That isn't my alarm is the first thought of her day. The second thought is that it's completely and utterly dark and it should be light when her alarm goes off. Except that isn't her alarm and ugh, Thursdays are hard.
She throws her blankets to the side of her, whines at the noise again, the shrill ring and hum of it so loud in the darkness of… “Three am?” she groans, pressing the snooze button on her alarm clock just in case. Add it to the fact that it is freezing and it’s enough to have her pulling the blankets back over her body. Maybe if she just closes her eyes it’ll go away.
The long seconds tick by and before her clock has flicked over to 3:01, she has resigned herself to the fact that maybe it won’t go away.
And then she sort of has her second waking up moment, the haze of sleep finally falling away to leave her with the sudden awareness that that is a fire alarm. That is something she should be paying attention to.
They tell you a thousand times over to just drop everything and get out of the building by your nearest emergency exit when you hear that sound. But she has worked too hard to have her life go up in flames which is how, approximately three minutes later, she is running down the stairs carrying a small suitcase of her most valuable belongings. It’s not like she owns a lot anyway, she muses as she pulls the handle of the suitcase up, not minding one bit that it makes a terrible lot of noise as she pulls it behind her, clattering around, because she honestly cannot be bothered carrying the thing down five flights of stairs at 3:06am. It’s not like anyone would be able to hear the din over the sound of the alarm anyway.
It’s only when she gets outside that she realises she may have been competent at bundling up her life in a suitcase in three minutes, but she totally neglected the looking after herself thing. As she pushes the emergency exit door open and feels the cold December air hit her bare arms, having only worn a t-shirt and a pair of flannel pyjama bottoms to bed, she feels regret settle in immediately. “Well done, Emma,” she mutters to herself, pulling her useless suitcase across the wet ground and cursing her choice in footwear – apparently slippers are not ideal when the rain is trying to turn to snow and the assembly point for evacuations is on grass.
There are a few people milling about, no one she recognises but, then again, she’s only been in the apartment for a few months. She supposes there are a lot of tenants away for the holidays, but she definitely thought there would be more people than this. Shrugging, she accepts that maybe other people have a bit more to celebrate at this time of year than she does. It’s ten past three in the morning on Christmas Eve and she’s out in the cold waiting for the fire fighters to get here. Maybe if one’s good looking she’ll get some eye candy, but that’s about the only present she’ll be privy to this holiday season.
She wraps her arms around herself and tries to salvage what little body heat she’d brought from her warm and comfortable bed, but she knows it’s a lost cause when her bottom lip drops and her teeth start chattering.
To distract herself, she tries to listen in on the idle chatter that’s going on around her, hoping to get some kind of knowledge from the group standing next to her who seem to be the hub of gossip. It’s all for naught though, she realises, as the group, disappointed by the lack of activity, start discussing going home. Turns out they’re from the block of apartments across the street – people who’d been smart enough to grab coats and come out into the cold just to have a sneaky look at what could possibly be going on in everyone else’s lives.
There doesn’t seem to be any piles of billowing smoke, no collapsing buildings, no explosions of any kind to keep them occupied. Their interest piques when the flashing lights of the fire engines come around the corner, but not enough for them to turn their conversation away from what they had got their children for Christmas and the hope that this awful noise hasn’t woken them up.
Emma sighs as the firemen run past; they’ve got their helmets on with visors down and she can’t even make out if any single one of them is suitable for eye candy fantasies. They run past her in a line, speaking with the person she assumes is the building manager about where the alarm sounded. Now this is useful information. Because if it wasn’t even in her block, maybe, just maybe, she’ll be able to go inside and sink into the welcoming warmth of her bed.
“Block E, room 3A,” she hears over the sound of the small crowd and the irritating alarm.
Two floors below her, but still, her damn block.
To her right, she hears another person cursing the revelation that the problem seems to be in Block E and turns around to see one of her apparent blockmates. Not that she’d recognise him even if she had been living in the complex for more than mere months and kept to her own space most of the time. The owner of the protesting English accent is absolutely decked out in every warm layer imaginable, sweater over sweater, coat over jacket over vest. It’s really not her fault that her first interaction with him is a snort of laughter.
It certainly gets his attention though, his eyes traveling from her wet feet to her chattering teeth in record time and fixing her with a judgemental stare. “What?” he challenges, his voice muffled behind a scarf. Tugging the offending woollen fabric down, he continues, “At least I’m warm. What’d you bring?”
And, in that moment, she has never wished for a different upbringing more. Maybe if she’d grown up with all the trappings of wealth and security, she’d have been less inclined to grab all the materialistic things in her room and more inclined to grab, oh I don’t know, a jumper. But no, she’s standing outside in the middle of winter with the warmest man on the planet and she’s got her laptop in a suitcase.
Never one to back down from a fight, she fixes her stance and tries to at least appear stronger than she feels right now. “Netflix?” she says, realising about a second after its left her mouth how ridiculous it sounds and trying to justify it, “Those guys could be hours looking for whatever set off the alarm. At least I’ll be entertained.” She gestures over her shoulder to the firemen speaking to the building manager. They’ve pulled off their helmets, the danger seemingly not imminent (Emma can’t help but notice none of the men are good looking – disappointing), which means they’ll be going through the building to find the cause of the fault. She’s been here before; not her first fire evacuation.
It takes her a moment to realise the reason he is shaking is because of laughter, the sound of it coming to her slowly through his layers of clothing and the intense ringing of the alarm which is still going off. And it must be because she is ridiculously tired that she ends up laughing too. Not because she’s giving in, because she is certainly not. There are reasons she brought her laptop with her. He doesn’t know her.
