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That Most Common of Afflictions

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Emma winced as she looked over the envelope. She’d been avoiding it since she’d seen it among the bills and pointless ads a couple days after Christmas. The school logo conveniently printed across it, warning her away from opening it.

But with Henry going back to school after the weekend, she couldn’t put it off any longer. It had been looming in the corner of her vision from the innocuous corner of the bar where she’d tossed it after deciding not to open it. But the time had now come. 

After a few glasses of wine and a couple pieces of chocolate to fortify herself for what the letter might contain, she finally opened it. She expected to find an politely worded passive aggressive note reminding her that her parent volunteer hours had not been filled yet or that the administration was now requiring that the tissues they used had to be a certain brand, like they required for his uniform and socks and shoes and binders and paper. It was getting ridiculous. 

But when she finally got the page unfolded she was very much surprised.

 

To All Parents,

I do hope that you had a lovely holiday season. Alas, vacation cannot last forever and soon a new semester must commence. 

 

Emma blinked as she took in the words typed across the page. It was like she was reading some weird Pride and Prejudice knock off. She took a large sip of wine before she continued.

 

And thus, my point for writing. The administration has decided to institute a new practice. Because your student has completed half of their academic year, their strengths and points of focused study-

 

Emma snorted into her glass. How diplomatic.

 

- have become apparent. So the administration has suggested that as this new term begins, we the teachers meet individually with the parent(s) or guardian(s) of our students to discuss their progress in their studies and what areas that they might assist their studies going forward. Therefore I’ve taken the liberty of setting a schedule to meet with each of you individually. If the date and time I’ve penciled you in is not convenient for you, please contact me and I’ll reschedule with you.

Therefore, I eagerly await meeting with you to discuss your amazing student. I look forward to meeting with you on Friday, January 31, at 7:00 pm. 

Sincerely and with great anticipation,

Killian Jones

 

Emma leaned back. Emma only knew of Mr. Jones from Henry's barely coherent ramblings when he gave his daily report of all the great happenings that could rock the world of a ten year old. But from what he told her, Mr. Jones was something of a mix between Jack Sparrow and Mr. Darcy. 

With great anticipation, indeed.

 

~

 

Emma cursed under her breath as she hurried down the hallway, doing her best to ignore the mild PTSD that the smell of carpet cleaner and exhausted wall was triggering. No matter how old she was, she could not forget that scent. To stave off the memories, she put the odor out of her mind as she reviewed her appearance.

Her hair was half up, she was sure her eyeliner was smeared, and she was still wearing half of Leroy’s beer, an accessory she’d acquired when she’d had to remove him bodily from the Rabbit Hole. Again.

And she was late to her quasi-parent teacher conference. 

She rapidly rounded a corner and nearly collided headlong with Mary Margaret. 

Henry’s old teacher was a woman who seemed to have made it her life’s mission to ensure that the prickly loner with a vibrant son was well entrenched into Storybrooke society. Mary Margaret was actually the reason that she was Sheriff. She's introduced Emma to her husband David, who’d been sheriff himself at that time, and he’d given her a job as a deputy. And when David had decided to step down to help care for Mary Margaret and their newborn son, he promoted her to sheriff and not a single person in town objected except Leroy. But Emma figured it was because she was a bit more liberal in her use of handcuffs than David had been.

“Emma!” she exclaimed, “What are you doing here? Did Henry forget something? You could have just asked me to pick it up for you!”

“Mary Margeret, I’d love to chat, but I’m supposed to be in the weird not parent-teacher conference and I’m already late, so…”

“Oh! You’re Killian’s last meeting? That’s perfect, I actually needed to grab some materials from his classroom. I’ll walk with you.”

And just like that, Mary Margaret looped her arm through Emma’s and leisurely guided her down the hall to the classroom at the very end. Emma hesitated a moment, but Mary Margaret continued forward without missing a step and knocked on the wood frame of the doorway. 

A muffled “Aye?” reached them. 

“Killian?” Mary Margaret stepped through the doorway, dragging Emma along behind her with a well constructed glare when she noticed Emma hanging back. Emma stepped into the classroom and had to admit that she was impressed by the order of the classroom. Not bad for teaching ten year olds. 

“Just a mo’, love!” Emma’s eyes flicked over to the source of the voice and had to momentarily remind herself that drooling would be unprofessional, despite the almost absurd cut of his slacks over his ass as he rummaged for something in the storage closet. 

That was certainly not something she was anticipating. 

She’d psyched herself up to have to deal with a leering old man trying to get in good with the single mom because he’s watched one too many pornos. The broad back and muscled shoulders that straightened up from the closet as those delightful slacks slid over his backside was not the profile that she was prepared to deal with. Especially when he reached out to the side to close the closet, taking a step back to allow the door to swing shut, and Emma caught sight of his rolled up white dress shirt sleeves.

“Sorry love, I was just getting some material set up for tomorrow. Bloody inconsiderate, not calling ahead to let-”

She couldn’t help it. She cleared her throat, suddenly having a very hard time swallowing as she listened to the rough timbre of his brogue. Maybe she was the one who had watched one too many pornos. At her sound though, he whipped around. 

Oh dear god. 

Waaaaaay too many pornos.

His tie was pulled loose, black hair in disarray, ice blue eyes widened in surprise, stubble-cover jaw slack as he registered that he was not alone with his co-worker. A moment later a violent blush overtook his face as his back snapped straight, practically jumping to attention as he hastily shoved the knot of his tie up toward his throat. 

“Oh! Uh-” he snapped his mouth shut, clearing his own throat, “Ah-” His face grew even redder and his hand slid from the knot of his tie up to rub behind his ear.

Emma was trying to cope with the sudden flare of indignation at his comment and the sudden flare of…. not indignation. She was trying very hard not to put a name to the long lost but not forgotten sensation and so was in no state to break the increasingly awkward silence.

Mary Margaret, in a rare moment, seemed to read the room quickly and jumped in to fill the thickening silence.

 “Killian, let me introduce to you one of my closest friends, Emma Swan. Emma,” Mary Margaret turned to look at her, and Emma caught a concerning glimmer in her eye, “this is Mr. Jones, Henry’s teacher.”

The formal introduction seemed to give him the direction he needed, and he seemed to compose himself enough to get control of his face and an easy smile slid across his lips. 

“Ms. Swan, the pleasure is all mine.” He strode towards them from the back of the classroom, offering her his hand. 

His movement forward was enough to jar Emma from her stupor.  She reached out her own hand, forcing her face into a not-quite-scowl, raising an eyebrow at him, “Mr. Jones. It’s… nice to meet you as well.”

His face reddened slightly again, but he kept his composure as he turned to Mary Margaret, “I’ve your materials set out in the back.”

Mary Margaret brightened, “Oh! Wonderful! Thank you Killian.” 

He waved away her thanks, “Think nothing of it, love.” As Mary Margaret stepped around him towards the back, he gestured, “Ms. Swan, if you’d like to sit down?”

Emma turned to follow his gesture and saw a chair set in front of the teacher’s desk. Apparently school furniture design had not changed all that much in the years that had passed since she’d been in school. She refused to look back at him as she made her way towards it, a mumbled “thank you” all she offered as she stepped past him. She ignored the dark musky scent of something that was uniquely manish and the smell of his deodorant that assaulted her as she did. 

She felt him follow a step behind her, but ignored him in favor of settling herself in the stiff, very uncomfortable chair as Mr. Jones seated himself behind the desk. 

Henry’s teacher. Henry’s teacher. Henry’s teacher.

She repeated the mantra in her head as she met made eye contact, forcing herself into apathy, despite the veritable Adonis that was settling himself in front of her. Soon he stilled and abruptly the eye contact they had suddenly acquired a tense charge. She didn’t think she’d ever physically experience the phenomenon of sexual tension , but here she was looking at the god sitting across the desk from her, and she felt the weight of the air around them pressing down on her skin. 

But then a muffled thud sounded from the back of the classroom and she was jarred into action.

“So, Henry?”

The name of her son worked an abrupt change over his behavior. His posture relaxed and a soft smile settled over his features as he leaned back slightly. 

“Aye. Your son is a remarkable young man Ms. Swan, I must say. He’s been a pleasure to have in my class since day one.”

She felt herself swell with pride at his praise, “He really is something isn’t he?”

Mr. Jones gave her a soft smile, “Aye he is. He’s smart, quick to pick up the nuances of the lessons, and always a bright influence on his peers.” 

Emma nodded, not at all surprised by the praise that Henry was receiving. He was always a favorite with his teachers, his earnest love of learning as blatant as his sincere smile. So she was surprised when Mr. Jones’ face turned stern. 

“However, he’s run into some issues as of late.” 

Emma was immediately on alert. “What do you mean?” she asked sharply. 

He seemed to anticipate the concern that his comment would cause, because he continued mildly, “It’s nothing nefarious. But his grades have been slipping.”

