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Every Letter

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It started as a silly class project. 

Her fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Tyler, had partnered up with another teacher from England to create a pen pal writing assignment. Both of their classes had exactly 20 students, so they were all paired up with one of the foreign students. Once a week, the teacher would give them an hour to write their letters in class. Once a week, they would read their replies. 

The American class received the first batch of letters. Mrs. Tyler methodically handed each student a little white envelope, their small hands ripping them open without a second thought so they could read what life in England was like.

Emma Swan couldn’t tear hers open, though. She stared at the surprisingly neat handwriting scrawled across the front of the envelope.

Emma didn’t have many things that belonged to her. For some reason, seeing her name – and her name only – written in dark gray pencil across the stark white of the paper made her giddy. She gently and reverently opened it, keeping the envelope in tact as best she could.

 

 

Dear Emma Swan,  

 

My name is Killian Jones. I am 10 years old and I live in London, England. You probably already know that because of the project. I just wanted to say it anyway. My teacher Ms Wyatt says that we should talk about ourselves in these letters. I have never written to anybody before, so I hope I am doing this right.

I live with my mum and my older brother Liam. He’s a pain sometimes but I think that’s just how brothers are supposed to act. My mum is really nice though. I don’t have a lot of friends but she says maybe you can be my friend. I have never met an American before but I watch a lot of American TV.

I like to read and I like football. Not American football, that’s different. You probably call it soccer. I heard that you have different names for the same things. You call crisps ‘chips’ and chips ‘fries’ and biscuits ‘cookies’. Those are all food things but I can’t think of the others right now. It’s almost lunch time here and I’m hungry.

I hope to hear from you soon. I would like to know more about you and what life is like there.

 

Your friend (if that’s okay),

Killian Jones

 

 

Emma knew it was just a class project. This kid who lived thousands of miles away was only writing her because he needed to get a grade. Still, her eyes lingered on his closing.

 

Your friend.

 

She didn’t have friends. She never stayed in one place long enough to make them, and even when she did, the friendships never lasted. Sometimes it was because she had to move away; sometimes it was because they learned that she was just a sad, lonely orphan and didn’t know how to relate to her. She’d even had some nasty encounters with bullies but she tried to be tough and not let it get to her.

Maybe Killian Jones wouldn’t care that she was different.

When she wrote him back, she told him briefly that she didn’t have a mom or dad or any other family to speak of, but that she was anxious to hear more about his. She noted that he hadn’t mentioned a father in his first letter and asked if he didn’t have one, like her. She hoped he wouldn’t get angry with her for asking.

She wrote about how she liked music. One of her few treasured possessions was a Sony Walkman and she had a handful of old cassettes with 70s pop music that she listened to daily.

When it was time to wrap up the letter, she hesitated for only a moment before closing in the same manner that he did:

 

Your friend (if you still want that),

Emma Swan

 

As it turned out, Killian still very much wanted to be her friend and he told her as much in his next letter. His father was “gone” but he didn’t go into detail and Emma didn’t mind. He asked about her favorite singers and songs, promising to listen to them when he got the chance. It was more than Emma could have hoped for.

Back and forth they wrote for weeks. Emma dreaded the day when their teacher would tell them the project was over. Their teachers were the ones responsible for sending and receiving the letters since they had to review each one before it could be passed along.

They wrote about their favorite books and movies. They shared silly stories about things that happened to them that week. They talked about school, about the differences between American and British culture, about how their day was going. Killian wrote about his mother and brother and Emma wrote about her foster parents and the other children living with them. The stories weren’t always pleasant but Killian always told her that things would get better for her; he knew it.

It was his encouragement more than anything that Emma was afraid to lose.

Each week when it was time to write, she tried to get down as much as she possibly could on the paper before the hour was up. Her handwriting got messy sometimes and she would cross things out instead of erasing, but she wanted to share so much with him, her friend. 

And each week, when their class received the responses, she would read and re-read his letters over and over until she could almost recite them from memory.

The project was supposed to last twelve weeks but at the beginning of week ten, Emma was given the unfortunate news that she was transferring to a new foster home; her current foster family was having trouble keeping up with the number of kids they had taken in and Emma was among those they chose to let go.

She had a few days before the move, so she had just enough time for one last letter, a full two weeks before the project was supposed to end. She didn’t care at all about the fact that she’d be changing schools again or that she’d be dragged into a room full of children close to the end of the fall semester after everyone had already gotten to know each other. She just loathed the idea that she might not get a chance to talk to Killian again.

She apologized for leaving and wrote that she hoped he wouldn’t suffer in class because of her. She thanked him for being such a good friend and for sharing some of his life with her. And when the hour was up, even though she felt she had so many things left to say to him, she sighed heavily and closed:

 

Your friend (always, even if I can’t talk to you anymore),

Emma Swan

 

Two days later, to her surprise, her teacher pulled her aside after class and handed her a crisp new envelope with her name scrawled across the front.

“I don’t understand,” Emma began, staring down at the paper in her hand before gazing up at her teacher. “It’s not letter day.”

“I know that. I used quick delivery for your letter because I read that you would be moving.” Her voice was sad and soft and she patted Emma’s back with a gentle palm. “I thought your friend would want the chance to say goodbye to you.”

Emma had never really cared much for Mrs. Tyler. She wasn’t awful by any means, but she’d never really had much interaction with her. In that moment, though, Emma had no words for how much she favored her. Even if she was just being pitied, she felt nothing but grateful that she would get to read one more letter from her friend.

Emma swallowed the lump in her throat and sat down at an empty desk.

 

 

Dear Emma,

 

I’m so sorry to hear about what you are going through. I know it can’t be easy. I am here for you. It’s okay. Please don’t worry about my grade. Ms Wyatt says it’s going to be fine but I don’t really care about that anyway.

I’m glad that you didn’t have to leave before writing to me. I don’t know what I would have done if I never got another letter from you. I would have worried about you so much.

I don’t have a lot of time to write this because it’s after school and I have to catch my bus but I just want you to know that you are my friend and friends don’t give up on each other.

I hope that you like your next home better than this one. You deserve to be happy.

 

Your best friend,

Killian Jones

 

 

She blinked back tears as she read the closing. Best friend. They were best friends. She’d never had a best friend before.

At the bottom of the page there was a small arrow pointing to the edge of the paper and written below it said, Turn the page!

She flipped it over and immediately felt big, wet tears slide down her face, her vision blurring as she pulled the letter to her chest. She ignored the crinkling of the stiff paper, hugging it tighter as the sobs wracked her little body. Her teacher brought a box of tissues to her and she pulled out several, wiping away her tears and snot as she tried to compose herself.

On the back of his thoughtful letter, Killian Jones had written his address.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As soon as Emma was settled into her new home, she sent Killian a letter, her address written in her best handwriting in the top left-hand corner of the envelope. She managed to save some money from her weekly lunch stipend to pay for postage and memorized the route to the local post office.

The letters continued on a fairly regular basis. As soon as she received one of his, she’d write out her reply and mail it in the same day. Eventually, the pile of letters she kept just became too large and messy, so she snagged an empty binder from one of her teachers and neatly put each of the letters inside.

When she had to move again a few months later after the foster family she was placed with broke out into a nasty divorce, she didn’t worry about whether or not she’d hear from him. She just sent him the new address and they continued on as if nothing had changed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emma was thirteen when she met Ingrid Fisher. Never had Emma had a foster parent who actually cared about her, and in her letters she gushed to Killian about how wonderful it was. He was ecstatic to hear that her living situation had improved. For nearly six months, their letters contained nothing but happy stories and positivity.

When Ingrid told her she was filing for adoption, the words of Emma’s letter were smeared with droplets of happy tears. When she noticed the same tearstains on his reply, she felt more connected to him than ever before.

It was a short-lived happiness.

Emma had developed a habit over the years of keeping all of her important belongings with her at all times, knowing that at any moment she could be moved around, traded off like an object rather than a person. Clothes and shoes and books could all be replaced. Instead, she kept on her person her hand-knitted baby blanket, her Walkman and cassettes, and her binder of letters from Killian.

She was grateful for the habit when she learned the hard way that her foster mother was completely psychotic.

Her legs carried her to a bus stop across town, and she shivered as she curled up on the bench, clutching the backpack full of her treasures tightly against her chest. After nearly an hour, a bus pulled up and she shuffled to the back and pulled out a blank piece of paper and wrote.

 

 

Killian,

 

I have never felt more lost than I do right now. I don’t even know how to tell you this. I thought everything was going well and now I can’t believe I was ever stupid enough to think that things might work out.

Ingrid nearly got me killed. She pushed me in front of oncoming traffic, shouting something about me using magic to stop it. Who the hell does that? She’s fucking nuts. I almost died. I am still shaking.

I ran away. I know I’ve done it before and I told you about it, but it was only ever for a few days. This time, I’m not sure how long it will be. I can’t go back there. I just can’t. I’m telling you now because I know that this will mean I won’t have an address for you to send letters to. The idea of not hearing from you breaks my heart. You’ve always been the most amazing friend and your words have helped me during some of the toughest moments of my life. I just want you to know that even though I have no way of receiving your letters, I will still keep writing to you. I hope that you get them all.

Please forgive me for the short notice. I know you’ll understand. You always do.

Thank you so much for being my friend, Killian. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without you. I can’t imagine how I’d be handling all of this if I had no one. You mean more to me than you’ll ever know.

 

Your best friend,

Emma Swan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She managed to avoid being caught for five months. In that time she met, befriended, and then had a horrible falling out with Lily Page.

In her letters to Killian, she told him everything. In the beginning she spoke of the strange camaraderie she felt with the girl, a sort of kinship from the shared experiences the two of them had as orphans. When everything went to shit, she confessed that she wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to trust anyone again.

Except for him.

Instead of a foster home, she ended up being sent into a group home. She tried not to let it get to her, but the truth was she felt suffocated. There were too many kids. Too many mouths to feed and not nearly enough food to go around. The beds were hard and the blankets itchy.

But she had an address.

She huddled into a bathroom stall when she received his first letter in months. It was thicker than usual and much heavier in her hands than she expected.

 

 

Emma,

 

I have been so worried about you. I can’t believe that Ingrid turned out to be such a wretched person. I’m so sorry. And I’m sorry that Lily turned out to be a poor excuse for a friend. I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it a thousand more times just to make sure you understand this: You deserve better.

You are kind and caring. Sweet. Strong. Amazing. Why the universe has decided to put you through so much, I’ll never understand. It’s not fair. I desperately wish that I were there. I wish I could hold you tight and tell you all this to your face. I hope these words on a page are enough for now.

I missed you terribly. I got all your letters, but I couldn’t send you any in return. And that’s not your fault. I just wish that I could have comforted you during that time. I know that our lives are very different and we live so far away, but every time I write to you, I feel like you’re here with me somehow. I know that this started as nothing more than a class project but I am so grateful that I have been able to get to know you, Emma. I’m so glad to call you my closest and most important friend.

I hope that reading my letter has given you some manner of comfort.

And I hope that once you read the rest, you might offer me some in return.

Two months ago, my mum became ill and was sent to the hospital. It took no more than a few days before the doctor told us what was causing her to hurt so much. Cancer. They haven’t told us how long she has left but I’m pretty sure I heard the nurses saying that she only has a few more months. There’s nothing they can do for her but to make her as comfortable as possible before she passes.

There is nothing I can do and I have never been more angry and frustrated in my life. Every time Liam tries to get me to talk about it, I just end up yelling at him. I hate it. I know it isn’t his fault. I know I am lashing out. He has been so strong, taking care of both mum and me and I am just acting like a child. I am terrified that he will come to hate me.

What should I do, Emma? I know how hard your life has been and I know I’ve told you time and again that you deserve to have a loving family, but right now I almost envy you. I envy that you have no family to lose. I’m so sorry. It’s not fair of me to say. I know that you deserve to have a happy family. Still, there is this terrible weight in my chest, a sinking feeling in my stomach, and I wonder if I would not feel this way if I had never known my mother.

I feel like a terrible person for saying so. A horrible son for thinking so selfishly when my mother is suffering like this. How can I think of my own pain? She is lying in a hospital room and hurting immensely, trying to be strong for my brother and me, and I am throwing tantrums.

I wish more than anything right now that you were here with me.

Please forgive me for such a long and depressing letter.

 

Your best friend (who loves you dearly),

Killian Jones

 

 

Emma was frozen in place. It was a lot to process. There were a number of emotions battling inside of her. Her initial joy and relief was quickly overridden by grief. And then tremendous guilt.

She had gone off the map for months, leaving Killian with no outlet. While she had been writing letter after letter, cathartically spewing all of her doubts and worries and how awful her life was, selfishly wishing that she could receive a response just to hear encouraging words from him, he had been suffering alone. His mother was dying and she hadn’t been there for him when he needed her.

 

 

Killian,

 

God I’m so sorry. I should have been here for you. I can’t imagine what you’re going through. You shouldn’t have to go through something like this. You’re always the one encouraging me and telling me how great I am, but Killian, you are the amazing one. You have been my rock for the past few years, the one constant in my life. I never knew how alone I was until l knew what it was like to not be alone.

You’re not selfish. You’re hurting. It’s normal to feel angry and resentful. It’s normal to feel the way you’re feeling. Please don’t ever think you’re anything less than the wonderful person you are. I’m sure your mother and Liam understand. From everything you’ve told me, I can’t imagine that your brother would ever hate you. He loves you. Tell him how you feel. Tell him what you told me. I can’t be there to hold you but he can, so let him.

I can’t promise that everything will be all right but I can promise that no matter what happens, you will always have me. Your words have always managed to help me push through hard times and I hope that mine will help you now.

I love you. You’re the greatest friend that anyone could ever ask for and somehow, by fate or some dumb stroke of luck, you are mine.

Don’t give up. This year will be hard, I know, but you can get through this. You’re the most incredible person I have ever known and probably will ever know. I have faith in you.

 

Your best friend (who can’t believe how lucky she is to say that),

Emma Swan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was nearly eight months and two foster homes later before Emma got word that Killian’s mother had passed. She spent hours writing words of comfort and solace, wishing desperately that she could take away his pain.

Liam and Killian had an aunt that stepped up and moved in to take care of them. It wasn’t exactly the ideal situation, but Emma was relieved that he wouldn’t have to be sent into foster care like her. Killian was almost fifteen which meant that Liam was closing in on eighteen.

Several months later, Killian told her that his brother was joining the Navy. Their mother’s medical bills had eaten away at the family’s savings, taking away a good chunk of what they had designated as university funds, so Liam was doing what he could to fix that.

I’m probably going to have to do the same once I graduate, Killian wrote. I’ve always loved the ocean. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to see more of it, right, Swan?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the course of the next two years, their letters continued, though with less frequency than they had before. It wasn’t due to any turmoil in their friendship – both agreed that that was as strong as ever – but both of them got busy with their increasing workload at school and part-time jobs. Killian worked at a convenience store a few blocks from his school and Emma switched jobs every time she moved to a new home. She bussed tables at a 24-hour diner, sold snacks and beverages at a movie theater, worked the register at a used bookstore; really, she did any odd job she could to keep from spending time at whatever home she lived in. Her last streak of foster families were the kinds that took in kids just to get a paycheck in the mail. 

Emma was sixteen and had just been re-placed. Her first meeting with the foster parents went well enough; she wasn’t stupid enough to think that this was going to be a lovely home or anything, but she hoped it at least would be less horrible than some of the places she’d been stuck in. The mother worked nights at some tech support place and the father owned a used car lot. Emma thought there was something off about him, but chalked it up to the sleazy car salesman persona.

It didn’t take long for her to realize how wrong she was.

The first time she felt his hand gliding across her ass, she froze in place. She turned to look at him, but he casually passed right by her and she figured it must have been an accident. But two days later, she felt his piercing eyes on her and her body shuddered in disgust.

She tried her best to ignore it. He was obviously a creep, but she focused on work and tuned him out.

After a few weeks, she woke up with a harsh jolt in the middle of the night, feeling the bastard’s hands on her. She screamed and pushed and shoved as he tried to hold her down. She managed to turn over and elbow him in the nose as she struggled. He sputtered and cursed and her heart was beating so fast from the fear and adrenaline that she thought it would pop right out of her chest.

Without sparing him another glance, she snatched up her bag and scrambled away, running as fast as she possibly could out the door and down the street before ducking into an empty alley. She leaned back against the grimy brick wall and then collapsed to the ground, her whole body shuddering and shaking as she tried to catch her breath.

She didn’t cry. Instead she clenched her fists and pounded them angrily into the ground beside her, gritting her teeth to stop from screaming.

Why was this her life?

The adrenaline wore off and she was left with a bone-aching exhaustion that had her curling up and sleeping deeply against the dirty concrete floor.

The next day, she used a few crinkled bills to buy some clothes – her pajamas would probably be a little conspicuous – and caught a bus out of town.

The last time she’d run away, she had promised herself she would never do it again. Not for any purposes of self-preservation, but for the sake of her friendship with Killian.

But she just couldn’t go back. There was no way. And she knew that her friend would understand.

She found a greasy diner a few towns away, sat alone in the corner booth, and pulled out some paper.

 

 

Killian,

 

I ran away. Again. I’m sorry. But I had to get out of that house. He tried to touch me and it was disgusting. I couldn’t stay there.

I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m going to do. Every time I am pulled back into the system, shit like this happens. I wonder, if my biological parents knew what my life was like, do you think they’d regret giving me up? Do you think they’d even care?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I would do if I met them now. I’m pretty sure I’d punch them in the face. No matter what reasons they might have had for giving me up, I shouldn’t have had to live like this. Why does this stuff keep happening? Why can’t I catch a goddamn break?

I’m sorry for unloading all of this onto you, especially now that I am once again going off the grid. I feel so useless. But I still have your letters with me. I am going to read them over and over until I feel like the good person you keep telling me I am.

I am going to hate myself if something happens to you while I’m on the run. I’m hoping for nothing but happy moments for you.

 

Your best friend (who is sorrier than you’ll ever know),

Emma Swan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five and a half months later, Emma was staring at a blank piece of paper, pen poised in the air above it. But she didn’t know what to write. Or rather, she knew exactly what to write, but she was terrified of putting the words down – terrified of him reading them.

Trust was not something that ever came easily to her, and for good reason. Time and time again, trusting people had always ended poorly for her. People were awful. People lied, manipulated, and betrayed.

How had she let things get this bad?

Heart beating a painful staccato, she forcefully pressed ink to paper.

 

 

Killian,

 

Good news! I have an address for you to send your mail. Yes, I have managed to find myself a lovely home. I’ve got a cozy little cot, a roommate, and I get free meals every day! The clothes are a little drab, unfortunately, but I think if I accessorize I can make it work.

Sorry.

I thought it would be easier to start off with an upbeat, if sarcastic, tone.

I’m in prison. You may be able to tell from the return address, but in case you had any doubts, I wanted to let you know myself.

If I’d have known that things were going to end so spectacularly, I never would have gotten involved with Neal. I thought he loved me. Really. I guess Tallahassee was just a dream after all. I was just his scapegoat. So now I’m stuck here in prison and he’s probably made off to Canada by now with the rest of the watches he stole. Bastard.

Eleven months. That’s how long I’m supposed to be stuck in here. You know what? It’ll be the longest that I’ve ever stayed in one place. Fucking figures. Maybe I’ll get into some crazy prison riots while I’m here and extend my stay. You know. Really make it home.

I feel bitter and pathetic and as much as I want to hear you tell me how none of this is my fault and how I deserve better, I almost feel like it might hurt less if you just tell me that I had this coming. I know you’d never say that. You’re too good of a person.

Can I be honest?

I was terrified of writing this letter. Because I feel like a complete waste of space and the thought of disappointing you makes me want to just curl up and die.  

I miss you so much.

Please don’t be disappointed in me.

 

Your best friend (am I still your best friend?),

Emma Swan

 

 

By the time she had written it all down, her face was wet with tears and she wiped at her nose with the back of her hand. Her handwriting had been total shit because of how much her hand was shaking.

She couldn’t seal the envelope since they screened everything that went through the prison’s post, but she handed the letter over to one of the guards and tried her best not to drown in self-loathing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two and a half months later, she was sitting in her uncomfortable cot, staring down at the little stick in her hands.

Pregnant. Of course. She was already at the lowest point in her life thus far; why not throw a child in on top of everything? Icing on the cake.

“Swan?” 

Emma’s head jerked up as the guard entered. The brusque woman was holding a manila folder in her hands.

“You’ve got mail.” Her hands trembled. Had Killian finally written her back? “I gotta open this in front of you. Those are the rules.” The guard ripped open the package and tipped out the contents into her hands. “Hey, look, car keys,” she said, dangling the object from her fingertips. “Hope you’ve got the car it goes with. Nothing else. No letter, sorry. But good news! You got a car when you get out.”

Neal. What, did the asshole think the fucking Bug would make up for everything she was going through?

The guard made like she was leaving, but she turned back to Emma and eyed the stick in her hands.

“And a baby. Congratulations.”

She silently turned her gaze back to the taunting blue plus sign.

A baby. God.

She ran a hand across her scalp, mussing her flat, lifeless hair.

She had no idea what her next move was. She needed to vent, desperately. But it had been over two months since she’d sent her letter. Surely, Killian would have had ample time to read and respond. Maybe her letter got lost in the mail. Or maybe his reply had been lost and he had been waiting months for her to send another.

The sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach was more inclined to believe that Killian had, in fact, read her letter, but had no intention of responding. After all, she had ditched him for half a year, sending him letters detailing her whirlwind romance with Neal Cassidy and their Bonnie and Clyde adventures, only to land herself in prison. What if something awful was happening in his life like the last time she ran away? What if he had been suffering for months and felt abandoned by her?

Maybe the reason she never made any lasting friendships was because she was the problem. There was something inherently wrong with her that people naturally tried to avoid. She was a shitty friend. It made sense now. She and Killian had only lasted this long because he was too nice to let her down. That must be it.

There was another voice in the back of her mind, though, that berated her for thinking such things. Killian had been nothing but helpful, loving, and supportive through all her shit and now she was doubting him.

If only she could see some of his old letters, read his words again so that she could convince herself that she would be okay. But, no. His letters were tucked away in some locker, inaccessible to her until her release, which was over eight long months away.

She threw the stick across the room, the clacking sound echoing off the bare concrete walls. Then she buried her head in her hands.

She had to write him. She didn’t have anyone else, and maybe she didn’t have him anymore either, but she couldn’t keep everything in.

When she finally composed herself, she reached beneath her cot and grabbed her notebook and pen.

 

 

Killian,

 

I don’t know if you got my last letter. If not, then I guess I should let you know that I’m in prison. Just to be clear, Neal was the one who stole the watches, not me. I know it doesn’t excuse my involvement. I should have known better. I’m sorry.

If you did get my last letter, then I guess either your response never got here or you chose not to respond. It’s okay if you didn’t. I’d understand.

I’m sorry that I haven’t been a better friend to you these past few years. You’ve always been kind of this light in my life when everything else was just dark and dingy and awful. Does that sound cliché? I don’t care if it does. Anyway, I realize that you’ve done so much for me and all I’ve done is run off and leave you hanging. I really regret it.

Today, I found out that I’m pregnant. What a great place to start raising a kid, huh? Not that they would let me keep a baby in a prison. In all honesty, I don’t think I’ve ever been more freaked out in my entire life. I’m seventeen. Single. Homeless. Jobless. I’ve got a criminal record now, too. I’m the poster child for unfit mothers. The only things I’ve got going for me are the GED that I’m working on getting through the correctional facility and my car. Yeah, Neal apparently left that little gem for me for when I get out. I’m sure he pawned the watches and made thousands of dollars, but at least he spared enough thought for me that he gave me the keys to his stupid stolen car.

Prison is not as bad as I thought it would be. It’s not like I’ve got any friends here, but that part isn’t anything new. I try to keep to myself. Most of the other girls just ignore me. Unfortunately, I’ve had no opportunities to join any prison riots. I had all these plans. I was going to grab a chair from the mess hall and slam it over Randy Candy’s head. (Randy Candy is one of the other inmates. She’s built like a freaking quarterback and is really handsy. I think I might ask her out. If I can’t be part of a riot, I could at least be someone’s bitch right? Isn’t that how prison is supposed to go?)

Enough about me.

I really want to hear about what’s going on in your life. The last time we spoke you were still in high school. Or “college,” I guess you called it. Did you pass all your A-levels? Are you already in the Navy? How are Liam and your aunt?

Mostly I just want to know that you’re okay. Please be okay.

 

Your best friend (I hope),

Emma Swan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She wrote him letters weekly over the course of the next few months. He never responded, but she didn’t let that deter her.

She wrote about her pregnancy cravings (she begged the guards to sneak her some spicy buffalo wings, but they just rolled their eyes and laughed as if she were joking; she wasn't), about how her roommate annoyed her with constant gum chewing, about the progress of her GED studies, about how she had no idea how to interpret the weird shapes in the sonograms.

She was eight months pregnant and in her seventh month at the Phoenix Juvenile Correctional Facility when one of the guards, the nicer one with the curly red hair, wandered into her sleeping area and held up a white envelope.

“You’ve got a letter, Emma. From a Mr. Jones?”

Her eyes nearly popped out of her head and, with as much grace as an eight-month-pregnant woman could ever muster, she shuffled over to the woman as she ripped the letter open.

The guard smiled at her and then quickly pretended to skim through the contents of the very lengthy letter before handing it over to Emma’s eager hands.

 

 

Emma,

 

Gods, I’m so sorry I haven’t responded to your letters. I promise you it was not intentional. I have been away at naval training and I told my aunt to forward my mail but she apparently stopped after the first few months because, and I quote, ‘It was too much trouble.’ Bloody hell. I know she’s family, but I wanted to strangle the woman. I thought that you were still unreachable so I figured you might be too busy to send anything. I wish I’d have asked my aunt about the letters sooner. I’m so sorry.

I can’t believe how much I’ve missed. Emma. My Emma. How could you possibly think for one moment that I would be disappointed in you? I’ve told you hundreds of times what an amazing person you are and I absolutely meant it. The cards you’ve been dealt in life don’t reflect upon you as a person. I won’t say that you haven’t made mistakes, but certainly none that warrant this particular outcome.

If I ever meet this Neal bloke, I hope no one is around to see, because I can’t guarantee he’d be walking away unscathed. (That’s my polite way of saying how much I want to break his fucking neck.) He took advantage of you, love. You aren’t responsible for what he’s done. And don’t let this experience hang over you like a storm cloud. It’s not a bad thing to trust people. Don’t blame yourself for letting someone in. I just feel terrible that he turned out to be another bloody fool.

As for the matter of your child… I know in several of your letters you’ve asked me what to do. You’ve obviously been struggling with this decision. I can’t tell you what’s best for you or your child. Do what you feel is right. But although I cannot and will not tell you what to do, please allow me to tell you something.

You would be a fantastic mother, Swan. I’m not just saying that because I’m your friend, but because it’s the truth. You’ve said that you have no idea how to be a mother, that you’ve got no role model, but I firmly believe that you don’t need any of that. You would undoubtedly treat your child with all the love and tenderness that you wished you had had growing up. I know you feel like you’re still a kid, but Emma, you are almost eighteen now. You’re not a little girl anymore. You may not have had a cushy life with a doting family, but you have so much love to give and I know with all my heart that you are capable of providing a wonderful life for your baby.

Please don’t take that as me pushing you toward keeping it. I will not judge you for whatever choice you make. I will still always be your best friend, your biggest fan.

Again, I am so sorry that I have not responded. You must have felt lonely and abandoned and that is something that I can’t ever fathom allowing you to feel. You are too good for all the harm the world has done to you and I feel like I have let you down.  

I want you to know that I was never, not once, angry with you for running away. You were in a bad situation and you got yourself out of it. It takes a lot of strength and courage to try and make it in the world on your own. There is no one in this world that I respect more than you. (Not even Liam, but I think we’ll keep this just between us, aye?)

I got dozens of your letters at once when I came home for the break. I read every last word. I felt such anger at those who’ve wronged you. I shed tears for your suffering. I laughed at your lovely sarcastic (and, honestly Swan, quite morbid) humor. I wish that I could have responded to each one as they came. I wish I could have told you how much you mean to me and how I am absolutely positive that you will come out of this stronger than ever. I wish I could have helped you through what I’m sure has been a very difficult pregnancy. I wish I could have comforted you and told you that you are not alone.

Will it make a difference if I say those things now? Will it make up for the months of silence on my part? I hope it does. I hope that you can forgive me and that you might see fit to send me a reply. It has been much too long since I’ve shared any words with you.

You’ve asked about my year and what life over here has been like. I can’t say that my year has been as crazy as yours. I finished up school and then went to naval training. I’ve been able to spend some time with Liam when he gets his breaks. He’s told me several times how proud he is of me and apparently I am completely unable to take a compliment. I just end up making jokes at my own expense.

I have made a few friends during training. Will is my bunkmate. He’s an idiot and has a foul mouth, but he provided so much entertainment for us when we weren’t going through drills that he sort of became an accidental friend. Robin is more grounded, quite the decent fellow. I think you would like him.

In a few months time I will be finished up with training and joining the ranks. Liam is making his way to Commander at the moment. I hope that at some point he and I can work together.

I missed you terribly, Swan. Please know that you are not in this alone. I don’t care how many times I’ve already said this, but darling, you deserve so, so much better. And whatever nonsense that’s made it into that pretty little head of yours about not being a good friend? Complete and utter bollocks. You have been a magnificent friend. You have sent me letters even when you haven’t been in the best of situations. Even when you knew that you would not be able to hear back from me. Just seeing your words and knowing that you were thinking of me was enough. I worry about you, you know. Each letter I receive is another reminder that even if you are struggling, even if the world has pushed you down, you are still fighting.

Please do not give up. I know that you can make it through this.

 

Your best friend (YES, Emma, always and forever will I be your best friend),

Killian Jones

 

 

The baby began thrashing inside of her, enthusiastically kicking and dancing around and Emma felt like maybe it somehow knew that the sobs making her body quake and tremble were from a profound sense of relief rather than from pain or heartache. 

Well, her heart did ache, but it was a good ache.

Of course he hadn’t forgotten about her. Of course there was a reason why he hadn’t responded. Of course he was still very proudly calling her his best friend in spite of everything.

Trusting people was not something that came easily to Emma but at least she had tried. Over and over again, she had tried. Most of the time it backfired in the most ridiculous ways, leaving her a little more guarded and her metaphorical walls a little taller each time. But if nothing else came from her attempts, at least she had Killian Jones. 

She traced his handwriting with her fingertips, re-reading his words.

Did he really think she’d be a good mother? His faith in her was astounding. She patted her belly, trying to calm the baby’s movements. After a few moments, it settled and she glided her open palm in gentle circles.

She’d been struggling for months trying to decide if she should give the child up. The main argument she used against herself was that there was no way she would be a capable mother. How the hell would she provide for a child when she couldn’t even do so for herself?

But she knew that that wasn’t the real reason.

Her whole life, she’d been trapped in the system. Her parents had abandoned her, the Swans had sent her back, the never-ending list of foster parents were all uncaring or negligent or downright malicious, and the few friends she’d made never stayed. Lily had lied and manipulated her. Ingrid had nearly killed her. And Neal? He used her. He charmed his way into her heart and her pants and she was paying for it now in more ways than one. She was cursed. If her life were a book, the pages would be riddled with tragedy and angst and there would be no happily ever after. How could she bring a child into her mess of a life? How could she possibly do that to her baby?

But Killian Jones, her one saving grace, the one person that she could be absolutely sure of in the entire world, told her that she would be a good mom.

Emma shook her head. It was a lovely sentiment, but she just kept repeating the word in her head: cursed, cursed, cursed.

She almost laughed when the cliché image popped into her mind of the little devil and angel propped on either shoulder, whispering opposing views in her ears. She liked to think the little angel would be some version of Killian instead of herself, a tiny British man dressed in flowing white robes. It would be easier to picture if she had any idea what Killian looked like.

She wondered for a moment if that should bother her. But their friendship had never really been conventional. They had always been, essentially, international pen pals.

She tried to clear her head of those thoughts, pulling out her notebook and preparing her response. She would mail it before the day was over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She was drenched in sweat, exhausted from the hours of labor, and her hands clutched at the handles beside the hospital bed. Her heart was in her throat as she heard the loud, pitiful wailing.

“It’s a boy, Emma.”

She craned her head away, eyes shut tight.

A boy. She had a son. She barely managed to hold back the anguished cry stuck in her throat.

She vaguely heard one of the nurses murmuring to the doctor, no doubt explaining the situation. The doctor let out a gentle sigh and in a soft voice said, “Emma, just so you know… you can change your mind.”

She hesitated.

Emma had no idea what Killian’s voice sounded like, but her mind conjured a deep, smooth approximation, British accent and all: You would be a fantastic mother, Swan. You have so much love to give. You are capable of providing a wonderful life for your baby.

“Wait,” she gasped, the words leaving her mouth before her mind could even filter them. “Let me hold him?”

The doctor smiled and expertly maneuvered the blanketed bundle into her waiting arms.

It was absolutely ridiculous just how much she already loved him – the little person in her arms. He had wisps of thin brown hair across his scalp and soft, pink skin and the littlest button nose. His tiny, tiny little fingers wrapped around her index finger, gripping with a surprising strength.

Then he opened those chocolate brown eyes to peer up at her and she was an absolute goner.

She was smiling and crying and laughing and staring in wonder at her son. How had she almost given him up? How could she have even considered it?

“Got a name for him?”

She reluctantly broke her gaze from her sweet baby’s face and looked at the doctor.

“Name?” she croaked. No, she didn’t have a name. How could she have known that she would fall so hard and fast with just a glance? Keeping him was not what she had planned at all.

Her internal conflict must have shown on her face because the doctor just chuckled good-naturedly and told her that it was okay if she needed some time. His nametag flickered in the fluorescent lighting and her eyes were immediately drawn to it.

Dr. Henry Rawlins.

Henry. She liked it. It felt like an older sort of name, something classic almost.

“Henry…” she whispered. The doctor raised his eyebrows, assuming for a moment that she was addressing him by his given name. She smiled and returned her lingering gaze to her baby boy’s face. “Henry Swan.”

The doctor coughed a sort of happy, embarrassed grunt, but Emma was solely focused on the smaller Henry in her arms, the one cooing and humming little happy sounds. 

She had no words for how perfect he was.

Chapter Text

She wanted to write to Killian immediately, but recovering from childbirth was more taxing than she’d expected. For nearly two weeks she was lethargic and sore and maybe more than a little cranky.

The only times her mood improved was when it was time for visits with Henry. She would hold him tightly and mumble nonsense against his skin and trace her fingertips across his eyelids and nose and cheeks as he nursed. Breastfeeding was possibly her favorite thing to do. Emma had been warned that plenty of mothers struggled with getting their children to latch, but her sweet little babe was a pro right off the bat.

Emma unashamedly cried every single time visiting time ended, feeling envious toward the foster parents who were lucky enough to spend every day with him. Eventually, she managed to compose herself and let her mind linger away from her child just long enough to give her friend a thought.

 

 

Killian,

 

I wish I could describe it. It was like love at first sight I guess? There was just something so right about the way that he looked up at me. I don’t care that my ankle was cuffed to the bed. It was by far the happiest day of my life, Killian. Nothing could possibly compare.

I don’t want to let him down. I still have no idea what I’m doing but I will make it work. I’m scared but I will find some way to care for him. I’ll work however many jobs it takes. No more stealing to get by.

I still hate Neal with a passion but I feel strangely grateful to him at the moment. He didn’t give me the beautiful life in Florida that he promised, but he gave me Henry. We might be living out of the Bug for a while, but I guess having a crappy car to shelter him is better than nothing. For now.

He is so tiny and perfect. God, I have become such a sap.

They only let me see him three times a week while I’m still in prison and it’s awful. I miss him all the time. I don’t know if I’ll be the mother he deserves but fuck if I don’t love him more than anything. I promise that I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.

Thanks for believing in me.

 

Your best friend (and now mother of the most beautiful baby ever),

Emma

 

 

She got her response the next week right after a visit with Henry.

 

 

Emma,

 

I’m so proud of you. Henry is going to be the happiest baby in the world, Swan. You are the toughest woman I have ever known and I have every confidence that motherhood will suit you.

I know you didn’t ask for this and maybe I’m overstepping some boundaries, but I’ve done some research online. There are plenty of places that you can go to where they can help you get on your feet once you get out in a few months. I’ve called a few of them to get more information and I’ve made a sort of list of helpful sources you can take with you. Please don’t take this the wrong way. It is not out of pity or a sense of obligation that I’m doing this. I just want to do whatever I can to help you and Henry, even if it’s just nabbing you some contacts. It doesn’t matter if you decide to use them or not, just know that they’re there if you need them.

I want to know everything about little Henry. I’m sure he is just as perfect as you describe.

Before I end this letter, I have something I’d like to say to you.

You know how much this friendship means to me. There have been times when it’s felt like the only real thing in my life. We’ve known each other for eight years, love. (Two more to go and it will be half of our lifetimes. I can’t wrap my head around that.) I know how much you’ve struggled and talking to you and cheering you on has always made me feel at peace in a way. Over the years I have laughed and cried and thrown things in anger while reading your letters. I know you. I know you much better than most people can say they know their best friend. I might even know you better than you know yourself.

Which is why I find it so bizarre that I am terrified to ask you this:

Would you please, whenever you possibly can, give me a call? For the first time in my life, I bought a mobile. I have a number that is all my own and without even really thinking about it, I bought an international calling plan. I guess in a way I kept worrying about how your letters didn’t get forwarded to me before and I missed out on a lot. I definitely don’t want anything like that to happen again.

If it’s too much, don’t worry about it. I have no desire to cause you any unease. If nothing else, please keep my number with you in case of emergency. I know I am an ocean away but please know that you only need ask and I would drop everything and come to you.

 

Your best friend (to the end of time, Swan),

Killian

 

 

Emma couldn’t breathe.

Her hands shook and the paper made a soft crumpling sound as she stared down at the row of numbers lined up on the bottom of the page. She couldn’t quite make them out through her tear-blurred vision, but it was undoubtedly his phone number. 

Eight years of letters and not once had either of them mentioned expanding their exchanges to a more practical form of communication.

It wasn’t as if she hadn’t thought of it before. But Emma never had enough money for a cell phone and rarely had any access to a computer so she figured it might not do her any good.

But Killian now freely offered his number to her. He asked her to call him. It would be an entirely new facet to their friendship that Emma was maybe more than a little afraid to accept. And he had offered her an out, as well. God, he really did know her well, didn’t he?

In a way, she realized that she’d always felt like Killian was sort of a shapeless, faceless presence in her life. She had, on occasion, wondered what her friend would look and sound like, but it was always very vague and a little out of focus. From his letters over the years, all she managed to decipher was that he had dark hair and blue eyes, which was unhelpful considering the sheer number of people in the world matching that description.

But now, knowing that all she had to do was press a few buttons to hear his voice in her ear, the curiosity reared to the forefront of her mind. If she heard his voice, she would undoubtedly want to see his face. If she saw his face, she would want to meet him in person. And, according to his letter, all she’d have to do is ask and he’d leave his entire life to come see her.

It was sweet and considerate and absolutely not okay. She could never ask him to do that. It would be selfish. Wrong. She couldn’t let him give up his own life just to help her try and put her own back on track.

She tried her best to take deep breaths, in and out, in and out, focusing her line of sight on a smudge on the wall across from her instead of on the letter in her hands.

She couldn't call him. He was right; it was too much for her right now.

A few days later, she wrote him back. She didn’t mention his request to call or the fact that he’d so selflessly shared his number with her.

When she got his next letter, she felt a sharp pang of guilt when he didn’t mention it, either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

His list of sources had proven to be absolutely invaluable to Emma. The correctional facility gave her some pamphlets on housing and resume building, but honestly, it was pretty generic compared to the extensive list that Killian had amassed. Thanks to his efforts, Emma managed to get a lot of baby supplies for next to nothing and found cheap temporary housing for single mothers.

The man was entirely too good to her.

Phoenix was much too hot for Emma’s liking. Almost five months after her release from prison, she managed to make enough money from her waitressing job for her and Henry to move out to the east coast. 

Caring for a baby was hard work. Between working late nights to pay for supplies and a babysitter and Henry’s late-night tantrums, Emma wasn’t quite sure the last time she managed to get a decent night’s sleep.

But none of that mattered when those big, brown eyes gazed up at her.

Emma sent a letter to Killian as soon as she snagged a cheap studio in Boston. It was three floors up in a building with no elevator, the paint on the walls was chipping away, and it smelled like the previous tenant had smoked a fair amount of weed, but it was furnished and relatively clean and the landlord was a sweet old man who liked to share stories of his late wife. It was a decent place to start over.

Killian continued to praise her efforts and dubbed her “Super Mum” even though she was just managing to scrape by. Still, she couldn’t help but feel a little proud as she read those words. If there was anything that Emma was sure about, it was that she was doing right by her kid.

After a few months of waitressing at a sports bar, the manager asked if she was interested in working the bar. The pay grade was roughly the same, but bartenders, she knew, made a lot more in tips than the waitresses. She didn’t even have to think about it.

Bartending turned out to be the most fun and interesting job Emma had ever had. She liked making cocktails (even though she couldn’t drink any – American laws were so backwards; she could work in a bar but not drink?) and even enjoyed making conversation with the customers. Mostly, she liked the deep mahogany wood of the bar counter. She liked wiping away the wet circles left by customers’ iced drinks. She liked that it separated and protected her from the madness of the crazy sports fans on game nights. She didn’t know anything about any sports except football (soccer, that is; the kind that Killian talked about from time to time) but their enthusiasm was something Emma envied a bit. The only things she felt so passionate about were her son and her best friend.

Killian joked that he’d like to see her working the bar doing crazy flips with the bottles. She had no clue how to do any of those fancy tricks but she decided she would try and learn a few just to humor him. (Not that he would be able to see them, she reminded herself.)

Before long, Emma had saved up enough to buy a cell phone of her own. It was a used Nokia, marred by a few scratches but completely functional. She didn’t tell Killian about it, but when she went to create her contact list, she hesitated for only a moment before pulling out her letter binder. She made three contacts in her phone: her boss, her babysitter, and Killian Jones.

A month later, on Henry’s first birthday, Emma was shocked when a postal worker knocked on her door and held out a small package. She shifted Henry on her hip and signed for it, then bit back a huge smile when she read Killian’s name on the shipping label.

“What’s this?” she asked aloud, turning to her son with a happy grin. “Did Mama’s friend send you a gift?”

She placed the box on her coffee table and then sunk to the floor, sitting cross-legged and setting Henry in her lap. She realized that she didn’t get any scissors to cut the tape with, but she made do with the key to her apartment that was resting on the table.

When she opened it, she found two smaller boxes inside, both covered in light blue wrapping paper with balloons scattered across the front. Tucked to the side was an envelope with his accompanying letter.

She grabbed the bigger of the two presents and pulled it to the edge of the table.

“You wanna open your present?”

Henry reached out but he didn’t really understand what to do with it. She tore open an edge and, with wide eyes, he excitedly began ripping the paper apart and shaking the torn pieces in his hands. Emma helped him to finish the job. The box inside was not labeled and Emma curiously slid the top off.

Lying across the top was a black baby beanie with a skull-and-crossbones graphic. Emma chuckled and picked it up to show Henry. She gasped when she saw what had been hiding underneath it.

Nestled in the crumpled newspapers was a small wooden sailboat. She set the hat down and used both hands to gingerly pick the beautiful toy up. It was handmade. Emma could tell not just because of the intricate (if slightly uneven) details carved into the wood, but also because of the words burned onto the side: Henry’s First Ship.

She bit her lip to keep it from trembling, but she couldn’t quell the stinging behind her eyelids. She just stared in awe of Killian’s thoughtful gift. It was like he’d given her son a piece of himself.

The spell was broken when she heard Henry’s high-pitched squeal. He reached up and grabbed at the toy and Emma laughed when he immediately put his mouth on it. While he stayed occupied, she pulled the beanie over his head, smoothing his wispy bangs away from his eyes.

She turned her attention to the second present and tilted her head in confusion as she saw her name written across it instead of Henry’s. It was much smaller than the other one. She peeled off the wrapping paper while her son was distracted and let out a snort when she saw the gift he intended for her.

It was a friendship bracelet. The kind that she remembered all the middle school girls used to make for each other during class; colorful thread twisted in complex braids.

She couldn’t stop laughing, trying to picture how silly it must have looked, a grown-ass man daintily twirling the string through his fingers. She wrapped it loosely around her wrist and, with some effort, managed to double knot the ends to keep it from falling off.

Her cheeks were burning from how hard she was smiling and she peeled open the envelope to read his letter.

 

 

Emma,

 

One year ago today (if, of course, by some miracle this package makes it to you on time) you became a mother. You brought life into the world, Swan. Can you believe it? I’m still absolutely astonished by your strength and resilience. Have I mentioned before how proud I am of you? Well I am.

Tell your lad happy birthday for me. I hope he likes his gift. First birthdays are special and I wanted to do my part to make it so. I hadn’t planned on the knit cap, I’ll admit, but when I saw it I found it quite fitting and couldn’t stop myself.

Surprised by my woodworking expertise? It was a mindless hobby that I started after mum passed. Just something to keep me occupied while I worked through some things. I don’t know why I never mentioned it. I guess sometimes there are things that I find difficult to share even with you, love.

I hope you like your gift as well. I know it isn’t your birthday, but it’s still a very important day for you. Just so you know, I did, in fact, make a matching one for myself. I look absolutely ridiculous, Swan. Why did I choose such bright, glaring colors? I could have gone for black and red and made the most masculine braided bracelet ever. But no, I made the conscious decision to buy the whole goddamn rainbow and tie it around my wrist. I hope you are pleased. (I’m sure it will look absolutely stunning on you, though.)

I wanted to let you know on this happy day that you are now the best friend of a dashing Lieutenant. I saw Liam a few days ago and he’s very nearly a Captain now. I heard there might be a chance that we’ll be working together soon and I don’t think I’ve felt this light and happy in a long time. It’ll be quite a relief to be working under his command. My current commanding officer, if I’m honest, isn’t exactly fit for his position. I follow orders because I have to, but there have been multiple times where I’ve had to bite my tongue and even, on occasion, hold my fists back from flying at his face. And I’m not the only one. Will and Robin both share my distaste for the man.

Speaking of my mates, they have been asking me a lot about you. I have only ever shared the bare minimum to them since I don’t at all wish to betray your trust by saying anything too personal. I have let them know that as far as friendships go, they unfortunately can’t hold a candle to you. You are my number one, Swan. You’re my person.

Let me know how your boy’s big day went!

 

Your best friend,

Lieutenant Killian Jones

 

 

As always, his words roused a delightful warmth through her whole body.

Lieutenant! She couldn’t be prouder. Admittedly, Emma knew very little about the Royal Navy and its inner workings, even with Killian’s letters. Ranks made everything a bit simpler to understand.

Their letters were much more infrequent than they used to be since he was obviously quite busy, but she loved that he made the effort to send Henry a gift. A personal, handmade gift that must have taken him weeks, if not months, to make.

God, how could she repay him for his never-ending kindness?

Suddenly, she had a thought. It was maybe a little crazy, certainly not something that she thought she would be considering… but then, she needed him to know how much she appreciated his gesture. It wasn’t enough to just give a brief, if heartfelt, thank you in a letter. She needed to do something special, something that could show him how much he truly meant to her.

She scooped Henry up and went to her dresser, pulling open the top drawer and pushing around her socks until she found it: a half-used disposable camera that she’d bought a few months back.

She proceeded to spend the next ten minutes taking pictures of herself and Henry until all the film had been used up. Then she pulled on a jacket, grabbed her keys and wallet, and held Henry against her hip as she walked with purpose to the pharmacy around the corner.

The photos were ready for pick-up by late that evening, and it took no time at all to decide which one to send to him. It was a picture of her hugging Henry from behind, his soft beanie snug on his head and his hands and mouth completely engaged with his sailboat. The bracelet Killian had made was showcased on the wrist wrapped tightly around Henry’s belly. Henry’s big brown eyes were looking up at the camera and Emma wore the happiest grin on her face.

She was happy that she’d bought doubles of everything, because it was a photo worthy of a frame and a place on their wall.

Her heart was admittedly pounding much faster than usual as she wrote her letter.

 

 

Killian,

 

As you can see, Henry and I are both very pleased with our gifts. I honestly can’t thank you enough.

The sailboat is beautiful and though I’ll admit I feel a little put out that I never knew you had this talent, I completely understand your need to keep this to yourself. We don’t have to know every little thing about each other to be best friends, you know. One question though: it says ”Henry’s First Ship” on the side of his toy. Does this imply that he will be getting more ships in the future? Are you setting my son up for a life on the high seas? I mean, I guess he IS rocking the pirate look with his new hat…

I laughed very loudly, and very unladylike, when I saw your gift to me. I love it so much. I’ll have you know that I actually adore the “bright and glaring” colors you picked. Your poor, poor masculinity. Is it so fragile that a dash of color on your wrist is enough to damage it? Come on. I’m sure you’re the prettiest princess in the whole kingdom.

Seriously, though. Lieutenant? That’s incredible, Killian. I know how hard you work and I know that you are deserving of the title. I’m so proud of you. I know you’ve always looked up to Liam but I look up to you. I wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for you. I know you’ll do great and I can’t wait to hear what you and Liam will get up to when you start working together (because I’m optimistic that it is a “when” and not an “if”). The word “shenanigans” comes to mind.

I’m flattered that your friends want to hear about me. Don’t worry about over sharing. I trust you implicitly. You’re welcome to tell them anything about me that you think would be okay. Also, tell them I say hello. (I don’t really have any friends here to talk about you with, but if I ever made any, I doubt I could ever keep you a secret. I’d probably talk about you all the time.)

Thank you again for the presents. Your package did actually make it here on Henry’s birthday, which turned out to be wonderful. He had no clue how to blow out the candle on his cupcake. He just spit at it when I tried to teach him and it was absolutely adorable. I wish I’d have got some pictures of that as well, but I hope what I’ve sent is good enough. I just wanted to convey my thanks to you.

 

Your best friend (now with the official bracelet and everything!),

Emma

 

 

Emma spent the next two weeks in a near constant state of anxiety. It was ridiculous. She spent hours worrying her bottom lip with her teeth and every day when she went to check the mail, she felt like her heart was in her throat.

When she was lying in bed, unable to distract herself with work or Henry, she’d spent hours thinking about it. Wondering why she felt so nervous. Wondering why she was so anxious to read what he’d have to say about it.

At some point, after way too much introspection, she finally realized why she felt both excitement and dread at the prospect of reading his reply.

It was a crush.

Well, the emotions ran deeper than that, but she definitely felt like she was a child again with a schoolgirl crush on a boy that was completely out of her league. She had a crush (or whatever this was) on her best friend of nine years, whom she had never met, and she was afraid that he would see her and everything would change.

She was afraid of rejection.

Which was stupid, she knew, since sharing a photo of herself did not equate to a declaration of love (love? Fuck.) and there was no way that he could reject her feelings if he didn’t know about them. Besides, she knew she wasn’t unappealing. She was pretty. But that didn’t mean that Killian would suddenly fall head over heels for her.

After a long night at the bar, she stumbled wearily into her apartment complex and opened her mailbox. The only piece of mail sitting inside was his letter. She swallowed thickly and held it tightly against her chest as she made her way upstairs.

She relieved her babysitter, leaned over the crib and kissed her sleeping son on his forehead, and then sat at the edge of her bed and opened it.

 

 

Emma,

 

Fuck, Swan. I mean, fuck.

 

 

Emma huffed a shaky breath as she looked away. Okay, so the first line wasn’t off to the best start. She looked up at the ceiling and blinked a few times to keep her eyes from watering, then returned to the letter.

 

 

Sorry for the crass language. Not that you’d really care about that. I’m the sailor, but you’ve always cursed like one.  

I hope this doesn’t come off as creepy but dear God; I had no idea that all these years I’ve been sharing letters with a bloody goddess. I promise I’m not shallow. You could have looked like a goddamn Muppet and I would still hold you in the highest esteem. But you’ve taken me completely off guard, love. You’re by far the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, bar none.

