Storybrooke, Maine- April 8th
The buzzing phone on the table in front of Emma Swan was a distraction she didn’t need. There were a million and one things that needed to be done and only one month to do them before her tour started. She swiped to answer it without looking, too caught up in what she was doing to bother.
“Yeah?” She asked impatiently, absently brushing the tendrils of her long blonde hair out of her face.
“I have good news and I have shit news.”
Emma sighed, albeit quietly. It was Ruby, one of her closest friends and the rhythm guitarist for her backing band who also had a flair for the dramatic. She only hoped that whatever it was Ruby was calling about wouldn’t turn into a two hour conversation over something they could easily discuss when she didn’t have time sensitive decisions to make. Preferably in a month when they were finally on the tour bus and had nothing but time to kill between cities.
“If it’s about going on that second date with Dorothy that I already talked you into once can it wait? I’m trying to finalize this set list so I can send it to Regina so she can send it to the lighting guys and the sound guys and we can stop fucking around at rehearsals and get things going almost smoothly.”
“Um, yeah… I mean, it’s not entirely about my date with Dorothy,” Ruby said with what sounded like trepidation.
Suspicion and dread immediately filled Emma’s veins. Ruby was anything but hesitant when it came to sharing information. She’d once announced at a club they were playing that she was on her period and would only accept phone numbers that were written on the outside wrapper of a chocolate bar. By the time they made it back to their motel she had a mound of candy that would have made Augustus Gloop jealous.
“What’s the good news?”
“Nah, you’ll want the shitty news first,” Ruby hummed with a grin in her voice, her confidence restored.
She groaned, “When have I ever wanted the shitty news first?”
“Never, but this time the good news won’t make sense without it-” Ruby took in a deep breath, loud enough for Emma to hear over the connection and it set her back on edge. “Okay, so I was on that second date with Dorothy and it was going great. Like, really great. She’s amazing and funny and surprising. We went to a paintball place. Paintball, me!”
“And it was actually fun. You know I’m more of a heels and cocktails kinda gal but I was getting into it-”
“Something about the adrenaline maybe or possibly the weird power trip of having a fake weapon to stalk your prey. Though that makes me sound like I’m about to go play the most dangerous game or something-”
“RUBY! The shitty news!”
“Oh, right,” Ruby had the decency to sound abashed but it did nothing to alleviate the pounding that had started in Emma’s head. “So paintball, fun and exciting and I may have broken my arm.”
Emma suddenly felt faint, “What?”
“In two places,” Ruby continued, sounding almost proud of herself. “Plus there’s some stitches and a bunch of Bandaids involved but you probably don’t care about those.”
“How long?” She winced at her harsh question, knowing she sounded uncaring. She backtracked, “No, fuck, wait, are you okay? That should have been my first question.”
Ruby laughed, “Don’t worry, after all these years I know where your priorities lie. I’m fine, they’ve got me on the good stuff here.”
“Wait, are you still at the hospital?” Emma stood up, ready to jump into whatever action was needed.
“Yup, they’ve still got to set the bones and wrap it up like the world’s worst present but like I said: the good stuff.”
“Alright, I’m on my way,” Emma dashed to her room and frantically tried to find a matching pair of shoes in the piles of crap strewn across the floor. “Do you need anything? A change of clothes? Are they keeping you there overnight? Want me to stop by Granny’s? Should I call Granny?”
“Whoa, Emma, slow down,” Ruby said, laughing again. “Dorothy called Granny when we were on our way to the hospital. She’s already here and glaring at anyone in a white coat that walks by my little curtained area. It should only be an hour or so then it’s home to rest. You can come over with pizza and I’ll bore you to death then with all the little details of my date.”
“Okay,” she breathed, dropping down onto her bed with a tennis shoe in one hand. “Pizza. I can do that.”
“Good. It’s six weeks by the way,” Ruby said offhandedly.
“Six weeks,” she repeated, confused by the non-sequitur.
“Recovery time. At least six weeks.”
The shoe dropped out of her hand, “Six weeks.”
“And then a few weeks of physical therapy,” Ruby continued. “So, more like two months give or take.”
“Ruby,” she said weakly. “The tour starts in a month. There’s no time to audition a replacement and have them learn the songs and what if they don’t get along with us or, fuck, what if they have a massive ego or-”
“Emma, stop.” Ruby said calmly. “This is where the good news comes in.”
“Good news? How can there be good news?”
“I told you there would be,” Ruby tsked, “Here it is. I already have a replacement ready! He knows most of the songs you’ve been picking, has a shit ton of experience on the road and playing the type of venues we’ve got booked, and best of all he’s available to start as soon as you tell me yes.”
Ruby’s words had started to slow but her excitement was still palpable. Emma on the other hand felt nothing but dread settling in her stomach. Ever since she’d started doing the music thing seriously Ruby had been a part of the band playing behind her. The seedy bars with tiny stages, the slightly better clubs with slightly worse sound systems, the places that could actually be called venues that held more than a hundred people and then bigger and bigger until she was finally selling out places that easily sat four or five thousand people. She’d been there for everything, had seen everything, knew everything and her not being able to be there for any part of it was starting to cause Emma’s vision to go slightly grey at the edges.
“I need to call Regina,” she gasped, trying to draw in a deep breath, “We can cancel the first few weeks or reschedule them.”
“I’ll say I have bronchitis or those polyp things on my vocal chords. Or I can do the shows acoustic-”
“Emma, if you’d just-
“But then I’ll have to figure out how to pay Will and Tink-”
“Or you could just give this guy a chance, maybe?” Ruby said sharply and a bit pointedly. “I’m not letting you sabotage the biggest fucking thing to happen to you because I can’t play for a few weeks. The fans don’t care who’s in the backing band, they’re paying to see you.”
“Then they won’t mind an acoustic show, will they?” Emma snapped back.
“No, but it’s also not what you’ve been teasing on Instagram for the past few months. Not to mention all the techies and roadies that have already been hired that will be fired because they’ll be deemed unnecessary. Plus isn’t it in your contract with the label that any major changes to the tour had to be approved by them? I can tell you right now they won’t approve of anything this close to the start date.”
Emma hated that Ruby was right but couldn’t help one last argument, “And replacing you with some rando off the street isn’t a major change?”
“First off: the label cares even less about who’s in the backing band then the fans do. As long as we make you sound good and don’t upstage you they’re happy,” Ruby said flippantly. “Second: Jones isn’t some rando, he’s actually a session guitarist and has played on a few songs on your last two albums. Third: This is your best option and you know it.”
“I don’t know it,” she grumbled, “He could still be a problem, you know, personality wise or whatever.”
“Okay, sure,” Ruby conceded, “but you won’t know unless you give him a chance. So will you? Give him a chance?”
“Ugh, fine, but if he sucks I’m definitely writing a song called ‘I fucking told you so’.”
“And if he doesn’t I get to write it and you’ll have to play the terrible result at the final show,” Ruby said gleefully.
“I hate you,” Emma sighed, falling back so she was laying across the width of her bed.
“No you don’t,” Ruby paused and Emma could hear murmuring in the background. “Hey, the doctor’s back and they’re ready to get my bones a crackin’. You can complain about it more tonight. Meat lovers supreme, extra large, and bring those cinnamon sticky things too!”
Ruby hung up before Emma could utter a sound. She chuckled to herself before the reality of the situation sunk back in. For Ruby’s sake she’d give the Jones guy a chance but she had little faith that it would work out as easily as Ruby had made it sound. Nothing had ever worked out easily for her before, no use in getting her hopes up again.
Portland Maine- April 10th
Emma hadn’t intended to be late to rehearsal. In fact, she wanted to be early to get a step up on Jones. She figured just because she was doing Ruby a favor didn’t mean she couldn’t exert a little pressure on the guy at the same time. By the end of a tour she was usually ready to kick everyone off the bus and finish the damn shows herself and she was good friends with Ruby and the others in the backing band. Jones had to more than prove himself to her during the rehearsal turned audition. He had to blow it out of the water.
Of course, that had been before she was the one showing up almost forty minutes late.
“Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit,” she huffed under her breath as she ran across the parking lot, the guitar strapped across her back knocking her in the ass with every step.
“You’re late Miss Swan.”
Emma grimaced at the sound of her manager, Regina Mills’, voice. The woman was scary on a normal day with her custom designer suits, red soled stilettos, and three hundred dollar haircuts that made sure not a single dark hair was out of place, or grey. She was holding open the door for her with a look of extreme annoyance or impatience or disappointment. It could have been all three but Emma blew past her into the building and down the familiar hallways towards the space she and the others had been rehearsing in for years.
“I know, I know. Sorry-” she shrugged in apology and nearly dropped the three notebooks and handful of loose papers in her arms. Hugging them tighter into her chest she kept moving, “The bug wouldn’t start and I had to call Mary Margaret to borrow her car and then there was an accident on the highway.”
“And why couldn’t you have carpooled with Ruby?” Regina asked cooly as she followed, clearly unmoved by her tales of woe.
Emma stopped dead in the middle of the hallway and spun to face Regina, “Ruby can’t be here. She’s not supposed to drive with the pills she was given.”
“She is and she didn’t,” Regina said with a roll of her eyes, pushing at Emma’s elbow to get her moving again. “Some other woman who has the manners of a barn animal is here with her. If you keep inviting people to rehearsals I’m going to start charging for the privilege, maybe even turn it into a VIP package.”
“It must be Dorothy,” Emma smiled, her first real one since Ruby’s practically world ending phone call. “Good for her. And the only other person who should be here is that Jones guy Ruby swears is worthy of replacing her. She said he’s a session guitarist, do you not know him either?”
She’d opened the door that led to the rehearsal space, looking over her shoulder as she asked. Regina raised an impeccably plucked brow and settled her gaze behind her. Turning towards the room she immediately saw who the stranger was and promptly dropped everything in her arms in shock.
“Careful there, Swan, if you’re anything like every other songwriter I know those things are worth more than their weight in gold.”
Emma could do nothing more than stare as Killian Jones set his guitar aside and crossed the room to pick up the papers and notebooks at her feet. He gathered them all and tried to straighten them before handing them up to her, a crooked grin on his face. It faltered a little as she continued to stare at him before he chuckled and scratched behind his ear.
Killian Jones was definitely not the random guy off the street Emma had been imagining, he wasn’t even a vaguely familiar face she’d seen in the halls of their rehearsal space. He had been the lead guitarist and second vocalist for one of the biggest rock bands in the world almost fifteen years earlier. His band, Realm of Jewels' second album had gone multi platinum, they’d played arenas and headlined festivals across the globe. Rumor had it that their third album was supposed to be even bigger. Then there had been a terrible accident and half the band was gone in an instant. Killian Jones had survived but emerged from the wreck with one hell of a dragon, in the form of alcohol and pills, on his back.
As far as she’d known he was just another rock star that had gotten lost in the world because of his addictions. Apparently the story hadn’t ended there. No, it had seemingly kept going with him ending up in her goddamn rehearsal space looking bashful and hot as fuck.
“You’re Killian Jones.”
He blushed and it almost killed her, “Last time I checked.”
“Realm of Jewels,” she challenged, wondering if he’d shy away from his past.
“Once upon a time,” he shot back, a glint of humor in his eyes as his blush faded.
She hummed, “Rolling Stone called you a ‘not so hidden gem in the rock world, poised to be among the pantheon of rock gods’ if I’m remembering correctly.”
“Good memory,” he grinned, though it didn’t reach his eyes. “And that same illustrious publication said you were on the road to being the Stevie Nicks of your generation. A bit belittling but not far off the mark.”
“Belittling?” She asked sharply, her hackles rising.
He held up his hands in defense, “Not in the way you think, Swan. If I had written the article I would have perhaps said that you were a talent beyond compare.”
“Oh,” she said, deflating a bit but still on edge due to him being there at all, “um, okay.”
She glanced around the room, trying to find a way out of the suddenly awkward silence that had settled between them. Tink Greene and Will Scarlet, the other members of her backing band, were huddled by the drumset, watching them with barely hidden awe, clearly star struck at being in the same room with the Killian Jones. Ruby was sitting on the couch, whispering to the woman sitting next to her, who could only be Dorothy. Emma caught Ruby’s eye and not so subtly jerked her head back towards the hallway she’d just come from.
“Emma-” Regina snarled as she started backing out of the room.
“I’d like a minute with my guitarist if you don’t mind,” Emma said through gritted teeth, giving Jones an insincere smile that had his own widening in glee.
“Oh, do let them go, Your Majesty,” Jones said with a laugh. “I believe we still need to discuss certain terms and conditions of this little arrangement.”
Emma opened her mouth to argue that nothing was decided when Ruby pushed her fully into the hallway with surprising strength in her uninjured arm.
“Are you fucking kidding me Ruby?” She hissed as soon as the doors closed behind them. “Killian Jones?!”
“So you obviously know there’s no need for him to audition,” Ruby said with a sly smile. “I mean you have seen him in concert four, no fi-”
She covered Ruby’s mouth with her hand, shushing her as she pushed her further down the hallway. They only made it three steps before Ruby licked her palm, cackling with glee when she yanked her hand back, disgusted.
“It’s not gonna happen.”
“Come on. He can play, he’s available and he knows the songs. This is the best you’re going to get and you know it,” Ruby stated proudly, her grin smug.
“The best,” Emma muttered, shaking her head and trying to keep hold of her temper. “The best? Jesus Christ, Ruby, the second he steps out on stage it’s not my show anymore, it’s his. I have worked too fucking long and hard for that asshole to come in and take it all from me in some bid to reclaim his glory.”
“Oh, oh no, Emma, that’s totally not at all what this is,” Ruby whispered, her face pale and looking stricken. “He owed me, big time, and I obviously didn’t think about any of that when I called it in. Look, don’t repeat this to anyone. Like, anyone. But Killian hasn’t played in public since he got out of rehab. That he even agreed to do this is I think big enough for him. He’s not looking to steal the spotlight.”
“Then why is he here?” Emma asked, slightly mollified but still seething.
“He misses playing for an audience but I think he has a kind of block or something about going for it on his own,” Ruby said softly. She gave a half-hearted shrug, “I’m just trying to help out two friends in one go.”
The last of her anger drained away at the sincerity in Ruby’s voice. It wasn’t often that Ruby was the serious one in their friendship but when she was Emma always paid attention. If she hadn’t she’d have still been waiting tables at Granny’s Diner and only playing her guitar at barbeques and bonfires for their small group of friends at home. She also wouldn’t have been able to call Storybrooke home for that matter.
No longer angry but still infinitely annoyed she tipped her head back and let out a sigh, “Fine I’ll give him a chance on two conditions.”
“Excellent!” Ruby crowed. Emma dropped her gaze back down and raised a brow at her, “Whatever the conditions he’ll totally do it. He wants this, just doesn’t know how badly he does until you start making him jump through hoops to prove it to you.”
“Oh, only one of the conditions is for him,” Emma said with a smirk.
Ruby’s eyes widened, “What? Why do I have to prove myself?”
“You don’t. I just want to know how you can call Killian Jones, one of the most famous guitarists-”
“Who you had a poster of on your wall,” Ruby broke in with wiggling eyebrows and a giddy grin, “and a laminated photo in your-”
“Who had a very public and very destructive drug and alcohol problem, your friend,” Emma continued pointedly.
Ruby’s grin faded, “He was in the same rehab facility as my mom. Well, one of them. On one of her bad days I went for a walk around the gardens to cool my head a little and recognized him. Had a bit of a fangirl moment, if I’m being honest. Not exactly my finest moment since he was there to get his life back together and I go gushing about how great I thought he was before it all went to shit. I could tell he was humoring me until I started talking about gigs and asking him how to improve my playing, then his eyes kinda lit up and he started offering me advice and some tricks for the road. So whenever I went to visit my mom I would also stop by to talk to him about music.
“After my mom decided she was done being sober, again, I still went by to see him. He needed a friend and I guess I needed to believe that someone could actually follow through with getting clean. When he got out we stayed in touch. Just a ‘hi, how’re you doing’ text every so often. Until, of course, the arm thing happened.”
“And you never mentioned it because…?”
“I wanted to but it seemed-” Ruby shrugged, “like an invasion of privacy, somehow?”
Emma nodded, getting what Ruby meant but still a little hurt that she’d kept it from her. She’d only admit it on threat of death having met him but Jones had been her number one celebrity crush since she’d discovered Realm of Jewels in her senior year of high school. Ruby was a witness to it then and clearly still remembered that embarrassing fact. Then it occurred to her that there were dark parts of her life that she wouldn’t want shared with a fan no matter how close of a friend Ruby was with them. She nodded again, fully accepting the truth of what Ruby had told her.
“I’m not going to go easy on him,” she warned, spinning on her heel and walking back to the rehearsal room.
Ruby laughed, “I would have been suspicious if you did. So what are you going to make him do?”
“You’ll see,” she said cryptically with a grin before opening the door.
“Finally,” Regina muttered as they walked back in. She pointed a perfectly manicured finger at Emma, “You may be a favorite of the owners here but we’re still paying for every minute this room has people in it. So start playing or find somewhere else to work out your little grievances.”
“Sorry, sorry,” Emma apologized again, knowing that if there was something that pissed Regina off more than wasted time it was wasted money.
She felt Killian’s eyes on her as she greeted Tink and Will before moving to the piano. It was like a phantom pressure between her shoulder blades that she was trying her best to ignore. If he was trying to unsettle her she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction and if he was trying to figure her out she wasn’t going to make it easy for him. When she finally had all her things set up how she wanted and ignoring him was no longer an option she turned to face him, valiantly trying to hide that she was still slightly shocked and unnerved that he was there.
“Ruby said that you’re a session guitarist now,” she began without preamble, hoping to gain whatever upper hand she could.
“I may not be hurting for cash, love, but a man does like to keep busy,” his voice dipped low at the end of his statement. Paired with a raised brow and feral grin she had to hold back a snort of amusement at his innuendo.
“Not your love,” she shot back dismissively, “She also said that you’ve played on my albums?”
His grin faltered, “Aye.”
“And would you say you enjoyed the songs you recorded or were they just a forgettable few in a long set of recordings to… keep you busy?”
There was the sound of a violent snort and then a deep spluttering a cough that belonged to Will from behind her. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Ruby rolling her eyes at her and Regina throwing up her hands in exasperation. She kept her face impassive and gaze on Killian, pleased to see him fidget and scratch behind his ear in what had to be nervousness.
“Erm, well when I first recorded one of your songs I’ll admit I had no clue who you were and no interest in discovering more,” Killian admitted but instead of dropping his eyes he held her gaze. “Then I had the fortune of recording another one and found myself intrigued. I’ve listened to everything you’ve released up ‘til now and I’ve enjoyed all of it, not just what I was hired to play.”
“Okay then,” she said as cooly as she could, despite the giddiness and disbelief running through her knowing that he liked her music. “Now I hope you don’t mind but I’d like to hear you play something.”
“Play something?” He repeated, flabbergasted.
“Just a few different songs,” she said innocently, “so I know you’ll be a good fit.”
His mouth opened and closed several times before he shot an incredulous look at Ruby. Emma could barely hold in her laughter as Ruby shrugged and said nothing.
He turned back to her, looking incredulous, “Let me get this straight, Swan, you can quote an article from Rolling Stone that was released well over a decade ago about my playing and you want me to audition?”
“Only if you want the gig,” she said with a shrug.
She could see the muscle in Killian’s jaw jumping, though she wasn’t sure if it was from annoyance or contemplation. Either way it gave her a little inspiration. While he continued to stew she pulled out her phone and did a quick internet search for what she needed.
“Fine, love,” he said, drawing her attention back to him. He picked up his guitar and slid the strap over his head. “What would you like to hear?”
“Can you read music?” She asked with honest curiosity.
“I can,” he said warily.
“Good-” she turned to Ruby, “I need your Ipad.”
Ruby gave her a calculating look before slowly extracting the tablet out of her purse and handing it over. Emma gave her what she hoped was a look of innocence before pulling up what she needed and handing it over to Killian.
“Layla? A classic-” he smirked and handed her back the Ipad, “and one I already know by heart.”
With that he started playing, amazingly, and Emma almost didn’t have the heart to stop him. Almost.
“Whoa there, Jones,” she said loudly, waving her hands for him to stop. He did with a discordant note and stared at her in confusion. She handed back the Ipad, “I wanted you to play this.”
He looked at it and then back at her, his brow furrowing even more, “But I was.”
“No, you didn’t read the music-” she wiggled the Ipad at him, “You were playing the lead. I want to hear you play the rhythm.”
“Ah,” he breathed, a look of bemusement and something that was too much like awe replacing his confusion, “I see.”
From there he played every unflashy guitar part she could throw at him. He didn’t complain and his annoyance didn’t make a reappearance. The others listened happily and even offered suggestions, though Regina had left with a disgusted huff after the fourth song. They passed the tablet back and forth several times before she decided to end the teasing with one of her favorites.
Killian snorted when he saw her choice, “You do know that two great guitarists play on this one right? Even playing rhythm on this one is an honor. Although, the same should have been said for Layla, but I have enjoyed this little challenge.”
“Good to know,” she said, smiling. “I don’t want you to play rhythm on this one though. If you don’t mind.”
“It would be my honor,” he hummed, handing her back the Ipad.
The chatter in the room fell silent as the familiar chords of While My Guitar Gently Weeps swept through the room. Emma closed her eyes and let the music wash over her. There was only one constant in her life and it was music, first listening, then playing, and finally creating. It had never sent her back, never sent her to prison, and never forced her to send her child away. As Killian played the last notes she felt the familiar pang of melancholy the song invoked in her but made sure the smile she gave him when she opened her eyes was genuine.
“Shouldn’t I be thanking you for giving me the opportunity? I’ve never had to audition before-”
“Lucky git,” Will grumbled as he ambled by them, heading toward the snack table on one side of the room.
“Will Scarlet, drums, constant pain in the ass but our pain in the ass,” Emma commented lightly, batting away the Red Vine Will had tossed at her. She hitched her thumb over her shoulder to where she’d last noticed Tink, “That’s Tink Greene, bassist, she’s small but she’ll knock you out if you mess with the current rotation of romance novels she’ll be bringing on the bus.”
Killian raised a brow at her, “I can’t quite tell by your tone but am I to believe I got the gig?”
“You had the gig as soon as she saw your pretty face and hot ass,” Ruby called out from her spot on the couch, causing Emma’s cheeks to heat up and Killian’s lip to curl.
“Yeah, well-” she cleared her throat, “We’ve, uh, already used up our reserved time for today and Regina won’t be happy if we stay late, even if we actually rehearse. We’ve got a couple more weeks of rehearsals on Mondays and Fridays and then it’ll be almost every day until the tour starts. If you need somewhere to stay just let Regina know and she’ll book the hotel room or whatever.”
“So I got the gig?” Killian pressed, his blue eyes glittering in mirth.
“You got the gig,” she sighed, rolling her eyes at his toothy grin. Then she let her features settle into what she hoped was a menacing look, “There’s some conditions.”
“Of course,” he said, nodding sagely.
“Your name isn’t going to be in any of the advertising, or brought up in interviews, and absolutely not on any of the damn marquees. You’re being hired as a guitarist in my backing band, not as the feature player.”
He nodded again but with understanding, “Of course, I have no desire to upstage you or hijack the tour for my own needs.”
“Good,” she said, slightly surprised he agreed so easily. “This is also temporary. Once Ruby gets the all clear from her doctor she’s back and you’re out.”
“As I wouldn’t want to keep a fellow musician, or friend, out of work I will happily step aside-” he gave a little bow that she refused to see as charming.
“And last, no groupies on the bus,” she added, fighting to keep her face impassive and the blush that threatened from pinkening her cheeks.
It had never been a set rule, in fact it was one they’d each bent a little one time or another, but a weird pressure built in the back of her neck at the thought of having to see and listen to Killian with some doe eyed fan. Not that she cared. She just didn’t want to get to know him that intimately, even if it was by proxy, when she barely knew him as anyone other than the rock star she’d had a crush in high school.
His jaw clenched almost imperceptibly before he laughed. It didn’t sound forced or off but somehow Emma knew it was fake all the same.
“Still not your love-” she held out her hand and his hand was calloused and warm when he grasped it, “Welcome to the band.”
Portland, Maine- April 17th
Emma was lost in thought as she idly tapped at the rehearsal room’s piano keys, filling the space with a jumble of unmelodic notes. She knew she needed to take a break and eat something, like everyone else was but she couldn’t. There was something off about their last few run throughs and she was determined to figure it out.
One thing that wasn’t off was how well Killian Jones had enmeshed himself into the group in just one week. He had bonded with Will over growing up in England leading to inside jokes and references that had the two of them snickering away between songs. With Tink all he’d had to do was make one praising comment about the book she was reading and it looked like he was going to be in her good graces for the rest of time. As for her, well, the never ending verbal sparring matches were almost as fun as playing her music with him was.
They sounded good. Of course, there were still little idiosyncrasies and timing issues that needed to be worked out but Emma knew that by the time they hit the road everything would be running smoothly. What had been a pleasant surprise was how Killian seemed totally at ease playing second fiddle, as it were. She had seen him play live multiple times and knew exactly what a talent he was, and also how grand a showman.
The first couple of rehearsals after he’d joined them she’d waited warily for his ego to make an appearance. She had been certain that he would have been like too many of the men she’d met: unable to help making suggestions on how to play her own songs or offering advice she hadn’t asked for or needed. It had happened so often in her early days of playing paid gigs that Will had taken it upon himself to run interference after she’d had enough one night and given a guy a black eye. As the week had gone on without a single belittling comment from him in their emails, texts, or during rehearsals she’d reluctantly accepted that he actually seemed content to follow her lead and let her shine, despite her admittedly more limited skills
She idly let herself fall into the familiar chords of her song Snowdrops and Buttercups as she tried to suss out what was bothering her. It was the ballad that she’d picked to play towards the middle of her set, meant to give the others a little rest mid-show and her the chance to highlight her piano playing. The song was good, they were planning on releasing it mid-tour as the third single from the album but there was something a little off about it that had her coming back to it, trying to figure out why it wasn’t sounding how she wanted. She closed her eyes and played through the chorus again and then again, trying to hear what it was she was feeling.
“Did you have lessons?”
She smiled to herself at Killian’s question, only mildly startled by his voice. The answer was in the bio of her official website and on her Wikipedia page but it was nice to know he hadn’t researched her. Or at least was pretending that he hadn’t.
“On and off depending on the family I was with,” she said, not pausing in her playing though she moved on from the chorus, “Didn’t exactly make me a great player but a lot of practice and YouTube helped with that. I’ll never play Beethoven, that's for sure. Do you play?”
“Strictly guitar for me,” he said with a chuckle. “Though I do know Chopsticks and that one song from Big.”
She laughed, stopping her playing and turned towards him, “Your party trick I’m guessing?”
“Nah, my party trick involves a pair of handcuffs and my sparkling wit.”
He waggled his brows at her causing her to snort and shake her head. He was a flirt, it oozed out of his every pore, and the worst part was it seemed to be a default setting with him. It only made her feel off kilter and more resolved to not let herself get caught up in it, no matter how much her teenage self was obsessing over every syllable he uttered.
“The party usually ends when the cops show up Jones, but then again I’ve never been to the same kind of parties you have,” she said with a grin.
It faded as Killian grew somber.
“Aye, I suppose you’re right. Frightful things they are.”
With horror Emma remembered that the accident that had shattered his life into pieces had been after one of those kinds of parties. She turned back to the piano, embarrassed and a little ashamed of herself. After a moment’s thought she began playing what she hoped was a sufficient enough apology.
It was Killian’s turn to snort, “I’m Still Standing, love? Bit on the nose wouldn’t you say?”
“Figured it couldn’t hurt,” she said quietly, letting her hands fall still.
Silence settled over the room like an itchy blanket. She tried to keep from fidgeting, still feeling like she’d upset him despite his genial smile. Unable to take the quiet even though it had only been less than a minute she began playing again, deciding to speak through the music.
“I’ve noticed you’ve got quite the repertoire of classic rock in that head of yours,” he said, seemingly impressed. “First eighties Elton John, then seventies Billy Joel? Plus all those songs you tortured me with during my audition. Are you an audiophile as well? Do you have multiple copies of your favorite albums in their various forms?”
“Seems to me you’re the audiophile,” she pointed out, continuing to play. “I just happened to have worked at the diner that Ruby’s grandma owns and she refuses to put anything on the jukebox that was released later than nineteen seventy nine. The songs are considered classics for a reason, you know.”
“I’m well aware, seeing as I’ve learned to play my fair share of them. May I?” He motioned to the piano bench. She nodded and slid over, “And the eighties Elton John?”
“An attempt at saying sorry for putting my foot in my mouth,” she said, giving him an apologetic look. “It’s easier to do it with a song than actually saying the words. I am sorry though. Didn’t think.”
“There’s no need to apologize when I took no offense, lo- er, lass-” he reached up and scratched behind his ear, “Truth is, I’d rather endure the teasing than having people continue to tiptoe around me. Playing with a steady group of people has helped with that.”
“Well if you were expecting tact and manners from Will you were going to be disappointed from the start,” she said sardonically as she seamlessly transitioned from Billy Joel back to the song she’d been playing when he’d shown up. “And Tink isn’t much better, just a little more… cheery about it. Plus you’re friends with Ruby so you’ve kinda hit the jackpot with people not going to coddle you or whatever.”
“Pft, the nicest thing anyone’s said about getting to know me is that I’m prickly but in a good way. Ask Ruby about how long it took me to agree to go to one of the bonfire parties the popular kids at school threw.”
Killian hummed, “I wouldn’t say you’re prickly, Swan, just a bit guarded. No fault in that.”
She stopped playing, stunned by his comment. Truth was she didn’t have many friends outside her bandmates and a select few people back in Storybrooke. None of them had understood her so completely or so easily. With a little jolt of surprise she realized she already thought of him as a friend.
“So is that how you met Ruby, at her grandmother’s diner?” he continued, somehow not noticing she was having a revelation beside him.
“Uh, sort of,” she said with a little shake of her head, turning to face him, “I needed money and Granny’s was the only place willing to hire me. It’s not exactly easy to get a job in a small town when you’re already pinned as the school troublemaker even though you’ve only been there for a month. Ruby was in a couple of my classes and put in a good word for me.”
“Have you been playing together all this time?” He asked, genuine curiosity lighting up his eyes.
“No-” she winced, not used to telling her life story when most people she’d met lately were already aware of it from interviews or reading it online, “I hadn’t been playing much when I got moved to Storybrooke.”
She tilted her head at him, narrowing her eyes, “Really? You haven’t already read all this?”
His shoulders slumped and when he looked at her his gaze was troubled but clear, “Swan, I, more so than most, know what it’s like when people think they know everything about you because of what they’ve seen or read. I try to avoid the fodder as much for my own sake as for others. I’d rather learn about someone the old fashioned way: through conversation.”