“Here lass,” he says, pulling off his top layer, a heavy army-green parker complete with hood, “I’m sweltering in here.”
She doesn’t even hesitate, reaching out to grab the coat and pulling it eagerly onto her freezing body over the t-shirt that has done absolutely nothing to provide any kind of heat. The warmth is instantaneous, his body heat having permeated even all the way to his outer layer. “Thank you,” she says sincerely, zipping up the front, pulling the hood over her head and hiding her hands inside the too-long sleeves.
He seems to take her in for a second before answering, his gaze a little more visible now that he’s lost a layer (his extreme hotness might also be a little bit more noticeable without a hood covering half his face, but that’s a stray thought that can’t go anywhere, whoa), “I’m sorry I don’t have spare shoes.”
Drawing her eyes away from his, (are they really that blue? It’s dark, how are they that blue?) she looks down at her soaked through slippers, raising one foot and feeling the sharp needles of cold shoot through from her ankle to her toes, “They’ll be numb soon. Won’t be able to feel a thing.”
That doesn’t seem to ease his mind somehow – she’s getting the idea that he might be somewhat of a gentleman wanting to save the damsel in distress and all that – and next thing she knows, he’s grabbing her by the elbow and had her suitcase in his other hand. “Come on,” he says. And usually she would have broken a guy’s nose by now for manhandling her, but maybe it’s the Christmas spirit or maybe it’s just that most of her body is still partially frozen and she probably couldn’t muster the force needed to break this guy’s nose (it has nothing to do with the sheer attractiveness of him and not wanting to break that face, nothing at all); whatever the reason, she happily follows along because it seems like he has a plan and a plan is excellent if it means her feet will be saved from their otherwise untimely demise.
He stops in the building car park and she wants to hug him because, yes! Genius! She looks up at him expectantly, “Which one’s yours?”
He does this thing that can only be described as hopelessly adorable, the hand not still hooked around her elbow reaching up to scratch behind his ear in this don’t-make-me-ask kind of gesture. And she gets it, “You’re hoping I’m the one with the car.”
Shrugging, he reasons, “It’s a big car park; the odds are in my favour.”
She rolls her eyes, pulling her suitcase from the other side of him, opening it and fishing around for the keys she knows she would have thrown in. “Yeah right, Katniss Everdeen,” she grumbles as she searches.
That garners a, “Sorry?” from him and she has to look up to see that he’s honestly looking at her like he has no idea.
“You know? The Hunger Games…with the kids and the ‘may the odds be ever in your favour’ and…no? Nothing?”
He shakes his head, “Is it some kind of documentary?”
Oh no. “You know what? We’ll put that first on the Netflix list. Just as soon as I…Aha!” she exclaims, holding up her car keys like she’s won some great battle. He leans down, helping her close the lid of her suitcase and together they make their way towards her yellow Bug, the bright car standing out in the near empty parking lot. “Mustn’t be a lot of people around this year,” she comments idly, taking in the empty space.
It wasn’t a question, but he answers anyway, “We were the only ones from our block who evacuated. Everyone else there was from across the road. Nosey buggers.”
She huffs out a laugh, stepping up and unlocking the Bug, “You noticed them too?”
He rolls his eyes, “They are honestly the most insufferable bunch of gossips I have ever had the misfortune to come across.”
She senses a story there, but she’s more interested in getting her laptop out of her suitcase so she can set them up with a movie. Maybe she can ask him about it later (later meaning today, because she is definitely not thinking about a future with him. God, what is wrong with her?)
He helps her slide the suitcase into the back seat and moves around to take up position on the passenger side. She slips into the driver’s seat and opens her laptop praying to the WiFi gods that they can still pick up some signal from the building. There are three glorious bars of service and her battery is still at 86% which is good enough for her; she opens up a new tab and logs into Netflix.
While everything is loading, she pushes her keys into the ignition and turns the car on, flicking the heat up and onto her feet. She groans as the rush of hot air hits her cold toes, partially in pain and partially in relief, and he starts stripping off his layers catching her eye.
“You might want to keep some clothes on, buddy,” she says as a warning. “I’m poor and car’s only got a quarter of a tank of fuel.”
He chuckles and she can now see that the fucker has dimples, honest to god dimples, to go with the whole blue-eyed-rugged-English gentleman thing he has going on. “Tell you what, you keep that heater running for as long as possible and I will personally fill your car up and invite you for an incredible home cooked meal for Christmas dinner,” he throws a cautious look up to the apartment complex, “That is, as long as my apartment is still standing tomorrow.”
She narrows her eyes at him, tempted to just politely turn down the offer. She doesn’t even know the guy for crying out loud. But something about the sincerity in his voice makes her, instead, hesitate a moment and ask, “Why?”
He cocks his head at her, trying to get a read on the answer she wants, but she knows her walls are a mile high and he’ll have some trouble navigatingthat particular minefield. Surprisingly though, he answers her with a good deal of insight. Not that she’ll ever admit that out loud. “Because, contrary to the image I’ve put out tonight of a loner who doesn’t understand pop culture references, I like people. And you are people.”
It’s enough without being over the top or cheesy or anything that makes her want to run far, far away from him. Which is rare.
Sensing he hasn’t completely won her over, he then adds, “Plus, I bought the world’s largest turkey all for myself and I think I should really share it.”
And that is what does it really, that’s what makes her nod her head in agreement. She can’t even explain why, but the thought of this man, who offered her a coat without even knowing her name, sitting down to an empty table fills her with a sense of loss and it’s Christmas and no one should be alone. Not even her and especially not him.
“Emma,” she says as her affirmation to his dinner invitation, holding out her hand. He glances down at it then back up to her face, stretching out his own hand to shake hers.
