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Three Days Until Forever

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Boston, Massachusetts. Three days before Christmas.

Emma Jones walked down the busy city streets with a lightness that radiated from her head to her toes. Finally, the 29-year-old blonde thought, Christmas is almost here. It was her favorite time of the year; If she could, she’d start decorating the day after Thanksgiving.

“Killian would probably be furious if I tried though,” she mumbled to herself, a flicker of a smile on her face at the thought of her husband of 10 years. He always told her it was better to wait until right before the 25th to decorate, insisting—if they decorated too early—the effect would wear off by the time the holiday finally arrived.

He’s always telling me it’s better to wait for things… and with that melancholy thought, her mood had begun to sour. Adjusting her grey beanie and tightening the zip on her red leather jacket, Emma tried to shake the negative thoughts from her mind. Soon, she told herself.

She continued down the street, hoping to reach the yoga studio she worked at on Wednesdays with enough time to get in a bit more meditation. As she got closer to the studio, however, she couldn’t help but overhear the rather dulcet tones of the Santa Claus standing beside a red bucket in the middle of the square.

“Ho-ho-ho,” the man rather somberly called—lacking the necessary enthusiasm to bring in donations—while halfheartedly ringing a bell.

Emma had proceeded past him but a quick glance at the name on the side of the donation pail halted her steps. Her face softened, and she turned around his shoulder. “Hey Santa,” she smiled. “Tough crowd, huh?”

“I do okay,” the man barely insisted.

“Oh?” Emma looked past him into his bucket. “Eighty-seven cents… and a gum wrapper.” With that, she held out her hand.

“Lady, you’re supposed to give me the donation.”

“Hand over the bell, Santa,” she smirked lightly while wiggling her gloved fingers. The slightly chagrined Clause turned somewhat red beneath his fake beard before passing the instrument over.

Emma thanked him before ringing the bell as enthusiastically as possible. “Merry Christmas, Boston!” She continued with a string of loud ho-ho-ho’s and bell ringing as people began to come forward with donations for the Boston Children’s Orphanage.

After a few more jingles of the bell, she passed it back to the Santa Claus. “Now you try! Come on, from your diaphragm.” The Santa seemed to receive a renewed energy from the young woman’s efforts and the two of them stood for a few more minutes together, passing season’s greetings and encouraging donations from the people of Boston.

Emma smiled at the filling donation bucket before wishing a last “Merry Christmas” and continuing her way to work.

~ · ~

Across the city, 20 stories up in a glistening high-rise, Killian Jones was negotiating yet another “deal of the century”. Emma’s 30-year-old husband was a literary agent with one of the most esteemed agencies in Boston, something he rarely let anyone forget.

“Paperback? Jefferson, don’t insult me.” The agent spat through his Bluetooth to the publisher on the other end while frustratedly running fingers through his inky locks. Jefferson Petasum may be slightly off-kilter from the other publishers Killian negotiated with, but he was also shrewd as they come. It would take more than a little effort on Killian’s part to get this deal. Luckily, Killian was just as cunning as Petasum.

“We’re talking about August Booth here. The guy is a literary giant.” Killian stood from behind his mahogany desk, brushing imaginary lint off his charcoal suit, and strolled before his floor to ceiling windows, glancing at the city beyond. He briefly wondered what Emma was doing down below his sights before his thoughts returned to his business. “You’ve heard of the Pulitzer Prize, yes?”

Barely waiting for a response from Jefferson, Killian continued, “Brilliant, he gets first-run hardcover.”

Jefferson denied his statement from the other end again, insisting that Booth was old news and too far removed from the literary world to warrant hardcovers on the first run.

“All right, Jefferson,” Killian threw his hands in the air—despite knowing the publisher couldn’t see him. “You want to be the bloke who sticks with the bargain bin, that’s lovely. I’ve got Neal Cassidy on hold and he’s—”

Jefferson interrupted Killian’s potential threat by asking for time to consider the deal. “Sure, you can think about it,” Killian paused. “You’ve got a minute,” and before Jefferson could argue further, Killian switched to his other line where he had Cassidy on hold.

“Cassidy? Alright, I’ve got Jefferson Petasum on hold. He wants to publish 100,000 hardcovers,” Killian allowed his statement to briefly sink in before sitting back down to his desk and confidently continuing. “You’ve got to top that, savvy?”

~ · ~

Later that evening, following an afternoon of packed yoga classes and confusing the hell out of her art teacher during a Portrait session by painting the model’s head in half, Emma was wandering her local Christmas tree lot alone—trying not to let her former melancholia return.

After looking at her watch for what felt like the hundredth time, she stood on her tiptoes peering around the tall trees looking for Killian again. She tried to ignore the tiny stabs of jealousy as she watched happy couples and families leave together with their chosen trees.

“Can I help you, sister?” A gruff voice sounded from behind a cluster of Fraser Firs.

Turning, Emma saw a shorter man with a beard, wearing a black knit cap, a sour face, and a nametag that read “Leroy”. “I was just waiting for my husband; he’s usually late, but I was hoping to pick the tree out together this year. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen and I’ll have to pick it out myself, but I’m not sure what I want, and I have no idea why I’m telling you all this.”

At her embarrassed blush and sad looking eyes, the man other lot employees were prone to calling “Grumpy” softened slightly. He thought of his girlfriend, Astrid, and how happy she got every year when he brought her to the lot to pick their tree. As much as the scent of pine needles drove him crazy, seeing the love of his life smile was worth the trouble each December.

“Well, sister, I can tell you that you’re not alone in feeling pain about the holidays. But, if my Astrid has taught me anything, it’s that a good Christmas tree is all the cure you need.” He smiled awkwardly at her, but his words seemed to do the trick because Emma’s face lit up. “Now, what kind of tree are you looking for?”

~ · ~

Ten minutes earlier, still in his office, Killian was gleefully ending another call with Petasum when there was a knock at his door. “Yeah?”

His coworker, Milah, entered quickly carrying a stack of pages on a clipboard. The curly-haired brunette, dressed in a black blouse, charcoal business suit, and fiery red lips, stopped on the other side of his desk. At the sight of Killian, his tie slightly undone and his hair roughed up as if he’d been running his hands through it, she couldn’t help her smirk.

Before she could get a word out, Killian interrupted her thoughts. “I just made August Booth the deal of his career.”

“Fantastic.”

"Aye. I mean, the bloke blew his talent years ago. He’s been coasting on that Pulitzer of his, but—"

“He’s a brand name that still sells.” Killian was pleased at Milah’s ability to follow his line of thinking—she was easily becoming one of his best associates with the kinds of deals she’d made happen this year.

“Exactly. You’re learning.” Milah couldn’t help the blush across her cheeks at Killian’s praise. She hadn’t necessarily been going out of her way to impress him, though, lately, it seemed to happen more often. It wasn’t something she was unhappy about. “So?”

“Right,” she continued, “I called Robert Gold. Just to check in.”

“Has he done the sequel yet?”

“Unfortunately, no. He’s still in the research phase,” Milah said, shrugging lightly and laying her stack of papers on Killian’s desk. “He’s going to return to Storybrooke to see how it’s changed.”

Killian couldn’t help but roll his eyes and smirk at the idea of Storybrooke, Maine ever changing. “As long as he meets his deadline. Anything else?” He punctuated his question by putting each foot up on his desk, crossing them at the ankles.

“Yeah, I read that submission from Henry Mills, the 20-something from Seattle?” Milah held up the clipboard, showing the first half of a manuscript.

“Right…the fairy tales brought into the real world? Once Upon A Modern Age.

“It’s very Brothers Grimm meets Margaret Atwood. Derivative, but only just.”

“Couldn’t agree more,” Killian said while contradictorily shaking his head. “I want to sign him.”

Milah barely laughed in exasperation. “Killian!”

“Have you heard the word on this lad, Milah?” Killian fiddled with his Bluetooth while confidently explaining his thoughts to his coworker. “I smell movie rights, excerpts in Rolling Stone or Vogue.

Aye,” Milah poorly mimicked his accent and rolled her eyes. “But, it’s literary junk food! Garbage for people to simply munch on.”

“What are you, darling, a critic or an agent? Don’t smell it; sell it. Because a deal like this, should it succeed,” And it will, Killian thought to himself, “will leave us quids in.” Killian was rapidly losing interest in the conversation and decided to press his position more resolutely.

He dropped his feet from his desk, tossed his earpiece on the surface, and pressed his assistant’s line on his office phone. “Hey, Thomas? Book me on the last flight to Seattle tonight.”

Milah leaned over the desk and pressed the line again. “Thomas? Book me too.” She leaned back with a smirk of satisfaction and raised her eyebrows to Killian, daring him to challenge her attendance.

He scratched behind his ear—an anxious tic he could never rid himself of—and briefly considered what this could look like, the awkward position it might put him in before he brushed it off. This is business, he told himself, Nothing more or less.

How Emma might feel about his disappearing once again for work right before the Christmas holiday didn’t even cross his mind.

Chapter Text

After the unexpectedly helpful chat with the tree lot employee and selecting her Norway Spruce, Emma was quickly stomping through the snowy slush back to her apartment. The tree wasn’t grand, but it felt heavier with every block she walked back home. She normally had so much energy, but these days she was finding herself getting worn out more easily. Something I’ll have to get used to, I guess.

She also couldn’t help but feeling the niggling strings of frustration worming their way back into her mind—despite the refreshing talk she’d had with Leroy. Killian was usually bogged down with work, that was nothing new, but it was getting harder and harder to deal with how often she seemed to take second place to his literary career. Emma tried her hardest to be supportive; It’s just that some days, she wished he’d arrive on time or be there when he said he would be.

As she finally turned the corner in front of her building, Emma heard the tell-tale sound of footsteps accompanied by the rough tenor of her husband’s voice barking commands into his cell phone. “Okay, well it’s all very simple. You just overnight the contracts to me, okay?” Rolling her eyes at Killian’s haughty attitude towards whoever was on the mobile’s other end, she pretended not to notice him and continued heading towards their building’s entrance.

The sight of his wife struggling down the sidewalk with a rather piddly looking Christmas tree halted Killian in his tracks. Petasum’s assistant was still rambling on the other end of his line, so he interrupted with a last command: “Just do it. I have to go!”

He quickly hung up and raced behind a passing car before jumping over a snowbank to meet Emma. “Hey! Hey, I-I tried to call you!”

“Really?” She turned towards him with a look of irritation, Killian catching the obvious disbelief in her tone.

