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For Once, Don't Let Go

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In some ways, she has always been a ghost. Never fitting in, never belonging anywhere. Abandoned, and so closing her heart on the need to be accepted before she could be denied. It was for that reason, on the first morning of her afterlife, as she blinked awake in a chilled grey dawn that seemed just like any other, Emma Swan did not at first realize she was no longer part of the living world.

 

There was a strange quiet surrounding her, as she sat up from the bed, which strangely felt much softer, plusher than hers usually did at the end of an exhausting day or the morning after when her bones still ached and her mind never felt quite rested. It was those two things combined - the unaccustomed silence and depth and comfort of the sleep she’d emerged from - that put Emma off balance. It was never that still in the heart of the city, no matter how early in the morning. There was a constant humming undercurrent, a long-accepted background noise accompanying her life in Boston: sirens, horns, the grating and beeping of constant construction, the hubbub of voices, sounds unending. If she were deeply honest with herself (which she didn’t often allow) it was part of what she loved most about the large city on the eastern seaboard; there was so much noise that she could ignore her own thoughts. She didn’t like to dwell on or analyze her motivations for choosing a job where she tracked and found deadbeats who skipped out on those they should have stayed to support. She didn’t acknowledge - not even to herself - that each skip she hauled into the nearest precinct and collected her reward for gave her a sense of satisfaction that almost dulled her unanswered questions about the runners she hadn’t ever found - the parents who left her just after she was born.

 

So, she was already on edge as she found her feet and moved through the room she was increasingly aware did not look at all like the one in the loft apartment she currently rented, nor were any of her things scattered around as she usually left them. Moving from the room into the hall beyond, and then down a staircase into an entry hall that she knew her small apartment didn’t possess, Emma’s mind struggled to fully wake and understand where she was and how she came to be there.

 

It wasn’t until she reached the front door - tall, solid wood, but nondescript and standard, nothing too out-of-the-ordinary - that two more revelations struck her almost at once. Reaching out her hand to turn the doorknob, step outside and see if the outside of the house or its surroundings jogged her memory, Emma was shocked to find that her hand wouldn’t grip the metal knob at all, instead passing straight through both doorknob and door itself, sending her sprawling forward with a yelp of startled disbelief. No matter how impossible it seemed, the rest of her followed her outstretched hand, passing through the wooden door as if it simply didn’t exist.

 

Blinking and stunned from where she had landed on the top step up to the porch outside the strange house she’d woken up in, it was more than a bit hard for Emma to put together what had just happened. She knew her mouth was hanging open, “catching flies” as one of her more affectionate foster moms along the way had playfully called it, but somehow her surprise only increased when she took in the place’s exterior. She did know where she was, despite being at a loss for why she would have woken up there. This was the place where she had tracked her most recent skip last night.

 

Furrowing her brow in concentration - and admittedly trying not to consider how she had just slipped past a solid barrier and what that might mean - Emma attempted to pull up more from her memory than that. This newest skip had proven pretty slippery; both Ruby and her seductive honey trap skills which Emma didn’t even try to match, and Mulan with her fighting ability and clever moves worthy of her Disney namesake, had failed in previous attempts to bring the guy in and moved on to more productive marks before Emma took on the case. However, she was just stubborn and competitive enough to have wanted to bring in the skip who had become a thorn in the agency’s side; plus, as he kept evading them and the court date grew closer, the price for bringing him in kept climbing. Emma had been thinking just how she might enjoy the whole week off she could afford to take once she caught this scumbag as she’d sidled up next to him at the seedy bar’s pool table and batted her eyes. She’d still been thinking it even as the jerk brushed her off and left soon after, and so she’d followed him - quite stealthily, she believed - to this place later that night. Fine, if he wanted to play hard to get, she wouldn’t play gently either. She welcomed a challenge, and this avoided the awkwardness she had to extricate herself from once honey traps were sprung anyway.

 

Emma was realizing now, however, that maybe she had been a little too obvious, a little too preoccupied to see that her skip might have been onto her. Had he been suspicious of her from the start, and that was why he didn’t take the bait? Or, had he known what she was truly after the whole time?

 

The evening dark had been falling in that strange hour where one could still see outside but surroundings were obscured, shadows lengthened and a person sometimes had to squint to find her goal. She had almost hung back, after watching her mark slip in through the unmarked door of the abandoned house at the end of a rather quiet and rundown street in an outskirt suburb. But she’d spent too long tracking the loser - and she wasn’t about to admit any hesitance or unease. Clearly the guy now had either breaking and entering or squatting in his extensive repertoire, and he needed bringing in before he expanded to something more dangerous.

