“Ok, so, according to your list, we’ve only got the jerseys and the sticks left. Are they all game-worn though? That’s not...that’s not on the list.”
Emma made a noise, not sure if it was an agreement or a disagreement or just the general sound of complete and utter exhaustion. She was having a difficult time keeping her head up. And her eyes open. Her eyes actually felt like they were falling down her face.
She was, at least, seventy-seven percent positive that wasn’t supposed to happen.
And, really, in the grand scheme of parenthood and the actual action of parenting in the middle of a season and a second-straight Cup defense, Emma knew a distinct lack of sleep was, more or less, part of the deal.
She also didn’t care.
Because her eyes seemed to have a distinct weight to them and Matt kept crying at regular twenty-minute intervals that appeared to be getting worse the longer they were stuck in Emma’s office. They were still stuck in Emma’s office.
“Em,” Mary Margaret muttered, voice quiet and cautious and that was probably because Emma hadn’t ever stopped making that noise.
She was just kind of grunting at this point.
She had no idea what to do to get her kid to stop crying. It had gotten worse since the game started.
“Are we losing?” Emma asked suddenly, and Mary Margaret’s eyes widened slightly. That was probably because they weren’t weighed down. Metaphorically, or whatever. Emma was far too tired to worry about the metaphors of it.
“No, no, I mean...not winning either, but I don’t think Arthur’s broken that many white boards. So, you know, grand scheme.”
Emma made a different noise. She hoped it sounded more like a laugh than it felt. It kind of hurt, like it was lingering in the back of her throat or trying to scratch its way out and none of these things seemed particularly healthy.
“Grand scheme,” she echoed, eyes flitting towards the TV screen in the corner of her office.
They’d done road trips throughout the season – and none of them were particularly easy, but Emma was fairly certain she was still holding on to the majority of her sanity. She was at least confident her eyes weren’t actively trying to fall out of her face.
And she had help, a small army of people and in-laws who were more than happy to pick Matt up or bring Matt somewhere and Emma was fairly sure Merida was still reporting on her eating habits to Killian. It wasn’t easy, but it was ok, and Matt’s eyes seemed to actually light up every single time Killian came home which, in turn, did something incredibly specific to Emma’s entire soul.
This road trip, however, seemed intent on slowly, but surely killing her.
There were teething issues and sleeping issues and the kid seemed determined to to pull himself everywhere – knocking over everything in sight like some kind of six-month-old masquerading as Godzilla. He was still working on sitting up, but Emma had to admit even the attempt was impressive and Killian was convinced their son’s diction meant he was some kind of inevitable genius.
That genius kept him up and babbling for hours at a time.
Emma had no idea if the pile of jerseys behind her was game worn.
“If I fall asleep right here, right now, in front of you, is that going to super weird you out?” Emma asked, gaze flashing towards Mary Margaret. She shook her head.
“I’ve definitely seen you sleep in weirder places.”
“Ah, yeah, that’s probably true.”
“That one time, senior year, when David had four finals in one day and you had that ridiculous...what was it...French?”
Emma nodded. “French II. Because I needed a language requirement and they wouldn’t take my sports management electives instead.”
“God, your dean was the worst.”
“That’s an incredibly scathing insult, Reese’s.”
“There are children present.”
Emma’s laugh was weak at best and drifting dangerously close to depressing, eyelashes fluttering despite the sounds coming from her kid and the hockey game. “I think we’re starting to deal with some object permanence actually. He’s like...aware that I’m not going to disappear if I move away.”
“He’s a genius, obviously.”
“You and Killian should start some kind of campaign.”
“Don’t actually suggest that around him,” Mary Margaret grinned, and she was already starting a new list. “He’d go on the record or shout it from center ice or something.”
Emma hummed, not quite able to make any other noise when her heart was so busy doing whatever in her chest, but Mary Margaret was absolutely right and Killian would probably call Dorothy and get some kind of special edition of Sports Illustrated printed. And, honestly, she didn’t mean for the sigh to just fall out of her the way it did, but she’d apparently lost complete control of everything and she needed to find Kristoff.