And I was absolutely right. The bracelet looks stunning on you. I imagine anything would look stunning on you. You’re stunning. Am I writing ‘stunning’ too many times? Well, considering that I am stunned, I think it’s appropriate.

 

 

Emma stopped reading again.

She could feel the heat pooling in her cheeks, the blood pounding in her ears with every heartbeat.

It might have come off as creepy if it were from anyone else. But this was her best friend, not to mention the man that she… liked? Loved? (Trying to put an exact label on this emotion wasn’t something she was really ready for. They both had written that they loved each other in previous letters, but it had always been in a platonic sense. Right?)

It was Killian, her Killian. The one who kept her grounded when she felt like her life was spiraling. The one who had always treated her like she was someone precious, someone he valued, when all others had only ever seen her as a burden or a nuisance or a means to an end.

And it was all too easy to hope that his very obvious and enthusiastic attraction to her might hint at something more.

She shook her head, clearing those thoughts as soon as they came.

Perhaps this was the reason she’d always been so afraid of calling him.

Killian Jones was her best friend. He lived far away. He had a career and a family. He had friends. He had a life in England. Even if somehow she could accept the possibility that her feelings might (if not now, then someday) be returned, she could never allow herself to rip him from his home.

Emma knew all too well how important the idea of a real home was. Before Henry, she’d never once known what it felt like to have one. She still held a lot of resentment toward Neal, but she couldn’t deny the fact that she’d learned a few important life lessons from him; not the least of which was this: Home is the place where, when you leave, you just miss it.

It took no more than a day in prison without Henry before she realized that he was her home. It didn’t matter if they were in temporary housing or the Bug or their crappy apartment in Boston. Wherever he was, that was where she belonged.

She couldn’t ever take Killian’s home from him.

Best to stop that line of thinking before it could really begin.

She rubbed at her tired eyes, re-read the beginning of his letter (she wasn’t sure if her heart was fluttering or breaking), and then continued on.

 

 

I’m choosing to ignore your very rude comments about my ‘fragile’ masculinity. (I lied; I’m not ignoring it. Swan, I will have you know that I am VERY confident in my pure and utter manliness. I am a stallion. A true lumberjack of a man. Keep your sassy ‘princess’ comments to yourself.)

 

 

She snorted loudly and then covered her face with her hand as she shot a look over at Henry’s crib to make sure he hadn’t awoken. Luckily, he was still out cold.

 

 

And it looks like you passed on your clearly superior genes to your lad. Henry is adorable. I can’t stop looking at his sweet face. You have no idea how honored I feel to see him enjoying the gifts I sent. And yes, Swan, your son will have a whole bloody armada if I have any say in it.

I’ve been talking to Liam recently about buying a sailboat. Like a real, actual sailboat that belongs to us and not the Navy. It’ll be a few years before we save up enough, but I think it would be a sound investment, don’t you think? And perhaps someday I could take Henry sailing. If, of course, his lovely mother is amenable to the idea.

 

 

It was nothing new, his hinting at someday meeting her. But now, after her epiphany of sorts, there was something different about the way she interpreted his words. Maybe she’d never really taken it seriously. She certainly was now.

Killian was an adult now. If he had the money and the time, he could easily buy a plane ticket and be in the States within a few hours. It was possible that he’d considered doing so multiple times, but of course, she had always taken his suggestions more as jokes or empty promises of sorts. She realized with a start that she had never given him any indication in writing that she actually wanted him to visit her.

Even now, with butterflies in her stomach, she couldn’t say for sure that she was ready for something like that. (Surely, if he came to visit, she would never want him to leave.)

She took a deep breath. It wasn’t like he’d made plans. He was just casually mentioning that he might like to see her and Henry in a few years. Right. Years from now.

 

 

I’m glad you’re fine with me talking about you with my friends. I’ll admit they haven’t been subtle about their curiosity. Our friendship seems rather unusual to them, but I have never once felt awkward or embarrassed about the nature of our relationship. I think letters are quite lovely. Before airplanes and telephones and computers, I imagine there were plenty of people who communicated only through writing. Robin tells me it sounds romantic. Will, on the other hand, seems to think we’re both 90-year-olds trapped in the bodies of 19-year-olds. (But Will is git and his opinion doesn’t matter.) By the way, they were both very pleased to become a topic of conversation for us. They say hello to you and your boy.

Thank you for your vote of confidence about my promotion. I rather like being called Lieutenant. It sounds so official. I know I’ve still got a lot ahead of me, but with your ever-present support I feel like I’m ready for whatever comes next.

Thank you, Emma, so very much for the photo. It is already framed and displayed in my quarters. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of looking at it. I know you tried to brush it off in your letter as just a ‘thank you’ but I know it was more than that. It was trust. It was a way for you to show how much you care without saying the words. Darling, I believe I’ve said this before, but I do think I know you better than you know yourself. I know it must have been nerve-wracking for you, but I’m very grateful that you did it.

 

Your best friend (still completely awestruck),

Killian

 

 

She sighed, dropping his letter in her lap and pressing her hands against her cheeks. He loved talking about her with his friends. And, of course, he understood how big a step it was for her to share the picture with him. He knew her so well.

She hoped not too well.

Were her feelings transparent? Did he know just how deeply her emotions for him ran? And if he did, what would that mean for their friendship?

She couldn’t think on it. It was just too much.

As usual, she spent a long time convincing herself that changing the dynamic of their friendship would end badly. Somehow she’d end up fucking his life up. She couldn’t risk that.

So she decided to do what she knew was best: stamp down her feelings and act like nothing had changed. In her next letter, she joked about his flattery and tried to keep from showing just how much his words had wrecked her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nearly half a year later, Emma noticed a profound shift in the tone of his letters. He seemed, more often than not, to focus entirely on her life rather than his own. He used to answer all her questions, tell her about everything that was happening at work and with his family… but recently, it felt like his letters tended to skip those particular topics.

She shouldn’t have felt like he was hiding something. They were best friends. She knew that he trusted her. But it was the way he continued to deflect that made her worry. She tried to ignore it. If something was going on, surely Killian would tell her. Right?

But as more and more time passed, Emma went from worried to downright pissed. She had absolutely no idea what was going on with him; he wouldn’t say! There was no way she was going to accept that their friendship was now very one-sided. Whatever deeper feelings she knew she had for him, their friendship was always the most important thing to her. She wouldn’t allow anything to ruin that.

 

 

Killian,

 

What the fuck. Stop evading and just talk to me. I can’t keep this up forever. If there’s something going on with you, I need to know. You mean too much to me for me to just ignore that you are obviously pulling away.

I’m used to feeling useless. I’ve felt that way my whole life. But never with you until now. Do you not trust me? Have I done something wrong? I’ll never know if you refuse to tell me anything.

Whatever it is, I know we can fix it.

I won’t send you another goddamn letter until you tell me what’s wrong. And don’t lie and say everything is all right. Clearly, it isn’t.

 

Your best friend (but certainly not feeling like it),

Emma

 

 

It was brief and to the point and she didn’t even care if she sounded enraged and desperate. She angrily shoved it into an envelope, completely uncaring of how her clenched fist had crumpled the paper, and scribbled the addresses just clearly enough that they could be read and understood.

After sending it, she decided to try meditation for the first time in her life. Her mind was a mess of emotions and she just needed to try something – anything – to calm her down.

It helped. Not immensely, but it helped.

His reply came within a week and she poured herself a glass of wine before reading it. (She liked to think her thieving days were over, but occasionally she would swipe almost-empty bottles of alcohol from work and take them home. She hoped her boss wouldn’t notice.)

 

 

Emma,

 

I’m sorry. You’re right. I’ve been such an ass. I never meant to cause you to feel this way. You’re not useless, Emma. Lately I’ve been doing some things I’m not proud of and I guess the idea of you knowing the kind of shit I’ve been getting up to has scared me into not sharing anything at all. Honestly, I’m ashamed. But you deserve the truth and you’ll have it. I won’t risk losing you over my own idiocy.

I believe I’ve mentioned my former CO to you before, Gold. He’s always been a harsh man, truly despicable. When I was under his command, I was miserable. He pushed us all so hard and I actually watched as several of my comrades were psychologically traumatized by the man. I know of at least four officers that have resigned because of him. I even heard rumors that some of them were physically beaten. You’d think the Navy would have investigated and had him punished and dishonorably discharged, but apparently because of his connections and influence, they never did a bloody thing. They constantly turn a blind eye to his deplorable behavior.

I thought if I just had something on him, I’d be able to help serve justice. Unfortunately, the way I went about things wasn’t very ethical. Swan, I am a terrible person for this, but I courted his wife. At first it was just to get dirt on him. Over time, though, I’ve developed feelings for her. So now I’m just stuck. Milah has told me on several occasions that despite her feelings for me, she cannot leave her husband. She doesn’t love him, but they have a ten-year-old son and she doesn’t want him to suffer through their divorce. God, Swan, she has a son and I’ve seduced the poor woman into having an affair with me. I can’t believe I’ve gotten myself in so deep. I feel like an absolutely pathetic excuse for a man. I have no idea what to do now. I love her. But if I were to tear her family apart I could never forgive myself. I feel sick when I think of what the man would do to her if he found out. I’m worried for her safety. And yet, at the same time, I can’t seem to stop myself from continuing our relationship. I know there is absolutely no way for things to end well. Why can’t I give up?

I am paralyzed when I think of how disappointed Liam will be if he finds out.

I wish I had told you sooner. I’ve been trying so hard not to show you how wretched I’ve become, but I guess all I achieved was hurting your feelings. I’m sorry, love. Can you ever forgive me?

If you can’t, I would understand. I don’t think I’d forgive me.

 

Your best friend (if you’ll still have me),

Killian

 

 

The glass that Emma had been sipping was quickly downed in a few thick gulps.

Wow. She had definitely not expected that. She felt the alcohol begin to take effect as she processed all the new information. And there was quite a bit to sift through.

For some reason, the most shocking news was that Killian was in love. With a woman who wasn’t her. She hated herself for focusing on that when there were obviously a ton of other things to consider.

Blackmail? That didn’t sound like something she’d imagine Killian doing. Then again, from his description of Gold, the man sounded like he needed a swift kick in the ass. Killian must have felt that his intentions were good; his actions fueled by a desire to serve justice and have his former CO pay for his crimes.

But sleeping with the man’s wife in order to do so? Even if he was now in love with her, the fact that he had intended on using the woman to bring down her husband (without her knowledge or permission) actually frightened Emma a little. And, of course, he mentioned too that she had a son. Emma knew what it was like to be a single mother. She had no regrets, but she often wished that she weren’t in this on her own.

She tried to be angry with him. He had kept her in the dark all this time while he was sneaking around, threatening his own career for something akin to vengeance, and falling in love. 

But she couldn’t. She couldn’t judge him for his actions. God, she had done plenty of stupid things in the past: running away, falling in love with a thief five years her senior, spending months stealing from convenience stores, fucking in seedy motel rooms… not to mention getting knocked up and landing her ass in prison.

Had Killian ever, even once, said he was disappointed in her? Had he ever told her he was angry? Had he ever been anything other than caring and supportive through her mess of a life?

No, to all of the above.

She squeezed her eyes shut and furiously wiped away at the tears that escaped. She would not let Killian suffer alone. She didn’t have to approve of his actions, but that didn’t mean she would let a couple of mistakes ruin their friendship. He deserved more than that. 

She was slightly buzzed from the wine, but she pulled out her notebook anyway.

 

 

Killian,

 

Thank you for telling me. Thanks for letting me in. Of course I forgive you for not saying anything sooner. I understand why you’d want to keep this from me, but you should know by now that you can’t get rid of me that easily. We’re best friends aren’t we? Always and forever.

I won’t say that I condone your actions. I know that you’ve got more than a few reasons for wanting to bring Gold down. He sounds like an utter bastard, and I’ve had my fair share of experiences with those types. But what you did – are doing – is reckless. I’m not mad. I’m just worried about you. Please don’t let your hatred for this man ruin your life. He isn’t worth it.

I wish I could say I’m happy that you’ve found love, but it sounds like the situation is a bit too complicated for that. I want to support you here, tell you to just follow your heart and find happiness with her. But Killian, you said it yourself. She’s married to a man that she refuses to divorce and there is a child involved. Honestly, I can’t find it in myself to care about how your affair might affect anyone else. I just know that you are going to end up hurt when things come to a head. Either Gold will find out about it, or her son will find out about it, or she will choose to end the affair so as to avoid the first two options. I will not tell you what to do because I trust your judgment. But please be careful. If Gold is as horrendous a man as you claim then I am absolutely terrified of what might happen to you.

Don’t worry about what Liam would think. He’s your brother and he will love you no matter what.

 

Your best friend (who still loves you very much),

Emma

 

 

A few weeks later, Killian told her that he had ended the affair. It was his first experience with heartbreak and she tried to help him through it all. It was the right decision, she knew, but seeing how much he was hurting made her feel guilty. 

It was probably her fault that their relationship had ended. She made it pretty clear in her letter that she didn’t approve, even if she didn’t say so outright. She mostly felt guilty because even though she felt so badly that Killian was suffering, she also felt strangely relieved. 

God, she was awful. Was she really thinking about how he was once again single? Was she really so fucking self-centered? She hated it. She hated how happy she felt that his love for Milah had been doomed from the start.

She tried to crush that happiness down, because it was just completely unfair to him.

Their letters continued. Killian shared stories of how it was like working with Liam. Emma talked about Henry and the drama she heard from customers at the bar. And neither one of them brought up past relationships again.

Chapter Text

Toddlers had so much energy. 

At only two and a half years old, Henry was much faster than Emma. The little troublemaker’s favorite game was ‘Run Away from Mama’ and he particularly enjoyed playing when it was time for a bath or a nap.

As tired as the boy made her, she couldn’t be mad at all when she heard the excited squeals and boisterous giggles bursting from his little body.

Henry loved to laugh and make noise. Every day her little apartment was full of the sounds he made. He could never be sneaky. He once tried to climb up on the counters to grab one of Emma’s chocolate protein bars, but he grunted loudly and his feet kicked against the boxes he’d stacked and Emma laughed when she entered the kitchen and saw his guilty face.

So she was understandably concerned when she awoke a little later than usual on her day off. Usually Henry would be smashing his toys together on the floor or he’d be attempting to crawl up onto Emma’s bed. But when she peered at the clock on her bedside table and saw that it read 9:54, close to three hours later than Henry’s typical wake-up call, Emma immediately threw her covers aside and ran to his crib.

She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that he was still there, tucked safely into his blankets. But then she noticed that his eyes were open. He was just lying in bed, blankly staring at the ceiling. His eyes were glassed over. She pressed her palm against his forehead and inhaled sharply. He was burning up.

Henry had been sick plenty of times, but he’d usually cry or whimper or cling to her. But this… it was like he was completely unresponsive.

She had no time to think. Her maternal instincts kicked in and she rushed quickly around the room, stripping her pajamas and throwing on a pair of jeans and a tank top, neglecting to put on her socks and just pulling on boots over her bare feet. She shoved her wallet and cell phone into her pockets, grabbed her keys, and pulled Henry’s limp body to hers before rushing out of the apartment.

There was a small hospital about a fifteen-minute drive away, but she made it in eight. She used her most authoritative voice to order one of the doctors to immediately see to her son and by the time she took him from her arms, Emma realized her whole body was shaking.

Oh god. What if something happened to Henry? She couldn’t possibly imagine how she would survive.

“He’s got a high fever,” the doctor said, her voice calm but her eyes edging on panicked. It wasn't very reassuring to Emma. “We have to bring his body temperature down.”

Three nurses rushed over with cooling packs and placed them under his arms, behind his neck, over his forehead, and against his torso. He didn’t make a sound but she could see the frown pulling at his lips and his body shifting uncomfortably. One of the nurses hooked him up to an IV.

“What’s happening to him?” She realized she was nearly shouting but she had no control over her tone. “Is he going to be okay?”

“Please, ma’am, let us do our job,” a nurse said, her voice clipped.

Her fists clenched against her sides and she heard what sounded like a growl escape her throat.

One of the other nurses turned to her with a gentle smile and said, “He’ll be just fine. We’re just using the IV for acetaminophen, which should help with the temperature and with any pain he might be having. He’s probably got an infection but we’ll take care of it. Don’t worry.”

She nodded stiffly, the nurse’s words sinking in. Then she collapsed onto the floor in a heap of hiccups and sobs. Henry was going to be okay. They were taking care of him.

She vaguely heard the nurses saying something but she couldn’t hear over the sounds of her own choked cries. 

She felt a hand on her arm, trying to gently pull her up from the floor, and realized that it was one of the nurses. The woman led her into a cushioned chair seated next to the hospital bed.

Through her tears, she saw that Henry was now looking at her, his eyes tired but his brow creased with worry.

“Mama sad?” he croaked.

She sniffled and scooted the chair closer to his bed. She brushed the hair out of his eyes and shook her head, trying her best to give him a smile. It felt forced, but Henry immediately seemed to relax a little.

“No, baby, I’m fine. Just worried about you.” She used the bottom of her shirt to wipe at her eyes and nose and then grasped his hand in hers. “Are you okay? Are you hurting?”

His bottom lip trembled even as he shook his head. He was a terrible liar. How insane was it that her two-year-old son was trying to be strong for his mom?

“ ‘m sweepy,” he mumbled, his eyes already half-lidded.

“Then take a nap. Mama will be here when you wake up, okay?”

He nodded and within seconds she heard his light snoring.

The nurses brought her paperwork and asked her questions and continued to fuss over Henry’s meds over the next hour.

When they finally left her alone with her sleeping son, she buried her face in her hands and felt the panic resurface.

What if she had woken up later? What if Henry’s temperature had continued to spike while she had just slept the day away, completely unaware? She couldn’t imagine what she’d have done if anything happened to him.

Hot tears slid down her cheeks and she tried her best to stay quiet and not allow her cries and whimpers to wake her son up.

She felt so alone. She desperately wished for comfort in this moment.

She sharply inhaled as she realized that she wasn’t alone. Or, she didn’t have to be.

Would he answer right now if she called?

She shakily reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone. Her stomach was still churning from the panic and fear from earlier, but something else was pulling at her insides, too. She needed his reassurance. She coughed to clear her throat and then called his number before she could second-guess it.

It rang once. Twice. And halfway through the third ring, she heard a short click.

For a moment, she heard nothing but silence on the other end. Her heart hammered loudly in her chest. She was about to start speaking when she heard a shaky breath and then a deep, velvety voice on the other line.

“Emma?”

Oh god. It was just her name, but it felt like a soothing balm to her soul. And suddenly the tears were back and she shuddered a soft sob as she closed her eyes.

“Killian?” Her voice came out as barely a whisper, only audible because of the soft cry that escaped at the same moment.

“Darling, are you crying?” he asked, concern painting his tone. Hearing the endearment fall from his lips, tinted in his pleasant accent, made her shiver. His worry was palpable. “What’s wrong? Is everything okay?”

She sniffled and tried to control her breathing.

“Henry’s in the hospital.”

“Oh god,” he choked. “Is he all right?”

“Yeah. Yeah he’s fine I think. The nurses said he just needs to rest and let the meds do their thing…”

She could almost feel the relief she heard in his sigh.

“What happened?”

“Uh. I woke up late and he was just lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. He had a fever. Like, bad. I brought him here and they lowered his temperature and said it was an infection or something. I don’t know.”

There was a brief silence and the sound of something shuffling on his end of the line.

“Are you okay?”

No. No she was not okay.

"I don’t know,” she muttered. 

“Emma, I know you’re not.” There was no accusation in his voice, and she huffed a short laugh through her tears. “I think your call is proof of that.”

“I just…” She closed her eyes and felt the muscles in her chin quiver. “I keep thinking about what could have happened to him if I hadn’t woken up when I did. God, what if-“

“Don’t do that to yourself, love. It doesn’t matter what might have happened. ‘What-ifs’ never do anybody any good.”

She wiped at her wet face with the back of her hand and then her forearm.

“I know,” she murmured, sniffling. “I can’t help it. I just don’t know what I’d do without him.”

“Hey,” he said, he soft timbre of his voice placating. “He’s not going anywhere, love. He’s much too stubborn for that. Just like his mum.”

She chuckled weakly and nodded, even though she knew he couldn’t see the motion.

“You’re right.” She took a deep breath in and released it slowly, a feeling of calm settling inside of her. She could hear Killian’s rhythmic breathing and pressed her phone tighter against her ear, and her pulse slowed as the fear and panic subsided. After a few more beats of her heart, her brow creased and she bit at her lip. “Can I ask you something?”

“Anything.”

“How’d you know it was me calling?”

He chuckled and it was a deep, beautiful, melodious sound. Emma wanted to listen to his laugh forever.

Shit. She just remembered why she had avoided calling him for so long.

“I don’t know anyone else with an American phone number.”

Right. That. She laughed despite the way her heart stuttered in her chest. Then she sighed.

“Thank you for picking up.”

“Why wouldn’t I? I gave you my number for a reason.”

“Still. It’s been two years since then and I guess I wasn’t… totally sure that you’d answer.”

She heard him release a loud breath, a sort of exasperated sound. She regretted her words immediately, but then he chuckled again.

“Emma, sweetheart. How long have we known each other?”

“Ten years…” she whispered. 

“Ten years,” he agreed. “Half our lives. Hundreds of letters. And you think I wouldn’t want to hear from you?”

“Sorry. You’re right.” She licked her dry lips and ran a hand through her hair. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

“No, I’m not- Shit. I wasn’t looking for an apology, love. It’s just-“

“No,” she interrupted. “No, I do need to apologize.”

“Emma,” he admonished. 

“For not calling sooner,” she amended. “Just… let me get this out, okay?” She paused, waiting to make sure he would let her continue. When she heard nothing but silence, she went on. “I was scared. When you gave me your number. And it wasn’t because I didn’t want to talk to you, but rather… because I did want to. Desperately. And I just knew that if I talked to you that it might not be enough for me.” She scoffed in disbelief. “I mean, God, you said you’d just drop everything if I asked you to come here and I know for a fact that you were serious when you said that. And I didn’t want to be responsible for you… like, uprooting your entire life on a whim.”

He paused only for a brief moment before responding and she could somehow just tell that he was smiling around his words. 

Emma.” She could just picture him shaking his head at her. “Please. A whim? Gods, I’d been thinking about moving out there for years – since I was still just a kid. It’s just, without the money or experience or really anything, I realized even if I were to come to you I wouldn’t be able to offer you much.” He sighed heavily while Emma’s head spun from his confession. “But still, for some reason, I had to let you know that you were more important than anything here. You still are.”

“Damn it, Killian,” she groaned. He just chuckled. “Stop it. I want you to stay with your brother and your friends and your career. Your home is there.”

“My home is here? When did you decide this?” It sounded almost like he was hurt that she would think that. “Look, while I admit that I’m in a good place right now, getting to work with Liam and all that, you have to know that you’re a huge part of my life, Emma. My home could just as easily be Boston if I packed a bag and flew there right now.”

Emma muffled another groan against her arm. Her stomach felt heavy, like she’d swallowed a freaking brick. How could he not understand how guilty she would feel if he did that for her?

“I couldn’t… Killian, I can’t.”

“I know, love. Relax. I haven’t been browsing for plane tickets or anything.” She leaned back in her chair and pulled her feet up onto the cushion, wrapping an arm around her knees. “Although, just so we’re clear… I don’t care about my job. It’s just work. Honestly, the longer I’ve stayed in the Navy the more I’ve come to dislike it. I mean, I like being out in the ocean. I like my mates. I like having Liam around. And even the hard work in and of itself is rewarding. But I can’t stand the politics. It’s bloody awful, Emma.”

“Politics?”

“Er, corruption, I guess I should say. I’m not saying everyone here is like that, but as you know, I’ve gotten a first-hand look at how easily the administration dismisses the offenses committed by some of the more influential and powerful officials.”

“You mean like Gold?”

“Exactly. And if I’m to keep my position, I have no choice but to follow the orders of men like him. If I’m not calling them out for these things, then I’m just being complicit in their actions, aren’t I? The whole system is kind of fucked up.” 

Emma didn’t know what to say to that. Ever since he ended his affair with Gold’s wife, he hadn’t spoken much about this kind of thing. For all Emma knew, he was happy and content with where his life was.

“Why haven’t you told me any of this before?” Her voice was low and full of confusion.

“I wasn’t intentionally keeping this from you. And I’m not saying that I hate what I do or that I’m unhappy or anything like that. It’s just something I’ve been sitting on for a while. I’ve even convinced myself that nothing is wrong on most days. I truly do enjoy being under Liam’s command. He’s fair and just. An honorable man. But he’s naïve and doesn’t see… or maybe he chooses not to see what’s going on behind closed doors.”

Emma’s eyebrows pulled together in contemplation as she tried to think of how to respond. It honestly sounded like something out of a conspiracy film, but Killian voiced his words with conviction.

If Killian had no love lost for his life in England and his career in the Navy, maybe she’d been thinking about it all wrong. She considered for a moment what would happen if she were to ask him to move to the States.

Would he live with her? Rent an apartment nearby? Would he try and take responsibility for her and Henry? She wasn’t sure if she’d want that. She might not be in the best financial situation, but the thought of accepting handouts, even from Killian, wasn’t appealing to her at all. 

Besides everything else, Emma had to consider her own feelings in all this. She harbored romantic feelings for him whereas his were purely platonic. (She’d once thought that her feelings might be at least somewhat reciprocated, but then Milah happened and she realized it had all been wishful thinking on her part.)

If he moved to the States, would it change anything? Would she be stuck pining after her sweet, oblivious best friend forever? What if he fell in love with someone else? Got married? Had children? Would she ever be able to handle that? Would she lose him?

Or what if he met her and fell in love with her, too? Was that too much to hope for? She’d never been much of an optimist; but then, Killian had been the only person to ever spend so much time and effort cultivating a relationship with her. Maybe hope was exactly what she needed.

She had been quiet for too long, and Killian’s voice pulled her from her thoughts.

“Swan, stop thinking so hard. I’ll stick with it for Liam’s sake. The Navy could certainly do with more men like him.”

He’d stick with it. Of course. Emma pinched the bridge of her nose and internally scolded herself. This was what she’d wanted, right? She’d wanted Killian to stay where his life was. Maybe he didn’t call it “home” but it was definitely something. He had a family. He even still had the house that his mother left for him and Liam, even if it was currently occupied by his aunt.

Someday, Killian might change his mind and decide that he was, in fact, exactly where he wanted to be. Someday he’d realize that England was home.

“They could also do with more men like you, Killian,” she said. She managed to hide her conflicting feelings well, her tone unwavering and clear.

Killian huffed. She couldn’t tell if it was a laugh or a scoff.

“Men like me? You mean dashing Lieutenants with superior letter-writing skills?”

Emma laughed, relaxing at his shift in tone. Things had been getting a bit too serious. Light and teasing she could work with.

“So modest,” she replied. “I’m sure they love that, too.”

“I’m too handsome for modesty, Swan. And intelligent. And masculine.”

“All right, Lieutenant, I think you’re pushing it.” 

“And strong – did I mention strong? I could kill a shark with my bare hands.”

“I’m sure you could.”

“I just haven’t had the opportunity arise is all.”

They both broke out into fits of laughter. It felt really good to laugh with him.

“Mama?”

Emma gasped and sat up straight, reaching to stroke Henry’s face. He still looked tired, sad little dark circles under his eyes, but his fever was gone and his eyes were no longer glassed over and vacant.

“Hey baby,” she soothed. “Have a good nap?”

He hummed and nodded. Then he squinted his eyes at the object in her hand, still pressed up against her ear. 

“Mama, phone?”

She smiled. 

“Yeah, Mama’s on the phone.” She heard Killian’s worried voice in her ear asking about Henry’s condition. She ignored him for the moment. “You remember Mama’s friend? The one who made you the boat?”

“Kiwwy?” he asked.

Oh my God,” she heard Killian mutter in her ear. He’d obviously overheard him and seemed rather pleased with his nickname. Or maybe he was just pleased that Henry knew who he was. 

“That’s right, Killy. He’s on the phone.”

Henry reached his arms out towards the phone, looking dismayed when his IV tugged his arm back.

“Don’t pull at it,” she told him. Then she spoke into the phone’s microphone. “I think he wants to talk to you, Killy.”

“Well don’t keep the lad waiting, Swan. Killy wants to talk to him, too.”

She bit her lip as she smiled and pressed the speakerphone button, placing the phone on the hospital bed next to Henry.

“Hi, Kiwwy,” he mumbled. Even after his nap he still looked and sounded exhausted.

“Hello, Henry. Your mama has told me so much about you.”

Emma covered her mouth with her hand, overwhelmed with emotions she wasn’t quite equipped to handle. Her son and her best friend were talking. She wished she had called him sooner.

“Weawwy?” Emma adored that he couldn’t quite articulate his l’s and r’s yet. 

“Oh yes. I feel like we are already friends.”

“Fwiends?”

“Yeah, you and me, lad.”

“Fwiends wif Kiwwy,” Henry agreed. Emma thought she was going to start crying all over again.

“I heard that you don’t feel so good today.”

“Mm. Yeah,” he muttered, twisting the corners of his lips into an exaggerated frown. It was his ‘pity me’ tone; one that Emma was quite familiar with. She was still worried about him but just the fact that he was aware enough to try and squeeze some attention out of his condition meant he was feeling much better than he had a few hours prior. It was such a relief.

“You know what always makes me feel better when I don’t feel good?”

It was a rhetorical question but he paused and waited for Henry to answer anyway.

“What?”

“A good story.”

Emma shook her head. She knew where this was headed and she was afraid that she was already falling more in love with the man by the second. It wasn’t fair that on top of being the greatest friend she could ever ask for, he was also fantastic with kids. 

“Stowy?” Emma laughed at the clear excitement in his voice.

“Shall I tell you a story, Henry? Would you like that?”

Henry nodded vigorously, not understanding that Killian couldn’t see. 

“I think he would love that,” she said.

God. Killian Jones was a ridiculous man. 

She listened, just as enraptured as her two-year-old, as he spun a story out of nowhere about a pirate and a princess who met in another land far, far away. They battled monsters and evil sorcerers and dragons, always coming out the victors, even when the odds were stacked against them.

At some point, Henry fell asleep again and Emma switched off of speakerphone. But she didn’t say a word to Killian. She wanted to keep listening to his story, to the gentle lilt of his voice.

Emma tenderly scooted Henry over just enough so that she could lie down next to him and stroked his face while Killian’s rich, warm words echoed in her ear. The pirate and princess had, of course, fallen in love over the course of their journeys, and it was a wonderful, happy ending.

“How’s he doing?” She blinked as she realized that Killian was directly speaking to her.

“Oh, he, uh… he’s sleeping.” Killian laughed silently, just a few short puffs of air echoing through the speakers.

“Yeah, I got that. He fell asleep sometime around the dragon, aye?”

“How’d you know?” She blushed a little at the realization that he’d continued his story just for her.

“His breathing evened out and then I heard a beep when you took me off speakerphone,” he explained. Emma bit her lip, readying an explanation, but then he spoke again. “Liked my story, did you, Swan?”

“Maybe.”

“Oh, admit it. You loved every second. I bet you were nervous when the sorcerer tried to rip out the princess’ heart.”

“Shut up. I wasn’t nervous. I was just… concerned. It’s not the same thing.”

“You stealing lines from The Princess Bride now?”

“Well your story did involve a pirate and a princess, so I don’t think you really have room to talk, mister.” He hummed in amusement and Emma chuckled. After a moment, they both quieted, just their steady breaths filling the silence. Emma swallowed a lump in her throat. “Your voice…” She whispered, trailing off.

“My voice…?” he prompted.

“It’s very soothing,” she confessed. There was a pause on the other line and Emma wondered if she had been too forward.

“And yours is like music,” he finally said, so softly she thought for a moment she’d imagined it.

“Music?”

“Aye. Like a song. My favorite song.”

Fuck. Her heart beat erratically beneath her ribcage and she forgot for a moment how to breathe. Killian had no clue that she was in love with him. And it was love, of that she was now most certain. He didn’t know, so there was also no way for him to know just how affected she was by his words.

“Since when did you become so poetic?” Shit. She hated herself for deflecting.

“Oh, Swan, I’ve always been a romantic at heart.”

Yeah, she was starting to see that.

“Coming off a little cheesy, there.” No, he wasn’t. She could feel the heat in her cheeks.

“Cheesy?” he asked, mock-offended. “That’s just not nice at all, Emma Swan.”

“Whatever. Just how I roll.”

“Hmm. No, you know what I think? I think you’re just saying that because you can’t admit that I made your heart skip a beat.” Emma’s mouth went a little dry. Was he really doing this? “It’s all right, Swan. Don’t feel bad. It’s understandable that you’d be concerned with just how easily a few words can make you swoon. Many a lass have fallen at my feet from just a glance, in fact.” 

Oh. Oh. He was still teasing. Right.

“Oh, have they?” she scoffed, a smile playing at her lips. “And just who are these ‘lasses’?”

“Oh, just, you know… lasses.”

They both laughed again, Emma more quietly since she was trying not to wake Henry.

She heard a beeping sound and pulled her phone away to look at the screen.

“My battery is almost out.” She meant to hold a neutral tone, but even she could recognize the reluctance in her voice.

“You don’t have a charger?” He sounded just as disappointed to end the conversation.

“I didn’t think to grab it on my way out of the apartment. I wasn’t exactly planning on making this call…”

“Ah, well… I suppose we’d eventually have to hang up anyway.”

“Yeah…”

They sat in silence for a few moments, both having trouble finding their voices to say goodbye.

Emma’s phone beeped again and she grunted in annoyance. 

“I should go.”

“You should.”

“I don’t really want to.”

“I don’t want you to, either.”

They quieted again and the beeping returned. Emma swallowed.

“Killian?”

“Yes?” 

“Thanks for this. I mean it.” 

“Anytime, Swan.”

She paused for a moment before uttering a nervous, “Talk to you soon?”

“… Soon,” he promised. She could hear the surprise and delight in that one word.

“Bye, Killian.”

“Goodbye, Emma.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letters remained their primary source of communication. International calling turned out to be much too expensive for Emma’s bartender salary, so they agreed to call once every couple months, or if an emergency arose.

Emma so looked forward to the days when she’d hear his voice. The more she listened to it, the more she came to love it. His melodic baritone coupled with the British accent was nothing short of sexy. (She didn’t tell him that, of course. No need to boost his already inflated ego. Besides, she was pretty sure that would open up a whole other can of worms.)

They’d spend hours talking about everything and nothing. When Henry was around, she’d put the phone on speaker and the three of them would talk back and forth. (Mostly, Henry would talk on and on, making very little sense, and Killian and Emma would just laugh and hum in agreement to whatever he said.) When she was alone, she’d close her eyes and press the phone as tightly to her ear as possible, imagining that she was just sitting right next to him.

She knew calling wouldn’t be enough.

Still, the two of them didn’t mention him moving out to Boston again. Killian still ranted about the Navy on occasion but it seemed like the more time he spent under Liam’s command, the more he was growing to adjust and even enjoy his time there.

Once, when Killian was chatting with Emma in his quarters, Liam knocked on his door to ask if he wanted to join him for a meal and he had been dragged into the conversation. Emma liked him immediately. He seemed excited to be speaking to her; obviously Killian had shared a lot about her over the years. His voice was not quite as deep as Killian’s, but the accent was exactly the same. She laughed when the two of them started bantering and calling each other names. (“Git” and “sod” were terms that she’d become familiar with through his letters, but it was different thing altogether to hear them out loud.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It had been nearly a year since their first phone call and Emma listened impatiently as the phone rang on the other end.

Henry was at daycare and Emma was sitting alone in her apartment, cross-legged on her futon. Her knuckles were white from clenching her fists so hard and she could feel her nails digging tiny crescents into her palm. She was absolutely seething and she needed to hear his voice. 

She heard a click. 

“Emma? Everything all right? We didn’t have a call scheduled today.”

It was insane how much better she already felt. She could feel her fists uncurling and her body relaxing. 

“I got fired.”

“Fired? What the hell happened?”

“A customer grabbed my ass so I punched him in the face.”

“Ah…” He paused. “Did you break anything?”

“Possibly his nose. He was bleeding all over the place.”

Good. Bloody git deserved it.”

“I know,” she said, pleased that Killian was pissed on her behalf. “But I still got fired.”

“He sexually harassed you and you got fired for defending yourself?”

“Apparently nobody else saw him touch me so it was my word against his. And even if my boss had believed me, he said it wouldn’t be good for business to have the chick who punched a customer in the face continue working there. He said I was lucky the guy agreed not to press charges.” 

“That’s bullshit.”

“Yeah. But honestly, maybe it’s for the best.”

“I’m sorry, what’s for the best now?”

“Getting fired.” She sighed and looked around the room. “I’ve been living in this shitty studio apartment for three years, barely scraping by, and my lease is up in two weeks. I feel like maybe it was just meant to happen.”

“You want to leave Boston?”

“Yeah… is it a bad idea?”

“Not at all. Emma, you do what you need to do.”

She threw her head back against the top of the futon and stared up at the ceiling. There were several stains from water damage and one of the light bulbs attached to the fan was out. The stucco was cracked and crumbling in one corner and she wondered for a moment just how sturdy the building was.

“It’s the first place that’s ever been mine, you know. And I can remember so many of Henry’s ‘firsts’ happening inside these four walls. But it just doesn’t feel…”

“Like home?” 

“Ugh. Yeah. God, are we finishing each other’s sentences now? I think we just leveled up our friendship.”

Killian laughed at that and Emma smiled.

“I know you best, Swan. And I know ‘home’ is sort of a foreign concept to you, but I guarantee you’ll find it someday.”

“I thought it wouldn’t matter where I went as long as I was with Henry. I just can’t shake this feeling, though, you know? Like there’s someplace out there that I’m supposed to be. Someplace waiting for me.” 

He took a few moments to breathe and consider his answer.

“I do know what you mean, Emma.” She thought she heard something in his voice – something she couldn’t quite place. But then he spoke again and she stopped trying to figure out what it was. “So… Phoenix was too hot. You don’t want to stay in Boston. Anywhere else you know you don’t want to be?”

“Hm. I guess I’d prefer not to go to any of the cities where I lived when I was in the system. So that means no Portland. No Minneapolis. No Chicago. No Philadelphia.” 

“You gonna keep listing all the major cities in the US? Might as well move to Canada at this point.”

She ignored his comment and continued.

“Oh, and definitely no Tallahassee. Or, like, Florida. At all. Florida has been ruined for me.”

“Understandable. What about New York?”

“Expensive. If I made the same amount of money bartending there as I have here, I’d be able to afford a broom closet at best.”

“Well then we won’t even consider that option. Couldn’t have you and your boy living next to the cleaning supplies. Bad for the health.”

She rolled her eyes and chuckled. Killian was obviously trying to improve her mood and it was working.

She pushed herself off the couch and walked into the kitchen, pulling down a bottle of rum from the top shelf. (She was old enough to buy the stuff now and she had to admit it was much more pleasant than stealing nearly-empty bottles from work. Now that she thought about it, she should probably be glad she had never been caught or she’d have been fired a long time ago.) 

She grabbed a glass and poured herself a generous amount.

“Maybe…” she started, fingering the edge of the glass. She trailed off, brow creased as she tried to understand why her thoughts were veering a certain direction.

“Maybe what?”

She took a few gulps, cringing at the burn.

“Maybe I should look into Maine.”

“Maine? Isn’t that…” He stopped himself from continuing.

“Yeah. Where I was abandoned. I know it doesn’t really make any sense. I mean, I’m done trying to find my parents. That’s not why I want to go.” 

Why did she want to go? It wasn’t like she had any memories of the place. And wasn’t it kind of morbid, going back to the place where she was left on the side of a road?

“Swan, I think that’s a great idea.”

Wait, what?

“You do?”

“Yeah. If you’re having trouble figuring out where you want to go, it might help to see where you came from.”

“That… makes sense.”

“So where in Maine?”

“Um… I’m not sure. Probably somewhere near the ocean? It’s the one thing about Boston that I think I’d miss.”

“Of course, Swan, you can’t take your lad away from the sea.”

Emma snorted and rolled her eyes. 

“Right. I forgot you’ve got all these plans for him.” 

“I do. He’ll be a wonderful sailor someday.” Emma just shook her head and sighed. She heard Killian pull the phone away so he could clear his throat. “You’re both going to be just fine. I think a change of scenery will do you good.”

“You think?”

“Definitely. Just let me know where you end up settling down.”

“You know I will.” She downed the last of her drink and rinsed it out in the sink. “So, since we’re already on the phone… how are you?”

He let out a hearty laugh.

“Oh, since we’re already on the phone, huh? Just asking me out of courtesy?”

“Oh shut up,” she mumbled, fighting a smile. “You said in your last letter that you had a shadow?”

“Aye, one of the trainees. I’m barely three years older than him, but he follows me around like a goddamn puppy. I’d be flattered if it weren’t so bloody annoying.”

“Aw, come on. You’ve got a kid who looks up to you! That's great.”

“Swan, I can’t even go to the bathroom without him trailing after me. All I ask is for a few days’ peace, that’s all.”

“I think it’s sweet. Not the following you to the bathroom part, but just that you’re like… a respectable officer with a fan.”

“Pff. How about I just send him off to America to follow you around nonstop and see how you like it? Gods, I bet if I told him to, he’d do it.”

“I’m sure it isn’t that bad.” 

“It is, Emma. It really is. But luckily I’ll only have to deal with him for another five months or so.”

“Why? What’s happening?”

“… We’ve got a mission coming up. It’s nothing big, but we’ll be out to sea for at least three months, probably more like four.”

“A mission? Like, deployment?”

“No, we aren’t going into a warzone so it shouldn’t be dangerous. It’ll be more like an extended training exercise. Something about helping the academy curriculum, I think.”

“Wow. Well that sounds… cool… Wait, you mean to tell me you are going to be unreachable for months?” 

There was an uncomfortable silence on the other end.

“Yeah,” he finally sighed. “I figured you should probably know about it now. Mobile won’t work where we’re headed and for obvious reasons, I won’t be able to send letters.”

In all fairness, Emma had no reason to feel disappointed. In the past, it was always her responsibility when they’d gone months without writing. Still, they were in a good place right now and she didn’t like the thought that she might be settling in a new place without his letters to get her through the rough days.

She let out a half-sigh, half-scoff.

“That sucks. What if I hate Maine? Who am I gonna complain to?” 

“Oh, Swan, I’m sure Henry will pick up the slack from my absence.” 

“Right, ‘cause I can totally have an adult conversation with a three-year-old.” 

“Henry’s very mature for his age.”

“Uh huh. For the past two months he has been asking for Spaghettios every day for dinner. So mature.”

“Dear God, I hope you haven’t actually been feeding him that filth on a daily basis.”                 

“Of course not! Only like… twice a week.” 

“Swan,” he said, his voice wavering somewhere between amusement and disgust. “Am I correct in assuming that you also eat Spaghettios twice a week?” 

“… Well, it’s not like Henry can eat an entire can by himself.”

Emma!” he scolded. He broke out into a breathy fit of laughter and Emma felt a rush of heat to her cheeks. It didn’t matter how many times she heard it, his laugh made her legs feel like jelly.

She heard his laughter cut off and some distant voices on the other end.

“Sorry, love,” he muttered into the phone. “Duty calls.”

“Yeah, go do your thing, Lieutenant.”

“Talk to you soon, darling.”

Damn it, she hated when he used those endearments. He was so casual about it and Emma was sure that it was just a part of his natural speech, but it made her heart stutter in her chest every single time.

“Soon. Bye, Killian.”

Chapter Text

Emma wasn’t sure where in Maine she had been heading, but it seemed like fate decided for her.

The old heap of junk that was her Bug broke down just a couple miles outside of a small town called Storybrooke. Her phone had no signal so she couldn’t call for a tow truck, but luckily for her, one of the residents happened to drive by just ten minutes after the fact.

He was driving a rusty brown truck, probably as old as her Bug, and he reached over and rolled down the window of the passenger seat. He had dirty blonde hair, bright eyes, and a kind demeanor, but Emma still eyed him a bit warily. 

“Need a lift into town?” he asked, pleasant smile lighting his face.

“Um,” she mumbled, turning her gaze to her useless cell phone and then to her sleeping son in the backseat. She sighed and looked back up at the man. “Would you mind? Just to the nearest car shop. I need to get the old girl towed.”

“Yeah, no problem. Hop in.”

She closed her door and then opened the backseat, leaning over to unbuckle Henry’s car seat. When the man in the truck realized she had a child, he hastily jumped out to help her.

Together, they made sure that the car seat fit nice and snug in the center seat of his truck. Her son, bless him, was completely dead to the world and hadn’t even stirred through the whole ordeal.

“I’m David Nolan, by the way,” he said once they were finished. He held out his hand to shake. “Deputy sheriff slash animal control.”

Emma smiled politely and shook his hand, making sure to keep a firm grip.

“Emma Swan. And that’s Henry,” she said, nodding her head toward the sleeping child.

They both settled themselves into his vehicle and he shifted gears before heading towards the town.

“So,” she began. “Sheriff and animal control?”

David laughed quietly, obviously trying to keep from waking her son.

“Yeah. Small town. Plenty of folks have more than one occupation here. I mostly just work patrol and break up the occasional bar fight. All the other stuff falls to Sheriff Graham.”

Emma wondered for a moment if she should feel uncomfortable being in the car with a cop. After all, she did have a criminal record, even though she’d managed to get those records sealed. (It had been a surprisingly easy process since she’d been a juvenile offender.)

There was something about David, though, that just made her feel at ease. It was strange.

“So… if you’ve got bar fights, there must be a bar, right?” David took his eyes off the road just for a moment to raise an eyebrow and Emma shrugged. “I’ve been a bartender for the past few years. Just thinking about possible employment opportunities.”

“Oh, you’re planning on sticking around?” he asked with a surprised smile. She shrugged again, a little self-conscious.

“I don’t know. We just left Boston today and didn’t have a specific destination in mind.”

“Well we’d be more than happy to have you. Boston, huh? Why’d you leave?” It was an innocent question, but Emma shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “If you don’t mind my asking,” he added.

“Um. Well. I got fired?” She said it like a question even though she could quite clearly recall every detail of her dismissal.

“From your bartending gig?”

“Yeah.” He didn’t respond immediately so Emma continued. “You think it’s weird to go back to bartending after I was just fired from the same job?”

“Maybe. Depends on what you were fired for.” She could hear the polite curiosity in his tone. He was not asking her outright for the reason; he was giving her the opportunity to share if she wanted. She hoped he wouldn’t judge her.

“I sort of… punched a customer.”

There was a short silence in the car, only the sounds of the tires running over pavement and Henry’s soft snores filling the space between them. She realized belatedly that telling a cop she’d physically assaulted someone might not have been the best idea, but then he spoke up again.

“Did he deserve it?” he asked, turning away from the road again just to offer a half smile. She returned with a wide one.

“Actually, he deserved much worse.” 

David chuckled and Emma imagined it would have been a much louder laugh had he not been so conscious of her sleeping son.

“Well then, I’m sure August wouldn’t mind taking you in.” 

“August?”

“He’s the owner of The Rabbit Hole, Storybrooke’s one and only bar. He’s only got two employees at the moment. Last year he hired Ruby for a bit when she threw a tantrum and stormed out of Granny’s for some reason or another, but she didn’t last long. She’s always been more interested in the drinking, not pouring.”

Emma didn’t really follow his line of thought, since she had no clue who he was talking about, but she figured since it was such a small town probably everyone knew everyone. David might not have met an outsider in quite a while.

“Sorry,” he sighed, picking up on her confusion. “Ruby works at Granny’s Diner with Granny. Well, I mean, Mrs. Lucas, who’s Ruby’s actual granny. But everyone else also calls her Granny. It’s just a thing.” He shook his head, trying to stop himself from rambling.

“It’s fine. I’m sure I’ll figure everything out soon enough.” 

“Right. Of course. You’ll probably meet them both today anyway.”

“Why’s that?”

“Granny also owns the B&B. I’m sure she’s got plenty of rooms available. I’ll take you after we swing by Leroy’s shop.” 

Emma pursed her lips and then nodded.

“Thanks, I’d really appreciate it.”

Henry shifted in his car seat, his brow creasing as he danced the edge between sleep and consciousness. She reached out and stroked his forehead and his features relaxed. 

“How old is he?” David asked, peering down at the toddler.

“Three. He’ll be four in a few months.” She sighed, smiling proudly down at him. “God I can’t believe it’s been that long.”

They didn’t have time to continue their conversation, as David pulled his truck up next to a car shop with no signage. He and Emma stepped out of the vehicle and approached a short, burly man who was wiping his greasy hands on a rag.

“Hey Leroy,” David said, an easy smile lighting his face even as the man he was addressing offered nothing but a tight-lipped frown.

“Sheriff,” he responded gruffly. He turned his attention toward Emma and looked at her expectantly.

“Oh, um, I’m Emma. Swan.” She offered her hand to him, but he waved his own hand in the air in front of her, showing the grease smears. She awkwardly pulled her hand back.

“Emma’s car broke down just a couple miles outside town. Mind towing it in for us and taking a look?” David asked. Leroy shrugged, still frowning.

“Sure thing, Sheriff. Not for free, though.”

“Of course not,” Emma agreed. “Not looking for handouts here.”

That garnered a rough sort of smile from the man and he tossed the rag across his shoulder.

“All right then. Gimme an hour and I’ll tell you what I find. Just leave your cell number with me and I’ll let you know.”

“Thanks, Leroy,” David said.

Leroy handed Emma an old yellow notepad and she scribbled her name and number down and gave it back. He nodded and without offering a ‘goodbye,’ he turned and walked back into his shop.

Emma and David hopped back into the truck just as Henry was waking up and he looked around frantically for a moment when he didn’t recognize his surroundings.

“Mama, where dis?”

“Our car broke so David here,” she gestured to the man in the driver’s seat and he waved at Henry, “is driving us around in his truck.”

“Oh.” He moved a little in his car seat, tugging on his seat belt as he offered David a shy smile.

“Hi there, Henry. You like French fries?” Henry nodded enthusiastically and Emma chuckled. “Cause Granny’s Diner has got the best fries in the whole world.”

“Wif ketchup?” he asked excitedly, his earlier shyness gone in an instant.

“Oh yeah, tons of ketchup,” he laughed.

The drive over to the diner was very short, barely two minutes, and Emma didn’t bother pulling his car seat out, instead just unbuckling him and pulling him out by his underarms. She placed him on her hip and followed David up the steps. He held the door out for them and it was such a simple, normal gesture, but Emma hadn’t really experienced much of those in her life. She gave him a grateful smile as he closed the door behind them.

“Oh my goodness!”

Emma nearly jumped out of her skin at the happy squeal and turned her head to see a gorgeous young woman with dark hair, thick makeup, and a rather skimpy uniform rush toward her and her son.

“Oh, he is so cute!” she cooed, clasping her hands and grinning wildly at her little boy. Henry turned bright red and Emma bit her lip to stop from laughing.

“Hey Ruby,” David said from behind her. Emma turned and saw him biting back his own grin. Ruby glanced up at him when he spoke. “This is Emma Swan. And Henry, of course.”

Ruby had a bright smile, her white teeth all perfectly in line, and even with the get-up and smoky eyes, Emma could tell there was a definite warmth to her.

“Oh, wow, you’re beautiful,” she said to Emma, grinning the entire time. “No wonder you’ve got such a precious li’l stinker here.”

Emma sort of understood how Henry had felt at her compliments. She could feel heat brushing across her cheeks as she extended her hand to the woman.

“Oh, honey, no,” Ruby said, pushing her hand away. “Handshakes are stuffy and business-y. I do hugs.”

Emma didn’t even have time to protest before the woman’s arms were wrapped tightly around her and her son. After a beat, she lifted her free hand to Ruby’s back, feeling a bit awkward and nervous. Hugs might be Ruby’s thing, but they certainly weren’t Emma’s. She couldn’t even recall the last person she hugged other than Henry. (Was it Neal? Ugh. She didn’t even want to go there.)

“Let the poor woman breathe, child.”

Ruby reluctantly let go, but only to turn and glare at the old woman behind the counter.