 

That was what she was telling herself after waiting an interminable twenty minutes and then climbing the rickety steps as she’d watched her perp do. She wasn’t trespassing anymore than he was, the house wasn’t in his name, and if anyone asked… here she tried the door to find it unlocked and opening as she quietly tried it - yep, she could say it was open.

 

Emma had just taken a steadying breath and inched the door open enough to enter, when she caught movement in her periphery. She tried to duck, wondering wildly if the culprit had been lurking behind the door, when something long and solid swung towards her head too fast for her to avoid. It felt as though the air cracked, then crumbled around her, and everything went black…

 

That was all she could bring up, no matter how doggedly she tried to remember what came next. After that shattering impact was simply… nothing. And with that sickening fact, Emma knew. She was dead. Some lowlife bail jumper killed her to keep himself from getting caught. Whatever she was hit with, it was done viciously enough to mean her end.

 

Feeling a tremble begin throughout her legs and arms, up into all her extremities, Emma tried to fight back the swell of emotion - anger, injustice, hurt, loss that clamored to the surface. If there were any justice at all, she ought to at least be free of feeling all the painful emotion she had spent her entire adult life roughly tamping down. But really, she shouldn’t even be surprised. This wasn’t the first time she’d paid the price for someone else’s wrongs - though apparently it would be the last. The blank unfairness of it was what truly got under her skin. Was she always doomed to end up this way? Sprawled out with a cracked skull in the entryway of some old, empty house, punished just for trying to make a living and her own way in the world while exacting a little much-needed justice? No one would even miss her or know she was gone until she didn’t show up to work Monday morning, ready to gloat and collect congratulatory muffins for bringing in the mark her colleagues lost.

 

As she passed back through the door (and no, that weird sensation of sliding without feeling past a solid barrier did not become any less upsetting or disconcerting) Emma saw the rough wooden board on the floor where her killer must have tossed it afterward and the dried blood - her own, she recognized with a shiver - that she had missed before. She didn’t want to stay there, but she felt pulled back to the upper floor where she had awakened. As if she was not meant to leave yet. Maybe she couldn’t. Maybe she just had nowhere else to go…

 

Head bowed in resignation, she mounted the stairs, but instead of going back into what had seemed a nondescript bedroom on her first glance, she moved on to the end of the hall. She seemed to have all the time in the world to rattle around this place, reflect on her loneliness and why she was still there. It couldn’t hurt to put off that depressing train of thought and find out what else was there.

 

Bypassing the room she’d exited earlier that morning, Emma moved toward the end of the second floor hall. Clearly the place had been empty awhile, dust tickled her nose more the more she moved throughout the house, but the color of the rich, deep wood floors, the tall ceilings and eye-catching nautical knick-knacks and framed pictures on the walls showed her the place was once well-loved and lived in with care and pride. By the time she reached the furthest door on the left, almost tucked into a corner of the house, Emma was curious in sprite of her strange situation and uncertainty.

 

Upon stepping in the room, Emma felt her mouth drop open once again, immediately captured by the sight of four walls of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, interrupted only by the large, cushioned windowseat under a huge picture window in the wall facing the door. There were books piled on the floor near the windowseat as well, as if to be in easy reach of whomever had sat there to read. Heavy, larger leatherbound tomes that appeared to be atlases or maps also rested on the impressive cherry wood desk in the room’s center. While all of this was stunning, with an air of warm invitation that had Emma blindly inching forward, none of the furnishings were what truly stunned her one more time in a past hour full of riveting surprises. Standing behind the desk, with back turned to the door and studying the wall of books with concentration was a tall, quite formally dressed, man. 

 

At Emma’s rather stunned noise, the figure turned to look over his shoulder, looking at her with dark arched brow. The gasp that had just escaped her was sucked rather inelegantly back up her throat. The man - well, fellow ghost apparently, as she could hazily see the spines of books lined up through his broad-shouldered form - was the most handsome specimen she had ever seen. His stunning bright blue eyes threatened to again steal the breath the she supposed she shouldn’t possess to begin with.