He had to know about the jerseys.
“Hey, hey,” Mary Margaret said quickly, reaching out and tugging the pen Emma forgot she was holding out of her hand. “What’s going on with you? You know you look kind of pale.”
“That’s not really the best way to start this.”
“How much sleep would you say you’ve gotten on average in the last week?”
“I don’t want to tell you that.”
Emma lifted her head, slowly and a little repentantly, which didn’t really make any sense because Mary Margaret was not her mother. She was the mother and she was, approximately, eighty-two percent positive she was messing it up.
Matt wouldn’t stop babbling and crying and Emma’s arms felt like they were going to fall off. It was because she kept having to pick him up. So he didn’t knock over merch for whatever Garden of Dreams event they were planning for.
She genuinely could not remember the name of the event.
“You could come back home with us,” Mary Margaret suggested. She’d never let go of Emma’s hand. “We’ve got that pop-up thing and--”
“--David’s got to work tomorrow, Reese’s. You’ve got to work tomorrow. The kid wakes up, like, several times a night to scream at the moon or something.”
“Did you just suggest your own kid was a werewolf?”
“At this point I really don’t know.”
Mary Margaret scoffed and her smile felt a little placating, but Emma was so tired and so sure she was ruining everything that she almost didn’t care. She wanted to be placated. She wanted this road trip to be over.
She desperately wanted to find a children’s medicine that made sure her kid didn’t suffer in agony so he could, eventually, eat solid foods.
“You also have to work tomorrow,” Mary Margaret pointed out. “Just, you know...if we’re covering all our bases.”
“You’re mixing up sports references.”
“Playing a good shift? Does that even make sense?”
Emma shrugged. “That question is way too in-depth for the amount of consistent sleep I’ve been getting. How important do you think it is to get to REM?”
“Yeah,” Mary Margaret nodded. “So, uh, I’m going to say something, ok? And I want you to bite your actual tongue if you have to so you don’t interrupt me because I know you’re going to try and interrupt me.”
“That’s actually kind of scathing, Reese’s.”
“That’s an interruption.”
Emma mimed zipping her mouth shut, staring at Mary Margaret with something she hoped was as much sarcasm as one expression could contain, but she figured she kind of missed her mark when she had to lean back and move Matt in the swing they’d put him in once the game started.
He would have tried to walk into the TV otherwise, Emma was certain. Object permanence or something. And possibly how much he wanted to see his dad.
She absolutely hated road trips now.
“Alright,” Mary Margaret starts, nodding again like she’s psyching herself up for this particular brand of hope speech. “I know you were off after Matt was born and that was good and, you know, medically necessary, but have you considered...maybe using some of your personal days for stuff like this?”
The silence in the room wasn’t really silent – Matt was still babbling and Emma could make out the dim sounds of the puck hitting the boards in Philadelphia and the commentary in the background. She blinked, licking her lips and she wasn’t exactly comfortable, one of her hands still twisted with Mary Margaret’s, while the other tried to move Matt in some kind of consistent rhythm. The babbling was quickly turning to something that sounded like the tell-tale sounds of a complete and utter meltdown.
Emma briefly considered joining him.
“Thoughts?” Mary Margaret asked.
Emma tilted her head. “That doesn’t count as an interruption?”
“I actually expected the sarcasm completely, so I’m not even turned off by that at all.”
“What are you then?”
“Worried about you and your distinct lack of REM sleep. And whatever horrible, no good, very bad things your mind is making you think because of that lack of REM.”
Eventually, Emma was sure, Mary Margaret would stop being so impossibly good at reading her or knowing her or, possibly, just sharing a few of the same brain wavelengths. She hoped not.