“Oh-” she relaxed before tensing up again in embarrassment, “I, uh, should probably tell you that I know a lot about you from the, uh, fodder.”
To her surprise he laughed, “Not to flaunt the size of my ego but I’m not surprised. I don’t think there’s anyone, especially in our line of business, that doesn’t know my life’s story. Made for quite a few headlines for a while there.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, apologizing for so much more than what she already knew about his life.
“Bah-” he waved his hand in dismissal, “No need for that. It is what it is. So, you hadn’t been playing…”
“So, if uh, it wasn’t clear before I was a foster kid. I was moved around a lot, mostly in Boston, a few years in the midwest. Some of the families had pianos or a neighbor that did and a lot of times they gave lessons for extra income. A couple of them taught me because I wanted to learn and I was considered part of the family, at least for a little while. It was nice, learning that way, but it never lasted,” she said with a sigh, giving him a half-hearted shrug.
“Best way to learn is from someone who loves doing it,” he murmured, his gaze intent.
“Yeah, well by the time I got to Storybrooke I was sixteen and hadn’t lived somewhere with a piano for almost five years. So, of course, the group home I was placed in was run by big believers in the arts and creativity in keeping kids out of trouble. They had all kinds of art supplies, ran a little community theater, and, surprise surprise, owned almost every instrument you could think of-” she felt herself frown and gave him a shrug, “I still don’t know how they knew but the Nolans showed me their piano the second I stepped into their house. I thought I was only going to be there temporarily, I’d already been at three other homes in the six months before I landed there, and thought I would jinx it if I let myself get attached to playing piano again. Unfortunately while the Nolans weren’t strict about much you had to do something creative, even if it was just drawing stick figures in a composition notebook. Which I did, by the way, for almost six months.”
Killian laughed, a rich sound that carried into his words, “Those I’d love to see.”
“Never,” she grinned, “That notebook will never see the light of day since it also has my first attempts at songwriting in it.”
“Ah,” he nodded wisely, “So after six months you finally ended up back behind the piano then?”
“Nope. I picked up a guitar. David, Mr. Nolan, would play almost every night after dinner and it seemed easy enough to learn.”
Emma could feel the heat rising in her cheeks. That was only a small part of the reason she’d decided to learn how to play the guitar. The real reason was sitting next to her, listening to her talk with rapt attention.
“It was months before Ruby found out I played and then a few more before I finally caved and started bringing a guitar to the bonfires. By then I was back at the piano and had a few attempts at songs in that notebook. I, uh, stopped again for a while-” she paused, not wanting to get into why exactly she’d stopped, not when it was the worst thing that had happened to her and while she had only reluctantly realized that he was becoming a friend. She took a breath and gave him what she hoped was a convincing smile, “Ruby had picked it up by then too. We’d play together at bonfires and picnics but she never got as serious about it as I did. She’s the one that convinced me to try out some open mic nights.”
“And the rest is history?” He asked gently.
“More or less,” she answered, feeling much steadier. “When I finally got to the point of needing a backing band she was the first one I called.”
“And then Will and Tink?”
“Tink was brought in by the label and I’d met Will at an open mic night where he drunkenly read terrible poems about his ex and tried to steal my wallet,” she said nonchalantly, though she was glad to move onto safer topics. “I broke his nose and he found me the next day wondering if I was interested in a drum player.”
“In a personal or a professional manner?” Killian asked with a raised brow.
“Ew, as if I’d ever want to sleep with Will. Gross,” she said with a scrunched nose. “He’d seen me at other mic nights and figured I’d be going places and wanted to get in on it. He was the second person I called. From there the rest is history.”
“Not much different from my own beginnings, though we were discovered at a pub we’d been playing at for a few months and already had a few EPs recorded,” he smiled wistfully, “We were also called the Jolly Rogers then.”
“Why did the name get changed? I mean, you guys didn’t change your sound or anyone in the band or anything.”
“Aha, Ruby said you were a fan but didn’t say how much!” Killian crowed, as if he’d discovered a cache of hidden treasure. “Those EP’s weren’t even released stateside and I’ve never authorized them for streaming. You’ve got a little pirate in you, don’t you Swan?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” She quipped back despite her complete and utter embarrassment at having seemingly given away how big of a fan of his she was.
“Perhaps I would,” he said softly, his gaze somehow just as soft.
She was saved from having to come up with some kind of reply as Will burst into the room practically yelling into his phone with Tink trailing behind rolling her eyes at him. Killian smoothly rose from the piano bench but paused, pressing his finger down on one of the higher keys. When she looked up at him he was watching her carefully.
“What?” She asked, beginning to feel self conscious.
“You should move Snowdrops and Buttercups to later in the show. It’s a good song but drags down the show where it’s placed now. Bite of Iron is a better fit for the lineup as it stands. Granted, it is a bit older but I believe it’s a fan favorite? Something to consider, anyway.”
He gave her a hesitant smile, hitting the note one more time before moving towards his guitar. She sat unmoving, wanting to be mad that he felt he could mess around with the lineup she’d spent weeks perfecting but she couldn’t. Not when he’d figured out what had been bothering her and offered up a pretty good solution without being condescending. She only wished the song that he had suggested hadn’t been the one that was the hardest for her to play.
Unfortunately she also knew it would absolutely fit in perfectly with the flow of sound and feeling of that section of the show. It would also get a huge response from the crowd because as much as it was a fan favorite she’d never played it live before. Looking at Killian, where he was absently picking at his guitar as Will talked a mile a minute at him, she thought that if he could get back to playing in front of an audience after what he’d been through then she could get through one measly song.
Taking a deep breath she spun around on the bench and addressed the room, “Hey, guys, I’ve got some changes I want to make to the lineup.”
On the road between Boston and New York, May 9th
Emma knew she should be trying to wind down from the night’s show. When they arrived at their hotel she wanted to be able to head straight to her room and get some sleep. She just couldn’t seem to get the adrenaline to leave her system, even hours after the fact. It didn’t help that once they’d finished the encore they’d been ushered straight onto the bus and hit the road without a come down from the rush of performing again. Celebrating the successful start of the tour with Will, Tink and a few drinks probably hadn’t done much good either.
She was sitting at the small table in the little kitchenette of the bus with an open notebook, a leather bound one that was much nicer than the ones she used for her lyrics and bits of melody fragments, absently tapping her pen on the blank page. Will and Tink had gone to their own bunks to do whatever other post show rituals they had, leaving her to hers. Once the damn adrenaline wore off she knew she’d be able to concentrate on writing down her thoughts and feelings on the show but for the moment she was content to dwell in the electric buzz both the show and the alcohol had given her.
The first performance was always the one that made Emma worry the most. To her it set the bar for the rest of the tour. With the internet and social media the reviews were out in the world before the first song was finished. According to Regina one false move could have her right back at the small town bars within a hundred miles of Storybrooke for good. So the first show was always the most stressful up until the moment she began playing. Then it was the most rewarding.
Thankfully, it had been better than just a good show, it had been great. The last minute adjustment she’d made to the set list had worked out far better than she’d anticipated. Up to that point the crowd had sung along with every song, even the ones off the new album, but when she’d played the first few notes of Bite of Iron they’d gone nuts. Their surprising and enthusiastic response had given her the strength she’d needed to play the song without a hitch and gave her a burst of energy that she could still feel in her fingertips hours after the last note had been played.
She smiled at the memory of that initial jolt of excitement. It felt a lot like the burst of shock she’d had at seeing Killian Jones in her rehearsal space for the first time. Her enthusiasm faded a bit as she began to realize exactly what that could be confused for and she wanted nothing to do with anything that could possibly resemble butterflies in her stomach.
“Mind if I join you, Swan?”
Emma jumped in surprise, caught off guard even though Killian had practically whispered his request. She spun to face him with a scowl.
“Don’t do that again.”
He smirked, “Apologies, love. I shall endeavor to announce my presence with a blaring fanfare next time.”
“Or you could wear a bell,” she suggested, “I could even order a little plaid collar to match your many flannels.”
“It’s those flannels that are keeping me from being recognized if I’m not mistaken,” he said smugly as he sat down across from her, a notebook of his own in hand.
She gave him a reluctant nod of agreement. When he’d shown up for the show wearing the same flannel, t-shirt, jeans combo he’d worn to the sound check she’d nearly kicked him off the tour right then and there. While there wasn’t any specific aesthetic that her and the others adhered to it was a little more put together than something that looked like it belonged at a backyard barbeque. It turned out the banality of Killian’s outfit was probably the key to his going unnoticed throughout the whole show. As far as she knew, and Will would have definitely told her, there hadn’t been a single post about Killian being on stage again.
When he had been with Realm of Jewels he had favored tight, black leather pants and dark colored shirts with the buttons undone to the top of the various vests he wore. Instead of well worn Converse he’d had pointy toed boots that reached halfway up his calf and he’d worn more silver jewelry on his fingers and around his neck than she’d ever owned in the entirety of her life. His hair had been longer too, constantly falling over his brow as he played until it was plastered to his forehead with sweat by the end of their shows. It had been a good look, one she’d had fantasies about, but there was something about the flannel and jeans that had a gentle warmth spreading through her veins.
“Yeah, well, whatever,” she grumbled. He smiled widely at her and she rolled her eyes right back, “I still think you should get a bell. Though you wouldn’t need it if you had been sociable instead of sneaking off to your bunk as soon as we got on the bus.”
Killian’s smile dimmed, “It has been quite a while since I’ve played a show, love, and I can no longer indulge in my former habit of having a drink or five to celebrate and relax. It was easier to remove myself from the temptation entirely, rather than testing the strength of my will. Especially when the show was worth celebrating.”
Emma felt as if her stomach had been filled with lead. She had somehow completely forgotten that Killian was a former alcoholic. They had never really talked about it and he’d gone out to the bars with her, Will and Tink after particularly gruelling rehearsals or even some of the more mediocre ones. It just wasn’t something that jumped to the forefront of her mind when she thought of him. Even if she refused to acknowledge exactly how much he actually popped up in her thoughts.
“Shit, Killian- do you or do we- shit-” she looked frantically around the little kitchenette at the empty beer bottles and open bottle of rum on the counter. She scrambled from her seat, “Let me just get rid of this crap and then I’ll let Will and Tink-”
He sounded amused but she wasn’t sure over the clinking of the bottles she was trying to wrestle into the small trash can under the sink.
“I’ll talk to Regina and have her adjust the grocery delivery-”
“Emma, take a breath, love.”
She did as he instructed but only because he had stood and grabbed her by the shoulders, crouching down to stare into her eyes. He was grinning as he held her in place and she scowled at his amusement.
“I’m glad you think that us being disrespectful about your addiction is funny.”
“I believe you running around this cramped space trying to atone for something I never blamed you for would suggest otherwise-” he let her go only to pull the trash can out of her hands, setting it back under the sink before leaning against the counter with his arms crossed over his chest, “I’ve been sober for nearly ten years, I know what my triggers are and how far I can push myself. Tonight was just a new set of parameters that I had to consider and adjust accordingly to. No need for you to drastically alter everything for the whole tour when I’m only a temporary guest.”
“Well, it’s not fair for us to just fling booze around in front of you like it’s nothing either,” she said hotly, twisting out of his grasp to nab the rum bottle and its cap. She wrestled with closing it as she spoke, “Just because you won’t be here for the whole thing doesn’t mean you should be treated like you don’t matter. You’re in the band, you get a- OW! Fuck!”
She sucked in a breath at the searing pain in her palm. Somehow her hand had slipped and caught on the jagged edge of the cap. The pain was nothing compared to the panic that flared at possibly having injured herself enough to affect her playing. Her vision started going spotty and she could feel her knees starting to buckle.
“Swan? Emma?!” She felt his hands on her shoulders again and his concerned face filled her darkening vision. “Breathe. Deep breath for me. That’s it. Another one. Good.”
Following his gentle instructions she felt steadier and her vision stopped tunneling. With a healthy dose of trepidation she looked down at her hand and was relieved to see the cut wasn’t deep but it was very bloody. Looking around she couldn’t find a single thing to mop up the blood or staunch the slow but steady flow. Then she felt a burning sting as liquid was splashed over her palm followed by warm pressure. She turned to see that Killian was holding a handkerchief in place as he wrapped it around her palm.
“That hurt! What was that?” She hissed, indignant.
“Rum and a perfectly good use of it in my opinion-” he winked before turning back to his makeshift bandage, “It shouldn’t give you too much grief at tomorrow’s- er, I guess tonight’s show. A little super glue will seal it right up. It might be uncomfortable during sound check but by showtime you won’t even notice it.”
He punctuated his assessment by tying off the handkerchief and gently squeezing her fingers.
“That’s a relief,” she said softly, pulling her hand from his. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other, still a little rattled from her injury and disconcerted from the conversation that had preceded it, “Look, I’m sorry if I was out of line or made you feel uncomfortable or something. I just don’t want you to feel- I don’t know, like you have to hide away or something.”
“Thank you, Swan, but as I’ve said you’ve no need to alter how things have always been done just for my sake-” he picked up the rum bottle and twisted the cap on with an ease that had her scowling, “My sobriety isn’t something that you should burden yourself with. That’s what I pay my therapist for.”
She laughed in spite of herself, finally feeling the tension leave her shoulders. He smiled with her as he set the rum back on the counter and pointedly pushed it away from them. Shaking her head she turned and opened the cabinet that was above their heads.
“I’m going to make some cocoa,” she said as she shifted boxes and bags around, “You want some?”
“Sure, I might as well indulge in something to celebrate the start of the tour,” he said jovially, sitting back down at the table. “Though, I’m not quite sure a packet of cocoa mix can be considered an indulgence. Is it the kind with the little marshmallow pebbles?”
“I’m playing to crowds of thousands and you think I wouldn’t pull the diva card to get the good stuff?” She asked with mock haughtiness, still digging through the cabinet for the little tin she was looking for. “I’ll have you know that I’m deadly serious about two things: my music and my hot cocoa- aha!”
Emma held a little tin up triumphantly. It was a ridiculously expensive imported sipping chocolate, the first frivolous thing she’d bought with her first check from her label. It was part of her post show ritual, drinking her expensive hot chocolate and writing about the night until she was falling asleep at the table or they arrived in their next city. She tried not to dwell on the fact that she’d always partook in that particular ritual alone, she’d never even asked Ruby to join her, but she had no reservations about Killian doing so.
“Who knew you sported such a refined palate,” Killian said with feigned shock. “Seeing as I have been privy to what you consider food.”
She glared at him, “Don’t knock the grilled cheese or you’re not getting a cocoa.”
“Are the onion rings fair game? How about the milk dud popcorn? Pop-Tarts?”
She threw the lid of the cocoa tin at him but he caught it neatly, fanning himself with it. Rolling her eyes she turned her back on him to concentrate on making the cocoa and not fixating on how attractive he was when he was being playful. Unfortunately she’d perfected whipping up the drink while on a moving bus years earlier, so she had plenty of brain power left to dwell on exactly how much more unfairly attractive the man became the more she got to know him.
“So, are you writing songs again?” She asked over her shoulder as she stirred the milk that was heating on the little hot plate they had for solely for her cocoa habit.
“Hmm?” He hummed distractedly. When she looked back his eyes snapped to hers almost guiltily before dropping to the notebook in front of him, “Oh, er, not as much now, no. Journaling was a requirement at rehab and despite some initial, shall we say, reluctance it became a habit. A better one for me to have, for the most part.”
“Get the feelings and stuff down on paper instead of shoving it deep down inside and hoping for the best? I get it-” She let her gaze drift to her own journal before looking back at him. “But seriously, no lyrics or chords or anything? I have a whole shelf in my bookcase that’s stuffed with notebooks filled with potential hits.”
He ducked his head and rubbed at the back of his neck, “I haven’t written anything since… well, since before. Haven’t felt the desire to.”
“Oh, right, yeah,” she said lamely, quickly focusing back on the task at hand.
As she divided the milk between two mugs she was hit by the terrible realization that Killian had co-written all of the Realm of Jewels songs and that both of his writing partners were dead. She’d gone and poked at a second vulnerable spot in his armor in less than thirty minutes. At the rate she was going she wouldn’t be surprised if he got off the bus in New York and took the first train back to Boston. Stirring in the chocolate she grabbed onto a shard of that thought like a lifeline.
“You live in Boston right?”
If he was surprised by her abrupt change of topic he didn’t let on.
“I do. I always enjoyed the city when we played there and it oddly reminded me of home. Figured I could do worse when finding a place to settle after everything.”
“Why not L.A. or New York?” She asked genuinely curious as she sprinkled cinnamon over the mugs, grabbing them and returning to the table. “They’re probably way better for recording and what not.”
“True-” he shrugged, accepting his drink with a nod of thanks, “but L.A. felt like a golden facade, even though I do own a house in Malibu, and New York felt like a concrete abyss. I was still a bit lost at the time and both of those cities would have swallowed me whole. Still, I craved the bustle of an urban landscape and Boston was the right fit”
“So, you did a three bears situation. Did you at least get some quality porridge out of the deal, Goldilocks?” She teased.
He had taken a sip as she asked and glared at her over the rim of the mug. Then his eyes widened in surprise, looking down at the cocoa, “Ooh, this is good, Swan, and no, there was no porridge to be had or golden locks to be seen. I’ve dyed my hair a fair share of colors but blonde was never one of them. I’ll leave that shade to those that can pull it off.”
With a flirtatious wink from him and a responding eye roll from her Emma felt that some kind of balance had been restored. She had never particularly cared what others thought of her, if she had she would have been reduced to a shell of a person by middle school, but for some reason with Killian it was different. There was something a bit broken about him that she recognized from the mirror and she definitely didn’t want to be the one to add to it.
She lifted her mug towards him, “Since you didn’t get to do this earlier: cheers to the start of a new tour.”
“And endeavoring to make every show as successful as this one,” Killian clinked his mug gently with hers, a soft smile on his face, “Cheers, love.”
Emma took a large sip, glad that her large mug hid the blush she knew was in her cheeks. As much as she’d hated the endearment when they’d first met it no longer irked her. She was discovering that there were a lot of things about Killian that no longer irked her and it made her more resolute to keep him at arm’s length. Only it seemed the harder she tried the easier it became for him to slip past her defenses.
Flustered she set her mug down a little too forcefully and pulled her notebook towards her, “I’m just gonna… until we get to the hotel. I mean, if it’s okay.”
“By all means,” he said, bemused. He tapped on his journal, “I have a bit of writing to do myself.”
“Oh, yeah. Good.”
With that less than eloquent response she forced herself to start what she’d intended to do before Killian had joined her. After nearly twenty minutes of alternately writing down some words and stealing glances at the man across from her she chastised herself and focused on the task at hand. It didn’t help that she could feel his eyes on her whenever the scratching of his pen took a pause. However, by the time the bus pulled into the hotel’s parking lot she found that she’d not only written a good chunk of what she’d wanted but that she really didn’t mind Killian’s presence in the least and that maybe the world wouldn’t exactly end if she admitted it.
Cincinnati, May 12th
“Emma, sweetheart, how’s the tour? Are the fans nice? Have you been able to go sightseeing anywhere?”
“Are you getting enough sleep? You didn’t on the last one and you were basically a zombie when you got back. Did you pack that melatonin I dropped off? What about your meals? You’ve been eating something green everyday right?”
Emma rolled her eyes at Mary Margaret and David’s unending questions. While they’d never formally adopted her they were as close to having parents as she was ever going to get. She absolutely loved them but sometimes they drove her nuts with their worrying.
“The tour is going pretty good and the fans are great as always. No sightseeing since this is the first day of rest we’ve gotten so far and I don’t really feel like leaving the room. I packed the melatonin and I’m getting as much sleep as I can and I’ve eaten green things. Sour apple rings count right?” She stifled a laugh at David’s spluttering and Mary Margaret’s attempts to calm him. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Tink’s been on a health kick lately and has been making us drink these smoothie things with more vegetable juices and leafy greens than frozen fruit and Killian refuses to eat fast food so we’ve been stopping at actual restaurants or he’ll cook for us on the bus.”
At the mention of his name Killian popped his head through the doorway that connected their rooms. One of the greatest perks of having him on the tour was no longer having to share one room with both Ruby and Tink while Will got an entire room to himself. Of course Will hadn’t been as enthused about having to share for once.
“Need something, Swan?”
“Oh, that’s very thoughtful of him. You have been trying to be friendly with him, haven’t you? I know you were hesitant at first but Ruby has nothing but nice things to say about him and he’s been through some tough times.”
“What’s he been cooking? And what kinds of restaurants? Some of those places can be just as bad as fast food and he might not know it.”
Emma was extremely glad that it was only Mary Margaret and David that were on speaker. Though she wouldn’t have put it past Killian to have heard everything they said with the way they were just shy of yelling into their phone to make sure she heard them. As it was he could probably tell they were talking about him from the heat she could feel in her cheeks and ears. She waved him off from her spot on the bed, turning slightly so he could see the phone she was holding. His eyebrows shot up before silently apologizing and ducking back into his room.
“You guys really need to chill out. Everything’s going great, Mary Margaret, and it’s early enough that we’re still getting along. And please stop analyzing what I’ve been eating, David, you’re a sheriff not a nutritionist.”
They both hemmed and hawed but it had been that way since she’d started going further than fifty miles outside of Storybrooke to play her music. At first it had been annoying and unwelcome until she’d realized that that’s what people did when they cared about someone. The Nolans were second to none when it came to worrying and being overprotective out of love.
“Then, as a sheriff, is he being respectful? And I don’t just mean with you and Tink. He’s not trashing hotel rooms or causing disturbances in the cities you’ve been playing at has he? I’ve read about some of the trouble he’s gotten into-”
“David, you didn’t!”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Online, stuff online!” David corrected impatiently. “I’m not going to illegally pull a file on someone, no matter how much I want to.”
“So you’d rather rely on gossip sites?” Emma hissed lowly, not wanting Killian to overhear any part of her conversation at the moment. “I thought we’d agreed to not look at those after that one article made you both join Twitter just to berate the author and the site.”
“Hey, now, I got rid of it after that,” Mary Margaret said defensively, “I’m only on Instagram now.”
“I only promised to not look at stuff about you,” David grumbled. “A man with a very public history of causing trouble joins the band on only the good word of one person? I have the right to be concerned.”
She bit back her sigh of frustration. As much as she didn’t like David’s attitude she couldn’t help but understand, seeing as she’d felt almost exactly the same way in the beginning.
“Yeah, you do, but I’m not too worried about it and you shouldn’t be either. You should be more worried about what Ruby’s going to do to you when I tell her you don’t trust her.”
Their twin gasps had her grinning.
“That’s cold, kiddo,” David grumbled.
“Just like your lasagne will be once word gets to Granny,” she said, snickering. “Look, everything’s going great and will keep going great unless you keep sending bad vibes my way.”
“Bad vibes?” Mary Margaret asked with a smile Emma could hear in her voice.
“Yup, the baddest of vibes, ones where I end up with laryngitis or the bus gets a flat in the middle of nowhere or my guitarist breaks their hand and can’t go on tour. Oh wait, that’s already happened.”
Killian took up space in the doorway once again, his eyebrows high on his forehead. She shook her head at his unasked question but didn’t shoo him away again.
“According to Ruby it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to her and that it could be the best thing to happen to you. She has been very forthcoming about what Killian going on tour with you might end up becoming,” Mary Margaret said smugly.
“Wait, what do you mean?” David asked confused as Emma scrambled to end that conversation before it started.
“Would you look at the time? I gotta go!”
“I’ll call you guys in a few days. Love ya, bye!” With a huff she ended the call and dropped her phone onto the mattress, knowing she’d only postponed the inevitable gossip session Mary Margaret wanted to have with her. She looked at Killian, who was still lurking in the doorway, “Yeah?”
“Not to be nosey-”
“But you’re going to be anyway,” she groaned, “You heard your name and you’re curious.”
He chuckled and strode into her room, settling himself on Tink’s bed, leaning back against the headboard, “You would be too. Especially when you have a tenuous hold on a gig and the person who decides your fate has mentioned your name and then not long after is discussing ‘bad vibes’.”
“You think too highly of yourself,” she said dismissively. “I was talking to Mary Margaret and David about how terrible your cooking is and that it’s been giving my stomach bad vibes.”
“You’re a terrible liar, Swan,” he said with a shake of his head, “If I recall correctly you had three servings of last night’s fare.”
She rolled her eyes, “Just replenishing the reserves I used up during the show, Jones. The stir fry wasn’t that special.”
“I see,” he said seriously, rubbing his hand thoughtfully over his chin, “I guess I’ll strike it from future meal options, wouldn’t want you to have to force yourself to eat it before complaining about it to others.”
“That’s not-” she huffed, knowing he’d called her bluff, “Whatever, you know it was great. That’s what I was telling them. David was all upset that I might not be eating what he considers a balanced diet.”
He chuckled, “And the bad vibes?”
“They worry too much and I basically told them they’d be jinxing me if they kept it up. I don’t think Mary Margaret believed me and I know neither of them will relax until the tour’s over,” she sighed, flopping back onto the mattress and staring at the ceiling.
“Is this the same David that inspired you to learn guitar?” Killian asked casually but she could hear the hesitant caution in his tone.
“Yeah, him and Mary Margaret, his wife, kinda latched on and never let go, not even when-” she paused, still unwilling to share her whole messed up story with him, “things got really rough for me. They’re pretty much my parents in every way without actually being my parents, including getting all up in my business and then nagging me about what they find. You know how it is.”
“I wouldn’t, actually,” Killian said softly. She sat up on her elbows and he gave her a self-deprecating shrug, “Mum died when I was eight and my father left when I was ten. Spent a few years living with a distant cousin until things got straightened out.”
She blinked at him in shock. Not once, in any interview or magazine profile had that part of his childhood been discussed. They had only ever mentioned where he’d gone to school before he’d dropped out when the Realm of Jewels started getting big. At the time, when she’d been devouring every piece of media she could when it came to her favorite band, she hadn’t paid attention to that lack of detail. It hadn’t mattered then and while it still made no difference to her it did go a long way in explaining why she felt like she had known him for years instead of weeks.
“You, uh, got adopted then?” She asked hesitantly as she sat up, needing to know if he’d had the same heartaches as her or if he’d been one of the lucky ones.
“Er, not as such, no-” he looked up at the ceiling, his Adam's apple bobbing as his hand rubbed at the back of his neck, “First my brother was granted civil rights for adolescents, essentially cleaving himself out from under the burden of our father. Once he proved he could support not only himself but me as well he became my legal guardian. He had just had his seventeenth birthday the week before.”
“Seventeen?” she breathed, “And you were fourteen.”
His head snapped back down, his eyes wide and his voice a little unsteady, “You really must have been quite the fan if you still remember that bit of trivia.”
“Maybe I was,” she said softly. She dropped her gaze to where her hands were balled up into tight fists in her lap, “Must have been nice. Living with someone that actually wanted you.”
“It was but then there were times where it wasn’t,” he gave a deep sigh and when she looked up he was staring down at his own hands as they played with denim over his knees. “Liam had been my hero my entire life just being my older brother. When he became my guardian I felt as though I had to push myself into perfection to live up to what I thought he expected of me. I’d already started drinking by that point but it didn’t truly become a problem until I was sixteen.
“I knew Liam was disappointed but he had no idea how to help me and I’m not even sure I would have accepted it had he offered. Instead he proposed a compromise of allowing me to play with his newly formed band if I curtailed my drinking substantially. It worked, for a while at least. I’d been playing for quite some time on my own but with the camaraderie of the band and the discovery of actually enjoying writing songs I found an outlet for all the feelings that I’d been trying to drown with the drink. For the first time since Liam had assumed my guardianship I felt as though he was my brother again, not just my beleaguered caretaker.”
Emma wasn’t quite sure what to say to that. She didn’t want to inadvertently come across as judgmental by commenting about his drinking but she would have given anything for some relative to have saved her from any one of her foster homes and done whatever they’d ask in gratitude. Though, when she thought about it, Mary Margaret and David were practically the next best thing and she’d given them plenty of teenage attitude at the time. Especially when it came to the year she would give anything to forget.
“Did he throw a fit when you decided to quit school for the band?” She asked, hoping to steer the both of them into less painful and mine filled waters.
He looked up with a small grin, “It was his bloody idea. Liam didn’t want to leave me to my own destructive devices and since the band had been steadily building momentum he was loath to relegate shows to only weekends and holidays while I was in my final year. He put it up to a vote with the others and they agreed. And since I didn’t have a licence yet and therefore couldn’t do my share of the driving I spent my time on the road reading anything and everything I could get my hands on. I’m fairly certain I got a better education that way than I would have otherwise.”
“So is that why you guys were the Jolly Rogers first? A bunch of pirates driving all over England to pillage seedy pubs for fame and fortune?”
“Something like that,” he chuckled, his grin widening.
She grinned back, feeling somewhat proud that she’d been able to somewhat keep herself from completely depressing him with her curiosity. As much as she’d obsessed over him when she was younger she was surprised by how much she actually didn’t know about him, even though she’d just berated David for taking gossip as truth. There was a part of her that itched to know more about him, the real person and not the persona she and millions of fans thought they knew. Their little chats on the bus and in the small bits of down time just weren’t enough and suddenly she had an idea on how to fix that.
“Alright, where to Jones?”
“Er, what?” He asked, his confusion at her non sequitur furrowing his brow.
“I’ve never been to this city before and I know you have so you are now my de facto pirate tour guide.”
“Swan,” he sighed, though his smile was growing by the second, “I’ve only been here twice and both times I only had a few hours to explore, which back then was usually as many bars as I could get to before sound check. I’m probably the last person that should be leading you around this fair metropolis.”
“Too bad-” she jumped up off the bed and began looking for the shoes she’d kicked off as soon as they’d walked through the door earlier that morning, “Google ‘things to do in Cincinnati’ and pretend that you know what you’re talking about. Then I’ll pretend to be impressed like every other time you think you’re being all too cool for school and worldly.”
“Too cool for school?” Killian repeated incredulously. “What are you, twelve?”
“Twenty-eight,” she said absently, grinning triumphantly as she extricated one shoe from under the desk and spotted the toe of the other poking out from under the bed Killian was sitting on.
“Twenty-eight and apparently have no idea how to stroke a man’s ego so he’ll want to do ridiculous favors for you,” he muttered.
She looked up at him sharply and got an eyebrow wiggle in return. With a huff she sat back on her bed to slip on her shoe, “I don’t need to stroke a man’s anything to get him to do stuff for me.”
“Oh, really?” He asked incredulously. “And what pray tell do you do?”
Gladly rising to the challenge she straightened from her bent position she subtly arched her back and blinked owlishly at him, nearly grinning in triumph at the way his mouth parted slightly and he sucked in a breath. She did let a small smile grace her lips as she pointed to the shoe under the bed.
“Can you grab that for me first?”
He nodded, a little slack-jawed, and as soon as he bent over the side of the bed she relaxed her posture. When he came up with the shoe she was waiting with her hand out, her brow raised and a shit-eating grin all in place. At his look of indignation she kind of wished she’d had her phone ready to get a picture of it.