“Killian,” he answers, bowing his head in a way that makes her think that, if they were still standing, he probably would have just kept on bowing. Does that make him a cliché? The whole bowing Englishman thing?
They settle back in their seats and Emma sets the laptop up on her dashboard, the opening of the Hunger Games playing softly in the car while the deafening alarm still shrills on outside.
It’s 6am by the time the movie finishes and there is still no sign of when they’ll be let back into the building. Emma rubs her hands together and then sits on them, trying to keep them warm for as long as possible. They’d had to forego the toasty heat about half way through the movie and switch to turning the car on intermittently to conserve at least enough fuel that she’ll be able to get the car to the gas station to fill her up once the sun rises. Despite Killian’s offer to push the car there, she still doesn’t know this man and it could honestly end up that he’ll leave her as soon as they’re able to go back in the building. Realistically, there’s nothing holding him to her – this isn’t some romcom where the hot neighbour ends up being the love of her life. She understands how the world works.
Except that he keeps sneaking glances at her when he thinks she can’t see and it’s becoming more and more obvious that he might be interested in spending some time with her.
Stealing her own sneaky peek to the side of her, she sees him look away quickly when she catches him and smiles to herself, deciding that they’ve got to put each other out of this misery and quit the tense silence thing.
“So, we’re the only two in the block this year.” Way to fucking go, Emma. Let’s just draw attention to the sheer obvious.
Surprisingly though, he doesn’t laugh at her or make her awkwardness the focus of their conversation. Instead he nods his head, “Better than past years.”
She tilts her head, turning towards him in her seat. “Okay, I can’t let that one go. What’s happened in past years?”
Cocking an eyebrow and giving her a look that seems to suggest that he won’t bear all his secrets, but maybe just this one, he cryptically says, “A woman.”
If she rolls her eyes, that’s her business, “Of course.”
But he’s having none of that, ensuring she knows of his sincerity before continuing with his least favourite story of all time. “Her name was Milah – love of my life and all the trimmings.” The way he says it so offhandedly makes her certain that this Milah hadn’t been all he had wanted out of a love of your life situation. Sure enough, he shrugs moments later, “I found out she was married on Christmas day. Turns out when you have two families to spend the holidays with, it can get a bit messy.” He doesn’t go into detail and she doesn’t blame him, “There was an…argument.”
She raises her eyebrows at that, picturing something a little more than a mere disagreement, “I can imagine.”
He laughs cynically, “I may have thrown her things out in the snow.” Then, answering her unasked question from earlier, he gestures behind them, “The neighbours may have seen.”
“Sounds like an event,” she says, smiling because he seems to be shaking his head at his past actions. Not that she could blame him though – she’s been hurt before and the reaction is untamed and raw. You can’t control the kind of rage that occurs at that level of betrayal.
He breathes out a huff of a laugh at that description, “Fiasco might be more accurate.”
Reaching across the great divide of the gear stick, she pats his leg, suddenly determined, “Okay, this Christmas is going to actually be a Christmas.”
He fixes her with an odd disbelieving look; doesn’t even have to say a word for her to know he’s thinking she’s probably crazy.
And maybe she is, but she’s also sick of being alone on the holidays while her newly married friends are all off celebrating with their in-laws. And sure she’s been invited, but sitting at a table with Mary Margaret and her step-mother, Regina, staring daggers at each other while David tries to awkwardly (and unsuccessfully) ease the tension is not her idea of fun.
“No, listen,” she argues before he has the chance to protest, “This time of year has always sucked for me too. I grew up alone and, as you can see, I never really aged out of the habit.”
He sees the glimmer of recognition in his eyes at the term and is grateful that she doesn’t have to go into the details of her foster care past. Share a meal while wearing funny hats and telling not-funny jokes? That’s something she can manage. Sharing her entire past, on the other hand, is still shaky ground for her. Especially with a complete stranger. Although, she’s found herself having to keep reminding herself of that fact a few times this morning. He doesn’t feel like a stranger. And it may have been a while for her, but she definitely doesn’t remember talking to new people being this easy.
He sits up in his seat, biting his lip and then, “Okay.”
She smiles, “Okay?”
Nodding, he matches her grin, “I’ve got the turkey sorted. I don’t have a tree though, no warm hearth with a crackling fireplace to speak of. And I’m pretty sure tinsel is made by the devil himself.”
She turns a little more in her seat, ticking off items on her hand, “I have a fake tree and a fake fireplace. I’m sure my oven works. I mean, I haven’t used it but it’s got to, right?”
He chuckles at that, “Do you want me to bring the turkey to your place so that you can fake cooking it too?”
She winks at him (what the actual fuck has gotten into her this morning?), “Read my mind.”
Emma’s always been the kind of person who takes a long time to make a decision, but is one hundred percent committed to that decision once it has been made. So when she and Killian had been given the go ahead to re-enter the building (three and a half hours after the whole ordeal began. If she ever finds the person who had overloaded 30 power boards in their tiny flat with Christmas lights on a timer for 3am instead of 3pm, causing the circuit board to trip and set off the alarm as a precaution, she might have a punch ready for them. This is not National Lampoons), her first inclination is to start writing down everything that she needs to get from the shops.
Unfortunately, actually getting to the shops means driving and driving means she needs fuel in her car and… what exactly is the proper etiquette in this situation? Killian did offer to pay for her petrol, but actually asking for it is a whole other thing.
She’s standing out in the corridor near his apartment having this internal debate with a thumbnail stuck firmly between her teeth when his door opens. “You think rather loudly, love.”
She turns around, hand falling to her side as she throws him what she hopes is an apologetic look. All her thinking still hasn’t prepared her for what to ask the guy though, her mouth opening and closing a couple of times before he smiles knowingly and saves her.