Because those wavelengths made sure Mary Margaret stayed in the office that night – not bothering to ask, just sitting on the ground and tugging Emma’s list out of her hand with a practiced familiarity that defied decades.
“You should take this show on the road,” Emma muttered, working a quiet laugh and knowing smile out of Mary Margaret. “I bet you could make millions.”
“Who would you get to babysit all the time, then?”
“You don’t have to do that.”
Mary Margaret squeezed her hand. “I want to. A whole line of people want to. Several professional hockey players are beating down metaphorical doors to want to.”
“I’m not sure that last sentence made much sense,” Emma laughed, and it was still a little shaky and questionably watery, vision swimming a bit in front of her, but she took a deep breath and that felt like a step in the right direction.
“And I’m not sure you’re qualified to discuss sentence structure.” Emma rolled her eyes. “Honestly though,” Mary Margaret continued. “You don’t have to be some kind of superhero. I know you could be and usually are because, well--”
“--You going to get sappy on me, Reese’s?”
“Yes, don’t interrupt. I know you were worried about all of this and it happened suddenly and without much planning, and that’s not really your game, but…” She took a deep breath, shoulders heaving with the force of it and Emma didn’t think she imagined the slightly glossy look to her eyes. “You are doing an incredible job, Emma,” Mary Margaret said, no hint of anything except absolute and complete honesty in her voice. “I don’t know how you’re doing it.”
“Was that last part a compliment?”
“Of the highest order. Because you’re doing it all. That’s kind of where I'm going with this. I know you’re worried. But the crying is normal and the lack of sleep is normal and you could probably call the pediatrician about the teething thing if it’s freaking you out.”
Emma let out a breath she didn’t realize she was hoarding, only slightly stunned by the mind reading going on in her office. Matt threw something. The game on TV got louder.
“I just…” Emma muttered, twisting her lips when the words got caught in the back of her throat. With the emotion. There was too much emotion. She was a mess.
“I know you do,” Mary Margaret promised. At some point she’d laced her fingers through Emma’s, thumb tapping just above the relatively-new laces sitting on her left wrist again. “Everyone does. And you are. The crying jags aside, that is the happiest and most loved kid in the entire National Hockey League.”
“That’s definitely the marker we were going for.”
Mary Margaret scoffed, shifting closer to Emma so she could wipe away a tear she hadn’t noticed either. “Don’t lie to my face like that, it’s not cool.”
Emma nodded, tugging her lips behind her teeth and trying to remember what any semblance of confidence looked like. Matt quieted for a moment, the sounds turning a bit closer to whimpers and that was, somehow, even worse. It made Emma’s body tense and her spine seemed to audibly snap back into place when she jerked around, eyebrows pulled low as her lungs desperately tried to get oxygen back to her brain.
“I know we’re not really doing that whole pronunciation thing yet, kid,” Emma said, pulling out of Mary Margaret’s and tugging Matt against her chest before she could remember all the reasons the websites told her she shouldn't. “But it’d be really great if we could fine tune what, exactly, has got you freaking out so much. Dad’s going to be home tonight.”
It didn’t work.
The sounds were still there – sinking into Emma’s skin and that same soul that never quite knew what to do with the idea that this was her life. She bobbed on her feet, rocking back and forth and trying to find a comfortable way to hold Matt and work her phone out of her back pocket at the same time.
That didn’t work either.
She was going to scream.
Or fall on the floor and sleep for several days.
Matt squirmed against her, tiny hands gripping her shirt and for a kid who seemed particularly interested with the National Hockey League he had a pretty good right kick, a move he appeared intent on perfecting by landing it in Emma’s liver.
“What if we just walked to Philadelphia?” she asked, directing the question more to Mary Margaret than Matt.
Mary Margaret smiled. “I don’t know if that entirely efficient. They’re already at the second intermission anyway and--”
She didn’t finish the sentence, footsteps coming down the hall and a noise that might have been genuine laughter and not just exhaustion-induced insanity and Matt nearly flew out of Emma’s arms as soon as Ruby rounded the corner of the open doorway.