“That’s- that’s bloody manipulation, that is!” He spluttered, slapping her shoe into her palm.
“Ooo, someone’s got their panties in a twist. All I did was ask you to get me my shoe,” she said innocently, putting the shoe on. “Come on Tour Guide, show me the good stuff.”
“Unbelievable,” he growled, but he was shaking his head and smiling. He stood and moved back to his own room, shouting through the open door, “I expect you to pay for whatever unique culinary delight we’ll inevitably be trying. Fool me once, Swan.”
“Shame on you,” she cheerfully called back.
Making sure she had her phone and room key she shot off a text to everyone who needed to know where they were going. It was a request from Regina that she had chafed at and ignored at first, until she began being recognized in the streets and the paparazzi had started following her around. After one incident that had had her holed up in the backroom of a used bookstore with a dead phone, no one’s number memorized and a show that had been only a couple of hours away Regina had put it in her tour contract that she had to be in contact at all times. She still chafed at practically being under her manager’s watchful eye like a toddler but she and Regina both agreed that it was better than being saddled with a handler instead. At her insistence Ruby, Tink and Will were also in the group text so Regina wouldn’t try to hound them about her whereabouts thinking they could be hiding her.
Her phone chimed as she debated whether or not to put on a sweatshirt or her leather jacket.
Rub a dub: you know you could leave me out of this now right?
and ease up on the guilt trip I’m taking you on? no way! She responded, deciding on the sweatshirt and tying it around her waist.
Rub a dub: jokes on you, girly, i’ve got a front row seat
to what? She sent, suspicious and wary about what Ruby could mean.
Rub a dub: if you’re asking you’re not ready to know yet.
Emma glared at her phone for a moment before sending multiple texts demanding Ruby to explain herself that all went unanswered. She growled in frustration and turned to glare at Killian who was once more leaning on the door jamb, chuckling.
“Ruby’s being an ass,” she gave as an explanation, shoving her phone in her back pocket. Then she got a good look at what Killian was wearing, “Is that a Reds hat? I thought you didn’t know the city that well. Why do you have a hat for their team?”
“Oh, you’re a big baseball fan then?” He asked, clearly surprised.
“David is, I’m more of a fan of the way the pants fit. Plus the Reds had that jersey with no sleeves last year. Arms like those tend to stick out in a girl’s memory,” she said dreamily, remembering just how well the players wore those particular jerseys. Then she mentally shook herself and nodded at the hat, “You didn’t answer my question.”
His lips quirked in amusement, lightly touching the hat’s bill and then the sunglasses that she hadn’t noticed hanging from his shirt collar, “I’ve found that it’s the easiest way to blend into the crowd. When we were at the height of… everything it was hard to even step out of the hotel without getting mobbed. Liam discovered, quite by accident mind you, that people didn’t expect to see us dressing ourselves down and to be fans of the local sports teams. Unfortunately it means I have a wide array of ball caps that one would consider quite a collection if they weren’t solely for a practical use. If I had a choice I would have donned the hat from Pittsburgh but I’m not quite sure what rivalries are predominant in this city and I’d prefer not to be verbally insulted over the wrong choice.”
Emma gave a surprised laugh. Just minutes before they’d been having a somber conversation that could have dragged the rest of the day down. Instead they were joking around about baseball and overzealous fans.
“Should I put on some super elaborate disguise too?” She looked up at him with a teasing grin. “I could get a wig or maybe some of those glasses with the fake nose and mustache attached.”
Killian snorted, “As entertaining as that would be I think you’ll be fine, love, as long as you don’t wear the red leather.”
Feeling offended for half a second she begrudgingly agreed with him. Her red leather jacket was her signature look, she’d worn it for all three of her album covers and went out on stage wearing it for the first half of the show. It was as much a look as it was a kind of armor, one she’d been wearing for much longer than she’d been famous for it. Having Killian tell her not to wear it, no matter how practical the advice was or that she’d already decided on a sweatshirt, had her suddenly feeling vulnerable.
“Do you… um, do you have a hat I could borrow?”
He looked at her for a moment before nodding and moving back into his room. She followed, shoving her hands in her pockets to keep from hugging her middle to keep herself steady.
As much as the room was identical to hers and Tink’s, the boys’ room looked like a tornado had run through half of it. There were clothes strewn across the far, unmade bed, a rifled through duffle bag under the window, and a tray of mostly-eaten room service food on the desk. In sharp contrast the closer bed was tidily made, a small orderly stack of books and notebooks on the bedside table closest to it. Killian was sorting through one of the drawers of the bureau near the foot of it.
“We’re staying for one night and you put your stuff in the drawers?” She asked incredulously, moving closer to his nightstand to see what books he was reading.
“If it makes any difference-” she looked over at him and saw that he had the bill of a red hat clenched tightly in his hand as his gaze darted between the nightstand and her, “I only unpacked enough for the two days we’re here. Er, looking for something, Swan?”
“Just wanted to see what you were reading,” she said cautiously. Feeling that she’d accidentally hit on yet another touchy subject she stepped back and waved her hand towards the bureau, “But that’s not important, you really took the time to unpack stuff for only two damn days? Do you also set all your stuff out on the bathroom counter with a ruler to make sure it’s all lined up perfectly?”
“Do you want to stand here nit picking my travel habits or do you want to go explore the city?” Killian asked pointedly, stepping forward and holding the hat out to her though she could see the tips of his ears turning pink.
“Fine, let’s go-” she grinned, grabbing the hat. Catching sight of the logo on the front she held it up with a sigh, “Really? Red Sox? Is it because I’m from Maine?”
“Would you rather wear the Yankees cap?” He challenged.
She shuddered, adjusting the snaps so it’d fit, “Never. David would kill me if I was photographed in it and I’d never be allowed to step foot in Storybrooke again.”
“Do you have a preference then?” He looked back at the drawer, “As I said I have quite the array.”
“This is fine,” she said, trying to sound like it was a burden when she really didn’t care. Grinning she put on the hat, pulling her ponytail through the opening in the back. When she looked at Killian for approval he was watching her with a half grin on his face, “What? Did I somehow put it on wrong?”
“Nothing of the sort, Swan,” he said softly. Then his grin widened “Shall we?”
“Lead the way, pirate guide.”
What followed was a day unlike any Emma had ever had on a tour before. They roamed the streets of the city with Killian making up facts about the various things they saw and their history as she egged him on, resulting in ridiculous stories that had her laughing until she was crying. To her delight they ended their excursion sitting in the upper tier at a Reds game, thoroughly enjoying themselves as just two faces in the crowd. Though, when it came time for the kiss cam she found she was surprisingly disappointed that the camera hadn’t been trained on them. It wasn’t until they’d returned to the hotel and spent an hour moving back and forth between each other’s rooms before parting ways for the night that she figured out what Ruby had meant about having a front row seat.
Chicago, May 15th
Emma could feel a headache starting to bloom at the base of her skull. She hadn’t gotten enough sleep, which wasn’t unusual, and she’d only had the chance to drink one cup of coffee since the day started, which was. To make matters worse the sound check had been going wrong since the beginning and she had been forced to play the first verse of Bite of Iron four times, never making it past the first line of the chorus before having to start again.
“Alright, Emma, let’s see if that fixed it. Whenever you’re ready.”
She nodded, biting her cheek against the tirade she wanted to let loose. Barely a minute in the sound tech interrupted her again. Flexing her hands into fists over the keys of the piano she counted to ten, then did it backwards before speaking into her mike.
“Can we take a break?”
“They’ve almost got it, Emma. Right gentleman?” Regina broke in from the side of the stage where she was standing with the others since they weren’t needed for the song. She had barely looked up from her phone and was still typing away as she continued, “You do want it to sound right, don’t you? Let them do their job and then you can move past this one.”
At Regina’s words something in Emma snapped. She stood abruptly from her piano, a loud buzzing in her ears. Someone, she wasn’t entirely sure who, started saying something to her but she barely heard what they were saying as she practically ran offstage. All she wanted was to get a lungful of fresh air, anything to ease the clawing at her throat.
In her rush to find an exit that led outside she ended up getting turned around and completely confused as to where she was. The clawing feeling had traveled down to her chest, compressing her lungs so it was getting hard for her to breathe. Before she could lose her shit completely a warm hand wrapped around her wrist and tugged gently.
“Follow me, love.”
She let Killian lead her through the labyrinth like corridors, barely paying attention to the turns they were taking or the doors they were going through. However, when they entered a stairwell she paused.
He looked back at her, giving her an encouraging smile, “Trust me?”
It wasn’t even a question to her. Somehow, in the month since they’d been thrown together he had become someone she trusted completely. She nodded and his smile widened as he squeezed her hand and began their ascent. Though she found she was distracted from their progress again at the sight of her hand in his, not to mention the way his jeans hugged his ass as he climbed.
All too quickly Killian opened a door that had sunshine streaming into the stairwell and the heat of the day rolling over them. He had taken her to the roof of the auditorium. It was dotted with air conditioning units and not much else but she noticed that it did have a pretty good view of the city that was sprawled out all around them.
“It’s not much but it’ll give you some time to yourself-” he held out a slim silver can that she hadn’t noticed before, “I hadn’t seen your ubiquitous starbucks cup today so I thought you might want this. Come back down when you’re ready and don’t worry about Regina, I’ll handle it.”
Taking the can of coffee, the one that was on her rider for the days exactly like the one she’d been having, a brand that could only be found in the corner of Maine that Storybrooke inhabited and that Killian had clearly gone to the green room to get before finding her, she was suddenly overwhelmed in a different way than before. No one, not even Mary Margaret and David had known exactly what she needed when things got overwhelming and provided it without question or needing an explanation. He made to leave but she gripped his hand in hers, holding him in place.
“Stay?” She asked softly, “Please?”
His eyes searched hers before he seemed to find what he was looking for. With a nod he walked them over to a small strip of shade provided by the stairwell housing and sat with his back against it. Once he settled he patted the spot next to him, wordlessly inviting her to join him.
The surface of the roof was warm when she sat but not uncomfortably so. There was a slight breeze, not enough to dry the sweat that was gathering at her temples but enough to break the heat of the day. Emma could hear the traffic moving along and through the city, a not so unpleasant hum that matched the air conditioning units kicking on and off to make a bit of a song. She felt herself smile at the thought of putting lyrics to the sounds and then snorted in amusement at the fact that it was easier to make up a song on the fly than to play one she’d intentionally written.
“Something funny, Swan?” Killian asked, his own voice laced with humor.
“Only if you’re me,” she said wryly, snapping open the coffee and drinking near half of it one one go. She tipped her head back and stared up at the cloudless blue sky, “Did you know?”
“Hmm? Know what?”
She kept her gaze trained upwards but could imagine his eyebrow ticked up in slight confusion and intrigue, “When you said to play Bite of Iron, did you know that I’d never played it live before?”
“Not once?” She shook her head and he gave a low hum, “No, love, I didn’t. It is a beautiful song, it’s a shame the sound guys did it such an injustice. No wonder you stormed off.”
For a moment she almost didn’t want to correct him. There really was no reason to explain or even justify her behavior. She was sure that he’d seen worse from others in the business, she’d seen it herself. The thing was she wanted to tell him the truth of what had upset her. It was like the words were pressing against her lips, ready to spill out into her lap. Just as she made up her mind to go through with it, absolutely certain that he wouldn’t judge or condemn her, he began to speak.
“Everyone assumed Milah was the diva of the group and she could be, if the occasion called for it, as could I. But Liam-” he chuckled and then sighed, “Liam never gave into theatrics but if things weren’t going exactly how he wanted it he could, and would, let his displeasure be known. He once refused to board our tour bus one evening because the driver had decided to take a nap and got to the venue nearly an hour late. We had to charter a plane to make it to our next stop on the tour because Liam’s obstinance caused an even bigger delay to our departure. The label made him pay for the cost of the plane from his own pocket. Served the git right.”
Emma sat completely still, entranced. He hadn’t talked to her about Liam since Cincinnati and she’d noticed that he’d been writing in his notebooks more since then. She had a feeling that maybe, just maybe, he was feeling the same push that she was to share the painful parts of his past. To trust her with them.
“You miss him,” she said softly but surely. It was easy to hear the longing in his voice.
“Aye, I miss them both. It’ll be twelve years and I still expect Liam to come walking into my apartment calling me ‘little brother’ or I’ll wake and reach for Milah across the empty bed-” his hand clenched on his thigh before he sighed again, “There’s a constant ache in my chest for missing them.”
She didn’t know what to say, what he would want to hear. There had been precious few people in her life that she felt that strongly about and she had never lost any of them. Just thought of either of the Nolans or Ruby being taken from her as Killian’s brother and fiance had been had her breath backing up in her throat.
“This probably wasn’t what you had in mind when you escaped, was it?” he asked, nudging her shoulder with his. “Apologies.”
“Don’t,” she said quickly, grabbing onto the hand that was still clenched on his thigh. “You don’t need to apologize for talking about them. I get the feeling you don’t do it very often.”
“That I don’t-” he unclenched his hand and she let hers settle in his open palm, her heart threatening to jump out of her chest as she did. “It was too hard at first, I’d lash out or dive deeper into the bottle, most times both, and then people just stopped asking. Decent people that is, the gossip rags and paps are the soulless exception.
“Milah hated them from the start. They followed her around more than the rest of us seeing as she was the lead singer and a beautiful woman to boot. Once they got it in their minds we’d been romantically involved for longer than we had been they were relentless.”
Emma tried to hide her surprise at learning that nugget of information but with her hand in his he appeared to have felt it. He grinned, his eyebrow raising in an unasked question.
“It’s just, uh, I thought that you guys were, um, high school sweethearts,” she meant to make it sound like a statement yet it came out like a question.
He laughed, a small but genuine thing, his free hand scratching at the back of his neck, “Our publicist spun it like that and we went along with it for interviews and such. More romantic he liked to say. Truth was even though we’d gone to the same secondary school she was in Liam and Robin’s year and I’d hardly spoken to her then. It was only when they started playing together after they’d left that I got to know her. She seemed so sophisticated and worldly to my scrawny teenage ass, even though she was only three years older than me and had never left our tiny village either.
“It wasn’t until during our first real tour that we gave into the attraction that’d been growing between us. From then on it was like throwing a match at a puddle of petrol. It was us against the crazy world we’d been thrust into and we thrived on it,” he said with a frown. “We partied a little too hard, fought a little too meanly, and were dependent on each other in ways I know now weren’t healthy. I loved her deeply, I always will, and I know she loved me but sometimes I wonder if we would have made it had she lived.”
“I think…” Emma paused, wanting to get the words right and not completely destroy whatever it was that was growing between them at the same time, “You kinda seem like a guy that wouldn’t let something like that slip through your fingers. The way you were talking about her just now? I think you would have fought like hell to stay together.”
“I’d like to think so,” he said, ducking his head. “Liam would say the same thing when I voiced my doubts. He’d been dead set against it at first and wasn’t too pleased with how we behaved most days but he always said he understood how much we loved each other. Of course he also understood that we wrote some of our best songs once we got together.”
“Some of your best songs,” she said thoughtfully, drawn back to the reason she’d fled the stage, “You were right about Bite of Iron, you know. When you suggested it I was trying to figure out why the set didn’t seem right. The Boston crowd was so surprised when I started playing it.”
“It’s an exceptional song, Swan.”
“Yeah,” she said quietly. “Do you know what it’s about? I mean, you’ve obviously listened to it a lot since you knew it would work out.”
The tips of his ears tinged pink, “I’ve listened to it a time or two. It’s a love song is it not? Or rather, a love lost song?”
She snorted, only half in amusement, “Something like that. Everyone knows that I’m an orphan and all that jazz, I’ve never hid it and Regina says that it’s my ‘thing’. You know, the thing that makes me unique.”
“Bollocks, you make yourself unique,” Killian said heatedly, squeezing her hand in emphasis, “Your songwriting, your playing, everything about you sets you apart from the chaff.”
It was her turn to blush, “I mean, obviously, but, you know, it’s Regina.”
“Aye, she’s not one prone to mincing her words,” he scoffed.
“No, but she has my back and knows how to bury things. Like how I went to juvie and had a baby.”
Her attempt at nonchalance fell flat as Killian stiffened beside her. She steeled herself, ready for him to pull away from her both physically and emotionally. While she absolutely believed he wouldn’t think less of her or go to the press with the information she had no idea what his reaction could be.
“Did you- was it-” he huffed out a breath through his nose, clearly frustrated. A muscle in his jaw was ticking but when he looked at her his gaze was soft, “I’m sorry that happened to you, love.”
The sincerity in his voice caught her off guard. Coming from anyone else she would have brushed it off as a platitude or pitying. Killian sounded like he was the one who had caused it all and was apologizing for it. She felt a glowing warmth expanding inside her, giving her the courage to continue.
“I didn’t do it, in case you were wondering. I was young, stupid, and in love, not the greatest combination-” she deadpanned, shrugging one shoulder. Taking a deep breath she forged on, “I had just turned seventeen and was on my own since I’d had the bright idea of running away from the Nolan’s. I don’t even remember why now, probably some fucking teenage angst or something. Doesn’t matter. So I met this guy, Neal. And he was older and knew how to survive on the streets and he got me. Just… understood all the shit I’d gone through with the whole orphan thing and didn’t judge me for it. We had this whole outlaw life, living in the back of this car I’m pretty sure was stolen, sneaking into motel rooms when people checked out for a few hours, and stealing but only food. Well, I thought it was only the food.
“A few months after we got together he comes up to me in a panic, telling me how the cops are after him because of some watches he’d stolen and left at the bus depot and how he’s gotta go to Canada and I couldn’t go with him-” she gave Killian a rueful smile, “You probably know how well that went over.”
“Like a lead balloon I’m guessing,” he murmured with a somewhat pained chuckle.
“Yeah,” she sighed, “So I come up with this brilliant plan, yeah? Why don’t I go get the watches? Prove to him that he needed me and obviously the cops wouldn’t be looking for a teenage girl, right? He just lit up when I told him, said I was a genius and gave me the key to the locker he’d stashed the watches in. It worked, I got those damn watches.
“When I got back to where Neal was hiding out he gave me some song and dance about fencing the watches to get the money we need to go to Canada. How I couldn’t go with him because the guy he had to deal with doesn’t like strangers or whatever. Before he leaves, though, he gives me one of the watches, a giant clunky thing covered in diamonds that was worth a hell of a lot more than anything I had ever owned in my life. He tells me-” she scoffs and scowls at the memory, “tells me he doesn’t want me to be late for when we were supposed to meet back up. I swallowed every word, spent the whole day dreaming up all sorts of plans of what our life was going to be like in Canada while I waited for it to be the time we’d agreed on. I wasn’t late but neither were the cops who’d been tipped off that I’d be there holding stolen property. The fucking, lying, sneaky asshole had left a couple of the watches in my backpack along with the one he’d put on my wrist. Got a year in juvie for being his goddamn scapegoat.”
“But you were innocent,” Killian spluttered, moving to stand until she grabbed his arm and forced him to stay next to her.
“Which is part of the reason why I went to juvie instead of prison,” she said calmly, even though she was amazed he was indignant on her behalf. “They couldn’t prove I had anything to do with actually stealing the watches, just that I had some of them on me. The other part was being closer to seventeen than eighteen. Another month older and I think they would have tried me as an adult.”
“They caught him at least? This Neal?” Killian spat out the name, his lips curling back in disdain.
“I don’t know and I don’t really care anymore,” she answered honestly.
He nodded as if it made sense before lowering his eyes and asking hesitantly, “And the… erm… the babe?”
She sighed and felt as if she had dredged it up from deep in her soul. Her hand was still on Killian’s arm and he placed his other on hers, squeezing her fingers gently. Somehow she knew if she said she didn’t want to talk about it he’d understand and wouldn’t push and that more than anything gave her the courage to keep going.
“I found out I was pregnant about a month into my sentence and the first person to congratulate me was a guard passing by my cell. I think that more than anything made me realize how much I’d fucked up. The next time I had phone privileges I called Mary Margaret and David. Back then I told myself that it was because they were the only number I had memorized but I think deep down I knew they wouldn’t judge me or just brush me off as a runaway they had no obligation to help anymore. Mary Margaret took the next flight out to Phoenix and David came a few days later. It was the first time I’d ever felt really, truly loved. They could only stay for a week but we became a family in that week.”
She could feel her throat tightening but kept talking, “The Nolans were there for me the whole time, as much as they could be with their jobs and the group home. They even said they would help me raise the baby, if that’s what I wanted. I couldn’t do it though, I wasn’t ready to be a mom.”
“Did you know that they handcuff you to the bed when you’re in custody of the state and in labor?” She plowed on, determined to finish, “Like I’d make a run for it while a human being came tearing out of me. The cuffs were steel but it doesn’t sound as poetic. I didn’t even hold him. I knew I wouldn’t let him go if I did.”
She had managed to keep the tears that had gathered in her eyes from falling until that moment. It was something she’d only admitted once before, to Mary Margaret on her son’s first birthday. Before she could think to wipe the tears away Killian was doing so with a warm and gentle touch.
“You’re incredibly brave, Emma, did you know that?” He asked, his voice full of awe.
“I wasn’t ready to be a mom,” she repeated shakily, “I knew that giving him up was the best thing for the both of us.”
“Would you want to find him? Now?”
She shook her head before his questions were finished, “I already did, or a private investigator did. He’s happy with his adopted family, he’s got a brother and friends and a good life. He doesn’t need me coming in and making a mess of it.”
“You wouldn’t make a mess of it,” Killian said vehemently.
“Yeah, I would,” she said patiently. She gave him a sad smile, “Let’s for a second forget the fact that we’re sitting on the roof of a venue that in six hours will have forty-five hundred people waiting to hear me play. Just the fact that his birth mom would come out of nowhere and decide to insert herself into his life is bad enough. With all this shit on top of it? No, he’s happy and that’s all I need to know. If someday he decides to find me then I’ll be ready to be a part of his life, but only when he’s ready not before.
“Anyway-” she plowed on, “playing Bite of Iron brings all that shit up again. It’s why I’ve never put it in the lineup before.”
“And then my ignorant ass goes and pushes you to do just that,” Killian spat out bitterly.
He pulled his arm out from under hers but she immediately grabbed his hand, unwilling to part with the comfort his touch had given her.
“It was more like a gentle nudge,” she said teasingly, glad to see his mouth tick up for a moment in amusement. She sobered, “I wouldn’t have put it in if I didn’t want to play it. It’s been eleven years and I can’t heal or whatever if I keep it all bottled up inside. It actually hasn’t been that bad, playing it every night, today was just… a little too much with the constant interruptions and then having to half play it over and over.”
“Well, your diva fit was well justified, I’d say.”
She surprised herself with a burst of laughter. Killian was clearly trying to lighten the mood, she could still see tension in the way he held his shoulders and the slight furrow of his brow, but he was making the effort for her. The glowing warmth from earlier expanded and morphed into butterflies. Leaning into him she pressed a quick kiss to the corner of his mouth.
“Thank you, for helping me escape.”
Killian looked dumbfounded, his mouth dropped open in surprise. She grinned at his stupor. Rising to her feet she felt like she could play Bite of Iron twenty times in a row if he was the one listening, watching her with that same soft look on his face. Just as she was about to say as much or something even more ridiculously sappy the door leading to the roof opened.
“Oh, thank God, you are up here!” Tink breathed out as soon as she caught sight of them, sounding immensely relieved. “Regina’s either going to murder you or make you pay out of pocket for the time she says you’ve wasted. Why haven’t you answered your phone?”
“I-” Emma patted her back pocket and winced when she hit nothing but her ass, “Shit, I think I left it on the piano.”
“Do not tell Regina that,” Tink said horrified. “Tell her it died or spontaneously combusted or whatever, anything that will keep her from blowing another gasket. She’s already muttering about breach of contract.”
“It’s only a breach of contract if I don’t play tonight, not the goddamn soundcheck from hell,” she rolled her eyes.
Killian stood and Emma winced again as Tink’s eyes widened as she noticed him. Tink turned her bewildered gaze to her and Emma knew she would be facing a full inquisition at some point. Not wanting to give away anything more than she already had she avoided both Tink and Killian’s gazes as she marched to the door.
“Come on, let’s get Regina’s tantrum and the rest of soundcheck out of the way and then go find some deep dish pizza. My treat.”
As she stepped back into the air conditioned stairwell she breathed a sigh of relief that Tink had interrupted them when she did. She wasn’t entirely sure she was ready for whatever leap she’d just taken when it came to Killian. She also wasn’t entirely sure she shouldn’t have leaped further.
On the road between Dallas and Houston, May 18th
“Alright, Scarlet, it’s come down to this. What’s your move?”
Emma kept her face impassive as Will scrutinized her closely. She nearly gave herself away when he leaned forward with a smug grin.
“All in, luv,” he said with confidence as he pushed his chips into the center of the table.
“Mistake,” Tink called out from the chair she was perched on towards the front of the bus.
“Shut it,” he growled, rolling his eyes. Tapping his cards he nodded, “All in.”
She looked at her cards before making a show of looking over the cards that were face up in front of Will’s pile of chips. With just the right amount of hesitation she returned his nod.
“So am I.”
Pushing her chips in she became aware of someone looking over her shoulder. Knowing it could only be Killian she ignored him, or at least tried to. Ever since she’d half kissed him in Chicago she’d become almost jumpy whenever he was around. She was beyond relieved that he hadn’t wanted to play poker with her and Will because there would have been no way for her to stay calm and collected with him nearby. As it was her hands felt unsteady and she was suddenly a little too warm.
“Let’s see ‘em,” she said with the slightest shake in her voice.
Will grinned widely, turning over his cards with a flourish, “Three of a kind with my mates Jack, Jack, and would you look at that? Jack. I’ll be takin’ the pot now-”
“Will you though?” She hummed.
Killian snorted a laugh from behind her while Tink muttered an ‘I told you so’ from the front.
“Bloody fuck-” Will’s smile dropped to a grimace, “You’re a cheat you know.”
“Or I’m just that good,” she said smugly, flipping over her cards, “Full house and it seems a couple of your mates have dropped by for the party. Do you think they could loan you the money you now owe me?”
“Sod off,” he growled, tossing his cards at her with a glare. His eyes flicked over her shoulder, “Beware of this one, mate, she’ll bleed ya dry and do it with a smile.”
He pushed away from the table while Killian and Tink laughed, stalking towards the back of the bus. Emma shook her head as she organized the mess of chips, calculating just how much of Will’s money she’d won over the course of the tour so far. It wasn’t much, they’d agreed early on in their friendship to only play for coins, but Will was a sore loser and she was a smug winner. Every cent would count when they got to Vancouver and she’d take what he owed her.
“He’s totally going to pay you in pennies again, you know,” Tink said, sounding slightly bored but still amused.
“I still can’t figure out where the hell he got six thousand three hundred pennies and who he paid to help him,” she said hotly. She turned to Killian who had moved to their kitchenette, “We played the final hand only an hour before our last show and the stupid things were piled up at the side of the stage before the encore. Even Belle doesn’t know!”
“Oh, she knows,” Tink said, peering around the back of her chair, “We all do. We’ve just decided not to tell you.”
Killian snickered and she scowled at him, “Do you know too?”
“On my honor, I do not,” he said solemnly, his hand raised like he was swearing an oath though his eyes were glittering with amusement.
“Liar,” she scoffed, getting back to setting her chips into manageable piles, “Whatever, I still end up getting the money from him and that’s all that matters.”
“I never knew you were so competitive, love,” Killian remarked, his voice lilting with a laugh.
“Only in poker. I’m pretty laid back when it comes to other stuff,” she said with a shrug.
“Not true-” Tink’s face popped up over the top of her chair, her eyes narrowed, “Should I tell him about the Scrabble debacle?”
“Scrabble debacle?” Killian echoed as he set a mug of hot cocoa, complete with whipped cream and cinnamon, at her elbow. She felt herself blushing at the gesture as he slid in across from her with a cup of tea for himself, “I feel this is a tale I should know.”
Tink bounced out of her chair and over towards them, pushing her aside as she slid into the booth. Emma rolled her eyes but scooted over to make room for her.
“So this happened on our first tour together-”
“You say tour, I say a month of hell roaming around the eastern seaboard,” Emma grumbled, taking a sip of her cocoa.
“Okay, true,” TInk conceded. She gave Killian a shrug, “We were playing a gig almost every night and travelling around in a van that also had all our equipment-”
“Don’t forget all four of us were sharing the same shitty motel room and we’d all just met each other.”
“Do you want to tell it?” Tink asked with a raised brow.
“Nope,” she said with a grimace, “It’s bad enough I’m being forced to relive it.”
“Anyway,” Tink said pointedly, “Ruby thought it’d be a good idea to play Scrabble to get us to be friends and not just people that played music together. Any down time we had the board came out and we played until one of us was needed somewhere.”
“We did the same with Boggle,” Killian said with a smile, “Robin had nicked the game from a pub we’d played at one night. Liam hated how we got it but never seemed to complain when he won a round.”
“A man after Emma’s own heart,” Tink said sweetly, winking at Killian while kicking Emma under the table. Emma scowled at her but otherwise ignored her, “See the rest of us thought we were playing for fun, getting to know each other through some nice, quality time together. Then this one decided to keep a running tab of everyone’s scores. When we found out the friendly games went out the window.”
“I’m not the one who started betting money on the games,” Emma huffed.
“No, but you bloody well took some of us to the cleaners regardless,” Will’s muffled yell sounded from his bunk.
“She also got the four guys we had on the road crew in on it. Set up a tournament with a twenty five dollar buy in and two hundred dollars going to the winner-” Tink shook her head but she was grinning.
“And who, may I ask, won the tournament?” Killian asked, turning to her with a raised brow and a knowing look in his eye.
Emma squirmed in her seat, fiddling with the handle of her mug. It had been years but she still wasn’t over the whole thing.
“Anton,” she muttered.
Killian rocked back slightly, as though her answer caught him by surprise, “Anton? The man currently behind the wheel of this bus, Anton?”
Tink was laughing and she wheezed as she answered him, “After organizing the stupid thing she was knocked out in the first round by yours truly. Anton surprised everyone with his win. Turns out he’s part of some big online Scrabble league. Said it was like shooting fish in a barrel!”
Almost as soon as the words were said Emma heard a muffled bang. At the same moment the bus started shaking violently, scattering the poker chips she’d put into meticulous piles and spilling her and Killian’s drinks causing them both to move quickly out of the way of the hot liquids. Over the sounds of Will’s cursing, the rattling of everything that wasn’t nailed down, and a quick, rhythmic thumping from somewhere beneath her she could barely hear Anton trying to tell them something. Crawling over Tink, who had ducked halfway under the table, she tried to stand but couldn’t keep her balance from the way that the bus was swaying. Then a warm hand grasped her elbow and steadied her.
