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This Graceful Path

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Emma Swan awoke, and for a moment was disoriented, confused as to where she was sleeping. She blinked up at the whitewashed ceiling, the boards rising in a slant above her head, and remembered: she was someone’s roommate now. Mary Margaret Blanchard’s roommate, to be precise, the kind school teacher who had offered her the spare room in her loft apartment.

The sound of a pan clanging on the stove top below reaching her ears, Emma sat up, her sleep-tangled blonde hair falling in her face. Spare “room” was a bit of a misnomer, actually; spare upstairs landing was more like it. While her bed was far enough against the outside wall to not be visible to anyone downstairs, she really only had to stand up and shuffle forward a few steps in order to survey the whole of the apartment from over the railing that divided her sleeping area from the wide open space of the loft.

She’d been here for three days now, and Mary Margaret was the definition of a kind and accommodating roommate. It was a little bit creepy how kind and accommodating she was, to be honest. Glancing at the clock, Emma groaned at the fact that it was only 6:45, and she flopped back down on the bed, squeezing her eyes shut.

First day at your new job, she remembered, grimacing. She’d said yes to the deputy sheriff job on a whim, figuring why the hell not, but her thoughts and dreams during a restless night of sleep had done a fantastic job demonstrating to her exactly why the hell not. Being a bail bondsperson was not the same thing as being a law enforcement professional. Sure, Storybrooke was a small town, where the most she would probably have to deal with was teenagers loitering or that Leroy guy getting into trouble down at the local bar, but on the other hand, Storybrooke was weird. And sure, Sheriff Graham Humbert was a nice guy and easy on the eyes, but working for the sheriff’s department meant working for Regina Mills. That was bound to be trouble.

Realizing there was little chance of falling back to sleep, Emma threw the covers back and made her way downstairs.

The metal steps that led down to the main part of the loft were icy under her bare feet, and Emma shivered as she descended, the air cooler down here than it had been up in her bedroom. She rubbed her arms, glancing down at her tank top and her one threadbare pair of yoga pants that doubled as pajamas. Once she got a paycheck, she’d have to see about getting some more pajamas. And some more of everything else, probably.

“Good morning!” Mary Margaret called from the kitchen, her face bright and shining. “Do you want some eggs?”

“Don’t go to any trouble,” Emma said.

“It’s no trouble.”

“I’m actually not usually hungry when I first wake up,” Emma explained, sitting in one of the two mismatched barstools that faced the kitchen. Much of the apartment’s furnishings seemed to have been cobbled together from yard sales and secondhand shops, which was an aesthetic Emma could respect.

She watched Mary Margaret’s hands work as she cracked an egg into a bowl and whisked it. Everything about Mary Margaret was perfectly put together, even at this hour of the morning, from her adorable pixie haircut to her neatly pressed dress to the ballet flats on her feet. Mary Margaret was, she had to admit, the kind of person that Emma would have taken an instant dislike to in another context. The fact that she didn’t find her ray of sunshine roommate to be annoying was… actually quite puzzling, now that she thought about it.

“Did you get all two of your boxes unpacked?” Mary Margaret asked with a smirk. Emma’s boxes of meager possessions had arrived from Boston yesterday, thanks to the superintendent of her building there and the crush he had on her. It had been a pre-furnished apartment, rented on a whim fairly recently, and most of her paycheck had gone to the rent without much left over for buying stuff to fill it. So other than a few clothes and a box of mementos, there was little Emma owned.

“I did,” Emma confirmed. “And hey, thanks again for—”

“You can stop thanking me, Emma, it’s nice having you here. It was a bit lonely, living here by myself.” Mary Margaret turned and poured her egg into the waiting pan. “I'm not sure I'm suited for it… living alone. It’s always felt wrong.”

“Not for me. After all the group homes I lived in, living alone was a dream come true. Not that I don't like it here, I do,” Emma added hastily.

Mary Margaret put her scrambled eggs on a plate as the toaster popped with two perfectly toasted pieces of bread. When she offered Emma one of them, despite her earlier refusal, she took it. Looking at Mary Margaret’s breakfast was making her a little bit hungry after all. “Is what Henry said true?” Mary Margaret asked. “That you were left by the side of the road as a baby?”

“Yep, and I’ve seen the newspaper clippings to prove it,” Emma replied, trying her best to sound fine with it. “A kid found me and took me to a nearby diner before I froze to death or, you know, starved or whatever. They couldn’t identify who my parents were, and I ended up in the foster system.”

“And you weren’t ever adopted?”

“Nope.” Emma took a bite of her toast. “It was foster family to group home to foster family. I bounced around a lot.”

“Well, you turned out fine.”

Emma snorted. “I guess, if you consider getting pregnant at seventeen ‘fine’. And… other stuff. Look, let’s just say my teen years were complicated and leave it at that.”

“Fair enough.” Mary Margaret gave Emma an encouraging smile. “I’m glad you’re here. I think it will be wonderful for Henry to get to know you. And I’m looking forward to getting to know you too. I don’t really have many friends.”

Recoiling internally, Emma stood up. “You know what, I’d better get ready for my first day at work.” If Mary Margaret was looking for a friend who knew how to do typical girl stuff, like talk about hair and clothes and boys, then she was going to be sorely disappointed. Emma didn’t really know how to be anyone’s friend.

“Sheriff’s deputy, it’s so exciting!” Mary Margaret enthused. “I’m sure you’re gonna do great.”

Emma wasn’t so sure, but she made some kind of noncommittal noise of agreement. She excused herself to the bathroom to take a shower, steeling herself for her morning fight with the finicky hot water. The loft’s lone bathroom contained an old-fashioned claw foot tub which had been retrofitted with a shower head and a flimsy frame for a shower curtain. Emma had learned on her first morning in the apartment that the difference between icy cold water and water hot enough to burn the skin off her bones was a scant millimeter adjustment of the knob. “You’ll get used to it,” Mary Margaret had assured her.

Although the sheriff’s station was a reasonable walk from their apartment, when Emma left, she got behind the wheel of her yellow VW Bug, deciding to drive so as not to be late. She passed a total of three cars between her apartment and her work. Say what you will about Storybrooke, she thought, the lack of traffic was definitely a selling point. As she pulled into a parking space in front of the station, she marveled once again that she was now going to be working for the sheriff who had arrested her, not once but twice, on trumped up charges.

Graham Humbert came out of his glass-walled office to greet her as soon as she entered the empty station. As always, his brown hair was artfully tousled and his scruffy beard was neatly trimmed, and Emma wondered how long he spent each morning perfecting his intentionally neglectful look.

“Emma! Welcome to your first day,” he said. He seemed lighter, happier than usual, as evidenced by the smile he gave her. “I don’t have your uniform or badge sorted out yet, but I figured today you could familiarize yourself with the station and we can start to talk about what your responsibilities will be.” He hooked his thumb into one of belt loops, drawing Emma’s attention down to where his shirt peeked out underneath the hem of his vest.

“After being arrested twice, I’m familiar with the place,” she muttered.

“Ah yes, but to do you know exactly where to kick the copy machine to get it to work, or how to get the coffee machine to brew a pot of coffee without electrocuting you?”

“Are you sure you can afford to pay me a salary?”

Graham chuckled. “Yes, you’ll get your paycheck, don’t worry.”

He spent the next half hour showing her around, teaching her the phone system and explaining generally what a typical day in Storybrooke was like. Which, honestly, sounded so boring that she was a little confused why he even needed a deputy. It sounded like she was going to be spending her days mediating disputes about dogs pooping in neighbors’ yards and stolen recycling bins, with maybe a drunk and disorderly thrown in for flavor once in awhile. Still, a job was a job, especially if she wanted to stay in town and be a part of Henry’s life.

The sheriff’s station itself was a mystery. Everything she could see from her desk — the phones, the computers, the little television with a VHS player up against the far wall — everything looked like it was from another time. Was it Regina’s iron grip on the budget that meant nothing had been replaced in twenty years? Or was Graham indifferent?

“So…” she said as she swiveled back and forth in her desk chair, “you aren’t exactly what I imagine when I think of a small town sheriff.”

“Oh no?” Graham raised his eyebrows. “What do you imagine?”

“You know, older guy, big doughnut belly, not quite so stylishly dressed?” She continued to pivot back and forth, slumping down and giving Graham a once-over. “How did you end up getting this gig, anyway?”

“Mayor Mills just saw something in me, I guess,” he answered, breaking eye contact with her and looking into the middle distance.

Emma paused, waiting for him to say more. When he didn’t, she decided to change the subject. “Speaking of Regina, have you told her you hired me yet?”

Graham glanced down, clearly chastened. “I’ve got a meeting with her tomorrow; I’ll let her know then.”

“Oh boy. Have fun with that.”

“I’ll take care of it, Emma; don’t worry.”

“If you say so.” She leaned forward, taking one of the pencils out of the cup on her desk and tapping it absently against the blotter. “So has anything really bad ever happened here?”

“Like what?”

Emma shrugged. “I don’t know, like a bank robbery or a murder.”

“A murder?” Graham laughed. “No, Emma, there has never been a murder in Storybrooke,” he said with a slightly patronizing tone.

“Hey, weird stuff can go down in small towns like this. Haven’t you ever read a Stephen King book?”

“Can’t say as I have.”

“Well, you should; they’re pretty good if you like horror.” Graham looked at her blankly. While he was clearly capable of carrying on a conversation with her like a normal person, sometimes he behaved so oddly that she didn’t know what to think of him. “Any other characters like Leroy I need to be aware of? People who get in trouble with the law often?”

“Other than yourself?”

“Very funny,” Emma said, returning his smirk with one of her own.

“I think the best thing you can do, Emma, is spend some time out and about in Storybrooke. Walk the streets, go in the shops and introduce yourself, eat at Granny’s. The sooner you make yourself a part of the town, the sooner the town will come to trust you.”

~*~

Graham’s instructions in mind, when it was time for her afternoon break Emma decided to wander over toward Granny’s diner in search of caffeine, shuffling through the autumn leaves that had fallen and collected on the sidewalks and in the gutters. School appeared to be letting out at the same time, and Emma spotted Henry, a little brown-haired boy in a cluster of children in identical school uniforms, at the same time that he saw her. With a big grin breaking out over his face, he ran over to her.

“Cool, are we getting cocoa? Can I have some?” he asked without preamble as she pushed open the door of the diner. Henry followed her in. The collar of his polo shirt was askew and his sweater was dirty, and Emma resisted the urge to reach out and comb the tangles out of his hair with her fingers.

Granny’s was another example of the time-warpy nature of Storybrooke. The waitresses wore costumes that wouldn’t have looked out of place coupled with a pair of roller skates, and even the prices were out of another era. Sure, the cost of living in small-town Maine was lower than in Boston, but this was ridiculous (not that Emma was complaining). The decor was exactly what you would picture if asked to imagine a diner, with the possible exception of the forest-covered wallpaper. The strange wallpaper looked more like an illustration from Henry’s storybook than the kind of thing you’d typically see on the walls of an eating establishment.

“Aren’t you supposed to go straight home after school?” she asked, although she was happy for any opportunity to see Henry. “Regina won’t be happy.”

He shrugged. “Mom won’t be home for at least another hour. I can hang out.” He sat down in one of the booths and looked up at her expectantly until Emma sighed and sat down across from him.

“I’m only on a short break, then I need to get back to the sheriff’s station.”

“You being a deputy is so awesome. And you’re weakening the curse; I can tell.”

Emma suppressed a groan. “How can you tell?”

He ignored her question, because he was already on to something else, and he started ticking things off on his fingers. “So we’ve got Snow White and Prince Charming, I’ve figured out who most of the dwarves are—”

“There are dwarves in Storybrooke now?”

“Well, they don’t look like dwarves,” Henry said.

“No, of course not, that would be ridiculous.”

“They look like regular people, although I think they’re all on the short side. Anyway, Snow White, Prince Charming, dwarves, the Evil Queen, Cinderella, Jiminy Cricket, Geppetto, Red Riding Hood—”

“Who’s Red Riding Hood?”

Henry rolled his eyes and then indicated with a jerk of his head toward the lunch counter. “Ruby,” he said as if it was obvious.

“Right.” She sighed. “Look, Henry, maybe we should talk about something else, like… what did you do at school today?” That was good, she thought. That was the kind of question a parent would ask.

“Nah, nothing interesting happened at school.”

Ruby came over to their booth, and Emma ordered a cocoa for Henry and a coffee to go for herself. Taking in Ruby’s short shorts, she figured the waitress wouldn’t be caught dead in a shapeless red cloak that would cover up her body.

“So if I ask Mary Margaret tonight at home,” Emma continued when Ruby left, “she’ll agree that nothing interesting happened at school?”

Henry released a heavy, put-upon sigh. “I mean we learned stuff, but none of it is as important as Operation Cobra.”

“How about this,” Emma said. “Tell me three things that you did at school today.”

“Okay.” Henry thought about it. “We had a spelling test.”

“How did you do?”

“I aced it,” he said. “Second thing: we worked on fractions in math.”

Emma restrained herself from making a face at the idea of working on fractions. “And a third thing?”

“There was pizza for lunch in the cafeteria, but my mom packs my lunch, so I couldn’t eat it.”

She had to admit, that did all sound pretty dismal compared to the excitement of Operation Cobra. No wonder Henry was retreating into his fairy tale imaginings. School was boring, he seemed to have no friends, and he didn’t get to eat pizza. It wasn’t a surprise the kid had problems.

Ruby dropped off their drinks, giving Henry a kind smile before she left them.

“Look, Henry, maybe there’s something the two of us could do together this weekend if Regina would allow it. Not Operation Cobra,” she said when she saw him starting to suggest it. “Some kind of normal kid thing, like… tossing a football in the park, or, I don’t know. A bike ride.”

“I don’t do either of those things,” Henry said, regarding her with suspicion before taking a drink of his cocoa, getting whipped cream on his nose in the process. Emma pulled a napkin from the dispenser and reached over to wipe it off.

“Okay, well, I don’t know. You suggest something.”

His face lit up. “I was thinking maybe we could do some surveillance on my mom. You work for the sheriff’s department now, you must have access to—”

“We are absolutely not doing that, Henry.”

“You’re no fun.”

“Fine, I’m no fun. But let’s try to figure something out that we can do that does not involve spying or fairy tale characters,” she said helplessly.

“Everything in Storybrooke involves fairy tale characters,” he said with an eye roll.

“What about TV?” Emma asked. “Tell me what you like to watch on TV.”

“Mom doesn’t let me watch it on school nights,” he said glumly.

“That’s probably a good policy,” she said, trying to give Regina the benefit of the doubt, at least in this one area.

“I do like Star Wars,” Henry volunteered after a big gulp of cocoa.

“Me too.” Emma grinned at him. “I used to pretend I was Princess Leia, except my version of Princess Leia swung a light saber.”

“Well yeah, she’s got the Force too, why shouldn’t she?” He jumped up suddenly. “What time is it? I should probably get home.”

“I bet you’ve got homework to do, right?”

Henry groaned, picking up his backpack from the seat. “I’ll see you tomorrow, maybe?”

“Maybe.” Star Wars, she thought. Something for them to bond over that didn’t center around his curse nonsense. It was a small thing, but it was something.

Ruby approached the table as Emma was still watching Henry through the window. “Can I get you anything else, Emma?”

She shook her head. “Just the check.” Remembering Graham’s directive to get to know people in the town, Emma gave Ruby what she hoped was a disarming smile. “You look tired, do you want to sit for a minute and take a load off?”

The diner was mostly empty, it being too late for lunch and too early for dinner. Ruby looked around for Granny before gratefully flopping down in the seat Henry had vacated. “Thanks, my feet are killing me.”

Emma resisted the urge to point out that she might be in less pain if she wore more sensible shoes. She took in Ruby’s striking face, envious of the other woman’s perfect winged eyeliner. “I was a waitress once. It’s hard work. Have you worked here a long time?”

“As long as I can remember,” Ruby said. “I don’t really know how to do anything else.”

The door to the diner opened and Emma glanced up. A man with dark brown hair and a short beard similar to Graham’s approached the register. Ruby looked over too and when she saw the man, got to her feet. “Hang on, I’ve gotta go get his to-go order.”

Emma watched as Ruby grabbed a paper bag from the kitchen pass-through and brought it over, batting her eyelashes and giving the newcomer her best smile as she rung up his food. Emma could appreciate why Ruby was flirting — this guy was a fine specimen of the male half of the species. He wore a tight long-sleeved black t-shirt, and Emma couldn’t help but admire the way it stretched across his shoulders and decently-muscled upper arms. He pulled a wallet out of the back pocket of his worn jeans, handing over cash and taking the bag with little more than a word or two for Ruby. As quickly as he had appeared, he was gone.

Ruby rejoined Emma at the booth. “Who was that?” Emma asked.

“Oh, you noticed Killian? Yeah, even in a town with a decent number of hotties, he’s noticeable.”

She had a point. Not that Emma was shopping for a man, but Storybrooke did seem to have more than its fair share of attractive people. Even Mr. Former Coma Patient, David Nolan, was handsome if you liked the Captain America type. Which Emma didn’t particularly, but she could see why Mary Margaret was mooning over him.

“Killian Jones,” Ruby continued. “He runs things down at the docks. Used to be a sailor himself, I think, but now he mainly inspects the boats and… I don’t know, whatever a harbormaster does.” She shrugged. “He mainly keeps to himself. Believe me, I’ve tried to hit that on multiple occasions, and he was not interested.” She cracked her gum. “His loss.”

Emma immediately formed a picture of Killian Jones in her head, based on Ruby’s limited information. The loner type, probably with some kind of dark secret that drove him to keep to himself. He probably drank too much — just the kind of guy she needed to stay far, far away from if her history was any guide.

Emma thought about the people she had met in Storybrooke so far, pushing Killian O’Hottie from her thoughts. “What’s the deal with Mr. Gold? How did he end up owning everything in town?” she asked.

Ruby blanched and began fiddling with the salt shaker. “I don’t know, he just does.”

“Are you afraid of him?” Emma thought of Ashley Boyd and her baby, and the way Mr. Gold had seemed willing to sell the baby like it was property.

“I think everyone’s afraid of him. He’s… I don’t know.” She lowered her voice. “There’s something about him that feels… evil, you know?”

Emma heaved a sigh. She wasn’t going to get anything concrete going down that road. “You probably know most of the people in this town, working here.”

“Sure, I guess.” Ruby narrowed her eyes. “Are you pumping me for information about Storybrooke’s seedy underbelly in your capacity as the sheriff’s deputy?”

Emma raised her eyebrows in surprise. “You already heard that I’m working for the sheriff? I literally started a few hours ago.”

“News travels fast in Storybrooke, Emma.” Ruby stood up, ready to get back to work. “You’re gonna have your work cut out for you keeping up.”

Chapter Text

“No night shifts, my ass,” Emma grumbled, driving slowly down Main Street in the town’s single police cruiser. Not that she could have refused when her boss was volunteering at an animal shelter, but it was never a barrel of laughs to pull a double shift. She squeezed her eyes shut briefly, blinking away her exhaustion, and reached for her coffee cup.

The streets were damp with rain, the few streetlights reflected on the pavement in greens and reds. Emma signaled and turned the corner, her eyes darting from building to building as she watched for any suspicious activity, just as Graham had instructed her to do. Not that anything was going to happen. Nothing ever happened.

She waved to Mr. Clark as she drove past the pharmacy where he was locking up. He raised his hand in return, only to double over as a sneeze shook his body. “Sneezy,” she muttered to herself, remembering Henry’s theory of his dwarf alter ego.

Still, even with all the quirkiness of Storybrooke, even though the mayor hated her and was determined to make her life miserable, Emma mostly felt good being here. She felt like she was making a positive difference in Henry’s life, giving him some small fraction of what she owed him after bringing him into the world only to leave him to be adopted by someone like Regina Mills. It felt nice to have a friend like Mary Margaret and to have a job that was respectable, like she was finally getting her life together.

Without really being conscious of where she was driving, Emma ended up in front of Regina’s enormous house. Most of it was obscured by the tall hedges that ran the length of the front of the property, but Emma knew that what was beyond those hedges was a lavish home. Columns rose on either side of the front door, holding up a balcony that Scarlett O’Hara could stand on and not look out of place. Above the line of hedges, the stark black of decorative clapboard shutters stood out against the white paint of the house itself.

This was something she definitely could have never given Henry: a mansion to live in. He didn’t want for any material things, even if his mother was cold and withholding of her affection. Emma looked up at what she thought was his window, where he was no doubt fast asleep. Not for the first time, she wondered what he would have been like if she had raised him. Would he be happier, more well adjusted, even if he’d been poor? Or would he just have a whole different set of neuroses to deal with?

Movement caught Emma’s eye, and she shifted her focus to another one of Regina’s upstairs windows, just in time to see a dark figure emerge from the opening.

“What the hell?” Emma muttered. As she continued to watch, the shadowy figure made its way down the slanted roof below the window, before dropping silently to the ground below.

“You’re a pretty agile burglar, I’ll give you that,” she said as she got out of the car, gripping her nightstick tightly in her hand. Her thoughts turned to Henry, and she felt a shock of terror slide down her spine as she imagined what might have happened to him while she stupidly sat outside in her car. She felt a cold certainty, unlike any she’d ever experienced, that she was capable of anything to protect that little boy.

Standing behind the bushes that protected the view of the house from the street, Emma heard footsteps approaching down the driveway, and she readied her nightstick. As soon as the person cleared the row of hedges, she struck him hard in the abdomen, dropping him to the ground.

The man lay at her feet and groaned, and Emma took in his clothes and hair with dawning realization.

Graham?”

“Emma,” he gasped, struggling to his feet. “What are you doing here?”

“I was patrolling like you told me. I saw you sneaking out of Regina’s window, and I thought you were an intruder or something.” She glared at him as he struggled to stand erect. “But no, apparently it’s that in this town, volunteering at the animal shelter means fucking the mayor.”

“I wasn’t…”

“You weren’t what?” She folded her arms across her chest.

“Okay, I was, but you have to understand…” He gaped at her for a moment. “I do volunteer at the animal shelter.”

“This is the woman who wants to keep me from my son. Who’s been scheming to get me out of town since I got here, and you… gross.” She turned around and headed back to the car, then spun on her heel to face him again. “I saw you come out of that window, and I was terrified that someone had hurt Henry,” she said, her voice shaking.

“I’m sorry,” he said, looking stricken.

“Save it.”

~*~

Tilting her head back, Emma poured the shot of tequila down her throat. With a shudder, she brought her other hand, holding a lime wedge, to her mouth and bit down.

“So what did you say then?” Mary Margaret asked. They were sitting across from each other at the small table, the lights in the apartment low.

“I think I said, ‘save it.’ Or maybe it was ‘fuck you.’ I don’t remember.” Emma reached for the tequila bottle and poured out two more shots. Her chair rocked slightly on its uneven legs as she shifted forward.

“Graham and Regina. Huh.” Mary Margaret eyed her refilled shot glass but made no move to pick it up. “That’s a weird couple. Have you talked to him since?”

“No, I had the day off today since I worked a double shift yesterday. And I mean, I don’t care, he can do what he wants, but she’s his boss. Also, she’s made it her mission in life to make mine a living hell, so I can’t help but feel a little betrayed.”

“Are you sure that’s the only reason?”

“What are you talking about?” Emma said, licking the webbing between her thumb and pointer finger and picking up the salt shaker.

“I think you like Graham a little bit.”

“He’s my boss. I don’t fuck my boss; I learned that lesson years ago.” She took another shot: salt, tequila, lime. “But apparently Graham’s never heard that rule before.”

Mary Margaret reached for the salt shaker. “Okay, if you say so.”

“Besides, I think we’re focusing on the wrong person here. You’re the one who’s about to start a torrid affair with a guy who wants to leave his wife for you.”

Shuddering after her own shot of tequila, Mary Margaret grabbed for a lime wedge and bit it. “He’s not going to,” she said softly. “He changed his mind.”

“What?”

“David’s going to try to make things work with Kathryn.”

“Since when?”

“Since last night, when he asked me to meet him at the toll bridge, and then showed up only to say that he’d decided to try to patch things up with his wife.”

“Oh, Mary Margaret, I’m so sorry.” Emma refilled their shot glasses again. “Men are garbage.”

“I think you might be right about that.” She put her head in her hands. “Emma, I did something.”

“What?” Emma pulled one of Mary Margaret’s hands away. “Mary Margaret, what did you do?”

She winced. “I slept with Victor Whale.”

“He’s the doctor you had a bad date with, right?”

“Yeah. I ran into him after David rejected me, and… oh, Emma, why did I do that?” she moaned, covering her face again.

“Because you were feeling hurt, and being wanted by someone made you feel better. It’s okay, Mary Margaret, you’re an adult, you’re allowed to sleep with who you want. You shouldn’t feel bad about it.”

“Yeah, except he’s not really who I wanted to be sleeping with.” She picked up her shot glass and looked at it as if she was debating the wisdom of putting more alcohol in her body.

“I know.” Emma sighed.

“I’m a terrible person.”

“You’re really not. You opened up your heart, and it got stomped on.” Emma threw back another shot, not bothering with the salt or lime this time. “That’s why opening your heart up is a bad idea.”

Mary Margaret blinked, swaying a little bit in her seat. “Wow. That’s harsh.”

“Getting your heart broken is harsh. That’s why I’ve decided not to do it anymore.”

“So you’re never going to open yourself up to love ever again,” Mary Margaret said flatly. “Really.”

Emma put her head down on the table, then lifted it again quickly when it started to feel like the room was spinning. “I don’t know, it… doesn’t seem worth it.”

“You’ve built those walls sky high, haven’t you?” Mary Margaret said with a hiccup.

“What are you talking about?”

“The walls that you’ve built around your heart to protect yourself. I know you’ve had a lot of people let you down in your life, Emma: your parents, and the foster parents who abandoned you, Henry’s father… I understand why you’re so closed off, but you can’t close yourself off to the possibility of love.” She shook her head back and forth firmly. “I won’t allow it.”

Emma laughed, even though Mary Margaret’s words stung. “You won’t allow it?”

“Nope.” Mary Margaret reached out and took her hand. “You deserve love in your life and so do I. Don’t ever forget that.”

~*~

Emma blinked in the bright sunlight that refracted through the police cruiser’s windshield. In an effort to avoid Graham, she’d offered to do an early morning patrol despite the hangover that was pushing against the backs of her eyes. Now, lacking any sunglasses to protect from the harsh glare, she was regretting her decision.

She drove a circuit that led past the docks, and on a whim, she stopped the car. She’d never actually been down to the harbor before, which it occurred to her was a little bit ridiculous. Getting out of the car and slamming the door, she walked down to the edge of the water and looked out at the horizon for a moment, shading her eyes.

There were a handful of boats docked in their moorings, most of them fishing boats, or so it appeared to her admittedly untrained eye. Which made sense, given the large cannery building that dominated this end of the town. She wondered how many Storybrooke residents were out on the water right now in other crafts, bringing up nets of fresh fish from the ocean.

Emma’s stomach rolled over. Probably not the best idea to think about fish while hungover, she chided herself.

As she took a few more steps down the dock, Emma managed to trip over her own feet, stumbling a little bit before righting herself.

“Careful, lass, I’d rather not have to dive into the water and save you if I don’t have to.”

Emma looked over in the direction of the voice. Killian Jones was approaching her, and she felt herself flush at her clumsiness.

“Pretty sure I could save myself, thanks,” she said.

His eyes raked down her body, taking in the badge at her belt. “You’re the new sheriff’s deputy?”

She held out her hand for him to shake. “Emma Swan.”

“Killian Jones,” he responded, grasping her hand in his. His handshake was firm, his hand warm. Emma took in his face, realizing with a sinking feeling that he was even more handsome up close than she’d thought when she glimpsed him at Granny’s. His eyes were very possibly the bluest she’d ever seen, all the more striking under his thick, dark eyebrows and long eyelashes. He wore another black t-shirt, this time with a leather jacket over top of it. Emma did her best to avert her eyes from the chest hairs she could see peeking out from the v-neck of his shirt and met his gaze. “What brings you down to my neck of the woods?” Killian asked.

Emma snorted. “This is about the only part of this town that isn’t woods. I’m doing a routine patrol, thought I’d explore the docks; I hadn’t had a chance to come down here since I moved to Storybrooke. You’re the harbormaster, right?”

He smirked. “Ah, so you’ve heard of me?”

“Just that you’re the harbormaster,” she hedged. “It’s a small town; seems like everyone knows everyone around here.”

“I should probably confess that I’ve heard of you as well,” he said.

“Anyone who reads the Storybrooke Mirror has heard of me, thanks to Sidney Glass,” she responded. The tabloid journalist, who seemed to be in the back pocket of the mayor, had published some of the sordid details of Emma’s past in the paper.

“That paper is good for little more than wrapping fish.”

Emma shrugged his reassurance off. “It was just Mayor Mills trying to shame me into leaving town.”

“Well, I’m happy to see that she failed.” He flashed her a flirtatious smile. It struck her that he was being a lot more sociable than Ruby had indicated he was capable of.

“So tell me, what does a harbormaster do all day?”

Killian glanced out over the water. “Not enough to keep me all that busy. Inspect the boats, log their passage plan, collect docking fees. Stay near the radio in case there’s trouble,” he said with a head tilt back at the small, squat building behind him that he must have emerged from.

“You aren’t near the radio now,” Emma pointed out.

“There’s never any trouble.” Killian waggled his eyebrows at her, making her laugh in spite of herself. Breaking eye contact, Emma caught sight of his left hand, hanging loosely at his side. Or rather, at the hard plastic prosthetic that he had in place of a hand.

Killian immediately noticed the line of her gaze. “Yes, I’m lacking an appendage,” he said, lifting the false hand briefly. “But I assure you the rest of them are all in perfect working order.”

Emma rolled her eyes at his innuendo even as she flushed, embarrassed that she’d been caught staring. “I dated a guy once who lost a leg in Afghanistan; it’s no big deal,” she said, and then cringed. Apparently, if anyone between the two of them was conversationally challenged, it was her. “Have you lived in Maine long?” she asked in a desperate attempt to change the subject. “Judging by the English accent, I’m guessing you’re not from around here.”

He shrugged, staring out over the water. “I’ve lived here long enough.”

Emma frowned at his vague answer. “Okay, then.” She cleared her throat. “I guess I should head back to the station.”

“It was lovely to meet you, Emma Swan,” Killian said, taking her hand and kissing the top of it like he was out of some Jane Austen novel, leather jacket notwithstanding. Emma studiously ignored the little charge she felt at the dry press of his lips to her hand, but that charge was immediately replaced with confusion as Killian jerked back from her, stumbling a little in his haste.

“Killian? What’s wrong?”

He opened his mouth and no sound came out of it. Shaking his head as if to banish a vision before his eyes, he finally spoke. “I apologize. I… I’m not sure what came over me. I saw…” He shook his head again and almost seemed to sway as if he had a sudden case of vertigo.

“Woah, let’s get away from the water before I have to save you,” she said, grabbing his hand and pulling him back from the edge of the dock. “You should sit down.”

“I’m fine,” Killian said, pulling his hand out of hers and backing away. “It was a momentary episode, I assure you. If you’ll excuse my rudeness, I must return to work.” Before Emma could say anything more, Killian beat a hasty retreat.

“God damn this town,” she muttered, returning to the squad car.

The rest of her patrol proceeding without incident, Emma returned to the station reluctantly. She sat down at her desk, trying not to draw the attention of Graham, who was closeted in his office, but no such luck. As soon as he noticed her, he jumped up from his desk and came out into the main part of the station.

“We need to talk,” he said.

“I really don’t think so.”

“Emma, I just want to explain—”

She stood up from her desk. “Look, we’re all adults, and who you’re in a relationship with is your business, twisted as it might be. But I can’t help but think that you kept it a secret from me on purpose because you know it’s shitty, hiring me while you were screwing the woman who has made me her personal nemesis since I came to this town.”

“I should have told you before you accepted the job,” Graham said.

“Yeah, you probably should have.” She crossed her arms. “And it’s none of my business, but sleeping with your boss never ends well.”

“I know, I …” He approached her, looking agitated. “I can’t feel anything.” His voice was barely above a whisper. “I’m trying to feel something.”

She smirked. “Yeah, I get being closed off, I really do. But I can’t imagine being with Regina is the answer. Although like I said, not my business.”

Graham gripped her arm, almost hard enough to hurt. “You don’t understand. I can’t. Feel. Anything.”

Up close like this, Emma could see small beads of sweat on his face. He looked pale. Impulsively, she reached out and touched his forehead. “Shit, Graham, you’re burning up.”

He jerked back away from her. It was so like the way Killian had reacted when he kissed her hand that it felt almost like deja vu.

“Graham? What’s wrong?”

“Did you see that?”

“See what?” Emma took a tentative step toward him.

“A wolf.”

She almost laughed. “A wolf? Indoors?”

“I’ve gotta go,” he muttered. “Keep an eye on the station.” Grabbing his jacket off a hook, Graham ran out of the building.

“Graham!” she called, trying to decide whether to chase after him in spite of his instructions. Uncertain, Emma sat back down at her desk, her eyes trained nervously on the door.

~*~

The trees towered overhead, spires rising to a point of focus far, far above in the open sky. The sun was setting, twilight stealing over the forest like a blanket. Animals crept quietly through the undergrowth, prey avoiding the predators that sought them. There was a loamy scent, a smell of earth and decaying leaves, that filled his nostrils. It might have felt intimidating to some, the dark of the wood, the call of the wild, but it settled Graham. Made him feel a little less like insects were crawling around underneath his skin.

My prey is beloved by all the kingdom. I need someone who won’t be blinded by that. Someone without compassion, someone who’ll have no qualms carving a heart out and bringing it back for my collection.

Somewhere, a wolf howled. Graham felt a pull in his gut, a seeking of his true home. He wanted to howl too. A shiver ran through him, reminding him that he was tired and heartsick. (No heart to be sick. No heart at all.) He dragged his forearm across his face to wipe away the sweat. Under his jacket, his shirt clung uncomfortably to his back.

There’s one thing that I ask that you do after you kill me. Please deliver this to the Queen.

He could smell something else now. Blood. Death. Blood that should have made him hungry (not him, the wolf, should have made the wolf hungry) but instead it turned his stomach. Something was wrong. He smelled blood, and something was very, very wrong.

Graham ran.

As he came into the small clearing, strangely, the first thing his eyes settled on was the shovel. The dirt-covered metal didn’t belong here in the dark of the wood. He stared at the curve of the blade, knowing what was at the edge of his vision, knowing and not wanting to look, not wanting to see.

This isn’t her heart! This isn’t a human heart! What did you do?

There was so much blood. Holes in the suit, holes in the body (the heart), and so much blood. Graham fell to his knees and bent over, the palms of his hands connecting with the blood-soaked soil, his eyes looking into the lifeless eyes of Mr. Gold.

Chapter Text

The phone on Emma’s desk rang, the jangly sound of an actual bell inside the workings of the ancient telephone. She jumped, then picked up the receiver.

“Sheriff’s station.”

“Emma, it’s Graham. I’ve found… I need your help.” She could hear his breaths panting down the phone line.

“Are you hurt? Where are you, are you sick?” she asked, the hairs on the back of her neck standing up. She should never have let him go, Emma thought. She should have followed him.

“Not me, I… There’s been a murder. We need to…” He cleared his throat, and when he spoke again, he sounded calmer, more professional. “I’ve found a body in the woods. About a quarter mile west of trail marker 47. Bring a trail map so that you can locate me. Also, there should be some evidence kits in the storage room, do you remember I showed you? Pack up some evidence kits and get down here as soon as you can. Also flashlights; it will be dark soon.”

“Okay, got it.” Hanging up, Emma jerked up out of her chair, out of the comforting pool of light from her desk lamp, and made for the storage closet. Maybe it was a bear attack or something, she thought, and not a murder. Graham himself had laughed at the idea of a murder happening in Storybrooke. He’d found the very idea hilarious.

In mere minutes, she was behind the wheel of the squad car. Flipping on the lights and the siren for the first time since Graham had shown her where the switches were, she peeled out of the parking space.

By the time she parked along the side of the road at the closest hiking trail crossing to marker 47, the remaining daylight was gone and a damp, foggy chill had settled in the air. Shouldering the bag of evidence kits and clicking on her flashlight, Emma set off down the trail. At marker 47, she stopped and pulled her phone out, opening the compass app. “West,” she muttered, setting off in the right direction once she had confirmed what the right direction was.

She was so focused on the compass and not tripping over any fallen tree limbs, she almost collided with Graham where he was standing and waiting for her. His hands reached out and gripped her arms to steady them both.

“Over here,” he said, pointing. Emma stopped and reached into the bag, producing the other flashlight to give to him.

They made their way carefully forward. “Emma, have you seen a dead body before?” Graham asked.

She thought back to the days when she’d been living rough, on the run for jumping bail on a couple of minor thefts. She thought of Cleo. “Yeah, I’ve seen a dead body.”

“Just to warn you, the scene is bad.” He glanced back at her. “I’ve called the coroner, but we should have enough time to investigate before they get here to pick up the body.”

Heart racing, Emma continued to follow him. She didn’t know the first thing about a proper crime scene investigation; she hoped Graham did.

“Before you touch anything, put on gloves,” Graham said.

Emma rolled her eyes. Well, she knew that much. Dropping her bag on the ground, she stepped forward.

The first thing she saw were men’s dress shoes, the toes pointed up to the air. She walked closer, moving the flashlight up the body; when she got to the torso, her gorge rose and she had to swallow, breathing sharply through her nose. It was hard to tell because the suit was dark, but the entire front of the man’s suit appeared to be soaked with blood. Underneath the shredded fabric, she caught a glimpse what she feared were partially exposed organs. Averting her eyes from that sight, she jerked her flashlight up to the face.

“Holy shit, this is Mr. Gold.”

“Yeah,” Graham agreed.

“Could an animal have done this?”

Graham had put on gloves from the bag she’d brought, and he knelt down and carefully moved Mr. Gold’s tie aside before undoing a few of his shirt buttons. “These look like stab wounds to me. Definitely not claw or teeth marks.”

Her mouth seemed suddenly full of saliva, and she swallowed again. “Is there a weapon?”

“Not that I’ve found.” He gestured to the side. “There’s a shovel, but it didn’t do this.”

Emma went over and looked at the shovel where it lay next to a shallow hole. “Did you check to see if something was buried here?”

Graham shook his head. “The ground below seems to be undisturbed. Like Gold was in the process of digging the hole when he was killed, not that he was filling one in.”

“Or maybe the killer was digging the hole?” she asked.

“Perhaps.”

Emma pulled out her phone and snapped a picture of the shovel and the hole. “Should I take pictures of the body?”

“Be my guest.”

Trying her best for professional detachment, Emma took a series of photos of Mr. Gold’s corpse. “Did you find anything else?” she asked Graham.

He circled the small clearing, examining the ground. “Before I lost the light, I could tell that two people came from that direction,” he said, pointing.

“Wow, you’re quite the tracker.”

He flinched. “I couldn’t make out any clear footprints, though. The earth is too dry.” Graham began to work, wrapping one of the evidence bags around the blade of the shovel and another around the handle, despite dismissing it as a possible murder weapon. Emma looked around, at a loss for how she could help. There didn’t seem to be any other evidence, and short of pulling plants out of the ground and putting them in evidence bags, all she could do was stand there and continue to avert her eyes from the body.

“Are you feeling any better?” she asked Graham. “I really think you’re coming down with something.”

“I’ll be fine,” he grunted, but he still looked pale to her.

She heard a crashing through the underbrush, making her jump and swing her flashlight around toward the sound.

Two paramedics approached, carrying a stretcher with a black body bag slung over it. And with them—

“Regina,” Emma said.

“I expect to be notified when a dead body is found in the woods, Sheriff,” she said, addressing Graham and ignoring Emma completely. Regina wore an immaculate cream-colored suit and heels, looking completely incongruous as she stood there in the woods with her hands on her hips. “Why do I have to hear about it from Doctor Whale?”

“I was planning to let you know first thing in the morning,” Graham said, stepping forward and blocking her view of the body.

“That’s not good enough. Who is it?” Regina made to walk around Graham, and he stopped her with a hand on your shoulder.

“It’s quite gruesome, Madam Mayor,” he said, but she pushed him aside and marched over to where the paramedics were going through the motions of looking for life signs from the corpse.

It was Regina’s silence when she saw Gold that told the tale of how shocked she was, rather than any kind of exclamation she might have made. She was still as a stone, staring down at him, and when she spoke, her voice was like ground-up glass.

“Who did this?”

“We don’t know,” Graham answered. “But rest assured—”

“I don’t want your assurances!” Regina said, turning on a dime to white-hot anger. “Do you have any idea…?” She stopped herself and exhaled. “We have to find who did this immediately.”

“We will,” Emma said, trying to sound confident. She didn’t know if the source of Regina’s emotion was due to the loss of control of her town or some feeling she had toward Gold, but whatever it was, it was laced with something Emma had never seen from Regina before: fear.

Finally and mercifully, the paramedics began the process of putting the corpse inside the body bag and zipping it closed.

“The dag— the murder weapon, did you find it?”

“It wasn’t left at the crime scene,” Graham said, “but once Doctor Whale has examined the entry wounds, we should have a better idea of what we’re looking for.”

Regina opened her mouth, only to snap it closed again.

“You knew Mr. Gold pretty well, Regina,” Emma said. “Did he have any enemies?”

Regina laughed darkly. “Who in this town wasn’t his enemy?” She started to pace but stopped short after only two steps. “Killian Jones.”

“The harbormaster?” Emma asked.

“He hated Gold more than most,” Regina said.

The paramedics had the body strapped to the stretcher and started making their way back toward the hiking trail. With nothing left that they could do in the woods, Graham, Emma, and Regina followed.

“I’ve never heard of any bad blood between Gold and Jones,” Graham said.

“It was a long time ago, but it still festered,” Regina said. “Bring Killian in and question him. Search his apartment, search his office, search every boat in the harbor. Believe me, Killian Jones should be your number one suspect.”

~*~

“What can you tell me about Gold’s death?” Sidney asked in a rush, jumping in front of Emma as she tried to make her way through the crowd at Granny’s and get an infusion of caffeine. It was her second night in a row working late, and it was taking its toll. All she wanted was a simple coffee, but with the chaos currently swirling in the diner, there wasn’t going to be anything simple about it. She stared at the lapels of Sidney’s immaculate suit, feeling slightly nauseated by the overwhelming scent of his cologne.

“If you think I’m going to talk to you after—”

“Come on, Deputy Swan, this is the biggest story to ever hit this one-horse town. You have to give me something. What was the state of the body? Do you have any suspects?” Sidney tried to give her a disarming smile. With a glance, Emma could tell that he wasn’t the only one in the crowded diner waiting for her to speak.

“Sheriff Humbert gave his official statement earlier, and that’s all we’re going to say about it during an open investigation.” She pushed her way toward the counter, as the patrons around her grumbled and reluctantly moved aside.

“The question I have is, who’s going to inherit all of his property?” Granny said, both to her and to anyone standing within earshot.

“Did he have any family?” Emma asked.

“There were rumors of an estranged son, but no one in town’s ever met him, far as I know.”

“Well, someone that rich must’ve had a lawyer. Maybe more than one. I’m sure they’ll sort it out. That part of it’s not really my job,” Emma said.

“It’s your job if somebody killed him to inherit his money,” Ruby pointed out, tapping on the counter with a long, red fingernail.

She had a point. There was so little Emma knew about Gold that it was hard to know where to begin. She had hoped Graham would have some ideas of how to investigate this killing, but he’d been holed up in his office for most of the day.

Returning to the station, she eyed him through the glass wall that separated his office from the rest of the room. Taking a deep breath, she approached.

“Did you hear from Dr. Whale?”

Graham was staring into space and didn’t answer her.

“Graham?” Still no response. “Graham!

Finally, he looked up. The only word she could call up to describe his facial expression was haunted. “What is it, Emma?”

“I asked if you heard from Dr. Whale about the medical examination of Gold.”

“Oh, yeah.” He picked up a report from his desk, almost as if he’d forgotten about it. “Cause of death, puncture of the right ventricle of the heart. Other stab wounds to the chest and abdomen, fourteen in all. Wounds are consistent with a short sword or dagger of at least a twelve inches in length. Markings on three ribs consistent with a curved or irregularly-shaped blade.”

“Wow, okay, that’s useful. Although, sword? Really?”

Graham shrugged.

She huffed in frustration. “Graham, I know you’re… I don’t know, going through some stuff and maybe aren’t feeling a hundred percent. But isn’t this kind of a big deal? Don’t we need to be out… investigating?”

