A/N: Special thanks to RavenclawPianist for agreeing to beta this story!
Disclaimer: I do not own OUAT or characters from the show. Eloise is the only OC.(Title and style of chapter titles is inspired from the tv show 'Life Unexpected' the plot, however, is not.)
His sneakers pound heavily against the dull linoleum of Mass General and he feels like life as he knows it has just been T-boned by that damn semi-truck. Nothing will ever be the same.
Confirmation comes in the form of strawberry blonde hair raked through with frustration that lingers at the roots and red, puffy eyes staring into the abyss.
"Anna!" His voice is hoarse but enough to catch her attention. She looks wrecked.
'Wrecked' is the operative word. Wrecked, like the car they were driving, like the family they left behind—Wrecked? No, not wrecked.
Because a wreck isn't always fatal, sometimes it's a fallen fender that can be fixed in a week. A wreck doesn't signify that he's losing the two people who were like limbs to him.
"Killian." Her voice cuts out as she sobs. Before he can reach her, his knees give out.
And it's the phone call he never wanted to receive, the reality he never wanted to experience. It's life without Liam and Elsa. It's life without the people who loved him, raised him, and taught him to be better than your average orphan. He's not an orphan when they're around, but now they're gone.
All at once he's hit with the pressure of being the big brother and keeping order and writing Elsa's thank you notes and learning how to cook a turkey. He wonders who he's supposed to grieve more; because yes, Liam is his only brother, but Elsa has been a true mother to him since they met. It's not fair, it hurts everywhere and the sensation is only seconds in.
He has a lifetime to go without them.
He doesn't want to go anywhere without them. They go camping every summer and they have so many summers left to do this together. They are going to take a family trip to England this year. Liam is going to get the Royal Navy contract this year. They're going to do big things. They were going to do big things. They were trying for another child. They…
Everything they still had left to do is sitting in this life. but they no longer are.
He can't move from this stupid fucking square of linoleum because every time he breathes he wants to die, yet they've moved on from this life to the next.
But he does move, he moves on to fill their shoes in every aspect of the lives they've left behind. He becomes the CEO of Liam's corporation, he becomes the executor of all their accounts and he becomes the guardian of their three-year-old, Eloise.
Anna moves, too. She moves out of Boston and on with her life. She has dreams to follow, storms to chase and a husband to do it all with.
12 months later
A year goes by and they don't talk about it. No one mentions the accident to them in passing. Ellie and Killian live their lives in Boston, recreating what it means to be a family, what this family, the two of them, means to each other.
Anna and Kris had lives and dreams. They can't be tied down by a business, by a lifestyle, by a child. They are storm chasers; blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes. They live for the thrill; much, much more dangerous lives than Liam and Elsa, yet they're the ones still living.
And he's grateful for that. He loves Anna and Kris, they're all he has left beside Ellie. It's just one of those things he thinks about when it's 3am and the ghosts come haunting. Liam and Elsa were safe and practical, Anna and Kris are risk-takers; but fate has a way of showing us that no number of precautions can keep you out of death's grasp. Maybe Anna and Kris have the right idea, maybe it's better that they live their lives like there's no tomorrow, they can do that after all.
He prides himself on not being bitter. He's not, truly. He loves his life now with Ellie. He has more meaning, more purpose than he ever thought. He never realized at 26 that what he believed to be living was simply existing.
Now this is living.
'This' being Friday afternoon trips to the grocers to pick up weekly essentials with Ellie in tow. She's turning five in a bit and he'll have less and less time with her to do this as the years progress. Of course, that decline in free time may not occur for another decade when she's 15 and hates him, but he's been using this year to grasp what the future holds for them and how every moment is precious.
He's learned now not to dwell on the past, so they don't talk about it. When she notices everyone's mother and father picking them up from preschool, she doesn't ask where hers is. She knows very well where they have gone and why they can't return.
There's not much more to talk about.
Instead, they talk about who will hold the grocery list. It's always her, with eager hands and a bright smile he hopes never fades.
It only took him the first two months to learn he's supposed to wipe the cart down with the sanitizing wipes before setting her inside. It took her four to voice that she was a bit unhappy with his choice in cereals. After six months, she became vocal enough to request 'Jake and the Neverland Pirates' fruit snacks and directing him around the store to acquire the items that were usually on the list.
