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Emma wasn't so much abandoned as lost — in the vaguest depths of her memory, so far down that she's not sure it isn't a dream, she recalls her parents being loving, a beautiful woman with black hair and a dashing man with a brilliant smile always directed at her. She remembers wearing lovely dresses, and she remembers a dark-haired woman with a cruel smirk reaching out to her in the dead of night.

Or it might just be her oldest nightmare.

As far as she knows for sure, she's been on the streets since she was a babe in no one's arms, semi-raised in both a brothel and a church but refusing to commit to either, and by the time she's fifteen, she's decided that the freedom of the streets is worth the insecurity. It's a big enough city to get lost in, which works in her favor when she picks the pocket of the district's magistrate and is forced to relocate to the other side of it.

There are a lot of things he'll tolerate — after all, in his neck of the city, the red lights are always lit for him — but "having a dirty little urchin's hand in my pockets is the last damn straw," and Emma knows when it's time to run.

The district she finds herself in is mysteriously (or maybe not) poorer, being the market district; only the lower denizens of the merchant class will deign to live here, while the brothels are always stuffed right full of people spending money like water, but that means there are more places to hide. The district's got a lot of empty spaces around in the buildings that maybe aren't so safe to sleep in, but there's not much in her life that's ever been, strictly speaking, safe.

The problem really is that she hasn't figured this part of the city out — under cover of the red lights and haze of ale, picking pockets was definitely the way to survive, but in markets people expect that sort of thing and keep tighter fingers on their purses — and so, after a few days, she's resorted to begging and still feels like she'll die of starvation soon.

Which is why she plucks the apple off the cart.

It's really not much, but she likes apples and they're right there, but the merchant sees her because of course he does because her luck has gone south of hell this past week and so she isn't surprised. She is, however, frightened, albeit against her will.

"D'you think you're bein' sly, street rat?" the man growls at her, clutching her wrist tight between his fingers, holding her up so she's on the tips of her toes. "Think y'can just snitch an apple off my cart without my knowin' about it? That's my livelihood, that is."

"I'm sorry," she says fervently, "but I haven't eaten — "

"I hear that all the time 'round these parts," he sneers. "You think I care a whit?"

"Well… yes?" she tries, because she's found that sometimes that works. It doesn't this time.

The merchant laughs out loud and pulls her up higher. "You know the penalty for theft, li'l girl? You steal somethin' of someone else's, you lose the hand what did it."

It's not an empty threat, not at all, and she goes pale. "Please, I didn't mean — "

"I don't care what you meant or didn't mean," he scoffs, full of mockery that makes her blood boil. But, where she is right now, inches off the ground and staring into the eyes of a man with no sympathy in his soul and half-starved already, there's nothing she can do but watch in horror.

But then:

"Julia!" a voice shouts, and the merchant turns, even if she doesn't, but before she can say or do anything else, a boy — or maybe something closer to man — appears out of the crowd, running toward her. He's dressed impeccably, high-class as they come, and he's looking right at her. "Gods above, I've been looking everywhere for you!" he cries, chest heaving as he gasps even though his face doesn't look particularly winded. His expression and tone change sharply when he turns to the merchant. "What do you think you're doing?" he snaps coldly, condescending as the clothes on his back suggest he'd be.

"She was stealin' from me," the man replies, although he doesn't sound quite so confident or cruel now.

"You just can't resist an apple, can you?" the boy asks her, tone once again kind, if exasperated, but then shifts to winter when he turns away from her. "She's my sister, and I would suggest you unhand her immediately."

"Sister?" he scoffs, looking between them. "You don't look very much alike." If it's possible, the boy's expression grows even colder.

"Yes, because princes never bed more than one woman over their lifetimes," he says, voice dripping with scorn. The man looks uncertain, but with a growing hint of horror. "You know the penalty for cutting royal skin?" he goes on darkly, stepping closer. "The hand that held the knife gets the knife. When our father hears about this, you'll be wishing you'd never been born."

"I'm sorry, my lord," the merchant begs, eyes going wide as he finally releases her and she stumbles against the boy. "What was she doing here anyway?"