She was holding takeout bags. So was Henry. She’d brought Henry with her.
“Hey mini-Jones,” Ruby said, hardly breaking stride as she walked towards him. “You causing problems up here? We could hear you as soon as we got off the elevator.”
“Not as soon as we got off the elevator,” Henry objected. “It took us at least a few steps before we heard him. Impressive lungs though.”
Emma groaned. “You guys are all throwing out really horrible compliments.”
“Aw, c’mon,” Mary Margaret sighed. She hadn’t gotten off the ground. “My compliment was good! And genuine!”
“Also,” Ruby added, moving some of the bags so she had a free hand to tug on the back of Matt’s onesie. “She managed to surreptitiously text me when it was becoming more and more obvious you guys were never getting out of here, so not only do I come with a plethora of promises that you’re the best mom this side of the Mississippi, but I’ve also got just a questionable amount of fried food to back up those claims.”
“Do those go hand in hand?” Henry asked. He had to move a few piles of paper on Emma’s desk to find any open space, but there really was a ton of food and he kept smiling and maybe the Rangers would score in the third period.
That was almost optimistic.
Ruby shrugged. “I don’t know and I don't care. Emma’s too tired to be worried about my sentence structure anyway.”
“These are not the compliments I was promised,” Emma said, but she was tired and practically overflowing with sentimental thoughts and deep-rooted parental desires and maybe she’d take tomorrow off.
Merida probably knew what the event was called anyway.
“The compliment is that you’re some kind of super mom who’s really worried about totally normal teething schedules. Also you and Cap need to coordinate your worry a little better because Scarlet said--”
“I’m sorry, are you gossiping about mine and Killian’s parenting with Scarlet?”
Ruby didn’t quite glare, but it was almost like a scowl and Henry did try to turn his laugh into some other kind of noise. Mary Margaret was never going to get off the floor. “Give me a little credit, Em,” Ruby sighed. “Did you see the way Cap skated in Carolina?”
“I watch the games, Ruby.”
“Exactly. So we all know that no one in the Jones household is sleeping and you’re both absurd parents--”
“--In a way that is actually a compliment,” Henry added, flashing a smile when Emma’s eyes darted his direction.
“Again, exactly,” Ruby muttered. “But Cap could barely stay on the ice for more than thirty seconds and then they had the off day and now Arthur's breaking whiteboards in Philly and you have no idea what your event is called.”
Emma blinked. “How do you know that?”
“About the shifts or...because that’s kind of just basic math.”
“That’s not really Emma’s strong suit either,” Mary Margaret muttered, shrugging when Emma gaped at her. “French II and that intro to stats we took sophomore year. Your academic downfall.”
“I passed both of those classes,” Emma said, and Henry wasn’t even trying to mask his laugh anymore.
Emma rolled her eyes, but she didn’t really have a leg to stand on and she needed both of them if she was going to make sure the kid her in arms stayed there. “Is Scarlet worried about Killian’s sleeping habits? Is that what’s happening?”
“Robin too,” Henry said, answering a question that wasn’t entirely directed at him. “He said Killian’s trying to murder mattresses.”
“That’s impressive,” Ruby muttered. Emma didn’t object when she pulled Matt out of her hands, thankful for the lack of weight on her forearms and the no-longer present threat to a variety of internal organs. “The road trips are going to be garbage from here on out, Em,” she continued. “But we’re all still here and Cap’s destroying hotel furniture because he wants to be home that much and you’re way more organized than you honestly have any right to be and Mer said the jerseys were game-worn. Obviously.”
“She didn’t say that second part,” Henry added.
Ruby waved a dismissive hand through the air. “That’s neither here nor there. So, we’ve brought the food, the third period’s about to start. Direct us, o fearless community relations leader. What has to be organized?”
