A/N: Written to fill an anon prompt of "cs exes au with angst and and a happy ending." Contains some very mild sexual content. Not-explicit. Mostly suggestive.
Right Here Waiting
In keeping with the overall pattern of Emma Swan's life, disaster struck the moment she let her guard down.
Honestly, she should have known better than to relax and give in to the hope that things might finally be sorting themselves out.
Walsh, her boyfriend of six months, had invited her out to dinner. She'd put on a short, leather dress thinking that he meant to take her to one of their usual haunts. (She loved the man, but he had the tackiest taste. He adored all forms of dazzle and showmanship; she wouldn't have put it past him to invite her out to the circus.) Tonight, however, he had surprised her with reservations to a small, gorgeously decorated restaurant that smelled mouth-watering from all the way out in the street and possessed exactly the sort of traditionally romantic ambience that Walsh usually turned his nose up at.
If possible, the food tasted even better than it smelled. When Walsh excused himself from the table following their main course, she settled back into her chair, lifted her wine glass to her lips, and took a long, luxurious sip.
Something like contentment followed the drink down to spread warm and happy throughout her body.
And then she saw him.
Her back stiffened. With a clank, she set her wineglass down on the table and sought out the steak knife resting at the side of her plate. She clutched it hard, her heart pounding — the automatic reflex of a woman who made her living as a bounty hunter and therefore processed surprise as danger.
As if her gaze were a physical thing, Killian paused in his conversation with his dinner mate — a young blonde who was quite beautiful in a pert, pixie sort of way — and glanced in her direction. Their eyes met across the crowded dining room and all the air around Emma's table became suddenly, inexplicably devoid of oxygen.
He wasn't supposed to be here.
They weren't ever supposed to see each other again.
Run, her brain urged her. Run away as fast as you can and don't look back.
That was what she'd done the last time. Running away from her problems was something she'd become well-practiced at. She was pushing away from the table, ready to do just that, when Walsh returned and plopped down in the seat across from her.
He was grinning and carrying a fresh glass of white wine, but with a single look at her his face fell.
"Is something wrong?"
"No. I mean…yeah." She scrambled for an explanation. "It's work. I just got a call. I've got to go in."
As she shot to her feet, Walsh struggled to keep up without upending his glass of wine. "Wait! Hang on! Let me pay first, and then I'll walk you out."
Emma nodded and pulled her jacket on as Walsh waved their waiter over to settle their bill. She kept her gaze down, even feigned checking her phone, but as Walsh moved around the table to stand at her side, she couldn't help but take a glance over his shoulder.
Killian, who had not made any effort at averting his eyes, stared straight back at her.
Though it had been close to three years, he looked exactly the same as she recalled — handsome and rakish, with a dusting of scruff across his jaw, a black leather jacket slung across the back of his chair, and a trim waistcoat on over a dark purple shirt. Even from a distance, she could make out the extraordinary blue of his eyes. And, unbidden, the memory returned to her of the way he'd looked at her the first time she kissed him, so thrown that he had merely stood and stared, his face flushed, as she turned and walked away, desperate for a chance to collect herself.
Theirs had been a tempestuous affair, one she hadn't even meant to start.
She'd been attempting to reconcile with her ex, Neal, at the time — not with hopes of rekindling their romance, though that was something Neal had most certainly wanted, but with the idea that they could be partners in raising their son, Henry, together. That alone was difficult enough without adding Killian into the mix. He and Neal had their own complicated history.
She'd been reckless and stupid when she gave into attraction and kissed him.
It should have stopped there. She had told him the kiss was a one time thing, and she had meant it.
But what they had between them…it was incendiary.
She licked her lips and tried to look away from him in a poor attempt at suppressing the memory of his stubble scraping across her skin, of his tongue and fingers making paths down her body, of the eager thrust of his hips and the way he groaned when she fisted her hands in his thick, black hair.
She'd never known anything like it, before or since.
There was magic between them.
So, of course, it wasn't meant to be.
Emma Swan was not the sort of girl who ever got a "happily ever after."
Walsh's hand at her elbow snapped her back to the present, though she was so occupied by her turbulent thoughts that she didn't notice until they were outside on the sidewalk that he still had a wine glass clutched in his hand.
"This isn't exactly how I planned for this to go," Walsh was saying, "and I know you have to get going, so you don't have to say anything right away, but if I don't do this right now, I think I might lose the courage to, so…"
He didn't finish, just pressed the glass into her hand.
It was empty, save for a ring at the bottom.
This could not have come at a worse time.
"Don't say anything yet! Just…take some time and think about it, okay?"
She sighed. "Okay."
Better that she didn't answer right now anyway, with her head still swimming and her heart still hammering at the unexpected sight of her ex.
Maybe once she calmed down and had the time to process everything…
Walsh leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "I'll call you tomorrow."
Emma sent him a smile that she hoped looked encouraging, then pulled her coat tight about her body and started for home, walking as fast as her heels would allow. The ring she stuffed deep into her pocket, where it burned like a hot coal against her hip.
What would Henry think? she wondered. Would he want her to marry Walsh? She'd already denied him a father once when she'd walked away from Storybrooke never to return. She wasn't sure she could do that to him again. Henry liked Walsh. So did she. So why did his proposal fill her with such anxiety? Would it have unnerved her this much if she hadn't seen Killian first? Hadn't been given reason to recall everything else she'd walked away from when she left Maine?
His voice reached her on the wind, calling her name.
It took her a moment to realize that it was not just her memory, but that he was running down the sidewalk behind her, trying to catch up. He was out of breath and alone, his date apparently left behind.
She screwed her eyes shut and stopped. Then, bracing herself, turned to face him.
"Killian." She didn't know what else to say. "What are you doing here?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Hello to you, too, Swan."
"Is that what this is? Hello?"
"That is generally how people greet one another."
Emma drew her arms around herself and stepped back, needing to put some distance between them. "You know what I mean. I didn't think I'd see you again after…" She shook her head. "What are you doing in New York?" What she really meant to say but left unasked was: Did you come here for me?