Emma’s brow’s furrowed, “How’s that possible? I look over his homework every night to make sure he’s done it all. And I know he has an almost perfect attendance record. Is there something wrong? Is he being bull-”

“Nothing is the matter!” He hurried, his face turning red once again, “I’m sorry I should have led with that. No, everything is fine.”

“Then what, exactly, is the problem?”

A small smile slid across Mr. Jones’s face, “Your boy is simply suffering that most common of afflictions.” Emma raised a brow, and his smile widened, his own brow raising in response. “I don’t know if you are aware Ms. Swan, but we’ve had a new student join our class this semester, a charming young lass by the name of Violet. And your son seems to have taken quite a shine to her.”

It took a moment for her to process before, “Wait……. are you saying Henry is failing because he has a crush?

Mr. Jones winced, “He’s not failing in any sense, he just gets a bit… distracted. But it is causing a bit of a drop in his grades, and I, and you as well, know that he can do better than the work he’s currently been turning in.”

Emma sat back, biting at her lip, nearly missing the quick flick of Mr. Jones’s eyes down to her lips before glancing down at the paperwork she was only just now noticing was littered across his desk. Although, littered probably wasn’t the right word. It was evident that the small stacks of paper were each in their correct place, not even a stray pen marring the order of his desk.

He grabbed the piece of paper from the top of the stack to his left, “I’m aware that they’ve had very few assignments turned in at this point in the semester, so the report card that the school wanted me to hand out seemed irrelevant, so rather than waste any more trees, I’ve set up a sort of comparative report.” 

He offered the page to her, and as she shifted forward to grab it, she was abruptly brought back onto the range of whatever ... manly musk that surrounded him. It was mouthwatering. Just like the rest of him. 

Henry’s teacher. Henry’s teacher. Henry’s teacher.

She leaned back and stared hard at the page, trying to reign herself in. But as her eyes focused on the page, she took in the short and neat spreadsheet, with brief notes, summarizing Henry's performance last semester in each of his classes at that same point in the year that they were in now. Her gaze traced the little graph he’d provided at the bottom, and against her will, she found herself very impressed with the amount of effort he’d clearly put in to making these meetings as helpful as possible.

“As you can see, Henry’s level is not nearly the same as it was last semester. And while he is still at a much higher level than most of his peers, I know that this is not the best that he can do.”

Emma wanted to snap at him, but as she looked over the last month of Henry's progress, she knew that he was right. So instead she sighed, “Well, what should I do about it?”

Mr. Jones’s smile slid off his face and he looked at her steadily, “I’m not quite sure. This situation is addressed differently, depending on the person. As his mother, I thought it best to bring it to your attention, as you would know best how to speak to him about it.”

Emma dropped her head, pinching the bridge of her nose as she tried to accept the reality that was her son’s grade school teacher telling her that she needed to speak to her son about romances and crushes. She was probably the least qualified person Henry knew to be discussing the appropriate ways to handle infatuations. His existence was proof of that.

She raised her head, meeting his eye again, “Alright, thank you for bringing it to my attention.” She tried to keep the exhaustion out of her voice, but by the way his brows furrowed and the concerned look that settled over his face, she was obviously less than successful. 

“You know,” Mary Margaret’s voice made Emma jump slightly. She’d forgotten that the other woman was there. “There is another way of addressing the situation. 

Emma twisted in her seat to glare at her friend over her shoulder. Mary Margaret was apparently too far gone though, because she kept going despite the murderous look Emma was leveling at her. 

“Is there?” Mr. Jones’s voice was completely flat, and she got the impression he was just about as glad for the unsolicited input. 

Mary Margaret nodded, moving towards the front of the room, hands full of what looked like crafting materials. “Yeah! See the best way to address a problem, at least for me, is to face the problem head on. And maybe Henry should do the same. Address his crush head on, and that might be just the thing!”

Emma managed to keep herself from rolling her eyes, but just barely. Sometimes she still wondered how she and Mary Margaret were still friends. 

She opened her mouth to tell her friend that while her advice was appreciated, could she not interrupt private parent teacher conferences? But before she could get the words out of her mouth, Mr. Jones spoke from behind her.

“You know-” he paused as she whipped her head around, taking in his posture, leaning back in his chair, fingers playing ever so enticingly with his stubble. “You may have a point there, love.” 

“You cannot be serious.” 

Mr. Jones raised an eyebrow at her as he sat forward, setting his elbows on the desk and resting his chin on his crossed hands. “Aye, I am. I think that addressing the issue in a forthright manner may be the best way to face the situation for the lad.”

“I’m sorry,” she snapped, suddenly wildly frustrated with the situation. “Were you not literally just telling me that as his mother I would know best?”

He dipped his head in acknowledgement, “Aye, and I stand by that. However, as I was once a wee lad with a crush meself, I do think that I might have a bit of... shall we say, authority on the issue. And I recall that the issue was often alleviated after talking to the lass for a bit.”

Emma scoffed and crossed her arms, “Alright, what do you suggest oh wise one?”

His frown deepened and for a long moment, his eyes just flickered over her face, like he was looking for something. Then Mary Margaret again jumped in, “Oh I know! Valentine's Day is just around the corner! Wouldn’t it be romantic if he did some big gesture to sweep her off her feet?”

While she had to suppress a shiver of absolute disgust, Emma didn’t bother turning around or biting her tongue this time. “Mary Maragert, they are literally ten years old. The only thing that they should be sweeping is the dirt that they track into the house while playing in the mud looking for worms.”

Mr. Jones’ lips ticked up, but he continued on, “I do have several activities planned for that week in class. It might not be a bad time to arrange it so they have some time together.”

“Activities?” Her voice was almost a growl, but he seemed unfazed. 

“Aye, that week happens to correspond with the week that we are discussing the Golden Age of the Caribbean Pirates in the late 17th century. Perhaps we could set up some games and other little projects that incorporated the Valentine's Day theme into the curriculum. It would be a prime opportunity for -”

But Emma had had enough. She shot out of her chair, abruptly silencing Mr. Jones, and barely managed to reign in her frustration. “Thank you for your input on Henry’s education. I will speak to him in regards to his distraction in class. It will be taken care of.” She turned to march out, but as always, her mouth just had one more thing to say. She jerked back around to him, still sitting shell-shocked in his seat. “And seriously, forcing a holiday down kids’ throats that only promotes capitalism and sex? Really?”

And without giving him an opportunity to respond, she marched out the classroom door, fuming.

 

~

 

Emma waited until Sunday afternoon to talk to Henry about it. She hadn’t wanted to say anything when she’d gotten back from the meeting, still too infuriated to talk to Henry about something that delicate, continually exacerbated by Mary Maragret trying to call her every half hour. Then Saturday had dawned and he’d wanted to go to the new museum exhibit and she just couldn’t bring herself to mar his Saturday with a serious conversation. She also didn’t want to make herself think about his teacher any more than was strictly necessary. 

So here she found herself, sitting across from Henry at one of the benches in the park, ice cream in hand as a pre-bribe, not that he knew that yet. 

She sucked in a breath, bracing herself for what she was sure was going to be one of many awkward conversations about feelings as Henry grew up and faced the trials and tribulations of hormones.  

“Henry?”

He hummed in response, not breaking eye contact with a rather delicious looking chocolate chunk he was currently trying to mine from his ice cream. 

“I wanted to talk to you about something.” And just like that, apparently the chocolate chunk did not seem nearly as appealing to him as it had been the moment before, because Henry raised his head and regarded her with what she could only describe as a suspicious look.

“Okaaaaaay.”

She licked her lips, “So you know that on Friday, I had the parent teacher conference.. thing, right?”

He nodded, an almost victorious expression on his face as he turned his attention back to his ice cream. 

“It’s alright. I don’t mind if you were going to start dating Mr. Jones. I always thought you two would be perfect together. He’s so cool and -” 

“What?” her voice went up so many octaves it was a wonder anything but dogs could hear it. She felt a violent flush burning up her face, and when Henry looked up and saw that she was not at all going to say anything like that, he turned bright red too. 

For a moment, they stared at each other, waiting for the other person to explain what had just happened. But the seconds lengthened, Emma realized that she was the adult there and as such, had to act like one.  

She cleared her throat and tried again, this time with Henry’s complete attention. 

“As I was saying, I went to the conference thing, and while I was there Mr. Jones mentioned that your grades haven’t been as good as they usually are.” She paused, waiting to see if he would jump to his own defense, but the blush in his cheeks got darker, and he reached up to scratch behind his ear. That was not a move she had ever seen him do before. 

So she plowed on. In for a penny, in for pound and all. 

“And he's- .. well it came across like-...... Henry, do you have a crush on the new girl?” She’d always been so tactful. 

Henry looked down to mush the chocolate chunk around in the now melting ice cream, and mumbled something she didn’t catch. But he didn’t say anything else and she sighed. 

