Her target runs.
Of course he does.
They usually do. They’ve spent their whole adult lives running, whether it’s from responsibility, bad debt, bad decisions or the families they’ve left broken in their wake. Why wouldn’t they run from someone trying to haul their miserable asses into court to face the music?
The guy had been happy enough when he’d thought she was flirting with him, of course, but he clearly didn’t want to talk about rescheduling his missed court date.
Yeah, they usually run, but today Emma finds it particularly grating. It’s been a shitty week, no, make that a shitty month, and chasing some squirrelly mark through the streets of Boston is not how she wants to spend her Sunday afternoon. Still, as pissed as she is at Walsh for cheating on her with that red-headed Mary Poppins wannabe from his office and earning himself a one-way ticket to Dumpsville, she’s still got to eat. Bringing in this loser will give her enough to fill her refrigerator, her cupboards and a decent chunk to stash away in her ‘one day I won’t have to chase lowlifes’ fund.
Sighing, she adjusts her backpack straps and starts after the guy, grateful that she’d adopted the guise of an earnest student today rather than a femme fatale. Some days she’s just not in the mood to run in killer heels, especially when there’s still a light covering of snow on the ground. As it turns out, though, her target doesn’t plan on doing much running at all. She tails him to the top of a short flight of stairs leading down to a park favoured by skateboarders, then everything happens in a blur.
There’s a hard shove from behind, making her stumble forwards, then her backpack is wrenched to one side, knocking her completely off balance. Swearing loudly, she reaches for the metal handrail but it’s out of reach and she’s going down, tripping over her own feet as she falls, her sneakered feet finding no traction on stairs glossy with ice.
It’s all over in a heartbeat, then she’s sprawled on the path at the bottom of the steps, the wind knocked clear out of her lungs. She’s not sure which part of her body hurts more, but she can taste blood on her lip and her right knee is on fire. Shit, shit, shit.
Through the haze of breathless pain, she hears her target bid her a sneering farewell from the top of the stairs. “Why don’t you get a real job, bitch?”
Then he’s gone, leaving her alone with the knowledge that she’s just bungled the most routine of skip grabs and a throbbing in her head fierce enough to bring her to tears. David is going to be pissed, she thinks hazily. She shifts, trying to find a pain-free route to a sitting position, but her left shoulder has other ideas. Sucking in a sharp breath, she lies perfectly still, staring at the perfectly blue winter sky above her. The ground beneath her is cold, and her backpack is digging painfully into her spine, but she tells herself that this is a popular park on a Sunday afternoon. Someone will find her soon enough.
As she stares up at the tiny white clouds skittering across the blue afternoon sky, the ridiculous thought occurs to her that at least today isn’t Valentine’s Day. Next Sunday is going to be crappy enough, giving that she’s just ditched her cheating boyfriend of three years and all that jazz. The last thing she needs is to spend it trussed up in traction.
Thinking hurts in more ways than one. Wincing, she closes her eyes, knowing she shouldn’t, that she should try to stay awake, but the pain in her head has stepped it up a notch, pounding in time with the memory of her skip’s parting words. Why don’t you get a real job, bitch?
When the muffled sound of hurried footsteps and concerned voices finally filter through the haze of pain, Emma Swan has to admit fuzzily to herself that she’s often wondered exactly the same thing.
Ah, the dull and dreary Sunday nightshift, Killian thinks as he trudges through the brightly lit corridor. It’s his least favourite shift of all, a time when there always seems to be an extra portion of melancholy in the air, affecting both staff and patients alike.
He’d voiced this thought once to Whale, many years ago, and had been called a soppy prat for his trouble. At the thought of Whale, Killian feels the usual phantom spasm in his left wrist, his fingers flexing involuntarily. That particular conversation with his former colleague feels as though it happened in another life. Perhaps that’s because, when all is said and done, it truly had.
He shuts down that particular train of thought, and instead does his best not to think about how much he’s longing for his bed, not to mention a stiff drink. It’s been a long week, so it’s gratifying when Lucas greets him with enthusiasm when he arrives at the nurses’ station.