They weren’t quite a well-oiled machine – Matt was far too loud and squirmy for that and Emma’s legs didn’t entirely appreciate when she leapt up with five minutes left in the game, but she had some kind of sixth sense, or so Ruby proclaimed, and she might have actually fist pumped when Killian pulled his stick back.
It wasn’t the best shot in the world. It wasn’t even the best shot he’d taken all season. But it was a shot and there was a bit of power on it and her soul did something absurd again.
Mary Margaret’s breath caught. Loudly.
The Philadelphia defense hadn’t stood a chance, not really, and Killian hadn’t been sleeping much either, even when he was home, not really, but he still moved up the ice with a speed that was as ridiculous as attractive and Emma had clearly lost her mind. She wasn’t supposed to be attracted to an attribute of her husband’s game.
Her mind, however, did not care.
Her mind was moving as quickly as he was, a streak of blue up the ice and it was actually some kind of miracle the Philadelphia defender didn’t trip over his own skates. Robin’s pass slide between a pair of orange jerseys and around a stick that wasn’t entirely on the ice, the puck landing in front of Killian and he didn’t slow down when he pulled back. His hips barely moved, like he wasn’t even trying, and Henry mumbled something that sounded a hell of a lot like did that even go in behind Emma.
And the light went off.
She wasn’t sure what noise she made, but Killian spun around, back colliding with the nearest board in the Wells Fargo Center as his arm wrapped around Robin’s shoulders. They did something stupid, a shake of their heads and smiles obvious as the camera zoomed in and--
“Oh, they planned that,” Emma muttered, Ruby’s quiet hum of confusion barely audible when Matt started to make noise again. “They planned that,” she repeated. “The whole play. Did you see that? Robin didn’t even look up. He knew Killian was going to be there.”
Emma turned back towards Henry, the smile on his face turning a little smug and a little knowing. “What do you know?”
“That Robin was annoyed Killian was trying to pummel hotel mattresses into submission and demanded they discuss some kind of breakout on the power play if they were both going to get negative amounts of sleep.”
“That last one verbatim?” He nodded. “It wasn’t a power play though.”
“Guess Killian’s just that fast.”
“Maybe he could walk back here,” Mary Margaret mumbled, and Matt was logging some pretty good mileage as he moved from person to person in an office filled with now-organized merch.
“I wouldn’t put it past him, actually.”
Emma hummed or laughed or dissolved into those emotions that had been tugging at the back of her mind for the majority of the night, and she was almost confident they’d be able to get out of the Garden without anymore issues or concerns regarding her ability to parent, but that lasted less than a full second and the scream that came a few feet away echoed in between her ears.
That wasn’t biologically possible either.
“Oh my God,” she sighed, visibly deflating at Mary Margaret’s wide eyes and Ruby’s not-so-quiet gasp. Emma was going to comp the car she called. She was going to call out the next day. “What is happening here?”
She reached forward, pulling Matt back and wincing at several well-placed kicks. “What are we doing, kid? Did you not just see Dad score? That was a good goal! We’re probably going to win now. Aren’t we cool with winning?”
“Ma ma ma ma ma maaaaaaaaa.”
The word got less and less pronounced the more Matt kept repeating it, twisting and turning and yanking on the ends of Emma’s hair and the front of her shirt. His legs flailed and his head dropped back and she was absolutely going to have the most impressive forearm muscles of anyone on the entire island of Manhattan.
“You know, I thought we were almost drifting close to actually falling asleep,” Ruby mused, trying without much success to rest her hand on Matt’s back. “Wishful thinking, I guess.”
“Welcome to my world,” Emma mumbled. She shifted her weight between her feet, trying to work back towards the swing and the teething ring that was probably just lukewarm plastic at this point and they’d been doing so well. The road trip was going to end on a high note and she was going to be some kind of mother of the year with a husband whose speed on ice should probably get studied at some point.
That was such a weird sentence.
She was so goddamn tired.
And she didn’t know what to do next.
