A/N: Before getting to the chapter, I want to speak about something that's been very difficult for me. Obviously it's been a long time since I last updated this fic. It was never my intention for it to be this long, but you see, this update was supposed to come back in January. I started working on it almost a year ago, back in December, and things were going very well, the words were practically pouring out of me, and I was feeling so enthusiastic about it and where things were going… and then everything ground to an ugly halt.
At the time, I was working on a new fanfiction for the CS Secret Santa exchange. I entered that year because I'd had fun in a previous year I'd participated, and frankly I was getting tired of working on the same fics in rotation with nothing new to play with. So I entered, and I started writing a new story for my shipmate, one I was very excited about. On the day of the reveal, I posted the first part of the story and while many of the reviews were very kind and enthusiastic for my new story, I was very deflated to receive another harassing review, berating me for working on something new when I hadn't finished When Doves Cry or posted an update for recently enough to suit the reviewer.
This, unfortunately, has been happening for some time. I have gotten multiple harassing reviews from different reviewers, either griping about the contents of what I've written, or how I'm not updating fast enough for them, or how I'm daring to work on something new or a different story than they wanted updated, etc. Mostly, I've dealt with it by deleting the anonymous harassing comments and trying to forget about them, but not all of them have been anonymous, unfortunately, and even the ones that were deleted tended to stick in my head for weeks at a time, affecting my ability to write.
As I've indicated before on my Tumblr, I suffer from depression and anxiety, and these conditions can make it challenging to write at even the best of times. But harassing comments and reviews make it even harder, because they feed these conditions; those comments stick in my head and my anxiety makes it hard to let go of them at all, much less when I sit down to write and have them echoing in my head the entire time. I either end up nitpicking everything to death and barely write anything at all, much less anything I like, or I never actually write anything because I can't muster up the motivation for it when I know that the next time I post, I'm going to get another harassing comment. Comments that even follow me into the comment boxes of other fics that I update.
Listen, I'm flattered people love this fic as much as they do, I really am. I honestly never thought anyone would read it, given the storyline and the darker contents. But if you want to know the status of this fic, don't ask about it in the comments section of a totally different fic! All it does it make me not want to work on it at all, because I feel trapped, pressured, and resentful. Look, I get it. Not every fic is everyone's cup of tea. Some of the other stuff I write, you might not like. That's okay. Just like other people won't read this fic, but like some of my other stories. Everyone's tastes and comfort levels are different, and that's perfectly okay. But I work for myself on my own time, and I happen to have a life outside of writing fanfiction—a life which includes a husband and three children (which I homeschool!), original story writing beyond fanfic, and actual hobbies and interests that I try to keep up with.
What is not perfectly okay is behaving like this is the only fic I should ever update, or insulting my other fics, or following me to the comments boxes of my other fics just to harass me about the particular one you want updated! Keep comments on a fic relevant to that fic only, please. Or better yet, you can ask me about a fic directly on Tumblr. If I don't get back to you in a couple of days, try again. Sometimes I see the message, but I forget to go back and answer it because I'm busy schooling or doing other things. Or occasionally, I just don't get it at all because Tumblr eats these things.
Let me re-iterate: I have absolutely no problem with people asking about the possibility of future updates for a fic. I have even, on occasion, changed the order I intended to update fics, based on people requesting an update. All I ask is that people are kind about it.
And really, most people are very kind and understanding. It's just that, as usual, one or two bad apples spoiled the whole barrel, and I was very put off by writing anything for months and months. I just couldn't muster up the motivation to do it. I couldn't even muster up the motivation to write on any of my own, original fiction. I just pretty much lost the will to write at all, full stop.
Thankfully, my beta reader, Raams, kept checking in with me, very kindly, and encouraging me to try writing. And I did try! Unfortunately, all I ever seemed to manage after more than an hour was two or three lines that I hated. And for a long time, I didn't even understand why I wasn't writing. But the more I talked with Raams and the more I sat down to try, the more those intrusive thoughts about the harassing reviews seemed to crop up, and I realized that, while they weren't the entire root of why I wasn't writing, they were a large part of it.
And the longer I went without writing and posting an update, the more I ended up hiding from Tumblr out of guilt. I felt like since I had nothing to offer, writing-wise, so what was the point of being on there? I felt like I was nothing but a big source of frustration and disappointment to my followers, many of whom are also my readers. Feelings that were not helped at all by being called out on a Tumblr post about one of my "unfinished" fics over the summer.
Look, I've done my best to be honest and direct anytime I'm asked about the status of my fics. If something is on hiatus because I'm having trouble with it, I say so. If I'm in the middle of working on an update being asked about, I say so. And I have never made any bones about the fact that I intend to finish these fics. All of them. Including this one. So please do not ever, ever tag me in a post calling me out for my unfinished work, bemoaning that I'm "obviously never going to finish it," and shaming me about it.
First of all, That. Does. Not. Help. Me. Write. Second, that, too, is harassment of a sort, albeit very passive-aggressive. And I don't appreciate it. If you want to know something, or you are worried I won't finish a fic, or I haven't updated in a while and you want reassurance, come to the source directly. Don't make assumptions and start rumors. If I say that I will keep writing a fic and finish it, please trust that.
