Chapter 1: Starting Pitch
At 22 years old, Killian Jones is sure of three things:
- Though he’s only been dating Milah for two years, she is the love of his life, the woman he wants to marry and grow old beside.
- When he graduates at the end of the next semester with his degree in international journalism, he is packing up the little he owns and moving back to England, following in the footsteps of his brother once again, leaving America and all the trouble it’s caused him behind.
- Though baseball brought him a lot of comfort through the pain that took over his life as a middle schooler, and continued through high school, he only accepted the opportunity to play through college for the sizeable scholarship they offered him — and it was not something he planned on continuing once he walks across that stage.
At 22 years old, Killian Jones is sure of three things, waiting impatiently on deck for his chance to finally make decisions about his own life and knock it out of the park.
What he isn’t ready for is the curveball that’s waiting for him.
“Milah, darling, can you read over this article for me? I need to type the final copy for tomorrow so I want to make sure we catch all the errors now.”
But Milah doesn’t budge from her seat on the couch, much more comfortable than the piece of ship Killian found on the curb for his old apartment — and one of the things she likes the most about the new one.
“You’ve proofread it three times since I got here, Killy,” she whines. “Besides, it’s only week three and your professors already think you’re the greatest writer to ever cross the pond, so you have nothing to worry about.”
Neither of this arguments change his mind. “Please, Milah? I didn’t do too well on the first essay for his class last week, so I want the article to be the best it can be.”
Though he’s not turned to face her, he can still see the way she runs her tongue over her bottom lip, shaking her head at him.
“What classifies as ‘not too well’ for a man like Killian Jones?”
Killian can feel the tips of his ears begin to redden, growing warm, and he brings his hand up to scratch behind one of them. “A B-,” he grumbles, his voice low with embarrassment, and she sees through him in an instant — she always does.
“You are, without a doubt, the biggest perfectionist I have ever met.”
“Aye, but you love me for it.”
“I never claimed otherwise, but if you leave that article alone for a bit and come over here, I’ll even prove it to you.”
This is an offer he can’t refuse; between his classes, his homework, his games, and her new promotion within her law firm, they barely get the time to see each other anymore, nevertheless partake in more enjoyable activities, especially now that he’s moved across the city. So he does just as she asks, dropping the pen from his hand onto the desk before pushing himself out of the chair and climbing over her on the couch, caging her in. She smiles up at him, slowly running her hand down his cheek before he lowers his lips down to find hers. Within moments, he is sliding his tongue against hers, the tips of his fingers teasing the small expanse of skin exposed between her jeans and her shirt.
Pushing him away from her with her hands planted flat against his chest, she pulls back just far enough to smile up at him, pressing a kiss to the top of his nose.
“Roll over,” she commands, and he is useless against her in this state, so he does as she asks, maneuvering them on the couch so that she can straddle him, almost immediately leaning back to pull her shirt over her head.
“God, Milah,” he growls, pulling her back down him so he can taste the skin she just exposed. “You’re so bloody beautiful, I don’t understand how I got so lucky.” He drags his teeth along her collarbone, pulling a soft moan for her lips, and they’re both so caught up in the moment — and the fact that his new roommate, David, left for work just over an hour before — that they fail to notice the sounds of the key sliding into the lock, turning just as Killian reaches around Milah’s back to unsnap her bra.
Slamming the door open, she comes in like a hurricane, already talking before she even looks into the apartment: “Remind me again why I took another class with that same pervert—” she starts, but her eyes grow wide when she sees them on the couch, frozen at the sight of her.
“Who the fuck are you?” Killian asks, and Milah finds her shirt from the back of the couch to try to restore at least a little decency.
“Oh, fuck, you must be Killian,” she says at the same time, her face darkening until it matches the bright red shade of her leather jacket.
“Yes, I am,” he responds, and though Milah begins to climb off him, he tightens the grip of his hands on her hips, keeping where she is. This is already embarrassing enough, and this stranger seeing the tent currently pitched in his jeans would only add to it. “That doesn’t answer my question, though.”
Shit, yeah, right,” she says, and his eyes dart to where she begins to run her thumb over her wrist. “I’m, uh, Emma. David’s sister? He gave me a key last year since I started crashing on his couch so I didn’t have to drive all the way back to Radnor and — shit, I’m sorry, I totally forgot that he said you just moved in.”
“He did say you might be stopping by, but he, uh — he never said you had a key.”
“Fuck, I’m so— I’m, sorry. I’ll just… I’ll just go, and keep this incredibly embarrassing experience as a learning moment. I’ll never stop by without checking if David is here.”