Emma muttered a string of increasingly absurd nonsense, trying to smile and not burst into tears, but that was proving more and more difficult and she was dimly aware of laughter coming from the TV.
“Oh shit,” Henry whispered, clicking his teeth when Mary Margaret made some kind of reproachful noise. “No, no, no, just...ok, don’t tell Gina I said that, but, listen, Emma, turn around. Don’t let Mattie look at the TV.”
That was not the string of words she expected. At all.
“Where’s your remote?”
Henry growled, his whole head rolling in frustration, and that wasn’t right either. There were takeout containers everywhere. One of them crunched under his feet when he moved, darting towards the TV with his hand already out and Emma was worried he was going to punch through the actual screen.
And that was when she saw it.
“What the hell is that thing?” Emma demanded, gesturing wildly towards the ice in Philadelphia and the furry, orange monstrosity shooting t-shirts out of an air-powered gun. “Oh my God, why are his eyes moving like that?”
She expected Ruby to laugh even less than she expected Henry to swear. Maybe she’d just walk home. Screw the car. “Gritty?” Ruby asked, and Emma could not come up with a single word to respond to that.
The stupid thing was trying to dance on the ice. Matt cried louder.
“What is a Gritty?” Emma shouted, Henry still making ridiculous noises because her TV was state of the art or something and there were no buttons on the actual thing. “Ok, ok, Mattie, Mattie, we’ve got to breathe kid, the absolutely terrifying monster is not going to come out of the TV and attack us.”
“Should we be referring to him as a monster?” Mary Margaret asked. She grabbed the jersey on top of the closest pile, throwing it over the TV screen and it didn’t really cover everything, but it was at least a start and Emma was kind of terrified of Gritty.
Whatever that actually was.
“He’s a mascot,” Ruby reasoned. “I mean...we’ve all seen mascots before, right?”
Emma shook her head, disbelief in her gaze. “We don’t have a mascot. Oh my God, Reese’s, do you think he was crying about this asshole the whole game?”
“I think that seems entirely possible,” Mary Margaret said, a hint of a smile tugging at her mouth.
“This is not funny!”
“It’s a little funny,” Henry admitted. He was still trying to find the remote, but the game was almost over and Emma figured even terrifying, demon mascots had to get off the ice when there was a faceoff to take. “How have you never seen Gritty before, he was like...a cultural phenomenon.”
“Can we please stop referring to him by his name? That is a man in a suit. An absolutely terrifying, shouldn’t exist suit.”
“He’s been around for months, Em,” Ruby said. “All season. Oh.”
“Oh. Oh, what?”
“And you were worried you weren’t super Mom.”
Emma didn’t respond immediately, but she tilted her head and tried not to covet that title too much. She wondered how quickly the entire New York Rangers could get out of Philadelphia. “Where are you going with this?”
“They announced the mascot right before the start of the regular season,” Ruby grinned. “Henry’s right. He was all over the news and late night and social media because, you know--”
“It’s the eyes, I think. If he didn’t have googly eyes, it wouldn’t be an issue.”
“What does this have to do with my parenting skills?”
“More like you becoming a parent,” Mary Margaret corrected. “I think you were a little preoccupied with, you know, giving birth to be worried about Philadelphia mascots that never should have existed.”
“Wow, that’s harsh, M’s,” Henry muttered, still kind of laughing and he grinned when Emma’s head snapped his direction. “But also true.”
“See,” Ruby crowed. “You haven’t done anything wrong, Em. If anything, you’re saving mini-Jones’ mental stability from the get because you made sure he wasn’t aware of a world where Gritty existed. And you totally went into complete Mom mode as soon as Henry said.”
Emma wasn’t sure she was actually capable of blushing at this point – her capillaries or whatever were probably too exhausted, but she had never been very good at science either and Matt had finally stopped crying.
Mary Margaret’s eyes were distinctly glossy again.
