A/N: So I've started another Multi-Chapter fic, because apparently I'm insane and my brain is not simply content to work on just one story at a time. It's a Modern-day AU this time around. Fair warning; this story will earn its M-rating eventually, and I do mean eventually. ;)
As always, reviews, comments, thoughts, and ideas are welcome and greatly appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to read, and I sincerely hope you enjoy!
Thunder rumbles violently through the heavens and Emma can feel its vibration shaking its way along the gravel road, past wet rubber, up through the metal frame of the car and into her bones. Lightning flashes again in the distance and she bumps the dial, nudging her windshield wipers up to max as the rain falls harder, a murky deluge obscuring her view.
She's been driving for hours with only brief pit-stops for gas and greasy takeout, plying herself with caffeine to stay alert. Slouching in her seat Emma groans, rotating stiff shoulders and shifting her weight between her seat bones as she searches the dark stormy road for the driveway she knows is here somewhere, out in the middle of buttfuck nowhere.
Seeing the sign moments too late, she rolls right past it, breaks locking up as the car skids to a stop on the muddied road. Shifting into reverse, she rolls the car backwards until the large wooden placard comes into view, lit only by her headlights, the floodlights beneath it darkened and useless. Storybrooke Ranch.
It's long past midnight (the faded numbers on the dash read 1:39) when she finally cranks the wheel and steers her trusty yellow bug down the long winding driveway to her home. She scoffs at the thought. Home. She's not sure she's even allowed to call it that any more. After all she only visits once, maybe twice a year (for a belated Christmas and occasionally in the summer if her parents are persistent enough with their persuasion).
She's spent the last five years living in a distant city (far away from everything she grew up with), five long years that were supposed to have her well on her way to a happy and successful life. All that time and effort and what does she have to show for it?
Big, fat, fucking nothing.
Well, that's not entirely true; she's got a business degree. Not that she has any idea what to do with it. Turns out this whole being an adult business is a lot harder than she thought it would be.
Oh and she has a broken heart. Courtesy of Neal fucking Cassidy: high school sweetheart, supposed love of her life. The man she's spent the last seven years loving, only to discover that he's been screwing another woman behind her back for the past six weeks. The thought makes her sick and bile rises in her throat even as tears prick at her lids and blood rushes through her veins, white hot with fury.
And it couldn't have come at a worse time, because just this morning when she walked into work (a meaningless gig as a file clerk/secretary/doormat, but hey, something's gotta pay the bills) her boss informed her that the company had gone bankrupt. No heads up, no severance package, not even her last pay cheque. Just a perfunctory apology and a shrug of his shoulders as he told her she may as well pack up her belongings.
So she had, and three short minutes later she was walking out the door, tossing the wobbly box onto the passenger seat before heading back to their apartment, hoping to catch Neal before he left for work. And catch him she did: buck naked in their bed with Tamara, their fucking neighbour from across the hall.
She can't even remember what was said, the words that passed between them, all she remembers is screaming at him as she hastily shoved her belongings in her suitcase, grabbing anything she deemed important and thinking to fucking hell with all the rest.
Five years and most of her possessions fit easily into one large bag, packed in the span of minutes. It's pathetic and it should make her sad that she can pack up and leave with such efficient ease, but she's mostly just glad. Glad that she didn't have to spend one more second listening to his feeble excuses, his laughable apology, because what he did, it's not something you can ever apologize for.
So she had plucked the key from the chain, dropped it to the floor, and slammed the door in his face as she left.
It was an impromptu decision, to make the long drive back to her parents, but where else could she go? Any friend she had in this city had started out a friend of Neal's first and she wanted to get far away from anything that was even remotely associated with him.
So 15 long hours, and just over 1000 miles later, she's home. She thought about calling her parents and letting them know she was on her way, but her cell died an hour into the drive and she decided to leave it that way, not wanting to deal with missed calls and texts from Neal. She'll talk to her parents in the morning. It's incredibly late now and she's exhausted from emotional upheaval and driving all goddamn day and she has no desire whatsoever to discuss feelings and heartbreak and failure.
