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Out of the Frying Pan

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“Mom!”

Emma groaned.

Mom!"

The bed was shaking. Emma turned her head on the pillow, resisting the very real urge to push her face into the fabric underneath her, and cracked open one eye. The bed wasn’t shaking – it was being shaken.

She took a deep breath and bit back yet another groan, reaching up to push a piece of hair out of her eyes. “What time is it?”

“Time!”

“That’s not a number, kid.”

“Mom,” Henry sighed, drawing the three letters into one, incredibly long and vaguely impressive syllable. “It’s tiiime.”

He shook the bed again, pushing the edge mattress with his hand and Emma was momentarily surprised by the strength of her 12-year-old son. She shouldn’t be surprised by anything at this point, honestly. Henry was a whirlwind of, well, everything.

There weren’t enough adjectives in the entire world to describe everything Henry was to Emma.

He was the reason she got up – or would eventually get up – and the reason she was slated to stand under several dozen scalding hot lights that afternoon.

Emma Swan, celebrity chef wasn’t a phrase she’d ever particularly envisioned for herself, but, somehow, that was where they’d found themselves.

It was a far cry from the pregnant teenager who’d wound up in jail after taking the fall for her boyfriend’s crimes. Stolen watches. And Neal Cassidy was gone to Canada before Emma could even try to come up with some sort of alibi.

She’d found out she was pregnant two weeks into her eight-month prison stint.

And for awhile she’d considered giving him up. Henry deserved a chance and, at that point in her life, Emma was convinced she couldn’t give it to him.

But then they put him in her arms and her whole world had shifted on its axis and Emma promised herself she’d do anything to make sure this boy got everything she’d never had.

So, she’d get up and she’d stand under lights wearing approximately eighteen pounds of makeup and smile and teach the TV-watching public how to make the perfect chicken cacciatore.

No one made chicken cacciatore better than Emma did.

The mattress shook again – a very forceful reminder that she had a schedule to stick to – and Emma pulled herself up, brushing her fingers across Henry’s forehead and earning a very almost-teenager groan in the process.

“You need a haircut,” she muttered, pressing her fingers into her son’s hair. “I’m surprised I haven’t gotten a note from school telling me you’re breaking the dress code or something.”

“Mary Margaret would tell you first. And there may be a note in my backpack.”

“Henry!”

“It’s not that big of a deal,” he said quickly, taking a step back and, finally, letting go of the mattress. “You’re busy. I’ll get it cut at some point.”

“I am not too busy for notes from school,” she sighed, falling into mom-mode immediately. “You know the rules.”

“No secrets.”

“That’s right. We talk. We discuss. We figure out a day I’m not filming to take you to SuperCuts.”

“SuperCuts?”

He’d practically perfected the groan at this point and he sounded so much like David that Emma squeezed her eyes shut quickly, fighting off a wave of deja vu and emotion that simply didn’t belong at 7:30 in the morning.

“Mom?” Henry asked, not missing a single thing. “You ok?”

“Absolutely, kid,” she promised, swinging her legs over the side of the bed and nudging at his knee with her foot. “Come on. As you so thoughtfully pointed out, it’s time to get up. What do you want for breakfast?”

“Mary Margaret left bear claws in the kitchen last night.”

Emma’s shoulders dropped – she’d been at a signing the night before and Henry had been left in the care of her brother and sister-in-law. It was something that was beginning to happen far more than she liked.

But the line for autographs had been long and people seemed to care and want to know where she got her recipe for crème brûlée and she couldn’t turn people away when they’d spent most of their Thursday night waiting for a few minutes to talk to her.

Henry, of course, picked up on her internal dilemma immediately.

He was far more cognizant at 7:30 in the morning than she was – 12-year-olds, it seemed, did not require several cups of coffee to wake up.

“It’s ok, mom,” he said, sinking next to her on the bed. Emma’s arm wrapped around his shoulders instinctively and she hugged him close to her side like he wasn’t half grown up and they were still living in that shoebox apartment on 16th Street. “Was the line super long? Were there a ton of people?

“It’s only ok because Mary Margaret and David are the best. And yes. And yes to the second question too.”

