"if you break it, i'll tell everyone..."

(an emma approved fic featuring pinky promises, new beginnings, and better halves)

if there was anything emma knew about alex, it was that he always had her back. like right now, for instance. it was lunchtime, and emma was having none of it. those stupid boys wouldn't back off, and right now, her hair was not in the condition of being tugged.

she walked across the grounds to where alex was reading his book (he liked to do this once a week, to make sure he didn't get behind too much) and stood in front of him. he would look up, he always did.

very predictably and not a minute later, he noticed some beat-up converse pointing straight at him from underneath his book. he looked up to see his best friend and immediately grinned at her.

"hi, emma," he greeted, unaware of her sour mood.

"i hate boys." emma stated, blunt as always.

"that's not true. you wouldn't be talking to me if you actually did," came alex's reply, pragmatic as ever.

"you don't count."

"you're still wrong."

"i'm not. they keep annoying me, pulling my hair and messing it all up. and now all the girls are joining in, too!" emma whined, with perhaps more flair for despair than was necessary, twirling her (very curly, and perfect for tugging) hair as she ranted. "they're so dumb, why can't they play with someone else's hair? i bet jane fairfax wouldn't mind."

"well, hers is not actually as cool-looking. you have really nice hair, it bounces – "

emma glared at alex.

"what? i never pull on it, i don't know why you're looking at me like that! i may have common sense, but that doesn't mean i can't hear the boys talking about it." alex was trying to save face, but it appeared to be working.

emma considered this for a second.

"wait, what? they talk about me? why don't you tell me these things?" if alex didn't know better, he'd think emma was blushing.

"i didn't tell you because i thought it wasn't important."

"you don't think it's important to mention to me that guys talk about me or my hair? ugh, alex, what are you even good for!" emma raised her hands in front of her, helplessly.

"homework help, usually?" he smirked while responding to her very clearly rhetorical question.

"thanks for your input, knightley." she scrunched up her face as she said it, knowing she was very unamused with his (unsuccessful) attempts to be funny.

"hm, how about this? i'll personally come after any person who comes near you with the purpose of tugging your curls, boy or otherwise. deal?"

emma instantly brightened, her unimpressed look morphing into one with gratitude etched very subtly.

"yes, yes, you're the best! pinky promise, just to be sure?"

"oh c'mon, what are you? seven?"

"just do it!" emma was practically jumping up and down. as she had said, alex did always have her back.
"fine," alex pouted, but he did loyally stick out his pinky to emma.

"pinky promise." they locked pinkies, and kissed their own fists. "now it's sealed. you know what that means?"

alex did know, but he humored emma. "what?"

"if you break it, i'll tell everyone that you used to eat toothpaste because you thought it tasted good."

"emma!"

"don't break the pinky swear!" emma laughed as she ran back to her girlfriends.

that girl was going to be the death of him.

emma was so done with everything. this year was not living up to its hype, even though it had had such a promising start. she'd changed her hair (to wavy and glossy perfection, thank you very much), she'd gotten invisalign, she'd even picked out ten perfect outfits that were junior-year-worthy (and definitely very emma approved). initially, it had all worked out very nicely: she was able to garner the attention of hunter phillips, the secretly intelligent cornerback, and they had been a couple since homecoming.

but now it was january and emma had no date to winter formal. hunter had broken up with her yesterday via text, of all things, and now she was dateless and boyfriendless. she was going to be a nobody at school again, come monday, and that was just not acceptable.

laying starfished in her bed, she began to contemplate her options. her dad might let her move to canada, but she didn't really want to do that. they could register in a different high school from the same district, one that was slightly farther away and not filled with the same people she'd seen since sixth grade. but other than the current scum of the earth hunter phillips, she liked most of the people at her high school. so she was in a slightly unfortunate situation.

"emma!" there was slightly muffled shouting coming from her … backyard? "emma!"

she opened up her window to see what the ruckus was, and found none other than ... john knightley? ever since he'd gotten together with her older sister, he'd become a low-key permanent fixture in the household, so it was weird seeing him outside it, not to mention waving at her.

"what do you want?" emma yelled back.

"open your door, i've got something for you!" he shot her a huge grin, the kind that told her he was up to his usual mischievous antics (the kind that usually included his brother).

emma didn't know why she bothered, but she ran downstairs to answer the door. there was no one at her eye level, so she thought john had played ding-dong-ditch again. but her eyes wandered down to the doormat, where a teddy bear patiently sat. her heart began racing as she picked it up and read the post-it note: i'll be beary glad if you... go to your backyard :)

emma had a feeling she knew who was behind it, but couldn't wait to unravel the rest of the 'mystery'. in the backyard, there was a small stuffed dog (a terrier, on closer inspection) that also had a post-it note, this time reading: arf arf! i hope the thought doesn't make you barf, but will you go to winter formal with me?

not ten feet in front of the dog, alex knightley stood, throwing a shit-eating grin at her. "soooo, miss emma, what's the verdict?"

