her heels, using him as a base to steady herself as she shrinks four inches right in front of him before picking up the bottom of her dress and walking up the stairs like she has any idea where she’s going while he watches her, frozen in his spot as his mind runs wild.

 

“Love,” he calls out while trying to track her down, taking two steps at a time and then jogging as she completely passes the door to his room. “Emma, hey. Emma.”

 

“What?” she whips around, her hands running through her perfectly coiffed hair before she slaps her hands against her thighs and starts pacing again. “What could you possibly have to say to me right now?”

 

“I’m sorry. I want to say I’m sorry.”

 

“What the hell are you sorry for?”

 

“Um, maybe my asshole of an uncle and the former assholes that were my father and brother. And then maybe just all of the collective assholes all over the world that are full of shit and apparently feel the need to pass that shit onto you.”

 

She stops her pacing when she gets directly in front of him, her head directly under his chin as she looks up at him with much more kindness than she should be capable of expressing.

 

“First of all, don’t say sorry again. I don’t want to hear it.”

 

“But Emma – ”

 

“No,” she raises her hand, “stop. I am fucking livid right now, but in no way am I livid at you or with you or the fact that I’m only in this situation because I’m with you. I’m pissed that someone thinks they have any right to not only insult me like that, but to also have the gall to insult you. I mean, damn. Does the list of assholes never end?”

 

“I think we produce them in bulk.”

 

A bitter chuckle passes through her lips before she wraps her arms around his waist and deflates, the anger rushing out of her and simmering down to irritation that could still pack a punch if she wanted it to. He does the same, embracing her before he nuzzles his head against the top of her hair and simply holds her in the middle of an ornate hallway in a ball gown and a tuxedo looking every bit like the magical fairytale couple they claim not to be.

 

Magic comes with a price in the same way that privilege does and running away from balls to stand shoeless in a hallway may very well be one payment in a line of many.

 

“I just can’t believe our night has turned out like this. This was supposed to be a good night. We get dressed up, dance for more than one song, I get to take that suit off of you to celebrate you coming home, and now we’re hiding away so that we don’t cause a scene after being basically stepped on and then spit upon.”

 

“I know,” he exhales into her hair, tugging her closer to his chest and pressing his fingers into the small of her back. Trying to bring back some of the light to the evening because he won’t let this night be ruined, he changes the subject. “Do you want to see my childhood room?”

 

“You have no idea.”

 

He guides her back down the hallway until they come to his door, and the smile on her face is more genuine than any that he’s seen since the incident at the bar. He’s going to have to deal with that later, with Albert and any underlying hostility with Emma that still runs in the family. He doesn’t expect everyone to accept her with open arms. He doesn’t even expect them to accept him with open arms. But as long as the ones who matter, his immediate family who he wants to accept Emma and to love her, he couldn’t give a fuck what the others think…as long as they don’t think it out loud in front of Emma again.

 

Not in front of him again either. He’s having to contain his fury right now in an attempt to salvage this night.

 

“These books all seem very prim and proper and not at all you,” Emma quips as she runs her fingers along the spines, stopping every now and then to look at a picture frame or trinket that adorns the shelves along with the books.

 

“I’ve got a different collection underneath the bed, but check the Anna Karenina.”

 

She does, only to find the cutout with the flask inside. When she pops it open, her lips tug downward, and she was obviously hoping for there to still be something in there. They never did get their drinks earlier.

 

“This is much more you,” she laughs, holding it up before putting it back in the book with the utmost care. She pauses, obviously running over something in her mind. “Do we need to go back to the gala? People will notice that you’re gone.”

 

“I don’t care.”

 

“What if I said that I wanted another dance?”

 

“Well,” he begins before making his way over to the closet, shuffling through a cabinet before finding an actual, literal cd player, “we could always dance to this.”

 

“No,” she giggles, and at least she’s still capable of having a good time, “there’s no way that’ll work.”

 

“Only one way to find out.”

 

He plugs in the player in an outlet on the wall before sounds of, and he’s only slightly mortified by this, the Spice Girls comes through the shoddy speakers.

 

“May I have this dance, milady?”

 

She laughs before nodding her head and placing her hands in his. He moves her from side to side, spinning her around in silly circles that he’d never be able to do downstairs. She laughs the entire time, her chest visibly moving, and he does the same. This night could have turned into an undeniable shit show, and while he’s sure that shit show hasn’t reached its conclusion, he hopes it has for now.

 

He just doesn’t want Emma to be upset, even if she has every right to walk around this place kicking and screaming.

 

When they make it back downstairs some of the crowd has filtered out, and the only people who really seemed to notice their absence were their families.

 

“Did you guys really leave a party this fancy to go do it in a coat closet or something?”

 

“Rubes,” Emma laughs, glancing over to see that her parents aren’t paying any attention to this conversation. “What have we said about those kind of comments?”

 

“Sex is a very healthy part of life, my darling Emma Nolan. And you two are so hot that anybody who believes you’re not sharing a bed has lost their mind.”

 

“Well, of course, I am a common whore after all.”

 

“Hey,” Killian grabs her arms and holds her so that he’s sure she’s looking at him, “you know nothing about that is true.”

 

“Emma,” Ruby questions, “what the hell are you talking about?”

 

“Nothing, Rubes.”

 

“Ems, it’s obviously something. You don’t make bitterly sarcastic jokes like that if you’re fine. You’re upset about something.”

 

She shakes her head before turning to Ruby and squeezing her bicep. “We’ll talk about it later, okay?”

 

He doesn’t miss the look Ruby gives Emma, and he definitely doesn’t miss the look Ruby gives him.

 

“Darling, why don’t you go dance with your dad? I think I’m going to take Ruby for a spin?”

 

“Well, aren’t I the luckiest girl at the ball getting to dance with a prince?” Ruby jokes as he leads her onto the dance floor, looking over his shoulder to make sure that Emma has found David. Sure enough she has her head resting on David’s shoulder while they sway to the music.

 

“Ruby?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Does Emma talk to you about everything that’s gone on? I know you see it all because you don’t shield yourself away from the media, but does she talk about how she’s feeling about things?”

 

“Most of the time, yes.”

 

“She’s doing okay, right?”

 

“I mean, she’s had some all out rages over some things, but Emma’s a badass, even when she’s vulnerable. Maybe especially when she’s vulnerable.”

 

“Too true, lass,” he laments before spinning her around and pulling her back to him. “I simply want her to be okay, to be happy.”

 

“She is. You just have some assholes in your family. Plus all of those other assholes that open their mouths when they should be keeping them closed.”

 

Asshole is a popular word tonight, and it shouldn’t be.

 

“I just worry about her.”

 

“She does the same to you.” Ruby urges him to spin her again, the bottom of her dress slightly moving with the motion. “I think the two of you going away is going to do wonders.”

 

He pulls Ruby in closer so that his lips are close to her ear for one moment. “I’m going to ask her to marry me on the trip.”

 

“Well, fuck, man,” Ruby whispers despite her usually loud nature, “finally.”

 

He laughs, and he can hear the music winding down around them. “It’s not been that long, just six months really since all of this started.”

 

“It’s been six years.”

 

He doesn’t say anything else, hugging Ruby when the dance is over before finding Emma and taking her home.

 

The next few days pass quickly, and before he knows it Christmas Eve has arrived, and he’s loading into a train carriage for Sandringham with Emma, David, and Mary Margaret. They’re technically breaking many a protocol by the three of them attending the Christmas celebrations, even if it’s only the private ones, but he still cannot believe that his parents willingly made the offer for the Nolans to join them for Christmas.

 

It’s not too long of a train ride, and when they arrive at the estate, Liam and his family in the next cart over from them, he can feel the awe running through Emma and her parents. His family is a lot to take in for many a reason, but stepping foot on the grounds of the estate for the first time is something that would put awe in anyone who didn’t grow up in palaces and sprawling country estates. He simply reaches down to hold Emma’s hand, squeezing her palm through their gloves, as they all walk into the front doors, thankful for there to be no cameras awaiting their arrival this year.

 

Killian hands off the suitcase of gifts for the extended family to one of their butlers, noting to catch up with all of the staff later this afternoon, before he guides David and Mary Margaret to their suite, dropping them off and promising to pick them up for lunch before taking Emma to their own suite.

 

Everything is more relaxed here, furniture far lass ornate and much more akin to that of a normal home. Well, as close to normal as they can get. The uniqueness of the estate comes from the way everything is draped in reds and golds for the holidays, the smell of freshly baked pie and apple cider somehow always permeating throughout the grounds.

 

The lunch and afternoon tea are much more casual affairs than the dinner tonight, and he leaves Emma to rest in their room, letting her know that she can feel free to wander around the grounds or go visit Abigail and the kids, before calling his father to see where he is at that moment. He finds him in one of the sitting rooms, book in his hands and cup of tea sitting on the side table, exactly how he would portray his father if he had to paint a portrait of the man.

 

“Happy Christmas Eve, Killian,” Brennan greets before marking his spot in his book and placing it on the side table next to the cup of tea.

 

“Happy Christmas Eve.” Killian sits in the armchair across from his father, leaning forward and running his hands over his face before he begins what he came here for. “Is Albert coming today?”

 

“Unfortunately, yes. I’d tried to convince him to go somewhere else, even offered up one of the other estates, but he and his family insisted that they belonged here today.”

 

“Did you talk to him about what happened at the gala?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“And?”

 

“He didn’t seem the slightest bit remorseful, and I know it’s because he and I are cut from the same cloth. He simply never had someone tell him that he was being a certifiable prick all of the time. He didn’t have you to show him the error of his ways.”

 

Killian smiles before leaning forward and placing his head in his hands, elbows perched on his knees. “I just don’t know what to do, Dad. It’s like we fight one demon and then another one pops up out of nowhere. I mean, first it was you and Liam, and then Neal. All of the press. And then we finally get over all of that, and more comes from this family. I mean, were we all born with sodding asshole DNA? Is there not one of us who hasn’t had a stick shoved up our ass in the last few decades?”

 

“Probably not. Maybe just you. You’re the exception.”

 

“What are we going to do, though? I’m going to be married to Emma.” He pauses, smile crossing his face for a small moment. “Hopefully. We’re going to get married, and she’ll never know when a family member will attack her character. Albert fucking called her a whore.”

 

Brennan grimaces before running his fingers at his temples, seemingly trying to rub out a headache. “I know, son. I know. I’m going to figure it out somehow. Maybe have a talk with everyone. Maybe threaten to cut them off. It’s petty, but I can do that and it would hit them hard. I’d do that for the sake of you and Emma.”

 

“Thank you. Truly.”

 

“She’s special to you, and she’s special to your mother and I as well. And one day, hopefully as you said, she’ll be a senior member of this family whether Albert likes it or not.”

 

His family is cordial at their lunch, Albert purposely seated far away from Emma and her parents, and he only sees Emma tense once when she makes unintentional eye contact with the man. It’s a nice time, one of his favorite parts of their Christmas celebrations, but after tea and opening their friendly, gag gifts, they all play a game of friendly (or not so friendly depending on the level of competitiveness each person possess) football. He and Liam always lead separate teams, picking their members from the family and staff each year in turn. Liam, the bastard, gets to pick first this year, and to everyone’s surprise, he picks Emma first.

 

It might not be to Emma’s surprise because when she walks to stand next to Liam, she winks at Killian before wrapping her arm around Liam’s shoulder like to two of them are just the best of pals, thick as thieves.

 

He feels like the wool was pulled over his eyes.

 

He doesn’t mind at all.

 

Emma is surprisingly good, her fondness for running helping her even if she’s always claimed not to be too athletically skilled, and she and Liam are kicking his team’s butt. There aren’t enough young people on his team, and try as David might, he’s nothing compared to his daughter’s skills right now.

 

At one point Emma scores a goal on Killian, and Liam lifts her in the air and spins her around while Killian is left standing in his spot with his arms on his hips.

 

When the game is over, Killian’s body slick with sweat and his confidence and team totally defeated, Emma makes her way over to him and wraps her arms around his neck, giddy grin on her face as she smiles up at him and he looks down at her with fondness, hands finding purchase on her hips.

 

“So I just kicked you ass, babe,” she laughs before kissing the underside of his jaw, her lips as soft as ever against the hair there.

 

“Next year you’re going to be on my side. I pick before Liam, and you, Emma Nolan, are going to be my first pick.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Always.”

 

They’ve got a bit of free time between the game and their formal dinner, so after showering and slipping into comfortable clothes before later donning suits and dresses, he and Emma take the time to exchange their own gifts with each other. He’s not the best at gift giving, knowing that he’s more comfortable showing his love and affection through words and actions rather than items, but he does rather like giving things to Emma simply to see the smile that graces her face when she loves something.

 

They dress for dinner, Emma in another beautiful gown, and he’s not sure he’ll ever get used to her being this acclimated to his life and all of the traditions and customs the his family partakes in. It’s so different than her family and the traditions he’s partaken in with the Nolans for the last few Christmas seasons, but traditions can merge, even if some of them are royal ones.

 

Everything goes perfectly fine at dinner, the courses served and the conversation flowing like the wine, and there’s something to be said for small miracles like Emma and her parents being able to enjoy a Christmas celebration without something chasing at their heels and nipping at their necks.

 

No one can retire to bed until his father does, and Brennan seems to have inhaled vats of caffeine today, laughing and drinking and keeping everyone entertained by stories of his younger days mixed in with tales of both Liam and Killian as children. It’s far past midnight, his suit becoming incredibly uncomfortable and his eyes becoming heavy. He can tell everyone else is beginning to feel the same way, and when Emma drapes herself over his lap and buries her head in his shoulder, he knows that she’s struggling to stay awake.

 

“Are you okay, sweetheart?” He strokes her back, running his fingers across the bare skin exposed by her dress, the bones of her spine protruding from the way she’s hunched forward.

 

“I really want your dad to go to bed so that we can go to bed. This dress makes me feel like I can’t move.”

 

“You might not be able to move, love, but you cut quite the figure in that dress.”

 

“I think it’s more that my bra is cutting me,” she chuckles against his neck, “but thank you.”

 

His father does eventually retire to bed, and Killian doesn’t even want to think about how few hours he’s going to get to sleep before the Church Service in the morning, instead helping Emma out of her dress and taking the bobby pins out of her hair while she wipes away at her makeup. It’s a long process, and by the time they collapse onto the bed it’s much closer to sunrise than midnight.

 

In the morning he quietly slips out of bed to get ready for the service, kissing Emma’s temple before he joins his family members on their walk to the church. He walks in behind Liam and Abigail, making sure to wave to the crowd that’s gathered and take some time to speak to a few of them. It’s bloody freezing outside, and these people have decided to spend their Christmas morning simply hoping to catch a glimpse of his family. He doesn’t understand it, but if he can bring Christmas cheer to someone by talking to them for a short moment, it’s legitimately the least he can do.

 

When they return to Sandringham Emma and her parents are waiting in one of the sitting rooms, David and Mary Margaret laughing at Emma trying to adjust her fascinator on the top of her head since one is required for the ladies at lunch today. She’s been such a good sport about so many things, but he has a feeling it may all come undone by the red hat gracing her hair.

 

“Hey,” he greets before placing his hands on her hips and pressing his lips against hers, “Happy Christmas, darling. Did you sleep well?”

 

“I slept great, Killian. Thanks for asking,” David jests, laughing at his own joke.

 

“Well you do need your beauty sleep, Dave.”

 

“I slept fine,” Emma eventually answers before reaching up to adjust her hat again, her face forming a scowl that no one should have on Christmas. “Merry Christmas, babe.”

 

“Emma,” Abigail laughs before handing Elizabeth off to Liam, the one-month old dressed to match her brother in shades of green, “come here. Let me fix this for you, honey.”

 

“I just don’t understand how I’m supposed to get it situated on the side of my head.”

“Well that’s what hairdressers are for, but luckily for you I have years of experience doing this.” Abigail works with Emma’s hair for a little while longer before finally being satisfied with her work, harrumphing in satisfaction. “There. Now let’s eat.”

 

That evening they retire to one of the great halls, projector set up on a wall that’s been removed of decorative weaponry that could still be used in a battle, and dining tables replaced with recliners and couches, piles of blankets and pillows kept in baskets at the hall entrances that people can grab before cuddling up into one of the seats. The extended family is invited for this part of the evening, so it’s a much more crowded affair than the last night, children tailing along with their parents and taking up the seats directly in front of the projector.

 

“This is insane,” Emma whispers to him as they settle into one of the oversized recliners, both of them having changed into joggers and sweaters, Christmas-themed socks gracing Emma’s feet as she wiggles her toes to pull their blanket further down their legs.

 

“Aye, it reminds me of celebrations with you family.”

 

“Yeah, but with a much larger screen and a bigger selection of gourmet popcorn.”

 

“There’s also hot chocolate.”

 

“Where?” she gasps, hitting his shoulder as she moves from her position like she has to have the hot chocolate right now.

 

“They’re going to bring it out to us once the movie starts.”

 

She sighs before settling back down beside him, moving his arm so that it rests over her shoulder while her head rests on his. “What are we watching?”

 

“It’s a wonderful life.”

 

And despite everything, it is.

Chapter Text

The New Year passes with little fanfare, just a quiet celebration at home as they watch the fireworks over the Thames on the television, glasses of champagne in hand. Emma didn’t even make it out of the living room before falling asleep, her neck twisted in a way that would keep her out of commission for a week if left that way. He simply slid her down so that she was more comfortable on the couch, not wanting to wake her by taking her upstairs. He was thankful that they’d gotten some new furniture because his old couch was not nearly as comfortable as the new one Emma had picked out while he was in Africa.

 

He’s already packed for their trip, his suitcase spread out in the middle of the closet, everything carefully folded, while Emma has half of her summer wardrobe simply tossed in hers. He can’t help himself from folding everything up so that it will pack more efficiently and he’ll be able to put it away in the closet of their bedroom more easily. He is meticulous in the way that he lives, and Emma is not. It drives him crazy, but it is worth it in every way.

 

By the time Wednesday morning rolls around, Killian is more than ready to leave the cold of Britain behind for the warmth of Seychelles and the privacy of having Emma to himself, no royal protocol or photographers or hostile family members or need to wear a suit and tie. When they escaped to Switzerland a few years ago Emma was reluctant to let him do something like this, and the nerves practically rolled off of her until they were secluded within the walls of their lodge or cautiously skiing down the slopes (see: Emma landing on her ass in the snow more often than not). Today, she is calm, relaxed even, as she sits opposite of him on the plane with her nose in a book and her feet propped up in his lap, his thumbs running across the bones of her ankles while he watches both Netflix and her.

 

Sometimes he is struck by her beauty. Actually, all the time really, but he’s often struck by how much she’s grown in herself since he’s known her. When they met, she was inherently kind, something no one can ever take away from her despite her protests otherwise. She was inherently kind but fighting a battle with herself over if she deserved to receive that kindness in return. She always had. She’d been subjected to things she didn’t deserve by a man who didn’t deserve her, and Killian wanted nothing more than to take away those demons and replace them with the goodness he saw in her and with the light that she brought into his life just by talking to him like he was any other guy. And as much as he knows that he did have an impact on her growth and her ability to believe in herself, it was really all Emma. It’s always been Emma.

 

So to see her today as she is, someone who is sure of herself even when the world has a target on her back, it’s a wonderful, beautiful sight.

 

She kicks at his lap with her foot to get his attention from where he was obviously daydreaming and most likely staring.

 

“Are you alright?”

 

“Of course, love, why?”

 

“If you look at me any harder you’re going to drill a hole in my head.”

 

“I’m just happy.”

 

She smiles at him before shaking her head and going back to her book, running her toes across the top of his thighs, and he knows this is her way of being affectionate with him even when most of her attention is focused on her book.

 

By the time they get to their private villa, far away from any of the other villas and on their own private beach, he almost cannot wait to be out in the ocean air and all of the freedom that provides, even if he knows that he’s got two security guards discreetly trailing behind them and staying in the small cabin next to them.

 

“Well shit,” Emma murmurs when they pull up to the villa, her hand slapping against his knee.

 

He can’t help but laugh as Emma takes in their home for the next ten days while he’s grabbing their luggage out of the golf cart they drove here in.

 

“Very eloquent, love.”

 

“Can you blame me, Killian? This looks like it’s out of a movie.”

 

“You’ve got to see the inside. And the view of the ocean.”

 

It’s like their own personal paradise, natural elements scattered across the villa with white linens and pillows that are the many colors of the sea dispersed throughout. He’d seen everything online before securely booking it, but Emma’s amazed as she’s walking around and running her hand over the balcony railing that overlooks their private pool which melds into the ocean, two types of blue becoming one. He doesn’t always feel the need for this kind of luxury, but he has the ability to give Emma this and he very much wanted to.

 

Especially for the sake of the ring in his carry-on.

 

“Damn,” she says later when she sits down on the swing on the balcony of their bedroom, a clear view of the ocean in front of her as he puts their suitcases in the closet. They can unpack later. “This is amazing, babe. Can we move here?”

 

“Considering the thing that lets us come here is me spending my time in Britain and getting paid to be me, I very much doubt that we can do that.” He moves to lean over her and wrap his arms around her neck, resting his chin on to top of her hair. “And I suspect that you’ll miss everyone too much. I know for a fact that you’ve already asked Abigail for a picture of Elizabeth with Alex.”

 

“They’re so cute, babe. And Alex cried when I left. Obviously I’m going to miss them. Don’t pretend that you don’t either. But I think I can do without them for ten days when I feel like I’ve walked into a book or a movie or something else ridiculous. How is this place even real?”

 

“It is one of my personal favorite places,” he admits before unwrapping his arms and moving to sit next to her on the swing, kicking his legs against the ground to sway them back and forth.

 

“Have you been here before?”

 

“With my family when I was a teenager. Wasn’t quite as romantic then.”

 

“I would hope not. That’d be super concerning and frankly pretty damn weird.”

 

They spend their first day there getting used to the place, exploring the rooms and discovering all of the hidden gems within the villa. He can feel all of the tension that’s been building in his shoulders, years of stress and worries that have accumulated and have been weighing him down, lifting and evaporating in the salt air. It looks as if the same thing is happening with Emma, her smile brighter than it’s been lately as she lounges in one of the beach chairs. They didn’t manage to get out to the beach until late in the evening, the sun setting and the temperature cooling, a light breeze causing Emma’s hair to blow in the wind as she wraps herself in a blanket and stares out at the horizon.

 

It’s perfect.

 

But then the heavens open up unexpectedly, one of those island storms that come out of nowhere, quickly drenching the earth before disappearing just as quickly. He and Emma don’t move out of it fast enough, too far down the beach to be anything but soaked by the time they get back inside, absolutely drenched as the water on them falls to the tile floor of the entryway, pooling at their bare feet. .

 

Emma strips out of her knit sweater, leaving her in just her bra as she grabs a towel out of the linen closet and dries off. He’s a bit of an ass, grabbing onto her and giving her a tight embrace as he buries his chin in her neck and makes sure that she becomes just as soaked as she was a moment ago.

 

“Killian,” she laughs, trying to squirm out of his grasp, but he just holds on tighter, breathing her in, smelling more like salt air and rain water than the flowers of her perfume or the vanilla of her shampoo. “Killian,” she whines again before wrapping her arms around his waist and holding him as he’s holding her. He can feel the laughter shaking through her chest. “You are such a kid. We’re going to stay wet forever and catch pneumonia.”

 

“Well, I’d quite like you to be wet all the time.”

 

She scrunches her face, her nose becoming a wrinkly mess and her eyelids closing.

 

“That’s the worst pickup line you’ve everused on me.”

 

He laughs against her shoulder before kissing it and releasing her, shedding his own clothes as he reaches for another towel and dries her down, slowly moving the towel down her body while she runs her fingers through the water droplets falling off the top of his hair until he takes the time to dry himself off.

 

By the time the two of them have changed clothes, he looks outside to see that the rain has stopped falling while the night sky has fully emerged, white stars contrasted against the black canvas of the sky, and he falls back onto the living room couch with a bit of a huff of frustration.

 

“You’re being cranky over a bit of rain, babe.”

 

“I am not.” She rolls her eyes. “Okay, then maybe my thighs hurt from running on the uneven sand.”

“Your fitness is going to have to be better than that for the plans I have for you and your thighs this week.”

 

A laugh passes through his lips before he reaches his hand out to grab hers on the armchair she’s sitting in beside him. “It’s a good thing we’re already together because we apparently have lost our touch when it comes to flirting.”

 

“I don’t think you could ever trulylose the ability to flirt. That’s, like, you’re second language.”

 

“That would be French.”

 

“Ah, yes, the language of love.”

 

She lets go of his hand, their fingers falling from each other while she walks into the kitchen and out of his sight so that he’s left to look out at the night sky again through the floor to ceiling windows, the wind blowing the palms as the aftereffects of the storm blow through.

 

When he awakes the next morning, Emma’s staring at him, green eyes peering into blue, with her head propped up in her right hand as her left trails over his arm, small little taps that he wouldn’t feel if he wasn’t so in tune to Emma’s touch.

 

“I’m still going to be here if you blink, Nolan.”

 

She rolls her eyes before moving closer to him, folding her body into his, the heat of her automatically washing over him as she rests are head on his shoulder and he wraps his arms around her waist to keep her as close as possible.

 

“Are you okay, sweetheart?”

 

She shakes her head up and down against him, nuzzling further into his shoulder if that’s even possible. He noses at her forehead, encouraging her to look up at him even if she doesn’t listen.

 

“So you’re simply being extra affectionate this morning?”

 

“You are incredibly warm today, and while I’m loving this whole open concept feel of this place, us not closing the windows last night was not our most brilliant plan.”

 

“Ahhh,” he sighs before snaking his arm around her to rub at her back, sneaking underneath her top to find the bare skin of her back. Her skin is cold where it’s usually warm, and that just won’t do, his hand moving up and down to try to bring heat back to the skin. “Well,” he purrs, dipping his head down to capture her lips in a lazy kiss, “I think we can change the temperature with a little bit of physical activity.”

 

“I haven’t brushed my teeth,” she tells him, somehow managing to not roll her eyes, when he pulls back from her, “and neither have you.”

 

“Has that ever stopped us before?”

 

“I also need to shave today.”

 

He raises his eyebrows while his lips tick up to one side. “Has that ever stopped me before, my hairy little love?”

 

She laughs before crawling out of his grasp and sliding her shirt over her head, her breasts encased in the most raggedy bra that she owns. She loves that thing, and he sees it more than he sees any of the satin or lace she keeps in the closet.

 

“Looks like I can still flirt if I’m getting you out of your clothes that quickly.”

 

“Baby, you’re just lucky we don’t have to schedule our sex because we’ve been together so long.”

 

She crawls onto his lap, her knees on either side of his thighs before hooking her arms behind her and snapping her bra off, the tan straps falling off her shoulders and exposing herself to him before she begins nibbling on his jaw.

 

“Is this not our scheduled monthly morning sex?”

 

“Oh no it is,” she giggles as he starts running his fingers up her sides, hitting underneath her armpits like she absolutely hates, “so you better do your best work, my love, because this is it.”

 

He stops tickling her arms then and cups her breasts, his fingers ghosting over her nipples as he dips his head to the side to whisper in her ear, “I have a feeling I can renegotiate our terms.”

 

He leans back and grabs onto Emma’s waist, tossing her forward onto the bed so that she bounces against the mattress, her hair spreading out behind her like a golden blanket as she laughs and smiles up at before bringing her bottom lip between her teeth.

 

“You are the most stunning woman alive,” he coos as he lowers himself on top of her, aligning their hips and their lips, the softness of both driving him wild as she moves against him. Emma may not know how to waltz, but they have this dance down, so well-practiced that even through the cloudy haze of passion, they both know exactly what to do to drive each other crazy. “Just, everything about you is wonderful.” He leans back down to slant his lips over hers, running his tongue along the line of her lips until she allows him entrance, the slick slide of her tongue against his making everything else in the world blur away only to leave Emma.

 

He quite likes it that way.

 

Emma runs her hands against the skin on his back, her nails scratching red lines into his skin as his scruff mostly likely rubs similar red marks into her chin, his lips moving from hers to run across her jaw and behind her ear, running his tongue below the lobe a biting until she whimpers. When he chuckles at her whines, she digs her nails a little further into his skin and pointedly rolls her hips against his so that he’s whimpering as well.

 

Oh gods that feels good.

 

“It’s not so funny now, is it?”

 

“You’re a bloody minx.”

 

She laughs against his shoulder before her hands inch down to his boxers, thumbs moving the elastic down until the cool air hits his skin. He lifts his hips to help her get him undressed before doing the same thing to her so that their skin is pressed together, her softness pressed against his hardness while he checks to see if she’s ready for him, slowly sliding into her when he feels her slickness, a gasp escaping from Emma at her sudden fullness.

 

“You ready to renegotiate our terms now?” he whispers before moving inside of her, her walls always so tight that it takes everything in him to not lose himself completely right then and there.

 

“You are an idiot,” Emma laughs before wrapping her legs around him, her heels digging into his ass to push him further inside her and bloody hell. “You are an idiot, and I love you to pieces.”

 

He dips his head down to kiss her, murmuring I love you against her lips before increasing his pace, thrusting in and out quickly as they whisper quietly, or not so quietly, mixtures of loving little nothings and dirty little things into each other’s ears, pants and moans echoing throughout the room and out the open windows so that the sounds of them rocking together are mixed with the rocking of the waves, slow and fluid at one moment only to be harsh and demanding the next.

 

Emma falls before him, her teeth biting into his shoulder as she whimpers beneath him, and he’s not long after, spilling himself inside of her before collapsing on top of her, knowing that if his weight becomes too much, she won’t hesitate to tell him. Instead she kisses his shoulder, her tongue soothing her bite mark before sighing beneath him and closing her eyes when he rubs his scruff against her cheek, the harsh hair blending in with the softness of her skin.

 

“So only once a month in the morning, huh?”

 

“Ugh,” she grumbles, pushing him off of her, not that she can really do that without a little help from him, so that he pulls out of her and tumbles onto his back. “You are impossible, and you really know how to run with a joke.”

 

“I may be impossible,” he kisses her collarbone before crawling out of bed to get her a towel, “but you love me for it.”

 

“Aye,” she mimics in his accent, propping herself up on her elbows and smiling at him like he’s the reason the sun is in the sky and the ocean is at their feet, smiling at him like he’s everything to her in the way that she’s everything to him.

 

He lets Emma sleep in for a little while longer while he takes the engagement ring out of his carry-on and slips it into the sole of the shoes he’s going to wear for dinner tonight. Yeah, he could just put it in one of his pockets, but Emma’s been known to slip her hands into his pockets when kissing him and he just can’t risk keeping the ring somewhere she’ll find it.

 

So he slips the ring into his shoe and dresses in his swim trunks and a button down, going downstairs to fix himself some coffee and eggs, knowing not to bother fixing Emma anything because she won’t be up for at least another hour or two. She surprises him, though, coming down the stairs dressed for the beach not thirty minutes later, and she doesn’t even teasingly berate him for not fixing her something, instead grabbing a fresh muffin the resort provides and sitting out on the deck to watch the ocean roll in and then roll back out, the sun glittering across the water.

 

If he didn’t so love his home country and wasn’t required to be one of the faces of the nation, he’d move somewhere like this like Emma jokingly requested last night, a place near the sea where everything is romanticized just the tiniest bit, where he can watch his girlfriend drop crumbs down her shirt as she sits in a swing with her hair curling in tight ringlets because of the salt of the water. 

 

Killian likes to think that he’s a bit of a romantic, always making sure that Emma has fresh flowers or leaving her notes when he leaves the apartment for the day. He likes to think that he’s a romantic as he tells her he loves her for the seventh time in one day or when he readily (most of the time) admits that he’s wrong when they’ve gotten into an argument because one of them did something stupid. More often than not, he’s the one who’s done something stupid. He likes to think that he’s a romantic despite the fact that they’ve been together for nearly six years, or maybe even because of it. He likes to think that he’s a romantic in the little, everyday things, the ones that truly mean more than the big gestures, but today is a big gesture kind of day.

 

Today is an asking Emma Nolan to marry him kind of day.

 

He’s nervous.

 

So damn nervous.

 

Marrying her is all he has wanted for the past five and half years, and he has no doubt that she’ll say yes, but as they tan on the beach later that day all he can think about is his plans for later that night and the ring resting in the bottom of his loafers.

 

She’s so beautiful in every way, but right now she’s got nothing on but the tiniest pieces of blue fabric, her skin sparkling as the sun beats down on the mixture of lotion and sweat, and her hair is falling over the top of her chair so that the tips mix with the white sands of the beach. She’s got a book in her hands, and he idly wonders how many she brought with her because she reads more than any person he’s ever met, especially lately.

 

She’s beautiful and he loves her, and he’s so nervous for this evening that he thinks he might need to have a small, or large, glass of rum before he asks her. Does that make him awful? How do you love someone this much and still get nervous?

 

He must have been noticeably staring for too long because she turns on her side and reaches her hand over to run her fingers across his torso, resting them at the curve of his hip as she continues to read, only stopping when he returns her action and places his hand on her hip, her green eyes peering over the top of the pages after she pushes her sunglasses to her head.

 

“What?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

“You’re staring again.”

 

“It’s difficult not to stare at you.”

 

She puts her book down on the ground between them, making sure to mark her page, before crossing the small gap between their chairs and crawling into his side, half of her resting on top of him, her bare legs running up and down his calves while she props her head up on her forearms that are resting on his chest.

 

“What?” he questions, wrapping his arm around her to tug her more fully onto his body, a heat spreading across him that has nothing to do with the sun.

 

“Nothing.”

 

“You’re staring.”

 

She smirks, pressing her lips against his chin before pressing her lips against his own. “It’s difficult not to stare at you.”

 

“Darling, you have to come up with your own compliments.”

 

“Okay,” she says, her foot tapping at his. “You’re hot as hell.”

 

He throws his head back as much as he can in laughter while his hand squeezes her ass cheek for, well, her cheekiness. She’s not the kind of funny where everyone in the room knows it. It’s usually more subtle, nuanced, but he thinks she’s the most hysterical person he’s ever met, especially with her not-so-eloquent flirtations.

 

“That’s much better.” He kisses her nose before shifting her so that she’s at his side while he grabs her book from the ground. “What are we reading, love?”

 

“A trashy beach novel because I finished all of my good ones.”

 

He flips through the pages, skimming the words until he gets to her bookmark and begins to read where she left off, continuing until Emma yawns against his neck and her skin begins to pink.

 

“So what exactly does our date tonight entail?” Emma questions later as she runs her brush through her hair, smoothing out the curls she just put into it with her curling iron.

 

“It’s a surprise.”

 

That’s the understatement of the century.

 

“Killian,” she whines, leaving her spot in the bathroom, clad in nothing but her robe, to sit on his lap and wrap her arms around his neck. He likes relaxed, beach vacation Emma. She’s extra affectionate, and that’s going to work well in his favor tonight…hopefully. “What have I told you about surprise dates? I love them, but I need guidance on my clothes and if I need to eat beforehand because I’m not going to like the food.”

 

“This is like our first date all over again.”

 

“What?”

 

“You asking me for help on your outfit. You didn’t know what to wear.” He presses a kiss against her temple. “Darling, I own the same suit pieces in multiple colors. You dress me all the time. And while I would be perfectly okay with you wearing your birthday suit, I know that whatever you wear will be fine. We’re going to be out on the deck, and I promise you’ll like the food.”

 

“I still can’t believe I had to ask you for help that day.”

 

“It was endearing.”

 

Emma ends up dressing in a white sundress, and it’s almost comical how appropriate that is for the occasion. The entire evening is nice, the resort delivering grilled fish and bottle of wine as well as setting up candles and fairy lights that keep the area illuminated even under the canopy of trees. He’s especially glad for the wine, not getting to have his glass of rum earlier, and with every fidget of his foot, he can feels the ring in its protective bag under the arch of his foot in his shoe.  

 

“Emma?”

 

She’s looking out at the water, her glass of wine swirling as she absentmindedly holds it out beside her. “Yeah?”

 

He doesn’t say anything else for awhile, still trying to run through the words he’s been rehearsing for weeks now, until she looks over at him, sweet smile on her face as her head falls back, hair tumbling down the back of her chair.

 

Instead of proposing, he blurts out, “Do you want to go for a walk?”

 

“Sure.” She slips her sandals from her feet before stepping onto the sand, looking at him curiously as he stays in his shoes. “You don’t want to take your shoes off? Those are nice ones. I wouldn’t want you to mess them up.”

 

“Um,” he scratches behind his ear and hopes that his internal grimace doesn’t become an external one, “it’s fine this way.”

 

They walk silently for a little while, their fingers twined together, and even though their silence has been comfortable, like most of them are, he has to break this one. He will not chicken out of this moment.