 

Wow, that changed things.



~~~*~~~~*~~~*~~~~*~~~*~~~~

 

Surprised in the large library that had stood silent and empty for so many long, uncounted days, Killian Jones couldn’t help scrutinizing the fair haired lass standing on his carpet. The strange haze around her let him know she was a spirit, much as he had been forced to accept he was himself. Still, some nearly forgotten and rusty echo of his former flirtatious nature rose to the surface and her surprised gaze clearly studied him up and down.

 

“Well, hello there, beautiful,” he murmured, a crooked smile crossing his face as he drank in her blonde hair, sparkling green eyes, and generous curves in equal measure. “You aren’t some marvelous hallucination are you?”

 

Those sharp eyes rolled in exasperation, the stunned look finally leaving them as she shook her head and shrugged off the compliment. “Hardly,” she snorted, taking a few steps closer to him. “Apparently, I’m a ghost.”

 

Her words startled a huff of laughter from him with their droll humor. Reaching up to scratch behind his ear, he managed, “Not quite what you’d pictured, I wager?”

 

“That’s putting it mildly,” she allowed, seeming to understand her welcome and meandering over to sit facing him on the cluttered windowseat’s edge.

 

Killian allowed a wry grin of his own and nod of agreement. There wasn’t much else to say, but he did understand where she was coming from. It had been rightfully upsetting, earth-shattering, and confusing when he realized he was no longer living and breathing but still wandering the rooms of his house. He was sure there had been a lot of ranting, questioning, and items thrown against the walls before he had accepted his new reality. By that measure, this lovely woman before him was handling her sudden entrance to the afterlife quite well in comparison.

 

She looked up to capture his eyes with her own and he found he couldn’t look away again. Her face was open, searching, almost as though she were trying to take his measure and decide if he were trustworthy. When she seemed to make a decision and smile warmly at him, Killian found himself swaying closer to her almost unconsciously, rounding the desk to stand before her as though pulled by a magnet. Dipping his head in a sort of playful bow, he offered, “Forgive me, where are my manners? I’m Killian Jones. And you are?”

 

She reached out her hand to shake, unaccountably grateful that she was able to feel his larger fingers clasp hers without passing through, that she somehow still felt warmth and a zing of awareness at the contact, even if none of it made any sense. “Emma…” she replied, her voice going lighter and more thready than she’d like, “Emma Swan.”

 

“Hmm…” he murmured lowly, a rumbling hum that she felt along her arm as he brought her hand up to place a kiss on the back of it. “And just who are you, Swan?” he mused.

 

Swallowing hard, she dove in with the plain truth. “Just a stubborn bail bondswoman who went after the wrong skip this time,” she sighed.

 

His eyes registered the sadness, the disappointment and melancholy, the resignation to this fate slowly settling over her. He wanted to say it would get better with time, but time was now a funny, nonexistent sort of thing that was impossible to measure and not much help. Instead, he took in her features with understanding and tried to offer what comfort or cheer was possible against the self-doubt, blame, and ‘what-ifs’ beginning to hover. Not only that, they zeroed in on the broken skin, dried red and the purpled bruising at her temple, clearly the killing blow that had been dealt her. His hand reached up of its own volition to touch the soft hair above the wound, a tender brush of fingertips that Emma closed her eyes and leaned into with a relieved sigh. Almost as if he knew how very rare such concern had been in her life - maybe because it had been the same for him. Whatever the reason, they lingered there, two ghosts in the golden morning light through the picture window, drinking in the first real contact either had felt in far too long.

 

Something linked within them in that very moment - and everything changed again.

 

~~~*~~~~*~~~*~~~~*~~~*~~~~



It would have been funny; in fact, Emma would have laughed in the face of anyone who suggested - even a week before - that she would be killed on an assignment, end up a ghost, and then meet another ghost who would soon know her better than anyone had in life. And yet, within days she and Killian had shared more than she had ever allowed with co-workers, her handful of casual friends, even foster siblings when she’d still been a kid. Granted, she didn’t have much to lose, but it was more than that. She came to learn that Killian was more like her than she could have thought possible; orphaned as a child except for an adored older brother, that brother then killed in service of the British Navy just as Killian had been preparing to finish secondary school and join his elder sibling in service. Apparently the death had been some sort of accident during a routine exercise, and Killian had been awarded a healthy settlement as his brother’s only living relative, but naturally he hadn’t wanted the payout, just his only family back. Since that wasn’t the choice before him, he had taken the money, gotten out of England, and vowed to do something with it that would honor Liam and help someone else - even if it could do nothing for his own shattered heart.