He scrubbed his hands over his face, and then stood up and brushed past her, continuing through the station and out the door. Emma chased after him. She found him standing on the sidewalk outside, looking around in confusion at the darkened street.

“Graham?” Emma said, approaching him slowly.

“It’s my heart. I need to find it,” he muttered.

“What? Wait, is this another way of saying you can’t feel anything?”

“If I follow the wolf, I’ll find my heart,” he said, turning to face her. His eyes were fever-bright, she noticed now that she was close to him. She wondered if he would heed her if she insisted he go home and rest.

“Okay, you’ve lost me,” she said in as calm a voice as she could muster. “What does the wolf represent?”

He shook his head in frustration, his hand reaching out to grip her arm. “If I follow the wolf from my dreams, it will help me find my heart. I saw it in Henry’s book.”

“You’ve been talking to Henry about this?” She replayed what he had just said in her mind. “Hang on. Graham, you really think you don’t have a heart?”

“It’s the only thing that makes any sense. It’s the only thing that explains why I don’t feel anything.”

“Listen to me, Graham: you have a heart. If you didn’t, you’d be… you know. Dead.”

He shook his head as she spoke. “I don’t, she took it. She’s keeping it somewhere and I have to find it.”

“Look, I can prove it to you.” Emma reached for his hand, and as she took it she could feel him trembling. Bringing their joined hands together to his chest, she pressed his hand down, her splayed fingers fitting between his. There it was, the rhythmic thump-thump of his heart. Other than his pulse being quick, his heartbeat seemed normal to her untrained senses. They stood close, knees almost touching, and Emma looked into his eyes. “Feel that? It’s your heart.”

“It’s a trick.”

“Graham, let me take you to the hospital; you’re not well.”

A white flash of movement in the dark street caught Emma’s eye, and she turned to look. Staring back at her, at them, was a large white wolf.

“What the fuck.”

Graham’s gaze followed hers. “There it is, I’ve seen it before. I saw it in the woods last night.”

“When you found Gold?”

“Come on,” he said as the wolf loped away. Graham chased after it, and there was nothing for Emma to do but chase after Graham.

“He better not lead us into the woods,” she muttered, glancing down at her boots. “I’m not exactly prepared for long-distance running.”

Pushing aside the thought that she was currently chasing an animal like this was some kind of Harry Potter story, she focused on what Graham had said about seeing the wolf in the woods the night before. She’d wondered how Graham had come across Gold’s body in the first place; now it seemed he’d come across it following a wolf. She wondered why he hadn’t mentioned it last night when she’d suggested an animal attack, not that wolves were in the habit of using twelve-inch blades.

The wolf led them across the grass of the cemetery, its green color fading as fall was beginning to turn into winter. The animal stopped in front of a stone crypt and sat on its haunches.

“This is Regina’s,” Graham said, still approaching.

“Graham, be careful.”

“The wolf won’t hurt us.” He looked up, seeming to focus on the symbol over the door. Was it tree branches? No, she thought, squinting at it. It was deer antlers.

“Why are we here?” Emma asked.

“Because of my heart. It’s in there,” he said, gesturing toward the crypt.

“Graham,” she said helplessly. How do you convince someone that their heart hasn’t been stolen from their chest? He was already pulling uselessly at the door to the crypt. “Okay, you know what? Let’s find out.” Maybe if she could show him there was nothing here, then he would let her take him to the hospital. Positioning herself at his side, she gave the door a sharp kick, forcing it open.

The inside of the mausoleum was small, dominated by a sarcophagus in the center. There really wasn’t much to the space: some recesses in the walls, one containing an urn but the rest with nothing in them. Emma turned on a flashlight as Graham fumbled around, getting more and more frantic.

“There has to be something here. A hidden door. Something.”

“Graham, there isn’t. It’s just what it looks like.”

“So, first you try to take my son,” came a steely voice behind them, and Emma whirled around to face Regina in the doorway, “and then you try to take my lover, and then you defile my father’s grave?”

“Take your who now?” Emma blurted. This hardly seemed the time or place to explain that she and Graham weren't like that, but it was tempting to do so.

“Don’t blame Emma, it was my idea. It’s my fault we’re in here looking,” Graham said.

“And what, pray tell, are you looking for?” Regina asked. Her red lips were a violent slash across her face in the dim light.

Graham seemed to shrink under her gaze. “Nothing.”

“Graham, you look unwell,” Regina said, taking his arm and steering him out of the mausoleum. “Let’s get you in bed so you can rest.” Emma followed, unsure of what to do.

Graham pulled away from Regina, taking two stumbling steps backward. “I’m not going with you.”

“Oh, but you’ll go with Miss Swan?” Regina said viciously, gesturing at Emma.

“Nuh-uh,” Emma said, her hands up. “Don’t bring me into this.”

“It has nothing to do with her.” He pulled himself taller, looking down at Regina calmly. “I thought the reason I couldn’t feel anything was because of me, but it’s you, Regina.”

Regina shook her head, her eyes narrowing. “And so you’re leaving me for her?”

“I’m leaving you for me. It’s over between us.”

“I don’t know what I ever did to you to deserve this,” Regina said, stalking toward Emma. “To have you keep coming after everything I hold dear.”

“I told you, Regina, it’s not her.” Graham sounded more lucid than he had all day, Emma couldn’t help but notice.

“None of this started happening until she got here,” Regina shouted, her hair whipping against her cheek as she jerked her head around from Emma to Graham. “Can you honestly tell me she’s not to blame for your sudden change of heart?”

Emma had had enough. “Regina, did you ever stop to think that maybe the problem isn’t with me, but with you? Henry came and found me. Graham asked for help from me. Both were miserable. Maybe, Madam Mayor, you need to take a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourself why that is. Why is everyone trying to get away from you?”

Regina’s eyes flashed with rage. “Both of you need to get out of my sight.”

“Gladly,” Emma said, backing away. “Come on, Graham.” With one last look at Regina, he joined Emma and they walked out of the cemetery together.

They walked in silence for awhile until Graham broke the silence. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me. I kind of lost my mind.”

“It’s okay. You were sick and stressed out… And kind of heartbroken.”

“I don’t know why I let myself get mixed up with her,” he said.

“Because it was easy. Not feeling anything’s an attractive option when what you feel sucks.” She crossed her arms over her chest, shivering against the chilly, damp air.

“I guess,” he said. “Still, it feels a little bit like I’m waking up from a nightmare, and none of the things I did in the nightmare make sense now that I’m awake.”

Emma chuckled softly. “I’ve been there.” She reached out and tentatively patted his upper arm, the sleeve of his leather jacket smooth under her hand. “You’re gonna be okay, though. You believe that, right?”

He shook his head. “I honestly don’t know.” They came to the sidewalk and started back toward the sheriff’s station.

“There’s one thing I don’t understand, though,” Emma said.

“Hmm?”

“What the hell was up with that wolf?”

Graham shook his head. “I still have all these memories in my head, or what feel like memories. I have dreams that seem so real when I wake up. Dreams of this world where I’ve…” He stopped and turned to face her. “Dreams where Regina is a queen, and where she orders me to murder…” He frowned, his brow wrinkling. “I think it’s Mary Margaret, Regina wants me to cut out her heart…” His breaths have started to come quick and shallow, beads of sweat breaking out on his brow.

“Okay, calm down, let’s not go down this road again, not until you’ve had some rest—”

Graham gasped, his hand going to his chest.

“Graham? What’s wrong?”

He fell; Emma had never seen a human being topple over like a dead tree, but that’s what Graham’s body did. She made a grab for him, trying to slow his fall, but his head hit the pavement hard.

Graham!” She dropped to his side, her fingers going to the pulse point of his neck, but she was too cold and scared to tell why she wasn’t feeling anything. “Graham, please wake up. Please.” Fumbling for the phone in her pocket, Emma pulled it out and dialed 911.

Chapter Text

She hadn’t had anything to wear to a funeral.

Mary Margaret had only had one black dress in her closet (she wasn’t really the type to wear black), so Emma had gone to one of Storybrooke’s clothing shops and bought the only vaguely appropriate things she could find on such short notice: an itchy blouse which she kind of loathed, and a black blazer that didn’t really even fit her, that she had to cuff the sleeves of so that they didn’t engulf her hands.

After Graham’s burial, she and Mary Margaret returned to the apartment, collapsing onto the sofa.

“This sucks.”

“Yeah,” Mary Margaret agreed, taking her hand. They sat in silence together.

“Did I tell you what Dr. Whale said about his heart?”

“That he had a congenital heart condition? Yeah, you told me.”

Emma turned to face Mary Margaret. “That must be why he had that weird idea that his heart had been taken out of his chest, right? He must have been feeling that something was wrong with his heart. Why didn’t I insist he go to the hospital? Maybe they could have caught it and saved him—”

“You did the best you could, Emma; no one could have done any better. When someone is in denial that they’re sick, there’s not much you can do.” Mary Margaret gave Emma’s hand a comforting squeeze.

“Do you know the first thing I thought while I waited for the ambulance that night?” Emma said. “I thought that somehow Regina was responsible. He’d been so convinced for a moment that Regina had stolen his heart; like literally stolen it, and then they had this big fight and he dumped her, and that whole night was so weird that I started to have this paranoid fantasy that somehow Regina had killed him.”

“But she didn’t, Emma. He was just unwell.”

“I know.”

“Although… I mean, I know you can’t talk about the investigation of Mr. Gold’s death, but do you think Regina…”

Emma grimaced. “I thought of that. Not that I had any reason to think she killed him, other than that she’s an evil witch. But Henry was with her that night; there’s no way she could have been out murdering someone in the woods without him knowing. Besides, I don’t think she would have had the strength for that kind of stabbing. It was… vicious.”

“And Graham? I mean, if he wasn’t in his right mind, if he was under Regina’s thrall somehow…”

“You’re suggesting Graham killed Gold?” Emma let go of Mary Margaret’s hand and shifted on the sofa, sitting forward. “What possible reason would he have—”

“None, of course, but he found the body, and if he was mentally unstable like you described—”

Emma shook her head. “He was sick, and it was making him confused. That’s a long way from murdering someone. Besides, whoever did kill Gold would have gotten blood on their clothes, and I think I would have noticed if Graham had been covered in blood when I met him that night at the crime scene.”

“True.” Mary Margaret gave her a sheepish grin. “Sorry, I shouldn’t be trying to be an armchair detective.”

“Please, I need all the help I can get. I took this job to help Graham hand out parking tickets and, I don’t know, deal with Leroy for being drunk and disorderly. Instead, I get a murder investigation? I don’t know the first thing about investigating a murder. I’m this close to googling ‘how to investigate a murder’.”

Mary Margaret patted her arm. “You’re clever, so I’m sure you’ll figure something out. In the meantime, you should at least take it easy the rest of today.”

“No, I can’t, I’ve gotta do something, I can’t just sit around. All I do is think about the way he collapsed in front of me.” She stood up, squeezing her eyes shut, trying to block out the sickening crack of Graham’s head connecting with the sidewalk. “It gonna be such a huge job now; I can see why Graham wanted to hire a deputy.”

“You could hire your own deputy.”

Emma rubbed her eyes, exhaustion pressing behind them. “Yeah, I might do that if I can figure out who I can trust in this town.” She glanced at her roommate. “Do you want to be a sheriff’s deputy?”

Mary Margaret laughed. “I think I’ll pass. So what are you going to do?”

“I’m going to start interviewing people, establishing who had motive, who doesn’t have an alibi for the night that Gold was killed. And, much as I hate it, I guess I should start with Regina’s prime suspect.”

~*~

Killian sat across from her at the metal table in the interrogation room, looking around at the walls and at the big one-way mirror over her shoulder (not that anyone was on the other side — it was only her here now). Emma didn’t want to admit that this was the first time she’d been in this room as well. She leaned forward, her elbows on the table, hoping she looked more at ease than she felt.

“I’m sorry to have to call you in here, Mr. Jones. I’m doing all of these interviews in front of a camera,” she said, gesturing at the video camera she had set up, “for your protection as well as to keep a record of your answers.”

“Not sure why you’re choosing to interview me, but all right.”

She smiled tightly. “I’m working to establish who knew Gold, how they knew him, if they saw him the day he died, things like that.”

“I knew him,” he said, holding up his index finger, “I saw him monthly when he came by my office to pick up the docking fees I collect,” — he held up a second finger — “and I think I may have seen him coming out of his pawn shop a week or two ago.” Finger number three. “Can I go now?” He leaned back in a lackadaisical pose, but his eyes told a different story. He was nervous. But then again, who wouldn’t be nervous in his position, being interviewed by law enforcement about a murder?

“Can we back up a second?” She pointed at the video camera again. “Can you state your name and occupation for the record?”

He sat up and put his hands in his lap almost primly, which made Emma feel like he was making fun of her. “Killian Jones, harbormaster, Storybrooke, Maine.”

“Thanks. Now you say you handed over the docking fees to Mr. Gold? Not to the mayor’s office?”

He shrugged. “Mr. Gold owned everything in this town, I’m sure you’ve been here long enough to learn that.”

“And that includes the harbor?”

“Aye, I suppose it does.”

That seemed odd to her, that a town’s harbor would be privately owned, but she let it go. “How would you describe your relationship with Mr. Gold?” Emma asked.

“I didn’t have a relationship with him. He showed up, I handed over a bag with money in it. We barely exchanged a half dozen words each time. That’s it.”

“There was never a time you didn’t have the money or had some dispute with him about the amount? Anything like that?”

“No.” He frowned at her. “Why would you ask that?”

“Word is that there was bad blood between the two of you. I’m trying to figure out why that was.”

“There wasn’t,” he said, his jaw clenching. “Why would anyone say there was? I’m telling you, I barely knew the guy.”

Emma watched him carefully. He seemed to be telling the truth but hiding something from her at the same time. Regina may have had her own reasons for pointing the finger at Killian, she knew that, but there was something that made Emma want to keep questioning him. She decided to change tactics.

“How did you lose your hand?” she asked, glancing down at his prosthesis where it now rested on the table.

“Sailing accident.”

“When?”

“A long time ago, lass. Long before I came to Maine.”

“And how long have you lived in Storybrooke?”

His eyes drifted up and over her shoulder like he was trying to look through the one-way mirror.

“Killian?”

He shook himself, wiping his hand over his face. “Yes?”

“How long have you lived in Storybrooke?”

“Several years.”

She was sick to death of the vague answers she got from people in this town. “How many years?”

“What does it matter?” His jaw clenched again.

“It matters if you don’t want to answer a simple question for some reason.” She huffed in frustration and decided to veer to another topic. “Do you ever walk in the woods? For a hike, maybe?”

“No.”

There, she thought. That was a lie. She could almost always tell when someone was lying if she was paying close attention, and that had definitely been a lie.

“So you weren’t in the woods last Tuesday night?”

“No.”

Another lie. “Where were you? Between, say, three p.m. and ten p.m. on Tuesday?”

“My office and then my apartment,” he answered. She could feel the jiggle of his knee bouncing under the table, and a fine sheen of sweat had appeared on his upper lip.

“Did anyone see you in your office?”

“Not really.”

“What about after that? What time did you go to your apartment?”

“I don’t know, exactly. Five o’clock or thereabouts.”

“Do you drive or walk from your office to your home?”

“It’s barely a quarter of a mile. I walk. I don’t own a car.”

“Did you see anyone on the walk?”

“No.”

“What about in your apartment building. Did you see any neighbors? Any friends stop by?”

“No.”

“Call anyone on the phone? Use your computer? Watch Netflix? Play a video game?”

He threw up his hand in frustration. “No, but why does it matter?”

“Because if you were logged into some kind of account like that, it would help establish your alibi.”

“Why do I need an alibi for the stabbing of a man I barely knew?”

Emma’s heartbeat accelerated, and she tried her best to school her expression into neutral territory. “How did you know it was a stabbing?”

“I read it in the paper,” he said, his fingers drumming on the table.

“We didn’t release that it was a stabbing, Mr. Jones.”

“Well, I heard it somewhere! I don’t know!” He was very agitated now, spots of color high on his cheeks, sweat on his forehead. Had Regina been right? Had she caught the killer already?

“Where did you hear it, then?” It was possible that the information had gotten out via Dr. Whale or one of the paramedics who had handled the body, but if so she should be able to trace it back to them.

“I don’t remember!” Killian shouted. He seemed to fold in on himself, his face getting suddenly pale. “Saw the Crocodile. Know him anywhere,” he muttered.

“The what?” First wolves, now crocodiles?

“A man unwilling to fight for what he wants deserves what he gets.” His eyes were unfocused, almost like he had forgotten she was sitting in front of him. It reminded her eerily of the way Graham had behaved when he was convinced his heart was missing.

“Mr. Jones,” she said in a loud, clear voice. His eyes seemed to swim back to her from a long way away. “I’m going to let you in on a little secret,” she murmured, softening her tone. “I’m pretty good at knowing when someone is lying to me. Now, I’m asking again. Were you in the woods on Tuesday?”

“Yes,” he whispered.

“Why?”

“I went for a walk, like you said. And I saw…”

She waited several seconds before prodding him. “Saw what?”

“I saw the Crocodile.”

“What’s the crocodile?”

He shook his head as if to clear it. “I saw Mr. Gold. He was already dead. I swear to you, I didn’t harm him.”

Emma studied him. That appeared to be the truth. “Why didn’t you call the police?”

“I don’t know. I wasn’t feeling well, and I ran. And later I thought… Honestly, I thought I imagined it.”

“Do you know what time it was when you saw Gold?”

He shook his head. “Maybe around four o’clock? I don’t know for sure.”

“So you were out for a walk in all of those miles and miles of woods, and you happened to come across a dead body that was a half mile off the hiking trail?” Just as Graham had happened to come across it, chasing after some wolf. How busy were those woods that day?

“I guess so,” he answered. “Miss Swan, I swear it, I didn’t kill anyone. Why would I?”

Emma narrowed her eyes. Again, he seemed to be telling the truth, but the circumstances were certainly suspicious. “I’m going to need to search your office and your apartment. If you’re really innocent, then you won’t have anything to hide, right?”

Nothing in his demeanor indicated any fear at that prospect. Still, she wanted to do it now, before he had a chance to get rid of any evidence. “I assume you walked here to the station?” she asked.

“Yes.”

She stood up from her chair. “Then you won’t mind riding with me. Come on.”

Leaving him for a moment in the main part of the station, she stopped by the supply closet to pick up the bag of evidence kits she’d tossed back in there the night of the murder. She scanned the shelves again. The other thing she’d learned (because as it turned out, googling ‘how to investigate a murder’ had been really pretty useful) was that luminol would have come in handy for looking for blood traces, even blood that had been pretty thoroughly cleaned up, but the sheriff’s department of Storybrooke didn’t seem to have any. She’d ordered some, but fat lot of good that did her now.

The car ride over to the harbor was quiet. Killian unlocked the harbormaster’s office for her, gesturing and giving her a shallow bow to indicate she should precede him into the office.

His office was really just a small room that was part of a building where it looked like boats could be brought in and repaired. It was neat and organized, with a shelf full of logbooks behind a simple metal desk. The desk itself was dominated by a large radio which she assumed was used to communicate with ships out on the water. Other than that, the only other things she saw were a pen cup, a stapler, and a travel coffee mug.

“Where do you keep the money you were talking about?”

He thumbed through his key ring and unlocked a desk drawer, showing her the blue vinyl zipper bag. In it was a mixture of cash and checks, with the pink copies of some old fashioned carbon-copy receipts. She spied a receipt book on the shelf and pulled it down to see that it was filled with matching originals, filled out in what must have been Killian’s neat penmanship.

She looked around a little longer, but there was really nothing else to see. There were no personal items: no pictures, no cards, no nothing. It was a depressingly spartan place to spend time.

“Okay, let’s go on to your apartment, then.”

After another short, silent car ride, they got out at a small duplex building near the beach.

“Who lives on the other side?” she asked as he unlocked his door.

“Guy by the name of Billy; he works down at the auto repair place in town.” Once again, he politely ushered her through the door. “Good neighbor; he’s quiet as a mouse.”

“That’s lucky,” she said, looking around his small living space. Like the office, it was tidy and spare. He had a small kitchen that was open to the living area, and then a short hallway that presumably led to a bedroom and bathroom. From his main window, she could see the ocean. “Does it cost a lot to live down here by the beach?”

He shrugged. “It’s a little more, but the apartment is tiny so it balances out. I like being near the water; I find it calming.”

“Fan of boats, are you?” The only decoration in the room was a framed charcoal drawing of a tall sailing vessel, the sails unfurled and full as it was tossed about on a choppy sea.

“Ships,” he corrected. “And yes.”

She headed back toward the bedroom. Other than a discarded t-shirt on the floor, it too was clean. A few books were stacked on the bedside table, and the bed was neatly made. There was a laundry hamper half-filled with clothes, and she pulled a pair of nitrile gloves out of her bag and put them on before starting to sift through it. Killian watched her. “Was Gold your landlord?” she asked.

He nodded, looking uncomfortable. “Sure, like everyone else in town. Wasn’t he yours?”

Emma stopped, thinking about that. “I guess; I just moved in a couple of weeks ago. I give my share of the money to my roommate and she takes care of paying the rent. Did you ever have any kind of contact with him about the rent, or this apartment?”

Killian shook his head. “I rented it through the broker in town, and I mail my rent to a post office box. There have been a few maintenance issues, but I take care of them myself.”

Emma looked at each item of clothing, blushing faintly at the fact that she was rifling through a strange man’s underwear. She dropped each item on the floor as she examined it.

“May I ask why the fascination with my unmentionables?” Killian asked, a small smirk on his face.

“It’s not your… unmentionables in particular,” she said as she dropped a pair of dark blue boxer briefs. “I’m checking for blood on any of your clothes.”

“You think my master plan was to murder Gold, and then put the bloody evidence in my laundry hamper?”

“I don’t know; people have done stupider things.” She looked in each drawer, rifling the clothes, remembering the fact that Whale had written ‘short sword or dagger’ on the medical examiner’s report. Same story with the bathroom, the closet, the kitchen. She even checked the air vents and stomped around looking for a loose floorboard. No luck. If he’d hidden a sword somewhere, it wasn’t in his apartment.

“So, do I pass inspection?” he asked as her search wound down. “And more importantly, can I offer you a drink?” He held up a bottle of brown rum and a short glass, grinning at her in a way that she was sure most women found charming.

“I’m on duty,” she said with an eye roll, running her gloved hand along the back of the ship picture frame.

“After what happened to Sheriff Humbert, you must be working long hours. Surely you can knock off a little early today, having so thoroughly pumped me for information.” His tongue darted out and ran along his bottom lip.

“Gross,” she said, making another circuit of the apartment. “I don’t drink with murder suspects; it’s kind of a hard and fast rule of mine.”

“Surely I’m not still a suspect anymore; you’ve found nothing to implicate me.” He hooked his thumb in his belt, leaning back against the kitchen counter. Whatever had come over him during the interrogation, he seemed perfectly fine now.

She raised an eyebrow at him. Admittedly, the drink was tempting, as was the man. Which was exactly why she shouldn’t get anywhere near either. “Don’t get too cocky; I haven’t ruled you out.”

~*~

The Thanksgiving holiday intervened to take Emma’s mind off the murder case for a few days, leaving her free to fret over the fact that she was spending the holiday without Henry. She imagined him shut up inside that big house with no one but Regina for company for four days, imagined the two of them at either end of a giant table laden down with a huge Thanksgiving feast, eating silently. Emma at least had the boundless optimism and perfectly roasted turkey of Mary Margaret, and as she sat sipping from a glass of port and nibbling on a piece of store-bought pecan pie, she had to admit that this may have been her best Thanksgiving dinner ever.

On Monday she was finally able to see Henry again, resuming their semi-regular afternoon meetups at Granny’s after the end of his school day, before Regina expected him home.

“Did you have a good Thanksgiving?” she asked.

Henry shrugged. “It was okay. Mom let me stay up late and watch a movie, so that was cool.”

Emma felt a stab of jealousy in her gut. She wanted to be the one to let him stay up late, it occurred to her suddenly. She wanted to be able to sit with him and watch a movie. She wanted to be the one he meant when he said ‘mom.’

Henry was fiddling with the sugar dispenser, and he knocked it over, spilling sugar onto the table. Emma sighed, sweeping the sugar up and into her saucer.

“Sorry,” Henry said.

“No worries.”

The door to the diner rattled and she glanced up, seeing Killian Jones walking in. It was a bitterly cold day outside, but he only wore his simple leather jacket.

When he spotted her, his face lit up with a smile and he walked over to their booth. “Hello, Swan. Hello, Henry.”

Awfully friendly for someone I interrogated last week, she thought. And also—

“Wait,” she said. “You two know each other?”

Killian looked slightly sheepish. “Aye, I met Master Mills last summer. We don’t have an open library here in town, so with his mother’s— er, the mayor’s permission, I lent him some books.”

She did remember the set of bookshelves in his apartment that had been packed with books. She’d looked behind every one in her search for a murder weapon.

“Also, Killian taught me to tie some knots. He’s going to teach me to sail when I get bigger.”

“Is he now?” Emma looked back and forth between the two of them. “And Regina’s okay with this?”

Now it was Henry’s turn to look sheepish. “There’s no point in asking her until I have to,” he said.

“I would never take the lad out on the water without your and Mayor Mills’ permission, of course,” Killian hastened to add. “It’s just an idea I had since Henry seemed interested.”

Emma appreciated his inclusion of her in the decision-making process, but she really didn’t have any standing to offer permission as to whether Henry should take sailing lessons or not.

“Your order’s up, Killian,” Ruby called.

“Good afternoon to you both,” he said before leaving them to go pay at the register.

“What do you think of Killian?” Emma asked when he was out of earshot.

“Why, are you going to go out with him?” Henry asked.

“What? No!” She felt her cheeks flush. “He’s a little strange, that’s all.”

“I think he’s nice. He’s one of the few adults around here that talks to me like I’m a person.”

Emma turned around in her booth and watched him leave the diner.

“He’s Captain Hook, I think. I mean, he’s not in the storybook so I don’t know for sure, but that’s my best guess,” Henry said.

Emma swung back around and stared at him. “Killian is Captain Hook? Why, because of his hand?”

“Yeah.”

“He doesn’t have a hook, you know. Just a prosthetic hand,” she pointed out.

“Well, yeah, but that’s because of the curse.”

“Wouldn’t that make him the bad guy? You said he was nice.”

“I don’t know, I always thought Peter Pan was kind of creepy. Maybe the bad guy in Neverland isn’t who you think it is.”

~*~

“I can’t help but notice that Killian Jones is still walking around, free as a bird,” Regina announced as she marched into the sheriff’s station. The two of them hadn’t spoken since Graham’s death almost two weeks ago. Emma wondered if Regina had cared enough for him to even grieve.

Sighing, she put her pen down. “If you’re referring to the investigation into Gold’s death, I did question him. I also searched his office and his apartment. There was no evidence that he had anything to do with the murder, so of course, he was free to go at the end of it.”

Regina’s mouth pinched, highlighting a thin scar perpendicular to her severe lipstick line. “Not good enough.”

“He didn’t even seem to know Gold that well; he certainly didn’t have any kind of dark feud with him like you implied.”

“He’s lying,” Regina said through clenched teeth.

“I don’t think he is.” Emma thought about Killian’s initial lie that he’d been in the woods and seen the body, but she elected not to share that with Regina. That alone didn’t make him guilty. And when he flat out said he hadn’t killed Gold, she got no sense from him that that was untrue.

“You aren’t the sheriff, you know,” Regina said. “There will be a new election, and the townspeople get to select a new sheriff to succeed Graham. If you think that’s going to be you, an outsider with a criminal history, then you’re in for a rude awakening. Good day, Miss Swan.” With that, she stalked back out of the station.

Chapter Text

Regina Mills thought of makeup like armor.

She stood in front of her bathroom mirror, carefully drawing a black line across the edge of her eyelid, unflinching as the tip of the eyeliner pen traced from left to right. She repeated the process on the other eye.

Tonight was about power. The balance of power had undergone a seismic shift in Storybrooke the moment that Gold breathed his last, and Regina had spent too long hanging back and waiting for the new Dark One to show himself, to make a mistake. Waiting for someone else to take care of the problem for her, thinking that somehow the mundane law enforcement process of the Land Without Magic would deal with things without her having to lift a finger. Now was the time to stop waiting. Now was the time to go out and take the power while things were still in flux. Make it clear that she was the one who controlled this town now, curse or not.

She finished, as always, with lipstick: the most perfect red, the color of the apples that adorned the tree in her backyard. Pressing her lips together, she gave herself one more critical look in the mirror before she put her lipstick away and stepped out of the bathroom, armor in place.

Running her hands down the form-fitting black dress she wore, Regina walked down the hallway and cracked open the door to Henry’s room, letting a thin shaft of light fall across his sleeping face. His chest rose and fell as he dozed on, unaware of what Regina was about to let into their house. Slowly and carefully, she pulled the door closed.

She detoured by the wine rack, selecting a Cabernet before moving on into the kitchen. Pulling down two wine glasses from the cabinet, she set them down on the marble surface just as she heard a tapping on the front door. Smiling her best smile, Regina walked into the foyer and opened the door to greet her late evening visitor. “Killian, how are you?” She stepped back and beckoned him into the house.

“Confused as to why you summoned me here, Madam Mayor.”

“Please, it’s Regina.” She watched as he looked around the foyer of her mansion, taking in the high ceiling and the grand staircase. “And I summoned you here because I thought it was past time to get to know the man that my son speaks of so highly.” She walked back toward the kitchen, expecting that he would follow. He did. “Would you like some wine? I was just opening some.”

He shrugged. “Don’t go to any trouble.”

“It’s no trouble. I like to have a glass in the evening, but I have no one to share it with most of the time.” She pulled a corkscrew from one of the drawers and smoothly twisted it into the wine bottle.

“Henry’s spoken of me, has he?”

Regina plastered on a sweet smile as she poured wine into the glasses. “He seems to admire you a great deal; your love of books, for example. I can’t thank you enough for lending him things to read. He’s a very solitary boy, as you’ve probably noticed.” She handed him a glass.

“Aye. Although he seems much happier since his birth mother came to town.”

Regina held her smile, feeling the wide bowl of the wine glass give slightly under her clenching fingers.

“It’s very big of you, allowing him to spend time with her,” Killian went on. Before she could respond, her cell phone started to ring.

She looked at the screen and rolled her eyes before accepting the call. “I’m sorry, Killian, I have to take this. Yes, Sidney.”

“Mayor Mills,” Sidney said, a slight tremor in his voice. “I got your message.”

She set her wine down. “Yes?”

“You want me to run for sheriff?”

“That’s what I said. I don’t make a habit of joking, do I?”

“No, of course not, but… I’m a newspaper man. I don’t know the first thing about being a sheriff.” His shaky, obsequious tone made her fist clench as she envisioned engulfing him with a fireball.

“You investigate things, don’t you? Then you already know more about it than Emma Swan does.” She drummed her fingernails on the countertop with impatience. “She’s a criminal, and inexperienced—”

“She worked as a bail bondsperson, that’s—”

“Don’t interrupt me, Sidney. You’re running for sheriff. Understood?”

There was a pause. “Yes, ma’am.”

“I have to go. I’ll speak to you tomorrow.” She ended the call and tossed her phone down. Regina took a sip of her wine, watching as Killian did the same. “I heard that Miss Swan questioned you about Gold’s murder; what a terrible business.”

“Aye, she had heard somewhere that I hated him. Can’t imagine what would have given her that idea.”

“Let’s be honest, Killian. We’re all friends here.” She took a step closer to him, her voice dropping. “A lot of people hated Gold, and a lot of people are better off now that he’s not in the world. Do you take my meaning?”

He set his glass down. “I don’t, actually.”

She smiled, her hand moving to touch his arm. “I mean, sometimes things like this happen for the greater good. Some things transcend the laws of this… pitiful world. It may be that, according to some higher law, the person who killed Mr. Gold deserves a medal, not a prison term.”

Regina watched his eyes carefully, but she could see no dawning understanding there, only confusion. “Well, when you find the person who did this, you can try to give him a medal, but I’m thinking Emma’s going to be more interested in serving up that prison term.” He took a step backward, putting some space between them. “So it’s a good thing I’m innocent. I’m not interested in either.”

Resisting the urge to pick up her wine and smash it down on the floor, Regina crossed her arms. “You are innocent, aren’t you? Or perhaps… unaware.” She stalked closer again, backing him into the countertop behind him. “Unaware of the dark power lurking inside you, hmm?”

The flash of fear in his eyes made her heart sing. “Why are you saying these things to me?”

“When you killed him, when you finally got your revenge on the Dark One after all those wasted years, what did you do with the dagger? Where did you hide it… Hook?”

He shook his head in denial, his hand starting to shake. “I didn’t do anything. I didn’t kill anyone. Not good form… It’s not good form.”

“Somewhere in that curse-addled brain of yours is the information I need. But how. To get. It out,” she said, punctuating every other word with a thump of her knuckle on Killian’s forehead.

He ducked away from her, his face going suddenly very pale, and Regina wondered with annoyance what she would do with him if he passed out on the floor of her kitchen. Perhaps if he went completely mad, she could lock him up in the mental ward of the hospital, she mused. That would at least get him out of her hair while she conducted her own search for the Dark One’s dagger. But it would also guarantee that if the curse did break, if Emma Swan really was who Regina feared she was, Regina would have made herself a powerful enemy. Better to bide her time, and keep this sniveling, pitiful, nascent Dark One on her side.

She plastered on her fake smile again. “I apologize, Killian; I’m under a lot of pressure lately, and it’s starting to get to me a little bit. You can understand that, can’t you?” She picked up his glass and held it out to him. “Here, have some more wine.”

“If it’s all the same to you, Mayor Mills, I’d just as soon take my leave of you. I’m feeling quite ill all of a sudden.”

“Oh, of course, Killian. You’re free to go.” For now.

~*~

He tossed in his sweat-soaked sheets, trying in vain once again to find his way into sleep. It was like trying to dive off the end of a pier: putting his hands over his head, leaning over and launching his body into the water, only to find himself sprawled out on the hard wooden boards a moment later, sore and broken from the attempt.

And then when Killian did manage to plunge into the water, it was filled with monsters.

His dreams were unrelenting, technicolor horrors that left him sweating and gasping when he could finally pull himself above the surface. He saw his left hand lying on the deck of a ship like some dying sea creature as blood spurted from his wrist in a red parabola. He held a woman who looked like Milah in his arms and watched as the light of life died from her eyes, felt the numb certainty that her death was the end of everything good in his life. He saw himself, drunk and ruthless and cruel, forcing a terrified man to walk off the end of a plank into the murky depths of the ocean. Saw himself sink a knife into his own father’s gut.

He stabbed and stabbed, glorious great flesh-rending gashes as the life of the Crocodile drained out of him. The dagger sat heavy in his hand, the intricate hilt marking patterns into his palm.

Some of the dreams made a sort of sense. He had lost his hand in a sailing accident, that’s what he was seeing. But why did he dream over and over of Milah in such unusual garments? Why were his dreams so vivid with men cowering before his command when no such thing had ever occurred?

Blood ran down the dagger, blood coated his hand and soaked the sleeve of his shirt. He held the dagger up in the dim light, saw it waver as the writing on it disappeared. Saw it replaced by something else.

“You’re cracking up… mate.”

Killian sat up, jerking away from the hallucination that had materialized in his bedroom. He wrapped his arms around his legs, pressed his closed eyes against his knees until he saw white spots bloom behind his eyelids. “You’re not real. Not real, not real, not real,” he repeated out loud.

“I’m in your head,” the creature said. “Not the same thing as not being real.”

He looked up and saw the beast that had visited him before: the scaly, iridescent skin, the yellowed teeth, the clawlike fingernails waving at him impishly.

“Hello,” it said.

“Begone, demon.”

“Not so fast. I need to tell you some things first.”

Killian dragged himself out of bed, giving the apparition a wide berth as he left the bedroom. The chill of the apartment combined with his sweat-damp t-shirt set him shivering. He stumbled over to the kitchen, pulling a tumbler down from the cabinet with a trembling hand. More rum ended up on the counter than in the glass, but after he drained his first pour dry, Killian was able to put more rum in the glass with a steadier hand.

“You may have no recollection of what you did, but the queen has your number. She knows, but she’s going to bide her time. We’ll have to deal with her eventually, but best to wait on that. You’re not strong enough to face her. Not now. Not like this,” the beast said with distaste.

“Not real,” Killian whispered, taking another drink.

“But there are other problems,” the beast continued conversationally as if it wasn’t speaking to a man who had lost his last connection to reality. “If the queen controls the sheriff, then she controls your fate. We need to put a stop to that.” The creature uttered a horrifying giggle. “Sidney Glass was born to be a pawn; we just need to take control of the pawn for ourselves. I think even you can manage that.”

Killian felt rather than saw the apparition disappear.

~*~

Emma’s eyes raked over the chalkboard menu at Storybrooke Coffee Company. She desperately needed coffee before work, and she was getting a little tired of the standard diner coffee that Granny’s had to offer. She didn’t have much discretionary income, but today a three dollar mocha felt necessary to surviving the day.

She was stirring sugar into her cup when David Nolan walked in. They eyes met, and she smiled awkwardly.

What do you say to the guy who broke your roommate’s heart? she wondered. It’s not like she and David really knew each other that well; they’d only spoken a couple of times. Aside from the fact that he’d been in a coma and was in an unhappy marriage, she knew very little about him. He wore a flannel shirt, jeans, and a pair of practical work boots, and he walked up to the counter with a charming grin for the barista.

While he waited for his skim latte to be made, he shuffled over next to her. “How are you, Emma?”

She shrugged. “I’m okay, I guess. Sleep deprived thanks to the hours I’ve been working. Did you have a good Thanksgiving?”

“It was fine,” he said, but she saw sadness in his eyes. “Did you spend yours with… Mary Margaret?”

“Yeah.” She realized she was still absently stirring her coffee, and she tossed the wooden stirrer in the garbage with an eye roll for herself. “I thought you usually got your coffee at Granny’s,” she said, remembering when he and Mary Margaret had both been arranging to be there at 7:15 in the morning just to catch sight of each other.

“I did,” he said, glancing around. “But I… was afraid people were starting to talk.”

Emma decided to change the subject. “You work at the animal shelter, right?”

“That’s right.” He smiled agreeably. “It’s not glamorous and it doesn’t pay much, but I find it rewarding.”

“Graham used to volunteer there,” she said, and she was a little bit horrified to realize there were tears welling behind her eyes. Oh right, the other symptom of her lack of sleep — sudden and unexpected sadness.

“He did,” David agreed. “He had a way with the dogs. I’m sorry about what happened.” His eyes pierced into hers, and inexplicably, Emma felt a little bit better. “He was a good man.”

“He was.” The barista called his name, and David turned and walked over to get his coffee. She watched him; a strong guy, built like a farmer, like he’d be able to hold his own in a fight.

“Hey, David,” she called as she tried to press the lid back on her coffee cup without losing control of it and spilling it all over herself. He faced her, his expression expectant and pleasant. “Have you ever thought about doing anything different? I mean, besides working at the animal shelter?”

“Sure, I’ve thought about it; they can’t afford to pay me full-time. Like what?”

“Like being a sheriff’s deputy?” She wrung her hands together, suddenly nervous. “With Graham gone, I need help. I mean, I could probably only bring you on part-time at first, but once I officially take over as sheriff, I might be able to make it full-time. If you’re interested.” She felt a twinge of worry that she was betraying Mary Margaret by asking David to work for her, but he was the only person in Storybrooke she had met who seemed like he would be remotely useful in the job. Mary Margaret would have to deal.

He grinned. “Well, sure I’m interested, but why me?”

“I don’t know, you seem like you’d be suited for it. And there’s a lot to do and I’m all by myself there; I mean Graham had only hired me a month ago and suddenly I’m in charge.” She clenched her fist, letting the feeling of her fingernails digging into her palm distract from the stress and sadness she was feeling. She forced herself to laugh. “So what do you say? Can I hire you?”

~*~

“I have to admit, I imagined a little more action with this job and a little less reading,” David said, rubbing his eyes with a thumb and forefinger.

“Yeah, sorry about that,” Emma said, stretching her back out and trying to find a position where it wouldn’t ache. “This is the only thing I can think to do at this point.” They were carefully going through all of Gold’s real estate holdings, matching them up against records of rental payments from the townspeople of Storybrooke to see if anyone owed Gold money. It was slow and terrifically painstaking work. Hours of reviewing documents had led to a very short list of names, and even those people had only been delayed in a few payments. No one owed Gold money for any length of time, which in and of itself was interesting; with so many tenants, it seemed likely that some fraction of them would have been delinquent in their payments. She wondered what Gold did to get the money he was owed so consistently.

Emma pinched the bridge of her nose, trying to stave off a headache, and flipped to the next deed. It was for a plot of land with a cabin on the property, and the address caught her eye for being quite different from any of the others she had been looking at: 10250 Rt. 83. That couldn’t be anywhere near the rest of the homes in town.

“David, do you see any tenant records for 10250 on Route 83?”

He flipped through the manila folders, then flipped through them a second time. “Nope, none.”

Emma pulled the plat map book that she’d borrowed from the town records office over and studied the index, then turned to the appropriate page. “Huh.”

“What is it?”

Standing up, she carried the book over to the detailed map of Storybrooke that was up on the wall of the sheriff’s station. “Gold had a cabin not that far from where his body was found. A cabin that he didn’t seem to be renting to anyone.”

David stood up and joined her at the map. “Do you think there could be a clue there?”

“Yeah, I mean, he was out there with a shovel, and we still don’t know what he was trying to bury. Maybe there’s a clue at the cabin that will help us understand what happened that day?”

Pulling his coat on, David grinned at her. “Well, what are we waiting for, Sheriff? Let’s go.”

“I’m not the sheriff, not yet. Regina’s already threatened to get someone to run against me,” she said as they climbed into the police cruiser outside the station.

He scoffed. “From what I’ve seen so far, you’re an excellent sheriff, Emma.”

“You’ve been working for me for two days, David.” But still, she couldn’t help smiling as they drove to the outskirts of town.

With David’s help navigating, they found the route to the cabin without too much trouble, pulling onto a dirt track that Emma probably wouldn’t have noticed if they hadn’t been looking for it. At the end of it, they found a rustic cabin, as well as Gold’s black Cadillac.

“Well, that solves that mystery at least,” Emma said. “All this time and no one knew where his car was.”

“How far is this from where the body was found?” David asked.

“Not far,” she said, studying the trail map she’d brought. “It’s maybe a quarter of a mile through those trees,” she said, pointing.

The inside of the cabin was extremely basic. Mostly just a single room with dark paneled walls decorated with deer antlers. Wrinkling her nose, Emma looked around. She couldn’t see any evidence that Gold had left anything here.

“I’ll go check Gold’s car while you look around in here,” David offered, and she agreed.

They found was one small bedroom and a bathroom, but both seemed as barren and unlived in as the rest of the cabin. She clicked the light on in the bathroom and took a quick glance around, and was about to turn it back off when something caught her eye. On the tiled floor, next to the sink, was a single, perfect drop of what looked like dried blood. Bingo.

Emma ran for the front door. “David? Get the evidence kits.”

Her hands shook as she pulled the nitrile gloves on, her palms sweating and making it all the more difficult to get the damned things on correctly. Finally, she managed it, and dropped to her knees, photographing the droplet of blood from several angles before she carefully scraped it up into a small plastic tube that she could cap and label. David watched her from the doorway to the bathroom.

“Wow, you really know what you’re doing,” he commented.

She laughed uneasily. “Not really, but I fake it pretty well. Do you see any more blood anywhere?”

“No.” They both looked around before agreeing that there were no more droplets of blood. “So what if it is Gold’s blood? He owned this cabin; what will that prove?”

“Nothing, but maybe it’s not Gold’s blood. Maybe it’s the killer’s blood. Maybe they fought and Gold managed to injure the person who attacked him.” Emma stood up. “Okay, let me spray the luminol.”

David handed it to her out of the bag. “Go for it.”

Emma sprayed the sink and the floor around the sink with luminol before handing it back to David, who held up the black light and turned it on. “Okay, here goes nothing,” she said, flipping off the light switch.

They both stared at the sink for a while. “Holy shit,” Emma finally said.

“I’d say someone washed off a lot of blood here,” David commented. The basin of the sink glowed blue. As did several spots on the floor. Emma took pictures of all of it before they turned the lights back on.

“So whoever killed Gold came to the nearest place they could to clean up, and washed the blood off their hands here,” she said, pacing back into the main part of the cabin and pulling her gloves off.

“Looks like it.”

