So, this is it! Sneaking in at just under a year since I first started the story, here is the (rather long) epilogue I promised.
Chocolatecrackle, I hope you have enjoyed this story. Thanks for hanging out with me in a new fandom, and have a wonderful Christmas :D
Disclaimer: None of the recognisable characters belong to me.
"You know how they say no man is an island?" Emma said, wiggling her toes against the edge of the bathtub and admiring the light glinting off the bright red polish that had been freshly applied during her pedicure the day before. "I think I might be."
"A man, love?" Killian asked, from his spot by the bathroom sink. Emma glanced over, not sure if he was joking or distracted, and there was the ghost of a smile across his lips, although he mostly seemed intent on his reflection.
"An island. Look, that's definitely a land mass." Emma poked at her belly which protruded up and out of the water.
"I think you're being a little hard on yourself."
"Not as hard as some other people are being," Emma grumbled, poking her stomach again. "I'm not the one who wants my entire pelvis to disintegrate in the next two weeks. I've been in here for half an hour and I still ache."
"I noticed you were up early, love," Killian said with a note of concern in his voice. But Emma wasn't thrilled with the idea of being the reason for his concern. It was bad enough that she was starting to feel like an object rather than a person, she didn't need to be coddled on top of that. More to the point, she kind of wondered if she'd done this to herself.
After all the baby had been her idea, although it wasn't a fully realised one for a long time, just a nebulous collection of thoughts that rattled around her head. Feelings that were not quite ready for her to express to anyone, but strong enough that she couldn't ignore them forever.
They were prompted, Emma thought, by the sudden transition of Mary Margaret and David's son from a squalling, puking little bundle into something that resembled a baby in that at least he knew how to smile and coo and play endless rounds of 'oops I dropped the thing, now you pick up the thing so I can drop it again'.
At least the transition had seemed sudden to Emma. One day Neil had been less than interesting and the next he glanced in her direction and she was a goner. All this time, and all the memories she'd tried to block out from the group homes and the foster families she'd been shoved into and she'd maybe ended up forgetting a little too much.
Because she'd forgotten, somewhere along the way, that she actually liked babies and toddlers. More importantly, she'd forgotten that they liked her back. Usually just her hair, at first, they'd grab a fist-full of it and pull, hard. Neil was no different in that respect.
But once the fascination with the hair was gone they were still pretty happy to see her. Emma hadn't remembered how nice that joy at her mere presence had felt, how much it had meant to her at a time when she didn't have a lot of nice at all.
And so she'd been up for babysitting, on a few occasions anyway, at first merely sitting in Mary Margaret and David's new house, hoping that no shrieks sounded through the baby monitor, but eventually she'd been one of the few trusted to bring Neil home with her.
Tinkerbell didn't seem to like the baby at all. She'd sniffed him, no doubt intrigued by the overall milky scent he gave off, but one wave of a chubby hand in her direction and she'd been straight out the cat door as fast as she could manage.
Killian was a little less obviously wary, but still hovered behind the sofa for a while before deciding that maybe it was safe to sit down next to Emma and her charge and being rewarded with a tooth-less grin from Neil.
"You're quite safe," Emma had assured him, but Killian had just raised his eyebrow.
"Are you talking to me, or him?" He pointed to Neil, who took that as an invitation grab the finger on offer with a throaty gurgle of pleasure.
"Well you originally, although I'm not sure now. How do you feel about him using that finger to teethe with?" Emma watched as Neil tested just how firmly attached the digit was.
"Oh, I could put up with it. Even though I'm not a natural at this like you are." Killian wiggled his finger much to Neil's obvious delight.
"You think I'm a natural?" Emma tried to remain casual about the question, busying herself with wiping the seeming endless stream of drool from Neil's mouth with the blue and white striped bib fastened around his neck.
"Of course I do, love."
Emma hadn't pressed further, probably she'd been distracted by the state of Neil's diaper anyway. But she'd remembered Killian's words, and, more importantly the feeling that accompanied them as she wiped drool and inhaled the suspicious odour.
When she recalled it now, it was the same night that she asked the question, although given her tendency to keep things bottled up she doubted that she'd really acted that quickly. Still, it didn't matter because she had, in the end, found the courage to ask Killian what she really wanted to know.
"Have you ever thought about having kids?"
As soon as the words were out of her mouth Emma realised, a little belatedly, that while it was a topic she'd been pondering for a while there was every chance she'd blind-sided Killian. But, to his credit, he'd answered without missing a beat.
While it was the answer she'd hoped to hear, there was one other thing she needed to ask. "With me?"
It was tempting to leave it alone after that, to take Killian's words and tuck them away for a day when she needed a reminder that she was worth loving, that he wasn't going to change his mind and leave her when she wasn't looking. But Emma wanted something more these days, wanted to prove that she could give as much as she'd been given. Show that she had some hope for the future, even when she still doubted herself from time to time.
"So then, I think, maybe, we should try? Or just…not, not try…and see what happens? Because, maybe…maybe it might?" As brave as she was attempting to be Emma hadn't completely shaken off the maybes, almosts, perhaps-next-times that had ruled her life for so long.
But luckily now she had someone who didn't mind that she still needed to have the comfort of an open door, a way out, a path down which she could backtrack if it all got too real.
"I think that's a grand idea, love."
And that was that, really. Three months later, two pregnancy tests and the not, not-trying was a success, although it took a while for Emma to believe it was really happening and it wouldn't all just disappear in a cloud of smoke on her.
But even though nothing had gone wrong and she had, in fact, made it to the stage of being two weeks to go, or, as she kept having to explain to old ladies in the grocery store, yes-I-do-look-like-I'm-about-to-start-labour-but-I'm-not-due-for-a-while-yet, Emma felt as though dwelling on her symptoms excessively might just be considered sour grapes. It was time to change the subject.
"I made you tea when I first got up and left it on the kitchen counter," she said. "Thought it would have time to stew properly for you. Did you find it?"
Killian grinned at her in response. "I will admit that I did check the kitchen bench just in case you'd thought of me."
"Do you think it'll be weird that the baby will have to be bilingual?" Emma shifted slightly, aiming to make her hips more comfortable and ending up only narrowly avoiding sending water sloshing over the edge of the bathtub. She was huge and uncomfortable and clearly at risk of causing a bathroom flood.
"I wouldn't exactly term it bi-lingual, love. Just…I'm sure he'll understand whatever weird term of the day you decide to throw in."
"You seem pretty sure it's a boy." Emma wasn't so convinced, having heard just about every variation of every old wives' tale going to explain why she was definitely having a boy, or absolutely positively carrying a girl. Everyone had an opinion on the matter but Emma herself, having decided she didn't want to know, had tried very hard not to assign any gender to the baby at all.
She wondered if that was a sign her maternal instincts weren't all they needed to be, but quite frankly, found she didn't have the energy to dwell on it. She'd had months of worrying what would happen when the baby came and now all she could do was just hope that she made it through the next couple of weeks. She'd have to deal with the rest when it actually happened.
And maybe that was the real start of motherhood, anyway.
Killian shrugged. "I just have a theory." He looked enigmatic enough that Emma was on the verge of asking him if he'd been charming random sonographers in the hope of getting insider information, when she was distracted by something waving past the edge of the bathtub.
"Did you leave the bathroom door open?" Emma asked, as the tail continued its parade around the bathtub, followed by a pair of ears that popped up in the vicinity of Emma's toes, and then the entirety of the large black cat in question suddenly loomed into view on the corner of the bathtub where it landed unsteadily and made Emma a little worried about whether or not she was about to have company in the bath with her.
"I couldn't take the pitiful yowling, love," Killian said, a little sheepishly, as the cat turned in a precarious circle, his tail almost dipping into the bathwater.
"He does know you have a terrible soft spot for him."
"Well Captain Hook deserves love, too."
The cat called Captain Hook tried to walk along the edge of the bathtub, perhaps in the hope of getting a scratch under the chin from Emma, but he clearly couldn't find a way to navigate her elbow, and he settled on reversing his steps rather than attempt another turn on the narrow edge.
He wasn't the world's most elegant cat, but, like everyone in their house, he'd ended up there because he had nowhere else to go.
Certainly, they'd never intended to replace Mr Smee, whose long list of health problems had finally caught up with him about a year and a half earlier. He'd gone from being a constant presence in the house to just a small, empty shell of fur barely able to lift himself off his blanket on the chair, and no longer interested in the world at large.
Emma had just assumed they'd nurse him through it but there came a time when the kindest thing to do was to let him go.
It had been a heart-breaking day which Emma had no desire to re-live, not even in memory. Occasionally, when she passed the little wooden box that contained Mr Smee's ashes, the one still on the mantelpiece in the living room because they'd never quite decided what else to do with them, she liked to think about the more pleasant memories she had of Killian's cat, but she'd never purposefully dwell on the day they said goodbye to him.
Consequently, there had never been any plans to find another cat. Or, at least, Emma assumed there hadn't been. Tinkerbell was still there whenever they needed someone to remind them that it was dinnertime, or to make sure there was decent clump of cat fur lurking in the corners of the hallway, or for the times when all Emma wanted was to stroke the warm fur on her cat's back and be rewarded with a purr.
But the cardboard box had arrived home, just like countless boxes full of all sorts of…well, if Emma was being charitable about it she'd say stuff, and when she wasn't, crap. This one was different. The box jiggled a bit, and made some pitiful mewling noises and generally didn't seem to be filled with the usual assortment of interesting objects Killian dragged home with him.
"What's that?" she'd asked, even though the sounds coming from the box were making it increasingly easy to guess what the contents were.
"Um…oh, Leroy found that. Round the back of that empty shed, you know…the one that used to be part of the cannery and it's got that section that rotted away last year…"
It was obvious to Emma that Killian was stalling and she watched the box, concerned that it was going to wobble right off the kitchen table in the time it took him to spit it out.
"So, someone dumped a box of…?" she prompted, as another high-pitched mewl sounded from the cardboard depths.
"Kittens, love," Killian said, a little sheepishly. "Ah, but you don't have to worry." Emma's hand had started moving towards the flap of the box, but she paused at Killian's words.
"Leroy took the girl one for Astrid, and, uh, the mayor's son took the ginger." Killian sighed. "He looked like quite a handful. The lad's going to name him Thor."
"Thor? That's a terrible name for a cat."
"I know." Killian nodded in agreement. "And he was quite keen to have this one too…"
"But you laid claim to it first?"
"Other way round. We lost him…for a while. It was only after the mayor took her son home that we found him again. He'd gone to sleep in my toolbox." Killian finally pulled back a flap and a small black face appeared in the gap, before Killian reached in and lifted out the rest of it, which really wasn't much at all. It was a scrap of black fur with enormous paws that looked like they belonged to someone other, bigger cat. In contrast to the rest of his black coat, the front left paw was white.
Emma's heart did a weird jolting thing that she mostly tried to suppress. "That was convenient."
"I would have let them take him, but the boy wanted to call him Loki, and he just doesn't look like a Loki." Killian brought the kitten up to his face and it meowed in agreement.
"Nope. That is…an even worse name for a cat." And then Emma caught sight of something glinting against the cat's fur which, on closer inspection, appeared to be a nametag far too big for any creature the size of this kitten. "You, uh…got him a collar?"
"I called in at the pet shop on the way home. I thought that if I got him a basket maybe he wouldn't upset Tinkerbell…" Killian looked at her hopefully, and the kitten wriggled around a bit in his hands.
Emma decided to worry about Tinkerbell's hurt feelings later on. "So, uh…what is a good name for him, then?"
"Yes, see. Don't you think he has the look of one?" He held the kitten's white paw and moved it in, what Emma supposed to be, a kind of threatening motion. "Aaar!"
Killian sighed. "Pirate, love. Don't you think it fits?"
"Well…" Emma tried to think of a way to be diplomatic. The kitten was kind of cute and she would have thought maybe Socks or Mittens was a more appropriately kittenish name.
But Killian was pretty cute, too. And he seemed quite attached to the name he'd picked. A name which no kitten anywhere, ever, should be stuck with.
Screw diplomatic. Emma was going to have to be blunt. But before she could open her mouth, Killian, no doubt, having decided her silence clearly meant she simply needed more persuading, spoke up.
"And it'd be a shame, you know, to waste the collar now I've bought it," Killian added, and Emma realised she'd totally been had. She'd heard that line before, after all.
She'd said it multiple times about Tinkerbell.
Sighing, she let herself slump a little in defeat. "Fine. But that's the last thing you name."
