The loft was fairly humming with noise that pooled around her head like a muffling blanket of snow, pushing everyone’s voices to arm’s length and a bit beyond, just out of reach of proper comprehension. Emma felt sure that if she was a bit less tired from shivering vigorously in her mountain of blankets she’d be more frustrated at being left out of the conversation. As it was, staying awake and upright (mostly – she was propped up and wedged into the chair quite snugly at this point) seemed to be all she could reasonably manage. It was true that her eyes may have drifted shut, but she was just resting them. Obviously. As long as she hummed vaguely and nodded – well, rolled her head a bit against the chair back – from time to time, she could certainly claim later that she had been listening.
But the ancient building furnace rattled and thumped, each beat echoing through the ductwork as it steadily blew increasingly warm air along the floor, and she couldn’t hear a damn thing over the noise. By her feet, the space heater buzzed and radiated heat, scorching her shins. It was no worse discomfort than the pins and needles that prickled at her extremities, tingling painfully as she wiggled her toes. She fidgeted her hand along the chair’s armrest, and flexed her fingers convulsively, muffling a whine of dismay as she discovered that feeling had returned to them with a vengeance. The heat had seeped fully and pleasantly into her bones, but as the numbness wore off it was uncomfortably rather like standing too close to a fire. But her fuzzy head and muffled hearing were the more pressing annoyance. So she furrowed her brow and shifted restlessly within her blanket pile, hoping that settling herself a bit more upright might help her focus. Emma grimaced, forcing out her breath in a shuddery, growled pant of frustration as the cocooning effect of the blankets and enveloping heat failed to abate even a little, despite her best efforts at squirming free.
Immediately, the chair convulsed beneath her. Dizzy and disoriented, every reaction slowed by her lengthy stay in the cold, she felt a sickly swooping feeling in her gut as if she was falling. Emma gasped softly and opened her eyes, her heart racing. Though her sense of up and down was momentarily confused, she realized quickly that she was neither falling nor moving. Or in the chair. Because generally chairs don’t vibrate with laughter, even when you’re the Savior and you’re utterly, embarrassingly defeated by a tangle of blankets. But someone had.
“Hello, beautiful.” The words were murmured softly, but spoken closely enough for his breath to stir her hair and tickle her neck, she had no trouble hearing them clearly. Playful words they might be, but they carried the same edge of desperate relief that had colored his voice when he’d asked if she was alright earlier when he and her father had pulled her out of the ice.
“Apologies, I didn’t mean to wake you, love,” Killian added as she tilted her head up to peer at his face. He sounded contrite, but to judge by the quirk of his mouth and the laughter lines still visible around his eyes, he was also amused by her fumbling. Though he tilted his head away slightly to peer down at her, he was still startlingly close, and even in the dim light the weight of his regard settled on her heavily. Though he had loosened his arms from around her as soon as she began to stir, he didn’t move away.
“Wasn’t sleeping,” Emma muttered stubbornly. Though his response was only a quiet huff of laughter, she felt it vibrate through her as before, curled up as she was on his shoulder and very nearly in his lap. Her vague impression of a blanket pile and a supporting pillow or two had apparently been somewhat off the mark. Somehow she had moved – or perhaps been moved – from the chair to the more spacious but somewhat unyielding couch in her parents’ sitting area. Along the way she’d apparently wrapped herself around a rather flushed and solicitous pirate who, despite his proclivity for ridiculously gaping shirtlaces, radiated heat like a furnace.
No wonder she was so warm. It didn’t help that tearing her gaze away from his gently amused expression took nearly physical effort that left her breathless, though she didn’t otherwise move or let go. She had a suspicion that allowing her eyes to lock with his for too long might be responsible for increasing her overheated feeling and perhaps contributing somewhat to her now-intermittent shivering as well. Drained and casting about for a safer option than meeting his gaze, she peered over to glimpse her parents and Elsa speaking in the kitchen, around the corner from where they sat. Though the others were hardly far away, their voices faded in and out like a weak radio station broadcast as they spoke quietly. Her parents’ voices were sure, steady and familiar in counterpoint to Elsa’s concerned, wavering tone. They didn’t spare so much as a glance in the direction of the couch, and Emma had the sudden disorienting feeling that perhaps more time had passed than she thought, and her brow furrowed.
“Where’s Henry?” she asked sharply, rubbing at her eyes.
“Sleeping. He retired to bed a short time ago at your mother’s urging, once he was certain you would be well.”
“Oh.” Emma’s head felt suddenly heavy, and she dropped it again to his shoulder.
Killian’s chest rose beneath her ear as he drew breath to speak.
“If you weren’t sleeping yourself-“
“Wasn’t,” she insisted.
“-perhaps you should find some proper rest somewhere more comfortable, now,” he continued steadily. Emma hesitated, unable to find the words to voice her sharp and certain dismay at that idea. She was reluctant to let this moment end, even if she was fuzzy and sore and increasingly warm, because it was also right, somehow, in a way that not a lot else had been of late. But Killian seemed to interpret her quiet as exhausted agreement and lifted his left arm from around her shoulder and began easing his right – her “armrest” – out from under her still-grasping hand. Emma lifted her head again and blinked rapidly, trying to school her sleepy squint into an expression a bit less embarrassing and more controlled, and she fixed her gaze on his once more.
