Like most idyllic New England towns, there wasn’t a whole lot to Storybooke. It was what the guidebooks would have called “quaint,” instead of what it really was: tiny. So, three months after her forced relocation, Emma assumed she had seen everything there was to see, and been everywhere there was to be in Storybrooke.
“The Crow’s Nest?” she repeated. “You’re joking.”
Henry had dragged her from city limit to city limit in the name of Operation Cobra, and she had responded to noise complaints from just about all four corners of Storybrooke—not once had she ever seen a bar called The Crow’s Nest.
Ruby grinned. “It’s kind of a dive,” she confided, almost conspiratorially. “But it’s the only place in town that serves anything stronger than a Bud Light.”
Now that was something.
Ruby laughed as she wiped down the corner, eyes darting to Emma knowingly. “Feeling the small town strain?”
“You have no idea.”
“I’m closing tonight – how ‘bout I meet you in front of the clocktower?—around ten?”
“Not the bar?”
An amused hum was her only response until Ruby finally answered with “Bit hard to get to” and left it at that.
Emma shrugged – “Alright.” – and downed the last of her coffee. She pulled some ragged bills from her jacket pocket and left them next to her plate as she stood.
“I gotta get back to the station, but I’ll see you tonight?”
“Tonight!” Ruby echoed, pushing a pastry on her before bustling off with the rest of the dishes, long ponytail swaying behind her.
An éclair; sweet and still warm. She raised it in thanks to Granny as she headed out the door, the older woman looking up from her books long enough to smile kindly at Emma and wave her off. The door closed behind her on Granny’s shout of “Ruuuby!”
If she hadn’t been the sheriff herself, Emma would have been a little concerned at how she looked – certainly fit for questioning – skulking around outside the boarded-up library for a quarter of an hour. Ruby was late.
It wasn’t all that cold out but there were no street lights on that corner, and by the time the younger woman came jogging around the corner in her outrageously spiked heels, Emma had zipped her leather jacket nearly full up to keep the chill of the shadows out.
“Sorry, I’m late,” Ruby said in a rush. “I couldn’t find my neckla—you didn’t change?”
Emma looked down automatically, then shrugged; indifferent. Jeans, boots, leather jacket—“We’re going to a bar right?”
“Yeah no no, you’re fine,” she was quick to reassure – smile bright against the rich red of her lipstick. “Shall we?”
And without further preamble, Ruby linked her arm through Emma’s and steered them both around the corner. The brunette kept a strict pace, despite her shoes, and by the time she’d finished her multi-faceted diatribe on Granny’s “unnecessary” dress code for the diner, they were nearly out of sidewalk. The woods loomed before them, the heavy canopy trapping any light from reaching the dark gloom of the trampled paths.
“This isn’t some elaborate plan to murder me is it?—‘cuz, you know, I’m still armed.”
Ruby made an exasperated sound. “You brought your gun?”
Well, obviously. Emma wasn’t going to dignify that with a response. On the other hand, though, she was starting to understand why she hadn’t ever run into this supposed bar before.
“Where is this place?” she asked again, and Ruby’s exasperation softened.
“This way,” she said, and – tugging Emma by the elbow – pulled her gently into the woods.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Emma protested as the dark of the trees closed in around them.
Ruby shushed her. Picking their way through the debris of twigs and storm-swept branches the littered the perimeter of the woods, Emma dropped back a little behind Ruby, her eyes slowly adjusting to the encroaching darkness. Ruby had no such handicap and was making her way with confidence – heels and all – through indistinguishable shrubbery to a path Emma never would have found without her.
“Come on,” Ruby called. “It’s just down here a ways.”
Emma fought her way to the path, a bramble bush intent on clinging to the hem of her shirt.
“I don’t think the woods are exactly zoned for business,” she commented with some annoyance.
Ruby groaned. “Ughh. Emma. Don’t go all reformed prisoner on me now.”
If she stumbled it was only because the path was littered with stones. “Excuse me?”
“Storybrooke might be the most backwater town in all of Maine, but we do have Internet.”
“Don’t worry,” the brunette said airily. “It’s not the easiest information to find – it just gets really slow at the diner.”
Ruby looked back over her shoulder, laughing. “No—but anything to avoid waiting tables.”
And that more than anything made Emma relax. Her past wasn’t exactly a secret – Regina had made sure to dig up every dirty piece of paper in her file; still, it wasn’t something she relished becoming common knowledge. She hurried to catch up and Ruby laughed again, waiting for her to close the last few steps before she pointed to something far off.
She saw the lights before anything else – shining and winking in and out between trees as they walked deeper into the woods. Then sound—the low, unobtrusive thrum of music joining the night-birds and insect noise. It began to take shape in front of them as the trees thinned and the path broadened under the half-moon sky to form a clearing dappled blue by moonlight.
A small wooden sign at the head of the path read “The Crow’s Nest.”
A bar in the middle of the forest.
“Mary Margaret never even mentioned this place!”
The brunette gestured broadly at the barfront, half-infested by fauna and dimly lit by two old strings of lights and the kerosene lamp that hung from the porch roof. “Are you surprised?”
Something about the place, though...maybe it’s unorthodox location, or the way the boards creaked like wood on water underfoot, made her hesitate. There was just...something about it.