“I did! I called the uh… the homeless shelter.” He collected the sad-looking tree from his wife absentmindedly while she continued to their front door.

“Oh, that’s on Tuesdays.”

“Well, whatever, the tutoring center.”

“Yeah, and that’s Thursday afternoon.”

“Oh, come on!” Killian sighed frustratedly. “You flit around like a bloody hummingbird all week; it’s difficult to keep track of you, love.”

“You know, Killian,” Emma whipped around to glare at him in exasperation, refusing to remind him—for the fifth time this month—about the calendar she kept on the refrigerator spelling out her entire schedule. “I get you’re not really into Christmas! But, just one year, I thought maybe we could pick out our tree together.”

Her glare fell into a look of sadness at the barely-there hint of his eyes rolling. “It was… it was this impromptu reception. I couldn’t skip it,” he attempted to defend his perceived neglect.  

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Emma muttered, turning away from him again.

“Emma,” Killian sighed, picking up the tree and following. “I’m so sorry. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t want to go with you.”

“Really?” She looked at him again over her shoulder, not even fully turning around this time. “So, what, what, you just forgot? That’s what you’re saying?” Emma reached the door and started fumbling through her bag for her keys—glaring at him again. “That’s even worse.”

“I didn’t forget.” He shook his head in denial at her while attempting to pass over his own easily retrieved door key. “I’m simply swamped, darling.”

“Save it, Killian,” Emma scolded while her eyes seemed to penetrate deeply through him, seeing beyond his excuses. “You’re always swamped.”

“That’s not true,” Killian refused to shout at her, despite his frustration. This was Emma; he didn’t need to shout. He knew she’d understand once he explained. “It’s the end of the year, love. You know how it is. Everyone wants their deals closed. It’s just—” he sighed, picking the tree up and lightly stamping it into the ground several times like a hammer. “I feel like, from the minute I wake up in the morning, I’m under the cosh.”

Emma looked at him and despite her frustration, despite the nagging feeling in the back of her mind that she shouldn’t give in this time, she genuinely believed what Killian was telling her. This wasn’t his fault, he really was under a lot of pressure, and maybe with the holidays around the corner and this year’s deals finishing up, things would get better. They have to, right?

Killian watched Emma drop her eyes to a point on the middle of her jacket, and although she crossed her arms across her chest in a protective gesture, he knew he’d won the argument when she looked up and smiled gently at him.

“Okay, it’s okay.” Emma lightly shook her head before smiling and gently taking his hand. “We have our tree.” Turning around to insert her finally located key in the lock, she grinned even wider at him over her shoulder and said, “It’s good, right?”

“Oh, this is our tree?” Killian looked at the tree with a bit of a grimace, trying to determine if his wife was serious. “It’s…it’s a little sparse, don’t you think, Swan?”

She peered over her shoulder at him again, this time with a look of incredulity, before stomping through the door—ignoring his favored nickname for her and neglecting to hold the heavy door open for him in the process. Knowing when not to press his luck, Killian didn’t say anything else before struggling into the apartment building’s lobby.

The soft twinkle lights on the banister shimmered in the glow of garland strung around it, lighting up Emma’s golden tresses as she made her way up the stairs. A trio of quick barks trailed down the staircase, followed shortly after by a dalmatian puppy. An anxious voice shouting “Pongo!” could be heard two floors up.

“Oh, Pongo!” Emma slowed to pick up the speckled dog before proceeding up the stairs. “I got him, Mrs. Hopper! I’ll bring him right up!” She turned to look back at Killian quickly. “Honey, the tree stand’s in the living room.”

Mrs. Hopper lived in the flat opposite theirs with her son, Archie, a child psychologist who worked hours almost as long as Killian. Emma had explained to him earlier that month that Pongo had been an early Christmas gift from Archie to his mother—someone to keep the 77-year-old woman company while he worked long days at his office. Unfortunately, the pup was prone to literal flights of fancy—leaving Emma to retrieve him on more than one occasion when elderly Mrs. Hopper wasn’t fast enough to grab him.

Killian took another look at the pathetic excuse for a tree before rolling his eyes for the hundredth time that day and following his wife up the steps. He could hear her whispering to Pongo, asking him how he managed to escape again, while his mistress shouted for clarification from the second floor.

He only managed to utter three “Bloody hells!” the whole way up the stairs. Considering the tree branches had hit him in the face a half dozen times, he considered it an accomplishment.

~ · ~

“Admit it,” Emma smiled as she emerged from the hall closet with a stack of ornament boxes in her hands. “That tree is starting to grow on you!”

“It’s growing in me,” her husband replied, standing up from inserting the measly tree into its stand. “I just pulled two needles out of my neck.”

Emma stood at their large, butcher-block island and picked through the ornaments. She chuckled at his comment and asked happily, “You going to help me decorate this year?”

“Um…” He hesitated, scratching behind his ear again, uncertain how to tell her about the last-minute business trip he scheduled.

“Oh! And you know what else,” Emma whipped around to look at him excitedly. “A bunch of us are going caroling later, and we really need a tenor.”

“And you want me?

“Yeah, it’ll be fun!”

“Emma, you know my rule. I don’t even sing in the shower.”

“Okay, we’ll…stay home and make dinner, and then we can decorate together.” She continued gently sorting through the ornaments trying to decide which would make the cut for the tree this year. Thankfully, according to Leroy, the Norway Spruce was perfect for heavier ornaments, and they had quite a collection from previous years’ holidays to make use of.

“I can’t.”

Emma felt her heart drop to the pit of her stomach at his words, and her eyes fell to the angel wings ornament she’d picked up from the cushioned box. I should’ve known when he scratched his ear…she thought to herself. “W-what?”

When she raised her shining eyes to him, Killian at least had the decency to look marginally abashed. “I have to go to Seattle. There’s this young writer…”

“But, Killian, it’s Christmas.”

“Not for three days,” he reminded her.

“But,” she lightly dropped the winged ornament back in the box to face him fully, “We’ve spent Christmas together for the last 20 years.”

“Right, and…and I’m not going to miss it this year, love.” He crossed the room and gently took her hand, pleading with his eyes, willing her to understand. Emma ripped her palm from his and moved to stalk from the room. “I wouldn’t go if it wasn’t important.” She continued into the hall while he threw his hands in the air in frustration and rebutted, “What do you want me to do, Emma, let someone else sign him?”

She spun to face him and let out a simple “Yeah!” as if everything was so easy.

Killian sighed frustratedly again before saying, “Look, you’re going to be so busy with all your little tasks and holiday affairs, you’re not even going to miss me.” He smiled at her with what he was sure she’d take as reassurance. After all, it was just a short trip and Christmas was still three days away. Plenty of time to sign the talented little blighter and get home to Emma. “I’ll be back Christmas Eve, Emma,” He said, picking up her hands again and holding them carefully in his own. “If you want, save the rest of the holiday stuff for then. We’ll decorate together. We can celebrate however you want. Okay?” He punctuated each statement with a kiss to her hands, smiling at her again, before letting her go to look at his watch. “Look, I want to talk about this with you, love, but I really have to pack.”

Killian gave her a soft kiss on the forehead before he swept past his wife and down the hall to their bedroom. Emma lingered for a moment in the middle of the living room, tears welling up in her eyes as she stared at the empty Christmas tree just waiting to be decorated. Before any moisture could run down her cheeks, she blinked away the tears and crossed her arms protectively over herself again. She thought about going after him for only a moment before she returned to the box of ornaments, sighing deeply in resignation, and continuing her sorting.

Killian paused in the doorway of their bedroom down the hall, staring back at his wife. Dressed in a white sweater with black leggings and her favorite “giant reading socks”, she looked the picture of someone ready to celebrate the winter holidays. But her face told a different story, drained of any holiday spirit or hope she may have had moments earlier. He felt a flicker of regret at his actions and thought briefly about canceling the trip altogether. However, he knew signing the Mills kid was important and an opportunity he couldn’t refuse. He ran his hands quickly through his dark locks before shaking his head and entering the bedroom.

We’ll talk about all this when I sign Mills and come home for Christmas. We’ll have a lovely holiday, Emma will be happy again, and everything will work out splendidly.

Chapter Text

Killian tried to pretend it didn’t sting when Emma didn’t wave back as he got into his taxicab an hour later. I wish she could see how important this is… what signing such an author would do for my position with the firm. We’d never have to fear having enough to survive ever again. We could have the life we’ve always dreamed of having. Letting go of his contempt and attempting a last smile, Killian stowed his small suitcase in the boot of the cab before climbing in the backseat. Emma simply turned back to dressing the tree as the yellow car took off down the street.

At least she allowed me to kiss her goodbye, he thought to himself.

Many hours later, any thoughts of Emma and the holidays were gone from his mind as he sat in front of Henry Mills in a trendy Seattle café, attempting his best sales pitch to sign the kid to his agency. Henry was a composed-looking, young man, around the same height as Killian, with soft brown hair and hazel eyes. Killian couldn’t help but notice, however, for a man making a career in writing modern-day fairy tales, how cynical and jaded the kid’s eyes looked.

Then again, most of the Henry Mills’s fairy tales didn’t have happy endings.

Grimm indeed, Killian thought. “Now, Henry, every agent with a brain in their skulls wants to represent you. You know why?” Killian paused for a slight dramatic effect before continuing. “Because they see dollar signs. But Milah and I,” he motioned between his coworker and himself. “We see something more.”

Milah nodded along, smiling as reassuringly to the writer as she could.

“We hear something more. We hear… the voice of a generation.”

“You write with such daring and insight,” Milah smoothly interjected, Henry’s eyes roving over to meet her own. “These weren’t just fairy tales for a new generation, these stories were everyone’s stories. Inconceivable, life-altering magic meets the harsh reality of an ordinary, modern age. Once gave me chills, Henry.”

“Lad,” Killian moved to push the conversation forward. “I’m not yanking your chain here but we see you up there in the pantheon with the greats. I mean, I must tell you, in 20 years, I believe you will be more revered than the Grimm Brothers or Charles Perrault ever were.”

Before he could allow that moment to sink in for the young writer, Killian moved in for the kill. “However, the way the business works these days, you can’t get there alone. You need an advocate, someone on your side so you can concentrate on what’s most important: your work. I can’t tell you how many authors have died destitute and scrounging for mere scraps because they didn’t have the right representation.”

Henry Mills’s face gave nothing away, so Killian continued. “Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina? I mean that guy didn’t have two Krone to rub together or a goblet to serve his wine in. Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, should have been called the Canterbury Fails.

