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as sweet as candy

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“Hey! Get off me, lady!” Greg Mendell yells. He struggles in her grip, throwing his elbow back and hitting her cheek. Emma stumbles in her heels but it isn’t enough to free him of her hold. She feels her blood boiling and his failed escape clearly has the same effect on her skip. “My father is a lawyer! I will sue you for everything you own, you f–”

Emma pushes him hard on the shoulder through the doors, one grip still on his cuffed hands behind his back. “Maybe he should give you legal advice on skipping your court date.”

She brings him to the front desk, her eyes scanning the bullpen to see if her brother is working. Instead, a head of curly blonde hair catches her eye and the look of awe on the young girl’s face captures her attention.

“Woah,” she sees the girl mouth, her tiny legs swinging on the office chair she sits upon.

She fells the girl’s eyes on her as she books the skip, and the moment Greg is firmly in police custody and she is ready to leave, the little girl comes bounding up to her.

“Are you an undercover cop?” she whispers so loudly that Emma is sure half the precinct heard.

“Uh, no,” Emma replies. Her lips quirk up as she shrugs her shoulders. “Sorry, kid.”

“Well, what are you?” the girl presses. Her eyes are wide in wonder, colored such a sharp blue that it takes Emma by surprise.

“I’m a bail bondsperson.” The little girl nods as if it all makes sense but Emma doubts she knows what a bondsperson is. “Are your parents nearby?” Emma asks. The girl’s face becomes pinched and her nose scrunches up before she nods her head.

“Yeah, my papa is in interrogation,” she says with a shrug, like being stuck in a police station is a normal routine.

Life experience taught Emma that it very well might be. She heard rumors of incidents happening to other foster kids, having been dragged to the station as a foster parent was arrested for one reason or another, waiting on the hard wooden benches for the social worker to pick them up. It happened to her once. Her foster father had been a creep and after one particular come-on that Emma escaped, she called up her social worker. She could see her foster father in the holding cell as she waited, the precinct of the small town too tiny and without any other seating to allow her privacy away from him.

He threw ugly words at her, threats that she wasn’t entirely sure were empty, and practically spit at her feet. The wait felt like years.

So Emma bends down in her dress and scans the girl’s face for any visible injuries, grateful to see none.

“I’m sure it can get pretty boring waiting. Are you doing okay?”

“I have my markers so it’s not too bad,” Alice answers. She has a dimple in one of her cheeks when she smiles wide and Emma fells her heart melt. It’s almost the same place as Henry’s.

“I’m Emma.”

“I’m –”

“Alice!” Emma stands abruptly and turns towards the voice, noticing a cop come rushing towards the lobby. He must be new, Emma thinks. Then her mind immediately catalogues how attractive he is. Strands of dark hair fall over his forehead before he pushes it back with his hand, a ring adorning his pointer finger. Scruff covers the sharp line of his jaw and winds around his mouth in a way that reminds Emma of those ridiculously good-looking Calvin Klein models on the posters in Time Squares.

She never swoons for a man in uniform – having her foster brother as a cop quickly deteriorated any fantasies she had in the past and nothing brought that line of thinking alive again. Until she sees the mystery man who looks like the uniform is made for him to be the wet dreams of every woman in a seven-mile radius. Seriously, he belongs on one of those raunchy novels at the grocery store checkout.

Damn it. He is gorgeous.

“Papa!” the girl’s voice calls from behind Emma and she watches as the blonde darts around her legs and jumps at the cop, his reaction time impeccable as he quickly bends down to grab her right as she leaps, swinging her up to rest on his hip.

Oh.

Her dad is a cop.

Emma lets out a sigh of relief.

“I thought I told you to stay at my desk and color until it was time to go, darling,” the man chastises, worry taking any heat out of his words. Damn. It. He has an accent too.

Alice wraps her arms around her father’s neck and leans in close to his ear. “But Papa, I needed to investigate,” she says in the same loud whisper as before.

“What did you need to investigate?” the man asks, mimicking his daughter’s tone with a smile at the little girl that Emma always dreamed of getting as a child.

“I needed to know if Emma was an undercover cop or not.” Her tiny hand curls into a fist, one finger pointing at Emma.

Alice’s father follows his daughter’s finger and he meets Emma’s eyes. It immediately becomes clear to her where Alice gets her blue eyes from, and Emma sucks in a breath at the image before her.