Finally, Raams, you are the best, most patient and understanding beta reader anyone could ever hope for! You didn't give up on me through all these difficult months when I could hardly put pen to paper, much less produce anything worthwhile when I tried. You have made it plain from the beginning that all of this harassment was out of line, and have encouraged me to address it for a long time now, though I have been quite reluctant because I didn't want to start any drama or make waves. And then when all the harassment finally built up and became too much to bear, and everything in my life that I was trying to juggle along with my writing finally collapsed in on me, you didn't give me up as a lost cause. You kept checking in on me and remained patient with me, even when I'm sure it was very frustrating that I let you down time and again for promised updates, because I never got past two or three lines.
Thank you, thank you so much! You are the best!
The rest of Killian's afternoon felt interminable. He might as well have remained in their suite of apartments for the rest of the afternoon for all that he was able to concentrate on the tasks at hand. Working side-by-side with Emma's parents and their closest advisors to settle an ugly property dispute, Killian knew that he ought to be paying close attention to the proceedings and the finer points of law if he wanted to help Emma shoulder some of the burden when she ran the kingdom one day. But his mind only seemed capable of fixating on the evening that lay ahead.
He was nervous. Certainly Emma must be all the more so, for different reasons altogether. But there was simply no getting around the fact that tonight things were going to change irrevocably between Emma and him. And after seven years of fantasy about making love to Emma, Killian stood on the precipice of living that reality—a reality which was markedly different than any scenario he had ever dreamed up in his cabin late at night.
He hadn't needed to worry about inadvertently giving away his own feelings for Emma in any of his fantasies.
"Killian?" David's voice cut through his worried thoughts. "What do you think?"
He blinked. A quick glance around the table they were all seated at revealed that all eyes were fixed on him, awaiting an answer to a question he had not even heard. Blast it all, he thought with a mixture of annoyance and chagrin. "I beg your pardon," he apologized with some embarrassment, "it seems my attention wandered."
Killian squelched any further thoughts of the evening ahead (and with it his nerves) and suffered through the rest of the interminable meeting with a veneer of patience that he certainly did not feel. When the meeting finally dispersed, Killian half expected Emma's parents to waylay him, as they often did, with an invitation for Emma and him to dine with them in the Great Hall, but the Duke of Palltier pounced on the regents after the meeting, with the clear intent of monopolizing their attention.
He made his escape gratefully, before any of the others else got similar notions about bending his ear for half the evening.
When he arrived back in their apartments, Killian was surprised to find Emma ensconced in a gleaming new rocking chair by one of the windows, with Ruby hovering at her side, winding and looping yarn around a pair of knitting needles. He watched in silence for a few minutes, noting the length of her rows and the amount of yarn she'd amassed for the project. It was a bit too short to be a scarf, he decided, even if it were still the right season for it.
"Emma?" he asked uncertainly, as Ruby grinned at him in greeting.
She paused, looking up from her work, and smiled. "Oh, Killian, I didn't hear you come in!"
"Apparently," he teased. "What's that you're working on? And where did you get the new rocking chair?"
"Aunt Ruby brought the chair over with a basket of sweet rolls," Emma informed him with a happy expression, nodding toward a large towel covered basket on an end table by the fireplace.
"Had it delivered from Geppetto's shop, more like," Ruby explained, "but when he said it would be brought over this afternoon, I didn't see any reason why I couldn't bake a sweet treat for my goddaughter to deliver with it. I think he was glad to be rid of me; I've been pestering him every day for a week to see if it was finished," she laughed.
"Thank you, Ruby, this is a very generous gift," he told her with sincerity, watching his wife knit. She seemed right at home with the wool and needles, yet Killian knew for a fact that Emma had never had a whole lot of patience with any of the domestic arts Snow had tried repeatedly tried to bestow upon her. Still, something from all of those lessons with her mother must have stuck in spite of Emma's purported boredom, for the knitted wool looked very uniform and elegant despite its unfinished state.
"And as I happen to know my wife is very fond of sweet rolls," he continued, tearing his gaze away from Emma to grin at her godmother, "I can assure you we appreciate those very much as well."
Following his gaze to Emma's knitting, Ruby shrugged, as if to say, Your guess is as good as mine, but a smile hovered around the corners of her mouth. Killian was willing to bet his last silver crown that Ruby and her wolf nose knew more than she was letting on.
"You're welcome," Ruby said simply, "It's my pleasure. Besides, every woman needs a comfortable chair to sit in while she reads or knits." Brushing past him to retrieve her scarlet cloak, she settled it about her shoulders with a smirk. "Don't worry, Lieutenant," she muttered to him under her breath, her dark brown eyes shining with amusement, "I'll be out from under foot in just a minute."
Killian flushed, his eyes narrowing in suspicion, and Ruby fixed him with a beatific smile. Damn Ruby and that intrusive wolf nose of hers, he thought with embarrassment. If she could smell his state of aroused anticipation, she must smell Emma's heightened state of arousal, too. Easy enough to figure out what was brewing, under those circumstances, he reflected.
Not that it helped him feel any less embarrassed, of course.
"I should be getting home now," Ruby said to Emma by way of explanation as she tied her hood. She walked back to Emma and stooped to hug her. "Granny is cooking supper for us tonight, and she likes everyone to eat together while the food is still hot. She says it sets a good example for the girls."
"What does she do when Victor has to go out on a call?"
"Grumbles like a martyr," Ruby grinned, "but I've seen her stoking the fire a time or two to keep his food warm, when she thinks no one is looking. Just don't ever tell her I told you that, or I'll be eating cold, lumpy oatmeal for a month."
"So noted," Emma laughed, setting aside her knitting in a basket next to the rocking chair. She leaned forward, shifting her center of balance in preparation of easing herself out of the chair, and Killian, watching with a sharp eye, moved closer to offer his aid. Emma accepted his help with a grateful smile, and together they walked Ruby to the door. "Thank you again for everything," Emma murmured, giving her godmother a tight hug.