“Henry, look, I know it's not really something that you can control, but you know that you can’t let crushes get in the way of what's important. “

His head snapped up. “Well I think it’s important.” There was something in his tone that she didn’t like.

“This crush is only going to last a little while, and then it’ll pass, but your school work and your grades? Those stay with you for the rest of your life.”

“So you think love is something that only lasts a little while?”

She blinked. Where had that come from?

“Henry, what you are feeling isn’t love. You’re too young-”

“Of course you’d say that.”

She jerked back, “What does that mean?”

“You wouldn’t know love if someone shoved it in your face! Maybe that’s why my dad was with you. Because he didn’t have to worry about you loving him!”

“Henry!” she gasped. But was up and out of his seat, running through the park. Emma knew she should go after him, but she felt numb. She had no idea how the conversation had gone so far off the rails, but now all she could process were her son’s scathing words. And how true she knew them to be. 

She wasn’t sure how long she sat there, shell-shocked by Henry's outburst. But she was jarred back to functioning reality when her phone rang.

“Swan.”

“We need you, Sheriff.”

She cast one more look across the park. She had lost sight of him, but the entire town knew who he was. And maybe they both needed a bit of space. 

“Yeah, what’s up?”

 

~

 

Emma looked at the clock in the kitchen again. Another minute. Her grip on the marble countertop tightened further. 

Henry still hadn’t come home and it was well past sunset, the night falling quickly, and in February in Maine, so would the temperature. She forced herself to wait another minute more before she spun around, grabbing her keys and phone as she marched towards the door. 

She was reaching for the knob when her phone started vibrating in her hand. She glanced down and saw a number that she didn’t recognize, and she almost didn’t answer it, but if it was one of the townsfolk calling her about Henry and she quickly brought it to her ear.

“Swan.”

“Ms. Swan, this is Killian Jones.” 

She was so shocked by the absolute last voice she ever expected to hear at the other end of her phone line that she didn’t come up with an adequate response before he continued. 

“Henry’s with me.” The tension abruptly left her body.

“Thank god.” 

“Aye,” his voice sounded softer now. “I ran into the lad down at the docks earlier. He was very distressed so I did my best to calm him down. He’s resting now.” 

She sucked in a shaky breath, “Thank you. I- Just thank you.”

“Not a problem in the slightest love.” It almost sounded like he was smiling. Then something occurred to her.

“Not that I’m not super grateful but how-”

“I contacted Mary Margaret, who provided me your number. I thought it best to contact you myself, rather than risk playing a game of telephone with your lad’s whereabouts.”

It made sense. “Then thank you again. I’ll come get him right now. Where are you?” 

“I brought him to my boat. I keep it docked in the marina during the winter, and I thought that something novel might help to …. settle his mind.”

“Right, ok. I’ll be right there.”

“Aye love, I’ll be expecting you. Be careful, the roads are a bit dodgy at the moment. The ship’s in the farthest slip on the left at the end of pier eight.”

“Got it. Thanks.”

“You are more than welcome.”

She quickly disconnected the line, refusing to even think about the sincerity in his tone. She needed to get to Henry. 

 

~

 

She pulled into the marina parking lot and drove to the far end, where she knew the gate access to the dock was. As she pulled up, she noticed a figure leaning against the railing, and a moment later, she realized it was Mr. Jones.

She hopped out of the bug and hurried over to him, her worry for Henry making her nearly frantic. But she slipped and would have fallen, except he somehow managed to grab her upper arms, keeping her upright and helping her steady herself. Which she was having a hard time doing because she was close enough to count his freckles and examine the varying hues of blue in his eyes. Not that she was actually doing that. Just that she was close enough that she could. 

For a moment, there was a moment of stillness, as the heat from his hands seeped through her jacket. His expression was unreadable.

The next moment though, he blinked and released her, “Alright there?” She nodded, refocusing on the situation, her worry for Henry slamming back into her. “Then I’ll take you to the lad.” He took a moment to look over her face, before he quietly added on, “Don’t worry. The lad’s perfectly fine.”

Something about the mellow confidence in his voice eased her worry somewhat, and she was able to suck in a deep breath, before met his eye again and nodded.

He watched her for a moment longer before he turned and led her to the gate to the marina, opening it for her and stepping back to let her through, allowing it to swing gently shut behind her, then once again taking the lead down the pier. Emma looked out at the blackness of the open sea, unable to tell where sky met sea, leaving an unending canvas of darkness that ended at the pylons at the end of the pier, where the soft light of the parking lot managed to brush the lapping waves.

He led her to the end of the pier to the last slip at the dock, slip fifteen, and stopped in front of a smallish sized sailboat. He quickly stepped across the small gap and onto the boat, before turning and offering her his hand, “Watch your step love, it’s a little unsettling, stepping into a boat, if you aren’t used to it.” 

She reached out and grabbed his hand, feeling the strength in his rough calloused palms. His skin was warm and his grip sure as she quickly stepped off the pier and into the boat, catching sight of small black letters on the hull in the gap between the wood boards and the gunwale.

The Jolly Roger

Once she had stepped down onto the deck, she pulled her hand back quickly. She tried to cover the movement though, asking with a small laugh, “The Jolly Roger, huh?”

He let out a huff of laughter, reaching up to scratch behind his ear, “Aye, I was an avid fan of Peter Pan in my youth, so it seemed only appropriate.” He gave her a lopsided smile, and her breath caught. His eyes were almost clear in the faint light and the cold had brought out a blush high on his cheeks, but left the rest of his skin pale, accentuating the darkness of his hair and beard. 

She couldn’t help the small smile she returned, “Yeah I guess that makes sense.”

His eyes softened for a moment, before he took in a breath, “Now lets fetch the stowaway, aye?”

She nodded, stepping back to allow him to move towards the fore of the ship, following him around the cabin to the small flight of steps that led into the interior. He began to make his way down, when he paused, “The lad’s probably sleeping. I can bring him up if you like. So that you don’t need to wake him.”

She considered for a moment, weighing the result of Henry waking up at home without knowing how he got there and waking him now and having him cause even more of a scene. 

“Yeah, if you could that'd be great.”

He gave her a quick nod before he disappeared below deck. Emma looked around, trying to distract herself from the cold, taking in the pristine deck and neatly coiled and tied off ropes. The wind gusted hard, and she sucked in a deep breath of the salty air, shivering slightly as the cold seeped into her. 

But before the chill could settle into her bones, she heard heavy footfalls coming back up the steps and a moment later, Mr. Jones appeared, cradling Henry in his arms, his head lolling on the man’s shoulder and his body completely relaxed in sleep. 

Once he was back on deck, she stepped forward to brush the hair from Henry's face, looking down at him. Her heart squeezed at the sight of his small form. She hoped that she could make it up to him, whatever she’d said that had upset him. 

She looked up at Mr. Jones, surprised to see him looking not at her, but down at Henry as well. A soft look had settled over his features, the kind of calmness that Emma often felt when Henry fell asleep on her. The peace that came with being trusted completely. 

She swallowed tightly, stepping back, “Thanks. Let’s get him back to the car.”

She then quickly turned and led the the way back around the cabin to the dock, quickly stepping up onto the wood, before turning to watch as Mr. Jones also stepped up. His brow was furrowed as he carefully stepped up onto the dock as well.

The concern that he was showing for Henry's welfare was doing something to her insides, and she wasn’t quite sure what to do with that. 

They made way down the pier in silence, Emma not really sure how to break it, and Mr. Jones appearing content to just allow it to be. It was broken briefly when she hurried ahead to pull open the gate to the parking lot and he gave a quiet, “Thanks love.” 

When they finally made it to the bug, Emma’s nerves were on edge, his steady presence and the smell of his skin, which she could detect even over the salty air of the sea, both making her keenly aware of him. And then there was the devotion with which he carried her son. 

After she’d opened the bug and dropped the seat down, she turned back to take them in. She knew that Henry was well liked by the townsfolk, but care and gentleness in Mr. Jones’s hold was beyond just being liked.

It was like how a father would carry his son. 

The thought was abrupt and was like dousing her with cold water, breaking the odd sort of bubble that had enveloped them since she’d arrived. And her mouth acted before she could think it through. 

“Well you can put him in the car now.” She snapped. His head jerked back in surprise at her abrupt change in mood, but she could not rein herself in. She actually felt her hands beginning to shake as the thought sank its roots deeper and deeper into her psyche, dredging up memories that she was not prepared to deal with. Henry’s accusations from earlier rang in her ears, along with his comment about how he thought that she and his teacher would be good together. 

“Aye, wouldn’t want him catching cold.” He stepped forward and began to awkwardly maneuver Henry into the back seat of the bug while Emma watched, shaking with all the reasons she needed to run and make sure she never interacted with this man again. 

In the midst of positioning her son comfortably on the back seat, Mr. Jones accidentally bumped Henry's head into the siding of the car, and she sank her teeth into the opportunity, regardless of how unreasonable she knew she was being.

“Be careful! You’ve already done enough damage.”