"OK. Agreed." Killian rewarded her with a big smile and then held the kitten out for her to take and that was the moment she realised that she'd been so caught up with its name that she'd somehow forgotten to actually agree to keep the cat in the first place.
Although it was probably best that they keep him. After all, waifs and strays had to stick together.
And that was how she'd found herself holding the kitten with the ridiculous name while Killian went back outside to retrieve the newly-purchased basket from the car. He also came back in holding something else, which he held up to Emma's face as she tried to dissuade Captain Hook from climbing into her hair.
"The bloke in the pet shop said to put this in the basket and he'll be out like a light," Killian explained, less than helpfully.
"That's a…clock." Emma's attempts to untangle the claws from her hair weren't going so well and she was a little distracted.
"Yeah. I found it in the roof when I cleared out the cottage. I was going to see if Gold'd give me anything for it, but I think the fact the glass is cracked probably lowers the value."
Killian inspected the face of the clock and Emma decided now was not the time to question the ethics of trying to sell Mr Gold a clock that may or may not have been his property in the first place. She had other matters that were far more important.
"Because it sounds like the heartbeat of a mother cat, love. Or, at least, that's what the bloke in the pet shop said." Killian shrugged, while Emma made another attempt to remove the kitten from her hair.
"Yes but don't you think that giving a clock to a cat you've named…Captain Hook, is a bit much?"
"What? Oh. No, I think it'll be fine. The man in the shop was quite insistent it's the best method."
Emma figured that if neither Killian nor 'the man in the shop' could see the problem, then she wasn't going to point it out.
"He'll be fine, love. I've got it all under control," Killian assured her, as he wrestled the kitten away from Emma's hair and tucked him under his arm. Captain Hook mewled in protest, but didn't seem to have much of a choice in the matter.
He did, however, have a choice about whether he liked being shut in the bathroom with only a ticking clock for company. And he made his choice loud and clear by yowling at the top of his lungs, long into the night and past the point where even Tinkerbell's curiosity about what was causing the commotion behind the bathroom door had stopped and she'd curled up and gone to sleep on the bed in the spare room.
Killian and Emma were not sleeping, far from it. The yowling was accompanied with a lot of banging on the door, and the occasional thud as bottles of shampoo were knocked into the bathtub, followed by the rattling of the litterbox being emptied onto the floor. Every so often there was an odd skittery noise which, after the first couple of occurrences, Emma figured was the sound of tiny claws hitting the surface of the bathtub as their owner ran around inside it, as though it was some kind of cat-sized racetrack.
In short, Captain Hook was proving to be a pain in the ass and Killian was far from having anything under control. Although he wasn't above pretending, it seemed. As Emma lay in the darkness waiting for the next round of bumps in the night to start up, Killian was doing a good job of acting as though he was having no such difficulties.
It was a good job, but not a perfect one.
"I know you're listening out for him, too," she said, turning her head towards Killian.
"Sssh, sleeping," he replied in a way which suggested his words weren't in the least bit true.
"But your cat's not."
"I don't see why he's…" Killian's words were cut off by the sound of a large crash in the bathroom, followed by some mournful yowling and something hitting the door, hard. "Oh, bugger it. I'll go and sort him out."
Killian left and, now that the only sounds coming from the bathroom were his whispers to the cat, no doubt urging him to be quiet, Emma relaxed a little and promptly fell asleep. Whatever Killian was doing to 'sort him out' must have worked, because the next thing she knew it was morning.
And there was a kitten sleeping in her hair.
"You know," Emma said in the direction of where she guessed Killian's head was, her view of the other pillow mostly blocked by the blob of purring black fur sharing hers. "I usually like to be able to lift my head off the pillow when I wake up in the morning."
"I think what you're not appreciating, love, is that you had any sleep to wake up from. At least he is not destroying the bathroom any longer."
"There is that."
"And he's got his basket, maybe he'll take to sleeping in that."
Somehow, it never had quite worked out that way. Captain Hook, or Hook as Emma often shortened it too despite the poor cat being lumbered with a nametag that was clearly meant for a dog in order to fit his full title on it, shunned his basket utterly, but was overly entranced with Tinkerbell. She, in return, could think of nothing worse than being followed around by a yowling baby who always wanted to play.
Their first encounters resulted in a lot of hissing from her side, followed by much sad mewling from his. Subsequent meetings followed much the same pattern, and even Tinkerbell administering the odd swat in Hook's direction didn't seem to deter him from trying to be her shadow.
Eventually peace seemed to break out and Emma figured everything was settled the day she found Tinkerbell curled up in the basket Hook had abandoned, and the kitten curled up on the floor beside it, glad to be allowed to be near to the object of his affection.
After that it was Tinkerbell's basket and Emma was stuck with occasionally finding a cat nesting in her hair at night. Of course what was manageable when he was a tiny kitten, was slightly more difficult when he got bigger. And he was a lot bigger now. He was considerably larger than Tinkerbell and the nametag that had once looked ridiculously large hanging around his neck, looked almost as though it belonged there now.
Although he never had grown into his paws. And that was part of the problem now; balancing on things was not really a skill that came naturally to Hook and his movements along the side of the bathtub were looking increasingly precarious and he tried to figure out exactly how to get himself from one end to the other.
"Maybe you should get him down?" Emma suggested, watching as Hook lifted a paw, waved it in the direction of Emma's leg as though he was considering using her as a conduit, and then put it back down again. "Because I'm really starting to feel like an island now. I think he's trying to make land."
"Oh, he'll be alright, love," Killian replied, sounding distracted and not at all worried that Hook was either going to end up drenched or attempt an unwanted bump-crossing. Emma was about to protest that things were slightly more dire than Killian seemed to think, when he started on a completely different topic altogether. "Do you think I should shave?"
It was an out of the blue question but one that made Emma stop worrying about a cat landing in her bath and start worrying about Killian's state of mind. If there was one thing that made her nervous it was Killian shaving.
The first time she'd witnessed the phenomenon had been when he'd tried, unsuccessfully, to get the manager of Storybrooke Savings & Loan to give him a loan, the time she'd thought he'd been trying to leave her and Mr Smee without saying goodbye.
Now, however, she'd seen it enough times to understand that it wasn't just a spur of the moment decision Killian made when he felt like a new look, but a sign that his mind was working overtime telling him he needed to look respectable because deep down he wasn't sure he ever could be.
The bank manager, perhaps, might care about things like this, but Emma didn't. And she was pretty certain that the baby wouldn't either. "I don't think it's necessary. I mean…the baby won't know any different."
"Mmm," Killian said, in a way that suggested he was stalling for time rather than actually agreeing with her. "I don't know, love. I just thought perhaps…"
"I'm pretty sure they'll let us take the baby home no matter what we look like," Emma said, keeping one eye on Hook who had decided the edge of the bathtub was the perfect place for an impromptu wash behind his ears. "And, anyway, it's not like they even really know us in Camelot; I don't think we have to dress up just to deliver in their hospital."
Killian shrugged and gave his face another long, hard look. Hook got bored of balancing on the edge of the bathtub and jumped down only to then immediately jump up onto the edge of the sink and give Killian a particularly pointed look.
To his credit, Killian understood what that meant and immediately turned on the tap so Hook could happily swish his paw through the running water.
"Are you sure about it, love?" Killian asked.
"What? Sure that the amount of water he's wasting is going to use up precious resources. Absolutely." She gestured to Hook who was now attempting to stop the water going down the drain, not realising that in the process his head was directly under the running tap.
"No. About the hospital. You don't want to just use the local one?" Killian asked, stepping back as Hook resurfaced and shook himself like a dog, sending a fine spray of water over the bathroom mirror.
"Definitely not. And you should probably lift him down before he makes more of a mess."
Killian looked over at her, which was a mistake on his part because Hook had gone back under the water and Killian was splattered when the cat shook himself again. "See?" she said. "I'm right."
"Are we discussing the hospital or the cat, love?"
"Both. I'm right on both counts."
And she was, despite her occasional misgivings about Killian's ability to actually be somewhere within driving distance when she needed to get to the hospital. Whatever happened, whether she had to call the station and get David to drive her instead, she was not going to Storybrooke Hospital when she was in labour.
She had Tinkerbell to thank for that. Well Tinkerbell and her new-found friend, anyway. She'd started disappearing for periods of time long before Captain Hook had arrived, probably even before Mr Smee had officially moved in even.
Emma had wondered, a couple of times, where she went, but mostly she had other concerns like the renovation of the cottage across the road and the odd pitchfork that had appeared in the hallway as a result.
They still had the pitchfork; at least, Emma assumed it was somewhere, buried in the shed that Killian had built in the backyard and which Emma never ventured into, if she could help it.
Some things were better left unseen.
But she was definitely seeing less of Tinkerbell, and put it down to her own desire to escape the increasing number of extra items and cats at home, until the day she drove home and something on the street caught her eye. It wasn't just that her neighbour's prized Miada was parked by the curb rather than under the shelter of the little carport that it usually resided in, the most striking thing was the ball of grey fur Emma briefly glanced as she drove past.
After parking her own car at home Emma jogged back down the street, and attempted to, quietly, coax Tinkerbell down from her perch.
Tinkerbell did an admirable job of pretending she was being accosted in the street by some lunatic woman and steadfastly refused to pay any attention to Emma's pleas, or to even make eye contact. Emma was at the point of leaving her to whatever fate the Miada's owner might have in store for her, when the man in question bustled down the front steps of his house and straight over to the car. For someone of his age and stature he could move quite fast, and Emma simply didn't have time to high-tail it out of there.
"Uh…I was just trying to get my cat. Off your car," Emma said, trying to walk the fine line between admitting guilt and appearing somewhat apologetic. Really it was Tinkerbell who was guilty, but it was pretty clear that Emma was ultimately responsible for her cat. She shot Tinkerbell a look, but the cat wasn't playing ball and stared resolutely at the trees in the distance.
"Sorry…" Emma continued, as she leaned over the car in an attempt to lift Tinkerbell down, hoping that the cat wouldn't try to dig her claws in and scratch the paintwork in the process.
"Oh, no. She's fine up there," the man said, smiling in a way that Emma found a little unnerving. The sun glinted off the small, round glasses he wore and he reached up towards Tinkerbell who, instead of ignoring him or shrinking back as she'd done when Emma approached, leaned forward allowing him to scratch her under the chin.
"Tinkerbell's a real lady," he said, fondly. "She won't do any harm."
And that was how Emma had discovered that Tinkerbell had not only become somewhat of a fixture at her neighbour's house, but that the neighbour in question was Doctor Atwell, or "You can just call me Doc. Everyone does," and that he was Storybrooke's one and only Ob-gyn.
He seemed nice enough. Clearly he was very fond of Tinkerbell and she of him. It wasn't everyone who didn't mind another person's cat making use of their place, after all. Just lonely people who perhaps needed a bit of comforting now and then. Emma could hardly blame him for that, could she?
So Emma wasn't going to stop Tinkerbell visiting Doc, and doubted she could manage to keep her cat away even if she wanted to, but as nice as Doc was Emma still didn't particularly want him delivering her baby. It was just all a touch too close to home for her liking. And so, Camelot it was. Or, at least, their hospital which was a lot shinier and newer than the one in Storybrooke and completely devoid of doctors who lived down the street, or nurses Emma might run into in the supermarket, or just people milling around who she'd one day have to give a parking ticket to.
Nope. Emma was going to Camelot and that was final.
Also, she'd been totally right about the mess Hook was making; he'd sent another shower of water droplets everywhere, splashing the mirror and annoying Killian to the point where he'd set the cat down on the floor.
Hook didn't seem impressed and Emma thought he might have come back over to investigate the bath again, except the sloshing of the water as she tried to lift herself up while managing to maintain a little dignity, sent him scurrying from the bathroom altogether.
"You alright there, love?" Killian asked, stepping towards the bath and hovering uncertainly.
Emma realised that any hope of grace or dignity had disappeared a while back when her body started to expand slightly alarmingly. She held out her hand and Killian took it, helping to haul her onto her feet.
"At least it's only two more weeks," she said, reaching for a towel on the rack. "And then I won't have this problem. I'll have some other problems, but I won't be this huge."
She started drying herself and then stopped when she realised how pointedly Killian was staring at her stomach. "What?"
"You really think it'll be two weeks?" he asked, his head tilting sideways as he measured her up like he was trying to work out if he could fit another shelf on the living room wall, head on one side and eyes carefully appraising her.