“Thank God.” They’d had two staff call in sick for this shift alone, meaning they’d been operating on bare bones, no pun intended. “You’re a lifesaver, Jones.”
“Rather ironic, considering I’m quite sure you’re off to inhale a lovely bunch of carcinogens along with your chocolate bar supper.”
“Ha ha.” Rolling her eyes, Ruby fishes her locker keys out of the pocket of her uniform with an air of bravado, but he notices she takes care to hide her nicotine-stained fingers from his gaze. “If it makes you feel better, I’m quitting tomorrow. Smoking, that is. Chocolate is forever.”
“Good woman.” He’s heard this declaration before, but he knows better than mention that salient fact.
“Speaking of chocolate, have you found a date to take out for Valentine’s next Sunday?”
This again, he thinks sourly, wishing his colleague didn’t feel the need to make sure everyone in her life was as romantically enmeshed as she was herself. “So I can endure a few hours of awkward conversation with someone I hardly know while adoring couples make doe eyes at each other all around us? No, thank you.”
“You know,” Ruby says as she flicks through the patient charts, “I've heard there was a time when you were the biggest romantic around.”
“That was a long time ago,” he says with an indifference he hopes one day to truly feel, then claps his hands together, ignoring the faint twinge in his left wrist. “Who do we have in residence tonight?”
They’ve worked together for a few years now, and the handover is fast and thorough. Thankfully, there’s only been one new admission in the eight beds under Ruby’s watchful eye since he’d worked a morning shift yesterday, a twenty-eight year-old woman who had apparently taken a tumble down an icy flight of steps this afternoon.
“Concussion.” Ruby hands him the woman’s chart. “She’s being kept overnight for observation. See you in twenty, Jones.” Then she’s gone, a spring in her step as she heads for the outside world and her cigarette, leaving him reading the catalogue of the new patient’s injuries. Dislocated left shoulder and badly sprained right knee – he feels his mouth twist in a sympathetic grimace - along with a decent catalogue of lacerations and bruising.
Hooking the chart back onto the metal foot of her bed, he takes a moment to study the new arrival. Deep in a medicated sleep, she looks far younger than the almost-thirty years that her chart claims, her skin unlined, thick eyelashes dark against her pale cheeks. Ironic that her last name is Swan, he muses. Her hair is the kind of golden blonde favoured by Disney princesses, although they don’t usually wear their flowing locks scraped back in a hasty knot. He suspects the hairstyle would normally suit her, given her lovely heart-shaped face, but at the moment it only serves to accentuate the swelling on her temple, the three stiches in her left eyebrow and the split in her bottom lip.
It’s obviously been too long a day, because something about these particular minor injuries sends a tender pang curling through his chest. “Poor lass”, he murmurs softly, then gives himself a mental shake. Steady on, mate. He’s never denied that he’s a sucker for a pretty face under most circumstances, but he draws the line at patients.
Still, he takes a moment to refill her water cup and make sure the light blanket is covering her adequately. The other three patients in the room are sleeping as peacefully as their respective ailments allow, and the most pervasive sound in the room is the perennial air-conditioning units and the muted sound of traffic from the main road below. So it’s quite the shock when a dainty hand fairly slaps his away from the edge of the blanket, a harsh but feminine whisper cutting through the silence.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
Startled, he lifts his head to find Emma Swan glaring at him. Clearing his throat gently, he perches on the edge of the chair beside her bed, keeping a careful distance between them as he gingerly rubs the back of his left hand. This is far from the first time that a recovering patient has sworn at him while under the influence of pain medication, but there’s something in this particular accusation that sounds oddly personal.
“Have we met before, love?” He knows full well that they haven’t, of course. There is no way in Hell he would have forgotten her.
“You think everything’s a joke, don’t you?” Her eyes flash green fire as she spits out the words in a raspy voice. “How could you? I trusted you, Walsh.”