He must have surmised her intent, because he blushed and looked down, one hand coming up to scratch behind his ear, a dead give-away that she'd made him uneasy.
"I'm…ah…here on business."
"Business?" The man owned a bar. That didn't exactly require much in the way of travel.
When he didn't offer any more information, she added, "With the blonde?"
He shrugged. "In a manner of speaking.:
Of course. Why else would they have been eating dinner together in an expensive, romantic restaurant? She didn't know why she was so disappointed. She'd moved on, so why shouldn't he? It wasn't like they had any hope of seeing each other again. She'd made it clear when she left that she planned to never come back. Still, at the time, he'd held firm. He had looked her in the eye and swore to think of her every day for the rest of his life. Even though she hadn't been able to return the sentiment — or quite known how to respond to his unwavering belief that they could be something if only they tried — a huge weight now lodged in her stomach at coming face-to-face with the fact that he really had gotten over her.
Emma was self-aware enough to recognize how unfair she was being. It left her standing in front of him, hurt and ashamed.
"Listen, I've got to get home." She started walking and he fell into step along side her. "I've got work in the morning, and—"
"Is that why you left in such a rush? I wanted to apologize, in case it was my presence that disrupted your meal with…" He trailed off, obviously fishing.
"Walsh," she provided. "My boyfriend."
Pain flitted across his face, poorly masked by a fragile smile.
"Ah." He stuffed his hands in his pockets. "I see."
"We haven't been together long. But he's a good guy. Henry really likes him."
"Henry." Killian perked up a bit. "How is he? Your parents — and Neal — I'm sure they'd love to hear news of the lad."
"He's great. Doing well in school. He's made a lot of friends. I was worried that it would be hard for him to adjust to life in the city, but he took to it even faster than I did. We're happy. Really…really happy."
A moment ago, she'd truly believed that. Now it sounded strangely hollow and over-insistent.
She was happy. Wasn't she?
"Glad to hear it," Killian said, though he didn't look glad at all. "I'll leave you here, then. I need to get back to my—"
He sent her a tight smile. "Right."
They stopped and Emma held out her hand awkwardly. "It was good to see you."
He looked down at her hand for a moment before reaching out and taking it in his own.
Too late, she realized her mistake. The warmth of his palm sent shivers up her arm. Her mouth went dry as she recalled those very fingers clutching her close as they exchanged breathless kisses in dark corners, or pressed gently over her mouth to quiet her moans as they met for clandestine encounters in the back of his bar. No one knew how far their affair had gone. Her mother had seen them kissing once and Emma swore to her that it had only been that once. Everyone in her family believed that she wanted to get back together with Neal — including, most distressingly, Henry himself. She hadn't been able to explain to them why that could never happen. It would have meant admitting how deeply he had betrayed her. It was easier to meet Killian in secret than lay that painful history out.
Maybe if she'd been willing to face it, she could have stayed in Storybrooke.
She tiled her head and looked up at Killian, who still held her hand.
Reluctantly, she let go, and so did he.
No point in indulging "what if" now. She'd left and made a new life for herself. She had Walsh, and Killian had…whatever her name was. Their time had passed.
"How long will you be in New York?" she asked.
"A few more days."
She took a deep breath, aware that she was about to make another monumental mistake but unable to stop herself.
"Maybe you could take Henry out to lunch sometime. You know…fill him in on what's going on back home. Back in Storybrooke, I mean."
She'd cut herself off from that life, but it wasn't fair to do the same to Henry. She knew he'd jump at the chance to hear word of his grandparents, his father, and his old stomping-grounds.
"It would be my pleasure."
"Okay. Um. Call me." As he recorded her number into his phone, she began to tremble. Excitement, fear, and apprehension all mingled together to make her heart race. It felt far more like arranging to go on a first date with someone than setting up an outing for her thirteen year old son.
This is nothing, she told herself. It's about Henry. Just Henry.
Killian, however, looked pleased.
He pocketed his phone and sent her a dazzling, knee-melting smile as he turned to go. "Talk to you later, love."
For a shamefully long time, she watched his back as he walked away. He never turned to glance back at her, and she wasn't sure what to make of that. Maybe he hadn't read anything more into her offer. Maybe she'd imagined the flash of agony she'd seen cross his face when she'd told him who Walsh was. Maybe this was just the universe's way of bringing her past back to torment her again.
When she finally got home, she kicked off her too-high heels, threw her jacket across the back of the couch — Walsh's ring momentarily forgotten in the pocket — and went straight to her bedroom. Henry was sleeping over at a friend's and wouldn't be home until morning. So she had nothing else to do but close her eyes and give free rein to her troubled thoughts.
By now, Killian would have returned to his dinner date. She wondered if their unexpected meeting had shaken him half as much as it had her.
She sighed and rolled over so her face pressed into the pillow, fisted her hands in the sheets, and muffled the frustrated agony of her groan.
Killian slid back into his seat at the restaurant and blew out a long sigh.
"That good, huh?"
He cupped his face in one hand, running his fingers over his beard, and made a poor effort at an unconcerned shrug. "The man she was dining with is her boyfriend."
"Oh." His friend, Rose, curled up her nose. "Sorry. Though, if it makes you feel any better, you are way more dashingly handsome than that guy."
He smiled and shook his head. It did make him feel a little better.
"So, that's it then?" she asked. "You were gone a long time. Our waiter's been giving me the evil eye for the past ten minutes trying to get me to leave."
"We talked. She gave me her number."
At this, Rose reached across the table and grabbed his arm. "No way! You're kidding! Well then, to hell with Mr. Boyfriend!"
"Not to call her," he said with a shake of his head. "She wants me to stop and spend time with her son so that I'll have news to take back to her family."
Rose smirked. "Uh-huh. And this has to happen through you because…? I mean, she's got a phone. She could call them herself, rather than give out her number to her totally hot ex who she just saw for the first time in years and has no plans at all of getting back together with. Trust me, she's still got feelings for you."