His back went stiff as he finally finished settling Henry down. Then he slowly turned and straightened, an incredulous expression on his face.

“Excuse me?”

She scoffed, moving around him to pop the seat back up, bending over as she said, “You’ve already done enough damage. If it weren’t for you, I would never have had that conversation with Henry. You couldn’t have left well enough alone.”

She didn’t even bother looking at him before she slid into the driver’s seat. 

“Thank you, Mr. Jones,” she spat, then slammed the door, not giving him any opportunity to react. Then she jammed the key into the ignition, and it took everything in her to not peel out of the parking lot. But she managed a more reasonable pace, quickly driving away from the docks and the unsettling man that still stood there.

But just before the distance swallowed him, she couldn’t help but glance in her rear-view mirror and unwillingly noticed that there was no other car in the lot. It wasn’t until he was completely out of sight though that she realized that he’d been wearing clothes better suited for bed than the docks.

 

~

 

It took Emma a long time to fall asleep after she’d gotten home, carrying Henry to bed and doing her best to not to think about anything except how to apologize to her son the next morning. And ignoring the little niggling voice that sounded a lot like Henry telling her that her son was not the only one she should be apologizing to.

 When she did manage to fall asleep in the early hours of the morning, it was full of unsettling dreams that she couldn’t remember. She wasn’t surprised though, to find that when she’d woken, it was still dark in the room, without the faintest bit of light creeping in through the windows. 

But she was surprised to find a warm body curled up next to her, practically buried in her duvet and mass of excessive pillows. Henry’s hair was sticking up in all directions, a sure sign that he’d been having bad dreams. She sighed as she looked down at him, still completely off kilter from the last couple of days. But one thing she was sure of is that she wanted Henry to not be mad at her anymore. So she’d do what she had to. 

She must have bumped him, or maybe he was sleeping as lightly as she was tonight, because after a few moments of looking down at him, she went to lay back down and he began to move. She sat back up to watch as he slowly fought his way free of the bed coverings before he was sitting up as well, rubbing his eyes.

“Mom?” he asked quietly.

“Yeah kid?” Her voice was just as soft.

He shifted around and a moment later, she felt his hand slid into her own. “I’m sorry.”

His voice sounded so broken, and she couldn’t help but pull him to her, using their linked hands to settle him against her, like she used to do when he was little. 

“Oh Henry, you don’t have anything to apologize for. I should be apologizing,” she mumbled into his hair as she took deep breaths, savoring the smell that had been a comfort to her since he’d been born.She felt him shake his head.

“No you don’t. You’re right. I’ll work on focusing in class. It’s not that big a deal, it’s just….” his voice petered out.

“Just what?”

He shifted against her, pressing himself more fully into her chest so she was essentially cradling him. “It was something one of the other kids had said to me last week. And I guess it was still bothering me today when you asked.”

She pulled him tighter, “What did they say?”

He shook his head again, and she let it go. He’d tell her if she wanted to. She was content to just hold her baby boy, knowing that it was something that both of them needed. After a while, he shifted again, then asked quietly, “Why didn’t my father stay?”

Her breath caught. This was not a conversation she expected to have with Henry at this age, let alone in the dark in bed after a fight. But if that’s what it took to mend their relationship, then so be it.

“I’m still not sure,” she whispered, voice almost as soft as the breeze she could detect outside. “You know a little bit about how I grew up, but I think that for me to answer, you need the whole picture. You know I grew up in the foster system.”

He nodded. 

“What I never really told you is what it was like. Being an orphan is bad enough as it is, growing up thinking that you were so unloveable that even your parents couldn’t manage it. But on top of that, the foster care system itself is awful. Kids turn bitter and mean, and they’d do cruel things to other kids just because they could. And the people who were fostering kids were usually only doing it for a meal ticket. There were a few good ones, but for the most part, they were apathetic at best.”

“What’s apthetic mean?”

She smiled into the darkness, “It’s ap-A-thetic. And it means that they didn’t care.”

“A-puh-thet-ic,” he tried again, and she gave him a squeeze.

“Very good.” She paused a moment, trying to get herself back on track.

“Why wouldn’t they care, mom?

She sighed. It felt too early to expose her son to the darknesses of the world, but he’d asked. “I don’t think that you can understand Henry. Not because you are too young,” she added when he started to shift, like he was going to object. “No it isn’t your age. It's how you’ve grown up. Everyone around you cares. Whether it concerns them or not, everyone in this town is watching out for everyone else. And that’s how you know the world, and how the world knows you. You care so much Henry.” 

She gave him a squeeze, fighting back the slight tightness in her throat.

“But there are some people in this world who just don’t. They see something wrong, and as long as it doesn’t bother them, they walk by it.” She struggled to find an example he’d understand. “Like if they see a lost dog, rather than trying to find its owner, they just keep going about their day, never even sparing that dog another thought. It wasn’t their dog, so why should they care? So it’s those kinds of people that are often taking care of kids that aren’t theirs. And if they didn’t care about a dog that didn’t belong to them, why would they care about a kid?”

“That doesn’t sound right. Why are they allowed to be that way?” 

“Because that’s just who they are, how they grew up. You can’t force a person to care.”

He was quiet for a moment, then mumble, “That’s dumb.”

She laughed, pressing another kiss to his head. But the smile faded as she softly continued.

 “So by the time I was almost old enough to take care of myself, I was sure that I was unlovable. I-”

“I love you, Mom.”

She sucked in a breath to keep herself from crying, “And I love you. Never forget that, no matter how mad I get at you or how upset you get with me, I will always love you, ok?”

He nodded again, dropping her hand to wrap his arms around her, hugging her tightly. She gathered herself to continue.

“I thought that I would always be alone. But then I met your dad. He was older, into his twenties, and he was charming and smart, at least, I thought so at the time. And he paid attention to me.” She figured that it wasn’t too big a deal she omitted that the car she drove around in daily was stolen and that’s how she’d met Neal. Some things could wait until he was a little older.

“He always asked my advice and told jokes to make me smile, and after a while, we were… boyfriend and girlfriend. I did a lot of things with your dad that I’m not proud of, but at the time it felt like having a partner in crime.” He didn’t need to know it had been literally. “So after a little while, I thought that we must be in love, because love had to feel like that. But then he left without a word, and I never heard from him again.” She again left out the portion where she’d been arrested and sent to prison.

“So after that, I had you, and I knew that I loved you. But your dad made it so I couldn’t trust my feelings. And-... that’s it really,” she rounded out pathetically. 

She was both glad and disappointed that she couldn’t see his face in the now lightening darkness, but when he just squeezed her more tightly and snuggle that last bit closer, she figured that was answer enough. 

She was content to just hold him until he fell asleep again, feeling the anxiety that had been haunting her since yesterday slowly began to fade away.

But then Henry broke the silence, “Some of the other kids were teasing me about not having a dad. They found out that I had a crush on Violet and made fun of me, and said that if my daddy couldn’t love me, why would I think that Violet might.” Anger licked at her belly, but she forced it aside to keep the peace of the moment.

“So when you said those things yesterday, I was already thinking about it, and it was like hearing from my own mom that they were right. That I couldn’t love because how could I know what it is. And that things are more important than love, and that's why my dad left, because there were things more important than me.”

“Oh Henry, there is nothing more important than you. And it will always be that way ok?”

“Ok.”

Silence fell again, and a few minutes later she felt his body go slack as he went back into sleep. And as the new day dawned, she settled back in to join him. Just a few more hours.

 

~

 

It took most of Monday for Emma to psyche herself up to speak to Mr. Jones. She’d been way out of line the night before, and she needed to apologize. She really did feel awful, in the light of day, without the weight of her fight with Henry looming over her.

So here she was, waiting for Henry to get out of class, so she could go talk to Mr. Jones. She heard the final bell ring and a few minutes later, kids started streaming outside, Henry among them. 

He ran up to her and threw his arms around her in a hug. 

“Hi!” he shouted, obviously still hyped up on whatever it was he was doing just before school got out. Then he started bouncing on his toes, “So we got assigned group projects today and Nick invited our group over to his house and can I please go? Pleasepleasepleaseplease?”

She smiled as she shook her head ruefully, “Yeah, I suppose I’ll allow it.”

“YES!” he shouted as he dove in for another hug. And then he pulled back and raced off, a shouted “bye” as he went over to meet his group. 

Well that was just perfect. No Henry to act as a buffer to the situation. This was going to be so awkward. 

But she sucked in a breath, put on her big girl pants, and marched inside. 

She was glad that she found him still in his classroom, because she had no idea where else she’d look for him. He was seated at his desk, pen in hand and sleeves rolled up as he read, and she figured he was grading papers. She wanted to step into the classroom and approach him, but for some reason, she felt like doing that would be intruding on his space without his permission.

She took one more breath, then lightly tapped her knuckles on the wood door jamb. 

