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The Wife

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“This is unacceptable!”

Emma’s shoulders move up and down lightly – lace rustling for a second and then settling back into the serene stillness with which she entered and intends to depart the Nolan residence – not a very lady-like gesture but she supposes – now that she is safely engaged – she needn’t worry quite so much about her every small movement and expression.

“I shall go and talk to her first thing tomorrow.”

She looks up into Mary Margaret Nolan’s fierce eyes – narrowed and flashing like the tips of cocked arrows under her furrowed dark brows. Mary Margaret who never takes anything lying down. Mary Margaret who is the picture of grace and good breeding but the paint for said picture is all potent determination.

Emma slowly cocks her head to the side and marvels at the glow of Mary Margaret. It is not simply the glow of a woman early in her much wanted pregnancy, it is that of a woman who, despite everything she has had to face, seems miraculously, almost magically, protected from disaster. They have both had their fair share of troubles and tribulations but Mary has come out rightfully victorious every time.

Emma, on the other hand, feels like each storm has chipped away a little more of her – dousing her fire bit by painful bit until there is something embarrassingly grey and listless about her now.

“There is no need.”

“Emma—“

“You know what she will say. She knows best. She always knows best.”

“Regina may know a lot, it does not signify that she knows best.”

“Well, then let us hope that she knows well enough.”

She can literally see the anguish on Mary’s face. It pains her. It is not the situation that is causing her friend so much heartache but Emma’s acceptance of it. But while anguish sits prettily on a face as exquisite as Mrs Nolan’s, it is not made to sit there long.

“I believe my cook might know his, I will—“

“Mary, no.”

“But—“

“No. Please. I will not spy on my husband.”

“He is not your husband yet,” Mary declares almost haughtily with that same stubbornness that drew Emma to her years ago.

“He will be.”

Her friend huffs and glares and Emma’s lips tick up at having so quickly demolished Mary’s composure.

“Besides, it is not spying, it is investigating.”

The smile drops and Emma gives her a droll look. Mary waves her hands around as if she is already collecting gossip from the streets and houses of Storybrooke.

“Just because all the gossip is bad doesn’t mean much. I mean—“ she falters. “It is monstrous of Regina to put you in that position no matter— but, well, who knows how much of it is true.”

“Oh, I’m sure some isn’t and plenty is,” Emma waves her own hand in a dismissive gesture. “I will soon find out for myself and until then I do not intend to care for it. Frankly, I don’t intend to care much afterwards either.”

Mary knows her well enough to recognize the truth in her statement. She is not deterred in the least.

“I should put his name to Tink.”

Emma’s eyes widen and narrow in quick succession despite herself. Now, she does not know this Captain Killian Jones that she is to marry in a week. She certainly does not care for him. And yet, even she cannot deny the pinprick of irritation at the association of her future husband with Madame Superior and her “fairies”. Even though it is probably a justified one.

“Oh, I did not mean…” Mary’s porcelain skin is only more becoming with a light rose tinge to it. “I just meant as a source of information. You know her… her girls know all.”

“And I will tell you again that I do not wish you to spend time and effort and money acquiring information that I will soon be privy to myself.”

“But don’t you wish to be prepared, Emma?”

“I am. Life has made sure of it.”

There is little Killian Jones can do that will shock Emma.

“I must go, Mary.”

“Of course. But know that I still very much intend to speak to your grandmother tomorrow.”

“Please don’t. It will only sour her mood and make matters worse.”

Emma admires the way Mary Margaret can appear shocked each time she encounters Regina Mill’s wide known animosity for her.

*****

“This is all that evil old viper’s doing.”

“Well, she couldn’t have rightly forced him into it.”

“Like hell she couldn’t.”

Ruby observes her grandmother’s thunderous profile for a few seconds before she returns her attention to the stove, shaking her head. There is probably a person strong headed enough to change Mrs Lucas’s opinion after it has been formed. Ruby just doesn’t know them.

“Would it be quite so bad?” she wonders to herself.

Years she has worked the kitchen beside the old woman, years she has tried to sneak boys and girls past her and sometimes she still forgets how scarily good her hearing is. Marvelous for gossip, horrible for muttering to yourself.

Or sneaking around for that matter.

“Of course it would be! Christ, girl! You were not so young as to have forgotten the last one.”

“Who says she has to be like the last one?”

“She hasn’t even met him – what ya think she is marrying him for?”

“Perhaps—“

“It don’t matter what she is like anyway. The missus left a mark deep enough to last him for the next three, if he wished to have them. Which he doesn’t. Heaven knows why he decided to buckle under Regina Mills now.”

“She is quite pretty. A bit wan and cold but—”

“I’ve seen her pretty. Girl looks like she will be blown off by the first gust of autumn. Infirm. Fragile. Mark my words, Ruby, this Miss Emma is exactly the kind of wife that man doesn’t need. And, God help us, everyone will know it at the first sign of trouble.”

*****

Emma rubs her finger over the blue stone, marveling at the transparent smudges left behind. She lays the earring beside its twin in her modest jewelry box.

“You can leave these with Zelena.”

She turns around to see her grandmother enter her room without ceremony. Privacy is not a thing Emma is used to – especially not in the last ten years, but it doesn’t stop the tingle of annoyance that travels down to her fingertips at the intrusion.

“The jewels. A married woman should expect to receive those from her husband, not her overindulgent grandmother.”

Emma swallows the scoff that wants to bubble out and wills away any sentimental attachment she might have felt for the jewels in the box. She was told some were her mother’s but she feels no compulsion to fight Regina over the belongings of a woman she never knew.

“Of course,” she slams the lid of the wooden box and ignores the displeased look Regina sends her way. “Anything else you wish me to leave behind?”

“Why, I expect you to leave all.”

She whirls around – eyes wide and disbelieving despite her desire to remain cool and collected in her grandmother’s presence. The cruel twist to Regina’s mouth – all wrinkles and spite, shows that her slip has been noticed and greatly appreciated. Emma curses in her mind and curls her hands into fists before she opens her mouth.

“All? You expect me to depart with nothing but the clothes on my back?”

“Your wedding gown should be arriving any day now so you won’t be needing those either.”

“My skirts will be a tad short for Zelena,” Emma spits out, unable to keep the bitterness out of her voice.

“And a fair bit tight at the bosom but I’m sure she will alter them accordingly.”

She would laugh, if she wasn’t so keenly aware of the humiliation of it all. Regina settles herself on the lone chair in the room with the regality that Emma has hated as long as she can remember.

“I suppose I should thank you for providing me with what comforts you did, while you saw fit,” Emma says sarcastically as she looks around the small and bare room, trying to regain the higher ground.

“You should,” Regina replies as if scorn and sarcasm were none-existent unless they were coming from her own painted lips. “And you should thank me for arranging it so that you will continue on with a roof over your head now that I am unable to carry the burden of you any longer.”

Emma looks at the grey clouds gathering outside her window and rubs her hands over her arms. To the world beyond that pane of glass her marriage to Captain Killian Jones is mostly a simple case of “widower takes on a young bride”.

At 27, Emma isn’t all that young but she is sufficient for Captain Jones’s 40 years of age. His inferior birth is compensated for by his adequate fortune, his disability by his label of a war hero, his cold manner and abstinence from society by the liberties he allowed his late wife. It has all been presented to Emma very matter-of-factly and, on the whole, the deal is perceived in his favour rather than hers. Some – like Mary Margaret – might even frown and shake their heads at Regina’s sacrificing her to a little known man of reported ill-temper and little value and virtue.

Emma expects to find no peace or comfort in her new home and yet, she feels genuine pity for the way the world has dissected Killian Jones and laid him on the cold slab even for his own future wife to observe and judge, if she so pleases. She doesn’t have much to thank Regina for but how little the world truly knows about her is genuinely among the few favours her grandmother has granted her.

Of course, it has been a favour to Regina herself but Emma is all too willing to benefit as well. Society – and the man himself – doesn’t know what Killian Jones is buying. Emma does. She looks Regina in the eye and marvels at how alive the old woman’s face is – with a vicious energy to trample and ascend but with an energy none the less. She wonders how washed out her own complexion must look in comparison.

“Thank you,” she says without scorn or sarcasm.

Regina’s lips twitch again.

“Of course I cannot do everything for you,” she says smoothly and Emma stiffens.

Stripping her of all her worldly possessions was just a precursor – the groundwork for the true blow Regina has come to deliver, and, even though she can conceive of little she fears anymore, Emma feels her heart double its efforts anxiously.

“I wanted you to know that Captain Jones is not aware of certain… limitations of yours.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I imagine it would make a fine topic for your wedding night.”

“Regina, no. You cannot— He must know before. He—“

“He knows enough,” her grandmother grits out. “He knows what will immediately concern him and you.”

“Knows…,” Emma shakes her head helplessly. “I cannot just—“

“You can do as you please after you have said your vows.”

“You should have told him.”

“But of course! Because you are not a hard enough sell as it is.”

Emma’s mouth shuts audibly.

“He barely sees his own daughter,” Regina says dismissively as she gets to her feet. “You might have no trouble at all.”

*****

“Granny is happy,” Alice whispers sarcastically in her ear before she links her arm through Ruby’s and tugs her away from the dirty plates.

Another servant might have a token protest for her. Ruby does not. Ruby has missed the nervous energy and youthful glow of Alice Jones.

“When isn’t she? My grandmother, the resident termagant.”

She has missed her laugh as well – loud and addictive as always.

“I know I should be all questions and confusion but I’m just too happy to be back,” Alice almost yells out the last part and lets go of Ruby to turn in a circle with her arms spread wide.

Ruby shakes her head fondly. She is glad as well, though she knows it cannot last, knows that – much as she loves her father – it won’t be long before Alice starts feeling homesick and heartsick. She steers them back toward the abandoned picnic.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say he is getting married just to have you back for a bit.”

Alice’s smile turns a bit wistful and she shrugs, smoothing her hopelessly wrinkled skirts.

“I was here just this spring.”

“That was more than three months ago!”

“Well, I’m certain it would’ve cost papa less to take us all for a vacation in Europe than to marry some fabulous lady.”

“She is not all that. Her grandmother was – still likes to think she is, I hear – but this Miss Emma isn’t overly fond of society apparently. Granny says all the worse, she probably thinks herself too good for it but…”

“You think not?” the tentative hope in Alice’s voice mirrors the one in her own heart.

“I hope not.”

Alice drops on the picnic blanket and looks up for the source of the bird song above, her brows furrowed in thought. Ruby has learnt that one can never tell if she is pondering the mysteries of existence or daydreaming about the pudding this evening.

“Why wouldn’t he find someone who really—“

Ruby feels her heart crumble along with Alice’s face but tries to plaster a smile on her own.

“He has you.”

“No, he doesn’t,” the girl sighs dejectedly and Ruby hopelessly searches for a distraction, a way to—

“Miss Lucas, call for doctor Hopper, please!”

Both girls whirl around to see Killian Jones coming toward them with quick strides, the line between his brows as deep as when he pours over his papers. His hat and cravat are absent and the sun glints off the silver streaks in his hair and unkempt beard. They have to talk him into shaving that for the wedding.

“What’s the matter?” Ruby exclaims as Alice scrambles to her feet.

“My daughter,” Jones gestures at the girl in question with a concerned expression. “She has been here a full day now and has yet to get on the new horse I have procured for her.”

Ruby huffs and plants her hands on her hips while Alice unashamedly rolls her eyes at her father.

“I thought we were waiting for the lady of the house.”

Killian drops his faux concern and frowns with true feeling before levelling his girl with a firm look.

You are the lady of the house and shall wait on no one.”

Alice’s blush is fierce and the way she fiddles with her long arms more befitting an eight-year-old than a young woman of nineteen. Ruby angles her head away so her grin isn’t terribly obvious.

“Come,” Killian extends his right hand to his daughter and she takes it eagerly. “Let us see if I have finally managed to find a beast that you can’t drive to exhaustion in an afternoon.”

*****

“Hmm, it’s quite nice.”

Emma smiles a little at her friend’s reluctant tone. The dress is beautiful, if a bit too ostentatious for Emma’s taste. Not that Emma has ever been given the chance to really find out what her own taste is like. She supposes she never will now. But if garments like this are what she has to content herself with, Emma thinks she hardly has a right to complain.

“So… would you like to hear it?”

“Hear what?” she looks at Mary over her shoulder as she carefully lays her wedding dress aside.

It’s not the dress that has made an impression on Emma but rather the note that accompanied it. She was expecting the former but the latter was a surprise. The fact that it made her smile even more so.

But it doesn’t feel quite right to show that to Mary Margaret. She knows most women – especially married women, especially when it concerns their husbands – have few secrets from their closest confidants but Emma has always been good at keeping secrets. Even from Mrs Nolan.

“What Tink had to say.”

“Mary, you didn’t! I explicitly told you—“

“I didn’t ask her about that. Well, I mean…”

Emma sighs, any impulse to confide in her friend now gone.

“Go on then,” she says tiredly as she sits on the edge of her bed across from Mary.

“Well… Tink said the late Mrs Jones used to come around to Madame Superior’s every month or so…”

Emma sighs again and looks at the white lace that awaits her. There is only one reason wives go to Madame Superior’s – to look for their husbands. What is more, they only do so when things are so bad that they do not care who knows they are there looking for their husbands.

“Yet she assured me she has never seen Captain Jones there.”

“What?”

“I know. I didn’t understand it either but Tink was adamant. She asked around. No one has.”

Why on earth would the wife be there, if the husband was not?

“Was she…” Emma purses her lips, unwilling to finish her thought in Mary Margaret’s presence.

“Hmmm? Oh!” her friend’s eyes widen almost comically. “Oh, no, no! Nothing like that. It seemed exactly like any other case – desperate wife looking for her wayward husband but… apparently she didn’t have any luck there.”

Emma frowns deeply, her thoughts starting to run away from her before she waves them off like pesky flies. This is exactly what she wished to avoid.

“Well, I hate to say it but with this information – I hardly think you got your money’s worth, Mary.”

“Tink wanted to avoid my thinking exactly that,” she replies with a glimmer in her eye that immediately makes Emma suspicious. “So she told me something else. Nothing terribly secret I’m sure just… ancient history as they say. That few people seem to know or remember today.”

Emma waits for a beat or two before she realizes that Mary desires to be prompted into revealing the intelligence she has bought. Frankly, she does not care for it, but the last thing she wants is to disappoint her friend.

“Go on then.”

“Well, it appears that Mrs Jones wasn’t supposed to be Mrs Jones at all.”

Emma frowns and feels herself lean slightly forward despite her best intensions. The silence stretches again.

“Are the dramatic pauses truly necessary?”

Mary has the decency to blush.

“Yes, I— Alright, sorry. Apparently, Captain Jones – coming back from the war a hero and all, got engaged to some famous beauty, a Milah something or other. But then, less than a month before the wedding, he called off the whole thing. And not a week later he was married to this Eloise Gardner. And— and a telling number of months later came the baby.”

“Oh,” Emma looks down at her hands in her lap. She hears Mary stand up and come to sit beside her but she doesn’t lift her eyes until her friend’s own delicate hands move to clasp her cold ones.

“Emma, don’t you see? This is wonderful!”

“Wonderful?”

“Of course. When we tell Regina, she will have no choice but to call off—“

“No.”

“I— I beg your pardon?”

“We’re not telling my grandmother or anyone else. She probably knows anyway. As you just said, this does not sound like a secret. Just gossip too old to matter.”

And like Killian Jones at least attempted to fix the mess he’d made.

“Too old to ma— Emma, this sounds like he was engaged to one woman and—“

“Yes, I can do the calculations, Mary.”

“And you do not care?”

“It does not matter, if I care or not.”

“How can—“

“Please, I— I need to prepare for tomorrow.”

Mary sits frozen for a long moment until Emma’s hard look seems to prompt her into action. She is at the door already before she looks back once more.

“When everyone is trying to do wrong by you, Emma, there is no need for you to join them.”

She sits for a few moments, staring at the door long after it has closed behind Mary Margaret’s back. Then her eyes flit over the white lace again and land on the note that had come with it. She leans to the side and reaches over, her fingers snagging the paper’s edge.

Dear Miss Emma,

Your grandmother has provided your measurements and insisted that you need not be consulted about the dress that you shall be married in. It seems a queer custom to me but I should not meddle in your affairs, nor fault you if you have no particular interest in either dress or ceremony.

Unfortunately, I am rather ignorant of the current fashions for young ladies and was thus forced to seek help. I believe my daughter’s tastes often run towards the unusual and somewhat extravagant but I did emphatically ask her to be as sensible as possible.

I sincerely hope the garment chosen is to your satisfaction. But were it not, please, do not hesitate to return it – I have been assured that the seamstress has many more to offer.

Sincerely,

Killian Jones

She taps her finger over the name. By tomorrow night she will be Emma Jones. The fact has brought her neither joy, nor pain since Regina presented it to her. It has hardly ignited her curiosity, even after Mary Margaret’s insistence on scrutinizing Captain Jones. This was always one of the possible outcomes for her – frankly, one of the better ones. She has been prepared.

But it is only now, with this note in her hand, that she feels almost calm.

It appears Killian Jones is simply human after all. She will do well to remember that most humans have shown her little kindness but she still feels better now that her future husband is not just some abstract and malignant force for her to face blindly.

*****

“I do not have any.”

Ruby frowns at the woman before her. She looks so out of place – her white dress and pale face making her appear like a snowflake among the sunshine and purple flowers around them.

“I beg your pardon, ma’am. Should we expect your luggage after the ceremony?”

“No, I— I’m not bringing anything. I have nothing to bring.”

Ruby opens her mouth to rephrase her question yet again but then she notes the way Miss Emma draws a carefully measured breath and tries to keep her back straight, her green eyes everywhere but on Ruby, her posture stiff, her arms wrapped tightly around her torso.

She is embarrassed.

“That’s... I see. Do you need anything at present, ma’am?”

The bride shakes her head but still refuses to look at her and Ruby can’t help but take the opportunity to make her escape.

And now what?

She has to tell someone or the lady of the house will be coming down to breakfast tomorrow in her wedding dress like some crazy, gothic horror bride. Granny is out of the question – she already hates her, learning that the woman’s dowry is nothing but the good weather they’ve been blessed with will certainly only make matters worse. The other servants will be of no help. The grandmother is probably well aware of the situation, if she is not its very maker.

It’s either Killian or Alice. And fate has obviously decided that it shall be both when she spots them as soon as she walks through the French doors.

“Your bride must be a real treasure, Captain Jones, seeing as she comes with none,” Ruby starts brusquely and less kindly than she intended.

Killian blinks at her in confusion.

“I beg your pardon?”

“The mistress has come with literally nothing but the dress on her back.”

“I do not understand,” Killian huffs and pulls on the cuffs of his left sleeve, fidgeting the way he has been every time someone mentioned his future wife. “What is the issue? I assured Regina she will be provided with all that she needs.”

“Splendid,” Ruby claps her hands together. “Shall I take her shopping right now or in two hours after you are quite finished with the ceremony?”

“I am sure tomorrow will be agreeable, Ruby.”

“And should I take her shopping in her wedding dress?”

Killian blinks at her a couple of times before he seems to grasp the full extent of the situation. Something dark and thunderous passes over his face and Ruby almost regrets telling him. The woman seemed embarrassed enough as it was, Ruby did not wish to get her into even more trouble.

But the cloud passes as quickly as it appeared and now Killian’s expression is one she is much more familiar with – cool and businesslike.

“I can give her a few things,” Alice chimes in before her father can open his mouth.

“Sweetheart—“

“No, truly, it’s no bother. The measurements for the wedding dress were similar enough. Similar enough for a nightgown and a dress to wear for a day.”

Ruby is already rocking on her heels, ready to go, as Killian mulls the suggestion over. His sigh is resignation and fondness all at once.

“Very well. Put some sleeping garments and a couple of Alice’s dresses in her room and take her to the shops first thing tomorrow, understood?”

*****

She is going to tell him before they get to that alter. That’s the single thought that Emma repeated to herself like a mantra on the ride to her future home. And now that they are here her determination is cold and heavy as lead where it sits in her stomach and Regina’s fingers are like claws where they clamp onto her arm.

“Now you listen to me. If you walk out of this place an unmarried woman – you are walking out on the street.”

Her breath is nauseatingly sweet but her threat is thankfully sharp and short as usual. In the next second Regina is making her way across the garden as if she owns every blade of grass and flower bloom and Emma heads inside the house to put as much distance between them as possible.

The sun is shining brightly for “her special day” and it takes her eyes a few seconds to blink away the white spots and adjust to the dimness inside. She lets them take in the home that she will soon bind herself to because simply stepping in has made it painfully clear to Emma that she is a coward and will not be seeking out her betrothed for an audience before the ceremony. She knows Regina makes no idle threats.

It is a moderately sized house and she is glad for it – a little bigger and it would’ve felt daunting, a little smaller and she would’ve felt trapped. The Jones’s home is well-kept even if it doesn’t look particularly lived in. The light seems to enter muted and subdued and aside from the powder white curtains, most of the interior is dark and somehow severe. She encounters at least half a dozen moaning floorboards on her walk around the ground floor. With all the guests out in the garden, the only other sound is her soft gasp when she peaks into the library.

Now, Emma isn’t inordinately fond of books but she is completely enamored with libraries – with the quietness and safety of them. A library in a house is little less than the eye in the middle of the storm, far as she is concerned. Unfortunately, it looks like it is also the room that sees the most of the family, if all the scattered books, writing implements and glasses left to ring the wooden surfaces are anything to go buy. She hums when she spots all the nautical touches – Killian Jones is a naval man on more than just paper.

But Emma does not care about furniture or decorations, about how light or dark the house is, she does not even care that the library probably won’t become her sanctuary. All she cares about is that unlike Regina’s imposing residence, there is scarcely any stone or marble to be seen, most of everything is made of dark, polished wood, covered in thick carpets and filled with deep settees. All she cares about is that it’s not freezing cold.

The first rumor about Killian Jones that falls apart in front of her eyes is that he does not care much for his daughter. Emma stands just behind the door through which she is supposed to enter the garden and watches Alice Jones adjust her father’s cravat. She never knew her own parents but if she had, the way Captain Jones is looking at his daughter is the way she would’ve dreamt of them looking at her at least once.

Soon – too soon – admiral Liam Jones strides toward them like he is about to gather his fleet and send them into battle. She knows he is slightly older than his brother but one would never be able to tell by looking at them. Liam Jones’s greying strands are just a soft accent in his lighter hair, he is clean-shaven and filling out his jacket just right. He stands tall and confident and seemingly ready for anything.

As he ushers his brother and niece toward the plain arch where the small ceremony will take place, Emma knows someone will soon come to collect her as well so she takes a shaky breath and prays it’s not Regina.

She gets her first proper look at Killian Jones when she comes to stand across from him at the altar and Killian Jones looks every bit his age and then some. She finds him much more handsome than his brother and infinitely sadder. His own broad shoulders exude exhaustion and the lines on his face speak of more agitation than laughter. His eyes are the bluest she has ever seen and for a moment Emma is afraid they will chill her even more. But Killian’s eyes are warm, if tired, impossibly deep, if carefully guarded. His voice sounds like a smoking room and the grey in his dark hair stands out like a shock to the body after a stiff drink. She supposes a lady should not know how that feels. Killian looks like he knows how that feels. He looks like he would like to be reminded right this second, in the middle of their proclamations to “love and cherish”.

Despite the bright sun and the soft breeze, Emma feels cold the way she always does. It could be her imagination or it could be that her fingernails are really tinged blue. When they are pronounced husband and wife, Killian’s lips feel scorching hot at the corner of her mouth. It is the briefest of touches and she feels the seed of gratitude within her as he pulls away.