His blue eyes captivate her. They remind her of ocean water in the Caribbean and she is itching for a dip. He licks his lips and her eyes trace the movement subconsciously. She clears her throat to be rid of the indecent thoughts ready to be vocalized while he shakes his head.

The man shifts Alice to settle better on his side and reaches one hand out towards her.

“Killian Jones,” he says. Emma admires the way his tongue works over every letter of his name as she clasps her hand in his.

“Emma Swan.”

Before they can get much further, David comes bounding into the lobby, grinning wide. He spots their hands, still mid shake, and grins at them both.

“Killian, Alice!” he greets as he comes to stand at Emma’s side. They’ve dropped their hands, a hasty effort to right themselves as though they were doing anything wrong. “This is my sister, Emma.”

*

David tells her that when Killian had moved and was relocated to his unit, he suggested Emma’s building to him. Which really shouldn’t surprise her as David was anal when it came to finding her a new apartment once he got engaged to Mary Margaret. He ran crime reports of the area, searched out who did the usual patrols, looked up any reports made at each building she looked at, and printed it all out in a mess of a pile that left her overwhelmed. Mary Margaret had been kind enough to organize everything and put it in a binder. Helpful, but still overwhelming.

Apparently Killian and Alice moved in a month ago. She learns one day, her and Killian greeting each other on the landing outside their apartments because of course the gorgeous new cop who works with her brother lives across the hall, that it’s just the two of them. Alice’s mother is a situation he’d rather not revisit and she gets it. For the first few years of Henry’s life, it had been the same thing with Neal. Though Killian makes it known that Alice’s mother will never have a place in her life, for the good of Alice.

She sees the two of them more frequently after that, though Killian a great deal more than Alice. He seems to be at the station most times when she stops by with a skip or to bring her brother out for lunch. There’s a kindness, a polite distance, in their interactions but she can read the hunger in his eyes as well as her own. It lays dormant just under the surface and crackles to life when they get a rare moment alone. Neither of them moves on it though.

The first time Henry meets Killian, he sees the man outside his door searching through his wallet for a spare key.

“Are you supposed to be here?” Henry asks. Neal dropped him off downstairs after a weekend at his place and his backpack, filled with clothes and his Nintendo Switch, weighs heavy against his back.

“Uh, hello, lad,” Killian says, turning to face Henry with red on his cheeks and his finger coming up to rub behind his ear. “Aye. This is my dwelling, but unfortunately I seem to have locked myself out and misplaced my key…”

Henry looks him up and down, tells him to wait a moment, and keeps one eye on him as he unlocks his own door. He slams it shut quickly behind him and calls out to Emma.

“Mom!” He doesn’t see her immediately. Red leather jacket strewn atop the couch and boots flung by the small kitchen island, he figures his mom is probably in her room. He drops his duffle by the door and grabs the orange juice container from the fridge. “There’s a strange man loitering by the door!”

What?!” Emma yells as she emerges from her room. She half-heartedly glares at her son drinking straight from the carton and quickly ties her wet hair up at the back of her neck. “What do you mean there’s a strange man by the door?”

Henry shrugs. “I’ve never seen him before and he’s just hanging out in the hallway.” He leans closer, and whispers like they’re discussing the secret identity of a James Bond villain, “He’s got an accent.

One beat passes then two before Emma realizes that Henry is speaking about Killian. She sighs and shakes her head. “That’s our new neighbor.” Almost to the door, Emma turns to Henry. “Use a glass, kid.”

The contents of Killian’s wallet are strewn across the hallway floor, the man himself bent down by it as he shakes his wallet.

The scene is so perplexing. Every interaction with Killian since their initial greeting has brought her to the conclusion that the man is incapable of being anything but completely put together and suave. He offers a flirty comment occasionally, incredibly smooth with his delivery and lifting an eyebrow that can be construed as a challenge, and is considered the neatest and best organized officer in the precinct. That last bit is something she has to agree with. After dealing with David’s scrawl and Will’s illegible notes for far too long, it’s been refreshing to not have to work to understand what’s written on her paperwork. So she asks, “Is everything okay out here?”

Never before has she had the pleasure of seeing such a debonair man become so flustered. He licks his lips as he looks up at her from where he’s bent and Emma takes glee at watching the tips of his ears turn a bright pink.

“I’m not sure how much your lad has explained but it appears that I’m locked out of my apartment.”

