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You're Killing Me, Swan

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There is one all-time greatest moment in the history of sports, and it happened in the 1932 World Series. The story goes that in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs, a full count and the tying run on base, Babe Ruth raised his arm and pointed to the center field bleachers. No one believed it, because nobody had ever done it before. But The Babe was calling his shot. On the next pitch, the Great Bambino hit a towering home run. And even though he'd been a hero before that, that's pretty much how he became a legend. Sixty years later, a kid named Killian Jones was a neighborhood legend. We met in the greatest summer of my life when he taught me to play baseball, and he became my best friend, and maybe a little more than that.
-----
Killian Jones was always going to do great things in the world of baseball. Emma knew this from the first moment she saw him. She had just moved in with a new foster family, the Swans, and was sitting on the porch of her new house with a book. Killian was 15, tossing a baseball in the air and catching it in his glove as he walked along the street. Emma was 13, but she was instantly drawn to him. He stopped in front of her house inexplicably, looked over at her, and smiled. She smiled back. He nodded and went back to walking, tossing the ball along the way. Emma watched him walk away, then went back to her book.
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Emma had long, light blonde hair. She had green eyes with hazel flecks in places. She liked to wear oversized flannel shirts, T-shirts, and jean shorts. She was a pretty girl, but she never emphasized her beauty.

Killian was a tall and lanky teen. He didn't look like he had power, but he had the best swing of anyone. His eyes were always the brightest, clearest blue. He had a mop of chestnut brown hair atop his head. He always looked curious, like he wanted to learn more.
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In all her foster homes -- out of all seven of them, no one had ever taught Emma how to play catch. And it didn’t bother her most of the time, just when she got put in homes in neighborhoods with lots of kids. They all played in clearings and backyards, and she would watch from the window in her room. She didn’t even know how to catch a ball, or throw one for that matter. At the rate she moved, no school would put her in a gym class because they figured she wouldn’t be around long enough to buy a uniform. And no gym uniform meant that she couldn’t participate in PE. Emma did feel lucky she never had to take gym class, as that would most likely involve a ball of some sort. But in general, to save herself the embarrassment, she had fun doing other things. She liked to read, and she was very artistic. Still, she longed to be able to run around with all the other kids her age, and to maybe even make a couple friends.

So far, moving in with the Swans was no different than any of the other homes. Emma would often sit on her porch steps with a book, which she used as a cover as she watched the neighborhood kids riding bikes and playing soccer in their yards. From her foster father’s office, she could see a clearing behind her house where some kids were in a perpetual game of kickball. Emma never felt comfortable asking to join. Even if she could kick the ball, she could never play in the field. They’d laugh and she’d never be invited to play ever again. So she would just watch.
-----
“Emma, honey.” Emma looked up from her book as her foster mother, Ingrid Swan, came into her bedroom. Emma bookmarked her page and sat up against her headboard.

“Hi,” Emma smiled at her new mother.

Ingrid hesitated before sighing and asking, “have you made any friends yet?”

Emma shrugged in response.

“I love that you love reading, and I love how creative you are,” she gestured to the pictures Emma painted taped on wall and the library books littering her desk, “but I think it would be good for you to make some friends with kids in the neighborhood. Maybe you can play outside with them every once in a while. A little sun is good for you.” Emma opened her mouth to respond, but Ingrid beat her to it, “and, yes, I know you read outside, but we both know that’s not what I mean.”

“Yeah, I know.” She thought for a moment. “I’ll try.” That’s what Ingrid would hope to hear, and Emma felt she needed her new mother to be happy. If Ingrid wasn’t happy with Emma, she could send her back, and that was the last thing Emma wanted.

“There’s more to this, isn’t there, hon?” Emma bit her lip and nodded. “Emma, you can tell me.”

“It’s just,” she hesitated. Ingrid looked so caring, and Emma really wanted this to work. So she took a deep breath and continued. “I don’t know how to catch a ball. Or throw one.” She muttered the words quietly, but Ingrid appears to have been able to hear her. “I never had anyone to teach me, so I never learned.”

Ingrid smiled. “Well, let’s fix that.”

“What?”

“Did you know your father used to want to be a baseball player?”

Emma smiled. “Really?”

“When he was little, he would draw his own baseball cards. Arthur Swan, pitcher. I bet he’d love to teach you.”

Emma was excited by the thought. She was actually going to learn how to play ball like the other kids. “Yeah, okay. That sounds great.”
-----
“Alright, Emma, I’m going to throw this baseball to you. You’re going to catch it in your glove.” Emma nodded. Arthur nodded back and threw the ball underhand, right for her glove. She recoiled away from it.