Of course, she couldn't exactly read. She's only four. She can, however, remember very well, and recognize repetition. According to her preschool teacher she's ahead of her age group and he deserves a much-needed pat on the back.
They say that often.
'Pat yourself on the back, Jones, business is booming.'
'Give yourself a round of applause, Killian, you're doing good work with that kid of yours.'
'Most brothers wouldn't do what you're doing.'
Most brothersdidn't have Liam. Liam was his father figure, his provider, protector, and bloody advocate. For Liam, he would have given his life.
Or change it, which he has by becoming Ellie's guardian and the owner of Liam's business, Jolly Roger Inc. The house, however, was just too much for him to handle. It's one thing to look in the eyes of a little girl and see two of the most influential people he'd ever known, another to sit in Liam's big boy chair and run a company, praying he's doing it justice. To live in their home, smell their scent in the furniture, see their ghost in the bathroom mirror when he gets ready in the morning: that's unbearable.
So he sells the house and buys a high-rise overlooking the harbor. It has engineered hardwood floors that are stain resistant, huge windows for optimum light, and a kitchen perfect for the two of them and their 'Pancake Saturdays.'
"Pancake Syrup!" Ellie squeaks, which leads Killian down that aisle after confirming that was actually an item on the list.
"Very good." He winks as he pushes the cart slowly down the aisle.
"Uncle Kilo…" Ellie's using her sweet asking voice. He expects her to be asking for those drumsticks without the nuts he bought last week out of weakness.
"Yes, love bug?"
"Can you throw my hair up?" She's a bit whiney for having just woken up from nap an hour ago. He scans over her person; long, messy, dirty blonde hair hanging about her shoulders and down her back. Her bright blue eyes widen with pleading and of course he won't deny her anything, but he's curious. She usually likes her hair down.
"What's wrong with it down?" He asks.
"My neck is kinda hot" Ellie shrugs, but Killian isn't satisfied. His raised brow motions for her to continue. "Only princesses wear their hair down and messy. Queens always have it up. I just wanna practice for when I'm queen."
Right. The queen thing. Her vast research in the Disney Princess vault has led her to believe she's outgrown the princess title.
At first it was Anna's idea. She said that she always related to Disney princesses because they too had deceased parents. It was like a rule or something and Killian agreed because if there had been someone he looked up to with similar upbringings, he'd have felt more connected to the world.
He wants Ellie to feel connected. He's thankful for his circle of friends and colleagues. One of Ellie's best friends is Roland, the motherless child of the company's Vice President, Robin Locksley. Killian never knew another orphan before Elsa and Anna came into their lives. Maybe relating to someone would have been healthier.
"Honest, Uncle Kilo, it's what queens do." Ellie holds her wrist out to him, practically waving the elastic hair tie wrapped around it in his face. "Please."
"Yes, your highness." He sighs. "Just a plain ol' bun then?" Ellie nods, evidently pleased with his willingness to aid her.
Killian had to steer with his elbows as he concentrates on getting all her hair through the elastic multiple times. Ellie was his main focus, which would be his explanation to the person he just hit with his cart, once they stop muttering explicits.
"Oh no!" Ellie gasps as she turns around. Killian delays for another second or so before he turns to look at the victim of his carelessness.
"Shit." It's a woman, a beautiful blonde woman of average height that stood now leaning against a display and rubbing at her ankle. "Death by damn Achilles heel," she grumbles, all fury wrapped in a tight little figure and a flowing mane that makes pure gold dim beside it.
The family summered in NYC once, went to the Met and discovered a Rembrandt. The painting gleamed with a brightness that can't quite be explained, as if there were a light being held behind it, shining through the lightest tones in the canvas. He found his head pressed against the wall trying to get a peek behind the painting to find their secret.
There was no trick. It was pure magic.
It's not the colors flowing off the page, it's the way he leaves creation in the paint. Rembrandt had a missing masterpiece walking around Boston because her emerald eyes shine straight past her lashes and across the invisible line that keeps Killian from kissing her on sight. There's a glowing lightness in her skin that has him questioning how saints learned to swear.
"Apologies," Killian slips out in a grunt; a weak attempt to dislodge him from his stupor.
"For what? Taking off my ankle or staring at me like a freak?" All fury and fire indeed.
And impossible beauty
"The former." He chuckles. "Although, I should apologize for the latter as well, seeing that I'm still staring 'til this moment."
"I'd take your apology in the form of ceasing with the googly eyes. I'm nothing special." He doesn't expect someone so magnificent and strong to be the least bit insecure.
