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“Where are the cupcakes?”

“What?”

“The cupcakes,” Emma shouts, drawing a few curious stares because they’re at some park by the water with some sort of wooden castle that she’s pretty certain is several different hazards, and she has no idea where the goddamn cupcakes are. “There are supposed to be cupcakes here,” she continues, pointing at the empty spot on one of the half a dozen picnic tables behind her. Her voice still isn’t quite even.

And Mary Margaret looks a little scared of her.

That’s fair.

But it’s been a ridiculous week and a half and moving just before Henry’s eighth birthday in the middle of the school year suddenly seems like the worst idea Emma has ever had – even if Storybrooke is the perfect place to raise a kid and the Sheriff gig inexplicably pays more than she was ever going to make doing anything in Boston and the apartment they found is only a few streets away from Mary Margaret and David and the onion rings at Granny’s are…

It doesn’t matter.

The only thing that matters is finding the goddamn cupcakes.

“What kind of cupcakes are we talking here?” Mary Margaret asks lightly, and Emma has to bite her tongue to stop herself from sighing because she’s absolutely freaked out her best friend.

She hopes none of the kids break anything on that wooden monstrosity.

She hopes the kids show up.

God.

“Birthday cupcakes,” Emma answers, but it kind of sounds like a question, and Mary Margaret’s eyebrows will not stop moving. “Because this is a birthday party.”

“Ok, see, I know you’re stressed out, but you don’t have to--”

“--I know, I know, M’s, I’m sorry. I just...cupcakes. Henry wanted cupcakes because cutting a cake was going to take too long and Ruby promised me there was some kind of incredible bakery on some street with a kitschy name.”

Mary Margaret’s eyebrows stop moving long enough for her to narrow her eyes slightly in thought, and she laughs under her breath when she remembers. “Oh, oh, Spoonful of Sugar,” she says, as if it’s the most obvious name for a bakery in the world.

This town is ridiculous.

If every kid in Henry’s class doesn’t show up, Emma might go and arrest all of their parents.

That seems like an abuse of power.

David would probably help her.

He got her the job, so she figures it’s part of the bylaws of fellow law enforcement and friendship. She’s sure there’s a decree somewhere. Probably in the Storybrooke Town Hall. This seems like the kind of place with friendship decrees on file.

“Is this bakery run by Mary Poppins?” Emma asks, doing her best to keep the vitriol out of her voice, but Ruby promised and this party is going to suck without cupcakes. They can’t just eat BBQ all day, even if David is wearing some absurd apron with an even more absurd saying on it, and Emma kind of hates hot dogs.

Maybe she’s the one who wants the cupcakes.

“See, you think that’s funny,” Mary Margaret says. “But it’s actually run by a woman named Dorothy who is incredibly nice and really does make fantastic cupcakes.”

“Yuh huh.”

“That reeked of judgment.”

Emma shakes her head. “No judgment. Acknowledgement. How long have Ruby and Dorothy been dating, then? And seriously what’s the name of the street this place is on? I can’t remember, but I know it was ridiculous.”

Mary Margaret gapes at her, which shouldn’t make Emma feel better, but it kind of does and she clearly doesn’t belong in a place like Storybrooke.

She’s far too bitter.

“That’s not an answer, M’s,” Emma points out.

“How did you figure that out?”

“Figure what out? I really can’t remember the street name. Was it something about the water? This seems like the kind of place that would have streets named like...Surf Ave.”

“This is not Coney Island.”

“Kids would probably come to a party at Coney Island.”

Mary Margaret tilts her head, and it’s far too knowing and only slightly judgmental, but Emma supposes that comes from years of friendship and experience, and really they both just want Henry to have the best birthday an eight-year-old could possibly have.

“Coney Island is creepy now, Em,” David says, appearing out of seemingly nowhere with a tray of untoasted hamburger buns. “You can’t bring kids there. And it’s way too expensive. This is why New York is the worst.”

“Yeah, tell that to my kid,” she sighs. Coney Island really is creepy though. And the parking’s a nightmare. The Cyclone always kind of freaked her out anyway.

Mary Margaret’s judgmental expression turns into something that feels a hell of a lot like pity, and there are still no cupcakes in sight. Emma is going to kill Ruby. “He understands,” Mary Margaret promises, and she might as well get that tattooed on her forehead at this point. “And the kids will show up. Who can resist a pirate-themed birthday party?”

“Did you tell kids to show up, M’s?”

“What? No!”

She does a fairly good job of looking properly affronted and slightly offended, but she’s still Mary Margaret and neither one of those emotions really stick on her face, particularly when David is nodding surreptitiously behind her.

Emma’s laugh bubbles out of her, loud and honest and for the first time since she parked her bug outside the apartment that is, actually, pretty fantastic, she feels some of the tension in her muscles uncoil.

“That’s really nice, M’s,” Emma mutters. “I mean, a direct abuse of third-grade power, but also really nice.”

Mary Margaret clicks her tongue, but she’s given up on trying to look anything except protective of Emma and Henry’s collective happiness. “Whatever,” she grumbles. “David said he was going to find dirt on all of their parents if the kids didn’t come, so comparatively...”

“Turncoat,” David accuses, and they’re going to get kicked out of this park before the party is even scheduled to start.