“Okay, let’s back up a minute. Gold drove out here because he wanted to dig something up or bury something, right? So how did the killer find him? Was it someone Gold trusted, did they come in his car together?”

“Maybe the killer followed Gold out here in another car?” David asked, running a hand through his hair.

“That could be.” She took a breath and let it out. “So I just have to check every car in Storybrooke for any additional blood traces.” Emma dropped onto the sofa and put her head in her hands.

They searched the rest of the cabin but didn’t turn up anything else. The initial rush that had come with discovering the cabin and Gold’s car and the blood drained away, leaving Emma feeling tired and hollowed out. For as much as they’d learned, she didn’t feel like she was any closer to finding the murderer.

Chapter Text

The dart left his hand, tracing a perfect arc through the air and landing with a satisfying thunk into the center of the bullseye.

Killian blinked, surprised at the accuracy of the throw. He repeated the motion twice more with the other two darts he held loosely against his stomach with his prosthetic hand. They also landed in the bullseye, one above and one just a hair’s width to the right of the first dart.

A young man on his way to the bathroom — Killian vaguely recalled his name was Sean — stopped and whistled. “Pretty good, man.”

Giving him a tight smile in return, Killian retrieved the darts and repositioned himself to throw them again. As Sean disappeared around the corner, Killian focused on the bullseye. It seemed to fill his field of vision, the sharp metal edges of the rings strangely bright and in focus. Throwing the darts into the bullseye again was as easy as dropping them into a bucket.

Rather than bringing a smile to his face, a cold chill ran up his spine, and he rushed over to pull the darts from the board before anyone else in the diner noticed his success.

In daylight hours, Killian’s nightmares and hallucinations usually seemed smaller, less significant. He had tried to convince himself that his lifelike imaginings of an infernal creature were a product of his exhausted brain and nothing more. If he could just get a good night’s sleep, he thought, the nightly visitation would go away.

He had taken to stopping in at Granny’s more often, glancing over at Emma and Henry’s accustomed booth and feeling his heart sink a little on the days they weren’t present. Today he had decided to linger at the dartboard in the hope that they might come in late. Killian tried not to think about the reason why he was so preoccupied with seeing Emma Swan.

His patience was rewarded. The door rattled, and Killian turned to see the woman in question entering alone. Emma approached him, holding out her hand for the darts as if this was a routine meeting between the two of them. Her blonde tresses tumbled in soft curls over her shoulders, and as he passed the darts over, he imagined what her hair would feel like sliding through his fingers.

“Where’s your boy?” Killian asked.

“He has an appointment with Dr. Hopper on Wednesdays,” she said as she threw the darts one after the other. Her form needed work, but she wasn’t a bad dart player. He sauntered over and retrieved the darts for himself.

“Are you off work already?” she asked him.

“Aye, there’s a storm coming, and all the fishermen came in early. I’ll go back by the harbor later to make sure nothing’s amiss, but for now…” He shrugged and smiled at her before throwing the darts in a tight cluster around the bullseye. Again. He’d always been good at darts, but this was getting spooky.

“You are insanely good at this,” Emma said as she walked to the dartboard.

Her next throw was a bit wild, and he could see anger in the set of her shoulders. “Picturing anyone in particular when you’re throwing those darts, love?”

Emma grimaced. “Regina has talked Sidney Glass into running against me for sheriff. You’ve probably heard about it. So I’m pretty sure I’m going to lose.”

“I don’t know about that.”

“Come on, Killian. I’m new here. My whole checkered past got revealed on the front page of the paper. There’s no way I’m going to win this election.”

“Sidney Glass isn’t the most popular Storybrooke resident, so I think you might stand a chance. If it helps, I plan to vote for you.”

Emma grinned. “Thanks. Hey, maybe no one else will bother to vote and that will win it for me.”

Killian took another turn with the darts, missing the center on purpose with two of them. “Listen, Swan, I’ve been thinking… would you like to go out with me sometime? For a drink, maybe?”

She blinked at him for a few seconds. “Like on a date?”

He rubbed his sweaty palm off on the leg of his jeans. “Yes, exactly like on a date.”

“Oh, Killian.” He could see his ultimate disappointment in the uncomfortable smile on her face. “You’re a nice guy and, you know. Kind of ridiculously good looking. But I don’t really… date. And especially right now, with Henry, and dealing with what happened to Graham, it’s not something I’ve got room for in my life.”

He shrugged, trying to seem unaffected. “It’s quite all right, Swan. Just a fleeting idea.” He went over and pulled the darts out to give himself something to do and tried not to feel too crestfallen.

“I mean technically you are still a murder suspect,” Emma added, but her smile told him she wasn’t really serious.

“Isn’t most of the town made up of potential suspects?” he asked her.

She heaved a sigh. “Yeah. That’s one of my many problems.”

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out, Swan,” he said, feeling the need to reassure her, to make her smile again. “A clever and resourceful person like you? You can’t fail.”

Emma’s eyelashes fluttered a little bit at that. “Do you really think so?”

“I do.”

“Thanks.” She gave him a tiny little smile. “I’d better get back to work. I’ll see you around.”

Killian watched her go, and then absently threw the darts at the dartboard before leaving himself. Just as he stepped out onto the street, the sky opened up and rain fell down onto his head in sudden buckets. “Perfect,” he muttered.

~*~

The rum burned its way down his throat. With a small shudder, he gestured to the bartender at the Rabbit Hole to pour him another. The dimly lit bar, permeated with the sour smell of stale beer, was almost empty on this particular weeknight. Killian ran his hand over the thick finish on the wood, index finger unconsciously probing at a cigarette burn in the otherwise unmarred surface.

He waited for the numbness the alcohol brought, the way it would blanket over all of his fears and disappointments with a gauzy nothingness. He couldn’t fall asleep properly anymore, but at least if he drank enough, he could pass out on his bed later in a drunken stupor, and his nightly visitor would not penetrate the alcoholic fog.

Killian flushed with shame at the thought of his conversation with Emma that afternoon. Her embarrassed face before she shot him down was not going to be easily forgotten. He didn’t know what he’d been thinking, that such an intelligent, striking woman would be interested in a man like him. Especially considering that she’d only just met him when she’d decided he might be a murderer. And then he had the audacity to ask her out on a date. With a groan, he dropped his head onto the bar.

“Having a rough night?” a voice to his left asked.

Looking up, Killian was faced with Sidney Glass sliding onto the bar stool next to him. He wore a well-tailored suit, his face shiny with perspiration.

Chuckling, Killian nodded. “You could say that.” He looked down and saw his glass was empty again. He flagged down the bartender.

“Same here,” Sidney said. The bartender came over to fill Killian’s glass, and Sidney ordered a vodka tonic.

“Your campaign for sheriff not going well?” Killian asked him.

“Oh, you heard about that?” Sidney asked. When Killian nodded, Sidney grimaced. “I’m supposed to be writing my speech for tomorrow night right now. Instead, I’m here.”

The bartender put Sidney’s drink in front of him, and Sidney held it up to Killian, who paused before clinking his glass against it.

“Sounds like a tough job,” Killian said. “I don’t envy you.”

Sidney swallowed half of his drink in one long swallow. “At least I have the mayor’s support. Miss Swan will never have that. Even if she wins, the mayor will never stop making her life hell.”

Killian took a deep breath and let it out. “Sure, but Emma’s got the stomach for it, I think. She’s a strong woman. She can go toe-to-toe with a suspect in a grizzly murder and she won’t back down.” He swirled his rum in his glass, considering. “It’s not going to be easy for whoever the sheriff becomes, these next few weeks. There’s a killer on the loose.”

Sidney fidgeted on his stool. “Of course.”

Killian leaned over closer, almost whispering in Sidney’s ear. “A killer who took a knife and plunged it into Mr. Gold over and over again, his heart’s blood gushing out onto the forest floor. Ripping until his entrails spilled out of his body. And now that murderer is out there. Maybe waiting to kill again. Maybe watching the sheriff to see if he gets close. After all, Humbert died, and he seemed to be perfectly healthy before he collapsed.”

Eyes as wide as saucers, Sidney leaned away and pulled at the collar of his shirt as if he couldn’t breathe. “Graham Humbert had a heart condition.”

Killian ran his finger around the rim of his glass and shrugged. “As far as we know, sure.” Standing up, Killian drained the rest of his drink. “Best of luck to you, Mr. Glass.” He threw some crumpled bills down on the polished wooden bar and walked away. It was only much later that he thought to wonder where those horrible words whispered to Sidney Glass had even come from.

~*~

When the townsfolk arrived to listen to the speeches by the two candidates for sheriff, they heard Emma Swan give a speech about her qualifications, how she’d overcome her past and was determined to do her best for the town, and how she intended to bring Mr. Gold’s killer to justice. Then Sidney Gold stood up and the podium and after a long pause, he said only one thing.

“I hereby withdraw from the race for sheriff.”

~*~

Emma awoke to the sound of the door downstairs closing softly. She glanced at the clock: 1:13 a.m. Another late night for Mary Margaret.

Christmas had been a fairly subdued holiday in Storybrooke. Several of the stores had decorated for the season, but there had been no government-sponsored lighting displays, no wreath on the door to the town hall, none of the things that festooned every other small town in America. Emma had thought it was odd but had found it somewhat refreshing not to be inundated with holiday cheer everywhere she’d gone.

With Henry on break from school and presumably confined to his house and Mary Margaret absent from the apartment more frequently than usual, Emma had continued to focus on her job, the job that was now officially hers: Sheriff of Storybrooke. She had returned to the crime scene and poked around in the dirt, continued to pore over Gold’s real estate and financial records, interviewed the few people who had ever made a late payment in rent to Gold, but everything was a dead end. She had even searched the pawn shop, and had been quickly overwhelmed with its seemingly infinite stock of strange items.

Christmas itself had come and gone with little fanfare; she’d exchanged gifts with Mary Margaret and the two of them had shared a big pancake breakfast and then had settled in on the sofa together to watch bad TV. Throughout the day, Emma had eyed the brightly colored wrapping paper on the gift she’d gotten for Henry, unsure of when to give it to him.

Now staring at the ceiling above her bed, Emma knew she needed to mind her own business, that what Mary Margaret did was not her concern. But in spite of her better judgment, she let curiosity get the better of her and found herself getting out of bed and going down the stairs to greet her roommate.

“Oh!” Mary Margaret exclaimed, her hand flying to her chest when Emma appeared. “You scared me; I thought you’d be sleeping.”

“The door woke me up.” She took in Mary Margaret’s smudged mascara and lack of lipstick, and the way her cardigan sweater was askew on her shoulders like it had been quickly pulled back on. “And no offense, but you could not look more well-fucked right now if you tried.”

“Oh God.” Mary Margaret covered her face. “Is it that obvious?”

“A little, but that’s okay. Also, it’s none of my business,” Emma said, wrinkling her nose. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Actually, would you mind staying up for a minute? I could really use a friend to talk to.”

“Sure.” Emma followed her and flopped down on her back on Mary Margaret’s colorful quilt-covered bed, watching as her roommate took her earrings out and dropped them in a jewelry box. Her bedside lamp cast a soft glow over the space, and Emma yawned. “I assume it’s not Victor Whale who’s keeping you out at all hours.”

Mary Margaret shook her head. “You know who it is.” She took a deep breath and let it out. “It’s David.”

“Yeah, I figured that. I saw the way you looked at each other when you stopped by the sheriff’s station last week.”

“How did we look?”

Emma snorted. “Like you were about to devour each other whole.”

Mary Margaret pulled her sweater off and sank onto the bed, pulling her knees up. “Oh.”

“So what happened to him trying to work things out with his wife?”

Tears filled Mary Margaret’s eyes. “He says he’s in love with me, and I… Emma, I’ve never felt this way about anyone in my life. He’s… being with him is like coming home.”

“Oh, man. You’ve got it bad.”

“I know.” She wiped a tear from her face in frustration. Emma got the sense that she’d cried a lot of tears over David already. “He’s going to leave his wife, he just needs to wait for the right time. It’s tricky right now because—”

Emma sat up quickly. “Mary Margaret, are you listening to yourself? You sound like a cliche. You sound like Carrie Fisher in When Harry Met Sally. Look, I like David, and he doesn’t seem like a bad person. Clearly, he’s been through a lot, what with the coma and all, and it’s not that I don’t think his feelings for you are real. But that doesn’t mean he’s not going to end up hurting you. And the longer you continue this affair with him, the more hurt you’re going to be.”

She wiped away another tear. “On second thought, maybe I don’t want to talk about this,” Mary Margaret said in a near-whisper.

Reaching out and taking her hand, Emma tried to give a reassuring smile. “I’m sorry. I know you love him, and I really do hope things work out.”

“You just think it’s unlikely they will,” Mary Margaret said with a sniffle.

“Anything’s possible.” Trying to lighten the mood, Emma added, “Hey, at least someone in this apartment is getting some.”

Mary Margaret responded with a watery laugh. “You’re working too hard, especially since the election.” She traced the seams of the quilt on her bed. “Ruby mentioned that you’d been talking to Killian Jones in the diner a lot recently.”

“Ruby needs to mind her own business.”

“Not much chance of that. So there’s nothing going on there?”

“Nope.” Emma watched as Mary Margaret narrowed her eyes. “He asked me out, but I said no. I don’t want to date him.”

“Why not? I always thought he seemed nice. And he’s…” She raised her eyebrows.

“Insanely hot?” The two women shared a smile. “I know. But seriously, I don’t date. And even if I did, I don’t think I would date Jones. He has issues.”

“We’ve all got issues, Emma, us included.” Mary Margaret slapped her hands down on her knees and shook her head back and forth quickly. “Do you know what we need, and soon? A girl’s night.”

~*~

“More shots all around!” Ruby gestured to their waitress, a wide grin on her face.

“I don’t know if I can drink with you like we used to, Ruby, my tolerance is shit after having the baby,” Ashley said.

“I’ll have yours, then. Or the sheriff will, right Emma?”

Emma took a swig from the beer bottle clutched in her hand and shrugged. She was trying to stick to beer because she figured she couldn’t get herself into too much trouble that way. The Rabbit Hole was crowded tonight, and she was sure not a few people had clocked that their newly elected sheriff was sitting among them, so she really needed to be on her best behavior. But the evening had that feeling to it, she thought as she watched Mary Margaret expertly pour the contents of a shot glass into her open throat, Ashley giggling and Ruby hooting and making a ‘raise the roof’ gesture with her upturned hands. That feeling that more often than not led to fuzzy memories and stumbling attempts to get home. She'd never had this many friends before, and it was making her feel good and a little bit reckless.

“I’m so sick of being needed all the time,” Ashley was saying. “Sean is working two jobs, and I’m spending more time with his laundry than I do with him. And the baby, I mean I love my baby, but babies need you every minute of every day. It’s like my body isn’t my own, you know?”

Emma looked down at the table, focusing on the wood grain and not of the fact that she most decidedly did not know because she’d given her baby away. Desperate for something to distract her, she downed the contents of the shot glass in front of her.

“Doesn’t sound any worse than being needed by Granny all the time,” Ruby said. “I’m basically on-call 24/7; I almost never get a break. And nothing I do is ever good enough for her.”

“No one you do is ever good enough for her,” Ashley supplied, giggling into her rum and coke.

“I don’t want to talk about sex or men,” Mary Margaret said.

“Who says I limit myself to sex with men?” Ruby said, her teeth flashing between red lips. “But fine, okay, what do you want to talk about?”

“Any progress figuring out who killed Mr. Gold?” Ashley asked Emma.

“I’m not really supposed to talk about that… but fuck it, there’s not really anything to talk about. No, I haven’t made any progress. My half hour of interrogating Mo the flower shop owner led me to the groundbreaking discovery that he’s been seeing Mrs. Hendricks who runs the bakery in town.”

“He has?” Ruby said, rubbing her hands together. “I didn’t know that.”

“You didn’t hear it from me,” Emma said. “The point is, I have no leads, and Regina wants to have my head on a platter for it. I mean, she wanted that already, but now she really wants it.”

“You’ll figure it out, Emma,” Mary Margaret said.

“Do you think I could get an uninterrupted night of sleep in prison? Because if so, I’ll confess right now,” Ashley said.

“How’s school, M. M.?” Ruby asked, sipping her drink through the tiny stir-straw.

“You know, it’s weird. My students have been really… different lately.”

Emma frowned, thinking about the fact that Henry was among her students. “Different how?”

“I don’t know, I can’t really explain it. I have this feeling that they’re changing, and I need to adjust my curriculum to keep up. It’s like things that have worked for me for years aren’t working anymore.”

“Ooh, look who just walked in, Emma,” Ruby said, excitedly kicking her under the table. Emma turned to look and saw Killian sit down at the bar.

“So what?” Emma responded, trying to keep her features blank, and ignoring the fact that her heart rate picked up a bit at the sight of him.

“Come on. He comes into the diner way more than he used to now that you’re there on your afternoon breaks. I can tell he’s disappointed when you don’t show. Sometimes he plays darts and oh-so-unsubtly watches the door until you show up. He really likes you.”

Emma snuck a glance at him again and then turned back to the table. “I’ve been with guys like that before. Full of angst and self-loathing, usually with a dark secret and a drinking problem. No thank you.”

“A Byronic hero,” Mary Margaret offered before taking a sip of her drink. The other women looked at her blankly. “It’s a literary archetype.”

“Whatever, he’s hot and he’s into you,” Ruby said, refusing to be derailed. “If he’s trouble, then use him and lose him.”

“That’s easier said than done in Storybrooke. I’m trying to be an upstanding person for my kid, I can’t go around having one-night stands with people, not with the way everyone is all up in everybody else’s business in this town.”

“Yeah, for instance, I just heard Mo is dating Mrs. Hendricks,” Mary Margaret said with a smirk.

“Shut up. My point is, I’m not going to sleep with, date, or in any way encourage Killian Jones. It’s not happening.” If she glanced at him a few more times during the night, admiring the way his ass filled out his tight jeans, well, you couldn’t blame a girl for appreciating the view, she told herself.

Chapter Text

As soon as Emma arrived at the sheriff’s station the following morning, she regretted that she’d asked David to work an early shift. The last thing she wanted was him seeing her powered by little more than booze-soaked regret. The night with Mary Margaret, Ruby, and Ashley had been fun, and a much-needed break, but now she had to face the morning hungover.

“Whoa,” he said when he saw her, her face still pale and haggard, she assumed. “You okay this morning?”

“Um… to be honest, I drank too much last night, so no.” She felt vaguely ashamed, as if it was her own father seeing her in her sorry, hungover state. Which was ridiculous; she’d never even had a father.

“Oh, yeah? Sorry about that.”

“I’ll live. It’s my own fault.” She flopped down in her desk chair, hoping she could find something mindless and quiet to do until she was feeling a little more human.

“Hey, you know Killian Jones, right?” David said, walking over and hovering in the doorway to her office.

Why did everyone keep talking to her about Killian? “Yeah. I mean, I don’t know him well…”

“He helped me corral a stray dog down by the docks once, and he seemed like a good guy. Figured I should make an effort to make more friends, so I was going to invite him over to watch hockey or something. If you think he’d be interested.”

It was endearing, she had to admit, the way David was seeking her advice on how to woo a new friend. “I have no idea if he’s interested in sports at all, but sure, ask him.”

“Yeah, okay. I think I will.” He started to walk away, then paused. “Was… uh, was Mary Margaret with you last night?” David asked, his attempt to be nonchalant painfully transparent.

Not for the first time, Emma wondered if he just assumed that she knew about his and Mary Margaret’s affair. As always, it made her feel extremely awkward, so much so that she almost regretted hiring David as her deputy. Almost being the operative word; he was, as she expected, a natural at the job. “Yeah, she was.”

“I hope she’s not feeling too bad this morning,” he said, and the yearning was written so plainly on his face that Emma almost had to laugh. She couldn’t think of any two people less suited to carrying on a clandestine love affair than David Nolan and Mary Margaret Blanchard.

She cleared her throat. She felt the need to say something, something that would set things between Mary Margaret and David to rights, something that would prevent her roommate from getting her heart broken. but she knew such a thing did not exist.

“Look,” he said softly, “I know you probably think I’m a bad guy, and I can’t really blame you—”

“I don’t think you’re a bad guy,” Emma responded quickly, uncomfortable with the idea of David continuing to talk to her about this. “But I do think that a person I’ve come to care about is going to end up getting hurt, and I don’t want that to happen. If that makes it seem like I don’t like you, or don’t… I don’t know, approve of you, then I’m sorry. My only interest in this is her heart not getting broken.”

“Mine too,” David said. “I swear it.”

“I’m sure you think that’s true. But love is like a drug. You get addicted to it, and all you care about is the high, and it doesn’t matter what lies in your way of getting it. That’s how people get hurt.”

“That’s a very cynical attitude.”

Emma shrugged. “That’s life.”

~*~

She didn’t go back to the Rabbit Hole several days later because she knew Killian went there. She went because it had been a hard week, and she had very little to show for it, and she needed a drink. Still, she couldn’t help but notice the little thrill that ran up her spine when she saw him at the bar, any more than she could stop her feet from walking over to him.

“Swan,” he said in greeting, lifting a glass of dark liquid in her direction. “Off duty, I hope?”

Emma pulled herself up onto the barstool next to him and nodded. “Finally.” She flagged down the bartender and ordered a whiskey, because that’s the kind of night it was.

They sat in companionable silence for a while, nursing their drinks. Emma cast sidelong glances at Killian, relishing the burn of the liquor in her chest. Killian’s prosthetic hand rested on his knee, and she could see that there were zippers on the sleeves of the leather jacket he wore, and she wondered if it was more difficult for him to get the prosthesis through a sleeve. She wondered what kind of sailing accident could result in the loss of a hand. She wondered a lot of things.

“I see you’re no more interested in wearing a sheriff’s uniform than Humbert was,” he said, giving her a sidelong glance.

“They aren’t very flattering. And it’s not like people don’t know who I am; I don’t need a uniform to let people know I’m the law.”

“While that red leather jacket is quite fetching,” he said, and she could practically feel his eyes on her, raking up and down her body. She should have hated it. She really, really didn’t. “I’ve always thought so.”

“Given a lot of thought to me in my leather jacket, have you?”

“Oh, you have no idea.” He grinned at her, but the grin didn’t quite reach his dark-shadowed eyes.

“No offense, Killian, but you don’t look so great. You feeling okay?”

He took a swig from his glass, which she could now smell was rum. It fit with his whole tortured seafarer vibe, she thought. “I don’t sleep well.”

“Ever, or lately?”

He narrowed his eyes. “Still investigating me, Swan?” He raised his hand to the bartender, signaling for a refill.

“Why do you call me by my last name all the time?”

“I don’t know. ‘Swan’ suits you.”

“Because I have an abnormally long neck?”

“Because you’re pale and graceful. And you have a lovely neck.” His tongue darted out, licking his bottom lip.

“Okay, weirdo.” She took a drink from her whiskey and hoped that the dim lighting of the bar hid her blush.

Once Killian had downed a large swallow of his refreshed drink (and once she had averted her eyes from the way his neck muscles worked), he said, “I get nightmares.”

“What?” she said, feeling hazy and a little mesmerized. By the atmosphere, by his voice. By the way his neck looked when he drank rum.

“The reason I’m not sleeping well. I have nightmares,” he explained.

“I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault.”

They sat in silence for some time, Killian continuing to drink like it was his job. “Does the drinking make the nightmares better or worse?” she asked him.

He chuckled, his jaw clenched. “Worse at first, but then I continue to drink until it makes them better.”

“Until you pass out, you mean? That doesn’t sound like a healthy lifestyle.”

“Oh, it definitely is not,” he said. “So, I suppose you’re settled in Storybrooke for the foreseeable future, eh?” It was a clumsy attempt to change the subject, but she allowed it.

“I guess I am.” Emma sighed heavily. His confessions about his nightmares and his drinking made her want to be straight with him. To let her walls down a little. “Now that I’ve gotten to know Henry, I don’t know if I can be away from him again. I already lost so much time.”

He turned and looked at her for a quiet moment, a small smile on his lips, one that this time reached his eyes. “He’s a good lad. I never really understood how Regina managed to raise a boy so full of hope and optimism, but now I know.” He raised his glass to her. “It’s you, Swan.”

“I didn’t have anything to do with his upbringing.”

“Must be something in your genetics, then.”

Emma snorted. “If there’s a gene for hope and optimism, then it skipped a generation.”

Killian laughed at that. “Are you saying we’re a black hole of despair and hopelessness, sitting here at this bar and sucking in all the light around us?”

“Something like that,” she said after another sip of whiskey.

Killian levered himself up from his bar stool, swaying slightly. “Well, this hopeless bloke needs a trip to the lavatory.” He dropped into a bow, and Emma was afraid for a moment that he might lose his balance and topple over. “Begging your pardon, love.”

Emma rolled her eyes, watching him weave an unsteady path to the bathrooms. It occurred to her for the first time to wonder how many hours he’d been sitting here drinking.

When Killian didn’t return after what seemed like more than a reasonable amount of time for a man to pee, she put enough cash on the bar for her own drinks and got up and to go looking for him. She didn’t particularly want to see what the men’s room of the Rabbit Hole looked like, but if Killian had passed out and clocked his head on a urinal, she probably should help him.

Rounding the corner to the short hallway that led to the bathrooms, she almost collided with him where he was leaning against the wall.

“Hey, you okay?”

He looked at her with a glazed expression. It seemed that his last few drinks were hitting him all at once. “‘M fine.”

“Did you pee?”

“Aye.” He was too drunk to be embarrassed at her inquiry after his bathroom activities.

“Okay, let’s get you home then.” Emma put an arm around him, guiding him out of the hallway.

“You goin’ to take me home and take advantage of me, love?” he said as he willingly went along with her. He wasn’t so drunk that he couldn’t move under his own power, but she kept her arm around him just in case.

“Not a chance,” she said, glancing at the bartender with a raised eyebrow.

The bartender waved her away. “He’s good for it,” he said.

Together, they left the bar, the wind whipping into them and stinging their cheeks with its icy fingers, a few desultory snowflakes falling from the sky. Emma looked longingly at her car, but unfortunately, she’d had just enough to drink that she doubted she was sober enough to drive.

“All right, we’re walking,” she said. “You up for it?”

Killian held up his prosthetic hand. “I don’t drive; I walk everywhere.”

Emma led them in the direction of the beach and his apartment. “There are plenty of people with a missing hand who drive,” she said. “You’d probably just need something on the steering wheel that would be compatible with your prosthesis. Not that you’d be driving right now; if you did, I’d have to arrest you.”

“I’d never endanger the populace that way, love.”

“Whatever. I’m just saying you could drive if you wanted to.” They trudged along the poorly lit sidewalk, and Emma was very aware of the way her arm was still slung around him. He felt warm and solid under his leather jacket. She couldn’t help but think about the fact that her best working theory for Gold’s murder right now was that someone had followed Gold in a car. If Killian didn’t drive, that was one more reason that he couldn’t have done it.

“You really don’t have to see me home,” he said after a while. The cold air seemed to have sobered him a bit.

“Yeah, I’m not gonna take the chance of you ending up dead in a ditch somewhere.”

“Why Swan, I didn’t know you cared.”

“It’s either I walk you home or I throw you in the drunk tank; your choice.”

“Believe me, I’ll take any excuse to have you see me to my bed.” He stumbled (God, his feet are really big, she thought, staring down at them), but managed to right himself before he pulled them both to the ground. Emma focused on getting them to his apartment and ignored his clumsy innuendo.

Finally, they made it to his front door. Killian was sober enough to pull his keys out and unlock the door, saving her the discomfort of rooting through his pockets. Still, she followed him through the dark space and watched as he shucked his jacket and kicked his shoes off before collapsing onto his bed fully clothed. “Sure you don’t want to join me?” His voice was muffled by the pillow.

“Yeah, I’m fairly sure,” she responded, rolling her eyes and turning to go. “Sleep well, Killian.”

“Emma,” he called, and she turned back, surprised at his use of her first name and at how suddenly clear his voice sounded.

“What?”

“Thanks for escorting me home.”

“Goodnight, Killian.” With a last long look at him stretched out on his bed, she left the apartment.

On the front steps, she collided with another person. “Oof, sorry,” she muttered.

“It was my fault.” The man wore coveralls and an easy smile and smelled faintly of engine grease. “Got called out on a late tow job.” Billy was emblazoned on his uniform, and Emma remembered Killian mentioning his neighbor. Billy finally seemed to register her face. “Hope there's no trouble, Sheriff.”

“No, just making sure Killian got home from the bar,” she said with a thumb pointing back at his door.

“Ah. Well, I'm sure he appreciated it.”

“Hey, can I ask you something?” Billy nodded. “You’re probably not going to remember this so many weeks later, but November fifteenth; do you remember seeing Killian come home that night?”

Billy’s eyebrows went up. “The night Gold was killed?” Reluctantly, she nodded. “Yeah, actually I do. I was sitting near my front window when he walked up to the porch.”

She arched an eyebrow. “How do you remember it being that particular night two months ago, and not some other night?”

“Because my friend Mikey was over here hanging out. He’s a paramedic, and it wasn’t that long after I saw Jones get home that he got called out on a job. He told me later, it was to get Gold’s body.”

“Did Killian look normal?” she asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Were his clothes dirty? Was he carrying anything unusual? Did he seem upset?”

Billy blinked at her. “Is he a suspect?”

“Just answer the question.”

“No, I didn’t notice anything. He looked normal.”

Emma watched for any sign of a lie but saw none. “Okay, thanks. I’ll see you around.”

It wasn’t exactly an alibi, but the whole picture pointed to Killian being an innocent man. As she walked back to the Rabbit Hole and her car, which she was now sober enough to drive, she realized she was only now really and truly crossing Killian off her list of murder suspects. Which meant she’d been halfway lusting after him while still thinking there was an outside shot he’d killed somebody. “How fucked up are you, Emma?” she muttered to herself as she trudged down the sidewalk, her hands jammed in her pockets and ears going numb from the cold.

The rumble of an engine made Emma stop and turn around. A motorcycle pulled up beside her, slowing to a stop. She watched, wary, as the driver pulled his helmet off, revealing a handsome man with wavy brown hair, perhaps a few years older than she was.

“Evening. I was wondering if there are any hotels in town?”

She gaped at him for a second. She couldn’t remember any other tourists coming through (other than herself) since she’d arrived in Storybrooke. And wasn’t that a little bit odd for a seaside town in Maine, even with the weather getting colder?

“Granny’s has rooms to rent,” she finally said. “Go straight here, and then take a right at the light.”

“Thanks.” He reached out a gloved hand for her to shake. “I’m August Booth.”

His grip was solid, almost too tight on her smaller hand. “I’m Emma.”

~*~

She saw the stranger again the following morning when she stopped into Granny’s for a coffee. He was seated at one of the tables, enjoying a very large breakfast.

“I see you found the place last night,” she commented, stopping at his side. His leg was jiggling with pent-up energy.

“I did; thank you.” He gestured for her to take the other seat, but she shook her head.

“Just stopping in for a coffee, thanks.”

“Suit yourself, Sheriff.”

Emma raised an eyebrow. “You know who I am?”

August smiled an easy smile at her. “I mentioned to Granny that an Emma had directed me here, and she said you were the sheriff.”

“Ah. So what brings you to town, Mr. Booth? Vacation?”

“Not exactly.” He took a bite of his pancakes and gestured to the other chair again. “As it happens, I could use your help.”

With a sigh, Emma sat. Ruby, who had been watching and seemed to suss out the situation, brought Emma a cup of coffee in a to-go cup. She met Emma’s gaze and surreptitiously rolled her eyes at the stranger across from her before slinking away again.

“What do you need my help with?” Emma asked, reaching for the container of sugar and working the lid off of her cup.

“I’m a writer. And when I read that the mysterious and wealthy Mr. Gold had been murdered, I couldn’t pass up the possibility that there might be a story here.”

Emma shook her head as she added sugar to her coffee. “I’m not going to discuss an open murder investigation with you, Mr. Booth.”

“Call me August,” he said with a wink. “And I’m not asking for you to show me all of your case files. Maybe simply a small nudge in the right direction. You and I might be able to help each other.”

“Anything I’d be willing to tell you is in the local paper. I’m sure if you stop by their offices, they can help you.” She stood up from the table. “Enjoy your stay, August.”

~*~

“You got my message!” Henry shouted, running toward the bench Emma was sitting on.

It was a chilly and bright Sunday afternoon, and Emma had been lying around the loft in her pajamas, debating the wisdom of taking an afternoon nap, when she heard the crackle of a walkie-talkie from up in her bedroom. She’d found an old set in the sheriff’s station, and had given one of them to Henry. He’d been over the moon with excitement about the idea but had been surprisingly restrained in using the walkie-talkie, probably assuming that if he abused it, Regina would figure out that something was up.

Henry had summoned her to this particular bench along Main Street, near the old library, and so here she sat. She wasn’t sure how he’d gotten out of the house on a Sunday without Regina noticing, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to know. Even so, she couldn’t help but be glad to see him.

“Yeah, I got your message. Did you eat lunch already? We could get something at Granny’s if you want.”

“I’m not hungry,” Henry responded, which made Emma raise her eyebrows in surprise. He almost never turned down the opportunity for some pancakes and hot cocoa, no matter the time of day. “But if you want to eat—”

“No, I’m good. Mary Margaret made a huge breakfast this morning, so I’m still recovering from that.”

“It’s funny how even though she doesn’t remember that she’s your mom, she still treats you like her daughter.”

Emma rolled her eyes. “She likes to cook, kid. Since I’m her roommate, I’m the beneficiary, that’s all.” She pushed aside the thought that she did feel mothered by Mary Margaret sometimes. And she didn’t hate it.

“If you say so,” Henry said, shrugging off her denials.

“Anyway, you said you had information critical to Operation Cobra,” she said indulgently. Sometimes she could almost pretend that Operation Cobra was just a game they played and was not seated in Henry’s genuine delusion that the residents of the town were all fairy tale characters.

“I do. I was thinking about how all this started with my storybook, and that made me start to wonder if there are others. Books, I mean. We already know that everyone in Storybrooke isn’t in the book, but there could be other books! We don’t know.”

“Okay, sure,” she agreed, worried where this was going, worried that she wasn’t handling it right. She’d felt the instinct several times to grab Henry and whisk him into her car and run off to Boston or New York, somewhere that he was away from Regina and where she could maybe get a second opinion on his psychological problems. But that would turn both of them into fugitives, and she doubted that would be an improvement for Henry. More fundamentally, she wasn’t sure if she was capable of being his mother, but a part of her wanted to find out.

“So haven’t you always wondered why the library in town is locked and boarded up?” He pointed to the building behind them. She had wondered that, and moreover, she’d thought it was a weird place for a library, that big building in the center of town with a clock tower on top of it.

Emma shrugged. “I guess I assumed there wasn’t any budget to maintain it?”

“My mom must have sealed it up to protect something. Or hide something. It’s the only explanation.”

“I don’t think it’s the only explanation,” she said.

“Okay fine, but it’s worth investigating. You must have a way to get in there as sheriff. We need to have a look around, see what the Evil Queen is hiding.”

“No, we don’t need to do any such thing. I don’t even know if that building is safe, or if it’s likely to come crashing down on your head.” She thought about how Henry had gotten himself trapped in the old mines and shuddered. “And even if that’s not an issue, there’s no better way to attract your mother’s attention to Operation Cobra than to break into buildings together.”

“But it could be important.” His expression was thunderous, which was kind of shocking on Henry’s sweet little face.

“And I promise that I’ll look into it, but I need to do it delicately and try not to incur Regina’s wrath any more than I have to. I’m the sheriff now, I have responsibilities—”

Henry stood up and stomped his foot, of all things. “You don’t even care about Operation Cobra, you just care about your stupid job now.”

“Henry, I do care, I promise—”

“You’ll never break the curse if you don’t do something to help me!” he shouted, swiping at angry tears that had suddenly fallen onto his cheeks. Without warning, he turned and ran away from her at full speed.

Emma registered several things at once, helpless, too far away to act: Henry running into the street, his tears blinding him. The large car barreling toward him. Other people turning at her shout (because she must have shouted) and gaping at the scene unfolding. A blur of black as someone ran toward Henry, so fast (too fast), shoving him out of the way. A sickening thump as Henry’s savior was hit by the car instead. The squeal of brakes as the car stopped.

She was running then, or maybe she’d been running the whole time. Henry was on the ground, half in the street and half on the sidewalk, and she dropped to her knees where he was trying to sit up.

“Oh my God, Henry, are you okay?” Her heart was pounding like a jackhammer. The thought he’d been so close to being hit by a car, and it would have been her fault—

“I think so.” He was looking at the palms of his hands, which were scraped and starting to bleed. “Somebody pushed me out of the way…”

Emma turned and half-stumbled, half-crawled over to the person in the street that the car had actually hit. “Somebody call 911!” she shouted to the gathering crowd.

“Already done,” a voice responded as she looked down and saw for the first time who it was that had saved Henry.

“Killian,” she gasped.

He winced as his eyes fluttered open. “Hey, beautiful.”

“Stay still; there’s an ambulance on the way.” She pulled Killian’s jacket aside, looking for injuries. “How did you get to Henry so fast?” In her memory, it had seemed almost inhuman. But she knew enough to understand that the shock made her memory unreliable.

“I don’t know; I saw Henry, and I just—”

“I couldn’t stop in time, Sheriff; they both came out of nowhere,” the nervous driver said, shifting from foot to foot.

She glanced up at him. “Yeah, it wasn’t your fault.” She pressed gently along Killian’s right side and he groaned in pain. “I think you’ve got some broken ribs.”

“Is Henry okay?” he gasped.

She looked up and saw Henry standing on the sidewalk now, rubbing his palms on his jeans. “Yeah. You saved him.”

Before either of them could say more, the scream of sirens interrupted as an ambulance pulled up.

Once Killian’s neck had been braced and he was on a stretcher, Emma went back over to Henry. “Let’s walk over the loft and get those hands cleaned up, and then I’ll drive you home, okay, kid?” She put an arm around Henry’s shoulders and felt him trembling.

“That was my fault. Killian wouldn’t be hurt right now if I hadn’t—”

She bent down so that she was eye level with him, her hands clasping his upper arms tightly. “Look, don’t get me wrong, I’m furious with you for running away from me and almost getting hit by a car. But the adults in your life are here to protect you, and that’s the way it’s supposed to work.” She felt a swell of emotion in her chest that Killian was one of those adults, that his instinct had been to save Henry in spite of the danger to his own body. “So you aren’t allowed to feel guilty for what happened to Killian. You’re only allowed to feel guilty for scaring all of us so badly. Okay?”

He took a shaky breath. “Okay.”

“And don’t ever, ever do anything like that again.” She pulled him into a tight hug. “I don’t know how I would live if something happened to you.”

Chapter Text

The sound of softly beeping machines reached Emma’s ears as she walked into Killian’s hospital room. He wore a light blue hospital gown and was tucked in securely under a plain white blanket. His eyes were closed, his long eyelashes casting shadows across his cheeks, but as soon as she neared the bedside he opened his eyes and smiled.

“What’s the news, Swan?”

“Doctor Whale tells me other than the cracked ribs and a few bruises, you’re in decent shape for a man who was hit by a car.” She pulled a chair over and sat down at his side.

“I’m a survivor. Nothing can keep me down for long.” He tried to wink at her.

“Seriously, Killian, I can’t thank you enough for what you did back there. If you hadn’t pushed Henry out of the way—”

“Anyone would have done the same, had they been close enough. I was just in the right place at the right time.” He pulled his arms out from under the covers and tried to lever himself into more of a sitting position, wincing in pain as he did so.

“Ugh, Killian, stop.” Emma picked up the bed controller and pushed the button to elevate the head of the bed. “I don’t think anyone would have done the same.”

“Well,” he said, flashing her a wicked smile and bringing his finger to his lower lip. “Perhaps gratitude is in order now.”

Emma laughed. “How about when you’re feeling better, I take you out for coffee?”

His face fell a little bit. “I’m only joking, Swan; you don’t owe me anything, and I certainly wouldn’t want you to go out with me out of a sense of obligation.”

“I’m not. I just….want to. Is that okay?”

“As soon as I’m mobile again, yes. But allow me to plan the date.”

“I know how to plan a date!” she protested, frowning.

“You know how to chase bad guys. I know how to plan an evening out.”

“Okay whatever, Casanova.” She pointed to his forearm. “What’s the tattoo?” He’d briefly turned his arm and she’d caught sight of a heart with a dagger through it, along with a name.

He hid his arm under the blanket self-consciously, not letting her get a better look. “Just a memorial to an old love, darling. Nothing more.” He shifted in the bed, wincing in pain again. “Bloody hell, that hurts.”

Standing up, Emma awkwardly patted him on the shoulder. “You think you’re in pain; I have to go back to the sheriff’s station now and write up an accident report for all of this. Did they say when they’re releasing you?”

“Tomorrow, most likely.”

“That’s good news.” She hesitated before leaving him. “Feel better, Killian.”

He raised his prosthetic hand. “See you later, Swan.”

She let the door swing shut behind her, standing there in the hospital hallway and trying not to think too hard about the fact that she’d arranged to go on a date with Killian Jones. She had absolutely sworn to herself that she had no interest in him romantically (yeah right, Emma), had sworn that getting involved with him was a terrible idea. It was. It was a terrible idea. So why was she biting her lip to suppress the smile that was threatening to burst out over her face?

“Sheriff Swan, how are you?”

Blinking, she looked up and saw Archie, Henry’s therapist.

“Hey, Archie.”

“You here because of Mr. Jones?” he asked, indicating the door.

“Yeah, he pushed Henry out of the way of a car this afternoon, and… wait, are you here for Killian?”

“I was called in for a psych consult. The emergency room doctors reported he exhibited a high level of anxiety when they brought him in. Said some things that concerned them.”

Emma frowned. “What kind of things?”

“I’m afraid I can’t go into any detail,” Archie said, and it occurred to her that he’d probably said way more than he should have anyway.

“Well, he got hit by a car, wouldn’t that make anybody anxious?” Emma said, feeling defensive on Killian’s behalf.

“I’m sure it won’t do him any harm for me to at least talk to him,” Archie said.

“Yeah. Actually, now that you mention it, he has mentioned insomnia and nightmares to me.” Perhaps seeing a psychologist wasn’t the worst idea, she thought. Maybe Killian could even get a handle on his drinking if he got into therapy.

“Just now?” Archie asked.

“No, another time.” She shrugged. “A few days ago.”

“Thank you for the insight, Emma. I truly appreciate it.” Emma stepped out of the way, and Archie pushed his way through the door into Killian’s room.

~*~

“This is a waste of time. It’s been two months since the murder.” Emma kicked at the dead leaves on the ground. “I’ve combed over this part of the forest so often at this point, I’ve got it memorized. If there were any more clues, I’d have found them before now.” They’d been going over the scene of the crime for almost half an hour. Her nose and ears were numb with the cold, and it was making her grouchy.

David was crouched down where Emma had indicated the body had once lain, scrutinizing the forest floor. “Yeah, you’re probably right.” He gave her a half-smile. “You just looked like you needed to get out of the office.”

She sighed. “Maybe. Not that it helps me with my latest Regina problem.”

“Regina problem?” He dug around under the leafy ground cover, his gloved hand getting muddy in the process. The ground was damp with recently melted snow.

“As soon as she heard that Henry had been with me when he almost got hit by a car, she demanded that I never see him again.”

“Hasn’t she said stuff like that before?” David asked. Off of her raised eyebrow, he admitted, “Mary Margaret may have mentioned it.”

“I’m not sure you guys are making the best use of your stolen moments together, talking about me and my problems. And yeah she has, but this time she really means it. She’s picking him up directly from school every day, so I can’t meet him at Granny’s for an afternoon snack anymore.”

“I’m sorry, Emma. Not getting to spend time with your child — I can’t imagine what that must be like.”

Emma jammed her hands in her pockets, prodded a tree root with her foot and shrugged. “I gave him up, David, and she’s legally his mother. I don’t know what I can do.” She watched as the toe of her boot sank into the rich soil.

He stood up. “I should probably give Killian a call, see if he wants me to pick him up something to eat.”

Whirling on him, Emma’s eyes widened. “How’s, um… how’s he doing? He came home from the hospital yesterday, right?”

David nodded. “He’s in a fair amount of pain, but otherwise I think he’s okay.”

“Will you tell him I was thinking about him?” she said, then blushed and shook her head. “No, don’t say that. Don’t tell him anything. Forget I said that.”

He smirked. “Do you want me to pass him a note in fourth period?”

“Shut up.” She kicked the tree root again more forcefully, or she tried to, but she missed and her toe collided with the tree trunk itself.

“Ow, fuck,” she said, hopping a little on her good foot.