“Wait.” Killian stilled immediately, watching her with a guarded expression. Emma took a deep breath and tilted own her head back slightly to get a few inches of distance. He was in his shirtsleeves, his sweeping, dramatic coat draped over the back of the couch. His cheeks were flushed and his hair was tousled, the ends damp and curling a bit on his neck. If she was warm, he was probably sweltering under the combined weight of her semi-conscious sprawl and every blanket in the loft, including one from her parents’ bed.
“How did I get on the couch?” Emma demanded.
“Because I don’t remember getting up from the chair at all and…” Emma trailed off, sniffing suspiciously. Mostly she smelled him (and in that moment Emma couldn’t imagine anything more unfair than how inexplicably amazing that pleasant mix of oiled leather and the strongly-herbal soap Granny stocked at the bed and breakfast smelled on him, it was really just too damn much) but also a different familiar and pleasant odor wafting from the kitchen.
“I think my mother is baking?” Emma couldn’t help but turn what should have been a straightforward observation into an incredulous near-question, because seriously, Mary-Margaret?
“Aye, there was some clattering of pots a bit ago. I think she decided this Elsa lass needed feeding.” Killian’s tone was mocking in a familiar way, but there was something both hard and brittle beneath the usual derision that left Emma a little uneasy. When his gaze shifted to somewhere over her shoulder she assumed he was glaring at Elsa in the kitchen, but to judge by his thousand-yard stare he wasn’t actually seeing much of anything, instead lost in thoughts that were not particularly pleasant. Emma sighed and shifted slightly, tugging at the sleeve of his shirt that was bunched between her fingers before reluctantly letting go. A blanket fell from her shoulders as she straightened, and she welcomed the breathing room. As his gaze pulled back to her, Emma caught his hand in her own as he moved to tuck the blanket around her again and fixed him to stillness again with a pointed look.
“Hey. Let it go,” she said firmly. The corner of Killian’s mouth thinned mutinously, as if he was unlikely to do anything of the sort. Though she trusted Elsa, Emma still understood the impulse fully.
“Swan, she hurt you. She nearly-“ he cut off sharply, his throat working silently as he swallowed, unable to even finish the thought. Though she expected him to look away then – she was sorely tempted herself – he only shook his head and gazed at her with a sort of heartbroken wonder.
If it can be broken, it still works, she thought suddenly, and her own heart lurched unsteadily in her chest. She’d wanted to punch him for that stupid line – still did, really, because oh my god what a shitty thing to say – but it was pain she recognized all too well writ plain on his face.
“I’m fine.” Emma squeezed his hand, lacing her fingers between his and sparing a moment to wonder with a little surprise at how comfortable the gesture was already becoming despite being so new. The hard edges of Killian’s rings were already oddly familiar, and she was beginning to think the way he would immediately begin brushing his thumb gently but steadily against hers wasn’t even a conscious gesture on his part. She was becoming rather partial to it, though.
“She didn’t mean to do it. Magic can be like that. No harm, no foul.” Emma shrugged. Trusting people was hard and unfamiliar work, and yet here she was doing it right and left. Somehow, she trusted Elsa, though she couldn’t yet pinpoint exactly why. Elsa was incredibly earnest, and her attempts at bluster had been as transparent as her magic-conjured icicles, but that shouldn’t have been enough. Yet something about her seemed familiar, and it wasn’t just obligation that drove Emma to want to help her, but something more. Reluctantly, Emma pushed the problem away to wrestle with at another time. Between the warmth and the exertion of the day and the apparently late hour, she knew she wasn’t up to the task. Besides, she had other priorities.
“So how did we get like this without David belting you one with a crowbar?” Killian snorted.
“Perhaps I’ve earned a modicum more of your father’s trust,” he replied, and while he delivered it in the usual dry and self-deprecating manner, Emma’s gut feeling confirmed it was the truth.
“I’m surprised he hasn’t given you the protective Dad speech, yet,” she said lightly, though she choked a little on a laugh as Killian responded with a lifted eyebrow.
“Who says he hasn’t?” He was actually smirking.
“Oh my god I was joking,” Emma protested weakly.
“Yes, but I think your father takes his responsibilities quite seriously, darling.”
“My father and a cop. You are so lucky you’re not locked up down at the sheriff’s office, buddy” Emma said, rolling her eyes and nudging him in the chest with their linked hands.
“To be threatened at sword point I might expect, but what cause would he have to arrest me? Not that you lot seem to need a good reason to clap irons on a man,” Killian huffed in what she was mostly certain was playful indignation.
“I’m sure taking advantage of his daughter in her sleep had to give him some ideas on that score,” she retorted. Emma wasn’t sure whether to expect Killian to resort to his usual over-the-top innuendo or for him to immediately call her out on admitting to sleep in response, though she figured she could handle it, either way. To her surprise, though their banter had felt easy and familiar up until that moment, Killian’s smirk thinned into a pained grimace and his hand fell away from her own abruptly.