He sounds genuinely — and deliciously — terrified. The boy glances at her with a deadpan sort of reprimand.

"She does this," he answers flatly, "sneaks out all the time, gets me into trouble when I have to run out and find her before Grandfather finds out she's run out on one of her lessons."

"Says the one who doesn't have to study tea ceremony," Emma mutters petulantly, figuring that her total silence is probably getting suspicious; after all, the boy can't keep up the lie if she's just deadweight. "If I had classes like you did, I'd never leave."

The boy rolls his eyes. "You could talk to Father about it, you know," he snaps at her, although much softer than any of his snapping at the merchant. She replies with a sneer because she can't come up with a great response at the moment, panic still way too fresh. He turns from her and back to the apple-seller. "I'm taking her home," he growls, "but don't think for half a second I'll forget this."

"Please, my lord," the merchant says, actually getting on his knees, "I meant no harm."

"Liar," Emma hisses, and the boy crosses his arms.

"She's right, you know," he says. "You had every intention of cutting off her hand without even giving her a fair trial. I've no sympathy for wretched peasants with delusions of grandeur," he adds disdainfully; she had thought he was just someone who'd seen her in trouble and decided to come to her rescue, that this 'prince' thing was a farce, but after hearing that sentence, with such royal disgust… she wonders why the hell a real princeling would be saving her, unless he thought she was someone else.

"Please, my lord, I'll do anything," the merchant cries, taking the boy's leg (which is immediately wrenched away from him with a look of pure revulsion). "Here, my lady, you can have the apple, pleasejust don't cut off me hand."

"An apple?" the boys sneers, and Emma kind of hates him a little for it. "You really think an apple is sufficient apology? I should add that to the list of the crimes, such an egregious insult."

"Here, take a bushel, anything, it's all I have to offer, please."

The boy appears to mull it over for a moment, before rolling his eyes. "If a bushel of apples is all you've got to apologize for nearly mutilating a princess, you really aren't worth the trouble, are you?" he mutters, sighing. "Fine, I'll take it. I suppose we can have apple pie tonight."

He snatches the bushel offered with quick movements, so as to avoid any chance of touching the merchant, and props it up between one hand and his hip, taking her arm in the other. "Come along, Julia," he grumbles, "I think you've caused enough trouble for one afternoon."

She huffs, but follows, and they stalk away, leaving the merchant leaning against his cart, hand over his chest, breathing heavily in relief.

Emma isn't sure if she wants to explain herself or not — being mistaken for a princess is really a hell of a turn on her luck, and she does love apple pie — but after a couple of streets, the boy pulls her through an alley and turns to her with a huge, mischievous grin.

"You know, I'm really proud of that," he crows, glancing to the basket. "Never would've thought I could've got a whole bushel out of the man."

"Where did you learn to act like that?" she asks, gaping at his audacity. The boy brushes it off.

"I pride myself on my range of talents," he replies airily, and leans forward a bit. "Now, manners matter, love," he says, a bit reproachfully but mostly teasing, and she rolls her eyes.

"Thank you, kind stranger," she relents, but with as much mockery as she can inject into the words. He doesn't seem to mind, setting the basket down and holding out a hand.

"Does the lovely lady have a name?" he asks, sending heat flooding to her face — since when was she a 'lovely lady' and since when did attractive boys pay that sort of attention to her? She hides it with a raised eyebrow and an unimpressed tilt of her head.

But she still tells him, "Emma," and takes his hand, which he brings to his mouth to kiss the back of. She tries not to be obviously seduced.

"Emma," he repeats, as though trying it out, "what a beautiful name. Mine is Killian, if you were wondering."

She freezes.

Killian?

She's heard of Killian — every kid out on the streets has, he's the bane of every lawman's existence, they call him King of the Street Rats — but she has no idea how much of what she's heard about him is myth and how much is fact. According to rumor, he has a crew over a hundred strong of urchins who idolize him like a god, kids he's taken in and made into his own sprawling family, that he's the best thief in the whole country, that he has a harem of women from all over the world — even from places so far as Agrabah and the Sun Kingdom — who will trek miles and miles just to share his bed, that he was raised on a pirate ship, that he was raised in a castle, that he was raised atop Mount Olympus itself.

