Chapter 1: Chapter One
The early March wind whistles through the buildings in Chelsea as Emma opens the door to her favorite coffee shop. It’s aptly named the Grumpy Café for that’s apparently how everyone is before they have their morning coffee, which she totally and completely gets, especially on days where she’s working. As soon as she steps inside, she can feel the heat running through the building, the bustle of people trying to get their caffeine fix even on a Sunday morning, and she has to dodge a group of teenagers who likely aren’t even old enough to drive but are apparently old enough to spend over eight dollars on whatever drink it is they’re all taking pictures of with their phones.
She’s done it before. She’s not judging. Okay, maybe she’s judging a little bit.
Whatever. She just wants her coffee with a splash of hazelnut creamer and possibly a muffin that will totally cancel out all of the work that she just did at the gym. What’s the point of working out if she can’t occasionally reward herself with sweets?
(The point is being healthy and living longer and being able to fit into her favorite pair of skinny jeans, but she doesn’t always remember that when she feels like she’s dying and would like to murder everyone within a five-foot radius of her treadmill. And running is a much smaller monster than Pilates.)
Finally, she works past the teenagers and someone who definitely hasn’t washed their beanie since they bought it, and gets to the counter to put her order in, standing off to the side until Ava, her favorite barista, gives her the to-go cup and small brown paper bag filled with two blueberry muffins, one for both she and Ruby since she’s not interested in having to fight over her muffin when she gets home. After she wishes Ava a good day, she leaves the building, the wind already whipping at her skin, and tries to walk as quickly as possible to get back to her apartment so that she doesn’t die of frostbite or something. It’s not cold enough for that, but it kind of feels like it when all she has on are a pair of black leggings and a white tank top that might as well not exist for how little it protects her from the cold.
At least it doesn’t make her sweat.
She should have brought a jacket with her.
“Hey,” a man yells out at her, and she has to bite her tongue to keep from cursing at him when she has no idea what he wants. Instinctively, she reaches for her keys, placing the sharp edge in between her fingertips as she keeps walking, “you’re that girl.”
And immediately she knows that she is, indeed, that girl, and that this man, while slightly obnoxious in his Red Sox cap and t-shirt that he obviously bought from a tourist shop while in Manhattan yesterday, isn’t going to cause her any danger. Just annoyance.
“That I am,” she smiles, knowing less is more when she’s been recognized lately, only the slightest bit of resentment simmering below the surface of her skin.
“Can I get a picture?”
“Yeah, sure.” Emma sighs before keeping that plastered smile on her face as he comes up to her and wraps an arm around her shoulder before holding his phone in front of their faces. It’s quick, easy, and it’s not the first time that it’s happened to her. It used to be solely because of her job, and while this technically stems from that, it’s entirely different.
She should have bought a box of donuts or something instead of this muffin so that she could angrily munch away after she gets back home.
When she walks up to her apartment building, she presses in the code to get through the gate, before pulling the old creaky thing open, and walking up the four flights of stairs to get to her front door, twisting the key in the knob before quietly opening the door as she figures that Ruby isn’t awake yet. It’s before noon on a Sunday where they’re not working, so Ruby being awake would pretty much be a miracle or a sign of the world ending depending on how you look at it.
(A sign of the world ending most definitely.)
Toeing off her sneakers, the right one getting stuck, she flicks on the light switch to illuminate the main room of their apartment. It’s a small place, really more suitable for two people than the three that live here, but she likes the location and rent price too much to change anything about her living situation. The kitchen is more of an alcove than anything else, just five white cabinets shoved into the corner with white and gray quartz countertops, and next to the fridge is an exposed brick wall that she’s not sure is real or simply there for aesthetics. But she kind of likes it and the way that it brightens up the room as their television sits on a small black desk with plants framing both sides of it, a multi-colored rug sitting on the floor underneath their white couch that’s full of more throw pillows than anyone has any right owning.
The throw pillow thing is definitely her fault, but when she’s shopping and happens to see a good deal on a cute patterned one, she can’t help but buy it, figuring there’s some place for it. Her bedroom is full of them, sitting on top of her white comforter and on the black and white striped chair that’s crammed in the corner with piles of clothes stacked on top of it. She’s sure that designers would hate their place, but it’s their place. They like it. That’s all that matters.
She also has this problem with blankets, but that goes hand and hand with pillows, right?
The plants too. She and Ruby obviously wish they had a backyard or something.
“Morning,” Graham mumbles as he steps out into the hallway into the living room. He’s rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, still dressed in a pair of plaid pajamas pants and an NYPD sweatshirt, his hair curling into wild patterns instead of its usual tamed style. “Have a nice run?”
“My legs feel like they’re not actually limbs anymore, but it was good.”
“You happen to bring me any coffee?”
Emma huffs at that before sitting down at the kitchen table with her cup and her muffin, figuring that she’ll clean up the crumbs later instead of dealing with a plate. “No. I got a muffin, but it’s for Ruby.”
“She’s going to be asleep until at least two. I can eat it, and she’ll never know.”
“You have been dating her for two years. You know she can sniff these things out.”
“So am I. I’ve gotten good at hiding things.”
“That, my friend,” she starts, opening up her laptop from where she left it here last night, and curling her foot underneath her thigh, “is an awful thing to say to your girlfriend’s best friend.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Eat the muffin at your own risk.”
Graham chuckles before stepping further into the kitchen and flipping the switch for the coffee maker, the machine sparking to life as that all familiar gargle starts up, the smell already beginning to permeate through the apartment and overpower the coffee she already has. He hums, something that she’s noticed he always does in the mornings since moving in with them in January, and she blocks it out as much as she can. For so long, it was just she and Ruby here, but then Ruby and Graham got serious and he moved in. It’s only weird in the fact that she has to wear a shirt at all times when in a public space and she can hear some pretty enthusiastic sex noises happening through the bedroom walls. But rent is now split three ways, which is amazing, and Graham has a penchant for home cooked meals, which is something she thinks she’s really going to like when she’s traveling for work.
Graham’s probably going to like it more since both she and Ruby will be gone. Though she thinks he’ll miss Ruby a hell of a lot more than he misses her. She’d at least hope so. It’d be concerning if he didn’t.
Her laptop dings several times, and she already knows that she’s going to have at least ten emails from David detailing her schedule for when she flies down to Florida on Wednesday to cover Spring Training and film her segment on Killian Jones.
New York Yankees starting pitcher who has made her life a living hell since October of last year when the Yankees won the World Series. That should have been one of the greatest moments of her reporting career, especially since the team she’s assigned to cover for ESPN won the fucking World Series, but then it all turned her into a viral video online.
There are memes about her, okay?
(She’s only twenty-seven, but some of the things she’s thinking today are making her feel much older.)
And maybe living hell isn’t the right word. At least, not anymore. It was crazy at first, basically a madhouse around her, and she had to log out of all of her social media for two weeks even as she gained hundreds of thousands of followers across every platform where she’s active. She’s now got one of those blue checkmarks next to her name, which she honestly should have had before even if she doesn’t think she’s a celebrity or whatever, and random people stop her on the street for selfies. Selfishly, she kind of wishes that people had recognized her before the incident, but she didn’t get into her job for the fame. Really, that was the thing that held her back when she was offered the promotion, not that her job is really a job that brings much recognition outside of certain circles.
But here she is now.
“Killian,” she starts, holding the microphone to her mouth as she speaks and Killian wipes the sweat from his brow, pushing back his long hair before placing the World Series Champion cap back on top of his head, a bright white smile between his lips. Her heart is hammering in her chest, excitement over the Yankees winning finally starting to sink in. She can’t believe she got to work the Series. Holy shit. “You pitched an incredible game, and helped to lead the Yankees to their win. You’ve had an incredible season, an even more incredible post-season. How is it all feeling right now?”
His grin somehow gets impossibly bigger, the lines around his eyes crinkling, and she recognizes the look in his eyes like she always does. She’s been interviewing him for three years now, even if he wasn’t around much last season after his accident, and following his career around long before she’d actually met him through work, so she recognizes a lot of his mannerisms. It’s odd for her to know every career statistic that he has, to know about all of the publicity around his private life, and yet to have only talked to him while he stands on a field sweating under the glow of stadium lights or in the dimness of the locker room.
But that’s her job. She’s a reporter for ESPN, which is pretty damn awesome, and unlike a lot of people she works with, she actually likes to know what she’s talking about. She’s not a former athlete, not some kind of all-star with household recognition, and she’s a woman. Those three facts make her life impossibly harder, and if there’s anything she’s learned in her eight years working for the network, it’s that for every step that one of her male colleagues takes, she has to take ten. It’s idiotic, sexist, and all around wrong, but if she’s on TV spouting out facts that are incorrect, there’s twenty thousand men at home tweeting her and the network telling them to get the “dumb bitch” off their TVs.
But it’s her reality. Most people only care about how she looks, about how her ass looks in a skirt, but that’s not what she cares about.
(Even if she has a good ass and works damn hard for it.)
She cares about the game.
And anyone who cares about baseball, cares about Killian Jones.
He reaches up to scratch behind his ear, which is a tick of sorts that she’s noticed, before he leans into the microphone. “Right now, it’s pretty unbelievable. It hasn’t sunk in yet, not really, but I’m happy to be here wearing this hat, having the trophy, the accomplishment. It’s been a long road for me personally, for the team, and I’m in a bit of euphoria over it all.”
“How in the world are you not burning alive?” Ruby says in her earpiece, and she has to keep herself from rolling her eyes with the forced smile on her face. Ruby is a great producer, but she definitely loves giving her live commentary to mess Emma up. “He’s so hot, and I can’t even see his ass.”
Her producer being her best friend is both the best and worst thing to ever happen to her.
“I bet,” she says to Killian, looking up in the blue of his eyes as chants start to ring out across the stadium. Ruby won’t stop talking in her ear, and that’s definitely something the two of them are going to talk about later. “You had a bit of a rocky beginning to the season with your injury from last year still lingering, so how’s that arm feeling?”
“Good as new.”
“Perfect, it looked like.”
Even under his hat she can see the rise of his brow. “You been looking at my arms then, love?”
He is such a flirt. It’s ridiculous. At least he’s not one of the creepy ones. She gets it a lot as a part of her job and the general state of men, but she’s thankful for the fact that Jones never crosses the line. And she’s watched his interviews. He seems to simply be a flirt naturally, no trying necessary.
“Me and a couple million other people.”
He barks out a laugh, his head thrown back a bit, and she can see the sharp underside of his stubbled jaw. Thank goodness the Yankees finally allow their players to have facial hair. Really, it’s for the good of all people. “Well, my sister-in-law tells me most people are looking at my ass, so that’s kind of a relief.”
“Oh my God,” Ruby groans, “there are so many things you could say. But don’t. Ask him one more question.”
“So, Killian Jones, World Series Champion, now that you’ve done something every baseball player dreams of, is there anything else that you want to do?”
His mouth snaps closed, his teeth disappearing in exchange of a closed lip smile, and he tilts his head to the side while his eyes flicker up and down her face, very obviously scrutinizing her before his lips part once more.
“Yeah,” he says, adjusting his hat, “I think I’d like to go on a date with you. What do you say, Swan? You want to go out on a date with me?”
“Emma Swan,” Ruby grits, her voice yelling in Emma’s ear, “if you do not say yes, I will lock you out of the apartment. Think of the ratings.”
Later, she’s definitely going to talk to Ruby about sexual harassment. Not that this is what that is. She could say no. Yeah, he asked her on live television. That’s kind of dick-ish. But he’s not forcing her into it. Ruby might be, but that’s an issue for another time. Right now her issue is that she kind of feels like both vomiting on Killian’s shoes and punching him in the stomach for putting her on the spot like this.
Three years of interviewing him, and this is what he’s going to do.
No part of it surprises her. The next words out of her mouth do since she already knows the repercussions from them are going to be brutal.
She’d been asked out on live television by a player who she covers several times a month since he only plays every few games, and she said no. Of course she said no.
They don’t even know each other personally, and realistically, she understands that the whole point of dating is to get to know someone, but she’s not about to say yes on-air simply because she’ll look like a bitch if she says no. And really, she doesn’t think she looked like a bitch. She doesn’t. But apparently, she’s not allowed to have her own thoughts or opinions, have agency over her own life, because even though she was gaining all of that fame online, she was also garnering a lot of hate.
Like, an insane amount of hate.
People online are insane.
She always knew that when she took the step up from being a writer and fact checker who merely listed statistics in articles to being an on-air talent, that it would be a difficult transition. For one, she had to get used to working with a camera, with thinking on the spot, and she also had to get used to how much hate she was going to get for being a woman working in baseball. The world is definitely getting better overall, but that doesn’t mean that tiny, petulant men won’t take issue with her covering games over a former pro who’s only in it for the money.
The money is great, much better than she ever could have imagined, but that’s not why she’s in it. Not at all.
Growing up, she didn’t have a lot. Really, she had nothing. Her parents gave her up for adoption after she was born, but no one adopted her. Ever. She grew up in foster homes and group homes, never really having anyone or anything she cared about until she was fifteen and moved into Ruth Nolan’s home in Portland, Maine. Ruth was a kind older woman who packed Emma’s lunch for school and bought her new clothes and made her feel like she mattered for the first time in a long time. Emma knew that Ruth had a son, David, who lived in New York City and who Ruth was unnaturally proud of, but she didn’t meet him until six months after she’d been living in the house and he came home for Christmas with his fiancée, Mary Margaret.
She’d hated him.
Really and truly hated him. She had a good thing going, and him coming home made her realize just how much she didn’t have anything that belonged to her.
She had nothing.
And it didn’t matter that he was twenty-seven to her fifteen, that he was an adult while she was still a child. The jealousy didn’t stop. It kept festering and festering until she was worried that it would never stop. As an adult, someone who is now twenty-seven herself, she realizes how ridiculous this was, but at the time all she could think about was how terrified she was that having her actual son home would make Ruth realize how much Emma didn’t belong.
All of her worry was for nothing because David Nolan is the nicest man on the planet, and he took her under his wings from the moment that he met her. She resisted, not used to knowing what kindness and affection were, but David made her feel comfortable to the point where her shoulders didn’t tense up, where her head didn’t pound, and even though he was a little too much for her until she got used to more genuine care and kindness, David became the older brother she never could have dreamed of.
He was the one who took her on her first vacation, a weekend trip to visit he and Mary Margaret in New York. The two of them definitely coddled her a little bit, jam packing the days with trips to anything and everything she wanted to go to, but it was fun. And then David took her to a Yankees game with seats behind third base and access to the facilities and food to die for with his special access, and her entire life changed.
Obviously, she’d watched a baseball game before. She knew most of the ins and outs, did for most sports. In all of the homes that she’d been in, sports were pretty much a constant. It was the thing the dads liked, most of the kids too, and even though she hadn’t always enjoyed them (she has some pretty strong feelings about basketball), sports were a constant in her life. Her foster parents would never sign her up to play, never wanting to spend the money on equipment, but watching on TV and understanding what her classmates were talking about made her feel like she belonged.
Then she went to an actual game, felt the atmosphere of thousands of people cheering, heard the ding of the ball against the bat, listened to music played during breaks, ate a hot dog like all of the clichés, and a light switched on in her. If David could work at ESPN, could spend his days studying statistics and helping to put together clips and videos of highlights, why couldn’t she?
Why couldn’t she dream of more than staying in Portland and working in an office as a receptionist or something else that would inevitably make her lose the light inside of her that has already been diminished?
Ruth and David offered to help her take SAT prep courses to boost her score, and they helped her apply to colleges across the country. When she got accepted to NYU, David and Mary Margaret immediately told her that she could live with them, and when David got her an interview at the ESPN offices as an intern the fall of her freshman year, she finally, finally felt like her life was headed somewhere good.
Then she met Neal and…that’s not something she wants to think about.
He’s not someone who needs to take up any space in her mind when she’s got Jones to deal with.
More specifically, an interview with him.
Here’s your flight information as well as your rental car number. Everything is under your name, so it should be easy to get once you’re in Tampa. We’re sending Madden with you, but we’re sending Ruby to other ST games to produce with some of our more inexperienced reporters.
Jones can do his segment on 3/09/19 before the game against the Orioles. That’s also who they’re playing on Opening Day, so try to work something in with that. He shouldn’t be pitching that day, so he’ll mostly be free.
Come over for dinner before you leave?
She fires of a quick response before opening up her document filled with the list of questions that she’s been working on for the interview. Jones is a pretty private guy despite how much information on him is out there, so she knows that this exclusive is a pretty big deal. She also knows that despite being the exclusive on field reporter for the Yankees, she got this gig because of what happened after the World Series. It stings, if she’s honest with herself, but she’s learned that sometimes she has to accept things she doesn’t necessarily love for the good of her career. That’s precisely why she, Ruby, and Graham have spent the last six nights sitting in their apartment listing off questions that she thinks resemble more of a speed dating questionnaire than a profile on a professional athlete.
At least there’s some questions about baseball. She doesn’t think Jones would be too fond of her if she dug a little too much into the boating accident that broke his arm and ended his season two years ago or the rather prolific dating history that he has. Then again, maybe him hating her would keep him from asking her out again.
Pros and cons and all.
“Ooh, is that muffin for me?”
Ruby stumbles out of the hallway, her shorts riding up her ass and her socks at different heights around her ankles. Her hair is half tied up in a bun, but it’s mostly falling down her back in dark curls, red streaks spread throughout. She’s basically a zombie waking up this early, and when Emma looks over to Graham standing with his back against the countertops peeling open the wrapper on the muffin, Emma can do nothing but smirk.
At least she’s not saying I told you so.
She’s really tempted though.
“Sure, babe,” Graham smiles, opening up his arm for Ruby to fall into his side, her head resting on his shoulder as she picks at the top of the muffin, spilling the crumbs on the floor all the while Graham kisses her temple. “What are you doing up?”
“I could smell coffee,” she mumbles, her mouth full. “And my phone kept going off because David wouldn’t stop emailing me about all of my work stuff this week. Does he ever sleep, Ems? I mean, he’s got a wife and a ten-year-old. He’s got a life.”
“David can make Mary Margaret swoon and help Leo with his homework all the while emailing us to get our shit together. It’s a talent.”
Graham chuckles before rubbing his hand up and down Ruby’s shoulder, the affection so easy between the two of them, and Emma feels her stomach twist. She’s in that weird phase where she couldn’t be happier for her friend, couldn’t be happier that Ruby has this person, her person, but where she also feels a lingering loss over having lost someone who she thought was hers.
But again, she is not thinking about that this morning. It’s easier not to.
“Sweetheart, I can nearly guarantee that your boss does not get onto you like my boss does.”
Ruby’s brow raises before she takes a giant bite out of the muffin. “Are you really going to stand here and try to tell me that I can’t be irritated with my boss because you have it harder?”
“That is not what I said at all.”
“It kind of is,” Emma adds in as she brings her knees up to her chest and types in a question about Killian’s nieces on her document.
“But you understood what I meant? I just meant that – ”
“It’s too early for you to keep putting your foot in your mouth,” Ruby laughs, stepping out of Graham’s embrace to get a mug out of the cabinet and pour herself a cup of coffee. “And it’s definitely too early for little miss over there to have been on a run and be back here working. It’s our day off. Let’s do something fun.”
“Oh my God, no. It’s not even nine thirty.”
“It’s five o’clock somewhere.”
“Okay, Jimmy Buffet.”
“Well now I want a cheeseburger and a margarita.”
“We could always go to the restaurant in New Jersey.”
“There’s a place ten minutes away from here,” Graham interjects, “that sells fantastic cheeseburgers all day long. We go there for lunch a lot.”
“But do they have tacky decorations and overpriced alcohol?”
“They have good food and a TV that works seventy percent of the time.”
“That sounds perfect,” she sighs, closing her laptop even though she knows they probably won’t leave for a few more hours, “but once the season starts, I’m going to have to swear off burgers and any other concession food.”
Ruby guffaws, actually guffaws, her head thrown back and her coffee sloshing around in the mug. “The day you stop eating junk food on game day is probably the day that you go out on that date with Jones.”
Her eyes immediately cut toward Ruby, but the woman can’t be fazed and doesn’t care that she’s being stared at by someone with daggers in her eyes. Graham lets out a low whistle, one that doesn’t match up with the song he was humming earlier, and Ruby simply shrugs her shoulders and takes another sip of her coffee.
“I hate you for still thinking that’s funny,” Emma finally says as her legs stretch out for her to stand up and toss her empty mug into the trash bin, the cup circling the bag before landing in. “And for telling me to say yes for the ratings.”
“To be fair, I always knew that you’d say no, which is honestly probably better for the ratings than you saying yes. I’m so pissed that I didn’t get assigned to you to go to Tampa. I’d pay big money to get to see the two of you get all close and personal, but no, Jeff gets to go with you.”
She rolls her eyes and steps forward to condescendingly pat Ruby on the arm, forcing a smile on her face. “I’m not going to tell you anything that happens, which means you’ll never know because Jeff will never tell. We could have sex right there at Steinbrenner, and you’d never know.”
“I hate you.”
“You wouldn’t have sex with him anyways,” Graham says, and she and Ruby both slap his arm before his lips part in shock. “What? I’m just saying the truth. Emma is a consummate professional, and she’s pissed at Jones for asking her out like that. She’s not going to do anything to mess up her reputation. She’s worked too hard to be taken seriously.”
Graham Humbert: loveable idiot but also one very smart man.
Because he’s exactly right in what he’s said.
“Let’s go get some cheeseburgers,” Emma sighs, wanting to change the subject.
“But you just said it was too early.”
“Whatever,” she laughs, adjusting her sports bra underneath her tank top. She probably needs a shower before she goes or her sweat is going to mold this bra into her skin. “It’s five o’clock somewhere.”
The moment Killian gets back to his hotel room, he falls onto the mattress and wonders if he can sink into the soft, plush comforter forever. As much as he misses his apartment, misses the fact that he can wander around in his boxers without a care in the world and eat while sitting on his living room couch watching TV, this hotel is one of the better ones he’s stayed at. The rooms are big, he has a small kitchen, and the walls are thick enough that he can’t hear Will or Arthur on either side of him. He doesn’t want to hear Will because he blares music at all hours of the night and Arthur because his wife flew down here with him.
Privacy is privacy and all that.
It’s funny because he remembers sharing a room with Robin in cheap hotels while they were traveling for games for Vandy and they could pretty much hear what was happening in the rooms on every side of them. Once he swears someone was acting out the movie Titanic while the bed squeaked, and he’s never quite watched that movie in the same way since then.
Sorry Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
But right now, he never wants to move from this bed, never wants to have to get up to change clothes or eat. He simply wants to sleep for a solid twenty-four hours and then not have to get up to train tomorrow morning.
His entire body hurts.
His shoulder, specifically.
Really, it shouldn’t. He’s in good shape. He knows that he is. When he couldn’t play two seasons ago because his arm was wrapped in a cast and the complications with his shoulder kept piling up, he spent most of his time in the gym trying to work on everything that he could work on. He watched old tapes, watched videos of his games and games from the season that he didn’t get to play, and spent most of his time obsessing about getting back on the field and throwing one more pitch. So, for his team to have won the World Series last season, for him to have played so well, was something that was expected by every single person but him.
For a good while, he didn’t think he’d ever get to play the game again.
He wasn’t entirely sure that he wanted to when it hurt too much to even reach up in his cabinets to grab a box of cereal. He nearly lost his dream, his livelihood, his life, because a group of drunks drove their boat right into his small sailboat. He doesn’t remember much of it, not more than the searing pain and the heavy fear in his gut over whether or not Liam was going to be okay. Everything after that is flashes of hospital visits and meetings with doctors to make sure that his broken arm wasn’t infected since he had an open-flesh wound and spent a significant amount of time in the water. That’s the injury the world knows about, the one that was covered on the news and online, the one that he saw about himself when he was scrolling through Instagram trying to pass the time.
No one but his family and his physio know about the rotator cuff tear or the surgery that was required to repair it. He always thought that he would suffer from an injury like that, but it was always going to be something that happened because he has been pitching for most of his life. It was never supposed to be a freak injury that tried to tear nearly everything he cared about away.
His shoulder still hurts even though the injuries have been healed, but he’s learned to play with pain, to embrace it. He should have asked to be relieved after the fifth today.
There’s a knock on his door, and he groans, unable to form actual words, before rising from the mattress and slowly walking toward his door, wondering who the hell is knocking on his door at two in the morning.
Of course it’s Ariel.
She’s got a cheerful smile on her face, her red hair twisted back into a complicated plait that he’s watched her do several times, and she’s still in her green dress that he saw her wearing this morning. Does the woman ever sleep?
If only he could sleep instead of having to talk to her.
Twisting the several locks, he swings the door open, propping his left arm up against the frame and hoping that him blocking her entry will keep her from wanting to stay. It doesn’t. She ducks underneath him and walks through, settling down on the couch and kicking her flats off so that they scatter across the multi-colored carpet.
He sighs, knowing that she’s likely here to talk about tomorrow, and settles down at the edge of his bed while he rolls his shoulder, trying to work out a few more of the kinks that he didn’t get out during physical therapy tonight.
He can already tell that this season is going to be different than last year.
“Does your shoulder hurt?”
“Are you lying to me?”
“No, A, I’m not lying to you. It’s ST. I’m still getting used to playing again after the off season.”
Her eyes narrow for a brief moment, and suddenly he feels naked under her gaze. Not that he’s not comfortable being naked. But he’s not exactly a fan of that in front of his manager who also happens to be one of his mate’s wife. And Ariel has this thing that she does where she can break him down and make him spill all of his deepest, darkest secrets just by a good stare and a few words.
It’s impressive but also terrifying.
And she doesn’t know the extent of his injuries. He never told her, and he doesn’t want her to ever find out. She’d be pissed at him for sure, but she’d also worry too much.
She already worries more than Liam and Elsa combined.
“So, you’re doing that ESPN interview tomorrow, and I figured we need to go through a few talking points.”
He nods his head as he tries to remember agreeing to that. He’s pretty sure that he did, but sometimes Ariel has him doing so much and signing so many papers that it all blurs together. He’d be lost without her.
“Emma Swan is the reporter.”
No wonder Ariel is coming to talk to him about it instead of letting him simply answer the questions. He doesn’t do a lot of interviews that aren’t completely baseball related, not wanting to let more of his life out into the public eye, but occasionally he’ll do an interview or a funny clip for the team to put on Instagram. Something like this is a little out of his comfort zone, but he now remembers that Ariel talked him into doing it, saying something about making him an even more valuable asset to the team by making him a bigger name outside of baseball. He doesn’t quite understand that since all he cares about workwise is baseball and his contract lasts another five years. He’s fine.
But if Emma Swan is doing the interview, he might as well go ahead and tuck his head between his thighs and walk in there licking his wounds.
God, he was an idiot to ask her out live on television. He was an idiot who just won the World Series, who had adrenaline pumping through his veins, and who desperately wanted to ask out the woman he fancies before he didn’t see her for several months.
A pathetic, asshole idiot who never should have, even in his adrenaline haze, attempted to ask someone out when he knows just how screwed up he’s been when it comes to dealing with relationships in the past few years.
Among other reasons.
Liam would describe him as a fuck up, but only in the most affectionate way that would get him a slap upside the head from Elsa and then a comforting smile from her as she tried to talk to him about seriously dating again.
He wouldn’t listen. He never does.
Now he’s having to live with the fact that he screwed up, everyone saw it, and he likely pissed off a woman who has never been anything but professional to him in the few years that she’s been exclusively covering the team. Seriously. Their press has never been better, their exclusives never more interesting, and he’s likely made her uncomfortable all because he can’t seem to stop flirting when he’s trying to cover his nerves.
And she’s going to be at his training tomorrow.
“If the look on your face is any indication,” Ariel murmurs as she tucks her feet underneath her thighs, “you know as much as I do that you screwed up.”
“But it happened, everyone on the internet saw it, and we can’t change it. What we can do is apologize for it tomorrow.”
“I know how to talk to a woman,” he protests.
“At a bar, yes. You know how to charm a woman there, and you know how to talk to women who you see on a regular basis. What you apparently don’t know how to do is talk to a woman who is only talking to you because it’s her job.”
“I didn’t do it to be fucking sleazy.”
“Killian,” she sighs, her lips curling into a soft smile that he recognizes as the one she uses to talk to kids who have come to visit the team, “I know this because I know you. You’re a good guy with this big heart, but to the rest of the world, you’re kind of, as you said, sleazy.”
“That’s not true.”
“And it wouldn’t matter if it was.” She waves her hands in the air before settling them down in her lap. “But that’s not the point. The point is that, no matter how charming you are, you asked out someone on TV, and she said no. She’s a woman working in a man’s world, and even if you didn’t realize it in the moment because you were out of your mind happy, you opened her up to a lot of harassment.”
There are no other words for it than fuck.
Maybe fuckity fuck, but that’s not even a true phrase. It might as well be.
He knows that he did that. He knows. He wasn’t thinking, obviously, but he still did something to make Emma uncomfortable. He did something to most likely ruin his professional relationship with her and her relationship with others, and even if he knows that there was mostly positive coverage on the whole thing, he knows that he has to apologize to her tomorrow. That positive coverage he saw doesn’t matter because he has no idea how it affected her personally. Who knows if she’ll accept his apology or if she’ll brush him off? Who knows if she’ll even agree to keep working with him or the team? She’s coming tomorrow, at least. That seems like a good sign.
His stomach churns, something deep and unsettling, and he wonders if his past is always going to keep catching up to him when he least expects it.
Maybe he should stop screwing up.
Burying his face in his hands, he speaks. “I’ll apologize tomorrow. I made a dumbass decision, and she doesn’t deserve to have gone through any harassment because of me. That was not at all my intention.”
“I know, sweetie. I know. I have the list of questions she’s going to pull from if you want it.”