The power at the ranch is out, not all that surprising with the violence of the late May thunderstorm raging strong into the night. There's a fork in the driveway and she takes the path that curves left, throwing the car into park when she brings it to a stop by the garage next to the barn. There's a small apartment above it, one that she's stayed in during each rare visit home (always alone, because of course Neal had never wanted to come with her, always bitching about hating the country and leaving it for a reason).
Killing the engine, she leaves her bag in the trunk and makes a quick dash to the porch, winding up half soaked in the mere feet from shelter to shelter. She breathes a sigh of relief when the knob turns and the door swings open, glad that people rarely ever lock their doors out here. There's no one around for miles and there is more concern for wildlife making its way indoors than burglars.
Thunder rumbles again, and she climbs the stairs that lead up to the apartment, a hand on each wall to guide her steps in the darkness. When she reaches the landing at the top, she fiddles with the door knob and kicks at the bottom with her heel. The door sticks, always has, and opening it is an exercise in precision. Finally she leans heavily against the wood, throwing her weight into it.
She's caught completely unaware when the door swings open easily and she stumbles loudly into the room, tripping over her own feet and landing unsettled but upright with a heavy crash against the wall. A picture swings precariously on its nail and falls to the ground before she can reach for it, glass shattering.
"Goddamnit!" she curses. Can things just go her way for one fucking second? It's a miracle she made it here without crashing her car. It seems her life is just one disaster after another today.
"Buggering hell!" a voice sounds in the dark, sleepy and irritated and decidedly male.
Emma freezes, grabbing for something, anything on the entry table to defend herself against the unknown foe. She looks around but the room is dark and she can't see a damn thing, much less who it was that spoke.
She hears rustling, another curse, then the strike of a match, sulfur scraping against phosphorus, and suddenly the room is illuminated by the soft glow of firelight streaming from a lantern.
A man holds it up, clearly confused, blinking the sleep from his blue eyes. He's dressed in a thin white t-shirt with flannel slung low on his hips. His hair is a mess, sticking up at all angles, stubbled jaw clenching in irritation. She woke him up, that much is clear, but her exhausted mind can't seem to put together anything more concrete than that.
"Who the hell are you?" Emma asks, oblivious to the glass crunching beneath her heels.
"I could bloody well ask you the same question, lass," he retorts, and she notices that he as an accent. British? No, not quite. Maybe Irish?
"I live here," she supplies after a second when she realises that he's waiting for a reply.
He raises an eyebrow and a slow smile tugs at the corner of his lips.
"Well then lass, I'm afraid we've got a problem," he steps into heavy work boots and shifts forward, stopping a couple feet from her, "you see I also happen to live here."
"Who are you?" she asks again, seriously confused.
"Who are you?" he parrots, repeating her question with an infuriating grin.
"What are you, five?" she jeers, crossing her arms, "I asked you first."
Yes, Emma, because that's so much more mature.
He switches the lantern to his left hand and offers his right.
"Killian Jones; the hired help, stable hand, groundskeeper, etcetera," he offers by way of explanation.
Emma stares at his hand for a long moment, but doesn't take it. If he's offended by her utter lack of social skills it doesn't seem to show. If anything, he looks amused.
Her parents hired someone to work the ranch. And he's living in the apartment. He's supposed to be here and she's just barged in on him in the middle of the night, disrupting his sleep. The facts slowly permeate the fog surrounding her brain and she feels heat rise to her cheeks as embarrassment pounds in her ears. She really should have called ahead.
"Uh, I'm Emma Nolan, my parents, they own the property."
"How wonderful to meet you Emma, even if the circumstance is less than ideal." He looks down at her hand and chuckles, eyebrow lifting. "A hoof pick? Had I been an intruder, was that to be your weapon of choice for self-defence?"
Looking down at the tool in her hand, Emma shakes her head, searching for a witty response and finding none. God she really needs to sleep. Shaking herself from her stupor, she places the hoof pick back on the table.
"Killian was it?"
"Sorry for barging in here and waking you, it's uh, been a long day..." she offers lamely. "I'll get out of here and let you get back to bed. I should probably go let my parents know I'm home."
Turning to leave, she's halted by a soft pressure on her arm.
"Here," Killian offers her an umbrella and the lantern with a kind smile. "And it's quite all right, love. I imagine there are worse ways to be plucked from slumber."
She gives him what she hopes is a gracious smile in return.