Then she thinks what a ridiculous pair they make – a frigid cold bride and an already exhausted groom. This will go marvelously.

Chapter Text

She puts some of the cream on the very tip of her finger and contemplates it as if it might hold all the answers to her future.

“Congratulations.”

Emma tenses in her seat but manages to retain her composure enough to not jump out of it or, worse still, let out the curse that hits the back of her teeth. She forces her mouth up into what she hopes might partially resemble a smile and turns to her right.

The lady now sat next to her is what Emma supposes she might have become with the proper tutoring and an otherworldly seamstress. Her blonde hair is lighter than Emma’s and pulled up into one of the most fashionable styles of the day and her blue dress is the most flattering piece of clothing Emma has seen on a woman. Her smile is genuine but not overly warm.

“I’m Mrs Jones. The other Mrs Jones. Elsa Jones.”

“Oh.”

Emma didn’t know Liam Jones was married, known as he was for his business talents and immense dedication to the Jones Brothers shipping company, but now that she actually spares it a thought it makes perfect sense that he would be an equally successful family man. It doesn’t take much to see that Elsa Jones is nothing if not a success when it comes to choosing a bride.

Killian Jones it seems has fallen short of his brother not only in the navy ranks and business hierarchy but on the marital battleground as well. Emma can see herself from across the garden, sitting beside Elsa Jones, and she supposes it is much the same as hanging a plain white shift on the laundry line beside your wedding night garments.

The thought of wedding nights makes her back stiffen and she focuses her attention on the gems in Elsa’s rings as she takes a delicate bite out of her own piece of cake.

“I… didn’t really expect all this,” Emma gestures at the few tables scattered around the garden and the decorated arch she married Captain Jones under just… an hour ago?

It’s not a lavish party by any standard but it is definitely more than Emma imagined their marriage would warrant. She has yet to decide how she feels about this.

“Oh, the cake was simply unavoidable,” Elsa says with an almost conspiratorial smile. “Alice has too big of a sweet tooth. And so does her father, I believe, though he will most likely deny it.”

Emma blinks and wonders why the idea of a gentleman enjoying sugary treats sounds so outlandish to her. Then again—

“I’m not sure I— Regina has always abhorred sugar.”

Elsa glances over her shoulder at her grandmother and leans slightly closer to Emma. Surprisingly, the subtle intimacy of it doesn’t put her immediately on edge.

“Yes, I can tell,” Elsa whispers.

“Yes, Regina has always been very strict about maintaining her figure.”

“Oh, no, I mean that she does look positively bitter.”

Emma’s eyes widen but she manages to turn her snort into a less undignified cough. Elsa Jones – a perfect lady with a perfectly wicked tongue.

This family appears full of surprises. And the cake is quite delicious.

*****

She stands on the second step, her eyes shifting between the floor above and the corridor stretching away below her. The corridor which her husband will walk down any second now to take her up those stairs and to the bedroom they are meant to share for their wedding night and all the nights after.

She is certainly no warmer now, in the gloom of the broad staircase, than she was earlier under the summer sunshine. The coldness is nothing new but the way all her muscles are straining under her skin – as if preparing to propel her out of the nearest door or even an open window – is certainly adding to Emma’s almost perpetual discomfort.

It is paramount that she gets a hold of herself. A tranquil state of mind, it is the only thing that can help her now. Detached – she needs to be calm and collected and detached. There is nothing terribly out of the ordinary about the situation she finds herself in and she needs to realize that – the sooner, the better.

“Ready?”

She startles a little and looks down. Jones is standing at the foot of the stairs and looking up at her, illuminated by soft candlelight his eyes look truly bottomless and the circles under them are even deeper. He has a candle in each hand, the left one’s little plate carefully balanced on the wooden surface of his prosthetic. Instinct tells her to reach for it but she doesn’t wish to overstep some imaginary boundary in their very first minute alone. She is certain he has plenty of experience and can carry more than a couple of candles up the stairs of his home.

Maybe she is wrong or maybe – most likely – he just realizes that she needs something for her fidgeting hands and takes pity on her because he hands her the candle in his right hand before transferring the one on his left into it.

They make it up to the landing before she is certain she has a firm enough grasp on her courage. When she opens her mouth, she takes some pride in how firm her voice is, even if the strain behind it is plain to the ear.

“I believe it has been made known to you that I am not—”

“We can save discussions of what either of us is and isn’t for tomorrow.”

It’s not an order but it is a suggestion that she finds herself willing to accept. His voice is just as deep and husky as it was when they were exchanging marriage vows but it gives off a much different impression in the darkness of the still and quiet house. Emma thinks that’s what the voice of a man who has come back from a long and arduous journey must sound like. It is indisputable that she does not know all about being somebody’s wife but she knows enough about what men who’ve come back from a journey might expect to find.

She has always wondered what the difference truly is – physically, for men. Naturally, there was a time when she felt almost enraged at the notion – the conviction, that a woman touched is a woman impure, that she is somehow less.

Emma is less, by that definition. And by a few others. There may have been ways for her to compensate for that but she has not made the effort to learn what they are. She has remained caught in the horrible middle – no longer pure but not yet experienced.

It is the latter that makes her feet feel heavy now as she raises them to the next rung. She does not care about satisfying her husband tonight. She wonders if women ever do. Perhaps when they are truly in love, but then she wonders if that isn’t just another notion like purity with no true manifestation in the real lives of real people.

No, she worries for her own self and for that her inexperience is a burden as heavy as her impurity, if not heavier. She has laid with a man but twice. Each time hurried, prolonged not a second longer than it took him to reach completion. For such a pivotal moment in her life, the memory of it is an embarrassing blur but not enough so that she doesn’t now recall the discomfort, the fumbling and the pain and then not much of anything but the burn of friction.

That’s all she found in a man she had set her eyes on, a man who made love to her with words before she allowed him to do so with his body – both proved nothing like what she expected and even less like what he promised. And that man had been little more than a boy when it came to the strength of character and experience of body he had.

Killian Jones is a man. What is more, he is her husband and he does not have to lull her with pretty promises and coax her into his bed. She is his wife – his bed is where she belongs.

Her thighs tense and Emma curses silently under her breath as she feels the slightest tremble in her legs. She is surprised – almost mortified – to find herself on the verge of tears. Jones is a solid three steps behind her but Emma has already realized that her mind and body are sensing the approach of something that neither has a fond memory of.

She most certainly needs to get a hold of herself.

“Here.”

Emma turns back, realizing that she doesn’t really know where she is going and why Jones let her lead the way. He turns the knob on a door in deep grey and gestures inside with his candle without actually crossing the threshold.

“This is to be your room.”

Her—

“I trust you should have everything you might need immediately. Ruby will take you shopping first thing tomorrow. As soon as you are ready that is.”

Her room. Those two words together fail to make sense in the situation that the two of them currently inhabit, no matter how Emma turns them around. Tis two words, there aren’t that many different ways she can turn them.

“Alice’s room is right across,” Jones adds and she realizes he is still standing at the door – her door – illuminating the entrance but not actually entering. “And my own chambers are at the very end.”

He nods to himself and finally lets the arm holding his handle settle back at his side, his left is angled slightly behind him as if he is half prepared for a bow. Or hiding something.

“I—“

“If you need anything—“ he cuts off with a glance toward the end of the corridor where his room is apparently situated.

Her room. His room.

He nods again.

“Good night.”

She watches the wild flame of his candle move down the corridor with him. It’s when he is half a dozen paces away, his steps heavy yet barely audible and his form the only solid thing among the shadows, that she remembers he gave her a candle of her own to light her way.

*****

Her bedchamber is unnecessarily spacious. It is the first thing that crosses Emma’s mind as she lifts her head from the pillow in the late morning. The sun has climbed high enough that the light is winning the battle with the curtains – brightness filtered through slate blue makes the corners of her room much clearer than candlelight did the night before.

Her wedding night which – for reasons yet wrapped in the temporary cobwebs of sleep and the more permanent mystery of Killian Jones – she spent alone under three blankets, all in different shades ranging between blue and green. Most of everything in the room is soft shades of those two colours and little seems ill-chosen or out of place. Just the sight of the fireplace sends tingles of anticipation over her whole body.

Emma curls her toes and buries her nose in the white nightgown she found waiting for her the night before. It smells fruity and sweet like jam and, before she has truly decided to let her emotions reign for a moment, her eyes are already prickling for the second time in only so many hours. This time the feeling is much different.

She is as uncertain of herself and everyone in this house as she was when she first set foot inside it the day before, she is much more perplexed and still a fair bit uncomfortable. But Emma is no longer afraid.

*****

“About time.”

She has to give credit to the old woman, her words are just quiet enough that she can deny uttering them and just loud enough to make sure Emma hears her and all the judgement she can infuse into three syllables.

It is an admirable effort, certainly, but Emma grew up in a house with Regina Mills and her lady’s maid Zelena, her experience with judgement is on a level that, she is confident, is rarely achieved in the Jones household.

And she rather deserves the cook’s evil eye. After sleeping in a bed fit for a princess, she is tumbling down the stairs for breakfast at an hour befitting one. Her dress – Alice’s, if she has to make an uneducated guess – barely brushing her ankles and hanging a little off her shoulders, completes the picture of the careless and carefree lady who is not the least bothered with custom or court.

The image couldn’t be further from the subject. Emma has never been particular about observing the etiquette in every minute of her daily life but she certainly wished to make an effort and a hopefully less than disastrous impression on her first day as Mrs Emma Jones.

As it is, she rushes in to find Captain Jones in a corner of the breakfast table, plates and even his cup of tea obviously abandoned long ago as most of the space in front and around him is taken by papers and what looks like numerous logbooks.

“Good morning.”

He glances at her for such a brief moment that Emma is unsure whether she imagined the look or not.

“Morning.”

The cook – gods, she needs to ask the younger maid about her name, she knew yesterday that she will never remember it right away – comes in to pointedly pick up some empty plates and Emma decides to give her apologies and extend an olive branch in one swoop.

“My apologies, I— Well, I didn’t realize how late it was.”

“Did you have some sort of engagement in the morning?”

Emma furrows her brow in confusion. Jones’s eyes continue to follow the ink that shapes words and numbers under his skilled guidance.

“No. I… did not.”

“Then there was no need for you to be up any earlier and, thus, you are not late,” his blue eyes finally find hers and Emma is shocked by how different they look yet again, the morning light making them brighter and more vivid. “In addition, it is an impossibility to be “late” for much of anything while my daughter is residing under the same roof.”

Emma looks around and realizes that Alice Jones is indeed nowhere to be seen.

“And yourself?”

He blinks at her, plainly and powerfully taken aback.

“I— I wake much too early for you to concern yourself with that.”

Before she can puzzle out his surprise and formulate her reply, Jones has turned his attention to the cook.

“Mrs Lucas, a fresh pot and some warm toast, if you would be so kind.”

“There was plenty of warm toast an hour ago.”

“Indeed. Time has that pesky quality of cooling warm food. Hence, our constant race against it for a piece of hot bread.”

Emma watches the exchange with mounting amusement and apprehension. She cannot help but appreciate Killian’s quick acquittal and dismissal of her small misstep but she acutely feels the need to not incense Mrs Lucas any further. The look she gives her before leaving the room tells Emma that she has reached new lows in the old woman’s eyes in an alarmingly short time.

She swallows her worry and takes a seat at the half of the table still set for breakfast, and focuses on the more benevolent presence in the house.

Days ago – indeed, mere hours ago, Emma would not have considered the possibility of her future husband appearing “benevolent” in her eyes so soon after their vows were exchanged – if he ever did at all. But, looking at Killian now, she is hard at work to find any trace of malice or arrogance about him. It is hard work and work she does not wish to do.

Oh, he is far from approachable. Frankly, sitting at the opposite end of the same table, he might as well be a continent away from her, but even distant as he is, his presence is calming and solid. Solid, flipping through the pages before him and inking the tip of his pen with practiced ease, deep lines of concentration lining his forehead, he looks like he can probably hold most of the world on his slightly hunched shoulders. He looks like he does.

*****

“A good morning to all!”

Despite the late hour Alice does not carry that aura of haughty lateness and overindulgence that Emma worried about, she seems to bounce her way into the room much like the occasional sunbeam that refracts in the porcelain cups. There are pheasants on them and Emma has been tracing the tail of one while sneaking glances at the man across from her for the last quarter of an hour.

Alice slides behind her father’s chair and gives him a quick peck on the cheek before she circles the table again and sits down a seat away from Emma, smiling at her openly.

“Morning.”

Alice’s warm toast and fresh tea appear as if by magic without the captain having to so much as give Mrs Lucas a prompting look.

“When should I tell Peter to have the horses ready?”

She looks expectantly at her father and Emma instinctively follows her example. Killian looks up and tilts his head to the side.

“You should tell him to have the carriage ready first. Ruby is taking Emma shopping, I believe.”

“Oh, can I go as well? I want to find a new perfume for—”

Emma sees Alice glance at her from the corner of her eye and senses that she might have finished her sentence were it not for her presence. Emma doesn’t dwell on it, she has never had an ear for gossip.

“I thought you might wish to,” Killian responds to his daughter but looks at Emma and it takes her a long moment to realize the decision is apparently left to her.

“Oh, of course. If you wish to, I could probably use some help.”

“It’s decided then,” Alice claps her hands once and jumps to her feet.

“Finish you breakfast first, darling.”

A bread roll is merrily snatched up and carried away as Alice calls out for Ruby and Emma politely pretends not to notice Killian’s eyeroll.

“Emma, if you are finished with your breakfast…”

“Oh, yes,” she pushes her cup of tea away and raises to her feet, she is not sure she has anything to do while she waits for Alice and Ruby to be ready to leave but she can certainly channel her efforts into pretending to.

“Then perhaps we can have a word in my study?”

Or that.

“Of course.”

Her husband gathers some of his papers, leaving a few on the table with his inkwell and pen, and gestures for her to follow him. The further they go, the more the noises of the house seem to fade, the light getting more and more muted. He opens the door to his study for her and inside the silence is complete and the windows give off the impression that it is late afternoon rather than midday.

Emma stands perfectly still. The gloomier room makes goosebumps erupt over her flesh. Jones drops the papers in his hand on his desk and then himself drops into the chair behind it with a certain amount of relief. Her impression is that his prolonged presence at breakfast might have been a rare courtesy, prompted by Alice’s presence and Emma’s first breakfast as a member of the family.

“Emma, you don’t have to stand like a newly minted soldier.”

It’s probably the first time she has heard a trace of genuine amusement in his voice. She tries to loosen her muscles and sits in one of the chairs in front of his desk, carefully arranging her skirts and crossing her ankles.

“I want you to feel comfortable here.”

The knowledge that this is easier said than done sits heavy in her stomach. It has little to do with the house around her or the man before her but Emma is simply not sure she knows how to be comfortable.

“Is your room satisfactory? There are two more bedrooms which you can—”

“The room is lovely.”

Killian nods in a way that makes her think he doesn’t actually believe in her satisfaction but is content with the pronouncement of it.

“I’ve instructed Ruby to procure everything that you are unlikely to feel the need to choose personally but you can of course review the list with her. Feel free to purchase any clothes, handkerchiefs, perfumes, make-up and— whatever it is you might need or want today. Just leave my name and I will settle the bills tomorrow. What else?”

Killian seems to wrack his brain for any other necessities while Emma wonders at the trust of it all. Abusing his generosity is the furthest thing from her mind but she can’t help but notice that it would be very easy to do so, if one desired it.

“Jewelry, of course. I apologize for the pieces I sent with your dress. If I can be quite frank, jewels completely slipped my mind and under the press of time I resorted to what was available here.”

Sitting across from this man, Emma has to wonder that Liam Jones is supposedly the businessman of the family. The tone of his speech is exactly what she assumes befits a business deal, even if the content of it seems to be arranged much in her favour rather than his. Perhaps that is the key to it – Killian Jones doesn’t appear selfish enough to be a good businessman.

“Umm, K-Killian,” his name sounds rather monumental on her tongue but she takes some small measure of satisfaction and reassurance from the way it startles him as well – the business façade slipping slightly – she supposes his work associates do not address him by his given name but, even if she feels like one right now, calling her husband “Captain Jones” is one thing she is not willing to submit to. “The jewels were quite lovely and I do not… I really do not require any more at present.”

The jewelry actually fit her personal tastes better than the dress. The pieces are simple but elegant, just a bracelet and a pair of earrings. The bracelet especially she has fallen quite in love with – the little five-petal flowers inlaid with golden gemstones.

“Did they… belong to your wife?”

She regrets the question immediately. Killian’s shoulders stiffen perceptibly and he turns slightly away, any openness in his expression gone.

“No. All my late wife’s belongings were promptly sold.”

It’s a cold statement but his voice is even colder, as if taking responsibility for the words and aiming to make them even harsher.

“They were my mother’s.”

Her eyes jump back to his half-turned face with unmitigated surprise. The shot of guilt follows soon after.

“I will return them as—”

“There is no need for that. You are my wife. Who else should be in possession of my mother’s jewels.”

Alice, Elsa and a row of anonymous ladies in impeccable gowns measured just for them who would’ve made much better wives to Killian Jones parade before her eyes in the space of a single heartbeat. She manages to stop herself before she asks if the previous Mrs Jones were allowed the same familial privilege.

Killian clears his throat and turns to face her fully again. The businessman back in control.

“Ruby can show you all around the house whenever you ask. You can choose an apartment for yourself and any guests you might wish to have. Of course, you can come and go as you please.”

Emma blinks in surprise, she does not believe such a statement is usually proceeded by “of course” or made at all.

“If you wish me to attend any dance or dinner party with you, I request a day’s notice and if you wish to host any such, I’d like you to notify me a week or so before as well.”

The seconds tick by, Killian’s eyes have shifted to the world outside the window and Emma realizes his listing of her liberties has come to an end.

“And what is expected of me?”

Before stepping into this room she could not have envisioned asking this question so bluntly but, short as it has been, the time she has spent in Killian’s presence leads her to believe that directness and honesty might serve her best. She prays to a god she secretly doesn’t believe in that she is not wrong.

Killian’s eyes turn to her more shadowed and somewhat confused. He doesn’t seem to have a ready answer for her and she finds it extremely strange that he has not asked himself that question already.

“If there is anything— If there is an issue, I’d ask you to come directly to me with it.”

Who else would she go to? Already – perhaps naively but instinctively, she will rather come to him than run back to her grandmother. Emma wonders if Jones underestimates how alone she is and has always been.

When he lapses into silence again and steals a glance at the frankly frightening pile of papers on his desk, Emma figures she will have to navigate wifely duties on her own until a time when he decides to define those for her. She nods, raises from her chair and, after a slight hesitation, heads for the door.

“Oh, and Emma? Please, do remind Alice that she will have to fit whatever she purchases in her travel bags when she leaves.”

Her curiosity might have prompted her to ask about times when Alice forgot that essential detail on a shopping trip and the results thereof but, as it is, his mention of his daughter has a much different effect on her. She turns around and gathers her strength – it’s there, she knows, she hopes, she hasn’t called on it in a long time, has let it rest after all that she put it through but it’s there and—

And Killian Jones is smiling. It’s small and private and likely directed at his daughter’s imprudence rather than anything else but… her strength fails her.

“I’ll make sure she keeps that in mind.”

She tries to form a smile of her own but that fails as well.

*****

“Don’t put the kettle on yet, I think they’re off to show Emma the horses.”

Granny makes a displeased sound in the back of her throat and Ruby can’t help herself.

“She isn’t all that bad, you know.”

“You buy a dozen dresses together and now you’re thick as thieves?”

“It certainly wasn’t a dozen. She is quite modest and made very sensible choices.”

“I ain’t giving her credit for that. Making sensible choices is what women do.”

“All I’m saying, she isn’t spoilt or anything, doesn’t seem used to nice things and… I think she feels guilty for coming here with nothing.”

“As she should.”

“You know it couldn’t’ve been her choice.”

But her grandmother just shakes her head and kneads the dough in her hands harder, her sleeves pushed up as far as they will go. Ruby has never seen her sleeves slip down her arms – even they know not to get on the wrong side of Granny Lucas. They’re smarter than she is apparently.

“She likes him, you know.”

“And why wouldn’t she?”

Ruby barely refrains from rolling her eyes. Granny would sooner admit that her shortbread were inedible than that Killian Jones had a flaw.

“And how would you know anyways? Are you her lady’s maid now?”

Ruby huffs and blows an escaped lock of hair out of her eyes. There is nothing to do in the kitchen until the family comes in for tea and she feels restless whenever there is nothing to do.

“She kept asking me questions about him.”

“What questions?” the dough hits the wood hard and in the next moment her grandmother’s eyes are fixed firmly on her, something almost primitively protective sparkling behind her glasses.

“Oh, good Lord! When would be the most opportune time to slip him some poison? What questions. I don’t know. What kind of tea he likes, if he always gets up early in the morning – innocent questions!”

Granny scrutinizes her carefully before she grunts in reluctant acceptance and turns back to her task.

“You tell that girl nothing. She wants to know so much she can earn the knowledge.”

“Well, I don’t think it’s fair of you to take it out on her.”

“Many a thing in this life that ain’t fair, Ruby. When she proves herself to me, you can be sure I’ll do my damnest to protect her from that unfairness as well.”

*****

She is laboring under no illusion that Jones hasn’t noticed the reluctant way she is shuffling after him. The absence of her enthusiasm is thrown into even sharper relief against Alice’s vibrant excitement. The girl is quite a few paces ahead of them and Emma is not convinced her feet have touched the ground at all since they set out toward the small stables.

It’s the part of the Jones residence that Emma hoped to avoid as long as possible. Alas, after all the time Alice spent with her yesterday – picking fabrics and ribbons, sniffing perfume bottles and trying to determine the right style of hat that befits Emma – a thankless task in Emma’s opinion – when Alice started prodding her father to get the horses saddled again today, Emma felt compelled to join and indulge her as well.

Now she realizes she might have overestimated herself.

“Are you quite alright?”

She blinks up to find that Killian has fallen back into step with her. He looks concerned and uncomfortable over being so at the same time.

“Oh, yes, I’m perfectly—“ the “fine” sticks to the roof of her mouth and no matter how hard she prods it with her tongue, she cannot dislodge it from there. “Not entirely.”

She doesn’t know if she is more surprised by her own admission or by the fact that they just calmly continue walking forward. Then she thinks perhaps he didn’t hear her and she is almost glad for it.

“Is this about a fear of the animals or…”

“No. No, I used to ride. I liked— I loved it, truthfully. But then… I stopped. And now it’s been some ten years since I’ve sat astride a horse.”

It’s possibly the longest she has gone on talking since she got here and Emma feels both pride and embarrassment.

“Astride?”

Her head whips up to find him looking straight ahead and obviously struggling to suppress a smile. It’s only whether he is truly amused or mocking her that is unclear to Emma.

“Well, yes, I used to—“

At this moment, Alice comes toward them astride an elegant, impeccably white horse.

“So does my daughter.”

Neither mockery, not amusement, his smile is genuine enjoyment. Alice urges the beautiful animal closer to them, a slightly sheepish smile on her own face.

“Why, you two were taking so long.”

“Of course, darling. I have long given up keeping pace with you.”

Killian steps a little in front of Emma as he talks and for a moment she thinks he has simply forgotten about her presence. Then he glances back at her and she realizes, despite her insistence that it isn’t the horses she is afraid of, he has very purposefully positioned himself between her and the horse. It’s the stables that make a cold wave slitter down her spine, not the horses inside, but the gesture helps regardless.

