In hindsight, she should have saw it coming. Since he was old enough to realize that most parents weren’t single, Henry had been trying to set her up with any and everyone, including the mailman. Most of the time his attempts at matchmaking were more endearing than anything else. However, there were also instances where her well-intentioned but meddlesome son would involve himself with things he shouldn’t and things would get awkward.
This, Emma had already sensed, would be one of the latter cases.
“You’re mad at me,” Henry stated flatly with all the grace and subtly of any precocious child.
“I’m not mad,” she replied tiredly, rubbing at her temples and staring at the elevator ceiling with a mixture of tiredness and exasperation. “I just wish you asked me before you invited him over for Christmas. This is one of those things you’re supposed to ask me before you do it. Now, I’m going to have to adjust things and go shopping last minute so we have actual food.”
“Why can’t we just do what we normally do? I like it.”
“Because normal people don’t sit in front of the television all day and eat Tollhouse cookie dough. I’m pretty sure if we did that, we would get a lecture on salmonella and social services would be up my ass the very next day.”
“Killian isn’t Walsh. He wouldn’t do that,” Henry said, raising his eyebrows.
She scowled at the mention of her ex-boyfriend. Walsh had been overly critical of not only her job but also how she was raising Henry. On their last date, he had mentioned how Henry needed a proper father figure and she had promptly shown him the door. Needless to say that he hadn’t taken the break up well and the next day, she had gotten a visit from social worker from the Office of Family and Child Services.
“You don’t know him. I don’t even know him.”
“You’ve been working with him for three years, that’s like forever!”
“Yeah and I only know like five things about him.”
“You should talk to him more, I know you like him. Especially his butt. You always lean over to look at it.”
Emma rubbed at her temples, fighting the furious blush threatening to stain her cheeks. It was one thing for David to tease her but an entirely different thing for her eleven-year old son to take notice of her habit of checking Killian Jones out.
The problem was that Emma actually liked Killian.
She hadn’t at first when he first arrived. He had been cocky, irritating and had a reputation for trouble. He had transferred to their precinct after being undercover for seven years with the mafia before being down the entire Gold operation in a RICO case. Despite his success, there had been whispers that he had gone rogue and had gotten himself involved with Gold’s wife and it had ended in her grizzly murder. The environment at his old precinct had become toxic enough that he was transferred and had been partnered with Robin Locksley ever since.
After hearing the rumors, Emma had been suspicious, but he proved himself be more than a self-important lothario during a kidnapping case they worked together. He hadn’t been the most professional partner she had ever had, but he had a quick wit and a determination unlike anything Emma ever seen. On top of that, he had a mind like a steel trap and knew Emma’s drink order without her prompting.
He was a good guy albeit rough around the edges and she’s been crushing on him ever the kidnapping case. Not that she’s going to do anything about it because Emma Swan didn’t date other cops.
She’s done it before, and the thought of Graham made her heart ache. She would never forget the moment he slipped away in her arms, his blood oozing between her fingers as she tried to put pressure on his wound and screamed for help. It was something that still haunted her.
It was why she had been determined to keep things her distance with Killian. She’s never been lucky with love and it was better for them to be friendly coworkers than to have him either ditch her or bleed out in her arms.
But now Henry had entirely put a wrench in that plan.
“Just give him a chance, Mom,” Henry said quietly, pulling him from her dark thoughts. “I just want you to be happy.”
“I am happy,” she asserted, pulling him close and pressing a kiss to his temple. “I’ve got you.”
A week later, she was swamped with work and had entirely forgotten about Henry’s invite.
Emma has never been fond of Christmas. When she was a child, Christmas had been a lonely time and a reminder no one wanted her. No number of donated presents could make up for the insincerity and aloofness from the series of foster parents she had. When she got older and had Henry, she then found resentment in the commercialism of the holiday and how ashamed she was that she couldn’t afford all the fancy toys other parents could. Joining the NYPD did nothing to change her lack of holiday spirit. There was something about the holiday season that made people go crazy and the number of cases she had skyrocketed without fail.
Which was why she stared up in bleary eyed confusion when Killian Jones appeared in front of her desk, shifting in place and giving her an awkward smile.
“Can I help you?”
“Yeah, love, I was wondering what you wanted me to bring over for Tuesday…”
“Tuesday. You know, Christmas? It’s bad form to show up empty handed.”