“It’s a blown tire, love,” Killian half yelled over the noise, still seated, “Anton will want us to remain where we are until he pulls over.”
“Okay,” she yelled back, though the racket was lessening as the bus slowed noticeably.
She debated shoving Tink aside so she could be a little safer and sit when Killian tugged on her arm.
“C’mon, Swan, best be seated-” he pulled her down to sit next to him, tucking her into his side with his arm wrapped around her waist, “I’d move over but the seat’s covered in tea.”
“It’s alright,” she croaked, her throat suddenly dry.
All too soon the bus came to a shuddering stop. Reluctantly she pried herself from his warm embrace and stood back up, trying not to seem too disappointed to do so. Luckily Will came stumbling towards them swearing up a storm and hopefully distracting Kilian from her slight frown. Tink, on the other hand, was watching her with knowing eyes.
“What in the blue fuck was that?” Will said shakily, running his hands over his head and down his face.
“We’ve had a tire blowout, folks. Everyone okay?”
Anton was lumbering his way back towards them, a slight sheen of sweat on his forehead. He was a giant of a man who scowled at anyone he didn’t know but once Emma had cracked his shell he was the sweetest man she’d ever met. He was also the most easy going, having no problem making an unscheduled stop so she could get junk food or do a little cheesy sight seeing at a tourist trap. She liked him so much she’d even gone so far as to put it in her touring contracts that he would always be the one behind the wheel, driving her from city to city. The fact that he routinely kicked her ass at Words With Friends in his downtime was her only complaint against him.
“A little shaken up-” Emma grinned at Anton while Will and Tink groaned, “but no one’s hurt. You okay?”
“Might have soiled myself a little but that’s the extent of it for me. The rig is another story, though,” Anton sighed. “I’ve got a replacement but I’ll need to find a shop that can handle the big girl and a way to get her there. I can almost guarantee it’ll be a few hours before I can get her back on the road.”
Emma looked at her watch and did the math, “Okay, we have five hours until sound check. How far away are we from Dallas?”
“I know what you’re thinking but it’ll be cutting it too close and I’d like to keep my job,” Anton said with a rueful smile. “Luckily the tire blew when we happened to be passing through a good sized town. I’ll call it in and hopefully you’ll be set up with a rental to get you the rest of the way there.”
“Oh, Regina’s gonna love this,” Tink muttered under her breath.
“Maybe we’ll get a proper manager out of it,” Will said hopefully. “Ain’t bloody right she only shows up for half the shows and bullies us at all of them.”
“It’ll be less than half this time. She’s only gracing us with her presence in the cities she actually likes,” Emma said distractedly, looking out the windows and smiling at what she saw, “So, how long do you think we’ll have to wait for that rental car?”
“Emma-” there was a note of warning in Anton’s voice, “Please don’t get me fired.”
“Swan?” Killian asked in the same tone.
“I won’t-” she turned back to them with an exaggerated look of innocence and held up the first three fingers of her right hand, “Scout’s honor.”
“As if you were a bloody scout,” Will snorted.
She stuck her tongue out at him before turning to Anton with a grin, “Look, you’ve got calls to make and then Regina’s gonna have calls to make and I’m sure those people will have calls to make too. That gives us at least an hour before there’s even a chance at getting that rental, right?”
Anton shook his head with a sigh, “Right.”
“And you probably won’t run the bus to keep the air going or want us hanging around annoying you while you try and get things sorted, right?”
“You’ve made your point, so make your point,” Anton said with an exasperated smile.
“There’s a convenient little strip mall over there and that big barn looking thing across from it,” she said, pointing west out the window and across the highway. “We’ll get out of your hair and stay somewhat close at the same time. Win-win.”
Anton pinched his nose between his fingers. Will and Tink followed her finger, looking curiously out the window but Killian was watching her. She narrowed her eyes at him but he just smiled.
“As if you need my permission” Anton said with a snort. “Just don’t get arrested or anything. I only want to have to listen to Regina yelling at me once today.”
“Great-” Emma gave him a wide grin, “Want me to bring you back something?”
“The biggest goddamn coffee you can find.”
“Shouldn’t be too hard, mate, this is Texas after all,” Will joked, elbowing Anton in the side.
“Get out of here before I throw you out,” Anton growled but without heat.
Less than five minutes later the four of them were walking under the highway overpass with Will and Tink complaining about the heat of the day and the circumstances that lead them there. Emma, on the other hand, saw it as a blessing in disguise. It was rare that she was able to get time to herself on the days she had a show. Granted it would only be a little over an hour and she wasn’t exactly alone but it was better than sitting cooped up on the bus while everything got sorted out.
Will and Tink pulled ahead, their complaints spurring them on as Killian hung back. Emma tried in vain to keep her pleased smile in check.
“What’s that smile for, Swan?” He asked, bending a little so he could catch her eye from under the brim of an Astros hat.
“How’d you know we’d blown a tire?” She shot back, not wanting him think he was the reason she was smiling even though he totally was.
“Had it happen a couple of times back in the day,” he said with a shrug, “The worst was when it happened once to the van Robin was driving. We were lucky. That day.”
A cloud passed over his face as his eyes focused somewhere ahead of them. Wanting to kick herself for somehow sticking her foot in it again she kept her mouth shut instead. After a few moments he tentatively touched the back of her hand. When she looked up at him he gave her an apologetic smile.
“Sorry for the melancholy, love, can’t be helped sometimes.”
“Not your fault I’m an idiot that seems to bring it up constantly,” she said bitterly, kicking at a pebble on the ground, “I’m surprised you keep wanting to talk to me.”
He gave her a look of surprise but before he could say anything Will was shouting at them.
“Do I have to hang around with you lot or…?”
Emma quickened her steps to catch up to them, catching onto Killian’s hand at the last second to drag him with her. When they came to a stop she let him go, even as he gave her a shy grin that she was helpless to return. Tink cleared her throat and Emma snapped her gaze to her, feeling heat crawl up her neck at the knowing look she was giving her.
“You have your phone don’t you?” Emma asked Will pointedly, hoping that none of them made any kind of comment about anything.
“Perfect,” he said instead of answering, bouncing on his toes, “I’ll be expectin’ your call then.”
He tipped an imaginary hat at them and sauntered off in the direction of the large barn she’d seen from the bus. She was not only surprised to see that it was an antiques mall but that that was where Will seemed to be headed. Then she remembered that Belle’s birthday was coming up and he took great pride in finding unique and ridiculously romantic gifts for her. It also reminded her that David’s birthday was only a couple of weeks away and it couldn’t hurt to take a look around the mall herself.
“Wait up, I’m coming with!” She called after him.
“And I spy a used book store over there so that’s where I’m headed,” Tink trilled. She linked her arm through Killian’s, giving Emma an all too innocent grin, “Coming with Killian? Since you were just complaining about finishing the last of the books you packed and refuse to read any of mine and all.”
“Oh, er-” he scratched behind his ear and gave her a searching look, “If that’s alright with you, Swan.”
“I’m not your babysitter,” she said with a forced laugh, glaring at Tink when Killian looked towards the strip mall where the used bookstore was, “I guess I’ll let you know when we need to go back to the bus.”
“Great! See you in a bit!”
Emma watched as they crossed the four lane street, Tink’s arm still threaded through Killian’s. As much as she knew Tink was doing it to annoy her she couldn’t help the stab of jealousy she felt. With a huff at how ridiculous she was being she once again caught up with Will, who was tapping an imaginary watch as she approached.
“As if you’re ever anywhere on time,” she scoffed.
“I’m never late, everyone else is just early,” he said as he fell into step with her.
She gaped at him, “Did you- please tell me you didn’t just quote Princess Diaries.”
“Iconic film, luv,” he said sagely, “Queen Clarisse is a royal worth bendin’ the knee for.”
“You’re full of surprises, Scarlet,” she said with a shake of her head.
“Seems you are too-” he hip checked her and tipped his head in the direction Tink and Killian had gone, “Gettin’ cosy with the rock star and all.”
“No! Nothing’s- I’m not getting cosy,” she spluttered, heat crawling up the back of her neck. “And even if I was it’s not any of your business.”
“He likes you too,” Will chuckled. “Didn’t get so defensive ‘bout it but turned about as red as you are right now.”
She stopped in her tracks, staring wide eyed and mouth open at his back as he kept walking. He didn’t even pause to see why she was no longer at his side, merely turned on his heel and walked backwards, giving her a shit-eating grin.
“You two aren’t nearly as subtle as you think.”
By the time she scraped her jaw off the sidewalk and chased after him he’d disappeared inside the refurbished barn. She had half a mind to hunt him down and make him explain what he meant. Unfortunately the sheer size of the place and the dozens of aisles she could see from just inside the door had her second guessing that idea. Figuring there would be plenty of opportunities to corner and torture him for information later she headed to her left and began perusing the vast sea of antiques before her.
Nearly forty minutes and hundreds, if not thousands, of items later Emma found herself sitting on the floor of a promising booth. Whoever had rented the spot was clearly a fan of music. The temporary walls were covered with vintage tour posters for artists dating back to the forties and fifties, some of which were signed. Most of the booth was taken up by a large locked display case that housed signed photos, early fan club collectables from bands that had become global phenomenons, and other highly coveted paraphernalia. What had caught Emma’s eye, however, were the dozens of boxes of records and she had promptly sat herself down and began sifting through them.
She was adding a record to the small pile she’d set aside, some meant for David’s gift and some for herself, when a familiar pair of beat up converse stepped up beside her. Not quite able to temper the giddiness she felt at Killian seeking her out she looked up at him with a grin. It quickly faded when she saw that he was looking at something in the booth as though he’d seen a ghost. When she craned her neck to see what he was staring at she gasped and immediately scrambled to her feet.
How she hadn’t noticed the Realm of Jewels’ tour poster was a mystery to her. While it wasn’t front and center it was framed, having been signed by the entire band. To make matters worse it was from their final, unfinished tour.
“Killian?” She said softly, reaching out for his hand but hesitating at the last second.
He remained unmoving, growing paler by the second. Quickly looking around her she noticed there were several people that were wandering the aisle towards them. She also noticed a door that was slightly ajar that looked like it led outside. Slowly she stepped in front of him, reaching up and gently cupped his face in her hands. After a long moment his eyes dropped to hers and his gaze was haunted.
“C’mon,” she whispered.
Sliding her hands down until her fingers wrapped around his, she waited patiently from some kind of indication that he’d heard her. Finally he nodded, closing his eyes and taking a shuddering breath. Not waiting another second she dropped one of his hands but kept a firm grip on the other as she guided him out the door. As soon as she was certain that there was no one around to see them she pulled him into her arms and held him tight. Almost immediately he reciprocated, his arms like steel bands across her back but even then she could feel him begin to shake.
Emma wasn’t sure how long they stood there, wrapped up in each other. She would have been happy to help Killian hold himself together for however long he needed. Slowly he calmed, his grip loosened until he was merely hugging her and his breathing evened out and remained steady. Finally he pulled back but not away and even though she knew he hadn’t actually shed a tear his eyes were red rimmed and glassy. She was pretty sure she looked about the same.
“You don’t need to apologize,” she stressed, gripping the shirt at his sides in her hands, “Never about that.”
He let out an unsteady breath and gave her a short nod. Releasing his shirt she slid her arms around him again, trying for comfort instead of sharing the burden of his pain. Seeming to realize this he returned her hug with a gentle sigh, resting his cheek against her hair.
“Liam was the one driving,” he murmured after a moment, tightening his hold on her slightly before letting go and stepping away. He tilted his head back and let out a harsh breath, “It was after our second show in LA and we’d been invited to some lavish party in the hills. It was hosted by someone who had the money to keep the booze and drugs flowing and the influence to keep the police from showing up. We’d gone to dozens of parties like that before without consequence, we had no reason to believe that night would be any different.
“We’d all partaken in the various substances that were offered and when it came time to leave we realized we were in a bit of a bind. Liam insisted that he’d only been drinking and was sober enough to drive. The ass even said the alphabet backwards and walked a straight line to prove it,” he scoffed, scowling. “I didn’t even question it, not really, merely put up a half hearted protest and then poured myself into the car without further thought. Liam in the driver’s, Robin up front with me behind him and Milah behind Liam.”
Killian sighed and it sounded as though he was releasing a breath he’d been holding for over ten years. Emma didn’t hesitate as she reached for him, relieved when his hand slid easily into hers. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed deeply and closed his eyes.
“We were nearly back at the hotel, only a few blocks away really-” his voice wavered and she held his hand tighter, “I had picked a fight with Liam over one of the songs that was to be on our next album. The last thing I remember was seeing his eyes in the rear mirror, giving me the annoyed glare I’d seen all my life. That’s when… when...”
Emma watched helplessly as he pressed his lips together and looked up and away from her, as if he was trying to stave off the tears that hadn’t fallen before. She didn’t need him to tell her the rest, she already knew. Liam had run a red light and their rental sedan had been hit on the driver’s side by a truck going nearly fifty. Milah had been killed on impact but Liam had lived long enough to make it to the hospital but not an operating room. Robin and Killian had survived with a few broken bones and superficial cuts but it was clear to her that Killian was still healing.
“Never thought I’d see that poster again-” he said gruffly, half turning back towards the building, “let alone covered with our signatures. Did you know that Liam spent hours working on his? Claimed he wanted to be able to quickly do the autographs for fans but I suspect it was to practice his flourishes. Always took up half the posters, the ponce.”
When he looked back at her he tried to give her a smile but it faded quickly. She let her thumb caress the back of his hand, even though she wanted to pull him back into a hug and never let him go.
He looked down at their joined hands and gave a small huff, his grip tightening, “You’re the first person I’ve told the whole story to aside from my therapist. The first person I’ve wanted to tell, really.”
She didn’t know what to say to that but she didn’t need to. Killian’s eyes flickered to hers for a moment before he bent his head and brought their joined hands to his lips. Goosebumps erupted down her arm despite the Texas heat and she couldn’t help the small gasp that escaped. His gaze snapped back to hers and he straightened slowly, moving a step closer as he did.
For an impossibly long moment too many thoughts raced through her head, questioning what she hoped was about to happen. The only thing that steadied her was somehow seeing the same hesitation, the same tempered desire, in Killian’s too blue eyes. That more than anything had her reaching up with her free hand to caress his cheek before pressing up on her toes to press her lips to his.
There was no hesitation as Killian sighed into her. His mouth was warm against hers but his hand was warmer as it slid from her hip to her lower back, pulling her close. The surprised noise she made was lost to his groan as he deepened the kiss. It was a sound she decided she would gladly work hard at getting him to repeat.
As she happily let herself get lost in the heady sensation of his touch she vaguely noted how he was able to make her feel as though she was vibrating. It was another few moments before she realized that it was her phone and not just his considerable skill that was making her skin tingle. She pulled back, gasping, but kept the grip she had on his shoulder as she reached behind her. He didn’t seem to realize what she was doing. Instead he focused his ministrations on her neck, forcing a moan from her throat as she pulled her phone free and tapped it against the hand that was only inches from the back pocket it’d been in.
“Phone,” she protested breathlessly, even as she tilted her head to give him better access, “Killian, I gotta-”
He lifted his head and looked at her with hooded eyes that cleared marginally as he nodded. She nearly tossed her phone to the ground when his gaze flickered to her lips and he licked his own. The insistent buzzing in her hand was the only thing that stopped her.
Glancing at the screen she felt as though a bucket of cold water was dumped over her head at the sight of Regina’s name. She stepped away from Killian as she swiped to answer, turning in the direction she thought their broken down bus was sitting.
“You and your band have ten minutes to get back to that bus. The rental is in your name so you will be the only one driving it. Go straight to the venue, no pit stops and no going to the hotel first. You have three hours to sound check.”
Emma scowled at nothing as the call disconnected, annoyed that Regina hadn’t even acknowledged her in any way. She checked the time on her phone and saw that Anton had tried to warn her with texts she’d been too wrapped up in Killian to notice. Turning back to him her frown deepened at the sight of him rubbing his hand across the back of his neck, looking nervous.
He cleared his throat before gesturing between them, “That was...”
“A one time thing?” She asked, hating how uncertain she sounded.
“No!” He burst out, surprising her as he leapt forward and grabbed her hand. His other hand cupped her cheek, “At least I hope not. No, I was merely going to say that it wasn’t my intention for things to escalate as they did. I don’t regret it, though, not one moment.”
“Me either,” she said with a smile. He mirrored her but as he began to lean forward she stopped him with a hand on his chest, “Woah there, tiger, we’re gonna have to wait. Regina says we need to get back to the bus.”
He lightly pressed his lips to her hairline and sighed, “That’s perhaps for the best, love, we might have scandalized the locals out in the open like this.”
She snorted a laugh and because she could she pressed a quick kiss to his lips before backing away. He stared at her with a dazed look in his eye, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. She let her own smile unfurl as she sent a quick text to Will and Tink to get them back to the bus.
“Come on-” she grabbed his hand and headed in the direction of the road, “I really don’t want to get on Regina’s bad side by being late to sound check.”
“Swan, wait-” he tugged on her hand, pulling her to a stop, “Didn’t you have things set aside for purchase in there?”
“Nothing important,” she said with a shrug. He narrowed his eyes at her and she rolled hers back at him, “I promise. Just some random records I thought might be interesting. We don’t have time to go back and figure out where to pay for them anyway. I was serious about Regina.”
“If you’re certain…”
“Yep, so let’s go. We still have to get Anton’s giant coffee.”
Killian gave her another skeptical look but she ignored it, leading him back the way they’d come.
Later that night, when she dragged herself onto the repaired bus after their show, she was only mildly surprised to see the pile of records she’d left behind at the antique mall sitting on her bunk. What was a surprise was the long stemmed red rose laying across the top of them. Biting her lip against the grin that threatened to split her face in two she realized she couldn’t wait until the next time she would be able to get Killian alone again.
Denver, May 20th
“Have you slept with him yet?”
Emma choked on the bite of grilled cheese she had unfortunately tried to swallow just as Tink asked her question. They were in their hotel room having arrived only an hour before after a brutal thirteen hour drive from Dallas. She’d had every intention of vegging out and watching the ubiquitous middle of the night marathon of Unsolved Mysteries until she passed out from exhaustion. Tink’s out of the blue question derailed those plans completely.
Though, she had to admit she’d been waiting for Tink to ask something like that since Chicago.
Ever since the afternoon the bus broke down things had shifted between her and Killian. She had never considered herself to be a touchy feely person but for some reason with him she couldn’t help but inch closer when they were sitting side by side, or find reasons to brush her hand against his, or a million other little casual touches that seemed to thrill her and ground her all at once. It wasn’t just her either. Killian was just as guilty at seeking her out and drawing her close. He was much less subtle about it than her and to her own surprise she didn’t mind one bit.
Of course, that was when they were around other people. Whenever they found a moment alone, however, things grew heated quickly. She’d been pulled into more alcoves, behind stacks of equipment, down empty hallways, and up to more roofs for quick but toe curling make out sessions than she could count. Not that she wasn’t guilty of doing the same to him and enjoying every second of it.
One thing they hadn’t done was actually talk about what it was that they were to each other. There had been plenty of opportunities, seeing as they’d found more than enough time to drag each other into dark corners, but Emma had hesitated each time. The question of what it was they were doing was constantly on the tip of her tongue but she always bit it back. It wasn’t just her feelings on the line, though they were a major part of it, but there was the rest of the tour to consider. They were only halfway through and Ruby hadn’t called to tell her that she was ready to play again. If she gave things with Killan a real, no holds barred chance and they went south the fallout would be huge. It didn’t help that the tension between them was ratcheting up to ridiculous levels and she knew that he was waiting for her to decide whether to pull back or push forward. She just didn’t know if she had the strength to do either.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, trying for nonchalance but unable to when she was still coughing.
“Emma,” Tink said exasperatedly, her hands going to her hips, “You can deny all you want but you’re not fooling me. I’ve read about this over and over again to recognize the signs.”
“Romance books aren’t instruction manuals,” she scoffed, “And there aren’t any signs because there’s nothing going on between me and Killian.”
Tink smirked in triumph, “I’m going to ignore that you insulted my reading habits because I never said who I was talking about.”
Emma sighed in resignation. She had thought they were being careful but she should have known that Tink, of all people, would have picked up on the shift in whatever it was she had with Killian. For Tink and her belief in all things love, romance books actually were instruction manuals.
“So have you?”
“No, nosey, I haven’t and I’m not going to-” she took a large bite of her sandwich to hopefully help cover up the giant lie she’d just told. Tink narrowed her eyes at her so she swallowed quickly to explain, “We’re just friends. I didn’t think we would be but you know how it is on a tour. It’s how you learned to tolerate Will for more than an hour. It’s the same with Killian. Friends. That’s it.”
Tink merely stood there, looking at her.
“What?” She snapped, throwing her hands up in exasperation. “Okay, so I’ve been spending a lot of time with him or whatever. He’s got a lot of stories and knows a lot of tricks for the road. Did you know that he still checks into hotels with an alias? Like a spy movie? He said it’s so that someone doesn’t tip off the paparazzi but I think he’s more afraid of his fan club showing up. I guess there was one time some girl was hiding in the closet of his hotel room before he even got there because he’d used his real name. He uses James Barrie, you know, the guy that wrote Peter Pan? It’s his favorite book and- why are you looking at me all smug and shit?”
“Do you even hear the words you’re saying?” Tink laughed. “Are you trying to convince me or yourself? It’s not a bad thing, Emma. He’s a good guy and he really likes you, has since the beginning.”
“He has?” She asked, surprised.
“Oh my god,” Tink said, rolling her eyes, “You can’t be that oblivious. Yes, dummy! I could write my own best seller with all the yearning looks and doey eyes you both make at each other.”
“I don’t yearn,” she grumbled, finishing off her sandwich.
Tink giggled as she pulled out her phone. Emma frowned when she noticed that Tink was fully dressed, shoes and all.
“Huh? Oh, yeah,” Tink said distractedly, her thumbs tapping on the screen. She looked up smiling, “My old roommate from college runs one of the local radio stations here and we’re going out for drinks and some dancing. Hey, wanna come?”
Emma looked down at the terrycloth robe she was wrapped in and felt the bone deep exhaustion from a series of good but tiring shows pulling at her, “Nope, I’m done in. I’m going to finish my onion rings, destroy Ruby in another round of Words with Friends and pass out to the soothing tones of Robert Stack.”
“Well, if you change your mind just let me know,” Tink said cheerfully.
With that she left in a flurry of sequins and an almost noxious cloud of perfume.
Emma snuggled down into her bed, ecstatic with the sudden freedom she had in the room. She got along fine with Tink but she’d never really gotten used to sharing her space with someone else. Even when she’d shared an apartment with Ruby it had been a steep learning curve that she’d never gotten the hang of.
Revelling in being alone she got down to the business of doing exactly what she’d described to Tink. Just as she’d sent off a triple word scoring ‘kumquat’ to pull substantially ahead of Ruby there was a quiet rapping on her door. Confused and a little worried that something might be wrong she padded across the room and warily looked through the peephole. Seeing Killian’s distorted face on the other side simultaneously sent a wave of relief and a thrill of anticipation through her. She pulled the door open with a grin she didn’t even try to hide.
“What brings you to my neck of the woods?” She asked quietly, knowing the other guests on her floor were probably asleep.
Killian shrugged and then scratched behind his ear, “Er, I was making use of the twenty four business center to give Will and his girlfriend a bit of privacy-”
“Oh, Belle’s here?” Emma asked excitedly before she realized what Killian was implying. “Oh, that’s, uh, nice of you.”
“I can be generous at times,” he said sardonically. Then he began fidgeting again, tapping on the cover of the notebook in his hand with his thumb, “As I was saying, Tink saw me and when I told her my plans for the night she insisted that I make use of her bed instead.”
She stood blinking at him, trying to make sense of his words but only one thing stood out, “Your plans?”
“Aye-” he scratched behind his ear again and wouldn’t meet her eyes, “You see Belle is only here for the night and has a flight early tomorrow morning and considering how, er, enthusiastic Will’s greeting was I told them the room was theirs.”
“And where were you going to sleep?” She asked, narrowing her eyes and hoping he wouldn’t say-
“Jesus, Killian,” she pinched the bridge of her nose and stepped back, “Get in here.”
He walked into the room but only far enough for the door to close. When she turned around he refused to move further and they stood toe to toe.
“It’s honestly not an issue for me to sleep on the bus for the night, Swan. I have done it many times before.”
“So have I and it sucks every time-” she pushed past him but grabbed onto his wrist and dragged him along with her, “You should have come here in the first place. Even if Tink wasn’t going out we have a perfectly uncomfortable floor for you to use. I guess you’ll just have to settle for this queen sized quilted mattress instead.”
“Har, har, love,” he said drolly as she let go of him next to the still made bed and proceeded to crawl back into the nest of pillows and blankets she’d accumulated on hers. “That looks cozy.”
“You should see my bed back home,” she said absently as she made herself comfortable. Then she realized what she’d said as heat crawled up her neck and into her cheeks and Killian raised his brow at her, “Not that I’m inviting you over. I mean, you can come over but not only to see my bed or you know, you don’t have to see the bed at all. Whatever, it’s up to you.”
Killian chuckled and said in a low, teasing voice, “Up to me, huh? And if I said I wanted to see the bed?”
Emma froze. She knew that as much as he meant it as a joke he also meant it in the way he was implying. Suddenly Tink’s earlier teasing seemed all too real. The truth was she wanted everything the women Tink’s precious books got, the blissfully happy ending filled with love, respect and the added bonus of phenomenal sex. With butterflies the size of seagulls in her stomach she looked at him and hoped that she wasn’t about to make a complete ass of herself or end up with her heart shattered into a million pieces.
“Just the bed or are you interested in the whole place? Leaky faucets, thin walls and all?”
“I, erm-” Killian tilted his head, his brow knit in confusion.
“Because, yeah, the bed’s great and all but I think the rest of the apartment is pretty good too. It might not look like it but it is,” she said vehemently and a tiny bit defensively.
“I’m sure it is,” he said slowly. His eyes darted between hers as though he was trying to read her thoughts, “What is it you’re trying to say, Swan?”
She knew she was being unfair and a bit of a coward by making him try to puzzle it out. The only time she liked to be vulnerable was in her music and even then it could be an uncomfortable stretch. Opening herself up to Killian had the potential for disaster but the patient, dare she say doey eyed, look on his face gave her the small dose of encouragement she needed.
“Do you want to want to go out to dinner?”
“Now?” He asked bewildered, throwing a look at her empty room service tray on the room’s table and grinned, “It’s nearly two in the morning, love.”
“No, not now,” she said patiently. “Tomorrow, before the show. Go out, like, on a date or something.”
Killian’s amused smile softened and he ducked his head, “Shouldn’t I be the one asking you?”
“Figures you’d be old fashioned,” she said with a relieved laugh, “Get with the times, Jones. So, do you?”
“Want to go on a date? I’d love nothing more,” he said, his gaze flitting back to the tray and then to the tv that was still showing Unsolved Mysteries, “Though I do have one request.”
“Allow me to plan the evening?”
The earnestness of his question took her by surprise. Since she’d done the asking she’d planned on doing a quick Yelp search for a higher rated restaurant and calling it good. From the hopeful way he was looking at her she suspected that he’d already been thinking about what to do on a date with her. She could feel a warmth surging through her at the idea that he had been piecing together date plans for them already.
“I know how to plan a date,” she said with a small pout even though she was far from upset.
“You know how to astound a packed venue in any city, I know how to plan an evening out in every city,” he said with a confidence she found impressive.
“Fine,” she said with a shrug. Burrowing back into her pillows and blankets she looked at him askance, “Just so you know I don’t rock and roll on the first date.”
He snorted in amusement, “Well, you’ve never been on a date with me.”
Emma gave him a skeptical hum and delighted at his warm chuckle. She watched surreptitiously as he toed off his shoes and placed his notebook on the bedside table, noting for the first time that he was in sweats and a hoodie. When he pulled a couple of pens out of his pocket and placed them on the notebook she couldn’t help the giggle that escaped.
“You wouldn’t be laughing at me now, would you Swan?” He asked with a raised brow, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Just wondering how much you expected to get done in a hotel business center in the middle of the night that you thought you needed more than one pen,” she teased, reaching her hand out to nudge the pens out of alignment.
He huffed and lined them back up, “Terrible thing to run out of ink when trying to get down the lyrics cycling through your head, love. I’d think you’d understand.”
“You’re writing again?” She asked, scrambling to sit up.
“Oh, er-” he scratched at the back of his neck as his ears began to turn pink, “Nothing of note, really, just some fragments that might have potential. Or they could end up being rubbish but I should write them down, though, rubbish and all. Not that I need to write or anything and I am out of the habit so what little I’ve got probably doesn’t hold a candle to anything you could write-”
“Killian-” she reached out and grabbed the sleeve of his sweatshirt, giving it a little shake to interrupt his rambling, “I’m not asking to look at what you’ve got. I get it, it’s all private until you’ve got it to a point that it’s not so much anymore. I was just… surprised I guess? I haven’t seen you credited as a songwriter since the accident so I stupidly assumed you hadn’t written anything since.”
“No, love, your assumption is actually quite spot on,” he sighed. His gaze drifted back to the notebook and he glared at it, as though it had personally insulted him, “It’s been an uphill battle to get back into it after all this time.”
“Then don’t,” she said with a shrug, letting him go and sliding back under the covers, “No one’s making you, right?”
He made a kind of strangled sound that had her looking over at him. His ears were turning pink again but he shook his head.
“So don’t force it. It’ll be like riding a bike once you’ve actually got something worth writing about.”
“I’m sure it will be,” he said with a small chuckle.
She gave him a satisfied nod but as he began to pull back the covers on the other bed she surprised herself by making a small sound of disappointment. He looked at her with a raised brow.
“No, I just-” she paused, not entirely sure what she wanted to say. She’d already opened herself up much more than she ever had with one person before and didn’t think she had it in her to keep going. There was, however, something else she wanted to do. Sliding over a bit she flipped back the covers and tilted her head to the spot next to her, “Want to see what late night tv looks like in Denver?”
Killian stood unmoving except for a slight tick in his jaw. Disappointment crashed through her. She hadn’t realized just how much she wanted to be close to him, even if it didn’t lead anywhere. Clenching her fists she forced herself to remember that he’d just agreed to a date and was clearly interested in something with her. Taking a deep breath she gave what she hoped was a casual enough shrug, smoothing the covers back into place and fixing her gaze on the tv.
“Or not. I’ll, uh, keep the volume down. Still a bit wired, you know?”
She kept her eyes glued to the terrible reenactment that was happening on screen and tried to ignore the living statue that Killian had become. Even when she heard his harsh exhale and low chuckle she continued to look forward. When he tugged the covers out from under her arm her resolve faltered.
“Budge over a bit more, love?” He requested as he climbed into the bed next to her. She gaped at him and he gave her a soft smile, “Do you want the light on or off?”