“Then it’s definitely ok.”

“Any one tell you how awesome you are yet today?”

Henry looked up at her, smile plastered on his face. She asked him that every day – and every day his returning smile made Emma’s stomach flip with how much she loved this kid. “Not yet,” he said, repeating his line with ease. “But thanks for looking out.”

“Always.”

“You’re pretty awesome too,” he said softly, glancing back down at his hands in his lap. That wasn’t part of the scene.

Emma leaned over, kissing the top of his head and he squirmed underneath her. “Oh, stop,” she laughed, pulling him even closer to her until she was nearly falling over. “Consider it good luck for the great big, announcement we’re supposedly getting today.”

“It’s going to be good.”

“You’re awfully confident.”

“I believe in you, mom,” he said simply and Emma’s breath caught in her throat.

It was too early for this.

She also needed him to believe in her just a bit too because, despite the long line the night before, Emma knew her numbers were down. They’d been bumped up an hour earlier on Sunday morning and the once-a-week cooking show didn’t exactly fit in with the theme the network was running with anymore.

It wasn’t a reality show. It wasn’t a competition. It was straight cooking instruction, based entirely on Emma’s ability to appeal to the viewer.

And, for the last couple of years, it had worked.

It had been great – the line and the number of Facebook likes on her professional page were a testament to that. But a, now, nine o’clock timeslot on Sunday morning didn’t exactly draw in the crowds and while her producer, Ruby Lucas, had practically begged her to bring Henry on the show seemingly every other day, Emma had resolutely refused to allow her personal life to even start to seep onto the screen.

Emma Swan, celebrity chef was a completely different person than Emma Swan, teenage mom and former convict.

And she was going to keep it that way.

She’d play the role and she’d silently continue to dread whatever great, big announcement was waiting for her as soon as she made it uptown that morning.

“Save the bear claws for when you get home from school later,” Emma said, standing up and tugging on the collar of Henry’s t-shirt as she moved. He raised his eyes in question and Emma grinned at him. “What do you say to french toast this morning?”

His eyes lit up and he practically sprinted out of the bedroom, rushing towards the kitchen. “I’ll take that as a yes,” Emma laughed, pushing her feet into the pair of slippers next to her bed and walking out the door.


His alarm went off loudly, the sound seeping into his only-slightly conscious brain and Killian squeezed his eyes shut, desperate to spend at least a few more minutes in bed.

His head felt like it was going to snap in half.

God, what had they done last night?

Robin had come to the restaurant, going on about Regina and the show and the ridiculous schedule that was restocking the Iron Chef prep kitchen and Killian had played supportive friend for all of five minutes before grabbing a bottle of rum and pouring each of them a glass.

It was not the last glass either of them drank.

And now he was paying for it.

Badly.

He hoped Robin was too.

Fair’s only fair, after all.

Killian reached his right hand out, slamming his palm down on the alarm clock he absolutely refused to throw away. Robin and Eric made fun of him mercilessly for it. And he wouldn’t get rid of it.

He’d had the same alarm clock in every room he’d ever lived in from the time he was thirteen until that very morning. The stupid thing could snap in half and he’d probably bring it with him to the next apartment he’d live in.

Killian fell back on the pillow, fighting off the nostalgia and memories that were threatening on the edge of his memory. Liam had packed that alarm clock when they moved into the apartment on 87th Street – just a few weeks after their mom died.

They’d sold most of their stuff to pay the security deposit on the apartment - a whopping 350 square feet without an oven and a bathroom down the hallway – but Liam had insisted, for whatever reason, that the alarm clock had to come.

“How else will you know when to get up for school?” he asked, ruffling Killian’s hair as he kicked open the door to the brand-new apartment, smile plastered on his face in attempt to make everything seem normal.

He wasn’t fooling anyone, least of all Killian, but he appreciated the effort.

And he appreciated the alarm clock.

So it had come with him everywhere.

Killian grabbed his phone off the nightstand next to him, swiping his thumb across the screen to find eighteen e-mails waiting for him already. At 7:30 in the morning. Jesus Christ.