“Yes?” He didn’t even look up from the paper, “If you forgot something, you may go get it, just remember that you need to be-” he had finally raised his eyes towards the doorway and realized that it wasn’t a student. His eyes opened wide in surprise for just a moment, before his face turned cold.

“Is there something I can help you with, Ms. Swan?”

She winced. She knew that he was not going to be pleased to see her, but experiencing it first-hand was something else.

“May I come in? I uh.. Wanted to talk to you.”

He sat back and crossed his arms, his face still cold. “Well given how well I know your last talk went, I think it better you didn’t.”

Ouch. 

She dipped her head in acknowledgement, watching her shoes as she toed at the carpet “Ok, I guess I can say it from here as well as there. Uh,” she forced herself to meet his eye. One eyebrow raised while he waited for her to speak.

“Uh, I uh, I wanted to apologize for my behavior last night, and the things I said.” He blinked, but his face remained impassive. 

“I was way out of line. There’s no excuse for what I said to you.”

“What, no ‘being emotional over Henry defense’?” he scoffed.

She grit her teeth. He was not making this easy. 

“I was upset about Henry,” she affirmed, and a scornfully satisfied look settled on his face. She forced herself to continue, rather than march over and punch him in his smug mouth. “But being emotional is not an excuse to behave rude or mean. Which I was both.”

She felt her own sliver of satisfaction when the look slid off his face. “And I also wanted to thank you properly for what you did for him last night. You went above the call of duty, and  I sincerely appreciate your taking care of my child. So… yeah.” She nodded her head weakly.

He continued to regard her a moment longer before something in his expression cracked and he softened.

He spoke in a very different tone when he answered her. “I will not lie and claim that your words did not cut. But,” he continued when she opened her mouth, effectively cutting her off, which was probably a good thing, because she had no idea what she’d planned on saying. “But... I understand that most norms of society go out the window when it comes to worry for your child. I know that you must have also been upset from your fight with him, if what he told me was any indication. And while I can’t quite understand the mental state of a parent worried for their child, I can at least appreciate it.”

Emma let out a sigh, “I’m glad to hear it. Henry thinks the world of you” his lips tilted up into a smile “and I’d hate for this to affect him so  I-”

“Leave.” The change was so instantaneous, she thought he was acting. But apparently he wasn't because he continued, sneering, “I can assure you that I do not let my personal life affect how I interact with people who aren’t involved in it, especially my student. Unlike some. Now please leave.”

She staggered back, completely shocked by the abrupt change in his attitude. And what little courage she’d mustered to being the conversation vanished, and she just tucked tail and ran.

 

~

 

Another tumbler dropped down on the bar in front of her, accompanied with another unsolicited comment, “Jeez Sherrie, ya pounden those down like a fish. Dontcha have tah early shift tamarra?”

“First, it’s Sher if , second, I do not give a flying fuck. I’m paying for my booze, that should be the only thing you are concerned with, Scarlett.”

The bartender held up his hands in surrender, “Alright alright, no need t’ snap at a man just doin’ ‘is job.” 

Emma glared at him, “Your job is serving drinks, not playing therapist.”

He just gave her an easy smile back, “Well, it ain’t in the job title, sure. But most folks ‘round here, I fink, would disagree wif’ ya.”

She continued to glare at him a moment longer before she grabbed the glass before her and tossed it back in a single gulp, eyes squeezed tight against the burn of the cheapest rum that Will kept in stock. Once she’d gotten it down he opened her eyes and held out her glass, one eyebrow raised expectantly, “Better get earning that job title.”

Will stepped forward and snatched the glass from her hand, mumbling about being completely unreasonable and there was no call to be curt.

“Ha,” Emma snorted, “ I’m unreasonable? That’s hilarious.” The liquor had loosened her tongue as she mumbled, unable to contain her frustration for a moment.

“Oh, why ya say dat, Sherrie?” Will casually inquired with a brief glance over his shoulder.

“It’s sheriff. And I say dat,” she tried and failed miserably to match his accent, “because if you think I’m being ridiculous, you should have seen the guy I had to put up with earlier. I go all the way down to the school, make it a point of finding him, try to apologize, he pretends to make nice and then just turns into a total douche. Here I was, trying to make nice and make sure Henry’s schooling isn’t affected because he’d blame himself and be even more distracted and he has to act like a fucking jackass!”

As she got to the last part of her rant, Scarlett froze. When she’d finished, he swore so creatively she thought he might have started speaking a different language. But then he whirled around and marched up to where she was sitting. And his face was deadly serious. Emma almost didn’t think the man could be serious. 

But there was no smile on his face now. 

“Were you speaking with Jones?” His voice was low and raw, each word perfectly enunciated. She just stared at him, her rum addled brain having hard time grasping what was going on. Will reached across the bar and grabbed her shoulder, giving it a small shake in his earnestness. 

“Were you talking to Killian?”

Emma just nodded and Will swore even more explosively than last time, running his hands through his hair, a look of panic settling across his face. “Fuck I gotta call Rob.” He pulled his phone, quickly opened it and dialed, holding it to his ear like a lifeline. Emma could hear the ringing over the sound of the bar music, and she heard when it went to voicemail.

“Fuck.” Will hung up, looking around like he’d find something else to help him. But Emma’s mind had had enough time to catch up, and she managed to lean across the bar to grab Will’s sleeve, stopping him from walking away.

“Will, what’s going on?” He turned to her, and she was taken aback by the intense worry and anger on his face. “What’s wrong?”

He ran his hand through his hair again, looking around like he was searching for answers, but not finding any, he dropped his hand, a resigned sigh leaving his shoulders slumped.

He leaned forward, “I am telling you this in confidence, both ‘cause you’re the sheriff and because I think you may be the only one able to clean up the mess you made.” Emma’s brows furrowed at his words but before she had a chance to express her confusion, Will continued.

“I’ll not give you all the details. Jones is likely to kill me anyway, but it goes like this. A boy and his brother orphaned. Big brother takes care of them until the boy is old enough to join the navy, and they go in together side by side. Big brother takes the sea route and quickly attains captain. The boy chooses to take the more academic route and ends up graduating early as one of the youngest PhDs that Cambridge has ever seen. He joins his big brother out at sea, as his lieutenant and foreign interaction adviser. They’re happy.”

He paused and Emma swallowed, knowing what was coming next was not a happily ever after.

“Then his world gets blown apart in the most literal sense of the word.” Emma gasped. “Big brother dies and use of his hand is severely limited from the damage. Navy gives him a fine pension and a lump of money with a photocopied apology and sent him neatly on his way without so much as a by your leave. He heads stateside, and gets a teaching position at Harvard. All going well until,” he paused again and looked at her significantly, “he was accused of unprofessional conduct and fired.”

And suddenly, his reaction to her statement at the classroom door made complete sense.

“Fuck.”

Will nodded, “Fuck indeed. Now you need to go out and bloody well explain yourself before he spirals too badly. It… wasn’t pretty the last time.”

Emma jumped up from her bar stool, took two steps towards the exit, then realized she hadn’t paid yet. She turned back around but Will was already waving her away.

“Worry ‘bout it later. I know you're good for it.”

Without further ado, she turned and headed out into the night.

 

~

 

She had gotten to the far side of the parking lot when she heard the sound of glass shattering and muted yelling. Panic gripped her and she hurried the last few steps to the dock gates and went to open it, only to find it locked. She cursed. She should have thought of that. 

But time was of the essence and after a quick look around to confirm that the area was empty, she dropped to her knees, pulled two bobby pins from her hair, and quickly set to work on the lock. In a matter of moments, the latch popped open and she got to her feet.

She made her way down to his slip, trying to walk quietly, unsure of what she was going to say or the manner of man she was going to be encountering. She could hear more muffled yelling and cursing, and could tell now that it was definitely Jones’s voice. Then there was a loud thud and the cabin went quiet. 

 Heart in her chest, she hurriedly climbed aboard and made her way around to the entrance of the cabin, shivering violently in the ice cold wind. She stepped down the stairs, and after a moment’s hesitation, she knocked. 

There was no acknowledgement from within and she knocked a little harder. When she received no response again, she tried something else. 

“Jones, I know you’re in there.” This time she heard some shifting, but he still didn’t answer. “Jones?”

“What the bloody fuck do you want?”

His voice came from right on the other side of the door and she jumped back in surprise. The door didn’t move though, and she had a feeling it probably wouldn’t ever for her.

“Come to ruin my life too?” he yelled. He sounded drunk and on the brink of tears. “Come to take the only goddamn thing I have left of my life away?” There was another loud thud and the doorknob rattled, then his voice came much more softly, “Haven’t I lost enough already?”

She was on the verge of tears herself, but this wasn’t about her. This was about the man who was probably reliving every hell he’d ever endured because of some of her careless words.

“I uh, I’m not here to take anything from you,” she started quietly. “When we spoke earlier today, I think that you may have misunderstood something I said. I uh, didn’t realize how close to home my comment would hit, I guess.”