Ruby's eyes softened as she returned the hug, but her expression was fierce. "Always," she reassured her with a kiss on the cheek. "I'll come by tomorrow for a longer visit, okay?"
If the coy look Ruby darted at Killian before she waved farewell and slipped out of their apartments was any indication, that visit was likely to include a lot of prurient over-sharing of details that didn't bear thinking about.
"Well, ah," Killian said, rubbing the back of his neck in a sheepish manner when they were alone again, "it was nice to see Ruby visiting again. She hasn't come by much of late."
"I know." Emma's expression clouded over. "She's hunting Neal whenever she has a spare moment. She doesn't think I know, but it's in her eyes, Killian, when she thinks I'm not looking."
"What is?" He frowned in concern.
"That look that scares me."
Killian knew the look. "I certainly wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of your aunt's wrath if she catches up to him," he agreed grimly as they moved back into the drawing room. He wasn't surprised in the least that Ruby was taking matters into her own hands. Her impatience with the palace guard's lack of progress in their manhunt had been evident from the start, and now that Neal had taken refuge in Regina's territory, and Snow had been forced to approach the matter diplomatically, he could certainly understand Ruby's thought process on taking care of Neal herself. A wolf could slip into Regina's territory without notice or punishment, and if one happened to attack Neal in a moment of vulnerability, it would be difficult to prove any malfeasance on the Charmings' part.
"While you were gone, I took the liberty of informing the staff that we would be taking an early supper in our own apartments tonight," Emma said as they moved back into the drawing room, "and they delivered it just a little while ago, if you want to eat first."
Killian considered it. He wasn't particularly hungry yet, considering that they didn't usually dine quite this early, but Emma could very well be famished. "Do you?"
She shook her head. "I had one of the sweet rolls when Ruby brought them."
"The food should stay warm for quite a while so long as we keep it covered," Killian said, thinking of how well it had kept when he had been busy caring for his brother and couldn't eat right away, "if you would rather wait a while."
"I would," Emma agreed, "rather wait, that is." She hesitated for a moment, before she added shyly, "Maybe we could send for some hot water, though?"
"Of course," he nodded. "I'll ring for one of the maids."
"No, I'll do it," Emma volunteered. "I'm closer to the bell pull."
Killian wandered over to the new rocking chair, examining it more carefully while Emma summoned one of the chamber maids.
The back of the rocking chair appeared almost delicate, carved in an openwork lace-like pattern of vines and blooming flowers. Yet as Killian ran his callused hands over it, he sensed that it was sturdy enough to last for several lifetimes if one cared for it well. A smile stole over his lips as a vision of Emma flashed through his mind: she was rocking their baby to sleep, the hum of her lullaby resonating in the air.
It was almost too much to hope for. So far as Killian knew, Emma had not made a firm decision on whether to keep the baby or not. Remembering the positive way she had reacted to the sketches he had made of a cradle for the baby, he had to consider that it was a possibility she might keep the child. And yet, Killian wasn't foolish enough to get attached and bank all of his hopes, his longings, on something that was not settled. He wanted Emma to choose freely, without pressure or coercion, even from him.
Especially from him, he decided, as Emma finished instructing one of the servants to bring up enough hot water to fill the bathtub in her personal washroom. He would not, Killian reminded himself firmly, let his own feelings for Emma, or his longing to be a father, interfere with Emma's decision regarding the baby she carried. She'd been denied more than enough decisions and agency already.
"It's going to be a while," Emma informed him as she walked over to join him again. "Are you sure you're not hungry? You could eat something while they heat the water."
"I'm fine," he assured her.
They lapsed into an awkward silence, and Killian stole covert glances at his wife as he considered their current situation in light of all that she had been through. Although she had requested that Killian wash her hair and bathe her this evening, it was possible that she might find undressing before him and lying naked and vulnerable in the presence of a man more difficult than either of them anticipated. Perhaps time would be better spent growing at ease with each other's physical closeness, and ensuring Emma felt as comfortable and safe with him as possible.
Turning to face his wife, Killian took her hands into his and drew her nearer. "Come sit with me," he invited, leading her over to one of the plush settees. Emma, looking puzzled, offered no protest. Easing her into a comfortable position on the settee, Killian settled down next to her, placing himself in closer proximity than usual. Emma's eyes lit with understanding, and she bridged the divide between them half again as much, until their thighs were close enough that Killian could feel the heat radiating between them.
Feeling self-conscious and rather foolish, Killian started to reach for her hand, and then thought better of it. Monitoring Emma carefully for her reaction, he slowly raised his arm and curved it around her shoulders.
Emma's posture became rigid, her jaw clenching together. She swallowed several times, closing her eyes, as her fingers clenching together into fists. The faint sound of her ragged gasps might as well have been cannon shot for all that it seemed to roar in his ears.
Feeling guilty, Killian started to withdraw his arm.
"Don't," Emma managed tersely, her eyes still shut. "We had an agreement," she said between breaths, "remember? If I want you to stop something, I'll make myself very clear." Swallowing again, she inhaled deeply through her nose, held it for the beat of several seconds, and then exhaled through pursed lips. "I'll be fine," she assured him. "I was just…remembering something." Something
Killian frowned. "Emma, if this is too much for you—"
Her eyes cracked open, and a smile threatened at the corners of her mouth. "It's not nearly enough," she said with the trace of a laugh, surprising him. "My body is ready to fly apart at the seams, remember? It's my mind that can't let go."