"Well. Yeah." Emma felt a little defensive now. And far too thoroughly scrutinised. "Or maybe longer. Look how far past her due date Mary Margaret went. First babies never come early."
"Almost never. Everyone knows that." Emma wasn't certain if everyone did know that, but Mary Margaret seemed convinced, given she had her own experience to back her up, and the midwife running their baby classes at the hospital had told them gently not to expect it all to suddenly happen right on the day they were due.
As much as Emma was ready for this pregnancy to be over the prospect of being a few days, or even a week, overdue was one of the least horrifying things that Mary Margaret and the nice midwife had shared with her, so she was happy to take it as a given.
Episiotomies were a whole other matter entirely.
"I suppose." Killian didn't seem convinced, but he changed the subject all the same. "And what have you got on today, love?"
"Uh…" Emma thought for a bit. "Nothing…" She mentally worked her way through the lists of things she was supposed to do to prepare for the baby, but she seemed to be on top of everything. She'd spent the previous day with Mary Margaret who'd taken Emma under her wing like she was one of her problem students. Sure, it had started with a treat when they'd had the pedicures, but even that had been because, as Mary Margaret put it "It's nice to have pretty toes to look at when you're pushing."
That was not an image Emma had needed.
The beauty salon was followed by a trip to the drugstore where Mary Margaret led her round explaining all the things Emma needed to buy. Arms laden with nipple shields, pacifiers, tiny diapers, breast pads and the, frankly mortifying, maternity sanitary pads that Mary Margaret had insisted on, Emma had emerged somewhat dazed.
After that she'd been occupied by washing impossibly tiny babygros and fine knitted hats, even those that had only just arrived in a plastic bag brought by Mary Margaret who announced that Mrs Lucas had been knitting up a storm and had run out of lemon wool so the baby had better show up soon, so she could switch to pink or blue. It turned out this wasn't just any load of laundry, either, as Mary Margaret insisted that Emma had to use the correct type of washing powder and, more importantly, have everything ready well before the baby came.
"No time like the present!" Mary Margaret had chirped brightly, sorting whites from coloureds and Emma had dumbly agreed and wondered if she'd ever manage to be excited about something as mundane as laundry.
Those jobs completed and the mythical nesting-instinct that supposedly heralded the onset of labour having not yet made an appearance, Emma felt a little lost.
She was about to say that she might take a drive into town and see what was happening at the station when Killian cut her off. "Good."
"Good? Why good? You think it's a good thing I don't have anything to do today and I'll be bored…and…and…" Emma ran out of words and stopped talking, switching to giving him her best attempt at a reproving look, or at least the best she could manage while trying to wrap herself in a towel which wasn't really co-operating.
"Because I'm sure you could do with the rest, love." Killian sighed and stroked his hand down Emma's arm. "I know you don't want me to fuss over you, but I also know it's not that easy for you. After all, Emma who-is-definitely-not-a-morning-person isn't up and about at 5.30am just because the birds are singing."
Emma slumped a little and decided that maybe she wouldn't mind just a little fussing right at that moment. She'd been trying to just keep going, but the constant pain in her hips and the fact she couldn't sleep and the newly persistent backache that had just that day decided to join the party were all wearing her down. She was tired.
Maybe a day on the couch wouldn't hurt?
"OK…I guess I could take it easy today. And tomorrow…maybe I'll go have lunch with David, or something."
In the instant she watched Killian's face break into a smile at her words, Emma decided that maybe a day of boredom wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if it allowed her to just give Killian some peace of mind.
He'd been lovely throughout the whole pregnancy, but even Emma, who would admit that she maybe hadn't always been the most perceptive when it came to what Killian was thinking, could see that he had struggled with all the times he just couldn't do anything to make it better. Her body wasn't something he could take a hammer to…or, well, that was an analogy Emma didn't want to contemplate any further. But Killian liked to fix things and she wasn't something that could be fixed. It put them at somewhat of an impasse.
She seemed to have found a way past it, though, with her reassurances to Killian that she'd rest today. And, really, assuming she could find a comfortable position to sit in, she'd be fine spending the day at home. After all, Emma still had a good couple of weeks, maybe more, in which to get everything done at a slow and leisurely pace.
Sure, slow and leisurely wasn't really her forte, but maybe she'd look back on this time and see it was all for the best.
"And what are you up to today?" she asked Killian, hoping that showing a little interest in his work might distract him from worrying about her. Usually he liked to talk about whatever it was he was up to when he was working for Eric, and at this point in her life Emma could safely say that she knew more about boats and all the…bits…that went into them than she really needed to.
"Not so much. Just working on that yacht…" Killian stopped and looked thoughtful. "You know, I could maybe leave a little early, if I get through what I need to this morning. Be back here in time to watch some TV, make you dinner. What do you fancy, love?"
He looked at her hopefully and Emma struggled to come up with an answer, just as much as she struggling to step over the edge of the bath. Killian reached out and helped her with the second task, but the first one still eluded her. "Um…I just…something light, maybe?"
It was a scary thing for Emma to admit, but in the last few days she'd mostly lost her appetite. She had at the beginning of the pregnancy, too, when the all-day nausea had kicked in, but that was more an aversion to certain tastes.
Potato chips and crackers vanished as soon as the groceries were unpacked, but she couldn't stomach the thought of anything remotely healthy. And then the nausea passed, and her appetite returned, in full force. Now she just seemed far too full of baby to contemplate digesting anything, but she didn't have the heart to tell Killian that eating anything more than a sandwich held no appeal. Not when he'd said he might be able to come home early and rescue her from her day of self-imposed boredom.
"I could make that Thai beef salad?"
Dinner question settled, Emma left the bathroom so Killian could finish getting ready, and only narrowly missed stepping on Hook as she made her way to the bedroom. "You know I can't see you at the moment," she muttered, but doubted the cat had paid her any attention. The change in her shape was something the cat paid no attention to, unless he was trying to figure out why she no longer had a lap for him to perch on in the evenings.
Then he just looked hurt, like she was doing it on purpose to offend him.
Emma figured that the time it took her just to get dressed these days was probably good practice for having a slow day at home. She hadn't realised just how frustrating it would be to feel this large and ungainly.
Mary Margaret had been telling her, somewhat gleefully Emma thought, that pregnancy was simply nature's way of getting you to go through labour. But Emma wasn't certain she was that desperate to see her feet again.
Really, there should be a better way. Nature was cruel and fickle and Emma wasn't at all convinced by Mary Margaret's assertions that you forgot all about the pain as soon as it was over. Certainly Mary Margaret herself had remembered enough of the pertinent details in order to pass them onto Emma, so there had to be some flaw in that logic.
Dressed in the loosest clothes she could find, which really weren't that loose any longer, Emma dragged herself into the kitchen to find a showered and rather bright looking Killian drinking what she hoped was a fresh cup of tea.
Emma could only manage a few Froot Loops which she ate without much gusto, knowing that they ticked absolutely zero nutritional boxes but not in the mood for anything else.
"Perhaps, love," Killian said, rinsing his cup and placing it beside the sink. "You could work on your list today. If the boredom really takes hold."
"List? Oh. Right, yeah." Emma's faked enthusiasm wasn't enthusiastic in the least.
"Or maybe I could help when I get home?" Killian suggested, with an exaggeratedly casual air.
"Mmm. Don't think so," she muttered into her cereal, hoping the subject would be dropped.
It had just been a throwaway comment at the time, her assertion that Killian wasn't allowed to name anything else. Because whatever way you looked at it, Captain Hook was a terrible name to saddle a cat with.
At least Loki you could fit on a normal cat-sized nametag. Captain Hook had to wear the ones normally reserved for dogs, and they always charged you extra for the engraving.
It wouldn't be so bad, except he had a habit of losing collars and Killian had an even worse habit of replacing them.
And so when Killian had suggested, once they had reached the point in the pregnancy when everything was supposed to be plain sailing, that they invest in a book of baby names and compile a list, Emma had spoken without thinking.
"You seem pretty adamant, love. It's a bit late to suddenly break the news that we're raising the child in a commune and letting it pick its own name when it turns five. Not sure I could live with a Rainbow or a…a…Haiku."
"Haiku? Seriously? And that's why we're not doing a list. I'm making a list. You're just…banned." Emma nodded emphatically.
"Banned? But I…"
Emma cut him off. "Agreed to it. Remember? When you brought Hook home, I said that's the last thing you're naming and you were fine with it. Nothing's changed." She'd meant it kind of jokingly, but perhaps she'd sounded a little serious because instead of the argument Emma had expected from Killian, she just got his acquiescence.
"Alright, love. We'll see how you go, then. Do I get power of veto?"
"Well…yeah. I guess." Emma figured that gave her an out, and she was glad of it when the weeks then months passed and she quite clearly didn't have a clue what to call another person, because all that responsibility felt even heavier than the weight in her belly.
If Killian asked how the list was going, she'd give him a cheery "Fine!" in response, but in reality, she had nothing. She half-expected he would eventually break down and demand that they compose a list together at which point she would agree, a little huffily maybe, but then they could get on with solving the problem.
But Killian seemed all too happy to play along, checking with her on how the secret list was going and occasionally asking if all the secrecy was simply because she really had her heart set on the name Leroy?
Well, no. And now it seemed a little late to let Killian in on the fact that she'd spent months coming up with a list of absolutely nothing when she'd been so adamant she'd be the best person for the job.
Maybe the hospital would just get the baby a collar and solve the problem for her?
"Well," Killian continued, breaking Emma out of her contemplation of how she could possibly get away with just calling the baby 'kid' for the first few years at least. "You don't have long now so I guess we'll have to pick from something on the list."
"Mmm." Emma was on the verge of confessing everything when Killian suddenly announced his departure.
"Sooner I get going, the sooner I can get home, love," he said, although at the time he had one hand on Emma's bump and she couldn't be entirely certain if he was speaking to her or the baby.
"I guess." Emma felt the baby kick her and Killian broke into a smile at the resulting jolt to his hand.
"Come on," he murmured. "Do it again."
"She's not really been doing much this morning. Even the bath didn't wake her up," Emma sighed. She'd thought that maybe by this point in the pregnancy she'd be used to Killian's fascination with what the baby might be up to, but, if anything, it was growing stronger as the kicks and thuds that landed on her insides grew stronger as well.
But when she thought about it, everything was a little less…somehow, this morning. Maybe the baby had finally figured out how to sleep when she wanted to relax, or maybe it was just being kind to Emma as she dealt with the aches and pains she'd been saddled with.
Maybe she was so sleep deprived now that she just wasn't paying attention to what was going on inside her anymore?
When there was no response from the baby, Killian looked at her a little quizzically. "Probably asleep," Emma said, hoping that was true.
"See? I was right about you needing a rest, both of you probably do."
"Mmm. Or she's just bored already and the real couch-sitting hasn't even begun."
"Oh, I think he can cope with some downtime."
Emma gave him a look that she hoped conveyed the fact that Killian might be completely wrong about the gender of the baby, and he just shrugged. "We'll find out in a couple of weeks now. And then you'll know you're wrong."
"I'm not wrong." Emma was less worried about being wrong than she was about the whole countdown to two weeks' time. She wasn't looking forward to spending the day with nothing to think about other than the thing she really didn't want to think about it.
But she put a brave face on it, and sent Killian off to work with a kiss, before dumping the bowl with most of her Froot Loops still sitting uneaten in it into the sink, and wandering into the living room in the hope of finding a distraction.
The television worked less well than she'd hoped. Emma decided that if anyone later asked her why she hadn't been able to make the whole sitting around on the couch thing work, she'd blame the fact the ache in her back just couldn't let her find a comfortable position, and maybe perhaps even add that it would have been so much better if she'd had someone there to rub her back, rather than a cat who couldn't care less about how much discomfort she was in.
Under no circumstances would she admit the fact that she ended up getting sucked into one too many television shows about re-homing shelter dogs and that she ended up sobbing silently on the couch while Hook pawed at her leg urging her to find the lap she'd misplaced in the last few months.
It was all a little overwhelming and Emma stood up and wandered, slowly, back into the kitchen in the hope of inspiration striking. Hook followed her, probably in the hope of something else entirely. He may not have had Mr Smee's single-minded pursuit of food but he knew an opportunity when he saw one, and he wasn't above using Emma's clearly upset mood to his own advantage.
Still at a loss for distraction, Emma tipped more cat food into Hook's bowl and then noticed that the bag was fairly light.