“Bloody fucking Scarlet needs to learn to keep his fucking mouth shut,” he mumbled against the door. Emma’s lips ticked up, but she continued.

“He did tell me a bit, but only after I yelled for a bit. He uh, gave me the context for your reaction earlier and,” she sucked in a breath as a particularly cold gust of wind sent a violent shiver down her spine, “and uh, I think you really misunderstood what I said.”

There was quiet for a moment before he asked in a quiet, almost childlike voice, “So you aren’t trying to take Liam from me?”

She wasn’t sure what he was talking about, but the answer to that quest was obviously of the utmost importance to him.

She stepped back closer to the door, “No, I’m not. I just want to explain.”

There was a deep sigh, then she heard movement and the door swung open. Light spilled out onto the stairwell, and in the light, she could take in his appearance. He looked wrecked.

His eyes were red and his hair was sticking up in every direction, his tie was pulled loose and dangling from his throat, half of his dress shirt untucked. There was a brown stain down the front of it that looked like he’d tried drinking from the bottle and missed. 

She took all this in as he swayed slightly and squinted, like he was trying to get her in focus. When it appeared that he had, she didn’t move, but asked quietly, “May I come in?”

He looked at her a moment longer, but when the wind gusted and she shivered again, he mumbled, “Bloody hell you must be freezing.” Then he stood aside to let her into the cabin.

Once she’d stepped past the door, he closed it shut behind her, blocking the biting wind and muting the sounds of the sea. She looked around, talking in the inner space of the cabin, the bed up against one wall, built into the cabinetry, the small kitchenette, and a door, behind which she assumed was the bathroom. 

She had a feeling that under normal circumstances, the cabin would be spotless, everything in its proper place. But now, there was liquid dripping down one was, papers scattered everywhere and bits of broken glass littering the floor. Once she completed her look around, she turned back to him, where he was still standing by the closed door, watching her. 

She sucked in a breath, glad that her run to the harbor had effectively sobered her up, because she did not want to fuck this up again. “First, I wanted to thank you again for your help with Henry last night.” 

She stopped, and waited for him to acknowledged he’d heard her. He nodded slightly before his brow furrowed, “Where is the lad?” 

He sounded confused, like he was looking at a riddle he couldn’t solve, but Emma’s heart melted a little bit more at his concern for her son, even when he was going through hell himself.

“He’s over at a friend’s house, working on that group project. They’re probably playing video games and eating pizza at this point but what can you do?”

It took a couple seconds to process, but hen the furrow in his brow eased somewhat and he nodded, apparently satisfied. At the motion, she continued.

“Second, I wanted to apologize, again, for how I spoke to you. As I said before, it was completely uncalled for.”

This time he didn’t even nod, he just blinked owlishly at her, and she had a feeling that the adrenaline crash was hitting him hard now that he wasn’t yelling anymore, and she probably only had a bit longer before he was passed out.

“Third, I wanted to explain my comment. I did not mean, in any way, that you would allow any tensions between us to affect your behavior towards Henry.” 

He stiffened, and seemed to managed to bring himself back to the surface at least for a moment, “What did you mean by it then?”

She paused, licking her lips as she gathered her thoughts. She was momentarily distracted when she saw his eyes flick down to the movement, and then lick his own lips in repose. 

Nope nope nope, Henry’s teacher and definitely not right now.

“Henry has always had a big heart.” He nodded in agreement. “Since he was little, other peoples problems were always his problems. And that’s what I meant. If there was any animosity or bad feelings between us, he’d think that it was his fault, and blame himself.”

At her words, he sucked in a shaky breath.

“He’d think it was his fault and punish himself, or stop speaking up in class, or stop talking to the other kids. And that’s the last thing I want to happen. He’s the happiest he’s ever been in your class. Some days he won’t shut about you. It's actually a little annoying sometimes,” she added with a small smile.

He tentatively returned it, a wobbly little thin, but he managed it all the same. 

“So I just wanted to explain that to you. And if you’d like me to write something down for you and sign it so you have that assurance, I’m more than happy to do that. I’m not here to take anything from you.”

He took another shaky breath, and in a broken voice, “So you aren’t going to try and take all I have left of Liam away?”

And suddenly it clicked. Liam was his brother he’d lost. And the boat must be a special memory for him.

“No, I am not trying to take anything.”

It was like she could see the words travel through the air, enter his ears, and settle into his brain. The next moment he let out a harsh sob and dropped his head. He started to fall forward, and not knowing what else to do, Emma jumped forward to catch him before he could fall. But in doing so, she’d ended up wrapped around him in a hug.He didn’t seem to mind though, because his own arms cam up and he held her tightly, crying uncontrollably into her shoulder. 

She wondered how long he’d kept everything in. If he ever actually properly grieved for his brother. Because as she held him, one hand running through his hair and the other rubbing up and down his back, she could feel the weight of years of grief in his form. 

Minute by minute, his crying slowed, his breathing evening out a bit. She continued to run her hands where she could, trying to offer what comfort she could. Which in and of itself was an oddity, because Emma hated physical contact almost as much as she hated having to help people deal with their emotions. 

But here, wrapped around him, supporting him, she found that she didn’t mind it so much. 

Finally, it seemed that he’d cried himself out and he shifted a bit, and she carefully let her hands drop slightly, not quite off of him, but loose enough that he could pull away if he wanted to. But he just shifted back enough that he could look at her face. The alcohol and exhaustion were both clearly evident in his eyes, and it was for that reason that she allowed him to bring his hands to cup her face. At least that what she told herself. 

He held her for a moment, eyes flicking over her face, before he closed his owner and leaned forward. For one shocked moment, Emma thought he was going to try and kiss her. But instead he leaned his forehead against her as he took another shaky breath. Emma also told herself she wasn’t disappointed about that either. 

“I’m sorry,” he whispered.

She shook her head slightly, “You have nothing to apologize for.”

“Will you accept my thanks then, if you’ll not take my apology?”

She smiled slightly, “Yes, I’ll accept your thanks.”

“Thank you,” he breathed.

A few moments later he straightened. Something crossed his face, like he was deciding something, before he carefully reached for her hand. She let him take it and guide her over to the bunk, glass crunching under their feet. He helped her sit, and she had to admire that even in deep emotional distress and well into the bottom of his glass, he was still a gentleman.

Once she’d sat down, he joined her, still holding her hand and she absolutely did not shiver at the sensation of his fingers gentle tracing patterns into the back of her hand. They sat like that for another long moment, before he started speaking, his voice quiet, even in the silence of the cabin.

“I’m sure that Will gave you the sparknotes version of my formative years.” He paused and his eyes glanced up at her from under his lashes in a devastating stare. She tried to ease the atmosphere a little, to help him.

“Well, I think it was more the wikipedia version”

His lips tipped up and he huffed out a small laugh, so she took that as a victory. Then he refocused on her hand.

“Liam meant everything to me, and when he died, I…. was broken. I thought that my life was over. I continued on, existing for the sake of Liam’s memory, but it didn’t feel like life. When we were younger, Liam and I had always said that we were going to buy a boat when we retired. So when I got his life insurance money, I couldn’t fathom spending that ...blood money… on anything, until I thought to buy this. A boat would be a perfect way to honor his memory, and use the money for something, rather than having it waste away in some account I’d never look at again. So I had the boat commissioned, and an old friend of mine who was still in the navy, managed to pull some strings, and was able to get me a large piece of metal from the ship we both served on. I had it built into the helm, so that I’d always have that piece of Liam with me. 

“Once the boat was finished, I took to the seas and started to feel more like myself. I decided to make a new start here in the states, and with my credentials, I was able to get a job as an adjunct professor at Harvard. For a few years, it was good. Then I met Milah.

“She was a graduate student that I was advising as she finished her PhD. She was smart, witty, kind. Neither of us meant for it to happen, but we ended up spending more and more time together, just enjoying each other’s company. It was like I blinked and we were in a relationship. And it was good.

“Then I found out she was married.”

Emma winced, knowing what was coming next wasn’t good.

“And despite my own cautioning, I continued to see her. We made each other happy, why should we not? She’d been forced into a loveless marriage to solidify a merger of her father’s company to Gold Enterprises, married off to the CEO like chattel. He had never made her happy, and she also knew that he’d been having an affair with his secretary for ages, so she figured one turn deserves another.”

Emma couldn’t fault the logic of that argument.

“But somehow, Gold found out about the affair. And while it was just fine for him to fall into the arms of another, once it was his wife, it was the height of marital impropriety. Hypocrite. Using his considerable influence and position as a board member, he was able to maneuver the university into sacking me and dismissing Milah from the program under the accusation of unprofessional conduct. I was blacklisted, my career ruined. And then, just to make sure he had completely destroyed his rival, he then managed to get the university to sue me,and I spent every penny I had defending my name.  