She rests one hand on Killian’s shoulder and reaches forward to stroke Alice’s horse. The smell and feel of it makes her lips turn up slightly.

“Emma, meet Jolly,” she grins proudly down at her.

“She does look rather happy indeed. She, yes?”

“Yes. Papa’s is our lonesome gentleman.”

“Would you like to meet yours?”

Killian’s voice is close and she takes a step back to restore a respectable amount of space between them. Then she takes in his words. Emma has owned few things in her life – or so she thought before Regina showed her that she has very likely never owned a thing – and a horse has certainly never been one of them. She used to ride a lot but that was before, that was a different horse every time and never being quite certain if it will happily let her sneak a ride or throw her to the ground. On the inside, she is terrified and exhilarated in equal measures. On the outside, her nod is almost collected.

But another few steps are all it takes for the chill to come back and for terrified to start winning out.

“Killian.”

He turns around, one eyebrow raised in question – expectant but blessedly not impatient.

“Could you… could you bring them out?”

He tilts his head to the side, seemingly confused for a moment and she focuses all of her will power on not saying anything else and making it all even worse. For the life of her, she cannot comprehend how her mind talked her into asking, it’s probably the doing of her galloping heart.

But then Killian just nods once and turns around.

She should follow him. She is not a child and she most certainly doesn’t need or want to be treated as one. Except she is still frozen outside the stables and she did just ask him to fix it. He can’t fix it.

But he does bring the horses out.

His stallion makes her gasp, its black coat quite literally glistening in the afternoon sun, its muscles  rippling with undisguised power. If a horse was ever made to be ridden into battle, this one was, and he seems to know it too, looking disdainfully at Killian for the sedated pace that he is being led at by his bridle.

The other horse – hers, she thinks in wonder, appears almost as white as Jolly at first. Emma thinks it the sun is playing off its flanks as well until it stands just a few feet from her, only then does she realize that the golden tint to its coat is its own and not a trick of the light. And Alice’s horse is as near perfection as can be, and Killian’s is likely the most powerful animal she has seen with her own eyes, but her mare is the one that looks like a painting come to life, like it would belong in a museum, were it not for the energy buzzing around it.

“This is Roger,” Killian gives a tug on his horse’s bridle and the two seem to engage in a silent battle of wills for a few moments before the horse huffs and finally ceases its obviously impatient pacing. “And this… well, that’s for you to decide, I suppose.”

“She doesn’t have a name?” Emma reaches out to touch the horse like she did Jolly.

“She hasn’t had one here.”

“How long has she been here?”

“Not that much longer than you. A week or so.”

“Something summery then.”

It’s two days later when Alice brings a bunch of buttercups with her after a ride that she picks one.

 

Chapter Text

To her utter surprise a week is all it takes for Emma to become more or less attuned to the workings of the Jones household.

Much as she guessed the very first morning, catching Killian Jones in the midst of breaking his fast is near impossible. Every morning, by the time she makes her way down to breakfast, no matter how early she tries to rise, the table is set and waiting but any trace of the master of the house is already gone. Usually, he is just down the corridor in his study but occasionally he is already out of the house, meeting his brother for matters of business, by the time Emma – let alone Alice – takes her first sip of tea.

She notices that he makes a point of always sharing at least one meal with her and his daughter and, more often than even Alice seems to expect, he manages to make time to join them for a ride in the afternoon. Indeed, Emma tries not to let her fancy fly away from her and make her feel more important than she has a right to but she can’t help suspecting that it’s her own timidity and anxiety about riding that makes him lend his services to them, seeing as Alice is an extraordinarily accomplished rider.

Emma herself is moderately pleased with the progress she has made. In all honestly, she suspects it was more daring and youthful confidence that made her a somewhat decent rider when she was much younger rather than any proper form or natural talent. But, contrary to her own musings, both Killian and Alice assert that she appears to be a natural and, most of all, that she has managed to make Buttercup fall in love with her with merely a few words and touches, whereas Alice proclaims that Jolly will still be much happier dashing away on her own and Killian begrudgingly admits – at Peter’s ribbing and his daughter’s teasing – that it took months of time spent on his ass in the dirt for him to prove himself worthy of Roger. After a week of almost daily exercise atop her own mare, Emma feels her tailbone tingle with sympathy at the mere thought.

And yet, she has never felt more pleasantly exhausted in her life. The fresh air of the countryside all around them and the emotional and then simply physically taxation of getting back on a horse have taken their toll but she finds herself unwilling to refuse every time Alice appears in front of her with her riding clothes already on.

Perhaps this is the reason she has been unable to awake early enough to catch her husband in his morning routine but it does not serve to explain why she also has yet to see or hear him retire to bed. Aside from that very first night – that she thinks can hardly be named their “wedding night” – she has never seen Killian heading for his bedchambers.

What she has seen is that the library is not as often engaged as she first thought it might be and thus, Emma has already spent many an hour familiarizing herself with its collection and the numerous artefacts from the brothers’ travels. And still, late as she burns her candle in that room, she never manages to make it to the point when Jones – presumably – heads to bed himself. Ruby and Mrs Lucas have on a couple of occasions now asked if she needed anything and bid her goodnight before retiring to their rooms but heading to bed after her husband has proven as impossible as rising from it before him.

Finding and securing the company of his daughter is much easier and that when Alice doesn’t put some scheme of hers into action first. Emma thinks she might be on her way to unravelling another small mystery, that of Alice’s permanent residence away from her home. It takes but a day in the girl’s presence to realize that, charming as it might be, Storybrooke is much too small to contain her. Emma is rather puzzled why Alice does not go more into society here but she can perfectly perceive how the city might be calling to her after a few weeks in her family home.

A home which has proven rather favourable to Emma’s disposition despite the complete chance introduced into her life. So it is with an almost quiet resignation that Emma gasps awake long before dawn on a summer day a little over a week after her nuptials.

Her heart does its damnest to beat out of her chest and the sweat on her back makes her shiver under all the blankets but she regains control of most of her faculties almost immediately and proceeds to deepen her breathing the way she has learnt will help bring awareness of her surroundings and dissipate the dream faster. Her toes are ice-cold but her need to get up makes the bed resemble hot coals beneath her so she dresses quickly, aware that she will not be going back to sleep until night has arrived anew.

As it is, she is forced to take her candle with her, the sun not even peaking over the horizon yet as she makes her way down the stairs as silently as possible. It is only as she heads for the kitchen – her mind on a glass of warm milk – that she entertains the notion that anyone might already be awake.

“—and this girl now. What is the purpose of this?” Mrs Lucas’s voice is gruffer than usual, smudged with sleep and something else Emma cannot place through the door.

“You could be a bit kinder to her,” as for Killian’s voice, it is crisp and clear – he might as well have been awake for hours.

“And you can tell me why it is that you took her in. Lord knows, you probably haven’t told a soul. If any has asked.”

It is in that moment that she realizes herself the topic of their conversation. Perhaps, if it was more in her nature or even, if she stopped to truly consider, Emma might have lingered quietly outside a few minutes longer and gleaned some of that much coveted and hard to obtain knowledge of her husband’s private thoughts. But the sharp shove she gives the door is almost instinctive and has the immediate effect of silencing everyone on the other side.

She may have brought secrets into this house but she does not wish to accumulate new ones while here.

When she walks in, Mrs Lucas looks for all the world as if Emma has been stumbling into the kitchen at ungodly hours of the morning ever since she got here. Killian’s face, however – and Emma has quickly learnt that, for all the coldness and irreproachability that he tries to paint on it, it is a painfully expressive one – is caught somewhere between surprised guilt and uncomfortable suspicion.

But Emma’s state is still rumpled enough and her eyes not quite open enough to alarm anyone and make them believe she could have been eavesdropping.

“Well, there is certainly no need to be this early,” the cook mutters under her breath as she rolls up her sleeve and barely spares Emma a glance.

“Perhaps you should inform Ruby that the sun, as well as us, will be up before her soon enough,” Killian suggests in rebuff and Emma tries not to jump out of her way when the old woman stalks past her, grumbling under her breath that they all might as well not go to bed at all anymore.

“There was no need—“ she starts but Killian waves his hand in the air before he runs it over his face.

“She has been itching to either have it out with me or get out of this room for some moments now. Your appearance ruled rather in my favour.”

Emma nods and clasps her hands in front of her, now questioning her decision to run downstairs from her troubled thoughts. Normally, she uses any opportunity to take a peek at Jones’s inner workings but she questions her current ability for casual conversation, let alone something deeper.

“Were you looking for something?”

“Oh, I was just going to get a glass of milk.”

Killian snaps his fingers as if he should have guessed her reason for being here, already turning toward the stove and thankfully missing her slight jump at the sharp sound. Watching his back, Emma is frozen with indecision.

Far as her sleep-muddled mind planned, she would’ve found the kitchen still quiet and empty and made the drink herself. In the event of Ruby or Mrs Lucas being up already, she most certainly would’ve debated letting them get on with their work and sorting herself out. She did not account for Killian at all and her inexperience with gentlemen of his stature – let alone his manner, which seems rather singular to her – makes her uncertain of how she should proceed.

Certainly it is more befitting for her to take over any tasks in the kitchen rather than him? Yet, she does not feel herself ingrained into the household enough to take any such initiative. So instead she stays where she is and observes with interest the way he moves around the kitchen, operating predominantly with his real hand.

The missing limb seems to impair him extremely rarely when riding and, reading and writing being the other two activities in which she has mainly seen him engaged, Emma has given little thought to what she supposes is a battle wound.

Then he comes to a sudden halt and she straightens along with him, worried that he has somehow sensed, and does not appreciate, her pointed attention.

“Actually… would you like something a bit different?” Killian glances over his shoulder, his manner easy enough that Emma feels her shoulders relax as his lips quirk up the slightest amount. “I believe I already pointed out that a soldier salute is unnecessary.”

Emma frowns in confusion, her brain taking a moment to assimilate the words in the morning light that has barely appeared behind the white curtains, and then she shocks them both with a short burst of laughter. It’s a quick and slightly hysterical thing but with it she feels the last of her dark dreams disperse and drops almost theatrically in one of the hard kitchen chairs.

“Something different?”

“Mm, are you fond of hot chocolate?”

“I cannot answer that, seeing as I have never tried it.”

To his credit, a singular eyebrow expresses Killian’s disbelief before he turns back to his preparations.

“As I told your sister-in-law, sugar is one of my grandmother’s archenemies.”

“Which doesn’t say much about sugar at all with how many she must have.”

“Mrs Jones was equally witty and condemning. You must all have a frightfully low opinion of my family.”

“Rather that singular relation.”

“Well—“ she opens her mouth to say that, vile as the woman is, she constitutes the whole of Emma’s family, before she realizes that is technically no longer the case. “She did say you have a weakness for it.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Your sister-in-law. She said you also have a weakness for sugar.”

“Ah. Well, Elsa always likes to know where one’s strengths and weaknesses lie.”

“Then surely you must be flattered that is the only one she has found in you.”

“I can assure you that is not the case. But I do appreciate her choosing it as the one to expose on my wedding day. Now—“

He turns around with a pot in his hand and two cups, dangling by their handles from his little finger. Emma forces herself to remain seated, her hands in her lap and an expectant expression on her face.

Killian sets the cups down with a clatter and no saucers and starts pouring out a thick, dark liquid that makes her nose twitch with eagerness.

“A few centuries ago they used to stuff it full of spices but, as most good things, it’s best in its simplicity,” he nudges one cup toward Emma and takes his own, sitting across from her. “Though I will admit to a dash of cinnamon and vanilla.”

Emma takes the drink and gives it one more experimental sniff, despite the fact that the aroma has already made her mouth water with anticipation. She takes a small sip at first but that is enough – the warm liquid coasts her tongue in a way that simple milk could not have hoped to do – the taste and texture exquisitely rich, and then the flavours explode – teetering on the line between sweet and bitter, both smoothed and enhanced by the distinct kick of the cinnamon and the softness of the vanilla.

So focused on the sensations inside her mouth, she is quite unaware of what her face is doing, though Killian must not be because in the next second his laugh fills the gradually brightening kitchen. She would be rather offended, if it wasn’t for the fact that the sound is absolutely magnificent. That and he does seem – as is becoming usual – to delight in her reactions rather than mock them.

Emma takes another, more generous sip before she licks her lips and sets her cup down.

“Oh, you have made a believer out of me. Plain milk will never do again.”

“You should tell Mrs Lucas to increase her weekly purchase of the stuff then.”

“Me?” now she is very conscious of how her eyes widen with obvious dread of such an interaction.

“She does not actually bite,” Killian’s voice is reassuring but the glint in his eyes as he lifts his own cup to his mouth is anything but.

“With a bark like that I’m sure she does not need to.”

It’s more a snort than a laugh this time but Emma is much too distracted by the way his tongue flicks over his lips to clean them to mind.

In the golden morning light, now edging its way into every corner and crevice of the kitchen, with his jacket and waistcoat absent, his eyes flashing every once in awhile and his lips fitting themselves against the rim of his cup with obvious pleasure, Emma Jones rather likes her husband.

*****

Her knuckles pop a little as she tries to cover her yawn with the back of her hand.

“Why don’t you just go to bed?” Alice’s voice startles her – the girl has collected about a dozen cushions and pillows in front of the large fireplace in the library and is languidly making her way through The Odyssey and a pot of tea that Emma has refused to partake in. “You should know, tomorrow I will drag you out of doors, if I have to.”

Alice has certainly inherited her father’s cheek though not his preference for comfort of his own home. For it seems there is no greater offense to Miss Jones than remaining indoors on a “perfectly lovely summer day”. Indeed, on most days, Emma agrees with her with pleasure or at least without too much protest.

But the exceptionally early start of her day has left Emma both in good spirits and at the same time very reluctant to risk that pleasant, mellow feeling by quitting the house. So she showed some willfulness for the first time and postponed going to the seamstress from who they were to collect the last of her new wardrobe. Killian, receiving a substantial amount of correspondence before lunch, asked not to be bothered with such trifles and Emma hasn’t seen or heard him leave his study since. Alice was all too eager to exchange a trip to the shops for a long ride and was only temporary put out when Emma expressed her disinclination to join her.

So it is that she has spent most of her day learning the last details about the household from Ruby and going over the shopping lists – adding extra chocolate – with Mrs Lucas. Surprisingly the old woman displayed only her usual amount of annoyance in Emma’s presence and even accepted a suggestion or two she made (while declining another half a dozen, of course).

“You do not have to wait on me, I should be going to bed shortly,” Alice continues, breaking Emma out of her retrospection of her supposedly uneventful day. “And you certainly won’t be able to keep your eyes open long enough to see papa.”

“He was up early,” she replies before she can think to feign ignorance.

“He is always the first to light a candle in the mornings and the last to put it out in the evenings,” it is the first time she sees melancholy on Alice’s face, though, for a moment, something livelier and hopeful flashes through her eyes.

Emma frowns in thought – by her personal observations and calculations, it is simply impossible that Killian gets more than four or five hours of sleep.

They are silent long enough that Alice returns to her book and Emma watches the flames dancing in the fireplace – her own book abandoned on the little table beside her – and listens to the very stillness of the house. When the clock strikes 11, the fire is dangerously low and Emma is starting to feel a slight chill in the air. Alice leaves book, teacup and scattered furniture all as is and stretches her arms to the sides, declaring herself fit to go to bed. Her “goodnight” is rather pointed but her eyes are all softness and comfort and Emma stares after her for a minute or ten.

Then she jumps to her feet with a sudden burst of determination that she knows she must seize before it deserts her. A minute later she enters Killian’s study without knocking – Mrs Lucas would’ve probably dragged her out by the hair, if she had seen her.

“Why did you take me in?”

“I beg your pardon?” Killian’s head shoots up – his eyes are bloodshot from staring at the tiny figures before him under the light of a single candle. There is a half-full tumbler of golden liquid beside him but the room smells of wax rather than alcohol and Emma soldiers on.

“I know Regina was looking for a buyer and I know she didn’t expect to get half as good a deal as this. On top of the expenses of a wife, I’d wager she requested a nice commission for facilitating it all—“

“You would wager what exactly?” his voice is harsher than she has ever heard it directed at her and his scowl tells her how little he appreciates her brashness in this moment.

But she does not wish to be so tempted by answers that next time she has the opportunity to eavesdrop on some conversation, she does betray him.

“Nothing. For I have nothing. Some would say that I have ever less than a common girl and I know Regina—“

“Blast Regina. You think she was looking for a buyer?” Killian doesn’t jump to his feet the way she did earlier but the motion is somehow so powerful and full of agitation that Emma takes an instinctive step back. “Aye, that she was. And she wasn’t selling you the nice way either – quiet and private. She was getting desperate and acting like it was a bloody auction!”

She knew, of course. She knew Regina never cared for her and would sell her to the highest bidder. Her own metaphor aligns perfectly with Killian’s. And yet, hearing it from someone else’s mouth, having it confirmed that her grandmother shamelessly put her on the market like a piece of meat, makes her vision start to swim.

Emma tries to swallow around the lump in her throat and feels the tips of her nails digging into the flesh of her palm. Killian’s sharp exhale makes her vision sharpen a little as she tries to focus on him again – he looks rather stricken and she almost opens her mouth to assure him that he hasn’t really told her anything she didn’t already suspect.

“Emma, I—“ he takes a step forward then halts, looking as if he expects her to back away, and takes the next two slower, keeping his eyes on hers. “I’m sorry. I did not mean to—“

“So why did you bid?”

“What?”

She raises her chin and holds his gaze.

“If she was putting me out there like an auction piece, why did you bid?”

Killian slowly tilts his head to the side and regards her in silence and Emma tries to count her breaths so she doesn’t miss any. Finally, he sighs and hangs his head and for the first time since she barged into his study Emma feels like she has stepped out of line.

And for what?

“I will answer that.”

She blinks in surprise.

“Tomorrow. Can we do this tomorrow morning? I—“ he waves almost helplessly toward his desk and gives her a beseeching look.

“Alright.”

“Alright?”

She nods.

“But after the sun has properly risen.”

His mouth ticks up hesitantly on one side and he nods as well.

“After the sun is firmly anchored in the sky.”

“And maybe with that chocolate drink.”

“That can be arranged as well.”

“Alright.”

“Alright.”

She nods once more and turns on her heel.

“Emma. I am sorry, I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that.”

She turns back and lifts her shoulders, her eyes straying from his.

“I shouldn’t have barged in here like that.”

“One offense does not excuse another.”

“Hmm. I like that.”

“It won’t happen again.”

“Alright. I am not— You are forgiven.”

She is not sure this is the proper thing to say, it comes out sounding much haughtier than she wanted it to, not at all the sentiment she was trying to convey. But the look on Killian’s face stops her from regretting her choice of words.

“Goodnight, Killian.”

“Goodnight.”

“Go to bed.”

His chuckle behind her is tired but not entirely mirthless.

*****

She makes her way down the stairs and hopes with all her might to find Jones in the kitchen again. The library, let alone his study, will certainly hold the stale feeling of late night confusion and overexposed emotions.

Truth be told, by now Emma almost regrets posing the question that has been foremost in her mind ever since she heard Mrs Lucas put it into words, if not ever since she learnt she was to marry Killian Jones. Fairly gained intelligence is all good and proper but she is not entirely sure she is prepared to receive this particular piece of it.

Finding Killian where she hoped to restores a smidge of her confidence but she is still very conscious of the fact that – were he to act like nothing happened, she will allow it. Alas, if the look on his face is any indication, if he entertained the coward’s path at all, he decided to turn away from it.

“The sun is up, as requested. Should we make use of it and take a walk?”

Emma blinks in surprise. She considered the sturdy walls and dark tones of the house more befitting the conversation before them but now feels immense relief at the thought of fresh air and an open space.

Killian pushes off the counter and hands her a cup of what she assumes is hot chocolate and Emma’s straining nerves relax a little when her hand wraps around the warm cup – this one is bigger than the one he served them in the day before, its rim is not curved and instead it has a lid that she supposes will keep the liquid warm longer. For a moment, she wonders if Killian puts this much thought into every single action, if that is why he requested a whole night before he answered a straight question. It sounds both endearing and exhausting.

He holds the backdoor for her and they slip from the kitchen, the air much crisper than she expected.

“Would you like me to fetch you a coat?”

She shakes her head, knowing she will regret it soon enough and clutching her cup tighter. Then she turns to face her husband and, in the direct sunlight, comes to wonder if he has been to bed at all. His shirt and waistcoat are different but his hair looks like it has met with his hand rather than a pillow, the lines around his eyes seem deeper, the shadow under them – likewise.

He has not taken a drink for himself and – whether for his benefit or hers she wastes no time to determine – Emma slips her free hand in the crook of his right elbow. Killian startles but settles soon enough that she decides the gesture has been deemed acceptable.

“I believe it is of no use to do things by halves. So I’ve decided to give you more information than you were probably searching for, in order to make myself quite clear.”

His voice is gruff but not unkind and her surprise at this pronouncement is genuine but not unpleasant.

“I believe Mrs Mills has been struggling to maintain appearances while her finances have been failing her.”

Emma suspected as much herself but doubts she is aware of the full extend of Regina’s presumed troubles.

“I do not wish to be crude but I… I also believe she took stock of her valuables and decided you were the one she was most willing to part with.”

“I assure you, Regina would consider it much too great a compliment rather than an offense of any sort that I am being listed among her valuables.”

Killian glances at her before quickly looking away. He seems somewhat taken aback by her blasé attitude toward her grandmother’s mistreatment but even more so by the intimacy walking arm in arm has brought. Emma is fully aware that this is the closest she has been to her husband – physically speaking, but her main focus at the present moment is how close he is about to allow her in another sense.

“Yes, well… I think her mounting frustrations made her rather careless and… desperation is never a good calling card when the object is an engagement. Perhaps it wasn’t like that at first but— Emma, I am not sure you quite understand how far removed from society I am personally and how rare it is for gossip to make its way to my ears.”

She feels the blazing heat in her cheeks despite the morning chill that has control over most of the rest of her body. It’s a long time that she has been parted with her grandmother’s good – or at least tolerant – opinion and, as for society, Emma never much cared what gossip may spread about her, seeing as most of it will be deserved and she cared little for the company of people willing to be swayed by it.

Yet the idea of what whisperings might have reached all the way to the inhabitants of the Jones household makes the knot in her stomach tighten even further now.

“I do not wish to… to interrupt but I fail to see how that has led us… here.”

Killian sighs and, likely unconsciously, tightens his arm around her own.

“For that I need to… I will have to go further back. What I meant for you to take from this is that, knowingly or not, your grandmother was destroying your reputation and any future aspirations with an alarming – frankly, almost impressive, speed.”

When she lifts the cup to her mouth, it shakes a little in her grasp and Emma tries to tell herself that if the answer to why Killian Jones brought her into his family is pity, it is not the worst answer she could have received.

“My previous wife did not hold our daughter in much higher esteem than your grandmother seems to hold you.”

The change of topic is so sudden that her neck pops a little when she twists in his direction. He glances at her – his smile is tight and dark and his steps almost cease for an instant before he resumes the brisk pace that has been keeping her from truly suffering the coldness that the sun is still working on chasing away.

“Of course, I do not pretend to know the nature of your relationship but at the very least you were allowed to remain in Mrs Mill’s presence. My wife did not allow Alice the same courtesy and send her away to school as soon as such a scheme was feasible. A-and she could carry it out without my knowledge.”