“I know it’s not much to look at,” Ruby agreed—misreading her hesitation. “But divine White Russians.”
“No, it’s not---“ Emma shook her head. She was being ridiculous.
Instead of answering, she took those final steps across the porch and opened the bar door, feeling the wood smooth and worn beneath her fingers. Practically beaming, Ruby slipped through the frame, only to whirl around halfway across the threshold and warn with a jabbed finger in Emma’s direction: “Don’t embarrass me.”
Bewildered and mostly bemused, Emma could only follow in Ruby’s wake as the brunette breezed her way across the room, dodging barstools and patrons with a measured click of her heels. The bar itself was pretty much what you’d expect it to be from the outside: mostly wood; old and creaky in a way that spoke more towards patronage than neglect; just the right amount of dark; warm—like her favorite pub back in Boston.
The similarity dawned so suddenly it hit her heart like a weight, heavy with nostalgia and aching. She swallowed it down before reaching Ruby, who had commandeered a small high-top near the bar and was still grinning the previous tenants away when Emma slid onto the stool next to her.
“Not bad,” Emma commented – indicating she meant the bar with an inclination of her head and not Ruby’s skills at charming men out of things, formidable as they were.
“The best kept secret in Storybrooke.”
Ruby shrugged. “The girls used to have a standing night out, until – well – you came, and made life a hell of a lot more interesting around here.”
Biting back the instinct to laugh, Emma tried for a neutral tone but could feel her lips quirking upwards. “Should I be saying ‘sorry’ or ‘you’re welcome?’”
“You can say whatever you like, love—with a voice like that.”
Emma jumped. When she turned to face the speaker, the reason for Ruby’s weekly visits became abundantly clear.
He was gorgeous in that tall-dark sort of way, leaning over the varnished bar like he owned the place – which, given the lack of anyone else handing out drinks, he probably did. He had the stubbled jaw and smirk that made women swoon (if you were into that sort of thing...) - a smirk that he was now directing solely at Emma.
When he spoke it was with the faintest hint of an Irish brogue: “The name’s Killian Jones.”
Geezus. Of course it was.
He leaned further across the bar to be heard over the sudden rise in noise; she did not watch the way his throat moved to make the words. “Just Emma?”
She could hear Ruby tittering behind her, but she was finding it strangely difficult to look away from Killian. Maybe she was still reeling from his sudden appearance into their conversation; maybe because he was – she had to begrudgingly admit – unfairly attractive, and if she’d seen him on the streets of Storybrooke before she would have certainly remembered it.
“I haven’t seen you in town.”
Killian smirked at her obvious evasion, but he didn’t seem all that put off. “Maybe town’s not been seeing me,” he countered smoothly. “I tend to…keep to myself.”
“He likes to be mysterious.” Ruby ooo’d, leaning across the table with a coy grin.
“Something your friend and I seem to have in common.”
Thankfully, Emma was saved from deciding how to answer by another patron appearing at the far end of the bar – slightly tipsy but still rather impatient to be served. He left them with an apologetic smile, but not until he’d held her gaze for half a heartbeat longer than necessary; long enough that Emma could feel the weight of it settling hot and pleasant across her collarbones.
She glanced at Ruby.
Then Killian was back – though Emma would have noticed without the well-aimed kick from Ruby. “Sorry ‘bout that, ladies.” He set an empty beer bottle spinning on the bartop. “What’s your poison this evening?”
Ruby asked for her “usual,” and, after a moment, Emma decided: “Can I get a whiskey?”
“You can have anything you like, darling,” he assured, tongue in cheek.
“I’ll stick with the drink.”
She didn’t need any more experience with guys buying her drinks in bars; not even when they owned the bar themselves.
Killian, however, was not to be deterred; “It’s on the house—since it’s your first time and all.”
In fact, if she didn’t know any better, Emma would have thought, beneath all that charm and flirtation, he might actually be trying to be courteous. She shifted a little in her seat, uncomfortable. “I’d rather just pay.”
“Emma!” Ruby hissed. “We don’t argue with attractive men offering free drinks.”
“You wound me, pet,” he murmured, unable to give up without one last cajole. Emma ignored them both and pulled a handful of bills from her pocket, and Killian threw up his hands, gamely admitting defeat.
That’s when she noticed it – the empty space. Air and the rolled up cuff of his shirtsleeve where his left hand ought to have been.
If he saw her attention shift, he made no indication of it, and when Emma’s eyes caught on his mouth before meeting his eyes his smirk widened; she wondered if anything could shake it from him. “Whiskey it is,” he said, grabbing the bottle and giving it a toss in the air—catching it behind his back with practiced ease. Then he winked at her, casually upending it over her glass, and Emma couldn’t help but smile.
The night passed quickly – Emma and Ruby having a greater time than either one of them had expected. Ruby listened eagerly to Emma’s travel stories – the way the sun looked from the top of the St. Louis Arch; the time she’d gotten lost hunting a bail-jumper in Montana and been rescued off the road by an honest-to-god Mountain Man. Ruby gossiped about the various townfolk – how she’d once snuck out of the inn by telling Granny she was sick and climbing out the window to meet a boy, how she’d been washing dishes for a week after.