He looks at her though his fingers. “Is there anything on there that’s going to catch me off guard?”
“Nah, it’s mostly light stuff. There’s going to be some talk about the boating accident, your broken arm, but I don’t see anything else. It’s actually a pretty fun list. It’s focusing more on you as a man than as a player.”
“Huh,” he mumbles, falling back against the mattress again. “Interesting.” His lips open as he yawns, and he can feel that one all the way down to his toes. “So, you don’t think she’s totally going to screw me over for asking her out?”
“I think Emma Swan is a professional who loves the game. She’s not going to do anything to jeopardize it.”
Ariel stays for fifteen more minutes before she leaves, sleep calling her name too, and it takes everything in him to have enough mind to brush his teeth and wash his face, figuring he can shower in the morning before he goes in for a run with his trainer to keep his limbs loose. His alarm goes off at nine, far earlier than it should on a day that would normally be his day off (the perks of being a pitcher), and he groans when he throws the cover off of him and rolls over to check his phone, several messages filling the screen.
Liam: Your curveball sucked last night.
Liam: Addy and Lucy are very upset about it.
Elsa: We can come down and visit on the girls’ spring break. Should we stay at your hotel or find another place?
Elsa: Your curveball didn’t suck, btw. But I could see the tension in your shoulder. Take care of yourself.
Will: Do you want to get breakfast this morning?
He shoots off replies to all of them, griping to his brother and sending his sister-in-law his hotel information as well as a couple others he’s stayed in while down here before, offering to pay for their accommodation since they’re coming down here to see him. Will texted him ten minutes ago, which means he’s probably already down at the buffet getting an omelet, so he sends him a text saying that maybe tomorrow when they’re on a more regular schedule. His schedule is so different than most of his mates. Even though Robin is another starting pitcher, they usually have opposite schedules, the two of them always one or two days off from the other, so most days he’s eating breakfast and doing workouts at different times than the teammates he’s closest to.
And he doesn’t really like to break his own routine. Call it superstition. Call it knowing what works.
After he gets out of bed and showers, letting the warm water work out a few more aches in his body, he grabs one of his protein shakes and an apple, eating his breakfast on his way to the rental car he’s using while down here. It’s only a ten-minute drive to the facility, but even with the air conditioning blasting, he can tell that it’s stifling outside.
When they play here in the summer, he nearly dies.
Flashing his player card through the scanner, he enters Steinbrenner and walks down the hallway lined with framed jerseys of retired players. It’s pretty quiet in here, the only footsteps his own, and he figures that everyone else is already in the gym working out and getting any remaining lactic acid out of their systems. The locker room is empty, and he types in his code before pulling out his running shoes and changing into them so that he can run on the treadmill for the next hour or so and then get some physical therapy before showering and meeting Emma Swan for the interview.
He’s decidedly trying not to think about that.
When he pushes through the double doors to head down to the gym, he can feel the pulse of the bass from the music they’re playing before he even gets to the entrance. When he walks inside, no one pays him any attention, all of them caught up in their own routines, until he gets on the treadmill and starts a slow jog to warm up with Will running beside him. Will would definitely call him out for missing breakfast if he didn’t look to be out of breath.
The small blessings in life.
Everyone filters out before he does, their routines calling for batting practice or PT or even some breakfast, so he’s left to listen to the pound of his feet against the treadmill and the pounding of music still playing. He likes running once he hits his stride. As a teenager, he despised it, especially when his father would be timing him or pushing him to keep going, but now that he has the inner motivation and can get moving all on his own, it’s almost therapeutic. And it makes him feel that pleasant ache that he often only feels in his arm.
When his phone timer goes off, he begins to cool down, walking at a slow pace as he fires back a few texts and approves an edit for Ariel to post online for him. Archie says they don’t have to meet today as long as he does his rotations with the weight bands, so as soon as he gets off the treadmill, that’s exactly what he does.
His shoulder is definitely still a little stiff, but it feels good.
“Oi, you want to throw today?” Will asks when he’s back in the locker room, stripping out of his clothes so that he can take a shower.
“I pitched last night, Scarlet.”
He rolls his eyes. Will is definitely an acquired taste, and his heavy Boston accent definitely doesn’t make him seem nice.
“And I’m not twenty-three anymore. I need more rest on my shoulder.” It hurts is what he means but doesn’t say. “Locksley is your pitcher tonight. You should do a few rounds with him.”
“He’s in PT right now.”
“I’ll throw with you,” Eric offers as he pulls on a t-shirt. “I wasn’t happy with my arm last night. I need the practice.”
“See, Jones, that’s a friend.”
“I kept you from throwing up in Belle’s lap after a night out last year. There will never be a better friend than me.”
Will groans, and Killian smirks. That was a disgusting night after being out too long for New Years, and as much as he wants to forget it, that’s a great story to hold over Will.
“How long are you going to use that story?”
“Until you have something just as good that equals things out. I’m thinking about sharing it as a toast at the wedding if you two get married.”
God, he hopes that he never has something that equals that story. He had to throw away his favorite pair of blue jeans.
“I’m coming in the locker room,” Ariel yells before she opens the door, not bothering to give anyone time to get dressed. She rarely does.
“Hi, sweetheart,” Eric smiles, walking toward his wife only for Ariel to move out of his way and toward Killian, making Will and August laugh loud enough that they can’t even cover it with their coughing.
“Hi, babe.” Ariel waves Eric away before she’s standing just in front of him. She’s decked out in team gear today, her hair under a Yankees cap, and he thinks her barging into his room late last night might actually have affected her. He hates to be haughty about it, but he also doesn’t. “I’ll come see you in a minute. I’m here to tell Killian to shower because Miss Swan is going to be here in twenty minutes.”
There’s a collective whistle from all of his teammates, and he has the mind to threaten to hit all of them in the eye during his next game. But then he would probably be arrested, and his friends would hate him. On their first day back at practice in February, his locker was plastered with pictures of him asking Emma out, and he is definitely not going to ever live that down. The fact that they all know she’s coming today makes it worse.
“Thanks, A. I was planning on looking like a sweaty caveman.”
“To be fair, Emma probably thinks that’s what you are.”
He raises his middle finger at Will before moving to the showers, not wanting to get into a negative headspace before his interview. The absolute last thing that he needs is to do something else to make Emma uncomfortable or make himself look like a bigger jackass.
That might not be possible.
Once his body is scrubbed down, the sweat washed away, he turns the water off and gets out, patting his legs down with a towel before pulling on the gray joggers he brought into the showers with him. The locker room is nearly empty when he renters, everyone but August having gone on their ways, so he takes his time towel drying his hair and going through his shirts to find one to wear. They just got new uniforms and practice gear for the season, but he hasn’t broken them all in yet, some of the dri-fit material still a bit too tight when he likes it to not cling to his stomach and arms. He’s got to have a little bit of room to move.
Before he gets a chance to put on a shirt, the doors open again, and he sees Emma Swan walk into the room followed by a vaguely familiar man with a camera, equipment strapped to his chest. His stomach swoops at the sight of her after so long and at the sight of the short blue dress that she has on, the hem landing just above her knees and the sleeves nearly non-existent enough to show the curves of her muscles.
Half the men in the MLB would be jealous of her muscles.
It’s damn impressive.
He quickly pulls on a blue training shirt, and grabs a pair of socks and sneakers to put on as she comes further into the room, her green eyes making contact with him as he smiles up to her from his seat at his locker.
“Jones, Booth,” she nods, a slight smile on her face. Good. That’s good. A smile has to be good. “It’s nice to see you both again.”
“It’s nice to see you, Swan. I figured you were going to stand me up.” He finishes tying his laces before standing and walking over to she and the man, holding his hand out for the both of them to shake. “And it’s nice to meet you…”
“Jeff isn’t really one for words,” Emma explains, her smile fond instead of forced this time. He wonders if they’re friends, if they’re more, but that’s none of his business. “So,” Emma says, clapping her hands together, “your manager said to come get you in here, and that we pretty much have the entire day with you to do the interview and get you to walk us through what Spring Training is like for you.”
He nods as he takes a deep breath to calm down the pounding of his heart. This is ridiculous. He should not be nervous. He doesn’t get nervous like this.
“I’m already finished with everything I have to do today, so I’d love to have the pleasure of spending time in your company.”
He can tell Emma wants to roll her eyes, but she doesn’t, ever the consummate professional. “Good.”
They take a few minutes to hook his microphone up, the pack resting in the back of his joggers while the small piece is pinned into his shirt. Emma runs over what they’re going to do today, setting him out a schedule, and then instructs him to answer as honestly as possible. They’ll send the segment to Ariel before it airs, so he has nothing to worry about when it comes to getting swept under the rug.
He kind of feels like it when he’s trying to figure out how to apologize to Emma. He should probably do it now, but he’s not sure how he feels about doing it in front of Jeff.
Later, he’ll get to it.
Once they’re in the hallway that connects the training facility to the main building, Emma starts peppering him with quick fire questions that he hasn’t really had to think about in years. He mostly gets asked about his stats.
“Favorite player growing up?”
“Because he had the same last name as you?”
“Of course. Okay, favorite cheat day dessert?”
“Cheesecake but one with fruit flavoring. Chocolate isn’t my favorite.”
Damn. Now he wants some cheesecake.
“What are you most likely to be doing on a real off day where no training is involved? Not one of your rest days.”
“Either sitting on my ass watching TV or spending time with my family.”
“Sport you like to watch the most besides baseball?”
“Really?” she huffs, almost like she’s surprised by his answer. Most people are, and he’ll never quite understand why.
“Yeah, I like the physicality of it and the strategy behind it.”
“Do you have a secret talent no one else knows about?”
“I can quote the entire Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld.”
She laughs, this sweet little sound, and it makes him smile. This interview is oddly comfortable, especially considering their history, and it’s nice to be able to relax his shoulders and answer her honestly as she keeps shooting off quick-fire questions.
“What’s the craziest fan encounter you’ve ever experienced?”
“A woman threw her bra at me while I was sitting in a restaurant with my nieces. She didn’t ask me to sign it or anything, which has happened before. She simply threw it and never asked for it back. Addy asked me what it was, which was a fun conversation to have.”
“I bet. Okay, um, I hear that you picked up a hobby while out on injury last year. You want to talk about that?”
“I got really into baking,” he admits, smiling at Emma before walking along the corridor to the floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto the field. “Which was a horrible idea for someone with one arm who couldn’t exercise his usual amount, but I learned how to make that cheesecake I was talking about earlier.”
“Do you bake for your friends and family?
“Family, yes. Friends, not so much since most of them are my teammates and avoid a lot of sweets.”
Emma nods her head and smiles, looking down at the questions she’s got on her phone. As comfortable as he is, he kind of wishes he could ask her the questions she’s asking him. The one-sided conversation is not his usually forte.
“Okay,” she laughs, “what would you do for a living if you didn’t play baseball?”
“I was going to enlist in the Navy.”
“Yeah,” he shrugs, his lips ticking up on the right. “I didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and I couldn’t afford to go to college if I didn’t get a scholarship. My brother was in the Navy, so it felt like the natural conclusion for me. But then Vandy gave me that scholarship, and my entire life changed.”
“You met Locksley there, right?”
“He was a senior when I was a freshman, but yeah. We roomed together at a summer training camp, and apparently not much has changed since then except he has a few early gray hairs and an adorable kid.”
She laughs at that too before looking down at her phone at her list of questions once more while he sees Eric and Will leisurely tossing a ball back and forth.
“So, you’re twenty-eight and a World Series champion for the first time. That’s the ultimate baseball dream. How does that change expectations going forward? Has your life changed at all since then?”
Killian hums next to her and taps on the windows. This is something he has to think about as he still can’t quite believe any of it. He almost opens his mouth to make a joke about not having a date with her yet, but that would not be in his best interest.
“I don’t think my life has changed. It’s incredible to have that accomplishment, for sure. I’m proud of my team and what we’ve done. But I still wake up and put the work in every day and then spend my free time with my friends, my family. I like being a normal guy. The only reason anyone knows who I am is because I know how to throw a ball. It doesn’t make me special.”
“And going forward?” she prods, obviously looking for more.
“I want to play the game. I want to have fun and be competitive. Breaking my arm two years ago, not being able to play, it put me in a really dark place personally and professionally. The injury wasn’t serious, obviously, but it could have been. The wreck could have been worse, and I could have lost the sport that has really helped develop my life.”
Lies. All lies. It was serious, but no one knows that. Him being in a dark place, though, that’s the truth.
“Have you been back on a boat yet?”
“Yeah,” he sighs, tapping his knuckles against the glass. “It was a freak accident. It’s not something that’s going to happen every time. I doubt I’ll ever be in a boating accident again, but I’ve had to learn that I can’t let fear dictate my life. And I look damn good in a pair of swim trunks.”
“I think it’s time to go get lunch,” she tells him, most likely to change the subject. “Wouldn’t want you to wither away and lose that boat body.”
Killian winks, relieved that he didn’t push too far saying that. “I always knew you liked my body.”
Why is he the way that he is?
He guides Emma and Jeff down to the player cafeteria that they have, paying for all of their meals, and settling down at a table in front of a TV that’s airing a replay of last night’s game. It’s a bit of an awkward silence now that Emma isn’t asking him questions, and Jeff definitely isn’t adding to the conversation, so when he gets up to go get filler footage after he’s scarfed down his sandwich, his absence is not missed too much.
Except for the fact that he’s now awkwardly staring at Emma as she pokes around in her salad.
It’s now or never, he guesses.
“Listen,” he murmurs, reaching up to scratch behind his ear as Emma looks up at him with a piece of lettuce in her mouth, “I wanted to apologize for asking you out like I did, love. It was wrong and inappropriate, and I shouldn’t have done it. I’m sorry.”
Her eyes widen, getting larger, and he sees her try to speed up the chewing of her lettuce while a red flush rises on her cheek. He can’t imagine the one on his face. “Thanks,” she mumbles, her hand over her mouth while she’s still chewing. “I was not at all expecting that.”
“Yeah, well, I have come to realize that you likely got a ton of shit for it, and it’s wrong of me to have done it. The adrenaline was insane, I’d pitched more of that game than I should have, and I guess I was feeling bold enough to do something that I would have never done otherwise. But you’re a professional who deserves every bit of respect that anyone else would, and I should have never put you in a position like that.”
Emma looks gob smacked. He can’t think of another phrase for it, most likely because all he can really hear is the pounding of his heart between his ears.
“Thank you, Killian.” She smiles, something soft before her lips flatten into a line. “I mean, you’re right that it was wrong. I’m a woman working in a man’s world, and I already have to field off asinine questions and comments about how my ass looks or if I actually know what I’m talking about. You asking me out kind of opened the door for a flood of harassment, and while I mostly blocked it out, I also am terrified to go into the comments on Instagram. So, yeah, thanks again, I guess. Just…you have a lot of influence. Think about your actions if you can. It’s not just your job out there. It’s mine too.”
“I understand. Truce?” he questions, not entirely sure that she’s not still pissed at him.
“Truce,” she agrees. “Just don’t ask me out again.”
“I think I can handle that, love.”
After this is when things really start to differ from "Striking Out" and the story takes on a life of its own with lots of twists and turns that I can't wait to share❤️
“What are you getting David for his birthday?”
Emma looks to her right where Ruby is stretched out on her yoga mat, doing a stretch that definitely isn’t anything that’s taught in a certified class. She can’t tell if she’s gotten stuck that way or if she’s simply given up on getting some early morning exercise. They really have to start going back to spin class sometime soon. Maybe tomorrow.
“I bought him some new dress shirts.”
“Have you not gotten him anything, Rubes?” She swipes her blush against her cheek waiting for Ruby to answer. She doesn’t. “The party is tonight. You know that, right? And we’re about to be at work all day editing.”
“Why do you think I’m asking so that I have time to get Graham to go get something on his lunch break?”
“You have no shame.”
Ruby falls onto her mat, star fishing out on the floor before propping herself up on her elbows, her bun coming undone so that it hangs messily on her shoulders. “I know. So, what should I buy him? He’s turning forty. Is he having a midlife crisis? Should I get him some hair dye?”
“Only if you want to be murdered.”
Ruby grunts before rising from her mat and stretching out. “Eh, it might be worth it. I think I’ll just get him a Shake Shack gift card. I’m not his sister. I can get away with a semi-shitty gift.”
She chuckles as she grabs her brush for her bronzer and runs it across her cheekbone, blending it in. “It’s not semi-shitty if he takes us to lunch with it.”
“True. Alright,” Ruby claps, picking her mat up, “I’m going to go shower, and then we can go to work. Ten minutes tops.”
It’s twenty minutes, which is actually less time than Emma was expecting, before she and Ruby walk out of their apartment, walking the three blocks to their train station and swiping their metro cards to get through the gate so they can take the ten-minute ride to the studios. They rarely have to go into the actual offices before ten. The only time they have to be at work earlier than that is when there’s an early game and they have to make their way across Manhattan to get to the fields. That’s a bit of a bigger commute. But this morning the weather is relatively nice, the trains aren’t crowded or full of people in T-rex costumes, and she and Ruby get to the office and through security before they have to be there.
She leaves Ruby on the seventh floor before going up to the tenth to the editing room, her eyes having to adjust from the brightness outside to the dim lights inside the room that’s really only lit by screens.
“Anton, how the hell do you live in the sunlight after staying in here all day?”
Anton twists in his chair to look at her before turning back to the screen that he’s working on, clicking on a few keys as he speaks. “It’s only dark right now because I’m trying to get the lighting right on this edit. Something is wrong with the shadows. Get Ash to set you up. You’ve got over eight hours of footage to go through, so this probably isn’t going to get finished today.”
“He’s only talking in about an hour and a half of that.”
“Yeah, but you’ve got to get the filler and then your notes. It’s a whole thing when you have a big segment like this. You’ll get used to it.”
She nods even though Anton isn’t paying any attention to her, before stepping into the room and around some of the editors she’s never worked with until she’s sitting down at Ashley’s workstation, picking up the pair of headphones that she uses and rolling up to the screen as she watches Ashely piece together several clips to promote whatever tennis tournament is going on right now. She thinks it’s the one in Palm Springs, but she hasn’t really been able to keep up with things lately.
“Sorry about that,” Ashley apologizes, flashing her a smile. “Alexandria had a late night last night, and I didn’t get into work in time to finish this up until you got here. But now my attention is all yours.”
“Is she okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. She’s teething is all. It’s miserable for all of us.”
“I bet. I remember when Leo was teething. David aged about fifteen years.”
“That doesn’t make me feel better.”
“Sorry, sorry,” she laughs, patting Ashley’s arm. “I won’t tell you any other stories about miserable babies. Let’s talk the interview.”
Ashley nods and clicks around on her computer until she’s pulling up Emma’s file, all of the hours of footage broken down. Emma has a basic understanding of how all of this works, but it’s mostly above her knowledge and paygrade. That’s why she’s glad to have people like Ashley and Anton, especially when they can easily throw out shaky or unusable footage to narrow things down even more. She tells Ashley that she wants to work on the main interview first, to make sure she can show all of the pieces she wants, and then they’ll work on finding the filler footage and the music to be played in the background. This is the first time Emma has ever worked on an edited segment that’s more than one minute, so it’s all a whole new world to her.
“This is good,” Ashley murmurs, her voice a small whisper outside of the headphones. “Like, really good. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him be this open before.”
“Jones? Jones is an open book.”
Her brows raise before settling back down at a regular height. “You are literally the most knowledgeable person on this subject in this building, and you think that Jones is an open book?”
“I mean, yeah. He’s baseball player, first and foremost. He’s young, hot, likes to spend his money and go out with every woman with big boobs and a pulse.”
Ashley actually laughs at that, rolling back in her chair before rewinding the video to a part where Killian is talking about his nieces and how they collect bobble heads, particularly his, and scatter them throughout their house for their parents to have to pick up. Emma remembers laughing at that, remembers thinking it’s sweet, but she’s not entirely sure why Ashley is showing it to her again.
“I know you probably hate him for asking you out like that, which was kind of a dick move, but anyone with eyes can tell he’s a sweet guy. I mean, he spent his injury break learning how to bake and sitting with his nieces so that they didn’t have to go to daycare. Yeah, he kind of had a period where he was pictured with a lot of girls, but that was when he was twenty-four and on top of the world. I mean, when you were twenty-four, you’re telling me you wouldn’t have been all over a pretty baseball player if you met him in a bar?”
“I hated all men at twenty-four.”
Ashely shakes her head from side to side, chuckling at her again. Emma hates to admit it, but Ashley is right. She knows that he’s not a bad guy, that’s not some sleazy player. No, he did not make the best decisions in asking her out last year, but in a move that surprised her, he very kindly apologized. And she really should not judge him over that time when he was pictured with girls all the time. For one, he probably dates as much as every other guy, but his dates happen to be publicized. She hates when women are shamed for dating, and here she is judging someone else.
His incessant flirting in all of his interviews and him asking her out have likely framed her view on him when she should know better than to judge by what appears on the surface.
She should also know better than to let a few pretty words make her trust someone.
“I met Sean at twenty-four.”
Emma sighs, curving her lips into a smile before patting Ashely’s arm. “And you two are wonderful. Let’s keep editing before we get distracted by you showing me a million baby pictures.”
“Dammit, Emma,” Anton groans from his seat, “the first rule of the editing room is that you don’t talk about baby pictures.”
After letting Ashley show her new pictures of Alexandra and those adorable chubby cheeks, they finally get around to some more editing, cutting questions that have repeated answers and editing out Emma’s laugh or weird coughing sounds so that she doesn’t look like a total maniac. There’s this part in the film where Killian is standing with his back to the camera and in front of a large set of windows that show off the field, and it looks like it could be a part of the Hall of Fame. It’s a gorgeous shot, and it’s where he’s talking about his hopes and dreams for baseball as well as wanting to get to live a normal life full of everything that his brother has.
Frankly, it’s beautiful enough to make her tear up.
They may just be her, though. As much as sports are about the statistics, about the executions, it’s also about the emotions. In the grand scheme of life, a baseball game doesn’t matter. These men getting paid millions of dollars to play a game don’t change the world. Except that they do. People live and die by the game, by the unpredictability, by the fact that it’s human beings out there pushing their bodies to limits that most people can’t reach. It takes everyone away from the world for a bit, lets them cheer for a happy ending, and even though the losses can be crushing, for just that little while, people feel hope.
Killian Jones coming back from injury, no matter how minor, to win the World Series, gave people hope.
It’s that thought process that guides her in helping Ashley and Anton edit the segment, and even though they only get about halfway through editing, they stop for the day so that Ashley can go home to her family and Anton to his while she walks down three flights of stairs to get to her office shoved into the corner of the corporate floor. There’s literally not even room in there for her to have an extra chair for someone to sit with her, but considering how little time she spends there now, that doesn’t matter. And it’s a step up from the cubicles.
Damn, her segment is going to be good.
This is…she knows she complained about it, and for the right reasons, but this is huge for her career. Right now, she’s more than happy doing post-game interviews and the occasional mid-game updates, but one day she might want to commentate or have her own show. One day she might want to move onto things other than sports. She’s getting ahead of herself, she knows. She simply can’t help it.
She’s excited, and she actually can’t wait to come into work tomorrow to get it all finished.
After sending a text to Ruby asking her if she’s almost ready to go, she logs into her computer and waits for her email to load, figuring she might as well get some more work done while she waits. Ruby’s timing at work is always so unpredictable when they’re not working together, so she has absolutely no idea when they’ll be able to leave to get on the train to Astoria. If only David was in the office today.
She doesn’t have much to sort through, just a few emails asking about the segment, another few talking about food that’s available in the office (she really hates that she missed those), and then another two from Walsh that she immediately deletes. They could be work related, but they’re most likely not.
Dating someone she works with was an absolutely horrible idea that she’ll probably never do again. Walsh is definitely an asshole, one that’s worse than all of the others, but he kind of ruined that workplace peace that she had for awhile. They’d both been stat checkers together, spent their days going blind reading spreadsheets and becoming friends, and when they both got promotions to journalists (ones who actually got to write articles) at the same time, she was pretty sure that it was fate or something crazy like that. They got to have the same job, the same schedule, and she was in that phase of infatuation in a new relationship that it made her stomach constantly feel like it was in those pleasantly painful knots.
Then she interviewed and auditioned for the on-air job to work with the Yankees.
It’s a moment that’s changed her life in an immeasurable amount of ways, but the first and most obvious – before Killian Jones 2k18 – was that her boyfriend of over a year resented her. He resented her, belittled her for what she did for a living, and it all felt so painstakingly familiar that she had to break up with him before he damaged her beyond repair too.
The fact that he was cheating definitely helped that decision.
So for him to still work under one hundred feet away from her in the office and still send her emails on a regular basis is a pretty big sting.
There is no one who got more enjoyment out of her being asked out on live television than Walsh Osborne.
Ruby: I am in the bathroom curling my hair. Meet you by the seventh floor receptionist desk in ten.
Emma: Where did you get a curling iron?
Ruby: The makeup room in the studio.
Of course she did.
Closing out her computer and slipping her booties back on, she leaves her office and locks it up before making her way through the cubicles, specifically going out of her way to avoid Walsh’s desk since she knows he’s still in the office, and waits by the receptionist area with David’s present in her hand. There’s no one sitting there, all of the calls being forwarded through the machine, and she idly wonders where in the world Jacob is.
“We have got to get whatever curling iron it is they use in hair and makeup,” Ruby sighs as she walks into the room, heels that she was not wearing this morning now on her feet and her hair curled into perfectly styled waves. “Seriously, it’s fantastic.”
“It’s, like, over three hundred dollars.”
“We can split it. You ready to go? Graham is going to meet us there.”
“Does he have David’s present?”
“Yep.” Ruby loops her arm through Emma’s elbow, pulling her closer, before walking toward the elevators. “He wins the award for the best boyfriend today.”
“Who is he in competition with?”
“Your non-existent boyfriend.”
She pinches Ruby’s arm, but she doesn’t say anything as the elevator opens and they walk inside. It’s always such a pain to go to David and Mary Margaret’s townhome from the office, if only because of the amount of times they have to switch trains, but it gives she and Ruby time to talk about their days and scroll through their phone, checking up on everything that they’ve missed while working.
(She usually finds time to look while at work. Knowing what’s happening in baseball players’ lives is important to her job, right? It doesn’t make her creepy if they put it online.)
Plus, it’s a Friday afternoon, and that’s always the best time to see people dressed in odd costumes and eating full on turkeys on the subway.
Seriously. That happened once. It wasn’t even Thanksgiving.
By the time they get to the townhouse, it’s past six, and she can see cars parked up and down the street, Mary Margaret’s SUV sitting right in front of their home. She insists on driving everywhere, even when she comes into Manhattan, and Emma will never understand that. But she guesses that they live a bit outside of the most crowded parts of the city and the Mary Margaret is always toting Leo around to school and soccer practice or moving all of her crafts that she takes to her classroom. Emma loves her sister-in-law (it’s easier to say than foster mom’s son’s wife), but she is one of those people whose entire life could be found on a Pinterest board where Emma is more thrift store mashup even with her life being more established lately.
Not that there’s anything wrong with living life like that. It’s simply not Emma’s cup of tea.
“So, how many fortieth birthday themed things do you think Mary Margaret has in their house?”
“I mean, obviously forty.”
Graham is sitting on the front steps when they walk up, a small envelope in his hand as he stares down at his phone, and Ruby whistles, making him actually jump from his seat.
“What the hell?” he grumbles, clutching his hand and the envelope over his heart. “Are you trying to give me a heart attack?”
“It depends. Am I the beneficiary of your life insurance plan?”
“Oh my God,” Emma chuckles, shaking her head from side to side as she adjusts the box underneath her arm. “You two are disturbed.”
“Only my girlfriend is.” He stands from the steps and moves closer to quickly press his lips against Ruby’s. “You two ready to go inside?”
“Were you too scared to go inside without us, babe?”
“If I’m honest, yes. I’m not entirely sure what kind of party awaits us.”
“You and me both.”
Emma steps up the stairs and opens the door, knowing that it’s unlocked and that she can just let herself in. She immediately hears the sound of people talking, most noticeably Leo in his high-pitched voice, but everything looks as normal as it always does. The living room is still neatly arranged, a mixture of white and gray furniture, most of it antique, all scattered throughout. The dining room has place settings arranged, but no one sitting there, so she walks to the back of the home where the kitchen is to find everyone all standing around the island eating off of the veggie place that’s set out.
Huh. So maybe David turning forty means that everything is low-key. That’s a refreshing change of pace.
“Emma,” Leo screeches when he sees her, hopping down from the countertop and running toward her, pushing her back with the force of his hug.
“Hey, kid,” she laughs as she moves David’s present so that she can hug Leo back. He’s getting so big, is nearly as tall as she is now, and he’s only ten. She can’t imagine what he’s going to be like when he gets older. She doesn’t really want to. She’s that aunt who gushes about remembering the day that her nephew was born and grossing him out by talking about it. “Why are you letting all of these people eat my food?”
“Because you don’t like vegetables.”
“I definitely do.”
“You never eat collards, and I always have to.”
“Well, that’s because I don’t like collards.”
Leo scrunches up his nose, his face twisted in disgust like he’s eating those collards, before he grabs her hand and starts trying to tug her back to the entryway. “Come on, Emma, I want to show you my new Captain America shield.”
“I’ve got to go say hi to your parents, but why don’t you go get it and bring it down to show me?”
He nods his head and then runs upstairs, his footsteps loud, and she turns back toward the kitchen to start talking to people who most likely don’t have Captain America shields in their bedroom. Well, they could. He’s kind of a big deal.
America’s ass and all that.
David is swiping a carrot through a bit of dip, and she takes the opportunity to put her present on the table before wrapping her arms around David’s stomach. He’s so incredibly warm, as always, and she appreciates the solid nature of him as his hand comes up to cup the back of her head, his lips pressing into her hairline.