“What?” She said dumbly, the heat radiating off of him clearly addling her brains.
“I think for a true cinematic experience the light should be off but perhaps that will only serve to make it harder to stay awake, though I think that’s the point?”
She snorted, “Do you get more wordy the later it gets or are you just trying to be an ass?”
“A bit of both I suppose,” he said gleefully, “So, on or off?”
“Off,” she said quickly before she could second guess herself.
The sound of the lamp clicking off somehow sounded like a thunderclap. As she let her eyes adjust to the dim blue light of the tv she was hyper aware of Killian next to her. She could tell that he’d taken a shower before leaving his and Will’s room since the smell of his soap and deodorant was still strong. Fighting against the urge to bury her nose in his chest she didn’t realize he had asked her a question until he nudged her with his elbow.
“Falling asleep already? Good I can watch whatever I want then.”
“I don’t think so-” she quickly grabbed the remote and held it out of his reach, “I’m not going to sit through some documentary on pirates or Ancient Greece or whatever.”
“I mentioned once that I like Ken Burns and you use that against me? Bad form, Swan,” he grumbled, though she could hear the smile in his voice.
“We’ll go through the channels once and then we pick something,” she said as she started flipping through channels, “We each get one veto but we’re not watching something that has to do with what we do.”
He turned to her, “Does that encompass the entertainment industry as a whole or merely our melodic neck of the woods? Because it sounds like you’re using a loophole to get more than one veto.”
“That’s not what-” she paused on a fast food commercial and sighed, “I actually want to be able to unwind at the end of the night and if we watch something music industry related I’ll start thinking about the next show and if it’ll be as good as the shows before it, or how we’re releasing Snowdrops and Buttercups before the LA show and all the interviews I’ll have to do while we’re there, or how Regina keeps hounding me to increase my social media presence to ‘stay relevant’. If you want to count that as my veto that’s fine.”
She could feel the weight of Killian’s stare but she kept her focus on the insurance commercial that had replaced the fast food ad. Tink and Ruby had never complained about her taking control of what they ended up watching at the end of the night. Then again they’d always put on Food Network and kept it there so it had never been an issue.
“Alright-” Killian nodded and wiggled a bit, bringing him closer to her side, “Nothing industry related. What about musicals?”
“Big fan?” She asked, turning to him with a smile that was due to more than just his teasing question.
“The biggest,” he said with mock seriousness. He turned back to the screen, “but you haven’t even got to the premium channels yet, love. Can’t make a decision without knowing all my options. Carry on.”
They ended up going through the channels three times and Emma using her veto on a cheesy nineties horror movie. Through sheer luck and good timing they paused on a channel to argue over her veto right as the commercials came to an end and the next program was starting. By the time they realized what was playing Marty McFly was skateboarding through Hill Valley to the sound of Huey Lewis and the News. With a grin to match Killian’s she tossed the remote towards their feet and settled comfortably into his side without a second thought.
She came awake with a start to a darkened room an undetermined amount of time later. Confused and overly warm she tried to turn to look at the clock on the bedside table and found that she couldn’t due to the arm wrapped around her waist. After a brief moment of panic she remembered whose arm it was and why it was there in the first place.
“Swan?” Killian’s voice was gritty with sleep.
“I missed the enchantment under the sea dance,” she mumbled disappointedly.
He chuckled and it reverberated across her back, “Love, you didn’t even make it to Doc Brown’s house in 1955.”
“Oh-” she blinked owlishly in the dark and blamed it for the question that tripped off her tongue, “Why didn’t you move to the other bed?”
Killian’s arm tensed around her middle. She held her breath waiting for his answer.
“You asked me to stay,” he said simply.
A vague memory of her doing just that surfaced in her still sleep addled mind. Wiggling a bit until his grip on her loosened she turned to face him. She could barely make out his features as her eyes adjusted to the dark but from what she could see he seemed wary but hopeful.
“I’m glad you listened.”
Slowly, so that he would have time to stop her, she leaned up and forward, gently pressing her lips to his. He made a noise of contentment, returning her kiss for only a moment before pulling back and pressing his forehead to hers.
“I think I should go to the other bed.”
“Why?” She breathed. The darkness of the room made her feel bold as she snaked her arm between them to rest on his chest, the tips of her fingers toying with the collar of his t-shirt. “I still want you to stay.”
He groaned, “Swan, I’m trying to be a gentleman.”
“Oh, so you’re a gentleman now?” She teased, ghosting her lips over his.
“I’m always a gentleman,” he retorted, as his hand drifted down to her hip and flexed, as though he wasn’t sure if he wanted to push her away or pull her closer, “but you’re making it bloody difficult. What happened to not rocking and rolling on the first date?”
“You’re right-” she nodded, pulling her head back but inching their hips closer together, “Good thing this isn’t our first date.”
His hand gripped her hip and held her in place as his eyes searched her face. She gave him a sultry smile as he looked, drawing idle patterns on his chest with her fingers. It was easy for her to see that he was trying to figure out why she had gone from zero to sixty in the span of a few hours. Deciding to go easy on him she let her smile soften and moved to brush the hair off his forehead.
“It’s no secret that I’ve had the hots for you since the leather pants and emo eyeliner-” she broke off at his wide grin and wagging eyebrows to roll her eyes at him, “Please, I know Ruby told you all about my obsession.”
“She may have let some things slip,” he said with a mischievous look, “Is it true you had a photo of me as your phone background?”
“Well, you looked really hot in that photoshoot for Men’s Health,” she stated without shame, though she couldn’t help knocking his ego down a peg, “Even if you totally lied about running five miles a day.”
“I might as well have with the shows we put on every night,” he grumbled. “So you read the article as well? Good to know you were interested in more than just my pretty face.”
“I’m a fan of every part of you,” she said simply. “Even more now. Definitely more now. I’ve gotten to know you, as a musician and as a man, and turns out I really like you. You get me in ways that no one else ever has, not Regina or Ruby or even the Nolans. You make me feel like anything I want is possible and I want you in every possible way. One date or a hundred won’t change that. Plus I really, really like kissing you.”
“I rather fancy you too,” he said softly, his hand running up her side to cup her cheek, “But are you sure?”
“If I wasn’t I would have made you get in the other bed in the first place or just sent you down to the bus-” she leaned forward and nipped playfully at his lower lip. When she pulled away he made a low noise in his throat, “I’m sure.”
With a low growl Killian surged forward and captured her lips. Emma let herself fall into the kiss and thanked her lucky stars that Tink had given them both the little nudge they clearly needed.
Los Angeles, May 24th
“-and there’s a bit of a backup on the 405 just south of the 10 due to a two car accident in the southbound lanes. That’s the morning traffic report brought to you by your local Southern California Honda dealer. This is Treena in the morn’ and I got some Yaz on the way along with Echo and the Bunnymen and Talking Heads after this-”
“A clock radio?” Emma mumbled into the pillow, “Really? What are you, like, three hundred?”
Killian’s chuckle stirred the hair at the back of her neck, “Try thirty-five, love.”
“So you say,” she groused as he reached over her to turn off the alarm. She blinked up at him as he set his hands on either side of her shoulders, looming over her with a smile, “I bet you still have a landline, old man.”
“And a rather impressive laserdisc collection,” he said with a wink.
He laughed, a bright joyous thing that had her smile stretching from ear to ear. It was the last of the three days of no shows that they had while in LA and the second morning she’d woken in the bed of Killian’s house in Malibu. Since their first night together in Denver they hadn’t slept apart, much to Tink’s delight and Will’s annoyance. When they’d arrived in LA Emma had been surprised and pleased to discover that Killian had a house there where no one would disturb them as long as they kept their phones on silent. Unfortunately it hadn’t really been an option as her suddenly vibrating phone reminded her.
“What time is Regina sending the car?” Killian asked as he dipped his head and started trailing kisses down her throat.
She hummed in pleasure, blindly swiping at her phone to dismiss the call, “Nine. We’re having brunch with people from the label to talk about the next album and then it’s interviews for the rest of the afternoon.”
“And after all that we’ll rendezvous back here for dinner and a bit of Netflix and chill,” he murmured into her collarbone before dragging his tongue across it.
“You go-” her breath hitched as his hand travelled up her thigh, “going somewhere?”
He paused his ministrations, much to her frustration, and said somberly, “Aye, Robin still lives out here with his son. I haven’t been in town for… well, quite a while and I’m long overdue for a visit.”
The delicious tension she’d been feeling mellowed into something warm and soothing at his earnestness. Ever since they’d landed he’d waxed nostalgic about all the things he’d used to do in the city, places he’d eaten that he wasn’t sure were still around, venues he’d played, museums he’d spent hours getting lost in and all the interesting people he’d met in that time. What he hadn’t mentioned once was his former bandmate and friend. In the bright morning light streaming through the wall of windows she could see that for some reason he was nervous about seeing him again.
“You guys talk all the time,” she reminded him, reaching up to run her fingers through his hair and cupping his cheek, “I interrupted one of your FaceTime dates just a couple of days ago.”
Killian chuckled, “Aye, and don’t think I haven’t received more than my fair share of nosey texts about that since.”
She blushed, forgetting that when she’d done the interrupting she’d been wearing one of his shirts and not much else.
“Seeing as Robin has come to Boston several times in the years that I’ve been there it’s only fitting that he gets to monopolize some of my time while I’m here,” he said, one shoulder lifting higher than the other in a half shrug. “I’ll be home by the time you’re done with your interviews.”
“You don’t have to rush back just for me,” she said quickly, guilt already pulling at her, “Just text me when your male bonding time is over.”
“We’ll deal with the logistics later, love,” he murmured, turning his head slightly to press a kiss to her palm, “For now I’d like to pick up where we left off before-”
Emma sighed in disappointment as her phone began to vibrate again. Knowing that Regina was the only one who would not only call but do so before nine a.m. no matter the time zone she couldn’t ignore it. She’d made the mistake of doing it before a show in Arizona once and had sworn Regina would have pushed her into the Grand Canyon if she’d been given the opportunity.
Gently nudging Killian off of her with an apology she sat up and grabbed her phone. Killian sat up behind her, pushing her hair to one side as he nuzzled into her neck. Giggling but in no way discouraging him she swiped up to answer.
Regina started talking the second the call connected, “The car will be there in thirty minutes to take you straight to the restaurant-”
“Wait, what?” Emma jerked away from Killian’s ministrations to look at the clock on the bedside table and saw it was only a little after seven. “I thought you said it’d be here at nine!”
“Plans have changed,” Regina said off-handedly. “The brunch meeting is now a breakfast meeting and I’ve pushed up one of your radio interviews to give you the time you’ll need for the streaming exclusives.”
“Exclusives?” She asked warily.
“Enchanted XM wants you to curate a ten song playlist and record intros for their Alt Rock station and then there will be an in-depth interview with one of their djs. Snowdrops and Buttercups has been their number one request since its debut and is poised to take the number one spot on the chart next week. It’s also been getting increasing play on their hits station. We need to strike while the iron’s hot.”
Emma tipped her head back to stare at the ceiling as she counted to ten to keep her patience. She was well aware that self promotion came with the territory, especially as a solo artist, and usually she had no problem giving interviews or whatever little fun extras needed to do so. What she hated was that Regina tended to take liberties with her schedule whenever they were in a big enough city and there was extra down time. It was all the more frustrating that Regina knew that things between her and Killian had shifted and apparently didn’t care about infringing on their time alone together.
“We’ll still be done by six right?” She asked, resigned, Killian’s warm hand gliding across her shoulders calming her much more than her counting had.
“Yes,” Regina huffed and Emma could practically hear her eyes rolling, “You and lover boy can have your romantic evening together and don’t think we won’t be discussing how to play whatever it is you two are doing to the press.”
“Really?” She growled.
Before Emma could even begin to shoot down that idea Regina had hung up, leaving her staring at the phone in her hand with disbelief and anger. Even Killian’s gentle ministrations were no longer helping.
“I need to get ready,” she said mournfully, moving to stand from the bed.
Killian stopped her with a hand on her wrist, “Everything alright, love?”
“Yeah, everything’s great. The meeting with the label got moved and there’s already a car on its way. Which normally wouldn’t be a big deal but-” she shrugged, still angry but also starting to blush, “We were getting to the good stuff.”
“That we were,” he agreed with a salacious grin. Then the grin faded and he narrowed his eyes at her, “Was there something else she said? You seem upset over more than just an earlier meeting.”
Emma hesitated. As much as she wanted to share her frustration with Regina dictating her life she couldn’t do so without bringing up the questions she’d successfully avoided since the morning after they’d first slept together. First and foremost, was what they were doing just as important to him as it was to her and if it was, then what did that mean for them once the tour was over and they returned to their respective lives. Chickening out she figured they could talk it over later, when there wasn’t a time constraint or a full day of interviews where she’d need to keep focused.
She shook her head and smiled, “Nothing you need to worry about. Regina just has me getting some list of songs together for some streaming thing and I have no idea what I’m going to pick. It takes me two hours to edit the playlists I already have, how the hell am I supposed to choose ten songs and then talk about them?”
“Simple, pick one of your playlists, put it on random and the first ten songs that play are the ones you choose,” he said easily. “You already know and enjoy those songs if you spent two hours picking them and there’s no pressure of trying to curate a perfect list from scratch.”
“That’s… actually a really good idea-” she beamed, grabbing her phone and bouncing up from the bed. She spun around and gave what she hoped was a come hither look, “You know, I hear California is in a drought. It’d be a shame to waste water by taking separate showers.”
His lips curled wickedly, “I’d say that I love the way your mind works, Swan.”
Taking his hand she led him into the bathroom and made good use of the less than twenty minutes they had before her car arrived. Several hours later, however, she wished she had pushed back a little more against the schedule Regina had set up for her. Of course she’d had no way of knowing that her too short morning with Killian was going to be the least stressful of her day.
Sitting in one of the green rooms at Enchanted XM between the recording session for her song picks and her interview she let her eyes slide shut. It had already been a long day and it was nowhere near being over and done with. The breakfast meeting had been good, the representatives from the label had been pleased that she had already written a few songs that she felt were strong contenders for the next album and they had easily agreed to giving her three months off after the tour to work on the rest. Even Regina had been pleased with the meeting, if her short and not too unreasonable list of demands for moving forward were any indication.
The interview she’d done directly after had been the kind that she’d gotten used to over the years. Questions that were more often than not the same ones others had asked her time and again. She’d gotten good at making it sound like she was hearing them for the first time and varying her answers just enough so she didn’t sound like a robot. The best part were the teasing texts from Killian waiting for her once she was done. She was surprised and touched that he had taken the time out of his day to listen to her interview, especially since he knew how unexciting they could be.
As her day continued Regina had left her to make her way to the Enchanted XM studios on her own. Once there she had immediately had to get to work ironing out her list of songs and recorded the intros with the program producer. It had been more fun than she’d anticipated. She’d already had her choices written down in one of her ever present notebooks, having listened to a randomized playlist in the car on her way to breakfast like Killian had suggested. The first ten songs that had played had been perfect but she’d made one substitution to make sure that a Realm of Jewels song was one of her picks. It was her thank you to Killian for giving her the idea in the first place and a not so subtle wink to whatever was going on between them.
The producer, a woman named Gwen, had been impressed with her choices. They’d spent nearly an hour talking them over, working through a rough script of what she would say about each one. Then she had been taken to a small recording booth where it had taken less than an hour to get what they needed. She’d wanted to text Killian about it but Gwen had immediately invited her to lunch and she hadn’t had the chance. Once they’d returned to Enchanted’s headquarters she’d been asked to record a few small promos for the stations that played her songs in heavy rotation. Not willing to say no she’d been ushered to another recording booth with barely any time to take a breath.
Being left alone in the green room was a welcome break from what had become an increasingly busy day. Just as she was about to pull out her phone for the first time since after her first interview the door opened and Regina stormed in, angrily snapping at whoever the poor soul was that was still in the hallway.
“-not recording as scheduled and I want to know why a rider was requested when nothing that is on it is in this room. There’s not even a bottle of water. See that it gets taken care of.”
“Of course, Ms. Mills.”
The disembodied voice wavered slightly and Emma's earlier annoyance at Regina flared back up.
“The water that’s in here is fine,” she called out, leaning forward and catching the eye of the young woman in the hallway giving her an apologetic smile. She turned pointedly to Regina and glared, “I don’t need anything else.”
“That’s not the point,” Regina sniffed, her dark eyes narrowing followed by the sound of retreating footsteps. “Certain expectations were to be met and they weren’t. Just one more thing this company has failed at. I have a mind to stop booking appearances here if they’ll just be treated like this.”
“Okay, this is about something more than water bottles and a missing box of Milk Duds. What’s going on?” Emma asked suspiciously.
Regina pursed her lips as she took out her phone and began rapidly typing. Emma waited patiently for her to answer, knowing better than to push if she wanted to keep her head on her shoulders. With a final tap on her screen Regina focused back on her with a wary look that immediately had her on edge.
“You were supposed to do the on air interview with Graham Humbert but apparently due to an ‘unfortunate’-” Regina rolled her eyes, “scheduling conflict you have to do it with Walsh Hoakley instead.”
Emma groaned. An interview with Graham would have been fun and easy. They’d both gotten their start in the business around the same time, so he not only knew what types of questions she enjoyed answering but what her boundaries were when it came to her personal life. Walsh, on the other hand, was the complete opposite.
Every interview she’d had with him had her sitting through bad jokes and his comparing her career against his own. He had been the frontman of a pop punk group that had taken a break almost a decade before, though he insisted that it was only a matter of time before they would release another album. It was bad enough she had to play nice as he gave her unsolicited advice but once the mics were turned off he tended to dial up his smarmy charm and invite her out for drinks or a meal. She’d always firmly said no but he’d kept it up and after their last interview nearly two years earlier she’d told Regina that she preferred not to do any more with him.
“I thought he was with that big station in New York,” she said sullenly.
“Apparently not,” Regina sniffed. Her eyes softened fractionally, “Do you want me to reschedule?”
“No,” she sighed, “We’re already here and I know we don’t have any time to come back while we’re still in LA. Plus I don’t want rumors starting that I’m being difficult over Walsh Hoakley. I don’t want to give him that honor.”
Regina smirked, “I’m sure he’d dine out on that for years.”
“He would. So where’d you disappear to?” Emma asked, through talking about Walsh.
“I do have other clients that happen to conveniently live where their label’s offices and some of the best recording studios are,” Regina said drolly, perching herself delicately on a chair. “You might want to reexamine the benefits of moving out here after this tour is done. You’re only going to get bigger from here on out.”
She hummed noncommittally. For a few seconds she let herself daydream about moving into Killian’s beachfront house, waking up in his arms every morning before heading to the studio that would admittedly be leaps and bounds better than the one back in Maine. She could almost see herself returning at the end of her day to find Killian preparing dinner in the kitchen or strumming his guitar on the balcony. Before her thoughts went any further than that she stopped them in their tracks, forcing herself to remember all the reasons why she loved living in Storybrooke and to not let herself get wrapped up in a fantasy. She didn’t let herself dwell on how her imaginings had given her the same feelings of home that her real memories of Storybrooke did.
Ten minutes and an increasingly impatient Regina later another assistant came to show them to the recording booth. From behind the glass they watched as Walsh introduced the next group of songs that would be playing and teased her interview. As soon as he switched off his mic she was ushered into the booth, shown which headphones and mic to use and then left alone with him. To her great relief he smiled and shook her hand, seemingly not knowing that she had requested not to do interviews with him. She smiled back, settling in the chair in front of the mic she’d been shown and adjusted everything to her liking. As they waited for the queued songs to finish playing they made small talk about their day and the thankfully very few mutual acquaintances they had.
The interview started off well. Walsh only mentioned his band Behind the Curtain twice and kept his advice to a minimum. Emma found herself actually enjoying the questions he asked, responding with enthusiasm when he asked about living in Maine and her writing process. She was so caught up in lightheartedly debating with him over notebooks versus a phone app to write lyrics that she was surprised when he mentioned that their time was drawing to a close.
“So, Emma, before you go, how has this tour been so far? You’ve only got a few shows left right?”
“Yeah, just the last few cities heading north but it’s been really, really great,” she enthused, “This is the biggest tour I’ve ever done and the fans have been amazing in every city we’ve played. I’m actually really looking forward to tomorrow night’s show since it’s where they have the Oscars.”
“Right, the Dolby theater, when we played it was still the Kodak and it’s a great venue. Bigger than what you would think when you see it on tv,” Walsh said with a wink and a grin.
Emma fought against a cringe at his bad innuendo, glad that he hadn’t been like that through the whole interview.
“I haven’t had a chance to get in the space yet and, I know this is really nerdy or whatever, but I’m really excited to stand on the same stage that some of my favorite actors have been on. I mean, some of my idols have played there and it’s always an honor to get to perform where they have too, but come on, tomorrow I could be standing in the exact spot where Meryl Streep or Tom Hanks or Oprah have stood. Oprah!”
Walsh chuckled, “So you still get starstruck meeting other celebrities?”
“Oh, yeah,” she said with a nod. “I don’t even think of myself as a celebrity. I live in the same town I mostly grew up in, all my friends are ones I’ve had since before I even thought about recording an album, I don’t even have ‘people’ or whatever. I nearly had a heart attack seeing Lady Gaga from across the room at a benefit concert once.”
“So how was it when you met Killian Jones, famous guitarist for Realm of Jewels, before the start of your tour?”
She shot a glance to the window into the sound booth where Regina had been throughout the whole interview. Regina barely looked up from her phone and nodded, twirling her hand in a gesture Emma took to mean keep going. They had talked about what would happen when Killian was finally recognized but the longer they went without it happening the more she had convinced herself that they could get through the whole tour with no one the wiser. It seemed their time was up. Taking a deep breath to settle her racing heart she looked back at Walsh and found him watching her closely.
“I was surprised and a little annoyed actually,” she said with a small laugh. “Ruby, the guitarist I usually tour with, had broken her arm but said that she’d found her replacement for me. The thing was she wouldn’t tell me who it was so I walked into the recording studio and Killian was there. Realm of Jewels was one of my favorite bands, still is, so seeing him sitting there was a kinda surreal fangirl moment and intimidating too, knowing how good of a guitarist he is.”
“Rumors have been circulating on social media for a few weeks that it was Killian onstage for your tour and then earlier this afternoon uber-producer Robin Locksley seemed to confirm it-” Walsh pulled up a sheet of paper and began reading, “He said in an interview: ‘I’m very excited to begin working with Killian Jones on new music and other projects moving forward. He’s been touring the past few weeks as a backing guitarist and he told me it’s been a great first step to getting back out there. I was even fortunate enough to hear a few rough cuts of songs he’s already written for a new solo album and they’re amazing. I really can’t wait.’ Since you’ve confirmed it yourself have you heard any of his new songs while on the road? He’s already with your label and turns out he signed on with your manager Regina Mills back in March so will the rest of the tour be a double bill? Maybe even a possibility of a duet in the future?”
Emma felt dazed, like she’d been hit with a pillow shot out of a cannon. She had completely forgotten that Robin had become a music producer after Liam and Milah had died. He’d even sent her an email after her last album had been released, saying he wanted to work with her at some point. That little detail was nothing compared to the realization that Killian hadn’t mentioned that his lunch with Robin was really about business. He hadn’t even hinted that he had whole songs written let alone recorded anything. Worst of all was that he had signed on with Regina before he’d joined the tour and she knew without a doubt Regina would do anything necessary to further a client’s career. Especially if the final outcome would prove advantageous for two clients at once.
“I, uh, haven’t listened to anything he’s recorded-”
Her phone buzzed at her elbow. There were several notifications but the preview screen showed a text from Regina. She opened it in a daze.
Regina: No double billing, play coy about duet, plug rest of tour, still seats in Vancouver
The fog she’d been in cleared away as white hot anger took its place. She looked at Regina through the glass and found her making the same ‘continue on’ motion she had before. There was no sign of an apology on her features, only impatience and the ever present look of expectation that she perform well. While acting wasn’t her forte she was more than ready to give the performance of a lifetime.
“Killian was only brought on temporarily until Ruby was well enough to play again. Luckily her recovery happened to work out perfectly with us arriving in LA-” she knew she sounded too upbeat but pushed through, “I’m sorry to dash any hopes but Killian has decided to stay here and focus on his own music. Ruby will be back for tomorrow night’s show and will be finishing out the tour. We’re sold out for most of those shows but I think there’s still some tickets left for Vancouver, but not many.”
“So, no duet?” Walsh asked hopefully and Emma wasn’t sure if he meant musically or hinting at something between her and Killian.
“Nope,” she said decisively, her heart cracking as she did. “I’ll be taking some time off after this tour is done. Rest and relaxation are the only duets I’ll be performing any time soon.”
Walsh laughed, “Now that’s a duo everyone loves. Well, Emma, it’s been great talking to you.”
“You too,” she said with feigned pleasure.
“Here’s Emma’s latest single ‘Snowdrops and Buttercups’ which has been flying up the charts. Safe to say you’ll be playing it tomorrow?”
“Yup. It’s been fun to see the responses get more enthusiastic as it gets played on the radio more,” she said, finally feeling like she was being genuine.
“That’s always a great feeling,” Walsh said with a grin. “Alright, here it is ‘Snowdrops and Buttercups’. Thanks for stopping by, Emma.”
“Thanks for having me.”
As the first notes of her song filled the studio Emma ripped off the headphones, ignoring the constant buzz of her phone at her elbow. She wasn’t sure who it was that was calling, she’d told everyone important to her about the interview and she knew they had probably all tuned in to listen. With the way her pulse was pounding in her temples she wasn’t too sure she could keep herself from unfairly snapping at whoever it was and whatever questions they were going to have.
She looked up at Walsh and by the way his grin faltered a bit she was sure that her anger was painted clear across her face.
“Er, I was wondering if you wanted to grab a drink?” He asked hesitantly. “Talk a little shop, maybe?”
“I already have plans,” she said shortly, the words tasting like the ashes of the evening she originally thought she’d be having.
“Coffee then? Or lunch? I’m up for anything really,” He said with a wink and a chuckle.
“Look, I don’t know how much more clear I can make this but I’m not ‘up’ for doing anything with you,” she snapped, his annoying persistence the final straw. “I thought that you’d gotten better than the last time you tried this but apparently not.”
She snatched up her phone and turned to leave when she heard him scoff and mutter something under his breath. She spun back to face him.
“Wanna share with the whole room?”
“Yeah, actually,” he said with a sneer that twisted his face into something vicious. “You act all high and mighty but you’re just a step away from falling into obscurity just like me. That whole thing about Jones was given to me by your people and by tomorrow morning both your careers will be reaping the benefits from it. I could have helped you along even further with the contacts I have in this business.”
Emma gaped at him, “By going out with you? Classy, you sack of shit.”
Something flashed in Walsh’s eyes, “You-”
“Emma! Let’s go, now.”
For half a second she was grateful that Regina had burst into the room, then she remembered why she was angry in the first place. She brushed past her, ignoring her stream of hissing admonishments and the stuttered apologies of the producer. Halfway back to the green room she realized her phone was still buzzing non-stop. Her stomach lurched, not wanting to know if it was Killian calling when she was walking the thin line between yelling at him or breaking down in tears. Steeling herself she finally looked at the screen and breathed a sigh of relief, swiping to answer.
“Ruby, pack your shit. I need you in LA tonight.”
On the road between Oakland and Portland, May 27th
Emma felt the mattress dip slightly behind her. She curled in on herself but there wasn’t much room in the bunks of the bus for her to completely avoid whomever it was. It didn’t mean she wasn’t going to try though, stubbornly keeping her gaze fixed on the wall and not making a peep.
“I’m not going away until you tell me something,” Ruby sighed. She shifted and Emma felt her stretch out next to her, “You can’t avoid it forever. It might help to talk about it.”
“What’s there to say?” She asked dully. “It’s all over the internet.”
From the moment she’d stormed out of the office building she’d been hounded by paparazzi. Her Instagram was full of comments that ran the gamut from cussing her out for kicking Killian off the tour to cussing her out over the leaked, and very edited, audio from her ranting at Walsh. Will had informed her with an impressed grin that she’d been trending on Twitter for two days along with the hashtag MissHighandMighty . The only good thing that had happened was Regina was too busy putting out fires to rail at her in person over what she probably saw as her failings and shortcomings. Instead she’d received and ignored multiple texts that clearly communicated Regina’s increasing frustration with her. She’d blocked Killian’s number completely.
“You know that’s not what I meant,” Ruby chided. She paused, “He’s been calling me, asking what happened. I’ve been letting them go to voicemail, mostly because I don’t know if you want me to answer or what really happened actually, but even if I did I wouldn’t say anything. Chicks before dicks and all.”
Emma felt herself smile, her first real one in three days, “Yeah, but that’s how you like it. Dorothy okay with you being out here?”
“Eh-” she could feel Ruby’s shoulders lift behind her in a shrug, “She knew I’d be touring when we first hooked up. We just got a few extra weeks before it actually happened. She wasn’t too happy with the drop everything and catch a red eye to LA part of it all, though. We were about to go on a date, by the way, so thanks for that.”
“Sorry,” she whispered, feeling a bit guilty.
“You can make it up to us later,” Ruby said matter of factly. “Nice attempt at a deflection by the way.”
“Thought I’d try,” she muttered.
“And if I was Tink it might have worked but I’m not so it didn’t. Time to spill.”
She closed her eyes. It was just one of the many moments she’d been dreading since seemingly everything in her life had imploded. In a sort of grim twist of luck it was going to be one of the easier of the conversations she knew needed to happen. With a resigned sigh she opened her eyes and turned onto her back, though she kept her gaze trained on the underside of the bunk above her.
“How much did you know?” She asked, trying and failing to keep the accusation out of her voice. “Did Regina tell you I’d only go for it if you were the one to bring him in? Did he flirt and flatter his way into getting you to agree to helping him re-jumpstart his career through me?”
Ruby let out a harsh burst of air, clearly surprised by her question. She could almost feel the glare aimed at her but kept her eyes focused upward.
“If you really thought that you wouldn’t have made me fly all the way out here to replace him,” Ruby said harshly. Then she sighed, “I didn’t know what plans Regina had for him or his career but I did know that he’d signed with her. It’s why she didn’t put up a fight when I suggested he take my place on the tour. I thought you knew that.”
“No. I clearly didn’t,” she said shortly.
Ruby sighed again, “Okay, but to be fair it also wasn’t this big secret. He was just a substitute guitarist, you even told him that.”
“Yeah, well, he turned out to be more,” Emma muttered, hating the catch in her throat.
“Emma-” Ruby lifted herself up on her elbow and hovered over her, her eyes wide, “Did you fall for him?”
“No. We were just…”
She couldn’t force the words ‘having fun’ off her tongue. Instead she gave a one shoulder shrug, hoping Ruby would get the idea. That Ruby’s first instinct was dead on wasn’t something Emma wanted to dive into.