Killian absorbed her words and considered them. "You're afraid?"
"Yes," she whispered. "My only experience was…" She trailed off, looking ashamed, and Killian frowned until she continued, "Things are so…different with you. It's scary."
"Then," he said, reaching over to brush a lock of curling hair out of her face, "let's try to fix that. You know you don't ever need to fear me, Emma." She nodded, her eyes meeting his. Hope and uncertainty intermingled within them, and for a moment Killian quailed at the thought of all the trust she was placing in him. Who was he to ask such a thing of her? He wasn't half worthy of it. He was a commoner with no rank, a nobody from a broken family…
Respect, his brother's words echoed in his head, Love. Honor. Devotion…. Wealth and blood and titles mean nothing without a well-formed, honest character…
Bolstered by the memory of Liam's encouragement, Killian drew closer to Emma again, embracing her.
"I'm going to kiss you now," he whispered, nuzzling the small hollow just beneath her ear. Cradling her with the delicacy one might reserve for handling sculptured glass, he felt the shiver run through her at the slow press of kisses he trailed down the arch of her neck. He faltered for a moment in wonder at her reaction. With instincts born from experience, he knew her reaction was one of arousal, not fear. Encouraged, Killian resumed his kisses, holding her with more confidence when he laid his other hand against the curve of her hip.
She inhaled sharply and tensed as he caressed the ribcage underneath one breast. Something akin to fear flared in her green eyes. Killian paused after this reaction, neither advancing nor retreating, but giving her time to process what she was feeling. After several long moments, Emma relaxed and seemed to come to a decision.
Her forehead creased with concentration, Emma loosened his cravat, fumbling with inexperienced fingers until she learned the trick of it. Pushing aside the fabric of his shirt once she'd unfastened the first few buttons, Emma stared at his exposed flesh with a look that was unmistakably appreciative. Her fingertips brushed across his chest, and a warm, euphoric feeling spread through him.
But as good as Emma's curious, probing caresses felt, Killian didn't want to become distracted by his own arousal. He wanted this night to be primarily about her pleasure, not his own. He wanted to show her how different, how good a partner's touch could be when two people chose to be intimate with each other, rather than the evil violation she had experienced.
"Emma," he murmured, cradling her close in his arms again, "I'm going to unlace your bodice now. Don't be afraid."
Blushing, she nodded her assent, and Killian reached for the strings. The corset of her bodice was strictly decorative at this point, of course, as her physician had been adamant that fetal growth must not be constricted by the stays a woman's dress would normally contain. But the effect was no less alluring when the laces were undone and the round fullness of her breasts was framed by the deep V of fabric.
"Emma, you're beautiful," he said hoarsely.
She blushed again, and the rosy tint it gave to the creamy skin of her breasts made her more beautiful still.
"I know they've gotten a lot bigger…" she muttered self-consciously. There was anxiety in her eyes, and a hint of fear, and Killian wondered for a moment what things Neal might have said or implied to Emma about her body that made her react so.
"Their size isn't what makes them beautiful, darling," he reassured her. "You are." He leaned forward to kiss her neck in affection, the coarse hair on his chest brushing up against her nipples in the process, and Emma moaned. The sound aroused him, and Killian shifted restlessly as Emma pressed closer still, rubbing against him like an overeager kitten.
Killian took the hint.
Kissing the hollow of her neck, he cradled her breasts in his hands and began to rub his thumbs across her nipples very slowly.
"Ohhhhhh," she moaned, "gods…"
He increased the friction fractionally, and Emma's breaths became short, desperate pants. Her head fell back against the settee, her golden hair fanning out against the fabric of it. "Let go, darling," he urged her, watching with greedy eyes as the deep flush of arousal spread over her torso and her nipples became erect. "Come for me, love."
"More," she managed between pants, "Gods, Killian, I'm almost—"
Emma shuddered as Killian obliged her, writhing into his touch, their voices mingling into one primal pant for release as Killian encouraged and Emma grasped at the pleasure that dangled just out of her reach. And then suddenly, her body twitched once, and the drawn out sound of her climax filled the room. It was the sweetest, most exhilarating, most arousing cry of victory he'd ever heard from anyone casting off their demons in his life, and a lump formed in his throat for a moment. His heart was bursting to the brim with pride for her.
"That was…" she said breathlessly when she came down from the high, "I can't believe…" Words failed her for the moment, and Killian smiled.
"Come," he urged, "your bath should be ready by now."
Helping Emma to her feet, Killian accompanied her to her personal wash room. The chamber was overlarge, nor cramped, but rather a cozy in-between. A large claw-footed porcelain tub stood in the center of the room, its waters steaming in the candlelight.
"I didn't even hear the maid knock or take her leave," Killian observed, taking in the array of candles. Did Emma normally use this many candles when she bathed, or had that been her maid's notion, perhaps to enhance the mood? It wasn't as if they'd been all that silent. "I'm afraid we'll have to wait just a few moments more," he apologized, "for the water to cool to an appropriate temperature."
"Then I suppose I should undress," she murmured, shifting awkwardly.
"If you'd like me to step out-"
"No," she decided after a moment's pause, "that seems a little silly, now that you've seen half of me naked..."
"Emma," Killian said, stepping forward. He cupped her chin with one hand, gently tilting it upward so that their gazes met. "All of this feels awkward because it's new to you. It's new to me, too."
"But I thought... You said there have been others."