“Happy birthday, old man.”
“Excuse me. I am in the prime of my life.”
She rolls her eyes, unable to help herself before pulling back and patting his chest. “Sure, if you think so.”
“I do. I’m glad you made it today.”
“And miss your birthday so that I have to hear it every day at work? Never.”
“That wouldn’t happen.”
“It would,” Ruby adds in. “It would be one of those things that you’d bring up every opportunity you get. You’d feed it into her earpiece while she was on air so that she’d do that thing with her nose where it scrunches up all weird to make her look like a mouse.”
“I do not do that.”
“You do, sweetie,” Mary Margaret adds in, opening up the refrigerator and grabbing a bowl of what Emma sincerely hopes is Mary Margaret’s pasta salad. “It’s so, but it does make you look like a mouse. Or like you smelled something bad.”
“Well, I am next to a bunch of sweaty men. I could smell something bad.”
“And Ruby, you can’t say anything. You talk in my earpiece all of the time.”
“That’s my job.”
“It’s not your job to talk about assess in pinstripes.”
“Eh,” she protests, clicking her tongue and tilting her head to the side. “I think it might be.”
“I’m sorry,” a woman Emma doesn’t know says, breaking Emma out of their little bubble to remember that there are other people in this house. “What is it that you do?”
“Oh,” she sighs, her mouth suddenly dry. She’s not conceited, she doesn’t think, but it’s been awhile since she met someone who wasn’t in her circle and didn’t know about her job. “I’m a reporter for the Yankees. Emma Swan. It’s nice to meet you – ”
“Jasmine Anwar. I teach with Mary Margaret.”
“She’s my teacher,” Leo adds in, running back in the room with a shield that’s nearly bigger than his body. “But I get to call her Miss Jasmine when she’s here, which is super cool because my friends don’t get to do that.”
“That’s our secret, though, Leo.”
“I know, I know. Emma, look at my shield.”
“Leo, it’s time to eat,” Mary Margaret says. “You can show off your shield afterwards, okay?”
“I thought we were eating cake afterwards.”
“So, when can I show off my shield?”
“After the cake, Leo,” David sighs before clapping his hands together. “Let’s eat.”
Inside the bowl was, indeed, Mary Margaret’s pasta salad, and in the oven was a tray of baked chicken, rolls, and macaroni and cheese. It’s the kind of meal that Ruth would make on the weekend or whenever David came home for a holiday, and for someone who eats cereal and Chinese takeout when Graham doesn’t feel like cooking, this is absolutely the best case scenario for her.
Thank goodness for David turning forty and Mary Margaret deciding to keep it low key with just a few friends instead of everyone from both of their offices.
(His thirtieth birthday was insane, especially when she thinks about the fact that Mary Margaret planned it while seven months pregnant.)
Most of the conversation halts with everyone eating, just a few murmurs here and there, but then Ruby gets a glass of wine in here – possibly two – and while Ruby can deal with liquor no problem, red wine gets to her. It’s the strangest thing, but Ruby’s already loose filter becomes, well, looser.
“No, do you guys remember the time,” Ruby hiccups, sipping on her drink while Emma very gracefully shovels more macaroni and cheese into her mouth, “that we were out in LA for work, and David nearly got arrested for walking out of a Walmart with a boxed fan because he threw away the receipt at self-checkout and they checked him at the door?”
“This is not that great of a story, Ruby,” David huffs, crossing his arms over his chest and tipping his beer bottle up to his lips.
“But it is,” Graham protests. “It was a twenty-dollar fan, man. All you had to do was pay for it again, but instead you were one more protest away from getting taken off to jail.”
“I paid for the damn fan. It was on the security video.”
“Yeah,” Emma sighs as she slides her plate onto the coffee table, “but we only know that because you literally demanded to speak to the manager, had to sweet talk your way into the security office, and we spent three hours inside that building all because you can’t sleep without a fan in the room.”
“To be fair, you and I did have a great time while we were waiting. We bought that purple hair dye and streaked your hair.”
“Which was really dumb because I had to be on camera the next day.”
“It washed out.”
“Really? Because I swear I still have purple in my hair if it’s in the right light.”
She tugs at strands of her hair to prove a point while laughter bubbles in her stomach. God, she loves her friends. They’re the actual best. She doesn’t know how she got lucky enough to have them in her life.
“Your purple streaks are probably what made Jones ask you out. He saw that you had a wild side and couldn’t pass that opportunity up.”
She takes that thing about loving her friends back.
She groans, sinking down further into the couch and wishing that she had Leo’s Captain America shield to hide her face so that no one can see the blush that’s rising from her cheeks. Today is apparently a day to bring this up once every hour. It might as well go on her grave stone at this point.
Okay, that’s a little dramatic.
It can at least go in her obituary.
That doesn’t make it any better.
“Emma, can you get me Killian Jones’s autograph?” Leo questions, looking up at her from where he’s very enthusiastically scarfing down another plate of macaroni. He’s not going to have any room for cake at this rate.
“I’m not sure if I can, kid.”
“But you know him! He asked you on a date!”
She’s going to dye all of her hair purple, change her name, and move countries. That’s even more dramatic, but she seems to be on a role with being dramatic tonight.
Italy would be nice. There’s lots of pasta there.
“I’ll ask, kid.”
“I want it on a hat.”
“Leo,” Mary Margaret scolds, “use your manners.”
“I want it on a hat please,” he corrects before shoveling more food in his mouth. “Can we have cake now?”
I promise, promise, promise that they interact in the next chapter...and then nearly every other chapter after that! We're in for what I think is a fun ride, my friends❤️
Chapter 4: Chapter Four
He has two cakes cooling on racks in his kitchen.
He thought about making three.
Killian’s not exactly sure when he turned into Betty Crocker – okay, that’s a lie since he knows it was during his injury when he couldn’t do much of anything but hang around his apartment, watch old tapes, and feed himself – but if it doesn’t stop soon, he’s going to have to go up a size in his uniform. He refuses to be one of those players who have a beer belly.
So instead he’s going to have a coffee and coconut cake belly. Not together, obviously.
They’re separate cakes, though they could go together…no, those two should stay separate.
Why the hell is he having a meltdown right now?
It’s Opening Day, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest days of the year for him, for sports in America, and he is doing anything and everything not to think about it even as he runs over pitches he needs to do against every player on the Orioles, even the ones who aren’t in tonight’s batting lineup.
His calm mind is obviously back in Florida somewhere, probably melting away with the heat and being eaten by an alligator.
How many stereotypes can he think about an entire state all at once?
Probably more, but that’s a road he doesn’t really want to drive down. There’d be too many potholes.
His stomach twists, the nerves radiating over every inch of his flesh, and he wonders if Liam and Elsa will take these cakes off of his hands and turn off the power in his apartment so that he’ll stop stress baking. Honestly, he should have come up with a different hobby while out on injury, but there’s only so much he could do with his non-dominant hand. Even baking or reading or getting pants with a zipper on were full of struggles for those first few weeks.
Becoming an expert in every television show in the past three decades might have been a good idea. Or even taking online courses to see if he can finish out his degree, or, at least, start finishing his degree.
He’s always wanted to do that.
And maybe he’s anxious about his shoulder for today. Maybe he has razor sharp knots in his stomach because they came back and won the Series last year when they had no business doing that, and this is the first time he’s ever really had to defend something. He’s used to eyes being on him, to pundits watching his stats and debating his skills on their shows, and he’s honestly never given it much thought. What someone behind a desk says has no merit on how he plays on the field, but all of the sudden he’s worried about it all.
His heart may as well be pounding between his ears as loud as the speaker system in Yankee Stadium.
He reaches up to mess with the silver chain around his neck, his mother’s favorite ring cool against his chest, and he tries to take a deep breath. Then another one. His mom would want him to be calm, to think things through. She would tell him that it’s all going to be fine, that he will be fine if he simply calms down.
Every part of him hopes that it’s true.
Every part of him hopes that she’s proud of him.
His phone rings, and he turns off the mixer to answer it.
“Are you stress baking?” Elsa asks him as he hears Lucy ask for a glass of water in the background. “One moment, sweetie.”
“Aw, I’m your sweetie,” he jokes, swiping some icing from the bowl and boosting himself up to sit on his kitchen counter.
“I’m obviously not talking to you.”
“But seriously, are you stress baking?”
“I am making both you and Liam a cake, and it doesn’t have anything to do with stress.”
Elsa sighs on the other end of the line, and he’s not sure if it’s because of him or because she’s trying to get the girls ready for school while also getting ready for work. He knows for a fact that Liam was on call last night, so he either spent the night in the hospital or got up early and left to do rounds. Either way, he’s not home.
“So, you’re currently freaking out then?”
“A little bit.”
“Oh my God.”
“What?” he laughs, flexing out his ankles and moving his toes underneath his socks.
“You are being ridiculous,” she huffs, Addy’s voice coming in through the speakers. “Hold on, Addy wants to talk to you.”
“Uncle Killian,” Addy squeaks, her voice loud in the speaker.
“Addy Jones! What’s up, my girl?”
“Today is Opening Day,” she squeals, and he can’t help but chuckle at the most mature, yet playful five-year-old girl on the planet. “I’m coming to your game tonight.”
“Are you? Are you going to watch the game? Or are you just going to play in the playroom with your friends?”
“I’m going to watch, duh,” she grumbles, and he can imagine her nose scrunching up and making her freckles all blend together. “I’m wearing my Jones jersey. Number twenty-nine.”
He never cared if his name was on the back of a jersey until the rule was changed for names to now be allowed instead of it all being simply numbers. It was just in time for him to get his nieces to wear his, and they’ve been stuffed in oversized jerseys of his since each of the days they were born.
“Hey, that’s what I’m going to wear too.”
“I know. That’s why I’m wearing it, Uncle Killian.”
“I love you, Addy,” he laughs, moving his phone and putting it on speaker so that he doesn’t have to hold it up to his ear. “Can you give the phone back to your mom?”
“I love you too.”
He hears the line disconnect, Addison very obviously having hung up on him, but Elsa’s already calling him back, a picture of her with the girls popping up on his screen, before he can press her contact number.
“Sorry about that,” she sighs. “They’re crazy this morning. I think it’s because they have an uncle who is a pretty big deal, and they’re proud of him. They both have on their jerseys today. Super proud.”
Blush rises to the tips of his ears, and he reaches up to brush his hair back, a few pieces of fringe falling onto his forehead. He had to get it cut last week, the length of it annoying him, but he still doesn’t like for his hair to be too short. Personal preference and all that.
“Well, really, those jerseys have their names on them too.”
“Yes, but it’s yours. Killian, take a deep breath. You’re going to be fine. You’re going to kick ass, really. I know it. Be excited. This is what you love. Remember that?”
“I know,” he smiles, toying with his chain again. “I know.”
“We will all see you tonight after you win, okay?”
“That’s not any pressure at all, El.”
“Love you too.”
His brother hit every damn jackpot in the world when he met that woman on his first day of residency because he was on the wrong floor to sign in, and she had to show him where to go. He may have looked like an idiot, but he met the love of his life.
It all evens out in the end.
Or so he hopes. He hasn’t quite found that yet, but there’s always that little glimmer of light telling him that.
After all, he hasn’t been struck out quite yet. Then against, it’s been a good while since he was at bat.
The fact that he’s making baseball puns in his head about his failed relationships is deeply disturbing to him, and he can’t quite believe that he’s sunk to this level. At least he’s not thinking about the game.
Oh shit. He’s thinking about the game.
Carefully getting down from the counter, he turns his music on, letting Queen play through the speakers hooked up all throughout his apartment, and gets back to whipping the icing for his coffee cake, figuring that if he focuses on one task at a time, today won’t seem so impossibly long.
And it’s true. He spends his morning working on his cakes, frosting them and putting them away in containers to take to the fields so that he can put one in the management’s office and give another to the ladies who cater for them, knowing that they like them. He’s sure that since he’s not giving them to Liam and Elsa, they’ll actually ask for them this time, but that’s simply a risk that he’s going to have to take.
He’ll have until Wednesday to play again, so it’s not like he won’t have the time to bake some more.
Or pick up another hobby. That’s still a possibility. He should really tackle the stack of books that he has on the shelf in his guest bedroom.
After he puts the cakes in his refrigerator, he walks down the hallway to his bedroom and picks up the basket of laundry that he washed last night and starts folding them, putting away his practice shirts in one pile, his generic workout shirts in another, and hanging his button-downs and henleys in his closet, adjusting a pair of his loafers on their shelf. He doesn’t always think that his apartment is that much of a bachelor pad, but sometimes it hits him how much it is, even if he has more than one bedroom. He’s got plenty of color, even if it’s mostly blues and greens and brown leather with white comforters and pillows. Decorating has never been his thing. Growing up, they didn’t have a lot of decorations, even if his mom’s paintings were on a lot of their walls, and when he was in college, his dorm room was legitimately just a bed with a checkered blue comforter and two pillows, absolutely nothing on the walls.
The height of home décor.
The only reason his place looks nice today is because Elsa’s sister, Anna, is an interior designer, saw his apartment once, and then forced him to go shopping with her the very next day. He swears she tried to max out his credit card on throw pillows. He’ll never understand why anyone needs so many but to each their own.
She did pick out several fantastic blankets, though. He most definitely brings one with him on road trips because it’s that damn comfortable.
He should probably buy another one.
Ariel: Your segment is airing at 3 PM on ESPN. It’s 30 minutes.
Ariel: Do you want to watch it in the clubhouse, or should I try to commandeer a private room for just you and me to watch it in?
He nearly forgot about his segment. How the hell could he forget about that? He spent an entire day being filmed for it, a day talking to Emma Swan and letting her ask questions about his private life for him to answer and be aired. She never got to invasive, never asked for anything he would hate to be aired, and since he knows Emma Swan and the integrity that she shows every time she reports, he let Ariel approve the segment without him watching it.
That was probably not his brightest idea.
His teammates are going to give him hell.
They already do, especially when it comes to anything having to do with Emma or any girl that he’s seen with, and he already knows that every single one of them is going to be watching in the clubhouse if they’re not at batting practice or warming up for the game.
God, he hopes they’re all warming up for the game.
He needs to text Will and make sure that he’s ready to warm up with him later, see if he can get Eric to hit a few balls off of him, let him actually pitch to a batter today before the game starts.
So much to do, so little time even though he feels as if time could stretch out forever.
He takes a shower, washing his body down, before getting out and cleaning up his scruff, dressing in his warm up clothes and moving to the kitchen to eat the chicken and spinach he already had cooked and packed away into a container, before grabbing his keys and taking the elevator down to the parking garage, loading up into his car and beginning his drive through the city to the stadium.
Sometimes he thinks about moving closer, about being closer to work so that he’s not constantly in a car or on the train, but he likes his apartment. It’s a good location in the city, only three blocks from Central Park, and honestly, he doesn’t mind the drive out to the stadium. Sometimes he even takes the train, wanting to blend in with the crowd and be normal, even if it means seeing some pretty interesting things that he swears would never happen anywhere else in the world. That’s probably what he should have done today with his headphones and music drowning him out from the world, but instead he’s sitting in traffic and fiddling his thumbs, wishing that he could stretch out his legs as he runs over several plays in his head.
Will is going to signal him tonight. He doesn’t need to do that. He knows want to do, how to do this. He’s been doing it for his entire life, even if he did once play first base instead of being a pitcher.
But that’s all up to dear old dad, and his commanding and overbearing tendencies.
No. He will not go down that road today.
Today is a good day.
And he’s got Addy and Lucy wearing his number as they go to school because they’re proud of him. What more could he possibly ask for out of life? Those girls are the best, and he wants to make them proud. Liam and Elsa too.
His mom as well.
He finally gets to the stadium and pulls into the private parking deck, flashing his ID and parking before going through the tunnels to get to the locker room so that he can do a few stretches and meet with Archie to massage his shoulder while he’s watching the segment. He’ll probably be the most stressed then, and at least that way it can be in private.
Damn. He forgot the cakes at his apartment. How did he do that? He literally looked in the fridge right before he left.
“Jones,” Robin calls out, his mini me following right behind him with his mop of curly hair. “I have been reliably told that your biggest fan is here.”
“My biggest fan?” he laughs. “Would that be a young master Locksley? I thought his dad was his favorite player?”
“He’s not starting, so it’s you,” Roland laughs, running forward and wrapping his arms around his legs, nearly tugging his joggers down. “It’ll be Dad tomorrow.”
“Well okay then.” He squats down to hug Roland, ruffling his hair, before standing back up.
“Good to know that your old man will be your favorite player tomorrow. He might be mine too.”
“What about me?” Will questions, walking through the doors from the locker room, his shirt rolled up to wipe sweat from his brow. “I thought I was always your favorite.”
“You’re all my favorite,” Roland huffs, his nose scrunching up in conversation as he obviously gets frustrated. “Dad is making me go back to school, so I don’t like him right now.”
“Why aren’t you in school, kid?”
“Dentist appointment.” He flashes his teeth. “I didn’t have any cavities.”
“Good job.” Killian holds out his hand, and gives him a high five. “Will? You want to let me practice a few pitches around four?”
“After your girlfriend’s segment? Sure.”
“Not my girlfriend.”
“That’s because she said no.”
“As she had every right to.”
Will shakes his head from side to side, brushing his hands over the slight fuzz that resides on his head. “Listen, I’m just saying. You took your shot, and she shot you down. It was epic.”
“I’m going to peg you with a ball tonight.”
“There is a six-year-old in the room,” Robin sing-songs, placing his hands over Roland’s ears. “Roland, say goodbye to your crazy favorite players. You’re going to take your spelling test.”
“Bye,” Roland waves, a cheesy little, non-cavity filled smile on his face. “I’m going to eat a hot dog tonight.”
“I feel like there’s another dirty joke in there,” Will laughs, and everyone cuts their eyes at him, the lovable idiot. “What? Hot dogs are disgusting. That was the dirty joke.”
Okay, maybe just an idiot.
Everyone goes about their business as they warm up for tonight’s game. He runs for thirty minutes, a slow and steady pace, just to loosen up his muscles and make him feel like he’s done something today, before meeting Archie and having his shoulder massaged. He couldn’t meet at three, so Killian has to have it done with everyone else in the therapy room, before he does a few stretches with bands. He’s always worried about how it will feel, especially after a few pitches, but he knows that Al will only keep him in the game through the fifth inning today. It won’t be like the Series where he pitched nearly the whole damn game.
He still can’t believe that he did that.
Liam: I had a patient today who was frantically checking all of the channels to make sure the game was on tonight. I asked him if he’s a fan. He is…of the Orioles.
Killian: Oof. Way to boost my spirits.
Liam: I try. See you tonight. Are you going to come watch from the box when you’re finished?
Killian: As long as the game isn’t over before I finish my cool down, yeah.
He’s just about to put his phone back in his pocket when it dings again, Ariel’s name popping up.
Ariel: Al is letting us use his office. Come on up. I want you to look at your graphics for Instagram for tonight too.
Killian pockets his phone then, and walks through the doors to get to the offices, winding in and out of offices full of all of the administrative staff that work here, until he gets to Al’s office, a place he has been far too many times. He might as well pitch a tent and live in it, honestly. For as much tape as he watches and as much research he does into statistics, nothing compares to their manager.
“Hey,” he greets as he walks into the room, only Ariel sitting in there typing away on her laptop.
“Hey, give me a minute, okay?”
“What are you doing?”
“You’re so annoying.”
“Hey, you can’t insult me in the same ways that I insult you.” He plops down onto Al’s old, cracked leather couch, nudging his shoulder into Ariel’s. Sometimes he thinks that they’re too close, but then again, he’s not going to complain about having someone in his life like Ariel. He often doesn’t know what he’d do without her. “I still don’t know how you balance things when your husband is playing tonight, and you’re stuck dealing with me all day.”
“I’m a very talented lady.” She types a few more things into her email, signing it off, before switching files to a video that’s paused on a still of he and Emma walking down a hallway in the training facility in Tampa. His hair is far too long in it. It’s a good thing he got it cut. “So, I’ve been thinking.”
“Always a rough thing.”
“You’re really telling horrible jokes today.”
He winks, and she bites her bottom lip, probably trying to resist calling him a jackass.
“Anyways, I’ve been thinking that, for today, we post this promo video for the interview. Then once it’s aired, I’ll link the video in your story. But that’s all pretty business-like, and I don’t want you to seem to stilted so I – ”
“Do you ever think we worry too much about my social media presence?” he ponders, leaning back on the couch and stretching his hands above his head, cradling his head in his hands.
“Aren’t I really just here to play baseball?”
“Yes, but it goes beyond that, knucklehead.” She taps his head, almost like he’s a small child, and he can’t help but chuckle. “You’re a public figure whether you like that or not, and so you do have to do things like this. Anyways, tonight, we’ll either get a game photo or you can post a private one that’s more personal.”
“Whatever you want.
“And I balance you and Eric because I love you both, and it’s something I want to do. And he’s not quite as difficult to manage as you are.”
“Please,” he scoffs, “that’s not true.”
“It is. Eric listens to me more.”
“Well, he does have more to lose.”
“I’m not even going to comment on that.”
She reaches over and picks up the remote off of Al’s desk, pressing a button before the black screen comes to life, Emma Swan sitting behind a desk the very first thing that he sees. She’s got her hair pulled back into a ponytail, and she’s dressed in a fitted navy and white striped shirt tucked into either a pair of pants or a skirt. He can’t tell. Maybe he’ll see her tonight.
Does he want to see her tonight?
Why would he want to see her tonight?
There’s absolutely no way that he still fancies her, none at all, and as much as they get on, he wants to be nothing but professional with her. He doesn’t want to make her life any harder than he already has by being an idiot.
He watches as she introduces the segment, her hands moving all over the place now that she doesn’t have a microphone in her hand, and before he knows it, the screen is transitioning into a video of him practicing his pitching, Will standing behind home plate catching each ball before throwing them back. It’s something he’s seen first-hand a thousand times, but then it changes to shots of Steinbrenner, both interior and exterior, before showing him talking with Emma. It’s…simple. That’s the only word he can think to describe it. It’s simple but straightforward, and he freaking loves it. There is no glossing things up, no trying to create an angle where there isn’t one. It’s simply the two of them talking like it was on that day.
It’s refreshing in every single way.
He’s grown used to reading magazine articles and gossip site clickbait all about how he can’t seem to date a woman for more than one night and how he’s playing too much off the field than on it.
Seriously, there was an article title like that once, and he wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to throw a baseball at every single so-called reporter’s face who spent all of their time taking pictures of him in a private capacity to post it publicly. And he gets it. he went through a phase where he was going to too many bars, where he was casually dating a little loosely, but he was heartbroken and trying to compensate for all of that. His personal life was in actual shambles, but it didn’t affect his game. He wasn’t playing great, but he wasn’t necessarily playing horribly either.
Now it’s been four years since he was so much as pictured with another woman, and yet people still try to paint him in some kind of negative light.
Not Emma Swan even though she had every right to from his screw up.
A breath of fresh air.
That’s what all of this is.
“Your hair is too long there,” Ariel points out. “It’s doing that little flippy thing.”
“I got it cut.”
“I know. I’m just pointing it out.”
“You’re like the older sister I never had, A.”
“I am one month older than you, asshole.”
“And yet born in an entirely different year.”
Ariel huffs and crosses her arms over her chest, rolling her eyes before propping her feet up on Al’s desk, the heels of her boots clicking against the wood. “If only you were as charming in real life as you are in this segment.”
“First you say my hair is too long, as if I’m not devilishly handsome no matter how my hair looks, and now you’re saying I’m not charming? You wound me, darling.”
He reaches down for his water bottle, taking several large sips as he watches he and Emma talk about the craziest fan encounter he’s ever had, which probably isn’t the craziest but is still pretty damn funny. She’s laughing at him, or at the story really, and it’s kind of nice to see that she maybe didn’t totally hate him before they went into this, especially since he didn’t get a chance to apologize until they were eating lunch and her cameraman went to the restroom. He’s pretty sure she accepted it, that she may have forgiven him for that, and as long as he doesn’t put his foot in his mouth again, they should be good.
To think that this is the one member of the media who he cares about, and he’s the one who screwed her over.
That is not something he needs to keep harping on and focusing on. He has to move on from it.
When the segment is over, he reaches to turn the television off, but then they cut back to ESPN’s studio with Emma still sitting behind the desk with Sydney Glass, who is most definitely not his favorite person in the world. He’s always telling Killian that he should retire any time he pitches a poor game.
It’s a bit (a lot) ridiculous.
“Well, that was certainly something,” Sydney says, spinning in his chair to look at Emma.
Her jaw clenches before she relaxes, and he imagines that she doesn’t like him much either.
“He’s certainly something of a player.”
“You would say that.”
“You would say that,” he repeats, tapping his fingers against the desk. “After all, he did ask you out on a date? Did you ever go on it? I don’t see how someone like you could pass that up.”
“Bloody hell,” Killian grumbles, sinking down on the couch before running his hand over his face, pinching the bridge of his nose. “What a jackass.”
“I told him no,” Emma says, a very obviously forced smile on her face as she tries to keep things jovial, “so, no, I did not go on a date with him. And, really, the only date that Killian Jones is concerned with is his date with the mound tonight, so let’s go ahead and preview tonight’s game.”
He turns the television off then, not caring to see anymore, and runs his hands through his hair, making it stick up as Ariel pats his back.
“Did you apologize to her?”
“Yes, Mom, I apologized, but her life is obviously never going to go back to normal as long as she’s associated with me. I still can’t believe I did that. What’s wrong with me?”
“That’s a loaded question.”
He chuckles and leans back into the couch before standing up, adjusting his joggers. “Well, since I certainly don’t have time to get into that right now, I think it’s probably time that I went and did my job, don’t you think?”
“I don’t get paid if you don’t.”
“Ah, now I know why you want me to be successful.”
It’s the top of the fifth, and the sun is setting over the stadium as sweat drips down his brow and his back, his shirt soaked from the unseasonable humidity of the day and of the city. It’s almost like they’re back in Florida training, and he’d think that it would make him comfortable to throw like he was during all of the practice games.
It does not.
He’s miserable out here, his body aching, and he desperately wants to go inside and cool down.
This is not at all how Opening Day is supposed to be, and he knows that it’s all chalked up to his nerves and nothing else. The weather isn’t great, but he’s been getting in his own mind all night.
The fact that they’re up 5-1 doesn’t seem to stick in his mind.
“Get it together, Jones,” he murmurs under his breath as he looks to Will to see what signal he’s giving.
God, he hopes they don’t pick that up on the camera.
He nods his head, gets his body into position, and throws.
A swing and a miss.
Strike three. He’s out.
And the inning is over, everyone running back into the dugout. He gets a few claps on the back, a few more on his ass, and he sits down on the bench, reaching down to pick up his Gatorade bottle only for Al to look at him with a raised brow.
“You telling me I’m done for the night?”
“You look like you’ve been done for the night since you got out there.”
He nods his head, taking a long sip of his drink and letting it cool him down, before twisting the top back on and standing up and patting Will on the shoulder.
“I’ll be in a better mood next time.”
Al nods his head, a firm smile on his face. He’s usually a much more pleasant guy, someone they all want to be around, but sometimes during games, he won’t look happy no matter what happens. Then again, his job relies on a bunch of overgrown teenage adults playing a game well, so he’s probably a little tense.
Before he leaves the stadium, he sees Eric hit a foul ball, the ding of it ringing through the stadium, but then he’s walking through the dugout door and walking through the tunnels that lead him back to the locker room. It’s empty, not a soul to be seen, and he pushes through the doors to go to the gym, hopping on a bike and riding it for fifteen minutes while he watches the game on one of their television screens. They have tonight in the bag, he thinks, but it could depend on how Roseman closes things out, if he even closes things out.
He will. It’ll be fine.
Killian runs through the rest of his routine, doing a few stretches for his shoulder before heading to the showers, washing the dirt and grime off of him as he hums to himself. The shower makes him feel better than he did the entire time he was out on the field.
“Jones,” Archie calls out as Killian wraps a towel around his waist. “Are you planning on ever coming to see me?”
“Don’t be so desperate, Arch,” he teases, picking up his uniform and carrying it out of the room to place in his locker so that it’ll be washed. “I was just about to come by. I don’t think I need much more than a quick massage, though. I felt bad, but my shoulder doesn’t.”
“Are you lying to me?”
“Nope. I’d tell you if I was hurting, wouldn’t I?”
Archie crosses his arms over his chest, his sweater tugging at him. He looks more like a fifth-grade teacher than a physical therapist, but the man has magic hands. Magic.
“Like you tell the rest of your teammates?”
His stomach drops, but he ignores it. “I tell you, and no one else needs to know.”
Archie’s jaw clenches. “Let’s get you on the table. I bet your family is waiting for you up in the suite.”
They are, and as soon as Archie finishes massaging his shoulder and this niggling place in his calf, he takes the elevator up to the private suites, having to pass through the press hallway on his way there. The inside of this stadium can be like a maze, but he’s got a good grip on it.
And then he sees Emma Swan walking down the hallway with a giant soft pretzel in her hand, a large chunk of it in her mouth. She’s wearing the same thing that she was wearing earlier, but he can now see that she has on wide-legged pants instead of the skirt he thought she had on and that there are heels peeking out underneath them. She doesn’t see him yet as she’s staring down at her phone, but then she looks up and he swears she nearly spits out the pretzel in her mouth.
Always the reaction you want to see from a woman.
“Whatthefuck,” she mumbles, all of her words blending together as he sees her furiously chew.
He has never been more charmed by her.
“Is it pretzel day then, Swan?” he questions, fidgeting with the hem of his t-shirt.
She covers her mouth with her hand, the one holding the pretzel, but he still sees the blush rise on her cheeks. “Was that an Office reference?”