Ruby narrowed her eyes and studied her before smirking and flopping back down beside her, “Whatever you two were ‘just’ doing it definitely wasn’t ‘just’ fucking.”
Emma couldn’t help twitching at Ruby’s matter of fact statement. She hadn’t known that Ruby was a goddamn psychic. Looking over at her suspiciously she was annoyed to see Ruby looking like a cat that got the canary.
“What did Tink tell you?”
“Oh, it wasn’t Tink,” Ruby said with a sing-song tone, “Will has been complaining non-stop about having to share a room with Tink. Apparently glitter ruins a man’s reputation.”
“He’s with Belle, he shouldn’t be worrying about his reputation,” Emma grumbled. Then she sobered, “He’s not telling everyone about that is he?”
Ruby’s grin faded, “You know he wouldn’t do that.”
“I don’t know what anyone wouldn’t do anymore,” she whispered.
“Emma-” Ruby turned onto her side and grabbed her hand, squeezing it, “I’m on your side, always, but you haven’t even given Killian the chance to explain himself.”
She scoffed, “You haven’t heard what Walsh actually told me. He said that Regina was the one that told him to bring up Killian getting back into music. She had to have planned it all out with Killian at that goddamn lunch, gotten his okay to do it that way. There’s fucking pictures of them shaking on it right before Regina came to the studios.”
That had been the final blow. She had been in line at a grocery store the day after the disastrous interview, waiting to buy emergency Milk Duds and microwave popcorn. Killian had been calling and texting her with increased frequency and she’d ignored them all. Her phone had started buzzing in her hand again and in her fumbling to pull it out of her pocket she’d dropped the Milk Duds. When she’d bent to pick them up her gaze had caught on a tabloid with a blown up picture of Killian, Regina and Robin seated on the patio of a restaurant, the remains of their meal strewn across the table. Killian and Robin had been shaking hands while Regina looked on in satisfaction. Emma had dumped the candy and popcorn into a basket of french bread and fled the store, blocking Killian’s number as she did.
“There’s pictures of them sharing a meal,” Ruby said, being annoyingly pragmatic, “And that was a paparazzi shot, so you don’t know that they were plotting anything.”
“He never told me Regina was going to be there,” she said harshly. “I was almost willing to hear Killian out, eventually. He kept calling and texting and I thought maybe I should give him a chance to explain. Then I saw that fucking picture. I asked him what he was going to do that day and he lied straight to my face. He said he was hanging out with Robin and his son. No mention of Regina or lunch meetings or that he had even started recording again. He’s lied to me at least twice that I know of and I have no idea how many more he’s told me since we met.”
She was breathing heavily and as much as she wanted to yell, scream out her frustrations and heartbreak, she was all too aware of the others on the bus waiting for her to do just that. Tink and Will had been watching her closely for days and while deep down she knew they’d never blab to reporters or post anything on social media they also weren’t the ones she wanted to talk to. Ruby had been her friend the longest and should have been the perfect person to unload on but Emma still felt like a powder keg, ready to explode. With a heavy heart she realized that the one person she wanted to vent to was the one person she wanted absolutely nothing to do with.
“So you’re just going to ignore him? You never want to know what was really going on?” Ruby asked incredulously.
“I can find that out from Regina. She’s underhanded and does things on her own terms but she never lies about it. At least not when you ask her straight up,” she said bitterly.
“And don’t you think Killian would too?”
A week earlier she would have been absolutely sure how she would have answered. Instead she felt as though the rug had been pulled out from beneath her and she’d yet to find her footing.
“I’m just not ready to talk to him yet,” she hedged, knowing Ruby would keep at her like a dog with a bone. “Can we just… not talk about it at all anymore?”
“Okay,” Ruby acquiesced after a small pause where she’d merely looked at her, “but can I ask one more thing?”
Emma rolled her eyes and huffed, “Fine. What?”
“Were you happy?”
Her breath hitched in her throat and her heart clenched in her chest. She thought back to the couple of times that she’d woken up before him, able to look at him without a suggestive wag of his eyebrows or salacious twinkle in his eye. There were the nights they stayed up too late, either on the bus or in their room, talking about everything and nothing. He’d made soundchecks less of a chore as he joked around with Will or teased Tink about the romance novel that was always sitting on top of whatever flat surface was nearest. Then there’d been the moments when she’d look at him only to find him already watching her with a soft smile that she was helpless to return.
The memories only made the sting of his betrayal hurt all the more.
“I really, really was.”
For the first time since her world came crumbling down she let herself cry. She’d held herself together with nothing more than stubborn will and ignoring everything that didn’t have to do with the next show. As she curled into Ruby’s arms with heaving sobs she vaguely realized it might not have been the best strategy.
Slowly, and nearly a whole box of tissues later, Emma regained control of herself. Ruby was still curled around her, gently rubbing her back. She was vaguely aware that at some point Ruby had been whispering to her but she had no idea what she’d been saying. It didn’t matter much, not when just being there meant more to her than anything Ruby could have said.
“I’m sorry,” Emma murmured, her voice wavering and her nose sounding stuffed.
“Nothing to be sorry for,” Ruby said, tugging on a lock of her hair, “You’re just lucky this was a tour shirt you ruined with all your snot and tears.”
Emma snorted and pulled back but only got an inch away before Ruby crushed her back to her. She sighed in annoyance even though she hadn’t really wanted to leave the comfort of her embrace.
“You’re going to have to let me go eventually,” she said, even as she relaxed.
“Eh, there’s still a few hours until it’s absolutely necessary,” Ruby said, squeezing her harder.
“What if I have to pee?”
“Babe, you just cried out all of your bodily fluids. If anything you’ll need a Gatorade but I’ll just yell at Will until he brings it to us-” Ruby scoffed. Emma felt her tense slightly before she asked quietly, “Do you want me to block Killian’s number?”
Her knee jerk reaction was to say yes. She felt like she should want to cut Killian out of her life completely. To make him feel even a sliver of the hurt and uncertainty she was feeling. However there was something deep inside her that recoiled from that idea, that despite the hell she was going through she still cared enough about him to want to minimize his pain.
“No,” she sniffled, “He’s your friend too.”
“Not right now he’s not. I mean, I still think you should hear him out but maybe he kinda deserves the cold shoulder for a week or two.”
She shrugged, knowing that Ruby would probably ice Killian out for a month instead. Which, of course, meant that after that she would most likely put all her energy in encouraging him not to give up. Then Ruby would simultaneously be wearing her down to get her to call him. Even thinking about that probable future had her wanting to delete Killian’s number completely, if only to stave off the inevitable.
She fished her phone out from under the tangle of blankets. While she hadn’t turned it off completely she’d put it on silent and had pretty much ignored every text and email notification since the Walsh audio had leaked. Regina had told her she’d take care of it and Emma trusted her just enough to believe that she would.
After unlocking it she was greeted with the continued barrage of messages she’d been expecting. Unable to hold back her frustrated sigh she gave up the pretense of trying to hide what she was doing and pulled out of Ruby’s arms to prop herself up to deal with the never ending tidal wave of texts and emails. She could feel Ruby’s gaze over her shoulder but made no move to hide her screen, even in the best of times it was hard to keep her from snooping.
Scanning through the emails first she was glad to see that most of it was spam. A few were from Mary Margaret or David and she suspected that half the texts would be from them too. There was only one from Regina, though it had been sent at the beginning of the shit hitting the fan telling her to keep a low profile while everything was dealt with. With grim satisfaction she proceeded to delete the spam, glanced over the ones from Mary Margaret and David with a touch of guilt at their concern and her lack of communication with them.
The texts were another matter completely. She had been right in thinking that half were from Mary Margaret and David, reiterations of the support and concern from their emails but a touch more frantic as they progressed. After sending them a quick message that she was alive and would call them once they got to the hotel she grimaced at the ten unread messages from Regina. Having one message go unread from her was bad enough and Emma knew that when she finally responded Regina would probably reach through the phone and rip her heart out.
The first couple were innocuous, more warnings for her to lie low and to ignore whatever reporters might show up at her hotel or the venue. Several were updates on how things weren’t progressing with the fight against Walsh. Then there were the admonishments and disappointment at her continued insistence to keep Killian off the tour. The final text was a directive: Answer your goddamn phone , that had Emma wincing and noticing for the first time the little indicator that she had voicemails to listen to. Throwing Ruby a worried glance she tapped on the icon and prepared for the worst.
You have six new voice messages. To listen to your messages press one-
“It doesn’t look like we’ll need to take legal action but be prepared for the possibility that we will. We also need to discuss the Jones fiasco.”
End of message. To erase this message press seven. To listen to your messages press one-
“I don’t appreciate having to leave another voicemail along with the unanswered texts. Walsh has agreed to issue an apology and his employer is sending him on an unpaid leave of absence for a month. I would have preferred a firing but they will be generously donating to a charity of your choice and will be giving you final say in your future interviewers if we ever decide to return. We still need to discuss the Jones fiasco.”
End of message. To erase this message press seven. To listen to your messages press one-
“Reviews for last night’s show could have been better. This wouldn’t have been an issue if Ms. Lucas had more than twenty-four hours notice to begin rehearsing. I am still waiting to hear what happened with Jones.”
End of message. To erase this message press seven. To listen to your messages press one-
“Emma, sweetheart, I just want you to know that David and I both love you very much and we’re here for you. Call either of us back when you can.”
End of message. To erase this message press seven. To listen to your messages press one-
“I am beginning to lose my patience with you, Miss Swan. You are not my only client and neither is Mr. Jones. I cannot do my job if you do not answer your phone.”
End of message. To erase this message press seven. To listen to your messages press one-
“I will be flying up to Portland to discuss matters with you in person.”
End of message. To erase this message press-
Emma hung up and dropped her hand to her lap. She was screwed. Regina was a nightmare to deal with when she was irritated but still in a forgiving mood. In the last message she had sounded beyond pissed and was likely to be even more so by the time they were in the same room together. Especially since she had told her that she wasn’t intending to rejoin the tour until the final show in Vancouver.
“From the look on your face you probably didn’t hear any good news,” Ruby said cautiously.
“Sorta,” she murmured, “Walsh is going to publicly apologize but he’s really only getting a slap on the wrist as punishment.”
“Asshole,” Ruby snarled.
Humming her agreement she turned her phone over and over in her hands. She contemplated calling Regina to try and get some of the yelling that was bound to happen over with. The only problem was if Regina was meeting them in Portland then she was most likely on a flight and wouldn’t be able to answer her phone. There was no way she was going to play phone tag and end up pissing her off even more than she already was.
“There’s something else, isn’t there?” Ruby was watching her with narrowed eyes. “Is it Killian?”
“Blocked his number, remember?” She sighed tiredly. “I’m pretty sure Regina’s going to murder me when we get to Portland.”
“Regina’s going to be in Portland? I thought her royal ass wasn’t going to be around until Vancouver.”
“Well, looks like I’ve made her mad enough to change her plans.”
“Shit,” Ruby breathed, “Sucks to be you.”
She huffed out a half-amused laugh, “Thanks.”
“Welcome,” she chirped, gleefully. “So, you’ve got at least a few more hours left to live. Wanna see how much money we can take Will for?”
“Blackjack or Hold-Em?” She asked, already crawling over her to get out of the bunk.
“Hold-Em,” Ruby said with a devious grin, following her, “He has the most obvious tell I’ve ever seen. Someone should really tell him.”
A few hours, a couple of hundred miles and one pissed off Will Scarlet later the bus pulled up to their hotel in Portland. For the most part Emma was able to keep her mind off of everything that had been dragging her down. It helped that her focus had to stay on her cards while ensuring that Will’s boasting morphed into irritated grumbling until he’d finally thrown down his final hand in disgust and stomped off to his bunk a few more dollars poorer.
As she tallied up her half of the take she warily eyed the front entrance of the hotel. She’d almost convinced herself that Regina would have been waiting for her, pacing like a caged tiger, ready to strike. Instead she found herself looking at a couple of bored valet attendants and a few of the other guests entering and leaving, some slowing to gape at the bus as it came to a stop. To her great relief there were no reporters or paparazzi in sight, unlike their hotel in Oakland.
“I’ll let the front desk know we’re here,” Tink volunteered, popping out of her bunk like a jack in the box.
Before Emma could thank her she had already skipped down the stairs and was making her way into the hotel. Shaking her head at Tink’s boundless energy she stood herself, stretching out her road weary muscles. Just as she was about to move to gather up her stuff to take up to the room she caught sight of Regina striding out of the hotel’s entrance. The furious look on her face made Emma’s stomach drop to her toes.
“Uh, you guys should go,” she called out, keeping her eyes on the advancing Regina.
“You already drained me dry and now you’re makin’ demands? I’ll go when I’m good and ready,” Will scoffed, his voice muted.
She felt Ruby come up behind her, “I’ll just wait for- oh. Will, let’s go!”
“What the bleedin’ hell for?” He growled, she heard him drop from his bunk and stomp towards them, “It’ll take Tink at least twenty minutes to get everythin’ all sorted out and since I’m bunkin’ with the crew, thanks to you and that wanker havin’ a row-”
“If your accommodations aren’t to your liking Mr. Scarlet-” Regina said icily as she ascended the stairs into the bus, “I can arrange for something more suitable, a Triple A recommended motel perhaps?”
Looking over at Will she saw his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed hard before grinning cheekily, “Ah, won’t be necessary, luv, seein’ as motels never have a decent bar. Shall we, Red?”
Ruby looked torn. Emma nodded, giving her the okay to leave even though she desperately wanted her to stay. Unfortunately she knew that Regina would lay into her no matter who was there to witness it. Regina had already made it clear that she was annoyed that Ruby had replaced Killian. If Ruby stuck around she’d most likely fight on Emma’s behalf and get sent back to Maine for her trouble. The last thing she wanted was to give Regina the opportunity to bring Killian back on.
Will had already left the bus and Ruby followed reluctantly, her gaze narrowed at Regina’s back until she disappeared out the door. Steeling herself Emma waited for the oncoming tirade.
“Have a seat Miss Swan,” Regina said icily, brushing past her and sitting down at the bus’ small table.
“A please would be nice,” she muttered, low enough to not be heard while doing as she was told.
Regina watched her silently. Emma fought against the urge to fidget, feeling a lot like she was an unruly student about to be reprimanded by the principal.
“Mr. Hoakley’s apology has been released-” Regina began without preamble, “His producer and the company have also issued their statements. Unfortunately, the edited audio is still being circulated despite the original recording and a transcript being released and you’re still trending negatively on Twitter. We haven’t seen any major drop in overall sales or requests for ticket refunds but there has been a dip. Enough of one that the label is insisting that you release a statement of your own.”
“I am talking Miss Swan, you will only listen,” Regina said sharply. She paused, clearly waiting for her to try and argue. When she didn’t she continued, “I have already written the response which will be posted to your Instagram today along with a photo from the tour. You will also be doing a live session tomorrow morning to answer fan questions. The questions will be chosen and looked over beforehand to prevent any more mishaps. If everything goes well we should see a solid bounce back by the time we reach Vancouver.
“Now, concerning Mr. Jones-”
“I could have kicked him off the tour at any time, we put it in the fucking contract,” she said hotly, annoyed at having been dressed down and feeling defensive over the decision she still wasn’t sure about.
Regina’s brown eyes flashed, “Yes, which saved you from being dropped from the label entirely.”
“Wh-” Emma could feel the blood draining from her face, “What?”
“Despite what you may think you are not as indispensable to them as to take the liberties you already have. The fiasco with Mr. Hoakley was bad enough and while you were in the right the label saw your combativeness as a strike against you. Dropping Mr. Jones from the tour at the same time was a misstep that jeopardized both your careers. Yours more so than his.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? How is that fair?” She asked in disbelief, feeling irate heat crawling up her neck.
“It isn’t, but that’s how this industry works, Miss Swan,” Regina said flatly. “Mr. Jones is an established artist with a built in fan base and therefore guaranteed record sales. His past troubles are well documented and any misstep he could make wouldn’t come as a surprise even with his turnaround and the years spent in reclusivity. You, on the other hand, have only begun to bring in returns on the investments the label has made. Having Mr. Jones on the tour was his tacit endorsement of you and could have drawn a new demographic of listeners to your music. Instead you’ve made it appear as though you were doing him some great favor instead of the other way around.”
“I don’t need his or anyone’s help,” she growled. “I’ve already made it this far on my own.”
“You made it to open mic nights and small bookings at bars on your own. A world you are closer to returning to than you think,” Regina warned. “I suggest addressing how thankful you are that the label has been supporting you during this time. It’ll be a step towards getting back in their good graces.”
“This is ridiculous-” she threw up her arms in frustration, “I did nothing wrong and I’m getting punished for it.”
“Again, this is how things work and you are not the only one being reprimanded for your behavior,” Regina snapped.
She frowned, “What do you mean?”
“I have been in meetings and taking phone calls for the past three days fighting on solely your behalf-” for the first time Regina seemed to soften, a wry twist to her lips. “There is nothing worse than trying to convince a group of old, out of touch, decidedly male record executives to consider for a moment what a young woman in the industry has to deal with on a daily basis. Let alone trying to explain the capriciousness of social media trends. Regardless what you may think, I am on your side Emma.”
“Wait, I’m confused-” she sat back, crossing her arms over her chest, “You just spent the last fifteen minutes chewing me out.”
“And you spent the last three days ignoring my calls-” Regina said pointedly. “If you’d actually answered any of them I might have been more patient in explaining everything to you.”
“So if I’d answered you would have been less of a bitch?” She asked sardonically.
Regina pursed her lips and glared at her, “Seeing as I’m the one currently keeping your ass out of the fire I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that.”
“So, I post my statement and do an awkward live thingy to get things back on track,” she said in lieu of apologizing. There was no way in hell she was going to give Regina the satisfaction. “Anything else?”
“We still need to discuss what happened with Jones,” Regina said with a raised eyebrow, folding her hands together on the table.
“Jesus,” she muttered under her breath. Dropping her head back she sighed, “Do we really or can we pretend we did and go get drunk at the bar instead?”
There was a pregnant pause before Emma heard Regina shifting in her seat, as though she were uncomfortable. Curious she swung her head back down and was surprised to see an almost concerned look on Regina’s face. She must have let her confusion show because Regina rolled her eyes.
“We may not exactly be friends, Emma, but I do have your best interests at heart. What happened with Jones the day of the interview? You were eager to be done with the day and back with him as soon as possible, then a few hours later you dropped him from the tour and cut off all communication. As your manager I need to know if there’s going to be any issues in the future that can be quietly dealt with now-” the concerned look returned, “As someone who worries about you I want to know that he hasn’t done anything to hurt you.”
Emma burst into laughter, unable to help herself. She should have known that Regina would have no clue why she’d practically fallen apart. In Regina’s mind she was merely doing her job of getting her clients’ careers to the next level. It wouldn’t have occurred to her that she might have been the reason for it all going to shit.
Catching sight of Regina’s bewildered stare threw Emma into a fresh gale of laughter. As tears of mirth streamed down her face she fought to catch her breath and wondered almost idly if she’d finally lost her damn mind. Several minutes passed before she was finally able to get ahold of herself and look Regina in the eye.
“Are you quite finished?” Regina asked, clearly exasperated. At her nod she leaned forward, “Now, will you please tell me what it is I said that had you laughing like a madwoman?”
“Do you worry about me or my career?” She said instead of answering, quirking her lips in a wry smile. Regina’s brows drew down in consternation and Emma sighed, knowing they were only heading towards a fight, “Killian didn’t do anything. He got what he wanted out of touring with me so it was time for him to go. End of story.”
“That sounds more like the middle of the story-” Regina leaned forward, “Explain.”
“There’s nothing to explain,” she sighed, completely over the conversation. “Being on tour got him back in the saddle or taking that first giant leap or whatever. He’s working on new, amazing stuff with the hit-maker Robin Locksley, which is what you want from a new client. Right? So I let him go and we’re both moving onto bigger and better things. Everyone’s a winner. Can I please go get a drink now?”
Regina had slowly straightened in her seat during her small tirade. She was sitting rigidly, looking at her with an unreadable expression. After a moment she shook her head, Emma somehow felt it was in disappointment, and stood from the table.
“I’ll send you the statement to post and options for the photo to go along with it. The live Q and A needs to happen before nine tomorrow morning, I will be sending along the pre-approved questions as well. Stick to those and hopefully you’ll come out of this relatively unscathed.”
Emma stared up at her, almost annoyed she hadn’t pushed the Killian issue further, “Okay…”
“Have a good evening, Miss Swan.” With that Regina strode off. Emma watched her go, flabbergasted by the abrupt departure when Regina stopped at the top of the stairs leading off the bus and turned back, “Just so you know, Mr. Jones is refusing to do any work on the album the label has him on contract for. Mr. Locksley, a close, personal friend of his I believe, is having difficulties convincing him to even pretend to work on it to appease the label. He is perilously close to being in breach of contract with them and is refusing to answer my calls as I try to salvage what’s left of his career. But everyone's a winner, right?”
Regina didn’t wait for her to answer, stepping down off the bus without any further acknowledgement. Emma sat there with a growing sense of unease, staring blankly at the spot that Regina had been standing. The part of her that hadn’t wanted to see Killian in pain was trying to twist Regina’s words into lies, make everything she’d said another ploy to boost sales or something, anything to keep her mind clear of the idea that Killian was sabotaging himself for her. Yet the longer she sat there the more her unease grew, knowing that what Regina had said was exactly something that Killian would do.
Antsy she got up from the table and paced between it and her bunk. She no longer wanted a drink, just the thought of drowning her sorrows and problems had her remembering Killian’s hard fought for sobriety to face his own issues head on. With each pass she made in the small space she teetered back and forth between believing Regina and vilifying her, both of which would have her making decisions she wasn’t ready to make.
Groaning in frustration she dove into her bunk, wanting nothing more than to hide away there and hope that everything would just fix itself. Her self pitying was interrupted by a phone buzzing at her hip. Reaching underneath her she pulled it out, expecting to see her old, battered but still functional phone and instead found her fingers wrapped around Ruby’s practically new iPhone in its protective red case. Surprised that she’d left it behind Emma flipped the phone over to see who was calling. When she saw Killian’s name on the screen she nearly threw it across the bus.
She eyed the still buzzing phone like it was a snake about to strike. There were a million reasons for her to ignore it, to let it go to voicemail and have Ruby give her the gist of the message. There was only one reason for her to answer and it was that that had her swiping up and pressing the phone to her ear before she could think better of it.
“Thank god,” Killian sighed in relief, the sound shooting straight to Emma’s heart, “Ruby, lass, I don’t know what’s going on and I won’t ask but please, just tell me that Emma’s alright. I’ll stop calling, anything, I just... please, I just need to know.”
Her breath had backed up in her throat at the plea in Killian’s voice. He also sounded exhausted, his accent dragging across the words much like they had when they’d stayed up too late, nose to nose talking the night away. The memory had her breath hiccuping out of her in a half sob.
“What’s wrong? Is it Emma? Ruby, is she okay?”
His panicked questions had her biting her cheek to get a hold of herself. She closed her eyes and gripped the phone as though her life depended on it.
“I’m okay, Killian.”
“Swan?” He breathed and she could hear his unfolding hope in the single word, “Love, is that you?”
“It’s me,” she whispered.
“Swan, Emma, I…” he huffed in either frustration or disbelief she wasn’t sure, “Dammit, love, I had so many things I wanted to say and now I can’t think of a single thing.”
She took in a shuddering breath, “Just tell me why.”
“Why? Why what?”
“Why didn’t you just tell me that you were trying to get your big comeback? That’s all this was, wasn’t it? You could have just told me that. You didn’t have to lie to me,” she had tried to keep her tone even, unaffected, but had ended on a growl nonetheless.
“I never lied,” he said vehemently. She scoffed and he made a strangled noise, “Emma, listen to me, when have I lied? Yes, I admit, being on the tour may have begun as a stepping off point but it became more than that. We became more than that.”
“A lie by omission is still a lie, Killian,” she said emphatically. She couldn’t focus on how heartfelt he’d sounded when talking about them, not when he’d also confirmed everything she’d been worrying about. “It’s not like it matters anyway, you got what you want. Your name’s back out there, people are interested. Congrats on the record contract by the way.”
“None of that bloody matters to me,” he snapped. “If you’d just listen-”
“No,” she said, cutting him off, “You had your chance to explain when you first auditioned.”
“Emma-” his voice cracked, “please.”
“I- I can’t take the chance that I’m wrong about you-” her voice wavered, tears lodged in her throat, “I’m sorry.”
She cut off the call but not before she heard him say her name once more. The phone immediately began buzzing in her hand but she swiped to ignore the call, quickly shutting off the phone completely to resist the temptation to answer. She then curled into a ball and gave into her tears.
Vancouver, May 30th
Emma stared out at the large, empty space in front of her feeling exhausted and exhilarated. She was sitting with her feet dangling off the edge of the stage, her heels drumming against the wall without any discernible rhythm. Her hair was still damp with sweat from the show and her arms ached from the intensity that she’d played but she didn’t care. Even the roadies working around her barely paid her any attention, they all knew she was merely basking in the moment.
Her tour was officially done. Seventeen cities in a month and every one of them had been amazing but there was always something extra special about the final show. It was as though everything and everyone had come together to create a perfect moment in time that they capitalized on to give the best show possible. Her playing had been spectacular, the others had been just as great, better even, and the audience had loved every second, sang every lyric, cheered their hearts out. They’d ended up doing two encores.
As her gaze swept across the thousands of empty seats she let out a contented hum. They had sold every ticket for every show and each venue had been just as big. It boggled her mind that every person that filled those seats did so because they loved her music, connected with her lyrics, and appreciated what she was trying to communicate through her art. She only wished she could have personally thanked each and every one of them for it.
The bustle behind her continued on as she soaked it all in. She took no notice of the footsteps approaching her until a pair of familiar, well worn boots stopped beside her. Looking up at Will with a smile she patted the stage next to her. Lowering himself next to her she noticed that he’d taken a shower, the smell of his body wash still strong. With a pang she realized that Killian had used the same brand.
“‘Nother one in the books, eh?” Will grinned, knocking her shoulder with his.
“Yeah,” she sighed happily, “Tonight was really great.”
He chuckled, shaking his head, “Clearly. You haven’t done two encores in ages. Then again, you haven’t been too keen on doin’ the planned one lately.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” She asked, frowning as she adjusted herself so she was facing him.
“Well-” he leaned back and gave her an unimpressed look, “Ever since LA and the shit with Killian you’ve been phonin’ it in a bit. Tonight was the first show you actually looked like you were havin’ fun.”
“I haven’t been phoning it in!” She protested a little too loudly, some of the crew behind her stopped to look over at them. Blushing she gave them a wan smile before glaring at Will, “I played my heart out at every show, asshole.”
“Not possible,” Will negated, his grin unfurled again, “You left that thing back in LA.”
She felt a pang of longing and regret again, even as she scrunched up her face in distaste, “That was really cheesy and absolutely not true.”
“Oy, you’ve put cheesier lines in your songs,” he accused. “Besides, I’m just the purveyor of truth in these troubled times. Admit it, you’ve not been givin’ it your all. Especially in Oakland. That was a rough one.”
She opened her mouth to refute and couldn’t. Will was absolutely right and she kind of hated him for it. Oakland had been more than rough, it had almost been a disaster. It had taken an intense pep-talk from Ruby and Tink combined to just get her to the venue. She’d been able to put on a convincing enough show but the second she’d stepped backstage between the main set and the encore she’d nearly had a complete breakdown. More than once during the show she had looked over expecting to see Killian grinning back at her and found Ruby instead. Every little thing she’d pushed aside had hit her as she’d moved offstage and it had taken everything she’d had to get back out on stage to finish the show.
“Yeah, well... Why didn’t anyone say anything?” She asked accusingly. “Regina didn’t even bring it up and you know she loves to find something to critique.”
“Eh, the shows haven’t been complete shite,” he said with a shrug. “No one’s posted a rant or got a new hashtag trendin’ and you know I’d tell you ‘bout those.”
She snorted, “I don’t know why you’re so fixated on social media. Hasn’t Belle broken you of that habit yet?”
“Ah, but she loves me for all my charmin’ qualities,” he said with a wink. “I’ve her almost convinced to join Instagram. Told her other nerds’ll love to see her books and all those plants her dad’s given her. They like seeing all those uninspired posts you do of your piano after all.”
“It’s the only thing I’m comfortable sharing,” she mumbled.
Will stared at her for a moment before nodding and looking out at the empty seats. She waited for him to finally say what he’d stayed behind to say instead of going back to the hotel with Belle. He loved to tease and stir up trouble but she knew that when he got serious that it meant something. There was no way he’d waited until nearly everyone else had left just so he could not so gently criticize the last few shows.
Instead of saying anything he began humming. Emma rolled her eyes and focused on watching the last of the equipment being packed up and cleared off the stage. It wasn’t until Will began singing under his breath that she recognized the song.
“Backstreet Boys? Really?” She asked with a raised brow.
“Show me the meaning of being lonely,” he said instead of singing, “So many words for a broken heart. Right, luv?”
She recoiled, “My heart’s not broken.”
“Could have fooled me and everyone else ‘round here. Even Belle noticed somethin’s off with you.”
Instead of answering Will looked back out over the empty seats, leaning back on his hands as he did so. He continued to recite the lyrics of the song, as though it was a masterpiece in verse instead of a late nineties pop song written with the sole purpose of being a hit. She watched, impressed and amused by his unabashed performance, spoken in a voice that carried to an audience of one.
Just as she was about to press him about what it was about her, that definitely wasn’t a broken heart, that Belle had noticed he fell silent. His mouth quirked up at the corner as he tilted his head to look at her.
“Have I ever told you how I met Belle?” He asked, his gaze soft.
She blinked, “Uh, no?”
“Broke into her shop,” he said proudly, the other side of his mouth ticking up into a boyish smile.
“You broke into her shop?” She asked slowly, not quite believing him.
“I was quite pissed at the time. That’d be drunk to you, you bloody yank,” he teased and she rolled her eyes, “Had the bright idea that a certain book was all I needed to set things to right.”
“You broke into her shop,” she repeated, “to steal a book?”
“Never said I was stealin’ anythin’,” he said with mock innocence. “I’m not sure I like what you’re implyin’.”
She huffed, “Fine, you broke into her shop to not steal a book. Did you meet her when she knocked you out before she called the cops?”
“Not exactly. You know those squishy little settees she’s got round the children’s nook?”
“You mean the beanbags? Yeah,” she said nodding.
“Well, I tuckered meself out picking the lock, findin’ that bloody book, and drinking far too much whisky. Decided to take a little nap before movin’ along,” he said with a nonchalant shrug.
“So you passed out and Belle found you in the morning?” She surmised.