“I’m just being friendly, Granny” she argued, placing her hands on her hips in a decidedly childlike manner. “Not that you’d know friendly if it came up and bit you in the-“

“Oh hush. Order’s up, go take it to table four,” she crooned, an amused smile tugging at her lips. Ruby huffed but did as asked and then the old woman turned to Emma. “Nice to meet you dear. Have a seat and I’ll get you a menu.”

Emma looked to David for directions on where to sit, but the man was already perching on a barstool. Emma took a seat next to him, keeping Henry snug in her lap.

David just asked Granny for his usual, but Emma glanced over the contents of the menu: burgers, sandwiches, pasta, and a whole lot of fried stuff. She finally settled on sharing a grilled cheese sandwich with Henry and ordered fries (instead of the onion rings she so desperately craved) since David had gotten him all excited about them.

The conversation flowed pretty easily amongst them. It was late afternoon, between the lunch and dinner crowds, so while the diner wasn’t empty, it wasn’t bustling either. Granny and David seemed to sense that Emma was a little overwhelmed with so many things happening in one day, so they kept the topics light and easy. They discussed some of the town’s history, gave her some pointers on the best places to visit, and they asked endless questions about Henry. (Henry answered several of those questions himself, even if David and Granny needed her to translate his rambling nonsense.)

Ruby, when she wasn’t busy with all her waitressing duties, sat on the barstool next to Emma and gushed over her son. At some point, he ended up in her lap, and then once she went back to work, she just kept him balanced on her hip like it was completely normal. Henry seemed to be just absolutely smitten with her and Emma and David snickered every time he stared up at her with stars in his eyes.

A few hours later, her Bug had not just been diagnosed, but fixed. David seemed rather surprised to see that Leroy would actually make the effort to finish it in one day, but Emma figured the grumpy man must have wanted pay day to come sooner rather than later. 

Granny rented her a room on the second floor. It was smaller than her studio had been, but there was a king-size bed instead of the full she was used to. She didn’t bother setting up Henry’s crib and instead decided he’d be fine sleeping next to her.

She pulled out their essential luggage from the trunk of her car and decided that she’d search out August tomorrow.

It was barely after sunset when Emma and Henry packed in for the night. Emma was exhausted and even Henry, despite his earlier nap in the car, was struggling to keep his eyes open.

“Mama, dis home now?” he asked as she tucked him into the covers beside her. She pursed her lips and took a deep breath.

“We’ll see,” she said. “For now, let’s just enjoy ourselves, okay? Maybe tomorrow we can go look at the harbor.”

“Yeah!” he smiled. “Go see da boats!”

She laughed softly, thinking about how pleased Killian would be with that particular sentiment.

“That’s right. We’ll go see the boats.”

She reached over to turn the lamp off and then snuggled into the bed next to him, grasping his small hand in hers. She closed her eyes and in moments she was sleeping, dreaming of sailing the open waters with her son and her Lieutenant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emma awoke the next morning to a very awake and playful Henry sitting and bouncing on her stomach.

“Oof,” she grunted, grimacing as she let out a tired laugh. She flailed beneath him, pretending to be crushed. “Okay, I’m up. I’m up!”

Henry giggled and then lied belly-down on her chest, reaching up and giving her a wet kiss. She laughed and tickled his sides and he squealed, jumping off of her and trying to escape.

He shuffled to the edge of the bed and slowly slid off the side feet-first, then ran to the door, swaying impatiently in front of it.

“I hungwy, Mama! Want bweakfass!”

Emma sat up and pushed the covers off, then ran to him and scooped him up, holding him upside down with both hands tight around his legs. She lifted him up and blew a raspberry onto his belly, grinning when he belted out another bout of giggles.

“Shower first, little man!” she laughed, turning him upright in her arms.

After quickly washing and drying herself and her son, she pulled on a pair of jeans and a white button-down and watched as Henry attempted to dress himself, looking at her every time he moved to see if he was doing it correctly. She nodded encouragingly, patiently waiting for him to do it himself even though it was still a very slow process. She was excited to see him learning to do some things on his own. In a little over a year, he’d be kindergarten age.

It was crazy just how quickly time seemed to pass with a child. It felt like just yesterday he was still a tiny baby, wrapped snug in his soft blue blanket and unable to articulate more than some soft coos and strangled cries for communication. Now he could almost form real, full sentences, even though he still struggled with some consonant sounds.

“Bweakfass now?” he asked, almost whining.

Emma nodded and crouched down to help him with his shoes. He could manage to pull on pants and shirts, but shoelaces were still a complete mystery to him. She shoved her own feet into her boots and grabbed her phone, wallet, and keys and opened the door. She paused in the doorway and Henry looked back at her, exasperation and hunger clear on his face, and she quickly ran back into the room to grab her notebook and a pen before heading out.

When they made it down to the diner, it was 7am sharp and the place had just opened. They were the first customers of the morning.

Ruby brought a booster seat out for Henry when she saw them enter and brought them a breakfast menu. She was just as made up as the day before, but it seemed the morning hours had taken away some of her perkiness.

“What can I get you to drink this morning?”

“Coffee. Please. Just, like, all the coffee. And orange juice for Henry.”

“I’ll keep it coming. And if you want a recommendation, the French toast is amazing,” she said, brushing her hand through Henry’s hair. She made a strange face and Emma realized the poor girl was fighting off a yawn. She shrugged and handed the menu back to Ruby without really glancing at it.

“That sounds great actually. Some bacon would be lovely, too.”

“I want pancakes!” Henry argued. Emma smiled and nodded.

“Okay, and some pancakes.” He smiled widely at her concession and then Ruby crouched on the ground next to him and grinned.

“What kind of pancakes do you want? We’ve got banana pancakes, walnut pancakes, blueberry panca-“

“Bwoobewwy!” he shouted, much too loudly for the small, empty diner. Ruby didn’t seem to mind, though. She just leaned over and gave him a smooch on the cheek and then went back to place their order. Henry, as expected, turned red as a tomato, smiling shyly to himself as he wiped the kiss from his cheek.

“Morning! Y’all are up early,” Granny called as she pushed her way through the kitchen door and behind the counter. Ruby brought out a glass of juice with a bendy straw for Henry and a full, steamy mug of black coffee for Emma.

“Henry’s internal clock has him waking up usually between 6:30 and 7 every morning. And if he’s up, I’m up.”

The old woman laughed heartily, much more awake than her granddaughter, who was now reaching behind the counter to fill a mug of coffee for herself.

“Mama, we wite to Kiwwy?” Henry asked as he pointed to the notebook Emma had placed on the table. She set her coffee mug down and opened it to a blank page.

“Yep, that’s the plan,” she said. She looked around momentarily before turning to Ruby. “Do you guys have crayons?”

“Sure do,” she said, grabbing a small bundle from behind the counter. “We’ve got kid menus too.”

Emma ripped out a page from her notebook and pushed it in front of Henry.

“Nah, just the crayons.”

Ruby handed them to Henry’s waiting hands and he immediately started drawing a picture on the blank page. He still couldn’t manage more than indiscernible scribbles, but Killian told her on several occasions just how much he loved receiving the boy’s drawings. It became a regular thing – Emma would write out a letter while Henry would doodle a picture for him.

The waitress leaned over behind Emma and curiously watched as she wrote Killian’s name on the top line.

“Who’s Killian?”

“Kiwwy is mine and Mama’s fwiend,” Henry answered, his attention remaining focused on his picture. Emma nodded and shrugged even as she felt a blush blooming across her cheeks.

“Your friend, huh?” Ruby teased with a wolfish grin, nudging Emma on the shoulder as if they were close friends.

“He’s my best friend,” she said simply. But Ruby was having none of that.

“And you guys write letters to each other? That’s old-school romantic. I love it. So sweet.”

She was about to argue with her, but then the bell to the front door chimed, signaling the arrival of more customers. Ruby gave her a sly wink before sashaying away to gather orders.

Leroy was the first through the door. He sat at the bar and offered Emma a brief nod, which she returned. He might have charged her an arm and a leg to fix the Bug, but honestly whatever the man did was nothing short of a miracle; she’d never heard her car purr so sweetly and start without a single stutter.

A few more customers came in, but they were all new faces to Emma. There was an old man with kind eyes, a white beard, and patches of gray surrounding his bald head. He came in with a younger man – very attractive and looked to be in his mid-thirties – who glanced her way and offered a polite smile. She found herself briefly smiling back before the two of them seated themselves at one of the booths, his back turned to her.

Then there was a couple that looked to be in their late twenties. The redheaded woman was very pregnant, possibly days away from delivering, and her husband (or boyfriend; Emma couldn’t tell if they were wearing rings) helped ease her into a chair.

Next in was a petite young woman with a dark pixie cut. She wore a modest sundress, loose cardigan, and blue flats with ribbons at the top. Ruby immediately pulled the woman into a hug and dragged her over to the bar. They both laughed and smiled and Emma felt a twinge of envy. The last girl friend she’d had was nearly a decade ago, and that had ended horribly. But seeing these two women getting along so well, despite looking like they couldn’t be more different, made Emma crave that kind of female companionship.

She looked back down at her notebook. She hadn’t written anything but his name. She frowned, trying to think of how exactly to begin the letter.

She didn’t have time to worry about it, though, because Ruby came back to place their order on the table. Henry finally dropped his crayons and pushed the drawing to the side so he could focus on his pancakes. Ruby had topped them with whipped cream and Henry was quickly making a mess of it.

Emma couldn’t really find it in herself to care since the aroma of French toast and freshly cooked bacon wafting through the air made her mouth water. She poured a small amount of syrup on Henry’s pancakes and then practically slathered her own plate in the stuff.

By the time she was finished eating, Henry was still only about halfway through. Emma knew well enough that he probably wouldn’t be able to eat everything on his plate, but he sure looked determined.

She wiped her mouth and hands and then went back to writing.

 

 

Killian,

 

Henry and I have ended up in a town called Storybrooke. My car broke down a couple miles out so it really was completely by chance. It’s definitely not the kind of place I was expecting, but so far the people here seem nice. Maybe this is the kind of “change of scenery” that you were talking about. Honestly I’ve never lived in such a small town. Everybody seems to know everybody.

 

 

The diner’s little bell on the door rang and Emma glanced up from her notebook to see David enter. He immediately locked eyes with her and smiled.

“Morning, Emma,” he grinned. Henry looked up from his plate of food and gave the man a wide, toothy grin. “And Henry.”

“Davy!” the boy sang.

The man ruffled Henry’s hair and then turned to the counter. Emma noticed his change in demeanor immediately upon spying the woman sitting at the bar – the one she had determined was a very close friend of Ruby’s. He went a little rigid and there was a distinct flush to his cheeks as he licked his lips and gave the woman a shy smile. She seemed to offer a similar smile in return.

“Good morning, Mary Margaret,” he said, a little breathless. Emma took a sip of her coffee to hide her smile. The man looked to be utterly besotted with her.

“Morning, David.” The woman’s smile was beautiful and her green eyes twinkled with adoration. The two of them awkwardly stared at each other for a beat, smiles not fading in the least, before the spell was broken with Ruby loudly clearing her throat.

David’s head whipped up and Ruby just smiled wryly at him. His cheeks turned an even darker shade of red.

“Usual order to-go for you and Sheriff Hunk?” she asked.

“Oh, uh, yeah. Thanks.” He leaned back against the counter, trying and failing to look casual, as he glanced between Mary Margaret and Emma. “Oh!” he exclaimed. “Right, um… Emma, this is Mary Margaret.” He gestured to the woman beside him and she turned to look over at Emma. “She’s a teacher here. I was thinking to introduce you so you’ll have someone to talk about the possibility of Henry starting school soon. And, Mary Margaret, this is Emma and Henry Swan. Just landed here yesterday.”

Mary Margaret slid off the barstool to come and offer Emma her hand. Emma dropped her pen and shook it, smiling as politely as she could.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Emma,” Mary Margaret smiled. Emma was blinded for a moment by the woman’s sweet appearance up close.

“Likewise,” she said, feeling a tad awkward.

“And aren’t you a sweet little thing?” the woman cooed to Henry, tickling his tummy. He giggled and his cheeks tinted pink, happily soaking up the attention. Mary Margaret then turned back to Emma. “I’d be happy to help talk you through the school stuff. We’ve got probably ten or so children registered to start the preschool class when the fall semester starts, so we have plenty of room for Henry.”

“Oh, thank you. Honestly, I hadn’t even thought of enrolling him in preschool. The ones in Boston that were within walking distance were… uh… how do I put this?”

“A little impersonal?” she offered politely.

“Awful,” Emma corrected, laughing at the memory of visiting the three preschools she’d considered. The first seemed terribly strict, the young children required to wear uniforms and to follow a bulleted schedule that was hung on the chalkboard. The second had way too many students and the teachers just looked exhausted and overwhelmed. And the last one was in one of the more dangerous neighborhoods and had barbed wire lining the tops of the chain link fence surrounding the place. Emma walked out of each one thinking NO, absolutely not.

“Well I can bring you around to check it out sometime soon, if you like. It’s still summer so all the children are on break, but I can introduce you to the teacher, Ashley. She’s fantastic with kids.”

“Sure, that sounds great.”

“Ladies,” David said, holding up his drink carrier and paper bag of food. “I’m off. It was wonderful seeing you both.”

Emma nearly laughed. He had been staring directly at Mary Margaret when he’d said it.

“Right. Yes,” the woman said, a dreamy smile lighting her features. “Wonderful to see you, too, David.”

They did that thing again where they just smiled and stood completely still as their eyes stayed locked on one another, like they were both completely entranced and entirely reluctant to part ways.

“Get a room, you two,” Ruby play-shouted, laughing silently. Both of them flustered and cleared their throats and David offered a swift nod before he practically ran out the door.

Ruby!” Mary Margaret admonished, looking thoroughly embarrassed.

Mary Margaret!” Ruby mocked.

“Um. Ummm!” Henry mumbled. The three women turned to him, but he was looking up at Mary Margaret. “Can you hewp me dwaw dis?” He held up a crayon for her and she looked like she had been gifted with something special.

“Oh, I would love to, Henry!” She glanced over at Emma as if to ask permission and Emma nodded to her. She pulled up a chair from one of the empty tables and reached back to the counter to grab her coffee and her nearly finished plate of eggs and ham. Ruby decided to help clear the table of Emma and Henry’s plates at that moment so they’d have more room. “So what are we drawing?”

“We dwaw da boats fo’ Kiwwy.”

Emma chuckled as Mary Margaret turned to her for clarification.

“He likes to draw boats for my friend Killian,” she explained. “We send him letters once every couple weeks.”

Friend,” Ruby scoffed, grinning lasciviously.

“Oh, that’s so sweet!” Mary Margaret gasped. “You know, not enough people send letters anymore. It’s always text messages or e-mails nowadays.”

“How’d you guys start this anyway?” Ruby asked. “I mean, isn’t it easier to use phones and stuff?”

Emma nervously bit her lip. In the nearly four years since she left prison, it had just been her and Henry. She never had any regular contact with anyone as more than just acquaintances. God, even her babysitters were only interested in a paycheck. In all that time, she had never brought up her friendship with Killian to anyone, not even her nosy ex-boss.

Perhaps that was the drawback of living in a large city. It was stupidly easy to not talk to people, because most of them were just as eager to ignore and be ignored as she had been.

Here, though, in this small little town, she’d already met several people that she was well aware she’d be seeing again. (After all, she was basically living upstairs from this diner, and it looked like this was the go-to joint for all the townsfolk.)

Was she… making friends? Sort of?

“Emma?” Mary Margaret asked, pulling her from her thoughts and reminding her of the unanswered question lingering in the air. 

“Oh, right. Um, it’s sort of… I mean, we’ve been writing for like… most of my life.” Both women tilted their heads curiously and Emma tried to organize her words better as she continued. “When I was in fifth grade, my teacher had us write letters to a pen pal in England. And he and I just sort of kept writing to each other even after the assignment was over.”

“Whoa, whoa,” Ruby interjected, eyes wide as saucers. “You mean you’ve been writing to some British dude for like a decade? Have you guys ever met?”

Emma just shook her head in the negative and Ruby and Mary Margaret shared a look of surprise.

“Wow, that’s pretty incredible,” Mary Margaret said, looking thoughtful. “Maybe I should do something like that with my class.” 

Emma’s face lit up at that. 

“If you need help finding a teacher in England to partner up with, I can ask Killian. I’m sure he’d be more than happy to find someone to carry on the tradition.” 

“Hold up,” Ruby interjected, her keen eyes taking note of the shift in Emma’s demeanor as she talked about the man. “Do you guys just write letters and that’s all? You have no idea what the other person looks like or anything?” 

“Uh, well, he knows what I look like. I sent him a picture a couple years ago. And we also talk on the phone occasionally. But international calling is really expensive so we’ve been mostly keeping to the letters.” 

“Oooh,” she crooned. “What does he sound like? I mean, British accents are super sexy, right?”

Emma flushed a little, shrugging instead of verbally responding. Ruby and Mary Margaret both picked up on it, but only Ruby was blunt enough to call her out.

“Oh, you do think his voice is sexy, don’t you?” she squealed.

“Ruby, table seven!” Granny shouted, earning a glare from the woman. She offered the group an apologetic smile as she returned to her waitressing duties. 

“Sorry about her,” Mary Margaret whispered, leaning closer to Emma as Henry continued to swirl his crayons in circles across the paper. “She means well but she’s a little…”

“Eccentric?” Emma offered.

“Yes, that,” she laughed. “Honestly, though, what you and your friend are doing here,” she gestured to the notebook, “is really lovely. It’s amazing that you’ve been able to keep it up for so long. Have you ever actually thought about meeting him?”

Emma nervously twisted a clean napkin around in her fingers. 

“Well, yeah… of course I’ve thought about it. And we’ve talked about it a few times, but…” She trailed off, feeling a little too exposed sharing all of this with a total stranger.

“But what?” 

“I don’t know. I guess things are kind of complicated.” She shrugged and pursed her lips self-consciously and felt her cheeks grow warm again as the woman’s face lit with recognition and understanding.

“Ah. Complicated.” Mary Margaret bit her lip and nodded, glancing away from Emma. “I get that.”

“You do?” Emma asked without thinking. Mary Margaret smoothed her hair behind her ear and looked briefly at the diner’s entrance before returning her gaze to her now empty coffee mug.

“Yeah,” she sighed. Then she offered Emma a kind smile. “You have…” She paused to make sure Henry wasn’t paying attention to them. “… feelings for him?” 

Emma ran a hand through her hair. God, was she that obvious? 

“Oh, I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t be so nosy,” she apologized. Then she sighed dejectedly. “It’s just… I know a thing or two about liking someone and not being able to say anything…”

“You mean David?”

Mary Margaret nearly fell out of her chair at the mention of his name and then began flustering and blushing furiously.

“H-how did you-?” she gaped. Emma tried to pat the woman reassuringly on the shoulder, but it came off as more awkward than anything else so she pulled back.

“Um. Not to be rude, but neither one of you were really subtle.” 

“Neither of us?” she asked, her eyebrows rising in worried curiosity.

“Yeah. Both of you were just, like, staring at each other and smiling.”

“Wait, you think he…?”

“Mary Margaret!” Ruby sighed exasperatedly, rejoining their group. “I have been telling you that boy is in love with you for like a year now.” 

“I always thought you were just trying to be supportive,” she argued.

“Mama, I finish!” Henry announced proudly, interrupting their girl talk. (Wow. Emma had just been in the midst of ‘girl talk.’ That was definitely a new thing.) He held up his masterpiece to show them. While the lines were very wobbly and he’d overused every color crayon for most of the page, it did sort of, almost resemble a boat.

“Oh, baby, Killian’s gonna love it!” she praised. She ripped out another blank page and handed it to him. “Will you draw one for Mama, too?”

“Okay.” He looked a little less excited the second time around, but Emma knew once he got in the zone he wouldn’t stop until he was finished. 

The women spent another half hour talking and sharing stories, the letter to Killian left unfinished on the table, before Henry got antsy and began demanding to see the boats like Emma had promised the night before. Mary Margaret and Ruby both gave her their phone numbers before they parted ways and she felt almost nervous about entering them into her cell. After all, since she’d been fired and left Boston, she’d deleted the numbers of her old boss, the babysitter, and the daycare center, leaving Killian as her only contact.

Henry ran around the docks, showing Emma each and every boat as if they were all his. They even ran into a local fisherman who gladly gave them a tour of his seiner. The boy was absolutely ecstatic the entire time and Emma could see that Killian was right – there was definitely a sailor in there somewhere. 

They spent the rest of the day rather leisurely. They grabbed lunch at Granny’s again, where they happened to run into David and the other sheriff, Graham. He seemed nice enough, but his Irish accent reminded Emma a bit too much of Killian’s British one and she tried to ignore the way he immediately seemed to be drawn to her. 

Then they walked around town and found a small playground where she let Henry burn off some energy. He was pretty exhausted by the late afternoon and Emma carried him as she made her way to the bar they’d passed by earlier.

She was surprised when she actually recognized August, the owner of The Rabbit Hole; he’d been in Granny’s Diner that morning. He was more than happy to hire a pretty face to help tend the bar so he told her to swing by tomorrow night. With that, all she had to do was find a babysitter.

Luckily for her, she ran into Mary Margaret again when she was walking back to Granny’s. It was still summertime, so even though she wasn’t technically off work (she still had lesson planning and paperwork), she wasn’t required to be down at the school and had plenty of free time to take care of Henry.

Honestly, things were working out a little too well and it was starting to make Emma suspicious. Surely this place had something wrong with it. There was no way that a broken down car could lead her to a perfect little town where everything went her way, right?

She didn’t get a chance to sit down and finish her letter to Killian until she and Henry were settling down for the night. She turned out all the lights except for the bedside table lamp and tucked her son in, then opened up her notebook.

 

 

I think I’ve made friends already and it’s only been two days. It’s a weird feeling. For so long, it’s just been you. I guess I’m just not used to having more people in my life. It may take some getting used to.

The deputy sheriff, David – the one who saved me from walking several miles into town – has been so good to us. I for sure thought it would feel weird talking with a cop, but he seems so easygoing and I just kind of feel like I know him. Does that make any sense? Anyway, he’s introduced me to Granny (my host), Ruby (a very eccentric waitress), August (the bar owner, also my new boss), Graham (the other sheriff), and Mary Margaret (a teacher who also happens to be Henry’s new babysitter).

Right now I’m staying at Granny’s Bed & Breakfast for the foreseeable future. It’s a small room and there’s no kitchen, but there is a diner downstairs and I’m quickly becoming addicted to all the greasy sandwiches and deep-fried goodness. (Don’t judge me, Killian. If you had a taste, you’d be addicted, too.) Henry has completely fallen in love with Ruby. It’s adorable. Honestly, I think she’s a little in love with him, too. I’m almost afraid she’s just going to kidnap him and keep him for herself.

Overall, I am completely overwhelmed. But for some reason, I’m smiling. Like, I feel good. Really good. I think coming up here was a good decision. Thanks for supporting me in this. (Not that you ever wouldn’t. You truly are the greatest person I know.)  

Today, Henry and I went over to the docks and one of the locals gave us a tour of his boat. God, Killian, I have never seen him more excited about anything. It’s remarkable what a huge influence you’ve made on his interests. I think you’re right about his future as a man of the sea. If you ever get around to getting that sailboat, I know for a fact Henry would be eager to go sailing with you.

I’ll keep you updated on how things progress here. I’m imagining the next couple months are going to be kind of crazy, so the letters might get long.

 

Your best friend,

Emma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rabbit Hole was really the only place for nightlife in the whole town. It was open from 7pm to 2am on weekdays and from 6pm to 4am on weekends. Every single night, the place was packed. It was so odd. Emma wasn’t sure how so many people found it in themselves to drink and gamble and play pool on a nightly basis. Didn’t these people have jobs? Weren’t they tired and hungover every morning? August laughed when she asked about it and actually hinted that a lot of these customers were actually due to her. The bar had never really been quite this popular before her arrival into town.

She couldn’t worry too much about the implications of that, though. She was making so much more money in this little town than she had in the city. She didn’t even have to flirt. Most of the customers just wanted someone to talk to and after three years doing this job, she was an expert at listening to other people’s problems. 

When she’d first started bartending, Killian had joked about wanting to see her do bar tricks. She had actually learned a few back in Boston, and August, as well as the patrons, were all pretty awestruck when she improvised a little performance. She wasn’t a fan of having so much attention drawn to her, but the wad of cash tips she had stored in her suitcase at Granny’s was all the encouragement she needed to keep it up. 

Henry turned four just around the time that school started. She had enrolled him in the preschool class at Storybrooke Elementary with Mary Margaret’s help and the boy absolutely loved it. He came back home with stories about all his new friends and the lessons he was learning and Emma was so thankful that he was experiencing new things and enjoying every second of it.

Killian would always been Emma’s best friend, but she had to admit that having other friends – ones that she could see and hang out with every day – was pretty fantastic. Ruby was always bright-eyed and radiant and Emma found that her mood would improve immediately upon seeing her. David was so grounded and she felt so completely at ease with him. He ruffled her hair and made awful dad jokes and told Henry about all the bad guys he’d caught. He seemed almost protective of her and she found herself wishing (and sometimes pretending) that he was her older brother.

And Mary Margaret? God, Emma had never known anyone with such a big heart. While she still struggled to tell the others of her history, for some reason it wasn’t so hard with her. When Emma had nights off, she would hole up in Mary Margaret’s loft, drink large glasses of wine on her couch, and share bits and pieces of herself while Henry slept in the bed upstairs. How she managed to make Emma feel so relaxed and open within just the few months they’d known each other was something she’d never understand. Emma didn’t like crying in front of others; she’d always felt like they would think her weak. But Mary Margaret held her and cried with her and she never felt stronger.

It was just after such a night that Emma wandered back into her room at Granny’s, Henry limp in her arms, to find another letter from Killian sitting on her bedside table. (Ever since she’d moved here, Ruby had taken to placing her mail there. It was actually pretty nice, but Emma had a sneaking suspicion that the crafty woman probably tried to hold the letters up to a light to read them through the envelopes before she placed them in her room. She was entirely too invested in her relationship with Killian.)

 

 

Emma,

 

I found a teacher willing to cooperate with Mary Margaret for that pen pal assignment you’ve been asking about. I sent her your friend’s contact information so let her know she’ll be getting in touch soon. Swan, this is so exciting. Honestly, I hope it can help bring people together like it did with us. Perhaps you should drop by her class as a guest speaker? You’re welcome to share a few of our letters if you think they’d be interested. (Although maybe stick with the less depressing ones, aye?)

Before anything else, I have to tell you about this. So three days ago, Will woke me up at the bloody arse-crack of dawn, very drunk and very awake, and told me I had to hide him. I had no bloody clue what was going on because I was still half-asleep so I just told him to do whatever he wanted. He locked himself in my closet and not even a minute later, some woman starts banging on my door, yelling and demanding to see him. And, well, knowing Will, I assumed that he was hiding from a one-night-stand or something. But no. Emma. I opened the door it was one of our fellow officers, still in her pyjamas, covered from head to toe in honey and feathers. Swan, I am still laughing. I can’t believe the wanker pulled such a childish prank. She was not amused in the least. I didn’t even bother trying to save him, either. I just pointed the poor woman in the direction of the closet and tried desperately not to laugh my arse off while she pulled him out and knocked him senseless. The look on his face when he saw that I was enjoying the whole thing was so perfect. And the funniest part is that he doesn’t seem to remember any of it. He was so pissed that he blacked out and forgot the whole bloody thing. Swan, have I mentioned lately how grateful I am to have you as a friend? This idiot is driving me batty.

I’m so glad to hear how well you’re doing in Storybrooke. It’s lovely to hear about your friends and I honestly want to hug Mary Margaret for being so good to you both. You remember how I used to tell you how you deserved better? I’m starting to feel like you’re finally getting that. You seem happy. (And I’ll have you know that your happiness is paramount to me.)

Also, it’s about damn time! I’m glad to hear that you finally convinced David to ask her out. I don’t even know them and yet somehow I know that the two are absolutely meant to be together. Sounds like a fairy tale love to me.

Tell Henry how jealous I am that he got to go sailing with Eric. I can’t be mad since I’m sure it was a wonderful moment for him, but really I wish that I’d have been there for such an experience. He absolutely must tell me all about it the next time we talk on the phone.

Perhaps with your abundance of tip money you could maybe, possibly afford a few more calls before I leave in a couple of months? Sorry, I just want to hear your voice while I still can.

Talk to you soon?

 

Your best friend,

Killian

 

 

She chuckled quietly, too tired and emotionally drained from the night to offer more of a reaction.

Will was ridiculous and she was amazed sometimes that he remained Killian’s close friend over the last few years. Robin was a lot more like Liam, his personal life reflecting his professional one. Killian wasn’t quite like any of them. He fit somewhere in the middle of hard-working officer and playful dork.

She rubbed at her eyes and placed his letter on her bedside table. Sighing contentedly, she decided she’d surprise him tomorrow with a call. He was right; she had enough money saved now that she could splurge a little. 

She couldn’t wait to hear his voice.

Chapter Text

Emma wiped her brow with the back of her forearm and then returned her wet, soapy hand to the sponge. She’d been living in what amounted to a hotel room for so long that it was honestly weird to do dishes again. Mary Margaret was next to her, in charge of rinsing, and David stood to her right, towel in hand as he dried them and put them back neatly into Emma’s cabinets. 

Right. It was even weirder to have friends to help her clean up after having them over for dinner.

Her life had so radically changed in the four months since her arrival in Storybrooke. There were times when she felt like things would just somehow crumble, just waiting for the other shoe to drop, but those feelings were becoming less frequent the more time she spent here.

Henry was asleep, nestled in Ruby’s lap on the couch, and the small TV in front of them was playing Hook, the volume muted halfway to keep from waking her son.

“So Emma,” David began. “Have you had enough time to think about our offer?”

“It’s been like two days, David. Are you and Graham really that desperate?”

“I’m not,” he argued, but Emma heard the unspoken portion of that sentence: but Graham is

“Maybe I should do it just so I can tell Graham I can’t date someone I work with.”

“For, not with. He’d be your boss.” 

“Well that’s even better then. Can’t date my boss.”

“Graham’s a really good guy, Emma.” 

She rolled her eyes, exasperated, but luckily Mary Margaret came to her rescue.

“If she’s not interested, she’s not interested, David. I know just as well as you how nice Graham is, but that doesn’t mean he’s the right person for Emma.” 

“I guess you’re right… but he really seems to like her. Emma, you don’t even want to give the poor guy a chance?”

Emma laughed, turning off the faucet just as David was drying the last plate.

“Didn’t he just break off his ‘secret’ relationship with the mayor? Thanks but no thanks.” 

“Come on, Emma, that’s not really fair. You know exactly why they broke up.”

Ugh. She loved David, really, but he really had no idea when to stop sometimes.

“Emma already has someone special in her life,” Ruby sang from the living room. It wasn’t loud, but just enough that they could hear her.

“What?” David asked. “Who?”

Emma sighed audibly as Ruby snickered. Mary Margaret just rubbed her back soothingly.

“Her British Navy man, duh.”

David chuckled and shook his head.

“Emma’s not dating her pen pal,” he told Ruby, as if he knew more about the subject than the ladies. He obviously didn’t.

“You know what? Thanks for the lovely housewarming party but I think I’m all partied out.”

“Oh, Emma,” Mary Margaret sighed. David looked totally confused, like he couldn’t piece together what was happening. “David, could you please get my coat?”

The man’s face brightened and he rushed to the coat rack, leaving Mary Margaret alone in the kitchen with Emma.

“I’m fine,” Emma said.

“Emma, it’s okay if you aren’t. I know you’re not looking forward to his absence.”

“I’ve still got two more weeks,” she argued. When she saw the look on her friend’s face, she sighed. “But… I will come talk to you if I decide that I’m not fine. How’s that?”

She smiled and pulled Emma into a hug.

“Good. That’s all I needed to hear.”

Her friends quickly got their things together and Ruby put Henry to bed before they left. 

With Killian on her mind and finally a moment of peace after all the craziness of the past two weeks, Emma sat down and wrote to him.

 

 

Killian,

 

I’m so sorry to hear about Robin’s wife. You’ve always told me what a truly nice guy he is and I can’t believe he’s had to say goodbye to her after only two years together. I know what it’s like being a single parent, but I hope he knows that it’s okay to rely on other people. He and his baby boy will get through this. It’s a relief to know he’s got you and Will on his side.

And I know that it’s come at a sort of inopportune time, but I’m glad to hear that they’re getting ready to promote you. I know you’ll have to wait until next year, but I know you deserve it. You’ve said before that Liam was a special case getting the rank of Captain so quickly, but you work just as hard as he does and you deserve recognition for that.

Mary Margaret tells me the pen pal assignment is going wonderfully. They’ve already sent and received two batches of letters and she has asked me to swing by and talk to the kids just like you suggested a while back. I’m not so sure how to relate to ten-year-olds but I just read through your first few letters to me from back in fifth grade to see if that might help. Killian, you were so adorable. You talked about food in like every single letter.

So, I also need to tell you that a lot of stuff has happened in the past two weeks.

The tenant who lived downstairs from Mary Margaret’s loft moved out of town mid-way through their lease and it didn’t take much convincing for me to take over. It’s incredible. Unlike Mary Margaret’s place, there are actual rooms with doors. It’s roughly the same price as what my studio was when I was living in Boston, but there is just so much more space. I have my own room and Henry has his. We have a living room and a full kitchen. We have a big bathroom with a tub and shower. I even went to a local furniture store and bought all my own stuff! Henry and I are both ecstatic to be living just downstairs from my friend, too. She really takes care of us and whenever I can’t get Henry from school or I have to cover someone’s shift on my day off, Mary Margaret always seems more than happy to help. Honestly, I have never relied on someone this much when it comes to my son but I really trust her.

I’ve also got some news on the job front. A couple days ago, a fight broke out when I was at work. David’s told me before that it happens on occasion and I’ve seen a few from afar when I was in Boston, but this one started literally five feet away from me. One of the guys broke a bottle and I thought he was going to use it as a weapon so I jumped over the bar and got him in a chokehold. He was drunk enough that he couldn’t really fight me off and he passed out pretty quickly. By the time David and Graham showed up, everyone had calmed down and they arrested the ones who’d caused the whole thing. But they were… I don’t know, impressed? So Graham asked if I’d be interested in working with them. Like, as a deputy. They’d still let me keep my bartending job but I’d be working fewer hours there. Can you imagine? Me, as a cop? I told them I’d think about it. I mean, do I even really have the credentials for that kind of thing? David said he’d teach me how to shoot and I’d get a gun and badge and everything. I’m not going to lie, it sounds pretty cool. But I’m just not sure if it’s right for me.

You should probably have this letter by Friday so yes, for our call schedule, Sunday at 2pm/7pm would be wonderful. Henry has been wanting to call you to tell you all about his new bedroom so make sure your phone is charged to 100%.

 

Your best friend,

Emma

 

 

And he did call on Sunday, just a few days before his departure.

Henry rambled for a long time about his new ‘big boy bed’ and then spent nearly half an hour recounting their most recent sailing trip with Eric. Emma liked the man. He and his wife Ariel had a baby girl not but a few months earlier and it had caused quite the uproar in town. While Ariel loved the attention, Eric had always preferred calm and quiet. He was all too happy to spend a few afternoons out on his sailboat with Emma and Henry, far away from the town. 

Henry was magic or something. Whereas Emma had always struggled to make friends as a child (and, hell, even as an adult), Henry was remarkably gifted in that respect. And it wasn’t just other little kids that were drawn to him; everyone in town seemed to love him. Even the mayor, who Mary Margaret had warned her was quite brusque and altogether unpleasant to be around, doted on her son like he was her own. She mentioned in passing that he shared a name with her late father, so perhaps that had something to do with it. (Emma wasn’t overly fond of Regina, but she had to respect how good she was at her job; according to David, the town records were spotless and she dealt with problems accurately and efficiently.)

Killian didn’t seem the least bit surprised that Henry was so well loved.

“Emma, you’re Super Mum. You’ve raised a wonderful little boy. He’s kind and funny and outgoing, so of course people like him!” 

“I’m not sure you can really give me credit for all of that. He’s always been sweet, from the moment he was born.”

“Aye, but it certainly helps that he’s received so much love and attention from his mother.”

Well, she had to admit, she was pretty proud of herself for that. She was only with the Swans for a little over two years before they sent her back and honestly, she couldn’t even remember them. She had a vague, fuzzy memory of a man and a woman but she couldn’t recall the shape of their eyes or the color of their hair or even how they treated her. And after that, of course, it was nothing but a string of shitty foster homes and an intense longing for some kind of normalcy. 

But Henry was sure to have beautiful memories of his childhood, even more so now that he had more people in his life to rely on.

“Well, it’s not like he makes it difficult for me. But thanks."

Henry had fallen asleep on her lap a few minutes earlier and she gently stroked his back and shifted her phone to the other ear.

“So,” Killian began again, a mischievous undertone in his voice. “Deputy Swan.”

“Ugh,” she moaned, hoping he wouldn’t tease her. “I haven’t said yes.”

“Aye, but you will.” 

“You seem pretty sure of yourself.”

“I am. I give you another week before you cave.”

“You’ll be gone by then so how would you even know?”

“Swan, how many times do I have to tell you? I know you.”

She rolled her eyes but smiled. Truthfully, she’d already decided that she was going to accept their offer. She just wasn’t in a rush to tell the sheriff. She’d let him stew in his own juices for a while. (She honestly did like Graham, platonically, and he was certainly pleasing to look at, but his affection for her made her slightly uncomfortable at times.)

They spent nearly two more hours talking. At some point, Henry woke up from his nap and Emma turned the TV on to distract him while she shuffled to her bedroom to plug her phone charger in.

She was kind of dreading hanging up, knowing that he was about to leave for several months.

“Swan, you’ll be fine,” he assured her. “It’s not like we haven’t gone for stretches without talking before.”

“I know that,” she said defensively. “But we’ve been talking a lot more lately and it’s gonna be weird.” 

He sighed heavily, feigning exasperation. 

“While I am flattered that you are going to miss me oh so much-“ 

“Ass,” she muttered under her breath, lips twitching upward. 

“- I think you’ll find that time will fly by quickly. You’ll be back to calling me names and telling me off in no time.”

“Yeah, all right. Just make sure you send me a letter the minute you get back.”

“The very minute, Your Highness,” he promised, smiling around his words. Emma scoffed at the sarcastic nickname.

She knew he was intentionally trying to make light of the situation. Killian was always like that, knowing exactly how to ease her maddening thoughts and insecurities.

“Emma,” he continued, a little more serious. “I’ll miss you, too. But you’ve got your friends there with you. You won’t be alone.”

No, she wasn’t alone anymore. She had Mary Margaret and Ruby and David. She had August, Eric, Ariel, Granny, Graham. This sleepy little town was where her life was now. It was as close to a real home as she’d ever had. There were people here who she cared about, who cared about her in return.

She held her arm in the air above her, staring intently at the friendship bracelet Killian had gifted her with three years ago. The colors were still remarkably bright.

“I know. But you’re still my person,” she said softly. He’d once told her the same thing in a letter and she always liked the way it sounded. It was almost romantic. 

“Aye.”

They let a comfortable silence fall between them, a minute of soft breaths and quiet sighs, before Killian spoke again.

“Love, I should go. Got work in the morning.”

“Yeah. Okay.”

“Don’t pout.”

“I’m not pouting,” she pouted. (She tried to stop her bottom lip from sticking out like a petulant child but she figured Killian couldn’t see her anyway, so what the hell.)

Killian’s deep voice chuckled through the speaker and Emma closed her eyes, trying to memorize the sound so she could replay it in her mind whenever she pleased.

“Soon, Swan,” he said. “Goodnight.”

“Night, Killian.”

She kept the phone to her ear long after he hung up. She could hear Henry laughing at something silly on the TV but she didn’t even have it in her to smile at the sound.

After nearly twenty minutes of just staring at the ceiling and feeling sorry for herself, she finally got up and went into the living room. Without an explanation, she scooped Henry up and carried him out the door and upstairs to Mary Margaret’s loft. 

“Emma! Henry!” she smiled when she opened the door. “I wasn’t expect-“ 

“I’m not fine,” Emma interrupted, a nervous frown on her face.

Mary Margaret paused for a moment and then nodded silently.

“I’ll get the wine,” she said, stepping back to welcome her inside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time’s a funny thing.

Once, in elementary school, Emma’s teacher decided to punish her rowdy class by implementing five minutes of total silence. Five minutes sounded so short and easy at the time, but then every passing second seemed to span longer than the one before. At three minutes and twelve seconds, one of her classmates asked if the time was up and the teacher told the class she was restarting their five minutes since someone broke the silence. The second time around, they lasted four minutes and three seconds before another classmate tried to whisper to her friend and the timer started over again.

By the time the ‘five minutes’ were up, Emma hadn’t made a single sound in an agonizing thirteen minutes. She could clearly remember how her perception of time had drastically changed that day.

Hyper focusing on the clock, counting down the seconds for something to happen, made time pass more slowly.

So Emma tried her very best not to think about how long it would be before she’d hear from Killian again. She tried not to wonder about what he was doing, miles out to sea. She tried not to imagine the rich, sweet timbre of his voice, his mellifluous laugh echoing in her ears.

But then, trying did not equate to succeeding.

It was a bit easier during the day.

She began working fewer hours at the bar and split her time fairly with working at the station. David and Graham (who, thankfully, had stopped pursuing her so blatantly after she had outright rejected his request for a dinner date; honestly, it was a lot less awkward than she thought it would be) were both very easy to work with. The town was small and the crimes weren’t usually violent. They often did things like writing reports on stolen or missing items, breaking up parties with underage drinking, and chasing off wild animals that escaped from the woods right outside of town.

Henry thoroughly enjoyed preschool up until mid-December when winter break hit. Emma was lucky to have Mary Margaret and Ruby, both very willing to take care of him when she couldn’t. When she did get off work, though, she would spend her time bonding with him and taking him around town.

After putting Henry to bed, though, and turning in for the night, Emma struggled to keep her mind clear.

If you told someone, ‘Don’t think about elephants,’ inevitably, they would think about elephants.

If Emma told herself, ‘Don’t think about Killian,’ well… 

Tick tock.

She groaned and turned on her side, punching her pillow into a better position before laying her head back down.

Killian had left in early November and it was now January. Two months had passed but it felt like much longer. She tried to remind herself that when she was still a kid, she’d run away and spent far more time without his letters. Hell, when she got his first letter in prison, it had been a year since the last time she’d heard from him. And back then, she’d been all alone. She didn’t have the support system she now had in Storybrooke.

Theoretically, it should have been easier, not harder, to get through this.

Then again, she hadn’t been in love with him back then. Or maybe she had but didn’t know it yet. Regardless, her feelings for him were driving her crazy. She couldn’t not think about him so she decided to try and channel those thoughts in a more positive way.

She made it into a game. Since Killian couldn’t tell her about his day, she made them up for him.

“Today,” she whispered into the dark, empty room around her, “Killian ate toast and eggs for breakfast. He burned his tongue on his coffee and it bothered him the whole day.” She scrunched her nose as she formed a rough image in her mind. “He argued with Liam again about leaving the top few buttons on his uniform undone, and he lost. He looked out at the setting sun over the ocean before bed. And… then he wondered what I did today, too.”

Maybe it was silly, but somehow, it always made it easier to fall asleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Classes started up again and Henry continued to bring home drawings and books and stories about school. Emma loved that he had taken so well to preschool. His teacher, Ashley (or Ms. Boyd to Henry), told Emma during a parent-teacher conference that Henry was an absolute delight in the classroom. The other students all got along well with him and he was a natural leader, completely opposite of what Emma remembered herself to be when she was young.

Mary Margaret and David’s relationship was going splendidly and Ruby had just recently started dating Mulan, the marital arts instructor that worked at Storybrooke High. Her friends would never intentionally throw their happiness in her face but she had to admit that she felt a little envious. While she didn’t miss Neal, she did miss the feeling of being in a relationship. (And as much as she loved Killian, she was still pretty sure nothing good would come out of confessing and complicating their friendship.)

She liked to think it was enough just to have Henry, but sometimes – like Valentine’s Day, for example – she had to wonder why she kept avoiding relationships. She knew that Neal was not the standard. There were plenty of decent men that might make her happy. (Happier, she corrected herself.)

Days turned into weeks. Emma busied herself with work and friends and being a mom, but her nights remained a bit restless.

By the time February ended, Emma was definitely ready for Killian’s return. She wanted to talk to him about so many things. She wanted to tell him about the moose that walked straight down Main Street, and how it took her and David nearly three hours to get it out of town. She wanted to tell him about Henry’s messy finger paintings and about his adorable crush on Violet, one of the little girls in his preschool class. She wanted to tell him that she celebrated Christmas with Mary Margaret and David and how it was the first time in her entire life that she felt like she was a part of a real family that wanted her.

And she wanted to hear all about his mission-that-wasn’t-really-a-mission and his upcoming promotion and his adventures with Liam.

So she waited rather impatiently for his letter.

One week went by, and then two. She was beginning to wonder where the hell his letter was.

Four months, tops, he’d said. Even though she’d done the math in her mind at the very beginning, she went through it again. He left in early November so he should have returned by early March. Maybe he’d sent his letter and it hadn’t gotten to her. It had happened once or twice over the years. She decided she’d give it another two weeks and then she’d call.

Well, she’d meant to wait two weeks, but she only made it past the first before she got antsy.

She sat on her couch while Henry played by himself on the floor and pulled out her phone, scrolling through the contact list for his name. She now had nearly twenty entries, thanks to her expanding social life in Storybrooke.

She pressed the call button and held the phone to her ear.

It didn’t ring. Instead, she was immediately greeted by Killian’s lilting voice.

“Hello!”

She was so shocked that for a moment she thought he’d been waiting for her call and picked up before it even had the chance to ring. She was disappointed when she wasn’t given time to answer and discovered it was just his voicemail message.

“You’ve reached Lieutenant Killian Jones. I’m out of the country right now, but leave a message and I’ll return your call when I get back.”

There was a short beep and Emma took a deep breath.

“Hey Killian, it’s me. Um. I just thought I’d call since you were supposed to be back a few weeks ago and you haven’t contacted me. I guess you might not be back yet, though. Uh, so… call me back when you get this. Or send me a letter. Either way is fine. Yeah. Miss you. Bye.”

She sighed heavily as she pressed the end call button. 

So maybe he was still gone. He’d get her voicemail as soon as he made it back to England and then he’d call her and everything would be fine. Right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 2nd.

  

Killian,

 

It’s been five months since you left and I still haven’t heard from you. Maybe your letter got lost in the mail? I tried calling, but it went straight to voicemail. I know if your trip got extended you wouldn’t have a way to tell me, so right now I’m just trying to be patient. “Trying” being the key word here.

Henry and I are doing well. Preschool has been so good for him. He’s got a lot of friends and he has learned so much. Every night he brings me a new book and tells me to teach him the words. He’s actually got a couple of the short ones memorized and he’s just so proud of himself when he can “read” to me. He’s really happy here, Killian. And honestly, so am I.

I only do bartending on weekends now. During the week I am Deputy Swan, just like you said I’d be. They tricked me, though. I thought being a cop was about chasing down perps and serving justice with a hard fist! But in actuality, it’s mainly dealing with petty crime and doing tons of paperwork. It’s not too bad, though. There’s a dartboard in the station so when there’s nothing to do (and that is unsurprisingly often in this town) I usually kick ass and win bets against David and Graham.  

And speaking of kicking ass, I’ve been learning mixed martial arts from Ruby’s new girlfriend. She’s awesome and I feel like together, we could probably take on half the town and emerge victorious. You’ve seen Karate Kid, right? Yeah, I’m on that level.

I miss you. You know that, right? Henry does, too. He keeps asking me why we can’t call you. I just tell him it’s because you’re on a big adventure and phones don’t work where you are.

I hope you’ll be back soon if you aren’t already. And if you are, let me know. I have so many more things I want to tell you.

 

Your best friend,

Emma

 

 

 

April 17th.

  

Killian,

 

Okay, I’m starting to get worried. You should have been back by now. You can’t possibly still be out of the country, can you? If you are, I’d like to make a formal complaint to whoever is in charge. It’s just bad form to take away a woman’s best friend for this long.

Seriously though, every time I call it goes to voicemail. If you’re still out at sea, then I apologize in advance for the numerous messages I’ve left on your phone. I just really miss you.

Things are going pretty well here. Summer break is coming up and Henry is actually kind of disappointed about that. He loves school. Although, to be honest, I think he’s just sad he won’t see his little girlfriend all the time. Yes, that’s right. My four-year-old is in little toddler love with a sweet little girl from his class, Violet Morgan. God, Killian, they are adorable. They hold hands and everything. Hank, her dad, is a really nice guy. He actually lives on a farm at the edge of town and he let us come by and ride the horses last week. Henry’s too little to do it by himself, but Hank let him ride with him for a little bit. It was a lot of fun but my legs were screaming afterwards. I don’t think I’ve ever used some of those muscles in my life. Didn’t even know they existed.

You remember the Walkman that I’ve had forever? I haven’t used it in years, but I just pulled it out for nostalgia’s sake the other day and found out it’s busted. Honestly, I cried a little bit. It’s not like I need it or anything since most everything is available on CD or in mp3 version now, but it was such an important thing to me all throughout my childhood. Other than you, it was the only escape I had. I could just put my headphones on and close my eyes and every awful thing would just fade away. Even though I am in a much better place now and I’m happy for once, I just can’t throw it away. It’s a useless heap of junk now, right? But it’s a memory. A good one. And I don’t think I have it in me to give that up.

Call me or send me a letter as soon as you can. I want to hear about what you’re up to. I can’t take the suspense, here.

 

Your best friend,

Emma

 

 

 

May 9th.

 

Killian,

 

I can’t reach your voicemail. It says the number is no longer active. What the hell is going on? If this is some kind of joke it isn’t fucking funny.

I sent several emails to the Royal Navy and they never responded so I found a number on their website and called it. I asked if they could tell me if your ship had returned yet and if they could get me into contact with you but they said all of that is confidential information.  

I’m so frustrated here, Killian. What is going on? Why haven’t you contacted me yet? I’m freaking out.

Please get back to me.

 

Your best friend,

Emma

 

 

 

May 23rd.

  

Killian,

 

I have called the Navy so many times to ask about you that I think they have actually blocked my number.

Were you lying before about not being deployed? Are you in danger right now? I really can’t – won’t – believe that you would lie to me about something like that. I just feel like if everything was fine and dandy, the people answering my calls would just tell me. But I guess I’m an American and maybe I don’t know a goddamn thing about the British Navy.

Your number is still inactive. Do you even still have it? Did you get my voicemails? Are you even there?

Just call me. Send me a letter. Do something. I don’t fucking care.

I miss you and I’m worried.

 

Your best friend,

Emma

 

 

 

June 8th.

  

Killian,

 

I am a mess today. I know I told you before that Graham and I got off to a rocky start, but he’s since become a really good friend. Or he was.  

We were just talking when it happened. I don’t even remember what about. But then he just collapsed. He fucking died right in my arms. Dr. Whale said it was a heart attack but the man was barely thirty years old and he was healthy! I don’t understand why this happened. I’ve never seen someone die before. I couldn’t do anything for him.  

I don’t know what else to say other than how much I need you right now.

Why aren’t you here? I can’t do this without you.

 

Your best friend,

Emma

 

 

 

June 24th.

 

Killian,

 

We had a funeral for Graham. A lot of people came, so there’s that. It was unpleasant to say the least. Too much crying.

I took Henry. God, Killian, how the fuck do you explain something like this to a child? I’ve never really believed in anything but I told him he went to a better place. Is that the right thing to do? Is it wrong to tell him something that I don’t even think is true?  

I’ve been thinking about you so much this past week. Are you okay, wherever you are? I need to know. I need you to be okay.

All I can do is just sit here alone and pray to a God I don’t believe in that there’s some explanation for all of this. I know you would never leave me intentionally. I read through some of your old letters and it was the only reprieve I’ve had recently.

But please, please, as soon as you can, contact me. I need you.