 

“You know,” he begins, trying not to have to take a deep breath because that will most definitely give him away, “the day I met you I was pissed beyond belief at my father. I don’t even remember what about, but it led me to going on one of my walks and to meeting this fiery blonde lass who has just…who has just become my entire world. So you could say I like my walks like this.”

 

He looks over to her, her lips slightly parted, and he can see the gears running in her head by the way her brows are furrowed together. He knows the moment she’s figured out what’s about to happen, one corner of her mouth ticking up and her eyes widening the slightest bit as her brow unfurrows, but he soldiers on, confident that this is going to go well.

 

“Emma, I have loved you for five years, four months, and seventeen days…”

 

“Did you count?” she laughs, interrupting him like only she could in a moment like this.  

 

“Of course,” Killian confirms, stopping their walk so that he can stand in front of her, the moonlight making her hair look almost white. “I have loved you for that specific amount of days, so long that I cannot remember what it’s like not to love you. You’re everything to me. You’re the love of my life and my partner in everything. You’re brave and you’re kind and you’ve got the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met.”

 

He finally gets down onto one knee, and when he looks up to Emma, she’s nodding her head in encouragement while she absolutely beams down at him.

 

“You’reit, my love, and…hold on, I’ve got to get the ring out of my shoe.” He reaches down to take his left shoe off, struggling to get it out from underneath the sole, and when he does finally get it, Emma’s squatting down in front of him trying to hold back her laughter at his scrambling. He has to kiss her then, totally out of order of how this thing is supposed to go.

 

When they part, their foreheads resting together and their lips so close that when Emma speaks, her lips brush against his. “Killian, ask me.”

 

He does.

 

“Will you marry me?”

 

She nods her head against him before closing that small distance again and slanting her lips over his, and he can feelher smile. He’s sure she can feel his.

 

“Yes, Killian, of course. A thousand times yes.”

 

She peppers kisses across his face before her lips land against his.

 

“Bloody hell, you said yes.”

 

“Did you think I’d say otherwise?”

 

“No,” he laughs, grabbing her left hand so that he can finally slide the ring on her finger. It looks right, like it belongs there. Probably because it does. “But this is nerve wracking, sweetheart. I’ve felt like I was going to pass out all day.”

 

She chuckles before leaning back and holding her hand up against his shoulder, looking at the ring for probably the first time since they’ve both been a bit distracted. “Babe, this is beautiful.” She cups his cheeks, and he can feel the metal from both of her rings against his skin. “You’re beautiful, and I love you.”

 

“I love you.”

 

“Can I call my mom?”

 

He barks out a laugh before tugging Emma into him with such a force that their teeth clack together in their kiss, his hands threading into her hair while her hands grab the collar of his shirt, little whimpers emanating from her throat as he moans into the kiss, not breaking apart until he feels the sand at his back and Emma on top of him.

 

She’s breathing heavily, harsh pants that match his own as their foreheads press together, her nose pushing into his cheek as his does the same. “Is that what you wanted to call your mum for?”

 

She shakes her head against him, her nose brushing over his while he moves his hands down to hold onto her hips. “We’re getting married,” she sighs against his lips. “Babe, we’re actually going to do it.”

 

“I know,” he grins, the feel of her smile so near his lips and the skin of her thighs underneath his touch making him feel like his entire body is tingling. She said yes. She bloody said yes. “I cannot wait to marry you, Emma. Absolutely cannot wait.”

 

“I can’t either.”

 

Eventually the do make it back to the villa, and while he’d never planned a beach proposal, never meant to do it down by the water, he’s glad that it happened that way. He’ll probably have sand in his hair for years, but he doesn’t bloody care. After celebrating their newly engaged status with just the two of them, Emma calls her mum, bubbling over in so much excitement that he thinks she might burst.

 

“I’m nervous,” she whispers against his shoulder as they sit out on the chaise on the balcony, her phone ringing as she dials her parents.

 

“Don’t be.”

 

“Did they know it was happening?”

 

“I talked to your dad about it a few months ago.”

 

“Oh that was smart not to tell Mom,” she laughs, not hearing the phone click as someone answered the call.

 

“What did we not tell, Mum?” Mary Margaret asks through the speakers, and Emma practically jumps out of her skin. “Aren’t you supposed to be on vacation, sweetie?”

 

“I have something exciting to tell you.”

 

“Oh my God, I’m going to be a grandmother.”

 

“What?” Emma gasps, looking down at her stomach, still flat as ever, like Mary Margaret can see her even though this is just a regular phone call instead of a video message. This is going about as well as he thought it would. Mary Margaret is likely to scream bloody murder when she finds out the real news. “Why is your first guess that I’m pregnant?”

 

“Well because you and Killian are obviously sexually  – ”

 

“Mom,” Emma groans, and he just leans over to kiss the top of her head as her face goes red, “please just let me tell you so that we can nothave this conversation.”

 

“Okay, go. I’m all ears.”

 

Emma takes a breath, looking over at him and kissing the side of his jaw before holding up the phone to her mouth and whispering, “Killian asked me to marry him, and I said yes.”

 

The phone is silent for a minute before Killian hears Mary Margaret sob on the other end of the phone.

 

“Mom,” Emma prods, “Mom, are you okay?”

 

“My baby is getting married,” Mary Margaret absolutely wails through the phone, and he imagines she’s going to give Emma the tightest hug when they get home. Probably give him one, too. “I’m so happy. Ooooh, I cannot wait for your father to find out. I’m assuming I can’t tell him while he’s down at the pub?”

 

“Probably not the best idea. You’ll have to keep a secret for at least a few hours. You can text me when he gets off, and I’ll call him, too.”

 

The conversation lasts for a few more minutes, Killian joining in every now and then before they let Mary Margaret go, Emma curling into him and resting her left hand on his chest. He likes that, seeing the shine of the diamond reflected against his chest, and when they fall asleep later that night, it’s with her left hand resting on his chest instead of the usual right.

 

The next morning Emma wakes him up with a kiss before he even manages to open his eyes, her tongue running across his lips and then suddenly pulling away so quickly that he thinks he’s dreaming until he opens his eyes, hazy from his late night, and sees her clothing her bare skin with a sports bra and a pair of leggings.

 

“Darling, are you going somewhere?”

 

“For a run on the beach because apparently I hate myself and still feel the need to exercise when on vacation.”

 

“Do you want me to come with you?”

 

She shrugs. “Only if you want to.”

 

“Give me five minutes.”

 

By the time they’ve been running for twenty minutes his legs and his lungs are burning, not used to the uneven terrain of the sand and the water, and it takes Emma a moment to realize that he’s stopped running, hunched over with his hands on his knees. Maybe those kids in Africa were right. He is out of breath quickly for a healthy, twenty-nine year old man. Emma does eventually notice that he’s fallen back, turning around and jogging back to him until she’s standing in front of him, her lips upturned as she smirks.

 

It’s that smirk that sparks an idea in his head, and before Emma even has the chance to run away he’s got her thrown over his shoulder.

 

“Killian,” she warns even as he carries her to the water, smacking her ass when she pinches his side in retaliation. “Killian, that water is going to be ice cold. I swear, don’t you dare throw me in there.”

 

He doesn’t listen, and he doesn’t care how much trouble he’s going to get in with her later, he gets knee deep in the water, and she’s right, it’s damn cold, but he’s still throws her into the water before diving in after her, making sure to pop up right where he tossed her to make sure she’s okay.

 

When he surfaces, she’s already above water, slicking her hair back while her lips twitch, eyes bright even as the salt water brushes over her brow, maybe especially because the salt water brushes over her brow and reflects in her eyes.

 

“You are a dead man.”

 

“What a way it’ll be to go.”

 

“You,” she swims over to him, wrapping her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist, her tennis shoes sinking into his back, “have got some balls, Killian.”

 

“You of all people would know.”

 

He kisses her nose before wading them back to the shore, their clothes already weighing them down the more he exposes them to the air instead of the water, and if he’s going to regret doing that, it’s going to only be because now he’s walking them back to the villa, their clothes heavy even with Emma quitting her squirming by the time he is halfway back. This is a hell of a better workout than their run, and his heart pumps at a faster rate with the way Emma’s nibbling at his pulse point, her tongue soothing her bite every few seconds.

 

Getting engaged is bloody brilliant for one’s libido.

 

He manages to get her all the way upstairs and to the stone shower, putting her down right outside of it, his arms screaming in protest even as he strips down, finally getting his wet shoes off and reaching into the shower to get the water started, a steady stream falling onto the light stones and darkening them as he steps in, letting the water fall over him, his hair matting down as the sand falls off of him

 

Killian looks over to see Emma staring at him, her bottom lip between her teeth as her hip rests against the wall, still dressed in everything but her shoes.

 

“You like the view, sweetheart?” he teases, slicking his hair back so that it doesn’t fall in his eyes.

 

“I do like it,” she seductively purrs before peeling out of her soaked thru sports bra, the material getting stuck when she gets it over her shoulders, and he barks out a laugh as her seductive strip tease transforms into a struggle of simply getting out of her clothes. She eventually gets it off before snapping it at him for his laughter, her hair falling in wet waves down her back when she bends to strip off her leggings, laughing and mumbling something about stupid spandexuntil she finally steps into the shower with him, her hands running up his chest until they land on his shoulders, her body tightly pressed into his.

 

If all early morning runs ended like this, he’d go every damn day.

 

“That was quite the little show you put on there, darling.”

 

He reaches around to grab her bottom, pulling her even closer to him so that his growing hardness can get some friction while her hardening nipples press into the hair of his chest. He backs her up to the wall so that the water is only hitting at his back, his body shielding Emma from the spray getting into her eyes as he dips his head down and kisses her, little moans coming out of her throat as he devours her, rolling their hips together and making himself moan, too.

 

“I like this being engaged thing,” she breathes while he runs his mouth across her jaw and her hands simply hold onto his neck and card through his hair while his travel over her stomach, down her thighs, against her core, feeling the wetness that’s starting to pool there that has nothing to do with the water in the shower. “It makes you extra sexy.”

 

“Are you saying I needed incentive to be extra sexy?” He bites at her ear lobe and pushes against her clit with the heel of his hand simultaneously, and all of the air rushes out of Emma as she gasps and leans her head against his shoulder while her body reacts to him.

 

“No, babe,” she kisses his shoulder, peppering kisses across his collarbone before running her tongue across the underside of his jaw, her hands snaking down to stoke him while he fingers at her folds and fuck, she’s amazing. “You are always sexy,” she presses up on her tip toes to reach his ear, “saucy even.”

 

He chuckles at their inside joke, and at that she runs her fingers across the underside of his length before circling the tip and his laugh is dispersed into a moan, his heavy breathing only increasing the more she works him up…and down.

 

“Turn around, darling,” he grits out, kissing her temple before she turns and he can kiss at the back of her neck and down her spine, his hands tracing down her sides until he’s kneeling on the ground, edges of the stones cutting into him as he licks a stripe against her folds, his tongue teasing at the soft ridges while Emma grapples at the wall, pushing her ass up against him so that she can get more friction.

 

“Baby,” she moans when he gets into a particularly good rhythm, his forearm holding her stomach and pushing her back into him as his fingers toy with her bundle of nerves. “Babe, I can’t – I can’t hold on. I need…I need you to ah – fuck,” she whimpers, her voice cutting above the sound of the water beating down when he harshly smacks her bundle of nerves and her legs fall out underneath her as her release finally hits her. He works her through it while holding her up and keeping her from falling in any other way but the pleasurable one.

 

It’s bloody amazing.

 

Once her legs have gained their strength back, Killian rises from the ground, kissing his way up Emma’s back before capturing her lips with his in a bruising kiss and lining himself up to her entrance and sliding into her, her walls fluttering around him, little aftershocks from her previous orgasm.

 

“I love you,” she whispers against his lips as he starts to move inside her, dragging himself in and out before harshly pushing back in, his arms supporting Emma under her breasts and at her waist while he rolls his hips against her backside. “I love you so much.”

 

“I love you, too, my darling.”

 

It continues like that for awhile, the sounds of wet skin slapping against each other mixed with moans and the fall of the shower water beating against Killian’s back and to the floor, the heat of it waning the longer they’re in there. When Emma falls for a second time, Killian isn’t far behind, suppressing his moan against the skin of Emma’s shoulder while he holds both of them up, all of the sounds blurring and muting as he attempts to come back to himself.

 

Eventually Emma manages to turn in his arms and push them back underneath the shower spray, grabbing the shampoo and condition to wash the sand, the sea, and the sweat out of their hair.

 

“You’re right, love,” Killian says later when they’re both wrapped up in towels and Emma is twisting her hair into two fishtail braids.

 

“I mean, always,” Emma teases, “but what am I right about this time?”

 

“That ring on your finger makes you extra sexy.”

 

They just had sex in the shower, but her cheeks still go red. He loves when he can still make her blush.

 

“So how many official duties are we going to have when we get home?”

 

“A hell of a lot,” he sighs before shuffling around in his suitcase and pulling on his swim trunks for when they eventually get to the beach, handing Emma one of her bikinis and a cover-up, “but we don’t have to worry about any of that this week. And we won’t have to announce it to the world for at least six weeks, but there will be behind the scenes things to do.”

 

He steps forward to twist his fingers through the tips of her braided hair, and when she scrunches her face, her nose wrinkling, he leans down to kiss her forehead.

 

“But today, my future wife, today we eat whatever the hell we want because we have done quite a bit of physical activity this morning and then we bask in the sun so that we can rightfully complain about having to wear several layers of clothes when we get home.”

 

“Sounds like a plan, my future husband.” A beat passes. “Oh God, we’re that cheesy couple aren’t we?”

 

“Absolutely.”

 

The day passes in a blur of food, fruity alcoholic drinks that are almost obligatory when visiting an island, the sun beating down on pale skin changing to tanned, sand between the toes, and nothing between Emma and Killian as they lounge on the deck or in the pool, drifting off into the ocean almost as naturally as they drift to sleep later that night.

 

He wakes around two in the morning, the moonlight causing Emma’s ring to shine as she runs her left hand over the exposed hair of his chest, her delicate fingers pressing against his skin.

 

“Hey,” he whispers before running his fingers down her back and tugging her closer, pressing a kiss to the top of her hair. “What are you doing up?”

 

“I’m just thinking.”

 

“Would you like to share with the class?”

 

“Hmm,” she hums before kissing his chest, right over where his heart is beating. “It’s nothing big. Just life.”

 

“Life isn’t something big?”

 

Even in the darkness he knows she rolled her eyes.

 

“You know what I mean.”

 

“I’d rather you tell me.”

 

“I’m simply thinking about how lucky I am,” she sighs, her fingers still toying with his hair, “how lucky we are to have this life. And not necessarily the fancy vacations and the nice things, but to have each other. I think about all of the things that had to go wrong, and more importantly that had to go right, for you to walk in that door that night…and for you to keep coming back.”

 

“I like to think I was too stubborn to not come back. You fascinated me. Still do. Probably always will.”

 

“Killian, you know everything about me.”

 

“Aye, but we’ll change as we get older. We already have in the past few months, but in a good way, you know?”

 

“Yeah,” she exhales, leaning down to kiss his bicep, “I know. Everything about this is so crazy, but you and me, we make sense, don’t you think?”

 

“I know that we do.”

 

They eventually drift back to sleep and don’t wake until mid-morning, the sun shining brightly even with the curtains closed and shrouding them in the hazy light. He’s got a day scheduled out on a ship for them, and while he promised her he’d take her sailing, he couldn’t manage to get anything other than a motorized yacht, but she seems fine with it as the wind blows through her hair while they’re driven out into the sea by one of the resort officials, a day’s worth of food and drinks stocked in the kitchen below deck.

 

It’s a wonderful day, even if it is a little awkward having the driver and his security onboard with them. At one point he and Emma jump off the back of the boat just to get away from the others, letting the salt water wash around them while they wade in the ocean.

 

“I think my skin is going to be completely wrinkled by the time we get home.”

 

“Aw,” Killian coos before swimming over to her and wrapping his hands around her waist under the water, “my own little old woman.”

 

Emma scrunches her face, and he tries to swoop in and kiss her, but she squirms out of his hold and ducks under the water to climb up the ladder to get out of the water, her bottoms clinging to her.

 

“Your ass looks amazing, love.”

 

She turns to look at him still down in the water, her lips slightly parted in surprise before she smirks and hooks her finger to call him toward her, and he scrambles out of that water like a man possessed.

 

The rest of their week goes like that, mixtures of salt water and alcohol or sand and sex, not necessarily in those combinations. Killian hasn’t been this carefree in years, and when he zips up their luggage the morning of their flight home, he feels a legitimate sense of melancholy wash over him at the thought of leaving and having to go back to his real life with duties and work, no matter how much he’s missed his bed and not-so-surprisingly-anymore, his family. Emma simply smiles and squeezes his forearm, lugging her suitcase down the stairs before he gets the chance to carry it for her.

 

She walks out the front door on her way…their way…home.

 

Together.

Chapter Text

When Killian and Emma get home from their trip late that afternoon, the sun just beginning to set over the walls of Kensington, Abigail and Liam are taking their children for a walk in the gardens between their apartments, the little ones all bundled up to combat the mid-January evening chill. When the two of them see his brother’s family, Emma drops her bag, kisses his cheek, her lips cold against the heat of his skin, and then she’s practically sprinting over to Abigail, scooping Alexander up on the way before throwing her open arm around Abigail’s neck and hanging on for dear life. He has no bloody idea what’s going on until Emma pulls back from Abigail and he hears a literal, actual high-pitched squeal.

 

(From Abigail)

 

She’s obviously told Abigail about the proposal, the women and Alex now looking at Emma’s hand or more likely the ring gracing it and chatting with each other by the time that Killian makes it over there, their bags left where he was standing when Emma ran off.

 

“Congratulations,” Liam greets, cheery smile on his face as he pulls Killian into an embrace that’s more welcome than not. “I see you’ve finallyasked Emma here to marry you.”

 

Seven months ago Liam had a bloody meltdown over the idea of Killian marrying Emma, and while Killian will never forget those words, he’s moved on from them. As has Liam who has been consistently working on being the brother Killian has always deserved but has just recently gotten at twenty-nine years old.

 

Sometimes he wonders what it would have been like to cut himself off from his family to be with Emma, but he finds that he likes having so many people to love…and who love him. Better late than never.

 

“Aye,” Killian laughs before leaning over to kiss Abigail’s cheek in greeting, doing the same to little Alex, finding the tiny scrap of skin exposed through his clothes, and grabbing Elizabeth’s tiny foot through her bootie, “and luckily for me, she said yes.”

 

Emma smiles softly at him in response to his words, her green eyes bright against the tan of her skin that looks almost out of place in the muted colors of a Kensington winter.

 

“Oh, tell me all about how it happened,” Abigail sighs, reaching into the stroller to hold Elizabeth so that the babe can get some of Abigail’s body heat, rocking her back in forth in her embrace like it’s the most natural thing in the world. He supposes it is. “Killian is sucha romantic, and he’s been planning this for a long while, months really. I’ve never seen a man so excited to be engaged. I bet it was wonderful.”

 

Emma’s eyebrows move across her forehead before her lips turn up on the right in a smirk at all of this information she’s getting from Abigail. He’s going to have to start keeping secrets from Abigail, too, if she’s going to share everything and cause his cheeks to heat.

 

“Darling,” Liam coos as he moves to wrap his arm around his wife’s waist and protect Elizabeth from the cold as well, “why don’t we give them some time to settle back in before we grill them for all of the details?”

 

“Oh, I’m hyped on coffee,” Emma laughs, balancing Alex on her hip before handing him over to Killian so that Killian can at least try to pretend that Alex loves him nearly as much as Alex loves Emma. “Let’s go inside because it’s freezing, and then I shall tell you every detail of how Killian was shaking in his boots and practically flung his shoe in the ocean while trying to get the ring out of it.”

 

That gets him some weird looks as they go to Emma and Killian’s apartment, the Christmas decorations still up, and that distracts Alexander enough so that he plays with his toys they keep here for him while the four of them chat about the trip, Emma rocking Elizabeth back and forth because apparently she’ll start wailing if she stops moving and Emma was insistent that she get to know the little lass a bit better.

 

Eventually Emma has to get up and run to the restroom, so she hands Elizabeth off to Killian because she knows he’s been practically aching to hold her all evening. She’s nearly two months old now, and Killian has missed over half of her life being gone for trips, one business and one pleasure. He knows that the little love will never know that, but he still feels the slightest tinge of guilt at not being here to help out with everything, even if he knows his brother and Abigail have a nanny to help them out when they’re not around or need to sleep. He’s always been there for Alex, and he plans to do the same with Elizabeth. She’s already enraptured him.

 

Emma comes back into the room, settling down next to him on the couch, and he sees her not so slyly try to snap a picture of he and Elizabeth, who has fallen asleep in his arms, surprisingly thick head of dark hair rubbing against his forearm while he supports the little lass’s head and gently rocks her so she doesn’t wake.

 

It’s a good time, even when Liam and Abigail start talking about how hectic it was planning their wedding and the details that go into it. Emma’s eyes go wide next to him, and Abigail must see that because she has to assure Emma that they will have all of the help they’ll ever need planning. All Emma really has to do is say yes or no and help design her dress, or dresses really since she’ll have two. He cannot wait to see her walking down the aisle. It doesn’t matter that millions across the world will watch along with the hundreds or thousands in attendance.

 

At the end of the day, it’s just them. It’s just Killian and Emma.

 

“Emmy?” Alex ponders, “You go bye bye.”

 

“I did go bye bye, buddy, but I’m here now.”

 

(She’s here. Always.)

 

He seems to be satisfied with her answer before going back to his toys. It’s only later that he crawls up into Killian’s lap and snuggles against his stomach, mumbling that Killian went bye bye, too.

 

Eventually Liam, Abigail, and the kids leave, and despite Emma claiming to be hyped up on coffee, the exhaustion from travel gets to the both of them, and they fall asleep in the living room, only waking when Killian’s phone goes off.

 

“Who is calling you at this ungodly hour?”

 

“It’s not yet nine in the evening, love.”

 

“That’s far past talking hours.”

 

He looks down to see his father’s name on his phone, and Killian groggily swipes his finger across the screen, holding up the phone to his ear and mumbling a tired hello.

 

Killian talks to Brennan for a little while longer, murmuring words into the phone even if all he wants to do is sleep, the plane ride having worn him out to the point that he’s barely a functioning human. His dad simply wants to have lunch tomorrow to discuss the engagement now that it’s official (Killian and Emma and called all of their parents to make sure every one of them knew before they got home in case the news somehow got out, but they still have to see everyone in person to truly celebrate) and to begin discussing all of the preliminary discussions for their future nuptials.

 

Killian remembers when Liam got married, just being on the periphery of the event, how incredibly detailed and, frankly, mad the whole thing was. Abigail was kind earlier when she simplified the planning process, but it was much more complicated than that. It took hundreds of thousands of people to plan, nondisclosure agreements being signed every other minute, and somehow his family managed to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the events. Of course, Liam and Abigail’s wedding brought in at least double what it cost for tourism, but all Killian can think about is how as much as this day is going to be about he and Emma, it’s also going to be about the country and the Crown.

 

So now they have lunch plans with Killian’s parents tomorrow and dinner plans with David and Mary Margaret, and they really should have combined the two meals despite the fact that the meal with his parents will have to mostly be about official duties and what comes next. Just the typical things that come along with marrying into his family.

 

Their own kind of normal.

 

 After his phone call, he and Emma do manage to make it all the way upstairs, struggling through their nightly routines before collapsing on their bed, Emma moaning about how good it is to be home. It really is.

 

“I’m nervous,” Emma admits while they’re getting ready for lunch the next day, the both of them dressing in jeans and sweaters. “Like, I haven’t been this nervous since I met your family for the first time, and that was a train wreck. Like, a train wreck where everything is on fire even though it’s underwater.”

 

He thinks that metaphor went a little…off the tracks, but he’s just going to keep that to himself at this point in time. He’ll make that pun later.

 

“It’s not going to be like that again. My family loves you.”

 

“Albert doesn’t.”

 

“Well, nobody bloody cares what Albert thinks, and Dad’s threatened to take away his titles and therefore his money, so he’ll basically be a monk practicing silence from now on.”

 

She lets out what basically equates to a pity chuckle before she begins bouncing her legs up and down at her vanity while she does her makeup. She really is so nervous that she might start an earthquake throughout all of England.

 

“Hey,” he urges before sitting down next to her on her bench, “what are you nervous about?”

 

She shakes her head from side to side before applying her blush.

 

“Tell me, love.”

 

Emma finishes coloring her cheeks before putting her brush down and turning to face him. “What if they’re all gung ho about all of this, and then your dad sees me with this ring and is, like, holy fuck I can’t let my son marry this girl?” Her leg is still shaking and her lips are pulled back against her teeth, the pretty pink disappearing into her skin while her eyes stay open like she’s forgotten how to blink.

 

“That’s not going to happen.”

 

“What if it does?”

 

“Emma Nolan, I will not lie to you, and I am not lying when I say that there is absolutely no way that my parents are going to suddenly have some kind of revelation and think you’re anything less than perfect for me and for this family.” He places his right hand on her left hand before pulling it to his lips and kissing her knuckles right by her engagement ring. “Now, do you want me to reschedule until you’re more comfortable, or are you okay going today?”

 

“No, no,” she sighs, getting up from the bench and adjusting her jeans, brushing at the imaginary lint, “I can go today. Just don’t let me drink coffee when we’re there because it’ll make me all jittery and nervous.”

 

“I thought that was just your natural state.”

 

She smacks his ass as he walks out of the bathroom. That’s the Emma he knows and loves.

 

Emma has relaxed after the length of the car ride to Windsor, where his parents have decided to stay after spending the past few weeks in Sandringham for all of the Christmas holidays and weeks thereafter.

 

“You know,” Killian croons as they pull through security, “this is probably where we’ll get married. In St. George’s Chapel.”

 

“Really?” Her eyes are bright as she leans over him to look at the exterior. “Can I see the inside of it?”

 

“I’ll have to check and see if I can take you on a tour if we have time after lunch,” Killian assures as he turns into their parking area, “but I promise you’ll see it before any decisions are made.”

 

By the time they make it to the informal dining room, it’s fifteen after when they were supposed to meet his parents, and when Killian opens the door, Brennan and Allison are standing almost directly by the entryway, their hands twined together and their feet taping so much like Emma’s had earlier. When they see he and Emma, his mother’s eyes squint as her entire face blooms into a smile while his father simply nods while his lips press together in a subtle grin, and even if Killian told Emma not to be nervous, he is incredibly relieved to see this reaction.

 

Old habits and thoughts die hard, he guesses.

 

“Good afternoon,” Killian laughs when neither of them make a move to say anything. “Are you guys practicing being statues?”

 

They both seem to snap out of whatever trance they’re in, releasing each other’s hands and moving forward to embrace both he and Emma, his mother squeezing the life out of Emma while his father buries his head in Killian’s neck, whispering congratulations to him while his mother audibly talks to Emma.

 

“Oh, let me see the ring on your finger, darling,” Allison fusses, pulling back from Emma and holding onto her left hand and admiring the diamonds. “This is just stunning. You know, Killian designed this?”

 

“I did know that.” Emma looks over to him and gives him a soft smile before nodding at the tight grip his mum has on her hand. “Who knew he was such a good jewelry designer? I think he’s missed his calling.”

 

“Allison,” Brennan nudges, taking Emma’s hands out of his wife’s and admiring the ring, “you’ve got to let me give the girl a hug. And possibly embrace your son, too. You know, he’s also getting married to this lovely lady who far outshines her ring.”

 

Emma’s cheeks immediately pink, and he feels like his heart is stuck in his throat, but in the best way possible. He doesn’t get much of a chance to think about that, though, because his mother’s tiny frame is embracing him, and he hasn’t been this fully, completely happy in a long time.

 

They sit to eat lunch, a winter salad full of chicken, beets, walnuts, and the like, and the conversation flows. His mother wants to know all about how it happened, laughing at Killian keeping the ring in his shoe and practically passing out on the beach (At least, that’s how Emma describes it. He wasn’t thatnervous…or maybe he was.) and then awing in all the right places when he and Emma recount all of the words he said. He honestly doesn’t remember everything, the words a bit of a blur, but Emma seems to remember it all. Good, it was all for her anyway.

 

Maybe a little bit for him.

 

Or a lot.

 

Okay, so it was…is for the both of them. Definitely.

 

His parents manage to hold off on all of the official Royal Family business until after they’ve eaten and moved to one of the sitting rooms for tea and coffee (which Emma drinks even if she was trying not to be jittery), like the blended British and American family that they are. Of course, he much prefers the coffee to the tea anyhow.

 

He’s apparently always been a bit of a rebel.

 

“So, I don’t know how much Killian has told you, Emma darling, or how much Allison’s aide has taught you with your lessons,” Brennan begins, taking a sip of tea before putting it on the side table, “but you’ve got quite the big change coming up.”

 

“That’s about all I know, to be honest. Everything’s been kind of vague, but I’m up for the challenge.”

 

She’s got her hands clasped in her lap and her feet crossed at her ankles, and he doesn’t know if she thinks she has to be in proper position for this lunch or if it’s just becoming a natural state when in places other than home. Emma Nolan, the woman who sits cross legged on kitchen countertops in nothing but a t-shirt with her hair sticking up all over the place and her glasses sliding off her nose is also the woman who now knows royal protocol and how to sit and speak when at official engagements.

 

It’s the smallest thing, and while he knows it’s a bit ridiculous, it shows how much she’s done just to be with him, how much she’s willing to do because she loves him. Sometimes he wonders if he does enough to show that he loves her. He likes to think that he does. She tells him that he does. She doesn’t complain about the changes in her life or the hoops she has to jump through, and Emma really is the most remarkable woman.

 

She’s going to break protocol all of the time, just because of who she is. She’ll show him public displays of affection or talk to someone for too long, giving hugs when she’s only supposed to give handshakes. He does the same thing. He used to be chastised for those things, but he imagines that he won’t anymore.

 

He reaches over to place his palm over her twined hands before his father continues.

 

“Well, good,” Brennan smiles, “because I’ve got a challenge for you.”

 

They have to pick a date, one that doesn’t interfere with any outstanding events or holidays. Their wedding will most likely be made into an official bank holiday, and Emma’s eyes go wide at that. Contracts will need to be made, staff for Emma will need to be hired, flowers grown, invitations designed, titles distributed, a dress (or two) made for Emma, and basically everything that comes with planning a wedding...greatly enhanced.

 

“Furthermore, darlings,” Allison continues on for Brennan, “Emma will start going on your official duties with you. The first of all being your engagement announcement and then the interview with the BBC.”

 

“Honestly,” Emma admits, “that’s what has me shaking in my boots right now. I can shake hands and kiss cheeks, but me talking on national television seems like a disaster waiting to happen.”

 

“We’ll make it as comfortable as possible. It’ll be just you, Killian, and whoever they send for the interview. You’ll know the questions ahead of time, and they’ll just be simple things like how you met or how he proposed and how you’re adjusting to your new life.”

 

“I’ll always be by your side, Emma,” Killian comforts, squeezing his hand over hers. “You’re a natural with people, and I’m sure you’ll be a natural on camera. I mean, I do it all of the time, and I don’t seem too awkward, do I?”

 

“Sure, babe. Whatever you think.” Emma pauses, and her lips part the slightest bit, like she has something she wants to say but isn’t sure if she should say it. “What about June eighth? For the wedding date? I know it’s on a Saturday this year, so that would mean no bank holiday, but I think that’s a good date since I know that weddings happen pretty quickly around here.”

 

“Why June eighth?” Brennan inquires.

 

Killian knows why.

 

“It’s our anniversary.”

 


 

“Hey,” he greets as he stumbles through the door, shedding his damp jacket and stepping into the relative dryness of the pub compared to the continual rain that seems to be falling from the heavens with no plans to cease, “are you guys open yet? I could use a drink. I’ve got a big anniversary to celebrate tonight.”

 

Emma stops wiping down the tables, tossing her wipes down on the wooden seat, before walking over to him and pressing up on her toes as she’s wrapping her arms around his neck, her smile coy as she hovers just the slightest bit too far away from him.

 

“We don’t open for three hours, but I think we can make an exception for someone who has a big anniversary tonight.” She cards her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck, and she looks so beautiful and happy, so unlike the last time he saw her. “Unless, you know, you’re one year sober or something like that.”

 

“It’s not something like that.”

 

He dips his head down to kiss Emma while she presses up further on her toes, his hands sliding into the back pockets of her jeans to pull her body further into him so that he can feel all of her.

 

“Happy first anniversary, Killian,” Emma whispers against his lips while her forehead presses against him. “It’s felt like a lifetime.”

 

“That’s not a good thing, love,” he chuckles before squeezing her bottom.

 

“You know what I meant.”

 

“I do.” He kisses her again before sliding his hands out of her pockets and turning her around, pushing her forward so that she stumbles out of the entryway of the pub and back toward the sitting areas. “Do you need help setting up for this afternoon before we do lunch?”

 

She contemplates her options for a moment, running her hands through her loose braid so that it comes even further undone before tossing him the container of wipes. “You can finish wiping down the tables and booths while I get the glasses out of the dishwasher, okay?”

 

“Sounds like a plan.”

 

The two of them finish working, preparing the pub for the night while music plays through the speakers. David and Mary Margaret eventually come downstairs to help, and when they all finish setting up, they eat a late lunch upstairs, spooning a casserole into their mouths while they watch the television.

 

“So what are the two of you doing for your anniversary?” Mary Margaret questions while the afternoon news flickers across the screen, a video of his father shaking hands with the Prime Minister after one of his quarterly meetings where Brennan goes to the Prime Minister instead of the Prime Minster coming to him, but then it quickly changes to a football match and his father’s face is gone.

 

“I’m working, Mom,” Emma mumbles with the casserole in her mouth. “Remember?”

 

“I’m almost positive we gave you the day off.”

 

Emma rolls her eyes at her mother’s reminder.

 

“Yeah, you did, but then both Will and Kat called out sick.”

 

“Em, it’s fine,” David assures her while picking up everyone’s plates and taking them to the kitchen to put in the sink. “Your mom and I can take care of it. You two should do something fun.”

 

Emma shrugs her shoulders. “You guys don’t have to do that. We’re fine right, babe?”

 

She looks over at him across the room, and he knows just by the way she’s worrying her lip between her teeth that she’d love the day off, but she doesn’t want to leave her parents in the lurch. “No, take the night off. We’ll do something fun like your dad suggested.”

 

Her lips part like she’s going to protest, but then she’s nodding her head up and down. “What are we going to do?”

 

Later that evening once David and Mary Margaret have opened the pub, he’s zipping up one of David’s raincoats, his regular coat from earlier not enough to protect from the water, so that it covers his chin, putting his hat on before sliding the hood over his hair while Emma slips into a pair of yellow wellies and a rain jacket herself.

 

“So your idea of us doing something fun is going for a walk in the pouring rain?”

 

She looks like she is one hundred percent not here for this idea, her brows furrowed and her eyes slanted as she studies him like she’s waiting for him to tell her that he’s kidding, but this is an opportunity for them to get out and about, even if it does require walking in the rain.

 

“Yep,” he confirms, popping the ‘p” before moving to pull Emma’s hood over her hair and tucking the stray strands behind her ears and tapping her shoulders while she scrunches her nose. He loves when she scrunches her nose. He loves her, and he really cannot believe she’s stuck with him for an entire year. Best bloody year of his life. “Think about it. No one will be out and about, and we won’t run the risk of being seen as anything other than two lunatics who want to catch a cold.”

 

“We’re totally going to catch a cold, Killian.”

 

“Without a doubt,” he agrees, sliding his phone in his back pocket and leading them out of the apartment, slipping out the side door of the pub and onto the practically empty streets of London that are slick with the rainfall that’s been pounding down all day.

 

He has no idea where he’s going. It’s not that he’s not familiar with the area, but he doesn’t have a destination in mind as Emma loops her arms through his elbow and they aimlessly wander outside while debating the merits of American television versus British television. He knows that he can’t stray too far from the pub, his deal with his security detail for them to keep quiet about where he spends his time depends on never straying too far away from Emma’s place without proper notice, but eventually they walk far enough to see the river and find a bench under a cluster of trees that keeps it mostly dry from the elements.

 

There are still boats and ships cruising by, some of them commercial while others have fairy lights strung up across the decks where parties were obviously supposed to happen before the rain started. Whoever decided to host an outdoor event in London in June is obviously one for placing bets and wishing on stars that the weather will be pleasant.

 

“I’m sorry about last week.”