“Sorry!” She grabbed it, worried he’d give up on her.

“It’s alright, kid. You don’t need to be afraid of the ball. It doesn’t hurt to catch.” She nodded. “Okay. Now throw it back to me.” She looked at the ball, then at her foster father, then back at the ball. “Just bring your arm back, then guide it forward and let go.”

Emma brought her arm back, but she let go too soon and the ball went behind her. She let out another “sorry” and went to grab the ball. This time, she ran it back to Arthur.

“Let’s work on catching first then," Arthur started, a determined grin on his face as he held the ball in front of his right eye. "Keep your eye on the ball, and don’t back away. Got it? They key to this game is keeping your eye on the ball. No matter whether you're in the field or at bat, eye on the ball, okay?”

He looked to Emma to see if she understood, and Emma nodded sheepishly even though she had just about zero confidence in her ability to catch a baseball.

Staring across the yard at her foster dad, only one thought circled through her mind: How was she going to catch anything?

"Trust me, Emma," Arthur said, seemingly sensing her apprehension. "I used to be so good that my friends called me The King. Thought I was gonna be the next Great Bambino." Emma stared blankly, clearly not getting the reference. Arthur waved his hand dismissively. "That's a lesson for another day. Anyway, what you've gotta know is where the ball goes, your glove should go." He paused before asking, "got it?”

“Yeah, okay."

Arthur nodded at her, confident that he could help his new daughter catch a ball.

“Okay, alright,” he said before giving a final nod to Emma to let her know he was about to throw it. When she held her glove up in front of her, he sent the ball her way.

Apparently, Emma took his advice quite literally because in one moment, she saw Arthur toss the ball, and in the next, there was pain in her eye as her glove went into it.

“Ow!" she cried. "Oh, my eye! Ow! Ow!”

Out of her good eye, Emma watched Arthur drop his own glove and run over to her, calling for Ingrid as he did so. Ingrid ran out to find them both struggling to get Emma’s eye open so they could assess the damage.

However, despite the pain and temporary blurred vision in one of her eyes, Emma was able to see a silver lining.

“I kept my eye on the ball!” She laughed as Arthur pried her glove off her hand.

“You also caught the ball!" He held up her glove, newly pulled off her hand, the ball snugly inside.

Ingrid was not waiting around for Emma and Arthur to finish their bonding conversation when Emma was injured. “Emma, let’s go inside and get some ice on that before it swells more.” She followed Ingrid inside, Arthur trailing not far behind. Ingrid grabbed an ice pack from the freezer, wrapped it in a towel, and placed it over Emma’s eye.

“It’s going to bruise. I’m sorry, Em.”

“Arthur, how did this even happen?” Ingrid crossed her arms as Emma took over pressing the ice pack into her own face.

“I - uh,” Arthur stuttered, seemingly confused himself as to how such an event managed to occur. He looked at Emma, standing between her foster parents with an ice pack covering half her face. “It'll still be black, but it won't swell. Sorry.” He looked nervous, like Emma would up and run away because of an accidental black eye.

“It’s okay. I caught the ball.” And when all three Swans started to laugh, Emma finally felt like she might actually be a part of a forever family.
-----
Walking home from the library one day, black eye still present, Emma stopped by the field in which the neighborhood kids were playing baseball. She watched them day after day as she passed the field, but this is the first time she stopped. They played every day, the game seemingly never-ending. Every day, they picked up where they left off. They didn’t keep score. They played because they loved it.

Tightening her grip on her book to bring her back to reality, she became aware of voices yelling in her direction.

“Hey!”
“Can you get the ball?”
“Throw it back!”

Emma looked around quickly trying to find their ball. She spotted it a few feet to her left. She ran to grab it, then froze.

“Hey, just throw the ball!”
“What’s taking you so long?”
“Throw it back!”

She didn’t know how to throw properly, but she was overwhelmed by screaming boys. Against her better judgment, she pulled her arm back and threw the ball. Only, it didn’t go more than three feet. The screams that had just overwhelmed her quickly turned to laughter, and she scanned the faces of the eight boys a few times before muttering a “sorry” and running the rest of the way home. She was upset her unfortunate eye on the ball situation halted her lesson. She needed to learn to play, and she needed to get redemption.
-----
Emma sat on her front porch reading her latest recommendation from the librarian. She was getting lost in the novel, her senses to her actual, physical setting seeming to dull as she digested the words on the page. It would take her two days maximum to finish this one.