“Of course. Pretzel day is the best day. I like pretzel day.”
“Obviously.” She puts her hand down as she stuffs her phone into the waistband of her pants. It’s then that he realizes she doesn’t have any pockets. Why do women’s clothes never have pockets? “Why did you look like you hated life out there?”
Ah, shit. He really must have looked miserable if others besides Al are noticing. He thought he at least faked it for the crowd. Reaching up to scratch behind his ear, he hums, “Because it’s humid? And maybe I really hated a segment that aired about me earlier today.”
“Oh. I didn’t – I thought…”
He reaches forward to touch her arm, squeezing as he smiles down at her. “I’m kidding, Swan. It was great. All of my interviews are going to have to be done by you or something because I don’t think I’ve ever been so charming.”
Emma scoffs, the slightest smile forming on her face. “You wouldn’t believe the amount of editing that went into making that happen.”
“So none at all?”
She slaps against his arm. “You keep thinking that, Jones. I’ve got to get back out to my seat. Not all of us finish our jobs halfway through the game.”
“Is that a jab at my position, love?”
“Most definitely,” she winks. “I’ve always preferred third base. It’s much more fun.”
She walks away then, taking another bite of her pretzel, and he’s left standing there trying to figure out if Emma Swan was just flirting with him. There’s no way, absolutely none. If anything, he’s pretty sure that she still hates him, but who knows? He certainly doesn’t, and with what he saw her have to deal with on TV today, he wouldn’t bet on her flirting with him.
When he finally gets through the media corridor and into the private suites, he quickly opens the one where his family always stays, and he’s greeted by his brother who is biting into a slider in the kitchen.
“You looked like shit out there,” he mumbles.
“Funny. You look like shit all the time.”
“It’s a gift.” Liam steps forward and wraps him up in a hug, patting his back. “You feel okay, Killian? Your shoulder?”
“I’m fine. I promise.”
“And that blush on your cheeks – what is that from?”
“You’re getting old. I think that eyesight is going if you think there’s blush on my cheeks.”
He hums, pulling back from the hug and placing his hands on Killian’s shoulders as Liam’s eyes scan over his face. “You wouldn’t have happened to see a pretty blonde out in the hallway, there?”
“Bloody hell, do you have eyes everywhere?”
“Blind ones apparently. But nah, Ariel was in the Fox booth, and she saw the two of you talking. That was some piece that she made about you. I watched it with one of my patients today.”
“The Orioles one?”
“Nope, this woman was on the right side. She thinks you two make a cute couple.”
Killian groans, pinching the bridge of his nose again. This is going to be his legacy. It really is. It doesn’t matter how well he plays or what good he does in the community. Asking a woman out on TV is going to be his legacy.
It’s starting to move up his list on the dumbest decisions ever made.
“Shut up, you idiot. I want to go see my nieces.”
Chapter 5: Chapter Five
Anybody ready for an early update? I really want to get to some good stuff, so I'm going to try to post more than once a week, but I have to balance it out with NYSM❤️
“How hot is it in Texas right now?”
“Hotter than here, but not all that bad. Seventies, I think.”
“Well, that’s probably because that weird heat wave is over, and it’s back to being fifty degrees outside.”
“True,” Ruby sighs, pulling a dress out of Emma’s closet. “You should wear this dress. It makes your ass look fantastic.”
“No one sees my ass.” She walks over to Ruby and grabs the red dress anyways, folding it up since she knows that it won’t wrinkle. She pulls up the weather app on her phone, scrolling through the thirty cities she has saved, and finds the week’s forecast for Houston, seeing that the high is indeed mostly going to be mid-seventies. That’s good. That’s far better than it is when they have to travel during the summer. “Should I bring heels or embrace flats for the week?”
“Bring your nude pair.” Ruby chunks them at the bed, about two feet away from taking Emma’s eye out. “Oh, and the turquoise if you’re going to wear that green pencil skirt.”
“You just want to borrow them if we go out, don’t you?”
Ruby pulls her turquoise pumps out of her closet, which really needs to be organized but that’s a story for another time, and tosses them on the bed before she grabs several more shirts and pants for Emma. “You know me so well, even if we mostly go out in Texas simply to eat their food.”
“Ugh,” she groans just thinking about it. “If we’re going to do that, I need to bring looser clothing. I don’t want everyone to think I’m pregnant when it’s just a food baby.”
“I bet you everyone would think it’s Jones’s baby.”
Her eyes cut over to Ruby as she picks up her turquoise heels and places them on her striped chair. How can someone be both the worst and the best friend? “For that, I’m not bringing these heels.”
“You shouldn’t be mean to me if you want to borrow my shoes.”
“Being mean is kind of in her wheelhouse,” Graham adds in as he pokes his head through her bedroom door, eyes glancing over the mess that’s currently happening. He’s totally judging. “Do you two realize that your flight is at six in the morning, and you’re up at two in the morning packing?”
“Do you realize that it’s two in the morning, and you have to take us to the airport at four?” Graham rolls his eyes before Ruby walks toward him and presses up on her toes to wrap her arms around his neck and slide her lips over his. “Thank you for doing that, by the way.”
He presses down to kiss her once more. “You’re going to be gone for three days. I’m going to miss you.”
“Cheesy,” Emma grumbles, tossing a rolled-up sock at the back of Ruby’s head. They’ve really got to stop throwing clothes. She’s never going to be able to find anything. “Can’t you two go make out in your room or something?”
“I kind of like that idea.”
“Me too. Ems, pack the damn turquoise shoes and some spanx so that you can eat and people won’t think you’re having Jones’s baby.”
“Wait, what?” Graham mutters. “You’re having Jones’s baby?”
“No one is having anyone’s baby, and it better stay that way. Use protection.”
“Pack the shoes.”
“I still don’t understand what’s going on.”
“You’re not supposed to, babe,” Ruby laughs, backing Graham out of the room and pulling Emma’s door shut behind her.
Those two are ridiculous, and if she didn’t love them so much, living with them would be nearly impossible. Seriously.
Emma gets an hour of sleep after she finishes packing (thanks late night games and early morning flights), and she’s basically a zombie as she and Ruby load into the back of Graham’s squad car as he drives them to JFK. She knows that it takes awhile to get there, but she’s pretty sure that she slept the whole time because before she even realizes it, she and Ruby are checking into their flight at the kiosk and going through security. It’s the emptiest she’s ever seen the place, and she would know. She spends far too much time in airports for her job.
When the team travels, she travels. Most of the time. Some trips she doesn’t work, and it’s glorious.
It used to not be that way. She’d only travel for the games that were actually shown on ESPN or sometimes Fox, but now that ESPN has an entire online streaming service, she’s traveling nine games out of ten and working all home games. It’s exhausting, to a point, but she has a hell of a lot of travel miles and rewards programs that she gets to keep even though the network pays for her flights and hotels. Sometimes that means she gets six am flights when she doesn’t have to be in Houston until seven in the evening, but it’s not always that bad.
And one day she’s going to use those points to travel to Italy or something.
Pasta would be really good right now.
So would coffee, but if she has coffee, she won’t sleep on the plane. And sleeping on the plane is kind of important if she wants to not look like a zombie tonight. Her face may look like a zombie, but at least her ass will look great.
She doesn’t want anyone to comment on the state of her ass. She’s the only one allowed to do that.
Okay, she’s lost her mind.
The Yankees win their sixth game of the season that night.
She eats the best barbecue sandwich she’s ever had, and a clip of her eating ends up on Sports Center.
Sometimes she wonders if people actually watch baseball for the game or if they simply watch because there’s always something weird going on in the crowd.
The sandwich was worth it.
Emma’s feet hit against the treadmill as Queen blares in her headphones and a tennis match in Monte Carlo plays on the television in front of her, Rafael Nadal sliding back and forth on the clay as he absolutely dominates his opponent. If every athlete was as good as Rafa is on clay, they’d all be dominant, but that’s likely a story for another day.
She’s got twenty-three minutes left on her run, especially since she’s going at a slow pace with a slight incline, but she can already feel the incline starting to kill her, her calves burning the slightest bit with each step that she takes. Her face is red, her hairline slicked back with sweat, and she can already tell that getting her sports bra off is going to be an impossible task. She gets that it’s for the support and all, but there should really be an easier way for her to free her boobs from their confines.
Free the boob.
Unless she’s running or walking down stairs or doing anything more than some light walking.
Her phone buzzes on the machine, and the man on the treadmill looks over at her like he’s annoyed by the fact that her phone made some kind of noise. It’s not her fault that he didn’t bring any headphones, and really, if he’s so bothered by her, he can move two treadmills down. This hotel gym is plenty big enough.
Ruth: I saw you eating a sandwich on TV last night! That’s too funny!
Ruth: I hope you’re having fun!
Ruth: I miss you, sweetie!!!
For Ruth to be sixty-five, she has a fantastic grip on technology. She knows that it’s because she and David have taught her how to text and find clips of their segments and articles online, but still. She knows how to use emojis and gifs and even has an Instagram, which is only slightly terrifying most of the time. But she knows it’s simply to keep up with she and David’s lives since they don’t always tell her everything.
Okay, that’s mostly her.
But David has a much better relationship with Ruth, which makes sense considering she’s his mother. She’s Emma’s…quasi mother. She’s never been too sure how to go about it. Calling David her brother is much easier than calling Ruth her mom, and she knows it’s because the word mom has more heavy meaning behind it.
Emma: It was a good sandwich! Only a little time for fun since I’m here for work. I miss you too!
Ruth: There’s always time for fun!
Ruth: David and MM are driving up to visit me next weekend for the holidays. Are you coming too?
Emma: I don’t get vacation days like David does, so I’ll be in LA. I wish I could.
Her music stops between songs, and she hears the roar of the crowd on the television, seeing that the match just ended, and her treadmill starts to slow down, the time ticking down past five minutes so that it’s time for her to cool down with a slow walk while she keeps texting Ruth about the fact that she’s working over Easter weekend. She pretty much doesn’t have days off, except for days the team has off, until the season is over in October. Or early November. It depends. And then she’s back working in the office writing articles and doing prep work and occasionally having to suffer through covering basketball.
Bills must be paid, but at what cost to her having to listen to sneakers squeaking?
Ruth never seems to understand that because she thinks that she and David have the same job even though David has never once been on camera. He’s behind the scenes all the way.
When her treadmill time officially runs out, she steps off and gathers her things before finding a towel to wipe down the handles from where she touched them. Angry man is still eyeing her as she cleans up, and she seriously hopes that he is not going to be there tomorrow.
If he is, maybe he’ll be happier.
She doubts it.
He seems to just be one of those people who is particularly unpleasant all the time.
Sweat sticks to her skin as she walks through the hotel hallways, casually airing out her tank top and wiping sweat back into her hair to get it off of her face, and she very nearly walks up the stairs to go back to she and Ruby’s room when she sees people milling around the dining room with breakfast on their plates.
Breakfast would be good.
Mostly water. And coffee. She’s not entirely sure if she’s recovered from her lack of sleep yesterday, which made her question her sanity when her alarm went off for the gym this morning, but she knew if she didn’t work out then, she wouldn’t work out at all. And she needs that push of adrenaline and endorphins.
Grabbing a plate from the buffet line, she walks through and fills her plate with fruit and scrambled eggs, even if she knows they’re from a bag and not a shell, and a half of a waffle from the waffle maker. She always loves when they have those at hotels. Good continental breakfasts are her jam…especially if they have jam.
“Got enough toppings there?”
Emma nearly drops her plate when she hears his voice, and when she twists her head to the side, she sees Killian Jones standing next to her, his own plate full of food in his hand. Seriously. Why is she always running into him when she’s eating?
“Not enough if you ask me.”
He adjusts his hat, a Vanderbilt one that is very obviously a decade old. “I was asking you.”
“I like toppings,” she sighs, putting some more fruit onto her waffle before grabbing the whipped cream can and spraying some of it onto her food. Her workout is yelling at her for this. “What’s the point of a waffle if you’re not going to load it down with toppings?”
“I’m more of a pancake man myself.” He reaches into the buffet and grabs a yogurt, which is definitely not a waffle or pancake. “But considering I’m playing tonight, I’m supposed to be watching what I eat.”
“You have an entire plate of eggs.”
“Protein, Swan, protein. You would know all about that with all that barbecue you ate last night.”
Just let her sink into a hole right now and never come back up. The internet is ruining her life.
“Weren’t you supposed to be tracking Roseman’s pitches last night or something?”
She turns on her heel and walks away from the buffet to a table, knowing that Killian is walking behind her. They have the weirdest relationship. It doesn’t even feel right to call it that, but they’re somewhere between a working relationship and reluctant friends, and the fact that he’s placing his plate down on the table across from hers makes her lean more toward reluctant friends who see each other occasionally enough to have a bit of a rapport.
Her life gets weirder every day.
Killian Jones has one brave set of balls.
Baseball, testicles, whatever. Both work. At least, she thinks.
“You can eat right after you work out?” he questions, twisting the knob on one coffee machine while she does it with the other, the promise of caffeine already invigorating her.
“How do you know I was working out?”
He raises a brow before his eyes look over her, lingering a second too long at her breasts, before a slow smile creeps from one side of his lips to another that has her stomach twisting inside. “Well, it’s not because of your outfit. People dress more like they’re working out when they’re not every day, but the sweat still soaked into your clothes and in your hair are kind of a dead giveaway. Your face is flushed as well.”
“I try, but it’s easy when you’re an open book.”
Totally not acknowledging that one.
She twists the knob on the machine and reaches over for the hazelnut creamer while Killian simply puts the top on his. He drinks black coffee? That’s disgusting. “Black coffee? Do you not have taste buds?”
He shrugs. “I don’t like to drink my calories. You want a water?”
She nods her head, and he grabs two bottles before following her to sit back down at her booth like it’s totally normal for them to be sharing a meal together. They’ve done it before, but that’s because she was working with him. It was not because they’re staying at the same hotel and happened to run into each other at the buffet.
But she’s not about to be bitchy and ask him to leave when she has no reason to other than her own reluctance to talk to people before noon.
They sit in semi-awkward silence as they work through their plates. She definitely overloaded her waffle, but she would never admit that after earlier. That would be admitting defeat, and she doesn’t take too kindly to admitting defeat. Killian eats at lightning speed, scarfing down eggs and sausage, his yogurt untouched, and she wonders what it must be like to be a professional athlete and eat more than the average human being, even if it’s not all good food like pizza and onion rings and loaded down waffles filled with chocolate chips.
Her phone buzzes on the table, and she leans over to read the text from Ruth still trying to convince her to come home for the weekend when she’s already explained that she cannot.
“Huh?” she hums, texting a message before looking up and seeing Killian staring down at her, his eyes shaded under his cap. She’s so distracted by the fact that he asked her if she was talking to her boyfriend that she doesn’t pay attention to her answer. “Oh, no boyfriend. It’s my…um, quasi mom.”
Shit. She should have just said Mom. Maybe she’s a little flustered by all of this.
“She was my foster mom,” Emma explains, stuffing some eggs into her own mouth to give her some more time to talk, “when I was a teenager, but we’re still in touch because her son, David, is kind of like this big brother to me. I work with him and am close to his wife and kid and all.”
That was word vomit that she should not have shared. That is not information that she should just give out, and yet here she is. Obviously, all of the blood hasn’t returned to her brain since her run. Hopefully it’ll all come back soon so she can stop looking like an idiot with a messed up past who shares too much at a breakfast.
“David Nolan, right?”
“Y-yeah. How do you know that?”
He shrugs his right shoulder before taking another forkful of eggs, chewing and smiling in a way that reminds her of that scene in Thor where Chris Hemsworth is in the diner and throws the mug down asking for another one. Why the hell did they dye his eyebrows and his beard in that movie? That was a mistake.
“Ariel, my manager, is super hands on with me. She’s talkative, like extremely, and she shares all kinds of information that I never need to know. So, I’ve heard a bunch of random shit that I literally never need to know about. David sends her a hell of a lot of emails that I get forwarded.”
“So, do you just know my entire life story then?”
“If you’re entire life story involves you liking pretzels and waffles, and being asked out by a jackass on live television, then yeah.”
She barks out a laugh, her lips curving upward, and reaches down to take a sip of her coffee. “I mean, that’s it. There’s nothing else to know about me.”
“You sure about that?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
The smile on his lips fall into a straight line, his gaze intense, and he lifts the bill of his hat up before adjusting it back down. “Perhaps I would.”
“So, nosy,” she starts, still a little annoyed that he asked if she had a boyfriend and most definitely trying to lighten the conversation up again, “I’m going to be very self-indulgent and ask if you liked your segment. I want a more truthful answer than the one I got in the hallway.”
His lips curve up, pretty much taking up his entire face, and she can see the crinkle of his eyes as his long lashes land on his cheeks before opening back up to show his baby blues. Damn his eyes are blue. How is that even possible? Maybe they’re contacts or something.
No, that would be ridiculous.
“I freaking loved it. I mean, it was great. It was so simple, you know? You didn’t try to create some other angle, didn’t try to paint me as anything other than a normal guy. I really appreciate that. You have no idea,” he chuckles, reaching up to scratch beneath his ear. Is he nervous? Why the hell is he nervous? “I saw afterward, your cohost, he was a bit of a dick, wasn’t he? I know we talked about it a bit, but it seems like you just…well, it seems like the shit show is never ending for you.”
That is – that is not what she was expecting at all. She figured his apology was a one and done and that she’d never hear about it again.
“With my friends,” she starts, tapping her nail against the table, “I don’t mind. It’s funny. It’s something we can joke about, that I, myself, joke about, but when it happens in my professional life, it pisses me off. So many men have seen me as a joke in the past, have tried to tear me down that way, and it’s not something I like having to deal with now. I mean, it’s not like I can go off on them. That’s a great way for me to lose my job because I’m no longer,” she holds her fingers up and does air quotes, “likable.”
Killian lets out a low whistle as her heart hammers in her chest, her annoyance at this whole thing making her cheeks heat. It’s all so dumb, and really, she should hate him for it. She doesn’t though. She’s not always his biggest fan, but he apologized and obviously feels actual remorse. How was he supposed to know it would be like this?
And if she knows all of this to be true, why does she still get slightly irked by him sometimes?
Is that just because she’s so damn stubborn herself?
“Is there anything I can do to make it better for you? I mean, I put you into this situation. The very least I can do is try to get you out of it.”
“Nah, there’s nothing you can do more than treat me like a professional and go on as if you didn’t make an ass out of the both of us with millions of people watching.”
“I think I can do that. However I can’t promise not to keep making an ass out of myself though. My brother tells me it’s my natural state of being.”
“Your brother sounds like a smart man.”
“He likes to think so. His patients sure as hell hopes that he is.”
“I mean, I would hope so. Does he get to come to a lot of games?”
“He and Elsa and the girls try to make it to some of them, but it usually depends on if Liam is on call or if the game is too late, so it interferes with the girls’ bedtimes and school. But no matter what I always have a string of texts waiting for me afterwards.”
“They sound great. Your nieces are so cute. Like, adorable. When you posted that photo of the two of them wearing your jersey, my heart melted. That was cute, twenty-nine.”
“Your number,” she says slowly, looking him over.
“Aye, I know. It’s just that I’m not used to being called that.”
“Oh, sorry.” She covers her mouth and takes a sip of her coffee. She’s never going to finish her food if they keep talking like this. “I call most of you guys by your numbers half the time. It’s faster, sometimes, for our stat-keepers. It’s a force of habit from back before the Yankees had names on their jerseys.”
“I like it,” he smiles. “You ever play any sports?”
“Nothing official. Why?”
“Just looking to see if you have a number I can call you, love.”
“Ooh, for a second I thought you were going to ask for my number, so that was a nice save.”
“Well, I mean, I could,” he shrugs, flashing that winning smile again.
“Not going to happen, twenty-nine.”
“Damn, I thought I’d stumbled myself into something. I guess that’s strike two for me.”
“Do you always speak in baseball puns?”
“Says the woman who made a joke about oral sex using a baseball pun.”
“Never claimed that I didn’t use them. I’m a fan of a good pun. If you can make it a clever innuendo, all the better.”
“I do love a good innuendo.”
“Yeah, I can tell with the whole tall, dark, and broody thing that you’ve got going on half the time before you whip out a smirk and do that thing with your eyebrows.”
“Why, Swan,” he sighs, waggling those damn eyebrows, “have you been watching me?”
“It’s literally my job.” He does his eyebrows again, and she flicks an apple chunk at him. “Shut it, twenty-nine.”
They sit in the booth and talk, the both of them going through two cups of coffee, before Killian gets a call that he needs to be on the bus to Minute Maid Park, which they both agree is an awful name for a stadium. It’s on the tip of her tongue to start naming off other awful names and major sponsors, but she doesn’t, holding that back as he gathers their plates and walks over to put them all in the bin, his mind seemingly having switched from casual conversation to baseball. She wonders how often he does something like that, just turning everything off to focus on his job.
She can do the same.
“So, Swan,” he sighs as they both walk toward the lobby, Killian to get on the bus and for her to walk toward the elevators, “you going to be around to interview me tonight when I walk off the field?”
“Only if my producer thinks that we need an interview from you.”
“Does this mean I need to play a damn good game?”
“Or a really bad one.”
“I’ll try for one of those.”
“Okay,” she laughs, backing away from him as she sees Scarlet and Fisher walk down into the lobby, “break a leg then.”
He raises a brow. “I’m not sure if that works in sports.”
“Guess you’ll be the first to try it out.”
Emma raises her hand to wave to him, before turning on her heel and walking toward the elevator, her mind trying to piece together all of the elements of her morning while her heart keeps beating like she’s still on the treadmill and not like she’s been sitting in a booth eating for the past two hours.
What the hell just happened?
When she gets back to her room, she quietly opens the door, not knowing if Ruby is awake or not yet, but as soon as she’s inside the room she sees Ruby sitting on the floor with her laptop in front of her with some kind of hair tutorial video on the screen. And whatever it is, Ruby is not succeeding at it, which is pretty much an impossibility with how good Ruby is with hair.
“What’d you do? Run to Manhattan and back? You’ve been gone for forever.”
Putting her phone and hotel key down on the dresser, she slides down onto the floor to sit with Ruby. Her legs are starting to ache, and she desperately needs a shower. She got a look at herself in the mirror in the elevator, and damn does she look rough.
“How long have you been awake?”
“Well, I woke up when you got up because you’re not quiet,” she huffs, tugging at her braid, “and then I woke up an hour ago. You’ve been gone for, like, three hours.”
“I spent a long time at the gym.” That’s not a lie, not really, but it’s not exactly the full truth. She’s not sure why she’s not being honest with Ruby, but it’s…it’s just what her brain has apparently decided on. That breakfast didn’t mean anything, right? So why would she hide it? Probably so no more jokes will be made about them. Yeah, that’s it. That has to be it. “And then I ate breakfast.”
“And you didn’t bring me anything?”
“Not supposed to take the food out of the restaurant area.”
“You could have stolen a banana.”
Ruby groans, twists her hair into another braid as the video ends, and then closes her laptop before looking at her, her eyes scanning over her outfit. “Let’s go get something from a café or something. What was that place we went to last time we were here?”
“Yes,” she hums, falling back against the floor before she very obviously remembers her slightly okay braided hair, “let’s go there.”
“I just ate, Rubes.”
“You can keep me company while I eat, and then we’ll go shopping before we have to come back and get ready for work.”
“Can I at least take a shower first?”
“I would prefer if you didn’t smell, so yeah.”
Emma reaches forward and slaps Ruby’s shoulder before getting up. “You’re the worst.”
“But I’m your best friend.”
“No, very fortunately.”
“Will you do my hair for tonight’s game?” she asks as she strips out of her tank top, sweat having practically dried it to her skin.
“If you let me wear your turquoise pumps.”
“You were going to wear them anyways.”
“Semantics.” Ruby waves her away. “Go take a shower. I’m starving, and I will absolutely perish if I don’t have food in my stomach in the next hour.”
Chapter 6: Chapter Six
“You’re almost out of milk,” Killian tells Liam as he grabs the gallon out of the refrigerator and pours it into his bowl of Lucky Charms. It was either this or Wheaties, and while Wheaties make more sense for him, Lucky Charms are magically delicious…he’s watched too much TV lately if he’s quoting cereal slogans. “And you guys really need different brands of cereal.”
“We’re running low on groceries because you keep eating everything.”
Liam picks up the box of Lucky Charms between them and places it back in the cabinet, slamming the door shut before he returns to his seat on the barstool on the island. “And because neither Elsa nor I have been able to go to the store in the past two weeks. You should have seen the girls’ lunches this week. It was rough.”
He swirls his spoon around in the cereal, trying to pick up the little brown bits instead of the marshmallows. Isn’t that how everyone eats this? “You do realize there’s such a thing as having your groceries delivered? I do it all the time.”
“Addy likes to come with me, so I like going with her. We have very serious discussions about the branding on food.”
“Of course you do,” he chuckles, taking a bite of the cereal while he flexes his ankles out a bit from the jog that he did before he practiced a few pitches with Will this morning. He still needs to go over his stats and notes tonight and tomorrow for the game, but he’s feeling pretty prepared. It’s their sixteenth game of the season, and while he’s only pitched four games, they’ve won all of those games. They may have a losing record so far, but he doesn’t.
After his first game, that surprises him.
That’s always a good thing when they have to play the Sox on Tuesday. Realistically, he knows that the toughest team they’re going to play this year is the Astros, but the history that’s behind playing the Red Sox is out of this world. Those games are always crazy intense, the atmosphere like nothing he’s ever experienced before, and as much as his nerves rile him up, he thrives in conditions like that.
The fact that they get to go to London to play this year on top of their usual games is fucking amazing.
He’s only geeking out the slightest bit because a boy from Cincinnati should not be allowed to do something like that.
“She’s also very particular about what I buy. Sometimes I swear she’s your child and not mine.”
“Well, I do have a type,” Elsa hums as she walks into the room still dressed in her pajamas, as most everyone should be on a Sunday morning, “but I promise you that those girls are yours, Liam.” She leans into her husband and presses her lips against his temple, making Liam close his eyes and smile. True love and all that. “But if I had to have another baby daddy, I guess we could keep it in the Jones line.”
“That’s really messed up,” he groans, picking at his cereal. “Like, seriously. That is not happening.”
“What? You don’t find my wife attractive?” Liam looks so put out, his lips curved downward and his brows furrowed as he pulls Elsa back to his side, her leg half sitting on top of his.
“I feel like there’s no way for me to answer this question.”
“I think you embarrassed him, honey,” Elsa teases, patting Liam’s hands over her stomach. “His ears are all red. You can see it even though his hair is growing out.”
“It’s just like when he was a kid.”
“I hate both of you,” he grumbles, taking another bite out of his spoonful of Lucky Charms, which does not at all help his cause. “I come over here to spend time with my family on a rare day off, and you guys treat me like this.”
“You play every five days. You have days off.”
“I work during them.”
“For like an hour.”
“Plus, all the time it takes me to get to the stadium. Plus, I’m always on a plane even when I’m not playing. Only occasionally do I get to sit on my ass at home, which I’ve never understood. I feel like I don’t need to go on nearly every road trip.”
“Comradery or something.”
“We’re just teasing,” Elsa sighs, getting up from her spot in Liam’s lap to lean over the counter and press a kiss into Killian’s cheek. “Of course we’re happy to have you here. Me especially. I swear Liam goes into withdrawals when he doesn’t see you for a couple of days. I’m going to go check on the girls, but I’ll be back, okay?”
“Bye, Els,” he hums, waving her away as she squeezes Liam’s shoulder and walks out of the room to go upstairs to spend time with the girls in their playroom. They know that he’s here, but they apparently are too engrossed in their toys to want to come see him. It’s fine. It doesn’t bother him at all. Definitely not. “So, you really miss me that much, do you? I had no idea. The daily calls and texts weren’t enough.”
Liam rolls his eyes in that particular big brother fashion where it’s just patronizing enough for it to slightly rub Killian the wrong way. He loves his brother, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have their moments. Eight years apart and different life styles can lead to that.
“So, I heard from Dad yesterday.”
Killian drops his spoon into his bowl, the metal clanging against the glass, and his heart pounds in his chest as he tries to wrap his head around what Liam just said. He tries to speak, but it comes out as more of a cough, something that gets stuck in his throat and makes him feel like a lung is trying to escape him.
“W-what the…how did he get in contact with you?”
“Through my patient portal of all things.” When Killian raises his brow, Liam explains. “How people make appointments with me. There’s a place for notes at the bottom. He made an appointment and left one asking if we could meet.”
“Did you reply?”
“No. God no.” Liam runs his hands through his hair, his fingers getting stuck in a tangle in the curl, and that’s weirdly how Killian feels right now. “I had to refer him to another doctor since I don’t treat family, at least that’s what I told my nurse, but I’m not replying to that. He doesn’t deserve the time.”
“He’s a bastard.”
“He is. I’m not sure what he wants.”
“Money,” Killian scoffs, tapping his fingers against the countertop before reaching up to grab the chain around his neck while anger and resentment boil up in him over their father and how shitty he is. “It’s always been money for him so that he can buy more booze and gamble some more. I’m pretty sure the only reason he doesn’t try to make money off of the press about me is because he makes enough gambling on the games.”
“It’s a good thing he doesn’t do that.”
“I wouldn’t put it past him to start one day.”
“I don’t know – I’m not sure that I understand him. If he wanted money, all he has to do is sell stories about you to the press. It wouldn’t be hard for him.”
“He hasn’t talked to me since I was nineteen years old. He has no fucking stories.”
Liam nods his head, his lips pressed together in a tight smile. “I’m sorry. I didn’t – I didn’t want to tell you, but I figured you deserved to know that he’s trying to get in contact with me. He could try you next.”