He briefly considered just going back to bed, but one e-mail stuck out at him. Regina Mills had sent him a message with the subject: FORGET THE RUM FOR TWO SECONDS AND READ THIS.

Killian felt the smile tugging on the corners of his lips immediately, momentarily forgetting the pounding ache just behind his eyes. He fought off the dizziness that came with sitting up and pressed his back against the headboard to keep his bearings as he read the message.

K,

If the reason Robin isn’t answering his phone is because you’re plying him with rum over his meltdown about the prep kitchen, I’m going to personally punch you right in the face when you walk into the studio tomorrow morning.

Where, by the way, you need to be.

I told you this last week, but you’re you and you hate coming into the studio and I know that between the several days since I mentioned this and the absolutely exorbitant amount of rum you and my fiancé have presumably consumed tonight, I felt like I needed to remind you.

This is big, Killian. Really big. And, no, I can’t just tell you over the phone or e-mail or a quick text message, so don’t bother asking me. We’re playing by the rules on this one.

So get to midtown by 9:30.

I know, I know, midtown is the worst place in the world and it smells like garbage and you simply can’t stand the tourists. I don’t care. Be here or, as promised, I will punch you in the face and then several other body parts as well.

And make sure you drink some water too.

Regina

Killian tossed the phone on his bed, smile still on his face as he shook his head slowly. Regina Mills was, to put it lightly, a force of nature.

She and Robin Locksley had walked into his restaurant five years ago on their first date and somehow found a way to wiggle their way into his life when Killian wasn’t particularly certain he wanted anything in his life, let alone new friends who wanted to make sure he was happy or something else overly emotional.

They’d raved about his food and Regina had tactfully avoided looking at his hand – or lack thereof.

Robin, however, had not been quite as diplomatic.

He’d come back into the restaurant the next day, taken up a seat at the bar and looked directly at Killian when he asked, “what happened?”

Killian wasn’t sure he’d actually ever been that angry. Except when he actually lost the hand. Robin took it all in stride. He sat there in front of the bar and waited, eyebrows raised as if he was only passably interested.

And, for some reason, Killian had told him.

He stood behind his bar in his slightly-successful restaurant and told this near-stranger how he’d lost his hand and his brother and everything that had ever really mattered to him.

The restaurant was all he had left.

The food was all he had left.

And, then, quite suddenly, Killian had the restaurant and the food and Regina and Robin.

He kind of felt like he owed them something.

Killian grabbed his phone again, hit reply on the screen and typed back a quick message:

Bring me some water if you want to help. And give your fiancé a break about stocking the kitchen, there’s 800,000 ingredients that need to be in there.

I’ll be there at 9:25.

K

The room spun a bit again as he stood up and he pressed his eyes together tightly at the feeling. He couldn’t quite remember the last time he’d actually been hungover.

Years.

It had to be years.

It wasn’t a feeling he particularly enjoyed anymore. After all, it had been one he’d been particularly familiar with before.

He’d blame Robin when he saw him at the studio later that morning.

Killian heard his phone ding again as he walked towards his bedroom door – Regina was nothing if not efficient – and he glanced back at the sound, eyes falling on the prosthetic that was also sitting on the nightstand, some sort of glaring reminder of everything he’d been through and everything he’d lost.

And, maybe, if he was feeling particularly sentimental, everything he’d gained as well.

Killian shook his head, pushing that sentiment to the deepest corner of his brain and thinking only of the hot shower waiting for him down the hallway. He needed to get rid of this headache before the really big announcement.


Emma walked through the front doors of the Food Network offices on 6th Avenue, a bit out of breath after weaving through the rush hour traffic on the ‘D’ train.

She hated coming into midtown.

It was awful.

And congested. And it smelled like garbage all year long – that rumor about the smell just lingering through summer was a complete lie.

She nodded at the man sitting behind the security desk, reaching in her bag to grab her ID. “Oh, you don’t need that,” he said quickly, brushing his hands through the air. “I know who you are. You can go right up.”

“Oh,” Emma blinked several times, taken aback by the immediate foray into celebrity. She’d never get used to that. Ever. “Thanks.”