 

His head snaps toward Emma who is staring out at the water and watching one of the boats with the lights flickering across the deck. Her face is all contorted in the way that it is when she’s upset about something, her bottom lip jutting out instead of being pulled between her lips and her eyes somehow even brighter as unshed tears linger there.

 

They were in an argument last week because Emma had been pissed at her parents while he felt the same about his own, and they took it out on each other, snide comments and biting remarks over Killian scuffing up the bar with his shoes and Emma picking up extra shifts even on the days that he had time to visit. That’s half the reason he was so insistent that she take time off for them to go out tonight, even if it is just them sitting on a public bench catching pneumonia. The entire thing was idiotic and frustrating and petty as hell, and they need quality time together.

 

They didn’t get it last week because Killian had been too cross to stay, and Emma had been too frustrated to let him. So he’d left, and he hadn’t been able to come back, a week full of engagements and meetings and only resolving things between the two of them over a phone call or two between his obligations.

 

It’s like he’s always obligated to something when he wants to be obligated to Emma.

 

“You don’t have anything to be sorry for, love,” he promises, watching the boats move across the water as well. “We were both cross with our parents, and we became cross with each other. I thought we talked through things.”

 

A small chuckle passes through Emma’s lips before she pats his leg, quick enough that it could have been a leaf blowing if he hadn’t seen her hand move and heard the rustle of the material of her raincoat.

 

“I lied to you last week,” Emma admits, and he’s honestly shocked by that. They don’t lie to each other, and if they do, they’re apparently damn good at hiding it. “And don’t freak out because it wasn’t something bad. It was a money thing.”

 

“Emma,” he sighs, because they’ve had this money talk several times before, and he thought maybe she was beginning to understand that her not being as financially well off as him doesn’t matter. He’d give it all up for her in an instant. “I thought we talked about – ”

 

“We did,” she interrupts, and he wishes he could see her face under the hood of her coat, but she’s pulled it across her face to keep his gaze away. “It’s not that.”

 

“Then what is it?”

 

She groans before turning her head to look at him and propping her head up on her hand on the back of the bench, some of her hair escaping out of the hood and frizzing when the rain hits it.

 

“I took extra shifts because I was trying to buy you those loafers you were talking about a few weeks ago to give you today, but they didn’t have your size in the store and I had to order them online. So basically, I lied to you like the people in The Gift of the Magi, but I’m assuming you didn’t sell your feet to buy me something so we should be okay.”

 

He lifts his feet and wiggles his toes through the boots just to prove that they’re still there, like he somehow could have done what she said. Emma Nolan is his favorite part of every day of his life, he’s a fan of every part of her, and he would be happy to sell his feet or his clothes or his whole damn apartment just to be with her. She doesn’t have to do anything but be herself, but it means the world to him that she would put in that much effort simply to give him a pair of dress shoes that he casually mentioned three or four weeks ago.

 

“First of all,” he begins, taking her free hand and bringing it to his lips, the skin tasting like rain water when his lips press against it, “I love you. That’s the most important thing. Second of all, I cannot wait to rock those shoes.” He moves his hand to her cheek, caressing her face while she turns her head and kisses his palm. “And we’re obviously never going to have a normal relationship, my love, and as sweet as you doing that for me is, please don’t lie to me about things like that. We don’t lie, remember? We’re honest and truthful about what we’re feeling. That’s the only thing that makes this work, and I sure as hell want this to work.”

 

He sees her eyes flutter closed, eyelashes almost invisible free of makeup and hidden in the darkness of the night sky. Water drips off of her hood and a single droplet lands on her cheek, running down her skin until it’s gone.

 

“I just,” she begins, and he sees a tear slip from her eyes to replace the rain droplet, “I feel like you are always doing so much for me, and I don’t want us to be unequal partners in this. I know I’m usually happy, but God, Killian, I’ve never done anything like you and me before. It’s scary and overwhelming and – ”

 

“Do you trust me?”

 

“What?”

 

“Do you trust me?”

 

“Of course I trust you.”

 

“Then trust me,” he moves to swipe away her tears with his knuckles, and there’s the smile he loves, “that no part of me thinks this is an unequal partnership, and if you think that, we’re going to work on fixing that, aye?”

 

She nods her head and then twists her body so that she can press her lips against his, his hat flipping upward when her nose presses into his face and her lips become more insistent against him. When it completely falls off his head, his hood coming off with it, Emma pulls back and laughs against his face before pulling his hat and hood back over him.

 

“You’re a good man, Killian, and I’m so glad that I kissed you that night, even if my dad saw us dry humping on the bar and then we didn’t talk again until…well, until one year ago today.”

 

“I’m mostly just glad we moved past dry humping.” He pauses before nipping at her bottom lip. “I quite enjoy having sex with you.”

 

Emma rolls her eyes, but when they come back around, there’s a lightness in them that wasn’t there a moment ago. Maybe it’s because she just cried for a moment, but then her hand is inching up the inside of his thigh as slowly as she possibly can, her long fingernails pressing into his skin through his slacks. His breathing is suddenly a little heady as his eyes flicker between watching her hands and her face, her lips now tugging up on one side.

 

“Do you,” she whispers against his cheek, the closest she can get to his ear with the rain gear on, “want me to go run into that market and get us something to eat?”

 

She pulls back from him with a giggle, and he’s left sitting there with his lips parted and a seriously confused mind…and body. “What now?”

 

“Do you want something to eat?”

 

“But we were, we were ah – ”

 

“Killian,” she begins, getting up from the bench and shaking the water that’s accumulated while they’ve been sitting down off of her, “you’re going to need food to keep up your energy later, because we have the apartment to ourselves and there’s fun times to be had.”

 

She’s quite the little minx, isn’t she?

 

Later Emma is sitting on her bedroom floor in nothing but his t-shirt and the pair of riding boots (great minds think alike for anniversary gifts apparently) he bought her despite the summer weather hopefully coming soon. She’d had on the peal earrings he purchased, too, but she didn’t want to lose them, so they’re resting in her jewelry box now. She looks ridiculous when she gets the boots zipped up and stands from the floor, showing off her new look while he’s got his head propped in his hand as he’s stretched out on the bed.

 

“So,” she implores, testing out her walk with the heels, and he wishes his shirt were just the slightest bit shorter on her, “what do you think?”

 

“I think you should walk around like that all of the time, if I’m honest.”

 

“Oh really?” She walks toward her door, twisting the knob and looking back at him. “So if I walked downstairs to the pub right now, just like this, all those people drinking their beers and sipping on their whiskeys, you’d still want me to dress like this?”

 

She walks out of the room before he has the chance to answer, and he scrambles out of her bed so quickly, his legs getting caught in the sheets, that when he finds her simply leaning against the hallway wall with this fucking smirk on her face, arms crossed against her chest bringing her shirt higher up to expose more of her legs, he absolutely cannot believe she teased him like that.

 

Well, he can, but he almost fell on his face trying to get to her.

 

Happy anniversary to him.

 

“You a little jealous there, babe?”

 

“Never,” he lies, stepping closer to her so that their faces are only inches apart, breaths intermingling while his hands brace against the wall above her, “but you are a bloody tease, and your legs look fantastic right now.”

 

“Imagine how they’d feel wrapped around you again.”

 

And then she’s ducking underneath his arms and walking back into her bedroom, and this woman is the love of his life. He knows it.

 


 

When they finish lunch with his parents, wedding date set (and wow is that insane to know the day that he’s getting married to Emma) and a date scheduled for their engagement portraits as well as their interview and photo call with the press, plus a few other appointments scheduled for the actual wedding planning, they have to hurry home to meet Emma’s parents who just texted Emma to let them know that they are on their way over which means they’ll likely be stuck sitting outside of their front door until Emma and Killian get there.

 

Sure enough, David and Mary Margaret Nolan are sitting on a bench right outside their door and similarly to when Emma saw Abigail yesterday, she takes off at breakneck speed and runs into her mother’s arms, visibly squeezing tight. By the time he catches up, she’s moved onto hugging David and he’s cupping the back of Emma’s hair, whispering something in her ear that has Emma nodding her head against him. Killian’s distracted by their embrace, and all he wants is to have a relationship like that with his own children one day, but then Mary Margaret’s small frame is embracing him, too, and while he’s not much of a crier, he has to choke back a sob at Mary Margaret’s words.

 

“I’m so glad it’s you,” she whispers into his ear, pressing up on her toes and kissing his cheek.

 

“I am, too.”

 

David embraces him as well, making a joke about being relieved that Killian finally popped the question because damn has it been hard to keep things from Mary Margaret. The Nolans have taught him a lot over the past half of a decade, like what it’s like to be good parents, how to work hard even if the work isn’t always enjoyable, what it’s like to be a cohesive, loving family, and mostly what a solid, devoted relationship looks like. Yes, his parents love each other, and yes, he knows now how they are not the distant couple he once thought they were. But it’s David and Mary Margaret who have taught him what it’s like to still be romantic three decades into a relationship (much to Emma’s dismay sometimes), or how to work through a rut or an argument in a way that’s not yelling and storming out of the room, even if that took awhile to learn. They’ve been there for him with his own family issues. They’ve been there for him even when he’s had issues with Emma, even if that’s their daughter they’re giving him relationship advice on, and as glad as they are to be having him as an official part of their family, it cannot compare to how thrilled he is to be a part of theirs.

 

The four of them make their way inside, heading into the kitchen and standing on opposite sides of the island while Emma fills in her parents on everything they talked about with his parents today, and when she tells them they already have a wedding date, her parents suddenly go silent like their tongues have been tied.

 

“What?” Emma nervously questions, her hand blindly reaching behind her in an attempt to find his. He doesn’t see it until she taps against his stomach, and that’s when he finally grabs it, holding her palm and rubbing his thumb over her knuckles to try to soothe her. “Why do you guys look like I just dumped a bucket of ice water on you and then made you go stand outside in the cold?”

“It’s just,” David begins, his stomach pressed against the counter, “we’ve known you were engaged for about a week now, and I find out that I am walking you down the aisle in a little under five months.” David pauses, and Killian sees his throat move when he gulps. “I do get to walk you down the aisle, right?”

 

“Of course, Dad,” Emma reassures, releasing Killian’s hand so that she can take her father’s hand in her own, “why would you think otherwise?”

 

David shrugs, and Killian’s heart aches over the fact that even though Killian vividly remembers David making a joke about their wedding being televised when Killian told him his intentions toward Emma, he still thought he might not get to walk his only daughter, his only child, down the aisle.

 

“Because,” Mary Margaret answers for David, “as much as you are just Killian to us, you’re not to the rest of the world, and it’s not like this is going to be any other wedding.”

 

“Guys, there’s going to be fanfare and traditions and a lot of things that we won’t understand, but at the end of the day, it’s simply Killian and me getting married. Dad, you’ll walk me down the aisle, and, Mom, you’ll help me get ready before you both give a super embarrassing speech at one of the receptions.”

 

“One of?”

 

“There are two,” Killian explains, and Emma’s parents look about as shocked as Emma when she found this out last night. “An afternoon tea my father will host full of all of the political and royal figures we invite, and then that night we’ll have an actual reception with drinking and dancing with a smaller group of people.”

 

“That sounds like quite the wedding,” Mary Margaret comments before placing her hand over Emma and David’s, and he’s so glad that they can have moments like this, “but I am thrilled. My baby is getting married to the most wonderful man alive.”

 

“I mean, I thought that was me, so Killian can be the second most wonderful man alive.”

 

Both Nolan women slap at David’s chest, and David winks at Killian in a way that reminds Killian so much of Emma that he almost has whiplash.

 

After the Nolans leave, he and Emma head upstairs to go to bed, or at least that’s what he thought they were going to do before Emma strips down to her knickers and starts trying on every dress in the closet, tossing them to the ground if she doesn’t like them while he watches in fascination from his spot seated on the ottoman they keep in there.

 

She puts on a stunning black gown that’s basically like a second skin, and he’d really like to know when she got that and why he hasn’t seen it, but then she’s shimmying out of it as well and laying it over the island. This is like the least erotic strip tease he’s ever seen.

 

“Emma, darling, what in the bloody hell are you doing?”

 

“I’m trying to find something to wear,” she motions toward all of the clothes everywhere, “for when we have all of that engagement stuff to do, for the pictures and the photo call and the interview, and I don’t know what’s appropriate for girlfriend Emma versus fiancé Emma.”

 

She’s freaking out, and he wasn’t really expecting that after the wonderful day they’ve had. But it does make sense with all of the overwhelming information she’s learned of their upcoming nuptials and her duties. It’s different thinking about them as a concept versus them being a reality.

 

“Hey,” he soothes, “come here.”

 

Her shoulders sag forward before she sullenly makes her way over to him, stopping just out of reach until he leans forward to grab her hips and starts rubbing his thumbs over her underwear while he looks up at her.

 

“You don’t have to worry about that today.”

 

“But I do have to worry about it.”

 

He gently yanks her toward him until she bends down and perches herself on his right thigh, reaching forward to cup his cheek and run her fingers across his skin.

 

“Not tonight,” he soothes, kissing her jaw, “and not alone. I know it’ll take some getting used to having people help dress you and do your hair and makeup, but we have that so that you can be less stressed. And eventually you’ll be an expert in all of this. You’re a quick study, my darling.”

 

“I just don’t want to do something wrong or upset the balance in your family any more than I have.”

 

“Is that what’s bothering you? You think you could somehow do something wrong?”

 

“I mean, yeah. Killian, I’m not blind. I grew up with you on the news and with your brother on the news. I know the types of girls you’re expected to marry, and even if I know nothing is going to change you and me and your family is okay with me now, but your dad kept talking about how much crazier the attention is going to get. Right now, the world thinks I’m this girl you’ve been dating for a few months. What’s going to happen when they find out we’re engaged?”

 

“Well, we’re going to get married.”

 

She rolls her eyes before resting her forehead against him. “I’m serious. What if people hate me? What if they think I dress horribly or, more importantly, what if they think that I cannot do good work to help better the country and the world through all of the work you do and the work I’m going to do?”

 

“Not everyone is going to like you, darling. I wish it wasn’t so, but it’s true. Not everyone likes me, and as long as we keep you away from the comment section on the internet, you’ll never have to know about the false nastiness that people spew.”

 

He pauses for a moment before moving forward to bite at her bottom lip while his hands run along her thigh. “But you know what?”

 

“What?”

 

“I like you.”

 

“Yeah,” she laughs against his lips, “I got that with you pulling the whole Beyoncé putting a ring on it thing.” He pinches her thigh, and she practically flies off of his lap as she squeals, “What was that for, you crazy man?”

 

“You’re supposed to say it back.”

 

“Well, you’re not supposed to pinch your fiancée like you’re some kind of five year old.”

 

She walks out of the closet after that, and he knows she’s not agitated by the way she sways her hips. And he really knows she’s not agitated from the way her bra lands at his feet after she throws it through the doorway. “I like you, Killian. Come to bed.”

Chapter Text

The haze of sleep begins to fade away as he feels the softness of lips against his right cheek and fingers dancing across his left, both gentle caresses that have him sighing and tightening his eyelids to keep the caresses from going away when the day finally claims him and he must open his eyes to face the realities that daylight brings. He thinks it must be working, sleep pulling him back into the dream of these caresses because they increase in their intensity, the hand moving from his face down to his arm, stroking the muscles of his shoulder up and down while the lips press against him more insistently, from his cheek to his temple to his eyelids to his nose and then finally to his lips.

 

His eyes flutter open at that last bit of contact when he realizes that he’s not dreaming, the touches coming from the woman hovering over him, emerald eyes bright even under the curtain of her blonde hair that’s surrounding him.

 

“I’m doing some of my best work,” Emma sighs above him before laying one last sloppy kiss against his lips and pulling back to look back down at him, “and you’re just sleeping right through it.”

 

In his defense, he thought it was a dream.

 

“Good morning,” he exhales, hand reaching up to touch her cheek, his thumb running over her prominent bones, tracing the freckles there like he’s done nearly every day for awhile now, “why are you awake before me? That never happens. I think the world must be ending.”

 

She rolls her eyes, and there’s the Emma in the morning that he knows and loves. “Well,” she drawls as her fingers move to cup his face again, returning his gesture by rubbing her thumbs at the bags that are undoubtedly under his eyes because he already knows from the way there’s no light coming through the curtains that it’s before dawn, “I felt this smooth thing against my neck, and I thought to myself, huh, this isn’t right. I can’t think of a single place on Killian that isn’t covered with hair, and lo and behold, I wake up to you, my love, with a shaved face, something I didn’t even think was possible.”

 

Her eyebrow is raised while her eyes furrow together to study him, and he chuckles before snaking his hand out from under her body to scratch at his face…his bare face.

 

“I may have shaved.”

 

“May have?”

 

“Yes,” he answers, using his body to flip her over on the bed so that they’re both resting on their sides facing each other, noses inches apart as they each hug their pillows tighter. “I may have…or definitely shaved. I was trying it out to see if it would look more presentable for the interview. You know, technically I’m not supposed to have facial hair for certain events. I’m a bit of a rebel, as you know. I like to take walks on the wild side.”

 

She presses her face back in confusion, looking almost like she’s smelled something pungent, and that’s always a face you want your fiancée to make at you while in bed. “Babe, I haven’t seen you without your scruff in all of the time that I’ve known you. Why would you change it?”

 

He shrugs his shoulders even from his position on his side. “I thought maybe it would be a good look. Do you not think so?”

 

“Honest opinion?”

 

“Always.”

 

“I prefer you with facial hair.” She reaches out to touch his face, and it’s weird feeling skin directly against skin on his cheeks and his jaw. “I think you look handsome this way, but it’s not Killian. Plus, what’s going to happen now that I’m not getting beard burn all of my body?”

 

“Would you like to find out?”

 

She giggles against his shoulder before pressing a kiss there. “I thought you’d never ask.”

 

Emma squirms as he pushes her onto her back, crawling over her so that she’s pinned to the bed as he rubs his chin and cheeks across her face and down her neck, making Emma squirm underneath him. She squeals when his hands reach to her sides and his fingers start moving against the sensitive skin there while his face really nuzzles into her neck, his lips moving against the juncture of her shoulder and her neck to keep her both moaning and laughing.

 

“St – st – stop,” she gasps, her breath completely gone as she struggles to get the words out through her laughter. “K-Killian…babe.”

 

He does eventually cease his playful ministrations, propping himself up on his forearms so that he’s resting just above her smirking down at her like the loveable asshole he hopes he is. Her eyes are bright as the tears from her laughter coat them, and her hair is all mused and matted from the way she tossed and turned against the mattress.

 

“You’re an asshole.”

 

“And you kiss me with that mouth?”

 

“Only when you have your scruff.”

 

She’s a bloody tease, smirking up at him as mirth dances in her eyes, amusement lighting up her entire face, and he could stay like this all day. Who cares that the rest of the world is calling when he’s got Emma right here?

 

“Well, luckily for me, and maybe a bit for you, I’m a fan of every part of you, darling,” he runs his leg down hers, “even if certain parts of your body are a little more hairy than usual. It’s like we traded places.”

 

She slaps the back of his head. “You’re obnoxious.”

 

“But you love me.”

 

“I do love you.”

 

A week later his facial hair has grown back in to its normal length, and Emma has the slightest bit of beard burn against her left thigh. Things have been righted, and as he cleans up his scruff this morning, he knows only to trim, not to truly shave, the whole mess of his bare face not something he’d like to repeat despite how pleasant that morning was. Though, it was fun to rub his chin into Emma’s neck when she was least expecting it and have her squeal at the unfamiliar sensation even past that morning in bed.

 

They’re taking their engagement photos today as well as doing their photo call with the press after their engagement announcement is released in, he looks down at his watch, three hours and thirty seven minutes. Tomorrow is their television interview, and he thinks that Emma may very well pass out from nervous anticipation if they don’t go ahead and get these few things done.

 

It’s only been four weeks since he proposed, and as much as they’re living in the bliss of it, it’s also been filled with wedding planning. Well, not really for the two of them, but for the event coordinators who work for the family as well as the palace’s security trying to coordinate security with the Windsor police. They can’t spread the news among too many people for fear of the information slipping out even with non-disclosure agreements, so he and Emma decided to speed up the process of announcing their engagement in order for the wedding planning to really begin.

 

Their lives are about to change publicly to match up with their private lives, and as much as he isn’t ready for all of the extra attention…he mostly is. He’s ready to begin his new life with Emma, to have her by his side even when he’s working and not just when they’re at home or going out to dinner. He’s been going on engagements alone for the entirety of his life, sometimes joined by other members of his family, but now Emma will get to come with him more often than not. That’ll be especially wonderful when they’re sent on overseas engagements for more than a few days at a time. Those have been increasingly difficult lately because he’s had to leave Emma behind, but she’ll be coming with him next time.

 

With them announcing their engagement now, Emma will be able to come with him to the opening of Kidding A Goal next month, and he’s almost bursting with happiness at his love being able to be a part of his passion project.

 

He’s just finishing his shaving when he hears Emma speak from across the bathroom where she’s been having her hair and makeup done, the smell of hair products and heating tools wafting through the room and mixing with the smells of their bath products and perfumes.

 

“I’m nervous,” Emma sputters as her hair dresser puts the final touches on the curls in her hair while he begins the process of getting dressed in his navy suit, making sure to put on the monogrammed cufflinks Emma gave him for his birthday, and checking with the stylist that it is the correct suit to match Emma’s first dress for the shoot.

 

“To take pictures?”

 

“No, I’m excited about those. We need more personal things in the apartment, and I can’t wait to put those up. I just feel nervous. Or maybe excited. I don’t know. This is all so exciting and nerve-wracking, and I can’t really explain it.”

 

He understands.

 

They spend the next few hours taking pictures out in the gardens of their home, the both of them shivering a bit with the February chill, but at least he’s in a suit while poor Emma is in nothing but her thin dress. They’re sitting on the ledge in front of the pond, the fountain’s water spraying at their backs, and Emma’s teeth are legitimately chattering as she sits next to him.

 

“You okay?”

 

“My face hurts from smiling,” she grits through her smile, “and if we don’t go inside to take the official portraits soon I’m going to lose a limb or something.”

 

So they go inside, making their outfit changes for the next set of pictures and just thinking of all the time that’s still to pass until this is all finished makes him want to stay crashed on the couch watching television like he’s doing right now. Instead they have their photo call with the press after the official portraits and as Emma gets her hair and makeup retouched, he flickers through the television channels until he finds the BBC and sees that the two of them are the top story and will remain that way until all of the pictures and videos from later are released.

 

Their official engagement announcement pops up on the screen just as he gets ready to change the channel so as not to see any unseemly news about Emma that still sometimes manages to slip in with actual news on occasion.

 

HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS PRINCE KILLIAN OF WALES

AND MS. EMMA NOLAN

ARE ENGAGED TO BE MARRIED

 

His Majesty The King and The Queen Consort are delighted to announce the engagement of Prince Killian to Ms. Emma Nolan.

 

The wedding will take place in Summer 2019. Further details about the wedding day will be announced in due course.

 

His Royal Highness and Ms. Nolan became engaged last month. Prince Killian has informed close members of the Royal Family including his brother, Prince William Duke of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cornwall. Prince Killian has also sought and received the blessing of Ms. Nolan’s parents.

 

The couple will live in Kensington Palace.

 

“How weird is that?” Emma questions from her spot behind him. “Like, I’ve obviously seen myself on TV before, but they’re talking about our engagement and already guessing who’s going to design my dress and when the wedding date is. Ruby says she’s got my name set up on google alert because she gets a kick out of seeing all of the articles and wants to see how many people think we’re getting married because they think I’m pregnant and not just because, you know, we love each other.”

 

“That sounds like a very Ruby thing to say.”

 

“She also says she’s got her name set up on google alert after that one Buzzfeed article about her.”

 

“That sounds even more Ruby-like.”

 

After Emma’s hair and makeup are retouched and her outfit changed, they load into Killian’s car to make their way over to Buckingham for the official portraits. While they don’t pass by the front of the palace where most tourists reside, he knows that it’s going to be packed with people in light of the news. What he doesn’t expect is the hoard of photographers and fans waiting outside of the security gate that they have to drive through.

 

“Don’t cover your face, even if the flashes reflect brightly in the car window, okay?”

 

He reaches over to place his hand on the inside of Emma’s knee, reassuring her that this is all going to be okay. It’s simply going to be a bit chaotic, but it’ll be only for a moment. He can see how nervous she is, and he understands. You never quite get comfortable with people taking pictures of you while you’re driving home.

 

They do make it inside after a slow drive through the crowd, and luckily no one makes an attempt at opening the door. That’s only happened once or twice before, and while he always keeps the car locked, he doesn’t want to put Emma through that kind of fright. As annoyed as he’s sometimes been with his security team, he’s thankful for them now as they’re only here to protect he and Emma.

 

To protect his family.

 

So the official portraits are taken within one of the sitting rooms in the palace, gold plating behind them in every frame, and once an adequate amount of pictures are taken and his face is starting to hurt from smiling as well, another outfit change is required as they head to the courtyard for their photo call with the press to announce their engagement by appearing together.

 

In a move to purposely keep Emma from being overwhelmed, the photographers are kept on one side of the courtyard while he and Emma stand on the other, the barrier of a garden of roses in between, with their hands resting on each other’s backs and her left hand resting on his chest to show off the ring.

 

“Are you okay?” he whispers to her when he notices a slight shakiness to her body and to her hold on him.

 

“Yes. I’m freezing again, though. I still feel like I’m going to become an ice sculpture or something ridiculous like that. I don’t think you can marry one of those.”

 

He laughs against her forehead before closing his eyes and pressing a kiss there. He’s not supposed to show such public displays of affection, but dammit. This is his future wife, and he can kiss her and hold her in public if he wants to. They’re announcing their engagement, not attending a somber event.

 

Protocol was never made to be broken, but it sure is fun when it is.

 

The photographers have to yell across the flowers for any type of question, and while all of these people have been vetted, it’s to keep anything from becoming long-winded or negative. While everyone is sure that the reception to Emma will be grand, they cannot ignore the fact that there are those who will go out of their way to push their negative and hateful viewpoints into the faces of the family and their other loved ones.

 

So a series of questions are shouted across the garden, but he particularly likes the last one.

 

“Your Highness, are you happy?”

 

“The happiest I’ve ever been.”

 

The rest of their afternoon is much calmer, getting to change out of heels and suits in order to lounge around at home in their pajamas, Emma falling asleep with her head in his lap on the couch as they watch some television to wind themselves down. She did so well today, really braving her first storm where they willingly submit themselves to the eyes of the world through the lenses of the press, and he can’t blame her for being a bit tired even if all they’ve done is stand in front of a camera and smile all day. It takes awhile to get used to the demands and pressures of his life. He’s still learning.

 

It’s while she’s sleeping that he gets the email with all of the portraits they took today and a message from his father to pick four for release tomorrow while the others can be kept within the privacy of their own home. He’s amazed by the fact that since this morning all of these pictures have been edited when there has to be over one hundred from which to choose. That’s not including all of the ones that were inevitably deleted of the two of them with their eyes closed or making a particularly unattractive expression.

 

His favorites are a group of pictures of them out in the garden. Emma has on this long, flowing dress, and she’d made a joke about how if she spins just right, the bottom flares up and how she hasn’t been able to resist doing something like that since she was a child. So, naturally, he grabbed her hand and spun her around, the both of them laughing at the reprieve of the seriousness of their pictures beforehand.

 

The photographer managed to capture the moment well, their fingers interlaced as their arms arch in the air, the two of them laughing with open-mouthed smiles as both Emma’s dress and her hair spin around. There’s several like that, showing the different phases of her twirl, and while he loves the first one, there’s one where she’s moved back into him, her arms wrapped around his shoulders while their foreheads press together and their eyelids are closed as the both of them smile.

 

“Hey,” he shakes Emma awake, moving her shoulders while she whines about him waking her up when she was comfortable. When she sits up, her hair is matted up on one side, and her face is covered with lines from where her cheek was resting against his thigh. This look should be the one they release to the press and then put on their Christmas cards. It’s that wonderful, even if Emma would disagree. “I need you to look through these and pick which ones you want released, okay?”

 

“Will you go get my glasses?”

 

“They’re on the coffee table, love. I would have thought you could seethat.”

 

She mumbles something under her breath about a cocky asshole, and he expected nothing less because he had to rouse her, even if she’s still mostly asleep. But eventually she does wake up, even if she just lies back down on his lap and doesn’t move as she holds the laptop against her chest. They go through the pictures together, laughing at the ones where one of them looks ridiculous and the photographer just didn’t catch Emma’s eyes closed or Killian in the middle of talking when editing. Emma audibly gasps when she gets to the pictures of Killian twirling her, and he knew she’d love those in the same way that he does.

 

They’re beautiful, and he’s glad to have something natural to show the world because he and Emma aren’t the stylized portraits members of his family have released in the past, polite smiles on their faces that while they gingerly touch each other’s chest like they’re not truly in love and not comfortable being intimate with the each other. And a lot of them probably weren’t, but they’re not living in those days anymore.

 

Their engagement interview with the BBC is early the next morning so that it can be edited and air that night, and he thinks Emma, who has lived the past eight years of her life working until three in the morning at a pub and then sleeping in until noon, might not marry him if he keeps waking her up to get her hair and makeup done before nine in the morning. She’s honestly probably still a bit peeved over him waking her up from her nap to pick the pictures.

 

She would probably hibernate if she could. Hell, so would he.

 

He waited until the last minute, knowing she’s been anxious about this more than anything, but he also knows she said she had to wake up and shave her legs so she can’t sleep too late. So that pretty much explains why she’s angrily standing in the shower running her razor over her legs while he brushes his teeth at his sink.

 

“You know,” he teases, “I think that I much prefer when you’re feeling more pleasant in the shower.”

 

“I much prefer being in bed.”

 

“Well, I like that, too.”

 

“Killian,” she groans, taking her razor and holding it out toward him through the stone walls of the shower that stand in place of a closed door, “I have a very sharp object with me, and I’m not afraid to use it.”

 

He starts walking over to her even if she basically did just threaten to cut him with her razor blades, and he sticks his head through the shower entrance, making sure to stay where the water won’t splash onto him. “You are the most loving woman in the world, darling, even when you’re threatening to slice me into pieces.”

 

“That’s just more of you to love.”

 

“You’re disturbed.”

 

She moves and presses her lips against his, her wet skin dripping onto his t-shirt, humming before she pulls back. “You taste like toothpaste.”

 

“An astute observation. You’re bloody brilliant.”

 

“I still,” she whispers against his lips, “have the razor, you jerk.”

 

“I’m going to tell the entire world how violent you are today.”

 

“Go ahead.” She holds up her left hand and wiggles her fingers. “I’ve already got the ring on my finger.”

 

He grabs her hand and runs his own fingers across hers, paying special attention to the place where her ring usually rests, only for him to see the moment she realizes she doesn’t actually have the ring on at the moment as it’s in its holder by the sink.

 

“You were saying?”

 

The rest of the morning goes by less violently as the two of them get ready. Emma even tells him she loves him when he places her coffee in her hands while she’s having her hair curled, so death threats aside, he counts it as a good morning.

 

They’re doing the interview in their sitting room by the garden, the greenery shown through the window behind the couch, and it’s a bit jarring to see all of the television equipment set up in their home when he and Emma come downstairs, the lines of his tie matching the green of her dress like they’re students attending a dance.

 

“Good morning, your Royal Highness and Ms. Nolan,” Mishal Husain of the BBC greets, curtseying to him in a move that he’ll always be quite uncomfortable with, especially when in his own home. “It’s so nice to see you and to meet you, Ms. Nolan.”

 

“Emma is fine, I promise.”

 

He already knows she’s not going to call her Emma just like she won’t call him Killian, but Emma tries regardless.

 

“So first of all,” Mishal begins, settling down onto one of the chairs across from the couch where he and Emma are now sitting, settling down with their hands intertwined and resting in his lap, “I have to say congratulations on the engagement. This is all rather exciting, I imagine.”

 

“Thank you,” Emma answers for them, her voice only shaking the slightest bit under the scrutiny of the lighting and the cameras. “It is. I’m excited, and I like to think that Killian is, too.”

 

“I’m bloody thrilled,” he laughs, squeezing her hand and winking when she looks over to him with that brilliant smile of hers. She’s going to be fine. He was legitimately born for things like this, but Emma’s got her own type of natural charisma that makes him wonder if she was as well.

 

“So tell me about the proposal,” Mishal insists. “When did it happen? Maybe even a little bit of how.”

 

“In the middle of January, so last month. We were on vacation going for a walk after dinner, and Killian starts saying just the sweetest things. He’s quite the wordsmith, you know? And he gets down on one knee and says wait – ”

 

“Oh, she loves this part. She likes to tease me about my moment of nerves here because according to her I’m so rarely flustered.”

 

“That’s not true at all,” she corrects, playfully rolling her eyes at him before continuing. “He’s smooth, but I like to think I can fluster him. Anyway, he’s got the ring in his shoes, which I bought him for our first anniversary by the way, and he has to pause in the middle of his proposal because he can’t get the ring out of his shoe. It was adorable and romantic, and very us, I think.”

 

It was very them. It didn’t go as planned, but nothing with Emma has ever really gone to plan. He hopes to change that with the whole getting married thing. He’d like that to go as planned.

 

“Yes, very us.”

 

“You know, my next question was going to be – ” Emma can’t stop looking over at him, her smile so bright that her eyes squint like the sun is shining in them, and he can’t help but return her affection as Mishal continues to speak “ – if you even hesitated to say yes, but you’ve given me a tasty bit of information. You said your first anniversary. How long have the two of you been together?”

 

He looks to Emma, nodding to ask get one final confirmation that it’s okay to share how long they’ve been together, and she nods back. “As of this June, we’ll have been together six years.”

 

Mishal’s eyes literally blow wide, her head recoiling as her lips part in surprise. “Six years, wow. That may be the greatest media blackout of all time since we as members of the public have only known about the darling Ms. Nolan for seven or so months. That’s remarkable. Why keep it as such a secret?”

 

“It’s difficult dating in the public eye,” Emma answers, and she really is a natural at this, answering before he even gets the chance to. “Killian and I met when he came into my parents’ pub one night to get out of the rain, and a friendship of sorts blossomed from there. He was…isthis charming man with a fantastic sense of humor, and I found myself falling for this wonderful man who I got to know for who he is and nothing else.”

 

“And did you fall for her just as quickly?”

 

“Oh much faster,” Killian laughs, knocking his knee into Emma’s, “probably from the moment I saw her and she yelled at me to get out of the booth in my wet slacks so I wouldn’t ruin the leather.”

 

“I didn’t yell.” She looks from him to Mishal. “He’s just the slightest bit dramatic.”

 

“So that’s how the two of you met? At the pub that’s now quite the tourist destination in London, if I do say so myself.”

 

“That’s where we met. That’s where we fell in love. It’s very special to us as a couple and to Emma’s family personally. And as much as I love how David and Mary Margaret are prospering, it makes me quite sad not to be able to go back and visit. That was my second home for so long, and even if I don’t have to sneak out to go visit my love, I still miss the place.”

 

He feels Emma squeeze his hand before she leans over to kiss his shoulder, mouthing an I love youbefore turning back to face Mishal.

 

“So obviously there’s been a bit of drama over your relationship, and I know you were struggling a bit Ms. Nolan when you first became a public figure, right?”

 

“Right.”

 

“So since you’d been with His Royal Highness for so long, were you prepared in any way for the whirlwind that being introduced to the world as the girlfriend of a prince ended up being?”

 

“Was I prepared?” Emma shakes her head before quickly glancing over at him, and he can see the mischief dancing in her eyes at the thoughts she likely won’t express, the cheeky minx. “No. Not in the slightest. I’m a girl who grew up in a small town in Maine, and obviously I had a bit of, let’s say, publicitythere but nothing like this. Killian and I made the decision to keep me out of the public eye for so long so that we could have that privacy to get to know each other without outside interference, but things changed and we made that decision, together, to take our relationship public so that, well, so that we could be sitting with you today. It doesn’t matter how many talks we had with each other. Nothing prepares you for the scrutiny and the expectations.”

 

“I’ve been dealing with those for the entirety of my life, and I’m still not used to it. It’s an honor and a privilege to represent this country, but sometimes the pressure can be a bit much. I think Emma’s done incredibly well, though.”

 

She squeezes his hand again. “Thank you, babe.”

 

“So can you tell me a bit how you knew you wanted to marry Ms. Nolan, your Highness?”

 

“Well, I don’t know if there was one moment,” Killian admits, and he feels a bit like he’s the one overwhelmed by the interview here, “but I’ve loved Emma for a long time, before we even started dating really as I said a moment ago, and it hasn’t been easy, and not just in the past few months. We’ve had a lot of obstacles, and I guess I knew when she was willing to climb those obstacles with me instead of making me go on my own. I’ve always wanted a partner who is my equal, and I’ve found that in Emma.”