"I don't know about that…"
"At the very least, she's conflicted."
Killian sat back in his chair and sighed.
"Oh, come on! Knock it off with the long face. Do you even know how amazing it is that you ran into her at all? In a city this size? It's fate!"
He wasn't so sure. He was delighted that Emma hadn't merely written him off and walked away. He was certain that she'd been moved by seeing him, and she'd left the door open to seeing him again before he left. But she was in a relationship — a serious one, he'd wager, because he'd never known Swan to engage in anything long-term — and she now believed that he was in one, too. He didn't want to be responsible for breaking up this life she'd built for herself. He didn't want to hurt her. At the same time, he couldn't bear the thought of going back without her.
Storybrooke without Emma was an empty, desolate place.
"Well, I, for one, choose to believe that true love will win out," Rose said. "And I know how you feel about her."
"I have no idea if she feels the same."
Rose shrugged. "Only one way to find out. Now, come on, let's get out of here."
They paid, leaving an extra large tip, and made their way out onto the sidewalk. They were old friends; Killian had known her since he was a boy. In fact, it was through Rose that Killian had first met Neal. The two men's complicated history — from friends, to enemies, to rivals — had played no small part in driving Emma away. Though, incidentally, it was a favor to Neal that had given Killian the opportunity to try and find her again.
After a lifetime's estrangement, Neal was finally mending fences with his father. To show that this time was truly home to stay, Neal was liquidating all of his assets outside of Storybrooke, including an apartment in New York City. Killian had immediately volunteered to take care of it on Neal's behalf — partly as a way of making amends for the years of strain between them, but largely on the hope that he might cross paths Emma.
Now that he had, he wasn't sure what to do next.
Emma Swan had turned his life upside down. He still thought of her every day. He hadn't kissed or even thought of another woman. There was only her — his unrequited love a fire that was rapidly consuming him whole.
Rose walked him all the way back to Neal's apartment and followed him inside. They'd sold the majority of the furniture, leaving a vacant flat dotted with various odds and ends: the couch, the bed, several boxes full of clothing, a refrigerator that sounded like it had mere months left to live, and an assortment of dream catchers that Killian wasn't sure what to do with.
"Listen," Rose said, turning suddenly serious, "I know what I said about true love and all, but now that you know she's in a relationship, if you've changed your mind… None of the paperwork is signed yet. I can rip it all up if that's what you want."
Killian reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. Thoughtfully, he rolled it over in his hand.
Emma was the most guarded person he had ever met. That she'd shown him even this tiny hint of invitation meant something.
He had to believe that.
Everything that he planned to do counted on it.
"No," he finally said to Rose. "Let's stay the course."
"Okay. Give me a call if you change your mind. We can back out all the way up until Neal signs the paperwork."
She smiled and opened the door to leave. "I hope it all works out for you."
As she left him alone in the empty silence of the apartment, he allowed himself to heave an uncertain sigh. "Me too, love."
The whole next day, Emma checked her phone with near obsessive frequency, afraid that she might have missed Killian's call. When it finally rang, at half past nine, she nearly jumped out of her skin. Henry eyed her from his place on the couch as she scrambled out of her chair and into the kitchen to pick it up. Her hand shook and her heart pounded and she had a moment's concern that she might not be able to say hello without betraying too much of her charged emotional state. It took a moment in her wheeling, dizzied state to register that the caller ID read: "Walsh."
The phone continued to ring in her hand. After a few seconds, Henry appeared behind her.
"Something wrong, Mom?"
"Huh? Oh! I just…" She turned the phone toward him and it stopped ringing as the call went to voicemail.
Henry frowned. "Why didn't you answer? Did you and Walsh have a fight?"
"You just don't want to talk to him?"
The phone started ringing again. Henry raised both eyebrows as he looked down at it.
"Well, he sure wants to talk to you."
Emma flipped the switch to silence her phone and set it down on the counter. Might as well come clean. Talking to Henry might even help her work out what to do.
"He proposed to me last night," she admitted.
Henry's eyes went wide with surprise. "But…that's a good thing, isn't it?"
"I don't know. I guess so. It's so soon! You know? Plus, I kind of like it here with just me and you. Just family."
"He asked you because he wants to be part of our family, Mom."
Emma made a face which Henry must have interpreted as doubt, because he reached out, picked up her phone, and handed it back to her.
"Not everyone is going to hurt you. He's not like my dad."
She'd told him everything on their trip to New York. Since she was ripping him from the only home he'd ever known, she thought he at least deserved the truth. So Henry knew all the horrible details — the fact that she'd met Neal while living on the streets, that she'd only been sixteen at the time, that Neal had been in trouble with the law for some time and ultimately left her to take the fall for one of his crimes, that she'd found out she was pregnant and given birth in jail. Giving Henry up to her parents had seemed like the only option. She'd still had a few months left on her sentence and knew she'd have nothing to offer him as a seventeen year old ex-con. It wasn't until she finally returned home to Storybrooke that she truly become a mother. And eventually also come back into contact with a past that she wanted to forget — with Neal, the man who'd broken her heart so badly she'd vowed to never love again.
That she'd managed to have a real relationship with Walsh was a big step for her. She hadn't had more than a one night stand since…well…Killian, actually. Though she wasn't sure whether she could count him. They hadn't exactly had a normal relationship.
"Look, if you love him…" Henry started.
Emma snapped to attention, confused and concerned that Henry could read her thoughts for a second before she realized that he meant Walsh.
"Would it bother you?" she asked. "If I married Walsh?"
"I'd be okay with whatever, as long as you were happy."
Henry sent her an encouraging smile and turned to go back to the couch and the comic book he'd been reading.
Emma swiped her thumb back and forth across the screen of her phone as she took stock of her thoughts. She was about to listen to Walsh's voicemail when the phone rang again.
Not Walsh this time.
Henry gave her a thumbs up from the living room.
Emma took a deep breath, turned her back to Henry, and lifted the phone to her ear. "Hello?"