Emma bites her tongue against the barge of questions bubbling up from inside her. Why would any mother want to be parted from her child? She supposes her indignation might be finding some outlet through her eyes but Killian’s are firmly focused on the trees in the distance. She is glad for it because – even as most of her anger is directed toward a woman now in her grave, she cannot quite understand why Killian would submit to such an arrangement after it was made known to him.

“When Alice was old enough and confident enough in herself to express her wish to remain at home for longer periods of time – and received my full support of the idea – her mother adopted a new method of keeping her away.”

Killian watches their feet advancing slowly for a few seconds and Emma takes a fortifying breath.

“My daughter found herself in much the same position as you, only much earlier in her life and, sadly, there could be no question of whether her chances and reputation was being ruined on purpose or not.”

“How could she—“

Killian’s jaw tightens and Emma stops herself from finishing the question.

“I do not mean to present my conduct in a more altruistic light than it deserves, Emma. My brother and his wife were much engaged in the task of introducing me to as many ladies as a man who does not attend dances and dinners could possibly meet. And it was my hope – for whose fulfilment I do wish to express my gratitude to you – that my daughter’s age and temperament would not set the two of you at odds and that your introduction into the family will provide sufficient reason for her to remain here for some time.”

She has drawn and discarded a dozen conclusions in the span of the last quarter of an hour and for each question that has been answered in some form a dozen more have arisen, but if Emma is uncertain that she can receive any more information at present, she is quite certain that Killian cannot give any more with additional pain to himself.

And if there is one conclusion that she has drawn and put safely away as fact, it is that she does not wish to cause Killian Jones any pain.

“So how bad is it?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“How far did Regina go before you could get to her? How bad of a blow is it to be married to me?”

It is the first time since they stepped outside that Killian comes to a firm stop and she tries not to give in to the shiver and stab of pain when he lets go of her arm so he can face her.

“I am a man who has taken many blows in his life, Emma.”

The pointed motion with his wooden hand surprises her but not nearly as much as the warmth of the fingers that settle under her chin and gently urge it up.

“I can assure you, you’re not one of them.”

Chapter Text

Dear Emma,

 

If Emma had any doubts about Killian’s claims, the letter she receives from Mary Margaret the very next day would’ve put them to rest. As it is, she is grateful to be forewarned so the information Mary relays is not as much of a shock to her as it apparently was to her friend.

Still, her heart can’t help but constrict painfully at Mary’s badly hidden distress. The indignation on the sheet of paper is palpable – how the last cup of tea Emma shared with her friend wasn’t even washed yet when Mary’s apartment became the preferred destination for good Samarians who wanted to warn her that she’d better wait a fortnight before paying her friend a visit as some people expected Killian Jones to put her out of his house in no time at all.

Emma is not terribly surprised. Whatever rumours might circulate about Captain Jones, he is still a man and one with a decent income at that. Society may wag its tongues but it will never spit him out. It obviously has no such qualms about Emma.

Mary, however – with her less than favourable opinion of Emma’s husband, is obviously incented by the mere suggestion that Killian might be the one to find fault with Emma rather than the other way around. Yet, Emma can’t help but notice that it has taken more than a week for her friend to write to her. She believes this as well probably stems from Mary’s distrust of her husband, rather than a desire to set herself apart from Emma and, while the latter would have been truly devastating, she finds that the former causes her a fair bit of annoyance as well.

She can’t help the spike of irritation when her friend’s manner of writing adopts the style of one addressing a prisoner – as if she were a princess locked in a towel guarded by a dragon. Though that image is only wrong in spirit for, compared to her life with Regina, Emma does feel rather like a princess and, reading about the social fires raging in town, she rather appreciates the protection of her public-shunning dragon.

Thus, Emma sits at her desk, staring out of the window and wondering what on earth is the proper thing to do – invite her closest friend to visit her in her new home like any newly married woman would or absolve her of having to associate herself with Emma at least for the near future. Eventually, as with most things, Emma decides to trust the feeling deep in her gut. She writes back to Mary Margaret, inviting her to visit if and only if she is confident it won’t prove too much of a stain on her snow white reputation and, as kindly as she can, asks her not to abuse Killian’s name without reason.

*****

But it is not that letter which takes Emma by surprise, expected even earlier as it had been. It’s the one she finds the morning after, when she and Alice are sorting through their correspondence and Emma is trying – as she does every morning – not to notice the steady flow of letters Alice receives – all carrying the same pretty cursive.

She gets up and heads for Killian’s study, turning the letter over and over in her hand.

“I think you forgot this one,” she says when she is within reach of his desk and he can get a good look at the name.

He looks up and Emma purses her lips so she doesn’t grin at the way he squints and pushes his glasses up his nose.

“I did not. It’s addressed to you.”

“Yes, but it’s from your sister-in-law.”

“Aye, but it’s addressed to you. I’m not going to go around opening your correspondence, Emma, no matter who it might be from.”

Emma draws her hand back to her side and mulls that over. Privacy is most certainly not something she has been deprived off in this house but she appreciates the freedoms that she keeps discovering, freedoms that she thought – still thinks really – not many women enjoy.

“May I?”

She waves a hand toward one of the armchairs in Killian’s study and he blinks at her a couple of time in surprise before he nods his affirmation. Emma drops into the chair’s soft depths slightly less gracefully than she intended and a sly look at Killian shows that he might have noticed, if the way he focuses hard on the papers before him and purses his own lips to keep them from stretching is any indication. She does her best to control her blush and turns her attention back to Elsa’s letter. Elsa’s invitation, as it turns out.

“There’s to be a dance.”

“I expected as much.”

“You did?”

“Hmm. You and Alice should pick some new gowns this week.”

She laughs.

“I just finished filling a whole wardrobe, I believe I’ll manage to find something to wear. Does that mean we will be attending?”

Killian finally looks up again and Emma thinks that surprise is definitely the reaction she seems to inspire the most in her husband.

“Even I don’t refuse invitations extended by my own brother and his lovely wife. Especially when the whole affair is organized to welcome my new wife.”

He gives her a pointed look and Emma feels her eyes widen, the letter almost slipping from her cold fingers.

“Oh. But… this can’t— You must tell them there is no need—“

Killian waves his hand in a gesture that seems to say nothing can be done about it now.

“Do not concern yourself, Elsa would seize any and every opportunity for a ball. I would’ve been concerned for my sister’s health had she failed to send such an invitation before the close of the month. It will also…” Killian looks her in the eyes, a certain amount of caution and gentleness swimming in the blue. “Well, it will be a good thing for us to do.”

There is no blush on her cheeks now, she is certain, for while the feeling for one is there, her face must be quite pale as she realizes that the Jones’s are throwing a ball to demonstrate that Killian has not married her just to hide her away like a shameful secret.

“Oh, this is really—“

Emma flounders for a bit before she drops her face in her hands and tries to master her emotions, her shoulders hunched and her fingers digging into the roots of her hair as she breathes through her nose. Focused as she is on that crucial task, the warmth of Killian’s hand on her knee is like a jolt to her entire system. She looks up to find him kneeling in front of her, a cautious and concerned expression on his face.

“Emma, there truly is nothing to worry about. It’s not at all unusual to celebrate an addition to the family with a—“

“Yes, except,” her voice is choked but she soldiers on. “This is not a celebration but a demonstration—“

“That depends entirely on how you choose to see it.”

She opens her mouth to protest but the calmness on his face stops the words in her throat.

“Papa, I have decided what— Oh. Is something the matter?”

The concern on Alice’s face is the last push Emma needs to pull herself together and she smiles up at the girl the best she can as her hand reaches to quickly squeeze Killian’s in silent gratitude – the warmth of it almost seeping into her own fingers.

“It would seem we are going to a ball.”

“Ah, is that what aunt Elsa wrote you about? But… do you not wish to go, Emma?”

“No, no, I do. I was just… surprised, her requesting that I be her guest of honour is a bit... I’m sure to muck it up.”

Alice laughs at her choice of words and shakes her head as Killian gets back to his feet.

“It’s really not that difficult. You just have to look nice but also not overshadow aunt.”

Emma takes her own turn to laugh.

“I’m quite certain there is no danger of that.”

“What did you come to tell me, darling?”

“Ah, yes,” and just like that the sparkle is back in Alice’s eyes. “I’ve decided what we are to do today.”

“And you have been so kind as to come pass your sentence personally.”

Alice rolls her eyes in a manner that Emma is sure many a proper lady would have quite a few choice words for but no one in the room seems to mind.

“We’re going to the lake. Ruby is already preparing a basket.”

Killian casts a mournful look at his desk before he sighs and turns back to his daughter.

“Aye, aye, cap’n.”

*****

Ruby tries to stifle her laugh as she watches the mistress of the house rub mournfully at the heel of her foot.

“I have never seen a woman this fond of walking and riding, and running, and really any physically taxing activity on the face of the earth.”

Now she can’t help but chuckle in agreement.

“She was much worse when she was little, if you can believe it.”

“Oh, what did she do then? Fly?”

“She tried it once. Thankfully, she was already smart enough to choose a window on the ground floor. Granny says half of Captain Jones’s gray hairs are from that very day.”

Emma shakes her head and fits her foot back in her soft slipper with the slightest whimper before she takes the other one in her hands. Ruby adds one last log to the fire in the library and turns to leave when Emma speaks up again.

“Ruby, did— Was there a ball given when… when the late Mrs Jones became… Mrs Jones?”

Ruby frowns a bit, digging into her own memories and trying to order what her grandmother has told her.

“Well, I think I wasn’t old enough to be helping Granny around the kitchen yet. She’d only been here for a year or so. Ever since the captain had come back from the war and taken the house, you know? And she—” Ruby smiles at her first memories of sneaking rolls behind Granny’s back. “She’d bring me round from time to time, she couldn’t always leave me with neighbours and all and she says Killian never minded. Now, she minded plenty but she had bigger messes to make to bother with me.”

Granny being the irreproachable fortress than she is, Ruby always gladly takes on the role of a more welcoming and engaging presence, but even she made an exception for Eloise. The woman scared her as a child and then—

She shakes her head and focuses her eyes on Emma’s curious green ones. Her mouth is set in a line that tells Ruby whatever she has heard has been enough to incite less than tender sympathies toward the previous Mrs Jones.

“But, no. No, I was told the whole thing was very quick and quiet. No announcements, no fanfare. I don’t think anyone was at the ceremony except for Admiral Jones. And then… well, she went into society a lot, I think. But never with the captain. There was this group of women – they’d come here often and then she would visit with them for long periods of time. I think everybody rather preferred it that way.”

She closes her mouth and sucks her lips in, sensing that she might have gotten carried away. Emma only asked about a ball and Ruby doesn’t want her thinking that she’ll grasp at any opportunity to gossip.

“Thank you. I umm…,” Emma’s own discomfort puts her more at ease. “I didn’t mean to pry into— I just wanted to get an idea. No matter. Thank you.”

Her smile is a little forced and nervous and Ruby returns it with a warm and genuine one. She has been watching Emma tiptoe around the house and the family even since she got here and she finds it both endearing and a little saddening. She almost wants to tell her that there is little she can do that will stand in a bad light compared to what came to pass before her, she wants to tell her that a little calmness and a little softness is all they all need and she seems to have enough of both within her.

But she doesn’t say any of that. It’s not her place and her grandmother will have her head, if she does. Ruby doesn’t get how she can still be suspicious of the new mistress’s intentions but she knows there is no use arguing with her – no one but Granny can convince Granny that she is wrong. So with another smile, she turns to leave, stopping with the door handle in her hand.

“Another thing, Miss Alice’s secret might be retiring to bed before the witching hour. Which cannot often be said about her father and yourself.”

*****

Emma stretches her aching legs in front of her one more time before she gets up and makes her way to the study at the end of the corridor for the second time that day.

The late summer day on the lake proved a nice distraction. Alice is something of an expert on lake and woodland creatures alike, Ruby is most certainly an expert on putting together a picnic in an hour and Killian apparently likes to pretend that he is an expert at stone skipping even though she defeated him twice as often as he did her. But, most importantly, none of them seem to be experts on ball etiquette and, rather than make her more anxious, this seemed to calm Emma’s nerves concerning the whole affair.

Back when she first came out into society, Regina was willing to let her go to as many dances as three gowns per season would permit her. But after a certain point in her young life her public appearances steadily decreased. At first, it was deemed the wise thing to do – to just disappear for a bit, to not fan the rumours’ flames by showing her face all around town, and then afterwards, Emma herself had lost all interest in the frivolities of meeting young ladies and gentlemen who cared more about what was being said about her and what she was wearing in her hair than what was in her head, let alone her heart – the latter was almost unmanageably heavy and after some time she tried to keep the former as blank as possible.

Obviously, whatever good her restrained and demure presence had achieved was undone by Regina’s candidness and desperate rush to find her a husband and now, in a few weeks’ time, Emma will have her first chance to hopefully start anew as Mrs Emma Jones. She tries to chase the thought away before it can seep all the way inside her and twist her all up, instead she takes the open door as a good sign and leans her hip lightly on the doorframe as she waits for Killian to look up from whatever he is scribbling furiously.

It takes long enough that her feet start tingling in protest again. Finally, his eyes rise and then so do his eyebrows – the question obvious and underlined with a touch of annoyance. She concentrates on not shifting nervously on her feet.

“Did you need something, Emma?”

“No, just trying to determine the chances of me having married a vampire.”

He snorts, obviously unwillingly amused.

“I assure you, I age,” he sets his pen down and reaches for his glass, lifting it to his mouth only to find it empty.

Emma shakes her head and turns on her heel without another word. In the kitchen Mrs Lucas informs her that Ruby has gone to bed.

“Oh, I don’t need anyone. Just to know where the chamomile and valerian root are.”

The cook huffs and crosses her arms in front of her chest but she points out where everything Emma asks for is and leans back against the table with a look that tells Emma she is watching every move she makes in her kitchen.

“That’s not gonna work.”

Emma shrugs her shoulders as if it’s all the same to her.

“And I could’ve done it for ya.”

“And what should I do?”

“How should I know? Whatever it is that you ladies do when you are all provided for. Prop your feet on a pillow, admire lace, get one of them small dogs.”

Emma laughs at that last part.

“I prefer cats.”

“Cats are kitchen animals.”

“Well, maybe that’s why I like the kitchen quite so much,” she replies with a little challenge in the tilt of her chin as she arranges her tea tray under the older woman’s hawk-like gaze.

Mrs Lucas grunts in displeasure.

“Between your liking and him taking his breakfast in here all the time, I might as well leave the kitchen to the masters and go have all the rest of the house to myself.”

It is certainly an amusing image and, ever since first finding Killian here, Emma can’t say that she terribly minds the idea of them being locked in the small space and letting Mrs Lucas reigned over all else.

When first faced with the reality and imminence of it, Emma looked toward her marriage with a cool sort of resignation, then, much as she tried to maintain that detachment in front of Mary Margaret and Regina, and even herself, Emma inevitably started planning how to make her life as a married woman the most painless and bearable. She started envisioning a day in her future and trying to determine which moments she will be able to steal for herself, what spaces she will be able to carve out for herself. Most of all, of course, she thought her evenings and nights would not be her own and she most definitely did not envision fancying the idea of being shut in a small room with her husband.

Now, she is relieved to see that Killian has not shut the door to his study after her abrupt departure and she only has to nudge it slightly with her foot so she can carry her tea tray inside. It is as she looks for a place to put it that she realizes for the first time how rigidly ordered everything on Jones’ desk is – she deposits the tray a safe distance away from all the perfectly aligned piles of papers.

“Umm, thank you,” Killian doesn’t go as far as to eye the tea with distrust but it’s a near thing. “You needn’t have… I lean towards something a tad sharper in the evenings.”

Emma looks at the small arrangement of bottles on the high wooden table a few feet from his desk and approaches it slowly. She takes the silence as permission and leans down to inspect the bottles. Save for a couple of scotches, they are all different bottles of rum and even Emma’s meager knowledge is enough to determine that some of them are rather exotic and have probably crossed the ocean to find themselves here. She takes an opened and unremarkable one that she is almost certain she has seen before and turns around.

By now Killian is leaning back in his chair and watching her with undisguised amusement. At her questioning look, he swipes his arm in a gesture of generous invitation and watches her as she returns to her tea with the bottle clutched in her hand so tightly that her fingers look even more pale than usual.

Some small part of Emma wants to back out now and even that part knows that it’s too late for that. So she tries to loosen her shoulders as inconspicuously as possible and unscrews the cap on the bottle. She pours a small amount of the dark liquid into each of the two teacups – just enough not to be laughable, closes the bottle and sets it to the side.

Killian has put his writing instruments aside since she left to prepare the tea she is now pouring.

“You are finished?” she asks in her surprise.

“I still have to read through these,” he inclines his head toward a small pile of papers set front and center.

“Do you have to do that here?”

His right eyebrow climbs up, creasing his forehead and disappearing somewhere under the hair that has fallen over it.

“I suppose not.”

Emma picks up the tray again and thanks whatever star she was born under that it doesn’t shake in her white-knuckled grasp. She takes to steps backwards, careful not to step on her own dress and make a fool of herself, and lifts an eyebrow of her own.

She turns around at the door and heads for the library, her heart performing an admirable attempt at escaping her chest as she tries to focus on not spilling anything and not on listening if there is another set of footsteps coming up behind her.

As soon as she makes it inside, she sets the tray down with a clatter and takes a seat, her hands balled into fists in her lap. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath and now she cannot help but strain her ears toward the corridor. Nothing. She bites her lower lip and tries to quickly wall in the feeling of humiliation that threatens to wash over her whole body.

Then she hears a door close. It takes less than half a minute to cross the distance between Killian’s study and the library and it’s a lucky thing indeed, seeing as Emma doesn’t breathe until he quietly slips into the room.

The look Killian gives her as he sits on the other end of the settee is downright evil but it doesn’t detract from her feeling of victory in the least. Nor does the pointed way he deposits his small mountain of papers beside the tea tray before he picks up one of the cups.

Satisfied, Emma takes the book she set aside and tucks her tired feet under her – the very picture of innocence that’s only ruined by the way she chokes a little on the first sip of the concoction in her teacup.

“Aye. Next time don’t use the rum I used to disinfect Alice’s scrapped knees with.”

She chokes a second time. That seems to satisfy Killian’s need for revenge and he settles more comfortably, adjusting his glasses and focusing on the document in his hand.

Mrs Lucas comes in a short time later to stoke the fire and ask if they need anything or she can retire for the night, looking at the teapot as if she still can’t quite accept that Emma has taken charge of it.

Emma has made some admirable progress with her book when her yawns start getting longer and harder to swallow around, her eyes watering a little more with each one.

“You really needn’t wait for me, love.”

Her hand freezes midway to her mouth and her eyes snap to Killian who somehow still manages to appear deeply engrossed in his own reading, though she is sure it is much drier and more complicated than her own. The endearment bounces in her mind for a moment longer and she tries to keep her face impassive – neither surprised, not pleased. But she can’t deny – and is only mildly startled to find – that inside she is both.

When Killian doesn’t look up, she eyes the sheets that he still hasn’t gotten to and sighs. She tries to concentrate on her book again long enough to finish her chapter before she gets up to return it to its shelf.

“You know you can leave it out, don’t you? Or take it up with you.”

She hesitates for a moment before she comes back and leaves the book on the side table. When she reaches for the tea tray Killian’s voice derails her again.

“I’ll put it away later.”

“You don’t have—”

“Emma, it’s fine, just leave it.”

She sighs again and thinks it probably sounds more like a huff, the way his mouth twitches at her exasperation.

“Alright. Good night.”

“Good night.”

She hesitates at the door long enough to glare at the way Killian rolls his knuckles over his forehead and pinches the bridge of his nose.

Really, it’s a fine thing that they don’t sleep in the same bed or there is no way she will let this happen night after night.

*****

For such a heavy door, it closes with the softest of clicks – which doesn’t stop the sound from echoing around in Killian’s mind long after.

As light and quiet as her presence is, the moment it is gone is much like a pitch black night at sea following on the heels of a full moon. There is a reason the moon recedes bit by bit, waning sailors off its light before it leaves them completely in the dark – the shock would be much too jarring otherwise.

And Killian Jones thought he of all men was prepared for anything when it came to taking on a new wife. Killian Jones was wrong. He is not at all prepared to enjoy having one.

Chapter Text

No good day starts with bloodstains on your bedspread and a pulsing pain in your lower back but, like with much else in her life, Emma tries to make the best of it. She asks Ruby to heat some water for her and rubs her hands together to bring some warmth into them, knowing all the while these next few days her soul will feel even more coldly received in her body than usual.

She pulls on the heavy doors of her overly large wardrobe to pick as dark a dress as appropriate for a sunny day and pulls her hair away from her face in a shape she hopes is acceptable for suffering silently in the comforts of one’s home.

*****

She fixes her sympathetic eyes on the woman leaning as close to the stove as safety will allow to seek some alleviation of her present condition.

“Surely you will be more comfortable in your room. I can come right up and get the fire going.”

“Oh, no, it’s alright. It’s not cold at all.”

That it is not – it is a perfectly sunny day for early September but Ruby has quickly learnt that “It isn’t cold” does not equal “I’m not cold” when it comes to their new mistress.

“Have you had a chance to enjoy the swing in the garden?”

Emma turns to look out of the window.

“There is a swing in the garden?”

“Oh, yes. It’s at the very edge of it but it’s quite perfect,” Ruby smiles and dusts off her hands before she urges Emma to follow her outside.

It’s indeed a perfectly pleasant day, though Ruby can’t help but feel like the air is much too thick and still, as if hunkering down and preparing for one of the first storms of the season. She makes a note to hang the last of the laundry and gather the flowers that will surely be ruined, if left outside for the first rain.

“When she was young, Alice refused to lie down for a nap inside when the sun was shining. And then she would fall asleep on picnic blankets or right on the grass before we could so much as bring her a pillow.”

She sneaks a glance at Emma’s smiling face and feels something soft and hopeful bloom in her chest. She and Granny have always done their best for Alice with pleasure and devotion but Ruby can’t help but feel like a weight has been slowly slipping off her shoulders ever since Emma arrived.

“So Captain Jones had the swing put up – just far enough so that the noise in the house wouldn’t wake her but close enough that we could watch over her. And large enough to fit a child and heavy enough not to topple over,” she adds with a chuckle.

They take a turn and right there, behind the apples trees, the black, iron cast swing sits, bathed in sunlight, the way Ruby hoped it will be. One look at Emma tells her that she has found the perfect spot for her mistress to pass the worst of those days of the month that every woman has to bear.

“Let me just fetch you some pillows and a blanket.”

*****

She mustn’t forget to thank Ruby for bringing her here. As the sun shines down on her midsection, Emma almost feels comfortable in her body for the first time today. She has to give credit to Killian, the swing is positioned perfectly – benefitting from the best of the warm sunshine, the smell of fruit and flowers just out of reach and the lush green views to the side. It is not at all a hard task to picture a cherub-like Alice running around and refusing to be brought indoors and lose even a second of the summer days.

Yet, the pleasant image brings a sudden stab of pain that is much worse than the dull ache she has been suffering all day. She tries to chase it away the way she has learnt to do but the damage is done and the fragility of the present is not as easy to dismiss as the immutability of the past.

Just like in this very moment, Emma has started to become much too comfortable in this space that miraculously seems to have a place for her. She has done a terribly good job of avoiding the stone that can still trip her and send her hurtling into the dark unknown that she can only speculate about in her nightmares.

The worry of what may follow has been keeping her carefully and obediently in check but the guilt of what is rears to the forefront now, as she lies in the iron cast evidence of what a wonderful father Killian Jones is.