And that’s how Emma shows off her lockpicking skills. A particular skillset that has always made her nervous or less than because of the necessity it came from, but Killian looks at her in wonder like she has magic in a land without it.

“Bloody brilliant,” he says with a grin. Her own cheeks heat this time and Killian’s soft smile hints at a smirk but he tapers it down. He turns the knob on his door and opens the apartment. It’s quiet, lights off, and she remembers Alice vaguely telling her earlier in the week about her very first sleepover and assumes Killian is getting his daughter later. “I owe you a glass of rum.”

“Raincheck on the rum?” she asks. “I’ve an eleven-year-old that probably lived off of pop tarts and cosmic brownies all weekend. I need to get some protein in him.”

Killian’s grin remains but his gaze is calculating. “Are you sure you’re not regaling me with your eating habits, Swan?” She rolls her eyes, lest he realize how true his statement is. “Let me know when I can pay up.”

It takes her another three weeks before she calls in that owed glass of rum. Henry swears that Killian was a pirate in a past life – because apparently only pirates utter ‘Aye’ – and she just needs to share that with someone and who better than the man in question. He takes the assessment with a hearty laugh and a grin that promises mischief. “I do love to pillage and plunder,” he says. Amusement laces his tone but Emma sees the hunger in his eyes that’s never dimmed.

Somehow, it starts a tradition.

Alice is adapting well to her new life in the city, making friends at the various summer camps and activities she’s been signed up for. The girl is excited about everything she sees and wants to try it all out at least once. Who is Killian to deny her that? That’s what he tells her, at least, and as she learns their similar pasts – no parents, time in the foster system, brothers who tried to offer them everything they had – she gets it.

For children with nothing, they want to give their kids everything.

It’s also why she agrees to let Henry go to a sleepaway camp for the first time ever. The brochure prided the eight-week writing workshop for preteens as being the best in the nation, with some notable young adult authors leading a few classes over the summer. Henry’s face lit up as he showed it to her and his words were coming a mile a minute. So she signed him up, no matter how much she’d miss him over the summer. Anything to make her kid happy.

On the nights when Emma was lonely without Henry and Killian had dropped Alice off at another sleepover, they shared a glass of rum. It’s easily the most effortless friendship Emma’s ever had in her life. There are no expectations of each other, from divulging secrets to keeping up conversation. She never knew she could feel such a comfortable peace just sitting quietly next to someone.

It’s not that they don’t want to talk to each other but more that they’re afraid. Silence is safe. Silence is guarded. Only after a particularly frustrating skip that seemed to call out all her insecurities did Emma babble into her glass of rum, her life story spilling out and she was no use to stop it.

Killian shares in kind. The lies Alice’s mother told him, the way she dropped the baby on his doorstep without a word. She’s almost not sure whose ex was worse but Killian reminds her it’s not a competition and at least they are free of the pain, and her anger settles somewhat.

When Henry returns at the end of August – practically a man because he spent his twelfth birthday away with friends and he’s suddenly become independent – and Alice’s sleepovers come to a slow as the school year starts, Emma and Killian find themselves struggling for a new routine.

What results is a weekly dinner together on Thursday nights. Once she made the mistake of telling Mary Margaret she couldn’t go to the movies because it’d cut into Family Dinner Night. The woman asked, saying David didn’t tell her they had plans and then Emma, red faced and wishing to be anywhere else, had to explain she just meant dinner with her neighbor and his daughter. She never heard the end of that.

Family Dinner Night.

She hates the way that rings in her head long after it slipped to Mary Margaret. It’s not like they’re actually a family. It’s just friends and their kids getting together once a week. They get tidbits of each other’s lives and their kids bond over school and Henry takes Alice under his wing without a second thought. She could get used to it.

And that’s what scares her. Because it’s easy to fall into that illusion that they’re one big happy family but they aren’t together and it’s just one night a week and even if she’s come to care for Alice and her father and they’ve done the same for her and Henry, she should keep her distance. They were too afraid of their own feelings beforehand but now that their kids have become close? A relationship was a no-go.

So they steal glances over dinner and brush hands as they pass the salad bowl and leave the hunger simmering beneath the surface never allowed to boil over.

*

A week before Halloween, Emma spots Greg Mendell in the grocery store. Killian lamented to her about being unable to find Alice’s seasonal favorite – pumpkin spice hot chocolate – and on her weekly run, she meanders down the aisle with her eyes on the lookout for the box.