“It’s ok,” Emma whispered, tightening her hold on Matt slightly and he didn’t squirm at all. He might have burrowed further into her chest. “You’re ok, I promise.”
And she didn’t walk back uptown, both Mary Margaret and Ruby scandalized at even the notion. She sat in the back of a town car instead, a sleeping baby next to her, a quiet that, somehow, made it easier to breathe. Mary Margaret helped her carry everything upstairs.
Emma didn’t plan on falling asleep, but her eyes had other ideas and she didn’t hear the lock click back in place, startling on the couch when she felt a hand on her shoulder.
He grinned at her.
“Hey,” Killian muttered, crouching in front of her and brushing the hair away from her eyes. “You can’t possibly be comfortable.”
“I don’t know that I could actually move, honestly.”
“I’m not sure that’s much better.”
“It was an experiment.”
“Yeah, I figured,” Emma said, and she appreciated whatever his eyebrows did at that. “Please, Locksley didn’t even lift his head up. Did you have to come up with some kind of signal, or how did it work, exactly?”
“Do the years of experience not count?” Emma made a contrary noise, twisting despite the protests from several dozen muscles and Killian, tugging lightly on the loose tie still around his neck. His grin got bigger. “We counted. Scarlet was supposed to pass out of the zone and I had six seconds to get up the ice. Locksley had four to get to the other faceoff circle.”
“I wasn’t aware Scarlet was part of the plan.”
Killian hummed, a quick brush of lips over her forehead and it was an impressive exercise in balance. “We had some time to kill.”
“So I heard.”
“Maybe you’re the genius.”
“Ah, that just means it’s genetic,” Killian said. His fingers clearly had minds of their own, drifting over Emma’s neck and her shoulder and the bit of skin where her shirt had twisted underneath her. “You didn’t have to try and wait up for me, love.”
“Try being the operative word.”
“I appreciate the effort.”
“You’ve got to sleep more on the road.”
“You’ve got to sleep more all the time.”
She clicked her tongue, scrunching her nose and Killian’s capillaries clearly weren’t too exhausted to blush – particularly on the tips of his ears. “Ruby or Reese’s?”
“Both. And David. They’re worried about you.”
“It was just a shitty road trip,” Emma whispered, not trusting herself to do anymore. Plus the sleeping kid a few feet away. Especially the sleeping kid a few feet away. “Did you hear about the mascot incident?”
Killian blinked. And blinked again. “What?”
“There is apparently some kind of actual monster masquerading as a mascot in Philadelphia and our kid is fundamentally terrified. Screamed every single time they showed him on the broadcast. Apparently.”
“I didn’t realize until the third period.”
Emma’s nose was going to get stuck that way. Her sigh sounded impossibly pathetic when it fell out of her, throat tightening against the wad of everything stuck in the back of it and Killian really could not have been comfortable. He didn’t move. “We can’t fix everything, Swan,” he said softly, fingers still tracing absent minded patterns on any bit of skin he could find. “I don’t think there’s a clause for mascots anywhere.”
“And you’ve read enough websites. You’d totally have found it.”
“So would you, love.”
“I’m so tired.”
It wasn’t an admission, not really. Everyone knew. Strangers on the street knew. Gritty probably knew. God, she hoped Gritty didn’t know. But it kind of felt like one anyway, and she really could not cope with the realization that it only took Killian six seconds to get up an entire NHL-size hockey rink.
And she hadn’t really considered the fact that he hadn’t kissed her yet, but the move still caught Emma by surprise, quick and somewhere dangerously close to bruising and they were both slightly codependant disasters who just wanted to give their kid the world – particularly one without horrifying and badly named mascots.
“So we should probably get you off the couch,” Killian said, standing back up and Emma didn’t take his hand so much as she threw her palm against his. He laughed under his breath. “Move the kid? Don’t move the kid?”
“Move the kid,” she groaned. “He’s bound to wake up soon anyway, I think he’s preprogrammed to know when you get home.”