“Do you need to be rocked to sleep as well?”

She startles horribly and the only thing that saves her from toppling to the ground is that Ruby was right and the swing has indeed been made to keep its cargo safe.

Killian’s hand takes a hold of one end and stops the last of the wobbling as Emma tries to slow the thunder beating of her heart. She looks up and frowns at the bowl cradled in his left elbow before she realizes that he must’ve had to quickly free his right hand.

“I see Ruby didn’t teach you how to use one of these before she gave you free reign over it.”

Half an hour ago, she would’ve laughed. Half an hour ago, the bowl of cut peaches and apples he passes to her now would’ve made her heart flutter pleasantly. But neither the bird song, nor Killian’s sparkling eyes above her can make her heart feel less burdened and twisted up right now. Only she can do that.

“Emma, are you alright? Ruby said you were indisposed but I didn’t think—“

She flushes a little, thinking that this particular subject must certainly be taboo between most husbands and wives, even ones that have been intimate. But then she considers and realizes anew that, in the absence of a truly caring mother, Killian has probably been too good a father to his daughter to remain ignorant on such matters.

She twists around and rises to a sitting position fast enough that he stumbles back a step. She doesn’t even let herself take a proper breath, she can’t allow the worry of what will follow to cower her into silence once again.

“I must tell you now.”

She must, should have done it a dozen times already, should have done it before he tied himself to her, should certainly do it before he allows his whole family to publicly stand beside her, should do it before there is no turning back even if turning back will cost her more than she can afford and comprehend.

She sees the moment the gravity of it, of whatever is in her voice, reaches Killian. The sparkle is tempered as if pouring water over fire, his mouth thins out into a perfectly straight line and all but the most permanent lines on his face smooth out as if to hide away the very humanity, the very vulnerability, of him. His shoulders straighten to give him his full height and the ability to take on whatever she intends to put on them. He has been in battle and he knows how to prepare for an attack.

From where she is sitting, he is an intimidating sight, but it is the fact that he manages so quickly to raise a defense against her that causes Emma’s heart to shrink even further within her – if it could escape the prison of her entirely, it probably would have done so long ago.

“Could you… could you sit down?” she hates how small her voice sounds, how fragile, if not broken already, but it seems to soften Killian’s stance just enough that he can fold his knees and take a seat on the pillowed swing, his gaze focused on the grass beneath them.

“I should’ve done this earlier. Regina told me that she had disclosed—“

“Emma, I am…” he clears his throat and looks up at her and she can see the question in his eyes, the permission he seeks to speak freely on a topic that will shame any woman worth anything. “I am aware that you have lain with another man… men.”

If nothing else, Emma is glad to discover that she cannot perish from mortification alone – for if she could, her time would’ve most certainly come already.

“Man. He… it was just one man.”

Killian nods and she can’t tell if he is relieved or indifferent, can’t even stop to consider what it is she wants him to be, not with what is looming ahead of her.

“He was—“

“You don’t have to—“

“I know you can’t wish to hear it and… please, believe me, I don’t wish to tell it but… Regina— Regina did not tell you all. She only told you what needed to be immediately—“ she cuts off, aware that had Regina never told Killian anything, he could’ve still believed her chase and pure now. “What she thought needed to be immediately known.”

Emma watches her fingers pinch the fabric of her skirts and her chest rise with her next deep breath and her next, and her next. Until she dares to look at the man beside her and find his eyes resolutely focused on her and filled with confusion.

“He was a horse dealer.”

She watches his brows furrow and then lift as his eyes widen with quick realization.

“Yes, I… I used to ride a fair bit but Regina would never actually buy a horse so I just kept—“

“Emma.”

The tone of his voice makes her freeze, her mouth staying half open as she tries not to flinch at the rage that finally begins to simmer in Killian’s eyes. She knew no man would want to listen to this sort of thing, especially coming from his wife’s mouth but—

“When we were at the stables, you— Emma, did he force you—“

“Oh! Oh, no. No, this—“

A moment ago she thought herself beyond the point of blushing but now she discovers it anew when she has to reveal another turn that puts her conduct in an even worse light. For surely, for anyone but her – she cannot make herself regret that it was not so, no matter what fault it might take off her – it would’ve been much better, if at least she hadn’t been complicit, if she had tried to deny him.

“It was not… It was in the stables that I—“ she looks down at her hands again to find them clasped firmly together, holding onto each other when they could find nothing else. “I asked him to… to run away with me.”

“And he refused?”

Again she does not know if he is surprised by how far she wanted and dared to go or by how unwanted she found herself to be.

“He said he could do better.”

He could do be—“

“And that he couldn’t have—“ the word literally chokes her and she has to choose between it and a breath but the look on Killian’s face now says he will not finish this sentence for her and she has to. “A child.”

The seizing in her stomach now is all things past and present all at once and she clutches the seat of the swing in her hands and strains her arms so they won’t allow her to fold in on herself.

“Where—“ Killian clears his throat and the sentence that comes next is less words than action ready to be realized. “Where is the child now?”

The swing groans and his feet shuffle as if he is ready to get up and go, though where and what he might wish to do she does not have the strength to imagine right now. It’s only when the tears slide down her cold cheeks that she realizes she is so aware of every sound because her eyes have fallen shut.

“There is no child,” it’s an eerily calm whisper and she rocks along with it, the swing groaning harder.

“What?”

“There is no— He left, disappeared. And she wouldn’t let me… Regina wouldn’t— She knew best and I—“

A fire poker in her side would’ve shocked her less than his hand on her shoulder but it is as he quickly withdraws it that she realizes her own is clutching his knee in a vice grip. She lets out a hysterical little laugh at her body’s sad attempt to keep him where he is.

“Emma, I need you to try to listen to me, alright? You don’t have to—“

She jumps to her feet before he can say something he will have to take back in a second and feels her head spin a little from emotional vertigo and blood loss and good old fear and lord knows what else.

“And now I can’t!” she hears her voice grow a little hoarse and a strange part of her mind worries if it carries all the way to the house. “Again. They said… T-the women she brought to… to do it. T-they said I was too weak and that I might never— I—“

Save for the very event she is trying and failing to retell, Emma has never fainted in her life but she knows in a minute she will crumble right where she stands. She will try not to but she knows she will.

But as Killian rises swiftly to his feet and erases the distance between them in a single large step, she does not try to stop her body from falling against his own. Every last bit of her is too cold to resist the warmth of his arms around her, too cold to wonder if he will recoil from the way her wet cheek lands against his neck, too cold to wonder if her hand has a right to clutch the back of his jacket in a desperate attempt to keep him from separating them.

*****

“It’s alright, Emma, it’s alright.”

If it wasn’t for the way she is clutching at his back, he would’ve thought that she had gone completely limp against him, but what worries him most is that he can’t properly tell if she is shivering or sobbing or some awful combination of the two.

“Just lean on me.”

Killian tightens his arms around her and looks toward the house, unsure if he should bring her inside, if she would want to take the risk of anyone seeing her. He wouldn’t. So he keeps his left arm around her and bring his hand to rubs gently up and down her back. She is certainly shivering and the wetness at his neck and shoulder tells him that she is crying as well and he has never been more sure of what he wants and more unsure of how to achieve it.

He lets his arms drop but her grip on him doesn’t loosen, he doesn’t want to push her away or touch her with his wooden attachment so he tries to take half a step back instead. The whimper that follows him surely tears a piece of his heart clean off – there is no other explanation for the way it seizes at her blind terror.

“Just a second, love.”

He pulls his jacket off his left arm with her still half holding onto it before her arms drop to her sides. Killian makes quick work of shrugging the garment off completely and sets it around her shoulders before tugging on the ends of it to both pull it more securely around her and bring her closer again.

“Alright. Let’s sit down again, yeah?”

Emma finally focuses her eyes back on his and the sheer hopelessness and resignation in them makes him discover a whole new reincarnation of feeling helpless.

“Emma, it’s al—“

“I’m sorry. I really— I was going to tell you before… before we—“

“You—“

“And then right after. But I kept putting it off and I kept— I didn’t want to—“

He urges her to sit back down and wonders how to explain that her giving him any children was the furthest thing from his mind when he married her.

“I’m sorry I—“

“Emma, stop. Listen to me,” he doesn’t know how to ease the pain of the past but he hopes he can at least alleviate her fear of the present, her fear of him, he thinks sadly. “I’m not angry. I’m not angry at you.”

“But I-I can’t—“

“I understand and I’m sorry. I’m sorry it happened but it doesn’t affect— That is, I realize it will always affect you but it doesn’t affect—“

Bloody hell, he doesn’t know how to reassure her, he doesn’t know how to explain. He never intended to be with her, he never thought she’d want much of him except what he could easily give – independence, money, security.

“You’re safe here.”

She blinks at him a couple of time, the tears making her eyelashes sparkle in a way that both pains and mesmerizes him. Something in her face softens and relaxes, cautiously hopeful. She still looks fearful but he realizes, with some relief, that she is more afraid of believing him than of him.

“I did not intend to deceive you.”

“You—“

He wants to say she didn’t but that would be a lie. Just because he isn’t angry about it, just because it doesn’t in any way affect what he imagined or expected of their marriage, doesn’t mean that she didn’t keep a secret. Yet, he cannot blame her.

He cannot blame her for keeping close to her heart something that hurt it so badly. He cannot blame her for being afraid to share her secrets when he trembles at the very idea of putting his own into words.

But Killian is afraid that whether he passes judgement or not has little bearing on her guilt. The only sin he can pardon is the one she seems to think she has committed against him. He remembers the unsettled feeling when he raised his voice at her, when he thought he’d upset her, he remembers the relief of her absolution.

“You are forgiven.”

He wouldn’t dare call it a laugh but, as she closes her eyes and lifts her shoulders, the sound that escapes her mouth is not as hopeless as a sob.

“And I don’t want you to think…”

Killian takes a breath and ducks his head, he tries to remember how one talks to a person they are allowed to be more open and honest with – fears he has never known and probably never will. But, looking up into Emma’s tear-bright eyes again, he thinks this woman deserves someone who knows, someone who can, and if she is not to have that, she at least deserves for him to try.

“I don’t want you to think I’ll think less of you because of this.”

*****

The silence is absolute – even the birds have gone quiet, even the swing has become completely still. She is unaware of this, she is aware of how hard her heart is still beating, how much control it takes to keep her breathing even, how incomprehensible his words are.

Emma has been defined by the word “less” as far back as she can remember. She is a granddaughter but less than a daughter, she is pretty but less than exquisite, she is well-trained but less than well-educated, she was a lover but less than a wife, she was expecting but less than a mother, she is collected but less than dignified, she is inexperienced but less than pure, she was unmarried but less than a good match, she is married but less than a proper wife.

She doesn’t really understand how she could’ve been saved from becoming less in Killian’s eyes unless she was already nothing. But it’s exactly his eyes that tell her she is not nothing and she finds them almost capable of convincing her.

She drops her gaze to her hands. She cannot bear to shed any more tears – she feels physically and emotionally exhausted, but she cannot bear to appear any weaker. Yet, everything already trembling inside her trembles all the harder at the thought of him leaving in the face of her inadequate silence. Only she doesn’t quite know what—

So she reaches for his hands and lays her cold ones over them. The contrast between his warm flesh and the smooth coolness of the leather glove on his prosthetic is curious but the way his left arm seems to flinch makes her breath back into her throat. She waits for a second, two, three, not daring to look up, waiting to see if he will pull away, if after all else, this is the way she manages to push him to his feet and away.

But whatever instinct seized Killian he seems to master and Emma curls her fingers a little more securely before she looks up. She is surprised to see him staring somewhere in the distance, as if recalling something else that will inform him what to do now. But then he shakes his head and looks back at her, his face composed but still watching her as if to make sure parts of her are not falling off.

“Let me bring you something to drink.”

She doesn’t want anything to drink, she just wants him to stay right where he is, but she is not selfish enough to deny him the opportunity for escape, she is grateful he has delayed it as long as he has, so she just nods quickly and draws her hands back into her lap.

“Something refreshing or—“

“Something warm.”

She tries not to think about that as he walks away. How much she needs something to steal comfort from, how cold and empty she felt right after and how frozen and stiff her fingers feel even now. How she hasn’t felt truly warm even once in the last ten years.

Emma stares at the sun – it too is slowly starting to take its leave. She expects Ruby – she hopes it’s Ruby, she cannot fortify herself enough to face Mrs Lucas right now – to come out with a cup of tea, so it’s only when she actually sees Killian returning and feels her shoulders release, that she becomes conscious of how tense she was.

He has the same set up of a pot and two cups hanging from his thumb and the familiarity of it settles her further, just like the smell of the hot chocolate. He crouches down, depositing his cargo on the grass before he sits down on the ground, leaning one shoulder on the swing and looking up at it before he starts pouring the chocolate.

“Do you want to know how long it took to make this?”

Emma blinks, realizes she can now send away the demons she summoned – the fresh air and sunshine seem to have made them shrink just a little.

“You actually made this?” she asks with genuine surprise before she takes the cup he offers her.

“I dare say I was rather good at building things before—“ he shrugs his left shoulder and takes a little sip.

“The war?”

“Hmm? Ah. No, no,” Killian takes a more generous gulp, his tongue pressing against his utter lip, seemingly lost in thought. “This didn’t happen during the war.”

“Oh.”

She always just assumed that’s how he lost his hand and secured his reputation as a daring war hero.

“No, this was… another voyage I took later in life…”

His eyes lose some of their focus, staring unseeingly at the liquid he swirls lightly in his cup.

Emma believes some thoughts have the ability to carry you so far away that you might never come back. She believes one of those had possession of her just minutes ago and Killian Jones managed to bring her back.

She hopes when his own thought comes for him, she manages to do the same.

“So how long did it take?”

*****

“Honey, you must be starving. Let me put something out for you. Lord knows when they will come in.”

Ruby watches Alice smile benevolently at Granny’s disgruntled face.

“Oh, let them be. I still believe it is a crime to spend an hour of sunshine inside.”

Chapter Text

It doesn’t fully sink in – the relief, the acceptance, the safety – until she is trying to lose herself in the last chapter of the adventure novel she’s been making her way through and Killian walks into the library with his ever-present stack of papers.

At this point, she probably shouldn’t let anything about Killian Jones shock her and yet, it still takes her a moment to realize and accept that he is obviously not avoiding and shunning her presence. And difficult as it was to focus on her book after the day she’s had before, it is nothing compared to trying to interest herself in the letters on the page now that Killian is sitting an arm’s length away. Yet the last thing she wants is for him to leave.

She expected his presence to make her feel vulnerable and overly exposed, she expected to walk on eggshells for days despite the way he had guided her back into the house earlier, his jacket and his scent still around her until she went to freshen up for tea. But now Emma thinks she just forgot what it feels like to be around someone who knows you – all the least commendable parts of you – and still talks to you like you are worth something.

She doesn’t feel exposed, she feels seen.

And it’s only now that she realizes how heavy it weighted on her, how much like an impostor she felt in this house with that secret hanging like a noose ready to tighten around her neck the moment she tripped. Now, she almost feels like herself again and with every hour that passes and Killian doesn’t turn around and say that no, this is too much, too little, she grows more confident in the knowledge that being herself is not a curse to carry around. That maybe being herself is not the same as being the things that have happened to her.

*****

“Gaillardia, buttercups and… maybe something white?”

Mrs Lucas keeps scrubbing her pan without paying her any mind, which in itself is an improvement. Emma has probably been in the kitchen for almost half an hour and the cook has yet to grumble about everyone constantly getting in her way. Everyone being Emma, seeing as Alice only ever breezes through the kitchen – snatching whatever fruit or pastry is available – and continues on her way to the stables or the lake beyond, and Killian – to Emma’s continued amazement and amusement – seems to resent any and all assistance from the women in the house when he goes rummaging around the kitchen cupboards.

And it’s not like Emma has all these caprices about food or can’t do anything herself, she is just still learning the very fine line between being a nuisance and taking too much initiative where Granny is concerned. She is also careful not to call her that out loud, although Ruby and Alice have made it impossible to avoid doing so in her mind.

At present, she has agreed to get Emma the seeds she will need for her little garden project so she allows herself to enjoy that little victory. She is also very aware of the fact that if she kills a single one of those flowers, it will probably take her another decade to convince the cook to let her make any alternations around the property.

“Or something blue? Killian likes blue,” she looks down at her short list and tries to keep her ink-stained thumb away from the paper. “Oh, bluestars! Could you find some bluestars?”

Granny huffs and finishes rinsing before she turns around with a towel in her hands.

“If you gonna go putting a flower for everyone, you should ask Miss Alice what she’d like.”

“Alice likes buttercups,” she says, managing to tamper the smugness in her voice slightly.

Somehow the old woman manages to look both pleased and irritated. Emma grins a little.

“I can get you everything you’ll need but I ain’t getting down in the dirt with ya. Being up to my elbows in flour suits me better, thank you very much.”

*****

She sighs heavily as the door closes behind the mistress and all her colourful plans and looks around for something to put her hands to, hoping her mind will follow.

The last few days – ever since the new Mrs Jones walked in with her face a little more pink than normal and her slim shoulders hidden under the heavy fabric of the captain’s jacket – Granny has been having some serious trouble keeping her thoughts to herself. Truth be told, she has been having trouble ordering those thoughts to begin with.

She started scrutinizing the new missus the moment she walked into their lives and by now she is fully convinced that the far away looks, pale complexion and occasional listlessness are much more than just natural frailty. She knows a person with a story when she sees one and she supposes that if she’d come across Mrs Jones in any other way, her instincts would’ve leaned toward the more sympathetic.

Alas, she does not have the time or peace of mind to worry about this new person when she has to worry about all that she might bring with her. And Granny is starting the see it already.

The way Alice is more willing than she has ever known her to be to go shopping for fabrics and ribbons and any other ladylike trifle that she can claim to need Mrs Jones’ opinion on. The way she rides with much more patience and discipline than she normally does to make the other woman feel more comfortable – and probably to not shorten her father’s life any more than she already has.

And that is a whole other can of worms that Granny feels compelled to twist open. She has seen Captain Killian Jones with the flush of amorous affection on his cheeks only once in her long life – when he had no grey hairs and two hands of flesh and blood and had never heard the name Eloise Gardener.

It is not quite the same now – she thinks there is a certain shade of brilliant, almost blinding blue that she shall never see in Killian’s eyes again, but there is something alright. There is the way his eyes jump to the kitchen door every time there is a step heard outside it in the mornings and the way his shoulders drop just a little – just enough for Granny to notice – when it is Ruby bringing in some fresh towels. There is the way he moves just a little less distractedly around the kitchen he is not supposed to be in to begin with when it is not Ruby that comes in. There is the way his hair is a little more carefully coiffured and the way some vests she hasn’t seen in years find themselves among the laundry. There is the way he moves around the house even when Miss Alice has gone out and the way his study is becoming less and less of an impenetrable fortress.

And Granny cannot possibly set her mind and her heart – both reluctantly joyful at the lightness in her master’s step and acutely anxious about the moment it should be taken out of it. Killian himself can scowl at her all he wants and Ruby can roll her eyes and cajole her into giving a chance to this girl that has little to recommend her if one listens to the word on the street. Granny doesn’t give much weight to that kind of talk but it doesn’t make her worry any less about the power Emma Jones has.

The way she sees it – if she is aware of it, God only knows how she might decide to use it and if she is not, Granny doesn’t know if she can trust her slim, pale hands to not fumble and break something with it.

*****

She twists a little to the side and purses her lips as she observes the curve of her behind. From this angle, she thinks there has been little alteration in her body but as she turns to face the mirror again, her brows furrow and her hands come up to cup and push up her breasts. This makes the pale grooves running down both globes disappear for a moment but the illusion is broken as soon as she drops her arms to her sides.

Emma doesn’t think herself a particularly vain woman. She has never had the means and very briefly had the inclination to pay much attention to her garments and jewels. She has never been particularly skilled in applying powder and colours to her face and she finds it simply unbearable to have someone else do it for her and she always seems to fancy her hair in styles that are the exact opposite of what is in fashion.

But all those things she considers mere accessories and, in lacking them, she takes greater pride in what pleasant effect she can accomplish only through her natural shapes and forms. Indeed, that might be why the little vanity she does seem to possess is solely focused on that very form.

It is a truth known only among women that one of the multitude of reasons for marrying young is so that one can present her natural gifts to their best advantage – meaning, in the bloom of youth, and it is a truth staring at her from the full-length mirror that perhaps her bloom is starting to shrivel up a little.

Emma huffs and snatches her nightclothes from her bed. It matters little what her body looks like as long as there is no one looking at it and at present—

The knock on her door is soft and followed by patient stillness and silence and yet Emma startles and instinctively tugs on her sleeves until they come down to her wrists and, to her detriment, one of them slipping a little off her shoulder. She quickly pulls in back into place.

Ruby already bid her goodnight and, to her knowledge, Alice went to bed almost an hour ago. Her mind on Granny, she starts looking around for a shawl that she can throw on top of her nightgown. But when the thought that there is only one person who is usually awake this late at night comes to the forefront, Emma pauses in her search and taking a measured breath, makes the impulsive decision to open the door as she is.

She can think of no person who would dare to frown and scowl at her for standing in front of her husband barefoot, in nothing but a nightgown and undergarments. Well, perhaps she can think of one – the husband in question.

The flame of Killian’s candle fills his wide eyes to the brim as she opens the door. The jaw, on which his beard has started to form and where the white hairs seem to catch every golden flicker, is noticeably slacker than she has ever seen it.

“Emma…”

She calls on every bit of grace, poise and self-control she has ever been taught to keep the satisfied smile from actually breaking across her mouth.

“I… umm,” Killian shakes his head once and then his jaw is back in its locked and straight position. “I apologize for disturbing you this late.”

“No, that’s—“ as the moment sharpens and crystalizes around them, she realizes with a guilty start that Killian looks like lack of sleep might have finally caught up to him, like he has been wrestling with a ghost that had a tight grip on his shirt and refused to let go. “Are you alright?”

He blinks and then his features soften a little again – not in shock this time but rather the opposite, in the kind of familiarity that brings one comfort. His smile is tight but not forced.

“Aye, nothing’s the matter. It’s just that— Well, I’ve received notice that the man hired to inspect the ships we are— I’m sorry, there is no need to concern you—“

“No, please—“ she starts to say that she is little less than starving for some knowledge of his constant occupation, then she thinks that he is unlikely to reveal too much in the doorway to her bedchamber. “Would you come inside?”

Killian visibly hesitates and goes so far as to take a step back which she tries not to let tug her a step forward in turn, but then he looks her right in the eyes and Emma hears her own sharp intake of breath. Whatever it is the candle in his hand illuminates makes him nod subtly and lean forward, waiting for her to move back inside before he follows suit and closes the door quietly behind him.

She is already conscious of the restless movements of her hands and, to stop herself from going as far as pacing up and down the room, she takes a seat on the small settee by the fireplace. The fire, though in no danger of dying, is low enough to provide a purpose for Killian’s own nervous movements. So Emma sits and watches him add a couple of logs and wonders if he will sit in the lone chair across or beside her and then proceeds to tell herself that is not a matter of all that much importance.

Yet she can hardly help but find it painfully endearing when instead of rising and taking a seat at all, he just sits in front of the fireplace and stretches one leg in front of him. Killian Jones seems to prefer the ground to most pieces of furniture and Emma bites her lip so she doesn’t smile down at him like a besotted fool.