Milah wasn’t sure if the kid was falling for the nonsense Killian was spilling, but she wouldn’t be the one to interrupt. She kept quiet, smiling and nodding in agreement.

“A man unwilling to fight for what he wants deserves what he gets, Henry.” With the possibility of financial ruin—should he refuse their offer—and a question of his pride as an author placed in front of the Mills lad, Killian allowed himself to proceed with his proposal. “Now, what we’d like to do is fly you out to Boston, put you up in the finest accommodation, and introduce you to all the major publishing houses. I can promise you, Henry, there isn’t one who won’t want your novel.” He smiled confidently at the young author again, still uncertain if he had Henry on his hook. “How does that sound? Are we in business together?”

The pair of agents hardly breathed as they finally allowed the proposal to sink in and the young man’s eyes swept between the pair of them. It felt like a small millennium passed when he uttered, “Um… I have to ask my mom first.”

Killian looked to Milah before nodding his head and smiled confidently at Henry Mills. It took everything the agent had not to burst out laughing at this young man’s unexpected naivete, but he had a good feeling the deal would be in the bag.

Later that evening in an upscale restaurant by the waterfront, Milah was all but mocking Killian’s comments from their earlier meeting. “You do realize that Andersen died rather wealthy considering the Danish government paid him a monthly stipend, don’t you?” Taking a sip from her wineglass between her laughter, she continued, “and what famous authors died ‘scrounging for mere scraps’?”

“Who knows,” Killian chuckled softly between bites. “I was just trying to hook the lad.”

“Good thing it worked, although who would have guessed you’d need his mother’s approval?”

“Yes, well, Regina loved you,” Killian motioned to Milah with his glass before waving to the waiter for a refill. “You lasses didn’t stop talking.”

Milah shrugged nonchalantly, saying, “We found something in common.”

His eyes filled with surprise as he thought of her previous revelation. “Yeah, I had no idea you grew up on an apple orchard.”

“I didn’t.” Her smile turned mischievous, and her left eyebrow raised almost challengingly. “She said she did, so… I ran with it.”

Killian tried not to let his surprise at her lie bother him. After all, he’d just spent his morning making up stories of his own to secure his next bestselling author. “Yes, you did.”

He lifted his refilled wineglass and held it up in a toasting motion to Milah. “To Henry Mills.”

She clinked her glass with his and as they drank, her eyes peered almost penetratingly at him. Putting down her glass with a smile, she asked, “Glad I came now, aren’t you?”

“Aye, lass, I am.”

“Is that… the only reason?”

He paused briefly, averting his eyes and smiling as innocently as he could. “Perhaps not.” He returned her stare and felt his more confident swagger and mask take over his form.

“Well, that’s an improvement.”

Killian tilted his head, his expression turning to one of confusion.

“Our trip to Portland?” Milah explained, “To see Robert Gold?”

“Right, that.” Killian started defending himself, though he wasn’t sure why he felt the need to. “I mean, you know Robert; he’s very needy. He requires a lot of attention.”

“I know,” Milah almost pouted, “You barely noticed me. But Robert did. Remember the look on his face when he caught me leaving your hotel room in my nightie?”

“I know!” Killian laughed at the memory. “He refused to believe you simply stopped by to get toothpaste.”

“Actually, Killian…” Milah dropped her eyes to her lap for a moment before raising them to meet his again. She seemed to steel herself before delicately placing her hand on the table, her pinky nudging his hand slightly. “Robert was right. After all, the man writes mysteries. He knows a bad alibi when he hears one.”

Killian’s smile wavered slightly as his eyes drifted to her hand near his and considered the direction this conversation headed. “The toothpaste?”

Milah shook her head from side to side while shrugging again. “Seemed like a good excuse at the time.” Her hand danced over his as she leaned closer to him, almost purring her next question: “Do I need one tonight?”

Killian’s eyes fell to his wineglass, his smile remaining plastered on his face, while his brain seemed to momentarily short-circuit at what Milah was implying. He raised his eyes to her again, before his usual confident mask was back in its place again.

~ · ~

The dulcet tones of a Spotify Christmas playlist radiated through the apartment, competing with the noise of Boston traffic beyond the loft windows. Emma was cozied up in “her corner” of their grey sectional—a bowl of popcorn and the latest Paula Brackston novel on her lap.

Though she wanted to finish Elizabeth’s story and find out if Tegan managed to overcome Gideon’s intentions, Emma couldn’t concentrate on her book. Lifting her mug of hot chocolate and cinnamon, her eyes drifted to the picture on the antique end table of her and Killian from their trip to Drogheda four years earlier.

Emma had longed to see Killian’s first home ever since they’d gotten serious years earlier, and he started telling her what he could remember of Ireland, knowing that she’d never been anywhere outside the States. After saving and saving, they could finally afford the trip.

Killian hadn’t been back in nearly two decades since he’d moved to the states with his father and elder brother, Liam after his mother Alice had passed away. The trip wasn’t an easy one for Killian, seeing all the places he’d once called home, and taking Emma to the cemetery where his mother was buried. It broke Emma’s heart to see the way the man she loved wept over the loss of his mother, a woman he didn’t get nearly enough time with.

She longed to ask him more about her but felt like it would hurt an already-vulnerable Killian. He surprised her though when he started talking, almost if he could read Emma’s mind. “She was wonderful, my mother. I remember, she’d always be singing, no matter what she was doing. Liam and I would just stop whatever we game we were playing or put down our books so we could listen.” He sniffled and smiled softly, lost in his memories. “Gods, how I loved the sound of her voice.”

Emma gently fell to her knees beside him in front of Alice’s headstone, wrapping her arms tightly around Killian’s right arm, hoping to give him some comfort. She leaned her cheek against his shoulder and softly said, “You loved her very much.”

“Aye, I did. She was… like you, Swan. Bold and spirited and magical. And strong as hell; she’d never let my father help her with anything, always insisted she could handle things herself.” He chuckled through his tears, and Emma could feel the music of his laughter and his compliments touch her deep inside. “She tried to stay with me as long as she could.”

“I wish she could have stayed longer.”

“Aye, love. Me too.”  

The pair of them remained locked in their embrace long after the chill of the air began to penetrate their layers and the moisture of the grace soaked through the knees of their jeans. After spending so long with tears dripping down his face, Emma worried that their trip had done more harm than good for Killian’s spirit. However, he soon reassured Emma that the whole experience had actually felt somewhat cathartic.  

“And I was proud to share my beginnings with you, Swan,” he’d said to her the next afternoon while they waited to board the flight for the last leg of their trip home. Knowing Emma’s self-consciousness with her own lack of solid beginnings, Killian had tried to ensure he painted as clear a picture of his childhood for her as he could—without overwhelming her with the ideas of a family she didn’t get to experience until much later in life. He feared that his display at Alice Jones’s grave had shot that all straight to the Underworld until Emma reassured him she was just as proud to know where her husband came from as he was to share it.

It wasn’t long after that trip that Killian received his first in a series of promotions within his agency. He’d always been charismatic but combined with his wit, business savvy, and confidence—okay, occasionally, ego—he practically became an unstoppable force. No one could say no to him, and as much as Emma wanted to deny it, he’d changed so much since their trip to Ireland.

I’m still not sure if it’s for the better or not.

Ignoring the lump in her throat that threatened tears again, Emma took another swallow of cocoa and returned to her book—telling herself that everything would be okay as soon as Killian was home again.

Chapter Text

While Emma was devouring her novel, in a hotel room three thousand miles away, Killian Jones found himself in front of his suite’s bathroom mirror, fiddling with his hair and trying to figure out how he’d gone from a work dinner with a colleague to here.

Their dinner had lingered a little longer with the pair of them sharing another few drinks and heavy glances before deciding to return to their hotel. When they reached the bank of elevators, Killian’s eyes had reached Milah’s again and the words were out before he could think about it, “Would you…er…care to join me for a nightcap?” Her answering smile and the clasp on his left arm was all the answer she gave before escorting him into the elevator.

“Are you done yet?” Milah’s voice called sultrily through the bathroom door.

Killian was distracted at the thought of what he was considering doing and Milah’s question caused him to jump in surprise. He hadn’t forgotten she was there, but her voice reminded him that this moment was very real.

“Just about, darling.” He turned the faucet on to make it sound like he had been doing more than simply tugging on his mane and contemplating his life choices for the past 15 minutes.

While Killian was finishing up in the bathroom, Milah had been staring into a mirror of her own, adjusting her hair and refreshing her red lipstick. Smiling at the notion she’d finally secured her invitation to Killian’s room—and soon his bed—she returned the tube to her purse before settling down on top of the downy, white bedspread.

She adjusted her position several times, trying to achieve the most alluring appearance available to her in the skirt and sweater set she wore. She leaned back against the headboard, crossed her legs, and attempted to radiate the confidence Killian constantly gave off when dealing with superiors and prospective authors. “Killian?”

The sink was still running while Killian searched through his toiletry bag for his toothpaste; he’d already brushed, but he still felt like he wasn’t quite ready to leave the safety of the bathroom just yet. Locating his toothpaste, he noticed a small, rolled piece of paper pushed to the bottom of the bag and pulled it out. “Yeah, just a minute.”

Unrolling the scroll, Killian found a handwritten note from Emma. I love you so much, E, the note read. She’d included a tiny handwritten drawing of a swan and a pirate’s hook in the shape of a heart, along with a smaller note that said, Good luck, babe!

Feeling like his heart had been crushed in an iron fist, Killian dropped the note and put his head into his hands. The conflict he’d been feeling seconds earlier rushed back in full force. Even if he knew he had done nothing to feel guilty about—Haven’t I, though?—Killian also knew he couldn’t do this with Milah. It would ruin everything, and he loved his wife. She didn’t deserve what he had just been about to do.

Meanwhile, in Boston, Emma had made it through another two chapters of her novel before deciding she’d debated with herself long enough. She hadn’t spoken with Killian since he’d left the day before, and she could count on one hand the number of times she’d gone to sleep without him wishing her lovely dreams—last night being one of them. Softly chucking her novel aside, she looked around for where she’d accidentally left her phone this time—on the floor, partially underneath the couch where she let it fall—before picking it up and dialing the hotel number she’d Googled.   

“Good evening, Four Seasons?” the voice on the other line answered.