Instead she sees the guy who continually skips his court dates and she groans.

Greg got out a day after Emma dropped him off, a new court date scheduled and someone else paying his bond this time, and then disappeared off the face of the planet. When he popped back up in the city, his file went to one of the senior bondspeople in her firm after being hired by the fiancée who footed the bill, trying to figure out new tactics since the man refuses to do the one thing required of him and show up at court. Emma was glad it wasn’t given to her. Honey traps were easy when they didn’t know who she was but if she had to deal with Greg again, it’d mean dropping Henry off at Neal’s so she could spend a night in the bug staking out Greg’s old haunts and hoping he showed up.

But here he was. Down the grocery aisle from her. And holding the last box of pumpkin spice hot chocolate.

She sucks in a deep breath, moves her grocery cart to the side, and then shakes out her arms. Her footsteps are steady and quiet as she approaches and it’s when she’s almost to him that he looks up and spots her. “Crap.”

One word and then he took off, hot chocolate box in one hand and grocery basket in the other. He maneuvered his way through the aisles, around the shopping carts of other customers, and through to the produce area. Emma is hot on his heels when he tosses the basket at her and she throws her arms up to protect her face. It bounces off of her forearms, the edge slipping through a small space to scratch above her eyebrow, and then she’s off again. She ducks the apples he picks up and throws at her and she even manages to catch one and toss it back, nailing him in the back of the head.

His stumble is enough for Emma to catch up and she tackles him to the ground just next to the cantaloupes. The pumpkin spice hot chocolate box is crumpled in his hand as she pulls his arms back to cuff him and she nearly growls. She chooses to focus on the bright side and the fact that now it can be hers. Whipping the box out of his hands, a pitiful moan falling from his lips, is almost as great as cuffing him.

*

The cut above her head is still bleeding by the time she gets home, slow drips of blood from under the band-aid sliding down her forehead, and a crinkled bag of take-out in her arms is all she has as proof of her efforts to grocery shop. The manager, at least, had given her the hot chocolate free of charge for stopping Greg’s assault.

Footsteps on the stairs behind her are Emma’s only warning before Alice comes bounding into the hallway.

“Emma!” she yells. She lurches forward to wrap her arms around her thighs and Emma grins.

“Hey, kid.”

Alice looks up and her mouth drops open. Emma furrows her brows in confusion only to wince. Right. The cut.

“Woah. What’s that from? Are you okay?” the little girl asks in wonder. Her arms still tightly encase Emma’s legs and it reminds her of when Henry did the same thing at her age.

“Bad guy. Don’t worry, I got him in the end.”

“Cool,” Alice grins. Emma nearly gasps in surprise at the sudden gap in the girl’s teeth.  “Oh! Neat, isn’t it?” Her tongue pokes out of the gap where a front tooth once was and her grin widens. “Popped it out during school.”

“You did, did you?” Emma asks. She shifts the items in her hand to reach down and gently grasp Alice’s chin, inspecting the gap. After a moment, she grins at the girl. “That looks awesome.”

“There was blood everywhere!” Alice exclaims. She steps away from Emma and holds up the tooth in her hand. “It was all over my hand. I showed Billy Thompson my tooth and he started crying! It was great!”

“Starfish,” a voice calls from the stairs. Killian appears, his uniform in pristine condition as always, and an embarrassed look crosses his features. “What did I say about exaggerations?”

Alice pouts and Emma laughs softly, standing up and leaning against her door. “You got a monopoly on stretching the truth of your adventures?” she asks. Killian sends a smirk in her direction.

“I assure you, Swan, that tales of my exploits are most definitely not exaggerated.”

Emma’s nearly certain her gulp is loud enough for all of them to hear. Thankfully, Henry pokes his head out in search of food, sending a greeting to Killian and snagging their takeout before Alice bounds into Emma’s apartment, repeating her tale of her first lost tooth to her kid.

“You alright?” Killian nods his head towards the cut on her forehead and Emma reaches up to touch it, blood still wet.

“I’ll be fine. It’s superficial.”

“What happened?” Emma gestures him to follow her into her apartment. The pumpkin her and Henry carved the night before rests on the table next to the door. Their cutouts are sloppy and there’s still some pumpkin guts inside but Henry wanted to do the carving himself this year and even if his hand is mightier with a pen than a carving knife, she wanted to show everyone her son’s skills.