She’s sporting stiches and a split lip while wearing a shapeless hospital gown, and he suspects she might be one of the most striking women he’s ever met. Feeling as though he’s playing with fire, he reaches out to pat her hand, thinking better of it when he sees the aforementioned hand is curled in a fist. Perhaps that’s for the best, he tells himself. Sitting back in the plastic chair, he chooses his words with care. “Do you know where you are, Emma?”
She sneers at him, the cut on her bottom lip livid against her white teeth. “I put your vintage Hollywood posters through the office shredder, so don’t bother asking for them back.”
Despite the furious triumph in her voice, he has to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling. Whoever this Walsh is, Killian can’t help feeling he’s somewhat of a tosser. Anyone who would disappoint such a wonderfully fiery creature is clearly not a MENSA candidate. “I have an idea. Why don’t you rest for a while, and you can yell at me some more later?”
“Whatever.” Her vivid green eyes are already closing, her words slurring to a mumble. “I didn’t want to go to the circus with you anyway.”
With her eyes safely closed, Killian allows himself a wide grin at her nonsensical ramblings. He can’t wait to talk to this one once she’s herself again. He has the feeling he’ll be just as enchanted by her non-medicated self.
(Not that he ever lets himself fall for a patient.)
It’s only when he’s back at the nurses’ station that it occurs to him there could be a connection between Emma Swan’s injuries and her anger at this Walsh character. His smile instantly fades, a frown taking its place, a dull sense of dread lurching through the pit of his stomach.
When Ruby returns from her break fifteen minutes later, he gives her time to settle back into her chair, then clears his throat. “The Swan girl in Bed 4, has she had any visitors since she was admitted? Any family?”
It might be two o’clock in the morning, but Ruby takes a few seconds to finish checking the state of her bright red lipstick in her hand mirror before she answers, making him suspect that a certain young resident might be swinging past before their shift ends.
(Sometimes he thinks he sees so much of Mulan, he may as well be dating her himself.)
“No family, but her boss and his wife were here. They were nice. Stayed until visiting hours finished.” Tossing the hand mirror into the top drawer of the desk, Ruby arches a dark eyebrow at him. “Why?”
A prickle of heat creeps up the back of his neck at the suspicious tone in her voice. Wanting very much to believe that his concern is nothing more than routine duty of care, he gives Ruby a careless shrug. “She thought I was someone called Walsh. I gather he was an ex of some kind, and she was very angry at me for what sounded like a very mean-spirited deed.”
Quick to pick up on his unspoken concerns, Ruby worries at her bottom lip. “Her paperwork says she was found at the bottom of the stairs in a park.”
“Ah, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t pushed.”
His colleague levels a searching gaze at him. “You’re extra suspicious tonight, Jones.”
“This morning,” he corrects lightly, and she huffs out a tired snort.
“Once she wakes up and she’s not sedated out of her head, you can ask her yourself what happened.” Cricking her neck in a stretch, she checks her watch and pushes back her swivel chair. “Speaking of meds, will you look at that? It’s medication time.”
Usually, Ruby’s Cuckoo’s Nest quotes make him laugh, but Killian finds it hard to muster a smile this evening. “Are you rostered on tomorrow?”
“Nope.” Ruby jingles the keys to the medication cabinet in a triumphant flourish as she gets to her feet. “I’m sleeping until Tuesday, baby.”
She saunters off, her red-streaked ponytail bouncing, and Killian resigns himself to the fact that he’ll be spending the next few hours pacing the ward, waiting for Emma Swan to awaken from her artificial slumber like he’s some lovesick Disney prince.
Thinking of her flashing green eyes, he supposes there are worse ways to spend a night shift around here.
Walsh shuffles his feet apologetically, his dark eyes are filled with regret, but Emma has the feeling he’s sorry that he got caught more than anything else. “It wasn’t anything serious.”
Emma stares at him in disbelief. Why did men always think that line actually made things better? If anything, it only makes the situation worse. “You slept with her, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I’m so sorry.”
She flinches as though he’s struck her, then lifts her chin. She’d never liked that red-haired witch from his office. It gives her no comfort to find out her gut instincts had been painfully accurate. “How could you? I trusted you.”