Emma was snapped back to reality when her peripheral vision picked up on a figure sitting next to her. She bookmarked her page and and turned toward the intruder so she could get rid of whoever it was. She quickly lost sight of that goal when she saw Killian Jones -- that kid with the baseball and the team -- smiling at her. He was something of a neighborhood legend, whispers about him fluttering through the kids at neighborhood parties she attended with Ingrid and at the community pool when she went to cool off. And being a part of a neighborhood, it was easy to catch gossip as she read or drew quietly outside. She was a near-expert eavesdropper.

The Outsiders?”

“What?”

“Your book.” He pointed to her lap. “The Outsiders. We read it in school last year.”

She let out a quiet, “oh.”

“It’s a fantastic read. Are you enjoying it?”

“Uh, yeah. It’s pretty good. I’m not really that far yet.” She held up the book so he could see the ratio of read pages to unread. She hoped he’d understand that she wanted to read uninterrupted.

He didn’t take the hint. “Would you like to play baseball with me? I’ve got a whole team -- well, almost. I was kind of hoping you’d be our ninth player.”

“I - I can’t play baseball. You saw me.”

He didn’t let her finish her thought. “Sure you can.”

“I really can’t.”

“It’s instinctual.”

“I don’t have those instincts.” Emma could already tell this wasn’t going to be an easy victory. They were clearly both stubborn.

“Could you just show up? Take up space? There’s a gaping hole where a player should be.”

“And if the ball comes to me?”

“You’ll know what to do in the moment.”

“I really won’t.”

He stared at the lawn for a few seconds, seemingly considering his next move.

“I’m Killian Jones, by the way.”

“Yeah. I know.”

“Oh, so you’ve heard of me?” He quirked his eyebrows in such a way Emma couldn’t help but smile.

“Emma.” She held out her right hand. He took it in his own.

“You’re the new Swan kid.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

He let go of her hand and smirked. “Welcome to the neighborhood, Swan. I’ll be by tomorrow, and we’ll walk to the sandlot together.” He stood up and started walking away. Emma’s jaw was nearly on the ground.

Pulling herself together, she yelled after him, “I didn’t say I’d join your team.”

He stopped walking but didn’t turn around. “Something tells me you will. I promise you’ll have fun.” He turned around, smile already planted on his face. “Dress comfortably.” He took off his baseball cap and threw it to her. It landed on the ground at her feet. “And wear that.” He turned back around confidently and began walking away.

In that moment, staring at Killian Jones’ back disappear, she knew he had won.
-------
“Alright, guys. This is Emma Swan. She's our ninth man. Now we have a full team.”

“Why did you bring her, Jones?”

“Yeah, she can't play.”

“She ain’t game.”

“Come on, Jones. We were fine before.”

“Look, I want a full team. Now we have it.” Killian glanced between Emma and the boys.

“We had a full team before Booth moved away.”

“Yeah, and we never filled in Booth’s spot. Why now?”

“With her, I get to rotate eight positions instead of seven. I need the practice, guys.”

“You're the best on the team. You don't need any practice.” All the boys groaned but the one that said this. He stood with his arms crossed, seemingly studying Killian. His gaze barely lingered on Emma. That was different from the other boys, all of who are shooting daggers her way.

“No, you don't.”
“You're the best, man.”
“Come on, Jones, man. The girl is…”
“...A weenie!”
“Yeah. Oscar Mayer even. Foot-long!”

“What are you laughing at, Scarlet? You run like a duck.” That shut the boy - Scarlet - up real fast.

“Look, man, you saw the way she throws. She can’t play.”

“It's not like you were all great players when you started. So give her a chance. She's got it. I'm telling you.”

The kid -- Scarlet -- spoke up again. “Guys, don’t you see Jones only brought her here because he wants her to be his girlfriend?” Emma felt her cheeks warm immediately. She felt her hand sweating in the glove Killian gave her before they arrived at the field, on the correct hand after Killian had corrected her when she initially put it on the wrong hand. There were snickers across the group until Killian flashed them all a glare that not one of the other kids dared to challenge.

There was silence among the boys as they continued looking Emma over. Killian took Emma’s elbow and pulled her closer to the rest of the group.

“Swan, this is Liam, my older brother. He’s 18, but he hangs out with us while he works part-time so he can get a car.” The tall, curly haired boy -- man -- was the one watching Killian instead of her earlier. He failed to hold back a knowing smile as he looked between Emma and Killian. Emma crushed an ant in the dirt under her shoe.

Killian, either oblivious to the situation or just trying to ignore it, continued the introductions. “This is Eric. We call him Squints because he's blind without his glasses. This is Will Scarlet, David Nolan, Robin Locksley. This is Grumpy and Sneezy; they're twins. Grumpy’s got an attitude and Sneezy has year-round allergies.”

