A/N: I would really like to thank everyone who has favorited and followed this story since I first started posting it back in the spring. It's been a joy to write in this little AU for me, but it makes it even more meaningful that so many other people love it too. Thank you. I hope you all have a lovely holiday. This is for you. :)
Emma woke with a jolt to the sound of something crashing coming from the living room. She blinked once or twice to clear some of the sleep from her eyes, then glanced at the clock, which read an ungodly (and still blurry) 5:18 am. She considered burrowing back under the blankets until the sun came up, but Killian launched himself out of bed with a "Bloody hell!" from between clenched teeth, then lurched toward the hallway just barely awake himself. Not wanting him to face whatever was going on out there alone, Emma pushed back the blankets and swung her legs over the mattress and attempted to hustle after Killian even though her brain was hardly in sync with her body.
Before he even reached the door of their room, Killian let out a deep yawn that set off one of her own as she pulled her oversized top (which was actually the matching piece to Killian's currently low-slung, forest-green-with-red-nose-reindeer flannel bottoms) closer around her against the chill that came from vacating her warm, Killian-filled bed. She knew she should have been concerned, but she was still groggy, woefully sans coffee, and feeling more like Cindy Lou Who thanks to having spent Christmas Eve decorating the tree and watching The Grinch. She was also more than a little distracted watching the play of muscles across Killian's bare back and arms as he ran one hand through his already disheveled hair while the other reached behind him for her own hand.
All pretense of stealth was lost when he stopped short at the end of the hall that emptied into the living room, and Emma banged into him with a clumsy "Oof!"
He pulled their clasped hands around his middle to steady her against his back, keeping her close. "Don't look, love," he said over his shoulder.
"How bad could it be?" Emma asked as she came out from behind to stand next to him.
Turning his head in her direction, Killian rolled his eyes as he shook his head. "Bad enough."
There, tipped over, was their now partially-lit Christmas tree, some of the festive colors blinking cheerily as if nothing had happened, while one half set of lights sputtered and went out completely.
Killian hung his head and sighed. Emma gave a small, "Oh!" and covered her mouth with her hand.
Gale made her own entrance at that moment, trotting out from behind the couch that was blocking a good chunk of the view of the damage, wagging her tail and holding a tennis ball ornament in her mouth, the string hanger limp against her chin in a damp loop.
"Galene!" Killian exclaimed, crossing his arms over his chest. "Dreadful girl, what have you been up to?!" he demanded as he shot her one of his most disapproving looks.
Unfazed, Gale kept wagging her tail, looking quite proud of herself. And no wonder. That ornament, personalized for her, no less, had been placed high up on the tree to avoid any temptation. Apparently not high enough…or too high. Emma couldn't decide which, because she was too busy trying to picture if Gale had jumped up to get the damn thing, or if she knocked the tree over to retrieve it. Either way, mission accomplished. Might not be "good form," as Killian liked to say, but whatever she did was effective. Point Gale.
Emma elbowed Killian in the side. "I told you getting that was a bad idea," she said, barely stifling a laugh. "You know Gale can't control herself when there's a tennis ball out in the open."
Killian was about to say something when Zen joined Gale, brand new smoked bone balanced between her teeth. Emma's eyes widened, which only made it easier to see Killian try to hide a snort beneath his hand this time.
Emma gasped. "Zen! How did you— That was wrapped! In paper!" Emma sputtered, hand jabbing between the fallen tree and her sunny dog whose curled tail swished lazily back and forth.
With a crooked smirk, Killlian shook his head again…or maybe he had never stopped given the situation…and raised his eyebrows at Emma. "I told you we shouldn't put anything remotely edible under that tree," he said. "She's a bit of a food whore, that one," he noted, nodding in Zen's direction.
Emma sighed, unable to disagree. Her girl was a fan of food. "Yeah, yeah. I thought she could manage a little self-control for one night. Guess we know who learned that lesson." Looking at each of the dogs in turn, she asked pointedly, "Ok. Which one of you pulled the tree down? Or was this a joint effort?"
Both dogs stood there, tails happily in sync, staring back at Emma and Killian with the same expectant expressions they gave when waiting to be praised for successfully executing a complex command. No doubt this time for their ingenuity in solving what was obviously a test of their "find it" skills.
"Something tells me we aren't going to get an answer," Killian murmured, leaning in toward Emma.