At her stunned silence, he grins wider. "I see you've heard of me," he says, with a bit of arrogant deviousness.

The only thing she can think of to say — and which she immediately feels unbelievably stupid for saying — is "Do you really have a harem of women from Agrabah?"

He laughs so hard he has to lean against the wall for support. She covers her face with both hands.

"I didn't mean to say that, that was stupid."

It takes him several minutes to stop cackling. "All right, that's one I hadn't heard, but I think that's the best. Unfortunately," he goes on, wiping his eyes and trying with some success to contain his laughter, "no, I don't. You offering to start one?"

She glares at him, but he just continues to grin, looking at her like he's having the time of his life. "I'm not from Agrabah," she replies coolly, raising an eyebrow, a gesture he mimics. "And in spite of the fact that I grew up half in a brothel, I'm not a harem wench."

"A brothel?" he repeats, sounding interested, and it occurs to her what that implies.

"Not as in — I mean, I wasn't a prostitute," she says hastily, and he smirks. "But there's not many places will take in a kid left on the streets, you know?"

His expression sobers up a lot at that. "Yeah, I know that," he mutters softly, now watching her with a strange sort of curiosity. "You have anywhere to sleep tonight?"

She shrugs and replies, "More or less," because she's scouted out a couple of abandoned buildings and houses with leftover bedding. He gives her a completely unbelieving look, and she sighs in frustration.

"You have anywhere safe and warm to sleep tonight?" he asks, crossing his arms. She shrugs again.

"Not really, I guess," she admits. "But it's not like — "

"Now you do," he interrupts, picking up the basket and once again taking her hand. She stumbles along with him in surprise, but her pride isn't loud enough to make her shove him away and insist she's fine on her own.

After all, they say that once you fall in with the King of the Street Rats, you'll never go hungry again, and she's too hungry to pass up an opportunity like this.

.

The house he takes her to is one she hasn't seen before, tucked away from the square in a surprisingly nice area, a little more upscale, what the businessmen too snobbish to live in the square deem sufficient, and they slip in a back door and up a bunch of creaky stairs — it seems abandoned, except for the other squatters — and all the way up to the large, open attic.

There's hammocks hanging from the rafters and a big table — although where he found a spare table is beyond her — and scattered around the whole place is a bunch of kids, or the debris of them that says some are out and about the city at the moment. Maybe 'over a hundred' was exaggerating, but there's definitely a lot of them, all currently staring at her.

"Everyone," Killian declares loudly, "Emma. Emma… everyone." He says it like he hadn't really thought the rest of that sentence through, and winces a bit after, but covers it up by raising the basket. "Look at what she got for us!"

There's a rush of chattering kids coming to clean the basket dry, with Killian snatching the first apple off the top; when he sees that she's completely overwhelmed and probably not going to stop panicking internally before the apples are gone, he sidles up to her and holds it out. She turns to him, startled and blinking fast.

"You'll get used to it," he tells her quietly, winking, and the way he says it is so certain it makes her blanch: he says it like she's already part of the family and going to stay that way.

Like he'll never let her get left alone again.

"I don't…" she starts faintly, but he rolls his eyes.

"I know," he says, taking her hand and forcibly placing the apple in it. "You've never had a family, you don't know how to do this. Like I said," he goes on, already starting to walk away, "you'll get used to it."

.

After a while, she does.

.

They have several hideouts, as she discovers, that they bounce around whenever someone discovers where they're living now; the entire thing, every last scrap the group owns, can be packed up in ten minutes or less, and they can be gone within a quarter-hour of finding out they've been found. (They leave the tables behind.)