“All for naught it turned out. He was caught in an massive money laundering scheme about a year after, and suddenly, the university had no associations with Gold Enterprises. Even renamed one of the buildings they’d built with his money. Without him at the helm, the university just allowed the case to fade away. But by then it was too late. No academic institution in their right mind would hire me, and I had nothing left to my name but the boat I had spent all my brother’s money on.”

He fell quiet for a moment, and Emma couldn’t help herself. 

“How did you end up here then?”

He gave a grim smile, “Luck mostly. I’ve no idea how he heard about it, but an old navy friend of mine reached out to me. Said he was married to the school superintendent for the city. And that he’d managed to talk her into letting me take up a position in the grade school. Purely probationary of course.”

“Wait you knew Robin from before?”

At that he gave a small laugh, “Of course, Swan. All expats know each other. Didn't you know that?”

Emma bit her lip at the name. She ...liked it. 

Jones sighed, “And so my woeful tale ends, in the same position I was hired for, five years later. So… now you can understand why I reacted the way I did.”

She nodded, and suddenly, she wanted him to know. She didn’t look at him as she spoke.

“The only man to ever tell me he loved me set me up for his crime and left without a word. By the time I got out, I was 18 with a criminal record and a four month old baby.” She laughed quietly herself, “So now you can understand why I reacted the way I did.”

He gave her hand a squeeze, and she looked up at him. His eyes were the clearest they’d been all night, and even with how exhausted he looked, he was still the most handsome man she’d ever seen.

“Thank you for telling me, love.” She felt something spark within her, the feeling of being not just heard, but listened to. 

And in a moment, inspiration struck her, a way to make up for her mistakes to both Henry and Jo- and Killian. 

“So I was thinking, as a way to make it up to Henry, that maybe I could help you out with those crafty activities you’d planned for Valentines day, week, whatever. To let him know I'm in his corner.”

His smile was a magnificent thing. “Aye love, that sounds grand.”

She nodded, rather pleased with herself when Killian gave a sudden yawn. She chuckled, “I think I should let you get some rest, then.” She stood and he rose with her.

His hand came up to scratch behind his ear, “Thank you for coming. I’m not… I don’t want to think about what could have happened otherwise.”

Emma smoothed her hands down his arms, “You are more than welcome,” she hesitated, then for once in her life, went with her gut in regards to a man, “Killian.”

His face turned bright pink, even as his eyes brightened. He led her to the door and grabbed the handle, but before he opened it, he turned to her once more, “Have a wonderful evening… Emma.”

She felt her own face burn, but she told herself it was only from the abrupt wall of wind that hit her face as he opened the cabin door and she stepped out into a starry night.

 

~

 

The two weeks following that eventful Sunday and Monday were wonderful. She’d decided to take a step out of her comfort zone, and texted him first the morning following their night on the boat, asking about how he felt. 

He’d answered back about an hour later, and from that point on, they were in almost constant contact, texting back and forth throughout her days. He made her hours at the station pass quickly, and in the afternoons, when she went over to the school to help him prepare the materials for all the various projects he’d planned for Valentine’s week. 

Their exchanges had been surface communication at first, but as the days passed and the Monday of Valentine’s week rolled around, their conversations had delved into deeper more meaningful conversations. They spoke about the shared experiences of their childhood, their fears and hangups. For some reason, because it was by text, it made it easier to share. But seeing him every day was also great, because any time her doubts began to sound at the back of her mind that this would be the secret that drove him away, there he’s be, later that afternoon, the same secret smile and low, “Hello love” greeting her. He never changed his behavior at all, and she started to realize that he might not ever. 

Which was a pretty profound revelation after knowing him for only a week.

And as it happened, David had decided that maybe he could start coming back to work, as a deputy, and Emma happily gave him shifts, knowing they could always use the padding. But it also left most of her days free, and so, on a whim, she decided to head to the school and offer to help with the projects. 

When she’d arrived, there were a bunch of low tables set up, each with a small group of kids sitting around it and loaded down with the supplies she’d been helping with last week. She watched the room for a moment, enjoying seeing Killian in his natural setting, squatting down to answer questions and heap praises. 

In one of their many conversations, he confided in her that having taught both college and little ones, he found the latter far more fulfilling. He’d said that at first he had no idea how he’d handle working with children, but as Emma watched him now, it was obvious that he was a natural with them. 

 He noticed her as he was moving to another table, and his face lit up brilliantly, but he didn’t say anything, just walked over to the door without drawing attention to her. When he reached her, he reached out and very subtly ran his fingers down her arm, “Hello love. What brings you to the madhouse?”

She laughed. “Well I have suddenly found most of my days free this week, so I figured I could come by and help out.” She tried to shrug like it was no big deal, but the way his eyes sparkled and crinkled up at the corners told her that he knew even if she was trying to pretend otherwise. 

“Well please do come in,” he made a sweeping gesture to welcome her to the room and she gladly stepped through. Once she was several steps in, she suddenly felt his heat at her back and felt his breath on her ear, “I’m going to introduce you to the class if that’s alright?”

There was no hiding the shiver that accompanied her nod.

Then he was gone and she turned just as he spoke up, “Ladies and gentlemen, if I could have your attention for a moment.”

Emma stared in amazement as immediately the whole class was focused on him, thirty-two ten year olds all sitting quietly and waiting. 

“This is Sheriff Swan. She’s been kind enough to volunteer some of her time to come and help us with our festivities. She’s our honored guest, so please treat her like one, aye? Excellent, alright back at it!”

There were a few curious lingering stares, and Henry wide eyed one of sheer amazement when a student at one of the side tables raised a hand and called out, “Mr. Joneth?”

She immediately had his attention, “Yes, Maggie?”

“Ith theth gonna help uth with our projecth, thoulden’t the have to pick out a pirate too?” The girl tried hard to enunciate over her lisp and Emma felt her lips tick up, not in amusement, but in pride at the girl trying so hard to speak correctly. 

But Killian did nothing to try and hide his proud smile, “Right you are Maggie! Sheriff Swan, if you’d please go over to the brig, you can pick your pirate for the week.” 

Emma looked to where he’ gestured, and saw that the little pirates they’d made last week, with a stick body, spoon and painter’s tape head and pipe cleaner arms, stuck into what looked like orange styrofoam, so they all stood upright, their little signs forward and easy to read. 

She didn’t remember anything about putting pirate names on them, so intrigued, she went over and pulled one from its place, looking at it carefully, before she turned it around. There on the back of the little sign the pirate was ‘holding’ was a name, written in beautiful block letters. 

Captain Hook

She burst out laughing, surprising the class, and making Killian raise an eyebrow. So she composed herself enough to answer the unspoken question hanging in the room, “I got Captain Hook!”

She looked over at Killian, and saw that he was biting his lip to keep from laughing out loud, his shoulder shaking with repressed laughs. He managed to compose himself and announced to the class, “There you have it mates, Captain Hook has joined our crew!”

The next few days passed in a blur of cardboard paper, Elmer’s glue, odd facts about friendships between pirates, and children’s laughter. Henry was dead on his feet at the end of every day, delighted as he was that she was there at school with him. 

By the time Thursday the 13th rolled around, Emma actually found herself almost looking forward to Valentine’s Day. But she refused to think about it. She didn’t want to place expectations on Killian. They had only been doing this thing for two weeks, and it wasn’t fair to him to expect some grand romantic gesture for the holiday, fake as it may be. She was still smiling at the adorable valentines that Henry's classmates had been giving her throughout the day. Adorable little squares on sticks with pirates that the kids had drawn on them, little phrases like Aaaargh, Valiteene! and Your Great!, those adorable spelling mistakes included with every gift. 

However, her excitement for the following day was viciously tampered when David called in and said that the baby had a colic and he needed to stay with Mary Margaret, and if she could please take his shift.

And as much as she really didn’t want to, which surprised her, it was her job after all. So she resigned herself to a quiet Valentine’s Day. Maybe she’d get a few punny text messages from Killian to pass the day, as he’d taken to sending lately.

Henry ended up running late for some reason, and she barely had time to stop and let him hop out before she had to punch it to reach the station before her shift started. Her day was already off to a bad start.  No time for coffee, no time to pop by Killian’s classroom and say hello, and running late to boot.

She managed to rush into the station just before her shift started, and she hurriedly tossed her stuff in her desk and made a b-line for the coffee maker. Only to find that it was empty. She furrowed her brow. In all the years she’d worked at the station, she didn't think she’d ever seen the pot empty before. 

Disappointed, she headed back to her desk to grab some of her own coffee grounds, that she kept for the overnight shifts, when she noticed that there was a box and cup sitting on her desk. Curious, she pulled the box towards her, wafting the most beautiful small of pastries and glaze that had her mouth watering in an instant.

She opened the box, and nearly started crying. 

For there, inside, lay doughnuts in the shape of hearts, interspersed with bear claws. And sitting right on top was a silly little Valentine- You’re Great!