“You were preparing for bed, I’m—“

Whatever her face does proves successful in halting another apology and Emma tries to arrange her features so that they express both patience and expectation in equal measures.

“We have two ships sailing out in a number of days. The man who was appointed to complete the last inspections has taken a bad fall— not on sight, at his own house, I’m informed he is in no danger. But he most certainly won’t be able to complete his task. I—“ his hand rakes through his hair and he looks toward the door. “I hate to be away for even a day when Alice is here. And I don’t want you to feel—“

He doesn’t finish but his eyes return to her and it seems to Emma that a number of her organs squeeze inside her at the concern in them before Killian bends his head, focusing on the progress his thumb is making in rubbing the ash out of the edge of the carpet.

“But I’m afraid I have no choice. I cannot in good conscience let two ships full of men sail off without making sure that they will carry them safely back as well.”

“Of course.”

The moral obligation in his words is heavy but worthy of nothing but respect. Still, some small selfish part of her wants to ask why Admiral Jones can’t do this, why every rope pulling the Jones Brothers Company seems to be tied around her husband’s waist. But she knows it’s not her place to inquire into the workings of his business and, more importantly, doing so will hardly help ease Killian’s mind.

“It won’t be more than two days. I should be back before—“

She can tell just from the tone of his voice that he has taken her silence as displeasure.

“Killian, it’s quite alright. We’ll be perfectly fine.”

He looks unsure and she doesn’t like it one bit. She lightens her tone further and waves her hand in what she hopes is a carefree gesture.

“I’ll go with Alice to collect her gown for the ball. I’ll make sure to keep her safe from ennui.”

Killian nods and it’s only as his shoulders visibly loosen that she realizes just how tense he has been from the moment he knocked on her door.

“Good,” he nods again, more to himself. “Yes, you’ll hardly know I’m gone.”

She purses her lips in disagreement but her features soften almost immediately at the guilty look he sends the crackling fireplace.

“Killian, I— I’m sure she’ll understand.”

He nods again – he knows but it doesn’t mean he hates the idea of being away any less.

“I think— That is—“ Emma licks her lips, fighting herself every step of the way. “I know very little, of course, but— You’re clearly doing the right thing.”

She bites lightly on her tongue and forces herself not to avert her eyes from his face, despite how silly she feels. She knows it is not a wife’s place to give opinions on how her husband manages his time and affairs. It is most certainly not hers.

But Killian doesn’t seem annoyed by the interjection. He seems – miraculously enough – somewhat grateful for it.

“Thank you, love.”

Her sigh is soft and satisfied and Emma allows herself a moment to bask in the knowledge that her opinion doesn’t seem all that unwanted after all.

“I should let to you go to sleep.”

Killian gets to his feet with a groan and, standing quickly as well, brings Emma much closer to him that she anticipated. For his part, he seems to realize anew that she is dressed only in her nightgown and his eyes quickly skirt over her collarbones and away to the fire. Emma is very conscious of the fact that her left sleeve has slipped some way down her shoulder again.

The fire is much too far to account for the slight redness of his face and Emma bites her bottom lip and gives up her battle with besotted foolishness entirely.

Killian gives another brisk nod and is already at the door before she has fully reconciled herself to the fact that he is indeed leaving. That is what she blames the strain in her voice on at least.

“Wait. When are you…”

Killian pauses at the threshold.

“I’ll leave after breakfast tomorrow. That is after—“

“Us non-vampires have broken our fast?”

He chuckles and Emma grins a little.

“Indeed. Again, apologies for—“

“You can always knock on my door.”

He seems so taken aback that Emma is afraid this time she did say the wrong thing but then he ducks his head and huffs a little almost-laugh and she relaxes again. Killian gives her one more searching look, a nod that she can’t quite decipher and then he is gone.

Emma moves forward and her hand hovers over the doorknob for a second before she whirls around and leans against the solid wood. She can’t quite get a hold of the feeling fluttering inside her but foolishness doesn’t seem to encompass it anymore.

*****

The grey clouds gathering above them don’t look particularly ominous but Emma would’ve still steered Alice back toward where their carriage waits. If she knew where that was, of course.

The gardens they are currently traversing seemed like the perfect way to end their day – a walking distance away from the shopping street but far enough to be quiet and spacious and not terribly populated. No one went so far as to glare or whisper on the street but Emma could definitely tell that Mrs and Miss Jones were a subject of at least moderate interest to anyone who thrived on gossip.

Thus, when Alice offered to take Emma to the gardens to gather some inspiration for her new project, she was both touched and more than willing to take a turn somewhere less crowded and dust-covered.

It’s as they make a turn and head for the fountain that Emma thinks should help her figure out their whereabouts that she spots the first person they’ve seen along the green alleys. A man that seems rather focused on them as he draws near at a much faster pace than their own. Emma feels Alice’s arm stiffen around her own and she looks at her, just about to pose the question when—

“Miss Jones. Enchanting as always.”

The man gives a bow much deeper than the occasion calls for, in Emma’s opinion, and she runs a critical eye over him. He is young, probably just a couple of years older than Alice, but there is something almost slovenly and shrewd in his bearing. When he straightens and looks right at the girl beside her, Emma decides that she doesn’t like him one bit and, what is more important, she is confident Alice gave him no encouragement to approach them just now.

Turning to the side she sees the girl’s mouth pressed in a perfectly straight and emotionless line that is so similar to the way Killian prepares himself for facing something unpleasant that Emma has to blink a few times to see anything but the resemblance.

“I was hoping to have the good fortune of our paths crossing again.”

His voice is no more pleasant than his appearance and his tone much too familiar for the situation and Alice’s complete lack of acknowledgement.

“Alice, have you been properly introduced to this gentleman?” she infuses the last word with as much doubt as her tongue allows.

“I have not.”

Emma grits her teeth and looks at the impertinent man before them. She knows she shouldn’t engage him in any way, knows Alice has taken the wiser path in ignoring him completely and they should really just walk around him and head home.

“Ah, allow me,” he grins widely as if this is just an inconsequential little hurdle that he has to overcome for them. “Mr Osbo—”

“Miss Jones did not express a desire to make your acquaintance.”

From the corner of her eye she sees Alice’s head whip around to look at her and Emma does her best to not waver and shrink from her own voice – she can’t allow the doubt she feels over her choice of action to show on her face. She doesn’t want to have to walk around this buffoon, she wants him to move out of their way and never speak to her step-daughter again.

But, unlike Alice, Mr Osbosomething seems completely nonplussed and almost amused.

“Oh, I’m quite confident she—”

The moment his hand rises to lightly touch Alice’s arm, she immediately takes a step back as Emma takes one forward, bringing her within striking distance of the odious man.

“If you touch her again, I will cut your hand off.”

His response are a solid three steps back which make something almost feral inside Emma rise up to gloat. She can’t decide if he is aghast or just about to be sick and she is perfectly satisfied with both. Even the bitter scowl that twists his lips and the spiteful words that come stumbling out of them can’t mar her triumph.

“Y-you know what? You can go to hell! I should’ve known not to bother with the Jones bitches.”

She has no great desire to come up with a scalding reply and the coward makes himself scarce before she can do so anyway.

“Are you quite alright?” she turns to Alice and honestly doesn’t know if she wants to laugh or cry as the fiery indignation inside her dies down and leaves her with a shiver down her back.

The girl nods and Emma tightens her hold on her arm, most likely for the benefit and reassurance of both of them.

“Who on earth was that insufferable man?”

Alice’s unperturbed expression and the little sparkle in her eyes makes her relax a little bit.

“No one. Some gambler looking for a quick match.”

“How do you know?”

“I told papa when he approached me unintroduced. I think he asked around and then put the fear of… well, himself into him. He hasn’t dared to come up to me again. Until now.”

“Likely decided to seize his chance while Killian is away.”

“Oh, let’s not tell papa when he comes back.”

“Alice—”

“Did you see the expression on his face? He will never dare again. I think he is more scared of you than he is of papa now.”

Emma feels her cheeks flush a little at the memory of how she conducted herself but that sparkle in Alice’s eyes looks more and more like pride and she can’t help but grin back at it.

“He did look a bit white, didn’t he?”

*****

Emma is aware enough of her inner thoughts and feelings to know that Killian’s presence is not without its effect on her. She did not, however, believe that his absence for such a short period could affect her. As she stares unseeingly at the page before her, Emma cannot remember ever missing someone before.

Ungrateful as it might make her seem to some, she feels relieved to be away from Regina. She has never been able to miss the parents she never knew, who left her to her grandmother to seek more freedom and fortune abroad. Not even—

No, the way things ended with Neal Cassidy certainly did not lead to her regretting his absence.

“May I?”

But now, she is only too happy to see Alice’s blonde head peak around the library door.

“Of course.”

In the carriage on their way back, Emma made sure that the incident in the gardens hadn’t left any lasting fear in Alice but, watching the girl balance on the very edge of her seat and fiddle nervously with the bracelet around her hand, she now begins to reconsider her assessment.

She doesn’t know how she can ease her mind without the solid safety of Killian’s presence so she only prays that Alice hasn’t looked back on everything and decided that Emma’s actions were unbearably undignified.

“Emma, I— I want to tell you something. I… papa said I can, if I wish to.”

Emma lets out the breath she was holding hostage and relaxes in the knowledge that whatever prompted Alice to seek her out doesn’t have anything to do with the events of the afternoon. Still, the girl’s palpable anxiety makes her heart ache a little – she knows more than she would like about the pressure of revealing things that you have been hiding inside for some time.

“You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want—”

“No, I do. I-I want you to understand why I’ll be leaving soon after Aunt Elsa’s ball.”

“Oh.”

The ache in her chest morphs into something more personal and increases quickly as she thinks about Killian’s reaction.

“Does your father know?”

Alice nods sadly and Emma feels selfishly relieved.

“There is someone. In London.”

“Ah,” she smiles a little, not particularly surprised by that revelation, given Alice’s steady flow of correspondence.

“Yes. And… I know he told you that people here have heard things about me, been told things about me—”

“Alice—”

“That’s why I can’t— I really— I always want to stay here with him and now I want to stay for you as well but…”

And just like that the vice grip around her heart turns more gentle and Emma feels like she belongs here more than she ever has without Killian in the room.

“But I can’t bring her here.”

It takes a few beats of the heart that is still trying to adjust itself to Alice’s kind words before Emma quite grasps the implication.

“Her?”

Alice keeps her eyes on the burning logs.

“Oh.”

Alice ducks her head a little and Emma’s hand reaches for hers without thought.

“Oh, sweetheart, that’s not— I mean, I don’t mind about that— Not that it matters if I—”

“You do not?”

Emma has never considered if she would mind something like this or not, has never been in a situation where she needed to consider it. But, as Alice’s familiar blue eyes finally dare to meet hers, there is no doubt inside her.

“Of course not. But it shouldn’t matter if anyone minds. Does… does your father—”

“Oh, no, no. He never has. She— My… my mother used it to…”

Emma’s eyes widen and her hand tightens around Alice’s. That… that witch!

“I know it must look horrible. Like I’m choosing one over the other but here I can never—”

“Alice, you don’t have to explain. I… I understand.”

The younger woman looks at her as if she almost doesn’t dare to believe that Emma does understand. So she keeps Alice’s hand in hers and her eyes open and unflinching and eventually she sees the last of her apprehension seep away, replaced with a relief that barely seems tangible, let alone stable, a relief that Emma knows will take some time to truly sink in. Much like it did for her.

And as the seconds tick by, Emma realizes how hard it is when you know that the next words spoken can make or break the person sitting beside you and they have to be spoken by you. Because it is not only the acceptance that’s needed, it’s the life-saving normalcy after, the return to the real world that you need to guide them to.

She really misses Killian.

“If I can speak frankly… it always seemed to me that Storybrooke is much too small to contain you.”

It’s not as good as a story about getting your leg trapped under a half-finished swing but it gets a chuckle out of Alice so Emma decides there is hope for all of them still.

Chapter Text

“Well, that won’t do.”

Emma looks up from the list she is compiling. Dinner was a somewhat disappointing affair last night, seeing as Killian was supposed to be back – he was supposed to be back the evening before, as a matter of fact – and she kept delaying the meal until it looked like Granny might serve her, if she didn’t let her set the table already. So now Emma has to come up with a different menu for tonight and not focus on the fact that she feels like she has exhausted all her best ideas over the last two days.

How might Granny choose to punish her, if she makes her roast a turkey again?

She shakes her head and focuses on the girl sitting across from her. Alice seems to have abandoned all attempts at keeping her correspondence from Emma since their conversation in the library and she hopes the girl is reacting to something written in the letter in her hand, rather than becoming frustrated with her father’s continued absence.

Emma herself is somewhat less than successful on that account.

“Is everything alright?”

“Papa must bring me the latest Dickens. Robyn has already finished it and, at this rate, I will know all by the time I get my hands on it!”

Emma does her best to hide her smile behind a cough. Anyone who has known Alice for longer than a day can tell that her interest in horses and wild animals far exceeds her interest in books and the beautiful piano in the drawing room – that Emma hasn’t dared to touch yet, but nothing seems to exceed her need to know all that everyone else around her does.

“I’m sure he won’t forget. You did write it down for him.”

If the good-natured tease in her voice is obvious, Alice takes it with a smile and playfully narrowed eyes before she leans her head to the side. The gesture is absolutely identical to the one often seen from her father and Emma feels a little tingle down the back of her neck.

“You really shouldn’t tell him you don’t want anything or you’ll soon need a vanity just for all the jewelry you’ll accumulate.”

“Oh, I’m sure he won’t—“

“But he will.”

Emma’s eyebrows draw together and she gives Alice a questioning look – her tone is much too weary for the topic of presents, expected or not.

“I— Well, I do not know what it was like later on but… I remember when I was little— because I would be so happy, you see? I’d be so excited when he came back. And my mother… the first thing she always did was demand to know what he had brought her. She would make a terrible row, if he hadn’t or… if whatever it was didn’t suit her fancy, I suppose, since I can’t… can’t remember him ever coming back empty-handed.”

Emma curls her fingers around the pen in her hand and takes the deep measured breaths she normally uses to calm herself after a nightmare. This one is not her nightmare. The very thought that this is obviously one of the more vivid memories Alice has of her childhood incents her beyond words. Which is for the better since she can’t speak ill of her mother in front of her, even if she already knows that she absolutely detests this woman she never met and thankfully, never will.

Emma wouldn’t have trusted herself to behave like a lady, if she ever met the previous Mrs Jones.

Frankly, presumptuous as it probably is, she feels a sense of indignation at the very thought that such a woman carried the title before her.

“So he will get you jewels,” Alice concludes matter-of-factly. “She was always sufficiently pleased with jewels.”

“But I don’t want—“

“Oh, I know.”

Emma closes her mouth and stares at Alice, surprised by her confident tone and the soft smile on her lips.

“But the sooner you decide what you do want, the easier it will be for both of you.”

She focuses back on her list and on not reading anything in Alice’s statement that is not really there.

*****

His thumb slides back and forth over the smooth stone – it’s cold and unyielding – both things that she probably imagines herself to be and both things she is not.

“Does the gentleman like this one?”

Killian blinks up at the jeweler and shakes his head. No, the yellow sapphire is captivating but it is not the colour he wants, no matter how hard the salesman tries to pursued him that it is. So he ignores the pursed lips and sour expression on the man’s face and lets his eyes roam freely over the displays.

Over the years, Killian has learnt the advantages of compromise but it has never come naturally to him. So, while he should really be heading home soon, if he doesn’t want to arrive when everybody has already gone to bed and while he is gradually becoming acquainted with a new kind of exhaustion – one born of the ache in his left forearm that kept him company all night and the other ache that feels a lot like homesickness, Killian can’t bring himself to settle for something that doesn’t feel right.

It is utterly ridiculous, of course, this supposed homesickness. He used to sail across the world for months on end without even laying eyes on a spot of land, let alone setting foot on it. Let alone coming home. And yes, he feels absolutely wretched wasting any of the time Alice is at home and yes, he worries that he has led Emma astray by underestimating the duration of his trip and thinks – perhaps rather fancifully – that the delay might cause her some worry and yes, it has been almost four full days now – longer than he wished and anticipated his business to take. But none of that justifies this kind of fretting and whining – be it only in his mind. He is not a young lad on his first leave and it does him no credit to think and act like one.

So he grits his teeth and rubs at the spot just under his elbow that sometimes manages to alleviate the pain and continues to patiently slide his eyes over the different gems and metals before him. He will be making his way home soon enough, he just wants to make this last purchase. It takes him by surprise – how much he genuinely wants to find something that she will like, something that will suit her.

His eyes catch on a hue that looks almost familiar, set as it is among little white stones rather than black lashes.

“May I see this one?”

The jeweler obliges him and presents the ornament with a flourish that is completely unnecessary – Killian already knows he will be walking out with it.

*****

“What is she, looking for buried treasure or something?”

Ruby turns to find the kitchen window wide open and her grandmother leaning out of it, glaring at the spot where Emma is preparing flower beds. Or rather, that seemed to be her idea when she took her gloves and tools and seeds out into the front garden, before she seemed to get lost in an almost hypnotic state of digging.

Ruby passes the old woman the empty glass of water she brought to their mistress and gives her an admonishing look.

“Granny.”

“What? She keeps digging like that, there won’t be any soil left for her to plant anything in.”

“She is worried.”

“What is she worried about? I told her yesterday that he is always too optimistic when planning his travels.”

Ruby squeezes one eye shut and leans an elbow on the windowsill. She wishes Emma asked her or even Alice about why Captain Jones might be gone longer than anticipated. While Granny isn’t wrong – he always relies too much on the belief that everyone will be as quick and punctual and efficient in getting down to business as he is – Ruby is sure that her grandmother probably didn’t put too much effort into acknowledging and soothing Emma’s feelings.

Admittedly, Mrs Jones can be admirably self-possessed when she truly puts her mind to it, but all one needs to do is catch her in a solitary moment to see the feelings rolling beneath her calm and smooth surface.

She took the first two days of her husband’s absence in stride, Ruby will even go so far as to say that she was tentatively excited to prove to herself and everyone else that she could handle the household on her own for a bit. But lunchtime on the third day was as far as that feeling carried her. After that Ruby could almost see the doubt and anxiety sneaking in. Emma did not enjoy being the solitary queen of the house and she enjoyed the idea of being left to it for an undetermined period of time – of Killian being gone for an undermined period of time – even less.

Turning her attention back to the front of the house, Ruby catches her impatiently trying to brush awry blonde strands over her shoulder with the back of her dirt-smeared hand, there are quite a few stains on her purple dress already and a definite air of frustration and lack of peace to all her movements and Ruby wonders if she should ask Peter to fetch Alice.

Miss Jones, being much more familiar with her father’s idiosyncrasies and poor time management, and thus, not at all concerned by a day or two’s delay, will certainly be able to coax Emma back inside and placate her for some time.

Then she catches sight of the dark shape coming up the road and sighs in relief.

“Ah, thank the Lord, she would’ve dug us all into a ditch in another day or so.”

Ruby ignores her grandmother and keeps her back to her and her grin hidden. There is a detectable trace of satisfaction in Granny’s grumbling and Ruby knows that, in all honesty, she has been rather pleased with Emma’s discomfiture the last two days.

It’s not until Roger’s hooves are trampling down the path leading to the main entrance that Emma’s head jerks up. Ruby can’t see her face – though the absolute stillness that seems to arrest her every muscle is clear enough – but she does have a perfect view of Captain Jones and the way he leans his head to the side, as if trying to determine what on earth his wife is doing in the dirt on the front lawn. His voice is heavy with the miles he has just ridden but it carries easily in the golden, late-afternoon hush.

“You should know – I was a naval captain, not a pirate. And if I were, I certainly wouldn’t have buried my treasure in front of the house.”

Ruby hears Granny chuckle, probably pleased to have her treasure talk mirrored by Killian himself.

He dismounts with obvious weariness but practiced ease and Ruby is about to head inside as well when she sees Emma get to her feet and almost run to the man before her – her momentum arrested by her body colliding with his, his sudden and forceful exhale audible in the bubble around them, her hand coming up and probably getting dirt in his hair.

Ruby knows she should look away but for a moment she is caught in place by her guilt over the fact that none of them took the proper time and care to provide Emma with the reassurance she obviously needed.

Captain Jones seems equally frozen for a second before his right hand tentatively settles on the shoulder blade of the woman in his arms. His face is partially obscured by falling strands of golden hair but Ruby can swear he leans in to catch the scent on them.

Glancing over her shoulder, she is chastised to see that Granny has gone back inside to provide the couple on the front lawn with some privacy and when she turns to look at them again, there is a foot of space between them and Emma is obviously in the process of realizing that she is covered in a fair amount of dirt.

If gambling was an appropriate pastime for women, Ruby would bet her next wage that the captain doesn’t care one bit.

*****

As he rides off to find his daughter and Jolly, Emma takes a moment to collect and glare down at her dirt-smeared self. She is distinctly aware that this is not the picture she is meant to present to world and husband alike but her actions currently seem to take precedence to the state of her person in their ability to fluster and embarrass her.

“Idiot,” she mutters under her breath as she imagines looking at herself from the side, or maybe just from Killian’s perspective, and realizes how childish she must have appeared.

Silly, she has been and continues to be even now – as she gathers her gardening tools and wonders what gown she should change into for dinner – completely ridiculous. But, truthfully, she can’t help it and she feels a rare bound of pity for her own self because of that.

Is it her fault that she never had a friend come running to her room as a child? Is it her fault that she never got to welcome a parent when they returned from a journey? Is it her fault that she never received a lover come to pay his respects? Is it her fault that all she’s known is people leaving and not once has she seen someone come back?

No, Emma tries to tell herself that none of that is solely her fault and yet, she cannot help but scold herself for reacting so disproportionately to the situation now. That thought is probably what makes her jump back and flush the second she walks in and comes face to face with Granny.

“Give these here,” the old woman takes the dirty tools from her hands and shoos her up the stairs. “Go wash yourself and get changed for dinner, I’ll fix everything else.”

Emma stares at her – a little dumbfounded by the woman’s strict but almost indulgent tone.

“Go on then. They’ll be back any minute now and I have a mind to feed and put you all to bed early tonight.”

Emma feels her face stretch in an uncontrollable grin that doesn’t diminish in the least at Granny’s eyeroll. The old woman tries to glare but, with Killian back, the high spirits have obviously already permeated the whole house and affected even its crankiest inhabitant.

*****

Mrs Lucas’s plan proves harder to execute than Emma expects, seeing as there are apparently traditions to be kept after dinner.

For the first time, Emma sees Alice put her foot down and refuse to let her father go into his study. Then again, he doesn’t fight her too hard on it. Killian demands to distribute whatever he has brought with him, Alice demands to hear all about Roger’s antics during the journey and, naturally, Alice prevails.

And Emma swears under her breath and does her best to dab away the tea she spits out with her laughter as Killian explains in almost ungentlemanly detail the interest Roger took in a passing mare in the middle of the road. He points out that his horse is absolutely unbeatable when it comes to speed and durability and makes better time than any other even with the unexpected detours but, if the way his ears have flushes a little is any indication, expedience has often cost him more than one embarrassing encounter.

“Now,” Killian slaps his hand on his tight and reaches for the satchel he left by his chair, drawing out two books. “The latest of the overpraised and overprized Mr Dickens.”

“Oh, come now, papa,” Alice snatches the books eagerly and passes one to Emma.

She takes it instinctively and lifts her questioning eyes to Killian, who just shrugs and smiles at her.

“You better be prepared, love, she likes to discuss each chapter as she reads and there will be no consideration for whether or not you’ve fallen behind.”