“Greg Mendell,” she answers quick before spotting Henry sneaking Alice some candy. “Hey! Nice try kid but put those back! They’re for trick-or-treaters.”

“Did the git skip again?”

“Yep,” she says. “This time on his fiancée.”

“Bloody hell.” She hums in agreement. Between the suspects he brings in and the guys that skips on the bail she put up, they see a rather unsavory lot of people.

“At least I got this.” She offers up the crushed box of pumpkin spice hot chocolate and he grins in delight.

“You’re a marvel, Swan.” Their eyes connect and don’t stray for a few moments until a drop of blood hits her eyebrow. His eyes linger on the cut and his eyebrows pull together in concern. “Who took care of that?”

“Scarlet.”

A deep sigh leaves his throat and as his breath brushes her nose, she realizes how close they are. From the corner of her eye, she can see that Henry and Alice are paying no mind, raised voicing indicating their shared excitement of their Halloween costumes. “Another git if you ask me. Scarlet apparently failed his first aid training three times before he passed. Never let him patch you up, love. Come.”

He ushers her to her bathroom like its his. Ruffling through the cabinets come with an ease and familiarity that makes her breath catch in her throat. He moves without a thought and Emma never had someone in her space before that could do that. When did this happen?

She licks her lips when Killian cups her jaw, turning her head to the side. It’s a stark contrast to the way she cradled Alice’s earlier. Where her touch was maternal, his has no name. There’s a gentleness in his fingertips and a care for the way he handles her, the brush of his hand soft and calming. He peels away the wet band-aid and Emma barely notices. His Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows and Emma is left wondering if their close proximity is affecting him the way it is her.

“What the hell is that?!” she hisses. Her attempts to pull her head away yield no result as Killian keeps a tight hold on her chin, thumb rubbing against her dimple.

“Antiseptic.” His face is set in concentration. His lips pull in a frown as he wipes the edges of her cut. A mere few inches separate her mouth from Killian’s and the thought makes her chest tingle in a way she feels like she’s got a buildup of static electricity. She quickly focuses her gaze on the ghost decoration Henry put on the towel rack. Her thoughts are less dangerous that way. “Thanks for the confirmation that Scarlet’s an idiot and even forgot to do that.”

“I got it. Scarlet can’t be trusted for anything but cannon fodder.”

His answering grin is nearly blinding as he pauses in his task and meets her eyes. “Atta girl, Swan.” They maintain contact for a moment before he adds a bit more antiseptic and she hisses again.

“Can you use anything that doesn’t sting?!”

“There’s always rum.”

“I think that’d make it worse.”

“And it’d be a bloody waste of it, too.”

Killian steps back and grabs the band-aids from the bathroom cabinet next. It’s a box of animal designs she got while on sale and the man before her spends too much time searching through it before finally pulling one out.

She doesn’t question it. Killian is notoriously anal about some things and he probably deemed half the box to be full of bandages too small.

At least she doesn’t question it until she comes back to the kitchen and Henry laughs so hard that some of the rice from his Chinese food flies out of his nose.

“What?” she asks. She begins fixing a plate for herself and for Killian who insisted on cleaning up in the bathroom.

“Nice band-aid,” is all Henry responds with. She shoots him a look. Alice’s giggles have her questioning what is so funny. A quick check at her phone camera, Killian emerging from the bathroom with a shit-eating grin on his face that should irritate her instead of fluster her appearing in the background, and she has her answer.

He gave her a swan band-aid.

*

Knock, knock.

The last thing Emma expects when she opens the door is a mini-me.

Trick-or-treaters of the building have knocked on their apartment door throughout the day, a range of Spider-Man’s, Batman’s, princesses, and a minion or two have all come asking for candy. Her Spotify playlist for the day is on repeat for the fourth time and it always brings an extra bounce to the kid’s steps. But to open the door and see a little blonde girl, curly hair straightened and wearing a red leather jacket that’s so small it’s adorable, Emma isn’t sure how to react.

“Hi Emma!” the sweet voice calls to her. Her smile in return is automatic.

“Hi, Alice,” Emma says. Her hand darts for the candy bowl Henry helped her put together before heading to Neal’s and she offers it to the girl who takes a piece. “You look awfully familiar.”

“Can you guess who I am?” A gap-toothed smile greets her eyes and Emma feels her heart warm. Every day since losing her tooth, Alice has come running to knock on her door after school and give an update on how her big girl tooth is coming in. There’s a little nub of white along the gumline and Alice shows it off constantly.