Eventually though, Ruby was enticed away from the table by a game of darts with a couple of miners from town, and Emma was left to her own devices. As entertaining as it was watching the younger girl smoke them all with a drink in one hand and tongue between her teeth, Emma’s own drink ran out eventually and she headed for the bar.
“It’s been too long, lass,” Killian despaired as she approached. “I was beginning to think you’d forgotten all about me.”
“Somehow I don’t think you’d let me,” Emma replied. She’d meant it to come out dryly, but her two whiskeys were sitting warm and soothing in her stomach and the words came out in a tumble, almost fond.
He poured her another two-fingers without her prompting and she accepted it gratefully, curling both palms around the chiseled glass. She didn’t say anything, but she didn’t need to – he wiped down the counter with a few swipes of an old rag, then hooked a foot in the rungs of a stool and pulled up his own seat on his side of the bar.
“So,” she echoed. “Nice place.”
He bowed with an elaborate flourish. “Many thanks, milady.”
“I can see why I haven’t seen you in town.”
“Ah—“ He held up a finger. “But that doesn’t explain why I haven’t seen you here.”
Emma leveled her best glare at him. “It’s not exactly on the tourist guide.”
Killian grabbed a beer from the cooler and chipped the cap off on the edge of the counter before taking a long draught from it. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, clinking the neck of the bottle against the lip of her glass.
“Still no excuse,” he winked, and Emma scoffed.
She took another drink and hoped it would drown her growing smile. It felt good to drink, to relax outside of the stifling confines of picture-perfect Storybrooke. No reminders of her past mistakes, no Regina trying to ruin her life at every turn—just good, smooth whiskey and an attractive man to pour it for her.
Maybe that was why, when he asked – beer halfway to his lips – how she’d managed to end up in Storybrooke, she didn’t immediately blow him off. He was looking at her intently, hair mussed from running his hand through it, and when she leaned forward on her elbows she could smell him—salt and spice and beer. It was...nice.
So she told him. About Henry arriving unexpectedly at her door saying he was her son; bringing him back to Storybooke; about Regina and how she suddenly couldn’t leave, not now, not with this strange feeling of obligation—of responsibility—for Henry. She even told him about the small chocolate cupcake with its single candle, and the wish she’d made with a sigh, not a breath—something she hadn’t told anyone. Not even Henry—who would have only said it was magic or destiny or something ridiculous.
“Well isn’t that quite the tale,” he said when she had finished.
“A laugh riot.”
Killian actually did laugh then, and she watched the corners of his eyes crinkle before she dropped her gaze back to her glass, swirling the remains of amber liquid inside. “What about you?” she asked.
He leaned back. “Oh, now that is a long and boring story.”
“Well, it ends with you owning a bar in the middle of the woods, so I think I’ll try and stay awake.”
Killian paused, tongue pressed to the backs of his teeth, then he gave a slight shake of his head. “Perhaps another time.”
She wanted to press – to chase it out of him like she’d done to so many bail-jumpers – but the mention of time made her suddenly aware of how long she’d been sitting at the bar. She spun on her stool, looking for Ruby, for a clock of some kind.
“Emma?” Killian’s hand settled on her wrist.
“Sorry,” she said quickly, blinking back at him. “I just realized—it’s getting late.”
“No,” he argued automatically. He recovered, dipping his head to cajole her properly with his smile. “Not nearly, pet. There’s still time for one more drink.”
His fingers tapped a rhythm along the fine bones of her wrist, and she turned her hand under his automatically. She was straying into dangerous territory and she knew it, but in this moment she couldn’t remember to care. His palm was warm against hers; thumb curved along her wrist, pressing along her pulse line.
She inhaled slowly.
“I came with Ruby—“ she said quietly, gesturing at the bar behind her half-heartedly. “I, I should go.”
A line appeared in the space between his eyes; not quite frowning. “Must you really?”
She looked down at their hands. It had been such a long time...too long. And there was something—something almost familiar about him...
But that was impossible. She’d never seen him before tonight.
“Ready to go, Emma?”
She jumped – banging her knees on the underside of the bar and nearly upending her glass. She scrambled for it with both hands and only just managed to keep it from spilling; Killian’s hand slipped from the counter.
She glared at Ruby. “How do you sneak up on people in those shoes?”
Ruby’s grin was positively wolfish. “Practice.”
The brunette reached into her back pocket and pulled out a sizable wad of money, from which she peeled off a few bills and slid them across the bar to Killian. “I’ll close us out.”
“Been hustling darts again, lass?”
She shrugged, grinning. “They never learn.”
Emma stood, shrugging on her jacket – one eye on Ruby who was leaning a bit more than necessary against the bar – and threw back the last of her drink, passing Killian her glass.
“Be seeing you.”
He smiled ruefully, and she was certain as she walked away that he had made a point to graze her fingers with his own before taking the glass.
“You know exactly where to find me,” he called, and the rumble of his voice followed them out. They were halfway out of the woods, when Emma realized she was still smiling. She willed it away.
“So what’s his deal?” She asked, letting Ruby sling an arm around her shoulders as they walked back. “I’ve been here for months and I’ve never seen him.”
“He never really comes into town except once every couple of weeks to pick up shipments, buy a pie from granny’s—that sort of thing.” Ruby replied. “He lives above the bar, ‘sbeen there for as long as I can remember.”