“Of course Ms. Swan.”

“Emma, please.”

His eyes widened slightly and he smiled genuinely at her, sitting up just a bit straighter. “Doc,” he said, pushing his glasses farther up his nose.

“It’s nice to meet you Doc.”

“You too, Emma. And good luck up there.”

Emma’s head tilted at the well-wish, curiosity shooting through her quickly. Doc just kept smiling and he looked so enthusiastic Emma couldn’t bring herself to ask any more questions. She was also running late – the near-constant buzzing of her phone a reminder from Ruby that she was five minutes behind schedule.

Emma jogged towards the elevator lobby, pressing the button in front of her several times as she bobbed up and down on her feet. Her phone vibrated again in her pocket.

The doors dinged open and Emma practically jumped in, impatiently hitting the floor for Ruby’s office. She made it there in twenty-three seconds. Not that she was counting or anything. She was just a bit anxious and a little bit worried as to why she’d need good luck to meet with the producer of her own show.

Emma didn’t stand on ceremony once she made it to the 17th floor, pushing open the door to Ruby’s office to find her sitting behind her desk, feet propped up on the imitation wood with a phone pressed up against her ear.

Ruby nodded in her direction, shooting a glare at Emma for good measure – she was several minutes late, after all – and continued to talk. “Yeah, yeah, she’s here now. Yeah, we’ll head up in two seconds. I know it’s big. I know. I told her. Of course I told her.” Ruby sighed dramatically and squeezed her eyes shut. “Don’t do that. No. I’m serious Z, don’t do that. I’ll get her to pick and we’ll get back to you.”

Ruby slammed down the phone receiver two seconds later, practically growling with frustration as she kicked her feet into the floor, heels making a noise that ricocheted off Emma’s brain when they landed.

“You’re late,” Ruby said, standing up and pressing out the lines of her pencil skirt, not meeting Emma’s eyes.

Emma felt guilty for a beat, scuffing her feet along the floor, half in Ruby’s office and half in the hallway. “Yeah, I know,” she sighed. “Trains were a mess. And it took awhile to get Henry to school.”

“French toast?” Ruby asked, knowingly, finally meeting Emma’s gaze and smiling softly. Emma nodded and Ruby let out a huff of air. She took a few steps towards Emma’s spot in the doorframe and squeezed her forearm. “Well, then I guess that’s ok.”

“You’re the best producer a girl could ask for.”

“Yeah, remember that feeling in two minutes.”

Emma widened her eyes at Ruby, following her and her bright-red highlights out into the hallway and back towards the elevator she just walked out of. “Wait,” Emma said quickly. “We’re not doing the great, big news announcement in your office?”

Ruby shook her head, pressing the elevator button. The doors opened almost immediately. Of course they did. “I wasn’t lying when I said this was big, Emma,” she said, stepping in and hitting the 27th floor. Emma’s eyes widened again. That was the network boss. She’d never actually been to that floor before.

Good luck up there, indeed.


“Tell me again why I had to get here at 9:25 if no one else was going to get here on time?” Killian asked, sounding like a petulant child as he spoke.

Regina threw him a glare, glancing up from her blood-red nails and the set of her shoulders practically screamed at him to stop talking.

The conference room was filled – except for two seats at the other end of the table. “We have to wait for everyone,” Zelena said, voice strained with the patience she was trying to convey. Killian smirked at her.

“And who exactly is it that we’re waiting for?”

He took stock of the rest of the room, the faces in front of him all vaguely familiar. He did, after all, own a TV. And Regina had been feeding him information as the table slowly, but surely filled up over the last ten minutes.

Graham Humbert, quiet, woodsy, builds his own fires to cook food on, sat across the table from Killian and Regina. He was his own producer too. Of course he was. Killian might have hated him a little bit already.

Belle French was on his right, flanked by her producer Anna Dellen. She hosted a dessert show that, per Regina, had something like 800 episodes and ran in syndication every night at 7 p.m. The new episodes aired on Thursday at 9:30 p.m.