"i'd be honored, mr. knightley."

as expected, they hugged it out, and the whole thing was captured on a super high-tech, no-film-necessary camera.

later, when they were sitting in emma's room ("emma! don't forget to leave the door open!" "okay, dad, now go away!"), emma asked alex how he knew.

"how'd i know what?" alex looked at her skeptically.

"that i didn't have a date to winter formal!" emma looked a bit exasperated.

"i always know these things. you should expect this by now," alex looked a little put off, to be honest. he was surprised that she was surprised. he always noticed anything that had to do with her.

"but didn't you want to ask someone else?"

"like who?" this time, it was alex's turn to be surprised.

"like, maybe, … geneferax?" she mumbled the end of the sentence, and alex didn't understand.

"who?"

"jane fairfax! i thought you were gonna ask her. actually, the whole school did," emma quipped, trying to save face for her embarrassing moment of insecurity a second earlier.

"who is the whole school? i may have thought about it for two seconds, but once i realized my best friend was available…" alex hoped this would bring a smile to her face, but instead it caused an unwanted reaction.

emma burst out crying.

"thanks for reminding me, asshat!"

so close.

"emma, i promise you that he's a bigger fool for dumping you than you were to go out with him in the first place."

"wow, really feeling the love here, knightley."

"shut it, woodhouse, i'm trying to be sentimental here. anyways, he's a tool and we're done with him. right?"

emma sniffled a little bit, but tearfully agreed: "i guess."

"and i think he's gonna be the last douche to mess with you. in fact, guess what?"

"what, alex."

"i pinky promise you that you won't ever have to deal with insufferable losers like him again."

emma brightened up at the prospect of a pinky promise. "alex knightley, you know what that means, don't you?"

"care to enlighten me, o wise one?"

"if you break it, i'll tell all the girls at school that you still sleep with a teddy bear."

"that's not even true! you slept with yours until you were thirteen, i lost the habit when i was nine."

"too bad, i'm still gonna tell it. just think of it as incentive to keep your end of the bargain."

"pinky swear," alex said, and just like old times, they locked their pinkies together, forgoing the kissing in favor of grinning at each other with their pinkies entwined in a solemn oath.

right as he was about to move away, emma pulled into his chest, suddenly remembering her brutal break-up.

oh, crap. time to bring out the big guns: peanut butter crackers and some of maddie bates's best jam.

that girl was going to be the death of him, and alex would do almost anything to ensure of it.

"c'mon, alex, pick up! pick up your phone now, it's super urgent!" wow, he really needed to change that ringtone. what if it rang while he was in the middle of a job interview? or on a date (if one did ever come up, not that it was going to)? or in any other situation where a custom ringtone set specifically by emma, for emma, but to alex would be completely inappropriate?

he picked up the phone so that he could stop listening to the recording of emma's voice and instead listen to her tinny voice over the same cellphone speakers in real time.

"hello, emma. to what do i owe this pleasure?" he tried his best to not roll his eyes as he drily greeted her, but from the way the people who passed him were staring, it probably didn't help matters.

"i have an exciting proposition for you! can you come see me?" emma inquired, as if she hadn't interrupted his busy schedule and made a ridiculous request.

"what if i'm in the middle of something?"

"well, make yourself un-busy of that something!" he could hear her exasperation from a mile away.

"i'll see what i can do, your highness," knightley retorted, already clearing up his schedule for his dearest friend.

"great, see you in 15!" emma promptly hung up, having said what she needed to say.

knightley rolled his eyes, already used to his favorite girl's high-strung ways.

10 minutes later, he walked into her dad's office, where she was interning before she decided what she was going to do with her life.

which, apparently, was on her agenda for him, it seemed.

"okay emma, let's get this over with," knightley strided in, making it seem like he was in a huge rush.

"shut up, alex. i know for a fact that you have nothing special planned until at least 3 today."

"oh good, i feel so much better knowing that you stalked my schedule."

"don't even go there, all i needed to was call in a favor from a miss maddie bates," emma retorted. it wasn't entirely true, but like hell she was admitting to alex that she did in fact, go through more trouble than it was worth to block out practically his whole day.

she cleared her throat. "anyways, i have actual things to talk to you about, mr. knightley."

"pray do tell, miss woodhouse," knightley humored her, as he had for most of his life.

"what are your opinions on lifestyle coaching?"

alex stared at her. this was tricky wording, and even trickier ground to tread on. one wrong sound, and he would find himself in quicksand. he decided he needed more details.

"can you give me a more specific description?"

"you know, lifestyle coaching. career advice, personal counseling, matchmaking, that sort of thing. it's common enough to be well-known but new enough that we won't have stiff competition."

"hm, not bad, that's actually a pretty goo- wait, what do you mean 'we'?"

"well, obviously, me. and hopefully you, since you have an MBA and no job yet, unless the status has changed from our dinner last night. and maybe some other people, because i don't think we can run a business with just the two-"

"wait. you want me to run your business with you? why?"

"well, you're my best friend. and you've got an MBA. and you're looking for a job, right?"