“Killian Jones’ room, please,” Emma responded. She’d spent much of today contemplating the recent state of her marriage with Killian, and Emma realized that—although they had some conflict to overcome—it didn’t mean as much as the love and life the two of them shared did. So, he worked a lot? So, she sometimes felt like he wasn’t listening when she expressed her feelings? So, it felt like he used his confidence to steamroll her or redirect the conversation in his favor.

But this wasn’t all Killian’s fault. Lately, Emma had been returning to old habits, not being honest about her feelings, hiding behind walls because it was safer than confronting her emotions, running away from the potential conflict rather than facing it head-on. Killian may have become a different person, but she hadn’t told him how his changing truly affected her. And she knew, you can’t fix a problem until you know what it is.

Killian always told her all sins could be forgiven so long as someone loved you, and she knew they loved each other more than anything else in the world. They had two decades' worth of their share of battles and hardships and magic to prove that no obstacle was too great for them to overcome. Emma believed they’d overcome this past year too and be stronger for it.

Putting the heavy thoughts out of her mind, for now, Emma decided to tell him how much she missed him, how she hoped his meeting had gone well. She wanted to tell him about Ashley nearly falling in a snowbank during caroling, that she was looking forward to his return, and that they would need to have some important conversations as this year ended and a new one began.

After all, she thought while the hotel operator connected her, this will be such a wonderful Christmas for both of us.

So enraptured in his own guilty conscience, Killian didn’t hear his room’s phone ringing. Milah called for him again, “Killian…Killian?” After three rings and no response from her colleague, Milah contemplated answering for only a second before picking up the phone. It didn’t even occur to her the voice on the other end could be the wife of the man she was planning on going to bed with.

After all, she thought while picking up the receiver, why would he be here with me tonight if he was truly so happy with her?   

The phone rang three times before Emma heard the customary sound of the call connecting. A woman’s voice answering on the other end of the phone couldn’t have shocked Emma more if the sky had suddenly turned orange and rained cinnamon down over all of Boston. The first two “Hellos” had her convinced that maybe the operator had connected her to the wrong room. But the third “Hello” connected to a memory from the previous January buried not-quite-deep-enough in her subconscious.

The New Year party at Hyperion Literary was an annual tradition that Emma was practically forcing herself to attend with a smile on her face. She told herself she was doing it for Killian, but the dressing up and parading around like some trophy wife made her old insecurities rear their ugly heads.

Emma knew Killian didn’t think of her in such a way but surrounded by so many powerful individuals—who came from wealth or good families—she couldn’t help but feel inadequate. As if she was still a lost, little nine-year-old girl, who didn’t matter and didn’t think she ever would, wanted by no one until it was practically too late.

Every year, Emma found excuses to get out of the party—celebrating with the children at the hospital, handing out meals at the soup kitchen, or visiting Ingrid in Storybrooke. She just thought there were better uses of her time than rubbing elbows at some absurd, ritzy party with a bunch of people who’d forget her name the moment she said it. But after so many years of avoiding the event, Killian pleaded with her to join him just once. The sight of his hopeful smile at her considering attending was enough to get her to agree.

“Emma,” Killian’s tug on her hand and call of her name pulled her from her reverie. “Allow me to introduce you to Ms. Milah Rimari, our newest literary agent. Milah, this is my lovely wife, Emma Jones.”

Milah smiled at her graciously and shook her hand just like any other person, but Emma was astute. She caught the slight challenge in the other woman’s eyes, the way Milah’s gaze seemed to flicker over her to Killian and the rest of the room, affording his wife little more than a passing glance. Emma met the challenge as gracefully as possible—barely resisting sniping at the woman.

“It’s nice to meet you, Milah. It’s good to know that the firm is finally getting some fresh points of view to help run things. Maybe now with you on board, Killian will be able to pass some work onto someone equally accomplished and not be forced to burn the midnight oil as often.”

She punctuated her last statement with a cheeky wink and a smile towards Killian that he happily returned.

“Yes, nice to meet you too,” Emma noted the way her lie detector went off at Milah’s “pleasantries”. The woman in question took a sip from her wineglass and flicked her dark curls lightly over her shoulder. “And perhaps he will, but I’ll still need some guidance. I’m practically a novice,” another lie Emma noted to herself. “Though I look forward to making my own dent. Hopefully, I’ll learn plenty while I’m here,” Milah continued.

“Oh, I’m sure there’s plenty for you to learn from Hyperion. In fact,” Emma gazed behind Milah and noticed one partner in Killian’s firm making his way towards them. Albert Spencer, a man that made Emma’s hackles rise every time he looked at her, was detestable. Killian had told her plenty of office horror stories about the man since he’d started with the firm three years earlier. However, he posed a convenient distraction. “I was just telling Killian how much I appreciate all Mr. Spencer has done to instruct him during his tenure with Hyperion. Oh, Mr. Spencer, you must have a plethora of interesting advice to share with Ms. Rimari, don’t you?”

At hearing his name, and the conversation topic Emma introduced, Milah was all but dragged into a “coaching session” with Spencer, and Emma took the opportunity to pull Killian away from the main thoroughfare of the party.

“Woah there, love!” Killian followed Emma’s insistent tugging until she’d pulled him across the dance floor to the other side of the room. “What’s the hurry, Swan?”

“I just…wanted to get another drink. Here,” she took his empty wineglass and placed it beside her own on a nearby drink table before picking up fresh glasses for both of them.

“Cheers, darling!” Killian tapped his glass against her own and both took a hearty swig of the Chardonnay. She couldn’t help the smile that broke out across her face as she watched Killian’s eyes scan the room in satisfaction. He turned back to her, smiling as he said, “Thank you for joining me tonight, love. I know how important your other activities are to you and it means a great deal to me you agreed to come this year.”

“You’re welcome, Killian. I’m glad I could join you, even if I gave you a hard time about being here.” Emma took another sip of her drink while staring in wonder at the dance floor then down at her hands in contemplation.

“What is it, Emma?”

“Oh, it’s nothing, stupid really. I just… one reason I never want to come this is… because… well, look at that!” She pointed to where several couples were engaged in an elaborate-looking waltz. “What am I supposed to do?”

Ignoring the way she stared out at the dance floor in confused frustration, Killian took both of their glasses and placed them on the tray of a passing server, before grasping her hand in his. He smiled at her mischievously and began to lead her to the dance floor. “Blend in.”

Walking beside him, Emma couldn’t hide her confusion. “Wait… are you saying you know how to do whatever this is?”

“It’s called a waltz,” he said, placing her left hand on his shoulder and her right in his left. “There’s only one rule: pick a partner who knows what he’s doing.”

And with that, Killian’s hands found their own placement, and he started them on a waltz, spinning Emma around the room without missing a beat or a step. She almost couldn’t believe they’d danced for so long without her stomping on his feet. As Killian twirled them through other couples across the floor, Emma couldn’t stop smiling at her husband who never ceased to amaze her and always surprised her when she least expected it.

When the dance ended, Emma latched onto Killian’s arm again and quickly pulled him to a deserted corner of the hotel ballroom hidden by a rather large column decorated with holiday garland and an oversized candelabra. Emma may detest parties like this, but this one was—thankfully—always held in absurdly grand hotels with plenty of places to hide.

When his wife had him shoved back against the wall, he chuckled softly and gazed into her heady, emerald eyes. “What’s gotten into you, darling?”

“You, you ridiculous pirate,” she smirked at the use of his old nickname before tugging him forward by his lapels and mashing her lips against his own. Emma’s kisses never ceased to make him swoon like a silly schoolgirl, and she always gave as good as she got.

He moved to whip them around so her back would be the one to the wall, but his foot had gotten caught on something—they never knew if it was the long, ruby gown she was wearing or a piece of that hideous garland—and the pair of them ended up tipping over right into the candelabra.

Thankfully, it was filled with fake candles and neither of them was injured, aside from a few bruises for Emma and a decent size cut on Killian’s left cheek that left a rather dashing scar—or so Emma told him later.

They’d spent the rest of the night dancing and enjoying themselves, but Emma also couldn’t help but notice the way Milah’s eyes seemed to follow the pair of them around the room. Emma met the other woman’s eyes with calm confidence, despite hating the way she felt like prey being stalked in a jungle. She was glad when the night finally ended, and she and Killian could return to the quiet normality of their homey loft—away from the prying judgment of others.

Emma hadn’t seen Milah in person since that night, but she hadn’t forgotten the woman’s voice. The confidence, charm, and the subtle hint of testiness she heard now combined and radiated through Emma like a bolt of lightning.

“Hello, is someone there?” An annoyed sigh into the phone preceded a fourth request for someone to answer. Emma wanted to scream, to cry out to the woman, to demand to know who she thought she was being in Killian’s hotel room and answering the phone like she belonged there.

Before Emma’s voice could catch up with her mind, however, Milah had hung up the phone. The dial tone rang in Emma’s ear like a siren, somehow louder and softer at the same time. She pulled the cordless away from her ear and stared at it like it was something alien.

Her astonishment at what just happened to her seemed to finally penetrate her senses and Emma replaced the phone in its dock quickly—almost as though the phone had burned her. She glared at the innocuous thing, wanting to blame it for the horrible phone call that had just decimated her entire life.

For a moment, it was as though she’d forgotten every moment of the last 20 years of her life, and she was that little girl again. The armor she’d worked so hard to take off and keep off, the walls Killian had spent meticulously tearing down brick by brick, seemed to encroach back into her mind slowly—like a curse overtaking some magic land.

This whole time she wanted to believe in him, and he’d been lying to her.

Emma’s hands shook as she pulled her afghan up around her body, suddenly feeling chilled to the bone despite the warmth of the fireplace. Staring into the flames, she felt the weight of Killian’s betrayal, the dark stain of it, seeping into her soul and wrapping around her like black tendrils of darkness.

In Seattle, on the other end of the phone, Milah shrugged at the lack of sound on the other line of the call before returning the hotel receiver to its cradle. She turned with a smile as she heard the water shut off and the bathroom door open.

“Either you’ve been stalling in there, or your hands are exceptionally clean.”

Killian sheepishly walked through the main room of the suite around the doorway into the bedroom. At the sight of his conflicted expression, the smile that had seconds earlier graced Milah’s face started to droop. He raised his eyes to hers with a stilted “Aye” and a nervous scratch behind his ear.

“Uh-oh,” she sounded almost confused. “That’s a face with second thoughts.”

“I-I’ve just—” Killian trailed off looking at his feet, embarrassed by this whole situation and feeling more than a little guilty—though he couldn’t say if it was directed more towards his wife or coworker in that moment. “I’ve been thinking. You know, this could just get so complicated so quickly, Milah.”