 

Your best friend,

Emma

 

 

 

July 16th.

 

Killian,

 

You know, I realized something recently. Despite the fact that I’ve known you for nearly thirteen years now, I have nothing but your phone number (that doesn’t work anymore, by the way!) and your home address. I wish I’d had the forethought to ask you for Will or Robin or Liam’s numbers just in case you disappeared on me.

So I sent a letter to your aunt. I hope she gets it and if she knows where you are then I hope she’ll tell me. I miss you and I’m worried about you.

After the whole thing with Graham, things have been really different at the station. There’s supposed to be an election or something for the position of sheriff but David has asked the mayor if she’d be willing to try something new and have us both co-sheriff the town. We haven’t gotten approval yet, but I think she’ll go for it. She and I have been getting along better lately. I’ve already quit my bartending job. August was a little put out but I think he’ll get over it. Besides, I’m sure I’ll still be breaking up bar fights at The Rabbit Hole every once in a while, so it’s not like he’ll be totally rid of me.  

Now that I’ve had some time to sort of process and accept Graham’s death, I’ve been finding it’s a little bit easier to talk about it. Henry is naturally curious, but he’s so young and innocent that I think I just wanted to shield him from all of this. But now I think maybe that’s not what’s best for him, in the end. We’ve sat and talked about life and what exactly it means when someone dies. It’s all been very PG, nothing intense, but I hope he has a better understanding of it now. I don’t want him to grow up with me lying to him about this kind of stuff.

He asked about you today. He’s so young but I think maybe since I still talk about you, the memories are staying fresh in his mind. He hasn’t forgotten about you.

I miss you, Killian. Please get back to me.

 

Your best friend,

Emma

 

 

 

August 15th.

 

Killian,

 

It’s Henry’s fifth birthday today. I can’t believe how big he’s gotten. I’ve attached a picture so you can see, too. We had a big party and celebrated with a lot of people. Henry is so loved and honestly I can’t believe we have all of this. I know I’ve thanked you a thousand times over, but I want to just reiterate how grateful I am that five years ago, you gave me the strength and encouragement I needed to hold onto him. I can’t even imagine how my life would have turned out without him in it.

I am officially a sheriff now. Sheriff Swan. It’s kind of catchy, right? David is also sheriff so I feel a little more comfortable about being in this position of responsibility. At least most of the townsfolk seem to like the idea. I’ve gotten congratulations from a lot of people that I used to serve at The Rabbit Hole. Hilarious, right?  

In other news, David and Mary Margaret have moved in together. That’s one more friend living just a flight of stairs away. Although maybe I should call them family now. Henry has started saying “Uncle David” and “Auntie Mary” and they are both absolutely delighted.

Ruby and Mulan have been in a tiff recently. I’m not sure of the details, but I’m pretty sure Ruby is just being overdramatic and Mulan is still trying to figure her out. They love each other, though, so I’m sure they’ll be back to their incessant flirting in no time. In the meantime, I get to listen to Ruby complain about Mulan when I’m at the diner and Mulan complain about Ruby when I’m at the gym. It’s almost like I’m a bartender again trying to navigate other people’s problems without overstepping my boundaries.

Henry just started kindergarten a couple days ago. He’s so excited to be back at school. I hope he never loses his love of learning because I can already tell he’s going to be much smarter than I ever was.  

Is it strange that I’m still sending you letters? I don’t even know if you’re getting them. But I miss you. And if I know you as well as I think I do, I know you miss me, too. I hope you do, anyway.

 

Your best friend,

Emma

 

 

 

August 24th.

 

Killian,

 

So, I met a guy. And by “met” I mean I’m dating him.

His name is Walsh and he works at Wizard of Oak, that furniture shop where I got all my stuff when I moved into my apartment last year. We coincidentally met last week at the grocery store and he told me he remembered me from before. He said he’d wanted to ask me out at the time but that he was too nervous. He seems really nice but I’m trying to be cautious. I mean, we both know how my last real relationship ended. I doubt Walsh would set me up for his crimes or anything, but you never know.  

For now, we’re keeping it between us. I don’t want my friends to scrutinize my relationship. And I’m also not too keen on Henry being introduced to someone new before I get the chance to figure out what exactly this is.  

If I’m honest, I think part of the reason I said yes to him in the first place is because of Graham. I know that’s awful of me. I was just thinking how I turned Graham down before and what if I’d taken a chance with him and ended up liking him? But now I’ll never really know because he’s gone.

I can’t reasonably keep myself in this little bubble for the rest of my life. I have to at least try to put myself out there, right?  

Killian, please contact me. I’m getting sick of missing you.

 

Your best friend,

Emma

 

 

 

September 6th.

 

Killian,

 

I’m not sure why, but today has been really tough for me, emotionally. It was my day off and I didn’t have any plans so I just sat around the apartment and read through all your old letters.

It’s unlike you to go for such a long time without contacting me. I’m really terrified that something bad has happened to you and I’m just stuck here not knowing. And the alternative would be that you’re completely fine but have chosen not to contact me. I am crying right now because I don’t know which would be worse. It should be the former. It would kill me if you weren’t okay. But if you were consciously avoiding me, I don’t know what I’d do.

Do you realize how much you mean to me? How much you’ve always meant to me? Aside from Henry, you are the absolute most important person in my life, Killian.

Your phone is still inactive. The Navy is still dodging my calls. Your aunt never responded to the letters I sent her.  

It feels like there’s outside forces keeping you from me.

Please. Talk to me. I need you.

 

Your best, best, best friend,

Emma

 

 

 

September 30th.

 

Killian,

 

David and I had a rough week as the town sheriffs. One of the residents went missing after she told her husband she was going hiking. He was panicking pretty badly and we had to form a civilian search party to trek through the woods. We had a very unfortunate and honestly quite scary encounter with a bear, but luckily nobody was hurt. We took shifts after the first day.

We finally found her yesterday morning, three days after her husband reported her missing. She had strayed from the trail and ended up falling 10 feet off a rocky ledge. Her leg was broken and she was pretty badly scratched up and bruised, but otherwise she was okay. She said she’d tried calling but there was no signal. She survived on the rations in her pack and the water from the stream. She’s recovering at the hospital now and Dr. Whale said she’ll be just fine. I can’t imagine how scared she must have felt.

You know, I wasn’t really sure of my decision to become a cop until this. I felt like I was kind of faking it, you know? I could do the work but it felt like I was just pretending to be something I wasn’t. But when I saw the relief on that woman’s face when she realized she was safe… It’s the first time that the job has felt rewarding to me.  

Are you proud of me?  

I miss you.

 

Your best friend,

Emma

 

 

 

October 22nd.

 

Killian,

 

It’s my birthday. You know I don’t typically celebrate, but Mary Margaret insisted on a small get together. (We intentionally didn’t call it a party. My friends are so good to me.)

Henry made me a crown out of popcorn. Well, the intention was a popcorn necklace, but he made it too small so it became a crown. I’d eat it, but apparently Mary Margaret let him into her arts and crafts supplies so the crown is covered in glitter glue. Children are messy, Killian. But it’s still sweet and I’m going to keep it.

It’s been a long time since I had a birthday without you giving me your happy wishes.

It hurts. It physically hurts that I don’t know where you are or why you haven’t contacted me. I miss you so fucking much.

You know, most of the time when I think about you now, I’m just sad or angry. And that’s not right, because for over a decade you were my everything. Your letters and phone calls made me happier than you’ll ever know. But I just can’t feel that way now. It’s not fair that I have to just sit around and wonder what’s going on with you. I’ve thought about a thousand different reasons why you would leave me like this and none of them are good.  

I wish more than anything that you were here. Please come back to me.

 

Emma

Chapter Text

Emma had never really had a true “Girls’ Night” – capital G, capital N – before. When you grow up friendless (except for the one… but she didn’t want to think about him right now), there aren’t too many opportunities for such things.

And after Ruby and Mary Margaret had learned of this apparent atrocity, they immediately started planning. It didn’t matter how much Emma protested, they were convinced that she absolutely must join them for a night of drinking, gossip, and dancing.

The very next Friday, Emma was shocked, to say the least, when she heard a knock at her door and opened it to see David with a large backpack hanging off his shoulder and two fishing poles held in one hand. 

“Hey, is the little man ready to go?”

“Um?”

She looked between David and Henry, who was seated on the couch sipping on a juice box. Henry looked just as confused as she did and David heaved a sigh.

“Mary Margaret didn’t tell you, did she?”

“Tell me what?” she asked suspiciously.

“She said you guys had a girls’ night planned and asked me to take Henry camping.”

“Wha-“ She was interrupted mid-word by Henry’s squeal and cringed at the sound.

“Camping?!” he yelled excitedly. 

“Now, hold on a second. I never agreed to this!”

David sheepishly rubbed at his neck and Henry’s smile drooped down into a childish pout.

“But Mamaaaaa,” he whined.

“Yeah, Emmaaaaaa,” David mimicked. 

Emma rolled her eyes and put her hands on her hips, trying her best to look stern. Then she heard the door from the upstairs loft close with a loud bang and turned her head to see Mary Margaret shuffling down the steps wearing a high-neck baby blue skater dress, a happy grin on her face.

“Emma! Why aren’t you dressed up?”

“Well probably because I had no idea that I was supposed to.” 

“Oh. Ruby didn’t tell you it was tonight?”

“No. And I never said it was okay for Henry to go camping overnight, either.”

Mary Margaret at least had the decency to look apologetic.

“Mama, can I please go camping? Pretty please?” 

She pressed her lips together in a firm line and turned to her son. He was giving her the widest smile and his chestnut eyes gazed up at her with such hope and excitement that Emma could already feel her resolve crumbling. She closed her eyes on a sigh and then turned to David.

“You will send me a text every thirty minutes and you will have Henry call me before bed and when you wake up. Understood?”

Henry hugged her leg tightly and David and Mary Margaret laughed.

“Yes ma’am,” David said with a salute. “Okay, Henry, quickly go pack a bag. You’ll need your pajamas and clothes for tomorrow, your toothbrush, and a pillow. Go, go!”

Henry darted back to his room and Emma shook her head, knowing that the boy would make a mess just to grab a few items. She pulled the door open a little wider so David and Mary Margaret could step inside and immediately the woman began pushing her back to her own room. 

“Come on, Emma, we have to get you dolled up.”

“Is that really necessary? Who am I even dressing up for?”

Yourself.”

Emma snorted and sat on the edge of her bed, not protesting when her friend began shuffling through her closet. She pulled out a plaid shirt-dress Emma had had for years, made a face (thanks a lot, Mary Margaret) and then shoved it back in. Eventually she seemed to find something she deemed appropriate, gasping in delight.

“Bye Mama!!” Henry shouted from the other room. She heard the front door slam shut and huffed, slightly miffed that he didn’t even bother to come kiss her first.

Mary Margaret pulled out a short black dress with a scoop neckline. It had a couple of lace accents, but overall it was pretty basic. Her friend tossed it at her and Emma grunted as it landed over her head. She pulled it down and grudgingly began unbuttoning her shirt as Mary Margaret stepped into the hallway.

She admittedly didn’t have very many dresses. She wore this one on her first date with Walsh, but every other date had been much more casual and she managed to get away with a nice shirt and jeans. She liked the way the little black dress hugged her curves. It went down to her mid-thigh, showing off her long legs.

“All right,” she called. “Let me slip on some shoes and we’ll go.”

“Great! Ruby said she’d meet us there.” 

“Where is ‘there’ exactly? The Rabbit Hole?”

“Well it’s not like there’s anywhere else in this town to go dancing and drinking is there?”

Emma shook her head and chuckled, slipping on her black heels and taking a quick glance in the mirror to make sure she looked presentable. She reached into her makeup bag and pulled out her mascara, quickly applied a new coat, and then ruffled her hair. It was just a night out with Mary Margaret and Ruby so she wasn’t about to try and pull it into an up-do. 

When she spied her friendship bracelet in her reflection, she stared at it for a long moment. She felt the frown tugging at her lips as she tried to quash the thoughts of Killian. She failed. 

God, it had been almost a year now since she’d last heard from him. She still sent him letters regularly, but she was beginning to think she might never hear from him again. It made her just want to curl up and cry herself into a stupor. But she’d already done that enough over the last few months. 

She sighed and straightened, deciding that she would not let these thoughts affect her night out with her friends.

“Oh, Emma, you’re so beautiful!” Mary Margaret beamed as Emma stepped into the living room. 

“It’s just a dress,” she argued weakly, feeling a twinge of heat in her cheeks.

“Nonsense. All right, come on now, I need my appletini and I need it now.”

Emma threw her head back as she laughed.

“You can still drink those? I think I recall you getting so drunk on them when I was your bartender that I had to practically carry you home.”

“Oh, hush. That was only ‘cause you made the best ones. They were addictive, Emma. Addictive!”

Emma’s phone interrupted their conversation and she sighed heavily when she saw the name of the caller.

“Walsh?” Mary Margaret asked knowingly. Emma nodded.

He had become a frequent topic of conversation recently. When they had first started dating, his attentiveness was endearing. She had been in kind of a shitty place and Walsh had kept the loneliness at bay. But the longer they were together, the more his earnest personality began to grate on her.

Emma didn’t like that he wanted her around so constantly. Normal people in normal relationships shouldn’t constantly feel annoyed when they spend time with their partner, right? But she supposed she had never really been normal.

She sighed again and flipped open her phone. 

“Hey Walsh.” 

“Emma!” Emma cringed at his joyful greeting. “Hey, what are you up to tonight?” 

“Oh, uh… I’m having a girls’ night with Mary Margaret and Ruby.”

“Oh. And where’s Henry?” 

“David’s taking care of him tonight.”

“I see…” He sounded a little disappointed. “You know, you could have asked me to take him.”

Walsh, we’ve talked about this.” Emma knew her tone was a little on the harsh side, but she couldn’t really bring herself to care.

“I know, I know. You don’t want to introduce me to Henry yet. But I don’t really understand why it’s fine for him to get to know your neighbor as a good male role model, but somehow I’m not good enough.”

Emma pressed the phone to her chest so the microphone was covered and took a deep breath. Mary Margaret crossed her arms over her chest, looking just as unamused as Emma felt. Emma appreciated the solidarity. She finally put the phone back to her ear.

“Can we not talk about this right now? My friends are waiting.”

“Fine, Emma. But eventually you’re going to have to let me in. Someday you’ll have to let me meet him. We can’t move forward in this relationship if you always keep me at arm’s length.”

Emma didn’t respond to that, wishing desperately that he would just wait patiently. He knew that she had trust issues, didn’t he? Why did he keep trying to push this?

“Goodbye Walsh.” 

“Sure,” he muttered, a soft click letting Emma know he’d hung up.

She tucked her phone in her clutch and tossed her hair over her shoulder.

“Was he complaining about not seeing Henry again?”

“Yeah. But let’s just go and have fun and not think about stupid boyfriends.”

“My boyfriend is great, actually.”

“Shut up, I don’t care.”

Emma said it good-naturedly and Mary Margaret laughed and looped their arms together as they headed out. 

Ruby had already downed two shots of tequila by the time they arrived and it looked like she was absolutely ready for more.

“Three shots!” she sang gleefully to August. He rolled his eyes as he filled them up and Ruby handed one to each of them and held hers up in the air, waiting for them to clink their tiny shot glasses together.

“Bottom’s up,” Mary Margaret said, her face contorting into extreme distaste as she downed the shot. Emma downed hers and then patted her friend on the shoulder.

“You want your appletini now?” 

She nodded and Ruby squeezed in between them both, wrapping her arms around their shoulders.

“Happy girls’ night, besties!” she cheered, kissing them each on the cheek. Ruby tended to get more affectionate when she drank. “I’m so glad we’re taking your virginity, Emma.”

“What?” she laughed. 

“Your girls’ night virginity,” she explained. “And we’re gonna go all out. You are not leaving this bar until you are good and drunk, missy.”

When Emma was younger, she used to fantasize about what it would be like to have friends and do normal things like this. She had seen some TV shows back then that portrayed girl friends just hanging out on a Friday night and drinking and letting loose. She never realized that one day she’d actually have this. 

She didn’t want to get emotional right now, though, so she heartily agreed and ordered herself another shot of tequila, to Ruby’s great delight.

They spent over three hours at the bar. They drank, laughed, talked shit about their significant others (once Mary Margaret had some alcohol in her, all bets were off the table; she had some particularly harsh things to say about David’s inability to do laundry correctly), played a few rounds of pool, and drunkenly attempted darts (which turned out to be a little more dangerous than she’d expected). They even managed to throw in a few raunchy dances that left them breathless and a tad bit sweaty. Emma only took breaks from the fun to check her texts from David and to answer one phone call when Henry was getting ready for bed.

Walsh had called twice during the night, but she let them go to voicemail.

Of the three of them, Ruby was, as expected, the most drunk. She had already vomited in the bathroom of the bar while Mary Margaret held her hair back, but the woman was tenacious; she just wiped her mouth, drank some water, and jumped right back in the game.

When they finally decided to take their party back to Emma’s apartment – where there were no creepy guys not so subtly looking down their dresses – they all were happy, giggling messes. They were slightly wobbly on their feet, especially given their heels, but they all held hands and managed to walk without completely falling over.

The crisp, chilly air made Emma’s bare arms and legs break out in goose bumps, but she actually found herself enjoying the cold. The fifteen-minute walk from the bar to the apartment also helped sober her up a bit.

“Okay, so I’m thinking that we should make cookies,” Mary Margaret said, her cheeks still a bit flushed from her multiple appletinis.

“Right now?” Emma laughed.

“I don’t even know how to make cookies,” Ruby giggled. “Pretty sure my girl here doesn’t either,” she said, nudging Emma with her shoulder.

“Hey! I can make stuff!”

“Emma, I’ve had to run to your apartment like five times because your cooking keeps setting off the fire alarm,” Mary Margaret deadpanned.

They slowly made their way up the flight of stairs, using the railings and each other to steady themselves. 

“You guys are so mean,” she whined. “I can totally cook stuff. I can make macaroni and cheese!”

They both laughed at her and Ruby shook her head.

“Yeah, Kraft. Emma, your five-year-old son could make that.”

“She’s right, honey. I think everyone knows how to boil some water, throw some pasta in, drain it, and mix it with some gross yellow powder.”

“Are you gonna make me play the ‘orphan’ card? Cause I will,” she threatened, trying to hide her smile. 

“Aw, come on, Emma, it’s all in good fun.” Mary Margaret could tell that Emma was joking, but she still rubbed a comforting hand on her back. 

Whoa,” Ruby suddenly gasped, blocking them all from reaching the top step.

“What is it? What’s happening?” Mary Margaret asked, trying to peek around Ruby’s head.

“Ems? There’s a hottie at your door.”

Emma pushed Ruby to the side so she could see what she was fussing about.

Sure enough, there was a very attractive man standing right next to her door. Tall, dark, handsome – the whole deal. His dark brown hair was mussed like he’d been running his hands through it and his chiseled jaw was dusted in a decent amount of scruff. He wore a black leather jacket, a dark blue Henley, and black, fitted jeans. Emma wasn’t slobbering drunk, but she was still buzzed enough that her mind didn’t even bother trying to filter her thoughts.

Goddamn he was a fine piece of work.

Her brow creased. Why exactly was this gorgeous man standing on her doorstep? And this late in the evening?

“Uh, can I help you?” she asked as politely as she could muster. It came out slightly slurred, but not nearly as badly as it could have so Emma counted that as a win.

He stood stock-still, his eyes piercing as he stared at her – them? No, her. His hands were shoved in his jacket pockets and he rhythmically swung them out and back to his sides rapidly. Was he nervous or something?

She gently pushed past Ruby, who was grinning from ear to ear and giving her a look that screamed ‘damn, girl, get it,’ and stepped forward so she could see him closer.

His eyes (very blue, she noted) were locked on her and he looked like he was completely entranced. He licked his lips and shifted from one foot to the other, and she frowned when she noticed his eyes wandering over her face, like he was cataloguing each and every freckle.

He was attractive, sure, but maybe this guy was a creep.

“Are you okay, there?” Mary Margaret asked when the man stayed silent, stepping up behind Emma.

He nodded once, pursed his lips and cleared his throat, briefly looking down at the floor as if contemplating something, and then looked back up to Emma through his thick, dark lashes.

“Hi,” he croaked, his voice barely coming out a whisper.

Seriously? ‘Hi’? Emma tilted her head.

“Hi. Who are you? Is there a reason you’re standing outside my apartment?” she asked. Her tone came off a little brusquer than she’d intended. 

Emma, don’t be rude,” Mary Margaret griped, swatting her arm with the back of her hand.

“Yeah, Ems, don’t be rude to the hottie,” Ruby giggled, her voice carrying. 

The man reached up with his right hand to scratch behind his ear and his cheeks tinted pink at her comment. Emma found herself really, really liking the way it looked. Was the poor guy shy? She could feel the corner of her lips tilt upward ever so slightly.

But then something caught her eye: a bright flash of color locked around his wrist. It was a very familiar little braid of yellows and pinks and blues…

It couldn’t be. Right?

He seemed to realize what she was looking at and he nervously rotated his wrist before taking a shaky breath and speaking.

“I- I’m sorry for showing up unannounced and uninvited.”

Her eyes widened, jaw went slack, and her breath caught painfully in her throat. She’d recognize that voice anywhere. That deep, sultry baritone. The thick accent painting every word softer and rounder than any American’s.

She was frozen in place, completely stiff from the shock.

How? Why?

What the hell was he doing here?

He was still staring at her, his cerulean eyes reflecting a myriad of emotions. She was pretty sure hers were doing the same thing.

She felt so many things right now and she had trouble figuring out which of those emotions to act on first.

In the end, she settled for the easiest: anger.

Asshole,” she snarled. Her eyebrows drew together fiercely and she immediately threw a fist at his chest.

“Emma!” her friends shouted in unison. But she could barely hear them over the sound of the pulsing in her ears.

The man – Killian, fuck – didn’t try to defend himself as she continued to pound her fists heavily against his chest. He looked sad. Resigned to this outcome.

Her friends tried to pull her away from him, but he shook his head at them and told them it was fine, to leave her be.

But her anger couldn’t last. And when Emma felt her arms tire and her rage subside, she could do nothing more than collapse into him as loud, heaving sobs wracked her body. She gripped at his shirt in her clenched fists and her tears were quickly soaking the material.

She felt his arms encircle her, gently holding her against him as she tried desperately to remember how to breathe. Then her legs went out, every muscle going weak, and he helped ease her to the floor without falling.

God. He was here. Really, truly here.

She could feel the warmth radiating from his body, fighting away the chill from the cold autumn night.

She could smell him. The scent of leather and spicy cologne and even the traces of his sweat were making her dizzy. Or maybe that was just the alcohol.

He brought a hand to the back of her head, his fingers tangling in her hair, and then she felt him bury his face against her shoulder. It took her a moment to realize that the wetness seeping into the strap of her dress was from his tears; he was crying, too.

“Um,” she heard Mary Margaret whisper from behind her. “We’re gonna just go and leave you two to, uh… yeah.”

She vaguely recognized the sounds of her friends’ heels clacking against the stairs up to Mary Margaret’s apartment, but she didn’t bother looking up.

They stayed like that for a long time, Killian gently stroking her back and smoothing over her hair until she felt like she had cried herself out. She sniffled and snaked her hands up and over his shoulders, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck. His arms pulled more firmly around her in kind.

“ ‘m drunk,” she mumbled against his shoulder. “Why’d you show up when I’m drunk?” 

She felt, rather than heard, his soft laughter. His body trembled against her own and she almost choked on her heart at the feeling.

“Sorry, love. Had no clue you’d be out with your friends tonight.”

“Of course you wouldn’t know. You didn’t bother calling or writing or anything.” She sniffled and frowned as she recalled the months and months of silence. Not a single word from him in a year.

“I know. Gods, I’m sorry,” he muttered. Emma thought it was strange that he wasn’t even bothering to offer her an explanation. Surely, he must have had a reason.

“Why?” she asked, pulling away to look at his face – his stupidly attractive face. His thick eyebrows drew together and he averted his eyes. She could see the dark circles beneath them, evidence of sleepless nights painted onto his skin. They were still red-rimmed from crying. “Why’d you leave me?” She hated how weak her voice sounded, how much pain she could hear in it.

He squeezed his eyes shut tight, absolute sorrow and regret etched across his features. When he opened them again she could tell he was fighting off more tears.

“I didn’t-“ he started, a hitch in his voice cutting off his sentence. He cleared his throat and tried again. “I didn’t mean to. Honestly. It’s just… a lot has happened.”

She brushed a hand across his cheek and she could see his face relax almost immediately. Her fingers tingled where she touched him, little pinpricks itching at her skin.

“That’s a little vague, Killian,” she sighed. He nodded.

“I know. It isn’t really a doorway conversation, though.”

She loosened her grip on him to reach for her clutch and pull out her keys. He helped pull her up from the floor and kept a hand on her back, like he thought if he stopped touching her, she’d float away. She narrowed her eyes as she tried to get the key in the hole, but her hands were shaking from a mixture of alcohol and the shock at seeing the last person she’d ever expected to see standing at her door.

Killian moved his hand from her back to her hand, helping her steady it, and finally she managed to unlock it and push the door open.

She stumbled a little when they entered, but his right hand shifted to her waist to catch her.

The shiver that followed wasn’t from the remnants of the night’s chill clinging to her skin.

She kicked off her heels and flung them away haphazardly, feeling slightly less wobbly on her bare feet, and then blindly grasped at Killian, finding his jacket’s collar and pulling him over to the couch. She released him and slumped onto the middle cushion, expecting him to follow after her. Instead, he stayed standing and glanced around her apartment.

“Where’s Henry?”

“Camping with David.”

“Ah…” He shoved his hands into his pockets again, looking like he felt a little out of place.

She was about to tell him to just sit but instead she found herself gazing over his profile. Even with the jumble of emotions pooling in her stomach and threatening to overflow (again, maybe that was just the alcohol), she couldn’t help but think that he was just annoyingly handsome. Sure, he joked about his good looks all the time but she certainly wasn’t expecting… this.

No. No, she didn’t want to be distracted by the lovely blue of his eyes or the ridiculously perfect shape of his face. They had important things to discuss.

He sighed and slipped off his jacket, laying it gently across the back of the couch. 

Damn it. Now she had the added bonus of seeing how his Henley drew tight around his chest and shoulders… God, how was she supposed to think?

She was surprised when instead of sitting next to her, he wandered over into her kitchen.

“What are you doing? I thought we were gonna talk,” she mumbled.

He opened and closed cabinets until he found the glasses and filled one with water. Then he walked back to her and sat, placing the cup in her hands.

His gaze locked on her bracelet for a moment and she saw his lips twitch. 

“You still wear it?”

“You’re stalling,” she said, hands gripping around the glass. He shrugged sheepishly.

“Not really sure I want to go over everything while you’re still drunk, love.”

She scoffed but downed half the glass anyway. Then she slammed the glass on the coffee table. Killian flinched at the noise but she didn’t apologize. Then she crossed her arms over her chest.

“No, tell me everything,” she argued. “I was worried sick for a whole year. I sent you tons of letters and I called your phone like a gazillion times even though it kept saying the number was disconnected or some shit.” She could see him looking more contrite with each word out of her mouth, but she was drunk and still feeling hurt from his long silence and she couldn’t stop herself. ”Then I called the freaking Navy and asked them to get me in contact with you but they refused. I tried so many times – I even faked an accent at one point and pretended to be family, but that got me nowhere. And I sent letters to your aunt asking if something had happened to you and just-“

She cut off her rant, the building emotions making her choke on a sob that she didn’t want to release. She’d already spent enough time crying tonight. 

Killian wiped his right hand across his forehead and the look of pain on his face made her wilt. She dropped her arms and bit the inside of her cheek as she tried to force herself sober.

“I’m so sorry, Emma,” he said softly, staring down at her fidgeting hands. He swallowed, sighed, and then nodded, returning his gaze to her face. “Listen, I promise… I promise I have a good reason for it. I don’t know if that makes up for the fact that I didn’t contact you for so long, but…” His eyebrows pulled together for a moment, like he was struggling to find the words. He took a deep breath before starting. “We were headed back to England in February. Nothing had been amiss during our months at sea and everything seemed fine. We were literally less than a day out from port-“

He cut off and licked at his lips nervously and Emma could see that he was remembering something heavy. She slowly eased a hand onto his knee, trying to offer him some semblance of comfort, and for a brief moment his lips tilted into a relieved smile. But then he sighed and frowned as he continued.

“It was an explosion,” he whispered, eyes fixated on her hand and away from her stare.

Emma thought her heart was going to stop. An explosion? As in, he could have died? 

“I didn’t know that at the time. I just knew that one moment everything was fine and the next moment I was lying on the floor and I couldn’t hear a bloody thing and my whole body hurt.” Emma clenched her fingers around his knee, suddenly feeling ashamed that she’d just yelled at him when he had already obviously been through hell. “I passed out from the pain. Or blood loss, I’m not really sure. Woke up several days later in a hospital. Leg was broken in two places, fractured hip, several cracked ribs, punctured lung, a nasty concussion, and this.

He raised his left hand and it was only then that Emma noticed the large, jagged scar wrapped around his palm and dipping below the sleeve of his shirt. Her eyes widened with understanding – he had always been left-handed.

“Got torn apart with shrapnel,” he explained. “They said I was lucky they could even save my hand at all, but the drawback is that I’ll never be able to use it like I did before. The tendons and nerves were too damaged so my range of motion is buggered.”

He demonstrated by attempting to flex his fingers. His ring and pinky fingers barely moved and his middle and index fingers could only curl down halfway. While he could still bend his thumb, he couldn’t flex it against his palm.

Emma hesitantly reached out and he only flinched a little when her fingers grazed against the gnarled flesh. She very tenderly traced the scar and then wrapped her hand around his.

“Does it hurt?” she whispered, eyes stinging with unshed tears.

“Occasionally,” he admitted. “But it’s not as bad as it was in the beginning. Usually just hurts when I forget it’s damaged and try to move it like I used to.”

He turned his hand palm up and slid his thumb against the back of her knuckles. It was just a slight movement, only about an inch of her soft skin within his reach. Emma briefly closed her eyes, allowing herself just one moment to relish in the feel of his fingertips against her skin. Now was not the time for such thoughts, but tequila and rum and one very delicious John Daly were still dancing in her bloodstream and she wasn’t entirely in control of her thoughts.

She took a shaky breath before opening her eyes, only to find Killian’s staring at her with an intensity she hadn’t expected. But then he broke eye contact, returning his stare to their locked hands. Emma gnawed at her lip and let out a soft breath, preparing to say something, anything, before Killian spoke again.

“Three officers died in the blast,” he said, a haunted expression crossing over his features. “Two died on their way to the hospital. Seven more were injured.”

God. God. He really, actually could have died, and what had she done? Called and sent letters? She could have drained her savings and bought plane tickets to England months ago. How difficult would it have really been? She could have gotten a passport for herself and Henry and found a way to be at Killian’s side while he went through this. She should have.

Emma blanched as she realized something. 

“Liam?” she squeaked, fearing the worst.

“He’s alive,” he assured her, but the look on his face didn’t really do much to quell her panic. “He survived. Just barely, but he survived.” His voice had gone a little raspy so he cleared it loudly. “He’s a lot worse for wear than I am. Lost a leg and got burned up quite a bit on his right side. I had to bug the shit out of the nurses to get placed in the same room as him.”

Her vision blurred a little as she thought of how he must have felt, banged up and alone in a hospital room, trying desperately to see his brother, probably hoping there was something he could do to help.

It made her so angry. 

“H-how...” she shuddered. “I mean…” 

Killian nodded, understanding her line of thought.

“At first they were calling it a terrorist attack,” he sighed. “But there was absolutely no evidence of that. It’s just the first thing people like to say when something like this happens. So ridiculous.” He ran his right hand through his hair, still keeping his left in hers. “Some officials came to interview me but it’s not like I could tell them anything useful.

“They decided to conduct an internal investigation, but after nearly two months of waiting on an explanation, do you know what they finally said?” His tone had become bitter and angry and Emma had never quite heard his voice like this before. “A bloody accident. A malfunction in the ship’s electrical system.

“And of course that was complete bullshit and I knew it. So did everyone else who’d been caught in the blast. Even Liam was calling them out on it. We were stuck in the hospital for recovery and physical therapy for a long time, but we didn’t let it stop us from getting involved in the case. Will and Robin both helped us out. They made sure to keep us in the loop while an outside investigator took over, thanks to the families of everyone involved.

“But when they finally, finally found something…” He closed his eyes, his forehead creased with pain and his lips pulling into a tight frown. “Turns out it was sabotage. They caught the man responsible and he claimed… He claimed that he was hired. By Robert fucking Gold.”

Emma gasped in horror and covered her mouth with her free hand. Killian’s jaw ticked as he clenched his teeth and Emma gave a delicate squeeze to his damaged hand. His eyes opened and she could see the utter guilt and heartbreak written across his features.

She released his hand and then pulled him to her, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. He shuddered a sob into her neck and his hands and arms hung limply at her sides.

“It’s my fault,” he cried. “He somehow found out that I’d had an affair with Milah and he targeted me, but all those men – my comrades – they’re dead because of me.”

No, Killian,” she said firmly, pushing him back enough to cup his jaw and look into his reddened eyes. “It wasn’t your fault. None of it. Don’t you dare take the blame for what that disgusting man did.”

His face was now tear-streaked and it broke her heart. But he nodded his head slowly, attempting to believe that her words were true. He leaned forward and pressed his forehead against her cheek. She released his jaw and ran her fingers through his messy hair and he practically melted into her at the touch. 

“Mobile got destroyed on the ship,” he mumbled, trying to explain himself. “I wasn’t paying the bills so they eventually cut my service. And my aunt passed away while Liam and I were still recovering. Stroke.” 

Damn it. Damn it. How could so many horrible things happen to him all at once?

Emma turned her head and pressed a comforting kiss against his temple, hoping that he understood that she didn’t blame him. His hands twitched at her sides.

“I did get your letters, though. Had Will go by the house to pick them up and bring them to me while I was still recovering. I wanted to respond, I really did-“

“Killian, it’s fine.” 

“No it isn’t.” He drew back and offered an apologetic look. “I read them, Emma. I knew what you were going through. I knew you were hurting. Maybe I couldn’t physically write to you, but I could have asked someone to do it for me. Or I could have asked them to bring me a laptop so I could type you a letter. My injuries were just an excuse.” He stared down at his damaged hand, looking at it like it offended him. “Honestly, I just couldn’t… I couldn’t find the words.”

“Hey, look at me,” she said, grasping his left hand and pulling it to her cheek. He hesitantly complied. “You’re here. That’s what matters, okay? You’re alive and you’re here and you’re… you’re…”

Suddenly, she felt a wave of nausea and she violently pushed him away.

“Emma?”

He looked shocked for a moment and she rasped a quick, “Fucking tequila,” before scurrying to the bathroom.

She made it to the toilet just in time, and to her great dismay, Killian followed her. She retched half the night’s drinks into the water, coughing and grimacing at the taste.

“Out,” she choked as Killian kneeled behind her, gathering her hair in his hands. 

“Not a chance. Pretty sure this falls under ‘best friend’ duties.”

She heaved again and Killian rubbed gently between her shoulder blades to soothe her. The nausea subsided and she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, then flushed the toilet.

Wonderful. She was finally meeting her best friend after thirteen years and within the first hour she was already humiliating herself. And in the middle of a serious conversation, no less.

Killian grabbed a washcloth from her cabinet and soaked it under the tap. He made like he was going to wipe her mouth for her, but she grabbed it from his hands and pushed him away.

“Seriously, out.”

He let out an exasperated sigh, like he thought she was acting like a child, and left the bathroom, gently closing the door behind him.

When she finally stood and faced the mirror she winced. Her eyes were bloodshot and her mascara left long, black stains down her cheeks from her tears.

She spent a good ten minutes cleaning up and getting the awful taste out of her mouth with the minty mouthwash on the counter. Then she quietly slunk out of the bathroom and went into her room to change into something a little less constricting.

She put on a soft pair of pajama bottoms and a T-shirt. Certainly after everything that had happened tonight, she was already past hoping to impress him. She glanced in the mirror anyway before leaving her room. She looked tired but at least she didn’t look like a hot mess anymore.

She padded back into the living room and Killian was leaning back on her couch, one arm lying across his forehead as he stared up at the ceiling. A floorboard creaked under her feet and he turned to her.

His mouth lifted in a lazy smile and she felt the breath leave her lungs. He was so beautiful and she wasn’t really prepared to see him looking happy, especially not after their conversation from before.

“What happened to that lovely dress you were wearing?” She rolled her eyes and let out a very soft chuckle before climbing onto the couch next to him. He smirked. “Did you finally realize you’d been flashing me your knickers the whole night?”

She flushed bright red and threw a fist at his shoulder. He snorted and laughed, weakly rubbing at the place she’d hit.

“Did not!” she argued fiercely.

Or maybe she had. The dress was short and she had been sitting in some interesting positions. Ugh. Her only consolation was that it had been a nice pair.

“Relax, Swan, I’m just teasing.”

“Well, stop. I’m already mortified as it is.”

In a swift move that she was definitely not expecting, Killian turned away from her and then leaned back, his head falling into her lap. He looked up at her with gleaming mirth in his eyes.

“Well at least you know I’m a real friend,” he said, shifting to get more comfortable. “Sticking around for all the unsavory bits.”

She tried to glower at him but her lips tugged the wrong way and then she was just smiling dumbly. He grabbed her hand and pulled it to his chest, resting it over his heart, and smiled back.

Fuck, she loved his smile. She loved the dimples creasing his cheeks and the little crinkles next to his eyes. She couldn’t believe she’d gone for such a long time without ever seeing it.

She brushed her free hand through his hair and he closed his eyes, his features relaxing. She glanced over at the wall clock. It was 12:06am, which meant it was past 5am in London and if Killian had only just come to the States, he’d likely been up for the whole day. He must have been exhausted.

She couldn’t let him sleep just yet, though. There was a little more she needed to know.

“Killian?” she asked quietly.

His eyes fluttered open to her gaze and it took a moment for his pupils to focus. She briefly worried that he had actually fallen asleep in the past 30 seconds and she’d woken him up.

“Yes, love?” he murmured wearily.

“Did they arrest him?” 

He pulled her hand more firmly in his own, settling it beneath his chin.

“They arrested the saboteur.” That wasn’t what she’d meant and he knew it. He swallowed and Emma followed the motion of his Adam’s apple with her eyes. “They were going to,” he started. He released a steady, calm breath. “But someone else got to him first.” 

She tilted her head, not understanding immediately. He lifted his hand and used his index finger to poke himself between his brows. 

“Right between the eyes, execution style,” he muttered. Emma’s eyes widened a bit as the information sunk in. Killian frowned and shrugged against her. “When I heard what happened, for a moment… I felt happy. Is that awful of me? That I was happy a man died?”

Emma didn’t answer but she continued to stroke his hair soothingly. Killian turned into her, his forehead and nose pressed up against her stomach. Emma wondered for a moment if it was strange how natural this all felt.

“After a while, though, I didn’t feel anything at all,” he continued. “It’s not like his death could bring back the lives of those he killed. It didn’t make all his terrible past deeds disappear. It didn’t give comfort to the officers and trainees he’d verbally and mentally tortured through the years.”

He nibbled at his lower lip and he sucked in a breath. 

“Milah visited me.” 

She tried her best not to go rigid at those words, but her hand had ceased its motion and it didn’t go unnoticed by Killian. He scrambled to sit back up and turned to her, looking apologetic.

“She just came to talk, that’s all,” he explained. Emma tried to relax a little, at least visually. “Neither of us had any intention of restarting our relationship. She just wanted to apologize for all the things he’d done. Which of course wasn’t necessary – it wasn’t her fault.

“And I asked about her son. He’s fourteen now and he’s unfortunately not been sheltered from any of this. He knows exactly what his father did and how he paid for it. I’ve never met him but Milah told me he’s a good lad. He didn’t deserve any of this. It’s hard not to feel responsible.”

“Killian,” she sighed. What would it take for him to understand that none of this was his fault?

“I know,” he assured her. “I know, believe me. It’s just gonna take some time.” 

Emma nodded at that and Killian rubbed at his eyes.

“You should sleep,” she murmured. He chuckled weakly and stood.

“Yeah, I suppose I’ve kept you up long enough as well.” He grabbed his jacket off the back of her couch and made like he was about to put it on.

“Are you going somewhere?” she asked, confused and admittedly a little alarmed.

“Granny’s.” He shrugged. “I got a room there.”

Emma stood quickly, wobbling a bit on her feet. While Killian tried to steady her, she snatched the leather jacket from his hands and he raised his eyebrows in surprise.

“Stay.”

He remained silent for a moment, eyes scanning over her features. Eventually, he puffed a short breath and gave her a tentative smile.

“I’ll take the couch, then,” he said. Emma was about to protest, but he held up a hand to stop her. “No arguing, Swan. Besides, it’s large and quite comfortable. Not an inconvenience at all.”

“Let me grab you a pillow and blanket at least.”

She smiled timidly as she made her way back to her room, grabbing a clean blanket from her dresser and a pillow from her bed. Killian was sitting when she returned, removing his socks. She placed the items next to him.

“Oh. I don’t really have… I mean, I can go upstairs and grab some of David’s pajamas if you want.”

“No need. I can sleep one night in my clothes. Not like I haven’t done it before.”

She almost, almost didn’t stop herself in time before she said something stupid like, ‘Well you don’t have to wear your clothes.’ She shook her head and chided herself for letting her thoughts wander in that direction. She’d just met him a little over an hour ago and she was already losing her shit.

“Emma?”

She started at his voice.

“Yeah?”

His tongue peeked out at the edge of his lips anxiously, then he stood abruptly and wrapped her in a tight hug. It took a moment for her to catch up, but then she smiled into his shoulder as she lifted her hands to his back.

She closed her eyes, letting herself just relax into his arms. She could feel his heartbeat against her. His right hand clenched the material of her t-shirt and the scruff on his cheeks scratched pleasantly against her temple.

She really couldn’t believe he was here. He had been through so much shit the past year but in the end, he had chosen to come here – to come see her in person and explain his absence and… and what else?

“Killian?” she whispered. He hummed in response but didn’t release her. “How long will you be… um…”

She was afraid to finish the question but knew he would understand anyway.

His arms went a bit slack and he took a step back, but his hands remained at her sides. His stormy blue eyes were so expressive and she was surprised to see the apprehension there.

“I bought a one-way ticket.”

Her heart hammered and she swallowed the lump in her throat. He’d come here to stay? Permanently?

“What about Liam? And your friends and your house and-“

“My friends are gonna be my friends no matter where I live. And Liam?” He chuckled breathlessly. “He’s kind of the one who convinced me to come.”

She narrowed her eyes and her eyebrows drew together in confusion. She was about to question him further, but he chuckled and spoke before she got the chance.

“We’ll talk about it tomorrow. For now,” he began, physically turning her away from him and gently shoving her in the direction of her bedroom, “go sleep.”

She stumbled a little and glared at him over her shoulder, but he was laughing to himself and already arranging the pillow and blanket on the couch.

She shook her head and walked away.

“Good night, Killian,” she called.

“Night, darling.”

When she closed the door to her bedroom behind her, she leaned back against it. Her hands clutched her shirt at her chest and she took a few deep breaths to try and calm herself.

Thirteen years. Thirteen years of reading his words of encouragement and comfort. He was there when she struggled in the system. Her would-be friends and her awful foster parents and Neal and prison and motherhood… he’d seen her through all of it. He knew her more intimately than anyone ever had.

And she knew so much about him. She knew about his father – the abusive, alcoholic prick who’d abandoned his family and left them with his gambling debts. She knew about his sweet, loving mother who was too young and too kind for the short life she’d been given. She knew about his intense admiration for his honorable, brave older brother. She knew about his oddly different friends and his mixed feelings about his work. But more than any of those, those little facts and facets of his life, she knew him.

He was so compassionate and unwaveringly loyal. He had strong moral beliefs and despised those who took advantage of others. He tended to bottle his emotions when he was stressed or anxious, and yet somehow Emma always knew how to draw him out and share his thoughts and feelings with her.

But now she knew what it was like to see him. To feel him. To hold him. She’d be devastated if something happened and she’d never have the chance to do so again. She didn’t want to think about what would have happened if he’d died all those months ago.

She tried to sleep. She spent a good hour lying in bed, her head aching from the leftover alcohol in her body, but even with heavy eyelids and an exhausted body, all she could think about was Killian. He was sleeping in her apartment, on her couch, just a door and about twenty feet between them.

Her head was still buzzing a bit and her mouth was dry, so she used that as an excuse to get up and see him.

She made sure her footfalls were soft and quiet, and avoided that stupid squeaky plank at the end of the hallway. She went into the kitchen first and poured herself a glass of water, downing it quickly, then padded back into the living room to peek over at Killian’s sleeping form.

He was turned toward the back of the couch and he was breathing a bit heavily. She thought she heard a noise – a whimper? – escape his lips. She was disturbed when she saw that his face was contorted in pain and he had beads of sweat clinging to his skin. Was it a nightmare?

Without thinking, she lifted the blanket and crawled behind him, snaking her arm underneath his own and wrapping it around his torso. She gently stroked his stomach and jumped a little when she heard him gasp.

Shit. Had he woken up? She hadn’t even thought this through. Was this position too compromising? Too intimate?

But then she felt his hand on hers. He took a shuddering breath as he grasped it closer and tighter against him.

“Was I loud? Did I wake you?” he croaked. “I‘m sorry, love.”

This had obviously not been the first nightmare he’d suffered through recently.

“No,” she assured him. “I got up for a glass of water. And then I saw that you… you looked like you were in pain so I just…”

He shifted and Emma pulled back a bit, allowing him to turn around to face her. He looked so completely drained and Emma felt like crying for him. He draped his arm over her side and she brushed her hand against his cheek.

“You can go back to bed. You don’t have to stay here with me.”

“Not a chance,” she said, smiling as she echoed his words from earlier. “’Best friend’ duties, remember?”

She’d hoped that would get a smile out of him, but he seemed too tired and haunted for even the slightest hint of one. He simply nodded and closed his eyes, gently tracing his fingers against her back.

She stroked his face until he fell back asleep and she followed him soon after.

Chapter Text

Too loud. Whatever it was, it was too loud and obnoxious and Emma’s head hurt like a bitch so she needed it to stop.

Her brow creased as the sound slowly, though not gently, pulled her into consciousness.

Oh. Shit. Her phone was ringing. 

She had barely a moment to appreciate the warm cocoon she was wrapped in before she toppled over the side of the couch and onto the floor. She groaned, her hands grasping at her head to try and will away the throbbing.

“Emma? You all right?” 

She jumped a little at the voice, bumping her shoulder into the coffee table, and then looked up at the source. He was leaning over the side of the couch, hair sticking up at all angles, and his concerned blue eyes were only half-open.

Her first thought, muddled by her pounding head and the fog of confusion following too few hours of sleep, was, ‘Who the hell is this?’

Her second, much more sobering thought, was, ‘Fuck fuck fuck it’s Killian.’ 

“Fine,” she choked. She fumbled a bit while trying to stand. “Phone. My phone.”

She rushed across the living room and down the hall, cursing as she nearly stumbled over her discarded heels from the night before, then ran into her room. The blaring noise emanated from her nightstand so she found her phone and immediately flipped it open. 

“Hello?” She cringed at the sound of her own voice, too low and scratchy, like she was an old woman who’d been chain smoking her entire life.

“Morning, Mama!” Henry shouted gleefully. She had to pull the speaker away from her ear a bit, but then she melted into a smile. Even tired and hungover she still loved to hear from her boy. 

“Morning, baby,” she yawned, stepping into the bathroom and digging through her medicine cabinet for aspirin. “You having fun?”

“Yeah, Uncle David told scary stories and- and he held the flashlight up in our tent and made shadows with his hands!”

She chuckled, holding the phone up to her ear with her shoulder as she opened the bottle and poured a few pills into her hand. She listened to him ramble on about some of the things they did yesterday evening as she tossed them back, exhaling and wishing they’d kick in sooner rather than later.

She wandered back into the living room. Killian was still on the couch, lying on his side and looking very much like he had slipped back into unconsciousness. But then he lazily blinked his eyes open and glanced over at her.

‘Henry?’ he mouthed. She nodded as she weakly laughed at something Henry had said about catching frogs, perching on the edge of the couch cushion in front of his prone form. 

Though he still looked half-asleep, he smiled widely as he eavesdropped on her half of the conversation. (“No, Henry, you cannot bring home Mr. Ribbit.”)

He turned on his back and peered up at her, scratching at the spot behind his ear. She raised her eyebrows in question and he gestured to the phone.

Did he want to talk to him? Oh. No, she realized; he wanted to know if she had any intention of telling Henry he was even here. She grabbed at his hand and shook her head, giving him a pleading look.

‘Later,’ she mouthed.

She didn’t want to explain this to him over the phone. Killian just nodded, clearly disappointed.

“Henry, honey?”

“Yep?”

“Can you hand the phone to David, please? You can tell me all about your fun camping adventures when you get home.”

“Okay. I love you, Mama!”

She didn’t know why (that was a lie; she absolutely did), but she maintained eye contact with Killian when she responded.

“I love you, too,” she said a little breathlessly.

If Killian noticed the hitch in her voice or the way her eyes lingered on him afterward, he hid it well.

“Hey, Ems.” 

“David,” she responded quickly, breaking her eyes away from Killian. “Would you mind keeping Henry occupied until this afternoon?”

“A little hungover?” he laughed.

“I feel like someone took a Louisville to the back of my head,” she sighed, eyes closing. She felt Killian’s hand squeeze hers but she didn’t look up.

“Don’t worry, I got him. Eric’s got everything covered at the station this weekend, too. How are the other two? Still sleeping?”

She worried her bottom lip with her teeth. 

“Honestly, I’m not really sure. Uh… some stuff happened last night, so they’re upstairs in the loft.”

“Stuff?” he asked, a little alarmed.

“Nothing bad,” she assured him. “Just… we’ll talk later, okay?”

“Okay… I guess I’ll see you this afternoon?”

“Yeah. Thanks, David.”

Her shoulders sagged as she snapped her phone shut.

“Sorry,” she muttered, chancing a glance at Killian. “It’s just… this is kind of big news and I think Henry should be here for that.”

He nodded, a genuine and pleased grin lighting his face.

“I get it. I just… I’m excited to meet him.” He shrugged. “Is that strange?”

“Killian, you’ve been my best friend forever. And you’ve been an important part of Henry’s life, too, ever since he was born. It’s not weird.”

He tilted his head to the side and his smile faded. His lips moved, but it was like he couldn’t decide whether or not he wanted to speak the words poised on his tongue. 

“I haven’t talked to him in a year,” he said nervously. “Was he… angry? Sad? Or would he even know who I am at this point?”

“Oh, Killian,” Emma soothed. “I… Look, I know I was angry when you showed up, but that wasn’t because… I mean, I just missed you is all. I spent all that time worrying so when I realized that it was you and you were just standing right there, after such a long time…”

“Emma, you were rightfully angry. I should never have left you hanging like that.” 

“Well, my point was, I was angry, but I didn’t bring Henry into all of that. He missed talking to you for a while ‘cause he got used to our phone calls, but honestly he didn’t even know that you weren’t sending letters back.”

Killian looked rather surprised with this revelation.

“So… as far as he knows, I’ve been answering all your letters?”

“Something like that.”

He blinked a few times, brow creasing as he was seemingly trying to fight back tears.

“Your last letter… the one from your birthday…” he muttered. “You didn’t close it like usual.”

Emma chewed on the inside of her cheek and frowned. She’d intentionally left out ‘Your best friend’ at the end of the letter. She knew he’d notice but didn’t realize at the time that she’d feel so guilty about it. 

“I’m sorry.” 

“No, love. Don’t be. I promised myself ever since your time in prison that I’d never let you go so long without word from me ever again. I never wanted you to feel like I’d abandoned you. But I did.”

“You were hurt, Killian.”

“Aye, but that’s no excuse.” He shifted, turning on his side once more and pressing his back into the couch back. He lifted his arm, inviting her to lie down with him.