She sighed, tilting her chin to look up at the half-moon peeking through the leaves, the faint dusting of stars. Emma stopped with her and looked up too.
“I’m kind of jealous,” Ruby murmured. “It’s amazing here.”
Emma wasn’t exactly one for nature – more than a couple foster parents had tried to get her involved in Girl Scouts and summer camp, only to give up at the first burst of rebellion. But even so, there was something peaceful about these woods in particular; like Storybrooke, they felt sleepy. Insulated. Like they’d never seen wolves or the deep dark evils of the world.
It wasn’t hard to imagine why someone would choose to live out here.
They started walking again, Ruby lazily directing her whenever Emma strayed from the unfamiliar path.
“So he’s just this Irish rogue living in the woods of Maine and running a bar?”
“He’s got a boat too, I think. Keeps it docked in the bay; I’ve never seen him on it though.”
Emma snorted and shook her head. “He’s got a bar called The Crow’s Nest and he doesn’t even take his boat out? A poor excuse for a pirate, don’t you think?”
Ruby just laughed, her weight heavy and warm as she let Emma guide her back along the path. It was a sultry laugh, hazy with wicked intent. “He could board my ship anytime.”
Emma groaned. “Being drunk is no excuse for bad puns,” she reprimanded. “Or any kind of puns. Ever.”
“I’m not drunk,” Ruby scoffed; which was actually probably true, but Emma was going to walk her back to Granny’s all the same.
“You, on the other hand—“ she punctuated this with a hard poke to Emma’s free shoulder “—hardly had anything at all!”
“Some of us work in the morning.”
“Ohhh!—because Storybrooke is just rife with crime.”
That night had stuck in her mind for days, and more than once Emma had caught herself thinking of something clever she should have said instead, whether or not she should have stayed for another drink, but when her free night came around again and she suggested to Ruby that they make a night of it...
Well…she’d anticipated it going quite a bit differently.
Ruby was waiting for her under the clocktower, her streaked hair done up in curls for the occasion – but she wasn’t alone. David was with her, looking so earnestly out of place that Emma might have felt bad for him if not for the fact that – following just a few steps behind her – was Mary Margaret in her ruffled top and cardigan.
Ruby shot her a meaningful look, but said nothing; instead she waved a short hello to Mary Margaret and linked her arm through Emma’s just like before. “We’ll lead the way,” she declared and started off, leaving David and Mary Margaret to awkwardly smile-not-smile at one another and follow.
“Does Mary Margaret even drink?” Ruby demanded in a whisper once she deemed they were far enough ahead, the last hints of the sunset following them into the woods.
“It’s not my fault—“ Emma argued defensively. “You’re the one who invited David.”
“Not intentionally! He was at the counter when you brought it up.” She groaned, reluctantly slowing her pace when a glance back showed how quickly they’d outdistanced their companions.
“Well, she found out and kind of…invited herself along.”
Ruby made a face. “I still don’t understand how this happened.”
“I’ll try and make sure they don’t embarrass you,” Emma quipped. She was rewarded by begrudging laughter and a soft nudge.
It was easier going this time, memory and the last vestiges of daylight helping Emma find her way; the few times she lost the path, Ruby was there to point it out: the faint pressing down of the path, the outward growth of the plants and wildflowers. It was a wonder that anyone found their way back to town after more than a few drinks.
Another few minutes passed by and left them in the darkness, but then – in the rich purple of night – lights sprung up in the distance, flickering on like struck matches.
The Crow’s Nest.
Just the sight of its lights made something soften inside her chest; all her anxieties untwisting from their knots. Ruby squeezed her elbow. “First drink’s on me,” she announced.
They let David and Mary Margaret go first, to get the full effect, and Emma’s reproachful glare was the only thing that kept Ruby from bursting full out into laughter. To be fair, it was a little hilarious to watch the two of them approach the bar’s front steps with all the caution of a child approaching the tiger’s cage, as if they were only seconds away from losing some fingers.
“It’s, uh, nice,” Mary Margaret said, not unkindly – though it was clear she was taking pains to keep smiling.
“Yeah,” David agreed, jumping off her pronouncement. “It’s, you know..” He rapped his knuckles on the banister and nodded. “Yeah.”
Emma exchanged a look with Ruby. She’d never had the misfortune of parents trying too hard to be cool in front of their kids—but she imagined it looked a little something like this. She liked Mary Margaret and owed her a lot for taking her in when the rest of the town wanted to run her out on a rail, but—well, there was no way this wasn’t going to be awkward.
“Come on,” she said, gesturing them inside. “First drink’s on Ruby.”
It was still relatively early, but the bar was half-full when they entered and Ruby had to push past the suddenly indecisive leaders of their merry band to secure them a table. Emma tried to track her so she could get to their table when the bustle thinned, but then Mary Margaret shifted closer to David and Emma was awarded a sudden, unobstructed view of the bar.
Killian was filling a pitcher from the tap; his full attention on the two-some who’d come to collect for their table. He didn’t even glance over – just switched off the tap as the beer neared the lip, and added the pitcher to their tray. He looked good – black dress shirt, unbuttoned at his throat and more than a little rumpled; the warmth of the bar had gone to his face.