Milah smiled seductively at him while shrugging her shoulders. “So why don’t we keep it simple then, Killian?”

Killian forced a smile at her, raising his eyebrows and trying to appear as though he was genuinely giving this whole situation his thorough consideration. If anything, he thought to himself, this is just getting more difficult. I mean… Milah is lovely, fiery, and daring in all the right places. But…

Killian’s thoughts immediately went back to his wife, his Swan. Her beauty, inside and out, and her pure heart. Light always seemed to follow wherever she went, leaving the world better for her presence. She always was a better person than I.

“Milah, I just don’t know. I mean, we work together. I’m… I’m married. To Emma.”

Milah’s expression darkened and her cheeks reddened with embarrassment. She all but leapt from the bedspread and padded over to where her shoes and handbag were placed on the cream-colored settee. “And what, Killian? This is news to you all of a sudden?”

“No, it’s not news. I just—” He let out a frustrated huff and attempted to smooth over what had become an unfortunate mistake. “Look, Milah, I’m sorry if I led you on, lass.”

“Yeah,” she muttered, racing past him and heading for the suite’s door. “Who knew you had a conscience, Jones?”

“Milah, please don’t take this personally,” Killian tried pleading with her as she stomped away from him. “I mean you’re smart, you’re incredibly beautiful.”

She spun around to glower at him again, her hands angrily gripping her hips. “You know, Killian, you once joked that you were more of a dashing rapscallion than the lying scoundrel you have a reputation for. It would seem that reputation isn’t totally unfounded. And the one I really feel sorry for is your wife.”

With a last dirty look—filled with anger, embarrassment, and possibly a hint of rejection—Milah flipped her hair over her shoulder and was gone from the suite.

Killian flinched when the door slammed shut, feeling what he’d done in that moment resonate deep within his soul. He sighed despondently at himself and wrenched his hands through his hair, wanting to kick his own stupid arse for getting himself into such a situation.

He sat before the sitting-room window, gazing out at the lights of Seattle below before looking up at the stars. Though it was chilly in the Emerald City tonight, it was nothing like the cold and snowy weather he was sure Emma would experience at home. Killian only hoped she was safe in their flat and out of the path of any weather- or holiday-related madness.

And there was the million-dollar question: What would he tell Emma? Should he even tell her anything?

Of course, you should tell her, you elitist prig. Look at what you almost did tonight.

Yes, but I didn’t go through with it and nothing serious happened. Not even a kiss. Surely that counts for something?

Are you honestly debating with yourself about what constitutes unfaithfulness? For pity’s sake, Jones, you almost had sex with another woman tonight! When you have your beautiful, loving, out-of-the-loop wife waiting for you at home. And you almost did this two days before Christmas no less!

I know… I know. I’m scum. But this is exactly why I can’t tell her. I mean nothing happened, despite the “almost” factor. And this would destroy her, right before the holidays too. She was already furious with me when I left three days before the holiday; I can’t take anything more away from her. Besides, it’s not like I have to worry about Milah telling her.

The invisible shoulder angel and devil arguing back and forth in Killian’s mind both had good points, but he would have to side with the dark one on this front. He just couldn’t ruin Emma’s holiday or possibly his marriage with something that meant nothing, that was nothing. Killian would head home early tomorrow morning and arrive home in time to celebrate Christmas Eve with Emma, the holiday would be wonderful as always, and he would forget all about the near tryst with Milah.

Returning to the bedroom to change and turn in to bed, Killian smiled his first real smile in hours and knew that everything would turn out just fine. It just has to.

Chapter Text

Killian’s plane finally landed a little after 10 the following evening. A storm in New York had delayed all flights coming in from the west and he was late getting home by more hours than he was comfortable with after the night he spent tossing and turning.

After grabbing the largest bouquet of Christmas flowers he could find—a few of the blooms appearing questionably close to buttercups, despite the lateness in season for them—at the only 24-hour grocery store still open within 40 blocks of his home, and groaning internally as his cab driver navigated slowly through the late-night, holiday traffic, Killian made it back to his building’s front door at last.

Waiting for the driver to pop the boot for him to remove his travel case, Killian looked up at their flat windows and saw only the briefest flicker of light. I wonder if Emma fell asleep waiting up for me; he shrugged to himself before unlocking the building door and hurrying up the stairs. He hoped she’d still be up, but also couldn’t deny his delight in the idea of waking her long enough to have a brief Christmas Eve tryst in their bed.

It never ceased to amaze him how much he missed being home when he was away.

Unlocking the door and darting inside, despite the late hour, Killian softly called for Emma after dropping his keys on the table by the entrance. Turning the corner into the living room, he noticed Emma sitting on her side of their sectional, shrouded in darkness with only the somber glow of the fireplace to illuminate her face. It was enough light, he noticed, for him to see her eyes rimmed red—as if she’d spent the better part of the evening in tears.

“Hey.” He dropped his bag near the entrance to the hallway and headed for her. “You’re sitting in the dark, love. What happened? Did you fall asleep?”

When she didn’t respond, her eyes practically burning a hole through his head, he felt a tremor of something run through him. “What’s wrong?”

Emma wiped her hands across her face before crossing her arms tightly over herself. “You can do better than that,” she nodded at the flowers.

He noticed her voice and face didn’t appear angry, not even sad. Numb… empty, he thought, she looks so… empty. So closed off. Killian hadn’t seen that look on her face or heard that emotionless tone in her voice since… No. She couldn’t possibly…

After he looked down at the flowers in confusion and hopeful ignorance, Emma continued. “I heard her. I called your hotel room last night.”

“You heard who, Emma?” Killian’s confusion was immediately overwhelmed with the foresight that Emma knew; she knew Milah had been in his room and she must believe something had happened between the two of them. Somehow, she always knew when anyone lied. When they tried to hide something.

“Don’t patronize me, Killian. Milah! I know her voice.”

“Oh, love, no. It was just… we were just prepping for the meeting. Strategizing.”

“Oh,” she glared at him with a somber vengeance, the empty fury still swimming in her lovely green eyes. “Is that what they call it?”

“Emma, darling, nothing happened.”

“Then why didn’t you tell me she was going with you, Killian?”

Killian couldn’t help himself. He rolled his eyes and groaned harshly. “She just came to help me, to sign the client.”

“Since when do you need help to sign a client?”

“Okay, Emma, we work together! You know she doesn’t think of me in that way. She looks at me like a mentor or something.” He pointed at her with the bouquet, talking with his hands like he was prone to doing when he was nervous. “You remember what she said when you met her last January; she was eager to learn more from me regarding snagging potential clients.”

Emma scoffed at his suggestion. “I know exactly what she’s eager to learn from you, Killian, and it has nothing to do with signing clients. You know,” she stared down at her lap for a moment before rising abruptly from the couch, “I had planned on telling you to get the hell out. But, now, I can’t even stand being in here with you!”

Watching Emma practically scramble for the front door in her attempt to escape him was like a dagger to his heart. “Emma. Come on, Swan! Please stop, nothing happened! I swear to you!”

“STOP TALKING! Just stop it!”

“Swan, come on, it’s-it’s like—”

“I said, STOP!" Emma held out both her hands, palm facing him, as if ready to shove him back away from her by sheer force of will. His movements halted at the sight of her shocked expression, and she stared down at her hands in fearful confusion. "I... I need to think!” She returned to her hasty ministrations, putting on her red leather jacket and favorite grey beanie. It surprised Killian how quickly she’d zipped up her boots and dressed for the frigid winter air. Though it surprised him less than the choking sobs that had wrenched from her throat.  

“Emma, it’s like two degrees outside! It’s almost midnight for God’s sake!”

“Well then,” she turned to face him again, wiping away a tear from her cheek, “Merry Christmas, Killian.”

Grabbing her gloves and keys, she tore out the door and he could hear her feet thundering down the staircase as she fled from their apartment building. The slow-close of their apartment door, the click of the automatic lock finding home, felt like more daggers joining the first in his heart.

But it was that last look on his wife’s face, that empty, hopeless, tear-threatened look on her face, that shredded him completely.

Dropping the flowers on the kitchen island, he snatched up his keys and raced after her out their apartment door. He wasn’t sure where Emma had gone with the head start she had on him, but he knew he needed to find her.

~ · ~

Emma could hear her footsteps pounding down the wet Boston sidewalk two blocks from her and Killian’s loft, but she didn’t even really see where she was heading.

She didn’t feel the cold wind rushing past her or notice any of the few people still out this late that she passed.

All she felt were the walls slowly—yet somehow just as quickly—building back up around her heart. The armor she’d thought she’d rid herself of completely coming back in full force to shield her again.

She kept her arms crossed over her chest as she walked, wanting to fold inside herself completely and disappear from the nightmare her life had become.

Emma had spent the entire night before tossing and turning, hearing Milah’s voice over and over, whispering all the things she and Killian had gotten up to all the times they were alone together. It was like some horrible, dark voice taunting her in her head.

The nightmares that came once she’d finally fallen asleep were no better.

What little sleep she’d gotten wasn’t enough to truly sustain her, but she was too wired to have coffee the next morning. Her hands shook, she felt cold as ice in her soul, and she did not understand how a person could cry so many tears without completely drying out.

She had never been so thankful to not have anyone to answer to that Christmas Eve day. Though she’d considered, more times than she could count, picking up the phone and calling Ingrid, she just didn’t know what she’d say.

Emma spent hours trying to keep busy in between her crying jags, attempting to remain in the holiday spirit, though the last thing she wanted to think about was celebrating such a happy holiday. She didn't know how she was going to face Killian that evening, and his text informing her his flight was delayed had been an unexpected gift. Though it was an ironically upsetting one to be sure.

It crushed Emma to consider that she was fearing what her husband’s homecoming could mean for them, shocked that he’d cheated, and heartbroken that—once again—she wasn’t enough for someone to keep. Killian had spent the last 20 years promising her she’d always be more than enough, more than he could ever want or deserve, and that he’d never leave or betray her.

“You’re so afraid of losing the people you love that you push them away. But, Emma, love isn’t weakness. It’s strength. And true love, love like ours, is the rarest magic of all. You just need to trust it, love. Trust me.”

It had taken Emma almost 10 years just for her to let him in, to let him help her learn to love, to give him a chance to carve out a space in her heart. But instead of a space, he’d taken the whole damn thing. Or, more accurately, she’d given her heart over to him entirely. It had become his just as much as it was hers. She loved him and he loved her. That’s just how it was.