Killian’s ears got redder. And that was worse than recorded speed on the ice.
He brushed his lips over her cheek, moving across the living room and Matt didn’t wake up immediately, but he twisted and made a few pointed noises, Killian only wincing slightly when he bobbed on his feet to try and quiet him. “The workout after the workout,” Emma muttered, a hand on his shoulder and body against his back, and she swore she heard him smile.
“Ah, this is better.”
“A first line, actually. That’s got a very impressive plus-minus rating in the last few games.”
“Are we acknowledging that stat?”
“When it benefits me.”
Emma laughed, pressing her face into the fabric underneath her cheek and if she was going to keep making sweeping assumptions regarding Killian, then she was positive she felt some of his muscles loosen underneath her. “Parents of the year,” she mumbled.
“I bet we could organize some charity event to practice slapshots at Gritty’s face.”
“In defense of a kid, Swan.”
“Yeah, that’s true,” Emma agreed, and there were feeding schedules and equipment to move, but sleep was almost there and it was always easier when she and Killian were in the same bed. “C’mon, if we don’t move, I’m going to fall on top of you.”
“Not the worst thing in the world.”
“That was another line.”
“Yeah, it was,” Killian said, an easy nod and smile and they both slept through their alarms the next morning.
And Gritty never really went away, a lesson Emma wasn’t entirely sure she appreciated, but was sure the world thought was important – something about confronting fears and our own childhood worries and the ability to overcome both. The mascot was still there, orange with far too much fur and those goddamn googly eyes, terrifying Matthew Jones for the majority of his childhood and road trips he and his, eventual, younger sister got to go on.
The mascot was still there, shooting t-shirts into a screaming crowd at Wells Fargo, nearly two decades later and Emma hadn’t considered the implications of that when she put on a different jersey with the same name and number as it always was. At least she hadn’t until Henry chuckled lightly next to her, elbowing something that might have been her spleen to get her attention.
“Did you tell Rol?” she asked, glancing towards the grown man with his own kids who was doing a pretty good job of being super dad too. “Mattie’ll be mad if Rol’s got something else to trash talk tonight.”
Henry shook his head. “Who do you think I am, Emma?”
“Someone who knows about a professional hockey player’s deep-rooted mascot fears.”
“You’re making assumptions. And, no, I never told Rol. It’s Matt’s first game in Philadelphia. I’m excited for him. I’m not a jerk.”
“How do you know there was a but?”
Emma pulled her eyes away from the ice, nerves churning and pulse beating loudly in her veins and she’d been far too concerned about Matt playing in Philadelphia for the first time and playing against Roland, but Henry just smiled at her. The kid standing at his feet tugged on his jersey. A Locksley jersey. Always now.
“But,” Henry echoed. “We did discuss some quick exit options out of the arena if he’s suddenly attacked by Gritty.”
Her laugh jumped out of her, entirely impossible and far too loud to be acceptable and Emma didn’t think before flinging her arms around Henry and hugging him as tightly as she could. He hugged her back.
“I doubt the mascot will attack,” Henry muttered. “But now, at least, we’re prepared.”
The mascot didn’t come back onto the ice in the first period, but Matthew Jones, making his Philadelphia debut against the guy who helped him practice the wristshot he was quickly becoming known for, made it up the ice in seven seconds flat, the puck on his stick and the light going off almost as soon as he pulled back to shoot.
Emma jumped and Henry jumped and Killian might have hit the window of the suite, pride practically radiating off him. “We’ll get that time down, Swan,” he promised. “Five by the end of the regular season.”
“Parents of the year,” Mary Margaret said, a twenty painted on both of her cheeks that were quickly getting smuged by the tears in her eyes. “With some headlines to prove it.”
Emma didn’t answer – absolutely could not answer while her kid was still celebrating – but she nodded and Killian tugged her against his side, a kiss to her temple and the belief that they’d done something good.