David walked over and patted the tree gently. “She didn’t mean it, tree. She’s just cranky.” Then something appeared to catch his eye in the leaves piled on the ground, and he bent over. “What the hell?”

Emma limped over and looked at what David had picked up: a silver ring on a broken chain. “I wonder where that came from?”

He shrugged. “I happened to see a glimpse of it, buried in the leaves.”

Taking the chain from him, she examined the broken ends, the way the tiny links had been ripped apart. “You don’t think this could have come from our murderer? Ripped off in a struggle with Gold?”

“Could be. I don’t know if there’s any way to tell.”

Emma pocketed it. “Maybe I can find a way to use it, if I can ever get an actual suspect. Let’s head back to the station.”

They started to make their way to Gold’s cabin where the cruiser was parked. Emma winced at the sharp pain in her toe, trying not to limp so that David would notice.

 

“Don’t think I don’t notice you limping,” he said.

Shit. “I’m fine.”

He ignored that, putting an arm around her and steering her over to a fallen log. “Sit down and let me take a look.”

“No, David, let’s get back to the car. We’re almost there.”

He met her gaze, calm and impassive and brooking no argument. “Sit down, and let me take a look.”

Emma huffed. “Fine.” She gingerly settled herself on the log and stuck her booted foot out for him. He knelt down, easing the boot off and murmuring an apology when she hissed in pain.

“Wiggle your toes for me,” he said. Emma did as he asked. “How badly does that hurt?”

“Not too bad,” she said, her eyes gazing off into the forest. She could see the edge of the clearing where Gold’s cabin was, and beyond it— “What the hell is that?”

“Do you feel a scraping inside your toe?” David said, his face etched with worry. “Because that—”

“No, not my toe. That.” She pointed. From her vantage point, she could see a part of the dirt track that led between the main road and Gold’s cabin, and in the midst of a cluster of shrubbery, she could make out what looked like part of a car bumper.

“Is that a car?” David asked.

“Put my boot back on and let’s check it out.”

“I’m not done—”

“My toe is fine; I’ve had a broken toe before and this one isn’t. Put my boot back on,” Emma said.

Once David had done as she instructed, they made their way toward the car; carefully in case anyone was around. But it very quickly became clear that the car had been there for a long time. “This is Tom Clark’s car,” Emma said as she pushed the low branches aside to reveal more of the hidden vehicle.

“What?”

“Mr. Clark reported his car stolen the day after Graham died. It hasn’t exactly been my top priority, to be honest, but it was another open case. And now here it is, hidden near Gold’s cabin.”

David made a face. “You don’t think… Tom murdered Gold?”

Emma couldn’t help it; she burst into giggles. “I mean, I’m not ruling it out, but…” She opened the driver’s door and knelt down, holding up the wires that had been ripped out from underneath the dash and were hanging down. “No, someone hotwired this car, probably to follow Gold out here, and then abandoned it.” She stood up and brushed off her jeans.

“We’re getting closer, Emma. I know you’ve had your doubts, but I really believe you’re going to solve this thing.”

Emma grinned, the pain in her toe barely noticeable now. “Me too.”

~*~

Juggling a large pizza box and a six-pack of beer, Emma knocked on the door, then immediately felt guilty and opened the door a crack. “I can let myself in, you don’t have to get up!” she called out.

Killian came shuffling into view, dressed in a thin long-sleeved t-shirt and track pants, his feet bare. “It’s fine, Swan, it’s better if I move around a little bit.” He took the beer from her and motioned for her to come into the apartment. “As I said on the phone, you really didn’t have to bring me food.”

She set the pizza down on his small kitchen table. “I know I didn’t have to, but David mentioned he was bringing you something to eat yesterday and I thought…” She shrugged. “Shit, you probably can’t drink with the painkillers you’re taking, can you?”

He moved gingerly to the refrigerator, setting the beer inside and then pulling two bottles out. “I’ve stopped taking them, so the beer is fine.” He handed her one of the bottles, then popped the cap off of his with an old-fashioned bottle opener that was mounted on the wall. The cap dropped into a little bucket below with Coca-Cola inscribed on it in flowing and familiar cursive.

“You’ve stopped taking them? Isn’t it too soon to stop taking them?” Emma popped the top off her own bottle, stepping close to Killian to do so. She could feel the heat from his body as she brought the bottle to her lips. Fuck, she thought, she’d been in his presence a grand total of one minute and her body was already humming like a live wire.

Killian shrugged. “They were making my nightmares worse.” He took a drink, the muscles of his neck moving as he swallowed. It was infuriatingly distracting, and Emma took a step backward, out of his personal space. “It’s hardly the worst pain I’ve experienced,” he said, lifting his prosthetic hand.

“No, I guess not,” Emma said, trying not to imagine what losing a hand would feel like. “Probably not as bad as childbirth either.”

With a chuckle, Killian turned to the cabinet and got down plates. “I very much doubt it.” She could see his teeth clench in pain as he moved.

 

“Let me get that,” Emma said, reaching to take the plates, her fingers brushing against his as she did so. “Should we take the pizza to the sofa? Where would you be most comfortable?”

Killian visibly relaxed a little. “Yeah, the sofa would be good.”

Emma put a couple of slices on each plate and followed him into his living room. There was a collection of water glasses and mugs of half-finished tea on his coffee table, along with a haphazard stack of books, and Emma resolved to help him clean up before she left.

Killian sat down with an audible groan. “Bugger.”

She handed him his pizza, sitting as far away from him as the sofa allowed. “I wish I could do something to make you feel better,” and then immediately blushed as a dirty grin unfurled on his face. “How about we forget I said that.”

“Your company is a balm to my wounds, love. No additional favors are required.”

The sincerity on his face filled her chest with a bloom of warmth, and Emma felt herself smiling. She took a bite of her pizza. “So how long will it be before your ribs are healed?”

“Four to six weeks is what the doctor told me. In the meantime, I’m supposed to stay active but not lift anything heavy. And I’m supposed to breathe as deeply as I can, even though it hurts like the dickens to do so.”

Emma frowned in confusion. “Why do you have to breathe deeply?”

“It prevents lung infection, apparently.”

“Oh.” She sipped her beer. “Listen, Henry feels terrible about what happened. So do I. If I hadn’t upset him, then he wouldn’t—”

“Children make mistakes, Swan. I assure you, I hold no ill will against either of you. I’m just glad I was there.” He took a bite of his slice and smiled. “But I won’t say no to free food,” he mumbled.

They ate in silence for a while, Emma realizing that it was probably a good thing he wasn’t healthy enough for sex (hearing that last part in a pharmaceutical commercial announcer voice), because otherwise she’d be tempted to jump him right here on his sofa.

“Can I get you more pizza?” she asked when his plate was empty.

“No, I’m fine, love.” He set the plate on his overflowing coffee table and reclined back, still nursing his beer. “So tell me a story, Emma Swan.”

She laughed. “A story? Like ‘Once upon a time…’”

“No, something about yourself.” He pointed to the side of his chest. “Tell me about your most dramatic injury.”

“Well, I don’t have anything to rival getting hit by a car, and I still have all my limbs, so…”

“Come on, Swan,” he whined. “I’m in pain; entertain me.”

She sighed. “Okay. When I was eight, I broke my arm.”

“How did you do that?”

“I was on the swings on the school playground, swinging by myself. Pumping my legs to go higher and higher. And when I got as high as I thought I could possibly go, right as I got to the top of the… you know—” She mimed the path of a swing with her hand.

“The arc?”

“Yeah. Right at the top, I jumped.”

Killian’s eyes widened. “Why on earth would you do that?”

“I don’t know, I think I thought I would—”

“Fly?” he asked with a smirk.

“No, not fly, but I thought I would… I don’t know, follow this graceful path to the ground.” She laughed. “It wasn’t graceful. I landed on my arm and heard this snapping sound. I’ll never forget that sound.” She shuddered. “So I got a cast which no one signed, and my foster family was pissed at me for getting hurt because it cost them money.”

Killian’s expression turned sad. “I’m sorry, love. I didn’t mean to unearth a unhappy memory.”

Emma waved off his concern. “It’s no big deal. Most of my childhood memories are sad, to be honest.” She searched for something to lighten the mood and came up empty. “So, what do they do with broken ribs? Do you have, like, a brace on or something?”

Shaking his head, Killian lifted his shirt. Her eyes were greeted with a Rorschach test of bruising on the side of his chest, but it was easy to look beyond that to see the nice shape of his muscles and the line of hair down his abdomen. “Apparently they don’t do that anymore,” he said, and then committed the crime of dropping his shirt back down into place. Emma swallowed on a suddenly dry throat and gulped down the rest of her beer.

“Can I get you another one?” Killian asked.

“No,” she jumped up. “I should probably get going and let you rest.” Gesturing toward the kitchen, she added, “I’ll wrap up the rest of the pizza for you and put it away.”

Killian followed her to the kitchen, getting a roll of foil out and handing it to her. “If you haven’t thought better of going on a date with me, I should be mended enough the weekend after this coming to make a go of it, if you want.” His attempt at nonchalance was poor, and Emma smiled, her back turned as she wrapped up the pizza slices.

“I haven’t thought better of it. Are you sure that’s not too soon for your ribs, though?”

“As long as I don’t have to pick you up and carry you somewhere, Swan, I should be able to manage.”

She stuck the pizza in the fridge and then went out to the living room to gather up all the dirty dishes from his coffee table.

“You don’t have to do that,” he said, a pained expression on his face.

Emma rolled her eyes. “It’s a small thing. Just shut up and let me help you.”

“Yes, your highness.”

~*~

“I didn’t even know Storybrooke had a restaurant this nice,” Emma said as they followed the host to their table. In truth, it wasn’t anything that special: checkered table clothes and ordinary pasta dishes with cheap bottles of Chianti, or so it appeared; it certainly didn’t compare to the upscale places she’d seen in Boston. But it was a huge improvement over Granny’s, and right now that was really all she cared about.

“I told you I know how to plan a date,” Killian said, his hand resting lightly on her back as she was ushered to her seat. She watched as he removed his leather jacket and slung it over the back of his chair before sitting down gingerly, a little twinge of pain flashing across his face the only evidence of his injury. He’d assured her that while his ribs were still healing, he was certainly capable of sitting in a chair and eating a meal with her.

Killian’s usual long-sleeved black t-shirt and blue jeans had been replaced with a nice button-down shirt and a vest, and he wore new-looking black jeans instead of the usual faded denim. Also, he smelled good, and Emma caught herself staring as he sat down, the sudden image of burying her nose in the crook of his neck making her shift in her seat.

Mary Margaret had been entirely too excited about Emma’s date, offering her a pale pink dress to borrow which Emma had stuck her tongue out in distaste at. She’d opted for her usual jeans and boots, but topped it with a slightly more feminine sweater than she usually wore, although its scooped neckline was making her a bit uncomfortable now, her hand drifting to her own neck to fidget with the charm on her necklace as she studied the menu and tried to think of something to say.

“I don’t really do this,” she said.

“Order food in restaurants?”

“Date.”

“Present evidence to the contrary.” He slid down in his seat, elbow on the table and his face propped against one finger. “You mentioned that to me before, that you don’t date. Why is that?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know, it’s seemed… pointless most of the time, I guess.”

“Have you ever been in love?” he asked.

“Wow, extremely personal questions right off the bat, then,” Emma muttered. The waiter approached them. “Can I get an old fashioned, please?” Killian also ordered a drink, and the waiter nodded and left them alone once again.

“Well?” he asked.

Emma huffed. “Why don’t you tell me if you’ve ever been in love?”

“Yes, I have,” he said, his voice dropping an octave.

“With the woman whose name is on your arm? Your tattoo?”

He hesitated, then nodded. “Yes. Milah.” He took a sip of water. “She died.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

He gave her a tight smile. “It was a long time ago.”

“What happened?”

“An accident.”

“The same accident where you lost your hand?” she blurted out, then grimaced. “Sorry, that’s none of my business.”

“It’s okay, Swan. Yes, it was the same accident.”

The waiter arrived with their drinks, and they placed their orders. Silence settled.

“So, okay. Yes, maybe I’ve been in love.” She took a sip of her drink. “Once.”

“Henry’s father?” Killian asked. She narrowed her eyes, looking for a hint of judgment: there was always judgment when people discussed her teenage pregnancy. She saw none.

“Yeah. His name was Neal.” She couldn’t believe she was telling this story before the entrees even arrived. “We met when I tried to steal his car with him sleeping inside it.”

Killian laughed. “I thought there might be a little bit of pirate in you, Swan.”

“Also it was a car he’d stolen, so it was a match made in hell or something. We ran around together for a while, stealing to get by, and I think I was in love.”

Killian rolled a measure of rum around in his mouth before swallowing it. “I take it things didn’t end well.”

She considered lying to him, but it felt good to unburden herself for some reason. “He’d stolen some watches, and I agreed to pick them up for him, and I got caught. Ended up in prison for almost a year. That’s where I was when I found out I was pregnant.”

Killian’s eyes were wide. “Surely if he had taken responsibility for the watches, you would have gone free.”

She chuckled darkly. “He set me up to take the fall. I never saw him again.”

“My God, Swan.”

“Yeah, and that’s just one of the shitty stories of my shitty life.” She raised her glass in a mock toast. “He doesn’t know Henry even exists, which is a small relief.”

“Does Henry know?”

Emma rolled her eyes. “I mean, he knows I was in jail when he was born, thanks to the newspaper. But no, he doesn’t know that his father was a deadbeat who left me literally holding the bag.” She grimaced. “I told him his dad was a firefighter and a hero.”

Killian reached across the table and put his hand over hers. “Sometimes lying is the kindest thing you can do.”

Emma looked into his too-blue eyes, felt herself drowning a little bit in them. “Yeah, I guess.”

The conversation turned lighter after that, as the alcohol and the sharing of secrets relaxed them. The dinner seemed to pass in a flash, and Emma would have been hard-pressed to remember what she ate. Everything was him and his smile and the way the corners of his eyes crinkled when he laughed. The way he drummed his fingers on the table and the little thatch of chest hair she could see above his unbuttoned shirt collar.

He walked her home; the slow, meandering walk of people who didn’t particularly want to get where they were going. She walked on his left side, and when he stuck his elbow out in a ridiculously chivalrous gesture, she linked her arm with his. The chill of the evening gave her an excuse to press herself against his warm, solid presence.

“Well, not bad,” she said as they climbed the stairs to her apartment. “You actually managed to make me forget that there’s a murderer on the loose.” Emma turned to face Killian at the door.

“I’m glad you enjoyed yourself,” he said, smiling shyly at her.

“I’d invite you in for coffee, but Mary Margaret is home, so…” She was somehow simultaneously disappointed and relieved by that fact. It was probably for the best, taking any temptation to invite him into her apartment off the table. The way she was feeling tonight, there was no telling what she would do.

“That’s quite all right. I suppose we’ll have to wait until next time.”

Emma raised an eyebrow. “Next time? I don’t remember asking,” she said, aware of how rapidly her heart was beating.

Killian stepped closer, close enough that she could almost feel his breath on her face. “That’s because it’s my turn. Will you go out with me again?”

A part of her wanted to say no, because Emma Swan didn’t date, and Emma Swan definitely didn’t date seductive, mysterious guys who drank too much and slept too little. A part of her wanted to say yes, because he was charming and funny and very possibly the sexiest man that she’d ever stood this close to. All of her wanted to kiss him. So that’s what she did.

Her mouth gravitated toward his, pulled in before she had consciously made the decision to kiss him. She felt his head tilt, felt the brush of his nose against the apple of her cheek, and then his lips were on hers, slow and gentle. She opened her mouth enough to pull at his bottom lip, and felt a rush of heat as he responded, as his fingers carefully touched the back of her neck and his other arm wrapped around her to pull her closer.

Emma had always liked kissing, liked the feeling of another pair of soft lips against her own, liked the wetness of it and infinite variations of the way it could go, with tongues and lips and teeth. Liked the way it could take a tiny ember of desire and fan it into a roaring fire. But as Killian’s tongue worked against hers, as she felt her face flush and her knees weaken under this onslaught of sensation, she started to wonder if she’d ever been kissed quite like this before. His back was firm under her hands, and the way he kissed made her wonder if he’d be as good at other things he could do with his mouth as he was at kissing. She started to keenly regret that Mary Margaret was on the other side of her apartment door.

The kiss gradually slowed, and Emma was embarrassed at how breathless she was, although it seemed he was the same, the way he panted against her mouth as they stood there, not quite ready to get out of each other’s personal space. Reluctantly, she finally pulled away, taking in the bloom of color high on Killian’s cheeks.

“That was…”

Emma couldn’t help but grin. “Yeah.” She reached for the doorknob. “Goodnight, Killian.”

“Goodnight.”

Chapter Text

“So have you taken her out again?” Dave leaned back into his sofa, tipping more beer into his mouth.

Killian stared at the television, at the uniformed athletes whipping around the ice and slamming their bodies into each other. “Not yet.” This ritual of Dave’s of watching hockey was a bit foreign to him if he was honest, and the first time Dave had called and invited him over, Killian had almost refused. Now he was glad he hadn’t, as he had started to think of the other man as a friend.

Dave slapped a hand down on Killian’s knee. “Well, what are you waiting for? You’ve got to strike while the iron’s hot, buddy.”

“What does that expression even mean?”

“Hell if I know.” Dave laughed and picked up a tortilla chip from the bowl on the coffee table in front of them, his eyes trained back on the hockey game.

“I like her a lot,” Killian said. “More than I’ve liked anyone in… I don’t even know how long. I don’t want to mess this up.”

“Exactly, which is why you need to call her.”

“I don’t know. I already feel like she went on a date with me out of gratitude because I saved Henry from getting hit by a car.” He took a drink of his own beer, wishing for something harder.

“Maybe that was the catalyst, but it doesn’t sound like it was the only factor,” Dave said.

Killian sighed, rubbing his hand over his face. “She thinks I’m a fuck up.”

David turned from the TV and raised his eyebrows. “Why would she think that?”

“Because I am a fuck up, Dave.” He sighed. “I’m not the kind of guy that a nice girl’s family approves of.”

“Well, then it’s a good thing Emma’s an orphan.”

Killian laughed briefly. “I’m just saying I’m… I don’t know. Something’s wrong with me lately.”

“If you say so. I haven’t known you that long, so I don’t really have any basis for comparison.” He finished his beer and got up to head toward the kitchen for another. “I still think you should ask her out again,” he called.

“Where’s your wife this afternoon?” Killian asked when David walked back in and handed him another beer.

David shrugged. “She went out.”

“Everything okay?” Killian asked when he saw David’s sour expression.

“Not really, but that’s nothing new.”

They sat and watched TV in silence for a while. Killian figured if David didn’t want to talk about his marriage, he certainly didn’t want to push the issue.

A commercial for pizza came on, and David muted the TV. “I’m cheating on her.”

Killian blinked, turning on the sofa to face the other man. “You what?”

“I’m having an affair,” he said, and it almost sounded like he’d never said the words out loud before, like he was surprised they were coming out of his mouth. “I’m cheating on Kathryn.”

“Mate, I… don’t really know what to say.”

“Say I’m an asshole; I deserve it.” David set his beer down and put his head in his hands.

“I’m not interested in passing judgment on you, Dave. But if it’s tearing you up this much, maybe you should end it.”

David shook his head. “I’ve tried, but I… I love her too much. The thought of not being with her is torture.”

Killian couldn’t help it, he had to ask: “Who?”

“Mary Margaret Blanchard.”

Killian’s eyebrows shot up. “Emma’s roommate?”

“Yeah.”

“And does she feel the same for you?”

David nodded, still looking miserable.

“Well, in that case, you have to tell your wife. Start the process of ending this marriage. You’re doing her no favors by dragging it out if the marriage is over.”

David stood up, pacing back and forth. The hockey game came back on, but neither of them paid it any mind. “I promised Kathryn I’d try to make things work. And she’ll hate me if I break things off.”

Killian leaned back into the sofa, regarding his friend. “Yeah, she’ll hate you, but that seems inevitable no matter what you do. You’re going to have to serve some time as the villain in her life story; that’s a fact. But it seems to me that it’s a small price to pay for being with the woman you truly love.”

~*~

“I hope I didn’t text you too late,” Emma said as she hung his leather jacket up by the door. Killian looked around her apartment with interest. He figured the way it was decorated was more down to Mary Margaret than Emma, who’d only lived here for a few months, but he was still intensely curious about her living space. “I just left work, and Mary Margaret’s out, and I thought…” She shrugged, her cheeks flushing. “It might be a nice night to watch a movie or something.”

What she had texted was: wanna come over and watch a movie with me? Although, as he took a moment to stare at the way her sweater pulled tight across her breasts, he found he was much more interested in the ‘or something’.

“If it weren’t February, I would have offered to take you sailing for our second date,” he said.

“Who said this was a date?” she said with a smile.

“Touche.” Killian followed her over to the sofa.

“I didn’t realize you had your own boat,” Emma said. “Or would you steal one?” she teased.

He scoffed, rolling his eyes at her. “Sadly I don’t have my own boat at the moment, but I would borrow a boat from someone who owes me a favor; it would all be perfectly proper, Sheriff.”

Emma flopped down on the sofa and picked up the television remote, clicking it on. “Who taught you to sail?” she asked.

Killian sat down at her side, both of them looking at the screen as Emma changed channels. She kept the volume turned down low. “My brother, mostly.”

“Oh yeah? Where does he live?”

“He doesn’t,” he said, feeling an awkward smile ghost over his face. “He died.”

He could feel Emma’s eyes on him, and he kept his face impassive, watching as a news anchor talking to the camera in some studio hundreds of miles away. “You’ve had to deal with a lot of grief in your life,” she said.

“Aye.” He took a deep breath and let it out. “But it was all long ago, and I don’t want it to cast a pall over the evening.” He reached out and picked up her hand, bringing it to his lips and kissing the back of it. “I’d much rather focus on the lovely woman at my side right now.”

With a grin, Emma leaned over and kissed him; it was a brief, gentle thing, but it filled him with warmth and desire nonetheless. She’d kissed him without care, because kissing was a thing they did now. He suppressed a grin of his own.

Emma came to a channel that was showing one of those period dramas with women in high-waisted dresses and men in cravats. She turned the volume up a bit and set the remote aside, leaning her head over on his shoulder. The smell of her shampoo filling his nostrils, Killian held himself still, hoping not to dislodge her. He tried to focus on the film, but all he could think of was her. The way she had come into town, turning his whole world on its head. He knew it was too soon, knew if he said it to her, she would probably bolt, but he couldn’t deny it to himself. He was falling in love with Emma Swan.

On the screen, the protagonists looked longingly across a ballroom at each other. Emma sighed and sat up.

“I always wanted to go to a dance like this,” she said. “When I was ten years old, I used to have this fairy tale book that I would read, over and over until the book just about fell apart. And I had a Walkman that played tapes, do you remember those?” He nodded. “I would put in one of my tapes — I only had about four of them — and read about Cinderella at the ball, and imagine that I was dancing with my prince.” She shook her head. “It was a stupid, girly fantasy.”

“Not stupid, Swan.” He leaned over and nuzzled against her cheek. “It’s a lovely fantasy.”

Emma turned quickly, kissing him again. He felt like a virginal teenager, the way his heart soared when her mouth opened against his, the way he felt like he could sit here and kiss her for hours and never tire of it. The movie played on in their periphery, but he couldn’t have told anyone what was happening on the TV screen if his life depended on it. When their lips finally separated, Emma pressed her forehead against his for a moment before sighing and pulling away.

He felt like the luckiest man on Earth.

“So where would we go on this hypothetical sailing trip of yours?” Emma asked.

Killian had to think for a second to trace the thread to their earlier conversation. “No place in particular.” He squeezed her hand. “Far enough out into the bay that it’s calm and quiet. It can be quite peaceful, out there on the water. Makes your worries seem far away, like they can’t reach you.”

Emma digested this silently, her eyes flitting over his face, her top teeth pressing a small indentation into her kiss-reddened bottom lip. “Sounds nice. I hope you’re a good sailor, ‘cause I don’t know port from starboard or whatever.” She waved her hand in some vague indication of directions.

“I assure you, love, I’m quite skilled.”

She rolled her eyes at that, her cheeks turning pink. “Maybe Henry’s right, maybe you are Captain Hook.”

Captain Hook. It made his ears ring, those two words.

Killian’s heart started to rabbit in his chest, his mouth suddenly dry. “What?” he whispered.

She glanced away, her eyes captured by the moving images on the TV. “Henry likes to… pretend that the people in this town are storybook characters. Like, Mary Margaret is Snow White, stuff like that. And he said that you’re Captain Hook. Because you like sailing and your, you know…” She indicated the prosthesis on his left arm.

His vision narrowed, his heart racing. On your feet for the Captain! a distant voice seemed to call from somewhere far away.

“I mean, I hope you don’t take offense, he’s not trying to make light of your disability…”

I do consider myself an honorable man. A man with a code. Killian’s breath started coming in rapid pants, like he couldn’t get enough air into his lungs. He wondered if he was having a heart attack.

“Killian? Are you okay? Killian?” He could just make out her voice, as if it was coming down from a long tunnel. He couldn’t breathe. It felt like a heavy weight was on his chest; if he could get the weight off of his chest, then he could take a breath.

“Hey, look at me. You’re okay. Just breathe with me, okay? In… and out. In… and out.” Emma’s face swam into view, the worry painted across her features. He watched her breathe and tried to match her. Little by little, it helped. He became aware of his surroundings again, of the cold sweat between his shoulder blades.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice croaking out. “I don’t… I don’t know what happened.”

“Don’t apologize; focus on breathing,” she said. He realized she had dropped to her knees in front of him.

“All right.” He felt a rush of relief that he wasn’t, in fact, dying.

“Do you know what a panic attack is? Because I think you had one.” She was caressing the hair at his temple, gently combing her fingers through the short hair over and over, and it was incredibly soothing. He closed his eyes, still breathing with her. “Are you prone to them?”

“Hmm?” He had a hard time focusing on her question.

“Are you prone to panic attacks?”

He shook his head. “Lately my thoughts are… I’ve been dreaming things and imagining things that don’t make any sense.”

Emma cleared her throat, sitting beside him on the sofa again. “You mentioned nightmares before, and that you don’t sleep well. Do you think… I mean, have you ever seen a doctor or… or a therapist about all this stuff?”

“I’m not crazy,” he said, squeezing his eyes shut with embarrassment.

“Hey, didn’t say you were. But if there’s something; a medication, something — that could help you, it’s stupid to go day after day suffering. And there’s nothing wrong with seeing a therapist. Dr. Hopper—”

“I’ve no need of that bloody cricket,” he said through clenched teeth.

“Bloody what?” Emma asked with an uneasy laugh. “Yeah, I get it, he’s probably not the best. Believe me, if there were anyone else in this town that Henry could see, I’d strongly consider trying to get him transferred, but…” She took his hand. “Maybe you should try.”

“I’ll think about it,” he said, mostly to stop her from talking on this subject. What could he tell a therapist? That he dreamed of a tall ship, crewed by men out of some kind of pirate movie, that it all seemed so real, like it was a life he’d really lived? That he dreamed of Milah’s death, but the circumstances were all wrong? Worst of all, that he was visited almost nightly by a monster, whispering in his ear about things he needed to do? They’d lock him up in a padded room for sure.

“Okay,” Emma said.

When he moved to kiss her, at first he felt her tense up, but then she relaxed into it, her mouth opening against his. Very quickly the kiss became hungry and desperate, and he dropped his jaw to allow her tongue entrance. He sank his fingers into Emma’s hair, aware of the press of her thigh against his. One of her hands came up and rested against his chest, her fingernails scratching against his skin and making him shudder with how badly he wanted her.

She broke the kiss finally, breathing into his mouth, and he pulled back enough to focus on her eyes. “God, I’m the worst,” she said.

“What?” He swallowed, tried to gather his wits.

“You just had a panic attack and here I am, eating your face.”

He laughed at that. “I’m fine, and you can eat my face anytime you want.” That made her chuckle, and he pressed his smiling lips to hers again. “Emma, I…”

“Yeah?”

“I hope you know this is more than a physical thing for me,” he confessed. “When I lost Milah, I thought I’d never care for anyone again.” A half-smile quirked up one side of his mouth. “But then I met you.”

Emma seemed to be studying him, assessing him, trying to figure out if he was telling her the truth. There was mistrust in her eyes, but also a spark of hope.

“I’m telling you the truth, love,” he said.

“I know.” Her assessment continued. He hoped for a response in kind from her, but she didn’t seem inclined to say anything further. In lieu of speaking, she grabbed his shoulders and pulled him close to kiss her again. It might not have been the admission of feelings for him that he wanted, but he took it gladly.

When she started to rise up on her knees, Killian at first thought Emma was putting an end to their make-out session, but then before he quite realized what she intended, she was straddling his lap. A rush of desire flooded his system as Emma dove in for another kiss.

He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close so that he could feel the enticing pressure of her breasts against him. He didn’t want to move too fast, especially not if she wasn’t ready, but lurid images of being without clothes in this position, of thrusting his hips to bury himself inside her, filled his head. He was hard and straining against his zipper in no time.

Emma kept kissing him, her legs widening and sliding down until she made contact with his erection, and even through their clothes it was like wildfire running through him. He couldn’t have stopped himself from moving his hips against hers, not for all the money in the world.

“Killian,” she gasped against his mouth when one thrust of his hips seemed to hit her in just the right spot, and everything was her, the smell of her skin and the taste of her mouth, the softness of her breasts and the heat of her between her legs. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever wanted anything more than he wanted her right at that instant.

The unmistakable sound of a key rattling in the lock reached their ears, and Emma jumped off of him like she’d been hit with an icy douse of cold water. “Shit,” she said, which pretty much summed it up. He quickly adjusted himself in his jeans, resisting the urge to cover his lap with a throw pillow.

“Oh, hi there,” Mary Margaret said when she saw them on the sofa. “Sorry, Emma, I didn’t know—”

Emma turned the TV off, relegating the more restrained longing of Regency England to the ether and leaving their own very real longing hanging in the air around them. “It’s no big deal, we were just hanging out.” There was an unmistakable flush on her cheeks. He figured Mary Margaret was under no illusions about what they’d been doing.

“Time for me to take my leave,” he said, standing.

“Oh, you don’t have to go on my account,” Mary Margaret said, “I can—”

“No, it’s fine; I have to awaken quite early for work.” He leaned over and kissed Emma on the cheek. “Perhaps I can see you on Saturday?” he asked softly. “We could have dinner together?”

She smiled, her eyes full of promise. “Absolutely.”

~*~

Killian took a sip from his coffee mug, reflexively reaching for the inside pocket of his leather jacket to feel for a flask. He wasn’t carrying one, for which he both congratulated and castigated himself. He’d not started drinking on the job yet, and thanks to the better part of his nature he wasn’t going to start now. But after the night he’d had, tossing and turning as vivid nightmares plagued every second of his sleep, and monstrous hallucinations most of the time he’d spent awake, a little slosh of rum in his coffee would have been a blessing.

The day was bitterly cold, and he’d closed the door to his office against the wind and falling snow. When a knock sounded, he frowned. This time of the morning all the fishing boats were out, and usually, no one bothered him. “Come in,” he called, his voice coming out raspy and gruff.

An unfamiliar man stood in the doorway. “Killian Jones?”

“Yes?”

The man walked in and held out his hand for Killian to shake. “August Booth. Good to meet you.”

Killian eyed the man’s hand without taking it. “Can I help you?”

“I hope so.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a piece of paper, unfolding it and laying it out on Killian’s desk. “Ever seen a dagger like that?”

Killian looked at the paper, which contained a detailed drawing of said dagger. The blade was long and ornate, curving in gentle, undulating waves as it narrowed to a point. The hilt was thick and black, and for a moment he fancied that he could feel the heft of it in his hand. A strange sense of satisfaction swelled in his chest at the imagined sensation.

He raised his eyes to August. “Nope.”

August scrutinized him carefully, his eyebrows raised. “Really? Doesn’t spark any memory at all?”

His heart racing, Killian schooled his expression, looking up at August balefully. “Should it?”

“This might be the weapon that killed Mr. Gold,” August said.

“So why isn’t the sheriff asking me about it instead of some… what exactly is your business with this?”

August folded his arms across his chest. “I’m an author, looking into the story for a possible book. People eat up this true crime shit.”

“And why exactly do you think I would know anything about this knife?” Killian leaned back in his chair, meeting the other man’s gaze.

“I interviewed the mayor, and she pointed me in your direction. Seems she and the sheriff have a disagreement as to whether you should still be under investigation for this killing.”

Killian felt his jaw spasm as he clenched his teeth. “The mayor doesn’t know what she’s talking about, so why don’t you get the fuck out of my office.”

August raised his hands defensively. “Hey, okay, no need to get violent. Just following the story where it takes me.” He picked up the drawing from Killian’s desk.

“How did you get a drawing like that, anyway?” Killian asked, curious in spite of his whirling emotions.

August broke eye contact for a moment, shuffling back and forth on his feet. “It was among Mr. Gold’s records. I managed to get a look at the coroner’s report and put two and two together.”

“So he was killed with his own knife?”

“Looks like it.”

Killian raised an eyebrow. “I assume you’ve shared this information with the sheriff, then?”

August smiled disingenuously. “Of course.” He folded the drawing and put it back in his pocket. “Thanks for your time, Mr. Jones,” he said, opening the door and going back out into the snowy cold. The door closed with a slam, aided by the wind.

Killian began to shiver, but it wasn’t the cold that caused tremors to run down his spine. With a shaking hand, he caught the cuff of his right sleeve with his prosthesis and tugged it up. He’d looked at the tattoo countless times, always frustrated that he didn’t remember getting it. He knew why he’d gotten it, to commemorate the loss of his love Milah, but he didn’t remember the actual event.

That was why he didn’t remember, and couldn’t fathom, why the exact same dagger from August’s drawing was there on his arm, piercing a heart.

Chapter Text

“N… nothing here, Madam M… mayor,” the man said fearfully, and Regina imagined ripping his heart out and crushing it just to stop his annoying stutter. She rolled her eyes.

“So find another clear spot and dig again,” she said through clenched teeth, her voice loud in the muffled stillness of the snowy forest. Was this one Bashful? Or Dopey? She didn’t recall and frankly, didn’t care. She didn’t bother to learn their cursed names, and she certainly wasn’t going to try to remember their names from the Enchanted Forest.

Several of the dwarves wielded shovels, while another was operating a metal detector, moving it over the freshly fallen snow that blanketed the forest floor. Tree branches heavy with snow hung low around them, the lower ones dropping their burden on the ground in huge clumps as they were disturbed by the searchers.

Regina wasn’t sure that the Dark One dagger would even set off a metal detector — was what it was made of technically metal, or was it some enchanted element that had no equivalent in this realm? — so she was having the dwarves dig in an ever-widening circle away from the site of the murder. She stamped her booted feet against the cold. Probably best to go back to her warm office and wait for news.

“So, of course, when I get a call from a citizen saying there were strange men digging in the forest, I should have guessed that you were involved,” a sardonic voice said from behind her. Regina swung around to see Emma coming toward her, gray beanie shoved down tight over her head and shiny sheriff’s badge at her hip. Regina sneered.

“Well, someone has to look for the murder weapon since your office is doing such a miserable job of searching for it,” Regina sneered. “You and that charming deputy of yours are worse than useless.”

“You’re out here disturbing a crime scene,” Emma said, her breath visible in the frosty air.

“It’s been two and a half months,” Regina responded. “If you haven’t finished investigating the crime scene, then you’re even more incompetent than I thought.”

Emma rolled her eyes. “So you’re going to dig up the whole forest?”

“If I have to. This is town property, Ms. Swan, and I have every right to do exactly what I’m doing.”

“Why?”

“Anything to get justice for poor Mr. Gold.”

“Why do I doubt that you give a shit about Mr. Gold?” Emma asked, her arms folding across her chest.

“I ‘give a shit’ that there’s still a murderer on the loose. A murderer that you seem to be dating if the town rumor mill is accurate.”

“Killian’s not the killer.”

Regina narrowed her eyes, surprised that Emma didn’t offer even a token denial of the relationship. “And how do you know that?”

“The killer stole Tom Clark’s car and followed Mr. Gold out here, and Killian doesn’t drive,” she said, ticking off points on her gloved fingers. “The killer would have gotten blood on his clothes, and Killian was seen by his next-door neighbor not long after the murder, looking normal. Also, I’ve found no fingerprints in the car or in Gold’s cabin that match his.”

“And do they match anyone else?” Regina asked.

Emma looked chastened at that question. “I’m still trying to work that out. So far I haven’t found anything that didn’t match Mr. Gold himself in the cabin, or Mr. Clark and his friends in the car. But we’re still investigating it.”

“So he could have had a glove on.” Regina looked back at the men digging in the forest. “We’re going to find that dagger, Ms. Swan, and when we do, you’ll have to accept the fact that your new boyfriend is a murderer.” And the Dark One, she thought to herself.

“Why are you so insistent that Killian did this? I can tell when someone’s lying, and he’s telling the truth.”

Regina pulled herself up, standing ramrod straight and staring down her nemesis. “I know the history of the people in this town that you cannot begin to understand. If you think he’s telling the truth, then you’re blinded by his pretty face.”

“Whatever.” Emma turned to head back the way she’d come. “Have fun out here in the cold.”

Regina watched Emma go until she’d disappeared from view, seething internally. She stomped her feet, her toes numb inside her boots. She swung around, furious. “Keep working!” she shouted. “I won’t abide any laziness. And call me as soon as you find anything!”

Back in her car, Regina turned on the heat full-blast and then noticed that she’d left her Blackberry sitting on the passenger seat. She had a missed call from Kathryn Nolan, David’s wife.

If what Regina suspected was correct, then despite her best efforts at intervention, that damned Snow White and her peasant husband had found their way back into each other’s arms. That kind of happiness was exactly what the curse was supposed to prevent. She pressed a button to call Kathryn back.

“Hello, Kathryn, you called?”

“Hi, Regina. Thanks for calling me back.”

“You sound sad; is everything all right?”

“No. I just had a long conversation with David. Our marriage is over.”

“I was headed back to my office. Can you meet me there? We can talk.”

Regina’s hands clutched the steering wheel as she drove back into town. She would stop this. She couldn’t allow Snow White to be happy, that would defeat the whole purpose, the whole reason for Storybrooke’s existence.

Pulling into her accustomed parking space at town hall and leaving the car, she marched into the building, thinking about what her play should be. If Snow White and Prince Charming were together, she would have to do something to tear them apart. Was there a way to frame one of them for Mr. Gold’s murder? Doubtful, not with David’s familiarity with the case as Emma’s deputy. But if someone else died, or went missing, and if sweet little Mary Margaret was the prime suspect…

Regina sighed; she really could have used a toadying minion like Sidney Glass to help her deal with this problem, but he’d proven himself so useless when it came to unseating Emma Swan as sheriff that he’d required punishment. She supposed she’d have to do everything herself. As usual. No one could be counted on, in this world or any other.

Kathryn was already sitting on a bench outside Regina’s office. Regina pulled her into a hug, every inch the supportive friend. “Come in, Kathryn, and tell me everything.”

They sat down together on the pristinely white sofa. Regina handed Kathryn a box of tissues, but she seemed to have herself under control. “David confessed to me that he’s been cheating on me with Mary Margaret.”

Regina didn’t have to fake her anger. “That complete and utter asshole.”

Kathryn shrugged. “At least he was honest. He’s in love with her, not with me.” She sighed. “To be fair, I don’t know if I’m in love with him either.”

“That’s awfully generous of you. But you are his wife and the two of you took vows. That can’t be undervalued.”

“I know, but it’s never felt right.” Kathryn stood up and began to pace, her heels loud against the marble floor. Regina’s mind whirred as she focused on the upside down image of Kathryn in the reflective shine of the black and white marble under their feet. “It’s never felt real, me and David. Even before the coma. I don’t think we were meant to be.”

Regina stood as well, walking over toward one of her decorative end tables. She caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror, a hundred tiny, fractured versions of herself in each of the beveled edges. “So what are you going to do?”

“I considered running away to Boston; I was thinking about applying to law school and getting a fresh start. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Storybrooke is my home. I don’t have to leave it if I don’t want to.” As she talked, she turned to look out the window. Regina picked up a heavy vase from the end table and stole up behind her. It didn’t matter what Kathryn said. If she turned up dead, it wouldn’t be hard to focus the blame on the woman her husband was having an affair with. “Yes, it will be hard to see David and Mary Margaret together, but I’m strong. I can deal with it.”

Regina raised the vase.

There was a loud knock on her office door.

Just managing to get the vase set down before Kathryn turned from the window, Regina pasted on a forced smile. “What is it?” she called, her voice sharp.

The door opened to reveal Killian Jones.

“I was wondering if we could talk, Madam Mayor,” he said.

“I’m in a meeting,” Regina almost snarled.

“It’s okay, I need to run some errands.” Kathryn reached out and squeezed Regina’s hand, her face kind. “Thanks for being a good friend, Regina.” Regina watched as her ticket to making Mary Margaret miserable walked out the door.

“This was bad timing, Cap— Mr. Jones.”

“So was the — writer, was it? — that you sent sniffing around the docks this morning.”

Regina glared at him. “When the sheriff has done nothing to solve this horrible crime, I’ll take any help I can get. Even bohemian writers.” She knew who August was; he wasn’t writing any book, at least not one he planned to publish. As the only other person in town who knew the origins of Storybrooke, she either needed to make an ally of him or eliminate him. For now, she was electing to try the former.

“Emma has worked night and day—”

“Yes, well, you aren’t exactly unbiased when it comes to Miss Swan, are you? Nor she with you. Which is a bigger problem.”

“Why are you so convinced that I killed that man?” Killian asked, his voice rising with a little bit of desperation. “I swear on all that’s holy that I didn’t.”

“You and anything holy are about as far apart as two things can get,” Regina muttered. She knew Hook probably believed what he was saying, thanks to the curse, or thanks to however the Dark One was manifesting itself in his cursed brain. But the fact remained that he was the Dark One, she was almost certain of it, and she needed to get possession that dagger before the curse was broken, or who knows what would happen when he realized who and what he was.

“I just thought the guy seemed dangerous,” Killian said. “Unconcerned with following the law. A man like that might do anything in pursuit of a story.”

“And what are you suggesting I do with him? If he’s so dangerous, perhaps you should tell your girlfriend, the sheriff?”

“How about start by telling him I’m no murderer!” Killian shouted.

“Or what?” When he didn’t respond, Regina walked over to her desk and picked up some papers, stacking them in what she hoped was a dismissal. “I’ll be sure to keep your input in mind. Was there anything else?”

~*~

“I’m headed out,” Emma said to Mary Margaret as she descended the stairs from her bedroom. She’d rushed home from the station to freshen up. Lately, she'd been so busy, she’d hardly spoken to her roommate.

Mary Margaret looked up from the stove where she was stirring a sauce. “Where’s Killian taking you?”

“He’s doing what you’re doing for David; cooking dinner.”

“Ooh, romantic.” Mary Margaret smirked at her. “Do you think you’ll be back tonight?”

Emma flushed, biting her lip. “Let’s just say I’m prepared for the possibility that I won’t be. I promise I’ll call if not and give you ample warning.” Emma gathered up her purse and keys. “Listen, David told me about him and Kathryn; I’m really so happy for you two.”

Mary Margaret’s face broke out into a full grin. “Me too. I know it’s still going to be difficult, and he has to get through the divorce, but Kathryn really couldn’t have been more understanding.”

“I guess they both knew they weren’t right for each other.”

“You know, David gives a lot of credit to both you and Killian for setting him straight on telling Kathryn the truth.”

Emma was surprised to hear that. “I didn’t realize he and Killian talked about personal stuff.”

“Yeah, they’re really getting to be good friends. Oh, we could double date!”

Wrinkling her nose, Emma opened the door. “Yeah, because we’re teenagers in the 1950s. I’ll see you later, Mary Margaret.”

She drove the short distance to Killian’s apartment, her heart in her throat. The last time they’d been together, she was fairly certain that if Mary Margaret hadn’t come home, she and Killian would have ended up in bed together. Now they were going to be alone in his apartment with the whole night ahead of them. It didn’t matter how many people she’d slept with in her life; the idea that tonight might be the night with Killian was making her more nervous than she’d felt about a guy in a long time.

When he opened the door for her promptly after she knocked, she could see her own feelings reflected in his hopeful expression.

“Hey, come on in.” He helped her off with her coat, hanging it in a small closet by the front door. “Dinner’s almost ready.”