“Was” obviously being the operative word, she thought to herself as she continued walking away from her husband and her home, the chill of the Boston air finally leeching through her jacket and freezing her body within. Killian obviously doesn’t care for me the same way anymore if he could do what he did and lie to my face about it.

Emma picked up the pace of her steps, buried her gloved hands deep in the pockets of her jacket, and tried to decide where she was going. Looking around, she realized she’d gone about six blocks closer to the arts district and decided to circle back towards Blackstone Square.

She’d made it another two blocks when she heard a familiar whimpering noise coming from the doorway of a storefront a few yards away from her. “Pongo? Pongo! What are you doing?”

The puppy seemed both confused at his location and content to try to cross the road in his haste to explore more of this new place he’d discovered. Considering it was after midnight on Christmas day, there was hardly a car in sight, but Pongo still almost got himself run over by one of the few motorists passing by. “Pongo, stop!”

Miraculously, the dog held fast as the car passed by and Emma ran into the street to fetch him. “What are you doing, you crazy boy?” She picked up the puppy and quickly looked him over for any sign of injury. Aside from a bent I.D. tag and a slight shiver, he seemed no worse for the wear. How he’d managed to get out of the apartment and almost four blocks from home, without a scratch on him, seemed almost absurd.

Several blocks away, Killian had raced after Emma as quickly as she could. Unfortunately, she’d always been a fast walker and gained quite a lead on him. He knew when she took walks she’d always turn left out of their building, so that’s the direction he went, however, he was having no luck finding any evidence of her chosen course.

They’d lived in South End for almost five years and the few times he’d thought to ask, Emma had always told Killian one of her favorite spots in Boston were the two Squares only a few blocks from their building: Franklin and Blackstone. Knowing the parks would almost certainly be empty at this time of night, Killian checked there first. He knew Emma could take care of herself—she’d taken plenty of self-defense courses in her life before and after meeting Killian—but he still didn’t care for the idea of her in a city park alone at night, especially in the emotional state she was in.

No thanks to you, you big git. I told you you should've told her the truth. 

"Shut it!" he shouted at the self-righteous shoulder angel that sounded mysteriously like his older brother. To his irritation, the "devil" on his other shoulder remained shockingly quiet. 

He’d checked Franklin first and found no evidence of her, so he made his way across the street towards Blackstone. To his immense relief, after coming around the corner of the park and the one-way street that ran parallel to it, Killian spotted his wife holding Pongo of all things. His shoulders slumped, and he smiled when he realized the silly pup must have made another great escape.

“Emma?”

At the call of her name, Emma had turned around to face him, appearing beyond stunned that he’d actually followed her when she was suddenly engulfed in a haze of bright, white lights. Killian thought, for a moment, it could have been beautiful—those lights glimmering through her golden locks—if they weren’t the lights of a car speeding towards his wife, who was still standing in the middle of the street.

“EMMA! LOOK OUT!”

He’d tried to make her realize what was coming for her, but it was too late. He watched as if frozen, forced to see the absolute last thing he ever wanted to.

Emma spinning around in surprise.

Emma seeing the car only a few feet from her body.

Emma tossing Pongo gently out of the path of the speeding car.

Emma flying through the air, her body crumpling like a rag doll on the pavement, the car spinning to a stop.

Killian could only watch in twisted fascination as the woman he loved lay unmoving on the freezing asphalt. He could have stood there for mere milliseconds or eons. Either way, he’d felt like he’d aged two hundred years in a moment.

For the rest of his life, he would never get the sound of squealing tires and shattering bones out of his mind.

Finally bringing himself back to consciousness, however long he’d been removed from it, Killian ran as fast as his legs would take him to Emma’s still form. Skidding to a stop on the damp road next to her body, he realized it wasn’t water rapidly seeping into the knees of his jeans.

She was face down on the road; her left leg was bent at an unnatural angle and her hat lay a few feet away in a puddle of icy water. That’s her favorite hat, Killian couldn’t help but lament as he gently rolled Emma over to face him. His heart clenched in his throat and he wanted to be sick at the sight of her mangled hands and face.

A vicious, road rash burn ran over her right eye and down her cheek, her hands—her beautiful hands—previously protected by now-shredded gloves were oozing blood, and an enormous gash across her hairline was leaking ichor into her gilded tresses. The sickening shade of pink in her locks turned his stomach even harder.

And these were just the wounds he could see.

He screamed her name, over and over, while the driver of the car came running. Killian knew she was saying something, shouting something in his ear, but he only had eyes and ears for his wife.

His wife who wasn’t responding to him, wasn’t opening her beautiful eyes, and—from what little he could tell—wasn’t breathing normally. “Ambulance… 911… call…” He struggled to make his words come out coherently. Killian only hoped the other person had already called for help. There was no way in heaven or hell he was letting go of his Emma to dial a phone.

When he finally heard the sirens, there weren’t enough words in the English language to describe his profound relief.

Chapter Text

The cold, hard plastic of the hospital chair had stopped being comfortable about ten minutes after one of the ER nurses had shoved Killian into it. That had been three hours ago, and there was still no word on Emma.

He alternated between staring at the clock, staring at the heavy metal doors his wife had been rushed through, and glaring at the ugly white linoleum of the floor, while he prayed to every deity in the universe to hear his pleas.

He begged, he sobbed, he screamed inside his head, hoping against hope that someone would hear him and give him another chance to fix everything. Fix Emma. Save her.

Please, he begged again within his mind for thousandth time, I’ll do anything. Just please save her.

Killian was holding his head in his hands, wrenching his fingers through his hair, when someone finally called his name. “Killian Jones?”

Looking up, his ruddy, damp eyes came face to face with a well-built, platinum blonde haired man in green scrubs. The scrubs were spotless and for a ridiculous moment, Killian almost found humor in his own clothes being covered in Emma’s blood while the Emergency room doctor’s were spotless.

“Please, how is she?”

The doctor bit his lip for a second and motioned to a small sitting room off the main waiting area. “Let’s talk in here, shall we?”

Killian followed the doctor without a complaint. “How is Emma?”

The door slid shut behind the pair and the doctor turned to face Killian. “Mr. Jones, my name is Dr. Victor Whale and I’m the trauma surgeon who handled your wife’s case.”

Killian nodded his understanding; his eyes begging the doctor to skip the spiel and get to what mattered.

Realizing there was no point in delaying the inevitable, Dr. Whale simply gave him the facts. “Your wife experienced severe trauma from her accident. The car shattered both her kneecaps and fractured her pelvis, there was significant internal bleeding, and she sustained a severe laceration to the head.”

Whale hesitated to continue as Killian’s face looked more devastated with every injury, but he knew it would only be worse the longer the doctor drew out the truth. The surgeon sighed deeply before finishing what he had to say. “Mr. Jones, your wife’s injuries were too severe for her body. She fought as hard as she could, but it was simply too much for her heart to endure. I’m so sorry, she…she didn’t make it.”

Dr. Whale’s words reverberated through Killian like a lightning bolt. As devastating as it had been to watch her walk out their flat door, as gut-wrenching as it had been to watch her get hit by a car, nothing could have prepared him for the unimaginable pain of her death. As he looked around this ordinary sitting room with its dull, beige walls, sparse furniture, and devoid of any sound aside from the echoes outside the door, it occurred to Killian he couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate place to be told the woman he loved more than life itself was dead. The contrasting view of this hideous room—reeking of death and melancholia—next to that of his radiant, incredible Emma was staggering.

In that moment, anything that had been left of Killian’s heart turned cold and shattered into a million pieces within his chest.

He felt nothing. He wanted to deny it, all of it. His wife? Dead? It wasn’t possible. How could it be? Emma, the light of his life, the best person he knew, his true love, dead because of some ridiculous fluke car accident on her favorite day of the year.

It was like some sort of absurd, disgusting, cosmic joke the universe decided to play.

Killian put his head in hands and felt his legs give out beneath him. The hard linoleum would bruise his knees tomorrow and he welcomed the pain of it inside him. Pain, he truly believed in that moment, was quickly becoming an old friend.

He felt the grief already encircling his soul like dark tendrils of malice and before he knew it, an agonized sound wrenched itself from between his lips. He wailed from the anger, the devastation, and the insanity of Emma’s absence from the world.

 Killian knew without a doubt he deserved every single second of the madness his life was spiraling into.

After remaining collapsed on the floor against one of those four horrid walls for what was surely a small infinity, Killian looked up and realized the surgeon—Whale—had sunk to the floor next to him. The bleached man was both a welcome presence and a stark reminder of the horror he was still faced with.

Killian scraped his hands over his face but still couldn’t stop the tears from flowing down his cheeks. Whale sighed and his shoulders slumped with the weight of his temporary companion’s heartache. Normally, he was able to compartmentalize the weight of his patients’ and families’ grief, but this one was hitting him like a sucker punch to the gut.

“Mr. Jones,” the surgeon sighed heavily. “I know it won’t mean a damn thing coming from me, but I can tell your wife was an incredibly loved woman with a beautiful heart. I am truly, very sorry for your loss.”

Killian nodded absently, still looking away from the doctor, unable to process what he could feel was true. As much as he wanted to deny it, he knew deep in the recesses of his bones his wife was gone; if she still lived, he wouldn’t feel like his entire being had died along with her.

“But, if there is…anything I’ve learned in all my years of doing this job,” he turned to face the broken man next to him, “It’s that there is so much more to life than just this moment right now. I may be a man of science, but I can tell you loved Emma with every fiber of yourself—just as much as I’m sure she did you. Don’t forget that. Don’t lose sight of her life in the face of her death.”

Dr. Whale gave him a moment to absorb his words before lightly rising to his feet and presenting a hand to Killian to help him up. The recently widowed man noticed the silver band shining on the doctor’s left ring finger and wondered if he was even still married now that his wife was gone. Did Killian even still get to call himself someone’s husband?

Of course, you do, you bloody fool, he angrily yelled at himself while taking the other man’s hand to get up off the floor. What kind of idiotic question is that anyway?

The doctor left the room, directing Killian with a wave of that same hand to follow him down the barren hospital hallway and through a series of double doors. Before he could ask where Dr. Whale was leading him, Killian found himself standing outside a set of operating room doors. Through the small pane of glass, Killian could see a single light was shining down on Emma’s face, the ugly fluorescent bulb making her look even more like the now-hollow shell of the person she’d been only hours earlier.

“Go, Killian. Be with her, tell her you love her, and say your goodbyes—at least until you see each other again. Wherever that may be.”