 

That was how he’d come to befriend a frightened young mother and her infant son not long after he reached Boston. He’d been renting a motel room on a weekly basis until he figured out what he planned to do in the long run. He took a lot of long, aimless walks in the sharp, chill wind off the Atlantic, and one late afternoon he had stumbled into the public library, hoping to warm up, maybe distract himself a bit, and instead had found Belle sniffling as she attempted to read to a fussy Gideon where they were huddled in the children’s section. It hadn’t taken long for them to become friends; easily one of the best friendships he’d ever had. And in short order, Killian had known this was how he could use Liam’s money for good. He’d found a house, invited, then wheedled and cajoled, her to move them into one of the unoccupied wings and stay with him there. It was much too big for him alone he’d argued, and he needed the company, noise and bustle of even the smallest bit of family in his life. Belle had been hesitant, feeling it was too much, too good to be true, but trying to find a living and make a good, safe home for herself and her boy, while also staying unnoticed and under the radar of her wealthy and well-connected ex-husband was becoming more and more impossible. She’d assured Killian that the man had never been physically abusive, but emotionally and mentally he had left his mark. He had been a master of manipulation, had known the law and its loopholes, could afford the best attorneys money could buy and Kilian had not needed psychic abilities to see the woman was terrified he would come to haul her back - or at the very least take her little lad away from her.

 

That last admission had been uttered some weeks on in their acquaintance - or at least Emma thought it had been weeks, time was hard to measure when one was no longer on a clock and the days flowed from one to another in a similar stream - one night as they sat by a crackling fire in the hearth of the long unused den. Emma had shared a fair amount of her own scars by then. She had been curled up on the opposite end of the sofa, thinking that this would be the perfect occasion for a hot cocoa with whipped cream and cinnamon, what had been her favorite way to unwind in the evening, and marveling at the good heart this man before her possessed, be it beating still or no. Not just anyone would have done so much, given so much of himself, to help a person he barely knew. Nor kindly helped a complete stranger like her adjust to her new reality beyond the pale either.

 

Suddenly it seemed like there was nothing else to do but to scoot across the sofa to the other end where Killian Jones sat still as a statue. The pain in his eyes, and blame she could see that he carried, broadcast over every line and shifting shadow of his face. Emma couldn’t help but bring her hand up to touch his cheek, to trace along his tightly clenched jaw as his eyes slowly dropped to follow the path of her fingertips, watching her intently as they continued to brush softly over his skin. Emma had wondered numerous times why she couldn’t physically make contact or grasp other objects but she could touch him. Why could they feel each other so strongly? Was it because they were both ghosts? On some other plane together? Or was it something else, something a less jaded person might call Fate or magic?

 

Whatever the reason, she was grateful for it as she held her breath, catching her lower lip between her teeth awaiting Killian’s reaction. She found every nerve alive and anxious as she watched him, caring more than she ever had about what someone else thought. Was that the key? For so many years in group homes, with foster families, even for a time homeless on the city streets, Emma had shut the world out. She had been born and grown up without the unconditional love and care all people should know, and the natural childish illusions about people’s selfishness or the world’s indifference had been stripped away far too early. Life had turned its back on her, and she had done the same in return. She had closed herself off from emotion and learned all too well that putting her trust in others made it easy to get hurt.

 

But now, in this old house, with this wonderful, vulnerable spirit before her - all the feelings she had shut off for so long were breaking free. She couldn’t hold them back, and she didn’t want to. She couldn’t really be harmed, wasn’t hustling to get by, and maybe that allowed the fear to recede enough to peak over the top of her walls. Maybe it was just that - despite only knowing him for a short time - she had never met anyone like Killian Jones when she was living. If only she had, she wouldn’t have been lost for so long.

 

He was blinking away a tear when her focus turned back to his face in that moment. Smiling back with a tiny, empathetic quirk to her lips, Emma brushed the escaped droplet from his skin, whispering, “He found them, didn’t he? Her ex?  Even though you tried to keep them hidden…”

 

Killian’s head of thick, dark hair bowed, his eyes falling to their laps instead of holding hers. Running her fingers through the coarse strands, Emma ached to comfort him, to somehow lessen the weight he had lost hope of lightening. Whatever had occurred, it couldn’t have been his fault. He had only tried to give them shelter.