It wouldn't hurt, she thought, to just take a small trip into the pet store and save Killian the hassle of going out again later. After all, this was the time to stock up on stuff like that in preparation for the event that she was trying hard not to think about.
She hadn't even glanced at her overnight bag, sitting packed in the hallway when she'd walked past it on the way to the kitchen.
Cat food or, rather, a trip to buy cat food was the better option when it came to things to think about. Emma explained to Hook where she was going and, as far as she could tell, the cat seemed to think it was a good idea as well.
Satisfied that everyone in the room was on board, Emma threw on her flip flops, not even daring to attempt anything that required her to tie laces or pull up zippers, and walked out the front door to her car.
Well, waddled. Waddled was probably a better description, but, honestly, what was she to do when she was stuck with the extra weight in her abdomen and hips that just didn't seem to want to hold together any longer?
Getting into her car was significantly more difficult than it had been even a month or so earlier. The weird contortions required to position herself around the steering wheel and then the fiddly adjustments to get the seatbelt to cover some part of her that wasn't in any way an important part started to seem a little ridiculous, but she'd committed to this trip now and getting herself back out of the car and into the house didn't seem like a much better plan.
Once she was on the road Emma felt better about it all. It was nice to be out of the house and she could almost ignore the fact that the ache in her back was so much worse while she was sitting in the car.
She parked outside the pet store and, after extricating herself back out of the car, she walked purposefully through the door and straight to the shelves of cat food at the back. But, as she reached out for the super-sized bag of the brand Tinkerbell and Hook normally ate, she hesitated.
Once she'd bought this then what else did she have to do with her day?
Deciding that it wouldn't hurt to kill a bit of time before she had to fold her uncooperative figure back into her car again, she drifted past the fish tanks and watched small versions of Nemo swish through the water, she passed a cage of squawking and squabbling budgies, and looked into a small hutch of guinea pigs.
Emma had never seen the point of guinea pigs really; there'd been a group home that had kept a couple as pets but she hadn't paid them much attention. At the time she'd been far more worried about making sure she didn't annoy the bigger kids or miss out on her fair share at dinner.
Rounding the corner to the cages where the puppies and kittens and were kept, Emma's eyes were caught by something small and fluffy waggling its tail and she nearly collided with Anna.
"Hi Emma!" she said, so brightly that Emma wondered if she might start waggling a tail, too. "You hiding out here as well? Not that…you know, you've got anything to hide out from…" Anna gestured to Emma's rather sizeable mid-section and frowned a little, clearly struggling to work her out of the verbal pit she'd dug herself into. "But, anyway. Nice to see you!"
"You're hiding out at the pet store?" Emma asked, and Anna blushed, slightly, and looked at her hands before answering.
"Well...I have a good reason...mostly anyway. You know when you're a kid and you get cake and you think nothing in the world could be better than getting more cake? Or, even better, just endless cake? Cake as far as the eye can see?"
Emma was more than a little worried that this would be one if Anna's long digressions and, while she was grateful that she'd be spared the problem of having to confess the fact that her own childhood had been lacking in cakes of any description due to the fact Anna could barely draw breath, let alone ask questions, when she was really on a roll, Emma still wasn't certain that she wanted her day's activities to include hearing all about Anna's childhood.
So Emma did the bare minimum to keep the conversation ticking on and nodded while Anna barrelled into her next sentence. "So, anyway, now it's like my dream came true and it's all just be careful what you wish for…which is what my mom used to say all the time, but mostly that was when I wished for snow, because she said that's never as much fun as you think it will be and, you know, we still disagree on that one. Cake, though, I can kinda see her point on cake. Now that Elsa's been all-but force-feeding it to me, that is."
"So you're hiding from the cake?"
"Well. Mostly Elsa. A little bit Mom, because she's the one who keeps saying "Maybe we should do each layer differently?", or "Hey! I saw this mango cake with passionfruit buttercream in a magazine, can you do that one?" Or, and this is worse, "Anna! Be appreciative of all your sister's hard work!" and I am but Mom's not, because every day it's a new idea and a new flavour and really, at this point, I just want chocolate. Just chocolate and nothing fancier than that."
"But…you can't have chocolate?" Emma asked, as she struggled to keep the thread of the conversation going.
"Oh! Well I could, I guess. I mean, if I wanted. I'm sure Elsa would do it. But she's already making a chocolate wedding cake for Helga and I think…well, no. I know that Mom wants me to do something different. And have at least two more layers."
Emma looked longingly at the puppy in the cage next to them, and wondered if it would be rude to just ignore Anna and pet the small fluffy animal through the bars of its cage like she'd intended to when she came over here.
But Anna's eyes were just as pleading and hopeful as the dog's and Emma realised that she was expecting some great words of wisdom or advice, which was clearly nuts because did Emma look like Mary Margaret?
And then she realised that she was about to become someone's mother and no wonder Anna was looking at her hopefully; she thought Emma was suddenly going to start being able to dole out advice and cookies whenever required and that was just not going to happen because, outside of TV shows, Emma had never even seen a mom do that in real life.
Really, she should have just bought the damn cat food and high-tailed it back to the car as quick as possible.
"Well, it's your wedding, isn't it?" Emma tried in the end, hoping it would at least buy her some time.
"Yeah…but it's been so difficult since Aunt Helga got engaged and Mom got offended, and now I just feel like I'm caught in the middle. And Elsa is trying to make everyone just get along, and Aunt Ingrid just wants everyone to do it her way and I just…sometimes it would be nice to run away. Kristoff's second-cousin offered to marry us in the stone circle he built in his backyard, but I don't know if it'll be legal. He's an accountant."
It all sounded far too complicated for Emma to try to unravel right then, standing in a pet store. She'd heard parts of the story at various times and from various people, all of whom were tripping over themselves to tell Emma the latest in the saga of Anna's Aunt Helga and Tom Clark who owned the drugstore.
At first it had been a little surprising that Helga had, after all these years, finally agreed to date Tom. And then the dates had progressed and, despite the fact that Ingrid, when Emma had called in to buy some Rocky Road as she was passing through the ice cream craving part of her pregnancy, had said it would never last, they kept seeing each other.
Then they got engaged. And, as far as Emma could make out, all hell broke loose in the Gunderson-Halverson family because not only were Helga and Tom Clark getting married, they jumped the queue and scheduled the wedding for an earlier date than Anna and Kristoff's long-planned nuptials.
It all gave Emma a headache just thinking about the family politics involved in that particular scenario, and that was before you got to the fact that poor Anna was bearing the brunt of Gerda's ire in a competition over how big the wedding cake was.
"But I guess you're lucky you don't have this problem," Anna sighed, and then she clearly realised what she'd said, and her eyes went comically wide and she stammered out "Oh, but, I mean…it doesn't matter, that you're not married…unless, it matters to you…and it shouldn't, I mean, that's your choice, and everything. And no one's going to make you eat all the cake. You could even have chocolate. Have you tried Elsa's Black Forest cake? I'd have that. If I was you. And I wanted to get married…or didn't. You can have cake anytime. And babies. You can have them too."
"Yeah…" Emma replied, completely lost now as to what the best response to any of that was, other than relief that she didn't have a mother or an Aunt Ingrid breathing down her neck and telling her how she should run her life. Sometimes there were small mercies in not having a family.
And most of the time she didn't really think about getting married. Because that wasn't something that happened for people like her, people that hadn't been part of a family, who didn't know what it was like to be loved and therefore couldn't really give it back.
Granted, there was a small voice that she very rarely listened to that said that maybe Emma wasn't telling herself the truth, but it was an annoying voice and Emma tried very hard to ignore it.
None of this, however, helped her in her current situation, because Emma didn't know what advice to offer about something she'd never had to face herself. It would have been easier if Anna had wanted to know how to hot-wire a car, or the best way to avoid being caught on CCTV or maybe even if she just wanted to know if she should get the puppy.
And Emma tried to think of a plausible set of words she could string together, but her back started aching again and she shifted to one foot to see if that would ease it and, when it didn't, she placed a hand on the ache to try to will it away.
"Oh!" Anna said. "I shouldn't be keeping you around here…now. When's the baby due? I mean, not that you're huge, or anything, but you seem like you'd be close…are you close?" Her features pinched together in a knot of concern that made Emma bristle a little at the implication.
"I'm fine," Emma said, waving the hand not on her back. "And I've got weeks to go yet. So it'll be OK."
"Well, if you say so," Anna replied, looking less than convinced.
"No, really." Emma straightened up, even though her back protested at the movement. "Nothing to worry about. But, uh, I should probably go and get the cat food I came in for and leave you to your, uh…"
"Hiding," Anna supplied. "None of them have figured out this place yet. I used to hide in the drugstore and read the magazines, but, you know…that's out of the question now."
"Yeah. Well, nice to see you. Good luck, with…with everything."
"And you. You'll probably need it more than me. Although Aunt Ingrid was pretty fearsome when Mom was refusing to be part of Aunt Helga's wedding party. She's scarier because she doesn't yell, she's just so very disappointed in you. Not, you…just…us. When we don't do what she wants." Anna paused, and then started again on a completely different subject and with a completely different tone.
"But the baby is exciting! We're all looking forward to that."
"Yep. We'll need photos and, you know, to find out what it is. I think girl…although…no, girl! Definitely a girl."
"OK. Take care, Anna!" Emma was a little perturbed by the notion that Anna's whole family were just hanging out for the news of the baby, but mostly she was simply pleased that she had managed to turn her back and start walking without the other woman thinking of another thing to add to the conversation. So pleased, that Emma was out the door of the store before she realised she'd forgotten to pick up the bag of cat food on her way past.
Out on the sidewalk, she hesitated, torn between going back in and completing the errand she'd especially gone out for, or just getting away from Anna and her family problems altogether. In the end, she decided it was too late to go back and she'd just keep moving forward.
Only she wasn't sure what she was moving towards, now that she was stuck at the end of Main Street with no particular purpose and a pet store she couldn't re-enter.
It couldn't hurt to just stick her head into the station and see how David was getting on, could it?
Deciding that visiting colleagues was a perfectly reasonable way to spend her day of rest, Emma ambled along the street, past the collection of stores and towards the police station.
Actually, Emma realised, as she glanced her reflection in a store window, she wasn't ambling. She was waddling. Again.
And in public this time.
She tried to adjust her gait and make it less duck-like, but her hips didn't want to co-operate anymore and the heaviness in her abdomen felt extra-heavy today and there was a pressure between her legs that made her unwilling to keep them together.
Well, waddling it was then. It took a moment for Emma to adjust her thinking; to push past the possible humiliation and accept that this was her reality now.
Two weeks. Maybe three. Or three and a half if she went past her due date.
She could do this for two more weeks, couldn't she?
It seemed easy enough in her head but, by the time she was dragging her feet up the four steps to the door of the police station with one hand on her back and the other trying desperately to support the belly that threatened to pull her over, Emma didn't think she'd ever been so happy to see the place.
Only when she pushed through the heavy door the whole place seemed surprisingly quiet and Emma wondered where on earth everyone was.
"Emma!" Ashley called from the front desk. She'd recently started working days rather than nights, now that her kids were old enough to be in school and day-care and, Emma had to admit, that the station had been the better for having her around.
And, OK, maybe that was because she liked baking, but Emma wasn't going to begrudge the woman a reason to enjoy her hobbies.
"Oh, look at you!" Ashley exclaimed, coming around the side of the desk. "You look like you're about to pop."
Emma wasn't sure if that was strictly true. Popping seemed to imply that she'd have some kind of say in the matter. Mostly she felt like she was about to disintegrate, like a wet paper bag that was about to tear and spill its contents all over the floor.
She managed a weak smile in Ashley's direction and remembered to take her hand away from her bump; nothing like drawing attention to the thing she didn't want to discuss more than she had to.
"David's out," Ashley announced, unprompted. "Doing the presentation on drunk driving up at the high school. I think it was a little bummed that you weren't here to do it instead."
Emma was pleased she was being missed, but not exactly sad that she'd had to forgo trying to talk to a bunch of hormone-driven teenagers and persuade them that all the really fun things were pretty much off limits.
"Yeah, that sounds…" Emma tried to find the right word to respond with. "Exhausting." It didn't at all, it was just that she was suddenly tired herself and everything felt exhausting.
"Are you OK?" Ashley asked, concerned. "Do you want to sit down or something?"
"No. Nope. Fine." Emma was using the minimum amount of words required now, and Ashley looked at her warily.