If she expected to see chaos in his kitchen, she was disappointed. The oven was on, something obviously cooking inside, and a salad sat on the counter. All the dishes involved in preparing the meal had been washed and put away. The table was set with two place settings, and there was even a single rose in a beer bottle. She smiled.

“I know my apartment isn’t much, but…”

“It’s fine.”

They stared at each other awkwardly. Killian scratched behind his ear, glancing over at the oven timer, which still had four minutes left on it.

“Can I get you a beer?” Killian asked.

“Yeah, sure.” The process of getting beer out of the fridge and opening them took about a minute, and then they were back to uncomfortable silence.

“Sorry, I probably should have prepared some topics of conversation. I’ve suddenly forgotten how to use language,” he said, flushing to the tips of his ears.

“It’s the sex thing,” Emma said.

She watched him swallow, his hand coming up to scratch behind his ear again. “I’m sorry?”

She set her beer down on the kitchen counter and wiped her palms off on her jeans. “You know, the sex thing. We’re both wondering if we’re gonna have sex tonight. It’s making things awkward and weird.”

Killian’s eyes blinked a few times. “Right. So are we? Going to have sex?” He bit his lip, which she thought looked like a fantastic idea. Sinking her teeth into his bottom lip was definitely a thing she wanted to experience first-hand.

Shrugging one shoulder, she smiled. “It’s not just up to me.” She took a couple of steps toward him. “But I’d like to cast my vote for yes.”

Killian hummed, his smile bringing out the dimples in his cheeks. “Well, it’s unanimous then. That’s lucky.”

They sort of swayed into each other, drawn in by an invisible pull between them. “Lucky,” Emma agreed, letting her body come to rest against his, touching legs and chests and fuck, he smelled really good.

When they kissed, it wasn’t tentative or slow; she opened her mouth and so did he and their tongues were touching, wet and slick and perfect. Emma reached up and wrapped her arms around him, pulling him close so that her breasts crushed against the firm plane of his chest.

The oven timer sounded and Killian ignored it, his mouth busy against the curve where her neck met her shoulder.

“Oven,” she rasped out.

“Don’t care.”

Emma pried him away, enjoying his lazy, lust-filled expression. “Your dinner’s going to burn, and we should probably eat so that we have enough strength for the other thing.”

Killian spun around, twisting knobs to stop the beeping timer and to turn off the oven itself. Taking a casserole out, he set it down to cool and turned to her. “Or we could do the other thing now, and have dinner after.” His hopeful smile made her laugh, so she kissed him again.

“Okay,” she mumbled against his lips.

“Okay?”

She reached around and squeezed his ass, pulling him up against her. “Okay.”

What followed was a clumsy, stumbling walk to the bedroom as they continued kissing and Emma went to work on his shirt buttons. She paused in the doorway of his bedroom to take her boots off, tossing them in the general direction of the front door, before joining him by the bed, neatly made like the first time she’d been in here, when she’d searched his apartment.

“Undressing another person is awkward, don’t you think?” she said as she untucked his shirt from his jeans so she could finish unbuttoning it.

Killian chuckled, pulling her close, his hand roaming down her back and over the curve of her ass. “Would that I had some kind of magic to whisk our clothes away.”

Emma took a step back, pulling her sweater over her head, and then they were both rapidly yanking their jeans off, sitting down next to each other to finish the job. Noticing that he’d removed his underwear at the same time, Emma reached behind her back to unfasten her bra, then pulled her own underwear off, and wow, she did not expect to be getting naked this early in the proceedings, but here she was, completely bare in Killian’s lamp-lit bedroom.

He kissed her while she reached back and fumbled with the bedding, and then he was pressing her back onto the pillows and Emma let herself be pressed, enjoying the fall and the weight of his body over her. His shirt was open but still on, and she wondered if he was uncomfortable about his prosthesis and what lay under it. She hoped he’d grow more confident with time, and it struck her like a thunderclap that she wasn’t just about to have sex with someone. She was assuming this tumble into bed would be the first of many. She was thinking like this wasn’t a one-time thing. She blinked her eyes, amazed.

“You all right, love?”

Emma reached up and caressed his face, enjoying scraping her nails through the stubble on his cheek. “I should be asking you that. You sure your ribs are up for this?”

He smiled softly. “I assure you, I’m tip top.”

Running her hand down his back and up under his shirt, she pulled him down, opening her thighs and cradling his in between, gasping at the intimate press of his cock between her legs. Then they were both lost, mouths meeting and hips rolling against one another, all breathless moans and grinding, panting desire. She was already so wet, could feel it in the slick drag of him against her, knew she should ask him to get a condom or run and fetch one from her purse, because she was so ready for this, ready for him to push inside her and fuck her and make her come.

He slowed things down though, moving over to one side and running his hand over her chest, cupping her breast and brushing his thumb over the nipple. Emma gasped, grasping the sides of his face and kissing him again, arching against his hand. He slid it down, brushing his calloused palm over her abdomen, and she rolled her hips, hoping he would take the hint and touch her where she was desperate to be touched.

When his fingers finally slipped between her legs, Emma bit down on his bottom lip, her hand tightening in his hair. She felt like a coiled spring; like her body had been waiting for this since the moment they met, since the moment she turned in the bright sunlight and saw him there on the docks. They groaned together as he slid a finger inside her. He alternated between gentle thrusts in and out, and more focused touches to her clit, winding her tighter and tighter as she lifted her hips and panted into his mouth.

“Condom?” she murmured.

“Yeah.” He rolled over, pulling open his bedside table drawer and taking out a foil packet. Emma took advantage of the fact that he was on his back, sitting up and moving astride him, taking the condom from his hand. She’d always had an easier time coming when she was on top, and she grinned at him as she tore the package open with her teeth. He met her gaze with one of lust-filled amazement, like he couldn’t quite believe this was happening.

Emma rolled the condom on, stroking him and lining her body up and sinking down and oh. There. He filled her, the delicious stretch of it making her whimper as she leaned forward and started a slow pace, her hands clutching the bed on either side of his pillow.

It took a few thrusts for them to find a rhythm together, his hips not quite rising in sync with hers at first, but they adjusted to each other and she couldn’t help moaning at how good it felt. “Fuck, Swan, yes,” he chanted with every rise and fall, every slick meeting of their bodies. She could feel it building, grinding down onto his pelvic bone as hard as she could, chasing her pleasure and feeling the sensation of an orgasm ahead, nothing stopping her, nothing in the way between her and that best of all possible feelings. She dimly heard Killian cry out just before her own orgasm hit, everything clenching and pulsing with perfect bliss.

Emma took a few seconds to rest against his chest before carefully dismounting, making sure he had a grip on the condom so they didn’t make a mess of things. Killian got up to clean himself up while she collapsed onto her back, her chest still heaving.

“Ready for dinner?” he asked when he returned to the bedroom, a cheeky smile on his face.

She shook her head back and forth on the pillow, taking a moment to enjoy the sight of his body. “That would require me to be capable of standing up.”

HIs resulting expression was full of pride. “I could stand here and throw food at you if you prefer.”

Emma heaved herself up, fishing around on the floor for her underwear. “I guess I have worked up an appetite.” Killian pulled his jeans back on, but Emma decided to only bother with the underwear and her sweater, leaving her own jeans and her bra on the floor.

Having sex first was the best idea he’d ever had; all the awkwardness from earlier had drained away, and as she ate almost-warm-enough forkfuls of Killian’s hamburger casserole, she thought she had never laughed so much over a meal.

They lingered at the table over cups of coffee and shared a piece of store-bought cheesecake, Killian’s blue eyes sparkling in the light of the dim bulb over his cheap, laminate table.

“What?” he said, and it made her realize that she was just sitting there, staring at him, her foot hooked over the rung of her chair, her bare legs slightly chilled.

“Nothing, I’m…” She took a second to interrogate the way she was feeling, expecting to find apprehension that she’d moved too far, too fast, gotten too close. But all she found was joy. “I’m just happy.”

He reached across the table and took her hand, his expression open and warm. “Me too.”

Later, they found their way into bed again, her sweater still on but panties flung enthusiastically across the room, and she looked down her body at the erotic sight of his dark hair between her thighs. She’d told him he could take off his shirt and prosthesis if he wanted to, and in the dark bedroom, he’d agreed, vulnerable and trusting.

Now he worked her over with his tongue and fingers, his focus only on her pleasure, and she gave herself over to it, rocking against his face and gripping his hair and muttering don’t stop, don’t stop until she came with a strangled cry. She was vaguely aware of him still between her legs, watching her as she shuddered with the aftershocks. As soon as she could make her limbs cooperate, she pulled her sweater off, collapsing naked and sweaty back onto the sheets.

Emma made a half-hearted motion toward his drawer with the condoms before Killian crawled over her to retrieve one himself. She sat up enough to kiss him as he fumbled with the wrapper.

“This okay?” he asked against her mouth.

“Uh huh.”

There were more sloppy kisses as he lined himself up, and then he buried himself to the hilt inside her. She wrapped her legs around him, telling him to let go, telling him to fuck her hard and he did, a glorious snarl on his face and the cords of his neck standing out. She gripped his biceps, loving the way his muscles felt under her hands. He didn’t last long, a strangled moan issuing from his throat as his orgasm hit. She combed her fingers through his hair as he came down, feeling exhausted and satisfied and wonderful.

He pulled her into his arms as soon as he returned from cleaning up, his nose brushing against hers in a not-quite-kiss. They settled against each other under the sheets, legs entangled. There was a gentle intimacy between them that was filling her heart, almost bringing tears to her eyes with how perfect it felt. Holding each other close, they both drifted off to sleep.

~*~

Emma woke up to the sound of his voice, but it was all wrong. Before she was even awake, the hairs on her arms were raised with gooseflesh.

“I’ll see you die,” he muttered between clenched teeth. Emma sat up in bed and looked over, seeing Killian still asleep in the light from the moon, now shining through the window and illuminating the bedroom with pale white light. He tossed and turned, lost in a nightmare.

“Dreamed of this day for so long,” he said, followed by more muttering she couldn’t understand. He flung his arm out, and it came to rest across her lap. Emma looked down at his tattoo, clearly visible in the moonlight. At the heart, and the name, and the dagger with the curved blade.

Curved blade.

“Your life is mine, Crocodile,” he said clearly.

Crocodile. He’d said that before, in the interrogation room at the sheriff’s station.

Emma carefully extracted herself from underneath his arm. Her mind a haze of panicky, swirling thoughts, she gathered her clothes from around the room, pulled them on, and fled into the night.

Chapter Text

She practically collapsed inside the loft once she’d unlocked the door, her momentum carrying her several steps into the dark apartment. Emma turned on the lights. “Mary Margaret?”

There was a flurry of whispers from behind the curtain that separated Mary Margaret’s bed from the main part of the room while Emma paced back and forth, a hand raking through her hair. Oh, my God. What have I done?

“Emma?” Mary Margaret was sleep-mussed, knotting the tie of her robe around her waist as she squinted against the bright light. “Emma, what’s wrong?”

She couldn’t speak at first and gestured vaguely as she continued to pace. “What have I done?”

“Honey, sit down. Let me make you some tea.”

“I can’t sit, I need to pace.” David emerged then, wearing pajama pants and pulling a t-shirt on over his head. Emma wondered when he’d started keeping pajamas here. “And I interrupted you guys. I’m sorry, God.”

“You didn’t, it’s fine, just tell me what’s wrong,” Mary Margaret said as she put water in the kettle. “Did something happen with Killian?”

She laughed slightly hysterically. “No big deal, I just think he might be the murderer after all.” She made another pass across the room. “I fucked a murderer. Twice.”

“Wait, hang on.” David held up a hand. “Leaving aside that last thing you said ‘cause I don’t want to think about it, why do you think he’s the murderer all of a sudden?”

Now she did sit down at the kitchen table, letting her head fall into her hands. “He said some things in his sleep.”

“What things?” Mary Margaret asked.

She frowned, trying to remember the exact words, running her fingers back and forth over the textured wood of the kitchen table. “‘I’ll see you die’, ‘your life is mine’, stuff like that.”

David sat down next to her. “Okay, but people can have violent dreams without being actual killers. I once had a sex dream about Ruby, that doesn’t mean I want to actually have sex with Ruby.”

David!” Mary Margaret said, sounding affronted.

“All I mean is, it was just a dream. He’s mentioned having bad dreams before.” David said reasonably, his expression kind and his movements measured, like she was a stray dog he was trying not to spook.

“Okay, but he also called someone in his dream ‘Crocodile.’ Which is the same thing he said when I was interrogating him and he admitted he saw the body. He said ‘I saw the Crocodile.’”

“If I saw a dead body, I’d probably have nightmares about it,” Mary Margaret commented. “Even if he was dreaming of killing Gold, that doesn’t mean he did.”

“God, how can I have been so stupid,” Emma said, getting up from the table again. “He was out in the woods that afternoon, and I was willing to write it off as a coincidence because he seemed like a nice guy and he was interested in me. I mean, how hard up am I? Shit.”

David was still trying to placate her. “Emma, calm down and think logically—”

“And then he’s got this tattoo on his arm with a dagger with a curved blade. Gold was killed with a curved blade, according to Whale.”

Mary Margaret and David exchanged a look. “Are you suggesting he got the murder weapon tattooed on his arm?” she asked.

“No, I’m suggesting… I don’t know what I’m suggesting. But it’s another weird coincidence. There are too many weird coincidences.”

“You said Billy alibied him,” David said.

“No, I said Billy saw him after Gold was killed and he looked normal. But we know the killer cleaned up in Gold’s cabin, so maybe he’d just cleaned up really well. And he didn’t look upset because he’s a psychopath. Which is why I couldn’t tell he was lying,” Emma said, snapping her fingers. “He’s a psychopath. Who I had sex with. God, kill me.”

“And he hot-wired Mr. Clark’s car?” David asked.

“I don’t know, maybe!” She was back to pacing. “I only have his word for it that he can’t drive. Maybe everything he’s ever said to me is a lie.” Like that he cares for me, she thought. That it was more than just physical.

“Emma,” Mary Margaret said, approaching her cautiously like she was going to flee at the slightest provocation. “I think you got scared tonight after an evening that was… emotional, probably, and your brain is spinning out all these scenarios that in the light of day might not make the most sense. Why don’t you try to get some sleep, and let’s talk about this again in the morning.”

Emma knew that logically, what Mary Margaret was saying was sensible, but everything in her body was shouting at her to run, to do something. To go out and tear the town apart until she found that blade, for one.

“What if this whole time, Regina was right?” she whispered to her roommate.

“Then we’ll deal with that as it comes.” She pulled Emma into a hug. “Whatever happens, you know David and I will be right here by your side, right?”

“Yeah,” Emma said, hugging Mary Margaret back, amazed at how comforting it was. “I know.”

~*~

Emma tossed and turned in her bed for most of the night, finally falling asleep after 5:00 a.m. She awoke only a couple of hours later and saw a missed call from Killian on her phone. She ignored it.

It was Sunday and she hadn’t been planning to go to the station, but she decided that it would be easier to do that than to sit and brood at home. She snuck out of the apartment while David and Mary Margaret were still sleeping. There was something strangely comforting about the silent police station, the sun shining through the plate glass windows and warming the space. Emma felt like if she could just be alone for a minute and think, she’d be able to stop her brain from spinning around in increasingly desperate and fruitless circles and figure this out once and for all.

She watched Killian’s interrogation video again, three times, paying attention to the way he said every word, looking for signs of lies that she might’ve missed the first time, but she detected nothing. ‘A man unwilling to fight for what he wants deserves what he gets,’ he’d said at one point. What the hell did that mean?

She was poring over her case notes when her phone dinged with a text message. She picked it up, wincing when she saw the text was from Killian.

If I did something wrong last night, please tell me.

If she didn’t respond, he might try to look for her. She typed out: you didn’t. just need a little space to think.

He didn’t reply to that.

Still staring at her phone, she almost jumped out of her skin when the main door to the sheriff’s station opened and August Booth walked in.

“We’re not open to the public right now,” she said, coming out of her office to meet him in the main room.

“Door was open,” he said. He moved toward her, limping slightly.

“I was catching up on some paperwork and must have forgotten to lock up. If you have an urgent issue, you can call—”

“I do have an urgent issue, but I need to discuss it with you in person.” He smiled tightly. “As you know and, admittedly are probably pretty annoyed with me for, I’ve been investigating Mr. Gold’s murder on my own.” Emma raised an eyebrow, putting her hands in her back pockets. “I think I may have a lead on where the murder weapon is. But I don’t want to go looking for it without involving your office.”

“Well, I appreciate that.” She gestured to the empty chair next to David’s desk. “Have a seat and I can take your statement.”

August shook his head and remained standing. “No, this isn’t me offering to hand over the information. If I’m going to write about this, I need to see things play out with my own eyes. Come on, I’ll take you there.”

Emma laughed. “I’m not going anywhere with you. I don’t even know you.”

“Sheriff, I swear that you can trust me,” August said, a pleading edge coming into his voice. “All I want is for you to know the truth.”

“There are only a couple of people in this town I trust,” she said, thinking of David and Mary Margaret, “And you aren’t one of them.” He did seem to be telling the truth, but Emma didn’t feel like she could trust her superpower right now.

“But can you trust anyone in this town, really?” His eyes looked piercingly into hers. “Don’t you think it’s weird that you and I are the only out-of-towners to come through Storybrooke in the last three months?”

Emma shrugged; she did think that was weird, but she didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing it. “It’s winter, not tourist season.”

August was undeterred. “Okay, answer me this. Have you ever gotten a straight answer out of anyone in town about where they’re from? How long they’ve lived here? What they were doing a year ago, or five, or ten?”

“I don’t…” She stopped. He was right. It had annoyed her about Killian at first, the vagueness around the sailing accident that took his hand and his girlfriend from him, or when he had moved to Maine. But even Mary Margaret had been vague about her past. So had Ruby. So had David. “Okay, I’ll grant that the people here are a little eccentric in certain ways. What’s your point?”

“My point is, give me the benefit of the doubt until I can show you what I need to show you,” August said. “It might answer some questions, not just about your murder case, but about this whole town and where it came from.”

That was an odd way to phrase it, ‘where it came from.’ She sighed. “Okay, where do we need to go?”

He glanced away with discomfort. “It’s outside of Storybrooke. A couple of hours away by car.”

Emma shook her head. “No way. I’m gonna need more information before I go on a road trip.”

“Such as?”

“Such as why. What is a couple of hours away by car?”

August huffed with frustration, then reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. As he unfolded it, she could see that it was a newspaper clipping before he held it up in front of her eyes. The headline read ‘7 YEAR OLD BOY FINDS BABY ON SIDE OF ROAD.’ She didn’t have to read the rest of it; she’d seen it before.

Bristling, Emma crossed her arms over her chest. “Okay, you found a newspaper article about me; what of it?” She hated people knowing this detail about her; hating them knowing that her parents had so little regard for her that they abandoned her as an infant.

“Emma, it’s more than that. This seven-year-old boy,” he said, tapping the article. “That was me. I found you in the forest about a hundred miles from here. I’d like to show it to you, the place where we… the place where I found you.”

“What would that possibly accomplish? And how do I know that was really you, anyway?”

“You were wrapped in a white blanket with the name ‘Emma’ embroidered on it in purple. That wasn’t in the article.”

Her heartbeat accelerated. Could August know something about her parents? After so many years of searching, had she finally found a clue to her origins? “Did you see who… do you know anything about who my parents were?”

The smile he gave her was achingly sad. “The answer is in Henry’s book, Emma.”

She felt a swell of protectiveness in her chest. “You stay the fuck away from Henry,” she gritted out through bared teeth.

“You’ve read Henry’s book. You know who your parents are.”

Any hopes she had ever so briefly held that August might be able to help her figure out her parents’ identities were dashed. “You can’t be serious.”

“Everything in it is true.”

Hearing this from Henry was one thing, but hearing it from an adult was something else again. “It’s a book of fairytales, and Henry is a child with… with psychological problems. How can—”

“No, Emma, the curse is real and you have to break it. My life depends on it, in fact.”

“And why is that? Who are you supposed to be?”

“Pinocchio.”

“Right, that explains all the lying,” she snarked.

He limped over to a chair and sat down. “Here, I’ll prove it to you. I was in Phuket, Thailand about three months ago. And one day, at eight fifteen in the morning — which was eight fifteen at night in Storybrooke — I awoke to a terrible reminder of how far I had strayed from my mission. By this.” He lifted up his pant leg to the knee.

Emma looked, scanning her eyes up his boot laces to where the top of his boot met his bare leg, and then up to the cuff of his pants. “What am I supposed to be seeing? If you’re injured, I can’t see anything.”

His face fell. “You can’t see it. You can’t see that it’s wooden. Your unwillingness to believe is too strong.”

“You’re insane.” She rolled her eyes. “And let me guess: you have no idea where the murder weapon is.”

He dropped his pant leg, standing and limping toward her. “Okay fine, I don’t, but I know that whoever did kill Gold has the potential to wield enormous power. They’ve become the next Dark One; by killing him, they take his power. If you’d just believe me, I can help you.”

“Get out of my station,” she said wearily.

“Please, Emma, you have to help me,” he grabbed her arm. “You’re the Savior. Everyone in this town needs your help.”

Emma shook him off, backing away. “Then everyone in this town is screwed.” She indicated the door again. “Now get out of my station.”

Without another word, August turned and left.

~*~

“Code red, Operation Cobra,” Emma said into the walkie-talkie. There was no response. She started to wonder if Regina had searched Henry’s room, found the other walkie-talkie, and thrown it away. Tossing her matching one down on the sofa, she stood up. “I’ve got to get out of this town,” Emma muttered to Mary Margaret, back to pacing in her apartment.

Mary Margaret looked hurt at that. “Why?”

“I’ve got to get Henry out of Regina’s clutches! As long as he stays with her, he’s never going to let go of these delusions about the storybook. Seeing Archie doesn’t help. Talking to crazy people like that August and… and even Graham, poor guy, certainly doesn’t help. I’ve got to take him and get him as far away from here as possible.”

“Emma, you can’t do that. Regina’s his legal parent and if you take him, that would be kidnapping.”

Emma was already planning it out in her head; how much cash she would need, if she should ditch the Bug and steal a nondescript car, how far they should go before she looked for work, the kind of work that would pay her in cash under the table. How often they would have to move around. It would be a dire, hand-to-mouth existence, but Henry’s sanity was worth it. “I know it would be kidnapping. I’ve lived off the grid before; I can do it again. Anything for Henry.”

She glanced at Mary Margaret and saw tears in her eyes. “Seeing you want to be Henry’s mother is… I’m so proud of you, Emma. But this isn’t the right way.”

“Then what is the right way, huh? I can’t challenge the adoption in court. I wouldn’t have a chance even if Regina didn’t basically own the judge in this town. I can’t reason with Regina. I can’t protect Henry from insane people who seem to want to believe that fairy tales are real as badly as he does. I’m telling you, this thing with August was the last straw. This town is poisonous.” She thought about Killian and his nightmares, and it made her heart hurt. “Maybe you and David should consider getting out too before it drives both of you crazy.”

Mary Margaret ignored that, walking over and pulling Emma into a hug. “I know it’s hard, I know it seems hopeless, but it isn’t. There’s always hope when you love someone.” She pulled away and looked Emma hard in the eyes. “Wait a couple of days. Don’t do anything rash.”

Before Emma could respond, there was a knock on the door. With one last searching look at her roommate, Mary Margaret went over and opened it.

“Oh, Killian!” She glanced at Emma nervously.

He stayed in the hallway, looking heartsick and nervous. He barely seemed aware that Mary
Margaret was there, gazing straight past her to where Emma stood. “I’m sorry, I know you said you needed space, but I was hoping you would see me.”

Even with her renewed suspicions, seeing him there after the night they had shared, there was a part of her that wanted to run into his arms. Her feelings for him couldn’t be willed away, and the intensity of them shook her.

“You can come in,” she said, her arms crossed over her chest. She stayed rooted to the spot.

“Emma, I can step out and give you some privacy, or… not?” Mary Margaret asked, her eyes speaking volumes. I’ll stay if you feel unsafe, they said.

Every gut feeling Emma had was telling her that Killian was no threat. “Yeah, if you wouldn’t mind giving us a few minutes,” she said to her roommate.

“Not a problem at all,” Mary Margaret said, her falsely chipper voice almost sounding legitimately cheerful. “I’ve got to pick up a few groceries.” She grabbed up her purse and keys. “Call me if you need anything,” she said to Emma, then closed the door gently behind her.

They regarded each other across the quiet room. Killian cleared his throat. “I was hoping that it was just your habit of not getting too close to men that sent you creeping out of my apartment last night, but I’m already sensing there’s more to it. Like I said, Emma, if I did something, I’m so sorry. Please allow me to fix it.”

She could easily lie to him. He wasn’t wrong; she had ended a lot of one-night stands in her life by quietly pulling on clothes and sneaking out of a guy’s apartment. “You said some stuff in your sleep that kind of freaked me out,” she confessed instead.

His eyes squeezed shut momentarily. “These bloody nightmares; I was hoping your presence would give me a respite, but it wasn’t to be. What did I say that frightened you?”

She opened her mouth. It would sound as ridiculous to him as it had to David and Mary Margaret. Unless he really was the killer, in which case telling him would tip him off to her suspicions. “Just some violent stuff, I don’t know. I can’t remember the words exactly.”

“I’m so sorry I ruined things.” He took a few steps toward her, his hand coming up and then dropping down uselessly at his side. “Emma, last night was… everything to me. I know that I’m a mess and that I’m not worthy of you. But I couldn’t let another moment go by without telling you how much last night meant to me. And you were right, before: I should see someone about the shit going on in my head. I want to figure out why I’m dreaming the things I’m dreaming. Why I keep seeing… apparitions in the dead of night. I’m going to make an appointment with Archie first thing tomorrow morning.”

Her shoulders relaxed a tiny bit. He was so earnest; every word he spoke the honest truth. If he was lying, he was the best liar she’d ever encountered. When he reached for her again, she let herself be pulled into a hug. His arms felt so good, so safe, that tears started to well in her eyes.

“Sorry I ran out of there,” she whispered.

“Sounds like I gave you good reason.”

Emma turned her face up to his, their lips meeting gently. “No, I should have woken you up or something. Not just bailed.”

“It’s already forgotten,” he said.

All the adrenaline of the last day drained away, leaving Emma feeling wrung out and exhausted. “Hey, would you…” She blushed. “This is gonna sound suggestive and it’s not because I’m way too tired, but would you lie down with me for a little while?”

His smile and the longing in his eyes made her weak. “Of course.”

They went up the stairs together, taking off jackets and shoes and lying down on her bed with their clothes on. Emma covered them with a blanket, turning to face Killian. His chest was warm and solid under her hand, and she scooted closer, tangling their legs together. She felt his arm go around her, could practically feel the tension draining out of his muscles as he held her close. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head, and Emma again had to fight against tears that welled up in her eyes.

They kissed for a few minutes, everything slow and languid, and despite her exhaustion, Emma felt a coil of desire low in her belly. She remembered what it felt like when he was inside her, how complete she had felt, how cherished, how loved.

His thumb brushed against the apple of her cheek, his fingers in her hair. “I thought you wanted to rest,” he said with a small smile, his voice unsteady.

“I am resting,” she countered, kissing him again, pulling his bottom lip into her mouth, unable to resist a tiny grind of her hips against his.

“Not for long if you keep that up.” He nudged her forehead with his. “Sleep now, love. I’ll watch over you.”

Pushing aside her doubts and fears about him, about Henry, about everything else in her life, Emma let herself embrace the joy she’d felt the night before, the feelings for this man that she was afraid to put a name to. “You could sleep too, you know.”

He smiled a quick, tight smile. “Perhaps.”

Emma buried her face in the crook of Killian’s neck, breathing in his scent. It was enormously comforting, and she felt herself drifting toward sleep in no time.

As she drifted off, she thought she heard him speak, his voice rumbling in his chest.

“I love you.”

Chapter Text

Regina looked at the apple in her hand for a long, long time.

She could remember the day Snow White took a bite out of that apple like it was yesterday. The tears on her face, the sadness in her eyes. The way she had fallen, lifeless, at Regina’s feet. Now she needed that kind of magic one more time.

It had taken a lot of effort to bring the poisoned apple through into the Land Without Magic. It took allying herself with the Mad Hatter once again, making deals she didn’t want to make; it took giving up the last memento she had of Daniel, her first and only love. But finally, she had done it, reached through and plucked a poisoned apple out of that place and brought it through to this one. It was her last hope; if she couldn’t stop Emma Swan with this, then the curse would be broken.

Baking was soothing to Regina, and she secretly loved every convenience in her modern American kitchen. The pleasing fall of the flour in gentle waves from the sifter into the bowl. The precise leveling-off of baking powder in a teaspoon as she scraped it along the sharp lip of the can. The smell of cinnamon pervading the kitchen as her apple slices cooked on the stovetop. The sensation of butter under her fingertips as she blended it with the flour, the little blobs getting smaller and smaller and smaller as she worked. She pulled out her rolling pin, running her hand along the smooth, polished wood, and smiled.

Once the baking was done and the product of her labors was cool enough to pack away, she carried it to her car, glancing at the time on the dashboard. There were still a few hours until Henry was done at school: plenty of time.

Regina mounted the stairs to the loft apartment that Emma shared with Mary Margaret Blanchard, eyeing the peeling paint and the dirt in the corners of the stairwell with distaste. She hadn’t wanted to set foot in this peasant’s dwelling, but when she’d called the sheriff’s station, David had informed her that Emma was taking the morning off and wouldn’t be in until the afternoon. Typical laziness, Regina thought with a sneer. But it would work in Regina’s favor; if Emma was home alone, there was less risk that someone else would eat the apple turnover.

She knocked on the door.

Emma opened it, her eyes widening in surprise. “Regina! What are you doing here?”

Regina huffed. “I’ll excuse your rudeness on account of the fact that you look like death warmed over. Are you sick?” She took a step backward, tempted to cover her nose and mouth with her arm.

“I’m not sick, I just haven’t been sleeping well the last couple of nights.” Emma stood back from the door. “Come in, I guess.”

Regina stepped into the apartment, grimacing at its shabby chic decor. If possible, Snow White’s cursed taste was worse than it had been back in the Enchanted Forest.

“What brings you here, Regina? Come to tell me to stay away from Henry again?”

“On the contrary,” she responded, holding the plastic storage container out toward Emma. “I came to make a peace offering. And to discuss how we might… compromise regarding Henry.”

Emma took the container, eyeing it distrustfully. “What’s this?”

“One of my famous apple turnovers. It’s a very old recipe.”

“Thanks.” She set it down on the table. “What kind of compromise did you have in mind?”

Regina gritted her teeth. Even knowing she didn’t intend to follow through with any offers she planned to make to this woman, she still could barely get the words out. “I recognize that once one opens Pandora’s box, it cannot be closed again, and Henry is determined that you be part of his life, no matter how ill-advised I know it to be.” She held up a hand to stop Emma’s protest. “He is still my son, not only in the legal sense, but because I was the one who was there for him from the beginning. I changed every diaper, dried every tear. He may not want to acknowledge it now, but he is my child.” Regina pressed her nails into her palms, trembling with emotion.

“I’m not denying that, Regina.”

“As such, I am not offering you any kind of joint custody. But I am resigned to the fact that you are going to be a part of his life. So you can see him for visits on some school day afternoons, and also for some weekend activities, so long as I approve them.”

She could tell Emma was surprised. “Thanks. Really. I appreciate that.”

Regina nodded curtly. “Let me talk it over with Henry tonight, and then perhaps in a day or two you can have him over here to eat dinner, assuming you’re capable of preparing something more nutritious than grilled cheese.”

Emma rolled her eyes. “I’ll make sure he eats his vegetables, Regina.”

Regina nodded, glancing down at the turnover. “I’ll go, then. Enjoy the turnover.”

~*~

Emma was still in shock as she drove the police cruiser down Route 83. She’d been at a loss for what to do about Henry, had still been half contemplating kidnapping him and fleeing Maine despite Mary Margaret’s logical arguments against it when in walked Regina and surrendered. Or, as close to surrender as she would imagine Regina could ever get.

She pulled up in front of Gold’s cabin and killed the engine. After their impromptu nap the day before, Killian had seemed afraid of overstaying his welcome and had refused Mary Margaret’s offer to stay for dinner. But outside the apartment, saying goodnight, he had kissed her like he might never have the opportunity to do so again, with a desperate hunger that left Emma’s knees weak.

She’d awoken this morning with renewed purpose. The sooner she figured out who had really killed Gold, the sooner she and Killian could move forward with whatever they were becoming. Calling David and offering to work the late shift at the station, she decided to spend her afternoon going more carefully over the cabin, looking for clues she might have missed the first time.

The sun was bright, melting snow that had drifted down during the night so that it fell from weighed-down tree branches onto her car in fat droplets. Even though it was a cold day, the blue sky and bright sunlight made Emma feel optimistic and hopeful. Things with Killian were good. Mary Margaret and David were disgustingly happy together. Regina was going to let her see Henry. Finally, it felt like her life was settling into place.

Emma tore away the crime scene tape she had David had put up over the cabin door and let herself in.

The orderliness of the main living space of the cabin had led her to conclude that nothing had been disturbed initially, that nothing had been tampered with. But clearly, the killer had been here, based on the blood they found in the bathroom. Perhaps her assessment had been wrong. She went over everything again, looking under furniture and in kitchen cabinets, behind shelves and under rugs. Nothing.

She walked the length of the room, her boots thumping against the wooden floorboards. The murder weapon could be anywhere in Storybrooke, but something about this cabin still niggled at her. The killer had come here and washed the blood off his hands. Wouldn’t it have been too tempting a place to hide the murder weapon, rather than bringing it back into town and risk being caught with it?

She continued to pace, eyes touching on everything in the room.

There was still a voice in her head, whispering that despite her gut instincts, despite her superpower, any logical person in her position should still consider Killian a suspect. She’d argued it around and around in her head all morning, all the reasons he was suspicious, all the reasons he wasn’t. It was driving her crazy. She needed to solve this crime before it was too late, before she fell completely in love with him.

It’s already too late, the voice in her head muttered.

Her foot connected with one of the floorboards, and the rhythmic thump of her boot heel changed timbre. Echoed. Emma looked down at her feet.

The fucking floorboards.

Dropping to her knees, she felt around the edges of the board, feeling it wiggle slightly as she looked for purchase to lift it out. She clawed at the end, fingernails slipping into the tiny gap, and pulled. One of her fingernails ripped.

“Fuck.” She sucked on the end of her finger, then almost slapped herself on the forehead when she remembered she had a Swiss army knife on her keychain.

Using the knife blade for leverage, the board lifted away easily, revealing a narrow dark space underneath. Putting away her knife, Emma pulled the flashlight off of her belt and clicked it on.

At first, the space looked empty, but then she noticed a black lump. Reaching down into the hole, she grabbed it and pulled it out, her hand trembling with excitement.

The hilt of a knife stuck out from a tightly wrapped bundle of black cotton. It looked like a T-shirt, stiff with what must be dried blood. Careful not to touch the knife hilt itself, she set the bundle down and stared at it.

The blade was completely covered, so she couldn’t tell if it was curved like the coroner’s report had indicated it would be. Her hand reached out to start to unwrap it, but then she jerked it back.

In her haste to get out here, she’d forgotten her evidence kits. The last thing she wanted to do was accidentally destroy evidence. Anxious as she was to see the blade, it would have to wait until she could get it back to the station.

Her cell phone rang.

Emma touched the screen without looking at who was calling and put it to her ear. “Hello?”

“Hey, it’s Henry.”

“Henry, I’m working right now; what’s up?” Picking the bundled knife up, still avoiding the hilt, Emma stood.

“I just talked to Mom. I think you’re in trouble.”

“Actually, no. I saw Regina this morning, and she’s agreed to let us see each other sometimes. It was almost a good talk.” Emma left the cabin, setting the evidence on the passenger seat of the cruiser.

“Exactly. Something’s fishy. Why would she suddenly change her mind like that? I think it’s a trick. The Evil Queen always has a trick up her sleeve.”

Emma walked back to the door, resecuring the crime scene tape. “Or she’s decided to be reasonable for once.”

“No way. If she’s being nice to you, then you’re in danger.” She could hear a hysterical edge coming into his voice, and the image of Killian pushing Henry out of the way of an oncoming car flashed in her mind.

“Henry, where are you?”

“Pay phone near Granny’s. I couldn’t risk calling you from her house.”

“Okay, okay, just … go to the loft and wait for me there. Can you do that?”

He sighed. “Yeah, I can do that.” He sounded calmer.

“Watch out for cars when you cross the street, okay, Henry?”

“Duh,” was the only response she got before he hung up the phone.

Emma got behind the wheel of the car and looked longingly at what was almost certainly the murder weapon sitting on the seat beside her. She needed to get back to the station and examine it, then lock it up somewhere safe. But she also needed to go calm Henry down.

With a grimace, she put the car in gear and peeled out.

~*~

Henry was sitting on the steps next to the door of the loft, waiting for her.

“Here you are! I was starting to worry that Mom got you.”

Emma unlocked the apartment, ushering him in. “I was out in the woods doing some work. Regina didn’t ‘get’ me.”

“She’s got a plan though, I know it. She doesn’t surrender. She knows you’re close to breaking the curse, and she’s making a move.” His voice rose in pitch.

Tears sprang to Emma’s eyes as guilt churned in her belly. His break with reality was getting worse. Her son was so damaged, and nothing she or anyone else did was making him any better. She’d given him up because she thought it would give him a better life, and instead he was delusional. As poisoned by this town as Graham. As Killian.

“Henry,” she said, swallowing against a lump in her throat. She knelt down, taking his arms in her hands. “There’s no curse. There’s no evil queen. There’s no fairy tale. There’s just us, doing the best we can to get through our lives. Regina too, maybe she’s doing the best she can with a difficult situation—“

“No!” Henry shouted, jerking away from her. His gaze settled on the kitchen table. “What’s that?” he said, pointing at the plastic container that Regina had left.

“I don’t know, some kind of dessert that Regina brought over.”

Henry ran over, ripping the top off. “Is this apple? Don’t eat it,” he said, hysteria in his voice.

“Why?”

“It’s poisoned. This is the trick. She’s trying to curse you.”

“With a poisoned apple? Henry, that isn’t a real thing.” Emma walked over and picked up the pastry. “Here, I’ll show you.”

No!” he shouted, jerking it out of her hand and backing away. “I’m sorry to do this, Mom. But you’ll be able to save me. You may not believe in the curse, but I believe in you.” He took a bite of the apple turnover.

Emma watched him sadly as he chewed and swallowed. “See? There’s no—“

Henry collapsed to the floor.

“Henry?” She fell onto her knees at his side. “Henry! Henry!

~*~

“What did he eat?” Dr. Whale was asking her while another doctor and nurses fussed around Henry’s gurney in the hospital room. Emma watched, paralyzed, as an IV needle pierced the tender flesh on the top of his little hand.

“Sheriff, what did he eat?” Dr. Whale said more sharply.

“It was… it was an apple turnover that Regina made. What’s wrong with him?”

“We don’t know yet,” he looked at the monitors. The colored lines and numbers swam in Emma’s vision.

“Could this be, you know, psychological? He was trying to convince me…” She trailed off.

“No way,” he said. “His brain waves are minimal, heartbeat slow and thready. Something happened to him.”

Emma looked around, just in time to see Regina run into the hallway on the other side of the glass wall. Rage poured into her, filling every crevice. Emma hit the doors full force, barreling out to meet Regina head on.

“What the hell happened?” Regina asked.

You did this,” Emma grated, trembling with anger. “The poison that was meant for me. Henry ate it instead.”

If there was any doubt left in her mind, the look on Regina’s face destroyed it. “No…”

“You hated me so much that you poisoned your own child.”

“I didn’t… it wasn’t…” Tears fell from Regina’s eyes, and she made no move to brush them away.

Emma didn’t care. She felt no sympathy for this monster of a woman. She shoved her against the wall. “Do you have something that can fix this? An antidote?”

Her face crumpling under the weight of her grief and guilt, Regina shook her head.

“Then get the hell away from here. I have no use for you, and neither does my son.”

Emma was too shaken, too horrified by the events of the last several minutes to even be surprised when Regina obeyed her.

It was only seconds later, as she stood in the corridor breathing deeply and trying to calm herself down, that Killian arrived. She didn’t remember calling him, but she figured David must have. Without thought, she stumbled over and fell into his arms.

“Emma, what happened?”

“Henry,” she gasped, but couldn’t get any more words out.

“Dave said something about poison?” She nodded, clinging to him. Now that he was here, she felt like she had to luxury to fall apart a little bit.

“I’m sure the doctors are doing everything they can to make him better. Tell me what I can do. I’ll do anything you need. Anything.”

Emma looked up into his kind eyes. “Just be here. All I need is for you to be here.”

“Always,” he said, and she got the sense that he wasn’t only talking about Henry and the hospital.

Mary Margaret and David ran through the double doors, both of them out of breath. “I’ve got the apple thing,” David said, holding up a plastic bag.

“Take it to Dr. Whale,” Emma said, pulling away from Killian.

“I brought his backpack,” Mary Margaret offered, tears welling up in her eyes. “I don’t know why; I saw it in the loft and I thought he might want it.”

Emma nodded, swallowing against a sob that was struggling to break free. “Thanks, Mary Margaret.”

~*~

Machines beeped, and Emma listened to the beeping, trying to discern if it was getting slower. She felt a squeeze of her hand and she squeezed back, her fingers interlaced with Killian’s.

“Maybe if Dr. Whale keeps working on it…” Mary Margaret said.

“He can’t find anything that would explain Henry’s symptoms. And if he doesn’t find something soon, Henry’s going to run out of time.” A cold detachment was seeping into her. Her son was lying in the middle of that sterile bed, wires and tubes everywhere, looking so small, and she couldn’t do anything. Well, maybe there was one thing she could do. She could wrap her hands around Regina’s neck and squeeze until the life drained out of her.

“Don’t give up hope, Emma. Henry wouldn’t want that.” Mary Margaret, sitting on her other side, reached down into his backpack and pulled out the storybook. “That’s why he loves these stories so much. Because they give him hope.”

“False hope,” Emma said.

Silence settled over their vigil once again.

Killian cleared his throat. “Why don’t I go get us all some coffee?”

David smiled gratefully. “That’s a good idea. Here, let me…” He started reaching for his wallet.

“I got it, mate; don’t worry about it.” He gave Emma’s hand another squeeze, standing. “Do you want coffee?”

She didn’t, but she nodded. Killian left the room, making minimal noise as he did. Everyone was moving around silently, like they were in the presence of death and didn’t want to attract its attention.

Emma watched as Mary Margaret ran her fingertips over the embossed words on the cover of Henry’s book before opening it and paging through. “Maybe I should read to him?” Mary Margaret asked.

Emma frowned, looking at the book. A part of her wanted to burn it. “He wants that story to be true so badly. Wants… wants you to be those people. My parents.” She smiled in spite of herself. “He’s so convinced that Snow White is my mom and Prince Charming is my dad.”

David and Mary Margaret shared a significant look. “Emma, do you ever…” Mary Margaret trailed off, her eyes pleading with David for something.

“What?”

“I’m not saying we’re Snow White and Prince Charming,” Mary Margaret said with a nervous laugh. “But sometimes I think… I don’t know, maybe in a past life or something, we are your parents?”

Before Emma could react to that, David chimed in. “Mary Margaret and I have always felt this pull, like we were meant to be together. Like, no matter what we did or what roadblocks were in the way, we would find our way to each other. And we realized recently that in a different way, we felt the same way toward you. That we’re meant to help you.”

“It’s more than that,” Mary Margaret said. “When you moved in with me, something… clicked, like that was where you were supposed to be.”

“Same when we started working together,” David added.

“I don’t know, Emma; I know it’s crazy,” Mary Margaret said. “I know it doesn’t make any sense, but it feels true. Doesn’t it?”

Emma was crying. She wasn’t sure when she started, but tears were running down her cheeks and falling onto her lap. “It feels true,” she echoed, looking back and forth between David and Mary Margaret. “But it can’t be. You can’t be my parents.”

Mary Margaret held the book out to her. “Unless… unless Henry’s right. Unless the curse is real.”

Emma laughed sharply through her tears. “Not you too. You can't believe this stuff.”

“All I know,” and now Mary Margaret was crying. “All I know is what I feel when I look at you, Emma.”

“And what's that?” she asked, her breath hitching.

David got out of his chair, coming over and kneeling in front of her. “I was in a coma for years, and all it took for me to wake up was the sound of Mary Margaret's voice. Anything is possible. What I know is that somehow, long ago, we lost you, but now we've found you again.”