"That's where you're wrong, Love." Killian takes a step into her space without conscious thought. He's closer than any stranger should be to another, but can't find it in himself to care.
"Don't call me love."
"What can I call you then?" He scans over her face. She's stern, trying hard not to react to the close proximity and perhaps he's an arse for even moving close to her, but there's no such thing as an atomic bomb only claiming one casualty. The explosions across his chest, gut and groin had to have occurred in her, too.
"Swan." He grins, dipping his head low enough to hear her gulp. "They're a fiery bunch. All beauty on the surface, but I've seen them take on packs of dogs before and send them running. That suits you, Love."
"What did I say?" She grits through clenched teeth. "You call every girl 'Love?'"
"Well," he pauses, taking a step back and remembering the only actual love in his life. "I call Eloise here 'little love' or 'love bug', but she's special."
"You can be special too, Em-mah!" Ellie chirps from the cart, swinging her feet eagerly. "I like you, you're pretty!" The Jones's can always spot a beauty.
It appears Emma hadn't spotted that beauty, however, until now. Her eyes widen, but not in surprise, more like incredibility. Her lips part slowly, and she takes the most calculated steps toward Ellie, that look never slipping from her gorgeous face.
"You think I'm pretty?" She whispers and it baffles him because she sounds so insecure; to think a small child finds her any less than mystifying is a mystery in itself. The larger puzzle begins at the fear-like softness of her tone and continues on through the timid way she watches Ellie watch her in return.
"Very." Ellie nods. "We're so sorry, Emma."
"It's fine," Emma waves off as she steps just that much closer to Ellie. "You're really pretty, too. You have your father's eyes." She turns then, meeting Killian's eyes and he's so enamored, he about misses the 'father' comment.
"Yeah…" Ellie sighs.
"Well… I'm all healed, so…"
"Right." Killian shakes himself from the way he's watching her. "Well, once again, on behalf of myself, er, Killian Jones" He gestures to himself, although he's certain she already realizes he's revealing his name, "and my niece, Ellie. We're deeply apologetic and hope you truly experience no swelling."
"Niece?" he may be imagining the perked tone of voice.
"Aye. Ellie is my brother's daughter. Hence the matching lookers." He chuckles just a bit as he motions to his eyes.
"Oh…" Emma holds out her hand, and the bastard that he knows himself to be brings her knuckles to her lips solely for the surprise factor. And, oh, is she shocked. Her eyes widen quite a bit, her shoulders tense and she watches him with a slack jaw.
(For one reason or another, he catalogs the way her skin smells of honey and cinnamon.)
"It's a pleasure to have run into you, literally."
She snorts and tugs her hand away.
"Don't make a habit of it, God only gave me two ankles."
He sees her twice more before leaving the store. She's standing in line the second time, three pints of ice cream and nothing else cluttering the basket on her arm.
He hopes they're all for her. He hopes she's not planning on sharing with another when she gets to where she's going.
He hopes more than anything, a habit is made in the form of seeing her face on their grocery shopping outings every Friday.
He thinks about her on the drive home. All seven blocks toward the harbor. He thinks about the way her hair would look gleaming in the sun. He thinks about the way the water would reflect in her eyes, possibly opening up whole new universes of greens and golds.
He thinks about the sadness she carries in those eyes and he hopes he can meet her again, hopes he can find a way to open up whole new worlds of security and happiness.
He thinks he saw that same look he notices in his own eyes, the look he fights tooth and nail to keep from appearing in Ellie's eyes.
The look that says you've been left alone
And it wouldn't be Friday if he didn't find himself in front of their iMac ringing Anna from overseas on a Skype call. It wouldn't be Friday if Ellie wasn't sitting patiently in his lap, tense because she's never certain her aunt will answer.
"ELLIE!" Anna's high-pitched squeal shook Killian from his thoughts. The strawberry blonde appeared crystal clear on their large iMac screen.
"Aunnie Anna!" Ellie presses her nose to the screen like always.
"Love bug, back up, please." Killian whispers. Ellie deftly remembers their previous talks of where the camera was. She instead extends herself to press her nose against the small black circle above the screen. "Oh Ellie," he sighs.
"It's an Eskimo kiss," Ellie adds as she sinks back against her uncle's chest. "'Cuz you said you were in uhm…" she turns to Killian, silently pleading for him to help her out.