“I only do that when I know you’ve already read the book!” Alice argues indignantly. “And, anyways, I can write to Robyn, while I wait for Emma to finish it.”

Killian’s face turns to a stone for a second before he moves his gaze back to Emma’s and she does her best not to shrink from the way his eyes probe into her – hard and demanding. It’s probably only the slight indignation she feels at this measure of suspicion and the confidence in her own trust-worthiness that makes her stand her ground and stare right back at him until he sighs deeply in what is definitely a combination of acceptance and relief.

“Well, then,” he coughs a little and takes a moment to adjust to the new reality of one more shared secret between them and Emma can’t help but wonder how many there really are in the room – some swirling freely around now, some still hidden in the private recesses of only one or two of them. “Speaking of Miss Hood.”

His hand reaches into his left breast pocket and takes out two poaches – one blue and one red, their quality obvious in the intricate golden patterns on them. He drops the red one in his wooden hand and catching Alice’s eye tosses the blue one at her with a practiced movement and a grin.

She catches it the way Emma imagines all children who still remember tossing a ball around with their fathers catch things.

“Is it for her?”

Killian shakes his head.

“I’ll leave it to you to procure jewels for your own lady,” he tells her with a teasing movement of his eyebrows and Emma can’t help feeling extremely glad that she knows enough to be here for this.

Alice pours the contents of the pouch in her palm and Emma smiles at the oblong, childlike shape her lips assume and the roundness of her eyes.

The locket in her hand is indeed a piece of art – the gold glimmers warmly in the firelight, a heart with another heart raised on the left half of it, a beautiful blue stone set in its corner and gorgeous vine-like engravings running along the other side. But it’s not until she flicks it open that Alice lets out a choked little sound – the perfect child of a laugh and a sob, and in the next moment she is flying across the room and throwing herself in her father’s arms.

Killian seems much better prepared for this attack than he was for Emma’s earlier, his left arm tightening around her waist as his hand raises up to cradle her head. When he meets her eyes over his daughter’s shoulder, Emma is already wound tight as a spring and ready to look away or even leave the room but the warmth in his eyes keeps her where she is. If he is recalling her own display as well, he does not seem to find the need to shy away from it.

“May I?” Alice asks as she pulls back and, at her father’s nod, rushes to Emma’s side, handing over her new treasure and swaying a little before her, obviously impatient to receive her praise of it.

And she is not unreasonable in her expectation. Aware as she now is of Alice’s constant struggle between her homes and her loves, Emma has a hard time retaining her own composure at the perfect union of the contrasting miniatures inside – Killian’s dark hair and hard edges and the blond waves and soft curves of a girl about Alice’s age.

“It’s gorgeous, sweetheart.”

Alice beams at her and, looking at Killian, Emma saves this moment in her mind as the first time she has seen Killian Jones look quite proud of himself. When their eyes meet again he seems to remember the red pouch in his prosthetic.

“Ah, as for this—“ he moves to sit a foot away from her on the settee as Alice makes herself comfortable on the rug in front of the fireplace.

“You didn’t have to—“ she swallows and tries to soften her voice.

It’s completely unreasonable of her to be upset with him and she is not, not truly. Only, after what Alice told her, she hoped that Killian won’t bring her anything, that he would know she didn’t expect him to pay in gems to enter his own home, and now she can’t help but feel a little sad and just a little insulted.

“I told you I don’t need anything.”

At least some of her thoughts must flow through into her tone because Killian draws back and gives her a confused, uncertain sort of look before he bows his head to stare at the small bag in his hand.

“Aye, that you did.”

His voice is quiet and strained and sounds like he is conversing with himself rather than her – he sounds almost angry and now Emma feels rotten for tarnishing his return and cooling the warmth in the room in literal seconds.

“I just—“ but she can’t really explain without betraying Alice’s confidence and she doesn’t want to sour his mood further by talking about his late wife.

“No, you’re quite ri—“

“I’m glad you’re back.”

His eyes rise sharply and take their time searching hers and Emma doesn’t dare look away and make her words seem like a becoming platitude rather than the plain truth.

“I’m glad to be back,” he says carefully but his features relax a little and Emma lets the corner of her mouth lift up in reply. “Would you—“

He extends his hand in the space between them, the vibrant red resting on his palm is a tantalizing offering and Emma cannot deny her curiosity. She reaches over tentatively and lets her fingers pull on the golden strings, opening the pretty package, before she turns her own hand palm up and leaves it before his, the tips of their fingers brushing lightly.

Killian manages to appear both amused by her antics and nervous about whatever it is that he has brought her. And all that on top of the exhausted air he has carried about him since he dismounted Roger and the obvious relief of being back in familiar surroundings and the slight mellowness of the bottle of wine they shared over dinner and the way he has been favoring his left side in a way that she has never seen before despite his injury.

Emma cannot imagine being disappointed, no matter what tumbles out of the pouch he tips into her expectant palm. And then she doesn’t have to imagine anything.

“Oh.”

“Well, I… I thought you couldn’t go to your first ball as a married woman without an engagement ring.”

She doesn’t know if that is perfectly reasonable or perfectly unnecessary but she is most certainly not going to make up her mind right now, seeing as she feels like she is on the very verge of being hypnotized by the object in her hand. A pirate her husband might not be, but how to find treasure he most certainly knows.

The sing is simply stunning – solid gold that manages to look both delicate and eternal, a perfect circle of little white gems which are unmistakably diamonds. But the best part, the part that refuses to let her eyes blink closed is the stone in the middle – she does not even know what it is called, she just knows it’s the perfect mixture of blue and green and absolutely mesmerizing.

“If you’d like something else—“

Instinctively her hand closes around the ring and she pulls it toward her chest. Killian huffs out a little laugh and his posture finally seems to relax completely, while Emma flushes at her childish antics and extends her hand toward him again.

“Do you mind?”

His eyes narrow with something much different from displeasure and his tongue swipes over his lower lip as he contemplates her for a moment. Emma raises her eyebrow a little expectantly and he finally picks the ring between two fingers and uses the others to gently nudge her hand over. Despite the late hour, spending the better part of the day on horseback and the fact that her own fingers are habitually cool, his skin is as warm as always. His fingertips are calloused and his palm looks almost twice as large as her own and Emma thinks she has never been so conscious of the power in a man’s grip.

This time, unlike their wedding day, when he slips the ring on her left hand, she doesn’t watch the motion, she watches his face. Killian, on the other hand, is carefully focused on his task, the new ring clinking lightly against the wedding band on her next finger as he pushes it past the knuckle. It’s an almost perfect fit and Emma is about to remark on that when she feels his fingers move beneath hers and his eyes rise up to meet hers.

It seems to take half the evening for her hand to reach his lips and it’s only as they press against her flesh that Emma realizes he was probably giving her the time to decide if she wants to pull away. As it is, even if she felt any such inclination, she wouldn’t give up the knowledge that the only cold point on Killian Jones appears to be the tip of his nose for anything in the world.

*****

She wakes up in the dead of night. The fire in the hearth is down to the last embers and the night outside is starless and Emma stays on her side, burying her face further into her pillow and drawing her knees up, taking those deep, measured breaths that have served her well for years now.

They have brought her back to herself after nightmares featuring all sorts of places and faces and painful moments past and imagined, surely they can help her heart settle down after a little dream of her husband’s lips on her own.

Chapter Text

“She doesn’t paint like anyone I’ve seen.”

Killian snorts – a mix of pride and fond exasperation as clear in the sound as the sky above them.

“Alice doesn’t do anything like anyone else.”

Granny told them it will be the last truly sunny day of the year. Alice promptly carried her easel and half the blankets in the house on the green grass outside. Emma is supposedly working on the garden, Killian is supposedly going over the accounts from a ship that made port a couple of days ago. In truth, they are lying in the shade, a respectable amount of space between them that Emma has been slowly – and, hopefully, covertly – eradicating as the minutes tick by.

“She has never been one for realistic detail either.”

Emma’s eyes slant to the side and find Killian looking for something among the branches above them. He has one leg bent at the knee and the other stretched out before him, his prosthetic hand cautioning his head from the bark of the tree he is leaning against, while his right one twirls a fallen leaf round and round. His white shirt and windswept hair give him an additionally carefree and dreamlike quality.

It is quite possibly the most relaxed she has ever seen her husband. She likes it.

“It looks like it’s just…,” she inclines her head to the side and looks more carefully at the artwork in the making – Alice seemingly completely oblivious to Emma’s attempts to put her strong and fluid strokes into words. “Made of light.”

She smiles a little and nods to herself. There is hardly a recognizable shape on the canvas but the clusters of light seem to almost shimmer in the autumn sun.

“Hmmm.”

Killian is watching her with a temptingly unreadable expression on his face. There is something lively and almost gratified in his gaze but his features are much too soft for her to call it mischief. And Emma has always been curious to a fault but she has found herself growing even more so in the company of her husband.

“What?”

“Nothing. Just that… Nothing is only light or only shadow – each needs the other to exist. So it’s just the person looking at it that decides what to perceive, I suppose.”

She looks back at the picture. Of course, now she can hardly believe she didn’t see it. For the clusters of light to come to life there is a shadowy background to it all. But, long as she stares at it, it doesn’t come to the forefront and Emma exhales with a little of both relief and pleased surprise.

“Maybe it’s all about the day you look at it.”

“The day?”

She feels the blush in the roots of her hair. Emma has never been one for philosophical discussions and ideas – she doesn’t have the background and education for it, nor has she ever received invitation or encouragement to participate in such conversations – but the warm light and the scent of Killian’s coat rolled up under her head and the way he is quietly, curiously, waiting for her to elaborate her point seem to loosen her tongue.

However, none of that makes it much easier for her to put her thoughts into words right away.

“It’s just that… yes, here I am seeing light but… I’m sure, on another day, I should’ve seen little but the darkness trying to consume it.”

Killian nods along as if her words make perfect sense and wastes no time in turning them into a proper argument.

“So you don’t think the interpretation has so much to do with the character of the observer but rather with their state of mind.”

It takes her a beat or two but his questioning look doesn’t grow impatient. She nods and, when Killian seems to lose himself in his thoughts, she doesn’t know if she feels bad for appearing to disagree and argue with him or rather proud that the statement he proposed does sound sensible and as good an argument as his own.

“I suppose there is a fair bit of truth to that. And it certainly makes it all look much more hopeful,” he concludes, his gaze now as intently focused on Alice’s work as Emma’s is on him.

She decides she doesn’t half mind attempting to put her notions into words in front of him.

“Oh, would you stop it? How is a woman to let her brush flow with so much pointed attention weighing it down.”

Always willing to gratify his daughter’s wishes, Killian just chuckles and languidly rises to his feet. Emma is still debating who she should keep company – and mostly where it will be more appreciated – when his palm appears in her line of sight, palm up.

“How do you feel about giving Buttercup a little exercise, love?”

*****

“Everyone is positively buzzing with anticipation.”

Admiral Liam Jones looks up from the letter he is composing to admire the satisfaction that sits perfectly on his wife’s exquisite features. Anyone who doesn’t know Mrs Liam Jones well enough would think her barely interested in the particulars of her own ball but to Admiral Jones her simmering excitement has been clear for days now.

“Your new sister-in-law is quite the ambiguous figure. And thus, a source of great attraction.”

“That’s one way of putting it.”

In all honesty, Liam Jones is still rather perplexed and not entirely convinced of the wisdom of his bother’s choice of wife. Then again, it might be the burden of responsibility that makes him weigh every impression and bit of information so carefully, seeing as he was the man who brought the story of Miss Emma to Killian’s ears.

Of course, when he did so, his intension was nothing more than to share his confusion and general frustration with the way families go about marrying off their female members these days. He certainly didn’t mean to arouse Killian’s sympathy for the girl, let alone his affection. And now he still doesn’t know how much of that – if any – his brother holds for his new wife and, it just might be, that Admiral Jones is as eager to see Mrs Killian Jones at the ball as any other guest.

But he is, of course, much better at concealing such infantile curiosity.

“And what does our captain have to say about her?”

“Killian and I write about matters of business and leave matters of the heart for the rare evening of rum and cigars.”

“Then you believe his marriage to be of the latter’s persuasion now? Because I could have sworn it started out as the former.”

“And I could have sworn my wife was above common gossip.”

“It is hardly gossip when I’m asking my husband about his dear brother. And it is hardly common when said brother has abstained from any engagements of the heart for so long.”

“But you know perfectly well how obtuse we gentlemen are on those topics. I should be completely helpless and wait for you to have an interview with the new Mrs Jones and bring me some insight into my brother’s household. Seeing as you have forbidden me to pay him a visit.”

“Oh, try not to be so melodramatic, Liam. I’ve forbidden nothing, I merely suggested that we should allow them that period of time that most couple reserve for courtship before the actual nuptials.”

“And, as always, I deferred to your wisdom. But I am glad I will get to see some more of my niece. Perhaps you can write to Alice and ask her to stay for a day or two after the dance. It should further promote your scheme of courtship for married ladies and gentlemen.”

Elsa’s eyeroll makes him smile and reach for her hand, pulling her closer so he can slip his arm around her waist.

“You mustn’t expect too much from Killian, my dear. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out that he has spoken to her half a dozen times in the last month.”

“Oh, I have no expectations of your brother. Just the hope that the timidity of that wife of him might have started to wear off by now.”

Liam shakes his head and lets his eyes run over the words he wrote one more time even as his hand slips lower to caress his wife’s thigh. He marvels at her ability to see into people’s souls without exposing any of her own. He himself rarely reveals much but, in consequence, rarely finds much out as well.

But, as is his habit, it is his brother he worries about. For Killian has always been good at reading people but always at the cost of leaving himself open to be read and cheated in turn.

*****

“I see you have broken the sole rule my daughter imposed on you.”

Emma comes to a stop two steps above him. The curls on either side of her face slowly settle and stop their swaying motion as well. He steels himself and doesn’t allow his gaze to slip lower and ascertain whether her breasts – both confined and accentuated by her corset – have seized their own bouncing movements.

Until this moment Killian hadn’t seen his wife in a gown quite like this one. It is certainly more fashionable and well-fitted than the one Alice picked for their wedding and much more adorned and flattering than anything she wears during the day, whether she goes into town or sits curled up in a chair in the library all day.

He likes the deep green colour, the way it makes her eyes impossibly brighter and lets her painted lips stand out even more, but frankly, he finds the tightness around her already slim waist and the generous push to her bosom rather unnecessary, and the light rouge on her cheeks feels like cheating, especially since he can tell how cold and pale she is underneath it all.

And even so, he would be the most shameless liar, if he claimed that she doesn’t look enchanting – like a forest nymph dressed up for a night of human fun, ready to play havoc on all men’s hearts. He will blame that image for the way his mouth has gone a bit dry and for the fact that he finds himself incapable of reassuring her even when he can see that she has taken his jest to heart.

*****

Rule? What rule was that? Of course, it stands to reason that she has blundered this already.

Emma hasn’t attended a ball in near two years and, as much as she enjoyed bringing Alice pleasure by letting her do her hair and colour her cheeks, she is afraid they should have consulted with someone better informed and more well-versed in the art of ball preparation.

“It’s just that you were not supposed to outshine the hostess, I believe.”

It takes her an embarrassing amount of time to decipher his comment and find the compliment inside, by which point Killian looks just as uncertain as she feels.

“I merely meant that—”

“Oh, I understand. I— Yes, well… thank you.”

He nods and holds his right hand out to her in a gesture that is becoming more and more familiar and Emma takes the last two steps and allows herself the comfort of his rough skin under her soft fingertips. Whether she does that too quickly or whether Killian is a second too late in stepping back is unclear to her but the result is that they are brought much closer to each other than either seems to have intended – so much so that, given the time – since she is sure she has the patience – Emma could count each shot of ginger and thread of white in his beard.

It is just as she decides that she has studied the barely visible indents on his lips long enough and prepares to lift her gaze above them and meet his own to judge if he is entertaining thoughts similar to her own that Ruby rushes into the room.

“Miss Alice says she will be just a minute.”

“Miss Alice has no notion of how long a minute lasts,” Killian replies immediately, even though his voice is a touch more choked than usual.

Then again, that might well be Emma’s imagination at play, her own reflexes seem sluggish and delayed and have left her staring at his profile once again.

“O you of little faith.”

This time she manages to react timely and look up the stairs to see Alice in her pretty blue gown, pretending to be mortally wounded by her father’s pointed remark.

“One swallow does not a summer make, darling,” he shoots back.

Alice waves her hand in a clear dismissal of her usual tardiness and rushes down the stairs – a hurricane of lace and tulle and pearl-white ribbons. She skitters to a stop beside Killian and loops her arm around his free left one, looking up at him expectantly.

“Shall we?”

“By all means.”

*****

Emma can hardly stop the little gasp that passes her lips as Killian hands her down from their carriage. Admiral Liam Jones’s estate bears no small resemblance to a modestly sized castle made of white marble. It fits perfectly with what she has seen of the regal Mrs Liam Jones but, for the life of her, Emma cannot image ever feeling at home in a place like this and she tries not to shudder a little at the sheer vastness of it.

“I imagine you would be rather unwilling to go back now that you’ve seen the superior Jones household.”

Killian’s tone is light enough but behind it she can tell that he truly believes she might covet a house as grand and awe-inspiring as the one before them. So Emma seizes the moment when Alice skips impatiently toward the entrance and steps closer to her husband, raising a little on her toes so her mouth ends up just under his ear, her nose barely brushing his warm skin.

“I should like to go back right away if I wasn’t afraid of ruining the superior Mrs Jones’s ball.”

Killian’s arm tightens around hers as he leads them after his daughter and Emma would’ve wondered how her comment might have been received, if it wasn’t for the sidelong glance he gives her – it is part genuine surprise and part mock consternation and Emma bites the inside of her cheek and does her best to remain perfectly composed and not enter Admiral Jones’s home like a giggling girl on her debutante ball.

Instead she throws herself into expressing her gratitude to Elsa as soon as she makes her way to them.

“I’m certain Captain Jones has been all too candid about my affinity for balls at which I’m not expected to dance but only entertain,” Elsa says with an elegantly careless gesture and a benevolent smile as she takes Emma’s arm and leads her away. “It is terribly liberating to host your own ball instead of attending others’s.”

Emma thinks all the expenditure, planning and preparation beforehand might compensate for the supposed freedom of the evening itself but she keeps that to herself and instead takes her time to admire the magical atmosphere and splendor of the ballroom that has been revealed to her. If it wasn’t for all the people milling about and surreptitiously stealing glances at her, Emma thinks she might have almost enjoyed this.

“Now, a few people have already expressed their desire to be introduced to the new Mrs Jones,” Elsa’s voice is almost placating but it doesn’t do much for Emma’s nerves.

“Oh, I—“

“Not to worry. I shall feed them to you in small doses so you can digest them as easily as possible. But if there is anyone that you wish to meet—“

“Thank you, I doubt— That is I’d rather just…”

She manages to stop herself but her treacherous eyes slip away in search of Killian and Alice without permission. The latter is nowhere to be seen, already lost in the depths of the brilliant ballroom, but her husband is just a few paces away, conversing with his brother.

Looking at them, side by side, Emma can hardly believe she ever thought Admiral Jones equal – let alone superior – to Killian in any way. Then again, she cannot point out the exact features and mannerisms that make the younger brother appear so much more handsome and appealing to her, just that when he laughs a little at some remark of the admiral’s she feels the flutter of it all the way in her chest.

“Well, then.”

She turns back to Elsa in time to see her putting away whatever expression left the twinkle in her piercing eyes and Emma does her best not to feel like she has been caught doing something wrong. Certainly, it isn’t wrong of her to look at her husband and to delight a little in the fact that he is wearing a red vest that stands out among all the white and black of the gentleman all around and which, according to Alice – if put on, means he is actually willing to dance tonight.

*****

For all the lightness of her satin slippers, Emma’s feet are already starting to ache. Her face feels uncomfortably flushed while the rest of her is familiarly cold and the vibrations and odours of the bodies all around her feel inescapably suffocating. She has forgotten how tiresome and stuffy balls can feel. She also keeps forgetting all names as soon as she has heard them and just prays that Elsa Jones is truly as omnipotent as she appears and won’t make the mistake of introducing her to someone twice, for Emma surely won’t be able to correct her.

“May I have this dance, Mrs Jones?”

The question – the voice – sends the first pleasant thrill of the evening through her. She looks up into the blue eyes of her husband and exhales in relief – glad for an interaction that doesn’t call on her to contract her face into shapes that don’t come naturally.

“We would be the most impertinent couple on the dancefloor, if I were to accept.”

“Would we now?”

“Indeed. I just refused a Mr Humbert on the pretext that I did not feel like dancing this one and you are being rather peculiar, asking your own wife.”

She thinks it is the first time she has referred to herself in that way and that is the source of a second satisfying little thrill.

“And is that the truth?”

“Beg your pardon?”

“That you do not feel like dancing?”

The question is completely matter-of-fact and, for some reason, the way he is looking across the room as they talk irritates some small vanity Emma didn’t know she possessed.

“I would dance with you.”

Her reply has the desired effect and, much to her satisfaction, Killian’s attention is now solely her own as he narrows his eyes a little and tries to suppress his smile in the face of her own challenging one.

“Then I suppose we should make our peace with being impertinent.”

*****

“It never ceases to amaze me how you arrange everything just so.”

“Everyone seems pleased, do they not?” Elsa looks around at her guests and lets her satisfaction show in throwing her shoulders back a little more than usual. “Even if your brother is being quite bothersome, paying all that attention to his wife.”

“I think you should count it as a victory to have him dancing at all. And, not to make myself into Mrs Jones’s champion, but you have been running that girl to exhaustion.”

“It is not my fault that her grandmother kept her so out of society that half the town doesn’t know her. Not shying away from all the attention is by far the best move now.”

Elsa takes few wifely duties as seriously as that of being well-acquainted with all who may have occasion to do business with one’s husband and, in the case of the brothers Jones, that includes most of anyone important. But she can almost forgive Emma for the neglect of her social obligations, if just for the way she smiles at Killian every time they come together during their dance.

“Frankly, my dear, knowing what a tree your brother can be, I really didn’t expect him to charm her so quickly.”

“So you find her charmed?”

“Oh, Liam,” she pats her husband’s arm and goes to check on how supper is coming along.

*****

After seeing Alice twirling joyfully in the middle of the ballroom, answering all of Elsa’s demands for her attention and forced pleasantness, conversing with Admiral Jones long enough to gain the impression that his brother may be the only person more prominent in his heart than his wife, and spending a dance in Killian’s arms, Emma is more than ready for the evening to be over. If it was, she could label it as a tiring but somewhat successful affair.

Unfortunately, the exquisite supper Elsa is sure to have planned for them is only the half-way mark.

So Mr Booth sees her into the supper-room and promptly takes a seat beside her. His conversation is not particularly unpleasant or disrespectful in an obvious way but Emma’s nerves are too tightly strung out already and with every course she finds herself growing more and more uncomfortable with his familiar attitude and cavalier way of speaking to her.

“I’m sure, just like our hostess, you are so very accomplished as to put us all to shame and in awe of you.”

“And I can assure you I am not. I neither draw, nor sew particularly well and I’m completely ignorant of all instruments and foreign languages.”

“Oh, but surely you’ve seen and done a great deal.”

Emma watches her knuckles stand out sharply where she is clutching her knife and doesn’t reply.

“And surely you ride?”

She swallows and forces her eyes back to his, lifting her chin a little higher.

“I do. My husband recently bought me my first horse.”