"And so there have. But I wasn't married to any of them. I don't know what it is to lie with a woman I'm wed to. More to the point, I don't know what it is like to lie with Emma." He smoothed down a lock of her golden hair, admiring its silken texture against his callused fingers. Pressing a kiss to her forehead, he drew back and began unbuttoning his shirt the rest of the way.
Emma's eyes lit with understanding for the second time that night. "Thank you," she said simply.
Divesting himself of his waistcoat and then his shirt, Killian held his breath as Emma inched toward him. Her expression was shy, and she couldn't quite meet his gaze. Taking a deep breath, she reached for him, curling her fingers around one bicep. Killian waited patiently, letting Emma proceed at her own pace, and after the space of several heartbeats, he felt the heat of her lips against his collarbone.
Killian struggled to breathe properly. Feeling dazed, his arms locked around her as his mind raced like a herd of wild horses. Her hand grazed lower, just below his navel, and Killian shuddered. It took every bit of self-control he had to reign in his instincts and remain passive while Emma continued her exploration. He wanted Emma so much that it was painful, and yet he sensed that she needed to exercise control now when she had been denied it before. Emma must be the one to disrobe him completely.
Her fingertips skimmed across the expanse of his chest, curling into his chest hair with a possessiveness that was brief and shy, but pleased Killian immeasurably. Emma caressed the line of his shoulders, and then slipped her arms around him, inquisitive fingers exploring the landscape of his backside. Massaging his shoulder blades with a hum of appreciation, her fingers ghosted down his spine, lighting every nerve on fire.
"Emma," he inhaled sharply, muscles tensing with a mixture of pleasure and anticipation as her hands found the curve of his backside and kneaded it experimentally.
"I'm sorry," she apologized, avoiding his gaze as she withdrew her hands, misinterpreting him utterly.
Killian clasped her hands in his own, drawing them back again. "It feels good, love," he reassured her. And so did the gasp of her name on his lips, he reflected. Almost as good as the cry of his name on her lips had sounded during the heights of her own pleasure.
Emboldened anew by his encouragement, Emma's fingers curled around the waistband of his trousers, and Killian thought his heart might beat out of his chest. She unfastened his trousers, peeling them away, and Killian stepped out of them, standing before her in nothing more than a pair of thin white drawers.
Hesitating as she teetered on the precipice of such a momentous step, Emma bridged the gap between her courage and his pleasure and stroked the bulge of his drawers. Killian's response was incoherent—a series of short, panting groans as her fingers cupped and traced, intent on mapping out the shape of him before laying eyes on his manhood. "Emma," he moaned helplessly, "you're killing me."
Emma made no reply, except to tug the drawers away, and Killian abandoned them, too. He rubbed the back of his neck self-consciously. There was no hiding the fact that he was hard—harder probably than he'd been in years—and he worried now how Emma would react to it. Would the fear and suspicion return, now that she was confronted with the inescapable evidence of his desire for her? He could hardly blame her if it did; her only other exposure to male genitalia had been one of abuse and trauma—
"Stop thinking so loudly," Emma murmured next to his ear, interrupting his worried musings. She splayed both hands against his bare chest and stood on her tiptoes to kiss the underside of his chin. "See? I'm still here."
It was not lost on Killian that this time Emma was the one offering him reassurance.
He cupped her face with one hand, rubbing his thumb along her cheekbone. He would have kissed her then, if he could've. He wanted to do so with all his heart, to show her what she really meant him. But he would rather die than break her boundaries, and so Killian settled for running his fingers through the mass of her golden hair instead. "Aye," he responded hoarsely, "so you are."
Smiling impishly, Emma's fingertips danced down his torso, and Killian was as aroused by this brief flash of her old confidence as he was of anything she was doing to his body.
And by the gods, was she ever doing things to his body!
"I didn't expect it to be so…soft," she marveled, caressing his erection with delicacy.
Killian, who'd been rendered near speechless when Emma had touched him so intimately, peeled his eyes open. "Well now, I don't know what your expectations were," he said with an arch of his brows, "but I can assure you it isn't that," he teased.
She slapped at his chest playfully, blushing a furious, rosy red that nearly stopped his heart with desire. "You know what I meant," she muttered, and they chuckled together as Killian drew her closer. "It feels smooth, like satin," she amended.
"Enough about me, darling," he murmured, trailing kisses from her collarbone to her shoulder. "Let's see to that bath." He pushed the fabric of her opened bodice from her shoulders. The sleeves slid away, exposing her torso fully, and Killian stared with admiring eyes at the vision that stood before him.
Her ivory skin gleamed in the candlelight, reminding him of the moonlit waters of the sea. Killian, inhaling with a stutter, thought it appropriate; hadn't she always been his siren? Admiring the golden hair that tumbled over her shoulders, framing her breasts and complimenting the rosiness of her nipples, Killian reached for her. Emma's long, graceful fingers were curved around the swell of her half-exposed belly in self-conscious awareness. Killian gently parted them, stooping to press kisses against the firm, silky skin of her rounded waist. He couldn't have put it into words for the world—his emotions had for the moment rendered him beyond speech—but it was terribly important to him that Emma knew how beautiful she was, no matter what her figure.
"Killian," she murmured, her voice ripe with embarrassment as she shifted away, "you don't have to—"
He straightened to his full height again, gently cupping her chin in one hand. Her gaze reluctantly met his; there was anxiety reflected in them, and shame. Anger at Neal bubbled up in him again, but Killian refused to give himself over to it. He would be damned if he let this evening be ruined by the bastard.