“Henry is the truest believer I've ever known,” Mary Margaret said, still holding out the book. “Maybe he needs some of that belief from us now.”

Emma looked over at Henry, lying there so helpless, and reached out and took the book from Mary Margaret.

A rush of images filled her head.

A woman, screaming as she gave birth in a canopied bed. Tears over the baby. Saying goodbye. A man holding the baby and fighting off four, no five guards. His blood soaking his shirt and dripping onto the floor. Kissing the baby, and putting her in a wardrobe.

“Find us.”

Emma gasped.

“It’s true.”

Suddenly a very different chaos filled her head. Beeping machines. A rush of doctors and nurses. She was screaming. Strong arms pulled her away. Strong hands doing CPR on a tiny body. Regina on the other side of the glass partition, her face a mask of pain. Everything through a blur of tears. A slowing down. A nurse started to disconnect things from Henry. Through it all, Emma clutched the book.

“I’m sorry,” Dr. Whale said, and it sounded like his voice was coming from the bottom of a well. “We did everything we could. He’s gone.”

Released by David, Emma stumbled to the bedside. Henry looked so peaceful, lying there. He couldn’t be dead. Death couldn’t be so peaceful, could it?

“I’m sorry. You were right about the curse. I should have believed you.” Her voice sounded strange, high-pitched and reedy. Trembling, tears running down her face, Emma smoothed his hair and bent over. “I love you, Henry.” Gently, she kissed him on the forehead.

Behind her closed eyes, Emma saw a strange, prismatic light, almost as if she’d looked at the sun too long and was seeing some kind of afterimage on her retina. At the same time, a wind blew her hair back, made her stumble away from Henry. Emma blinked, startled, looking around for the source of the disturbance.

Henry gasped, and sat up.

“Henry!” Emma couldn’t believe her eyes. He was sitting right there, breathing, impossibly alive.

“You did it,” he said to her. “You saved me.”

There was a commotion behind Emma, and she looked over to see David and Mary Margaret in each other’s arms.

“You found me,” Mary Margaret said.

“Did you ever doubt I would?” David responded. Both of them seemed very close to breaking down into sobs right there in Henry’s hospital room.

“What… happened?” Emma looked around and saw that everyone, doctors and nurses alike, seemed to be in a state of shock and confusion, but it wasn’t directed at Henry.

“I think you broke the curse,” Henry said.

“Emma,” David gasped. He stumbled over, pulling her into a hug, his hand cradling her head. “Our daughter.” Mary Margaret joined them, her hands clutching at Emma. At a loss for what else to do, Emma hugged them back.

~*~

Regina’s hands pressed against the glass, her heart hammering in her chest as she watched Henry sit up. She laughed with momentary joy. Her son wasn’t dead. Emma had saved him.

Gradually, she became aware that something else was happening. Mary Margaret and David weren’t focused on Henry, they were focused on each other. A nurse dropped a tray of surgical implements in the hall, a look of shock on her face. Dr. Whale ran past, a panicked, crazy look in his eye.

“The curse is broken, your majesty,” a voice growled in her ear.

Regina whirled, coming face to face with Killian Jones. No. Coming face to face with Hook.

He may have still been dressed in jeans, his innocuous prosthetic hand still in place, but it was immediately obvious that he carried himself differently. There was no question that he knew who he was.

“Let me give you a piece of advice, free of charge,” he said. “Everyone is getting their memories back, and they’re realizing what you’ve done.” He leaned even closer, and Regina had to force herself not to back away. “You need to find a place to hide.”

“You killed him, didn’t you?” she whispered. “You killed Rumpelstiltskin.”

He grinned, running his tongue along his bottom lip. “You’ve been trying so hard to get your hands on that dagger. Looks like your time ran out, Regina.” He glanced around as if expecting someone to jump out and attack her at any moment. “Now run.”

Chapter Text

Killian’s pulse was racing, and his mind whirling with so many sets of memories, so many feelings, that he almost collapsed to his knees as he fled down a stairwell to get out of the hospital.

Pull yourself together, Dearie, a now-familiar voice (and now he knew what it was, he knew) murmured inside his head. First things first, get the dagger. Second, figure out what she knows.

It wasn’t hard to sniff the dagger out. He could hear it, like a mosquito buzz vibrating inside his skull, and he knew that someone had brought it close by. He followed the dagger’s pull to Emma’s squad car and saw it through the passenger window, sitting there on the fucking car seat like it wasn’t the most powerful weapon in the realm. Like it wasn’t the key to everything he’d become. It was wrapped in a shirt, and the sight of it stirred a fuzzy memory of his own hands, leaving it that way under a loose floorboard. With an exhale, he figured that Emma must have been waiting to get it back to the sheriff’s station before she examined it. Perhaps she hadn’t looked at the blade. Perhaps she didn’t know.

Reaching into his inside jacket pocket, Killian pulled out Emma’s car keys. He didn’t know at the time what possessed him to take them off of her in the hospital. Had felt them inside his pocket as he sat beside her, keeping vigil by her son’s bedside, and wondered why he’d done such a thing. Now he knew. Some part of him (Some part? the voice in his head said, giggling. You mean, me?) knew that the curse was about to be broken.

Unlocking the police car, Killian snatched the dagger off the seat, unwrapping it. He held it up in the dim light of the parking garage and read the name inscribed on the blade.

Killian Jones.

He slid the dagger into his belt and sauntered away. The bloody t-shirt he idly threw into a garbage can on his way out.

The town was in chaos, everyone running around shouting, reuniting with lost loved ones or weeping as the conflicting sets of memories clashed in their heads. No one paid him any mind as he strolled up to the front door of Gold’s shop and smashed in one of the window panes with his elbow, the thick leather of his jacket protecting him from the shards of glass. Reaching through the jagged hole with his prosthesis, he flipped the lock on the door.

The shop was dark, dust motes dancing in the single beam of light that illuminated the room.

“You’d better find a better hiding place for that dagger, Dearie, before your girlfriend gets her hands on it again.”

Killian looked up from the cabinets he’d started rifling through, glaring at the apparition of Rumpelstiltskin that had materialized at his side. “Begone, demon.”

“Ah ah ah, you know what I am now, no need for name calling. And by that I mean, you know what you are.”

Killian twitched, his senses buzzing with contained energy that he had no idea how to channel. “I’m the Dark One.”

The Rumple from his mind giggled, dancing around the shop. “That you are! And now that pesky curse is over and we can begin to reclaim our legacy.”

Killian ignored its prattling, stopping his aimless rummaging and thinking. Where would Gold have stashed it? The symbol of his nemesis, the relic of the worst day of Killian Jones’ life — where would it be?

“Ignore me at your peril,” the Rumple apparition continued. “You need me. You need the knowledge the darkness contains if you’re ever going to be anything more than a Dark One in name only.”

Killian paused his search at that, looking up. “What are you talking about?”

The creature rolled its eyes. “The curse may be broken, but this is still the land without magic. What kind of Dark One do you think you’re going to be with no magic?”

“I don’t bloody care. All I ever cared about was getting my revenge.”

“Too bad you don’t even remember stabbing him. Me? No, him. Definitely him. Mr. Gold.”

Killian felt his eyelid twitch and he flinched at the sensation. He felt like there were insects crawling around underneath his skin, and it took a supreme act of willpower not to start scratching at his arms or his face. He closed his eyes, reaching for the memory that the darkness had suppressed while he was under Regina’s curse. He could feel Gold’s fingers clutching at his arm. Could hear the wet tearing sound as blade pierced flesh. Could smell the blood.

“It’s coming back to me,” he muttered, resuming his search.

“You may think you don’t ‘bloody care’ about the Dark One’s magic, but you’ll care soon enough when Miss Swan realizes you’re the killer. With no magic, you’ll be spending your new immortality in jail.”

His eyelid twitched again.

Finally, at the bottom of a tool drawer, Killian found what he was looking for. He held the sharp metal aloft, letting the light catch it. The Rumple apparition went mercifully silent.

Killian disconnected his artificial hand, throwing it on the floor in disgust. With a satisfying click, he replaced it with his hook. It helped, a little, to see it back in its rightful place. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“Yes, you did it,” the creature murmured. “You avenged the loss of your hand. And the loss of… but I suppose you don’t care about Milah anymore.”

This time Killian flinched hard enough to knock a few precariously placed trinkets from the shelf behind him. “Of course I care about Milah. She was the love of my life.”

“Oh, so that wasn’t you telling Miss Swan you loved her? Wooing her? Bedding her?” The apparition giggled. “My mistake.”

Killian stalked back out to the main part of the shop. “I was cursed. I didn’t know what I was doing.”

“That’s right,” the darkness soothed. “You were cursed. Now you can forget all about Emma Swan and focus on what you are now, Dark One. There is much to be done.”

~*~

Emma focused on the concrete things she could do. Getting a nurse to come to the room and telling her to go find Henry’s clothes so they could get him discharged from the hospital. Packing the storybook back into Henry’s backpack. Better that than acknowledge the confusing swirl of emotions that came from looking the people in the eye who had abandoned her as an infant.
“You must have a million questions,” Mary Margaret (no, Snow White) said.

Emma pushed at the storybook, the corner of it catching on the zippered edge of the backpack and preventing it from going inside. She shoved harder. “Not at the moment.”

“Emma, I just want to talk. I mean, I know we’ve talked before, but we didn’t know we were mother and daughter then, and now we do, and…” She shrugged helplessly. “I want to know everything about you.”

“Should I call you Grandma and Grandpa now?” Henry asked.

David blinked in surprise and then smiled. “Sure, of course, if you want to.”

“You know plenty about me,” Emma muttered, finally getting the book into Henry’s bag. She zipped it closed with a couple of violent jerks of her hand.

“You’re angry with us,” Mary Margaret said, a pleading edge in her voice. “I want you to know, it was the hardest thing we’d ever had to do.”

“We couldn’t have given you up if it weren’t the only option,” David said.

“Was it?”

Mary Margaret took a step back. “What?”

Emma set the backpack down and turned to them. “Was it the only option?”

“Yes! We had to send you through. We did it to give you your best chance,” Mary Margaret said.

“No, you did it so I would save everyone in your kingdom because that’s who you are. Leaders, heroes, princes and princesses, and that’s great. But it doesn’t change the fact that for my entire life, I’ve been alone.”

“If we hadn’t sent you away, you would have been cursed too,” David said.

“But we would have been together. Is that really worse than what happened to me?” Emma asked, her voice breaking. No, she did not want to cry now, she couldn’t. Emma took a few quick steps over to the door. “Where’s that nurse with Henry’s stuff? And what happened to Killian?”

Emma turned back just in time to see Mary Margaret and David exchange a meaningful glance. “What? Who is he in your world?”

“I told you, he’s Captain Hook,” Henry said.

At this point, finding out that the guy she was sleeping with was Captain Hook was pretty far down the list of the day’s traumas. “Is he?” she asked her parents.

David shrugged. “I don’t know, I didn’t make a habit of spending time with pirates. I did hear tales of Captain Hook, but I never saw him.”

“Me either,” said Mary Margaret. “But rumor had it that he’d been alive for hundreds of years.”

Emma wasn’t sure why that, of all the things she’d learned were real today, made her throw up her hands in defeat. “Of-fucking-course.”

“Language,” Henry warned, grinning from where he sat on his hospital bed and swung his bare legs.

“Sorry, kid. How is that possible?”

“Neverland,” Mary Margaret said. “No one ages there. If the stories were true, Hook was an agent of Pan’s, so he must have spent a good deal of time in Neverland.”

Finally, a harried-looking nurse arrived with Henry’s clothes, which she nervously dropped on the floor when she stooped into a deep bow to the Prince and Princess.

“I can’t deal with this right now,” Emma muttered, scooping up the clothes and shoving them at Henry.

“Pardon me, your majesties, but will you be leading the party going to confront the Evil Queen?” the nurse asked.

David frowned. “The what?”

“Dr. Whale said a number of the townspeople were gathering to march on her mansion. Will you be leading the charge?”

“They’ll kill her,” Emma said.

“No, they can’t.” Henry had paused, his shirt halfway on, his chest thin and pale. “I know she’s the Evil Queen, but she’s still my mom. One of my moms. I wanted the curse to be broken, but that doesn’t mean she should die.”

Emma reached out and gently helped to pull his shirt the rest of the way on, kneeling down to button it. “We won’t let that happen, kid. She will need to pay for what she’s done to all these people, but no one is killing anyone. Right?” She looked back and forth between her parents.

David appeared to shake himself. “Right. We need to stop them.”

“I’ll see if Ruby can look after Henry, and then we better haul ass over to Regina’s right now.”

Figuring that the hospital was in too much chaos to bother with formalities like discharge papers, Emma and Henry walked out the door and through the parking garage, her parents trailing behind. Reaching into her jacket pocket, she drew up short, frowning.

“What’s wrong?” Henry asked.

“My car keys, I must’ve dropped them somewhere.” She patted herself down frantically. “David, do you have your keys to the squad car?”

“Yeah, I—”

“It’s unlocked,” Henry called, already over at the car. “Your keys are here.” He pointed at where they dangled from the ignition.

“Shit,” Emma said again. “What was I thinking?”

“You were terrified about your son,” Mary Margaret said reasonably as Emma closed the distance between herself and the car.

She looked at the empty passenger seat and her heart plummeted in her chest. “The knife is gone.”

“What’s gone?” David asked.

“I found what I was pretty sure was the murder weapon. But then Henry called, and I…” She slammed her hands against the top of the car, furious. “Fuck! I’m so stupid.”

“I’m sorry, Mom.”

“It’s not your fault, kid, it’s mine. And sorry for swearing.”

“It’s okay,” Henry answered.

“We’ll have to deal with this later,” David said, “after we’ve dealt with Regina.”

~*~

A mob had already gathered outside Regina’s front door by the time they pulled up, having deposited Henry at the diner with a promise from Ruby to guard him with her life. If Regina was going to be dismembered by an angry crowd of fairy tale characters, the last thing Emma wanted was for Henry to witness it.

Emma ran up just as the front door was forced open, the frame splintering from the force of the blow. With a roar, the crowd began to force their way into the house.

“Stop!” Emma shouted, but either no one heard her or no one cared. Then a louder, commanding voice boomed from behind her.

“Your prince orders you to stop!” David shouted.

“That’s a handy skill,” Emma muttered as the crowd calmed momentarily.

“She has to pay for what she did to us!” someone called out.

Emma forced her way through the press of people, finding Dr. Whale holding Regina against the wall of her perfectly appointed living room. Regina looked frightened but uncowed.

“Let her go, Whale. This isn’t your fight.”

“It’s all of our fights. All of the people whose lives she destroyed,” he gritted out, giving her another shove. Regina’s head knocked against the wall, her eyes sparking with anger, but she was clearly helpless to save herself.

Emma shoved Whale aside. “And she’ll pay for that, but not this way.”

“We have a lot to figure out, “ David announced to the crowd at large. “But this isn’t the way to do it.”

“And Regina’s death,” Mary Margaret added with a regal air that Emma had never seen her exude before, “won’t provide any answers. She needs to be locked up: for her safety, and more importantly for ours.”

The crowd listened to them, visibly calming in the face of their leaders. Emma shook her head in amazement. “I suppose there’s something to be said for a monarchy,” she murmured.

“Regina Mills,” she said, pulling handcuffs off of her belt and closing them over Regina’s wrists. “You’re under arrest for…” Emma huffed in frustration. “Whatever the hell it is you did to everyone in this crazy town.” Regina didn’t resist, allowing herself to be handcuffed without a word of protest. But her eyes carried her defiance, and Emma knew this was far from over.

As Emma prepared to march Regina past the crowd, it parted to reveal Killian.

“Swan,” he said, his eyes taking in the scene but revealing nothing of his own thoughts. “What happened to Henry?”

“He’s fine, he’s safe.” A flash of silver caught her attention, and she stared down at the hook at the end of his left arm. “Oh,” was all she could say. The first thought that popped into her mind was, I’ll have to tell Henry he was right.

“I’ll take Regina to the station and you can meet us there,” David said, giving her a loaded glance. He escorted Regina out of her house with a firm grip on her upper arm, Mary Margaret following. The immediate drama over, the remaining crowd dispersed as she and Killian faced each other across the expanse of Regina’s spacious living room. He appeared to be forcibly holding himself still, but she could see his jaw twitching, noticed that his eyes kept cutting to the side as if something was catching his attention. Emma looked where his gaze kept wandering but saw nothing.

“So,” she finally said, gesturing to the hook. “You are Captain Hook.”

“Aye.”

She blew out a breath. “Killian, look—”

“I’m sure you have a lot to deal with right now, love, with the curse being broken. Finding out that your mother and father are the famed rulers of Misthaven and all.”

“See, I don’t even know what Misthaven is,” she said.

“So I’ll understand if you need to take some time and focus on your family. And if a relationship with a pirate isn’t exactly what you signed up for.” He gave her an encouraging smile, and it made her heart clench.

“It’s all really confusing,” she admitted. “Right now, I’m in shock. I think adrenaline is the only thing keeping me standing at the moment. Processing my feelings and how they relate to… people’s fairy tale identities is way beyond me.” She looked down at the hook again.

“Precisely. Which is why I think you and I should take a break.”

Emma blinked. “A… break?”

“Everyone’s in shock. You may be dealing with learning that the stories in Henry’s book are real, but the rest of us have a lifetime of other memories colliding with the cursed memories in our heads.” He drew himself up to his full height, his thumb hooking into his belt buckle. “We’re dealing with the fact that we did things as our cursed selves that we wouldn’t have done if we had had all of our memories.”

She felt her heart seize in her chest. “You mean…you mean being with me.” If someone had asked her to evaluate analytically whether being in a relationship with Captain Hook was a good idea, she was pretty sure she knew what the answer would be. But standing here being dumped by him still hurt like hell.

“It’s not personal, love. It’s just more than I can handle right now. It’s more than either of us can handle right now, I’d wager.”

She swallowed, blinking back tears. “Yeah. I totally agree. A break is the only sensible thing we can do.”

Killian flinched, looking at something off to the side again.

“Are you okay?” she couldn’t help asking.

He smiled a big, phony smile. “I’m fine,” he answered, and it didn’t take her superpower to know it was a lie. “Please tell Henry I’m glad he’s recovered.” With that, he turned and stalked out of the room.

~*~

“So you’re going to leave me locked up in here? For how long?” Regina fumed, pacing back and forth in her cell.

Emma sighed. “I don’t know, Regina, what would you suggest? That we just let you go? Let the angry mob tear you apart?” She took a file out of the filing cabinet and closed the drawer. “Also you committed a crime. Several crimes.”

“None that you can convict me of under the justice system of this realm.” Regina pointed out. “So I ask again, how long are you going to leave me locked up here?”

“I don’t know, ask the Prince and Princess of Misthaven,” Emma grumbled.

Regina chuckled at that. “Not so thrilled with your new role as the Savior, are you?”

Emma looked up, her expression thunderous. “I’m fine with it.”

“Sure you are. I bet your parents right now are trying to figure out how to get back to their land, aren’t they? Assuming that you’ll want to go with them, away from the only land you’ve ever known. Away from frappuccinos and wifi and cars, and into the world of drafty castles and getting everywhere via horse-drawn carriage. Am I right?”

Emma rolled her eyes, but Regina could tell she’d scored a blow. “Sounds like you don’t want to go back either.”

“This land has a lot to recommend it, I’ll admit, but I’d trade it all to be able to cast a decent spell again,” Regina admitted.

“Yeah, that’s just what we need.”

Regina closed her fingers around one of the bars, squeezing as hard as she could and focusing on the sensation of pain in the palm of her hand. “How’s Henry?”

“He’s fine.”

“Where is he staying?”

“At the loft with me and… Mary Margaret and David.”

“In that hovel?” Regina snapped, and then off of Emma’s glare, added, “Sorry.” Regina put on her most contrite face. It wasn’t difficult; she genuinely missed Henry with a pain that felt like a hole in her chest. “Would it be possible for me to see him? Just for a short visit?”

She could see a softness come into Emma’s eyes. “Yeah, I can probably bring him by tomorrow, if he’s okay with it.” The door to the sheriff’s station opened and one of the dwarves came in. Regina bared her teeth in a snarl, mostly out of habit.

“Hey, Walter,” Emma called, gathering up her belongings as if she was preparing to leave. “Thanks for taking the late shift tonight.”

“You’re leaving a dwarf to watch after me?” Regina asked, beyond insulted at that idea.

Emma ignored her. “You’ve got something to keep you awake?”

He held up a large Thermos in answer. “You can count on me, Sheriff Swan. I mean, Princess Emma?”

“Sheriff Swan,” Emma said, grimacing at being called a princess. “Call me if there’s any trouble,” she called as she hurried out the door.

~*~

“Come on, your majesty. Wake up.” Something hit her in the face, and Regina pulled herself up to a seated position, raising a hand as if to summon a fireball. Not that summoning a fireball was possible here, she realized almost as quickly.

Squinting at the body in shadow against the bars, Regina frowned. “What are you doing here, Hook?”

Killian Jones laughed, flicking a paperclip through the bars to land harmlessly at her feet. That explained what had been hitting her in the face, she thought, and she gave the pirate a murderous glare.

“Why, I’m here to be your fairy godmother, Regina. Ask me for your heart’s desire.”

Regina looked over at the desk behind Killian, where the dwarf that was supposed to be guarding her appeared to be sleeping. Killian followed her gaze and shrugged. “I was prepared to knock him out so you and I wouldn’t be disturbed while we had a heart-to-heart, but he was already sleeping.”

“Get to the point, Guyliner. Why are you here?”

“Why, to help you escape your prison, of course. Isn’t that what you want? To get out of here?” he asked, strolling back and forth in front of the bars of her jail cell.

“Of course. So get on with it.”

“Not so fast. If I break you out now, they’ll just find you and lock you up again. The goal is to get you out of here for good.”

Regina crossed her arms across her chest. “And how do you propose we do that?”

He grinned at her, a feral, terrifying grin. “By bringing magic to Storybrooke.”

“That’s not possible, is it?”

“As a matter of fact, it is. My predecessor planned on it.”

“Ah, are we finally admitting out loud that you’re the Dark One?” Regina said.

“Let’s keep that our secret until we restore magic, shall we? Hmm?” He ran his hook along the bars, making a clanging noise that set her teeth on edge. “Now, as I was saying, my predecessor stored a very powerful magical ingredient with an old friend of yours. Is she still underneath the library?”

“Oh, that twisted little imp. He hid something with her?”

Killian laughed. “Oh, no no. Not with her. In her. He knew you couldn’t resist bringing her over.”

“And what is this magical item?” Regina asked. “How will we use it to bring magic to this realm?”

“That’s your job to figure out, my queen; I don’t know the first thing about spells. I don’t exactly get all of the knowledge of the other Dark Ones downloaded into my brain.”

“But you know about this supposedly magical item,” Regina reasoned, glaring at the pirate.

He shrugged, but there was a flash of something else in his eyes. Fear, perhaps? “The darkness speaks, but only when it chooses to,” he admitted.

“So how are we going to get this thing out of Maleficent?” Regina drawled.

We aren’t. The Savior is.”

Regina threw up her hands in frustration. “Sure, she’s going to battle a dragon because you tell her to.”

“She’s the Savior, your majesty.” He pouted, his face forming a perfect moue. “She’ll do it because it’s the right thing to do.” He flicked another paper clip in her direction. “You leave that part to me. Bide your time here a little while longer, and as soon as it’s done, I’ll come and let you out.”

“And I’m supposed to trust you?” Regina asked, her arms folded across her chest.

He laughed. “The way I see it, you don’t have a choice. I’m your only ally in this town.”

Chapter Text

Emma took a bite of her English muffin, glancing over at Henry where he sat across from her at Mary Margaret’s table, glaring at the plate of food in front of him. “You need to eat some breakfast, kid.”

He shrugged, somehow looking younger and older than his ten years all at once. “I’m not hungry.”

With a sigh, Emma pulled her chair around to sit closer to him. “Can you at least tell me what’s wrong?”

His eyes were full of guilt. “I guess I thought, with the curse broken, things would be… different.”

“Different how?”

“I mean, for one thing, I thought we would all end up in the Enchanted Forest somehow. I thought there would be a castle, and knights in armor, and… and jousts and stuff. Instead, it’s…” He gestured around them. “It’s this same world, except you’re unhappy, and you and your parents are being all weird with each other, and my other mom is locked up in jail.”

“I’m not unhappy,” Emma lied. “And as far as Regina goes, she hurt people, Henry. You yourself said—”

“I know what I said. But… I mean, she wasn’t all bad, as a mom. On Saturdays, sometimes she would take me to the comic book store. And when I got sick, she would bring me chicken soup and let me watch as much TV as I wanted.”

“That does sound pretty good,” Emma agreed, feeling a stab of jealousy in her gut. The adult in her knew that invalidating Henry’s positive memories of his adoptive mother would be the wrong thing to do, but it didn’t stop a dark, selfish part of her from wanting to do just that.

There was a tentative tap on the apartment door, and Emma was saved from thinking of what else she should say. With a pat on Henry’s shoulder, she got up to answer it.

“Killian.” Emma’s heart began to hammer at the sight of him standing on her threshold.

“I’m sorry to bother you so early, Emma, but something has come to my attention that I thought you needed to be aware of right away. May I come in?” He was all politeness and formality, like they barely knew each other, and it made her chest ache.

“Sure.” She stood out of the way, letting him into the apartment. Working to school her expression to a neutral one, Emma crossed her arms protectively over her chest. “What is it?”

“Cool,” Henry intoned, his eye catching on Killian’s hook. “I knew you were Captain Hook. Did mom tell you that I knew?”

Killian smiled a small, tight smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “She did.”

“Did you have a pirate ship? What was it like?”

“I’m sure Killian…” She paused. “Is that even your real name? What am I supposed to call you?”

“Killian Jones is my actual given name, as it happens,” he said.

“I’m sure Killian doesn’t have time to talk about that right now,” Emma said firmly to Henry. “What did you come to tell me about?”

“It’s more something I need to show you, involving that man August Booth. You know him?”

Emma frowned, remembering her last encounter with August at the police station. “Yeah, he told me…” She winced. “He told me he was Pinocchio, and I dismissed it. Why, what about him?”

He gestured to the door. “You’ll need to come and see for yourself.”

~*~

The door to the rented room at Granny’s was open when they arrived. An older man — Marco, Emma remembered his name was — sat at the bedside, at first blocking Emma’s view of the person in the bed. When she came far enough into the room to see August, she froze.

“What the hell?”

“He’s turned entirely to wood,” a woman explained. Emma looked up at her in confusion. “I’m sorry, I’m the Mother Superior from the convent, Emma. I don’t think we’ve ever been formally introduced.”

Emma stuck her hand out to shake automatically, her eyes darting back down to the wooden man in the bed. Killian and Henry continued to hover in the doorway. “And who are you really?” she asked the nun.

The Mother Superior smiled. “I’m the Blue Fairy. You can call me Blue. And this is Geppetto,” she said of the man silently weeping over the bed’s occupant.

“Of course it is,” Emma muttered under her breath.

“Emma,” he said, looking up at her with tear-filled eyes. It feels as if you were a baby just yesterday.”

“Yeah, okay,” she said, feeling sorry for her abruptness, but unable to stop herself. “So what happened here? I mean, besides the obvious.”

There was a commotion at the door, and then Mary Margaret and David crowded into the small room. “Thanks for calling us, Blue,” David said.

“The magic that was keeping him a man was part of the curse, in a sense,” Blue explained. “The curse kept us all unchanging. We didn’t age. We didn’t experience the passage of time in the same way that the outside world did. While Emma and Pinocchio grew up outside of the curse, the rest of us were frozen. But it also held back the magic that would have returned Pinocchio to what he was. As soon as Emma started to weaken the curse, the connection that Pinocchio had to the curse also weakened. He started to turn back into wood.”

“So now that the curse is broken, he’s stuck like this?” Emma asked.

“Yes, as long as there is no magic in this realm, there is no way to return him to a human,” Blue said.

Marco continued to weep, his shoulders shaking as he clutched August’s wooden hand in his own aged ones. “Please, Emma. You’re the Savior; surely you can help him.”

“I’m sorry, Marco,” Emma said, glancing over at Killian. “It doesn’t sound like there’s anything we can do.”

Killian stepped forward. “There might be a way,” he said. Everyone looked at him curiously, Blue with no small amount of distrust. He cleared his throat. “I find it impossible to believe that Regina cast this dark curse without some kind of loophole for magic,” he said. “And as a pirate with a nose for sniffing out treasure, I think I have an inkling as to where it may be hidden.”

“Her vault?” Emma guessed. “Graham thought she might be keeping his heart there… and it is just now occurring to me that he may have been right about that. Holy shit,” she muttered, and then looked guiltily at the nun in the room. “Sorry, Mother Superior. It’s like a shock that keeps on happening.”

“Her vault is one possibility,” Killian conceded, looking annoyed. “But there’s also a secret basement underneath the library. I would wager there’s something important there.”

“How do you know?” Emma asked.

“Pirate,” he answered enigmatically. “I can show you how to get down there, Savior. Worry not.”

“There’s no need for her to go alone,” David said. “I can go with her.”

“David, it’s fine, I’m sure you guys are busy with your… kingdom or whatever.” Emma fidgeted, shifting from foot to foot.

“I’m coming with you,” he said with finality, glaring at Killian. It wasn’t the first time that it occurred to Emma that she and her parents knew way too much about each other’s sex lives, now that the curse was broken.

“Fine,” Killian said, “but we should stop by the pawn shop for something first.” Without waiting to see if they were following, he swaggered out of the room and down the hall.

“So,” David said quietly to Emma as they followed at a distance. “Are the two of you still…” He waggled his finger back and forth.

“Oh, didn’t I tell you? Captain Hook dumped me.”

The mixture of relief and indignation on his face almost made her laugh. “He did what?”

“Well, not dumped me, exactly. But we’re on a break while we figure some stuff out.”

“If a father’s opinion means anything, I don’t approve of you dating a pirate,” David said. “On the other hand, Killian was a good friend to me while we were cursed.”

“While you were cursed, exactly. I don’t really know any of you now,” Emma said.

David stopped walking down the sidewalk in front of Granny’s and grabbed Emma’s arm. “You do, Emma. Our cursed personalities weren’t that different from the real us, especially after you came to town and the curse started to weaken. Snow and I still loved each other. And we still wanted to take care of you, to keep you safe.” He sighed heavily. “As much as I hate to admit it, if Killian cared for you while he was cursed, then that was real. And he probably still cares for you now.”

“Are you two coming or what?” Killian called from across the street. Without responding to her father, Emma followed.

“What happened here?” Emma asked when she saw the broken window pane in the door of Gold’s pawn shop.

“I happened,” Killian said, opening the door. Emma stared at him, unsure whether to be more annoyed that he had broken in or that he was admitting it so baldly to the sheriff as if he just assumed she wouldn’t do anything about it. “What?” he asked off of her expression. “I had to get my hook. It was my property, and Gold stole it. And while I was here, I noticed it wasn’t the only thing he stole.”

He pulled a large case out from under one of the counters, pushing it at David. “Is that not your family crest?” Killian asked, tapping the embossing on the case with his hook.

David nodded, reaching out to open the clasps. His eyes lit up at its contents. “My sword,” he said, lifting it out.

It felt like yet another shock to her system, seeing David armed with a sword. Another realization that all of this fairy tale stuff was really happening.

“Great, so what do we do now?” she said.

“Maybe we find you a weapon too, while we’re at it,” Killian suggested.

Emma shifted aside her jacket, revealing her shoulder holster. “I’m good, thanks. I don’t know the first thing about wielding a sword. And why do we need to be armed, anyway? What exactly are you expecting to be down there?”

Shrugging, Killian made his way back toward the front of the shop. “Who knows that the Evil Queen was capable of bringing to this land?”

~*~

“Henry suspected there was something important about this place,” Emma said as they made their way into the darkened building that the clock tower loomed over.

“Indeed,” Killian said. Slotting his hook behind a wood-paneled wall, Emma heard something click and the entire wall receded up into the ceiling, revealing doors covered by a monstrous mechanism of chains and gears. Killian flipped a switch and the gears began to slowly turn until they reached a specified position, at which point the doors opened with a metallic scraping sound that rattled Emma’s teeth. Behind the doors was an old-fashioned cage elevator.

“It’s manually operated,” Killian said. “The two of you get in, and I’ll lower you down.”

Emma nodded. “Okay.” She and David stepped onto the shaky metal platform, and David reached up to pull down the gate that would close them in the cage.

“Lower the gate when you’re ready for me to bring you up,” Killian said. “Good luck,” he added as he worked the crank that initiated their descent. Soon, he was out of sight entirely, and the temperature became noticeably cooler.

Emma glanced at David. “Is this a normal thing for you? Picking up a sword and charging into who knows what?”

“More normal than I would like, no thanks to Regina.”

“So why does she hate Mary— Snow White so much? Is it that whole ‘fairest of them all’ drama?”

David raised an eyebrow at Emma. “You haven’t read Henry’s book very carefully, have you?”

“I might have skimmed some chapters. I didn’t know it would be on the test,” she groused.

“When Snow was a child, she told Regina’s mother that Regina was in love with the stable boy, and didn’t want to marry Snow’s father. It was innocently done, but the result was that Regina was forced to marry Snow’s father, and the man she loved was killed. Regina never forgave Snow for that.”

“Okay, that sucks for Regina, but Snow White was just a kid. Seems like it was really Regina’s mother who was to blame.”

The elevator came to an abrupt stop at the bottom of the shaft, nearly knocking both of them off of their feet. “I agree, but there wasn’t any reasoning with the Evil Queen,” David said, lifting the gate of the elevator.

Emma had to admit to herself that when she had been picturing a basement, she was thinking maybe a concrete floor, exposed pipes, some utility closets. What she instead found herself in was an underground cave. Somewhere, a slow drip of water echoed off the rocky walls.

“Okay, so what exactly are we looking for? A chest labeled ‘Regina’s Magic: Keep Out’?”

A low rumble, so low that Emma felt it in her chest more than she heard it, came from behind them. Emma turned and noticed movement. For a second, she thought that the rock wall was crumbling, but a source of golden light revealed itself as what she thought was the rock continued to move. And then she realized it wasn’t rock at all; it was a creature. Wings unfurled, and the low, rumbling roar sounded again, much louder.

“Is that a fucking dragon?” she asked David.

“Yeah.” He pulled his sword from the scabbard. “That’s exactly what that is.”

The dragon took to the air, coming right at them. Emma pulled out her gun, aimed, and fired several times at the creature. It seemed to have no effect on its speed or trajectory, only making it screech, the sound echoing off the cavern walls and almost causing Emma to drop her gun. It swooped low over them as it passed. David took a swing with his sword but missed.

“I’ve fought this dragon before,” he said as the dragon reached the other side of the cave and wheeled around.

“You have?”

“Yeah. I know what we’re here for. There’s a potion inside the dragon.” His battle stance, knees bent and sword raised, made him look every inch the prince from a storybook.

“How do you know that?”

“Because I put it there.”

The dragon made for them again. Emma fired her remaining round into its chest. David started to swing his sword, but it was too late; the dragon’s wing caught him in the chest, flinging him several feet away to collide with one of the rocky walls of the cavern.

“Dad!” Emma screamed. He was silent, knocked unconscious by the blow. The dragon turned around, preparing to make another pass.

“Screw this.” Emma dropped her gun and picked up her father’s sword from where it had fallen near her feet.

The dragon began to come at her again, wings flapping and stirring up dust and gravel from the cavern floor. Emma held the heavy sword in two hands, clutching the pommel with all of her strength. She wasn’t even sure if she could swing it effectively, it was so heavy, but maybe she could at least stab with it. Waiting for her moment, she noticed a glowing spot in the dragon’s throat. The dragon got closer, and Emma stared at that spot. She didn’t see anything else. Not the dangerous wings or talons. Not the head, full of sharp teeth. Not the fearsome eyes. Just that spot.

She thrust upward with all of her might, feeling the sword make contact and her shoulders nearly wrenched out of the sockets with the force of it. There was an otherworldly scream, and then a rain of ash and dust that forced her to drop the sword and cover her face with her arms. The scream seemed to echo forever, filling her ears and her brain and her everything with horror. Then there was silence.

Emma gradually unfolded herself, opening her eyes. There was ash everywhere, and the dragon was gone.

Lying at her feet was a gilded, egg-shaped container. Numbly, Emma picked it up.

~*~

The elevator rose, and Emma knelt at her father’s side. “Come on, David. Dad, whatever. Wake up.” She had used up much of the rest of her strength dragging him into the elevator cage, and now she held his head on her knees, the metal grate pressing uncomfortably against her shins.

Abruptly, the elevator cage stopped, rattling her teeth. Emma looked up, the door into the library still a good fifteen feet away.

“Killian?” she called.

“The mechanism’s stuck.” He peered over the lip of the opening, his hair disheveled and hanging down over his forehead. “Did you get it?”

“We got it, but David’s hurt.” Placing his head down gently on the floor, she climbed the wall and opened a hatch in the ceiling of the cage. “I can climb up,” she said.

“Throw me the potion, and I’ll get it to the Blue Fairy,” he said. “Stay with David, and I’ll phone the paramedics to come get him out.”

Emma eyed him. That did seem like a more sensible plan than leaving an unconscious man alone in an elevator suspended above a mysterious cave. “Okay,” she said, going back for the egg. She climbed up again, and then tossed the egg underhanded up to Killian. He caught it between his hand and hook.

“Thanks.” He winked at her. “See you later, princess.”

~*~

“Mr. Jones.” Tom Clark stood up nervously from the desk at the sheriff’s station where he had been sitting, and then sneezed violently. “Can I help you?”

“No,” Killian said, throwing a punch and enjoying the satisfying sound of his fist connecting with the dwarf’s face, enjoying the way he crumpled to the floor, unconscious.

“Do you have it?” Regina asked, her voice edged with impatience.

“The Savior and her father fought well,” he said, lifting the keys off of Sneezy’s belt with his hook and tossing them over to his hand. “The mission was a success, and furthermore, they should be out of our way long enough to get this business concluded.” He unlocked the cell, holding the door open and bowing obsequiously as she stepped out.

“Where is it?”

Killian pulled the small potion bottle, glowing with its own internal pink light, out of his pocket and held it up in front of Regina’s face. “Any idea what it is?” he asked Regina.

Regina made a grab for it, making Killian jerk it back, the neck of the bottle clutched securely between his thumb and forefinger.

She glared at him. “I’m going to need that if you want me to cast this spell.”

“And you’ll have it,” Killian responded, “as soon as I know you won’t find a way to double-cross me first. For now, you can look, but you can’t touch.” He overemphasized each syllable of that last statement, swaying into Regina’s personal space with a leer.

Regina rolled her eyes, but she did lean close to examine the potion more carefully. “Well, I’ll be damned. How did Rumpelstiltskin get his hands on something like this?”

“Why? What is it?”

“It’s the essence of true love. One of the most powerful spell ingredients there is.”

Killian put the bottle back in his pocket. “I wouldn’t know. Can you work with it?”

Regina’s eyes gleamed with promise. “Oh, I certainly can. With the other ingredients I have hidden in my vault, we can bring magic to this town permanently. I’d like to see them try to lock me in jail then.”

Killian huffed, heading for the back door. “Let’s get a move on, then, and save the villain monologuing for after the spell is finished.”

~*~

After twenty minutes passed and no paramedics, Emma realized that something was very wrong.

David was breathing steadily but he was still unconscious, which worried her.

She pulled out her phone, but they appeared to be just deep enough underground that she was getting no signal. “Shit. Sorry, Dad,” she muttered, “I’ve gotta leave you down here alone for a minute.”

Climbing the wall of the elevator for the third time, her fingers aching from the bite of the sharp metal grate, Emma got her feet underneath her and stood up on the roof of the cage. Reaching up, she was able to get her fingertips over the lip of the opening. Fortunately for her, pull-ups had always been one of her specialties. Her arm muscles flexing, she pulled herself up and over the edge of the library floor, her body half in the library and half hanging over the elevator shaft. She crawled out, gasping for breath.

As soon as she’d used her phone to summon paramedics for David, she called Mary Margaret.

“Emma! Are you and David okay? What happened?”

Frowning, Emma stood up. “Are you not still with August?”

“Yes, I am. I thought Marco might need—”

“So didn’t Killian bring the golden egg thing?”

Mary Margaret’s voice shifted, becoming harder. “No, I haven’t seen him.”

“What the hell, it’s been half an hour. I gave it to him half an hour ago to bring to Mother Superior… Blue… whatever. Where is he?”

“Why didn’t you bring it yourself?”

Emma looked guiltily down at her unconscious father. “I had to stay here with David. He’s fine; at least, I think he’s fine, but he got knocked out.”

“I’m on my way,” her mother said, the call ending abruptly.

Emma looked at the crank that raised the elevator. Her senses humming with dread, she reached out and took hold of the handle, experimentally turning the crank.

The elevator rose easily, and Emma’s heart sank.

Chapter Text

As Regina mixed the ingredients of the spell in the cauldron in her vault, Killian was finding it more and more difficult to ignore the excited capering of his near-constant companion, the manifestation of the Dark One that continually plagued him.

“Almost here, almost here,” it cackled, prancing around the enclosed space.

“How much longer is this going to take?” Killian asked Regina, his teeth clenching. He tried to keep his focus on Regina and not look directly at the avatar of Rumpelstiltskin.

“It takes how long it takes. You don’t want me to get this wrong, do you? I can’t exactly get more of this true love potion very easily. Unless you and Miss Swan want to try generating some?” she said with a raised eyebrow.

Killian resisted the urge to pick up one of Regina’s many bottles and throw it against the wall. “I don’t love her,” he gritted out, his patience as thin as tissue paper.

“Oh, no? I saw those yearning looks.”

He could feel his jaw spasming. “I did what was necessary to keep her from suspecting me of Gold’s murder.”

Regina opened a wide-mouthed jar, inspected its contents, and added a pinch of whatever was inside to her cauldron. She gave him the briefest glance as she did so. “Whatever you need to tell yourself, Dark One.”

“Just get this done. It won’t take long before they realize I tricked Emma into giving me the potion, and that’s assuming someone doesn’t discover you’re missing from your jail cell first.” He stalked back out to the entrance to the crypt, looking for any sign of movement in the graveyard. Seeing no one, he returned through the secret passageway to Regina’s side in time to see purple smoke roiling out of the cauldron and across the floor.

“What is that?” he asked.

“It’s magic,” she said, a wide grin spreading across her face.

~*~

David began to stir as Mary Margaret burst through the library doors. Emma had pulled him out of the elevator and onto the solid floor; she didn’t trust that elevator not to suddenly plummet to the bottom of the cavern without warning.

“David!” Mary Margaret cried, dropping to her knees at his side. “What happened?”

“He had a run-in with a dragon,” Emma said. “Oh and P.S., there was a dragon underneath the library. Totally normal.”

“I’m okay,” he said, trying to sit up while Mary Margaret pushed down on his shoulder to keep him lying down.

Next through the door were the paramedics, followed by the Blue Fairy. David waved the paramedics away, continuing to assert that he wasn’t hurt.

“You were knocked out for a while; just let them do your jobs,” Emma said.

“And we have no idea where Killian is?” Mary Margaret asked.

“I don’t understand. You found something? Where is it?” asked Blue.

“We were double-crossed,” Emma said. “Killian stole it; I have no idea where he is.”

“Maybe he didn’t steal it; maybe something bad happened to him,” Mary Margaret said hopefully.

“No, he stole it; he pretended the elevator was broken so that I would throw the potion up to him.” Emma leaned on the circulation desk, suddenly exhausted. “I guess he is just a pirate.”

“Emma, may I speak to you in private for a moment?” the Blue Fairy asked.

Seeing that David has acquiesced at least to getting his vital signs checked by the paramedics, Emma led the fairy outside. The winter wind was bitterly cold, and Emma took her gloves out of her pockets and pulled them on. “What is it?”

“Mr. Gold’s murder. I assume it’s still unsolved?”

“It’s kind of the least of my worries at the moment, but yeah, it’s still unsolved.” Emma folded her arms across her chest, her eyes darting around Main Street for any sign of a threat.

“Most everyone in this town is too young to know the tale, but no one hated the Dark One more than Captain Hook,” Blue said in a hushed tone.

Emma didn’t think her heart could sink any lower; she was wrong. “What’s the Dark One?”

“Mr. Gold. Rumpelstiltskin. He was a very powerful being in our land, a being of powerful dark magic. Many generations ago, Rumpelstiltskin’s wife fell in love with a pirate captain and left her family behind to become a pirate herself. Years passed, years in which Rumpelstiltskin became the Dark One. The next time he met his wife and this pirate, he exacted his revenge for her betrayal. He killed his wife, and he took the hand of the pirate who had stolen her away. The pirate vowed that day to never rest until he had killed Rumpelstiltskin. He went to Neverland to try to find a poison that would destroy the Dark One, but he was never successful.”