 

“And you, Ms. Nolan? You think His Highness is your equal partner?”

 

“Yes. I choose to see the very best in Killian, and he chooses to see the best in me. I know I’m not the typical choice for someone who’s like Killian, but I kind of think that’s what makes love special, you know? You’re never expecting it. It can just hit you out of nowhere, even if it takes you awhile after that initial impact for you to figure it out. It’s not about standards or expectations. It’s about finding someone who not only makes you happy, but who you have the ability to love even when you hate them. It’s the most complicated thing in the world, but it all boils down to just actively being someone who can give love and receive love.”

 

“That’s beautiful, love.” He leans over to kiss her even if he wasn’t supposed to, but she really is the most brilliant woman alive. “You’re beautiful.”

 

She speaks against his lips this time. “And how could you not fall for a man this romantic?”

 

Mishal gives them a moment before moving onto the next questions, a soft smile on her face even if they’ve likely made her feel a bit awkward. “So you’ve met the family, correct?”

 

“Which one of us?”

 

“Both.”

 

“Well, yes,” Killian answers. “I’ve known her family for quite some time, and Emma was introduced to mine in the last year or so.”

 

“And how did that go?”

 

They both have to hold in their chuckles, knowing not to dare give away how it actually went, and as much as he prepared his answer for this, he cannot think of it at the time, the words dying on his tongue.

 

“Well, both of my parents were taken by him, but my dad especiallylovesKillian,” Emma answers instead for Killian. “They hit it off almost immediately, and then we started dating and, well, that changed things a bit. Killian went from this guy who my dad drank beer with to the guy who was dating his daughter. But luckily, I think they’re back to being best pals.”

 

“We’ll have to ask Dave.”

 

“And what about your mother, Ms. Nolan?”

 

“Oh, she tried to get us together from day one, right?”

 

“She’s bloody persistent, Mary Margaret. And so supportive of the two of us. It’s been amazing, and I really appreciate them for all they’ve done for me and for us.”

 

“And you’ve met, His Majesty and family, yes, Ms. Nolan? How did that go?”

 

So apparently they’re not getting out of that question.

 

“Well, I was a bit of a shock to them,” Emma chuckles before squeezing his hand again, her silent way of telling him it’s okay so he doesn’t have to ask. “When we say we kept our relationship private, we really meant it. So on the day I met them all, I think they were about as shocked to meet me as I was to meet both His Majesty and the rest of the family as not only the Royal Family, but as Killian’s family. But we’ve bonded. Abigail and I are the best of friends, and I’m a bit obsessed with she and Liam’s children.”

 

“And from what we can tell when you came to Princess Elizabeth’s birth, Prince Alexander is smitten with you, Ms. Nolan.”

 

“Alex is obsessed with Emma,” Killian answers, laughing a bit when Emma lightly pinches his leg after consoling him through pats. “I think he may love her more than I do.”

 

“Just the thing you want to hear from the man you’re marrying.”

 

“So are children in the future?”

 

Emma almost immediately goes red, and they really got baited into that one, didn’t they? He knew it was on the list of potential questions, but he forgot about it for a moment.

 

“In the future, yes. Plenty.”

 

“Well,” Emma laughs, “a limited amount. Not enough for a football team at Sandringham for the Christmas match, but, yes, a few if we’re lucky enough.”

 

The rest of the interview goes well, Emma really coming into herself the longer it goes on and the more comfortable she is talking about the two of them. It’s a bit weird to hear her explain things about their relationship to someone else, but he doesn’t mind. This is really the only time they’ll ever do something like this, and it’ll be a tape they have access to when they’re old and gray.

 

When it’s all over and the camera crews have left their home, Emma kicks off her heels and releases a sigh, wrapping her arms around his neck and resting her head against his shoulder while his arms wrap around her waist.

 

“That was exhausting. I think my eyes are going to fall out from the camera lights.”

 

“Aye, but you were bloody brilliant, and now we don’t have anything to do wedding-wise for the rest of the week.”

 

“Speak for yourself, buddy boy,” she leans back in his embrace and pats his chest, “I’ve got to go finish helping design some wedding dresses tomorrow.”

 

“I could always help you with that.”

 

She raises her right eyebrow, her eye moving with it while her jaw ticks in amusement.

 

“That’s, like, the one thing that will be a surprise to you and the rest of the world, so as much as I would appreciate that, you’re not sweet talking your way into seeing the dresses.” She taps at his chest. “Besides, they’re just sketches right now.”

 

“You’re going to be the most beautiful bride, love.”

 

“You think I could walk down the aisle in jeans instead of a big dress?”

 

“Probably not. Maybe you could put them on under the dress.”

 

Emma’s parents, having closed down the pub for the week for concerns of overcrowding, and Ruby come over to watch the interview that night, and Emma spends most of it shielding her face from the television because she doesn’t like seeing herself actually talk on the screen. It’s apparently different than just paparazzi videos of her because she’s actually supposed to be talking in these. It probably doesn’t help that her parents and Ruby tease the two of them throughout the thirty-minute special. He’d not planned on watching, but he was honestly curious which parts they kept in and edited out. He’s pleasantly surprised to see that they’ve kept all of their little shows of affection, including the kiss, as well as a bit where he and Emma dissolve into a fit of laughter. It’s good seeing them like this. Not just for he and Emma personally, but for everyone. It’s a reminder that while they’re public figures and royalty, most of all they’re real people with real emotions for each other.

 

“You guys really got hot and heavy on the PDA, Ems,” Ruby jokes with Emma, and Emma just rolls her eyes. “I didn’t know this was airing on HBO.”

 

“It was one kiss.”

 

“Yeah, and that’s not nearly the dirtiest – ”

 

Emma pinches his leg before he can continue his statement about that not being the dirtiest thing they’ve done in that room, and he’s so glad Mary Margaret and David went to the kitchen to get something to eat because he had almost completely forgotten about their presence tonight. Even if the two of them of walked in on some…compromising positions with he and Emma, they probably wouldn’t appreciate too many dirty jokes involving their daughter.

 

“Let’s just go back to the two of you making eyes at each other.”

 

Their guests stay after the interview just to catch up, as well as discussing plans for the wedding. Ruby’s got to get her maid of honor dress designed to go with all of the pageboys and bridesmaids. Emma had been unsure if she wanted to carry on the mainly American tradition of having adult bridesmaids, so she decided to compromise with simply having Ruby. She had wanted Abigail as well, but Abigail will have to be in charge of Alexander and some of the other pageboys as well as sitting with Liam during parts of the ceremony.

 

It’s all complicated, but as Emma scrolls through her computer showing Ruby and Mary Margaret all of the dress designs for the two of them, he thinks that maybe it doesn’t have to be. Tonight, it can simply be about family and friends being happy to celebrate together.

 

Killian leaves the apartment the next day when a hoard or men and women rush in with rolls of white fabric and sketchbooks to work with Emma on her dresses. They’ve been setting up in one of the guest rooms, and while he could easily stay downstairs instead of leaving, he wants to go for a run just because he can. It’s a not surprisingly cold day for the end of February, especially considering the ice-cold temperatures the past few days possessed, but it probably won’t kill his lungs too much to jog in the brisk air as he’s bundled up in a beanie and sweatshirt to keep both his body and face shielded as he runs. .

 

His feet take off before he even knows it, his joints aching the slightest bit every time his body weight lands on the gravel until he gets into a rhythm, music pounding through his ears while his heartbeat pounds in his chest and his legs burn the longer he runs. He usually does this quite frequently, but he let the winter months keep him inside and away from his usual trail, exercising much less frequently with the joy and distraction of the holidays and his engagement.

 

He doesn’t even realize the path he’s taken until he’s standing with a hand on his hips and his head thrown back to try to catch his breath, his heartbeat now matching the sound of his knocking on the door instead of the sound of the music no longer playing in his ears.

 

“Hello.”

Chapter Text

Liam went off to university when he was eighteen, not taking a gap year like so many well-off young men and women do before beginning their studies at university. He didn’t need to explore the wonders of the world and find himself, as he’d already been to more countries than most people ever would and knew his place in the world from the moment he was born. That’s a perk of being born as an heir (or in Liam’s case, the heir) to the British throne. You never have to wonder what you want to do with your life because while you get some choices in how you’d like to walk the path set before you, you don’t get a choice in the actual path that you walk.

 

Unless you do something radical and give up your rights to the throne and to your family, leaving everything behind to forge your own path. Or maybe, just maybe, blaze a new trail on the family’s set path.

 

Killian remembers the weeks leading up to Liam’s move to Scotland and to St. Andrews as his mother was especially fussy over everyone making sure to spend as much time with each other as possible. He watched as Liam and his father rolled their eyes a bit when they sat down for their third meal of the day with each other when usually they only ate dinner and possibly breakfast together if everyone woke up at the same time during their summer holidays.

 

Killian already struggled a bit over his relationship with his family, knowing that as much as a part of the family as he is, he’s not Liam. He’s not the future king, and he’ll never be put on quite as much of a pedestal as Liam is. Honestly, though, that’s okay. He doesn’t want his mother making this much of a fuss when he goes off to university. He wants to go off on his own with little fanfare, and while Liam may not need to discover what he’s meant to do with his life, Killian does.

 

The path is a little rockier for him, the stones not as set.

 

Of course, Killian isn’t quite as old as Liam is. Liam can grow hair on his face and has had girlfriends, and Killian still has his mum help him pick out clothes for when he’s not in a school uniform.

 

Killian doesn’t roll his eyes like his brother. It’s possibly because he’s ten and will get scolded for it unlike Liam who is technically an adult, as he so likes to remind everyone. But it could also be because of the fact that Killian likes when the four of them sit down to a meal together. It makes him feel like he’s a part of a family like his schoolmates. So many of them sit down at the dinner table with their families every night, and if not at the dinner table, in front of a television in their casual clothes and pajamas instead of school uniforms and trousers with tucked in shirts.  

 

He knows his family is different, has for years now, and he isn’t as naïve as most people think him to be at ten years old. Some children at school tease him for the fact that the word Prince comes in front of his name while others seem to like him only for that fact. He is odd in a world where he wants to be normal, so if it takes his mum forcing everyone to sit at one table three times a day during the summer to make him feel like he’s part of a normal family, he’ll happily accept it.

 

He has no idea what home will be like without Liam, the halls of the palace even emptier and the dinner table even quieter, just three people at a table meant for four…or forty, depending on the dining hall.

 

He is in his room the night before Liam and his father are set to travel to Scotland, already dressed in his pajamas as he plays with his play-station even if he isn’t supposed to use electronics past nine. It doesn’t matter, though. He knows that tonight of all nights no one will come checking on him. That’s probably why he almost jumps out of his skin when there is a knock at his door before it slowly swings open to have Liam standing there in his pajamas.

 

“I see you’re playing far past when you’re supposed to, little brother.”

 

Younger.”

 

Liam laughs as he leans against the doorframe, and Killian hateswhen Liam teases him by calling him little. “Well, both will work.”

 

“I won’t always be smaller than you, Liam.”

 

“I know,” Liam acquiesces before coming into the room, shutting the door behind him and settling down onto the couch with Killian. “What are we playing?”

 

“FIFA. And I’m Beckham before you even ask.”

 

“I can’t be him even on my last night at home?”

 

“Not bloody likely.”

 

The two of them sit and play the game until it’s far past midnight, and as annoying as his brother is, Killian knows he’s going to miss Liam when he’s gone. He wishes they got to do more things like this, staying up late to play football on the play-station instead of staying in school or going to events where he has to spend all day in a suit and tie, their ages and titles not mattering in the darkness of Killian’s bedroom as Liam royally kicks his butt every time.

 

It’s the most fun he’s had with his brother in a long time, and it’s times like these that Killian wishes the two of them were closer in age. Of course, his dad and Uncle Albert are close in age, but they don’t seem to be particularly close. Maybe it’s just because they’re older. He bets they don’t sit around playing FIFA with each other. Uncle Albert doesn’t even play the game of football at Christmas when everyone plays. Rebecca will sometimes, but she said something about being too old last year. It makes sense because she’s nearing the age Liam was when he started spending less time with everyone and more time with his school friends.

 

“Will you be home again before Christmas?” he asks his brother when Liam scores again.

 

“Aye. Many times.” Liam nudges his shoulder until he looks up at him and the stupid smirk on his face. “You gonna miss me?”

“In your dreams.”

 

Killian doesn’t remember falling asleep, but when he wakes up the clock next to his bed says it’s nearing a quarter until ten, and he practically shoots up, kicking the covers off of him because he’s missed Liam leaving this morning when he was supposed to say goodbye to him at eight this morning. He knows that it’s too late. That Liam’s already gone, but he can’t help but hope that he’ll swing his bedroom door open and run down the hall only to find Liam still sitting in his own bedroom waiting for him.

 

He doesn’t even make it out of his own room before officially knowing that Liam’s not there because as soon as he opens his door, he’s stopped by a large cardboard box similar to the ones they packed Liam’s things in. When he rips open the tape, there’s several cases of Liam’s games, ones he’s allowed to play sitting at the top with ones he’s been forbidden to play at the bottom.

 

Attached to the box is a note:

 

Don’t cause too much trouble without me, little brother. But do have fun.

 

Killian puts it in the case to his FIFA game.

 


 

“Hello.”

 

Liam opened the door with this bewildered look on his face, like he’s wondering what the hell Killian is doing there unannounced in the middle of the afternoon. Killian doesn’t blame him. He probably looks a bit delusional standing at the doorstep heavily breathing with sweat dripping down his body and his hair flying in different directions now that he’s taken his beanie off.

 

“Hi,” Killian breathes, wiping his forehead with the bottom of his sweatshirt, the air much cooler against his bare stomach than he was expecting it to be, “are you busy?”

 

“Not at all. Abigail and the kids are taking a nap. Would you like to come in?”

 

“That’d be great, yeah.”

 

Liam lets him into the apartment, guiding him through the hallways until they get to the kitchen. The heater is running, and he feels it almost instantly, the change in temperatures throwing him until Liam pours him a glass of water and Killian downs it almost instantaneously.

 

“So am I right to guess you’ve been running and aren’t simply randomly sweating and dying of some odd disease you’ve managed to pick up?”

 

“Aye.”

 

“You trying to get in shape for the big day?”

 

“Can’t have you looking better than I will.”

 

Liam chuckles before leaning against the island counter, propping his hands up against his knuckles. “Good luck with that. I was the most dashing groom alive.”

“Well, records are meant to be broken.”

 

Liam ends up asking him all about how the wedding planning is going, telling more stories of his own wedding planning, and Killian enjoys hearing them even if he’s heard them before. He doesn’t think it’ll ever not be weird to spend time with Liam alone and have it be a pleasant time, but it gets a little less striking the more it happens.

 

When Killian tells him that Emma’s working on her dress just a few hundred feet away, Liam gets a bit of a starry look in his eyes, one Killian’s only seen a few times when it comes to his brother, the last time being when Elizabeth was born.

 

“It’s bloody amazing seeing them walk down that aisle,” Liam gushes. “Of course, I didn’t get to look until the last minute. You had to look for me, remember?”

 

He does. Thank God he can watch Emma come down the aisle.

 

“You were so antsy to see Abigail, and I got to see her first. I felt a little smug in that moment.”

 

“I know. I was so tempted to turn. You have no idea. You’re nervous when you first walk into the Chapel because there’s so many people there and so much history surrounding you, but at the end of the day, you’re going to be married to the woman you love. I can’t even describe it without doing it an injustice.”

 

Killian doesn’t have a chance to even say anything, not that he even really knows what he’d say, because Liam’s continuing on with a different course of conversation now. It’s like whiplash, the change in the air hitting him in a similar fashion to the brisk wind outside.

 

“I know I’ve already apologized time and time again, but I don’t think it’ll ever be enough.” Liam’s shoulders sag forward as his head dips down so that he’s looking up at Killian through his eyelashes. “I’m sorry for being a right asshole for most of my life, and I’m especially sorry for how I treated you when it came to Emma. You’ve really come into yourself and are a wonderful man who has found an even more wonderful woman to be by your side. All the pressure we feel never goes away, but they help us carry our burdens simply by loving us and us loving them in return. And don’t get me started on what it’s like to have children. That’s an entirely different game.”

 

That’s…that’s everything to Killian for Liam to say that. He hated him for so long that every word out of Liam’s mouth used to make Killian feel like he’d been stabbed, but by some miracle, it’s not like that anymore. Maybe Killian is naïve or too forgiving to allow Liam to be such a big part of his life now, and despite the fact that a lot of this is possible because of how Liam has changed, it’s also because Killian decided to forgive Liam for himself. He’s had years of torment over his feelings for his brother, especially in the recent months, and he cannot begin to count the amount of emotional conversations he and Emma have had about this or the late nights he’s stayed up just living in his own head.

 

It’s been some of the most difficult emotional turmoil he’s ever gone through, but that’s almost gone now, the bumps smoothed, the bruises healed, and the scars faded. They’re still there, but they don’t scream in anger every time he thinks about them.

 

“Thank you. That all means a lot, even if you did get a bit wordy at the end there.”

 

“Don’t be a prick.”

 

“I learned from the best, older brother.”

 

“You can’t call me that until I hit forty.”

 

The baby monitor on the counter goes off, the sound of Elizabeth’s cries coming through the speaker at such a shrill volume that it makes Killian jump. Liam laughs at him, the asshole, before excusing him to go check on the babe so that Abigail can continue to sleep. When Liam comes back into the kitchen, he’s got a swaddled Elizabeth resting against his chest and invites Killian to come sit with him in the living room so that he can recline in one of their rockers and lull Lizzie back to sleep.

 

The distraction has made Killian lose a bit of his original intention for coming today. He’s nervous even if he shouldn’t be. It’s not like Liam can say no to this. Hell, Killian doesn’t even technically have to ask. It’s just assumed, but when he was running he began thinking about Emma and Ruby’s conversation from last night and how excited the two of them were to be able to share he and Emma’s wedding day with each other. He has friends, sure, lots of casual ones who he gets lunch with or texts during football matches, but Emma is his best friend and it’s not like he can ask Emma to be his best man. He doesn’t think anyone has ever filled both the position of best man and bride, and he doesn’t think his wedding will be the one to start such a tradition. But he has Liam, and though even if the two of them had never mended fences, Liam would still be expected to serve as Killian’s best man, Killian wants to ask him because he simply and genuinely wants Liam to be by his side as he begins a new phase of his life.

 

A new phase for he and Liam, too.

 

Consider the fences mended. Maybe not stained and then painted. But mended to where they won’t splinter and fall.

 

“So,” Killian begins quietly, feeling a bit ridiculous to be speaking in hushed tones to a grown man even if it’s for the good of the baby, “I wanted to talk to you about something.”

 

“You’re not getting cold feet after all of that from a minute ago, are you?”

 

Killian scoffs. “I don’t get cold feet.”

 

“Sure, sure,” Liam concedes, and Killian really does just need to blurt this out before he does something ridiculous…like get cold feet. “What do you want to talk about?”

 

“I was, uh,” he reaches up to scratch behind his ear, “I was wondering if you’d like to officially be my best man. I know I don’t technically have to ask, but I wanted to.”

 

A smile breaks out across Liam’s face, and he didn’t realize until that moment how good it would feel for Liam to be happy for him and happy to do this. “I’d be honored to, Killian. That means the world to me that you want me to do that.”

 

The two talk for a little while longer, even watch a bit of television, but eventually Killian starts to feel gross sitting in his dried sweat and damp clothes and excuses himself to walk home. He can hear everyone still upstairs in the guest room they’re working in (they might as well convert it to a design study because that’s all it really is now), so he makes sure to walk on the opposite side of the hallway to that room as he slips into the bathroom and hops into the shower, washing away all of the sweat he accumulated on his run.

 

He may have told Emma he doesn’t have anything to do wedding wise this week, but he’s got the Kidding A Goal kick-off (pun not intended) next month. That means he’s got planning and organizing and emails of things waiting for his approval to go through, so he sets up down in his office with a cup of coffee so that he can get most of this out of the way this week to make sure it doesn’t fall behind when he and Emma are going to their first official event together in two weeks with several bits of wedding planning in between. It’s just another charity ball, something she could have attended as his date anyways before they were engaged, but it’s going to count on their list of engagements to help fill their quota of events.

 

The next week and a half passes quickly in the fact that the both of them are busier than they intended, but slowly in the fact that even if they spend their time together, they’re not truly spending it together. It’s not necessarily a rut. It can’t be with how it’s really only been a little less than two weeks, but it doesn’t change the fact that he hasn’t been spending as much time with his fiancée as he’s used to and it’s draining on the two of them. It’s all business and wedding planning and trying to differentiate between eggshell cream and pearl for linens and invitations. Don’t get him started on the damn seating chart or cake flavors.

 

Actually, do get him started on cake flavors. They’ve gotten to eat some damn good cake, and even if it made his stomach slightly extended, it was worth it.

 

So he’s been spending time with Emma, but he still somehow misses her. He misses the two of them lounging together on the couch as they watch the television or read books. He misses them getting to eat a meal together, the cake tasting not included. He misses getting to talk to her about something non-wedding or work related, just joking around about something stupid and being them. Mostly, he misses the two of them falling asleep at the same time and in the same place. More nights than he cares to count he’s woken up in the middle of the night to find her side of the bed empty, the sheets and pillows untouched so that he knows she never came to bed.

 

Those nights he’ll groggily climb out of bed and wander through the house to see if he can find his missing love, and usually she’ll be on the couch in the living room, her face pressed against the cushions as her laptop is opened to something related to the wedding or her continuing duchess lessons. He’ll close the laptop, and nudge her until he can get his hands around her small body and lift her to take her upstairs like one would do with a child.

 

Sometimes she’ll wake up and insist he put her down so that she can walk herself up the stairs on her own, and that usually results in the most lethargic Emma’s he’s ever seen slowly dragging her limbs behind her until she crawls into bed, kissing whatever part of his body she can reach and falling into a slumber as he does the same.

 

He thinks that maybe after tonight they’ll get time together, just the two of them, but they’ve still got today to get through and this dinner to go to tonight. After that, though, he’s purposefully making sure that they have a day with just the two of them. Hell, tomorrow is Saturday. They should be able to have a Saturday.

 

Emma’s ready before him, surprisingly enough, not taking the time to have her hair and makeup done and doing it herself. The navy dress she has on hugs her curves in all the right places and while the long sleeves seem to cover her, if she stands directly below a light it’s sheer and shows off her cleavage. That may be one of his favorite features of the dress.

 

“You look stunning, sweetheart,” he compliments as she’s putting a diamond stud in her ears and smiling softly at his compliment. “Makes me not even want to go tonight.”

 

“We have to go.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Oh I don’t know,” she shrugs, “because I don’t think the headline ‘Prince Skips Out on Charity Ball to Fuck His Girlfriend’ really hits the right tune.”

 

“You’re right. ‘To Fuck His Fiancée’ sounds much better. It’s got alliteration.”

 

She laughs, and he’s really missed that sound, before coming to sit down next to him on the bed, taking his hand and bringing it to her lips like he so often does to her before placing it in her lap. 

 

“When we get home from this thing, you and me,” she leans in to whisper in his ear, her breath hot against the shell, “are going to fuck fiancés for fun.”

 

She moves to give him a proper kiss, but he nips at her lips and pulls back. “Not your best work in the alliteration department, but you get the message across.”

 

“Asshole.”

 

“An absolutely alluring asshole.”

 

He already feels better about the two of them, promises of sex probably helping the matter, but Emma seems happy, carefree despite the fact that she’s attending her first official public event with him tonight. He knows that tonight is probably a good time to ease her into things as it’s basically just a party, and they can handle a party.

 

Everything goes quickly from there as they load into the back of the car and are driven to the event, only to unload to bright flashes and yells of photographers he knows are just here for them as they’re led into the relative quietness of the event. He and Emma have barely gone into public since the announcement of their engagement because of the fanfare that’s involved, and while this usually wouldn’t be an event with more than one publication covering it, he knows they’ve drawn the attention with their attendance.

 

It matters not, though, when they settle down inside, his hand never leaving the small of Emma’s back as he guides her through introductions and to the table where they’re sitting for dinner, the evening dissolving into night.

 

She’s been driving him insane all night. He’s never been to a royal event and been so incredibly turned on halfway through it. Granted, he was halfway turned on before they even left the apartment. Usually he’s nearly bored to tears as he makes sure to keep his posture upright and his attention focused, but it’s not like this is a state dinner. It’s a damn charity gala that’s filled with more celebrities and socialites than political and royal figures, and Emma’s running her hand up his thigh under the table like the bloody minx she is.

 

At first he thought it was just an accident, a casual caress of his knee like she so often does when they’re sitting next to each other, but her hand never strayed from his leg. It did, however, stray from his knee, slowly inching up to his thigh and staying there while he spoke to Daniel Craig like it’s the most normal thing in the world to be talking to James Bond. Of course, he of all people understands that famous people are still simply people. Still, though. It’s fucking Bond. And Mr. Bond isn’t the only person in the room with a license to kill because he thinks Emma may cause him to perish from the way her fingers are now running against his skin.

 

He’s both shaken…and a little stirred.

 

When Daniel gets up to walk away, Killian turns to look at Emma and ask why the bloody hell she’s trying to get him walking around fully erect in a tight suit when they’ve still got to be here for another hour, but when he looks at her she’s simply eating lettuce, a piece of it dangling from her lips in what has to have the opposite effect of what she’s doing with her left hand.

 

“You are a bloody minx,” he whispers in her ear, flicking his tongue out to quickly swipe at the shell before pulling back with a smirk gracing his face at the way she shivered at his touch, “and don’t pretend you don’t know it.”

 

“Who said anything about me pretending I didn’t know it?”

 

She pecks his lips before rising from her seat at the table and murmuring something about going to get a drink at the bar, her hips swaying in her form fitting gown because apparently she’s decided she’s going to dissolve him into a turned on pile of mush before they can get home. It’s not like he can act on anything at an official event. He’ll test his limits on more occasions than not, but he won’t push past that one. There’s probably no coming back from a serious example of public indecency.

 

When she returns to the table with a glass of wine for herself and some rum for him, her hand stays far away from his thigh, and he honestly should not have said anything, missing the heat of her touch as she sips on her glass and watches the people dance in the middle of the room, the lights in the hall dimming the more the night goes on. The last time they were at a gala dressed like this, his asshole of an uncle tainted things, but that’s not happening tonight. He refuses.

 

“Do you want to dance, love?”

 

“I thought you’d never ask.”

 

Her hands may have stopped wandering when at the table, but that’s not the case here as her fingers draw unrecognizable patterns against his back while she whispers dirty nothings into his ear, her heels making her almost the same height as him and the perfect height for this. He doesn’t know quite what’s gotten into her tonight. She’s always been flirtatious. It’s just their nature, but never so much and so obvious in public.

 

“I love you,” she sighs as they sway, everything about her tone changing from salacious to sweet.

 

He pulls his head back so that he can look at her, and she looks fine, nothing in her eyes showing any change in emotions that her tone and voice indicated.

 

“Well, I love you, too. You okay?”

 

She cocks her head to the side. “I’m perfect. Why wouldn’t I be?

 

“That was just a quick switch of tone is all.”

 

“Well,” she teases, moving her hands to run over his shoulders and hook around his neck, “you may not know this, but I’ve found that being young and in love and engaged makes me a bit gushy sometimes. I’ve also found that it also makes me a wee bit attracted to you, especially when I’ve barely seen you for over a week now. Plus, you’re really rocking this suit, but I think it would look even better on the floor of the bedroom…or the kitchen. You know, wherever.”

 

“Are you using cliché pick-up lines on me now, Ms. Nolan?”

 

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

 

“Perhaps I would.”

 

“Well, baby,” she leans in to whisper in his ear again, “are those space pants? Because your ass is out of this world.”

 

Gods, that’s so bad. He can’t even pretend to say anything ridiculous back, instead chuckling as he rests his head against his shoulder as the two of them absolutely dissolve into fits of laughter that probably echo throughout the room and into the ears of all of the people surrounding them.

 

“We do this bad pick-up line thing a lot.”

 

“I think it turns you on a bit.”

 

When they get home, possibly leaning a bit more toward tipsy than sober, he pushes Emma up against the front door, mindful enough to cradle the back of her head so that it doesn’t hit against the wood like her entire body does when he pins her there with his own while his mouth explores the familiar feelings of her lips and her tongue.

 

She’s like a slow burn of fire, always has been. Sometimes the two of them light up quickly, extinguishing the flames as they come together hastily, but other times it’s like this, a slow build that’s a continual teasing and taunting until his skin starts to prickle and his spine starts to tingle with the pleasure that’s been building all night.

 

“I’ve missed you, Killian.” she sighs after pulling back from his lips and running her tongue across the underside of his jaw, biting quickly before pulling back so that he never knows just when she’s going to lavish him with her tongue. “And you,” she runs her hands up his chest and over his shoulders to cup his cheeks, “could really do yourself a favor by taking me upstairs right now.”

 

“What? No kitchen sex like you said when we were dancing?”

 

“It’s too cold for my ass to sit on the marble, and I don’t think I’m quite drunk enough for the countertop to be digging into my thighs. It’s hot when you think about it, but in actuality, it hurts like hell.”

 

He chuckles at her protest and the way her face contorts just thinking about that before taking her hand and walking through the hallway until they get to the staircase, helping her walk on the wood with her dress and her heels, passing by all of their guest bedrooms until they get to their own, the normally light and airy room shrouded in darkness from the way it’s been left alone all night.

 

He helps her out of her dress, quickly unbuttoning the back of it and exposing the skin he’s been seeing underneath the sheer material all night, kissing at her neck all the while his hands work down her back until she helps him by moving her arms out of the sleeves and dropping it down so that the material pools at the floor and she’s left standing in her underwear and her heels.

 

When she turns to face him, he runs his thumb across his lip as he stares at the way her bra pushes her breasts up, her nipples showing through the material as her heels make her legs look even more muscular and her ass more pert. It’s an incredible sight, and he’s the luckiest man alive. “That’s quite the look, love. I like it.”

 

“I’m not keeping the heels on, so don’t get any ideas.” She pokes his chest with her finger. “I could poke your eyes out.”

 

“What the hell kind of contortionist moves have you been working on, darling? I don’t think you’re going to poke my eyes out.”

 

“I’m still not wearing them.”

 

“I didn’t even ask, love.” He takes his suit jacket off before unbuttoning his shirt as Emma kicks her heels off and settles on the bed, propping herself up on her elbows as she watches him undress, inching closer to her the further he gets with his buttons and his belt, she sticks her legs up and runs them across his shoulder, pausing as she raises an eyebrow and laughs at the fact that she very well could have poked his eye out.

 

But she hasn’t, so he grabs her ankle and kisses up her leg and then up her body until he’s covering her entire body with his own as he captures her lips again and she runs her hands down her back.

 

It takes awhile to truly rile her up, kissing and teasing and taunting before she’s ready for him, and when he enters her he feels it all the way down to his toes, hot, wet heat encompassing him as he nudges her leg to bend in front of him and over her stomach to get a better angle. She whimpers, and it doesn’t sound like the kind of whimper he wants to hear in this kind of situation.

 

“You okay, love?”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” she nods, even if her face has a bit of a grimace. “I’m just kind of sore from my workouts for the wedding and the standing in the heels thing all night. I didn’t realize it until just then. So maybe don’t bend my leg that way.”

 

“Are you sure you want to keep going?”

 

“I haven’t had sex with you in ten days. We’re going to keep going even if it’s a little painful.”

 

He snickers underneath his breath before leaning down to kiss her forehead, closing his eyes at the touch of his lips against her skin. “You’re a little bit stubborn, you know that?”

 

“Which is exactly how I’m going to get through sex tonight.”

 

“Exactly what a man wants to hear while he’s sheathed inside you, darling.”

 

“What can I say? I’m out of this world in the seduction department.”

 

Their room is filled with the sounds of skin and moans and laughter and awkward gasps as the two of them fumble around with each other in their slightly hazy state, nowhere near as fluid as they usually are, but it doesn’t matter in the end because when Emma falls despite her sore muscles, she whispers her love for him against his lips, and he feels closer to her than he has in too long of a time.

 

When he wakes the next morning she’s asleep next to him, her upper body bare as the sheets and comforter have fallen down as she tossed and turned in her sleep. She didn’t remove her makeup last night, and he knows that she’s going to grumble about that as she wakes with her mascara on her cheeks and her foundation seeping into her pores and probably her pillow. He’ll just throw it into the laundry pile when he gets around to that later today…or tomorrow.

 

He’s got the slightest bit of a headache, and they probably shouldn’t have indulged in so many drinks last night, but it’s too late to worry about that now. He leans over to his bedside table to find the remote for the television before turning it on and flipping through the channels until he finds something to watch and settles back down under the comforter, pulling it over Emma’s body before she gets cold in the morning air and wakes from a chill.

 

About an hour later Emma stirs, groaning before she rubs her eyes, spreading her mascara further over her face.

 

“Fuck,” she grumbles, her voice the slightest bit scratchy. “Why did we drink so much?”

 

“Good morning to you, too, my little raccoon.”

 

She pops an eye open to look at him, lifting her head just the slightest bit before falling back to the bed with a huff of frustration. “I didn’t remove my makeup last night, did I? That was dumb.”

 

“Well, I’d like to think that I had your mind occupied with other things.”

 

Emma simply sighs before crawling out of bed and stiffly walking to the bathroom, coming back out twenty minutes later with her face washed, hair brushed, and body clothed in matching flannel pajamas before crawling back into bed and snuggling against her pillow like she plans to go back to sleep.

 

“Killian?”

 

He hums.

 

“Will you go make me a cup of coffee and something to eat?”

 

“I will if you come down to the kitchen with me.”

 

“That’s not fair.”

 

“No,” he agrees, leaning over and pressing a kiss against her clothed shoulder before slipping off the bed and pulling on his own pajama bottoms, “but you obviously have a hangover, and if I’m going to make hangover food then you can come keep me company.”

 

“You’re evil.”

 

He has to drag her down to the kitchen before propping her up on the counter next to where he’s making them pancakes, and she grumbles about it all before he places a cup of coffee in her hands. All sins can be forgiven if you give Emma a cup of coffee, a tactic he’s used time and time again when she’s a little cross with him. She may have sat with him while he cooked, keeping him company, but as soon as he hands her plate to her, she takes it and walks back upstairs, smirking at him as she heads though the archway that leads to the hallway.

 

They needed a day to themselves with no work or wedding planning or parents, and even if they shouldn’t in case there’s an emergency, they turn their phones on silent and put them in his bedside drawer as well as putting away their laptops and staying in their room with all of the lights turned off except for the glow of the television.

 

“So I asked Liam to be my best man,” he admits, and she looks up at him from her position perched on his lap while he runs his fingers through her soft strands, braiding them and then immediately untwisting the braids. “I know we said no wedding talk, but I asked him two weeks ago…and I, uh, I somehow forgot to tell you.”

 

“I thought it was just kind of assumed that he would be.”

 

“It is, but I wanted to ask. I don’t know. I thought it would be a nice gesture.”

 

She tilts her head to kiss his clothed stomach, and his eyes flutter closed. “I’m happy for you, babe. That’s a wonderful thing.”

“Yeah?”

 

“Absolutely.”

 

“You’re okay with that, right? With Liam playing such an integral role in our day?”

 

Emma rises from his lap and scoots up the bed until she’s sitting cross-legged in front of him, her hand running over his arm until she grasps his palm. “I forgave Liam a long time ago. And like I’ve told you to do, I did it for me, not for him. Your family, both the good and the bad, are my family now, and even if I don’t have thirty years of history with them, I still understand the complications. But nothing would make me be happier than you being happy.”

 

God, he loves her.

 

He’s also not quite thirty…yet.

 

“You’re amazing, Emma. You know that?”

 

“I’ve heard that once or twice before from my suitor.”

 

He quirks his eyebrow at her language. “Your suitor?”

 

“We’ve watched, like, three period dramas today. I pick up on things. Though technically I think you’d be my betrothed, and we would cause quite the scandal in high society for our intimate relations before marriage.”

 

“Darling, I wouldn’t bloody care.”

 

Emma bursts into laugher before rocking her body backwards only to lose balance and fall back onto the bed, spreading out like a starfish, her entire chest moving as she laughs at herself with her hair flying all over the place behind her, the light from the slit in the curtains casting a line of light across her arm and her nose. She looks ridiculous, almost like she’s nearly lost her mind, and maybe she has a little as she continues to mumble phrases from the movies they’ve watched in that awful British accent of hers that no matter how hard she tries will never sound genuine. She’s had her entire life to perfect it living with her mother and having relatives with the accent, and she still cannot get it. But she does try so hard.