There were a few muffled “hey”s and some barely intelligible “hi”s. There was a rogue sneeze. Emma bent her elbow slightly in attempt to wave. She croaked out a soft, “hi,” as she avoided eye contact with any of the boys. She tucked some hair behind her ear and looked at Killian as the silence got unbearable.

“Alright, guys.” Killian looked them over for a second, eyes landing on Emma, “team,” he corrected. “Let's play ball!”

The boys all screamed as they took their positions.

“Swan, left field!” Emma nodded and made her way over to where she approximated left field might be. From the laughs that followed, she figured she was wrong. “More to your left, Swan.” She did what she was told, looking at Killian for a cue that she was in the right place. When he smiled and nodded, she stopped and let out a deep breath.

She shuffled her feet as Killian tossed the ball in his hand for a few moments before stepping up to the plate.

“Swan, catch this and throw it to second!” Robin waved her glove at her from second base.

“Jones, why?” Will groaned.

“She's not going to catch it, Jones!” Squints punctuated the accusation with a stomp of his foot.

“She's a square, Jones. The girl's a square!” That was clearly Sneezy, as he sneezed between sentences.

“Hey,” everyone turned to look at Liam when he spoke. “Killian brought her here for a reason. I'm sure she'll be great.” He sent Emma an encouraging smile over his shoulder, and she smiled back in appreciation.

Liam seemed to shut everyone up, and there were only inaudible grumbles as everyone took their places and turned their attention to home plate, where their captain waited to get the game started.

David pitched the ball, which Killian hit easily. It landed right next to where Emma stood in the field. If Emma could catch, it would've been easy. But Emma did not know how to catch, so she watched it fall to the ground.

“Swan, what the hell?” Will was the first to comment.

“I knew it.” Squints sighed.

“You didn't even try!” David chimed in.

“What was that, sister?” Grumpy crossed his arms.

“I told you, Jones!” Sneezy’s comment followed his brother’s.

Emma watched the group of boys switch their gazes between Killian and her.

“Alright, alright. Calm down, guys.” Killian jogged over to Emma in the field. “Hey, Swan, you okay?” He kept his voice down so only she could hear it.

“I- um, I don't know how to catch. I was learning. The glove went into my eye, and that's how I got my black eye.”

Killian nodded in understanding.

“Just hold your glove out, and I'll take care of getting the ball there.”

“Yeah, okay.” Emma dropped her gaze to her glove.

Killian turned to head back to the plate when he noticed Emma didn't exactly look confident.

He lifted her chin so their eyes met. “Do you trust me?”

“Yes.” Emma nodded.

“Just keep your glove out. I promise you'll catch it.”

“Okay. I'll do it.” She smiled at him, causing him to smile back. And then another realization hit her as Killian went to head back to home plate once again. “Killian, wait!”

He raised his eyebrows in question.

“I don't know how to throw either.” Killian watched her cheeks turn pink as she blushed in embarrassment.

Avoiding Killian's eyes, she noticed Liam watching his brother help her out with approval. She took her attention away from Liam and put it back on Killian.

“Hey, hey” he started softly. “You think too much.”

“What?”

“You know how to throw.” Killian looked confident.

“I really don’t.” She pulled the bill on her hat down slightly.

“Sure you do. You just need a coach who knows what he’s doing.”

She looked at him skeptically.

Killian crossed his arms in amusement. “I bet you get straight A's and stuff, don't you?”

“I got a B once. Well, it was an A-, but it should've been a B.” She felt embarrassment wash over her. Why was her achievement in school suddenly a bad thing?

Killian sighed, but it wasn't condescending. “You're killing me, Swan.” He paused. “Alright. Well, this is baseball. You need to stop thinking and just,” he took his baseball cap off, ran his hand through his hair, then put the cap back on, “have fun.”

“I am having fun,” she retorted defensively.

“If you were having fun, you would've caught the ball.”

“There's got to be more to it than that.”

Killian thought for a moment before moving to stand behind her rather than across from her.

“Okay, Swan, don't jump. I'm going to take your hand for a minute.”

“Okay,” she croaked out, barely a whisper.

He wrapped his fingers around her wrist and raised it over her head until her hand was behind her head. She was too young to understand the reason she instantly broke out into goosebumps at his touch, but she would look back later and realize that she felt sparks at that moment.

“You just raise your arm like this,” he positioned her hand until it was at the highest point in an arc, “and when your hand gets to here, just let go.”