“Oh! Ooooh,” she bit her lip, averting her eyes. “Um, nothing. No need.”
“I’ll bring some wine then. What do you prefer white or red?”
“Seriously, Jones, you don’t have to do this. There’s no need.”
“You look like more of a white wine kind of girl, considering all that sugar you put in your coffee. I’m amazed you still have teeth sometimes, though your dentist must love you.”
She scowled at him, leaning back and crossing her arms in front of her chest.
“There’s no need,” she repeated flatly.
“Perhaps not, but I want to. What about Henry? What does he want for Christmas this year?”
“You are not getting my kid a present!”
“Who said anything about presents? I’m just asking what he wanted…”
Emma raised her eyebrows at him, giving him her patent unimpressed look.
“You realize that if you don’t tell me, I’ll just text him, right?”
“You have my kid’s number?” she asked in disbelief.
“He gave it to me the day he graciously invited me over to your place for the holiday,” Killian replied, scratching behind his ear. Over the past few years of working on the force today, it was something Emma knew to be a nervous tick of his. “Unless that’s not alright…then I apologize, love. I should have asked you first.”
She leaned further back in her seat, conflicted. He was right, he should have told her that he has been texting her kid and a part of her wanted to rail at him for disregarding her role as Henry’s parent. At the same time, a part of her had to acknowledge some truth in what Walsh had said. Aside from David, he didn’t have many positive male figures in his life, and despite his colorful past, she trusted Killian both as a cop and as a person.
“You should have but as long as you’re not discussing work or anything inappropriate, I’m okay with it,” she replied, biting on a pen. “But you’re still not buying my son a gift.”
“Noted. What time should I be over?”
“Ummm…early afternoon? That’s when most people have dinner on Christmas Day, right?” She cringed at the uncertainty in her own voice.
“Is that a question, love?”
“I honestly wouldn’t know because I haven’t celebrated in ages but that’s what Hallmark tells me,” he replied, blue eyes giving her a considering look. “Why? What do you normally do?”
Emma shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “Nothing extravagant. It’s usually just a chill day for us.”
“Well, don’t change that on my account. I don’t want to cause any extra stress.”
“You’re not. I promise. I’ll just make going to make dinner. It won’t be that big of a deal, I promise.”
Famous last words.
Emma had never been much of a cooker. While her best friend Mary-Margaret was capable of embodying the spirit of Julia Child and could whip up all sorts of amazing food, Emma was more of the microwave and toaster oven kind of girl. Her crowning dish was instant ramen with store bought cooked chicken thrown in.
Why she thought she could tackle an entire Christmas ham on her own, she didn’t know, but come Christmas day, said ham was burned beyond recognition. The mashed potatoes she had intended for a side dish were lumpy and there was meat juice all over the expensive Christmas sweater that she had bought just for today. On top of that, she was standing on a chair and waving newspaper at her smoke detector, hoping that it would stop going off. The shrill sound grated at her ears.
It took her two minutes to get the smoker alarm to turn off and when she jumped off the chair back onto the floor, Killian Jones had somehow appeared right behind her. She let out a shriek of surprise, nearly jumping out of her skin. She stumbled backwards into the kitchen island.
“Holy shit, what are you doing here!”
“Henry let me in,” he said with a small chuckle. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
It was after he spoke that Emma took in his appearance and gasped. Killian Jones was standing in her kitchen in dressed in his pajamas. Or at least a pajama set covered in snowman and reindeer. On top of wearing such a ridiculously festive set, he was almost carrying a large tub of Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie dough.
“What the hell are you wearing? And why do you have cookie dough?”
“Well, I asked Henry what you guys did for Christmas and he told me that you guys usually lounge around in pajamas, watch Christmas movies and eat chocolate chip cookie dough. And I don’t know about you, Swan, but I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate Christmas.”
“What about the Hallmark Christmas dinner?”
“I didn’t realize I had asked for a Hallmark Christmas dinner…” Killian frowned.
“You didn’t,” she admitted, biting her lip and surveying the chaos that was her kitchen. “But I wanted to give it to you.”
“I’ve never had a Hallmark Christmas dinner, Swan, not even when I celebrated Christmas so I can miss something I’ve never had. How about this? You go back to your room and get back into proper dress code then we’ll clean this up together alright?”
“Fine,” she sighed, rolling her eyes at him. “But don’t touch anything while I’m gone.”