 

The light from the window eventually fades, and the television is again the only light source in the room until he stretches his hand out to turn on the lamp on his bedside table, illuminating a soft glow across the room that resembles the light of the room when they have the curtains open and a full moon shines through the glass of the window panes. Emma doesn’t move from her side of the bed, just grumbling something about it being too bright with the new light source, and he just smiles at the little mood she gets in when they haven’t done anything all day…which is exactly what they needed.

Chapter Text

Emma has allergies. She has allergies, and every year as winter blossoms into spring, flowers blooming into a myriad of vibrant shades and grass becoming green again making things seem a little less dreary, she spends day after day sneezing with her eyes slightly swollen and her nose flushed as red as a rose. She texted him last night to let him know that if he comes over today to bring her medicine and tissues so that she can be a human being when he sees her. Apparently her parents haven’t had the chance to run around the corner to the pharmacy, or she’s been too stubborn to let them know that she’s suffering. He would bet on the latter. So not wanting to anger the red-nosed beast, he shuffles through his medicine cabinet and pulls a box of tissues out of his storage closet before climbing into his car and driving to the pub in the early afternoon.

 

It’s about an hour before opening, and when he slips in the door to the pub they’ve left unlocked for him today, he finds David and Mary Margaret setting down chairs off of the tables. He goes to help them, flipping chairs as he asks them how their week has gone and if they’ve been enjoying the nicer temperatures outside now that it’s March unlike their twenty-five year old daughter upstairs who seems to not be able to function. They both laugh at that before telling him good luck before he heads upstairs to greet Emma, who’s sitting on the couch watching the television, her skin pale with the expected prominent red nose.

 

“Hello, Rudolph.”

 

“I will hurt you,” she threatens, her voice congested and hoarse, and he’s not entirely sure that she’s only been afflicted with allergies and not a cold. She’s never been the best at handling sickness, always leaning toward the dramatics more when her head isn’t totally clear and her body aches at the feeling of being dragged around without its full capabilities. It’s one of the few times when she’s not the invincible Emma Nolan and instead a regular person with a beating heart.

 

She’s vulnerable, and he’s thrilled he’s been able to see that vulnerability over the past five years of knowing her. It makes his heart swell, blood pumping through him and heating his body in happiness while Emma threatens him for joking with her.

 

He laughs, possibly speeding up his own demise with the sound, before leaning down to kiss her temple. “I love you, even if you’re not in the mood for any reindeer games.”

 

“We’re breaking up if you make one more reindeer joke.”

 

“Aren’t you a scrooge?”

 

She grumbles something under her breath, but he doesn’t bother listening to it because he’s sure it’s something very unpleasant about his Christmas jokes, instead handing her the medicine and tissues before going to fix her a mug of hot chocolate, only joining her in the living room when he has a steaming mug of the chocolate with cinnamon and whipped cream, draping a blanket over her on the couch while he settles in the recliner he bought David for Christmas a few month prior.

 

Emma’s apparently been binging the Great British Bake-Off, and he somehow gets sucked into it as well, watching these poor people stress over their creations and do things such as forget to turn the oven on or undercooking their bread. It’s all fun and games until the next episode comes on, and it’s themed around his family, all of the hosts wearing costume crowns as they introduce the episode and tell the remaining contestants that they have to bake a cake fit for a royal wedding and tailor it to the family member of their choice.

 

He groans in frustration at how ridiculous that is as Emma snorts, quickly looking over at him before burying her face under her second mug of hot chocolate. More people choose him than anyone else as he’s the most prominent unmarried family member, and while some of the cakes look damn good, he’s a bit uncomfortable with the fact that these bakers are making cakes for his fake wedding, several of them commenting on how they hope he finds love soon as he’s been quiet on the romance front for quite some time now and it’s upsetting that such a “handsome and bright young man cannot find love with a nice, proper girl.”

 

“I know they shot this months ago, but if I call the show and tell them I’ve solved your ‘loveless’ situation, do you think they’ll let me eat some of those cakes?”

 

“Hell, I could make one instead of you blowing our cover, Nolan.”

 

Her eyes light up at that, a true smile forming on her dull pink lips and brightening her skin with the glow of it. “Would you really?”

 

He shrugs. “I’ve got to do something to get you to take me back after you broke up with me for my reindeer jokes.”

 

“You bake me a cake, and I’ll take you back with open arms, babe.”

 

It turns out that the Nolans haven’t gone to buy their groceries for the week, and all that they have that even resembles a cake or the ingredients to bake a cake is a package of snack cakes that he knows for a fact Emma and Mary Margaret hate while David loves. He’d give anything to just be able to go to the grocery and do their shopping for them to help them out and to make Emma’s day better, but he can’t do that. Once he’s in the apartment, he can’t really go anywhere except for the pub, and even then, it has to be incredibly discreet and only when it’s pretty much empty down there and the lights are dimmed.

 

He sighs before walking the few feet to the couch and plopping down next to Emma and resting his head on her shoulder, screw her possible cold. “You’re out of luck, love. You guys don’t even have eggs.”

 

“It’s fine. I’m just going to pretend I’m eating the food they cook on the show. It’s not like I can taste anything anyways.”

 

He chuckles before wrapping his arm around the back of the couch and her shoulder, kissing her temple again while she continues to watch the frantic bakers as he responds to emails and texts about the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations for tomorrow. It’s his mother’s last year of handing out the Shamrocks to the Irish Guard, and the entire family is set to join her and speak with some of the Guard before enjoying a Guinness with all of them at the base. This year he’s being appointed with the honorary rank of Colonel of the Irish guards. He’d never done military service like Liam had after University, instead choosing to serve his family and his country through working with patronages and charities at home instead. He’d thought about it, really and truly had as he knew how great it is to honor and serve one’s country, but something was holding him back. He just didn’t know what at the time.

 

“What are you doing?” Emma inquires as she takes his phone out of his hand to look at what he’s reading over before handing it back to him after skimming through the words. “Is this your thing for tomorrow?”

 

“Yes, it’s my thing. I’m sorry I can’t be here with you tomorrow, my little miserable love.”

She turns to face him, her nose still so red, but some of the color is returning to her face. “Babe,” she reassures, “it’s fine. This is your job, and just like mine, sometimes it keeps us working crazy different hours, but we’ve figured out how to deal with it. Plus, aren’t you supposed to get to wear that fancy new uniform? The one that makes you look like you’re out of a Disney movie?”

 

He groans, throwing his head back because as honored as he is by this distinction, tomorrow, he’s not the most fond of the red jacket and blue sash with all of the gold tapestry. Plus, there’s a hat and gloves, and he feels a bit like he should be arriving in a horse-drawn carriage instead of a car…not that he hasn’t done the horse-drawn carriage thing before.

 

“Yes, that’s the one.”

 

“Do you have a picture of you in it?”

 

He does, and even if he told her no, she’d request one tomorrow. So he slides through his pictures until he finds the one his mother had taken when he’d been getting it fitted at the Palace.

 

“Oh, Killian,” she sighs, looking at the photo before looking back at him, her hand tracing against his jawline, “I know I poked fun, but you look so handsome like this.”

 

Maybe the uniform isn’t too bad if Emma likes him in it.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Yeah, I’m going to have to watch the news coverage of tomorrow just to get to see you in this since I won’t see it in person.”

 

“Maybe one day, love.”

 

The next day as he gets dressed, making sure that all of the strappings of his uniform are in the right place, he takes a picture of himself with his best smolder on his face and sends it to Emma. He can’t keep his phone with him during the event, and he’s going to be in the car with his mum so he doesn’t need to be texting Emma while his mother can see his face or possibly read his texts in such close quarters.

 

“Do you know who’s going to take over for you next year, Mum?”

 

“Not yet, darling,” she admits, softly smiling at him as she straightens her skirt. “I’d thought maybe Abigail, but I’m not sure. A part of me wants to keep doing it. I’ve always loved it, but I don’t think I’m the right person to be doing this particular one after so many years. I’m sure they want to meet someone new.”

 

“I’m sure you’ll find the right person, Mum.”

 

It’s warmer than they expected today, the spring sun feeling more like summer than something that’s melting away the last vestiges of fallen snow on tree tops and rural streets. His entire family is dressed in their military uniforms while his mother and Abigail wear winter green dress coats with tights to keep themselves warm despite the surprisingly warm weather. It’s always quite difficult to predict the weather for St. Patrick’s Day, even when they check it the morning of to make sure pre-planned outfits are suitable.

 

He’s stuck standing between his father and Liam while his mother hands out the sprigs of Shamrock, and while they make polite conversation with each other and the people around them, it’s all a bit stilted. He’s ready to go home the longer he stands there, but he knows that this day isn’t about him. It’s about honoring his mother and all of the members of the Irish Guard as they celebrate this festive day, his awkwardness with his family being pushed behind him for the sake of others.

 

Hours later when all of the shamrocks have been handed out and the pints of Guinness have been consumed, he’s back in his apartment, the lights dull as he’s reminded of the absolute stillness of his home, nothing out of place because if he doesn’t clean up after himself, a member of the staff will while he’s gone. His phone vibrates in his pocket to let him know an email came in, but he also sees several messages from Emma that she’s sent throughout the day.

 

Emma: Hot damn. My boyfriend is a smoking Prince Charming…or Prince Devilishly Handsome, which is much better than the Disney movies.

 

Emma: But seriously, you look just as handsome as I thought you would.

 

Emma: I know you don’t have your phone with you because you’re currently on my television, but I wanted to let you know that your medicine and doctoring yesterday has cured most of my ills and I’m more Frosty the Snow Man than Rudolph.

 

Emma: I think it’s three months too late to be making so many Christmas references.

 

Emma: Who am I kidding? It’s never too late.

 

Emma: Oh, also, Happy St. Patrick’s Day, babe. Love you to pieces.

 

Attached to the last text is a picture of her with a sparkly green headband on, two four-leaf clovers springing off the top of her head as she smiles at him. She’s got on a t-shirt that says “pinch me and I’ll punch you” and he loves her more than anything in the world, even if there’s still that slight redness at the tip of her nose. Maybe because of it.

 

Killian: Hey, darling. Sorry I couldn’t get back to you earlier, and I know you’re working now but I just wanted to let you know I missed you today and am glad you’re feeling better. I’ve been told that I have incredible…touch…so it’s not surprising I’ve cured your ills.

 

Killian: Also, I think pinching you might be worth the resulting punch. Love you, too.

 


 

“Okay,” Emma mumbles, pining her hat to her head before adjusting her curls underneath so that they fall in waves across the dark green coat gracing her shoulders and falling just above her knees, “so all I’m doing is handing out sprigs of Shamrock and chatting a bit, right? Nothing I can really screw up.”

 

He knows she’s more talking to herself than she’s talking to him. They’ve gone over this several times with their aides and public relation specialists, and Emma could probably recite the day in extreme detail for all of the times she’s read through her preparation packet, like she does every time she attends an event with him.

 

“Right.” He fixes a stray hair caught in her collar before running his thumb over the apple of her cheek, lingering there a bit longer than usual just so she knows he’s here. “I’m going to by right by you the entire time, so if you somehow don’t know what to say or do, just follow my lead, yeah?”

 

She nods her head before her lips slightly tick up on the sides, and he knows she’d pull her lip between her teeth if it wouldn’t mess with her lipstick.

 

“You’re going to do great, darling. I know it, and obviously mum and dad know it for entrusting you with this task. Plus, we’re going to your parents’ pub to drink a Guinness with some of the Guard after. How great is that for you and me to get to go back to our beginnings?”

 

She finally fully smiles, even if it’s just a soft little thing, but the green of her outfit brings out the green in her eyes so that she looks to be absolutely glowing even in her timid state, especially as the light from the window makes her golden hair almost glow white.

 

“It’s pretty great.”

 

The two of them head to the car where they’re driven to the Irish base in West London with their aides and their security detail going over last minute details. These are all things that he knows, but he listens and asks the questions he can tell Emma is hesitant to ask so that there’s nothing she’s unsure of, especially since he knows they’re greeting crowds outside of the base before going in and handing out the shamrock and watching the parade put on by the Guard.

 

His mother had given up her position at this particular engagement the year before when he’d been granted his honorary position as Colonel of the Irish Guard, and while she hadn’t known who was going to be her replacement at the time, she’d almost immediately given Emma to honor after the two of them became engaged.

 

“I’m kind of sad you’re not wearing the uniform you wore to this last year,” Emma sighs as they get a bit closer to the base. “I’d like to see that in person.”

 

“Well, my darling, this is only because that’s what I’m wearing on our wedding day, as per your request when we were going through the options. Can’t have everyone seeing me in my wedding outfit while yours is such a big secret.”

 

She nudges his shoulder even as she shakes her head at his cheekiness. “You’re still not seeing the dress, my man.”

 

He and Emma go along to greet the crowds, making sure to stop to talk to those who are particularly enthusiastic or have brought a sign for the two of them, along with special greetings for the children and elderly. He sees Emma squatting down talking to a young child with blonde hair similar to Emma, and he’s just about to go join when he hears his name.

 

“Prince Killian, your lady is so beautiful.”

 

He smiles before going over to the older woman who’s talking to him from her position in her wheelchair, stopping and shaking her hand as a wind chill gusts through the crowd.

 

“Thank you, ma’am. What’s your name?”

 

“Susan Thomason, your Highness.”

 

“Tell you what, Susan,” he winks, “you can just call me Killian, and it’ll be our little secret since you’ve been so kind about Emma.”

 

Susan blushes as he still holds her hand, and he swears she might flutter her eyelashes. It’s endearing, and this is one of his favorite things about being who he is.

 

“We’ve all just waited so long for you to be happy, and I can just see it all over your face now. A man can’t hide when he’s in love.”

 

Well, he did for a long while, but it’s always nice to get to show his true feelings after so many years of hiding them.

 

“Well, I’ve been happy for a long time, but thank you, Susan. I hope you have a wonderful holiday.”

 

He squeezes her hand before moving on to greet other people, having to wave and not shake hands in order to catch up with Emma who seems to be in a lively conversation across the street with a group of young men. He comes up behind her and wraps his arm around her waist to pull her closer to him to help keep the chill away from her as she’s only in the wool coat dress and tights.

 

She turns to him and smiles when his hand rests on her side, his thumb running up and down to feel the dip of her waist above her hip while she fills him in on what they’ve been talking about to cause such jubilation.  

 

“So these wonderful men have been letting me know that they were part of an Emma Nolan look-a-like party at Halloween last year,” she looks over to him with this brilliant smile on her face while very obviously trying to hold in her laughter.

 

“Do you all have pictures?” he questions because oh boy does he want to see this.

 

One of the young men slaps another before saying, “I told you they’d be cool about this. They’re the cool royals.”

 

Emma’s cheeks flush, and there’s no way for her to hide it. He’s had some hysterical conversations before, but this one is a personal favorite now. The men show them a series of pictures from Halloween, and nearly every one of them is in a blonde wig with skinny jeans and some type of plaid shirt or sweater like Emma was favoring during the fall of last year when she could still dress exactly how she pleased. None of them look anything like her, but Emma cannot contain her laughter anymore at the entire ordeal now that she’s seen proof of their story.

 

“Can I take a picture with them?” she turns to ask him. They’re not technically supposed to take selfies, but Killian has done it in the past when the time calls for it. What the hell? One time won’t hurt, especially because these will probably be the last people they talk to before they have to go inside the base.

 

“Of course, darling. Do you guys want me to use this phone?”

 

They all nod their heads before arranging for the picture, Emma leaning against the barrier with all of the guys surrounding her and smiling as Killian takes a few shots of the five of them before handing the phone back and guiding Emma away to where their security is waiting for them.

 

“None of them look like me, right?”

 

“Not in the slightest.”

 

The wind seems to pick up when they walk into the gates of the base, and he really hopes that it calms down because if he’s chilled, he cannot imagine how Emma is suffering at the impact. They’ve got to hand out sprigs to over three hundred Guards as well as having a bit of a chat with all of them thanking them for their service and wishing them a happy St. Patrick’s Day. Emma does swimmingly, as he knew that she would, and between the two of them it only takes an hour until they’re finished and sitting in a covered partition to watch the Guards march in their parade, the mascot of the Guard, an Irish Wolfhound leading the pack.

 

He notices Emma shivering, and wraps his arm around her shoulder to pull her closer into his side after placing a kiss on her forehead.

 

“You okay?”

 

“Yeah, I just wasn’t expecting it to be this cold. I can’t remember the last time it was this bad in mid-March. Usually I’m holed up right now with some kind of cold, so I’m thinking that’s coming after today if we stay out here much longer.”

 

“Just a few more minutes, and we’ll be back in the car, okay?”

 

He was wrong in thinking they’d only be out there for little while longer because it’s another two hours before they’re walking into the familiar walls of the pub and its heating system, Emma practically sighing in relief before immediately moving to hug her parents as he does the same, holding on a little bit tighter at being back in this place for the first time in over half of a year.

 

It doesn’t seem to have changed except for the obvious security cameras in the corners and an upgraded flat screen on the wall, and he’s glad to see that it’s still so familiar. Just being here brings back so many memories, and when this is all over he and Emma are going upstairs to have dinner with David and Mary Margaret like his life is a little more normal.

 

The Guard members begin to shuffle into the pub, all of them stopping to greet Killian and Emma even if they’ve already spoken with them, and while he’s used to greeting people, it’s odd greeting them while inside of this building where he was no one but a patron. It’s also odd that he’s in here without a cap in the middle of the day with all of the lights turned on.

 

The two of them are really only supposed to drink a pint and pose for some photos, but that plan is pretty much nixed the moment Will and the Nolans get behind on serving the pints. Emma immediately gets up and goes behind the bar to help out, handing out glasses and chatting with everyone while still in her dress and heels from earlier.

 

“Your Highness,” their new joint assistant Isabelle whispers into his ear, “Ms. Nolan really shouldn’t be seen serving beer.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“It may be seen as her cheapening the monarchy.”

 

“No offense, Isabelle, but that’s a load of bullocks. She’s happy and in her element, and if you want my opinion…it’s that I don’t care about the opinions of others.”

 

Isabelle nods before backing away and going to stand in the corner with the photographers while Emma continues to stand behind the bar serving. She is indeed in her element, smiling and laughing as she talks to the service men and women, and he’d like to join in, walking around the side of the bar and going to stand behind the counter with Emma.

 

“Your Highness, I’d never thought I’d see the day where you’re serving me beer.”

 

He peers over to see the man’s full name on his uniform. “Well, Ross, I can only say that I never thought Emma here would allow me behind the bar.”

 

Ross raises his eyebrow at the two of them, and Emma laughs beside him. “I couldn’t have him knocking over all of the alcohol. You see,” she leans over the counter to get a bit closer to Ross and stage whispers, “I make him a little nervous, and he could be a liability with all of that flustering while he was trying to flirt with me.”

 

Ross as well as some of the other men and women at the bar laugh at Emma teasing him, and she just wraps her arm around his back and rubs circles there while he laughs along at the truth behind her statement. She’s always made him a bumbling fool.

 

“Funny and beautiful. No wonder you got swept off your feet by a prince.”

 

“Oh, Ross,” Emma chuckles, “I was the one doing the sweeping.”

 

The entire event ends up lasting for two hours, and by the end of it this has to be the most genuine, simple fun he’s ever had at an engagement as he and Emma sit in their booth at the back of the pub and talk to all of the guards and members of their families before everyone is shuffled out of the pub and all he has to do for the rest of the day is approve the media coverage he wants released from his official accounts before going to eat dinner with the Nolans.

 

“So that was insane,” David sighs as he sits down in the living room while Mary Margaret puts the lasagna they’re eating for dinner in the oven. “Did any of you bother to look outside? Because the streets were packed.”

 

“No, I didn’t look outside. I was too busy picking up your slack, Dave.”

 

Killian settles down onto the couch, Emma sitting at the opposite end and settling her feet in his lap with her heels still on. She did so well today. She is really a natural at this, but he knows that all of the attention is hard on her. It’s culture shock, and she’s being fully submerged in a short time. She wiggles her feet in his lap, and when he looks over at her, she smiles before nodding at her feet, silently asking for him to rub her feet through her tights.

 

“I was not slacking,” David protests and oh has Killian missed being in this apartment and teasing David even if he knows that he should be nothing but cordial to the man. “I was simply overwhelmed by my daughter’s Grinch costume.”

 

“Hey,” Emma whines, pulling a pillow out from underneath her to toss at her dad. “I think this looks nice. I’m not quite used to the hat thing all the time, but I think this was a nice outfit. I’m festive.”

 

“You looked beautiful, love.”

 

“See,” she looks at her dad before pointing at him, “that’s how you’re supposed to treat me, Dad.”

 

“Killian is marrying you. He’s going to be much kinder than I am.”

 

“I am your daughter. I feel like you should also be nice.”

 

David shrugs, Emma rolls her eyes at her dad, and this entire thing is perfect.

 

The four of them sit down to dinner a little over an hour later, formal clothes long since discarded as he and Emma get to eat for the first time since that morning. Emma speaks to her parents every day, but he doesn’t so it’s nice to be able to catch up with them and how they’re doing. They’re still looking for a new home, and his face goes red when they say they’re trying to find a place fit for watching grandchildren. It’s a casual comment and good reasoning for their search in a home, but Mary Margaret gives Emma a very pointed look. She might as well tap her watch and tell the two of them that she’s waiting.

 

The pub is still open for the rest of the evening, St. Patrick’s Day too big of a day for them to close down, so David and Mary Margaret do eventually have to go downstairs to help Will, leaving he and Emma to be guided out by their body guards and walked to the car until they’re safely on their way home.

 

“You did fantastic today, you know that?”

 

Emma reaches over to tap his knee, running her thumb against the material of his slacks. “Thank you. I liked today. It was fun. Tiring but fun. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to all of this, though.”

 

“Most likely not, but it gets easier the more you do it, love.” He leans over to whisper in her ear so that everyone else in the car cannot hear. “You want to go get lucky when we get home?”

 

She snickers at his come on, and harshly pinches his thigh, causing him to flinch back from her ear.


“Bloody hell. What was that for?”

 

“You’re not wearing green.”

 

The next Saturday is the Kidding A Goal opening, and this is the most nervous he’s been about an event in a long time. He knows it’s because this is his own personal charity instead of it being a patronage he supports, and he simply wants things to go right. He wants everything to run smoothly, the kids to have a good time, and he mostly wants it to be successful in the long run and to make some kind of difference for these kids.

 

“You’re pacing, babe.”

 

“I’m not pacing.”

 

“Okay,” Emma exaggerates, bending down to tie her sneakers, “then you’re walking back and forth over the same section of hardwood flooring. I think that’s called pacing, but sure. Whatever you say.”

 

His shoulders sag forward because she’s right. She’s always damn right, reading him even when he’s only giving the most subtle of signs to his true feelings. Of course, he most definitely is pacing, so it’s not like this is a subtle sign. Even people who don’t know him could tell that he’s nervous.

 

Emma stands after tying her shoes, and the both of them are in athletic clothes instead of dressing up so she looks much smaller than she usually is when they go out and she’s stuck in heels. The thought sobers him just a bit, reminding him that today isn’t like most of his other days. Of course there’s pressure from all sides, but it’s about everyone having fun. He’s going to be playing with the children more than anything else, and he can do that without a problem.

 

“I’m a little nervous,” he admits, tugging Emma into his side and kissing her temple. “I just want things to go well.”

 

She stands on her toes to press her lips against his jaw, nosing at him so that he looks down at her. “This is years in the making, Killian, and it’s a brilliant idea. The only thing that’s possibly going to go wrong is that I’m going to kick your ass today when we play the games.”

 

“In you dreams, Nolan.”

 

By the time the two of them get there, all of the kids and families are already inside, sitting in chairs in the auditorium of the facility as the concert they arranged for the children begins to wind down, the music dying until he walks out on the makeshift stage filled with all kinds of banners with their logo. He’s got to read a speech off the teleprompter, going on and on about the power of sport and teamwork, especially at young ages, before he smiles and yells, “let the games begin.”

 

For awhile he simply makes the rounds with all of the coaches, administrators, and wonderful people who have made his vision a reality, thanking them for their hard work and dedication not just for making today possible but for all of the days in the future. Emma does the same even if she’s never met most of them like he has, and after they’re through with their official duties, they can move on to talking to the children who are taking part today.

 

There’s a group of kids doing some sort of relay, running around cones and then hula hooping before having to pass the baton off to their teammate to continue the course. He doesn’t want to do it, but Emma’s got this glint in her eyes that basically says “game on.” She wasn’t kidding earlier when she told him she was going to outdo him today for the sake of competitiveness.

 

He and Emma get in line so that they’re paired up with each other before the next section of children start the race. When they’re told to go, he and Emma both take off, but he’s the slightest bit faster than her, always has been when not running on the beach, so as he jumps through the tires and runs around the cones, Emma lags just enough behind so that he can hand his baton off before she does. It’s not about winning, but he’s most definitely going to tease Emma about this later just because he can.

 

After the relay they go about talking to all of the kids on their teams, and after he finds himself finished with his team, Emma is still talking. One thing he’s noticed as they do engagements, despite her hesitancy toward a public persona, is that she is incredibly comfortable talking to people, particularly those who are not public officials or diplomats. So it’s really no surprise to him that she’s talking to a little girl as he walks over to join her.

 

“Do you play sports, Emma?”

 

“I run, and I play tennis sometimes but I think you’re already much better than I am when it comes to running obstacle courses.”

 

“Yeah, I am pretty good, aren’t I?”


He and Emma both try to contain their laughter, but Emma fails, her giggles passing through her lips even as she covers her mouth because this little girl is confident. He likes it.

 

“You know, Laura,” he begins, squatting down next to Emma, placing his hand against her back as she holds Laura’s hand, “my family plays a football match every Christmas, and Emma was on the wining team this year.”

 

She doesn’t seem to be too interested in what he has to say, but she appeases him anyways. “What about you?”

 

“Oh, I lost,” he chuckles, and Emma looks back at him and smiles, “but I tried my best and had a fun time. That’s what I want you to do today, okay? Try your best and have a good time.”

 

After all of the children have had time to take part in the opening day activities, more fun and games than actual sport just for today as the real coaching and practicing will start to take place on Monday, he and Emma are set to play a few strokes of tennis against each other. He’d foolishly let Emma pick the sport they were going to play when Isabelle encouraged the two of them to do a bit of an official exhibition of some sort, and she’d picked the one thing where she excelled and he floundered.

 

He would have expected nothing less.

 

It’s much warmer today than it was at the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations last week, and as they’re led to the courts outside, he wants to take his pullover off but he can’t as it has the charity’s logo and the video of this match will be used as promotion. Emma doesn’t seem to be affected by the heat at all, though, breezily chatting with one of their coaches and swinging her racket around as they walk.

 

They have it set up as an entire event, temporary stands constructed around the court so that as many kids as possible can watch them play. He and Emma are equipped with headsets with microphones, as Emma very kindly reminds him to watch his language for when he inevitably gets a little frustrated. Yeah, they’re trying to teach the children all about the power of sport and having a good time while trying your best, but that doesn’t mean he’s not competitive, especially when competing against a woman like Emma.

 

“Heads or tails,” their umpire says after the two of them stand at the net for pictures like they do in real matches.

 

“Heads,” Emma answers for him as she hops on her feet to warm herself up, and he already knows she’s going to be cheeky during this entire thing.

 

The coin lands on heads, and Emma elects to serve before taking two fingers and pointing at her eyes before pointing at him. “Don’t think I’m taking my eyes off of you for a second.”

 

“I would despair if you did.”

 

Killian insisted that this entire day is casual, so much so that no one refer to him as Prince or His Royal Highness once everything has begun. He’s simply Killian, while Emma is Emma, not going by the formality of Ms. Nolan as she’s gotten used to in the past month or so. This has kind of backfired a bit, however, because Emma seems to be much more fun for the children to chant as he and Emma rally, the yellow ball gently being passed back and forth on the blue court. Every time she gets a point on him, especially if it’s a winner, all of the kids break out into cheers that have Emma absolutely beaming across the net.

 

“You hear that, babe,” she teases through her microphone, probably not even realizing that she called him by her endearment for him in front of all of the people watching here and on the live stream, “I think all of your charms have gone away because it seems that I’ve got an absolutely fantastic cheering section.”

 

She gently hits the ball at him then, setting it up to his forehand and leaving a section of the court wide open so that he has no choice but to hit a winner, and he does, the yellow ball of fuzz passing Emma so that she doesn’t even attempt to get her racket on it. The crowd cheers, chanting for him a bit as they probably haven’t realized Emma totally let him have that, and then he hears Emma’s voice over the microphone leading the chant. When he looks over to her, she’s absolutely radiating happiness, and when he over exaggerates a fist pump, she throws her head back in laughter while all of the children do the same.

 

After their “match” they do a friendly handshake at the net, and when Emma pulls him in for a hug, kissing his slightly sweaty cheek, he hugs her a bit tighter before joking that she’s a regular Andy Murray.

 

The event winds down after that, the children tiring after eating the snacks they’ve provided, and he and Emma have to do their mini closing ceremony, giving a speech telling everyone that they hope that they had a great day and sign up forms for each individual sport or activity are at the booths in the back of the auditorium or online on their newly launched website.

 

When they get home, he practically collapses on the bed, not necessarily tired but relieved that the entire thing is over and that it went better than he could have ever dreamed. He just hopes that the actual organization runs that smoothly.

 

“That was fantastic,” Emma compliments before joining him on the bed, her head flopping down next to his as she accidentally knees his stomach, and she’s really beating up on him today, isn’t she?

 

“Yeah?”

 

The mattress squeaks the slightest bit as she turns her body to face him, soft smile on her face that makes all of his insecurities about that day fade away for at least the moment. “Absolutely. Everything about it was perfect, and some of those kids’ lives are going to change because of you. You know that?”

 

He does. He finally feels like he’s making an actual difference, even if it may just be a small one.  “I do. Thank you for being so great today.”

 

Emma reaches up to caress his face, her fingers running through his hair and pushing it back so that it doesn’t fall to his forehead anymore. God, he could fall asleep with her playing with his hair, and he almost does until Emma speaks.

 

“You’re going to be the best dad when the time comes. You know that, right?”

 

His eyelids flutter open to find her still hovering above him, hands running through his hair in a soothing motion.

 

“You’re sweet, love. What’s brought this on?”

 

“Just watching you with all of those kids today. I know as much as we talk about it and then don’t talk about it, as much as you want them, you’ve always been nervous that you couldn’t be a good dad because of your relationship with your family and the lifestyle you’d be bringing kids into, but Killian, none of that matters with how wonderful you just instinctively are.”

 

He reaches his hand out to cup the back of Emma’s head, threading his hands through her hair before bringing her down to intermingle their lips in a soft, slow kiss that has no purpose other than to show his affection for her.

 

“You’ve changed my whole world, Emma.”

Chapter Text

The last remnants of winter begin to melt away as April begins, the rain washing away all of the dead foliage before new flowers can blossom, making the dreary streets of England a little brighter as he and Emma are fully thrust into the throws of wedding planning and all that comes with that, which is, quite frankly, a hell of a lot.

 

Killian has some other more colorful words to describe it, but he’s already used enough of them today.

 

He knew it would be an ordeal. He really did, but he could have never imagined all of the decisions that need to be made by he and Emma specifically. And it’s not the large ticket items that cause issues. Security is set, constantly running through drills and scenarios, mapping out the walls of the Chapel and surrounding areas as well as making sure that the hotels he and Emma will stay in the night before are secure, their outfits and all of the accessories behind them have been chosen (though Emma’s dresses are still being made), and the guest lists have been finalized after weeks of trying to get in everyone they want there as well as all of the political figures they must invite so as not to offend. It’s the small items that are beginning to grate at his nerves and frustrate the two of them, like flowers for each table, the color of the table cloths, and which china they wish to use to eat with at both of the receptions. There are also things like the small detail of transportation, the two of them having to decide which cars and which carriages they’ll arrive and leave in, as well as making choices for what to do if it were to rain.

 

The “what happens if it rains” question comes up a lot. They are having a wedding in England in June after all.

 

He’s spent the last five hours listening to both hymnals and contemporary songs for the service as well as texting back and forth with singers for the second reception, and he thinks if he has to listen to another minute of music, he very well might have a bit of a meltdown over something as pampered as not being able to figure out what songs he wants at his wedding.

 

Of course, it’s not really about the music. It’s about the fact that while he’s set up in his office, Emma is locked away in their room because they’d gotten into a bit of a fight over the stress of all of this, and as soon as the wedding planners left, the two of them let out their frustrations on each other when really all they needed was a break from all of the decision making.

 

It sounds ridiculous even when he thinks about it, that something as joyous as planning a wedding could cause such stress when just yesterday he and Emma went to visit a soup kitchen and met with the people there and got to hear about the real struggles and heartbreak those people have gone through for years. But alas, here they are spending all of their days approving flower arrangements and extravagant meals and signing notecards that are going into the invitations that were officially sent out this morning.

 

His hand is only cramping the slightest bit.

 

He knows that the two of them have it better than most, and not just with the privileges their life affords them, but with each other. Relationships are hard, and they require just as much effort, if not more, than any full-time job. And while, for lack of a better phrase, shit has hit the fan with two of them on more than one occasion – he thinks to their frustrations with each other when he was out of the country for several months and they nearly broke up or to any of the drama that happened when he brought Emma into the circus that is his family – their normal arguments are resolved with some time apart and a resulting chat to try to figure out the roots of their disagreements and how they can compromise and work with each other to be better. They make that effort to be with each other, and it’s the only way that they can continue to work and be with each other.

 

They’ve grown up in two different worlds, in two different countries, and were raised in two completely different ways. Things like that keep two people from seamlessly melding together, not that that’s possible for anyone. It’s…it’s hard. Loving Emma is the easiest thing he’s ever done, but being with her is the hardest. Making the commitments and the choice and being there even when he doesn’t want to be there (he thinks the phrase “I love you, but I don’t like you right now” is apt) is difficult. Right now, he knows that he loves Emma and that she loves him, but they don’t necessarily like each other at the moment after their argument. Earlier, he was actually pretty damn frustrated with her if he’s honest with himself.

 

It happens, and it’s normal.

 

Sometimes it’s more difficult than normal, though, their stubborn streaks preventing the two of them from working things out, but at the end of the day, they love each other. That is an undeniable fact and something of which he is sure won’t change. Not if he has any say about it. When you love someone, their flaws and cracks can often be shielded at first only to be uncovered later, but you don’t stop loving them because they’re flawed. Everyone is flawed. You love them even with those flaws, and you hope that they love your flaws as well. Emma loves his, and he’s thankful for that every day of his bloody life.

 

He wonders if enough time has passed for Emma to not be cross with him as he’s not cross with her anymore, but as it’s far past midnight, he expects Emma to be asleep instead of stewing over music like him.

 

Sighing, he rolls his chair back and stands, his muscles aching from their non-use and odd angle under his desk, and it takes all the way to the bedroom door for them to loosen even as his shoulders tense for fear of what awaits him on the other side of the closed door.

 

He doesn’t expect what he finds.

 

She’s propped up at the foot of the bed on the hardwood floor in one of his old university t-shirts, the color faded and the frayed edges falling over her thighs, with her hair messily piled on top of her head and her glasses precariously perched on her nose as she peruses the stacks of papers she has neatly spread out all over the room, the light of her laptop shining on her face. The door creaked when he opened it, and so she knows that he’s here, looking up at him with a sheepish smile on her face that mostly likely reflects the one gracing his.

 

“Hi,” she whispers, her voice small and a bit tired. It’s been a rough day.

 

“Hi.” He carefully steps over the papers, making sure not to disturb her before settling down across from her in the open space next to the chest under their television.

 

The two of them are silent for a few minutes while Emma does whatever the hell it is that she’s doing. He can’t quite read everything upside down, but from what he can tell they’re different charities in Britain. She’s been looking into her patronages for awhile, had been working with his dad far before they’d been engaged, but those had taken a backburner with the wedding. He’s got no bloody clue why she’s looking at them now. He doesn’t dare ask, though, knowing that they’re both on edge, and if this is what Emma wanted to do to unwind, he can’t fault her for that.

 

“I’m sorry for snapping at you,” she whispers, the words echoing in the quietness of the room, and he probably should have apologized hours ago so that she wasn’t up here stewing for hours like he was downstairs. But sometimes they just need time to themselves, and it’s oftentimes difficult to be the one to make the first move.

 

“I’m sorry for it all as well. For me calling you indecisive and then all of the nastiness that it lead to. I didn’t mean any of it. Truly.”

