"Did you at least let him down gently?" David Nolan's lips curl in the faintest hint of a smile, while Emma simply stares back at him in disbelief.
"Did I let him down gently? He proposed, David! He didn't ask me to move in or go to dinner with his parents or any of the normal next steps. He proposed!" Emma shakes her head, a jumble of blonde curls falling over the shoulders of her leather jacket. With a wince, she glances back down at her drink, tracing patterns in the moisture accumulating on the bar. "It was too much."
David sighs, slinging an arm around Emma's shoulder and giving her a brotherly pat on the back. "It'll work itself out, Emma. It doesn't have to be the end. You really like Walsh."
"I do, but I don't think we can come back from me walking out when he proposed."
"Sure you can!" Mary Margaret, ever the cheerful optimist, picks that moment to pipe in. She's David's wife, and Emma loves her like a sister, but in that moment, the last thing she wants to hear is the cheerful chirping of sunshine. She just wants to get drunk and forget she ever met Walsh.
David turns away, whispering a quiet word to his wife. He can read Emma – has been able to since they were kids. He's the reason she's even here, drowning her sorrows in a bar with friends instead of by herself in an apartment god knows where.
Emma's parents abandoned her as a baby, throwing her into the foster system. One thing led to another, until one day she found herself being taken in by David Nolan's mother. She turned fifteen the day after she moved in, and it was the first time in a long time Emma had even known what happiness could feel like.
At twenty-eight, it still hasn't been an easy road. But David is her family, and David understands, even if he won't voice it in the middle of the Rabbit Hole, that Emma needs some quiet right now.
She's always been terrible at relationships. David and his mother, and later, Mary Margaret, have been a family to her these last ten years and then some, but the earlier years….they left scars. Some physical. Some mental. Emma doesn't know how to trust people, how to open her heart up for the taking.
This isn't the first time one of her relationships has come to a crashing halt, but it's the first time someone's tried to make her a wife. She doesn't quite know what to do with that information, but she does know that tequila will at least make her thoughts quieter for a little while.
"Another drink, Blondie?" Ruby's standing in front of her with a handful of shot glasses and a bottle of tequila, a sympathetic expression on her face. She also happens to round out the number of people Emma can call a friend, and in spite of owning the Rabbit Hole and having a business to run, she's been hovering near Emma's spot at the bar all night, concern in her eyes.
She's also the only person on the planet who can get away with calling Emma Blondie and live to tell the tale.
Emma just nods, gladly taking the offered shot and throwing it back. "It was bad, guys," she says as she sets the glass back down on the bar, burying her face in her hands. "I just froze. I mean, it's been six months. I like him. It was a good thing. And then he just…" She shrugs helplessly, staring back at her friends. "Maybe I should have said yes?"
There's a chorus of disagreement, even from Mary Margaret, who reaches over to take Emma's hand. "If you didn't want to marry him, Emma, you have the right to say so."
"Fuck him," Ruby tacks on, her painted lips spreading into a wide grin. "You didn't want to marry him, Em. Doesn't make you a bad person. Makes you normal. Not everyone turns out like these two." Ruby jerks her head in David and Mary Margaret's direction, sticking her finger down her throat in exaggerated disgust.
Emma can't help but laugh, grateful that even if her romantic life is in a constant state of DOA, her friends are still there. It's a small circle, but each of them is worth their weight in gold.
There's a crash at the other end of the bar, followed by a string of curses. Ruby sighs, turning toward the noise. "New guy," she says by way of explanation, throwing up her hands and beginning to walk away. "You – help yourself," she calls over her shoulder to Emma, pointing to the tequila bottle she's left sitting on the bar.
Emma nods, pouring herself another shot while glancing curiously down the bar. She hadn't known Ruby had hired anyone new, but then again, she's been a little preoccupied this evening with her own troubles. It's not exactly bright in the place, either, but Emma tries to get a glimpse of the guy anyway.
She can't make out much – a mop of unruly black hair, broad shoulders and a narrow waist. His back is to her, his shoulders slumped as Ruby approaches. Emma's waiting for the fireworks – her friend doesn't have the best temper – but it never comes. She can't even make out the words, but it seems all Ruby has done is point him in the direction of a broom while replacing the drink he's dropped for the waiting customer.
"Must be another stray," David comments from her elbow, nodding down the bar to where Ruby is helping the guy clean up the mess. "You know she has a soft spot for the broken ones."