“Just let go,” she repeated.

“That's all there is to it.” He let her arm drop as he moved so he was facing her again. “You can do it. Just have fun, and just let go.” He smiled at her before heading back to his position. Emma looked at the glove on her hand as she extended her arm out.

“About time, Jones. My clothes are going out of style.”

“They already are, Squints. Shut up.”

David doubled over with laughter as Killian lined up his stance.

“Ready, Swan?” Killian yelled from home plate.

“Yeah!”

She watched Killian throw the ball into the air, then heard the crack of the bat as he hit it. Next thing she knew, the ball was in her glove. He was right. She just had to stop thinking so much.

She beamed with the realization that she can actually catch a ball when she heard Robin yelling her way.

“Over here, Swan!” His glove was over his head. She pulled her arm back, brought her arm forward and just let go. And Robin caught it just a couple feet before the base.

“I knew she could do it!” Liam gave her a thumbs up as the other boys cheered for her.

“Alright. She's alright.” Will smiled approvingly.

“Told you so, man.” Killian smirked.

“Alright, team,” David shouted, “let's play ball!”

------
Emma had just made it through her first game on the sandlot.

“Wait, Killian.” She jogged the couple feet to catch up to him when he stopped on his way jogging to his house.

“Aye?”

“Why did you bring me in the game? I’m not stupid. I know the rest of the guys didn’t want me there. And I know Scarlet was just pushing your buttons when he suggested,” Emma trailed off so as to not actually repeat Will’s idea that there might be something more to the new friendship.

Killian smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. He let the thought linger for a moment before countering the idea. “I know what it’s like to be the new kid. I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m not from around here.” Emma laughed as he emphasized his very British accent.

“The thought may have crossed my mind.”

“Well, you were new..” There was more to that. They both knew it. “And besides, we needed a ninth man,” he paused, “or woman, I guess.”

“Thanks, Killian. I…” Emma stopped mid-sentence and decided to leave the emotions off the field. “It just means a lot.”

“Of course, Swan.”
-----
As the summer went on, Emma and Killian increasingly snuck away from the group to play catch by themselves. As much as they loved the full-team games, they realized more and more how nice it was to spend time just the two of them.

“So how did you get so good at this?” Emma threw the ball, and it landed directly in Killian's glove.

“At what?”

“You know,” Emma gestured between them, “this.” Killian laughed and raised his eyebrows for clarification. “How did you learn to play baseball?”

“Well, baseball didn't entirely catch on in the U.K.”

Emma held out her glove. He threw her the ball, which she caught. She still felt a surge of pride whenever she caught a baseball. Emma held out the hand holding the baseball in question, silently asking if Killian was ready for her throw. He motioned for her to keep it and walked to a tree in the clearing and sat, leaning against it. Emma followed.

“When I was young, around 4, my father started dating a woman, even though he was still married to my mum. But this woman, she was married and involved with a man with access to much of London's financial assets. And with money comes power.” Emma watched as Killian stared at the ground throughout his story. “When the man found out about the affair, he paid off some detectives and government officials. My father got into a lot of trouble for nothing really, since you can't really get arrested for cheating on your wife. Anyway, he fled to escape the charges.” Killian let his head rest against the tree, closed his eyes, and rubbed his forehead. After taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes and looked at Emma. “He left one night and never came back. My mum was ill at the time. If she hadn't recovered, I don't know where I'd have ended up.”

“Hey,” Emma said gently, “you don't have to tell me.” She was no stranger to the sob story, what with parents who left her on the side of a highway when she was barely more than a year old. She didn’t like to dwell on her own past, so if Killian didn’t want to share, she’d absolutely respect that.

“No. It's - it's okay. My mum got better. Even though we were too young, Liam and I still got part-time jobs while she recovered. We knew a couple people in our apartment complex willing to hire us to help us out. When we saved enough, she moved us here.”

“To Storybrooke?”

“Aye,” he nodded. “It was unheard of. My father would never find us here. And it's a small town. My mum just wants Liam and me to be happy and have a real childhood. She still feels bad I was working at 7 years old.”

“So where does baseball come in?”

“Liam is only three years older than me, but I idolized him growing up. He was more of a father to me than my real dad ever was. Liam - he came home from school with a baseball, and he taught me to play. He learned at school, and I learned from him. We played, just the two of us, for months. Then I met Robin and David. I’ve always felt - I don’t know - different from everyone else. Liam and I would never be like other kids, even though our mum recovered. But when we hung out with Robin and David, I learned that baseball was universal. No matter our beginnings, all that mattered was what was on the field. I’m not a near-orphan who started working at 7. When I play baseball, I’m a baseball player, same as everyone else.” By the end of his story, his eyes had moved from Emma’s to the distance, and he stared at the horizon as he spoke. He only returned his gaze to Emma’s after he was done talking.