“That pirate being Killian, I take it. So even though they were cursed, he could have known on some level that he wanted to kill Gold,” Emma said, her mind moving quickly. “Especially after I came to town and the curse started to weaken.”

“Oh yes, your presence may very well have been the trigger. Bringing back enough of Captain Hook’s memories to revive his vengeance. But there’s something even worse.” Emma could see fear in Blue’s eyes.

“Worse than the fact that I dated a murderer? Do tell.”

“Was Mr. Gold stabbed with a dagger, by any chance?” Blue asked.

Emma blinked. “Yeah, a curved blade. Why?”

“Before the curse was broken and without magic in this land, Mr. Gold likely would have been vulnerable to any kind of attack. But if he was stabbed with the Dark One’s dagger, then the dark power would have transferred to the person who killed him and they would have become the next Dark One.”

Emma blinked, confused. “Wait, you said ‘dark’, like, four times and you lost me. What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that if Captain Hook killed Rumpelstiltskin with the dagger, then he is now the Dark One.”

“And what kinds of powers does he have exactly?”

“Well, in this land, not many—”

A curse!” came a shout from down the street. Emma turned and saw Leroy running toward them. “A curse is coming!” Behind him, billowing purple smoke seemed to fill the horizon.

“What the hell is that?” Emma said as the smoke approached.

~*~

Regina and Killian stood staring at each other in the aftermath of the spell. “Well?” he asked. “Did it work?”

She held her hand out, palm up, and a fireball appeared above her hand. “It worked.” She eyed him speculatively. “Try to do something.”

“I don’t know the first thing about magic,” he said.

“I’m not sure that matters; you’re the Dark One.”

Closing his eyes, he imagined himself behind Regina. He felt a rush and a pulling deep in his abdomen, and when he opened his eyes, he was behind Regina, red smoke dissipating around him.

Regina turned, looking at him with some mix of trepidation and approval. “See? How did that feel?”

He inhaled deeply, then let the breath out. “Good.” For the moment, the Rumpelstiltskin apparition was leaving him in peace.

Regina swayed closer to him. “And what are you going to do now, Captain?”

He eyed her with distrust. “Why? Are you worried about what I might do to you?”

“Not worried, just… curious. All you cared about for all those lonely decades was getting your revenge,” she murmured, her hand coming up and her fingernail scraping against the chest hair above his shirt collar. “Now you’ve awakened from a curse to find your revenge is already achieved. What does that leave for you? Even the Dark One can’t resurrect the dead.”

He stepped backward, away from her touch. “What about you, your majesty? Still going to try to kill Snow White?”

Regina blinked, looking as if she’d been so focused on getting her magic back, she hadn’t thought about what would come next. “Right now I just want my son,” she admitted.

“Well, good luck to you.”

“And what is it you want, Captain?”

He stared off into the middle distance. “Save for my ship, not a thing in this realm or any other.” With a flick of his wrist, he disappeared in a puff of red smoke.

Killian materialized in his apartment. He blinked around at it, feeling like he’d lived here in another lifetime. Much had changed. Now he knew what he was, and what he’d done.

Walking over to the window, he looked out at the ocean. The sky was slate gray and the water was choppy. There would be snow before nightfall.

They’re coming, Dearie.

“I know.” He could sense the approach of two, no, three people. He waited, his shoulders tense.

He heard the twang of a bowstring, and without effort, he turned and snatched the arrow out of midair before it pierced his chest. With an annoyed eye roll, he flicked it aside. Looking up, his eyes met Snow White’s. Her bow was already drawn back with another arrow, ready to fire.

“Don’t bother,” he told her. “Those arrows won’t hurt me. Nor will that sword or that gun,” he said over her shoulder to David and Emma. At the sight of the pain in Emma’s eyes, his heart stuttered in his chest. He ignored it. “Believe me, I’ve tried to kill the Dark One before. It’s nearly impossible.”

“Sounds to me like you successfully killed the Dark One,” Emma said, the tremor in her voice almost covered up, but he could still hear it. “Where’s the dagger, Killian?”

He laughed. “In a safe place, Sheriff. Although, kudos to you for finding it the first time. If only you’d unwrapped it and saw that it bore my name, this might have turned out differently. I do admire your adherence to police procedure; surprising for someone with your criminal record, but certainly admirable.”

“Good, you can admire my police procedure while I arrest you for murder.”

Killian thought about where he wanted to go, then there was that tug, and just like that, he was behind the trio of do-gooders, standing in his own doorway. “How are you going to arrest me if you can’t catch me?” he asked. The three of them whirled around, their eyes flicking to each other with unease. “Why do you think we brought magic to Storybrooke, love? So that no one could control us.”

“Us?” asked Snow.

“Oh, have you not checked your jail cells yet? They are down one Evil Queen. You’re not going to be able to hold her either, not with her powers.”

“You allied yourself with Regina?” David asked. He seemed to just now be absorbing the magnitude of Killian’s betrayal.

“Not my first choice, I’ll admit, but she was the only one who could use that lovely potion you freed from Maleficent to bring magic to this sorry town.” He sauntered back into the apartment, between Snow and Emma, and flopped down on the sofa. “Without magic, I would have soon been sharing the jail with her.”

“How did you lie to me?” Emma asked. “I can tell when someone’s lying, but you always seemed to be telling me the truth. Is that a power of the Dark One?”

He shrugged. “Perhaps, but in my case, I didn’t set off your lie detector because I didn’t know I was lying.” He felt the sudden need for her to know that he his betrayal had not stretched back to before the curse broke, even though he could sense the darkness inside trying to stop him from making this admission. “I killed Gold, but my mind suppressed that fact until the curse was broken. I suppose the darkness did that so I wouldn’t deliver you a tearful confession in my sorry state as Storybrooke’s reclusive harbormaster. I don’t really know for sure.”

She’s trying to trick you, the voice in his head said. Don’t tell her any more.

“How did you find the dagger in the first place?” Snow White asked.

“Oh, that’s the funniest part,” Killian replied. “I followed Gold that day and found him burying it in the woods. I didn’t have to look for the dagger; he led me right to it.”

“You told me you couldn’t drive,” Emma said.

“I implied it. I never actually said I couldn’t drive.”

“And us?” Emma asked, her cheeks flushing with embarrassment immediately upon asking the question, but she pressed on. “What was that?”

Give her nothing, Dearie, the voice said. We know there’s no love left in you. Not since Milah.

“A way to pass the time,” he said after a brief war within. “A pretty blonde distraction from the darkness I didn’t yet comprehend.”

“So you did lie to me,” she whispered. The sheen of tears in her eyes made him tremble, made him desperate to go back to before when he was just Killian Jones. Not Captain Hook. Not the Dark One.

Of course, you lied, the darkness whispered.

He shrugged, affecting nonchalance. “Perhaps your lie detector doesn’t work when you’re desperate to believe something.”

He could see in that moment Emma become harder, her walls slamming back up in an instant. “Okay, so you’ve got us,” Emma said. “We can’t arrest you. We can’t hurt you. What are you going to do? What is Regina going to do?”

He held his hand and his hook up in a placating gesture. “I’ve no plans for world domination, darling. If you leave me alone, I’ll leave you alone. As for the Evil Queen, I can’t speak for her. I do know she’s very interested in getting Henry back.” He felt guilty at that; he didn’t want that innocent lad back in Regina’s clutches, regardless of their brief alliance.

Emma looked at her parents fearfully. “Call Ruby.”

~*~

Ruby was standing behind the bar and drinking from a glass of whiskey when they arrived at the diner. Henry sat calmly on one of the bar stools, his legs kicking back and forth and a piece of cherry pie in front of him.

“I held her off,” Ruby said, her hands visibly shaking.

“How?” Emma asked.

“She’s not only Red Riding Hood,” Henry said. “She’s the wolf.”

Neither David nor Mary Margaret seemed surprised, the latter moving behind the bar to give Ruby a comforting hug. “You knew about this, huh?” Emma asked.

“Red’s an old friend,” Mary Margaret explained.

“Regina has magic, but she clearly didn’t want to use it in a way that would endanger Henry’s safety,” Ruby explained.

“I was thinking,” Henry said, his mouth full of pie. After swallowing his bite, he continued, “Maybe we should talk to her. Maybe there’s a compromise.”

“I doubt there’s any compromise Regina would accept, kid.”

Emma saw that same guilt she’d seen earlier in Henry’s eyes. Everything that happened to Regina now, he felt responsible for.

Slumping down in one of the booths, Emma felt exhaustion slam into her like a speeding bus. “Okay, we’ll talk to her. In any case, we’ll have to deal with it in the morning. I can’t do anything else today.”

“Finish up your pie, and then we’ll head back to the loft,” David said with a pat on Henry’s back.

“Okay, Grandpa.”

Mary Margaret was finishing a call as she sank into the booth across from Emma. “That was Blue. The spell that brought magic back restored Pinocchio. So that’s one good thing.”

“Yeah, good.”

“Emma, I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how you must be feeling right now.”

Emma clicked her mouth shut, shrugging.

“I’m here for anything you need. If you want to scream, or cry, or… anything.” She reached for Emma’s hand, but Emma pulled it away, folding her arms protectively across her chest.

“I don’t do that. I’m not a sharer. I don’t think a ‘good cry’ really helps,” she said, making finger quotes.

“But Emma—”

“Killian isn’t who I thought he was. It sucks. All I can do is focus on Henry, and protecting this town, and move on.”

“We’ll see you guys back at home,” David called, ushering Henry out the front door.

Ruby put a cup of coffee in front of Emma that she hadn’t asked for, but she was grateful for it all the same. “Thanks, Ruby.”

“Oh please, thank you. If it were up to me, you could eat here for free for life,” Ruby responded. “You woke us all up from that curse.”

Emma shrugged. “I didn’t really even mean to, it just happened.”

“Well I’m still going to thank you,” Ruby said, turning to leave. “Oh, and for the record, it’s not up to me, so you probably can’t eat here for free for life,” she called from behind the counter.

That made a laugh bubble out of Emma, and the laugh unlocked the box inside where she’d crammed all of her emotions. She started to cry. This time when Mary Margaret reached for her hand, Emma let her hold it. With her free hand, she pulled a napkin out of the dispenser on the table and held it to her eyes.

“I went years not opening my heart to anyone because I’d learned that when you open your heart, you get hurt,” Emma said softly. “Then I finally start to trust someone again, and…”

Mary Margaret’s sad face only made Emma feel worse. “I’m so sorry,” she said again.

“I was starting to…” She wanted to kick herself for her own stupidity. “I was starting to imagine a future with him. I thought he loved me, and I thought… I thought maybe I loved him.”

“I know you’re hurting, and there’s nothing I can say to make it better,” Mary Margaret said. “Just know that things will get easier, in time.”

Exhaling loudly, Emma crumpled up her napkin and tossed it on the table. “Yeah, whatever.” She knew logically her mother was right, but right now she didn’t think she could stand thinking about this for another second. “Let’s go home. I want to go to bed and sleep for a week.”

~*~

“And if we can get back to our land, we can secure her in the caves where we used to keep Rumpelstiltskin,” Mary Margaret was saying as Emma awoke in her bed. She looked over at the small cot in the corner and saw Henry was still asleep.

“What makes you think we’ll ever be able to get back there, Snow? We don’t have any means of opening a portal to the Enchanted Forest.”

“It’s only been a day since the curse broke, Charming; have a little bit of hope.”

Emma stole silently out of bed and crept toward the stairs to hear them better. Peering over the edge of the floor, she could look down and see the tops of their heads.

“Well, in the meantime, we need to figure out how to protect the town from Regina. And possibly Hook as well; I don’t necessarily believe he’s going to leave us alone because he said so.”

“Exactly,” Mary Margaret replied. “Another reason we need to figure out a way to get all of us home. We’ll be better equipped to deal with Dark One in our kingdom.”

“Were you able to talk to Emma about him?” David asked.

“A little bit; she closes herself off when she’s feeling vulnerable.”

“Something to do with the fact that she grew up without parents, I guess.”

Mary Margaret hugged him. “So we do the best we can for her now and move forward. There’s no point in looking back.”

Emma decided to make her presence known. “To save you from asking me my opinion,” she said as she walked down the stairs, “I’m not interested in living the rest of my life in fairytale land.”

“Emma!” Guilt was written all over Mary Margaret’s face as she whirled to face her daughter. “I thought you were still asleep.”

“Clearly,” Emma muttered, making for the coffee pot. “As for protecting the town from Regina, I’m going to meet with her today.”

“Emma, it’s too dangerous. She’s got magic, and you have…” Mary Margaret gestured helplessly. “A gun. Which she could probably disarm you of in seconds.”

“Thanks for your support, but I have a plan.”

“What plan?” David asked.

“One you’re not going to like.”

~*~

The beach house was quiet as she approached it. She wondered if she should knock on the other door of the duplex and inform Billy that his neighbor was an immortal dark wizard now. Perhaps there was something in the lease forbidding any tenants who were immortal dark wizards. Probably not, since the lease had been held by Mr. Gold. “The OG Dark One,” Emma whispered to herself, and then let out a morbid little giggle. What had her life become?

Putting aside the issue of the neighbor for the moment, she knocked on Killian’s door. He may be capable of turning her into a newt or whatever, but she’d have to assume he didn’t care to. Killian was the last person she wanted to see with her heart a gaping, ugly wound, but for Henry, she would endure any torture.

The door swung open of its own accord, and Emma walked into the apartment cautiously, feeling for her gun in its holster. She knew shooting him wouldn’t stop him, but it still felt better to know she was armed. Maybe she could slow him down.

She purposefully kept her eyes averted from the bedroom as she walked into the main part of the apartment, trying her best not to imagine the last time she’d been in there. How until she’d awoken to his nightmare ramblings, she’d felt safe and at peace in a man’s arms, something she hadn’t thought she’d ever experience again. No surprise it had been short-lived, given her terrible track record, but for a little while, she’d let herself believe he was different.

Well, he was different, that part was certainly correct, she thought, almost laughing again at how ludicrous all of this was.

“Swan,” Killian said from where he was sprawled on the sofa, his eyes closed. “What are you doing here?”

Chapter Text

Emma looked at Killian, doing her best to harden her heart against the feelings she harbored. He was still in the same black jeans and black button down shirt he’d been wearing the day before, boots still on his feet. Two empty fifths of rum lay on their sides on the floor. “Jesus, Killian, did you drink all night?”

“Funny thing about being the Dark One,” he said, heaving himself up into a sitting position. His hair was a disheveled mess, as if he’d been unable to keep his fingers out of it. “Dark Ones don’t sleep. Also, apparently, they don’t get drunk.” He kicked one of the bottles, sending it spinning across the floor until its progress was arrested by one of his bookcases.

“Bummer. Look, I don’t mean to interrupt your… whatever this is, but I was hoping you would help me.”

He laughed a full-throated chuckle. “Why would I do that?”

“Because I think you still care about Henry’s well-being. The first thing you asked me after the curse broke was whether Henry was okay, and I believe you really meant it.”

He twitched, running his hand through his unwashed hair. “I don’t want anything bad to happen to the lad, that’s true.”

“Then help me with Regina.” She stepped closer. She knew she should be afraid that he would hurt her; he could probably kill her with a thought, but for some reason, she trusted that he wouldn’t. Perhaps only due to his lingering interest in Henry’s well-being, but whatever the reason, she trusted him that far.

“I get that what happened between us is over,” she said, keeping her voice remarkably steady, given the way her stomach was roiling. “But you’re the only person in this town that can stand up against Regina without getting a fireball in the face. I need to make sure she isn’t going to hurt anyone I care about, but also, Henry misses her. He doesn’t want to admit it to me, but I know he does.”

“Children can have complex feelings about abusive parents. The desire to please them doesn’t go away just because they beat you.”

Emma eyed him speculatively; he seemed to be speaking from experience. “Okay, but I don’t think she ever did anything like that.”

“Was she not gaslighting him to convince him that there was no curse?” Killian asked.

Emma sank onto the armchair next to Killian’s sofa. “Yeah, she was.” She put her head in her hands. “Look, if this was the regular world, I’d sue her for custody, and I’d take him as far away from her as I physically could. And it would be hard for him, and he’d probably grieve for her, and then he’d get better. But in this fucked-up fairy tale situation, that isn’t really an option. I don’t know what else to do. If he wants to see her, if he wants us to share custody, and I can be certain that he’s in no danger…” She shrugged helplessly, thinking about how sad it was that even after getting her heart broken, her instinct was to open up to Killian, to trust him.

He was looking at her with the same softness in his eyes she used to see before everything went to hell. It made her stomach swoop. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out, Swan. I’ve yet to see you fail.” He twitched again and looked angrily over his shoulder. “Get out of my head!” he shouted at the wall, his voice ragged.

“Killian?”

His hand was in his hair again, his eyes flickering with madness. “The darkness. It’s always there, whispering. Plaguing me.”

“You never wanted this, did you?” she asked softly, wanting to reach for him but resisting.

“I was hardly in my right mind when I killed Rumpelstiltskin,” he said. “Not able to make a conscious decision to take on the darkness. I had always hoped…” he trailed off.

“What?”

“I spent so many decades in Neverland because I wanted to find a way to kill the Dark One without the darkness transferring to me. Immortality was never my goal. Power was never…” He whirled again. “Begone, imp!” He picked up the other rum bottle and flung it at the wall, the glass shattering like a bomb. Emma jumped.

“Forgive me,” he muttered, waving his hand and making the shards of glass disappear in a puff of smoke. He turned to her again. “I will help you with Regina. Just tell me what you would like me to do.”

~*~

Regina opened the door to the library cautiously, the paper still covering the windows preventing her from seeing what she was walking into.

Emma Swan stood in the middle of the floor, her arms folded across her chest. Captain Hook, the Dark One, sat on top of the circulation desk.

“What the hell is the one-handed wonder doing here with you?” Regina asked.

“I’m here to as an impartial observer to this parlay, your majesty. Don’t mind me,” he drawled, his boots kicking against the desk.

Emma cleared her throat. “You tore my family apart, Regina, because of a mistake that my mother made when she was a kid. I spent my whole life alone because of you, assuming my parents abandoned me. Can you just tell me why?”

Regina felt a swelling of pain in her chest, a feeling that she knew how to quash before it affected her. Today, for some reason, she let herself feel it. She let herself name it: guilt.

“I was blinded by grief,” she said honestly. “I’d lost my first love, Daniel; he was murdered in front of me by my own mother.”

“So why not go after your mother?” Emma asked.

“Oh, she did,” Hook said, cleaning his fingernails with his hook. “Hired me to kill her. Good times, eh, Regina?”

“And why blame Snow? I know she made a mistake, but—”

“Because she never had to suffer the way I had suffered!” Regina shouted. “Everything fell into her lap, without her having to work for it! Her father’s love. Her kingdom. Her true love. She needed to understand what suffering was!”

“Well, I’d say she does now.” Emma stared baldly at her, remaining impassive. “Tell me something else — did you kill Graham?”

Regina looked back and forth between Emma and Hook, cold fear crawling up her spine. If the Dark One was at Emma Swan’s beck and call, then Regina was in danger. “I was afraid he would make you believe in the curse.”

“Or you were pissed that he dumped you, and you wanted revenge,” Emma said.

“You need to understand something about the Dark Curse, Miss Swan,” Regina said. “It didn’t just curse everyone else in this town, it cursed me too.”

“What are you talking about, you remembered everything. You knew who everyone was; you weren’t cursed,” Emma protested. “You’re the curser, not the… cursee.”

“True, but I was also frozen. Stuck. Living the same day again and again, at least until I adopted Henry. Henry was like a spark of magic that came into my life in this land without magic.” Regina swallowed with difficulty. “Even then, I couldn’t really move forward. I couldn’t get over my grief for Daniel. I couldn’t move past my desire for vengeance.”

Emma raised an eyebrow. “And now you can?”

Regina felt tears behind her eyes, barely recognizing the impulse to cry at first. “I don’t know. Right now, I just want to be able to see Henry again.”

“And he wants to see you. He wants us to find a way to compromise on custody.”

Anger swelled in Regina’s chest like a fire suddenly given air. “You gave him up. Legally, he’s my son.”

“And legally, you just confessed to killing Graham,” Emma countered.

“Something you’d never be able to convict me of in the courts of this land. Nor could you hold me for it.”

I know that. Which is why we need to work out what’s best for Henry in this fucked up situation, regardless of the past. Now that the curse is broken, he wants both of his mothers. But I need some assurance that you aren’t going to try to hurt me or my family ever again. That you’re going to let the people of this town live in peace.”

“The people of this town tried to kill me, if you’ll recall.” Regina could still remember how helpless she felt with no magic and Dr. Whale’s fingers tightening around her throat.

“I think everyone’s settled down,” Emma said.

“And if an angry mob does come after you again,” Hook said, “you can rain fire down on them.”

“No, don’t do that,” Emma said with a glare at both of them. “No one is going to rain anything down on anyone. Peace, remember? Regina, do I have your word?”

Hook snorted, indicating how much he thought her word was worth.

Regina suddenly felt determined to prove him wrong.

“You have my word that I won’t do anything to hurt your family or anyone else in this town,” she said through gritted teeth. She turned to Hook. “You can put it in one of those infernal contracts Rumpelstiltskin was so fond of drawing up.”

He jumped off the desk, swaggering up to her. “I’m not much for paperwork. Just know, Regina, that if you do go back on your word, then I will delight in tearing you apart piece by piece if it’s the last thing I ever do.” Regina looked into the madness in his eyes, and she knew he meant it.

“Okay, good meeting,” Emma said.

~*~

Emma’s life began to once again resemble something of a routine. On weeks when she didn’t have Henry, she threw herself into work: dealing with the town’s more mundane, petty disturbances and trying to bring the station’s record keeping system into the 21st century. She even enrolled in an online course in law enforcement, figuring if she was going to be the sheriff, even of a magically created town filled with fairy tale characters, she’d prefer to know more about what she was doing.

On alternating weeks, Henry stayed with her at the loft with her parents, and that added getting him off to school, making sure his homework was done, and ensuring that he ate something resembling a balanced diet to her already busy days. She wouldn’t have traded it for anything though, the hours she got to spend with her son. The two of them invested in an old Xbox which she figured out how to wire up to Mary Margaret’s even older TV, and they killed time on the weekends fighting aliens together and eating popcorn. After all, she couldn’t be a responsible mom all the time.

Gradually, she allowed herself to let her walls down around her parents, as day by day they got to know each other properly. A kernel of resentment that they had given her up stayed nestled deep down in her heart, but weekly meetings with Archie were helping her to accept that sacrificing the happiness of their own family for the sake of their kingdom was who they were.

Her contact with Regina was brief; outside of the weekly handoff of Henry and an occasional professional call from the mayor’s office, they didn’t interact. Still, she saw no evidence that Regina wasn’t walking the straight and narrow, and her parents even grudgingly admitted that Regina seemed to have turned over a new leaf.

Spring began to awaken in Storybrooke. Trees started to bud, and grass began to look more green than brown. Emma felt like she would be happy, genuinely happy, if it weren’t for the way her thoughts strayed so often to Killian. She tried to be subtle when she inquired if anyone had seen him, but all she got in return were knowing, sad looks and shrugs. He hadn’t visited the diner, Ruby told her. He wasn’t living in his apartment, Billy said. There’d been no sign of him anywhere around the docks, said the fishermen. Emma began to wonder if he’d found some way back to the Enchanted Forest, he had so effectively disappeared from Storybrooke. It didn’t stop her from remembering his voice and his smile and his touch with disturbingly perfect clarity.

“I was thinking of getting my own place,” she mentioned to Henry one Saturday morning, as the two of them lazed around in their pajamas in front of the Xbox.

“Why?”

“Well, it’s kind of crowded here, especially when you’re staying over. Wouldn’t you like to have your own bedroom?”

“Sure,” he allowed. “Hey, what about Killian’s old apartment? If he’s not living there anymore, maybe you could live there.”

Her heartbeat sped up. “No way.”

“Why not?”

“It’s only a one-bedroom,” Emma said.

“That’s not why,” Henry responded, narrowing his eyes. “You still have feelings for him. You miss him too much.”

“Who’s suddenly an expert in adult relationships?”

Henry looked smug at that. “You didn’t deny it.”

Emma’s avatar on the screen died in a flash of gunfire, and she set her controller down on the coffee table. “It doesn’t really matter if I miss him or not. The guy I knew wasn’t real.”

Henry rolled his eyes. “Come on, you’ve gotten to know enough people in this town to understand that their cursed personalities and their real personalities aren’t that different. And Killian was nice.”

“Okay, but there’s also the little matter of him having killed someone. And being the Dark One now.”

“I know, but he didn’t mean to become the Dark One. He was confused like Graham was.”

Emma frowned. “How do you know about that?”

“He talked to me about the storybook before he died, remember?” Emma wasn’t sure if Henry knew of Regina’s responsibility for Graham’s death and she certainly wasn’t going to bring it up now, not with the uneasy peace they’d forged. She didn’t think she’d ever let herself forget it, though. “Graham’s memories of the Enchanted Forest were starting to bleed in, but it was all confused and mixed up in his mind. He was, like, going insane.”

“I know.”

“So the same thing was probably happening to Killian!” Henry proclaimed. “I bet he had all these mixed up memories in his head, confusing him, making him crazy. Then he saw Mr. Gold, and the memories took over. It wasn’t really his fault, killing Rumpelstiltskin and becoming the Dark One. He’s, like, not guilty by reason of insanity.”

“How do you know about his past with Rumpelstiltskin?” Emma asked, frowning. “That stuff isn’t in your book.”

“I know. Mom told me. Did you know she and Captain Hook knew each other in the Enchanted Forest?”

Emma felt a stab of jealousy. “Yeah, I gathered. Anyway, he’s gone, so…”

Henry blinked at her. “No, he’s not, he’s in that old mansion at the edge of town.”

Emma sat up suddenly, accidentally kicking the coffee table and knocking a cereal box off of it, the little colorful hoops spilling out across the floor. “What mansion? And how do you know?”

Now he was back to looking smug. “Mom did a locator spell, I think because she wants to keep tabs on the Dark One. I saw the map she was using after she was done. That’s where he is.”

~*~

It’s my responsibility as the sheriff, Emma told herself as parked her squad car in front of the mansion. I should know what the resident Dark One is up to. Or do a safety check. Yeah, that’s what this is, a safety check.

There was no response to her knock. Finding the door unlocked, Emma cautiously went inside.

The mansion showed every sign of having been long abandoned, cobwebs in the corners of the sumptuously wood-paneled entryway. Emma made her way into what appeared to be some kind of formal parlor, seeing no sign that anyone was living here. As she turned around to continue her exploration in another room, there was a puff of red smoke and Killian appeared before her.

Pressing her palm to her racing heart, Emma stepped back. “Jesus, Killian, you scared me.”

“That was my intention, Swan. What are you doing here?” His voice sounded raspy with disuse, and he looked terrible. His eyes looked sunken, his skin sallow. He still wore black jeans and a black, button-down shirt as if it were some kind of Dark One uniform. His hair was greasy and unkempt, and it had grown longer so that it curled in little tufts around his ears.

She swallowed uncomfortably. “I heard you were living up here, and I came to check and make sure you were all right.”

“I’m immortal; what kind of danger do you think I would have gotten myself into?” He disappeared and then immediately reappeared on one of the room’s high-backed chairs, one of his legs thrown over an overstuffed arm.

Emma raised an eyebrow. “You need magic to move three feet and sit down?” He shrugged in response. “What is it that you’re doing up here, exactly?”

“Oh, what am I not doing, Swan? Musing on all the mistakes I’ve made in my long, long life. Remembering every time I stabbed that dagger into the Crocodile’s fragile flesh. Remembering my beloved ship, lost to me forever in another realm.” He waved his hand, and Emma felt a sickening tug as red smoke enveloped her. When her vision cleared, she realized they were in another room in the mansion — a library of sorts. Killian stood over near one of the heavy-curtained windows. Books littered the floor and every available flat surface in haphazard piles. “All this power, all this knowledge at my disposal, and there is no way for me to leave this realm and get back to my own.”

“I think you need a more productive hobby,” Emma said. “You need to stop isolating yourself up here, for one thing.”

He disappeared again, materializing at her side. “You don’t want that,” he sneered, his eyes flashing with madness and pain. “You don’t want this darkness anywhere near your family. Anywhere near you.” In spite of his words, he swayed closer to her, like he couldn’t help himself. Emma inhaled, smelling his sweat and the ozone left behind by his magic.

“So you’re planning to stay holed up in his mansion… what, forever? Until someone finds that dagger and stabs you, and the cycle begins all over again?” she asked. His eyes flicked from her eyes to her lips, over and over, and she couldn’t tell if he’d even heard her. “Killian?”

“The darkness lies,” he whispered, as if by keeping his voice down, he could prevent it from knowing his thoughts. “It tells me you used me. That you hate me. That I never loved you.” His hand reached out and gripped her arm. “Why is it so afraid of you?” he asked in an even softer tone, such that she could barely make out the words even as he spoke only inches from her face.

Emma had no idea how to respond. “I don’t know.”

Killian drew closer, his knee bumping into hers, his wrinkled shirt brushing against her breast. “I think of you every hour of every day, Swan.” His breath was hot on her face, his hand trembling where it gripped her arm hard enough to bruise. For a moment, Emma thought he meant to kiss her, but then just as quickly he disappeared again, reappearing at a safer distance away.

“You should go,” he muttered. “You should leave and never come back to this place. This is my tomb; leave me alone to rot in peace. It’s what I deserve.”

Shivering at the hopelessness in his voice, Emma reached into her pocket and drew out the silver chain she’d removed from an old evidence baggie that morning. “I wanted to give you something that we found several months ago near… near where Gold was killed.” She held it out, letting the ring at the end of the chain swing like a pendulum. “I thought it might be yours, ripped off in the struggle when…”

Killian walked closer to her, his eyes focused on the ring. “Liam’s ring. I assumed it was lost forever.”

“Liam?”

“My brother.” He flicked his wrist, and the chain disappeared from her hand and reappeared in his. “I wore this from a young age; I believed it was what kept me alive.” His eyes closed, his face a mask of pain. “Since I lost it the day I became the Dark One, I suppose that was true.”

“You’re still alive, Killian. Even with all this darkness inside you, you’re still alive.”

He shook his head sadly. “Goodbye, Emma Swan.” With another flick of his wrist, Emma once again felt a nauseating tug, and the next moment she was standing next to the police cruiser outside, alone.

~*~

He sat still in the high-backed chair, as still as he possibly could, as if he could make every process in his body slow and slow and slow until his own heart stopped beating in his chest through sheer force of will. The few streetlights outside he’d extinguished weeks ago, and the moon was new, making the room completely dark. A mere mortal would have struggled to make out the barest outlines of the cold hearth, the dusty furniture, and the lonely man sitting in his lonely mansion.

“Hello, Dearie,” sang a familiar voice. Killian ignored it. It had almost become background noise at this point, like the rush of blood in his veins, the rhythmic beat of his heart, the occasional noisy insect chirping outside the window.

The avatar of Rumpelstiltskin sat in the twin of the chair Killian occupied as if they were two men enjoying the warmth of the fireplace, but no fire burned. It crossed one leg over the other, propping its head against a gnarled fist, and regarded him impassively.

“Do you think you’re the first Dark One to try to nobly isolate yourself to protect those that the weak, human version of you once cared for?”

“Can’t say as I bloody well give a damn,” Killian said out loud.

“You aren’t. And so I can tell you with absolute certainty, it won’t work.”

Killian clenched his teeth and didn’t respond.

“The darkness needs to feed. It needs suffering and chaos and blood. And you will give it that.”

“I won’t.”

The apparition laughed, slapping its knee in delight. “A pirate who ransacked and whored his way across the realm, the very definition of weak and self-indulgent, is going to resist the pull of darkness that no one in thousands of years has resisted?”

When Killian again didn’t respond, the creature arose with oily, reptilian grace and approached, leaning close to Killian. He exhaled, his fetid breath making Killian want to retch. “The darkness will have you, and you’ll realize that Rumpelstiltskin was a paragon of virtue compared to someone like you. Everyone you think you love, you’ll destroy. You’ll torture and murder and rape, until nothing good is left of this town.” It paused, running its tongue over yellowed, ruined teeth. “And you’ll love it.”

Killian reached out with his hand for the creature’s neck, but it dissolved in front of his eyes, leaving nothing but silence and blackness in its wake. Shoulders drooping, Killian bowed his head in defeat.

Chapter Text

Emma couldn’t get the pain in Killian’s eyes out of her mind. Moving the food on her plate around with her fork, she tried to focus on what her parents were saying, but all she could see was Killian, pushing her away. She remembered Henry telling her that he was the same man she’d known before, the same man she’d—

“You’ve hardly eaten, sweetheart. Are you feeling okay?” Mary Margaret regarded Emma’s dinner plate with concern, a mirroring concern reflecting on her father’s face.

“Yeah, I’m good.” She looked up at them and tried to smile, but it was obvious she wasn’t fooling them. She sighed. Emma had resolved not to bottle her feelings up so much, but it took constant vigilance. “I saw Killian yesterday, and I’m worried.”

David sat at attention. “You saw him where?”

“Regina discovered that he’s living in an old mansion at the edge of town, and I went to check on him.”

“Emma, I wish you had taken me with you,” her father said.

“I wasn’t in any danger. But he’s in really bad shape.”

Mary Margaret frowned. “What do you mean, bad shape?”

“He’s exiling himself, I think to protect the rest of us. Marinating in all that darkness, voices filling his head with who-knows-what. Look, aside from whatever my personal feelings for him might be, he’s a ticking time bomb up there. Eventually, he’ll go crazy enough that he’s gonna be a danger to Storybrooke.”

“That’s a good point.” David put down his fork. “So what do you suggest?”

“I thought I might talk to Regina. Maybe there’s a way to get rid of the darkness for good. With magic.” She took a sip of her beer.

“Honey, do you think this is something you can trust Regina with?” her mother asked.

Emma shrugged. “Look, I tried going to your Blue Fairy already, but she was less than helpful. She just offered me a bunch of vague platitudes that would have applied in any situation. It’s no wonder Regina cursed her into being a nun. Meanwhile, Regina hasn’t tried to kill us lately, and she’s been positively civil when she’s picking up or dropping off Henry. What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

“She could take advantage of a weak Dark One to get her hands on his dagger, and then command him to kill us all,” her father suggested.

“Okay, sure, but let’s hope she doesn’t do that,” Emma said.

~*~

“And why should I help you rescue your boyfriend from the darkness?” Regina arched one of her perfectly plucked eyebrows at Emma from across the diner booth.

“He’s not my boyfriend, and you should help because I assume you don’t want a crazed Dark One in town any more than I do. If he starts doing what the voices in his head are telling him to do, who knows what could happen, but I don’t think it would be good for any of us.” Emma swirled her hot cocoa in her mug while Regina took a sip of her coffee.

“The Dark One’s curse has been around for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years. There isn’t any way to break it,” Regina said with finality. “The only way to transfer it is what you already know — kill a Dark One with the dagger, the power goes into you.”

“Is there anyone else here in Storybrooke who might know more? Besides the Blue Fairy — I already tried her and got nothing.” Both women rolled their eyes in tandem.

“In recent memory, I and my mother were the only sorceresses trained by the Dark One, so I know more about Rumpelstiltskin than anyone living… except …” Regina grimaced.

“Except what?”

She looked at Emma uneasily. “Except I sort of forgot that I have Rumple’s mistress locked up underneath the hospital.”

“You forgot?”

“Look, it’s been a long time since I set out the initial parameters for the curse. One of them was that I’d have Rumple’s lover under my control in case I needed leverage against him.”

Emma folded her arms across her chest. “Wow, Regina.”

“Oh, don’t look at me like that. Rumple was dangerous, and having an ace up my sleeve was a necessary evil.” She sighed, looking petulant. “What I mean to say is, we will let her out immediately. Happy, Savior?”

~*~

The mental ward in the basement of the hospital was dank and morbid, its caretakers right out of a movie, although Emma was pretty sure One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest wasn’t a fairy tale. “Who else do you have down here, Regina?” Emma asked as she trailed behind the other woman.

“No one,” Regina answered, then paused. “Well, just Sidney Glass.”

“Why?”

“Because he failed me,” Regina muttered, and then seemed to realize what she’d said. “I’ll let him out too,” she said sheepishly, walking over and unlocking one of the doors.

Sidney trembled as he stepped before Regina. “Your majesty,” he whispered, bowing low. “Can you ever forgive this humble servant for letting you down?”

“Jesus,” Emma said. “Go home, Sidney. Consider yourself discharged.”

Regina had already moved on to the next door, her former servant all but forgotten. Regina may be walking on the side of light lately, but she was a long way from redemption, Emma reminded herself. The not-quite-as-evil Queen unlocked another door, and as Emma approached, she heard a tremulous, feminine voice say, “You… you’re the queen who had me kidnapped.”

“Yes, and now I’m the queen who’s letting you out,” Regina replied.

Emma came into the room, seeing a short woman with long, brown hair cowering on her narrow bed. “Hey, I’m Emma,” she said, trying to appear and sound as unthreatening as possible. “Do you know where you are?”

The woman — her name was Belle, and Emma had spent most of the drive over struggling to understand the crossover between Rumpelstiltskin and Beauty and the Beast — shook her head quickly.

“Okay, well, first of all, you’re safe. And you’re going to be freed from this hospital right away. My name is Emma, and I’m Sheriff of Storybrooke. Which is where you are, the town of Storybrooke.”

Belle darted a fearful glance at Regina, and then looked back at Emma. She kept her bare feet tucked up under her hospital gown, and Emma made a mental note to call someone to bring her some clothes. “I’ve never heard of Storybrooke. How far is it from Misthaven?”

Emma raised an eyebrow at Regina. “You wanna try to field that question?”

“It’s in another realm, I’m afraid. We’re cut off from Misthaven permanently,” Regina said.

“And is that why Rumple hasn’t rescued me? Because he’s there?”

Emma had been preparing herself for having to explain this part. “Belle, can I sit down?” The other woman nodded. “I’m very sorry to have to tell you this, but Rumpelstiltskin has died.”

Belle stared at her a moment, as if she didn’t understand what Emma was saying. Then she shook her head. “That’s impossible; he’s immortal.”

“The Dark One is immortal, Rumpelstiltskin wasn’t,” Regina said.

“What does that mean?” Belle’s fingers clutched helplessly at her threadbare hospital gown, and Emma’s heart ached for the woman.

“There was a curse on the town, and everyone only got their memories back recently. Were you aware of that?”

Belle nodded. “I didn’t remember anything about my own life; I thought I belonged here.” She shot a dirty look at Regina. “And then one day it all came back. Rumple, and my father… everything about my past that I had forgotten. At first, I thought it was proof that I was as crazy as they’d been telling me I was, but… you’re saying the whole town had the same experience? You too?”

“Well, no, but I’m not from here.” Emma reached out and took Belle’s hand. “What I’m trying to say is, during the curse, there were a few people who started to get their memories back more slowly. It was disorienting. One of those people, Killian Jones, he killed Rumpelstiltskin while in this state. He had no idea what he was doing, and no idea that it would cause him to become the Dark One. And now we want to save him, and we’re hoping you can help us.”

Belle narrowed her eyes. “You want me to save… the man who killed Rumpelstiltskin.”

“I told you we should have lied to her,” Regina said.

“You’re not helping,” Emma hissed before turning back to Belle. “I know, it’s awful what we’re asking of you. But maybe if we can do something for Killian, then no one will have to suffer under the Dark One’s curse ever again. We can end it for good.”

That seemed to make an impression on her. “What is it that you think I can do?” she asked.

“I don’t know if you can, but you’re the person in this town who knew the last Dark One the best. Did you ever learn of any way to remove the Dark One’s curse, besides the dagger?”

Belle looked at Regina. “Just true love’s kiss, like the queen told me back in the Enchanted Forest,” she said.

Regina rolled her eyes. “Which didn’t work, so it hardly seemed worth mentioning. Anything besides that?”

“It didn’t work because Rumple didn’t want it to work. He didn’t want to give up the Dark One’s power. But before he realized what was happening, the kiss did start to change him.” Tears welled in Belle’s eyes and fell down her cheeks. “It was true love, it just wasn’t as important to him as being the Dark One.”

“Well,” Regina said, considering, “you did say Hook didn’t care about the power.”

“Let’s talk about it later,” Emma whispered, trying to focus on the woman who was falling apart on the bed beside her. “Come on, Belle, let’s go upstairs. We’ll have Dr. Whale make sure you’re healthy and get you a shower and some clean clothes. Okay?”

Belle nodded, still crying quietly. Emma gently guided her to stand and to leave the room on shuffling feet.

~*~

“True love’s kiss?” Emma grumbled, leaning back against the breakfast bar in the loft. “Really? How is that even a thing?”

Regina shot her a disparaging look from where she sat at the kitchen table next to Henry. “How is it that you’re still struggling to believe even the most rudimentary things about magic? It was a true love potion that you got out of that dragon under the library; that’s what brought magic to Storybrooke.” She lifted her hand, palm up, and conjured a perfect flame on top of it. “Do you doubt the existence of magic?”

“No, but… it seems so silly.”

“It was true love’s kiss that woke Henry from his sleeping curse,” Mary Margaret pointed out. “And me, back in the Enchanted Forest.”

“Okay, fine, it exists. But that was, one, the love of a mother for a child,” Emma said, raising a finger to enumerate her points, “and two, you guys, who I’ll agree are disgustingly in love. But Captain Hook definitely doesn’t love me.” Anymore, she added mentally. Whether she loved him was a question she didn’t want to contemplate.

Regina snorted.

“What?” Emma asked, folding her arms across her chest.

“That pirate spent two hundred years looking for revenge on Rumpelstiltskin for killing his first love. He just doesn’t want to admit to himself that he moved on,” Regina said.

“Regina may have a point,” David offered.

“Add to that the fact that, if the previous Dark One resisted true love’s kiss with Belle, then the darkness knows what a danger you are, Emma,” Regina continued. “It’s probably telling him to push you away.”

A memory sparked in Emma’s mind. “He said something about that,” she murmured. “He said, ‘why is it so afraid of you?’”

“See?” Mary Margaret said, smiling. “The darkness knows that true love always prevails.”

“I still think we need another plan,” Emma said.

“You assumed I haven’t been working on one,” Regina grumbled. “But I actually have, for the reason you stated. I don’t want a half-mad Dark One lurking at the edge of town any more than the rest of you.”

“You couldn’t have mentioned this earlier?” David asked.

“I didn’t mention it because I haven’t gotten very far with it. My idea was that if I could draw the darkness out with a spell, I could bind it to an object. So I spent some time digging around in Gold’s shop—”

“Looting,” Emma commented.

“The whole town’s been looting the pawn shop,” Henry pointed out. “He had stuff belonging to just about everyone in there.”

“As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted,” Regina continued, “I found this.” She reached into her large purse and pulled out an ornate box, setting it on the table.

“What’s that?” Henry asked.

“Pandora’s box,” Regina replied. “If the darkness is untethered, we could trap it simply by opening the lid.”

“Okay,” Emma said, “that’s promising. And how do we untether the darkness from Killian?”

Regina looked sheepish. “That’s the part I haven’t figured out, but I’ll keep working on it.”

~*~

August sat in his father’s work shed, typing into the wee hours of the morning. He was so focused on his writing that he barely noticed the change in air pressure behind him.

A hand reached out and picked up one of his completed pages, making August jump with fright.

“Did you put in the part about how I stole a dwarf’s car and then told the Sheriff I didn’t know how to drive?” Killian asked. “I thought that was a nice bit of flair.”

“That’s not the story I’m telling, Dark One,” August said.

Killian set the typewritten page back down, his eyes darting around the shed and taking everything in. “You were quite convinced that I would know the dagger when you showed me that picture of it. How did you know?”

August stood up from his stool and backed away, his hands trembling. “I knew the story of Captain Hook and Rumpelstiltskin. I wasn’t sure, but I was taking a gamble that you were the one who killed him.”

“And what did you conclude from our meeting, that day that you barged into my office?” Killian asked. He moved as if to clean his fingernails with his hook, a parody of nonchalance.

“Nothing,” August said. “I couldn’t get a read on you.”

“You were awfully interested in the dagger,” Killian said.

“I knew of its power.”

“And?” Killian asked, moving around the small space, picking up and inspecting some of Geppetto’s wood carvings that sat on the shelves. He returned each item carefully to its place before handling the next.