“Oh, shut up, I know for a fact you’ve never been a scout, Jones,” she responded, wagging a finger at him before turning on her heel and heading into her bedroom.
She debated getting back to last night’s pajamas but there wasn’t anything really festive about an NYPD training t-shirt and a pair of sweats. Instead, she went digging through her drawers in hopes of finding the holiday pajama set that Henry had bought her a few years ago. She found them in a crumpled heap at the bottom of her pants drawer.
She returned to the kitchen, armed in light blue penguin pajamas and fuzzy Christmas socks, only to find both Killian and Henry cleaning up her mess while listening to Jingle Bell Rock on blast. Henry was swinging his body side to side to the rhythm of the music while scrubbing her cooking pan. Killian, on the other hand, was washing the countertops and mouthing the words.
“Whatever happened to scout’s honor?” She asked, raising an eyebrow.
“As you cleverly pointed out, Swan, I was never a scout.”
She rolled her eyes in response before walking over to Henry and ruffling his hair. He ducked upon the contact, giving her a goofy grin.
“What possessed you in cleaning the dishes?” she teased.
“Killian said that if I helped him pick up then he would help me build the pillow fort.
Ever since Henry could walk, they had always made a giant fort made from all the blankets, pillows and chairs in their apartment. Last year they had managed to make their fort as big as the living room and had kept the fort intact up until the end of Christmas break. Aside from eating an absurd amount of cookie dough and not wearing pants, it was one of Henry’s favorite traditions.
When they were done cleaning the remnants of Emma’s failed Christmas meal, they sauntered in the living room where Emma replaced the Pandora Christmas playlist with the Fireplace for Your Home production on Netflix, which was merely a six-hour video of a Yule log burning. Killian lifted an eyebrow at the choice.
“Interesting Christmas movie there, Swan…”
“It’s not a movie…it’s more like a fix for a craving…”
“Well, ever since I was little, all I wanted to do on Christmas was sit down next to a fireplace and watch movies, all cozy and warm. With a cat preferably, at least until I found out I was allergic. And as if you can tell, this apartment doesn’t have a fireplace, so I make do with this. Besides, there’s no movie watching until the fort is complete.”
They spent the next hour and a half bickering over the construction of the perfect blanket fort. Killian and Henry seemed intent layering the entire floor with pillows, which Emma felt was an unnecessary waste of resources. Killian had fit into their annual Christmas project so seamlessly, it felt like he had always been a part of it. When they finished their project, they were all laying in the chaotic mixture of pillows and duvet covers and staring up at the now sheet-tented ceiling.
“We’re missing something,” Killian said, turning to look at Emma.
“What could we possibly be missing?” Henry asked in disbelief. “This is the best fort ever.”
“Got any fairy lights?”
“Fairy lights? You know, the ones you can hang up for Christmas?”
“You mean Christmas lights?” Henry asked. “Yeah, I think we’ve got some leftover boxes…”
“Why don’t you go get them then, lad? I have an idea.”
They hung fairy lights throughout the inside of their fort and though it was a pain in the ass to find vantage points from where to hang them, Emma could honestly say that it was probably the best fort that they had ever created. The addition of the lights gave the fort a magical mystique that none of their previous forts had possessed.
When they had been finished with the lights, Killian exited the fort only to return with the giant tub of cookie dough and three spoons. Emma changed from the Fireplace special production to Miracle on 34th Street.
“What do you normally do on Christmas, Killian?” Henry asked, licking away all the remaining dough off his spoon.
“Nothing as wonderful as this,” Killian replied with a low chuckle. “Normally, I just sit at home, watching Hallmark movies and eating Chinese food. This is quite the upgrade.”
“Why Chinese food?”
“Well, you see, when I was your age, my brother and I used to watch a movie called A Christmas Story and near the end of the film, the family loses their dinner and has to go to a Chinese restaurant instead. My brother was enamored with the film and when he was alive, he went out of his way to get Chinese on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day in honor of it.”
Henry’s eyes immediately shifted to Emma’s and she knew exactly what he was thinking. Killian had embraced their Christmas traditions with open arms and perhaps it was time that they returned the favor. She slipped Henry her credit card while she and Killian headed into the kitchen to get put their dishes into the sink.
“Thank you for inviting me over, Swan…I know you burned up the ham but other than that, I hope my presence hasn’t mucked up your day too much.”