With a last nod of his head and a light cuff on Killian’s shoulder, Dr. Whale took his leave. Killian stood listening to the man’s footsteps echoing down the halls far longer than he should have, dreading the last few steps of his own he’d need to take into the room in front of him.

When he’d stalled as long as he could, Killian took a deep breath and walked through the operating room’s door. What was only a few steps felt like thousands to Killian as he laid a closer eye on Emma’s form.

They’d managed to clean almost all the blood from her body, though Killian noticed her hair still shone with a grotesque, sanguine hue. Her head wound had been sewn up and her legs remained straight and flat on the table, hidden from view along with the rest of her body—save her arms and shoulders—under a white sheet. The ugly road rash on her face and the cuts on her hands remained, however, and Killian noticed there were more wounds peppered over her shoulders and collarbones.

“Still lovely as ever though, my Swan,” he softly whispered to her, reaching for an abandoned stool he found by her feet to sit near her head. Reaching for the stool almost made him chuckle when he noticed her feet poking out from beneath the shroud, her toes a glittering shade of holiday red.

He wheeled closer, finally allowing his eyes to linger over her face and lightly brushing a hand over her hair. He gently picked up her left hand, holding it to his lips and wanting to weep when he noticed the doctors had removed her wedding rings.

It wasn’t the missing rings that brought his tears. It was how cold her hand was against his cheek.

She’d always had cold hands; for as long as he’d known her, it was his job to keep them warm.

“I do not have poor circulation, Killian! For heaven’s sake, I paint every day!” A sixteen-year-old Emma rubbed the body parts in question through her hair and squealed in frustration. “Maybe it’s true what all the girls in Ms. Blanchard’s class said; maybe I really am just an ice queen on the inside.”

Killian, a year older than Emma then but—according to her—still less mature, chuckled at the absurd notion before taking her hands in his own. Smiling down at her, he gently scolded her for believing something so ridiculous. “Don’t be silly, love. There’s no way someone with as warm a heart as you could ever be made of ice. Fire, yes. Ice, no. Besides,” he paused, grinning wickedly. “You having cold hands just gives me an excuse to warm them for you. Which means I get to hold your hand as often as you need me to!”

“Fine! Then, I’m putting you in charge of warming up my hands from now until the end of time!” Emma raised her eyebrow in challenge before smiling cheekily back and winding her arms around his neck. “Killian,” she started to ask him a question but hesitated, and Killian tilted his head in curiosity. “Just this once, would you sing the song for me? Please?”

“Swan—”

“I know, I know. You have rules, you don’t sing in public, you don’t even sing in the shower. But! A little birdie told me you have a phenomenal singing voice, there is nobody around town this late, and it would be the best Christmas gift ever. Of my entire life. Please?”

The sight of his girlfriend practically begging Killian for this one thing might have made him laugh if he didn’t already know how much Christmas meant to her. That and the fact that she’d gone half her life not receiving much of anything for any holiday, least of all Christmas. He never explained to her why he hated singing in front of people, so he couldn’t exactly fault her for making the request. And considering that she selflessly never asked him for anything ever—product of being a foster child for the first 10 years of her life—perhaps he could consider giving in just this once.

Looking around the late-evening, Christmas Eve Storybrooke square and realizing they were, as she’d said, alone, he sighed deeply, scratched behind his ear, and rested his forehead against hers. Taking a moment to gather himself, he brought the song lyrics to the forefront of his mind before the soft tenor of his singing voice emerged from his throat.

Hey Jude, don't make it bad
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better

Hey Jude, don't be afraid
You were made to go out and get her
The minute you let her under your skin
Then you begin to make it better

And anytime you feel the pain
Hey Jude, refrain
Don't carry the world upon your shoulders
For well you know that it's a fool
Who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder
Na-na-na, na, na
Na-na-na, na

Hey Jude, don't let me down
You have found her, now go and get her
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better…

Killian knew it was a few choruses too early to end Emma’s favorite song, but his voice caught in his throat and he found himself unable to continue. Emma didn’t seem to mind though; she just lifted her forehead from his and smiled at him—looking happy as he’d ever seen her.

“Thank you, Killian. That was everything I could’ve wanted.”

She leaned up and gave him a tender kiss on the lips. Lovely as the moment was, however, it was quickly squashed by Killian making a loud hissing sound when Emma slid her chilled hands under the back of his jacket and beneath his sweater to warm them on his skin.

“Bloody hell, Swan! Your hands are bloody freezing! The second the stores open after Christmas, I am buying you the warmest pair of gloves I can find!”

The sound of her giggles was like magic bells in his ears while the pair of them finally turned to make their way down the street back to Emma’s house. Despite his distaste for the holidays, Killian couldn’t help but smile down at his girlfriend immersed in holiday joy. Even if he didn’t care for Christmas as much as she, he was all too glad to be going home with her tonight to celebrate.

Besides, Ingrid Swan’s fresh baked gingerbread cookies and homemade ice cream were enough reason for him to swallow his “Scroogey Self”—as Emma called it—for a few hours every December 24th and 25th.

Killian practically had to choke down the memory of one of the best holidays of his life, not to mention the thought of how he was going to tell her mother, when faced with the body of his wife resting on the table in front of him. The tears began to fall unbidden again and Killian sniffled with the effort it took not to explode from his overwhelming grief.

He allowed his forehead to fall to Emma’s hand, sniffling and sobbing, before he looked back at her again. “What were you thinking, Emma? Going after that bloody dog?”

As his throat burned with tears, Killian knew he’d never get an answer to that question. Not that he needed one. Emma was all heart; saving Pongo from potentially becoming another roadside statistic would have been the only option for her. She’d never allow something or someone to be hurt if there was any way for her to save them. That’s just who she was; a savior to those who needed her.

Killian wiped his hand over his face again, attempting to remove the tears blurring his vision. “You can’t leave me like this, love, not thinking that I…”

He shook his head again at the notion of what he’d almost done. What he’d almost allowed to happen. What he had caused. What his moment of weakness cost. The guilt was overwhelming. His regret buried him.

“I have to tell you. You have to know, Emma.”

Killian closed his eyes, willing his wife to open her own, to say something, to breathe again. But he knew she wouldn’t.

Killian kept his eyes shut and prayed, begged again, willing someone to hear him. Please, please just help me. Please, give me another chance with her.

The silence around him was deafening. No response came and when he opened his eyes, he was still alone with the body of his dead wife. Losing any last shred of hope he had within him, Killian allowed his head to fall across her arm and wept for all he had lost.

~ · ~

Killian had sat sobbing over Emma’s body for close to an hour before a kind nurse named Ruby finally found him and told him they needed to take Emma to the morgue. By that point, his tears had long since dried up, leaving his eyes raw and red.

He held tight to Emma’s hand while he still could before they finally wheeled her out of his grasp, Ruby explaining that he wouldn’t be able to follow where they were taking her. She directed him to another nurse’s station where he managed to cling to his sanity long enough to sign a dozen forms he didn’t read and accept a bag of Emma’s things he realized she would never need again.

The sight of her wedding bands and her swan pendant—the one he’d gifted her on the day of their wedding as a reminder she’d always be his Swan—tore a fresh hole through his already mangled torso.

Killian couldn’t be sure how long the walk from Boston Medical’s Emergency Room back to his building would take on a good day, but tonight it felt like it had taken an eternity. The clear plastic bag containing Emma’s things felt like it weighed a ton in his hand. He moved slow, like he was trekking through lightning sand, and Boston was the Fire Swamp.

The thought of Emma’s favorite film was shudder-inducing. He wanted to smash  their copy of The Princess Bride the second he walked through his front door so he’d never have to see it again.

Before Killian knew it, he was standing in front of his apartment building, keys in his hand uncertain how they got there. Inserting the key in the lock, his lingering agony was momentarily quieted in place of confusion.

The bloody piece of metal wouldn’t turn.

He took it out, checking it was the right key, before attempting and failing to unlock the door again. Letting out a frustrated sigh, he rested his head against the cold glass of the door for a moment.

Turning to the buzzer panel, he tried ringing the bell for the building superintendent—hoping the man would be lucid enough to hear the call so early in the morning. No response came, so he just decided to ring every buzzer, his frustration and misery over the entire evening overwhelming him again, coupled with an enormous desire to crawl into his and Emma’s bed and never see another Christmas as long as he lived.

When Killian stood for minutes and still received no response, he turned back to face the lock again, considering his options. He seriously considered just putting his fist through the glass—the thought of a different pain to quell the anguish inside him was highly appealing—when  he noticed a glowing reflection in the window. Turning around, he saw a neon sign in the window of a shop across the street he’d never noticed before advertising “Locksmith”.

Beneath that sign was another that said, “Open”.

Not giving any consideration to the oddness of a business being open at 4:30 in the morning on Christmas Day, Killian ambled across the street and made his way up the salt covered steps of the business. The comically giant key over the door glittered in the light of the twinkle lights wrapped around a small Christmas tree near the entrance.

He approached the door with caution, wiped away a bit of frost covering the window, and noticed a small lamp lit indicating there was in fact someone inside. Opening the door let in both Killian and the harsh winter wind that had picked up in the hours he’d spent grieving at the hospital. “Hello?”

“Hey, you want to shut that door, pal? It’s cold,” A voice called from a room beyond the primary shop floor. A beaded curtain blew lightly from the wind in the open door.

Killian quickly moved to shut the heavy glass door behind him and apologized to whoever had shouted out to him. Looking around, the shop was only minimally lit at this time of morning but was considerably warmer than the air outside—compliments of a wood burning stove taking up an entire corner of the small space. Soft grey paint dressed the walls and all manner of safes, doorknobs, and padlocks took up spots on every available surface and shelf.

There was a dysfunctional organization to the store that Emma would have appreciated.

“I know it’s late,” Killian called to the voice in the other room. “But, I-I got—”

“Locked out?” The man who’d been in the other room emerged through the curtain and answered for him. “Yeah, I know.”

Killian quickly glanced over the man a few inches taller than Killian, taking in his dark wash jeans over heavy work boots and a thick, red plaid flannel. The hint of white feathers poking out from the neck of the white t-shirt beneath the flannel almost gave Killian pause, but it was forgotten once he’d laid eyes on the man’s face. Creamy, pale skin with the hint of a five o’clock shadow and a light scar on the right side of his chin, burning blue eyes lighter than Killian’s own, and a head of light blonde hair.

If Killian didn’t know any better, he’d say he could be looking at the father Emma never knew, save the eyes.  