Killian, it turns out, is a hell of a leader, divvying up the responsibilities on a calendar he's stolen from who-knows-where: each day, there's two people set to cook (which, he explains, initially could have been anyone but has since dwindled to the handful of people he can trust to produce something edible without burning the city down), three set to cleaning and organizing (because he refuses to live in filth and instills that same tendency in all of them after a while), three on "muck duty" (involving the chamber pots, and by far the least desirable job in the history of, well, everything, but in a show of solidarity he appears to frequently regret, Killian doesn't exempt himself from that one), and then mostly everyone else on "acquiring" necessary objects.

Even this, he organizes — some people are set to steal clothes and fabric for hammocks or blankets or other assorted necessities, a lot on food from various places (he's divided a map of this and the bordering two districts into "patrol sections"), some on scouting duty (scoping out new hideouts), some on miscellaneous pick-up (things that don't fit into other categories, like firewood and kitchen utensils and tables). The point, he explains, is so people won't figure out they're all working together, or be able to predict when one person will be in one place.

It works magnificently, but still, when she gets to know him better, she teases him relentlessly for it.

(The first time she does, it gets her put on muck duty, but then he figures that he teases her enough and so it's really just fair.)

It's been almost two years since he picked her up, although she swears it can't possibly have been that long, and she honestly can't recall ever being happier or, strangely enough, ever feeling more free. She'd always thought that being alone was how independence worked, but Killian's system and way of life — even with his ridiculously rigid scheduling — is exhilarating and empowering. Maybe, she thinks, it's escaping the law that's the thing.

Or maybe it's just Killian.

Even though she determinedly thinks of him as a friend (with decreasing success), no one could pretend that he isn't attractive; at nineteen, he's developed a scruffy style, with short, messy hair and perma-stubble, even though he's maintained his habit of dressing far above his station (one of the now-many things that makes her certain he was royalty — or at least high nobility — before he was on the street) and favors black clothes and red vests, and at some point, he'd broken into a tailor's shop after-hours to steal a couple pairs of trousers for the kids going through puberty and found a long leather coat that he would now only part with over his dead body.

His mischievous nature has only gotten worse, and he's really become a full-on rogue — she hears what they say about him, and agrees: he's a hero to the people he loves, but a villain to those he doesn't. She's seen him kill a guard that struck one of the younger kids, he has absolutely no qualms about who he steals from so long as none of the group have a connection to them, he'll cheat men out of their last copper piece at dice, and his philosophy is, if you're fool enough to fall for one of his cons, you deserve it.

But to them, he's something between their god and their father — if there isn't enough to feed everyone, he's the first to give up his portion, he makes sure everyone is properly clothed in winter and there's enough blankets to go around, he's strict but fair when something goes wrong, but never cruel, and he'd sell his soul for the least of them.

He's magnetic, and impossible to escape.

She's deeper in his thrall than everyone else; but then, she spends more time with him than everyone else.

She doesn't notice (or, well, doesn't admit to herself that she's noticed) that she always seems to get put on the same duty or in the same district as Killian.

She does, however, notice when the older ones — both in age and time spent with him — start calling her Queen.

.

Emma tries to convince herself she isn't jealous of the way other girls look at him, or of the way he flirts with them, all gallant and unbroken eye contact and apparently-immediate devotion. Because he is her friend — her brother — and even she knows that sisters aren't jealous when their brothers flirt with other girls.

But this is a little much, and even her skill at denial can't pretend it's anything else.

This house was completely abandoned (for good reason, honestly), but has a lot of rooms that still have questionable beds, which had delighted everyone and, by popular opinion, outweighed the threat of falling through the floor to an untimely death, and Killian had — apparently unintentionally — ended up with his own.

Which he is now in.

With someone else.

strange someone else, someone else he'd come in with, laughing and stumbling drunk, a girl with red hair — objectively pretty, although Emma and Emma's jealousy find her horribly ugly — a girl who is absolutely definitely in his bed.

She is seething, and everyone can see it, and everyone knows why.

She is also drinking heavily from the bottle of whiskey she bought when he came in and absolutely refusing to admit anything to anyone.