That will probably make the questionable number of balloons taped to the wooden castle thing awkward. They must have bought out an entire party supply store.

Mary Margaret shrugs. “I’m just making sure we all know where we stand,” she says. “And that Regina said something about a town-wide decree so--”

“--Wait, wait, Regina?” Emma interrupts, and she’s met with two pairs of matching wide-eyed stares. “As in your sister?”

“Step-sister,” Mary Margaret corrects. “And the mayor of this town. She’s the one who made sure we could get the park. Did you not meet her husband? He’s been hanging balloons for hours on the castle.”

“He bought the balloons,” David chips in, and Emma’s momentarily concerned about the distinct lack of oxygen on the entire planet.

Her lungs feel like they’re on fire.

Or that might just be the weight of her surprise.

“Your face is going to get stuck that way, Em,” David grins. He reaches forward to tap his finger on the side of her jaw, and she snaps it shut, the sound echoing in her ears and, possibly, her soul, and this town is impossible.

“People are going to show,” Mary Margaret promises, and Emma can’t really find it in her to doubt the words. “And Henry is going to be happy here. Even without the cupcakes.”

“Hey!”

Emma glances up to find Ruby striding towards them, several bags in her hands and a pinch between her eyebrows, and there’s suddenly a surplus of oxygen around them because she’s laughing again.

“What the hell are you guys talking about?” Ruby demands. “Did you think I was going to flake on cupcake duty?”

“Ruby, the kids,” Mary Margaret chastises, but it’s as if she didn’t even speak and Emma is far too busy being hysterical to reprimand. David sounds like he’s cackling.

“Was that also, somehow, a baking pun?” Emma asks. “Did your girlfriend teach you that? And can you please tell me what the name of the street this place is on is? It’s driving me nuts.”

David’s laugh gets louder.

“That was a baking pun,” Ruby points out, rolling her eyes when Emma hums in confusion. “God, the nuts thing. That’s...you put nuts in baked goods.”

“Are there nuts in these?” Mary Margaret asks sharply. “Because Grace is super allergic to nuts. And pirates don’t like nuts. Right?”

“I think pirates had to like nuts,” David reasons. “Right? Dry goods. Protein.”

“Are you just saying words?” Ruby demands. “And, no, there are no nuts. I remembered what Henry asked for, God, can you guys give me some credit please?”

“Well, you’re very late,” Emma shrugs. “Was that because of the inevitable flirting?”

Ruby actually blushes, which may be the first time that has ever happened in the history of several different universes. The party is almost worth it. “How did you figure that out?” Ruby asks. “Did M’s tell you?”

Emma shakes her head, ignoring Mary Margaret’s mumbled that’s rude, and grabs one of the bags out of Ruby’s hands. “Nah,” she says. “Context clues. I’m very good at my job.”

“I’m sure the people of Storybrooke feel safer already.”

“See, you tease, but you almost ruined an entire pirate-themed party by showing up late and now we’ve apparently got a nut allergy to worry about and nut-type facts to confirm and--”

“--We don’t have to confirm them,” David mumbles. ‘Pirates definitely ate like...almonds.”

Ruby nearly falls over. Emma bites her lip to stop herself from laughing louder than is socially acceptable, but the guy, whose name might be Robin if memory serves, is still hanging balloons on the castle and he laughs loud enough for all of them combined.

“Ask Jones when he gets here,” he shouts, and Mary Margaret’s entire face goes alarmingly pale. Ruby’s lips all but disappear.

Emma lifts her eyebrows.. “What does that mean?”

The three people around her – her three best friends and the reason she and Henry packed up their few belongings and moved their entire lives to this picture-perfect town where strangers just help other people – freeze, eyes wide and mouths parted slightly and Emma doesn’t need a single clue to know that something is going on.

“What did you guys do?” she asks, but there’s a hint of a threat in her voice, and Ruby’s lips quirk slightly.

“Nothing,” Mary Margaret answers.

“That’s an almost insulting lie.”

“There is no lie. It’s fine.”

“Yuh huh.”

“Didn’t we do this already? I feel like we’re going in circles.”

Emma nods, licking her lips and rocking on her heels, and Mary Margaret’s eyes dart towards Ruby. “That’s because you three are even worse than Henry at pretending like something isn’t going on. I’d be insulted if I didn’t have a party to worry about and parents to possibly threaten.”

“Wait, what?” Ruby balks, but David makes a triumphant noise and his fist pump would have been abused even if he still weren’t wearing that ridiculous apron.

“I knew it,” he crows. “I knew you were thinking the same thing, too! You know, that Jefferson guy, the one with the allergy kid. He’s got like some shady thing going on with card tricks. If Henry ever has some kind of magic phase, I bet we can get him to play it.”

Emma blinks, but there’s more laughter coming from the castle. “Play it,” she echoes, and David nods enthusiastically. “What are you, some kind of hot-shot agent masquerading as law enforcement at this point?”

“Nah, but I want Henry to be happy.”

And just like that, Emma’s worries disappear or fall into the ocean nearby, washed away by surf and sunshine and spring in Storybrooke is some kind of idyllic setting – now with pirate-themed cupcakes for a pirate-themed birthday party because Henry is absolutely going through a very serious pirate phase.