“Um,” Killian swallowed down the lump coming back up his throat, “It’s just across the street, can you help me?”

“That’s what I’m here for.”

“Great,” Killian nodded to the man and waited for him to move out from behind the counter or pick up some tools to get going. Instead, the man just made a small, crooked smile and continued polishing the large, golden key in his hand.

“Could-could we go now?” Killian asked, trying not to allow his frustration to escape him. “I’d like to get home.”

“What’s your hurry, Killian? She’s not there anymore.”

The locksmith continued polishing his key without looking up and Killian tilted his head in confusion. “Do I know you?”

“No,” the man said woefully, staring down at the key before picking his eyes up to meet Killian’s again. “But I know you. I know everyone.”

Bloody hell, Killian thought to himself, this is what I get for going to a locksmith who’s open at 5 in the morning on Christmas Day.

“You know what, mate,” he scratched lightly behind his ear before slowly backing up towards the shop door, “I must have just used the wrong key. My apologies for bothering you.”

Killian turned away from the flannel-clad man to leave the shop when he gasped out, “Bloody hell!” Where only seconds ago the bizarre locksmith had been standing behind the counter at least a few feet from Killian, now the blonde man stood before the door blocking his path, his arms crossed in a not-quite-confrontational manner.  It was as if he had appeared out of thin air, like magic.

“I’m not your mate. Name’s David.”

Killian’s mouth fell open in shock and he whipped his head to look behind him, but the man—David—still stood impossibly before him. “How did you do that?”

“I’m not really a locksmith.”

“Well then, what the devil are you?”

“Interesting choice of words.” Killian’s question was apparently funny to David because the man let out a few deep chuckles. “I’m the answer. To your prayer?”

David paused, waiting for his comment to sink in, though Killian wasn’t apparently making the connection fast enough. David merely swept his eyes past the man before strolling around him to return behind his counter. “You wanted another chance, didn’t you, Killian? Another chance with Emma?”

The drop of his wife’s name had Killian whipping his body around to face the unusual man again, the confusion he’d been feeling quickly morphing into agonized rage. “Okay, I don’t know who the hell you are—”

“I’m David.”

“Or what you are.”

“I’m an angel.”

Killian’s eyebrows flew into his hairline and his mouth fell open again. Emma would tell him to watch it before he caught something unpleasant.. “You’re a what?”

“Oh, I know,” David chuckled while leaning over to retrieve something from under the counter. “You wanna see wings, right? Is that what’s gonna do it? Because it’s not going to happen. It’s way too ostentatious and my wife says it’s not very charming.” He had that crooked smile on his face again before he dropped his eyes to the metal file he was now using on that same gold key.

Killian tried not to let the mention of David’s wife sting as much as it did, but the wince came against his will. He nodded his head and yanked his keys out of his pocket. “Okay, you’re an angel. Sure.”

As he attempted to leave again, David waved the file through the air in a circle sending off a dusting of shimmery light and spinning Killian back to face him again.

Unable to accept that this bizarre man in front of him could possibly be what he said he was, Killian chose the route of denial. “How did you bloody do that?”

David smiled at Killian’s naïveté and answered him. “It’s way too complicated to explain right now.” The man chuckled again, as if he was in on some cosmic joke Killian had no business hearing.

Then again, if this guy, David, really was an angel like he said, perhaps it was a cosmic joke of some sort. Either way, Killian was through playing games.

“This cannot be happening…”

“So, what exactly were you thinking messing with that Milah in Seattle?” David held the key up to his work light, examining it as he asked. If Killian didn’t know better, he’d say the locksmith-angel-whatever was walking a fine line between intrigued and almost…angry?...when he questioned Killian.

“Hang on, I’ve never messed with…Wait, how the bloody hell did you know that?!” Killian stepped closer to the counter in confused anger, wishing he could figure out what exactly this man’s agenda was.

“Do I have to spell it out for you again, Jones? Angel.” He exaggerated his pronunciation of the last word, pointing to himself with the file as he did so.

“Okay, look,” Killian stomped the remaining feet to the counter and slammed his hands down on it. “It’s David, right? This is the worst night of my entire, blasted life. I don’t have time to play your games.”

“Games?”

“Yes, so why don’t you just tell me what you want?” Killian was so exhausted and confused and frustrated and angry. He didn’t want to mess with whatever this guy was attempting to do anymore, didn’t want to think about his dead wife laying in some cold morgue anymore, didn’t want to think of all the prayers he made that may actually have some chance of getting an answer.

He was too afraid to hope for such an outcome.

“Hey, if you’re going to have that attitude, you can forget it, pal.” David set the key down softly on a linen cloth and tossed the file back into his toolbox. “I’ll cancel this assignment. If you don’t want to spend more time with Emma, that’s fine, I’ll just go back home.”

Killian’s heart stuttered at David’s words, at the sight of him shrugging in resignation and turning to leave the room.

“Wait, woah, woah!” He reached out and latched onto David’s shoulder, practically leaping over the counter in his haste. “What do you mean, spend more time with Emma?” He wasn’t sure if he sounded more frustrated or hopeful. Probably a mix of both.

“Listening now, huh?” David shook his head and returned to his task with that same key. “Such a tragedy. A woman with as much light within her as Emma to die with a broken heart. She thought you betrayed her—”

“I didn’t! I love her!” Killian couldn’t help but interrupt David’s comment, to deny something so untrue. “I would never—”

“It’s all been taken into account,” David said, holding up his hand in a halting motion and looking at him with a serious expression, “which is why, you’ve won the jackpot, my friend.”

Killian just looked at David, holding his breath, terrified to hope but unable to do anything else.

“I’m here to bestow a gift. A very rare gift, Killian.”

Killian shook his head, his eyes pleading for understanding. “I don’t follow.”

David’s voice seemed to resonate deep within Killian’s soul, “When you wake up tomorrow, you’ll have the past three days to live all over again. Emma will be alive, with no memory of the original three days. You, however, will remember everything.”

The angel paused for a moment, allowing what he was saying to sink into the grieving widow’s mind, before continuing.

“Are you hearing me? Because starting tomorrow, you can live those days any way you like. But just remember, you only get this one shot. You have to prove to her, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you love her. Unfortunately, when Christmas Eve rolls around,” David sucked in a short breath, “she will still meet her fate.”

Killian had been listening enraptured up to this point, but he couldn’t help the brief gasp of denial at this. “But—”

“The same accident is going to happen at the same time.”

“No!”

“11:58 exactly.”

“Why?!”

“It’s her destiny, Killian. It’s beyond your control.”

“Well, I won’t let it happen. I won’t let her go.” Killian smacked his hands to the counter again and shook his head fiercely.

“You have to. If you try to change destiny, those three days will be gone. They’ll never have happened.” David set down the key, resting his hands on the counter and his eyes piercing deep through Killian again, willing him to listen to what he was trying to say. “Don’t focus on her dying, Killian. Focus on her living.”

The newly widowed man remained at the counter, stunned by the conversation he’d had with the angel and with the knowledge he’d imparted on him. He couldn’t help but think back to what Dr. Whale had said earlier in the evening, to concentrate on Emma’s life in the face of her death.

Realizing David was returning through the curtain to whatever the room beyond was, Killian tried to stop him, “Wait, I—”

“Oh, I almost forgot!” David started patting his hands over his shirt and pants pockets, searching for something. A small “A ha” and he pulled what he was looking for from the back pocket of his jeans. Holding it up to the light, Killian realized it was that same golden key he’d been working on through their whole conversation—the one he’d set down on the counter only moments earlier.

David smiled again and tossed the key over the counter to Killian—who caught it quickly in his hand. Looking down at the key, he noticed it was a burnished gold, reminding him of Emma’s hair, with a handle fashioned into the shape of a large buttercup and  a fleur de lis running down the middle.

Killian heard a small crackle, like a charge of lightning through the air, and when he looked back up, he was no longer standing in David’s “locksmith” shop. Instead, he was across the street in front of his building door, key still in hand and a look of genuine disorientation coloring his features. He turned back to look at the shop across the street, only to find it dark and empty of the neon signs that had gleamed like a beacon a short while earlier—with no indication it had been open for any kind of business in some time.

He took one last look at the oversized key in his hand before taking a deep breath and inserting it into his door lock. To his surprise, the key spun easily, and the door opened for him immediately. Passing through first the outer then inner door, Killian faced the steps leading to his flat like a man facing a guillotine. Knowing when he walked through that door his wife wouldn’t be there to greet him felt like a steady thrum of pain throughout his already decimated metaphorical body.  

Despite the magical possibility of her return in the morning, Killian still hated having to make this walk alone.

The door to his flat swung open just as easily as the building door had, and Killian slowly forced himself across the threshold into his entryway. Dropping his keys—including the one gifted to him by David—on the side table by the door, he couldn’t help but hate the silence that permeated every inch of his apartment.

Making his way across the living room floor, Killian took in the few decorations Emma had managed to put up before her anger and betrayal had prevented her from continuing. The ornaments lay out on the coffee table by the tree which was strung with a simple strand of white lights. Emma’s latest stack of library books lay waiting to be read on the end table by her side of the couch, and her favorite afghan was wrinkled carelessly on the floor—dropped in her haste to escape him hours earlier.

The room felt not only empty, but angry at him, as though he had no right to be there when Emma couldn’t be. The silence around him—despite the city noises beyond—was both suffocating and deafening. Killian walked over to the Christmas tree, gently pressing on the floor button connected to the lights to extinguish them for the night. Or what was left of it. Sweeping one last look over the empty apartment, Killian retreated to his bedroom to finally find sleep after the worst day of his entire existence.

After stripping himself of his clothes covered in Emma’s blood, which he planned to burn along with that wretched DVD as soon as he found a safe place to do so, Killian took the hottest shower he could stand without harming himself. He kept his eyes trained ahead on the shower’s white subway tile, unable to look as the water turned pink and disappeared down the drain.

Moments later, he toweled off as quickly as he could and left the en suite. Grabbing the first pair of pajama bottoms from his drawer, he threw them on before sliding beneath the safety of his sheets. The smell of Emma’s coconut shampoo and her magnolia perfume permeated every inch of the blankets.

It was enough to make him sick.

Before the grief swallowed him whole again and the distraught sobs wrenched themselves from his throat, he mustered enough energy to whisper one thing to her, hoping against hope she could hear him. That he would wake up tomorrow and David’s gift would be  real. That this day would all just have been a vicious, earth-shattering nightmare.

“I love you, Emma.”