 

She’s looking at him again without the unsure smile on her face as it completely disappeared as well as the worry lines. She forgives him so easily when the time calls for it, and he only hopes that she thinks him to be just as kind. He forgives her, most likely more easily than he should, but he knows that they were both in the wrong here. All sins can be forgiven when someone loves you, and it’s nice to know that statement holds true, even if this was simply a small argument. But an argument’s an argument, no matter how small.

 

“Who knew this would be so much work?”

 

“We did.”

 

She rolls her eyes and throws her head back against the mattress, laughing underneath her breath. “So elopement?”

 

“Aye, I’ll bring the rum.”

 

Her laugh is a little louder this time, her smile a little brighter, and his are the same, a chuckle passing through his lips as he leans forward to carefully start moving her papers so that he can cross his legs in front of him, his toes almost reaching hers.

 

“I really wish we could elope, though. Like, I know that it’s not even in the realm of choices, but this is so much. Yeah, it’s wonderful and amazing and I love doing this with you, but it’s so much. And it’s been so much for months on top of everything, and as much as I love your mother, if I have to hear her make ‘alternative suggestions’ to the things that we pick out one more time, I think I may snap at her too. That’s the last thing that I want, and it’s so stupid, but I’m going to end up as the most dramatic member of this family in the history of the world over debating magnolia flowers for the archways.”

 

“Darling, if you think you’re the most dramatic person in the family, you’ve obviously forgotten about a certain brother of mine and his antics. And don’t even get me started on the extended family. Or, you know, the ones in the past who beheaded people they didn’t like.”

 

She stretches her leg out to knock her foot against his. “Well, I still have time to make history.”

 

He sighs before knocking his foot against hers in reciprocation, and he doesn’t know how Emma’s been sitting on the floor for so long. They need a rug or something because this hardwood is hurting his ass.

 

“Emma, don’t worry about getting upset with my mother or your mother or even me. We’ve got so much going on, you specifically, and it’s natural to feel frustrated. There’s not a problem with that. The only problem is when we hold in what we’re thinking and then just snap…like today.”

 

“I know,” she sighs, her hands moving up to mess with her disheveled hair, making it even more disheveled as loose strands fall and frame her face. “I just feel like the closer we get, the more pressure I feel, and I’m not sure what exactly I’m feeling pressure over. I just…I just want to marry you.”

 

“Aye, me too.”

 

“I guess it’s just,” she mumbles before throwing her head back against the mattress again and scooting her ass down so that he can grab onto her ankle, rubbing the bone with his thumb, “sometimes I worry what people will think, that I’ll somehow do something wrong that’s not appropriate for your family. And I know that we have all of these people helping us so that things like that stay at a minimum, but I think it’s a harbored fear.”

 

It’s not a surprise for her to say any of this. They’ve talked about this a lot in different ways and with different words, but the core of it is always the same. She’s nervous about the new life and responsibilities that she’s gaining being with him. They were together for so long when it was simply them, a man and a woman who loved each other without the pressures of the world around them, and even with months of adjustments – or maybe because it’s only been a few months – the pressure still weighs down on her shoulders. She’s been through so much for him, his darling love, and he wants to take every bit of pressure on her shoulders and place it on his own to protect her no matter how irrational that may be.

 

“You’re not going to mess anything up, love. If anything, you make it all better with your touch and influence.”

 

“You have to say that. I sleep with you.”

 

“Aye,” he smiles, loving her humor even in the serious moments, “but I’d mean it without that spectacular perk.” She tries kicking him, but he holds onto her ankle  more tightly. “Seriously, Emma, nothing you can do would mess anything up. Yes, this day is about more than us in the grand scheme of things, but if for some reason we somehow piss off an archduke of Denmark, it won’t matter to us because we’ll be married, yeah? We’ll jet off somewhere and leave behind all of the problems to Liam. Call it payback or something.”

 

She leans her entire body forward so that she can grab his hand still resting on her ankle and hold it. “Thank you, Killian.”

 

The two of them eventually go to bed that night after carefully cleaning up all of Emma’s stacks of paper and making sure that not a one is out of place before going through their nighttime routines, possibly a bit more lax than usual. Emma falls asleep before he does, as per usual, and as she’s lying on her side with her hands tucked up under her pillow, he runs his hands across her side over her t-shirt, feeling the familiar dips and curves that soothe him and comfort him in the way that often nothing else does. He doesn’t mean to wake her, but before he knows it her slight hand is reaching to grab his and pulling it across her body and resting it between her breasts.

 

“I love you,” she mumbles as he moves closer to her, covering her body with his while resting his head just behind hers.

 

“I love you, too.” He squeezes her hand. “I thought you were asleep.”

 

“I was until someone started feeling me up.”

 

“Sorry.”

 

“S’okay. Just go to sleep, baby.”

 

When he wakes up the next morning, he first notices that Emma’s not in bed, but he hears the shower running and music blaring from a speaker in the bathroom. It’s classical music, and of everything, that shocks him most of all. It takes him a minute to realize that it’s the playlist he’d been sent of songs to play while everyone is waiting for the two of them to show up at the Chapel, the playlist he’d been listening to yesterday and had decided it was wrong to listen to without Emma, so he reluctantly pulls himself out of bed, his body protesting at the movement, and makes his way into the bathroom, the sounds of violins, pianos, and pounding water only increasing the closer he gets to the shower.

 

He doesn’t want to bother Emma, so he just goes about brushing his teeth and flossing. He thinks about cleaning up his scruff, but he doesn’t have to go anywhere today, so he just leaves it be, the red tint of it accentuated by the lights above the mirrors as well as the light shining in through the bay window over the tub. He already feels better than he did the entire day yesterday, his shoulders less tense and his face more relaxed as he heads into the closet and changes into a pair of sweats and a pullover for running, his hair puffing up when the neck gets stuck on his head.

 

Emma’s getting out of the shower as he finishes adjusting his shirt, and he didn’t realize how incredibly loud the music is until the water is no longer drowning some of it out, and how the hell did that not wake him up? He’s not usually that deep of a sleeper. Emma must not have known he’s gotten out of bed because she’s standing on the bathmat right outside of the shower with a towel wrapped around her body, drying her locks with another towel, as she gently sways with the music, twisting and turning and getting a little bit more animated than he thinks anyone ever has dancing to classical music alone in a bathroom.

 

He has to stifle his laughter, covering his mouth with his forearm as she continues to dance a bit, and he’s just about to say something when she turns to face the closet and sees him, her eyes blowing wide open and her lips parting in surprise as she trips over the bathmat and begins falling to the ground, her ass hitting the tile before either of them ever have the chance to try to stop her.

 

“Oh shit,” he mumbles, scurrying over to squat down next to Emma whose face is scrunched up in pain as she sits shocked on the ground with tears welling in her eyes. “Are you okay?”

 

“No,” she grumbles, her voice high and broken, “this fucking hurts, and I – I – I just…” Her lips start to quiver, and while he knows that it probably hurts like hell, it’s likely just the shock of the fall and the impact, but he’s not dumb enough to say that out loud. Besides, if this was him, he’d probably freak out just the same. “Why the hell did you pick out tile that’s this hard? What a fucking horrible decision on your part. Also, what the hell were you doing in the closet scaring me like that?”

 

“Emma, maybe we should try getting you off the floor first before we start talking about my tile choices. You need help?”

 

She nods her head while he grabs her underneath her armpits and lifts her up to her feet, and the grimace on her face is nowhere near pleasant as she stiffly makes her way into the closet and dresses in just a pair of underwear and a tank top, grimacing a bit more as she lifts her legs.

 

“Will you go downstairs and get me an ice pack out of the freezer? I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I need you to ice my ass.”

 

He presses his lips against the middle of her forehead, his hands gently gabbing at her hips before moving to rub his hands up and down in her lower back in a back and forth motion while she rests her head beneath his chin. “You’re okay,” he whispers as he feels a tear or two drop onto his chest. “You just landed on the wrong spot. It’s okay. It hurts, but you’re going to feel better in a minute.”

 

She nods her head against him, and maybe he was wrong when he thought it was just the shock. She’s tough as nails, but a weird fall like that would hurt anyone. He’s busted his ass once or twice, and he winces just thinking about it. Kissing her hair, he pushes past her to head downstairs to grab her an ice pack, shuffling though the freezer until he finds the ones that don’t require being wrapped in a towel and taking them upstairs to find Emma trying to adjust herself on the bed, moving around the pillows until she’s comfortable on her stomach facing the television.

 

“Alright babe,” she laughs, just the smallest little thing, and she seems to be over the hurt a bit, “ice my ass.”

 

“You have never been sexier to me than you are right now.”

 

“This is all your fault anyways. If you hadn’t been creepily stalking me in the closet, I probably wouldn’t have fallen.”

 

“I was entranced by your dance moves, love.”

 

“Ugh,” she flops her face into the pillow while he puts the icepacks on her tailbone and her right cheek where there seems to be a bit of bruising already forming, pressing the ice into her skin even as she squirms under the cool touch. “I cannot believe this happened.”

 

“Tis nothing to fret about, love. People fall in bathrooms all the time. Usually they’re just the tiniest bit older with more feeble limbs.”

 

“Shove it, Killian.”

 

“Again. You’ve never been sexier to me than you are right now.”

 

He leaves Emma be to rest a bit while he goes to shower himself, the need to cleanse himself washing over him instead of going with his initial plan of going for a jog. They’ve got to make decisions on the music today, but he’s not sure if the best course of action is bringing up the music right now. Instead, after his shower, he redresses in his sweats and pullover before gingerly sitting back on the bed with Emma, making sure not bounce her around by his weight pressing down on the mattress.

 

“Abigail is coming over today,” she tells him as they both watch whatever holiday cooking show is on in April. It looks like they’re making some kind of lasagna with homemade pasta, and damn that looks good. This is why they most definitely shouldn’t be watching cooking shows when neither of them have eaten breakfast this morning or dinner last night.

 

“Is she bringing the kids?”

 

“Nope, just her. The kids are staying with the nanny because Liam’s visiting with veterans today, I think. She just wants to hang out with actual adults, and then maybe she’ll help us with some wedding stuff. She does have experience doing this.”

 

“What time is she coming? Do I need to make some food?”

 

“She’s bringing us lunch, but I would not oppose to you making whatever it is that’s on the TV right now.”

 

He chuckles before crawling forward on the bed so that he’s resting on his stomach as well, parallel with Emma on the bed as the two of them watch the different images flicker across the screen, layers of pasta and marinara sauce being mixed in with cheese and spices.

 

“You still in pain, love?”

 

She tilts her head to look at him, snaking her hand out from underneath her pillow to push back the wet strands of hair still sticking to his forehead so that they’ll undoubtedly dry in several different directions, creating a messy nest of black hair on top of his head.

 

“I feel like I need to stay on soft surfaces for the next two days and that my butt is going to be some nasty colors for a few days, but I’ll survive. Though whatever song was playing at the time is definitely off of the list for the wedding. I don’t think I’ll be able to keep a straight face when I hear it, and that’ll probably create some kind of scandal with me having a hysterical meltdown at the alter.”

 

“You did say you wanted to make history.” He grabs her hand to kiss her palm. “It would make for the second most interesting wedding my family has been a part of in the past few decades.”

 

“What was the first?”

 

He chuckles before kissing her palm again and turning on his back to stare up at the ceiling, resting Emma’s hand on his stomach and rubbing over her knuckles with the pad of his thumb. “Albert was drunk off his ass when Rebecca got married because, and this is one of our best kept secrets, she was already pregnant before the wedding. Obviously, I don’t think this is a big deal, but my father is the head of the Church, so having children out of wedlock is basically just not allowed. And she was only two months along, so it normally would be easily concealed, but she had twins, you know?”

 

He turns his head to look at her, and she can’t fully turn her body because of the ice currently resting on her ass. “So everything was a little amplified. And as you know, Albert is basically the worst, and while they’d tried to keep it from him, Rebecca’s morning sickness was so bad that he found out at the rehearsal dinner, went into some kind of rage, and then showed up to the chapel plastered the next morning. The entire thing was a disaster, and if it had been televised, I don’t know what would have happened. Luckily, Rebecca’s extremely down to earth and not particularly close with her father, so she was simply able to focus on the fact that she was getting married to the man that she loves.”

 

“That is…that is quite the story. Also, may I echo my thoughts every time we talk about Albert and say that he is an unrivaled dick? I don’t know how a woman as sweet as Rebecca or kids as wonderful and Kincaid and Calhoun even share DNA with him.”

 

“Technically I share DNA with him.”

 

She pats his stomach. “Yes, but we’ve confirmed that you’re of your own breed, Killian. Like some kind of mystical creature.”

 

He raises an eyebrow even as he leans over to kiss her neck. “A mystical creature, huh?”

 

“Yeah, I’m not sure what though.”

 

“I think a god like Hercules would be the most accurate.”

 

She laughs, fully belly laughs, and he didn’t think his suggestion was too far off but obviously she does. “I’m so glad that you’re confident of yourself, babe. It makes my life easier. Also, that story would have been helpful during my freak out last night, but it’s good entertainment since I’m apparently injury prone now.”

 

He helps Emma finish getting dressed before Abigail comes over, and he leaves the girls to chat up in their bedroom while he watches television downstairs and does some more research for their honeymoon, munching on the vegetable wrap and soup Abigail brought over. There’s only so many places that they can go for security reasons, and he can’t book ahead of time for fear that word will get out. He and Emma are leaning more toward another snowy vacation because of their time in Seychelles in January even though they’re to be married in the summer, but he wants it to be different. To be special. He knows that Emma will be happy simply getting to go somewhere and relax after this year of ups and downs. He’ll be happy to do that, too.

 

He pulls out his phone, and he’s really about to text Emma while they’re in the same house. It’s not like they haven’t done it before, but it’s usually over something as simple as asking her to turn the air down on the unit upstairs.

 

Killian: You want to go back to Switzerland? Or maybe Austria? We can do tropical again, but we’ve got to do a security check for everywhere we don’t have a connection.

 

Emma: Are you really texting me instead of coming upstairs?

 

Emma: I like the idea of Austria. Abigail wants to come with.

 

He chuckles under his breath because he can very much imagine Abigail saying that, but he’d rather not have a tag-a-long, no matter how much he loves the lass. Thumbing at his screen, he goes to text Emma back.

 


 

It has been three weeks since he first stumbled into a pub on a quiet London street and been enraptured by the woman who’d forced him out of his clothes for the most innocent reason in the world. It was endearing, and he can’t get it out of his head. He hasn’t felt this lovesick in a long time, his heart beating quickly in his chest and giddy emotion lodged in his throat just thinking about her…about Emma Nolan.

 

She’s beautiful, and the way that her green eyes rolled when he walked into the pub earlier tonight and the small smile on her face as he’d ordered a pint keeps playing over in his mind as he lays in his bed trying to fall asleep tonight. Or this morning since it’s far past four in the morning. He thinks she must have put a spell on him or something because everything about her is enchanting. Or maybe he simply has a real, genuine crush for the first time in years. He hasn’t allowed himself to have one, and this is as thrilling as it is painful.

 

“Good evening, Nolan,” he greets, tipping the bill of his hat up so that he can fully smile at her. “How are you this fine night?”

 

“Killian,” she nods, leaning back against the cabinet and crossing her arms under her chest, propping her breasts up in the white tank top she has on. He doesn’t want to be demeaning, but fuck, she’s attractive. And the thinness of the material of her shirt and the way it hugs her pert breasts isn’t helping his growing attraction to her. In more ways than one. “I was better when there was no one in here. But then you walked in.”

 

“I know you’re glad to see me, love.”

 

“I’m glad for the tip I know you’re going to give me.”

 

“You know you like me, lass,” he grins, propping his chin in his hand and batting his eyelashes, concealing his own fumbling feelings for her by feigning confidence. “Why the emptiness tonight?”

 

She shrugs before sliding him a small glass of his favorite brand of rum even though he ordered a pint of beer. His heart quietly hammers over the fact the she remembers his favorite brand of rum, sod the fact that it’s part of her job. “It happens sometimes. A combination of factors, really. The day of the week. The weather. What kind of sports are on TV. There were a few people in here earlier, but it’s eleven on a Monday night, not exactly a hustling and bustling time for going out and drinking.”

 

“So just you and me then?”

 

“And whatever I can find on TV.”

 

What she finds on television is a cooking show, and he learns that while Emma Nolan apparently doesn’t cook, she does love to watch cooking shows, which almost seems like it shouldn’t be true. If you watch a show about cooking that instructs you how to cook the meal, shouldn’t you then attempt to make it on your own? Or else you’re simply sitting and looking at food without any of the satisfaction of actually having it.

 

It’s eerily similar to him coming to spend time in this pub simply to see a girl who he doesn’t think even likes him. He can never tell if she’s flirting with him when she teases him or if she’s not teasing him in the slightest. Gods, he hopes that it’s the flirting. He doesn’t know what he’ll do if it’s not flirting.

 

“Isn’t there something more entertaining on?”

 

“Just watch,” she insists, her eyes not leaving the screen while her mouth ticks up in amusement. “I promise that you’ll become fascinated by it, okay?”

 

She’s right about that, and even though he tried not to like it, he does. He likes the weird concoctions that the chefs make on the competition shows and the normal meals made by the people who cook on home kitchen sets and share the history behind the meals. He’s sure that most of the stories are fake, but it’s still fascinating to watch. Eventually, after a particularly unbelievable story about the origins of a salad, he and Emma begin to make up their own stories to go along with the show, the rum the both of them are now drinking either helping or hurting their creativity.

 

“The pasta sauce,” she begins, trying an Italian accent that she should never try again, but it does make the both of them dissolve into laughter, “is my great great step-cousin’s recipe. It’s authentic. Just not authentic Italian. It’s authentic store-bought, but there is a secret ingredient. We add the thumb of the people we kill who know that this isn’t a homemade sauce.”

 

He practically spits out his rum, having to hold his lips closed and let the alcohol burn him as he holds in his laughter at the last part of her story and the way she’d darkened her voice before saying the last part.

 

“What the ever loving hell, Nolan? Are you mad?”

 

She shrugs. “You asked for a story, and I think I was not expecting this rum to hit me this hard.”

 

It goes on like that for the rest of the night, the two of them trying to outdo each other in how ridiculous their story is until the both of them are buzzed and filled with laughter. As it gets nearer to closing time, he starts to sober a bit, and all he can think about is asking for her number. He really wants her number. He just doesn’t know if she’d be open to it. So instead, he offers his, leaving whatever ball they have passing between them in her court.

 

“You don’t have to use it,” he bashfully offers, “but if there’s ever a special on alcohol or something, you’ll let me know, yeah?”

 

She smiles, even if it’s small, and holds the phone he was just holding to her chest, his number in the contacts.

 

It had been such a fun night, and he really wants to experience something like that again, preferably with Emma. He wishes he had gotten her number because he truly doesn’t think she’s going to use his. But then, just as he’s finally falling asleep, his heart calming and the noises of his empty apartment fading away, he hears the ding of his phone.

 

It’s an unknown number and his heart is erratic again. When he slides his finger across the screen to open the message, it’s simply a picture of a thumb, chipped blue nail polish coating the nail.

 

She texted him, and even if it’s just a little thing, it’s everything to him.

 

He already knows that he’s screwed when it comes to her, and he doesn’t even care.

 

He’s ready for it.

 


 

Emma: What about Italy? They’re still showing it on TV with all of these recipes, and I think we should have a trip where we just eat all of the food.

 

Emma: All of the food, babe.

 

He finishes taking a bite of his wrap, placing it back down on the coffee table before bounding upstairs and going back into the bedroom to see Abigail and Emma going through Emma’s laptop with the cooking channel still on the television. Emma’s sitting up normally, the ice packs melted on the table, and he’s glad to see that she’s not in as much pain as she was earlier.

 

“Can’t stay away from her, can you, Killian?” Abigail teases, winking at him before going back in to look at whatever is on the computer screen. “Oh, I like that, darling. You should wear your hair like that, especially with the tiara.”

 

“Like what?” he ponders, walking forward to lean over to peer at the laptop screen, only for Emma to close it, smiling up at him with a cheeky grin.

 

“Ah, ah, ah, babe,” she chastises, and he’s really never going to have any clue as to what Emma’s going to look like when they get married until they’re standing in that chapel and at the alter. “You’ve got to stop trying to get sneak peeks. You already got the tiara and the little bit of information your mom spilled.”

 


 

His mother invited he and Emma over for lunch two weeks ago, and after their stomachs are filled and their minds are updated with everything his parents have been doing in the few weeks that it’s been since he was able to sit down and actually have a chat with them that revolved around something other than the wedding. It’s nice getting to sit with his mum and Emma, watching them interact with each other. Emma took to Abigail first, and while he loves seeing their friendship, it’s special to him to see Emma get along so well with his mum. They’re two of the most important women in his life. Really, they’re two of the most important people in his life, and watching his mum laugh as Emma tells her about St. Patrick’s Day from a few weeks ago makes his pulse calm and his heart swell.

 

Killian knows why his mum’s called the two of them to Buckingham today, but Emma doesn’t. She’s completely oblivious as to what his mother is going to gift her today, and he can only imagine the look on her face. She loves the jewelry he gifts her for holidays, but she has often said that she gets nervous wearing things he’s given her from his family’s collection. Well, a tiara from his mum’s collection may very well have her entire body radiating with nerves, but it’s tradition for royal brides to wear tiaras and Emma deserves her place in getting to wear one.

 

“Emma, darling,” Allison begins, placing her water on a coaster on the table and uncrossing her legs. “I have something I want to give you today. Or not necessarily give but to let you borrow.”



Emma’s face scrunches in confusion, turning her head to look over at him and widening her eyes like he can somehow answer her unspoken question.

 

“Just listen, love.”

 

His mother laughs before reaching over and covering Emma’s hands with her slight fingers, visibly squeezing before smiling at Emma. “It’s nothing bad, my darling. It’s an honor. You’re marrying my son, and you’re part of our family now. And as a part of the family, I want you to come and look at the tiaras to find one to wear for your wedding.”

 

“Oh,” Emma gasps, shaking her head and closing her eyes, her long lashes landing against her flushed cheeks, “I can’t ask you to do that.”

 

“You’re not asking, Emma. I’m giving you this. And if you say no again, I’m forcing you into this.”



“Well, how could I say no to that?”

 

His mother stands from her chair, pulling Emma up along with her, and he watches them start to head out of the room toward the hallway that leads down to the vault where some of their jewels are kept.

 

“Babe?” Emma questions right as they get to the door. “Aren’t you coming?”

 

“Am I allowed to see this since everything else is kept a secret?”

 

“Yeah,” she laughs, motioning her arms for him to join them. He listens, jogging over to the door and wrapping his arm around her shoulder, kissing her hairline. “This can be your one thing.”

 

His mother wants Emma to wear the Cambridge Lovers Tiara because the two of them will be the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge when they’re married. It’s fitting, and even though Emma’s cheeks flush bright red when his mother places it on her head, it looks right on her. She’s wearing jeans and a button down, her hair in its messy, natural curls, and she looks like a natural in a tiara.

 

Well, not necessarily a natural, but she looks like she won’t break down into a mess of nerves with the weight of the jewels and responsibility.

 

“You look beautiful, Emma.”

 

She blushes. “Thank you. And thank you for this, Allison. It means the world to me that you would entrust me with something like this.”

 

“It’s my pleasure, sweetheart. And this’ll match the lace of your dress right. The way it cuts at the top?”

 

Emma’s eyes shoot to him before shooting to his mother and shaking her head to try to get her to stop talking. He smirks because he just got a bit of information Emma’s been hiding like it’s a national secret.

 

 (It kind of is.)

 

“Oh,” Allison gasps, covering her mouth, “I didn’t even realize.”

 

“It’s okay,” Emma reassures. “I’m sure Killian has picked up bits and pieces anyways.”

 

He hasn’t. He hasn’t got a clue, and he tells his mother how it’s been driving him crazy.

 

“We’ll get this fitted with your veil at one of your final fittings, okay?”

 

Later when they’re leaving to go home, his mother hugs him and whispers, “It’ll be worth the wait, son. It always is.”

 


 

“I haven’t tried for information on the dress in weeks. You’ve got to give me something, love.”

 

Emma simply shakes her head no before leaning back against the cushioned headboard and pats the small sliver of space on the mattress next to her for him to sit down. He complies, carefully pressing himself into the mattress while Abigail takes the laptop into her own arms, opening it but keeping the screen away from him. He should have never gotten these two together because they’re just going to conspire against him forever.

 

“You are the most patient man, alive. You can surely wait forty-eight more days.”

 

“You know the number of days, love?”

 

“Don’t pretend that you don’t.”

 

“You two are almost obnoxiously in love.” He looks over to Abigail, and she’s got the biggest smirk on her face, one that he would usually have himself. “I don’t know how the hell Killian hid it for five years.”

 

“You were a little preoccupied, love. I don’t think you were paying too much attention to me.”

 

“I never put it together, but after we found out, there were times where you’d get this far off look in your eyes like you were thinking of someone. People in love have that look.”



“You sound like a creepy old fortune teller, Abi,” Emma laughs, reaching over and squeezing Abigail’s shoulder, a fond smile on her face.

 

“I’m simply older and wiser than the two of you.”

 

“You’re four years older than me, love.”

 

“And seven years older than Emma. That basically makes me ancient.”

 

He and Emma both roll their eyes at Abigail’s antics before he moves over to sit in the large chair they have in the corner, propping his feet up in the ottoman as the three of them dissolve into conversation, debating the pros and cons of their different honeymoon destinations as well as anything and everything about the wedding until they get distracted by the food on the television again. He’s really got to get Emma to change the channel because if she doesn’t, all of their workouts are going to be for naught.

 

When Abigail leaves hours later, a surprising amount of their wedding planning done by her influence and help, he feels much less stressed than he did the day before, as does Emma, the tension practically melting away from her shoulders as she starts to move around the bedroom, stretching her legs and only wincing slightly at what he presumes is soreness in her backside.

 

“You still got a pain in your ass, love?”

 

“Yeah,” she smirks, coming toward him and leaning over his chair, placing her hands on his forearms on the arm rests, “you. You’re a pain in my ass.”

 

“Am I now?” he questions, maneuvering her arms off of him so that he can grab at her waist, gently pulling her into his lap so as not to accidentally hurt her.

 

“Mhmm,” she hums, her hands reaching up to play with the hair at the nape of his neck, his pulse quickening as tingles run through him. “You need a haircut, babe.”

 

“I know. I’m waiting until closer to the wedding so that I won’t have to get it cut right beforehand and look like…what do you always say when I first get a haircut?”

 

“It was only the one time when you got a bad haircut. Not always. And I said it makes you look younger, like a teenager.”



“Aye, that. I don’t fancy looking like my teenage self.”

 

“I like teenage Killian.”

 

“Emma,” he gasps, grabbing onto her waist and pulling her closer, “that is disturbed. You are a grown woman.”

 

She slaps his chest, and he smiles at her playfulness. “Shut up. You’re being cheeky.”

 

“I know you didn’t intend the pun there, darling, but cheeky is a double entendre for this conversation.” He presses a sloppy kiss against her cheek just to annoy her. “I’m simply trying to be your main pain in the ass. I hear I’ve got competition in the bathroom flooring.”

 

“I don’t think anyone can outshine you.”

 

“The shiner on your ass may beg to disagree.”

 

“I’ll give you a shiner on your face.”

 

He snorts, the loud laughter making Emma join in with him, his chest heaving with his amusement. “You think we’re a little delusional and need sleep?”

 

“It’s only seven.”

 

“A growing boy like myself needs lots of sleep, preferably with his super hot fiancée?”

 

“Oh?” she questions, standing up from his lap and grabbing onto his hands until he stands from the chair, the both of them making their way to the bed. “So you think I’m super hot?”

 

“The hottest.”

 

Neither of them fall asleep until far past midnight, laughter filling the room even when he playfully smacks Emma’s ass, forgetting her fall from this morning, and maybe he is a pain in her ass.

 

He knows she loves him regardless.

Chapter Text

“Because,” she smiles, and even if he feels like shit right now, he smiles back just because that smile of hers is so damn beautiful, “you, my love, are their uncle. And the amount of love that I know you have in your heart,” she rests her palm over his chest, and he knows she can feel his heart beating, “is just absolutely insane. So even if, God forbid, this child isn’t shown the love they deserve by their parents, they’ll have you, and that will make all the difference in the world.”

 

“I love you.” He just – he can’t believe that he stumbled into a life where this woman is his, and he loves her so damn much that he can’t not say it. He can’t not tell her at every opportunity he has.

 

“I love you,” he repeats kissing her forehead, her cheeks, her jaw, her ear, her neck, her shoulder, her lips, any place he can get his lips in contact with, whispering an I love you against the skin of every place his lips touch.

 

“I love you, too,” she finally replies once he gives her some reprieve, lips swollen and chest flushed red. “Will you come to bed with me tonight?”

 

“Always.”

 

She takes his hand and leads him from the barstools to the staircase that leads to her apartment. Most of the lights are turned off, but the hallway’s overhead lamp casts a soft yellow shadow over the darkened apartment. He can hear the telltale box fan that David and Mary Margaret sleep with, and he smiles at the familiarity of it all, the normalcy. He could likely map this apartment with his eyes closed, knowing all of the inches of the hardwood, the places where the wood groans under his weight from Emma’s bedroom on his path to the bathroom in the middle of the night. This place…this place is his home, but to the outside world, he’s never existed between these walls. He’s never stepped foot here according to most, but his entire world resides here. His entire world resides here, and she’s guiding him into her room with practiced, familiar hands that grasp onto his.

 

They don’t really speak the entire time that he slips out of his clothes and into some of the sleeping clothes that he keeps here. Half of her closet is filled with his things, and it makes him smile as he folds the shirt he was wearing and places it on the top shelf with his jeans. He longs for the day when his home is filled with her things, their things, but his relationship with his family has never been worse than it is right now. It’s complicated in every sense of the word, and he’s got no clue how they’re going to tell his family about the two of them when the time is right.

 

Is the time ever going to be right?

 

Is there ever going to be an outcome that doesn’t end in disaster, in losing the woman he cares for more than anything?

 

He’s terrified of losing her, of losing Emma. She’s the best thing in his life, the woman who has convinced him that he’s worth loving and that family isn’t all bad, that all the small pieces of good that he sees in his might actually be able to bloom into something more. She, despite all of the things she’s been through in life, sees the good in the world, in him, when he sometimes only sees the darkness. So as for right now, they’ll go on as they have been for nearly five years, and things between them will stay good and stay happy.

 

He might be a coward for not telling his family, or it very well may be the bravest thing he’s ever done by loving someone who he was never supposed to love. Of course, he knows that he was actually supposed to love her. He’s not sure if he believes in fate, but something led him here five years ago. And something keeps bringing him back.

 

“You’re overthinking, babe,” Emma accuses as she settles down onto her bed, shifting under the covers and sitting up against the headboard until she gets into a comfortable position.

 

“I would argue, but I know there’s no point in lying to you.”

 

“Just come to bed, Killian,” she encourages, soft smile on her face that he can barely make out over the darkness of the room, the only light coming from her open blinds and the streetlamps outside, but her smile still makes the vicious storm in his mind settle into a light rain. “You’ll feel better in the morning.”

 

He sighs before crawling into bed with her, sliding his body under the covers and burying his face in the pillow he’s come to know as his as Emma’s fingers move over his bare back, her nails lightly digging into his skin while she draws indiscernible patterns over his back. It feels fantastic, small tingles running down his spine the longer she does it, and when she starts pressing kisses against each of his vertebrae, he thinks he might fall asleep at how soothing all of her touches are. How soothing they always are.

 

How can one person calm him so?

 

“Your shoulders are still tense. Have you been this stressed out all day?”

 

“Yes.”



“Why didn’t you call me?”

 

“I didn’t want to bother you.”



Her fingers stop their movements momentarily before starting up again, this time a little more forceful, pressing into him and working out the stresses a carries in his body. “You’re never bothering me, Killian. If you need to talk, I’m here without question. Without fail. You know that.”

 

He does know that, but sometimes he doesn’t want to share his burdens with Emma. He doesn’t wish to weigh her down with them, but he knows that’s unhealthy. They share with each other, and they work through things together. But stubbornness often prevails until it doesn’t, either he or Emma pulling the other out of their solitude.

 

“Aye, but I wanted time to myself. I felt ridiculous being so upset over my sister-in-law telling me she’s pregnant. I love Abigail. I should be thrilled. Why am I not thrilled? What kind of asshole does that make me?”

 

Probably the worst of the worst. What kind of man isn’t happy for his family?

 

“It doesn’t make you one. You’ve got a complicated relationship with your family. Most people have complicated relationships with their family. It’s never all sunshine and roses for everyone, even my small family, and you’re doing the best you can under the circumstances.”

 

He sighs into the pillow, and while Emma doesn’t solve his problems tonight, she makes him feel better about them, makes him understand that few things are ever as bad as they seem. “You know I love you, right?”

 

“You may have mentioned it a few times today.”

 

He turns his head to look at her, her face half in the light and half in the darkness so that one emerald eye shines brightly. “You’re cheeky.”

 

“I know I am. And I love you, too by the way. I thought you should know that. So you want to hear a story?”

 

“A story?”

 

What the hell is she talking about? Why does she want to tell him a story?

 

“Yeah, you know, like ‘once upon a time’ and all that? I know you know what a story is, babe. You’re university educated after all.”

 

“Obviously,” he chuckles, reaching his hand up to cup her face, feeling her soft skin under his touch, “but I don’t understand why you want to tell one.”

 

“Because I’m not ready to go to bed, and I think you need something to cheer you up.”

 

He smiles, and something settles in his heart, something he’s known for a long time but is continuously reaffirmed. She’s it for him. There will never be anyone else but her, and no matter what happens with his family, he’ll always have Emma just as she will always have him. He doesn’t know what will happen with his family when they do eventually tell them, but he knows what will happen with he and Emma.

 

“Alright, darling, tell me a story.”

 

She slides down the bed and turns on her side so that her nose is brushing against his and her hand is resting on his shoulder, fingers dancing across his skin.

 

“So once upon a time,” she begins, smiling at him so brightly that he can practically feel it in his bones, and he moves his right hand from her cheek to hold onto her waist, feeling the soft curve there, “there was a man and a woman – ”

 

“I like this story already.”

 

“Shush. I’m trying to tell a really riveting tale. I think it’s like a fairytale, but it’s better because it’s real.”

 

He squeezes her waist, and she scrunches her face up so that all of her features are contorted, making her look like some kind of Emma-adjacent blob. “I shall listen with rapt attention, my love.”

 

“You’re sweet,” she gushes before reaching up to kiss his nose. “So as I was saying, there was a man and a woman, and the man crashes into the woman’s home unannounced and the tiniest bit unwelcome, his clothes wet from the rain. They don’t hit it off right away, but it’s funny how things change…”

 




 

 “Hey, so what are we getting your dad for his birthday?”

 

“His birthday?”

 

“Babe, his birthday is in two weeks. There’s a dinner and everything at Windsor. How do I know this and you don’t?”

 

“It slipped my mind, I guess.”

 

“Okay, well, we have to get him something. He’s been really into maps lately. I don’t really get it but whatever. So I was thinking we could get him, like, those old-timey maps of the areas around all of the palaces and have them framed. I found some online that can be here in five days. Come look.”

 

He walks from the kitchen counter where he was making himself a cup of coffee to stand behind where she’s seated at the table, propping his chin on the top of her head and peering down at the computer screen. She’s got several tabs pulled up with the maps and the corresponding frames that they can have matted to the maps to give to his dad at the birthday party that is apparently upcoming.

 

“See,” she points to the frames, “the dark mahogany will match your dad’s study at Windsor, and since I know that’s his more informal room, I think these would work there.”

 

He places his coffee on the table before cupping her head and pulling it back so that he can lean over her and kiss her, the taste of toothpaste on her lips not mixing in well with his coffee, but it could be worse.

 

“Did you just Spider-man kiss me?”

 

“What?”

 

“The Spiderman kiss? You know, the iconic one where they’re upside down and in the rain? Did you just try that?”

 

“Not on purpose. I was going to kiss your forehead, but I moved down at the last minute.” He reaches up to scratch behind his ear, and how does he still get nervous around this woman? “Did it, uh, did it work?”

 

She shrugs, and he moves to sit at the edge of the table so that he can look at her, picking up his coffee and taking another sip.

 

“I think we’ve got some work to do before we’re Peter Parker and Mary Jane, but I like your spunk, kid.”


He laughs into his mug, the way Emma had changed her accent to mimic accents used in movies decades ago brings joy to his face so that lines crease around his eyes, and she’s in such a good mood this morning that he really hates that they won’t be spending the day together. He’d like to do something relaxing like going for a walk in the gardens and spending the day lounging around in the pleasant May weather, the sun beating down on their skin. Or maybe spend the day in bed like they’d spent their morning. Alas, he has events today while Emma has more dress fittings before joining him at a dinner tonight.