“That’s stupid nice,” Emma mumbles, and it’s not exactly mature and not exactly right, because it’s a hell of a lot more than that, but it’s been a crazy week and a half and she’s not sure her neurons are firing exactly the way they’re supposed to.

“And there are no nuts in these cupcakes,” Ruby adds. “So, uh, let’s have a party, huh?”

Emma’s not sure what kind of marker an eight-year-old birthday party is supposed to reach, but she’s fairly certain, a few hours later, that they’ve surpassed it by several leaps and bounds.

The balloons on the castle don’t fly away and the no one gets hurt on the castle and David’s actually pretty good on the BBQ. It’s a success. The kids show up, and the parents are consistently nice and Emma almost forgets that her friends are absolutely not telling her something until it’s time to eat the goddamn cupcakes and two dozen eight-year-olds let out a collective noise that sounds like several bombs going off.

And Emma spins on the spot to find herself face to face with a pirate.

A goddamn, real-life, honest to God pirate.

Her jaw drops open, breath rushing out of her in a wholly undignified huff that only seems to amuse the pirate in front of her, and she has to blink or she’s certain her eyes are actually going to fall out of her head.

He grins at her, a flash of a smirk and far too blue eyes, and he’s got one of his hands resting on the hilt of a sword Emma can only hope is a very convincing replica. “Hello, darling,” he drawls, and she’s just resigned herself to letting her eyes fall out her head at this point, because she can’t blink. Maybe if her eyes just, like, land on this guys boots he’ll stop staring at her like that.

She can’t seem to settle on anything – she’s pretty positive he’s wearing eyeliner and it’s honestly unfair because he might be better at it than Emma is, and the jacket he’s got on must weight several tons, but he’s standing as if it’s a sheet of paper, and still smiling and she’s going to do permanent damage to her mouth if she keeps breathing out of it.

“Still with me, love?” he asks, and that seems to wake Emma up, shaking her head and inhaling quickly. “Wouldn’t want to have to save the fair damsel this early in the day.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

The guy shrugs, which just draws her attention back to the jacket and Emma’s breath catches when she notices his left hand – there’s a hook there. And the eight-year-olds are all screaming about Pan and Neverland and the Jolly Roger and something about Jack Sparrow, but the guy in front of her just keep staring at Emma like she’s about to offer him several ounces of pixie dust.

Or however the song went.

This place cannot be real.

“You’re Captain Hook,” Emma says, but it sounds like an accusation. His grin gets wider.

“At your service.”

“Are you kidding me?” she asks, and she’s not really sure who she’s asking. Emma jerks her head around, staring at an apologetic looking Mary Margaret and a hysterical Ruby, and David is already waving his hands through the air like that’s an explanation for whatever the hell is going on.

They’ve got to hand out the cupcakes.

“Mom,” Henry yells, slamming into her side. He gapes at the pirate in front of them, still smirking – although it’s a bit softer now that he’s staring at the kid and Emma really hopes that sword is a fake. She doesn’t know enough about sword permits in Maine to arrest someone on a hunch.

And her kid is going through a pirate phase.

There’s a man dressed like a pirate at her kid’s birthday party.

“Mom,” Henry repeats, like she didn’t hear him before and isn’t just having several different mental breakdowns at once. “Can uh...can the pirate come over here? It’s uh…” He trails off, a bit star struck and a bit nervous, and Emma’s heart lurches in her chest when Captain Hook crouches in front of her kid, resting a hand on his shoulder and smiling with a sincerity that no pirate should ever have.

She’s clearly lost her mind.

“Of course, lad,” Captain Hook says, and Henry looks overjoyed. “That’s why I’m here.”

Henry beams, and Emma has, at some point, lost the power of speech, staring slack jawed at the man when he grins at her over her shoulder. “At your leave, ma’am,” he says, which, really, is just stupid, but he knows it works and Emma knows it works and she nods slowly before he leaves in a swish of leather and the sun shining off his sword

She really has no idea what happens after that.

It’s a whirlwind of sugar and presents and goddamn Captain Hook, and David tries to explain what the hell is going on no less than twenty-seven times.

“Is this the mythical Jones?” Emma asks, finally, turning on David with another cupcake in his hand and she’s got a very strong suspicion he’s stress-eating baked goods.

No one ever answered her street name question.

It’s really something about water – she’s positive.

“He’s not mythical,” David mutters. “God, don’t tell him that. I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“I wasn’t really planning on talking to him again, so…”

“No?”

“No,” Emma says, shaking her head for good measure. It’s as much of a lie as the one she was told before though, because her eyes keep flitting back to Captain Hook or Jones or whatever his name is, and he’s started giving sword fighting instructions to a group of sugar-high third-graders. “Why is he here, though?”

David’s face shifts, expression turning incredulous, and Emma rolls her eyes before he can tell Mary Margaret. “He lives here,” David answers, holding his hands up when Emma opens her mouth to cut in. “Don’t interrupt. He lives here. He’s friends with us. I just…”

“You just?”

“I didn’t think he’d actually show up.”

Emma has, at least, seventy-two thousand questions, but the party is winding down and she’s got to put Henry’s presents in the back of her car and Mary Margaret must have a truly threatening side she rarely shows because there are lot of kids there.

Or maybe Henry is as great as Emma is certain he is.

It’s probably the second one. It’s definitely the second one.

She’s glad they’re in Storybrooke.