"Swan." Killian's voice was low, rumbling, and pleased. He purred her name with obvious relief, and it set her toes to tingling. "Is this a bad time?"
"No. Not at all." She cast a glance at Henry as she walked toward her bedroom and closed the door behind her. "I'm glad you called."
"I apologize for the late hour. The day was busier than expected."
"Oh?" She sat down on the edge of the bed. In the comfort and privacy of her bedroom, she couldn't curb her curiosity. "Something to do with the Jolly Roger?" His beloved bar, which he had taken over after its previous owner, his brother Liam, had died.
"No. I'm helping a friend to empty and sell their apartment."
"Your friend from the restaurant?" Her stomach flipped over. Maybe they were moving in together? How had he met a girl from New York anyway? Had she ended up in his bar, a tourist?
He cleared his throat in a way that let her know that he was about to deliver bad news and she braced herself for the worst.
"No. Not Rose. Neal."
Her mouth fell open. "Neal?" she repeated dumbly. "Neal has a New York City apartment?"
"Why are you the one here dealing with it? Is Neal okay?"
"He's well. Coming to terms with his father, if you can believe it. I'm doing this as a favor. An attempt to make up for past wrongs. And…" He paused, seeming to weigh his words. "And I was not adverse to the thought of visiting the city."
"Wanted to see the sights?"
"One of them."
Silence fell heavy between them. Did he mean her? Or Rose?
"So, about Henry…"
"The lad. Right. If you can spare him, I'd like to see him sooner rather than later. I'll be heading back to Storybrooke on Wednesday to deliver all of the necessary paperwork to Neal."
Emma sucked in a breath. Three more days, and then he'd be gone. And to think, if Walsh hadn't decided to propose and taken her to a fancy restaurant, Killian might never have come back into her life at all. Suddenly, she wanted to make the most of those couple of days.
"You should come by our place," she said, the words tumbling out of her mouth the moment she opened it. "To have lunch with Henry, I mean. Or…dinner would be good, too. I'll cook."
"You cook?" he asked, amused.
She smiled. "There are many things you still don't know about me, Killian Jones."
"Likewise, Swan." He chuckled. "I'm afraid I'm booked tomorrow. But the Tuesday would be wonderful."
She gave him her address as well as directions, and in the process managed to find out where he was staying — not far away, as it happened. Which was probably how they'd managed to find themselves in the same restaurant.
"See you soon then, love," he said.
"Yeah." She pressed her knees together, not sure she'd made the right decision. "See you soon."
When she finally made her way back out of the bedroom, Henry looked up at her expectantly. It was the perfect moment to come clean, to admit that she hadn't been on the phone with Walsh at all, and to tell him that Killian would be coming by for dinner.
Instead, she smiled, sat down on the couch next to him, and said, "I'm thinking about it. Okay?"
Henry shrugged and went back to his comic book.
All of Monday, Emma carefully avoided Walsh and tried to convince herself to tell Henry about Killian. She struggled to find the words until finally arriving at the notion that maybe Killian's arrival for dinner could be a fantastic surprise. She could play it off as a happy coincidence — that they'd run into each other (they had) and she'd impulsively invited him over for dinner to catch up (which she did). It had the great advantage of being the truth, minus all the emotional baggage. He didn't need to know that Killian was the reason she'd been so distracted the past few days.
Quite pleased with herself, she quietly plotted what to make for dinner, searching the internet until she found a recipe that sounded impressive but was also simple enough for her to follow.
Come Tuesday night, she was busily chopping carrots and tapping her toe to the music blaring from her phone when Henry's bedroom door swung open and he came running out.
"Hey, Kid." She stopped chopping long enough to hit pause on the music. "What's up?"
"I know it's a school night and all," he started, and immediately she knew she wouldn't like where this was going, "but Avery got tickets to the eight o'clock showing of the new Star Wars and I really, reeeally want to go! Please tell me I can go!"
Emma shrugged. "Sure, so long as you eat dinner first."
"We were thinking we'd grab some pizza before the movie."
"Pizza? Henry!" Emma slapped down her knife on the counter. "I've been planning this dinner for days! I'm chopping vegetables here. Organic ones!"
"Why? What's so special about it?" His eyebrows shot up as a thought occurred to him. "Is it because you're going to marry Walsh?"
"No!" she said reflexively with with such force that it surprised her. Up until that moment, she'd thought that she was still considering it.
Henry looked confused. "So…you're turning him down?"
Shifting on her feet, Emma shrugged. "Yeah. I suppose so. I'm not quite sure yet…"
"You sounded pretty sure a second ago," Henry pointed out, then, at her uncertain frown, changed the subject. "If your special dinner isn't for Walsh, then what is it for?"
This was it. The moment of truth.
Emma went back to chopping carrots so that she wouldn't have to look Henry in the eye. "Do you remember Killian? From Storybrooke?"
"The bartender? Sure."
"I ran into him this morning." She winced at the lie but did her best to hide it. "He's in town visiting a friend. I invited him over for dinner. I thought you might like to see him."
Henry frowned. "I hardly knew him."
"Yeah. But he could fill you in on what's been going on back in Storybrooke."
"Sure. But if we're never going to go back there, then…" he trailed off, his eyebrows drawn into a surly line. She'd never seen him express any misgivings about their move to New York. It took the breath out of her to realize he might have been hiding it all along.
"You'd rather not know?" she guessed.
Henry nodded and stuck his hands in his pockets.
Deflated, baffled as to why he'd never told her, Emma put down her knife. "Okay then," she said softly. "Go get pizza with Avery."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. It's no problem."
He started back toward his room, but turned around, flush with guilt. "Thanks, Mom."
She smiled and shooed him away. "Go! Have a good time!"
As he jogged back into his room to call Avery, Emma turned back to her half-made dinner, wondering what to do now. Call Killian and cancel? How would she explain it? Flat up tell him that Henry didn't want to see him? Admit that he wasn't as happy here as she'd thought and that hearing stories of home was just too difficult? Or lie and say that something else had come up? She sighed, not liking the corner she found herself in, and finished getting dinner on the stove as Henry got ready to go.
