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where the quiet-colored end of evening smiles

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November 1778

He’s here, again, for what feels like the hundredth day in a row, but he knows it has only been three. Three days since he found him, since he lost the contents of his stomach in the snow outside his brother’s tent, and since every aspect of his life was turned upside-down. He only came here for Liam, followed him onto a ship and across a bloody ocean to fight for a country that never felt like home, even as he spent his entire life in it. He came here to fight with his brother, everyone around him knew that, Liam most of all — and seeing Liam there, the way he was on that cold November day, was the worst experience in the little of his life that he has been able to live, the most terrible thing he has seen in his twenty-three years. 

When he closes his eyes, he can still see it, the way the blood pooled around his head where he lay on the cot, soaking through the fabric and just beginning to drip on the ground. After immediately calling for a medic, Killian lost all grip on reality, falling to his knees in the snow and praying to a God that never answered his prayers before — but when they hauled Liam out of the tent, yelling things around him, he began to believe for the first time since his days as a boy, when he knew no better than to have faith in better things. 

“Still breathing,” they had said, holding a rag under his nose and not against a head wound. He did not know much about medicine and the human body, but he knew how lucky they were that the problem didn't seem to be with his brother's brain. The first miracle.

And the only, since then. Three days now, almost down to the hour — almost dinner time, when Killian was entering his brother’s tent to join him for a hot meal — since everything came crashing down around him. Three days, and nothing had changed about Liam’s situation. Still breathing , still alive, but still caught somewhere between death and consciousness. Unresponsive , they keep calling him. Comatose was the new term for it — and knowing there is a term for it makes him feel a bit better. Not much, but it gives him a soft place to land when his mind begins to reel, waiting for updates and answers and change. 

Killian hates waiting. Every moment he spends at his brother’s side, the aching in his knees growing as he begs this God to grant them another miracle, is like torture to him, and in his darkest moments, he begs for something deeper, for this God to take him instead of his brother. Liam was — is , he reminds himself — the best of them all, the greatest man he has ever met, who has protected him more than any brother should be required to do. If anyone deserves to live, to return home to the life they left behind, it is his brother, Liam Jones, husband and father, absolutely devoted to his family in a way Killian only hopes he could someday be.

But in a heartbeat, he would absolutely trade places with him, let Liam return to his life, even if it meant Killian spent the rest of eternity in the cold ground of a place far, far away from home. 

He looks up from his pleading just in time to watch her stroll through the door of the infirmary, piles of blankets in her arms, followed by another woman with a tray of what looks to be loaves of bread. They both smile at Robin, the jack-of-all-trades running their infirmary, and he gestures for them to enter further. 

An angel . She must be an angel, he tells himself, trying to calm the pounding in his chest that takes over as she lays the blankets on a nearby table so she can lower her hood. A break in the ever-present clouds sends sunlight through the window behind her, lighting up her mess of golden curls plaited down her back, and she turns to him with a smile that reaches the deepest parts of him, clears the cobwebs from the corners and opens windows into his soul that he truly believed were stuck shut. 

“Killian, can you come help these ladies, please?” Robin calls to him, the only other man in the room that’s not a patient. Pull yourself together, he says to himself, though the voice sounds more like Liam’s than his own. He pushes himself to his feet, taking another deep breath, though it does nothing to calm his nerves. 

“Good afternoon, sir,” the other woman says, the one with much darker hair but a welcoming smile. “We’ve come from one of the nearby farms with some blankets for your wounded and what little food we can spare, and a soldier outside led us to this building. Would you be so kind as to help us pass these out to the men here?”

He smiles, his “Of course, ma’am,” on the tip of his tongue, but the other woman speaks before he gets the chance. 

“We know how harsh a Pennsylvania winter can be, so we’re doing what we can to help.” 

“We more than appreciate any help we can get, ma’am,” he replies, turning his attention back towards the blankets before he can find himself lost in the shining emerald green of her eyes, the same stunning shade of his mother’s ring that hangs above his heart. “Especially risking so much to help us.” 

The brunette breathes out a laugh, then covers her mouth with her hand in instant regret. When it’s obvious she’s not going to explain, the blonde speaks again. “Some of the American officers have taken over our farm, with the militia sleeping in the barn with the animals. We were given permission to bring blankets and whatever else is leftover after they’ve had their fill.” 

“I can assure you that it’s still very much appreciated.” He moves his attention to the task at hand, taking an armful of blankets from the table and handing them to the conscious soldiers, and one of the ladies helps him spread them across those who are sleeping — or, like his brother, comatose. 