“Thanks for cooking, Sheriff,” Emma says instead, squeezing David’s shoulder, and she almost expects the hug he pulls her into. It’s warm and comforting and his hand on the back of her head is so normal, she actually closes her eyes and lets the happiness of the entire day sink into her soul or something equally absurd.

“Of course, Em,” David mutters. It sounds like a promise. “You want some help with the present jigsaw?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

It takes some time – and Ruby’s pointed suggestions once she realizes what’s going on – but they finally get all the presents in Emma’s trunk and a few more in her backseat because, apparently, the denizens of Storybrooke are the world’s most generous people on birthdays. And Emma actually introduces herself to Robin and thanks Regina for her help with the park and, although she’s loathe to admit, Jefferson does kind of look like a magician.

“I told you,” David hisses, as she tries to swallow down her laughter and thank Grace for coming. He stops talking when Ruby kicks him in the ankles.

Henry’s half asleep by the time all the other kids are gone, head lolling on Mary Margaret’s shoulder, but there are still balloons on the castle and leftover food to be picked up and they ordered way too many cupcakes.

Emma never got to eat a cupcake.

“You guys mind letting him hang out for awhile?” Emma asks. “I’ve got to keep cleaning up, and I don’t want him to just fall asleep on a park bench or something.”

Mary Margaret’s nodding before she can even finish getting the reason out. “Of course,” she says. “You sure you don’t want us to stay and help though? David could stay. Ruby could stay. I could stay.”

“None of these things end with Henry actually sleeping somewhere that isn’t a park bench.”

“Ah, yeah, that might be true.”

“Definitely,” Emma grins, brushing the hair out of her kid’s eyes, and her heart does that thumping in her chest thing again. “You have fun today, kid?”

Henry hums sleepily, eyelids fluttering. “The pirate was really cool. Did you know there were pirates around here?”

“Here? In Storybrooke?”

“Mom…”

“Sorry, sorry, kid. Tell me the story.”

“Hook said there was a guy named Black Bart Robert and he kidnapped a writer a long time ago and he told him all about pirating and stealing and pillaging and the guy was from Boston and now Hook sails his ships there sometimes.”

Emma narrows her eyes, not entirely sure she’s keeping up with the story, but Henry’s half asleep and Regina was nice enough about getting the park, but she was also very particular about cleaning it up. “Alright kid,” Emma says, brushing a kiss over Henry’s forehead. “We’ll talk about the pirates and the stories more later, ok?”

He makes a noise in the back of his throat that Emma recognizes as the first few signs of imminent sleep, stumbling back towards David’s side, and he doesn’t walk to the car so much as he’s dragged to it.

“You sure you don’t want some help?” Mary Margaret asks again.

“Nah,” Emma objects. “It’s only a few things and then I can drop the presents off at home so I don’t have to worry about that while trying to get Henry to bed. I shouldn’t be that long.”

Mary Margaret nods, the car already running and Henry’s probably already snoring in the backseat. And, really, it should have been easy. It was easy, Emma humming under her breath and trying to figure out what she’s going to do with all these excess baked good when she hears footsteps and she nearly throws a cupcake at his face.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” he yells. “Stand down. Or disarm. Whatever the technical term should be.”

Emma scoffs, but she doesn’t lower her arm and Captain Hook doesn’t look quite as self-assured when he’s being threatened with buttercream frosting. “What the hell are you doing here?” she demands. “Why...where were you even? Were you just lurking in the bushes?”

“Talking to Locksley and Regina. There were no bushes involved.”

“Oh.”

She wishes she came up with a more profound response, but his eyes really are distractingly blue and that coat is absurd and her heart appears to be trying to set some kind of record for beats per second or slightly quickened breath.

Emma’s breathing very quickly.

“It wasn’t my intention to absolutely terrify you,” Hook says, and she should probably stop referring to him as that in her head. “I just want to apologize.”

Emma doesn’t expect that. She has no idea what she expect, mostly because she’s half positive she’s got frosting under her nails now, but she certainly did not expect Captain Hook to apologize for crashing her kid’s birthday party.

“Can you put the cupcake down?” he asks. “This coat is a rental and I really don’t want to have to pay extra dry cleaning fees.”

Emma nods slowly, setting the cupcake down on the table behind her and she’s only slightly hopeful that there is, in fact, a table behind her. Hook smiles. “I have no idea what the hell is going on,” she admits. “My kid was calling you Hook.”

“Yeah, well, that was kind of part of the deal.”

“None of those words make sense in that order.”

He chuckles, running a hand through his hair and tugging lightly on the piece that curls just behind his right ear. Emma wishes she hadn’t noticed that. She’ll probably think about that for a very long time. “I realize that,” Hook says. “This is...well it’s ridiculous, but you deserve an explanation. Do you...do you want to sit?”

“You’re dressed like a pirate. Like Captain Hook.”

“Yes.”

“And there’s a reason for that?”

“A vaguely convoluted one, but one I also hope you’ll find slightly entertaining and possibly a little endearing.”

“Aiming real high, huh?”

Hook hums, a sound that is equal parts nervous and kind of attractive, and Emma really resents that one piece of hair behind his ear. “Something like that,” he mumbles, and of course he sits on a bench like that, swinging one leg over the side until he’s straddling the goddamn thing.