In this haze, it seems like a great idea to retaliate in kind, although she's certain he won't understand why it's retaliation or why he's supposed to be offended, and so she grabs Victor — who has a good claim to being Killian's best friend — by the shirt, drags him into a room, and tries to kiss him.

He pushes her away in such horror that it stings her to the bone.

"What is it?" she cries, staggering back against the wall.

"Look, Emma, you're…" he trails off, looking her up and down in a becoming-familiar way, "but listen, I can't."

She rolls her eyes. "What, you think of me as a sister or something?"

Vic laughs several times in increasing hysteria. "You know, I would love to think of you as a sister but that's not really possible with you," he says desperately, and the whiskey makes her frown at that — since when does Vic not like her? She's always gotten along pretty well with everyone, and she spends a lot of time around him and he's never had a problem with her. "I mean," he goes on, breathing hard, "you…" and trails off again, indicating to her.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" she asks defensively, and he swallows.

"Listen, Emma, I would love to sleep with you, you have no idea," he starts, but before she can ask him why he pushed her away then, he goes on, "but I really wouldn't love for Killian to tear my throat out for doing it."

"Oh, what does he care?" she snaps, and then changes tack. "If you want something, Victor," she whispers, running her hand up the back of his neck and leaning in close, "you should take it."

He actually whimpers.

"I can't, I really can't, he'll kill me. He's my best friend, I can't betray him like that."

"He won't kill you," she sneers, rolling her eyes. "He won't even care — " Vic barks out a breathy, slightly hysterical laugh that she ignores, instead trailing a hand down his chest " — but if it makes you feel better, I won't tell if you don't."

It isn't even the whiskey, really — Vic is hardly ugly — even though she's never been able to think of him sexually, she can do it if it serves her purposes here. In fact, up close like this with her hands all over him, she kind of already does.

He squeezes his eyes shut and, with what looks like deep regret and extreme difficulty, pushes away from her and the wall, muttering something about that bastard owes me. "I'm serious, Emma, he'll murder me. He would just know and he would kill me slowly and painfully and I can't do it."

And then he bolts out of the room (walking a bit awkwardly), leaving her lonely and confused and increasingly pissed off.

"Fine," she says to no one, "I'll get someone else."

.

She lands on Nathan, an older boy who's a new addition and hasn't really meshed into the group well yet (or maybe he wouldn't at all, he doesn't seem suited to their lifestyle); he's eyed her up several times before and doesn't care if Killian would, for some reason, kill him for touching her like Vic seems to think.

Even if she hadn't been drunk, she doesn't think it would have been very good. Nathan is the arrogant sort, a little selfish and impatient and although he is a good kisser, he doesn't really bother to be that good at anything else. It's not her first — there were boys working the brothel, too, and some were cute and she'd been adventurous and experimental — but it has been over a year, and while it's not the worst sex she could imagine having, it's not really great sex either.

She wishes Vic hadn't panicked; everyone she knows who's shared his bed claims he's a good lay.

On the other hand, she's not really sure she could get that into revenge sex anyway. It probably would have sucked no matter what, because she really wants it to be Killian and she really doesn't want to want that.

At the very least, Nathan doesn't cuddle and although they share a bed, he leaves her alone.

.

Breakfast has long passed and the crew is actually gathering for lunch — now Nathan decides to be clingy and sit right up next to her, of course — before Killian shows up, staggering to the table and collapsing in a seat with his head on his arms. A couple of the kids snicker, but he doesn't even bother to glare at them.

"What time is it?" he mutters, voice muffled against the wood.

"Little before noon," Vic replies, and he groans. "Looks like you had a good night."

"I am never drinking rum again."

"You said that last time. By the way, who was the redhead?" Vic asks neutrally, and Emma tries to glare a hole in his head because oh dear gods is he actually going to tell Killian that she came onto him last night?

Killian groans again. "I think her name is Delilah," he slurs. "I have no idea where she came from."

Vic opens his mouth to say something else, but before he can, he finally seems to notice her expression, and closes it abruptly. Instead, he settles on patting him on the back lamely, which at least seems to have something of a revitalizing effect on him, and he raises his head to snatch the nearest drink to hand, some of the terrible coffee that Vic has developed an addiction for (to the point that he buys it from the seller so as not to get caught as a repeat thief), and drains it in one go.