Brushing his thumb across her cheek, Killian laid his other hand at the small of her back and cradled her against him, craving the reassurance of her skin against his. Part of him still feared that he would wake and find that it was nothing but a dream.
"I know," he said simply, when he found his voice. "I'm doing this as freely as you, Emma. There is no force or obligation between us. And I meant what I said I said before: you're beautiful because you are you. Everything I do… it's because Iwant to."
A spark of mischief lit in her green eyes, replacing the lost and vulnerable look that had been in them, and a smirk flickered across her face, captivating him with its tang of familiarity. "I'm getting cold, you know," she informed him with an arch of her brows. "Do you think you might want to…warm me up?" she invited with a coy expression.
Desire rippled through him, settling in his groin. "As my lady wishes," he managed hoarsely.
Trailing a line of kisses across her jaw, Killian found her earlobe with his mouth. Emma sighed, tilting her head to give him better access. He obliged her, enjoying the quiet frets of satisfaction she made, and began kneading the silky skin along her ribcage until he reached the curve of her breasts. An exhaled moan of pleasure and anticipation told him where she wished his attentions to linger next, and she pressed into his touch with eagerness as he fondled her breasts.
Her fingers fumbled and found him again, stroking the length of him in reciprocation, and it was Killian's turn to stutter with arousal. "Emma," he breathed, "I—" His thoughts scattered as her strokes transformed into a lingering massage, and Killian forgot whatever he'd been about to say.
Flicking his tongue against one of her nipples in response, he felt it grow erect in his mouth. Her resultant moan was low and throaty. She arched her back, thrusting her breasts forward, and he laved the other one, slow and lingering. He felt her chest heave as her breaths became shorter, and he drew the nipple further into his mouth.
"Killian," she stuttered breathlessly, "I need… I need…"
"Yes?" he responded, hardly recognizing the low timbre of his own voice.
"I need—" Her fingers tore at the mass of her skirts in helpless frustration, and Killian understood. He ripped through the layers of tulle and petticoats in a series of determined tugs, until they lay in drifts on the floor. And when he reached the thin, skimpy drawers she wore and found them soaked with her arousal, he ripped those away, too.
Worried for her safety and that of the baby's, he turned Emma and braced her against his chest, one arm curved beneath her breasts to hold her steady. His fingers brushed tentatively against the crease of her thighs, seeking silent permission to proceed. Emma shifted, parting for him, and Killian proceeded with caution, alert for any sign of her discomfort. Her sighs were ecstatic when he parted the wet folds of her sex, and she whimpered, writhing against his fingers. His thumb found the sensitive nub of her womanhood, and he stroked it, murmuring gentle words of comfort at this intimate touch. Emma seemed beyond words, communicating her longing and need in a melody of whimpering moans that drove Killian to distraction and filled him with the overpowering need to elicit even greater depths of pleasure for her.
She fairly quivered at his touch when he started to massage her in slow circles, her body drawing taut like a bow, and his groans mated with her own as her pleasure eclipsed and then became his own. Her head fell back against his shoulder, the lovely arch of her neck exposed at just the right angle to lave and suckle the skin. He growled, low and guttural, struggling for control when Emma writhed against his erection, and the hum of his voice against her skin seemed to spiral her to even greater heights.
"Killian," she all but whined at him in desperation, pressing the rigidness of her body against his own while he increased the friction margin by margin, "I can't—I can't—"
Understanding intuitively what she couldn't put into words, Killian murmured into her ear, "Of course you can, sweetheart. Do you trust me?"
Her answering sigh was quiet, almost a whisper, "Yes."
"Then I'm going to bring our bodies much closer."
Cradling her with both arms to support her fully, he shifted his stance and hers, and thrust himself along the slick path of her warmth. His movements were slow and measured at first, and he didn't dare to enter her, but as Emma relaxed into the intimacy of their embrace, his movements became as frantic as the harmony of their cries; Killian lost himself in teasing out every last ounce of pleasure to be had with the friction of their bodies, consumed by the drive to push Emma beyond her plateau.
And then—they broke together, with one single, drawn out cry of a longing finally fulfilled.
When the echoes faded from the tiny chamber, and they both caught their breath again, Emma sagging against Killian with brightly flushed cheeks, neither of them dared to speak. Killian held her instead, nuzzling her neck by turns and bestowing feather-light kisses upon her shoulder, while Emma stroked his thigh, her lips curved into a soft smile.
"We should probably check on that bath," he said after a while, releasing her with great reluctance. "I hope it hasn't grown cold by now."
But the water, while perhaps a bit cooler than his wife generally liked, was still warm enough for Emma to be comfortable. Settling her into the bathtub, Killian cleaned up and then busied himself setting out a selection of perfumes and scented salts for Emma's perusal. She chose a combination of freesia and chamomile, pouring them into water with an absent smile. The guarded worry that usually clouded her expression had drained away, replaced by a serene, almost smug expression that reminded Killian of a cat lazing in the sunlight.
"That tickles," Emma giggled, squirming away as Killian began to wash her.