“No, no, no. Ham aside, it’s been a great day,” Emma said, washing the spoons under the facet. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“I’m surprised you allowed this to happen in the first place, if I’m being honest.”
“Well, you’ve always kept me at arm’s length at the precinct. I actually wasn’t sure you even liked me.”
“I like you,” she said, tugging her hair behind her ear. “It’s just…”
“It’s nothing personal. I…it’s a self-preservation thing really. We don’t have the most steady and safe job in the world. Anything could happen at any time…and it’s just…it hurts less when you aren’t attached.”
“Who did you lose?” he asked softly, giving her an understanding look.
“My first partner…Graham…”
“I take you it you were close…”
She nodded quietly. He paused in his washing, wiped his hands against his pajama pants and pulled her into a hug. Emma stiffened at the unexpected contact before slowing raising her arms and resting her palms against his shoulder blades.
“I’m sorry…” he murmured against her hair. “I’m sorry that happened to you.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“That doesn’t mean I can’t empathize. I was there when my brother died and then when Milah…” It was the first time Emma ever heard Killian mention Gold’s murdered wife but she didn’t want to ruin the moment with questions about his time undercover. “That hurt never really goes away…but it does get easier…”
“I don’t think it can,” she whispered.
“It can if you let it,” he replied, blue eyes meeting hers intently. “I know it sounds strange but a broken heart can be a good thing. It means it still works.”
“What are you guys doing in here?” Henry asked in teasing voice, giving them a smirk from the doorway.
“Nothing. Just talking,” Emma replied, pulling away from Killian and brushing her hair behind her ear self-consciously.
“Riiiiiiiight,” her son replied, tone insinuating quite clearly that he didn’t believe her. “Well, if you’re done talking, I just wanted to let you know that A Christmas Story is playing on the television and I thought Killian might want to watch it.”
“I appreciate it, lad.”’
He gave Emma’s shoulder a small squeeze before moving past her. Henry just continued to smirk at her.
“You liiiiiiike him,” he teased her.
“Oh, shut up.”
“You do though!” He asserted. “You really do! Just admit it!”
“I do like him.”
“Good, because he’s awesome and better than you at making forts.”
“Hey!” She exclaimed in mock offence, leaning forward and swatting him slightly on the shoulder.
“What? It’s true!” He laughed. “So, when are you going to go on a date?”
“Date? Who said anything about a date?” She frowned, eyebrows knitting together in confusion.
“Isn’t that what people do when they like each other? Go out on dates and then get married and be a family and what not?”
“Some people,” she replied, shaking her head. “But not me.”
“Because it’s complicated.”
“That’s what adults say when they can’t think of anything and they’re scared.”
“Just think about it, Mom. He’s good. He fits in with us.”
He didn’t wait for her to reply, storming out of the kitchen. Emma gripped the countertop, shoulders heaving as she exhaled a loud sigh. She took a moment to compose herself and get a handle on her emotions before joining the boys in the living room.
They were sitting inside the fort, resting on a mountain of pillows. Henry was asking questions about the movie and Killian was answering them with the patience of a saint.
“So this is, like, a super old movie, right?”
“Actually not as old as you think. It was actually made in the late 1980s, though it’s supposed to be a parody on the 1950s American culture. There’s a bunch of a little subtle jokes being made. Like the leg lamp.”
“The leg lamp?”
Emma crawled into the fort. Killian immediately shifted so she could sit between him and Henry.
“Have you told him yet that this entire movie was just one big advertisement for the Red Rider corporation?”
“That’s pretty self-explanatory, Mom.”
“I consider it to be more of parody of American society than a genuine advertisement,” Killian replied before nudging her foot with his. “I like your socks, Swan. Very festive.”
“You got me these for Secret Santa like two years ago.”
“I should have known I was behind such an amazing fashion choice.”
Even as he brought his foot back down to the floor, he kept his leg right next to hers. When she didn’t move away from the contact, his foot tapped hers again. She smiled and as she was about to tap his in response, there was a knock at the front door.
“Expecting more company?”
“No, only more food.”
“Yeah,” she smiled as she got out of the fort and opened the front door. Her eyes bulged as she took in the amount of bags the delivery boy was holding. She stared at it for a moment before turning back to stare at her son.
“Dude, how much food did you get?”