“Aye, I know.” He tightly closes his eyes, willing away the tears that want to come. He will not get frustrated over Brennan Jones. He will not. He hasn’t been in his life for nearly ten years, and he’s not going to rent space in it now. “I’ll let you know if he does, but you know he’s more likely to talk to you anyways. You were always much more agreeable than me.”
“You are a bit of a pain in the ass.”
“Whatever,” Killian laughs, picking up his spoon again to eat some more of his cereal. If Liam is joking, that means this conversation is over, and he’s more than glad for it. “Are Elsa’s parents still coming over for dinner?”
“It’s Sunday. That means the entire Karlsson family comes for dinner at one our places. You want to stay for tonight?”
“Nah, I think I’ll probably make something at home. Next week is the week at Anna’s though, right? I’ll come for that.”
“Hell, yeah. Anna is by far the best cook out of all of you guys.”
“That’s a good point.”
There’s a pounding down the stairs, little feet making big moves, and before he knows it, there’s two blonde heads crashing into the kitchen, their socks making them skid across the tile floor.
“Daddy,” Addy squeaks, running up to Liam’s barstool and practically climbing on top of him as she gets in his face, while Lucy is just a few steps behind, “Mommy says that you will take us outside to draw on the sidewalk with our new chalks.”
“Did she now?” he chuckles, grabbing onto Addison so that she doesn’t fall. “And what is Mommy doing that she is not down here to tell me this?”
“She’s on the phone with Anna. I think she is angry with Uncle Kris,” Addy whisper-shouts.
“Hi, Killian,” Lucy whispers, tugging at the hem of his shirt. She’s much more reserved than her older sister, a quiet little thing even when she has her moments, and he can always count on her to want to sit and read a book with him.
“Hi, sweetheart,” he sighs, reaching down to pick her up and place her on his knee, giving her his last spoonful of the cereal. “Do you want to go draw outside? You guys have new chalks?”
“We have a new blue one and pink one and a thousand orange ones.”
“A thousand? That’s a lot of orange.”
“It’s not really a thousand orange ones, Lucy,” Addy groans, always the one to correct her little sister. “It’s more like seven, Uncle Killian.”
“Seven is pretty close to a thousand, I think.”
“You always were bad at math,” Liam chuckles.
“I was getting a degree in Physics. How does that make me bad at math?”
“What’s Physics?” Addy asks.
“Something you never want to have to deal with.” Liam clasps his hands together. “Alright, who is ready to go outside and draw with some chalk?”
There are actually eight orange chalk sticks, and he uses them to draw Lucy several tigers and a few orange sea lions. They apparently went to the zoo last week, which is something he didn’t know about, and animals are all the rage right now. Maybe not accurate animals, but animals all the same. Lucy is into tigers and penguins while Addy is far more interest in elephants and their “gigantic” ears, and he and Liam try to help draw out the zoo for them across the sidewalk in front of their townhouse. He’s sure someone will take issue with it, but their neighbors never complain when they do this, always complimenting the girls on their art and playing along.
It’s how they should be.
Addison gives him a lecture on everything she learned about lemurs while Lucy tells him that she thinks sea lions are slippery, and he can’t help but laugh at the two of them and the child-like innocence and joy that they bring into his life. They don’t have real worries, not really, and even when he feels like he’s spiraling out of control, they often bring him back to earth with their sweet gestures and funny bickering and inability to decide whether they can call him Uncle Killian or just Killian.
Plus, without a doubt, they are his biggest fans.
He likes that a lot.
And he likes getting to do things like draw with them. His mom used to do this with him, Liam too when they could get him to come outside and draw – he always claimed that he was too old for it, but he’s now currently got purple chalk on his nose – and this always reminds him of those times. Amelia Jones deserved every chance to get to know her grandchildren and draw on sidewalks with them, and he’ll forever hate that cancer took her away from all of this.
“Oh my goodness,” Elsa gasps as she comes out onto their front steps, now dressed in jeans and simple white sweater with her hair pulled back in a braid, “am I at the zoo? I don’t remember buying a ticket.”
“It’s free for you, darling,” Liam says, and Killian does not roll his eyes at that. Definitely not. “Would you like to come see the orange sea lion exhibit?”
“Of course.” She walks down the stairs and avoids every drawing, swiftly walking along the path that he left open for this exact purpose. “Oh, Lucy, your butterfly is very pretty. Does it have a name?”
“Like my sister?”
“And grandma. When are they coming to our house?”
“Anna is coming right now, actually,” she hums, still stepping along while he continues to work on a rather magnificent lion if he does say so himself. “She and Kris had their lunch plans cancelled, so they’re coming to invade our zoo.”
“They have to buy a ticket,” Addy says, standing from the ground and wiping her hands on her pants, which only smears the chalk everywhere.
“Addy, I didn’t know you were a business woman.”
“I’m not a woman, Killian,” she scoffs, placing her hands on her hips. “I am a girl.”
“My bad,” he laughs as he holds his hands up in defeat. “I didn’t know you were a business girl.”
“I am. I want to make money to buy a bicycle.”
He knows for a fact that she’s getting a bicycle from him for her birthday at the end of June, but he is certainly not going to say anything to her now, the little spitfire charging her aunt and uncle money to view their sidewalk zoo. Next thing he knows she’s going to be charging him an entrance fee to go back into the house.
“I spy someone with blonde hair and blue eyes.”
Killian whips his head to the side to see Anna and Kris walking from down the street, obviously having taken the train to get here, and both Lucy and Addison get up from where they are and shoot down the sidewalk to run into Anna’s arms. Anna is far too small to pick both of them up, but she manages it, even if it takes a little help from Kris, and she’s got the both of them in a frenzy of laughter and giggles and maybe even a bit of kicking and screaming. As good as he is with the girls, there’s no one like Anna.
It helps that she’s a bit of a child herself, but that’s only meant in the best way.
“I see we’ve put the adults to work,” Anna laughs as she hauls the girls over to where they are. He stands up, Liam doing the same, and it’s a bit of a mess to have to avoid all of the chalk even with the path that he left out. “As they should be.”
Liam and Elsa hug Anna and Kris first, a flurry of exchange of words and hugs and laughter. It’s always so much when they’re around, especially with all of the talking that never seems to end, but it’s always worth it. His family was so small for so long, and while it’s not huge, it’s more than enough.
“I didn’t know I was going to see you,” Anna gasps at him before her arms come to hang around his neck. “I’m sorry we haven’t been able to come to a game yet.”
“If you guys came to every single game,” he whispers in her ear as he pats her back, “I’d be worried about you. There’s a lot of them.”
“We’re coming on Tuesday, though. Right, Kris?”
“Right.” Anna pulls back just for Kris to step into the hug. “There’s no way in hell that I’m missing the first Red Sox rivalry game, especially when you’re the starter.”
“You’re not supposed to use that word, Uncle Kris,” Addy point out.
“Sorry, sorry. I didn’t mean it.” He looks back to Killian then, whispering, “I totally meant it. I can’t wait. And it’s a night game. That’s just – that’s the best.”
“Sometimes I think Kris only loves me because of you, baby Jones,” Anna sighs.
“I hate that nickname.”
“It’s better than calling you BJ.”
“There are children around,” Liam sing-songs.
“What’s a BJ?” Lucy asks.
“Oh my God,” Elsa mumbles.
“See,” Anna laughs. “Baby Jones is much better.”
“I do not only love you because of Killian. I asked you out before I even knew he was your sister’s brother-in-law.”
“But you stayed because you knew that.”
“That is not true.”
“You are so ridiculous.”
“It’s kind of my number one personality trait.”
“Wait,” Addy gasps, making them all look away from the playful bickering to see her standing at the front door, “Anna and Kris didn’t pay to look at our zoo.”
“How many do you want to do today?” Will asks as they walk through the tunnels to make their way out onto the field.
“That’s oddly specific.”
“I’m an oddly specific guy.”
“That is very true. If I didn’t like you so much, I’d probably hate you.”
“Thanks?” Killian laughs, not entirely sure what to say back to that. Scarlet is such a character, but man is he glad to have him as a friend. Road trips wouldn’t be quite the same without his inability to listen to music at a normal volume and shut up when everyone else on the plane is trying to sleep. It’s the same with gamedays. Will curses more under his breath than anyone, and he swears any umpire they have is always five seconds away from fining him for something, pretty much ready to fine him for existing. “Are you ready to get booed when we walk out here.”
“It is not my fault that the Sox didn’t want me,” Will groans, adjusting his helmet in his hands and hitting his knuckles against it. “I obviously wanted to play for my home team, and now every time we play them, it’s like I’m Edward Snowden.”
“Look at you and your references.”
“I know things.”
“Of course you do.”
“And I like living here, playing here, by the way. And I kind of get this kind of sick satisfaction out of beating them, you know?”
“Absolutely. It’s the best feeling.”
“Exactly. I expect a no-hitter from you tonight.”
Killian barks out a laugh, tilting his head back as they come closer to the door to lead them to the bullpen. “Maybe if Al takes me out after one inning, I’ll get that.”
“I was thinking more like you playing your full five. Rodriguez is your relief pitcher tonight, and he gets all nervous.”
“It’ll be fine, Scarlet. Have some fun. That’s why we’re here isn’t it?”
Killian pushes open the doors that lead to the bullpen, Will following right behind him, and when they walk up the stairs and onto the field to make their way fully into the bullpen, there are already a few hundred fans crowding in the bottom of the stadium, most of them not in their seats. Sure enough, the cheers that sound out after he walks out are soon replaced by boos for Will (the fans only hate him on days like this, but Will acts like it’s all the damn time), and he takes a few minutes to sign a few autographs for the kids that have hats and balls. He knows that a lot of times their parents are going to sell them off, but he holds out hope that some of the kids really just want his autograph for themselves.
The fact that there are children wanting his autograph in the way that he wanted players’ autographs growing up absolutely blows his mind.
So that’s why he usually goes for the children, making sure to get all of them before focusing on a few adults. But he can’t stay doing that forever. He’s got to warm up now that he’s had his shoulder massaged and iced, and he doesn’t want to be too tight at the start of the game.
Once he’s finished signing autographs, he and Will toss the ball back and forth just to warm him up a little bit more before he starts to actually practice his pitches. Journey music is blaring through the stadium’s speakers, and he can hear the place getting louder and louder minute by minute as more people fill in and the sky continues to darken with an orange glow as the sun starts to set. This is the kind of night any player lives for. Sure, there are bigger nights. There are game seven of the Series kind of nights and nights where your niece has told you that her teacher is watching so you have to win. Those are big, maybe one more than the other, but rivalry nights, rivalry series, those are the things to live for.
And being on their home field for it makes it all the better.
As he throws his practice pitchers, stretching is arm out when he needs it, the crowd begins to fill in, the noise level getting louder as the sun sets further and their start time gets closer, stadium lights coming to life an adding an entire other type of buzz to his ears. It’s a bit humid tonight, but still a comfortable April evening, and he can feel sweat forming at the back of his neck as he throws his last-warm up pitch with Will before they grab their things and head back inside, jogging down the hallways to get to the dugout so that he can get to the mound, everyone else in their place.
The anticipation builds within him, his heart hammering in his chest and making is throat a little dry as he nods at Al and Leroy, a slight smile on his face to reassure them that everything is going to be fine.
As always, he steps up to the mound and looks at the stadium full of people around him.
Two hours later, it’s six runs to none for the Yankees when he steps off the mound and into the dugout, Al telling him that he’s done for the night. It’s what he expected, especially when they’re winning the way they are, and he grabs a cup of water from the cooler, and walks through the door to go into the hallways to take him back to the locker room.
Except right when he steps inside, a blast of cool air hitting him, he sees Emma Swan and Jeff…something. He honestly can’t remember the man’s name at the moment, but he’s pretty sure it was Jeff, last name unclear. They’re very obviously waiting for him, and he stops walking to gulp down the water, letting it cool him down a bit as he takes Emma in.
She’s wearing black jeans that hug the curves of her legs and a white button down that’s tucked into the front, white sneakers gracing her feet. Her hair is down in loose waves, and his mind wonders if it’s as soft as he imagines it is.
Is it wrong for him to imagine that?
Does he have any reason to think that he should?
It’s been a week since he saw her last. Scratch that. It’s been a week since he talked to her last. He saw her on the jumbotron during the White Sox game on Friday. She was eating a hot dog, and he wonders if it’s now a thing to show her eating during games. Someone in the broadcasting office either has it out for her, or one of her coworkers has bribed someone. He can’t think of any other reason why that would keep happening.
(Even if he does have to admit that it can be funny at times since she’s not the most graceful eater.)
But he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about her in the week since he ran into her at the hotel in Houston and pretty much invited himself into eating breakfast with her. It was a bold move on his part, one that he can’t quite believe that he did, but then again, he can. When it comes to Emma Swan, he seems to both not think and overthink things all at once. He wonders if he’s allowed to admire the way her ass looks in her jeans while also sitting down at breakfast with her without any invitation and talking for two hours, only a few silences between them. It was…wonderful, actually, to truly get to know her and talk to her and know more about who she is.
He had no idea that she was a foster kid, that she doesn’t know her parents outside of David’s mom. His heart stung for her, stings for her, and how much hurt he’s sure she went through. He can’t pretend to know what that’s like. He has his own issues with losing his mom and cutting his dad out of his life, but he at least knew them.
Besides that, he had no idea that she was as witty and charming as she is, and he has no idea how he ever lived not knowing that she likes sugar too much and calls him twenty-nine. That is entirely too dramatic, but that’s how he is.
It’s been a long damn time since he’s fancied a girl for more than just her looks, and while that is what he was attracted to her at first, he actually wants to get to know her now.
If that’s what she wants. He’s not pulling any more shit like he did after the Series. He can’t do something like that again when it was such an asshole move.
“Twenty-nine,” Emma smirks, looking his way with a bright white smile on her face. That’s a smile he’d kind of like to get used to even if he knows that he can’t.
“Swan,” he nods, wiping some more sweat off of his brow and adjusting his hat, knowing better than to take it off to show the awful sweaty hair that he has going on right now. “Jeff. Am I doing an interview? Is it live?”
“It’s not live,” Emma tells him, stepping over to his side as Jeff moves around. He’s been through this routine enough times before, so he knows to back up to the wall with their roster written across it and stand on the side as Emma stands next to him. He can smell the vanilla of her perfume. “But it is an interview. You ready?”
“Always,” he winks.
She rolls her eyes before waving at Jeff for him to start the camera. “You didn’t give up any runs in five innings against the Sox. The last time you did something like that you were twenty-two years old.”
“Are you saying I’m old now?”
“Obviously. Anyways, that’s an important stat if only because this is the first of many series against your biggest rivals. Does that give you confidence for the rest of the season?”
“Eh,” he clicks his tongue, scratching behind his ear, “not really. It’s an incredibly long season with a hell of a lot of games, and this one’s not quite over yet. And what happens today can be the complete opposite of what happens tomorrow and for every game that we play after that. If anything, it gave me confidence in my arm. I think that’s the most important thing.”
Emma nods and smiles at him, listening to each of his words, and she asks him two more questions about some of his stats for tonight as well as for Eric and Arthur, and he has to run back through the game to answer them, trying to remember everything that happened. In the moment, it’s easy for him to remember everything, cataloging it all and working through it, but once all of the adrenaline has died down a bit, it’s sometimes difficult for him to recall everything.
It's a good thing Emma has a stat sheet, one she seems to have written herself.
“Thank you,” Emma sighs when they’re finished, the bright light on Jeff’s camera going off as he backs up. “Sorry for stalking you in the hallways.”
“I don’t think doing your job counts as stalking.”
“It does if I get really creative with it.”
“Well, okay then, love,” he laughs, grabbing his shirt and pulling it up to wipe some more sweat from his chin. “I hope you enjoy the rest of the game. Maybe don’t eat any more food while you’re working.”
He hears Jeff snort before the man walks away, not bothering to say goodbye to either of them. Killian is about ninety percent sure that he and Emma are friends, or at least co-workers who are fond of each other, but he has no idea when they talk. None at all. The man has to talk at some point.
“Does he speak?” Killian asks before Emma gets the opportunity to say something back to his jab about her continuously being caught on camera while eating.
“Who? Jeff? I mean, he’s not a mute,” she laughs, flipping her hair over her shoulder and sticking her microphone into the back pocket of her pants. He imagines that can’t be comfortable. “He’s just…well, he talks when he needs to and very rarely otherwise unless he’s super comfortable around you. I’ve spent years breaking him out of his shell.”
“Don’t be so surprised, twenty-nine. I have friends.”
“What makes you think I’m surprised?”
Emma waves her hand in the hair, circling around his face. “Your eyebrow is, like, in your hairline, and you’ve got that smirk thing that you do when you’re being all cocky and smug.”
His lips tick up a little more, and now he knows that he’s smirking. He wasn’t before, but he is now as he sways a little closer into Emma’s space, barely a foot between them. When did they get so close?
“Swan, I think you’ve been watching me, studying me really.”
Her own brows raise as her arms cross over her chest. She could kick his ass without question, and he has got to be incredibly disturbed to be fascinated by that fact. He is not supposed to be attracted to Emma Swan, not after what he did, and yet here he is.
“Yeah,” she huffs, “that’s my job. I feel like we’ve discussed this.”
“Sometimes I need a little reminding of things.”
“I thought you were smarter than that.”
“I like to surprise people. Don’t change the subject, darling,” he teases, angling his shoulder forward and invading her space as his heart ticks up a few beats. “You’ve been paying particularly close attention to me.”
“You make a good story.”
“So you’re saying I make your job easier?”
Emma scoffs, but he can see the slightest smile on her face, the annoyance simply not there. Maybe he doesn’t annoy her anymore after they had breakfast. And maybe he is being just cocky enough to make this flirting work.
That is what he’s doing, right? Flirting.
“You could say that.”
He’s an idiot, a complete idiot, who pushes his luck too far, and he’s going to blame everything on the adrenaline from here on out. There’s no other excuse for how he’s acting.
“Perhaps gratitude is in order,” he teases as he taps his bottom lip, fully expecting Emma to slap him.
Instead he watches as her lashes flutter, her eyes glancing over his lips, before she looks up to him with a challenge written across her face. “Please. You couldn’t handle it.”
She’s right. He couldn’t.
“Perhaps you’re the one who couldn’t handle it.”
Her lips part for her to speak, but no words come as she’s leaning forward and gripping her hands into his uniform, pulling on his jersey and pulling him into her until their lips are crashing together. Despite his teasing, he was in no way expecting this, and it takes him a moment to kiss Emma back, to move his lips over hers. His hands immediately find her hair, fingers threading through the soft strands, and he exhales into her mouth as he tugs on her upper lip with his mouth, listening to her moan.
Emma Swan just moaned because of him.
She tastes like peppermint, strongly enough so that he imagines she just finished one, but he can’t really focus on that when the softest lips he’s ever felt are moving over his and the soft curves of her body are pressed into him. It’s intoxicating and exhilarating and everything all at once, and he can feel his heart pounding between his ears, the organ very obviously switching with his brain at some point because he’s forgotten how to think.
His legs shake when Emma’s tongue runs at the seam of his lips, and when he opens up to her, tilting her head to the right, her hands trail up his neck and into his hair until his hat is toppling off of his head and crashing onto the floor.
Whatever spell is between them is broken with the sound of his hat collapsing against the cement, and Emma pulls back from him with a gasp, her forehead still pressed against his so that he can feel the heat of her breath moving over his mouth.
What the hell just happened?
And can it happen again?
“That,” he starts, at a loss for words.
“Can’t happen again,” Emma finishes for him, releasing her grip on his hair and backing up so that he immediately feels chilled from the loss of heat. “I’m sorry. I – I’ve got to go.”
“Emma,” he calls out, reaching forward to grab her hand, but she’s already walking away, her strides larger than her natural gait as she moves down the hallway and disappears around the corner all the while he’s left standing there with his fingers unconsciously pressed to his lips.
Chapter 7: Chapter Seven
It’s a repetitive motion that Emma can’t stop, her fist continuously hitting against the punching bag in front of her until she’s finished with her reps and every inch of her body feels like some kind of expired jell-o that’s at the bottom of her kitchen cabinets.
Why did she ever even buy jell-o? That is not something that she usually would have even bought unless she was randomly trying to attempt to make a recipe to take to dinner at David and Mary Margaret’s.
That must have been an odd day. What would she even have been making?
Emma drops the gloves she borrowed from the hotel into the basket, her hands slicked in sweat, and wipes her forehead down with the back of her forearm before bending down to pick up her phone and walk out of the gym. She can already feel that she overdid it today, that she’s barely going to be able to move tomorrow, but in the words of Elle Woods, happy people don’t kill their husbands.
She definitely skipped forward on the lines there. She was most definitely leaning more toward exercise giving endorphins and making people happy or marginally less frustrated with the state of their lives. She’s on the second half of that spectrum, and she’s not afraid to admit it.
To herself at least. There is absolutely no way that she’s telling someone else what exactly it is that’s going on in her head. That’s probably unhealthy, but she’s not going to worry about that right now.
Ducking out of the gym, she immediately moves toward the back staircase of the hotel she’s staying in, avoiding the breakfast buffet area no matter how much she wants a bottle of water and something to eat. She bets they have waffles. But nope. No. She is not entertaining the idea, and she is not going there. The team is staying at this hotel (thanks David for nearly always booking them in the same place when that’s most definitely not necessary), and she is avoiding Killian Jones at all costs.
Because she kissed him.
(And he kissed her back.)
She fucking kissed Killian Jones, who is most definitely high on the list of people she should not be kissing, and yet she knows exactly how soft his lips are compared to the scruff on his chin. She knows that he makes this deep growl noise when she bites his lip, and she knows that he likes to focus on one lip at a time, specifically her upper one.
She knows that it feels damn good.
She knows a lot more than she should because she should never know how it feels to kiss him.
After he asked her out, after all of the fame and harassment and annoyances that came with that, she told herself that she would be pissed at him, that she would hate him and be annoyed and absolutely have nothing to do with him outside of a professional capacity.
That lasted for a solid two minutes once she saw him again.
It’s this…tether of sorts between them, and she doesn’t understand it. Their conversations are easy, even if they’re not always fluid, and she flirts with him. She knows that she does. She’d have to be blind and deaf and incompetent not to realize this, and she kind of hates herself for falling into the trap that so many others have fallen into. And it’s not that he has a full dating history, that he was once more known for who he was sleeping with than how his arm was working. That’s not it at all.
(Though she does have thoughts and questions and worries because she can spot a man running from something from a mile away, and that’s exactly what all of that had to have been. He was not sleeping around like that simply because he could.)
It’s her job.
She hates that she’s been flirting with him because of her job. She hates that she kissed him because of that.
Professionalism is important to her, and she’s hated how she’s rarely been taken seriously. A female working in sports, especially male-focused sports, is a rarity. Most women are shoved off to the side to only commentate on softball or women’s soccer (which is just soccer, by the way) or the WNBA. They’re not allowed to work with the men, the networks not promoting them, but Emma was promoted. She got the job even without much on-air experience, and even if it was partially because of David, she still did that for herself.
And she worked hard to make sure that she was taken seriously.
Then Killian Jones asked her out, and eighty percent of that effort went down the drain in one quick motion under the loud cheers of the stadium crowd and the rapid beating of her heart.
So, she can’t be kissing him in tunnels in the stadium or flirting with him over breakfast. She simply can’t. Because then there’s a picture of them somewhere, that picture makes its way to her bosses, and she’s having to sit in an HR meeting even though it’s not actually against the rules for her to date a player. But the rules don’t matter when it’s the rumors that will kill her.
Rumors make the world go round while also destroying lives all at once.
People will wonder if she’s been sleeping with Killian since before he asked her out. That’ll make them wonder if she slept her way to her job, which would validate the thoughts of so many people. If they date and break up, she’ll never be known for her job again. She’ll always be known as Jones’s ex, and no part of her is under the impression that she’ll be transferred to another team. She’ll be forced to interview him and record segments and commentate on his games.
All of her credibility will disappear, and she simply can’t do that.
Not when she’s been working so hard to build it up.
Neal was always making fun of her for her job, for her major, for her love of baseball, of tennis, of soccer, of anything. She put up it with it at first, being young and so stupidly in love that she thought he could walk on the moon without any help, but as the years dragged on, as she continued to work at ESPN while in college, it really started to take a toll on her that her boyfriend diminished her choices as if her career was a silly little hobby that meant nothing. She gets it. She’s not a doctor or a human right’s lawyer or a teacher. She’s not changing the world. But this is what she does, what she enjoys, and no one should ever be allowed to make her feel bad for that.
If you love someone, you don’t diminish their interests.
Neal made her feel like the shittiest person in the world every single time she put her job or school above him. Even if it was simply that she couldn’t go out to a bar with him because she needed to study, he made her feel like she was doing him some kind of disservice, like she owed him her time instead of giving it to herself.
The two of them had so many issues, some that she never got to resolve, but the biggest was that he consistently made her feel like she was nothing but a girl playing pretend in having a career and a family just like she’d been doing her entire life.
Walsh was the same way, but even he didn’t mess her up and make her question everything in the way that Neal did. If he did, she imagines her work experience would be even more different now, that having to see him occasionally would be more than a little annoyance.
Another reason dating someone she works with is a horrible idea.
Emma does all of this for herself because she loves it, but at the back of her mind, she can still hear his voice telling her that she’s not good enough and should leave all of this to the professionals. All she wants is for that voice to go away, for him to stop taking up space in her mind.
And that’s exactly why she can’t make out with Killian Jones again. It would be a horrific idea in every single way. Her body says yes, her mind says hell no.
Okay, it could be that her body says hell yes and her mind says a very quiet no, but that’s not at all what’s supposed to be happening. Signals are getting crossed somewhere.
Once she’s to her hotel room’s floor, she pushes open the stairwell door and checks to make sure there’s no one around like the paranoid person that she is, before jogging down the carpeted hallway to her room. Ruby isn’t with her for this trip, so she’s got the room to herself. It’s quiet, and while Emma can appreciate that, she kind of misses Ruby. They’re pretty much attached at the hip at all times, so the few times a year where Emma travels and Ruby doesn’t or vice versa are a little lonely. At least she doesn’t have to room with someone she doesn’t really know. That happened once, and that’s an experience Emma never wants to have again.
Her phone rings in her hand, and she nearly drops it from the shock, only pulling herself together enough to answer and place it on speaker so that she doesn’t have to hold it up to her sweaty ear.
“Mom is pissed at you,” David practically yells to her, something he does whenever he’s walking outside the office. Sure enough, she can hear the faint sounds of traffic and construction.
Ignoring the fact that he just called Ruth her mom, something he always seems to do, she sighs and flops down on the bed, not caring how sweaty she is. “Because I missed Easter? I told her that was happening ahead of time. I’m literally across the country, David.”
“She misses you.”
“I talk to her all of the time.”
“That’s not the same as going home, and you know it.”
Emma huffs, kicking her foot against the carpet. “I know that, but I don’t have several days off until a few weeks from now. I can go spend a month up there once the season is over.”
“That’s not entirely true. You still work for us full time, technically. Not the team.”
“I know that.”
“I’m just saying – ”
“Is she really pissed at me?”
“No,” he exhales, the background noise disappearing in the way that she knows that it does when he’s walked back into the office. “It was different having a holiday without you is all. Maybe I’ll invite her to come stay with us when you’re home for a bit. That way it’s the best of both worlds.”
“Okay, Hannah Montana.”
“We are both too old for that reference.”
“I’m only a year older than Miley Cyrus.”
“That makes me feel ancient.”
“Well, you are.” Emma twists her hands in the sheets on the bed, causing them to wrinkle before letting go. “I have to be at the stadium in two hours, but I promise I’ll call Ruth tomorrow before I get on the plane to go to San Francisco.”
“She’d like that. How are you? How’s California? I feel like we never get to talk when you’re on the road.”
“I freaking love California,” she sighs, putting her phone to the side so she can get out of these sweaty clothes and into a robe. “The weather is so nice this time of year, there’s a beach, the food is great. The traffic sucks, but the traffic sucks at home too. I don’t know. I feel like if I had to live somewhere else, it’d be out here.”
“I’m pretty sure Mom will be even more annoyed if you move across the country.”
“That’s what you got out of that?”
Emma groans as she struggles to get her sports bra off, having to tug and pull until it snaps free and slaps against her skin. “I would never leave you guys. Or Ruby and Graham. I need someone to cook all of my meals for me. I’m too dependent on that.”
“Like the adult you are.”
“Exactly.” She finally gets her bra off, which feels like some kind of triumph, and tosses it onto the desk where all of her notes for today’s game. “David, I’ve got to get ready for today, but I’ll talk to you later, okay? Tell Marg and Leo that I’m invading the house on my off day when I get home.”
“They’ll both be at school that day.”
“After they get home. I’m obviously going to sleep throughout the entire morning.”
“Obviously. I’ll talk to you later. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
The Dodgers absolutely obliterate the Yankees that afternoon. 11-2.
Killian gets pulled in the bottom of the third.
Will Scarlet nearly gets thrown out for arguing with the umpire.
August Booth loses his footing and falls against third base in a move that has everyone saying he has a wooden leg for all of his flexibility.
It’s an all-around disaster of a game, a horrible way to close the series, and when she goes into the clubhouse to try to talk about it and break down what happened, the only man who will even acknowledge her is Eric Fisher. He barely gives her anything.
Not a great day at the office for anyone.
It’s two hours after the game is finished that she finally gets back to the hotel. There’s a sour feeling in her stomach over it all, frustration with the loss and with her coverage. The guys are usually pretty good at talking to her, coaches and managers included, but sometimes when there’s a loss like that, no one feels like acknowledging her presence. It’s fine. Honestly and truly it is. She wouldn’t want to talk to an annoying reporter after having her ass handed to her on a silver platter either, but that doesn’t make her feel any better about anything.