So his wife became ticklish after she'd been well-satisfied? Killian tucked that bit of information away for future reference. He rather suspected it would be some time before he would ever be able to reach for Emma with anything but slow, deliberate movement, but perhaps someday when she was more comfortable with him and the mood was sufficiently playful so as not to cause alarm…
Threading his fingers through the damp locks of her hair, Killian gently massaged Emma's scalp. She sighed in contentment, closing her eyes as he worked the castile cleanser through her hair. He took care to knead out any lingering knots of tension along the hairline of her neck, earning faint moans of approval for his effort. Turning his attention to the small of her neck, Killian applied a gentle pressure to the rigid muscles, leaving swirls of tiny suds against her skin. Her tension melted beneath his fingertips like snowflakes exposed to the heat of the sun. Sliding his hands to the curve where her neck joined with her shoulders, Killian massaged deeper, soothing her in the same place stress often expressed itself in his own body; her muscles resisted his efforts, and at first it felt like he was kneading stone, but little by little, the last vestiges of her stress yielded to his touch.
Killian felt the change in her mood through the sudden rise of her shoulders and coil of her muscles. Her sigh was soft and full of need. Emma shifted in the tub, exposing her back, and Killian's pulse quickened; beads of water glistened against her skin, drawing his eyes to the delicious curves of her body. He was so distracted with the sight that he almost missed Emma's garbled and self-conscious invitation. She moved forward, making room for him in the wash tub, and Killian noted that she seemed to be avoiding his gaze.
Wishing to assuage her uncertainty, he eased into the water behind her, his frame snug against hers in the close quarters of the tub. Emma shivered. "Cold?" he murmured in her ear. She nodded once, and Killian smiled to himself. "Then let's do something about that, shall we?" Letting his hands no more than whisper against her skin, he embraced his wife, resting his chin against her shoulder. It felt surreal, holding and touching Emma so intimately, and part of Killian feared that he would wake from a dream. But Emma didn't feel like a dream; her flesh was like molten silk beneath his fingertips, soft and pliant, but with an undercurrent of strength that Killian found intoxicating.
Pleased to see the rosy glow that was emerging on her skin, Killian reached for a cake of lavender-scented soap.
"Mmm," Emma sighed instinctively as Killian washed her body with slow, soothing strokes. Her back arched, and then she leaned into him, her throat nestled against his; it afforded Killian a rather interesting angle at which to view her lovely breasts. Shifting in the tub, Killian described them to her through his own eyes, his voice a husky rumble that he almost didn't recognize. Circling the rosy, erect nipples with his thumbs, he elicited a whimper of pleasure from his wife.
"That's it, darling," he purred in encouragement, giving one of her breasts a gentle squeeze.
"Stop!" The word cracked through the air like a whip, startling Killian, who withdrew his touch instantly. Gripping the sides of the bathtub, Emma leveraged herself forward and, leaning awkwardly over its edge, she became sick.
Watching with a mixture of anger and sorrow, Killian tried to murmur reassurances while he waited for her attack to subside. "Never mind," Killian advised her as her vomiting subsided and she stared in dismay at the mess. He climbed out of the bath, carefully stepping around the mess, and reached for a towel, wrapping around his waist. "Finish your bath," he soothed, handing her a glass of water that he fetched from the next room, "I'll clean it up."
Killian made good on his word, and before the hour was finished, they retired to the drawing room to eat the supper they had neglected before. The food improved Emma's spirits at first, but as the meal proceeded in silence, her expression became progressively more pensive. She began to push the food around her plate rather than eat it.
"Would you like to talk about it?" he inquired, refilling her cup with tea.
Emma shrugged noncommittally. "Not tonight," she decided after another stretch of silence. "He's ruined our evening enough."
They finished the meal, keeping the conversation purposefully light, and Emma left to prepare for bed while Killian cleared the dishes, reflecting on the evening. He felt irrationally guilty for triggering her attack and being the source for their evening's disappointing denouement; it had set them back, discovering this boundary, but a beanstalk wasn't grown in a day, and they had the rest of their married lives to grow together as lovers.
Most importantly, he reminded himself as he moved through the drawing room shutting curtains and blowing out lamps, Emma had spoken up when she'd grown uncomfortable, just as she'd promised.
He paused by the fireplace, reaching for the key on the mantelpiece before he blew out the last lamp. Killian wound the clock dutifully and decided he might as well retire to bed himself. Perhaps after a good night's sleep, they would both feel more inclined to talk in the morning.
Loosening the knot in the belt of his dressing gown, Killian blew out the final lamp and made his way to their bedchamber. When he opened the door, instead of the pitch black he had expected, Killian found the room dimly lit by the soft light of a single oil lamp. Emma stood by the bed, one of her arms curled around a poster, wearing a simple, calf-length shift of ivory silk that displayed every attractive curve of her body. She flushed under his gaze, a hesitant smile gracing her face, but the question burned in her eyes all the same.
Killian cleared his throat with difficulty and crossed the room. "Emma, are you certain?"
She nodded solemnly. "I don't want our evening to end with…that."
With her memories of Neal tainting it.
It made perfect sense, now that he reflected on it. He'd focused on Emma's immediate feelings after her flashback to that terrible night; he'd wanted to shield her from further pain. Yet he'd given no consideration to her needs. That they were at odds with each other, rather than one and the same, also made sense, given all that she was going through. He only wished that she'd spoken to him about her needs more plainly.
"I didn't know," she confessed after he said as much, "Not until I was preparing for bed. I was so busy feeling angry and resentful to Neal that it clouded everything else. And then I realized that those feelings—his memory—would be the last thing that I would remember about tonight. I can't bear that."
"Nor can I," he agreed, embracing her. "Let's see what we can do to make you forget."
He slid a finger beneath a strap of her gown, caressing the curve of her shoulder. Admiring her anew, Killian saw upon closer inspection that the empire bodice was embroidered with tiny seed pearls. "When did you buy this?" he wondered in a husky tone.