"Yeah, I suppose she does," Emma agrees, picking at a chipped nail and letting her eyes fall to the bar. "Pretty much explains how we became friends."
"Emma, you're not broken," Mary Margaret cuts in, her voice soft and mother-like.
Emma doesn't respond, just trades glances with David. It's different with him, and it's why she's called him family all these long years. He doesn't argue with Emma when she voices things like this, when she says out loud what she knows to be true – she is broken, deep down. And most days, it's okay, because she's managed to glue and duct tape herself back together enough to be normalish. But days like today, where the cracks start to show, she doesn't need someone to lie to her. She just needs someone to sit next to her while she gets drunk.
She forces a smile for Mary Margaret before pouring herself another shot. Emma is approaching drunk, but since that's been the goal of the evening, she's not really seeing a problem. It's late, but she's not working tomorrow, and neither is David.
Ruby returns, her brows furrowed. Emma nods down the bar where the newest bartender has vanished into the back. "Where did he come from?"
Ruby shrugs, swapping out Emma's empty beer glass for a fresh one, foam running down the side of the glass. "He needed a job. I needed a bartender."
Emma nods, turning her attention back to her friends. There's a story there – Emma can tell by the way Ruby's eyes shift back toward where the man's disappeared to every so often – but Ruby will tell it when she feels like it.
She's a tough woman, and she hides her heart well, but Emma's gotten to know what a softie Ruby can really be. The bar is her business, but it's also served as a sort of halfway house for the broken over the years. Her hiring choices tend toward those who need a little extra help putting themselves back together.
Most of those employees have come and gone, moving on to bigger and better things…or sliding back into the shadows from whence they came. The notable exception is Ruby's boyfriend, Victor. Once a med school drop out trying to drink himself into an early grave, a job at the Rabbit Hole (and Ruby's guidance) got him sober and back to medicine. He's a resident at the local hospital now, and she knows it tickles Ruby endlessly to introduce her doctor boyfriend.
Ruby knows more about the new bartender than she's willing to tell her friends, but it's part of why Emma values her friendship the way she does. Ruby isn't in the business of telling other people's secrets. If the man has a story to tell, Emma will hear it from his lips or not at all.
But Ruby's newest project is not her problem tonight. Putting the man out of her mind, Emma turns back to her friends and her mission to stop feeling all the feelings her evening with Walsh brought on.
David all but carries her out of the bar that night, and Emma knows she'll pay for it in the morning, but tonight, tonight it's worth it. She forgets about Walsh, forgets about the sweep of black hair at the end of the bar, she just forgets.
She's much too drunk to notice a pair of bright blue eyes following her out the door.
"She's a friend of yours?" he asks softly as Ruby leans back against the bar, concern marring her features.
"She'll be all right?"
Ruby turns to face him, surprise in her eyes. "Yeah, she's just had a bad night," she says after a beat, a flicker of emotion crossing her face.
"Seems she'll be having a bad morning to follow."
"Probably. David will set her up with some water and aspirin. I'll go check on her in the morning." Ruby smiles tightly, a protective rush making her cross her arms over her chest, like she can hold Emma tight even though the girl is halfway home by now. "You did all right tonight, Killian. A couple of broken glasses ain't half bad for your first night."
He smiles, but it's a bitter smile. "I still say you're a daft lass for hiring a man with one hand to tend your bar." He's massaging his left wrist as he says it, the prosthetic fingers unmoving as he pushes up his sleeve to knead the sore flesh.
"Shut up and go take out the trash." She says it with a smile, but she says it, because Ruby might take in strays, but she doesn't go easy on them. Feeling sorry for yourself is a limited time offer in the Rabbit Hole – even Emma only gets an occasional pass on having a pity party.
Killian walks away, gone to do her bidding as she wipes down the bar and cashes out the last few remaining patrons. It's been a long night. This isn't the first time Ruby has watched Emma self-destruct, but she hopes it's one of the last. Her friend can't keep doing this to herself, getting into relationships with men who want her to be something she isn't.
Ruby pauses, one hand still frozen on the bar, and glances back over her shoulder to where Killian is gathering up the trash. He'd asked after Emma with concern, but not judgment. The man didn't even know her name, but he worried for her – Ruby could see that much in his eyes.
Her lips curl in a small smile, resuming her cleaning.
It's good to have a plan.
AN: I'm back! Hope you all enjoy this latest incarnation of Emma & Killian.