Maybe the sour feeling in her stomach has to do with the fact that she hasn’t eaten anything other than a granola bar all day. She knows not to do that, honestly and truly, but since she’s trying not to eat in front of a camera after the last few games that she’s worked, she didn’t get something to eat at work today. She definitely should have stolen some of the fruit from the craft services table inside of the press box when she went up there to get her microphone.
After flipping through the room service catalog and deciding that there is no way in hell she’s paying that much for a bowl of pasta, she orders a box of pizza to be delivered, and starts scrolling through the channels on her television trying to find a movie to watch. She needs to pack up for her early flight tomorrow, but since she’s already in her sweatpants and has taken her bra off, that seems like far too much effort. She’ll do it in the morning. Working under pressure has always kind of been her thing.
Finally, she decides on Titanic. It doesn’t matter how many times she’s seen it before. It’s a classic, and it’ll keep her entertained. Just as Rose and Jack are standing at the helm of the boat with their arms in the air, her hotel phone rings.
“Miss Swan,” the voice says, “your pizza is here, but you have to come to the lobby to get it.”
She groans a little before speaking. “Okay, that’s fine. I’ll be right there.”
Emma rises from the bed and hastily puts on her sneakers, tucking the laces into the shoes instead of tying them, and walks out of her hotel room so that she can go down to the lobby to get her pizza. This better be good pizza, but it probably won’t even matter with how hungry she is.
She finds the guy easily, handing him his tip as he hands her the small box, and she thinks she’s made it home free until she turns around and practically runs into Ariel Fisher.
“Hi, Emma,” she smiles, as bright and friendly as she always is. Seriously. She’s always friendly and polished, and Emma is literally wearing sweatpants and a tank top with no bra. Her shoes aren’t even tied. “How are you?”
“I’m great,” she says, forcing a smile. “How are you? How’s Eric? He didn’t seem to be having too great of a day.”
Ariel shakes her head from side to side and rolls her eyes. “They’re all a bunch of oversized children. Seriously. They lose nearly as much as they win, but they never quite stop complaining.”
“I think that’s all men, if I’m honest.”
Ariel barks out a laugh, her red curls falling back behind her shoulders as her hand lands on her chest over her heart. “Absolutely true. Hey,” she starts, eyes glancing over Emma in a way that makes her stomach twist, “a few of us are sitting up on the roof right now. They have a bar and this charming little firepit. Why don’t you join us?”
“Uh,” she stutters, pulling her bottom lips between her teeth and trying to think of an excuse as to how to get out of this, “thank you, but I think I probably shouldn’t intrude. I was fully planning on kind of vegging out on my pizza.”
“You can do that up with us! It’s fine! If any of them try to take your food, swat them away. They’ve all eaten. Come on. It’ll be great.”
She has the word no on her tongue but never gets to say it as Ariel smiles at her again and grabs onto her elbow, pulling her along with her. Emma could easily say no again and walk away, but she finds herself following along in the elevators and listening to Ariel go on and on about how much she loves when they get to be in California for a week like this, even if they don’t get to stay in the same city the entire time. Emma can wholeheartedly agree with this, so she continues to make small talk as the floors tick off and the elevator door opens up to the rooftop.
The sun hasn’t quite set all the way, so there’s an orange tint to the darkness of the sky that reflects off the stringed lights that move across the roof. The noise level up here is already much louder than downstairs, and she can see the bar full of people as well as the large firepit with chairs surrounding it. Immediately, her eyes scan over the group, and she recognizes Eric, Will, Arthur, Robin, Phillip and Killian. Of course he’s there. Why would he not be? She also sees Arthur’s wife, Jennifer, and Belle French, Will’s girlfriend. It’s odd to know all of these people without really knowing them, and she feels like an intruder coming up here to sit with them.
At least everyone is dressed the way she is, and she doesn’t look like a total slob.
Okay, maybe she does.
Shit, she doesn’t have a bra on, it’s kind of chilly up here, and her tank top is far too thin. Idly, she wonders if she can make a break for it and run right now, but everyone has already seen her.
“I found a stray in the lobby,” Ariel sighs as she walks into the circle and sits in a chair next to her husband. “I pretty much dragged her to sit up here with us, and no one ask her for her pizza. That’s hers, and she’s not sharing.”
“That makes me sound great. Thanks,” she chuckles awkwardly as her eyes scan the circle for a place to sit, and because the world hates her, the only open chair is right next to Killian Jones.
He’s very pointedly not looking at her, which she both appreciates and hates, and maybe that’s what drives her to walk around the circle, the fire warming her a bit, and sit down into the lounge chair next to him, her pizza box sitting on the table in between them.
“Your attire is a little different there than usual, Swan,” Will points out, dangling his beer bottle in the air.
“So is yours. It’s probably a good thing they make you wear a uniform because your clothes don’t match at all.”
The conversation dies down around her, everyone stopping what they’re saying, and she can feel the blush rising to her cheeks until Belle starts giggling, her hand covering her mouth as her wine sloshes around in its glass in the other.
“She’s right, babe. Your outfit is awful.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“You have on a Hawaiian shirt, Scarlet,” Robin yells from his seat. “That isn’t even in style in Hawaii. All you need is a fanny pack.”
“I’ve heard those are coming back in style, actually,” Eric adds.
“Absolutely not,” Ariel laughs.
“Why do they call them fanny packs if they don’t go on your ass?” Emma questions in as she leans over and takes a slice of her pizza out of the box, figuring if she’s eating, she won’t have to talk as much.
“They’re supposed to be worn on your ass.” She twists her head to look at Killian at the same time that he looks at her, quickly glancing away and adjusting his faded Vanderbilt sweatshirt. “But people are assholes and steal shit, so everyone wears them on their stomach now.”
“Thank you, professor Jones,” Will mocks, doing a fake bow.
“I hate when you call me that.”
“It’s very fitting. You’re a know-it-all.”
“That is decidedly untrue.”
“I agree with Will,” Arthur adds in, and Emma can practically feel the tension between he and Killian simply by the tone of his voice. What the hell happened there? “You do act like you know everything.”
“I can guarantee that I don’t,” Killian grits out all the while she takes another bite of her pizza. She should have gotten popcorn instead because this is honestly like a show.
“It’s the way you talk,” Robin says kindly, and she subtly twists her head to the side to look at him. “You can’t help it. Your brain is always running through scenarios and coming up with questions and looking for more information. The way you look at stat sheets is insane. I think it all stems from your physics degree.”
“You have a physics degree?” she blurts out, and she can feel every head in the circle turn to look at her.
“No,” Killian says quietly, propping his jean covered legs up on the concrete rim of the fireplace. “I have most of one. I didn’t finish school before I got called up.”
“Huh, I didn’t know that.”
“There’s lots of things you don’t know about me, love.”
All of her intestines twist within her stomach, and she smiles at the intensity of his gaze before biting into her pizza crust. This is all a bit overwhelming yet fascinating, and this is probably the first time she’s ever spent time with all of these people outside of a baseball stadium. Well, except for Killian, but she’s decided that he doesn’t count.
“And most of them are not good,” Eric teases, only for Killian to hold up his middle finger at the man.
“Killian is fantastic,” Ariel gushes, betraying her husband. “Seriously. I love him, and you guys are all assholes to him sometimes.”
“Babe, I don’t think defending him like he’s in kindergarten is going to help his case. I don’t think he even has a case with Emma. Really, I’m surprised she’s even willing to be in a five-foot radius of him.”
“We can beat him up for you, if you want,” Will supplies.
“If you hit him in the face, though, he won’t be marketable anymore,” Belle laughs. Emma’s never really talked to her before, but she’s funny. That’s a good match for Will.
“I take offense to that,” Killian huffs, crossing his arms and letting his muscles flex under the material of his sweatshirt. “I am marketable for more than just my face.”
“Your ass is another one.”
“And technically your arm.”
“I’ve heard things about his thighs.”
“Oh, and his eyes.”
“That counts as part of his face.”
“You are all fucking assholes,” Killian laughs, his eyes crinkling as his head tilts back. “I spend all of my days with you people, being kind, helping with presents to buy for your wives and girlfriends, helping you win games, and all you do is give me shit in front of Emma when she already thinks that I’m the biggest ass in the world.”
“Not the biggest,” she corrects, the words flowing before she stops herself. Did she have wine or something today? Because she is not in her right mind. “I know at least a handful of people who I would put above you on that list. Will, for instance.”
A smile starts on the left side of Killian’s lips and stretches to the other, his white teeth on display as the now nearly completely fading sun sets a soft glow over his skin, making his tan deeper. She’s never going to deny that he’s attractive, that she’s attracted to him, but she has to deny the feeling of attraction that’s not physical. She’s kissed the lips making that smile, and her body tells her to do it again. But she can’t. Simply sitting up here with him is probably dangerous enough.
“You are much more fun outside of work, Emma Swan,” Will sighs, and it’s his voice that has her looking away from Killian and the way that his blue eyes were focused on her.
“I’m fun at work too, thank you very much. It’s just that with some of you guys, it’s like pulling teeth to get an interview. Eric was the only one who would even give me one today.”
“To be fair,” Robin sighs, “I wasn’t there.”
“No, no,” Eric laughs, kissing his wife’s head. “Don’t try to take this away from me. I got the gold star today. Maybe you’ll get it tomorrow.”
“Maybe I’ll also help us win tomorrow.”
From there it’s a roar of conversation, all of them debating back and forth about the game and what went wrong, what they should have done, what they will do next time. It’s a conversation she’s sure Al already had with them in the locker room after she left, but it’s still fascinating to see them have it in such a casual setting where they all have drinks in their hands or their phones out. She swears that August Booth hasn’t looked up from the notebook he’s writing in the entire time she’s been out here, and Arthur’s wife hasn’t said a single word, even to Arthur.
By the time that she’s been out there for an hour, goosebumps rising on her arms, she’s learned more about the personal lives of the players than she has in her three years of covering the team. Will is most definitely the one who jokes around the most, and Belle is always bringing him back to earth. Robin reminds her of David in the way that he plays the role of Dad despite being near the same age as most everyone out here. Eric and Ariel remind her of David and Mary Margaret too, except a little bit more fun, and it’s kind of this weird connection that she’s making between the people in her personal life and the people in her professional.
Robin, August, Phillip, Arthur, and Jennifer have all gone inside, each of them excusing themselves throughout the hour, and the roar of conversation has dulled to quiet ones between the six of them that remain.
She’s finished half of her pizza by this point, but since she’s starting to feel awkward again, she opens up the box and takes a slice out, biting into it only to see Killian take a picture of her eating with her phone.
“What the hell are you doing?” she mumbles, covering her mouth.
He smiles and takes another picture before putting his phone in his lap. “I didn’t see you eating on the jumbotron today, so I figured the tradition of people filming you needed to continue.”
“That’s really weird.”
“Never said I wasn’t.”
She finishes chewing and puts her half-eaten slice down on top of the box. “I have purposefully been avoiding eating while working since it’s obviously now a running joke.”
“That’s why I had to continue it.” He moves his eyebrows across his forehead, and a chill runs down her spine, causing her to rub her hands over her arm to combat some of the chill. “You cold, Swan?”
“I’m fine,” she lies.
“I can see the gooseflesh on your arms.”
“It’s fine.” She waves him away and adjusts her tank top, crossing her arms over her chest because she can see her nipples through the material. “Nothing the fire can’t fix.”
Suddenly Killian leans forward and grabs onto the nape of his sweatshirt, pulling it over his head. His shirt comes up with the movement, revealing muscles and hair on his stomach, and she glances down quickly before looking up to him holding his sweatshirt out to her, the chain he wears around his neck shining against his black shirt.
“Here,” he offers, a soft smile on his face.
“That’s not necessary.”
“Love, please. I know you can’t be warm. It’s fine. It’s just a sweatshirt, not a marriage proposal.”
She will do anything to have him not continue that kind of thought process, so she quickly takes the sweatshirt and pulls it over her head. It’s soft, obviously well loved, and probably about two sizes too big for her as the arms are a little long and the hemline would most likely land below her ass.
“Thank you,” she smiles, nodding her head. “I’ll give it back before I go to my room.”
“Of course you will. That’s my favorite sweatshirt. It’s not getting out of my sight.”
“Why do I feel like you would do murderous things if I don’t give this back?”
“Because I would.”
She laughs and curves her legs up underneath her thighs as the picks up her pizza again. She is eating nothing but vegetables tomorrow. “You want something to eat? It’s all I can offer in return for the sweatshirt.”
“Is it all just pepperoni and cheese?”
“Yep. It’s not like anything at home, but it’ll do.”
He nods his head and leans over to open the box, perusing the pieces before taking two and folding them together. “I think sometimes people try to add too much to their pizzas. Toppings are great, but sometimes simple is better. Classics are classics for a reason.”
“You’re one of those people who thinks everyone should read classic books, aren’t you?”
“Not all of them are.”
“Thank you for the pizza,” he mumbles, taking a large bite as he adjusts in his seat, leaning in a little closer to Emma as they speak. “I’ll pay you back for it.”
“It was, like, ten bucks,” she promises, reaching her hand forward to touch his forearm to reassure him. “It’s fine.”
“It’s the gentlemanly thing to do to pay you back.”
“Oh, so now you’re a gentleman?”
He winks, and heat rises on her cheeks as her eyes glance from his lashes to his lips. “I’m always a gentleman.”
All of the sudden, his words sink in. He may simply be offering to pay for half of a pizza for her, but the implication of more is behind it. He’s asked her out on a date, they’ve shared a really good kiss, and she can’t do this no matter how much she wants to.
Oh wow. She wants to.
But she can’t.
Her career is too important to her, and she absolutely cannot ruin that, not now. Dating Killian, even considering it, is a horrible idea for approximately seventeen different reasons. He wouldn’t just break her heart if it didn’t work out, he’d break her career too.
It’s all too much, and even if they’re simply having a conversation right now, she can read between the lines.
Rising from her chair with a rapidly beating heart, she finally notices that all of the people around them have disappeared, only people she doesn’t know filling the seats.
“Yeah?” she gasps, twisting her head back to look at Killian.
He smiles, and guilt settles into her stomach. “What are you doing?”
“I, um,” she mumbles, already taking a step away, “just remembered that my flight is super early tomorrow, and I haven’t packed. So I’ve got to go. Enjoy the pizza. I’ll see you in San Francisco.”
She’s running. She knows that she is. There’s no denying it, and she doesn’t even care until she’s in the elevator and the mirrored doors are closing in front of her to show that she’s still wearing his sweatshirt, the scent of Killian Jones overwhelming her.
“How’s Roland?” Killian asks Robin as he tosses a ball in his direction, the two of them beginning their early morning workouts to loosen up their arms. It’s chilly this morning, the sea breeze wafting over to the field, but he’s not going to complain when this is his kind of weather.
Everyone should always have a bit of sea in the air they’re breathing even if the salt water gives him flashbacks to the accident if he closes his eyes for too long. Luckily, it’s usually not like that whenever they’re in San Francisco, the city too different than the beach town in Florida where the accident happened. And he’s got baseball to focus on, not memories of the past that he can already see in scars on his arm and feel in the pain in his shoulder.
“He’s currently mad at me for not letting him miss school to come out here with us.”
“Just get him a bobblehead. Kids love that. Addy and Lucy collect them now.”
Robin throws a ball at Killian, and it thwacks into his glove a little harder than he was expecting. Damn Locksley. “Roland only likes the Yankees. He gets pissed if anyone even mentions another team. I had to have a conference with his teacher about it because there were issues with other kids.”
Killian shouldn’t laugh, but he does, his shaking shoulders affecting his throw as he backs up to put some more space between he and Robin. “I mean, the kid is right. How could anyone ever love another team?”
“If you ever have kids, I’m going to make them Sox fans simply to torture you,” Robin teases. “Maybe even Dodgers fans.”
“That’ll never happen. Addy and Lucy wouldn’t let you.”
“I think I can overpower the two of them.”
Another toss, this one not as powerful as he was intending. “You’d be surprised. Roland could have flown out for the weekend, you know. I’m always happy to watch him on the days I’m not playing.”
“Carol hates flights. She wouldn’t fly out here with him, and we’re not about to let my six-year-old fly across the country unaccompanied.”
Killian nods his head as Robin throws the ball back, a soft thud landing in his glove. He and Robin have known each other for a decade now, and while Rob is probably his closest friend outside of Liam, he doesn’t share too much about his personal life since Marian died. He gets it. It was a tragedy, and Robin feels guilt over it since Marian’s car accident happened when she was on the way to pick him up from the airport when they’d been on the road for two weeks. Killian will never forget walking through JFK, simply happy to be home, and watching his best friend’s entire life crumple before him.
It was devastating, and Robin simply doesn’t talk about it. The only real reference to any of it is when Robin complains about Carol, Marian’s mom. They’ve got an unofficial custody agreement going on for when Robin has to travel for work, and Carol is always attempting to make Robin feel guilty for leaving Roland. It’s a shitty thing for her to do when there’s nothing Robin cares about more than his son, and Killian’s blood boils at the thought of it.
Parents are allowed to have lives and identities outside of their children. That doesn’t mean they don’t love their kids.
He’s not a parent, not even close, but maybe he’s a little sensitive to the thought because of Milah.
It’s been…he doesn’t actually know when it is that he last thought of Milah. Wait, no, scratch that. It was after he kissed Emma. He’d been reeling after that, his body and his mind, and after Emma had walked away and told him that couldn’t happen again, his mind ran a marathon trying to piece together just how exhilarating it felt to actually feel something for someone for the first time in nearly four years.
He’d met Milah in a bar. He hadn’t wanted to go out that night, but Will had insisted. The season was over, they were pretty much free of all of the grueling work for at least a month, and they were going to celebrate. She’d been sitting at the bar, long, beautiful brunette curls falling down her back and a bright smile on her face, and he’d been intimately smitten. They’d talked all night, really hit it off, and it all felt natural from there. She was someone who he could tell, for probably the first time, that had no interest in the fact that he was a professional athlete. It was refreshing.
And he fell in love.
But she was married. By the time he found out, by the time that she told him, he was so deeply in love that he didn’t care. He was twenty-three, and he’d found the woman he was going to be with for the rest of his days, consequences be damned.
A year later, though, when he thought that things between them were good, when he’d grown used to the thought, she ended things between them and told him that she had a son. She wanted to go back to her husband, wanted them to be a complete family, and her time being free from her marriage and motherhood was over. It’s all a bit of a blur, that conversation, but he remembers begging her to stay, promising that he would help her take care of her son, that he would be there for the two of them always.
It’s not what she wanted.
He can’t blame her. She had a life outside of him, a life before him, and if she didn’t want to stay, he wouldn’t keep asking her to. So he didn’t.
Killian was too devastated to say anything, to try to fight for his love. She’d lied to him about so much, and he guesses a part of him knew that and knew that he couldn’t fight for someone who was never fully in the relationship the way that he was.
What he did do was start going back out to bars and clubs, drinking too much to numb the feeling and sleeping with too many women to try to get that feeling back. He was lost, desperate, and utterly heartbroken. No part of him cared about the reputation he was making for himself until Liam dragged him off of his bedroom floor and told him that he had to get his shit together before he lost the game too.
That scared him shitless.
There was no way that he could lose everything. Not like that. He needed his job. He needed the game. It was everything to him, and Killian knows that his desperation to cling to baseball after Milah is what made nearly losing it all after the accident so damn heartbreaking.
He’s been such a fuck up.
So why the hell would he ever have a shot with Emma now when she is leagues above him?
“Where’d your head go, Jones?” Robin yells across the field, and Killian realizes they’ve both backed up several feet without him knowing it. He knows that sometimes he can zone out on the field, but damn. This is something else. “You got all glassy-eyed for a minute.”
“Was my arm at least doing the right thing?”
“Eh, it could have been better.”
Killian rolls his eyes as he adjusts his grip on the ball before throwing it, letting it curve right into Robin’s glove. “You know, if you want to bring Roland out on one of our away series, there are plenty of people who would be willing to watch him. He wouldn’t be alone for a second. I can’t reiterate that enough.”
“I’ll think about it, but he’ll be with us for most of the summer anyways. So I think he’ll be alright. You about done for the day?”
They end up staying out there for at least ten more pitches between the two of them, each of them wanting a little more work, before walking back across the field to head inside and shower. Neither of them are playing today, but they still got here early enough for practice so that they’d have a bit of the afternoon free before they took stats for this afternoon’s game.
There’s something infinitely peaceful about an empty stadium, no crowds in their seats and only the sound of a bat cracking against a baseball or a ball thwacking into a glove. It’s what helps him get lost in his thoughts, and as he walks past the mound, he starts looking around into the seats and sees one lone person sitting several rows up.
He’d recognize her anywhere in her jeans and red leather jacket, blonde waves falling over her shoulders as she looks to be writing in a notebook. He hasn’t seen her since they were in LA three days ago. He thought they were having a good conversation, a good night, up on the rooftop of the hotel, but then something flashed in her eyes, some kind of realization that made her need to leave.
Or want to leave.
No part of him understands her and yet he feels like he does. It’s comfortable talking to her, even outside of work. Maybe especially outside of work. And he finds that his stomach swoops and something unfamiliar gets caught in his throat whenever he’s around her. She makes him feel all of the things he hasn’t felt since Milah, and he doesn’t have a lot of clues as to what’s going on inside of her head. This could all be some kind of pipe dream, a relationship that’s not going to happen, but he has to be fine with that.
Whatever they become, if anything, is as much up to her as it is to him.
“You coming?” Robin asks him, and his head snaps toward his friend before looking back up at Emma.
“I’ll be there in a few minutes, okay?”
Rob clicks his tongue. “Just…don’t get in over your head, okay?”
It’s far too late for that kind of advice, but he nods his head anyways before walking over to the small barrier that keeps fans from getting onto the field, hoisting himself up over it, and then climbing over a few seats to try to get to where Emma is sitting. Al, Smee, and Archie would absolutely kill him if they knew he was unnecessarily climbing over things, but what they don’t know won’t hurt them.
He’s two rows in front of Emma when he finally speaks. “You know, Swan, for someone who keeps running away from me, we sure do end up in all of the same places.”
She jumps, her ass literally moving away from the seat, and he chuckles a bit to himself as she pops her headphones out of her ears and looks down at him, green eyes flickering over him. She’s most likely thinking about how much of an asshole he is, but he does have a bit of unfinished business with her, the sweatshirt thief.
“It’s my job, twenty-nine.”
God, he loves when she calls him by his number. It’s got to be some kind of weird primal thing, but he’s going to try not to second guess it.
“Your job requires you to be at the stadium six hours early?”
She shrugs and writes something else down in her notebook. “I like the view.”
“Aw, love, you could have simply asked to see my ass in baseball pants if you wanted.” Emma rolls her eyes, but he can see the slightest smile forming on her lips that has him nodding his head to the seat next to her. “May I?”
Quickly, he climbs over two sets of seats until he’s sliding into the seat next to her, propping his feet up on the back of the chair in front of him so that his slightly muddy cleats are propped up next to Emma’s heeled boots, the water at the other side of the stadium in the background. It’d make a nice picture, something he’s sure is floating around out there, but he thinks he’d rather take in the view of it for now.
“I like the view too,” he admits, twisting his head to the side to look at Emma and the way that freckles scatter over her nose and how she bites on her bottom lip while she’s writing what seems to be some kind of notes for work. He’d rather like to bite that bottom lip as well. Nope. He cannot be thinking that. “It’s peaceful out here when no one else is around, when there’s no music playing or fans screaming. It really…it makes you realize how amazing having a job like this is.”
“It’s the dream, right?”
“Absolutely.” He nudges her shoulder into hers, the warmth of her skin somehow making it through her jacket. She kicks his foot in response. “So, I know you’re usually around most of the day, but when we travel, do you ever get to go around and explore the city? I always wish I had some more time to do that.”
Emma closes her notebook then, sticking her pen in the spiral and placing it on the ground beneath them before adjusting herself in her seat enough that her hand brushes against his, chill bumps rising on his skin. “I’m usually my own producer when on the road. Sometimes Ruby comes with me, but that’s rarer now. So I feel like I’m always doing something, especially because my stat keepers never get me reports in a timely manner. But yeah, sometimes I’ll get up early and wander around the city near the hotel. I very rarely get to do all of the tourist stuff, though. I don’t have the time.”
“It’s the first thing I did when I got called up out of the minors,” he admits, messing with his chain and pulling it to rest over his t-shirt. “I had never been on a plane before college. Hell, I’d never been out of Ohio and Kentucky, and in college we didn’t get a lot of freedom to explore. My coach was a hard ass.”
“Only when we’re losing,” he chuckles, glancing over to see Emma smile. “But I pretty much hit every single cliché site that I could as soon as I had the money. I have far too many cheap keychains.”
“You did not.”
“Do you also own an ‘I heart New York’ t-shirt?”
“Well, no, but I had to go buy a new jacket in LAX because someone stole my favorite sweatshirt.”
Blush rises on her cheeks, coloring her pale skin, and she reaches up to tuck her hair behind her ear. Maybe he’s warming up to her today. She didn’t seem too happy to see him at first, and he obviously doesn’t know what boundaries are when it comes to her. “It’s a really comfortable sweatshirt. I think I’m going to keep it forever.”
He snorts at that and reaches up to stretch his arms behind his head, resting his neck in the cradle of his palms. “You know, love, I am a very charming man.”
“So you think.”
“So I know,” he corrects, kicking at her foot. “And as a charming man, I tend to make friends very easily, friends who can help me get into your hotel room so that I can get my sweatshirt back.”
“I think that’s called stealing. And possibly stalking.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s what you did with my sweatshirt.”
“That was offered.”
“I don’t think so,” he chuckles.
“That is not semantics, love.”
“It totally is,” she laughs, the sound echoing over the empty stadium as Eric and August start running laps around the field. “What time is your flight tonight?”
“Now look who’s stalking.”
“Shut up, Jones.” Infinitely charmed by her. Seriously. “I have the eleven o’clock to JFK as long as the game isn’t monstrously long. If you’re in the airport at the same time, I can give it back to you tonight. If not, I’ll see you back at home.”
“Funnily enough,” he sighs, letting his arm fall over the back of her chair so that his fingers brush over her shoulder and her hair, “I have the same flight with those same conditions since we apparently couldn’t get our charter plane for tonight. Thank goodness or I don’t know what I’d do without my sweatshirt. I obviously can’t travel without it.”
“You’re weird,” she huffs, twisting in her seat so that they’re facing each other, noses less than half a foot apart so that he can smell the mint on her breath. “Everyone thinks that the great Killian Jones is all suave and smooth, but you’re a little dorky.”
He winks. “It’s all part of the charm.”
Emma’s lips press into a soft pink smile, and his mind flashes back to the kiss and how it felt to have those lips moving over his, how it felt to have her body pressed into his. It was exhilarating, made him literally lose his breath, and he aches to do it again. He could do it again if he leaned forward right now.
But he won’t.
She blinks several times, her eyelashes brushing against her cheeks. “What?”
“Are we going to talk about the fact that we kissed?”
And there it is. There’s the elephant in the room. There’s the elephant in the whole damn stadium.
“You can’t talk about it?”
“I can’t do it again.”
“I didn’t – ”
She backs up from him without moving from her seat, and he feels his rapidly beating heart drop to his stomach.
“I know that there’s a…thing between us,” she continues, her eyes looking everywhere but at him. “I’m not dumb. I’ve dated before. I know how it all starts, and I know that I do have…something for you, but I can’t date you, Killian. I just can’t.”
What a way to get his hopes up and crush them all in one sentence.
He reaches up to scratch behind his ear. “Because of your job, right?” he prods, the answer seemingly falling into his lap. “God, Swan, I’m sorry. I’m – I’m a fucking idiot, okay? It doesn’t matter how much I know that I’m screwing up with you, I just keep doing it. I’m sorry.”
“It’s not…” Emma sighs, something loud and unfortunate and that’s really more of a groan before she leans forward and buries her face in her hands. “I’m really shitty at talking to people, so I’m just going to pretend that you’re not here, okay? Like the grown adult woman that I am.”
“Whatever works, love.”
“I really love my job,” she mumbles into her hands. “Like, I love it. I may not be like you getting to live some childhood fantasy come to life, but I love what I do. I’ve lucked into a lot of things, but I’ve also worked hard for it. People have shit on me about it for so long. People I know. People I don’t. And it’s just – I mean, you know about so much stuff that’s happened after you asked me out. You know how much harassment I’ve gotten, so if I’m seen spending time with you or kissing you, I’m going to get so much shit. I’m going to have every single person question my integrity, my ethics, my ability to do my job. And then what? If we break up, I just know that’s all anyone is going to care about as I work with the team and try to do my job. I want to, Killian. I do. I just don’t think that I can. Dating people I work with is a not so great idea.”
That is the most he’s ever heard Emma Swan talk at one time, and he’s still catching up trying to take in everything that she just said and figure out how exactly it is he wants to respond to it.
Mostly, he wants to punch every single person who has ever made her feel shame about what she does for a living, but he imagines that’s the wrong answer.
“I’m sorry,” he finally replies, knowing that it’s not enough. “I’m…I still hate myself for putting you in the position that I did. I respect the hell out of you, Swan, and anyone who doesn’t is a fucking asshole who doesn’t deserve your time. I would never ask you to do something you didn’t want to or something that makes you uncomfortable. I should have…I’ll keep my distance.”
He gulps down the emotion in his throat, taking a deep breath to try to regulate his heartbeat, and stands from his seat, climbing down to the row in front of Emma so that he can get up and walk away. He still needs to take a shower, and this is obviously not a conversation that either one of them want to be having.
“You don’t,” she starts, leaning back in her chair and moving her hands away so that she can her face and the lightness of her eyes. “You don’t have to do that. I like you, Killian. I am obviously a crazy person for admitting that out loud, but I do. I mean, hell, I kissed you. I just…I don’t know what to do about any of it because I can’t take the chance that I’m wrong about you and mess my career up for someone I don’t know super well.”