He shrugs - he actually shrugs, the jerk – and shakes his head with a self-conscious smile she’d once thought was charming. “It was just one of those things, you know how it is.”
“No, I don’t know how it is,” she wants to yell at him, but her voice is gone, her tongue seeming to have a mind of its own.
She’s in the dark.
Where the hell are the lights?
Her eyes are so heavy, sounds drifting over her like a badly tuned radio station. Emma shifts, trying to find a way out, trying to find her bearings, then there’s a gentle hand on her forehead. She struggles towards the touch, feeling as though she’s swimming through molasses.
“Hush, love.” Roughed fingertips brush just above her eyebrow in a soothing sweep, then vanish, making her ache for more. “You’re safe here.”
I must be hungover, Emma decides as she attempts to crank open one heavy eyelid. That’s the only explanation for why she feels so bad.
If only she could remember getting drunk.
If only she could remember anything.
There’s a beeping in her ears, along with some annoying metallic clanking coming from outside her bedroom window. Which is weird, because she lives on the third floor. She slowly opens both eyes, and immediately shuts them again, because it seems her bedroom is fluorescently bright, with white walls and the smell of antiseptic in the air.
She’s in the hospital.
Tears of frustration come unbidden to her eyes as it all comes rushing back, the skip knocking her off balance at the top of the stairs, the pain in her shoulder and head and wait, had Walsh been here?
She must have been dreaming.
“Ah, you’re awake.”
At the sound of a softly-spoken male voice that is definitely not Walsh, Emma opens her eyes once more, squinting as she tries to focus. The owner of the voice is doing something to the machine beside her bed, and through the smell of antiseptic, she detects the scent of male deodorant, the kind that usually comes in a black can with names like Cool Wave or Granite Breeze.
Her bed begins to move beneath her, bringing her up to a sitting position without her having to move a muscle. “You were so dead to the world, I was starting to worry you’d accepted a poison apple from a wicked old crone.”
“Where am I?” God, she sounds like a pack a day smoker. Her mouth feels furry and stale, her tongue uncomfortably dry. She coughs, and suddenly there’s a hand holding a plastic cup in front of her, the straw only an inch or so from her lips. Suddenly too parched to care about appearances, Emma practically inhales half the cup of water, stopping only when the hand gently eases it away from her face.
“Go easy, love.” The guy’s speaking in little more than a whisper, his lilting accent making the words sound like a suggestion rather than the command she knows they are. “You can have more in a jiffy, I promise.”
Emma blows out a breath, trying to get her bearings. “How bad is-“ As she speaks, she turns her head to the side, her words dying on her tongue as her eyes lock with those of her bedside visitor. Either she’s still tripping out on painkillers, or those are the bluest eyes she’s ever seen on a real life human being. Funny, they’re almost the same colour as the scrubs he’s wearing,she muses. The eyes in question might have dark shadows beneath them, but they’re are kind and filled with concern, and a rush of warmth goes through her as she feels the brush of his fingertips on her temple, gently checking what feels like a very sore eyebrow.
“How bad is it?” The guy clicks his tongue sympathetically, and even in her weakened state, Emma can’t help staring at the way he moves his lips. “Well, the good news is that while you’re sore and sorry now, it’s nothing a spot of bed rest won’t cure.”
Eyeing the doctor, Emma gestures clumsily to the corridor outside her room. “What’s the bad news?”
He gives her an amused glace as he pulls a thin silver penlight from his pocket. “Does there have to be bad news?”
She shrugs, then instantly regrets it. Damn, her shoulder is sore. “There usually is.”
“Well,” he drawls as he goes through the unpleasant ritual of shining the penlight in her eyes, one at a time. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you today.” Seemingly pleased by whatever her eyes did in reaction to the light, he scribbles something on the chart lying on the bed next to her knee. “No bad news, unless you count the fact that you’re flat on your back in a hospital bed.”
Just her luck to get the comedian, she thinks with as much scorn as she can gather, but her heart’s not really in it. “Which hospital is this?”