She shook her head. "No, probably not. My bet is that Zen was the instigator, but Gale did the heavy lifting. They're quite the pair," said Emma with amused resignation.
"As are we, love," Killian declared, planting a kiss on her temple. "Shall we?" he asked, holding his hand out to her.
Taking it with a shrug, Emma said, "I suppose."
The two of them made their way around the couch to the sparkly mess in the middle of the floor. They raised the tree gingerly back into place in the corner of the room, and then began the task of returning ornaments to their branches, tossing shredded wrapping paper into the garbage, and tinkering with the dead strand of lights until they came twinkling back to life. Emma made sure the rest of the presents lodged under the fallen tree were undamaged, and Killian swept up a couple of broken ornaments, while Gale and Zen took their Christmas spoils and lay down on the couch watching Emma and Killian do all the work.
"You know, we don't even have kids. We should *not* be up this early on Christmas morning," Emma groused. She stopped what she was doing and looked at Killian, head tilted with curiosity. "Think David and Mary Margaret are up, too?"
Killian stood up, dust pan and broom in hand, and chuckled. "Aye, knowing Charlotte, I've no doubt they are done and back in bed. The lass rather runs the place and has the energy of a lightening storm. Probably the reason David asked us to go to the shelter this morning to take care of the dogs. Man's most likely exhausted. The other day he ran off a list of toys he needed to put together from Santa, and I was knackered just listening."
"I think I'd rather hose down kennels and walk dogs than stay up all night doing all that 'required' assembly."
"Since that's exactly what we'll be doing shortly, love, what do you say we open our presents now?" he asked, tipping his head toward the upright tree and waggling his eyebrows.
Emma smiled, feeling a bit giddy. Christmas time had been hard for her more often than not growing up in different foster homes, and it wasn't until Killian came into her life that gifts and traditions meant something more than what other people had and did. She couldn't help but throw her arms around his neck in her excitement.
"Yes! I'm ready!" she said, kissing him loudly on the lips. "Can I give you yours?"
Killian kissed the tip of her nose. "Think I can put these down first?" he asked, holding up the dustpan and broom.
Laughing, Emma said, "Sure. You go take care of that and I'll make us some cocoa."
Five minutes later, they were settled cross-legged on the floor in front of the tree, shoulder to shoulder, beaming like a couple of kids. Gale hopped off the couch and sat by Killian, putting her head on his thigh. His hand immediately went to stroke her ear, and she dropped her tennis ball in the space his legs made then sighed, contented. Zen stretched on her way down from the other end of the couch and sat next to Emma, putting her muzzle on Emma's shoulder, then licking her cheek before settling down with her new bone.
Emma and Killian both reached into the pile of presents under the tree at the same time and traded gifts. Emma opened a present to Zen from Gale (a new life jacket for the boat), Killian opened one from Zen to Gale (a pack for hikes in the woods complete with new Chuck-it and tennis balls), followed by a sushi-making kit from Zen to Killian (because Zen liked sushi almost as much as he did), and a photo album (incomplete) of Zen from Gale to Emma (which made her tear up at the first picture of her, Gale, and Zen crashed out on the couch on Zen's first day home with them as a little ball of fluff). Finally there were only two presents left: a box for Killian, and a small bag for Emma.
"You first!" Emma said, passing the box carefully over to Killian.
He grinned at her, biting his bottom lip as he tore open the paper and pulled the lid off. Inside was an antique barometer for The Jolly Roger. Looking down at it, the arrow pointed near the "Fair" section of the face, but looked to be edging toward "Change." Killian leaned back to get a look out the window where the sky was turning a light gray.
"Think we might be getting some snow later today," he informed her.
"Yeah. That's what my app said," she teased. He nudged her with his elbow, then leaned in for a kiss that, even in its gentleness, still managed to take her breath away.
Killian sat back and ran his fingers over the gleaming brass casing, a wistful smile playing on his lips. "It's even more beautiful than I remember," he said, meeting her eyes with tears welling in them. "Thank you, Emma."
They'd been out for a walk downtown over the summer when they'd spotted the barometer, the sunlight glinting off its highly polished brass, in the window of an antique shop, and he'd gone on and on about the merits of the German-made weather indicator. He'd only mentioned briefly that Liam had to sell theirs once he'd started taking care of Killian after their parents were gone. She figured he'd be happy with it, but she had no idea it meant giving him back a piece of the family he'd lost. It wasn't something he talked about with her too often, and at first she wasn't sure if it was because he didn't remember much, but now she realized he didn't want to make her feel her own lack of family more acutely. But he and the dogs had given her the family she'd never had, and for that, she could never repay him. That this old barometer, could return something he'd thought lost to him, meant just as much to her as it did to him.