"yeah, i am, but do you really think it's the best idea to have me work alongside you. i mean, that's a lot of time you have to spend with me and the trusty trousers that you love to hate. can you deal?"

"oh my god. i forgot about those."

alex simply smirked at her.

"it's okay, i can just make a dress code that forbids you from wearing them in public ever."

this time, it was emma's turn to shoot her partner a dirty look.

alex frowned. "i hate you."

"you'll get over it. you always do. anyways, business deal? yes or yes?"

"emma..."

"oh, c'mon, knightley. look at it this way: you're my best friend and i would be out of my mind to do this with anyone else."

"i get that, i really truly do, but can you please focus on the practicals first?"

"but that's the thing – i already have. i know we work well together from all the school projects we've helped each other on. and think of how we helped – you would provide structural support, and i excelled in creative process. and you're never afraid to call me out on anything i do wrong, which happens more than i'd like. you help pick up the pieces. not to mention, my bachelor's degree in marketing and yours in economics and your master's in business administration will keep the business running. we complement each other, alex."

"i - wow... you really did your research, didn't you?" alex was nothing short of stunned. he was in awe. lots and lots of it.

"yeah – yes. i really want this, and i really want to start it with you."

"then... yes." alex smiled guardedly, like he was just starting to understand what he was truly getting himself into.

"really?" even emma was surprised, she hadn't expected him to acquiesce so quickly. they were now at least 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

"mhm, though I should let you know now: please ship my body to my mom's address, i'll have it written it down in the will and everything, but just in case. i thought i should at least tell the girl who's slowly killing me."

emma squinted her eyes at him, glaring for a few moments. When she realized she wasn't fazing him, her countenance brightened.

"but you're still doing it," she sang at him, with the widest grin on her face.

alex would go miles to see that smile. even crazy, stupid, endearing things like ask her to formal after she had been dumped or start a business with her. there was no way this would end well.

he rolled his eyes, unable to come up with a witty response.

"alex knightley, you are the absolute best!" and with that, emma pounced on him, giving him the biggest hug he'd ever received.

"oof." her hug had knocked him off balance, but he hugged her back, grinning wide where she couldn't see.

nothing of significance regarding their "project" happened until ten days had passed, when they had their first official meeting.

"okay, so now that your dad's giving us the small office on lease, we can officially start talking about the business." knightley straightened his stack of official-looking papers, placing the agenda and a legal pad for taking notes on top.

"you can't keep saying 'the business,' that's way too impersonal," emma complained.

"oh, and i suppose you already have an alternate then?" he retorted, knowing full well that she had a name picked out already.

"always, alex."

knightley rolled his eyes, but played along anyways. "well, don't keep your fans waiting!"

"approved – we've got your back," emma proudly stated, brandishing the name like knights would their trusty swords.

"ooookay, but that's still a little impersonal, isn't it?"

"did you have any other suggestions then, snarky knightley?"

smirking at the nickname she'd dubbed him in ninth grade (during his rebellious years, when else?), he raised an eyebrow at her.

"yeah, actually."

"fine. hit me with your best shot."

"emma approved – making your life better. it's cute, it's trendy, and it's the right amount of self-insert for my emma woodhouse."

"oh my god, please just never say cute again. that was too weird," emma shot back, basking in the gloriousness of the name.

"yeah yeah, deal, but what about the name?" did... knightley... sound... nervous... ?!

"love it, i love it sooooo much, it's perfect. we can even shorten it to ea for important things, and then we'll be distinguished businesspeople with a business that can be acronymonized and people will know exactly what we do because it's right there in the name! oh my god, alex, i love you!" she was rambling but she couldn't really help it as she gave knightley a hug for the second time in as many weeks.

"love you too," knightley responded quickly, still smothered in a lapful of emma.

she suddenly jumped off him, having remembered a very important addendum.

"you can't leave the company now. you named it, you're managing the boring – i mean, business – part, you're officially a part of emma approved forever."

"i know what I was signing up for, emma." knightley was starting to pack his professional documents, satisfied with the way the meeting had ended.

"pinky promise you won't leave?" she held up her pinky finger out to his, like they were still in fifth grade.

"you are a child."

"oh hush. do it for the future of emma approved, mr. knightley," she insisted, wiggling her pinky for emphasis.

reluctantly, alex linked his finger with hers, kissing his own fist.

"ahem, we have to set conditions for breaking your pinky promise!"

"do we really? we're not ten anymore, we're 20-somethings starting a business now," alex whined, trying to back out.

"nooooo, we're setting conditions. alex knightley, if you break the promise you'll be my first matchmaking client."

"what?! i object!"

"too bad, you can't. if you don't want it, don't break your vow. easy." emma explained, as she did most things: matter-of-factly.

"i wasn't planning on it, but fine," alex acquiesced, not breaking tradition.

"you know, you're stuck with me forever now," emma added conversationally as she packed up her bag.

"oh, ems. i've been stuck with you for 20 years now. i couldn't back out now if i tried," knightley said, opening the door for her and following her out, like he had been doing for most of his life.

and together they stepped out, knowing nothing would ever be the same again.