She swallowed thickly before turning and doing so. She didn’t think she could face him at the moment – wasn’t sure she could hide the affection from her features – so she pressed her back against his chest, her head pillowed by one of his arms as the other came to rest around her middle.

“I was afraid I’d really lost you when I read it,” he said quietly, his breath soft and warm against the back of her head. ”Thank you. For not telling Henry. I don't know what I ever did to deserve you.”

“Shut up,” she sighed. She grasped his hand in both of hers. “Even if I had come to hate you – which is absolutely impossible, by the way – I could never hurt Henry like that. You were too important to him.” 

“Were?”

“Are,” she corrected. 

His chest rumbled with silent, relieved laughter against her back. She closed her eyes, trying to will away the flutters in her stomach.

Did friends lie together like this? She certainly didn’t do this with Mary Margaret or David or Ruby. Was it different with best friends? She really, honestly didn’t know. But even if it made her heart stutter and her skin break into goose bumps, it felt… natural. It felt right. 

Her head was still pounding so she was grateful for the break in conversation.

After a few minutes, she realized Killian had drifted back to sleep, his gentle breaths puffing against her hair in a steady rhythm.

It was so cozy and warm, lying against him. She felt safe.

She let her heavy eyes remain shut and hoped maybe he felt that way, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next time Emma awoke, it was at the urging of her full bladder. Her hangover, while still present, wasn’t quite so miserable now that aspirin had had some time to dull the throbbing in her head. The extra sleep probably helped, too.

She was so comfortable, still wrapped up in Killian’s warm embrace, but she couldn’t ignore nature’s call.

She gently lifted his arm and slid out from underneath it, trying not to wake him. Then she heard a rumbling, sleepy chuckle and realized she was not the first up after all.

“Sorry,” she whispered, wiggling free and running to the bathroom without looking back.

When she returned, he was lying on his back, both arms raised above his head as he stretched. The bottom hem of his Henley lifted, exposing several inches of his stomach. Emma tried desperately not to look at the dark hair below his navel, but she was only human.

He grinned as he peeked an eye open at her and she flushed, clearing her throat as he settled his hands beneath his head.

“Good morning. Again.”

Was it ridiculous just how incredible a ‘good morning’ from Killian Jones felt? It was kind of surreal. 

“Morning,” she said, smoothing her hair behind an ear.

He sat up and shook his arm a little.

“Arm’s still half-asleep,” he explained with a short laugh. Emma nervously chuckled at that. She’d been lying on it and probably cutting off his circulation for – she peeked at the clock; 10:47am – about three hours. “How’s your head?” 

She shrugged as she sat next to him, tucking her feet beneath her.

“Achy. Much better than earlier, though.”

“May I ask what the occasion was?”

“Hm? You mean last night?” He nodded. “Oh. Uh. Just a girls’ night. Ruby and Mary Margaret dragged me into it.”

He studied her face and then leaned sideways, letting his head rest against the top of the couch cushion. Then he reached out to poke her cheek with his index finger. She raised her eyebrows at the gesture and he laughed.

“Sorry, love. Just… you know, making sure you’re real.”

She mirrored his position and smiled.

“I’m real,” she assured him.

“Mm. Good.” He used the same finger to boop her nose and she narrowed her eyes. “Just double checking,” he whispered with a goofy grin.

For nearly a minute, they sat in silence, just looking at each other. Emma noted the ginger tint to his scruff that she hadn’t seen in the darkness of last night. She peered at his messy bed head and his long eyelashes. She almost chuckled when she noticed the dark black smudges on the chest of his Henley where her mascara had smeared while crying against him in the doorway.

He seemed perfectly content to stare back. His eyes traced the arch of her eyebrows and the apples of her cheeks, down the bridge of her nose, over the slight dimple in her chin. She wished for a moment he’d used his hands (or possibly – preferably, if she were being brutally honest with herself – his lips) instead.

But that line of thought was veering into very dangerous territory, so she decided to speak again. She did still have plenty of burning questions in need of answering, so many so that she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to get through them all.

“How’s Liam?”

He blinked a couple times to refocus and then gave her a tight smile.

“He’s doing all right, all things considered.” He wet his lips with the tip of his tongue and his eyes wandered downward. “Or maybe he’s doing terribly and has just been keeping up his ‘big brother’ act.” 

Emma didn’t know exactly how to respond to that so she just brushed her fingers across his knuckles. He noticed the movement and turned his hand over to hold hers.

“Honestly, he… He’s been dealing with everything much better than I have. I don’t know how he does it. His right leg is gone. It’s just gone.” He exhaled through his nose. “I told him everything. About Milah and Gold and what I did.” He let out a short, humorless laugh. “You were right, Emma. He didn’t judge me for it. And he’s been telling me that none of what happened is my fault.”

“It isn’t.”

“I know,” he said, but Emma didn’t think he was convinced. “I’ve been probably the biggest pain in the arse for months, wallowing in misery over everything and feeling guilty, and then when I remembered that I got off easy with my injuries and Liam’s been struggling just to learn how to walk with a prosthetic, I just felt more guilty. I should be the one comforting him, not the other way around. I’ve been completely useless.”

Emma liked to think she wouldn’t allow anyone to talk badly about her best friend, even if that person happened to be Killian himself.

“First of all,” she began, giving him a stern look. “Don’t make light of your injuries. You don’t have to compare the severity with Liam’s in order to justify having a difficult time with it.” His eyes widened as she admonished him. “And secondly, just because Liam has been comforting you doesn’t mean you haven’t been doing the same for him. I know you have. Stop berating yourself.”

He let her words sink in for a moment and then barely tilted the side of his mouth into an apologetic smile. He pulled his hand away from hers to scratch behind his ear.

“You certainly know how to put a man in his place, Swan.”

“I’m a mother. Giving a proper scolding is a necessary skill.”

His chest shook with laughter.

“Are you calling me a child, then?”

“You said it, not me.”

“So mean.”

He playfully shoved her shoulder and she rolled her eyes and flicked his knee. He faked a frown in response. He was intentionally trying to lighten the mood and Emma wished he didn’t have to. Too many awful things had happened to him this year and she hoped there was some way she could help him now that he was here.

“You said… you came here because he told you to?” she asked uncertainly. His playful demeanor faded and he nodded.

“Well, he didn’t outright tell me to. But… I suppose he suggested it. Very strongly. Multiple times.”

It was beginning to sound like Liam had pushed him into doing something he didn’t want to do in the first place. And even if Killian seemed okay now, maybe his coming here had less to do with wanting to see her and more to do with appeasing his brother.

“You… didn’t want to?” she asked, trying to hide the hurt from her voice. Unfortunately he seemed to pick up on it and looked appalled.

“Of course I wanted to come. Haven’t I told you before? That I’d been wanting to for years?” She reddened, ashamed she’d even let the thought cross her mind. He sighed and tentatively brushed his knuckle under her chin. “Emma, listen,” he continued, a little more softly. “When mum passed… I was a true mess. Not even Liam could console me, and God knows he tried. He’s always been the strong one between us. At the time… the only things that made me feel better were writing to you and carving the shit out of old wooden blocks. Liam encouraged me to do those things because he knew they were helping me. But this time…” He shook his head sadly and looked at his ruined hand, then whispered, “I couldn’t.” 

Emma blinked a few times to stop the welling tears stinging behind her eyes. He’d lost the use of his dominant hand, but it was obviously so much more than that. He’d lost his outlet, his comfort, his coping mechanism.

“Instead of spending my time trying to get better, I practically basked in my misery. Eventually, Liam got sick of that.” He smiled ruefully. “Told me to stop being such a bloody killjoy. Reminded me that it wasn’t the writing itself that helped me so long ago, it was my best friend. And if I continued to ignore your letters, not only could I destroy the most profound and meaningful friendship that anyone could ever ask for,” he said, eyes glassed over with emotion, “but I’d also sentence myself to a horribly lonely existence. And I’d have no one to blame but myself.”

A few rogue tears escaped from her eyes and she reached out and stroked his cheek, his facial hair scratching against her palm. Before she could say anything, he continued, smiling sincerely.

“Emma Swan,” he sighed contently, the forget-me-not blue of his eyes glimmering as he gazed over her. “It is an absolute pleasure to meet you.”

She laughed a little hoarsely and nodded, wiping the wetness from her cheeks. 

“It’s nice to meet you, too… Killian Jones.”

He leaned forward and slipped his arms around her waist, pulling her into his embrace. She closed her eyes and wrapped her arms tightly around his neck.

She didn’t realize she could feel so… complete. And it wasn’t like she felt like her life here in Storybrooke wasn’t enough. She had Henry and wonderful friends and a job she liked and a nice apartment. All of that was incredible, really.

But it was like there was just this one missing piece of the puzzle – a tiny void that had taken root during Killian’s year of silence – that was now in place. She’d found it right here, in the cool blue of his eyes when he looked at her and the gentle scraping of his scruff against her skin and the feeling of being pressed up against him like this, little pinpricks beneath her fingertips and her heart floating in her chest.

“I’m glad you’re here,” she whispered against his cheek.

His fingers clenched a little, pulling the fabric of her t-shirt, and she could physically feel his body tremble at the weight of those words.

“I am, too. Really.” He pulled away from her to study her face. She could read the nervous energy in his expression and the tension of his shoulders. “Emma, honestly, after I boarded the plane to leave England until the very moment that I heard your voice as you were coming up the stairs and saw you as I stood in your doorway… I was so terrified that I’d considered backing out at least a dozen times.”

“Terrified of… me? Of seeing me?”

“Kind of? I mean… I don’t know. It’s not like I didn’t trust you. I guess it was the idea of making it real.” Emma’s expression must have reflected her confusion because Killian immediately cringed at his own choice of words. “No, not- I didn’t mean that our friendship wasn’t real before. It’s just… this is a big change. We won’t be confined to letters and phone calls anymore. It’s gonna be… this.” He gestured between the two of them and then chuckled sheepishly. “It’s gonna be me making an arse of myself and you looking at me like I’m the biggest bloody idiot in the world.”

Emma shook her head and laughed.

“I don’t think that’s a new development, Killian.” 

“Oh, shut it, you,” he scoffed, his ears tinted pink with embarrassment. He looked a little flustered as he continued. “What I’m trying to say is that… while it’s really wonderful and exciting, truly…” His hands were visibly shaking and Emma fought the urge to reach out and still them. “It’s also… it’s scary, Emma. I guess I’m just worried that somehow I’ll end up messing it all up.” 

Emma definitely understood that, because she had the same fear. Especially since he didn’t know how she felt about him. And yes, it was clearer now than ever before that she was still hopelessly in love with him. 

And that was something she planned on keeping to herself. She wasn’t about to ruin what they had with those selfish desires. He needed his best friend and that’s what she’d be. 

“Killian, you don’t have to worry about that,” she said, a small, reassuring smile lifting her cheeks despite the fact that she was battling with her feelings already. His expression echoed hers after a beat. “We’re gonna be just fine.” 

He was just about to respond, but they both jerked in surprised when they heard a knock at the door. Emma’s eyes darted to the clock and she was confused when she saw it wasn’t even noon yet. David wasn’t back already, was he?

Killian looked a bit panicked, so she placed a hand on his shoulder as she stood.

“Wait here,” she said softly. He shifted nervously but remained seated on the couch as she strode to the door.

She’d been expecting David and Henry, or possibly even Mary Margaret and Ruby, since they might have curiously wandered downstairs to see what last night had been about. But sometimes the unexpected happens.

“Walsh.” She blinked a few times as she took in the sight of her boyfriend standing in the hallway, a hopeful smile on his face and both hands folded behind his back. Honestly, she had completely forgotten about him in the craziness that occurred following girls’ night. “What are you doing here?”

“Well,” he began, shrugging and pulling a large bouquet of flowers out from behind his back, “I wanted to apologize for last night. I was insensitive. I know you’re only worried about what’s best for Henry and I completely understand that. I was just being an impatient ass, so…”

He pushed the bouquet towards her with a smile and she awkwardly grasped them against her chest, genuinely surprised at the gesture and his maturity to admit that he’d been in the wrong.

Shit. She felt awful. She hadn’t spared him a single thought since last night and she’d been here making doe eyes at her best friend while Walsh had probably been planning this grand apology.

And he’d brought flowers. While she admittedly wasn’t the most feminine woman around, she did actually love receiving them. After all, it was a rare occurrence, growing up the way she did. 

“I figured you might have a hangover, too, so I thought maybe I could come take care of you. You know, to make up for being a jerk.”

She pursed her lips, extremely aware of the fact that Killian was on the couch behind her and listening in. She sucked in a breath, struggling to decide what course of action to take.

Turning Walsh down right now would probably make her an even worse girlfriend. But letting him in would mean introducing her boyfriend to her best friend (and also the man she loved, which was definitely not okay).

“Uh… well, now’s not really a good time, Walsh,” she said, briefly chewing at her lower lip.

“Oh. Is Henry here?” He sounded really disappointed.

“No. No, that’s not it. Um…” She glanced back for just a second to look at Killian, and that was a mistake.

Walsh narrowed his eyes and then stepped forward, ignoring her attempt to block him, peering around the door and finally noticing her visitor.

“Emma, are you kidding me?” he asked as he returned his eyes to her. His voice was low with anger and hurt. “You’re cheating?”

“What? No!” she gasped. She didn’t realize his mind would immediately go there. “Of course not.”

“I’m her friend,” Killian interjected, standing and making his way over to them.

Walsh didn’t seem convinced and he crossed his arms over his chest as he sized him up.

“I know all of Emma’s friends,” he said, brows set in displeasure. “And you are not one of them.”

“Walsh,” Emma sighed exasperatedly. “This is Killian. Killian Jones?”

The name must not have rung any bells because he continued to look absolutely offended. She was sure she’d spoken of him plenty of times but maybe he hadn’t been paying attention. 

“My best friend?” she asked. “The one I write to?”

That seemed to catch his attention and he wilted a bit.

“Your pen pal? The Navy guy?”

“Aye,” Killian said. “That’s me.”

Walsh rolled his shoulders a bit as he processed that, looking between the two of them. But it was like he was trying to find a reason to stay angry.

“Well you failed to mention he was here,” he said to her. He took a quick glance back at Killian before leaning closer to her and saying quietly, “And you never told me he looked like this.”

Emma made the mistake of watching Killian’s reaction to that statement, which he’d obviously heard. She could see the mischievous twinkle in his eyes as her own boyfriend stroked his ego. God, what a dork.

“I didn’t know,” she whispered back. She could see her friend standing a little taller from her periphery. “He just came here last night, so maybe lay off a little.”

“Last night?” Walsh asked, taken aback. Emma internally scolded herself for letting that little tidbit slip past her brain-to-mouth filter. “You mean to tell me he actually slept here?” 

“Don’t worry, mate, I took the couch.”

Emma hoped her face didn’t betray her embarrassment, because they both knew she had slept on the couch with him. Thankfully he seemed to be keeping that particular information to himself.

Walsh seemed to calm down, no doubt taking note of the pillow and blanket still strewn across the couch cushions. 

“Right. Good.” He rubbed at his arm, probably a little ashamed of jumping to conclusions. 

Killian broke the tense atmosphere by extending his hand toward Walsh, who hesitantly took it. Emma was still holding the flowers Walsh had gifted her with and she found the whole situation really weird and uncomfortable.

“Uh, let me get these in water,” she mumbled, leaving the two at the doorway as she escaped into the kitchen.

Emma owned exactly one vase. It had been a housewarming gift from Mary Margaret but she’d never actually had the chance to use it. It was a medium-sized porcelain vase, wide at the bottom with a narrow neck, pure white with dark blue swans as accents, and at the time she’d been touched to receive something so beautiful and thoughtful. She pulled it out from one of the cabinets and then filled it with water, trying her best to ignore the voices across the room, and placed the bouquet in as nicely as she could. Then she reluctantly wandered back over to them and put the vase delicately on the table next to the door.

As soon as she turned to them, Killian pointed his thumb behind him, let out a quick, “Gonna use your restroom, Swan,” and then swiftly made his way across the room and down the hall.

She wondered if Walsh had said something to him to get that kind of reaction.

“Sorry, Emma,” he said, his tone a little tight. “I came here to apologize and ended up saying something else stupid.”

“It’s fine,” she murmured, even though it wasn’t really. (But to be honest, she didn’t think she could reasonably be mad at him for assuming since she’d definitely wanted to kiss Killian. And possibly more.)

“So… I guess you wanna spend time with your friend today?” She could hear the strain in his voice, lingering jealousy tinted with the hope that she might actually decide to choose spending time with him instead. “And Henry will stay out with David?”

Uh oh. She could already tell this wasn’t going to be a pretty conversation.

“Uh, actually, Henry’s gonna be home this afternoon.”

It took a few seconds before understanding dawned on his face.

“You’re… letting him meet Henry.” It was not a question, and she could almost feel the resentment.

“They already know each other,” she insisted, trying to keep her tone pacifying. “Look, even though he hasn’t physically been around, Killian has been a part of Henry’s life since he was born. He sends him birthday presents every year. They’ve spoken on the phone dozens of times and-“

“You literally met him yesterday,” he argued. “And he’s just a friend. I’m your boyfriend, Emma, and it’s been three months!”

She was about to snap at him about how he’d just said sorry for pushing this issue, but then she saw him visibly force himself to calm down, taking a deep breath and loosening the tight muscles in his forehead.

“Fuck,” he muttered. “I didn’t come here to fight. Who you let Henry meet is none of my business. I’m sorry.” 

She vaguely recognized Killian’s figure hovering in the hall entry from the corner of her eye. 

“Walsh, I know I’m difficult. Okay? But I need you to be patient.” 

“I know. You’re right.”

He stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her and she reflexively hugged him back. She hated how she immediately compared the feeling to hugging Killian, but she couldn’t help it. It wasn’t awful or anything, but it wasn’t the same.

With Killian, she felt safe and warm and she just wanted to relax into his arms and breathe him in. She wanted to stay pressed against his torso, feeling his heartbeat against her. The feel of his strong arms around her waist and his hand tugging at her shirt and the scratch of his scruff against her cheek all turned her into a mess of emotions.

With Walsh it was… just a hug. It didn’t make her heart stutter in her chest. It didn’t make her cheeks warm. It didn’t make her lungs burn as her breath caught. It was just a pair of arms around her.

And that was unacceptable. Because Walsh was her boyfriend and Killian was her friend and she needed to stop.

He pulled back and she plastered a smile on her face, hoping she looked properly affected by his touch. His eyes dropped to her lips and she knew he’d lean in to kiss her so she tried not to focus on the fact that Killian was probably watching.

Like the hug, his kiss was just a pair of lips pressed to hers. And unfortunately, that thought had her immediately wishing she knew how it compared to Killian’s.

Fuck. She was going to have to do some operant conditioning shit to herself to stop those damn intrusive thoughts. Maybe she’d pinch the inside of her arm every time she thought something inappropriate about her best friend.

“Dinner tomorrow?” he asked hopefully as he pulled away. She nodded mechanically.

“Yeah. Sure. Tomorrow.”

He beamed and then turned to Killian, giving a short nod, then kissed her cheek.

“Wear something nice,” he said, winking before he turned around and stepped out into the apartment hallway. 

“Okay. Um, bye, Walsh.”

“Bye, babe."

She closed the door softly behind him and took a moment to compose herself. 

Well. That was certainly awkward.

“He seems…” Emma turned to Killian when she heard him speak up. He looked to be a little at loss for words, and there was a flash of something odd in his eyes. (Was it jealousy? Ugh, no. Her mind was just doing the thing again. She pinched the inside of her arm.) “… nice,” he finally concluded.

“I’m sorry about that,” she sighed, cringing a little. “Last night we kind of had a disagreement, so… you know… I guess showing up and seeing a man at my apartment wasn’t very reassuring.”

“A handsome man,” he corrected, a devilish smirk pulling at his lips. She rolled her eyes. She couldn’t even argue because he was right.

“I knew there had to be a reason you were always so full of yourself,” she laughed.

His teasing smirk turned into a sort of shy smile and he scratched at his ear as his cheeks flushed. Ah… that’s right. Last night Ruby had called him a ‘hottie’ and he’d done the same thing. 

Maybe all that swagger was just for show.

“You know,” he began, clearing his throat a little and stepping towards her. “I’ll take that as a true compliment from you.”

“Oh yeah?” she asked, still smiling. 

“Well,” he shrugged, “you are a beautiful woman.” She could feel the blush creeping up her neck. “Even more so in person.”

She recalled his reaction to seeing her photograph several years ago and flushed a little darker. A ‘bloody goddess,’ he’d called her.

He was looking at her now with something akin to adoration and she’d be lying if she said it didn’t make her swoon. (She pinched the inside of her arm.) 

“Well you’re like a freaking GQ model, so I guess we’re both pleasantly surprised.” 

His shoulders shook as he threw his head back to laugh. It was so loud and clear and beautiful, quite a different thing to hear it without phone static, but her hangover still persisted and she loathed that the sound made her head throb a little. 

He quieted down when he saw her tilt her head away.

“Whoops. Sorry, love,” he chuckled. He sidled up to her and placed his hands atop her shoulders. “Why don’t you go take a nice, relaxing bath to fight that hangover, and I’ll go back to Granny’s to shower and change and grab us something ridiculously greasy and unhealthy for breakfast. Hmm? Or perhaps it’ll be lunch at this hour.”

A little time alone to take a breather and let everything sink in sounded very welcome right now.

“Yeah, sounds good.”

He nodded and went to go retrieve his jacket, slipping it on over his wrinkled clothes. Emma wished that she didn’t find the motion so sexy. (Her arm was going to be covered in bruises pretty soon.)

She snagged her keys off the coffee table and handed them to him with a nonchalant shrug.

“I figure it’ll be easier to have the car to carry all your stuff back along with lunch.” 

He blinked a few times, slowly.

“You… want me to get my stuff.” 

“Oh.” She had just assumed he’d want to stay with her. “Well if you’d rather not…”

“No, no! Just… you’re okay with that? Me staying here?”

He looked genuinely surprised and she wasn’t sure why. Had she not made it clear last night when she asked him to stay? Of course she wanted him here.

“Well, yeah,” she chuckled. “I mean, I guess it might be more comfortable at Granny’s since you’d have a bed and a whole room to yourself-“

“I don’t care about that,” he assured her. He licked his lips and raised an eyebrow in question, looking a bit uneasy. “You sure your boyfriend won’t mind?”

What?

“Walsh isn’t my keeper, Killian,” she said carefully. “You’re my best friend. If you being here bothers him then that’s his problem. He’ll get over it.” 

She could tell Killian was trying to fight a smile and she rolled her eyes, breathlessly laughing at him. He was such a nerd. Her reaction had him letting the grin spread across his face, reaching up to scratch that same damn spot again. She already found the gesture extraordinarily endearing and she made it a goal to see more of it. 

He locked eyes with her as he relaxed, stepping forward into her space again, his body just inches from hers. His smile grew a little gentler and his eyes more serious, boring into her own. She found herself mesmerized by the intensity of his gaze.

In a low voice, rich and sultry (and definitely already making her consider another pinch because wow), he asked, “What is it you want, Swan?”

Whoa.

What exactly was he asking her? What did she want? Well, him. That was her first thought. (Goddamn her arm hurt.) 

She was dazed for a moment, trying to force down the burning need to swallow because she was sure he would hear it. She wasn’t even sure what he was asking about. Was he flirting with her? He couldn’t be, right? She was just worked up.

She couldn’t really find her voice and didn’t really know what to say in the first place, so she just shrugged bashfully. 

“Surprise you?” he murmured, eyes twinkling as he no doubt took note of her awestruck (fuckstruck, to be honest) expression.

She just nodded dumbly.

“All right, then,” he said, stepping back and breaking the spell. He twirled her keys on one of his fingers and then nodded to the front door. “I’ll be back shortly.”

Oh. Fuck. He was asking her what she wanted to eat.

To be fair, their conversation had taken a turn and food wasn’t exactly the most pressing issue on her mind. Still, she felt like a bumbling idiot for letting a few ambiguous words get to her.

“Yeah. Sure,” she mumbled, afraid she would burst into flames from the embarrassment.

He glanced back at her one last time before he left. She hoped her face wasn’t as red as she suspected it was. He didn’t look smug, just offering a tentative smile and a brief nod before closing the door behind him.

As soon as he was gone, she began fanning her face with her hands. Was she sweating? She felt like she was sweating. 

Instead of the long, warm, relaxing bath that she probably needed, she took a really quick cold shower. (It wasn’t exactly pleasant, but it was soothing against her already sore arm. She might have to rethink the whole positive punishment thing.) 

By the time she’d finished dressing, blow-drying her hair, and applying light make up (which was not part of her usual routine on a weekend; God, she was so fucked), barely twenty minutes had passed since Killian left.

But she didn’t even have time to worry about what the hell else she’d do until he got back because when she entered her living room, Mary Margaret and Ruby were sitting on her couch. 

“Uh, hey? Come on in?” she said sarcastically. 

Both of them swung around, eyes wide with curiosity and excitement.

“Emma, what happened?” Mary Margaret asked at the same time that Ruby crowed, “Killian’s a fucking hunk!”

Emma laughed despite herself.

“If I weren’t hungover, I’d probably be asking for a drink right about now.”

“Oh, Emma,” Mary Margaret said, reaching out a hand to invite her over.

Instead of sitting on the couch, she situated herself on the edge of the coffee table in front of them.

“So… you guys figured out who he is.”

“Well he’s got a British accent and you pretty much had a mental breakdown in the middle of the hallway,” Ruby said. Mary Margaret smacked her arm and she rubbed it while looking offended. “What? It’s true…”

“I should have left you upstairs. You have no tact.”

“It’s fine, guys. Really,” Emma sighed. They both turned their attention back to her, waiting expectantly for an explanation. Emma shook her head in defeat. “Uh, so… a lot of stuff happened, but basically he got hurt and was in the hospital for a while and that’s why he didn’t contact me.”

She wasn’t about to go into detail and reveal some of the more personal things Killian had shared with her. 

“Is he all right?” Mary Margaret asked, truly concerned.

“Yeah. I mean, he can’t really use his left hand much anymore, but otherwise I think he’s okay. Physically, anyway.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ruby asked.

“I… nothing. Let’s just not go into it right now, okay? What matters is that he’s okay.” 

“And here, Ems!” She flushed a little and nodded. Her friends shared a look and then smiled widely at her. “So are you gonna ignore my comment about how sexy he is?”

“God, Ruby…” she laughed. “Yes, okay? Yes he is ridiculously attractive.”

Ruby squealed and both Emma and Mary Margaret cringed.

“Ruby, how are you not hungover?” her friend asked, rubbing her temples. “You had more to drink than both of us.” Ruby shrugged in response.

“Magic,” she deadpanned. Then she smiled and clasped her hands together, leaning forward into Emma’s space. “Sooo? We heard him leave a little bit ago. He stayed the night, right?”

“Nothing inappropriate happened, Ruby, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Well that’s unfortunate.”

“You’re the worst,” Emma chuckled. “You know that, right?” 

“Don’t be bitter just because I’m willing to be the one to say what everyone else is thinking.”

“Hush, Ruby,” Mary Margaret chided. “So… do you know why he’s here? A visit?”

“Oh…” She brushed her hands through her hair and let out a whoosh of a breath. “Well… he’s kind of here to stay.”

“What?!” her friends squeaked.

“Yeah,” she shrugged, trying to look calm and casual about the whole situation. “He’s gonna live here now.”

“Like, here here? With you?” Emma was worried Ruby’s eyes might pop out of her head. 

“Uh… for now, I guess. I don’t know if he plans on finding an apartment or something.”

“Emma, this is… I mean, this is kind of a big deal, right?”

“Yeah. Believe me, I know. But can we maybe pretend for a little while that it isn’t?” 

Her friends shared a meaningful look and then rolled their eyes.

“Ems, you know we love you, right? But no. We won’t pretend like this is just a normal thing.”

“He’s your best friend,” Mary Margaret added. “You’ve said before that you’ve known him most of your life. So, yeah, we’re gonna make a big deal about it.”

Right. Well, at least they had the decency to be honest with her.

For the next twenty minutes, they questioned her about everything that happened with Killian. Mary Margaret tended to ask more about the content of their conversations and what Killian had been up to the past year, and Ruby, unsurprisingly, veered more towards ‘how far’ she got with him. (And maybe Emma had become pretty used to gossip since she moved here, because she actually did mention their hugs and gentle touches and even the fact that she’d slept next to him. Both her friends seemed ecstatic and she was only a little surprised when neither of them said anything about the fact that she was dating Walsh.)

When there was a knock at the door, Emma nearly tripped and fell as she scrambled to get to it before her friends could. They were right on her tail and hovered close behind her as she pulled it open.

She took a steady breath when she saw him. He wore dark jeans and blue plaid button-up, his hair now tamed by product and his scruff lightly trimmed back. She had the strange urge to say something very Ruby-esque but she held her tongue.

Killian didn’t notice her friends at first and waved the bag from Granny’s in front of him. The smell immediately pulled her in. She didn’t even have to open it to know what he’d gotten. 

“Grilled cheese and onion rings?” she laughed breathlessly, grabbing the bag from his hand. “My favorite.”

“Aye. Figured if I were to surprise you, might as well make it a good surprise.”

He dragged his luggage into her doorway and then stilled when he noticed she had company.

Both of her friends were beaming, clearly excited. Killian just looked a bit shy and flustered.

“Oh. Uh… h-hello again,” he stammered.

“Hello,” her friends responded in unison, both grinning like the fucking Cheshire cat.

Killian cleared his throat, attempting to collect himself, and pushed his luggage off to the side.

“You must be Ruby and Mary Margaret. Pleasure,” he said politely. He held his hand out to Ruby and Emma turned away and clasped a hand over her mouth to stop from laughing because she knew exactly where this was going to go.

“Nu-uh, honey,” Ruby crooned, shooing his hand away. He raised an eyebrow in question and then nearly jumped out of his skin when Ruby pulled him into a hug. “I don’t do handshakes,” she whispered, low enough to almost be seductive.

Emma struggled not to just burst into laughter at Killian’s reaction to that. His arms sort of hovered over her back, but didn’t quite touch her. His panicked eyes darted to Emma and she snorted, her poor attempt at composure ruined in an instant. That seemed to help him relax and he awkwardly patted Ruby’s back.

She pulled away and winked at him and Emma reminded herself that she should scold her later for intentionally trying to make him uncomfortable.

Mary Margaret soothed things over, though, sweetly offering her hand for him to shake.

“It’s really so wonderful to meet you,” she said, a delighted smile lighting her face. “Emma talks about you a lot.”

“Like, a lot,” Ruby added. (Unnecessary and unhelpful, Emma thought.)

Perhaps Emma should have thought to be concerned about the fact that both of her friends had intimate knowledge of her feelings for Killian, as well as the spiral of depression she’d been stumbling in and out of for months. Yes, she did talk about him a lot (maybe too much), but the content of those conversations were all things she’d rather keep from the man in question.

“Ah…” Killian started, a little red in the cheeks, looking ashamed. “Well, given my long absence, I can’t imagine it was all good things.”

Emma sighed and prayed that her friends would keep their mouths shut, grasping the bag from Granny’s against her chest. Could they just skip this part and eat lunch? 

“You’ve had some interesting nicknames recently. Most notably ‘that British asshole’ and ‘Lieutenant Jerkface,’” Ruby said, making Emma just want to crawl in a hole and never come back out. “But I’m pretty sure they were said with affection.” 

“No tact,” Mary Margaret sighed again.

Killian didn’t seem offended, though. Instead, he seemed rather amused.

“Not very creative, are you, Swan?” he chuckled.

She pouted and ignored them all, carrying the food over to her dining table. Ruby went off trying to remember the rest of the awful names she called Killian over the past few months while he stood back and laughed at her lack of originality. Luckily, at least Mary Margaret had her back.

“Ruby, why don’t you and I let them eat their lunch in peace, hm?”

“Fine, spoil my fun.”

Mary Margaret practically dragged her out the door, but not before she mimed a phone to her ear and mouthed, ‘Call me,’ to Killian.

When the door closed behind them, he turned to her with a raised brow and gestured behind him.

“Um, she has a girlfriend, right?”

“Yes. Yes she does.”

“… All right.”

Emma laughed as she dug through the bag, pulling out the contents and setting them out on the table.

“Ruby’s, like, a compulsive flirter,” she said. “She’s harmless, though.”

“Good to know.”

There was something oddly comfortable about having a meal together. It was something most friends had probably done thousands of times before – and most likely taken for granted – but she’d never done it with Killian. She hid a grin when she saw onion ring crumbs clinging to the scruff on his chin, but he wiped them away pretty quickly anyway. 

He asked a lot of questions about her friends, things he said he’d wanted to ask in response to her letters. She told him about sheriffing with David and sailing with Eric and late nights with Mary Margaret. He wanted to know about Henry’s little girlfriend and Emma was more than happy to share. They were still in the same class, so Henry saw her practically every day, and often came home with the cutest stories.

By the time they finished eating, Killian had been filled in on nearly the entirety of the past year – things she hadn’t bothered mentioning in her short letters.

“So let me get this straight,” he began, crumpling his paper wrapper in a ball and tossing it in the empty bag. “You’re now a horse-back-riding, mixed-martial-arts-fighting, gun-toting sheriff… and your primary job is breaking up bar fights and chasing off wild animals.”

“That about sums it up,” she said, gathering their trash and tossing it in the bin. “At least I’ve racked up quite the résumé.”

“So you have.” He helped out by wiping the crumbs off the table into a napkin, tossing it in the bin while she held it open. “Speaking of résumés… I suppose I’ll need to write one up pretty soon. I’ve got a CV, but it’s rather long.”

“Oh. Right.” She hadn’t even considered that he’d need to get a job. He was planning on living here, after all. “Well, there’s no rush. Take some time off, you know? Settle in.”

He looked down and made a little half-smile. Then he met her eyes again and tossed his arm over her shoulders, pulling her into a side-hug.

He smelled so… fresh. Piney and clean and spicy. It must have been his body wash or something, but damn it was intoxicating. 

“Just so you know, Swan, I don’t intend on freeloading. I plan to earn the right to your couch.”

He lifted his hand like he was preparing to poke her, but his motion was interrupted by a jolt when they both heard a knock at the door. He turned to her with anxious excitement in his eyes.

She patted his arm reassuringly and then padded over to the door. 

When she opened it, Henry rushed at her with a loud squeal.

“Mama!” he shouted, throwing his arms around her waist. She cradled his head against her and smiled down at him.

“Hey, I missed you!”

“I missed you, too.” He rolled his head so his chin rested against her stomach and grinned up at her. “Listen, listen! Me and Uncle David went fishing and I catched a huuuuge fishie! Like, it was this big!” He let go of her and stretched his arms wide, surely exaggerating the size several times over.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah! And then he cutted it up before we could eat it. It was super bloody and gross!”

She chuckled softly. ‘Gross’ was pretty much synonymous with ‘cool’ as far as Henry was concerned.

She glanced up to greet David, but his eyes were trained behind her. She stood straighter and gnawed at her lip, slightly worried about David’s reaction to her long silent pen pal showing up on her doorstep. Then he turned to her, confusion written across his features.

“And this is…?”

She looked back at Killian, whose gaze was acutely directed at her son, and decided that this was his moment, not David’s. So she ignored her friend for the moment and crouched down to Henry’s level as he curiously peeked around her to look at their visitor.

“Henry?” she began, licking her lips a little nervously. He looked up at her with questioning eyes and pointed his finger beyond her shoulder.

“Mama, who’s that?”

“You know our friend? The one we write letters to?” Henry nodded and she softly smiled. “Well, he came all this way to see us. This is Killian Jones.” 

Henry’s eyes widened a little and he looked between them both a few times. Killian’s expression was extremely gentle, a slow, hesitant smile creeping across his face. He knelt down and took a deep breath. 

“Hello there, lad.”

And that was all it took.

Emma pressed her hands over her mouth as Henry went barreling towards him, the force of the impact causing him to release an audible grunt. Henry’s arms were thrown around his neck and he wrapped his around the boy’s waist.

He was visibly blinking back tears, and honestly, so was she.

Henry let out a loud giggle as Killian hoisted him up in the air, still holding him firmly.

“Too tight,” Henry squeaked, and Killian loosened his grip and laughed in response, a loud, happy sound that Emma was sure she’d remember for the rest of her life. 

“Better?” he asked. His tone faltered a little, but Henry didn’t seem to notice.

“Yeah.”

Killian’s eyes met Emma’s over Henry’s shoulder and she almost broke down at the sheer joy on his face – the deep creases around his eyes and the dimples pressing in his cheeks and the shine in his eyes, the reflective blue a bit lighter than she’d seen before. 

She recalled the words he’d written her just after Henry’s birth. He promised he’d drop everything to come to her if she asked him to, and now that she recognized he’d actually wanted her to ask, she greatly regretted not doing so. This was a moment that he had been looking forward to for five years.

There was just an instant, barely a few seconds, where she let herself wonder how different life would have been if she would have had him there with her while she was raising her son right after prison. Of all the things to speculate on, the one thought that had her nearly gasping for breath was if, in this alternate reality, Henry would have ending up calling him Dad. She yearned for that life and it made her heart ache that she’d never know how it would have played out.

Henry wiggled in his grip and Killian let him pull back. He adjusted his arms underneath the boy’s bottom to hold him up.

“Hi, Killian,” he beamed.

“’Killian’? What happened to ‘Killy’?” he asked, a dramatic frown pulling at his lips. Emma imagined he was slightly dismayed that in his absence he’d missed the formative months leading to Henry’s much improved articulation. He had always loved his adorable nickname. 

“I’m a big kid now,” Henry explained, settling his hands on his hips. “So I can talk gooder.”

That had Killian bursting into breathy laughter and he tried to compose himself quickly so as not to offend her son.

“You can, indeed, lad.” His eyes shone with glee as he shifted and leaned over to let the boy back on his feet. Then he playfully poked the tip of Henry’s nose. “I’ve got something for you. A gift.”

Of course he did. Shocker.

“A gift?” he gasped excitedly, jumping from foot to foot, watching as Killian unzipped his luggage and began digging through it.

“Aye.” He pulled out a rectangular present enveloped in glimmering red wrapping paper. “It was supposed to be your birthday present… Sorry it’s a bit late.” 

“That’s okay,” Henry said. Killian placed the gift in his hands and Henry must not have expected it to be quite so heavy because his arms swayed a little at the weight. He gave a look asking silently for permission and Killian nodded.

“Go for it.”

Henry grinned as he began ripping the paper off like the excited five-year-old he was. When he saw the cover of the large hardback book, he gasped in awe. Then he held it up over his head as he turned to Emma.

“Mama, look!” he yelled, clearly overjoyed. 

Emma squinted to read the title as her son waved it around.

“’The Big Book of Ships’?”

“It’s a visual encyclopedia, meant for all ages,” Killian explained. “There are designs in there from ancient Egyptian barges to Viking longships to eighteenth-century European warships… It’s pretty comprehensive.”

Henry was already sitting on the floor and flipping through pages, ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘ahh-ing’ over the detailed pictures.

“Henry, what do you say?”

Her son managed to pull himself away from the pages just long enough to hug Killian another time.

“Thanks, Killian!” 

“You are most welcome, Henry.”

His eyes lingered on the boy as he went back to flipping through the book’s pages. 

David cleared his throat, not so subtly reminding everyone that he was still present, waiting for introductions. 

“Oh!” Emma jumped. Killian coughed nervously and stood, facing the two of them. “Right, uh… David, this is-“

“Killian Jones, right?” he finished for her. He looked pretty unamused and it made Emma nervous. The last time she’d mentioned Killian to him, she’d been in a bad mood and said some pretty nasty things.

“Aye, that’s me,” Killian said, offering his hand. “Pleasure to meet you, David.”

David’s arms were stubbornly crossed over his chest and he didn’t make a single move to shake Killian’s hand. Her brow twitched. Killian had been through enough and she wasn’t about to let David’s ‘protective older brother’ side make things more difficult.

‘Be nice,’ she mouthed, giving him a look that threatened bodily harm should he refuse.

He pursed his lips and reluctantly untangled his arms, shaking Killian’s hand with a firm grip. 

“Yeah. Pleasure.” Emma coughed a warning at his tone, eyes piercing the side of David’s head, and she heard him sigh in response. “Uh. I’ve heard quite a bit about you, I guess.” 

“Likewise,” Killian said politely, seemingly unaffected by David’s intimidation. Their hands fell back to their sides just as Henry rushed over and tugged at Killian’s pant leg. He grinned down at the boy and rested his right hand on his shoulder.

“What happened to your hand?” Henry asked, reaching over to touch the scar on his left hand.

David’s attention shifted to the man’s hand and he glanced at Emma with questions in his eyes. She let her gaze fall away. This was not her story to tell.

“Ah, that,” Killian chuckled. It seemed like he struggled for a moment, deciding how exactly to tell her child. It was a bit heavy. “Well,” he began, lowering his voice and eyeing him conspiratorially. “Would you believe that I got in a fight with a crocodile?”

Henry’s eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. Emma nearly laughed aloud at Killian’s improvised explanation. Of course he’d pick that particular story to appropriate. 

“A crocodile?” he gaped. But then he seemed to recall where he’d heard such a tale before. “You mean like in Peter Pan?” 

He chuckled weakly. Busted.

“Aye, just like in Peter Pan.”

Henry seemed to accept his story at face value, his trusting nature and vivid imagination stopping him from questioning the man’s fiction. 

“That’s so cool!” He turned excitedly to her. “Mama, Killian fought a crocodile!”

“And won. Don’t forget that, lad.”

“A crocodile, huh?” David asked lowly. He sounded mildly amused, but more interested in hearing the real story.

Emma glowered at him. She’d honestly had an easier time introducing him to her freaking boyfriend. Killian didn’t seem fazed, though, just nodding slightly.

“Vicious things,” he said, face a mask of composure. 

David seemed to finally get that he should back off of the subject. He scrunched his chin and bobbed his head in apology to the both of them. Killian offered a kind smile in return and Emma sighed in relief.

“I, uh… I guess I should go see how Mary Margaret is faring. She sent a few drunken texts last night and none of them were very discernable.”

“A few too many appletinis,” Emma chuckled.

“God. Those things again?” 

“Right? I don’t know how she can do it. Anyway, she was here earlier and aside from a little headache I think she’s fine. I bet she’ll be happy to have you home, though.”

“Yeah.” He leaned down and kissed the top of Henry’s head. “See you later, kiddo.”

“Bye, Uncle David! Thanks for taking me camping!”

He chuckled and moved to leave, but Emma grabbed his arm and pulled in close.

“Thank you, really,” she said quietly. His expression softened and he tugged her forward into a hug.

“Sorry,” he whispered, low enough to evade being heard by Killian and Henry, who were now discussing the details of his camping trip. “I’m just worried about you.”

“I know. And thanks for that. But really, he’s been through a bunch of shit this year and I just need you on my side okay? And you can do that by not being an ass,” she whispered back.

“Emma. I’m always on your side.” He pulled back and kissed her forehead. She rolled her eyes and hid a smile. “Now,” he said, volume a bit louder. “I better go upstairs and take care of my Snow White.”

Emma scrunched her brows in confusion and David laughed.

“She called me ‘Prince Charming’ last night in one of her drunk texts,” he explained shortly, turning and heading up the stairs. 

Emma laughed as she closed the door behind him.

Killian and Henry had taken up residence on the couch, the large book spread across both of their laps. Her friend waved her over as Henry gushed over his new book.

“Mama, look! It’s a… t-… tee… treem…” He struggled with reading the label of the ship he was pointing out, and sighed, giving up and turning to Killian with an expectant look.

“A trireme,” Killian corrected, ruffling his hair. “They were ancient warships that used three levels of oars to propel them forward. See?” He pointed to the picture to show Henry.

“I know you were in the Navy and all, but do you seriously know everything about ships?”

“Swan,” he chuckled amusedly, turning the book so she could see. Next to the picture there was a small blurb. “I was reading from the page.”

She crinkled her nose and the creases next to Killian’s eyes etched deeper into his skin. 

“Which one is yours?” Henry asked him. 

“Mine?” His thick brows ruffled in confusion. Henry gestured to the book. “You’re asking which ship is mine?”

“Yeah, ‘cause you went sailing allllll over the world.” 

Whoops. She guessed now was as good a time as any to let Killian know she’d told her son he was out traveling across the oceans this entire time. Her friend looked to her with a grateful, but apologetic smile.

“Aye,” he breathed, sounding a bit choked up. He quickly schooled his demeanor into something a bit lighter and returned his attention to her son. “That’s right." 

Killian searched through the book for the closest thing resembling the last ship he’d been on to show Henry. Her son asked a lot of questions about his long sailing trip, so he made up plenty of fun stories on the fly and Henry listened intently, curiosity piqued.

There was something almost dreamlike about sitting on her living room couch next to her son and her best friend. Henry was always great with new people (not that Killian was technically ‘new people’), so it wasn’t surprising to see how easily he accepted Killian into their home. And right now, with the three of them huddled together and flipping through a book, it looked like – felt like – they were a little family.

And that scared the shit out of her. Not because of her trust and commitment issues, but because she was sure she never wanted it to end.

They spent the rest of the day leisurely, reading and talking and laughing and she wondered if every day would be like this now. She was still trying to wrap her mind around the fact that he was here, so thinking about what would happen in the future was difficult.

That evening, they ordered pizza for dinner at Henry’s request and Emma learned that Killian liked pineapple on his. She told him she’d have to rethink their entire friendship and he simply nudged her shoulder with his playfully, apologizing for his horrible taste between laughs. 

After dinner, Henry begged Killian to read to him (and to be honest, it isn’t like he needed convincing) but fell asleep halfway through The Giving Tree, his limp body leaned up against her friend’s arm.

“I should get him to bed,” she murmured, but Killian waved her away.

“I’ll do it.”

He effortlessly lifted the boy in his arms and carried him to his room, Emma padding quietly behind them. Killian helped her maneuver him out of his dirty t-shirt and jeans and into the fleece pajamas she’d snagged from his dresser and then gently tucked him in.

He didn’t seem like he was in a rush to leave. He crouched on the floor next to the bed and leaned over to brush away the boy’s messy brown locks from his face.

“You’re amazing, Emma,” he whispered, eyes still fixated on her son. She sat on the edge of the bed, next to Henry’s knees, and Killian shifted his gaze to her. “You’ve done a wonderful job with him. I’m proud of you.”

Oh God, was she ever going to stop feeling this pressing need to hold her tears back? Growing up, all she’d ever wanted was to be good enough for someone. She wanted to be worthy of a good home, where two loving parents would take care of her and support her and tell her how proud they were of her. And she’d come to terms with the fact that she’d never really have that.

But maybe this was better. Maybe all she needed to know was that her best friend, the person who’d stuck by her side through over a dozen foster homes and even a few group homes, and God, even through prison, was proud of the person she had become.

“Thank you.” She patted Henry’s side and smiled. “You were right, you know.”

“About?”

“Motherhood.” She gave him a warm, appreciative smile. “Turns out I’m pretty good at it, after all.”

“I never doubted you for a second, love.”

They both chuckled softly and Emma noticed he was once again peering down at Henry’s face.

“You know, you could probably sleep in here with him, if you wanted. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.”

“Nah, I’d rather not wake him in case… well, you know.”

In case he had a nightmare. Right.

“Well, my bed’s always open.” The words came tumbling out of her mouth before she even had the chance to process them. Killian’s eyes widened a bit and she immediately flushed. “No. Not like that!” she hissed, thoroughly embarrassed and wishing a hole would suddenly appear below her and swallow her right up. “I meant-“ Killian was now smirking and she hit him in the shoulder. “Shut up. You know what I meant.”

“I didn’t say anything,” he chuckled. He regained his composure and grasped her hand. “I do know what you meant. And thank you. But I’d rather not impose if I don’t have to.”

She rolled her eyes. Imposing? Please. She was about to say as much, but then she suddenly remembered Walsh. If he found out they were sleeping in the same bed, he’d probably bust a vein. And honestly, it probably wasn’t the greatest idea, anyway. How would she maintain a friendly distance if she was pressed up against him every night like she was yesterday and this morning?

She nodded and said her ‘good night’ and then left him to stay with Henry a little longer before bed. It was still a little early, not quite 9pm, but she was exhausted and she imagined he was, too.

She checked her phone when she lied down, answering a few texts from Mary Margaret, Ruby, and Walsh, then tossed it to the side, releasing a long, drawn out yawn. Then she smiled, wide and genuine, the reality of everything finally hitting her.

Killian Jones was living with her. He’d met her friends and her boyfriend already, and Henry was already treating him like family. And from now on, this is how it would be. He would be here when she woke in the morning. He would be here next week. He’d be here in a month, a year. She wouldn’t need to worry about the next time they’d talk or if he was thinking about her or if he was even okay. Because he would be here.

She fell asleep to those lovely thoughts.

And then she woke up with a jolt a couple of hours later when she felt Killian’s shuddering body wrapping around hers.

She immediately clutched his hand – his left one; she could feel the bumps and dips of the skin over his jagged scar.

“Bloody hell. I’m so sorry Emma.” His voice was strained and he sounded so defeated. “I swear it doesn’t happen every night.”

She forced him to loosen his grip on her so she could turn in his arms. He wasn’t crying but it looked like he was barely holding it together and she desperately wanted to take away his pain.

“Shh, come here,” she soothed, arms open in invitation.

He didn’t even hesitate before tucking his head under her chin and resting his cheek against her chest and trying to quiet his ragged breaths. Her hands went in his hair and she grasped him tightly against her. Her nails lightly scratched at his scalp and after a minute or so she felt his muscles relax and his heartbeat slow.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she whispered, not sure if he was asleep yet. He gently shook his head in the negative. “Okay. That’s fine. Just sleep, okay?”

He sighed in relief and she felt him tentatively slide his hand from her waist up to the spot between her shoulder blades as he burrowed closer.

If she wasn’t so worried about Killian, who was reeling from what Emma could only imagine were the worst kinds of nightmares, she might have realized how very intimate this was. He was under her covers, his shirt still damp with sweat, and his entire torso was molded against hers. His face was practically buried against her breasts and if she just shifted slightly, their legs would be tangled together.

There was nothing about the way they were holding each other that could be considered merely friendly.

Chapter Text

Emma was frustrated, in more ways than one.

There was the regular frustration that came with the job of sheriff. Several people had had their houses egged and TP’d the past week and a half, and while Emma and David were both fairly certain that it was just a couple of high school kids acting up, no one had seen the perpetrators. And Emma was pretty sick of spending hours helping families remove hundreds of feet of toilet paper from their roofs and trees. She wasn’t frail by any means, but her back and shoulders ached with all the reaching. When they caught those damn kids, she was going to give them hell. Maybe let them spend a night or two in a cell to scare them straight. Or worse, put them to work on cleaning the school bathrooms. She relished in the thought of how she could punish the brats.

There was the mentally exhausting frustration that came from Walsh’s constant hovering. She’d skipped out on just a few dates with him and suddenly it was like he was clinging to her that much harder. And maybe part of that had to do with the fact that two weeks earlier she had told him point blank that Killian would be living with her and he had no say in the matter, but still… Endless texts, calls when she was in the middle of work, surprise visits during her lunch hour. One of those times, Killian had been seated across from her at her desk and they were eating Granny’s takeout, and without asking, he pulled up a chair and joined them. It had been a very awkward and uncomfortable experience for everyone.

On her last date, during a brief period of time when she was actually paying attention, Walsh had mentioned their ‘future’ together and casually talked of marriage and children. She’d really, really wanted to slam the breaks on that and let him know that not only was it too early to be thinking about that kind of shit but that it was also insane that he was assuming they would be together for the rest of their lives. Three and a half months in and the man still hadn’t learned her freaking coffee preference, which was literally just black, so it’s not like he even bothered to know enough about her. She could barely see herself with him in the very near future, so forget about ten or twenty years down the line. But, alas, she hadn’t actually said these things to him. Instead, she’d carefully steered the conversation away from their definitely-not-gonna-happen future and into something much lighter. Walsh noticed, she was sure, but he must have had enough sense not to say anything.