The most idiotic idea he’s ever starts to form in his mind, and he’s sure Emma is going to laugh him out of the stadium if he says it. She has to. There’s no other possible reaction to it.
“I know how to keep my life private now, love,” he starts, his fingers working furiously at a spot on his chin. “It’s something I learned after I – well, after I was a little more publicized. And if you’re willing, maybe we could test the waters between us but not tell anyone? I don’t have to tell my family or my mates. You don’t have to tell your friends. The public doesn’t have to know. It’ll just be until we know if we’re working out.”
Emma throws her head back and laughs, something light and joyful and maybe a little deranged, and it’s the exact reaction he was expecting.
“Are we a romantic comedy now? Secret dating?”
“I like to think I’m both romantic and comedic, so possibly.”
She wipes her fingers underneath her eyes, a bright smile on her face. Okay, so that wasn’t really what he was expecting. Maybe a little more anger. “You’re serious?” she questions.
“I mean, I know it sounds kind of ridiculous, but if we both want this, why not at least give it a shot?”
“That’s not the first time that I’ve heard that.”
“So what? Do we go on a date? In one of our apartments? I have roommates.”
“I don’t. And technically I told you I wouldn’t ask you out again, and I don’t want to break that promise.”
Emma rolls her eyes, happiness still painted across her face, and he swears that his heart may as well be glowing like he really is in some kind of romantic comedy. How did he ever forget the feeling of having someone return his affections? It’s been too damn long.
“Are you serious? You’ll propose dating without anyone knowing, but you won’t ask me out on a date?”
“It’d be bad form to go back on my promise.”
“Sometimes I think you’re meant to be a British man from several centuries ago with the way you talk”
“That’s…interesting. Not going to question it, though. So, Swan,” he encourages, placing his hands on the back of the seat in front of him and leaning into her space, “do you want to ask me something?”
Emma chews on her bottom lip, her eyes glancing around him before finally looking at him so that all he can see is green, green, green.
“Fine,” she huffs, crossing her arms like he’s putting her out like this. “Do you want to go on a date with me?”
“Eh. A man likes to be courted, and I’m just not sure how good you’ll be at that.”
“I will hurt you.”
“I’m kidding,” he laughs, stepping up onto the chair in front of him until he’s back on level with Emma, reaching forward to grab her hand and pull her up out of her seat so that they’re nearly eye level. “Of course I will go on a date with you. Just, come here.”
He tilts his head to the side before threading his fingers through hers and walking to his right, stepping over discarded beer bottles and hot dog wrappers that haven’t been cleaned up yet, until he’s got he and Emma hidden behind a support pole, none of the players on the field able to see the two of them.
Emma’s chest is visibly heaving, her lips parted and cheeks flushed, and he reaches up with his free hand to tuck her loose hair behind her ear, fingertips brushing skin in a way that lights him up and causes a shiver to run down the length of his spine.
This isn’t real. There’s no way it can be.
“Killian,” she whispers as he leans in a little closer, his forehead resting against hers and their noses brushing together. He’s still holding her hand. Why is that what he’s focusing on? “Why did you just tug me away from my seat and make me hide behind this gigantic pole?”
“Because I’m going to kiss you.”
“I was planning on it.”
“I kind of like this plan. I mean, I – ”
He doesn’t let her finish talking, dipping his head down and surging forward to press his mouth into hers and finally feel the softness of her lips against him. Emma gasps, and he can tell that she wants to keep talking, but then she’s parting her lips a little so that he can swipe his tongue against the seam. Killian can feel her pressed into every part of him, can feel those hard lines and soft curves, and his hand snakes into her hair to help guide the kiss all the while her free hand holds onto his t-shirt. It’s slower, softer than their first kiss. A need to keep going, to keep deepening, is there, but he takes it slow as he never wants this to end.
This is damn well near perfect.
Most definitely the best end to a practice that he’s ever had. Honestly, he’d be more likely to show up on time if this was guaranteed.
Emma nips at his bottom lip before soothing it with her tongue, and a growl comes from the back of his throat before he’s pulling back and opening his eyes as his nose brushes against Emma’s. He’d like to keep doing that.
“I feel kind of crazy right now.”
“I feel kind of crazy at all times.”
“Well, that dos fit your personality type.”
He leans in to quickly brush his mouth over Emma’s simply because he can. “That’s the kind of swoon worthy thing I’m looking for as you court me.”
“Again, you’re a man from another century.”
“But I’ve obviously retained my youthful glow.” There’s a crack of a ball against a bat behind them, and he turns to see that the Eric is now practicing with Roseman. It brings reality back to him for a minute, and he sighs, pulling back from Emma a little more as his thumb runs over her knuckles. “We should probably both get back to work.”
“Are you freaking out right now?”
“No,” she says, the lie obvious on her lips. All he has to do is raise his brow for her to crack. “Okay, yeah, a lot. I feel like this is going to blow up in our faces.”
“Aye, I know.” He brings their hands up to his lips and presses a kiss on the back of her hand. “Just…Emma, can you trust me?”
“I want to.”
“Give me a shot, and if you decide against it, that’s it. We don’t have to try this anymore, and I give you full permission to slander my name in the public eye.”
“That’s a lot of power you’re giving me there.”
“I’m a dumb man.”
Her eyes scrunch up with her smile, her nose too, and it feels damn good to get that out of her. “I’ll see you at the airport tonight, right?”
The lights are already dimmed in the plane cabin when he slides into the seat next to Emma, jostling her as she looks away from the movie, she’s watching to look at him, surprise evident in her features.
“What the hell, twenty-nine?” she whispers, trying not to wake anyone up. “You are most definitely not the little old woman who was my seatmate.”
“Louise is now happily sitting in first class.”
“Are you serious? How did you do that?”
“Darling, I don’t know about you, but most people don’t turn down free seat upgrades when they get the chance. Besides, I told you I’m charming and make friends all over.”
“You’re weird is what you are,” she laughs, adjusting her blanket over her lap and offering him some of it so that he covers his legs as well. Emma Swan brings her own blankets with her when she travels. Noted. “You wouldn’t happen to be able to talk yourself into getting another one of those cookies from a flight attendant, would you?”
His lips curl up on the side. “I could, but that would require me flirting with another woman.”
“I mean, you already undoubtedly flirted with Louise.”
He snickers, having to turn to the side to bury his mouth in his shoulder to quiet it so no one around them notices. Everyone is asleep or tuned into their movie, and he takes comfort in that.
“Tell you what, Swan. I’ll get you a cookie if you finally give me my sweatshirt back.”
“Oh, so you noticed that, did you?”
“You’re literally wearing it right now.”
“We’ve had this conversation before.”
“I know.” Emma shuffles again, seemingly uncomfortable in her seat, but then he feels the warmth of her hand wrapping around his, and she’s twining together their fingers before placing them in her lap under the blanket. “I really was going to give it back when we were waiting by our gate, but I figured it was too obvious in front of the whole damn team.”
“This is true. We’ve got to work on this discreet thing.”
“Trading seats with little old ladies to sit next to me probably doesn’t help.”
“I think it’s worth it.”
“I’m a man of many facets.”
“So I’m learning,” she yawns, closing her eyes for a minute. “I’ll give you the sweatshirt back before we land. I promise. You want to watch this movie with me?”
“I think that sounds like a good plan.”
And now the fun really begins 😉
Chapter 9: Chapter Nine
How long can she stand outside of an apartment building before it become creepy?
Right now, Emma is verging on fifteen minutes, and she feels like that’s fine. However, once she starts creeping up into the twenty and thirty minute categories, that’s when it gets weird and she feels kind of stalker-ish even though she was explicitly told to come over.
Maybe she should go hang out in the Duane Reade that Killian has across the street from his apartment building. She needs chapstick, right? Everyone needs chapstick at all times. Lips get dry and kind of flaky, and no one likes that, especially if they’re currently in some kind of arrangement where making out with another human being occasionally occurs.
She’s in one of those.
She’s not sure, and she’s very obviously freaking out and going to lose her mind on east ninety-first street. Maybe she can buy something at Duane Reade to knock her out, and she’ll never have to remember any of this. That would probably be ideal.
Wow. She is outstanding at relationships. Or quasi relationships with a man who she has worked with for several years, rejected on national television, and then made out with at three different stadiums across the United States.
But secretly made out with.
Oh shit. They’re going to get caught if they keep doing that, and the only reason she agreed to this was under the promise of no one knowing.
(And because he makes her stomach swoop in a painful, yet good, way.)
She cannot handle anyone knowing. Her career cannot handle anyone knowing. No one can know.
Creepily standing outside of his apartment building holding the Vanderbilt sweatshirt she still hasn’t given back (it’s only been a week, okay?) is probably not the best way for that to happen.
Taking a deep breath, she looks to each side of the street before crossing the road and entering his apartment building. It’s already approximately one thousand times nicer than hers, which is to be expected, and she dodges the front desk guy and turns the corner to the elevators to punch in the code Killian gave her to get in, and then walks inside the doors to wait to go up to his apartment.
This isn’t weird, right?
Did she feel this way when she started dating Neal? Or Walsh?
Nope. No. Nope. She’s not going to start thinking of them right now when she’s already freaking out enough over everything.
Why in the world is she doing this?
Because you like him, you dumbass.
The little voice in her head sounds a lot like Ruby, and Emma’s not sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
It takes two raps of her knuckles on Killian’s door for him to swing it open, and then all of the sudden he’s standing on the other side with a bright white smile on his face, his beard clearly not having been trimmed in a few days, and a bit of fringe hanging over his forehead. Her eyes scan over him, clearly trying to buy herself some time for how her heart is like a freaking drumline beating against her ribs, and she notices that he has on a loose-fitting t-shirt, some jeans, and he’s not wearing any shoes.
Why is she so charmed by the fact that he’s not wearing any shoes? He’s in his own apartment. Why would he be wearing shoes? Do people wear shoes in their own homes?
“Hello, love,” he greets, his own eyes flickering over hers. “Nice to see that you finally made it inside the building.”
Her mouth gapes open, but she doesn’t even get the chance to form a rebuttal before Killian is dipping his head down and pressing his lips against hers with his palm coming to rest behind her back, tugging her forward and into his apartment so that the door closes behind him and she’s left with wood solidly against her back. Killian really likes kissing her against solid walls. That’s a thing she’s noticed. He’s also got this thing with his teeth and his tongue that makes her see stars in broad daylight. She’s noticed that too. Gooseflesh is rising on her skin, and she’s grabbing onto the soft material of his t-shirt over his biceps and about to open her mouth to him when he pulls back, leaving her gasping for air even though she now has access to it.
“Hi,” he whispers, greeting her again while she leans her head back to rest it against the doorframe.
“Hi. How’d you know I was waiting outside?”
“Darling, my windows open up right out to the street.”
She presses up on her toes to look over Killian’s shoulder, and he’s right. His windows do look out over the street.
Holy shit does she love his apartment.
His walls are covered in floor-to-ceiling windows, which is so much more than she can say for her place, and everything is so…simple. And it’s not simple in a bad way. It’s just that she has a lot of junk with her throw pillows and blankets and miscellaneous plants everywhere. Killian’s apartment is all warm colors and clean lines, and his couch looks like the most comfortable thing in the world. And she’d probably cook if she had a kitchen that was more than five feet of space in the corner.
Is it too late for her to play some kind of professional sport so that she can live somewhere like this? Ruby and Graham would love it.
Wait, no. Ruby and Graham would not be moving in with her if she could afford to live on her own. She loves them, but no.
“You stare at me too much,” she finally says in response, her eyes looking back to Killian so that she’s overwhelmed by the blue. Seriously. That kind of blue should not be possible. “You’ve got to let a girl freak out on the sidewalk in peace.”
He raises a brow. “Why were you freaking out? I don’t bite. Unless otherwise asked.”
That doesn’t do anything to her. Nope. Not at all. Especially not because his voice got super deep when he asked that. She is so in over her head that it’s not even funny. Why in the world does anyone date when it causes this much anxiety?
“I’m not very good at dating,” she admits, kind of wishing she could melt through the door. “I don’t have a good history with it.”
“If you did, I very much doubt I’d get to kiss you hello like that.”
“That’s a good point.”
“I tend to make those.”
“Apparently because you’re super smart, Professor Jones.”
“Eh,” he protests, backing up to give her some space as he scratches behind his ear. Is he nervous too? “I’m not too sure about that. You want something to drink?”
“It’s ten in the morning. I think it’s too early.”
“Believe it or not, I do have things like water to offer you.”
“Oh. Yeah, water would be good.”
Killian nods his head up and down before leaning in and pressing his mouth to her cheek, breath hot against her skin. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“Most definitely.” He pulls back then and walks the few feet to his kitchen, opening his fridge and pulling out two bottles of water, placing them on the counter. “So, I know that technically speaking you’re the one who asked me out on this date.”
“Only because you demanded it.”
“Semantics.” She watches as he twists open his bottle and takes a sip, practically swallowing the whole bottle at once all the while she barely touches hers. “But this is my apartment, and I feel like I should show you around. I already have lunch secured, so you don’t have to worry about that.”
“I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to pay. You’re stealing my date, twenty-nine.”
He smiles at that. It seems the man who is always calling her by every nickname in the book likes having a nickname of his own that’s not from Will Scarlet. Huh.
“I’m not stealing anything. I owe you half of a pizza.”
“Are you serious?”
“As a sailing accident.”
Her heart may actually lurch at that, and when she looks at Killian, he’s glancing away, obviously as uncomfortable with talking about his accident as she is even if he’s the one who brought it up. But he jokes sometimes when he’s nervous or uncomfortable, and honestly, knowing that Killian may be just as nervous as she is for this whole thing makes her feel a hell of a lot better.
It’s the blind leading the blind with absolutely no expertise in the area.
“So pizza?” she questions, tapping her knuckles against his countertops. “What’s your poison while at home?”
Killian smiles, one side of his lips stretching into the others, and it makes her feel like she just consumed gallon after gallon of carbonated soda. “The oven-cooked margarita at Nick’s. Like I said, I’m a simple man and like simple things. You’re going to love it.”
“How do you know?”
“You said you trusted me, didn’t you?”
“Well, pizza is a bit more serious than us seeing each other.”
He winks. “Obviously.”
“I mean, arguably, NBC makes some of the best comedies.”
“Fox had a few good ones.”
“Fox dropped Brooklyn 99.”
“Okay, valid,” Killian laughs, leaning over to the coffee table in front of his couch to pick up another slice of pizza. It has to be his fifth by this point, and the food got here an hour ago. She hasn’t quite figured out his diet yet. Sometimes he eats like an athlete should and other times he eats like an athlete can. “That was a dumb decision on their part.”
“The dumbest. But then again, NBC picked it up, so that furthers my point.”
“I should have known you were a serious comedy fan when you knew I was quoting The Office.”
She watches as he takes a large bite of his pizza, not at all caring how messy he looks, and she tucks her feet further underneath her thighs. For as nervous as she was to show up here, to come inside, it’s oddly comfortable right now. Of course, they’ve had pizza (even if it’s not noon yet) and reruns of Superstore playing on the TV to distract them, but it’s comfortable.
Killian Jones makes her comfortable.
That should be terrifying, is kind of terrifying, but she’s having too nice of a morning to think too much about that. And this pizza is actually really good, and she doesn’t want to have to walk away from that.
This is for the pizza. It doesn’t have to be about anything else even though it most definitely is.
“I mean, I’m all about the dramas. I can watch a cop show any day of the week, but Graham always complains about how inaccurate it is and makes me change the channel.”
Killian’s jaw clenches. “Graham?”
“Ruby’s boyfriend. He’s why I had to come over here for our little secret rendezvous. Ruby is at the offices, but Graham is home this morning. He’s got the night shift tonight.”
“Ah,” he sighs, taking another bite of his pizza. Was he just…jealous? No, that would be weird and kind of primal, but they’re…seeing each other so maybe also kind of normal. It’s like she’s sixteen again or something. How the hell do sixteen-year-olds handle this when she, a twenty-seven-year-old woman, cannot? “Sorry. I forgot his name for a moment, but I remember now. He’s the detective, right?”
“That would explain why he hates any crime drama. Liam hates any and all medical shows and will turn the television off if anyone is watching it when he’s around. Elsa freaking loves those things, though. She’s got the ability to look past the things that are wrong.”
“I think it may just be a stubborn man thing.”
“Says literally the most stubborn person I’ve ever met.”
Emma sticks her tongue out, like every mature woman would do, only for Killian’s warm, rough hands to wrap around her calves and pull her forward on the couch (which is the most comfortable thing in the world, as she expected), making her head land against the cushions and the breath she was holding escape her.
“I am not stubborn.”
“You’re stubborn about being stubborn,” he sighs, pulling her forward a little more so that he can lean forward over her, his knees on either side of her thighs and his hands next to her head as he hovers over her, the chain that’s always hanging around his neck falling out of his shirt so that it rests over her breasts, a shiny silver ring in the middle. What the hell is that? Is she allowed to ask? “I kind of like that you’re stubborn.”
“Really? I had no idea.”
“Mmmm, that’s not true,” he hums, dipping his head down and brushing his lips across her jaw, a shiver immediately running down her spine. God, she likes the way that his scruff feels on her skin. He should keep doing that and definitely never shave the stubble. “You’re an observant one. You know these things.”
He nips at her skin, and she arches up into him, reaching her arms up to trail her fingers across the muscles in his arms. The talking may be hard, but she can handle this. This is good. “You don’t exactly hide your affections for me.”
“I most definitely do.”
“You asked me out on TV.”
“You looked beautiful that day.”
“You looked sweaty.”
He laughs into her neck, rubbing his cheek into her skin, before moving back up her face and hovering over her mouth so that she can see the few freckles on his face and the blue of his eyes. She is never going to get over that blue.
His breath kind of smells like pizza.
He probably tastes like it too. She does really like that pizza.
“Now, Swan,” he sighs, visibly put out as he leans down and presses his mouth to hers in a quick, dirty kiss before pulling back, making her cant her hips up into his and tighten her grip on his arms, “I do believe that you asked me out the second time. I don’t think my rejected proposal counts anymore.”
“No, you’re never living that down. If I can’t, neither can you.”
“I feel like it’s worked out pretty well for me.” He waggles his brows across his forehead, and she slaps his arm, rolling her eyes even as she presses up to try to kiss him again. They’re good at that. She’d like to keep doing it. “Or maybe you’re just here for my pizza.”
“It is good pizza.”
“Jones, are we going to talk about pizza all day, or are you going to kiss me?”
“Why not both?”
“Shut up,” she gasps as he lowers his entire body down to her, the warmth overcoming her, and rests his elbows on the sides of her head as his lips cover hers, slowly but surely sliding over hers over and over again until she cannot think of anything else but the noise Killian makes when she pulls at his bottom lip.
She’d like another order of this pizza and Killian making that sound. That would be the perfect morning.
He licks into her mouth without any hesitancy, his fingers curling into her hair as his tongue curls around hers in a slick, wet slide of heat and desire and all of those little things that make the hairs all over her body stand at attention. It’s overwhelming and not enough all at once, and when Killian pushes her body further into the couch, the cushions gaining an Emma-shaped dent, she knows that she never wants to move away from the way Killian is hungrily devouring her and settling between her thighs, hips rolling against hips and desire continuously building as the air is very thoroughly kissed out of her.
Who needs air? She certainly doesn’t.
Arousal curls between her thighs, a warm and thick heat that spreads up her stomach and to her chest, tightening around her heart, and she scratches her nails down Killian’s back in response, wondering if she can leave marks even through his t-shirt.
“Oh fuck,” she mutters, both to Killian and herself, as he slides his lips against her jaw until he’s biting down on the lobe of her ear at the same time that she’s pushing her hips up against his groin to grind against him, little burst of pleasure exploding just under her skin.
“You taste like pizza,” he mumbles in a dark growl, one that’s definitely not how any normal person should sound when talking about pizza.
“You did say you liked that.”
“I believe that was you.”
“Semantics,” she gasps out when his tongue flicks behind her ear while her hands grapple for his ass and her legs snake around his hips to push him closer into her space. Killian’s hands are moving from her hair to between them, his stomach lifting up so his hands can fit between them, and then she feels the warm, calloused fingers against her stomach and nearly melts right then and there, officially becoming part of this couch.
How the hell has she ended up in this situation?
Why didn’t she end up here sooner?
Lips find hers again as fingers inch up her skin, Killian’s thumb brushing under the swell of breasts. She can feel the tingle of her skin as his fingers push up the cup of her bra, and she knows that she’s on the precipice of having Killian rile her up more when her phone rings, the loud buzz causing it to move across his coffee table.
Talk about a buzzkill.
“Ignore it,” she huffs, tugging on Killian’s bottom lip.
“Exactly my thoughts.”
Her mouth continues to explore his, his hands moving over her body, and they’re on that precipice again when her phone buzzes once more.
“Fucking hell,” Killian grumbles, falling on top of her before inching back up to give her some space. His chest is heaving, his hair completely and totally disheveled, and she’s so distracted by his hooded eyes that she can’t even bother to look to see who it is that’s calling her. “You want to get that, Swan?”
She jerks in her spot, a different kind of shiver running down her spine, and leans over to grab her phone only for the call to end. Luckily, or not so depending on how she looks at it, Ruby calls right back.
“Well that is certainly a way to answer the phone,” Ruby huffs, the audible sound of music playing behind her. She must be in the editing room. “Why didn’t you answer your phone the first two times that I called?”
“I was showering,” she lies, guilt piling up in the pit of her stomach.
“Oh, did you go to the gym?”
“No, just hadn’t showered yet. Lazy day and all that.”
“Do you want to go to the gym with me after I get off of work?”
“Sure. What’s got you in such a hurry to be calling me three times?”
Killian raises a brow, a little bit of blue coming back to his eyes, and he pulls her legs forward to settle them between his thighs as she listens to Ruby talk. “Oh, I’m bored on my lunch break, and I couldn’t get Graham to pick up his phone. He’s still sleeping I think.”
Oh shit. She forgot about Graham. How did she forget about Graham? She was just talking about how he’s at home, but she didn’t think about what happens if he tells Ruby she’s not home when she’s telling Ruby that she is. She is going to get caught in her lies so damn easily, and it’s been a week.
She really hopes Graham is actually still asleep and she can get away with this one. Maybe he’ll think she’s locked herself away in her room to nap when he wakes up. This is something she definitely has to get better at.
Getting better at lying seems like an awful skill.
“Probably. I haven’t seen him today.”
Killian traces his nail across her ankle, all of his attention focused on a little freckle that’s there. It’s distracting, but it mostly just feels good. This has been a much better morning than she thought it would be…not that she thought it would be bad. Not at all. Her nerves simply got the best of her.
“I’ll try him again soon. Can you get to work early tomorrow? I want to go over some stuff for when you travel for the Rays series. I’m so mad at David for taking me off of a lot of our travel dates. He let me go to Texas but not California or Florida. Why does he hate me?”
“I’m pretty sure he just doesn’t want to pay for your plane ticket.”
“Oh,” Ruby gasps at the same time that Killian tugs Emma forward a bit more, making her emit a tiny yelp as her head falls against the couch, “I forgot to tell you, but David told me to tell you that when the team charters a plane, you have gotten permission to fly with them. No more weird ass times for flights so that money can be saved.”
“Are you serious?” Killian raises a brow again, obviously far too interested in her phone conversation. She doesn’t blame him. This is the conversation that interrupted their very thorough make out session. “That’s freaking incredible. I’m kind of sad I’m going to lose my miles, though.”
“You have a million saved up. You could fly to Europe and back for free. Multiple times.”
“This is true.”
“I bet Jones tries to sit next to you on the plane.”
If she were drinking water, she’d spit it out. Right now, she might as well be choking on her own saliva. “I’m sorry…what?”
“Your lover boy. He’ll probably try to sit next to you on the plane. Or any of the other guys who have crushes on you. You live the life.”
“Believe it or not, I don’t do my job for the men it surrounds me with.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Killian whisper-shouts, and she has to lean across the couch to cover his mouth with her hand.
“What was that?” Ruby asks.
“The TV.” God, she’s an awful human being for doing this. “Rubes, can I call you back later? My phone keeps going off with emails.”
More lies. If this thing works out, the first person she is telling is Ruby, and she will give her whatever she wants to make it up to her for lying to her.
“It’s probably David. He speaks in emails.”
“It’s definitely David. See you at home before we go to the gym?”
“See you at home.”
She ends the call and moves her hand off of Killian’s mouth after he lightly chomps down on her fingers. The weirdo.
“So what is this about the men who surround you at your job?”
Emma rolls her eyes and rises from the couch, adjusting her top and her hair, trying to make herself a little more put together. The heat is still simmering, but it’s deep below the surface now so that she can think of other things.
“I get to fly on the chartered plane with you guys now, and Ruby was making fun of you and your very public crush on me by saying that you’re most definitely going to try to sit next to me.”
Killian hums in response, stretching his arms behind his head and rest his head there as he lazily smiles up at her, the smugness practically radiating off of him. “Little does she know, I managed to do that already.”
“Always.” He tilts his head toward the television. “You want to delve into some more comedies or do you need to get going?”
“Comedies sound perfect.”
They lapse into easy conversation, and she realizes with every minute that passes, she becomes more and more comfortable sitting on Killian’s couch and simply spending time with him outside of work. He’s visibly relaxed, his arm slung over her shoulders and his hands playing with the tips of her hair. She doesn’t think he even really realizes it.
She could probably rattle off all of his best games, worst games, and all of those in between, hundreds of stat sheets piled up in her brain, but she realizes that she knows so little about Killian outside of baseball. Why would she? They’ve only ever had a working relationship, but little by little, she’s piecing together more and more information as he probably does the same to her.
The womanizing man splattered across tabloids and on the internet is actually a kind of nerdy man who bakes and keeps pictures of his nieces everywhere and laughs these big belly laughs at Jim Halpert and Dwight Schrute pranking each other. The womanizing thing tugs at her a little bit, curiosity and worries festering, but if she’s not willing to open up about her past right now, she can’t expect Killian to either. This is all so new, so fresh, and there’s no need to get into the heaviness of her past so that Killian gets scared away right now.
She feels good, and she wants that to last for a little bit longer while she figures things out. This whole thing is terrifying and exhilarating and makes her lose her mind a little bit all at once.
Ending up here is the last thing she ever expected.
“That was a good date,” she tells Killian when the hours have passed, and she has to leave so that she’s home before Ruby gets home.
“You want to go on another one?” he teases as he leads her from the couch to his front door, the spring sun shining through his windows.
“Why, Mr. Jones, who the hell said you could ask me out now?”
A brow rises, his lips curling into a half smile while her stomach swoops. “I figured I’d earned that right back.”
“Maybe. I think I might still take a bit more convincing.”
Killian leans into her, his lips brushing over the shell of her ear while his hands find purchase on her hips, tugging her closer. “Which method of mine would you like me to use to convince you?”
She tilts her head back, raising her brow in response to his own. “What are my options?”
“Well,” he drawls, breath hot on her ear, “I can do this.” He follows the words with a slow caress of her mouth that has her toes curling in her shoes. “Or I can feed you again.”
Emma chuckles, unable to help herself, and wraps her hands around the back of his neck, curling her fingers into his hair. It’s so soft. He probably uses some kind of fancy shampoo and conditioner. Is it weird that she’s kind of tempted to go look in his shower to see? That seems like a weird thing to do.
“Tell me more about that food thing.”
Killian pulls his head back, this vibrant smile on his face that is completely different under the warm lights of his apartment than under the bright lights in stadiums or the dimmed lights of the locker room. It’s nice. It’s more than nice.
“Well, we have pizza. We could also go the healthier option of some grilled chicken and rice.”
“I’ve seen you eat both of those things.”
“Yeah, but they don’t entice me to want to go on another home date with you.”
Killian’s eyes flutter closed as his head leans forward so that she can feel his kiss against her forehead before he pulls back. “I can bake you something.”
“Now that,” she laughs, moving her hands down to press them against his chest, her fingers grazing a bit of chest hair and his chain, “is a brilliant idea. I like chocolate.”
“I don’t most of the time.”
“We’ll compromise. I also really like grilled cheese sandwiches”
“You eat like a small child. How the hell are you so in shape?”
“I’m pretty much a Gilmore Girl.”
“I’m not sure that you talk enough for that.”
A man who gets her pop culture references even if she’s pretty sure he’s never seen the show. She likes that. How many times can she think that in one day? Is that some kind of metaphorical sign or something?
“I can work on that.” Emma presses up on her toes and quickly slides her lips over Killian’s, knowing that if she lingers too long, she won’t be able to pull away and will end up staying far too long. She can’t do that. She’s not quite ready for it yet. And she has to get back to her apartment before Ruby gets home. Lying to Graham is kind of easy. Lying to her best friend, not so much. “You be thinking about what you’re going to bake for me, and I’ll consider coming back. I’ve got to go work off that pizza with Ruby.”
“Are you going running or to Pilates?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Just trying to figure out what kind of outfit you’re going to be wearing.”
“Okay,” she laughs, pulling back from him and ducking around him to open his apartment door, “I’m leaving now.”
“Bye, love. See you at the stadium tomorrow?”
“I’ll be there.” Killian nods his head, his hand propped up against the doorframe so that she can see the slightest bit of his stomach as she walks away to the elevator with her lips curved upward. “And yoga pants, twenty-nine.”
Chapter 10: Chapter Ten
Giving you guys a really quick update 😘
Emma: Do you know if we’re getting food on this flight?
Killian:It’s seven thirty in the morning.
Emma: And your point? That’s breakfast time.
Emma: I usually stock up on snacks because I am a bottomless pit, but I didn’t have time to this morning. Do you have anything?