His worry must be painted on his face as he looks down at Liam, pausing longer than he did with the others after making sure he was adequately covered by the small blanket. “He’s important to you, yes?” a voice asks, small and soft but caring, and he looks up to find his blonde angel at his shoulder, though her eyes are still on his brother. 

“Yes,” he replies. “He’s my — my brother.” 

“I can tell you care for him. He’s lucky to have you here with him, so far from home.” 

“No,” he whispers, reaching down to set his hand atop Liam’s. “No, I’m the lucky one.” 

“Tell me about him,” she says, and when he turns to her, he knows that she senses just how dangerous her question could be. They are not friends, not companions in any way, and the woman that came with her is across the room, silently cutting the loaves of bread with one of the dull knives from the table. She should not be speaking to him, especially not alone, but they both take a quick, terrified look around the room and realize that the only other conscious beings are their friends — Robin and her companion — with many of the wounded men resting in the chill of the afternoon. 

“He is the best man I have ever known. Brave, fully dedicated to his wife and their little boy. He questioned even being part of this war, but his wife told him to follow his heart, which has always belonged to England. Part of me thinks she knew that when she left the decision up to him. He’s as proud as can be, but he’s — he’s all I have,” he says, realizing that the lump formed in his throat is almost too big to swallow, and he reaches for the mug by his feet. “I’ve been trying to write his wife a letter for three days now, telling her of his condition, but I know he would be upset with me for worrying her, when she already has so many worries.” 

A beat passes, and he knows she is searching for something else to say, but he finds himself filling the silence instead, telling her more of himself than he has wanted to share for years. “He and I have been alone since we were just boys. He truly is the only family I have. I followed him here, am loyal mostly to him. If he succumbs to whatever has made him ill, I’ll have lost everything.” 

“That sounds like my brother,”” she says, her eyes still resting on where Killian has covered Liam’s hand with his own. “You will both be in my prayers. This war has taken so many lives, and your brother seems like one of the better men in this world.” 

“Thank you, ma’am,” he chokes out. 

They both know they have dared too much already, and she leaves him with a small curtsy. 




Three days pass before they return again, and Emma’s heart is already fluttering as they approach the camp. There are hundreds of men here, she has to remind herself. The odds of seeing the handsome blue-eyed soldier again are slim, but no amount of logic is going to sway her. It’s nothing big this time, just a few more loaves of bread and some cold leftover stew from the day before pulled behind them on a sled, but she would have taken any opportunity to find herself back in the British infirmary. 

Except that he’s not there. She tries not to make her upset obvious, still assisting Mary Margaret with handing out the blankets, though every movement by the entrance catches her attention. If Mary Margaret catches on to her behavior, she makes no show of it, and the weight of the small envelope in her pocket weighs heavier with each passing moment. 

They have almost scooped the last of the stew into bowls when he finally enters, his attention not on the room around him, but on whatever object he holds in his hand. Though her heart beats wildly at the sight of him, she holds herself together, watches from the corner of her eye as he crosses the room to sit beside his brother’s bed, until he finally looks up. First, he looks at his brother, his lips moving as he mutters something — and then he looks around the room, unable to hide the way his eyes widen when he notices her there. 

Then he smiles, and Emma knows she is far too far gone for a man that she has met once, a man that is supposed to be the enemy. After giving herself a moment to calm down, she takes one of the bowls from the table and moves across the room with it, not allowing herself to overthink it until she is standing in front of him. 

“We brought you some stew,” she says, smiling down at him as he reaches to take the bowl from her. “And here,” she continues, reaching into the pocket of her coat to pull out the small package waiting there for him. 

“Thank you, ma’am,” he whispers, brushing his fingers against hers as he takes it from her hand. 



It is four days until he sees her again, but not a minute passes where she does not linger in his mind. He spends the first hours contemplating the contents of the small envelope she slipped him, needing to focus on aiding the other wounded soldiers and his other duties — but as he lay awake on his cot that night, he carefully pulls the thick parchment from his pocket, turning it over in his hands. Alone in the tent he shared with Liam before, he takes a moment to feel it under his fingers, the roughness of the paper with no clues as to the contents inside, before slipping his index finger beneath the wax seal, careful not to rip any piece of the precious gift. 

When he sees what sits on the paper, though, he lets out a small gasp, cradling it with one hand while running his opposite thumb over the gift. He recognizes it right away, though he has only ever seen it once before: a caramel candy, a delicacy in a war-torn world. A sweet, given to him by the sweetest angel he has had the pleasure of running into. 