She blushed as the warmth from his gratitude washed over her and she didn't know how to respond beyond returning his smile and running her thumb over his cheek.
Killian cleared his throat, breaking the silence, and held out the small gift bag to Emma. It had a funny, but familiar clanking to it, and when she reached in, she found a clicker under the wad of tissue paper muffling the sound. She held it up in the palm of her hand and looked at him suspiciously.
"Went all out did you? Got me a new color at least," she remarked.
"Actually, love, that's for me. Now hand it over," he requested, holding his hand out to her. Emma dropped the clicker into it and frowned.
"So, I don't actually get my present?" she asked trying not to sound disappointed.
"Oh, no, you'll get your present. You just have to find it. This," he said dangling the clicker by its coiled wrist loop, "is how I'm going to help you locate it."
Emma huffed. "Are you kidding me? It's too early in the morning to play 'click the trainer,'" she complained. "And it's Christmas!"
"Come now, darling, I promise it'll be worth your while. Now get up and make your move."
Standing up as he requested, Emma didn't bother waiting to find out if she were moving in the "right" direction. She shooed a disgruntled Gale out of the way and straddled Killian's legs, facing him. He looked up at her all mischief and mock danger as she lowered herself to his lap.
"That's cheating," he said. If it weren't for the handful of hip he was caressing, he might look put out that she ruined his game, but she knew better.
"No," Emma said, putting her hands on his chest and running her palms over the crisp hairs there. "This, is cutting to the chase."
"More like cutting out the chase entirely," he retorted. He clicked anyway and she smiled into his lips as she kissed him.
"You better be following that up with a treat," she warned.
An envelope was presented to Emma from behind Killian's back, and she, once again, looked at him suspiciously. She tore the envelope and pulled a folded piece of paper out from it. Opening it, she read its contents quickly, and, without preamble, kissed the waiting Killian soundly.
"You paid for my training class! The shelter dog one. How did you know?" she asked.
"David actually. He mentioned how disappointed you were that the shelter didn't have the funds to pay for it, and I know your budget isn't much bigger for these kinds of certifications. You've been saying how much you want to start working more with the shelter dogs and get them to good homes. Seemed like the right thing to do," Killian explained.
"It was! We've been so lucky with Zen and Gale. I just want to see the other dogs get good families too."
He shrugged a shoulder and tucked a wayward lock of hair behind her ear. "And you will. If anyone can help those dogs find proper families, it's you. I was happy to do this for you. Merry Christmas, love," he said gathering her to him.
"Merry Christmas, Killian," she whispered in his ear before kissing his cheek and hugging him tighter, the confirmation for her class drifting to the floor. They sat like that for a few moments, Emma with her eyes closed, savoring every second of the happiness she felt she would never deserve or get the chance to experience.
Killian pushed back a bit to look at her. "Speaking of the shelter, what time do we need to be there?" Killian asked.
"David said we needed to meet the rest of the staff and volunteers around 7:30."
"Perfect. That gives me plenty of time," he said with what she liked to call "leer lite."
She chuckled. "Just what do you have up your sleeve now?"
Killian took her arm from around his neck and pulled up the sleeve of his pajama top she was wearing and kissed his way from the pulse point at the inside of her wrist to the bend in her elbow, saying, "You are the only thing up my sleeve, love."
"Oh, I see. One last present to unwrap, greedy man?"
"Well, darling, you are a gift and it is Christmas," he reminded her, slowly unbuttoning the top to reveal the rest of her.
"Right," Emma agreed with a nod, her entire body flushing with the heat he was teasing out of her with only his words, never mind his roaming hands.
Naturally, that was the moment Zen sent her empty food bowl clattering across the kitchen floor, and Gale scratched at the door to go out. Emma rested her forehead to Killian's and closed her eyes, grinning. She should have been irritated at the interruption, but this was their life and she loved it. Too smart dogs and all.
"We take care of them, send them back to bed, and we meet back here in 10…no 7 minutes," she said in a rush.
"Aye," Killian agreed. "I do prefer to open my presents by the tree."
"Me, too," Emma laughed. She put her hands on either side of his face and locked eyes with him. "I love you, Killian Jones."
"And I, you, lass."