“I didn’t know what Killian liked so I got everything…”
“Everything? Are you kidding me?”
“Swan, what’s going on?” Killian asked in confusion.
“My son is trying to bankrupt me is what is going on,” Emma scowled as she took the bags and brought them over to the kitchen table.
The boys came out of the fort to inspect the hull. Killian’s eyes widened when he realized what he was looking at.
“Is this Chinese food?”
“Yeah, everything on the menu from Xao Ming,” Henry said, already riffling through the bags.
“Look, we appreciated you being so into our pajama, pillow fort and cookie dough Christmas tradition and we thought that we should add some of your traditions too…” Emma said, giving him a small smile.
“This…this…this is too much.”
“Oh…it’s definitely too much food and we’re going to be eating Chinese for week, but no, you’ve been great and it’s your Christmas too. Besides, the crab rangoons are to die for.”
“I don’t know how to thank you….” Killian said, looking uncharacteristically lost for words.
“You can thank me by helping me by eating all of this food.”
They made plates and brought their food over to their fort. A Christmas Story was just finishing up. They flipped channels until they came across The Snowman animated movie.
After stuffing his face with food, Henry almost immediately fell into a coma food. His head lulled on Killian’s shoulder, mouth gaping and snoring softly. Killian chuckled.
“Do you want me to help move him?”
“Yeah, thanks. He’s getting too big for me to carry,” she whispered.
Emma grabbed Henry’s legs and Killian got him by the shoulders. Together, they moved him out of the fort and into Henry’s room. Emma tucked him in, running her fingers through his hair and giving him a kiss goodnight before following Killian out in the hallway.
“It’s getting late and I should go…” he said, sounding rather reluctantly.
Emma glanced at the clock over his shoulder, eyes widening when she realized it was well into the evening. The day had gone by like a blink of an eye and she was almost sad, it was ending.
“Holy shit…yeah…look at the time. I’ll walk you out”
They walked closely to each other as they headed down the hallway, their hands brushing against each other’s. They lingered in the doorway.
“Thank you for inviting me for, Swan. This was the best Christmas I’ve had in a long time…”
“I can’t take credit for this. This was Henry.”
“You’ve got an amazing kid there, Swan. You should be proud. You’ve done amazing with him.”
“You mean, amazing for a single mom?” Emma asked, remembering Walsh’s dig at her parenting tactics.
“Amazing for anyone,” he corrected. “You have raised an intelligent and thoughtful young man.”
“I only have one question. What’s with the mistletoe?”
Emma blinked, staring at him in confusion. “What?”
Killian chuckled before pointing upwards. Her eyes followed the direction of his finger and, sure enough, there was a few sprigs of mistletoe tacked above the door. She gaped at it for a few moments before letting out a noise of frustration.
“Henry did this,” she clarified. “He’s been trying to set us up.”
“Yeah,” Killian chuckled. “I gathered that. He isn’t exactly subtle, love.”
“I’m so sorry about it.”
“No, it’s alright. I appreciate the show of support. Like I said, you have a great kid.”
“Thanks. And for the record, you don’t have to kiss me…”
“But what if I want to?” He asked playfully, waggling his eyebrows at her.
“Well then…I guess…you could if you wanted to…”
His eyes bulged, looking just as surprised as she felt. She never expected the evening to end with her being comfortable with the idea of kissing him. It went against all of her self-imposed rules. Yet, somehow over the night, she had grown comfortable with the idea. Watching him interact with her kid had assuaged some of her fear.
“So, that’s a yes?” He stepped further into her personal space, bringing his hand up so that his thumb brushed against the apple of her cheek.
“Pretty much yeah…”
He tilted his head down and kissed her softly. It was tentative at first, a mere brush of his lips against hers, as if he were afraid that she was going to pull away. Emma wasn’t satisfied with this, wrapping her arms around his neck and slanted her mouth harder against his. When her brushed against his bottom lip, Killian’s enthusiasm and participated grew. She relished the low rumble in his chest and how his mouth opened to hers, deepening the kiss.
It was over before either of them were ready to stop. They swayed against each other, trying to chase each other’s lips. He leaned forward, his forehead resting against hers.
“That was…” he trailed off, apparently lost for words.
“Something else,” she finished. “Want to come over tomorrow and help me polish off the mountain of Chinese food in my fridge?”
“Absolutely…so this wasn’t a one-time thing?”