Emma’s going to spend several hours looking up sword permits in the state of Maine and then she’s going to arrest Captain Hook.

Just because she can.

“You have a name?” she asks. “Like an actual one? Not...Captain Hook.”

“Captain Hook was his name. James, if you want to get technical.”

“I really don’t.”

He narrows his eyes, like he’s analyzing Emma or waiting for her to arm herself with another cupcake. “Killian,” he answers, and maybe her heart just explodes or something. It’s an even more disgusting thought than that one about eyeballs from before. “My name is Killian Jones.”

“Emma Swan,” she says, sticking her hand out in front of her and she’s never actually sat down. There’s frosting on her finger.

“Yeah, I know that, actually.”

“You’re not doing yourself any favors here, you realize that?”

Killian nods, twisting to grab a handful of pirate-themed napkins. He flips his wrist, offering Emma the lot, and his fingers are warm when they brush over hers. “Yeah, I know that too,” he says, the smile still on his face, but his voice isn’t quite as certain and there’s not as much of that pirate charm anymore.

Emma assumes most pirates were, at some point, charming.

“So you’re some kind of very dedicated stalker, then?” she asks, finally sitting down. She pulls both her feet onto the bench, resting her chin on her knees and Killian’s eyes flash at the move, which, really, wasn’t the point, but she hasn’t flirted in awhile and she’s a little charmed by the whole thing.

At this point she’s certain her mind never even left New York.

“That actually almost makes this sound more responsible than it is,” Killian mutters. The sound Emma makes in response hurts her throat. “How well do you know Storybrooke?”

“Not well enough apparently if there are so many stalkers roaming the streets.”

“That’s not what is happening here.”

“Now seems like a real good time to explain it then,” Emma suggests. “Otherwise I won’t just stain your jacket, I’ll cut it up with your stupid sword.”

Killian’s head snaps up, smile tugging at the ends of his mouth, and flirting is kind of fun. If that’s what this is. Emma’s, like, ninety-two percent positive, but, again, this guy is dressed like a pirate and her internal organs all appear to be shutting down and she really wants to eat a cupcake. So her judgment is clearly clouded.

“I don’t think the sword is nearly sharp enough for that,” he says. “It’s a ridiculously heavy coat. Way too much leather.”

“You are really bad at staying on point, aren’t you?”

The tips of his ears go read, tongue pressed into the corner of his mouth, and Emma needs to stop paying so much attention to his mouth. “I’m trying to save face, that’s why,” he grins. “Ok, this all starts about...when did you move here?”

“Man, you’re a garbage stalker. That seems like the most important fact.”

“I’m not stalking you. I’m really trying to explain this whole ridiculous plan.” Emma’s mind latches on to that last word, and she’s got more questions, but she waves, what she hopes, is a dismissive hand through the air, and Killian grins. “Have you been to Granny’s yet?”

“Obviously.”

“That was a fair question.”

“The story, Jones!’

His grin widens, and it’s stupid because it’s so goddamn attractive. “Of course, Swan, of course,” he mutters. That’s even more attractive. “Well, if you’ve been to Granny’s then you know that there’s a very old, very well-used dart board in the back corner and that, from time to time, there have been known to be competitions.”

“With the dart board?”

“And several grown men.”

“I’m assuming that includes you.”

“It does, in fact,” Killian nods. “And David. And Locksley. Scarlet sometimes too, but I don’t...have you met him?”

“I don’t think so.”

“You’d remember if you did, but he and Belle have been swamped with the renovation and--”

“--Literally the worst story teller in the world,” Emma cuts in, hardly blinking in the face of Killian’s even stare. She can’t. That’s why. Again. She’s going to have to buy eye drops. “Fine, fine,” she grumbles. “Go ahead. I’m assuming this ends with you playing darts against David and Locksley.”

“You’re a crime-solving genius, Swan.”

“And you’re the most frustrating person on the planet."

“You keep giving me all these superlatives, love, and you’re going to do dangerous things to my ego.”

“I thought that was part of the pirate act,” Emma says, but it comes out softer than she expected or, maybe, wanted, and Killian’s hair nearly falls in his eyes when he tilts his head. “It’s not as cute when you do it in real life.”

They both freeze when they realize what she’s said, which, really, is just ridiculous – they’re both adults and, still, possibly flirting, but he keeps having to shift the sword on his hip so he can sit comfortably and Emma can smell the frosting under her nails now, and maybe she should let Henry stay at David and Mary Margaret’s because it’s getting kind of late and he’s the worst at waking up.

“From time to time, these dart games end with bets,” Killian says, bypassing the moment completely. Emma’s not sure if she appreciates that or not. “And, about a week ago, just after you moved here, and David announced that you were planning on throwing a pirate-themed party for your boy, a bet was made.”

“About the party?”

“Honestly, the criminals of Storybrooke won’t know what hit them when they encounter you, Swan.”

“I’m missing the endearing part of this,” Emma growls. “Are you trying to tell me that David bet on my kid’s birthday party?”

Killian shakes his head quickly, eyebrows pulled low and he must have learned that expression from Mary Margaret. His looks a little more despairing though, as if the last thing he wants is for Emma to think poorly of him.

She’s very out of flirting practice.