Emma inspects Alice’s outfit, adding a little bit of dramatics as she slowly walks around the giggling girl. She pushes her own wishful thinking aside and guesses. “Hannah Montana?”

Noooo, silly! I’m you!”

It’s one thing to suspect it but another to confirm.

Crying is not something Emma does on a regular basis. Probably because of her emotionally stunted childhood. But she can probably count the number of occasions she’s cried on, most of them involving Henry. Her kid wrote a whole essay about how she was his hero and she cried for a week when she went to bed. Never did she think she could have something – someone – so great in her life.

(She also copied, laminated, and framed the essay to display in their living room and at work.)

But she feels the tears burning at the back of her eyes and she bends down to Alice’s level with a grin. “Are we sure it’s not Christmas? Because this feels like the best gift ever.”

Her breath leaves her lungs in a quick moment as Alice tosses her body against Emma’s to wrap her arms around her neck, pumpkin basket thumping against her back. Alice’s apartment door opens and she hears leather rubbing against leather.

“I take it you have no tricks, only treats?”

Emma turns her chin on Alice’s shoulder to look at Killian and her mouth dries. He stands in his doorway, legs clad in leather so tight she wonders how he got it on, shirt unbuttoned to nearly his stomach with chest hair on display for the world to see, and a heavy leather duster settling against his body. A fake plastic hook is latched onto the pocket of his leather pants and eyeliner frames his eyes in a way that make the blue seem brighter. “Happy Halloween, Swan.”

“Papa!” Alice exclaims, letting go of Emma to jump at Killian. He picks her up with the same soft smile he saves just for his daughter and if Emma wasn’t already on the ground, she probably would have swooned. Standing up, her hands brush the imaginary dust off of her legs and putting the candy bowl on the doorway table, she forces her attention on Alice.

“How about you go inside and pick a couple more candies? You can leave them at your apartment to save room for all the other treats you’ll get.”

“Thanks, Emma!”

In a blur of red, Alice wiggles her way out of her father’s arms and into Emma’s apartment. Killian stands there with all the bravado of Captain Hook left out in the middle of the sea as he scratches behind his ear.

“I hope you don’t mind,” he says, gesturing to where Alice kneels on a kitchen chair and is digging through the candy bowl. His cheeks don’t turn brighter but the tips of his ears do, to her great delight. “She was going to be Tinkerbell up until she saw you after the Greg Mendell incident a week ago. There was no changing her mind after that. She’s been quite taken with your profession since she met you.”

Perhaps it’s Nina Simone’s intoxicating voice emanating from her apartment singing about putting a spell on someone or it’s the way his eyes crinkle at the corners when he grins at her. Perhaps it’s been the hunger clawing under the surface for months. But Emma takes a breath and takes a step.

“And her father?” Her voice is more breathless than she anticipated, quiet in the hall and meant only for them. Killian pushes off of the doorframe and moves that last step between them.

“I’d venture to say he’s been quite taken with you.” His eyes glance over her shoulder to check on Alice before focusing on her again. “This might be hard to believe but I think even more so than his daughter.”

She grins, huffing out a laugh, cups his cheek, and leans up to press a kiss to his lips. His hands are quick to grab her waist and pull her against him. The plastic hook digs into her hip and she can feel the cool metal of the extra rings he wears against the small of her back but she pays no mind, not when his mouth is moving over hers with such delicious intent and passion.

It’s as her fingers are threading through his hair and his is doing the same to her long locks that Alice makes her presence known to them.

“Does this mean you’ll finally let me put a fake cut on my head like Emma had last week?”

“Absolutely not.” Killian pulls away laughing and lifts Alice up. She knows the feeling. The one where you’re not sure whether the next time you pick up your kid will be the last because they’re too grown to want it anymore. It’s hard letting your kid grow up and be independent of you.

He turns to Emma, lips swollen and hair mussed, but his eyes alight with a sparkle and a fire she hadn’t seen before. Her own turn up in response. He winks – a terrible excuse for the action as he can barely keep one eye open doing it – and turns back to his daughter.

It’s hard, but at least they’re not alone.

The air is light and Emma can’t wait for Henry to return in a few hours so they can share stories about their holiday. Things might be looking a little different for them when Christmas comes around and the thought is as sweet as the treats in her candy bowl.