An angel who is technically his enemy. 

He runs his thumb over it once more, still in disbelief, and notices for the first time something written on the inside of the envelope when he lifts it from the paper. 

Emma Swan , it reads in beautiful, curling script. Her name. She has given him her name, and a caramel. His heart pounds so heavily he can already tell he will be losing sleep over her. All he wants to do is see her again, though he knows he dare not leave the camp. All he can do is wait, hoping that he has not lost in mind when he lost his heart. . 

In the quiet of the middle of the day, he whispers about her to Liam, sharing his secrets with him, knowing he cannot respond. It frees him in a way, having this outlet for his feelings for her — feelings he knows he cannot act on, no matter how often he thinks of her, no matter how strong his new, terrifying, wonderful feelings for her are. He is here for one reason only: to fight beside his brother; and once the fighting is over, God willing, they will both return home, far across the sea, far from Emma Swan, her golden hair and her emerald eyes, and he will leave his feelings behind just as he must leave her behind. 



He is sitting outside the infirmary the next time Emma and Mary Margaret bring rations, four days after she slipped him the envelope. It was by far the largest leap of faith she has ever made, no matter how small it may seem from the outside, simply hoping that he would return her feelings after only two meetings. 

She knows nothing beyond this area, has spent her whole life on the farm and in the fields and woods beyond. She traveled to Philadelphia once, with David and Mary Margaret, after the passing of David’s mother, to visit a lawyer and make sure they would not lose the farm, but there is not much about the trip that she remembers. Everything she has ever known has been Pennsylvania, has been Valley Forge — the very place that became home to what the papers have called the most important battle of their time . Right here, literally in her backyard. War has covered everything she has known, the meadows and the hills she frequented as a girl, the woods she would seek solace in as a teen. Everyone she knows is affected, if not fighting, from the soldiers that have taken over their property  to the boys who helped on the farm: August, the ferrier, and Philip, the plow hand, both of whom she had grown close to, and both of whom  joined the militia as soon as they could. Even Leith, David’s friend from the nearby town who delivered fresh fruits and meats they would not have gotten otherwise, became an officer. Everything Emma has ever known was Valley Forge, and now everything — everyone, everywhere she looks — is war. 

Even he is war. Without the War, he would be far from here, home on another continent, unaware of the existence of Pennsylvania and Valley Forge, and certainly unaware of her. Until just a few days ago, there had been no light for her, no positives when it came to how the war affected her life. 

Is that what he is? A positive? She is not even sure that he returns her affections, could have risked everything just to give a beautiful stranger a piece of candy. What would happen to her if one of the officers at her homestead finds out? It was a risk she never contemplated until this moment, being seen as a traitor. But her heart wants what it wants, even if that is dangerous, the greatest risk she has ever taken. Whether or not it was worth it, though, has yet to be seen. 

When he looks up from the kettle hanging over the fire in front of him, however, his smile appears almost instantly, and she can feel her heart pound at the sight of it. For once, she is thankful for the bite of the Pennsylvania winter wind, turning her cheeks a deep red from the cold and not giving them the chance to show the heat that rushes through her at the sight of him, a heat that simultaneously warms and terrifies her. 

“Good evening,” she says to him with a slight curtsy, still trying her best to hide her feelings from her sister in law. 

It is obvious that her presence catches him off guard, though, and she hears her name pass through his lips for the first time, hopefully not loud enough for Mary Margaret to hear the whisper over the wind and the hood of her coat. But Emma hears it, sees the excitement in his eyes paired with his “Miss Swan ,” and she suddenly has hope again. 

“We brought some more blankets,” Mary Margaret says, though it is just a mumble compared to the sound of her blood rushing through her ears, continuing to darken the color of her cheeks. “And just a bit of dried fruit and a few loaves of bread.” 

“We appreciate anything you can bring us,” he responds, though his eyes are still on Emma. “I’ll assist you in handing them out.” 

“You don’t have to do that, sir,” Emma tries, but he pushes to his feet, then gestures for them to enter the infirmary tent. 

“Truly, I insist.” 

Unlike the other nights, the mess is packed, with men seated at each of the tables in the tent. For the first time, Emma is afraid, overwhelmed by the idea that these men are supposed to be her enemy — and that there are so many of them, all packed in this tent no larger than their barn. Are they as intimidated by her as she is of them? Given the looks on their face as they watch her follow this soldier down the center aisle, she highly doubts it. 