Almost as if he could feel her gaze, he straightened a little – the smallest hesitation as he reached for a bottle of clear liquor below the bar – and then his eyes found her in the crowd. The grin that immediately bloomed on his face, made her mouth go dry even as she fought a returning smile of her own.
Instead she bit her cheek and shook her head at him in exasperation; he only laughed—loud enough that she could hear it over the bar buzz, and the two-some at the bar turn to see what he found so amusing. But Emma was gone by then, gently steering David and Mary Margaret to their table.
Relieved of guarding it – Ruby left them at the table, stuffed into the far corner as it was, and went to get them drinks. Mary Margaret played uncomfortably with her cardigan, uncertain whether or not she ought to leave it on or take it off, and half-gestured forlornly at Ruby’s retreating figure.
“She didn’t even ask what we wanted.”
David half-stood. “Do you want me to—“
“I’m sure whatever she gets us will be fine.” Emma put a hand on his shoulder, practically pushing him back down into his seat. “Relax.”
“I am relaxed.” David argued. He was sitting on the edge of his seat, both hands stuck between his knees.
Emma raised an eyebrow. “Seriously. The whole point of a night out is that it’s relaxing. You both look like you’re in church.”
Mary Margaret laughed a little nervously, but her posture visibly eased. “You’re right, Emma,” she smiled. “I just, you know, don’t normally go to places like this.”
“Just friends having some drinks,” she assured. But Emma didn’t miss the way her eyes darted to David and then away.
“Everyone ready for another round?”
Mary Margaret slurped the rest of her cosmo down in response, and Ruby shifted closer to Emma the more the elementary teacher began to list towards David. The clumsy way he was attempting to demonstrate his construction skills with toothpicks and olives was painful enough.
“I’ll go,” Ruby offered, but was cut off with an oof! of sound when Emma elbowed her.
“No, I’ll go,” she said, overly cheerful. “I insist.”
She was already off her stool and escaping before anyone could argue, Ruby’s grasping hand failing to grab her jacket before she got out of reach. She would have felt bad for abandoning her friend if she hadn’t just spent the last hour and a half watching David and Mary Margaret make awkward, we’re-just-friends advances on one another while Ruby flitted in and out, depending on who walked in the door. She’d thought her roommate had moved past this whole thing, but—well—apparently not.
As relieved as she was to get away from the table, even if just for a few moments, she hadn’t really thought about how this would put her in immediate atmosphere with Killian. It was too late to develop a plan now, and she was not going back to that table.
He was pouring a line of shots as she approached, but he noticed her all the same.
“Hold on a tick, love.”
She gestured silently that it was fine – the place was rather busy and she was in absolutely no hurry. While she waited for a gap to open up, he finished up the round and exchanged a smile and a word with the busty blond who came to pick them up.
Wiping his hand on the back of his jeans, he sidled over to her end of the bar, sweeping scattered coasters out of the way so he could lean on the bar, chin propped up in his hand. “How might I be of service?” he entreated, blue eyes flashing.
“You can take as long as humanly possible to make our drinks,” she all-but begged, sliding onto an open stool.
He raised an eyebrow, but made a deliberate show of ignoring the slices of lime at his elbow and pulling a fresh one from the crisper behind him. He tossed it up and down in the air a few times before catching it on the backs of his fingers; he let it roll onto the bar and grabbed the whiskey.
“That desperate for my attention?”
He was teasing she knew, but she made a face all the same. “Hardly. It was getting a little difficult to breathe is all.”
He’d poured her a shot, and when he slid it across the wood between them she didn’t hesitate – just took it between two fingers and threw it back, savoring the burn as it went down her throat.
Killian looked surprised – if that was possible – like maybe he hadn’t thought she’d accept it. But really, if he only knew what kind of social hell she’d endured tonight—he’d probably just hand her the bottle. She glanced back at the table and he followed her line of sight.
He grinned. “Yes, I’ve been watching their appalling attempts at flirtation from here.”
He chopped the lime with ease, making twists with clever turns of his paring knife, and kept his gaze on her. “No imagination.”
“Says the Irish bartender giving out pet names.” Emma stole a slice of lime out from under his fingers, worrying it between her lips to chase the burn of alcohol away.
His gaze followed her hand from cutting board to mouth, and when his eyes went softly out of focus he blinked rapidly, covering it with a quizzical grin.
“Does it bother you—the other girls?”
The lime went sour on her tongue.
“Why would it,” she answered peevishly, leaning over the bar to pitch the rind into the trash.
He tried to catch her eye, but she obstinately assumed a sudden interest in the dart game on the other side of the bar, until she heard what might have been a sigh, and then: “No reason at all.”
He placed David’s beer on the tray and held it out for her. “Your drinks, dear Emma.”
She murmured her thanks and couldn’t make herself look at him as she walked away; she was suddenly annoyed at him and she didn’t know why.
Mary Margaret tipsily helped shift their finished glasses out of the way when Emma arrived, and though it didn’t feel like she’d been gone long enough to shake off the visual of her and David making moon-eyes at each other, the others had clearly been waiting for their next drinks.
“Well that took a while,” Mary Margaret announced with alcohol-bluntness, making Emma bristle.
“He can do some pretty neat tricks with one hand,” she excused. Then, to Ruby, she strained for a smile and said, “You should ask him to show you a few.”