"I'll get it!" he shouted when there was a knock at the door.
A few seconds later, he peeked around the corner into the kitchen.
"Mom? It's Walsh."
"You've got to be kidding me," Emma muttered to herself. Can't I ever catch a freaking break? Then, to Henry, "Tell him I'll be right there."
"Okay. I'm going to go wait for Avery downstairs."
Emma didn't blame him for the hasty exit — even envied him for it. She had no such means of retreat. As she walked to do the door, she straightened her black sweater and tucked her hair behind her ears, less in an effort to look nice than to hide her unease.
When Walsh spotted her coming down the hall, he sent her a bashful grin and forked a hand through his hair. "Hey. I'm sorry about just showing up like this. I tried to call and text you…"
In fact, he'd left her three voice mail messages and had texted her five times. She hadn't responded to any of them.
"I know. I'm sorry." She offered her own awkward smile. "I've been really busy."
She nodded and leaned against the doorframe, trying not to look guilty.
Walsh glanced over her shoulder into the apartment. "Can I come in? I won't stay long if you've got things to do. I just want to talk."
Emma bit her lip and stepped aside to let him in. A mere week ago, having him show up unexpectedly at her door would have been a delight. All she felt as he walked past her, however, was dread. She loved him — or, had loved him — and didn't want to break his heart. But his proposal and Killian's sudden appearance had forced her to take a long, hard look at their relationship which, she now realized, had plenty of warmth but very little fire. Perhaps that was why she'd been able to make it work with him for so long. Walsh was devoid of complications.
Especially in comparison to the violent sea of passions Killian had created in her these past few days.
Walsh stopped in the living room and looked around, his nose in the air. "Are you cooking?"
"Yeah. Some chicken. Was supposed to be a special dinner for Henry and me, but he made other plans."
"Maybe I could fill in. It smells great," he said hopefully.
What was she supposed to say? Sorry you can't stay, but my ex is coming over.
Oh God. This was awkward.
"I don't think that would be a good idea."
Walsh nodded, his mouth forming a line that looked both angry and disappointed. "Because you're turning down my proposal. Right?" He didn't wait for his answer, instead turning his back to her for another aggravated sweep of his hand through his hair. "You know, I'm not even too upset that you don't want to marry me. But if you wanted to say no, it'd have been nice for you to actually answer your phone and say it."
"It wasn't a simple decision. I needed time to think."
"What was there to consider? Whether you love me?"
Emma sighed. "That's not fair. What you were asking—" As her voice pitched upward, she stopped, re-centered herself, and made a continued on, more level, "You know this is the first real relationship I've had in a long time. Just this, you and me, has been a big step for me. But marriage? I'm not ready for that."
Walsh looked over his shoulder at her. "Will you ever be?"
She shrugged helplessly.
"Because I want to be more than this, Emma. I want a family. Don't you?"
She bit back the words: I already have a family.
Walsh seemed to read them in her expression anyway. "That's right. You have Henry."
But she was surprised to find that she hadn't only thought of Henry. Storybrooke had come to mind, too. Killian's arrival had reminded her of all that she'd left behind there and the people that she missed. Walsh, somehow, didn't fit into that life. Marrying him would be like closing the door on ever going back.
She fetched the ring from where she'd left it in her coat pocket and walked over to hand it back to him.
He took it with a low, slumping smile. "So, that's it then?"
"I guess so."
With the ring safely tucked in his breast pocket, he regarded her one last time.
The back of her eyes stung. She didn't want to marry him, but putting an end to six months of friendship was still hard. "Goodbye."
She escorted him to the door, and they said nothing else as he walked out. Only once she had it firmly closed, the bolt drawn, and heard the elevator doors chime at the end of the hall did she allow herself to give way to tears. He wasn't her soul mate, but he'd been the right person at the right time, safe and secure. With him she'd broken a lifetime of bad habits, and maybe now, when that someone special did come along, she'd be ready. She stayed like that for a while, letting it sink in.
Finally, dashing her tears away, she was about to return to the living room when a soft knock on the door startled her.
Walsh again? Or — she checked the time — oh shit! Killian!
With Walsh's unexpected visit, she hadn't gotten around to calling him to cancel. Now he was at her door, Henry was gone, and it was just going to be the two of them eating a romantic homemade dinner for two of—
"Son of a bitch!"
Killian's concerned voice came from the other side of the door: "Alright in there, love?"
She spun around and swung the door open. At seeing her, Killian smiled — big, exuberant, and so full of obvious and unguarded joy that Emma's mood instantly lightened.
"Call me whatever you want, Swan," he quipped, "but easy on my mother."
A relieved laugh bubbled up in her chest. "Not you. The Coq au Vin. I think it might be ruined."
His eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Coq au Vin? Ambitious."
"Yeah, well…it's a bit of a cheat recipe. It uses dried mushrooms and regular onions rather than pearled. I'm sure it won't be as good as what you'd get at a restaurant, but—"
"I'm sure it will be wonderful. Despite what you say."
"Not if I don't get to it right now. Come on. Come in."
He strode in with a definite swagger, one hand on his belt buckle in a way that would have been aggravatingly cocksure if it weren't also so attractive. They'd had sparks between them from the moment they'd met, but it was the confident and playful flirt in him that had first compelled her to give in. As she took his leather jacket and hung it on a peg in the hallway, she remembered their first kiss and how she'd pulled him against her by his lapels, the creak of leather the only sound she could hear above the pounding of blood in her ears and the short gasps they sucked in as their lips parted only to meet again.
She dragged her fingers down the black leather and wondered idly whether he'd had other women hanging from his jacket in the time they'd been apart. He was handsome enough and a tenacious flirt. She supposed he'd probably shared just such a kiss with the blonde in the restaurant.
It startled her how much that thought hurt.
Just one more day, she reminded herself, and he'll go back to Storybrooke and out of your life again. Nothing has changed.