"Thanks for the umbrella. I guess I'll see you tomorrow, or today rather. Later I guess."
His features shift, his grin once again amused and she turns, leaving before she says something that makes her look like even more of a fool. Her words are not entirely under her control right now and she yawns as she marches down the stairs and out onto the porch.
With the umbrella open to shield her from the worst of the downpour she heads across muddied driveway, cursing her choice of footwear as she makes her way to her parent's house.
She has a key, but doesn't need it. The door to the house is unlocked as well and she slips inside, toeing off her soiled pumps and hanging the umbrella in the mudroom.
The kitchen is lit with dull white light and Emma finds her father sitting at the table, flashlight pointed upwards, casting a bright halo of light against the ceiling.
"You don't call, you don't write," her father teases with a smile and she's confused because he doesn't seem at all surprised to see her.
He stands and Emma sits the lantern on the table, wrapping her arms around his waist as he returns the hug and presses a kiss to the top of her head.
"Sorry Dad," she says, "what are you still doing up?"
"Neal called..." he admits slowly, tone laced with quiet anger.
"Son of a bitch! He can go fucking rot in hell." The nerve! She can't believe he called here.
She has no idea how much of the situation her father knows, but if his voice is anything to go by, he knows enough. She really doesn't want to have this conversation right now. Actually, she'd prefer to never have it. Wiping the last five years from existence would be preferable.
David chuckles and hugs her tighter. "I told him as much, though not in such colourful language."
Over the years her father had come to more or less accept her inclination toward cursing like a sailor, agreeing that it comes with the territory of growing up on a ranch. You don't work with horses day in and day out for 18 years without developing a less than savoury vocabulary.
He doesn't press for further information (perhaps because he realizes that she's miles past exhausted, but more likely because he just doesn't want all the gory details, dads are like that) and she breathes a sigh of relief.
"I guess Mom is asleep?" Emma asks.
"Yeah, school year isn't over yet, she's still got class to teach for a few more weeks."
Emma yawns then, loudly, her jaw cracking. She's going to have to sleep in the spare room; the apartment is obviously spoken for, and her childhood bedroom was converted into an office/craft room for her mother years ago.
"I guess I'll take the guest room. I may have accidentally woken up your stable hand trying to sneak into the apartment above the garage," she confesses guiltily. "He was far kinder about it then I would have been."
Another laugh shakes its way through her father's chest and Emma feels an answering one bloom in response.
"Yeah well, Killian's a good guy. Just don't make a habit of disturbing his sleep, I'd hate to have to replace him, never met anyone who works as hard as he does."
"What's his story anyway?" Emma asks, fighting another yawn. "Obviously he's not from around here."
"We can talk about it tomorrow, right now you need sleep."
Sleep; right, that would be amazing. And she's tired enough now that she thinks she'll be able to fall into an easy slumber, hopefully one that's blissfully empty.
She pulls back, grabbing the lantern and her father follows her down the hall to the spare room.
"Where's your suitcase?"
Flopping back on the bed with a contented groan, Emma closes her eyes. "Left it in the car, didn't feel like lugging it through the mud and rain."
A hinge creaks and Emma cracks an eye open, watching her father rummage through the closet before tossing a set of pyjamas next to her on the bed.
"I'll bring it in for you in the morning."
Thunder rumbles again, growing quieter, distant, and she thinks that he looks sad in the dim light of the lantern.
"It's good to see you, kiddo," he says, lingering for a moment in the doorway.
"You too, dad."
He closes the door softly behind him and Emma forces herself to stand and change, swapping her damp, horridly wrinkled pant suit for cozy flannel that smells of fabric softener and earth.
Wrapped in a cocoon of soft quilts and crocheted blankets, Emma snuffs out the lantern, plunging the room into a true darkness she had grown unaccustomed to in the city. Out here, with the power down and storm clouds cloaking the moon and stars, there's nothing but dark empty space, stretching for miles and miles. It's quiet too; only the soft patter of raindrops against the roof and the dwindling roll of thunder fill the silence.
It should be unsettling, the stillness, after years of living in a city that never truly sleeps, but it isn't, not at all. It's peaceful, cathartic; it's exactly what she needs, and the last thought that crosses her mind before sleep ever so gently pulls her under, is that she's exactly where she needs to be. She's home.