She smiled at Killian, a warm look that probably could have cooked several batches of cookies or cupcakes or something equally as sweet and for a moment he actually felt bad that he’d fallen so easily into swaggering asshole mode because he had to wait a few minutes for the final chef.

He heard a pair of heels coming down the hallway, but there was another set of feet there as well and Killian strained to hear what it was. Sneakers. He could hear the squeak. And then the squeak was in the doorway and Killian couldn’t really breathe.

“Emma Swan,” Regina muttered, leaning closer to his ear.

Killian didn’t care.

Or maybe he cared about that more than anything in the history of anything.

“She hosts a show on Sunday morning,” Regina continued, filling Killian’s ear with information he absolutely wasn’t listening to. “They bumped her up an hour a couple of weeks ago, something about lower viewership, but her sales are really, really good and she’s got some kind of ridiculously devoted fandom.”

He didn’t care.

He was already her number one fan.

She was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, eyes bright and so green he could even see them from across the conference room. Her hair fell softly over her shoulders, cheeks flushed – probably because she knew she was five minutes late too – and Killian wondered how he’d never seen her before, either on TV or in the building.

He knew the answer of course – he never watched TV and he avoided this building like it was the goddamn plague.

“What does she cook?” Killian asked, somehow finding his voice and hoping he actually wasn’t screaming. He had no idea. He couldn’t stop staring at her.

He knew Regina was looking at him, could feel her curious stare boring into his still aching head, but he refused to turn towards her. He kept staring at Emma, watching her cross the room and sink into one of the two empty chairs left at the table.

She must have realized he was staring – admittedly a bit like a creep – and her eyes snapped to his. Emma’s mouth opened slightly, lips parting in a silent gasp and Killian felt one side of his mouth tick up at the movement.

She didn’t smile back.

Instead, her eyebrows lowered and her eyes narrowed and her mouth closed quickly. Huh, usually the smirk worked.

“French,” Regina said. “Like fine French and so freaking delicious it’s not even funny. And stop that, Emma Swan is not going to fall for your smirk.”

Killian turned his head to look at Regina who seemed particularly pleaesd with her ability to read him so well. He didn’t get a chance to fire back any sort of witty retort before Zelena cleared her throat meaningfully and the entire table turned its attention towards the network head.

“Thanks for joining us Emma,” Zelena said pointedly and Killian thought he saw her slide down the back of her chair slightly. She sighed, tilting her head and twisting her mouth and mumbling something that sounded like an apology.

Goddamn, he was being charmed by her.

That wasn’t fair.

He was hungover. He wasn’t supposed to be charmed by anyone.

“Alright,” Zelena continued, falling into professional with ease, “the reason we’re all here is because we’ve got some big news to share with you.”

Killian glanced around the room again and wondered how he fit into this group exactly. It wasn’t like he had his own show. He had an occasional appearance on Iron Chef and a restaurant in Tribeca and a take-home line of barbeque sauce that made an absolute ridiculous amount of money.

Regina promised him this news was big and important to his position on the network, but he was a celebrity chef in the loosest sense of the term. He also hated the term. Killian didn’t want to be a celebrity.

He wanted to cook.

Because it was the only thing he’d ever actually had any control over. Or, in a completely depressing turn of events, had ever actually been any good at.

“Sit up straighter,” Regina muttered, kicking at his ankle underneath the table.

Killian glared at her, but did as instructed, more worried about the consequences of not listening than giving in to his producer. “Yes, mom,” he whispered sharply, not taking his eyes off Zelena.

“We’re going to be staging something new over the next twelve months,” Zelena said. “A network-wide competition with some of our biggest stars. We’re going to do four shows that are already popular on the network – Cutthroat Kitchen, Chopped, Cupcake Wars and Grocery Games – then as a grand-finale of sorts, we’re going to do one final competition between the four of you. You’ll have to cook a five-course meal and be able to produce the recipes for our viewers. We’ll be selling the combined book once the series wraps next year.”

Killian bit back the groan that was threatening to work its way out of his chest.

He didn’t have time for this.