Killian: I have an apple. I can very clearly see that Rob has a box of Wheat Thins in his backpack though. You want me to smuggle some for you?
Emma: How would that even work?
Killian: Easy. I steal the box from Rob and then chunk it three rows up to you.
Emma: That won’t be obvious at all.
Killian: I’m very stealthy, love.
“It’s not even eight in the morning,” Robin groans, reaching for the lever on his seat to recline back in the very little space that they’re given. “Who in the world are you texting that much?”
“Liam,” he lies, heat rising to his cheeks. He has texted Liam this morning, but he’s most definitely not texting his brother right now. It’s a half-truth, really. “He’s trying to nail me down for some dinner plans once we get back home. I haven’t gotten to see them much lately, and he and Elsa always get antsy whenever that happens.”
“You’re pretty much their third child.”
“I feel like I’m their third child but also your second.”
“No,” Robin huffs, reaching down into his bag to grab his crackers, “that’s most definitely Will.”
“I can hear you,” Will mumbles from the seat in front of them as he stretches out and snuggles further into his pillow. Will could sleep on any plane at any time. It’s damn impressive. “And I’m not a child just because you all feel the need to baby me, Professor Jones.”
“So not a child but a baby then?” he teases.
Will sticks his middle finger up in between the seats, not even bothering to open his eyes as he murmurs, “fuck off.”
“I love you too, man.”
“Don’t worry,” Robin placates, a smirk on his face, “he’s only mean to you because he likes you.”
“That’s a load of bullshit.”
“For me, yeah, because I say things when I feel them.” Will pops his head in between the seats, his eyes widened but sleep heavy now. “But I think Emma is so pissy toward you because she does actually think you’re hot.”
Woah. Where did that even come from?
“Is that what she said?” he questions like he’s a fifteen-year-old boy worried about Chrissy Stephens liking him back and not like a grown man who knows that the woman he fancies is also interested in him.
What a world that he lives in that Emma Swan is interested in him.
That or she’s been very good at faking it for the last two weeks. God, he hopes that she hasn’t been faking it, but that seems like a hell of a lot of effort when they’ve talked nearly every day. Sometimes it’s just a few texts, a passing word in the hallway, an interview or a press conference question. Other times it’s a phone call late at night or Emma dropping by his place for an hour to eat dinner. He can tell that she’s still terrified by the whole thing, nervous energy practically radiating off of her when she first starts talking to him, but once they get into the groove of things, he believes that she feels comfortable.
Her wanting this and being willing to try is beyond his wildest dreams, and a part of him still thinks he’s going to be hit in the head with a baseball and wake up from whatever kind of concussion-induced dream that he’s under.
So much shit has gone down in his life, things from years past still haunting him, and he’s clinging to this good thing even if it’s far too early for any of that. He hasn’t done this relationship thing in a long time, and he’s still not entirely sure that’s what it is. They haven’t talked about it, and he imagines Emma is not going to be the person to bring it up first.
They could be getting married, and she still might not want to discuss things.
Woah, woah, woah. That is thinking too far ahead for about a million different reasons. He is not going there.
Will’s eyes narrow at him, thick brows pushing together all the while Killian can practically feel Robin’s stare covering every inch of him. “Why do you care?”
He shrugs, his fingers fidgeting with the window shade to let some light in before immediately shutting that away. “I like to know what’s being said about me.”
“She’s sitting right up there. Why don’t you ask her, Professor Jones?”
“Because that sounds like a dumbass idea that will get me in all kinds of trouble.”
“It’s true,” Robin sighs. “You should not be talking to Emma Swan about anything other than baseball.”
His heart drops into his right calf at that. He didn’t know that was possible, but it is. Why would Robin think something like that?
“Because you don’t want to piss her off anymore. She could flip the narrative on you so quickly that you’d get whiplash and all the sudden you’d be back to who you were four years ago.”
His defenses rise, words on the tip of his tongue at the ready to defend Emma. He doesn’t like that Robin thinks she would do that. They’ve all spent time around Emma. They know that even if she can be a little guarded, she’s got their best interests at heart. Even when they’ve screwed up, him especially, she’s never done anything to wrong them.
“That wouldn’t happen. She’s a professional. You know that. She’s not going to pull shit like that,” he says quietly, wondering how in the world he can change this conversation to something else so as not to show all of the metaphorical cards in his hands. “Can I have some of those crackers, Rob?”
Robin eyes him for a moment before handing him the box. Killian doesn’t even really want these, but he’s thankful for them as the conversation dies down and Will goes back to sleeping after under two minutes of trying and Robin keeps watching his movie, typing a long text to Carol for something having to do with Roland. He doesn’t want to pry, so he tries not to look, reluctantly eating the Wheat Thins before snapping a picture of them and sending it to Emma.
Killian: I can throw these across the plane if you’re ready to catch them.
Emma: Hit me with your best shot.
Emma: Not really.
Emma: Please don’t throw food on the plane. I saw that there are snacks in the back, and I’m going to pilfer them.
Before he knows it, he sees Emma’s blonde head rise up as she gets out of her seat and walks down the aisle past him. She doesn’t look at him, her eyes staring straight ahead, but that doesn’t keep him from looking as she sweetly asks a flight attendant for a packet of cookies. It looks like she’s learned since the last time they flew.
When she comes back toward him, he turns in his seat and goes back to flipping through the movies, pretending like he wasn’t just staring her down. Hopefully she didn’t notice that. She may like him, but everyone has their limits.
Emma: The red-headed flight attendant thinks you’re hot.
Killian: I’ve been reliably told that you think the same thing, and I care much more about that.
Emma: Who told you that?
Killian: You’re not the only one who can have sources.
Emma: At least mine are reliable.
Killian: So you don’t think I’m hot?
Emma: I didn’t say that.
Killian: I knew you thought I was sexy, Swan. You flatter a man.
Emma: Shut up and eat your Wheat Thins.
Small pinpricks of pain are spreading down his arm while his shoulder stings. Someone might as well be out here stabbing him with a knife. It would likely be less painful than this.
He’s been doing so well, his shoulder not bothering him, all of his physical therapy working to keep his muscles strengthening and his body in check, and then shit like this happens. There’s no way he can make it past the inning, and even if he wasn’t about to call it, he knows that Al is going to pull him off the mound in no less than three minutes with how many runs he’s giving up.
It’s…not good. They’re down 2-8 in the bottom of the fourth, and he might as well be dying out here under the Florida sunshine and the humidity that has his bones weighing twice their normal weight. Spring Training never prepares him for this when it’s this muggy outside.
He might as well be in a damn swamp. Tropicana field sounds so cheery, so pleasant, but he’s dying inside. Why the hell do teams agree to name their fields things like Tropicana and Minute Maid? How much exactly are they getting paid to suffer like that?
How much is he getting paid to suffer like this?
Taking a deep breath, he tries to focus on what’s in front of him. That’s all he can do when his body is failing him like this, and with a quick windup, he releases the ball from his grip and watches it fly right into Will’s glove.
Strike three. Byrd’s out.
Immediately, he jogs to the dugout, opening the small gate and going straight for the water cooler, gulping down a cup before pouring himself another one and covering his head to try to cool himself down. He’s so damn mad at himself for playing like this, for having a body that’s failing him when his body has always been his livelihood and the thing he maintained with precision and dedication, and all he wants is to punch every single member of the Rays even though none of them have ever actually wronged him.
Anger takes its way out in strange places.
“You’re done, Jones,” Al tells him, his voice clipped.
He tosses his cup to the ground in annoyance and turns to make his way to the bench, figuring he’ll suffer out here for a little while longer, only to see Emma standing with her bottom lip tugged between her teeth and her phone in her hand.
She’s sitting in the dugout with them tonight recording videos and doing fun little segments for her Instagram and Twitter, and he’s probably looked like an ass in all of them.
Because he is an ass.
“You okay?” she mouths.
He doesn’t respond with more than a shake of his head no before he’s turning away and heading toward the tunnels that will take him back to the locker room so he can get this damn shoulder massaged and have Archie yell at him once again for trying to keep all of this under wraps.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Killian sighs into his phone as he runs the towel over his waist, drying his body as much as he can before knotting it over his hip. His brother doesn’t seem to understand that people are busy and life is busy and maybe he wants to shower for fifteen minutes simply so everyone will leave him alone.
It’s been three hours since he left the field after the game, and it’s still not enough time to let him simmer in his thoughts.
“Are you sure because you kept grimacing and – ”
“I know what happened, Liam. God, I…” He runs his hands through his damp hair, water droplets falling over his face and tracing the lines where the beginnings of a sunburn are forming. “My shoulder hurt today. You know it, and I know it. There’s no point in denying it. I just don’t want to talk about it anymore when I already got my ass handed to me by Archie and Al.”
“I’m worried about you,” Liam laments, the sound of his television in the background. The girls should be asleep by now, so it must be Elsa sitting quietly listening in to their conversation while she pretends that she isn’t. He doesn’t know why she does that when she and Liam don’t keep anything to themselves when it comes to him, their honorary third child. “You have been nothing but healthy you’re entire life, and then I convinced you to go sailing with me and – ”
“Please do not blame yourself for that accident anymore.”
“Why not? I’m the one who insisted we go on the weekend trip. I’m the one who – ”
“For fuck’s sake, Liam, it’s not your fault. The drunks who ran into us are the only people who have any kind of fault. We probably should have died that day, and we didn’t. I just got a fucked-up arm. I’ll take that over anything else. You don’t have to act like you’re my father taking responsibility for all of my actions.”
The moment he says the words, he regrets them.
How could he not?
Comparing Liam to their father is the absolute last thing that he wants to do. Liam, even with his faults and his judgmental ways, is nothing like Brennan. Brennan Jones never cared unless it benefitted himself, and Liam cares because it’s what good family does. It’s what people who love each other do.
His brother is the greatest man that he knows, and yet here he is taking all of his anger out on him because he can’t always play the sport that he loves like he used to.
“Our father never took any responsibility for our actions.”
“God,” he groans, running his hands through his hair again and yanking at the strands, “I don’t know why I said that. I just – ”
“You’re angry right now.” The way Liam says the words calmly, like they’re talking about the weather or a lunch up on the rooftop of his building, weirdly calms him down and makes his heart beat a little less erratically. “I would be angry too if the accident had kept me from doing something I love the way I had done it before. You got hurt, and I got a small scar on my knee. It’s not fair, and you can be angry. Just…don’t let that anger ruin your relationship with others.”
“I hate that you’re so wise sometimes.”
“It’s only some of the time,” Elsa pipes in, confirming his thought that she was in there simply listening in. “He’s an idiot most of the time, actually, and it drives me insane that the girls think he is the smartest man alive.”
“Hi, Els,” he laughs, opening the door to the bathroom to let some of the steam out and walking back into his hotel room. “You should really announce yourself before you start listening in on a conversation. I know you’re there.”
“Yeah, but I don’t want you to think I’m too nosy.”
Killian barks out a laugh at that because there’s no other word he could describe Elsa as other than nosy at this moment. Compassionate and kind also come to mind, but right now she’s nosy.
Shuffling through the room, he sits down at the edge of the bed, the mattress dipping down underneath his weight, and picks up the remote to turn the television if only because he wants some background noise, so he doesn’t get too lost in his own thoughts.
“You and my brother are a packaged deal, darling,” he sighs, “and Addy and Lucy. I know that you are all far too much into my business.”
“It’s only because we care, little brother.”
“Younger, you asshole.”
“Language,” Elsa scolds.
“I’m twenty-eight years old and sitting in a hotel room by myself. I think I can say the word asshole.”
“Sorry, force of habit.”
“You’re such a mom,” he groans, falling back against the mattress, his towel coming undone the slightest bit.
“I did not push those two children out of my vagina to go by any other name.”
“Oh my God, stop. I don’t like to think about how those two were created.”
“Killian, childbirth is natural.”
“I’m talking about the creating, not the delivering.”
Liam and Elsa both start coughing before their coughs turn into laughter, the two of them sputtering and bickering back and forth with each other, and he sits up on the bed and starts mindlessly flipping through the channels until he finds a Dodgers game. Why is he watching baseball when he’s trying to get away from it all?
Because it is his life.
“You know, little brother,” Liam chokes out, emphasizing the little because he is, indeed, an asshole, “if you had a girlfriend, you would probably feel more comfortable talking about sex.”
“I am perfectly comfortable talking about sex. Just not yours.”
“I know but – ”
There’s a knock at the door, and he feels like he’s saved by the bell (or the knuckles) at the sound, not really wanting to have this conversation with Liam even if he goaded them into it and if it’s more pleasant than talking about his shoulder.
“Hey, guys,” he starts, already getting up and tying his towel a little tighter around his waist, “there’s someone at my door. I have to go. I’ll call you tomorrow, yeah?”
“Let us know if you need to talk,” Elsa sighs, quietly echoed by Liam. “We love you.”
“Love you guys too.”
He hangs up the phone and places it on his dresser before crossing the room and looking through the peephole to see who is knocking on his door.
She’s standing just outside his door in an oversized white sweater and a pair of leggings, her hair pulled up in a messy bun, and he can tell by the way that she’s unable to stand still that she’s anxious. Immediately, he twists all of the locks and swings open the door, catching it before it slams into the wall.
“Swan,” he smiles, already reaching forward and tugging her inside, looking from side to side in the hallway to make sure no one is around.
“Hey, so I – ”
He stops her before she can finish her sentence, closing the door behind them and quickly dipping his head down to slide his lips over hers, just the barest hint of a touch in greeting but enough to make all of his body begin to stand at attention.
“Hi,” he whispers when he pulls back.
Emma’s lashes flutter as she looks up at him, a little redness of her cheeks. “Hi. I’m guessing you don’t mind that I dropped by then.”
“Truthfully, I’m very upset about it.”
“You’re a liar,” she laughs, adjusting the bag that she’s holding. Wow, he didn’t even notice the bag. His mind is all over the place tonight. “You’re also not wearing any clothes. Why are you not wearing any clothes?”
A shiver runs down his spine as Emma’s eyes glance over him, very obviously cataloging his body in the same way that he’s done to hers in the past. The room is more heated, the steam from the bathroom permeating into the bedroom, and he knows that it would be so damn easy to step a little bit more into Emma’s space and capture her mouth with his as his hands explored her body the way that her eyes are exploring him. It would be so damn easy to forget about the difficulties of this day, to forget about the ache in his shoulder, and let his body do all of the talking that it couldn’t do today.
He could prove that his body still works, that he can still do good with it, that he can still bring himself pleasure, bring Emma pleasure.
…but he can’t do that. Not yet.
It’s not the right time when he’s riddled in self-doubt and frustration, and even if Emma was ready, he wants to do this right. He doesn’t want to use her and his affections for her to make him forget everything for a night.
They need more time to get to know each other.
When the hell was the last time he wanted to get to know a woman well before he slept with her?
Why would he even ask himself that question when he knows the answer?
“Well, darling,” he finally sighs, backing up from her to give himself room to breathe all the while he makes sure to flash her a grin, “I did this thing called showering, and I don’t often do it with clothes.”
“That’s smart. It’d probably get a little messy like that.”
“Most definitely. What’s in the bag?”
“Oh,” she gasps, her shoulders shrugging up the slightest bit as her eyes light up, the darkness turning back to light green. “So, I didn’t mean to be presumptuous or whatever by coming here, but you didn’t seem to have the best day, and I figured I would bring you, like, a snack or whatever to help you out. Then I thought maybe I could stay for a bit, but if you want to tell me to fuck off, I can be back in my room in a minute.”
How in the world does he find everything she does so charming? He was in a piss-poor mood, still is, and even though he wasn’t exceptionally friendly to her when she was doing interviews in the locker room, she’s being more than kind to him.
“Love, the absolute last thing I would do is tell you to fuck off. I’m glad you decided to come see me even if I don’t know how you know my room number.”
She winks before turning around and placing the paper bag down. “You’re not the only one who knows how to charm people to get information.”
“Apparently not. What kind of spoils have you brought me?”
“Totally ignoring the fact that you said spoils,” she laughs, pulling out a bag of salt and vinegar chips and then several snack cakes. And then one banana which doesn’t seem to fit at all. “But I raided a vending machine and also the hotel front desk for the banana, and figured maybe we could pig out a bit since I know for a fact both of us are going running tomorrow.”
“Do you have strawberry short cakes in that pile?”
He steps closer to her, and she holds up a package of Pop-Tarts, strawberry flavored. “Is this close enough?”
“Only because we’re in a pinch.” Killian takes it out of her hand, and tosses it over to the bed before picking up his bag of clothes and sliding it into the bathroom. “I’m just going to put on some pants and then we’ll – ”
There’s another knock on his door, and this time he’s not saved by the bell. He doesn’t want this conversation to end. Emma stops what she’s doing, dropping the chips she’s holding back onto the desk, and she turns to look at him with wide eyes and parted lips, panic written across all of her features.
“What do we do?” she whispers, her voice probably echoing from here all the way back up to the east coast.
“I’m just going to ignore it,” he says quietly, stepping back over to the door to look to see who it is. “Oh shit.”
“What?” Emma whispers, stepping closer only for him to hold out his arm in front of her.
There’s another knock, this time really more of a pounding, and then Ariel’s voice comes through the wood. “I know you’re in your room, Killian. Open the door.”
Emma’s eyes widen even more, and if he wasn’t currently freaking out over what to do, he’d laugh at the comic relief over the whole thing. “Get in the bathroom, love.”
She nods her head, quickly picking up the food she brought in and scrambling into the bathroom, closing the door behind her at the same time that he opens his hotel door, his hand furiously scratching at his ear.
“Well, that’s a way to greet me.” She immediately moves past him and into the room, never one for understanding personal space. “Why do you have a package of Pop-Tarts on your bed?”
“I got it from the vending machine,” he lies, closing his door behind her and walking back over to his bed. “I was hungry but didn’t feel like ordering anything in. Why are you here? Where’s Eric?”
Ariel rolls her eyes and stretches out onto his bed, picking up the remote and immediately changing the TV from the game he was watching. “Believe it or not, I am capable of being in a separate space than my husband.”
“You know that’s not what I meant.”
She simply waves him away. “Whatever. I just wanted to check on you. I know you get all moody after losses, and you didn’t come join everyone for dinner. Also, can you put some clothes on while we have this conversation? I love you, but I don’t need to see every bit of you.”
“You’re the one who came barging into my room,” he groans as his mind runs through about fifteen scenarios on how to get Ariel out of his room, “but fine. I’ll go change.”
Killian steps away from his bed and walks the few steps to the bathroom door, quietly opening it up and immediately shutting it behind him in case Ariel for some reason decided to move behind him.
This is by far the weirdest thing that has happened to him this year. He’s hiding his girlfri – he’s hiding Emma in his hotel bathroom.
And she’s sitting on the countertop with her legs crossed over each other eating the bag of chips like that’s not the loudest food she could have chosen.
“What are you doing?” she hisses. Putting the chips down.
“Ariel has requested I put on some clothes.”
“But there’s no place for me to move in here so you can do that.”
Killian rolls his eyes at her flustered movements and far too loud hushed voice. It’s what has him turning on the sink before he leans forward and presses a kiss to Emma’s cheek. “I can slip my sweatpants on under my towel. I promise I’m not going to scar you.”
“You wouldn’t scar me. I just – ”
He reaches down to his bag, grabbing a pair of pants and pulling them on underneath his towel, his mind fighting with him to think of every delicious and dirty thought about having Emma in the shower, and tugs them up before dropping his towel to the ground and finding a t-shirt to wear. How is his bag so disorganized?
“What was that now, love?”
“Nothing,” she hisses, blushing. “How long am I supposed to stay in here? I’m kind of freaking out.”
“You’ve got food, water, and a bathroom. I think you’ll be good for a week or two.”
“I try.” He flashes her a grin before leaning forward and quickly gliding his lips over hers and tasting the salt and vinegar of her kiss. Damn does he love that he can do that. “I’ll try to get her to leave as soon as possible, okay? Be quiet on your chip eating.”
Emma scrunches up her nose before sticking her tongue out at him and grabbing another chip with one hand while the other turns the faucet off. He sighs, amused and exasperated all at once, before opening the bathroom door and stepping out only to find Ariel eating the Pop-Tarts.
He kind of wanted those even if there are a million better ways to consume five hundred calories.
“Why’d you turn your water on?”
“Didn’t want you to hear me pee.”
“Fair enough.” She shrugs her shoulders and pats the spot on his bed next to her. He takes the small desk chair instead. “Tell me why you’re in such a bad mood.”
“I’m not a liar.”
(He is a liar.)
“Okay,” Ariel murmurs as she takes another bite, “so if you’re not in a bad mood, would you at least like to explain why you didn’t come to dinner?”
He swivels in the chair a bit, his legs antsy to tap and stay moving, but that’ll make him seem anxious to Ariel. That’s the last thing that he wants when he is, indeed, anxious for her to get out of the room.
“I – I felt like I let everyone down today,” he admits, leaving out his own self-loathing about his injury. Half-truths. He’s always speaking in half-truths. “I played a shitty game. I was in a bad mood. I was awful company and didn’t want anything to do with anyone. So, I kind of figured I’d come back here and work that out on my own instead of making everyone else miserable.”
“Killian Jones, you know for a fact that we are not miserable around you. At least Eric and I aren’t. Neither are Robin or Will or even August. The only person who would take issue with you being all pissy is Arthur and that’s because he’s got his own set of issues.”
He scoffs and closes his eyes as he stretches his legs out. She’s right. He knows that she is because she’s always right. She’s basically another version of Elsa in that aspect.
“I know. I’m…you know how I get, A. I’ll be fine. Tomorrow, I’ll come to whatever team-mandated meal you arrange.”
“That’s all I ask.” She rises from the bed, picking up the Pop-Tart she hasn’t eaten, and walks over to him to briefly press her lips against his temple. “I’m going to let you wallow, okay? But tomorrow after you’ve finished your practice, we have to talk about your calendar for the rest of May and June. I’ve got some charity stuff lined up for you.”
“I will be at your beck and call.”
“As you should be. Text me if you need anything, okay?”
Ariel nods her head and smiles before walking out the door, letting it slam shut behind her. Letting out a sigh of relief, he places his face in his hands and simply takes a moment to breathe and let his mind stop racing about how horrible of a human being he is for lying to everyone.
He’s the worst, isn’t he? He has to be.
When he’s finished with his little pity party, he sits up and raises his fist to the wall, banging on it to let Emma know that she can come out of the bathroom.
The door clicks, and she emerges, flipping the locks on his door and then walking toward him, stepping into his space until he’s pulling her in by the hips to stand in the open space between his legs, his head resting against her stomach.
Maybe he’s not quite finished with his pity party.
“So,” Emma hums, her feet moving into his line of vision as her hands scratch at that back of his head, which may very well be the best fucking feeling in the world, “apparently everyone in the world knows you’re in a bad mood, and you don’t want to talk to any of us about it.”
“Do you want to talk every time you’re in a bad mood?”
“Exactly.” He leans back in the chair, the loss of her touch immediate. “I think I just…you want to watch a movie with me or something?”
“Can I pick it out?”
“Yeah, Swan, you can.”
They settle down onto the mattress, pulling the thin sheet that’s at the bottom of the bed over them instead of settling under the covers, and Emma tucks herself into his side so that her head rests on his collarbone and her hand is covering his stomach, a leg tucked between his. In all of the time they’ve spent together in the past two weeks, he thinks this is the most comfortable she’s ever been around him.
He likes it.
It’s…refreshing. He keeps thinking that, thinking about how this is so different than how he’s been the past few years. If he was with a woman, it was to sleep with her, to scratch an itch. It was not to settle down and watch Men in Black because despite insisting that she wanted to pick the movie, Emma refused to let him pay for them to rent a newer movie.
And obviously he wants to sleep with Emma, his mind racing with thoughts of what exactly that would be like to do to her, but he’s good just like this.
This is by far the best part of his day, and Florida isn’t seeming like such a hell hole anymore as his fingers play with the wisps of her hair that have fallen out of her bun and her hands toy with his mom’s ring that’s fallen outside of his t-shirt. He doesn’t even think she realizes that she’s doing it.
“The ring was my mom’s.”
Emma stops her movements, her fingers stilling, before looking up at him, her face only lightened by the glow of the television now that the sun has set, and everything is covered in darkness. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to mess with it.”
“Swan, it’s fine,” he promises, reaching down to take her hand and place it back against his chest and against the ring. He smiles a little, the left side of his lips curving up, to try to reassure her of the fact that it is fine. He doesn’t mind. “I simply figured you wanted to know why I wear a ring around my neck. Wouldn’t want you to think I’m secretly married.”
“Well, I wasn’t thinking that until right about now.”
Later. He’ll tell her about Milah later. He can already tell that he’s about to tell her too much about his family tonight. She doesn’t need to know about his ex-girlfriend too.
“I wouldn’t do that.”
“I know.” She pats his chest and readjusts herself so that she can look at him a little better. How are her eyes so green? “So, tell me about your mom. If you want to.”
“Her name was Amelia,” he starts out, scooting down a little further so that he and Emma are nearly eye to eye, “and she was just…she was amazing. I have a terrible memory, so I don’t remember much, but I remember that she had this red hair that would make Ariel jealous and this big belly laugh that kind of reminds me of Liam. I don’t – I guess I never thought about it before, but she was really into baking, which is probably why I eventually came around to it. That’s likely the only thing I got from her other than the red in my beard.”
He knows that it’s not true, that he is more like her than he’s willing to admit, but it’s not what he usually thinks about. It’s not what Liam talks about either even though he was seventeen when she died.
“How did she – ”
“Cancer,” he murmurs, tracing Emma’s pointer finger until he lifts their hands and treads his fingers through hers, squeezing their hands together. “It was very sudden, not a lot of time to say goodbye, you know?”
Emma presses forward and brushes a kiss to his knuckles. He’s sure it’s because no one ever knows what to say that, and Emma is likely no exception. “She would be so proud of you, I think. I know that’s probably overstepping my boundaries to say that, but I don’t see how anyone could not be proud of you for working so hard to achieve your dreams and for being so good to your family.”
Maybe she’s the exception then.
He’s not sure that his mom would be proud of him, not lately.
“Thank you, darling. I’m not sure if that’s true, but thank you.”
Emma’s brows pinch, her lips pursing. “How could that not be true, twenty-nine?”
Because he’s a self-loathing bastard who can never seem to bury his demons even when he needs to.
“Do you want to know part of the reason why I was in such a shitty mood today?”
He can’t tell her the full truth, but the half truth seems okay today.
“Only if you want to tell me.”
He gulps, nodding his head and inching further down to bed to tangle his legs with Emma’s and nearly brush his nose against hers. He’s twenty-eight, but there’s something akin to a childlike belief running through him that nothing can invade the quietness of this hotel room right now.
“I haven’t spoken to my father since I was nineteen years old,” he admits, bringing their hands up to rest between their chests. “That seems like a shitty thing to do when I was only down to one parent, but my dad is an asshole, you know? He was the one who signed me up to play little league ball, and every single day I was outside running or practicing my batting or pitching once I changed to that track. He pushed me so damn hard, which I always thought was a good thing, until I’d lose a game or be a minute slow on my run and he’d make me do everything all over again. I was eleven, and the man had me on a meal plan to make sure I was developing with the sole purpose of playing ball.”
He takes a breath, blinking away the tears that aren’t there but might as well be.
“He became obsessed. Completely and totally obsessed. And since Liam was long gone from the house, he was my only influence. I did what he said when he said it and played it off as it all being part of the game that I loved. But he pushed and pushed and pushed until I hated waking up every day. He screamed at me, calling me a pathetic fucker, told me that I was ruining his life by not being good enough. It was just this constant stream of hatred spewing out of his mouth, and when I got to Vandy, he started betting on my games, started taking bribes and offers and so many things that could have taken the game away from me forever. He’s a piss poor excuse for a dad, and it took me nineteen years to realize that I didn’t have to be subjected to his shit. So, I just…I cut him off. Liam and I both did. And today I – I was mad about how I played, and I took it out on Liam by saying he was not my father and some other stuff. That always kind of spirals us, and that’s why I was so annoyed when you first got here.”
That was too much.
That was far too much.
Killian should have kept his mouth shut, should have never let all of that out even if it’s skimming the surface. Emma likely already thinks he’s insane, that he’s got enough issues, and he just revealed so many more.
Good things in his life do not stay, and Emma is most definitely a good thing.
And he’s not even telling her about his arm.
“Your dad is a fucking asshole,” she spits, untangling their hands and running her palms up over the skin at his neck until she’s softly gliding her thumb underneath his eye. “I can’t imagine how much that has to mess you up in your mind. He took something you loved and twisted it. He was not what a parent should be, and you have every right to be upset about that. I’ve never met Liam, but I know that he loves you and that he understands how you tick. I’m sure he’s not mad at you for being upset with him when he understands your anger was coming from something else.”
Tell her, tell her, tell her.
His mind is screaming at him, but he can under no circumstances tell her everything. Not about Milah, not about his arm, not about all of his thoughts and feelings.
He’ll tell her in time.
They’re so early in this thing that they’re doing, and even if it’s been awhile for him, he knows that two weeks in is not the time to dumb every bit of baggage that he’s carrying.
“Thank you, love,” he sighs, closing his eyes and pressing forward to slowly guide his lips over hers, another silent thank you for simply being here. It’s nice to have someone on the road with him. Honestly and truly. “I’m sure this is not how you imagined this night going.”
“What?” Emma laughs, a tentative smile curling on her lips. “You think I didn’t come in here expecting you to tell me about your shitty dad as we watch Will Smith kill some aliens? I feel like that’s a pretty normal night.”
“So this is normal for you then?”
“Staying in bed as much as possible?”
He hums, inching closer and closer to her so that their foreheads brush together and his nose is pressing into her cheek as he speaks. “I think I’ll have to keep that in mind.”