"You know, you've been carrying real low down and I thought that means it's a boy for sure. I carried right up under my boobs when I had Alex, but with Michael it was totally different. But, you know, I think it's lower now."
"The bump. Have you dropped?"
For a moment Emma looked down at her feet, or, more precisely, the place where she estimated her feet to be, wondering what it was she could have dropped. And then the penny dropped, so to speak. "No. Because it's too early for that."
"Mmm. You say that, but I had Michael two weeks early and he was still bigger than his sister. If the baby's ready…"
"Nope. Not ready." Emma thought that maybe she was talking about herself instead of the baby, but it was the same thing really. Not gonna happen today.
"Well, alright." Ashley didn't seem convinced. "You sure you don't want to stop and sit for a while? David might be back soon; he'll be sad he missed you."
Emma was a little torn; she had been hoping to see David just because…well, he'd kept her sane through most days of the pregnancy so far, it wasn't too much to expect he could do it just once more?
At first Emma had kept her baby news to herself, but her good fortune at falling pregnant came with an equally large dose of all-day nausea and occasional retching and, while she wasn't about to go blabbing all over the station, there was only so much she could do when she sometimes had to disappear to a quiet location and hover over the nearest receptacle.
It wasn't pretty, it wasn't fun and Emma just wanted it to be over, but she had at least thought she was doing a reasonable job of keeping her constant bouts of nausea to herself, until the day when she and David were called out to the convent to look into the theft of their tractor. Emma had been surprised that a bunch of nuns needed a tractor and David had just been thrilled to finally have a chance to show off his knowledge of farm equipment. In the end he'd been forced to drink a large quantity of their homemade lemonade while Emma had retched behind the rose bushes as quietly as she could.
And it turned out that the tractor had simply been left in the parking lot of The Rabbit Hole by a novice who'd gone looking for excitement and was probably never going to make it as a nun, at least if Mother Superior's face when they got the call about it was anything to go by.
Emma stopped feeling sorry for herself long enough to be grateful she wasn't that girl.
After being thanked by the nuns and returning to the car Emma had regretted leaving her spot in the garden as another wave of nausea hit. She could only hope that David had the decency to break all the speed limits on the way back to the station where she could hole up in privacy until the desire to empty her stomach contents went away again.
"Just, uh…just let's get back to the station, yeah?" she'd suggested, as casually as she could, while winding down the window in the hope that fresh air might blow away the heavy fog of nausea she was permanently trapped in.
But instead of starting the engine David had reached into the back seat of the police cruiser and grabbed a brown paper bag, which he handed to her.
"What's this?" Emma unrolled the top and thought that if nothing else, at least she had the bag if her stomach did decide to rebel again.
"Uh…well…" David sounded a little sheepish. "I got you something, they're ginger candies. Mary Margaret said they helped."
"Helped?" Emma pulled a small tin out of the bag.
"With the nausea." David put the car in gear and drove slowly down the convent's tree-lined driveway. "When she was…you know. Ginger's good for settling the stomach."
Emma read the words on the tin; Happy Belly Hard Candies. Oh. Well that was just…oh.
There was silence in the car and then Emma just dissolved into great gulping sobs that were both highly embarrassing and deeply liberating after a morning, no weeks now, spent trying to hide everything that was happening to her.
"Oh no," Emma heard David say, but she was really too far gone to do much. Just letting everything out felt so damn good.
"Don't cry," David said, weakly, and not at all in the concerned but slightly authoritative way that he normally dealt with grieving and upset bystanders when they were working. "I hoped it would make you feel better. I'm sorry."
"Don…don't be…sssorry…" Emma replied, between great hiccupping sobs. "I just…I've been…been so sick…all the time…" She wasn't entirely certain this explained her extreme reaction to David being nice to her, or having the burden of keeping it all secret lifted from her.
But he seemed to get it, or, at least, he stopped looking at her like she was a bomb about to detonate. "It will pass, you know. Nothing lasts forever. I just wish I'd brought some Kleenex along with the candy."
Emma made a kind of hiccupping noise that ended in a snort and the tears stopped falling, which was a relief because, as nice as it had been to let herself wallow, there were limits. And she was feeling slightly comforted by David's words. It was the first time in a long time she'd felt good about the fact that everything had to end sometime.
The pregnancy wasn't going to go on forever, so she'd be fine.
Only today, she wasn't feeling fine. She was out of sorts and, somehow, the idea of the pregnancy ending no longer comforted her because she didn't feel equipped to deal with the actual mechanics of getting the baby out of her and she just needed David to remind her she could do it but he wasn't here and now she didn't even know why she'd bothered to haul herself to the station because she was a long way from home and everything just felt wrong.
And Ashley was looking at her now, in a way that screamed I'm worried that the pregnant woman in front of me might keel over and I'll get the blame for it.
"I don't need to sit…I think… I think I might just head on out then, if David isn't here. Tell him I called by, will you?"
Emma was pretty sure that Ashley said something in the affirmative, or maybe she just made another attempt to get Emma to sit still. But, as appealing as the idea of trying to ease the ache in her back was, Emma felt a little too restless to stay put and she gave Ashley what was intended to be a friendly wave but which, Emma suspected, really came off as a little dismissive.
She just seemed to have lost the energy to hold a conversation now. This relaxing day off was draining her and the best plan seemed to be to go home and have the nap that had eluded her earlier and see if she couldn't salvage what was left of the time until Killian got home.
Because as comforting as David could be at times probably the one person she really wanted around right now was Killian. It would be so much better spending time on the couch if he was around to keep her company, to rub her back while they watched something mindless on TV, nothing that involved babies or animals or people crying about wedding dresses though. Maybe something with superheroes.
It took Emma a huge effort not to just crash to the sidewalk and wait for rescue. It would be nice, just for once, to be the person everyone else was crowding around and fussing over. She felt that, after nearly nine months of pretending that nothing had changed and everything was fine, she deserved a little special treatment.
But the car came into view and, really, the best choice was to just head on home and wait for Killian. He wouldn't be long and then, finally, she would be able to relax a little. And, all of a sudden, there was nothing more appealing to Emma than being able to sit on her own couch and do nothing.
Of course that was how it happened, as soon as she bothered to get out of the house she wanted nothing more than to be back there. Her stupid mind was all over the place today.
Reaching the car was a relief; squeezing herself back into it wasn't. Although the day was only what would have been normally described to Emma, by those people interested in the weather, as 'pleasant', she felt sticky all over and the damp t-shirt stretched across her back stuck unpleasantly to the upholstery of the driver's seat and she was really just over the whole experience of leaving her house.
Maybe she'd just hole up for the next two weeks and wait for it all to be over.
Fuelled by the desire to reach the safe space that was home Emma turned the key and…nothing. The engine, which never exactly roared to life under the best of conditions, didn't even bother to spit out a polite cough. At best you could say it gave a kind of whine.
And then it fell silent.
Further attempts to coax it to life didn't yield any better results, just a few more coughs and splutters from the engine. Getting back out of the car was really the last thing Emma felt like doing and she looked around for where she might have left her cell phone, hoping that maybe if she called Killian he wouldn't be averse to leaving work altogether and just coming to get her.
Only her phone wasn't there and she remembered that she'd carefully put it on the table in the kitchen before she left on her errand and thereby had managed to do exactly the thing she'd been telling Killian not to do for a good week or so now.
Emma stayed where she was and debated her options. She could simply sit here until someone noticed her and beg for some assistance, which would mean that she wouldn't necessarily have to let Killian know that she'd been stupid enough to leave the phone at home.
But her desire not to spend all afternoon in the car outweighed her embarrassment at her own carelessness. She'd lived in this car at one time, back when she was younger and things were rough, and she had no desire to go back to that state of affairs when she was this enormous.
There was the option of going back to the station and waiting until David showed up again, but she definitely didn't like the idea of further discussions about how far her bump had dropped while she waited. Nor did the notion of going back into the pet store appeal; she'd only narrowly escaped Anna earlier on and she might not be that lucky again.
Her only choice, really, was to walk...no, waddle down to the docks and see if she could wait while Killian finished up at work. That was a closer option than the station and a shorter walk was infinitely more appealing right then.
Exiting the car with some difficulty Emma started off down the street again in a fashion that you'd struggle to even term waddling. Mostly it was just shuffling and the only thing that kept her going was the thought that this would be over soon. She'd find Killian, he would tell her it would all be OK, and they could go home and watch a movie. Or something.
Only when she got to the boat shed, there was no Killian which was disappointing, and a little familiar. Emma thought she'd been in this situation before and her heart sank.
Leroy came out to greet her though, at least she thought that was his intention. "If you're looking for Surly, he went to Hell."
Emma's brain, which had been focused on other things like just getting her body to hold together long enough to reach Killian, couldn't make any sense of what Leroy was telling her. And she guessed her face gave that away because Leroy frowned, and continued. "You know? Hel? Few miles past the Toll Bridge stuck out in the woods there. Place is basically three houses and a barn."
"Oh. Yep. Right." It made a little more sense now. For whatever reason Killian had gone out to the settlement known locally as Hel, named, Emma thought, for a town in Norway near where the first inhabitants of the place had come from. There weren't many of them, and they all seemed to be relatives of Anna's fiancé Kristoff, but that was about all Emma knew of the place.
"He had to go and pick up a carving off the guy out there who does them in his spare time, think he's an accountant. Kristoff's cousin? Anyway, we have to put it on that cutter that's nearly finished so the owner can get it launched before the weather turns."
"Oh. OK." Somehow Emma seemed unable to explain the problem to Leroy and think of a solution at the same time and so she was stuck in a verbal loop. Her brain had shut down a little, and she wasn't sure what it was going to take to get it going again.
Probably the ache in her entire lower half was going to have to disappear before that happened.
"You alright, sister?" Leroy asked. "You, uh…it's not, uh…happening, is it?"
"Is what what-ing?" Emma was lost again. Leroy gestured to her midsection and Emma looked down, as though Leroy was pointing out she had something stuck to her shirt.
"No!" Emma felt a little indignant now, realising slightly too late exactly what Leroy was alluding to and that it had nothing to do with food she might have dropped earlier.
"Well, if you're sure," Leroy replied, sounding far from certain about her assessment.
"Yeah, nothing's happening there I just…my car won't start and I was hoping Killian could take me home." Emma stopped herself from adding something like 'before I collapse' or 'so I can get the weight off my feet' because she didn't need to add fuel to the fire Leroy had already tried to start.
She had weeks to go yet. And she was going to use them to relax, Emma decided, perhaps a little belatedly. Clearly Killian had been right about her needing a rest and she should make the most of being able to sit at home while she could.
Probably she wasn't going to tell him he was right, but the important thing was that they'd reached the same conclusion and things would start to work out from here on in. Her back would stop aching, the weird feeling in her belly would stop and things would go back to normal. Well, a late-pregnancy kind of normal, but that was better than nothing.
"I'll take you if you like," Leroy wiped his hands on the greasy looking overalls he was wearing and looked at Emma expectantly.
"Oh…uh…" Home seemed like a good idea in that moment. "Sure. Thanks."
Emma followed Leroy out to his, surprisingly tidy, van and levered herself into the passenger seat under her rescuer's watchful gage. "I am absolutely not having the baby today," she announced, as Leroy took his own seat and started the engine.
"Whatever you say, sister. Anyway, next week'd probably be better."
"Well that's closer to when I'm due." And, sure, Emma knew that due dates were a guide and not set in stone but that didn't mean she wasn't going to cling to hers stubbornly.
"Exactly. So you're bound to wait until at least then…aren't you?"
"Why are you…wait." Leroy's sudden interest in Emma's due date rang warning bells. "Are you betting on when I'll give birth?"
Leroy shrugged. "It's not a bet, really, just a friendly wager…" He turned and gave her a once-over before returning his eyes to the road. "I got next Tuesday, think you can last until then?"
"Why is everyone so anxious for me to have the baby anyway?" Emma fumed. "If it's not Anna making me promise pictures, it's Ashley talking about dropping bumps, or you betting on me...or…or Mary Margaret running a laundry boot camp, and Mrs Lucas hounding me as to whether she needs pink or blue wool, or just Killian looking worried and asking me if I'm sure it's all OK, when, I think, all he's really worried about is that I'm not OK, that I won't be able to do this, and I will…I think I will, but not this freakin' week."
Silence fell over the van and Emma felt a little ashamed over her outburst because it wasn't Leroy's fault. Well, it was marginally his fault for being stupid enough to bet on when labour would start, but he probably didn't deserve her tirade.