Emma smiled at him. “And look at you now.”

“Look at us now.” Killian smiled back at her and nodded toward the ball in her glove, “you appear to be a natural.” She laughed, and Killian looked at her meaningfully. “I don't mean to upset you, Swan, but you're part of the team.”
-----
Private games of catch became a regular thing for Emma and Killian. Every so often, they'd escape to play and talk while getting to know each other.

“Who's your favorite player?”

“What?” Emma threw the ball back to Killian. He caught it easily.

“Baseball -- who's your favorite player?”

“Um.” Emma held up a hand to signal him to wait to throw it. Killian raised his eyebrows.

“You don't have a favorite player?” he asked in disbelief.

“I - uh, I've never seen a real game.” Her voice was quiet with embarrassment.

“Really? Never seen a real game?! You're killing me, Swan! They're on TV all summer.”

“My last foster home didn't have a TV. And the group home I stayed at between families certainly couldn't afford a TV.” She stared at a strand of hair between her fingers.

She was expecting Killian to apologize for her past or to mention how bad he feels for her. To Emma's delight, he didn't linger on her history. “You have to come over and watch one!”

“What?” Emma laughed. She was so used to people treating her differently when they learned about the conditions in her group homes and foster families, but Killian was more concerned with getting her to see a game. It was refreshing.

“Come over! We'll watch whatever game is on now.” He held his hand out to her. She took it and he led them to his house. When they got inside, Liam was already on the couch watching baseball.

“Hey, Emma. Hey, little brother.”

“Hi, Liam,” Emma smiled at him as she sat on the couch at Killian's signal.

“Younger brother,” Killian muttered under his breath as he sat right next to Emma.

“What game is on?”

“Red Sox-Yankees.”

“Ooh,” Killian leaned forward, closer to the TV. “Swan, this is a great game to start with.”

Liam looked their way. “First baseball game?” he asked. Emma nodded. “Killian's right. This is a great start. This is one of the biggest rivalries in baseball.”

“Check these guys out, Swan! I want to be just like them when I get older.”

“You will,” Emma said. You're the best player on the team. Like, you're way better than the rest of us.” Killian's cheeks were tinged pink and the tips of his ears burned red as a result of her compliment. She found she liked having that effect on him. Emma tried to keep her eyes trained on the game, but she couldn't quite help it as her gaze repeatedly landed on Killian.

“Hey, Killy,” Liam started. Killian grumbled at the nickname. “What do you say we take Emma to a game this summer?”

Both Killian’s and Emma's eyes lit up.

“That'd be awesome, Liam! She'd love it!”

“You guys don't have to do that.” Emma didn't want them taking her because they felt bad for her.

“We want to, Emma,” Liam assured “You're one of us.”

“Would you come, Swan?” Killian looked at her with such hope in his blue eyes.

Emma shrugged. “Yeah, okay. That would be amazing.”

Liam told her, “I'll talk to your parents later to work out a good day to go.”

“Thanks, guys. I'm really, really excited!”

“It'll be a pleasure to have you with us, Emma.”

“You'll love baseball even more going to an actual, major league game.” It was clear Killian had such a deep love for the game. Emma was fascinated by his infatuation with baseball. She was delighted to see him so excitable and passionate. “Swan?”

She snapped out of her thoughts. “Yeah?” Emma stared at her lap. That clearly wasn’t the first time he tried to get her attention.

“Do you still want to watch the game?” She had totally been watching him watch the game rather than the television screen itself.

“Yeah, totally.”

Killian seemed satisfied with that, pointing to the screen at different moments, explaining to her who the players were and giving their stats. And in the corner of her eye, Emma noticed Liam watching the two of them interact. He always had this look on his face like he knew something no one else did. Emma shook it off and turned back to the screen, paying attention so she'd understand all Killian's explanations. Once she really got into it, she found herself really engrossed in the game. She was able to understand some of the terms for the plays, and she even started calling them toward the last couple innings. Killian looked immensely proud, which made her even happier with herself. In the end, Emma loved watching the game, and was really looking forward to getting to go to a real, live game with the brothers Jones.
-----
Killian was always down for a game of baseball.

He would've played ball all day, all night, rain, shine, tidal wave - whatever. However, the other kids were not so willing to play when the temperature and humidity partnered to make it feel well over 100 degrees. But of all the things the group ever did besides baseball, going to the pool was what he tolerated best.