“I said I would fill up your tank and I meant it.”
She raises her eyebrows at that and is definitely glad that it seems like it’s his turn to sport a look of embarrassment, “I did not mean it like…that.”
She snorts out her laughter, glad for the break in whatever the hell kind of tension is brewing between them and even more glad when he joins in her mirth. “Okay Casanova, let’s go.”
He nods and ducks back into the apartment, emerging with shoes on and a coat over his arm – the same green one he’d let her borrow in the morning. “Did you need a coat again, love?”
There’s a small part of her that wants to say yes, to be the girl who wears the guy’s clothes and feels like she’s a part of something, but she stomps down on that thought and shakes her head, “I remembered this time. Amazing what my brain is capable of during daylight hours.”
He chuckles, pulling the green coat on himself and locking his door, “Lead the way.”
It’s a close thing, but the Bug makes it to the gas station with just enough fuel to get her into position to fill up. Emma has to laugh when Killian actually fist pumps the air over the fact that his calculations were correct. She tells him to only fill the tank up to where it was before they got in the car this morning, but he insists on filling it all the way and it’s probably the nicest Christmas present she’s received in a good long while. Which is why, when Killian re-enters the vehicle after paying, he finds her looking up to the ceiling and hoping he doesn’t notice that she’s trying to clear tears from her eyes.
He doesn’t mention it though, just gives her a second to compose herself, throw a watery smile his way and then put the car into gear. They’re about five minutes up the road when she feels like she can open her mouth and not burst into tears. It’s then that she says a quiet, “Thank you.”
Once upon a time, when she had been young and dumb and in love, Emma Swan had scraped together a little bit of cash from casual job over the Christmas period working at a diner. She and her then boyfriend, Neal, had tried to have a real Christmas that year – they’d bought a small tree to sit on the dashboard of her Bug, paid for a decent hotel room and gone shopping together to find gifts for each other with the small amount of left over money.
She remembers buying something for Neal – truth is, gun to her head, she wouldn’t be able to tell anyone what it was – and the feeling in her gut when he’d revealed that he’d stolen something for her. Because she had worked hard for that money, but it was more than that. She’d worked so fucking hard that year for a hint of normalcy, for the life that she’d been denied as a child, for that picture perfect image of parents and happiness and a tree with a star on top. And maybe she’d never have the happy family part, but she could have something that looked like it.
And Neal had gone and stolen his gift for her.
If she’s being honest, it was probably at that moment that she let her walls get the best of her, building them high and strong and blocking out Neal bit by bit until the moment she’d almost gone to prison for him. It had been the wakeup call she’d needed to get out of there, to find her happiness somewhere else.
“Do you like peas?” he asks, the shopping cart bumping into the back of her as she stops abruptly to answer him and he keeps going. “Oh, sorry, love.”
She smiles, “It’s fine. And yeah, peas are good.”
He grabs a bag of the frozen vegetable, putting it in the cart with everything else. It’s at that point that she realises just how much food they’ve got. She’s been so lost in thought that she’d not noticed him putting an assortment of vegetables and the ingredients for what looks like some kind of dessert in the cart. Not to mention the variety of crackers and dips. “You do know there are only two of us, right?”
He shrugs, “Haven’t had a reason to cook for someone else in a while. Can’t have you thinking I’m a half arsed kind of guy for our first Christmas – I like to go all out.” He catches up to her, bumping his shoulder against hers good naturedly and she finds herself smiling up at him like she’s seeing him for the first time. And maybe she’s known him for less than 12 hours, but it feels like everything is okay when she’s standing next to him. The crowds are insane, people going to the ends of the earth to stock up for one day of closed shops and usually that would be stressful and agonising for her. Not to mention the whole “our first Christmas” thing; what the hell is that about? But right now she doesn’t hate it and she’s not terrified. And the only addition to her usual holiday routine is the man by her side.
Despite her weirdly profound train of thought, she still manages to roll her eyes at him, walking ahead to grab the next few items on her list. He asks her about the rest of the vegetables in the cart eventually, making sure he hasn’t got anything she doesn’t like. When he mentions Yorkshire puddings she frowns and has to ask what exactly that is, which leads to a whole conversation about where in England he’s from and why he moved over here – London and “it’s a tale of angst, love. Might need a few libations to get me ready to divulge great details, but my brother passed away a few years ago and I needed a fresh start.” She’d been more than okay with that answer, feeling privileged to even get that much from him.
In return she’d made mention of her own fresh start, a barely 18 year old finding her way in the world by herself and falling into the bail bonds world completely by chance. “With the amount of running I do, I don’t need a gym membership though, so that’s a win.”
By the time they reach the register, she feels like she’s let someone in more than she has in years. And she doesn’t hate it. Mary Margaret has told her time and time again that she needs to open up a little; she’ll be so proud when she gets back from her hometown.
She sees some Christmas stockings hanging in the aisle by the register, biting her lip as her eye catches them.
“Grab a couple, love.”
Turning back to look at Killian, she sees that he’s nodding towards the stockings insistently. She waves a hand through the air, shaking her head, “They’d just be decoration. Nothing to put in them.”
He simply raises an eyebrow, “Aye, but real stockings above your fake fireplace would really paint the picture of Christmas, don’t you think?”
And she’s back to biting her lip again because it also paints another picture in her mind, something she’d given up on a long time ago.
“Just…” he leans across her, reaching through all her contemplations and grabbing two stockings off their hooks. Putting them in with the rest of their stuff, he throws another look her way, “Okay?”
And she can’t help but smile, can’t help but nod and let him treat her to something so simple and wonderful because sometimes the simple things are just wonderful.