She holds her hand up to wave at him, but before he can even open his mouth to form a response, she’s gone, the door closed quietly behind her and deadbolt sliding into place.
Her statement is a lie, though. Sure, she remembers to text David during reasonable hours, but when her and Neal get into yet another fight and she has a few drinks too many at a bar just a few blocks from their apartment, she stumbles in around one in the morning, waking both Killian and David.
Killian comes out into the living room first, wearing only a pair of dark blue boxers and armed with one of his wooden bats. In the moment, Emma thinks this is one of the funniest things she has ever seen — but when she wakes up on the couch with a wicked hangover and her arms wrapped around this same bat, it’s a lot less funny.
She only has one night class this semester, so Tuesday nights are the night she spends on their couch, plus nights she stays after class to watch Killian’s games when it becomes a point of contention between her and Neal.
February turns to March. The cherry blossom trees around Independence Hall start to blossom, a light in Killian’s life as the stress of the end of his junior year piles on to the expectations of his coach: You’re one of the best I’ve ever seen, Jones, he keeps saying, especially when Malcolm Pan, another pitcher for the team, is within earshot. It’s not that Killian isn’t thankful for the compliment, or that fact that John Silver seems to despise Pan as much as he does — it’s that Killian doesn’t want to be the best pitcher he’s ever seen. He wants to finish out his degree, pitch his last pitch, and move home to England, bringing Milah with.
That’s all he wants.
Why can no one see that?
Because you’re a damned good pitcher, Killy. He hears Milah’s voice in his head, sitting across from Silver as he tries, once again, to convince him to find a minor league to sign with. The scholarship they offered him is the only reason he’s still here — the scholarship, his customized degree track, and Milah’s job.
At the beginning of March, after Killian’s first no-hitter ever, he decides to propose to her. At first, he plans to keep it a secret from the world, especially since Liam is the only friend he has.
Except that’s not true. In the three months since he moved in with David, they have become good friends. Add Emma to that mix, and her shitty on-again-off-again boyfriend, Neal, and they’ve actually started to become kind of like a family, going for meals together and spending weekends at their apartment.
Killian hates Neal. Almost as much as David does. But Emma seems to love him, even though they fight almost every day and break up every few weeks or so, only to go running back to each other.
So instead of telling no one, he calls Liam to tell him — and then tells Emma and David at the bar a few weeks later, a few too many beers affecting his ability to keep his damned mouth shut.
Except… they’re all really happy for him. He expects someone to be against the idea, to try and talk him out of it. That was part of the reason he didn’t want to tell anyone in the first place.
But they agree with him. That has to mean something, right?
Chapter 2: Bottom of the Ninth, Two Outs, Full Count
By the time Milah’s birthday rolls around in the middle of April, he has the ring tucked inside a box of letters from his brother and a reservation for the night she turns 26 at her favorite restaurant across town. He even bought them a night at the quaint little hotel next to Washington Square, so they don’t have to trek back across the river to get home that night. And he has the whole thing planned out: dinner, then a show at the Walnut Street Theatre before taking her dancing and taking her back to the hotel through Independence Square, finally lit up for spring, where he’ll stop and ask her to marry him. It’s a perfect plan, really, and he realizes when he calls the restaurant two nights before to confirm the reservation that he has never been this excited for anything in his life.
His friends can tell, too. David is happy for him, planning to propose to his own girlfriend while they’re on their post-graduation vacation, and Emma pokes fun at him regularly about the smile that is always on his face.
So when two uniformed officers knock on the door to his apartment three days before Milah’s birthday and ask if he’s Killian Jones, emergency contact for Milah Smith , it takes all his strength not to lose the contents of his stomach all over their finely-polished shoes.
“Yes, I am,” he says, pulling himself together enough to talk to them, to make sure that he’s not overreacting. “Why, has something happened to her?”
The way their emotionless faces seem to fall at his question causes him to lose his balance, and he reaches out to hold on to the doorway before he falls at their feet.
“There’s no easy way to say this, Mr. Jones,” the one to his left says, and Killian doesn’t fail to see the irony behind the fact that his name is Marry . “I’m afraid Milah was involved in a car accident on the Ben Franklin Bridge this morning, and by the time the paramedics got to the scene, there was nothing they could do for her.”
“Oh, god,” he groans, his shoulder hitting hard against the doorway, the only thing keeping him standing. “No, no, no, no.”