She bit her lip as she reached for the cup and opened the lid to find hot chocolate with still melting whipped cream and cinnamon on top. Exactly like she liked it.  She inhaled deeply and felt the warmth seep down further into her than it ever had before. 

She sat down and pulled out her phone to text Killian, but was surprised to find a text from him only moment’s before.

Good morning to my valentine.

Stupid hot, sexy, thoughtful Irishman. 

In return, she sent a picture of the whole ensemble, texting him back with the photo and caption.

I don’t know, Jones, I think I might be this guy's valentine, he brought me hot chocolate and bear claws. 

And then before she could talk herself out of it.

Looks like he knew just how to steal my heart.

She had a feeling that he wouldn’t be able to check his phone for a while, and so decided to make good use of the time. She grabbed the hot chocolate in one hand and a bear claw in the other then sat back in her chair. 

Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad day after all.

But as the hours passed, she was surprised that he still hasn't responded to her, and by the time lunch rolled around, she was certain she'd pushed too far and ruined it. She was so lost in her spiraling thoughts that she didn’t hear anyone enter until she heard, “Emma Swan?”

She whipped around in her chair to take in one of the newer bussers from Granny’s, still in his apron, holding one of Granny to-go bags.

“Yeah, that’s me,” she stood up, more than a little confused. Mostly because Granny’s did not do delivery. There had been several towninitatives over the years to convince the crotchety old woman to expand her enterprise into delivery, but she soundly shut it down every time it was brought up.

The boy came closer and held out the bag to her. 

“Here’s your order, enjoy!” Practically as soon as she had her hand on the bag, the boy turned and rushed out of the station, leaving a mystified Emma in his wake. But Emma wasn’t one to look gift delivery in the bag, so she settled back down at her desk, continuing on the paperwork she’d been processing as she reached into the bag. The first thing her fingers encountered was a piece of paper, and figuring it was a napkin, she pulled it out. 

But when it emerged, it was another little pirate, this one with the phrase “Everyone thinks that a pirate’s favorite letter is r or maybe the c. But those are both wrong, because this pirate’s favorite letter is u.”

She bit her lip as she shook her head at the pun before pulling out her favorite order of grilled cheese and onion rings. She took a picture of that one as well and sent it to him. 

I’m feeling like a siren, having all these pirates come to me.

It was so simple, his gifts, but this was the best holiday she’d ever celebrated. She could feel herself coming around to the idea of enjoying Valentine’s Day. 

She waited the rest of her shift for something else, anxiously looking towards the door whenever she thought she heard something. But five o’clock rolled around and nothing else was forthcoming. She told herself it was ridiculous to be disappointed, given how much he’d already done. 

So she packed up her small army of pirates and headed out to her car.

When she was again brought up short, because sitting against her windshield held in place by her wiper, was a single red rose and another valentine. 

She pulled them both out gently, careful not to damage the beautiful stem, taking a deep breath of the bud before she hurriedly got into her car. It was only five, she could probably throw together some sort of dinner for him. That would be perfect. A way for her to acknowledge how much she appreciated his gifts.

She pulled up to the house and hurried to get her stuff together and rushed up to the house. Only to find another pirate guarding the entrance, this one stating “The only treasure this pirate needs is you.”

She reached for the knob and was only half surprised that it turned easily. The door swung inward and she gasped when it revealed a trail of rose petals and tea lights. She remembered mentioning it once, just as a side comment while they worked on the craft supplies, that even if it was a bit corny, she’d always liked it in movies when they did the path of rose petals. And yet, despite the passingess of her comment, here it was, a silly fantasy she’d had since she was a little girl.

She closed the door behind her, dropping her bag right there before she followed the trail of light towards the kitchen. As she got closer, she smelled it. Perfectly cooked cheese pizza. When she rounded the corner though, all thoughts of food vanished from her mind as she took in the sight before her.

Her dining room table was draped with a table cloth and held two long wick candles burning merrily in the darkness, illuminating two beautiful place settings. But that paled in comparison to the man that stood before her.

Killian was standing formally by the closer chair, hands clasped behind his back, at parade rest. He wore a perfectly tailored three piece suit, the black of the vest and jacket contracting sharply with the cerulean blue of his shirt.

She was certain that she was standing in her own kitchen gaping like an idiot, but she really couldn’t bring herself to care. When her thoughts finally returned from hornyville, the only thng she could think to say was, “How did you get in here?”

He smiled widely, his dimples popping out, as if she’d reacted as he had wanted her too. 

“Would you believe that your son slipped it to me several days ago?”

That brought her sharply out of her lingering stupor, “What?”

His grin widened, “Aye, would you believe he had the audacity to slide the key across my desk right before the end of the day, and say to me that I’d better not break your heart?”

Emma could only shake her head. Where Henry got his ideas from was a mystery to her sometimes. But she really couldn’t bring herself to be mad about his cheekiness.

“I suppose you also know why he’s not sitting in the living room trying to reach a level sixty paladin?”

“I was informed that he’d been invited over to Nick’s to, and I quote, ‘keep working on that group project you gave us.’”

She rolled her eyes. 

“But enough about him love. I do believe that you have a seat here awaiting your presence.” As he spoke, he brought his hands around to pull the chair out.

“Do I?” she teased with a raised eyebrow.

“Aye, and it’s been awaiting your arrival most anxiously.”

She heard what he didn’t say as she stepped forward to take her seat, feeling him slide the chair in behind her. She watched as he reached around her to the wine bottle on the table, pulling the cork out and pouring out a healthy measure of red wine into both their glasses. But he didn’t take his seat, so she watched as he strode over to the oven. He bent over to open the door and pull something out, but she got distracted by the perfect view she was being afforded.

He didn’t even bother turning around when he called out, “See something interesting there love?” but a moment later he straightened, holding a tray in his mitted hand. “Because I am happy to provide you a much more up close and personal experience if you should desire it.”

She knew he was teasing, but she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to throw him a little off kilter. “You know, I just might.”

He nearly tripped and she laughed. 

“Bad form Swan, teasing a man while he’s holding your dinner,” he mumbled s he approached the table. He tipped the tray and used his other hand to nudge its contents off. And once it had slid onto the serving platter and he’d pulled the tray out of the way, she burst out into more laughter as she took in the beautiful deep crust heart-shaped cheese pizza.

Once he’d put the tray back in the kitchen he finally joined her. He picked up his glass and said with a smirk, “I’ve been reliably informed that this is an excellent pairing for cheese pizza,” and she laughed again.

But then his face grew more serious, “Emma Swan, thank you for being who you are and no one else. Without being too forward, may I say- I hope this is the first of many.”

She picked up her own glass with a shy smile, “I hope so too.”

 

~

 

Emma wandered up the stairs to bed in a daze, glowing with happiness after such a wonderful dinner. She’d never laughed so much or felt so seen in her entire life. She had thought, when they’d finally polished off the meal and the last drops of wine, that he might put an offer of something more on the table, but he’d simply cleaned up the dishes and helped her tidy up. Then he murmured that it was probably time for him to take his leave, and she’d guided him to the door. 

“It was my greatest pleasure, Emma,” he said quietly. Then he’d shifted forward and her breath caught, thinking he was finally going to kiss her. But instead he just reached for hand and brought her knuckles to his lips, pressing a soft kiss to her skin, sending gooseflesh up her arm. “Good night love. Sleep well.”

“Good night, Killian.” 

She’d slowly shut the door, trying to keep her eyes on his soft smile for as long as possible before the door clicked shut. And now she felt like she was floating up the stairs. Until she was brought up short by the light gently spilling out from her bedroom door. A door she knew she closed behind her this morning. 

Her heart picked up at the thought that he had set up one more surprise for her. She hurried down the hall  and opened her door, only to burst out laughing.

For sprawled across her bed was a new blanket covered in cartoon pirates in various seductive poses, and laying across one side of the bed was a full length body pillow with the image of the cartoon Captain Hook on it. She noticed a paper propped up against the end of the pillow and hurried over to it. 

Its a shame you didn’t let me shiver your timbers, but I understand that there is not pillaging and plundering on a first date. But still, I’d love to have seen your booty. ;)

That broke her. She threw the valentine back down on the bed and ran back down the hall, taking the stairs two at a time. She rushed to the front door, fully prepared to give chase and demand he make good. 

But when she ripped the door open, there he stood, shit eating grin spread across his face. 

“Something the matter love?”

“Oh shut up.” Then she reached out and yanked him to her by his lapels and he went willingly, meeting her for a fierce kiss. When she finally had to breath, she pulled back and couldn’t help the question that had been plaguing the back of her mind all night.

“Why?”

He gave her a soft smile, “Don’t you know Swan? I’m sick.”

Her blood froze, “What?”

“Aye, I think I must have caught it from your boy.” He gave her a teasing grin. “I’ve come down with that most common of afflictions.”

And the only way she could think of to reply to that was to jump into his arms and kiss him some more. It didn’t matter if he was sick,  because she was pretty sure she’d caught it too.

It was the most common of afflictions, after all.