“The cops found me first, not fifteen minutes after I’d set off a silent alarm. Belle was livin’ above the shop then. She had no idea anythin’ was amiss until after they’d cuffed me and had her come down so they could explain what’d happened-” he ducked his head at that. When he continued his voice was fond, “The constables were telling her what I could be charged with and she just kept lookin’ at my sorry ass. Drunk as all hell and mouthin’ off, as I’m wont to do. When they finished their little spiel she calmly told them that I was a friend and she’d forgotten that she’d offered me her couch to sleep on. Mind you, I’d never even stepped foot in her store before that night.
“Well the officers didn’t take too kindly to that. Blustered and threatened but she never backed down. I was at least sober enough to go along with her tales, who was I to ruin a perfectly good lie on my behalf? Finally, they removed the cuffs and took their leave, not without dire warnings and some more threats. As soon as the door closed behind them Belle invited me up for tea.”
“And you fell in love. Cute,” Emma tried not to sound bitter but failed completely.
“Nah,” he said with a click of his tongue, “That took a while yet.”
“Okay… so why are you telling me this?”
Will eyed her, “You’re askin’ the wrong question, luv.”
She frowned. There were a dozen questions she could have asked, least of all why Belle put up with him. He watched her patiently which only pissed her off.
“I give up,” she said, throwing her hands up in exasperation. “You’re obviously trying to tell me something so just spit it out.”
“You should have asked why I thought I needed a book that bad in the first place,” he stated, as though it were obvious.
“Fine then, why?”
“To broaden my horizons, of course,” he said cheekily with a wide grin. When she glared at him he grew serious, “Books always have the answer, yeah? Thought I’d find a way to win back my ex in one of them.”
There was only one ex Will could have been talking about and she’d done a number on him. The poems he’d written about her were terrible but the broken heart he’d suffered and lashing out he did was worse. She was still surprised he hadn’t ended up in jail from the stories he’d told her over the years.
He nodded solemnly, “This was about a year after she’d ended things. I’d already started playing with you lot but I was still hurtin’. Probably didn’t help that we rehearsed across from her new husband’s office. Used to see her stoppin’ by to see him every few weeks. Couldn’t escape her, even if I wanted to.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” She asked softly.
“Why didn’t you tell us about what happened with Jones?” He shot back, though not unkindly. Shrugging he pushed himself forward and set his elbows on his thighs, his hands dangling between his legs, “Self preservation mostly and, yeah, a bit of enjoyin’ the wallowin’. Then Belle invited me for a cuppa instead of pressin’ charges. She’d seen my blusterin’ for what it was because she’d had a bit of a rough go of it herself. A couple of abusive exes will do that to ya.”
She nodded. Belle hadn’t told her much about her romantic history but what she’d told Emma was enough.
“Anyway we drank the tea, I sobered up, apologized, and that was it. I went on my way expecting nothing to come of it but another tale to spin for people over a pint-” the soft look returned, “Then a week later I ended up back at the shop. When it was open of course. Looked around a bit, chatted with her and then left. Kept doin’ that a couple times a week for a month or so before I realized I was stoppin’ by every time I’d seen Ana visitin’ her husband. Stayed away for two weeks after that. Belle took it all in stride, of course, welcomed me back with another cuppa and a book of poems.”
Emma smiled, knowing exactly when that was. He’d suddenly stopped writing his own poems and started reading them instead. She’d noticed that he’d seemed more settled, less angry, and she’d written a song about it. Will had demanded a writer’s credit as a result.
“That’s when I realized I was fallin’ for her. Thing was, I had always believed I’d love Ana forever, even if it meant I spend the rest of my days pinin’ after her like a lovesick fool. Had a real close look at what I was doin’ with my life. Only stayed away a week that time and asked Belle out to dinner before the door to her shop had closed behind me when I went back. She said no.”
“She said no?” Emma gasped, having fully expected a cutesy story of their first date to follow.
Will’s smile was enigmatic, “You see while I was having my little crisis of faith Belle was havin’ one of her own. All she knew about me was I was a terrible thief who played in a band and had an affinity for poetry. That was enough for any woman to be wary of trusting me and with the number both of her exes did on her she had no trust left to give. She wanted to say yes but couldn’t bring herself to put everything on the line if there was even the smallest chance of it shattering beneath her.”
She shifted uncomfortably, dropping her gaze to her hands that were perched in her lap. Unless Ruby or Regina had blabbed no one else knew exactly what had happened with Killian. All she’d told Will and Tink was that things hadn’t worked out, end of story. They hadn’t pushed for more of an explanation and she’d thought that was that. Clearly she was wrong.
“Does Belle know you’re telling me all this really personal information about her?” She asked accusingly, unable to keep herself from lashing out before he prodded a really vulnerable spot.
“Like I said, luv, she noticed there was somethin’ off with you-” he pointed a finger at her, “and before you go accusin’ me of blabbin’ about you to her I haven’t said a word. I can be a wanker but I do know how to respect a person’s privacy.”
“Why didn’t she say something?”
He sighed, “You two are friendly but you’re not exactly the sharin’ type are ya? She didn’t feel it was her place to butt into your life.”
“Oh, but it’s yours?” She asked harshly.
“We’re a horse of a different color, you and I,” he said with a conspiratorial air, “Seein’ as our love of music unites us.”
She smacked him in the arm and he gave her a wink in return. He wasn’t wrong. When they first met they got along like oil and water but she’d needed a drummer and he genuinely liked her songs. It had taken a slew of dive bars and a cramped van to tolerate each other and a little over a year before he was one of the few people she considered a tried and true friend.
“She could have talked to me,” she said petulantly.
“And she still might if this-” he waved his hand between them, “here doesn’t take. But I haven’t finished my story yet.”
“Sorry,” she said, feeling anything but, “continue.”
“Where was I?” He asked cheekily, chuckling at her glare. “Right, I’d decided to woo Belle and she’d wisely decided to protect her heart. Let me down gently, of course, my Belle.
“I was a bit disappointed but I also knew why she’d said no. Stopped goin’ round the shop, thought it’d be best to take a step back. She didn’t need me hangin’ around makin’ things awkward. Surprised the hell out of me when a month later she showed up at one of our gigs and asked me to dinner as soon as the set was done. She said that no one had actually listened to her or respected her decisions before, especially her exes, and that even if she didn’t know much about me she was willin’ to give me a chance. Celebrated three years back in March.”
“I know, you posted it all over Instagram,” she said with only a hint of the frustration she was feeling, “Is that it?”
“Almost,” he said with a chuckle, “Long story short-”
“Too late,” she muttered.
“Belle knew somethin’ was off with you ‘cause she’s been there before and she wanted me to tell you ‘cause she thought I could get you to see what’s in front of your face-” he said with a touch of impatience. “If you broke things off with Jones because he was bloody awful or your personalities didn’t mesh or whatever that’s one thing. If you did it because you’re scared then that’s somethin’ else. Okay, now I’m done.”
Emma sat, stunned, as Will stood up and stretched. He gave the few crew members still clearing the stage a genial wave before offering her his hand. With a scowl and some reluctance she grabbed it and let him haul her up beside him. She gave him a wary look, girding herself against more pointed jabs at her emotional expense, but he just spun on his heel and started walking off stage.
“That’s it?!” She called after him, a bit disgruntled.
“I said my piece, luv,” he parried back without turning around. “Besides I’ve my lady love waitin’ for me back at the hotel. She’s a rare one but I don’t think she’d be too forgivin’ if I spent the whole night with another woman. Even if it’s you.”
She rushed after him, “You’re not going to try to convince me to call him or… or tell me about how much of a great guy he is or something?”
“I ain’t gonna tell you what to do, luv. You’re the one that has to decide if you want to keep bein’ miserable or not-” he pulled his phone from his pocket, “I’m orderin’ a Lyft, you wanna ride with?”
“I’ve got a car waiting,” she said absently, still trying to figure out his game.
“Excellent, you got anythin’ you need to grab?” He asked without looking up, tapping away at his phone, “I can wait.”
“No, Ruby grabbed it all for me-” she grabbed his elbow and swung him around to face her, “You’re really not going to say anything else?”
He sighed, “You’ll do what you want and if you actually listened to what I’ve told you then you know there’s nothin’ else I could say. Now, do you want to stay here until we’re kicked out?”
She looked back across the stage but the magic of the moment was gone. Now it was just a big empty space with the last of the equipment being rolled out through the wings by the sweaty road crew.
“Fine, let’s go.”
The ride to the hotel was quiet. Will had clearly said everything he’d wanted to, spending the whole ride furiously texting someone. For her part she was too pissed off at him while trying desperately not to think too much about what little lesson he’d been trying to get her to understand to say anything remotely close to nice. When they reached the hotel he stopped her from leaving the car with a hand on her arm.
“One last thing-”
“Really?!” She snapped. “I just want to go up to my room, drink the champagne that I know the label sent, and not think about the emotional vomit you dropped in my lap tonight.”
“It needed to be said,” he stated without a hint of remorse. Then he squeezed her arm gently and sighed, “Look, I’m gonna send you somethin’ and you need to promise me you’ll look at that first.”
“First?” She asked warily, pulling her phone out of her back pocket. She’d never taken it off silent and saw that there were way more texts and calls than she’d expected to be there, “What is it?”
“Nothin’ too terrible,” he hedged.
His gaze darted over her shoulder. When she looked she saw a few paparazzi waiting by flanking the front doors of the hotel. She turned back to him and saw his jaw ticking.
He ignored her and leaned towards the driver, “Hey, mate, mind pullin’ round the back so we don’t get ambushed?”
“Of course, sir,” the driver said with a nod, immediately pulling away from the curb.
“Will,” she put every ounce of frustration she could into his name.
“You’ll thank me later,” he said absently, back to tapping madly on his phone, “And you know what, don’t look at it until you’re in your room. Can you do that?”
Just as she was about to grab the hand that was on her arm and twist it until bones cracked the car stopped again. Looking outside she saw they were at some kind of loading dock and one of the doors was propped open.
“Brilliant,” Will said happily. He let go of her and fished in his pocket, pulling out a couple of bills that he handed to the driver, “Cheers, mate!”
“Thank you, sir,” the driver said with a nod. He caught her gaze in the rear view mirror, “Ma’am.”
“Thanks,” she said weakly. Will was already out of the car and she scrambled out after him, “Wait, you can’t be all cryptic and then just leave me like that. What the hell is going on?”
“I know you want to punch me in the face-” he squinted his eyes at her, “Nope, you’re ready to murder me on the spot. Just trust me, luv. Besides, it wouldn’t do to make a scene out here and bring ‘round those vultures we made a point of avoiding.”
“Fine,” she huffed, pushing past him. “But you’re so on my shit list right now.”
“I’m always on it, luv,” he said with a laugh.
The hotel was five star but the door that had been left open led to a not so pretty hallway. She’d worked plenty of shitty jobs to know what a service corridor looked like. There were several stacks of empty milk crates and egg cages lining the walls and from the delicious smells wafting towards her it wasn’t hard to figure out that they were near the kitchens. She turned back and gave Will an unimpressed look.
“It was this or the paps,” he said unapologetically. He pointed ahead of them, “That way and then the second right will get you to the lobby.”
“And where are you going?” She asked suspiciously.
“Got a mate that’s holdin’ a bottle of champagne for me that way-” he hitched his thumb to the left. “I’ll let him know you said thanks for sneakin’ you past those vultures.”
He strolled past her, with his hands in his pockets, whistling the damn Backstreet Boys song he’d been singing earlier. She was torn between wanting to strangle him or begrudgingly thank him. In the end she settled for glaring at his back and muttering obscenities until he turned a corner and disappeared from her sight.
Twenty minutes later she was finally holed up in her room, freshly showered and wrapped in one of the hotel’s fluffy robes with the bottle of champagne in her hand. All should have been well except for the litany of messages she had. Will’s wasn’t the most recent and she would have ignored it if he hadn’t said anything but she had a feeling that whatever he had sent her was the reason behind all the other texts and calls. Her thumb hovered over his message, calculating how much it was going to ruin her night if she ignored it, before she scoffed at herself and tapped on it.
Scarlet: whatever you do don’t kill the messenger ie me
There was a second message, which was a link to YouTube. She hesitated again, even more so with his ominous message. When she tapped on the link she felt a momentary flash of panic, nearly closing out the app, because she knew without a doubt that watching the video was going to destroy any semblance of finishing off the night on a high note.
Her panic quickly turned into longing and heartbreak at the sight of Killian on her phone screen. He was sitting with his guitar in a room she’d never seen before but knew without a doubt was from his place in Boston. If pressed she wouldn’t have been able to explain how she knew but from the small bits of decor she could make out in the background and his sense of ease in the space were big clues. Her attention was drawn back to him as he cleared his throat and addressed the camera.
“Er, hello all,” he began sheepishly, his fingers nervously scratching behind his ear as the tips of his ears turned pink. His hair was in disarray and there were slight shadows under his eyes but he looked good, she would have even said great if there had been anyone around to ask her. He gave a rueful smile, “I’ve never done one of these, honestly never thought I would seeing as I seemed to have missed the metaphorical boat with this whole video blogging thing-”
Emma snorted in amusement despite herself and muttered, “It’s like he’s three hundred not thirty-three.”
“Aye, I may be belying my age but as you can see I’ve retained my youthful glow,” he said with a cheeky grin, his blue eyes sparkling with mirth.
The quip seemed to bolster him, the tension in his shoulders disappeared and he seemed to breathe easier, but it only lasted for a moment. His smile faded and he dropped his chin, his chest expanding as he took a deep breath. When he looked back to the camera the look in his eyes made her own breath catch in her throat.
“As many of my fans-” he paused and then gave a mirthless laugh, shaking his head, “Well, let’s be honest, a lot more than just my fans know my story. My exploits, my tragedies, missteps and extended stays in rehab are just cannon fodder for the gossip mongers that dwell on the internet. All of that led to my taking a much needed step back from the spotlight that’s lasted a good while. In that time I’ve continued to play, the creative soul in me would never stand for me not to, but I never thought I’d put pen to paper with the intention of writing a song ever again.
“The accident, yes that fucking accident, took more from me than just my brother and my love that night. It took the part of me that knew the right words to tease the desired emotion from an audience, how to hook them with a few notes and reel them in with lyrics that sprung from my heart and soul. Without that-” his voice cracked and he paused again, closing his eyes. After a few deep breaths he opened them, looking straight into the camera, his pain bare to see, “Without that it’s a wonder I didn’t drink myself to death within six months.”
Her phone screen went blurry and it wasn’t until a drop of water fell onto her hand that she realized she was crying. Impatiently brushing away the tears she focused back on the video.
He had begun idly picking at the strings of the guitar, “Getting sober was the first step to getting my life back. One of many. It’s been a hard road and every day is a struggle in one way or another but it’s a battle I’m willing to fight. My life, quite literally, depends on it. Next was getting serious about playing music again. I’ve spent the past few years not doing much more than recording backing tracks for what seems like every artist under the sun. I was in a rut and my agent convinced me that it was a sign that it was time to return to the recording booth. This time as the headliner, as it were. With no true argument against it I agreed, thinking that if anything I would enjoy a middling solo career out of it. What I hadn’t counted on was it leading to something that would turn my middling life upside down in the most unexpected of ways.
“You see, I had thought that I would be hoisted off on a producer and bundled to a cabin to write as many songs as possible before being shepherded back to a recording booth. Handled but not inspired. Before that could happen, though, another much more appealing opportunity presented itself.. A friend called needing a favor. One that my agent and the label approved of, though I would have done it regardless”
His finger picking continued as a wistful smile played at his lips. She couldn’t figure out what he was playing. It seemed somewhat familiar but his playing was too slow for her to catch the tune.
“In doing this favor I met someone-” he focused on the camera and gave a slight shake of his head, “You know, I never thought I’d be capable of letting go of my first love, of my Milah... to believe that I could find someone else... until I met her.”
Emma nearly dropped her phone in shock.
“For the first time since I thought I’d lost everything I felt like there was a possibility for me to find it all again. I found myself wanting- no, needing, to write again. I think I filled the first notebook within a week. She inspired me in a way I hadn’t been before. Then, I was privileged enough to become a part of her life.
“Unfortunately even before we met I had decided that there was no need to share with her what was to be a fairly big change in my life. I figured, why tell her about making a return to music when I hadn’t truly wanted it to happen in the first place?” he scoffed. He stopped playing, clenching his hand into a fist, “It was a selfish decision on my part, wanting to bask in the simplicity of what we had for as long as possible before I had to give myself over to the machinations of creating an album. What I failed so spectacularly at was considering her feelings, her expectations and hopes as to what we could be. By omitting that truth from the beginning and trying to shield her from it, even believing that I was doing the honorable thing, hurt her far more than telling her from the start.”
She could see the frustration and self loathing in his gaze. It made her want to soothe him and shake him at the same time.
He blinked, seemingly remembering that he was being filmed and gave a brittle smile to the camera, “It should come as no surprise that it all came ‘round to bite me in the arse. I’ll admit that I spent a good amount of time as the living embodiment of a Morrisey album. Listened to a few of them ad nauseum to boot. It took a good friend knocking some sense into me and a few words of advice Liam had given me long ago: ‘A man unwilling to fight for what he wants deserves what he gets’.
“I deserve every second of her silence, every ounce of her anger, and I will respect her decision regarding us, whatever it may be, but I have one final plea to make. She may never see this, the bloody idiot that told me to do this will also be editing this and might cut this all out, but I’ve laid myself bare so that she perhaps might come to understand why I’d done the things that hurt her so.
“Sw-” he cut himself off, looking down as his jaw ticked in frustration before he took a breath and looked back to the camera, his gaze sincere and open, “Love, I’m sorry for lying to you. I’m sorry for making you feel used and unimportant and as though you were dupe in a scheme designed to benefit everyone but yourself. It was never my intention to make you feel that way but my actions and my lies did so all the same. I’m sorry, love, for everything.”
Her tears were falling freely but she made no move to brush them away. They were too quick and numerous for her to bother. In the video Killian had started playing his guitar again, his fingers plucking out the notes of a tune she still couldn’t place but that he seemed to know very well.
“I wrote this after an eye opening night in Chicago. This is my truth, love, it was then and it is now.”
With that he began to play in earnest. She could hear echoes of the songs he’d written with Milah and Liam, a distinctive style that even the chasm of a decade couldn’t erase. There was something more to it though, a longing in his voice she’d never heard before but it was far from melancholic, she could almost feel a wellspring of hope bubbling within it. Then she actually listened to the lyrics he was singing.
And all of the steps that led me to you
And all of the hell I had to walk through
But I wouldn't trade a day for the chance to say
My love, I'm in love with you
The phone tumbled from Emma’s suddenly numb fingers. The video kept playing but the audio was muffled in the folds of her robe. Scrambling to pick it back up and muttering curses while desperately trying to hear the rest of the song she fumbled with the phone for what felt like minutes before it was back in her hand and facing the right way. With a shaking finger she scrolled back until the point where he started to play and began watching again. When he played the final note she scrolled back and watched it again. After the fourth time she let the video keep playing, though she could barely focus on it through the sobs she was holding back.
Killian gave the camera a pained smile, his hands folded over his guitar. He seemed on the verge of saying something and she held her breath. Instead he shook his head and leaned forward, reaching towards the camera. The video ended there, an emotionless black screen with links to a few of the more popular music videos that Realm of Jewels had made. Emma sat staring at the thumbnails in a stupor, her mind whirring with too many thoughts to even begin to process what she was feeling. It was only when her screen went dark from inactivity that she made a decision. Unlocking her phone she brought up her contacts and tapped on the name of the person she’d been avoiding talking to for days. They picked up on the second ring.
“I know it’s late but I need a favor.”
Yep, Killian's song is Christina Perri's The Words with a teeny tiny tweak. I just couldn't help myself.
Just a quick reminder: I have no idea how the music industry works so I've made it work how I needed it to. Enjoy.
Boston, June 8th
Emma shifted from foot to foot in front of the door marked 520. It had taken her over a week to get her shit together and make the trip that she’d originally intended to make the morning after her show in Vancouver. Of course that had been before her phone had blown up with calls and texts about Killian’s video, which had hit a million views before the sun had even risen. It had also been before the small gaggle of paparazzi had grown to a crowd and forced her to use the same back door to leave the hotel that she’d used to enter it the night before. Those were the excuses she told herself in the light of day. She was much more honest with herself at three in the morning when she couldn’t sleep.
In the dead of night it was easy to admit that she was a fucking coward. Killian had laid his heart bare for the entire world to see, and judge, and all she’d done was call her manager. Granted she’d had to take a dressing down and listen to a frustrated rant meant for someone else but that was nothing compared to the self flagellation she’d been doing since she’d landed in Portland and driven north instead of heading south. To add an extra layer to her guilt she watched Killian’s video two or three times a day and that didn’t even count how many times she only pulled up the song portion. That, in the end, had been what decided it for her.
She’d tried finding the song on every streaming service and on every platform that sold downloads but it wasn’t anywhere. For the entire week she’d checked every morning when she woke up and every night before she went to bed but the song only seemed accessible in the video he posted. The temptation to illegally download it had crossed her mind once or twice but she’d been able to hold herself in check, mostly because she knew the audio quality would suck but even more so because it felt almost cowardly. That that would be the thing to somehow tip off Killian that she would rather torture herself with a shitty copy of the song he wrote for her than to actually talk to him.
It took far too long for her to piece together that because it couldn’t be downloaded or streamed meant that he wasn’t making any kind of profit from it. When she finally did she felt like her heart had been plucked out of her chest and was on the precipice of being ground into dust. She’d been out the door and on her way to Boston within five minutes of her realization and long before she could talk herself out of it.
The four hour drive had given her plenty of time to think over some things. How she felt about him, really, truly felt about him, for one. While Killian had pretty much said that he loved her she wasn’t so sure that was what she was feeling in return. She definitely liked him, a lot, so much so that the weeks since she’d practically ghosted him she’d grown used to the constant ache under her breastbone. The restless nights and obsessing over his video seemed a bit much but she could easily admit to herself that she missed him. It didn’t necessarily mean that she loved him, they’d really only been together for a matter of days after all.
Then there was the slight issue of what the hell she was going to say to him. An apology was a given. On the flight back to Portland from Vancouver she’d finally admitted to herself that she might have possibly, slightly overreacted when she’d heard about Killian’s record contract. She wasn’t completely in the wrong, he had lied and hidden things from her, but she definitely could have at least listened to what he’d had to say. That was another thing, she was going to keep her damn mouth shut after she apologized and let him say whatever it was that he needed to say to her.
Her planning and imagined conversations got her into Boston but once she’d parked her car she’d begun to worry. There was every possibility that he’d refuse to speak to her, that he’d take one look at her darkening his doorstep and slam the door in her face. He might not even open the door at all, just see her distorted image through the peephole and decide not to bother. By the time she’d reached his apartment she’d worked herself up so much with the ‘what ifs’ that she couldn’t bring herself to even knock on the damn door.
She’d been psyching herself up for at least ten minutes, raising her fist in a burst of courage only to drop it as another wave of unease washed over her. As she lifted her hand for the fifth or fiftieth time one of his neighbors slammed their door shut. Startled, her knuckles tapped the door, softly but enough to make a definite sound. Resigned and relieved she sucked in a deep breath and soundly knocked twice, stepping back quickly so if he did look through the peephole he’d clearly see that it was her on the other side.
For a few agonizing moments she stood, waiting. The neighbor who had slammed their door passed her by, giving her a curious look but kept walking. She briefly wondered if he knew he lived on the same floor as potential rock legend. The thought fled her mind when she heard the slide of a lock disengaging and the door in front of her slowly opened.
She could tell that Killian hadn’t been sleeping as soon as he stepped into view, there were dark purple shadows under his eyes that hadn’t shown up in his video. His hair was even more of a disheveled mess than it had been in the video too, and longer. He was wearing a pair of thin blue flannel lounge pants and a threadbare grey t-shirt with a rip at the collar and a faded Led Zeppelin logo. She’d never seen a more heartbreakingly beautiful sight.
“Regina mostly,” she rushed to explain. It was way easier to tell him how she found him instead of why she had wanted to, “Robin helped with the doorman though.”
“They’re old friends,” he murmured absently. His gaze darted all over her, as if he couldn’t quite believe she was there, “Tuck put in a good word for me with the board when I decided to move here after rehab. Why are you here Emma?”
She winced, “Can we, um, go inside. I really don’t want to do this out here.”
Something flared bright in Killian’s eyes as his mouth tightened. She almost expected him to cross his arms and refuse. Saying everything she needed to say out in the hallway would have been embarrassing and awkward as hell but she was prepared to do it. In fact, she realized she would do almost anything to just get him to give her a chance. He must have seen that in her own eyes as he gave her a terse nod, stepping back into the apartment and opening the door wider for her to pass through.
As she walked by him she resisted the urge to reach out and brush her fingers against the back of his hand or worse, stop completely to wrap her arms around him and never let him go. Every ounce of courage she’d lacked before was suddenly filling her from root to tip. She was still nervous as hell but she wasn’t about to destroy everything for once and for all by chickening out at the last second. If things didn’t go the way she wanted it wouldn’t be because she decided that giving up was easier than fighting them.
Her steps slowed to a stop as she fully stepped into the spacious apartment. One of the living room walls was floor to ceiling shelves filled with books, cds, and vinyls while the second had an impressive entertainment system with a giant tv that had a soccer game frozen on its screen. There was a cozy looking couch and matching chair facing it that broke up the space between the living room and breakfast bar and the kitchen. What really caught her eye was the view from the sliding glass doors behind a round dining table that opened to a small balcony. It wasn’t full dark but the facade of the State House was already lit, its golden dome gleaming dimly.
“Nice view,” she muttered quietly.
“You were more excited by the one in Malibu,” Killian said flatly, startling her as he stepped up beside her. He gave her a wry grin, “Bit jumpy there, Swan? Don’t worry I won’t bite.”
She turned fully towards him and held his gaze, “I’m more nervous than worried.”
A muscle in his jaw ticked but he didn’t look away. After a moment he gave a small sigh and moved toward the kitchen.
“I’d offer you a stiff drink but chamomile will have to do.”
He brushed past her, moving into the kitchen. When she didn’t move he huffed and pointed to one of the high backed stools tucked under the breakfast bar. She gave him a small smile and when he turned his back to her to open a cupboard she shook her head at her nervousness. Silently admonishing herself she sat down and watched him move around the space, a defensive set to his shoulders as he gathered the things for their tea and set an electric kettle to boil. Once there was nothing left for him to fiddle with he turned back to her, leaning casually against the far counter and crossing his arms over his chest.
“So it took you ten days to ask Regina where to find me?” He asked in that same flat voice.
Despite his attempt to sound indifferent she could hear the hurt in his words. As much as she knew her answer would only serve to harm him more she couldn’t lie to him. There was enough of that between them already.
“I called her as soon as I finished watching your video-” she dropped her gaze to where her hands were folded on the bartop, not quite strong enough to watch him react to her answer, “ten days ago.”
Her confession was met with silence. She could hear the water in the kettle start to boil and the gentle hum of the refrigerator but that was it. After a few seconds of quiet torture she steeled herself and looked up, needing to know exactly how pissed he was at her. What she saw didn’t disappoint.
He hadn’t moved an inch, still leaning against the counter but there was nothing casual about it. Every one of his muscles were tense, his fingers digging into his bicep with enough force to turn them white while his eyes were two chips of ice, cold enough to burn as he stared her down. She was almost relieved at seeing the signs of his anger, anything was better than the indifference he’d been displaying before. The kettle clicked off but he showed no sign of noticing aside from the slight tightening of his jaw.
As he glared at her she tried not to let her own frustration and anger flare up. There were still so many things that they needed to talk about and any one of them could have him throwing her out of the apartment. She wasn’t about to be meek or amenable but she sure as hell wasn’t about to keep poking the beast that she’d awakened.
“Honey?” He growled.
She blinked, “Wha- what?”
“In your tea-” he uncrossed his arms and gestured to the mugs beside him, “Honey?”
“Um, yeah, that’s fine.”
He gave her a terse nod and began fixing their tea. With his back turned to her she took a deep, calming breath. She was no longer nervous, his reaction had been pretty much what she’d expected and that part was over with. Instead a hollow ache of longing had settled in her chest. There was nothing she wanted more than to talk like they used to, open and without pretense but also with a bit of teasing and flirting thrown in for good measure.
Killian topped his mug off with a splash of milk before turning and handing hers over. It was a white mug with a line drawing of a guitar and the words ‘I’m a kettle head’ written over it. She couldn’t help her snort of laughter at the sight of it.
“Something funny, Swan?” He asked with a raised brow, his cup of tea halfway to his lips.
She spun the mug so the graphic faced him, “Gag gift or did you buy this yourself?”
He rolled his eyes and took a sip of his tea but she could see his ears turning red. She let her own eyebrow tick up as he swallowed, shaking his head.
“Gift from a fan, actually. I made mention in an interview years ago that I enjoyed a good cup of tea in the afternoon. I’m still receiving packages of tea and its related wares on a steady basis-” he tipped his head towards her mug, “That was one of the more clever ones.”
Spinning it back so she could grasp it by the handle she hesitated. The opening was clear for her to start the conversation that needed to be had. She knew she should take advantage of it but he was no longer glaring at her and she wanted to bask in the small reprieve she’d found herself in. To prolong the moment she took a sip of her tea, humming at the soothing warmth and delicate flavor that danced over her tongue. The corner of Killian’s mouth ticked up and her heart skipped a beat at the sight.
“Not as good as my hot chocolate but it’ll do,” she teased.
Emma knew she’d pushed his patience to its breaking point a half second too late. Killian’s smile flared for a second before he pressed his lips together in a thin line and turned his gaze away from her. Her own small grin slipped and she berated herself for expecting too much too soon. She waited, quiet and still, until he looked back at her.
His eyes widened and he let out a little huff of surprise but she barreled on, needing to get it all out.
“I’m sorry for so many things, waiting ten days to show up, not calling the second I finished watching your video, blocking your number so you couldn’t call me, fighting with you when I answered Ruby’s phone-”
“I get that you’re mad at me. Good, you should be. I was terrible to you and I know it’s no excuse but I was hurt and you lied to me, but I still should have given you a chance to explain-” she gave a little hiccuping laugh, “God, if you’d done that to me and showed up at my house I would have slammed the door in your face and been done with it. And you? You invited me in for tea? Why?”
Killian shook his head with a huff. She could see his smile threatening to break loose again and the sight mystified her. He saw her bewilderment and pushed off the counter behind him with his hip, setting his mug in front of hers and leaned into her space, gently taking her hand in his.
“Don’t you know, Emma?” He asked, painfully earnest. “You said you watched the video, so you must know.”
“You’re mad at me,” she pointed out, even as she gripped his hand.
He tilted his head, considering her, “I am but that doesn’t change how I feel.”
“I’m not sure how I feel,” she confessed in a whisper, “I know I hated not talking to you late at night or being near you almost constantly but…”
She trailed off, unsure how to proceed without stoking either of their tempers again. Killian’s thumb ran over the back of her hand, encouraging her, and she reveled in the feeling. He gave her an encouraging nod and she took a fortifying breath.