On the days it was too hot for the rest of them, there was nothing the group loved more than spending the day at the Storybrooke community pool. And Killian was happy to join his friends there if he absolutely had to leave the sandlot.

It was Emma's first time at the pool with her new friends, and they were all having the greatest time swimming around, splashing each other, and trying to outdo each other's wacky jumps. Well, all the kids were in the pool but Eric.

“What's Eric's deal?” Emma swam over to the wall Killian was leaning against. Killian glanced in Eric's direction, but Eric paid no mind to his fellow teammates.

“He only comes to the pool to stare at Ariel.” Killian chuckled and crossed his arms.

“Who's Ariel?”

Killian pointed at a redhead sitting in a lifeguard chair. “She's here every day, all day. I've never seen her anywhere but watching over this pool.”

Emma looked back at Eric. He looked absolutely smitten. He was sitting on a pool chair, knees to his chest. His chin rested on his knees as he stared at the object of his affection.

“He doesn’t know how to swim,” Killian revealed. “Sometimes he comes in as far as he can stand. But most of the time, he just does this.”

Will swam up next to Emma and Killian and followed their gazes. “Hey, Squints! You going to come in or what?”

Eric glared at Will, then glanced back at the lifeguard. She was smiling, probably laughing at the scene below. With a loud huff, Eric stood up, took his glasses off and put them on his towel, and walked towards the diving board.

“Squints, what the hell are you doing?” Killian's face dropped with concern as Eric made his way onto the board.

“Oi, mate! You're going to fall off the board without your glasses!” Robin shoved himself against the wall between Emma and Killian.

Eric shook his head and took a tentative step forward.

“Eric, stop!” Emma screamed.

“You can’t swim, Squints!” Killian reminded him.

He looked in the general direction of the group, unable to see clearly without his glasses, and smiled. “Trust me.” And with three more steps forward, he cannonballed into the water.

“Did he tell anyone about this?” Liam stared down the group as if someone knew something.

The whole group shook their heads no. There were a couple voices shouting, “no,” and Sneezy, well, sneezed.

“Guys, he hasn't come up yet!” Grumpy yelled.

Emma yelled “help” to get the attention of the lifeguard. Hearing her cries, Ariel dove into the pool, spotting Eric at the bottom and swimming down to grab him. She pulled Eric up, and noticing he was unconscious, she laid him on the side of the pool and started administering CPR.

“Oh, god.” Emma climbed out of the pool and stood above Eric. The rest of the group was quick to follow, and they soon formed a circle around where Ariel was still trying to get Eric to breathe again.

“Come on, Squints. You've gotta pull through.” Killian looked as worried as she felt.

“Come on, Squints,” David added.

“Wake up! Breathe, would you?” Sneezy yelled at Eric as if that would make him regain consciousness.

“He looks real bad,” Will chimed in.

Scooting slightly closer to Killian, without thinking, Emma grasped his hand. He gave her hand a squeeze as they shared a glance before returning their attention back on Eric.

With no sign of improvement thus far, Ariel moved on and started to perform mouth-to-mouth on Eric.

“Lucky bastard gets to make out, and he's not even conscious,” Grumpy grumbled. There were a few chuckles, but it was hard to laugh while Eric was still ghostly pale.

As Ariel continued breathing for him, Eric opened his eyes and winked at his friends out of Ariel's view.

“He's okay!” David couldn't hold back his reaction.

When Ariel went down for her next breath, Eric grabbed her head and kept it pressed to his as he kissed her.

There was a chorus of “ooooh” from the boys and a gasp from Emma. When Ariel ripped herself out of Eric's grasp, she started shouting, banning the group for the rest of the summer, when they all grabbed their towels and took off. Laughing along the way, Emma ran right along with them. When they got back to the sandlot, Eric had his glasses back on and was receiving quite a few pats on the back from his friends.

“How long have you been planning that, man?” Liam had his arms crossed as he shook his head in amusement.

“Months,” Eric answered proudly.

There were more cheers for Eric as the group sat around and dried off in the sun.

On that day, Squints became a hero.
-----
So Ariel banned them from the pool for the summer, although she would later tell Emma she was welcome to come back as long as she left the team on the sandlot. Girls have to stick together. After all, females felt terribly outnumbered in this town. But despite Ariel’s initial anger, she was witness to how the group was more like family than just friends and teammates. She saw they had something special. The boys may have been banned from the pool for the rest of the summer, but they had to walk past the pool on the way to the nearest 7-11 for Slurpees and candy. And every time Grumpy ran out of bubble gum or Scarlet decided he was going to mix all the Slurpee flavors and down the largest size in less than 2 minutes to see how bad his brain freeze could get, the team went by the pool, right behind Ariel’s lifeguard chair. And Emma couldn’t help but chuckle as she noticed Ariel turn toward them and smile at Eric every time they walked by.
-----
The team was in the middle of gameplay when all the boys suddenly stopped playing. Emma stopped herself mid-run on her way to third and looked around at all her friends.