He pauses for a moment, eyes closed, and then stifles a cough. "That was a terrible idea," he mutters to himself, and Vic smiles without any hint of sincerity.

"Not the only terrible idea you've had lately," he says with tense, false brightness, and leaves while Killian is still looking at him quizzically. Emma takes her cue to flee as well, although that has more to do with escaping Nathan than it really does with anything Killian is saying or doing.

He tries to catch her by the hand as she stands, and out of the corner of her eye, she sees Killian look over to her and freeze; she slips away from him with a flirtatious smile.

It's probably transparent, but she's more than a bit hungover herself, and still too angry with him (and herself, for being angry with him in the first place) to care.

.

"What did you mean?" Killian growls, catching Vic in the hallway and clutching his arm in rising hungover-or-maybe-still-drunk horror. "Not the only terrible idea I've had lately?"

"Look," Vic says, holding his hands up, "I'm just saying, bringing someone home? Probably not a great thing to do."

"It's not the first time," he replies desperately, and Vic rolls his eyes.

"It is the first time in a while, isn't it?" he challenges. "Most of the past year, right? Ever since you and Emma have really been, you know. Close… er. Closer."

He curses under his breath and runs a hand through his hair and all he can think of is the way that little shit Nathan — speaking of terrible ideas — took her hand and the way she smiled at him and no.

No, gods, no.

"I was drunk as all hell," he says, as if that means anything. Vic rolls his eyes again.

"And?"

"Shit," he hisses, turning away and then back. "Nathan? Why — don't tell me…"

Vic sighs. "Man, she tried to get with me first. I mean, she was really drunk, and — by the way? — you owe me something like forty-seven drinks because I had to tell her no and I am not all right with that."

"Gods, I'd rather you than that bastard!" he shouts, because it's true, because at least he knows Vic treats women well — he likes getting up their skirts too much to treat them poorly — but he doesn't know much at all about Nathan and the thought of him hurting her or — shit, and she was drunk?

Shit.

Victor is looking at him in mutinous resentment. "So, if this happens again, I have your permission? Can I get that in writing?"

Killian glares at him so fiercely that he takes a step back.

"Look on the bright side," he says with a weak shrug and wince, "she was jealous enough to come onto me and Nathan, that means she has feelings for you."

"That makes me sick," he mutters darkly. "Nathan, fuck."

"Killian, you… you really don't have the right to get mad at her for this, you know?" Vic says tentatively. "I mean, she is allowed."

He sighs heavily and falls against the wall. This would be better if he wasn't so hungover he could die. Or maybe not. "I know," he grumbles miserably. "Still makes me sick."

"Because it's Nathan she had sex with?"

He winces hard at that; until now, he'd been able to avoid strictly thinking of it in those words, but hearing Vic say it just makes him want to beat his head against the wall until he somehow goes back in time from sheer blunt-force trauma. "Yeah," he replies, making a face. "You shouldn't've pushed her away, that would be better. At least I know you're good to women."

When he glances up, Vic is glaring openly at him. "I hate you so much right now."

"That makes two of us," he mutters.

.

It's a couple of days before Nathan comes around again — the way he does suggests he'd been giving her some space, that he thinks she actually wants him, and it kind of makes her feel bad. He catches her in the hall and crowds her in a way that he probably thinks is romantic but really just makes her uncomfortable.

"Emma, sweetheart," he says, but the pet name annoys her like it doesn't when it's on Killian's lips. "I can't stop thinking about the other night."

Shit.

"Really?" she replies, because the only other thing she can actually think of to say is, I would be really great with never thinking about it again.

She and Killian haven't spoken since that night; he doesn't seem angry, not really, just kind of uncomfortable and guilty.

(He does seem to want Nathan dead, though.)