(She does grab another stocking though, just one more because two seems so domestic. Three feels more like decoration. And decoration she can deal with.)
They chat idly as the woman behind the counter scans everything through, arguing softly when it comes to payment. He ends up winning, but she slips a twenty in his back pocket on the way back out to the Bug – she even pretends she doesn’t notice when he slips it back to her because you can’t fool someone who’s had to pick pockets to get by; he probably doesn’t need to know about those days just yet though. Instead of wanting to fight him on this, she just lets it happen because it’s comfortable and welcome and he’s okay. He’s a decent human.
The drive home is quiet, both of them lost in thought and content to watch the day go by. She can’t help but notice how completely normal it all feels though, like they’ve done this a hundred times before and hadn’t just met at 3am.
“What’s your last name?” she asks suddenly, hit by a bout of curiosity.
He considers her with a soft smile on his face, something secret hidden in the blue depths of his eyes. Then, seemingly accepting her question as a part of their earlier get-to-know-you conversation, he answers with, “Jones.”
“Killian Jones,” she repeats, focusing on the road ahead of her and trying very hard to ignore the butterflies in her stomach. Yeah, that’s what she thought. Killian Jones sounds a lot like happiness.
They leave all the food in her apartment, Emma hurriedly tidying her kitchen as they step through the door – people leave dishes in their sink for a week, right? It’s totally fine. He’s not judging her – before hanging the stockings above her little gas fireplace. And it kind of looks nice, she has to admit, the orange light of the fire has basked the whole room in a warm glow, the lights from her Christmas tree in the corner the only other source of light in the living room.
With her hands on her hips, she turns to Killian who is still putting food away in her fridge. “What do you think?” she asks, trying not to notice how at home he looks in her home.
He closes the fridge and focuses his attention on the very Christmassy looking room across from him. Emma decides right then and there that whatever happens this Christmas break, making Killian Jones smile might just have to become a regular thing. His eyes light up, his face shining in the glow, “I think it looks perfect, lass.”
She smiles at his approval, this random man who she met this morning, standing in her apartment like he belongs there.
It’s dark outside now, dinner time approaching them, and she finds herself not particularly ready to let him go back to his own place. Besides, they’re alone – that much has been made abundantly clear by the fact that they’re now spending Christmas with each other – so it’s not like he’d have other plans. Right?
“Hey, you feel like getting Chinese and watching Home Alone tonight? My treat.”
And yep, New Year’s resolution number one: Make sure Killian smiles all the time.
“You wouldn’t happen to just be trying to pay me back for earlier, would you?”
She grins and shrugs because maybe she is. But maybe she just wants to not be alone anymore.
It’s well after midnight when he announces that he’s going home, his voice startling her out of her half slumber on the couch. It’s been a long day so she figures it’s not so bad that she was definitely falling asleep while she technically still has a guest over but, at any rate, she’s kind of glad that he’s brought it up because her bed is definitely calling her name and, while she feels ridiculously comfortable with Killian, asking him to join her in bed is probably stepping over some serious boundaries.
“Yeah, I should probably get some sleep as well,” she says, pushing herself up and placing the popcorn bowl that had been sitting on her lap on the coffee table, brushing her hands on her jeans because yes, she had been falling asleep with her fingers halfway to bringing food to her mouth. Charming.
He does his best not to grin at her not so subtle blush, but fails completely which results in her grumbling a quiet, “Shut up,” his way.
Clutching a hand to his chest in mock hurt, he looks at her in horror, “’Tis bad form to say such things on Christmas.”
It’s only then that she really notices the time and it kind of hits her all at once that she’s not going to be alone on Christmas day for the first time in a decade.
It must show on her face because Killian is by her side in an instant, tentative hand on her shoulder as he crouches down next to her, “Hey, happy Christmas, Emma.”
She meets his gaze trying to sort out her whole breathing situation because her heart should not be beating this fast and he should not be looking at her like she’s something special. They’ve barely known each other a day and god, how the hell did this happen?
He smiles at her, squeezing her shoulder and standing up again, “Go get some sleep, love. I’ll come over around lunch time to start the cooking that you’re pretending to do.”
She nods slowly, standing to walk him to the door, wishing she could come up with something witty to see him off with, but her brain has decided to go out in protest and all she can think about is how easy this is, how it has never been this easy before, how Christmas suddenly feels like that magical time of year that people always get obsessed over. So, instead of saying anything, she just waves as he practically sees himself out (because, let’s be honest, she’s barely helping him leave).
She resists temptation for about two seconds before pressing her eye to the peephole on the door and seeing him move to the other side of the hallway, back against the wall as he lets his head drop back and a long exhale leave his body. He looks positively wrecked and all she can think is “good” because it’s exactly how she feels.
Turning away from the door (mostly because she’s scared of what she’ll do if he looks like he wants to come back in), she packs up the popcorn and Chinese food containers, switching off the DVD player which has just started repeating the movie again, and turns off the fire.
The lights on the Christmas tree blink brightly at her, casting pretty colours around the walls and ceiling and the only thing that makes her turn them off is ensuring she isn’t the one setting off a fire alarm tonight.
It’s only when she crawls into bed that she realises that what she is feeling is called the ‘Christmas spirit’ and it’s something she hasn’t felt in all too long. It’s not the only thing that she hasn’t felt in long time either, she thinks as she lays her head down. Those other feelings are a little bit more intimidating than Christmas though.
She’s an idiot. An absolute idiot. Because the guy is standing just outside the door and she can’t help but check through the peephole no fewer than four whole times just to confirm he’s real and he’s really dressed like sin in dark jeans and a freaking navy blue button down and was he that hot yesterday? It’s unfair.