“What’s going on, guys?”

Liam, who was standing next to her as shortstop, pointed to the fence behind home plate and just said, “Cassidy.” She looked up at him for clarification, and he, sensing it wasn’t enough, looked down at his newest team member. “That’s Neal Cassidy. Killian used to play ball with him. They got into a fight one time when Cassidy said some things about,” he trailed off. “Well, he said some things about our father, and Killian just couldn’t brush it off.”

“He never told me about Neal,” Emma said quietly.

“He’d rather forget about Cassidy.” Emma caught Liam watching Killian. “Ever wonder why we play in some open clearing rather than a real diamond?” Emma shook her head; she hadn’t really thought about it before. “Cassidy is rich. His family has tons of money. His friends get to play on the real field in town. After their fight, Cassidy made sure Killian wouldn’t be able to play on a real field again.” Before Emma could say anything, Liam continued, “ever notice that scar on the back of Killian’s left hand? He busted his hand open on Cassidy’s face. Needed 16 stitches. And there’s the one on his cheek from where Cassidy got him back -- 7 stitches. The two really went at it. They hit each other real good, kept punching even when they both fell to the ground. It took six of us to break it up.”

“Wow. I didn’t know.”

“Killian and I and our mum -- we might not have much, but Killian is proud of what we do have. He’s proud of the life we have, and I know he’ll never forgive our father for what he did.” He looked at her as if to ask if she knew what Brennan had done. She nodded in response. He continued, “and he’ll always defend his family and friends.”

To his credit, Killian did not approach Neal. It was the latter who initiated. All the boys, still in their places on the field, groaned in unison as Neal and his posse made their way into the sandlot. David and Robin were the first to head over to Killian and stand on either side of him. Will, Eric, and the twins all took spots. Emma looked over at Liam as she tentatively walked toward the forming wall of boys. Liam followed her.

“Gee, Killian, how are you supposed to get better when you’re stuck playing with a bunch of rejects?”

“Shut your mouth, Pan,” Killian said through clenched teeth.

The kid in the middle - Emma assumed that was Neal - murmured something after that, but it was unintelligible.

“What’d you say, Cassidy?” Will asked.

“I said you shouldn't even be allowed to touch a baseball. Except for little Jones, you're all an insult to the game.”

Grumpy chimed in, “oh, yeah?”

Sneezy added a sarcastic, “you think so?”

Killian spoke up next. “Come on! We'll take you on right here, right now!”

Robin yelled, “come on,” as the rest of the guys shouted in agreement.

“We play on a real diamond, Jones.” The leader - Neal - spoke again.

“You ain't good enough to lick the dirt off our cleats,” Will crossed his arms.

“Watch it, jerk,” the tall kid - Pan - stepped toward Will.

“Shut up, idiot,” Will stomped his foot.

Emma stood there as the boys passed insults back and forth, some boys joining in with “oohs” as the insults got harsher and harsher.

“Moron!”
“Scab-eater!”
“Butt-sniffer!”
“Pus-licker!”
“You bob for apples in the toilet, and you like it!”

Neal laughed as he noticed Emma for the first time; it was a jarring sound against the backdrop of exchanged insults. “You got a girl on your team? Makes sense since you all play like girls!”

Everyone got real quiet at that. For a group of adolescent boys, there was no greater insult. Cassidy had crossed a line. It was clear no one had an answer to that…

...until Killian spoke up, getting nose-to-nose with Cassidy as he asserted, “you wish you played like Swan!”

“Yeah, right.” The boys next to Emma all laughed; Neal didn’t have a good comeback. Emma would’ve laughed, too, if she wasn’t still bug-eyed from Killian standing up to Neal to defend her.

Killian smirked as his team cheered his apparent victory in the insult war. He winked at Emma.

“Tomorrow at our field, noon,” Neal interrupted the celebration.

“We’ll be there,” Killian got even more in Neal’s face. Neal narrowed his eyes, gaze lingering on Emma as he smiled mischievously, before gesturing for his team to follow him away from the sandlot.

The chorus of cheers got louder when David yelled, “we’re going to kick their butts tomorrow!”