The brunette was surprised for a moment, but Emma could see the moment when she cast her eyes over to the bar and her lips curled into a salacious smile, eyes brightening. “Maybe I will,” she drawled, and hopped off her barstool.
“Where is she going?” Mary Margaret asked, voice wavering on dismay.
Emma tried not to watch the way the leggy brunette sidled up to the bar, immediately commanding Killian’s attention. She couldn’t hear what Ruby was saying, bent forward over the bar like that, but Emma saw his eyes flick towards her and she immediately looked back at Mary Margaret.
She could still feel him looking; but Ruby did not come back to their table and Emma knew she’d imagined his look of disappointment.
Fourteen insufferably-long days—and if that wasn’t enough to make her cranky, the latest row of spats between Gold and Regina would have certainly put her over the top. She was annoyed, and it was only three in the afternoon but she could have really gone for a beer, but—no. That was a whole other problem.
She had promised Henry she’d pick him up from school though, and maybe a couple hot chocolates with the kid would do wonders for her mood. Rifling through her desk, she made sure everything was in order before she switched off the lamp and grabbed her keys from the hook by the door.
It still struck her as strange that Storybrooke didn’t have an officer on duty all hours of the day, but it was that “small town” thing, she supposed—and what sort of trouble would befall little old Storybrooke at 3 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon?
She locked the station door behind her, tapping the handle to make sure it had stuck, and had one foot on the stairs when she saw Killian standing there.
She nearly jumped out of her skin.
“What are you doing here?”
Killian squinted up at her from the sidewalk, the sun in his eyes, bright in the disordered ruin of his hair.
“I feel like we may have a communication problem.”
She glanced about to see if anyone was watching, but the streets were empty.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh I think you do.” He took the steps slowly, raising an eyebrow when Emma took an automatic, defensive step back. “We had a perfectly pleasant first encounter; and yet you suddenly find fault with me.”
“I don’t—“ She readjusted, tightening her hold on her keys and her resolve. “I have to pick up Henry.”
Killian wouldn’t budge.
“I’m a perfectly charming fellow.”
“A lot of men are charming,” she shot back.
“Ah.” He smiled, raising his good hand in an open gesture, “Not like me.”
“They’re all like you.”
He reached out and brushed back a strand of hair that had fallen over her shoulder, fingers catching on the collar of her jacket.
“I assure you they’re not,” he murmured—suddenly serious.
Emma swallowed hard and felt the sharp grooves of her keys digging into her palm, her heart a wild thing inside her chest. She’d never denied he was charming, but her past was working against him. Though he fit the profile perfectly of conman and liar and every boyfriend she’d ever had; she was startled to find that she wanted to trust him.
Still, she resisted – the words out of her mouth before she could stop them: “You own a bar. It doesn’t exactly strike the most trustworthy tone.”
“You own a gun,” he countered. “Which is more unsettling?”
Except it wasn’t the same thing at all; “I own a gun for my job,” she argued.
“And I own a bar for mine,” he said—returning her marks against him one by one. “I fail to see the problem with my profession.”
He shook his head, tutting—a finger against his mouth as he appraised her, deliberately letting his gaze linger on her clenched hands, the hard line of her mouth before he met her eyes, blue crossing blue.
“I think the problem lies in your…hesitation.” His expression was challenging. “You’ve lost your nerve.”
“You’re infuriating, you know that?”
He must have, because he took a step closer—floorboards creaking under them.
“Have dinner with me.”
Killian was grinning.
She threw her hands up in frustration. “You’d just interrupt!”
He grinned and took another step. “Is that a yes?”
He wasn’t much taller than her but she still had to tilt her head to glare up at him properly; exasperated even more by the boldness of his proximity. “I dunno—will you stay out of my personal space?”
His lips quirked. “No.”
Fingertips grazed her hip then fell away. “Maybe tonight?”
She laughed without meaning to. “Maybe Saturday.”
Now it was a definite touch, his palm slotting against her side, one finger hooking though the loops of her jeans—she’d never been touched so much in all her life—and when he spoke it was intimate and full of fondness.
“If your aim is to kill me—poison works far quicker than time.”
She angled her head to match his, careful to keep from bumping into him and gave him a wry look—the sort she often gave Henry when he was being dramatic.
“Maybe Saturday I can get David to cover my patrol,” she elaborated pointedly.
“I risk the dull disease of the town to see you, and all that gets me is a ‘maybe’?”
“A ‘maybe’ is better than a ‘no’.”
Killian gave a huff of laughter. “Maybe Saturday then.”
“Maybe Saturday,” she echoed, matching his resignation with a teasing lilt.
She thought he might have leaned just a fraction of a breath closer, breath warm on her neck, but then he was stepping back and down the station steps. She watched him turn up the collar of his coat, hands in his pockets, and her mouth went dry as he started to walk away.
“Swan!” She called out abruptly, and he stopped—pausing a moment, before turning smoothly on his heel.
“What’s that, love?”
She licked her lips. “Swan,” she repeated. “It’s...Emma Swan.”
Killian’s smile lit the space between them. He bit his lip against whatever he might have said, and left it at that – her revelation an offering; his smile a reward. Still biting his lip, he walked backwards several paces before he finally broke their gaze with a shake of his head and turned round, striding off in the direction of the library and the woods.