“No, no, no,” he says quickly, waving his hands in the air. He nearly knocks over the napkin stack with his hook. “God,” he groans. “Well, it is kind of like that, but not in a bad way. We play darts. We eat. We try to act like normal, adult humans while eating a questionable amount of very greasy food.”

“I wouldn’t advise telling Granny that.”

“You’re picking up on the law of the land quickly, Swan.”

“Occupational hazard,” she quips, working another smile out of him and it feels a bit like winning. She doesn’t know what. But something. Something good. Maybe. God. “Ok, so let me get this straight. You guys are talking, you’re gossiping, David mentions Henry’s birthday and you…”

“Lose the dart game,” Killian finishes. “Yeah. I’d been out the night before and I was still exhausted. That’s my story, at least.”

“Out?”

“On the water.”

Emma really wishes simple sentences would stop taking her by surprise like this. “Are you really a pirate?”

“Would you have to arrest me if I was?”

“I’m already considering arresting you for the stalking thing and whatever kind of sword that is. I’m not entirely sure what Storybrooke's laws regarding piracy are.”

Killian does something entirely unfair with three quarters of his face, leaning forward until Emma’s sure they’re sharing the same oxygen. She doesn’t move away. That, eventually, feels important. “I’d imagine,” Killian says slowly, “piracy is frowned upon in modern law enforcement.”

“Explain what you meant.”

He salutes. It’s the dumbest thing Emma has ever seen. “As you deduced, I lost the dart game, which, more often than not, usually means i have to foot the bill. But, this time, David mentioned Henry’s birthday and the pirate theme, which at the moment, sparked several jokes about me. Because, while I’m not a pirate, I do own a ship and quite frequently sail said ship full of tourists to Portland and, sometimes, Boston.”

“Boston?” Emma repeats, clearly taking Killian by surprise when that’s the part of the explanation she harps on. “Is that why Henry was talking about Boston-based pirates?”

“Boston-based journalists,” Killian corrects. “No one’s quite sure where Black Bart was from originally, but he sailed in the north Atlantic quite often.”

“You just made that name up.”

“I promise, Swan. Black Bart Roberts was very much a real person who really kidnapped a Boston journalist, his name was Samuel Cary, by the way. And he told good old Sam his entire thrilling tale, got it published and the rest is pirate lore.”

Emma stares at him, not entirely sure which question to ask first. She’s admittedly distracted by how goddamn blue his eyes are. “Ok, ok, let me get this straight,” she mumbles. “So you lose, you figure you’re going to pay for a shit ton of hamburgers and--”

“--French fries.”

“The onion rings are better,” Emma says absentmindedly, and Killian’s eyebrows are their own sentient beings. That’s the only explanation. “And David...what, challenges you to show up like a pirate at Henry’s birthday party to pay off your debts?”

“Have you ever been to debtors prison, Swan? Horrible places.”

“Oh my God, be serious for two seconds.”

“It’s a little difficult to do that with the whole costume on.” She scoffs, but it’s more of a laugh, and Killian smiles like he’s won a totally different bet. “But, yeah, that was basically the gist of it. Neither David nor Locksley thought I would do it. They didn’t even think I’d be here, to be honest, but I had a cancellation a couple days ago and I assumed doing something possibly nice was a hell of a lot more productive than wallowing in my lack of profit.”

“Ah, well, you know what happens when you assume.”

“Hence my apology.”

Emma nods, like she’s considering something, but it is kind of nice and she knows David didn’t tell her for fear of her reaction once she found out he and his friends were betting on her kid’s birthday party.

And he really just wanted to make Henry happen.

Captain Hook showing up at his birthday was a pretty good way of making sure he was.

“That’s not anything to apologize for,” Emma says eventually, and her voice doesn’t shake, but it’s still quiet and she can barely hear it over the sound of the waves nearby. “It’s unquestionably over the top, but it’s also kind of…”

“Endearing?”

“Don’t push your luck.”

He nods, hand in his hair again and they’ve, somehow, moved closer at some point, the front of Emma’s legs nearly brushing against his chest. And for one, vaguely insane, absolutely absurd moment, she imagines what it would be like to reach forward, grab the lapels of that rented jacket and kiss Killian Jones until he can’t breathe either.

So, naturally, she starts talking again.

“What kind of cruises are we talking here?” she asks. “Like...dinner? Sight-seeing? Whaling?”

“Whaling is a tourist trap that allows businessmen to lie straight to other human’s faces because those same humans assume they’re going to see forty-two whales if they pay an exorbitant amount of money for it.”

“Wow, you’ve got just a questionable amount of opinions on whales, don’t you?”

“Well, we’ve already covered what happens when you assume, Swan,” Killian grins. “But mostly I just don’t enjoy having to explain why the previously mentioned, deep-pocketed tourists won’t get a refund if they don’t see the whales. So I avoid that entirely.”

“And do what?”

“You’re very curious aren’t you?”

Emma shrugs, but it’s a deflection and she mostly just wants him to keep talking. They’re going to get fined for being in the park after dark. “Something like that,” she mutters. “And I think that’s part of the gig, too.”

“I didn’t realize I was being interrogated.”

“You’re not. But you did show up at an eight-year-old’s birthday party with a sword and a hook and that does beg a lot of questions about what kind of person would do that.”

“An incredibly stubborn one,” Killian answers easily. “Who was the new kid once too. And one who also enjoys that kind of stunned expression Nolan looks when he gets caught off guard.”