She flushed, looking distinctly embarrassed. "Ruby made it. She brought it over with the chair."
"Ah, so that's why she was giving me such knowing looks. I thought she must have smelled a change in our body chemistry."
"Oh, she most certainly did," Emma laughed, not reassuring him in the slightest. "That's how she always knew—" She faltered abruptly, turning red. "Well, let's just say that she knew far more than I wanted her to know, growing up. Still does, apparently," she said with a rueful expression as she looked down at her gown. "The beading alone must have taken her weeks."
"Perhaps I should thank that nose of hers, then," he teased, settling his hands on the lower curve of her back.
"If it's all the same to you, I'll let her squirm a while," Emma retorted with a wicked gleam in her eyes.
"Won't she know the difference?" Killian asked, gently massaging his wife's lower spine. Emma's expression of mischief melted into one of cat-like contentment. Her eyes fluttered shut, and her chin lifted, tilting a touch to the right. Killian accepted the invitation and pressed a trail of fluttering kisses down its curve.
"Mmm, probably," Emma managed thickly, "but it's what she won't know about it that will kill her."
He laughed despite himself, his voice rumbling against her throat, and Emma's eyes flew open. "Do that again," she urged in a voice that was little more than a whisper.
He indulged Emma with pleasure, his mind straying to other delightful areas that Emma might enjoy the sensation in the future. As the tension gradually left her muscles again, Killian guided her into the bed.
"Wait," she protested as he settled her onto her side, "what…?"
"The doctor warned against putting pressure on your back," he reminded her. He settled into the bed behind her and resumed the massage he'd begun in the bath earlier, careful to change the way that he touched her breasts. Emma responded with a series of moans, low in her throat, and squirmed against him. The friction of her buttocks against his erection sent a surge of intense pleasure rolling through him, and Killian answered his wife in kind.
There was an erotic thrill, he discovered, in exploring Emma's body with his fingers while it was concealed from his sight. Stroking her hip, Killian skimmed his hand down her thigh and separated her folds. Her arousal was slick against his fingers as he stroked her sensitive nub, murmuring endearments that he would only half-remember later. Emma, panting, ground against him, seeking to intensify her pleasure, and Killian redoubled his efforts.
She came moments later, relaxing against him, and Killian felt a surge of tenderness. Cradling Emma against him, Killian spoke in a low, measured tone to reassure her; parting her thighs slightly, he eased his body closer to Emma's, brushing against her entrance. She stiffened, her body becoming as hospitable as stone, and he nuzzled her neck, trying to provide comfort. "You can withdraw your consent at any point," he reminded her. "This doesn't have to happen tonight if you find you're not ready."
"I know." She reached back with one arm, her hand brushing against his hip, and Killian had the odd sensation that once again she was trying to reassure him.
Touched by this quiet display of trust, Killian stroked her hair, choking back the words of devotion that he longed to say. With a gentle thrust, he pushed into her the barest amount and paused, giving her time to process what was happening. She stiffened again, her breaths becoming ragged, and Killian stroked her hair some more as she practiced the breathing techniques that Jiminy had taught her.
When she indicated that she was ready to proceed, Killian entered her more deeply, speaking to her with gentle, soothing words. When he entered her fully, Emma began to shake, and he paused again. "Emma, love," he said in a voice thick with concern, "if you need to stop, we will."
"You won't be—angry?" she faltered with a sniff.
"No, darling, I won't," he promised.
Emma was quiet for several moments, and Killian lay perfectly still, acutely conscious of the fact that she had neither pulled away nor asked him to withdraw.
"Make me forget, Killian," she finally whispered. "Help me understand."
And with all the tender care he had in his heart for her, Killian did his best to do just that. Because he loved her. He'd loved her for so long, it felt like forever. But Emma wasn't ready to hear that yet, not when she still feared the intimacy that could be communicated in a kiss. For now, he could only show her, and hope that his actions could make plain what he couldn't yet form into words.
Afterward, they drowsed together in companionable silence, and Killian was pleased to note that Emma seemed more at ease with herself than he'd seen her in months. That's my lass, he thought proudly, toying with a lock of her golden hair. He couldn't have been happier if he'd been handed the moon.
"Oh!" Emma gasped suddenly, laying a hand on her belly.
"What's wrong?" A note of fear had crept into his voice despite himself, and Killian sat up, peering at her with concern. "Is it the baby? How are you feeling?"
"Ouch!" she exclaimed again. "I'm fine," she reassured him, "but I think we must have woken him up."
"Him?" he echoed. It was the first time he could recall her referring to the child as anything other than "the baby" or "it." It seemed a good sign, especially in light of that blanket she'd been knitting earlier, but Killian reminded himself not to get attached. "How do you know?"
"I suppose I don't, really," she admitted. "It's just a feeling I—Oh! There he goes again!" Reaching over, she placed Killian's hand on her abdomen. "Right there. Do you feel it?"
He waited patiently, as he always did, but the baby remained as stubbornly still for him as it always did. Killian irrationally wondered if the baby could sense that he wasn't its real father. "No," he said neutrally after a few moments, "I'm afraid he's stopped." But just as he moved to withdraw his hand, he felt it—quick and forceful and utterly wondrous.
He'd been wrong. Completely, wonderfully wrong. He had been handed the moon tonight, he thought, holding his wife with one arm as they felt the sporadic movements of the baby together. The moon, and all the stars besides. And he was indeed happier than he'd ever been in his whole life.