Emma thought about apologising, but wasn't really sure what to say so decided that awkward silence may just have to do. Surprisingly Leroy didn't seem to agree.
"They shouldn'ta done it," he mumbled quietly enough that Emma wasn't certain whether he was actually talking to her or just muttering about her.
Leroy sighed heavily, but kept his eyes on the road. "You. They shouldn'ta left you out there by the bridge."
"You know that was me?" Emma asked, quietly, trying not to burst into tears.
"Course I do, sister." Leroy looked over at her and shrugged. "I know mosta the stuff that happens in this place. And I figure that if they hadn'ta done it, then you wouldn't have the wobbles now. But honestly, you'll be fine."
"I'll be fine," Emma repeated, feeling numb and raw and not really convinced at all by what she was saying.
"But just try to be fine next Tuesday, 'cos I got twenty bucks riding on that."
Emma laughed, just a little. "I'll try for next Tuesday."
When they arrived at Emma's house, Leroy pulled the van into the driveway and clearly expected Emma to get out, but she reached for the door handle and then hesitated, turning back to look at him over her shoulder. "Do you think it would have been different…better?" she asked.
"Just…if they hadn't done it. Do you think that would have made a difference?" Emma had spent years and years thinking about what it would have been like if she hadn't been left on the roadside, and then probably even longer forcing herself to not think about it because she couldn't change things now.
But today, when everything was a little off-kilter and her hormones were wonky and she only had two freaking weeks left before she became a parent herself she couldn't help but wonder.
"Do you think I would have been better at this?" she added quietly, when Leroy hadn't responded. That had been the problem all along, really. It wasn't so much that she was scared of labour, she wasn't thrilled by it but it would pass, like everything did really.
Emma was terrified of what came after because what if it happened to her too. What if she wasn't strong enough to get past it?
What if she just left her baby behind because she wasn't fit to be anyone's mother?
Leroy looked a little flustered at her question, and Emma couldn't really blame him. It wasn't something she even wanted to own up to, and it was nothing she had an answer for. But she'd kept it inside for so long, growing along with the baby and now she had two weeks left to try to figure it all out so she didn't do something unforgivable when the baby was finally here.
There were no almosts or maybes or perhaps next times with someone as helpless as your newborn, even Emma knew that. It was all or nothing and what if…what if with Emma it was always meant to be nothing?
"You know I never got the chance to have kids…just me and Astrid, it was too late by the time we found each other. I dunno. I think what they did to you was terrible, but not because you are. They never got to see you be happy, and that's a real shame. I'm just glad you got a bunch of people who can see it, even if you feel that they're bugging you a little. It's only 'cos they like you." Leroy finished with an embarrassed cough.
"Wait…do you like me?"
"Not so much when I'm sobering up in a cell at the station courtesy of you, sister. But sure, you're alright. You turned out OK. You've done good things for Storybrooke and, you know…it's nice to have you around."
Emma wasn't quite certain how to take that, and attempted to laugh it off. "I think you've mistaken me for Mary Margaret."
"Phfft. You didn't know her when she was younger. I tell you; that girl was a terror in her day. But we all change...no one's exempted from that. And, if we're lucky, things work out OK. Just the people…the ones who left you, they never gave themselves a chance to see if they could change…see if it'd work out. I mean, look at Tom and Helga. Somehow they changed…and found each other. No one'd see that coming."
"Well, no." Emma didn't want to be drawn into the merits of that particular liaison again. But there was something a little comforting in Leroy's words, and, as unfamiliar as it was for Emma to think that change could mean something coming her way, she had to admit that Leroy wasn't perhaps completely wrong about things.
"Thanks, Leroy. You've been…great. Just, thanks. For the ride and for everything." Emma pushed the van door open and slid out of the seat with as much as dignity was possible given size and shape.
"Tuesday, sister. Remember; hold out for Tuesday."
"I will." Emma waved over her shoulder and walked into the cottage, glad to see Hook waiting for her in the hallway. "It's all going to be OK," she informed him, but he seemed nonplussed by her confession and, after a cursory press of his face to her leg in greeting, wandered off to do something far more interesting than listen to Emma talk about her problems.
Although she felt less like talking about anything right then. Leroy may not have been the person she'd have picked to confide in but maybe, just maybe, he'd not been entirely wrong.
Her back still ached though. And her belly felt heavy. And she wasn't particularly interested in food, everything felt too full and tight. But she wasn't as tired as she had felt earlier. If anything she was ready to do…something.
But she was back to the problem of what to do.
Her cell phone, abandoned earlier on the kitchen table, suddenly buzzed to life and Emma walked carefully down the hallway, not entirely certain where Hook had gone and not willing to trip over him because he liked to dart in front of her feet and therefore under her bump.
Sometimes it was like he had a deathwish.
Not without some effort Emma managed to reach her phone in time to answer the call, but it wasn't Killian calling to let her know he was on the way home as she had hoped. Instead it was the new tenant they'd arranged for the cottage, some old college friend of Ruby's called Merida Mackintosh who had an accent that meant Emma only figured out what she was saying about three sentences later. She got the general idea of the conversation, though; Merida and her husband were now arriving a few days earlier than expected and would be there tomorrow.
Emma disconnected the call and looked over at Hook, who'd reappeared silently in the doorway. "Bugger," she announced, using a very useful term she'd picked up from Killian, but usually tried not to use when he was in earshot because she couldn't take the ribbing about learning a foreign language.
"I suppose I should go over and check the place," Emma said, mostly to herself, but partly to Hook, who, she had to admit, was unlikely to talk her out of the idea. Killian had spent the previous Saturday cleaning the place while Emma had attempted what she could, but bending was definitely an issue for her at the moment and she'd felt a little useless standing around watching.
But, surprisingly given how tired she'd felt dragging her unwieldly body up and down Main Street earlier, Emma felt a sudden burst of energy. It would feel good to actually achieve something today; none of her other plans had come to fruition after all, and she hadn't even manage to buy the cat food she'd set out for. But giving the cottage a once over, wiping away the odd bit of dust and making sure things were in order, well, Emma could do that.
And then when Killian got back, in the very near future, she'd have something positive to tell him.
She didn't particularly want to dwell on what have prompted her slightly improved mood and whether it had anything to do with her near breakdown on the ride with Leroy. Some things were just too embarrassing to re-visit. Better to just keep moving forward and, with the baby coming in only another two weeks, it was important to look after their investment in the cottage and make sure that rental income kept coming in.
These were all excellent justifications Emma felt, and she was tempted to share them with Hook, as she took the set of keys for the cottage off the hook by the backdoor, but the cat looked fully occupied with washing somewhere unmentionable and not at all interested in a discussion. She did, however, call back over her shoulder as she opened the front door "You sure you don't want to come?" but the cat didn't answer and he didn't follow her out and so she crossed the road unaccompanied.
Walking around the cottage to the backdoor there was an odd moment where a shadow sort of moved out of the corner of her eye and she thought, for just a second, that it looked familiar. But the ache in her back started again, only now it was moving round to the front, so that took her focus, for at least as long as it took her to realise why Hook hadn't wanted to follow her over.
He just hadn't wanted to return to the scene of the crime.
There, laid out on the steps leading up to the back door of the cottage, were two little headless corpses, their fur matted and their tiny paws held up in what looked like a gesture of supplication. Emma supposed it hadn't done them any good.
Sighing she unlocked the door and stepped over the two dead rats. At first it had been a novelty to have a cat who actually hunted, but it was a novelty that had soon worn off. It only took a couple of times of removing dead rats from the kitchen floor before you realised that it didn't actually cut down on the amount of the cat food you had to buy, and it just added a whole other, completely unpleasant, task into the day.
Even Killian had stopped praising Hook for his efforts, but he still persisted. And he just seemed to be getting sneakier about it, leaving the trophies in places where Emma was less likely to scold him for the mess.
In the kitchen Emma rummaged around under the kitchen sink trying to locate a plastic bag she could use. The pains were coming and going now, sometimes worse than other times, but the general uncomfortable feeling persisted and crouching down was one thing, but getting up was quite another and Emma had to lean against the counter for a while and try to straighten her back out as best she could.
It was even getting to the baby, she thought, who had been strangely calm for most of the day. And that was a good thing, because she wasn't sure she could take the acrobatics in her womb on top of everything else.
As she turned around to go and face the mess on the step, Emma caught another image out of the corner of her eye. This time it was distinctly orange and the first thought, the one that immediately popped into Emma's mind was Mr Smee.
A second or two later Emma realised the impossibility of that being the case. Looking around carefully she tried to locate what it was she'd actually seen, but there was no cat in sight and not even some orange Formica that she could blame for casting a weird shadow.
Just a trick of her own mind then.
Emma set to work gathering up the small grey bodies and the other, less readily identifiable, bits of gore strewn about the step. "Would have made an excellent zombie," she muttered to herself, more than a little annoyed at Hook, but still secretly pleased that she'd found the kill zone the day before their tenants arrived.
Because nothing says 'Welcome to Storybrooke' like a bunch of dead rats missing their heads.
The worst of the mess picked up, Emma returned to the kitchen to fill a bowl with water so she could slosh the dark stain of blood away, but stopped dead in her tracks when the ache, that on and off annoying one that she'd had all day in the background, suddenly became something tighter and stronger and she was stuck in place while she waited for it to pass.
And then as suddenly as it had started, it stopped and Emma was left wondering if she'd imagined it just like she'd imagined seeing Mr Smee earlier.
She had two weeks to go, so it was bound to happen, odd aches and pains coming and going, her body practicing so it knew what to do when labour actually happened.
Nothing to worry about, Emma told herself, as she threw water all over the step and watched it run down onto the ground below. Satisfied with her handiwork, Emma put the bowl in the sink and then the pain hit again.
That was annoying. She wanted to check the rest of the house and here she was, stuck holding onto the kitchen counter and trying to wait for it to pass.
And it did. Emma took the opportunity of being pain free to check the bathroom was tidy and use the toilet while she was there, having been well-schooled by Mary Margaret that her days of going in there by herself were numbered.
Nothing much happened. And certainly her underwear wasn't showing anything unpleasant like it had that morning before her bath. She'd been told, in the baby classes, about things like 'show' as they euphemistically called it. And she'd admit that it could have been that, but then it could have just been a weird pregnancy thing too because it hadn't come back.
Still two weeks to go.
She walked around the bedrooms and, in the living room, picked up a newspaper that had been left on the coffee table and checked to make sure that the coal box was full.
Emma was about to retrieve the bag with the dead rats from the kitchen when she was trapped in the hallway by another pain and by the heaviness she'd been feeling in between her legs suddenly becoming a dampness between her legs.
Her brain dulled by pain Emma was utterly confused about this turn of events. She'd heard, in more detail than she wanted, about the toll pregnancy and childbirth took on your bladder but she'd just used the bathroom and really it seemed a little unfair that it was happening to her now, when she was getting these pains and everything was going wrong.
The pain subsided and she straightened up, only for more fluid to leak from her and Emma suddenly realised that she'd made a terrible miscalculation.
She might think there was two weeks to go; the baby clearly had other ideas.
Emma shuffled to the kitchen and found herself stalled by yet another pain hitting her, with far more force than the previous ones. She wanted to curl up on the floor but curling wasn't really an option when you were the shape she was and Emma was scared that getting on to the floor would mean never getting off it.
The pain went again, but the panic rising in her chest looked set to take over. All her fears about what might happen after the baby came were suddenly insignificant compared to how she was going to get through this on her own when no one knew where she was or what was happening.
Emma blinked back hot tears and tried to make a plan. Her phone was across the street in the kitchen of her own place but it might as well have been in Narnia for all the good it did her right then. It seemed unfair, but a little poetic, that someone who'd spent so much of her life alone would have to give birth alone as well, with only a couple of dead rats for company.
It would certainly be a story to tell later on; she'd just have to live through it first.
The tears were falling freely now and exhaustion, pain and the overwhelming feeling that none of this was fair kept Emma from attempting to leave for her own house. She lasted through another pain and then sank to the floor, no longer worried about getting back up again.
Emma wasn't certain how long she sat there, how long the pains lasted, or how long she had in between them. The last two were things she was supposed to know; she could remember that much from the baby classes. But there was no clock in the kitchen and no Killian and, well, it wasn't that she was blaming him for not being here, but keeping track of the timings was supposed to be his job and he wasn't here to do it.