“Your first? Of course, a lady looks her best on a dancefloor and on a horse,” his smile is like a freezing little trickle down her spine. “I’m partial to the beasts myself. I believe you know my horse dealer, Mr Cassidy?”

Her stomach turns over and the fork clatters against her plate. She is sure no amount of rouge can bring the colour back to her face.

The presence of this man and all that he is now associated with is enough to keep her every muscle tensed but it is the memory of Neal telling her that the only place she would look better than on his horse is in his bed that steals any response she could have made and Emma bears the last course in silence before she excuses herself and rushes to the cloak-room to gather herself.

That proves to be her biggest mistake of the night. The maid she finds presses in a corner by an overeager valet is just on the right side of too young and uncertain to throw her further into memories that make the cold sweat now collect at the small of her back.

And Emma thinks she could’ve made it through the rest of the night, if there was anything to look forward to but all she can foresee is Elsa arranging her perfect dances by making Killian accompany some other smiling redhead on the dancefloor and bringing more people for Emma to be agreeable to. But it’s the thought of an invitation to dance coming from Booth’s leering face that makes up her mind.

Her main worry becomes verbalizing a proper excuse when she finds Killian in conversation with two older gentlemen but whatever expression is painted on her face seems to negate the need for words as he quickly excuses himself and leads her to the side.

“Is something the matter, love?”

She opens her dry mouth but no sound comes out.

“Emma?”

He approaches her the way she has seen people approach dogs that cower away from the slightest movement. If she could scoff, she would, but she is afraid it will turn into a sob before they make it out of the door.

She tenses a little when Killian’s hand settles on her arm and he removes it before she can tell herself to relax.

“Do you wish me to find Alice or Elsa?”

She shakes her head quickly and tries to apologize with her eyes as she makes herself ask.

“Can we leave?”

She is not truly worried that he will be angry or upset but she certainly expects some reluctance or confusion, not the ready acceptance on Killian’s face.

“Of course. Could you wait for me to make our excuses to Elsa?”

She nods and offers to fetch Alice.

“That won’t be necessary. She will be staying with her aunt and uncle for a couple of days.”

Minutes later, as Killian helps her into her coat and then into the carriage, Emma feels grateful Alice is not around as she seems to have spent all her smiles and what little warmth she brought with her from home.

Killian settles across from her in the carriage and she tries not to see this as a reproach of any sort. Instead she clasps her hands together, wets her lips and tries to bring some levity into her shaky voice.

“Well, aren’t I entertaining? You never know when I will make you rush off in the middle of a ball with half-formed excuses.”

In truth, she gave no excuse at all and the outward silliness of her behavior comes to her gradually with every bit of road they cover. Yet, she knows she should’ve been quite incapable of dancing with the way her hands and legs are still shaking a little and cannot make herself regret whatever actions brought her into the comfort and safety of the carriage and Killian’s sole company.

“I assure you, you will never hear me complain about leaving a dance early.”

Killian’s tone is light as well but his gaze is heavy and intent on her and his hand twitches restlessly on his knee. He seems tense and imposing and a better woman might have wished to spare him the turmoil but Emma just breathes deeply and treasures feeling guarded rather than threatened.

“Emma—”

She wouldn’t have minded finding out what he was about to say but as it is, leaving the noise and pressure of the evening behind and finding some measure of peace and comfort by moving clumsily across and sitting beside him is more important to her in that particular moment.

Killian shuffles a little to the side to make space for her and, for a little while, Emma thinks she can settle back into herself by staring out of the window and getting lost in the stars and dark clouds as her hand clutches his own. But the light drizzle that is washing the world outside only makes her more acutely aware of how cold and stark and unforgiving the world can be so she turns around to hide her face in his shoulder instead and, this time, when Killian’s arm goes around her, she only leans closer.

She leans into the warmth and scent of him, into the space between his neck and shoulder that feels scorching hot against her cheek, into the safety of his even breathing and his right hand entwined with hers, into the steady beat of his heart against hers and the tenderness of his mouth against the crown of her head.

It takes most of their journey home but Emma feels her own heart settle back securely in her chest as the rocking motion of the roads lull her to sleep and, just before she slips away, she notes with shockingly little surprise that she is warm all over.

She also notes that she is quite possibly in love.

Chapter Text

He doesn’t think he has ever – in all his 40 years on this blasted earth – been so conscious of every single movement he makes – of the nervous fidgeting that overtakes his fingers from time to time, of the way his left elbow will twitch unexpectedly, the way his chest rises and falls with his every breath, the way his leg stiffens when the circulation is completely cut off.

He has never been so conscious of his every movement and he has never tried so hard to suppress it all. He must do well enough because she doesn’t stir even once.

When Peter opens the carriage door, Killian still hasn’t decided what to do about the woman sleeping in his arms. It seems particularly melodramatic to carry her into the house but the warmth of her hand in his is enough to make him loathe disturbing her fragile comfort. Not to mention the softness of her hair against his skin and the delicate puffs of warm breath that make gooseflesh rise all over the arm she is pressed against. He is very conscious of not paying attention to the way her knee is bend and lying on top of his thigh and obstructing that very crucial circulation.

Perhaps it is for the best that the carriage coming to a stop was apparently enough to rouse her.

“Killian?”

Killian is good with numbers, estimates and predictions but he can’t say he ever imagined he’d hear her say his name in that way – sleepy and disorientated, unguarded and completely trusting.

“We’re home, love.”

“Oh.”

She looks over her shoulder and through the open door in no great hurry, her head rolling languidly against his shoulder, and, for a moment, Killian thinks she will just turn back around and go to sleep again. Then Ruby bursts through the front door and he tries to neither laugh, nor groan as Emma scampers to get herself and all her skirts off his lap and out of the carriage.

“Why on earth are you back so early?”

He sees Emma freeze on the spot and quickly gets out as well, trying not to trip over the leg that is still half asleep.

“It would’ve been much too great a shock to my system to spend so much time in company,” he replies smoothly as he places his hand on Emma’s back and leads her inside and away from Ruby’s displeased scowl and mutterings about “grumpy old sailors”.

“Upon my word, you couldn’t have had your fill of dancing,” she says to Emma and, before Killian can steer her away again, his wife speaks up.

“Oh, no, rest assured, I more than had my fill.”

Ruby shakes her head and looks at them like she doesn’t know who to be more disappointed in.

“You can retire for the evening, Ruby. We should manage fine on our own?” he looks at Emma with the question and she nods almost imperceptibly but he can see that she will be glad to not have anyone fluttering all over her and pestering her with questions.

Ruby is only too willing to accept his suggestion, after realizing that she will have to wait for Alice’s return to learn all the details of the ball.

Soon as she is out of sight, he returns his full attention to his wife, who is looking up the stairs with palpable reluctance and, even though it’s quite late and she was asleep just minutes ago, Killian finds himself compelled to offer her some distraction, anything to wipe the uncertainty off her soft features.

“Would you like some hot chocolate?”

When she turns her face toward him, he knows he has succeeded.

*****

Even in the sleepy sluggishness of her mind, Emma is aware that falling in love with Killian Jones was not part of anyone’s plans for her. Not her own, not his or his family’s, certainly not Regina’s.

And yet, as she watches him move quietly around the kitchen – jacket and cravat discarded and his hair a bit more of a mess than when they left – and fiddle with the handle of his spoon, while he waits for the milk to heat up, she is also aware that she couldn’t have done anything but fall in love with Killian Jones.

“I am sorry,” she breaks the late night silence. “I should’ve been able to… master my emotions.”

Killian keeps his silence until the cocoa is ready and he is sitting across from her, sipping at the hot liquid and studying her with the blue depths in his eyes. But the silence doesn’t worry her – she finally doesn’t feel tense or anxious, she rather appreciates the quiet moment to gather her thoughts before Killian speaks.

“A ball is supposed to be a source of entertainment, or so I am told. There is no sense attending one longer than it brings your pleasure to do so. And I’m glad we did not.”

She sighs and sinks into her seat. It’s not only this ball though. Emma knows that every woman still in her prime is supposed to be overjoyed at the prospect of attending such an event but—

“It’s just that… well, I never saw the point of it. Dancing with people whose acquaintance you’ve just made. And with all those other people around – watching you like hawks, waiting for you to step out of line. Or on someone’s toes.”

Killian’s lips quirk up at her petulance and there is something calculating in his expression.

“If you were to only dance with people you were already acquainted with, I’m afraid your options would’ve been limited indeed.”

“I don’t think I should’ve minded this time.”

He fixes her with one of his searching looks and, for a moment, Emma wonders just how much her face might reveal in the soft glow of the firelight. But then the set of Killian’s jaw loses some of its careful neutrality and his eyes sparkle in a way they didn’t at the ball.

“Well, if that is the case – and seeing as there is no one here to scold me for it – perhaps I should ask you for a second dance.”

Something in her stomach swoops low in a pleasant feeling that she didn’t think she could reclaim tonight.

“Perhaps you should.”

Her answer seems to both surprise and amuse him and prompt him into pushing out of his chair and putting it to the side, before he urges her up and does the same with hers. The space for dancing is still limited but, as Killian takes her hand and pulls her closer, she doesn’t think they will need any elaborate footwork.

They hardly need any at all as he leads her into a simple back and forth that seems much too unpretentious and intimate for any ballroom. She has just come to terms with the fact that they are indeed doing this in the middle of the kitchen when he starts humming under his breath. It’s no song she has ever heard and that suits her just fine. Few things that involve Killian Jones are ones she has seen or heard or felt before.

His left arm is stiff at her back at first but, after they’ve done a couple of circles around the room, he lets it slip more firmly around her and pulls her infinitesimally closer.

Emma takes that as permission to loosen the rigid angle of her own arms and her right hand slowly slides from his shoulder to the hair at the nape of his neck. She marvels at the contrasts that can exist in a single man – with his proper words and constant warmth, his cautious movements and engaging eyes, his calloused fingers and soft hair, his demanding business and welcoming home. With his rough voice and gentle melodies.

Her gaze skirts over his jaw and finds his lips with relief, as if it has been fighting a battle to stay away until now. Emma doesn’t think she has ever contemplated a man’s features so intently before. Then again, she is sure she has never been as interested in one before. It seems impossible to her, in this little slash of space and time, that she shall ever grow tired of looking at Killian’s face. Which is probably for the best, seeing as they did vow till death do them part.

She is starting to understand how people can say those words and mean them.

It’s another turn and another length of the kitchen table before she finds the courage she had before setting off for the ball and lifts her eyes, following the lines on his face, until they meet his own.

This time there is no interruption.

Except, before she has even realized that she is rising slightly on her tiptoes and leaning closer, the look on his face arrests her every movement, including the rise and fall of her chest. In that moment she has certainty enough for the both of them and yet, the lack of it in his wide eyes makes something inside her tear a little.

She doesn’t know why it should, when he has as well as told her that he married her neither to bed her, nor to fall in love with her. But, when she turns her attention inward, Emma realizes that this new life of hers has made her want things again. Killian Jones chief among them. And, while the thought that he might not want her back stings a little, it cannot diminish the sheer joy of having the will to want again. The hope that wanting might amount to something other than nothing.

“Emma.”

She blinks and searches the blue of his eyes and the deep lines around them. He doesn’t look quite so uncertain now. He looks like he is willing to be convinced.

The space between them is almost gone already but somehow she manages to close it slowly enough for a few seconds to thick by and for Killian’s hand to leave hers onto his shoulder and slide up the curve of her jaw, barely making contact along the way.

Her eyes flutter closed when his have turned eager rather than apprehensive.

It is nothing but her lips against his at first – closed, unmoving, solid, warm.

Emma thought she’d been kissed – once as a child when she barely knew what it meant and then again, a decade ago, when she knew all too well and was a fool to let it happen anyway. She doesn’t remember any of those kisses now. She never did remember them in vivid detail but now she knows she shall never be able to recall them again and she smiles into the first kiss she knows she’ll never forget.

Killian’s mouth moves half a breath away and then closes lightly over her bottom lip and this is even warmer now that she can feel the glide of his lips, his palm on her face, his finger tracing the outline of her ear. There is a happy sound exhaled somewhere between them and she is confident it came from her though she did not know she could make sounds quite like it.

Her hands move with cautious determination until she has his face between her palms, then she angles her head to the side and lets her lips quirk up again at the feel of his cold nose against her cheek.

Killian’s hand slips back down, his thumb fitting itself in the dent in her chin as he pulls back a little and she leans forward to make up for it. Her toes ache in her satin slippers from raising her up but the pleased sound he makes – among other things – more than makes up for it.

“Do you always smile so much when you kiss a man, my lady?”

Emma blinks her eyes open to see his own as close as they have ever been, their foreheads brushing lightly.

“It would appear I do.”

She tries not to smile, despite the admittance, but he does it for her.

“Good.”

Killian pulls back completely but his hand catches one of hers as they reluctantly fall away from his face and somehow she succeeds in reigning in her pout.

“I believe it has gotten rather late.”

In seconds they are walking out of the kitchen, down the corridor and up the stairs and Emma has yet to decide what she wants his words to mean. She wants him, that much she has decided, the intricacies of how and how soon are a bit more unclear. If he is to lead her into his room, into his bed, right now, she doubts she will deny him. Then again, she wouldn’t have denied him that first night either, though she was far from ready for it.

But now – now she thinks Killian will be as concerned with her uncertainty as she was with his minutes ago. And she is uncertain. Her fingers tighten around his as they ascend the stairs and she knows she won’t be afraid to tell him so.

But then, he stops exactly where he stopped at their wedding night and, for all her uncertainly, she can’t help the light pinch of disappointment between her brows. It sits right where Killian’s lips land when he leans over.

“Goodnight, love.”

They only have the one candle this time but he finds his way in the darkness without trouble.

*****

She knocks lightly on the chance that the woman on the other side is still asleep.

“Come in.”

Ruby picks her tray off the ground and pushes down on the door handle with her elbow.

“Good morning. You must be famished after all the excitement yesterday.”

Emma is sitting up in her bed and has obviously been awake long enough to twist her hair into a messy braid on one side. Her eyes widen comically at the amount of food piled on the tray Ruby places on her lap.

“I was instructed to bring you breakfast in bed.”

The maid winks at her mistress before she starts bustling around the room, giving Emma the opportunity to hide her blush.

“Is everyone else up and about then?”

Her voice goes up in the end, obviously aware of the transparency of the question and hoping cheerfulness might compensate for it. Ruby keeps her back to her until she has mastered the silent laughter on her face. She did not afford her husband the same courtesy a few hours ago when he, for reasons unknown and certainly insufficient for Granny, took it upon himself to decide what Mrs Jones should be served for breakfast. Which, in the end, amounted to more or less everything.

Contrary to popular belief, Emma is much more capable of remaining in control when her emotions are running havoc than the captain has ever been. Of course, in Ruby’s experience, he doesn’t let it happen nearly as often but, when caught unawares, he is truly helpless at saving face. Which is probably the reason why he’s chosen to hide his in the nearby hills, just like Emma is hiding hers under the covers.

“Miss Alice is still at Admiral Jones’s estate, the captain has taken Roger out for some “much needed exercise” and Granny is ready to discuss the evening’s menu when you are.”

“Oh.”

She puts Emma’s slippers away and wishes she could give her a less disappointing answer.

“Well, you can tell her I’ll be down as soon as I… manage to make my way through all of this.”

Ruby turns around and grins honestly at the picture of Emma’s fork circling uncertainly over all the meats and fruits and pastry on her tray.

“Let me fetch your tea. There wasn’t any place on the tray for it.”

*****

For a man who has long renounced a great number of emotions, Killian Jones currently finds himself experiencing a perturbingly… great number of emotions. Roger, as he has from the first time he actually let his master mount him, seems only too well attuned to them and more than willing to channel them into motion. For that Killian is grateful. He is sure he should have worn out both his legs and his mind with literal and figurative pacing if not for the liberating and unceasing change of landscape around him now.

Killian knows he is good for a limited and selected number of things and prudent investments are one of those things. If it were up to his brother to decide on those matters— he shudders at the very idea. So he is the one who settles when, how much and in what the Jones Brothers Company should invest. Speculation is the trade of gamblers but what Killian does is not speculation. Investment is all about numbers and numbers are always what they look like. A 20 is going to be a 20 tomorrow unless you make the necessary calculations and take the necessary actions to turn it into a 60. There are no caveats that can suddenly reveal the 20 on the page to have been a 100 all along.

Now, people aren’t like that and investing in people – that is pure speculation. Always. No matter how much information you think you have gathered and no matter how carefully you might have analyzed it a 20 is almost never a 20 when it comes to people. It’s usually a 10, a 12, if you are lucky. To get at the real number of a person you have to know what to subtract first. 4 for the family name, 3 for supposed fortune, 1.5 for the clothes and 2.5 for the manners. You have to strip all that away to arrive at the real, raw truth about a person.

Killian is only partially ashamed that his wife was an investment in her own way – partially because she was not an investment made entirely for his sake. He saw the opportunity to save them both a great deal of trouble when Liam first brought her to his attention – save her more than him, to be completely honest. And he did not mind that Emma required no subtractions either – the family name was reluctantly given, the fortune non-existent (rather a small one required for the obtainment of her hand), the manners he was unaware of and, in the end, even the clothes were added later. When he met Emma she was exactly what she appeared to be.

He should’ve remembered that people are never solid numbers, people are always speculation. Emma is no different. Except in the way that Emma is more than she appears. Nothing was subtracted and then, day in and night out, much was added. Until now he can barely even make his brain view her in that way – numbers, calculations, risks, deductions.

Now it’s all impressions and possibilities and surprises and emotions.

Gods help him, he can’t even count them all – the surprises are constant and he thought he’d learnt to take them almost in stride until this last one, the pride is not truly earned and his to feel, the guilt is warranted and to be addressed, the hope is probably worst of all – there are so many unknown variables in it. And that other one—

Gods help him.

*****

Dinner is an hour away by the time she hears Roger’s hooves against the stones outside and Emma has been going back and forth on being angry with her husband all day. Thinking back on yesterday, she is nothing but grateful for his understanding, for both his firmness and his gentleness, mostly for not being another person that she has to tiptoe around and hide half of herself from.

But then she realizes that her attention has strayed from her reading yet again and she remembers that she has been wondering how to occupy herself for hours because Killian has apparently decided to roam the hills and valleys for the better part of the day rather than do anything at all in her company, and she is back to feeling the anger gather at the back of her throat. Her anger feels rather similar to rejection and disappointment but she tries to contradict these thoughts with memories of last night and then she is back where she started from.

“Captain Jones is getting dressed and dinner will be served in a few minutes.”

She turns to see Ruby’s head poking into her room and her curt response is mostly the result of poor timing, having circled back to recalling her solitude throughout the day.

 “I’m not hungry. If you could excuse me and bring me some tea later, that will be all.”

Ruby frowns in confusion and goes to enter the room properly but something in Emma’s expression arrests her movement and she just nods and leaves.

*****

The knock on her door comes sooner than expected but Emma jumps up quickly, prepared to apologize to Ruby for her shortness earlier, which is why, when she opens the door and finds Killian behind the tea tray, she is caught completely off guard and only slightly reassured by the fact that her quick response seems to have interrupted his own preparation for whatever is to come.

“May I come in?”

His tone and expression tell her that he genuinely doubts if she will let him in and, to Emma’s chagrin, that alone starts chipping away at any anger she tried to accumulate throughout the day. She pulls the door open wider and motions him inside.

Evenings in the kitchen have taught her that Killian is meticulous and methodical, especially when it comes to the serving of beverages, and unafraid of prolonged silences, especially when it comes to her, so it takes her completely by surprise when he almost drops the tray on her small table with a clatter and whirls around to face her.

“Emma, I— I must apologize.”

His face seems to crack a little and the anguish underneath physically tugs on her heart and with it goes the last of her resentment.

The truth of the matter is that she doesn’t know Killian Jones, not completely, not yet. And, while spending time in his company seems like the logical solution to her, maybe that’s one of those things she doesn’t know – when and how and what parts of himself he is willing to reveal.

“You don’t ha—”

“I do. I— Emma, I hope you believe me when I say that taking advantage of you in any shape or form was the furthest thing from my mind when we were wed and I—”

“Wait,” now she is pulled forward by her confusion and his distress. “Killian, you have not— You’ve never—”

“You were clearly distraught last night and I should have seen you directly to your rooms, I should’ve never—”

“That’s what you are apologizing for?”

“Of course, I—”

“I don’t wish for you to apologize for that,” she says sharply, startled and mortified at the way her voice cracks at the end and lifting her chin higher to compensate for it.

Killian seems to hear it nonetheless because his hand reaches for her arm, hesitating just short of making contact. She takes it in her own and moves another step closer, her eyes flickering between his own almost frantically, searching for an explanation.

“You didn’t do anything untoward and I… I hope I didn’t either...”

His shoulders seem to loosen a little and the next step forward is his.

“No, love, you did not. I just… I didn’t want you to think—”

“I didn’t. I didn’t think there was anything wrong or— Well, except that you seem to prefer spending your time with your horse rather than your wife.”

Killian’s face screws up comically and she can’t quite conceal the unladylike snort.

“Perish the thought. I’ll have you know, that’s how rumours start.”

This time she laughs fully and freely.

“I promise not to make your preferences public knowledge.”

“Appreciated,” Killian nods solemnly before his eyes soften and his lids drop a bit lower. “And I apologize if you felt neglected. I assure you Roger’s personality has nothing on yours. I just didn’t think—”

“Truthfully, I think you should stop thinking quite so much.”

Both their eyes widen at her frankness before Emma pressed her lips firmly together and squints at him apologetically.

“Sorry.”

“No, no, you… you might have a point.”

His eyes leave hers for the first time in the last few minutes and focus on the teapot and cups he brought with him. If she has to take a guess, she’ll say he is thinking far too hard again.

“Are you sure you don’t want something to eat?”

“Later, perhaps.”

“Of course. I can make you something. I believe Mrs Lucas hasn’t started keeping the kitchen under lock yet but it’s certainly only a matter of time.”

“Would you have some tea with me?”

*****

Truthfully, he is rather tired from pushing Roger and himself to their mutual limit for most of the day. Truthfully, there are a few letters he saw in the morning and left to answer upon his return. Truthfully, he already had a cup of tea, while debating if he should come up here at all. Truthfully, he can’t refuse her anything when she is tugging on the end of her horrendously done braid and looking at him with her face so genuine and open.

“If you’d like.”

She doesn’t reply, just brushes past him and takes the tray, moving to sit before the fireplace where her book is lying on the ground and she seems to have formed a nest of her blankets and pillows.

“You know, if the furniture is not to your satisfaction—“

She looks over her shoulder and arches a bemused eyebrow, while continuing to pour the hot tea into one of the cups – it’s rather impressive.

“The furniture is perfectly satisfactory and I didn’t expect judgement from a man who sits on the ground any chance he gets.”

He shakes his head and finally joins her, snagging one of the pillows.

“Most ladies I know do not share many of my habits.”

Emma’s eyes sparkle dangerously, she opens her lovely lips and he can literally see the reply on the tip of her tongue but then, for some reason which will probably always remain a mystery to him, she closes her mouth and just hums a little. It is far from acceptance or submission – the way her eyes are boring into his might be one of the most straightforward challenges he has ever been issued. He is just not sure if she is daring him to say something or—

Killian Jones used to think he was a bold man before life saw fit to teach him that even the strongest and bravest thing won’t do when caution is called for. He knows the first bold thing he has done in years is marrying the woman before him. The second is reaching for her now.

He would like to take credit for kissing her as well but once again that is mostly her doing.