He names the hospital closest to the park where she’d fallen, and she nods, her eyes burning once again. “Does anyone know I’m here?” She presses her lips together at the sound of her own voice, so small and anxious, and the guy suddenly drops into the chair beside her bed, bringing his face level with hers, letting her see him properly.
Maybe it’s because she is still crawling out from under the weight of some heavy duty painkillers, but she suddenly feels more than a little breathless. The man has a jawline that could cut glass, a great nose and just enough five o’clock shadow on his chin and cheeks to take him from pretty to wow.
“Your friends David and Mary Margaret were listed as your emergency contacts.” He smiles at her, those intensely blue eyes crinkling at the corners. “They were here for several hours yesterday.”
Panic curls through her chest. How long has she been lying here? “Yesterday?” With an effort, she turns and looks towards the windows at the other end of the room. “What day is it?”
“It’s okay, you haven’t slept through February.” The doctor pats her bare forearm gently, his touch solid and warm. “It’s 6:00am Monday morning and, now that you mention it, time for breakfast.”
Distracted by the comforting weight of his hand on her arm, she suddenly feels more off-kilter than she had at the top of those damned stairs. “I’m not that hungry.”
“Trust me, I know hospital food isn’t that appealing. All those powdered eggs.” Again, those blue eyes gleam as he smiles. “Could you choke down some cereal if I managed to smuggle in a hot Grande something for you?”
She can’t help smiling back, wincing when her bottom lip pulls tight and sore. “Ow!”
He quickly reaches up and dabs her lip gently with a soothing pad, frowning as he studied her mouth. “Sorry, lass, I should have warned you about your split lip before I started making contraband coffee jokes.” Having finished dabbing her lip, he’s now studying her left eyebrow with an intensity that would make her squirm if she had the energy. “In case you’re wondering, there are only three little stiches there, and you’ll never see them unless the fashionistas decide to bring back the 1930’s eyebrow.”
Emma stares at him. Who are you? she dearly wants to ask, but instead settles for a very basic question. “What’s your name?”
He grins as he tucks his penlight back into his top pocket. “Killian Jones, RN, at your service.” Her surprise must show in her face, because his smile becomes more of a knowing smirk. “You thought I was a doctor?”
“Yeah.” She’s not sure why, but she feels the need to apologise. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry.” He picks up her chart, stepping to the end of her bed to hang it up, then turns back to her. “Happens all the time when you’re a nurse of the male variety.”
“It’s just my head’s still a little fuzzy,” she offers hastily, again not knowing why but feeling she should explain. “I’m usually all over the reversal of traditional gender roles, I promise.”
His gaze locks with hers, long enough to make her feel like her skin is pricking beneath her horrible gown. “I have no doubt.” He seems to hesitate, then steps back to the chair beside her bed, turning it around so he can straddle it, his arms resting on the back. “Speaking of your fuzzy head, how on earth did you fall down those stairs?”
This time, she manages to stop herself from shrugging. “By underestimating someone.” He holds out the water cup to her again, and this time she holds it herself while she drains it dry. “The guy just got the drop on me, you know?”
His blue gaze narrows. “What guy? Walsh?”
Now it’s her turn to narrow her eyes. “How do you know about Walsh?”
As she stares at him, the tips of his ears pinken, and he lifts one hand to rub nervously at the back of his neck. “Ah, well, the thing is, you and I had a little chat while you were banjoed out of your head on pain meds last night.”
Heat floods her face, and she closes her eyes. “I told you about Walsh?”
She hears him laugh quietly. “Actually, you thought I was Walsh.” Opening her eyes, she glares at him, which only seems to amuse him more. “And you looked at me just like that, now that I recall.”
This would have to be one of the most embarrassing conversations she’s ever had, and that counts the time Mary Margaret wanted her advice on honeymoon lingerie.
“Why are you asking me about Walsh?”
Killian Jones, RN, gives her a look that’s part exasperation, part concern. “Because you were very angry with me when you thought I was him, and given your injuries-“
“Oh God, it wasn’t anything like that.” She can’t help noticing that he looks greatly relieved. “I’m a bailbonds person. I was chasing after a skip who decided to run, but the little shit doubled back and took me by surprise.”