And then the tears started again, and the pain, and Emma managed to haul herself onto her hands and knees which took some of the pressure off her back but didn't help the uncomfortable feeling between her legs, a feeling only exacerbated by the fact her pants were soaking and there was a distinct puddle on the floor and she stopped feeling sorry for herself for a moment to worry about the hardwood.
But she felt the despair creep back again when the pain re-started and she desperately wanted to change position but couldn't figure out how to do it without making everything worse. It was as if her own body had turned against her, violently cramping so that everything in her mind was just pain, pain, pain.
In the corner of her vision something moved, but when Emma looked in that direction there was nothing there. It was just an echo of a memory, really. Something her mind had dredged up from that time when Killian lived here and Mr Smee was her constant companion and biggest pain in the ass.
Possibly she was remembering a feeling as much as anything. The feeling of being scared and alone and totally out of her depth and the thing that brought her the most comfort was an elderly ginger cat sitting on orange Formica.
She never wanted to see that Formica again, but she desperately missed the cat. And, right now, she desperately wanted the cat's owner there with her.
"Oh, Mr Smee," Emma sobbed, feeling a little silly in the process but realising that at that moment, talking to a ghost cat was probably the least of her problems. "I don't want to do this alone."
In what Emma, at first, took to be another figment of her imagination she heard the sound of boots on the steps at the back door and a dark shape cast a shadow into the kitchen, banishing the small orange ghost she'd been imagining. "Emma?" Killian's voice asked and Emma wondered whether she really had to answer that because she was more than a little preoccupied and pretty certain that Killian could tell it was really her, crouching on the floor of the rental cottage.
Not a position she'd exactly expected to be in, but at least she wasn't alone anymore.
And she would have said something along those lines to Killian, but everything was tight and painful and she didn't seem to have the energy to waste on words.
"What's happening? Are you alright?" Killian asked, crouching down in front of her and, in her head, Emma answered 'Baby's coming and I'm fine but in quite a lot of pain, but I'm really glad you're here.'
She didn't actually speak, though. She just made a kind of grunting noise and hoped that conveyed everything.
It didn't because Killian immediately asked "Is something wrong? What's wrong?" and, although the pain was easing again and Emma was able to string a few words together the first thing that popped into her head was something unrelated to most of her current issues. "Rats. Dead rats. They're in a bag, on the counter. But we need to get them out of here before the new tenants come tomorrow."
Killian's eyes flicked to the plastic bag, and then down to Emma again. "But you're…is this?"
"I think I might have ruined the varnish on the floor," she said, as her voice broke from trying to hold in the sob that threatened to erupt out of her. "I'm leaking."
"That's…that means, this is labour?" Killian asked, as though he didn't want to believe it. Emma couldn't blame him. She'd been in denial for considerably longer than he had.
"Yeah. I…ooh." That was the end of her ability to make conversation for a while and she concentrated on just getting through the pain while Killian hovered looking increasingly desperate.
"I'm supposed to be timing these, aren't I, love?" he asked, with a forced joviality that made Emma grit her teeth.
"Yes." Her answer was terse and almost as tight as her belly felt.
"Alright, so let's get you home." Killian put his hands out in front of him, reaching over to guide Emma up to a standing position, but she shrank back.
"Nope. Not moving." Emma was starting to think that maybe hospitals were over-rated and, given she was as comfortable as she could manage at the present time, it was better to just stay put. Why rock the boat when you could just end up drowning? Or something like that, anyway. Emma wasn't entirely certain.
"You can't stay here, love," Killian said, and Emma was tempted to dispute that fact because she could, if she wanted, but she didn't have the energy for an argument at the present time.
"Fine!" she huffed, like Killian was making the most ridiculous request in the world, and it did actually feel a little like that to Emma who was incapable of explaining just how precarious everything was and that if she moved a little the wrong way she was just going to end up in more pain than she already was.
Killian seemed oblivious to everything going on in Emma's mind and just concentrated on helping her stand, touching her almost too gently, like he was afraid she might break.
Emma was kind of afraid of the same thing, but probably envisaged something altogether more explosive than Killian. The pressure between her legs was intense and, between that and the nastiness of her wet pants and underwear, her gait was not only slow but bow legged like a cowboy's, as they painstakingly made their way to their own house.
"Just watch out for the…" Killian said, as they pushed through the front door but Emma had stopped dead in her tracks long before she stubbed her toe on the object that barred her path; having reached the house as Killian had insisted Emma was ready to stop all this completely unnecessary moving about.
She tried to focus on what it was that Killian had warned her about and couldn't, for a moment, figure out why the carving that Killian had been sent to collect had ended up in their hallway because they'd had the conversation about it not being a storage area for every piece of crap Killian thought was interesting. But before she could summon the energy to remind Killian of that fact, he kind of waved at it proudly and Emma took a closer look.
It was a rocking horse. A beautiful, wooden rocking horse and Emma didn't mind it sitting in the hallway at all. "I got that from a guy who lives out near Hel, I think he's Kristoff's cousin. He carves when he's not working…"
"He's an accountant," Emma finished. "It's, it's…lovely…" she wished she had the energy to be more grateful, but Killian would have to wait until some point in the future when Emma was feeling more like herself. Right then she was starting to feel consumed by a process over which she didn't seem to have any control which was a terrifying idea if she stopped to think about it.
She supposed that's why her brain wasn't working as well as it should do. Non-essential services were being turned off and it should make her feel more…something? But Emma couldn't figure out what.
"I've got the bag, let's go," Killian said, brandishing the overnight bag that had been exempted from the rule about things lurking in hallways. Emma realised she really did need to focus on something because important things seemed to be happening, but her brain was stuck back it where had been before this all started.
"Did you get the rats? Can't leave them there for…the new tenants…"
Killian looked perplexed, then annoyed, and then, when Emma gave him a look that showed she meant business, he looked resigned. "I'll be right back. Don't, uh…I'll be right back, love."
If she'd had more fight left in her, Emma might have said that of course she wasn't going anywhere, she hadn't wanted to come here in the first place. But Killian was out the door before she could get any words out and back again as she was coming down off another wave of pain.
They felt different now, or maybe she was getting used to it.
"Right, rats deposited in the bin. I'll be having some words with Hook later on for worrying you like that, and now…let's off."
Let's not. Emma thought, but couldn't bring herself to say it. Instead she allowed Killian to help her to his truck, one he'd bought only recently, but didn't climb into the passenger seat.
"I need…" she started, and then had to stop to collect her thoughts against the wall of pain pushing them aside.
"Yes, love?" Killian asked, all too eagerly.
"Isn't that…I mean boiled water and the like, for…not for a hospital? We're going to the hospital, right?" For the first time Killian sounded a little worried about the whole thing, and there was a part of Emma that was relieved she wasn't the only one, but she stuck to trying to explain the situation she was in as best she could.
"I…leaking, the…stuff. I just want to sit on a towel."
"Right. Yes." Killian disappeared back into the house and Emma mentally checked not ruin vehicle's upholstery on way to hospital off a list that no midwife or well-meaning friend had ever told her she'd have to come up with.
Why had no one explained how gross this part was?
Killian jogged back and placed the towel on the passenger seat with a flourish, before bowing, slightly, and indicating she should get in.
Her power of speech returning again Emma muttered "So now you decide to be a gentleman," as he helped her up, wishing she wasn't wet, oozy and quite so round.
So much for dignity.
"Oh, I'm always a gentleman," Killian replied, closing the door and jogging around to the driver's side. He gave her a wide grin as he started the engine, and she did her best to return it, although mostly she was struck with the idea that it might be nice to just punch Killian in the face.
He was enjoying this far too much.
The road was a lot more uneven than Emma remembered it. Every pothole and rut sent shockwaves through her body and made the pain, pain which was now making her restless and unable to sit still, worse.
It was torture being trapped in the car and she wasn't certain how she was going to make it all the way to Camelot.
Except that, apparently, she wasn't, because Killian reached a stop sign and then turned the car in the opposite direction, heading not towards Camelot but…oh hell, no!
"Not Storybrooke," Emma said, through gritted teeth, as a contraction lifted her up off the seat. Something different was happening now and she just wanted to get to Camelot and see the doctors and find out.
"Hmm," Killian said not actually disagreeing with her, but not actually turning the truck around either.
"So much for the gentleman thing," Emma grumbled, the words sounding breathless more than anything.
Emma wanted to put up more of a fight, to remind Killian that he was supposed to be her champion during the birth, to make sure that she got what she wanted and was comfortable, and all the other crap they spouted off to you in birthing class. And it wasn't like Emma wanted a whirlpool and candlelight and a special playlist or anything, she just wanted to give birth in the hospital she'd picked with the doctor she'd chosen.
And it didn't seem like too much to ask, even though she would admit, grudgingly, that things were progressing far too fast for her liking and that if there was any chance of getting some nice pain medication soon she'd better get herself to the nearest medical facility, plans be damned.
"You alright, love?" Killian's voice broke through her reverie and she nodded a silent yes. She'd had the whole debate in her head now and they didn't need to go through it again.
Storybrooke hospital it was.
Killian pulled up outside the front door and parked in the section marked for emergency vehicles. "You can't park here," she reminded him, but he got out of the truck and walked around to open her door before answering.
"You going to give me a ticket, Officer Swan?"
Emma gritted her teeth as another contraction hit and Killian's rather cheeky grin slid off his face as he watched her. "You're not alright, are you love?"
He was worried, Emma realised, and the urge to punch him lessened dramatically.
She shook her head, and Killian helped her out of the truck, grabbing her bag from the back, and he lead her into the emergency room reception area which seemed like the wrong move altogether, because shouldn't they be heading to the maternity suite, or whatever it was Storybrooke had?
From out of nowhere Aurora appeared, pushing a wheelchair. "Emma! You having some pains?"
"Yep," Killian said, far too brightly for Emma's liking and, clearly, deciding that now was a good time to step up and be her champion. She found herself bundled into the wheelchair and pushed through a set of doors and then into an examination room, where Aurora gestured to the bed in the centre.
"Hop on up and one of the doctors can take a look shortly," she said, starting back out of the room.
"I think it'd better be sooner rather than later," Killian said, taking Emma's arm and lifting her up, but keeping his eyes on Aurora's departing back.
"Well…OK," Aurora replied, looking at Emma appraisingly.
"I'm all wet," Emma supplied gesturing to her pants, but she wasn't sure if Aurora heard her, as the door swung shut and she was gone.
"Do you want to get out of those," Killian asked, and Emma nodded, pushing up on the arms of the wheelchair to stand up.
"No!" Killian said, loudly and sounding a little panicked. It made Emma freeze, wondering what was wrong.
"I should help?" he added and Emma was almost certain that wasn't meant to be a question, but it came out as one, which made her wonder at what point she'd suddenly become the expert on birthing protocol.
Killian helped her to stand and peel away the wet clothing. It was lovely to get the nasty, wet fabric away from her, but slightly mortifying that there was still fluid leaking out…and other stuff.
So much for dignity.
Together they got Emma into a hospital gown that had been left folded up on the bed, and then onto the bed itself where she twisted from side to side trying to find a comfortable position.
"Tell me what you need, love," Killian asked, almost in a whisper.
"Nothing…just. I think she needs to come out now."
Before Killian had time to dispute the baby's gender, Dr Whale burst into the room, Aurora trailing after him, pushing some kind of machine. "OK, Emma," he announced, as though he had a much larger audience for whatever performance he was about to put on. "I hear you've been having some pains? Aurora couldn't find me any of your history."
He turned to glare at the nurse who had busied herself with the machine and was doing her best to ignore Dr Whale. Emma felt a little sorry for her, and said "I'm not…supposed to be here…" at the same time as Killian added, "The baby was supposed to be born at Camelot, but we couldn't make it there."
"Uh-huh, favouring the competition, are we?" Emma couldn't tell if Dr Whale was joking around and, frankly, at that moment didn't care. "How far along are you?" he asked.
"Thirty eight weeks tomorrow," Emma replied and Dr Whale smiled broadly, like she'd told him a joke, before replying.
"Well, I think you'll still get to check out their, I hear pretty fancy, birthing pools, Emma, so I shouldn't worry. Lots of women get a scare before labour starts."
"Not scared," Emma said, through gritted teeth and it was almost, perhaps, mostly true now. It was like she'd finally stopped fighting the inevitable and was prepared to go with it, if only Dr Whale would get with the program.