“We’re terribly sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you,” he chokes out, starting to close the door before the men standing on the other side of him see him fall apart. But once the door closes, he loses the strength to stay on his own two feet, and he falls to his knees, his head resting on the cool wood of the apartment door.
In losing Milah, he lost everything. Three days from spending the rest of his life with her, and now he would have to live with the question of whether she would have said yes for the rest of his life.
Of course she would have said yes , he tries to convince himself, but it’s useless. He’s learned to never assume even the easiest of things, that’s how he’s survived everything that’s happened so far in his life. So that little voice in the back of his head keeps telling him over and over that there’s a chance she may have said no.
He has no idea how long he stays seated against the door. He does know that the sun has swung across the sky and begins to shine brightly through the front windows, and that by the time he pulls himself back onto his feet, his legs are numb.
He wishes the rest of him was just as numb.
So that’s exactly what he makes happen.
It started with one glass of whiskey, then turned into three, then six. By the time David and Emma come back from visiting their mother for the weekend, the sun has turned the sky a dark shade of crimson, and he is passed out on the couch, what remains of the last glass still in the cup his hand is wrapped around.
“Killian!” David yells, rushing across the living room to make sure he’s okay. He’s breathing, but refuses to budge, and once Emma finds the now-empty bottle of Jack on the counter, they figure out why.
“I hope he’s okay,” Emma comments, adding the bottle to the pile of recycling under the sink. “He usually doesn’t drink this much, and especially not whiskey.”
“Either something happened, or he just randomly decided he was in the mood for half a bottle of Tennessee whiskey.”
“Well, given that he usually refers to it as ‘number 7 swill,’ I doubt he decided just on a whim.”
David turns his eyes down to Killian, his whole face painted with worry, but there’s nothing they can do for him until he regains consciousness, so they leave him there, returning to the piles of papers they left spread across the kitchen table. They study in silence for a few minutes, the ticking of the clock over the stove driving Emma insane, so she speaks, her eyes flitting up to her brother for just a moment.
“I, uh, need to stay here again,” she says quietly, her eyes glued to the paper in her hands so they don’t have to reach what she knows is a worried glare from her brother.
“For fuck’s sake, David, don’t say it like that.”
“When are you going to leave his sorry ass for good?”
“I love him, David. I know you know this, and I know you understand. And he loves me, too, he just has some issues he needs to work out and everything will be just fine.”
“Everything is not just fine , Emma,” David growls, his back teeth grinding together angrily. “You think I don’t notice the marks he leaves on your arms? The fact that you’re always crying after you talk to him? You need to leave him, before he does something that he can’t just apologize for.”
“I can’t just leave him,” she says, her voice soft, and when she adds, “Not anymore,” he drops the textbook he was balancing on the edge of the table.
“What does that mean, Emma? Are you— did he—”
“I’m pregnant, alright?” she says bitterly, throwing the paper in her hands back down on the table so she can hold her head. “I’m almost three months pregnant, and I’m too afraid to tell him because I know when I do, he’ll just leave. Is that what you wanted to hear from me?”
“Christ, Emma,” he whispers, and as soon as he realize that her shoulders have started to shake with silent sobs, he pushes his chair back to walk across the table and wrap his arms around her. She turns in the seat, burying her head in his shoulder. “I can’t — I’m sorry.”
While they stay like this, David shedding a few tears for his sister, as well, Killian begins to slowly wake on the couch, head pounding and stomach churning, and when he slowly makes his way to the kitchen to find some water, he is surprised to find David and Emma, but when they see him, they begin to break away from each other.
Sitting down across the table from them, taking very careful sips out of his glass, he finally says, “I take it this means you heard about Milah.”
When they both seem to be more confused by this statement, he realizes he must have made an error.
“Is she alright?” David asks, and somehow Killian smiles instead of breaking down once more, but it only lasts for the quickest of moments.
“No, quite the opposite, actually. She was killed this morning in an accident on the Ben Franklin.”
“What a fucking day,” Emma says under her breath as David moves back across the table to pull his friend in for a hug.
Four days later, the day after Milah would have turned 26, they hold her funeral in one of the nicer churches in town. After asking Liam and David to wait outside, to give him a minute alone with her casket, there is nothing comparable to seeing her laying there, lifeless, surrounded by silk and flowers. Pulling the small velvet box out of his pocket, his hands grip the edge of the wood, the only balance he can find.