"Robin!" he calls out, simultaneously pulling Emma out of her thoughts and grabbing the attention of a man standing by one of the serving tables, the same man who has helped them in the past. "These lasses have brought us more supplies, can you aid her in unloading the food while I help with the blankets?” 

Wordlessly, over the din of the dining men, Robin nods his head, walking around the table to pick up one of the baskets filled with bread off their cart. She tries not to notice the smile shared with her as the other soldier — her soldier? — lifts one filled with blankets, but it is impossible to ignore his second mumbled “Miss Swan” as he gestures for her to lead him down the aisle. 

“I hope this isn’t too forward, Miss Swan,” he whispers, leaning closer to her as they both reach for a blanket out of the basket, the noise of the dining area muffled by the tent flaps that separate that room from the infirmary. “But I have been ardently awaiting the moment when I would be able to see you again.” 

This time, there is no coldness in the air to blame for the heat that rises to her cheeks, and she snaps her eyes up to meet his, just inches away with only the basket of blankets between them. 

“Please,” she whispers, sliding her fingers forward on the top blanket of the pile, stopping just shy of his. “Tell me what your name is.”

“Killian,” he replies, his voice low, as if afraid that the wounded, comatose bodies around them will learn of their secret. “Killian Jones.” 

He turns his eyes up to hers, and she finds herself drowning in the oceans swirling within his blue eyes. This whole thing was a mistake. She’s in too deep, lost behind enemy lines with no means of escape. 

Does she want to escape? The fact that she’s so unsure is perhaps scarier than the thought in the first place. 

 

The winter only turns colder, and the trip over the hill to the English camp becomes harder with each day. The snow is almost as relentless as the cold, burning Emma’s skin as she moves through it, slower than ever. She can only come once a week anymore, if even that. Men are dying all around, men from both sides. It’s the harshest winter she’s ever witnessed in her twenty years, though she thinks part of it may be the incredible amount of soldiers she’s seen with frostbite. 

At the English base, it’s only worse. The American rebels at least have homesteads, barns that they have taken over, places actually warmed by the fires they start — their makeshift tents do nothing against the bitterness found outside. Not a day passes where the winter doesn’t take the life of one of their soldiers, one of Killian’s friends, many of them barely older than himself. 

Every day, his fear for Liam’s life grows. The only warmth he can find that moves deep into his bones comes from the smiles of Emma Swan, from notes passed in the infirmary and bags of berries, dried fruit, candy left inside his tent flaps as she moves back towards her brother’s farm. These days, she travels alone, the cold too dangerous for her pregnant sister-in-law — Mary Margaret, he learns her name is in her second letter. She’s trying her best to continue to make the trip herself, but the brutal winter is too big a risk to travel as often as she had been, plus she has to do all she can to keep the American officers from growing suspicious. 

Plus, the extras that she has been sneaking for him grow more and more daring. What started with a caramel grew to include rations set aside for the officers, freshly baked bread and bags of tea. And then the day comes — a Tuesday, three days before Christmas — where she almost goes too far. 

“Wherever you’re taking that bowl of stew, it better be worth being charged a traitor.”

The voice from behind her makes her jump, almost losing the contents of the bowl in her hands, but it’s a voice that she would recognize anywhere: Ruby, her only other friend in the world, the cook’s granddaughter. If she were going to tell anyone about Killian, about whatever is going on between them, it would be Ruby, knowing full well that Mary Margaret would tell David — and she is far from ready for her brother to know anything about this. 

Emma turns on her heel, the bowl still in her hands, but the look on her face tells Ruby everything she needs to know. 

“Granny told me to keep an eye on you. She knows that you’re the one that has been stealing rations.” 

Now, not even Ruby can make her feel any less afraid. In the beginning, she was careful, and she knows that she has become less careful as the weeks have passed. 

“It’s for a man, isn’t it?” 

The knowing smile on Ruby’s face tells Emma that the answer lies clearly on her face. 

“How have you been hiding an affair from me?” 

“Ruby,” she pleads, but once Ruby’s mind is on men, there’s nothing she can do to change the subject. 

“Tell me all about it.” 

“Ruby, I — I can’t.” 

The sparkle disappears from her wide brown eyes immediately, every feature on her face falling. “Emma, no.” 

There is nothing more for her to say. Nothing she can say that will make that shocked expression go away without blatantly lying to her friend. 

All she can do is shrug. 

For a moment, Ruby doesn’t move, has no response to what Emma has just revealed. Then she purses her lips and lets out her breath with a shake of her head. 

