Emma Swan was no stranger to a challenge. Even without a flame, the small blue candle taunted her. It mocked the little lost girl whose wishes had run out. But she wasn't about to be bested by a star-shaped clump of wax.
Reaching for a match, she lit the wick and watched it burn with more satisfaction than was probably sane.
The next part—the closing her eyes and willing her desires to some invisible entity—was always the trickiest. What did normal twenty-seven year olds want that she didn't already have? She really had no complaints in the way of creature comforts—she had a car and a job and an apartment all to herself.
The flame flickered, as though it could read Emma's mind and it knew her to be a liar. It stirred scenes from the books she'd been reading and the ones that'd remained with her long after she'd set them back on the shelf. Each of them had one thing in common, something Emma wasn't sure existed in the non-fiction world. And if it did, surely it skipped over people like her.
But it was her birthday—what better time to believe in the impossible? Even just for the time it took to breathe in and then out.
She leaned across the counter on both arms and closed her eyes.
She thought of all the wishes she'd never shared. The ones she'd kept locked away where no one would find them.
She thought of Mr. Darcy's confession to Elizabeth Bennet and of Westley's undying devotion to Buttercup. She thought of Snow White and her prince and True Love's Kiss.
More than any of these, she thought of what her own happy ending might be. Would it mirror the books she'd read or the movies she'd watched? Or would it be the light in a child's eyes when his mother came home?
Emma took a deep breath and exhaled, the words I wish echoing as a whisper across her heart.
She surrendered to the alarm's seventh attempt at stirring her from sleep, feeling around blindly for her phone. She was tempted to hit snooze just once more, but as the screen burned spots into her eyes, she opted in favor of being a responsible adult.
She sat up with a groan, forcing her legs over the edge of the couch, and longed for the juvenile innocence that convinced children that being grownup was all late nights and slumber parties and dessert for every meal, and rules? What rules? There'd been no mention of aching muscles or exhaustion or dependence on a caffeinated beverage just to function.
Speaking of children, she'd fallen asleep with the TV set to a channel that started playing cartoons before sunrise, and it was much too early for Peter Pan's squawky little voice.
She'd developed the habit of reading herself to sleep and had started the month on a classic literature binge, but as her birthday drew nearer—like a phantom on the horizon, unsettling and unavoidable—the more she found her tastes leaning toward the romantic, with Pride and Prejudice being the latest to demonstrate just how lackluster her personal life really was.
She'd also developed the habit of leaving the TV on while reading or washing dishes or heating up the day's meals in the microwave. It was a comfort, an illusion that spoke of another person's presence in the apartment. It was a lie that made her feel less alone.
She switched it off and her living room was swallowed by darkness. She cut a course for the bedroom, rubbing her eyes as she went, and cursing when she kicked the end table. Again. It wasn't so new that she should've been tripping over it every day. Maybe she wouldn't if she were home more, but that would've required a normal job with normal hours and normal clients. And one thing Emma had never been was normal.
"You all right there, Swan?"
She didn't scream, didn't jump—she reached across the end table and under her pillow for the firearm that'd slept the night with her. Aiming in the direction of the intruder's voice, she fired. The shot was followed by silence, broken only by Emma's panicked breathing.
The kitchen light flicked on, and standing at its threshold was a man with dark hair and blue eyes, wearing a black leather jacket and a patient grin.
"I wish I could say that was the first time that's happened."
"Next time I won't miss." Emma lined up a second shot, not looking to simply wound. "Who the hell are you and how'd you get in my apartment?"
"The name's Killian Jones, and I've come to deliver your happy ending."