He hadn’t told Regina yet, but he and Robin had spent the last month talking about the possibility of expanding The Jolly Roger. The restaurant had been doing well – absurdly well – since Iron Chef and the pop-up shops they’d done during the holidays for the sauce were an overwhelming success. He didn’t even have to charge Robin and Regina a catering fee for their wedding – not that he would have anyway, but it was more fun to flaunt his success a little bit as a reason for letting them off easy.

Killian didn’t have time for some year-long competition that paraded him in front of cameras and made him compete against people he didn’t even know.

He chanced a glance at Emma Swan who definitely had slid down her chair at this point. She was glaring at her producer and her lips were moving so quickly it barely even looked like she was talking.

She didn’t like the idea either.

“I’m not doing this,” Killian said softly.

“Yes you are,” Regina said and the tone of her voice suggested there was nothing to argue about. Killian wasn’t ready to go down without a fight though.

He could argue over anything.

Liam would have said...Killian shook his head quickly, banishing those thoughts as quickly as they came. He was just hungover. That was the only explanation for the questionable number of times he’d thought about Liam in the last two hours.

He usually did his best to not think about his brother.

“As an added bonus,” Zelena said, seemingly oblivious to the disappointed mood the room had adopted in the last 30 seconds. “This whole thing is going to be for charity. So you’ll win money in every round and then the person with the most money and the most wins ahead of the five-course extravaganza will earn an extra $50,000 to the charity of their choice.”

Killian’s head snapped towards Regina, who had a smug smile on her face. She crossed her arms and leaned back against the chair. “Told you you’d do it.”


Emma all but stormed out of the conference room twenty minutes later, keeping a step ahead of Ruby so she wouldn’t actually have to talk about this.

This was not the great, big news she was hoping for.

She’d been hoping for better news about the timeslot or the viewership numbers or maybe another cookbook idea. A year-long charity competition against three other celebrity chefs was not something Emma was particularly interested in.

She simply wasn’t a competitive person.

She fought for what she wanted and who she loved and that was it – she didn’t want to battle anyone. She wanted to get a better timeslot.

And make Henry dinner more often.

“Emma,” Ruby sighed, grabbing her wrist and yanking her to a stop. Emma barely had a chance to appreciate that she wasn’t wearing five-inch heels as she managed to keep her balance. “Come on, give me two seconds to explain what’s going on here.”

Emma heaved a sigh and spun around, meeting Ruby’s slightly-apologetic look with full force. She sighed again, realizing quite suddenly, that her producer wasn’t actually trying to back her into a corner.

“Let me guess,” Emma said. “You didn’t have a choice.”

“I didn’t.”

“Of course.”

“Come on,” Ruby pleaded, hand still wrapped around Emma’s arm. “You know I’d fight for you if I thought I could get you out of this. But I can’t. And you should take it as a compliment anyway. You heard Zelena, this just means you’re one of the network’s most popular stars.”

“Who has to regularly ship her kid off on her brother and his wife so she can continue to be that popular.”

“Henry understands.”

“That’s the problem.”

“What’s the problem?”

Emma spun around at the voice, coming face-to-face with a man she only passably recognized. He was on one of the competition shows. At least she thought he was. She’d never actually seen him in the network offices before.

Which wasn’t entirely fair because Emma avoided the network offices as much as humanly possible.

“Nothing,” she said quickly.

He actually smirked at her. Who the hell was this guy?

He was, admittedly, ridiculously attractive – all dark hair and blue eyes and a simple sense of confidence that put Emma at ease much faster than she wanted .

She glanced back over her shoulder at Ruby who was determinedly staring at her phone, ignoring the entire situation entirely. Traitor.

He stuck his hand out into the space in front of them and Emma stared at it skeptically. “It won’t bite,” he said, voice tinged with laughter.

Emma glared at him. “I wouldn’t put it past it. Or you.”

“You don’t know anything about me.”

“Precisely.”

“And yet I know you think there’s some sort of problem with this competition,” he said, hand still hanging in the air. He wiggled his fingers quickly and did something absolutely absurd with his eyebrows, making Emma’s stomach flip in a way that it hadn’t since she was a teenager. “Seems kind of lopsided doesn’t it? Only fair we remedy that situation, I think.”