 

His voice was muffled when his forehead had come to rest on her shoulder, and she wrapped her arms around him, cradling him closer in an embrace more binding and intimate than any she had ever experienced. “I don’t know for certain, Swan,” he sighed, his words rough and coming forth in choppy fragments. “It has always seemed so…  Both being expats, Belle and I came to enjoy tea… in the afternoons… I had come home early that day...had a new toy for her Gideon...and I - I couldn’t wait to show it to him. ...When I walked through the front door… I knew immediately….something was wrong… too quiet.. I walked into the kitchen… and the table was all set for tea.  But the plate of biscuits was… strewn across the table… broken crumbs everywhere… and her - her favorite teacup was shattered on the floor…”

 

Emma tried to take in the devastation he must have felt, the panic and helplessness, all while making soothing noises, almost sorry she’d asked him as the story was wrung from his lips bit by bit. She kept holding him, hoping that her hand stroking over his back and her fingers brushing the hair at the nape of his neck could give some solace. She had never longed to fix someone else’s hurt more than her own. It was frightening in the desire’s intensity, but all she could do was hang on.

 

“I failed them both…” Killian husked, his voice even more soft and ragged than before. “Of course… I reported them missing… but the case came to nothing… no leads turned up.  He got to them… just as she feared... “

 

She wished she could tell him otherwise. Her own unshed tears stung in her throat - both for the poor woman and little boy she felt as if she knew through Killian’s stories, and for his pain. Her chest ached with the anguish he had harbored for so long, feeling it as if it were her own. If she could take his pain onto herself and give him peace at last, she would do it without hesitation.

 

As if in response to her thought and the desire to lend her strength, Emma saw a starling light, nearly blinding her as it appeared over Killian’s shoulder.  She didn’t pull away, but she squinted trying to understand what had materialized from thin air right in front of her. It looked like...yes, it was a door. There, where an archway normally lead from the den to the kitchen, was a simple grey door, but for the brilliant white light emanating from around its edges. It couldn’t be ignored for all its radiance, and it almost seemed to beckon her near, drawing her in.

 

Her eyes widening, Emma forced herself to turn away, breathing in Killian’s scent from against his neck, hoping that the masculine, spicy aroma he somehow still carried, even in his ethereal state, would reel her in as it had before. She knew what must be making itself known before her, and she couldn’t bring herself to acknowledge what it meant.

 

Up until that very second, she would have sworn she wanted that door to appear, to pass through it and leave the cold bitterness of Earth behind. She wanted that door opening up for her to move on, but she just as surely wouldn’t leave Killian as she had been left so many times. She couldn’t abandon him.

 

For the first time Emma could remember, she didn’t want to change the way things were.

 

~~~*~~~~*~~~*~~~~*~~~*~~~~

 

She shouldn’t have thought the open door would escape Killian’s attention. The man was ridiculously intuitive and seemed to read her like the pages of a favorite book. She had not said a word, had turned back to him, focused on the muscle in his jaw working as he brought his emotions back under control, and managed to ignore the blatant signal beckoning to her until the glow dimmed and the door faded back out of existence. The archway between kitchen and den was just a curve of plaster and paint once more.

 

But as days passed, Emma coudn’t help worrying occasionally in unguarded moments if a person only got one door. Had she missed her only chance to move on? It wasn’t that she never wanted her peace and rest, or to know what was waiting on the other side. Yet, she couldn’t truly regret her decision either if the alternative had been leaving Killian alone, even if the consequences did trouble her mind.

 

So she wasn’t sure how Killian had figured it out the morning she came down the stairs to find him already in the kitchen gazing out the window over the sink and bathed in the rising sunshine. Maybe the man was genuinely able to read her mind. He was always able to tell when she entered a room, she conceded as he turned to face her, even before she stepped from the last stair. She felt him the moment he drew near her as well: an awareness, a prickling along her skin, the buzzing sensation of need and desire she had always resisted in life electrified by his presence. Maybe there was no hiding when someone was that close.

 

With the window and the sunrise at his back, Killian seemed almost outlined by a halo of gold. He came to stand at the counter facing her, and Emma moved to meet him, smiling easily. “Morning,” she offered in greeting, still fighting years’ worth of habitual impulses to start brewing coffee and digging throught he cupboards for cereal - sustenance that she no longer needed.

 

“Swan,” he’d spoken gently, calmly, but in a way that drew her up and demanded her focus. Reaching out his own larger hand to cover hers where it rested on the countertop, he went right to the heart of the matter. “Emma… what were you thinking?”

 

She shrugged, trying not to meet his eyes fully as she pretended she didn’t know exactly what he was talking about. “What do you mean?” she asked blankly.

 

He sighed, that apologetic depth of sorrow in his eyes making her swallow hard when he spoke again. “You saw the light at the end of the tunnel, didn’t you? Your door appeared… The evening we spoke of Belle and Gideon’s disappearance…” He paused, spearing her with the intense blue of his gaze and not allowing her to look away. He cupped her chin between his thumbe and forefinger, stroking along her cheek as he did so, the expression on his face begging her to help him understand. “Why didn’t you step through, Love… and go on to your reward?”

 

The worry and fear on his unfairly beautiful face showed that he already new exactly why she hadn’t, but he deserved the truth. Emma couldn’t give him anything less. Placing her hands over his, squeezing tightly with feeling, she leaned forward until their noses almost touched. “Killian, don’t ask question you already know the answers to,” she breathed shakily, trying to keep the tremble from her voice long enough to speak. “You must know, surely… it was you.”

His head back as he heaved a deep, rattling breath - breaking away from her as he did so. “I hoped I was wrong,” he admitted. “I don’t want to the reason. You shouldn’t be held back from your paradise because of me.”

 

For a moment his eyes wouldn’t meet hers as he struggled to regain control of himself. Then, he reached out to wipe the pad of his thumb over her cheek and brush the solitary tear she’d shed away. Not letting him have an out, Emma caught his eye once more. “Paradise, huh?” she tried to tease weakly, desperate to make him smile. He was breaking her heart. “You think an awful lot of me, Buddy. We both know I was no saint.”

 

A huff of air escaped him that might have been a disgruntled laugh in spite of himself, but he pulled her into him, almost clinging to her for several long minutes before finally breathing in her ear, “Nonsense, Emma. You were meant to be an angel. Don’t give up your peace on account of me.”

 

She hugged him back, but made no such promise. They would have to disagree on that, and he knew it too. They were both too stubborn to change their minds, so days went on and they went back to almost-normal without speaking of it again. Emma simply had to hope he understood. She didn’t want to argue with Killian, or to ignore his wishes. And she did want to go through her door as well, but when the time was right. She realized now that would have to be when they could both go throught it together.

 