“I was — I was going to give this to you,” he chokes out, doing nothing to stop the stream of tears that fall down his face. “I still… I’ve been trying to decide whether I should give it to you, or keep it as a reminder of just how damned much I love you.” He reaches up to tuck his index finger under the buttoned collar of his shirt, pulling out the chain that holds his mother's ring. “But I think, now that I'm here and thinking about it, that I will keep this, both as a keepsake of you, of the years we spent together, and a reminder that my life has been torn apart one too many times from letting people into my heart.”
He holds the ring out in his palm, staring down at it for a moment before he closes his hand around it, feeling the edges of the diamonds cutting into his palm.
“I love you, my darling,” he whispers, leaning down to press his lips against her forehead, a sob fighting its way up his chest when he feels the coldness of her skin against his.
The pain overtakes him. He spends the next three days numbing himself, a dangerous combination of rum and whiskey and whatever else he can find in the apartment, only leaving the confines of his bedroom to find the next drink or relieve himself. On the fourth day, Emma, Neal, David, and Mary Margaret are sitting around the table in the kitchen, actively ignoring the subject of the grieving man who has locked himself away from the world.
Emma knows that David is worried about him — he’s told her that much at least a dozen times since Killian first told them of Milah’s death. The fact that her friend is struggling so much, so obviously, and no one is trying to reach out to him, though, just angers her.
So she decides she can’t take it anymore.
“Christ, enough of this,” she says, slamming her empty water glass down on the table. “That man in there needs help, and if I have to be the one to give it to him, then I will be.” She pushes her chair back, jumping to her feet, but before she can walk away, she feels Neal's hand wrap around her wrist.
She whips her head around to face him. “Excuse me?”
“The darkness that took over Neal's face lightens, but his grip on her wrist does not. “He'll be fine, just give him time. Stay here.”
“What? No, he's — he's not okay, Neal. And on the off-chance that he is, he can be the one to tell me that, not you.”
Even if David wasn't watching his every movement intently, he would have noticed how hard Neal pulled on Emma's arm to get her to step back to the table.
“I'm not gonna tell you again, Ems,” he growls, his fingers beginning to leave marks on Emma's wrist. “I don't want you to go in there.”
“Good thing that's not your decision to make,” David says, his whole body tense, but when Neal snaps his head to face him and he sees some of the tension leave Emma's shoulders, he knows it was the right moment to step in.
“Well, it certainly isn't yours.”
“That is my sister that you have your hand around, if you'll remember.”
“David, please,” Emma says softly, and Neal smiles up at her, though that smile scares her more than anything else.
“Yes, David, please,” Neal repeats, the wicked smile still spread across his face when he turns back to him. “Emma knows how this works, and she knows what happens if she doesn't listen to me.”
“You son of a bitch!” David yells, jumping out of his seat angrily enough that it clatters to the floor behind him.
“David!” both Emma and Mary Margaret yell, but he's already halfway around the table, his hand flying out to grab the front of Neal's shirt.
Neal still hasn't let go of Emma's wrist.
“You're going to take your hands of my sister and never, ever touch her again, do you hear me?”
Neal is still smiling.
“And what, exactly, are you going to do to me if I don't?”
David pulls him out of his seat using the front of his shirt. His hand around Emma's wrist tightens further.
“See, that depends on just how angry you make me, because right now, I want to rip your fucking throat out.”
Mary Margaret has turned so white in her seat that Emma fears she may pass out — but she seems to be the only one that's noticed.
“Can I — can I ask you something, Nolan?” Neal asks, his voice free of any of the fear David was hoping to instill, but Emma feels the way his hand trembles. “Why the Knight in shining armor act all of the sudden? This can't be the first you've learned about me — “
“David, please ,” Emma begs, but David either fails to hear her or chooses to ignore her, taking the bait he's laying in front of him.
“She's pregnant, you bastard,” David practically yells, the secret that he's been trying so hard to keep, not even sharing it with Mary Margaret. “She's carrying your child and you're too goddamned selfish to care about it one bit.”
“David,” Emma whispers, and she is finally able to pull her hand out of Neal's grasp, that's suddenly loosened.
“Oh, Emma,” Mary Margaret says at the same time, her big brown eyes full of both excitement and sadness.
Neal turns slowly to Emma, who has covered her face to hide the tears that have started falling, and David finally releases his fist from his shirt. “Is he — is he serious, Ems?” He has the nerve to soften his voice so much, to suddenly take all of the anger it's always full of away, and it just hurts her all the more. She's so afraid of his anger, his temper, his fear of commitment, but he's —
She nods, a glimmer of hope lightening the pounding in her chest. Opening her eyes, she darts to look at him, and she can tell that he is thinking over something.