Emma watched him go.
She snatched her jacket, nearly toppling the coat stand, and left the police station at a jog. She headed for the woods, cursing when she glimpsed the clock tower – its ornate hands trying to screw her over by their positions.
Of course Gold had chosen tonight of all nights to try and blow something up—not that she’d ever be able to pin it on him of course. It certainly wasn’t something she could stick David with, and only through their combined efforts had they managed to keep Gold from “accidentally” bringing down the whole mine—Regina inside.
No ‘thanks’ from her, of course.
David had done the best he could to help, but it was still nearly gone midnight by the time everything had been cleared up and cleared away. And even though she’d told Killian ‘maybe’ it had never once occurred to her that she wouldn’t go. It certainly didn’t occur to her now, as she fought her way through bush and bramble to reach a path she wasn’t overly confident she could find, much less follow.
“Shit,” she cursed, and nearly tripped over a great big root.
It was almost one when she finally found The Nest; even then, she almost missed it in the dark—all the lights were out, but the sole kerosene lamp that hung from the porch’s overhang. She swore again.
It only took half a dozen strides to cross the grassy clearing and then she was bounding up the stairs and flinging open the door.
Killian was stacking chairs, the bar completely empty around him. He looked genuinely shocked to see her.
“There was an emergency—an explosion, actually—and then, well, I might have gotten a little lost,” she panted – her explanation coming out of her in a rush, while Killian stared. “And, um, I’m sorry.”
He looked at her for a long moment in silence, and then:
“Technically…this is ‘maybe Sunday.”
Relief flooded through her and Emma smiled.
He held out his hand and she took it, letting him guide her to one of the small tables that jutted from the wall, its chairs not yet upended on top of it. “Your table, Ms. Swan.”
She sat with a murmur of thanks.
“Back in a tick.”
She watched curiously as he disappeared up the back steps, and though she’d noticed them vaguely before she realized now they must lead to his apartment above the Nest. Overly warm from her jog through the woods, she tugged at the zipper of her jacket and shucked it in a leather heap on a spare chair.
There was another glance at the stairs, and then she made a quick decision and pushed back to her feet. Slipping behind the bar, she saw that everything had been neatly put away – each bottle returned to its own space – but the cooler was still well-stocked and, after a moment’s deliberation, she selected two red ales from the bottom shelf.
She’d only just located an opener and knocked off the caps when Killian re-emerged. He halted on the stairs, staring, and Emma gave him a sheepish look; not quite certain how to read his closed off expression. It was strange—something she’d never seen on his face before, and wasn’t certain how to decipher.
In his hand were two small apples and, under his arm, he carried a jar of peanut butter.
“For me?” she asked – surprisingly quiet. Killian lifted the apples a little, as if he’d forgotten he was holding them—and when he looked back at her, the guarded expression was lifting to make way for something like affection..
He nodded at the bottles in her hand. “For me?”
Emma smiled and met him at the foot of the stairs, and they arranged their small feast on the table between them – peanut butter and all – and it was stupidly perfect.
He produced a knife and a spoon from his pocket and, handing the knife to her, set about opening the peanut butter jar. “So—who’s tried to burn the place down now?”
Emma handed him a slice of apple, the motions easy and comfortable—the same way she stretched her legs out and encountered his, her feet resting casually inside his; like it was something they did every day.
She began to talk, telling him the full story of why she was so horribly late—and if it took twice as long as it ought to—it was only because Killian insisted on hogging the peanut butter and she would get cut off trying to regain it from him, or because when she retaliated by drinking the last of his beer – holding him off with her boot – she had to break off for ten minutes while he went to fetch them both another bottle.
“I don’t envy you,” he announced when she finally finished her retelling. She re-wet her throat with a deep drink, but her eyes still caught when he sucked a remnant of peanut butter from his thumb.
“You learn to get used to it.”
Killian studied her over their bottles, and it wasn’t dim enough in the bar to mask the way she swallowed suddenly.
“Do you want to?”
“What do you mean?”
He shrugged. “Storybrooke just doesn’t seem much like home to you.”
She leaned forward, shoulders hunching a little as she brought both elbows onto the table. “Is it for you?”
“Home for now,” he shifted, straightening the kinks in his legs and Emma’s feet shifted automatically to accommodate him. “I think the both of us are meant for more than the small town life.”
It was a strange thought, really—the more she tried to think about her life before Storybrooke, the quicker it slipped way. Like it was a dream she’d once had, long ago and far away. Did Killian come from somewhere far away too?
“I wouldn’t know,” she replied lightly. “‘Home’s always been kind of an abstract concept for me.”
“They say it’s where the heart is.” His tone clearly indicated what he thought of that idea, but Emma only shrugged. She’d never had something anchor her to a place before—it might as well be her heart.
“Then, I guess—“ she took a drink “—Storybrooke’s home for now.”
His face softened knowingly. “Henry.”
“He’s a lucky lad,” Killian declared and drank too.
Emma nibbled the edge of a slice idly, then decided there was really no point in not asking.
“What keeps you here?”
Killian barked out a laugh. “Well it’s certainly not heart, I can tell you that.”