With that in mind, she followed him into the kitchen where he was leaning over, peering into her simmering pan.
"Doesn't look too bad. I wager we can salvage it."
Of the two of them, Killian was by far the more experienced cook, so Emma let him take the lead. As he fetched the chicken out of the pan and transferred it to a plate, he seemed to be struck by a sudden thought and glanced over his shoulder at the rest of the apartment behind them. "Where's Henry?"
"He, uh…couldn't make it." Emma felt her cheeks flush and was grateful that Killian was focused on the food instead of on her. "One of his friends got tickets to Star Wars at the last minute."
Killian's mouth quirked. "So it's just you and me?"
"Looks like it." He glanced at her, but she turned to avoid eye contact. "Can I get you something to drink? Rum?"
While he finished preparing the sauce, she poured them both generous tumblers. When she set it on the counter beside him, he paused to take a sip and hummed appreciatively.
"Tell me, love, did you buy the rum specifically for me, or do you always keep some on hand?"
"I developed a taste for it."
He chuckled in a way that made her grow hot to the very tips of her ears.
"It will be another twenty minutes before we can eat," he announced as he set the sauce to simmering. Together, rum in hand, they retired to the living room to wait.
"So," Emma said as she sat down on the couch next to him, "how's it going with the apartment?"
"Much more smoothly than I dared to hope. I admit, I'm surprised how much the place has appraised for. Real estate here is—"
"Crazy. I know." Rent alone ate up half of her pay. "Is that where you're staying while you're here? At Neal's place?"
"Aye. Though without any furniture, I almost wish I'd taken up Rose's offer to stay with her."
"Oh." The blonde. "So, you two are…"
"Old friends," he quickly replied. "Nothing more."
Relief hit her like a flash of lightning — brief, but intense, and followed by a rumble of misgiving when she recalled that she could not say the same of her and Walsh, on all counts.
"Rose is a real estate agent. She's been helping me with the sale." He took a sip of his drink. "How about your…Walsh? What does he do?"
"He owns a furniture shop. But he's — we're — not anything anymore."
"No. He...asked me to marry him."
"Ah. And you turned him down?"
"I'm not ready for a commitment like that. I don't know if I'll ever be ready." She let out a hollow laugh and took a long drink of rum. "Running away, just like always. I guess my great new life isn't so different after all. Huh? I don't think I'm cut out for relationships. After Neal…I never want to get hurt like that again."
Killian's fingers brushed her arm. "Don't be so hard on yourself, Swan. A broken heart's not such a terrible thing — means it still works."
The way he looked at her made it quite clear to her that her heart was functioning just fine. But after she turned her back and left him in Storybrooke, he probably had his doubts. She'd been cold and firm toward him on their last days together. Not because she'd wanted to be, not because it reflected in any way what she thought about him, but because she'd needed to steel herself against him in order to go through with it.
At the time, she'd told herself it was for Henry's sake, to get him away from her messy and complicated past and give him what, in comparison, seemed like a cleaner, healthier home life.
But it had become increasingly obvious that Henry had merely been a convenient excuse.
This had nothing to do with him.
Apparently taking her silence for discomfort, Killian changed the subject and began to fill her in on what all the residents of Storybrooke had been up to in her absence. Ruby had finally left her job at Granny's diner to strike out on her own. Last Killian had heard, she'd moved to Kansas. Neal's father had gotten engaged to his long-time girlfriend, the local librarian. And Leroy, the town drunk, had become convinced that an unusual ridge of ice which had blocked the only road into town for several days over the winter was the first sign of an impending curse come to wipe Storybrooke off the map. (The latest in a long string of Leroy's various doomsday proclamations.)
"You know," Emma said, "there are definitely some things I miss."
"Oh?" At some point, they'd shifted closer to one another and the vibration of his voice traveled through her to leave delicious shivers in its wake. "Please don't tell me you mean Leroy."
She laughed. "No. Not Leroy."
"You could come back," he suggested quietly. "Return home. We'd all be glad to have you. Your parents. Your friends." His eyes were full of frank honesty as he looked at her and added, "Me."
She had to swallow hard to clear away the lump that formed in her throat.
How could he say that after the way she'd left? Wasn't he afraid she'd do it again?
Surely, if she went back, she would. She'd come a long way in the past couple of years, but not nearly far enough. He'd get tired waiting for her to work through the last of her emotional baggage and their love — or whatever it was they had between them — would sour. She'd end up hurting him and then she'd have not one, but two bitter exes in town.
"I can't," she admitted. She couldn't bear it.
He nodded, as if she'd only confirmed his suspicions. "I thought as much. In any case, I already have plans to leave."
"What? You can't leave," she said, shocked. "Storybrooke is your home."
Storybrooke without Killian was like…like Peter Pan without Captain Hook. He just belonged there.
He shook his head. "Why stay? There's nothing left there for me anymore."
"And there's something waiting for you somewhere else?"
He gave her a long look that she was afraid to read into, terrified that she might be misunderstanding.
"Is that what you're really doing here?" she finally asked when it became clear he would not offer up the information for her. Her voice was breathy, weak. It embarrassed her how vulnerable and exposed she felt. "Are you coming to live in New York? For me?"
"I would not be so presumptuous. New York is a big city. I'm sure there is more than enough room for the both of us. You have already made it quite clear how you feel and that you want nothing from me. But if that should ever change…" He stared down into his rum as he swirled it. "I'll be here."
Here waiting for her. Thinking of her every day.
Just as he'd promised three years ago.
Her bottom lip trembled and tears stung behind her eyes — amazed, breathless tears forced upward by the swelling of her heart. She reached out, took his hand in hers, and managed a watery smile.
"Good," she said.
The troubled crease of his brow lifted and hope shone bright in his eyes as he turned to look at her. She was glad for the change, and even more glad to have been responsible for it.
Emma set her glass of rum down on the coffee table, leaned over, and brushed a feather-light kiss across his lips.