Then there was the worst kind of frustration: the emotional and sexual frustration that had settled in since Killian’s arrival. She loved having him around; she really did. But she was coming to realize what a strain it was, the powerful collision of love and lust striking her every single time she looked at him, every time he grasped her hand, every time he snuck into her room in the middle of the night to curl himself around her and forget the torment of his dreams. And no, it didn’t happen every night, but in the last two weeks they’d slept next to each other four more times and it was driving her a little crazy.

It wasn’t exactly the sleeping together part that shook her; she was always too concerned with soothing him to think much about herself. But on the rare occasion that she awoke before he did, she found herself wistfully gazing upon his sleeping face and trying not to jostle him for fear he’d wake up and let go of her. She had to remind herself over and over that he was seeking her out simply for comfort and solace, not to throw her heart for a loop. He didn’t have a clue what he was doing to her.

But then… perhaps he did.

What she had initially believed to be fleeting, accidental touches were slowly beginning to feel like intentional ones. If he needed a cup and she was standing in the way, instead of moving around her or asking her to move, he’d just reach over her, his broad chest brushing against her back and his breath hot on her neck as he pulled the cabinet open. Like a goddamn stereotypical rom-com scene. And it had her chest tightening and her insides feeling like goop, and she just wanted to punch herself in the face because God she was such a love-struck fool.

When they watched movies on the couch, he’d settle himself firmly between her and Henry, wrapping an arm around her son and settling his other on the couch back behind her. Eventually she’d feel his fingertips on her shoulder, and then by the end of the movie, his arm would be laying solidly across her shoulders and she’d be leaning into his side. It was done so smoothly and so naturally that she couldn’t even remember when it had happened. Neither of them commented on it, but she definitely felt the loss when he released her to get up.

And then there was this thing… this little dip in his tone, an uneasy waver in his voice that always happened when Walsh became a topic of conversation. And maybe that was just because the two of them didn’t get along (she never did learn what exactly her boyfriend had said to him the day they’d met when she’d run away from the awkwardness) but she had to wonder if it wasn’t actually jealousy.

Then again, she was very much in love with him, which meant she might just be reading too much into everything. Any innocent touch could be construed into something more. Or it could be the standard for what best friends did. She just didn’t know anymore. 

She sighed heavily, absentmindedly stirring eggs in a bowl and wishing breakfast would just cook itself. 

It was Saturday morning and even though she wanted to be snuggled up in her thick comforter, sleeping the day away, they had plans. Hank invited them all on a morning trail ride that would last over two hours, then they were going to grab lunch with her friends, and in the afternoon they’d go sailing with Eric. As much fun as all of that sounded, she was just so tired.

Killian was in the shower and Henry was seated at the table, coloring in one of his many Disney coloring books.

She blinked away the spots in her vision. The coffee wasn’t done brewing yet and she was really battling her exhaustion at this point.

She heard Henry shuffling around and briefly glanced over at him as he pushed himself away from the table. 

If she had been paying closer attention, she’d have noticed the mischievous grin and playful twinkle in Henry’s eyes as he padded down the hall. Instead, she just let herself close her eyes for a moment, not caring if the eggs were going to turn out fluffier with all the air bubbles she was surely stirring around.

She nearly jumped out of her skin, suddenly wide awake, when she heard a loud, high-pitched squeal followed by Henry giggling maniacally and running back into the living room. It took a whole ten seconds of surprise and confusion before she realized the noise had come from Killian. She nearly laughed at the revelation, but then remembered her motherly duties came first. 

“Henry, what did you do?” she asked, unsure whether she should be scolding him or not.

He just gave her an impish smile and shrugged.

There was a crashing sound and then the bathroom door swung wide open as a completely drenched, mostly naked Killian came barreling into the living room.

The only covering he had was a towel wrapped around his hips, the end barely skimming the tops of his knees. The rest of him was out on display.

She inhaled sharply through her nose and her hand froze, eggs completely forgotten.

For just a moment, he stood still in the hallway entry and Emma didn’t know where to look. She made a quick, but thorough, perusal of his form. Her eyes darted from his broad shoulders to his strong arms. She saw where his scar rose over his left hand and forearm, but it wasn’t an unpleasant sight at all. Her breath hitched as she glanced over the thick dusting of hair on his firm chest, trailing downward across his abs and under his navel, dipping down below the material at his hips. 

His hair was still soaked, matted against his skin, and streams of water flowed over the bridge of his nose and across his cheeks, dripping down his gorgeous, sturdy physique.

She swallowed hard, heat rising to her face and plenty of other places. God. How was he even real?

Luckily, he seemed oblivious to her ogling, his focus purely on the little boy shaking with laughter and hiding behind the couch. Killian’s eyes flashed with playful mischief as the giggling boy peeked out.

“You are a little devil,” Killian said, a wide grin lighting his face. 

In an instant, he rushed around the couch. Henry tried to escape, squealing as he scurried away, but Killian was much quicker and he hauled the boy up in the air and tossed him over his shoulder. 

“Nooooo!” Henry cried between hiccupping laughs. “You’re getting me all wet!”

“Well you should have thought of that before you nearly froze me to death, gremlin!”

Could someone be ridiculously hot and heartwarmingly cute at the same time? Her cheeks were burning and she wasn’t sure if it was because of all the blood rushing to her skin or if it was from how hard she was smiling.

She was still utterly confused about what prompted all of this. That didn’t stop her from appreciating how the wet towel clung to his backside. And then mentally kicking herself for staring. Her smile faded and she gnawed at her lip.

“Um…” she started, voice a little weak. So were her knees, but she managed to stay standing so that was an accomplishment in and of itself.

Killian paused in his playful assault, turning to Emma with a now soaked Henry in his arms. He seemed to have a moment of clarity, realization dawning on his face and cheeks flushing as he realized how blatantly exposed he was. 

“Uh, that… S-sorry, Swan.” He shifted Henry, holding him on his hip both to stop the boy from squirming as well as a poor attempt to cover himself.

“No, it’s fine,” she said quickly. (Too quickly?) She tried to remain poker-faced. “Just… you’re dripping all over my floor.”

It was the best she could come up with at the moment. She really wasn’t the least bit worried about the old wooden boards. Killian glanced down at the little pool beneath his feet and coughed in embarrassment. But another laugh and wiggle from Henry and he seemed to regain his senses. 

“Blame him,” he said, his voice a few pitches higher than normal. He innocently gestured to her son and she pursed her lips around a smile. “Your son is the villain in this play, love.”

“I’m not a villain!” Henry complained, smile still firmly in place. “You’re a villain!”

“Am not!” he argued, looking appalled. He turned back to her. “I was just minding my own business, Emma. This one decided that he’d come in the bathroom and flush the toilet without warning.” 

Emma stifled a laugh. The building was rather old and the pipes had seen better days. Flushing always momentarily cut off the hot water, turning a nice, steamy shower into a barrage of ice-cold droplets.

“I had to go potty!” Henry insisted, but she knew better. He always went first thing in the morning before anyone else. Besides, he was well aware of the ‘no flushing’ rule while people were showering.

“Uh huh, I’m sure you did,” Emma said, tone sarcastic.

Without permission from her rational mind, her feet began steadily striding towards them.

Up close he was even more spectacular. She could see his chest expanding with each breath he took and she wanted to just reach out and touch. So maybe she ‘accidentally’ grazed the back of her hand across his firm stomach as she maneuvered Henry out of his arms.

And then as she looked up into the depth of those intensely brilliant blue eyes, his pupils swiftly dilated, black overcoming his blue irises in an instant. Was that lust or was she going crazy?

She was… what was the word? Enchanted? Captivated? Mesmerized? 

Fucked.

She was totally fucked.

Thank God for Henry because she was just on the edge of making a very impulsive, very unwise decision when he whined in protest against her. She jolted, and it wasn’t lost on her that Killian did the same, and then she turned her attention completely onto her son.

“Henry,” she began, trying very hard to sound like she hadn’t just had her world tilted on its axis. “You know the rules.”

He sighed heavily in her arms and pouted.

“No flushing when someone’s in the shower,” he mumbled.

“That’s right. And even though Killian has the silliest, girliest scream I have ever heard in my life-“ Henry snort-giggled at that and Killian groaned. “-that still doesn’t mean it’s okay.” 

“Sorry, Killian,” he said, despite looking like he was not sorry in the least. He was still smiling broadly as if he found the whole thing hilarious.

“Aye, well, consider yourself forgiven, lad.”

Emma thought he sounded a little huskier than usual, just a tad on the rough side, so she risked another peek at him. She shouldn’t have. There was a distinct flush to the skin of his chest, neck, cheeks, and ears that had definitely not been there before. And he had his right hand gripping the knotted edge of the towel around his hips, like he was afraid the material would slide right off.

Not that she would mind if it did.

Shit. No. What was she even thinking? God, she needed coffee. With a dash of rum to take the edge off.

“Well!” She quickly looked away from him and back to Henry. “Someone here needs a change of clothes, huh? Killian got your PJs wet!”

Killian cleared his throat as quietly as he could and then made some weird sort of noise to indicate that he was going to return to his shower while Emma headed toward her son’s bedroom.

She pulled out some clean clothes from his dresser and laid them out on his bed, telling him to change and that he’d get his scrambled eggs when he was done. Then she kissed him on his head and left him to it.

When she returned to the kitchen, after sidestepping several puddles, she grabbed the counter with both hands, knuckles blanching, and let out a long, shaky breath. She closed her eyes and did a few breathing exercises, hoping to calm herself down.

“Get ahold of yourself, Emma,” she whispered to herself.

That man was going to be the freaking death of her. She knew it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aside from the little hiccup in the morning, Saturday went by without incident. Henry was a wonderful buffer and helped immensely with keeping the tension from returning. As long as they had other things to focus on, it was much easier for Emma to converse with and look at Killian without totally losing her mind.

Sunday was originally supposed to be another day off, but Eric must have eaten something bad for dinner the night before because he could barely keep anything down. So Emma took over the rest of the weekend shift, allowing David some time alone with Mary Margaret.

She spent most of the day patrolling since there was literally nothing to do, and by the time five o’clock rolled around, she begged off. And while she really wanted to skip out on the date she’d promised Walsh tonight, she thought better of it. Better to spend a couple of hours entertaining him than get a hundred text messages complaining that she didn’t.

“You sure you don’t want to sit and watch the movie with us?” Killian asked from the couch, waggling his brows like the goof he was. “Not too late to change your mind.”

“He’s downstairs,” she grumbled, avoiding his gaze and quickly lacing her boots. She was positive a rosy hue was gracing her cheeks. Movie nights always meant his arms around her and she had a strong urge to cancel on Walsh yet again. She really wasn’t looking forward to her date, but she’d already snubbed him too many times lately.

“Ah, well. I guess you wouldn’t want to keep him waiting, then.”

There it was again. That little wobble in his voice.

She chanced a glance at him as she slid on her jacket. He didn’t look jealous. No, his smile was disarming and full, almost like he knew something she didn’t.

“Yeah, wouldn’t want to do that,” she mumbled. Then she straightened and stepped up to the couch, leaning down to kiss Henry’s head. “Be back tonight. Don’t stay up too late, okay, kid?” 

“I’m gonna stay up alllll night!” he insisted with a wicked grin. He grabbed at her neck to pull her down for a loud smack on the lips and Emma laughed, crinkling her nose at the cute gesture.

“Uh huh. If by ‘allll night’ you mean until eight, then sure.”

“Mamaaaaa,” he complained.

“Whaaaaat?” she laughed, tickling his tummy and causing a fit of laughter.

Killian joined in, chuckling as he tucked the boy against his side. Emma nudged his shoulder with her knuckles.

“Eight,” she repeated, a little more firmly. Killian had the gall to roll his eyes at her.

“Have you no trust in me, Swan?”

“I trust that you’ll get Henry into bed by eight if you know what’s good for you.” She was teasing but her tone was stern, and she raised a brow in challenge.

“Bloody hell, love. You are terrifying,” he chuckled. Then he nodded reassuringly, raising his right hand in the air. “Eight o’clock. I swear it.”

“Good.” She smiled as she spun on her heels and then snagged her keys, wallet, and phone, choosing to tuck the items into her jacket pockets instead of carrying a purse. 

She called out a ‘goodbye’ and the boys echoed it from the couch, then she left, silently preparing herself for a few hours of awkward small talk and the inevitable zoning out she knew she’d be doing over dinner. She really did try to pay attention, but the truth was she couldn’t help but fantasize about how different her night out would be if it were Killian sitting across the table instead of Walsh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The week continued on and Emma barely had a moment to breathe. On Monday a family of deer had decided to take a stroll through town, blocking traffic, shitting everywhere, nipping at anyone who got too close, and then just being a general nuisance when she and David tried to coax them back towards the woods. It took nearly five hours and Emma didn’t even think the funny stories were worth all of the effort.

Tuesday, Emma spent most of the day cleaning up more TP’d homes. Killian helped, complaining that he was bored just sitting around and doing nothing every day. (He was job-hunting at the moment, but couldn’t actually apply for anything until his visa paperwork came through. He’d flown to the US without much forethought so the process was taking quite a while.) She was actually grateful for the deep burn in her muscles, because it was easier to avoid picturing Killian’s firm, slightly sweaty body (courtesy of all the cleaning, of course) against hers when she had pain to distract her.

Wednesday was spent catching up on paperwork and having a nearly unbearable lunch date with Walsh, where he tried to invite himself to her Thanksgiving celebration the next day, once again bringing up his desire to meet Henry and ‘become part of the family.’ She’d come this close to breaking up with him on the spot just because she was so sick of having this conversation. She’d refused, of course. Walsh’s attitude definitely soured after that. For the umpteenth time in the past few weeks, she wondered why she was even with him in the first place. Maybe at this point it was just so she had a reason not to make any bad choices and potentially ruin what she had with Killian.

Despite being a holiday, Thursday was busy too; there were two petty theft reports, followed by a crazy drunken brawl at The Rabbit Hole that pulled Emma and David both away from Thanksgiving dinner with everyone. It was Killian’s first time celebrating, too, and David seemed to finally be warming up to him, so Emma was pissed that it had been interrupted. It was a testament to her restraint that she didn’t maul the intoxicated idiots as soon as she entered the bar. She’d certainly wanted to.

By Friday morning, Emma felt rather lethargic, the bone-deep exhaustion from the past few weeks catching up to her. She didn’t want to even get out of bed.

But she could smell sausage and eggs simmering on the stovetop and she both cursed and praised the Breakfast Gods who had blessed Killian with excellent cooking skills. The smell made her mouth water.

When she finally managed to get up, she dragged her feet behind her as she moseyed into the kitchen.

Henry was already up, sitting on the countertop a couple of feet from the stove and swinging his legs as he spoke animatedly about the book his teacher was reading to them in class. Killian was much more awake than she was, judging by his bright eyes and the way he laughed so sincerely at her son’s enthusiasm.

She shuffled over to them and lazily wrapped her arms around Henry, leaning forward and laying her head in his lap. He giggled and patted the top of her head. 

“Mama, are you sleepy?”

She merely grunted in response and Killian chuckled beside her. Even half-asleep, the sound had her stomach reeling, warm flutters tickling her insides.

“If you want to go back to bed, I can bring you your breakfast,” Killian offered.

Oh man. That was really tempting.

“Technically,” she began, turning towards him so her voice wasn’t muffled, “I am owed a day off since I worked Sunday. I think I may just ask David to handle things today.”

“You getting sick, love?” 

He concernedly pressed the back of his hand to her forehead, feeling for a nonexistent fever. She closed her eyes, completely okay with the prospect of Killian pampering her. 

“Mmmaybe,” she hummed. Killian picked up on her tone and pulled his hand away, rolling his eyes.

“You faker.”

“I’m not faking anything,” she argued weakly.

“Mama’s a faker!” Henry sang. “Faker faker faker!”

She scoffed, pretending to take offense at his playful accusation. Then she proceeded to lift the boy’s shirt and blow a rather loud raspberry on his belly. 

Both Henry and Killian burst into laughter and the beautiful sound had her smiling widely. 

And then it hit her.

She was home. This was it. Henry, Storybrooke, and Killian Jones.

She tried to keep her feelings in check, because God knows she didn’t need to break down in the middle of her kitchen in front of them. 

“You know, I think I am gonna go back to bed,” she sighed, giving Henry a kiss on the cheek and turning to Killian. “You’re fine taking him over to Hank’s?”

Henry was still off for Thanksgiving break, but they’d scheduled several fun activities for the week.

“Of course, love. Can’t let the boy miss his play date with Little Miss Violet, now, can I?” He winked at Henry, who beamed even though his cheeks were turning pink, then grinned at her as he shuffled the food in the pan.

“Just making sure.”

“Go on to bed. I’ll bring you a plate when I’m done.”

“Thanks.”

When she lied back down, she snagged her phone off the bedside table and shot a text to David letting him know she wasn’t coming in today. Then she turned it on silent and snuggled up beneath her comforter.

Home. It had always been her dream to have one and now here it was. Things had fallen into place so perfectly and she hadn’t even realized it until just now. She blinked back tears, trying not to let her emotions overcome her. She took several deep, calming breaths to cool her head. 

A few minutes later, Killian wandered in with breakfast and patted her side. She sat and scooted back against the headboard, hoping she’d cleared any remnants of her jumbled emotions from her face.

“Thank you.”

He smiled warmly at her and then brushed her hair behind her ear. She almost shivered at his touch, barely holding it in as a rush of heat flew to her cheeks.

“You sure you’re not getting sick?”

He did look worried. Maybe a fever would be a good excuse for her undoubtedly flushed skin. She did feel kind of hot.

She shrugged, stabbing a slice of sausage with her fork and biting it off without hesitation.

“It’s just been a long week,” she mumbled around a mouthful of food.

“Well perhaps it’ll do you good to have a relaxing day at home, then.”

He stood, wiping his palms over the denim of his jeans. He opened his mouth again, as if he were going to say something, then closed it. She chewed slowly as she watched an array of strange expressions cross his features, but he finally seemed to shake himself free from whatever it was he was thinking.

“Ah, just… set your plate on the bedside table and I’ll come and get it later. Don’t worry about getting up.” He strode to her door and glanced back at her, a tight smile on his face. “Get some more sleep, love.”

She nodded silently and he left.

The food was delicious but she couldn’t even appreciate it. She was too concerned with what it was Killian had stopped himself from saying. She hoped she hadn’t done something wrong. Or worse, that he was finally starting to see how she felt about him. 

She heard Killian and Henry leave the apartment before she fell asleep again.

When she woke up, it was bright, the sun filtering through her blinds and lighting up the whole room. She groaned, rolling over and smothering her face in her pillow.

Then she heard Killian’s voice. It sounded like he was in the living room or the kitchen, but his voice was low enough and the distance between them far enough that she couldn’t make out what he was saying.

Her brow creased. Was someone over? Or was it already mid-afternoon and Henry was home again? 

She turned and blinked until her bleary vision cleared, taking in the numbers on her alarm clock. It was noon, on the dot. Jeez, she’d had another four hours of sleep. And yet somehow she was still tired.

She unhurriedly slid out of bed and ran her hands through her hair to get her bed head under control, then quietly slunk out of her room and down the hall. 

“- think it’s that easy? That it’s all just rainbows and unicorns?”

She peeked out into the living room as he paused and noticed he was turned away from her, holding his new cell phone up against his ear with his shoulder as he folded his laundry. 

“Right. Of course. You would say that.”

He sounded a little off, annoyance and a hint of disbelief in his voice, and she wondered who on earth he was talking to. 

“Gods, you think I don’t know that?” He sighed heavily and then waited as the person on the other line spoke. “… Yeah. Well. It’s slow going. If it’s even ‘going’ at all. Bloody hell, I don’t know, Liam.”

Oh, he was talking to his brother.

And she was being an ass for eavesdropping.

He made a frustrated grunt as he gave up on folding one of his shirts and instead balled it up and tossed it back into the laundry basket.

“Yeah, yeah. ‘A man unwilling to fight’ and all that nonsense. You’re like a broken record.”

He talked to Liam a few times a week but he usually sounded so happy and relieved. Now it was like he was irritated. Maybe they were talking about something touchy.

She was about to announce her presence, but as she took a step forward she stepped directly onto the creaky floorboard in the hall entryway and Killian jumped, phone clattering to the floor, and twisted around frantically, eyes wide with surprise and maybe even fear when he saw her standing across the room. 

“Sorry,” she whispered, cringing a little. 

“Emma. How long have you been up?” he asked. To her, it sounded an awful lot like, ‘How long have you been standing there?’ which just made her curiosity burn brighter. It also made her feel a tad guiltier for sneaking.

“Just woke up,” she said quickly. “Is that Liam?” She knew it was, but Killian didn’t have to know how long she’d been listening.

He seemed to relax a little at that and nodded, scrambling to pick his discarded phone back up and press it to his ear.

“Aye.” He cleared his throat before addressing Liam again. “Hey, sorry about that… Yeah… Yeah, Emma’s here… I don’t think so…” He chuckled weakly and then turned back to her. “He says hello.”

She smiled and made her way over to him, sitting on the couch in front of where he was seated on the floor.

“Hi, Liam!” she said loudly, grinning as Killian winced. He laughed and shook his head at her. “Tell Elsa I said hi, too!” 

Elsa was Liam’s girlfriend. She’d been his physical therapist for the better part of the year, and even though Liam had been interested in her from the start, she was pretty firm in her rule about not dating any clients. When he was finally well enough that her services were no longer needed, he immediately asked her out. She’d rejected him then, but apparently he was very persistent and she eventually caved. It was still a fairly new relationship but Liam talked about her constantly.

Killian chuckled and rolled his eyes at whatever Liam had said and then raised one of those thick brows at her. 

“She says hi. Apparently she’s with him right now.”

“What a surprise,” she said, voice thick with sarcasm.

Killian talked to Liam for a few more minutes but it seemed like he was trying to wrap it up. He glanced at her a few times, a look of apology on his face, but she shook her head. She liked that he kept in touch with Liam so often. The two of them had been through a lot together, especially this past year.

When he finally did hang up, he huffed in exasperation.

“He talks so much,” he muttered.

“He misses you, I bet.”

He looked a bit distant for a moment as he nodded, but then leaned over, his temple resting against the couch cushion next to her leg as he smiled up at her. 

“Aye. I miss him, too.”

She scrunched her brow a little and Killian shook his head. He knew her well enough to know that she was feeling a bit responsible for tearing him away from his brother, but he wasn’t having any of that.

“I missed you,” he murmured, eyes piercing. “The whole bloody year. And I’m glad I came here.”

She began to ruffle his hair and they both let out a small laugh. 

“I’m glad, too.” 

He hummed and pressed his forehead against her thigh as she stroked his head and Emma’s throat tightened a little. It felt so good just to touch him, to run her fingers through his thick, dark locks. And it felt good to see him looking so content. 

She was stricken with the sudden desire to just go for it. Maybe what she was feeling wasn’t unusual. Maybe it was right.

Augh. But it shouldn’t be right. And she had no right. Because he was her best friend and she was still dating someone else.

He blinked his eyes up at her again and the panic and fear of possibly ruining what they had overcame her in an instant. So she pulled back and tried to ease the tension.

“So what were you guys talking about?”

“Hmm?” He looked a little spaced out.

“You and Liam.”

He sat up straight and his fingers twitched like he was fighting the urge to scratch behind his ear, that nervous tic that she’d become familiar with.

“It’s nothing.” He sighed and went back to folding his laundry. (He didn’t have a dresser – yet; Emma was planning on fixing that soon – so he was placing everything back into his open suitcase.) “Liam’s just being Liam.”

She didn’t really know what that meant but it sounded like whatever it was, he didn’t want to discuss it. And there were certainly things she didn’t share with him, too, so she didn’t bother pressing the issue.

“I’m kinda hungry.” 

“It is lunch time, isn’t it? Want me to make you something?” 

Always with the doing stuff for her.

“Nah, you’re busy. I can do it,” she said, jumping up to go into the kitchen.

“It’s just laundry,” he muttered.

“You brought me breakfast in bed this morning. I think I can take care of lunch.” She peered into the pantry and then the fridge. They needed to go grocery shopping because they were out of nearly everything. “Sandwiches good?”

“Aye. We’re out of most everything else, aren’t we?”

She ducked her head and smiled. She liked hearing things like that. ‘We’ and ‘ours’ and ‘us.’ Because it was true; with Killian living here, it was no longer her apartment, but theirs. Maybe she’d gone a little crazy in the beginning when she’d discovered that he had stocked her apartment with groceries. She’d expressed, in no uncertain terms, that while he could fairly contribute, she was perfectly capable of providing for herself and her son. He had just laughed, not the least bit surprised with her tenacity. (“Yes, Swan, I’m well aware that you can take care of yourself and Henry. No need to bite my head off over some milk and a loaf of bread.”)

She made a couple of cold turkey sandwiches and poured some chips in a bowl to share between them, then rejoined Killian in the living room. The tension from earlier had eased up as they talked about some of Henry’s accomplishments in his kindergarten class. Emma even pulled out some of the artwork he’d done this year, things Killian hadn’t gotten the chance to see yet, and he asked her why all of his masterpieces weren’t framed and hanging on the walls where they should be.

Honestly, Killian was incredible with Henry. They adored each other and when Henry wasn’t at school or with friends, he was almost always doing something with Killian. They’d read together, watch cartoons, play games, walk along the docks. When Killian made pancakes in the morning, he made sure to put smiley faces on Henry’s using chocolate chips and fruit and whipped cream. (And perhaps she had wheedled him into doing the same for her but that was neither here nor there.) She’d caught them both napping away on the couch a few times, Killian on his back and Henry sprawled across his chest, lightly snoring as the TV played in the background. It was a sight that had her lungs feeling tight every time, like she just couldn’t get enough air. 

As much as she loved the way David had taken up presence as a wonderful, responsible male figure in Henry’s life, there was nothing quite like the feeling of seeing Killian practically claiming Henry as his own. If they weren’t the two most important people in her life, she might even have found herself a bit envious. But all she felt was giddy. She was truly excited with how smoothly and quickly they developed a meaningful relationship. 

She and Killian chatted for another hour or so, not really focusing on one topic or another, but just mindlessly shifting from one to the next. They kept things light. Emma was too drained to discuss anything deep and serious and Killian naturally seemed to pick up on that.

He had just finished telling her a hilarious story involving him, Will, Robin, and probably five too many shots of tequila and she was laughing so hard that she was very nearly in tears when her front door suddenly flew open, the wood loudly striking the wall beside it. 

Both she and Killian were so startled they nearly fell off the couch, their knees bumping together painfully.

Her first instinct was to grab her gun, but when she looked over at the entryway, heart speeding, she nearly sighed in relief when she saw her intruder was just Walsh. 

And then she got angry. Since when did he start letting himself into her apartment without knocking?

“Walsh, what the hell?”

He hovered in the doorway, fury in his eyes as he looked over at her and Killian. She wondered if he was misinterpreting the picture of them sitting on the couch together, but they weren’t doing anything to garner that kind of reaction from him.

“I can’t believe you, Emma,” he snarled, sounding as if he would start yelling at any moment.

She was so confused. What did Walsh have to be angry about?

“What are you talking about?”

“I’ve been calling and texting you all day because I’ve been worried sick!” His hands drew into tight fists at his sides and she raised a brow. “I went by the station earlier and you weren’t there. So I asked David and he said you were taking a sick day.”

“Okay…?”

She still didn’t see where this was going.

“So I come here expecting to you to be sick in bed, so feeble you couldn’t even get to your phone, and what do I find instead? You’re perfectly healthy and lazing the day away at home with your friend and ignoring my messages!”

Excuse me but I never told anyone I was sick. All I told David was that I was taking the day off. Am I not allowed to do that?” It was a rhetorical question but she could see that Walsh was preparing to answer it anyway (and she imagined she probably wouldn’t like where that went) so she quickly tacked on, ”And for the record, my phone’s been on silent so I didn’t even know you were trying to get ahold of me.”

“Well why didn’t you message me?! Don’t you think I should know if you’ve taken a day off work?”

“Uh, no, actually,” she stressed, standing and taking a few steps forward to show that he wasn’t intimidating her with his incessant yelling. She could raise her voice, too. “I don’t have to check in with you so you know where I am and what I’m doing at all times, Walsh.”

Her boyfriend – soon to be ex-boyfriend because she was pretty done with his shit – laughed loudly, the sound completely void of any humor. Then his jaw clenched as he locked eyes with her. 

“Un-fucking-believable. You think me trying to make sure my supposedly sick girlfriend is okay and not dying in a ditch somewhere is what? Me being controlling?” She was about to tell him that yes, that is exactly what she thought, but he pressed on, his volume nearing a shout. “Fuck you and your bullshit ‘issues,’ Emma!”

“Whoa, mate,” Killian interjected, stepping forward to try and ease the situation. “Chill it with the yelling.”

“Get the fuck out!” Walsh gritted, gesturing wildly to the front door. “Leave. This doesn’t concern you, mate.”

It was one thing to yell at her, but to do so to Killian? Emma’s blood boiled.

“No, you don’t need to leave,” she told Killian. He looked incredibly uncomfortable and she thought maybe he looked like he kind of wanted to leave. “Just go to my room. I can handle this.”

“You sure, love?” His eyes briefly flashed to Walsh and she thought he looked like he had a few very choice words ready to unleash, but she patted his arm reassuringly and he returned his concerned gaze to her.

“Go on, I’m fine, I promise.”

Walsh grunted in anger and Killian only hesitated for another moment before heeding her words and heading back towards the hallway. When he was out of sight, she squared her jaw and turned her disdainful gaze back to Walsh.

“What the hell is your problem? He lives here and you think you have a right to kick him out?”

“Fuck, Emma. I’m your boyfriend! Have you ever even thought for a second what it’s been like for me since he got here? You’ve been ignoring me and canceling our dates and pushing me away for weeks.” 

“Maybe I’ve been ignoring you because you’ve been fucking smothering me! God, Walsh, you text me like a hundred times a day! And you call me when I’m working and expect me to answer!” 

“I text and call because I’m worried! Because you don’t talk to me anymore! How am I supposed to know what’s going on with you if you won’t actually talk to me?” 

“Well maybe I don’t want to talk to you!” She took a deep breath. “Maybe I want whatever this is to be over.”

Walsh looked like he’d been slapped across the face, utter shock and mortification clouding his eyes. He took a moment to compose himself and then let out a disbelieving scoff.

“You want to break up.”

“Yeah. Yeah I do.” She couldn’t think of anything she wanted to do more right now than just cut him out of her life.

“Good,” he finally said, voice still thick with anger. “Good. At least you’re being honest now. You were never really a part of this relationship anyway.”

“What?” she gawked.

“Oh, admit it, Emma! You’ve had one foot out the door ever since we started dating! You wanna know why you never introduced me to Henry? It isn’t because of your fucking trust issues. It's because you never even planned on us staying together in the first place. You’ve always been waiting for an out.”

Her fists clenched hard, fingernails digging painfully into her palms. She wanted to argue that point, but she knew he was right.

She honestly hated herself now for even saying yes to that first date. She wished she could go back several months ago when they coincidentally met at the grocery store and lock him into one of the freezers instead; it would have saved her so much trouble.

Instead of a rebuttal for his awful truth bomb, she changed tactics.

“We’ve known each other for less than four months, Walsh! And you keep talking about marriage? And raising a family? Who even does that?” 

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe someone who’s actually invested in the relationship? Christ, Emma, you can’t put this on me. Take some fucking responsibility and own the fact that you’ve always been a shitty girlfriend.”

She scoffed in disgust, disbelieving that she’d been dating someone who could be so crude to her. She was about to respond with some harsh words for him, too, but he stopped her before she got the chance.

“And I know you’ve been fucking your ‘friend’ too!” he yelled, his hands forming sarcastic air quotes in the air.

Okay, now that was definitely uncalled for.

“Oh, fuck you!” she growled, eyes wide with barely concealed rage. “Despite the fact that you seem to think I’m this horrible skank, I never fucking cheated on you.” She barely paused before pushing on, not even bothering to filter her thoughts before they came pouring out of her mouth. “But maybe I should have! I certainly wasn’t getting what I needed from you.”

He bared his teeth at her like he was an enraged animal and let out a crazed shout, which he punctuated by grabbing the vase on the table by the door and throwing it violently at the wall behind her.

A tiny piece broke off and flew forward at just the right angle to sharply graze her cheek, an angry red line appearing in its wake.

Fragmented pieces of porcelain scattered loudly across the floor, the flowers he’d given her a few weeks ago (now in varying stages of dying) strewn haphazardly amongst them.

She froze, completely in shock for a moment. Had he really fucking done that? In the few months she’d known him, most of the time she’d thought, at heart, he was a genuinely decent guy. Sure, he spent a little too much time planning their imaginary future together, but she didn’t think he was batshit crazy.

She thought he might back off immediately and regret his actions, but then the idiot lunged for her.

She was so focused on readying herself to take the bastard down that she barely registered Killian frantically running into the living room and calling her name.

She blocked Walsh’s sloppy attack and grabbed him by the wrists, using her body weight to physically turn him around, pushing him down. She easily pinned him to the floor, her knee coming down quite forcefully into his back.

Her breaths were ragged, face flushed red with anger, and she leaned down to growl in his ear.

“Bad fucking move, asshole.” He grunted in pain below her and she narrowed her eyes. “I hope you didn’t forget in your testosterone-fueled hysteria that I’m the sheriff.” She intentionally pressed her knee a little deeper into his back, almost smiling at the agonized groan of pain he released. “You’ve got two choices here, buddy. First option, I cuff you right here and now and haul your ass off to jail for assault and battery, which goes on your permanent record-“

“You can’t prove anything!” he shouted. She rolled her eyes, still vibrating with fury.

“There’s a witness, moron. And plenty of physical evidence.” He quieted down, swallowing audibly at her threat. “Second option, you get off with a strong warning. You leave this apartment. You get out of my life completely. You never show your fucking face to me, or anyone I know, ever again. Which’ll it be?”

He remained stubbornly silent and Emma twisted his arm. He cried out roughly.

“All right, fine! I’ll leave!” 

“You’ll leave and what?”

“I’ll leave and never show myself again,” he choked.

She loosened her grip on him and stood up, reaching for the doorknob. She pulled the door open before he managed to shuffle to his feet and then she watched as he took heavy steps out the door, glaring daggers at her and rubbing his pained arm.

As soon as he was outside, she slammed the door, the bang echoing loudly throughout her apartment.

She heard Walsh’s mumbled, “Bitch,” through the door and huffed as she turned around and leaned heavily against it.

Killian instantly flooded her vision as he stepped up into her space. 

“Emma?” he asked, eyebrows pulled together in concern. He reached his hand out to brush his fingers across her cheek where a tiny rivulet of blood clung to the fresh wound. His touch was so light and delicate as he wiped it away and cupped her cheek fully. “Are you all right, love?”

“I’m fine,” she breathed shakily. 

‘Fine’ was a bit of an understatement. ‘Free’ felt like a better term. She should have ended things with Walsh a long time ago. It wasn’t like she was in love with him.

But she was in love.

As she peered up into his nearly electric blue eyes, full of worry and affection, she knew she was going to do something stupid.

Maybe it was the fact that not moments earlier she had practically screamed that she wished she had cheated on Walsh with Killian, and her friend hadn’t run away at the confession. Maybe it was the culmination of the past three weeks, stolen glances and tender touches that had Emma convinced that what she felt might not be as unrequited as she’d once thought. Later, she might just blame it on the adrenaline still pumping through her from the fight, making her lose all rational thought.

It didn’t matter.

All she knew in that moment was that she was going to kiss Killian Jones, her best friend of thirteen years, and there was absolutely nothing she could do to stop it.

It wasn’t gentle. It certainly wasn’t what she had imagined a first kiss with Killian would be like, and she definitely had imagined it. 

It was fierce and desperate and sloppy and it felt like her skin was aflame.

She slanted her mouth roughly over his, grasping wildly at the collar of his shirt and yanking him against her. Her nose dug into his cheek and both of them swayed from the force of it.

There was just a single second of hesitation on Killian’s part before his hand, so delicate against her cheek, reached around and grabbed harshly at her hair. His left arm wrapped tightly around her waist, pulling her flush against him, and she had never felt such fire before in her entire life. He kissed her back with fervor, tongue swiping through her open mouth, teeth nipping at her lips, days-old scruff rough like sandpaper against her face (she wondered if it was strange how much she liked that). 

She couldn’t believe they were actually kissing. She’d known him forever, his words of comfort and praise and hope scribbled over hundreds of pages of letters. And she’d loved him for years, too. Every time she’d heard the dulcet timbre of his voice over the phone speaker, her heart ached and her insides churned. 

But now he was actually here, in her arms, his lips insistent against her own. It was rough. It was sensual. It was beautiful.

It was perhaps one of the most – if not the most – earth-shattering, intense, life-altering, heart-stopping moments of her entire life.

It was perfect.

Until it wasn’t.

She could feel his body tensing up, quickly going rigid, likely because he realized what exactly he was doing with his best friend.

His hands pulled back, the left pressing against her elbow and the right squeezing her arm, and he pushed her away. His breathing was erratic and her eyes locked with his for just the briefest instant.

She hated what she saw there.

Regret. Apprehension. Fear. Guilt.

“Emma, we can’t-“ He choked on his own words, swallowing them down with effort. 

Shit. Shit shit shit shit. This is exactly what she didn’t want to happen.

She pushed at his chest, fearing for a moment that she was going to vomit from the sheer misery she felt at his rejection. 

He didn’t want her.

God, how had she been so stupid? They were best friends! And she had risked it all in a moment of weakness, believing – like a naïve idiot – that her love might be reciprocated.

“Go,” she croaked, gulping down a sob.

“Emma, n- no. Look, I want- I want to talk-“ he stuttered, looking quite panicked.

Go,” she repeated, her focus remaining pointedly away from his gaze. She was too terrified to see what expressions were ghosting over his eyes.

He didn’t move, hands still firmly at her arms. She couldn’t do this right now. She couldn’t hold back tears and she definitely didn’t want him to see them, so she broke free and, like a petty child, ran to her room and shut the door behind her.

“Emma!” he yelped, following behind her and banging his fist against the door. “Please. Please, come out. I… I can explain.”

Explain what? How the kiss was a mistake? How he was just caught up in the moment? How she’d misunderstood the situation and ruined everything? 

“Please,” she begged, her voice wavering now as she fought her tears. “I just need you to go right now.”

“Let me in,” he urged. “Don’t- … Don’t run from me.”

“God, Killian, could you just fucking give me a little time to myself?!”

Her fingers clawed at her hair. She absolutely did not want to be yelling at him. None of this was his fault. He didn’t deserve this.

She heard a deep exhale, though without seeing his face she couldn’t tell what emotions were driving it. 

“Fine,” he finally said. Emma closed her eyes and hot, wet streaks ran down her cheeks. “I’ll… give you some space.”

She slid to the floor slowly, her back against the hard door and her palms pressing roughly against her eyelids.

“Emma, this isn’t over,” he continued. “I’ll… be back tonight, okay? And then we’ll talk.”

She shook her head. No, she didn’t want to talk about this. She wanted to erase it. She wanted to go back and undo it all, every single second of it. 

“Okay, Emma?” he pressed. He obviously wasn’t going to leave without an answer.

She sniffled and wiped at her face before offering a soft, unsure, “Okay.” Even she could recognize how broken she sounded.

For just another short moment, he hovered by her door, his breaths just loud enough to be heard in the silence. Then she heard his footsteps trail away, padding through her apartment for a minute before the front door closed with an audible thump.

And then the dam broke. 

She couldn’t even remember the last time she’d felt so crushed, heaving sobs breaking free from her chest, so loud that she thought she’d go deaf from the sound. Her throat felt tight, like it would close shut at any moment. Her lungs burned as she gulped for air between hiccups. Her face was burning, blood scorching under her skin and eyes swelling with the never-ending stream of tears wetting her face.

She didn’t know what hurt more, being rejected by Killian or knowing that their entire thirteen-year friendship might crumble and it was all her fault.

The thought of things ending for real terrified her more than anything. If their relationship crashed and burned because of her stupid impulse, her naïve belief that she could actually have him, she didn’t know that she could handle it. 

What if he was willing to stay friends, but a few weeks or months or years down the line, he realized that her feelings for him were too much? What if he fell in love with someone – maybe even someone here in town that she already knew? What if he returned to England and they just went back to a phone call every three months and biweekly letters?

She didn’t know that it would be enough for her anymore.

It took a good half hour before her body physically could not cry any more. She felt so sore and completely sapped of energy. All she wanted to do was curl up in a ball and rock herself to sleep, dreaming away the events of the last hour.

Her moves were sluggish and uncoordinated as she stood and made her way to the bed.

She had just enough energy to make a call first.

“Hey Emma! What’s up?”

She sighed, slightly relieved to hear her friend’s voice.

“Hey Mary Margaret.” Her voice was all wrong. It was low and croaky and sad.

“Oh, Emma, what’s wrong?”

“Can you take care of Henry today? He’s over at Hank’s. Needs to be picked up in an hour,” she said, avoiding any talk of why exactly she was in this state.

“Of course, sweetie. Are you all right?”

“No,” she said honestly. “But I really don’t want to talk about it right now.”

“Okay. If you need some time alone, I can let him stay the night. He’s still got an extra set of clothes in the loft.”

“Yeah. Yeah, that would probably be best.” She didn’t want Henry to see her like this. And if Killian did come back, she didn’t want her son to be caught in the middle of… whatever it was that might happen. A fight? A falling out? She didn’t even want to think about it right now.

“I’m here if you need me, Emma.”

“I know. Thank you.”

After hanging up, Emma stared blankly at the ceiling. Her face felt swollen and she was pretty sure she didn’t want to get up and look in the mirror to check.

She hoped that she hadn’t royally fucked up everything with Killian. She hoped he could forgive her and they could forget about the whole thing.

She closed her eyes and let her exhausted body drag her under into a deep sleep.

Chapter Text

Her throat hurt. That’s the first thing she noticed when she awoke. It felt dry and scratchy, like she was coming down with something. And her head pounded, the thin muscles over her skull tense and achy.

But, she supposed, that’s what spending half an hour bawling would do to a person.

She wasn’t feeling better, per se, but the couple of hours of sleep had at least calmed her down and helped her get ahold of her emotions a little. She wasn’t sure she was even capable of crying anymore. Her tear ducts were all dried out.

She blindly reached for her phone on the bedside table and nearly knocked it off before getting a grip on it. Then she pulled it close to her face and flipped it open.

It was just after 4:30pm and she had several alerts in her message box.

She grunted when she noted all the texts from Walsh that she’d missed earlier in the day. There was a lot of ‘heyyy babe’ and ‘where r u?’ and ‘babe r u ok????’ and ‘answer me!!!’ and she quickly deleted them all at once, then deleted Walsh’s contact from her phone for good measure. If she ever saw that bastard again, he’d discover the true meaning of pain. Thank God she’d never introduced the psycho to Henry. That had definitely been a good call on her part.

She shook her head free of those thoughts for now. There were also a few texts from Mary Margaret waiting.

MM (3:12pm): Just picked up Henry. Gonna take him to the park and for ice cream and then home. I told him you were sick and he called you a faker! Lol

She smiled a little at that even though she wasn’t exactly feeling cheerful at the moment. Then she went on to the next message and a deep frowned etched into her cheeks.

MM (3:22pm): Oh, I ran into Killian when I went to Hank’s. He said he just wanted to make sure someone was there to get Henry in case. He seemed kind of… off. Did you guys have a fight or something?

Emma closed her eyes and took a shaky breath. She didn’t really want to remember all the shit that happened just a couple of hours ago and as much as she loved Mary Margaret, she didn’t really have it in herself to talk about it yet. She blinked her eyes open again and viewed the last message she’d sent. 

MM (3:40pm): Whatever it is, sweetie, I’m here. You’ve got a lot of people who love you and want you to be happy. Don’t tear yourself up about it.

Ha. Easier said than done. It did feel kind of good to hear that her friends had her back, though. Still, the one friend that she really wanted comfort and reassurance from was also the one she was dreading speaking to.

She flipped her phone shut and dropped it against the mattress, rolling onto her back and massaging her temples. 

Killian said he’d be back tonight but he didn’t give an exact time, so she didn’t even know how long she had to prepare herself for that conversation.

She felt this burning need, almost instinctual, to just run. That’s how she’d dealt with everything that happened while she was still in the system during her childhood. It was the easiest way to avoid problems.

Psychotic foster parents? Run. Crummy friends who did nothing but lie and deceive until the very last moment? Get out of there. Cops who didn’t even bother trying to understand that she had to steal to survive? Make a break for it.

But Killian deserved better than that. She couldn’t let herself avoid him forever. She needed him. Even if all they’d ever be was friends and even if things would be awkward and painful for a while, she was determined not to let her slip-up end in losing him forever. She’d get on her knees and beg for forgiveness if she had to. 

A harsh, croaky groan escaped her throat as she sat up. She must have slept at a weird angle because her neck and back were sore. She rolled her neck around and pressed her fingers deep into the muscles of her shoulders, then slowly leaned forward, stretching her back out and reaching for her toes, exhaling on a sigh.

While it was really tempting to just lie back down and continue to wallow in her grief, it probably wasn’t the greatest idea. She had already shirked her responsibilities for her job and her son today, so she at least needed to do something. Maybe it would even help keep her mind off Killian.

Unlikely. 

She tossed her covers back and eased herself out of bed. 

Logically, she was aware that Killian was not in her apartment, but she still tiptoed down the hall just in case. If he had already returned, she wouldn’t want to be caught off guard.

Luckily there was nothing but emptiness and silence greeting her when she finally turned the corner. The slight twinge of disappointment she felt didn’t really make sense. She knew he’d be back soon but just thinking about him being somewhere on his own right now, probably with emotions as muddled as her own, gnawed at her conscience.

As she stepped into her living room, her eyes were immediately drawn to the shattered pieces of porcelain near the front entry. Damn Walsh. She’d really liked that vase and it had been a gift.

Her fingertips grazed the scratch on her cheek, gently just as Killian had done earlier. In comparison to the pain she felt from Killian’s rejection, it was nothing.

She drooped a little and then went to her pantry and pulled out the broom and dustpan and then proceeded to clean the mess her ex had left in his wake. The clinking sounds of the pieces hitting each other echoed in her quiet apartment and she felt a little hollow as she tossed them into the garbage can. The flowers that were once beautiful and radiant were now wilted and discolored, the stray petals dried up and strewn about the wreckage.

She found it to be a really good metaphor for how she felt right now.

Cleaning was actually kind of cathartic. When she finished getting every last piece of the broken vase and wiping away the excess water, she went on to sweep the rest of the apartment. There was a brief pang of hurt when she had to move Killian’s things out of the way but she carried on.

Then she went on to the kitchen. She wiped the countertops and washed the few dishes in the sink and then reorganized her (still rather bare) pantry.

She actually worked up a sweat without even realizing it so she decided she’d move on to cleaning herself next. 

She let the tub fill up with steaming hot water and then sunk into it, skin taking on a pink hue from the heat. Her usual routine when taking a relaxing bath was to light a few candles and play some music, maybe add some Epsom salt or bubble bath, but she didn’t quite feel like she deserved any of that at the moment. She leaned back and stared up into the harsh light on the ceiling for a minute and then closed her eyes when her vision started warping and blurring.

It had only been a few hours but she missed him. She missed the easiness of their relationship – the way he always seemed to know what she was thinking, how he could make her laugh without even trying, the way he brushed his thumb across the back of her hand when they spoke of some of the harder times, the way he smiled so openly and affectionately when he teased her.

Then she recalled the regret and panic in his eyes when he’d pushed her away and scrunched her closed eyes even harder, her brows pinching together.

God, she was an ass. She’d just lunged forward without even thinking, not giving a single consideration for Killian’s feelings. It had been entirely unfair to him. She should have had more control.

She sighed and brought her fingers to her lips.

She felt like she could still taste him, like she could still feel the slick, warm swiping of his tongue against hers. She could easily recall the way her whole body had grown warm when he’d yanked on her hair and pulled her flush against his solid chest. She shouldn’t have really been thinking about that since there was the whole matter of fixing things to think about, but she couldn’t really help herself.

It had been so good. It had felt so right.

Why did it have to end like that?

She shifted, the water almost splashing over the edge of the tub as she dunked down and immersed her head under water. Little bubbles rose up to the surface as she slowly released a breath through her nose, enjoying the way the hot water made her face tingle. When she pulled herself back up, she furiously wiped her hands over her face and through her drenched hair.

When he came back, she was going to apologize to him. She wasn’t going to run away from him or her problems. She’d make sure he knew that she would never do anything to jeopardize their friendship ever again. That was all she could do right now. 

The water drained from the tub as she dried herself off, then she changed into a t-shirt and a pair of running shorts. She didn’t bother drying her hair. It would turn out wavy and probably a bit frizzy, but there were infinitely more pressing things to worry about.

She knew she should probably eat something but she wasn’t hungry. Besides, her stomach felt a little uneasy and she didn’t want to risk making herself sick.

She took her phone from her room and then went back into the living room, collapsing unceremoniously on the couch as she finally sent a reply to Mary Margaret.

Emma (5:56pm): Thank you for taking care of Henry. And thanks for being my friend. I promise we’ll talk later but there are some things I have to sort out first.

Mary Margaret texted back barely thirty seconds later. 

MM (5:56pm): Hanging out with Henry is something I always look forward to. Let me know if you need anything. I’m always literally just a flight of stairs away.

Emma flipped her phone shut and tossed it towards the coffee table, but the device went rogue and slid off the other side, clattering noisily against the floor. She cringed a little, debating for a minute whether or not it was worth it to move to go get it.

Eventually she decided she probably should check and make sure the damn thing didn’t break. She huffed exasperatedly and pushed herself off the couch, making some decidedly unladylike noises as she stepped around the furniture to grab it.

As she leaned down, something by the door caught her eye.

She paused with her hand mid-air and then curled it tightly into a fist as she realized what it was.

There was a crisp, white envelope sitting on the floor. It hadn’t been there before when she was cleaning her apartment. Killian must have come back and slid it under her closed door while she’d been in the bath.

She swallowed the thick, painful lump in her throat and reached for it. 

‘Emma Swan’ was written across the front, but the handwriting was unfamiliar. It was crude, almost elementary, and it took her a few seconds to realize what that meant. 

He had handwritten it. With his right hand.

And while the thought of him putting in the effort to handwrite a letter to her with his non-dominant hand shook her to her core, she was terrified at what might be waiting for her inside.

She returned to the couch, her phone forgotten, and held the envelope in both hands. 

She stared at her name.

Had he written her a letter in lieu of coming to talk? Was this a goodbye? No. It couldn’t be. His stuff was still here. And she had to trust in him, in the knowledge that he’d never abandon her or Henry.

Still, she couldn’t shake the dark, sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. But there was nothing to do now but open it. She had to believe that whatever was inside, it wouldn’t be the kinds of things she could only have imagined in her worst nightmares.

Her hands shook as she peeled the envelope open and unfolded the pages of his letter. Again, the handwriting was sloppy and a bit amateur. He must have struggled to get everything down and she loved him all the more for it, even if she wasn’t prepared to read on.

 

 

Emma,

 

It’s so strange. I spent over a decade writing letters to you but wishing that I could just be here to speak to you in person. And now, when I’m able to talk to you without thousands of miles separating us, I’m such a coward that I can only express myself through another bloody letter. I’m sorry. Forgive this sad excuse of a friend.

Before I go on, I want you to know that this is not me giving up on us. This is not me avoiding you. I promise I will be there tonight and we’ll have a proper talk. But there’s just so much I want to say to you and I’m afraid that once I’m there I’ll just muck it all up. There are things I desperately need you to know.

 

 

She shut her eyes tightly and took a deep, shuddering breath. He wasn’t leaving. He’d be back. She wasn’t going to lose him. She blinked a few times to clear her vision and then continued, her curiosity getting the better of her.

 

 

August 1993. Do you remember that month as clearly as I do? We sent our first few letters then. I can’t even begin to imagine what my life would be like if it weren’t for that class project. I don’t want to imagine it. My life is so completely and utterly better with you in it.