"Yes," he purrs, running a hand up her side and settling high on her ribs as he leans in much closer as though to kiss her. "I know you haven't stopped thinking about it either," he continues, and he isn't wrong, just going in the completely wrong direction. "Hardly anyone's around, there's an empty room just over there…"

Shit. Shit. Shit.

She takes a deep breath and pushes his hand away from her. "Look, Nathan, I'm really not interested in another round, all right?"

"Oh, come on, Emma," he says condescendingly, like he just knows she's lying, and his hand goes back to her side, this time higher, to her breast. But before she can shove him away herself, a hand grabs his wrist and they both jump.

It's Killian.

Looking absolutely furious.

"Pretty sure she just said no, mate," he hisses, hand clutching Nathan's wrist so tightly his knuckles are white. "That means get your bloody hands off her."

"Since when did this have anything to do with you?" Nathan sneers coldly, and he tries to shove him away; Emma rolls her eyes, annoyance bubbling up inside her.

"I can handle this myself," she snaps, and Killian's expression flickers.

"I bloody well know that," he growls, but doesn't elaborate on why he's here then. He is literally shaking with anger. The only ways she can respond are in kind, or in tears.

"Then why are you getting involved at all?"

He glares at her, and Nathan scoffs disbelievingly, and increasingly wounded. "Gods, what is this, some sort of lovers' quarrel? I should've known," he mutters darkly, trying and failing to jerk his arm away from Killian. "Of course she'd be a — "

"I dare you to finish that sentence," Killian cuts in, fingers tightening and voice dropping and shit, he's not actually going to kill Nathan, is he? The last time she saw him this mad, he slit the other man's throat. Nathan may be kind of a jerk, but he doesn't deserve to die.

"Killian, stop," she cries, grabbing him by the arm holding Nathan and pulling him away. He releases him in one convulsive motion — gods, the other boy's wrist is bright red and there are clear marks where his fingers were — and steps back to let him go. It seems like Nathan realizes how nasty things just almost got for him, and so he leaves without another word, just a dirty — and more than a little hurt — glance back to her. "What the hell was that?"

"Oh, I should ask you the same," he shouts, pulling away from her.

"Seriously?" she snaps, jaw dropping in indignation. "You're seriously going to — if I want to have sex with someone, you have no right to stop me!"

He growls and runs a hand over his face forcefully. "No, I get that, fine, understood, I don't care," he says sharply, and it doesn't sound at all like he doesn't care, "but gods — Nathan? Why the bloody hell would you sleep with him?"

"Why not?" she counters, and this time he runs both hands over his face and through his hair, looking like he's about to tear it out in frustration.

"He's a selfish bastard, that why!"

"Oh, and you're not?"

This brings him up short, and it occurs to her suddenly what he actually meant by "selfish" — even more so when his expression shifts into something a bit vindictive and he steps closer. "Oh, I'm anything but selfish, love," he says quietly, eyes raking over her in a way that's far more sexual than she's ever caught him looking at her before, tongue between his teeth.

"Yeah, right," she jeers, turning to anger to avoid showing him just how incredibly turned-on she is by the tone of his voice and the motion of his eyes and tongue andgods above. He steps in even closer, mere inches from her face.

"Is that a request to prove myself?" he murmurs, and everything in her wants to scream yes.

Except her pride, and that's a stubborn bitch.

She narrows her eyes and says, "No," in as cold a voice she can muster, and pushes him away. He stays completely still as she storms off, and the last thing she sees before she turns the corner is him staring at the wall where she was standing a moment ago, seemingly completely drained.

.

It's Victor who comes to her, almost a week of awkward avoidance later.

"Emma, please, at least talk to him," he says, and she scoffs.

"What is there to say?"

"I don't know, anything?" he replies, throwing his hands up in exasperation. "He thinks you hate him, it's depressing to watch, let alone listen to."

"I don't hate him," she sighs, giving up the arrogant denial. "I just… don't know what to say."

"Anything," Vic says fervently. "I mean that. Literally, anything. Say hello, talk about the weather, I don't care, just let him know you don't hate him before I lock the two of you in a broom closet somewhere and throw away the key."