“The one where his eyes kind of bug out of his face.”

Killian laughs, loud and easy and Emma would be willing to conduct several studies on his hair because it defies the laws of gravity. At least as she understands them. “That’s exactly it,” Killian says, laughter still clinging to his voice. “But to answer your question, we do harbor tours in the summer and some historical ones that are longer. The Boston ones cost several arms and legs, but those are my favorite.”

“Why?”

He startles at that, which is fair since Emma half shouts the question at him, but she’s as curious as advertised and probably just as stubborn as he is.

“I like being on the water,” Killian says softly, and it sounds a bit like an admission and a bit like an introduction. “And we usually don’t set sail until the afternoon on those ones. It’s uh...it’s beautiful on the coast.”

“Sounds it,” Emma whispers. “Why do you know about the pirates though?”

It takes him a moment to answer, as if he’s considering the words or the sentence structure and Emma tries not to let her impatience show on her face. She knows it doesn’t work as soon as she meets Killian’s gaze, the hint of a smirk on his mouth, and she shivers when the wind whips in off the water.

He stands up before she really registers that she’s cold, shrugging out of the jacket and Emma can’t even object before there’s heavy leather on her shoulders and the whole thing is so incredibly nice she briefly wonders if she’s stepped into a very lucid dream.

That, of course, is impossible.

If this were a dream she definitely would have kissed him by now.

“My brother,” Killian explains. “He was a much better storyteller than I am, and I also went through a very serious pirate phase when I was around Henry’s age. I think I could recite Peter Pan and Treasure Island verbatim for the first decade of my life.”

“You must have had very advanced reading comprehension,” Emma mutters, which is not what she plans to say at all, but it works another laugh out of Killian and, honestly, that’s all she cared about.

“Oh, absolutely. Very advanced.”

“Yeah, I figured.”

She doesn’t ever ask him to help her finish cleaning up, but he doesn’t really offer either. They just fall into a rhythm next to each other, twisting and turning and smiling and Emma never actually takes the jacket off.

“Keep it,” Killian says as Emma tries to pull the leather off, and she might smile because it’s warm and comfortable and this whole day has been absolutely ridiculous. It only makes sense that she go home in a pirate coat. “I just need it back by next week.”

“I think I can do that,” Emma promises, and he definitely smiles in response.

“I’ve got no doubt, Swan.”

And, really, she did plan to bring it back.

She planned on it the next day and the one after that and every day for the next week after Henry’s party, but Storybrooke does, apparently, have some crime to deal with and Henry’s suddenly the most popular kid in school and he’s got houses to go to and places to be and he wants to sign up for some summer-league baseball that David volunteers to help coach.

And the jacket, quite honestly, slips her mind.

Until it’s next Saturday and Henry’s shout from the other room sends a chill down Emma’s spine.

She sprints down the hallway, skidding to a stop in her doorway to find her kid gaping at the jacket draped over the back of a chair like he’s discovered several different buried treasures at once.

“Damn,” Emma mumbles, drawing a quiet sound out of Henry. He nearly falls over when he spins, staring at her with a mix of accusation and pride and she squeezes her eyes closed.

She’s the most mature mother in the entire New England area.

“Mom, why do you have Hook’s coat?” Henry asks, and Emma grits her teeth. “Were you guys...hanging out?”

Emma’s eyes snap open. “What?”

“Nothing, nothing.”

“Henry.”

“Nothing.”

She lifts an eyebrow and it takes, exactly, four seconds for her kid to wilt under the pressure of her gaze. “I just heard Aunt Ruby telling M’s that Hook was…” He trails off, and Emma tries not to sigh too dramatically, but that doesn’t work either, and Henry might actually be blushing. “Aunt Ruby said he was asking about you.”

“Me?” Emma parrots, and this is not the kind of conversation she should be having with her kid. Or, like, anyone. Except maybe Killian. Who probably had to pay extra for the jacket.

Henry shrugs. Because he’s eight. And has no concept of flirting or costume rentals or anything that isn’t getting more cupcakes from Spoonful of Sugar on Misthaven Avenue, because, of course that was the name of the street.

David finally told Emma three days ago.

“What do you say to a quick trip to the docks?” Emma asks, and it’s a stupid question because Henry’s eyes light up almost as soon as she opens her mouth. He nods and jumps up and down and he’s talking a mile a minute about pirates and the negative characteristics of Peter Pan when Emma parks the car on the gravel a few feet away from a boat she hopes is Killian’s.

He’s standing on the deck when she climbs out of the car, hair windswept and cheeks red and he looks eight-thousand times better in normal person clothes than he did in the pirate gear.

It is a testament ot Emma’s mental stability that she doesn’t laugh out loud at the idea of normal clothes.

“Hook,” Henry calls, and Killian’s whole body tenses. Emma bites her lip. “We brought your jacket so you can plunder again!”

Emma winces, momentarily worried about the absurdity of it all, but then she hears Killian’s laugh and footsteps on a gangplank and it takes a few near-painful moments for him to reach them. He’s smiling.

“Hey, lad,” Killian says, Henry standing up a bit straighter like he’s dealing with an actual pirate captain. Emma’s going to need stitches in her lip. “Swan,” he adds. “What are you doing here?”