There is no way that he hasn’t seen her shadow from out there, but he still waits patiently as Emma runs her hands down her dress (yes, a dress, okay? And it’s red. Because it’s Christmas) while she tries to compose herself. Finally, she sighs out a long breath and opens the door. And, really, she shouldn’t have been so worried because she’s had a chance to prepare for him but he seems to be quite taken with the cut of her dress and the way the skirt of it swishes around her knees. It’s warm in her apartment and only going to get warmer with the oven going, so she’s foregone tights in favour of bare legs and a pair of low heels which she knows she’ll probably end up kicking off approximately 30 seconds from now.
But despite their obvious ogling of each other, the elephant in the room is the turkey on the tray that is probably as big as an elephant. She eyes the bird skeptically as Killian rushes past her with a hurried hello, in need of putting the heavy dish down.
With skill and finesse she can only ever imagine having, he kicks the oven door open, prompting Emma to really take in the sizes at play here and ask, “Are you sure it’s going to fit?”
Killian just flicks his head towards her and waggles his eyebrows to which Emma rolls her eyes, “Really?”
He smiles cheekily at her, sliding the turkey straight into the oven with no issues, “Really.”
And she’s kind of glad he seems to have himself together a bit more than she does because it gives her a chance to compose herself and get over the fact that there is an extremely good looking man in her kitchen on Christmas. Because that’s the kind of thing a girl could get used to.
He sets a timer and then turns around to face her, clasping his hands in front of him, “Right, so vegetables?”
But she just needs to do something first, just has to get it out of the way now because it’s Christmas and she’s known him a day and he’s here and, “Just…” she steps forward, placing her hands on his wrists and opening his arms so she can step into his embrace. And embrace he does. Exhaling like he’s been waiting for this, and maybe he has because she knows she has. His arms wrap around her waist as hers take up residence around his neck; he lifts her just slightly, enough that, yep, there go her shoes. But she doesn’t care because she hasn’t been completely engulfed in a hug like this in…well, ever.
“Merry Christmas,” she says, feeling pride at knocking him off his guard this one time; she can feel the shiver running through him at the feel of her words being pressed against his ear.
He retaliates well though, letting his lips graze her cheek as he answers her with a throaty, “Same to you, love,” before he sets her down and pulls back.
And if her heart is beating wildly in her chest, that’s her business.
“Wine while we prepare the food?” she asks after a moment of staring dumbly at each other.
He nods, letting his arms drop from around her, “Yeah, definitely.”
They work quietly and surprisingly quickly for two people who aren’t very accustomed to doing the whole Christmas thing, stepping around each other and preparing dishes of potatoes, carrots and peas effortlessly. He breaks into the rum when she opens the crackers and dips, his excuse being that now they’re putting food in their bellies, they can have the strong stuff. It’s good logic, until the rum goes straight to both their heads and they’re dancing around the kitchen to Mariah Carey, giggling like children. And what even is her life that this is part of it? The girl who never had Christmas is somehow having the most clichéd holiday season of her life.
Her glass is empty so, being the smart person she is, she refills it with water, downing it before offering the same to Killian.
He nods, “Yeah, probably a good idea,” he answers her unasked question, taking the glass and finishing it in a few long gulps, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat. Not that Emma is fixated on the movement. Not at all.
“So,” she begins, propping herself up on one of her barstools, her bare feet still swinging to the beat of the music, “We’ve done the dancing to Christmas songs, the tackling of the shops on Christmas Eve, the stupidly large amount of food, Home Alone… Any other holiday traditions you want to try your hand at before the day is out?”
He approaches her slowly, a look on his face that suggests he’s going to try another one of his ridiculous innuendos, but then his eyes soften and he sits himself down on the other barstool, “I don’t know the 12 Days of Christmas.”
And as much as she enjoys how incredibly gorgeous he is, and how good he had looked practically stalking towards her, she is so glad he’s given her an out.
“Well, we could both learn that,” she says, leaning over the bench to grab her phone, “I only know the seventh.”
He cocks his head at the seemingly random number. “Why that one?” he asks, standing up to come and read over her shoulder at the lyrics she’s found.
“Seven swans a-swimming,” she recites, turning her head to look at him over her shoulder, “It’s my surname.”
And she’s glad she’s looking at him because it’s interesting to see the expression on his face; interesting to recognise it as the same one she’s sure she wore a day earlier when she’d learned his last name. Like a piece of the puzzle falling into place.
“Emma Swan,” he says, mulling over the name for a moment before licking his lips, nodding his head as though that appeases him, and then pulling himself out of the quiet bubble that has descended over them, “Okay, what’s number six?”
By the time they’ve finished dinner (there will be enough turkey for a week for both of them) and dessert (he really does know how to cook, the apple crumble having gone down almost too well), Christmas crackers pulled and colourful hats atop their heads, they know the entire twelve days and can even almost sing them in tune. Well, apart from insisting that “five golden rings” needs to be shouted because, “That’s how the lyrics are written, Killian. Why else would they capitalise that part?”
The sky outside is a rich black and the lights from the Christmas tree dance across the walls again, the two of them making their way to the couches for Home Alone 2 tonight. He grabs a blanket off the back of his chosen seat, throwing it her way, “Your legs must be cold, love.”
She takes the blanket, but shrugs, “I have a pretty high tolerance to the cold.”
He smiles and she knows he’s remembering the morning before.
“Gods, was that only a day ago?” he muses out loud.
She wonders if he meant to keep that to himself, but she’s glad he’s let it out because she’s also having a hard time wrapping her head around the fact that so much has happened in two days.
“It’s weird, huh?” she says deciding that if he can be honest about it, so can she, “How well this worked.”