In the beginning I was just ecstatic to have a friend. I wasn’t a very social child. In fact, I was quite the loner. I was small for my age and it was no secret that my father was a scoundrel who’d abandoned his family, so sometimes I’d get treated poorly by my schoolmates, every once in a while coming home with a black eye or bloody nose. Mum tried to get the school to do something about it and Liam tried to stand up for me but unfortunately all their meddling did was make things worse. When I got your letters it was like I finally had someone my own age that I could rely on and talk to for the first time. I had someone to tell my secrets to. I had a friend who was all mine and I don’t think I can even begin to tell you what that meant to me back then. Mum was happy for me. I wish she’d lived long enough to meet you because I promise she would have adored you.

 

 

Her eyes burned with a need to cry but the tears wouldn’t come. He’d never told her this. She knew he didn’t have friends when they first began speaking to each other but she had no clue that he’d been bullied. And she was surprised to find that her letters to him were just as meaningful and appreciated as his were to her at the time. She was no stranger to the feeling of being outcast and mistreated. She felt for him, for the young, small Killian Jones that she’d befriended all those years ago.

 

 

After she passed away and you were sending me letters every week to comfort me, I knew something had changed. I was so young, though, I’d no clue what it was. I didn’t know why I was so desperately checking the mail every day. I didn’t know why I was so disappointed every time I found it empty. I didn’t know why I felt like I could fucking fly every time I read what you’d written just for me.

By the time we were almost seventeen I’d figured it out. All it took was reading your letters about Neal and how good it felt to be loved. I was already a complete goner, Emma. I was jealous of a man I’d never met before and crushed because there was not a damn thing I could do about it. I think perhaps the reason it took me so long to ask my aunt about not receiving your letters was because I was afraid of hearing more about how happy you were with him. And then when I found out what he’d done to you and that I’d essentially abandoned you to go through it all on your own… I hated myself. I was so ready to come to you and fix it and take care of you that I stole my aunt’s credit card and nearly bought myself a plane ticket right then and there. She caught me before I could, though. She asked me what I’d even planned on doing once I got there and I didn’t have an answer for her. You were still in prison and Henry hadn’t been born yet. I didn’t have money or any job experience beyond working at a bloody convenience store. I certainly didn’t have a place to shelter you. I didn’t have a single thing to offer you other than emotional support, but my aunt convinced me that wasn’t enough. If I’d shown up without a plan, I’d only be a burden to you. Honestly, I didn’t even have a passport so it would have been a fruitless endeavor anyway. So instead, I did what I thought I was capable of at the time. I spent hours researching Phoenix and how to help get you back on your feet. I did what I could to encourage you in my letters. I got a mobile so I could be there if you needed to call. And I tried my best not to let my feelings for you get in the way of our friendship.

 

 

Her heart raced and her eyes were wide open, glued to the pages in front of her, as she tried to process what she’d just read.

He’d been jealous of Neal? And he’d almost come to America when she was still in prison?

And, feelings? His feelings for her? Did that mean what she thought it meant?

Her breaths were coming out in short, quivering bursts now and she forced herself to read on, swallowing down her anxiety with some effort.

 

 

But then you had to send that fucking photograph. Gods, Emma, do you know how ruined I was? I cried. You were so perfect in every way and there was little Henry in your arms and I cried like a fucking baby. There was a tiny part of me that hoped you’d sent it as a hint, you know? Like maybe I wasn’t insane for feeling so strongly towards a woman I’d yet to meet. But things went on like normal in your letters and I admit I felt a little heartbroken. I guess at the time I felt the need to rebel. It was petty and stupid. I let my hatred for Gold and my fear of your rejection drive me forward.  

I won’t lie to you, I did love Milah. I could kiss her and hold her and she made me feel so wanted that I let it cloud my judgment. I knew that what we had could never be more. I counted on it when I began pursuing her. And it hurt when it ended.

But you must know that what I felt for her never even came close to what I felt for you. I craved your approval and love more than anything. And just the thought of losing you made me physically ill; it absolutely wrecked me. I couldn’t possibly fathom a world in which Emma Swan and Killian Jones were no longer best friends. And my heart ached for a world in which we were more.

 

 

Oh God. Oh God oh God oh God.

Her tear ducts seemed to have reset, eyes glassing over. She was afraid she’d start hyperventilating so she tried to steady her breathing, taking deep gulps of air and pressing a hand to her chest.

 

 

When I heard your voice for the first time, I thought I was dreaming. And then later that night, I did dream of you. I dreamt of how it would feel to run my fingers through your silky, golden hair. I dreamt of pressing my lips to yours and hearing you sigh my name. I dreamt of how it would feel to wrap my arms around you and hold you against me and hear every little sound you made. Emma, I have never hated waking up more than I did the next morning.  

I’ve always known that someday I’d end up confessing my feelings to you. I certainly didn’t expect it would be under these circumstances, but I suppose life is unpredictable like that. When I told you about how Liam convinced me to come here, I didn’t tell you everything. The only way I managed to keep myself sane this past year was talking to him about you. I told him a lot of things. Even little things like how you like cinnamon in your hot cocoa or that you listen to Lou Reed when you’re in a good mood.  

He’s always known how I’ve felt about you. He told me it wasn’t enough just to sit around and hope for something magical to happen between us, especially since I’d been too busy drowning in self-loathing to even bother responding to your letters. What did I have to lose? I definitely wasn’t going to go back into the Navy after what happened. I had to go out and find you and show you how much you meant to me. He told me it didn’t matter if you were with someone else, that if I knew you were the one, I should take that risk that I might get rejected. So I promised myself that I would come here and win your heart fair and square. No lies. No tricks.  

But once I got here I realized how utterly terrifying it was. How could I announce my feelings for you when I could possibly lose your trust and friendship? So I decided that I’d do everything in my power to make you fall for me naturally and if I failed then that would be that and I’d consider myself lucky just to have you in my life at all.

Then you kissed me. And, Emma, it was the most wonderful and beautiful and absolutely spectacular thing I have ever felt in my entire life. And I hope you understand how very much I wanted to just keep kissing you forever. It was not for lack of wanting you that I stopped, I promise. I just didn’t want to take advantage of you. I was afraid you were acting on impulse after your breakup and if I’d taken it any further only to have you regret it afterward, I wouldn’t even have the right to call myself your friend. I wish I’d have been less of a blundering, tongue-tied idiot before and just said all this to you, but I hope you understand that that’s what you do to me. I’m simply a mess around you.

 

 

Her trembling hand was cupping her mouth, trying to quiet the sobs that were fighting their way from her throat. There was a steady stream of tears wetting her cheeks and she wasn’t even aware of the shaky smile pulling at the corners of her mouth.

 

 

Emma, if I haven’t made myself perfectly clear by this point, let me do so now.

I am in love with you. One hundred percent, certifiably, unconditionally, madly in love with you. I think I always have been. And these past few weeks have been both a blessing and a torture, because while I’ve been able to hold your hand and sleep next to you and embrace you, I’ve had to do so under the mask of friendship. I’m sorry for that. Truthfully I’ve been dying to kiss you since the very moment I first saw you. Yes, even with your mascara running down your cheeks and your fists flying at my chest.

 

 

Despite the dizzying array of emotions bouncing around in her chest, she found herself laughing. In shock. In disbelief. In happiness. It didn’t matter. Her chest was heaving with tearful, almost hysterical laughter, sniffling along as she tried to control herself.

 

 

Is it too much to hope that you might feel even an ounce for me of what I feel for you? Should I have just kept kissing you instead of pulling away? Emma, tell me. And even if you don’t feel the same, I still want to know. If you want everything to go back the way it was, I understand. I’ll do anything you ask. But please don't shut me out.

I’m so sorry, love. Please tell me I haven’t ruined everything.

 

Your best friend (who desperately wishes to be more),

Killian Jones

 

 

His writing was smudging with her teardrops and she dropped the pages in her lap as she pressed her palms against her eyes.

How was she supposed to react to something like this? To her whole world – everything she’d ever known – changing in an instant? 

She snagged the pillow resting against the arm of the couch, the one that smelled like Killian, and buried her face in it. Then she screamed. Hard. Loud. Until she became lightheaded and literally had to lean forward to put her head between her knees to regain equilibrium.

He loved her.

He freaking loved her.

Killian Jones loved Emma Swan.

What an idiot.

Did he really think she’d kissed him because she was reeling from her breakup? That she’d just had an urge to release her pent up frustration with Walsh by crashing her mouth against his because he happened to be nearby? 

She laughed at the stupidity of it all. 

Damn if she wasn’t an idiot, too, though. She’d assumed he’d pushed her away because he didn’t want her and hadn’t even given him the opportunity to explain himself. If she had just taken a moment to listen then they wouldn’t be in this mess right now. But no, she’d just selfishly stormed off and left him to deal with things on his own.

Shit. She quickly sobered as she realized how he must have taken that.

He’d stopped because he was afraid she’d regret it and then she’d yelled at him, told him to leave. What if he thought she did regret it and that’s why she’d shut him out?

No. No, no, no. She had to fix everything. Now. She couldn’t let him go on thinking that she considered their kiss a mistake.

She threw his pillow to the side and placed the letter on her coffee table, then scrambled around the table for her phone, flipping it open and hovering her thumb over the call button.

She wet her lips with a quick swipe of her tongue and then nervously nibbled at her lower lip. Her heart was hammering so quickly in her chest it felt like it was humming.

What would she even say to him?

‘Hey, sorry for screaming at you and then forcing you to leave literally moments after I scolded my ex for doing the same thing. It was all a misunderstanding. The truth is I’m actually crazy about you and I think we should be together’?

Shit. She wished she had time to organize her thoughts, but right now the only thing that mattered was that she had to make things right. She had to assure him that no, he hadn’t been insane for falling in love (God, he was in love with her) with someone he’d never met before. Or if he was, then she was crazy, too. Because she could clearly remember how the revelation that she was in love with him had knocked the breath straight from her lungs.

(And that had been years ago, before she’d ever even heard the pleasant lilt of his voice. Long before she’d felt the rough callus of his palm against her cheek or the heat radiating from his chest when he slept against her. Before she knew he looked like a fucking Greek God come to earth.)

She took a deep breath in and held it as she pressed the call button.

As she heard the phone ring in her ear, another chirping sound filled the room, startling her. It was Killian’s phone. Damn it. He hadn’t taken it with him. She shut her phone with a frustrated groan and sunk back onto the couch, heaving a sigh and running her fingers through her hair.

If she’d have spent less time trying to convince herself that she was going crazy, misinterpreting all the signals Killian was putting out, and more time paying some fucking attention, she’d have known from the get-go that his feelings for her went beyond friendship. He’d come all this way, hadn’t he? Held her in his arms for hours. Brushed her hair behind her ear with a gentle smile. Looked at her like he’d never seen anything more captivating in his life. (Hindsight, 20/20.)

She had a million things she needed to say to him. But even if Storybrooke was a small town, there were still any number of places he could be right now. And she didn’t want to risk leaving to look for him in case he returned to an empty apartment and assumed the worst.

She spied the letter on her coffee table.

Why not? In a way, it was kind of romantic, right? 

She sprinted across her apartment to grab a notebook and a pen, nearly dropping them both in her haste, and then settled down at her dining room table.

She opened to a blank page and, with an unsteady hand, began to write.

 

 

Killian,

 

 

Her pen was still pressed to the paper, the black ink turning into a blob at the end of the comma.

She had no idea how to start. How had Killian written such a perfect and beautiful letter, messy handwriting and all, to convey his feelings for her when she was just stuck on getting a single thought down?

 

 

I love you and I wish I’d told you before attacking your face with my

 

 

Damn it. She left the sentence unfinished and barely resisted the urge to tear the piece of paper out and crumple it into a ball. Instead, she just flipped to a new page.

 

 

Killian,

 

I didn’t kiss you because of Walsh, I kissed you because I’m in love with

 

 

She growled in frustration and flipped to a new page.

 

 

Killian,

 

You have always been so much better at expressing yourself than me. I don’t know how you do it. All I can do now is just say how much I

 

 

She turned the page again, the paper ripping a bit from the sharp movement.

Her eyes fell shut and a long, audible sigh escaped her lips. She’d written him hundreds of these stupid things before. Why was it that now, of all times, she just couldn’t find the right words? 

After a few minutes of just sitting still and trying to get her head clear, she realized what her problem was. She’d been too busy focusing on expressing her feelings that she’d entirely forgotten to do what they’d always done: reply to each other.

She was much calmer when she began writing again, her desire to rush crumbling away.

 

 

Killian,

 

Thank you for telling me everything. I know it must have been difficult and probably terrifying but I just want to let you know how much I appreciate it. And it wouldn’t be fair of me to let you think for even one more moment that I don’t understand exactly how you feel so do me a favor and keep reading.

I was lost, truly, before you came into my life. I was unwanted and unloved and just unworthy. That was the norm for me. I was only nine but I was used to being this lonely, lost little girl, and I expected to be that for the rest of my life. And then I got your very first letter. When I read ‘Your friend’ at the bottom, you know what I felt? Hope. It was ridiculous because I knew it probably wouldn’t last and that when the project was over we’d be done but I really, really loved talking to you. When you said you were my best friend and you gave me your address, I cried so hard. I’d never had a best friend before and never thought I would and you were far greater than any of the ones I’d dreamt up for myself.

No matter what happened, I always had you. You stuck with me through all of those foster homes and group homes and even when I ran away or got sent to prison you still didn’t give up on me. You’re the reason I had the strength to keep Henry. I was going to go through with the closed adoption but right before they could have taken him away from me forever, I thought about what you’d written to me. I thought about how you told me I’d be a good mom and how you believed in me. Killian, I could have given him up. How the hell could I have done that, especially knowing what life was like for me in the system? It doesn’t matter how many times or in how many ways I say thank you, it will never be enough. I don’t even know if it’s possible for you to understand just how important you are to me. You’re the only reason I ever learned to trust in people. And probably the only reason I ever learned to trust in myself.

I wish I had known about your feelings for me. Perhaps sending that photo had been a hint, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. I’m so sorry. It wasn’t my intention to hurt you. But I was scared that I wasn’t hiding my feelings well enough so I made an effort to go on as if everything was the same. And then when you told me about Milah, I had to bury those feelings even deeper because I assumed that you were completely uninterested in me as anything more than a friend. Honestly, when you ended things with her, I was happy. And I felt like such an asshole because it wasn’t fair of me to feel that way, but I just selfishly wanted you not to be with anyone else.

Without your letters or phone calls this year, I was so lonely that at times it felt like I was just that lost little girl again. And I think if it hadn’t been for my friends and my son keeping my head on straight, I’d have drowned in my heartache. I missed you so much. It’s probably the reason I started dating Walsh to begin with. I never loved him, never really felt anything for him, but at least in the beginning he kept the loneliness at bay.

I should have broken up with him earlier. I should have kissed you sooner. If I hadn’t obsessed over every possible way that things between us could go south, I would have. But I got there, didn’t I? I took a chance. And, God, it felt like every letter we’d ever written each other, every phone call, had been leading up to that one perfect moment.

So I’m really sorry for panicking and closing myself off when you stopped. I was afraid that I’d messed things up and that you didn’t want me the way I wanted you. I should have just listened to you, but you know me. I’ve never been very good at the whole optimism thing.

I assure you, Killian, you haven’t ruined anything. I’ve been in love with you for years.

And not just a casual, think-about-it-once-in-a-while kind of love, but a dreaming-of-you-almost-every-night kind of love. A fantasizing-about-what-our-life-together-could-be-like kind of love. A preoccupying and debilitating love. The kind that you feel with every single part of you, body and soul and whatever else is left. 

I guess we’re both pretty good at keeping secrets, huh?  

And maybe it is crazy but I don’t care. I want you more than I’ve ever wanted anything. So, if you’re standing outside my apartment reading this right now like I hope you are, please know that when you open the door, I’ll be here waiting for you.

I love you.

 

Your best friend (and more. Definitely more.),

Emma

 

 

She tore out the pages she’d written on, not even bothering to reread her own words before folding them up. Her stash of envelopes was in the drawer of the table next to the front door, and she scribbled Killian’s name on the front of one before filling and closing it.

She slowly opened her front door, peeking around to check if he was walking up the stairs or hiding behind the corner. When she was sure he was nowhere to be seen, she tucked the corner of the envelope in between the wood of the door and the hardware of the doorknob attachment.

Then she closed her door and went back to her earlier place on the couch, sinking into the cushions and crossing her legs to keep them from restlessly bouncing with nervous energy. 

The pillow she’d held earlier quickly found its way back into her arms and she hugged it to her chest as she stared pointedly at her front door.

Her wall clock showed 7:40pm. It was night, right? Killian would be coming through her door any minute now.

By 8:00pm, she was starting to worry that she hadn’t put enough in her letter. Or maybe she should have organized it better. She tried to remember everything she’d written, but it did her no good.

Her phone buzzed and she grabbed it to find another text from Mary Margaret.

MM (8:00pm): Putting Henry to bed. He told me tell you he loves you and to feel better! I told him you’d pick him up tomorrow, but don’t worry if you decide you need some more time. You know David and I have got a hundred things here to keep him occupied. :)

She smiled softly and then cursed in surprise when Killian’s phone chirped with a text as well. She snagged it and flipped it open.

Mary Margaret (8:01pm): Hey Killian, Henry is down for the night. He says he loves you and wanted to wish you a good night. I know he missed you today.

Oh. Her eyelids fluttered as she read it. In just a few weeks, Killian had become such a fixture in their lives that Henry was echoing the same words to him at night that he’d always said to her.

The phone buzzed again as she was holding it in her hand.

Mary Margaret (8:01pm): Whatever is going on between you two, I know things will work out. I’m sure you know her better than I do so I’ll remind you that aside from Henry, you are the most important person in the world to her.

She let out a silent chuckle. Leave it to Mary Margaret to try and cheer up both sides.

She set Killian’s phone back down and used her own to send a reply thanking her friend once more. With any luck, by tomorrow things would be different. Better.

She went back to sitting on the couch and watching her front door, his pillow once again held against her chest.

Waiting was hard and Emma was impatient. But her anxiety faded as the minutes ticked by, and after an hour she was just bored.

9:00pm and he still wasn’t there. She played a few games of Bejeweled on her flip-phone, then debated whether to start a late-night text conversation with Ruby. In the end, she decided it would probably be best not to distract herself.

By 10:00pm Emma began to doze off. There were multiple times she jolted herself awake again after barely fading into unconsciousness. As it turned out, even after sleeping for half the day, huge emotional revelations and releases were pretty exhausting.

At 10:30 she was out like a light, curled up and lying on her side, Killian’s pillow still tucked away in her arms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She was floating, right there in the clouds. She just felt so light and airy, like all her life she’d been anchored to the ground and now someone had finally unchained her and set her free. The warmth of the sun enveloped her whole body, permeating through her skin and settling in her veins, in her heart, all the way to the very center of her being. 

She didn’t ever want to leave this place.

But there was a flash of something in the back of her mind. She wasn’t sure what it was exactly, just this gnawing feeling, this strange sensation that she’d forgotten something. And as comfortable as she was, suspended within the purply-blue of the ocean – or was it the sky? That’s right; it was the sky – she knew that whatever it was, it must have been important.

The hues changed around her, dimming and shifting to earthy greens and browns until they eventually seemed black, and she began to feel a gentle pressure at her hip. It was light, subtle, and so soothing that it had her sighing in relief.

There was no jolting or startling into awareness. It was a gradual thing. It happened so slowly that by the time she finally realized that she was awake again, and in the comfort of her bed and not on the couch, she almost thought the entire past day had just been a dream, too.

But then she realized what that pressure on her hip was.

It was his thumb, rolling gentle circles across the bare skin between her shirt and shorts.

She also noticed that he was lying against her, his chest tight against her back and his nose buried in her hair. It was not an unfamiliar position – they’d slept close like this a few times, actually – but it was new in the sense that now she knew.

He was in love with her.

Damn it, she must have fallen asleep before he got back. He’d probably carried her to her room and tucked her in and then lied down with her.

Which meant… he must have read her letter. He knew, too. That it wasn’t one-sided.

The steady swiping of his thumb on her hip revealed another important truth: he was awake right now.

Her eyes fluttered open. The room was dark but there was a small amount of light filtering through her open doorway, probably from the lamp in the living room. Her alarm clock read 12:22am. 

She wasn’t sure what to do next. There was a moment where, even knowing that he loved her back, she was afraid to face him and tempted to just pretend she was still sleeping. But she couldn’t do that. She wouldn’t. Yes, they knew a hell of a lot more about each other than they’d known yesterday, but that didn’t mean she could skip over the talking part. (Besides, her heart was racing now and with the two of them pressed so intimately together she was pretty sure if he didn’t already know she was awake, he would soon.)

Tentatively, with her fingers shaking so much she internally cursed her nerves, she reached down and covered his hand with hers, effectively ceasing the movement of his thumb. She could tell by the sudden absence of the soft puffs of air against her neck that he was holding his breath, his body going rigid behind her. Perhaps he was just as nervous as she was.

She lightly traced his knuckles, then skimmed along the length of his fingers. His hand twitched beneath her touch and she slowly pressed her fingers between the gaps of his, wrapping them around so her fingertips pressed into his palm. His fingers curled, locking their hands together.

He swallowed audibly, finally releasing that breath, and pressed the bridge of his nose up against her neck. The mixture of pure relief and giddiness dazed her a little. Her head buzzed like she’d had a tad too much to drink, but she didn’t have a single drop of alcohol in her system.

She dragged their joined hands up over her stomach and settled them on her ribcage just beneath her breasts. She thought she heard almost a whimper of a sound escaping from the back of Killian’s throat, but it was hard to tell with the pounding of her blood in her eardrums.

He pulled her even tighter against him, his facial hair scraping against the skin of her neck and shoulder and the top of his foot sliding over her heel.

Fuck. God. Had he wanted to hold her like this the entire time? Had he been just as frazzled and desperate every time he woke up in her arms? She couldn’t believe it.

Silence still hung in the air and Emma knew she had to be the one to break it. It wouldn’t be fair for her to just bask in the feeling of being in Killian’s arms and wait for him to get things going. The whole reason they’d spent half a day apart, feeling uneasy and sick, was her fault.

She shifted, releasing his hand and putting space between them so she could roll over to face him.

Even in the dim light, she could still make out his features with ease. His eyes were shining with the intensity of his affection, and they darted back and forth between hers. She was completely spellbound at the tender expression on his face. His hand was still now and resting gently against her waist.

He opened his mouth to speak, but only managed, “Emma, I-“ before the soft press of her fingertips against his lips silenced him. His brows drew together ever so slightly but she just licked her lips and inhaled as quietly as she could before speaking.

“You gave me your address,” she whispered. It had been nearly inaudible even to her own ears so she tried to raise her voice just a bit as she continued. “Then you gave me your phone number. You mentioned coming to visit first. You sent gifts first.” He didn’t try to interrupt her, patiently and intently listening to what she had to say. “And then you even came all the way here. You’ve always been the brave one, Killian. Even now you’re still beating me to the punch, writing me all that romantic stuff.” She laughed through a few tears and he gave her a little smile in response. “So let me have this one? Just this once, can I be the brave one?” Her smile disappeared as she was overcome with emotion and she struggled to see him through the blur of her tears. He looked just as wrecked as she felt, but she could see the hope in his eyes and she wouldn’t let that go to waste. “Can I be the one to tell you that I love you? Because I do. God, I love you so much.”

His nostrils flared as he tried to hold back the tears that were already sliding over the bridge of his nose and down the side of his cheekbone. He slid his hand from her waist up over her shoulder and cupped her jaw before leaning forward and pressing his lips to hers.

It was so, so gentle. So vastly different from the kiss they’d shared earlier. Not that that the earlier one had been bad – far from it – but whereas the first made her feel like she was bursting into an impassioned flame, this one made her feel like she was slowly melting. It was a caress, soft and light but not chaste. Her top lip rested between his and he slowly coaxed her into opening for him as he deepened the kiss.

Her fists clenched the material of his shirt at his chest and she could do nothing but sigh into his mouth as he tilted his head, his nose gently prodding the apple of her cheek. She couldn’t even think beyond the places where they were touching. The rest of the world didn’t exist for all she knew.

When he ended the kiss it was with great reluctance; she could see it in his eyes. But he smiled and nudged the tip of his nose to hers.

“And I love you, Emma.”

She barely had a moment to let herself come to grips with how freaking perfect it was to hear those words fall from his lips before they were once again brushing over her own.

They were supposed to talk, right? They said the most important thing but surely there was more to discuss. But she couldn’t be persuaded to do anything but kiss him back and slide her hands up his chest and around his neck.

He carefully maneuvered his left arm underneath him and used it as leverage to push himself up, gradually rolling Emma onto her back. She could feel every nerve ending in her body lighting up, electricity buzzing under her skin, and she grabbed onto the hair at the nape of his neck to center herself.

It grew more passionate, more urgent, and she felt like her self-control was dwindling very dangerously close to the breaking point.

And then Killian did something she didn’t expect in the heat of the moment. His lips became taut and passive as he smiled against her. She tried to prod him back into continuing, lightly pulling at his hair, but all he did was let out a breathless laugh against her mouth.

She reluctantly pulled back and the corners of her mouth tilted upwards as she took in Killian’s wide grin, appreciating those creases by his eyes and the dimples in his cheeks far more now that she knew they were all because of her.

“What?” she whispered. He shook his head once and continued laughing, almost giggling at this point.

“Sorry, it’s nothing,” he managed. She tilted her head, expecting a real answer, and he relented. “Just… I’m kissing Emma Swan.”

Her teeth found her lower lip as she smiled. The surreality of it all wasn’t lost on her, either. Years of (apparently mutual) pining and holding everything in and look where they were now. In each other’s arms. Kissing. Touching. 

God. She never imagined things would be this good.

“And, darling,” he murmured, gazing at her parted lips. “While I would love nothing more than to keep kissing you… perhaps we should… talk?”

Right, they did need to do that.

“Yeah, probably should,” she said, letting her hands fall away from him as he moved to sit up.

As he pulled away from her and her comforter fell, she shivered at the shock of cool air to her skin. Luckily, it was just what she needed right now, still worked up and overheated from the onslaught of his passionate kisses. 

He reached over to turn on her bedside lamp as she pushed to sit back against the headboard. They both blinked a few times for their vision to adjust to the light.

She could see the pink tint across his face and the tips of his ears now and it was comforting to see that he looked just as nervous and excited as she felt.

“So…” he began a bit awkwardly, tentatively scratching at his ear.

“So…” she echoed.

There was a brief silence as they both hesitated to begin, and eventually they both chuckled nervously.

“Er… sorry for pushing you away earlier when-“

“Don’t,” she interrupted, reaching out to grab his hand. “You didn’t know. And it wasn’t fair of me to just… I mean, without explaining first. And I shouldn’t have kicked you out, either.”

He frowned, his fingers curling around hers.

“You and I both seem to have some trouble expressing ourselves, aye?” 

“I think we can work on that,” she chuckled. Killian echoed her smile after a beat and she decided that she better start on it now. “Um…” She took a few seconds to find her voice. “Killian, I…” He lifted a brow and nodded encouragingly. “I love you, I do. You mean so much to me. And I don’t want to jinx anything. But… if, for whatever reason, something happens and this doesn’t work out…”

He tugged her hand to his lips, brushing a kiss over her knuckles. His eyes closed for a moment but then he opened them and his gaze bore into her.

“Worst case scenario?” he asked. She could only nod stiffly in reply, feeling awful for bringing this up even though she needed to. “Okay. Let’s say somewhere down the line, something so terrible and unpredictable happens and we decide we can’t do it anymore.” Just the thought of it made her sick, but she reminded herself that this was purely metaphorical. Killian let out a slow exhale, brow twitching. “First and foremost, we are best friends. And no matter what happens, we’ll always be that. Agreed?”

She swallowed with some effort, but nodded.

“Agreed.”

“But see… the thing is, you’ll never need to know what ‘worst case scenario’ looks like, Emma. ‘Cause there’s nothing that could ever happen that would make me stop loving you.” Her chin quivered a bit but she tried her best to stay calm. “I’ll always fight for us.” 

Her eyes slid shut on a sigh. He was so good to her, always had been, and she promised herself right then that she’d never let anything get between them. They’d already seen each other through the worst of times and that had been when they were an ocean apart.

“Besides,” Killian continued, causing Emma to blink her eyes open. “There’s no way I could go on if I couldn’t be around my favorite person in the whole world…”

God, he was such a romantic and sweet- 

“Henry,” he finished.

She yanked her hand from his grasp and slapped his chest a little harder than she meant to but he just let out a loud, pleased guffaw. 

Ass,” she mumbled through her laughter.

“Oh, don’t worry, Swan,” he said when he finally calmed down. “It’s obviously a tie between the two of you.”

She scrunched her nose in mock offense but honestly it made her extremely happy. Killian really loved Henry. And Henry definitely loved him, too.

Which was another thing they needed to touch on.

She was about to bring it up but Killian seemed to have something else on his mind he needed to get out first.

“So… will this change anything?” he asked. He must have realized how vague the question was so he went on. “I mean, about me staying here.”

“Well, I guess you won’t have to sleep on the couch anymore,” she shrugged, cheeks reddening when she realized how suggestive that might sound.

Judging from the matching flush to his own cheeks, he was thinking the same thing.

“Ah, well. Uh, good. That’s good. I just meant more like… is it still okay for me to be here?” She raised her brows in question. “Since… well, having your… you know...” Boyfriend? Yeah, it sounded weird to her, too. “It’s different than just having a friend crash on your couch.”

“Are you saying you think moving in is too fast?” she asked incredulously.

“No! Not at all. I just worried that perhaps…”

“That I might think that?” He guiltily nodded and for a second she was almost offended. But in all fairness, she had no right to feel that way. Even if he knew now that she loved him, there were still a ton of things still left unsaid. “Can I be honest?”

“Of course, please do.”

“Since you got here, things have been so much better. I like having you here and so does Henry. It’s maybe a little weird how… not weird it’s been. I mean, you fit so perfectly into our lives that it’s like you’ve always been here.” She shrugged, hoping she was making sense. “You know, getting Henry ready for school and fixing breakfast and having movie nights together on the couch, all three of us…”

He was smiling now and Emma took that as a good sign.

With a pleased sigh, he moved closer to her, lying back against the headboard and sliding an arm around her shoulders, pulling her into his side. She curled into him, arms winding around his waist and her head resting against his shoulder.

She felt him press his lips to her hairline.

“Emma,” he began, raising his head a little when his voice came out muffled. “This may seem presumptuous of me, but… I’ve thought of you and Henry as family for years now. And I swear, I would never try and force Henry to call me ‘Dad’ or anything like that-“ Emma nearly gasped aloud at that. She didn’t know he’d be the one to bring this up. “- but I just want to be clear in letting you know that while I may not be his father, I promise I’m gonna be there for him. Always. No matter what.”

She leaned her head back and he looked down at her with just a bit of anxiety creasing his brow and she wanted to smooth it away.

“Thank you,” she whispered. Then she grinned. “He loves you, you know.”

“I love him,” he replied, clearly more relaxed now. “And you.”

She ducked her head, biting her lip as she smiled. It was incredible. A month ago, she didn’t even know where he was or if he ever planned on speaking to her again. A couple of weeks ago, she was trying desperately to hide how she felt about him. And just twelve hours ago, she was sure she’d wrecked their friendship beyond repair.

But now she was happy. Well and truly and insurmountably happy. It didn’t matter how much they still needed to discuss, right now she could only revel in the knowledge that she and Killian were in love with each other. He was going to stay here with her and Henry.

Yesterday, she realized she was finally home now that Killian was here. She couldn’t even have imagined how much better it would be today, understanding that she was his home, too.

The beautiful moment was cut short when her stomach loudly growled. She froze, her cheeks flushing and her hand coming to rest over her belly, like she could just will it into silence.

Killian’s chest rumbled and she knew he was barely holding in a laugh.

“Shut up,” she mumbled.

“Sorry. I take it you haven’t eaten, either?”

She shook her head and he moved to get up. Once he was standing, he held his hand out to her expectantly. She grabbed it and he pulled her up and into his arms.

“Better a late dinner than no dinner at all, aye?” he said, cheeks creasing with his smile. She wanted to just kiss every single line, force his dimples to dig even deeper into his skin.

“We don’t have much to eat,” she reminded him, staring rather intently at his smiling lips.

“Ah that’s right.” His voice was a low hum and she could tell he was enjoying her attention. “Maybe an early breakfast then?”

“Cereal?” she whispered, one hand still firmly in his own and the other reaching around his neck to urge him downward.

“You think Henry would mind if we stole some of his Lucky Charms?”

He barely had the question out before Emma finally dragged his mouth back down to hers. He angled his head to the side and brushed her hair back with his free hand, lightly grazing the skin of her neck.

There was no haste in the way she explored his mouth. She pressed into him and he was forced to steady himself so he didn’t have to take a step back. Her tongue traced each lip and then dipped inside his mouth along his teeth. He let out a shuddering breath through his nose, gripping her hand and pulling her flush against him. 

Then Killian’s stomach growled. She paused, lips still against his but still now, and she smiled.

“Don’t you dare laugh,” he warned. “Yours was just doing the same thing a minute ago.”

She didn’t even bother trying to stop it. Her forehead dropped to his chest as her shoulders shook with laughter. Killian didn’t seem to be as offended as he pretended to be, laughing along with her and pressing kisses into her hair. She turned her head to the side, nuzzling his neck.

“Killian?”

“Yes, darling?”

“I love you.”

He pulled back to look into her eyes and she just couldn’t help the rush of joy at knowing he would say it back. He’d always say it back.

“I love you, too.” He gave her a soft, short peck on the lips. “So, how about that breakfast?”

It was nearly two hours later, after shared kisses over bowls of cereal, heartfelt discussions, and cuddling on the couch, that Killian fell asleep.

Emma brushed her fingers through his hair, his head nestled in her lap. She wasn’t tired – she’d already slept so much the past day – but there wasn’t a single reason she could come up with to leave his side.

After all, she’d been waiting for this for so long, the feeling of being whole. She’d go back and do it all over again, every single moment, even all the torment of her childhood, if she knew he’d be here with her in the end.

Chapter Text

It was only June and already Emma was sick of summer. And it technically wasn’t even summer yet; not for another week.

It’s not that she didn’t enjoy the gradually warming weather, or the nice days at the park with her family and a double scoop of rocky road, or some of the sweet, romantic dates that Killian set up under the stars. It was that for some reason, so much crazy shit had happened in the last two months and it was eating into her happy bubble. 

First, there was Walsh. Emma was sure she’d never see him again after threatening him with bodily harm-slash-jail time. To be fair, he hadn’t sought her out. (No, he’d tried desperately to avoid her after their altercation.) But, well, when the owner of the furniture and home décor shop he worked at called the sheriff to come arrest him, running into her ex was kind of unavoidable. Turns out that not only had he been stealing from the registers on a near daily basis, he’d also been hiking up the prices of some of the pieces in the store, then pocketing the extra when people paid for their items with cash. She had bought all of her furniture and bedding from that store when she’d moved to town so she wondered, as she cuffed the dickwad and roughly shoved him into the back of the Bug, how much money he had stolen from her. He didn’t stay in Storybrooke’s jail for long. As soon as he was charged, they transferred him over to a real prison to carry out his sentence. So at least there was that.

Unfortunately, during that whole debacle, the only news outlet in Storybrooke hyper focused on Emma’s life in the papers. For a few weeks it was nothing but headlines like, ‘Sheriff’s Ex-Lover: Swindler’ and, ‘Were Mr. Osman’s Schemes Known to Sheriff Swan?’ And, later, after Sidney Glass got an ‘anonymous tip’ about Emma’s previous prison record – which was supposed to have been sealed – the headlines changed to, ‘Sheriff Swan in League with Walsh Osman?’ and, ‘Sheriff Swan’s Criminal Background Revealed!’ It was awful, not to mention a huge invasion of privacy.

Luckily, Emma had already well established herself as a productive and law-abiding citizen of Storybrooke, and she was good friends with all the other influential members of the town, like David, Granny, and even the mayor, whom she’d developed a friendlier relationship with ever since she took on the role of sheriff. Apparently, the papers hadn’t been selling well for the past several years thanks to the Internet, so it was nothing new for Glass to publish whatever nonsense stories he could to get more readers. But she couldn’t exactly arrest the man; there was the whole concept of free speech and all. (Although Ruby did mention suing for slander a few times and Emma briefly considered that option before deciding to just wait it out.)

Still, while no one called for her resignation or harassed her on the street, the rumor mill never stopped churning out new twists to her dark, criminal past. In one story, instead of going to prison for stealing some expensive watches, it was for physically assaulting someone. In another, her prison sentence was originally supposed to be two years but she got it lessened by paying off the judge. (The most confusing part about that one had been that if she had that much money in the first place, what would have been the point of stealing?)

It was by the support of her friends and Killian that she managed to ignore most of it. She was more worried about Henry hearing about it and being negatively affected than she was for herself. That particular part of her history was something she wished to hold off on sharing until he was older. Much older.

Just when things started to settle down a little, Emma learned that Killian had been struggling with visa issues. He’d originally come to the US on a tourist visa since that’s the only thing he could manage on such short notice. It had taken nearly three months for his work visa to come through but they’d only given him six months. It wasn’t exactly an ideal time constraint when searching for a new career to pursue, so for now he was working at the local library with Belle French. (Emma hadn’t had much interaction with her before Killian came to town, but Belle had quickly become another very dear friend. There was just something so comforting about the woman.) Now that it was well into June and his visa would be expiring in August, he was understandably a bit anxious. After numerous calls and emails to the immigration office, the problems still persisted and Killian didn’t know why.

To make matters even worse, the immigration office in Portland was ‘closed until further notice’ thanks to some serious construction work, so the only option was for Killian to travel out of state. The original plan was to go down to Boston, but he managed to find a cheaper round-trip flight to New York.

And that’s how Emma found herself driving her beloved to the airport in Portland while Henry was busy at his three-day-a-week summer school camp. He was hoping to discuss the status of his green card application with the immigration office in NYC as well as attempt to get the extension on his visa sorted out.

It felt weird saying goodbye to him. It was only for a few days but she didn’t like it. She’d become so used to his presence in the past seven months that it just felt wrong not to have him by her side.

“Don’t worry, love. Won’t be gone long,” he promised, pulling her into a hug. And while she knew she had nothing to worry about, perhaps there were a few unresolved fears lingering under the surface. The last time he’d said something like that, he nearly died and then Emma spent a year without word from him.

But things were different now, she reminded herself. Killian was here to stay. He loved her. In fact, he was going to New York specifically so he wouldn’t have to leave. (And she wasn’t about to jinx his safety by thinking about the numerous ways in which he could get injured while he was away.)

“I know. But I miss you already.” She sighed into his shoulder and his arms tightened around her waist.

“I love you, Emma. There isn’t a single thing in this world that could keep me from you.” He pulled back just enough to show her his reassuring smile and she instantly relaxed. “Even your country’s infuriating government.”

She chuckled at that and pressed her hands to his cheeks, pulling him down for a kiss. He comfortingly rubbed circles over her back as their lips slid together in practiced familiarity. She had an amused twinkle in her eye as she pulled away.

“You seem to like calling it my country when you find it particularly aggravating. But you live here, too, you know.”

“Aye. This is home,” he agreed, and Emma’s heart leapt. He nudged the side of his nose against hers and then pressed another kiss to her lips. “I’ll call when I land. And probably countless times until I’m back in your arms.” 

“Good.”

She pulled him close and squeezed him tightly one last time before letting him head past security. When he reached the other side, he waved and blew kisses to her and she just shook her head and laughed. As soon as he was out of sight, she deflated and dragged her feet as she returned to her car in the parking lot. 

The drive home was long, a little over an hour and a half, and she spent the majority of it thinking over the past half-year.

Being with Killian was incredible. Not even her most detailed and well thought out fantasies even came close to the real deal. She got to sleep with her body curled up against him every night, his fingertips skimming bare patches of her skin until he fell asleep. He helped Henry with reading and writing and came to all the school events. She got to kiss him goodbye every morning when the two of them split ways to go to work. They grabbed lunch together frequently, usually from Granny’s. (And while he was loathe to allow himself, and her for that matter, to eat greasy, fatty foods almost every day, he had become just addicted to the stuff as she had.) Even her friends were all becoming pretty used to having him around. David and Eric took him out to guys’ nights once every few weeks while Emma was hanging out with the ladies. All in all, she couldn’t be happier with the changes in her life since his arrival.

Things had been going well for Killian, too. She convinced him a couple months in to see a therapist about his nightmares and he had shown significant improvement. In fact, she couldn’t even recall when the last one had been. Maybe March? Regardless, she was glad to see that he was healing. So was Liam. He called a few times a week on Skype to check in and noted that Killian was looking ‘healthier,’ which she assumed was a nice way of saying he didn’t look like a boozed-up zombie anymore. (His coping mechanisms back in England hadn’t been particularly healthy, she’d learned.)

Things were good. Really good, even with all the recent chaos. She loved how easily he fit into life here in Storybrooke.

When she got back, it was just before the school camp let out. She drove her Bug up to the curb and hopped out so she could lean against the side of the car. 

Within minutes, the doors flew open and a flood of children poured into the courtyard. She spotted Henry in the middle of them all, slowly and steadily walking across the grass towards her.

Emma immediately noticed something was wrong. His shoulders were slumped and the smile on his face was weak and didn’t reach his eyes. As soon as he reached her, she ran her fingers through his messy hair.

“What’s wrong, baby? You not feeling good?”

He averted his eyes and shrugged. It was very unlike him. She pressed the back of her hand to his forehead to feel for a fever, but his temperature felt normal. He wasn’t sniffling or coughing either. If he wasn’t sick, maybe something happened at school.

In any case, it seemed like he wasn’t in the sharing mood, so Emma figured she’d try to cheer him up.

“Hey,” she said, a bright smile covering her worry. “You wanna go grab some ice cream? You can get a scoop of double chocolate chip.”

He shook his head and Emma blinked rapidly in shock.

“No?”

“Can we just go home?” he asked, a slight frown pulling at his lips.

“Uh… sure. Yeah. We’ll go home.”

She opened the car door and Henry climbed in without another word.

Okay. So something was bothering him bad. He always confided in her so his unusual behavior worried her.

She tried to engage him in conversation on the short ride back the their apartment, but never got more than one or two-word responses out of him. Anytime she asked what was wrong, he shrugged it off.

At least he let her hold his hand as they made their way up the stairs to their apartment. She adjusted her keychain in her other hand, grabbing her apartment key.

“Mama, there’s a note.”

She looked up to where he was pointing at the door right as they walked up to it.

A slow smile spread over her face as she pulled it from where it stuck on the doorframe and read it.

 

 

Emma,

 

My love, a few days apart from you is a few too many. I have no idea how I managed to survive a whole thirteen years without being by your side. Never again, darling, I swear it.

I love you and I can’t wait to be home.

 

Your best friend and lover (whose heart and soul you wholly possess),

Killian

 

 

Emma had learned a lot about Killian in the past seven months, most notably his affinity for romancing her. She often received little notes like this, just sweet messages meant to put a smile on her face and a comforting warmth in her heart. (Plus, it was a pretty decent way for him to continue to practice his handwriting, which was already looking much less like a toddler’s and more like Killian’s from back in secondary school.)

She chuckled softly as she tucked the note in her pocket and then opened her apartment door.

Henry released her hand and immediately trekked down the hall and into his room.

Well, so much for the good mood Killian’s note had put her in. 

She tossed her keys on the coffee table and followed after her son, hoping that she could convince him to talk to her or, at the very least, allow her to comfort him.

He was lying down on his bed, facing the wall, when she pushed his door open. He’d thrown his backpack into a corner, but hadn’t bothered to take off his shoes. She kneeled down next to his bed and rubbed her hand gently across his back.

“You wanna tell me what happened?” she asked softly. She’d already tried this question multiple times on the ride home, but it couldn’t hurt to do so again.

He shook his head silently and she pursed her lips. She decided she might have to call his teacher and ask if there were any memorable incidents during the day camp that may have prompted this mood.

Just as she was going to stand back up and let her almost-six-year-old sulk in peace, her phone buzzed in her back pocket. Killian’s name lit up the front screen and she grinned as she flipped it open and held it to her ear. 

“Killian, hey!” Henry’s shoulders twitched and he lazily rolled over to look at her. There was an odd sort of look in his eyes and Emma wanted to bang her head against a wall because of course Henry wasn’t his usual perky self. Killian was almost always there to pick him up from school and today he’d left to go to another state. “You’ve landed?”

“Safe and sound in New York, love. How’s everything at home?”

“Uh, good. Fine.” She reached over and grabbed Henry’s hand, pulling the phone speaker from her lips for a moment to speak to him. “You wanna talk to Killian, baby?”

She had been so sure that he’d immediately reach for the phone, but he didn’t. Instead he looked rather torn, like he wasn’t quite sure whether he wanted to or not. Was she wrong then about his sour mood being about missing Killian?

Eventually he sighed and shook his head, then rolled back over to face the wall.

“Emma? Are you giving the phone to Henry?”

She concernedly patted her son on the back, then leaned over and kissed him on his temple before padding quietly out of his room and into the living room.

“Uh, he’s not really in the talking mood right now.”

“Uh oh. What’s wrong? Did something happen?”

“I wish I knew. He’s been quiet and broody since I picked him up. I hope he isn’t being bullied or anything.”

“I don't think so. Henry gets along with everyone. He’s never had a problem with that before.”

“I know, just… he’ll usually talk to me if something’s bothering him. He even refused ice cream earlier.”

“What? Okay, that’s a little worrisome.”

“Right? I’m not sure what’s going on with him but I can’t make him talk if he doesn’t want to.”

“Aye. Perhaps he’ll be better after a good night’s sleep, yeah?”

“Probably,” she agreed, though she wasn’t entirely confident. She wandered into the kitchen to pour herself a much-needed glass of wine. “So… how was your flight?”

“Fine,” he said, chuckling lowly. “Short and easy. Did you get my note?”

“I did. Warm and gooey as always.”

“Ah, come now. You know you love all my notes.”

“I never said I didn’t,” she said, preening and brushing her hair over her shoulder as if he could see her. Then she took a hefty sip of wine.

He chuckled and then sighed dramatically.

“Three whole nights. I’m already regretting this decision.”

“You don’t really have a choice, do you? If you don’t get the process going, you might not be welcome in the country by the end of the year. And, you know, I’d really prefer that you stay.”

“Aye, I’d prefer that as well. Unfortunately, it can take years to get a green card so I may be dealing with these issues for a while. I can only hope they fix my visa problems soon.”

“Crossing my fingers for you.”

“Thank you, darling.”

The two of them chatted during his taxi ride over to his hotel room, then for about another hour or so after his arrival. It was ridiculous that he’d only left a few hours earlier and she was already craving his company so much that she was afraid to end the call.

But she had to get dinner started and Killian needed to go grab himself something to eat, too, so she reluctantly decided to hold off on their conversation until later that night.

She made sure to peek into Henry’s room before hanging up to see if he’d changed his mind about talking to Killian, but to her surprise, he was sound asleep. It was barely after 6pm.

“Just let him sleep, Swan.”

“But he should eat something. I don’t want him to go to bed hungry.”

“He knows how to fix himself a snack. I promise you won’t be a terrible mother for not making him eat dinner for one night.”

“Shut up,” she pouted, shutting his light off and closing his door. “I’m just worried. You don’t think word’s gotten around to the children about my prison time, do you?”

There was a brief pause on the other end. 

“I should hope not. But I doubt Henry would react like this if he heard something like that. Knowing him, he’d probably think it’s cool.”

“It’s not cool.” 

“Please, you weren’t even in there for a crime you committed. Henry wouldn’t shut you out for something like that.”

“But Henry doesn’t know that. And besides, with all the weird shit people are making up, maybe he’s heard one of the more awful stories.”

“Just give him some time. Let’s not assume anything about his behavior, all right? I’m sure whatever it is, he’ll come around.”

She chewed the inside of her cheek anxiously, then huffed a sigh at her boyfriend’s comforting words.

After thanking him and both saying their quick, but ever-important “I love you”s, the phone snapped shut and she sunk into one of the dining room chairs. She wasn’t feeling up to cooking if she’d be the only one eating. After downing the last bit of her wine, she opted to continue with water, instead. Then she grabbed a couple of granola bars and watched a few rerun episodes of Friends on the couch, wishing that Killian would be back soon, Henry would stop acting strange, and that she could just have her freaking happy bubble back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As it turned out, a good night’s sleep did absolutely nothing to improve Henry’s spirits. She almost felt guilty when she dropped him off at day camp the next morning, watching his retreating form with concern. The call to his teacher last night hadn’t revealed any new information; all she’d said was that he was fine one minute and the next he was quiet and mopey in the classroom. She didn’t have an explanation for his change in mood.

It was frustrating. And Emma carried that frustration with her the entire day at work. David allowed her to stay at the station to finish up paperwork while he left on patrol and then brought her lunch from Granny’s to try and cheer her up. While she appreciated his care and support, the only bright spots during her day were the two phone calls she’d received from Killian and the text messages he sent while he was sitting in the immigration office.

But as long as he was in New York and Henry was closing himself off, she was stuck in this hazy, uncomfortable gloom. It didn’t help matters that it had been steadily raining all day, the first break in the sunny, warm weather that had started a month ago. It was almost like her foul mood had the clouds physically following her around.

She tried to put on a warm, happy façade when she picked Henry up. It was a good sign that upon seeing her, he wrapped his arms around her waist and leaned into her. She didn’t ask what was wrong, instead just holding him against her and soothing her hands over his shoulders and back.

Later that evening, Killian called. Henry once again refused to talk to him, choosing instead to quietly play by himself in his room.

“Well, if he won’t talk, will you tell him that I miss him at least?” His voice was wavering a bit and Emma could tell he was upset at not getting the chance to talk to Henry two nights in a row. 

“Of course. Don’t take it personally, Killian.”

“I’m not,” he argued weakly. “It’s just been a long, awful day. I need a pick-me-up.”

“I know what you mean. It hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park for me either.”

“Trouble at work, love?”

“No… just… things have been really stressful lately. So with my son being moody and my boyfriend stuck in New York, I’m just not feeling great.”

“Sorry. I promise you, I’ll be back soon. I don’t want to be so far away either.”

“I know. I’m not blaming you or anything.” She rubbed at her tired, most likely reddened eyes.

“Mm. I want to kiss you.”

She snorted at his shift in topic.

“Two more days and you can kiss me to your heart’s content.”

“It will take a lot of kisses before my heart will be content,” he warned.

“I think I can handle it,” she laughed mirthfully.

Minutes later, after they hung up, she peeked into Henry’s room to let him know how much Killian missed him. 

His cheeks flushed a little, but not quite in shyness. It almost looked like he was ashamed and Emma just wanted to do nothing but soothe him.

Whatever was bothering him, whether it was related to Killian or not, she just wanted to fix it. To kiss him better. To take away the uneasy crease in his brows that was very uncharacteristic of his normal, carefree self.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday was a bit better. Distractions were working wonders on Henry’s mood. In the morning, they donned umbrellas and took a trip to the park, where he got very sloppy, wet kisses from a couple of dogs on their walks. It was the first time she’d seen a genuine, happy smile from him in days. 

They spent some time with Hank and Violet, too. That little girl was by far Henry’s best friend and the two of them did everything together. They chased the chickens on Hank’s small farm, their boots muddied and clothes wet from the rain, and played with toy cars or dolls or whatever else they happened to have. They convinced her to read to them, snuggled up together on the plush rug in Hank’s den. And for lunch, they both split their portions in half and gave it to the other, the hamburger and hotdog both torn jaggedly in the middle on each of their paper plates.

He was laughing again, so Emma was feeling much lighter.

He even had a pleasant, if brief, conversation with Killian over the phone that afternoon. It wasn’t much, but it was progress and that was all Emma needed. And Killian had been ecstatic.

So that evening when they were settling down for bed, she decided to try once more to get him to open up. 

“Hey, kiddo,” she said, grinning down at her pajama-clad boy. He smiled back.

“Hey, Mama,” he replied, in a very similar tone.

Her eyes softened and she brushed her knuckles across his cheek.