“You lied to me-” he winced and tried to pull his hand from hers but she held on fast, “You lied and if whatever this is between us is going to work I need to know why. I promise to actually listen this time.”
He gave her a pained smile, “And if you don’t like what you hear?”
“I won’t know until you tell me,” she countered softly.
“Alright,” he said with a nod, one that seemed more for himself than for her. “Alright, but can you promise me one more thing?”
“Anything,” she agreed quickly.
“No interruptions. I think it’ll do us both good to have it all out in one go.”
She used her free hand to mime that she was locking her lips and throwing away the key. He gave her a small snort of a laugh, no longer looking pained or apprehensive, which had been her goal. As she gently squeezed his hand in encouragement she really hoped she’d be able to keep her promise.
Killian blew out a harsh breath and began, “Are you familiar with Cora Hart?”
Her eyebrows shot up and she bit the inside of her cheek to keep her mouth shut. Cora Hart was the agent of all agents. Her firm was the one every struggling artist wished would represent them because every one of their clients was a superstar or on their way to being one. To be one of her personal clients was like getting a golden ticket to everlasting fame, fortune, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. However, it came with a price and Emma wasn’t entirely convinced that it wasn’t someone’s soul. Plus Cora Hart was known by everyone in the industry as ‘that cold hearted bitch’. It was an unpleasant surprise to hear her name coming from Killian’s lips.
“Yes, I can see that you are,” he sighed. “She’s my agent.”
She grimaced. As much as she’d been prepared to hear it it still made her stomach drop. There were only so many ways his story was going to go and she wasn’t sure she was entirely ready to hear it, but she would, because she promised.
“I’ve been with her since the beginning. She found us playing at a small pub in Liverpool and snapped us up. If it weren’t for her we’d probably still be playing pub gigs but only on weekends-” he gave her a wan smile that didn’t last long, “I owe a lot to that woman, not everything but enough to know not to question her decisions on where to take my career. Even if I wanted to seek different representation she’s got me in an iron clad contract for at least three solo albums.”
She couldn’t help her outburst. While it was normal for a record label to offer contracts like that, she’d signed one herself for that matter, she was pretty sure it wasn’t standard for an agent to do the same. Then again she didn’t actually have an agent of her own. Regina was an employee of her label and didn’t need a separate contract with her and seemed more than happy to take care of everything herself. Emma thought that things had been working out alright, aside from the fiasco that had put her right where she found herself at that very moment.
“I have been bound by this contract for quite a while, Swan,” he said wryly. “Since even before the accident.”
“But that’s gotta be extortion or something, right?” She asked indignantly. “I mean, it’s been almost fifteen years!”
He gave her a warm look, “There are plenty of people who have been with their agents for much longer and I thought I said no interruptions, love.”
“Sorry,” she said sheepishly.
“Realm of Jewels made Cora a very rich woman and an equally hot commodity in the industry. I had already planned to do a few solo albums and signed with her because she was someone I already knew. Back then I thought three albums was nothing, I had written material for at least six,” he said with a shrug. “After the accident and pulling myself out of the bottle she was gracious enough to allow me to do whatever I needed to do to get my life back on track. Even if it meant nothing more than doing recording sessions for other artists’ work. Of course, her patience could only be pushed so far and I’m sure I’d far exceeded the limit. She started not so gently reminding me of my contractual obligations about a year ago.
“At the time I figured I could piecemeal something together from my old lyrics and maybe a cover or two to get an album together. It wouldn’t have been great, fair to middling if anything, but it would have been enough to satisfy Cora for the time being. I wasn’t excited by the prospect and in the meantime I was still being hired for session recordings. One of which was for your album.”
Emma smiled and ducked her head. He’d made it sound like it was some great honor instead of a few hours work on a couple of songs. She didn’t even get to choose the musicians that got to record, that was all left up to the label, though she did get final say on how it sounded. That didn’t mean to say she hadn’t gone back to listen to those backing tracks almost as much as the song he’d written for her.
“It was the day we were recording for Snowdrops and Buttercups that I first met Regina. It just so happened to be the same day that Cora had come to the studio to once again remind me of my obligations. What I wasn’t aware of was the fact that Cora is Regina’s mother-” Emma’s head shot up at that and he nodded, “Whatever you do try to avoid being in the same room as them, especially when business is involved. I left the studio that day with my three album contract inexorably attached to the record label that Regina represented. There was also the small inconvenience of a series of deadlines being imposed. The first of which was having enough songs written to begin recording an album within six months. When Ruby called about needing a replacement I had about two months left to put something recordable together.”
Emma bit her lip. It was getting harder and harder to keep her comments and questions to herself. Especially with the bomb he’d dropped about Regina and Cora. She decided to take a sip of her tea instead. Before her mug even made it to her lips Killian was grinning widely at her.
“Go ahead, love,” he said with a bow of his head.
She slammed her mug down, splashing tea over her hand. With a hiss she shook off the droplets impatiently, ignoring Killian’s outstretched hand, not wanting to be deterred.
“Cora the heartless is Regina’s mother?! And if you had only two months to write an entire album why the hell were you allowed to come on tour with me? Is that why you had that lunch with Robin and Regina? For the album? Why didn’t you tell me all of this already?”
Killian’s expression immediately dropped into one of regret as she sat back, stunned at her directness. She absentmindedly rubbed at the reddened spot on the back of her hand that the tea had spilled on. The lingering pain was an excellent distraction from the tension that had sprung up between them. With a click of his tongue Killian moved to the sink, wetting the corner of a dish rag. When he turned back to her he paused and she gave him a nod, holding out her hand to him hoping he would see it as the olive branch she was offering.
“At first it didn’t seem as though it would be an issue,” he said quietly as he gently pressed the rag to her burn, “You only needed a temporary guitarist and as I mentioned earlier I had dozens of notebooks already filled with lyrics that would suffice. Regina was the one who scheduled the meeting with Robin as soon as I was officially attached to the tour. I believe her intention at the time was for me to hand over the completed songs and get the ball rolling as it were. She, of course, had no idea that you and I would become what we did.”
“Did you, um, have any idea?” She asked hesitantly, dropping her gaze to where his hand was still holding the damp cloth to the back of hers.
He used his other hand to tip up her chin and looked her in the eye, “I’d hoped but I could never be quite sure how you felt. Until Chicago.”
She wanted to confess that her hopes had started long before Chicago. That he had somehow snuck past her defenses into her heart with his charm and unwavering support but she couldn’t. He still hadn’t answered the question that mattered most to her. With a sigh she pulled away from his gentle touch.
“I still don’t understand why you didn’t tell me any of this,” she said a bit sharper than she intended, her frustration and confusion bleeding into her tone. “We talked for hours on that damn bus. I listened to you talk about how much better felt tip pens are than ball points three separate times! Was it really so hard to say ‘by the way, Swan, I’ve signed with your manager and have to get an album written while we’re on the road’?”
He let out a heavy breath and ran a hand through his hair, “I didn’t want to upset you.”
“And look where that got you,” she said with a humorless chuckle waving her hand between them. “If you’d said something off the bat I would have been pissed at you for, like maybe a week, and I also wouldn’t have gotten my heart broken.”
Emma froze. She hadn’t meant to make that confession, especially when she wasn’t even one hundred percent sure what it was she felt for him. Killian seemed caught off guard too, as he stood staring at her with wide eyes and not appearing to breathe. He blinked and closed the small distance between them but made no move to touch her.
“I’m glad to hear it,” he murmured.
“You’re glad to hear I got my heart broken?” Her voice cracked and she pulled as far back from him as she could.
“If it can be broken, it means it still works,” he said softly but she could hear the hope in his words all the same. “I know I hurt you immeasurably, love, and I’ve earned no right to a second chance but if you can see it in you to do so I’ll gladly spend the rest of my days earning your back your trust and, perhaps in time, your heart.”
“Finish your tea, Swan,” he said with a tight smile though his eyes were sparkling with the same hope she’d heard, “Don’t want it to get cold.”
She stared down at the amber liquid and watched the curling tendrils of steam as though they’d give her some kind of sign of what to do. They didn’t, of course, not that she really believed it would be that easy. There were still so many questions she wanted to ask but only one really mattered. Guarding herself against a final blow she looked up at him with determination.
“Were you ever going to tell me about any of it? Or was it always your plan for me to find out from someone else?”
Killian jolted back, as though she’d slapped him. He shook his head with a sigh before running a hand over his face. When he caught her eye again the hope had been replaced with pain and a flash of the anger she’d thought was behind them.
“I’d intended to tell you everything the night of the interview over the dinner we were supposed to share at my home. I suppose it was fortuitous that I’d listened to it or I would have sat with our meal laid out on the table, waiting for hours for your arrival. As it was I had to endure one of Regina’s assistants traipsing through the house, gathering your items and ignoring my pleas to explain what the hell was going on. Then, of course, there was to be no explanations forthcoming for nearly three days and absolute devastation once I’d received them. But after all that my feelings for you never changed, not once.”
Emma sucked in a breath at that. Even as he was justifiably dressing her down for what she’d done he was still playing it safe. He’d never stated outright what he felt for her but she knew without a doubt what he wasn’t saying. Funny thing was, his caution made her realize exactly what she felt for him with startling clarity. She gave a little laugh that bordered on manic but she was helpless against the sudden euphoria she was feeling.
Killian glared at her, “I won’t have you laughing-”
“I love you.”
The words seemed to hang between them in the quiet kitchen like a line cast out to the unknown. She could only hope that Killian would grasp onto them and tether her heart to his. As the silence stretched out she found she only wished she had told him sooner instead of dragging out both their heartaches. Shaking her head at her own stubborn foolishness she gave him a tremulous smile.
“I love you and I’m sorry. I was trying so hard to protect myself from getting hurt again that I just hurt us both so much more instead. I’m so tired of feeling like I tore a piece of my own heart out. You said your feelings haven’t changed. I want this. I want us. Do you?”
Instead of answering her with words Killian moved at a speed that surprised her. Almost before she had finished the question he was standing in front of her, his arms bracketing her with his hands on the back of the chair and the counter. His expression was deadly serious but his eyes were lit with joy as he leaned into her space.
“Swan, I want nothing more.”
Her smile was cut off by his lips pressing to hers. She gasped as one of his hands delved into her hair while the other banded around her waist, his thumb stroking at the skin above the waistband of her jeans. It was as if he was pouring every emotion into the kiss. His passion, his elation, his fervor, and most of all his love. With a moan she pulled him impossibly closer, hooking her ankles around the back of his legs to draw him in.
To her surprise he broke away, leaning his forehead against hers, breathing heavily, “There’s one last thing that needs to be said.”
“Now?” She panted, arching up slightly to nip at his lower lip. “Can’t it wait?”
“Not really,” he groaned. He kissed the corner of her mouth, then her cheek, sliding his mouth to her ear where he quietly sang to her, “ But I wouldn't trade a day for the chance to say,
My love, I'm in love with you .”
Tears welled in her eyes as he pulled back, looking at her as though she was the best thing that had ever happened to him. He gently brushed away the few tears that had fallen with a finger, following closely behind with soft kisses that travelled across her cheeks, leaving her wanting more. By the time he moved to her mouth the heat between them had returned but she leaned back before he could press more than one delicate kiss to her lips.
“Emma,” he growled, his hand flexing on the back of her neck, his eyes hot.
“You know, you never gave me a tour of the place-” she gave him a teasing smile and gave an exaggerated look around, “I bet there’s all sorts of interesting rooms.”
He caught on quickly, his smile unfurling into something wicked, “Indeed there are, my love. Shall we begin with the bedroom?”
He didn’t give her the chance to answer as he swiftly pulled her up from her chair and tugged her quickly down the hallway.
Much, much later Emma was seated back at the breakfast bar in nothing but her underwear and Killian’s Led Zeppelin shirt. Her feet were perched in Killian’s lap, which was covered by dark blue boxer briefs that he’d only pulled on when the pizza they’d ordered had arrived. She tried to smother a giddy grin behind her crust but he caught sight of it and raised a brow at her.
“Something you’d like to share, Swan?”
“I’m just-” she gave a little shrug, “happy. I guess I’m still trying to process it.”
“I know what you mean, love,” he agreed, his hand dropping to her ankle to give it a squeeze. “If someone had told me yesterday that we would be here tonight, like this, I wouldn’t have believed them. Now, if they’d predicted us reconciling by the end of the week I wouldn’t have questioned it.”
“No?” She asked, humming in pleasure at the confidence in his voice.
“You’re not the only one who can wheedle an address out of Regina,” he said with a wink. Then he grew serious, “If I hadn’t heard from you by the end of the week I was planning on driving up to Maine to plead my case.”
“I’m surprised she gave it to you,” she mumbled around a bite of her crust. “She was all worried about you breaching your contract because of deadlines two weeks ago. A side trip to Maine would definitely eat into your studio time or something.”
“Oh-” Killian scratched behind his ear and then said offhandedly, “I’ve, er, been in breach of my contract since I posted that video, love.”
Her last bite fell from her fingers as she gaped at him. A flush was rising along the back of his neck and he gave her a sheepish smile.
“Well, according to some of the very fine print in it I was forbidden from releasing any music by means other than through the label-” he shrugged and waved a hand as though dismissing the seriousness of the situation, “My lawyer assures me that at most I’ll only have to pay a minimal fine.”
“Pay a…” she brought her palms to her temples, “Killian that’s still going to be thousands of dollars.”
“I would have posted a hundred unsanctioned songs and paid every cent I have to my name just to get you to talk to me again,” he said matter of factly. He leaned over and plucked the piece of crust from her lap, tossing it into the open pizza box before fixing her gaze with his, “And it would have been worth it. You are worth everything.”
She dropped her hands with a huff, “Stop being romantic when I’m worrying about you.”
“Never,” he said with a wide grin that made his eyes crinkle. “And you don’t need to worry about me, Swan, I’m a survivor.”
“I love you,” she said with a shrug, “I’ll always worry about you.”
His grin mellowed into something that made her feel warm and cherished. He leaned over and grasped her stool, dragging it towards him until the already small distance between them was narrowed so only a puff of air could pass through. She gave a wayward thought to the state of his floors at the abuse they suffered but it vanished as his hand came up to cup her jaw, his thumb drawing a delicate arc across her cheekbone.
“I love you too,” he murmured just above a whisper, his eyes intent on hers, “I always will.”
Her happy sigh was swallowed by his lips on hers. The kiss was far more gentle than any of the others they had shared, even the ones from before their separation. With a slight thrill she realized that they would have hundreds, even thousands, more kisses of all sorts in the years to come. As they parted she couldn’t help her giddy smile at the thought.
Killian raised his brow at her, his gaze teasing, “Already, Swan? We’ve only just surfaced.”
“What? No!” She laughed, pushing him back, “I mean, yeah but not like that. I was thinking about us kissing but years from now kind of kisses.”
“Years from now,” he repeated in awe. He leaned back towards her, “I like the sound of that.”
“Me too,” she sighed. Then she crinkled her nose at him, “Even if I do end up supporting you because you have to keep paying fines since you’re a big YouTube star now. I know how you guys gotta keep posting content.”
“Har, har, love. Just so you know, Cora has already spun this in my favor,” he said smugly. “She’s convinced the label that it’s the perfect way to garner attention for my forthcoming album. Which is why I’ll only be paying a minimal fine instead of what it easily could have been.”
Emma sat back, “So you’re still going to do it? Record the album?”
“Not exactly, no,” he said with a crooked smile, “The songs I was planning on recording before are, quite honestly, rubbish. I’ve had a wellspring of inspiration these past few weeks. Robin is quite pleased with them as a matter of fact and he’s not hold back over the years when something of mine is only worthy of a bin. I’ll be heading to the studio once the whole contract debacle is taken care of. That is, of course, only if you agree.”
“Agree to what?” She asked, confused.
“The songs, my love-” he dropped his eyes for a moment and when he looked back up his gaze was wary, “You, us, what we’ve been through? Well… you know.”
And she did. She’d written dozens of songs about the man who’d left her in jail and pregnant and just as many about her lonely childhood in foster care. There was more than one notebook filled with longing ballads about the son she’d never even held. Hell, the notebook in her purse was pages of scribbles and half formed lyrics about Killian and their time together. So she knew exactly what he was getting at. She also had one niggling thought about it.
“Yeah, I do,” she said with a slow nod. Reaching towards him she took his hand between hers, “I think you should record the songs you’ve written, even the ones that I know don’t paint me in the best light, but I do have one request.”
“Anything,” he breathed, his hand flexing in hers.
“I don’t want to hear any of them until the final mix-” she let go of his hand to cover his mouth as he tried to protest, “No, hear me out first. I’m sure the songs are good, great even since Robin is excited about them, and that’s exactly why I want to wait to hear them. I know how much work goes into making an album and thanks to Ruby you know exactly how big a fan I am of your music. I just- I think I want to have that giddy moment listening to your first big solo album as the finished thing.”
Killian tugged her hand away from his lips and gave her a wry grin, “So you want to enjoy the sausage without seeing all the unappetizing steps of how it gets made?”
“Uh, weird analogy but yeah,” she said, relieved that it hadn’t caused another fight, “I wouldn’t mind seeing the pigs before slaughter though.”
“So you’ll berate me for the initial analogy but then proceed to take it to a much darker place. I see how your mind works, Swan,” Killian said with narrowed eyes and a look of mock sternness.
“I work with what I’m given,” she said with a shrug.
Killian huffed out a laugh before he grew serious, taking the hand that was still in his and placing them both over his heart, “You can look at every song I’ve ever written, love. Even the shit ones from primary school.”
She gave him a smile she knew was giddy, “Oh, I definitely want to look at those but I think for now I’ll stick to your most recent ones.”
“Wise decision,” he murmured,half rising from his stool, “Shall I go get them now?”
“No, it’s late, I can look at them tomorrow-” she flexed her fingers on his chest and when he looked back at her she tried to let him see every ounce of love she was feeling, “I’m not going anywhere.”
His smile unfurled slowly but adoration and love was bright in his eyes, “Good.”
Los Angeles, Three Years Later
“You know, the last time I was here they only gave me those itty bitty bottles of water.”
Killian laughed to himself but kept his eyes trained to his phone. He knew if he looked up the love of his life would be scowling at the unnecessarily large bottles of expensive water lined up along the counter of the green room they were waiting in. Emma Swan was prone to many wonderful things but graciously giving up on a grudge was not one of them.
“The last time you were here you hadn’t won five Grammys in one fell swoop. When I was doing the first interviews with Realm of Jewels we were lucky to get cups of tap water. We thought a slice of lemon was the height of luxury.”
“Yeah, well that was what? Three hundred years ago?” She teased, moving across the room to flop down beside him on the couch with a huff, “They should at least have a water cooler or something. Reusable bottles are the way of the future.”
“First you complain about the water they’re providing and now you’re complaining about the one their not? Can they do nothing to please you?”
He looked over at her with a raised brow and she gave him a smirk.
“They fired Walsh so that’s a step in the right direction.”
“Thank bloody fuck,” he growled, turning back to his phone with a scowl.
Emma had eventually told him the full extent of what had happened the day of her interview with Walsh Hoakley. Not only had the wanker reported gossip as though it were truth, which caused the brief falling out between him and Emma that had made them both miserable, but the berk had hit on her not ten minutes after. When she finally had told him, only a few days after they had reconciled, it had taken an hour for him to calm down and at least a week for her to convince him not to fight her battles for her. The news of Hoakley’s firing less than a year later had been celebrated with a sparkling cider toast.
“So-” Emma peered over his shoulder and he felt some of his tension melt away, “What’s got you paying more attention to your phone than the expensive goodies they’re trying to get on our good side with?”
With a snort he tilted his phone towards her, “Just going over the contract one last time.”
“We have a fancy lawyer for that don’t we?” She asked crossing her arms as she sat back, “And Ruby wouldn’t try to scam you. I mean, look what’s happened since she decided to become my manager instead of staying in my backing band.”
“Well, aside from those five Grammys I mentioned-”
“What?!” Emma’s brows shot up and her mouth dropped open in clearly feigned shock, “I won five Grammys? I had no idea!”
“Hush, love, you deserved them and I’m honored to brag on your behalf,” he chided though he gave her a wink, “Although, I don’t rightly think we can give Ruby the credit for that.”
She scoffed and burrowed further into the couch, “If she hadn’t forced me to let you audition then we wouldn’t have met. Then we wouldn’t have had our grand romance that in turn inspired In the Middlemist and I wouldn’t have won those Grammys.”
“I believe that we would have met eventually, love. If not through our careers then we would have certainly been invited to Ruby’s wedding where I would have been immediately smitten with the blonde in the crimson bridesmaid dress,” he said lowly, pleased to see her cheeks flush.
“And I probably would have freaked out even more meeting you for the first time there than at the studio. You know how much I like seeing you in a suit-” she said huskily, leaning up to press a soft kiss under his jaw. Then she sat back and smiled wide, “Even then Ruby would still be the reason we met. That’s why I dedicated it to her and not you.”
“Is that why? I thought it was because you were still upset with me over the tiny misunderstanding over your choice in vehicle.”
He gave her a knowing look and she glared right back at him. When he raised his brow in challenge she rolled her eyes at him.
“Fine, that was part of it,” she conceded, “But I did mention you in every acceptance speech.”
“Which was wonderful aside from the camera they kept shoving in my face to capture my every proud tear in HD,” he grumbled, remembering the repeated messages from Will that were just the GIF of him crying after Emma had said she loved him onstage holding her third award of the night. He blew out a breath, “As I was saying: aside from all that I will admit that your career has flourished under Ruby’s care. She has become quite the adversary of Regina, stealing her best clients away.”
“Regina’s over it now,” she dismissed with a wave of her hand, “Ever since you reintroduced her to Robin in a non-business setting and then moved to that corner office things have been great.”
Just as he was about to make a somewhat lewd comment as to exactly why both those things would put Regina in a good mood there was a knock on the door. It was opened a moment later by the intern that had initially led them there.
“They’re ready for you, if you’d like to follow me.”
He let Emma proceed him as he stowed his phone in his pocket. She was right, of course, Ruby wouldn’t dream of sneaking in last minute changes to the contract making her his new manager. If anything she would have been fine with a verbal agreement and the promise of making her the godmother of whatever child he and Emma might have. Unfortunately all of their fancy, and expensive, lawyers required things in writing and in triplicate.
The intern led them to a broadcasting studio that looked like every other one he’d ever been interviewed in. One glaring difference, however, was the radio host who squealed when she saw them and practically skipped towards them with open arms.
“Finally, you guys! I’ve been waiting all week for this!”
Emma laughed and accepted the hug easily, “Us too, Tink. Killian’s had it marked in all of our calendars the second Ruby booked it.”
Tink pulled back from Emma and gave him a wide smile, “I’d heard she finally got you to make it official. There’s no stopping her now.”
“As though there was a chance before,” he chuckled. “Lovely to see you again, TInk.”
“If you guys lived here I’d see you more,” she chided gently before stepping forward to wrap her arms around him, “Everyone’s still on for dinner tomorrow, right?”
“Of course, Will wouldn’t let us hear the end of it if we didn’t,” he scoffed, giving her a light squeeze before letting go.
“Great! I still can’t believe he ditched Emma to be in your band,” She said with a laugh, grinning broadly at Emma’s frown. Something over his shoulder caught her eye and she nodded before focusing back on them, “Alright, my producer’s about to throw a fit if we waste any more time. Go ahead and get settled while I do my thing.”
As he and Emma moved to the seats awaiting them Tink bounced over to her chair and donned her headphones. With a bit of awe and intimidation he watched Tink easily slip into performance mode, softening her accent and dialing up her enthusiasm as she introduced herself and the start of her broadcast block. She hadn’t been a DJ for long but he could clearly see she had found her calling. When she teased their interview she gave them an overexaggerated wink that had him stifling a laugh.
After two songs and a small promo of Enchanted’s other stations Tink gave them a thumbs up as her producer let them know that their mics were live.
“That was the latest from The Killers and I don’t know about you but I’m more than ready for their new album to be released. I’m Tink and this is Rock Alt, home to all the alternative rock hits here on Enchanted XM. Today is a very exciting day because in the studio with me, right this very moment, are two people that you should be very familiar with: five time Grammy winner and indie darling Emma Swan and two time Grammy winner and alt rock god Killian Jones. Once upon a time I toured with Emma as part of her backing band and on one of those more memorable tours Killian decided to join us. Welcome, welcome!”
“I can truthfully say we’re excited to be here,” Emma chimed in brightly, her grin wide and happy.
“Yes, thanks for having us, love,” Killian said warmly. “Though I feel it’s only right to mention that those two Grammys were won with Realm of Jewels.”
“Aw, it’s only a matter of time before they’ll be joined by plenty of others, especially with this new album-” Tink waggled her eyebrows and he had a feeling she wasn’t going to go easy on them just because she was their friend. “There’s no question that you two are more than just friendly collaborators, with a couple of writing credits on each other’s albums and a duet on Killian’s acoustic cover album of Realm of Jewels’ greatest hits. We’ve also seen the red carpet photos and Instagram glimpses of your romance.”
He looked over at Emma and received an eye roll in return. When they’d first truly started dating they’d kept it hidden from anyone that wasn’t close friends or family. They had both felt that they wanted to start their relationship without the hounding from the press and scrutiny from the gossip mongers. It wasn’t until nearly a year and a half later, when Emma had clearly been his date to American Music Awards, that they’d gone public. Even then they had both agreed that they’d keep their personal lives as private as possible and continued to do so. Including the fact that they’d been married for two years.
“But now you’ve released a surprise album as a duo,” Tink continued, “going by the name Charles & Leia, which also happens to be the title of the album. It’s amazing by the way and if any of you out there haven’t listened to it yet I suggest you do so, but only after this interview is over, of course. So, how did this come about and why Charles & Leia?”
Emma gave him a shrug and a nod and he leaned closer to his mic, “As you mentioned earlier we’ve been playing together for some time now. After that tour I was a part of we were both starting on our next albums and would often work through arrangements or fine tune lyrics, using the other as a sounding board. This has, as evidenced, continued through the years until one day we thought we might try our hands at creating a whole album together.”
“We didn’t want it to be an album of my songs featuring him or vice versa though,” Emma chimed in. “Then it would have just been the same thing we’d already been doing which would have been fun but kinda boring at the same time. We wanted to challenge ourselves to create something new together from the beginning. Luckily our label was open to the idea and let us run with it.”
“And the name?” Tink prodded.
“A bit of an inside joke, really,” he said with a chuckle, reaching over to clasp Emma’s hand in his, “Whenever we made reservations or had to give a name for whatever reason I used Charles and Emma used Leia. I don’t even remember why-”
Emma snorted, “When he made the reservations for our first date and they asked for a name he panicked. We’d been watching The Crown and he blurted out the name Charles. At least he didn’t completely lose his shit and say Elizabeth.”
Emma’s eyes widened at the curse and clapped her hands over her mouth. Tink waved her hand in dismissal. Not a moment later the producer let them know through their headphones that cursing was fine but to keep it to a minimum if possible.
“Anyway,” Emma said evenly, though her cheeks were pink, “When it was my turn to make reservations I kept it going. Princess Leia was my hero when I was a kid. Still is actually.”
“As she is for us all,” Killian jumped in, “Of course we no longer use those as our aliases but when we were trying to decide how we wanted to present ourselves for this album this seemed appropriate.”
“We also figured it would give people the chance to listen to the songs without already having an idea of what they thought it should sound like because they knew it was us,” Emma explained, “I mean, it’s not like we’re trying to deceive anyone or anything but a lot of times people don’t try something out because they think they know exactly what it’s going to be. I know I’m totally guilty of it sometimes.”
“I’ve been listening to the album non-stop since it came out last week and you’re absolutely right, if I hadn’t already known that it was you two I wouldn’t have even been able to guess. Now, I’ve played alongside both of you and have been a fan of each of your music since both of your beginnings and I have to say, Charles & Leia is nothing like the music you’ve released before. What would you say were the biggest influences on how you approached the creation of this album?”
Killian took a moment to consider Tink’s question. He immediately dismissed sharing the long convoluted answer that began with innocent questions about one another’s past that led to a months long search into the mystery of Emma’s beginnings that came up empty while he nearly spiralled out of control once more over the unhealed pain of his borderline abusive and neglectful father. They were still working through some of those issues in therapy and even with the personal nature of the songs they’d written he didn’t feel it was necessary to elaborate on what the lyrics already implied.
“I can’t speak for Emma but for me it’s a look to the past and what influence it has on the present and the future. Take the title track for instance, my mother was Irish so I looked to the old Celtic folk songs and the instruments used, mimicking the flow of the music before playing around with more modern sounds. The result was entirely unique but still felt familiar, like an auditory deja vu, if you will.”
Tink was nodding furiously while Emma rolled her eyes at him, “I definitely won’t be that eloquent but yeah, we both have things in our past that sometimes takes a toll on who we are today. Our music was already pretty personal. I mean, I’ve written songs about growing up in foster care or when I was in jail but this was something else. Every day when we finished recording whatever song we were working on I felt like I’d been turned inside out and then wrung out but in a good way? It makes no sense but I’ve also never been this proud of one of my albums.”
“Well you should both be damn proud! I may be the tad bit biased but I think this may be the best album to come out this year and we’re only halfway through,” Tink effused.
“Thank you lass,” he mumbled as he scratched behind his ear at the compliment.
He caught Emma’s eye and she gave him an indulgent smile. She was well aware that sincere praise always tended to discomfit him, as he felt he was undeserving of it, especially when it came from someone he knew well. It was something he was working on getting better at accepting, with her help of course.
“Since the album was a surprise release there hasn’t been any confirmation of a tour yet. Any chance we’ll be seeing you two taking this act on the road?”
“We’re doing a kind of a mini tour on the east coast and then a couple of dates out here,” Emma explained, her eyes sparkling, “We didn’t want to get too ahead of ourselves and book a bunch of dates and then not have anyone show up.”
“I doubt that will be a problem,” Tink dismissed with a bright laugh, “From what I’ve been told nearly every show is sold out. So if any of you listeners out there want to see Emma and Killian perform songs from this brilliant new album I’d say don’t wait to buy your tickets. I already have mine.
“Now, I know this album is only weeks old and you both have flourishing solo careers but I have to ask: can we expect even bigger things from you two in the future?”
With a smile he had no hope of quelling he gave Emma a wink, though he was reasonably sure that it was nowhere near subtle. It didn’t matter though, as no one had a clue what it could mean since she had only shown him the positive pregnancy test earlier that morning. Emma gave him a beaming grin of her own and he kept his eyes on her as he spoke into his mic.
“I think you can, Tink. In fact, I’m quite certain that this is merely the happy beginning of grand things to come.”
There we are my friends, the happy beginning for our lovely duo but alas the end of this story. Thank you to everyone who liked and commented, each one made my heart swell with joy! My only sorrow is that there isn't an actual Charles & Leia album to send this fic off in a grand way.