 

“I like your idea for my dad’s birthday present. That’s brilliant, love. I don’t know how I forgot.”

 

“It’s on both of our calendars, but that’s why you’ve got me.” She pats his leg before going back to look at the laptop screen. “And then you can pay back for this when I forget my mom’s birthday.”

 

Their two weeks pass in last minute wedding planning, confirming all of the details that still need to be finalized, and as he and Emma drive to Windsor for his dad’s birthday party, his father’s framed maps wrapped in the trunk of his car, he’s reminded of his dad’s birthday last year. That was when this whole thing started, when his brother saw his texts to Emma and the two of them had been exposed to his family. It was like his world was ending, everything crashing down around him, but now he’s riding with the woman who will be his wife in nine days to the very event that was the catalyst to the two of them being able to be here today. It’s everything he’s ever wanted, the woman who he loves by his side and a family who he loves accepting him, loving him, and loving Emma for who she is, flaws and cracked history included. It’s been the most insane year of his life, and while he’d love to change a lot of things, it doesn’t matter.

 

They’re here now.

 

His father’s seventy-first birthday is a much more casual affair than his father’s seventieth birthday last year, but everyone will still be dressed in tuxes and gowns that glisten under the chandeliers. There had been hordes of photographers waiting outside the gates as they drove in, and while the bright flashes in the darkness of the night were jarring, it’s nothing he’s not used to at this point. Once he and Emma gave them a wave through the cars, their security behind them, they waned off until the two of them could safely get through the gates.

 

When they walk through the halls of Windsor, both of their hands full with the gifts, Emma’s heels clacking along the tile floor, he smiles thinking of them walking through these same halls when they’re married in the next few days. He knows those days will drag along excruciatingly slowly, but the simple anticipation of life after this wedding is causing him to be flush with excitement, his entire body buzzing. This day has been a long time coming, and it hasn’t simply been since they were engaged. It’s been since long before that, years even, and it’s now nearly a week away.

 

They sit down to dinner in the ballroom they’re not using for the wedding, as it’s being renovated and decorated, all of his immediate family surrounding him at the head table while cousins, both close and distant, and other guests fan out at the other tables. He knows that he’ll have to make the rounds with everyone later, thank them for coming today and staying for the wedding, but right now he can simply enjoy spending time with his family, something that never would have happened last year.

 

“So, dad,” Killian starts while they’re in between courses, “where are you going for your birthday this year? Still Balmoral after the public celebration at the end of June?”

 

“Killian, when have we ever changed it up?”

 

“Never,” he laughs, “but it’s been awhile since I’ve actually gone with you.”

 

“That’s because you were sneaking off to see Emma,” his mother chimes in, and when he turns to Emma, she simply shrugs. Blush still rises to her cheeks under her makeup, though, and it’s true. He would skip out on family vacations to spend time with her. Sitting in a small bedroom above a pub seemed more appealing than the sprawling estate of Balmoral. It still does, if he’s honest, but he does miss that place. They’d had some fun times there when he was a child, and he’d like to go back. Maybe he and Emma will later this summer when everyone else is spending their summer months there.

 

“To be fair,” Emma placates, raising her hands in the air like she’s been pulled over by the police, “I never asked him to skip out on family vacations.”

 

“Bullocks,” everyone chimes in at once before breaking out into laughter, and this may be the most in sync his family has ever been.

 

“If I’d been dating a lass in secret, I sure as hell would have skipped out on family functions.” Liam smiles until Abigail gently slaps his arm.

 

“You better not be dating a lass in secret.”

 

“It was only a joke, darling.”

 

Emma leans over to whisper in his ear, and her perfume intoxicates him. It’s been driving him crazy all night, and it doesn’t help the way his stomach has been hurting from laughter. “You see what we have to look forward to when we’re married.”

 

He laughs before he turns and kisses her cheek. “We’re already like that. You and Abigail are cut from the same cloth.”

 

“And it’s a bloody good cloth,” Abigail protests, and when he turns his head, his entire family is looking at he and Emma. “It’s cute that the two of you don’t think we can all hear you.”

 

“We know that you can hear us,” Emma chuckles, moving her hair to the right side so that her shoulders are bared, and she is just stunning tonight, the light blue of her dress bringing out the slight blueness in her eyes. “You’re just lucky we didn’t say anything more about the two of you.”

 

“We could say plenty about the two of you as well, Mr. and Mrs. ‘We Don’t Need Stag and Hen Parties.’”

 

“Technically, that was all Killian.”

 

His face recoils into his neck as he looks over at Emma with parted lips. “You said you were fine with that.”

 

She reaches over to pat his leg, a soft smile on her face. “I am. The weekend we had in the country was perfect. It was just a joke, babe.”

 

“See,” Liam laughs, pointing at the two of them across the table like a child, “you are exactly like us already.”

 

The rest of the dinner goes along the same way, all of them teasing each other and laughing during the meal, especially during the speeches that he and Liam give about their father. Well, it was one speech, and they worked together on it, something they had never done before unless it was a special event where their speeches were written for them. It’s still a bit odd working with his brother, getting along with him, but three hundred and sixty-five days can change your entire world.

 

While everyone is moving about the room chatting with all of the other guests, he grabs onto Emma’s wrist and discreetly pulls her out of the ballroom when she’s in between guests.

 

“W-what are you doing?” she laughs as he gets her into the hallways, the short train of her gown moving just behind her.

 

“Do you want to go sit in the Chapel?”

 

“What?”

 

“Do you want to go sit in the Chapel? Just you and me? It’ll be the only time we’ll ever get in there with just us.”

 

“What about your dad’s birthday?”

 

“No one will notice we’re gone. We’ve been there for two hours.”

 

She seems to think about it for a minute, moving her head from side to side in the way that she does while weighing the pros and cons of things. And then she smiles, and he knows that he’s won her over.

 

“Okay, let’s go.”

 

He leads her through all of the hallways, her arm wrapped around his the entire way until she releases him as they’re walking in the back door of St. George’s Chapel and standing on the black and white checkered tile floor, every movement that they make echoing throughout the hall, bouncing off of the walls until it disappears into the darkness.

 

“How did you know it would be unlocked?”

 

He shrugs before he smirks and happiness blooms in his chest. That’s happening a lot lately. “I may have asked for the side door to be unlocked so we could do this.”

 

Emma saunters toward him, her heels hitting against the floor even louder in here than in the halls of the castle, and wraps her arms around his neck, a bright smile on her face that reflects the one gracing his own. “So you planned this ahead of time?”

“I did.”

 

“You’re quite the romantic soul, you know that?”

 

“I do.”

 

“I don’t think you’re supposed to say those words in here yet. We might accidentally be married, and think of the scandal.”

He laughs before resting his forehead against her and slanting his lips over hers, the both of them smiling into the kiss as her tongue teases at him before he pulls back. “Think of the scandal if they knew we kissed within these walls.”

 

Their lips barely leave each other as Emma’s eyes flutter open, her eyelashes hitting his cheeks, a slight tingling sensation lingering there. “Such rebels are we.”

 

“Why are you talking like Yoda?”

 

“You’re romantic. I bring pop culture into our romantic moments and ruin them. That’s how we roll, babe.”

 

“You don’t ruin anything.”

 

“May you always think that.”

 

He chuckles before kissing her again, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her as close as he possibly can so that their bodies are pressed together in an intimate embrace that the walls of this Chapel have likely never seen. When they pull back from each other, he guides Emma around, showing her the different sections of the Chapel and telling her a bit of the history behind it that has been ingrained in his mind over the years. She’s been here several times before for wedding purposes, and she’ll be here again several times next weekend, but it’s never been just the two of them. So they have their own little history lesson, Emma’s hands tracing along different parts of the architecture as he speaks, until they’re back at the side door ready to leave, the great halls at their back.

 

He holds out his arm for her until she slides her arm in to hook with his before he asks, “are you ready, darling?”

 

“I’m ready.”

 


 

The sound of rain beats against the roof of the apartment, like a constant beating of a drum being pounded against the barriers that surround him and drown out all of the other sounds that may be going on outside. It’s not heavy, more of a pitter-patter of fat droplets hitting against the glass of the windows shown by the open curtains of their bedroom, but it’s constant enough to fill his ears and wake him from sleep before the sun has even risen. Maybe it won’t rise because of the darkness of the clouds coating the shadows of the sky and the water coating the ground, but as of now, there’s still a solid hour before any light would even possibly break through the sky and shine down to earth.

 

This most definitely wasn’t in the weather forecast. He’s been watching the weather channel almost religiously, he and Emma usually falling asleep with tomorrow’s forecast flashing up on the screen, greens and blues fading into black as sleep consumes them and takes them away from the waking world. Hopefully the downfall of water will stop before Emma wakes up so that she doesn’t have any extra worries for tomorrow. It matters not how often they’ve prepped for what happens if rain falls tomorrow because he’ll still worry regardless. But they’ve always held out some kind of hope that the weather would stay nice for just these two days, and they’ll continue to hope for that. Often random showers torment England before the sun shines for the rest of the day, but it’s also just as likely that one summer storm indicates days of inclement weather. It won’t be the end of the world, but it’d be nice for the sun to shine down on them.

 

Killian carefully moves Emma’s hands off of his stomach before quietly crawling out of bed and closing all of the curtains in the room so that he cannot see the water droplets racing down the window before crawling back into bed as slowly as possible. Emma’s a deep sleeper, but she usually notices when he moves around too much. He thinks he’s made it, pulling the comforter back up his body as she breathes in soft puffs of air, but just as he sighs in relief and twists his body to adjust his pillow, her eyes pop open like she’s been shocked, green eyes almost electric.

 

He reaches up to stroke her face, moving her hair back behind her ear and trying to silently urge her to fall back asleep in the early hours of this morning. They both need their sleep for their next few days, and it just won’t do for them to be any more tired than they already are. “Go back to sleep, love.”

 

She mumbles something under her breath before crawling back over to him and wrapping her arms back around his waist and nestling her head back into the crook of his neck while he rubs her back to try to soothe the both of them into slumber. He loves little moments like this with her, just the two of them and the rest of the world blacked out. They don’t even have to be talking to each other. The companionable silence is perfectly fine as he feels their closeness with the way they breathe together. He’s wanted to marry her for years, but he’s only known that he gets to marry her for a little under half of a year and it almost doesn’t seem real to him that this is the last time they’ll sleep together before they’re husband and wife. He doesn’t think much will change, not with the way they’ve lived their lives and how committed they are to each other, but he knows that the both of them are excited for their commitment to each other to be official.

 

He’s just about to fall back asleep, already halfway pulled into the beginnings of his sleep cycle, when Emma suddenly sits up, her hands pushing against his chest until she harshly flops back down onto him, her elbows hitting him right in what he thinks is his spleen before she rolls off of him and onto the bed. Bloody violent woman.

 

“Is that rain?”

 

“No.”

 

“You’re a liar.” She moves against his chest again, and damn she’s bony today. “It’s rain. That was not in the forecast.”

 

“I know, darling,” he maneuvers himself until she’s not elbowing him anymore and starts rubbing her back again, “but it’s not too heavy. I think we should really try to go back to sleep. It’s still early.”

 

“I don’t think I can go back to sleep.”

 

She doesn’t sound worried necessarily, but her voice is already more alert than it usually is when she’s up this early in the morning. She’s been up this early a lot lately with all of their obligations, and he cannot wait until they’re in Italy next week so that the two of them can sleep in with absolutely no distractions.

 

“Because of the rain?”

 

“No. Because we have a lot to do today, and my mind is already running all over the place.”

 

“I think we need to live in this quiet moment. It’s going to be the last one we get for awhile.”

 

“But.”

 

“Emma.”

 

“Killian.”

 

He pulls her back on top of him so that her lips are a hairsbreadth away from his, and while they should really go back to sleep, this new idea he is forming now is a good idea, too. It’s always a good idea.

 

“Enjoy the quiet moments, love.”

 

He captures her lips with his, using his hand to tilt her head to the side to get more access to her mouth while her hands trail up into his hair, causing small shivers to go through him with the feelings of her pulling his hair and scratching at his scalp while his own hands begin to snake down her body. He loves her curves, the way she’s toned with muscles but still soft as his hand traces the dip of her waist and travels down to her hip, curving again to the underside of her firm ass and maneuvering enough to give it an equally firm squeeze before he works to flip her over so that she’s on her back, her grunt transforming into a laugh when the flip doesn’t turn out as smooth as he was planning on it being.

 

She whimpers, and the sound goes straight through him, all of his blood rushing to his groin along with all of the heat in his body. He’s barely even touched her yet, and he’s almost reared and ready to go.

 

But she’s not, even with the little sounds she’s making, so he releases her lips, a loud, wet smack echoing throughout the room and standing out against their background music of the rain, before inching her shirt slowly up her body, making sure that his fingers trail against the skin, nails digging into her and leaving the faintest of marks on her stomach. When the material is above her breasts, which are now gloriously bare to him, he stops to dip his head down and suck at her nipples, feeling them harden in his mouth as he alternates between the two of them, her little noises and encouraging words urging him to continue on.

 

“D- don’t.”

 

Or maybe not.

 

“Don’t what, love?”

 

“Don’t leave a…a mark. You can’t leave a mark anywhere.”

 

“Aye, I know. I won’t. I’m just appreciating the gloriousness of your body, my love.”

 

“You have such a way with words when your mouth should be occupied.”

 

He pops his head up that, his right eyebrow going with it, and while Emma’s never been much of a talker during their love making, not like he is and definitely not as often, he does quite enjoy when she gives him little, feisty encouragements and teasings like that.

 

“You got something in mind?”

 

She hums, closing her eyes as a serene smile pops onto her face like whatever is she’s thinking of will cause that look of contentment, and he’s physically aching to give that to her.

 

“I do.”

 

She presses her hands against his chest and attempts to push him off of her only for him to grind his hips into hers and press more of his weight over her, causing her to laugh into his shoulder the more pressure he puts on her. He’s teasing her, and they both know it.

 

“You’re being an asshole.

 

He laughs against her forehead before moving down her body so that he can kiss her again, his mouth exploring the well-known treasures of Emma that he would and will discover again and again and again no matter how many times he’s discovered them before, mapping the lines of her body with his tongue as she’s done the same with him.

 

“So still an asshole, huh?”

 

“Yep,” she pops the p at the end before bucking her hips up into his, and damn that little bit of friction feels good, the sensation causing him to hiss a bit. He needs to be inside of her. He needs her. “But an asshole who needs to undress so I can fuck him.”

 

“So eloquent, darling.”

 

She laughs before she pushes at him again, and this time he allows her to move him off of her, flopping down onto the mattress and staring up at Emma as she scrambles the rest of the way out of her shirt and strips off her shorts all while he watches her, every droplet of his blood rushing below his waist. She is the most glorious woman alive, and he’s not sure that he’ll ever get used to being with her.

 

He kind of hopes that he doesn’t.

 

She simply hums in response to his words before she crawls on top of him, her knees on either side of his waist while she presses her slick core against the bare skin right above his boxers. He’s distracted by that while she presses her lips against his chest, running her tongue against his nipples, and oh damn she’s going to kill him like this, isn’t she?

 

“You know you’re the one who’s always been better with words, but I like to think that I do okay.”

 

And then she’s moving down his body, tracing the lines of his body with her lips and her tongue until she hooks her fingers into his boxers and he lifts her his hips to help her pull them down, his cock bobbing against his stomach when she gets his briefs all the way down and tosses them onto the floor at the foot of his bed. He’s reaching down to pull her up for a kiss, but before his hands can reach her, she’s taking him in hand and wrapping her lips around his length and bobbing her head up and down, the wetness of her mouth devouring him.

 

“Fuck,” he hisses when she lifts her head and swirls her tongue around his tip, his entire body humming in appreciation as she builds him higher and higher with her mouth and her hand, his length somehow hardening the longer she works at him. “Emma, darling, I – uh, fuck, love. You gotta…I’m going to…Emma please.”

 

She releases him, her saliva dripping down him, and the vixen smirks at him, a wicked smile curving on her face as she moves to capture his lips in a searing kiss, their tongues tangling together in a slick, wet slide while his hands tangle into her hair.

 

“Not so eloquent with your words are you now?”

 

He laughs against her lips before kissing her again, his hands gliding along her hair until he can cup her cheeks, moving the pads of his thumbs under her eyes until she pulls back from him, the irises of her eyes only the slightest bit green under the blackness of desire. Suddenly the heat of the moment disappears as he looks at her, studies her really, yet again memorizing the way the freckles brush over her nose and how she’s got the slightest bit of mascara smudged just below her quirked eyebrows.

 

“What?” she questions, her voice lilting with the question.

 

He moves to press her loose hair behind her ear with his right hand while his left palm still cups her cheek, thumb still moving over the skin. “Nothing. Just thinking about how much I love you.”

 

She smiles before pressing her forehead against his, the warmth of her skin invading him as her nose brushes back and forth against his and her own hands cup the back his head, fingers carding through the hair at the nape of his neck making him feel like he’s in some kind of euphoric bliss even when they haven’t joined together yet.

 

“I love you, Killian. I know we were teasing each other about how eloquent we can be or whatever, but I really can’t express how much. I know that’s cheesy or whatever and I – ”

 

He captures her lips again, sucking on her bottom lip again before releasing her, her lips kiss swollen with slightly burned by his scruff.

 

“I’m good with cheesy.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Yeah. I like it, and sometimes cheesy isn’t a bad thing, you know?”

 

“I do.”

 

Eventually she moves down his body, settling over his hips and guiding his length into her heat while he holds onto her hips, sinking down onto him and incasing him in the slickness of her walls while they both sigh and groan into the pleasure of it. Emma moves above him, her breasts bouncing as she uses her muscles to lift herself up and down, her nails digging into his chest until she gets into a rhythm she obviously enjoys, her head thrown back in pleasure as the pace of her breathing increases while his does the same.

 

“So good, sweetheart,” he groans when her hips continue to swivel as he begins to match her movements with his own thrusts. “So tight and warm around me, like you were made for me.”

 

She whimpers when harshly thrusts up into her, burying himself as deep as he can while in this position, and the sounds goes right through him, pleasure building in every inch of his spine and settling at the base until he sits up, almost causing her to fall off of him at the sudden movement, so that he can join their lips together, all of their moans and pants being captured by the other’s lips until neither of them can breathe, while Emma’s arms wrap around his shoulders, holding on tightly as her nails dig into his back, her thrusts stopping momentarily while he continues to sheath himself inside of her.

 

It’s an awkward series of movements until he lays back against the pillows, bringing Emma down with him, propping himself up on his feet, his muscles screaming in use as the rest of his body sings in pleasure, while he pumps himself into her heat, feeling her walls contract around him as her bliss begins.

 

“I love you,” she whimpers when his pace increases, her breasts brushing against the hair on his chest as he forces her entire body to move with each of his thrusts, her hips moving with him as he harshly grabs onto her ass, moving her with him as much as he can. He can feel her everywhere, every inch of his body covered in the soft, smooth skin of hers. He’s never felt closer to her than he has in this moment, and as her walls tightly contract around him and her breath hitches, he hopes that she feels the same while she falls apart on top of him.

 

He works her through it, continuing to move inside of her and fondle the globes of her ass, nails digging into her skin, and when she comes back to herself, she swivels her hips to move him higher and higher, the pleasure and ecstasy moving from the base of his spine to the tips of his ears and the curl of his toes until he’s whispering his love into her ear, furiously kissing her jaw while he spills himself into her, his length convulsing while his entire body tenses before everything is bliss.

 

She slides out of him with a hiss, his essence dripping down her thighs, and instead of getting up to grab a wet cloth, she stays hovering above her for a moment before she flips over on her back, a dopey smile on her face that makes him smile even with his shaking limbs.

 

“You have a good time there, love?”

 

“Oh God, yes. That’ll tide me over until tomorrow night.”

 

“What makes you think you’re going to get lucky tomorrow?”

 

She doesn’t respond, her chest still heaving slightly, before crawling back on top of him as she lays wet kisses against his chest, following the dark trail of his hair before moving back up to kiss at his neck and his jaw. This isn’t helping the calming of his heart, and it’s a good thing they were up far earlier than they had to be.

 

“I don’t know about you,” she whispers in his ear, biting the lobe quickly before pulling away, a shiver running over his shoulders and causing them to shake the slightest bit, “but I think bets are pretty good that I’m going to get laid on my wedding night.”

 

“Oh, are you getting married tomorrow? What a lucky man.”

 

“He has no idea.”

 

“Trust me. He does.”

 

After finally cleaning themselves up and opening the curtains so that they can see the rain fall, they climb back into bed and lay in silence for a long while as Emma runs her nails through the hair at his chest and he rubs lazy circles into her hips. It’s the most relaxed he’s felt in a long time, and he idly wonders if he should be high on nerves for tomorrow or if this is exactly how it’s supposed to be. He doesn’t know, and he’s never really asked any of his married friends or family. But he thinks that this feels right.

 

Emma sighs before she nestles further into his shoulder, and he feels her lips against his shoulder. “I love you,” she whispers, the sound almost getting lost as a wisp of air underneath the still going rain. He wonders if that’ll ever stop. There are probably people freaking out about it for the wedding right now, but worrying won’t do anything to help the rain stop.

 

“I love you, too.” He presses a kiss into her hairline, and he’s glad to know she feels as content as he does. “I think we should get married just like this.”

“Naked and in bed?”

 

“It’s been done before. Probably somewhere in my own family line.”

 

“Well, who are we to break from tradition?”’

 

The rain eventually dies down, the sun coming out to shine and dry the water coating the ground and the trees, but neither of them move from their position in bed, lounging around and teasing each other until they come together again, this time quick and hard. The entirety of their bodies are pressed together as he pushes himself into her, swiveling his hips as he pulls out before pushing back in, and his lips rarely leave Emma’s. When they do, it’s to whisper words of love to each other, and while the sound of the rain is gone, he wouldn’t notice for how wrapped up he is in Emma and for the sound of his heart pounding in his chest.

 

They are eventually called out of their room so that they can get ready for the day, Emma’s stylists ringing the doorbell when neither of them have managed to drink their morning coffee, but at least they’ve showered at this point, the early morning not allowing them any extra time as they wasted it away in bed.

 

Well, he wouldn’t call it a waste.

 

The rest of the day passes by in a literal blur of reviewing everything for tomorrow, going through the ceremony step by step several times with their aides until they actually get to St. George’s Chapel and rehearse three times, his legs aching until everything is done perfectly and they’re allowed to leave for the dinner.  

 

There are hordes of people waiting outside of the Chapel and while they could easily go out a back exit and never be seen by anyone, Emma suggested that they go greet people for just a few minutes. She’s taken to this whole public eye thing like a fish in water in the past few weeks, and while he knows she still gets nervous, she’s a bit braver and more confident every time.

 

“Are you sure, darling?” he double checks, grabbing onto her hand and twining their fingers together and squeezing. “We don’t have to.”

 

She shrugs. “They’re all out there for us. We might as well go say hi.”

 

She makes a solid point, and he braces himself before the two of them get ready to walk out the front steps of the Chapel where they’ll exit tomorrow as husband and wife. There’s quite a crowd gathered, more than he expected for tonight, and he can see the faces brighten as the two of them walk out and wave with their free hands. He also feels the eyes of the cameras zoom in on them, but it comes with the territory, especially lately and in the new future with the media demand and coverage over he and Emma.

 

He’s attempting to decide which group of people to speak with when Emma tugs on his hand and directs him to a group of young girls holding signs indicating that they’re most likely from America, and she practically drags him over to them.

 

“Hi, girls,” she greets, reaching out to shake their hands, “I’m Emma, and this is Killian.”

“We know who you are,” one of them giggles.

 

“Ah, right,” Emma laughs. “It’s a force of habit, and I like to introduce myself as simply Emma when I can. So you all are from America?”

 

“From Maine! Like you!”

 

“They must make all of the loveliest ladies in Maine then,” he flirts, and even when Emma whips her head to look at him, her eyes saying I cannot believe you just embarrassed them like that, a smile still tugs at his lips at the ways all of the girls blush.

 

“Excuse Killian,” Emma laughs, “he’s a bit of a charmer.”

 

“Oh we know. We all call him Prince Charming.”

 

The girl who says it immediately claps her hands over her mouth, and he almost has to do the same to contain his laughter.

 

“I prefer devilishly handsome, but I thank you for your compliments. I hope you all have a lovely rest of your trip.”

 

He and Emma go about collecting the gifts from everyone, various boxes that they hand to their aides as well as several flower arrangements, which Emma promises to either add to her bouquet or add to their centerpieces, much to the excitement of the men and women gifting them the flowers. It’s a bloody brilliant idea to make these people feel included since they took time out of their Friday simply for the chance of seeing he and Emma. And since the flowers from the wedding will all be donated to charities on Sunday, he thinks that it’s an even more brilliant idea to have such a personal touch.

 

The personal touch is simply Emma.

 

They move along to several other people before their security tells them that it’s time to go inside as more and more people are making their way here, and they still have a dinner to go to. He and Emma wave, thanking the last few well-wishers for tomorrow before loading up into the car and being driven away to a back entrance of the castle for their rehearsal dinner.

 

He’s coming back from the restroom in the middle of dinner when he hears two very distinct voices chatting down the corridor. It doesn’t feel right to eavesdrop, but he cannot help himself when he stops and waits just before the archway of the hall and listens for a moment.

 

“ – and I finally wanted to let you know that you’re going to be a stunning bride tomorrow.”

 

“Thank you, Liam. For all of that. It means the world to me that you’re here for Killian now.”

 

“Aye, I hate that I was a bloody insipid man in the past. It was…still is, awful of me.”

 

“It was.” He smiles at Emma telling Liam how it is, and she’s amazing, really. Just the greatest woman he can imagine. “But as long as nothing like all of that ever happens again and you stay being a good person above all, we’ll say it’s ancient history, yeah?”

 

“Sounds like a plan to me, lass. Thank you for being understanding.”

 

“Don’t get me wrong. I’ll beat your ass if you do something to hurt him again.”

 

“So you’ve told me. Repeatedly.”

 

He smirks from his hidden position. He knows that Emma and Liam have had their own personal chats to deal with all of the history not just between Liam and Killian but between Liam and Emma, but no part of him is surprised that Emma has offered to kick Liam’s ass more than once. She could do it, too. Absolutely no doubt about it.

 

“But he’s so much happier now having his family be his family, so I don’t think I’ll be kicking your ass anytime soon.”

 

“Bloody shame that.”

 

He hears Liam’s laugh, bright and cheery and just happy, before he hears the click of her heels start to fade away as the two of them undoubtedly start walking back to the dinner. He smiles to himself at the bit of conversation he just heard, and when he walks back to the dining hall, he finds Emma sitting back down at their table. After he joins her, he leans over and plants a rather passionate kiss for being in public on her lips, and he can feel her smile into it.

 

“Hi.”

 

“Hi, babe.”

 

“Have any interesting conversations in hallways while I was gone?”

 

Her eyes widen and her lips part, and he knows she’s going to slap his shoulder before she even does it. Or attempts to do it. He doesn’t let her capturing her wrist and bringing it to his mouth to kiss.

 

“You’re an eavesdropper.”

 

“It’s not my fault you had a private conversation in a public area.”

 

“But you stayed hidden to listen to it.”

 

“I heard you threaten to kick Liam’s ass.”

 

“Good. So you know I can do that to you, too.”

 

“Aye,” he answers, kissing her wrist again. “I love you.”

 

“Love you, my sleuth.”

 

“Oi,” his brother shouts from out of nowhere, “the two of you can be all over each other later. Finish your dinner so we can have desert.”

 

“I agree with that,” David joins in. “What’s that saying? Let them eat cake.”

 

“Wrong family lineage, David.”

 

“But cake is never wrong, Killian.”

 

“Dad,” Emma laughs, twisting in her chair to look over at her father, “we’re not even having cake tonight. You’re a day ahead.”

 

“You get your love of cake from someone, darling, and your mom and I have been dieting ever since you got engaged. We need the cake.”

 

“We really need the cake,” Mary Margaret pipes in, her voice almost at a growl, and he and Emma both laugh, each of them covering their mouths as they watch Mary Margaret shrug before shoveling more food in her mouth. “I love both of you, but I’m not sure this diet is worth it anymore. We work in a pub that serves greasy food. This has not been easy.”

 

“Well tomorrow,” Killian raises his glass and holds it over the table until everyone raises theirs as well, “we eat.”

 

“We eat,” everyone repeats, the sounds of wine glasses clinking together before everyone takes a sip.

 

“Now let David and Mary Margaret eat soufflé before they eat us.”

 


 

“Killian,” she giggles, and damn does he love when she says his name when he’s peppering kisses across her neck, sloppy and wet and altogether not eloquent. “Killian,” she moans again, and he doesn’t want to let her go, nudging her into the wall so that his entire body covers her while her hands are wrapped around his neck.

 

He noncommittedly hums, moving from kissing her neck, knowing very well not to stay in one place too long so as not to leave too much scruff burn from her warnings this morning, to her jaw, smelling in the scent of the flowers of her perfume and the vanilla of her body wash. It’s a perfect mixture that he associates with her so much so that when he’s in a garden or near baked goods, he thinks of her.

 

He’s always thinking of her…which is probably why he’s not too keen on sending her off to her hotel with her mother and Ruby right now while he stays in a suite with Liam. Liam snores, and while they’ll be in separate rooms, he’ll still likely hear his brother. He doesn’t know how Abigail does it every single night.

 

“You’re bloody enchanting,” he whispers against her skin, nosing at her cheekbone and slowly inching over her face until his nose brushes against hers.

 

“I could say the same about you.”

 

“You should.”

 

“You’re bloody enchanting, Killian,” she whispers against his lips before capturing his bottom lip between her lips and sucking on it while their entire bodies are practically connected. “But it’s late, and we need to part ways.”

 

“I think we break enough protocol. Why don’t we break this little rule too?”

 

“Because we have to get ready separately.”

 

He hums, still not having moved back from being pressed up against her, and someone could walk down this hallway any moment now. He doesn’t care right now. Everyone in this building knows they’ve been living together for the past year, and anyone who is offended by that can shove it.

 

“Okay,” he acquiesces, pulling back from her, making sure to take a step back so they’re not entirely pressed together, “okay. I will be good.”

 

“Promise?”

 

“Aye, love,” he confirms, grabbing onto her hands and holding her palms. “I promise. See you tomorrow?”

 

“See you tomorrow,” she confirms, edging off of the wall and walking down the hallway back to where her mum and Ruby are undoubtedly waiting for her before stopping and beaming at him, giving him a wave. “Don’t be late.”

 

“I wouldn’t dream of it, darling.”

Chapter Text

He cannot sleep, the anticipation of tomorrow morning keeping him up while Liam snores away in the next room. It’s not that he hasn’t tried to fall into a slumber, knowing that no matter how much adrenaline is running through him that tomorrow – or is it today now – will still be a long day. Because he has tried, lying down in bed and shutting his eyes as he endeavored to force himself into sleeping for hours on end. Giving up, miserable staying still as his entire body screams at him to move around, he gets out of bed, grabbing his phone and a sweater before going to walk back and forth out on his balcony.

 

It’s perfect for his pacing because no one will see him, and he can simply be alone. He doesn’t really want to be alone. He wants to be with Emma, but he can’t exactly do that right now. He can, however, text her. He doesn’t expect Emma to be awake. He wishes her to be asleep so she won’t be as bloody exhausted as he is tomorrow…today…but he’d really just like to talk to her right now.

 

Killian: You up?

 

He barely gets a chance to put his phone back into his pocket before he feels it vibrate against his thigh.

 

Emma: Why Your Highness, are you requesting a royal booty call the night before you’re to be wed? How scandalous.

 

He can just imagine her saying the words, teasingly batting her eyelashes as she twists her hair between her fingers and softly smiles at him. He chuckles to himself before sitting down on one of the lounge chairs and looking up at the night sky, inky black above the vast land that stretches out ahead of him, the only light coming from the stars above and lanterns at the corner of each balcony railing. He understands the tradition of being separated the night before the wedding, but he’s really hating it right now as he texts her back.

 

Killian: Not a booty call, but maybe just a call.

 

His phone rings within the next thirty seconds, and he answers immediately, propping his phone between his shoulder and his ear as he hears Emma’s voice.

 

“So you requested a call but not of the booty variety?”

 

A laugh passes through his lips while warmth settles within his chest. If he can’t be with her, this is good enough. “Why aren’t you asleep, love?”

 

“I think I could ask you the same question.”

 

“I can’t sleep,” he admits, a slight breeze gusting over him, and he idly hopes that the weather forecast for later stays pleasant and there’s no repeat of the rain from earlier.

 

“Me either.”

 

“Are you nervous, Emma?”

 

“Not nervous to be marrying you. Like, that part I’m okay with. You might even say I’m excited about it.”

 

“But?”

 

“I’m nervous because of all of the people watching. I just keep reminding myself that it’s just you and me, just us.”

 

“Just us.”

 

It’s silent for a moment, restlessness fading away as he stretches out on the lounger, before she speaks again. “Is Liam snoring?”

 

“Bloody hell, yes,” he snorts, curling his legs into himself, “but he’s in the other room. How are your roommates?”

 

“Fast asleep. I’m currently sitting in the bathroom talking to you.”

 

“Well, the acoustics are better there. I’m sitting out on the balcony.”

 

“Damn,” she laughs, the sound making him feel like maybe they’re not actually in two different places. “That would have been a much better plan on my part. There’s a couch in here, though.”

 

“A couch in the bathroom?”

 

“It’s a very fancy place your dad has me set up in. It’s almost like he likes me or something.”

 

“He’s not the only one.”

 

“Goofball.”

 

Eventually he settles back into the softness of the unfamiliar bed, the mattress dipping underneath the weight of his body, as he and Emma continue to talk until suddenly her voice goes silent on the other end of the phone, just soft breaths coming through the speaker until he disconnects the call and manages to fall asleep as well.

 

When he wakes a few hours later, his head stuffy from his lack of sleep, he still somehow feels calm and rested, like he could go days without sleep and be fine today, sod what his anxious self told him earlier this morning when he couldn’t sleep. He wouldn’t say no to some coffee, though, and when there’s a knock at the door of his suite and a tray of food with a pot of steaming hot coffee waiting for him, he thinks that it may very well be some kind of wedding day miracle, especially because Liam’s still asleep and Killian can keep this all to himself.

 

It’s a beautiful day outside already, the summer sun shining across the well-groomed grass and making the pool several floors below shine in his eyes while he goes about eating his omelet and fruit and drinking the sweet, sweet nectar that is coffee this morning. When he places his mug back down, he sees an envelope underneath his plate, a small bit of Emma’s elegant script poking out underneath it, and she seems to have had the same idea that he did this morning in sending breakfast and what seems to be a letter.

 

He smiles before opening up the envelope and pulling out a piece of stationary marked with Emma’s hotel and the slightest coffee ring stain.

 

Killian,

 

I finally feel as if my life is a bit of a fairytale, and before you get your hopes up that it’s you making me feel that way, it’s more the fact that I’m sitting in a bathrobe while my toes are being painted writing you a letter on actual stationary with a pen that might as well be a quill. It’s just missing a feather. It makes me feel as if I’m in one of those historical romances I so often force you into watching, but I also know that I’ll probably text you this morning as well, sending you my own little modern day love letter in addition to this one.

 

Or maybe just a text about how hungry I am because I’m not sure I can eat this breakfast you sent me.

 

It’s not that it’s not good food. My stomach is just doing summersaults with how excited I am.

 

The coffee is good, though. Thanks, babe.

 

I was woken up at five this morning after, as you know, just a few hours of sleep because I was on a “not booty” call until the early hours of this morning, and I feel like my body hasn’t been left alone since. Anyways, enough complaining about how the birds and deer are dressing me because I really did mean to write something actually romantic. You’re not the only one who can be a regular Mr. Darcy, babe.

 

Six years ago today, at about this time really, I was trying to fall back asleep after waking up and being just absolutely tormented with the fact that I’d kissed this guy who I really liked despite all of my attempts not to, and then my dad had walked in on us when things were really getting good. You’d gone away, to Scotland if I remember correctly, with your mom for a few days, and in that time I just completely lost it thinking about how the hell could I ever trust a man again with my heart, especially someone with your position in life. It was like torture, the war taking place between my heart and my head, and then you just showed up at the pub and all of my feelings spilled out because I was already so comfortable with you in our months of knowing each other…or bickering and teasing each other at two in the morning when we were both delusional and exhausted.

 

Telling you about my past that day, taking down a stone or two of my walls and reservations, was one of the best decisions I ever made. We met by chance, but we’re together by choice. Loving you and having you love me in return has been the greatest adventure full of laughter, hardships and heartbreaks, and most of all, happiness.