“He better be worth it, Emma. I mean it.” 

And, not for the first time, she finds herself questioning it. 

There hasn’t been a single decision made in the last few weeks that wasn’t borderline dangerous, and all made for this man that she has barely been able to speak to, for fear of someone learning of their mutual affections. Is he worth it? Is he worth the terrified pounding of her heart when she steals rations for him? Worth walking through the bitter cold only to smile at him and hope she has the chance to pass on whatever she has gathered for him? 

And what has he sacrificed for her? A few jokes from his fellow soldiers, maybe ? He is not the one walking through the snow to see her, not the one putting his life on the line bringing her presents. She cannot even be sure that he has the same desires that she does — perhaps he wants nothing more than a fling , if that were even possible. Is she ready to throw away everything (no matter how little her everything is) for a man that she has barely said a dozen words to? 

She sets the bowl back down on the counter, shaking her head. Is she simply being a fool? 

What would Ruby do? she asks herself — dangerous, because she knows how much her friend enjoys her flings with the opposite sex. In the mirror across the room, she catches her own eye and pushes some of the flyaway hairs back into her plait. 

She won’t know until she asks. 

 

The next time Emma enters the infirmary, the bowl of stew and three slices of fresh bread hidden beside a letter in the bottom of the blanket baskets, the man that he has been sitting next to in the infirmary is awake. 

Liam can tell immediately that his brother has changed in the weeks he was comatose. Not just changed; too far gone for anything Liam could possibly do. He manages to keep his mouth shut as he watches their interaction — the way Killian’s fingers brush against hers handing out the blankets, the way his smile lights up every time they share a glance. Her time in the infirmary tent is brief, but watching their interaction is all Liam needs to do to know his brother has fallen in love while he was indisposed. 

He needs to make him change his mind. 

“Tell me about her,” he says, watching him watch her walk away as Killian returns to his seat by the cot. 

It takes a moment for Liam’s words to take, and he tries to erase all emotion from his face before turning back to his brother. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  

“Killian, I know you better than anyone. All I had to do was watch the way you look at her.” 

“It’s not like that,” he says, but his fear is obvious on his face. Of course he’s afraid — she must be an American. Falling in love with the enemy, a complication Liam wishes he found surprising, knowing his younger brother. “I can assure you.” 

But Liam shakes his head, seeing right through the white lie. “I can see it in your eyes, little brother. That girl has won your heart." 

Killian turns to where she has just left the tent, as if wishing she would reappear, and the blush that rises to his cheeks and to the tips of his ears would have given him away, if there was still any question. "She is beautiful." 

"And you're absolutely taken by her. There's nothing either of us could do about it anymore, enemy or no." 

Killian’s eyes snap back to his brother’s, the wistful wishing from just a moment before replaced by anger, a snap in his voice Liam rarely experiences. "Miss Swan is far from the enemy. She doesn't want to be here any more than you or I."

Liam shakes his head, knowing that his words will hurt his brother’s soul, but he also knows they need to be said. "But the enemy she still is. We both know you cannot give into your crush, it would only be disastrous. At best, you will both feel heartbreak once we are moved to a different location. At worst, you would both be branded traitors, possibly even killed for it. I’m sorry, Killian, but you must stop this." 

Killian nods, but his mind is far away from the cordoned-off section of the wounded tent — somewhere with a girl with shining green eyes and hair like the sun, Liam would guess. 

Now, he only has to bring his attention back to Valley Forge. 



He spends the next few hours thinking of this, of Emma and the way her eyes sparkle when she smiles at him. Liam is right, of course. Killian has never known a time when he was wrong, especially when it came to matters of the heart. Liam knew him better than he knew himself — cliche, yes, but still true. His heart had been stolen, right out from under him, and he cannot even say when. 

Perhaps that very first day that they met, when she pulled back the curtain and let the sun shine through her hair. Perhaps the first time she laughed at him, silenced every fear in his heart as he recalled some of his favorite moments with his brother, too scared to think of a future without him. Or the first time she handed him a small package of dried apricots — a delicacy in these war-torn days, but reminding him of a better time, of summer afternoons with his mother when all was right in the world. Perhaps it was even earlier that day, when her whole countenance shone as she realized Liam had awoken from his coma, a physical manifestation of the happiness that he felt in every nook and cranny of himself. Yes, of course Liam was right: he could not remember the moment, but he had fallen in love with Emma Swan.

He has to end it, before they both find themselves broken.