~~~*~~~~*~~~*~~~~*~~~*~~~~

 

It had been March when she’d met her fate in the quiet old house, and she and Killian had drifted through the spring and summer and early autumn, growing ever closer to each other. They had sat on the porch for long hours talking without getting too hot or worrying about bug bites or sunburn; spent evenings curled together under one quilt in the large windowseat of the library watching lightning flash across the sky and thunder roll on August nights. As September came, they snuggled under the comforter on the bed, her head resting on his chest, her ear over his heart as though she could still heart its beat. If she had thought before that she couldn’t leave him, there was no way she could even imagine it again.

 

There was a chill in the air the September afternoon a thick, cream-colored envelope landed on the front porch, addressed with Killian’s name and a Ms. Belle French scrawled in top left corner. Emma heard the soft sound of the thick paper landing on the proch slats, and didn stop to question how it had gotten there, why the ghost resident of an supposed abandoned house was receiving mail again, but had hurried to where Killian reading in the library, letter in hand.

 

A more lovely autumn day had never been than when a slant of later afternoon sun lit Killian’s face as he scanned the letter’s contents, a smile dawning over his countenance as if he coudn’t believe the words before him on the page. “They’re alright,” he murmured, half to himself and half to her. “They got away… thought I should know.”  His eyes continued to skim over the handwritten lines quickly, but his beckoned her close, and stunned smile on his face and light in his eyes that did Emma’s heart good. She could see the guilt and the hurt he had carried lifting from his shoulders with each passing second as she came to perch on the corner of the desk at his elbow.  “They didn’t want me to have to harbor a secret… just missed the people who trashed the house that day, and didn’t want to continue putting me in danger…”

 

He shook his head in disbelief and then stood to sweep her up in his arms, spinning her around as if he didn’t have a care in the world. Maybe, finally, he didn’t.

 

It was only as Killian set her back on her feet again, as he picked up her hand to kiss the back of it tenderly, and she hummed in contentment, swaying closer to him that a warm inviting light touched the side of both their faces. Turning as one, Emma recognized the sight that had graced her vision once before, but Kiliian’s eyes widened before turning to hers.  “Is that…?” he breathed, hope and uncertainty and awe blending in the question as it trailed off on his lips. 

 

She nodded, no words coming to her that she could speak past the lump in her throat.

 

“Well, then, Swan,” he smiled with the beauty and joy of a man whose heart was free at last. “What do you say we embark on a new adventure?”

 

“I’d follow you anywhere,” she said with a certainty she felt to the bottom of her soul. Clutching his fingers in her own tightly, she walked with him toward the door wreathed in light that had appeared in middle of the bookshelf. As long as she didn’t have to let go of Killian’s hand.