He smiles, taking a seat on one of her recliners, “Yeah. Pretty crazy for two strangers.”
She smiles back at him, only just resisting the urge to duck her head down beneath her blanket to hide what she’s sure is a very obvious blush. His attention is turned back towards the TV screen though, flicking through her external hard drive to find her Christmas movie stash, so she keeps her head above the blanket and watches him, so at ease.
They don’t speak again for a while, content to simply watch the movie, laughing along at the jokes they’ve seen a hundred times before. He gets up at some point to make popcorn, sitting down next to her when he returns, accepting the blanket she offers him but still, ever the gentleman, not moving in too close. It’s nice though, having that gentle body heat rolling off him, a soft reminder that she’s not alone.
He bumps her shoulder somewhere around Marv getting electrocuted, nodding towards the stockings hanging above her fireplace, “Why did you get three?”
She finds it odd that he’s chosen this moment to ask, but figures, if he’s asking, he probably has a particular destination for this conversation. “Why not?” she says cryptically, wondering where he’s going. Her eyes slide to the stockings, frowning slightly when she notices one is slightly different than it had been earlier in the day. Sitting up straight, she leans closer, squinting her eyes and then asking, “What have you done?”
He nudges her, “Go see.”
Any chances of watching the movie are completely dashed as she makes her way over to the red and green stocking, reaching her hand inside. “You know this wasn’t a presents kind of event, right?” she asks, not sure how to feel about the surprise. She’s the kind of person who likes to be prepared for things and this man has definitely knocked her out of her comfort zone more often than she’d like to admit after less than 48 hours.
He shrugs, “Then don’t think of it as a present. More a simple gesture.”
She frowns again, holding the little brown paper wrapped “gesture”. It shouldn’t have this effect on her, but she can definitely feel her heart speeding up, familiar panic setting in. Not able to look at him again, she slides a finger underneath the taped edge and peels it up, holding her breath as the small parcel comes apart easily in her hands from there.
And then there are tears in her eyes and she’s simultaneously so wonderfully happy and so devastatingly sad, the conflict overwhelming. Because he’s given her something so small that he probably meant as a joke, but describing it as a gesture ensures that she knows it’s a little bit important too.
And, god, can he hear her heart because she can hear her own heart beat and it is wild and when did the tears start falling from her eyes and…
A choked sob escapes her, her fingers tracing the outline of the small ornament, as she tries to ignore the way he’s carefully making his way to her. “Emma,” he says, his voice soft and cautious, “I didn’t mean to…”
But he’s not sure what he’s done, not sure what he should be apologising for. And she doesn’t blame him for hesitating because she would too. She has no idea what he should be apologising for either. God, the poor man has done nothing wrong. And, yet, “I think you should go.”
She doesn’t look up, can’t look up, because, if she does, she knows she’ll see something so open and broken that she’ll want to break and heal with it and this is too much. It’s so much and he doesn’t even know. Maybe he reaches for her, maybe he doesn’t. Maybe it’s cowardly that she doesn’t look up, maybe it’s brave.
All she knows is that, when the door closes, it doesn’t make it better. Being alone has somehow, in less than two days, gone from being her default to being everything she despises.
It’s just a goddamn Christmas ornament. And, yet, it’s a promise. A promise he surely can’t keep.
“Our First Christmas”, written in tacky gold paint across a banner held by an elf should have been something to make her laugh. Instead, she can’t help but see everything she’s never been allowed, everything she’s missed out on, everything she surely can’t have.
Her tears dry up a little after the movie ends, leaving her feeling completely and utterly drained in a room that looks like Santa’s workshop with all the fun sucked right out of it. She hasn’t put the ornament down, hoping that, if she just holds onto it long enough, she’ll be able to process what it means that she’s reacted so profoundly to it.
In the end, she just has to admit to herself that she knows exactly why it’s affected her.
A first Christmas implies a second and a third and a…forever. First implies some kind of forever. And, no matter what Killian wants (because, god, they’ve known each other two fucking days), she’s been shown that she can have a good Christmas, she can share a day with someone who isn’t David or Mary Margaret and come out of it unscathed, she can let someone in.
And she likes it.
So, when she hears the knock at her door, knowing exactly who it is, she doesn’t hesitate to set the ornament down and open it.
He’s standing there, all steely resolve and layers of clothing, holding out that damn green coat to her. “You might want to put some trousers on as well, love,” he says, eyeing her bare legs. Then, shrugging, he adds, “And shoes.”
She nods, accepting the warm coat, too emotionally exhausted to come up with a reason not to, turning and walking towards her bedroom, hoping that he doesn’t take her silence as off-putting. She breathes again once she’s behind her door, realising that she’d been holding her breath from the moment he’d knocked. Pulling on jeans and socks, she tries not to let the doubts rush in, tries to stay on autopilot because it’s easier to just not think. It’s easier to move and do and feel and it’s certainly easier to do all those things with the man in her living room by her side.
He smiles when she emerges from her room, the pretty lights flickering across his face, “Shoes?”
“By the door, I didn’t forget,” she says, heading straight for the boots. Her dress hangs out the bottom of the coat, but she doesn’t care and he doesn’t seem to either.
It’s only when she’s got her keys in her hand and is making her way out the door that she finds the strength in herself to ask, “Where are we going?”
He smiles and she can tell that he’s trying to maintain some element of a secret. After a moment and what must be an intense internal battle (because telling her ruins the surprise, but not telling her means it is a surprise and he’d witnessed how well those could go over first-hand earlier), he reaches out to take her hand and takes a chance, “Try something new darling. It’s called trust.”