“You know you can always tell me anything, right?” She nudged his chin with her thumb. “I’m always, always here for you.”

He bit his lower lip, a nervous tic she must have passed on, and nodded slowly.

“Yeah,” he finally said, absentmindedly tugging on the corner of his blanket.

“And you know… if anyone ever did something to you or said something to you and made you uncomfortable or sad or mad, that it would be okay to talk to me about it?” 

He nodded again, then scooted toward the side of his bed, silently asking for her to join him. She did without hesitation, laying her head on the pillow next to his and turning to face him. She pulled his hand to her lips and gave it a firm kiss, which he playfully crinkled his nose at.

She stayed quiet for a minute, waiting for him to start. When he did, it was with slight trepidation in his eyes.

“Where’s my daddy?”

The question was shocking and unexpected, so Emma faltered for a moment. He continued before she got the chance to respond, her mouth agape.

“Um… ‘cause, um, I wanted to make a Father’s Day card for Killian, ‘cause… he takes care of us and stuff… but Philip told me I couldn’t give it to him ‘cause he isn’t my real daddy even though I already made it and everything…”

Oh. Oh. 

God. Father’s Day was tomorrow and it hadn’t even crossed Emma’s mind since she’d never had reason to celebrate it. Henry probably heard about it in school.

And while Philip Jr. was Henry’s age, her first, rather inappropriate thought, was, Screw you, Philip. Henry can write a card to whomever he likes.

“Oh, baby,” she sighed, smoothing his hair back. He was staring at her expectantly.

This was kind of a heavy topic. Honestly, she hadn’t thought of Neal in a long time and she stubbornly wished not to speak of him at all. He hadn’t stuck around and there was no guarantee he would have if he’d known she was pregnant, but after setting her up and then sentencing her to a year behind bars… he didn’t deserve to be known to their son -- her son, because he certainly was no father to the child he’d abandoned when he abandoned her.

But this wasn't about Neal; it was about Henry. Maybe he was too young to know the details, but as an orphan herself, she felt it was unacceptable to lie to him about this.

She swallowed the painful lump in her throat, trying to reel in her own emotions so as to not upset Henry any further. She had to make this a kid-friendly story.

Ah! A story.

She smiled wanly and pulled him a little closer.

“I’m gonna tell you a story,” she began. His eyes brightened a little even though he looked a tad confused at the subject change. “It’s… kind of a sad story. But I promise it has a happy ending.”

He tucked his hands beneath his cheek on the pillow and gave her his full attention.

“Once upon a time… there was a little baby girl.” It was as good a beginning as any, but even after all these years she still felt a pang at recalling the emptiness of her lonely childhood. “She was alone. She didn’t have a family.”

“What about her mama?”

“Well… her parents gave her up.”

“Why?”

The telltale constricting of her throat wasn’t enough to spur her into tears, but it was a close thing.

“I don’t know. Maybe they were young and afraid. Maybe they thought she’d be better off without them. Or maybe they just didn’t want her.”

“That’s sad…”

“I know, baby.” She was comforted by the thought that Henry would never feel the way that she did. “So this little girl, she moved around a lot. She jumped from place to place, never really knowing what home was like, never really knowing what it felt like to have a loving family. She really wished not to be alone. And then, when she was almost ten, something amazing happened.”

“What?”

“She made a friend,” she said, grinning at the thought of her first letters with Killian. “A really wonderful friend. The best friend in the whole world.”

Henry’s eyes lightened and she could see the smile forming on his face.

“So she wasn’t alone anymore?” 

“That’s right. Never again after that. But see, this friend lived a long way away, so the girl could only talk to him through letters.”

“Like the ones we used to write?”

“Exactly. So when she was sad or feeling lonely, the girl would read her friend’s words and she knew everything would be all right.” She stroked his chin affectionately, lost in the memories for a moment. After a few beats, she shook herself free from her thoughts and continued. “Some years passed and eventually the girl fell in love.”

“With her friend?”

“Shh… that part’s not til later,” she whispered, laughter dancing in her eyes. Then she struggled for a minute to describe her time with Neal. “No, the girl fell in love with a different boy. He was a little older and she just thought being with him felt so good. It was fun and exciting and she was happy when they were together… But as it turned out… the two of them just weren’t meant to be together. So the boy left and the girl never saw him again.”

“He left?” Henry asked, shock and confusion clear as day on his face. “Why would he leave?”

“Well… you know how in stories there’s a difference between ‘love’ and ‘true love’?” He nodded hesitantly. “The boy wasn’t the girl’s true love, so they couldn’t stay together.” His mouth formed a small ‘O’ in understanding. It wasn’t exactly a lie, and thinking about it now she was actually glad that Neal hadn’t stayed. She and Killian might never have come to this point had things been different back then. “It wasn’t until after that the girl found out she was gonna have a baby boy.” She wasn’t about to tell him where she was when she found that out, but she recalled every second of her pregnancy pretty vividly. There was very little else to focus on in prison. “She was… really scared. She didn’t think she would be a good mom.” 

“’Cause she didn’t have a mom?” he guessed.

Her son was actually quite perceptive for so young a person.

“That’s right. But, see, the girl’s friend was so good to her. He supported and encouraged her and told her she would do great, that he believed in her. So the day her little boy was born was the happiest, most perfect day of her life. She loved that baby more than anything. And she promised to do everything in her power to make sure she’d be the kind of mother that he deserved.”

The shift in tone and the grin on her face must have relaxed him. He was excitedly smiling back at her, his curiosity and imagination pulling him into her story.

“What happened next? What about the best friend?”

“They kept sending letters to each other, and even started talking on the phone. And the girl began to realize that she was falling in love with him.”

“I knew it!” he cheered, and she chuckled at his enthusiasm. 

“But she was scared to tell him, scared that he might not feel the same, so she kept it a secret. They still talked a lot and he absolutely adored her son. He was so excited every time they spoke on the phone or when he got to send him presents.”

The expression on Henry’s face told her that he was beginning to see where this story was going. He was realizing that she was the girl. That the best friend was Killian. That he was the little baby boy. She knew he’d have questions, but she kept talking to stave them off.

“A few years later, the girl and her son moved to a nice, cozy town. They made some really good friends, ones that would last a lifetime. And one day, out of the blue, her friend showed up on her doorstep! He crossed an entire ocean to be with her and the little boy.” She playfully booped his nose, though he wasn’t quite smiling anymore. “Imagine how amazed the girl was when she found out that her friend was in love with her, too, and that he wanted to be a part of their family.”

He was quiet for a good minute and honestly it made her feel a little nervous. Had telling him those parts of her past been a bad idea?

“So… the boy from before…the one who left… that was my daddy?”

Her heart stuttered at his dejected tone.

“Technically, yes. But you know what? I think that sometimes the family that you choose is just as good – and maybe even better – than the ones who share your blood. You decided that Mary Margaret and David were your family, right?” He nodded. “Well… it could be the same for Killian, too, if you want.”

“So… he won’t be mad if I call him daddy and give him my card?” His eyes were full of dread and worry, like all this time he’d really thought that the man who cherished him more than his own life wouldn’t stand the idea of being his father.

“Oh. No, no, baby. He’d never get mad. Do you want him to be your dad?” He shrugged, faking nonchalance. “Because he loves you very much. And I think he’d really like being your dad.”

“Really?” he asked, still looking rather unsure. But there was a spark of hope in his eyes and she couldn’t help the bubble of laughter that came up with her assuring reply. 

That seemed to do the trick, a genuinely pleased smile lighting his features. He scooted right up against her, his head tucked neatly under her chin. She sighed and settled back, holding him in place with one hand and smoothing gentle circles across his back with the other.

“So… um… you never had a mommy or daddy?” She hummed a short sound of agreement and Henry lifted his head to look up at her. “I’m sorry.”

Oh boy. She’d made it this far without crying and she didn’t want to start now.

“It’s okay, sweetie. I’ve got you now. And we’ve got Killian and Mary Margaret and David and Ruby and so, so many other very important people who take such good care of us. We’ve got a good family here.”

“Yeah,” he agreed, snuggling back up to her. “I love you, Mama.”

“I love you, too,” she murmured, her voice muffled against his head.

“Can I bring my card with me to the airport?” 

“Absolutely.” She worried a little that Killian might break down in the middle of a crowded area, but she was positive that he’d love it anyway. “Can I see it?” 

Her son wiggled out of her hold and clambered over her. She took the opportunity to roll and press herself closer to the wall. Henry dug through his backpack for a minute before pulling out a colorful construction paper card, sparkly blue and green glitter shimmering around the edges where he decorated it. He handed it to her and then took a step back, shyly wringing his hands behind his back.

'Hapy Fathers Day,' it read in sloppy block letters. She flipped it open. 'Thank you for being a part of my famly! I am so hapy your my daddy. Love, Henry.'

Well, she’d at least tried not to cry. But his innocent, loving little card had her tearing up almost instantly. She sniffled as quietly as she could and handed the card back to him.

“It’s perfect,” she said, giving him an encouraging smile. He beamed, clearly proud of himself.

After returning the card to his backpack, he huddled back under the covers and soon fell asleep in her arms, cuddled up with her like they hadn’t done in a while. She felt like she could finally breathe easy now, knowing that her son wanted so badly to have the greatest man in their lives take the role as his father. Killian had already, on several occasions, let her know just how much he thought of Henry as his.

It would be an interesting homecoming for him and her lips drew into a soft smile as she imagined how happy Killian would be to hear Henry refer to him as his dad.

She shifted, pulling her son tighter against her and pressing a firm kiss to the top of his head.

The happy bubble was coming back, better and stronger than before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Shh," she heard, just as she had been fading into consciousness. Her brow furrowed and she felt the weight of the small bed shift.

She peeked her eyes open and held back a sharp gasp when she saw Killian easing into the bed beside her and Henry. His hair looked to be slightly damp from the residual rain still steadily pouring outside and his blue eyes almost glowed as they reflected the light from Henry’s nightlight. He tossed the covers back and then wrapped his arms around the both of them, Henry squeezed in the middle.

"Killian, what are you doing here?" she whispered. "You weren't supposed to be back until tomorrow morning!"

"It technically is 'tomorrow morning,'" he chuckled softly, a self-satisfied grin lighting his face. She rolled her eyes and gave him a pointed look. "I missed you too much," he admitted. "Got an earlier flight out. It was a little more expensive, but it almost evened out with what I saved on the hotel costs for the night."

"What time is it? How did you even get here?"

"A little past 2am, and I took a taxi."

"A taxi from Portland? Jesus, Killian! How much did you spend?"

"Shh," he repeated. "Doesn't matter, does it? I'm home now."

She reached over and brushed his hair out of his eyes. His fringe was getting long, but she actually kind of liked it.

"Yeah," she sighed. "Welcome home."

He hummed, a pleased sound that made Emma's stomach turn with delight. She watched as he pressed a kiss to Henry's hair, then he leaned over to grant her one on the lips. She melted into his gentle touch, absolutely and perfectly happy to be wrapped up with her two favorite boys, finally.

He pulled back and settled in on the bed as his eyes slid shut, obviously wiped from his late-night flight and subsequent hour and a half ride from the airport.

Within minutes, she heard his soft snores and she smiled as the sound lulled her back to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She awoke first and carefully eased herself out of Henry's bed to go to the bathroom. By the time she got back into the bedroom, her son was awake and sitting up in bed, staring over at Killian -- his father.

She hovered in the doorway for a moment, struck with just how incredible it was that their family was whole. What she wouldn’t have given to have a home like this when she was a child. Two loving parents, a room all to herself, plenty of wonderful friends always willing to take care of her. The feeling of just knowing she was loved and wanted and that she mattered.

She was so grateful that she could give this to her son.

Henry glanced up at her with confusion marring his expression. She held her finger to her lips and waved him over, so he silently crawled out of bed and followed her as she padded down the hall, past the living room, and into the kitchen.

"I thought we were gonna go to the airport to pick him up," he said. His tone sounded almost disappointed, like his whole plan to greet Killian had been ruined. She lifted him up into her arms and the settled his bottom down on the kitchen island.

"He said he missed us and couldn't wait any longer," she explained, grinning when his face lit up. "I know you wanted to give him your card at the airport, but I bet he'll be just as happy to get it here at home. What do you say? Wanna make your daddy a good Father’s Day breakfast?"

Henry nodded enthusiastically and Emma let him pick the menu. He decided on hash browns and ham, tomato, and cheese omelettes. She did all the cooking, but Henry got to break the eggs (and if she had to pick out a few pieces of shell, so be it) and mix the ingredients together. While she wasn't a fantastic cook -- unlike her master chef boyfriend -- she did know how to make a good breakfast.

"Good morning."

The sleepy, gruff voice startled her and Henry both. They turned their attention towards him and the image that greeted them was a man with pillow creases across his cheeks, hair tousled by his tossing and turning, and half-lidded eyes. Still, he gave them a happy smile and made his way over to them in the kitchen.

"No!" Henry shouted, sliding off the counter.

Killian stopped in his tracks, eyes widening with amusement when he noticed the boy's cheeky grin.

Henry grabbed his hand and dragged him over to the table, forcing him to sit.

"Stay," he ordered. Killian obeyed and then watched curiously as Henry darted back down the hallway. 

"Care to enlighten me on what's going on with him?"

Emma laughed softly to herself and shook her head in the negative. He'd learn soon enough. And she was pretty excited to see his reaction to everything. 

Henry triumphantly returned to the room with the card held above his head, running up to the table and slapping it down in front of Killian. He raised his brows in curiosity, then shock when he read the front.

Emma shut the stove off and began plating, glancing up to watch the array of expressions cross his features, settling on touched and humbled. He traced the words with his fingertips and then smiled softly at Henry, who was now shyly swaying next to him.

"Look inside," he whisper-shouted, the tips of his little ears reddening. Killian obliged and flipped the card open.

He was very clearly trying not to cry, his quivering lip and flaring nostrils a dead giveaway. His eyes were glossed over with a layer of tears as he turned to her -- their -- son.

"You made this for me?" he asked, voice cracking with emotion.

Henry nodded, unsure how to take Killian's reaction.

“Come here.”

Henry’s arms wound around Killian’s neck as he picked him up and settled him in his lap. His good hand went to cradle the back of Henry’s head, holding him with such reverence and love that it just made Emma’s heart ache. He smoothed out the boy’s hair and then gently stroked his back, then gingerly kissed his temple several times.

“Thank you, Henry. I love you so very much. You know that?”

Henry nodded against him, the hair on his forehead mussing from the motion.

“I love you, too, Daddy,” he whispered.

It was just barely loud enough for Emma to hear, and she had to turn away as a soft sob shuddered from her chest. She looked up at the ceiling and dabbed at the corners of her eyes to wipe away the budding moisture.

Then, after taking a deep breath to regain control of herself, she grabbed the plates of food and strode towards the table, placing the largest, fullest plate in front of Killian.

He cleared his throat a little and quickly swiped the heel of his hand across his cheeks as he released Henry and looked up at Emma.

“Happy Father’s Day, Daddy,” she said, lips curled into the happiest smile as she leaned over for a kiss.

Killian breathed a laugh that tickled her lips and she sighed, completely satisfied, as she sat back into her own chair.

Henry ate his breakfast in Killian’s lap, the man unable to stop smiling for the entirety of their meal. He occasionally pressed kisses to the top of their son’s head, looking very much like the father he now was -- well, had been for a while now, but now it was almost like it was official.

The rest of their day was spent leisurely at home, the ongoing rainy weather deterring them from any outside activities. She loved that she and Henry both could have a day to dote on Killian. They let him choose the movies, played games he picked, and Emma fixed both lunch and dinner (although she gave credit to Henry, and he didn’t argue).

In the end, it was just the kind of day Emma needed to get herself out of the strange, gloomy funk that had followed her around in recent months. There was no world outside their apartment. It was just her and her boys. Just the way it should be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For being so dead-set on wishing summer would end quickly, Emma found herself rather enjoying it after the unfortunate trip Killian had to take a month prior. The temperate weather allowed for plenty of exciting adventures outside. Sailing with Eric was so much more pleasant when they didn’t have to wear several layers of clothing. While the water wasn’t warm enough to swim in comfortably, it was quite nice for all of them to sit at the docks and soak their feet while enjoying the summer sun.

They’d gone camping, too. Killian’s only experience with such a thing had been for survival training years back, so he seemed to like making some happier memories with the activity. Henry was more than happy to teach Killian how to be a proper camper. Killian patiently listened to all of Henry’s camping rules, most of which he made up, some of which he only partly remembered from when David had taken him last November. It was kind of fun, but with all her experiences chasing off wildlife from Storybrooke as sheriff, she was constantly on guard and couldn’t really relax.

Horseback riding also became a more frequent and enjoyable activity. They were going nearly every week now and Emma was incredibly proud of how not sore she felt after riding for a few hours. Henry mostly rode with Killian, but Hank had let him ride his smallest, sweet-tempered pony by himself a time or two, always keeping his hands on the reigns and making sure things went smoothly.

It was so strange. Before Henry was born, she couldn’t have imagined ever doing any of these things, let alone being able to enjoy them with her family. She felt… successful. Not in the typical sense by measuring with money or assets, but in the sense that she’d built herself up from being a broke, jobless ex-con with a newborn to being a well-respected and productive member of a community. To being a woman with countless friends to rely upon, some of whom she trusted with her life. To being the kind of mother her kid deserved. Yeah. She had come a long way.

It was a Saturday evening, and Emma was understandably exhausted. The whole day had been filled with strenuous recreation; first the morning ride, then the afternoon fishing with David, then the impromptu game of ultimate frisbee in the park. David sat that last one out, choosing instead to throw some hotdogs and hamburgers on the grill and hang out on the sidelines with Belle, Ariel, and the children. It had been women vs. men -- Mary Margaret, Ruby, and Mulan on her team, and Killian, Eric, Hank, and August on the opposing team. The match was grueling. Honestly they were all a bit more competitive about it than they should have been for a casual game with friends. They all agreed the losing team would buy a round of drinks for the winners at the next get-together. Alas, the men learned just how tenacious Storybrooke ladies were; the game ended 15-11 and Killian had rolled his eyes at Emma’s smug expression. (To be fair, he’d been the one to score at least half of the men’s points; even without use of one hand, he was a force to be reckoned with.)

Henry had gotten himself absolutely filthy at the park, dirt and grass clinging to his clothes and hair, so Emma had to bathe him right when they got home. The poor boy was so tired from the day’s adventures that he could barely keep his eyes open while Emma scrubbed him in the bathtub. She kneeled on the floor and used a fluffy towel to dry him off once he was adequately clean. 

She startled when she heard Killian release a loud, frustrated groan from the living room and she peeked her head out the bathroom door.

“You okay in there?”

“Fine,” he growled, though Emma could tell he absolutely wasn’t. His tone of voice and the way he wiped his hands down his face told her he was just barely keeping in a scream.

She manipulated Henry’s arms and legs to put him in his pajamas. He was capable of dressing himself but with him being so sleepy, it would take him a good while to accomplish the task. She wanted to get it done quickly so she could go see what was bothering Killian.

“Okay, little man, time for bed,” she said, giving him a swift peck on the forehead as she stood up. 

Henry usually whined and moaned and ran off to avoid bedtime but this evening he was very compliant. He absently nodded and Emma took it upon herself to pick him up and carry him to bed.

“Night night, Daddy,” he called sleepily to Killian as Emma carried him down the hall. She paused and turned, seeing Killian grinning over at them. 

“Goodnight, lad. Love you.” 

“Love you,” he sighed, eyes drooping.

Emma tucked him in and kissed him goodnight, then wandered back into the living room.

Killian was leaning back on the couch, eyebrows pinched together in concentration as he stared at his laptop. Emma hovered behind the couch and leaned forward, winding her arms around his neck and patting his chest. He laid his head back against her shoulder and she pressed a soft kiss against his cheek.

“What’s up?” she asked. 

“Hmm. Three guesses,” he mumbled.

She took note of the immigration website pulled up on his screen.

“Visa problems? Still?” she asked incredulously. “I thought things got worked out when you went to New York last month.”

He huffed in exasperation and shook his head. 

“Apparently not. I still hadn’t heard back from them, so I called earlier while we were out and about – just to check – and they said they didn’t have the paperwork I’d filled out. Bloody hell, I was there. I completed all their forms and handed it directly to them but it seems like they’re just hell-bent on losing track of my files and kicking me out of the country.”

She hated this. And she hated that he had to go through this.

Killian sighed heavily and turned, nuzzling his nose into her neck.

“Just want this to be over and done with already. I’ve been trying to get help online but I haven’t found anything useful. I may just have to go back and redo everything… If they don’t have the paperwork, they don’t have it.”

She squeezed him tighter, wishing there was some way to just fix it all without all the stress and frustration.

And it was like a freaking light bulb blinked into existence over her head.

Marriage.

They couldn’t deport him if he got married, right?

Holy shit. 

But… would he even want to? They’d been dating for just about eight months. Would it be too soon to ask?

Did she want to? Was she even ready for that big a step?

She was rather stunned that she didn’t really have to consider her answer to that. She did. She was completely in love with this man, had spent the better part of her life feeling like he was the only person in the world who understood and appreciated her, and she wanted to be his wife. She wanted to be with him for the rest of their lives, wanted him next to her as Henry grew up, perhaps even wanted to expand their family. She wanted to grow old with him.

“You all right, Emma?”

She relaxed and pulled back a little, realizing she’d tensed up as her thoughts had wandered.

“Uh, yeah. Fine.” 

He cocked his head, recognizing the change in her tone. He reached up and brushed his fingertips across her cheek. She sighed into his touch, then dropped her head down against his shoulder. 

“Swan, give me some credit,” he murmured against her. “I know when there’s something on your mind.”

He was always so good at reading her.

She slowly released him, trying to avoid any stilted, jerky movements, lest she worry him further. Then she circled the couch and sat down next to him. He shut his laptop and leaned over to place it on the coffee table, then shifted to the side to give her his full attention.

Whew. Well, okay. Thanks to his visa time constraints, she couldn’t really wait on asking. She knew if she tried to postpone it, she’d chicken out. And what if, come the end of August, Killian’s visa problems weren’t fixed? She didn’t want to think about what she’d do if he had to return to England, even if only for a short time. 

Her vision blurred a little as she tried too hard to focus on a piece of lint on the arm of Killian’s shirt, so she blinked a few times to clear it. And then she hesitantly looked into his eyes.

And damn it, the affection and warmth in his gaze was something she felt deep in her bones. It was comforting as much as it was nerve-wracking. 

“Emma?” he asked, clearly concerned by whatever trepidation he could sense in her expression. “Love?”

“Uh,” she began rather inarticulately, nervously swiping her tongue out to wet her lips. She let out a whoosh of a breath, trying to calm her nerves. “Just… maybe…”

Killian gave her a reassuring, if confused, smile and softly brushed his hand over hers. She relaxed a bit.

God, why was she so anxious? He loved her, didn’t he? He wanted to be with her forever, too, right? She didn’t even need to ask to know that.

“Marry me.”

She winced at the way it came out, a little loud and a lot harsh and abrupt. Killian’s eyes comically widened and she quickly attempted to rephrase.

“Uh, that- It’s just-… I mean, wouldn’t it be the best way to… you know…?”

Damn it. It’s like her mouth just stopped working, the words stubbornly sticking within the confines of her brain but not quite converting into intelligible speech. 

At least Killian seemed to understand her train of thought, briefly glancing over at his closed laptop when he caught on. When he looked back at her, his mouth was agape and Emma began to sweat a little at his apparent inability to speak.

After a tense and unsettling moment, his jaw snapped shut and his eyes hardened and Emma found herself bracing for something she thought for sure she’d never have to worry about ever again – his rejection.

“No.” 

It was the firmness in his tone that really got her. It was hurtful, if she was being honest. She had no misgivings about his feelings for her, but knowing that he didn’t want to take that next step was upsetting, to say the least. She could feel the little pinpricks behind her lids and she stubbornly fought back against them. 

“Oh. Okay,” she responded, averting her gaze and trying her best to seem unfazed. She wasn’t sure it was working. 

“No,” Killian repeated quietly, almost as if he hadn’t heard her. She glanced over at him and he was running his fingers through his hair, mussing it all around anxiously. “Damn. I shouldn’t have… just… damn.”

“Killian, it’s fine. We don’t have to-“

She was cut off by the swift motion of Killian standing upright. He turned away and began pacing towards the hallway, but then paused, spinning around and pointing his finger in her direction. 

“Stay,” he said. Emma gave an incredulous look as he stared at her. “There,” he clarified unnecessarily, pointing to the couch where she was already seated.

She just nodded stiffly and then watched as he rushed down the hall towards the bedroom, still working on processing.

Fuck.

She’d just asked Killian to marry her. And not in a sweet, romantic way either. No, she’d basically just offered him an alternative to deportation without even explaining that that wasn’t the only reason she had for asking in the first place. 

She heard a squeak – that damn wooden plank in the hallway that she’d been meaning to fix ever since she moved in – and her head snapped up to see Killian hovering there almost on the balls of his feet, left hand wiping across his jeans and right hand curled into a tight fist at his side.

She swallowed, with some effort, the infuriating lump in her throat.

“We don’t have to talk about it if-“

He cut her off mid-sentence, eyes alight with a fire she didn’t recognize despite the cool, icy blue of his irises.

“This has nothing to do with what we just talked about,” he said firmly. Emma sucked her lower lip into her mouth, teeth finding the soft flesh as she studied him. “That is to say…” He took a few steps forward, wavering for a moment, then continued until he stood before her. He cleared his throat with his lips pressed together. “This is completely unrelated to my visa or green card or anything having to do with… with anything, other than…”

He shook his head, clearly frustrated as he tried to find the right words.

Eventually he just took a deep, shuddering breath and kneeled down in front of her, then held up his right hand and uncurled his fist.

There were little crescent marks left from the force of his nails digging into his skin, and she could physically see the sheen of sweat on his palm. But really, those were petty, insignificant things. Because there was something far more important staring her in the face.

A fucking ring.

A polished silver, blue diamond studded ring, sitting pretty in the center of her lover’s palm. 

“Fuck,” she murmured instinctively. She slapped her hands over her mouth as if she could take the expletive back, knowing full well this was supposed to be a moment – the kind you undoubtedly should not be cursing during.

Killian didn’t seem offended, though; actually it seemed like he relaxed a bit after her slip-up. He chuckled lowly, lips curling into a smile that showcased those lovable dimples in his cheeks. 

“Admittedly, I was planning on waiting until our anniversary in November to do this…” He sheepishly rubbed his left hand against the back of his scalp. 

“How long have you had a ring?” She had no idea how her voice managed to stay steady as she asked. He shrugged cheekily in response. 

“A while.” 

Vague answer, she thought, which meant probably a rather long while.

“Killian… did you seriously just reject my proposal so that you could do it?” she asked, trying not to laugh even though happy tears were already threatening to spill over.

“Shut it,” he griped, but his grin betrayed just how untroubled he was by her teasing. “I have a ring. Do you have a ring?” He didn’t give her time to answer before continuing with a sound, “I didn’t think so.”

She sniffled and dabbed at her nose with the back of her hand, still unable to stop smiling. He once again cleared his throat, gently placing his left hand over her knee and adopting a more serious and earnest expression.

“Emma.” She could almost feel the love in his voice and it felt so good it hurt. “My Emma. You are the reason for my happiness. I can’t even… I don’t know what I’d do without you. It’s been a true pleasure to grow up with the most unbelievably wondrous and kind and brilliant best friend in the world…” 

Tears streamed freely down her cheeks now, unbidden and relentless. She tried wiping them away but new ones quickly took over. Killian’s were on the brink of brimming over as well. 

“And it’s been a privilege to love you the way I do. An honor to have you love me in return. And I would love nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with you. To promise you that you will never, ever feel alone or unwanted ever again, no matter what.” 

She took a shaky breath, nearly hiccupping as her chest shuddered with emotion. Killian chuckled breathlessly, his thumb gently rubbing against her knee.

“Emma. Darling. My love. Please marry me?”

He already knew the answer and she was glad for that, because she couldn’t speak. Her chest and throat were too tight, constricted by the sheer joy of this moment. She simply nodded in response, her fingers shaking as Killian worked the ring over her finger. 

“I love you,” she managed to squeak out as they both stood and he pulled her into his arms. She clung to him fiercely, staring in silent wonder at the ring shimmering on her finger as it rested upon his shoulder.

“Love you,” he laughed into her neck, puffs of warm air brushing across her skin as he finally let his tears fall. “Bloody hell.”

“What?” she breathed, barely a whisper.

He shook his head in disbelief, his facial hair tickling her cheek. Then he pulled away just far enough to press his forehead to hers, noses bumping affectionately.

“I didn’t realize I’d end the day engaged to you.” She grinned as he chuckled in awe. “And I certainly didn’t expect that you’d steal my thunder and propose first.”

“Steal your thunder?” she laughed. “You realize you could have proposed at any time, right? Not my fault you chose to wait.”

“Emma Swan,” he said lowly, eyebrows rising high on his forehead. “Are you saying you’d have said yes if I’d asked months ago?” 

She hummed, pretending to consider it. In truth, she’d have probably said yes if he’d asked her the day he proclaimed his love for her. Because he was it for her. There was no possible way she could ever feel anything even resembling this feeling for anyone else.

“Killian?” she asked, intentionally choosing to ignore his question. He tilted his head, watching her carefully, though his eyes gave away his amusement. “Do you believe in soulmates? In the idea that two people were just… meant to be?”

“Aye.” His response had come immediately, without even the slightest hesitation and Emma’s cheeks burned from the tension of smiling so hard. “How could I not, when the universe has seen fit to bring you into my life?”

“Then you’ve got your answer,” she said simply, blinking away the leftover moisture in her eyes.

He beamed, the corners of his eyes crinkling endearingly and strong lines creasing his cheeks. He swooped in to give her a toe-curling kiss, conveying all of his love in the melding of his lips over hers, the insistent swiping of his tongue into her mouth.

She swayed in his arms, grasping at his shirt and tugging on his sleeves, trying to hold herself up despite the sudden weakening of her knees. Her plush lips were pliant and he tugged at her bottom lip with a soft nip. Even after all this time, his kisses still left her breathless and stupefied, her skin overheated and her thoughts a jumble of fuzzy nonsense. 

She trembled against him, still reeling from the fact that they were engaged (as in, getting married, and not just for a reason as trivial as providing Killian with an immigrant visa). She pushed lightly at his shoulders when his hands began to wander down her lower back.

“Bedroom,” she whispered urgently, cupping his jaw to hold him back when he chased her lips.

He grabbed her hand and tugged her along behind him as he power walked down the hallway into their room, Emma giggling as quietly as she could so as to not wake their sleeping son. 

Once they softly shut the door behind them, Killian proceeded to show her just how much she meant to him, just how much he cherished her with every kiss and caress he laid upon her body. He whispered promises and reverent praises into her skin, then etched an imprint of his very soul upon hers.

Whatever came to be, whatever the rest of their lives held, she’d never stop loving Killian Jones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emma,

 

With every single passing day, I just become more and more astonished by you. You are a wonder. An enigma. How can one person hold so much strength and beauty and fire?  

I often think there’s no possible way I could love you any more than I already do, but then I’ll hear your laughter and see the light in your eyes or I’ll watch as you kiss Henry goodnight and I just seem to fall deeper into this incredible, maddening love for you.

You make me so happy. You’re all I’ve ever wanted.

I love you, darling. And I will continue to do so every minute of every day for eternity.

 

Your future husband,

Killian

 

 

She got a little teary-eyed but composed herself quickly. His little notes came daily now, but somehow he continued to sweep her off her feet.

She chuckled a little at his closing. ‘Your future husband’ had become a favorite of his recently and honestly she liked it, too. In just a few days, it would be ‘Your husband,’ though, and that she loved.

Their engagement had been a surprise to no one, but the announcement of their wedding date certainly had been. There wasn’t really time to do the whole year-engagement thing where they planned every single detail out to a T. They had set the date for August 10th, less than a month after Killian had slipped a ring onto her finger, and they didn’t have the luxury of time so wedding invitations were doled out via phone call, text message, and in-person conversations. They didn’t bother trying to book anywhere for a ceremony, either; instead they both agreed to get married by the sea – the one that had separated them for so long, but was now a pleasant reminder of how far Killian had journeyed to be with her, of how far the two of them had come in their relationship.

Will, Robin, and Liam were planning on flying in together the day before the ceremony. Emma was beyond thrilled to meet them and even more so to have them attend the wedding. Killian had already met and befriended everyone she knew, so this was her chance to return the favor, as well as to make a good impression on them. (Not that she thought they wouldn’t like her; she’d already spoken to all of them over the phone and had video chatted with Liam frequently. They all seemed quite friendly.)

Killian’s therapist happened to be ordained to perform marriages, which was lucky and convenient, giving them one less thing to worry about. They agreed to have a casual reception at Granny’s. The old woman was more than happy to host, especially since Killian’s brother and friends would be staying at her B&B. (She might not be young and spry anymore, but if the hearty wink she gave her was any indication, she still had a hell of a naughty streak when she wanted. Ruby’s flirtatious personality had to come from somewhere, Emma figured.) 

After that, the only thing Emma had worried about was the dress. The one she’d spent nearly five hours searching for when she, Mary Margaret, and Ruby had taken a day trip over to Portland a few weeks earlier. The one in sheer ivory with a cinched waist and flowing, layered chiffon skirt, with thin, braided straps and a scoop neckline that just barely revealed the swell of her breasts. The one that was simple enough to make her feel like herself, but elegant enough to make her feel like ‘herself’ included descriptors like lovely, graceful, and regal.

The one that was available for pick-up today.

She pinned Killian’s note to the corkboard she’d installed in the entryway, smiling as she realized how full it was getting with all his ridiculous (beautiful) love notes. Then she twirled her keys in her hand and left the empty apartment, taking the steps two at a time as she made it to the loft upstairs.

She barely knocked once before the door flew open and her friend greeted her with a warm hug.

“Is it ready?!” she squealed, clearly just as excited about Emma’s wedding as she was. (Perhaps more so, if she were being honest.)

“I just talked to them over the phone twenty minutes ago and came home to grab my heels, just to make sure everything fits together like it’s supposed to. David said he’ll take care of things at the station for the rest of the day, so… wanna come?” 

“Do I-…“ Her friend shook her head and gave her a look, as if to say, Duh, you idiot. “Of course I’m coming.”

She took less than a minute to run back through her apartment to get socks and shoes on, grab her purse, and rejoin Emma in the hall.

“Ruby?” she asked.

“Already texted her. She said to pick her up from Granny’s on our way out.”

They slid into her Bug, Mary Margaret taking the backseat proactively so they wouldn’t have to shift around when they picked up their friend. Ruby’s long legs weren’t exactly fit for Emma’s cramped backseat. 

“Where’s Henry? With Killian?”

“Yup. He’s hanging out with Killian at work today. Oh! You should see it – Belle made a little reading nook for Henry behind the circulation desk. It’s the cutest thing ever.”

“What? That’s so sweet!”

“Yeah, he’s got a little bean bag chair and a blanket fort and a storage shelf for all his favorite books and toys.”

“Well it’s no wonder he’s been choosing to spend afterschool hours there instead of with me. I’m gonna have to up my game to win him back.”

Emma gave a hearty laugh at that. Mary Margaret had admitted to her not long ago that she wanted to have children soon. She and David had gotten engaged on Valentine’s Day but their wedding wasn’t until December. Unlike Emma, Mary Margaret had big plans for the ceremony and was inviting the whole freaking town. But now, halfway through the year, the wedding planning was really getting to her and she just wanted to be married already. Spending time with Henry, Violet, and Ariel’s daughter, Melody, had become stress relief for her recently and she hoped that David would be just as keen as her to start building a family soon. Emma had no doubt the woman would be an incredible mom. 

When they got to Granny’s, Ruby was already running through the patio area towards them and then quickly pulled the door open, settling in next to Emma. 

“Babe, you are gonna wear the shit out of that dress,” she grinned, slapping Emma on the arm as she teased her. “I can’t wait to see how the final product looks.” 

Emma laughed and pulled away from the restaurant.

“Have you both got your wardrobe picked out?”

“Got mine!” Mary Margaret piped.

“You know the sleeveless green one with the A-line skirt? Is that one okay? I know it’s a little short…”

“That one’s perfect,” Emma assured her.

Ruby could wear one of her party dresses (a.k.a. barely-there scraps of material) and Emma couldn’t care less. Not a damn thing could ruin her wedding day. As long as Killian was there waiting for her she really had nothing more to ask for.

They rolled the windows down and played loud music in the car on the drive over, all singing along off-key to 80s power ballads, giggling like mad when they received strange looks from other drivers. Emma wasn’t really one for this type of behavior unless properly intoxicated, but she was drunk on happiness and that was just about as effective.

The dress fit perfectly. When they got to the shop and she put the whole ensemble together, she and her friends all got rather choked up. It was strange, getting so emotional over a dress. She was never that girl. Honestly, even as a child she’d never really dreamt about her future wedding. She’d been too busy worrying about they next time she’d get a decent meal or if these new foster parents would last or if anyone would notice that she’d worn the same pair of jeans five days in a row because she couldn’t wash them. Really, most of her dreams for the future back then had been about getting adopted; she’d never thought to hope for something past that. 

But for once, she’d have an entire day just to bask in her love for Killian and to share it with everyone she cared about. So yes, she mused, maybe it did make sense to get a little tearful over this lovely gown.

“Ems, not gonna lie, I would totally dump Mulan and marry you right now if you’d have me.”

She choked on her laughter, shoving her friend in the shoulder with much less grace than would be expected from someone wearing a wedding dress.

“Like I’d marry you. You’re too pretty for me, Rubes.”

Ruby let out a cackle and Mary Margaret just puffed a little snort.

“Too pretty? Babe, you’re getting married to a man who gives me a run for my money. I mean, slap some eyeliner on him and I’d be totally on that.”

“Ruby!” Mary Margaret admonished, but they were all still smiling like idiots.

“Please don’t tell him that,” Emma pled. “He’s already intimidated by you as it is.”

“Intimidated? He said that?” Her eyebrow raised in amusement.

“No, but can’t you tell?” Mary Margaret said, clapping her hand on Ruby’s shoulder. “You can be bit much around him.”

“Aw, come on. Even Mulan knows I’m teasing. Killian’s just a li’l shy is all.” She winked with her grin, causing both Emma and Mary Margaret to teasingly roll their eyes. 

Banter with her girl friends was relaxing. She and Killian may have decided to scrap the whole maid of honor/best man idea for their quickly thrown together wedding, but her two friends knew they’d have been her choices. (Liam undoubtedly would have been Killian’s best man.)

She put the dress back into the dark garment bag and sauntered out of the shop with a desperate wish for time to move faster. If Killian’s brother and friends hadn’t already booked their flights, she might have convinced him to marry her today, plans be damned.

The drive back was filled with conversation and Emma loved every second. Recently, things had been a little chaotic and she didn’t have time to just hang out with the two of them like this. It had been over a month since their last girls’ night and she looked forward to starting those up again. (Even if she did get ridiculously drunk each time, waking up with cotton-mouth and a head-splitting hangover the morning after.)

Dinner that night was a group affair, a sort of joint bachelor/bachelorette party in their apartment. The children were all still present, so it was family-friendly, but there was quite a bit of beer and even more ridiculous party games that were raunchy enough to incite boisterous laughter from the adults but vague enough that they went right over the kids’ heads. (Or at least she hoped they did. She didn’t really want to have to put her child in therapy after this.)

All the young ones were asleep by the time their friends began their farewells, and it wasn’t until a little after midnight that they were alone again.

“So…” Killian began, tongue cheekily peeking out as his fingers danced along the bottom hem of her shirt. “How’d everything go today?”

“Killian, for the last time, I’m not letting you peek at my dress before the wedding.”

He had the gall to look offended at her accusation.

“I made no such request,” he said, hand placed on his chest in false affront. “I merely wanted to hear about my darling soon-to-be-wife’s day.”

“Oh, I see,” she said, leaning into him, hands teasing the skin of his hips as they dipped under the bottom of his shirt. “Well, husband-to-be, it was very nice.”

“Right, good, but how does your dress look?” She pinched his hips and he yelped in surprise, quieting his laughter so as to not wake Henry. “Is this the kind of treatment I’ve to expect when we’re married?”

“Only when you’re an ass,” she said, one eyebrow raised as she licked across her lower lip.

“Hmm… so, often?” he teased, pulling her closer.

“Oh yeah.” 

The tip of his nose skimmed along the apple of her cheek, his breath soft and hot over her lips, and her eyes fluttered shut. The push and pull of his lips against hers still made her tremble. (Though, perhaps the numerous empty bottle of beers had just a little to do with that.)

He slowly backed her up against the wall, left hand firmly on her hip and right hand buried in her hair. She pushed her hands up his stomach, scratching her nails through the dusting of hair trailing up and over his navel, traveling all the way to his chest before he pulled back to just take his shirt off, tossing it over his shoulder.

He reached down and hitched one of her legs up over his hip, pressing into her as she struggled to reach between them to unbutton her shirt.

“What are you guys doing?” 

Emma nearly fell on her ass with how Killian jumped back, dropping her leg to the floor as if it had burned him. They both turned frantically towards the hall entrance with a distinct flush to their cheeks as their eyes met with Henry’s across the room.

He looked half-asleep, dragging his fleece blanket behind him with one hand, a confused crinkle in his forehead as he looked them over.

“N-nothing,” she said, feeling ridiculous for being embarrassed over getting caught in the midst of passionate kisses (read: full on making out with quite a bit of grinding) by her son. 

“Kissing,” Killian corrected.

“With your shirt off?” 

Emma turned her head away, lips pressed together tightly as she tried not to laugh.

“I was hot,” Killian argued. He certainly had been, but hopefully Henry wouldn’t realize the double meaning.

“Baby, why are you up?” she asked, praying a change in subject would get him to drop it.

“Thirsty.” 

Killian adjusted himself subtly and snagged his shirt off the floor as Emma hoisted Henry up in her arms and carried him to the kitchen to get a drink of water. He chugged the whole thing and then his head drooped onto her shoulder. 

She and Killian both got him settled back in bed, kissing him goodnight for the second time, and then went about their nightly routine, the heat from earlier fading as exhaustion hit. 

When they were snuggled up under the covers in their bed, Killian chuckled unprompted and Emma tilted her head to give him a questioning look.

“Sorry, just thinking… it kind of feels like we’re already married.”

She puffed a single, silent laugh. 

“Missing out on sex because of our kid?”

“Aye. We’ve already been having to sneak quickies in with him down the hall.”

“Or pawning him off on Mary Margaret and David for a few hours for our ‘dates’?”

He laughed as loudly as he’d allow himself for the late hour.

“It’s a good thing they live right upstairs.” 

“You realize that when they have kids they’re gonna leave them here with us, too, right?”

“Mm, I’m sure. Can’t say I’m opposed to the idea. Maybe we can make a schedule.” She snorted and slapped his chest and he responded by rolling onto his back and yanking her with him, her head resting against his shoulder. “Have you any idea how much I love you?”

She splayed her fingers out over his chest, feeling for his heartbeat. When she did, she stilled, closing her eyes and concentrating on the gentle thump, thump, thump.

“I think I do.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liam Jones was taller than Killian by several inches, something she’d never known just by their video chats. He was also much more handsome in person – his eyes especially, clearly a Jones family trait. 

More importantly, he gave fantastic hugs. He’s scooped her up in his arms almost immediately upon meeting her and she held onto him with as much strength as she could muster. He was already family, as far as she was concerned.

His friends were easy on the eyes, too. Robin greeted her with a polite handshake, as did his sweet two-year-old boy, Roland. Will gave her a kiss on the cheek and a saucy wink, dodging Killian’s subsequent punches with what could almost be considered grace.

The madness that ensued in their small corner of Storybrooke when they all invaded Granny’s for dinner was overwhelming, to say the least. Emma was grateful that the men seemed to be handling all the questions and comments (and flirting from Granny, as well as from every other woman in the diner) with ease. 

More and more of their friends came by, supplying stories and jokes and causing an uproar of noise and laughter. Emma was sure that they could be heard all the way from the street.

“Mate,” Will began, turning his attention to Killian, a half-empty glass of beer sloshing in his hand. “Not quite sure you’re worthy of a lass like this.” He gestured to her and she bit the inside of her cheek to stop her smile from widening.

“No arguments from me,” he laughed. “I’m the luckiest bloke in the whole bloody world.”

Boy, put a few drinks in his system and throw him around his native Englishmen friends and Killian’s accent became a whole lot thicker. Not that she had a problem with that in the least. 

“I’m the lucky one,” she assured him, leaning over to press a swift peck to his lips.

“I’m just happy to see Emma Swan making an honest man out of my little brother.” Killian sighed heavily, muttering something like, “Younger,” under his breath, but didn’t voice his protest aloud. “He’s been absolutely smitten for as long as I can remember.”

“Can we not?” Killian whined. “Clearly, we’ve already discussed this with each other.”

“No, no,” Robin interjected. “Perhaps the lady has heard your side of the story, but I’ll bet you left out some pretty important bits.”

“Aye, like us walking in on him caressing that photograph,” Will said, eyes gleaming with mischief. “Twice.

“Bloody hell, can we really not?”

“What?” Emma laughed. “You caressed my photo?”

Killian groaned indignantly, wiping a hand over his face. The rest of their table just snickered over his distress.

“For a while, we kept calling it his girlfriend.” Robin laughed around a mouthful of fries. “Not you, that is. The photo.”

“We kept telling him to send a photo back, give you something to think about. But the bloody idiot always made some excuse or another.”

“Probably just couldn’t find one he liked enough,” Liam laughed.

Killian sunk his head onto the table, the tips of his ears red by now. Emma loved it but she didn’t want him to suffer through their teasing anymore.

“Well it was certainly a pleasant surprise when he showed up at my doorstep,” she said, rubbing a gently circle on his back. He peeked over at her, lips curled into a ridiculous smile. “Pretty sure ‘gobsmacked’ is the right term.”

He sat back up and reached around her, resting his arm over the back of her chair as he slapped on a smug grin.

“Oh no, she stroked his ego,” Robin grunted. “Ma’am, I’m afraid you’re fiancé there is looking a little large in the head.”

“Watch out, mates, I think he’s about to blow.”

“All right,” Liam chastised, though still smiling. “I think we’ve done enough damage. Let’s let the man enjoy his last night of unmarried life.”

They all ordered another round of beers, toasting to the couple and their future. Emma couldn’t have asked for more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When did this become her life? When did the orphan with old thrift-store jeans and shirts two sizes too big, with no home and no friends and no family, with nothing but a Walkman and a baby blanket, become this?

When did she become so loved? By so many people? When did she start believing in happy endings? In the idea that she could deserve this kind of life? 

It didn’t matter, she supposed. Maybe it had been fate, being paired up with Killian Jones for that silly class project when she was little. Maybe this was always what was meant to be. It just took some time, and perhaps a little suffering and heartache, before getting here.

She inhaled deeply, feeling the bust of her ivory dress hug her body, then released it slowly.

“Mama, you look like a princess.”

She peeked down at her little boy, so close to six now, in his ridiculously stylish suit, and smiled.

“Thank you. And you look like a handsome prince.”

His chest puffed in pride and she stifled a giggle. But then she heard the gentle music play and her smile faltered as she worried at her lower lip with her teeth. She quickly corrected the behavior, smearing her fingertip over the front of her teeth to make sure her lipstick hadn’t transferred.

This was it. This was the moment where she and her childhood best friend, lover, and all-around best man she’s ever known, became more – became forever.

Henry held his hand out to her in a necessary and also comforting gesture. She took it, then breathed one more solid, deep breath before letting her son tug her out from behind the privacy screen.

Henry led her down the short, makeshift aisle through the sand, her and Killian’s loved ones staring at her like this moment was just as important to them as it was to her. She squeezed Henry’s hand just a little tighter. 

Killian was looking at her much like he did when they first met. His eyes traced her features, darting this way and that, taking in every little detail of how she looked in this moment. She wasn’t sure how, but her chest felt heavy and heart felt light at the same time. If someone were to toss her right over into the shallow waters not far away, she couldn’t be sure if she’d sink or float. 

And he – God, he looked so beautiful. She knew if she’d voiced that thought aloud, he’d have argued over terminology (“Handsome, Swan. I’m handsome.”), but she couldn’t be bothered to worry about that. He wore fitted black slacks, a black button-up shirt, an incredibly sexy royal blue waistcoat that brought out the bright color of his irises (and made the sea look utterly pale in comparison), and a black two-button jacket that ended just above his thighs. His satin tie and pocket square were the same ivory of her dress. If there was anything odd about his wardrobe, and hers as well, it was their friendship bracelets – striking little rainbows of color on their wrists that didn’t at all match their attire. (Not that she cared. Not that anyone did.) 

And he was smiling so wide. She could nearly see each and every one of his teeth, and her heart lurched at the way his smile drew happy lines through his cheeks and next to his eyes. She imagined for a moment what he might look like a few decades from now, those lines forever etched into his skin from the endless happiness of their lives together. She couldn’t wait to see it.

When she finally made it to him, completely unaware of how her feet had taken her there while she was lost in the moment, Henry pushed her hand out towards him with little finesse. 

Everyone chuckled softly, a beautiful chorus to this joyful day, and then they began the ceremony.

She worried that her attention was so focused on Killian that she could barely even make out the words spoken by the good doctor beside them. She didn’t even know how much time passed, but then her love began to speak.

“Emma. Gods, where to even begin?” He let out a breathless laugh, very clearly nervous, hands unsteady. But his eyes were clear and shone with love and resolution. “We’ve been best friends for so very long. Even when we were children, I just knew that you and I would be friends forever. I’m not sure why I was so certain. I just felt this odd connection with you, even with an ocean between us and not a single clue as to how you looked or sounded. It didn’t matter. To me, you’ve always been a wonder. And when I began feeling that there was something more, I could barely breathe. It was terrifying and exciting and maddening.

“I’ve always bragged about how well I knew you… little did I know my feelings were not unrequited as I’d thought. And for years. It’s a little unfair.” She laughed quietly, smoothing her thumb across his knuckles. “But no more wasting time. I won’t spend another second of this life stuck in the past. All I need is you…” He glanced to the side, quirking a brow at her son. “And our son.” He returned his gaze to her, standing a little taller now. “You are the best thing that’s ever happened to me, Emma Swan, and I will love you now and forever.”

Thank God Ruby had done her up all nice and pretty with nothing but waterproof makeup. She’d have to thank her endlessly after all of this was over.

After a few fluttering beats of her heart, and reeling in her tears with sheer willpower and a good deal of sniffling, she cleared her throat softly and recited her own vows. 

“With the kind of childhood that I had, the bitter loneliness and disappointment and the fear that things might never get better… all I can think about is just how grateful I am to you. You saved me, Killian. You’re the reason I’m not alone today. You’re the reason that the things I felt back then didn’t carry on into my adult life. I’m happy. Like, really happy.” Killian reflected her wide grin and she really wished that they could skip the rest of the ceremony and just get to the kissing part. “And I feel fulfilled every day. I like waking up with you and going to sleep in your arms. I like kissing you over grilled cheese sandwiches and cheap beer. I like watching silly cartoons with you and Henry after work. I like the feeling of knowing that every time I tell you I love you, you’ll say it back.

“I never really knew what having a home felt like. But this? Now? With you here, I know. I feel it.” She released one of his hands in favor of caressing his neatly trimmed scruff, relishing in the feel of it and the look of adoration in Killian’s eyes. “I’m home.” 

The rest of the wedding passed in a blur – literally; her tears were ceaseless – but when the doctor said those magic words, her body reflexively moved forward. 

A round of applause and the sound of Mary Margaret trying to hold back sobs (as well as a wolf whistle that she assumed was from Ruby) were an apt soundtrack for the impassioned kiss shared between them. She melted into him, his arms sturdy and comforting around her waist, her hands mussing his styled hair. His lips were warm and familiar, smiling against hers, conveying a silent promise.

A promise of a life full of laughter and happy tears, of whispered endearments and loving kisses peppered across her skin every day, of solidarity and warm embraces through the rough times. A promise of his faith in her and his devotion to their family. He promised the very home she’d found here, and the reassurance that she’d never, ever be without it.