Emma sighed and narrowed her eyes. He was still smirking at her. “What do you suggest?”

“Killian Jones,” he said simply, shaking his hand again meaningfully. “Nice to meet you.”

Emma wrapped her fingers around his, startled slightly at how warm his hand was and glanced up to meet his gaze straight on.

She felt a pull in her stomach as his fingers laced through hers and she knew Ruby was smiling at her from the other side of the lobby.

“And you are, love?” he prompted. Emma widened her eyebrows, head jerking back slightly at the endearment. She also got the distinct impression he already knew the answer to that question.

“Emma Swan,” she answered.

“Nice to meet you, Swan,” he said, squeezing her hand before dropping it back to his side.

“Not to be rude,” Emma said softly, noticing immediately the tension that practically flew to his shoulders. He took a step back and his left hand moved behind his back. She bit back the questions about that and focused on the first question she was trying to answer. “What show are you on exactly?”

The tension was gone as soon as it came and the smirk was back and Emma felt her defenses go back up immediately. “You, love, are in the presence of an Iron Chef.”

“Oh my God,” Emma laughed, the sound bubbling out of her before he could stop it. “Are you serious?”

“Why would I joke about something as serious as a food competition we stole from Japan?”

Emma stared at him, waiting for the rest of the joke or the next cocky comment. It never came. He kept his hand trained behind his back and continued to smirk and, God, his eyes were absolutely unfair.

“As mentioned, I don’t know anything about you,” Emma said.

He laughed softly under his breath. “You don’t watch your own network’s shows?”

Caught.

Emma bit her lip tightly, pulling it back behind her teeth and Killian laughed again as he ran his right hand through his hair. He stepped back towards her, crowding into her space and making her wonder if maybe she should watch her own network’s shows.

“I’ve got other things going on,” Emma brushed off, waving her hands quickly and trying to not actually come in contact with his ridiculously tight black t-shirt. It was the beginning of September and it was warm, but it wasn’t just-tshirt-weather-warm. Emma was upset about it – but that may have mostly been because it was absurdly attractive.

“Things would make this year-long competition for charity a problem?”

Emma gaped at him, eyes still wide and Killian grinned at her. “I don’t have a problem with charity,” she mumbled.

“Just competition?”

She pressed her lips together tightly and Emma knew the moment he realized he’d figured it out. “How could you possibly know that?”

“You’re something of an open book.”

“That so?” she asked, glancing nervously over her shoulder. Ruby was still staring at her phone. Emma was going to have a very serious conversation with her producer as soon as she figured out a way to get out of this lobby. “You’re a psychic and an Iron Chef? That’s impressive.”

He rolled his shoulders – hand still behind his back – and looked a little nervous all of a sudden, rocking back on his heels. It didn’t last long. Zelena and another woman walked out of the conference room and as soon as the sound of heels filled the lobby, something clicked on his face.

Killian shook his head quickly and did something ridiculous with his eyebrows again. “I’m nothing short of phenomenal, love,” he said softly and his voice seemed to shoot straight to Emma’s core.

He noticed that.

Of course he did.

“Killian,” the woman next to Zelena called. He snapped his heads towards her as she nodded at the elevator. “We’ve got to talk about the next IC appearance.”

“Yeah, sure.”

He spun back on Emma, eyes bright with something she couldn’t quite recognize – a voice in the back of her head threw the word interested at her, but she refused to even entertain the thought. The guy was a part-time chef who waltzed in and out of conversations with smirks and laughter and those ridiculously blue eyes.

She suddenly realized what she had to do – she didn’t just have to play in this competition, she had to win.

“It was nice to meet you Swan,” he muttered softly, eyes darting from hers down to her lips and back up again. “I look forward to watching you work.” He smirked at her again, widening his eyes meaningfully before glancing over her shoulder. “See you later, Ruby,” he added before turning away and meeting the two women in the elevator.

“See you Killian,” Ruby said softly, finally looking up from her phone and coming to stand next to Emma.

“You want to pick a charity?” she asked, fingers dancing over her phone screen as she glanced at Emma.

“Yeah,” Emma answered. “Let’s do this.”