His teeth flash white again his dark beard as he grins. “Well, you seem to have the colourful turn of phrase to go with such a colourful career, Miss Swan.”
“Emma,” she corrects before she can stop herself, which is such a bad idea, because this guy is charming and hot and caring and smells good and promised her a real coffee, and she’d be crazy to indulge in some kind of awkward bodice ripper crush on her nurse, right?
He puts out his hand. “In that case, you’d best call me Killian.”
“And my job’s not that colourful, believe me.” His palm is warm, fitting against hers perfectly, and she gives it a hasty shake before pulling her own hand back. Definitely a bad idea. “You said something about a Grande?”
Getting to his feet, he runs one hand through his already tousled dark hair and gives her a tiny bow that could be described as gallant. “I’ll do my best, milady.”
Okay, so he’s a little strange, but she still watches him as he walks out of the room back to the nurses’ station. Those scrub pants leave little to the imagination, and concussed she may have been, blind she is not. Closing her eyes, she does her best to zone out the dull ache in her shoulder and her knee, the background hospital noises soon fading to an uneven whisper of sound.
She wakes with a start some unknown time later to see a different nurse appears at her bedside, a tall brunette who is expertly swinging the serving tray across the bed. “Don’t let the others see,” she whispers theatrically as she places a tall takeout cup of coffee (with a straw) on the tray a few inches from Emma’s nose. “Otherwise, they’ll all want one.”
Like Killian, this nurse also looks as though she’s just stepped off a catwalk, with her long dark hair filled with streaks in every shade of red imaginable and fire engine red lipstick, leading Emma to wonder if this particular hospital has a quirky HR policy in place for its staff. Must look hot enough to distract patients from pain.
The nurse – her nametag says Ruby Lucas, RN – waves away her thanks. “That was Killian’s doing, I’m just the delivery girl.”
She won’t ask.
It would be stupid to ask after someone you’ve just met when you really have no business asking –
“Tell him I said thank you.” She bites her lip – ouch – then adds a casual, ”I guess he’s finished his shift?”
The nurse’s red lips curve in a wide, all-too-knowing smirk. “He was dead on his feet, so I made him sack out in the break room for an hour or so before riding home on his bike. For some reason, he insisted on working straight through last night without a break.” While Emma digests that piece of information, the other woman checks her watch at the sound of an approaching food trolley, then taps a red fingernail on the top of the takeout coffee cup. “I’m sure he’ll check to see how you enjoyed your caffeine before he heads home.”
Another awkward conversation, Emma thinks. She’s aiming for a new personal record today, it seems. “Er, thank you.”
“Oh, and your friend Mary Margaret called while you were sleeping.” Ruby checks that Emma’s water cup is full, then flashes her a bright smile. “She wanted you to know that she and David will be here as soon as visiting hours start.”
“Okay, thanks.” Emma reaches for the coffee, relieved when the other woman slips away to tend to another patient, leaving her alone to mildly dread the arrival of her two closest friends. It’s not that she doesn’t want to see them – she does – but seeing them will mean a double-barrelled lecture about procedure and safety and risk all mixed up with tears (Mary Margaret) and threats of payback against the guy who knocked her down (David).
God, what if David and Killian the nurse get into a conversation about Walsh? Emma scowls. She’d never live it down.
While she’s on the subject of Killian, this coffee is the best damned thing she’s tasted in days. It’s sweeter than she normally takes it, but she doesn’t care, not when he made the effort to go downstairs to a real coffee shop and buy it for her. Apparently, he’s now asleep down the hallway because he refused to take his breaks during the night, and Emma can’t deny the notion warms her through as much as the coffee.
(Did she mention it would be stupid to crush on her nurse?)
She manages to drink half before she admits defeat, pushing it aside with a weary hand before she closes her eyes. Her last conscious thought before dozing off is that she really hopes Mary Margaret remembers to bring her a toothbrush.