Emma knew a lie when she saw one – she couldn’t do her job if she didn’t – and this wasn’t one of them; not a lie in the strictest of senses, no, but it hung with all the characteristics of one. Familiar. Recognizable.
She’d seen this shade of half-truth every day for months—looking back at her from the tarnished glass of a prison mirror.
“Was it love?”
Killian’s eyes snapped to hers; sharp and blue fire in the poor light. “You’re more perceptive than you let on, Madam Sheriff.”
Emma said nothing, but sat quietly, turning her half-eaten slice over in her hands.
“Bloody hell,” he muttered under his breath. Then he straightened, pushing the peanut butter aside and addressed her head-on. “I had an affair with a woman once, long ago – a sordid thing from start to end.”
“But it ended—?“
“And here I remain.” He encompassed the entirety of the bar with a grand sweep of his arms. “Too entrenched and set in my ways to up and go.”
That was all well and good for anyone else in Storybrooke, but Emma didn’t think Killian was the sort to be tied down anywhere he didn’t want to be. It would have to have been quite the end, she wondered aloud. Then:
“She left you?”
Killian tipped the bottle in a slow circle between the firm grip of his fingers, and when the ghost of a chuckle slipped it out, it seemed directed more at the bottle, at something she couldn’t see, than at Emma herself.
He smiled wanely up at her. “She died.”
Her stomach bottomed out.
She opened her mouth, but there were no words. How could she have known?
Embarrassed and ashamed, she fixed her attention on her hands, still turning the piece of apple, still nervously moving—until she felt the weight of Graham’s head suddenly in her palms; the memory, unbidden and unwanted, uncurling from that secret place inside her to haunt her again. He died. He died. – her hands said, shaking against the sense-memory—until Killian’s hand closed over her fist, and the weight slipped away.
“And what of you, my dear Swan.”
She moved to tuck her feet under her chair, but Killian trapped her legs between his own and would not release her, would not let her pull away. She exhaled slowly, and the memory folded itself back up, fading back into the hole she’d made for it.
“Has ever a man found his way into that heart of yours?”
She couldn’t not answer; not now. Graham might have come close, but—
“Just the one,” she breathed; unable to look away from the hand over hers. “A thief.”
Delighted surprise lifted the faint shadows from his face. “A rake and a roustabout!” His touch softened, just enough to let her fingers uncurl under his. “Just how ever did you fall into league with that sort of man?”
He lifted the half-eaten slice off her and popped it into his mouth. Fortifying herself with a drink, and a dollop of peanut butter, Emma answered, “I stole his car.”
Looking both impressed and a little surprised, Killian clinked his bottle with hers. “My love, I do believe there’s more to you than meets the eye.”
He ran his tongue along his teeth, looking thoughtful.
“Yet you’re in Storybrooke and not out living a life of crime. What happened?”
She took a moment to lick the back of the spoon, but really there was no delaying what came next. “He…gave me up. Turned me in. And when I got out, all he’d left me was that yellow rust-bucket Beetle…and Henry.”
The spoon she stuffed into her mouth, focusing on the last stripes of peanut butter melting on her tongue rather than see the all-too-familiar pity start up in his eyes. But then his hand appeared suddenly under her chin, making her go nearly cross-eyed trying to look at it. A crooked finger settled there, gently tilting her face upwards—and Killian was there, his face closer than before.
Emma could only stare dumbly into those blue eyes as the fingers left her chin and curled around the handle of the spoon, pulling it slowly from her mouth.
“Not to alarm you, Emma,” Killian murmured—close enough that she could feel the rumble of his voice in her chest. “But I think we have more in common than you’d like to admit.”
“I think..you’re right,” she breathed. It was dark, but sitting this close she could still see every sharp detail in his face. The stubble along his jaw, not quite a beard; the faint cleft in his chin; the faint gold halo in the blue whorl of his eyes.
She didn’t know why she said it—only that it was true and that it seemed like something she should point out. But late or not, the frustration in Killian’s face was palatable; still—when she nudged her knee into his, his foot slid along her own and a smile slid onto his face.
He twisted a finger in a loose lock of her hair, tucking it behind her ear, soft as a whisper. “May I walk you back?”
Emma looked at his face, so close to hers; felt the warmth of his breath ghosting across her mouth. He licked his lips – anxious – and the motion immediately dragged her eyes to his mouth, and that was when everything started to go a little fuzzy around the edges. Eyes lifting, she looked up at him through her lashes—defiant.
And then her hands were buried in that ridiculous hair and she was kissing him. It was hot and slick and his arm was there around her waist, pulling her off her stool—and she went, hands fisted in his hair, tugging pulling gasping. Something fell of the table and shattered on the floor, but Killian’s hand was at the back of her neck and when his thumb skated the shell of her ear she was lost.
She was half in his lap, one foot on the floor and the other on the rung of his chair, when they broke apart, mouths bruised and wet, both of them breathing hard. She still had hold of his hair. Killian ran his thumb across her bottom lip, skirting the corner of her mouth, her dimples, her chin, and only then did she feel the faint warm scrape his stubble had burned into her skin.
Emma felt delirious—feverish even. But when Killian pressed his forehead against hers, he was burning too.
He smiled quizzically, eyes soft and unfocused.
“Do you hear something ticking?”