When he responded by releasing a shaky break rather than kissing her back, she smoothed the palm of her hand up his chest and over his shoulder to gently cup the back of his head. A little pressure brought his mouth back to hers. His stubble tickled her upper lip but she leaned into it, relishing the friction, so different from the always freshly-shaved Walsh. She hadn't realized how much she missed it — missed him.
He broke away and pulled back enough to look at her, his eyes searching.
For doubts? Regret?
She had none.
All of her concerns slipped aside. In New York, away from all the complications back home, and for a man whose patience had known no bounds, she could try to make this work.
She smiled and touched her forehead to his.
With how much time had passed between them, it might as well have been none at all. He captured her lips in the exact same kind of earth-shattering kiss that had made him such a difficult habit to break back in Storybrooke. His fingers brushed across her cheek and moved into her hair while her own tried to find purchase on the back of his head and on the front of his shirt.
She knew where this was going — where it always went between them — but she didn't care. She'd spent so much time the past couple of days remembering how mind blowingly incredible they'd been together that making love with him had taken on an air of mythical majesty. She wanted that again. And she wanted it now.
Each kiss brought her farther across the couch, his hands helping her along: up against his side, across one leg, into his lap. He tilted his head to press a series of long kisses against the side of her neck and slid his hand down her back to nudge her body snug against his, eliciting from her an embarrassingly noisy moan.
"Don't be shy, love," he softly chastened when she pulled away. "There's no one to catch us here."
Oh God. He was right.
This wasn't some brief, stolen moment in the back of a bar. They could make love with the kind of abandon she'd always wanted. The unaccustomed freedom of it momentarily stymied her.
"Would you care to take this to the bedroom?" he asked, his fingers intertwining with hers.
"Yeah." She shuddered. "I would."
They managed to stay within each others arms — dropping kisses, tugging on shirt hems — all the way to the open door of her room. How on earth had she managed to turn her back on this? she wondered as his tongue swept through her mouth and she banged her elbow on the door frame. She wasn't sure she could make that decision again, to never feel the way she did right now, with his warm, rough hands lifting her shirt, her whole body shaking with need of him.
"Do you have a…?" she asked breathlessly as he tossed his own shirt onto the floor.
"Oh, thank God."
Emma meant to slow down, to take her time with him, but she quickly found herself naked on top of the bedspread, grasping desperately at Killian's body as he lowered himself down to join her. Molten heat and urgent movement overwhelmed her senses. She pressed her mouth against his bare shoulder, damp with sweat, and moaned his name. He didn't silence her as he might have done in the past. In the seclusion of her room, miles away from anyone who would care, he responded in kind.
The low timber of his voice in her ear, murmuring her name, stringing together poetry to the cadence of their bodies, drove her to a fevered pitch she'd never known before. From the heightened top of her ecstasy, she peered down and had a moment to appreciate how tremendous the crash would be coming down the other side, and then she tumbled forth — crying, clutching, the world splintering all around her with the sheer force of her fall.
Killian brushed the hair off her face and let out a long, satisfied breath as he stilled on top of her, his own climax lost somewhere in the frenzy of her own.
He rolled onto his side next to her and they laid there in silence as their hearts slowed and their skin cooled.
"I sincerely hope you're not about to say 'a one time thing,' love."
She laughed. "I was going to say 'incredible'."
He closed his eyes and murmured his agreement.
Emma propped herself up on an elbow and looked down at him, his head nestled quite comfortably against her pillow. For as long as they'd been together, she'd never invited Walsh here — thinking, somehow, that to do so would be to sully the space she and Henry shared. She had no such misgivings now. She liked having Killian here.
Content, she twirled a finger in his chest hair and let out a long, satisfied sigh. On the breath back in, something strange tickled her nose.
"Hey," she said after a while, hesitant to spoil the mood but increasingly bothered. "Do you smell that? It smells kind of like…"
"Oh crap! The sauce!"
In her hurry, she tumbled off the bed and landed in a heap on the floor. Killian moved to help her, but she was already on her feet and scrambling back into her clothes, swearing the whole time. A few seconds later, she sprinted into the kitchen and turned off the stove.
But it was already too late. The sauce, which the recipe had instructed her to reduce by half, had formed a thick sludge in the bottom of the pan.
Chuckling, his hair a wild mess from their lovemaking, Killian sauntered out into the kitchen.
"What do you say we order a pizza?"
Emma picked up the pan, tossed it into the sink, and filled it with water hoping that might cut back on the smell. "I think that's a good idea."
He returned to the couch and his drink while she called it in.
"So," she said, only a little bashful as she sat back down beside him, resuming the position she'd had before they'd lost all control along with all of their clothes. "You're really moving to New York?"
He turned to face her, one arm over the back of the couch, and traced a lazy finger down her arm. "Aye. I'm buying Neal's old place."
"Buying? That's got to cost a fortune."
"So it would seem."
"How can you afford it?" His bar did well enough, but she didn't think he had much in the way of cash on hand.
"I won't be much of a stretch seeing as I have something of considerable value to trade."
"What's that?" He had all kinds of weird, nautical antiques he'd inherited from his father. But nothing, she thought, that would put much of a dent in the cost of a New York City apartment.
He met her eyes and smiled, but the expression was hollow, without any real joy. "The Jolly Roger of course."
"Your bar?" she said, dumbfounded.
"Aye. The paperwork is already drawn up. Once Neal signs, ownership of the Jolly Roger will transfer to him, and the flat will transfer to me."
"But…Neal doesn't know anything about running a bar."
"I don't think he intends to. My guess is that he'll let his father manage the property. Gold has wanted the land that the Roger sits on for a long time and has never been able to acquire it."
"Gold?!" Emma punched him in the arm. "You're handing the Jolly Roger over to Gold?"
In all of Storybrooke, Killian had only one true enemy: Neal's father, local pawn broker and real estate mogul, Mr. Gold. (If he had a first name, Emma had never heard it.) He owned half the town and didn't mind throwing his weight around to get his way. He was underhanded, manipulative, and cruel. Killian had made a mortal foe of him the moment they met. Emma only knew the story second hand, but she'd heard that Killian had Gold thrown out of the bar after some altercation there. Gold had never forgiven Killian for the humiliation, and the bad blood between them had only grown as the years passed. There was no one in the world — literally no one — that Emma thought would be less painful for Killian to give up his livelihood to than Gold.