 

Killian Michael Philip Louis, my love, I love you with all of my being, and I’ll see you in just a few hours. I don’t think you’ll be able to miss me. I’m going to be in a very fancy white dress.

 

Love always,

 

Emma

 

He picks up his phone immediately, calling her with just the goofiest of grins on his face. He knows how much it means for Emma to be the one to write and say sentimental things. It’s not that she doesn’t do it, as she has grown in her confidence in her words the longer they’ve been together, but he still remembers the woman who only showed her true affection through physical acts instead of words.

 

“Hello,” she greets, but she’s yawning when she’s saying it so it really just sounds like one long lo. He can hear Ruby talking to Mary Margaret in the background as someone tells Emma not to move her eyelashes or the glue will be messed up.

 

“Hello, darling. You got any plans today?”

 

“Just a little thing, and then I’m free, ya weirdo.”

 

He hums before taking another sip of his coffee as the sun settles a little closer to the middle of the sky while the time passes on. Emma’s apparently been up for hours while he’s still in his pajamas and hasn’t seen a soul all day.

 

“Good. So I got a curious piece of mail this morning.”

 

“Did you now?”

 

“Yeah, it seems that I have an admirer who loves me very much.”

 

“Funny, I got the same type of letter this morning. Though, I’m sure the one you received was much more romantic and well-written. Something that should be preserved for historical literary significance.”

 

“I’m thinking about having it framed.”

 

The two of them talk for a few minutes longer until Emma’s makeup artists tells her she can’t be moving her lips, and he lets her go, heading inside to his own room to find Liam standing there already getting dressed in his uniform for the day, buttoning his jacket and adjusting the medals on his chest.

 

“Well, good morning. Nice to see you’ve finally come inside from your sunbathing.”

 

“Don’t be jealous that I ate all of the food, brother.”

 

“There was food?”

 

Killian laughs before heading into the bathroom and hopping into the shower, letting the water wash away the day before and wake him up so that he can dress in his uniform, something more uncommon to him than his suits as he only wears it for special occasions and really only on St. Patrick’s Day. It feels different draping the red coat over his body and even weirder when the blue sash is put across his chest while gold pendants and multi-colored medals are attached to his chest and his shoulders. Liam’s wearing the same uniform but in black, and his medals include the honors he earned while serving instead of the ones he was granted by his father for simply being born.

 

He has to leave his phone with his aide before they walk out of the hotel, so he texts Emma one more time to tell her that he loves her and he’ll see her soon before handing his phone off and being disconnected from Emma until she’s at the alter with him.

 

God, until she’s at the alter with him.

 

He’s got to be at the Church grounds a little after eleven, an entire hour before Emma even arrives, and he and Liam are dropped off on one of the paths so that the two of them can greet some of the crowds gathered outside of the gates of the palace. It doesn’t seem to be too much of a crowd as he and Liam chat and wave while managing to move along so that they’re on time, knowing that this entire day is on a tight schedule, but when they turn the corner, he can see the long stretch of road on which Emma will ride down with David absolutely packed with onlookers who erupt into cheers when he and Liam come into sight. To put it in a word, it’s insane. There’s nothing else for it, and even if he experienced something similar on the day of Liam’s wedding, nothing could have prepared him for this mania surrounding him.

 

“It’s a bit wild, don’t you think, little brother?”

 

“Younger,” he corrects automatically, clapping onto Liam’s shoulder as they continue to walk, gravel crunching underneath their feet. “You have to call me younger from now on.”

 

“Maybe when you’re married, Killian.”

 

He laughs at his brother’s cheekiness before stopping to see a few more people, eternally grateful that they all care about him enough to wait outside for what he’s sure is hours or days ahead of time to stand here at the front of the path. He even spots a few people from last night, their clothes the same and hair a bit disheveled, and he makes sure to give them a wave and smile.

 

“Good morning, everyone,” he shouts, waving to all of the people outside, trying to avoid staring into the television cameras that seem to be as numerous as the crowd. “I’d stay and chat, but I’ve got someone who needs me inside on time.”

 

The waiting is pure agony, seconds feeling like minutes and minutes feeling like hours. Liam tries to distract him, chatting with Killian about anything and everything, and as much as he appreciates it, it doesn’t help. He’s honestly not sure what Liam’s said, the words flowing in one ear and out the other. He hears the music change before he sees Mary Margaret walk into the Chapel, a brilliant smile on her face as she takes a seat, giving him the most subtle of nods before straightening out the imaginary wrinkles in her dress. The anticipation only increases then because he knows that Emma is on the palace grounds with Abigail and Ruby and all of the children, and he feels like he may burst if time doesn’t pass more quickly. He probably looks like the most anxious man alive, all jittery and antsy, and he one hundred percent should have had a small glass of rum before showing up today.

 

When his parents walk in, he knows that they are the last to arrive before David and Emma, and this is the home stretch. He can do it.

 

A fanfare sounds to announce Emma’s arrival, and he cannot help the smile that blooms on his face as he waits for her to walk through the mahogany stained archway and onto the black and white tiled floor. When he sees the first hint of white, even if it’s not quite clear, his heart begins thumping in his chest, his entire body warming even as something pleasant becomes lodged in his throat. As she and David get closer, he beams, the happiness – and he’s sure that’s what the emotion lodged in his throat was now – radiating from him as she comes into view.

 

She’s gorgeous, her skin tanned against the white lace snugly covering her entire body, her blonde curls falling down her back as they’re pinned back by the tiara he knows is gracing her head. He can’t see her face quite yet, still too far away that he can’t see her through the sheer material of her veil. As she gets closer, he sees Alexander walking with all of the other children behind her, Ruby holding Emma’s veil and corralling the kids, and Killian knows that Alex is probably itching to be the one standing with Emma because he doesn’t quite understand what’s happening here. He’ll have to make sure to hold Alex later to make up for the confusion.

 

God, he loves her so damn much.

 

He can’t believe this is happening.

 

Finally, finally, finally, Emma is near the alter, her face completely visible to him, and she’s the most beautiful woman alive. Really and truly. Who cares how biased he is? He certainly doesn’t.

 

“Hi,” she mouths to him before she steps up onto the alter, squeezing David’s arm before he lets go and joins Mary Margaret in the pews.

 

Killian takes her slightly shaking hand, helping her step up where he is, and all of the anticipation has totally been worth it for this moment alone when he lifts the veil over her head and there are no barriers left between the two of them. “You look stunning, love.”

 

“You look – ”

 

“I know.”

 

She laughs the smallest bit before the Archbishop calls for their attention and the ceremony begins, the two of them being united as man and wife within the next fifty minutes as hymnals are played, sermons are preached, and vows are promised to each other.

 

“First,” the Archbishop begins, and Emma squeezes his hand just a little more tightly knowing what moment this is, “I am required to ask anyone present who knows a reason why these persons may not lawfully marry, to declare it now.”

 

The Chapel is blessedly silent, and while there was no real risk of anyone saying anything, with all he and Emma went through to get here, it’s a bit of a relief, Emma nervously chuckling when the Archbishop moves on.

 

“The vows you are about to take are to be made in the presence of God, who is judge of all and knows all the secrets of our hearts; therefore if either of you knows a reason why you may not lawfully marry, you must declare it now.”

 

When neither say anything, Killian knows that it’s his turn to make his vows, the schedule of the day drilled into his head even with the mess of emotions coursing through his body.

 

“Killian, will you take Emma to be your wife? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and protect her, and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?”

 

“I will.”

 

Emma smiles at him before looking down, her eyelashes fluttering against her cheek, while she suppresses a laugh. He’s got no idea what she’s laughing at, but he has to bite his bottom lip to contain his own when she looks back at him with mirth dancing in her eyes.

 

“Emma, will you take Killian to be your husband? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and protect him, and, forsaking all others, be faithful as long as you both shall live?”

 

“I will.”

 

The entire congregation is invited to support and uphold their marriage before everyone prays and his mother’s cousin Lillith reads several verses in the Nave as the choir sings. Emma’s bouncing a bit even under the weight of her dress, and while he can’t hold her hand quite yet, they’re almost there.

 

“You okay?” he whispers when the song begins to wind down.

 

She simply smiles, and it’s the smile she reserves for him, soft and sweet and happy.

 

Finally, after her bouquet is placed on a side table, he’s able to take her hands, grasping them as they stand in the middle of the alter again and officially make their vows to each other.

 

“I, Killian, take you, Emma, to be my wife, to have to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part according to God’s holy law. In the presence of God I make this vow.”

 

Emma squeezes his hand before she begins, her thumb brushing over his knuckles, and it’s then that he realizes that she has on her sapphire ring on her right hand. He knows for a fact that she wasn’t supposed to wear any jewelry on her hands, even her engagement ring, and he smiles thinking about her likely slipping it on at the last minute.

 

“I, Emma, take you, Killian, to be my husband, to have to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part according to God’s holy law. In the presence of God I make this vow.”

 

The Archbishop prays over their exchange of rings before Killian slide’s Emma’s wedding band over her ring finger, his gaze only leaving hers to make sure that he doesn’t drop the ring or slide it onto her middle finger.

 

“Emma, I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage. With my body I honor you, all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you, within the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

 

Emma beams at him, her smile practically reaching up to her eyes as she slides his wedding band onto his ring finger, holding it there as she repeats his words.

 

“Killian, I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage. With my body I honor you, all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you, within the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

 

The Archbishop takes their hands, joining them together, and he runs his finger over the gold while their marriage is blessed to the crowd, and right now he really and truly hates that he cannot kiss her quite yet like every other man and wife would be able to do at this moment. Instead they’re hurried into a small room where they sign the registrar and officially become man and wife in the eyes of the law and of his father, their titles being changed into The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Emma’s hands shake a bit as she signs first with her given name and then when she signs with her new name and all of the history and responsibility behind it.

 

When it’s official, the two of them finally get to exit the room, everyone maneuvering around Emma’s dress and veil as they all exit the doors and walk back down the aisle, waving at everyone and smiling with Emma’s hand wrapped around his bicep while her other hand holds her bouquet as they exit the Chapel as husband and wife.

 

Finally.

 

“This is insane,” Emma gasps when they walk through the double doors and back out into the sunlight to the sounds of church bells and cheers of all of the people from his patronages that they invited to stand outside of the Chapel, and he laughs that Emma had the exact same thought they he had when he was walking inside with Liam. That seems like a lifetime ago, and maybe it was.

 

“I know, but a good kind of insane, yeah?”

 

“The best.”

 

When they reach the stairs, standing under the archways of green foliage mixed in with blooming white magnolias and a few of the flowers people gave he and Emma yesterday, Emma turns to him, leaning in close, before whispering, “Can I kiss you now?”

 

“Absolutely.”

 

They lean into each other before their lips finally press together for a fleeting moment, Emma as soft and as warm as she always is in this gentle caress. He knows there’s the sound of cheers and trumpets all around them, and while he can hear them, he doesn’t care. All he cares about is the fact that he’s currently getting to kiss his wife.

 

When they pull back from each other, instead of pulling away, Emma rests her forehead against his and speaks against his lips, “I love you.”

 

“I love you, my darling.”

 

They’re loaded into a red and gold laden horse-drawn carriage, with white horses leading them, and even as they’re driven into the crowds, more people surrounding them than ever before the further away from the Chapel they get, it’s the first time he and Emma have truly been alone together, relatively speaking, since their goodbyes yesterday evening.

 

“So, this whole being married thing,” he teases, interlacing his fingers with hers and bringing her hand up to press a kiss against her knuckles before resting it in his lap, “is it treating you well?”

 

Emma snorts, actually, legitimately snorts as her free hand waves to the crowd. “I mean, I think it’s going well, but who knows what’ll happen when we’re alone together without all of these people? I might totally change my mind. Though, I do love a man in uniform, so that may be working in your favor today.”

 

“You’re already the best wife, darling. I mean, I don’t have a lot to judge on, but you’re doing great.”

 

Emma turns from looking out at the crowd to looking at him, giving him the smile she reserves just for him again and returning his kiss to her knuckles by leaning down and kissing his shoulder. “You’re a pretty good husband, too.” She shrugs before winking. “Not a lot to judge on, but you’re doing great so far.”

 

Their ride is at least twenty minutes, and he just takes it all in. His life is not normal. He’s well aware of that, and if he wasn’t, the fact that he’s in a horse drawn carriage leaving his wedding and waving to the masses would be a pretty good clue otherwise. But it is normal in the way that he and Emma always have been. They love each other, and that’s all there is to it. About halfway through the ride, Emma leans over and starts questioning all of the different ways there are to wave, demonstrating them and laughing as he joins in. They look ridiculous, but his chest is heaving with laughter and a tear escapes Emma’s eyes for the very same reason.

 

Maybe it’s the sleep deprivation, or maybe it’s the jubilation at being here in this moment.

 

After their loop is finished, the two of them are ushered back into the Palace in order to take official portraits while their guests wait for them at their first reception. Emma has to have her makeup retouched while he goes to greet their families in the sitting room where they’re taking pictures. He sees Abigail first as she’s squatting down talking to all of the children, but she doesn’t see him. Alex does, though, squealing at a volume that could break glass over him being in the room.

 

“Hi, buddy,” Killian grins, picking him up and pressing a kiss to his cheek, “are you having fun?”

 

Alex shakes his head from side to side, and Killian has to laugh at the very honest answer of a toddler. He imagines it’s probably not fun for them to be stuck in small suits and dresses with no toys or entertainment for such long periods of time. Hell, there were times during the ceremony when he was bored out of his mind, and he’s nearly thirty years old, not three.

 

“Well, that’s okay. You’re almost ready to go home.” He places Alex back on the ground to join everyone else before pulling Abigail into a hug and kissing her cheek. “Hello, love.”

 

“Hello, Mr. Married Man. Where’s your bride?”

 

“Getting her hair and makeup touched up before the portraits because it was a little hotter outside than she was expecting. That, or she was just too nervous and started sweating.”

 

“She was as calm as a cucumber, Killian. Not even I was that calm. God, I was a mess before I got married.”

 

“You were beautiful, Abi dear. Thanks for being with Emma today.”

 

She squeezes his bicep and gives him a reassuring smile that settles somewhere in the pit of his stomach, his gratitude for this woman never ending. “I love you both. I can’t imagine having anyone else as my family.”

 

“I love you, too.”

 

He greets the rest of his family as the camera crew sets up, and just as things begin to calm down, Emma comes into the room, her train and veil still taking multiple people to transport while moving around. He has no idea how she moves in that thing, especially with how it clings to her body with every step, but she does.

 

“Oh my baby,” Mary Margaret cries, rushing over to Emma at the same time that Alex cries out an Emmy. “I can’t believe you’re married.”

 

Emma chuckles before grabbing onto her mum’s wrist and squeezing. “I know, Mom. But you were with me when we got here. You knew it was happening.”

 

“But you weren’t married then. It was so surreal watching the two of you up there.”

 

Emma goes around greeting everyone else, or really, they greet her while she stands in place for pictures. They’ve got to get everyone out of here before they take pictures on their own, and wrangling children is no small feat. But pictures are done despite that and his father’s joking around with David.

 

When everyone is shuffled out to the reception, he and Emma take their official portraits, standing together in stiff poses, before being moved out to the gardens to take more casual ones. It reminds him of their engagement pictures, the only differences lying in the fact that it’s bloody hot instead of freezing and that Emma’s dress is a little more complicated. She’s taken her veil off, their aides transporting it for safe keeping, but the tiara still remains in her hair, the sun glistening off the pearls and diamonds.

 

“How do you move in this thing?” he jokes while helping her sit down on a set of stone steps.

 

“Very carefully and without breathing. I’ve got a corset on under here, and that thing is going to be ripped open and never used again.”

 

“Well, I was planning on doing that, but it’s nice to know you agree.”

 

Emma scrunches up her face, her nose wrinkling and her brows furrowing together before she pats him on the leg and lets out a breath. “Get all of your inappropriate jokes out now so you don’t say them later.”

 

“Well, the same could be said to you. I say we sprinkle them in to prepare everyone for Ruby’s speech.”

 

“I’m pretty sure there’s no preparing for that.”

 

When they’re finished with pictures – at least for now as the photographer says – he helps Emma to the dining hall, stopping just outside and pressing her against the wall before running his lips against her jaw, never staying anywhere for too long before his lips finally land against hers, soft and sweet and everything he’s wanted to do since they were announced as husband and wife.

 

Damn is that still weird to think.

 

Damn is that nice to think.

 

“I love you, Emma. You are gorgeous and wonderful and amazing.”

 

“So are you,” she whispers before running her hands against his hair, pushing the pieces that fell against his forehead back and keeping her fingers against his hairline. “You ready to go have some more people stare at us?”

 

“And to eat some damn good food.”

 

“That too.”

 


 

The sounds of glasses clinking distract Killian from his meal and his conversation with Emma to see David standing from his spot at the other end of the table with a glass of champagne in his hand and a smile on his face.

 

“Good afternoon,” David begins into the microphone that’s been set before him, his voice shaking the slightest bit. Killian places his fork on the table before reaching over and twining his fingers together with Emma, running his thumb back and forth over her wedding band and recently added engagement ring. “First, I’d like to thank His Majesty for hosting this wonderful reception, even if we all know he’s not the one who picked out the food and flowers. And then I’d like to thank all of you for coming to the wedding of our daughter Emma to Killian. I’ve been told that I can drop the formalities with him, which is good, because I didn’t get to know Killian as His Royal Highness, I got to know him as Killian, frequent pub patron and rum drinker who happened to have a crush on my daughter. Now, I don’t know how many of you knew Killian at twenty-three, but he wasn’t nearly as smooth as he is now. And he most definitely couldn’t hide the fact that he was smitten with my daughter.”

 

Killian turns to look at Emma, and she’s watching her father with cautious eyes, like she’s not sure of what he’s going to do next, and a timid smile tugging at her lips. Honestly, Killian’s not either, but he trusts Dave not to say anything too embarrassing…at least not at this reception.

 

“Emma was the slightest bit better at hiding her feelings, but six years ago today, my daughter started dating her husband, who is, I think, more importantly my son-in-law and one of the absolute best men on the planet. And while I could go on and on about the adventures and misadventures of Emma and Killian throughout the years, I’m not. I’d simply like to wish them a blessed marriage, through the good, through the bad, and through it all.”

 

David raises his glass as everyone else does the same, all of them echoing “to Emma and Killian” before settling down to a hushed tone of chatter across the hall as he and Emma continue to eat. His father also makes a speech, but it’s more to thank all of the diplomats in the room before the luncheon goes on a little too long and everyone gets too antsy sitting around without anything going on.

 

“So,” Ruby drawls, coming to squat down between he and Emma, “how much longer is this thing going on before we get to the real party with, you know, all of the alcohol and the celebrities and the music? Because I know you guys tried to keep the fact that David Beckham and George Clooney are here from me, but don’t think that I didn’t see them. I’d like to meet them and dance with them both at one time.”

 

“Not that much longer,” Killian answers while Emma tells Ruby, “both of those men are happily married, Rubes.”

 

“Well, so is Killian, but I’m still going to be dancing with him tonight.”

 

“I’m looking forward to it, lass.”

 

After the luncheon, the two of them are allowed an hour alone together before having to get ready for the reception his brother is hosting for them at Frogmore house, and as soon as Emma’s dress has been removed and Ruby and her mother leave, he’s on her, cupping her face and running the tips of his fingers against the hair at the edges of her face before pressing his lips against hers and really getting to kiss her, devour her while her arms cling to his back. It feels like liquid pleasure running through him when she kisses him back, moving her lips with his, but they can’t go any further than that even with the hour alone so he’s forced to pull back.

 

“As much as I’d like to continue this particular activity, especially with what I know you have on underneath this robe,” he fingers at the silk material of her collar, revealing the white lace underneath that she put on after taking the corset off, “we can’t get sweaty. Plus, not to make you doubt my abilities, I’d really rather spend the next hour drinking coffee with you.”

 

“Babe, I think that’s the best idea you’ve ever had.”

 

It’s their first hour alone as a married couple, and the two of them are sitting in his room at Windsor in nothing but robes drinking copious amounts of coffee and filling each other in on how they spent their mornings when not with each other. He would say that it’s an odd choice, but it’s really not for them. He’s incredibly attracted to his wife…God, his wife…and he’d like nothing more than to plow into her and say sod to the next reception full of all of their friends and liked family. But what they’re doing right now feels right. It’s their wedding day, something they’ll never get again, and this will be the last time today that it’ll simply be the two of them and no one else until they’re back in his hotel room from earlier.

 

Plus, he really, desperately needed the caffeine after all of the adrenaline began to fade away.

 

“So we’re married, huh?”

 

He nudges his feet against Emma’s on the ottoman in front of the couch they’re sitting on, acknowledging her statement while he inhales the fresh aroma of his caffeine, the hot liquid running down his throat and causing him to think that this is equivalent to gold.

 

“We are,” he agrees. “Do you feel different?”

 

She laughs before putting her coffee down and resting her head on his shoulder and running her hands up and down his arm.

 

“Not in the slightest.”

 

“Yeah, but I can call you my wife now, so that’s something new.”

 

“I still accidentally called you my boyfriend last week, so I think it may take awhile for me to get used to our new names. Also, how weird is it that my last name isn’t Nolan anymore?”

 

“You’ll always be Nolan to me, love.”

 

“How much time do we have left before I’m forced back into a tight dress and heels?”

 

He pulls his phone out of his pocket to check the time, ignoring all of the texts filling up his home screen that he hasn’t checked since his aide gave the device back an hour ago. “Thirteen minutes.”

 

“Alright, babe. I’m going to make out with you one more time and get you all hot and bothered before you have to change into your tux.”

 

“You’re evil.”

 

“I love you,” she laughs before taking his drink out of his hand and straddling his thighs, “and your discomfort is a cross I’m willing to bear.”

 

He never thought he’d be so thrilled to put on tuxedo, but he is absolutely delighted compared to the uniform he had on earlier. It’s much less stuffy, and his shoulders don’t feel as heavy with all of the tassels and dressings of his earlier outfit. Emma’s still having her hair curled and makeup redone while he simply sits on the bed and waits for her. He’s got a pair of diamond earrings in his pocket that he should have given her when they were alone, but it somehow slipped his mind.

 

They’re his grandmother’s, and while Emma never got to meet her and he was never particularly close to her, he thinks that they’re very much Emma’s style. Simple and classic and entirely unassuming even with their shine.

 

A bit like Emma.

 

Damn is he sentimental and overly gushing today.

 

“You’re looking a little bored, Killian.”

 

“It’s riveting watching your hair curled, love. I’ve never been more entertained.”

 

“Do you guys see why I married him?” She asks her hairdresser, the girls giggling with her. “He’s totally kidding, but I’m going to choose to think that he actually finds this entertaining.”

 

When Emma’s finished getting ready, her hair pulled into a high ponytail with tendrils framing her face, she slips into her new dress, this one a strapless lace gown with a scalloped top and a cinched waist. It’s gorgeous, but then a white cape is added over her shoulders, making her look like some kind of bridal superhero.

 

“A cape, darling?”

 

She shrugs, raising her arms so that the cape moves with them. “I thought it was unique.”

 

“It is. You going to take it off for the dancing?”

 

“After I twirl around once or twice, you bet your ass I am.”

 

He gifts her the earrings before they leave, and the smile on her face warms his heart. She immediately takes out the earrings she had on before, replacing them with the small studs, and presses a kiss against his cheek before straightening his bow tie.

 

“You look so handsome. I’m glad we went with the blue tux.”

 

Before loading up in the car to drive to the reception, they stop and wave for the photographers, knowing that this is the last time they’ll have to do that today. After they’ve posed enough, Isabelle telling them to go on, he opens Emma’s door and helps her in before walking around to his side and driving them away, a tent full of the people they love waiting for them.

 


 

When they walk into the tent, his eyes trail upward to the lights strung across the tent’s ceiling, casting everything in a soft white glow while the sun sets outside in a mixture of pinks and oranges. When he looks down, he can see columns with greenery wrapped around them, tall vases of colorful flowers sitting at all of the round tables while people mill around talking and chatting, the band playing softly in the background.

 

He only gets a moment to look around before they’re noticed, cheers and wolf whistles mixed in with the sounds of hands clapping together as he takes Emma’s hand and raises it in the air between the two of them, the cheering only increasing as they fully step into the tent and walk through the people until they reach their families at the center. This is the one thing he and Emma didn’t completely plan themselves, and taking it all in, he feels every weight he’s ever had on his shoulders drop away.

 

They’re here. They’re together. They’re married.

 

It’s everything.

 

After Liam greets them, clapping Killian on the back and pressing a kiss against Emma’s cheek, Liam gets up on stage, asking for the microphone from the band leader before speaking.

 

“Good evening, everyone! I hope everyone hasn’t already imbibed too much that you’re all not interested in what I or anyone else has to say. Somehow Killian and Emma have so many people who like them that there’s a lot of people making speeches. Or maybe everyone just wants to embarrass them. After all, Killian is so handsome when he blushes.”

 

Emma snorts beside him, and he wraps his arm around her shoulder before pulling her closer and kissing her temple, resting his cheek there while they watch Liam.

 

“Now, Killian is quite a bit younger than me, and while we haven’t always gotten along, we do now. At least most of the time. He ate all of the bloody breakfast this morning, and he’s got on quite a bit of makeup covering the black eye that’s blooming on that handsome face of his because of that.”

 

“Bloody wanker,” Killian mumbles under his breath, and Emma laughs against his shoulder, pressing another kiss there like she’s been doing all day.

 

“Killian’s always been known to bat a little above his league. There were the sports he tried to play, the novels he’d read when he was seven and had no idea what was going on, lasses he’d ask out while in school. But there has never been a time he’s batted so much above his league than when it comes to Emma. She has been kicking his ass for six years, and she’s been kicking my ass for the past year. She’s a bloody brilliant spitfire, and not a one of us in this family deserves her. Well, maybe my children, but that’s it. So everyone go get something to drink, and let’s celebrate Killian and Emma.”

 

“That was really nice,” Emma whispers, but he can barely hear anything over the sound of the people around him and the sound of his heart beating in his chest. Liam may have glossed over some things there, but Killian knows that every word he said, he meant.

 

“Yeah, yeah it was.”

 

When Liam reaches them, he’s got a broad smile on his face, and Killian immediately envelopes him in a hug, burying his face in his shoulder and holding him there for a minute. “I love you, Liam.”

 

Liam rubs his back up and down before patting him and pulling back, and Killian sees his eyes when he says, “I love you too, younger brother.”

 

“Look at that. You said that right words.”

 

“Well, I did say I’d call you that when you were married.”

 

Liam lets him go, turning to find Emma behind him with two glasses of champagne in her hands while she talks to a few of his friends from University, Robin included, and he takes a glass out of her hand, taking a sip while they talk. For awhile, it’s person after person, each one wanting to talk to them and give them their congratulations. He knows all of them while Emma doesn’t, but you’d never know with the way that she’s comfortable speaking, not freaking out or shaking as she speaks to some of the well-known guests like Ruby’s personal favorites of George Clooney or David Beckham (he sees Ruby circling around trying to find a way to look talk to them, and he hopes that conversation is somehow recorded and mass released).

 

She’s amazing.

 

Always.

 

Emma’s hand never leaves his, and as they’re asked to walk to the dance floor for their first dance, her fingers only tighten around his while they begin to move back and forth, taking small steps and twirling in circles. He spins Emma around as How Long Will I Love You is sung in the background. He likes to think that their dancing has improved, that they know what they’re doing out here, but he doesn’t really care. And as the song goes on, Emma drops all pretenses of trying to dance, releasing his hands to wrap her arms around his neck and sway with him, their bodies pressed together while they chat with each other. It’s quiet and intimate, and no part of him is focused on the people watching him.

 

When they finish their dance, he leads Emma up to the stage, the blush rising on her cheeks visible under the white lights surrounding them. She hooks her arm around his while he moves to the microphone.

 

“Good evening. I promise this is going to be the last speech of the night. I know most of you have probably been bored to tears all day, but after you all let me wax poetic about my wife, feel free to drink and dance and play any of the games we have set out in the back. I know some of you may think games at a wedding are a little odd, but we’re mixing in tastes here. If you hate it, blame Emma.”

 

She squeezes his arm before leaning over and speaking into the microphone. “Hey, beer pong is a hell of a lot of fun when you’ve had a little bit too much to drink. Of course, that was supposed to just be a ping pong table, but Ruby’s already taken over.”

 

“Damn right,” Ruby yells from the crowd, everyone erupting into laughter.

 

“Anyways,” Killian calls coaxing everyone’s attention back to him, “we will get to all of the beer pong in a minute. So I know that everyone in here was a little shocked when they found out I’d been dating someone for so long, but I like to think it worked out. In Emma, I found a friend, a confidant, a lover, and as of today, a wife and lifelong partner. She’s an ordinary woman who is actually quite extraordinary. She’s beautiful, and she’s shown herself to be resilient in all of the hardships that life has put her through, both before me and because she’s with me. She’s also shown herself to be witty and passionate and kind. Mostly, she’s shown me that I can have someone love me and face the world with me, hand in hand.”

 

The room erupts with the sounds of clapping and a few yells of kiss her, but before he can dip his head and kiss her, she’s grabbing his cheeks and pulling him in for a searing kiss before pulling back and resting her forehead against his.

 

“I love you, too. I wish that I had said something other than defending beer pong.”

 

“Well, I’m sure if you tell everyone they’re free to go have a good time now, you’ll be a huge hit.”

 

“I was talking about saying nice things to you, but that sounds like a good idea.” She leans over into the microphone, “You guys ready to celebrate?”

 

The rest of the night is a blur of talking, drinking, and dancing. There’s a dinner served, but he and Emma never get to eat it, always be dragged somewhere else by someone who wants to talk, drink, or dance. It’s crazy, it’s fun, and the hours pass with the sun completely setting outside so that the lights inside the tent reflect off of the darkness outside. He and Emma play cornhole against David and Mary Margaret, her parents absolutely crushing them as they toss the bags, before moving along to play the aforementioned beer pong, Ruby leading the game only to be dragged away by George to dance. Emma laughs so hard at the face of shock Ruby makes that she leans over on the table to hold herself up with tears coming out of her eyes. The laughter is contagious, and he loses it along with everyone around them.

 

Eventually his parents leave along with Emma’s, and they’re left with the sounds of the band and the movement of all of their guests. Sweat pools at his temples as he and Emma dance with everyone, Ruby twirling him around like she promised she would. When Ruby moves on, Emma comes to wrap her arms around his neck as she moves against him, his hands splayed against her hips while they talk to everyone around them, but always coming back to each other.

 

When they walk out of the tent, it’s to fireworks going off in the sky, his brother’s penchant for the dramatics really showing, and when Emma whispers to him that the fireworks were most definitely Liam’s idea, he barks out a laugh before kissing her and leading them to the car that’s going to drive them back to their suite.

 


 

It’s long past midnight when they walk back into the suite, and instead of being rushed to strip each other out of their clothes, it’s slow getting there. He guides Emma into the room, holding her hand while she takes her heels off, her dress dragging along the floor as she shrinks next to him. She excuses herself to the bathroom while he sits down at the edge of the bed, kicking his own shoes off and slipping out of his jacket, laying it over a chair as he unbuttons the rests of the buttons on his shirt that Emma didn’t get to at the reception. Before he can slide the material off of his shoulders, Emma comes out of the bedroom, her dress still on but her hair falling in soft waves across her shoulder.

 

He beckons her closer, and she comes to stand between his splayed knees, her palms coming to caress his face. He tilts his head and kisses her palm, lingering there and breathing her in before he grabs her wrists and slides his fingers into hers, his thumb soothing her knuckles and running over her ringers. When she begins to move away, he tightens his legs around her, keeping her there so that she looks back down at him with her lips tugging up on one side.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

He simply hums, staring up at her and admiring her beauty. They’d both imbibed with alcohol tonight, but neither of them is drunk. Maybe a bit dulled and exhausted, but he’s aware of every one of Emma’s movements and the way that her breath catches when he leans forward and kisses her knuckles right above her wedding ring.

 

“Killian?”

 

“Yes, darling?”

 

“Will you help me out of my dress? I tried to do it in the bathroom, but I couldn’t get the buttons undone.”

 

He chuckles before pressing another kiss against her skin and spreading his thighs apart so that she can turn around and he can deftly unbutton the clasps on her dress, the white material falling from her body and exposing the tan skin and white lace underneath it. He’s seen her like this more times than he cares to count, but it’s no less of a stunning sight watching her hair fall against her nearly bare back. She’s so beautiful, so wonderful, and he wonders if he’ll ever fully adjust to this woman being married to him.

 

It’s only been a few hours, and it all feels like some sort of surreal dream.

 

She turns around when the dress hits against the floor, her hands on his shoulders underneath the material of his shirt while her head dips to capture his lips with hers, soft and smooth and tasting of wine and the lemon cake she grabbed on their way out of the reception. When she pulls back, she stands up to her full height and smiles down at him. His hands move from her hips where he’s been fingering the lace of her thong, up her waist, feeling the smooth, soft, muscled skin of her stomach until his fingers rest just below the scrap of material that barely passes as a bra.

 

“You should wear things like this more often, darling.”

 

“Well, mister,” she croons, pushing his shirt off of his shoulders so that it falls against the mattress, “you are in luck because I have lots of little things like this for the honeymoon.”

 

“Do you now?”

 

“I do.” She traces his skin with her fingers while his thumbs begin to trace the tops of her bra, pulling the material down so that his fingers can rub in circles against her nipples, hardening them while Emma gasps underneath his touch. He can feel his length hardening in his pants, the pressure beginning to build in his spine as he watches her chest heave and thinks about what she just said. “But also unfortunately for you, those pretty little scraps of fabric go away after that and it’s back to my ugly white bra and mismatched panties.”

 

“You tease.”

 

“Nope. You married me bud. I don’t have to be sexy for you any longer.”

 

He laughs at her teasing and pulls her closer so that his lips can press against the skin of her stomach, his tongue following behind them as he traces the lines of her muscles with the freckles scattered across her skin like a constellation of stars. His hands move back down to her hips, pulling her forward and on top of him until he rolls her onto her back, crushing her body into the mattress while he presses himself into her, rolling his hips into hers and allowing the friction to build the pressure, savoring every movement and every sound.

 

Emma’s quiet tonight, so he makes up for it by constantly whispering things to her, different words of affection mixed in with dirty little nothings echoing throughout the quietness of the room as they move together in a dance they’ve done much more often than their wedding dance. He stands to undo his pants, letting them fall to the ground with Emma’s dress as Emma unclasps her bra, her breasts exposed to his gaze while he’s entirely exposed to hers. Grabbing her ankle, he begins kissing up her leg, only stopping when he gets to her inner thigh so that he can slide the lace covering her down her legs, the both of them bare before each other.

 

His fingers find their way into her folds, feeling the slickness that’s gathered there while Emma gasps at his touch. He teases her for awhile, slightly thrusting into her while his thumb runs against her bundle of nerves and his lips kiss her hips. Just as he’s about to replace his fingers with his lips, Emma grabs onto his hair, pulling his gaze up to hers.

 

“Not right now, babe,” she smiles, encouraging him to climb up the mattress so that his length presses against her thigh and his lips against her cheek. “But later, okay. We’ve got all of the time in the world.”

 

Slowly, slowly, slowly he slides into her, gritting his teeth as he braces himself against the mattress, palms digging into the sheets while Emma throws her head back against the pillow, hips arching up and driving him absolutely mad with pleasure. She’s so warm, always so warm and welcoming, and his body hums at finally being connected to hers after this day. She reaches up to hold his biceps, running her hands back and forth over his muscles while he begins to rock inside of her, the hair of his chest brushing against her hardened nipples.

 

He’s deliberately unhurried in the way that he moves inside of her, letting the both of them enjoy this moment and this time together. He could do this for hours, moving against her and staying connected in this way. They know each other so well by now, only the occasional instruction needed as to how to please the other, but tonight, there’s none of that. Emma trusts him as he sets their unrushed pace, her tongue caressing his in a languid motion that matches his thrusts.

 

Emma wraps her legs around his ass, pushing him further inside of her so that he’s tightly buried within her core. Emma moans into his mouth as her nails dig into his shoulder blades, leaving crescent moon scars in his skin while his own mouth moves to leave a mark against pulse point, her skin tasting of sweat and smelling of her flowery perfume. He could get lost in it, lost in her, but he wants to be here for every moment of this.

 

“You’re so perfect,” he whispers into her ear, making sure that his scruff rubs against the sensitive spot below her ear. “I don’t know how, Emma, but you are. You’re so bloody perfect for me.”

 

Em