And then he shakes his head, raising his hands in surrender, and backing away from the table. “I’m not — I can’t —” he sputters, but his coherency is gone. “I’m sorry.”
The three of them watch, stunned, as Neal grabs his jacket from the back of the chair and walks out of the apartment.
Everything is silent. Still. David and Mary Margaret are too afraid to move, knowing that as soon as they do, everything will crumble.
Emma will crumble.
But instead of either of them breaking the silence, disrupting the stillness, it comes instead from a bright-eyed and uniformed Killian Jones coming from his bedroom. The three of them dare to move enough to turn their attentions towards him, and when he finally senses the tension that has filled the apartment, added only by his escape from his bedroom, he raises his eyebrows in question.
“Where are you going?” David asks the question they’re all thinking.
Emma asks the other: “Are you okay?”
He pushes the front of his hair back to slide his baseball cap over it. “I, uh, have a game. I can’t wallow in grief forever, so I’ve decided instead to focus on my pitching game. It’s what…” his voice drops off, his eyes falling to the floor as his hand reaches up to grasp the same chain that always hangs around his neck, which they all see holds another ring beside his mother's. “It's what she would have wanted.”
The engagement ring , Emma realizes. It's what Milah would have wanted.
For a moment, Emma is inspired. Sure, it took him four days to get there, but he's pulled himself back together after losing Milah — and really losing her, not just having her walk out like she knew Neal was going to do. He's turning the energy he's been using to destroy himself back into something more productive.
She can do that, too.
Grabbing her jacket off the back of her chair, she slings it over her shoulder and follows Killian out towards the living room.
“I'm going with him.”
“What?” Mary Margaret asks, at the same time David says, “Stay here, we can talk about it.”
She turns to Killian, his bright eyes lighting up the shadow the brim of his hat lays across his face, and shakes her head, turning back to David.
“I don't want to talk about it. It's over. He did exactly what I expected, so there's nothing to even talk about.”
“Emma—” David starts, but she walks out of the kitchen, leaving the three of them bewildered.
“No,” she calls through the doorway. “I'm leaving.”
“Yeah, uh, me too,” Killian says, a million questions on his lips, as he follows her out of the apartment.
Their walk down the steps and out to the street is silent, and it continues that way for a few blocks, Emma's hands stuffed into the pockets of her jacket and Killian's fidgeting with the strap of his duffel bag slung over his shoulder.
He has almost decided on how to ask the question lingering on the tip of his tongue when she speaks instead.
“I'm really proud of you, d'you know that?”
He turns to her, but her eyes are still set on the sidewalk at her feet.
“Your whole world crumbles down around you, and you took a few days to grieve before you pull yourself back up and focus on something productive.”
“Thanks?” he asks, her words igniting a warmth in his heart that he wasn't sure he would ever feel again. “I watched my father drink himself half to death after my ma passed, and when I looked in the mirror last night, I realized I was doing the same thing. The only thing I ever wanted in life was to not end up like my father, and I saw myself doing just that.” He tugs at the chain around his neck, threading his pinky through the ring that has just been added. “And that's not what Milah would want. She always told me to — to stick with the things I enjoy the most, and I realized the reason I stopped focusing on my pitching game was in hopes of finding a career to sustain us. Now that I… now that I no longer need that, I can go back to doing what I love without the fear that it's going to be enough.”
Emma has no response to this, so they walk in silence again for a few more moments.
Killian breathes out a small chuckle, though once it's out, he can't figure out why. “How long do you think it will be this time until he comes running back?”
Emma flattens her hands against her stomach, but since her hands are in her pockets, Killian doesn't see it. “He's not coming back this time.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“Well, for one, David threatened him. I believe the exact promise was to 'rip his fucking throat out,’ and I wouldn't put it past him to follow through on that.” They both allow themselves to laugh at this, a small release of some of the tension built around them after all that's happened in the past few days.
“And for two?” Killian asks, and when he sees Emma turn to look at him out of the corner of his eye, he returns her gaze.
“He’s too afraid of commitment to stick around and become a father.”
She watches as Killian's eyes grow wide before turning down to her stomach, a smile growing across his face.
He's relieved so see her begin to smile, too, as she nods her head. Stopping them on the sidewalk, he wraps her in a hug — and she realizes just how excited she really is, even if Neal is no longer in the picture.
Maybe it's even better this way.
“And you know you're not alone, right? You have David and Mary Margaret to help you, and me.” He leans back, his arms still wrapped around her shoulders, and when he smiles at her again, she believes for the first time since she saw that positive sign that everything might actually be okay.