"Iceland." Killian whispers.
"Right… And that's where Eskimos live. In ice and stuff." Ellie nods convincingly and if it weren't for 7th-grade geography, Killian would be inclined to believe her.
"Remember when I told you all the ice was in Greenland and Iceland is similar to the rest of Europe?" Anna's using her educator's voice. Occasionally, in between storm seasons, she'd take the time to teach adventurers how to survive extreme weather conditions.
"Uhm." Ellie shakes her head slowly. "Greenland is icy, but Iceland is icy too?"
"It's cold in the winter. But it's warming up now, probably only 15 degrees lower than Boston right now. How cold is it there?"
"It'll be about 50 tonight," Killian replies
"Our high today was 49," Anna states like highs and lows were the same things.
"Anna, Love, that's cold, okay?"
"Well, compared to the Yukon or Alaska, or Greenland even…" Killian knows she's about to set on a tangent again. "And then there's Antart—"
"Ellie" Killian clears his throat loudly. "Tell Aunnie Anna about your birthday plans."
"Oh please do." Anna grins bright enough to transcend through the screen.
"It's going to be a corn-a-ton," Ellie explains happily. "I'm not gonna to be Princess Ellie anymore, I'm gonna be Queen Eloise." The tyke speaks proudly.
"Queen Eloise huh?" Anna echoes, "Well that's some title for a six-year-old."
"Yeah, even larger for a five-year-old." Killian corrects.
He isn't bitter, but he is extremely frustrated by Anna's inability to remember anyone else's life. She could speak for hours about eternal winters but besides the visually evident, she couldn't recall more than three facts about her niece. One being her name.
"Right, you're five."
"I'm four." Ellie mumbles. "I'll be five soon. July 3rd. You're coming, right?"
"July?" Anna turns from the computer for a moment. Ellie shakes her legs anxiously awaiting a confirmation. A year's gone by and they don't talk about it, but Ellie lost more than her parents that night. Anna hasn't been back in Boston since the service. "Geez, you know July is the start of monsoon season. We do most of our traveling then."
"Anna?" Killian groans. "You've been gone a year."
"A long year," Ellie adds for dramatic effect. Killian feels his frustration growing, but if he speaks out of turn to his sister in front of their niece he'll only punish himself later for it.
"Eloise, why don't you go tidy your room and bring out the things you want to show Aunnie Anna tonight."
"Ohh, okay." Ellie rocks her shoulders against her uncle, trying her best to conceal a grin. "You want to tell Aunnie Anna about how much you love Emma, and I can't hear?"
(Perhaps he occasionally thought aloud on the drive home.)
"Emma?" Anna perks up.
"She's so beautiful Aunnie Anna. Prettier than Tiana and Snow White. Prettier than Cinderella and Jasmine, even." Ellie's gushing now and Killian knows exactly which one of them wants to talk about her, and it's not him.
He barely just stopped thinking about her.
"Wow, that's awfully pretty," Anna encourages
"She's really pretty," Ellie repeats.
"Who is she?" Anna asks. Killian holds up his hand to have her hold her thoughts for the moment.
"Ellie, what did I ask?" Killian reminds Ellie, patiently.
"Yes, Uncle Kilo," Ellie presses a kiss to his cheek before climbing off his lap. "I'll be right back Aunnie Anna, don't leave."
"Okay," Anna promises. She waits all of two seconds before jumping back in. "So, who is Emma?"
"She's a lass we met this afternoon at the grocers," Killian shrugs.
"You like her?"
"She's really beautiful and was warm to Ellie," Killian catches himself gushing to Anna, just like old times in high school. "Nothing actually happened. I don't even have her number."
"You really like her."
"I'd really like to know why the bloody hell you're not coming to her party, Anna." Killian counters. "This is the first birthday she's celebrating since the accident."
"Killian," Anna pouts through the screen. "Don't guilt me, you know I don't do well with guilt. I just… they picked you for a reason. You're better at it, so much better. You saw me, I can't even remember how old she is, I would have been awful at this."
"I'm not bloody well asking you to raise her."
"You know, you're like them in that way. You fall into whatever role life gives you. You love so instantly, which is probably why Emma is all you can talk about. Did you plan the wedding already? Wondering how 'Emma Jones' sounds?"
"Don't you tease me to get out of this discussion. Anna, you have obligations to your niece." Killian scolds.