“You were still like ice to touch, shivering so hard your teeth were rattling, and I didn’t know what else to do. There was nothing else I could do.” Emma heard the sharp surge of panic in Killian’s clipped, if still softly-spoken, words. His arm tightened around her once more before he even seemed to realize he’d done it. He growled an oath quietly under his breath and pulled away from her, and before she could react he was carefully withdrawing his hook from behind her back with almost exaggerated care, and easing off of his shoulder to the couch. Though she was still wrapped in blankets from head to toe, Emma felt bereft at the sudden loss.
“My apologies for behaving in an untoward manner, Swan,” he said doggedly, raking his fingers through his hair and hanging his head, his earlier humor and anger both drained from his demeanor, replaced by something like weary resignation. Emma’s own head was spinning and she shivered at the the sudden loss of warmth from her body as well as from the moment. Killian’s hand twitched as if he meant to reach for her again, but he arrested the motion swiftly.
“I…forgive me. It’s late, and I should take my leave and let you rest,” he said finally, standing up from the couch with speed she wouldn’t have expected, given how long they’d apparently been tangled together on the unyielding couch. He moved away so quickly she could hardly do more than make a few faint noises of protest that were all but drowned out by the space heater’s hum. But when he spared a glance toward the kitchen and paused to collect his jacket, she grabbed for his arm, her fingers finding purchase in his sleeve. Somehow, her tenuous grip was enough to still him once again, and he hesitated. Emma wasn’t sure which of the two of them were more surprised by what she’d done, but she figured she could make a pretty good case for herself as the more shocked party. As usual, she had acted before thinking, and now her brain struggled to catch up and make sense of it all. The soft clatter and conversation from the other room continued unchanged, giving them a sort of fragile privacy even as she cast about hopelessly for the right thing - or something, even anything - to say.
Words were tricky things. Emma was confident that she could give as well as she could get most of the time with them. She was good at barking an order that would give a skip pause. She could ask the right kind of sharp questions to confirm her gut instincts. Emma had a gift for getting to the point when that’s where she wanted to go. But it was harder when the wanting felt like a risk she couldn’t bear to get wrong again. And so she pulled steadily on Killian’s sleeve, anchoring him in place while she struggled to speak. Inexplicably, he also seemed at a loss for words.
“This couch sucks.” Goddammit. Emma rubbed at her face with her free hand and forced herself to look up at him. She couldn’t properly decipher the expression on his face, but she had a feeling it was confusion.
Right there with you, buddy.
“Swan, I-“ he began before she plunged on ahead, speaking over the beginnings of some kind of objection to her nonsensical comment.
“It is literally the worst, I mean, you’d think they’d have picked out furniture by now that wasn’t placed here by the curse, but there probably hasn’t been the time, I guess. And anyway. It’s terrible,” she babbled. Killian tilted his head at her slightly, and when she tugged firmly at his sleeve, he inched closer, and then crouched down in front of the couch in a way that made her knees ache just to watch.
“Aye, well, you should go to your bed, love, and sleep.” Without dislodging her grip from his sleeve, he turned his hand over and offered it to her, somehow managing not to touch her at all. He half-rose from his crouched position, indicating with a small gesture of his fingers that she could take his arm instead, if she wished, and waited patiently.
“No.” He flinched visibly, his face falling as he rocked back on his heels. His chin jerked downward in a nod as he stood up fully, trapped otherwise in place by her grip on his sleeve but already leaning away from her as much as he could do without dragging at her grip. He glanced over his shoulder toward the kitchen, muttering his next words so softly she could barely make them out.
“Of course. I’ll bid your parents goodnight and they can-“
“Killian.” His mouth snapped shut when she used his name. Emma lifted her free hand to her face, extending her index finger to press against her lips, gesturing for quiet for a moment before she tugged on his sleeve again.
“Shh. C’mon,” she continued, tilting her head down to the space he’d recently vacated. Stiffly, almost warily, he let her pull him back down to the couch, though he sat on the edge, brow furrowed. Slowly, she released her vise-grip on his sleeve, flexing her fingers idly as they tingled in complaint.
“I’ve tried sleeping on this couch so many times. Emphasis on the word tried, before,” Emma said after a moment. Killian’s eyebrows lifted a little but he held his silence, watching her intently. She chewed her lip a little, considering.
“I could stand to sleep here a little more, I think,” she said, loosely wrapping her fingers around Killian’s hand and brushing her thumb against his ever so lightly. She sidled closer, ever so slowly, and leaned her head against his shoulder, closing her eyes. He let out a ragged breath as he settled his arm around her once more.
“Alright?” he whispered hoarsely against the top of her head as his embrace tightened around her shoulders, pulling the blankets more closely around her.
Emma tilted her head to press a kiss below his jaw, smiling sleepily against his neck when his breath hitched in response. She had enough time to hope fleetingly that it was a clear enough answer before she fell back into a comfortable, warm sleep.