"She's been in a lot of pain," Killian tried explaining. "I think this is really it. Shouldn't we…"
If Killian had had some great idea, Emma never got to hear it as Dr Whale just spoke over the top of him. "Uh-huh, let's just have a feel…" He placed his hands on Emma's belly, as everything tightened up and Emma watched him frown and then motion for her to put her legs up. "I just need to examine you…" he said, and then stopped.
"What?" Killian asked, shuffling his feet as though he was tempted to go and look under Emma's hospital gown as well, but wasn't sure if that was the done thing. He looked from the doctor, to Emma, and back again, brows knit in confusion and worry.
"That's definitely a baby, and that's coming out now. OK, Emma, we're going to get you ready to push."
Up until now Emma had been terrified of hearing those words, but now that the time was actually here, it was kind of a relief to actually know that it was happening, finally, that soon it would all be over and the baby would be here.
Aurora connected the monitor and Emma felt Killian squeeze her hand and she squeezed back, as much for his comfort as for her own. It would be OK, Dr Whale was here now, and, sure, he wasn't her first choice…or her second, but at least she wasn't alone….
"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" Killian asked abruptly, and Emma squeezed his hand extra hard, but it didn't make him stop glaring at the person Emma was hoping was going to organise pain relief soon.
"Excuse me?" Dr Whale, asked.
"I mean, shouldn't we get the other one…Doc…whatever? Shouldn't he be here, looking after Emma?"
"I'm afraid," Dr Whale replied, "That Doc is off fishing this afternoon, so unless you want to come down here and take over, it's me or no one."
Killian nodded, but the way he was clenching his jaw told Emma he still wasn't happy. Neither was she when another contraction hit. "Something for the pain…" she whispered, but Dr Whale, who'd stood up and had his back to her as he conferred with Aurora, turned back and shook his head.
"Sorry Emma, too late for that. The baby's well and truly on its way." That took the shine off being in the hospital as far as Emma was concerned, but Dr Whale sat down again and looked at her seriously. "OK, next contraction I want you to take a deep breath in and push down…ready, Emma?"
She nodded, and then that was it, she was pushing, apparently. It wasn't something you were supposed to concentrate on…or at least when they told you about it in birthing class it was so matter of fact it seemed like one tiny hurdle before the baby.
In reality it was a little gruelling. And, at one point, Emma insisted she couldn't go on and just had to wait out the contraction. The hospital room wasn't warm, but sweat was dripping down her brow and into her eyes, and her hand kept twisting in Killian's.
After that she lost all concept of time, anyway. Later, when things were calmer and less painful, she could remember that just when she thought all dignity was lost forever she'd been forcibly rolled onto her side and her foot placed against Killian's shoulder so she could brace. Then she'd been twisted back and they'd tried to get her to sit up a little more at which point she'd shouted at everyone in the room that it wasn't comfortable because he back hurt too much.
But no one really paid much attention to her anymore, far more interested in what was coming out of her. Even Killian had got over his fear of the rules and was watching interestedly, far more interested than Emma was, anyway.
And then, when she thought she couldn't take it any longer, Dr Whale said "There's the head," and Emma hadn't really connected that statement to anything much, still being annoyed about the fact her back was at an odd angle and it really hurt.
"One last push, Emma," Dr Whale said. "Give it everything."
She did, and it was such a wave of relief when this passed, that she finally ignored Killian trying to keep her sitting up and Emma fell back against the hospital bed. It was only the cry of the baby and Killian whispering "Well done, love," and kissing her forehead that brought her back to herself.
There was a baby.
"Congratulations, it's a boy," Dr Whale announced, sort of waving the bloodied, purplish looking creature at them, before placing it on Emma's chest. She put her arms around the towel it was wrapped in, and did her best to give the kid some kind of comfort, but he just blinked at her a couple of times, and Killian reached out and stroked his cheek reverently. The baby's eyes never left Emma, though, and she was trying to work out what colour they were when Dr Whale whisked him up again with a brisk "Let's get him checked over, before turning to where Aurora had a set of scales and a clean towel laid out.
For a moment Emma remained mostly stunned, not really certain how at all to take that news. She'd been concentrating for so long on just getting through labour that she'd almost forgotten about everything that came after. Now some of her old fears returned and she did an emotional check to see if she felt like running from the room and leaving them all to it.
She didn't. Mostly was she felt was an odd mixture of relief, love and a certain invincibility.
Emma watched Killian crane his neck to see what was going on with the baby. "Go look," she said as another doctor, one Emma didn't recognise came in to start checking the baby and Dr Whale came back over to Emma who, she was reminded, still needed to deliver the placenta.
After that indignity there was muttering about stitches and Emma was starting to wish she could just walk over to where Killian was standing chatting to Aurora because that looked like more fun.
When Dr Whale had obviously decided that Emma had been poked and prodded enough, he moved away to do something at the computer terminal stationed in the corner of the room and Killian walked back over with the baby in his arms.
"Hey," Emma said, softly, holding her own arms out to take the baby back.
"You're shaking, love. You alright?" Killian asked, and it seemed to Emma that he'd been asking her that question all day. This time, maybe for the first time, she had the right answer.
"Fast labours can do that," a new voice said, as Doc came into the room, walked over and peered at the baby. "Sorry I missed all the excitement."
"Well, it wasn't really supposed to be like this…" Emma felt a little embarrassed. It was one thing for Dr Whale to know they were intending to go to Camelot for the birth, it was another for their neighbour, the one Emma had been hiding from since she'd started to show, to find out that she'd shunned his services altogether.
But Doc didn't seem to mind. "I knew you'd be great," he said.
"How?" Emma asked.
Doc tapped the side of his nose. "A little fairy told me." With that he walked over to where Dr Whale and Aurora were finishing up and Killian and Emma were both silent for a moment, watching the baby.
Emma pulled back the blanket and looked at one of the baby's tiny hands. "I didn't ask, is everything there?"
Killian perched on the edge of the hospital bed and put an arm around her, stroking the baby's head with two fingers. "Yes, he seems to be in order. If a little on the small side. He's tiny. 8 pounds exactly they said. That's smaller than the cats…definitely smaller than Hook."
"I just pushed him out of my body, Killian. He's enormous."
Killian chuckled, but Emma wasn't really joking. She was certain her view of things might change at some point, but, right then, the baby in her arms didn't seem tiny like everyone said newborns were supposed to be.
She was quite amazed that he'd ever fit inside of her at all.
"You're a bloody marvel, Emma," Killian said, a hint of awe in his voice and she had to admit that she did feel a little bit pleased with herself for actually making it through the whole experience.
"And you were great, too. I'm glad one of us was calm."
"Anything but, love. I was terrified. I just…I didn't want to let you down." That was surprising. Emma had spent the whole afternoon thinking that Killian had somehow managed to find some magic spell that helped him cope with anything. It was almost a relief to realise that he'd been terrified too.
And she definitely didn't want to punch anyone, anymore.
"I'm just sorry that I wasn't there earlier," Killian continued. "You'd just disappeared and I thought…"
"You thought I'd left you?" Emma asked, quietly, not looking at Killian but watching the baby attempt new facial expressions and wave the hand he'd got free from the blanket. His eyes, now she got a good look at them, were very, very blue.
"No. Never." Killian was vehement on that point. "I thought something had happened to you, and it had, and it killed me that you were doing it alone."
"I wasn't…" Emma started to confess, but then stopped, thinking of something she wanted to ask instead. "How did you find me, anyway?"
"I…I mean, it sounds ridiculous now," Killian laughed in a way that suggested what he was about to say was the silliest thing he could think of. "But when I got home and your phone was there and your car was gone…"
"It wouldn't start so I left it outside the pet store. Leroy brought me home."
"Right. Well. I know that now."
"Sorry." Emma wished she'd at least stopped to send a text message or something.
"It hardly matters now. I found you…well, because Mr Smee showed me where you were."
Emma looked at Killian's face and watched as he ducked his head to the side before replying. "I realise he wasn't really there, love. But there was something there, across the road when I came back outside to look for you. It was probably just the sunlight, but I could have sworn it was…Mr Smee. And then it sort of disappeared around the side of the cottage, so I followed, and, well. There you were."
"I think I saw him too," Emma confessed. "And I can't even blame the reflection of orange Formica. And when I said that I couldn't do it alone, there you were. Like…like he fetched you for me." She'd blamed the heightened emotions she was going through at the time, but who knew?
Maybe she was really being haunted by Mr Smee's ghost? There were worst things she could imagine.
"I'm glad he's still looking out for you, love."
"Yeah." It was a nice feeling and maybe Leroy had been right, earlier, when he'd said that was why everyone was so interested in her personal business. Maybe it wasn't gossip anymore, maybe it was actually because Storybrooke was home and all of them, excepting maybe Kristoff's weird cousin who lives in the woods, were a kind of extended family.
It was a nice thought, knowing the baby would have this all his life.
But maybe she really needed to get him a name.
Killian seemed to be on the same wavelength. He cleared his throat and said "Well, should I get the list of names from the baby bag, or are you going to just hold him up and announce it to the assembled throng?"
"Really? You think I want to go all Lion King about now?"
Killian shrugged. "You were the one in charge of the name."
"Yeah…about that." It was time to confess all, Emma supposed. "There isn't a list."
"No, I just…it's really hard naming a person." Emma realised she sounded a little whiny, but gave herself a pass given what she'd just gone through. "Plus I really thought he was a girl and girl names are impossible…and, anyway."
"But you were so adamant that you were handling it. I just, I thought…" Killian trailed off.
"That it was because it was the one thing you knew your mother had done for you. The blanket she left you in…I just thought it was because you wanted that connection."
"Oh." Emma hadn't really thought about it in those terms, but maybe Killian was right. It was the one thing she knew about the woman who abandoned her all that time ago; she'd wanted her daughter to be named Emma.
"I guess I don't know what else mothers do," Emma said.
"Well, you can find out now, love."
"But what if I…what if I'm like her? What if it gets too much for me and I run? You told me, years ago, that you weren't like your father, but what if I'm like my mother? What if I'm not cut out for this?"
"Oh, Emma. I know you are."
"How? How can you know?"
Killian shrugged. "I don't know, but I do. I have faith in you. And that's good enough for me." He leaned forward and kissed her forehead and Emma thought that maybe it would be good enough for her too.
"Now," he said, sounding brisk. "Name?"
"I do have one idea," Emma said. "William."
"William?" Killian looked thoughtful.
"I looked it up. And it's his name…Mr Smee's. His first name was William and I thought it was kind of fitting because without Mr Smee…"
"William wouldn't be here."
They were silent for a few moments. Dr Whale and Doc had left and Aurora called over that she'd be back soon to move Emma up to a room in the maternity ward, where she could take a shower and get something to eat. The last part sounded good to Emma, who felt like she'd got her appetite back.
"We just can't tell him. Ever," Emma said vehemently. "He probably shouldn't know he was named after a cat."
"Yeah," Killian agreed. "Family secret then."
"Family secret," Emma repeated, trying the idea out for size. For a long time she'd thought about herself and Killian, and the cats, as a collection of waifs and strays living the same place. The ones who had no one else in the world, who'd banded together because it made sense.
But they were, weren't they? A family. She had a family and it didn't really matter if she'd named her baby after a cat because he was her son and he was everything she ever wanted.
"Have you, uh…ever thought about getting married?"
"Then maybe we should do that, then."
"Yeah. I think we should."
It gave her a certain kind of peace, Emma realised, to accept that things were great and might actually, for once, stay that way. That the things she'd been given wouldn't be ripped from her arms and that not all endings were bad. Sometimes they were just a beginning.
"Of course Leroy will be annoyed he lost that bet," Emma said. "I promised I'd try to hold out for next Tuesday."
"Well…we can blame the lad," Killian said, gesturing to William who was sticking his tongue out and frowning in a very familiar fashion. Emma thought that he might be getting hungry too.
"Yeah, let's blame the kid."
"Sounds like a plan, love."
"I love you. Even if do seem keen to throw your son under the bus."
"And I love you. Precisely because you're so willing to join me in throwing him under the bus. We make a good pair, love."
"We make a good family." Emma didn't think there even had to be a maybe in that sentence.
"We do, Emma. We really do."
Aurora walked back in. "Right. Swan-Jones family, are you reading to move on?"
"Yeah," Emma said, holding William a little tighter. "We really are."
Thanks, as always, for reading, and a big, big thank you to all those who have liked, favourited, re-blogged, reviewed or given kudos to this story along the way. You are all stars!