"I know that, Dad." Anna rolls her eyes. "You sound just like him, you know? I love Ellie, and I love you too, I just… the holidays. I promise this time. I'll write it down right now. I'm giving up Winters across the world for you two. That's our busiest season. Okay?"
(Funny how every season is her busiest season.)
(Funnier how they grow more distant as each season passes.)
Her eyes are so wide and even from all these miles away he can still see her true core in them. She's not the best at remembering, but she's Anna and she would never hurt them purposely.
"Okay, but I'm still upset with you."
"That's fine. I'll take pouty Kilo over angry, scolding Killian any day."
Anna was the one who gifted Ellie with the idea to call him that in the first place. He was going to come up with some cool nickname like 'Hook' but the bubbly woman beat him to it.
"Don't call me that." He grumbles but a smile still spread across his face. "I miss you, Anna. And that bloke of a husband you have, too. I miss talking to you about matters. Ellie misses you, too."
"And we miss you guys, I swear it." Anna's frowning and rubbing at her forehead as she sighs. "I'm going to do some serious thinking, Killian. I promise. Elsa and Liam would want us to be a family."
"They'd want you being you, adventures and what not." Killian dismisses. They've had this conversation before, he knows there's a method to their madness. He knows they set her free for some reason or another.
"They wanted that for both of us. We were supposed to sail the world together, remember?" Anna lets a small chuckle out. "What did Liam use to say on camping trips?"
"You brought the stars home in your eyes." Killian laughs. "He'd say that to you, to me he'd just tell me to quit my daydreaming and stop cutting class."
This was what he needs. This is why it was so hard that she was so far away. He needs someone it doesn't hurt to talk about them with. He needs someone that knows them inside and out. A year's gone by and they hadn't talked about it. No one was allowed to bloody talk about it. Except for Anna, because she lived it. The problem is she's never available to talk about it.
"You and me, Kilo."
"Anna!" He holds a finger up at her, accusingly. "Don't call me that."
"Besides, Kilo, it'd be really awkward to meet your girlfriend of two or three months. It will make much more sense by Christmas. We'll stay a month. I'm excited. Get excited."
"I am excited." he holds up his hands in defense.
"I wanna be escited too!" Ellie reappears with her stuffed reindeer from Kris she's had since birth. She's quick to hop back up on Killian's lap. "Why are we so escited?"
"Well, Aunnie Anna is coming for Christmas." Killian presses a kiss to her temple.
"You are?" Ellie asks breathlessly.
"Mmmhmm" Anna tucks her lips in to keep the toothy grin from spreading.
"Yay! Sven and I are escited!" Ellie cheers, waving her stuffed companion around.
"Awww, Sven!" Anna's cooing and waving at the screen "You still have him, that's so cute. Awe, Ellie I miss your cuteness so much."
"You can have all of it for Christmas." Ellie supplies happily. "I miss you too, and Uncle Krissy."
"Oh god." Killian nearly chokes on the laugh rupturing from his throat. "Oh, please do tell Uncle Krissy we miss him terribly, Anna."
"Will do, Kilo." Anna winks. The laughter dies in his throat after that. "I should be going, it's late here and I have to teach tomorrow."
"Oh yes." Ellie nods. "Get a good sleep. Love you to the moon." Ellie vows with sincerity. "See you for Christmas, and next time on here?"
"I'll try for next Friday again, I'll call you later this week, Killian. I love you both-to the moon."
"To the moon," Killian replies, taking Ellie's wrist in his and waving with her. "Bye, Aunnie Anna."
"Byyeeee!" Ellie sings.
"Bye, guys!" Anna waved one final time.
Forgiveness isn't something he's always been the greatest at. He would hold grudges longer than presidents would hold office when he was younger.
It's the reality that Liam and Elsa were just beginning their lives when they lost them. It's unfair, life's too short, and people don't outlive the anger you hold inside.
Now he tries to be compassionate, tries to understand. He holds stronger to his connections than his grudges, he stays calm even when a storm rages within and he never acts out of anger. You can't take actions back.
Hell, you can't take words back.
You can't have people back.
He lays Ellie down that night with a story about a princess who was separated from her parents. There was a terrible storm that needed to be chased out of the kingdom. It was the only way.
He makes up details about alternate worlds the king and queen must travel to. He reminds her that there's nothing closer than the distance from her thoughts to her heart. She asks if they miss the princess as much as the princess misses them.
He tells her 'more'
"So much more."