“And I thought such a powerful magical item might be able to help me with my… issue. Ultimately, though, it seems the Dark One’s dagger has a very limited magic within it.”

Killian laughed at that, a laugh that tore from his chest, a laugh that spoke the tale of the agony within. “That it does.” He turned and looked at August again. “So you are completely healed now? No aftereffects of turning to wood?”

“Why do you care?”

Killian shrugged. “I’m curious.”

“The Blue Fairy says that I need to stay in Storybrooke, or I will revert to my wooden form.” Frustration rose like bile in his throat. “And that even then, the magic in Storybrooke may not be enough to sustain me. I may start to slowly turn into wood again.” He resisted the urge to reach down and rub his leg.

“That must be terrifying,” Killian said. “Every morning, waking up, checking yourself over, wondering if this is the day that your limbs start to betray you. Awakening from a nightmare of being encased in wood, trapped, unable to even scream?” He shuddered theatrically.

“Yeah, it sucks; what’s your point?”

“What if I could help you?” Killian said, a carved wooden doll still clutched in his hand. “There is a magic that would ensure you would remain a real boy forever.”

“And what’s that?” August asked, dread and mistrust coiling in his stomach.

“It’s this,” Killian said simply, reaching inside his leather coat and pulling out the dagger. He flipped it in the air, catching it by the flat of the blade, and then set it on the stack of August’s manuscript. August stared at it blankly.

“Are you asking me to… control you with it? I don’t understand.”

“If I thought you were actually villainous enough to command me to do anything dastardly, I wouldn’t be offering it to you. But I think your self-preservation is strong. Strong enough to do what you have to.”

August picked up the dagger. He imagined that the dagger itself shuddered with restrained power, but it was likely his own hand trembling.

“What do you want me to do?” August asked.

Killian held both of his arms out wide. “Kill me with it.”

What?” He gaped at Killian. “Why would you want me to do that?”

Killian rolled his eyes in frustration. “The Dark One’s power will keep you from turning into wood. Didn’t I explain this already? Are you slow?”

“And you’ll be dead,” August said.

Killian laughed, another haunting sound that sent a chill up August’s spine. “Turns out, being the Dark One wasn’t the right career move for me. I don’t have any particular desire to rule with an iron fist. I’m not a deal-maker. This power is wasted on me.”

“But you think I want it?”

“I think you want to stay a living person, and not a wooden doll.” He waved the small doll he still held for emphasis.

August looked down at the dagger, and then back up at the haunted eyes of the man in front of him. “No offense, but you’re not making this look like a particularly appealing trade.”

Killian sauntered close, closing his hand around August’s on the hilt of the dagger. “Come on, Pinocchio,” he gritted out. “Be a man! Put me out of my misery, and save yourself.”

August wrenched back, his hand loosening and letting the dagger fall to the dusty floor between them. “I won’t.”

Killian swiped his arm through the empty air in front of him. At the same moment, August felt it like a fist connecting with his jaw, and he stumbled backward. “You’re useless,” the Dark One muttered. He brought his hand up, palm out, and August was thrown back against the cabinets behind him, the back of his head connecting painfully with a shelf.

The Dark One advanced on him. “Weak, and useless, and not worthy to breathe the same air as the Savior.” August’s vision swam and he started to slide to the floor. He spared a thought for his poor Papa, who would find his dead body out here in the morning. Geppetto didn’t deserve that kind of grief. Not again. He lost consciousness.

When August opened his eyes what felt like a moment later, the dagger was gone, and so was the Dark One.

With a shaking hand, August pulled his phone out of his pocket and made a call.

~*~

Regina fumbled for her Blackberry on the nightstand, bringing it to her ear without looking at the screen. “Hello?”

“Regina, we need to do something now. Killian’s suicidal.” It was Emma, sounding panicked.

“Great, let him off himself, we’d all get a lot more rest,” she grumbled.

There was a huff of frustrated breath into the phone’s speaker. “He went to August and tried to get August to stab him with the dagger. He refused, but Killian will find someone to do it eventually. We can’t wait any longer.”

“The spell is a long-shot, Emma. I’ve done what I can, but I honestly don’t think it will work.”

“We have to try. Please, Regina.”

Regina ran a hand through her sleep-tousled hair. She had to admit, it felt good to be needed, to be valued for her skills with magic. She could see it in Henry’s eyes sometimes, that he was proud of her. He’d never looked at her that way before. It brought a swell of satisfaction in her chest that vengeance never had. “Okay, we’ll try.”

~*~

Emma swallowed against the nausea of teleportation as Regina materialized the two of them in the mansion.

“Killian!” she called out immediately, already running for the stairs that she thought led to the library.

“If he doesn’t want you to find him, calling out his name is idiotic,” Regina said, trailing behind her. “He’ll just teleport away from here.”

Emma ignored her, tearing from room to room and continuing to call out Killian’s name. She had to find him. She had to.

Regina appeared before her in a puff of purple smoke as she opened the door of an unused bedroom. “He’s not here, Emma.”

“So what now?”

“Well, if there’s something around here that belongs to him, we could take it back to my vault and I can do a locator spell.”

The curtains in the bedroom were open, and the first pale light of dawn caught Emma’s eye. “No need. I think I know where he is. Take us to the docks.”

With an eye roll, Regina waved her hand as Emma braced herself for the disorienting nausea of teleportation once again, squeezing her eyes shut.

She smelled the cannery and heard the cry of seagulls before she opened her eyes.

“How did you find me?” Killian asked.

Emma blinked, orienting herself. Killian stood a few feet away, near the railing that separated part of the dock from the harbor. The masts of the fishing boats in their slips stuck up like bones picked clean in the dim light.

“You told me once that you found the water calming.”

He didn’t respond, his gaze still trained out over the bay. Emma turned to Regina, raising her eyebrows. It was now or never.

Regina lifted her hands and murmured an incantation under her breath. When she reached the point that they had rehearsed, Emma pulled a potion out of her pocket, uncapped it, and threw it toward Killian. The red liquid splashed on his leather jacket as Regina continued to speak.

Killian turned around slowly, looking back and forth between them both. Regina trailed off into silence.

“Regina?”

“I’m sorry, Emma. The spell didn’t work.”

The laugh that came out of Killian’s throat was high-pitched and foreign. “You thought there was a spell that could cast out the darkness? You’re even stupider than I thought, Dearie.”

“We just want to help you, Killian,” Emma said.

“I’m not sure Killian is the one in control right now, Emma. We need to go.” Regina raised her hand, ready to teleport them both away.

“No.” Emma put a hand on Regina’s shoulder. “You can go if you want, but I won’t.”

“He’ll kill you,” Regina responded.

Emma took a step forward. “I know you must be in there somewhere, Killian. You want to get rid of the darkness. You don’t want to be the Dark One. So let us help you.”

“I don’t need the help of a trollop and a queen who rules over nothing,” he responded. “Get away from here.” His lips pulled back in a grimace, revealing a flash of white teeth. His cheeks were sunken, his eyes bright and wild with madness. Emma could almost feel the battle that seemed to be raging underneath his skin.

Taking another step, she reached out for him. “Killian, please.”

I said get away from here!” he roared, and he raised his fist, clenching it.

Emma gasped as she felt herself raised onto her toes by an unseen force. She could feel his fingers on her neck, and she tried to draw air in through her open mouth, her chest heaving as she failed to draw breath. Her hands came up to her throat, scrabbling at the skin, trying to release the pressure on her windpipe, but there was nothing there to fight against.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Regina raise her hands, fire flickering on her fingertips, and just as quickly the sorceress was thrown back, hitting the ground several feet away like a discarded doll.

Emma could hear the tiny, desperate sounds coming out of her own throat as she attempted to breathe. Heard the sounds of the dock beginning to muffle as she started to lose consciousness. Her vision went black at the edges, exploding dots of white in front of her eyes. Through it all, she kept her gaze on Killian, on the desperate mask of pain that was his face, on the struggle that she could see behind his eyes.

The sun breached the horizon, its yellow rays filling her vision. At least the last thing I see before I die will be a pretty sunrise, Emma thought faintly.

Then there was a hoarse shout from somewhere, and the pressure on her throat suddenly let up. Emma fell to her knees as she raggedly drew breath, gasping in great lungfuls of air. She let her head drop, swaying as she struggled to remain conscious.

She heard rather than saw Killian slump the ground.

“Killian,” she rasped, crawling forward, the rough wood of the dock painful under her hands and knees. Finally able to raise her head, she saw him slumped against the railing, tears running down his cheeks.

“I don’t know how long I can fight the darkness off, Emma,” he gasped, his voice entirely his own for the moment. “You have to find a way to kill me, to stop this curse forever.”

“I’m not going to kill you.” She clutched at his leather-clad arm, pulling herself close and pressing her forehead against his as she swayed above him.

“Please,” he said, still crying. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You won’t.” The sun shone brightly behind him, lighting up the ends of his hair and casting his face in shadow. Emma brought her other hand to his stubbled jaw. “You won’t.”

“I’m weak,” Killian gasped.

“Me too,” she responded, almost laughing. “What do you think it was that brought us together?”

Killian pulled back, looking into her eyes. “I never thought I would be able to let go of my first love, my Milah. But then I met you. Please, Emma, you can’t be here with me. I’ll destroy you.”

Shaking her head mutely, tears falling, her heart full and near to cracking inside her chest, Emma pressed her closed mouth against Killian’s.

She felt the wave go through her, felt the air pressure change inside her ears and her hair flutter with an unseen breeze. The constant cry of seagulls stopped suddenly, leaving only the sound of the water against the hulls of the gently rocking ships. And it was warm when it passed through her. She knew that warmth, had felt it when she’d pressed her lips to the forehead of her son in his hospital room.

Opening her eyes, Emma pulled away and looked at Killian. He was blinking, confused and disoriented.

“What was that?”

Emma smiled tremulously. “Is the darkness…?”

“Gone,” he said, looking at her with wonder. “The darkness is gone.”

“Unfortunately,” cut in Regina’s voice, shattering the fragile moment, “that’s not entirely true.”

Emma turned and frowned at Regina, who simply pointed up at the sky. Emma’s gaze followed her finger.

“What the hell is that?”

Chapter Text

The ribbons of black, swirling darkness in the sky over their heads could not be good, Emma thought.

“That’s the darkness,” Regina said, her eyes still trained on the sky. “Looks like there are some curses even true love can’t break.”

Killian put an arm on the railing and pulled himself to his feet. “What do you mean?” he asked. Emma reached for his hook, grasping it in her hand as she levered herself up to standing as well.

“I mean your kiss didn’t destroy the darkness, it released it. You’ve made everything unimaginably worse, but congratulations on your love,” Regina muttered sarcastically. As they watched, the swirling ribbons began to move in the direction of the center of town.

“Where is it going?”

“Toward the densest concentration of people.” Regina waved her hand, and Emma felt the almost-familiar tug of being transported by magic. When her vision cleared, she was looking around at the storefronts of downtown Storybrooke. The darkness, a pulsing, living mass, was swirling and breathing over their heads.

“If we don’t find a way to stop it, the darkness will destroy everyone we care about,” Regina continued. “It will eat and eat and eat, and when it’s consumed this town it will move on to the next.”

Emma felt Killian’s hook still gripped in her right hand, and she squeezed it as if he could feel the pressure. “So what do we do to stop it?”

“Emma!”

Turning, she saw Mary Margaret, David, and Henry running toward them.

“What are you doing, get him back inside!” Regina raged, her eyes flashing with terror.

David put a protective arm around Henry. “What’s going on?”

“We’ve managed to untether the darkness from Hook, and long story short, we’re all going to die,” Regina answered.

“Open the box, Regina,” Emma said. “You said if we could get the darkness untethered, we could draw it into Pandora’s box.”

“It’s risky,” Regina said, pulling the box out of her coat pocket. “I didn’t realize the darkness would be so… big.” Frustrated, Emma grabbed the box from Regina and started to press the button on top of it. “Be careful or you’ll get sucked in,” Regina grumbled, helping Emma to aim it at the sky. “Okay, now.”

Emma pressed the button. Nothing happened.

“It’s not working,” Killian said.

“Thanks, Captain Obvious,” said Regina. “It’s too far away, or too powerful. Or both.”

Other townspeople were starting to assemble, looking fearfully up at the swirling miasma in the sky. Belle and Ruby came out of the front door of the diner and joined the small gathering around Emma, Regina, and Killian in the street.

Killian drew the dagger out of his coat and held it up, and Emma could see the darkness convulse. “This will draw it closer,” Killian said.

“Yes, it will draw it right to you. It will consume you, and you’ll be lucky if all that happens is that you become the Dark One again!” Regina shouted over the rising wind as the darkness started to approach them.

“Killian, stop!” Emma cried.

“More likely it will carry you to the realm from which it originates,” Belle told him. “It may make you the Dark One again, yes, or it may destroy you utterly, wiping you out of existence.” Off everyone’s looks, she shrugged. “I’ve researched quite a lot about the darkness over the years. Rumple had an extensive library.”

“Will it save everyone else?” he asked, looking right at Belle.

She hesitated and then nodded. “It should. The darkness will be out of this realm, regardless.”

He raised his hand bearing the dagger higher. “Then I’m doing it.”

“Please, Killian, don’t,” Emma gasped, stepping in front of him. “We’ll find some other way.” One hand on his arm and the other pressed to his chest, she looked into his eyes. “I just got you back.”

“I know, love. And I’m sorry. But you have to let me do this. Let me die a hero. That’s the man I want you to remember, please.” He pressed his forehead against Emma’s. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” she answered, her heart shattering for the second time that day.

Killian pushed her away, forcing her to stumble backward to maintain her balance. The darkness swirled around him, almost entirely enveloping his body. Emma felt her parents’ arms around her as she watched, horrified.

She was so focused on catching a glimpse of Killian within the ribbons of darkness closing around him that she didn’t notice Regina until the darkness started to drain away as if someone had pulled the plug in a bathtub. Looking around, Emma then saw Regina standing next to where Pandora’s box had been set on the ground, her hands splayed out and magic crackling from the tips of her fingers.

Emma pulled out of her parents’ embrace. “Regina, what are you doing?” she shouted over the rushing winds.

Regina’s arms shook with effort. “I can… use my magic… to channel it into the box.” And it looked like it was working; the darkness was starting to disappear inside the tiny ornate box, but then it pulsed as if it was fighting back. Regina’s teeth gritted as she redoubled her efforts.

“You’re not strong enough!” Emma shouted. The coils of darkness started to travel up the bolts of lightning that were springing from Regina’s fingers, wrapping around her wrists. “It’s going to kill you!”

“Mom, no!” Henry shouted from somewhere behind them.

Emma was never able to clearly explain what happened next. Without conscious thought, her own arms shot out — to help Regina, to ward off the darkness — she never knew for sure. White light came from her own hands, directed at the darkness, and she stared in mute shock as the light from her own fingers merged with Regina’s. The darkness retreated, no longer crawling up Regina’s arms. Emma’s arms shook, a feeling like an electric shock surging through them. The darkness got smaller and smaller as Pandora’s box continued to draw it in.

With an anticlimactic click, the box closed. The dagger, still clutched in Killian’s hand, dissolved to dust. Everything was silent.

“Mom!” Henry shouted, running up to them. “Moms! You both have magic. That is the coolest!”

Regina hugged Henry into her side. “Well, Miss Swan, this is a surprise.”

Emma reached out with a trembling hand and tousled Henry’s hair. “Not half as surprising for you as it is for me, believe me.”

“It’s because she’s the product of true love,” Mary Margaret said, her voice raspy with tears. “That was light magic.” Her parents approached, gathering Emma into their arms once more, this time with joy.

At the mention of true love, Emma’s eyes flicked over to Killian, where he still stood rooted in the street. He met her eyes briefly, then looked down at the small box which now contained all of the darkness that moments ago had been a part of him. Without another word, he turned and walked away. No one else noticed him leaving, and Emma’s voice caught in her throat as she started to call out. Maybe he needed some time to process everything. She knew she certainly did. Closing her mouth with a click of teeth, she hugged her parents tighter.

“You guys must be exhausted and starving,” Ruby said. “Why don’t you come into the diner and get some breakfast.”

“I need to find somewhere safe to store this,” Regina said, gingerly picking up Pandora’s box from the ground. “Perhaps I should lock it in my vault.”

“Yeah, probably don’t want that box o’ evil falling into the wrong hands,” Emma remarked.

Regina’s lips quirked as if she almost found what Emma said to be funny.

“Thanks for your help, Emma,” she said before disappearing in a puff of smoke.

“Are we sure we can trust her with that?” David asked.

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Emma answered. “All I know is, she risked her life to contain the darkness when she could have let Killian die, so I’m inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt.”

The group followed Ruby into Granny’s.

“No more Dark Ones, ever,” Mary Margaret said, shaking her head in amazement.

“You defeated the most powerful darkness in this or any realm,” David said, reaching out to pat Emma’s shoulder. “Pretty impressive work, Sheriff.”

Emma smiled faintly.

“So the spell Mom had been working on got the darkness out of Killian?” Henry asked.

Emma hesitated, then answered, “Yep. Worked like a charm.” She wasn’t ready to talk about what had really happened yet, not until she had a chance to turn the knowledge over in her mind first. Not until she had a chance to talk to Killian about it. For now, she held the memory of that kiss close to her heart.

“Well, I guess we have a lot to thank Regina for,” Mary Margaret said.

Emma looked at the pride on Henry’s face and nodded. Regardless of her little lie, that statement was true. “None of this would have happened without her help,” she said.

“Regina had a tough childhood, not… that that justifies the things she did,” Mary Margaret amended quickly before Emma could point out that her own childhood had been rough, and it hadn’t turned her into a villain. “Her mother Cora was a real piece of work: ruthless and cruel, and I think her father probably overcompensated by letting Regina get away with anything. So in some ways, he was no better a parent than Cora was. Watching her struggle to be good the last couple of months, I honestly believe that she can redeem herself. Today was just the start.”

“My wife, the eternal optimist,” David said, kissing Mary Margaret on the cheek.

Ruby brought over pancakes and eggs and bacon for everyone, with an unending supply of fresh coffee for the adults. “Granny says it’s on the house, seeing as how you saved the town from destruction,” she said. In between her trips to various tables, Ruby spent all of her spare time talking to Belle at the counter. The way they smiled at each other made something echo in Emma’s heart in bittersweet empathy.

He said he loves me, Emma thought, so why did he walk away?

Mary Margaret looked at her watch and jumped. “It’s time for me and Henry to get to school,” she said. “Are you going to be okay, Emma?”

Emma looked down at her mostly uneaten pancakes. “Yeah. I guess I didn’t get much sleep.”

Mary Margaret and Henry left the diner, while David regarded her across the booth. “I can take the first shift at the station and let you get some rest. Are you sure that’s all that’s wrong?”

Emma had to blink away tears; she felt so damned fragile right now, like her heart was a bird beating at her chest to try to escape its prison and fly away. “I’ll be fine, it was just a draining morning.”

Back at the loft, she spent close to an hour tossing and turning in her bed, replaying the events of the past few hours. The way the darkness had tried to kill her, and how Killian had fought it off, showing a strength that she bet he didn’t realize he possessed. The way he’d tried to get her to leave him for her own safety. The way he’d tried to sacrifice his life to save the town. The way he’d cried. The kiss they’d shared, and what that meant.

What did true love mean, anyway?

Finally giving up on sleep, Emma threw off the covers and left the apartment.

She gripped the steering wheel of the Bug in sweaty palms as she pulled up in front of Killian’s beachfront apartment. When there was no answer to her knock, she tried to the knob and found it unlocked.

Killian was sitting in a chair, facing the window that looked out over the ocean. He took a sip from a glass of rum, not looking up as she approached.

“The water calming you? Or the rum?” she asked.

“Both.”

“You aren’t the Dark One anymore, you know; you don’t have to hide from me.” His shoulders rose and fell once. “What?” she asked.

“I may not be the Dark One, but I’m still a pirate who spent hundreds of years on a quest for revenge. I’ve committed horrors you can’t imagine, Emma. Or perhaps you can; you saw what I did to Rumpelstiltskin. I’m a killer.”

Emma walked over to the window, leaning against it to look out at the ocean. The day was warm, but the wind off of the water made the glass feel cold to her fingers. “You were out of your mind when you did that, thanks to my magical curse-weakening abilities.”

“Perhaps, but trust me, the man capable of that murder is inside me. He’s the man who put on this hook all those years ago and swore never to rest until he’d had his vengeance for Milah’s death.”

Emma turned around to face him. “Yeah, but Rumple… Gold… whatever, was kind of the worst. And by killing him, and then defeating the darkness, you banished this big mega-evil from the world. Seems like a good deed, on balance.”

“I’m also the man who once killed a man on board my ship for stealing the captain’s wine.” He took another drink from his glass, grimacing.

“Okay, that sounds bad. You were a bad guy. I get it. But you’re also the man who lent Henry books, and cooked me dinner, and literally saved the whole town from destruction, like, two hours ago. If Regina can redeem herself, with all the evil stuff that she did, then you certainly can.”

He looked at her in amazement. “That’s an awful lot of faith you’re putting in me, Swan.”

“I know.” She shrugged. “But apparently we’ve got this true love thing between us, so—”

Killian laughed humorlessly and stood up, stepping into the kitchen and setting his glass down. “I’m not worthy of that. Not from you.”

“I don’t think that’s for you to decide,” Emma said as she followed him.

“Look at yourself, Emma. You’re the bloody Savior! You credit me with saving the town, but it was you, you and Regina, who put the darkness into that box. You, and the way you looked with that pure, white magic coming out of your hands…” He trailed off, lost in the memory of it. “You’re an angel, and I’m like the demon sent to drag you down into hell alongside me. I won’t do it. I won’t sully you that way.”

“Oh my God, you’re gonna have to get over yourself, Killian. We aren’t… we’re just people. We’re two flawed people who’ve made mistakes, and okay, it sounds like you’ve made a lot of them, but you’ve also lived a lot longer than I have, so… I don’t know.” She shrugged. “I’m really not cut out for these big, dramatic speeches.”

He smiled. “I thought you were doing all right.”

The abrupt mood shift made Emma laugh. She noticed for the first time that he was freshly showered, his hair damp and curling around his ears. Little tufts of hair stuck out at his neck, and something about it made her want to sink her teeth into him. She drifted closer, suddenly craving the smell of his skin, the way he would be warm and clean and male.

“I’ve missed you,” she said.

He seemed to thaw a little more at that, his eyes drifting down to her lips. “I’ve missed you too, love. More than you can imagine.”

Taking one more step, Emma closed the distance between their bodies. Just as she had earlier that morning, she put a hand over his chest, feeling the steady rise and fall of his breathing. He held himself very still, absorbing her touch.

“Emma, the things I said to you before, about how you were just a way to pass the time, that was the darkness trying to drive you away. It was a lie.”

“I know,” she said, but she was grateful for the confirmation.

“But even so, I don’t think I’m any good for you.”

A memory flashed in Emma’s mind, of telling Killian that she loved him when she thought he was about to die. Now, standing in this room, she couldn’t get the words to come out of her mouth. It was too terrifying, even having seen the proof of her feelings in the breaking of the Dark One’s curse. Instead of responding with words, she responded with actions, closing the distance and brushing her lips ever so gently against his.

“Why don’t you let me be the judge of whether you’re good for me,” she whispered.

With a helpless moan choked off in the back of his throat, Killian swept in for another kiss. Both of them inhaled deeply at the same time as they wrapped their arms around each other, holding on tight as their open mouths fused together.

When they finally broke apart, it wasn’t to go far; Killian rested his forehead against hers, breathing into her mouth. Then he swayed, almost as if he was close to losing consciousness.

“Whoa,” Emma said, catching his arm. “I didn’t know I was so swoon-worthy.”

He chuckled weakly. “You are, but I’m… suddenly exhausted.”

“God, Killian, when was the last time you got a decent night’s sleep?”

“I don’t know. Months ago, I suppose.”

“Come on,” she grabbed his hand and pulled, tugging him toward the bedroom. “Let’s get you into bed before you collapse. I don’t wanna have to try to drag you across the floor of your apartment.”

He unfastened his hook, setting it on the nightstand, and dropped onto the bed, fully clothed, eyes already closing. “Will you stay for a bit?” he asked, his voice full of tenderness and vulnerability.

Emma was already pulling her boots off, and she grinned. “Yeah, if you don’t mind.”

He already looked to be half-asleep. “Stay forever,” he murmured. And then began to snore softly.

Taking off her jeans, she suppressed a giggle at his sleep-talking. It was certainly more pleasant than the last time he’d talked in his sleep in her presence. Getting under the covers next to where Killian had fallen on top of them, she curled up against his body and fell asleep within minutes.

~*~

Emma awoke, completely disoriented about where she was. She stared at the 2:27 on Killian’s digital alarm clock for several seconds, trying to figure out whether it was a.m. or p.m. The daylight outside finally clued her into the fact that it was p.m., and that she had slept for almost five hours. Turning to look at Killian, she saw that he was still out, in exactly the same position he’d fallen asleep in. Given what he’d been through, she wouldn’t be surprised if he slept for the rest of the day and all night.

Realizing that she needed to get to the sheriff’s station, Emma sent a quick text to Killian’s phone, telling him where she’d be if he woke up. Giving his sleeping form one last look, she silently let herself out of his apartment.

Emma made it through the rest of her work day in a haze, the sluggishness brought on by sleeping in the middle of the day weighing on her limbs like extra gravity. Her father took care of most everything, leaving her to sit at her desk and slowly work her way through a little bit of paperwork.

After work, she offered to drive Henry over to Regina’s, since it was Friday and the beginning of her week with him. Trudging up the walkway behind him, she almost tripped on a tiny crack in the sidewalk. She still felt like she could sleep for a year.

Regina answered the door to Henry with a warm smile, giving Emma an appraising glance as he trotted inside the house. “You look terrible.”

“Yeah, midday naps don’t really agree with me.” Emma stuck her hands in her back pockets. “Look, thanks again for this morning. If you hadn’t been there… what?” Regina was continuing to scrutinize her, and it was unnerving.

“Why didn’t you tell your family about the kiss?” Regina asked. “Snow called me an hour ago, also to thank me, but among the things she was thanking me for was the spell that you told her had successfully untethered Hook from the darkness.”

Emma shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s kind of personal, and I don’t know what it means, and I don’t think I can deal with the added pressure of people knowing about it. They’ll have all these expectations.”

Regina raised an eyebrow. “Suit yourself. More importantly, what are you going to do about your magic?”

“What do you mean? I have to do something?” Emma still sort of couldn’t believe that had happened. The whole thing felt like a dream.

“You’re powerful, Emma; I felt it. You have an enormous amount of latent magical ability. Don’t you want to learn to use it?”

“How do I do that?”

“Well, I could teach you.”

“Oh. You would do that? Why?” She couldn’t help but be skeptical of Regina’s motives.

“Selfishly, it would be useful to have another magic user around, in case I ever need help with a more powerful spell. But for your sake, going untrained could be dangerous. You acted on instinct today, and you generated enough power to literally kill someone. Do you really want to have that kind of power inside you with no idea how to use it? Honestly, you’re like a toddler with a loaded gun.”

“Thanks,” Emma muttered sarcastically.

“Sorry, but you are. Also, there are things you can do with light magic that I would never be able to do with my dark magic. Like heal someone. It would be idiotic not to learn to use that, especially when you consider our son’s penchant for running into traffic.”

Our son. Emma had never heard Regina use that phrase before, and although she tried not to show it, she was enormously moved by it. “Okay, you can train me. When do you want to start?”

Chapter Text

Emma moved the last of the stack of file folders from her desk to the banker’s box, putting the lid on top.

“That’s it?”

“That’s it,” she said, hefting the box into her arms to carry it to storage. “The Gold murder case, closed due to lack of evidence.”

David snorted. “Lack of evidence?”

“Well, it was either that or write down that he was killed with a magical dagger which turned to dust when a big evil cloud was confined to Pandora’s box. I know this town isn’t on the map, but just in case somehow the state of Maine ever discovers we exist, I’d rather not have that in writing. Or the fact that the killer wasn’t in his right mind due to a magical curse.”

“Fair enough.”

Emma carried the box into a storage room and put on as high a shelf as she could reach, standing on her tip-toes. “Goodbye, Dark One,” she murmured, turning off the lights and closing the door.

“Speaking of the big evil cloud,” David said as she came back, “how is our resident pirate captain?”

Emma grimaced. “Avoiding me, I think.”

“Why?”

“Guilt? Self-loathing? Take your pick.” She plopped down in a chair across from David’s desk. “I thought I’d gotten through to him the other morning, but then he fell asleep, and since then he’s not returning my calls or texts. Ruby said he stopped by for takeout yesterday, though, so I know he’s not dead.”

“Fell asleep?” David asked in with an affected nonchalance. “So you two are back to…”

Emma groaned. “We just slept, not that it’s any of your business.”

He looked suitably chastened.

The door to the station opened. “Hello!” Mary Margaret called. “Lunch is served!” She came in bearing a picnic basket.

“You really didn’t have to do this, Mom.”

Mary Margaret waved her hand. “Nonsense. I’ve got the day off from school, and my two favorite people need to eat.” She started unpacking several plastic containers onto David’s desk as he dutifully moved his paperwork out of the way to accommodate her.

“Can I ask you guys something?” Emma said after they’d eaten a small fraction of the food Mary Margaret had brought, which was enough to feed the proverbial army.

“Of course, sweetie,” Mary Margaret responded.

“After the sleeping curse was broken, when you knew it was true love between you… what did that mean, exactly? Like, did Dad automatically propose, just because some weird exploding rainbow wind thing said you were meant to be?”

David grinned, looking at Mary Margaret with that look he got sometimes. “I mean, it wasn’t long after that I proposed. But I already knew I loved her, so I didn’t need true love’s kiss to tell me that I’d met the love of my life.”

“Yeah, I felt the same way,” Mary Margaret said with a smile, leaning over and kissing her father.

“And you didn’t feel pressured to, I don’t know, live up to destiny? And what about now? Do you think it means you’ll always be compatible? Do you think you’re divorce-proof?”

“Emma, where’s all this coming from?” Mary Margaret asked, and then her expression shifted. “It wasn’t the spell.”

“What?” David asked.

“You didn’t get the darkness out of Killian with a spell. I should have known; Regina isn’t really the type to minimize her own accomplishments. You kissed Killian and it broke the curse. That’s why you’re asking all these questions about true love. Oh, Emma—”

Emma shot up out of her chair, uncomfortable. “Don’t, I can’t… I don’t wanna talk about this.”

“But why not?” Mary Margaret asked. “It’s exciting! True love—”

“With a pirate—”

“Oh, big deal, this isn’t the Enchanted Forest, David. And they might have fallen in love while he was cursed — doubly cursed, actually — but now all the curses are broken and they’re free to be together.” Her beaming smile almost made Emma smile in return.

Fallen in love, Emma thought. She hadn’t imagined those words applied to herself since she was a teenager. She wasn’t even sure she knew what being in love was supposed to feel like.

Her father sighed heavily. “Go find him. Get him to talk to you. I can handle things here for the rest of the day.” He began helping Mary Margaret to pack up the leftovers of their lunch. “But for the record, I’m still not sure I approve of this.”

Emma grabbed her coat. “Thanks, Dad.”

She found Killian in his apartment again, although this time he wasn’t drinking; he was cleaning: mopping the kitchen floor, to be precise. “This place got into quite a state over the last few months,” he explained as he led her into the apartment. He looked much healthier than he had… well, ever, or at least for as long as she’d known him.

“If you say so.” She stood nervously next to him, her hands shoved in her pockets. “I’m sorry to show up uninvited; I was trying to give you the space you needed, but—”

“No, I’m glad you came over.” His cheeks were tinged with pink. “I’ve almost called you half a hundred times over the last few days.”

“Why didn’t you?” she asked.

“Cowardice.” He indicated that she should sit down, and the two of them faced each other across the expanse of his sofa. “The more time that went by, the more I realized how badly I wanted to see you. And the more I wanted to see you, the more I began to convince myself that you had probably decided that the last thing you needed in your life was an old pirate like me.”

“Do you know what I thought of you before the curse was broken?” she asked.

“I shudder to think.”

“I thought you drank too much, for one.”

“True, and I intend to work on that.”

“I thought you were easy to talk to, at least once I got to know you, and that you were a kind person who seemed to genuinely care about my son,” she went on. “And I thought you were really hot.”

He laughed. “Well, that last part’s true. And it’s true that I care for Henry. The rest…”

“Now I know that you’re someone else, that you’re… Captain Hook, which is crazy, but no crazier than my parents being Snow White and Prince Charming. You’ve got an ugly past, but you’re also still the same kind, easy-to-talk-to person who I like spending time with. Aren’t you?”

His expression was filled with longing. “I hope that I am.”

“Then can we start there and move forward? Forget what’s in the past, forget this true love thing because it’s way too much pressure for me, and just… be together and see what happens?” She looked down at her hands, which she rubbed restlessly against her jeans. “I’m not like my parents; I’m not someone who can leap in with both feet. I’ve got too many scars for that. But I can be here. With you. That’s what I can do.”

He moved closer to her on the sofa, ducking his head to catch her glance and draw it upward. “When I remembered who I was, one of the first things I felt was an overwhelming guilt for forgetting Milah. It was losing her, the first real love of my life, that drove me for so long. I always assumed it would drive me forever. I assumed that love wasn’t in the cards for me, not anymore. When I realized that I had allowed myself to develop feelings for you, I wanted to deny it. I wanted to pretend that it was all because of the curse. And the darkness inside me fed that belief. Now I know it did that because it knew that together, we were capable of destroying the darkness forever.

“But I would see you, and even with the darkness whispering in my ear, even with all my denials that I could never love again, I knew deep down that it wasn’t true. That my feelings for you were real. That I did… that I do love you, Emma.

“I still don’t think that I’m worthy of you. I don’t think I deserve you. But I want to redeem myself. I want to try to make up for the bad things I’ve done and be worthy of your regard. Of your love. I want that more than I’ve ever wanted anything, even my revenge against Rumpelstiltskin. I don’t care about destiny or true love, I don’t need any of that. I just need you, Emma Swan.”

She launched herself toward him across the remaining gap between them on the sofa, capturing his mouth and hoping that her acceptance of his words was communicated by her kiss. She’d spent so much of her life alone, always betrayed by those who claimed to care for her. But then Henry found her and brought her to Storybrooke, and since then her life had been filled with people who stayed and who didn’t abandon her: her parents, her son, her friends, and this man. So Emma closed her eyes, and in her imagination she jumped, hoping this time for a graceful path to the ground.

Killian pulled her onto his lap and she went willingly, slinging a leg over his and sinking down, their lips meeting over and over, his tongue devastating as it explored her mouth. She felt his arms wrap around her, his hand and hook pressing on her back, and then just as suddenly he let go with his left arm, his body jerking slightly under hers. Emma looked at him, confused, as he rested his hook on the sofa.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“I didn’t mean to…” He lifted his hook. “Touch you with this.”

Emma contemplated it, reaching over and grasping the hook and bringing his arm between them. “It’s been a part of you for a long, long time, hasn’t it?”

“Aye, much longer than I had a hand there,” he said softly, his voice raspy. “But if it bothers you—”

“It doesn’t.” She traced the shape of it with a finger. “It’s pretty. It’s kind of sexy, actually.”

Killian raised his eyebrow, a grin blooming over his features. “Yeah?”

She nodded. “There are other prosthetics you may want to look into, this being the modern world and all, some of which might be more functional. I can help you. But if you want to stick with the hook, that’s fine with me.” She pressed her lips to it, making his breath hitch.

He sat forward suddenly, kissing her hard, his hand weaving into her hair while she continued to hold his other arm between them. “So should I leave it on in bed, then?” he asked seductively.

She could have responded in the same teasing tone, but it was important that she make him understand something. “Sometimes, sure; I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t find that hot.” She squirmed a little bit at even the thought of the smooth metal against her skin. “But I wasn’t afraid of what’s underneath before, and I’m still not. Okay?”

His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. “Okay.”

“Speaking of bed,” Emma said as she kissed him again, “we should go there. Now.”

“Gods, yes,” he muttered, and she wasn’t sure if two people had ever moved (or undressed) so quickly before.

“Next time,” he said as he unbuckled one of the straps that held his brace on. “I don’t want anything separating my skin from yours right now.”

Emma nodded as she unfastened her bra. She really couldn’t have agreed more.

The sheets were crisp and clean, changed as part of his efforts to tidy up his apartment, she imagined. They got into bed, facing each other on their sides, filled with anticipation as they studied each other’s faces. Killian rested his hand on her hip, and Emma reached down and turned his arm over, tracing her fingers up and down his tattoo.

“I’m sorry that you must see another woman’s name on my arm, love.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, I don’t care about that.”

He frowned. “You don’t?”

“She was a hugely important part of who you are, or you wouldn’t have mourned her for so long.” Just as she had with the hook, she brought his arm to her mouth and kissed the red heart of the tattoo. “Besides, I’ll always see the dagger here and remember that we defeated the Dark One, together.”

Killian closed the gap between their bodies, pressing against her with chest and legs and hips as he kissed her again. They writhed against each other for several long minutes, his mouth wet and seeking purchase on her neck and shoulder. Emma scraped her nails through his wiry chest hair, delighting in the way it made him groan and rut his hips against her, his erection rubbing against her skin as he sought any kind of friction. It suddenly hit her how long it had been since the one night they had been together, and how desperately she wanted him.

She was so keyed up that when Killian finally touched her between her legs, she thought she might come on the spot. He seemed content to stroke her slowly, spreading her wetness over her sensitive flesh, but she felt like if he didn’t get inside her soon, she might die.

So she told him so.

“I don’t think you’ll die, Swan,” he teased, his fingers maintaining a steady rhythm that had her trembling with how good it felt.

“I will,” she said, her eyes squeezing shut.

He chuckled, and she decided it was time to turn the tables. Pushing on his shoulder, she forced him onto his back. With a smirk of her own, she rose up on her hands and knees, nosing through his chest hair and down the trail of hair in the center of his stomach as she made her way toward his cock. She drew the tip of him into her mouth, swirling around with her tongue and listening with satisfaction to his choked gasps. Opening wide, she lowered herself and took him deep.

“Emma, gods,” he groaned as she set up a rhythm. “Please, love… I can’t…”

She released him with an obscene, wet pop. “What?”

Killian levered himself up, shifting to sit back against the headboard of the bed. He took her hand and to pull her toward him, and Emma detoured to grab a condom from his bedside drawer before straddling his legs. She rolled the condom on before sliding forward, gripping his shoulders and grinding against him. “This what you wanted?” she asked.

He swore under his breath, his control fraying. “Let me… I need…”

She was just as desperate and didn’t waste any more time raising up on her knees and taking him inside on a slow slide. His arms folded around her, his hand clutching at her back as she started to move, a slow roll of her hips that allowed him to slide out the barest inch before burying himself fully in her again. Their kisses were sloppy, his mouth wide open and tongue lapping as they moved in shallow thrusts together. The position wasn’t giving Emma what she needed to come, but she didn’t mind, wanting to prolong the experience and enjoying the way they could hold each other close. His mouth moved down her neck to her collarbone, teeth dragging against skin, as Emma kissed the beads of sweat from his forehead. Their earlier desperation dissolved into something more tender as they explored each other with hands and lips, small movements where they were still joined keeping their arousal on a slow burn in the background.

Finally, he rolled her onto her back, a move with some amount of finesse, but not enough for him to stay inside her. Killian hovered over her, his hand gripping her thigh and pulling it over his hip to spread her open so he could slide into her again, both of them groaning at the sensation. His thrusts were long and deep now, speeding up as the flames between them suddenly flared higher. Every push inside brought his pelvis where she needed it, every drag out eliciting sparks of sensation radiating through her body. She was on the edge again in no time, her fingernails scraping against his skin as she cried out, not holding anything back. Her pleasure peaked and he fucked her through it, everything bright and pulsing and perfect. Opening her eyes in time to see his orgasm hit, she watched the way he gritted his teeth and tightened every muscle, his voice a raspy, pained groan.

Emma lay splayed out on the bed, her chest heaving as Killian got up to throw away the condom. She drifted, floating on a sea of happy contentment until he returned, moving her arm out of the way to make room for himself next to her in the bed.

“Don’t let me fall asleep,” she mumbled. “I’ll be worthless the rest of the day.”

His fingers trailed down between her breasts, palm settling on her belly with a warm, comforting weight. “What would you like to do then, love? I’m at your service.”

She grinned at that. “Maybe go for a walk on the beach?”

He hummed, leaning over to kiss her. “That sounds lovely.”

“Then have sex again?” she said, arching an eyebrow.

With a chuckle, he nodded. “Then I can make us some dinner.”

“And we can watch some TV?”

“Or just go back to bed,” he murmured, his nose brushing against her cheek.

“Yeah, or that.” She was still smiling; couldn’t stop smiling if she tried. “Sounds perfect.”

“Aye, love. Perfect.”

~*~

“Now,” Killian said once the small sailboat was untethered. “Henry and I are going to man the sails; your job will be to steer.”

Emma looked at him with wide eyes. “I don’t know how to steer.”

“You can do it, Mom!” Henry said cheerfully, his eyes bright with excitement, his hair tousled by the wind.

“It’s easy,” Kilian said, tapping his hook on the handle of the rudder. “This is the rudder. Sit right there,” he said, and directed her to grab the handle. “Hold it straight like that, unless I tell you to turn to port or starboard.”

“And that is?”

“Port is left, starboard is right,” Henry told her, clearly proud to show off his knowledge.

“Why don’t you just say left and right, then?” she grumbled.

There was enough breeze to get a good wind under his sails, and Killian was able to take them out far enough into the bay that Storybrooke felt distant; unimportant, even. The wind was cool enough to bring spots of color to Emma’s cheeks, but not so cold that any of them were uncomfortable. The sun was high in the sky, making the water sparkle like jewels.

Every day, Killian thought of Rumpelstiltskin. As much as Emma seemed to have accepted that Rumpelstiltskin’s death was the price they had to pay to defeat the darkness, Killian knew that what had been in his heart that day wasn’t any kind of noble cause — it was revenge. Maybe he would have killed the man if he’d been in his right mind and maybe he wouldn’t have, and the fact that he didn’t know the answer haunted him. What he did know was that he still had a long way to go before he’d truly redeemed himself for what he’d done. For now, though, he allowed himself to feel a small measure of peace and freedom. The burden of his quest for redemption would still be there when they returned to shore.

Once they were far enough out, he dropped the sails and secured them, guiding Henry and letting him do some of the work under close supervision. With the boat now bobbing in the water, he went over to sit next to Emma. “You can relax, love,” he said, prying her fingers off the rudder and interlacing them with his own.

Emma smiled, her shoulders lowering. “Sorry; I don’t have any experience with boats.” She looked around, turning her face up to the sun and closing her eyes. “It’s nice out here, though. Peaceful.”

“Exactly my thoughts. I figured you would probably enjoy some peace and quiet after the last few days.”

She hummed, leaning over and resting her head on his shoulder. “Yeah.” Emma had finally found an apartment, not too far from his own, and she and Henry had been quite busy in the evening unpacking boxes and shopping for essentials that she hadn’t needed while living with her parents. Between that and her duties as Sheriff and her magic lessons with Regina, she’d been busy, to say the least. And he had to admit, as much as he genuinely loved spending time with Emma’s son, he was also looking forward to his upcoming week with Regina, when he and Emma could properly christen her new bed.

Henry dashed from one side of the sailboat to the other, pointing out a dolphin fin in the distance or a pelican gliding overhead while he and Emma sat, holding hands and soaking in the calm as small waves lapping against the side of the craft. Killian focused on the way Emma’s fingers felt in between his own, his thumb absently stroking the soft skin on the top of her hand.

With a deep sigh, Emma picked her head up, turning to look at him. “Thank you for this. Really.”

Killian leaned over, kissing her softly on the lips. “It’s my pleasure, love.”

“Eww, you promised you wouldn’t do that,” Henry called.

“I’m a pirate, lad; I’m a scurvy dog with no honor,” Killian responded as Emma laughed.

“Come on, you scurvy dogs,” she said, placing a smacking kiss on Killian’s cheek. “We should probably get back so we can have some dinner.”

“Can I steer on the way back?” Henry asked, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

“Of course you can.” He raised the mainsail, instructing Emma how to tie it off, his hook trailing up and down the thin material of her shirt as he did so. She shivered, giving him a look that said she would get him back for his teasing later. He grinned wickedly back at her as if to say, I’m looking forward to it.

He turned the sail to catch the wind and the boat picked up speed, skimming across the water, carrying them toward the shore. Toward home.

 

END