She swallows, looking down at their joined hands and then back up at him and it absolutely terrifies her that she can only see hope and honesty in his eyes; it overrides every part of her screaming to run, to hide, to never come out again. And it wins. Huffing out a breath, she squeezes his hand, “Fuck it. Let’s go.”
He chuckles at her apparent resolve to join him, not pushing his luck by saying anything further, but simply taking a step forward. And she follows him.
It’s cold outside, but still and calm. There’s a soft melody playing through the air telling them to have themselves a merry little Christmas, their breath heating the air in front of them so that each step carries them through white tendrils of cold air. The sky is clear though, the full moon shining down on them, and it feels just a little bit magical.
He guides her out of their street and down the next one, up a slight incline and around another bend. And then he stops, turning to face her, his teeth worrying his bottom lip for a moment. When he speaks, his voice sounds somehow deeper in the quiet around them, “I thought of another tradition I’d like to experience,” his eyes flick up to hers, “With you.”
She doesn’t run, not this time. She can see how much it’s costing to reveal this much of himself to her, can see what a big deal it is, that maybe, just maybe, he’s been as hurt and closed off as she has. And it’s only been two days, but thinking about a future and traditions with him is scarily okay.
“What is it?” And okay, maybe her own voice is different in the dark quiet too, or maybe everything is deeper and different, and maybe it’s as simple as it all seems.
A smile tugs at his lips, turning to pull her along one last stretch of road and, when they turn the corner, she thinks she might have an idea. “Wow,” she breathes, taking in the bright lights and front garden displays, reindeer and Santa and elves and a partridge in a pear tree.
“Always wanted to see the Christmas lights,” he answers.
She can’t help the grin that’s decided to plant itself firmly on her mouth, the flashing lights nothing compared to the spark she feels in her heart. She actually feels like a child and this feels like the lost years she thought she’d never get back.
He’s pointing at golden lights wrapped around a particularly festive looking Santa, laughing at what looks to be a beer in his hand, but Emma can’t take it all in when there’s something she wants to share with him. Her own tradition of sorts.
Tugging on his hand gets his attention as they stand in the middle of the road, the lights blinking and shining all around them, a shroud of comfort and little Christmas miracles. She doesn’t think she could feel the cold if she tried. “What?” he asks, a wondrous look in his eyes that makes her think he knows exactly what she’s stopped him for.
She bites her lip and steps a little closer to him, asking him to just know what she’s aiming for. There’s a small tilt of his head before he reaches into his pocket, “There’s one more tradition…” he says cautiously.
She has a feeling she knows what might be in his hand and nods at him, giving him permission, telling him softly, “I want to share it with you too.”
She can see the little sprig of greenery in his hand as he raises it above their heads, following his movements with her eyes and grinning when he makes the big reveal.
Her eyes flick back down to his lips before licking her own, “You know that’s holly, right?”
He looks panicked for about 0.2 seconds before recovering (bastard) and chuckling out a slow, “Fuck it,” before his lips land on hers.
And, yes, Christmas miracles are definitely a thing because, holy shit, the man can kiss. She wants to breathe him in and never let go, the taste of him chocolatey and spicy, and so much like the drink she associates with comfort and home. He tilts his head and his scruff scratches her cheek, her nose digging into his, and she just wants to be closer.
He seems to read her mind, the hand holding the holly dropping it and wrapping around her waist as though he can’t wait to hold her, pulling her against him. His other hand releases hers to do her own wandering, trailing up her arm, his fingers brushing tentatively across the underside of her jaw and coming to rest just at the back of her neck, wrapped up in her hair.
She nips at his lips, drawing in a quick breath before chasing his kiss once more, moaning out in the middle of the street and not caring for one second. He’s good at this and she’s feeling stirrings of things she had long ago given up on. And she just wants more.
The hand in her hair tightens its grip slightly and she takes his cue to slow down for a second, reluctantly pulling back just enough that their lips aren’t touching, but their foreheads are.
Her hand has somehow ended up in the front pocket of his coat – she thinks she may have been pulling him closer – but, as they stand there, slowly regaining basic function, she slips it out and trails it up his stomach, his chest, resting it over his heart and feeling that it is definitely beating as fast as hers.
“Emma?” he says, questions in every ounce of his voice, “Darling, I want more holidays with you.”
Her eyes slip shut and she needs a moment to just take that in. Because it sounds like he wants to spend more time with her and it’s overwhelming in the nicest way because she wants that too.
He presses his lips against hers again, a precious promise of a thing. “There’s something here, isn’t there?” he asks.
She nods against his forehead because she’s not sure she trusts her voice. But yes, there’s something. And it makes her equal parts nervous and excited; this little something between them.
Because he can’t seem to get enough of her, she feels his lips on the tip of her nose next and smiles at the tender familiarity. “So what do you say, Emma Swan? Do you have any New Year’s traditions?”
And she actually does, actually has plans with Mary Margaret and David for that one, but she doesn’t hate the idea of Killian being there. It doesn’t fill her with the sense of dread she thought it would. Instead, she can already imagine David grilling him and Mary Margaret rolling her eyes at her husband’s antics. She can see him fitting into her quiet little existence and she can see him staying there.
But, instead of bringing any of that up, she leans in close to him and speaks against his lips, the condensed white air of both their breaths now mixing between them, engulfing them in a small cloud of hazy happiness, “Well, there are three more Hunger Games movies, you know?”
“Hmm,” he muses, “That sounds an awful lot like starting our own tradition.”
She shrugs, leaning back into him, not quite ready to let this newness pass; she hasn’t felt butterflies over a kiss in a long time. “As long as we don’t start each holiday with a fire alarm, I think I could be open to our own traditions.”
He laughs, whispering, “Deal,” before taking her bottom lip between his own and setting alight their own kind of heat.