"Killian," she whispered, horrified. "You can't. That place means everything to you."
He twirled a finger in a lock of her hair. "Not everything. Anyway… It's just a bar."
Except that it wasn't. Not for him.
His brother, Liam, had started the business and they'd worked together to get it off the ground. Almost as soon as they'd started to make a profit, Liam got sick. Pancreatic cancer. The disease was already so advanced when he was diagnosed that there was little Killian could do except hold his brother's hand as he suffered through what little treatment medical science could provide. And, when there was no more time left, he'd been there at Liam's side as he took his final breath. During the brief months of Liam's illness, he'd devoted himself to keeping the bar afloat. And after Liam's death the Jolly Roger took on a kind of memorial status. It was all he had left of his brother.
And now, to be closer to her, he planned to let Gold destroy it.
A knock at the door made him get up. "Must be the pizza," he said with forceful cheer. "I'll get it."
She watched him go, a chill moving down her spine.
This was her fault. Her fear, her cowardice, was ruining the lives of everyone around her. Because she was too scared to face the past, she'd dragged Henry away from his friends, his family, and his home. She'd cut him off from everyone that he'd ever cared about and he'd let her, saying nothing, because he loved her. Now Killian too would be torn apart in the wake of her selfish and craven disregard for others.
She couldn't let him do this.
Suddenly, she knew what she had to do.
Time to find your courage, she told herself. Time to be brave.
When Killian woke up the next morning in Neal's empty apartment, the extra pizza in the fridge that he'd brought back from Emma's the night before was all that convinced him the entire evening was not simply the result of his fevered imagination. It seemed beyond reckoning. Emma was newly single. And she wanted him. Had, in fact, invited him back to her apartment for breakfast this morning.
She'd urged him out the door before Henry got home, but not without some obvious hesitation and a handful of lingering kisses in the hallway.
Even so, he harbored no illusions that all was well between them. This was no relationship. Not yet. Emma had left Walsh because he'd pushed too hard too fast, and he did not intend to make the same mistake. He'd wait until the end of time if he had to.
He showered — the water breathtakingly cold as apparently the building's boiler was broken yet again — and dressed, eager to get out the door and to his breakfast date.
Maybe a little too eager. When he arrived, Emma answered the door in her pajamas.
"Hey." Her green eyes crinkled with her smile. "You're a little early. Come on in."
He passed her into the apartment, desperate to pin her to the door and kiss her senseless, but aware that Henry would be home now and that he had to be on his best behavior. Indeed, he found the lad sitting at the table wearing flannel pajama bottoms and a black Star Wars t-shirt, reading a comic book.
"Henry." Emma stopped at Killian's elbow. "You remember Killian?"
He glanced up. "Oh, yeah. Hey!"
Killian nodded. "Good morning."
"Mom told me you were coming by," Henry said. His eyes were bright and wide with excitement — far beyond what Killian thought his appearance merited. But it didn't seem feigned. The lad was genuinely quite pleased.
"Why don't you go get dressed," Emma said to Henry. "It's going to be a busy day."
Henry grinned and shot up from the table. "Okay!"
Killian watched the boy go, puzzled.
"I thought we were going to have breakfast," he said slowly. "Do you have other plans, Swan?"
She bustled about in the kitchen, filling a plate, and plopped it down on the table in front of him. It was heaped with bacon, eggs, and two biscuits slathered with butter and jam.
"You're going to eat breakfast," she said as she whisked off toward her room. "Henry and I are going to pack."
"Whoa! Hang on!" He followed her into her room and lost his train of thought for a second as she stepped over to the closet and pulled her pajamas off. He couldn't process any of this with her standing in front of him in just a pair of panties. Swiftly, without looking at him, she put on a bra and wriggled into a pair of tight jeans — effectively covering enough skin to allow him to think again. "You're packing? To go where?"
Despair threatened at the edge of his heart.
She was leaving again.
Emma pulled a white sweater over her head and fetched a red leather jacket from the far reaches of her closet. She pulled it on, flipping her hair loose to spill down the back, and turned to face him.
"We're going home. With you. To Storybrooke."
Words failed him.
Emma crossed the room and planted a quick, firm kiss against his mouth.
"I can't let you give up the Jolly Roger," she said, her voice gentle. "I won't. It means too much to you."
"Not as much as you, love."
"That's not a choice you should have to make." Her expression turned soft and she lifted a hand to play affectionately with his hair. "I've been running long enough. I think maybe it's time I started confronting my problems. It's time I started running toward something."
He didn't know what to say.
"Me and you…" she whispered. "Maybe I'll get my heart broken again—"
"You won't," he swore.
She smiled and continued. "It's worth the risk. You — we — are worth the risk. I was too scared before. But I think I'm ready now."
"To be with me?" Was she saying what he thought she was saying? Not just that she meant to return to Storybrooke, but that once she did, they would be together? Not in secret, but out in the open? In a real relationship?
Her mouth quirked in a lopsided smile.
"Aye," she growled in mock imitation of him. "Now come on, Richard Marx. No more talk of waiting. Go out there and eat your breakfast so that you can help us pack."
She saw him out with a playful slap on the rear.
He couldn't remember a time he'd ever been in such good spirits as when he sat down to his breakfast at Emma Swan's table and brought his phone to his ear. It rang three times before Rose picked up.
"Killian," she said with surprise. "What can I do for you?"
"I've decided to keep the Jolly Roger," he told her. "We'll all be returning to Storybrooke this afternoon."
"All, as in…you and Emma? Together?"
He could practically see Rose's grin over the phone. "Consider the deal terminated! I told you! Love conquers all."
As Emma strolled into the room, vibrant and glittering in the morning light, he knew it was true.
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