She rolls her eyes. "He would know you put me up to it," she says honestly, and he makes a face. "And anyway, he's the one who flipped out on me, I'm not gonna apologize for doing nothing wrong."

Victor growls in frustration as she leaves.

.

The little bastard makes good on his promise, and Emma is going to kill him.

"I swear to all the gods in the world, Victor, unlock this damn door!" she shouts, banging on it loudly.

"What the bloody hell do you think you're doing?" Killian yells beside her, also banging on the door, but Vic doesn't reply to either of them, and Emma is very sure that he didn't even stay to listen. She sighs heavily and leans her forehead against the door; the tiny closet is in the back of a closed shop — he'd gotten both of them with the claim that he'd found something too big to carry on his own — and there isn't even any light coming from under the door.

It's so small that she can barely put herself in some position where she isn't touching Killian, which she does out of spite and a discomfort she doesn't like feeling. She's never, ever been uncomfortable with him, and she hates this recent trend.

"He's going to make us pick the damn lock," he mutters, kicking the door once again for good measure.

She sighs and sinks to the floor, but this motion causes her legs to brush up against his and they both go still. A long moment passes, before she sighs again. "You wanna go first, or me?" she asks quietly, and a little miserably. She wants to reach out and touch him, but she can't and she doesn't really know why and gods, she wishes she had a bottle of whiskey right about now.

"What is there to say?" he replies woodenly. "I did nothing wrong."

"You know, I would call nearly killing a guy for daring to touch me when I came onto him a little wrong."

"You were drunk," he barks savagely. "Drunken consent really isn't consent at all."

She tries not to think about that; she'd made the decision prior to the alcohol — or at least, the decision to retaliate, if not the decision to… Nathan — but he has a point.

"Moreover," he goes on darkly, "I know what the rest of that sentence was."

"It wasn't like it wasn't obvious," she mumbles, sighing. "I used him," she admits finally, leaning her head back against the wall. "I think he actually had feelings for me, and I used that."

"Of course he had feelings for you," Killian snaps, sounding irritated. "Half this crew is in love with you, myself included."

The silence that falls after that is long and heavy, and she struggles to wrap her head around what he just said.

Myself included.

Obviously, a tiny voice in the back of her mind (that sounds a lot like Victor) says.

The rest of her can't accept it, though. She spent fifteen years of her life being implicitly told she was unwanted and worthless — street rat, abandoned, urchin, whore-in-the-making — and it's impossible that Killian — well-known around the whole city, for good and for ill, sought-after and sighed-after — would actually love or want her.

"That isn't funny," she hisses, standing up with a sort of pained energy borne from offended dismay.

"That's because it isn't a joke," he replies sharply, taking a step toward her and closing the small distance between them; she can feel his body heat and hear his heartbeat, only a hairsbreadth away, and she's raised her hands to keep him at a safe distance but now she's just kind of caressing his chest instead. She tries not to gasp audibly when his hand finds her hip and trails upward slowly, fingertips barely brushing her, until he reaches her neck and slides his hand up so it's resting on her cheek. "Have you heard what they call you?" he murmurs.

"Which one?" she asks, voice hoarse.

"Queen," he replies softly, matter-of-fact. "They call me their king and you my queen."

Should she lie and say she didn't already know that? Or admit it and claim that she, what, forgot about it or pretended it wasn't true? What she settles on is a lame, "Do they?"

"Yes," he answers dispassionately, and now his other hand is on her hip and tracing circles there and she can't really remember what they're talking about anymore.

She's breathing heavily and he's running his thumb over her lips, which part almost against her will (or at least her pride, which is becoming less and less important). He traces her bottom lip and his thumb rests there for another moment before he makes a sound in the back of his throat, a half-formed groan, and then he's kissing her like a dying man's last wish, pressing her back to the wall and running his hand through her hair, the other's fingers digging into her hip.

Her fingers tighten in his shirt and pull him closer and one of her hands has mysteriously made it into his hair and the door is locked and the shop is empty anyway and his knee is pushing between hers and something else is increasingly pressing against her thigh and gods…