“Returning your coat,” she answers. “For real. I’m...I can’t believe I forgot.”

Killian hums, but it sounds cautious and his eyes keep darting towards Henry and the leather in Emma’s hands and he can’t seem to meet her gaze. “That’s alright,” he mutters. “Things happen. It’s...”

“Can we see your ship, Hook?” Henry asks, shoulders sagging when Emma glares at the interruption. “Sorry, Mom.”

“We just came here to give Killian his jacket,” Emma says. The words feel heavy on her tongue, though, and she doesn’t think she imagines the flash of disappointment on Killian’s face. “I’m sure he’s got plenty of things to do that don’t involve boat tours.”

“Ship, Swan,” Killian mutters. “It’s a ship. And you know what happens when you assume, love.”

She widens her eyes at the endearment, almost too aware of the kid next to her, but said kid either doesn’t hear or absolutely does not care – particularly when there’s a ship in front of them and a man he may actually believe is a pirate.

“We don’t want to bother you,” Emma says. Killian beams.

“Of course not. C’mon, Henry. We’ll let you take the helm, huh?”

Emma’s seen quite a bit of questionably adorable things in the few weeks since they first arrived in Storybrooke, but nothing has come even close to Killian teaching Henry port and starboard and some knot that looks absolutely impossible to her, but they’re both masters of in a few minutes. She doesn’t trip on deck, and Killian makes a quip about sea legs that shouldn’t be nearly as charming as it is, and Henry doesn’t stop smiling once.

“Thank you for this,” Emma says eventually, Henry back at the wheel and plotting a course to Isla de Muerta. “Does he also think you’re Jack Sparrow then?”

Killian shakes his head. “Nah, we’re sticking with Captain Hook, but the appeal of cursed Aztec gold is too much to shake. You understand piracy. We live on a whim.”

“We?”

The tips of his ears go red. Emma might be counting the number of times she can get that to happen. She’s confident it’ll be several more times in the near future, but, before she gets there she pushes up on her toes and there’s only a t-shirt to grab and kissing a pirate is as good as all those stories make it seem.

Killian’s hand finds the small of Emma’s back almost immediately, pulling her flush against his chest and she makes some kind of noise against his mouth that might be a yelp or an actual giggle or just the audible sound of swooning, but she can feel him smiling.

She pushes her fingers into his hair, tugging him down towards her – as if he’d actually pull away when his hand seems intent on mapping every ridge of her spine – and the whole world feels like it spins on its axis.

Emma has never been a particularly spontaneous person.

She thinks. She plans. She plots.

But then this job opened up and Storybrooke happened and Killian Jones showed up at her kid’s birthday party dressed as a pirate just because he wanted to make sure a stranger was happy and Emma can’t seem to get him out of her head.

So, maybe, some spontenaity is worth it.

And living like a pirate is kind of fun.

Killian’s tongue moves across her lower lip, Emma tilting her head and they’re probably scaring Henry for life, but there’s sunshine and wind and she’s so goddamn happy it kind of feels like a sugar-rush and eating twenty-seven cupcakes.

It’s better than that, really, but Emma’s far too busy making out to be worried about the proper metaphor.

“I’m sorry about the jacket,” she mumbles, mostly against Killian’s lips and if she never moves her hands out of his hair, she won't argue. She’s not sure he will either.

“If this is it how it works when we steal clothing together, Swan, I’m perfectly fine with it.”

“God, what a line. And did you say we? Were we stealing clothing together?”

Killian nods, brushing his lips over Emma’s before he answers. “I knew you had the jacket, Swan. I didn’t really do anything about getting it back.”

“Henry said you asked Rubes about me.”

“He’s a very chatty kid.”

“Definitely,” Emma agrees. “You could have. I mean...you know where the Sheriff’s office is, don’t you?”

He leans back, an eyebrow arched and that smrik should be illegal in several different countries and the entire state of Maine and it’s probably against the rules of the pirate’s code or something. Parlay or whatever.

Emma hasn’t seen Pirates of the Caribbean in a very long time.

“What are you suggesting, love?” Killian asks knowingly, and she scowls despite how ridiculously charming the whole thing is. “Putting me in the brig?”

She groans, but she can’t lean back when there’s still a palm flat on her back and Killian smiling at her and Henry shouting something about hurricane off the port bow. “Hey, uh, you,” Emma starts, and maybe she’ll get better at this pirate lifestyle once she practices some more. “You know Henry really loves hanging out with Rubes and Dorothy because they feed his sugar habit and, uh, they’ve got some standing date this Sunday for a taste-testing and I’ve never really been on a ship in motion and…”

She trails off before she can embarass herself even more, but Killian barely gives her a moment to linger on it, ducking his head and kissing her. “It’d be an honor, Swan.”

They don’t ever return the jacket – leaving it on the ship for reasons that are both piratical and sentimental and Henry learns more sailor’s knots and more technical terms and Emma doesn’t actually crash the ship when she musters the courage to take the helm on a three-person cruise to Boston a few months later.

And, eventually, they get back on the ship and Emma can point out constellations now and she’s just on the cusp of falling asleep, her head resting on Killian’s shoulder when he mumbles something about buried treasure and jewels and he barely gets the question out before she shouts yes in his face and Henry sends photos to the small family they’ve built in Storybrooke.

They celebrate with cupcakes.